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All the Bright Places (Page 51)

All the Bright Places(51)
Author: Jennifer Niven

I am attempting not to explode all over the room. I am trying to keep myself very small and very contained. I am counting as fast as I can.

Thankfully, the game comes back on and he’s distracted. I sit another few minutes and then I thank Rosemarie for the meal, ask Kate if she can take Decca back to Mom’s, and tell everyone else I’ll see them at home.

I walk across town to my house, climb inside Little B*****d, and drive. No map, no purpose. I drive for what feels like hours, passing fields of white. I head north and then west and then south and then east, the car pushing ninety. By sunset, I’m on my way back to Bartlett, cutting through the heart of Indianapolis, smoking my fourth American Spirit cigarette in a row. I drive too fast, but it doesn’t feel fast enough. I suddenly hate Little B*****d for slowing me down when I need to go, go, go.

The nicotine scrapes at my throat, which is already raw, and I feel like throwing up, so I pull over onto the shoulder and walk around. I bend over, hands on my knees. I wait. When I don’t get sick, I look at the road stretched out ahead and start to run. I run like hell, leaving Little B*****d behind. I run so hard and fast, I feel like my lungs will explode, and then I go harder and faster. I’m daring my lungs and my legs to give out on me. I can’t remember if I locked the car, and God I hate my mind when it does that because now I can only think about the car door and that lock, and so I run harder. I don’t remember where my jacket is or if I even had one.

It will be all right.

I will be all right.

It won’t fall apart.

It will be all right.

It will be okay.

I’m okay. Okay. Okay.

Suddenly I’m surrounded by farms again. At some point, I pass a series of commercial greenhouses and nurseries. They won’t be open on Sunday, but I run up the drive of one that looks like a real mom-and-pop organization. A two-story white farmhouse sits on the back of the property.

The driveway is crowded with trucks and cars, and I can hear the laughter from inside. I wonder what would happen if I just walked in and sat down and made myself at home. I go up to the front door and knock. I am breathing hard, and I should have waited to knock so I could catch my breath, but No, I think, I’m in too much of a hurry. I knock again, louder this time.

A woman with white hair and the soft, round face of a dumpling answers, still laughing from the conversation she left. She squints at me through the screen, and then opens it because we’re in the country and this is Indiana and there is nothing to fear from our neighbors. It’s one of the things I like about living here, and I want to hug her for the warm but confused smile she wears as she tries to figure out if she’s seen me before.

“Hello there,” I say.

“Hello,” she says. I can imagine what I must look like, red face, no coat, sweating and panting and gasping for air.

I compose myself as fast as I can. “I’m sorry to disturb you, but I’m on my way home and I just happened to pass your nursery. I know you’re closed and you have company, but I wonder if I could pick out a few flowers for my girlfriend. It’s kind of an emergency.”

Her face wrinkles with concern. “An emergency? Oh dear.”

“Maybe that’s a strong word, and I’m sorry to alarm you. But winter is here, and I don’t know where I’ll be by spring. And she’s named for a flower, and her father hates me, and I want her to know that I’m thinking of her and that this isn’t a season of death but one for living.”

A man walks up behind her, napkin still tucked into his shirt. “There you are,” he says to the woman. “I wondered where you’d gone off to.” He nods at me.

She says, “This young man is having an emergency.”

I explain myself all over again to him. She looks at him and he looks at me, and then he calls to someone inside, telling them to stir the cider, and out he comes, napkin blowing a little in the cold wind, and I walk beside him, hands in my pockets, as we go to the nursery door and he pulls a janitor’s keychain off his belt.

I am talking a mile a minute, thanking him and telling him I’ll pay him double, and even offering to send a picture of Violet with the flowers—maybe violets—once I give them to her.

He lays a hand on my shoulder and says, “You don’t worry about that, son. I want you to take what you need.”

Inside, I breathe in the sweet, living scent of the flowers. I want to stay in here, where it’s warm and bright, surrounded by things that are living and not dead. I want to move in with this good-hearted couple and have them call me “son,” and Violet can live here too because there’s room enough for both of us.

He helps me choose the brightest blooms—not just violets, but daisies and roses and lilies and others I can’t remember the names of. Then he and his wife, whose name is Margaret Ann, wrap them in a refrigerated shipping bucket, which will keep the flowers hydrated. I try to pay them, but they wave my money away, and I promise to bring the bucket back as soon as I can.

By the time we’re done, their guests have gathered outside to see the boy who must have flowers to give to the girl he loves.

The man, whose name is Henry, drives me back to my car. For some reason, I expect it to take hours, but it only takes a few minutes to reach it. As we circle back around to the other side of the road, where Little B*****d sits looking patient and abandoned, he says, “Six miles. Son, you ran all that way?”

“Yes, sir. I guess I did. I’m sorry to pull you away from dinner.”

“That’s no worry, young man. No worry at all. Is something wrong with your car?”

“No, sir. It just didn’t go fast enough.”

He nods as if this makes all the sense in the world, which it probably doesn’t, and says, “You tell that girl of yours hello from us. But you drive back home, you hear?”

* * *

It’s after eleven when I reach her house, and I sit in Little B*****d for a while, the windows rolled down, the engine off, smoking my last cigarette because now that I’m here I don’t want to disturb her. The windows of the house are lit up, and I know she is in there with her parents who love her but hate me, and I don’t want to intrude.

But then she texts me, as if she knows where I am, and says, I’m glad to be back. When will I see you?

I text her: Come outside.

She is there in a minute, wearing monkey pajamas and Freud slippers, and a long purple robe, her hair pulled into a ponytail. I come up the walk carrying the refrigerated shipping bucket, and she says, “Finch, what on earth? Why do you smell like smoke?” She looks behind her, afraid they might see.

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