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Page1of88 To my family: Sydney Green, Mike Green, and Hank Green "I have tried so hard to do right."(last words of President Grover Cleveland) http://dc142.4shared.com/download/98855612/9daf06c9/Looking_for_Alaska_by_John_G... 4/23/2009 Page2of88 acknowledgments before after abouttheauthor Contents http://dc142.4shared.com/download/98855612/9daf06c9/Looking_for_Alaska_by_John_G... 4/23/2009 Page3of88 acknowledgments usingsmalltype that does not reflect the size ofmydebt, I need to acknowledge some things:First, that this book would have been utterly impossible if not for the extraordinary kindness ofmy friend, editor, quasi-agent, and mentor, Ilene Cooper. Ilene is like a fairy godmother, onlyreal, andalsobetterdressed. Second, that I am amazingly fortunate to have Julie Strauss-Gabel as my editor at Dutton, and even luckier tohavebecomeherfriend. Julie is every writer's dream editor: caring, passionate, and inarguably brilliant. This right here, her acknowledgment, is the one thinginthe whole book she couldn't edit, and I think we can agree it suffered as a result. Third, that Donna Brooks believed inthis storyfromthe beginningand did muchto shape it. I'malso indebted to Margaret Woollatt of Dutton, whose name contains too many consonants but who is a really top-notch person. And thanks as well to the talented Sarah Shumway, whose careful reading and astute comments were a blessingtome. Fourth, that I am very grateful to my agent, Rosemary Sandberg, who is a tireless advocate for her authors. Also, she is British. She says "Cheers"when she means tosay"Later."Howgreatisthat? Fifth, that the comments of my two best friends in the entire world, Dean Simakis and Will Hickman, were essentialto the writingand revisionofthis story, and that I, uh, youknow, lovethem. Sixth, that I am indebted to, among many others, Shannon James (roommate), Katie Else (I promised), Hassan Arawas (friend), Braxton Goodrich (cousin), Mike Goodrich (lawyer, and also cousin), Daniel Biss (professional mathematician), Giordana Segneri (friend), Jenny Lawton (long story), David Rojas and Molly Hammond (friends), Bill Ott (role model), Amy Krouse Rosenthal (got me on the radio), Stephanie Zvirin (gave memyfirstrealjob), P. F. Kluge(teacher), DianeMartin (teacher), Perry Lentz (teacher), Don Rogan (teacher), Paul MacAdam (teacher—I am a big fan of teachers), Ben Segedin (boss and friend), and the lovely Sarah Urist. Urist. Seventh, that I attended high school with a wonderful bunch of people. I would like to particularly thank the indomitable Todd Cartee and also Olga Charny, Sean Titone, Emmett Cloud, DanielAlarcon, Jennifer Jenkins, ChipDunkin, andMLS. http://dc142.4shared.com/download/98855612/9daf06c9/Looking_for_Alaska_by_John_G... 4/23/2009 Page4of88 looking for alaska http://dc142.4shared.com/download/98855612/9daf06c9/Looking_for_Alaska_by_John_G... 4/23/2009 Page5of88 before http://dc142.4shared.com/download/98855612/9daf06c9/Looking_for_Alaska_by_John_G... 4/23/2009 Page6of88 onehundredthirty-sixdaysbefore the week before I left my family and Florida and the rest of my minor life to go to boarding school in Alabama, my mother insisted on throwing me a going- awayparty. TosaythatIhadlowexpectationswouldbe to underestimate the matter dramatically.AlthoughI was more or less forced to invite allmy"schoolfriends,"i.e., theragtagbunchofdramapeopleandEnglishgeeksIsat withbysocialnecessityinthe cavernous cafeteria ofmy public school, I knew they wouldn't come. Still, my mother persevered, awashinthe delusionthatI had kept my popularity secret from her all these years. She cooked asmallmountainofartichokedip. Shefestooned our livingroomingreenand yellowstreamers, the colors of my new school. She bought two dozen champagne poppers and placed themaround the edge ofour coffee table. And whenthat finalFridaycame, whenmypackingwas mostly done, she sat with my dad and me on the living- roomcouchat4:56 P.M. and patiently awaited the arrival of the Good-bye to Miles Cavalry. Said cavalry consisted of exactly two people: Marie Lawson, a tiny blonde with rectangular glasses, and her chunky (to put it charitably) boyfriend, Will. "Hey, Miles,"Mariesaidasshesatdown. "Hey,"Isaid. "Howwasyoursummer?"Willasked. "Okay. Yours?" "Good. We did Jesus Christ Superstar. I helped with thesets. Mariedidlights,"saidWill. "That's cool." I nodded knowingly, and that about exhausted our conversationaltopics. I might have asked a questionaboutJesus Christ Superstar, except that1. I didn't know what it was, and2. I didn't care to learn, and3. I never really excelled at small talk. My mom, however, can talk small for hours, and so she extended the awkwardness by asking them about their rehearsal schedule, and how the show had gone, and whether it wasasuccess. "I guess it was," Marie said. "A lot of people came, I "I guess it was," Marie said. "A lot of people came, I guess."Mariewasthesortofpersontoguessalot. Finally, Will said, "Well, we just dropped by to say good-bye. I'vegottogetMariehomebysix. Havefunat boardingschool, Miles." "Thanks," I answered, relieved. The only thing worse thanhavinga partythat no one attends is havinga party attendedonlybytwovastly, deeplyuninterestingpeople. Theyleft, and so I sat withmyparents and stared at the blankTVandwantedtoturnitonbutknewIshouldn't. I could feel them both looking at me, waiting for me to burst into tears or something, as if I hadn't known all along that it would go precisely like this. But Ihad known. I could feeltheir pityas theyscooped artichoke dipwithchipsintendedformyimaginaryfriends, butthey needed pity more than I did: I wasn't disappointed. My expectationshadbeenmet. "Isthiswhyyouwanttoleave, Miles?"Momasked. I mulled it over for a moment, carefulnot to look at her. "Uh, no,"Isaid. "Well, whythen?"she asked. This was not the first time she had posed the question. Mom was not particularly keenonlettingme go to boardingschooland had made nosecretofit. "Because of me?" my dad asked. He had attended Culver Creek, the same boardingschoolto whichI was headed, ashadbothofhisbrothersandalloftheirkids. I think he liked the idea of me following in his footsteps. Myuncleshadtoldmestoriesabouthowfamousmydad had beenoncampus forhavingsimultaneouslyraised hell and aced all his classes. That sounded like a better life thantheoneIhadinFlorida. Butno, itwasn'tbecauseofDad. Notexactly. "Hold on,"I said. I went into Dad's studyand found his biography of Frangois Rabelais. I liked reading biographies of writers, even if (as was the case with Monsieur Rabelais) I'd never read any of their actual writing. I flipped to the back and found the highlighted quote ("NEVER USE A HIGHLIGHTER IN MY BOOKS," my dad had told me a thousand times. But how else are you supposed to find what you're looking for?). "So thisguy,"Isaid, standinginthe doorwayofthe living room. "FrancoisRabelais. He wasthispoet.And hislastwords were 'I go to seek a Great Perhaps.' That's why I'm going. SoIdon'thavetowaituntilIdietostartseekinga GreatPerhaps." And that quieted them. I was after a Great Perhaps, and they knew as well as I did that I wasn't going to find it withthe likes ofWilland Marie. I sat back downonthe couch, between my momand my dad, and my dad put his armaround me, and we stayed there like that, quiet on the couch together, for a long time, until it seemed okay to turn on the TV, and then we ate artichoke dip for dinner and watched the History Channel, and as going-away parties go, it certainly could have been worse. onehundredtwenty-eightdaysbefore Florida was plenty hot, certainly, and humid, too. Hot enough that your clothes stuck to you like Scotch tape, and sweat dripped like tears from your forehead into your eyes. But it was only hot outside, and generally I only went outside to walk from one air-conditioned locationtoanother. http://dc142.4shared.com/download/98855612/9daf06c9/Looking_for_Alaska_by_John_G... 4/23/2009 Page7of88 This did not prepare me for the unique sort of heat that one encounters fifteen miles south of Birmingham, Alabama, at Culver Creek