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An Abundance of Katherines, Page 14

John Green

Page 14


  “You should go; keep them out of trouble,” Hollis yelled from the couch.

  Without a word, Colin grabbed his book (a biography of Thomas Edison) 55 and headed upstairs to his room, where he lay on his bed and read in peace. Over the next five hours, he finished that book and started one he found on the bookshelf in his room called Foxfire. Foxfire discussed how people did things in the old days of Appalachia.

  The reading quieted his brain a little. Without Katherine and without the Theorem and without his hopes of mattering, he had very little. But he always had books. Books are the ultimate Dumpees: put them down and they’ll wait for you forever; pay attention to them and they always love you back.

  Foxfire had just taught Colin how to skin a raccoon and cure it into a hide when Hassan burst into his room, laughing loudly, with the slow-moving gray furball known as Princess sauntering after him.

  “I’m not going to lie, kafir. I drank half a beer. ”

  Colin scrunched his nose and sniffled. “See, drinking is haram. I told you, you do haram shit all the time. ”

  “Yeah, well, when in Gutshot, do as the Gutshotians do. ”

  “Your religious commitment is an inspiration to us all,” Colin deadpanned.

  “Come on. Don’t make me feel guilty. I split a beer with Lindsey. I didn’t feel anything. It’s really getting drunk that’s haram, not drinking half a beer. Anyway, cruising is fun. It’s amazingly fun. I got to sit in a pickup truck with TOC and JATT and SOCT for about an hour and a half, and they’re really not bad. I think I made them all like me. Plus Katrina, as it turns out, is very nice. And when I say nice, I mean gorgeous. Although it is ridiculous the way everyone hangs on TOC like he’s God’s gift to Gutshot. I guess he’s the quarterback or cornerback or something on the football team, except he just graduated, so I don’t think he’s anything anymore, but apparently being quarterback or cornerback is like being a Marine: it’s a once/always thing. Also when Lindsey is not around, TOC talks about her ass constantly. He has no other topic of conversation. Apparently he spends a lot of his free time grabbing her ass, so that’s a nice image. I never even noticed her ass. ”

  “Me neither,” Colin said. He never really thought to notice butts, unless they were unusually massive.

  “Anyway,” Hassan went on, “so there’s this hunt camp in the woods, and we’re going hunting with them and Lindsey and some guy from the factory. Hunting. With guns! For pigs!”

  Colin had no desire to shoot pigs—or anything else, for that matter. “Um,” Colin said. “I don’t even know how to shoot a gun. ”

  “Yeah, me neither, but how hard can it be? Complete fugging idiots shoot guns all the time. That’s why there are so many dead people. ”

  “Maybe, instead, you and I could just, like, go out in the woods that weekend and hang out. Like build a fire or something and go camping. ”

  “Are you shitting me?”

  “No, it could be fun. Reading by firelight and cooking our own food on the fire and stuff. I know how to build a fire even without a match. I read about it in this book,” Colin said, gesturing to Foxfire.

  “Do I look like an eighth-grade Boy Scout, sitzpinkler? We’ll go out. We’ll have fun. We’ll get up early and drink coffee and hunt pigs and everyone will be drunk and hilarious except for us. ”

  “You can’t make me go with you,” Colin shot back.

  Hassan took a step toward the doorway. “That’s true, sitzpinkler. You don’t have to come. I won’t begrudge you sitting on your ass. God knows I have always loved it. I just feel like a little adventure lately. ”

  Colin felt vaguely like he’d been dumped. He’d tried to come up with a compromise. He did want to hang out with Hassan, but not with those oh-so-cool guys. “I don’t get it,” Colin said. “Do you want to make out with Lindsey or something?”

