Looking for alaska, p.23
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       Looking for Alaska, p.23

           John Green
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Page 23


  “I just wanted to tell you that the Colonel—I mean, Chip Martin—he’s my roommate, you know, he’s having a tough time in Latin. ”

  “Well, he’s not attending the class, from what I understand, which can make it very difficult to learn the language. ” He walked toward me. I coughed again, and backpedaled, the Eagle and I tangoing our way toward his living room.

  “Right, well, he’s up all night every night thinking about Alaska,” I said, standing up straight and tall, trying to block the Eagle’s view of the living room with my none-too-wide shoulders. “They were very close, you know. ”

  “I know that—” he said, and in the living room, the Colonel’s sneakers squeaked against the hardwood floor. The Eagle looked at me quizzically and sidestepped me. I quickly said, “Is that burner on?” and pointed toward the frying pan.

  The Eagle wheeled around, looked at the clearly not-on burner, then dashed into the living room.

  Empty. He turned back to me. “Are you up to something, Miles?”

  “No, sir. Honestly. I just wanted to talk about Chip. ”

  He arched his eyebrows, skeptical. “Well, I understand that this is a devastating loss for Alaska’s close friends. It’s just awful. There’s no comfort to this grief, is there?”

  “No sir. ”

  “I’m sympathetic to Chip’s troubles. But school is important. Alaska would have wanted, I’m sure, for Chip’s studies to continue unimpeded. ”

  I’m sure, I thought. I thanked the Eagle, and he promised me an egg sandwich at some point in the future, which made me nervous that he would just show up at our room one afternoon with an egg sandwich in hand to find us A. illegally smoking while the Colonel B. illegally drank milk and vodka out of a gallon jug.

  Halfway across the dorm circle, the Colonel ran up to me. “That was smooth, with the ‘Is that burner on?’ If you hadn’t pulled that, I was toast. Although I guess I’ll have to start going to Latin. Stupid Latin. ”

  “Did you get it?” I asked.

  “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah. God, I hope he doesn’t go looking for it tonight. Although, really, he could never suspect anything. Why would someone steal a Breathalyzer?”

  At two o’clock in the morning, the Colonel took his sixth shot of vodka, grimaced, then frantically motioned with his hand toward the bottle of Mountain Dew I was drinking. I handed it to him, and he took a long pull on it.

  “I don’t think I’ll be able to go to Latin tomorrow,” he said. His words were slightly slurred, as if his tongue were swollen.

  “One more,” I pleaded.

  “Okay. This is it, though. ” He poured a sip of vodka into a Dixie cup, swallowed, pursed his lips, and squeezed his hands into tight little fists. “Oh God, this is bad. It’s so much better with milk. This better be point two-four. ”

  “We have to wait for fifteen minutes after your last drink before we test it,” I said, having downloaded instructions for the Breathalyzer off the Internet. “Do you feel drunk?”

  “If drunk were cookies, I’d be Famous Amos. ”

  We laughed. “Chips Ahoy! would have been funnier,” I said. “Forgive me. Not at my best. ”

  I held the Breathalyzer in my hand, a sleek, silver gadget about the size of a small remote control. Beneath an LCD screen was a small hole. I blew into it to test it: 0. 00, it read. I figured it was working.

  After fifteen minutes, I handed it to the Colonel. “Blow really hard onto it for at least two seconds,” I said.

  He looked up at me. “Is that what you told Lara in the TV room? Because, see, Pudge, they only call it a blow job. ”

  “Shut up and blow,” I said.

  His cheeks puffed out, the Colonel blew into the hole hard and long, his face turning red.

  . 16. “Oh no,” the Colonel said. “Oh God. ”

  “You’re two-thirds of the way there,” I said encouragingly.

  “Yeah, but I’m like three-fourths of the way to puking. ”

  “Well, obviously it’s possible. She did it. C’mon! You can outdrink a girl, can’t you?”

  “Give me the Mountain Dew,” he said stoically.

