An Abundance of Katherines, Page 18John Green
“You were very cute then, you know,” she said. She blew on the coffee through pursed lips. “I remember thinking that. You were dork chic before dork chic was chic. ”
“I’m leaning toward explanation 3 at the moment. ” He smiled. Dishes clattered around them. The place was crowded. He could see into the kitchen, where their waiter was smoking a long, thin cigarette.
“I think maybe you try to be odd on purpose. I think you like that. It makes you you and not someone else. ”
“You sound like your father,” he said, referencing Krazy Keith.
“I’ve found you insanely attractive since I saw you when I was freaking out about my French test,” she answered. She didn’t blink, didn’t let go of his stare. Those eyes as blue as the sky ought to be. And then she smiled. “Do I sound like my father now?”
“Yeah, weirdly enough. He also sucks at French. ” She laughed. Colin saw the waiter put out his cigarette, and then he came over to their table and asked if they wanted anything more. Katherine I said no, and then she turned to Colin and said, “Do you know anything about Pythagoras?”
And Colin said, “I know his Theorem. ”
And she said, “No, I mean the guy. He was weird. He thought everything could be expressed numerically, that—like—math could unlock the world. I mean, everything. ”
“What, like, even love?” Colin asked, only vaguely annoyed that she knew something he didn’t.
“Particularly love,” Katherine I said. “And you’ve taught me enough French for me to say: 10-5 space 16-5-14-19-5 space 17-21-5 space 10-5 space 20-1-9-13-5. ” For a long moment Colin stared at her wordlessly. He cracked the code pretty quickly, but he stayed silent, trying to figure out when she’d come up with it, when she’d memorized it. Even he couldn’t have translated French letters to Arabic numerals that quickly. Je pense que je t’aime, she’d said numerically—“I think that I like you. ” Or, “I think that I love you. ” The French verb aimer has two meanings. And that’s why he liked her, and loved her. She spoke to him in a language that, no matter how hard you studied it, could not be completely understood.
He stayed quiet until he had a fully formulated response, one that would keep her interest alive without quite satiating it. Colin Singleton, let it be said, couldn’t play the ninth inning of a relationship to save his life, but he could damn well score in the first.
“You’re just saying that because I’m on a TV show that no one watches,” he said.
“Or maybe,” he said, “you’re saying it because you’re flattered I’ve spent eight years of my life chasing after the nine letters in your name. ”
“Maybe,” she allowed. And then Colin’s phone rang. His mom. Their sneak-out was over. But by then it was too late. In his mind, Katherine I was already becoming Katherine XIX. She would soon retake the throne that, all along, had rightfully been hers.
“The thing about your stories,” Lindsey was saying in the darkness as they approached the forest in front of them, “is that they still don’t have any morals, and you can’t do a good girl voice, and you don’t really talk enough about everyone else—the story’s still about you. But anyway, I can imagine this Katherine now, a little bit. She’s clever. And she’s just a little mean to you. I think you get off on that. Most guys do. That’s how I got Colin, really. Katrina was hotter and wanted him worse. They’d been dating for a while when he fell for me. But she was too easy. I know she’s my friend and possibly Hassan’s girlfriend and whatever, but Katrina’s easier than a four-piece jigsaw puzzle. ”
Colin laughed, and Lindsey went on talking. “Getting people to like you is so easy, really. It’s a wonder more people don’t do it. ”
“It’s not so easy for me. ”
“Whatever, I like you, and I never really like anybody. Hassan likes you, and I can tell that he never really likes anybody, either. You just need more people who don’t like people. ”
“You don’t ever really like anybody?”
They passed into the woods, following a narrow, periodically invisible trail. Lindsey motioned toward the trees and said, “You sure shot the holy hell out of this forest, Smartypants. Wouldn’t that be something if you bagged a hog. ”
“I don’t really want to kill a pig,” Colin noted. He had read Charlotte’s Web, see. Then he repeated himself. “You don’t ever really like anybody?”
