me: better than what?

tiny laughs and shakes his head.

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me: what? why are you shaking your head.

tiny: it’s nothing.

me: tell me.

tiny: it’s just funny.

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me: WHAT’S funny?

tiny: you. and me.

me: i’m glad you find it funny.

tiny: i wish you’d find it funnier.

I don’t even know what we’re talking about anymore.

tiny: you know what’s a great metaphor for love?

me: i have a feeling you’re about to tell me.

he turns away and makes an attempt to swing high. the swing set groans so much that he stops and twists back my way.

tiny: sleeping beauty.

me: sleeping beauty?

tiny: yes, because you have to plow through this incredible thicket of thorns in order to get to beauty, and even then, when you get there, you still have to wake her up.

me: so i’m a thicket?

tiny: and the beauty that isn’t fully awake yet.

I don’t point out that tiny is hardly what little girls think of when you say the words prince charming.

me: it figures you’d think that way.

tiny: why?

me: well, your life is a musical. literally.

tiny: do you hear me singing now?

I almost do. i’d love to live in his musical cartoon world, where witches like maura get vanquished with one heroic word, and all the forest creatures are happy when two gay guys walk hand-in-hand through the meadow, and gideon is the himbo suitor you know the princess can’t marry, because her heart belongs to the beast. i’m sure it’s a lovely world, where these things happen. a rich, spoiled, colorful world. maybe one day i’ll get to visit, but i doubt it. worlds like that don’t tend to issue visas to fuckups like me.

me: it puzzles me how someone like you could drive all this way to be with someone like me.

tiny: not that again!

me: excuse me?

tiny: we’re always having this conversation. but if you keep focusing on why you have it so bad, you’ll never realize how you could have it so good.

me: easy for you to say!

tiny: what do you mean?

me: pretty much exactly that. i’ll break it down for you. easy - with no difficulty whatsoever. for you - the opposite of ‘for me.’ to say - to vocalize, sometimes ad nauseam. you have it so good that you don’t realize that when you have it bad, it’s not a choice you’re making.

tiny: i know that. i wasn’t saying . . .

me: yes?

tiny: i do understand.

me: you DON’T understand. because you have it so easy.

now i’ve riled him up. he steps out of the swing and stands right in front of me. there’s a vein in his neck that’s actually pulsing. he can’t look angry without also looking sad.

tiny: STOP TELLING ME I HAVE IT SO EASY! do you have any idea what you’re talking about? because i’m a person, too. and i have problems, too. and even though they might not be your problems, they’re still problems.

me: like what?

tiny: you may not have noticed, but i’m not what you’d call conventionally beautiful. in fact, you might say that i’m the opposite of that. say, you know - to vocalize, sometimes ad nauseam? do you think that there’s any minute in any day when i’m not aware of how big i am? do you think there’s a single minute that goes by when i’m not thinking about how other people see me? even though i have no control whatsoever over that? don’t get me wrong - i love my body. but i’m not so much of an idiot to think that everybody else loves it. what really gets to me - what really bothers me - is that it’s all people see. ever since i was a not-so-little kid. hey, tiny, want to play football? hey, tiny, how many burgers did you eat today? hey, tiny, you ever lose your dick down there? hey, tiny, you’re going to join the basketball team whether you like it or not. just don’t try to look at us in the locker room! does that sound easy to you, will?

I’m about to say something, but he holds up his hand.