Preparatory School. My parents' SUV was parked in the grass just a few feet outside mydormroom, Room43. But eachtime I took those fewsteps to and fromthe car to unload what now seemed like far too much stuff, the sun burned through my clothes and into my skin with a vicious ferocity that mademegenuinelyfearhellfire. Between Mom and Dad and me, it only took a few minutestounloadthecar, butmyunair-conditioneddorm room, although blessedly out of the sunshine, was only modestly cooler. The room surprised me: I'd pictured plush carpet, wood-paneled walls, Victorian furniture. Aside from one luxury—a private bathroom—I got a box. Withcinder-block walls coated thick withlayers of white paint and a green-and-white-checkered linoleum floor, theplacelookedmorelikeahospitalthanthedorm room of my fantasies. A bunk bed of unfinished wood withvinylmattresseswaspushedagainsttheroom'sback window. The desks and dressers and bookshelves were allattached to the walls inorder to prevent creative floor planning. Andnoair-conditioning. I sat on the lower bunk while Mom opened the trunk, grabbedastackofthebiographiesmydadhadagreedto partwith, andplacedthemonthebookshelves. "I can unpack, Mom," I said. My dad stood. He was readytogo. "Letmeatleastmakeyourbed,"Momsaid. "No, really. I can do it. It's okay." Because you simply cannotdrawthese thingsoutforever.Atsome point, you just pulloffthe Band-Aid and it hurts, but then it's over andyou'rerelieved. "God, we'll miss you," Mom said suddenly, stepping through the minefield of suitcases to get to the bed. I stoodandhuggedher. My dad walked over, too, and we formed a sort of huddle. It was too hot, and we were too sweaty, for the hug to last terribly long. I knew I ought to cry, but I'd lived with my parents for sixteen years, and a trial separationseemedoverdue. "Don'tworry."Ismiled. "I'sa-gonnalearnhowt'talkright Southern."Momlaughed. "Don'tdoanythingstupid,"mydadsaid. "Okay." "No drugs. No drinking. No cigarettes."As an alumnus ofCulverCreek, hehaddonethethingsIhadonlyheard about:the secret parties, streakingthroughhayfields (he always whined about how it was all boys back then), drugs, drinking, and cigarettes. It had taken hima while to kick smoking, but his badass days were now well behindhim. "I love you," they both blurted out simultaneously. It needed to be said, but the words made the whole thing horribly uncomfortable, like watching your grandparents kiss. "I love you, too. I'llcallevery Sunday."Our rooms had nophonelines, butmyparentshadrequestedIbeplaced inaroomnearoneofCulverCreek'sfivepayphones. They hugged me again—Mom, then Dad—and it was over. Out the back window, I watched them drive the winding road off campus. I should have felt a gooey, sentimentalsadness, perhaps. ButmostlyIjustwantedto cool off, so I grabbed one of the desk chairs and sat down outside my door in the shade of the overhanging eaves, waiting for a breeze that never arrived. The air outside sat as still and oppressive as the air inside. I stared out over my new digs: Six one-story buildings, each with sixteen dorm rooms, were arranged in a hexagramaround a large circle ofgrass. Itlooked like an oversize old motel. Everywhere, boys and girls hugged and smiled and walked together. I vaguely hoped that someone would come up and talk to me. I imagined the conversation: "Hey. Isthisyourfirstyear?" "Yeah. Yeah. I'mfromFlorida." "That'scool. Soyou'reusedtotheheat." "Iwouldn'tbeusedtothisheatifIwerefromHades,"I'd joke. I'd make a good first impression. Oh, he's funny. That guyMilesisariot. That didn't happen, of course. Things never happened likeIimaginedthem. Bored, I went back inside, took off my shirt, lay down onthe heat-soaked vinylofthe lowerbunk mattress, and closed my eyes. I'd never been born again with the baptism and weeping and all that, but it couldn't feel much better than being born again as a guy with no much better than being born again as a guy with no known past. I thought of the people I'd read about— JohnF. Kennedy, James Joyce, HumphreyBogart—who went to boarding school, and their adventures— Kennedy, for example, loved pranks. I thought of the Great Perhaps and the things that might happen and the peopleImightmeetandwhomyroommatemightbe(I'd gotten a letter a few weeks before that gave me his name, Chip Martin, but no other information). Whoever Chip Martin was, I hoped to God he would bring an arsenal of high-powered fans, because I hadn't packed even one, and I could already feelmy sweat pooling on the vinyl mattress, which disgusted me so much that I stopped thinking and got off my ass to find a towel to wipeupthesweatwith. AndthenIthought, Well, before theadventurecomestheunpacking. Imanagedtotapeamapoftheworldtothewallandget mostofmyclothes into drawers before I noticed thatthe hot, moist air made eventhe walls sweat, and I decided that now was not the time for manual labor. Now was thetimeforamagnificentlycoldshower. The small bathroomcontained a huge, full-length mirror behind the door, and so I could not escape the reflection of my naked self as I http://dc142.4shared.com/download/98855612/9daf06c9/Looking_for_Alaska_by_John_G... 4/23/2009 Page8of88 leaned in to turn on the shower faucet. My skinniness always surprised me: My thin arms didn't seem to get much bigger as they moved from wrist to shoulder, my chest lacked any hint of either fat or muscle, and I felt embarrassed and wondered if something could be done about the mirror. I pulled open the plain white shower curtainandduckedintothestall. Unfortunately, theshowerseemedtohavebeendesigned for someone approximately three feet, seven inches tall, so the cold water hit my lower rib cage—with all the force of a dripping faucet. To wet my sweat-soaked face, Ihadtospreadmylegsandsquatsignificantly. Surely, JohnF. Kennedy(whowassixfeettallaccording to his biography, my height exactly) did not have to squat athis boarding school. No, this was a different beastentirely, and asthedribblingshowerslowlysoaked my body, I wondered whether I could find a Great Perhaps here at all or whether I had made a grand miscalculation. When I opened the bathroomdoor after my shower, a towelwrapped around mywaist, Isawa short, muscular guy with a shock of brown hair. He was hauling a gigantic army-green duffel bag through the door of my room. He stood five feet and nothing, but was well-built, like a scale model ofAdonis, and with him arrived the stink of stale cigarette smoke. Great, I thought. I'm meeting my roommate naked. He heaved the duffel intotheroom, closedthedoor, andwalkedovertome. "I'm Chip Martin," he announced in a deep voice, the voice of a radio deejay. Before I could respond, he added, "I'd shake your hand, but I think youshould hold ondamntight to that toweltillyoucanget some clothes on." I laughed and nodded myhead at him(that's cool, right? thenod?)andsaid, "I'mMilesHalter. Nicetomeetyou." "Miles, asin'togobeforeIsleep'?"heaskedme. "Huh?" "It'saRobertFrostpoem. You'veneverreadhim?" "It'saRobertFrostpoem. You'veneverreadhim?" Ishookmyheadno. "Consideryourselflucky."Hesmiled. I grabbed some clean underwear, a pair ofblue Adidas soccer shorts, and a white T-shirt, mumbled that I'd be back in a second, and ducked back into the bathroom. Somuchforagoodfirstimpression. "So where are your parents?" I asked from the bathroom. "Myparents?Thefather'sinCaliforniarightnow. Maybe sitting in his La-Z-Boy. Maybe driving his truck. Either way, he'sdrinking. Mymotherisprobablyjustnowturningoffcampus." "Oh," I said, dressed now, not sure how to respond to such personal information. I shouldn't have asked, I guess, ifIdidn'twanttoknow. Chip grabbed some sheets and tossed themonto the top bunk. "I'm a top bunk man. Hope that doesn't bother you." "Uh, no. Whateverisfine." "I see you've decorated the place," he said, gesturing towardtheworldmap. "Ilikeit." And then he started naming countries. He spoke in a monotone, asifhe'ddoneitathousandtimesbefore. Afghanistan. Albania. Algeria. AmericanSamoa. Andorra. Andsoon. HegotthroughtheA'sbeforelookingup and noticingmyincredulousstare. "I could do the rest, but it'd probably bore