XTC was no good for drowning out the morons at the back of the bus.
Park pressed his headphones into his ears.
Tomorrow he was going to bring Skinny Puppy or the Misfits. Or maybe he’d make a special bus tape with as much screaming and wailing on it as possible.
He could get back to New Wave in November, after he got his driver’s license. His parents had already said Park could have his mom’s Impala, and he’d been saving up for a new tape deck. Once he started driving to school, he could listen to whatever he wanted or nothing at all, and he’d get to sleep in an extra twenty minutes.
“That doesn’t exist!” somebody shouted behind him.
“It so fucking does!” Steve shouted back. “Drunken Monkey style, man, it’s a real fucking thing. You can kill somebody with it.…”
“You’re full of shit.”
“You’re full of shit,” Steve said. “Park! Hey, Park.”
Park heard him, but didn’t answer. Sometimes, if you ignored Steve for a minute, he moved on to someone else. Knowing that was 80 percent of surviving with Steve as your neighbor. The other 20 percent was just keeping your head down.…
Which Park had momentarily forgotten. A ball of paper hit him in the back of the head.
“Those were my Human Growth and Development notes, dicklick,” Tina said.
“I’m sorry, baby,” Steve said. “I’ll teach you all about human growth and development—what do you need to know?”
“Teach her Drunken Monkey style,” somebody said.
“Park!” Steve shouted.
Park pulled down his headphones and turned to the back of the bus. Steve was holding court in the last seat. Even sitting, his head practically touched the roof. Steve always looked like he was surrounded by doll furniture. He’d looked like a grown man since the seventh grade, and that was before he grew a full beard. Slightly before.
Sometimes Park wondered if Steve was with Tina because she made him look even more like a monster. Most of the girls from the Flats were small, but Tina couldn’t be five feet. Massive hair included.
Once, back in middle school, some guy had tried to give Steve shit about how he better not get Tina pregnant because if he did, his giant babies would kill her. “They’ll bust out of her stomach like in Aliens,” the guy said. Steve broke his little finger on the guy’s face.
When Park’s dad heard, he said, “Somebody needs to teach that Murphy kid how to make a fist.” But Park hoped nobody would. The guy who Steve hit couldn’t open his eyes for a week.
Park tossed Tina her balled-up homework. She caught it.
“Park,” Steve said, “tell Mikey about Drunken Monkey karate.”
“I don’t know anything about it.” Park shrugged.
“But it exists, right?”
“I guess I’ve heard of it.”
“There,” Steve said. He looked for something to throw at Mikey, but couldn’t find anything. He pointed instead. “I fucking told you.”
“What the fuck does Sheridan know about kung fu?” Mikey said.
“Are you retarded?” Steve said. “His mom’s Chinese.”
Mikey looked at Park carefully. Park smiled and narrowed his eyes. “Yeah, I guess I see it,” Mikey said. “I always thought you were Mexican.”
“Shit, Mikey,” Steve said, “you’re such a fucking racist.”
“She’s not Chinese,” Tina said. “She’s Korean.”
“Who is?” Steve asked.
Park’s mom had been cutting Tina’s hair since grade school. They both had the exact same hairstyle: long spiral perms with tall feathered bangs.
“She’s fucking hot is what she is,” Steve said, cracking himself up. “No offense, Park.”
Park managed another smile and slunk back into his seat, putting his headphones back on and cranking up the volume. He could still hear Steve and Mikey, four seats behind him.
“But what’s the fucking point?” Mikey asked.
“Dude, would you want to fight a drunk monkey? They’re fucking huge. Like Every Which Way But Loose, man. Imagine that bastard losing his shit on you.”
Park noticed the new girl at about the same time everybody else did. She was standing at the front of the bus, next to the first available seat.
There was a kid sitting there by himself, a freshman. He put his bag down on the seat beside him, then looked the other way. All down the aisle, anybody who was sitting alone moved to the edge of their seats. Park heard Tina snicker; she lived for this stuff.
The new girl took a deep breath and stepped farther down the aisle. Nobody would look at her. Park tried not to, but it was kind of a train wreck/eclipse situation.
The girl just looked like exactly the sort of person this would happen to.
Not just new—but big and awkward. With crazy hair, bright red on top of curly. And she was dressed like … like she wanted people to look at her. Or maybe like she didn’t get what a mess she was. She had on a plaid shirt, a man’s shirt, with half a dozen weird necklaces hanging around her neck and scarves wrapped around her wrists. She reminded Park of a scarecrow or one of the trouble dolls his mom kept on her dresser. Like something that wouldn’t survive in the wild.
The bus stopped again, and a bunch more kids got on. They pushed past the girl, knocking into her, and dropped into their own seats.
That was the thing—everybody on the bus already had a seat. They’d all claimed one on the first day of school. People like Park, who were lucky enough to have a whole seat to themselves, weren’t going to give that up now. Especially not for someone like this.
Park looked back up at the girl. She was just standing there.
“Hey, you,” the bus driver yelled, “sit down!”
The girl started moving toward the back of the bus. Right into the belly of the beast. God, Park thought, stop. Turn around. He could feel Steve and Mikey licking their chops as she got closer. He tried again to look away.
Then the girl spotted an empty seat just across from Park. Her face lit with relief, and she hurried toward it.
“Hey,” Tina said sharply.
The girl kept moving.
“Hey,” Tina said, “Bozo.”
Steve started laughing. His friends fell in a few seconds behind him.
“You can’t sit there,” Tina said. “That’s Mikayla’s seat.”
The girl stopped and looked up at Tina, then looked back at the empty seat.
“Sit down,” the driver bellowed from the front.
“I have to sit somewhere,” the girl said to Tina in a firm, calm voice.
“Not my problem,” Tina snapped. The bus lurched, and the girl rocked back to keep from falling. Park tried to turn the volume up on his Walkman, but it was already all the way up. He looked back at the girl; it looked like she was starting to cry.
Before he’d even decided to do it, Park scooted toward the window.
“Sit down,” he said. It came out angrily. The girl turned to him, like she couldn’t tell whether he was another jerk or what. “Jesus-fuck,” Park said softly, nodding to the space next to him, “just sit down.”
The girl sat down. She didn’t say anything—thank God, she didn’t thank him—and she left six inches of space on the seat between them.
Park turned toward the Plexiglas window and waited for a world of suck to hit the fan.
Copyright © 2013 by Rainbow Rowell