Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List

Page 17


I move my rook. Since we’re already on the subject of fluctuating sexuality, I inform Bruce the Second, “You don’t look gay.” Chinos and a Lacoste shirt? Come on.
“How is gay supposed to look?”
“Not like you.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“What music do you like?”
“Why do I have the feeling this is a gay quiz?”
“Because maybe it is.”
“Then I don’t know. I like lots of different types of music, but I’m not obsessive about it like Ely is. I like classical. I like the Beatles.” I guess this Bruce isn’t entirely awful, because he notices my disappointed expression and adds, “And I guess I like a few Madonna songs?”
“At least.” Please. Classical? The Beatles? Someone needs to reprogram this guy’s musical preferences to the rainbow channel.
“At least you, Bruce, could elevate yourself above looking like a stalker, if you tried,” he says as he captures my bishop. I’m really off my game.
“I’m trying, dude. I’m trying.”
I feel like he believes me. He should. I meant what I said, even if I can’t seem to accomplish trying’s goal—getting over Naomi. He asks, “If I tell you who she’s over there talking with, will that help?”
“No.” Pause. “Yes.”
“She’s sitting there with Robin from Schenectady and another guy—”
“No, not Gabriel. Why would you think Gabriel?”
Ha-ha, is it possible I have information that has not yet infiltrated to Ely?
I say, “Gabriel likes Naomi. He gave her a mix he made her and they are always gazing at each other at the mailboxes, but then she hardly has like two words to say to him. Supposedly she made a mix for him in return, but it was all like Z100-type shit and he was horrified—”
“Horrified to realize she must have gotten all her musical cool and knowledge from Ely?”
“Actually, I think Ely knows about this Gabriel thing.” Damn. “But since Naomi refuses to speak to him”—Naomi and Ely’s freeze is totally okay with me, by the way—“I doubt Ely is planning to help Naomi through this one.”
I’m fairly sure I loathe and despise this guy, but the universe must acknowledge the universal truth: It’s easy talking with another Bruce. Almost comforting.
“How do you know all this about Naomi and Gabriel?” he asks me.
“Naomi’s mom told me.” Naomi’s not speaking to me anymore, either, but she hasn’t frozen me out like she has Ely. I’m allowed to e-mail and text-message with her, but I am not to speak with or acknowledge her when we’re in the building. Not communicating with me verbally is part of her Tough Love campaign, she informed me. To help me move on, like she has to from Ely. According to my sister, Kelly, Naomi’s doing us all a public service. Maybe she is. I don’t know. Maybe I need to sleep on it.
“I find that hard to believe,” Bruce says.
“Naomi’s mom counts on me for Ambien. Believe it.”
“That’s illegal.”
“So are the five hundred drug deals being transacted in this park while we play chess.”
“Do you think the tourists having their wallets pick-pocketed while they watch the juggler will notice sooner, or later?”
“I agree,” Bruce the Second agrees. Then: “I’m worried,” he says.
“About me?”
“No, you’ll be fine. You need to dump the binoculars and make a friend within your own age range, maybe realize you’re a nice and good-looking kid whom probably several girls you already know at school would really like to get to know better if you’d stop comparing them to Naomi . . . but otherwise, you’re all right.”
“Thanks.” I think. Since he seems to want to know me better, I add, “As one great man wrote, ‘I am nothing special; of this I am sure. I am just a common man with common thoughts. There are no monuments dedicated to me and my name will soon be forgotten. But I’ve loved another with all my heart and soul, and to me, that has always been enough.’ ”
“Nicholas Sparks.”
“Which one?”
“The Notebook.”
“I cried at the end of A Walk to Remember. ”
“Book or movie?”
“The book was better.”
We’re given our own walk to remember as a white-boy Rastafarian approaches our table. “Yeah?” the Rasta goes. His hands make a movement for his front pants pocket, but we both know this is not a pervert walkabout.
“NO!” both Bruces go.
