“Nothing on the door,” Ben said. Ben and I placed the door back in place, and Radar pounded in the pins with the screwdriver’s handle.
Radar and I went over to Ben’s house, which was architecturally identical to mine, to play a game called Arctic Fury. We were playing this game-within-a-game where you shoot each other with paintballs on a glacier. You received extra points for shooting your opponents in the balls. It was very sophisticated. “Bro, she’s definitely in New York City,” Ben said. I saw the muzzle of his rifle around a corner, but before I could move, he shot me between the legs. “Shit,” I mumbled.
Radar said, “In the past, it seems like her clues have pointed to a place. She tells Jase; she leaves us clues involving two people who both lived in New York City most of their lives. It does make sense.”
Ben said, “Dude, that’s what she wants.” Just as I was creeping up on Ben, he paused the game. “She wants you to go to New York. What if she arranged to make that the only way to find her? To actually go?”
“What? It’s a city of like twelve million people.”
“She could have a mole here,” Radar said. “Who will tell her if you go.”
“Lacey!” Ben said. “It’s totally Lacey. Yes! You gotta get on a plane and go to New York City right now. And when Lacey finds out, Margo will pick you up at the airport. Yes. Bro, I am going to take you to your house, and you’re gonna pack, and then I’m driving your ass to the airport, and you’re gonna put a plane ticket on your emergencies-only credit card, and then when Margo finds out what a badass you are, the kind of badass Jase Worthington only dreams about being, all three of us will be taking hotties to prom.”
I didn’t doubt there was a flight to New York City leaving shortly. From Orlando, there’s a flight to everywhere leaving shortly. But I doubted everything else. “If you call Lacey . . . ” I said.
“She’s not going to confess!” Ben said. “Think of all the misdirection they used—they probably only acted like they were fighting so you wouldn’t suspect she was the mole.”
Radar said, “I don’t know, that doesn’t really add up.” He kept talking, but I was only half listening. Staring at the paused screen, I thought it over. If Margo and Lacey were fake-fighting, did Lacey fake-break-up with her boyfriend? Had she faked her concern? Lacey had been fielding dozens of emails—none with real information—from the flyers her cousin had put in record stores in New York. She was no mole, and Ben’s plan was idiotic. Still, the mere idea of a plan appealed to me. But there were only two and a half weeks left of school, and I’d miss at least two days if I went to New York—not to mention my parents would kill me for putting a plane ticket on my credit card. The more I thought about it, the dumber it was. Still, if I could see her tomorrow. . . . But no. “I can’t miss school,” I finally said. I unpaused the game.
“I have a French quiz tomorrow.”
“You know,” Ben said, “your romanticism is a real inspiration.”
I played for a few more minutes and then walked across Jefferson Park back home.
My mom told me once about this crazy kid she worked with. He was a completely normal kid until he was nine, when his dad died. And even though obviously a lot of nine-year-olds have had a lot of dead fathers and most of the time the kids don’t go crazy, I guess this kid was an exception.
So what he did was he took a pencil and one of those steel compass things, and he started drawing circles onto a piece of paper. All the circles exactly two inches in diameter. And he would draw the circles until the entire piece of paper was completely black, and then he would get another piece of paper and draw more circles, and he did this every day, all day, and didn’t pay attention in school and drew circles all over all of his tests and shit, and my mom said that this kid’s problem was that he had created a routine to cope with his loss, only the routine became destructive. So anyway, then my mom made him cry about his dad or whatever and the kid stopped drawing circles and presumably lived happily ever after. But I think about the circles kid sometimes, because I can sort of understand him. I always liked routine. I suppose I never found boredom very boring. I doubted I could explain it to someone like Margo, but drawing circles through life struck me as a kind of reasonable insanity.
So I should have felt fine about not going to New York—it was a dumb idea, anyway. But as I went about my routine that night and the next day at school, it ate away at me, as if the routine itself was taking me farther from reuniting with her.
