His forehead’s against the back of my head and I can feel his breathing on my neck. I’m not exactly a small guy, but I’m thin and a bit wiry, while Jared is enormous, tall and broad and just big, big, big.
Thank God he’s not a bully or he’d terrorize the school.
“Okay?” he asks quietly, after a minute.
“Okay,” I whisper, swallowing the huge lump in my throat.
He sets me down and slowly, gently, in the way that he has, he lets me go. I don’t move. He steps around me, turns off the tap and hands me some paper towels. I wince as I grab them, leaving several drops of blood against the white.
Tina yawns her way back to us. She scratches a spot on her scalp with one long fake fingernail. “I wonder what Harvey the Chef is up to these days?” she says.
Jared keeps looking over at me as he drives us home. He’s got a ridiculously tiny (and old) car for such a big guy, but it’s just him and his dad and they aren’t overflowing with money.
They’re happy, though. His dad’s the nicest grown man I’ve ever met.
“It really has gotten bad again,” Jared says, a statement rather than a question, as we drive deeper into the dark woods towards our homes.
“I know,” I say. “I’ve been getting stuck in these kind of … loops lately and it’s getting harder and harder to get out of them.”
“Even when it’s hurting you?”
“Even when I know it’s stupid. In fact, knowing it’s stupid, knowing that I’ve already washed my hands a hundred goddamned times, actually makes it worse. Because knowing that and doing it anyway is like…”
I don’t finish. We drive in silence for a little longer.
“Your fucking parents, man,” Jared whispers. He raises his voice. “If you ever need a place, Mikey.
I don’t care how mad they get or how it affects her stupid career–”
“I mean it.”
He hits the steering wheel with his fists. I feel kind of shy about how upset he is on my behalf.
But that’s Jared for you.
“Four and a half weeks,” he says.
CHAPTER THE FOURTH, in which Satchel and Dylan sit in a coffee house with understated live music and discuss what Satchel’s uncle told them; Dylan also tells her it’s clear that second indie kid Finn has feelings for her; Satchel doesn’t see that this is Dylan’s way of saying that he has feelings for her, too; later, the Messenger of the Immortals makes a surprising offer to indie kid Kerouac.
Okay, look, I gotta get some stuff out of the way. I wish I didn’t, but it’s necessary. This doesn’t define me or any of the people I love, okay? It’s just life. And we’ve moved on.
But you gotta know.
Four years ago, when I was thirteen and she was still fourteen, my sister had a heart attack. It was caused by arrhythmia, which was caused by Mel starving herself to death.
In the ambulance on the way to the hospital, she died. They were able to revive her, obviously, but the fact remains that, for three or four minutes, she was gone, we’d lost her. She says she doesn’t remember anything about it: no lights, no tunnels, no angels or old relatives or prickly-faced Labradors to help her with her journey to the other side. But weirdly, she doesn’t remember the opposite either. She doesn’t remember nothingness or emptiness or oblivion. Her memory stops before the heart attack and picks up again in the hospital.
“Don’t you wish you could remember?” I once asked her.
She looked at me as if I’d suggested murdering a duckling. “Absolutely not.”