Home > Eleanor & Park(5)

Eleanor & Park(5)
Author: Rainbow Rowell

They still didn’t talk on the bus, but it had become a less confrontational silence. Almost friendly. (But not quite.)

Park would have to talk to her today – to tell her that he didn’t have anything to give her. He’d overslept, then forgotten to grab the stack of comics he’d set out for her the night before. He hadn’t even had time to eat breakfast or brush his teeth, which made him self-conscious, knowing he was going to be sitting so close to her.

But when she got on the bus and handed him yesterday’s comics, all Park did was shrug. She looked away. They both looked down.

She was wearing that ugly necktie again.

Today it was tied around her wrist. Her arms and wrists were scattered with freckles, layers of them in different shades of gold and pink, even on the back of her hands. Little-boy hands, his mom would call them, with short-short nails and ragged cuticles.

She stared down at the books in her lap.

Maybe she thought he was mad at her. He stared at her books, too – covered in ink and Art Nouveau doodles.

‘So,’ he said, before he knew what to say next, ‘you like the Smiths?’ He was careful not to blow his morning breath on her.

She looked up, surprised. Maybe confused.

He pointed at her book, where she’d written

‘How Soon Is Now?’ in tall green letters.

‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘I’ve never heard them.’

‘So you just want people to think you like the Smiths?’ He couldn’t help but sound disdainful.

‘Yeah,’ she said, looking around the bus. ‘I’m trying to impress the locals.’

He didn’t know if she could help but sound like a smartass, but she sure wasn’t trying. The air soured between them. Park shifted against the wall. She looked across the aisle to stare out the window.

When he got to English, he tried to catch her eye, but she looked away. He felt like she was trying so hard to ignore him that she wouldn’t even participate in class.

Mr Stessman kept trying to draw her out –

she was his new favorite target whenever things got sleepy in class. Today they were supposed to be discussing Romeo and Juliet, but nobody wanted to talk.

‘You don’t seem troubled by their deaths, Miss Douglas.’

‘I’m sorry?’ she said. She narrowed her eyes at him.

‘It doesn’t strike you as sad?’ Mr Stessman asked. ‘Two young lovers lay dead. Never was a story of more woe. Doesn’t that get to you?’

‘I guess not,’ she said.

‘Are you so cold? So cool?’ He was standing over her desk, pretending to plead with her.

‘No …’ she said. ‘I just don’t think it’s a tragedy.’

‘It’s the tragedy,’ Mr Stessman said.

She rolled her eyes. She was wearing two or three necklaces, old fake pearls, like Park’s grandmother wore to church, and she twisted them while she talked.

‘But he’s so obviously making fun of them,’

she said.

‘Who is?’

‘Shakespeare.’

‘Do tell …’

She rolled her eyes again. She knew Mr Stessman’s game by now.

‘Romeo and Juliet are just two rich kids who’ve always gotten every little thing they wanted. And now, they think they want each other.’

‘They’re in love …’ Mr Stessman said, clutching his heart.

‘They don’t even know each other,’ she said.

‘It was love at first sight.’

‘It was “Oh my God, he’s so cute” at first sight. If Shakespeare wanted you to believe they were in love, he wouldn’t tell you in almost the very first scene that Romeo was hung up on Ros-aline … It’s Shakespeare making fun of love,’

she said.

‘Then why has it survived?’

‘I don’t know, because Shakespeare is a really good writer?’

‘No!’ Mr Stessman said. ‘Someone else, someone with a heart. Mr Sheridan, what beats in your chest? Tell us, why has Romeo and Juliet survived four hundred years?’

Park hated talking in class. Eleanor frowned at him, then looked away. He felt himself blush.

‘Because …’ he said quietly, looking at his desk, ‘because people want to remember what it’s like to be young? And in love?’

Mr Stessman leaned back against the black-board and rubbed his beard.

‘Is that right?’ Park asked.

‘Oh, it’s definitely right,’ Mr Stessman said.

‘I don’t know if that’s why Romeo and Juliet has become the most beloved play of all time. But, yes, Mr Sheridan. Truer words never spoken.’

