Boy Meets Boy

Page 8


I head back down to my own locker. Joni is nowhere in sight, which is a good thing. I can't even begin to know what to say to her. I can see why she would have kept the news about Chuck from Ted. But I can't figure out why she never told me. It hurts.
As I slam my locker shut, Kyle walks by me.
He nods and says hi. He even almost smiles.
I am floored.
He keeps walking, not turning back.
My life is crazy, and there's not a single thing I can do about it.
Finding Lost Languages
“Maybe he was saying hi to someone else,” I say.
It's a couple of hours later and I'm talking to Tony, recounting the drama to the one person who wasn't there.
“And the smile—well, maybe it was just gas,” I add.
Tony nods noncommittally.
“I don't know why Kyle would start talking to me again. It's not like I've done anything differently. And it's not like he's the kind of guy who changes his mind about this kind of thing.”
Tony sort of shrugs.
“I wish I could call Noah, but I don't feel like we're close enough for that. I mean, would he even know who I was if I called? Would he recognize my name or my voice? It can wait until tomorrow, right? I don't want to seem too neurotic.”
Tony nods again.
“And Joni. What was she thinking, snogging up to Chuck in the middle of the hall like that? Do I let her know that I know, or do I pretend I don't know and secretly count the number of times she talks to me before she lets me know, resenting each and every minute that goes by without her telling me the truth?”
Tony sort of shrugs again.
“Feel free to chime in at any time,” I tell him.
“Don't have much to say,” he answers with another slight shrug, this one slightly apologetic.
We are at my house, doing each other's homework. We try to do this as often as possible. In much the same way that it's more fun to clean up someone else's room than it is to clean up your own, doing each other's homework is a way to make the homework go faster. Early in our friendship, Tony and I discovered we had similar handwriting. The rest came naturally. Of course, we go to different schools and have different assignments. That's the challenge. And the challenge is what it's all about.
“What book is this paper supposed to be on, anyway?” I ask him.
“Of Mice and Men.”
“You mean, ‘Please, George, can I pet the bunnies?’ “
“Cool, I've read that one.”
I start scribbling a topic sentence, while Tony flips through a French-English dictionary to finish my French homework. He takes Spanish.
“You don't seem very surprised about Joni,” I say.
“Saw it coming,” he replies, not raising his eyes from the dictionary.
“Really? You pictured Ted and me catching them in the hallway?”
“Well, not that part.”
“But Chuck?”
“Well, not that part, either. But face it. Joni likes having a boyfriend. And if it's not going to be Ted, it's going to be someone else. If this guy Chuck likes her, odds are she's going to like him back.”
“And you approve of this?”
This time he looks right at me. “Who am I to approve or disapprove? If she's happy, then good for her.”
There is an unhappy edge in Tony's voice, and it doesn't take many leaps to get to the source of it. Tony's never really had a boyfriend. He's never been in love. I don't exactly know why this is. He's cute, funny smart, a little gloomy—all attractive qualities. But he still hasn't found what he's looking for. I'm not even sure he knows what that is. Most of the time, he just freezes. He'll have a quiet crush, or even groove with someone who has boyfriend potential and then, before it's even started, it will be over. “It wasn't right,” he'll tell us, and that will be that.
This is one of the reasons I don't want to dwell on Noah with him. Although I'm sure he's happy for me, I don't think his happiness for me translates into happiness for himself. I need another way to buoy him. I resort to speaking in a nonexistent language.
“Hewipso faqua deef?” I ask him.
“Tinsin rabblemonk titchticker,” he replies.
Our record for doing this is six hours, including a lengthy trip to the mall. I don't know how it started—one day we were walking along and I just got tired of speaking English. So I started throwing consonants and vowels together in random arrangements. Without missing a beat, Tony started to speak back to me in the same way. The weird thing is, we've always understood each other. The tone and the gestures say it all.
I first met Tony two years ago, at the Strand in the city. It's one of the best bookstores in the world. We were both looking for a used copy of The Lost Language of Cranes. The shelf was eight feet up, so we had to take turns on the ladder. He went first and when he came down with a copy, I asked him if there was another up there. Startled, he told me there was a second copy and even went back up the ladder to get it for me. After he came back down, we hung together for a minute—I asked him if he'd read Equal Affections or A Place I've Never Been, and he said no. Lost Language of Cranes was his first. Then he drifted off to the oversized photography books, while I got lost in fiction.
That would have been it. We would have never known each other, would have never been friends. But that night as I boarded the train home, I saw him sitting alone on a three-seater, already halfway done with the book we'd both bought.
“Book any good?” I asked as I hit the space in the aisle next to him.
At first he didn't realize I was speaking to him. Then he looked up, recognized me, and half smiled.
“It's very good,” he answered.
I sat down and we talked some more. I discovered he lived in the next town over from mine. We introduced ourselves. We settled in. I could tell he was nervous, but didn't know why.
A cute guy, a few years older than us, passed through our car. Both of our gazes followed him.
“Damn, he was cute,” I said once he'd left.
Tony hesitated for a moment, unsure. Then he smiled.
“Yeah, he was cute.” As if he was revealing his deepest secret.
Which, in many ways, he was.
We kept talking. And maybe it was because we were strangers, or maybe it was because we had bought the same book and had thought the same boy was cute. But it was very easy to talk. Riding the train is all about moving forward; our conversation moved like it was on tracks, with no worry of traffic or direction. He told me about his school, which was not like my school, and his parents, who were not like my parents. He didn't use the word g*y and I didn't need him to. It was understood. This clandestine trip was secret and special to him. He had told his parents he was going on a church retreat. Then he'd hopped on a train to visit the open doors of the open city.