Boy Meets Boy

Page 20


I am amazed by the size of that ostrich.
When Ms. Kaplansky is distracted, I turn and look at Joni. I don't see any softness there. I know it's Ted and not me she's angry with. But the anger still surprises me. If I can still feel vulnerability and tenderness towards Kyle (who dumped my sorry ass), then why can't Joni feel something less than hostility towards Ted, who she's left behind?
These questions haunt me throughout the day. Noah and I pass notes between every period, little observation installments to tide us over until the next real conversation. I see Ted and he looks awful— sleepless and dressed to depress. He mumbles a near-silent hello to me, then passes like a defeated shadow. I would rather have him tease me. I would rather have him yell.
Lyssa Ling makes an announcement during homeroom that the committee sign-ups for the Dowager Dance have been posted alongside the jukebox in the cafeteria. Infinite Darlene confides in me that she was the first to sign up for my committee, and that she's already planning what to wear for the first meeting. (I assume this means I should figure out when the first meeting will be; I haven't thought that far ahead.) She spits some venom about Joni and Chuck, who she's decided to call Truck, “since the other alternative is just too obscene for a lady like myself.” Later in the day, Chuck walks past me. Out of allegiance to Joni, I say hello. He doesn't acknowledge me. I turn to watch him walk away. A minute later, Joni comes bounding into his arms. He acknowledges her … but not as much as she is acknowledging him. She is too enthusiastic to notice. Or perhaps I'm reading him wrong.
I don't encounter Kyle until our planned meeting in the chem lab after school. When I told Noah I would be meeting him thirty minutes later than usual, he didn't even ask me why. I feel guilty, both because of the truth I didn't volunteer and because I know that if I had been in his place, I would've asked.
Kyle and I sit at one of the chem tables; the words of our conversation will fall from the air into empty glass beakers, awaiting invisible measure. Behind Kyle, the equation-strewn board hangs like cryptic wallpaper. Neither Kyle nor I take chemistry. I figured this would be neutral ground.
I study his face—the close-cropped black hair, the scatter-freckles, the shadow-hint stubble. He looks different than when I last really knew him. His features have lost some fierceness. His angles are not so sure of themselves.
“I'm sorry for springing that on you in the video store,” he begins, his voice steady and low. “That's not how I'd planned it to be.”
“How did you plan it to be?” I ask, not to be snarky but because I am genuinely curious.
“I planned it to be a million different things,” he replies. “And in the end, I couldn't figure which one it should be.”
“But now you've told me.” Part of me is still expecting him to take it all back, for this to be his one last cruel trick on my mind.
He nods.
“And what do you want from me?” I ask.
“I don't know.” He looks me right in the eye for a moment, then looks behind me, to the periodic table of the elements. “I know I don't have any right to do this. I was really… I don't know what the word is for what I was to you. I didn't break up with you the right way. Something inside me flipped out and I… I couldn't stand you. It wasn't your fault. But I couldn't stand you. I needed to… I needed to obliterate you. Not you personally. But the thought of you. Your presence.”
“It was just a feeling—it was an instinct. I had to do it. It wasn't right. It didn't feel right.”
“But you didn't have to lash out at me,” I say, my voice rising until I bring it back down. “You could have just told me. Said ‘it doesn't feel right.’“
“No”—he's looking at me again now—”you don't understand. You would've talked me out of it. I would've backed down.”
“Maybe you would've backed down because you didn't really want to do it.”
“You see—you would've used that logic on me. And I didn't want to use your logic.”
“So instead you obliterate me?”
He's playing with one of the beakers now, looking at it in his hand. “I know—I'm sorry.”
I decide to continue the narrative. “So you dump me. You bad-mouth me. Then a couple of weeks later you're in the halls playing tonsil hockey with Mary Anne McAllister, telling everyone that I'd tricked you into liking guys. Now what? It didn't work with Mary Anne or Cyndi or Joanne or whoever else, and you've decided to come back to my side again?”
“It's not like that.”
“Then what is it like?” I can see he's confused, I can see he's trying to tell me something. But all of my own hurt is coming out now—and it's angry hurt. “Please tell me what it's like. Because as you've been walking past me all these months—as everyone has been asking me, ‘Whatever happened with Kyle?’ and I've been trying to piece together your side of the story from all the secondhand accounts I've heard—all this time, I have been wondering more than anything else what you think it's like.”
He starts to shiver then. And I remember it so clearly—how he used to shiver when he was upset, when he was overwhelmed. There was nothing he or I could do to make it stop. When he told me his brother had learned he had diabetes, when his father yelled at him on a Sunday visit for quitting basketball, when we got to the ending of Boys Don't Cry—these were the only times I got to hold him with all my strength, as his body shook out what his mind couldn't handle. After the first time, when he'd tried to laugh the whole thing off, we hadn't talked about it. We just rode it out, until I wasn't there anymore.
I want to touch him right now. Not hold him, just touch him. But I'm paralyzed. My own reaction to being overwhelmed.
“I'm sorry,” he mutters.
“Don't be. I'm sorry I snapped at you.”
“No.” He looks at me again; the shivering subsides. “I know you hate me. You have every right to hate me. You don't have to speak to me again.”
He gets up to leave, and my paralysis is broken. I put my hand on his arm and gesture to him to sit down.
“Listen to me, Kyle,” I say. He sits back down and angles his face toward mine. “I mean this entirely. And I'll only say it once. I do not hate you, and have never hated you. I was angry at you and depressed by you and confused about you. But hate never came into it.”