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One of the best YA books I ever read.
15 March 2020 (07:49)
If you've watched the movie before reading this I promise you they're nothing alike. This book is absolutely amazing. Showing how loss and depression affect people from two different sides and how, while one person is growing and coming into the light, someone in the same 'world' as them can be growing smaller and falling into their own darkness and how even those that are taking care of you can miss important signs. It's an amazing read and really exposes the difficult parts of depression and loss as well as doing an amazing job at explaining how it can feel to lose to it. definitely recommend!
01 April 2020 (04:10)
I have not watched the movie yet but the book is just lovely , raw and absolutely amazing.
12 April 2020 (22:33)
The story starts as they meet at the top of a bell tower, considering ending their lives. Violet feels survivors guilt from her sister’s death. Finch suffers from bipolar depression, his guidance counsellor was the first to diagnose him, however, due to the stigma attached to mental illness he refuses to seek any help. Finch can’t stand the thought of having another depressive episode with bipolar discord we so he eventually commits suicide. The theme in this story had a much deeper meaning than anything I’ve read before, focusing on death and suicide and them being almost too hard to understand. The main themes of the story are:dealing with loss, love, guilt, suicide and mental illness. The romantic relationship between Violet and Finch is central to the plot of the story as Violet quickly becomes very attached to him. As their relationship progresses Violet begins to feel better and she opens up to Finch. Love is present not only in a romantic sense but also a familial and the platonic relationship between the main characters. Both characters’ families play a huge role in their life and they way they act. Violet’s parents are and loving people, they become overly concerned about Violet post Eleanor’s death and suppress their own feelings. It’s because of Violet’s powerful love for her sister which drives the significant change in behaviour after Eleanor dies. Finch’s parents are the complete opposite, his father has been abusive towards him and his mother in the past and his father left his mother for another woman. This resulted in Finch’s mother becoming confused and oblivious to the problems in her children’s lives. Violet deals with her sister’s death throughout the book and Finch’s death at the end of the book, Through these experiences Violet feels a lot of guilt, she thinks it is unfair that he saved her life but she was unable to save his. “You are all the colours in one, at full brightness” Finch says as he sees the positive impact he has on Violet and how she is changing. A juxtaposition to his growing desire to die. He had many ways to cope with these feelings, like running, writing in his diary and driving- he says speeding makes him feel more alive. At one point in the story, Finch holds sleeping pills in his palm but decides not to take them because he is worried about who is going to take care of Violet. Despite being suicidal Finch tries his hardest to keep Violet alive, showing genuine care and concern towards someone he’s known for such little time. Violet is the main reason he wants to stay alive but even that love isn’t powerful enough at the end.
09 June 2020 (17:25)
Ugh. Just, no. Mental illness is not a cute little quirk. It isn't something that kickstarts a misfit, high school romance. It is not something that automatically makes you more witty, or intelligent, or really all that different from your peers. It isn't at all what is portrayed in this book. Niven's intentions may be wonderful, and she is right that we need more books about mental health and illness. But this makes a mockery of it.
09 September 2020 (08:55)
“You’ll find the bright places, where the Boom Bands are playing.” I don’t know what to say but the book is pretty good. The ending is sour but it’s a must read!
12 November 2020 (18:55)
26 February 2021 (23:08)
This is one of the most beautiful, heart braking displays of mental illness ive ever read.
30 March 2021 (23:52)
heart breaking beautiful writing!!! 1000% recommend it
01 April 2021 (00:40)
Inori the Nut
This story by Niven provides one among many narratives of fantastical mental illness awareness promoters. The character development of Violet and the climax of Theodore's life is rather awakening. Starting off in an unusual setting, with cliché-cheesy romantic dialogues and moments of sheer slice of life, along with the little sad episodes of realization filled my experience with this book; with JOY.
I wish I had better words to denote my experience better though. How the book ended left a deep and (till now) lasting impact of my version of love and suffering. Commendable work Jennifer Niven, add me to your fan following.
I wish I had better words to denote my experience better though. How the book ended left a deep and (till now) lasting impact of my version of love and suffering. Commendable work Jennifer Niven, add me to your fan following.
05 April 2021 (17:49)
i love this book. after reading it i definitely pictured finch looking different than in the movie.
07 April 2021 (06:27)
Love the way that the small, important details are told. Truly, everyone has their own battles in life that no one can see, not even their families. I just like how both different life stories were combined. I really had so much realizations after this read, but I guess it depends on the perspective of the reader whether to take it positively or not. An absolutely good book though. :>
15 April 2021 (19:15)
This books is one of my favorites. It made my bawl my eyes out! This book was nothing less than a journey. A journey of love, relations, disorder and soo manyyy moree. I literally fell in love with this book, Finch, Violet. I haven't watched the movie and I'm thankful that I got to read it first. Would one hundred percent recommend this book !
05 May 2021 (20:35)
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09 May 2021 (20:32)
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF This is a work of fiction. All incidents and dialogue, and all characters (with the exception of the creators of the World’s Largest Ball of Paint and the Blue Flash and Blue Too roller coasters), are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental. Text copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Niven Jacket photographs (flowers) copyright © 2015 by Neil Fletcher and Matthew Ward/Getty Images Hand-lettering and illustrations copyright © 2015 by Sarah Watts All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York. Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC. Excerpt from Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss, TM and copyright © by Dr. Seuss Enterprises L.P. 1990. Used by permission of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York. All rights reserved. Visit us on the Web! randomhouse.com/teens Educators and librarians, for a variety of teaching tools, visit us at RHTeachersLibrarians.com Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Niven, Jennifer. All the bright places / Jennifer Niven.—1st ed. p. cm. Summary: “Told in alternating voices, when Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school—both teetering on the edge—it’s the beginning of an unlikely relationship, a journey to discover the ‘natural wonders’ of the state of Indiana, and two teens’ desperate desire to heal and save one another.”—Provided by publisher Includes bibliographical references. ISBN 978-0-385-75588-7 (trade) — ISBN 978-0-385-75589-4 (lib. bdg.) — ISBN 978-0-385-75590-0 (ebook) — ISBN 978-0-553-53358-3 (intl. tr. pbk.) [1. Friendship—Fiction. 2. Suicide—Fiction. 3. Emotional problems— Fiction. 4. Indiana—Fiction.] I. Title. PZ7.N6434Al 2015 [Fic]—dc23 2014; 002238 Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read. v3.1 Contents Cover Title Page Copyright Dedication Epigraph Part 1 Finch: I am awake again. Day 6 Violet: 154 days till graduation Finch: Day 6 (still) of being awake Finch’s Rules for Wandering Violet: 153 days till graduation Finch: Day 7 of the Awake Violet: 152 days till graduation Finch: Day 8 of the Awake Violet: 151 days till graduation Finch: Day 9 Violet: 151 days till graduation Finch: The night of the day my life changed Violet: 148 days till graduation Finch: Day 13 Violet: 147–146 days till freedom Finch: Day 15 (I am still awake) Violet: 145 days till liberation Finch: Day 15 (still) Finch: Days 16 and 17 Violet: 142 days to go Finch: Day 22 and I’m still here Violet: 138 days to go Finch: Days 23, 24, 25 … Part 2 Violet: 135, 134, 133 days to go Finch: Day 27 (I am still here) Violet: 133 days to go Violet: Saturday Finch: Day 28 Finch: Day 30 (and I am awake) Violet: February 2 Violet: The weekend Finch: The first warm day Violet: The day of Finch: The day of Violet: The morning after Finch: What follows Finch: How to survive quicksand Violet: The week after Violet: Spring break Finch: Day 64 of the awake Finch: Days 65 and 66 Violet: March 10 Finch: Days 66 and 67 Finch: Day 71 Violet: March 18 Finch: Day 75 Violet: March 20 Violet: March 21 and beyond Finch: Day 80: (a muthaf#@*ing world record) Violet: The rest of march Part 3 Violet: April Violet: April 26 Violet: April 26 (part two) Violet: May 3 Violet: May—weeks 1, 2, and 3 Violet: Remaining wanderings 1 and 2 Violet: Remaining wanderings 3 and 4 Violet: The last wandering Violet: June 20 Author’s Note Acknowledgments About the Author The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places. —Ernest Hemingway FINCH I am awake again. Day 6. Is today a good day to die? This is something I ask myself in the morning when I wake up. In third period when I’m trying to keep my eyes open while Mr. Schroeder drones on and on. At the supper table as I’m passing the green beans. At night when I’m lying awake because my brain won’t shut off due to all there is to think about. Is today the day? And if not today—when? I am asking myself this now as I stand on a narrow ledge six stories above the ground. I’m so high up, I’m practically part of the sky. I look down at the pavement below, and the world tilts. I close my eyes, enjoying the way everything spins. Maybe this time I’ll do it—let the air carry me away. It will be like floating in a pool, drifting off until there’s nothing. I don’t remember climbing up here. In fact, I don’t remember much of anything before Sunday, at least not anything so far this winter. This happens every time—the blanking out, the waking up. I’m like that old man with the beard, Rip Van Winkle. Now you see me, now you don’t. You’d think I’d have gotten used to it, but this last time was the worst yet because I wasn’t asleep for a couple days or a week or two—I was asleep for the holidays, meaning Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. I can’t tell you what was different this time around, only that when I woke up, I felt deader than usual. Awake, yeah, but completely empty, like someone had been feasting on my blood. This is day six of being awake again, and my first week back at school since November 14. I open my eyes, and the ground is still there, hard and permanent. I am in the bell tower of the high school, standing on a ledge about four inches wide. The tower is pretty small, with only a few feet of concrete floor space on all sides of the bell itself, and then this low stone railing, which I’ve climbed over to get here. Every now and then I knock one of my legs against it to remind myself it’s there. My arms are outstretched as if I’m conducting a sermon and this entire not-very-big, dull, dull town is my congregation. “Ladies and gentlemen,” I shout, “I would like to welcome you to my death!” You might expect me to say “life,” having just woken up and all, but it’s only when I’m awake that I think about dying. I am shouting in an old-school-preacher way, all jerking head and words that twitch at the ends, and I almost lose my balance. I hold on behind me, happy no one seems to have noticed, because, let’s face it, it’s hard to look fearless when you’re clutching the railing like a chicken. “I, Theodore Finch, being of unsound mind, do hereby bequeath all my earthly possessions to Charlie Donahue, Brenda Shank-Kravitz, and my sisters. Everyone else can go f— themselves.” In my house, my mom taught us early to spell that word (if we must use it) or, better yet, not spell it, and, sadly, this has stuck. Even though the bell has