  Hassan stood up, petting the fluff ball, releasing her pet dander into the air for Colin to sneeze at. “Again with that? No. God. I don’t want to date anyone. I see what it’s done to you. As you well know, I believe in saving Thunderstick for one very special lady. ”

  “Also, you believe in not drinking. ”

  “Touché, mon ami. Too fugging shay. ”

  The Middle (of the Middle )

  The biggest study of highly gifted children ever undertaken was the brain-child (as it were) of one Lewis Terman, a psychologist in California. With the help of teachers around the state, Terman chose some seven thousand gifted children, who have now been followed for almost sixty years. Not all the kids were prodigies, of course—their IQs ranged from 145 to 190, and Colin, by comparison, had an IQ that sometimes measured above 200—but they represented many of the best and brightest children of that generation of Americans. The results were somewhat startling: the highly gifted kids in the study weren’t much more likely to become prominent intellectuals than normal kids. Most of the children in the study became successful enough—bankers and doctors and lawyers and college professors—but almost none of them turned out to be real geniuses, and there was little correlation between a really high IQ and making a significant contribution to the world. Terman’s gifted children, in short, rarely ended up being as special as they initially promised to be.

  Take, for instance, the curious case of George Hodel. With one of the highest IQs in the study, one might have expected Hodel to discover the structure of DNA or something. Instead, he was a fairly successful doctor in California who later lived in Asia. He never became a genius, but Hodel did manage to become infamous: he was quite probably a serial killer. 56 So much for the benefits of prodigy.

  As a sociologist, Colin’s dad studied people, and he had a theory on how to transform a prodigy into a grown-up genius. He believed Colin’s development ought to involve a delicate interplay between what he called “active, results-oriented parenting” and Colin’s natural predisposition to studying. This basically meant letting Colin study and setting “markers,” which were exactly like goals except they were called markers. Colin’s father believed that this kind of prodigy—born and then made smarter by the right environment and education—could become a considerable genius, remembered forever. He told Colin this sometimes, when Colin would come home from school sullen, tired of the Abdominal Snowman, tired of pretending that his abject friendlessness didn’t bother him.

  “But you’ll win,” his dad would say. “You have to imagine that, Colin, that one day they will all look back on their lives and wish they’d been you. You’ll have what everyone else wants in the end. ”

  But it did not take until the end. It took until KranialKidz.

  At the tail end of Christmas break his junior year, Colin received a call from a cable station he’d never heard of called CreaTVity. He didn’t watch much TV, but it wouldn’t have mattered, because no one had heard of CreaTVity. They’d gotten his number from Krazy Keith, who they’d contacted because of his scholarly articles about prodigy. They wanted Colin on their game show. His parents disapproved, but their “active, results-oriented” parenting meant that they gave Colin a measure of freedom to make his own decisions. And he wanted to go on the show, because (a) the ten-thousand-dollar first prize was a lot of money, and (b) he would be on television, and (c) 10K is a lot of money.

  They gave Colin a makeover when he arrived for the first taping, turning him into the cool, snide, troublemaking prodigy. They bought him glasses with rectangular wire rims and caked his hair with endless product so that he had a kind of curly, mussy’do like the coolest kids at school. They gave him five outfits—including a pair of designer jeans, which hugged his ass like they were a needy boyfriend, and a T-shirt that read, in a hand-printed scrawl: SLACKER. And then they taped all six preliminary rounds of the show in one day, pausing to change the prodigies into new outfits. Colin won all six rounds, leaving him ready for the finals. His opponent there was Karen Aronson, a towheaded twelve-year-old kid studying for her PhD in math. Karen had been cast as the adorabl
e one. In the week between the first tapings and the final, Colin wore his new trendy kid button-downs and his designer jeans to school, and people asked him, Are you really going to be on TV? And then a cool kid named Herbie57 told Hassan that this girl Marie Caravolli liked Colin. And since Colin had, not too long before, been dumped by Katherine XVIII, Colin asked Marie out on a date, because Marie, a perennially tan Italian beauty who would have won Homecoming Queen if the Kalman School did that kind of thing, was the hottest girl he had ever, or would ever, come across. Let alone talk to. Let alone date. He’d wanted to keep his Katherine streak alive, of course. But Marie Caravolli was the kind of girl you break streaks for.

  And that’s when the funny thing happened. He got off the train after school on the day of his date; everything was perfectly planned. He had just enough time to walk home, clean all the fast-food wrappers and soda cans out of the Hearse, take a shower, buy some flowers from the White Hen, and pick up Marie. But when he turned onto his street, he saw Katherine I sitting on the steps outside his house. As he squinted at her, watching her pull her knees up almost to her chin, he realized he’d never seen Katherine without Krazy Keith.

