I stand in front of the mirror and study my face. I am dressed in black. Black skirt, black sandals, and Finch’s black T-shirt, which I’ve belted. My face looks like my face, only different. It is not the face of a carefree teenage girl who has been accepted at four colleges and has good parents and good friends and her whole life ahead of her. It is the face of a sad, lonely girl something bad has happened to. I wonder if my face will ever look the same again, or if I’ll always see it in my reflection—Finch, Eleanor, loss, heartache, guilt, death.
But will other people be able to tell? I take a picture with my phone, fake smiling as I pose, and when I look at it, there’s Violet Markey. I could post it on Facebook right now, and no one would know that I took it After instead of Before.
My parents want to go with me to the funeral, but I say no. They are hovering too much and watching me. Every time I turn around, I see their worried eyes, and the looks they give each other, and there’s something else—anger. They are no longer mad at me, because they’re furious with Mrs. Finch, and probably Finch too, although they haven’t said so. My dad, as usual, is more outspoken than my mom, and I overhear him talking about That woman, and how he’d like to give her a piece of his g*****n mind, before Mom shushes him and says, Violet might hear you.
His family stands in the front row. And it is raining. This is the first time I’ve seen his dad, who is tall and broad-shouldered and movie-star handsome. The mousy woman who must be Finch’s stepmom stands next to him, her arm around a very small boy. Next to him is Decca, and then Kate, and then Mrs. Finch. Everyone is crying, even the dad.
Golden Acres is the largest cemetery in town. We stand at the top of a hill next to the casket, my second funeral in just over a year’s time, even though Finch wanted to be cremated. The preacher is quoting verses from the Bible, and the family is weeping, and everyone is weeping, even Amanda Monk and some of the cheerleaders. Ryan and Roamer are there, and about two hundred other kids from school. I also recognize Principal Wertz and Mr. Black and Mrs. Kresney and Mr. Embry from the counseling office. I stand off to the side with my parents—who insisted on coming—and Brenda and Charlie. Brenda’s mom is there, her hand resting on her daughter’s shoulder.
Charlie is standing with his hands folded in front of him, staring at the casket. Brenda is staring at Roamer and the rest of the crying herd, her eyes dry and angry. I know what she’s feeling. Here are these people who called him “freak” and never paid attention to him, except to make fun of him or spread rumors about him, and now they are carrying on like professional mourners, the ones you can hire in Taiwan or the Middle East to sing, cry, and crawl on the ground. His family is just as bad. After the preacher is finished, everyone moves toward them to shake their hands and offer condolences. The family accepts them as if they’ve earned them. No one says anything to me.
And so I stand quietly in Finch’s black T-shirt, thinking. In all his words, the preacher doesn’t mention suicide. The family is calling his death an accident because they didn’t find a proper note, and so the preacher talks about the tragedy of someone dying so young, of a life ended too soon, of possibilities never realized. I stand, thinking how it wasn’t an accident at all and how “suicide victim” is an interesting term. The victim part of it implies they had no choice. And maybe Finch didn’t feel like he had a choice, or maybe he wasn’t trying to kill himself at all but just going in search of the bottom. But I’ll never really know, will I?
Then I think: You can’t do this to me. You were the one who lectured me about living. You were the one who said I had to get out and see what was right in front of me and make the most of it and not wish my time away and find my mountain because my mountain was waiting, and all that adds up to life. But then you leave. You can’t just do that. Especially when you know what I went through losing Eleanor.
I try to remember the last words I said to him, but I can’t. Only that they were angry and normal and unremarkable. What would I have said to him if I’d known I would never see him again?
As everyone begins to break apart and walk away, Ryan finds me to say, “I’ll call you later?” It’s a question, so I answer it with a nod. He nods back and then he’s gone.
Charlie mutters, “What a bunch of phonies,” and I’m not sure if he’s talking about our classmates or the Finch family or the entire congregation.
Bren’s voice is brittle. “Somewhere, Finch is watching this, all ‘What do you expect?’ I hope he’s flipping them off.”
Mr. Finch was the one to officially ID the body. The paper reported that, by the time Finch was found, he’d probably been dead several hours.
I say, “Do you really think he’s somewhere?” Brenda blinks at me. “Like anywhere? I mean, I like to think wherever he is, maybe he can’t see us because he’s alive and in some other world, better than this. The kind of world he would have designed if he could have. I’d like to live in a world designed by Theodore Finch.” I think: For a while, I did.
Before Brenda can answer, Finch’s mother is suddenly beside me, red eyes peering into my face. She sweeps me into a hug and holds on like she never plans to let go. “Oh, Violet,” she cries. “Oh, dear girl. Are you okay?”
I pat her like you would pat a child, and then Mr. Finch is there, and he is hugging me with his big arms, his chin on my head. I can’t breathe, and then I feel someone pulling me away, and my father says, “I think we’ll take her home.” His voice is curt and cold. I let myself be led to the car.
At home, I pick at my dinner and listen to my parents talk about the Finches in controlled, even voices that have been carefully chosen so as not to upset me.
Dad: I wish I could have given those people a piece of my mind today.
Mom: She had no right to ask Violet to do that.
She glances at me and says too brightly, “Do you need more vegetables, honey?”
Me: No, thank you.
Before they can start in on Finch, and the selfishness of suicide, and the fact that he took his life when Eleanor had hers taken from her, when she didn’t get a say in the matter—such a wasteful, hateful, stupid thing to do—I ask to be excused, even though I’ve barely touched my food. I don’t have to help with the dishes, so I go upstairs and sit in my closet. My calendar is shoved into a corner. I unfold it now, smoothing it out, and look at all the blank days, too many to count, that I didn’t mark off because these were days I had with Finch.