Home > Eleanor & Park(8)

Eleanor & Park(8)
Author: Rainbow Rowell

Especially when just being Park’s friend was pretty much the best thing that had ever happened to her.

She must have looked ticked off when she got on the bus because Park didn’t say hi when she sat down.

Eleanor looked into the aisle.

After a few seconds, he reached over and pulled at the old silk scarf she’d tied around her wrist.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said.

‘For what?’ She even sounded angry. God, she was a jerk.

‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘I feel like maybe I got you in trouble last night …’

He pulled on the scarf again, so she looked at him. She tried not to look mad – but she’d rather look mad than look like she’d spent all night thinking about how beautiful his lips are.

‘Was that your dad?’ he asked.

She jerked her head back. ‘ No. No, that was my … mother’s husband. He’s not really my anything. My problem, I guess.’

‘Did you get in trouble?’

‘Sort of.’ She really didn’t want to talk to Park about Richie. She’d just about scraped all the Richie off the Park place in her head.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said again.

‘It’s okay,’ she said. ‘It wasn’t your fault.

Anyway, thanks for bringing Watchmen. I’m glad I got to read it.’

‘It was cool, huh?’

‘Oh, yeah. Kind of brutal. I mean that part with the Comedian …’

‘Yeah … sorry.’

‘No, I didn’t mean that. I mean … I think I need to reread it.’

‘I read it again twice last night. You can take it tonight.’

‘Yeah? Thanks.’

He was still holding the end of her scarf, rubbing the silk idly between his thumb and fingers.

She watched his hand.

If he were to look up at her now, he’d know exactly how stupid she was. She could feel her face go soft and gummy. If Park were to look up at her now, he’d know everything.

He didn’t look up. He wound the scarf around his fingers until her hand was hanging in the space between them.

Then he slid the silk and his fingers into her open palm.

And Eleanor disintegrated.

Park

Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.

As soon as he touched her, he wondered how he’d gone this long without doing it. He rubbed his thumb through her palm and up her fingers, and was aware of her every breath.

Park had held hands with girls before. Girls at Skateland. A girl at the ninth-grade dance last year. (They’d kissed while they waited for her dad to pick them up.) He’d even held Tina’s hand, back when they ‘went’ together in the sixth grade.

And always, before, it had been fine. Not much different from holding Josh’s hand when they were little kids crossing the street. Or holding his grandma’s hand when she took him to church. Maybe a little sweatier, a little more awkward.

When he’d kissed that girl last year, with his mouth dry and his eyes mostly open, Park had wondered if maybe there was something wrong with him.

He’d even wondered – seriously, while he was kissing her, he’d wondered this – whether he might be gay. Except he didn’t feel like kissing any guys either. And if he thought about She-Hulk or Storm (instead of this girl, Dawn) the kissing got a lot better.

Maybe I’m not attracted to real girls, he’d thought at the time. Maybe I’m some sort of perverted cartoon-sexual.

Or maybe, he thought now, he just didn’t recognize all those other girls. The way a computer drive will spit out a disk if it doesn’t recognize the formatting.

When he touched Eleanor’s hand, he recognized her. He knew.

Eleanor

Disintegrated.

Like something had gone wrong beaming her onto the Starship Enterprise.

If you’ve ever wondered what that feels like, it’s a lot like melting – but more violent.

Even in a million different pieces, Eleanor could still feel Park holding her hand. Could still feel his thumb exploring her palm. She sat completely still because she didn’t have any other option. She tried to remember what kind of animals paralyzed their prey before they ate them …

Maybe Park had paralyzed her with his ninja magic, his Vulcan handhold, and now he was going to eat her.

That would be awesome.

Park

They broke apart when the bus stopped. A flood of reality rushed through Park, and he looked around nervously to see if anyone had been watching them. Then he looked nervously at Eleanor to see if she’d noticed him looking.

She was still staring at the floor, even as she picked up her books and stood in the aisle.