Whitey-boy Rasta moves on to the next table, and Bruce the Second says, “That’s what I’m worried about. The guy sitting on the bench with Robin and Naomi on the other side of the park happens to be the resident dealer to most of the NYU dorms.”
“How do you know?”
“My freshman roommate got kicked out of the dorm for possession of marijuana he bought from that guy sitting over there with Robin and Naomi.”
“No way!” I consider the situation, then impart my conclusion: “Nah, I wouldn’t worry. I could see Naomi possibly being into more drug experimentation, but that Robin girl from Schenectady, she’s way too boring and straightlaced to let Naomi do that.”
“Unless Robin is desperate to break out of her straight-laced version of herself?”
“Kind of like you have?”
I don’t mean the comment as an insult, and he doesn’t take it as one. He laughs. “Kind of,” he allows. “Only I’d like to think I held the desperate part in check.” His next chess move allows him to add, “Check.”
I don’t know why, but I’m relieved I didn’t offend him. Still, we’re all suffering because of The Situation. I need to know if it’s worth it. “Do you love him?” I ask Bruce the Second.
His hands cover his queen while deciding where to move her, and how to answer. “I might,” he says.
I have to know. “What’s that like?”
I mean the love part, not the sex part—I really don’t want to hear about that. And instinctually he seems to understand this. He answers with a happy glow, not a horny glow, looking right at me, as only one Bruce can do to another. “It’s amazing.” He looks down, blushing a little, and pats the dog. When his eyes move back up to meet mine, he adds, “It’s also scary. Really scary.”
And instinctually I know he means the love part over the gay part. Rock covers paper.
The kind of glow on Bruce’s face is one I’ve never felt for Naomi. With Naomi, it was not amazing. Or scary. I guess it wasn’t love. It was a mission. Scissors cut paper.
One more thing. Bruce the Second says, “It’s amazing, and scary, and Ely and I would be enjoying it much more if it weren’t for Naomi.”
“Eh.” I shrug. “She’ll get over it.” Like I will. I think I can believe.
“I hope so. But it doesn’t feel good to see her hurting so badly. Ely and I did everything we possibly could to right the wrong with her, but she wouldn’t have it. There’s nothing more I can do here. I think I’m going to just work on getting Ely’s moms to like me, for the time being. They might be an easier hurdle to cross than Naomi.”
Mount Everest might be an easier hurdle to cross than Naomi.
One more thing I have to know. “Have the moms invited you to Sunday brunch?”
“Then you’re in.”
He smiles and hands Cutie Pie over to me. Then he makes his move. “Checkmate. And I have econ class in fifteen minutes on this side of the park.” He stands up.
“You’re a decent Bruce, Bruce,” I tell Bruce.
He smiles again. I should buy him a designer shirt from one of Mom’s salesclerk friends at Bendel for his birthday or something, to help gay up his wardrobe.
“Thanks, Bruce,” he says. “Likewise.”
