Boy Meets Boy

Page 13


Perhaps I need to polish my vindictive streak, but I don't want him to feel that bad. Because I've seen him—I've seen the loneliness behind his eyes, the way he'll stop in the halls unsure of where to make the next step.
Since he made me feel invisible, I spent months wishing he'd disappear. Now it feels like I've gotten half my wish. His spirit has gone. His body remains.
“How's he doing?” I ask Joni, despite my better instincts.
“I don't know if he's happy. But he's got a cat.”
“A cat?” As far as I know, Kyle hates animals.
“He took in a stray.”
“How ironic,” I say, even though I know Kyle is one of the few people in our school who doesn't do irony on a breathing basis.
“Chuck has a cat, too,” Joni volunteers.
Which is, of course, her way of saying she wants to talk about Chuck.
I brace myself.
“He's really not that bad,” she says.
“Who? Kyle?” I'm not going to make this easy. That's my right as her best friend.
“No, Chuck. I really like him.”
“I'm sure if I spent more time with him, I'd get to know him better,” I say, choosing my words very carefully.
“And I'm sure I'll like Noah,” Joni replies.
I freeze for a moment, afraid she'll propose a double date. Instead she says that she, Chuck, and I should head out to lunch together tomorrow.
Because she's my best friend, I say yes.
Only seniors are allowed to leave campus for lunch, but that doesn't stop the rest of us from going out anyway. Our principal's wife owns the sub shop down the street, and I think she'd be out of business in a second without the support of cafeteria-fleeing sophomores and juniors. The seniors can manage to drive somewhere better, but the underclassmen basically have two walking-distance choices.
Whenever I go out, I skip the sub shop and head to the Veggie D's on the other side of the street. The Veggie D's used to be your usual processed-slaughterhouse fast-food joint, but a few years ago a bunch of vegetarians launched a boycott and soon the chain lost its link. A local food co-op took over the building, keeping all the fixtures intact. They even made the workers keep the uniforms, only with a leaf pinned where the corporate logo used to be.
Since Joni can drive, we could conceivably go somewhere else. But I want to be within departure range this time, just in case Chuck makes me want to go away.
What I really want to do is, of course, spend as much time as I can with Noah. This is sudden and unusual for me, but I decide to ride it. I want to know more. I tell him this when I see him at his locker before first period. He tells me not to worry about lunch—we have a whole weekend coming up, and all the time it offers. Without saying a word, we arrange to pass notes between each class. Between first and second, we meet at my locker. Between second and third, we head to his. And so on. Reading about his boredom in math class, or the dream he had last night about penguins, or his mom's phone call from some indistinguishable airport lounge, I begin to learn about him in the first person. I try to write back in the same way, giving a little clue to myself in every sentence. For him, I recall my grandmother's smile, the time Jay and I dressed as each other for Halloween (none of the neighbors got it), Mrs. Benchly's words on my kindergarten evaluation. It's all very random, but that's what my thoughts are like. I can tell from Noah's notes that we have a compatible randomness.
I've told Joni to meet me (with Chuck) in front of my locker. In retrospect, this is a stupid, stupid decision. Because as soon as they show up, Infinite Darlene walks past, clicking her tongue and swishing away. Then, even worse, as Chuck and I are nodding hey, Ted appears behind him. He stops for a second and takes a good look at what we're doing. He, too, walks away irate, betrayed. I feel like a dust mite. And I still have to get through lunch.
Chuck is a short guy but he works out a lot, so as a result he's built like a fire hydrant. Most of the time he acts like a fire hydrant, too. Conversation is not his strong suit. In fact, I'm not sure it's a suit he owns.
So it's Joni and I who chat the whole way to Veggie D's. I doubt Chuck is very happy about our destination—he strikes me as a carnivore—but he doesn't really protest. I find myself liking him okay when his mouth is shut.
After Joni orders a VegHummus and a six-piece Tofu Veg-Nuggets, Chuck and I both opt for the Double Lentil Tempeh Burger with a side order of fries. I get a smoothie, but Chuck goes for a VegCola.
“I don't like fruit,” he explains. “No offense.”
Only his “no offense” offends me.
But because he's my best friend's new boyfriend, I let it slide.
(For now.)
Eating makes Chuck talk more. He and Joni are sitting across from me, holding hands while they chew. They are exactly the same height.
Since Chuck's a sporting guy, I think it's only fair that I keep score of his conversation.
“So I hear you're planning that dance?” he says. (Five points: He's showing an interest in me instead of prattling on about himself.)
“Well,” I reply, “Lyssa Ling's planning it. I'm merely the architect.”
“Whatever.” (Minus two points.) “If you want to sneak in a keg, my dad knows a supplier and I can probably get you one cheap.” (Plus three points for helpfulness, minus two for inappropriateness.)
“Chuck's dad has the biggest liquor collection I've ever seen,” Joni chimes in.
“But he doesn't drink any,” Chuck continues. “He just likes the bottles.” (Plus three for an interesting father.) “How lame is that?” (Minus four for not realizing it.)
“How's football going this year?” I ask.
Chuck's eyes light up. (Joni would be lucky if the mention of her name ever got such a response.) “I think we really have a chance to take State. Watchung is weak, and South Orange's best player graduated last year. Livingston's best player is on the verge of indictment, and Hanover hasn't fielded a decent team since their coach was a player. Caldwell's the one to watch, but I feel like we could take them if we keep our guard up. Our practices have been so rockiri lately. We're tight, you know. Real tight.” (Ten points for passion. So what if it's football he's talking about—if you can be so engaged and excited by the thing you do, you get points.)