Naomi and elys no kiss l.., p.1
and David Levithan
This edition first published in 2008
First published in 2007 in the USA by Alfred A. Knopf
Copyright © David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, 2007
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The Australian Copyright Act 1968 (the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or ten per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.
Allen & Unwin
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Phone: (61 2) 8425 0100
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National Library of Australia
Naomi and Ely’s no kiss list / Rachel Cohn; David Levithan.
ISBN: 9781741754865 (pbk.)
Subjects: Interpersonal relations — Fiction.
Homosexuality — Fiction.
Dating (Social customs) — Fiction.
New York (N.Y.) — Fiction.
Cover design by Sandra Nobes
Printed in Australia by McPhersons Printing Group
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
To Nancy the First
Thanks to our friends, family, and teen author crew, as always. For this book, specific thanks to Anna, Martha, Nick, Patty, Robin, all the kind folks at Knopf (with a special shoutout to Nancy, Allison, and Noreen), and the fine people at William Morris (particularly Alicia and Jennifer). And thank you to the fans who write to us; you always make our day.
BRUCE THE SECOND DIAL
BRUCE THE FIRST INSOMNIA
BRUCE THE SECOND MUTANT
BRUCE THE SECOND OUT
BRUCE THE FIRST LIKEWISE
BRUCE THE SECOND FAIR
I lie all the time.
I lied to Mrs. Loy from the fourteenth floor when I assured her that I walked her dog three times a day and watered her plants while she went to Atlantic City to win the money for her son’s sad operation (or for her own elective plastic surgery— I’m not sure).
I lied to the co-op board of my family’s apartment building about my mom’s episode that left our living room wall in partial collapse soon after Dad left. I also backed up Mom’s lies to the board that we’d pay for the damage. Monkeys will fly outta my butt before we’ll be able to come up with the money to fix the fallout. The way I figure, if Mom and I aren’t bothered by living in ruins, why should the co-op board care?
I lied to the NYU Admissions Committee that I care about my future and my education. I’m barely a year out of high school, and already I know this NYU deal is a losing proposition. I live out the college freshman lie to hold on to the only thing in my life that’s not in ruins—Ely.
I lied to Robin from psych class when I assured her that Robin from that time at the Starbucks at Eighth and University her and will call her. There’s no $$$ for me to move into the school dorms, and Robin’s a sophomore with a rare single who goes home on the weekends and lets me use her place when I need to escape The Building. The apartment building where I’ve lived my whole life may be situated on prime Greenwich Village real estate, but escape from it is my prime priority: escape from parent drama or my lies or Mr. McAllister, the creepy up-and-down elevator man who lives down the hall from Mrs. Loy and who’s been ogling me since I was thirteen and my breasts first announced themselves in the elevator mirror.
I’ve lied to Mom every time I’ve told her I’ve stayed the night at Robin’s when really I’ve stayed over at my boyfriend’s dorm room. I lie to myself that I need to lie about my whereabouts. It’s not like Bruce the Second and I are doing it. We’re more about a in bed, then turn out the light, and —just sleep—’til he leaves in the morning for his accounting class. I lie to him that I think accounting is a worthwhile subject to study.
I lied to Robin when he won our chess game in Washington Square Park after that time with Robin , and the price of my loss was my supposed obligation to answer Truth to his midnight question. Robin said he’d watched five men trip over themselves from checking me out, while I merely glared at them. Robin wanted to know if I use my beauty for good or evil. Evil, I assured him. Lie. Truth: I’m as pure as fresh snow over Washington Square Park on a winter morning, before the dogs and people and machines of this hard, hard city batter its perfect, peaceful beauty.
I lied to Bruce the Second when I promised we would have sex, the real kind, soon. Very soon. We’d barely made it to when his R.A. walked in and interrupted us. It felt like cheating on Ely.
I lied to Bruce the First when I let him believe he would be my first. Ely is supposed to be first. I can wait. Then maybe I’ll let Bruce the Second truly be second.
I lied to the three different men and one girl at the Astor Place Starbucks who eyed me in the wall mirror today and then wanted to sit in the empty chair opposite mine. I pretended I didn’t hear them through my They could go themselves elsewhere. I placed my feet up on the empty chair, to reserve it for Ely. Only Ely.
Mostly, I lie to Ely lie to ee-lie.
Ely calls my cell while I lie in wait for him. “I’m running late. Be there in about fifteen minutes. Hold my chair for me. Love you.” He hangs up before I can reply. I lie to Starbucks that I even drink Starbucks while lounging around in their chairs, killing time.
We’ve already survived so much together, what’s fifteen minutes more to wait for him? His absence is time gained to spool my un-truths.
I lied to Ely when I told him I forgive his mom for what happened between our parents. I lied to Ely that I’m happy for him since his parents worked things out and stayed together even though mine didn’t and now my dad lives not in The Building anymore, far away.
I lied to my mom that the damage is done but it’s fine if she needs to take her time to process the fallout before she can find her future. I lied by comforting her that I believe she’ll make it through. It’s not that I don’t think she can. She just doesn’t want to.
