Boy Meets Boy

Page 23


Usually Ted's a yeller, shouting at the ball to hook left or bounce right. Now, though, he has a Zen-like calm. A casual observer might say that he has become one with the ball, that he has made himself the ball.
But I know the truth.
Chuck is the ball.
And Ted plans to wham the heck out of it.
Bumper to bumper, save after save—the numbers escalate. Six thousand. Seven thousand. Chuck leans in from the side and looks at the score.
We may never know whetheV it's the lean that does it or whether it's Ted's reaction to the lean that causes the ball to angle a little into the narrow alley between the flippers. Ted's opinion is loud and clear.
“You tilted me!” he shouts, slamming one hand on the pinball machine and poking the other one at Chuck.
“It was all your fault, buddy,” Chuck shouts back. He knocks Ted's hand away from him.
“Don't do this,” Joni says.
“Stay out of it,” Chuck snaps.
“Don't tell her what she can or can't do!” Ted argues.
Chuck shoves Ted away from the machine. Ted pushes back and knocks Chuck's baseball cap off his head.
Then Tony steps in between them and starts singing “If I Had a Hammer” at the top of his lungs.
I can't believe it. I once told him that the best way to break up a fight is to step between the two people and start singing ancient folk songs. But I'd never heard of anyone actually doing such a thing.
It works. As Tony's voice cracks, hammering out justice and warning and love between the brothers and the sisters all over this land, Ted and Chuck back off. Joni grabs Chuck's arm and pulls him away from the pinball area. After a beat, Jasmine does the same with Ted, wrapping her arm around him only after Joni turns back to look.
“Nice job,” I tell Tony.
“It was either that or ‘Michael, Row the Boat Ashore.’ “
We look at the couples in our midst and decide it's time to take a break from everyone else.
Tomorrow we'll hit the mountain.
Hitting the Mountain
Tony and I figure the best thing a straight boy with religious, intolerant parents can do for his love life is tell his parents he's g*y. Before Tony's parents discovered he was g*y they wouldn't let him shake hands with a girl. Now if he mentions he's doing something with a girl—any girl—they practically pimp him out the door.
Jay and I wait in a Laundromat parking lot a couple of blocks from Tony's house. Tony tells his parents that he's going on an outing with Mary Catherine Elizabeth from school. The ‘rents immediately have visions of Immaculate Connections and press spending cash into Tony's hands. He leaves his house dressed for repressed flirtation. When he gets to the car, I throw him a duffel and he changes into some hiking gear. Jay drops us off at the local water supply reservation and we hit the mountain.
It's not a mountain, really. Not in a Rockies or Appalachian sense. Any serious mountain climber would call it a hill. But Tony and I aren't serious mountain climbers. We're suburban teen g*y boys who need a place with nature and walking paths. I relish the anonymity of the trees. I've been here so many times that I don't mind when I'm lost.
I first came here with Tony. It's his place, really. We'd been hanging around for a few weeks by then, grabbing movies and surfing the mall. He told me there was a place he wanted to show me, so one Friday after school I hopped over to his house and we walked an hour to get to this reservation. I had passed it a million times before, but I'd never been inside.
Tony knows the names of trees and birds. As we walk around, he points them out to me. I try to record them in my mind, but the information never holds. What matters to me is the emotional meaning of the objects. I still remember which rock we talked on the first time we came here. I always salute the tree I tried to climb on our fourth visit—and ended up nearly breaking my neck on. And then there's the clearing.
Tony didn't explain it to me right away. On our second or third visit, he pointed through a thatch of trees and said, “There's a clearing in there.” A few times later, we poked our heads inside—sure enough, there was a patch of grass about the size of two trailers, guarded on all sides by branches, trunks, and leaves. It wasn't until we'd been coming to the mountain for a month or two that Tony told me that he'd lived in the clearing for a week—the week after his parents found out he was g*y. His mother had decided to swap his winter clothes for his summer clothes and went through his drawers while he was at school. She found a magazine folded into a flannel shirt—nothing raunchy, just an old issue of The Advocate that Tony had bought on one of his city trips. At first she didn't understand— she thought The Advocate sounded like something a lawyer would read. Then she sat on his bed, opened up to the table of contents, and Tony's secret wasn't a secret anymore.
They didn't kick Tony out of the house, but they made him want to leave. They didn't yell at him—instead they prayed loudly, delivering all of their disappointment and rage and guilt to him in the form of an address to God. This was before he knew me, before he knew anyone who would take him in and tell him he was all right. So he kipped together a tent and some clothes and pitched his life in the clearing. He still went to school and let his parents know he was okay. Eventually, they reached a collect-call truce. He went back home and they promised to hold back their condemnation. Their prayers were quieter, but they still filled the air. Tony couldn't trust them any longer—not with the g*y part of his life. Now he keeps the few love notes he's ever received in a box at Joni's house, and borrows my magazines instead of buying his own. He can only do e-mail at school or a friend's house; his family's computer now screens its sites.
I know Tony still goes to the clearing every now and then, to think or to dream. I give it a silent salute every time we pass. We never sit down there together. I don't want to trespass on his solitude—I want to be around when he chooses to step out of it.
“How are things with Noah?” he asks me now, as we set off on our hike. As usual, we have the path to ourselves.
“Good. I miss him.”
“Do you wish he was here now?”
We walk a few more steps, then Tony asks, “So how are things with Kyle?” I love Tony dearly because there's no judgment in this question.