Looking for alaska, p.8
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       Looking for Alaska, p.8
 

           John Green
Page 8

 

  I made my way to Classroom 4 right after my last class—forty minutes early, just to be safe. I sat in the hall with my back against the wall and read my American history textbook (kind of remedial reading for me, to be honest) until Alaska showed up and sat down next to me. She was chewing on her bottom lip, and I asked whether she was nervous.

  “Well, yeah. Listen, just sit tight and don’t talk,” she told me. “You don’t need to be nervous. But this is the seventh time I’ve been caught smoking. I just don’t want—whatever. I don’t want to upset my dad. ”

  “Does your mom smoke or something?” I asked.

  “Not anymore,” Alaska said. “It’s fine. You’ll be fine. ”

  I didn’t start to worry until it got to be 4:50 and the Colonel and Takumi were still unaccounted for. The members of the Jury filed in one by one, walking past us without any eye contact, which made me feel worse. I counted all twelve by 4:56, plus the Eagle.

  At 4:58, the Colonel and Takumi rounded the corner toward the classrooms.

  I never saw anything like it. Takumi wore a starched white shirt with a red tie with a black paisley print; the Colonel wore his wrinkled pink button-down and flamingo tie. They walked in step, heads up and shoulders back, like some kind of action-movie heroes.

  I heard Alaska sigh. “The Colonel’s doing his Napoleon walk. ”

  “It’s all good,” the Colonel told me. “Just don’t say anything. ”

  We walked in—two of us wearing ties, and two of us wearing ratty T-shirts—and the Eagle banged an honest-to-God gavel against the podium in front of him. The Jury sat in a line behind a rectangular table. At the front of the room, by the blackboard, were four chairs. We sat down, and the Colonel explained exactly what happened.

  “Alaska and I were smoking down by the lake. We usually go off campus, but we forgot. We’re sorry. It won’t happen again. ”

  I didn’t know what was going on. But I knew my job: sit tight and shut up. One of the kids looked at Takumi and asked, “What about you and Halter?”

  “We were keeping them company,” Takumi said calmly.

  The kid turned to the Eagle then and asked, “Did you see anyone smoking?”

  “I only saw Alaska, but Chip ran away, which struck me as cowardly, as does Miles and Takumi’s aw-shucks routine,” the Eagle said, giving me the Look of Doom. I didn’t want to look guilty, but I couldn’t hold his stare, so I just looked down at my hands.

  The Colonel gritted his teeth, like it pained him to lie. “It is the truth, sir. ”

  The Eagle asked if any of us wanted to say anything, and then asked if there were any more questions, and then sent us outside.

  “What the hell was that?” I asked Takumi when we got outside.

  “Just sit tight, Pudge. ”

  Why have Alaska confess when she’d already been in trouble so many times? Why the Colonel, who literally couldn’t afford to get in serious trouble? Why not me? I’d never been busted for anything. I had the least to lose. After a couple minutes, the Eagle came out and motioned for us to come back inside.

  “Alaska and Chip,” a member of the Jury said, “you get ten work hours—doing dishes in the cafeteria—and you’re both officially one problem away from a phone call home. Takumi and Miles, there’s nothing in the rules about watching someone smoke, but the Jury will remember your story if you break the rules again. Fair?”

  “Fair,” Alaska said quickly, obviously relieved. On my way out, the Eagle spun me around. “Don’t abuse your privileges at this school, young man, or you will regret it. ” I nodded.

  eighty-nine days before

  “WE FOUND YOU A GIRLFRIEND,” Alaska said to me. Still, no one had explained to me what happened the week before with the Jury. It didn’t seem to have affected Alaska, though, who was 1. in our room after dark with the door closed, and 2. smoking a cigarette as she sat on the mostly foam couch. She had stuffed a towel into the bottom of our door and insisted it was safe, but I worried—about the cigarette and the “girlfriend. ”

  “All I have to do now,” she said, “is convince you to like her and convince her to like you. ”

  “Monumental tasks,” the Colonel pointed out. He lay on the top bunk, reading for his English class. Moby-Dick.

  “How can you read and talk at the same time?” I asked.

  “Well, I usually can’t, but neither the book nor the conversation is particularly intellectually challenging. ”

  “I like that book,” Alaska said.

