Home > Eleanor & Park(7)

Eleanor & Park(7)
Author: Rainbow Rowell

CHAPTER 14

Eleanor

‘I know she doesn’t think I’m going to jump over that thing,’ DeNice said.

DeNice and the other girl, the big girl, Beebi, talked to Eleanor now in gym. (Because being as-saulted with maxi pads is a great way to win friends and influence people.) Today in class, their gym teacher, Mrs Burt, had shown them how to swing over a thousand-year-old gymnastics horse. She said that next time everybody had to try.

‘She has got another thing coming,’ DeNice said after class, in the locker room. ‘Do I look like Mary Lou Retton?’

Beebi giggled. ‘Better tell her you didn’t eat your Wheaties.’

Actually, Eleanor thought, DeNice did kind of look like a gymnast. With her little-girl bangs and braids. She looked way too young to be in high school, and her clothes just made it worse.

Puffed-sleeve shirts, overalls, matching ponytail balls … She wore her gymsuit baggy, like a romper.

Eleanor wasn’t scared of the horse, but she didn’t want to have to run down the mats with the whole class watching her. She didn’t want to run, period. It made her br**sts feel like they were going to detach from her body.

‘I’m going to tell Mrs Burt that my mom doesn’t want me to do anything that might rup-ture my hymen,’ Eleanor said. ‘For religious reasons.’

‘For real?’ Beebi asked.

‘No,’ Eleanor said, giggling. ‘Well. Actually

…’

‘You’re nasty,’ DeNice said, hitching up her overalls.

Eleanor put her T-shirt on over her head then wriggled out of her gymsuit, using the shirt as cover.

‘Are you coming?’ DeNice asked.

‘Well, I’m probably not going to start skipping class now just because of gymnastics,’

Eleanor said, hopping to pull up her jeans.

‘No, are you coming to lunch?’

‘Oh,’ Eleanor said, looking up. They were waiting for her at the end of the lockers. ‘Yeah.’

‘Then hurry up, Miss Jackson.’

She sat with DeNice and Beebi at their usual table by the windows. During passing period, Eleanor saw Park walk by.

Park

‘Why can’t you get your driver’s license by homecoming?’ Call asked.

Mr Stessman had them in small groups. They were supposed to be comparing Juliet to Ophelia.

‘Because I can’t bend time and space,’ Park said. Eleanor was sitting across the room by the windows. She was paired up with a guy named Eric, a basketball player. He was talking, and Eleanor was frowning at him.

‘If you had your car,’ Call said, ‘we could ask Kim.’

‘You can ask Kim,’ Park said.

Eric was one of those tall guys who always walked with his shoulders about a foot behind his hips. Constantly doing the limbo. Like he was afraid to hit his head on every door jamb.

‘She wants to go with a group,’ Call said.

‘Plus I think she likes you.’

‘What? I don’t want to go to homecoming with Kim. I don’t even like her. I mean, you know … You like her.’

‘I know. That’s why the plan works. We all go to homecoming together. She figures out you don’t like her, she’s miserable, and guess who’s standing right there, asking her to slow dance?’

‘I don’t want to make Kim miserable.’

‘It’s her or me, man.’

Eric said something else, and Eleanor frowned again. Then she looked over at Park –

and stopped frowning. Park smiled.

‘One minute,’ Mr Stessman said.

‘Crap,’ Call said. ‘What have we got …

Ophelia was bonkers, right? And Juliet was what, a sixth-grader?’

Eleanor

‘So Psylocke is another girl telepath?’

‘Uh-huh,’ Park said.

Every morning when Eleanor got on the bus, she worried that Park wouldn’t take off his headphones. That he would stop talking to her as suddenly as he’d started … And if that happened – if she got on the bus one day and he didn’t look up

– she didn’t want him to see how devastated it would make her.

So far, it hadn’t happened.

So far, they hadn’t stopped talking. Like, literally. They talked every second they were sitting next to each other. And almost every conversation started with the words ‘what do you think

…’

What did Eleanor think about that U2 album?

