Home > Eleanor & Park(15)

Eleanor & Park(15)
Author: Rainbow Rowell

He looked at her then and smiled a little.

‘Do you want to know?’ he asked.

‘No.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because it’s probably for something I can’t help.’

‘Like what?’ he asked.

‘Like for being weird,’ she said. ‘Or … for hyperventilating in your living room.’

‘I feel like that was partly my fault.’

‘I’m sorry,’ she said.

‘Eleanor, stop, listen, I’m mad because I feel like you decided to leave my house as soon as you walked in, maybe even before that.’

‘I felt like I shouldn’t be there,’ she said. She didn’t say it loud enough to be heard over the creeps in the back. (Seriously. Their singing was even worse than their shouting.) ‘I didn’t feel like you wanted me there,’ she said, a little louder.

The way Park looked at her then, biting his bottom lip, she knew she was at least a little bit right.

She’d wanted to be all wrong.

She’d wanted him to tell her that he did want her at his house, that he wanted her to come back and try again.

Park said something, but she couldn’t hear him, because now the kids in the back were chanting. Steve was standing at the back of the aisle, waving his gorilla arms like a conductor.

Go. Big. Red.

Go. Big. Red.

Go. Big. Red.

She looked around. Everyone was saying it.

Go. Big. Red.

Go. Big. Red.

Eleanor’s fingertips went cold. She looked around again, and realized that they were all looking at her.

Go. Big. Red.

Realized that they meant it for her.

Go. Big. Red.

She looked at Park. He knew it, too. He was staring straight ahead. His fists were clenched tight at his sides. He looked like someone she’d never met.

‘It’s okay,’ she said.

He closed his eyes and shook his head.

The bus was parking in front of their school, and Eleanor couldn’t wait to get off. She forced herself to stay in her seat until it stopped, and to calmly walk forward. The chanting broke up into laughter. Park was right behind her, but he stopped as soon as he was off the bus. He threw his backpack on the ground and took off his coat.

Eleanor stopped, too. ‘Hey,’ she said, ‘wait, no. What are you doing?’

‘I’m ending this.’

‘No. Come on. It’s not worth it.’

‘You are,’ he said fiercely, looking at her.

‘ You’re worth it.’

‘This isn’t for me,’ she said. She wanted to pull at him, but she didn’t feel like he was hers to hold back. ‘I don’t want this.’

‘I’m tired of them embarrassing you.’

Steve was getting off the bus, and Park clenched his fists again.

‘Embarrassing me?’ she said. ‘Or embarrassing you?’

He looked back at her, stricken. And she knew again that she was right. Damn it. Why did he keep letting her be right about all the crappy stuff?

‘If this is for me,’ she said, as fiercely as she could, ‘then listen to me. I don’t want this.’

He looked in her eyes. His eyes were so green, they looked yellow. He was breathing heavy, and his face was dark red under the gold.

‘Is it for me?’ she asked.

He nodded. He dug into her with his eyes. He looked like he was begging for something.

‘It’s okay,’ she said. ‘ Please. Let’s go to class.’

He closed his eyes and, eventually, nodded.

She bent over to get his coat, and heard Steve say, ‘That’s right, Red. Show it off.’

And then Park was gone.

When she turned to look, he was already shoving Steve back toward the bus. They looked like David and Goliath, if David had gotten close enough to let Goliath kick his ass.

Kids were already yelling ‘fight!’ and running from every direction. Eleanor ran, too.

She heard Park say, ‘I’m so sick of your mouth.’

And she heard Steve say, ‘Are you serious with this?’

He pushed Park hard, but Park didn’t fall.

Park took a few steps back, then cranked his shoulder forward, spinning into the air and kicking Steve right in the mouth. The whole crowd gasped.

Tina screamed.

Steve sprung forward almost as soon as Park landed, swinging his giant fists and clubbing Park in the head.

Eleanor thought that she might be watching him die.

She ran to get between them, but Tina was already there. Then one of the bus drivers was there. And an assistant principal. All pushing them apart.

Park was panting and hanging his head.

