Home > Eleanor & Park(14)

Eleanor & Park(14)
Author: Rainbow Rowell

They both slouched down low.

‘That was the longest weekend of my life,’ he said.

She laughed and leaned into him.

‘Are you over me?’ he asked. She wished she could say things like that. That she could ask him questions like that, even in a joking way.

‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘Over and over and over.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Yeah, no.’

She reached into his jacket and slipped the Beatles tape into his T-shirt pocket. He caught her hand and held it to his heart.

‘What’s this?’ He pulled the tape out with his other hand.

‘The greatest songs ever written. You’re welcome.’

He rubbed her hand against his chest. Just barely. Just enough to make her blush.

‘Thank you,’ he said.

She waited until they were at her locker to tell him the other thing. She didn’t want anyone to hear. He was standing next to her and purposely bumping his backpack into her shoulder.

‘I told my mom that I might go over to a friend’s house after school.’

‘You did?’

‘Yeah, it doesn’t have to be today though. I don’t think she’ll change her mind.’

‘No, today. Come over today.’

‘Don’t you have to ask your mom?’

He shook his head. ‘She doesn’t care. I can even have girls in my room, if I keep the door open.’

‘Girl-zzz? You’ve had enough girls in your room to require a ruling?’

‘Oh, yeah,’ he said. ‘You know me.’

I don’t, she thought to herself, not really.

Park

For the first time in weeks, Park didn’t have that anxious feeling in his stomach on the way home from school, like he had to soak up enough of Eleanor to keep him until the next day.

He had a different anxious feeling. Now that he was actually introducing Eleanor to his mom, he couldn’t help but see her the way his mom was going to.

His mom was a beautician who sold Avon.

She never left the house without touching up her mascara. When Patti Smith was on Saturday Night Live, his mom had gotten upset – ‘Why she want to look like man? It’s so sad.’

Eleanor, today, was wearing her sharkskin suit jacket and an old plaid cowboy shirt. She had more in common with his grandpa than his mom.

And it wasn’t just the clothes. It was her.

Eleanor wasn’t … nice.

She was good. She was honorable. She was honest. She would definitely help an old lady across the street. But nobody – not even the old lady – would ever say, ‘Have you met that Eleanor Douglas? What a nice girl.’

Park’s mom liked nice. She loved nice. She liked smiling and small talk and eye contact …

All things Eleanor sucked at.

Also, his mom didn’t get sarcasm. And he was pretty sure it wasn’t a language thing. She just didn’t get it. She called David Letterman ‘the ugly, mean one on after Johnny.’

Park realized that his hands were sweating and let go of Eleanor’s. He put his hand on her knee instead, and that felt so good, so new, he stopped thinking about his mom for a few minutes.

When they got to his stop, he stood in the aisle and waited for her. But she shook her head.

‘I’ll meet you there,’ she said.

He felt relieved. And then guilty. As soon as the bus pulled away, he ran to his house. His brother wouldn’t be home yet, that was good.

‘Mom!’

‘In here!’ she called from the kitchen. She was painting her nails a pearly pink.

‘Mom,’ he said. ‘Hey. Um, Eleanor’s coming over in few minutes. My, um, my Eleanor. Now.

Is that okay?’

‘Right now?’ She shook the bottle. Click, click, click.

‘Yeah, don’t make a big deal, okay? Just …

be cool.’

‘Okay,’ she said. ‘I’m cool.’

He nodded, then looked around the kitchen and the living room to make sure there was nothing weird sitting out. He checked his room, too.

His mom had made his bed.

He opened the door before Eleanor knocked.

‘Hi,’ she said. She looked nervous. Well, she looked angry, but he was pretty sure that was because she was nervous.

‘Hey,’ he said. This morning, all he’d been able to think about was how to get more servings of Eleanor into his day, but now that she was here … he wished he had thought this through.

‘Come on in,’ he said. ‘And smile,’ he whispered at the second-to-last second, ‘okay?’

‘What?’

‘ Smile.’

‘Why?’

