মুখ্য Eleanor & Park
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i love eleanor & park with all my heart.
15 September 2020 (15:59)
WHAT ARE THE THREE WORDS
01 October 2020 (05:29)
If you want to feel what it is to be loved and in love, fasten your seatbelt my friend, cause teenage feelings are never to be tired of.
29 November 2020 (14:16)
OH MY GOD THIS WAS BRILLIANT
LIKE AMI, I WOULD ALSO LIKE TO KNOW THE THREE WORDS. I LOVE YOU?? I MISS YOU??
LIKE AMI, I WOULD ALSO LIKE TO KNOW THE THREE WORDS. I LOVE YOU?? I MISS YOU??
30 November 2020 (22:08)
There is a lot of stories of teenage love out there, but if you want to feel that pure subtle flow of words , read it, you will be amazed how easily and impressively Eleanor and park traps you in this beautiful narrative that is so condensed with no moment of dullness.
29 December 2020 (16:42)
The three words were most likely I Love You
28 January 2021 (14:45)
Shoto Todoroki and Izuku Midoriya
this book was "Perfecto"! Definitely Recommend!!! The three words are obviously "I Love You"
11 February 2021 (00:24)
Nunca pensei que pudesse sentir tantas coisas lendo esse livro, me apaixonei por sua narrativa inspiradora, então eu digo " eu te amo" para essa obra singela de Rainbow rowell.
28 March 2021 (14:27)
i love the book so much, i just wish the author would release a sequel.
12 April 2021 (19:53)
This book is so lovely! I really love this teenage love story... Is cute, funny, dramatic and more. This book will make you feel all this feelings with the characters.
- If you asking yourself if it's worth it, just go.
- If you asking yourself if it's worth it, just go.
19 April 2021 (22:06)
heartbreaking lovely read
29 May 2021 (07:51)
For Forest, Jade, Haven and Jerry – and everyone else in the back of the truck ELEANOR & PARK Rainbow Rowell Contents Cover Dedication Title Page August 1986 Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33 Chapter 34 Chapter 35 Chapter 36 Chapter 37 Chapter 38 Chapter 39 Chapter 40 Chapter 41 Chapter 42 Chapter 43 Chapter 44 Chapter 45 Chapter 46 Chapter 47 Chapter 48 Chapter 49 Chapter 50 Chapter 51 Chapter 52 Chapter 53 Chapter 54 Chapter 55 Chapter 56 Chapter 57 Chapter 58 Acknowledgments About the Author Copyright He’d stopped trying to bring her back. She only came back when she felt like it, in dreams and lies and broken-down déjà vu. Like, he’d be driving to work, and he’d see a girl with red hair standing on the corner – and he’d swear, for half a choking moment, that it was her. Then he’d see that the girl’s hair was more blond than red. And that she was holding a cigarette … And wearing a Sex Pistols T-shirt. Eleanor hated the Sex Pistols. Eleanor … Standing behind him until he turned his head. Lying next to him just before he woke up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough. Eleanor ruining everything. Eleanor, gone. He’d stopped trying to bring her back. AUGUST 1986 CHAPTER 1 Park XTC was no good for drowning out the morons at the back of the bus. Park pressed his headphones into his ears. Tomorrow he was going to bring Skinny Puppy or the Misfits. Or maybe he’d make a special bus tape with as much screaming and wailing on it as possible. He could get back to New Wave in November, after he got his driver’s license. His parents had already said Park could have ; his mom’s Impala, and he’d been saving up for a new tape deck. Once he started driving to school, he could listen to whatever he wanted or nothing at all, and he’d get to sleep in an extra twenty minutes. ‘That doesn’t exist,’ somebody shouted behind him. ‘It so fucking does,’ Steve shouted back. ‘Drunken-monkey style, man, it’s a real fucking thing. You can kill somebody with it …’ ‘You’re full of shit.’ ‘You’re full of shit,’ Steve said. ‘Park! Hey, Park.’ Park heard him, but didn’t answer. Sometimes, if you ignored Steve for a minute, he moved onto someone else. Knowing that was 80 percent of surviving with Steve as your neighbor. The other 20 percent was just keeping your head down … Which Park had momentarily forgotten. A ball of paper hit him in the back of the head. ‘Those were my Human Growth and Development notes, dicklick,’ Tina said. ‘I’m sorry, baby,’ Steve said. ‘I’ll teach you all about human growth and development. What do you need to know?’ ‘Teach her drunken-monkey style,’ somebody said. ‘PARK!’ Steve shouted. Park pulled down his headphones and turned to the back of the bus. Steve was holding court in the last seat. Even sitting, his head practically touched the roof. Steve always looked like he was surrounded by doll furniture. He’d looked like a grown man since the seventh grade, and that was before he grew a full beard. Slightly before. Sometimes Park wondered if Steve was with Tina because she made him look even more like a monster. Most of the girls from the Flats were small, but Tina couldn’t be five feet. Massive hair, included. Once, back in middle school, some guy had tried to give Steve shit about how he better not get Tina pregnant because if he did, his giant babies would kill her. ‘They’ll bust out of her stomach like in Aliens,’ the guy said. Steve broke his little finger on the guy’s face. When Park’s dad heard, he said, ‘Somebody needs to teach that Murphy kid how to make a fist.’ But Park hoped nobody would. The guy Steve hit couldn’t open his eyes for a week. Park tossed Tina her balled-up homework. She caught it. ‘Park,’ Steve said, ‘tell Mikey about drunken-monkey karate.’ ‘I don’t know anything about it.’ Park shrugged. ‘But it exists, right?’ ‘I guess I’ve heard of it.’ ‘There,’ Steve said. He looked for something to throw at Mikey, but couldn’t find anything. He pointed instead. ‘I fucking told you.’ ‘What the fuck does Sheridan know about kung fu?’ Mikey said. ‘Are you retarded?’ Steve said. ‘His mom’s Chinese.’ Mikey looked at Park carefully. Park smiled and narrowed his eyes. ‘Yeah, I guess I see it,’ Mikey said. ‘I always thought you were Mexican.’ ‘Shit, Mikey,’ Steve said, ‘you’re such a fucking racist.’ ‘She’s not Chinese,’ Tina said. ‘She’s Korean.’ ‘Who is?’ Steve asked. ‘Park’s mom.’ Park’s mom had been cutting Tina’s hair since grade school. They both had the exact same hairstyle, long spiral perms with tall, feathered bangs. ‘She’s fucking hot is what she is,’ Steve said, cracking himself up. ‘No offense, Park.’ Park managed another smile and slunk back into his seat, putting his headphones back on and cranking up the volume. He could still hear Steve and Mikey, four seats behind him. ‘But what’s the fucking point?’ Mikey asked. ‘Dude, would you want to fight a drunk monkey? They’re fucking huge. Like Every Which Way But Loose, man. Imagine that bastard losing his shit on you.’ Park noticed the new girl at about the same time everybody else did. She was standing at the front of the bus, next to the first available seat. There was a kid sitting there by himself, a freshman. He put his bag down on the seat beside him, then looked the other way. All down the aisle, anybody who was sitting alone moved to the edge of their seat. Park heard Tina snicker; she lived for this stuff. The new girl took a deep breath and stepped farther down the aisle. Nobody would look at her. Park tried not to, but it was kind of a train wreck/eclipse situation. The girl just looked like exactly the sort of person this would happen to. Not just new – but big and awkward. With crazy hair, bright red on top of curly. And she was dressed like … like she wanted people to look at her. Or maybe like she didn’t get what a mess she was. She had on a plaid shirt, a man’s shirt, with half a dozen weird necklaces hanging around her neck and scarves wrapped around her wrists. She reminded Park of a scarecrow or one of the trouble dolls his mom kept on her dresser. Like something that wouldn’t survive in the wild. The bus stopped again, and a bunch more kids got on. They pushed past the girl, knocking into her, and dropped into their own seats. That was the thing – everybody on the bus already had a seat. They’d all claimed one on the first day of school. People like Park who were lucky enough to have a whole seat to themselves weren’t going to give that up now. Especially not for someone like this. Park looked back up at the girl. She was just standing there. ‘Hey, you,’ the bus driver yelled, ‘sit down.’ The girl started moving toward the back of the bus. Right into the belly of the beast. God, Park thought, stop. Turn around. He could feel Steve and Mikey licking their chops as she got closer. He tried again to look away. Then the girl spotted an empty seat just across from Park. Her face lit with relief, and she hurried toward it. ‘Hey,’ Tina said sharply. The girl kept moving. ‘Hey,’ Tina said, ‘Bozo.’ Steve started laughing. His friends fell in a few seconds behind him. ‘You can’t sit there,’ Tina said. ‘That’s Mikayla’s seat.’ The girl stopped and looked up at Tina, then looked back at the empty seat. ‘Sit down,’ the driver bellowed from the front. ‘I have to sit somewhere,’ the girl said to Tina in a firm, calm voice. ‘Not my problem,’ Tina snapped. The bus lurched, and the girl rocked back to keep from falling. Park tried to turn the volume up on his Walkman, but it was already all the way up. He looked back at the girl; it looked like she was starting to cry. Before he’d even decided to do it, Park scooted toward the window. ‘Sit down,’ he said. It came out angrily. The girl turned to him, like she couldn’t tell whether he was another jerk or what. ‘Jesus-fuck,’ Park said softly, nodding to the space next to him, ‘just sit down.’ The girl sat down. She didn’t say anything – thank God, she didn’t thank him – and she left six inches of space on the seat between them. Park turned toward the Plexiglas window and waited for a world of suck to hit the fan. CHAPTER 2 Eleanor Eleanor considered her options: 1. She could walk home from school. Pros: Exercise, color in her cheeks, time to herself. Cons: She didn’t know her new address yet, or even the general direction to start walking. 2. She could call her mom and ask for a ride. Pros: Lots. Cons: Her mom didn’t have a phone. Or a car. 3. She could call her dad. Ha. 4. She could call her grandma. Just to say hi. She was sitting on the concrete steps at the front of the school, staring out at the row of yellow buses. Her bus was right there. No. 666. Even if Eleanor could avoid the bus today, even if her fairy godmother showed up with a pumpkin carriage, she’d still have to find a way to get back to school tomorrow morning. And it’s not like the devil-kids on the bus were going to wake up on the other side of their beds tomorrow. Seriously. It wouldn’t surprise Eleanor if they unhinged their jaws the next time she saw them. That girl in the back with the blond hair and the acid-washed jacket? You could practically see the horns hidden in her bangs. And her boyfriend was possibly a member of the Nephilim. That girl – all of them – hated Eleanor before they’d even laid eyes on her. Like they’d been hired to kill her in a past life. Eleanor couldn’t tell if the Asian kid who finally let her sit down was one of them, or whether he was just really stupid. (But not stupid-stupid … He was in two of Eleanor’s honors classes.) Her mom had insisted that the new school put Eleanor in honors classes. She’d freaked when she saw how bad Eleanor’s grades were from last year in the ninth grade. ‘This can’t be a surprise to you, Mrs Douglas,’ the counselor said. Ha, Eleanor thought, you’d be surprised what could be a surprise at this point. Whatever. Eleanor could stare at the clouds just as easily in honors classes. There were just as many windows. If she ever even came back to this school. If she ever even got home. Eleanor couldn’t tell her mom about the bus situation anyway because her mom had already said that Eleanor didn’t have to ride the bus. Last night, when she was helping Eleanor unpack … ‘Richie said he’ll take you,’ her mom said. ‘It’s on his way to work.’ ‘Is he going to make me ride in the back of his truck?’ ‘He’s trying to make peace, Eleanor. You promised that you’d try, too.’ ‘It’s easier for me to make peace from a distance.’ ‘I told him you were ready to be part of this family.’ ‘I’m already part of this family. I’m like a charter member.’ ‘Eleanor,’ her mom said. ‘Please.’ ‘I’ll just ride the bus,’ Eleanor had said. ‘It’s not a big deal. I’ll meet people.’ Ha, Eleanor thought now. Giant, dramatic ha. Her bus was going to leave soon. A few of the other buses were already pulling away. Somebody ran down the steps next to Eleanor and accidentally kicked her bag. She pulled it out of the way and started to say sorry – but it was that stupid Asian kid, and he frowned when he saw that it was her. She frowned right back at him, and he ran ahead. Oh, fine, Eleanor thought. The children of hell shan’t go hungry on my watch. CHAPTER 3 Park She didn’t talk to him on the ride home. Park had spent all day trying to think of how to get away from the new girl. He’d have to switch seats. That was the only answer. But switch to what seat? He didn’t want to force himself on somebody else. And even the act of switching seats would catch Steve’s attention. Park had expected Steve to start in on him as soon he let the girl sit down, but Steve had gone right back to talking about kung fu again. Park, by the way, knew plenty about kung fu. Because his dad was obsessed with martial arts, not because his mom was Korean. Park and his little brother, Josh, had been taking taekwando since they could walk. Switch seats, how …? He could probably find a seat up front with the freshmen, but that would be a spectacular show of weakness. And he almost hated to think about leaving the weird new girl at the back of the bus by herself. He hated himself for thinking like this. If his dad knew he was thinking like this, he’d call Park a pussy. Out loud, for once. If his grandma knew, she’d smack him on the back of the head. ‘Where are you manners?’ she’d say. ‘Is that any way to treat somebody who’s down on her luck?’ But Park didn’t have any luck – or status – to spare on that dumb redhead. He had just enough to keep himself out of trouble. And he knew it was crappy, but he was kind of grateful that people like that girl existed. Because people like Steve and Mikey and Tina existed, too, and they needed to be fed. If it wasn’t that redhead, it was going to be somebody else. And if it wasn’t somebody else, it was going to be Park. Steve had let it go this morning, but he wouldn’t keep letting it go … Park could hear his grandma again. ‘Seriously, son, you’re giving yourself a stomach ache because you did something nice while other people were watching?’ It wasn’t even that nice, Park thought. He’d let the girl sit down, but he’d sworn at her. When she showed up in his English class that afternoon, it felt like she was there to haunt him … ‘Eleanor,’ Mr Stessman said. ‘What a powerful name. It’s a queen’s name, you know.’ ‘It’s the name of the fat Chipette,’ somebody behind Park whispered. Somebody else laughed. Mr Stessman gestured to an empty desk up front. ‘We’re reading poetry today, Eleanor,’ Mr Stessman said. ‘Dickinson. Perhaps you’d like to get us started.’ Mr Stessman opened her book to the right page and pointed. ‘Go ahead,’ he said, ‘clear and loud. I’ll tell you when to stop.’ The new girl looked at Mr Stessman like she hoped he was kidding. When it was clear that he wasn’t – he almost never was – she started to read. ‘I had been hungry all the years,’ she read. A few kids laughed. Jesus, Park thought, only Mr Stessman would make a chubby girl read a poem about eating on her first day of class. ‘Carry on, Eleanor,’ Mr Stessman said. She started over, which Park thought was a terrible idea. ‘I had been hungry all the years,’ she said, louder this time. ‘My noon had come, to dine, ‘I, trembling, drew the table near, ‘And touched the curious wine. ‘T’was this on tables I had seen, ‘When turning, hungry, lone, ‘I looked in windows, for the wealth ‘I could not hope to own.’ Mr Stessman didn’t stop her, so she read the whole poem in that cool, defiant voice. The same voice she’d used on Tina. ‘That was wonderful,’ Mr Stessman said when she was done. He was beaming. ‘Just wonderful. I hope you’ll stay with us, Eleanor, at least until we do Medea. That’s a voice that arrives on a chariot drawn by dragons.’ When the girl showed up in history, Mr Sanderhoff didn’t make a scene. But he did say, ‘Ah. Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine,’ when she handed him her paperwork. She sat down a few rows ahead of Park and, as far as he could tell, spent the whole period staring at the sun. Park couldn’t think of a way to get rid of her on the bus. Or a way to get rid of himself. So he put his headphones on before the girl sat down and turned the volume all the way up. Thank God she didn’t try to talk to him. CHAPTER 4 Eleanor She got home that afternoon before all the little kids, which was good because she wasn’t ready to see them again. It had been such a freak show when she’d walked in last night … Eleanor had spent so much time thinking about what it would be like to finally come home and how much she missed everybody – she thought they’d throw her a ticker-tape parade. She thought it would be a big hugfest. But when Eleanor walked in the house, it was like her siblings didn’t recognize her. Ben just glanced at her, and Maisie – Maisie was sitting on Richie’s lap. Which would have made Eleanor throw right up if she hadn’t just promised her mom that she’d be on her best behavior for the rest of her life. Only Mouse ran to hug Eleanor. She picked him up gratefully. He was five now, and heavy. ‘Hey, Mouse,’ she said. They’d called him that since he was a baby, she couldn’t remember why. He reminded her more of a big, sloppy puppy – always excited, always trying to jump into your lap. ‘Look, Dad, it’s Eleanor,’ Mouse said, jumping down. ‘Do you know Eleanor?’ Richie pretended not to hear. Maisie watched and sucked her thumb. Eleanor hadn’t seen her do that in years. She was eight now, but with her thumb in her mouth, she looked just like a baby. The baby wouldn’t remember Eleanor at all. He’d be two … There he was, sitting on the floor with Ben. Ben was eleven. He stared at the wall behind the TV. Their mom carried the duffel bag with Eleanor’s stuff into a bedroom off the living room, and Eleanor followed her. The room was tiny, just big enough for a dresser and some bunk beds. Mouse ran into the room after them. ‘You get the top bunk,’ he said, ‘and Ben has to sleep on the floor with me. Mom already told us, and Ben started to cry.’ ‘Don’t worry about that,’ their mom said softly. ‘We all just have to readjust.’ There wasn’t room in this room to readjust. (Which Eleanor decided not to mention.) She went to bed as soon as she could, so she wouldn’t have to go back out to the living room. When she woke up in the middle of the night, all three of her brothers were asleep on the floor. There was no way to get up without stepping on one of them, and she didn’t even know where the bathroom was … She found it. There were only five rooms in the house, and the bathroom just barely counted. It was attached to the kitchen – like literally attached, without a door. This house was designed by cave trolls, Eleanor thought. Somebody, probably her mom, had hung a flowered sheet between the refrigerator and the toilet. When she got home from school, Eleanor let herself in with her new key. The house was possibly even more depressing in daylight – dingy and bare – but at least Eleanor had the place, and her mom, to herself. It was weird to come home and see her mom, just standing in the kitchen, like … like normal. She was making soup, chopping onions. Eleanor felt like crying. ‘How was school?’ her mom asked. ‘Fine,’ Eleanor said. ‘Did you have a good first day?’ ‘Sure. I mean, yeah, it was just school.’ ‘Will you have a lot of catching up to do?’ ‘I don’t think so.’ Her mom wiped her hands on the back of her jeans and tucked her hair behind her ears, and Eleanor was struck, for the ten-thousandth time, by how beautiful she was. When Eleanor was a little girl, she’d thought her mom looked like a queen, like the star of some fairy tale. Not a princess – princesses are just pretty. Eleanor’s mother was beautiful. She was tall and stately, with broad shoulders and an elegant waist. All of her bones seemed more purposeful than other people’s. Like they weren’t just there to hold her up, they were there to make a point. She had a strong nose and a sharp chin, and her cheekbones were high and thick. You’d look at Eleanor’s mom and think she must be carved into the prow of a Viking ship somewhere or maybe painted on the side of a plane … Eleanor looked a lot like her. But not enough. Eleanor looked like her mother through a fish tank. Rounder and softer. Slurred. Where her mother was statuesque, Eleanor was heavy. Where her mother was finely drawn, Eleanor was smudged. After five kids, her mother had breasts and hips like a woman in a cigarette ad. At sixteen, Eleanor was already built like she ran a medieval pub. She had too much of everything and too little height to hide it. Her breasts started just below her chin, her hips were … a parody. Even her mom’s hair, long and wavy and auburn, was a more legitimate version of Eleanor’s bright red curls. Eleanor put her hand to her head self-consciously. ‘I have something to show you,’ her mom said, covering the soup, ‘but I didn’t want to do it in front of the little kids. Here, come on.’ Eleanor followed her into the kids’ bedroom. Her mom opened the closet and took out a stack of towels and a laundry basket full of socks. ‘I couldn’t bring all your things when we moved,’ she said. ‘Obviously we don’t have as much room here as we had in the old house …’ She reached into the closet and pulled out a black plastic garbage bag. ‘But I packed as much as I could.’ She handed Eleanor the bag and said, ‘I’m sorry about the rest.’ Eleanor had assumed that Richie threw all her stuff in the trash a year ago, ten seconds after he’d kicked her out. She took the bag in her arms. ‘It’s okay,’ she said. ‘Thanks.’ Her mom reached out and touched Eleanor’s shoulder, just for a second. ‘The little kids will be home in twenty minutes or so,’ she said, ‘and we’ll eat dinner around 4:30. I like to have everything settled before Richie comes home.’ Eleanor nodded. She opened the bag as soon as her mom left the room. She wanted to see what was still hers … The first thing she recognized were the paper dolls. They were loose in the bag and wrinkled; a few were marked with crayons. It had been years since Eleanor had played with them, but she was still happy to see them there. She pressed them flat and laid them in a pile. Under the dolls were books, a dozen or so that her mother must have grabbed at random; she wouldn’t have known which were Eleanor’s favorites. Eleanor was glad to see Garp and Watership Down. It sucked that Oliver’s Story had made the cut, but Love Story hadn’t. And Little Men was there, but not Little Women or Jo’s Boys. There was a bunch more papers in the bag. She’d had a file cabinet in her old room, and it looked like her mom had grabbed most of the folders. Eleanor tried to get everything into a neat stack, all the report cards and school pictures and letters from pen pals. She wondered where the rest of the stuff from the old house had ended up. Not just her stuff, but everybody’s. Like the furniture and the toys, and all of her mom’s plants and paintings. Her grandma’s Danish wedding plates … The little red ‘Uff da!’ horse that always used to hang above the sink. Maybe it was packed away somewhere. Maybe her mom was hoping the cave-troll house was just temporary. Eleanor was still hoping that Richie was just temporary. At the bottom of the black trash bag was a box. Her heart jumped a little when she saw it. Her uncle in Minnesota used to send her family a Fruit of the Month Club membership every Christmas, and Eleanor and her brothers and sister would always fight over the boxes that the fruit came in. It was stupid, but they were good boxes – solid, with nice lids. This one was a grapefruit box, soft from wear at the edges. Eleanor opened it carefully. Nothing inside had been touched. There was her stationery, her colored pencils and her Prismacolor markers (another Christmas present from her uncle). There was a stack of promotional cards from the mall that still smelled like expensive perfumes. And there was her Walkman. Untouched. Un-batteried, too, but nevertheless, there. And where there was a Walkman, there was the possibility of music. Eleanor let her head fall over the box. It smelled like Chanel No. 5 and pencil shavings. She sighed. There wasn’t anything to do with her recovered belongings once she’d sorted through them – there wasn’t even room in the dresser for Eleanor’s clothes. So she set aside the box and the books, and carefully put everything else back in the garbage bag. Then she pushed the bag back as far as she could on the highest shelf in the closet, behind the towels and a humidifier. She climbed onto her bunk and found a scraggly old cat napping there. ‘Shoo,’ Eleanor said, shoving him. The cat leaped to the floor and out the bedroom door. CHAPTER 5 Park Mr Stessman was making them all memorize a poem, whatever poem they wanted. Well, whatever poem they picked. ‘You’re going to forget everything else I teach you,’ Mr Stessman said, petting his mustache. ‘Everything. Maybe you’ll remember that Beowulf fought a monster. Maybe you’ll remember that “To be or not to be” is Hamlet, not Macbeth … ‘But everything else? Forget about it.’ He was slowly walking up and down each aisle. Mr Stessman loved this kind of stuff – theater in the round. He stopped next to Park’s desk and leaned in casually with his hand on the back of Park’s chair. Park stopped drawing and sat up straight. He couldn’t draw anyway. ‘So, you’re going to memorize a poem,’ Mr Stessman continued, pausing a moment to smile down at Park like Gene Wilder in the chocolate factory. ‘Brains love poetry. It’s sticky stuff. You’re going to memorize this poem, and five years from now, we’re going to see each other at the Village Inn, and you’ll say, “Mr Stessman, I still remember ‘The Road Not Taken!’ Listen … ‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood …’”’ He moved on to the next desk. Park relaxed. ‘Nobody gets to pick “The Road Not Taken,” by the way, I’m sick to death of it. And no Shel Silverstein. He’s grand, but you’ve graduated. We’re all adults here. Choose an adult poem … ‘Choose a romantic poem, that’s my advice. You’ll get the most use out of it.’ He walked by the new girl’s desk, but she didn’t turn away from the window. ‘Of course, it’s up to you. You may choose “A Dream Deferred” – Eleanor?’ She turned blankly. Mr Stessman leaned in. ‘You may choose it, Eleanor. It’s poignant and it’s truth. But how often will you get to roll that one out? ‘No. Choose a poem that speaks to you. Choose a poem that will help you speak to someone else.’ Park planned to choose a poem that rhymed, so it would be easier to memorize. He liked Mr Stessman, he really did – but he wished he’d dial it back a few notches. Whenever he worked the room like this, Park got embarrassed for him. ‘We meet tomorrow in the library,’ Mr Stessman said, back at his desk. ‘Tomorrow, we’re gathering rosebuds.’ The bell rang. On cue. CHAPTER 6 Eleanor ‘Watch it, raghead.’ Tina pushed roughly past Eleanor and climbed onto the bus. She had everybody else in their gym class calling Eleanor Bozo, but Tina had already moved on to Raghead and Bloody Mary. ‘Cuz it looks like your whole head is on the rag,’ she’d explained today in the locker room. It made sense that Tina was in Eleanor’s gym class – because gym was an extension of hell, and Tina was definitely a demon. A weird, miniature demon. Like a toy demon. Or a teacup. And she had a whole gang of lesser demons, all dressed in matching gymsuits. Actually, everyone wore matching gymsuits. At Eleanor’s old school, she’d thought it had sucked that they had to wear gym shorts. (Eleanor hated her legs even more than she hated the rest of her body.) But at North they had to wear gymsuits. Polyester onesies. The bottom was red, and the top was red-and-white striped, and it all zipped up the front. ‘Red isn’t your color, Bozo,’ Tina had said the first time Eleanor suited up. The other girls all laughed, even the black girls, who hated Tina. Laughing at Eleanor was Dr King’s mountain. After Tina pushed past her, Eleanor took her time getting on the bus – but she still got to her seat before that stupid Asian kid. Which meant she’d have to get up to let him have his spot by the window. Which would be awkward. It was all awkward. Every time the bus hit a pothole, Eleanor practically fell in the guy’s lap. Maybe somebody else on the bus would drop out or die or something and she’d be able move away from him. At least he didn’t ever talk to her. Or look at her. At least she didn’t think he did; Eleanor never looked at him. Sometimes she looked at his shoes. He had cool shoes. And sometimes she looked to see what he was reading … Always comic books. Eleanor never brought anything to read on the bus. She didn’t want Tina, or anybody else, to catch her with her head down. Park It felt wrong to sit next to somebody every day and not talk to her. Even if she was weird. (Jesus, was she weird. Today she was dressed like a Christmas tree, with all this stuff pinned to her clothes, shapes cut out of fabric, ribbon …) The ride home couldn’t go fast enough. Park couldn’t wait to get away from her, away from everybody. ‘Dude, where’s your dobak?’ He was trying to eat dinner alone in his room, but his little brother wouldn’t let him. Josh stood in the doorway, already dressed for taekwando and inhaling a chicken leg. ‘Dad’s going to be here, like now,’ Josh said through the drumstick, ‘and he’s gonna shit if you’re not ready.’ Their mom came up behind Josh and thumped him on the head. ‘Don’t cuss, dirty mouth.’ She had to reach up to do it. Josh was his father’s son; he was already at least seven inches taller than their mom – and three inches taller than Park. Which sucked. Park pushed Josh out the door and slammed it. So far, Park’s strategy for maintaining his status as older brother despite their growing size differential was to pretend he could still kick Josh’s ass. He could still beat him at taekwando – but only because Josh got impatient with any sport where his size wasn’t an obvious advantage. The high school football coach had already started coming to Josh’s Peewee games. Park changed into his dobak, wondering if he was going to have to start wearing Josh’s hand-me-downs pretty soon. Maybe he could take a Sharpie to all Josh’s Husker football T-shirts and make them say Husker Dü. Or maybe it wouldn’t even be an issue – Park might never get any taller than five foot four. He might never grow out of the clothes he had now. He put on his Chuck Taylors and took his dinner into the kitchen, eating over the counter. His mom was trying to get gravy out of Josh’s white jacket with a washcloth. ‘Mindy?’ That’s how Park’s dad came home every night, like the dad in a sit-com. (‘Lucy?’) And his mom would call out from wherever she was, ‘In here!’ Except she said it, ‘In hee-ya!’ Because she was apparently never going to stop sounding like she just got here yesterday from Korea. Sometimes Park thought she kept the accent on purpose, because his dad liked it. But his mom tried so hard to fit in in every other way … If she could sound like she grew up right around the corner, she would. His dad barreled into the kitchen and scooped his mom into his arms. They did this every night, too. Full-on make-out sessions, no matter who was around. It was like watching Paul Bunyan make out with one of those It’s a Small World dolls. Park grabbed his brother’s sleeve. ‘Come on, let’s go.’ They could wait in the Impala. Their dad would be out in a minute, as soon as he’d changed into his giant dobak. Eleanor She still couldn’t get used to eating dinner so early. When did this all start? In the old house, they’d all eaten together, even Richie. Eleanor wasn’t complaining about not having to eat with Richie … But now it was like their mom wanted them all out of the way before he came home. She even made him a totally different dinner. The kids would get grilled cheese, and Richie would get steak. Eleanor wasn’t complaining about the grilled cheese either – it was a nice break from bean soup, and beans and rice, and huevos y frijoles … After dinner, Eleanor usually disappeared into her room to read, but the little kids always went outside. What were they going to do when it got cold – and when it started getting dark early? Would they all hide in the bedroom? It was crazy. Diary of Anne Frank crazy. Eleanor climbed up onto her bunk bed and got out her stationery box. That dumb gray cat was sleeping in her bed again. She pushed him off. She opened the grapefruit box and flipped through her stationery. She kept meaning to write letters to her friends from her old school. She hadn’t gotten to say goodbye to anybody when she left. Her mom had shown up out of the blue and pulled Eleanor out of class, all ‘Get your things, you’re coming home.’ Her mom had been so happy. And Eleanor had been so happy. They went straight to North to get Eleanor registered, then stopped at Burger King on the way to the new house. Her mom kept squeezing Eleanor’s hand … Eleanor had pretended not to notice the bruises on her mom’s wrist. The bedroom door opened, and her little sister walked in, carrying the cat. ‘Mom wants you to leave the door open,’ Maisie said, ‘for the breeze.’ Every window in the house was open, but there didn’t seem to be any breeze. With the door open, Eleanor could just see Richie sitting on the couch. She scooted down the bed until she couldn’t. ‘What are you doing?’ Maisie asked. ‘Writing a letter.’ ‘To who?’ ‘I don’t know yet.’ ‘Can I come up?’ ‘No.’ For the moment, all Eleanor could think about was keeping her box safe. She didn’t want Maisie to see the colored pencils and clean paper. Plus, part of her still wanted to punish Maisie for sitting in Richie’s lap. That never would have happened before. Before Richie kicked Eleanor out, all the kids were allied against him. Maybe Eleanor had hated him the most, and the most openly – but they were all on her side, Ben and Maisie, even Mouse. Mouse used to steal Richie’s cigarettes and hide them. And Mouse was the one they’d send to knock on their mom’s door when they heard bedsprings … When it was worse than bedsprings, when it was shouting or crying, they’d huddle together, all five of them, on Eleanor’s bed. (They’d all had their own beds in the old house.) Maisie sat at Eleanor’s right hand then. When Mouse cried, when Ben’s face went blank and dreamy, Maisie and Eleanor would lock eyes. ‘I hate him,’ Eleanor would say. ‘I hate him so much I wish he was dead,’ Maisie would answer. ‘I hope he falls off a ladder at work.’ ‘I hope he gets hit by a truck.’ ‘A garbage truck.’ ‘Yeah,’ Maisie would say, gritting her teeth, ‘and all the garbage will fall on his dead body.’ ‘And then a bus will run him over.’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘I hope I’m on it.’ Maisie put the cat back on Eleanor’s bed. ‘It likes to sleep up there,’ she said. ‘Do you call him Dad, too?’ Eleanor asked. ‘He is our dad now,’ Maisie said. Eleanor woke up in the middle of the night. Richie had fallen asleep in the living room with the TV on. She didn’t breathe on the way to the bathroom and was too scared to flush the toilet. When she got back to her room, she closed the door. Fuck the breeze. CHAPTER 7 Park ‘I’m going to ask Kim out,’ Cal said. ‘Don’t ask Kim out,’ Park said. ‘Why not?’ They were sitting in the library, and they were supposed to be looking for poems. Cal had already picked out something short about a girl named Julia and the ‘liquefaction of her clothes.’ (‘Crass,’ Park said. ‘It can’t be crass,’ Cal argued. ‘It’s three-hundred years old.’) ‘Because she’s Kim,’ Park said. ‘You can’t ask her out. Look at her.’ Kim was sitting at the next table over with two other preppy girls. ‘Look at her,’ Cal said, ‘she’s a Betty.’ ‘Jesus,’ Park said. ‘You sound so stupid.’ ‘What? That’s a thing. A Betty is a thing.’ ‘But you got it from Thrasher or something, right?’ ‘That’s how people learn new words, Park’ – Cal tapped a book of poetry – ‘reading.’ ‘You’re trying too hard.’ ‘She’s a Betty,’ Cal said, nodding at Kim and getting a Slim Jim out of his backpack. Park looked at Kim again. She had bobbed blond hair and hard, curled bangs, and she was the only kid in school with a Swatch. Kim was one of those people who never wrinkled … She wouldn’t make eye contact with Cal. She’d be afraid he’d leave a stain. ‘This is my year,’ Cal said. ‘I’m getting a girlfriend.’ ‘But probably not Kim.’ ‘Why not Kim? You think I need to aim lower?’ Park looked up at him. Cal wasn’t a bad-looking guy. He had kind of a tall Barney Rubble thing going on … He already had pieces of Slim Jim caught in his front teeth. ‘Aim elsewhere,’ Park said. ‘Screw that,’ Cal said, ‘I’m starting at the top. And I’m getting you a girl, too.’ ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ Park said. ‘Double-dating,’ Cal said. ‘No.’ ‘In the Impala.’ ‘Don’t get your hopes up.’ Park’s dad had decided to be a fascist about Park’s driver’s license; he’d announced last night that Park had to learn to drive a stick first. Park opened another book of poetry. It was all about war. He closed it. ‘Now there’s a girl who might want a piece of you,’ Cal said. ‘Looks like somebody’s got jungle fever.’ ‘That isn’t even the right kind of racist,’ Park said, looking up. Cal was nodding toward the far corner of the library. The new girl was sitting there, staring right at them. ‘She’s kind of big,’ Cal said, ‘but the Impala is a spacious automobile.’ ‘She’s not looking at me. She’s just staring, she does that. Watch.’ Park waved at the girl, but she didn’t blink. He’d only made eye contact with her once since her first day on the bus. It was last week, in history, and she’d practically gouged out his eyes with hers. If you don’t want people to look at you, Park had thought at the time, don’t wear fishing lures in your hair. Her jewelry box must look like a junk drawer. Not that everything she wore was stupid … She had a pair of Vans he liked, with strawberries on them. And she had a green sharkskin blazer that Park would wear himself if he thought he could get away with it. Did she think she was getting away with it? Park braced himself every morning before she got on the bus, but you couldn’t brace yourself enough for the sight of her. ‘Do you know her?’ Cal asked. ‘No,’ Park said quickly. ‘She’s on my bus. She’s weird.’ ‘Jungle fever is a thing,’ Cal said. ‘For black people. If you like black people. And it’s not a compliment, I don’t think.’ ‘Your people come from the jungle,’ Cal said, pointing at Park. ‘Apocalypse Now, anyone?’ ‘You should ask Kim out,’ Park said. ‘That’s a really good idea.’ Eleanor Eleanor wasn’t going to fight over an e.e. cummings book like it was the last Cabbage Patch Kid. She found an empty table in the African American literature section. That was another fucked-up thing about this school – effed-up, she corrected herself. Most of the kids here were black, but most of the kids in her honors classes were white. They got bussed in from west Omaha. And the white kids from the Flats, dishonor students, got bussed in from the other direction. Eleanor wished she had more honors classes. She wished there was honors gym … Like they’d ever let her into honors gym. Eleanor would get put in remedial gym first. With all the other fat girls who couldn’t do sit-ups. Anyway. Honor students – black, white or Asia Minor – tended to be nicer. Maybe they were just as mean on the inside, but they were scared of getting in trouble. Or maybe they were just as mean on the inside, but they’d been trained to be polite – to give up their seats for old people and girls. Eleanor had honors English, history and geography, but she spent the rest of her day in Crazytown. Seriously, Blackboard Jungle. She should probably try harder in her smart classes so that she wouldn’t get kicked out of them. She started copying a poem called ‘Caged Bird’ into her notebook … Sweet. It rhymed. CHAPTER 8 Park She was reading his comics. At first Park thought he was imagining it. He kept getting this feeling that she was looking at him, but whenever he looked over at her, her face was down. He finally realized that she was staring at his lap. Not in a gross way. She was looking at his comics – he could see her eyes moving. Park didn’t know that anyone with red hair could have brown eyes. (He didn’t know that anyone could have hair that red. Or skin that white.) The new girl’s eyes were darker than his mom’s, really dark, almost like holes in her face. That made it sound bad, but it wasn’t. It might even be the best thing about her. It kind of reminded Park of the way artists draw Jean Grey sometimes when she’s using her telepathy, with her eyes all blacked out and alien. Today the girl was wearing a giant men’s shirt with seashells all over it. The collar must have been really big, like disco-big, because she’d cut it, and it was fraying. She had a man’s necktie wrapped around her ponytail like a big polyester ribbon. She looked ridiculous. And she was looking at his comics. Park felt like he should say something to her. He always felt like he should say something to her, even if it was just ‘hello’ or ‘excuse me.’ But he’d gone too long without saying anything since the first time he’d cursed at her, and now it was all just irrevocably weird. For an hour a day. Thirty minutes on the way to school, thirty minutes back. Park didn’t say anything. He just held his comics open wider and turned the pages more slowly. Eleanor Her mom looked tired when Eleanor got home. Like more tired than usual. Hard and crumbling at the edges. When the little kids stormed in after school, her mom lost her temper over something stupid – Ben and Mouse fighting over a toy – and she pushed them all out the back door, Eleanor included. Eleanor was so startled to be outside that she stood on the back stoop for a second, staring down at Richie’s Rottweiler. He’d named the dog Tonya after his ex-wife. She was supposed to be a real man-eater, Tonya – Tonya the dog – but Eleanor had never seen her more than half awake. Eleanor tried knocking on the door. ‘Mom! Let me back in. I haven’t even taken a bath yet.’ She usually took her bath right after school, before Richie got home. It took a lot of the stress out of not having a bathroom door, especially since somebody’d torn down the sheet. Her mom ignored her. The little kids were already out on the playground. The new house was right next door to an elementary school – the school where Ben and Mouse and Maisie went – and the playground was just beyond their backyard. Eleanor didn’t know what else to do, so she walked out to where she could see Ben, by the swing set, and sat on one of the swings. It was finally jacket weather. Eleanor wished she had a jacket. ‘What are you supposed to do when it gets too cold to play outside?’ she asked Ben. He was taking Matchbox cars out of his pockets and lining them up in the dirt. ‘Last year,’ he said, ‘Dad made us go to bed at 7:30.’ ‘God. You too? Why do you guys call him that?’ She tried not to sound angry. Ben shrugged. ‘I guess because he’s married to Mom.’ ‘Yeah, but’ – Eleanor ran her hands up and down the swing chains, then smelled them – ‘we never used to call him that. Do you feel like he’s your dad?’ ‘I don’t know,’ Ben said flatly. ‘What’s that supposed to feel like?’ She didn’t answer him, so he went back to setting up his cars. He needed a haircut, his strawberry-blond hair was curling almost to his collar. He was wearing an old T-shirt of Eleanor’s and a pair of corduroy pants that their mom had cut off into shorts. He was almost too old for all this, for cars and parks – eleven. The other boys his age played basketball all night or hung out in groups at the edge of the playground. Eleanor hoped that Ben was a late bloomer. There was no room in that house to be a teenager. ‘He likes it when we call him Dad,’ Ben said, still lining up the cars. Eleanor looked out at the playground. Mouse was playing with a bunch of kids who had a soccer ball. Maisie must have taken the baby somewhere with her friends … It used to be Eleanor who was stuck with the baby all the time. She wouldn’t even mind watching him now, it would give her something to do – but Maisie didn’t want Eleanor’s help. ‘What was it like?’ Ben asked. ‘What was what like?’ ‘Living with those people.’ The sun was a few inches above the horizon, and Eleanor looked hard at it. ‘Okay,’ she said. Terrible. Lonely. Better than here. ‘Were there other kids?’ ‘Yeah. Really little kids. Three of them.’ ‘Did you have your own room?’ ‘Sort of.’ Technically, she hadn’t had to share the Hickmans’ living room with anyone else. ‘Were they nice?’ he asked. ‘Yeah … yeah. They were nice. Not as nice as you.’ The Hickmans had started out nice. But then they got tired. Eleanor was only supposed to stay with them for a few days, maybe a week. Just until Richie cooled down and let her come home. ‘It’ll be like a slumber party,’ Mrs Hickman said to Eleanor the first night she made up the couch. Mrs Hickman – Tammy – knew Eleanor’s mom from high school. There was a photo over the TV of the Hickmans’ wedding. Eleanor’s mom was the maid of honor – in a dark green dress, with a white flower in her hair. At first, her mom would call Eleanor at the Hickmans’ almost every day after school. After a few months, the calls stopped. It turned out that Richie hadn’t paid the phone bill, and it got disconnected. But Eleanor didn’t know that for a while. ‘We should call the state,’ Mr Hickman kept telling his wife. They thought Eleanor couldn’t hear them, but their bedroom was right over the living room. ‘This can’t go on, Tammy.’ ‘Andy, it’s not her fault.’ ‘I’m not saying it’s her fault, I’m just saying we didn’t sign on for this.’ ‘She’s no trouble.’ ‘She’s not ours.’ Eleanor tried to be even less trouble. She practiced being in a room without leaving any clues that she’d been there. She never turned on the TV or asked to use the phone. She never asked for seconds at dinner. She never asked Tammy and Mr Hickman for anything – and they’d never had a teenager, so it didn’t occur to them that there might be anything she might need. She was glad that they didn’t know her birthday. ‘We thought you were gone,’ Ben said, pushing a car into the dirt. He looked like somebody who didn’t want to cry. ‘Oh ye of little faith,’ Eleanor said, kicking her swing into action. She looked around again for Maisie and found her sitting over where the older boys were playing basketball. Eleanor recognized most of the boys from the bus. That stupid Asian kid was there, jumping higher than she would have guessed he could. He was wearing long black shorts and a T-shirt that said ‘Madness.’ ‘I’m out of here,’ Eleanor told Ben, stepping off the swing and pushing down the top of his head. ‘But not gone or anything. Don’t get your panties in a bunch.’ She walked back into the house and rushed through the kitchen before her mom could say anything. Richie was in the living room. Eleanor walked between him and the TV, eyes straight ahead. She wished she had a jacket. CHAPTER 9 Park He was going to tell her that she did a good job on her poem. That would be a giant understatement anyway. She was the only person in class who’d read her poem like it wasn’t an assignment. She recited it like it was a living thing. Like something she was letting out. You couldn’t look away from her as long as she was talking. (Even more than Park’s usual not being able to look away from her.) When she was done, a lot of people clapped and Mr Stessman hugged her. Which was totally against the Code of Conduct. ‘Hey. Nice job. In English.’ That’s what Park was going to say. Or maybe, ‘I’m in your English class. That poem you read was cool.’ Or, ‘You’re in Mr Stessman’s class, right? Yeah, I thought so.’ Park picked up his comics after taekwando Wednesday night, but he waited until Thursday morning to read them. Eleanor That stupid Asian kid totally knew that she was reading his comics. He even looked up at Eleanor sometimes before he turned the page, like he was that polite. He definitely wasn’t one of them, the bus demons. He didn’t talk to anyone on the bus. (Especially not her.) But he was in with them somehow because, when Eleanor was sitting next to him, they all left her alone. Even Tina. It made Eleanor wish she could sit next to him all day long. This morning, when she got on the bus, it kind of felt like he was waiting for her. He was holding a comic called Watchmen, and it looked so ugly that Eleanor decided not to bother eavesdropping. Or eavesreading. Whatever. (She liked it best when he read X-Men, even though she didn’t get everything that was going on there; X-Men was worse than General Hospital. It took Eleanor a couple weeks to figure out that Scott Summers and Cyclops were the same guy, and she still wasn’t sure what was up with Phoenix.) But Eleanor didn’t have anything else to do, so her eyes wandered over to the ugly comic … And then she was reading. And then they were at school. Which was totally weird because they weren’t even halfway through with it. And which totally sucked because it meant he would read the rest of the comic during school, and have something lame like ROM out on the way home. Except he didn’t. When Eleanor got on the bus that afternoon, the Asian kid opened up Watchmen right where they’d left off. They were still reading it when they got to Eleanor’s stop – there was so much going on, they both stared at every frame for, like, entire minutes – and when she got up to leave, he handed it to her. Eleanor was so surprised, she tried to hand it back, but he’d already turned away. She shoved the comic between her books like it was something secret, then got off the bus. She read it three more times that night, lying on the top bunk, petting the scrubby old cat. Then she put it in her grapefruit box overnight, so that nothing would happen to it. Park What if she didn’t give it back? What if he didn’t get to finish the first issue of Watchmen because he’d lent it to a girl who hadn’t asked for it and probably didn’t even know who Alan Moore was. If she didn’t give it back, they were even. That would cancel out the whole ‘Jesus-fuck-sit-down’ scenario. Jesus … No, it wouldn’t. What if she did give it back? What was he supposed to say then? Thanks? Eleanor When she got to their seat, he was looking out the window. She handed him the comic, and he took it. CHAPTER 10 Eleanor The next morning, when Eleanor got on the bus, there was a stack of comics on her seat. She picked them up and sat down. He was already reading. Eleanor put the comics between her books and stared at the window. For some reason, she didn’t want to read in front of him. It would be like letting him watch her eat. It would be like … admitting something. But she thought about the comics all day, and as soon she got home, she climbed onto her bed and got them out. They were all the same title – Swamp Thing. Eleanor ate dinner sitting cross-legged on her bed, extra careful not to spill anything on the books because every issue was in pristine condition; there wasn’t so much as a bent corner. (Stupid, perfect Asian kid.) That night, after her brothers and sister fell asleep, Eleanor turned the light back on so she could read. They were the loudest sleepers ever. Ben talked in his sleep, and Maisie and the baby both snored. Mouse wet the bed – which didn’t make noise, but still disturbed the general peace. The light didn’t seem to bother them though. Eleanor was only distantly conscious of Richie watching TV in the next room, and she practically fell off the bed when he jerked the bedroom door open. He looked like he expected to catch some middle-of-the-night hijinks, but when he saw that it was only Eleanor and that she was just reading, he grunted and told her to turn out the light so the little kids could sleep. After he shut the door, Eleanor got up and turned off the light. (She could just about get out of bed without stepping on somebody now, which was lucky for them because she was the first one up every morning.) She might have gotten away with leaving the light on, but it wasn’t worth the risk. She didn’t want to have to look at Richie again. He looked exactly like a rat. Like the human-being version of a rat. Like the villain in a Don Bluth movie. Who knew what her mom saw in him; Eleanor’s dad was messed-up-looking, too. Every once in a while – when Richie managed to take a bath, put on decent clothes and stay sober all on the same day – Eleanor could sort of see why her mom might have thought he was handsome. Thank the Lord that didn’t happen very often. When it did, Eleanor felt like going to the bathroom and sticking a finger down her throat. Anyway. Whatever. She could still read. There was enough light coming in from the window. Park She read stuff as fast as he could give it to her. And when she handed it back to him the next morning, she always acted as if she were handing him something fragile. Something precious. You wouldn’t even know that she touched the comics except for the smell. Every book Park lent her came back smelling like perfume. Not like the perfume his mom wore. (Imari.) And not like the new girl; she smelled like vanilla. But she made his comics smell like roses. A whole field of them. She’d read all of his Alan Moore in less than three weeks. Now he was giving her X-Men comics five at a time, and he could tell that she liked them because she wrote the characters’ names on her books, in between band names and song lyrics. 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 Rosaline … 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 blackboard 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 naked. 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 – 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 crazier 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 breasts 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. 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 assaulted 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 breasts 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 rupture 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?’ Cal 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,’ Cal 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,’ Cal 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,’ Cal 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 superpower, 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. 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 sneakers. 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