Boy Meets Boy

Page 9


Now the city lights ebbed in their grip over the landscape. The meadowlands waved in the darkness until the smaller cities appeared, then the houses with yards and plastic pools. We had talked our way home, one town apart.
I asked him for his phone number, but he gave me an e-mail address instead. It was safer that way for him. I told him to call me anytime, and we made our next set of plans. In other circumstances, this would have been the start of a romance. But I think we both knew, even then, that what we had was something even more rare, and even more meaningful. I was going to be his friend, and was going to show him possibilities. And he, in turn, would become someone I could trust more than myself.
“Diltaunt aprin zesperado?” Tony asks me now, seeing me lost in thought.
“Gastemicama,” I answer decisively.
I'm good.
It's hard for me to concentrate on Tony's homework, with so many things to think about. Somehow I manage to write three pages before my brother comes downstairs and offers to give Tony a ride home. Of all my friends. Jay likes Tony best. I think they have compatible silences. I can imagine them on the way back to Tony's, not saying a word. Jay respects Tony, and I respect Jay for that.
I already know that Tony won't give me any advice about what to do with Noah or Joni or Kyle. It's not that he doesn't care (I'm sure he does). He just likes people to do their own thing.
“Lifstat beyune hegra,” he says when departing. But his tone holds no clues. Good-bye? Good luck? Call Noah?
I don't know.
“Yaroun,” I reply.
Good-bye. See you tomorrow.
I head back to my room and finish my homework. I don't look over what Tony's already written. I'm sure it's fine.
I spend the rest of the evening in a television daze. For the first time in a long time, I don't call Joni. And Joni doesn't call me.
This is how I know she knows I know.
Dangling Conversations
The next morning, I look for Noah and find Joni instead.
“We've got to talk,” she says. I do not argue.
She pulls me into an empty classroom. History's great figures— Eleanor Roosevelt, Mahatma Gandhi, Homer Simpson—look down at us from posters on the walls.
“You saw us. Ted saw us.”
It isn't a question, so I don't have to answer.
“What's going on?” I ask instead. Implied in that question is the bigger one: Why didn't you tell me?
“I wasn't expecting this to happen.”
“Which part? Falling for Chuck, or having to admit it?”
“Don't get hostile.”
I sigh. Early signs of defensiveness are not good.
“Look,” I say, “you know as well as I do what Chuck did after Infinite Darlene rejected him. He trashed her locker and bad-mouthed her to the whole school.”
“He was hurt.”
“He was psycho, Joni.” (I don't mean to say that; it just comes out. A Friendian Slip.)
Joni shoots me the look I know so well—the same look she shot me when she dyed her hair red in sixth grade and I unsuccessfully tried to pretend it had come out well; the same look she shot me when I tried to convince her (after the first break-up) that getting back together with Ted wasn't the best idea; the same look she shot me when I confessed to her that I was worried I'd never, ever find a boyfriend who loved me the same way I loved him. It's a look that stops all conversation. It's a look that insists, You're wrong.
We've been best friends too long to fight each other over this. We both know that.
“So have you talked to Ted?” I ask.
“I wanted to talk to you first.”
I think she's doing the wrong thing. My intuition is clear on this: Chuck is bad news. But I know there's nothing I can do to convince her to change her mind. Not without proof.
“So are you, like, Chuck's girlfriend now?”
Joni groans. “Remains to be seen, okay? And how are you doing with your Mystery Boy?”
“I have to find him again.”
“You lost him?”
“Suppose so.”
I say good-bye to Joni and head to Noah's locker. I see Infinite Darlene and duck past her—I'm sure by now she's heard about Joni and Chuck, and I'm sure she'll have loads to say about it.
I also pass Seven and Eight in the halls, their heads leaned gently into each other, their words impossible to overhear. Their real names are Steven and Kate, but no one has called them that for years. They started going out in second grade and haven't been apart since. They are the one-percent of one-percent who meet early on and never need to find anybody else. There's no way to explain it.
Noah is waiting by his locker. No—let me change that. He is standing by his locker. There is no sign in his posture or in his gaze that he is waiting for anybody.
“Hey,” I say. I scan his features for a reaction. Surprise? Happiness? Anger?
I can't read him.
“Hey,” he says back, closing his locker.
“I'm sorry about yesterday,” I continue. “Did you get my note?”
He shakes his head. I'm a little thrown.
“Oh. I put a note in your locker. I tried to get here right after school, but ten thousand things got in my way. I really wanted to be here.”
He can't read me, either. The confusion is on his face. He doesn't know if I'm being sincere.
“Locker two-six-four, right?”
Oops. I apologize on behalf of my pathetic memory and then ask him what he did last night, trying to ease things into a conversation.
“I painted some music. You?”
“Oh, I fought a forest fire.” When I don't have anything interesting to say, I usually try to make up something interesting. Then I take one last stab at sounding impressive: “And I started thinking about the Dowager Dance. I'm going to architect it.”
“What's the Dowager Dance?” he asks.
I forgot he's new to the school. He has no idea what I'm talking about.
For all he knows, I really do fight forest fires in my free time.
I start giving him answers, explaining away the Dowager Dance and the organizational fury of Lyssa Ling. But instead of giving answers, I want to be asking him questions. What does he mean by “paint some music”? Is he happy I'm here? Does he want me to stop talking? Because I keep talking and talking. I am telling him about the time Lyssa Ling tried to sell bagels with fortunes baked inside them as a sixth-grade fund-raiser, and how the shipment was switched and we got the fortune bagels that were supposed to go to a bachelor party, with XXX-rated slips of paper inserted into the dough. It's a funny story, but somehow I am making it boring. I can't stop in the middle, so I go on and on. Noah doesn't walk away or nod off, but he's certainly not riding my tangent. I'm barely on it myself.