Home > Eleanor & Park(12)

Eleanor & Park(12)
Author: Rainbow Rowell

Park carefully picked up the phone and carried it to his bed. He sat down gently. He didn’t want her to hear anything. He didn’t want her to know he had a twin-sized waterbed and a phone shaped like a Ferrari.

‘What time is your dad coming home?’ he asked.

‘Late, I hope. They said they almost never get a babysitter.’

‘Cool.’

She giggled again.

‘ What? ’ he asked.

‘I don’t know,’ she said, ‘I feel like you’re whispering in my ear.’

‘I’m always whispering in your ear,’ he said, lying back on his pillows.

‘Yeah, but it’s usually about, like, Magneto or something.’ Her voice was higher on the phone, and richer, like he was listening to it on headphones.

‘I’m not going to say anything tonight that I could say on the bus or during English class,’ he said.

‘And I’m not going to say anything that I can’t say in front of a three-year-old.’

‘Nice.’

‘I’m just kidding. He’s in the other room, and he’s totally ignoring me.’

‘So …’ Park said.

‘So …’ she said, ‘… things we can’t say on the bus.’

‘Things we can’t say on the bus – go.’

‘I hate those people,’ she said.

He laughed, then thought of Tina and was glad that Eleanor couldn’t see his face. ‘Me, too, sometimes. I mean, I guess I’m used to them.

I’ve known most of them my whole life. Steve’s my next-door neighbor.’

‘How did that happen?’

‘What do you mean?’ he asked.

‘I mean, you don’t seem like you’re from there …’

‘Because I’m Korean?’

‘You’re Korean?’

‘Half.’

‘I guess I don’t really know what that means.’

‘Me neither,’ he said.

‘What do you mean? Are you adopted?’

‘No. My mom’s from Korea. She just doesn’t talk about it very much.’

‘How did she end up in the Flats?’

‘My dad. He served in Korea, they fell in love, and he brought her back.’

‘Wow, really?’

‘Yeah.’

‘That’s pretty romantic.’

Eleanor didn’t know the half of it; his parents were probably making out right now. ‘I guess so,’ he said.

‘That’s not what I meant though. I meant …

that you’re different from the other people in the neighborhood, you know?’

Of course he knew. They’d all been telling him so his whole life. When Tina liked Park instead of Steve in grade school, Steve had said, ‘I think she feels safe with you because you’re like half girl.’ Park hated football. He cried when his dad took him pheasant hunting. Nobody in the neighborhood could ever tell who he was dressed as on Halloween. (‘I’m Doctor Who.’ ‘I’m Harpo Marx.’ ‘I’m Count Floyd.’) And he kind of wanted his mom to give him blond highlights.

Park knew he was different.

‘No,’ he said. ‘I don’t know.’

‘You …’ she said, ‘you’re so … cool.’

Eleanor

‘Cool?’ he said.

God. She couldn’t believe she’d said that.

Talk about uncool. Like the opposite of cool.

Like, if you looked up ‘cool’ in the dictionary, there’d be a photo of some cool person there saying, ‘What the eff is wrong with you, Eleanor?’

‘I’m not cool,’ he said. ‘You’re cool.’

‘Ha,’ she said. ‘I wish I were drinking milk, and I wish you were here, so that you could watch it shoot out my nose in response to that.’

‘Are you kidding me?’ he said. ‘You’re Dirty Harry.’

‘I’m dirty hairy?’

‘Like Clint Eastwood, you know?’

‘No.’

‘You don’t care what anyone thinks about you,’ he said.

‘That’s crazy,’ she said. ‘I care what everyone thinks about me.’

‘I can’t tell,’ he said. ‘You just seem like yourself, no matter what’s happening around you.

My grandmother would say you’re comfortable in your own skin.’

‘Why would she say that?’

‘Because that’s how she talks.’

‘I’m stuck in my own skin,’ Eleanor said.

‘And why are we even talking about me? We were talking about you.’

‘I’d rather talk about you,’ he said. His voice dropped a little. It was nice to hear just his voice and nothing else. (Nothing besides Fraggle Rock in the next room.) His voice was deeper than she’d ever realized, but sort of warm in the middle. He kind of reminded her of Peter Gabri-el. Not singing, obviously. And not with a British accent.

‘Where did you come from?’ he asked.

‘The future.’

Park

Eleanor had an answer for everything – but she still managed to evade most of Park’s questions.

She wouldn’t talk about her family or her house. She wouldn’t talk about anything that happened before she moved to the neighborhood or anything that happened after she got off the bus.

When her sort-of stepbrother fell asleep around nine, she asked Park to call her back in fifteen minutes, so she could put the kid to bed.

Park hurried to the bathroom and hoped that he wouldn’t run into either of his parents. So far they were leaving him alone.

He got back to his room. He checked the clock … eight more minutes. He put a tape in his stereo. He changed into pajama pants and a Tshirt.

He called her back.

‘It so hasn’t been fifteen minutes,’ she said.

‘I couldn’t wait. Do you want me to call you back?’

‘No.’ Her voice was even softer now.

‘Did he stay asleep?’

‘Yeah,’ she said.

‘Where are you now?’

‘Like, where in the house?’

‘Yeah, where.’

‘Why?’ she asked, with something just gentler than disdain.

‘Because I’m thinking about you,’ he said, exasperated.

‘So?’

‘Because I want to feel like I’m with you,’ he said. ‘Why do you make everything so hard?’

‘Probably because I’m so cool …’ she said.

‘Ha.’

‘I’m lying on the floor in the living room,’

she said faintly. ‘In front of the stereo.’

‘In the dark? It sounds dark.’

‘In the dark, yeah.’

He lay back on his bed again and covered his eyes with his arm. He could see her. In his head.

