Home > Eleanor & Park(13)

Eleanor & Park(13)
Author: Rainbow Rowell

‘Ask me why I like you,’ she finally said.

He felt himself smile. He felt like something warm had spilled in his chest.

‘Eleanor,’ he said, just because he liked saying it, ‘why do you like me?’

‘I don’t like you.’

He waited. And waited …

Then he started to laugh. ‘You’re kind of mean,’ he said.

‘Don’t laugh. It just encourages me.’

He could hear that she was smiling, too. He could picture her. Smiling.

‘I don’t like you, Park,’ she said again. ‘I …’

She stopped. ‘I can’t do this.’

‘Why not?’

‘It’s embarrassing.’

‘So far, just for me.’

‘I’m afraid I’ll say too much,’ she said.

‘You can’t.’

‘I’m afraid I’ll tell you the truth.’

‘Eleanor …’

‘Park.’

‘You don’t like me …’ he said, leading her, pressing the base of the phone into his lowest rib.

‘I don’t like you, Park,’ she said, sounding for a second like she actually meant it. ‘I …’ –

her voice nearly disappeared – ‘sometimes I think I live for you.’

He closed his eyes and arched his head back into his pillow.

‘I don’t think I even breathe when we’re not together,’ she whispered. ‘Which means, when I see you on Monday morning, it’s been like sixty hours since I’ve taken a breath. That’s probably why I’m so crabby, and why I snap at you. All I do when we’re apart is think about you, and all I do when we’re together is panic. Because every second feels so important. And because I’m so out of control, I can’t help myself. I’m not even mine anymore, I’m yours, and what if you decide that you don’t want me? How could you want me like I want you?’

He was quiet. He wanted everything she’d just said to be the last thing he heard. He wanted to fall asleep with ‘I want you’ in his ears.

‘God,’ she said. ‘I told you I shouldn’t talk. I didn’t even answer your question.’

Eleanor

She hadn’t even said anything nice about him.

She hadn’t told him that he was prettier than any girl, and that his skin was like sunshine with a suntan.

And that’s exactly why she hadn’t said it. Because all her feelings for him – hot and beautiful in her heart – turned to gobbledygook in her mouth.

She flipped the tape and pressed play, and waited for Robert Smith to start singing before she climbed up onto her dad’s brown leather couch.

‘Why can’t I see you?’ Park asked. His voice sounded raw and pure. Like something just hatched.

‘Because my stepfather is crazy.’

‘Does he have to know?’

‘My mom will tell him.’

‘Does she have to know?’

‘Eleanor ran her fingers along the edge of the glass coffee table. ‘What do you mean?’

‘I don’t know what I mean. I just know that I need to see you. Like this.’

‘I’m not even allowed to talk to boys.’

‘Until when?’

‘I don’t know, never. This is one of those things that doesn’t make sense. My mom doesn’t want to do anything that could possibly irritate my stepfather. And my stepfather gets off on being mean. Especially to me. He hates me.’

‘Why?’

‘Because I hate him.’

‘Why?’

She wanted, badly, to change the subject, but she didn’t.

‘Because he’s a bad person. Just … trust me.

He’s the kind of bad that tries to kill anything good. If he knew about you, he’d do whatever he could to take you away from me.’

‘He can’t take me away from you,’ Park said.

Sure he can, she thought. ‘He can take me away from you,’ she said. ‘The last time he got really mad at me, he kicked me out and didn’t let me come home for a year.’

‘Jesus.’

‘Yeah.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘Don’t be sorry,’ she said. ‘Just don’t tempt him.’

‘We could meet at the playground.’

‘My siblings would turn me in.’

‘We could meet somewhere else.’

‘Where?’

‘Here,’ he said. ‘You could come here.’

‘What would your parents say?’

‘It’s nice to meet you, Eleanor, would you like to stay for dinner?’

She laughed. She wanted to say it wouldn’t work, but maybe it would. Maybe.

‘Are you sure you want them to meet me?’

she asked.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I want everyone to meet you.

