Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List

Page 24


Finally Gabriel says, “I could get fired for this.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I tell him. “I’m bound by the co-op board’s hatred of my family to tell you they’ll blame me, not you.”
He stands up, takes a step closer to me. “I’m bound by my own personal will to tell you I can’t not be this building’s doorman soon enough.” Even under the harsh light that exposes all facial blemishes (his dark skin reveals none), he’s so gorgeous my knees almost buckle from his nearness. But he doesn’t reach for me, though he’s close enough—he could. Perhaps he’s noticing the blackheads on my nose?
So what about the imperfections.
I tug the string hanging from the lightbulb over his head. Lights out. I close my eyes, angle my head, ready to make this happen.
But the light is back on. I open one eye to see: Gabriel is not in about-to-kiss-Naomi pose. His head is tilted, yes, but his confused expression seems to ask, What the hell is Naomi doing?
“The doorman code of conduct?” I ask Gabriel. What did I do wrong this time? Or is Gabriel one of those Madonna/whore guys who can’t deal with a girl who makes the first move?
“No, the gentleman’s code of conduct,” he says. “And, I don’t know, maybe needing better ambience? Like, not in a closet. Maybe dinner and a movie first?”
I really don’t know how to do this. When the stakes count. I am an idiot.
I turn around to leave, embarrassed, but he presses his hand against the door to keep it from opening. (He really is a bad doorman.) Then he places the softest, sweetest kiss ever on the back of my neck. “We’ll get there,” he whispers in my ear.
I got my kiss, I got my k-i-s-s.
We leave the supply closet to head back into the lobby. His pinkie finger intertwines into mine.
Awesome, as girl-Robin might say.
“Ely left something for you at the front desk.” Gabriel hands me a postcard of Buenos Aires, addressed to both me and Ely.
What I really wanted was an uno, dos, tres–threesome with both of you. Love and happiness, Donnie Weisberg.
I snort.
Damn. I really wish I wouldn’t do that in front of the guy I like.
But Gabriel must truly like me, because he ignores my near-snarf. He says, “Ely came down here, dressed all spiffy like he was going somewhere important, asked me to give you this like he knew I’d be seeing you tonight, and walked out like he was on a mission. Then he came right back through the door fifteen minutes later and hasn’t been back down since.”
Ely chickened out.
I am not having this. I took my stand. He was supposed to take his. That’s how we work.
I’m about to offer up an explanation for my sudden departure, but Gabriel just smiles at me. “Go,” he says, looking toward the elevator and pointing .
My key to Ely’s apartment is back under the doormat. I find him lying in his bed, staring at the ceiling.
A shiver runs through me, being back in Ely’s bedroom. It’s the same room as always, we weren’t apart that long, but still—it feels different. The expectation of what could happen here is gone.
The time will come soon enough when I arrive home, expecting to see Ely, but he will not be there, because Mom and I will no longer be here. It’s hard enough to imagine that Mom and I will eventually call some other building in this city our home; it’s harder to imagine a home could exist for me in a place removed from Ely; the hardest part is recognizing that the distance should happen.
I take Ely’s leather coat from his closet and put it on. I’m cold. And so not dumpy.
“He was totally in here the night we had that fight, wasn’t he?”
“Who? Where?” Ely mumbles. He looks comatose. Fearful. This isn’t an Ely I know. He’s a warrior. Isn’t he?
“Bruce the Second. In the closet.”
At the same time, Ely and I both exclaim: “With a candlestick!”
I pull the covers off him. “You’re getting your best suit all crinkly, lying around like that.”
“I ironed it,” Ely says. “Can you believe that?”
“Well, it must be true love, then, Ely. And you look beautiful in that suit.”
The timetable on the hurt is this: It still hurts. But less so. I can live with it. One day it may be gone.
He doesn’t say anything.
I try again. “Are you scared of being hurt?”
He thinks about it. Then: “No. I’m scared of hurting him. Like I hurt you.”
Somehow it’s a relief to hear him say this, for him to acknowledge the difference in our feelings for one another, even if we can’t seem to talk about that difference. I don’t know that I could if I wanted to, anyway. The space filling the hurt and disappointment is still too big.
The wall was always there; we just chose to ignore it. Mostly, I chose to ignore it.
“Get up, Ely,” I say. My new mantra. I might be a faith healer in my next life. For now, I’ll probably settle for taking a time-out on the school thing and just get a job at Starbucks until Mom and I have figured out our next move. I’m thinking I will look great in that green apron. Maybe sometime in the near future, after many dinners and movies (hopefully he’ll pay, because I’m a girl who can make the first move, but I am majorly broke), Gabriel will see me wearing . . . only that green apron?
Ely stands up. I want to smooth out the creases in his suit, but I don’t. Instead I tell Ely about the secret spot where he can touch Bruce the Second, the place on his back that’s so tender to him Bruce will profess his undying love whether he means it or not.
I’m sorry. I can make my peace with it. I don’t think that means I have to like it.
“You’re a bitch,” Ely says. “But it’s good advice.”
I have a feeling Bruce the Second will mean it with Ely.
“I love you,” I say. I mean it in the best possible way.