rung, some of my classmates are still milling around on the ground. It’s the first week of the second semester of senior year, and already they’re acting as if they’re almost done and out of here. One of them looks up in my direction, as if he heard me, but the others don’t, either because they haven’t spotted me or because they know I’m there and Oh well, it’s just Theodore Freak. Then his head turns away from me and he points at the sky. At first I think he’s pointing at me, but it’s at that moment I see her, the girl. She stands a few feet away on the other side of the tower, also out on the ledge, dark-blond hair waving in the breeze, the hem of her skirt blowing up like a parachute. Even though it’s January in Indiana, she is shoeless in tights, a pair of boots in her hand, and staring either at her feet or at the ground—it’s hard to tell. She seems frozen in place. In my regular, nonpreacher voice I say, as calmly as possible, “Take it from me, the worst thing you can do is look down.” Very slowly, she turns her head toward me, and I know this girl, or at least I’ve seen her in the hallways. I can’t resist: “Come here often? Because this is kind of my spot and I don’t remember seeing you here before.” She doesn’t laugh or blink, just gazes out at me from behind these clunky glasses that almost cover her face. She tries to take a step back and her foot bumps the railing. She teeters a little, and before she can panic, I say, “I don’t know what brings you up here, but to me the town looks prettier and the people look nicer and even the worst of them look almost kind. Except for Gabe Romero and Amanda Monk and that whole crowd you hang out with.” Her name is Violet Something. She is cheerleader popular—one of those girls you would never think of running into on a ledge six stories above the ground. Behind the ugly glasses she’s pretty, almost like a china doll. Large eyes, sweet face shaped like a heart, a mouth that wants to curve into a perfect little smile. She’s a girl who dates guys like Ryan Cross, baseball star, and sits with Amanda Monk and the other queen bees at lunch. “But let’s face it, we didn’t come up here for the view. You’re Violet, right?” She blinks once, and I take this as a yes. “Theodore Finch. I think we had pre-cal together last year.” She blinks again. “I hate math, but that’s not why I’m up here. No offense if that’s why you are. You’re probably better at math than I am, because pretty much everyone’s better at math than I am, but it’s okay, I’m fine with it. See, I excel at other, more important things—guitar, sex, and consistently disappointing my dad, to name a few. By the way, it’s apparently true that you’ll never use it in the real world. Math, I mean.” I keep talking, but I can tell I’m running out of steam. I need to take a piss, for one thing, and so my words aren’t the only thing twitching. (Note to self: Before attempting to take own life, remember to take a leak.) And, two, it’s starting to rain, which, in this temperature, will probably turn to sleet before it hits the ground. “It’s starting to rain,” I say, as if she doesn’t know this. “I guess there’s an argument to be made that the rain will wash away the blood, leaving us a neater mess to clean up than otherwise. But it’s the mess part that’s got me thinking. I’m not a vain person, but I am human, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to look like I’ve been run through the wood chipper at my funeral.” She’s shivering or shaking, I can’t tell which, and so I slowly inch my way toward her, hoping I don’t fall off before I get there, because the last thing I want to do is make a jackass out of myself in front of this girl. “I’ve made it clear I want cremation, but my mom doesn’t believe in it.” And my dad will do whatever she says so he won’t upset her any more than he already has, and besides, You’re far too young to think about this, you know your Grandma Finch lived to be ninety-eight, we don’t need to talk about that now, Theodore, don’t upset your mother. “So it’ll be an open coffin for me, which means if I jump, it ain’t gonna be pretty. Besides, I kind of like my face intact like this, two eyes, one nose, one mouth, a full set of teeth, which, if I’m being honest, is one of my better features.” I smile so she can see what I mean. Everything where it should be, on the outside at least. When she doesn’t say anything, I go on inching and talking. “Most of all, I feel bad for the undertaker. What a shitty job that must be anyway, but then to have to deal with an asshole like me?” From down below, someone yells, “Violet? Is that Violet up there?” “Oh God,” she says, so low I barely hear it. “OhGodohGodohGod.” The wind blows her skirt and hair, and it looks like she’s going to fly away. There is general buzzing from the ground, and I shout, “Don’t try to save me! You’ll only kill yourself!” Then I say, very low, just to her, “Here’s what I think we should do.” I’m about a foot away from her now. “I want you to throw your shoes toward the bell and then hold on to the rail, just grab right onto it, and once you’ve got it, lean against it and then lift your right foot up and over. Got that?” She nods and almost loses her balance. “Don’t nod. And whatever you do, don’t go the wrong way and step forward instead of back. I’ll count you off. On three.” She throws her boots in the direction of the bell, and they fall with a thud, thud onto the concrete. “One. Two. Three.” She grips the stone and kind of props herself against it and then lifts her leg up and over so that she’s sitting on the railing. She stares down at the ground and I can see that she’s frozen again, and so I say, “Good. Great. Just stop looking down.” She slowly looks at me and then reaches for the floor of the bell tower with her right foot, and once she’s found it, I say, “Now get that left leg back over however you can. Don’t let go of the wall.” By now she’s shaking so hard I can hear her teeth chatter, but I watch as her left foot joins her right, and she is safe. So now it’s just me out here. I gaze down at the ground one last time, past my size-thirteen feet that won’t stop growing—today I’m wearing sneakers with fluorescent laces—past the open windows of the fourth floor, the third, the second, past Amanda Monk, who is cackling from the front steps and swishing her blond hair like a pony, books over her head, trying to flirt and protect herself from the rain at the same time. I gaze past all of this at the ground itself, which is now slick and damp, and imagine myself lying there. I could just step off. It would be over in seconds. No more “Theodore Freak.” No more hurt. No more anything. I try to get past the unexpected interruption of saving a life and return to the business at hand. For a minute, I can feel it: the sense of peace as my mind goes quiet, like I’m already dead. I am weightless and free. Nothing and no one to fear, not even myself. Then a voice from behind me says, “I want you to hold on to the rail, and once you’ve got it, lean against it and lift your right foot up and over.” Like that, I can feel the moment passing, maybe already passed, and now it seems like a stupid idea, except for picturing the look on Amanda’s face as I go sailing by her. I laugh at the thought. I laugh so hard I almost fall off, and this scares me—like, really scares me—and I catch myself and Violet catches me as Amanda looks up. “Weirdo!” someone shouts. Amanda’s little group snickers. She cups her big mouth and aims it skyward. “You okay, V?” Violet leans over the rail, still holding on to my legs. “I’m okay.” The door at the top of the tower stairs cracks open and my best friend, Charlie Donahue, appears. Charlie is black. Not CW black, but black-black. He also gets laid more than anyone else I know. He says, “They’re serving pizza today,” as if I wasn’t standing on a ledge six stories above the ground, my arms outstretched, a girl wrapped around my knees. “Why don’t you go ahead and get it over with, freak?” Gabe Romero, better known as Roamer, better known as Dumbass, yells from below. More laughter. Because I’ve got a date with your mother later, I think but don’t say because, let’s face it, it’s lame, and also he will come up here and beat my face in and then throw me off, and this defeats the point of just doing it myself. Instead I shout, “Thanks for saving me, Violet. I don’t know what I would’ve done if you hadn’t come along. I guess I’d be dead right now.” The last face I see below belongs to my school counselor, Mr. Embry. As he glares up at me, I think, Great. Just great. I let Violet help me over the wall and onto the concrete. From down below, there’s a smattering of applause, not for me, but for Violet, the hero. Up close like this, I can see that her skin is smooth and clear except for two freckles on her right cheek, and her eyes are a gray-green that makes me think of fall. It’s the eyes that get me. They are large and arresting, as if she sees everything. As warm as they are, they are busy, no-bullshit eyes, the kind that can look right into you, which I can tell even through the glasses. She’s pretty and tall, but not too tall, with long, restless legs and curvy hips, which I like on a girl. Too many high school girls are built like boys. “I was just sitting there,” she says. “On the railing. I didn’t come up here to—” “Let me ask you something. Do you think there’s such a thing as a perfect day?” “What?” “A perfect day. Start to finish. When nothing terrible or sad or ordinary happens. Do you think it’s possible?” “I don’t know.” “Have you ever had one?” “No.” “I’ve never had one either, but I’m looking for it.” She whispers, “Thank you, Theodore Finch.” She reaches up and kisses me on the cheek, and I can smell her shampoo, which reminds me of flowers. She says into my ear, “If you ever tell anyone about this, I’ll kill you.” Carrying her boots, she hurries away and out of the rain, back through the door that leads to the flight of dark and rickety stairs that takes you down to one of the many too-bright and too-crowded school hallways. Charlie watches her go and, as the door swings closed behind her, he turns back to me. “Man, why do you do that?” “Because we all have to die someday. I just want to be prepared.” This isn’t the reason, of course, but it will be enough for him. The truth is, there are a lot of reasons, most of which change daily, like the thirteen fourth graders killed earlier this week when some SOB opened fire in their school gym, or the girl two years behind me who just died of cancer, or the man I saw outside the Mall Cinema kicking his dog, or my father. Charlie may think it, but at least he doesn’t say “Weirdo,” which is why he’s my best friend. Other than the fact that I appreciate this about him, we don’t have much in common. Technically, I’m on probation this year. This is due to a small matter involving a desk and a chalkboard. (For the record, replacing a chalkboard is more expensive than you might think.) It’s also due to a guitar-smashing incident during assembly, an illegal use of fireworks, and maybe a fight or two. As a result, I’ve agreed involuntarily to the following: weekly counseling; maintaining a high B average; and participation in at least one extracurricular. I chose macramé because I’m the only guy with twenty semihot girls, which I thought was pretty good odds for me. I also have to behave myself, play well with others, refrain from throwing desks, as well as refrain from any “violent physical altercations.” And I must always, always, whatever I do, hold my tongue, because not doing so, apparently, is how trouble starts. If I f— anything up from here on out, it’s expulsion for me. Inside the counseling office, I check in with the secretary and take a seat in one of the hard wooden chairs until Mr. Embry is ready for me. If I know Embryo—as I call him to myself—like I know Embryo, he’ll want to know just what the hell I was doing in the bell tower. If I’m lucky, we won’t have time to cover much more than that. In a few minutes he waves me in, a short, thick man built like a bull. As he shuts the door, he drops the smile. He sits down, hunches over his desk, and fixes his eyes on me like I’m a suspect he needs to crack. “What in the hell were you doing in the bell tower?” The thing I like about Embryo is that not only is he predictable, he gets to the point. I’ve known him since sophomore year. “I wanted to see the view.” “Were you planning to jump off?” “Not on pizza day. Never on pizza day, which is one of the better days of the week.” I should mention that I am a brilliant deflector. So brilliant that I could get a full scholarship