Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Paper Towns - Chapter 16

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
“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
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.”
“Shoe shopping?”
“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-ahot-
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.
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-themurder
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.


Post a Comment