maura: fine. i understand that you’re mad. but i’m still going to be here when you aren’t so angry.

when things break, it’s not the actual breaking that prevents them from getting back together again. it’s because a little piece gets lost - the two remaining ends couldn’t fit together even if they wanted to. the whole shape has changed.

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I am never, ever going to be friends with maura again. and the sooner she realizes it, the less annoying it’s going to be.

when i talk to simon and derek, i find out that they vanquished the trigonometric challengers yesterday, so at least i know they’re not still mad at me for ditching. my seat at the lunch table remains secure. we sit there and eat in silence for at least five minutes until simon speaks.

simon: so how was your big date in chicago?

me: do you really want to know?

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simon: yeah - if it was big enough for you to bow out of our competition, i want to know how it went.

me: well, at first he didn’t exist, but then he existed and it went pretty well. before, when i told you about it, i was really careful not to use any pronouns, but i don’t give a fuck anymore.

simon: wait a sec - you’re gay?

me: yup. i suppose that’s the correct conclusion for you to draw.

simon: that’s disgusting!

this is not exactly the reaction i was expecting from simon. i was betting on something a little closer to indifference.

me: what’s disgusting?

simon: you know. that you put your thing in the place where he, um, defecates.

me: first of all, i haven’t put my thing anywhere. and you do realize, don’t you, that when a guy and a girl get together, he puts his thing where she urinates and gets her period?

simon: oh. i hadn’t thought about that.

me: exactly.

simon: still, it’s weird.

me: it’s no weirder than jerking off to video game characters.

simon: who told you that? he whacks derek on the head with his plastic fork.

simon: did you tell him that?

derek: i didn’t tell him anything!

me: i figured it out myself. honestly.

simon: it’s only the girl characters.

derek: and some warlocks!

simon: SHUT UP!

this is not, i have to admit, how i thought being gay was going to be.

luckily, tiny texts me every five minutes or so. i don’t know how he does it without getting caught in class. maybe he hides the phone in the folds of his stomach or something. whatever the case, i’m grateful. because it’s hard to hate life too much when you have someone interrupting your day with things like

I’M THINKING HAPPY GAY THOUGHTS ABOUT U and

I WANT TO KNIT U A SWEATER. WHAT COLOR? and

I THINK I JUST FAILED A MATH TEST BECAUSE I WAS THINKING OF U 2 MUCH and

WHAT RHYMES WITH SODOMY TRIAL? then

LOBOTOMY VILE? then

BOTTOM ME, KYLE? then

BOTTOMY NILE then

BOTTOMY GUILE! then

BTW—ITS 4 THE SCENE WHEN OSCAR WILD’S GHOST COMES TO ME IN A DREAM

I only know about half of what he’s talking about, and usually that annoys the shit out of me. but with tiny, it doesn’t matter as much. maybe someday i’ll figure it out. and if not, being oblivious could be fun, too. the fatty’s turning me into a softie. it’s sick, really.

he also texts me all the questions about how it’s going, what i’m doing, how i’m feeling, and when is he going to see me again. i can’t help it - i think it’s kind of like it was with isaac. only without the distance. this time, i feel i know who i’m talking to. because i get a sense that with tiny, what you see is how he is. he doesn’t hold anything back. i want to be like that. only without having to gain, like, three hundred pounds to do it.

after school, maura catches me at my locker.

maura: simon told me you’re officially gay now. that you ‘met somebody’ in chicago.

I don’t owe you anything, maura. especially not an explanation.

maura: what are you doing, will? why did you tell him that?

because i did meet someone, maura.

maura: talk to me.

never. i am going to let the close of my locker speak for me. i am going to let the sound of my footsteps speak for me. i am going to let the way i don’t look back speak for me.

you see, maura, i don’t give a fuck.

that night, tiny and i exchange IMs for four hours. mom leaves me alone and even lets me stay up late.

someone with a fake profile leaves a comment on my myspace page calling me a fag. i don’t think it’s maura; someone else from school must’ve heard.

when i look in my mailbox at all the messages i’ve gathered there, i see isaac’s face has been replaced with a gray box with a red X through it.