  “Yes. ” The Colonel smiled and leaned over to look at her from his top bunk. “You would. Big white whale is a metaphor for everything. You live for pretentious metaphors. ”

  Alaska was unfazed. “So, Pudge, what’s your feeling on the former Soviet bloc?”

  “Um. I’m in favor of it?”

  She flicked the ashes of her cigarette into my pencil holder. I almost protested, but why bother. “You know that girl in our precalc class,” Alaska said, “soft voice, says thees, not this. Know that girl?”

  “Yeah. Lara. She sat on my lap on the way to McDonald’s. ”

  “Right. I know. And she liked you. You thought she was quietly discussing precalc, when she was clearly talking about having hot sex with you. Which is why you need me. ”

  “She has great breasts,” the Colonel said without looking up from the whale.

  “DO NOT OBJECTIFY WOMEN’S BODIES!” Alaska shouted.

  Now he looked up. “Sorry. Perky breasts. ”

  “That’s not any better!”

  “Sure it is,” he said. “Great is a judgment on a woman’s body. Perky is merely an observation. They are perky. I mean, Christ. ”

  “You’re hopeless,” she said. “So she thinks you’re cute, Pudge. ”

  “Nice. ”

  “Doesn’t mean anything. Problem with you is that if you talk to her you’ll ‘uh um uh’ your way to disaster. ”

  “Don’t be so hard on him,” the Colonel interrupted, as if he was my mom. “God, I understand whale anatomy. Can we move on now, Herman?”

  “So Jake is going to be in Birmingham this weekend, and we’re going on a triple date. Well, triple and a half, since Takumi will be there, too. Very low pressure. You won’t be able to screw up, because I’ll be there the whole time. ”

  “Okay. ”

  “Who’s my date?” the Colonel asked.

  “Your girlfriend is your date. ”

  “All right,” he said, and then deadpanned, “but we don’t get along very well. ”

  “So Friday? Do you have plans for Friday?” And then I laughed, because the Colonel and I didn’t have plans for this Friday, or for any other Friday for the rest of our lives.

  “I didn’t think so. ” She smiled. “Now, we gotta go do dishes in the cafeteria, Chipper. God, the sacrifices I make. ”

  eighty-seven days before

  OUR TRIPLE-AND-A-HALF DATE started off well enough. I was in Alaska’s room—for the sake of getting me a girlfriend, she’d agreed to iron a green button-down shirt for me—when Jake showed up. With blond hair to his shoulders, dark stubble on his cheeks, and the kind of faux-ruggedness that gets you a career as a catalog model, Jake was every bit as good-looking as you’d expect Alaska’s boyfriend to be. She jumped onto him and wrapped her legs around him (God forbid anyone ever does that to me, I thought. I’ll fall over). I’d heard Alaska talk about kissing, but I’d never seen her kiss until then: As he held her by her waist, she leaned forward, her pouty lips parted, her head just slightly tilted, and enveloped his mouth with such passion that I felt I should look away but couldn’t. A good while later, she untangled herself from Jake and introduced me.

  “This is Pudge,” she said. Jake and I shook hands.

  “I’ve heard a lot about ya. ” He spoke with a slight Southern accent, one of the few I’d heard outside of McDonald’s. “I hope your date works out tonight, ’cause I wouldn’t want you stealin’ Alaska out from u
nder me. ”

  “God, you’re so adorable,” Alaska said before I could answer, kissing him again. “I’m sorry. ” She laughed. “I just can’t seem to stop kissing my boyfriend. ”

  I put on my freshly starched green shirt, and the three of us gathered up the Colonel, Sara, Lara, and Takumi and then walked to the gym to watch the Culver Creek Nothings take on Harsden Academy, a private day school in Mountain Brook, Birmingham’s richest suburb. The Colonel’s hatred for Harsden burned with the fire of a thousand suns. “The only thing I hate more than rich people,” he told me as we walked to the gym, “is stupid people. And all the kids at Harsden are rich, and they’re all too stupid to get into the Creek. ”

  Since we were supposed to be on a date and all, I thought I’d sit next to Lara at the game, but as I tried to walk past a seated Alaska on my way to Lara, Alaska shot me a look and patted the empty spot next to her on the bleachers.

  “I’m not allowed to sit next to my date?” I asked.

