Boy Meets Boy

Page 11


“Nice to meet you,” I say.
“Nice to meet you, too. Don't hurt him like Pitt did, okay?”
Noah's annoyed now. “Claudia, go to your room,” he says, giving up on the mail.
“You're not the boss of me.”
“I can't believe you just said that. What are you, six years old?”
“Excuse me, but aren't you the one who just said ‘Go to your room’? And by the way, Pitt wrecked you. Or have you forgotten?”
It's clear Noah hasn't forgotten. And neither, to her credit, has Claudia.
Satisfied by this turn of conversation, Claudia drops the subject. “I just made a smoothie pitcher,” she tells us as she gets up from the table. “You can have some, but leave at least half.”
Once she's out of the room, Noah asks me if I have a little sister. I tell him I have an older brother, which isn't really the same thing.
“Different methods of beating you up,” Noah says.
I nod.
After drinking some of Claudia's mango-cherry-vanilla concoction, Noah leads me up the back stairs to his room.
Before we reach his door, he says, “I hope you don't mind whimsy.”
In truth, I'd never given whimsy much thought before.
Then I see his room and I know exactly what he means.
I don't know where to begin, both in looking at it and describing it. The ceiling is a swirl of just about any color you'd care to imagine. But it doesn't seem like it was painted with different colors—it looks like it appeared at once, as a whole. One wall is covered with Matchbox cars glued in different directions, with a town and roads drawn in the background. His music collection hangs on a swing from the ceiling; his stereo is elevated on a pedestal of postcards from absurd places—Botswana, the Kansas City International Airport, an Elvis convention. His books are kept on freestanding shelves hung at different angles on a sea-green wall. They defy gravity, as good books should. His bed is in the middle of the room, but can be rolled effortlessly into any corner. His windowshades are made from old bubblegum wrappers, arranged into a design.
“You did all this in two months?” I ask. It has taken me fifteen years to decorate my room, and it isn't nearly as intricate or … whimsical. I'd like it to be.
Noah nods. “Since I don't know many people here, I guess I had time.”
He goes to the stereo and hits a few buttons. He smiles a little nervously.
“This is very cool,” I assure him. “It's a very cool room. Mine isn't nearly as cool.”
“I doubt that,” he says.
It's not that the weirdness of the moment doesn't strike me. I realize that the two of us don't really know each other. And at the same time, there's that comforting, unattributable vibe we're both feeling, which intuitively tells us that we should get to know each other. By showing me his room, he's giving me a glimpse of his soul. I am nervous about giving in return.
In the middle of the book-angled wall is a very narrow door— it can't be more than two feet wide. “This way,” Noah says, guiding me toward it. He opens it up, revealing a guard of shirts. Then he disappears inside.
I follow. The door closes behind me. There is no light.
We push through the closet, which is unusually deep. Because it's so narrow, Noah's clothes are hung in layers. I push through the hangered row of his shirts and find myself folded between two dangling sweaters.
“Are we going to Narnia?” I ask.
I squeeze to a crawl to follow him through a vent-like passage. Then his legs stretch up—he's standing in a new passage, pulling himself up a rope ladder, up toward a trap door. By my reckoning, we're headed into a corner of the attic. But I can't be sure.
As the trap door is raised, light streams down on us. I am surrounded by brick. I am in the middle of an old chimney.
At the top of the rope ladder is a white room. There is one window, one cabinet, and two speakers. An easel stands in the middle of the room, with a blank square of waiting paper.
“This is where I paint,” Noah says as he sets up a second easel. “Nobody else is allowed up here. My parents promised me that when we moved. You're really the first person to see it.”
The floor is paint-splattered—trails of color, spots of shape. Even the white walls have hints of vermilion, azure, and gold. Noah doesn't seem to mind.
I am a little worried, since the last time I painted there were numbers on the paper telling me which colors to use. I am an ace doodler, but other than that my artistic repertoire is quite limited.
“Jesus died for our sins,” Noah says solemnly.
“What?I?” I reply, choking back my thoughts.
“I was just seeing if you were listening. Your face went far away for a second.”
“Well, I'm back now.”
“Good.” He hands me a vase of brushes and an ice-cube tray of paints. “Now we can start.”
“WaitI” I protest. “I don't know what to do.”
He smiles. “Just listen to the music and paint. Follow the sound. Don't think about rules. Don't worry about getting it perfect. Just let the song carry you.”
“But what about instructions?”
“There are no other instructions.”
He walks over to the speakers and plugs them into the wall. The music begins, drifting into the room like a perfumed scent. A piano tinkles in jazz cadences. A trumpet chimes in. And then the voice— this wonderful voice—begins to croon.
“There's a somebody I'm longing to see….”
“Who is this?” I ask.
“Chet Baker.”
He's marvelous.
“Don't get lost in the words,” Noah says, ready to paint. “Follow the sounds.”
At first I don't know what this means. I dip my brush into a velvety purple. I raise it to the canvas and listen to the music. Chet Baker's voice is sinuous, floaty. I touch the brush to the paper and try to make it soar in time with the song. I swoop it down, then up again. I am not painting a shape. I am painting the tune.
The song continues. I wash my brush and try different colors. The sunflower yellow settles in patches, while the tomato red flirts over the lines of purple. Another song begins. I reach for a blue the color of oceans.
“… I'm so lucky to be the one you run to see.…”