Eleanor & Park(8)By: Rainbow Rowell
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.’
‘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.’
‘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.
‘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.
‘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.