Home > Eleanor & Park(10)

Eleanor & Park(10)
Author: Rainbow Rowell

The next morning on the bus, while Park ran his finger along the inside of her bracelet, Eleanor asked him for his phone number.

He started laughing.

‘Why is that funny?’ she asked.

‘Because,’ he said quietly. They said everything quietly, even though everyone else on the bus roared, even though you’d have to shout into a megaphone to be heard over all the cursing and idiocy. ‘I feel like you’re hitting on me,’ he said.

‘Maybe I shouldn’t ask for your number,’ she said. ‘You’ve never asked for mine.’

He looked up at her through his bangs.

‘I figured you weren’t allowed to talk on the phone … after that time with your stepdad.’

‘I probably wouldn’t be, if I had a phone.’

She usually tried not to tell Park things like that.

Like, all the things she didn’t have. She waited for him to react, but he didn’t. He just ran his thumb along the veins in her wrist.

‘Then why do you want my number?’

God, she thought, never mind. ‘You don’t have to give it to me.’

He rolled his eyes and got a pen out of his backpack, then reached over and took one of her books.

‘No,’ she whispered, ‘don’t. I don’t want my mom to see it.’

He frowned at her book. ‘I’d think you’d be more worried about her seeing this.’

Eleanor looked down. Crap. Whoever wrote that gross thing on her geography book had written on her history book, too.

‘suck me off,’ it said, in ugly blue letters.

She grabbed Park’s pen and started scribbling it out.

‘Why would you write that?’ he asked. ‘Is that a song?’

‘I didn’t write it,’ she said. She could feel patches of red creep up her neck.

‘Then who did?’

She gave him the meanest look she was cap-able of. (It was hard to look at him with anything other than gooey eyes.)

‘I don’t know,’ she said.

‘Why would anyone write that?’

‘I don’t know.’ She pulled her books against her chest and wrapped her arms around them.

‘Hey,’ he said.

Eleanor ignored him and looked out the window. She couldn’t believe she’d let him see that on her book. It was one thing to let him see her crazy life a little bit at a time … So, yeah, I have a terrible stepdad, and I don’t have a phone, and sometimes when we’re out of dish soap I wash my hair with flea and tick shampoo …

It was another thing to remind him that she was that girl. She may as well invite him to gym class. She might as well give him an alphabetical list of all the names they called her.

A – Ass, Fat

B – Bitch, Red-Headed

He’d probably try to ask her why she was that girl.

‘Hey,’ he said.

She shook her head.

It wouldn’t do any good to tell him that she hadn’t been that girl at her old school. Yeah, she’d been made fun of before. There were always mean boys – and there were always, always mean girls – but she’d had friends at her old school. She’d had people to eat lunch with and pass notes to. People used to pick her to be on their team in gym class just because they thought she was nice and funny.

‘Eleanor …’ he said.

But there was no one like Park at her old school.

There was no one like Park anywhere.

‘What,’ she said to the window.

‘How’re you going to call me if you don’t have my number?’

‘Who said I was going to call you?’ She hugged her books.

He leaned against her, pressing his shoulder into hers.

‘Don’t be mad at me,’ he said, sighing. ‘It makes me crazy.’

‘I’m never mad at you,’ she said.

‘Right.’

‘I’m not.’

‘You must just be mad near me a lot.’

She pushed her shoulder against his and smiled despite herself.

‘I’m babysitting at my dad’s house Friday night,’ she said, ‘and he said I could use the phone.’

Park turned his face eagerly. It was painfully close to hers. She could kiss him – or head-butt him – before he’d ever have a chance to pull away. ‘Yeah?’ he asked.

‘Yeah.’

‘ Yeah,’ he said, smiling. ‘But you won’t let me write down my number?’

‘Tell me,’ she said. ‘I’ll memorize it.’

‘Let me write it down.’

‘I’ll memorize it to the tune of a song, so that I don’t forget.’

He started singing his number to the tune of

‘867-5309,’ which cracked her right up.

Park

Park tried to remember the first time he saw her.

Because he could remember, on that day, seeing what everybody else saw. He could remember thinking that she was asking for it …

That it was bad enough to have curly red hair.

That it was bad enough to have a face shaped like a box of chocolates.

No, he hadn’t thought exactly that. He’d thought …

That it was bad enough to have a million freckles and chubby baby cheeks.

God, she had adorable cheeks. Dimples on top of freckles, which shouldn’t even be allowed, and round as crabapples. It was kind of amazing that more people didn’t try to pinch her cheeks.

His grandma was definitely going to pinch her when they met.

But Park hadn’t thought that either, the first time he saw Eleanor on the bus. He remembered thinking that it was bad enough that she looked the way she did …

Did she have to dress like that? And act like that? Did she have to try so hard to be different?

He remembered feeling embarrassed for her.

And now …

Now, he felt the fight rising up in his throat whenever he thought of people making fun of her.

When he thought of someone writing that ugly thing on her book … it made him feel like Bill Bixby just before he turned into the Hulk.

It had been so hard, on the bus, to pretend that it didn’t bother him. He didn’t want to make anything worse for her – he’d put his hands in his pockets and pressed them into fists, and held them that way all morning long.

All morning long, he’d wanted to punch something. Or kick something. Park had gym class right after lunch, and he ran so hard during drills, he’d started to retch up his fish sandwich.

Mr Koenig, his gym teacher, made him leave class early and take a shower. ‘Hit the bricks, Sheridan. Now. This isn’t Chariots of Fuckin’

Fire.’

Park wished it was only righteous anger that he felt. He wished that he could feel defensive and protective of Eleanor without feeling …

everything else.

Without feeling like they were making fun of him, too.

