Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List

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If our parents had created a No Kiss List ListTM, they could have saved us all a lot of grief. The next generation won’t make that mistake.
I tell Ely, “Okay to adding Gabriel to this list, but I disagree about his standing. Gabriel’s hotter than anybody on there now. I vote for him to go directly into number two position.”
“Deal,” Ely says.
Interesting. That concession was most easily won.
Bookies, take note. Updated top standings on the No Kiss List ListTM:
#1: Donnie Weisberg, still—the grand symbol over whom we vow to remain chaste, to protect the sanctity of the institution that is Naomi & Ely. The fact that we have no idea where Donnie is these days—we’ve heard rumors he’s doing some Habitat for Humanity shit in Guatemala to dodge a drug rap after that senior skip-day ’shroom party last spring—has no relevance to Donnie’s permanent #1 standing on the No Kiss List ListTM;
#2: Welcome, Gabriel, hot midnight doorman, lusted after by every Building resident with a pulse, except maybe creepy Mr. McAllister, who apparently needs at least C-cup cleavage action to get off;
#3: My cousin Alexander (Kansas All-State tight end— ’nuff said);
#4: Ely’s cousin Alexandra (East Village, standing ovation for her performance in the experimental stage version of The Crying Game—’nuff said);
#5: Robin , cuz both Ely and I like Robin , who really likes Robin , and Robin  is my symbol proving that I can make friends in college outside of Naomi & Ely; and
#6: The tweedy theology grad student guy who is illegally subletting apartment 15B.
“How’d you know Gabriel plays basketball here?” Ely asks.
“Happened to walk by this playground one day and noticed him here,” I say.
The itsy-bitsy   crawls up the lying wall.
I’ve never, ever kissed Gabriel. I’ve never, ever had more than a five-minute conversation with Gabriel without Ely present.
I may have exchanged digits with Gabriel. He may occasionally text me. He might have mentioned where he sometimes plays ball with his boys before his night shift starts.
“Lucky break for us!” Ely says.
Installing Gabriel directly at #2 will keep the Naomi & Ely  safe. Otherwise, down may come the   and wash Naomi out.
“Reminder,” I say. “How much do I love you to give up ever having a chance with a Gabriel?”
“Reminder. You have a boyfriend already.”
I do need the reminder. “You’re right. Bruce Two is waiting for me. I gotta go.”
My boyfriend and I have our own study session planned: He studies while I avoid studying. I like to iron Bruce’s shirts while he studies at his desk, occasionally looking up from his laptop or his textbooks to smile at me in his boring but pleasing kind of way. Great teeth. Bruce will say, “Naomi, I wear plain black T-shirts from the Gap. They really don’t need ironing.” And I’ll say, “So?” Because ironing for him is somewhat more fun than making out with him. It’s, like, orderly, and reasonably fine time suckage. The ironing, and the kissing. And when the mandated interval of Bruce’s five-minute study-break time beeps from his cell phone alarm clock, he’ll stand up and cuddle me from behind, nestling his head into the curve between my neck and shoulder. Probably not developing a woody while pressed against me because that would interfere with his study schedule. But he will whisper into my ear, “God, you’re pretty.” Like he’s so proud of that. Like I had anything to do with a set of fucked-up genes delivering me shiny hair, a pleasant enough face, and a desirable body I don’t really put to use.
Let’s be honest. Even counting the No Kiss List ListTM members stricken from my lair, this body does not lack for attention, if I want it. But I should wait for Ely to inaugurate it. I owe him that. We’ve been planning our wedding since we were twelve, when Ely proposed as a means to extract from me the first real kiss we shared, together. Gay doesn’t change that—our shared past, our committed future. Gay doesn’t mean I shouldn’t wait for that one moment when he won’t be.
I reach for Ely’s hand. Game over. Time for us to leave.
But Ely stays rooted on the sidewalk, slumped against the fence.
Wait a minute. Shazam alacazam! as Ely and I used to scream in the building elevator before lighting up all the floors to annoy Mr. McAllister. Ely gave in too easily—to vaulting Gabriel to #2 on the No Kiss List ListTM and to enabling my class-skipping habit by showing up when he had a study session. Ely busts his ass maintaining a high GPA to keep his freshman scholarship in good standing. He’s got to. His parents make too much money for them to qualify for need-based financial aid but not enough to pay the full tuition tab and their mortgage. Ely is trapped by that scholarship as much as my mother and I are trapped in the apartment across the hall from his. Mom’s administrative job at the university may cover the tuition for my general studies program, but she could never finance us moving from The Building, no matter how awkward the situation might be with the neighbors. Mom could never afford on her own a place as nice as the one her parents bought for us.
“What’s wrong?” I ask Ely. His face has warmed up a little, and without the shiver-flush reddening his cheeks, I can see the worry lines around his beautiful blue Ely-eyes.
“I have to tell you something.”
“What?” I ask, concerned. What if Ely has cancer, or he’s decided to take out a student loan to move into student housing and out of The Building; or maybe he’s so mad about my lies he’s no longer going to care if I skip school and fail out entirely.
Ely says, “I kissed Bruce the Second.”
