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An Abundance of Katherines, Page 16

John Green

Page 16

 

  “Jolene, what’d you just say?”

  “I was telling Helen that your mama is selling two hundred acres of land up Bishops Hill to my boy Marcus. ”

  “Hollis is selling land on Bishops Hill?”

  “That’s right. To Marcus. I think Marcus wants to build himself some houses up there, build a little—I don’t remember what he calls it. ”

  Lindsey half-closed her eyes and sighed. “A subdivision?” she asked.

  “That’s right. Subdivision. Up there on the hill, I guess. Nice views, anyway. ”

  Lindsey became quiet after that, her big eyes staring off into the distance at the fields behind the nursing home. Colin sat there and listened to the old folks talking, and then finally Lindsey grabbed his arm just above the elbow and said, “We should get going. ”

  As soon as the Hearse’s doors were shut, Lindsey mumbled as if to herself, “Mom would never sell land. Never. Why is she doing that?” It occurred to Colin that he’d never before heard Lindsey refer to Hollis as Mom. “Why would she sell land to that guy?”

  “Maybe she needs money,” Colin offered.

  “She needs money like I need a goddamned hole in my head. My great-grandfather built that factory. Dr. Fred N. Dinzanfar. We aren’t hurting for money, I promise you. ”

  “Was he Arab?”

  “What?”

  “Dinzanfar. ”

  “No, he wasn’t Arab. He was from Germany or something. Anyway, he spoke German—so does Hollis, that’s how I know it. Why do you always ask such ridiculous questions?”

  “Jeez. Sorry. ”

  “Oh, whatever, I’m just confused. Who cares. On to other things. It’s fun hanging out with the oldsters, isn’t it? You wouldn’t think it, but they’re cool as hell. I used to visit those people at their houses—most of them weren’t in the Home then—almost every day. I’d just go from house to house, getting fed and getting hugged on. Those were the pre-friend days. ”

  “They certainly seemed to adore you,” Colin said.

  “Me? The ladies couldn’t talk about anything but how hot you were. You’re missing a whole demographic of Katherines by not chasing the over-eighty market. ”

  “It’s funny how they thought we were dating,” Colin said, glancing over at her.

  “How’s that funny?” she asked, holding his gaze.

  “Um,” he said. Distracted from the road, Colin watched as she gave him the slightest version of her inimitable smile.

  thirteen

  That Sunday, Hassan went “cruising” with Lindsey and Katrina and TOC and JATT and SOCT. The next night, he went cruising again, and came home after midnight to find Colin working on his Theorem, which now worked seventeen of nineteen times. He still couldn’t get it to work for either Katherine III or, more importantly, Katherine XIX.

  “’Sup?” asked Hassan.

  “Sup is not a word,” answered Colin without looking up.

  “You’re like sunshine on a cloudy day, Singleton. When it’s cold outside, you’re the month of May. ”

  “I’m working,” Colin said. He couldn’t quite pinpoint when Hassan had started to become like everyone else on the planet, but it was clearly happening, and it was clearly annoying.

  “I kissed Katrina,” Hassan said. And then Colin put his pencil down and turned around in his chair and said, “You whated who?”

  “Whated isn’t a word,” mimicked Hassan.

  “On the lips?”

  “No, dumbass, on her pupillary sphincter. Yes, on the lips. ”

  “Why?”

  “We were sitting in the back of Colin’s truck and we were spinning this beer bottle, but it was bumpy as hell because we were riding up to this place in the woods. And so someone would spin the beer bottle, and it’d fly way the hell up and land on the other side of the truck bed, so no one was kissing anyone. So I figured it was safe to play, right? But then I spin the bottle and I swear to God it just spun in the tightest little circle even though we were still going over these bumps—I mean, only God could have kept that bottle from jumping up into the air—and then it stopped right in front of Katrina, and she said, ‘Lucky me,’ and she wasn’t even being sarcastic, kafir! She was serious. And she leaned across the truck and we hit a bump and she just sort of landed in my arms, and then she made a beeline for my mouth and, I swear to God, her tongue was like licking my teeth. ” Colin just stared, incredulous. He wondered whether Hassan was making it up. “It was, uh, weird and wet and messy—but fun, I guess. The best part was having my hand on her face, and looking down at her and seeing her eyes closed. I guess she’s a chubby chaser or something. Anyway, I’m taking her to the Taco Hell tomorrow night. She’s picking me up. That’s how I roll, baby. ” Hassan smirked. “The ladies come to Big Daddy, ’cause Big Daddy ain’t got no car. ”

  “You’re serious,” said Colin.