‘profile no longer exists,’ it says.

so the mail from him remains, but he’s gone.

I see a few people looking at me weird in school the next day, and i wonder if it would be possible to reconstruct the path the gossip took from derek or simon to the towering snot-nosed jock glaring at me. of course, it’s possible that the towering snot-nosed jock always glared at me, and i’m just noticing it now. i try not to give a fuck.

maura’s laying low, but i assume it’s because she’s planning her next assault. i want to tell her it’s not worth it. maybe our friendship wasn’t meant to last longer than a year. maybe the things that drew us together - doom, gloom, sarcasm - weren’t meant to hold us together. the fucked-up thing is, i miss isaac and i don’t miss her. even though i know she was isaac. none of those conversations count anymore. i am genuinely sorry that she went to such insane lengths to get me to tell her the truth - we would have been better off if we’d never been friends in the first place. i’m not going to try to punish her - i’m not going to tell everyone what she did, or bomb her locker, or yell at her in front of everyone else. i just want her to go away. that’s all. the end.

right before lunch, this kid gideon catches me by my locker. we haven’t really talked since seventh grade, when we were lab partners in earth science. then he went on the honors track and i didn’t. i’ve always liked him and we’ve always been on hi-in-the-halls terms. he dj’s a lot, mostly at parties i don’t go to.

gideon: hey, will.

me: hey.

I’m pretty sure he’s not here to bash me. the lcd sound-system shirt kinda gives that away.

gideon: so, yeah. i heard that you might be, you know . . .

me: ambidextrous? a philatelist? homosexual?

he smiles.

gideon: yeah. and, i don’t know, when i realized i was gay, it really sucked that nobody was, like, ‘way to go.’ so i just wanted to come over and say . . .

me: way to go?

gideon: well, it sounds stupid like that. but that’s the gist of it. welcome to the club. it’s a very small club at this school.

me: i hope there aren’t dues?

he stares at his shoes.

gideon: um, no. it’s not really a club.

If tiny was at our school, i imagine it would be a club. and he would be the president.

I smile. gideon looks up and sees it.

gideon: maybe if you’d want to, i don’t know, get some coffee or something after school . . . ?

It takes me a second.

me: are you asking me out?

gideon: um, maybe?

right here in the halls. there are all these people around us. amazing.

me: here’s the thing. i’d love to hang out. but . . . i have a boyfriend.

these words are actually leaving my lips. uh-mazing.

I take out my phone and show him the inbox full of texts from tiny.

me: i swear, i’m not making it up just to get out of going on a date with you. his name’s tiny. he goes to school in evanston.

gideon: you’re so lucky.

this is not a word that’s usually thrown my way.

me: why don’t you sit with me and simon and derek at lunch?

gideon: are they gay, too?

me: only if you’re a warlock.

I text tiny a minute later.

MADE NEW GAY FRIEND.

and he texts back

PROGRESS!!!

then

YOU SHOULD FORM A GSA!

to which i reply

ONE STEP AT A TIME, BIG BOY

and he replies

BIG BOY - I LUV THAT!

the texting goes on for the rest of the day and into the night. it’s pretty incredible, really, how frequently you can write someone when you’re keeping the character count low. it’s so stupid, because it feels like tiny’s sharing the day with me. like he’s there when i’m ignoring maura or talking to gideon or finding out that nobody’s going to axe-murder me in gym class because i’m sending out a homosexual vibe.

still, it’s not enough. because i felt that way sometimes with isaac. and i won’t let this relationship be all in my head.

so that night i call tiny on the phone and talk to him. i tell him i want him to come visit. and he doesn’t make excuses. he doesn’t say it’s not possible. instead, he says

tiny: how soon?

I will admit there’s a certain degree of giving a fuck that goes into not giving a fuck. by saying you don’t care if the world falls apart, in some small way you’re saying you want it to stay together, on your terms.

when i hang up with tiny, mom comes into my room.

mom: how’s it going?

me: fine.

and it’s true, for once.

Chapter thirteen

I awake to the sound of my alarm clock, blaring rhythmically, and it seems as loud as an air siren, shouting at me with such ferocity that it sort of hurts my feelings. I roll over in bed, and squint through the darkness: It’s 5:43 in the morning. My alarm doesn’t go off until 6:37.

