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An Abundance of Katherines, Page 7

John Green

Page 7


  “You were on a tour?” Hollis asked. When Lindsey nodded, Hollis went on. “Well, you sure-God took your time. ”

  “Sorry,” mumbled Lindsey. Nodding to the guys, she said, “Hollis, this is Hassan and Colin. Boys, this is Hollis. ”

  “Also known as Lindsey’s mother,” Hollis explained.

  “Christ, Hollis. Don’t go bragging about it,” Lindsey said. She walked past her mom, unlocked the store, and everyone walked into the sweet air-conditioning. As Colin passed, Hollis put a hand on his shoulder, spun him around, and stared at his face.

  “I know you,” she said.

  “I don’t know you,” Colin responded, and then added, by way of explanation, “I don’t forget many faces. ” Hollis Wells continued to stare at him, but he was sure they had never met.

  “He means that literally,” Hassan added, peering up from behind a rack of comic books. “Do you guys get newspapers here?” From behind the counter, Lindsey Lee Wells produced a USA Today. Hassan paged through the front section and finally folded the paper carefully to reveal only a small black-and-white picture of a thick-haired bespectacled white male. “Do you know this guy?” Hassan asked.

  Colin squinted at the paper and thought for a moment. “I don’t personally know him, but his name is Gil Stabel and he is the CEO of a company called Fortiscom. ”

  “Good work. Except he’s not the CEO of Fortiscom. ”

  “Yes, he is,” Colin said, quite confident.

  “No, he’s not. He’s not the CEO of anything. He’s dead. ” Hassan unfolded the paper, and Colin leaned in to read the caption: FORTISCOM CEO DIES IN PLANE CRASH.

  “KranialKidz!” Hollis shouted triumphantly.

  Colin looked up at her, wide-eyed. He sighed. No one watched that show. Its Nielsen share was 0. 0. The show had been on for one season and not a single soul among Chicago’s three million residents had ever recognized him. And yet, here in Gutshot, Tennessee . . .

  “Oh my God!” Hollis shouted. “What are you doing here?”

  Colin, flushed for a moment with a feeling of famousness, thought about it. “I cracked up; then we went on a road trip; then we saw the sign for the Archduke; then I cut my head; then I had a Eureka moment; then we met her friends; now we’re going back to the car, but we haven’t left yet. ”

  Hollis stepped forward and examined his bandage. She smiled, and with one hand reached up for his Jew-fro and mussed his hair like she was his aunt and he was a seven-year-old who’d just done something exceedingly cute. “You’re not leaving yet, either,” she said, “because I’m going to cook you dinner. ”

  Hassan clapped his hands together. “I am hungry. ”

  “Close her down, Linds. ” Lindsey rolled her eyes and walked slowly out from behind the register. “You drive with Colin in case he gets lost,” Hollis told Lindsey. “I’ll take—what did you say your name was?”

  “I’m not a terrorist,” Hassan said by way of answering.

  “Well. That’s a relief. ” Hollis smiled.

  Hollis drove a new and impressively pink pickup truck, and Colin followed in the Hearse with Lindsey riding shotgun. “Nice car,” she said sarcastically.

  Colin didn’t respond. He liked Lindsey Lee Wells, but sometimes it felt like she was trying to get his goat. 28 He had the same problem with Hassan. “Thanks for not saying anything when I was Pierre and Hassan was Salinger. ”

  “Yeah, well. It was pretty funny. And plus Colin was being sort of a dick and needed to be taken down a peg. ”

  “I see,” said Colin, which is what he had learned to say when he had nothing to say.

  “So,” she said. “You’re a genius?”

  “I’m a washed-up child prodigy,” Colin said.

  “What are you good at, other than just already knowing everything?”

  “Um, languages. Word games. Trivia. Nothing useful. ”

  He felt her glance at him. “Languages are useful. What do you speak?” “I’m pretty good in eleven. German, French, Latin, Greek, Dutch, Arabic, Spanish, Russian—”

  “I get the picture,” she said, cutting him off. “I think that meine Mutter denkt, daß sie gut für mich sind”29 she said. “That’s why we’re in this car together. ”

  “Warum denkt sie das?”30

  “Okay, we’ve both proven we speak German. She’s been on my ass like crazy to go to college and become, I don’t know, a doctor or something. Only I’m not going. I’m staying here. I already made up my mind about that. So I’m thinking maybe she wants you to inspire me or something. ”

  “Doctors make more money than paramedics-in-training,” Colin pointed out.