to college and major in it, except why bother? I’ve already mastered the art. I wait for him to ask about Violet, but instead he says, “I need to know if you were or are planning to harm yourself. I am goddamn serious. If Principal Wertz hears about this, you’re gone before you can say ‘suspended,’ or worse. Not to mention if I don’t pay attention and you decide to go back up there and jump off, I’m looking at a lawsuit, and on the salary they pay me, believe me when I say I do not have the money to be sued. This holds true whether you jump off the bell tower or the Purina Tower, whether it’s school property or not.” I stroke my chin like I’m deep in thought. “The Purina Tower. Now there’s an idea.” He doesn’t budge except to squint at me. Like most people in the Midwest, Embryo doesn’t believe in humor, especially when it pertains to sensitive subjects. “Not funny, Mr. Finch. This is not a joking matter.” “No, sir. Sorry.” “The thing suicides don’t focus on is their wake. Not just your parents and siblings, but your friends, your girlfriends, your classmates, your teachers.” I like the way he seems to think I have many, many people depending on me, including not just one but multiple girlfriends. “I was just messing around. I agree it was probably not the best way to spend first period.” He picks up a file and thumps it down in front of him and starts flipping through it. I wait as he reads, and then he looks at me again. I wonder if he’s counting the days till summer. He stands, just like a cop on TV, and walks around his desk until he’s looming over me. He leans against it, arms folded, and I look past him, searching for the hidden two-way mirror. “Do I need to call your mother?” “No. And again no.” And again: no no no. “Look, it was a stupid thing to do. I just wanted to see what it felt like to stand there and look down. I would never jump from the bell tower.” “If it happens again, if you so much as think about it again, I call her. And you’re going to do a drug test.” “I appreciate your concern, sir.” I try to sound my most sincere, because the last thing I want is a bigger, brighter spotlight directed at me, following me throughout the halls of school, throughout the other parts of my life, such as they are. And the thing is, I actually like Embryo. “As for the whole drug thing, there’s no need to waste precious time. Really. Unless cigarettes count. Drugs and me? Not a good mix. Believe me, I’ve tried.” I fold my hands like a good boy. “As for the whole bell tower thing, even though it wasn’t at all what you think, I can still promise that it won’t happen again.” “That’s right—it won’t. I want you here twice a week instead of once. You come in Monday and Friday and talk to me, just so I can see how you’re doing.” “I’m happy to, sir—I mean, I, like, really enjoy these conversations of ours—but I’m good.” “It’s nonnegotiable. Now let’s discuss the end of last semester. You missed four, almost five, weeks of school. Your mother says you were sick with the flu.” He’s actually talking about my sister Kate, but he doesn’t know that. She was the one who called the school while I was out, because Mom has enough to worry about. “If that’s what she says, who are we to argue?” The fact is, I was sick, but not in an easily explained flu kind of way. It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other recognizable disease just to make it simple for me and also for them. Anything would be better than the truth: I shut down again. I went blank. One minute I was spinning, and the next minute my mind was dragging itself around in a circle, like an old, arthritic dog trying to lie down. And then I just turned off and went to sleep, but not sleep in the way you do every night. Think a long, dark sleep where you don’t dream at all. Embryo once again narrows his eyes to a squint and stares at me hard, trying to induce a sweat. “And can we expect you to show up and stay out of trouble this semester?” “Absolutely.” “And keep up with your classwork?” “Yes, sir.” “I’ll arrange the drug test with the nurse.” He jabs the air with his finger, pointing at me. “Probation means ‘period of testing somebody’s suitability; period when student must improve.’ Look it up if you don’t believe me, and for Christ’s sake, stay alive.” The thing I don’t say is: I want to stay alive. The reason I don’t say it is because, given that fat folder in front of him, he’d never believe it. And here’s something else he’d never believe—I’m fighting to be here in this shitty, messed-up world. Standing on the ledge of the bell tower isn’t about dying. It’s about having control. It’s about never going to sleep again. Embryo stalks around his desk and gathers a stack of “Teens in Trouble” pamphlets. Then he tells me I’m not alone and I can always talk to him, his door is open, he’s here, and he’ll see me on Monday. I want to say no offense, but that’s not much of a comfort. Instead, I thank him because of the dark circles under his eyes and the smoker’s lines etched around his mouth. He’ll probably light up a cigarette as soon as I go. I take a heaping pile of pamphlets and leave him to it. He never once mentioned Violet, and I’m relieved. VIOLET 154 days till graduation Friday morning. Office of Mrs. Marion Kresney, school counselor, who has small, kind eyes and a smile too big for her face. According to the certificate on the wall above her head, she’s been at Bartlett High for fifteen years. This is our twelfth meeting. My heart is still racing and my hands are still shaking from being up on that ledge. I have gone cold all over, and what I want is to lie down. I wait for Mrs. Kresney to say: I know what you were doing first period, Violet Markey. Your parents are on their way. Doctors are standing by, ready to escort you to the nearest mental health facility. But we start as we always do. “How are you, Violet?” “I’m fine, and you?” I sit on my hands. “I’m fine. Let’s talk about you. I want to know how you’re feeling.” “I’m good.” Just because she hasn’t brought it up does not mean she doesn’t know. She almost never asks anything directly. “How are you sleeping?” The nightmares started a month after the accident. She asks about them every time I see her, because I made the mistake of mentioning them to my mom, who mentioned them to her. This is one of the main reasons why I’m here and why I’ve stopped telling my mom anything. “I’m sleeping fine.” The thing about Mrs. Kresney is that she always, always smiles, no matter what. I like this about her. “Any bad dreams?” “No.” I used to write them down, but I don’t anymore. I can remember every detail. Like this one I had four weeks ago where I was literally melting away. In the dream, my dad said, “You’ve come to the end, Violet. You’ve reached your limit. We all have them, and yours is now.” But I don’t want it to be. I watched as my feet turned into puddles and disappeared. Next were my hands. It didn’t hurt, and I remember thinking: I shouldn’t mind this because there isn’t any pain. It’s just a slipping away. But I did mind as, limb by limb, the rest of me went invisible before I woke up. Mrs. Kresney shifts in her chair, her smile fixed on her face. I wonder if she smiles in her sleep. “Let’s talk about college.” This time last year, I would have loved to talk about college. Eleanor and I used to do this sometimes after Mom and Dad had gone to bed. We’d sit outside if it was warm enough, inside if it was too cold. We imagined the places we would go and the people we would meet, far away from Bartlett, Indiana, population 14,983, where we felt like aliens from some distant planet. “You’ve applied to UCLA, Stanford, Berkeley, the University of Florida, the University of Buenos Aires, Northern Caribbean University, and the National University of Singapore. This is a very diverse list, but what happened to NYU?” Since the summer before seventh grade, NYU’s creative writing program has been my dream. This is thanks to visiting New York with my mother, who is a college professor and writer. She did her graduate work at NYU, and for three weeks the four of us stayed in the city and socialized with her former teachers and classmates—novelists, playwrights, screenwriters, poets. My plan was to apply for early admission in October. But then the accident happened and I changed my mind. “I missed the application deadline.” The deadline for regular admission was one week ago today. I filled everything out, even wrote my essay, but didn’t send it in. “Let’s talk about the writing. Let’s talk about the website.” She means EleanorandViolet.com. Eleanor and I started it after we moved to Indiana. We wanted to create an online magazine that offered two (very) different perspectives on fashion, beauty, boys, books, life. Last year, Eleanor’s friend Gemma Sterling (star of the hit Web series Rant) mentioned us in an interview, and our following tripled. But I haven’t touched the site since Eleanor died, because what would be the point? It was a site about sisters. Besides, in that instant we went plowing through the guardrail, my words died too. “I don’t want to talk about the website.” “I believe your mother is an author. She must be very helpful in giving advice.” “Jessamyn West said, ‘Writing is so difficult that writers, having had their hell on earth, will escape all punishment hereafter.’ ” She lights up at this. “Do you feel you’re being punished?” She is talking about the accident. Or maybe she is referring to being here in this office, this school, this town. “No.” Do I feel I should be punished? Yes. Why else would I have given myself bangs? “Do you believe you’re responsible for what happened?” I tug on the bangs now. They are lopsided. “No.” She sits back. Her smile slips a fraction of an inch. We both know I’m lying. I wonder what she would say if I told her that an hour ago I was being talked off the ledge of the bell tower. By now, I’m pretty sure she doesn’t know. “Have you driven yet?” “No.” “Have you allowed yourself to ride in the car with your parents?” “No.” “But they want you to.” This isn’t a question. She says this like she’s talked to one or both of them, which she probably has. “I’m not ready.” These are the three magic words. I’ve discovered they can get you out of almost anything. She leans forward. “Have you thought about returning to cheerleading?” “No.” “Student council?” “No.” “You still play flute in the orchestra?” “I’m last chair.” That’s something that hasn’t changed since the accident. I was always last chair because I’m not very good at flute. She sits back again. For a moment I think she’s given up. Then she says, “I’m concerned about your progress, Violet. Frankly, you should be further along than you are right now. You can’t avoid cars forever, especially now that we’re in winter. You can’t keep standing still. You need to remember that you’re a survivor, and that means …” I will never know what that means because as soon as I hear the word “survivor,” I get up and walk out. On my way to fourth period. School hallway. At least fifteen people—some I know, some I don’t, some who haven’t talked to me in months—stop me on my way to class to tell me how courageous I was to save Theodore Finch from killing himself. One of the girls from the school paper wants to do an interview. Of all the people I could have “saved,” Theodore Finch is the worst possible choice because he’s a Bartlett legend. I don’t know him that well, but I know of him. Everyone knows of him. Some people hate him because they think he’s weird and he gets into fights and gets kicked out of school and does what he wants. Some people worship him because he’s weird and he gets into fights and gets kicked out of school and does what he wants. He plays guitar in five or six different bands, and last year he cut a record. But he’s kind of … extreme. Like he came to school one day painted head-to-toe red, and it wasn’t even Spirit Week. He told some people he was protesting racism and others he was protesting the consumption of meat. Junior year he wore a cape every day for an entire month, cracked a chalkboard in half with a desk, and stole all the dissecting frogs from the science wing and gave them a funeral before burying them in the baseball field. The great Anna Faris once said that the secret of surviving high school is to “lay low.” Finch does the opposite of this. I’m five minutes late to Russian literature, where Mrs. Mahone and her wig assign us a ten-page paper on The Brothers Karamazov. Groans follow from everyone but me, because no matter what Mrs. Kresney seems to think, I have Extenuating Circumstances. I don’t even listen as Mrs. Mahone goes over what she