I lie to all the related parties when I let them believe Dad calls my cell to check in on me every week. Once a month (the odd-numbered ones) is more like it.
Dad’s not worried about me. He knows I have Ely.
Ely rarely leaves me, or ends a phone call, without first telling me “I love you.” It’s Ely’s way of saying “good-bye”— like a promise toward our future time together. I lie when I throw back the words “I love you, too.”
The complexity embedded in the different levels of meaning that go along with the words “I love you” ought to be a whole mindfuck of a video game, if anyone ever wanted to develop the concept.
Level 1: “I love you” to my mom, meaning I love you for giving me life, nurturing me, driving me crazy but still inspiring me, even through your heartache. Basic.
Level 2: “I love you” to my dad, said with sincerity that’s tinged with coldness, distrustful whether he can actually deliver on the sentiment when he returns it. Harder.
Level 3: The playful “I love you” I throw at my boyfriend when he waits for me outside my class with a hot coffee and a donut. This grade of “I love you” is understood to have no intent whatsoever of L-O-V-E luuuv. Our relationship is too new for that, and he understands this, too. When Bruce the Second says “I love you” after I . . . do certain things with him, he is careful to immediately divert away, like “I love you when you yell at the frat guys making too much noise down the halls when we’re alone in my room. You give most excellent bitch tirade, and now all those guys only envy me more. I love you for that.” Whatever.
Levels 4–9: Expressions of passion for the great loves of my life, like disco music, Snickers bars, the Cloisters, the NBA, stairwell games, the luck to have a life lived with Ely.
Here’s where the game gets trickiest.
Level 10 (but on a whole other plane, where maybe numbers can’t even exist): When I tell Ely “I love you,” but I’m not lying to him. I’m lying to myself. He absorbs my words as if they’re natural, coming from his best friend / almost-a-sister. And Player One: Naomi does mean it that way. Genuinely. But maybe other ways, too. The confusing and impossible ways.
Lies are easier to process.
I lied to Ely that I’m okay with gay. I am. Just not for Ely. He was supposed to belong to me in the Happily Ever After. Manifest destiny.
I lied to Ely that of course I recognized his true manifest destiny was the queendom of queerdom and hadn’t that been obvious all along? Right! And great! Except not! We’ve practically been promised to each other from childhood, grew up side by side, his family in 15J, mine in 15K. Naomi & Ely. Ely & Naomi. Never one without the other. Just ask anyone within a ten-block radius of the Fourteenth Street Whole Foods, where the entire Indian hot-bar section witnessed the disaster fallout between our two sets of parents. Naomi & Ely: played doctor / nurse together; learned how to kiss while rehearsing in private for the lead roles in our junior high production of Guys and Dolls together; shared a locker and their high school experiences together; and chose to attend NYU together, chose to remain side by side at home instead of move into the nearby dorms, for reasons of cost efficiency and of Naomi & Ely co-dependency.
When Ely finally finds me at Starbucks, he’s breathless and red-cheeked from running in the winter cold. He collapses into the chair I’ve reserved for him.
I hand Ely the hot chocolate the Starbucks manager comped me. “Get up,” I tell him. “We gotta go.”
“Why, Naomi?” he pleads. “Why? I only just got here.”
I grab his free hand and we’re off, right back outside onto the cold, hard pavement, where we immediately fall into the typical Naomi & Ely routine of hand-and-cup-holding, hurried-walking-and-talking-while-maneuvering-through-sidewalk-people lockstep.
“Trust me,” I say.
He doesn’t ask where I’m leading him. “Was it so necessary to make me miss the MacDougal Street café study session with the cute T.A. from my econ class to discuss your latest misdiagnosis? You don’t have cancer, Naomi. And in case you didn’t notice, it’s like thirty degrees outside and there are ways I’d rather be spending my time than freezing my ass off walking down this sidewalk. For instance, making eyes at the cute T.A.—in a heated café, by the way.” Ely extracts his one hand from mine, gives his hot chocolate over to me to hold with his other hand, and then places both his hands together at his mouth, to warm them. I want to do the breathing for him.
It would not be a lie to say I like cold. It’s what I yearn for most. To shiver.
“How can you not be concerned that I might have cancer?” I ask. “I found a lump on my breast.” Touch it, Ely. Touch it.
“Lie. Not only are you biting your lip, which you always do when you lie, but your mom told me about the alleged lump in the elevator this morning. The doctor said it was an overgrown pimple.”
I must distract Ely from my lie. I stop us at a fence in front of a schoolyard playground. The school building behind it is massive, dank and dirty, graffiti-covered, with bars on the windows. The playground is all blacktop surrounded by dilapidated fence grating.
“I think we should get married here,” I tell Ely.
“Oh, my darling Naomi, you’re making me swoon from the gritty romance of it all. What happened to the Temple of Dendur inside the Met? I agreed to that one just so I can see you wearing the Nefertiti ivory gown, with Cleopatra kohl-eyes. You’re one girl who could totally pull off the ancient Egyptian goddess look.”
“What will the groom wear?”
Wrong wrong wrong.
I must correct him.
