Fall For Anything Page 34
’’Actually, I think I\ll rain check it too, Miss,’’ Milo says.
He\s still looking at me.
’’That\s cool,’’ she says. She straightens. ’’Okay, well. If you guys change your mind, you know where I\ll be.’’ She pats my shoulder on the way out. ’’I\ll see you.’’
And then we go. Me and Milo. Together. Milo walks my bike for me. We go to the Ford River, where the water is still so painfully low and the grass next to it is still yellow and thirsty. I sit down and tilt my face toward the sun. Milo is next to me, stretched out. I can feel his eyes on me and there is so much between us that needs to be said.
’’Thank you,’’ I tell him. ’’For what you did for me.’’
I\ll start there.
But the rest I think it has to wait.
’’You\ e my best friend,’’ he says.
I bring my hand to his face. I run my fingers lightly across his skin. My index finger traces his lips.
I just want to feel that he\s here.
I lay down next to him and rest my head on his chest. He tenses just for a second, surprised, and then he relaxes and puts his arm around me. I don\ want to talk. I just want to be quiet with him. Listen to his heart that constant.
He kisses my forehead.
’’What are you thinking?’’ he asks.
I think you could walk across the river and not get your feet wet. I think I\ve caused a shift. People are changing, slowly becoming different. I see the beginnings of it in them. I think I made it happen or maybe it was just something that was always going to happen.
But I\m still the same.
And then the next thing happens, which I think is supposed to be the last thing.
I\m sitting in the living room, staring out the window when Mom comes in with a thick, padded envelope. She hands it to me. I look at her, confused.
’’Package for you,’’ she says. ’’I signed for it.’’
I stare at it for a minute, and then I notice the name on the return address.
Mom notices it too.
’’Oh...’’ she says, surprised. ’’Culler Evans ... Culler Evans. Your father was teaching him. He thought he was just brilliant. He sent a very nice card after the funeral. Did you know him, Eddie?’’
I look at her and she\s looking at me funny.
’’I met him once,’’ I say.
She nods. I take the envelope upstairs to my bedroom. It\s heavy, a little. I sit on the bed with it forever, picking at the corner, before I finally gather the courage to open it.
It\s hard to get my hands to work.
Photographs spill out onto the bed. So many photographs. A memory card. I\m not sure what to think as I sort through them. I\m looking for a note. I\m always and forever looking for a note, but there\s none. Just photographs. Culler\s photographs. Only his photographs.
I go through them slowly, my fingers trembling, and watch my life play out in stills.
First, Tarver\s. Culler\s empty interpretation of the outside of it. Photograph after photograph of this place, and I remember what he said. Just knowing it inspired him;that he came here to be inspired ... I\m hoping to feed off that. And then, suddenly I\m there. This girl, peering into his station wagon. These photographs turn into my discovery of the initials on the door. I know this story;I lived it. The photographs he took of the studio after we cleared it out. The one snap he managed to get with me in it. These turn into the point-and-shoots he showed me at Chester\s and those photographs turn into the schoolhouse. In one photo, I\m talking to Milo and I remember what we were talking about. Fighting.
We discover the second message.
The photograph of my hands after Milo left.
Then the photograph of the gazebo at night. The photographs of me on that street in Labelle. The house. Burdens. Burdens.
Nothing worth staying for.
The photographs in the motel. These give me pause. I stare at the girl in them and I don\ believe I am her. Soft and naked. Porcelain skin, standing in front of Culler. The TV is a bright white light behind me and I\m looking at him in a way I am not sure I\ve ever looked at anyone before. My grief is on me. I can see it plainly in my eyes and that makes my throat tight and my stomach hurt. I remember how I felt that exact moment, knowing how alive and young I was am and I see it here, so much. It\s like there\s something there in me, just waiting to be realized.
And now it\s gone. I think it must be gone.
I feel a deep sense of loss. More now, maybe, than before. I run my fingers over the pictures of myself slowly. I was so close. I thought I was so close. And now I am farther from where I started and everything is far from me because I still need an answer and I think of Culler and how far we are from each other, how brief and intense we were, and then over. It\s amazing, when you think about it. And sad. Just like that. Like that intense, everything, over.