wants. Instead I pick at a thread on my skirt. I have a headache. Probably from the glasses. Eleanor’s eyes were worse than mine. I take the glasses off and set them on the desk. They were stylish on her. They’re ugly on me. Especially with the bangs. But maybe, if I wear the glasses long enough, I can be like her. I can see what she saw. I can be both of us at once so no one will have to miss her, most of all me. The thing is, there are good days and bad days. I feel almost guilty saying they aren’t all bad. Something catches me off guard—a TV show, a funny one-liner from my dad, a comment in class—and I laugh like nothing ever happened. I feel normal again, whatever that is. Some mornings I wake up and I sing while I’m getting ready. Or maybe I turn up the music and dance. On most days, I walk to school. Other days I take my bike, and every now and then my mind tricks me into thinking I’m just a regular girl out for a ride. Emily Ward pokes me in the back and hands me a note. Because Mrs. Mahone collects our phones at the start of every class, it’s the old-fashioned kind, written on notebook paper. Is it true you saved Finch from killing himself? x Ryan. There is only one Ryan in this room—some would argue there’s only one Ryan in the whole school, maybe even the world—and that’s Ryan Cross. I look up and catch his eye, two rows over. He is too good-looking. Broad shoulders, warm gold-brown hair, green eyes, and enough freckles to make him seem approachable. Until December, he was my boyfriend, but now we’re taking a break. I let the note sit on my desk for five minutes before answering it. Finally, I write: I just happened to be there. x V. Less than a minute later, it’s passed back to me, but this time I don’t open it. I think of how many girls would love to receive a note like this from Ryan Cross. The Violet Markey of last spring would have been one of them. When the bell rings, I hang back. Ryan lingers for a minute, waiting to see what I do, but when I just sit there, he collects his phone and goes on. Mrs. Mahone says, “Yes, Violet?” Ten pages used to be no big deal. A teacher would ask for ten and I would write twenty. If they wanted twenty, I’d give them thirty. Writing was what I did best, better than being a daughter or girlfriend or sister. Writing was me. But now writing is one of the things I can’t do. I barely have to say anything, not even “I’m not ready.” It’s in the unwritten rulebook of life, under How to React When a Student Loses a Loved One and Is, Nine Months Later, Still Having a Very Hard Time. Mrs. Mahone sighs and hands me my phone. “Give me a page or a paragraph, Violet. Just do your best.” My Extenuating Circumstances save the day. Outside the classroom, Ryan is waiting. I can see him trying to figure out the puzzle so he can put me back together again and turn me into the fun girlfriend he used to know. He says, “You look really pretty today.” He is nice enough not to stare at my hair. “Thanks.” Over Ryan’s shoulder, I see Theodore Finch strutting by. He nods at me like he knows something I don’t, and he keeps on going. FINCH Day 6 (still) of being awake By lunch, it’s all over school that Violet Markey saved Theodore Finch from jumping off the bell tower. On my way to U.S. Geography, I walk behind a group of girls in the hallway who are going on and on about it, no idea that I’m the one and only Theodore Finch. They talk over each other in these high voices that always end in question marks, so that it sounds like I heard he had a gun? I heard she had to wrestle it out of his hands? My cousin Stacey, who goes to New Castle, says she and a friend were in Chicago and he was playing this club and he totally hooked up with both of them? Well, my brother was there when he set off the firecrackers, and he said before the police took him away, he was all “Unless you want to reimburse me, I’ll wait for the finale”? Apparently, I’m tragic and dangerous. Oh yeah, I think. That’s right. I am here and now and not just awake, but Awake, and everyone can just deal with it because I am the second freakin’ coming. I lean in and say to them, “I heard he did it over a girl,” and then I swagger all the way to class. Inside the classroom, I take my seat, feeling infamous and invincible and twitchy and strangely exhilarated, as if I just escaped, well, death. I look around, but no one is paying any attention to me or Mr. Black, our teacher, who is literally the largest man I have ever seen. He has a red, red face that always makes him look like he’s on the verge of heatstroke or a heart attack, and he wheezes when he talks. The whole time I’ve been in Indiana, which is all my life—the purgatory years, I call them—we’ve apparently lived just eleven miles away from the highest point in the state. No one ever told me, not my parents or my sisters or my teachers, until now, right this minute, in the “Wander Indiana” section of U.S. Geography—the one that was implemented by the school board this year in an effort to “enlighten students as to the rich history available in their own home state and inspire Hoosier pride.” No joke. Mr. Black settles into his chair and clears his throat. “What better and more … appropriate way to start off … the semester than by beginning … with the highest point?” Because of the wheezing, it’s hard to tell if Mr. Black is all that impressed by the information he’s relaying. “Hoosier Hill is … 1,257 feet above sea level … and it’s in the backyard … of a family home.… In 2005, an Eagle … Scout from Kentucky … got permission to … build a trail and picnic area … and put up a sign.…” I raise my hand, which Mr. Black ignores. As he talks, I leave my hand in the air and think, What if I went there and stood on that point? Would things look different from 1,257 feet? It doesn’t seem very high, but they’re proud of it, and who am I to say 1,257 feet isn’t something to be impressed by? Finally, he nods at me, his lips so tight, it looks like he’s swallowed them. “Yes, Mr. Finch?” He sighs the sigh of a one-hundred-year-old man and gives me an apprehensive, distrustful look. “I suggest a field trip. We need to see the wondrous sights of Indiana while we still can, because at least three of us in this room are going to graduate and leave our great state at the end of this year, and what will we have to show for it except a subpar public school education from one of the worst school systems in the nation? Besides, a place like this is going to be hard to take in unless we see it. Kind of like the Grand Canyon or Yosemite. You need to be there to really appreciate its splendor.” I’m only being about twenty percent sarcastic, but Mr. Black says, “Thank you, Mr. Finch,” in a way that means the direct opposite of thank you. I start drawing hills on my notebook in tribute to our state’s highest point, but they look more like formless lumps or airborne snakes—I can’t decide. “Theodore is correct that some … of you will leave … here at the end of … this school year to go … somewhere else. You’ll be departing our … great state, and before … you do, you should … see it. You should … wander.…” A noise from across the room interrupts him. Someone has come in late and dropped a book and then, in picking up the book, has upset all her other books so that everything has gone tumbling. This is followed by laughter because we’re in high school, which means we’re predictable and almost anything is funny, especially if it’s someone else’s public humiliation. The girl who dropped everything is Violet Markey, the same Violet Markey from the bell tower. She turns beet red and I can tell she wants to die. Not in a jumping-from-a-great-height kind of way, but more along the lines of Please, earth, swallow me whole. I know this feeling better than I know my mom or my sisters or Charlie Donahue. This feeling and I have been together all my life. Like the time I gave myself a concussion during kickball in front of Suze Haines; or the time I laughed so hard that something flew out of my nose and landed on Gabe Romero; or the entire eighth grade. And so, because I’m used to it and because this Violet girl is about three dropped pencils away from crying, I knock one of my own books onto the floor. All eyes shift to me. I bend to pick it up and purposely send the others flying—boomeranging into walls, windows, heads—and just for good measure, I tilt my chair over so I go crashing. This is followed by snickers and applause and a “freak” or two, and Mr. Black wheezing, “If you’re done … Theodore … I’d like to continue.” I right myself, right the chair, take a bow, collect my books, bow again, settle in, and smile at Violet, who is looking at me with what can only be described as surprise and relief and something else—worry, maybe. I’d like to think there’s a little lust mixed in too, but that could be wishful thinking. The smile I give her is the best smile I have, the one that makes my mother forgive me for staying out too late or for just generally being weird. (Other times, I see my mom looking at me—when she looks at me at all—like she’s thinking: Where in the hell did you come from? You must get it from your father’s side.) Violet smiles back. Immediately, I feel better, because she feels better and because of the way she smiles at me, as if I’m not something to be avoided. This makes twice in one day that I’ve saved her. Tenderhearted Theodore, my mother always says. Too tenderhearted for his own good. It’s meant as a criticism and I take it as one. Mr. Black fixes his eyes on Violet and then me. “As I was saying … your project for this … class is to report on … at least two, preferably three … wonders of Indiana.” I want to ask, Wonders or wanders? But I’m busy watching Violet as she concentrates on the chalkboard, the corner of her mouth still turned up. Mr. Black goes on about how he wants us to feel free to choose the places that strike our fancy, no matter how obscure or far away. Our mission is to go there and see each one, take pictures, shoot video, delve deep into their history, and tell him just what it is about these places that makes us proud to be a Hoosier. If it’s possible to link them in some way, all the better. We have the rest of the semester to complete the project, and we need to take it seriously. “You will work … in teams of … two. This will count … for thirty-five percent … of your final grade.…” I raise my hand again. “Can we choose our partners?” “Yes.” “I choose Violet Markey.” “You may work that out … with her after class.” I shift in my seat so I can see her, elbow on the back of my chair. “Violet Markey, I’d like to be your partner on this project.” Her face turns pink as everyone looks at her. Violet says to Mr. Black, “I thought if there was something else I could do—maybe research and write a short report.” Her voice is low, but she sounds a little pissed. “I’m not ready to …” He interrupts her. “Miss Markey, I’m going … to do you the biggest … favor of your life.… I’m going to say … no.” “No?” “No. It is a new year.