Steve was holding his own mouth. There was a waterfall of blood on his chin. ‘Jesus Christ, Park, what the fuck? I think you knocked out my tooth.’

Park lifted his head. His whole face was covered with blood. He staggered forward and the assistant principal caught him. ‘ Leave … my girlfriend … alone.’

‘I didn’t know she was really your girlfriend,’

Steve shouted. A bunch more blood spilled out of his mouth.

‘Jesus, Steve. It shouldn’t matter.’

‘It matters,’ Steve spat. ‘You’re my friend. I didn’t know she was your girlfriend.’

Park put his hands on his knees and shook his head, splattering the sidewalk.

‘Well, she is.’

‘All right,’ Steve said. ‘Jesus.’

There were enough adults now to herd the boys to the building. Eleanor carried Park’s coat and his backpack to her locker. She didn’t know what to do with them.

She didn’t know what to do with herself either. She didn’t know how to feel.

Was she supposed to be happy that Park had called her his girlfriend? It’s not like he’d given her any choice in the matter – and it’s not like he’d said it happily. He said it with his head down, with his face dripping blood.

Should she be worried about him? Could he still have brain damage, even though he’d been talking? Could he still stroke out, or fall into a coma? Whenever anyone in her family was fighting, her mother would start shouting, ‘Not in the head, not in the head!’

Also, was it wrong to be so worried about Park’s face?

Steve had the kind of face that could take or leave teeth. A few gaps in Steve’s smile would just add to the big creepy goon look he was rocking.

But Park’s face was like art. And not weird, ugly art either. Park had the sort of face you painted because you didn’t want history to forget it.

Was Eleanor supposed to be mad at him still?

Was she supposed to be indignant? Was she supposed to shout at him when she saw him in English class, ‘Was that for me? Or for you?’

She hung his trench coat in her locker, and leaned in to take a deep breath. It smelled like Irish Spring and a little bit like potpourri and like something she couldn’t describe anyway other than boy.

Park wasn’t in English or history, and he wasn’t on the bus after school. Neither was Steve. Tina walked by Eleanor’s seat with her head in the air; Eleanor looked away. Everybody else on the bus was talking about the fight. ‘Fucking Kung Fu, f**king David Carradine.’ And ‘Fuck David Carradine – f**king Chuck Norris.’

Eleanor got off at Park’s stop.

Park

He was suspended for two days.

Steve was suspended for two weeks because this was his third fight of the year. Park felt kind of bad about that – because Park was the one who’d started the fight – but then he thought about all the other ridiculous crap Steve did every day and never got busted for.

Park’s mom was so mad, she wouldn’t come get him. She called his dad at work. When his dad showed up, the principal thought he was Steve’s dad.

‘Actually,’ his dad said, pointing at Park,

‘that one’s mine.’

The school nurse said Park didn’t have to go the hospital, but he looked pretty bad. He had a black eye and probably a broken nose.

Steve did have to go the hospital. His tooth was loose, and the nurse was pretty sure he’d broken a finger.

Park waited in the office with ice on his face while his dad talked to the principal. The secret-ary brought him a Sprite from the teachers’

lounge.

His dad didn’t say anything until they were driving.

‘Taekwando is the art of self-defense,’ he said sternly.

Park didn’t answer. His whole face was throbbing; the nurse wasn’t allowed to give out Tylenol.

‘Did you really kick him in the face?’ his dad asked.

Park nodded.

‘That had to be a jump kick.’

‘Jump reverse hook,’ Park groaned.

‘No way.’

Park tried to give his dad a dirty look, but any look at all felt like getting hit in the face with rocks.

‘He’s lucky you wear those little tennis shoes,’ his dad said, ‘even in the middle of winter

… Seriously, a jump reverse hook?’

Park nodded.

‘Huh. Well, your mom is going to hit the goddamn roof when she sees you. She was at your grandma’s house, crying, when she called me.’

His dad was right. When Park walked in, his mom was practically incoherent.

She took him by the shoulders and looked up at his face, shaking her head. ‘Fighting!’ she said, stabbing her index finger into his chest. ‘Fighting like white-trash dumb monkey …’

He’d seen her this mad at Josh before – he’d seen her throw a basket of silk flowers at Josh’s head – but never at him.