She didn’t acknowledge Park in history class, but she never did.

When he got on the bus that afternoon, she was already there. She got up to let him have his place by the window, and then she surprised him by talking. Quietly. Almost under her breath. But talking.

‘It’s more like a wish list,’ she said.

‘What?’

‘They’re songs I’d like to hear. Or bands I’d like to hear. Stuff that looks interesting.’

‘If you’ve never heard the Smiths, how do you even know about them?’

‘I don’t know,’ she said defensively. ‘My friends, my old friends … magazines. I don’t know. Around.’

‘Why don’t you just listen to them?’

She looked at him like he was officially an idiot. ‘It’s not like they play the Smiths on Sweet 98.’

And then, when Park didn’t say anything, she rolled her inky brown eyes into the back of her head. ‘ God,’ she said.

They didn’t talk anymore all the way home.

That night, while he did his homework, Park made a tape with all of his favorite Smiths songs, plus a few songs by Echo and the Bunnymen, and Joy Division.

He put the tape and five more X-Men comics into his backpack before he went to bed.

CHAPTER 11

Eleanor

‘Why are you so quiet?’ Eleanor’s mother asked.

Eleanor was taking a bath, and her mom was making fifteen-bean soup. ‘That leaves three beans for each us,’ Ben had cracked to Eleanor earlier.

‘I’m not quiet. I’m taking a bath.’

‘Usually you sing in the bathtub.’

‘I do not,’ Eleanor said.

‘You

do.

Usually

you

sing

“Rocky

Raccoon.”’

‘ God. Well, thanks for telling me, I won’t anymore. God.’

Eleanor got dressed quickly and tried to squeeze past her mother. Her mom grabbed her by the wrists. ‘I like to hear you sing,’ she said.

She reached for a bottle on the counter behind Eleanor and rubbed a drop of vanilla behind each of the girl’s ears. Eleanor raised her shoulders like it tickled.

‘Why do you always do that? I smell like a Strawberry Shortcake doll.’

‘I do it,’ her mom said, ‘because it’s cheaper than perfume, but it smells just as good.’ Then she rubbed some vanilla behind her own ears and laughed.

Eleanor laughed with her, and stood there for a few seconds smiling. Her mom was wearing soft old jeans and a T-shirt, and her hair was pulled back in a smooth ponytail. She looked almost like she used to. There was a picture of her

– at one of Maisie’s birthday parties, scooping ice cream cones – with a ponytail just like that.

‘Are you okay?’ her mom asked.

‘Yeah …’ Eleanor said, ‘yeah, I’m just tired.

I’m going to do my homework and go to bed.’

Her mom seemed to know that something was off, but she didn’t push. She used to make Eleanor tell her everything. ‘What’s going on up there?’ she’d say, knocking on the top of Eleanor’s head. ‘Are you making yourself crazy?’ Her mom hadn’t said anything like that since Eleanor had moved home. She seemed to realize that she’d lost her right to knock.

Eleanor climbed up onto her bunk and pushed the cat to the end. She didn’t have anything to read. Nothing new, anyway. Was he done bringing her comics? Why had he even started? She ran her fingers over the embarrassing song titles

– ‘This Charming Man’ and ‘How Soon Is Now?’ – on her math book. She wanted to scribble them out, but he’d probably notice and lord it over her.

Eleanor really was tired, that wasn’t a lie.

She’d been staying up, reading, almost every night. She fell asleep that night right after dinner.

She woke up to shouting. Richie shouting. Eleanor couldn’t tell what he was saying.

Underneath the shouting, her mother was crying. She sounded like she’d been crying for a long time – she must be completely out of her head if she was letting them hear her cry like that.

Eleanor could tell that everyone else in the room was already awake. She hung off the bunk until she could see the little kids take shape in the dark. All four of them were sitting together in a clump of blankets on the floor. Maisie was holding the baby, rocking him almost frantically.

Eleanor slid off the bed soundlessly and huddled with them. Mouse immediately climbed into her lap. He was shaking and wet, and he wrapped his arms and legs around Eleanor like a monkey.