There were moments – not just today, moments every day since they’d met – when Eleanor made him self-conscious, when he saw people talking and he was sure they were talking about them. Raucous moments on the bus when he was sure that everyone was laughing at them.

And in those moments, Park thought about pulling back from her.

Not breaking up with her. That phrase didn’t even seem to apply here. Just … easing away.

Recovering the six inches between them.

He’d roll the thought over in his head until the next time he saw her.

In class, at her desk. On the bus, waiting for him. Reading alone in the cafeteria.

Whenever he saw Eleanor, he couldn’t think about pulling away. He couldn’t think about anything at all.

Except touching her.

Except doing whatever he could or had to, to make her happy.

‘What do you mean you’re not coming tonight?’

Call said.

They were in study hall, and Call was eating a Snack Pack butterscotch pudding. Park tried to keep his voice down. ‘Something came up.’

‘Something?’ Call said, slamming his spoon into his pudding. ‘Like you being completely lame – is that what came up? Because that comes up a lot lately.’

‘No. Something. Like, a girl something.’

Call leaned in. ‘You’ve got a girl something?’

Park felt himself blush. ‘Sort of. Yeah. I can’t really talk about it.’

‘But we had a plan,’ Call said.

‘You had a plan,’ Park said, ‘and it was terrible.’

‘Worst friend in the world,’ Call said.

Eleanor

She was so nervous, she couldn’t even touch her lunch. She gave DeNice her creamed turkey and Beebi her fruit cocktail.

Park made her practice his phone number all the way home.

And then he wrote it on her book anyway. He hid it in song titles.

‘Forever Young.’

‘That’s a four,’ he said. ‘Will you remember?’

‘I won’t have to,’ she said, ‘I already know your number by heart.’

‘And this is just a five,’ he said, ‘because I can’t think of any five songs, and this one’ –

‘Summer of ’69’ – ‘With this one, remember the six, but forget the nine.’

‘I hate that song.’

‘God, I know … Hey, I can’t think of any two songs.’

“‘Two of Us,”’ she said.

‘Two of us?’

‘It’s a Beatles song.’

‘Oh … that’s why I don’t know it.’ He wrote it down.

‘I know your number by heart,’ she said.

‘I’m just afraid you’re going to forget it,’ he said quietly. He pushed her hair out of her eyes with his pen.

‘I’m not going to forget it,’ she said. Ever.

She’d probably scream out Park’s number on her deathbed. Or have it tattooed over her heart when he finally got sick of her. ‘I’m good with numbers.’

‘If you don’t call me Friday night,’ he said,

‘because you can’t remember my number …’

‘How about this, I’ll give you my dad’s number, and if I haven’t called you by nine, you can call me.’

‘That’s

an

excellent

idea,’

he

said,

‘seriously.’

‘But you can’t call it any other time.’

‘I feel like …’ He started laughing and looked away.

‘What?’ she asked. She elbowed him.

‘I feel like we have a date,’ he said. ‘Is that stupid?’

‘No,’ she said.

‘Even though we’re together every day …’

‘We’re never really together,’ she said.

‘It’s like we have fifty chaperones.’

‘Hostile chaperones,’ Eleanor whispered.

‘Yeah,’ Park said.

He put his pen in his pocket, then took her hand and held it to his chest for a minute.

It was the nicest thing she could imagine. It made her want to have his babies and give him both of her kidneys.

‘A date,’ he said.

‘Practically.’

CHAPTER 19

Eleanor

When she woke up that morning, she felt like it was her birthday – like she used to feel on her birthday, back when there was a shot in hell of ice cream.

Maybe her dad would have ice cream … If he did, he’d probably throw it away before Eleanor got there. He was always dropping hints about her weight. Well, he used to, anyway. Maybe when he stopped caring about her altogether, he’d stopped caring about that, too.

Eleanor put on an old striped men’s shirt and had her mom tie one of her ties – like knot it, for real – around her neck.

Her mom actually kissed Eleanor goodbye at the door and told her to have fun, and to call the neighbors if things got weird with her dad.

Right, Eleanor thought, I’ll be sure to call you if Dad’s fiancée calls me a bitch and then makes me use a bathroom without a door. Oh wait …

She was a little nervous. It had been a year, at least, since she’d seen her dad, and a while before that. He hadn’t called at all when she lived with the Hickmans. Maybe he didn’t know she was there. She never told him.

When Richie first started coming around, Ben used to get really angry and say he was going to move in with their dad – which was an empty effing promise, and everyone knew it. Even Mouse, who was just a toddler.

Their dad couldn’t stand having them even for a few days. He used to pick them up from their mom’s house, then drop them off at his mom’s house while he went off and did whatever it was that he did on the weekend. (Presumably, lots and lots of marijuana.)

Park cracked up when he saw Eleanor’s tie.

That was even better than making him smile.

‘I didn’t know we were getting dressed up,’

he said when she sat down next to him.

‘I’m expecting you to take me someplace nice,’ she said softly.

‘I will …’ he said. He took the tie in both hands and straightened it. ‘Someday.’

He was a lot more likely to say stuff like that on the way to school than he was on the way home. Sometimes she wondered if he was fully awake.

He turned practically sideways in his seat.

‘So you’re leaving right after school?’

‘Yeah.’

‘And you’ll call me as soon as you get there

…’

‘No, I’ll call you as soon as the kid settles down. I really do have to babysit.’

‘I’m going to ask you a lot of personal questions,’ he said, leaning forward. ‘I have a list.’

‘I’m not afraid of your list.’

‘It’s extremely long,’ he said, ‘and extremely personal.’

‘I hope you’re not expecting answers …’

He sat back in the seat and looked over at her.

‘I wish you’d go away,’ he whispered, ‘so that we could finally talk.’

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