She loved it.

What did Park think of Miami Vice? He thought it was boring.

‘Yes,’ they said when they agreed with each other. Back and forth – ‘Yes,’ ‘ Yes,’ ‘ Yes!’

‘I know.’

‘ Exactly.’

‘ Right? ’

They agreed about everything important and argued about everything else. And that was good, too, because whenever they argued, Eleanor could always crack Park up.

‘Why do the X-Men need another girl telepath?’ she asked.

‘This one has purple hair.’

‘It’s all so sexist.’

Park’s eyes got wide. Well, sort of wide. Sometimes she wondered if the shape of his eyes affected how he saw things. That was probably the most racist question of all time.

‘The X-Men aren’t sexist,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘They’re a metaphor for acceptance; they’ve sworn to protect a world that hates and fears them.’

‘Yeah,’ she said, ‘but …’

‘There’s no but,’ he said, laughing.

‘ But,’ Eleanor insisted, ‘the girls are all so stereotypically girly and passive. Half of them just think really hard. Like that’s their super-power, thinking. And Shadowcat’s power is even worse – she disappears.’

‘She becomes intangible,’ Park said. ‘That’s different.’

‘It’s still something you could do in the middle of a tea party,’ Eleanor said.

‘Not if you were holding hot tea. Plus, you’re forgetting Storm.’

‘I’m not forgetting Storm. She controls the weather with her head; it’s still just thinking.

Which is about all she could do in those boots.’

‘She has a cool Mohawk …’ Park said.

‘Irrelevant,’ Eleanor answered.

Park leaned his head back against the seat, smiling, and looked at the ceiling. ‘The X-Men aren’t sexist.’

‘Are you trying to think of an empowered X-woman?’ Eleanor asked. ‘How about Dazzler?

She’s a living disco ball. Or the White Queen?

She thinks really hard while wearing spotless white lingerie.’

‘What kind of power would you want?’ he asked, changing the subject. He turned his face toward her, laying his cheek against the top of the seat. Smiling.

‘I’d want to fly,’ Eleanor said, looking away from him. ‘I know it’s not very useful, but … it’s flying.’

‘ Yes,’ he said.

Park

‘Damn, Park, are you going on a Ninja mission?’

‘Ninjas wear black, Steve.’

‘What?’

Park should have gone inside to change after taekwando, but his dad said he had to be back by 9:00, and that gave him less than an hour to show Eleanor.

Steve was outside working on his Camaro.

He didn’t have his license yet either, but he was getting ready.

‘Going to see your girlfriend?’ he called to Park.

‘What?’

‘Sneaking out to see your girlfriend? Bloody Mary?’

‘She’s not my girlfriend,’ Park said, then swallowed.

‘Sneaking out Ninja-style,’ Steve said.

Park shook his head and broke into a run.

Well, she wasn’t, he thought to himself, cutting through the alley.

He didn’t know where Eleanor lived, exactly.

He knew where she got on the bus, and he knew that she lived next to the school …

It must be this one, he thought. He stopped at a small white house. There were a few broken toys in the yard, and a giant Rottweiler was asleep on the porch.

Park walked toward the house slowly. The dog lifted its head and watched him for a second, then settled back to sleep. It didn’t move, even when Park climbed the steps and knocked on the door.

The guy who answered looked too young to be Eleanor’s dad. Park was pretty sure he’d seen this guy around the neighborhood. He didn’t know who he’d expected to come to the door.

Somebody more exotic. Somebody more like her.

The guy didn’t even say anything. Just stood at the door and waited.

‘Is Eleanor home?’ Park asked.

‘Who wants to know?’ He had a nose like a knife, and he looked straight down it at Park.

‘We go to school together,’ Park said.

The guy looked at Park for another second, then closed the door. Park wasn’t sure what to do. He waited for a few minutes, then right as he was thinking about leaving, Eleanor opened the door just enough to slide through.

Her eyes were round with alarm. In the dark like this, it didn’t even look like she had irises.