So I was talking to my man Gerald and I was saying, Look, there’s this girl, and the stupid thing is I can really talk to her and all that shit without getting freaked out or spaced, and he was like, That’s all good, and I was telling him that, yeah, I could really trust her and I knew she was really into me and really into the same films and whatever, and Gerald was like, What’s the problem? and I was saying, The thing is, if I had my way, she’d always keep her clothes on, which made him say, So she’s a dog, and I was like, No, no, no, you don’t get it, she’s completely cute in a cute way and if I didn’t know her, I might do her, but I do know her and because I know her I don’t want to do her, I just want to do shit like talk to her and drink with her and sit and do homework with her, because when we do shit like that, it’s not nearly as boring as it is when I do it alone, because every now and then she’ll grunt or laugh and I’ll say, What? and she’ll come up with the most random shit, which totally makes me think she’s the greatest, only I don’t want to sleep with her. And Gerald, he was saying, Dude, you know there’s a word for that kind of relationship, and I was like, Please tell me what it is because this is killing me, and Gerald was smiling and taking a big drag before he said to me, Friendship, man—that shit’s called friendship. And that really set me straight, or at least I thought it did, because it was so fucking obvious and I figured it would be obvious to her and we’d be okay with it, but then I kept getting these fucked-up moments from her where it felt like she was trying to make it something other than friendship—like always putting her hand on my shoulder or asking me for a back rub and once saying, It’s a date! when I asked her to go see this Fassbinder thing at Anthology. And I thought, Dude, you’re probably overreacting, because this girl is smart, and no way is she wanting to get with a fuckup like you. But it kept being out there, and the thing was, even though I really liked her as a person, I didn’t really think I liked her as a girl, because when you like a girl, there’s this ignition—you can feel it—and with her, there wasn’t any ignition, just conversation and hanging out and shit. So one night after we saw La Dolce Vita at Film Forum, we went out for drinks, and I think she waited until I was three drinks in, because my head was like a Jell-O shot when she asked something like What’s going on with us? and I was like, We’re the Robin Super Twins, or something dumb like that, and she was like, No, that’s not a good answer. Let me repeat myself, what am I to you? and even if I had been one hundred percent sober, I don’t know if I could’ve answered, because I hate it when you have to give definitions to things that are bigger than definitions—which is a compliment to her, but she didn’t really take it that way. I got what she was really asking, and I thought about when Gerald and I were talking, and how simple it seemed then. I’m not brain-dead—I knew that introducing that particular f-word into the conversation would be poison, because when a girl asks you if you wanna go out, the last thing they want is for you to say how great your friendship is, which sucks, because you can totally mean it in the best possible way, but it still sounds like you’re handing her a sack of shit. I couldn’t think of anything else to say, because I wasn’t about to say Hey, Robin, there’s nothing about you that makes me pop a boner, so I said, You’re my friend, and I meant it, and she took it just as badly as I knew she would, only instead of crying or trying to call me on it, she just took her drink and launched it into my face. Man, I’ve had plenty of beer spilled on me, but this was completely different—not only was I sticky afterward, but I went into this meta-shock, because while the physical act of what just happened was bad, it was the more existential Someone just threw a drink in my face that really got top billing. I half thought she was going to throw the glass at me, too. Or say fuck you. But instead she just said, Enough, and looked at me for a second with this laser-beam glare, and at that moment—pow!—total ignition. She was sexy as hell, and she was sexy as hell because she had no idea that she was doing it. Her hand was shaking when she put the glass back down on the table and she was clearly as surprised as me by the drink throwing, but the cool thing was she was going to go through with it, she was just going to ride her anger right the hell out of the bar, and I knew there was no chance I could get her to stay, and I was sad because not only was I losing the one decent friend in my life, I was also losing this friend I suddenly wanted to make out with. She left me with the check, which was completely unfair, because she knows all my drug money goes straight to my film fund (fuck digital), but it was worth every maxed-out credit card to see her storm like that. I knew what I had to do—text her, call her, e-mail her, and give her every possible chance to turn me down. If I could get her back easy, it wouldn’t be worth it, because it would be the same as before. But if she put up a fight—if she really got to feeling fire for me—well, then, that was something else. I bombarded her at first, and hit the wall