‘Waste,’ she said. ‘Waste! Fighting! Can’t trust you with own face.’

His dad tried to put his hand on her shoulder, but she shook him off.

‘Get the boy a steak, Harold,’ his grandma said, sitting Park at the kitchen table and inspect-ing his face.

‘I’m not wasting a steak on that,’ his grandpa said.

His dad went to the cupboard to get Park some Tylenol and a glass of water.

‘Can you breathe?’ his grandma asked.

‘Through my mouth,’ Park said.

‘Your dad broke his nose so many times, he can only breathe through one nostril. That’s why he snores like a freight train.’

‘No more taekwando,’ his mom said. ‘No more fighting.’

‘Mindy …’ his dad said. ‘It was one fight. He was sticking up for some girl the kids pick on.’

‘She’s not some girl,’ Park growled. His voice made every bone in his head vibrate with pain. ‘She’s my girlfriend.’

He hoped so, anyway.

‘Is it the redhead?’ his grandma asked.

‘Eleanor,’ he said. ‘Her name – is Eleanor.’

‘No girlfriend, no,’ his mom said, folding her arms. ‘Grounded.’

Eleanor

When Eleanor rang the doorbell, Magnum P.I.

answered.

‘Hi,’ she said, trying to smile. ‘I go to school with Park. I have his books and stuff.’

Park’s dad looked her up and down, but not like he was checking her out, thank God. More like he was sizing her up. (Which was also uncomfortable.) ‘Are you Helen?’ he asked.

‘Eleanor,’ she said.

‘Eleanor, right … Just a second.’

Before she could tell him that she just wanted to drop off Park’s stuff, he walked away. He left the door open, and Eleanor could hear him talking to someone, probably in the kitchen, probably Park’s mom. ‘Come on, Mindy …’ And, ‘Just for a few minutes …’ And then, right before he came back to the door, ‘With a nickname like Big Red, I expected her to be a lot bigger.’

‘I was just dropping this off,’ Eleanor said when he pushed the screen open.

‘Thanks,’ he said, ‘come on in.’

Eleanor held up Park’s backpack.

‘Seriously, kid,’ he said. ‘Come on in and give it to him yourself. I’m sure he wants to see you.’

Don’t be, she thought.

But she followed him through the living room, down the short hall to Park’s room. His dad knocked softly and peeked in the door.

‘Hey. Sugar Ray. Someone’s here to see you.

You want to powder your nose first?’

He opened the door for Eleanor, then walked away.

Park’s room was small, but it was packed with stuff. Stacks of books and tapes and comic books. Model airplanes. Model cars. Board games. A rotating solar system hung over his bed like one of those things you put over a crib.

Park was on his bed, trying to prop himself up on his elbows, when she walked in.

She gasped when she saw his face. It looked so much worse than it had earlier.

One of his eyes was swollen shut, and his nose was thick and purple. It made her want to cry. And to kiss him. (Because apparently everything made her want to kiss him. Park could tell her that he had lice and leprosy and parasitic worms living in his mouth, and she would still put on fresh ChapStik. God.)

‘Are you okay?’ she asked. Park nodded and sat up against his headboard. She set down his bag and his coat, and walked over to the bed. He made room for her, so she sat down.

‘Whoa,’ she said, falling backwards, tipping Park on his side. He groaned and grabbed her arm.

‘Sorry,’ she said, ‘oh my God, sorry, are you okay? I wasn’t expecting a waterbed.’ Just saying that word made her giggle. Park laughed a little, too. It sounded like snorting.

‘My mom bought it,’ he said. ‘She thinks they’re good for your back.’

He was keeping both of his eyes mostly shut, even the good one, and he didn’t open his mouth when he talked.

‘Does it hurt to talk?’ she asked.

He nodded. He hadn’t let go of her arm, even though she’d recovered her balance. If anything, he was holding it tighter.

She reached up with her other hand and lightly touched his hair. Brushed it out of his face. It felt smooth and sharp at the same time, like she could feel each strand under her fingertips.

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