You’re my favorite person of all time.’

He kept making her feel like it was safe to smile. ‘I don’t want to embarrass you …’ she said.

‘You couldn’t.’

Headlights shot across the living room.

‘Damn,’ she said. ‘I think my dad’s home.’

She got up and looked out the window. Her dad and Donna were getting out of the Karmann Ghia. Donna’s hair was a mess.

‘Damn, damn, damn,’ she said. ‘I never said why I like you, and now I have to go.’

‘That’s okay,’ he said.

‘It’s because you’re kind,’ she said. ‘And because you get all my jokes …’

‘Okay,’ he laughed.

‘And you’re smarter than I am.’

‘I am not.’

‘And you look like a protagonist.’ She was talking as fast as she could think. ‘You look like the person who wins in the end. You’re so pretty, and so good. You have magic eyes,’ she whispered. ‘And you make me feel like a cannibal.’

‘You’re crazy.’

‘I have to go.’ She leaned over so the receiver was close to the base.

‘Eleanor – wait,’ Park said. She could hear her dad in the kitchen and her heartbeat everywhere.

‘Eleanor – wait – I love you.’

‘Eleanor?’ her dad was standing in the doorway. He was being quiet, in case she was asleep.

She hung up the phone and pretended that she was.

CHAPTER 20

Eleanor

The next day was a blur.

Her dad complained that she’d eaten all the yogurt.

‘I didn’t eat it, I gave it to Matt.’

Her dad only had seven dollars in his wallet, so that’s what he gave her. When he was ready to take her home, she said she had to go the bathroom. She went up to the hall closet, found three brand new toothbrushes and shoved them into the front of her pants, along with a bar of Dove soap.

Donna might have seen her (she was right there in the bedroom), but she didn’t say anything.

Eleanor felt sorry for Donna. Her dad never laughed at anyone’s jokes but his own.

When her dad dropped Eleanor off at her house, all the little kids ran out to see him. He gave them rides around the neighborhood in his new car.

Eleanor wished she had a phone to call the cops. ‘There’s a guy driving around the Flats with a bunch of kids hanging out of a convertible.

I’m pretty sure none of them have seat belts on and that he’s been drinking Scotch all morning.

Oh, and while you’re here, there’s another guy in the backyard smoking hash. In a school zone.’

When their dad finally left, Mouse couldn’t stop talking about him. After a few hours, Richie told everybody to put their coats on. ‘We’re going to a movie,’ he said, looking right at Eleanor.

‘All of us.’

Eleanor and the little kids climbed into the back of the truck and huddled against the cab, making faces at the baby, who got to sit inside.

Richie drove down Park’s street on the way out of the neighborhood, but Park wasn’t outside, thank God. Of course, Tina and her Neanderthal boyfriend were out. Eleanor didn’t even try to duck. What was the point? Steve whistled at her.

It was snowing on the way home from the movie. ( Short Circuit.) Richie drove slow, which meant that even more snow fell on them, but at least nobody flew out of the truck.

Huh, Eleanor thought. I’m not fantasizing about being thrown from a moving vehicle.

Weird.

When they drove by Park’s house again in the dark, she wondered which window was his.

Park

He regretted saying it. Not because it wasn’t true.

He loved her. Of course he did. There was no other way to explain … everything Park felt.

But he hadn’t meant to tell her like that. So soon. And over the phone. Especially knowing how she felt about Romeo and Juliet.

Park was waiting for his little brother to change clothes. Every Sunday, they got dressed up, in nice pants and sweaters, and had dinner with their grandparents. But Josh was playing Super Mario and wouldn’t turn it off. (He was about to get to the infinity turtle for the first time.)

‘I’m going over,’ Park yelled to his parents.

‘I’ll see you there.’

He ran across the yard because he didn’t feel like putting on a coat.

His

grandparents’

house

smelled

like

chicken-fried chicken. His grandma only had four Sunday dinners in her repertoire – chicken-fried chicken, chicken-fried steak, pot roast and corned beef – but they were all good.