  “Right, but I don’t need money. ” She paused, and the car rumbled beneath them. Finally, he glanced over at her. “I need my life,” she explained, “which is good and which is here. Anyway, I might go to the community college in Bradford to shut Hollis up, but that’s it. ” The road took a sharp, banked turn to the right and past a stand of trees, a town emerged. Small but well-kept houses lined the road. They all had porches, it seemed, and a lot of people were sitting out on them, even though it was hotter than hell in summertime. On the main road, Colin noted a newish combination gas station and Taco Bell, a hair salon, and the Gutshot, TN, Post Office, which appeared from the road to be the size of a spacious walk-in closet. Lindsey pointed out Colin’s window. “Out there’s the factory,” she said, and in the middle distance Colin saw a complex of low-lying buildings. It didn’t look much like a factory—no towering steel silos or smokestacks billowing carbon monoxide, just a few buildings that vaguely reminded him of airplane hangars.

  “What does it make?” Colin asked.

  “It makes jobs. It makes all the good jobs this town has. My great-grandfather started the plant in 1917. ” Colin slowed down, pulling to the shoulder so that a speeding SUV could pass him while he looked out at the factory with Lindsey.

  “Right, but what gets made there?” he asked.

  “You’ll laugh. ”

  “I won’t laugh. ”

  “Swear not to laugh,” she said.

  “I swear. ”

  “It’s a textile mill. These days we mostly make, uh, tampon strings. ”

  Colin did not laugh. Instead, he thought, Tampons have strings? Why? Of all the major human mysteries—God, the nature of the universe, etc. —he knew the least about tampons. To Colin, tampons were a little bit like grizzly bears: he was aware of their existence, but he’d never seen one in the wild, and didn’t really care to.

  In lieu of Colin’s laugh came a period of unbreachable silence. He followed Hollis’s pink truck down a newly paved side street that sloped up precipitously, causing the Hearse’s worn-out engine to rev for its very life. As they climbed the hill, it became clear that the street was actually a long driveway, which dead-ended into the largest single-family residence that Colin had ever personally laid eyes upon. Also, it was glaringly, bubble-gummingly, Pepto-Bismolly pink. He pulled into the driveway. Colin was staring at it somewhat slack-jawed when Lindsey poked him softly on the arm. Lindsey shrugged, as if embarrassed. “It ain’t much,” she said. “But it’s home. ”

  A broad staircase led up to a heavily columned front porch. Hollis opened the door and Colin and Hassan walked into a cavernous living room outfitted with a couch long enough for both of them to lie down without touching. “Y’all make yourselves at home. Lindsey and I are going to get dinner ready. ”

  “You can probably handle that on your own,” Lindsey said, leaning against the front door.

  “I probably could, but I ain’t gonna. ”

  Hassan sat down on the couch. “That Hollis is a riot, man. On the way over here she was telling me that she owns a factory that makes tampon strings. ” Colin still did not find this fact particularly hilarious.

  “You know,” Colin said, “the movie star Jayne Mansfield lived in a pink mansion. ” He walked around the living room, reading the spines of Holli
s’s books and looking at framed photographs. A picture on the mantel above their fireplace caught Colin’s eye, and he walked over to it. A slightly younger, slightly thinner Hollis was standing in front of Niagara Falls. Beside her stood a girl who looked a little like Lindsey Lee Wells, except the girl wore a black trench coat over a ratty old Blink-182 T-shirt. Her eyeliner was thick and stretched back toward her temples, her black jeans tight and tapered, her Doc Martens well-polished. “Does she have a sister?” asked Colin.


  “Lindsey,” Colin elaborated. “Come here and look at this. ”

  Hassan came over and briefly appraised the picture before saying, “That’s the most pathetic attempt I’ve ever seen to be goth. Goth kids don’t like Blink-182. God, even I know that. ”

  “Um, do you like green beans?” Lindsey asked, and Colin suddenly realized she was behind them.

  “Is this your sister?” asked Colin.

  “Uh, no,” she said to Colin. “I’m an only child. Can’t you tell by how adorably self-involved I am?”

  “He was too busy being adorably self-involved to notice,” Hassan interjected.

