Boy Meets Boy

Page 17


I tell Noah a little about Kyle—how could I not?—and about some of the other disastrous dates I've had. More the funny stories than the pained ones. The blind date with the boy in seventh grade who tucked his shirt into his underwear and his pants into his socks, just to be “more secure.” The boy at sleep-away camp who giggled whenever I used an adverb. The Finnish exchange student who wanted me to pretend to be Molly Ringwald whenever we went out.
There is an unspoken recognition as we share these stories—we can talk about the bad dates and bad boyfriends because this is not a bad date, and we will not be bad boyfriends. We forget the fact that many of our earlier relationships (definitely with Kyle, probably with Pitt) started in the same way. We pencil-sketch our previous life so we can contrast it to the Technicolor of the moment.
This is how we proclaim a beginning.
We talk about school and we talk about the other kids in town. I talk about my brother and he talks about his sister. After a while, our legs are getting tired and we're running out of new angles to cross the pond. So we stop paddling and let ourselves drift. We push our legs forward and slump in the seats. I put my arm around his shoulders and he puts his arm around mine. We close our eyes and feel the sun glow on our faces. I open my eyes first and study the curve of his jaw, the smoothness of his cheeks, the random arrangement of his hair. I imprint him with my shadow as I lean in closer. I kiss him once, but it lasts a long time.
This, too, is how we proclaim a beginning.
The sun starts to dip lower, and we return to clock time. We make our way to the paddleboat pavilion, where the paddleboat wrangler gives us an approving nod for bringing Adaline safely home.
As we cross back through the park we see more people, mostly regulars. The Old Queen sits at his bench, reminiscing about Broadway in the 1920s. Two benches away, the Young Punk shouts loudly about Sid and Nancy and the birth of revolt. They rarely find themselves without a willing audience, but when the foot traffic slows, the Old Queen and the Young Punk sit together and share memories of events that happened long before they were born.
I explain this all to Noah, and I love the wonder that shows in his eyes. We continue to tour through the town, and everything is new to him: the I Scream Parlor, which shows horror movies as you wait for your double dip; the elementary school playground, where I used to tell the jungle gym all my secrets; the Pink Floyd shrine in our local barber's backyard. I know people always talk about living in the middle of nowhere—there's always another place (some city, some foreign country) they'd rather be. But it's moments like this that I feel like I live in the middle of somewhere. My somewhere.
We walk rings around Noah's neighborhood, and then when we enter it, we walk rings around his block. He has to be home at a certain time, and it's unclear to me whether I'm being invited along.
“Both my parents will be there,” he says, to explain his hesitation.
“I can handle them,” I reply.
He's still unsure.
“They're not like your parents,” he warns.
“That's a good thing!”
“I don't think so.”
Suddenly I'm picturing Tony's parents, who need to think that Joni and I are safely dating in order for Tony to leave the house with us. They think that Tony's personality is simply a matter of switches, and that if they find the right one, they can turn off his attraction to other guys and put him back on the road to God.
“Do they know you're g*y?” I ask Noah.
“They couldn't care less. But with other things—well, their priorities are a little weird.”
We've stopped circling now—we're in front of his house.
“What the heck,” he says. We walk inside and he calls out, “I'm homel”
“Who cares?” Claudia yells back from a distant room.
We head to the kitchen for ice pops. I can't help but notice three credit cards sitting on the counter.
“Mom!? Dad?! I'm home!”
Claudia trundles into the room. “You are, but they're not. They say hi, though. We can order whatever we want. Just use the United card, because they need the mileage there more than on Continental.”
“Where'd they go?” Noah asks.
“Out to dinner, to celebrate. Mom finally got admitted to the Commander Club. She can now use the Commander Club lounges at all major airports, including free coffee and Internet access.”
As Noah ponders this, Claudia pulls the ice pop out of his hand and takes it for herself. She walks back into her distant room; I can hear her footsteps fade, and then the TV blare up.
“I guess we have to stay in,” Noah says.
“Isn't she old enough to be alone by herself?” I ask.
“I'm not worried about her being alone. I'm worried about her being lonely.”
I feel guilty for bringing it up; it would never occur to me to worry about Jay being lonely.
I follow Noah into the TV room, where Claudia sits ensconced on a lime-green couch like a kindergartner who's built her own fort from cushions. She has all the modern comforts—a remote control, snack food, a half-read magazine, and full-purpose climate control. She looks miserable in her attempt to hide how miserable she feels.
“What do you want?” she asks with her normal hostility.
“Just want to plan the evening's entertainment. Would you like to go out?”
“Do I look like I want to go out?”
“Then how ‘bout pizza and a rental?”
“Are you sure?”
“I said ‘fine.’ What more do you want from me?”
Now, if this were my sister talking, I would say something like, I want you to stop being such a glum diva. But Noah is clearly a better (or, at the very least, a more patient) person than I am, since he takes it all in stride.
“One pizza and one rental coming up!” he says cheerily. “We'll be back soon.” Claudia doesn't respond. She just turns the TV up louder.
“Exit … stage right,” Noah says to me. We barrel back to the kitchen.
“Is this her usual state?” I have to ask.
“Not always. Right now I think she's mad at our parents. And I think she's trying to impress you.”
“Impress me?”
“Well… maybe impress isn't the right word. I think she's picked up on the fact… that I like you.”