  And then I heard footsteps outside. Footsteps. We’d waited till 1:00 to turn on the lights, figuring everyone would be long asleep—it was a school night after all—but footsteps, shit, and as the Colonel looked at me confused, I grabbed the Breathalyzer from him and stuffed it between the foam cushions of the couch and grabbed the Dixie cup and the Gatorade bottle of vodka and stashed them behind the COFFEE TABLE, and in one motion I grabbed a cigarette from a pack and lit it, hoping the smell of smoke would cover up the smell of booze. I puffed the cigarette without inhaling, trying to smoke up the room, and I was almost back to the couch when the three quick knocks came against the door and the Colonel looked at me, his eyes wide, his suddenly unpromising future flashing before his eyes, and I whispered, “Cry,” as the Eagle turned the knob.

  The Colonel hunched forward, his head between his knees and his shoulders shaking, and I put my arm around him as the Eagle came in.

  “I’m sorry,” I said before the Eagle could say anything. “He’s having a tough night. ”

  “Are you smoking?” the Eagle asked. “In your room? Four hours after lights-out?”

  I dropped the cigarette into a half-empty Coke can. “I’m sorry, sir. I’m just trying to stay awake with him. ”

  The Eagle walked up toward the couch, and I felt the Colonel start to rise, but I held his shoulders down firmly, because if the Eagle smelled the Colonel’s breath we were done for sure. “Miles,” the Eagle said. “I understand that this is a difficult time for you. But you will respect the rules of this school, or you will matriculate someplace else. I’ll see you in Jury tomorrow. Is there anything I can do for you, Chip?”

  Without looking up, the Colonel answered in a quivering, tear-soaked voice, “No, sir. I’m just glad I have Miles. ”

  “Well, I am, too,” the Eagle said. “Perhaps you should encourage him to live within the confines of our rules, lest he risk his place on this campus. ”

  “Yessir,” the Colonel said.

  “Y’all can leave your lights on until you’re ready to go to bed. I’ll see you tomorrow, Miles. ”

  “Good night, sir,” I said, imagining the Colonel sneaking the Breathalyzer back into the Eagle’s house while I got harangued at Jury. As the Eagle closed the door behind him, the Colonel shot up, smiling at me, and still nervous that the Eagle might be outside, whispered, “That was a thing of beauty. ”

  “I learned from the best,” I said. “Now drink. ”

  An hour later, the Gatorade bottle mostly empty, the Colonel hit . 24.

  “Thank you, Jesus!” he exclaimed, and then added, “This is awful. This is not fun drunk. ”

  I got up and cleared the COFFEE TABLE out of the way so the Colonel could walk the length of the room without hitting any obstacles, and said, “Okay, can you stand?”

  The Colonel pushed his arms into the foam of the couch and began to rise, but then fell backward onto the couch, lying on his back. “Spinning room,” he observed. “Gonna puke. ”

  “Don’t puke. That will ruin everything. ”

  I decided to give him a field sobriety test, like the cops do. “Okay. Get over here and try to walk a straight line. ” He rolled off the couch and fell to the floor, and I caught him beneath his armpits and held him up. I positioned him in between two tiles of the linoleum floor. “Follow that line of tiles. Walk straight, toe to heel. ” He raised one leg and immediately leaned to the left, his arms windmilling. He took a single unsteady step, sort of a waddle, as his feet were seemingly unable to land directly in front of each other. He regained his balance briefly, then took a step backward and landed on the couch. “I fail,” he said matter-of-factly.

  “Okay, how’s your depth perception?”

  “My what perwhatshun?”

  “Look at me. Is there one of me? Are there two of
me? Could you accidentally drive into me if I were a cop car?”

  “Everything’s very spinny, but I don’t think so. This is bad. Was she really like this?”

  “Apparently. Could you drive like this?”

  “Oh God no. No. No. She was really drunk, huh. ”

  “Yeah. ”

  “We were really stupid. ”

  “Yeah. ”

  “I’m spinning. But no. No cop car. I can see. ”

  “So there’s your evidence. ”

  “Maybe she fell asleep. I feel awfully sleepy. ”

  “We’ll find out,” I said, trying to play the role that the Colonel had always played for me.

