one hundred fourteen days after

A week and Ahalf later,I walked back from my afternoon classes, the sun bearing down on my skin in a constant reminder that spring in Alabama had come and gone in a matter of hours, and now, early May, summer had returned for a six-month visit, and I felt the sweat dribble down my back and longed for the bitter winds of January. When I got to my room, I found Takumi sitting on the couch, reading my biography of Tolstoy.

“Uh, hi,” I said.

He closed the book and placed it beside him and said, “January10.”

“What?” I asked.

“January 10. That date ring a bell?”

“Yeah, it’s the day Alaska died.” Technically, she died three hours into January 11, but it was still, to us anyway, Monday night, January 10.

“Yeah, but something else, Pudge. January 9. Alaska’s mom took her to the zoo.”

“Wait. No. How do you know that?”

“She told us at Barn Night. Remember?”

Of course I didn’t remember. If I could remember numbers, I wouldn’t be struggling toward a C-plus in precalc.

“Holy shit,” I said as the Colonel walked in.

“What?” the Colonel asked.

“January 9, 1997,” I told him. “Alaska liked the bears. Her mom liked the monkeys.” The Colonel looked at me blankly for a moment and then took his backpack off and slung it across the room in a single motion.

“Holy shit,” he said. “WHY THE HELL DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT!”

Within a minute, the Colonel had the best solution either of us would ever come up with. “Okay. She’s sleeping.

Jake calls, and she talks to him, and she’s doodling, and she looks at her white flower, and ‘Oh God my mom liked white flowers and put them in my hair when I was little,’ and then she flips out. She comes back into her room and starts screaming at us that she forgot — forgot about her mom, of course — so she takes the flowers, drives off campus, on her way to — what?” He looked at me. “What? Her mom’s grave?”

And I said, “Yeah, probably. Yeah. So she gets into the car, and she just wants to get to her mom’s grave, but there’s this jackknifed truck and the cops there, and she’s drunk and pissed off and she’s in a hurry, so she thinks she can squeeze past the cop car, and she’s not even thinking straight, but she has to get to her mom, and she thinks she can get past it somehow and POOF.”

Takumi nods slowly, thinking, and then says, “Or, she gets into the car with the flowers. But she’s already missed the anniversary. She’s probably thinking that she screwed things up with her mom again — first she doesn’t call 911, and now she can’t even remember the freaking anniversary. And she’s furious and she hates herself, and she decides, ‘That’s it, I’m doing it,’ and she sees the cop car and there’s her chance and she just floors it.”

The Colonel reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes, tapping it upside down against thecoffee table. “Well,” he said. “That clears things up nicely.”

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