And only then do I realize: That sound is not my alarm clock. It is a car horn, honking, sounding some kind of terrible siren song through the streets of Evanston, a howling warning of doom. Horns don’t honk this early, not with such insistence. It must be an emergency.

I race out of bed, pull on a pair of jeans, and bolt toward the front door. I’m relieved to see both Mom and Dad alive, racing to the entryway. I say, “Jesus, what’s going on?” and my mom just shrugs and my dad says, “Is it a car horn?” I make it to the door first and peer out the glass sidelight.

Tiny Cooper is parked outside my house, honking methodically.

I run outside and only when he sees me does he stop honking. The passenger window rolls down. “Christ, Tiny. You’re going to wake the whole neighborhood.”

I see a can of Red Bull dancing in his huge, shaky hand. The other hand remains perched on the horn, ready to honk at any moment.

“We gotta go,” he says, his voice rushed. “Gotta go go go go go go go go.”

“What’s wrong with you?”

“Gotta go to school. I’ll explain later. Get in the car.” He sounds so frantically serious, and I am so tired, that I don’t think to question him. I just race back into the house, pull on some socks and shoes, brush my teeth, tell my parents I’m going to school early, and hurry into Tiny’s car.

“Five things, Grayson,” he says as he puts the car into drive and speeds off, without ever relinquishing his shaky hold on the can of Red Bull.

“What? Tiny, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. Everything’s right. Things couldn’t be righter. Things could be less tired. They could be less busy. They could be less caffeinated. But they couldn’t be righter.”

“Dude, are you on meth?”

“No, I’m on Red Bull.” He hands me the Red Bull, and I sniff at it, trying to figure out whether it’s laced with something. “Also coffee,” he adds. “So but listen, Grayson. Five things.”

“I can’t believe you woke up my entire neighborhood at five forty-three for no reason.”

“Actually,” he says, his voice louder than seems entirely necessary at such a tender hour, “I woke you up for five reasons, which is what I’ve been trying to tell you, except that you keep interrupting me, which is just a very, like, Tiny Cooper thing of you to do.”

I’ve known Tiny Cooper since he was a very large and very gay fifth grader. I’ve seen him drunk and sober, hungry and sated, loud and louder, in love and in longing. I have seen him in good times and bad, in sickness and in health. And in lo those many years, he has never before made a self-deprecating joke. And I can’t help but think: maybe Tiny Cooper should fry his brain with caffeine more often.

“Okay, what are the five things?” I ask.

“One, I finished casting the show last night around eleven while I was skyping with Will Grayson. He helped me. I imitated all the potential auditioners, and then he helped me decide who was least horrible.”

“The other Will Grayson,” I correct him.

“Two,” he says, as if he hasn’t heard me. “Shortly thereafter, Will went to bed. And I was thinking to myself, you know, it’s been eight days since I met him, and I haven’t technically liked someone who liked me back for eight days in my entire life, unless you count my relationship with Bethany Keene in third grade, which obviously you can’t, since she’s a girl.

“Three, and then I was thinking about that and lying in the bed staring up at the ceiling, and I could see the stars that we stuck up there in like sixth grade or whatever. Do you remember that? The glow-in-the-dark stars and the comet and everything?”

I nod, but he doesn’t look over, even though we’re stopped at a light. “Well,” he goes on, “I was looking at those stars and they were fading away because it had been a few minutes since I’d turned out the light, and then I had a blinding light spiritual awakening. What is Tiny Dancer about? I mean, what is its subject, Grayson? You’ve read it.”

I assume that, as usual, he is asking this question rhetorically, so I say nothing so he’ll go on ranting, because as painful as it is for me to admit, there is something kind of wonderful about Tiny’s ranting, particularly on a quiet street when I am still half asleep. There is something about the mere act of him speaking that is vaguely pleasurable even though I wish it weren’t. It is something about his voice, not his pitch or his rapid-fire, caffeinated diction, but the voice itself—the familiarity of it, I guess, but also its inexhaustibility.

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