I stop listening after that.
When it’s over, Demetrius asks me what I thought, and I tell him it was eye-opening and enlightening and other things along those lines to make him feel good about the work he is doing, and then I chase down Amanda, as Rachel, in the parking lot before she can run away. “I’m not going to say anything to anyone.”
“You better not. I’m so serious.” Her eyes are wild, her face flushed.
“If I do, you can just tell them I’m a freak. They’ll believe you. They’ll think I’m just making s**t up. Besides, I was expelled, remember?” She looks away. “So do you still think about it?”
“If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.” She looks up. “What about you? Were you really going to jump off the bell tower before Violet talked you down?”
“Yes and no.”
“Why do you do that? Don’t you get tired of people talking about you?”
She goes quiet.
“I do it because it reminds me to be here, that I’m still here and I have a say in the matter.”
She puts one leg in the car and says, “I guess now you know you’re not the only freak.” It’s the nicest thing she’s ever said to me.
I don’t hear from Finch for a day, then two days, then three days. By the time I get home from school on Wednesday, it’s snowing. The roads are white, and I’ve wiped out a half dozen times on Leroy. I find my mom in her office and ask if I can borrow her car.
It takes her a moment to find her voice. “Where are you going?”
“To Shelby’s house.” Shelby Padgett lives on the other side of town. I’m amazed at how easily the words come out of my mouth. I act like the fact that I’m asking if I can drive her car, when I haven’t driven in a year, is no big deal, but my mom is staring at me. She continues to stare as she hands me her keys and follows me to the door and down the sidewalk. And then I can see that she’s not just staring, she’s crying.
“I’m sorry,” she says, wiping at her eyes. “We just weren’t sure … we didn’t know if we’d ever see you drive again. The accident changed a lot of things and it took a lot of things. Not that driving, in the great scheme of life, is so important, but you shouldn’t have to think twice about it at your age, except to be careful.…”
She’s kind of babbling, but she looks happy, which only makes me feel worse about lying to her. I hug her before climbing in behind the wheel. I wave and smile and start the engine and say out loud, “Okay.” I pull away slowly, still waving and smiling but wondering what in the hell I think I’m doing.
I’m shaky at first because it’s been so long and I wasn’t sure I’d ever drive again either. I jerk myself black and blue because I keep hitting the brakes. But then I think of Eleanor beside me, letting me drive home after I got my license. You can drive me everywhere now, little sister. You’ll be my chauffeur. I’ll sit in the back, put my feet up, and just enjoy the view.
I look over at the passenger seat and I can almost see her, smiling at me, not even glancing at the road, as if she doesn’t need to look because she trusts me to know what I’m doing without her help. I can see her leaning back against the door, knees under her chin, laughing at something, or singing along with the music. I can almost hear her.
By the time I get to Finch’s neighborhood, I’m cruising along smoothly, like someone who’s been driving for years. A woman answers the door, and this must be his mother because her eyes are the same bright-sky blue as Finch’s. It’s strange to think, after all this time, I’m only meeting her now.
I hold out my hand and say, “I’m Violet. It’s nice to meet you. I’ve come to see Finch.” It occurs to me that maybe she’s never heard of me, so I add, “Violet Markey.”
She shakes my hand and says, “Of course. Violet. Yes. He should be home from school by now.” She doesn’t know he’s been expelled. She is wearing a suit, but she’s in her stocking feet. There’s a kind of faded, weary prettiness to her. “Come on in. I’m just getting home myself.”
I follow her into the kitchen. Her purse sits on the breakfast table next to a set of car keys, and her shoes are on the floor. I hear a television from the other room, and Mrs. Finch calls, “Decca?”
In a moment I hear a distant “What?”
“Just checking.” Mrs. Finch smiles at me and offers me something to drink—water, juice, soda—as she pours herself a glass of wine from a corked bottle in the fridge. I tell her water’s fine, and she asks ice or no ice, and I say no ice, even though I like it better cold.
Kate walks in and waves hello. “Hey.”
“Hey. I came to see Finch.”
They chat with me like everything is normal, like he hasn’t been expelled, and Kate pulls something out of the freezer and sets the temperature on the oven. She tells her mother to remember to listen for the buzzer and then tugs on her coat. “He’s probably upstairs. You can go on up.”
I knock on the door to his room, but don’t get any answer. I knock again. “Finch? It’s me.”
I hear a shuffling, and the door opens. Finch wears pajama bottoms but no shirt, and glasses. His hair spikes up in all directions, and I think, Nerd Finch. He gives me a lopsided grin and says, “The only person I want to see. My Jovian-Plutonian gravitational effect.” He moves out of the way so I can come in.
The room has been stripped bare, down to the sheets on the bed. It looks like a vacant blue hospital room, waiting to be made up for the next patient. Two medium-sized brown boxes are stacked by the door.
My heart does this weird little flip. “It almost looks like—are you moving?”
“No, I just cleared some things out. Giving a few things to Goodwill.”
“Are you feeling okay?” I try not to sound like the blaming girlfriend. Why won’t you spend time with me? Why won’t you call me back? Don’t you like me anymore?
“Sorry, Ultraviolet. I’m still feeling kind of under the weather. Which, when you think about it, is a very odd expression. One that finds its origins in the sea—as in a sailor or passenger feels seasick from the storm, and they send him below to get out of the bad weather.”
“But you’re better now?”
“It was touch-and-go for a while, but yeah.” He grins and pulls on a shirt. “Want to see my fort?”