Boy Meets Boy

Page 10


“Thank God I found youl”
It's not Noah saying this. It's Infinite Darlene, right behind me.
“Am I interrupting?” she asks.
Now, I really like Infinite Darlene. But among all my friends, she's usually the last I introduce to new people. I have to prepare them. Because Infinite Darlene doesn't make the best first impression. She seems very full of herself. Which she is. It's only after you get to know her better that you realize that somehow she's managed to encompass all her friends within her own self-image, so that when she's acting full of herself, she's actually full of her close friends, too.
There is no way I can expect Noah to understand this.
I try to send Infinite Darlene a look to let her know she's interrupting, without actually telling her out loud.
It doesn't work.
“You must be that boy Paul likes,” she says to Noah.
I turn Elmo red.
“And boy,” Infinite Darlene continues, “you sure are cute.”
The first time Infinite Darlene talked to me like this, I stuttered for days. Noah smiles and takes it in stride.
“Now, are all the girls at this school as nice as you?” he asks. “If so, I'm definitely going to like it here.”
He looks right at her as he says it. And I can tell that even Infinite Darlene is a little taken aback, because it's clear he's seeing her just as she wants to be seen. So few people do that.
With two sentences, he's managed to win over my most critical friend.
I am in awe.
I am also mortified by Infinite Darlene's declaration of my liking. Sure, I'm about as smooth as a camel's back … but I was still trying to win him over with my own sweet plan (whatever that might be).
Of course. Infinite Darlene will only let a beat last so long before stepping in again.
“Is this awful, vile rumor I hear actually true? Break it to me gently.”
“Do you mind if I derail for a second?” I ask Noah, then quickly add, “Please stay.”
“No problem,” he says.
That settled, I face Infinite Darlene. In heels, she is easily six inches taller than me. In an effort to break it to her gently, I talk to her chin.
“It appears that Joni has started something with—”
“StopI” Infinite Darlene interrupts, stepping back and holding up her hand. “I can't take any more. Why, Paul? Why?”
“I don't know.
"He's scum".
I am not about to argue with a football captain who has long fingernails.
“Haven't I taught her anything?” Infinite Darlene is clearly exasperated. “I mean, I know she has bad taste. But this is like licking the bottom of your stiletto.”
Clearly, Infinite Darlene still feels some hostility toward Chuck.
“I have to find that girl and talk some sense into her,” she concludes. I put up a show of trying to dissuade her, but we both know there's no way I'm going to stop her. She leaves in a huff.
“Friend of yours?” Noah asks, eyebrow raised.
I nod.
“I'll bet she's always like that.”
I nod again.
“I feel very calm in comparison.”
“We all do,” I assure him. “This is the kind of stuff I was dealing with yesterday when I should've been here.”
“Does this happen often?”
“Not this specific thing, but there's usually something like it.”
“Do you think you could escape the crisis for a few hours this afternoon?”
Since Infinite Darlene blew my cover so thoroughly, I decide to take a risk.
“You're not asking me just because I like you?”
He smiles. “The thought never crossed my mind.”
We don't say any more than that. I mean, we say things—we make plans and all. But the subject of us is dropped back into signals and longing.
We make plans for after school.
I'm going to help him paint some music.
Painting Music
Noah's house is in a different part of town than mine, but the neighborhood looks just the same. Each house has a huge welcome mat of lawn sitting in front of it, bordered by a driveway on one side and a hedge on the other. It should be boringly predictable, but it's not really. The houses are personalized— a blush of geraniums around the front stoop, a pair of shutters painted to echo the blue sky. In Noah's yard, the hedges have been made into the shape of lightbulbs—the legacy of the former owner, Noah tells me.
He lives close to the high school, so we walk the bendily cross-hatched roads together. He asks me how long I've lived in town, and I tell him I've lived here my whole life.
“What's that like?” he asks.
“I don't really have anything to compare it to,” I say after a moment's thought. “This is all I know.”
Noah explains that his family has moved four times in the last ten years. This is meant to be the final stop—now his parents travel everywhere for business instead of making the family move to the nearest headquarter city.
“I'm so dislocated,” Noah confesses.
“You're here now,” I tell him.
If my family were to move (honestly, I can't imagine it, but I'm stating it here for the sake of argument), I think it would take us about three years to unpack all of our boxes. Noah's family, however, has put everything in its place. We walk through the front door and I'm amazed at how immaculate everything is. The furniture has settled into its new home; the only thing the house lacks is clutter. We walk into the living room—and it's one of those living rooms that look like nobody ever lives in them.
We head to the kitchen for a snack. Noah's sister is sitting alert at the corner table, like a parent waiting up late at night for a kid to come home.
“You're late,” she says. “You missed Mom's call.”
She must be in eighth grade—maybe seventh. She's old enough to wear make-up, but she hasn't figured out yet how to wear it well.
“Is she going to call back?” Noah asks.
“Maybe.” End of conversation.
Noah reaches out for the mail on the table, sifting through the catalogs and bulk mail for something worthwhile.
“Paul, this is my sister, Claudia,” he says as he separates the recyclable from the nonrecyclable. “Claudia, this is Paul.”