Mom has stopped eating to study my face. When she does pay attention, which isn’t often, she tries hard to be understanding about my “sadness,” just like she tries hard to be patient when Kate stays out all night and Decca spends time in the principal’s office. My mother blames our bad behavior on the divorce and my dad. She says we just need time to work through it.
Less sarcastically, I add, “It was okay. Uneventful. Boring. Typical.” We move on to easier topics, like the house my mother is trying to sell for her clients and the weather.
When dinner is over, Mom lays a hand on my arm, fingertips barely touching the skin, and says, “Isn’t it nice to have your brother back, Decca?” She says it as if I’m in danger of disappearing again, right in front of their eyes. The slightly blaming note in her voice makes me cringe, and I get the urge to go back to my room again and stay there. Even though she tries to forgive my sadness, she wants to count on me as man of the house, and even though she thinks I was in school for most of that four-almost-five-week period, I did miss a lot of family dinners. She takes her fingers back and then we’re free, which is exactly how we act, the three of us running off in three different directions.
Around ten o’clock, after everyone else has gone to bed and Kate still isn’t home, I turn on the computer again and check my Facebook account.
Violet Markey accepted your friend request, it says.
And now we are friends.
I want to shout and jog around the house, maybe climb up onto the roof and spread my arms wide but not jump off, not even think about it. But instead I hunch closer to the screen and browse through her photos—Violet smiling with two people who must be her parents, Violet smiling with friends, Violet smiling at a pep rally, Violet smiling cheek to cheek with another girl, Violet smiling all alone.
I remember the picture of Violet and the girl from the newspaper. This is her sister, Eleanor. She wears the same clunky glasses Violet had on today.
Suddenly a message appears in my inbox.
Violet: You ambushed me. In front of everyone.
Me: Would you have worked with me if I hadn’t?
Violet: I would have gotten out of it so I didn’t have to do it to begin with. Why do you want me to do this project with you anyway?
Me: Because our mountain is waiting.
Violet: What’s that supposed to mean?
Me: It means maybe you never dreamed of seeing Indiana, but, in addition to the fact that we’re required to do this for school, and I’ve volunteered—okay, ambushed—you into being my partner, here’s what I think: I think I’ve got a map in my car that wants to be used, and I think there are places we can go that need to be seen. Maybe no one else will ever visit them and appreciate them or take the time to think they’re important, but maybe even the smallest places mean something. And if not, maybe they can mean something to us. At the very least, by the time we leave, we know we will have seen it, this great state of ours. So come on. Let’s go. Let’s count for something. Let’s get off that ledge.
When she doesn’t respond, I write: I’m here if you want to talk.
I imagine Violet at home right now, on the other side of the computer, her perfect mouth with its perfect corners turned up, smiling at the screen, in spite of everything, no matter what. Violet smiling. With one eye on my computer, I pick up the guitar, start making up words, the tune not far behind.
I’m still here, and I’m grateful, because otherwise I would be missing this. Sometimes it’s good to be awake.
“So not today,” I sing. “Because she smiled at me.”
FINCH’S RULES FOR WANDERING
1. There are no rules, because life is made up of too many rules as it is.
2. But there are three “guidelines” (which sounds less rigid than “rules”):
a) No using our phones to get us there. We have to do this strictly old-school, which means learning to read actual maps.
b) We alternate choosing places to go, but we also have to be willing to go where the road takes us. This means the grand, the small, the bizarre, the poetic, the beautiful, the ugly, the surprising. Just like life. But absolutely, unconditionally, resolutely nothing ordinary.
c) At each site, we leave something, almost like an offering. It can be our own private game of geocaching (“the recreational activity of hunting for and finding a hidden object by means of GPS coordinates posted on a website”), only not a game, and just for us. The rules of geocaching say “take something, leave something.” The way I figure it, we stand to get something out of each place, so why not give something back? Also, it’s a way to prove we’ve been there, and a way to leave a part of us behind.
153 days till graduation
Saturday night. Amanda Monk’s house.
I walk there because it’s only three blocks away. Amanda says it will just be us and Ashley Dunston and Shelby Padgett because Amanda’s not talking to Suze right now. Again. Amanda used to be one of my closest friends, but ever since April, I’ve drifted away from her. Since I quit cheering, we don’t have much in common. I wonder if we ever did.
I made the mistake of mentioning the whole sleepover thing to my parents, which is why I’m going. “Amanda is making an effort, and you should too, Violet. You can’t use your sister’s death as an excuse forever. You’ve got to get back to living.” I’m not ready doesn’t work on my mom and dad anymore.
As I cut across the Wyatts’ yard and turn the corner, I hear the party. Amanda’s house is lit up like Christmas. People are hanging out the windows. They are standing on the lawn. Amanda’s father owns a chain of liquor stores, which is one of the reasons she’s popular. That and the fact that she puts out.
I wait on the street, my bag across my shoulder, pillow under my arm. I feel like a sixth grader. Like a goody-good. Eleanor would laugh at me and push me up the walk. She’d already be inside. I get mad at her just picturing it.
I make myself go in. Joe Wyatt hands me something in a red plastic cup. “Beer’s in the basement,” he shouts. Roamer has taken over the kitchen with random other baseball players and football players.
“Did you score?” Roamer asks Troy Satterfield.
“Did you even kiss her?”
“Did you get any a*s?”
“Yeah, but I think that was by mistake.”
They laugh, including Troy. Everyone is talking too loud.