His grandpa was watching TV in the living room. Park stopped to give him half a hug, then went into the kitchen and hugged his grandma.

She was so small, even Park towered over her.

All the women in his family were tiny, and all the men were huge. Only Park’s DNA had missed the memo. Maybe the Korean genes scrambled everything.

That didn’t explain Josh’s hugeness, though.

Josh looked like the Korean genes had skipped him altogether. His eyes were brown and just barely almondy – almond-flavored. And his hair was dark, but not even close to black. Josh looked like a big German or Polish kid whose eyes kind of crinkled when he smiled.

Their grandmother looked nothing but Irish.

Or maybe Park only thought that because everyone in his dad’s family made such a big deal about being Irish. Park got a ‘Kiss Me, I’m Irish’

T-shirt every year for Christmas.

He set his grandparents’ table without being asked, because it had always been his job. When his mom got there, he hung out in the kitchen with her and his grandma, and listened to them gossip about the neighbors.

‘I heard from Jamie that Park’s going steady with one of those kids who live over with Richie Trout,’ his grandma said.

It shouldn’t surprise Park that his dad had already told his grandma. His dad could never keep a secret.

‘Everybody talking about Park’s girlfriend,’

his mom said, ‘except for Park.’

‘I heard she’s a redhead,’ his grandma said.

Park pretended to read the newspaper. ‘You shouldn’t listen to gossip, Grandma.’

‘Well, I wouldn’t have to,’ his grandma said,

‘if you’d just introduce us to her.’

He rolled his eyes. Which made him think of Eleanor. Which almost made him feel like telling them about her, just so he’d have a reason to say her name.

‘Well, my heart goes out to any child living in that house,’ his grandma said. ‘That Trout boy has never been any good. He smashed out our mailbox while your dad was in the service. I know it was him because he was the only one in the neighborhood with an Ell Camino. He grew up in that little house, you know, until his parents moved someplace even more redneck than here.

Wyoming, I think it was. They probably moved to get away from him.’

‘Tishhhh,’ his mom said. Grandma was a little sharp for his mom’s taste sometimes.

‘We thought he’d moved out west, too,’ she said, ‘but now he’s back with an older wife who looks like a movie star and a whole house full of red-headed stepchildren. Gill told your grandpa that they’ve got a big old dog living there, too. I never …’

Park felt like he should defend Eleanor. But he wasn’t sure how.

‘It doesn’t surprise me that you have a thing for redheads,’ his grandma said. ‘Your grandfath-er was in love with a redhead. Lucky for me, she wouldn’t have anything to do with him.’

What would Park’s grandmother say if he did introduce her to Eleanor? What would she say to the neighbors?

And what would his mother say?

He watched his mom mash potatoes with a masher as big as her arm. She was wearing stonewashed jeans and a pink V-neck sweater, with fringed leather boots. There was a gold angel charm hanging around her neck and gold crosses hanging from her ears. She’d be the most popular girl on the bus. He couldn’t imagine her living anywhere but here.

Eleanor

She’d never lied to her mother. Not about anything important, anyway. But on Sunday night, while Richie was at the bar, Eleanor told her mom that she might go over to a friend’s house after school the next day.

‘Who’s that?’ her mom asked.

‘Tina,’ Eleanor said. It was the first name she thought of. ‘She lives in the neighborhood.’

Her mom was distracted. Richie was late, and his steak was drying out in the oven. If she took it out, he’d be pissed that it was cold. But if she left it in, he’d be pissed that it was tough.

‘Okay,’ she said. ‘I’m glad you’re finally making friends.’

CHAPTER 21

Eleanor

Would he look different?

Now that she knew that he loved her? (Or that he had loved her, at least for a minute or two on Friday night. At least enough to say so.) Would he look different?

Would he look away?

He did look different. More beautiful than ever. When she got on the bus, Park was sitting tall in the seat, so she could see him. (Or maybe so that he could see her.) And when he let her in-to the seat, he sat back down again against her.

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