Home > Eleanor & Park(6)

Eleanor & Park(6)
Author: Rainbow Rowell

carefully – put the headphones over her hair. He was so careful, he didn’t even touch her.

He could hear the swampy guitar start and then the first line of the song. ‘I am the son …

and the heir …’

She lifted her head a little but didn’t look at him. She didn’t move her hands away from her face.

When they got to school, she took the headphones off and gave them back to him.

They got off the bus together and stayed together. Which was weird. Usually, they broke away from each other as soon as they hit the sidewalk. That’s what seemed weird now, Park thought; they walked the same way every day, her locker was just down the hall from his – how had they managed to go their separate ways every morning?

Park stopped for a minute when they got to her locker. He didn’t step close to her, but he stopped. She stopped, too.

‘Well,’ he said, looking down the hall, ‘now you’ve heard the Smiths.’

And she …

Eleanor laughed.

Eleanor

She should have just taken the tape.

She didn’t need to be telling everybody what she had and didn’t have. She didn’t need to be telling weird Asian kids anything.

Weird Asian kid.

She was pretty sure he was Asian. It was hard to tell. He had green eyes. And skin the color of sunshine through honey.

Maybe he was Filipino. Was that in Asia?

Probably. Asia’s out-of-control huge.

Eleanor had only known one Asian person in her life – Paul, who was in her math class at her old school. Paul was Chinese. His parents had moved to Omaha to get away from the Chinese government. (Which seemed like an extreme choice. Like they’d looked at the globe and said,

‘Yup. That’s as far away as possible.’) Paul was the one who’d taught Eleanor to say

‘Asian’ and not ‘oriental.’ ‘Oriental’s for food,’

he’d said.

‘Whatever, LaChoy Boy,’ she’d said back.

Eleanor couldn’t figure out what an Asian person was doing in the Flats anyway. Everybody else here was seriously white. Like, white by choice. Eleanor had never even heard the n-word said out loud until she moved here, but the kids on her bus used it like it was the only way to indicate that somebody was black. Like there was no other word or phrase that would work.

Eleanor stayed away from the n-word even in her head. It was bad enough that, thanks to Richie’s influence, she went around mentally calling everyone she met a ‘motherfucker.’ (Irony.) There were three or four other Asian kids at their school. Cousins. One of them had written an essay about being a refugee from Laos.

And then there was Ol’ Green Eyes.

Who she was apparently going to tell her whole life story to. Maybe on the way home, she’d tell him that she didn’t have a phone or a washing machine or a toothbrush.

That last thing, she was thinking about telling her counselor. Mrs Dunne had sat Eleanor down on her first day of school and given a little speech about how Eleanor could tell her anything. All through the speech, she kept squeezing the fattest part of Eleanor’s arm.

If Eleanor told Mrs Dunne everything – about Richie, her mom, everything – Eleanor didn’t know what would happen.

But if she told Mrs Dunne about the toothbrush … maybe Mrs Dunne would just get her one. And then Eleanor could stop sneaking into the bathroom after lunch to rub her teeth with salt. (She’d seen that in a Western once. It probably didn’t even work.)

The bell rang. 10:12.

Just two more periods until English. She wondered if he’d talk to her in class. Maybe that’s what they did now.

She could still hear that voice in her head –

not his – the singer’s. From the Smiths. You could hear his accent, even when he was singing.

He sounded like he was crying out.

‘I am the sun …

And the air …’

Eleanor didn’t notice at first how un-horrible everyone was being in gym. (Her head was still on the bus.) They were playing volleyball today, and once Tina said, ‘Your serve, bitch,’ but that was it, and that was practically jocular, all-things-Tina considered.

When Eleanor got to the locker room, she realized why Tina had been so low-key; she was just waiting. Tina and her friends – and the black girls, too, everybody wanted a piece of this –

were standing at the end of Eleanor’s row, waiting for her to walk to her locker.

It was covered with Kotex pads. A whole box, it looked like.

