An Abundance of Katherines, Page 22John Green
TOC shot back, “Look, she just said it’s over, okay? So that’s it. It’s over. I’m not cheating. ”
“Well,” Colin pointed out, “you were cheating five minutes ago. That’s a pretty narrow definition of cheating. ”
“Shut up before I knock your goddamned teeth in,” TOC said angrily. Colin glanced down at his muddy shoes. “Now listen,” TOC continued, “they’re all coming back here from Bradford in a little while. So we’re all just gonna sit here like a big happy family, and then when they show up, you’re going to make your retarded jokes and hunch over and look like the shitsucking pussy you are. And the same goes for you, Hass. ”
This is what Colin thought in the long silence that followed: would he want to know? If he were dating Katherine XIX, and if she’d cheated on him, and if Lindsey knew, and if Lindsey would get physically injured as a result of sharing the information. Then no, he would not want to know. So perhaps the Golden Rule indicated that he should stay mum, and the Golden Rule was really Colin’s only Rule. It was because of the Golden Rule, actually, that he hated himself for Katherine III: he’d believed that Katherines did unto him as he would never have done unto them.
But there was more to consider than the Golden Rule: there was the small matter of liking Lindsey. That shouldn’t factor in to an ethical decision, of course. But it did.
He hadn’t quite made up his mind when Lindsey, trailed by SOCT and JATT, came running up with a six-pack of Natural Light beer in each hand. “When’d you get here?” she asked TOC.
“Oh, just a minute ago. Kat picked me up as I was walkin’, and then we ran into them,” TOC said, his head gesturing toward Colin and Hassan, who were seated together on the stone wall.
“There was some concern that you might be dead,” Lindsey said to Hassan matter-of-factly.
“Believe me,” Hassan answered, “you weren’t the only one concerned. ” Lindsey leaned in toward Colin then, and he thought for a second she might kiss him on the cheek, and then she said, “Is that dip?”
He touched his ear. “It is,” he acknowledged.
Lindsey laughed. “It ain’t supposed to go in your ear, Colin. ”
“Hornet sting,” Colin said morosely. He felt so horrible for her, cheery and smiling and holding beer she’d brought for her boyfriend. He just wanted to take her to her cave and tell her there, so she wouldn’t have to go through it all in the light.
“Hey, by the way, did anyone kill a feral hog?” Hassan asked.
“Nope. Well, not unless you did,” SOCT said. And then he laughed. “Me and Chase shot us a squirrel, though. Blew the damned thing to bits. Princess treed it for us. ”
“We didn’t shoot it,” JATT corrected. “I shot it. ”
“Well, whatever. I saw it first. ”
“They’re like an old married couple,” explained Lindsey. “Except instead of being in love with each other, they’re both in love with Colin. ” TOC laughed heartily, while the two other boys repeatedly asserted their heterosexuality.
For a while, they drank. Even Colin stomached down the better part of a beer. Only Hassan abstained. “I’m back on the wagon,” he said. By then the sun was sinking fast toward the horizon and the mosquitoes had come out. Colin, already sweaty and bloody, seemed to be their favorite target. Lindsey was cuddled up against TOC, her head nestled between his pec and shoulder, his arm around her waist. Hassan sat next to Katrina, chatting with her in whispers, but they did not touch. Colin was still thinking.
“You’re not so talkative today,” Lindsey said to Colin eventually. “Stings getting to you?”
“They burn like the fire of ten thousand suns,” Colin said, deadpan.
“Pussy,” TOC said, showing the grace and eloquence for which he was widely famous.
And maybe it was for the right reasons and maybe it wasn’t. But right then, Colin pulled the minirecorder out of his pocket and rewound it. To Lindsey, he said, “I’m really, really sorry. ” And then he hit play.
“. . . dated when we were sophomores and we’ve been hooking up occasionally ever since. But we came out here and I was going to end it. ”
Lindsey bolted upright, staring at Katrina with a gathering malice. TOC, strangely, was frozen. He’d never expected Colin Singleton, noted sitzpinkler, to say a word. Colin hit fast-forward, then play again.