you. Something I learned over the summer. God, you can't imagine how boring New Hope, Alabama, is in the summertime. Like watching soybeans grow. Where are youfrom, bytheway?" "Florida,"Isaid. "Neverbeen." "That'sprettyamazing, thecountriesthing,"Isaid. http://dc142.4shared.com/download/98855612/9daf06c9/Looking_for_Alaska_by_John_G... 4/23/2009 Page9of88 "Yeah, everybody's got a talent. I can memorize things. Andyoucan...?" "Urn, I know a lot of people's last words." It was an indulgence, learning last words. Other people had chocolate;Ihaddyingdeclarations. "Example?" "IlikeHenrikIbsen's. Hewasaplaywright."Iknewalot about Ibsen, but I'd never read anyofhis plays. I didn't likereadingplays. Ilikedreadingbiographies. "Yeah, Iknowwhohewas,"saidChip. "Right, well, he'd beensick for a while and his nurse said tohim, 'You seem to be feeling better this morning/ and Ibsen looked at her and said, Òn the contrary,' and then he died." Chiplaughed. "That'smorbid. ButIlikeit." He told me he was inhis third year at Culver Creek. He hadstartedinninthgrade, thefirstyearattheschool, and wasnowajuniorlikeme. Ascholarshipkid, hesaid. Got a fullride. He'd heard itwas the bestschoolinAlabama, so he wrote his application essay about how he wanted to go to a schoolwhere he could read long books. The problem, he said in the essay, was that his dad would always hit himwiththe books inhis house, so Chip kept his books short and paperback for his own safety. His parents got divorced his sophomore year. He liked "the Creek,"as he called it, but"Youhave to be carefulhere, with students and with teachers. And I do hate being careful." He smirked. I hated being careful, too—or wantedto, atleast. He told me this while ripping through his duffel bag, throwing clothes into drawers with reckless abandon. Chip did notbelieve inhavinga sock drawerora T-shirt drawer. He believed that alldrawers were created equal and filled eachwithwhatever fit. Mymother would have died. As soonas he finished "unpacking,"Chip hit me roughly on the shoulder, said, "I hope you're stronger than you look," and walked out the door, leaving it open behind him. Hepeekedhisheadbackinafewsecondslaterand saw me standing still. "Well, come on, Miles To Go Halter. Wegotshittodo." We made our wayto the TV room, whichaccordingto Chip contained the only cable TV on campus. Over the summer, it served as a storage unit. Packed nearlyto the ceiling with couches, fridges, and rolled-up carpets, the TV room undulated with kids trying to find and haul away their stuff. Chip said hello to a few people but didn't introduce me.As he wandered throughthe couch- stocked maze, I stood near the room's entrance, trying my best not to block pairs of roommates as they maneuveredfurniturethroughthenarrowfrontdoor. It took tenminutes for Chip to find his stuff, and anhour more for us to make four trips back and forthacross the dormcircle betweenthe TVroomand Room43. Bythe end, I wanted to crawl into Chip's minifridge and sleep for a thousand years, but Chip seemed immune to both fatigueandheatstroke. Isatdownonhiscouch. "I found it lying on a curb in my neighborhood a couple years ago,"he said ofthe couchas he worked onsetting upmyPlayStation2 on top ofhis footlocker. "I know the leather's got some cracks, but come on. That's a damn nice couch." The leather had more than a few cracks—it was about 30 percent baby blue faux leather and 70 percent foam— butitfeltdamngoodtomeanyway. "Allright,"he said. "We're about done."He walked over to his desk and pulled a rollofduct tape froma drawer. "Wejustneedyourtrunk." I got up, pulled the trunk out from under the bed, and Chip situated it betweenthe couchand the PlayStation2 andstartedtearingoffthinstripsofducttape. Heapplied them to the trunk so that they spelled out COFFEE TABLE. "There,"he said. He satdownand puthis feetup onthe, uh, coffeetable. "Done." I sat down next to him, and he looked over at me and suddenlysaid, "Listen. I'mnot goingto be your entree to CulverCreeksociallife." "Uh, okay," I said, but I could hear the words catch in my throat. I'd just carried this guy's couch beneath a white-hotsunandnowhedidn'tlikeme? "Basically you've got two groups here," he explained, speakingwithincreasingurgency. "You'vegotthe regular boarders, like me, and then you've got the Weekday Warriors; they board here, but they're all rich kids who live in Birmingham and go home to their parents' air- conditioned mansions every weekend. Those are the coolkids. I don't like them, and they don't like me, and so if you came here thinking that you were hot shit at public schoolso you'llbe hotshithere, you'd bestnotbe seenwithme. Youdidgotopublicschool, didn'tyou?" "Uh..." I said. Absentmindedly, I began picking at the cracks in the couch's leather, digging my fingers into the foamywhiteness. "Right, you did, probably, because ifyou had gone to a privateschoolyourfreakin' shortswouldfit."Helaughed. I wore my shorts just below my hips, which I thought was cool. FinallyI said, "Yeah, I went to public school. ButIwasn'thotshitthere, Chip. Iwasregularshit." "Ha! That's good. And don't call me Chip. Call me the Colonel." Istifledalaugh. "TheColonel?" Istifledalaugh. "TheColonel?" http://dc142.4shared.com/download/98855612/9daf06c9/Looking_for_Alaska_by_John_G... 4/23/2009 Page10of88 "Yeah. TheColonel. Andwe'llcallyou...hmm. Pudge." "Huh?" "Pudge," the Colonel said. "Because you're skinny. It's called irony, Pudge. Heard ofit? Now, let's go get some cigarettesandstartthisyearoffright." He walked out of the room, again just assuming I'd follow, and this time I did. Mercifully, the sun was descendingtowardthehorizon. We walked five doors down to Room48. Adry-erase board was taped to the door using duct tape. In blue marker, itread:Alaskahasasingle! The Colonel explained to me that1. this was Alaska's room, and that 2. she had a single roombecause the girl who was supposed to be her roommate got kicked out at the end oflast year, and that 3.Alaska had cigarettes, although the Colonel neglected to ask whether4. I smoked, which5. Ididn't. He knocked once, loudly. Through the door, a voice screamed, "Oh my God come in you short little man becauseIhavethebeststory." Wewalked in. Iturned to closethedoorbehind me, and the Colonel shook his head and said, "After seven, you havetoleavethedooropenifyou'reinagirl'sroom,"but Ibarelyheard himbecause the hottestgirlinallofhuman history was standing before me in cutoff jeans and a peach tank top. And she was talking over the Colonel, peach tank top. And she was talking over the Colonel, talkingloudandfast. "So first day of summer, I'm in grand old Vine Station with this boy named Justin and we're at his house watchingTVonthecouch— and mind you, I'malreadydatingJake—actuallyI'mstill dating him, miraculously enough, but Justin is a friend of mine fromwhen I was a kid and so we're watching TV and literally chatting about the SATs or something, and Justin puts his arm around me and I think, Oh that's nice, we've been friends for so long and this is totally comfortable, and we're just chattingand thenI'minthe middle of a sentence about analogies or something and like a hawk he reaches down and he honks my boob. HONK. Amuch-too-firm, two-to three-second HONK. And the first thing I thought wasOkay, how do I extricate this claw from my boob before it leaves permanent marks? and the second thing I thought was God, Ican't wait totellTakumiandtheColonel." The Colonel laughed. I stared, stunned partly by the force of the voice emanating from the petite (but God, curvy)girland partlybythe gigantic stacks ofbooks that lined her walls. Her library filled her bookshelves and then overflowed into waist-high stacks of books everywhere, piled haphazardly against the walls. If just one of them moved, I thought, the domino effect could engulfthethreeofusinanasphyxiatingmassofliterature. "Who's the guy that's not laughing at my very funny story?"sheasked. "Oh, right. Alaska, this is Pudge. Pudge memorizes people's last words. Pudge, this is Alaska. She got her boob honked over the summer."She walked over to me with her hand extended, then made