At first Eleanor thought the pads were actually bloody, but when she got closer she could see that it was just red magic marker. Somebody had written ‘Raghead’ and ‘Big Red’ on a few of the pads, but they were the expensive kind, so the ink was already starting to absorb.

If Eleanor’s clothes weren’t in that locker, if she was wearing anything other than this gymsuit, she would have just walked away.

Instead she walked past the girls, with her chin as high as she could manage, and methodically peeled the pads off her locker.

There were even some inside, stuck to her clothes.

Eleanor cried a little bit, she couldn’t help it, but she kept her back to everybody so there wouldn’t be a show. It was all over in a few minutes anyway because nobody wanted to be late to lunch. Most of the girls still had to change and redo their hair.

After everyone else walked away, two black girls stayed. They walked over to Eleanor and started pulling pads off the wall. ‘Ain’t no thing,’

one of the girls whispered, crumpling a pad into a ball. Her name was DeNice, and she looked too young to be in the tenth grade. She was small, and she wore her hair in two braided pigtails.

Eleanor shook her head, but didn’t say anything.

‘Those girls are trifling,’ DeNice said.

‘They’re so insignificant, God can hardly see them.’

‘Hmm-hmm,’ the other girl agreed. Eleanor was pretty sure her name was Beebi. Beebi was what Eleanor’s mom would call ‘a big girl.’

Much bigger than Eleanor. Beebi’s gymsuit was even a different color than everybody else’s, like they’d had to special order it for her. Which made Eleanor feel bad about feeling so bad about her own body … And which also made her wonder why she was the official fat girl in the class.

They threw the pads in the trash and pushed them under some wet paper towels so that nobody would find them.

If DeNice and Beebi hadn’t been standing there, Eleanor might have kept some of the pads, the ones that didn’t have any writing on them because, God, what a waste.

She was late to lunch, then late to English.

And if she didn’t know already that she liked that stupid effing Asian kid, she knew it now.

Because even after everything that had happened in the last forty-five minutes – and everything that had happened in the last twenty-four hours – all Eleanor could think about was seeing Park.

Park

When they got back on the bus, she took his Walkman without arguing. And without making him put it on for her. At the stop before hers, she handed it back.

‘You can borrow it,’ he said quietly. ‘Listen to the rest of the tape.’

‘I don’t want to break it,’ she said.

‘You’re not going to break it.’

‘I don’t want to use up the batteries.’

‘I don’t care about the batteries.’

She looked up at him then, in the eye, maybe for the first time ever. Her hair looked even crazi-er than it had this morning – more frizzy than curly, like she was working on a big red afro. But her eyes were dead serious, cold sober. Any cliché you’ve ever heard used to describe Clint Eastwood, those were Eleanor’s eyes.

‘Really,’ she said. ‘You don’t care.’

‘They’re just batteries,’ he said.

She emptied the batteries and the tape from Park’s Walkman, handed it back to him, then got off the bus without looking back.

God, she was weird.

Eleanor

The batteries started to die at 1:00 a.m., but Eleanor kept listening for another hour until the voices slowed to a stop.

CHAPTER 13

Eleanor

She remembered her books today, and she was wearing fresh clothes. She’d had to wash her jeans out in the bathtub last night, so they were still kind of damp … But altogether, Eleanor felt a thousand times better than she had yesterday.

Even her hair was halfway cooperating. She’d clumped it up into a bun and wrapped it with a rubber band. It was going to hurt like crazy trying to tear the rubber band out, but at least it was staying for now.

Best of all, she had Park’s songs in her head –

and in her chest, somehow.

There was something about the music on that tape. It felt different. Like, it set her lungs and her stomach on edge. There was something exciting about it, and something nervous. It made Eleanor feel like everything, like the world, wasn’t what she’d thought it was. And that was a good thing. That was the greatest thing.

When she got on the bus that morning, she immediately lifted her head to find Park. He was looking up too, like he was waiting for her. She couldn’t help it, she grinned. Just for a second.

As soon as she sat down, Eleanor slunk low in the seat, so the back-of-the-bus ruffians wouldn’t be able to see from the top of her head how happy she felt.

