Me, after a while: How many straight guys are there in the GSA?
Jane: You’re it.
I lol, and feel like a fool for even thinking her a flirt. Jane’s just a smart, snarky girl with too-curly hair.
And so it comes to this: At 3:30 the next afternoon, the eighth period bell rings, and for a nanosecond, I feel the endorphins sizzling through my body that usually indicate I have successfully survived another school day without anything happening, but then I remember: day ain’t over yet.
I trudge upstairs while a flood of people race down, on their way to the weekend.
I get to Classroom 204A. I open the door. Jane is facing away from me with her butt on a desk and her feet on a chair. She’s wearing a pale yellow T-shirt and the way she’s leaned over, I can see a little of the small of her back.
Tiny Cooper is splayed out across the thin carpet, using his backpack as a pillow. He’s wearing skinny jeans, which look very much like denim sausage casings. At this moment, the three of us constitute the Gay-Straight Alliance.
Tiny says, “Grayson!”
“This is the Homosexuality Is An Abomination Club, right?”
Tiny laughs. Jane just sits facing away from me, reading. My eyes return to Jane’s back, because they have to go somewhere, and Tiny says, “Grayson, are you abandoning your asexuality?”
Jane turns around as I cut Tiny a look and mumble, “I’m not asexual. I’m arelationshipal.”
And Tiny says to Jane, “I mean, it’s such a tragedy, isn’t it? The only thing Grayson has going for him is that he’s adorable, and yet he refuses to date.”
Tiny likes to hook me up. He does it for the pure-driven pleasure of pissing me off. And it works. “Shut up, Tiny.”
“I mean, I don’t see it,” he says. “Nothing personal, Grayson, but you’re not my type. A. You don’t pay enough attention to hygiene, and B. All the crap you’ve got going for you is the crap I find totally uninteresting. I mean, Jane, I think we can agree that Grayson has nice arms.”
Jane looks mildly panicked, and I jump in to save her from having to talk. “You have the oddest way of coming on to me, Tiny.”
“I would never come on to you, because you’re not gay. And, like, boys who like girls are inherently unhot. Why would you like someone who can’t like you back?”
The question is rhetorical, but if I wasn’t trying to shut up, I’d answer it: You like someone who can’t like you back because unrequited love can be survived in a way that once-requited love cannot.
After a moment, Tiny says, “Straight girls think he’s cute, that’s all I’m saying.” And then I realize the full extent of the insanity. Tiny Cooper has brought me to a Gay-Straight Alliance meeting to hook me up with a girl.
Which is of course idiotic in the kind of profound and multivalent way that only an English teacher could fully elucidate. At least Tiny finally shuts up, whereupon I begin staring at my watch and wondering whether this is what happens at a GSA meeting—maybe the three of us just sit here for an hour in silence with Tiny Cooper periodically rendering the room toxically uncomfortable with his un-subtle comments, and then at the end we go into a huddle and shout GO GAY! or something. But then Gary and Nick come in with some guys I vaguely recognize, a girl with a tomboy cut wearing a gigantic Rancid T-shirt that extends nearly to her knees, and this English teacher, Mr. Fortson, who has never taught me in English, which perhaps accounts for why he smiles at me.
“Mr. Grayson,” says Mr. Fortson. “Nice to have you here. Enjoyed your letter to the editor a few weeks back.”
“Biggest mistake of my life,” I tell him.
Tiny Cooper jumps in then. “It’s a long story involving shutting up and not caring.” I just nod. “Oh my God, Grayson,” Tiny stage-whispers. “Did I tell you what Nick said to me?” I’m thinking nick nick nick, who the hell is nick? And then I glance over at Nick, who is not sitting next to Gary, which is Clue A. He is also burying his head in his arms, which is Clue B. Tiny says, “He said he can see himself with me. Those words. I can see myself with you. Isn’t that just the most fantastic thing you’ve ever heard?” From Tiny’s inflection, I can’t tell whether the thing is fantastically hilarious or fantastically wonderful, so I just shrug.
Nick sighs, his head against the desk, mumbles, “Tiny, not now.” Gary runs his fingers through his hair and sighs. “Bad for the team, all your polyamory.”
