“But I have to do something, because you might need help. I don’t know anyone who goes into the closet and stays there. You need to talk to your counselor, or maybe Kate. You can talk to my parents if you want.”
“Yeah—that’s not happening.” In the ultraviolet light, his teeth and eyes are glowing.
“I’m trying to help you.”
“I don’t need help. And I’m not Eleanor. Just because you couldn’t save her, don’t try to save me.”
I’m starting to get mad. “That’s not fair.”
“I just meant I’m doing okay.”
“Are you?” I hold my hands up at the closet.
He looks at me with this hard, awful smile. “Do you know I’d give anything to be you for a day? I’d just live and live and never worry and be grateful for what I have.”
“Because I have nothing to worry about?” He just looks at me. “Because what could Violet possibly have to worry about? After all, Eleanor’s the one who died. Violet’s still here. She was spared. She’s lucky because she has her whole life ahead of her. Lucky, lucky Violet.”
“Listen, I’m the freak. I’m the weirdo. I’m the troublemaker. I start fights. I let people down. Don’t make Finch mad, whatever you do. Oh, there he goes again, in one of his moods. Moody Finch. Angry Finch. Unpredictable Finch. Crazy Finch. But I’m not a compilation of symptoms. Not a casualty of shitty parents and an even shittier chemical makeup. Not a problem. Not a diagnosis. Not an illness. Not something to be rescued. I’m a person.” He smiles the awful smile again. “I bet by now you’re pretty sorry you picked that particular ledge that particular day.”
“Don’t do that. Don’t be like this.”
Like that, the smile is gone. “I can’t help it. It’s what I am. I warned you this would happen.” His voice turns cold instead of angry, which is worse because it’s like he’s stopped feeling. “You know, right now this closet is feeling pretty tight, like maybe there’s not as much room in here as I thought.”
I stand. “It just so happens I can help you with that.”
And I slam out the door knowing full well he can’t follow me, even though I tell myself: If he really loves you, he’ll find a way.
At home, my parents are in the family room watching TV. “You’re home early,” Mom says. She gets up from the couch to make room for me.
“There’s something you need to know.” She sits back down in the exact same spot and my father clicks the television off. I immediately feel bad because before I walked in they were having a peaceful, happy evening, and now they are worried because they can tell by my voice that whatever it is isn’t going to be good.
“On the first day of school after Christmas break, I climbed up on the bell tower ledge. That’s where I met Finch. He was up there too, but he was the one who talked me down, because once I realized where I was, I was scared and I couldn’t move. I might have fallen off if he wasn’t there. But I didn’t fall off, and that’s thanks to him. Well, now he’s up on that ledge. Not literally,” I say to my dad before he can jump for the phone. “And we need to help him.”
Mom says, “So you’ve been seeing him?”
“Yes. And I’m sorry, and I know you’re mad and disappointed, but I love him, and he saved me. You can tell me later how unhappy you are with me and how I’ve let you down, but right now I need to do what I can to make sure he’ll be okay.”
I tell them everything, and afterward my mom is on the telephone, calling Finch’s mom. She leaves a message, and when she hangs up, she says, “Your dad and I will figure out what to do. There’s a psychiatrist at the college, a friend of your father’s. He’s talking to him now. Yes, we’re disappointed in you, but I’m glad you told us. You did the right thing by telling us.”
I lie awake in my bedroom for at least an hour, too upset to sleep. When I do drift off, I toss and turn and my dreams are a twisted, unhappy jumble. At some point I wake up. I roll over and drift off again, and in my dreams I hear it—the faint, faraway sound of rocks hitting the window.
I don’t get out of bed, because it’s cold and I’m half asleep and anyway the sound isn’t real. Not now, Finch, I say in the dream. Go away.
And then I wake up fully and think, What if he was really here? What if he actually got out of the closet and drove to see me? But when I look out the window, the street is empty.
I spend the day with my parents, obsessively checking Facebook for a new message when I’m not pretending to focus on homework and Germ. The contributor replies come in from all the girls—yes, yes, yes. They sit in my inbox unanswered.
My mother is on the phone periodically, trying to reach Mrs. Finch. When she hasn’t heard from her by noon, Mom and Dad head to Finch’s house. No one answers the door and they’re forced to leave a note. The psychiatrist has (somewhat) better luck. He is able to talk to Decca. She leaves the doctor on the line while she checks Finch’s bedroom and closet, but she says he isn’t there. I wonder if he’s hiding somewhere. I send him a text, telling him I’m sorry. By midnight, he still hasn’t texted back.
On Monday, Ryan finds me in the hall and walks me to Russian literature. “Have you heard from all your colleges yet?” he wants to know.
“Only a couple.”
“What about Finch? Do you think you’ll wind up at the same place?” He’s trying to be nice, but there’s something else there—maybe the hope that I’ll tell him no, Finch and I broke up.
“I’m not sure what he’s going to do. I don’t think he knows.”
He nods and shifts his books to the other hand so that his free hand is now next to mine. Every now and then I feel the brush of his skin. For each step we take, about five people call out to him or nod a what’s-up. Their eyes move past him to me, and I wonder what they see.
Eli Cross is having a party. You should come with me.
I wonder if he remembers that it was his brother’s party Eleanor and I were leaving when we had the accident. Then I wonder for a minute what it would be like to be with him again, if a person could ever go back to someone like good, steady Ryan after being with Theodore Finch. No one will ever call Ryan Cross a freak or say mean things about him behind his back. He wears the right clothes and says the right things and is going to the right college after all of this is said and done.