Boy Meets Boy

Page 24


“I don't know what's going on,” I tell him. “He loved me, then he loved me not. Now he needs me. I'm sure pretty soon he'll need me not.”
We walk along for a few minutes in silence. I know Tony hasn't lost the subject, though.
“Are you sure that's healthy?” he asks at last.
“I think it's good he's opening up,” I say.
“I don't mean for him. I mean for you.”
I'm confused. “He's the one asking for help. Why would it be unhealthy for me?”
Tony shrugs.
“The thing is, I'm not vulnerable this time,” I explain. “It doesn't mean everything to me.”
“Did you know you were vulnerable last time?”
This one I can answer in confidence. “Yes. Of course. That's what falling in love is all about.”
Tony sighs. “I wouldn't know.”
The part of me that misses Noah right now has an equal part in Tony. The difference is that his longing doesn't have a name or a face.
“Someday your prince will come,” I assure him.
“And the first thing I'm going to say to him is, ‘What took you so long?’“
We reach the mountain's steepest incline. We pick up fallen branches to use as walking sticks—not because we really need them, but because it's more fun to walk that way. We start talking in our own language (“Sasquan helderfigglebarth?” “Yeh sesta.” “Cumpsyl”), then stop when Tony hears a birdcall that interests him greatly. (The only birdcall I know is the Road Runner's BEEP BEEP.)
Tony's sights alight on the highest branches. I can't see a thing, but after a moment, he looks very pleased.
“A bohunk. Not native to this area. But that makes it more mysterious.”
I nod. I can go for mysterious.
We continue walking.
“So what's up with you?” I ask.
“Not much.”
“And how are things?”
RRRRRRRRR. I make a loud game-show-buzzer noise. “I'm sorry,” I say, “we don't recognize ‘fine’ as an acceptable answer. We see it as a conversational cop-out. So please, try again.”
Tony sighs again, but not that heavily. He knows he's been snagged. If I ever say “fine” to him, he reacts the same way.
“I've actually been thinking about life lately, and this one image keeps coming to me,” he says. “Do you know when you cross against traffic? You look down the street and see a car coming, but you know you can get across before it gets to you. So even though there's a DON’T WALK sign, you cross anyway. And there's always a split second when you turn and see that car coming, and you know that if you don't continue moving, it will all be over. That's how I feel a lot of the time. I know I'll make it across. I always make it across. But the car is always there, and I always stop to watch it coming.”
He gives me a low smile. “You know, sometimes I wish I had your life. But I'm sure I wouldn't be much good at it.”
“I'm not that great at it myself.”
“You get by.”
“So do you.”
“I try.”
I find myself thinking back to something I saw on the local news about a year ago. A teen football player had died in a car accident. The cameras showed all his friends after the funeral—these big hulking guys, all in tears, saying, “I loved him. We all loved him so much.” I started crying, too, and I wondered if these guys had told the football player they loved him while he was alive, or whether it was only with death that this strange word, love, could be used. I vowed then and there that I would never hesitate to speak up to the people I loved. They deserved to know they gave meaning to my life. They deserved to know I thought the world of them.
“You know I love you,” I say to Tony now, not for the first time. “You are really one of the greatest people I know.”
Tony can't take a compliment, and here I am, giving him the best one I can give. He brushes it off, sweeping his hand to the side. But I know he's heard it. I know he knows it.
“I'm glad we're here,” he says.
We switch to another language—not our invented language or the language we've learned from our lives. As we walk further into the woods and up the mountain, we speak the language of silence. This language gives us space to think and move. We can be both here and elsewhere at the same time.
I hit the peak with Tony and then we turn back around. I am conscious of this in my silence, but I am also conscious of Noah and Kyle at their different destinations, miles away. I am conscious of Joni, who is no doubt somewhere with Chuck, not getting any silence unless he permits it. (Is this an unfair thought? I'm truly not sure.)
I don't know where Tony is while he's with me—maybe he's simply concentrating on the birdcalls and the slant of the sunlight, which hits through the trees in a pattern that decorates his arm with the space between leaves.
But maybe it's more than that. As we get back to the main path, Tony turns to me and asks for a hug.
Now, I don't believe in doing hugs halfway. I can't stand people who try to hug without touching. A hug should be a full embrace— as I wrap my arms around Tony, I am not just holding him, but also trying to lift off his troubles for a moment so that the only thing he can feel is my presence, my support. He accepts this embrace and hugs me back. Then his posture raises an alarm—his back straightens out of the hug, his hands fall a little.
I look at his face and realize that he's seen something behind me. I let go of him and turn to find two adults gawking.
“Tony?” the woman asks.
But she doesn't really need to ask. She knows it's Tony.
After all, she's his mother's best friend.
Everybody Freaks Out
Tony is grounded, and his mom's best friend can't keep her mouth shut. The church group network goes into overtime, and by the time I get to school on Monday, I find out that Rip's odds on my love life are now twelve to one for me and Noah, ten to one for me and Kyle, eight to one for me and Tony, and one to two for me botching everything up and spending the rest of my life unrequited.
By the end of the day, the odds have changed even further, and I'm a total basket case.
It's no use protesting to people that Tony and I are just friends (only the people who know us believe me, and all the rest want to believe the opposite because it's a better story). I can't even talk to Tony anymore—I tried on Sunday but his mom hung up on me, muttering something about the devil's influence, which I think was a little overstated.