Mr. Fortson calls the meeting to order with a gavel. A real gavel. Poor bastard. I imagine that back in college or whatever, he did not imagine that gavel use would be part of his teaching career.
“Okay, so we’ve got eight people today. That’s great, guys. I believe the first order of business is Tiny’s musical, Tiny Dancer. We need to decide whether to ask the administration to fund this play, or if we’d like to focus on different things. Education, awareness, etc.”
Tiny sits up and announces, “Tiny Dancer is all about education and awareness.”
“Yeah,” says Gary sarcastically. “Making sure everyone is aware of and educated about Tiny Cooper.”
The two guys sitting with Gary snicker, and before I can think it through I say, “Hey, don’t be a jerk, Gary,” because I can’t help but defend Tiny.
Jane says, “Look, are people going to make fun of it? Absuh-freakin’-lutely. But it’s honest. It’s funny, and it’s accurate, and it’s not full of crap. It shows gay people as whole and complicated—not just like ‘oh my God I have to tell my daddy that I like boys and wah-wah it’s so hard.’ ”
Gary rolls his eyes and exhales through pursed lips like he’s smoking. “Right. You know how hard it is,” he says to Jane, “since you’re—oh, wait. Right. You’re not gay.”
“That’s irrelevant,” Jane responds. I glance over at Jane, who’s giving Gary a look as Mr. Fortson starts talking about how you can’t have Alliances within the Alliance or else there’s no overarching Alliance. I’m wondering how many times he can possibly use the word alliance in one sentence when Tiny Cooper cuts Mr. Fortson off by saying, “Hey, wait, Jane, you’re straight?”
And she nods without really looking up and then mumbles, “I mean, I think so, anyway.”
“You should date Grayson,” Tiny says. “He thinks you’re super cute.”
If I were to stand on a scale fully dressed, sopping wet, holding ten-pound dumbbells in each hand and balancing a stack of hardcover books on my head, I’d weigh about 180 pounds, which is approximately equal to the weight of Tiny Cooper’s left tricep. But in this moment, I could beat the holy living shit out of Tiny Cooper. And I would, I swear to God, except I’m too busy trying to disappear.
I’m sitting here thinking, God, I swear I will take a vow of silence and move to a monastery and worship you for all my days if you just this once provide me with an invisibility cloak, come on come on, please please invisibility cloak now now now. It’s very possible that Jane is thinking the same thing, but I have no idea, because she’s not talking either, and I can’t look at her on account of how I’m blinded by embarrassment.
The meeting lasts thirty more minutes, during which time I do not speak or move or in any way respond to stimuli. I gather that Nick gets Gary and Tiny to sort of make up, and the alliance agrees to seek money for both Tiny Dancer and a series of flyers aimed at education. There’s some more talking, but I don’t hear Jane’s voice again.
And then it’s over, and out of my peripheral vision I see everyone leaving, but I stay put. In the past half hour, I’ve collected a mental list of approximately 412 ways I might kill Tiny Cooper, and I’m not going to leave until I’ve settled on just the right one. I finally decide I’m going to just stab him a thousand times with a ballpoint pen. Jailhouse-style. I stand up ramrod straight and walk outside. Tiny Cooper’s leaning against a row of lockers, waiting for me.
“Listen, Grayson,” he says, and I walk up to him, and grab a fistful of his Polo, and I’m up on my tiptoes, and my eyes are about at his Adam’s apple, and I say, “Of all the miserable things you’ve ever done, you cocksucker.”
Tiny laughs, which only makes me madder, and he says, “You can’t call me a cocksucker, Grayson, because A. It’s not an insult, and B. You know I’m not one. Yet. Tragically.”
I let go of his shirt. There’s no physically intimidating Tiny. “Well, whatever,” I say. “Shitbag. Dumbass. Vagina lover.”
“Now that’s an insult,” he says, “But listen, dude. She likes you. When she walked out just now she came up to me and she was like, ‘Did you really mean that or were you just joking?’ and I was like, ‘Why do you ask?’ and she was like, ‘Well, he’s nice is all,’ and then I told her I wasn’t kidding, and then she smiled all goofy.”
I take a long, deep breath. “That’s terrible. I’m not into her, Tiny.”