  “Not tonight,” he answered. “Tonight, we’re gonna throw up a little, and then we are going to sleep through our hangover. ”

  “Don’t forget about Latin. ”

  “Right. Fucking Latin. ”

  twenty-eight days after

  THE COLONEL MADE IT to Latin the next morning—“I feel awesome right now, because I’m still drunk. But God help me in a couple of hours”—and I took a French test for which I had studied un petit peu. I did all right on the multiple choice (which-verb-tense-makes-sense-here type questions), but the essay question, In Le Petit Prince, what is the significance of the rose? threw me a bit.

  Had I read The Little Prince in English or French, I suspect this question might have been quite easy. Unfortunately, I’d spent the evening getting the Colonel drunk. So I answered, Elle symbolise l’amour (“It symbolizes love”). Madame O’Malley had left us with an entire page to answer the question, but I figured I’d covered it nicely in three words.

  I’d kept up in my classes well enough to get B-minuses and not worry my parents, but I didn’t really care much anymore. The significance of the rose? I thought. Who gives a shit? What’s the significance of the white tulips? There was a question worth answering.

  After I’d gotten a lecture and ten work hours at Jury, I came back to Room 43 to find the Colonel telling Takumi everything—well, everything except the kiss. I walked in to the Colonel saying, “So we helped her go. ”

  “You set off the fireworks,” he said.

  “How’d you know about the fireworks?”

  “I’ve been doing a bit of investigating,” Takumi answered. “Well, anyway, that was dumb. You shouldn’t have done it. But we all let her go, really,” he said, and I wondered what the hell he meant by that, but I didn’t have time to ask before he said to me, “So you think it was suicide?”

  “Maybe,” I said. “I don’t see how she could have hit the cop by accident unless she was asleep. ”

  “Maybe she was going to visit her father,” Takumi said. “Vine Station is on the way. ”

  “Maybe,” I said. “Everything’s a maybe, isn’t it?”

  The Colonel reached in his pocket for a pack of cigarettes. “Well, here’s another one: Maybe Jake has the answers,” he said. “We’ve exhausted other strategies, so I’m calling him tomorrow, okay?”

  I wanted answers now, too, but not to some questions. “Yeah, okay,” I said. “But listen—don’t tell me anything that’s not relevant. I don’t want to know anything unless it’s going to help me know where she was going and why. ”

  “Me neither, actually,” Takumi said. “I feel like maybe some of that shit should stay private. ”

  The Colonel stuffed a towel under the door, lit a cigarette, and said, “Fair enough, kids. We’ll work on a need-to-know basis. ”

  twenty-nine days after

  AS I WALKED HOME from classes the next day, I saw the Colonel sitting on the bench outside the pay phone, scribbling into a notebook balanced on his knees as he cradled the phone between his ear and shoulder.

  I hurried into Room 43, where I found Takumi playing the racing game on mute. “How long has he been on the phone?” I asked.

  “Dunno. He was on when I got here twenty minutes ago. He must have skipped Smart Boy Math. Why, are you scared Jake’s gonna drive down here and kick your ass for letting her go?”

  “Whatever,” I said, thinking, This is precisely why we shouldn’t have told him. I walked into the bathroom, turned on the shower, and lit a cigarette. Takumi came in not long after.

  “What’s up?” he said.

  “Nothing. I just want to know what happened to her. ”

  “Like you really want to know the truth? Or like you want to find out that she fought with him and was on her way to break up with him and was going to come back here and fall into your arms and you were going to make hot, sweet love and have genius babies who memorized last words and poetry?”

  “If you’re pissed at me, just say so. ”

  “I’m not pissed at you for letting her go. But I’m tired of you acting like you were the only guy who ever wanted her. Like you had some monopoly on liking her,” Takumi answered. I stood up, lifted the toilet seat, and flushed my unfinished cigarette.

  I stared at him for a moment, and then said, “I kissed her that night, and I’ve got a monopoly on that. ”

  “What?” he stammered.

  “I kissed her. ”

  His mouth opened as if to speak, but he said nothing. We stared at each other for a while, and I felt ashamed of myself for what amounted to bragging, and finally I said, “I—look, you know how she was. She wanted to do something, and she did it. I was probably just the guy who happened to be there. ”

  “Yeah. Well, I was never that guy,” he said. “I—well, Pudge, God knows I can’t blame you. ”

  “Don’t tell Lara. ”

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