Chapter no 10

If He Had Been with Me

It is the moment I reach my door that I realize I left my house keys in my locker. It’s Thursday, the day my mother goes to see her therapist and then to the gym. She won’t be home until five-thirty. It’s two-thirty in the afternoon in early March. The snow is gone but it is still cold out, and it’s about to rain.

I stand facing my door for a moment. I have two options. One is to stay on the porch, hope the rain doesn’t blow on me, and later try to explain to my mother why I didn’t take the second option.


“I’m locked out,” I say as he opens the door. Even so, a flicker of confusion passes over his face.

“Oh. Okay,” Finny says. He steps aside and lets me come in. I’m wearing Doc Martens and a new pink tiara. He’s wearing khakis and a sweater. He’s kicked off his shoes already. His socks are green. I nearly say something. What kind of boy wears green socks?

“What time does your mom come home?” I ask.

“Four,” he says. His mother has a spare key. “Where’s your mom?”

“It’s therapy day,” I say. I follow him into the living room, where he sits down on the couch. Aunt Angelina’s house is always just a little bit messy, the lived-in kind of messy where books get piled into corners, and throw pillows and shoes seem to be everywhere. Aunt Angelina has never quite finished decorating either; on the wall above Finny’s head, there are three

different samples of paint spread in large splotches. They’ve been there as long as I can remember.

“What do you want to watch?” Finny says. He picks up the remote and looks at me.

“I’m going to read,” I say. I had been planning when I got home to edit a poem I started during history class, but there is no way I could take out my notebook and start writing here, in front of him.

I sit down in the armchair across the room. It’s bright blue, and for years Aunt Angelina has been going to have it reupholstered, as soon as she decides on a color scheme for the room. When I hear Finny start flipping through the channels, I take my book out of my bag and glance up at him.

Finny looks like a Renaissance painting of an angel or like he could belong to some modern royal family. His hair stays blond all winter and looks like gold in the summer. He blushes a lot, partly because he is so fair, partly because he’s shy and gets embarrassed easily. I know that Sylvie must have approached him first and she was definitely the one who asked him out.

Finny never tells anyone how he is feeling; you just have to know him well enough to understand when he is sad or scared. Today his expression does not tell me how he feels about me being over here. Either he couldn’t care less, or he could be annoyed.

We see each other frequently, but we rarely are alone together. And even though we will still sometimes side together against The Mothers over an issue, we never have anything to say to each other that isn’t superficial.

Years ago, Finny and I strung string and two cups across our bedroom windows so we could talk to each other at night. After we stopped talking, we never took it down, but finally the string rotted away.

Finny’s cell phone rings and he leaves the room without saying anything. I look down at my book and begin to read. The rain has started, and I am distracted by the sound of it. Finny used to ask me to go outside with him to save the worms on the sidewalk. It bothered him to see them drying and

writhing on the pavement the day after rain. He hated the idea of anyone— anything—ever being sad or hurt.

When we were eight, we heard his mother sobbing in her bedroom after a breakup and Finny pushed tissues under the door. When we were eleven, he punched Donnie Banks in the stomach for calling me a freak. It was the only fight he ever got in, and I think Mrs. Morgansen only gave him detention because she had to. Aunt Angelina didn’t even punish him.

“Autumn is already here,” I hear him say in the next room. There is a pause. “She got locked out.” There is a longer silence. “Okay,” he says, and then, “I love you too.”

This time he looks at me when he comes back in the room.

“You guys are having dinner over here tonight, so Mom says you might as well just stay.”

“But my dad’s supposed to be home tonight,” I say. Finny shrugs. My dad cancels family dinners frequently enough that I suppose it isn’t worth pointing out to me. I shrug back and look down at my book.

When I look up again, it is because I hear Aunt Angelina coming in through the back door.

“Hello?” she calls out.

“In here,” Finny shouts back. He mutes the TV and his mom walks into the room.

“Hi, kids,” she says. Her long patchwork skirt still swirls around her ankles even when she comes to a stop. She brings her scent of patchouli oil into the room with her.