  “Pudge, one of us has been a girl her whole life. The other of us has never gotten to second base. If I were you, I’d sit down, look cute, and be your pleasantly aloof self. ”

  “Okay. Whatever you say. ”

  Jake said, “That’s pretty much my strategy for pleasing Alaska. ”

  “Aww,” she said, “so sweet! Pudge, did I tell you that Jake is recording an album with his band? They’re fantastic. They’re like Radiohead meets the Flaming Lips. Did I tell you that I came up with their name, Hickman Territory?” And then, realizing she was being silly: “Did I tell you that Jake is hung like a horse and a beautiful, sensual lover?”

  “Baby, Jesus. ” Jake smiled. “Not in front of the kids. ”

  I wanted to hate Jake, of course, but as I watched them together, smiling and fumbling all over each other, I didn’t hate him. I wanted to be him, sure, but I tried to remember I was ostensibly on a date with someone else.

  Harsden Academy’s star player was a six-foot-seven Goliath named Travis Eastman that everyone—even his mother, I suspect—called the Beast. The first time the Beast got to the free-throw line, the Colonel could not keep himself from swearing while he taunted:

  “You owe everything to your daddy, you stupid redneck bastard. ”

  The Beast turned around and glared, and the Colonel almost got kicked out after the first free throw, but he smiled at the ref and said, “Sorry!”

  “I want to stay around for a good part of this one,” he said to me.

  At the start of the second half, with the Creek down by a surprisingly slim margin of twenty-four points and the Beast at the foul line, the Colonel looked at Takumi and said, “It’s time. ” Takumi and the Colonel stood up as the crowd went, “Shhh . . . ”

  “I don’t know if this is the best time to tell you this,” the Colonel shouted at the Beast, “but Takumi here hooked up with your girlfriend just before the game. ”

  That made everyone laugh—except the Beast, who turned from the free throw line and walked calmly, with the ball, toward us.

  “I think we run now,” Takumi said.

  “I haven’t gotten kicked out,” the Colonel answered.

  “Later,” Takumi said.

  I don’t know whether it was the general anxiety of being on a date (albeit one with my would-be date sitting five people away from me) or the specific anxiety of having the Beast stare in my direction, but for some reason, I took off running after Takumi. I thought we were in the clear as we began to round the corner of the bleachers, but then I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a cylindrical orange object getting bigger and bigger, like a fast-approaching sun.

  I thought: I think that is going to hit me.

  I thought: I should duck.

  But in the time between when something gets thought and when it gets done, the ball hit me square across the side of the face. I fell, the back of my head slamming against the gym floor. I then stood up immediately, as if unhurt, and left the gym.

  Pride had gotten me off the floor of the gym, but as soon as I was outside, I sat down.

  “I am concussed,” I announced, entirely sure of my self-diagnosis.

  “You’re fine,” Takumi said as he jogged back toward me. “Let’s get out of here before we’re killed. ”

  “I’m sorry,” I said. “But I can’t get up. I have suffered a mild concussion. ”

  Lara ran out and sat down next to me.

  “Are you okay?”

  “I am concussed,” I said.

  Takumi sat down with me and looked me in the eye. “Do you know what happened to you?”

  “The Beast got me. ”

  “Do you know where you are?”

  “I’m on a triple-and-a-half date. ”

  “You’re fine,” Takumi said. “Let’s go. ”

  And then I leaned forward and threw up onto Lara’s pants. I can’t say why I didn’t lean backward or to the side. I leaned forward and aimed my mouth toward her jeans—a nice, butt-flattering pair of jeans, the kind of pants a girl wears when she wants to look nice but not look like she is trying to look nice—and I threw up all over them.

  Mostly peanut butter, but also clearly some corn.

  “Oh!” she said, surprised and slightly horrified.

  “Oh God,” I said. “I’m so sorry. ”

  “I think you might have a concussion,” Takumi said, as if the idea had never been suggested.

  “I am suffering from the nausea and dizziness typically associated with a mild concussion,” I recited. While Takumi went to get the Eagle and Lara changed pants, I lay on the concrete sidewalk. The Eagle came back with the school nurse, who diagnosed me with—get this—a concussion, and then Takumi drove me to the hospital with Lara riding shotgun. Apparently I lay in the back and slowly repeated the words “The. Symptoms. Generally. Associated. With. Concussion. ”

 
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