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Eleanor & Park(3)
Author: Rainbow Rowell

At Eleanor’s old school, she’d thought it had sucked that they had to wear gym shorts. (Eleanor hated her legs even more than she hated the rest of her body.) But at North they had to wear gym suits. Polyester onesies. The bottom was red, and the top was red-and-white striped, and it all zipped up the front.

‘Red isn’t your color, Bozo,’ Tina had said the first time Eleanor suited up. The other girls all laughed, even the black girls, who hated Tina.

Laughing at Eleanor was Dr King’s mountain.

After Tina pushed past her, Eleanor took her time getting on the bus – but she still got to her seat before that stupid Asian kid. Which meant she’d have to get up to let him have his spot by the window. Which would be awkward. It was all awkward. Every time the bus hit a pothole, Eleanor practically fell in the guy’s lap.

Maybe somebody else on the bus would drop out or die or something and she’d be able move away from him.

At least he didn’t ever talk to her. Or look at her.

At least she didn’t think he did; Eleanor never looked at him.

Sometimes she looked at his shoes. He had cool shoes. And sometimes she looked to see what he was reading …

Always comic books.

Eleanor never brought anything to read on the bus. She didn’t want Tina, or anybody else, to catch her with her head down.

Park

It felt wrong to sit next to somebody every day and not talk to her. Even if she was weird. (Jesus, was she weird. Today she was dressed like a Christmas tree, with all this stuff pinned to her clothes, shapes cut out of fabric, ribbon …) The ride home couldn’t go fast enough. Park couldn’t wait to get away from her, away from everybody.

‘Dude, where’s your dobak?’

He was trying to eat dinner alone in his room, but his little brother wouldn’t let him. Josh stood in the doorway, already dressed for taekwando and inhaling a chicken leg.

‘Dad’s going to be here, like now,’ Josh said through the drumstick, ‘and he’s gonna shit if you’re not ready.’

Their mom came up behind Josh and thumped him on the head. ‘Don’t cuss, dirty mouth.’ She had to reach up to do it. Josh was his father’s son; he was already at least seven inches taller than their mom – and three inches taller than Park.

Which sucked.

Park pushed Josh out the door and slammed it. So far, Park’s strategy for maintaining his status as older brother despite their growing size differential was to pretend he could still kick Josh’s ass.

He could still beat him at taekwando – but only because Josh got impatient with any sport where his size wasn’t an obvious advantage. The high school football coach had already started coming to Josh’s Peewee games.

Park changed into his dobak, wondering if he was going to have to start wearing Josh’s hand-me-downs pretty soon. Maybe he could take a Sharpie to all Josh’s Husker football T-shirts and make them say Husker Dü. Or maybe it wouldn’t even be an issue – Park might never get any taller than five foot four. He might never grow out of the clothes he had now.

He put on his Chuck Taylors and took his dinner into the kitchen, eating over the counter.

His mom was trying to get gravy out of Josh’s white jacket with a washcloth.

‘Mindy?’

That’s how Park’s dad came home every night, like the dad in a sit-com. (‘ Lucy? ’) And his mom would call out from wherever she was, ‘In here!’

Except she said it, ‘In hee-ya!’ Because she was apparently never going to stop sounding like she just got here yesterday from Korea.

Sometimes Park thought she kept the accent on purpose, because his dad liked it. But his mom tried so hard to fit in in every other way … If she could sound like she grew up right around the corner, she would.

His dad barreled into the kitchen and scooped his mom into his arms. They did this every night, too. Full-on make-out sessions, no matter who was around. It was like watching Paul Bunyan make out with one of those It’s a Small World dolls.

Park grabbed his brother’s sleeve. ‘Come on, let’s go.’ They could wait in the Impala. Their dad would be out in a minute, as soon as he’d changed into his giant dobak.

Eleanor

She still couldn’t get used to eating dinner so early.

When did this all start? In the old house, they’d all eaten together, even Richie. Eleanor wasn’t complaining about not having to eat with Richie … But now it was like their mom wanted them all out of the way before he came home.

She even made him a totally different dinner.