She could feel Park sitting next to her, even though he was at least six inches away.

She handed him yesterday’s comics, then tugged nervously at the green ribbon wound round her wrist. She couldn’t think of what to say. She started to worry that maybe she wouldn’t say anything, that she wouldn’t even thank him …

Park’s hands were perfectly still in his lap.

And perfectly perfect. Honey-colored with clean, pink fingernails. Everything about him was strong and slender. Every time he moved he had a reason.

They were almost to school when he broke the silence.

‘Did you listen?’

She nodded, letting her eyes climb as high as his shoulders.

‘Did you like it?’ he asked.

She rolled her eyes. ‘Oh my God. It was …

just, like …’ – she spread out all her fingers – ‘so awesome.’

‘Are you being sarcastic? I can’t tell.’

She looked up at his face, even though she knew how that was going to feel, like someone was hooking her insides out through her chest.

‘No. It was awesome. I didn’t want to stop listening. That one song – is it “Love Will Tear Us Apart”?’

‘Yeah, Joy Division.’

‘Oh my God, that’s the best beginning to a song ever.’

He imitated the guitar and the drums.

‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ she said. ‘I just wanted to listen to those three seconds over and over.’

‘You could have.’ His eyes were smiling, his mouth only sort of.

‘I didn’t want to waste the batteries,’ she said.

He shook his head, like she was dumb.

‘Plus,’ she said, ‘I love the rest of it just as much, like the high part, the melody, the dahhh, dah-de-dah-dah, de-dahh, de dahhh.’

He nodded.

‘And his voice at the end,’ she said, ‘when he goes just a little bit too high … And then the very end, where it sounds like the drums are fighting it, like they don’t want the song to be over …’

Park made drum noises with his mouth: ‘ch-ch-ch, ch-ch-ch.’

‘I just want to break that song into pieces,’

she said, ‘and love them all to death.’

That made him laugh.

‘What about the Smiths?’ he asked.

‘I didn’t know who was who,’ she said.

‘I’ll write it down for you.’

‘I liked it all.’

‘Good,’ he said.

‘I loved it.’

He smiled, but turned away to look out the window. She looked down.

They were pulling into the parking lot. Eleanor didn’t want this new talking thing – like, really talking, back and forth and smiling at each other

– to stop.

‘And …’ she said quickly, ‘I love the X-Men.

But I hate Cyclops.’

He whipped his head back.

‘You can’t hate Cyclops. He’s team captain.’

‘He’s boring. He’s worse than Batman.’

‘What? You hate Batman?’

‘God. So boring. I can’t even make myself read it. Whenever you bring Batman, I catch myself listening to Steve, or staring out the window, wishing I was in hypersleep.’ The bus came to a stop.

‘Huh,’ Park said, standing up. He said it really judgmentally.

‘What?’

‘Now I know what you’re thinking when you stare out the window.’

‘No, you don’t,’ she said. ‘I mix it up.’

Everybody else was pushing down the aisle past them. Eleanor stood up, too.

‘I’m bringing you The Dark Knight Returns,’

he said.

‘What’s that?’

‘Only the least boring Batman story ever.’

‘The least boring Batman story ever, huh?

Does Batman raise both eyebrows?’

He laughed again. His face completely changed when he laughed. He didn’t have dimples, exactly, but the sides of his face folded in on themselves, and his eyes almost disappeared.

‘Just wait,’ he said.

Park

That morning, in English, Park noticed that Eleanor’s hair came to a soft red point on the back of her neck.

Eleanor

That afternoon, in history, Eleanor noticed that Park chewed on his pencil when he was thinking.

And that the girl sitting behind him – what’s her name, Kim, with the giant br**sts and the orange Esprit bag – obviously had a crush on him.

Park

That night, Park made a tape with the Joy Division song on it, over and over again.

He emptied all his handheld video games and Josh’s remote-control cars, and called his grandma to tell her that all he wanted for his birthday in November was double-A batteries.

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