“. . . she just said it’s over, okay? So that’s it. It’s over. I’m not cheating. ”
Lindsey raised her beer, chugging it, and then crumpled the can and dropped it. She stood up and stepped toward TOC, who was still leaning, in a state of apparent calm, against the obelisk. “Baby,” he said, “you don’t understand. I said I wasn’t cheating and I’m not. ”
“Screw you,” she said, and then she turned around and walked away. TOC caught her in his arms from behind, and she wrestled to get free of him. “Get off me right now,” she shouted, but he held on tight, and then she sounded panicked, screaming, “GET OFF! GET HIM OFF ME. ”
“Let her go,” Colin said softly. And then behind him, he heard JATT. “Yeah, Colin, get off her. ” Colin turned around, and saw JATT march up to TOC and grab him by the collar. “Calm the hell down,” JATT said, and then TOC threw Lindsey to the ground. TOC hit JATT in the face with a right cross, and JATT fell to the ground like a dead man. As JATT lay there, unmoving, Colin wondered at the fact that JATT had gone after TOC; Colin had underestimated him. TOC quickly turned around and grabbed Lindsey by the ankle.
“Let her go,” Colin said, standing now. “You paardenlul. ”76
She was kicking against his grip, but he was persistent, holding her tighter, saying, “Baby, stop. You don’t understand. ”
Hassan looked at Colin. Together, they ran toward TOC, Hassan aiming for a body slam in the midsection and Colin going for a crazed punch to the head. At the last moment, TOC reached one hand out and hit Colin in the jaw so hard that the hornet stings didn’t sting anymore. And then with his leg, TOC swept Hassan’s feet out from under him. They weren’t much for damsel-in-distress saving, Colin and Hassan.
But then again, Lindsey wasn’t much for being a damsel in distress. After Colin hit the ground, he opened his eyes and saw Lindsey reach up, grab TOC’s nuts, squeeze, and turn. TOC fell to his knees, hunched over, and released Lindsey.
His head scrambled, Colin crawled to the Archduke’s obelisk, the only geographical location in the world that wasn’t currently spinning. He grabbed hold of the obelisk with both hands and clung to it. Opening his eyes, he saw JATT still facedown. Lindsey and Katrina were kneeling over him.
And then Colin felt angels lifting him by the armpits, pulling him toward their home in the sky, and he felt light and free. He turned to his left, and saw Hassan. He turned to his right, and saw SOCT.
“Hey,” said SOCT, “you all right?”
“Yeah,” Colin said. “That was nice of your friend to, uh, get hit like that. ”
“He’s a good guy. This is f’ed up, man. We been dealin’ with this Colin and Kat crap for two years. I love Colin, but this is ridiculous. Lindsey’s good people. ”
TOC interrupted. He seemed to have recovered. “Stop talking to that little bitch. ”
“Aw, c’mon, Col. You screwed this one up, bro, not him. ”
“You’re all such goddamned pussies!” TOC shouted, and then Hassan said, “It’s three on one,” and charged TOC.
And sure, it was three on one. But what a one. Hassan’s run was met by a body punch that entered cartoonishly far into his gut. Hassan started to fall but couldn’t, because TOC had his hand wrapped around Hass’s neck. Colin rushed in then with an overhand right. The punch connected, but (1) Colin forgot to close his fist, so he was slapping not hitting, and (2) instead of slapping TOC, he ended up slapping Hassan flush across the cheek, whereupon Hassan finally succeeded in falling down.
SOCT jumped on TOC’s back then, and for a brief moment, it seemed the fight might be a draw. Then TOC grabbe
d SOCT by one arm and threw him halfway across the graveyard, leaving Colin and TOC standing more or less toe to toe.
Colin began by employing a strategy he’d just invented called the “windmill,” which involved windmilling his arms around to keep his attacker at bay. The strategy worked brilliantly, for about eight seconds, until TOC caught hold of his arms. And then TOC’s square, reddened face was inches from Colin’s. “I didn’t want to do it, dude,” explained TOC with a remarkable calm. “But, you know, you made me. ”
“Technically,” Colin mumbled. “I kept my promise. I didn’t say anyth—” but his thoughtful explanation was cut off by a fast-coming kick. In the moment before the strike, Colin felt it in his loins—phantom pain—and then TOC’s knee came up into Colin’s groin so hard that Colin briefly left the ground. Flying, he thought. On the wings of a knee. And then, before he’d even fallen, Colin vomited.
