She looked down at the turntable, at her own reflection in the tinted acrylic lid. She looked like a fat-faced ghost. She closed her eyes.
'Why do you even like me?'
He opened his eyes.
He sat up, stood up, started pacing around his small room. He went to stand by the window - the one that faced her house, even though it was a block away and she wasn't home - holding the base of the car phone against his stomach.
She'd asked him to explain something he couldn't even explain to himself.
'I don't like you,' he said. 'I need you.'
He waited for her to cut him down. To say 'Ha' or 'God' or 'You sound like a Bread song.'
But she was quiet.
He crawled back onto the bed, not caring whether she heard it swish. 'You can ask me why I need you,' he whispered. He didn't even have to whisper. On the phone, in the dark, he just had to move his lips and breathe. 'But I don't know. I just know that I do ...
'I miss you, Eleanor. I want to be with you all the time. You're the smartest girl I've ever met, and the funniest, and everything you do surprises me. And I wish I could say that those are the reasons I like you, because that would make me sound like a really evolved human being ...
'But I think it's got as much to do with your hair being red and your hands being soft ... and the fact that you smell like homemade birthday cake.'
He waited for her to say something. She didn't.
Someone knocked softly on his door.
'Just a second,' he whispered into the phone.
'Yeah?' he said.
His mom opened his door, just enough to push her head through. 'Not too late,' she said.
'Not too late,' he said. She smiled and shut the door.
'I'm back,' he said. 'Are you there?'
'I'm here,' Eleanor said.
'I don't know what to say.'
'Say something, so that I don't feel so stupid.'
'Don't feel stupid, Park,' she said.
They were both quiet.
'Ask me why I like you,' she finally said.
He felt himself smile. He felt like something warm had spilled in his chest.
'Eleanor,' he said, just because he liked saying it, 'why do you like me?'
'I don't like you.'
He waited. And waited ...
Then he started to laugh. 'You're kind of mean,' he said.
'Don't laugh. It just encourages me.'
He could hear that she was smiling, too. He could picture her. Smiling.
'I don't like you, Park,' she said again. 'I ...'
She stopped. 'I can't do this.'
'So far, just for me.' \
'I'm afraid I'll say too much,' she said.
'I'm afraid I'll tell you the truth.'
'You don't like me ...' he said, leading her, pressing the base of the phone into his lowest rib.
'I don't like you, Park,' she said, sounding for a second like she actually meant it.
'I ...' -her voice nearly disappeared- 'sometimes I think I live for you.'
He closed his eyes and arched his head back into his pillow.
'I don't think I even breathe when we're not together,' she whispered. 'Which means, when I see you on Monday morning, it's been like sixty hours since I've taken a breath. That's probably why I'm so crabby, and why I snap at you. All I do when we're apart is think about you, and all I do when we're together is panic. Because every second feels so important. And because I'm so out of control, I can't help myself. I'm not even mine anymore, I'm yours, and what if you decide that you don't want me? How could you want me like I want you?'
He was quiet. He wanted everything she'd just said to be the last thing he heard.
He wanted to fall asleep with 'I want you' in his ears.
About the book:
Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds Eleanor & Park--who are smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but are brave and desperate enough to try.
Snippet from The Underground Railroad
- Colson Whitehead
Snippet from Fathers and Sons
- Ivan Turgenev