  “I’m serious. ”

  “Wait, you think the bottle staying still in the truck was a miracle?” Hassan nodded. Colin tapped his pencil eraser against the desk, and then stood up. “And God wouldn’t lead you to kiss a girl unless you were supposed to marry her, so God wants you to marry the girl who believed I was a Frenchman suffering from hemorrhoidal Tourette’s?”

  “Don’t be an asshole,” said Hassan, almost threateningly.

  “I’m just surprised that Mr. High and Mighty Religious is fugging around with girls in the back of a pickup truck, that’s all. You were probably drinking shitty beer and wearing a football jersey. ”

  “What the fug, dude? I kissed a girl. Finally. A really hot, really sweet girl. Dingleberries. Stop pushing it. ”

  Colin didn’t know why, but he felt compelled to keep pushing it. “Whatever. I just can’t believe you made out with Katrina. Is she just not as dumb and ditzy as she seemed that day?”

  And then Hassan reached out and grabbed a handful of Colin’s Jew-fro. He pulled Colin across the room by the hair, and then pushed him up against the wall. Hassan’s jaw was clenched tight as he pressed into Colin’s solar plexus, the precise location of the hole in Colin’s gut. “I said dingleberries, kafir. You will respect the goddamned dingleberries. Now I’m going to bed before we get into a fight. And you want to know why I don’t want to fight you? Because I’d lose. ” Still joking, Colin thought. He’s always joking, even when he’s furious. And as Hassan made his way through the bathroom toward his room, and Colin sat back down to work at the Theorem, Colin’s face was bright and wet, the tears coming from frustration. Colin hated not being able to accomplish his “markers. ” He’d hated it since he was four and his dad set learning the Latin conjugations for twenty-five irregular verbs as a “daily marker,” but by the end of the day, Colin only knew twenty-three. His dad didn’t chastise him, but Colin knew he’d failed. And now the markers were more complicated, maybe, but they were still pretty simple: he wanted a best friend, a Katherine, and a Theorem. And after almost three weeks in Gutshot, it seemed he was becoming worse off than when he’d started.

  Hassan and Colin managed not to speak the next morning—not once, and it was clear to Colin that Hassan still felt just as pissed off as Colin did. Colin watched in a lock-jawed silence as Hassan furiously stabbed at his breakfast, and later as Hassan slammed the mini-recorder down on the coffee table of some factory retiree who was old-but-not-old-enough-for-the-nursing home. Colin could hear the annoyance in Hassan’s voice as he asked, in the monotone of the aggressively bored, what life had been like in Gutshot when the oldster was a kid. By now, it seemed, they’d run through the best storytellers and were left with people who took five minutes deciding whether they visited Asheville, North Carolina, in June or July of 1961. Colin still paid attention—it was, after all, what he did—but much of his brainpower was elsewhere. Mostly, he cataloged all the times Hassan had been an ass to him, all the times he’d been the butt of Hassan’s joke s, all the snide little comments Hassan had made about his Katherining. And now that Hassan was Katrini
ng, he’d become the kind of guy who cruises, leaving Colin behind.

  Lindsey skipped that day to hang out with TOC at the store. So it was just Colin and Hassan and one single oldster who monopolized their entire day. Although the old man talked for seven hours almost without ceasing, Colin’s world felt eerily quiet until he finally gave in as they left the old man’s house to go pick up Lindsey.

  “This sounds trite, but I just think you’ve changed,” Colin said as they walked down the oldster’s driveway. “And I’m tired of you hanging out with me only so you can make fun of me. ” Hassan said nothing in response, just climbed into the passenger seat and slammed the door shut. Colin got in and started the car, and then Hassan lost it.