The kids would get grilled cheese, and Richie would get steak. Eleanor wasn’t complaining about the grilled cheese either – it was a nice break from bean soup, and beans and rice, and huevos y frijoles …

After dinner, Eleanor usually disappeared in-to her room to read, but the little kids always went outside. What were they going to do when it got cold – and when it started getting dark early?

Would they all hide in the bedroom? It was crazy. Diary of Anne Frank crazy.

Eleanor climbed up onto her bunk bed and got out her stationery box. That dumb gray cat was sleeping in her bed again. She pushed him off.

She opened the grapefruit box and flipped through her stationery. She kept meaning to write letters to her friends from her old school. She hadn’t gotten to say goodbye to anybody when she left. Her mom had shown up out of the blue and pulled Eleanor out of class, all ‘Get your things, you’re coming home.’

Her mom had been so happy.

And Eleanor had been so happy.

They went straight to North to get Eleanor re-gistered, then stopped at Burger King on the way to the new house. Her mom kept squeezing Eleanor’s hand … Eleanor had pretended not to notice the bruises on her mom’s wrist.

The bedroom door opened, and her little sister walked in, carrying the cat.

‘Mom wants you to leave the door open,’

Maisie said, ‘for the breeze.’ Every window in the house was open, but there didn’t seem to be any breeze. With the door open, Eleanor could just see Richie sitting on the couch. She scooted down the bed until she couldn’t.

‘What are you doing?’ Maisie asked.

‘Writing a letter.’

‘To who?’

‘I don’t know yet.’

‘Can I come up?’

‘No.’ For the moment, all Eleanor could think about was keeping her box safe. She didn’t want Maisie to see the colored pencils and clean paper.

Plus, part of her still wanted to punish Maisie for sitting in Richie’s lap.

That never would have happened before.

Before Richie kicked Eleanor out, all the kids were allied against him. Maybe Eleanor had hated him the most, and the most openly – but they were all on her side, Ben and Maisie, even Mouse. Mouse used to steal Richie’s cigarettes and hide them. And Mouse was the one they’d send to knock on their mom’s door when they heard bedsprings …

When it was worse than bedsprings, when it was shouting or crying, they’d huddle together, all five of them, on Eleanor’s bed. (They’d all had their own beds in the old house.)

Maisie sat at Eleanor’s right hand then. When Mouse cried, when Ben’s face went blank and dreamy, Maisie and Eleanor would lock eyes.

‘I hate him,’ Eleanor would say.

‘I hate him so much I wish he was dead,’

Maisie would answer.

‘I hope he falls off a ladder at work.’

‘I hope he gets hit by a truck.’

‘A garbage truck.’

‘Yeah,’ Maisie would say, gritting her teeth,

‘and all the garbage will fall on his dead body.’

‘And then a bus will run him over.’

‘Yeah.’

‘I hope I’m on it.’

Maisie put the cat back on Eleanor’s bed. ‘It likes to sleep up there,’ she said.

‘Do you call him Dad, too?’ Eleanor asked.

‘He is our dad now,’ Maisie said.

Eleanor woke up in the middle of the night. Richie had fallen asleep in the living room with the TV on. She didn’t breathe on the way to the bathroom and was too scared to flush the toilet. When she got back to her room, she closed the door.

Fuck the breeze.

CHAPTER 7

Park

‘I’m going to ask Kim out,’ Call said.

‘Don’t ask Kim out,’ Park said.

‘Why not?’ They were sitting in the library, and they were supposed to be looking for poems.

Call had already picked out something short about a girl named Julia and the ‘liquefaction of her clothes.’ (‘Crass,’ Park said. ‘It can’t be crass,’

Call argued. ‘It’s three-hundred years old.’)

‘Because she’s Kim,’ Park said. ‘You can’t ask her out. Look at her.’

Kim was sitting at the next table over with two other preppy girls.

‘Look at her,’ Call said, ‘she’s a Betty.’

‘Jesus,’ Park said. ‘You sound so stupid.’

‘What? That’s a thing. A Betty is a thing.’

‘But you got it from Thrasher or something, right?’