a quick move downward at the last moment and pulled down my shorts. "ThosearethebiggestshortsinthestateofAlabama!" "Ilikethembaggy,"Isaid, embarrassed, andpulledthem up. TheyhadbeencoolbackhomeinFlorida. "So far inour relationship, Pudge, I've seenyour chicken legs entirely too often," the Colonel deadpanned. "So, Alaska. Sellussomecigarettes."And thensomehow, the Coloneltalked me into paying five dollars for a pack of MarlboroLightsIhadnointentionofeversmoking. He askedAlaska to joinus, but she said, "I have to find Takumiand tellhimabout The Honk."She turned to me and asked, "Have youseenhim?"I had no idea whether I'd seenTakumi, since I had no idea who he was. I just shookmyhead. "All right. Meet ya at the lake in a few minutes, then." TheColonelnodded. At the edge of the lake, just before the sandy (and, the Colonel told me, fake) beach, we sat down in an Adirondack swing. I made the obligatory joke: "Don't grab my boob." The Colonel gave an obligatory laugh, then asked, "Want a smoke?" I had never smoked a cigarette, butwheninRome... "Isitsafehere?" "Not really,"he said, thenlit a cigarette and handed it to me. I inhaled. Coughed. Wheezed. Gasped for breath. Coughedagain. Considered vomiting. Grabbed the swingingbench, head spinning, and threw the cigarette to the ground and stomped on it, convinced my Great Perhaps did not stomped on it, convinced my Great Perhaps did not involvecigarettes. "Smoke much?" He laughed, then pointed to a white speckacrossthelakeandsaid, "Seethat?" "Yeah,"Isaid. "Whatisthat?Abird?" "It'stheswan,"hesaid. "Wow. Aschoolwithaswan. Wow." "That swanis the spawnofSatan. Never get closer to it thanwearenow." "Why?" "It has some issues with people. It was abused or something. It'llripyoutopieces. TheEagleputitthereto keepusfromwalkingaroundthelaketosmoke." "TheEagle?" "Mr. Starnes. Code name: the Eagle. The dean of students. Mostoftheteachersliveoncampus, andthey'll all bust you. But only the http://dc142.4shared.com/download/98855612/9daf06c9/Looking_for_Alaska_by_John_G... 4/23/2009 Page11of88 Eagle lives in the dorm circle, and he sees all. He can smellacigarettefromlikefivemiles." "Isn't his house back there?" I asked, pointing to it. I couldseethehousequiteclearlydespitethedarkness, so itfollowedhecouldprobablyseeus. "Yeah, but he doesn't reallygo into blitzkriegmode until classesstart,"Chipsaidnonchalantly. "God, ifIgetintroublemyparentswillkillme,"Isaid. "I suspect you're exaggerating. But look, you're goingto get in trouble. Ninety-nine percent of the time, your parents never have to know, though. The schooldoesn't want your parents to think you became a fuckup here any more thanyou want your parents to think you're a fuckup." He blew a thin stream of smoke forcefully toward the lake. I had to admit:He looked cooldoingit. Taller, somehow. "Anyway, whenyouget introuble, just don't tell on anyone. I mean, I hate the rich snots here with a fervent passion I usually reserve only for dental work and my father. But that doesn't mean I would rat them out. Pretty much the only important thing is never neverneverneverrat." "Okay," I said, although I wondered:If someone punches me in the face, I'm supposed to insist that I ran into a door? It seemed a little stupid. How do you deal with bullies and assholes if you can't get theminto trouble?Ididn'taskChip, though. "All right, Pudge. We have reached the point in the eveningwhenI'mobligedtogoandfindmygirlfriend. So give me a few of those cigarettes you'll never smoke anyway, andI'llseeyoulater." I decided to hang out on the swing for a while, half because the heat had finallydissipated into a pleasant, if muggy, eighty-something, and half because I thought Alaska might show up. But almost as soon as the Colonel left, the bugs encroached: no-see-ums (which, for the record, you can see) and mosquitoes hovered around me in such numbers that the tiny noise of their rubbing wings sounded cacophonous. And then I decidedtosmoke. Now, Idid think, The smoke willdrive the bugsaway. And, to some degree, it did. I'd be lying, though, if I claimed I became a smoker to ward off insects. I became a smoker because1. I was on anAdirondack swingbymyself, and 2. I had cigarettes, and3. I figured that if everyone else could smoke a cigarette without coughing, Icoulddamnwell, too. Inshort, Ididn'thavea very good reason. So yeah, let's just say that4. it was thebugs. ImadeitthroughthreeentiredragsbeforeIfeltnauseous and dizzy and only semipleasantly buzzed. I got up to leave. AsIstood, avoicebehindmesaid: "Sodoyoureallymemorizelastwords?" She ran up beside me and grabbed my shoulder and pushedmebackontotheporchswing. "Yeah,"I said. And then hesitantly, I added, "You want toquizme?" "JFK,"shesaid. "That'sobvious,"Ianswered. "Oh, isitnow?"sheasked. "No. Those were his last words. Someone said, `Mr. President, you can't say Dallas doesn't love you,' and thenhesaid, 'That'sobvious,' andthenhegotshot." She laughed. "God, that's awful. I shouldn't laugh. But I will," and then she laughed again. "Okay, Mr. Famous Last Words Boy. I have one for you."She reached into her overstuffed backpack and pulled out a book. "Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The General in His "Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The General in His Labyrinth. Absolutely one of my favorites. It's about Simon Bolivar."I didn't know who SimonBolivar was, but she didn't give me time to ask. "It's a historical novel, so I don't know ifthis is true, but inthe book, do youknow what his last words are? No, youdon't. But I amabout totellyou, SenorPartingRemarks." And thenshe lit a cigarette and sucked onit so hard for solongthatIthoughttheentirethingmightburnoffinone drag. Sheexhaledandreadtome: "' He'—that's Simon Bolivar—*was shaken by the overwhelming revelation that the headlong race between his misfortunes and his dreams was at that moment reachingthefinishline. Therestwasdarkness. "Damnit," hesighed. "HowwillIevergetoutofthislabyrinth!'"" I knewgreat last words whenI heard them, and I made a mentalnote to get ahold of a biography of this Simon Bolivarfellow. Beautiful last words, but I didn't quite understand. "So what'sthelabyrinth?"Iaskedher. And now is as good a time as any to say that she was beautiful. In the dark beside me, she smelled of sweat and sunshine and vanilla, and onthat thin-mooned night I could see little more thanher silhouette except for when she smoked, when the burning cherry of the cigarette washed her face inpale red light. But eveninthe dark, I couldseehereyes—fierceemeralds. Shehadthekindof eyes that predisposed you to supporting her every endeavor. And not just beautiful, but hot, too, with her breasts straining against her tight tank top, her curved legsswingingback and forthbeneaththeswing, flip-flops danglingfromher electric-blue-painted toes. It was right danglingfromher electric-blue-painted toes. It was right then, between when I asked about the labyrinth and whensheansweredme, thatIrealizedtheimportanceof curves, of the thousand places where girls' bodies ease fromone place to another, fromarc ofthe foot to ankle to calf, fromcalfto hip to waist to breast to neck to ski- slope nose to forehead to shoulder to the concave arch of the back to the butt to the etc. I'dnoticed curves before, of course, but I had never quite apprehended theirsignificance. Her mouth close enough to me that I could feel her breathwarmer thanthe air, she said, "That's the mystery, isn't it? Is the labyrinthlivingor dying? Whichis he trying to escape—the world or the end ofit?"I waited for her to keep talking, but after a while it became obvious http://dc142.4shared.com/download/98855612/9daf06c9/Looking_for_Alaska_by_John_G... 4/23/2009 Page12of88 shewantedananswer. "Uh, I don't know,"I said finally. "Have you really read allthosebooksinyourroom?" She laughed. "Oh God no. I've maybe read a third of 'em. But I'mgoing to read them all. I call it my Life's Library. Every summer since I was little, I've gone to garage sales and bought all the books that looked interesting. So I always have something to read. But there is so muchto