Home > Eleanor & Park(9)

Eleanor & Park(9)
Author: Rainbow Rowell

‘Try it again,’ his dad said.

‘No, I’m done.’

‘You’re done when I say you’re done.’

‘No,’ Park said, ‘I’m done now.’

‘Well, I’m not driving us home. Try it again.’

Park started the truck. It died. His dad slammed his giant hand against the glove box.

Park opened the truck door and jumped to the ground. His dad shouted his name, but Park kept walking. They were only a couple miles from home.

If his dad drove by him on the way home, Park didn’t notice. When he got back to his neighborhood, at dusk, Park turned down Eleanor’s street instead of his own. There were two little reddish-blond kids playing in her yard, even though it was kind of cold.

He couldn’t see into the house. Maybe if he stood here long enough, she’d look out the window. Park just wanted to see her face. Her big brown eyes, her full pink lips. Her mouth kind of looked like the Joker’s – depending on who was drawing him – really wide and curvy. Not psychotic, obviously … Park should never tell her this. It definitely didn’t sound like a compliment.

Eleanor didn’t look out the window. But the kids were staring at him, so Park walked home.

Saturdays were the worst.

CHAPTER 17

Eleanor

Mondays were the best.

Today, when she got on the bus, Park actually smiled at her. Like, smiled at her the whole time she was walking down the aisle.

Eleanor couldn’t bring herself to smile directly back at him, not in front of everybody. But she couldn’t help but smile, so she smiled at the floor and looked up every few seconds to see whether he was still looking at her.

He was.

Tina was looking at her, too, but Eleanor ignored her.

Park stood up when she got to their row, and as soon as she sat down, he took her hand and kissed it. It happened so fast, she didn’t have time to die of ecstasy or embarrassment.

She let her face fall for just a few seconds against his shoulder, against the sleeve of his black trench coat. He squeezed her hand tight.

‘I missed you,’ he whispered. She felt tears in her eyes and turned to the window.

They didn’t say anything more all the way to school. Park walked with Eleanor to her locker, and they both stood there quietly, leaning against the wall almost until the bell rang. The hall was practically empty.

Then Park reached up and wrapped one of her red curls around his honey finger.

‘Back to missing you,’ he said, letting it go.

She was late to homeroom and didn’t hear Mr Sarpy tell her that she had an office pass. He slammed it on her desk.

‘Eleanor, wake up! You’ve got a pass from your counselor.’ God, he was a jerk, she was glad she didn’t have him for a real class. As she walked to the office, she trailed her fingertips along the brick wall and hummed a song Park had given her.

She was so blissed out, she even smiled at Mrs Dunne when she got to her office.

‘Eleanor,’ she said, hugging her. Mrs Dunne was big on hugging. She’d hugged Eleanor the very first time they met. ‘How are you?’

‘I’m good.’

‘You look good,’ Mrs Dunne said.

Eleanor looked down at her sweater (a very fat man had probably bought it to wear golfing in 1968) and at her holey jeans. God, how bad did she usually look? ‘Thanks, I guess.’

‘I’ve been talking to your teachers,’ Mrs Dunne said. ‘Did you know you’re getting As in almost all your classes?’

Eleanor shrugged. She didn’t have cable or a phone, and she felt like she was living under-ground in her own house … There was plenty of time for homework.

‘Well, you are,’ Mrs Dunne said. ‘And I’m so proud of you.’

Eleanor was glad there was a desk between them now. Mrs Dunne looked like she had another hug coming on.

‘But that’s not why I called you down here.

The reason you’re here is because I got a tele-phone call for you this morning, before school started. A man called – he said that he was your dad – and that he was calling here because he didn’t have your home number …’

‘I don’t actually have a home number,’

Eleanor said.

‘Ah,’ Mrs Dunne said, ‘I see. Would your dad know that?’

‘Probably not,’ Eleanor said. She was surprised he even knew what school she went to.

‘Would you like to call him? You could use my office.’

Would she like to call him? Why would he want to call her? Maybe something horrible (something really horrible) had happened. Maybe her grandma had died. God.

