Boy Meets Boy

Page 43


As she opens the door I say, “It's not your mom. It's me.”
“I can see that,” Joni deadpans. She doesn't put down the phone.
“I need to talk to you.”
“I'm busy.”
I want to hang up the phone for her. I restrain myself, and simply make it clear that I'm not going to leave.
She stares at me hard, then says “I gotta go” into the phone.
“There,” she tells me as she hangs up. “Are you happy?”
Why are you doing this? I want to scream. What did I do to you?
I have to remind myself that this isn't about us. It's about Tony.
“I was just at Tony's,” I say.
“I talked to him two days ago. Sounds like he's doing well.”
I nod. “He's doing amazingly well.”
“Thanks for the report.”
I won't let her light my fuse. I won't be the one to blow up.
“I want to talk to you about the night of the dance. Tony wants us to pick him up. I want to make sure you can.”
Joni shakes her head. “I don't think that's going to work out. Sorry.”
“Sorry?!? That's it?”
“What else do you want, Paul?”
“Joni, this is Tony we're talking about. Do you know what hell he might have to go through in order to go to the dance?”
“I understand that. But I have other plans. I can support him in other ways. I don't need to be there.”
Does she really believe this? I see a flicker of doubt in her eyes.
“Of course you need to be there,” I stress. “This is the first time that Tony's ever asked us for anything, Joni. Anything. He's doing the one thing we've always wanted him to do—he's standing up to his parents. He wants us there. Both of us.”
“If he'd come up with this idea a week ago, or even a few days ago, I might have been able to rearrange things. But we made promises, Paul. We made plans. I can't just back out.”
“Why—won't Chuck let you?”
Joni straightens to full height. “Don't go there, Paul,” she warns in an icy voice.
“Why not, Joni? After all, I'm not going to tell you anything you don't already know.”
There. I am the one who crosses the line. I hope she's happy.
Now I have to leave before she tells me to get out. I need that, at least.
“You know the right thing to do,” I say. Then I turn and leave. I don't slam the door. I don't stomp down the stairs. I don't forget to say good-bye to her mom, who gives me a true hug.
I walk home. Even though my jacket is warm, I shiver. Even though it's quiet out, my head is all noise.
Even though I want to hope for the best from Joni, I fully expect the worst.
And that's the saddest, maddest thing of all.
I manage to vent most of my feelings to Noah on the phone that night and try to keep the Joni situation out of my thoughts when I get to school the next day. There are only two more days until the dance, and there is lots of architecting to do before then.
We are not focusing on death; instead, we're surrounding ourselves with all the things that remain after death—words and stones and portraits and memories. The dowager's picture is the first thing we put up on the gymnasium walls. Everything else follows suit.
We avoid black. We want to enfold death in color. Kyle emerges from a supply cabinet with his arms swathed in blue drapery—his own tribute to the dowager. Instead of asking people to dress up in costume, we've asked them to wear heirlooms. I will wear my grandfather's watch and my grandmother's heart-shaped pin. In my pocket, I will carry a monogrammed handkerchief that my other grandfather took to war; alongside it will be a letter my grandmother wrote to him in those years, full of words of undying love. I like to think that as I dance, they will be in some way alive again. I will revive them with my thoughts and feelings.
We work hard for the next forty-eight hours. Amber handles the sound, weaving excerpts from grave books and Emily Dickinson into the tunes she's chosen. We are mirrored in other people's reflections.
Ted drops by to help. I catch him flirting with Trilby as they throw streamers over the rafters. Infinite Darlene clucks her tongue from afar, but doesn't say a word.
Noah helps out, too. We've enlarged his photographs to hang in the corners, a way to draw people there. He catches me when I go to put mood candles in the space under the bleachers.
“Isn't that a fire hazard?” he asks.
“Shh,” I reply, moving my finger to my lips, then letting it drop.
I light the candles. The air smells like vanilla mist. Noah reaches over to touch my cheek. His thumb moves over my lips and down the side of my neck. He leans me back against the wall and kisses me. I kiss him back hard. We breathe each other in. As the sound system tests itself out and orchids are floated atop the tables, we grasp at each other and explore each other and mark the time in movements and whispers. It's only when Trilby calls out my name that we stop.
“I guess the candles work,” Noah says, pulling back and straightening his untucked shirt.
“Shh,” I say again, my voice full of glimmer.
“Debauchery,” he concludes with a smile. One of my dictionary words.
I always secretly believe that putting together a party is more fun than actually attending. As I tell Trilby and Ted where the dancing skeletons should hang, I see how animated we've all become. Infinite Darlene is spinning tunes with Amber and Amy. Emily is unwrapping a gilt punch bowl. Kyle is taking a practice dance with the dowager's portrait. Noah is leaning against the gym wall, readying his camera for a shot. It seems a shame that we have to let other people into this world we're creating.
Then I think of Tony, and I'm ready to open the doors.
One Small Step
Saturday night arrives and I look fabulous. I am wearing a secondhand tuxedo and a pair of shoes that shine like a Gibson guitar. I have folded a flower for Noah's lapel and have affixed my grandmother's pin with pride.
My parents are stunned when they see me. I don't look like a kid anymore. I don't look like an adult, either—but I definitely look older than a kid.
“Do you want to borrow one of my harmonicas?” my father asks (he always brings one to parties, just in case the going gets slow).
“Did you brush and floss?” my mother asks.