He imagined green lights on a stereo. Street lights through a window. He imagined her face glowing, the coolest light in the room.

‘Is that U2?’ he asked. He could hear ‘Bad’ in the background.

‘Yeah, I think it’s my favorite song right now. I keep rewinding it, and playing it over and over again. It’s nice not to have to worry about batteries.’

‘What’s your favorite part?’

‘Of the song?’

‘Yeah.’

‘All of it,’ she said, ‘especially the chorus – I mean, I guess it’s the chorus.’

‘I’m wide awake,’ he half sang.

‘Yeah …’ she said, softly.

He kept singing then. Because he wasn’t sure what to say next.

Eleanor

‘Eleanor?’ Park said.

She didn’t answer.

‘Are you there?’

She was so out of it, she actually nodded her head. ‘Yes,’ she said out loud, catching herself.

‘What are you thinking?’

‘I’m thinking – I’m – I’m not thinking.’

‘Not thinking in a good way? Or a bad way?’

‘I don’t know,’ she said. She rolled over onto her stomach, and pressed her face into the carpet.

‘Both.’

He was quiet. She listened to him breathe.

She wanted to ask him to hold the phone closer to his mouth.

‘I miss you,’ she said.

‘I’m right here.’

‘I wish you were here. Or that I was there. I wish that there was some chance of talking like this after tonight, or seeing each other. Like, really seeing each other. Of being alone, together.’

‘Why can’t there be?’ he asked.

She laughed. That’s when she realized she was crying.

‘Eleanor …’

‘Stop. Don’t say my name like that. It only makes it worse.’

‘Makes what worse?’

‘Everything,’ she said.

He was quiet.

She sat up and wiped her nose on her sleeve.

‘Do you have a nickname?’ he asked. That was one of his tricks, whenever she was put off or irritated – changing the subject in the sweetest way possible.

‘Yeah,’ she said, ‘Eleanor.’

‘Not Nora? Or Ella? Or … Lena, you could be Lena. Or Lenny or Elle …’

‘Are you trying to give me a nickname?’

‘No, I love your name. I don’t want to cheat myself out of a single syllable.’

‘You’re such a dork.’ She wiped her eyes.

‘Eleanor …’ he said, ‘why can’t we see each other?’

‘God,’ she said, ‘don’t. I’d almost stopped crying.’

‘Tell me. Talk to me.’

‘ Because,’ she said, ‘because my stepdad would kill me.’

‘Why does he care?’

‘He doesn’t care. He just wants to kill me.’

‘Why?’

‘Stop asking that,’ she said angrily. There was no stopping the tears now. ‘You always ask that. Why. Like there’s an answer for everything.

Not everybody has your life, you know, or your family. In your life, things happen for reasons.

People make sense. But that’s not my life.

Nobody in my life makes sense …’

‘Not even me?’ he asked.

‘Ha. Especially not you.’

‘Why would you say that?’ He sounded hurt.

What did he have to be hurt about?

‘Why, why, why …’ she said.

‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘ why. Why are you always so mad at me?’

‘I’m never mad at you.’ It came out a sob. He was so stupid.

‘You are,’ he said. ‘You’re mad at me right now. You always turn on me, just when we start to get somewhere.’

‘Get where?’

‘Somewhere,’ he said. ‘With each other.

Like, a few minutes ago, you said you missed me. And for maybe the first time ever, you didn’t sound sarcastic or defensive or like you think I’m an idiot. And now you’re yelling at me.’

‘I’m not yelling.’

‘You’re mad,’ he said. ‘Why are you mad?’

She didn’t want him to hear her cry. She held her breath. That made it worse.

‘Eleanor …’ he said.

Even worse.

‘Stop saying that.’

‘What can I say then? You can ask me why, you know. I promise I’ll have answers.’

He sounded frustrated with her, but not angry. She could remember him sounding angry with her only once. The first day she got on the bus.

‘You can ask me why,’ he said again.

‘Yeah?’ She sniffed.

‘Yeah.’

‘Okay.’ She looked down at the turntable, at her own reflection in the tinted acrylic lid. She looked like a fat-faced ghost. She closed her eyes.

‘Why do you even like me?’

Park

He opened his eyes.

He sat up, stood up, started pacing around his small room. He went to stand by the window –

the one that faced her house, even though it was a block away and she wasn’t home – holding the base of the car phone against his stomach.

She’d asked him to explain something he couldn’t even explain to himself.

‘I don’t like you,’ he said. ‘I need you.’

He waited for her to cut him down. To say

‘Ha’ or ‘God’ or ‘You sound like a Bread song.’

But she was quiet.

He crawled back onto the bed, not caring whether she heard it swish. ‘You can ask me why I need you,’ he whispered. He didn’t even have to whisper. On the phone, in the dark, he just had to move his lips and breathe. ‘But I don’t know. I just know that I do …

‘I miss you, Eleanor. I want to be with you all the time. You’re the smartest girl I’ve ever met, and the funniest, and everything you do surprises me. And I wish I could say that those are the reasons I like you, because that would make me sound like a really evolved human being …

‘But I think it’s got as much to do with your hair being red and your hands being soft … and the fact that you smell like homemade birthday cake.’

He waited for her to say something. She didn’t.

Someone knocked softly on his door.

‘Just a second,’ he whispered into the phone.

‘Yeah?’ he said.

His mom opened his door, just enough to push her head through. ‘Not too late,’ she said.

‘Not too late,’ he said. She smiled and shut the door.

‘I’m back,’ he said. ‘Are you there?’

‘I’m here,’ Eleanor said.

‘Say something.’

‘I don’t know what to say.’

‘Say something, so that I don’t feel so stupid.’

‘Don’t feel stupid, Park,’ she said.

‘Nice.’

They were both quiet.

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