“Not you and me get married here, Ely. Me and he.” I point to the hoops player on the blacktop who’s just landed an amazing three-pointer in the netless basketball rim. The player reaches his arms up and out in a V pose, causing the hoodie over his head to fall to his shoulders and present his beautiful face for our full viewing pleasure.
Ely’s eyes meet mine. “So worth missing a study session for,” he says, smiling.
He should know to trust me. Even when I’m lying.
We admire. Gabriel is not only the hottest guy on the court, he’s also the star player. Run. Pass. Jump. Dunk. WOW. Graveyard-shift doorman by night, superstar pickup b-ball player by day.
When the game ends, the players leave the court, sprinting off toward warm homes, I hope. Ely and I duck our heads low as they pass our salivating-at-the-fence, la-di-da, nothing-to-notice-here stance.
Once they’re gone, Ely bows down to me, as I’m owed. Discovering the early-evening hangout place of the new night doorman at our building, whom everyone in our building wants to know more about—but no one really knows anything about him other than how gorgeous he is, and whatever more there is to know, Gabriel’s not telling—that’s some prime sleuthing on my part.
When he raises himself from his bow, Ely turns around and slumps his back against the fence. He lets out an infatuated sigh. “I can’t believe we haven’t done this earlier, but clearly Gabriel belongs on the No Kiss List. Let’s put him at the bottom, since he’s new. He should work his way up.”
Ely and I created the No Kiss ListTM in the aftermath of a long-ago Spin the Bottle party, still sometimes referred to as the You-Made-Out-With-Me-To-Make-Donnie-Weisberg-Jealous Incident. Our No Kiss List ListTM is an ever-changing one, almost like a sentient being, chemically formed by Ely’s ratio of Obsessive Study Time vs. Observational Boy Crush Time, and my ratio of PMS vs. boredom. By agreeing in advance that certain people are off-limits, even truly, madly kissable ones—I’m talking it hurts knowing that person’s lips will never touch yours because of your own vow of no-kissiness— Ely and I keep our friendship free of jealousy. The No Kiss List ListTM is our insurance against a Naomi & Ely breakup.
If our parents had created a No Kiss List ListTM, they could have saved us all a lot of grief. The next generation won’t make that mistake.
I tell Ely, “Okay to adding Gabriel to this list, but I disagree about his standing. Gabriel’s hotter than anybody on there now. I vote for him to go directly into number two position.”
“Deal,” Ely says.
Interesting. That concession was most easily won.
Bookies, take note. Updated top standings on the No Kiss List ListTM:
#1: Donnie Weisberg, still—the grand symbol over whom we vow to remain chaste, to protect the sanctity of the institution that is Naomi & Ely. The fact that we have no idea where Donnie is these days—we’ve heard rumors he’s doing some Habitat fo
#2: Welcome, Gabriel, hot midnight doorman, lusted after by every Building resident with a pulse, except maybe creepy Mr. McAllister, who apparently needs at least C-cup cleavage action to get off;
#3: My cousin Alexander (Kansas All-State tight end— ’nuff said);
#4: Ely’s cousin Alexandra (East Village, standing ovation for her performance in the experimental stage version of The Crying Game—’nuff said);
#5: Robin , cuz both Ely and I like Robin , who really likes Robin , and Robin is my symbol proving that I can make friends in college outside of Naomi & Ely; and
#6: The tweedy theology grad student guy who is illegally subletting apartment 15B.
“How’d you know Gabriel plays basketball here?” Ely asks.
“Happened to walk by this playground one day and noticed him here,” I say.
The itsy-bitsy crawls up the lying wall.
I’ve never, ever kissed Gabriel. I’ve never, ever had more than a five-minute conversation with Gabriel without Ely present.
I may have exchanged digits with Gabriel. He may occasionally text me. He might have mentioned where he sometimes plays ball with his boys before his night shift starts.
“Lucky break for us!” Ely says.
Installing Gabriel directly at #2 will keep the Naomi & Ely safe. Otherwise, down may come the and wash Naomi out.
“Reminder,” I say. “How much do I love you to give up ever having a chance with a Gabriel?”
“Reminder. You have a boyfriend already.”
I do need the reminder. “You’re right. Bruce Two is waiting for me. I gotta go.”
My boyfriend and I have our own study session planned: He studies while I avoid studying. I like to iron Bruce’s shirts while he studies at his desk, occasionally looking up from his laptop or his textbooks to smile at me in his boring but pleasing kind of way. Great teeth. Bruce will say, “Naomi, I wear plain black T-shirts from the Gap. They really don’t need ironing.” And I’ll say, “So?” Because ironing for him is somewhat more fun than making out with him. It’s, like, orderly, and reasonably fine time suckage. The ironing, and the kissing. And when the mandated interval of Bruce’s five-minute study-break time beeps from his cell phone alarm clock, he’ll stand up and cuddle me from behind, nestling his head into the curve between my neck and shoulder. Probably not developing a woody while pressed against me because that would interfere with his study schedule. But he will whisper into my ear, “God, you’re pretty.” Like he’s so proud of that. Like I had anything to do with a set of fucked-up genes delivering me shiny hair, a pleasant enough face, and a desirable body I don’t really put to use.