do:cigarettes to smoke, sexto have, swings to swingon. I'llhave more time for readingwhen I'moldandboring." She told me that I reminded her ofthe Colonelwhenhe came to Culver Creek. They were freshmen together, she said, both scholarship kids with, as she put it, "a shared interestinbooze and mischief."The phrasebooze shared interestinbooze and mischief."The phrasebooze andmischief leftme worryingI'd stumbled into whatmy mother referred to as "the wrong crowd," but for the wrongcrowd, theybothseemed awfullysmart.Asshe lit a newcigarette offthe butt ofher previous one, she told me that the Colonel was smart but hadn't done much livingwhenhegottotheCreek. "I got rid of that problem quickly." She smiled. "By November, I'd gotten him his first girlfriend, a perfectly nice non-Weekday Warrior named Janice. He dumped her after a month because she was too rich for his poverty-soaked blood, butwhatever. We pulled our first prank that year—we filled Classroom4 witha thinlayer of marbles. We've progressed some since then, of course."Shelaughed. So Chip became the Colonel—the military-style planner of their pranks, and Alaska was ever Alaska, the larger-than-life creative force behind them. "You're smart like him,"she said. "Quieter, though. And cuter, but I didn't even just say that, because I love my boyfriend." "Yeah, you're not bad either," I said, overwhelmed by hercompliment. "ButIdidn'tjustsaythat, becauseIlove mygirlfriend. Oh, wait. Right. Idon'thaveone." She laughed. "Yeah, don't worry, Pudge. If there's one thing I can get you, it's a girlfriend. Let's make a deal: Youfigureoutwhatthelabyrinthisandhowtogetoutof it, andI'llgetyoulaid." "Deal."Weshookonit. Later, I walked toward the dorm circle beside Alaska. The cicadas hummed their one-note song, just as they had at home in Florida. She turned to me as we made our way through the darkness and said, "When you're our way through the darkness and said, "When you're walking at night, do you ever get creeped out and even though it's silly and embarrassing you just want to run home?" It seemed too secret and personal to admit to a virtual stranger, butItoldher, "Yeah, totally." For a moment, she was quiet. Then she grabbed my hand, whispered, "Run run run run run," and took off, pullingmebehindher. onehundredtwenty-sevendaysbefore early the next afternoon, I blinked sweat from my eyes as I taped a van Gogh poster to the back of the door. The Colonelsat onthe couchjudgingwhether the poster was leveland fieldingmyendless questions about Alaska. What's her story? "She's from Vine Station. Youcould drive past it without noticing—and fromwhat Iunderstand, yououghtto. Herboyfriend's atVanderbilt on scholarship. Plays bass in some band. Don't know much about her family."So she really likes him? "I guess. She hasn't cheated on him, which is a first."And so on. All morning, I'd been unable to care about anything else, not the van Gogh poster and not video games and not even my class schedule, which the Eagle hadbroughtbythatmorning. Heintroducedhimself, too: "Welcome to Culver Creek, Mr. Halter. You're given a large measure of freedom here. If you abuse it, you'll regret it. You seem like a nice young man. I'd hate to havetobidyoufarewell." And then he stared at me in a manner that was either seriousorseriouslymalicious. "AlaskacallsthattheLook ofDoom,"the Coloneltold me after the Eagle left. "The nexttimeyouseethat, you'rebusted." "Okay, Pudge,"the Colonelsaid asIstepped awayfrom the poster. Not entirelylevel, but close enough. "Enough with the Alaska already. By my count, there are ninety- two girls at this school, and everylast one ofthemis less crazy than Alaska, who, I might add, already has a boyfriend. I'm going to lunch. It's bufriedo day." He walked out, leaving the door open. Feeling like an overinfatuated idiot, I got up to close the door. The Colonel, already halfway across the dormcircle, turned around. "Christ. Areyoucomingorwhat?" Youcansaya lot ofbad things aboutAlabama, but you can'tsaythatAlabamansasapeopleareundulyafraidof deep fryers. Inthat first week at the Creek, the cafeteria served fried chicken, chicken-fried steak, and fried okra, which marked my first foray into the delicacy that is the fried vegetable. I half expected them to fry the iceberg lettuce. But nothingmatched the bufriedo, a dishcreated by Maureen, the amazingly (and understandably) obese Culver Creek cook. A deep-fried bean burrito, the bufriedo proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that fryingalways improves a food. Sitting with the Colonel and five guys I didn't know at a circular table in the cafeteria that afternoon, I sank myteethinto the crunchy shell of my first bufriedo and experienced a culinary orgasm. My mom cooked okay, but I immediately wanted to bring Maureen home with me over Thanksgiving. The Colonel introduced me (as "Pudge") to the guys at the wobblywoodentable, but I onlyregistered the name Takumi, whomAlaska had mentioned yesterday. Athin Japanese guy only a few inches taller than the Colonel, Takumi talked with his mouth full as I chewed slowly, savoringthebeanycrunch. "God,"Takumisaid to me, "there's nothinglike watching amaneathisfirstbufriedo." I didn't saymuch—partlybecause no one asked me any questions and partly because I just wanted to eat as much as I could. But Takumi felt no such modesty—he could, anddid, eatandchewandswallowwhiletalking. The lunch discussion centered on the girl who was supposed to have beenAlaska's roommate, Marya, and her boyfriend, Paul, who had http://dc142.4shared.com/download/98855612/9daf06c9/Looking_for_Alaska_by_John_G... 4/23/2009 Page13of88 been a Weekday Warrior. They'd gotten kicked out in the last week ofthe previous schoolyear, I learned, for whattheColonelcalled "the Trifecta"—they were caught committing three of Culver Creek's expellable offenses at once. Lyingnaked inbedtogether("genitalcontact" being offense #1), already drunk (#2), they were smoking a joint (#3) when the Eagle burst in on them. Rumors had it that someone had ratted them out, and Takumi seemed intent on finding out who—intent enough, anyway, to shout about it with his mouth jam- packedwithbufriedo. "Paulwas anasshole,"the Colonelsaid. "I wouldn'thave rattedonthem, butanyonewhoshacksupwithaJaguar- driving Weekday Warrior like Paul deserves what she gets." "Dude," Takumi responded, "yaw guhfwend," and then heswallowedabiteoffood, "isaWeekdayWarrior." "True."The Colonellaughed. "Much to my chagrin, that "True."The Colonellaughed. "Much to my chagrin, that is an incontestable fact. But she is not as big an asshole asPaul." "Notquite."Takumismirked. TheColonellaughedagain, and I wondered why he wouldn't stand up for his girlfriend. I wouldn't have cared if my girlfriend was a Jaguar-driving Cyclops with a beard—I'd have been gratefuljusttohavesomeonetomakeoutwith. Thatevening, whenthe Coloneldropped byRoom43 to pick up the cigarettes (he seemed to have forgottenthat theywere, technically, mine), Ididn'treallycarewhenhe didn't invite me out withhim. Inpublic school, I'd known plentyofpeople who made it a habit to hate this kind of person or that kind—the geeks hated the preps, etc.