‘Sure …’ Eleanor said.

‘You know,’ Mrs Dunne said, ‘you can come use my phone whenever you need to.’ She stood up and sat on the edge of her desk, resting her hand on Eleanor’s knee. Eleanor was this close to asking for a toothbrush, but she thought that would lead to a marathon of hugging and knee-rubbing.

‘Thanks,’ Eleanor said instead.

‘Okay,’ Mrs Dunne said, beaming. ‘I’ll be right back then. I’ll just go freshen up my lipstick.’

When Mrs Dunne left, Eleanor dialed her dad’s number, surprised that she still knew it by heart. He answered after the third ring.

‘Hey, Dad. It’s Eleanor.’

‘Hey, baby, how are you?’

She thought for a second about telling him the truth. ‘Fine,’ she said.

‘How’s everybody?’

‘Fine.’

‘You guys never call.’

There was no use telling him that they didn’t have a phone. Or pointing out that he never called them back when they did have a phone. Or even saying that maybe he should find a way to talk to them, him being the one with a phone and a car and a life of his own.

There was no use telling her dad anything.

Eleanor had known that for so long, she couldn’t even remember figuring it out.

‘Hey, I’ve got a cool offer for you,’ he said.

‘I thought maybe you could come over on Friday night.’ Her dad had a voice like someone on TV, somebody who would try to sell you record com-pilations. Disco hits of the ’70s or the latest Time-Life collection.

‘Donna wants me to go to some wedding,’ he said, ‘and I told her you would probably watch Matt. Thought you might like some babysitting money.’

‘Who’s Donna?’

‘You know, Donna – Donna my fiancée. You guys met her the last time you were here.’

That was almost a year ago. ‘Your neighbor?’

Eleanor asked.

‘Yeah, Donna. You can come over and spend the night. Watch Matt, eat pizza, talk on the phone … It will be the easiest ten bucks you ever made.’

And actually the first.

‘Okay,’ Eleanor said. ‘Are you picking us up? Do you know where we live now?’

‘I’ll pick you up at school – just you this time. I don’t want to give you a whole house full of kids to watch. What time do they let you out of there?’

‘Three.’

‘Cool. I’ll see you Friday at three.’

‘All right.’

‘Well, all right. I love you, baby, study hard.’

Mrs Dunne was waiting in the doorway, with her arms open.

Fine, Eleanor thought as she walked down the hall. Everything is fine. Everyone is fine. She kissed the back of her hand, just to see how it felt on her lips.

Park

‘I’m not going to homecoming,’ Park said.

‘Of course you’re not going … To the dance,’ Call said. ‘I mean, it’s way too late to rent a tux anyways.’

They were early to English class. Call sat two seats behind him, so Park kept having to look back over his shoulder to see if Eleanor had walked in yet.

‘You’re renting a tux?’ Park asked.

‘Uh, yeah,’ Call said.

‘Nobody rents a tux for homecoming.’

‘So who’s going to look like the classiest guy there? Besides, what do you know – you’re not even going – to the dance, that is. The football game, however? Different story.’

‘I don’t even like football,’ Park said, looking back at the door.

‘Could you stop being the worst friend in the world for, like, five minutes?’

Park looked up at the clock. ‘Yes.’

‘Please,’ Call said, ‘do me this one favor.

There’s a whole group of cool people going, and if you go, Kim will sit with us. You’re a Kim magnet.’

‘Don’t you see what a problem that is?’

‘No. It’s like I’ve found the perfect bait for my Kim trap.’

‘Stop saying her name like that.’

‘Why? She’s not here yet, is she?’

Park glanced over his shoulder. ‘Can’t you just like a girl who likes you back?’

‘None of them like me back,’ Call said. ‘I may as well like the one I really want. Come on, please. Come to the game on Friday – for me.’

‘I don’t know …’ Park said.

‘Wow, what’s up with her. She looks like she just killed somebody for fun.’

Park whipped his head around. Eleanor. Smiling at him.