Tuesday evening, when she had been gone six days, I talked to my parents. It wasn’t a big decision or anything; I just did. I was sitting at the kitchen counter while Dad chopped vegetables and Mom browned some beef in a skillet. Dad was razzing me about how much time I’d spent reading such a short book, and I said, “Actually, it’s not for English; it seems like maybe Margo left it for me to find.” They got quiet, and then I told them about Woody Guthrie and the Whitman.
“She clearly likes to play these games of incomplete information,” my dad said.
“I don’t blame her for wanting attention,” my mom said, and then to me added, “but that doesn’t make her well-being your responsibility.”
Dad scraped the carrots and onions into the skillet. “Yeah, true. Not that either of us could diagnose her without seeing her, but I suspect she’ll be home soon.”
“We shouldn’t speculate,” my mom said to him quietly, as if I couldn’t hear or something. Dad was about to respond but I interrupted.
“What should I do?”
“Graduate,” my mom said. “And trust that Margo can take of herself, for which she has shown a great talent.”
“Agreed,” my dad said, but after dinner, when I went back to my room and played Resurrection on mute, I could hear them talking quietly back and forth. I could not hear the words, but I could hear the worry.
Later that night, Ben called my cell.
“Hey,” I said.
“Bro,” he said.
“Yes,” I answered.
“I’m about to go shoe shopping with Lacey.”
“Yeah. Everything’s thirty percent off from ten to midnight. She wants me to help her pick out her prom shoes. I mean, she had some, but I was over at her house yesterday and we agreed that they weren’t . . . you know, you want the perfect shoes for prom. So she’s going to return them and then we’re going to Burdines and we’re going to like pi—”
“Ben,” I said.
“Dude, I don’t want to talk about Lacey’s prom shoes. And I’ll tell you why: I have this thing that makes me really uninterested in prom shoes. It’s called a penis.”
“I’m really nervous and I can’t stop thinking that I actually kinda really like her not just in the she’s-a-hot-prom-date way but in the she’s-actually-really-cool-and-I-like-hanging-out-with-her kinda way. And, like, maybe we’re going to go to prom and we’ll be, like, kissing in the middle of the dance floor and everyone will be like, holy shit and, you know, everything they ever thought about me will just go out the window—”
“Ben,” I said, “stop the dork babble and you’ll be fine.” He kept talking for a while, but I finally got off the phone with him.
I lay down and started to feel a little depressed about prom. I refused to feel any kind of sadness over the fact that I wasn’t going to prom, but I had—stupidly, embarrassingly—thought of finding Margo, and getting her to come home with me just in time for prom, like late on Saturday night, and we’d walk into the Hilton ballroom wearing jeans and ratty T-shirts, and we’d be just in time for the last dance, and we’d dance while everyone pointed at us and marveled at the return of Margo, and then we’d fox-trot the hell out of there and go get ice cream at Friendly’s. So yes, like Ben, I harbored ridiculous prom fantasies. But at least I didn’t say mine out loud.
Ben was such a self-absorbed idiot sometimes, and I had to remind myself why I still liked him. If nothing else, he sometimes got surprisingly bright ideas. The door thing was a good idea. It didn’t work, but it was a good idea. But obviously Margo had intended it to mean something else to me.
The clue was mine. The doors were mine!
On my way to the garage, I had to walk through the living room, where Mom and Dad were watching TV. “Want to watch?” my mom asked. “They’re about to crack the case.” It was one of those solve-the-murder crime shows.
“No, thanks,” I said, and breezed past them through the kitchen and into the garage. I found the widest flathead screwdriver and then stuck it in the waistband of my khaki shorts, cinching my belt tight. I grabbed a cookie out of the kitchen and then walked back through the living room, my gait only slightly awkward, and while they watched the televised mystery unfold, I removed the three pins from my bedroom door. When the last one came off, the door creaked and started to fall, so I swung it all the way open against the wall with one hand, and as I swung it, I saw a tiny piece of paper—about the size of my thumbnail—flutter down from the door’s top hinge. Typical Margo. Why hide something in her own room when she could hide it in mine? I wondered when she’d done it, how she’d gotten in. I couldn’t help but smile.