— and italways seemed like a bigwaste oftime to me. The Coloneldidn't tellme where he'd spent the afternoon, or where he was goingto spend the evening, but he closed the door behind himwhen he left, so I guessed I wasn't welcome. Just as well:I spent the night surfingthe Web (no porn, I swear) and readingThe Final Days, a book about RichardNixonandWatergate. Fordinner, Imicrowaved a refrigerated bufriedo the Colonelhad snuck out ofthe cafeteria. ItremindedmeofnightsinFlorida— except withbetter food and no air-conditioning. Lyingin bedandreadingfeltpleasantlyfamiliar. I decided to heed what I'm sure would have been my mother's advice and get a good night's sleep before my firstdayofclasses. FrenchIIstartedat8:10, andfiguring it couldn't take more than eight minutes to put on some clothes and walk to the classrooms, I set my alarm for 8:02. I took a shower, and then lay in bed waiting for sleep to save me fromthe heat.Around 11:00, I realized that the tinyfanclipped to mybunk might make more of that the tinyfanclipped to mybunk might make more of a difference ifI took offmyshirt, and I finallyfellasleep ontopofthesheetswearingjustboxers. A decision I found myself regretting some hours later when I awoke to two sweaty, meaty hands shaking the holy hellout ofme. I woke up completely and instantly, sitting up straight in bed, terrified, and I couldn't understand the voices for some reason, couldn't understand why there were any voices at all, and what the helltime was it anyway?And finallymyhead cleared enough to hear, "C'mon, kid. Don't make us kick your ass. Just get up," and then from the top bunk, I heard, "Christ, Pudge. Justget up." So I got up, and saw for the first time three shadowy figures. Two of them grabbed me, one witha hand oneachofmyupperarms, and walked me out of the room. On the way out, the Colonelmumbled, "Have a good time. Go easy on him, Kevin." They led me, almost at a jog, behind my dormbuilding, and thenacross the soccer field. The ground was grassy butgravelly, too, andIwonderedwhynoonehadshown thecommoncourtesytotellmetoputonshoes, andwhy was I out there in my underwear, chicken legs exposed to the world?Athousand humiliations crossed mymind: There's the new junior, Miles Halter, handcuffed to the soccer goal wearing only his boxers. I imagined themtaking me into the woods, where we now seemed headed, and beating the shit out of me so that I looked great for my first day of school. And the whole time, I just stared at my feet, because I didn't want to look at them and I didn't want to fall, so I watched my steps, trying to avoid the bigger rocks. I felt the fight-or-fIight reflexswellupinmeoverandoveragain, butIknewthat neither fight nor flight had ever worked for me before. Theytook me a roundabout wayto the fake beach, and thenI knewwhatwould happen—a good, old-fashioned dunkinginthe lake—and I calmed down. I could handle that. When we reached the beach, they told me to put my arms at mysides, and the beefiest guygrabbed two rolls ofducttape fromthe sand. Withmyarms flatagainst my sides like a soldier at attention, theymummified me from myshoulder to mywrists. Thentheythrewme downon the ground; the sand fromthe fake beach cushioned the landing, but I still hit my head. Two of them pulled my legs together while the other one—Kevin, I'd figured out —put his angular, strong-jawed face up so close to mine that the gel-soaked spikes of hair pointing out from his forehead poked at myface, and told me, "This is for the Colonel.Youshouldn't hangout withthat asshole."They taped my legs together, fromankles to thighs. I looked like a silver mummy. I said, "Please guys, don't," just before they taped my mouth shut. Then they picked me upandhurledmeintothewater. Sinking. Sinking, but instead offeeling panic or anything else, I realized that "Please guys, don't"were terrible last words. Butthenthegreatmiracleofthehumanspecies— our buoyancy—came through, and as I felt myself floatingtowardthesurface, ItwistedandturnedasbestI could so that the warmnight air hit my nose first, and I breathed. Iwasn'tdeadandwasn'tgoingtodie. Well, Ithought, that wasn't sobad. But there was still the small matter of getting to shore before the sun rose. First, to determine my position vis- a-vis the shoreline. IfI tilted myhead too much, I feltmy wholebodystarttoroll, andonthelonglistofunpleasant ways to die, "facedown in soaking-wet white boxers"is pretty high up there. So instead I rolled my eyes and cranedmyneckback, myeyesalmostunderwater, untilI sawthattheshore— sawthattheshore— nottenfeetaway—wasdirectlybehindmyhead. Ibegan toswim, anarmlesssilvermermaid, usingonlymyhipsto generate motion, until finally my ass scraped against the lake'smuckybottom. Iturnedthenandusedmyhipsand waist to rollthree times, untilI came ashore near a ratty greentowel. They'dleftmeatowel. Howthoughtful. The water had seeped under the duct tape and loosened theadhesive'sgriponmyskin, butthetapewaswrapped around me three layers deep in places, which necessitated wiggling like a fish out of water. Finally it loosened enough for me to slip my left hand up and out againstmychestandripthetapeoff. I wrapped myselfinthe sandytowel. I didn't want to go back to my roomand see Chip, because I had no idea whatKevinhadmeant— maybe ifI went back to the room, they'd be waitingfor me and they'd get me for real; maybe I needed to show them, "Okay. Gotyourmessage. He's just my roommate, not my friend."And anyway, I didn't feel terribly friendly toward the Colonel. Have a goodtime, he'dsaid. Yeah, Ithought. /hadaball. http://dc142.4shared.com/download/98855612/9daf06c9/Looking_for_Alaska_by_John_G... 4/23/2009 Page14of88 So I went to Alaska's room. I didn't know what time it was, but I could see a faint light underneath her door. I knockedsoftly. "Yeah," she said, and I came in, wet and sandy and wearingonlya toweland soakingboxers. This was not, obviously, how you want the world's hottest girl to see you, but I figured she could explainto me what had just happened. She put down a book and got out of bed with a sheet wrapped around her shoulders. For a moment, she looked concerned. She looked like the girl I met yesterday, the girlwho said I was cute and bubbled over with energy and silliness and intelligence. And then she laughed. "Guess youwent for a swim, huh?"And she said it with such casual malice that I felt that everyone had known, and I wondered why the whole damn school agreed in advance to possibly drown Miles Halter. But Alaska liked the Colonel, and inthe confusionofthe moment, I justlookedatherblankly, unsureevenofwhattoask. "Give me a break," she said. "Come on. You know what? There are people withrealproblems. I've got real problems. Mommyain'there, sobuckup, bigguy." I leftwithoutsayinga word to her and wentto myroom, slamming the door behind me, waking the Colonel, and stompinginto the bathroom. I got inthe shower to wash the algae and the lake offme, but the ridiculous faucet of a showerhead failed spectacularly, and how could Alaska and Kevin and those other guys already dislike me?AfterIfinished theshower, Idried offand wentinto theroomtofindsomeclothes. "So,"he said. "What took youso long? Get lost onyour wayhome?" "Theysaid it was because ofyou,"I said, and myvoice betrayedahintofannoyance. "TheysaidIshouldn'thang outwithyou." "What? No, it happens to everybody,"the Colonelsaid. "It happened to me. They throw you in the lake. You swimout. Youwalkhome." "I couldn't just swimout,"I said softly, pulling on a pair ofjeanshorts beneathmytowel. "Theyduct-taped me. I couldn'tevenmove, really." "Wait. Wait," he said, and hopped out of his bunk, staring at me through the darkness. "Theytaped you? How?"And I showed him: I stood like a mummy, with myfeet together and myhands at mysides, and showed him how they'd wrapped me up. And then I plopped downontothecouch. "Christ!Youcouldhavedrowned!They'rejustsupposed to throwyouinthewaterinyourunderwearand run!"he shouted. "What the hellwere theythinking? Who was it? Kevin Richman and who else? Do you remember their faces?" "Yeah, Ithink." "Whythehellwouldtheydothat?"hewondered. "Didyoudosomethingtothem?"Iasked. "No, butI'msureasshitgonnadosomethingto'emnow. We'llgetthem." "Itwasn'tabigdeal. Igotoutfine." "You could have died." And I could have, I suppose. ButIdidn't. "Well, maybeIshouldjustgototheEagletomorrowand tellhim,"Isaid. "Absolutely not," he answered. He walked over to his crumpled shorts lyingonthe floor and pulled out a pack ofcigarettes. Helittwoandhandedonetome. Ismoked thewholegoddamnedthing. "You're not,"he continued, "because that's not how shit gets dealt with here. And besides, you really don't want to geta reputationforratting. Butwe willdealwiththose bastards, Pudge. I promise you. Theywillregret messing withoneofmyfriends." And if the Colonel thought that calling me his friend wouldmakemestandbyhim, well, hewasright. "Alaska was kind of mean to me tonight," I said. I leaned over, opened an empty desk drawer, and used it as a makeshiftashtray. "LikeIsaid, she'smoody." I went to bed wearing a