tiny: you know what? i’m totally at peace with being big-boned. and i was gay long before i knew what sex was. it’s just who i am, and that’s great. i don’t want to be thin or conventionally beautiful or straight or brilliant. no, what i really want - and what i never get - is to be appreciated. do you know what it’s like to work so hard to make sure everyone’s happy, and to have not a single person recognize it? i can work my ass off bringing together the other will grayson and jane - no appreciation, only grief. i write this whole musical that’s basically about love, and the main character in it - besides me, of course - is phil wrayson, who needs to figure some things out, but is all-in-all a pretty wonderful guy. and does will get that? no. he freaks out. i do everything i can to be a good boyfriend with you - no appreciation, only grief. i try to make this musical so it can create something, to show that we all have something to sing - no appreciation, only grief. this musical is a gift, will. my gift to the world. it’s not about me. it’s about what i have to share. there’s a difference - i see it, but i am worried that i am the only frickin’ one who sees it. you think i have it easy, will? are you really dying to try on these size fifteens? because every morning when i wake up, i have to convince myself that, yes, by the end of the day, i will be able to do something good. that’s all i ask - to be able to do something good. not for myself, you whiny shithead bastard complainer who, incidentally, i really, really like. but for my friends. for other people.

me: but why me? i mean, what do you see in me? tiny: you have a heart, will. you even let it slip out every now and then. i see that in you. and i see that you need me.

I shake my head.

me: don’t you get it? i don’t need anyone.

tiny: that only means you need me more.

It’s so clear to me.

me: you’re not in love with me. you’re in love with my need.

tiny: who said i was in love with anything? i said ‘really, really like.’

he stops now. pauses.

tiny: this always happens. some variation of this always happens.

me: i’m sorry.

tiny: they always say ‘i’m sorry,’ too.

me: i can’t do this, tiny.

tiny: you can, but you won’t. you just won’t.

It’s like i don’t have to break up with him, because he’s already had the conversation in his head. i should feel relieved that i don’t have to say anything. but instead, i only feel worse.

me: it’s not your fault. i just can’t feel anything.

tiny: really? are you really feeling nothing right now? nothing at all?

I want to tell him: nobody ever told me how to deal with things like this. shouldn’t letting go be painless if you’ve never learned how to hold on?

tiny: i’m going to go now.

and i’m going to stay. i’m going to stay on this swing as he walks away. i’m going to stay silent as he gets in his car. i’m going to stay still as i hear the car start, then drive away. i’m going to stay in the wrong, because i don’t know how to get through the thicket of my own mind in order to reach whatever it is that i’m supposed to do. i’m going to stay the same, and the same, and the same, until i die of it.

minutes have to pass before i can admit that, yes, even though i tell myself i’m feeling nothing, it’s a lie. i want to say i’m feeling remorse or regret or even guilt. but none of those words seem like enough. what i’m feeling is shame. raw, loathing shame. i don’t want to be the person i am. i don’t want to be the person who just did what i did.

It’s not even about tiny, really.

I am awful.

I am heartless.

I am scared that these things are actually true.

I run back to my house. i am starting to sob - i’m not even thinking about it, but my body is falling to pieces. my hand is shaking so much that i drop the keys before i finally get them in the door. the house is empty. i am empty. i try to eat. i try to crawl into bed. nothing works. i do feel things. i feel everything. and i need to know i’m not alone. so i’m getting out the phone. i’m not even thinking about it. i’m pressing the number and i’m hearing the ring and as soon as it’s answered, i’m shouting into the phone:

me: I LOVE YOU. DO YOU HEAR ME, I LOVE YOU?

I’m screaming it, and it sounds so angry and so frightened and so pathetic and desperate. on the other end of the phone, my mother is asking me what’s wrong, where am i, what’s happening, and i’m telling her that i’m at home and that everything’s a mess, and she’s saying she’ll be home in ten minutes, will i be okay for ten minutes? and i want to tell her i’ll be okay, because that’s what she wants to hear, but then i realize that maybe what she wants to hear is the actual truth, so i tell her that i feel things, i really do, and she tells me of course i do, i always have had these feelings, and that’s what makes life hard for me sometimes.

just hearing her voice makes me feel a little better, and i realize that, yes, i appreciate what she’s saying, and i appreciate what she’s doing, and that i need to let her know that. although i don’t say it right away, since i think that will only worry her more, but when she gets home i say it to her, and she says she knows.

