He tells me about the day the cardinal died, about finding the body on the back deck, about burying him in the mud nest. “There was nothing to make him last a long time,” Finch told his parents afterward. He said he always blamed them because he knew they could have been the thing that made the cardinal last if they’d only let it in like he’d asked them to.
“That was the first black mood. I don’t remember much that happened after that, not for a little while at least.”
The worried feeling is back. “Have you ever talked to anyone? Do your parents or Kate—or maybe one of the counselors …?”
“Parents, no. Kate, not really. I’ve been talking to a counselor at school.”
I look around the closet, at the comforter we’re sitting on, at the pillows, the water jug, the energy bars, and that’s when it hits me. “Finch, are you living in here?”
“I’ve been in here before. Eventually, it works. I’ll wake up one morning and feel like coming out.” He smiles at me, and the smile seems hollow. “I kept your secret; you keep mine.”
When I get home, I open the door to my closet and walk inside. It’s larger than Finch’s but packed full of clothes, shoes, purses, jackets. I try to imagine what it would be like to live in here and feel I couldn’t come out. I lie down flat and stare up at the ceiling. The floor is hard and cold. In my head, I write: There was a boy who lived in a closet.… But that’s as far as I get.
I’m not claustrophobic, but when I open the door and walk back into my room, I feel like I can breathe again.
At dinner, my mom says, “Did you have a fun time with Shelby?” She raises her eyebrows at my dad. “Violet drove to Shelby’s house after school. As in drove.”
My dad clinks his glass against mine. “Proud of you, V. Maybe it’s time we talk about getting you a car of your own.”
They’re so excited over this that I feel even guiltier about lying. I wonder what they’d do if I told them where I really was—having sex with the boy they don’t want me to see in the closet where he’s living.
“The cadence of suffering has begun.”—Cesare Pavese
After U.S. Geography, Amanda tells Roamer to go on ahead and she’ll catch up. I haven’t spoken a word to him since Finch got expelled. “I need to tell you something,” she says to me.
“What?” I haven’t said much to her either.
“You can’t tell anyone.”
“Amanda, I’m going to be late for class.”
“Fine, I promise.”
She’s talking so low I almost can’t hear her. “I saw Finch at this group I go to. I’ve been going a while, even though I don’t really need to, but my mom is, like, making me.” She sighs.
“What’s the group?”
“It’s called Life Is Life. It’s this—it’s a support group for teenagers who’ve either thought about suicide or tried it.”
“And you saw Finch there? When?”
“Sunday. He said he was there because he swallowed a bunch of pills and had to go to the hospital. I thought you should know.”
I stay through last period, only because I have a test. Afterward, I grab Leroy and ride directly to Finch’s house. He doesn’t know I’m coming, and when I get there, no one answers the door. I find some pebbles in the driveway and throw them at his window, and with every ping ping against the glass, my heart jumps. Then I sit down on the front step, hoping his mom or his sisters will appear and let me in. I’m still sitting there twenty minutes later, the house as closed up and silent as when I arrived, and finally I head home.
In my room, I don’t even bother taking off my coat and scarf. I open my laptop and send Finch a Facebook message. He answers right away, like he’s been waiting. So tomorrow’s my birthday.…
I want to ask where he was and was he there the whole time and did he know that I was outside his house. I want to ask about the hospital, but I’m worried if I ask anything he’ll go quiet and disappear, so instead I write: How should we celebrate?
Finch: It’s a surprise.
Me: But it’s your birthday, not mine.
Finch: Doesn’t matter. Come over at six. Be hungry.
March 21 and beyond
I knock on the door to his room but don’t get any answer. I knock again. “Finch?” I knock again and again, and finally I hear a shuffling, a crash as something is dropped, a goddammit, and the door opens. Finch is wearing a suit. His hair is cut short, buzzed very close, and between that and the stubble on his jaw, he looks different, older, and, yes, hot.
He gives me a lopsided grin and says, “Ultraviolet. The only person I want to see.” He moves out of the way so I can come in.
The room is still hospital bare, and I have a sinking feeling because he’s been to the hospital but didn’t tell me, and there’s something about all that blue that makes me feel suffocated.
I say, “I need to talk to you.”
Finch kisses me hello, and his eyes are brighter than the other night, or maybe it’s that he isn’t wearing glasses. Every time he changes, it takes getting used to. He kisses me again and leans sexily against the door, as if he knows how good he looks.
“First things first. I need to know how you feel about space travel and Chinese food.”
“In that order?”
“I think one is interesting and the other is really great to eat.”
“Good enough. Shoes off.”
I take my shoes off, which drops me an inch or two.
“Clothes off, midget.”
I swat at him.
“Later then, but I won’t forget. Okay. Please close your eyes.”
I close my eyes. In my mind, I’m going over the best way to bring up Life Is Life. But he’s so much like himself again, even if he looks different, that I tell myself that when I open my eyes, the walls of his room will be painted red and the furniture will be back where it was and the bed will be made because that’s where he sleeps.
I hear the door to the closet open and he leads me forward a few steps. “Keep them closed.” Out of instinct, I reach my hands out in front of me, and Finch lowers them to my sides. The Slow Club is playing, a band I like, all plucky and bittersweet and kind of offbeat. Like Finch, I think. Like us.