Except that he is.
“Did he say where he went?” As I ask it, I suddenly can see that my mom looks worried and tired, and I try to imagine what would be happening right now if it was me and not Finch who’d disappeared. My parents would have every cop within five states out looking.
“If he did, she didn’t tell me. I don’t know what else we can do. If the parents aren’t even worried … well. I guess we need to trust that Finch means what he says and that he’s all right.” But I can hear all the things she isn’t saying: If it were my child, I’d be out there myself, bringing him home.
At school, I’m the only one who seems to notice he’s gone. After all, he’s just another troublemaker who’s been expelled. Our teachers and classmates have already forgotten about him.
So everyone acts as if nothing has happened and everything’s fine. I go to class and play in an orchestra concert. I hold my first Germ meeting, and there are twenty-two of us, all girls, except for Briana Boudreau’s boyfriend, Adam, and Lizzy Meade’s brother, Max. I hear from two more colleges—Stanford, which is a no, and UCLA, which is a yes. I pick up the phone to tell Finch, but his voicemail is full. I don’t bother texting him. Whenever I write back, it takes him a long time to respond, and when he does, it’s never in answer to anything I’ve said.
I’m starting to get mad.
Two days later, Finch writes: I am on the highest branch.
The next morning: We are written in paint.
Later that night: I believe in signs.
The next afternoon: The glow of Ultraviolet.
The day after that: A lake. A prayer. It’s so lovely to be lovely in Private.
And then everything goes quiet.
April 5 is Easter Sunday. My parents and I drive to the A Street Bridge and climb down to the dried-up riverbed that runs below to lay some flowers on the spot where Eleanor was killed. Embedded in the ground is a license plate, one that suddenly looks familiar, and circling this is a small garden where someone has planted flowers. Finch.
I go cold all over, not just from the damp air. It’s been one year, and even though my parents don’t say much as we’re standing there, we’ve survived.
On the way home, I wonder when Finch was there—when he first found the license plate, when he came back. I wait for my parents to ask about the garden or talk about Eleanor, to call her by name today of all days. When they don’t, I say, “It was my idea to see Boy Parade during spring break. Eleanor wasn’t crazy about them, but she said, ‘If you want to see Boy Parade, then let’s really see them. Let’s follow them all over the Midwest.’ She was good at that, taking things one step further and making them bigger and more exciting than they would have been.” Like someone else I know.
I start to sing my favorite Boy Parade song, the one that most reminds me of her. My mom looks at my dad, his eyes fixed on the road, and then she joins in.
Back at home, I sit at my desk thinking about my mother’s question: Why do I want to start a magazine?
I stare at the board on my wall. My notes are spilling over and across the wall itself and reaching toward the closet. I open the wandering notebook and flip through the pages. On the first empty one, I write: Germ—noun \’jarm\ the origin of something; a thing that may serve as the basis of further growth or development.
I read this over and add: Germ is for everyone.…
I cross this out.
I try again: Germ is meant to entertain, inform, and keep you safe.…
I cross this out too.
I think of Finch and Amanda, and then I look at the closet door, where you can still see the thumbtack holes from my calendar. I think of the big black “X”s that marked off the days because all I wanted was for them to be behind me.
I turn to a new page and write: Germ Magazine. You start here. And then I rip it out and add it to my wall.
* * *
I haven’t heard anything from Finch since March. I’m not worried anymore. I’m angry. Angry at him for leaving without a word, angry at myself for being so easy to leave and for not being enough to make him want to stick around. I do the normal post-breakup things—eating ice cream out of the carton, listening to better-off-without-him music, choosing a new profile photo for my Facebook page. My bangs are finally growing out, and I’m starting to look like my old self, even if I don’t feel like her. On April 8, I gather the few things I have of his, pack them into a box, and slide them into the back of my closet. No more Ultraviolet Remarkey-able. I’m Violet Markey once again.
Wherever Finch is, he has our map. On April 10, I buy another one so that I can finish this project, which I have to do whether he’s here or not. Right now the only things I have are memories of places. Nothing to show for them except a couple of pictures and our notebook. I don’t know how to put all of what we’ve seen and done together into one comprehensive something that will make sense to anyone but me. It—whatever we did and were—doesn’t even make sense to me.
On April 11, I borrow Mom’s car, and she doesn’t ask where I’m going, but as she hands me the keys, she says, “Call or text when you get there and when you’re on your way home.”
I head to Crawfordsville, where I make a halfhearted attempt to visit the Rotary Jail Museum, but I feel like a tourist. I call my mother to check in, and afterward I drive. It’s a warm Saturday. The sun is bright. It almost feels like spring, and then I remember that, technically, it is. As I drive, I keep my eye out for a S****n SUV, and every time I spot one, my heart does this wild leap into my throat, even though I tell myself: I’m done. I’m over him. I’m moving on.
I remember what he said about how he loved driving, the forward motion of it, like you might go anywhere. I picture the look on his face if he could see me behind the wheel right now. “Ultraviolet,” he’d say, “I always knew you had it in you.”
When Ryan and Suze break up, he asks me out. I say yes, but only as friends. On April 17, we eat dinner at the Gaslight, which is one of the fancier restaurants in Bartlett.
I pick at my meal and do my best to focus on Ryan. We talk about college plans and turning eighteen (his birthday’s this month, mine’s in May), and while it’s not the most exciting conversation I’ve ever had, it is a nice, normal date, with a nice, normal guy, and there’s something to be said for that right now. I think about how I’ve labeled Ryan just like everyone labeled Finch. I suddenly like his solidness and sense of permanence, as if what you see is what you get, and he will always be and do exactly what you expect him to be and do. Except for the stealing, of course.