… It is time to get … back on the camel.” A few people laugh at this. Violet looks at me and I can see that, yes, she is pissed, and it’s then I remember the accident. Violet and her sister, sometime last spring. Violet lived, the sister died. This is why she doesn’t want attention. The rest of class time is spent telling us about places Mr. Black thinks we might enjoy and that, no matter what, we must see before we graduate—the usual humdrum tourist spots like Conner Prairie, the Levi Coffin House, the Lincoln Museum, and James Whitcomb Riley’s boyhood home—even though I know that most of us will stay right here in this town until we die. I try to catch Violet’s eye again, but she doesn’t look up. Instead, she shrinks low in her seat and stares straight ahead. Outside of class, Gabe Romero blocks my way. As usual, he’s not alone. Amanda Monk waits just behind, hip jutted out, Joe Wyatt and Ryan Cross on either side of her. Good, easygoing, decent, nice-guy Ryan, athlete, A student, vice president of the class. The worst thing about him is that since kindergarten he’s known exactly who he is. Roamer says, “I better not catch you looking at me again.” “I wasn’t looking at you. Believe me, there are at least a hundred other things in that room I’d look at before you, including Mr. Black’s large, naked ass.” “Faggot.” Because Roamer and I have been sworn enemies since middle school, he shoves the books out of my hands, and even though this is right out of Fifth-Grade Bullying 101, I feel a familiar black grenade of anger—like an old friend—go off in my stomach, the thick, toxic smoke from it rising up and spreading through my chest. It’s the same feeling I had last year in that instant before I picked up a desk and hurled it—not at Roamer, like he wants everyone to believe, but at the chalkboard in Mr. Geary’s room. “Pick ’em up, bitch.” Roamer walks past me, knocking me in the chest—hard—with his shoulder. I want to slam his head into a locker and then reach down his throat and pull his heart out through his mouth, because the thing about being Awake is that everything in you is alive and aching and making up for lost time. But instead I count all the way to sixty, a stupid smile plastered on my stupid face. I will not get detention. I will not get expelled. I will be good. I will be quiet. I will be still. Mr. Black watches from the doorway, and I try to give him a casual nod to show him everything’s cool, everything’s under control, everything’s fine, nothing to see, palms aren’t itching, skin isn’t burning, blood isn’t pumping, please move along. I’ve made a promise to myself that this year will be different. If I keep ahead of everything, and that includes me, I should be able to stay awake and here, and not just semi-here but here as in present as in now. The rain has stopped, and in the parking lot Charlie Donahue and I lean against his car under the washed-out January sun as he talks about the thing he most loves talking about other than himself—sex. Our friend Brenda stands listening, books clutched against her broad, broad chest, hair shining pink and red. Charlie spent winter break working at the Mall Cinema, where he apparently let all the hot girls sneak in without paying. This got him more action than even he knew what to do with, mostly in the handicapped row in the back, the one missing armrests. He nods at me. “What about you?” “What about me?” “Where were you?” “Around. I didn’t feel like coming to school, so I hit the interstate and didn’t look back.” There’s no way of explaining the Asleep to my friends, and even if there was, there’s no need. One of the things I like best about Charlie and Bren is that I don’t have to explain myself. I come, I go, and Oh well, it’s just Finch. Charlie nods again. “What we need to do is get you laid.” It’s an indirect reference to the bell tower incident. If I get laid, I won’t try to kill myself. According to Charlie, getting laid fixes everything. If only world leaders would get laid well and regularly, the world’s problems might disappear. Brenda frowns at him. “You’re a pig, Charlie.” “You love me.” “You wish I’d love you. Why don’t you be more like Finch? He’s a gentleman.” There aren’t many people who would say this about me, but the great thing about this life of ours is that you can be someone different to everybody. I say, “You can leave me out of it.” Bren shakes her head. “No, I’m serious. Gentlemen are rare. They’re like virgins or leprechauns. If I ever get married, I’m going to marry one.” I can’t resist saying, “A virgin or a leprechaun?” She slugs me in the arm. “There’s a difference between a gentleman and a guy with no play.” Charlie nods at me. “No offense, man.” “None taken.” It’s true, after all, at least compared to him, and actually what he means is that I have bad luck with women. Something about going for the bitchy ones or the crazy ones or the ones who pretend not to know me when other people are around. Anyway, I’m barely listening, because over Bren’s shoulder I see her again—Violet. I can already feel myself falling hard, something I’ve been known to do. (Suze Haines, Laila Collman, Annalise Lemke, the three Brianas—Briana Harley, Briana Bailey, Briana Boudreau …) All because she smiled at me. But it was a damn good smile. A genuine one, which is hard to come by these days. Especially when you’re me, Theodore Freak, Resident Aberration. Bren turns around to see what I’m looking at. She shakes her head at me, her mouth all smirked up in a way that makes me protect my arm. “God, you guys are all the same.” At home, my mother is talking on the phone and defrosting one of the casseroles my sister Kate prepares at the start of each week. Mom waves and then keeps right on. Kate runs down the stairs, swipes her car keys from the counter, and says, “Later, loser.” I have two sisters—Kate, just one year older than I am, and Decca, who’s eight. Clearly, she was a mistake, which she figured out at the age of six. But we all know if anyone is the mistake here, it’s me. I go upstairs, wet shoes squeaking against the floor, and shut the door to my room. I pull out something old on vinyl without checking what it is and slap it onto the turntable I found in the basement. The record bumps and scratches, sounding like something from the 1920s. I’m in a Split Enz kind of phase right now, hence the sneakers. I’m trying out Theodore Finch, ’80s kid, and seeing how he fits. I fish through my desk for a cigarette, stick it in my mouth, and remember as I’m reaching for my lighter that Theodore Finch, ’80s kid, doesn’t smoke. God, I hate him, the clean-cut, eager little prick. I leave the cigarette in my mouth unlit, trying to chew the nicotine out, and pick up the guitar, play along, then give it up and sit down at the computer, swinging my chair around so it’s backward, the only way I can compose. I type: January 5. Method: Bell tower of school. On a scale of one to ten on the how-close-did-I-come scale: five. Facts: Jumping increases on full moons and holidays. One of the more famous jumpers was Roy Raymond, founder of Victoria’s Secret. Related fact: In 1912, a man named Franz Reichelt jumped off the Eiffel Tower wearing a parachute suit he designed himself. He jumped to test his invention—he expected to fly—but instead he fell straight down, hitting the ground like a meteor and leaving a 5.9-inch-deep crater from the impact. Did he mean to kill himself? Doubtful. I think he was just cocky, and also stupid. A quick internet search turns up the information that only five to ten percent of all suicides are committed by jumping (so says Johns Hopkins). Apparently, jumping as a means of killing oneself is usually chosen for convenience, which is why places like San Francisco, with its Golden Gate Bridge (the world’s top suicide destination), are so popular. Here, all we have is the Purina Tower and a 1,257-foot hill. I write: Reason for not jumping: Too messy. Too public. Too crowded. I switch off Google and hop onto Facebook. I find Amanda Monk’s page because she’s friends with everyone, even the people she’s not friends with, and I pull up her friend list, typing in “Violet.” Just like that, there she is. I click on her photo and there she is, even bigger, wearing the same smile she gave me earlier. You have to be her friend to read her profile and view the rest of her pictures. I sit staring at the screen, suddenly desperate to know more. Who is this Violet Markey? I try a Google search, because maybe there’s a secret back entrance to her Facebook page, one that requires a special knock or a three-digit code, something easily figured out. What I pull up instead is a site called EleanorandViolet.com, which lists Violet Markey as cocreator/editor/writer. It’s got all the usual boys-and-beauty-type blog posts, the most recent from April 3 of last year. The other thing I pull up is a news article. Eleanor Markey, 18, a senior at Bartlett High School and member of the student congress, lost control of her car on A Street Bridge at approximately 12:45 a.m. April 5. Icy conditions and speed may have caused the crash. Eleanor was killed on impact. Her 16-year-old sister, Violet, a passenger in the vehicle, sustained only minor injuries. I sit reading and rereading this, a black feeling settling in the pit of my stomach. And then I do something I swore I’d never do. I sign up for Facebook just so I can send her a friend request. Having an account will make me look sociable and normal, and maybe work to offset the whole meeting-on-the-verge-of-suicide situation, so that she’ll feel it’s safe to know me. I take a picture of myself with my phone, decide I look too serious, take another one—too goofy—and settle on the third, which is somewhere in between. I sleep the computer so I don’t check every five minutes, and then I play the guitar, read a few pages of Macbeth for homework, and eat dinner with Decca and my mom, a tradition that started last year, after the divorce. Even though I’m not much into eating, dinner is one of the most enjoyable parts of my day because I get to turn my brain off. Mom says, “Decca, tell me what you learned today.” She makes sure to ask us about school so that she feels she’s done her duty. This is her favorite way to start. Dec says, “I learned that Jacob Barry is a jackass.” She has been swearing more often lately, trying to get a reaction out of Mom, to see if she’s really listening. “Decca,” Mom says mildly, but she is only half paying attention. Decca goes on to tell us about how this boy named Jacob glued his hands to his desk just to get out of a science quiz, but when they tried to separate skin from wood, his palms came off with the glue. Decca’s eyes gleam like the eyes of a small, rabid animal. She clearly thinks he deserved it, and then she says so. Mom is suddenly listening. “Decca.” She shakes her head. This is the extent of her parenting. Ever since my dad left, she’s tried really hard to be the cool parent. Still, I feel bad for her because she loves him, even though, at his core, he’s selfish and rotten, and even though he left her for a woman named Rosemarie with an accent over one of the letters—no one can ever remember which—and because of something she said to me the day he left: “I never expected to be single at forty.” It was the way she said it more than the words themselves. She made it sound so final. Ever since then, I’ve done what I could to be pleasant and quiet, making myself as small and unseen as possible—which includes pretending to go to school when I’m asleep, as in the Asleep—so that I don’t add to the burden. I am not always successful. “How was your day, Theodore?” “Grand.” I push my food around my plate, trying to create a pattern. The thing about eating is that there are so many other more interesting things to do. I feel the same way about sleeping. Complete wastes of time. Interesting fact: A Chinese man died from lack of sleep when he stayed awake for eleven days straight as he attempted to watch every game in the European Championship (that’s soccer, for those, like me, who have no clue). On the eleventh night, he watched Italy beat Ireland 2–0, took a shower, and fell asleep around five a.m. And died. No offense to the dead, but soccer is a really stupid thing to stay awake for. 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. Silence. 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. VIOLET 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. “No, man.” “Did you even kiss her?” “No.” “Did you get any ass?” “Yeah, but I think that was by mistake.” They laugh, including Troy. Everyone is talking too loud. I make my way to the basement. Amanda and Suze Haines, best friends again, are lounging on a couch. I don’t see Ashley or Shelby anywhere, but fifteen or twenty guys are sprawled on the floor playing a drinking game. Girls are dancing all around them, including the three Brianas and Brenda Shank-Kravitz, who is friends with Theodore Finch. Couples are making out. Amanda waves her beer at me. “Oh my God, we need to fix your hair.” She is talking about the bangs I gave myself. “And why are you still wearing those glasses? I get wanting to remember your sister, but didn’t she have, like, a cute sweater you could wear instead?” I set my cup down. I’m still carrying my pillow. I say, “My stomach’s bugging me. I think I’m going home.” Suze turns her big blue eyes on me. “Is it true you pulled Theodore Finch off a ledge?” (She was “Suzie” until ninth grade, when she dropped the i. It’s now pronounced “Sooze.”) “Yes.” Please, God, I want that whole day to just go away. Amanda looks at Suze. “I told you it was true.” She looks at me and rolls her eyes. “That’s just the kind of thing he does. I’ve known him since, like, kindergarten, and he’s only gotten weirder.” Suze takes a drink. “I know him even better than that.” Her voice goes slutty. Amanda slaps her arm and Suze slaps her back. When they’re done, Suze says to me, “We hooked up sophomore year. He may be weird, but I’ll say this for him, that’s one guy who knows what he’s doing.” Her voice goes sluttier. “Unlike most of these boring-ass boys around here.” A couple of those boring-ass boys yell from the floor: “Why don’t you come and try this on for size, bitch?” Amanda slaps Suze again. And on they