I tell her a little about tiny, and she says it sounds like we were putting too much pressure on ourselves, and that it doesn’t have to be love immediately, or even love eventually. i want to ask her which it was with my father, and when it was that everything turned into hate and sadness. but maybe i don’t really want to know. not right now.

mom: need is never a good basis for any relationship. it has to be much more than that.

It’s good to talk to her, but it’s also strange, because she’s my mom, and i don’t want to be one of these kids who thinks his mom’s his best friend. by the time i’ve recovered enough, school is long over, and i figure i can go online and see if gideon’s there. then i realize i can text him instead. then i realize that i can actually call him. finally, i realize i can actually call him and see if he wants to do something. because he’s my friend, and that’s what friends do.

I call, he answers. i need him, he answers. i go over to his house and tell him what’s happened, and he answers. it’s not like it was with maura, who always wanted to take the dark road. it’s not like it was with tiny, because with him i was feeling all these expectations to be a good boyfriend, whatever that is. no, gideon’s ready to believe both the best and the worst in me. in other words: the truth.

when we’re done talking, he asks me if i’m going to call tiny. i tell him i don’t know.

It’s not until later that i decide. i’m on IM, and i see he’s on, too.

I don’t really think i can salvage us being boyfriends, but at the very least i want to tell him that even if he was wrong about me, he wasn’t wrong about himself. i mean, someone should be trying to do good in the world.

so i try.

8:15pm

willupleasebequiet: bluejeanbaby?

willupleasebequiet: tiny?

8:18pm

willupleasebequiet: are you there?

9:33pm

willupleasebequiet: are you there?

10:10pm

willupleasebequiet: please?

11:45pm

willupleasebequiet: are you there?

1:03am

willupleasebequiet: are you there?

willupleasebequiet: are you there?

willupleasebequiet: are you there?

willupleasebequiet: are you there?

willupleasebequiet: are you there?

Chapter seventeen

Three days before the play, Tiny and I are talking again as we wait for precalc to start, but there’s nothing inside our words. He sits down next to me and says, “Hey, Grayson,” and I say, “Hey,” and he says, “What’s new?” and I say, “Not much, you?” and he says, “Not much. The play is kicking my ass, man,” and I say, “I bet,” and he says, “You’re dating Jane, huh?” and I say, “Sorta, yeah,” and he says, “That’s awesome,” and I say, “Yeah. How’s the other Will Grayson,” and he says, “Fine,” and that’s it. Honestly, talking to him is worse than not. Talking to him makes me feel like I’m drowning in lukewarm water.

Jane’s standing by my locker with her hands behind her back when I get there after first period, and when I get to her, there’s this awkward but not unpleasant should-we-kiss moment, or at least I think that’s what the moment is, but then she says, “Sucks about Tiny, huh?”

“What does?” I ask.

“He and the other Will Grayson. Kaput.”

I tilt my head at her, baffled. “No, he just said they were fine. I asked him in precalc.”

“Happened yesterday, at least according to Gary and Nick and the twenty-three other people who told me about it. On a swing set, apparently. Oh, the metaphorical resonance.”

“Then why didn’t he tell me?” I hear my voice catch as I say it.

Jane grabs my hand and stands up to say into my ear, “Hey,” and then I look back at her, trying to act like it doesn’t matter. “Hey,” she says again.

“Hey,” I say.

“Just go back to normal with him, huh? Just talk to him, Will. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but everything goes better for you when you talk to people.”

“You wanna come over after school?” I ask.

“Absolutely.” She smiles, then spins a half-circle in place and walks off. She takes a few steps before turning back and saying, “Talk. To. Tiny.”

For a while, I just stand there at my locker. Even after the bell rings. I know why he didn’t tell me: it isn’t because he feels weird that for the first time in human history, he’s single and I’m taken(ish). He said the other Will Grayson was fine because I don’t matter.

Tiny might ignore you when he’s in love. But when Tiny Cooper lies to you about his heartbreak, the Geiger counter has tripped the hammer. The radiation has been released. The friendship is dead.

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