  “Has it ever crossed your mind, you ungrateful asshole, that when I was mopping up after all your breakups, when I was picking your sorry ass off the floor of your bedroom, when I was listening to your endless rantings and ravings about every fugging girl who ever gave you the time of day, that maybe I was actually doing it for you and not because I’m oh-so desperate to learn of the newest dumping in your life? What problems have you listened to of mine, dillhole? Have you ever sat with me for hours and listened to me whine about being a fat fugger whose best friend ditches him every time a Katherine comes along? Has it ever occurred to you even for the briefest goddamn moment that my life might be as bad as yours? Imagine if you weren’t a fugging genius and you were lonely and nobody ever listened to you. So yeah. Kill me. I kissed a girl. And I came home with that story psyched to tell you because I’ve finally got a story of my own after four years of listening to yours. And you’re such a self-involved asshole that you can’t for one fugging second realize that my life doesn’t spin around the star of Colin Singleton. ” Hassan paused for breath, and Colin mentioned the thing that had been bugging him most all day.

  “You called him Colin,” said Colin.

  “Do you know what your problem is?” Hassan went on, not listening. “You can’t live with the idea that someone might leave. So instead of being happy for me, like any normal person, you’re pissed off because ooh, oh no, Hassan doesn’t like me anymore. You’re such a sitzpinkler. You’re so goddamned scared of the idea that someone might dump you that your whole fugging life is built around not getting left behind. Well, it doesn’t work, kafir. It just—it’s not just dumb, it’s ineffective. Because then you’re not being a good friend or a good boyfriend or whatever, because you’re only thinking they-might-not-like-me-they-might-not-like-me, and guess what? When you act like that, no one likes you. There’s your goddamned Theorem. ”

  “You called him Colin,” repeated Colin, his voice catching now.

  “Called who Colin?”

  “TOC. ”

  “No. ”

  Colin nodded.

  “Did I?”

  Colin nodded.

  “You’re sure? Right, of course you’re sure. Huh. Well, I’m sorry. That was an asshole move on my part. ”

  Colin turned into the store’s parking lot and stopped the car, but made no move to get out. “I know you’re right. I mean, about me being a self-centered asshole. ”

  “Well, it’s only sometimes. But still. Just stop. ”

  “I don’t really know how,” he said. “How do you just stop being terrified of getting left behind and ending up by yourself forever and not meaning anything to the world?”

  “You’re pretty fugging smart,” Hassan answered. “I’m sure you can figure something out. ”

  “It’s great,” Colin said after a while. “About Katrina, I mean. You fugging kissed a girl. A girl. I mean, I always sort of thought you were gay,” Colin acknowledged.

  “I might be gay if I had a better-looking best friend,” said Hassan.

  “And I might be gay if I could locate your penis under the fat rolls. ”

  “Bitch, I could gain five hundred pounds and you could still see Thunderstick hanging to my knees. ”

  Colin smiled. “She’s a lucky girl. ”

  “Too bad she’ll never know just how lucky unless we get married. ”

  And then Colin was back on the subject. “You are sort of a dick to me sometimes. It would be easier if you acted like you actually didn’t hate me. ”

  “Dude. Do you want me to sit here and say that you’re my best friend and I love you and you’re such a genius that I just want to cuddle up to you at night? Because I’m just not going to. That’s sitzpinklery. But I do think you’re a genius. No shit. I honestly do. I think you can do whatever the fug you want to do in your life, and that’s a pretty sweet gig. ”

  “Thanks,” said Colin, and then they got out of the car, and they met in front of the hood, and Colin held his arms out a little, and Hassan shoved him playfully, and then they hustled into the store.

  TOC was restocking some beef jerky sticks while Lindsey sat on the stool behind the counter reading a celebrity magazine, her bare feet up on the counter beside the cash register.

  “Hey,” TOC said. “Heard you got a date tonight, big guy. ”

  “Yeah, and it’s all thanks to your excellent driving. If you’d missed that pothole, she never would have ended up in my arms. ”

  “Well, you’re welcome. She’s a hottie, ain’t she?”

  “Hey!” said Lindsey without looking up from her magazine. “I’m the hottie!”

  “Oh, baby, hush,” TOC said.

  “So, Colin,” said TOC. “Hass says you aren’t much for cruising, but you gotta come out hunting with us next weekend. ”