go. I shift my bag over my shoulder. “I’m just glad I was there.” To be more accurate, I’m just glad he was there before I fell off the ledge and killed myself in front of everyone. I can’t even think about my parents, forced to deal with the death of their only remaining child. Not even an accidental death, but an intentional one. That’s one reason I came tonight without a fight. I feel ashamed of what I almost put them through. “Glad you were where?” Roamer stumbles up with a bucket of beers. He slams it down, ice sloshing everywhere. Suze looks at him through cat eyes. “The bell tower.” Roamer stares at her chest. He forces himself to look at me. “Why were you up there, anyway?” “I was on my way to Humanities and saw him go through the door at the end of the hall, the one that goes to the tower.” Amanda says, “Humanities? I thought that was second period.” “It is, but I had to talk to Mr. Feldman about something.” Roamer says, “They keep that door locked and barricaded. That place is harder to get into than your pants, from what I hear.” He laughs and laughs. “He must have picked the lock.” Or maybe that was me. One of the benefits of looking innocent is you’re able to get away with things. People almost never suspect you. Roamer pops the top off a beer and chugs it down. “Asshole. You should have let him jump. Prick almost took my head off last year.” He’s referring to the chalkboard incident. “Do you think he likes you?” Amanda makes a face at me. “Of course not.” “I hope not. I’d be careful around him if I were you.” Ten months ago, I would have sat beside them, drinking beer and fitting in, and writing witty commentary in my head: She puts the words out there on purpose, like a lawyer trying to lead the jury. “Objection, Miss Monk.” “So sorry. Please disregard.” But it’s too late because the jury has heard the words and latched onto them—if he likes her, she must like him in return.… But now I stand there, feeling dull and out of place and wondering how I was ever friends with Amanda to begin with. The air is too close. The music is too loud. The smell of beer is everywhere. I feel like I’m going to be sick. Then I see Leticia Lopez, the reporter from the school paper, on her way over to me. “I’ve gotta go, Amanda. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” Before anyone can say anything, I walk upstairs and out of the house. The last party I went to was April 4, the night Eleanor was killed. The music and the lights and the yelling bring it back. Just in time, I pull my hair out of my face, bend over, and throw up onto the curb. Tomorrow they’ll think it was just another drunk kid. I search for my phone and text Amanda. Really sorry. Not feeling great. xx V. I turn around toward home and slam right into Ryan Cross. He is damp and tousled. His eyes are large and beautiful and bloodshot. Like all hot guys, he has a crooked smile. When he does smile with more than one corner of his mouth, there are dimples. He is perfect and I have memorized him. I am not perfect. I have secrets. I am messy. Not just my bedroom but me. No one likes messy. They like smiling Violet. I wonder what Ryan would do if he knew Finch was the one who talked me down and not the other way around. I wonder what any of them would do. Ryan picks me up and twirls me, pillow, bag, and all. He tries to kiss me and I turn my head. The first time he kissed me was in the snow. Snow in April. Welcome to the Midwest. Eleanor wore white, I wore black, a kind of Freaky Friday, switched-up bad sister–good sister thing that we did sometimes. Ryan’s older brother, Eli, threw the party. While Eleanor went upstairs with Eli, I danced. It was Amanda, Suze, Shelby, Ashley, and me. Ryan was at the window. He was the one who said, “It’s snowing!” I danced over, through the crowd, and he looked at me. “Let’s go.” Just like that. He took my hand and we ran outside. The flakes were as heavy as rain, large and white and glittering. We tried to catch them with our tongues, and then Ryan’s tongue found its way into my mouth, and I closed my eyes as the flakes landed on my cheeks. From inside, there was the noise of shouting and something breaking. Party sounds. Ryan’s hands found their way under my shirt. I remember how warm they were, and even as I kissed him, I was thinking, I’m kissing Ryan Cross. Things like this didn’t happen to me before we moved to Indiana. I slipped my own hands under his sweatshirt, and the skin there was hot but smooth. It was exactly what I imagined it would feel like. There was more shouting, more breaking. Ryan pulled away, and I looked up at him, at the smear of my lipstick on his mouth. I could only stand there and think, That’s my lipstick on Ryan Cross’s lips. Oh. My. God. I wish I had a photograph of my face in that exact instant so I could remember myself the way I used to be. That instant was the last good moment before everything turned bad and changed forever. Now Ryan holds me against him, my feet off the ground. “You’re headed in the wrong direction, V.” He starts to carry me toward the house. “I’ve already been in there. I have to go home. I’m sick. Put me down.” I rap at him with my fists, and he sets me down because Ryan’s a nice boy who does what he’s told. “What’s up?” “I’m sick. I just threw up. I have to go.” I pat his arm like it’s a dog. I turn away from him and hurry across the lawn, down the street, around the corner to home. I hear him calling after me, but I don’t look back. “You’re home early.” My mom is on the sofa, her nose deep in a book. My father is stretched out at the other end, eyes closed, headphones on. “Not early enough.” I pause at the bottom of the stairs. “Just so you know, that was a bad idea. I knew it was a bad idea, but I went anyway so you could see I’m trying. But it wasn’t a sleepover. It was a party. A full-on let’s-get-wasted orgiastic free-for-all.” I say this at them, as if it’s their fault. My mom nudges my dad, who pulls off the headphones. They both sit up. Mom says, “Do you want to talk about anything? I know that must have been hard, and surprising. Why don’t you hang out with us for a while?” Like Ryan, my parents are perfect. They are strong and brave and caring, and even though I know they must cry and get angry and maybe even throw things when they’re alone, they rarely show it to me. Instead, they encourage me to get out of the house and into the car and back on the road, so to speak. They listen and ask and worry, and they’re there for me. If anything, they’re a little too there for me now. They need to know where I’m going, what I’m doing, who I’m seeing, and when I’ll be back. Text us on the way there, text us on your way home. I almost sit down with them now, just to give them something, after all they’ve been through—after what I almost put them through yesterday. But I can’t. “I’m just tired. I think I’ll go to bed.” Ten thirty p.m. My bedroom. I am wearing my Freud slippers, the fuzzy ones made to look like his face, and Target pajamas, the ones with the purple monkeys. This is the clothing equivalent of my happy place. I cross off this day with a black “X” on the calendar that covers my closet door, and then I curl up on my bed, propped against my pillows, books spread across the comforter. Since I stopped writing, I read more than ever. Other people’s words, not my own—my words are gone. Right now, I’m into the Brontë sisters. I love the world that is my room. It’s nicer in here than out there, because in here I’m whatever I want to be. I am a brilliant writer. I can write fifty pages a day and I never run out of words. I am an accepted future student of the NYU creative writing program. I am the creator of a popular Web magazine—not the one I did with Eleanor, but a new one. I am fearless. I am free. I am safe. I can’t decide which of the Brontë sisters I like best. Not Charlotte, because she looks like my fifth-grade teacher. Emily is fierce and reckless, but Anne is the one who gets ignored. I root for Anne. I read, and then I lie for a long time on top of my comforter and stare at the ceiling. I have this feeling, ever since April, like I’m waiting for something. But I have no idea what. At some point, I get up. A little over two hours ago, at 7:58 p.m., Theodore Finch posted a video on his Facebook wall. It’s him with a guitar, sitting in what I guess is his room. His voice is good but raw, like he’s smoked too many cigarettes. He’s bent over the guitar, black hair falling in his eyes. He looks blurry, like he filmed this on his phone. The words of the song are about a guy who jumps off his school roof. When he’s done, he says into the camera, “Violet Markey, if you’re watching this, you must still be alive. Please confirm.” I click the video off like he can see me. I want yesterday and Theodore Finch and the bell tower to go away. As far as I’m concerned, the whole thing was a bad dream. The worst dream. The worst nightmare EVER. I write him a private message: Please take that off your wall or edit out what you say at the end so no one else sees/hears it. He writes back immediately: Congratulations! I deduce by your message that you’re alive! With that out of the way, I was thinking we should probably talk about what happened, especially now that we’re partners on this project. (No one will see the video but us.) Me: I’m fine. I’d really like to drop it and forget the whole thing ever happened. (How do you know that?) Finch: (Because I only started this page as an excuse to talk to you. Besides, now that you’ve seen it, the video will self-destruct in five seconds. Five, four, three, two …) Finch: Please refresh the page. The video is gone. Finch: If you don’t want to talk on Facebook, I can just come over. Me: Now? Finch: Well, technically in, like, five or ten minutes. I should get dressed first, unless you prefer me naked, and we have to allow for driving time. Me: It’s late. Finch: That depends on who you ask. See, I don’t necessarily think it’s late. I think it’s early. Early in our lives. Early in the night. Early in the new year. If you’re counting, you’ll notice the earlys outnumber the lates. It’s just to talk. Nothing more. It’s not like I’m hitting on you. Finch: Unless you want me to. Hit on you, I mean. Me: No. Finch: “No” you don’t want me to come over? Or “no” you don’t want me hitting on you? Me: Both. Either. All of the above. Finch: Okay. We can just talk at school. Maybe across the room during geography, or I can find you at lunch. You eat with Amanda and Roamer, am I right? Oh my God. Make it stop. Make him go away. Me: If you come over tonight, do you promise to drop it once and for all? Finch: Scout’s honor. Me: Just to talk. Nothing more. And you don’t stay long. As soon as I write it, I want to take it back. Amanda and her party are just around the corner. Anyone might come by and see him here. Me: Are you still there? He doesn’t answer. Me: Finch? FINCH Day 7 of the Awake I climb into my mom’s old Saturn VUE, better known as Little Bastard, and head to Violet Markey’s on the farm road that runs parallel to National Road, the main artery that cuts through town. I slam my foot against the gas pedal, and there’s the rush as the speedometer climbs to sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety, the needle shaking the higher it gets, the Saturn doing its best in that moment to be a sports car instead of a five-year-old minivan. On March 23, 1950, Italian poet Cesare Pavese wrote: “Love is truly the great manifesto; the urge to be, to count for something, and, if death must come, to die valiantly, with acclamation—in short, to remain a memory.” Five months later, he walked into a newspaper office and chose his obituary photograph from the photo archive. He checked himself into a hotel, and days later an employee found him stretched out on the bed, dead. He was fully dressed except for his shoes. On the bedside table were sixteen empty packets of sleeping pills and a note: “I forgive everyone and ask forgiveness of everyone. OK? Not too much gossip, please.” Cesare Pavese has nothing to do with driving fast on an Indiana farm road, but I understand the urge to be and to count for something. While I’m not sure taking off your shoes in a strange hotel room and swallowing too many sleeping pills is what I would call dying valiantly and with acclamation, it’s the thought that counts. I push the Saturn to ninety-five. I will ease off only when I reach one hundred. Not ninety-seven. Not ninety-eight. It’s one hundred or nothing. I lean forward, like I’m a rocket, like I. Am. The. Car. And I start yelling because I’m getting more awake by the second. I feel the rush and then