Like being alive one moment and dead the next.
I get out of bed as quietly as possible and then I open my window, fighting with it, because my hands are still dead. When it\s open, I crawl out onto the roof, which slopes down, and make my way carefully to the very edge of it.
It\s not a long drop, but it feels farther standing up, so I do.
I jump. I land hard on my knee, like the first time. I inhale sharply.
I\m bleeding, sticky red all down my leg.
But I\m alive.
Branford is so still this late at night. A dead town after nine o\clock. No cars headed anywhere, roads all silent. It\s too far to walk.
But he walked.
At Tarver\s, the clouds cover the stars and the moon. I stand there, staring at the silhouette of the last place my father was alive, waiting for the clouds to part.
I wait. I wait. I wait.
Until I can see.
It happens slowly, the building revealing itself to me in the moonlight. I think I have been doing it all wrong, this whole time. I think to find some kind of understanding, you have to be as close to the truth as you can get to it. I walk up to the building and force the front door open. It takes all my strength and as soon as I step over the threshold I\m in the dark.
The door swings shut behind me.
My cell phone rings in my pocket. Milo. It\s always Milo. I stand there and let it play out, let it stop, and then I text him.
I fumble through the darkness, holding my hands out. I know where the red door is. I know. I find it, my palm running over the wood. I try to feel out his initials. These ones are real.
These ones are true.
I pull the door open and move forward and I\m already sick with it. My feet don\ want to walk me farther than this spot, up the seven flights of stairs, until I get to the roof. This path my father carved out to his death. I press my hand against my mouth.
Seven floors. Seven floors up. I take the first step and my heart stops. I take my foot off and it starts again. I think that can\ be good. I think something stupid: how could anyone climb seven flights of stairs with a dead heart. I put my foot on the first step and then the second. The third. The fourth step. Maybe ten steps and I\ll start ticking again. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten.
I listen for sounds of myself.
I\m still here.
But it goes slow, every step. My feet are too heavy and lifting them is almost impossible. I\m sweating by the time I get to the seventh floor, by the time I see the door that opens up onto the roof. That\s when I hear the car.
It took that long for me to get up here.
I stand in front of the door. I wonder if this is how Dad felt, nervous, excited. That he would finally leave everything behind. How long did he want to leave everything behind and who was he thinking of when he did this? His suicide is a question wrapped in a question in a question. But the answers must be here.
I step out onto the roof.
The air is bitter out here. I cross the roof, my heart beating hard in my chest. Would my father have walked faster, if we had gotten there in time? Would he have walked from me?
I walk to the very edge of the roof and climb up onto the ledge.
I\m just one step away when Milo comes out. I don\ turn around. I just listen to his footsteps getting closer. I close my eyes and steel myself against a strange wave of vertigo. Legs shaking. I\m shaking.
It\s a very long way down.
’’I\m not going to jump,’’ I say when his footsteps stop.
’’You can\ do this forever,’’ Milo says.
But he\s wrong. I could do this forever.
I know I could.
I can see the spot from here.
Where I found him.
’’Tell me why he did it and I\ll never come up here again.’’
’’Eddie, I don\ know,’’ he says. ’’He didn\ want to be here anymore.’’
’’I don\ know if I can live with that.’’
’’I think you have to...’’
’’And if I don\ ?’’
’’Eddie, he\s dead. Whether you do, or you don\ .’’
I rub my hands together. I can\ feel them at all.
I hold them out.
’’They\ e still cold,’’ I tell him.
He moves close to me and he takes my hands in his.
I step down.
He wraps his arms all around me.
’’They won\ always be,’’ he says. ’’I promise.’’
We stay there until the stars disappear, one by one, and the sky slowly lightens. It\s a new day and I know all I have to do is meet it with this thought in my head: there\s an answer, a why, why he killed himself. And I can convince myself it\s waiting for me, so far beyond what\s in front of me now ...
But I also know Milo is right whether I do or I don\ , my father is dead.
I hope he\s found peace, wherever he is.
I hope I do too, wherever I end up.