Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Paper Towns - Chapter 4

We were driving down a blessedly empty I-4, and I was following Margo’s directions. The clock on the
dashboard said it was 1:07.
“It’s pretty, huh?” she said. She was turned away from me, staring out the window, so I could hardly
see her. “I love driving fast under streetlights.”
“Light,” I said, “the visible reminder of Invisible Light.”
“That’s beautiful,” she said.
“T. S. Eliot,” I said. “You read it, too. In English last year.” I hadn’t actually ever read the whole poem
that line was from, but a couple of the parts I did read got stuck in my head.
“Oh, it’s a quote,” she said, a little disappointed. I saw her hand on the center console. I could have
put my own hand on the center console and then our hands would have been in the same place at the same
time. But I didn’t. “Say it again,” she said.
“Light, the visible reminder of Invisible Light.”
“Yeah. Damn, that’s good. That must help with your lady friend.”
“Ex-lady friend,” I corrected her.
“Suzie dumped you?” Margo asked.
“How do you know she dumped me?”
“Oh, sorry.”
“Although she did,” I admitted, and Margo laughed. The breakup had happened months ago, but I
didn’t blame Margo for failing to pay attention to the world of lower-caste romance. What happens in the
band room stays in the band room.
Margo put her feet up on the dashboard and wiggled her toes to the cadence of her speaking. She always
talked like that, with this discernible rhythm, like she was reciting poetry. “Right, well, I’m sorry to
hear that. But I can relate. My lovely boyfriend of lo these many months is fucking my best friend.”
I looked over but her hair was all in her face, so I couldn’t make out if she was kidding. “Seriously?”
She didn’t say anything. “But you were just laughing with him this morning. I saw you.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I heard about it before first period, and then I found them
both talking together and I started screaming bloody murder, and Becca ran into the arms of Clint Bauer,
and Jase was just standing there like a dumbass with the chaw drool running out of his stank mouth.”
I had clearly misinterpreted the scene in the hallway. “That’s weird, because Chuck Parson asked me
this morning what I knew about you and Jase.”
“Yeah, well, Chuck does as he’s told, I guess. Probably trying to find out for Jase who knew.”
“Jesus, why would he hook up with Becca?”
“Well, she’s not known for her personality or generosity of spirit, so it’s probably because she’s hot.”
“She’s not as hot as you,” I said, before I could think better of it.
“That’s always seemed so ridiculous to me, that people would want to be around someone because
they’re pretty. It’s like picking your breakfast cereals based on color instead of taste. It’s the next exit,
by the way. But I’m not pretty, not close up anyway. Generally, the closer people get to me the less hot
they find me.”
“That’s— ” I started.
“Whatever,” she answered.
It struck me as somewhat unfair that an asshole like Jason Worthington would get to have sex with both
Margo and Becca, when perfectly likable individuals such as myself don’t get to have sex with either
of them—or anyone else, for that matter. That said, I like to think that I am the type of person who
wouldn’t hook up with Becca Arrington. She may be hot, but she is also 1. aggressively vapid, and 2. an
absolute, unadulterated, raging bitch. Those of us who frequent the band room have long suspected that
Becca maintains her lovely figure by eating nothing but the souls of kittens and the dreams of impoverished
children. “Becca does sort of suck,” I said, trying to draw Margo back into conversation.
“Yeah,” she answered, looking out the passenger window, her hair reflecting oncoming streetlights.
I thought for a second she might be crying, but she rallied quickly, pulling her hoodie up and taking The
Club out of the Wal-Mart bag. “Well, this’ll be fun at any rate,” she said as she ripped open The Club’s
“May I ask where we’re going yet?”
“Becca’s,” she answered.
“Uh-oh,” I said as I pulled up to a stop sign. I put the minivan in park and started to tell Margo that I
was taking her home.
“No felonies. Promise. We need to find Jase’s car. Becca’s street is the next one up on the right, but
he wouldn’t park his car on her street, because her parents are home. Try the one after. That’s the first
“Okay,” I said, “but then we go home.”
“No, then we move on to Part Two of Eleven.”
“Margo, this is a bad idea.”
“Just drive,” she said, and so I just did. We found Jase’s Lexus two blocks down from Becca’s street,
parked in a cul-de-sac. Before I’d even come to a complete stop, Margo jumped out of the minivan with
The Club in hand. She pulled open the Lexus’s driver-side door, sat down in the seat, and proceeded to
attach The Club to Jase’s steering wheel. Then she softly closed the door to the Lexus.
