Eleanor & Park(3)By: Rainbow Rowell
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.
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.