She had the kind of smile you see in tooth-paste commercials, where you can see practically all of somebody’s teeth. She should smile like that all the time, Park thought; it made her face cross over from weird to beautiful. He wanted to make her smile like that constantly.

Mr Stessman pretended to fall against the chalkboard when he walked in. ‘Good God, Eleanor, stop. You’re blinding me. Is that why you keep that smile locked away, because it’s too powerful for mortal man?’

She looked down self-consciously and flattened her smile into a smirk.

‘Psst,’ Call said. Kim was sitting down between them. Call locked his fingers together like he was begging. Park sighed and nodded his head.

Eleanor

She waited for the phone call from her dad to go sour on her. (Conversations with her dad were like whiplash; they didn’t always hurt right away.)

But it didn’t. Nothing could bring Eleanor down. Nothing could drive Park’s words from her head.

He missed her …

Who knows what he missed. Her fatness. Her weirdness. The fact that she couldn’t talk to him like a regular person. Whatever. Whatever perversion caused him to like her was his problem.

But he did like her, she was sure of it.

At least for now.

For today.

He liked her. He missed her.

She was so distracted in gym class, she actually forgot not to try. They were playing basketball, and Eleanor caught the ball, colliding with one of Tina’s friends, a jumpy, wiry girl named Annette. ‘Are you trying to start something?’ Annette demanded, pushing forward – pushing the ball into Eleanor’s chest. ‘Are you? Come on, then, let’s go. Come on.’ Eleanor took a few steps back, out of bounds, and waited for Mrs Burt to blow the whistle.

Annette stayed mad for the rest of the game, but Eleanor didn’t let it get to her.

That feeling she used to have when she was sitting next to Park on the bus – that feeling that she was on base, that she was safe for the moment – she could summon it now. Like a force field. Like she was the Invisible Girl.

That would make Park Mr Fantastic.

CHAPTER 18

Eleanor

Her mom wasn’t going to let her babysit.

‘He has four children,’ her mother said. She was rolling out dough for tortillas. ‘Did he forget that?

Eleanor had stupidly told her mother about her dad’s phone call in front of her brothers and sister – they’d all gotten really excited. And then Eleanor had to tell them that they weren’t invited, that it was just babysitting, anyway, and that Dad wasn’t even going to be there.

Mouse had started to cry, and Maisie got mad and stormed out. Ben asked Eleanor if she’d call Dad back to see if he could come along to help.

‘Tell him I babysit all the time,’ Ben said.

‘Your father is a piece of work,’ her mother said. ‘Every time, he breaks your hearts. And every time, he expects me to pick up the pieces.’

Pick up, sweep aside – same difference in her mom’s world. Eleanor didn’t argue.

‘Please let me go,’ she said.

‘Why do you want to go?’ her mom asked.

‘Why do you even care about him? He’s never cared about you.’

God. Even if it were true, it still hurt to hear it that way.

‘I don’t care,’ Eleanor said. ‘I just need to get out of here. I haven’t been anywhere but school in two months. Plus, he said he’d pay me.’

‘If he has extra money sitting around, maybe he should pay his child support.’

‘Mom … it’s ten dollars. Please.’

Her mother sighed. ‘Fine. I’ll talk to Richie.’

‘No. Don’t talk to Richie. He’ll just say no.

And, anyway, he can’t tell me that I can’t see my father.’

‘Richie is the head of this household,’ her mom said. ‘Richie is the one who puts food on our table.’

What food? Eleanor wanted to ask. And, for that matter, what table? They ate on the couch or on the floor or sitting on the back steps holding paper plates. Besides, Richie would say no just for the pleasure of saying it. It would make him feel like the King of Spain. Which was probably why her mom wanted to give him the chance.

‘Mom.’ Eleanor put her face in her hand and leaned against the refrigerator. ‘ Please.’

‘Oh, fine,’ her mother said bitterly. ‘Fine. But if he gives you any money, you can split it with your brothers and sister. That’s the least you can do.’

They could have it all. All Eleanor wanted was the chance to talk to Park on the phone. To be able to talk to him without every inbred hells-pawn in the Flats listening.

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