Their mother shrieked, two rooms away, and they all five jumped together.

If this had happened two summers ago, Eleanor would have run and banged on the door herself. She would have yelled at Richie to stop.

She would have called 911 at the very, very, very least. But now that seemed like something a child would do, or a fool. Now, all she could think about was what they were going to do if the baby actually started to cry. Thank God he didn’t.

Even he seemed to realize that trying to make this stop would only ever make it worse.

When her alarm went off the next morning, Eleanor couldn’t remember having fallen to sleep. She couldn’t remember when the crying had stopped.

A horrible thought came to her, and she got up, stumbling over the kids and the blankets. She opened the bedroom door and smelled bacon.

Which meant that her mother was alive.

And that her stepdad was probably still eating breakfast.

Eleanor took a deep breath. She smelled like pee. God. The cleanest clothes she had were the ones she wore yesterday, which Tina would surely point out, because it was a goddamn gym day on top of everything else.

She grabbed her clothes and stepped purposely out into the living room, determined not to make eye contact with Richie if he was there. He was. ( That demon. That bastard.) Her mother was standing at the stove, standing more still than usual. You couldn’t not notice the bruise on the side of her face. Or the hickey under her chin.

( That fuck, that fuck, that fuck.)

‘Mom,’ Eleanor whispered urgently, ‘I have to clean off.’ Her mother’s eyes slowly focused on her.

‘What?’

Eleanor gestured at her clothes, which probably just looked wrinkled. ‘I slept on the floor with Mouse.’

Her mother glanced nervously into the living room; Richie would punish Mouse if he knew.

‘Okay, okay,’ she said, pushing Eleanor into the bathroom. ‘Give me your clothes, I’ll watch the door. And don’t let him smell it. I don’t need this this morning.’

As if Eleanor was the one who’d peed all over everything.

She washed off the top half of her body, then the bottom, so that she wouldn’t ever be totally nak*d. Then she walked back through the living room, wearing yesterday’s clothes, trying really hard not to smell like pee.

Her books were in her bedroom, but Eleanor didn’t want to open the door and let out any more acrid air – so she just left.

She got to the bus stop fifteen minutes early.

She still felt rumpled and panicked, and, thanks to the bacon, her stomach was growling.

CHAPTER 12

Park

When Park got on the bus, he set the comics and Smiths tape on the seat next to him, so they’d just be waiting for her. So he wouldn’t have to say anything.

When she got on the bus a few minutes later, Park could tell that something was wrong. She got on like she was lost and ended up there. She was wearing the same thing she’d worn yesterday

– which wasn’t that weird, she was always wearing a different version of the same thing – but today was different. Her neck and wrists were bare, and her hair was a mess – a pile, an all-over glob, of red curls.

She stopped at their seat and looked down at the pile of stuff he’d left for her. (Where were her schoolbooks? He wondered) Then she picked everything up, careful as ever, and sat down.

Park wanted to look at her face, but he couldn’t. He stared at her wrists instead. She picked up the cassette. He’d written ‘How Soon is Now and More’ on the thin white sticker.

She held it out to him.

‘Thank you …’ she said. Now that was something he’d never heard her say before. ‘But I can’t.’

He didn’t take it.

‘It’s for you, take it,’ he whispered. He looked up from her hands to her dropped chin.

‘No,’ she said, ‘I mean, thank you, but … I can’t.’ She tried to give him the tape, but he didn’t take it. Why did she have to make every little thing so hard?

‘I don’t want it,’ he said.

She clenched her teeth and glared. She really must hate him.

‘No,’ she said, practically loud enough for other people to hear. ‘I mean, I can’t. I don’t have any way to listen to it. God, just take it back.’

He took it. She covered her face. The kid in the seat across from them, a twerpy senior who was actually named Junior, was watching.

Park frowned at Junior until he turned away.

Then Park turned back to the girl …

He took his Walkman out of the pocket of his trench coat and popped out his Dead Kennedys tape. He slid the new tape in, pressed play, then –

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