T-shirt, shorts, and socks. No matterhowmiserablyhotitgot, Iresolved, Iwouldsleep inmyclotheseverynightattheCreek, feeling—probably for the first time in my life—the fear and excitement of living in a place where you never know what's going to happenorwhen. onehundredtwenty-sixdaysbefore "well,now it's war," the Colonel shouted the next morning. I rolled over and looked at the clock:7:52. My first Culver Creek class, French, started in eighteen minutes. I blinked a couple times and looked up at the Colonel, who was standing between the couch and the COFFEE TABLE, holding his well-worn, once-white tennis shoes by the laces. For a long time, he stared at me, and I stared at him. And then, almost in slow motion, a grin creptacrosstheColonel'sface. "I've got to hand it to them," he said finally. "That was prettyclever." "What?"Iasked. http://dc142.4shared.com/download/98855612/9daf06c9/Looking_for_Alaska_by_John_G... 4/23/2009 Page15of88 "Last night—before they woke you up, I guess—they pissedinmyshoes." "Areyousure?"Isaid, tryingnottolaugh. "Do you care to smell?" he asked, holding the shoes towardme. "Because I went ahead and smelled them, and yes, I am sure. If there's one thing I know, it's when I've just stepped in another man's piss. It's like my momalways says: `Ya think you's a-walkin' on water, but turns out you just got piss in your shoes.' Point those guys out to me ifyousee themtoday,"he added, "because we need to figure out whythey're so, uh, pissed at me. And then we need to go ahead and start thinkingabout howwe're goingtoruintheirmiserablelittlelives." When I received the Culver Creek Handbook over the summer and noticed happily that the "Dress Code" section contained only two words, casual modesty, it never occurred to me that girls would show up for class half asleep in cotton pajama shorts, T-shirts, and flip- flops. Modest, Iguess, andcasual. And therewas something about girls wearing pajamas (evenifmodest), whichmight have made Frenchat 8:10 in the morning bearable, if I'd had any idea what in the morning bearable, if I'd had any idea what Madame O'Malley was talking about. Comment dis-tu "OhmyGod, Idon'tknownearlyenoughFrenchtopass French II"en francais? My French I class back in Florida did not prepare me for Madame O'Malley, who skipped the "how was your summer" pleasantries and dove directly into something called thepasse compose, which is apparently a verb tense. Alaska sat directly across fromme inthe circle ofdesks, butshe didn't look at me once the entire class, even though I could notice littlebuther. Maybeshecouldbemean...butthewayshe talked that first night about gettingout ofthe labyrinth— so smart. And the wayher mouthcurled up onthe right side all the time, like she was preparing to smirk, like she'd mastered the right half of theMona Lisa's inimitablesmile... From my room, the student population seemed manageable, but it overwhelmed me in the classroom area, which was a single, long building just beyond the dorm circle. The building was split into fourteen rooms facing out toward the lake. Kids crammed the narrow sidewalks in front of the classrooms, and even though findingmyclasses wasn't hard (evenwithmypoor sense of direction, I could get from French in Room 3 to precalc in Room 12), I felt unsettled all day. I didn't knowanyoneandcouldn'tevenfigureoutwhomIshould be trying to know, and the classes were hard, even on the first day. Mydad had told me I'd have to study, and nowIbelievedhim. Theteacherswereseriousandsmart and a lot of themwent by "Dr.," and so when the time came for my last class before lunch, World Religions, I felttremendousrelief.AvestigefromwhenCulverCreek was a Christian boys' school, I figured the World Religionsclass, required ofeveryjuniorand senior, might beaneasyA. It was my only class all day where the desks weren't arranged either ina square or a circle, so, not wantingto seemeager, I sat downinthe third row at 11:03. I was seven minutes early, partly because I liked to be punctual, and partlybecause Ididn'thave anyone to chat without inthe halls. Shortlythereafter, the Colonelcame in with Takumi, and they sat down on opposite sides of me. "Iheardaboutlastnight,"Takumisaid. "Alaska'spissed." "That's weird, since she was such a bitch last night," I blurtedout. Takumijustshookhishead. "Yeah, well, shedidn'tknow the whole story. And people are moody, dude. You gotta get used to living with people. You could have worsefriendsthan—" TheColonelcuthimoff. "Enoughwiththepsychobabble, MC Dr. Phil. Let's talk counterinsurgency."People were startingto file into class, so the Colonelleaned intoward me and whispered, "Ifanyof'emare inthis class, let me know, okay? Just, here, just put X's where they're sitting," and he ripped a sheet of paper out of his notebook and drew a square for each desk. As people filed in, I saw one of them—the tall one with immaculately spiky hair—Kevin. Kevin stared down the Colonel as he walked past, but in trying to stare, he forgot to watch his step and bumped his thigh against a desk. The Colonel laughed. One of the other guys, the one who was either a little fat or worked out too much, cameinbehindKevin, sportingpleatedkhakipantsanda short-sleeve black polo shirt. As they sat down, I crossedthroughtheappropriatesquaresontheColonel's diagram and handed it to him. Just then, the Old Man shuffledin. He breathed slowly and with great labor through his wide-openmouth. He took tinysteps toward the lectern, his heels not moving much past his toes. The Colonel nudged me and pointed casually to his notebook, which read, The Old Man only has one lung, and I did not doubt it. His audible, almost desperate breaths reminded me ofmygrandfather whenhe was dyingoflungcancer. Barrel-chested and ancient, the Old Man, it seemed to me, mightdiebeforeheeverreachedthepodium. "Myname,"he said, "is Dr. Hyde. I have a first name, of course. So far as youare concerned, it is Doctor. Your parentspaya greatdealofmoneyso thatyoucanattend school here, and I expect that you will offer themsome return on their investment by reading what I tell you to read whenI tellyouto read it and consistentlyattending this class.And whenyouare here, youwilllistento what Isay."ClearlynotaneasyA. "This year, we'll be studying three religious traditions: Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism. We'll tackle three moretraditionsnextyear. And in my classes, I willtalk most of the time, and you will listen most of the time. Because you may be smart, but I've beensmart longer. I'msure some ofyoudo not like lecture classes, but as youhave probablynoted, I'm not as youngas I used to be. I would love to spend my remaining breath chatting with you about the finer points of Islamic history, but our time together is short. I must talk, and youmust listen, for we are engaged here inthe most important pursuit inhistory:the searchfor meaning. What is the nature of being a person? What is the best way to go about being a person? How did we come to be, and what willbecome ofus whenwe are no longer? Inshort:What are the rules ofthis game, and howmight webestplayit?" The nature of the labyrinth, I scribbled into my spiral The nature of the labyrinth, I scribbled into my spiral notebook, and the way out of it. This teacher rocked. I hated discussion classes. I http://dc142.4shared.com/download/98855612/9daf06c9/Looking_for_Alaska_by_John_G... 4/23/2009 Page16of88 hated talking, and I hated listening to everyone else stumble on their words and try to phrase things in the vaguest possible wayso theywouldn't sound dumb, and I hated how it was alljust a game oftryingto figure out whattheteacherwanted to hearand thensayingit. I'min class, soteach me. And teach me he did: In those fifty minutes, the Old Man made me take religion seriously. I'd never been religious, but he told us that religion is importantwhetherornotwe believed inone, inthe same way that historical events are important whether or not youpersonallylived throughthem.And thenhe assigned us fifty pages ofreading for the next day—froma book calledReligiousStudies. That afternoon, I had two classes and two