Which turned out to be a fairly good idea, since TOC ceased to pursue him. Colin fell to the ground, moaning, waves of pain radiating from his middle. It felt as if the Franz Ferdinandian hole in his gut had now torn, and the pain grew and grew from a bullet hole to a canyon until finally Colin himself was the hole. He’d become a wracking, all-over vacuum of pain.
“Oh God,” Colin said finally. “Oh God, my balls. ”
Colin misspoke. In a better state, he would have recognized that it wasn’t his balls that hurt, but rather his brain. Nerve impulses flew from his testes to his brain, where the brain’s pain receptors were triggered, and the brain told Colin to feel pain in his balls, which Colin did, because the body always listens to the brain. Nuts, arms, stomachs—they never hurt. All hurt is brain hurt.
The pain made him dizzy and faint, and he lay on his side, crouched in the fetal position, his eyes closed. His head swam with the nauseating ache, and for a moment he fell asleep. But he had to get up, because he could hear Hassan grunting as he received blow after blow, so Colin crawled to the obelisk, and slowly dragged himself up, his hands walking up the Archduke’s grave.
“I’m still here,” Colin said feebly, his eyes shut as he held onto the obelisk for balance. “Come and get me. ” But when he opened his eyes, TOC was gone. Colin could hear the cicadas out in force, humming to a rhythm that matched his still-throbbing balls. Through the gray twilight, Colin saw Lindsey Lee Wells and her red-crossed first-aid kit tending to a seated Hassan, whose camouflage shirt and orange vest were covered with blood. SOCT and JATT were sitting together sharing a cigarette—there was a lump above JATT’s eye that literally looked like his forehead was about to birth a chicken egg. Colin got dizzy, and then turned back around, hugging the obelisk. When he opened his eyes again, he realized his glasses were gone, and between the dizziness and his astigmatism, the letters before him started dancing. The Archduke Franz Ferdinand. He anagrammed to dull the pain. “Huh,” he mumbled after a moment. “That’s a hell of a coincidence. ”
“The kafir has awoken,” Hassan noted. Lindsey rushed over to Colin, wiped the last flecks of chaw from his earlobe, and whispered into his ear. “Mein held,77 thanks for defending my honor. So where’d he get ya?”
“In the brain,” Colin said, getting it right this time.
The next morning, a Monday, was their twenty-second morning in Gutshot, and indubitably the worst. Aside from the residual tenderness in and around his nuts, Colin’s entire body was sore from a day spent walking and running and shooting and getting hit. And his head hurt—each time he opened his eyes, beams of feverish, demonic pain shot through his brain. The night before, Paramedic (in Training) Lindsey Lee Wells had diagnosed him with moderate contusions and “sprained balls” after an exhaustive search of medical Web sites. She diagnosed TOC as suffering from “I’m-an-asshole-and-Lindsey’s-never-going-to-speak-to-me-again-itis. ”
Keeping his eyes closed as much as possible, Colin stumbled toward the bathroom that morning, where he found Hassan staring at himself in the mirror. Hassan’s lower lip was hideously busted—he looked like he was chewing a fat wad of tobacco—and his right eye was very nearly swollen shut.
“How ya doing?” asked Colin. Hassan turned to him and gave Colin the full view of his well-punched face, as if to answer the question.
“Yeah, sure,” Colin said, reaching in to turn on the shower. “But you should see the other guy. ”
Hass managed a wan smile. “If I could do it all over again,” he said, his speech slow and vaguely mangled by his massive lower lip, “I’d just let myself be trampled to death by the Satan Pig. ”
As Colin came down the stairs to breakfast, he saw Lindsey sitting at the oak table sipping a glass of orange juice. “I really don’t want to talk about it,” Lindsey said, preemptively. “But I do hope your balls are okay. ”
“Me too,” said Colin. He’d checked on them during his shower. They felt the same, only tenderer.
Their assignment that day—left in note form by Hollis—was to interview a woman named Mabel Bartrand. “Oh, man,” Lindsey said when Colin read the name to her. “She’s at the other home, the one for when you’re really old. I can’t take that today. I can’t—God. Let’s just skip. Let’s just all go back to sleep. ”
“I’m for that,” Hassan mumbled through his meaty lips.
“She could probably use the company,” Colin said, trying to use his familiarity with loneliness for the powers of good.
“Lord, you do know how to lay on the guilt,” Lindsey said. “Let’s go. ”