Eleanor & Park Page 1

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Genres: Young Adult , Romance

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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 f**king does,’ Steve shouted back.

‘Drunken-monkey style, man, it’s a real f**king 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 f**king told you.’

‘What the f**k 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 f**king 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 f**king 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 f**king point?’ Mikey asked.

‘Dude, would you want to fight a drunk monkey? They’re f**king 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: Exer-cise, 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 …

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