He helps me sit, and I’m on what feels like a stack of pillows. I hear him and feel him moving around me as the door closes, and then his knees are pressed to mine. I’m ten years old again, back in my fort-building days.
And I’m in space, everything glowing like the Emerald City. The walls and ceiling are painted with planets and stars. Our Post-its still hang on one wall. The blue comforter is at our feet, so the whole floor glows. Plates and silverware and napkins are stacked next to containers of food. A bottle of vodka sits on ice.
“How did you …”
Finch points to the black-light bulb in the ceiling. “If you’ll notice,” he says, holding a hand up to the skies, “J*****r and P***o are perfectly aligned in relation to earth. It’s the Jovian-Plutonian gravitational chamber. Where everything floats indefinitely.”
The only thing that comes out of my mouth is “Oh my God.” I’ve been so worried about him, this boy I love, more worried than I knew until right this moment, staring up at the solar system. This is the single loveliest thing anyone’s ever done for me. It’s movie lovely. It feels somehow epic and fragile, and I want the night to last forever, and knowing it can’t already has me sad.
The food is from Happy Family. I don’t ask how he got it, if he actually drove out there himself or maybe got Kate to pick it up for him, but I tell myself that he was the one who went all that way because he doesn’t have to stay in this closet if he doesn’t want to.
He opens the vodka and we pass the bottle back and forth. It tastes dry and bitter, like autumn leaves. I like the way it burns my nose and throat on the way down.
“Where did you get this?” I hold up the bottle.
“I have my ways.”
“It’s perfect. Not just this—all of it. But it’s your birthday, not mine. I should be doing something like this for you.”
He kisses me.
I kiss him.
The air is full of things we aren’t saying, and I wonder if he feels it too. He’s being so easy and Finch-like that I tell myself to let it go, don’t think so much. Maybe Amanda’s wrong. Maybe she only told me about that group to get me upset. Maybe she made the whole thing up.
He fills our plates, and as we eat, we talk about everything except for how he’s feeling. I tell him what he’s missed in U.S. Geography and talk about the places left to wander. I give him his birthday present, a first edition of The Waves I found in a little bookstore in New York. I inscribed it: You make me feel gold, flowing too. I love you. Ultraviolet Remarkey-able.
He says, “This is the book I was looking for at Bookmarks, at the Bookmobile Park. Anytime I went into a bookstore.”
He kisses me.
I kiss him.
I can feel the worries fading away. I’m relaxed and happy—happier than I’ve been in a while. I am in the moment. I am here.
After we finish the food, Finch takes off his jacket and we lie side by side on the floor. While he examines his book, and reads sections aloud to me, I stare up at the sky. Eventually, he lays the book on his chest and says, “You remember Sir Patrick Moore.”
“The British astronomer with the TV show.” I raise my arms toward the ceiling. “The man we have to thank for the Jovian-Plutonian gravitational effect.”
“Technically, we have ourselves to thank, but yeah, that’s him. So on one of his shows, he explains the concept of a giant black hole in the center of our galaxy. Understand this is a very big deal. He’s the first person to explain the existence of a black hole in a way that the average person can understand. I mean, he explains it in a way that even Roamer could get.”
He grins at me. I grin at him. He says, “S**t, where was I?”
“Sir Patrick Moore.”
“Right. Sir Patrick Moore orders that a map of the Milky Way be drawn on the TV studio floor. With the cameras rolling, he walks toward the center describing Einstein’s general theory of relativity and goes into some facts—black holes are the remnants of former stars; they’re so dense that not even light can escape; they lurk inside every galaxy; they’re the most destructive force in the cosmos; as a black hole passes through space, it engulfs everything that comes too close to it, stars, comets, planets. I mean everything. When planets, light, stars, whatever, pass that point of no return, it’s what’s called the event horizon—the point after which escape is impossible.”
“It sounds kind of like a blue hole.”
“Yeah, I guess it does. So as he’s explaining all this, Sir Patrick Moore pulls the greatest feat ever—he walks right into the heart of the black hole and disappears.”
“No. It’s, like, the damnedest thing. The cameraman and others who were there say he just vanished.” He reaches for my hand.
He grins at me.
I grin at him.
He says, “Being sucked into a black hole would pretty much be the coolest way to die. It’s not like anyone has firsthand experience, and scientists can’t decide if you would spend weeks floating past the event horizon before being torn apart or soar into a kind of maelstrom of particles and be burned alive. I like to think of what it would be like if we were swallowed, just like that. Suddenly none of this would matter. No more worrying about where we’re going or what’s to become of us or if we’ll ever disappoint another person again. All of it—just … gone.”
“So there’s nothing.”
“Maybe. Or maybe it’s a whole other world, one we can’t even imagine.”
I feel the way his hand, warm and firm, fits around mine. He may keep changing, but that never does.
I say, “You’re the best friend I’ve ever had, Theodore Finch.” And he is, even more so than Eleanor.
Suddenly I’m crying. I feel like an idiot because I hate to cry, but I can’t help it. All the worry comes out and just spills all over the floor of his closet.
Finch rolls over and kind of scoops me into him. “Hey now. What gives?”
“Amanda told me.”
“Told you what?”
“About the hospital and the pills. About Life Is Life.”
He doesn’t let go of me but his body goes stiff. “She told you?”
“I’m worried about you, and I want you to be okay, but I don’t know what to do for you.”
“You don’t need to do anything.” Then he does let go. He pulls away and sits up, staring at the wall.