“Well, that’s an exaggeration, I guess,” she answered. “It’s just that I learned a while ago that the best way to get people to like you is not to like them too much. ”
“Well, but you care about a lot of people. The oldsters?” Colin offered.
“Well, the oldsters are different,” she said, and then stopped walking and turned around to Colin, who was already out of breath as he struggled up the hill behind her. “The thing about the oldsters, I think, is that they never screwed with me, so I don’t worry about them. So yeah, oldsters and babies are the exceptions. ”
They walked in silence for a long time through dense, flat brush with thin trees rising straight and high all around them. The trail became increasingly steep, zigzagging up the hill, until they finally came to a rocky outcropping perhaps fifteen feet high, and Lindsey Lee Wells said, “Now comes the rock climbing. ”
Colin looked up at the craggy face of the stone. There are probably people who can successfully negotiate their way up that rock, he thought, but I am not one of them. “No way,” he said. She turned back toward him, her cheeks flushed and glistening with sweat. “I’m kidding. ” She scampered up a wet, mossy boulder, and Colin followed. Immediately, he saw a narrow, chest-high crack covered over by a spiderweb. “See, I’m taking you here because you’re the only guy I know who’s skinny enough. Squeeze on through,” she said.
Colin pushed the spiderweb aside—sorry, Charlotte. He turned sideways, crouched down, and inched away from the fading light outside. Soon he was completely blind, his knees and back and head all against the rock, and for a moment he panicked, thinking Lindsey had tricked him, and would leave him, wedged in here. But he kept shuffling his feet forward. Something glided against his back. He screamed.
“Relax. It’s me,” she said. Her hands found his shoulders, and she said, “Take one more step,” and then he could no longer feel the rock pressing in on him. She turned him so that he was facing forward. “Keep walking,” she said. “You can stand up straight now. ” And then her hands disappeared, and he heard her sweeping at the ground, and she said, “I keep a flashlight here, but I can’t f—got it. ” She pressed the flashlight into his hands and he fumbled with it and then the world lit up.
“Wow,” said Colin. Approximately square, the cave’s only room was big enough to lie down comfortably in any direction, although the gray-brown ceiling sloped down toward the back, making it hard to stand in a lot of places. It contained a blanket, a sleeping bag, several old throw pillows, and one unmarked Mason jar filled with some sort of liquid. He nudged it with his foot. “Booze,” Lindsey explained.
“Where’d you get it?”
“There’s a guy out in Danville who makes corn whiskey moonshine. No shit. And he’ll sell it to you if you’ve got ten dollars and are old enough to walk. Colin gave it to me. I told him I drank it, but really I brought it out here, ’cause it adds ambience. ” Colin moved the flashlight slowly around the cave’s walls. “Sit down,” Lindsey said. “And turn off the light. ”
And then it was the kind of dark your eyes never adjust to.
“How’d you find this place?”
“I was just hiking around. I used to love walking through Mom’s land with all the oldsters when I was little. I started coming by myself during middle school, and I just stumbled across it one day in eighth grade. I must’ve walked past this rock a hundred times without ever noticing anything. It’s weird talking to you; I can’t see you at all. ”
“I can’t see you either. ”
/> “We’re invisible. I’ve never been here with someone else. It’s different being invisible with someone. ”
“So what do you do here?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s too dark to read. I guess you could get a head lamp or something, but other than that—”
“No, I just sit here. When I was a nerd, I came here to be somewhere where no one would find me. And now—I dunno, I guess the same reason. ”
“. . . ”
“. . . ”
“Do you want to drink it? The moonshine?”
“I never really drank before. ”
“Color me surprised. ”
“Also, moonshine can make you blind, and what I’ve seen of blindness so far hasn’t really impressed me. ”
“Yeah that would suck for you if you couldn’t read anymore. But how often are you going to find yourself in a cave with moonshine? Live a little. ”
“Says the girl who never wants to leave her hometown. ”
“Oh, burn. Okay I got the bottle. Talk to me and I’ll come over to your voice. ”
“Um, hello my name is Colin Singleton and it’s very dark and so you should come over here to my voice except the acoustics in this place are really w—oh that’s me. That’s my knee. ”
“Ladies first. ”
“All right. . . . Sweet holy shitstickers, it tastes like you’re washing down a bite of corn with a pint of lighter fluid. ”
“Did it make you go blind?”
