Boy Meets Boy

Page 16


Jay stops chewing and pauses before making a grab for Arkansas. “Is she hot?” he asks. “Your sister?”
“She's malaria hot,” Noah tells him. “Isn't that right, Paul?”
“I had to look twice when I saw her,” I chime in. “And I don't even like girls that way.”
Jay nods in approval. My mother swats his hand with a spatula as he goes to stick his finger in the leftover batter. My father looks at us both, wondering how he can have two sons who make him feel so midway.
Finally, Jay starts to talk about practice, and Noah and I get our share of the edible nation. My mom asks us if we want more (“I can do provinces, if you'd like”), but we both take a pass.
We're ready to leave the house.
“I'd like to meet herl” my brother shouts out as we head for the door (after thanking my mom profusely). It takes me a second to realize he's talking about Noah's sister.
We have a laugh about that as we bound down my front path.
“Where now?” we ask each other at the same time.
Both of us hesitate, not wanting to be the first to answer.
Finally, we can't take it.
“The park,” we say at the same time.
Which is very cool.
We hold hands as we walk through town. If anybody notices, nobody cares. I know we all like to think of the heart as the center of the body, but at this moment, every conscious part of me is in the hand that he holds. It is through that hand, that feeling, that I experience everything else. The only things I notice around me are the good things—the mesmerizing tunes spilling out from the open door of the record store; the older man and the even older woman sitting on a park bench, sharing a blintz; the seven-year-old leaping from sidewalk square to sidewalk square, teetering and shifting to avoid stepping on a crack.
As if by agreement, although we haven't made a plan, we head for the paddleboat pavilion. A lone duck greets our arrival. To our right, the skatepunks swoosh-ride on a ramp made of hemp, speeding to queercore thrash and the sound of their own bodies merging with the wind. To our left, a posse of Joy Scouts takes guitar lessons from a retired monk. (We used to have a troop of Boy Scouts, but when the Boy Scouts decided g*ys had no place in their ranks, our Scouts decided the organization had no place in our town; they changed their name and continued on.)
The pond's surface is like a wrinkled blue shirt, with small buoy-buttons marking the distance of water. The paddleboat wrangler has named the boats after his seven daughters. From the time I was little, I've always chosen Trixie, because she's orange and has the funniest name. This time the paddleboat wrangler lifts his eyebrow at me because I go along when Noah chooses the light green Adaline. I like the idea of following his whims. I like the idea of going with him into a boat I've never been in before. Trixie has seen me with Joni and Kyle, other friends and other guys; she has also seen me paddle alone for hours, trying to sort out my problems by leaving a wake. Adaline doesn't know any of my secrets.
Noah and I start to talk about our favorite books and our favorite paintings — sharing our Indicators, hoping the other person will appreciate them as much. I know this is a normal early-date thing to do, but it's still unusual to me; since I've lived in the same town my whole life, I'm used to dating people I already know well. There are always smaller mysteries to unravel, but I often have the general picture right in my mind when the dating begins. Noah, however, is entirely new to me. And I am entirely new to him. It would be so easy to lie—to make my favorites the same as his, or to pick more impressive choices. And yet I tell the truth. I want this all to be the truth.
The paddling pond isn't very large. We intersect it at constantly different angles. We shift direction like we shift conversation—in slow, subtle, natural ways.
“I don't do this very often,” Noah says to me. “You know, go out.”
“Neither do I,” I assure him. It's mostly true, although not quite as true as what he's said to me.
“It's been a while.”
“What happened?” I ask, because I sense he wants me to ask.
But maybe I've sensed wrong. He stops paddling for a second and his looks dark-cloud on me.
“You don't have to tell me,” I say quietly.
He shakes his head. “No … it's okay. It's one of those things that you don't want to come up, but you know it has to come up, and then when it does you hope that once you've talked about it, it won't be that important anymore. It's really not a very interesting story. I liked this guy a lot. And I thought he liked me a lot, but in truth he didn't really like me at all. He was my first boyfriend, and I made him my everything—he was my new, life, my new love, my new compass point. I guess that's the danger with firsts—you lose all sense of proportion. So I made a fool of myself, even though I didn't realize it at the time. I was so devoted to him.” His “devoted” is italicized by sarcasm, underlined by hurt. “And he didn't really care. He was a year older than me, and for a while I used that as an excuse for not knowing he was cheating on me with roughly half his grade. I thought I could see him so well. But I didn't see him at all, really. And he didn't even try to see me.
“Finally, he told me. And the really screwed-up thing is, when he told me, it was one of the most caring things he'd ever done for me—at least in a while. I guess he got a ninth-inning conscience. He told me I was great, and that because I was great there were some things I needed to know. And of course I wondered for months afterwards why, if I was so great, he had to go play on me. I felt so destroyed. More than I should have—but I only realize that now. It was so unfair. It was so unkind.
“I was still getting over it when my parents decided to move. In a lot of ways, I was relieved. I couldn't stand seeing him in the halls. He was this constant, living reminder of my biggest mistake.”
I nod, and sift through my noticings. I notice that Noah hasn't mentioned this boy by name (even though I'm sure it's Pitt, the one Noah's sister mentioned before). I notice that Noah has been facing me the whole time instead of looking to the water or in the direction we're paddling; he is not just telling this story—he is giving it to me. I notice the hope and expectation in his eyes, the desire to have me understand exactly what he's saying. Which I do, to some extent. It reminds me of my time with Kyle, without really being the story of me and Kyle. Kyle was certainly unfair, and he was certainly unkind, but his intentions were more confused, less deliberate. Or so I like to think.