free periods. We had nine fifty-minute class periods each day, which means that most everyone had three "study periods" (except for the Colonel, who had an extra independent- study math class on account of being an Extra Special Genius). TheColonelandIhadbiologytogether, whereI pointed out the other guywho'd duct-taped me the night before. In the top corner of his notebook, the Colonel wrote, Longwell Chase. Senior W-day Warrior. Friends w/Sara. Weird. It took me a minute to rememberwhoSarawas:theColonel'sgirlfriend. I spent myfree periods inmyroomtryingto read about religion. I learned thatmyth doesn't meana lie; it means a traditional story that tells you something about people and their worldview and what they hold sacred. Interesting. I also learned that after the events of the previous night, I was far too tired to care aboutmyths or anythingelse, so I slept ontop ofthe covers for most of the afternoon, until I awoke to Alaska singing, "WAKE UP, LITTLEPUHHHHHDGIE!"directlyintomyleftear canal. I held the religionbook close up against mychest likeasmallpaperbacksecurityblanket. "That was terrible," I said. "What do I need to do to ensurethatneverhappenstomeagain?" "Nothing you can do!" she said excitedly. "I'm unpredictable. God, don't you hate Dr. Hyde? Don't you?He'ssocondescending." I sat up and said, "I think he's a genius,"partlybecause I thought it was true and partly because I just felt like disagreeingwithher. She sat downonthe bed. "Do youalways sleep inyour clothes?" "Yup." "Funny,"shesaid. "Youweren'twearingmuchlastnight." Ijustglaredather. "C'mon, Pudge. I'mteasing. Youhavetobetoughhere. I didn't know how bad it was—and I'msorry, and they'll regret it—but you have to be tough."And then she left. That was allshe had to sayonthe subject. She's cute, I thought, but you don't need to like a girl who treats youlikeyou'reten:You'vealreadygot amom. one hundredtwenty-twodays before aftermy last class ofmyfirst week at Culver Creek, I entered Room43 to anunlikelysight:the diminutive and shirtless Colonel, hunched over an ironing board, shirtless Colonel, hunched over an ironing board, attackinga pink button-downshirt. Sweat trickled down his forehead and chest as he ironed with great enthusiasm, his right arm pushing the iron across the lengthofthe shirtwithsuchvigorthathisbreathingnearly duplicatedDr. Hyde's. "Ihave a date,"he explained. "This is anemergency."He paused to catch his breath. "Do you know"—breath —"howtoiron?" I walked over to the pink shirt. It was wrinkled like an old womanwho'd spent her youthsunbathing. Ifonlythe Coloneldidn't ballup his everybelongingand stuffit into randomdresser drawers. "I think youjust turnit onand press it against the shirt, right?" I said. "I don't know. I didn'tevenknowwehadaniron." "We don't. It's Takumi's. But Takumidoesn't knowhow to iron, either. And when I asked Alaska, she started yelling, `You're not going to impose the patriarchal paradigm onme.' Oh, God, I need to smoke. I need to smoke, butIcan'treekwhenIseeSara'sparents. Okay, screwit. We're going to smoke in the bathroomwith the shower on. The shower has steam. Steam gets rid of wrinkles, right? "By the way," he said as I followed him into the bathroom, "if you want to smoke inside during the day, just turnonthe shower. The smoke follows the steamup thevents." Thoughthis made no scientific sense, it seemed to work. The shower's shortage of water pressure and low showerhead made it allbut useless for showering, but it workedgreatasasmokescreen. Sadly, it made a poor iron. The Coloneltried ironingthe shirtonce more ("I'mjustgonna pushreallyhard and see ifthat helps") and finallyput it onwrinkled. He matched the shirt witha blue tie decorated withhorizontallines of littlepinkflamingos. "The one thing my lousy father taught me," the Colonel said as his hands nimbly threaded the tie into a perfect knot, "was how to tie a tie. Which is odd, since I can't imaginewhenheeverhadtowearone." Just then, Sara knocked on the door. I'd seen her once or twice before, but the Colonelnever introduced me to heranddidn'thaveachancetothatnight. "Oh. My God. Can't you at least press your shirt?"she asked, even though the Colonelwas standing in front of theironingboard. "We're goingout withmy parents." Sara looked awfully nice inher blue summer dress. Her long, pale blond hair was pulled up into a twist, with a strand of hair falling downeachsideofherface. Shelooked likeamoviestar —abitchyone. "Look, I did mybest. We don't allhave maids to do our ironing." "Chip, that chip on your shoulder makes you look even shorter." "Christ, can'twegetoutthedoorwithoutfighting?" http://dc142.4shared.com/download/98855612/9daf06c9/Looking_for_Alaska_by_John_G... 4/23/2009 Page17of88 "I'm just saying. It'sthe opera. It's a big deal to my "I'm just saying. It'sthe opera. It's a big deal to my parents. Whatever. Let's go." I felt like leaving, but it seemed stupid to hide in the bathroom, and Sara was standing in the doorway, one hand cocked on her hip and the other fiddlingwithher car keys as ifto say, Let's go. "I could wear a tuxedo and your parents would stillhate me!"heshouted. "That's not myfault!Youantagonize them!"She held up the car keys in front ofhim. "Look, we're going now or we'renotgoing." "Fuck it. I'mnot going anywhere with you,"the Colonel said. "Fine. Have a great night." Sara slammed the door so hard that a sizable biographyofLeo Tolstoy(last words: "The truth is...I care a great deal...what they...") fell off my bookshelf and landed with a thud on our checkered floorlikeanechooftheslammingdoor. "AHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!"hescreamed. "Sothat'sSara,"Isaid. "Yes." "Sheseemsnice." The Colonel laughed, knelt down next to the minifridge, and pulled out a gallon of milk. He opened it, took a swig, winced, halfcoughed, and sat down on the couch withthemilkbetweenhislegs. "Isitsourorsomething?" "Oh, I should have mentioned that earlier. This isn't milk. It's five parts milk and one partvodka. I callit ambrosia. Drinkofthegods. Youcanbarelysmellthe vodka inthe milk, so the Eagle can't catch me unless he actually takes a sip. The downside is that it tastes like sour milk and rubbing alcohol, butit'sFridaynight, Pudge, andmygirlfriendisa bitch. Wantsome?" "IthinkI'llpass."Asidefromafewsipsofchampagneon New Year's under the watchful eye of my parents, I'd never really drunk any alcohol, and "ambrosia" didn't seemlike the drink withwhichto start. Outside, I heard the pay phone ring. Given the fact that 190 boarders shared five pay phones, I was amazed at how infrequently it rang. We weren't supposed to have cell phones, but I'd noticed that some of the Weekday Warriors carried them surreptitiously. And most non- Warriorscalled theirparents, asIdid, ona regularbasis, soparentsonlycalledwhentheirkidsforgot. "Are you going to get that?" the Colonel asked me. I didn't feel like being bossed around by him, but I also didn'tfeellikefighting. Through a buggy twilight, I walked to the pay phone, which was drilled into the wall between Rooms 44 and 45. On both sides of the phone, dozens of phone numbers and esoteric notes were written in pen and marker(205.555.1584; Tommy to airport 4:20;773.573.6521;JG— Kuffs?). Calling the pay phone required a great deal of patience. Ipickeduponabouttheninthring. "Canyouget Chip for me?"Sara asked. It sounded like shewasonacellphone. "Yeah, holdon." "Yeah, holdon." I turned, and he was alreadybehind me, as ifhe knewit would be her. I handed him the receiver and walked backtotheroom. Aminute later, three words made their wayto our room through the thick, still air of Alabama at almost-night. "Screwyoutoo!"theColonelshouted. Back in the room, he sat down with his ambrosia and told me, "She says I ratted out Paul and Marya. That's what the Warriors are saying. That I ratted them out. Me. That's why the piss in the shoes. That's why the nearlykillingyou. 'Cause youlive withme, and theysay I'marat." I tried to remember who Paul and Marya were. The names were familiar, but I had heard so many names in the
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