some—I feel everything around me and in me, the road and my blood and my heart beating up into my throat, and I could end right now, in a valiant acclamation of crushed metal and explosive fire. I slam the gas harder, and now I can’t stop because I am faster than anything on earth. The only thing that matters is the forward thrust and the way I feel as I hurtle toward the Great Manifesto. Then, in that exact, precise fraction of a moment before my heart might explode or the engine might explode, I lift my foot up and off and go sailing across the old, rutted pavement, Little Bastard carrying me on its own as we fly up over the ground and land hard, several feet away, half in, half out of the ditch, where I sit catching my breath. I hold up my hands and they aren’t shaking at all. They’re steady as can be, and I look around me, at the starry sky and the fields, and the dark, sleeping houses, and I’m here, motherf—–s. I am here. Violet lives one street away from Suze Haines in a large white house with a red chimney in a neighborhood on the opposite side of town. I roll up in Little Bastard, and she’s sitting on the front step, wrapped in a giant coat, looking small and alone. She jumps up and meets me halfway down the sidewalk, then immediately glances past me like she’s looking for someone or something. “You didn’t need to come all the way over here.” She’s whispering, as if we might wake up the neighborhood. I whisper back, “It’s not like we live in L.A. or even Cincinnati. It took me, like, five minutes to get here. Nice house, by the way.” “Look, thanks for coming, but I don’t need to talk about anything.” Her hair is pulled back in a ponytail, and wisps of it are falling down around her face. She tucks a piece behind her ear. “I’m totally fine.” “Never bullshit a bullshitter. I know a cry for help when I see one, and I’d say being talked off a ledge overqualifies. Are your parents home?” “Yes.” “Too bad. Want to walk?” I start walking. “Not that way.” She pulls on my arm and drags me in the other direction. “Are we avoiding something?” “No. It’s just, uh—nicer over here.” I put on my best Embryo voice. “So, how long have you been having these suicidal feelings?” “God, don’t talk so loud. And I’m not … I’m not …” “Suicidal. You can say it.” “Well, anyway, I’m not.” “Unlike me.” “That’s not what I meant.” “You were up on the ledge because you didn’t know where else to turn and what else to do. You’d lost all hope. And then, like a gallant knight, I saved your life. By the way, you look totally different without makeup. Not bad necessarily, but different. Maybe even better. So what’s up with this website of yours? Have you always wanted to write? Tell me about yourself, Violet Markey.” She answers like a robot: There’s not much to say. I guess so. There’s nothing to tell. “So, California. That must have been a change for you. Do you like it?” “Like what?” “Bartlett.” “It’s all right.” “What about this neighborhood?” “It’s all right too.” “These are not the words of someone who just had her life handed back to her. You should be on top of the f—ing world right now. I’m here. You’re here. Not only that, you’re here with me. I can think of at least one girl who’d want to trade places with you.” She makes this frustrated (and strangely hot) arrrrrr sound. “What do you want?” I stop under a streetlight. I drop the fast talk and the charm. “I want to know why you were up there. And I want to know that you’re okay.” “If I tell you, will you go home?” “Yes.” “And never bring it up again?” “That depends on your answers.” She sighs and starts to walk. For a while she doesn’t say anything, so I stay quiet, waiting her out. The only sounds are someone’s television and a party somewhere in the distance. After several blocks of this, I say, “Anything you tell me stays between us. You might not have noticed, but I’m not exactly swimming in friends. And even if I was, it wouldn’t matter. Those assholes have enough to gossip about.” She takes a breath. “When I went to the tower, I wasn’t really thinking. It was more like my legs were walking up the stairs and I just went where they took me. I’ve never done anything like that before. I mean, that’s not me. But then it was like I woke up and I was on that ledge. I didn’t know what to do, so I started to freak out.” “Have you told anyone what happened?” “No.” She stops walking, and I resist the urge to touch her hair, which blows across her face. She pushes it out of the way. “Not your parents?” “Especially not my parents.” “You still didn’t tell me what you were doing up there.” I don’t actually expect her to answer, but she says, “It was my sister’s birthday. She would have been nineteen.” “Shit. I’m sorry.” “But that isn’t why. The why is that none of it matters. Not school, not cheerleading, not boyfriends or friends or parties or creative writing programs or …” She waves her arms at the world. “It’s all just time filler until we die.” “Maybe. Maybe not. Whether it’s filler or not, I’m pretty glad to be here.” If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that you need to make the most of it. “It mattered enough for you not to jump.” “Can I ask you something?” She is studying the ground. “Sure.” “Why do they call you Theodore Freak?” Now I’m studying the ground like it’s the most interesting thing I’ve ever seen. It takes me a while to answer because I’m trying to decide how much to say. Honestly, Violet, I don’t know why the kids don’t like me. Lie. I mean, I know but I don’t. I’ve always been different, but to me different is normal. I decide on a version of the truth. “In eighth grade, I was a lot smaller than I am now. That was before your time, before you got here.” I look up long enough to see her nod her head. “Ears stuck out. Elbows stuck out. My voice didn’t drop till the summer before high school, when I shot up fourteen inches.” “That’s all?” “That and sometimes I say and do things without thinking. People don’t like that.” She’s quiet as we round a corner, and I can see her house in the distance. I walk slower, buying us more time. “I know the band playing down at the Quarry. We could head over there, get warm, listen to music, forget about everything. I also know a place with a pretty awesome view of the town.” I shoot her one of my better grins. “I’m going inside and going to sleep.” I’m always amazed by people and their sleep. I wouldn’t ever sleep if I didn’t have to. “Or we can make out.” “That’s okay.” A minute or so later, we’re at my car. “How’d you get up there, anyway? The door was open when I tried it, but it’s usually sealed tight.” She smiles for the first time. “I might have picked the lock.” I whistle. “Violet Markey. There’s more to you than meets the eye.” In a flash, she is up the walk and inside her house. I stand watching until a light flicks on in an upstairs window. A shadow moves in front of it so that I can see the outline of her, as if she’s watching me through the curtain. I lean back against the car, waiting to see who gives in first. I stay there until the shadow moves away and the light goes off. At home, I park Little Bastard in the garage and start my nightly run. Run in winter, swim the rest of the year. My regular route is down National Road, out past the hospital and Friendship Campground to this old steel bridge that seems forgotten by everyone but me. I sprint across the tops of its walls—the ones that act as guardrails—and when I make it without falling, I know I’m alive. Worthless. Stupid. These are the words I grew up hearing. They’re the words I try to outrun, because if I let them in, they might stay there and grow and fill me up and in, until the only thing left of me is worthless stupid worthless stupid worthless stupid freak. And then there’s nothing to do but run harder and fill myself with other words: This time will be different. This time, I will stay awake. I run for miles but don’t count them, passing dark house after dark house. I feel sorry for everyone in this town who’s sleeping. I take a different route home, over the A Street Bridge. This bridge has more traffic because it links downtown with the west side of Bartlett, where the high school is and the local college is and all these neighborhoods are, growing up in between. I run past what’s left of the stone guardrail. There is still an angry hole in the middle where the rest of the wall used to be, and someone has placed a cross beside it. The cross lies on its side, white paint faded gray from the Indiana weather, and I wonder who put it there—Violet? Her parents? Someone from school? I run to the end of the bridge and cut onto the grass, down the embankment to the bottom, which is an old dried-up riverbed full of cigarette butts and beer bottles. I kick through the trash and the rocks and the dirt. Something shines silver in the dark, and then I see other shining things—pieces of glass and metal. There is the red plastic eye of a taillight. The shattered lump of a side mirror. A license plate, dented and nearly folded in half. All of this makes it suddenly real. I could sink like a stone into the earth and be swallowed whole by the weight of what happened here. I leave everything as it was, except for the license plate, which I take with me. Leaving it there seems wrong, as if it’s too personal a thing to sit out in the open where someone who doesn’t know Violet or her sister might take it and think it’s cool, or collect it as a souvenir. I run toward home, feeling both heavy and hollowed out. This time will be different. This time, I will stay awake. I run until time stops. Until my mind stops. Until the only thing I feel is the cold metal of the license plate in my hand and the pounding of my blood. VIOLET 152 days till graduation Sunday morning. My bedroom. The EleanorandViolet.com domain name is expiring. I know this because the hosting company has sent me an email with a warning that says I must renew now or let it go forever. On my laptop, I open our folders of notes and sort through all the ideas we were working on before last April. But they’re only fragments that don’t make sense without Eleanor here to help me decipher her shorthand. The two of us had different views on what we wanted the magazine to be. Eleanor was older (and bossier), which meant she was usually in charge and usually got her way. I can try to salvage the site, maybe revamp it and turn it into something else—a place where writers can share their work. A place that isn’t about just nail polish and boys and music, but other things too, like how to change a tire or how to speak French or what to expect once you get out into the world. I write these things down. Then I go onto the site itself and read the last post, written the day before the party—two opposite takes on the book Julie Plum, Girl Exorcist. Not even The Bell Jar or Catcher in the Rye. Nothing important or earth-shattering. Nothing that says: This is the last thing you will ever write before the world changes. I delete her notes and mine. I delete the hosting company email. And then I empty my trash so that the email is as dead and gone as Eleanor. FINCH Day 8 of the Awake On Sunday evening, Kate and Decca and I drive to my dad’s new house in the more expensive part of town for Weekly Obligatory Family Dinner. I’m wearing the same plain navy shirt and khakis I always wear when I see my father. We are silent on the way over, each of us staring out the window. We don’t even play the radio. “Have fun over there,” Mom said before we left, trying to be cheerful, when I know that the second the car hit the street, she was on the phone to a girlfriend and opening a bottle of wine. It’ll be my first time seeing my dad since before Thanksgiving and my first time in his new home, the one he shares with Rosemarie and her son. They live in one of these colossal brand-new houses that look like every other house up and down the street. As we pull up out front, Kate says, “Can you imagine trying to find this place drunk?” The three of us march up the clean white sidewalk. Two matching SUVs are parked in the drive, shining as if their pretentious mechanical lives depend on it. Rosemarie answers the door. She is maybe thirty, with redblond hair and a worried smile. Rosemarie is what’s known as a caretaker, according to my mother, which—also according to my mother—is exactly what my father needs. She came with a $200,000 settlement from her ex-husband and a gap-toothed seven-year-old named Josh Raymond, who may or may not be my real brother. My dad comes booming toward us from the backyard, where he’s grilling thirty-five pounds of meat even though it’s January, not July. His T-shirt