of silence pretty fast. A good sign. Then I unleashed the second wave—all the I’m-so-stupid shit. Got her to tell me to stop. Then I stopped. Put up my own wall of silence, but made it clear that I’d left a ladder for her. I just needed someone to point it out, and that’s where Naomi—hot, sexy, heartbreaking, mindfuck-central Naomi—came in. We’d been talking about doing a movie together for a while, just me following her around, seeing the city from her p.o.v. Like reality TV, only real. She has star quality—bright and pointed. And, best for me, I knew she and Robin were talking a lot, especially since Naomi just lost her gay best friend. So I called her up and said, Yeah, we should get together and see if we’re really going to do this thing, and it was perfect, because Naomi was all like, You’re just trying to do this to get Robin back, and at first I was like, No, no, no—I waited a good ten minutes until I was telling her, Naomi? You know that thing? You said before? About Robin? What if it’s a little true? And she just cracked, offering to help me, telling me I had a chance, wanting to be the one to make it all better. Total friend points. She said, I’m going to be in the park with Robin, so why don’t you bump into us at this time and say you want to talk about the movie, and then I’ll have to leave for some reason. She even told me to wear my blue shirt, because that was Robin’s favorite, and at first I wanted to be like, Bitch, I have about twenty blue shirts, but the cool thing was I knew exactly which one she was talking about, because I’d always thought of it as the one that Robin really liked. Just to be on the safe side, I asked Naomi if Robin was seeing someone else, and for a second she sounded like she had a piece of gum in her throat. Then she told me that it probably wasn’t an issue, but I should be on my best behavior anyway. Which is how I ended up getting Gerald to man the ganja hotline so I could just happen to bump into Naomi and Robin in the park this afternoon. When I get to their bench, Naomi goes into this whole monologue about how she’s been meaning to call me back about the movie, and I’m careful to be looking at her but also stealing glances at Robin so Robin can see me doing it without thinking I know how obvious I’m being. I’m afraid she’s going to leave, but instead she’s sending out the vibe that I should be the one who leaves. (Of course, Naomi keeps talking, so I’m in the clear.) She doesn’t look happy to see me, which is bad, but she also looks sad to see me, which is good. She always puts up this simple I’m-just-a-girl-from-Schenectady front, but because my dad’s from Albany, I happen to know that Schenectady is a town that was built on steel, and if she’s the same way, then I’m in for the kind of big trouble that I love. Naomi pauses for a second like she’s suddenly realizing how awkward this is, and I know it’s my moment to look at Robin directly and say a simple hi. Like a little boy who’s like, I know it was wrong to draw on the dining room table with my crayons, and I feel bad about it, and I feel bad and sad that you’re angry with me, so now that I’ve spent an hour in my room, can I please come out now and find that everything’s okay again? The thing is, I’m not playing at this—it’s really how I feel, because actually seeing her as opposed to thinking about her is incredibly intense and tense, and she’s shooting me daggers, but she’s not feeling it enough for them to actually hit me, so instead they just fall on the ground in between us, and she’s still kind of mad about it, but I’m just like, Look, daggers! It is so hot, the way she smolders. Naomi’s suddenly staring at something, and Robin’s all, What? and Naomi says, I see Bruces, which, if I was stoned, would be the most brilliant thing ever, but since I’m on my best behavior, I just think it’s odd. I gotta go, Naomi says, and Robin’s getting up to go, too, and I say, Please stay for a second, and it’s like, holy shit, for the first time in my life, saying please actually gets me something. Naomi heads off and Robin’s all, What? again, and I almost want to say, I am so yours it’s not even funny. I know you want me, but I want you more. I will stay on my best behavior, because maybe there’s a reason it’s the best. Maybe there’s a reason it had to take this long, because if I’d wanted to sleep with you the first time I met you, it would’ve never ended up like this. I would have always been the captain. But now you’re in charge. I’m making moves all the time, but only to get you to make that one move. What’ll it be? And what I really say is, Naomi sees Bruces everywhere. It’s the last thing she expects, and she is amused no matter how much I’ve disappointed her by wanting to be her friend. I don’t like you anymore, she tells me. And I say, I wish you did. She asks why, and this time I have an answer. I tell her, Whether or not you like me, I still like you back. I really like you back. She says, You’re an asshole. And I say, Yeah, but I’ll be your asshole, if you’ll have me. (I do not say I’ll also be her friend. But there’s that, too. Yes, there’s that.) She snorts, and I think, That’s right, you’ve got steel. Then I look at her as straight as I can, and I say, totally cool and totally vulnerable, Hey, let me buy you another drink.