There are all kinds of ways to force yourself to decide. We do it all the time, make decisions. If we actually thought about every decision we made, we’d be paralyzed. Which word to say next. Which way to turn. What to look at. Which number to dial. You have to decide which decisions you’re actually going to make, and then you have to let the rest of them go. It’s the places where you think you have a choice that can really mess you up.
She wasn’t home. That’s the first factor. The doorman let me up, I rang the bell, and she wasn’t there, where she said she would be. Two months ago this would have surprised me, but now it just annoyed me. You know that feeling of waiting for someone. I mean really waiting for someone—standing in front of a restaurant in the cold and having hundreds of people pass you on the sidewalk. And you don’t want to do anything else, because you’re afraid you might miss something—that somehow if you don’t spot her right away, she’ll walk right by. So you stand there and you don’t do anything except think about how you’re standing there. Occasionally you might look at your watch, or check your cell phone to see if it’s accidentally on silent, even though you already checked for that a minute ago.
That’s what dating Naomi was starting to feel like.
I called her and hung up when it answered without ringing, because what good would it be to leave a third voice mail message? What good is it ever to leave a third voice mail message? I was just standing there, trying to figure out how long I should wait. Then Ely’s door opened and he came out in his bare feet, carrying a garbage bag to the chute. He took one look at me, smiled, and said, “Let me guess.”
We’d never really made it past comes with the territory territory. He wasn’t really into me, because he thought I was boring, and I wasn’t really into him, because he thought I was boring. But when Naomi wanted us to hang out together, we were fine. I got to be the innocent bystander. I wasn’t jealous of him—how could I be, when he was gay? No, I was jealous of them—the way it was like they had grown up watching all the same TV shows, only the TV show they always kept referring to was their own life together, and each episode was funnier than the last. Every now and then, Naomi (and even Ely) would make the effort to explain one of their references to me, but the act of explaining made it even more awkward, even more obvious. My only comfort was that eventually the night would end and Naomi would go home with me, not him. I knew Ely didn’t think I was worthy, but I had a feeling he’d never think anyone was worthy of Naomi. Just like she’d never be happy if he was with anyone else. In old-movie terms, you had to think of it like this: Fred Astaire had a wife who wasn’t Ginger Rogers, and Ginger Rogers had a husband (actually, a few of them, I think) who wasn’t Fred Astaire. But was there ever any doubt who their true dance partners were? I could be Naomi’s boyfriend, sure. I could be the one she slept with (or didn’t). But I was pretty certain I’d never be her dance partner.
Ely asked me if I wanted to come inside, and I figured why not. I mean, I figured this would give me a reason to leave a third message, and would give Naomi a place to find me when she showed up. It was much better than waiting in the hallway.
No one else was home. I was curious to meet his parents; Naomi had alluded to them enough for me to put the story together. I know it’s wrong, but I always pictured his mother, the one Naomi’s father had the affair with, to be attractive. It made more sense that way, at least to me. And Ely was attractive, too. It’s not like I didn’t know that, although I really didn’t think it meant anything to me. It wasn’t like I felt it, the way I felt it when there was a hot girl around. Like Naomi, who was not only hot but actually happened to like having thoughts. I’d found, in my very limited dating and only-slightly-less-limited friendship experience, that there were a lot of people who treated thoughts like they were a nuisance. They weren’t intrigued by them. They didn’t go out of their way to prolong them. But Naomi valued the fine art of thinking. The only hitch was that I didn’t know what she was thinking. I imagined Ely would have a better idea.
We went into one of those rooms that’s lined floor-to-ceiling with bookcases, where the books have been sitting on the shelves together for so long that they look like they’ve merged into one multispined line.
“Can I take your coat?” Ely asked. I handed it over and he threw it on a chair. Which should have been obnoxious, but the way he did it—like he was laughing at himself more than me—made it almost charming. I sat down on the couch and he hovered in front of me.
“Can I offer you a drink?”
It would make more sense, perhaps, if I’d decided yes. But I said no.
He said, “Good. Brandy can get you in trouble, I hear.”
“Who’s Brandy?” I asked.
“My mother’s brandy,” he said.
I was confused. “I didn’t think you had a mom named Brandy,” I said.
Now he looked confused. “I don’t.”
“But you just said she’s Brandy?”
He laughed. “She’s more ginny than that.”
“She goes by Ginny?”
“You have to stop,” he said, really laughing. “You’re killing me.”
I laughed now, too, still confused. “But who’s Brandy?” I asked.
“I told you—MY MOTHER’S!”
At this point, he was absolutely cracking up, and I found myself laughing right beside him. He was turning bright red, which made me laugh even harder. Anytime it started to subside, he would yell “WHO’S BRANDY?!?” and I would yell “YOUR MOTHER!” and we would break back down into eye-tearing, bladder-threatening snorts and whinnies. I was keeled over, wiping my eyes. He sat down on the couch next to me and laughed and laughed and laughed.
You have to understand: I don’t laugh often. Not out of choice. I just don’t get the opportunity. So when I do, it’s a dam bursting. It’s something opening.
“Knock knock!” I said.
“Who’s there?” he asked.