If someone had been watching, what would they have seen? Park couldn’t imagine what his face had looked like when he touched Eleanor.

Like somebody taking the first drink in a Diet Pepsi commercial. Over-the-top bliss.

He stood behind her in the aisle. She was just about his height. Her hair was pulled up, and her neck was flushed and splotchy. He resisted the urge to lay his cheek against it.

He walked with her all the way to her locker, and leaned against the wall as she opened it. She didn’t say anything, just shifted some books onto the shelf and took down a few others.

As the buzz of touching her faded, he was starting to realize that Eleanor hadn’t actually done anything to touch him back. She hadn’t bent her fingers around his. She hadn’t even looked at him. She still hadn’t looked at him. Jesus.

He knocked gently on her locker door.

‘Hey,’ he said.

She shut the door. ‘Hey, what?’

‘Okay?’ he asked.

She nodded.

‘I’ll see you in English?’ he asked.

She nodded and walked away.

Jesus.

Eleanor

All through first and second and third hour, Eleanor rubbed her palm.

Nothing happened.

How could it be possible that there were that many nerve endings all in one place?

And were they always there, or did they just flip on whenever they felt like it? Because, if they were always there, how did she manage to turn doorknobs without fainting?

Maybe this was why so many people said it felt better to drive a stick shift.

Park

Jesus. Was it possible to rape somebody’s hand?

Eleanor wouldn’t look at Park during English and history. He went to her locker after school, but she wasn’t there.

When he got on the bus, she was already sitting in their seat – but sitting in his spot, against the wall. He was too embarrassed to say anything. He sat down next to her and let his hands hang between his knees …

Which meant she really had to reach for his wrist, to pull his hand into hers. She wrapped her fingers around his and touched his palm with her thumb.

Her fingers were trembling.

Park shifted in his seat and turned his back to the aisle.

‘Okay?’ she whispered.

He nodded, taking a deep breath. They both stared down at their hands.

Jesus.

CHAPTER 16

Eleanor

Saturdays were the worst.

On Sundays, Eleanor could think all day about how close it was to Monday. But Saturdays were ten years long.

She’d already finished her homework. Some creep had written ‘do i make you wet?’ on her geography book, so she spent a really long time covering it up with a black ink pen. She tried to turn it into some kind of flower.

She watched cartoons with the little kids until golf came on, then played double solitaire with Maisie until they were both bored stupid.

Later, she’d listen to music. She’d saved the last two batteries Park had given her so that she could listen to her tape player today when she missed him most. She had five tapes from him now – which meant, if her batteries lasted, she had four hundred and fifty minutes to spend with Park in her head, holding his hand.

Maybe it was stupid, but that’s what she did with him, even in her fantasies – even where anything was possible. As far as Eleanor was concerned, that just showed how wonderful it was to hold Park’s hand.

(Besides they didn’t just hold hands. Park touched her hands like they were something rare and precious, like her fingers were intimately connected to the rest of her body. Which, of course, they were. It was hard to explain. He made her feel like more than the sum of her parts.)

The only bad thing about their new bus routine was that it had seriously cut back on their conversations. She could hardly look at Park when he was touching her. And Park seemed to have a hard time finishing his sentences. (Which meant he liked her. Ha.)

Yesterday, on the way home from school, their bus had to take a fifteen-minute detour because of a busted sewer pipe. Steve had started cussing about how he needed to get to his new job at the gas station. And Park had said, ‘Wow.’

‘What?’ Eleanor sat by the wall now, because it made her feel safer, less exposed. She could almost pretend that they had the bus to themselves.

‘I can actually burst sewers with my mind,’

Park said.

‘That’s a very limited mutation,’ she said.

‘What do they call you?’

‘They call me … um …’ And then he’d started laughing and pulled at one of her curls. (That was a new, awesome development – the hair touching. Sometimes he’d come up behind her after school, and tug at her ponytail or tap the top of her bun.)

