eighty-nine days before

“We found you a girlfriend,” Alaska said to me. Still, no one had explained to me what happened the week before with the Jury. It didn’t seem to have affected Alaska, though, who was 1. in our room after dark with the door closed, and 2. smoking a cigarette as she sat on the mostly foam couch. She had stuffed a towel into the bottom of our door and insisted it was safe, but I worried — about the cigarette and the “girlfriend.”

“All I have to do now,” she said, “is convince you to like her and convince her to like you.”

“Monumental tasks,” the Colonel pointed out. He lay on the top bunk, reading for his English class. Moby-Dick.

“How can you read and talk at the same time?” I asked.

“Well, I usually can’t, but neither the book nor the conversation is particularly intellectually challenging.”

“I like that book,” Alaska said.

“Yes.” The Colonel smiled and leaned over to look at her from his top bunk. “You would. Big white whale is a metaphor for everything. You live for pretentious metaphors.”

Alaska was unfazed. “So, Pudge, what’s your feeling on the former Soviet bloc?”

“Urn. I’m in favor of it?”

She flicked the ashes of her cigarette into my pencil holder. I almost protested, but why bother. “You know that girl in our precalc class,” Alaska said, “soft voice, says thees, not this. Know that girl?”


“Yeah. Lara. She sat on my lap on the way to McDonald’s.”

“Right. I know. And she liked you. You thought she was quietly discussing precalc, when she was clearly talking about having hot sex with you. Which is why you need me.”

“She has great breasts,” the Colonel said without looking up from the whale.


Now he looked up. “Sorry. Perky breasts.”

“That’s not any better!”

“Sure it is,” he said. “Great is a judgment on a woman’s body. Perky is merely an observation. They are perky. I mean, Christ.”

“You’re hopeless,” she said. “So she thinks you’re cute, Pudge.”


“Doesn’t mean anything. Problem with you is that if you talk to her you’ll “uh um uh’ your way to disaster.”

“Don’t be so hard on him,” the Colonel interrupted, as if he was my mom. “God, I understand whale anatomy.

Can we move on now, Herman?”

“So Jake is going to be in Birmingham this weekend, and we’re going on a triple date. Well, triple and a half, since Takumi will be there, too. Very low pressure. You won’t be able to screw up, because I’ll be there the whole time.”


“Who’s my date?” the Colonel asked.

“Your girlfriend is your date.”

“All right,” he said, and then deadpanned, “but we don’t get along very well.”

“So Friday? Do you have plans for Friday?” And then I laughed, because the Colonel and I didn’t have plans for this Friday, or for any other Friday for the rest of our lives.

“I didn’t think so.” She smiled. “Now, we gotta go do dishes in the cafeteria, Chipper. God, the sacrifices I make.”


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