“Get up,” Hassan said, reaching a hand down. Colin grabbed it, pulled himself up, and then tried to let go of Hassan’s hand. But Hassan gripped tighter. “Kafir, you have a very complicated problem with a very simple solution. ”
“A road trip,” Colin said. He had an overstuffed duffel bag at his feet and a backpack stretched taut, which contained only books. He and Hassan were sitting on a black leather couch. Colin’s parents sat across from them on an identical couch.
Colin’s mother shook her head rhythmically, like a disapproving metronome. “To where?” she asked. “And why?”
“No offense, Mrs. Singleton,” Hassan said, putting his feet up on the coffee table (which you were not allowed to do), “but you’re sort of missing the point. There is no where or why. ”
“Think of all you could do this summer, Colin. You could learn Sanskrit,” said his dad. “I know how you’ve been wanting to learn Sanskrit. 8 “Will you really be happy just driving around aimlessly? That doesn’t seem like you. Frankly, it seems like quitting. ”
“Quitting what, Dad?”
His dad paused. He always paused after a question, and then when h e did speak, it was in complete sentences without ums or likes or uhs—as if he’d memorized his response. “It pains me to say this, Colin, but if you wish to continue to grow intellectually, you need to work harder right now than you ever have before. Otherwise, you risk wasting your potential. ”
“Technically,” Colin answered, “I think I might have already wasted it. ” Maybe it was because Colin had never once in his life disappointed his parents: he did not drink or do drugs or smoke cigarettes or wear black eyeliner or stay out late or get bad grades or pierce his tongue or have the words “KATHERINE LUVA 4 LIFE” tattooed across his back. Or maybe they felt guilty, like somehow they’d failed him and brought him to this place. Or maybe they just wanted a few weeks alone to rekindle the romance. But five minutes after acknowledging his wasted potential, Colin Singleton was behind the wheel of his lengthy gray Oldsmobile known as Satan’s Hearse.
Inside the car, Hassan said, “Okay, now all we have to do is go to my house, pick up some clothes, and miraculously convince my parents to let me go on a road trip. ”
“You could say you have a summer job. At, like, a camp or something,” Colin offered.
“Right, except I’m not going to lie to my mom, because what kind of bastard lies to his own mother?”
“Well, although, someone else could lie to her. I could live with that. ”
“Fine,” said Colin. Five minutes later, they double-parked on a street in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, and jumped out of the car together. Hassan burst into the house with Colin trailing. In the well-appointed living room, Hassan’s mom sat in an easy chair, sleeping.
“Hey, Mama,” said Hassan. “Wake up. ” She jolted awake, smiled, and g reeted both of the boys in Arabic. Colin answered in Arabic, saying, “My girlfriend dumped me and I’m really depressed, and so Hassan and I are going to go on a, a, uh, vacation where you drive. I don’t know the word in Arabic. ”
Mrs. Harbish shook her head and pursed her lips. “Don’t I tell you,” she said in accented English, “not to mess with girls? Hassan is a good boy, doesn’ t do this ‘dating. ’ And look how happy he is. You should learn from him. ”
“That’s what he’s going to teach me on this trip,” Colin said, although nothing could have been further from the truth. Hassan barreled back into the room carrying a half-zipped duffel bag overflowing with clothes. “Ohiboke, 9 Mama,” he said, leaning down to kiss her cheek.
Suddenly a pajama-clad Mr. Harbish entered the living room and in English said, “You’re not going anywhere. ”
“Oh, Dad. We have t o. Look at him. He’s all screwed up. ” Colin stared up at Mr. Harbish and tried to look as screwed up as he possibly could. “He’s going with or without me, but with me at least I can watch out for him. ”
“Colin is a good boy,” Mrs. Harbish said to her husband.
“I’ll call you every day,” Hassan added. “We won’t even be gone long. Just until he gets better. ”
Colin, now completely improvising, had an idea. “I’m going to get Hassan a job,” he said to Mr. Harbish. “I think we both need to learn the value of hard work. ”
Mr. Harbish grunted in agreement, then turned to Hassan. “You need to learn the value of not watching that awful Judge Judy, for starters. If you call me in a week and have a job, you can stay wherever you want as long as you want, as far as I’m concerned. ”
Hassan seemed not to notice the insults, only meekly mumbling, “Thanks, Dad. ” He kissed his mother on both cheeks and hurried out the door.
“What a dick,” Hassan said once they were safely inside the Hearse. “It’s one thing to accuse me of laziness. But to malign the good name of America’s greatest television judge—that’s below the belt. ”
Hassan fell asleep around one in the morning and Colin, half-drunk on well-creamed gas station coffee and the exhilarating loneliness of a freeway in nighttime, drove south on I-65 through Indianapolis. It was a warm night for early June, and since the AC in Satan’s Hearse hadn’t worked in this millennium, the windows were cracked open. And the beautiful thing about driving was that it stole just enough of his attention—car parked on the side, maybe a cop, slow to speed limit, time to pass this sixteen-wheeler, turn signal, check rearview, crane neck to check blind spot and yes, okay, left lane—to distract from the gnawing hole in his belly.
To keep his mind occupied, he thought of other holes in other stomachs. He thought of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, assassinated in 1914. As he looked down at the bloody hole in his middle, the Archduke had said, “It is nothing. ” He was mistaken. There’s no doubt that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand mattered, although he was neither a prodigy nor a genius: his assassination sparked World War I—so his death led to 8,528,831 others.
Colin missed her. Missing her kept him awake more than the coffee, and when Hassan had asked to drive an hour back, Colin had said no, because the driving kept him going—stay under seventy; God, my heart racing; I hate the taste of coffee; so wired though; okay, and clear of the truck; okay yes; right lane; and now just my own headlights against the darkness. It kept the loneliness of crushlessness from being entirely crushing. Driving was a kind of thinking, the only kind he could then tolerate. But still, the thought lurked out there, just beyond the reach of his headlights: he’d been dumped. By a girl named Katherine. For the nineteenth time.
When it comes to girls (and in Colin’s case, it so often did), everyone has a type. Colin Singleton’s type was not physical but linguistic: he liked Katherines. And not Katies or Kats or Kitties or Cathys or Rynns or Trinas or Kays or Kates or, God forbid, Catherines. K-A-T-H-E-R-I-N-E. He had dated nineteen girls. All of them had been named Katherine. And all of them—every single solitary one—had dumped him.