  “Is everything okay?” Colin asked as he approached.

  “Oh yeah,” she said. “I’m sorry to drop by unannounced. It’s just I’ve got this French test?” she said as if it were a question. “Tomorrow? And I don’t want my dad to know what a dumbass I am in French and so I thought maybe—I tried to call, but I don’t have your cell number. So anyway, I figured that since I know a world-famous TV quiz show star, I could maybe get tutoring from him. ” She smiled.

  “Um,” Colin said. And in the next few seconds, he tried to work out what it would really be like to date Marie. Colin had always been jealous of people, like Hassan, who just know how to make friends. But the risk of being able to win over anyone, he found himself thinking, was that you might pick the wrong people.

  He imagined the best possible scenario: Marie actually, improbably, ends up liking him, whereupon Colin and Hassan vault up the social ladder and get to eat lunch at a different table, and get invited to some parties. Now, Colin had seen enough movies to know what happens when dorks go to cool-kid parties: generally, the dorks either get thrown into the pool58 or they become drunk, vacuous cool kids themselves. Neither seemed like a good option. Also there was the fact that Colin did not, technically, like Marie. He didn’t even know her.

  “Hold on,” he told Katherine I. And then he called Marie. She’d given him the number earlier that very day, during their second-ever conversation, 59 a remarkable fact considering they’d attended the same school together for nearly a decade. “I’m really sorry,” he said. “But I’ve got a family emergency. . . . Yeah, no, my uncle is in the hospital, and we have to go see him. . . . Well, yeah, I’m sure he’ll be fine. . . . Okay. Cool. Sorry, again. ”

  And so it came to pass that the only time Colin came anywhere close to ever dumping anyone, it was Marie Caravolli, who everyone agreed was the most attractive individual in American history. Instead, he tutored Katherine I. And one session turned into one each week, and then into two each week, and by the next month, she came over to his house with Krazy Keith to watch, with Colin’s parents and Hassan, as Colin annihilated a poor sap named Sanjiv Reddy in the first episode of KranialKidz. Later that night, after Hassan had gone home, while Krazy Keith and Colin’s parents were drinking red wine, Colin and Katherine Carter snuck out of the house to have a cup of coffee at Café Sel Marie.


  The folloWing Thursday, Colin woke up to the sounds of the rooster mixing with Hassan’s prayers. Colin rolled out of bed, pulled on a T-shirt, peed, and then entered Hassan’s room through the bathroom. Hassan was back in bed, his eyes closed.

  “Is there a way you could pray less loudly? I mean, shouldn’t God be able to hear you even if you whisper?” he asked.

  “I’m calling in sick,” Hassan said without opening his eyes. “I think I have a sinus infection, and also I need a day off. Jesus. This working business is all right, but I need to sit in my boxers and watch Judge Judy. Do you realize that I haven’t seen Judge Judy in, like, twelve days? Imagine if you were separated from the love of your life for twelve days. ” With his lips pursed, Colin stared at Hassan silently. Hassan blinked open his eyes. “Oh. Right. Sorry. ”

  “You can’t call in sick. Your boss works here. In the house. She’ll know you’re not sick. ”

  “She spends Thursdays at the factory, dumbass. You need to pay better attention. It’s the perfect day to call in sick. I just need to charge the emotional batteries. ”

  “You’ve been charging the batteries all year! You haven’t done anything in twelve months!”

  Hassan smirked. “Don’t you have to go to work or something?”

  “At least call your mom and tell her to send a deposit to Loyola. The deposit deadline is in four weeks. I looked online for you. ”

  Hassan didn’t open his eyes. “I’m trying to think of a word. God, it’s right on the tip of my tongue. Duh—doo—dii. Oh. Right. Dingleberries, motherfugger. Dingle. Berries. ”

  When Colin got downstairs, he saw that Hollis was up already—or maybe she’d just stayed up all night—and dressed in a pink pantsuit.

  “Beautiful day in the country,” she said. “High’s only 83 today. But Lord, I sure am glad Thursday only comes around once a week. ”

  When Colin sat down beside her at the dining room table, he asked, “What do you do on Thursdays?”