“Is that a trick question?”
“Every man needs a fort, Ultraviolet. A place to let his imagination run wild. A ‘No Trespassing/No Girls Allowed’ type of space.”
“If no girls are allowed, why are you letting me see it?”
“Because you’re not just any girl.”
He opens the door to his closet, and it actually looks pretty cool. He’s made a kind of cave for himself, complete with guitar and computer and notebooks of staff paper, along with pens and stacks of Post-its. My picture is tacked to the blue wall along with a license plate.
“Other people might call it an office, but I like fort better.”
He offers me a seat on the blue comforter and we sit side by side, shoulder to shoulder, backs against the wall. He nods at the opposite wall, and that’s when I see the pieces of paper there, kind of like his Wall of Ideas, but not as many or as cluttered.
“So I’ve discovered I think better in here. It gets loud out there sometimes between Decca’s music and my mom yelling at my dad over the phone. You’re lucky you live in a house of no yelling.” He writes down House of no yelling and sticks it onto the wall. Then he hands me a pen and a pad of Post-its. “Want to try?”
“Anything. Positive ones go on the wall, negative on the floor over there.” He points to this heap of ripped-up paper. “It’s important to get those down, but they don’t need to hang around after you do. Words can be bullies. Remember Paula Cleary?” I shake my head. “She was fifteen when she moved to the States from Ireland and started dating some idiot guy the other girls loved. They called her ‘s**t’ and ‘w***e’ and worse and wouldn’t let her alone until she hanged herself in a stairwell.”
I write Bully and hand it to Finch, who rips it into a hundred pieces and throws it on the heap. I write Mean girls and then shred it to bits. I write Accidents, Winter, Ice, and Bridge, and tear at the paper until it’s only dust.
Finch scribbles something and slaps it to the wall. Welcome. He scribbles something else. Freak. He shows it to me before destroying it. He writes Belong, which goes on the wall, and Label, which doesn’t. Warmth, Saturday, Wander, You, Best friend go up, while Cold, Sunday, Stand still, Everyone else go into the heap.
Necessary, Loved, Understood, Forgiven are on the wall now, and then I write You, Finch, Theodore, Theo, Theodore Finch, and post them up.
We do this for a long time, and then he shows me how he makes a song out of the words. First he rearranges them into a kind of order that almost makes sense. He grabs the guitar and strums out a tune and, just like that, starts singing. He manages to get every word in, and afterward I clap and he bows with the top half of his body since he’s still sitting on the floor, and I say, “You have to write it down. Don’t lose it.”
“I don’t ever write songs down.”
“What’s all that staff paper there?”
“Ideas for songs. Random notes. Things that’ll become songs. Things I might write about someday, or started once but didn’t finish because there wasn’t enough in them. If a song’s meant to stay around, you carry it with you in your bones.”
He writes I, want, to, have, sex, with, Ultraviolet, Remarkey-able.
I write Maybe, which he immediately rips up.
And then I write Okay.
He rips this up too.
He slaps this onto the wall and then kisses me, his arm circling my waist. Before I know it, I’m on my back and he’s looking down at me, and I am pulling off his shirt. Then his skin is on mine, and I’m on top of him, and for a while I forget we’re on the floor of a closet because all I can think of is him, us, him and me, Finch and Violet, Violet and Finch, and everything is okay again.
Afterward, I stare up at the ceiling, and when I look over at him, there is this strange look on his face. “Finch?” His eyes are fixed on something above us. I poke him in the ribs. “Finch!”
Finally his eyes turn to mine and he says, “Hey,” like he just remembered that I’m there. He sits up and rubs his face with his hands, and then he reaches for the Post-its. He writes Relax. Then Breathe deeply. Then Violet is life.
He fixes them to the wall and reaches for the guitar again. I rest my head against his as he plays, changing the chords a little, but I can’t shake this feeling that something happened, like he went away for a minute and only part of him came back.
“Don’t tell anyone about my fort, okay, Ultraviolet?”
“Like not telling your family you got expelled?”
He writes Guilty and holds it up before ripping it into pieces.
“Okay.” Then I write Trust, Promise, Secret, Safe, and place them on the wall.
“Ahhhhh, and now I have to start over.” He closes his eyes, then plays the song again, adding in the words. It sounds sad the second time, as if he shifted to a minor key.
“I like your secret fort, Theodore Finch.” This time I rest my head on his shoulder, looking at the words we’ve written and the song we’ve created, and then at the license plate again. I feel this strange need to move closer to him, as if he might get away from me. I lay one hand on his leg.
In a minute he says, “I get into these moods sometimes, and I can’t shake them.” He’s still strumming the guitar, still smiling, but his voice has gone serious. “Kind of black, sinking moods. I imagine it’s what being in the eye of a tornado would be like, all calm and blinding at the same time. I hate them.”
I lace my fingers through his so that he has to stop playing. “I get moody too. It’s normal. It’s what we’re supposed to do. I mean, we’re teenagers.” Just to prove it, I write Bad mood before tearing it up.
“When I was a kid, younger than Decca, there was this cardinal in our backyard that kept flying into the sliding glass doors of our house, over and over again until he knocked himself out. Each time, I thought he was dead, but then he’d get up again and fly off. This little female cardinal sat and watched him from one of the trees, and I always thought it was his wife. Anyway, I begged my parents to stop him from banging into the glass. I thought he should come inside and live with us. Kate called the Audubon Society, and the man there said if it was his guess, the cardinal was probably just trying to get back to his tree, the one that had been standing there before someone came along and knocked it down and built a house on top of it.”