“Hi,” we say. Aunt Angelina looks at me and smiles with the left side of her mouth. It’s the same crooked smile Finny has when he’s feeling playful. “Autumn, why are you wearing a Jimmy Carter campaign shirt?’” she


“I dunno,” I say. “Why is your son wearing green socks?”

She looks back at Finny. “Phineas, are you wearing green socks?” He looks down at his feet. “Well, yeah.”

“Where did you get green socks from?”

“They were in my sock drawer.” “I never bought you green socks.” “They were in there.”

“This all sounds very suspicious to me,” I say.

“Agreed. Finny, Autumn and I are going into the kitchen, and when we come back, you better have an explanation for your socks.” Finny and I glance at each other in surprise. I look away and set my book down. Aunt Angelina waits for me at the door. When I reach her, she lays one hand on my shoulder as she walks with me into the kitchen.

“Honey, your mom isn’t having a good day,” she says quietly. “Your dad had to cancel dinner tonight and it really upset her.”

To other kids, this wouldn’t sound like a big deal. But when your mom has been hospitalized twice for depression, you learn to read between the lines.

“Okay,” I say.

Last time Mom was in the hospital, I was in sixth grade. I spent two weeks living with Aunt Angelina and Finny. At the time, it was fun. Everyone kept telling me that my mom was going to be okay. They told me about chemical imbalances and how it was a sickness like any other, and that Mom would get better. So I accepted it, and every night Finny snuck into the guest bedroom and we would draw pictures on each other’s backs with our fingers and then try to guess what they were.

I doubted it would be like that this time. Any of it. For one thing, this time I’ll ask why, if it’s just a chemical imbalance, Dad seems to be causing it.

“She’ll be fine. We just all need to be really understanding tonight, okay?”

“I get it,” I say. She’s saying not to stage a teenage rebellion at the dinner table.

“Your mother loves you very, very much,” she says. “I get it,” I say again. “It’s okay.”

“All right,” she says, and she squeezes my shoulder. Despite her promise to find out more about the mysterious socks, Aunt Angelina does not follow me back into the living room. When I come back in, Finny mutes the TV and watches me sit back down.

“Everything okay?” he says.

“Yup,” I say. “Isn’t it always?”

He laughs, a quick exhalation through his nose, then his face becomes serious again, and he cocks his head to the side. He’s asking me if I want to talk about it. I shake my head and he looks away again quickly. The sound comes back on the TV and I pick up my book again.


Back in sixth grade, he had to sneak into the guest bedroom because we weren’t allowed to sleep in the same bed anymore. We hardly ever broke the rules and I was nervous every time he came, but I never told him not to. The truth of the matter is, if they hadn’t suggested it, it never would have occurred to me that things could be different between us just because we were older. We lay on our stomachs side by side and we only touched to draw on each other’s backs. I drew flowers and hearts and animals. Finny drew rocket ships and soccer balls.

On my last night there, Aunt Angelina came and stood in the doorway. She was silhouetted in the darkness by the light in the hallway. I suppose she could see us better than we could see her.

“Phineas, what are you doing in here?” she said.

“Autumn is sad,” he said. It wasn’t until he said it that I realized it was true. There was a long silence. Finny lay still next to me. I watched her dark form in the doorway.

“Fifteen minutes,” she said, and then she left. It was Finny’s turn to draw on my back. I closed my eyes and concentrated on the shapes he traced over me. It always tickled, but I never laughed.

“Two houses,” I said. “And four people.”

“It’s our houses,” he said. “And our family.”


My mother skips the gym and comes straight home. Aunt Angelina orders pizza and we eat in front of the TV, something we never do at my house. Afterward, I claim to have homework and go home. My mother stays. She says she’ll be home later.

When I get home, I call Jamie to tell him everything. I cry, and I tell him that I’m scared. I tell him that I found out that they only hospitalize you if you’re suicidal. I tell him it’s supposed to be genetic.

Jamie tells me that he will always love me and take care of me, no matter what. He says it over and over and over and over again.

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