“Dumb bastard never locks that car,” she mumbled as she climbed back into the minivan. She pocketed
the key to The Club. She reached over and tousled my hair. “Part One—done. Now, to Becca’s
As I drove, Margo explained Parts Two and Three to me.
“That’s quite brilliant,” I said, even though inside I was bursting with a shimmering nervousness.
I turned onto Becca’s street and parked two houses down from her McMansion. Margo crawled into
the wayback of the minivan and returned with a pair of binoculars and a digital camera. She looked
through the binoculars first, and then handed them to me. I could see a light on in the house’s basement,
but no movement. I was mostly surprised that the house even had a basement—you can’t dig very deep
before hitting water in most of Orlando.
I reached into my pocket, grabbed my cell phone, and dialed the number that Margo recited to me.
The phone rang once, twice, and then a groggy male voice answered, “Hello?”
“Mr. Arrington?” I asked. Margo wanted me to call because no one would ever recognize my voice.
“Who is this? God, what time is it?”
“Sir, I think you should know that your daughter is currently having sex with Jason Worthington in
your basement.” And then I hung up. Part Two: accompli.
Margo and I threw open the doors of the minivan and charged down the street, diving onto our stomachs
just behind the hedge ringing Becca’s yard. Margo handed me the camera, and I watched as an
upstairs bedroom light came on, and then a stairway light, and then the kitchen light. And finally, the
stairway down to the basement.
“Here he comes,” Margo whispered, and I didn’t know what she meant until, out of the corner of my
eye, I noticed a shirtless Jason Worthington wiggling out of the basement window. He took off sprinting
across the lawn, naked but for his boxer shorts, and as he approached I jumped up and took a picture
of him, completing Part Three. The flash surprised both of us, I think, and he blinked at me through the
darkness for a white-hot moment before running off into the night.
Margo tugged on my jeans leg; I looked down at her, and she was smiling goofily. I reached my hand
down, helped her up, and then we raced back to the car. I was putting the key in the ignition when she
said, “Let me see the picture.”
I handed her the camera, and we watched it come up on the screen together, our heads almost touching.
Upon seeing the stunned, pale face of Jason Worthington, I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Oh, God,” Margo said, and pointed. In the rush of the moment, it seemed that Jason had been unable
to get Little Jason inside his boxers, and so there it was, hanging out, digitally captured for posterity.
“It’s a penis,” Margo said, “in the same sense that Rhode Island is a state: it may have an illustrious
history, but it sure isn’t big.”
I looked back at the house and noticed that the basement light was now off. I found myself feeling
slightly bad for Jason—it wasn’t his fault he had a micropenis and a brilliantly vindictive girlfriend. But
then again, in sixth grade, Jase promised not to punch my arm if I ate a live earthworm, so I ate a live
earthworm and then he punched me in the face. So I didn’t feel very bad for very long.
When I looked over at Margo, she was staring at the house through her binoculars. “We have to go,”
Margo said. “Into the basement.”
“What? Why?”
“Part Four. Get his clothes in case he tries to sneak back into her house. Part Five. Leave fish for
“Yes. Now,” she said. “She’s upstairs getting yelled at by her parents. But, like, how long does that
lecture last? I mean, what do you say? ‘You shouldn’t screw Margo’s boyfriend in the basement.’ It’s a
one-sentence lecture, basically. So we have to hustle.”
She got out of the car with the spray paint in one hand and one of the catfish in the other. I whispered,
“This is a bad idea,” but I followed behind her, crouched down as she was, until we were standing in
front of the still-open basement window.
“I’ll go first,” she said. She went in feetfirst and was standing on Becca’s computer desk, half in the
house and half out of it, when I asked her, “Can’t I just be lookout?”
“Get your skinny ass in here,” she answered, and so I did. Quickly, I grabbed all the boy-type clothes
I saw on Becca’s lavender-carpeted floor. A pair of jeans with a leather belt, a pair of flip-flops, a Winter
Park High School Wildcats baseball cap, and a baby blue polo shirt. I turned back to Margo, who handed
me the paper-wrapped catfish and one of Becca’s sparkly purple pens. She told me what to write:
A message from Margo Roth Spiegelman: Your friendship with her—it sleeps with the fishes
Margo hid the fish between folded pairs of shorts in Becca’s closet. I could hear footsteps upstairs,
and tapped Margo on the shoulder and looked at her, my eyes bulging. She just smiled and leisurely
pulled out the spray paint. I scrambled out the window, and then turned back to watch as Margo leaned
over the desk and calmly shook the spray paint. In an elegant motion—the kind you associate with calligraphy
or Zorro—she spray-painted the letter M onto the wall above the desk.