‘Never mind.’

His mom was standing in the doorway to the kitchen.

‘Mom, this is Eleanor,’ he said.

His mom smiled broadly.

Eleanor smiled, too, but it was all messed up.

She looked like she was squinting into a bright light or getting ready to tell someone bad news.

He thought he saw his mom’s pupils widen, but he was probably imagining it.

Eleanor went to shake his mom’s hand, but she waved them in the air, like ‘sorry my nails are wet,’ a gesture that Eleanor didn’t seem to recognize.

‘It’s nice to meet you, Eleanor.’ El-la-no.

‘It’s nice to meet you,’ Eleanor said, still squinty and weird.

‘You live close enough to walk?’ his mom asked.

Eleanor nodded.

‘That’s nice,’ his mom said.

Eleanor nodded.

‘You kids want some pop? Some snacks?’

‘No,’ Park said, cutting her off. ‘I mean …’

Eleanor shook her head.

‘We’re just going to watch some TV,’ he said, ‘okay?’

‘Sure,’ his mom said. ‘You know where to find me.’

She went back in the kitchen, and Park walked over to the couch. He wished he lived in a split-level or a house with a finished basement.

Whenever he went over to Cal’s house in west Omaha, Cal’s mom sent them downstairs and left them alone.

Park sat on the couch. Eleanor sat at the other end. She was staring at the floor and chewing on the skin around her fingernails.

He turned on MTV and took a deep breath.

After a few minutes, he scooted toward the middle of the couch. ‘Hey,’ he said. Eleanor stared at the coffee table. There was big bunch of red glass grapes on the table. His mom loved grapes. ‘ Hey,’ he said again.

He scooted closer.

‘Why did you tell me to smile?’ she whispered.

‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘Because I was nervous.’

‘Why are you nervous? This is your house.’

‘I know, but I’ve never brought anyone like you home before.’

She looked at the television. There was a Wang Chung video on.

Eleanor stood up suddenly. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’

‘No,’ he said. He stood up, too. ‘What?

Why?’

‘Just. I’ll see you tomorrow,’ she said.

‘No,’ he said. He took her arm by the elbow.

‘You just got here. What is it?’

She looked up at him painfully, ‘Anyone like me?’

‘That’s not what I meant,’ he said. ‘I meant anyone I care about.’

She took a breath and shook her head. There were tears on her cheeks. ‘It doesn’t matter. I shouldn’t be here, I’m going to embarrass you.

I’m going home.’

‘No,’ he pulled her closer. ‘Calm down, okay?’

‘What if your mom sees me crying?’

‘That … wouldn’t be great, but I don’t want you to leave.’ He was afraid that if she left now, she’d never come back. ‘Come on, sit next to me.’

Park sat down and pulled Eleanor down next to him, so he was sitting between her and the kitchen.

‘I hate meeting new people,’ she whispered.

‘Why?’

‘Because they never like me.’

‘I liked you.’

‘No, you didn’t, I had to wear you down.’

‘I like you now.’ He put his arm around her.

‘Don’t. What if your mom comes in?’

‘She won’t care.’

‘I care,’ Eleanor said, pushing him away. ‘It’s too much. You’re making me nervous.’

‘Okay,’ he said, giving her space. ‘Just don’t leave.’

She nodded and looked at the TV.

After a while, maybe twenty minutes, she stood up again.

‘Stay a little longer,’ he said. ‘Don’t you want to meet my dad?’

‘I super don’t want to meet your dad.’

‘Will you come back tomorrow?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘I wish I could walk you home.’

‘You can walk me to the door.’ He did.

‘Will you tell your mom I said goodbye? I don’t want her to think I’m rude.’

‘Yeah.’

Eleanor stepped out onto his porch.

‘Hey,’ he said. It came out hard and frustrated. ‘I told you to smile because you’re pretty when you smile.’

She walked to the bottom of the steps, then looked back at him. ‘It’d be better if you thought I was pretty when I don’t.’

‘That’s not what I meant,’ he said, but she was walking away.