It was a sliver of the Orlando Sentinel, half straight edges and half ripped. I could tell it was the Sentinel because one ripped edge read “do Sentinel May 6, 2.” The day she’d left. The message was clearly from her. I recognized her handwriting:
8328 bartlesville Avenue
I couldn’t put the door back on without beating the pins back into place with the screwdriver, which would have definitely alerted my parents, so I just propped the door on its hinges and kept it all the way open. I pocketed the pins and then went to my computer and looked up a map of 8328 Bartlesville Avenue. I’d never heard of the street.
It was 34.6 miles away, way the hell out Colonial Drive almost to the town of Christmas, Florida. When I zoomed in on the satellite image of the building, it looked like a black rectangle fronted by dull silver and then grass behind. A mobile home, maybe? It was hard to get a sense of scale, because it was surrounded by so much green.
I called Ben and told him. “So I was right!” he said. “I can’t wait to tell Lacey, because she totally thought it was a good idea, too!”
I ignored the Lacey comment. “I think I’m gonna go,” I said.
“Well, yeah, of course you’ve gotta go. I’m coming. Let’s go on Sunday morning. I’ll be tired from all-night prom partying, but whatever.”
“No, I mean I’m going tonight,” I said.
“Bro, it’s dark. You can’t go to a strange building with a mysterious address in the dark. Haven’t you ever seen a horror movie?”
“She could be there,” I said.
“Yeah, and a demon who can only be nourished by the pancreases of young boys could also be there,” he said. “Christ, at least wait till tomorrow, although I’ve got to order her corsage after band, and then I want to be home in case Lacey IM’s, because we’ve been IM’ing a lot—”
I cut him off. “No, tonight. I want to see her.” I could feel the circle closing. In an hour, if I hurried, I could be looking at her.
“Bro, I am not letting you go to some sketchy address in the middle of the night. I will Tase your ass if necessary.”
“Tomorrow morning,” I said, mostly to myself. “I’ll just go tomorrow morning.” I was tired of having perfect attendance anyway. Ben was quiet. I heard him blowing air between his front teeth.
“I do feel a little something coming on,” he said. “Fever. Cough. Aches. Pains.” I smiled. After I hung up, I called Radar.
“I’m on the other line with Ben,” he said. “Let me call you back.”
He called back a minute later. Before I could even say hello, Radar said, “Q, I’ve got this terrible migraine. There’s no way I can go to school tomorrow.” I laughed.
After I got off the phone, I stripped down to T-shirt and boxers, emptied my garbage can into a drawer, and put the can next to the bed. I set my alarm for the ungodly hour of six in the morning, and spent the next few hours trying in vain to fall asleep.
Mom came into my room the next morning and said, “You didn’t even close the door last night, sleepyhead,” and I opened my eyes and said, “I think I have a stomach bug.” And then I motioned toward the trash can, which contained puke.
“Quentin! Oh, goodness. When did this happen?”
“About six,” I said, which was true.
“Why didn’t you come get us?”
“Too tired,” I said, which was also true.
“You just woke up feeling ill?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said, which was untrue. I woke up because my alarm went off at six, and then I snuck into the kitchen and ate a granola bar and some orange juice. Ten minutes later, I stuck two fingers down my throat. I didn’t want to do it the night before because I didn’t want it stinking the room up all night. The puking sucked, but it was over quickly.
Mom took the bucket, and I could hear her cleaning it out in the kitchen. She returned with a fresh bucket, her lips pouting with worry. “Well, I feel like I should take the day—” she started, but I cut her off.
“I’m honestly fine,” I said. “Just queasy. Something I ate.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’ll call if it gets worse,” I said. She kissed my forehead. I could feel her sticky lipstick on my skin. I wasn’t really sick, but still, somehow she’d made me feel better.