“I have absolutely no idea. Okay. Your turn. ”
“. . . AkhhhhEchhhAhhhh. Kahhh. Ehhhhhh. Wow. Wow. Man. It’s like French-kissing a dragon. ”
“That’s the funniest thing you’ve ever said, Colin Singleton. ”
“I used to be funnier. I kinda lost all my confidence. ”
“. . . ”
“. . . ”
“Let me tell you a story. ”
“Ooh, a Lindsey Lee Wells story. Does it star an Archduke?”
“No it stars a Lindsey, but it’s got all the elements of a top-notch story. Where are you? Oh, there. Hi. Hi, knee. Hi, calf. Okay. So we all went to Danville for elementary school and pretty much all the Gutshot kids stuck together because everyone else thought we were dirty and poor and spread lice. But then in about third grade—like I’ve said, I was ugly—Colin and all his friends started saying I was a dog. ”
“I hate that. I hate kids like that so fugging much. ”
“Rule Number One. No interrupting. But anyway, so they starting calling me Lass, short for Lassie. ”
“Hey, he called you that just the other day on the way to the oldsters!”
“Yeah, I recall. Also, to repeat myself: Rule. Number. One. So it’s fourth grade, okay? And it’s Valentine’s Day. I really wanted to get some valentines. So I asked Hollis what I should do, and she said I should just make a valentine for everyone in the class and then people would respond. So Hollis bought a bunch of these Charlie Brown valentines, and I wrote one for every kid in the class even though my handwriting wasn’t very good and it took me a shit-long time. And then, predictably, I didn’t get any valentines.
“So then I went home and I was really upset but I didn’t want to tell Hollis about it so I just sat in the chair by the window in my room and felt so—just horrible—I don’t even want to think about it. And then I see Colin running up to my house with a little cardboard box. And he’s the cutest boy in school and the only one from Gutshot who’s popular. He puts the box on my doorstep and then rings the doorbell and runs off and I run down there and my heart’s beating like crazy and I’m so hopeful that he’s got this secret crush on me and I get down there and there’s this really elaborately decorated cardboard box with red-construction-paper hearts pasted all over it. . . . God, I hadn’t thought about this in so long till he called me Lass. ”
“Wait, what was in the box?”
“Alpo. A can of Alpo. But I got him in the end, because now he dates that dog. ”
“Wow. Jesus Christ. ”
“Nothing. Just, you know, I thought my romantic relationships were fugged up. ”
“Anyway, it became my life’s goal to get him. To kiss him. To marry him. I can’t explain it, but it did. ”
“And you did it. ”
“I did. And he’s different now. I mean, we were eight. We were little kids. He’s sweet now. Very protective and everything. ”
“. . . ”
“. . . ”
“Do you ever wonder whether people would like you more or less if they could see inside you? I mean, I’ve always felt like the Katherines dump me right when they start to see what I look like from the inside—well, except K-19. But I always wonder about that. If people could see me the way I see myself—if they could live in my memories—would anyone, anyone, love me?”
“Well, he doesn’t love me now. We’ve been dating for two years and he’s never once said it. But he would really not love me if he could see inside. Because he’s so real about everything. I mean, you can say a lot of shit about Colin, but he is completely himself. He’s going to work in that factory his whole life, and he’s going to have the same friends, and he’s really happy with that, and he thinks it matters. But if he knew . . . ”
“What? Finish that sentence. ”
“I’m full of shit. I’m never myself. I’ve got a Southern accent around the oldsters; I’m a nerd for graphs and deep thoughts around you; I’m Miss Bubbly Pretty Princess with Colin. I’m nothing. The thing about chameleoning your way through life is that it gets to where nothing is real. Your problem is—how did you say it—that you’re not significant?”