Boy Meets Boy

Page 26


I stress about this on my way to lunch, also wondering what Kyle's reaction will be if I see him again. As I head distractedly to the cafeteria, I am waylaid by Infinite Darlene.
“I must talk to you right this moment—I am outraged]” she exclaims.
Here it comes, I think. Infinite Darlene has no doubt heard she's on the same committee as Trilby Pope. And she is no doubt aggrieved.
“It's not my fault,” I say defensively.
“How could it be?” Infinite Darlene asks, shooting me a tilted look. “You had nothing to do with Truck kidnapping Joni's heart. And now all my fears have been realized. He is an awful, awful, subhuman being.”
“What are you telling me?” I ask her.
“My goodness, haven't you heard? Truck and I had something of an altercation yesterday, and I'm afraid the truth came out.” Infinite Darlene pauses dramatically. Then, seeing that I'm still in the dark, she resumes. “It was on the bus ride home from our game in Passaic. He was brooding like a pit bull because he felt I'd called the wrong plays. Please note that we won the game anyway, but that's beside the point. I said something that set him off—I honestly can't recall what it was — and he said something like, ‘Well, maybe we would have scored more if you'd made more passes my way, and I shot back, ‘Honey you know I'm not going to be making any passes your way.’ This evil grin popped onto his face and he said, ‘Well, I'm scoring anyway, and there's nothing you can do to stop it.’ I said, ‘So is that why you're doing this?’ He grinned even wider. His eyes were pure spite. And I knew. That's what this is all about. Not Joni. Not love. He's getting back at me. He's going to hurt one of my friends, and it will be my fault unless I stop it. He hates us, Paul. Make no mistake.”
Even for Infinite Darlene, this seems a little far-fetched. “Don't you think Joni could see through him if he was really doing this out of spite?”
Infinite Darlene puts a hand on my shoulder and looks me deep in the eye. “C'mon, Paul,” she says. “We all know love makes you do stupid things.”
This close, I can see through all her layers. Beneath the mascara and the lipstick and the chicken pox scar on her lower lip, beneath the girl and the boy to the person within, who is concerned and confused and sincere. I wonder if she can see through my layers as well, right through my badly held peace to all of the love confusion underneath. There's no way she can know I kissed Kyle unless she sees it in my face. I wonder if my freak-out is as legible as hers.
“We have to do something,” she says. “We have to stop him.”
“I don't know. First and foremost, you have to talk to Joni.”
I knew this was coming.
“You want me to tell her that the only reason Chuck is going out with her is to get back at you?”
“Not in those exact words, but yes.”
“And you think she'll listen to me?”
“Honey, if she's stopped listening to you, then that's a bigger problem than anything else.”
I know this much is true.
“Fine,” I say. I expect Infinite Darlene to be relieved by this, but she doesn't look relieved.
“They're over there,” she says, pointing to Joni and Chuck in the cafeteria, somehow eating and snuggling at the same time. “Now's as good a time as any.”
Naturally, I want to look for Noah (don't I?), but I can't find a way to say no to Infinite Darlene. I head over to Joni under her watchful eye.
Joni doesn't even detach herself from Chuck when I come into range. She lets him put his hand in her back pocket. I fight the urge to ewww.
“What's up?” she asks. She sounds defensive, so the ewww must be noticeable.
“Can we talk?”
“Sure.” She doesn't move.
“I mean, somewhere else.”
She looks at Chuck, who's looking at me.
“We can talk here, can't we?” she says, turning back in my direction.
It's such a simple word—no. But it has the force of a slam. I am not going to talk to Joni in front of Chuck because that's not what I came over here to do. And Joni's not going to budge. I know this already. And that sound you hear—that no, that slam—is the sound of our friendship taking on the tone of a war.
“Why can't we talk here?”
“Because I want to talk to you alone.”
“Well, you can't now. I'm busy.”
Busy with Chuck's hand in her back pocket, and him stuffing french fries into his face, possibly thinking that his revenge against Infinite Darlene is working perfectly.
“Sorry to bother you, then,” I say, hoping to thrust one last dagger of guilt her way. I turn away abruptly because I'm too afraid to see if I got the reaction I wanted.
I can't find Noah anywhere in the cafeteria. I really want to see him now. I ask around, and Eight tells me she saw him out by the soccer field with his camera. I immediately head in that direction.
He is exactly where Eight said he'd be. He is on the edge of the field, in the space between the goal line and the surrounding woods. His camera is held to his eye, his posture silently observant. I am walking up behind him, but I cannot figure out what he is taking a picture of. I see an empty set of bleachers with a half-full garbage can at its side, nothing more.
There is a faint click, then another. I circle around into Noah's side view. I look at his haphazard hair and his blue hooded sweatshirt and I realize how much I've missed him. More than touching him or kissing him, I just want to talk to him.
I feel like the Paul who kissed Kyle is a totally different person from the Paul who likes Noah. And right now, I am entirely the Paul who likes Noah. The other Paul is in another country.
“Hey,” I say. He turns to me with the camera still to his eye. He doesn't smile or say anything back. He maintains his concentration, seeing me through the viewfinder.
I walk closer, until I can see myself reflected in the glass of the lens.
“Everyone's freaking out,” I continue. “I'm freaking out. So much is happening. God, I've missed you. I'm sorry I've been so out of range.”
I hear another click. I smile after the picture has been taken.
“It's okay,” he says. Then he puts the camera down and I can see his headlong expression.