When Park went inside, his mother came out to smile at him.

‘Your Eleanor seems nice,’ she said.

He nodded and went to his room. No, he thought, falling onto his bed. No, she doesn’t.

Eleanor

He was probably going to break up with her tomorrow. Whatever. At least she wouldn’t have to meet his dad. God, what must his dad be like? He looked just like Tom Selleck; Eleanor had seen a family portrait sitting on their TV cabinet. Park in grade school, by the way? Extremely cute.

Like, Webster cute. The whole family was cute.

Even his white brother.

His mom looked exactly like a doll. In The Wizard of Oz – the book, not the movie –

Dorothy goes to this place called the Dainty China Country, and all the people are tiny and perfect. When Eleanor was little and her mom read her the story, Eleanor had thought the Dainty China people were Chinese. But they were actually ceramic, or they’d turn ceramic, if you tried to sneak one back to Kansas.

Eleanor imagined Park’s dad, Tom Selleck, tucking his Dainty China person into his flak jacket and sneaking her out of Korea.

Park’s mom made Eleanor feel like a giant.

Eleanor couldn’t be that much taller than her, maybe three or four inches. But Eleanor was so much bigger. If you were an alien who came to Earth to study its life forms, you wouldn’t even think the two of them were the same species.

When Eleanor was around girls like that –

like Park’s mom, like Tina, like most of the girls in the neighborhood – she wondered where they put their organs. Like, how could you have a stomach and intestines and kidneys, and still wear such tiny jeans? Eleanor knew that she was fat, but she didn’t feel that fat. She could feel her bones and muscles just underneath all the chub, and they were big, too. Park’s mom could wear Eleanor’s ribcage like a roomy vest.

Park was probably going to break up with her tomorrow, and not even because she was huge.

He was going to break up with her because she was a huge mess. Because she couldn’t even be around regular people without freaking out.

It was just too much. Meeting his pretty, perfect mom. Seeing his normal, perfect house.

Eleanor hadn’t known there were houses like that in this crappy neighborhood – houses with wall-to-wall carpeting and little baskets of potpourri everywhere. She didn’t know there were families like that. The only upside to living in this effed-up neighborhood was that everybody else was effed up, too. The other kids might hate Eleanor for being big and weird, but they weren’t going to hate on her for having a broken family and a broke-down house. That was kind of the rule around here.

Park’s family didn’t fit. They were the Cleav-ers. And he’d told her that his grandparents lived in the house next door, which had flower boxes, for Christ’s sake. His family was practically the Waltons.

Eleanor’s family had been messed up even before Richie came around and sent everything straight to hell.

She would never belong in Park’s living room. She never felt like she belonged anywhere, except for when she was lying on her bed, pretending to be somewhere else.

CHAPTER 22

Eleanor

When Eleanor got to their seat the next morning, Park didn’t stand up to let her in. He just scooted over. It didn’t seem like he wanted to look at her; he handed her some comic books, then turned away.

Steve was being really loud. Maybe he was always this loud. When Park was holding her hand, Eleanor couldn’t even hear herself think.

Everyone in the back of the bus was singing the Nebraska fight song. There was some big game coming up this weekend, against Oklahoma or Oregon or something. Mr Stessman was giving them extra credit all week for wearing red. You wouldn’t think Mr Stessman would be prone to all this Husker crap, but it seemed like nobody was immune.

Except Park.

Park was wearing a U2 shirt today with a picture of a little boy on the chest. Eleanor had been up all night thinking about how he was probably done with her, and now she just wanted to put herself out of her misery.

She pulled at the edge of his sleeve.

‘Yeah?’ Park said softly.

‘Are you over me?’ she asked. It didn’t come out like a joke. Because it wasn’t.

He shook his head, but looked out the window.

‘Are you mad at me?’ she asked.

His fingers were locked loosely together in his lap, like he was thinking about praying. ‘Sort of.’

‘I’m sorry,’ she said.

‘You don’t even know why I’m mad.’

‘I’m still sorry.’

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