Boy Meets Boy

Page 27


“How was your weekend?” I ask.
“Good. I thought about some things.” From the way he says it, I can tell that all of these things are me, and that I'm not going to like what follows.
“Like what?”
“Like … maybe we should slow down a little. Take a time-out.”
I nod as if I understand what he's saying. But then I ask, “Why?”
“Because I need to.”
“Because… I feel… I feel like I don't know what I feel. I really like you, but I'm not sure what that means. I don't know what you want from me. And I don't know if I can give it to you. I went home this weekend and I thought about all these things. I was talking to my old friends about you, and about me, and hearing it all out loud I realized that I've gotten myself into something that I might not be ready for. I mean, I know you're not going to hurt me, but at the same time I don't want to throw myself into a place where I can be hurt. Chloe, Angela, and Jen pointed that out to me, and I can see where they're coming from.”
The bottom line is clear to me. “You're freaking out,” I say.
He smiles a little at that. “Maybe. But I need to sort this out. And I can't be with you while I'm doing that.”
“You're overanalyzing it,” I argue. In the back of my mind, I'm thinking: There are so many other reasons for you to break it off with me. Why this one?
He raises the camera back to his eye.
“Don't take my picture,” I say.
“Okay.” He puts the camera down again.
“Do you want to do something this afternoon?”
He shakes his head. “How about Thursday?” he offers.
“Thursday,” I repeat. Is there some sort of equation he's following that makes going out on Thursday okay, but not this afternoon?
I don't want to, but I sort of understand where he's coming from. Be careful, he's saying. I want him to be careful with me, too. And sometimes careful feels like it has to be slow. Especially if you've been with someone fast and careless before.
He looks so nervous. He does still like me, but it's freaking him out.
“Is that okay?” he asks, backing down a little.
“How about Tuesday?” I say.
“Wednesday.” His seriousness is cracking.
“Tuesday and a half.”
“Tuesday and three-quarters.”
Because I can't think of what's between a half and three-quarters quickly enough, I agree to seeing him on Tuesday and three-quarters.
“I just need to think,” he says.
I know I shouldn't, but I lean over and kiss him. I press against his camera, and it takes pictures of our feet as he kisses me back.
“That's definitely something to think about,” he says once we pull apart. But he doesn't give in entirely.
“Tuesday and three-quarters,” he says.
“Tuesday and three-quarters,” I agree.
When he's gone, I miss him. I know I will miss him for the rest of today and tomorrow, and the three-quarters after. Even though he doesn't know about the Paul who kissed Kyle, even though I can't think of anything I might have said or done to make him freak out, I feel like it's all my fault. I tempted fate, and now fate is kicking me back a little.
What's worse is that I don't have anyone to talk to about it. Tony's in exile, Joni's experiencing pair-a-noia, Ted isn't a real option, and Infinite Darlene would probably tell me I'm getting what I deserve. So all the words stay contained in my head, never leaving me alone.
I space through the rest of the school day. Then Joni shoots me down to earth.
“What were you trying to pull at lunch?” she rails at me as I'm piling books back into my locker.
I notice Chuck isn't with her.
“Hey,” I say, “where's your appendage?”
She slams my locker shut, narrowly missing my fingers.
“I'm sick of it, Paul,” she yells. “I'm sick of your attitude and everybody else's. You want everything to stay the same. You want me to be back with Ted, and all of us to be the same little group for the rest of our little lives. But I'm not going to be like that. My world is bigger than that.”
My defense mechanism kicks in. “Are you quoting Chuck directly or just paraphrasing him?” I ask, more to anger her than because I think it's true.
Bull's-eye. If my locker had popped back open, she'd be slamming it again—this time with my head in it.
“You think you're such a good friend, don't you?” she snarks. “Is that why Tony's grounded and Infinite Darlene can make you do her dirty work?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I know what she's saying about me and Chuck.”
“And have you maybe paused for one clueful second to wonder if it's true? Infinite Darlene's your friend, remember?”
“She used to be my friend.”
“Just like me, huh?”
I've pushed her to it, but still I'm startled when she says, “Just like you.”
It's Kyle, of all people, who breaks in at this point.
“Hey, Paul! Hey, Joni.” He bounds over and flashes me an eager look. I try to downplay it, but Joni's eyes widen a little. She's seen— I'm not sure exactly what, but it won't go unremarked upon.
I can't take it anymore. I am freaking out because I know I made a mistake with Kyle, and I am freaking out because it doesn't totally feel like a mistake. I am freaking out because my friendship with Joni is at a ten-year low, and I am freaking out because she doesn't seem to care. I am freaking out because Noah doesn't know what I want from him, and I am freaking out because I don't know what I could possibly give him in return. I am freaking out because I've been caught—not by anyone else, but by myself. I see what I am doing. And I can't stop myself from making things worse.
So I run. I make excuses and I run. Out the door. Out of the school.
But not away.
I can't make it away.
When I get home, I find a note from Noah in the front pocket of my backpack. Somehow he managed to slip it in without me noticing. Since I know I got a calculator out of the pocket after lunch, I know he got to me after I saw him. The note has only one line on it, but I'm sure it's his handwriting.