"So do you really memorize last words?"
She ran up beside me and grabbed my shoulder and pushed me back onto the
"Yeah," I said. And then hesitantly, I added, "You want to quiz me?"
"JFK," she said.
"That's obvious," I answered.
"Oh, is it now?" she asked.
"No. Those were his last words. Someone said, 'Mr. President, you can't
say Dallas doesn't love you,' and then he said, 'That's obvious,' and
then he got shot."
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 Garcma Marquez. The General in His Labyrinth. Absolutely one of
my favorites. It's about Simsn Bolmvar." I didn't know who Simsn Bolmvar
was, but she didn't give me time to ask. "It's a historical novel, so I
don't know if this is true, but in the book, do you know what his last
words are? No, you don't. But I am about to tell you, Seqor Parting
And then she lit a cigarette and sucked on it so hard for so long that I
thought the entire thing might burn off in one drag. She exhaled and
read to me:
"'He'-that's Simsn Bolmvar-'was shaken by the overwhelming revelation
that the headlong race between his misfortunes and his dreams was at
that moment reaching the finish line. The rest was darkness. "Damn it,"
he sighed. "How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!"'"
I knew great last words when I heard them, and I made a mental note to
get ahold of a biography of this Simsn Bolmvar fellow. Beautiful last
words, but I didn't quite understand. "So what's the labyrinth?" I asked
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 on
that thin-mooned night I could see little more than her silhouette
except for when she smoked, when the burning cherry of the cigarette
washed her face in pale red light. But even in the dark, I could see her
eyes-fierce emeralds. She had the kind of 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 legs
swinging back and forth beneath the swing, flip-flops dangling from her
electric-blue-painted toes. It was right then, between when I asked
about the labyrinth and when she answered me, that I realized the
importance of curves, of the thousand places where girls' bodies ease
from one place to another, from arc of the foot to ankle to calf, from
calf to 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'd
noticed curves before, of course, but I had never quite apprehended
Her mouth close enough to me that I could feel her breath warmer than
the air, she said, "That's the mystery, isn't it? Is the labyrinth
living or dying? Which is he trying to escape-the world or the end of
it?" I waited for her to keep talking, but after a while it became
obvious she wanted an answer.
"Uh, I don't know," I said finally. "Have you really read all those
books in your room?"
She laughed. "Oh God no. I've maybe read a third of 'em. But I'm going
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 much to
do: cigarettes to smoke, sex to have, swings to swing on. I'll have more
time for reading when I'm old and boring."
She told me that I reminded her of the Colonel when he came to Culver
Creek. They were freshmen together, she said, both scholarship kids
with, as she put it, "a shared interest in booze and mischief." The
phrase booze and mischief left me worrying I'd stumbled into what my
mother referred to as "the wrong crowd," but for the wrong crowd, they
both seemed awfully smart. As she lit a new cigarette off the butt of
her previous one, she told me that the Colonel was smart but hadn't done
much living when he got to the Creek.
"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, but whatever. We pulled our first prank that
year-we filled Classroom Four with a thin layer of marbles. We've
progressed some since then, of course." She laughed. 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 her compliment.
"But I didn't just say that, because I love my girlfriend. Oh, wait.
Right. I don't have one."
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: You figure out what the
labyrinth is and how to get out of it, and I'll get you laid."
"Deal." We shook on it.
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
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, but I
told her, "Yeah, totally."
For a moment, she was quiet. Then she grabbed my hand, whispered, "Run
run run run run," and took off, pulling me behind her.
Excerpted from "Looking For Alaska" by John Green. Copyright © 2005 by John Green. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.