The night air is freezing, and a few flakes start to fall again. But I feel warm. She says, “You’re shivering.”
“Am I?” I don’t notice because I can’t feel anything.
“How long have you been out here?”
“I don’t know.” And suddenly I can’t remember.
“It snowed today. It’s snowing again.” Her eyes are red. She looks like she’s been crying, and this might be because she really hates winter or, more likely, because we’re coming up on the anniversary of the accident.
I hold out the bucket and say, “Which is why I wanted you to have these.”
“What is it?”
“Open and see.”
She sets down the bucket and undoes the latch. For a few seconds, all she does is breathe in the scent of the flowers, and then she turns to me and, without a word, kisses me. When she pulls away, she says, “No more winter at all. Finch, you brought me spring.”
For a long time, I sit in the car outside my house, afraid to break the spell. In here, the air is close and Violet is close. I’m wrapped up in the day. I love: the way her eyes spark when we’re talking or when she’s telling me something she wants me to know, the way she mouths the words to herself when she’s reading and concentrating, the way she looks at me as if there’s only me, as if she can see past the flesh and bone and bullshit right into the me that’s there, the one I don’t even see myself.
Days 65 and 66
At school, I catch myself staring out the window and I think: How long was I doing that? I look around to see if anybody noticed, half expecting them to be staring at me, but no one is looking. This happens in every period, even gym.
In English, I open my book because the teacher is reading, and everyone else is reading along. Even though I hear the words, I forget them as soon as they’re said. I hear fragments of things but nothing whole.
After class, I head for the bell tower, not caring who sees me. The door to the stairs opens easily, and I wonder if Violet was here. Once I’m up and out in the fresh air, I open the book again. I read the same passage over and over, thinking maybe if I just get away by myself, I’ll be able to focus better, but the second I’m done with one line and move on to the next, I’ve forgotten the one that came before.
At lunch, I sit with Charlie, surrounded by people but alone. They are talking to me and around me, but I can’t hear them. I pretend to be interested in one of my books, but the words dance on the page, and so I tell my face to smile so that no one will see, and I smile and nod and I do a pretty good job of it, until Charlie says, “Man, what is wrong with you? You are seriously bringing me down.”
In U.S. Geography, Mr. Black stands at the board and reminds us once again that just because we’re seniors and this is our last semester, we do not need to slack off. As he talks, I write, but the same thing happens as when I was trying to read—the words are there one minute, and the next they’re gone. Violet sits beside me, and I catch her glancing at my paper, so I cover it up with my hand.
It’s hard to describe, but I imagine the way I am at this moment is a lot like getting sucked into a vortex. Everything dark and churning, but slow churning instead of fast, and this great weight pulling you down, like it’s attached to your feet even if you can’t see it. I think, This is what it must feel like to be trapped in quicksand.
Part of the writing is taking stock of everything in my life, like I’m running down a checklist: Amazing girlfriend—check. Decent friends—check. Roof over my head—check. Food in my mouth—check.
I will never be short and probably not bald, if my dad and grandfathers are any indication. On my good days, I can outthink most people. I’m decent on the guitar and I have a better-than-average voice. I can write songs. Ones that will change the world.
Everything seems to be in working order, but I go over the list again and again in case I’m forgetting something, making myself think beyond the big things in case there’s something hiding out behind the smaller details. On the big side, my family could be better, but I’m not the only kid who feels that way. At least they haven’t thrown me out on the street. School’s okay. I could study more, but I don’t really need to. The future is uncertain, but that can be a good thing.
On the smaller side, I like my eyes but hate my nose, but I don’t think my nose is what’s making me feel this way. My teeth are good. In general, I like my mouth, especially when it’s attached to Violet’s. My feet are too big, but at least they’re not too small. Otherwise I would be falling over all the time. I like my guitar, and my bed and my books, especially the cut-up ones.
I think through everything, but in the end the weight is heavier, as if it’s moving up the rest of my body and sucking me down.
The bell rings and I jump, which causes everyone to laugh except Violet, who is watching me carefully. I’m scheduled to see Embryo now, and I’m afraid he’ll notice something’s up. I walk Violet to class and hold her hand and kiss her and give her the best smile I can find so that she won’t watch me that way. And then, because her class is on the opposite side of school from the counseling office and I’m not exactly running to get there, I show up five minutes late to my appointment.
Embryo wants to know what’s wrong and why I look like this, and does it have something to do with turning eighteen soon.
It’s not that, I tell him. After all, who wouldn’t want to be eighteen? Just ask my mom, who would give anything not to be forty-one.
“Then what is it? What’s going on with you, Finch?”
I need to give him something, so I tell him it’s my dad, which isn’t exactly a lie, more of a half-truth because it’s only one part of a much bigger picture. “He doesn’t want to be my dad,” I say, and Embryo listens so seriously and closely, his thick arms crossed over his thick chest, that I feel bad. So I tell him some more truth. “He wasn’t happy with the family he had, so he decided to trade us in for a new one he liked better. And he does like this one better. His new wife is pleasant and always smiling, and his new son who may or may not actually be related to him is small and easy and doesn’t take up much space. Hell, I like them better myself.”
I think I’ve said too much, but instead of telling me to man up and walk it off, Embryo says, “I thought your father died in a hunting accident.”