He rolls his eyes. “And you think I’m crazy? She’s adorable. I just totally made your life!”
I realize this is not, like, boyish. I realize that properly speaking guys should only think about sex and the acquisition of it, and that they should run crotch-first toward every girl who likes them and etc. But: The part I enjoy most is not the doing, but the noticing. Noticing the way she smells like oversugared coffee, and the difference between her smile and her photographed smile, and the way she bites her lower lip, and the pale skin of her back. I just want the pleasure of noticing these things at a safe distance—I don’t want to have to acknowledge that I am noticing. I don’t want to talk about it or do stuff about it.
I did think about it while we were there with unconscious, snot-crying Tiny below us. I thought about stepping over the fallen giant and kissing her and my hand on her face and her improbably warm breath, and having a girlfriend who gets mad at me for being so quiet and then only getting quieter because the thing I liked was one smile with a sleeping leviathan between us, and then I feel like crap for a while until finally we break up, at which point I reaffirm my vow to live by the rules.
I could do that.
Or I could just live by the rules.
“Trust me,” I tell him. “You are not improving my life. Just stop interfering, okay?”
He answers with a shrug that I take for a nod. “So, listen,” Tiny says. “About Nick. The thing is that he and Gary were together for a really long time and, like, they only broke up yesterday, but there’s a real spark.”
“Supremely bad idea,” I say.
“But they broke up,” says Tiny.
“Right, but what would happen if someone broke up with you and then the next day was flirting with one of your friends?”
“I’ll think about it,” says Tiny, but I know he can’t possibly restrain himself from having another brief and failed romance. “Oh, hey.” Tiny perks up. “You should go with us to the Storage Room on Friday. Nick and I are going to see this band, the uh—the Maybe Dead Cats. Intellectual pop punk. Dead Milkmen-ey, but less funny ha-ha.”
“Thanks for inviting me before,” I say, elbowing Tiny in the side. He pushes me back playfully, and I almost fall down the stairs. It’s like being best friends with a fairy-tale giant: Tiny Cooper can’t help but hurt you.
“I just figured you wouldn’t want to come, after the disaster last week.”
“Oh, wait, I can’t. The Storage Room is over-twenty-one.”
Tiny Cooper, walking ahead of me, reaches the door. He throws his hips against the metal bar, and the door flings open. Outside. The weekend. The brisk bare light of Chicago. The cold air floods over me, and the light rushes in, and Tiny Cooper is backlit by the sinking sun, so I can barely see him when he turns back around to me and pulls out his phone.
“Who are you calling?” I ask, but Tiny doesn’t answer. He just holds the phone in his gigantic meaty hand and then he says, “Hey, Jane,” and my eyes get wide, and I do the slit-the-throat motion, and Tiny smiles and says, “Listen, so Grayson wants to come with us to the Maybe Dead Cats on Friday. Maybe get some dinner first?”
“. . .”
“Well, the only problem is that he doesn’t have an ID, and don’t you know some guy?”
“. . .”
“You aren’t home yet, are you? So just come back and pick his skinny ass up.” Tiny hangs up and says to me, “She’s on her way,” and then I’m left standing in the doorway as Tiny races down the steps and starts skipping—yeah, skipping—toward the junior parking lot. “Tiny!” I shout, but he doesn’t turn around; he just keeps skipping. I don’t start to skip after his crazy ass or anything, but I do kinda smile. He may be a malevolent sorcerer, but Tiny Cooper is his own goddamned man, and if he wants to be a gigantic skipper, then that’s his right as a huge American.
I figure I can’t ditch Jane, so I’m sitting on the front steps when she shows up two minutes later behind the wheel of an ancient, hand-painted orange Volvo. I’ve seen the car before in the parking lot—you can’t miss it—but I’ve never attached it to Jane. She seems quieter than the car implies. I walk down the steps, open the passenger door, and climb in, my feet landing in a pile of fast-food wrappers.
“Sorry. I realize it’s disgusting.”
“Don’t worry,” I say. This would be an excellent time to make a joke, but I’m thinking shut up shut up shut up. After a while the silence feels too weird, so I say, “Do you know this band, the uh, Maybe Dead Cats?”