Fenton was both excited and nervous about the coming semester. Father's last promotion had brought them to another new town, and he wasn't sure what the kids at school would be like. Every time he walked past them, they seemed cold and unfriendly. One boy in particular—Joel—was very scary to Fenton. It seemed as if Joel knew all about Fenton even though they had never spoken. Worse still, it seemed as if Joel didn't like Fenton; as if Joel knew all the bad things there were to know about Fenton. Fenton felt naked and ashamed when he was around Joel—big and clumsy even though in fact he was slight of build and certainly graceful enough.
He didn't understand why Joel felt the way he did, but with all his heart and mind, he was determined to make Joel like him!
His opportunity was to come soon enough. Clearview Prep was having a Get‑to‑Know‑Ye Soiree, and it was Fenton's parents' turn to bring the "libations." Fenton felt comforted by that word because it was featured on the invitations for all the parties they had to attend. In its own little way, it represented stability for Fenton, and he clung to it.
Joel's parents were throwing the party, so he was sure to be there.
Fenton's mother saw him pacing his ante room and asked after his state of mind. Fenton had been told often enough that there was no profit in withholding information from her, so he laid out the full story.
"Time for a talk with Daddy," was the product of that meeting.
This was not a bad deal for Fenton, and his heart soared at the prospect of seeing father's office again.
Fenton arrived early, the memory of the missed meeting still fresh in his mind. He briefly but accurately summarized his problem with Joel. After a bit, his father looked up from his desk and stared at Fenton for what seemed an eternity. At last he said, simply, "You blinked."
This was shorter than most of their meetings, but Fenton was too preoccupied to worry much about it. The day of the party was at hand.
Having made the required introductions, Fenton was shown to his post. It was his task to take coats from the guests and to sort them. This, of course, would also fall to the offspring of the host, so before he knew it, he was face to face with Joel!
This was the first time they had spent any time alone together, and Joel was clearly uncomfortable.
"I'm glad you could come today. I really hate these parties," began Joel, dispensing with the pleasantries.
Fenton didn't know how to respond. It seemed as though Joel wanted something of him, but he didn't know what.
"You know what a big bore they can be," Joel went on, all those adults talking and talking. Nobody ever listens to anyone. It's just like—I don't know—it's just like..." His voice trailed off and he looked away.
Now Fenton was really stumped. He had learned from watching the adults how they pretended to be doing something when they didn't want to say anything, so he busied himself with the coats, as though that were all that was required of him. Joel continued. "I mean, look, you don't have that problem, do you? You can say things and your parents pay attention to you. Probably your friends do too. I don't know."
Joel was flushed. Fenton now felt that he had to contribute something. He hoped that whatever came out would be appropriate and not make him look bad, but before he could utter a word, Joel just went right on.
"I guess it's obvious, but none of the other guys pay any attention to me. You seem to have more friends than I do, and we are one of the oldest families around! Every time I see you walking by, deep in your own thoughts, I want to hurt you! I know it's not fair. Some people are just more confident than others..."
Joel continued, but for a while Fenton didn't hear a word. His head was spinning. He couldn't believe this. It was Joel who felt lonely and rejected. Joel was envious of him!
"...so," continued Joel, "hard as it is to say this, I really need somebody to, you know, just somebody to talk to...to listen..."
Fenton was transfixed. He saw Joel in a wholly new light. Joel was needy in the same way that he, Fenton, had been. And all of a sudden, Fenton was filled with the most incredible feeling of understanding. And warmth. He so wanted to rush out to tell the "Old Man" (which is how he referred to father on those special occasions). But first he had to come back to earth and deal with Joel.
After what he assumed must have seemed like an eternity, Fenton simply leaned over and gently touched Joel on the knee. Playing the silence like a delicate musical instrument, he finally offered: "Having trouble making friends, then, are you?"
From that day forward, Fenton all but owned Joel.