‘That’s how people learn new words, Park’ –

Call tapped a book of poetry – ‘reading.’

‘You’re trying too hard.’

‘She’s a Betty,’ Call said, nodding at Kim and getting a Slim Jim out of his backpack.

Park looked at Kim again. She had bobbed blond hair and hard, curled bangs, and she was the only kid in school with a Swatch. Kim was one of those people who never wrinkled … She wouldn’t make eye contact with Cal. She’d be afraid he’d leave a stain.

‘This is my year,’ Call said. ‘I’m getting a girlfriend.’

‘But probably not Kim.’

‘Why not Kim? You think I need to aim lower?’

Park looked up at him. Call wasn’t a bad-looking guy. He had kind of a tall Barney Rubble thing going on … He already had pieces of Slim Jim caught in his front teeth.

‘Aim elsewhere,’ Park said.

‘Screw that,’ Call said, ‘I’m starting at the top.

And I’m getting you a girl, too.’

‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ Park said.

‘Double-dating,’ Call said.

‘No.’

‘In the Impala.’

‘Don’t get your hopes up.’ Park’s dad had decided to be a fascist about Park’s driver’s license; he’d announced last night that Park had to learn to drive a stick first. Park opened another book of poetry. It was all about war. He closed it.

‘Now there’s a girl who might want a piece of you,’ Call said. ‘Looks like somebody’s got jungle fever.’

‘That isn’t even the right kind of racist,’ Park said, looking up. Call was nodding toward the far corner of the library. The new girl was sitting there, staring right at them.

‘She’s kind of big,’ Call said, ‘but the Impala is a spacious automobile.’

‘She’s not looking at me. She’s just staring, she does that. Watch.’ Park waved at the girl, but she didn’t blink.

He’d only made eye contact with her once since her first day on the bus. It was last week, in history, and she’d practically gouged out his eyes with hers.

If you don’t want people to look at you, Park had thought at the time, don’t wear fishing lures in your hair. Her jewelry box must look like a junk drawer. Not that everything she wore was stupid …

She had a pair of Vans he liked, with strawberries on them. And she had a green sharkskin blazer that Park would wear himself if he thought he could get away with it.

Did she think she was getting away with it?

Park braced himself every morning before she got on the bus, but you couldn’t brace yourself enough for the sight of her.

‘Do you know her?’ Call asked.

‘No,’ Park said quickly. ‘She’s on my bus.

She’s weird.’

‘Jungle fever is a thing,’ Call said.

‘For black people. If you like black people.

And it’s not a compliment, I don’t think.’

‘Your people come from the jungle,’ Call said, pointing at Park. ‘ Apocalypse Now, anyone?’

‘You should ask Kim out,’ Park said. ‘That’s a really good idea.’

Eleanor

Eleanor wasn’t going to fight over an e.e. cum-mings book like it was the last Cabbage Patch Kid. She found an empty table in the African American literature section.

That was another f**ked-up thing about this school – effed-up, she corrected herself.

Most of the kids here were black, but most of the kids in her honors classes were white. They got bussed in from west Omaha. And the white kids from the Flats, dishonor students, got bussed in from the other direction.

Eleanor wished she had more honors classes.

She wished there was honors gym …

Like they’d ever let her into honors gym.

Eleanor would get put in remedial gym first.

With all the other fat girls who couldn’t do sit-ups.

Anyway. Honor students – black, white or Asia Minor – tended to be nicer. Maybe they were just as mean on the inside, but they were scared of getting in trouble. Or maybe they were just as mean on the inside, but they’d been trained to be polite – to give up their seats for old people and girls.

Eleanor had honors English, history and geography, but she spent the rest of her day in Crazytown. Seriously, Blackboard Jungle. She should probably try harder in her smart classes so that she wouldn’t get kicked out of them.

She started copying a poem called ‘Caged Bird’ into her notebook … Sweet. It rhymed.

CHAPTER 8

Park

She was reading his comics.

At first Park thought he was imagining it. He kept getting this feeling that she was looking at him, but whenever he looked over at her, her face was down.

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