She reached her hands up to me, and I pulled her through the window. She was just starting to stand
when we heard a high-pitched voice shout, “DWIGHT!” I grabbed the clothes and took off running,
Margo behind me.
I heard, but did not see, the front door of Becca’s house swing open, but I didn’t stop or turn around,
not when a booming voice shouted “HALT!” and not even when I heard the unmistakable sound of a
shotgun being pumped.
I heard Margo mumble “gun” behind me—she didn’t sound upset about it exactly; she was just making
an observation—and then rather than walk around Becca’s hedge, I dove over it headfirst. I’m not
sure how I intended to land—maybe an artful somersault or something—but at any rate, I spilled onto
the asphalt of the road, landing on my left shoulder. Fortunately, Jase’s bundle of clothes hit the ground
first, softening the blow.
I swore, and before I could even start to stand, I felt Margo’s hands pulling me up, and then we were
in the car and I was driving in reverse with the lights off, which is how I nearly came to run over the
mostly naked starting shortstop of the Winter Park High School Wildcats baseball team. Jase was running
very fast, but he didn’t seem to be running anyplace in particular. I felt another stab of regret as we
backed up past him, so I rolled the window halfway down and threw his polo in his general direction.
Fortunately, I don’t think he saw either Margo or me, and he had no reason to recognize the minivan
since—and I don’t want to sound bitter or anything by dwelling on this—I can’t drive it to school.
“Why the hell would you do that?” Margo asked as I turned on the lights and, driving forward now,
began to navigate the suburban labyrinth back toward the interstate.
“I felt bad for him.”
“For him? Why? Because he’s been cheating on me for six weeks? Because he’s probably given me
god-only-knows-what disease? Because he’s a disgusting idiot who will probably be rich and happy his
whole life, thus proving the absolute unfairness of the cosmos?”
“He just looked sort of desperate,” I said.
“Whatever. We’re going to Karin’s house. It’s on Pennsylvania, by the ABC Liquors.”
“Don’t be pissed at me,” I said. “I just had a guy point a freaking shotgun at me for helping you, so
don’t be pissed at me.”
“I’M NOT PISSED AT YOU!” Margo shouted, and then punched the dashboard.
“Well, you’re screaming.”
“I thought maybe—whatever. I thought maybe he wasn’t cheating.”
“Karin told me at school. And I guess a lot of people have known for a long time. And no one told
me until Karin. I thought maybe she was just trying to stir up drama or something.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Yeah. Yeah. I can’t believe I even care.”
“My heart is really pounding,” I said.
“That’s how you know you’re having fun,” Margo said.
But it didn’t feel like fun; it felt like a heart attack. I pulled over into a 7-Eleven parking lot and held
my finger to my jugular vein while watching the : in the digital clock blink every second. When I turned
to Margo, she was rolling her eyes at me. “My pulse is dangerously high,” I explained.
“I don’t even remember the last time I got excited about something like that. The adrenaline in the
throat and the lungs expanding.”
“In through the nose out through the mouth,” I answered her.
“All your little anxieties. It’s just so . . .”
“Is that what they’re calling childish these days?” She smiled.
Margo crawled into the backseat and came back with a purse. How much shit did she put back there?
I thought. She opened up the purse and pulled out a full bottle of nail polish so darkly red it was almost
black. “While you calm down, I’m going to paint my nails,” she said, smiling up at me through her
bangs. “You just take your time.”
And so we sat there, she with her nail polish balanced on the dash, and me with a shaky finger on
the pulse of myself. It was a good color of nail polish, and Margo had nice fingers, thinner and bonier
than the rest of her, which was all curves and soft edges. She had the kind of fingers you want to interlace
with your own. I remembered them against my hip bone in Wal-Mart, which felt like days ago. My
heartbeat slowed. And I tried to tell myself: Margo’s right. There’s nothing out here to be afraid of, not
in this little city on this quiet night.


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