says SUCK IT, SENATORS. Twelve years ago, he was a professional hockey player better known as the Slammer, until he shattered his femur against another player’s head. He looks the same as he did the last time I saw him—too handsome and too fit for a guy his age, like he expects to be called back to duty at any moment—but his dark hair is flecked with gray, which is new. He hugs my sisters and slaps me on the back. Unlike most hockey players, he somehow managed to keep his teeth, and he flashes them at us now like we’re groupies. He wants to know how our week was, how was school, did we learn anything he might not know. This is a challenge—his equivalent of throwing down the gauntlet. It’s a way for us to try to stump wise old Pops, which is no fun for anyone, and so we all say no. Dad asks about the November/December study-away program, and it takes me a minute to realize he’s talking to me. “Uh, it was okay.” Good one, Kate. I make a note to thank her. He doesn’t know about the shutting down or the trouble at school beyond sophomore year because last year, after the guitar-smashing episode, I told Principal Wertz my dad was killed in a hunting accident. He never bothered to check up on it, and now he calls my mother whenever there’s a problem, which means he actually calls Kate because Mom never bothers to check voicemail. I pick a leaf off the grill. “They invited me to stay on, but I turned them down. I mean, as much as I enjoy figure skating, and as good as I am at it—I guess I get that from you—I’m not sure I want to make a career of it.” One of the great pleasures of my life is making comments like this, because having a gay son is my bigoted prick of a father’s worst nightmare. His only response is to pop open another beer and attack the thirty-five pounds of meat with his tongs like it’s in danger of rising up and devouring us all. I wish it would. When it’s actually time to eat, we sit in the white-and-gold dining room with the natural-wool carpet, the most expensive money can buy. This is apparently a huge improvement over the shitty nylon carpet that was in the house when they moved in. Josh Raymond barely clears the table, because his mother is small and her ex-husband is small, unlike my dad, who is a giant. My stepbrother is a different sort of small than I was at his age—the neat and tidy sort, no elbows or ears jutting out, everything in proportion. This is one thing that leads me to believe he may not be genetically linked to my father after all. Right now, Josh Raymond kicks at the table leg and stares at us over his plate with the enormous, unblinking eyes of an owl. I say, “How’s it hanging, little man?” He squeaks a reply, and my father the Slammer strokes his perfectly stubbled jaw and says in the soft, patient voice of a nun, “Josh Raymond, we’ve discussed kicking the table.” It is a tone he has never once used with me or my sisters. Decca, who has already filled her plate, begins eating as Rosemarie serves everyone else one by one. When she gets to me, I say, “I’m good without, unless you’ve got a veggie burger on there.” She only blinks at me, her hand still hovering in midair. Without turning her face, she swivels her eyes in my father’s direction. “Veggie burger?” His voice isn’t soft or patient. “I was raised on meat and potatoes, and I’ve made it to thirty-five.” (He was forty-three in October.) “I figured my parents were the ones putting the food on the table, so it wasn’t my job to question it.” He pulls up his shirt and pats his stomach—still flat, but no longer a six-pack—shakes his head, and smiles at me, the smile of a man who has a new wife and a new son and a new house and two new cars and who only has to put up with his old, original kids for another hour or two. “I don’t eat red meat, Dad.” Actually, to be technical, it’s ’80s Finch who’s the vegetarian. “Since when?” “Since last week.” “Oh, for Christ’s …” Dad sits back and stares at me as Decca takes a big, bloody bite of her burger, the juice dripping down her chin. Kate says, “Don’t be an asshole, Dad. He doesn’t have to eat it if he doesn’t want to.” Before I can stop him, ’80s Finch says, “There are different ways to die. There’s jumping off a roof and there’s slowly poisoning yourself with the flesh of another every single day.” “I am so sorry, Theo. I didn’t know.” Rosemarie darts a look at my father, who’s still staring at me. “How about I make you a potato salad sandwich?” She sounds so hopeful that I let her, even though the potato salad has bacon in it. “He can’t eat that. The potato salad has bacon.” This is from Kate. My dad says, “Well, he can goddamn pick it out.” The “out” sounds like “oot,” a relic of Dad’s Canadian upbringing. He’s starting to get annoyed, and so we shut up because the faster we eat, the faster we leave. At home, I give Mom a kiss on the cheek because she needs it, and I inhale the scent of red wine. “Did you kids have fun?” she asks, and we know she’s hoping we’ll beg for permission to never go there again. Decca says, “We most certainly did not,” and goes stomping up the stairs. My mother sighs in relief before taking another drink and going after her. She does her best parenting on Sundays. Kate opens a bag of chips and says, “This is so stupid.” And I know what she means. “This” equals our parents and Sundays and maybe our whole screwed-up lives. “I don’t even see why we have to go over there and pretend to like each other when everyone knows that’s exactly what we’re doing. Pretending.” She hands me the bag. “Because people like you to pretend, Kate. They prefer it.” She flicks her hair over her shoulder and scrunches up her face in a way that means she’s thinking. “You know, I’ve decided to go to college in the fall after all.” Kate offered to stay home when the divorce happened. Someone needs to look after Mom, she said. Suddenly I’m hungry, and the two of us pass the bag back and forth, back and forth. I say, “I thought you liked having time off from school.” I love her enough to pretend along with her that this is the other reason she stayed home, that it had nothing to do with her cheating high school boyfriend, the same one she’d planned her future around. She shrugs. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s not quite as ‘time off’ as I expected. I’m thinking about going to Denver, maybe seeing what’s to see out there.” “Like Logan?” Better known as the cheating high school boyfriend. “This has nothing to do with him.” “I hope not.” I want to repeat the things I’ve been telling her for months: You’re better than him. You’ve already wasted too much time on that asshole. But her jaw has gone rigid and she is frowning into the chips bag. “It beats living at home.” I can’t argue with her there, so instead I ask, “Do you remember Eleanor Markey?” “Sure. She was in my class. Why?” “She’s got a sister.” I met her on the bell tower when we were both thinking about jumping. We could have held hands and leaped off together. They would have thought we were star-crossed lovers. They’d write songs about us. We’d be legends. Kate shrugs. “Eleanor was okay. A little full of herself. She could be fun. I didn’t know her all that well. I don’t remember her sister.” She finishes the wine from Mom’s glass and grabs the car keys. “Later.” Upstairs, I bypass Split Enz, Depeche Mode, and the Talking Heads for Johnny Cash. I throw At Folsom Prison onto the turntable, fish through my desk for a cigarette, and tell ’80s Finch to get over it. After all, I created him, and I can take him away. As I light the cigarette, though, I can suddenly picture my lungs turning as black as a newly paved road, and I think of what I said to my dad earlier: There are different ways to die. There’s jumping off a roof and there’s slowly poisoning yourself with the flesh of another every single day. No animals died to make this cigarette, but for once I don’t like the way it makes me feel, like I’m being polluted, like I’m being poisoned. I stub it out and, before I can change my mind, break all the others in half. Then I cut the halves with scissors and sweep them into the trash, sign onto the computer, and start typing. January 11. According to the New York Times, nearly 20 percent of suicides are committed by poison, but among doctors who kill themselves, that number is 57 percent. My thoughts on the method: Seems like kind of a coward’s way out, if you ask me. I think I’d rather feel something. That said, if someone held a gun to my head (haha—sorry, suicide humor) and made me use poison, I’d choose cyanide. In gaseous form, death can be instant, which I realize defeats the purpose of feeling something. But come to think of it, after a lifetime of feeling too much, maybe there’s actually something to be said for fast and sudden. When I finish, I walk into the bathroom to dig through the medicine cabinet. Advil, aspirin, some kind of over-the-counter sleeping pills I stole from Kate and then stored in an old prescription bottle of Mom’s. I meant what I said to Embryo about drugs. We don’t mix. What it comes down to for me is I have a hard enough time keeping control over my brain without something else getting in the way. But you never know when you might need a good sleeping pill. I open the bottle now, dump the blue tablets into my palm, and count them. Thirty. Back at my desk, I line the pills up one by one by one, like a little blue army. I sign onto Facebook, and over on Violet’s page someone from school has posted about her being a hero for saving me. There are 146 comments and 289 likes, and while I’d like to think there are this many people grateful that I’m still alive, I know better. I go to my own page, which is empty except for Violet’s friend picture. I set my fingers on the keyboard, looking at the way they rest there, the nails broad and round. I run my hands along the keys, as if I’m playing piano. And then I type, Obligatory family meals suck, especially when meat and denial are involved. “I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times.” Especially when there is so much else to do. The quote is from Virginia Woolf’s suicide note to her husband, but I think it fits the occasion. I send the message and wait around the computer, organizing the pills into groups of three, then ten, when really I’m hoping for something from Violet. I work at banging the license plate flat again, scribble down Another of those terrible times, and add it to the wall of my room, which is already covered in notes just like this. The wall has various names: Wall of Thoughts, Wall of Ideas, Wall of My Mind, or just The Wall, not to be confused with Pink Floyd. The wall is a place to keep track of thoughts, as fast as they come, and remember them when they go away. Anything interesting or weird or even halfway inspired goes up there. An hour later, I check my Facebook page. Violet has written: “Arrange whatever pieces come your way.” My skin starts to burn. She’s quoting Virginia Woolf back to me. My pulse has tripled its pace. Shit, I think. That’s all the Virginia Woolf I know. I do a quick internet search, looking for just the right response. Suddenly I wish I’d paid more attention to Virginia Woolf, a writer I’ve never had much use for until now. Suddenly I wish I’d done nothing but study her for all of my seventeen years. I type back: “My own brain is to me the most unaccountable of machinery—always buzzing, humming, soaring roaring diving, and then buried in mud. And why? What’s this passion for?” This goes to what Violet said about time filler and how none of it matters, but it’s also me exactly—buzzing, humming, soaring roaring diving, and then falling deep into mud, so deep I can’t breathe. The Asleeps and Awakes, no in-betweens. It’s a damn good quote, so good it gives me chills. I study the hairs standing up on my arm, and by the time I look back at the screen, Violet has responded. “When you consider things like the stars, our affairs don’t seem to matter very much, do they?” I’m full-on cheating now, pulling up every Virginia Woolf site I can find. I wonder if she’s cheating too. I write: “I am rooted, but I flow.” I nearly change my mind. I think about deleting the line, but then she writes back. I like that one. Where is it from? The Waves. I cheat again and find the passage. Here’s more: “I feel a thousand capacities spring up in me. I am arch, gay, languid, melancholy by turns. I am rooted, but I flow. All gold, flowing …” I decide to end there, mostly because I’m in a hurry to see if she’ll write back. It takes her three minutes. I like: “This is the most exciting moment I have ever known. I flutter. I ripple. I stream like a plant in th