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Now away we go
9 p.m. on a November Saturday. Joni, Tony, and I are out on the town. Tony is from the next town over and he needs to get out. His parents are extremely religious. It doesn't even matter which religion--they're all the same at a certain point, and few of them want a gay boy cruising around with his friends on a Saturday night. So every week Tony feeds us bible stories, then on Saturday we show up at his doorstep well versed in parables and earnestness, dazzling his parents with our blinding purity. They slip him a twenty and tell him to enjoy our study group. We go spend the money on romantic comedies, dimestore toys, and diner jukeboxes. Our happiness is the closest we'll ever come to a generous God, so we figure Tony's parents would understand, if only they weren't set on misunderstanding so many things.
Tony has to be home by midnight, so we are on a Cinderella mission. With this in mind, we keep our eye on the ball.
There isn't really a gay scene or a straight scene in our town. They got all mixed up a while back, which I think is for the best. Back when I was in second grade, the older gay kids who didn't flee to the city for entertainment would have to make their own fun. Now it's all good. Most of the straight guys try to sneak into the Queer Beer bar. Boys who love boys flirt with girls who love girls. And whether your heart is strictly ballroom or bluegrass punk, the dance floors are open to whatever you have to offer.
This is my town. I've lived here all my life.
Tonight, our Gaystafarian bud Zeke is gigging at the local chain bookstore. Joni has a driver's license from the state where her grandmother lives, so she drives us around in the family sedan. We roll down the windows and crank the radio--we like the idea of our music spilling out over the whole neighborhood, becoming part of the air. Tony has a desperate look tonight, so we let him control the dial. He switches to a Mope Folk station, and we ask him what's going on.
"I can't say," he tells us, and we know what he means. That nameless empty.
We try to cheer him up by treating him to a blue Slurp-Slurp at the local 24-7. We each take sips, to see whose tongue can get the bluest. Once Tony's sticking his tongue out with the rest of us, we know he's going to be okay.
Zeke's already jamming by the time we get to the highway bookstore. He's put his stage in the European History section, and every now and then he'll throw names like Hadrian and Copernicus into his mojo rap. The place is crowded. A little girl in the children's section puts the Velveteen Rabbit on her shoulders for a better view. Her moms are standing behind her, holding hands and nodding to Zeke's tune. The Gaystafarian crowd has planted itself in the Gardening section, while the three straight members of the guys' lacrosse team are ogling a bookstore clerk from Literature. She doesn't seem to mind. Her glasses are the color of licorice.
I move through the crowd with ease, sharing nods and smiling hellos. I love this scene, this floating reality. I am a solo flier looking out over the land of Boyfriends and Girlfriends. I am three notes in the middle of a song.
Joni grabs me and Tony, pulling us into Self-Help. There are a few monkish types already there, some of them trying to ignore the music and learn the Thirteen Ways to Be an Effective Person. I know Joni's brought us here because sometimes you just have to dance like a madman in the Self-Help section of your local bookstore. So we dance. Tony hesitates--he isn't much of a dancer. But as I've told him a million times, when it comes to true dancing, it doesn't matter what you look like--it's all about the joy you feel.
Zeke's jive is infectious. People are crooning and swooning into one another. You can see the books on the shelves in kaleidoscope form--spinning rows of colors, the passing blur of words.
I sway. I sing. I elevate. My friends are by my side, and Zeke is working the Huguenots into his melody. I spin around and knock a few books off the shelves. When the song is through, I bend to pick them up.
I grasp on the ground and come face to face with a cool pair of sneakers.
"This yours?" a voice above the sneakers asks.
I look up. And there he is.
His hair points in ten different directions. His eyes are a little close together, but man, are they green. There's a little birthmark on his neck, the shape of a comma.
I think he's wonderful.
He's holding a book out to me. Migraines Are Only in Your Mind.
I am aware of my breathing. I am aware of my heartbeat. I am aware that my shirt is half untucked. I take the book from him and say thanks. I put it back on the shelf. There's no way that Self-Help can help me now.
"Do you know Zeke?" I ask, nodding to the stand.
"No," the boy answers. "I just came for a book."
He shakes my hand. I am touching his hand.
I can feel Joni and Tony keeping their curious distance.
"Do you know Zeke?" Noah asks. "His tunes are magnificent."
I roll the word in my head--magnificent. It's like a gift to hear.
"Yeah, we go to school together," I say casually.
"The high school?"
"That's the one." I'm looking down. He has perfect hands.
"I go there, too."
"You do?" I can't believe I've never seen him before. If I'd seen him before, it would have damn well registered.
"Two weeks now. Are you a senior?"
I look down at my Keds. "I'm a sophomore."
Now I fear he's humoring me. There's nothing cool about being a sophomore. Even a new kid would know that.