As soon as he saw her, he knew it had been a mistake to come here – he felt like he should have known that sooner. He’d been so caught up in showing her …

‘Hey,’ he said.

‘Hi.’

‘I …’

‘… came to challenge me in hand-to-hand combat?’

Park reached into the front of his dobak and pulled out the second issue of Watchmen. Her face lit up; she was so pale, so luminous under the street light, that wasn’t just an expression.

‘Have you read it?’ she asked.

He shook his head. ‘I thought we could …

together.’

Eleanor glanced back at the house, then stepped quickly off the steps. He followed her down the steps, across the gravel driveway, to the back stoop of the elementary school. There was a big safety light over the door. Eleanor sat on the top step, and Park sat next to her.

It took twice as long to read Watchmen as it did any other comic, and it took even longer tonight because it was so strange to be sitting together somewhere other than on the bus. To even see each other outside of school. Eleanor’s hair was wet and hanging in long, dark curls around her face.

When they got to the last page, all Park wanted to do was sit and talk about it. (All he really wanted to do was sit and talk to Eleanor.) But she was already standing up and looking back at her house.

‘I’ve got to go,’ she said.

‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Okay. I guess I do, too.’

She left him sitting on the elementary school steps. She was disappearing inside the house before he could think about saying goodbye.

Eleanor

When she walked back into the house, the living room was dark, but the TV was on. Eleanor could see Richie sitting on the couch and her mom standing in the doorway of the kitchen.

It was just a few steps to her room …

‘Is that your boyfriend?’ Richie asked before she made it. He didn’t look up from the TV.

‘No,’ she said. ‘He’s just a boy from school.’

‘What did he want?’

‘To talk to me about an assignment.’

She waited in her bedroom doorway. Then, when Richie didn’t say anything more, she stepped inside, shutting the door behind her.

‘I know what you’re up to,’ he said, raising his voice, just as the door closed. ‘Nothing but a bitch in heat.’

Eleanor let his words hit her full on. Took them right on the chin.

She climbed into bed and clenched her eyes and jaw and fists – held everything clenched until she could breathe without screaming.

Until this moment, she’d kept Park in a place in her head that she thought Richie couldn’t get to. Completely separate from this house and everything that happened here. (It was a pretty awesome place. Like the only part of her head fit for praying.)

But now Richie was in there, just pissing all over everything. Making everything she felt feel as rank and rotten as him.

Now she couldn’t think about Park …

About the way he looked in the dark, dressed in white, like a superhero.

About the way he smelled, like sweat and bar soap.

About the way he smiled when he liked something, with his lips just turned up at the corners …

Without feeling Richie leer.

She kicked the cat out of the bed, just to be mean. He squawked, but jumped right back up.

‘Eleanor,’ Maisie whispered from the bottom bunk, ‘was that your boyfriend?’

Eleanor crushed her teeth together. ‘No,’ she whispered back viciously. ‘He’s just a boy.’

CHAPTER 15

Eleanor

Her mother stood in the bedroom the next morning while Eleanor got ready. ‘Here,’ she whispered, taking the hairbrush and drawing Eleanor’s hair into a ponytail without brushing out the curl.

‘Eleanor …’ she said.

‘I know why you’re in here,’ Eleanor said, pulling away. ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’

‘Just listen.’

‘No. I know. He won’t come back, okay? I didn’t invite him, but I’ll tell him, and he won’t come back.’

‘Okay, well … good,’ her mom said, folding her arms, still whispering. ‘It’s just that you’re so young.’

‘No,’ Eleanor said, ‘that’s not what it is. But it doesn’t even matter. He won’t come back, okay? It isn’t even like that anyway.’

Her mom left the room. Richie was still in the house. Eleanor ran out the front door when she heard him turn on the bathroom sink.

It’s not even like that, she thought as she walked to the bus stop. And thinking it made her want to cry, because she knew it was true.

And wanting to cry just made her angry.

Because if she was going to cry about something, it was going to be the fact that her life was complete shit – not because some cool, cute guy didn’t like her like that.

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