  “So who is this?” Colin asked Lindsey.

  “It’s me in eighth grade. ”

  “Oh,” said Colin and Hassan simultaneously, both embarrassed. “Yeah, I like green beans,” Hassan said, trying to change the subject as quickly as possible. Lindsey pulled shut the kitchen door behind her, and Hassan shrugged toward Colin and smirked, then returned to the couch.

  “I need to work,” Colin said. He found his way down a pink-wallpapere d hallway and into a room with a huge wooden desk that looked like the kind of place where a president might sign a bill into law. Colin sat down, pulled from his pocket his broken #2 pencil and omnipresent notebook, and began to scribble.

  The Theorem rests upon the validity of my long-standing argument that the world contains precisely two kinds of people: Dumpers and Dumpees. Everyone is predisposed to being either one or the other, but of course not all people are COMPLETE Dumpers or Dumpees. Hence the bell curve:

  The majority of people fall somewhere close to the vertical dividing line with the occasional statistical outlier (e. g. , me) re p resenting a tiny percentage of overall individuals. The numerical expression of the graph can be something like 5 being extreme Dumper, and 0 being me. Ergo, if the Great One was a 4 and I am a 0, total size of the Dumper/Dumpee differential = -4. (Assuming negative numbers if the guy is more of a Dumpee; positive if the girl is. )

  And then he sought a graphable equation that would express his relationship with the Great One (the simplest of all his romances) as it actually was: nasty, brutish, and short.

  For some reason, as he discarded equations left and right, the room seemed to grow warmer. Sweat pooled in the gauze bandage over his eyes, so he tore it off. He removed his shirt, wiping still-trickling blood from his face. Naked from the waist up, his vertebrae extruded from his skinny back as he hunched over the desk, working. He felt as he had never felt before—that he was close to an original concept. Plenty of people, Colin included, had noted the Dumper/Dumpee dichotomy before. But no one had ever used it to show the arc of romantic relationships. He doubted anyone had ever even imagined that a single formula could predict the rise and fall of romances universally. He knew it wouldn’t be easy. For one thing, turning concepts into numbers was a sort of anagramming to which he was unaccustomed. But he had confidence. He’d never been all that good at math,31 but he was a goddamned world-famous expert in getting dumped.

  He kept at the formula, haunted by the feeling that his head was just about to wrap around something big and important. And when he proved he mattered, she would miss him, he knew. She would see him as she had in the beginning: as a genius.

  Within an hour, he had an equation:

  which made Katherine I look like this:

  That was nearly perfect—an uncomplicated graphical representation of an uncomplicated relationship. It even captured the relationship’s brevity. The graphs didn’t need to represent time accurately; they merely needed to give an idea of length by comparison, i. e. , she’ll date me longer than K-14 but not as long as K-19. 32

  But Katherine II came out all wrong—only touching the x-axis once. Clearly, it wasn’t refined enough yet to send out a notice to The Annals of Mathematics or anything, but Colin felt good enough to slink back into his shirt. Happier than he’d been in, well, at least two days, Colin hurried down the hallway and burst into the coolness of the living room, where he saw through a doorway that Lindsey and Hassan and Hollis were seated in the dining room. He walked in and sat down before a plate of rice, green beans, and what appeared to be very small chickens.

  Hassan was laughing about something, and so were both the Wellses. Already, they seemed to love him. People just liked Hassan, the way people like fast food and celebrities. It was a gift Colin found amazing.

  The moment Colin sat down, Hollis asked Hassan, “Would you like to say grace?”

  “Sure thing. ” Hassan cleared his throat. “Bismillah. ” Then he picked up his fork.

  “That’s it?” Hollis wondered.

  “That’s it. We are a terse people. Terse, and also hungry. ”

  The Arabic seemed to render everyone uncomfortable or something, because no one talked for a few minutes except Hassan, who kept saying that the quail (it was quail, not tiny chicken) was excellent. And it was good, Colin supposed, if you happened to enjoy searching through an endless labyrinth of bones and cartilage for the occasional sliver of meat. He hunted around with his fork and knife for the edible parts and finally located one entire bite of meat. He chewed slowly so as to relish it, chewing and chewing and ouch. Christ. What the hell was that? Chew. Chew. Chew. And again. Fug. Is that a bone? “Ow,” he said softly.