“It’s a book we discovered. By Virginia Woolf. We’ve been quoting the lines to each other off and on.”
“Do you have a copy of the book? Maybe there’s a clue in the part that comes before or after this.”
“I brought it with me.” I pull it out of my bag. I’ve already marked the words, and now I show her where he got them. He’s taken them out of sequence, picking and choosing certain lines over a series of pages and putting them together in his own way. Just like his Post-it songs.
Kate has forgotten about her cigarette, and the ash dangles, as long as a fingernail. “I can’t figure out what the hell these people are doing”—she gestures at the book—“much less see how it might relate to where he is.” She suddenly remembers her cigarette and takes a long drag. As she exhales, she says, “He’s supposed to go to NYU, you know.”
“Theo.” She drops the cigarette onto the patio and crushes it with her shoe. “He got early acceptance.”
NYU. Of course. What are the odds we were both supposed to be there, but now neither one of us is going?
“I didn’t—he never told me about college.”
“He didn’t tell me or Mom either. The only reason we found out is that someone from NYU tried to contact him during the fall and I got to the message first.” She forces a smile. “For all I know, he’s in New York right now.”
“Do you know if your mom ever got the messages? The ones from my mom and the psychiatrist?”
“Decca mentioned the doctor, but Mom almost never checks the home phone. I would have picked up the messages if there were any.”
“But there weren’t.”
Because he erased them.
We go back inside, and Mrs. Finch is lying on the couch, eyes closed, while Decca sits nearby arranging pieces of paper across the floor. I can’t help but watch her, because it’s so much like Finch and his Post-its. Kate notices and says, “Don’t ask me what she’s doing. Another one of her art projects.”
“Do you mind if I take a look at his room while I’m here?”
“Go for it. We’ve left everything the way it was—you know, for when he comes back.”
If he comes back.
Upstairs, I shut the door to his bedroom and stand there a moment. The room still smells like him—a mix of soap and cigarettes and the heady, woodsy quality that is distinctly Theodore Finch. I open the windows to let some air in because it’s too dead and stale, and then I close them again, afraid the scent of soap and cigarettes and Finch will escape. I wonder if his sisters or mom have even set foot in this room since he’s been gone. It looks so untouched, the drawers still open from when I was here last.
I search through the dresser and desk again, and then the bathroom, but there’s nothing that can tell me anything. My phone buzzes, and I jump. It’s Ryan, and I ignore it. I walk into the closet, where the black light has been replaced by a regular old bulb. I go through the shelves and the remaining clothes, the ones he didn’t take with him. I pull his black T-shirt off a hanger and breathe him in, and then I slip it into my purse. I close the door behind me, sit down, and say out loud, “Okay, Finch. Help me out here. You must have left something behind.”
I let myself feel the smallness and closeness of the closet pressing in on me, and I think about Sir Patrick Moore’s black hole trick, when he just vanished into thin air. It occurs to me that this is exactly what Finch’s closet is—a black hole. He went inside and disappeared.
Then I examine the ceiling. I study the night sky he created, but it looks like a night sky and nothing more. I look at our wall of Post-its, reading every single one until I see there’s nothing new or added. The short wall, the one opposite the door, holds an empty shoe rack, which he used to hang his guitar from. I sit up and scoot back and check the wall I was leaning against. There are Post-its here too, and for some reason I didn’t notice them the last time.
Just two lines across, each word on a separate piece of paper. The first reads: long, last, nothing, time, there, make, was, to, a, him.
The second: waters, thee, go, to, it, suits, if, the, there.
I reach for the word “nothing.” I sit cross-legged and hunched over, thinking about the words. I know I’ve heard them before, though not in this order.
I take the words from line one off the wall and start moving them around:
Nothing was to him a long time there make last.
Last a long time make there nothing was to him.
There was nothing to make him last a long time.
On to the second line now. I pluck “go” from the wall and place it first. “To” moves next, and so on until it reads: Go to the waters if it suits thee there.
By the time I’m back downstairs, it’s just Decca and Mrs. Finch. She tells me Kate has gone out to look for Theo and there’s no telling when she’ll be back. I have no choice but to talk to Finch’s mom. I ask if she’d mind coming upstairs. She climbs the steps like a much older person, and I wait for her at the top.
She hesitates on the landing. “What is it, Violet? I don’t think I can handle surprises.”
“It’s a clue to where he is.”
She follows me into his room and stands for a moment, looking around as if she’s seeing it for the first time. “When did he paint everything blue?”
Instead of answering, I point at the closet. “In here.”
We stand in his closet, and she covers her mouth at how bare it is, how much is gone. I crouch in front of the wall and show her the Post-its.
She says, “That first line. That’s what he said after the cardinal died.”
“I think he’s gone back to one of the places we wandered, one of the places with water.” The words are written in The Waves, he wrote on Facebook. At 9:47 a.m. The same time as the Jovian-Plutonian hoax. The water could be the Bloomington Empire Quarry or the Seven Pillars or the river that runs in front of the high school or about a hundred other places. Mrs. Finch stares blankly at the wall, and it’s hard to know if she’s even listening. “I can give you directions and tell you exactly where to look for him. There are a couple of places he could have gone, but I have a pretty good idea where he might be.”
Then she turns to me and lays her hand on my arm and squeezes it so hard, I can almost feel the bruise forming. “I hate to ask you, but can you go? I’m just so—worried, and—I don’t think I could—I mean, in case something were to—or if he were.” She is crying again, the hard and ugly kind, and I’m ready to promise her anything as long as she stops. “I just really need you to bring him home.”