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All the Bright Places (Page 72)

All the Bright Places(72)
Author: Jennifer Niven

We didn’t choose this place together.

When I realize it, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

This is a place Finch added without telling me.

VIOLET

The last wandering

I’m up and out of the house early the next morning. The closer I get to Prairieton, the heavier I feel. I have to drive past the Blue Hole to reach Farmersburg, and I almost turn around and go home because it’s too much and this is the last place I want to be.

Once I get to Farmersburg, I’m not sure where to go. I drive around and around this not-very-big place looking for whatever it is Finch wanted me to see.

I look for anything lovely. I look for anything having to do with praying, which I assume means a church. I know from the internet there are 133 “places of worship” in this tiny town, but it seems odd that Finch would choose one for the last wander.

Why should it seem odd? You barely knew him.

Farmersburg is one of these small and quiet Indiana cities filled with small and quiet houses and a small and quiet downtown. There are the usual farms and country roads, and numbered streets. I get nowhere, so I do what I always do—I stop on Main Street (every place has one) and hunt for somebody who can help me. Because it’s a Sunday, every shop and restaurant is dark and closed. I walk up and down, but it’s like a ghost town.

I’m back in the car and driving past every church I find, but none of them are particularly lovely, and I don’t see any lakes. Finally, I pull into a gas station, and the boy there—who can’t be much older than me—tells me there are some lakes up north a ways off US 150.

“Are there any churches out there?”

“At least one or two. But we got some here too.” He smiles a watery smile.

“Thanks.”

I follow his directions to US 150, which takes me away from town. I punch on the radio, but all I get is country music and static, and I don’t know which is worse. I listen to the static for a while before turning it off. I spot a Dollar General on the side of the road and pull over because maybe they’ll be able to tell me where these lakes are.

A woman works behind the counter. I buy a pack of gum and a water, and I tell her I’m looking for a lake and a church, someplace lovely. She screws up her mouth as she jabs at the cash register. “Emmanuel Baptist Church is just up the highway there. They got a lake not far past it. Not a very big one, but I know there’s one because my kids used to go up there swimming.”

“Is it private?”

“The lake or the church?”

“Either. This place I’m looking for is private.”

“The lake’s off of Private Road, if that’s what you mean.”

My skin starts to prickle. In Finch’s text, “Private” is capitalized.

“Yes. That’s what I mean. How do I get there?”

“Keep heading north up US 150. You’ll pass Emmanuel Baptist on your right, and you’ll see the lake past that, and then you’ll come to Private Road. You just turn off, and there it is.”

“Left or right?”

“There’s only one way to turn—right. It’s a short road. AIT Training and Technology is back in there. You’ll see their sign.”

I thank her and run to the car. I’m close. I’ll be there soon, and then it will all be over—wandering, Finch, us, everything. I sit for a few seconds, making myself breathe so I can focus on every moment. I could wait and save it for later—whatever it is.

But I won’t because I’m here now and the car is moving, and I’m heading in that direction, and there’s Emmanuel Baptist Church, sooner than I expected, and then the lake, and here is the road, and I’m turning down it, and my palms are damp against the steering wheel, and my skin has gone goose-pimply, and I realize I’m holding my breath.

I pass the sign for AIT Training and Technology and see it up ahead at the end of the road, which is already here. I’ve dead-ended, and I roll past AIT with a sinking feeling because there’s nothing lovely about it, and this can’t be the place. But if this isn’t the place, then where am I supposed to be?

The car crawls back along Private Road the way I came, and that’s when I see the bend in the road that I didn’t take, a kind of fork. I follow this now, and there’s the lake, and then I see the sign: TAYLOR PRAYER CHAPEL.

A wooden cross, tall as a man, sits in front of the sign by a few feet, and behind the cross and the sign is a tiny white chapel with a tiny white steeple. I can see houses beyond, and the lake to one side, the top of it green with algae.

I turn off the engine and sit for a few minutes. I lose track of how long I’m there. Did he come here the day he died? Did he come here the day before? When was he here? How did he find this place?

Then I am out of the car and walking to the chapel, and I can hear my heart and, somewhere in the distance, the sounds of birds in the trees. The air is already heavy with summer.

I turn the knob, and the door opens, just like that, and inside the chapel smells fresh and clean, as if it has been aired out recently. There are only a few pews, because the entire place is smaller than my bedroom, and at the front a wooden altar with a painting of Jesus and two vases of flowers, two potted plants, and an open Bible.

The long, narrow windows let in the sunlight, and I sit in one of the pews and look around, thinking: What now?

I walk to the altar, and someone has typed up and laminated a history of the church, which is propped against one of the vases of flowers.

Taylor Prayer Chapel was created as a sanctuary for weary travelers to stop and rest along their way. It was built in memoriam to those who have lost their lives in auto accidents, and as a place of healing. We remember those who are no longer here, who were taken from us too soon, and who we will always keep with us in our hearts. The chapel is open to the public day and night, and on holidays. We are always here.

And now I know why Finch chose this place—for Eleanor and for me. And for him too, because he was a weary traveler who just needed rest. Something pokes out of the Bible—a white envelope. I turn to the page, and someone has underlined these words: “Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.”

I pick up the envelope, and there is my name: “Ultraviolet Remarkey-able.”

I think of taking it to the car to read what’s inside, but instead I sit down in one of the pews, grateful for the sturdy, solid wood underneath me.

Am I ready to hear what he thought of me? To hear how I let him down? Am I ready to know exactly how much I hurt him and how I could have, should have, saved him, if only I’d paid more attention and read the signs and not opened my big mouth and listened to him and been enough and maybe loved him more?

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