‘I … don’t know what they call me,’ he said.

‘Maybe the Public Works,’ she said, laying her hand on top of his, finger to finger. Her fingertips came to his last knuckle. It might be the only part of her that was smaller than him.

‘You’re like a little girl,’ he said.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Your hands. They just look …’ He took her hand in both of his. ‘I don’t know … vulnerable.’

‘Pipemaster,’ she whispered.

‘What?’

‘That’s your superhero name. No, wait – the Piper. Like, “Time to pay the Piper!”’

He laughed and pulled at another curl.

That was the most talking they’d done in two weeks. She’d started to write him a letter – she’d started it a million times – but that seemed like such a seventh-grade thing to do. What could she write?

‘Dear Park, I like you. You have really cute hair.’

He did have really cute hair. Really, really.

Short in the back, but kind of long and fanned out in the front. It was completely straight and almost completely black, which, on Park, seemed like a lifestyle choice. He always wore black, practically head to toe. Black punk rock T-shirts over black thermal long-sleeved shirts. Black sneak-ers. Blue jeans. Almost all black, almost every day. (He did have one white T-shirt, but it said

‘Black Flag’ on the front in big, black letters.) Whenever Eleanor wore black, her mom said that she looked like she was going to a funeral –

in a coffin. Anyway, her mom used to say stuff like that, back when she occasionally noticed what Eleanor was wearing. Eleanor had taken all the safety pins from her mom’s sewing kit and used them to pin scraps of silk and velvet over the holes in her jeans, and her mom hadn’t even mentioned it.

Park looked good in black. It made him look like he was drawn in charcoal. Thick, arched, black eyebrows. Short, black lashes. High, shining cheeks.

‘Dear Park, I like you so much. You have really beautiful cheeks.’

The only thing she didn’t like to think about, about Park, was what he could possibly see in her.

Park

The pick-up kept dying.

Park’s dad wasn’t saying anything, but Park knew he was getting pissed.

‘Try again,’ his dad said. ‘Just listen to the engine, then shift.’

That was an oversimplification if Park had ever heard one. Listen to the engine, depress the clutch, shift, gas, release, steer, check your mirrors, signal your turn, look twice for motorcycles

The crappy part was that he was pretty sure he could do it if his dad wasn’t sitting there, fum-ing. Park could see himself doing it in his head just fine.

It was like this at taekwando sometimes, too.

Park could never master something new if his dad was the one teaching it.

Clutch, shift, gas.

The pick-up died.

‘You’re thinking too much,’ his dad snapped.

Which is what his dad always said. When Park was a kid, he’d try to argue with him. ‘I can’t help but think,’ Park would say during taekwando. ‘I can’t turn off my brain.’

‘If you fight like that, somebody’s going to turn it off for you.’

Clutch, shift, grind.

‘Start it again … Now don’t think, just shift

… I said, don’t think.’

The truck died again. Park put his hands at ten and two and laid his head on the steering wheel, bracing himself. His dad was radiating frustration.

‘Goddamn, Park, I don’t know what to do with you. We’ve been working on this for a year.

I taught your brother to drive in two weeks.’

If his mom were here, she would have called foul at this. ‘You don’t do that,’ she’d say. ‘Two boys. Different.’

And his dad would grit his teeth.

‘I guess Josh doesn’t have any trouble not thinking,’ Park said.

‘Call your brother stupid all you want,’ his dad said. ‘He can drive a manual transmission.’

‘But I’m only ever gonna get to drive the Impala,’ Park muttered into the dash, ‘and it’s an automatic.’

‘That isn’t the point,’ his dad half shouted. If Park’s mom were here, she would have said,

‘Hey, mister, I don’t think so. You go outside and yell at sky, you so angry.’

What did it say about Park that he wished his mom would follow him around defending him?

That he was a p**sy.

That’s what his dad thought. It’s probably what he was thinking now. He was probably being so quiet because he was trying not to say it out loud.

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