Usually I’d kiss him on the cheek at this point—perhaps with the expectation/hope of more. I don’t now. I’ll save that energy for the maybe of Gabriel. Or some guy who is at least straight  “Now, go. Run to him.”
The moms took us to see Peter Pan on Broadway when we were in second grade. I hated it. I wouldn’t clap for Tinker Bell. That stupid fairy could die and I wouldn’t care. But other parts, I got. I used to wish that if Ely and I ran fast enough, hard enough, together, the force of our energy could transform us, like Wendy and Peter Pan. Our legs would intertwine as they lifted us from the ground. We’d  away. Ely just had to want it as much as me.
“   U 2,” he signs to me.
I almost tell Ely that Gabriel qualifies for the No Kiss ListTM as much as Bruce the Second does at this point, but I don’t. I want to keep this one for myself, for now.
So I just say, “.”
As I’m leaving the apartment, Naomi signs to me, “Don’t worry, be happy.”
I remember when we first decided to learn sign language— it was fourth grade, and we wanted to have our secrets even when our parents or our other friends were looking. Later on, it was great for clubs where the music was way too loud—we could still have a conversation without having to shout. Sometimes we’d bump into other people who knew ASL and we’d all talk to each other. But most of the time it was just me and Naomi, as always in our own two-person world.
I think about that as I head over to Bruce’s, and I think that as hard as we try, it still sometimes feels like we all speak different languages. Even if we share all the same words, meanings can be different. And the mistake isn’t in speaking the different languages, but in ignoring the fact. I thought Naomi and I had perfectly matched up our vocabularies and our definitions. But that’s just not possible. There are always meanings that are different, words that are heard differently than they’re said. There’s no such thing as a soulmate . . . and who would want there to be? I don’t want half of a shared soul. I want my own damn soul.
I think I’m going to learn to appreciate the word close. Because that’s what Naomi and I are. We’re close. Not all the way there. Not identical. Not soulmates. But close. Because that’s as far as you should ever get with another person: very, very close.
That’s what I want with Bruce, too.
I want to be close.
It’s bullshit to think of friendship and romance as being different. They’re not. They’re just variations of the same love. Variations of the same desire to be close.
Robin and Robin come down to let me into the dorm— I want my first appearance to Bruce to be a knock on the door, not a buzz on the intercom.
Robin and Robin are in the middle of a fight over what Bill Murray whispers to Scarlett Johansson at the end of Lost in Translation—it’s one of those total couple-fights where you can tell they’re getting off on it even as they’re slamming each other. It’s fun to be in, I guess, but hell to be around.
I duck out and wind my way through the halls to Bruce’s door. I’m so nervous I actually debate the proper way to knock. Friendly tap? Enthusiastic pound? Nursery-rhyme beat?
I go for the friendly tap. His “Who is it?” actually giddifies me further.
“It’s me,” I say. “Your long-lost boyfriend.”
The door opens and Bruce takes in my suit, my anxious smile. I take in . . . well, his I’m-not-going-out clothes. Stained green T-shirt, torn jeans.
Stop judging his clothes. Stop judging his clothes. Stop judging his clothes.
“Hi,” he says, and from his voice I can tell I’m not the only nervous one here.
I guess I never got past the what-to-wear part of the planning stage, because I stand there like a statue of someone really stupid.
And that’s when it turns into a musical. I mean, not literally. It’s not like an orchestra starts playing or Bruce and I start singing. But I recognize this moment: It’s the moment in the musical when the traveling salesman proclaims his love for the shy librarian. She doesn’t believe it. He has to let her know. They’re meant for each other—they both feel it—but only one of them believes it. It’s time to take action, even if it’s not easy. It’s time to use the truth as a form of persuasion. I realize that.
As soon as I get into the room, as soon as the door closes, I’m singing the truth to him. The words are just coming out, and if there isn’t any music, there’s still a tune to what I’m saying. I’m telling him I’ve missed him. I’m telling him I don’t understand what I did to make him disappear, but that whatever it was, I want to prevent it from happening again. I’m telling him that I know I’m not good enough for him, that I am this unreliable gay boy who always manages to mess up the things that mean the most to me. This is my language. This is how I can say what I need to say. This sudden musical number.
I don’t say “I’m in love with you,” because that’s the sentence that’s in every sentence, the feeling that’s behind every word.
“I’m in love with you” comes out as “I know I’m a total flirty slut and I know that dating me is probably the kiss of death, and I’m sure if you polled my ex-boyfriends, eleven out of eleven of them would tell you to run screaming away from me. I know that I probably move too fast and I know that I get everything wrong all of the time and I know that you probably feel that you’ve come to your senses by deciding to get me out of your life. I know I am probably not worthy of how sweet you are and how nice you are and how smart you are. I know that I totally sprung myself on you and you’ve probably regretted it ever since. But I really, really hope that you feel that maybe there was something there, because I have a great time when I’m with you, and I feel like I could be the person I want to be when I’m with you, and I think I could treat you the way you deserve when I’m with you. And I realize that I’ll probably fuck it all up, if I haven’t fucked it up already, but I’m hoping that you might find it in your heart to maybe risk that and see what happens.”