Boy Meets Boy

Page 7


I can sum it up in one word:
Hallway Traffic (Complications Ensue)
Self-esteem can be so exhausting. I want to cut my hair, change my clothes, erase the pimple from the near-tip of my nose, and strengthen my upper-arm definition, all in the next hour. But I can't do that, because (a) it's impossible, and (b) if I make any of these changes, Noah will notice that I've changed, and I don't want him to know how into him I am.
I hope Mr. B can save me. I pray his physics class today will transfix me in such a way that I will forget about what awaits me at the other end. But as Mr. B bounds around the room with anti-gravitational enthusiasm, I just can't join his parade. Two sixty-four has become my new mantra. I roll the number over in my head, hoping it will reveal something to me (other than a locker number). I replay my conversation with Noah, trying to transcribe it into memory since I don't dare write it down in my notebook.
The hour passes. As soon as the bell rings, I bolt out of my seat. I don't know where locker 264 is, but I'm sure as hell going to find out.
I plunge into the congested hallway, weaving through the back-slap reunions and locker lunges. I spot locker 435 — I'm in the wrong corridor entirely.
“Paull” a voice yells. There aren't enough Pauls in my school that I can assume the yell is for someone else. Reluctantly I turn around and see Lyssa Ling about to pull my sleeve.
I already know what she wants. Lyssa Ling doesn't ever talk to me unless she wants me to be on a committee. She's the head of our school's committee on appointing committees, no doubt because she's so good at it.
“What do you want from me now, Lyssa?” I ask. (She's used to this.)
“The Dowager Dance,” she says. “I want you to architect it.”
I am more than a little surprised. The Dowager Dance is a big deal at our school, and architecting it would mean being in charge of all the decorations and music.
“I thought Dave Davison was architecting it,” I say.
Lyssa sighs. “He was. But then he went all Goth on me.”
“No. Not cool. We have to give people the freedom to wear something other than black. So are you in or are you out?”
“Can I have some time to think about it?”
“Sixteen seconds.”
I count to seventeen and then say, “I'm in.”
Lyssa nods, says something about slipping the budget into my locker tomorrow morning, and walks away.
I know it's going to be a rather elaborate budget. The dance was created thirty or so years ago after a local dowager left a stipulation in her will that every year the high school would throw a lavish dance in her honor. (Apparently she was quite a swinger in her day.) The only thing we have to do is feature her portrait prominently and (this is where it gets a little weird) have at least one senior boy dance with it.
At first I am distracted by theme ideas. Then I remember the reason for my after-school existence and continue heading to locker 264… until I am stopped by my English teacher, who wants to compliment me on my reading of Oscar Wilde in yesterday's class. I can't exactly blow her off, nor can I blow off Infinite Darlene when she asks me how her double role at the Homecoming Pride Rally went.
The minutes are ticking away. I hope Noah is equally delayed, and that we'll arrive at his locker at the same time, one of those wonderful kismet connections that seem like signs of great things to come.
“Hey, Boy Romeo.”
Ted is now alongside me, luckily not stopping as he talks.
“Hey,” I echo.
“Where you goin?”
“Locker two sixty-four.”
“Isn't that on the second floor?”
I groan. He's right.
We walk up the stairs together.
“Have you seen Joni?” he asks.
Sometimes I feel like fate is dictated by irony (or, at the very least, a rather dark sense of humor). For example, if I am standing next to Joni's on-and-off boyfriend and he says, “Have you seen Joni?” the obvious next step would be to reach the top of the stairway and see Joni in a full frontal embrace with Chuck, on the verge of a serious kiss.
Joni and Chuck don't see us. Their eyes are passionately, expectantly closed. Everybody pauses to look at them. They are a red light in the hallway traffic.
“Bitch,” Ted whispers, upset. Then he charges back down the stairs.
I know Noah is waiting for me. I know Joni should know what I've seen. I know I don't really like Ted all that much. But more than I know all those things, I know I have to run after Ted to see if he's okay. He stays a good few paces ahead of me, pushing through hallway after hallway, turn after turn, hitting backpacks off people's shoulders and avoiding the glances of gum-chewing locker waifs. I can't figure out where he's going. Then I realize he doesn't have any particular destination in mind. He's just walking. Walking away.
“Hey, Ted,” I call out. We're in a particularly empty corridor, right outside the wood shop.
He turns to me, and there's this conflicted flash in his eyes. The anger wants to drown the shock and the depression.
“Did you know about this?” he asks me.
I shake my head.
“So you don't know how long?”
“No. It's news to me.”
“Whatever. I really don't care. She can hook up with whoever she wants. It's not like I was interested. We broke up, you know.”
I nod. I wonder if he can actually believe what he's saying. He betrays himself with what he says next.
“I didn't think football players were her type.”
I agree, but Ted's not listening to me anymore.
“I gotta go,” he says. I want there to be something else for me to say, something to make him feel even marginally better.
I look at my watch. It's been seventeen minutes since the end of school. I use a different stairway to reach the second floor. The locker numbers descend for me: 310 … 299 … 275 …
Nobody home.
I look around for Noah. The halls are nearly deserted now— everyone's either gone home or gone to their activities. The track team races past me on their hallway practice run. I wait another five minutes. A girl I've never seen before, her hair the color of honey-dew, walks by and says, “He left about ten minutes ago. He looked disappointed.” I feel like a total loser. I rip a page out of my physics book and write an apology. I go through about five drafts before I'm satisfied that I've managed to sound interested and interesting without seeming entirely daft. All the while, I'm still hoping he'll show up. I slip the note into locker 264.