THE GIRL COLLECTING MONEY AT THE OLD TAPPAN DRIVE-IN, who can’t possibly be seventeen herself, drones at Todd, "You of age?"
           "No, actually, I’m twelve. These are my parents."
           "We’ll keep an eye on him," Robin chimes in.
           "You two are a regular comedy team," Victoria says, unimpressed.
           During the previews, Todd lights up a joint. Robin leans across Victoria, who sits between them on the front seat, so he can study Todd’s technique: inhale from the base of the neck, tighten your stomach to hold in the smoke. It looks like a special gesture known only to high school kids, like a secret handshake.
           "What are you doing?" Victoria demands. Todd ignores her. "Todd, you could get arrested."
           "You could get arrested for being so ugly," Todd growls, smoke leaking out his nostrils.
           Victoria pokes into Robin’s side. "Snack bar." She pushes him out of the car. "I can’t believe you, Todd."
           "What’s the matter, didn’t Frank ever get you high?"
           "No, he doesn’t do drugs. Anyway, this is like a totally public place."
           Robin’s eyes are on Todd, who’s stretching backwards, joint propped between his lips, arms reaching upward. His T-shirt rises, revealing the chalky skin along his waist, a seam of hair laid out like a spear from his belly button to top of his jeans, where it fans out and disappears. No sign of an elastic band under his jeans. Robin feels his throat go dry: Todd isn’t wearing underwear.
           Victoria says, "When we get back, that better be gone."
           Todd catches Robin’s stare and floats the joint towards him. "There’s plenty to share."
           "I’ll wait here," Robin blurts out. He watches Victoria’s jaw drop and adds quickly, "I don’t want to miss any of the movie."
           Her surprise dissolves, replaced by betrayal. She slaps her hands against her thighs and trots huffily through the parked cars.
           Just the two of them on the front seat. Robin and Todd. Todd and Robin. If it weren’t for the scratchy soundtrack being piped into the car he’s sure Todd could hear the nervous thump of his pulse. He usually tries to avoid being alone with Todd at all costs, a preemptive strategy for dodging harassment. What was I thinking? I’m so stupid. Robin stares through the windshield, fixing his gaze on the big screen, but all Todd says is, "My sister’s a bitch," and passes him the joint. Robin studies it, pinched inside the teeth of a metal roach clip, the rounded orange tip like the butt of a firefly.
           "My parents..." Robin mutters by way of refusal.
           "Your parents drink, right?"
           "My mother drinks wine and my father drinks whiskey." White wine and Seagrams, always in the house–he just takes this for granted.
           Todd recites: "Man made booze. God made grass. Who do you trust?"
           "What’s that supposed to mean?"
           "I saw it on a T-shirt at that head shop in Hillsdale. Makes sense, don’t you think?" He leans closer, lowers his voice. "I told you, man, life is about taking risks."
           Robin nods, saturated with new understanding. Risk. It’s more than just a list of things to do, it’s a whole way of life, a ride off the map. Todd’s calm confidence expands until it’s a safety net stretched out beneath them. Robin imagines the two of them as high school buddies–running into Todd in the courtyard, smoking pot between classes. "What the hell," he says, taking the joint.
           The first surprise is the paper, damp with Todd’s saliva, on his lips–the intimacy of it, like using the same toothbrush. Heat coils under his nose. He tries to copy Todd’s approach, deeply drawing in the smoke, but his body rejects it. A stinging cloud explodes from his throat.
           "Virgin," Todd mocks, slapping him on the back.
           Robin is still coughing when Victoria returns with buttered popcorn, Raisinettes and a single large soda. "Move it," she tells him with a shove. "All potheads on that side of the car." Her eyes comb over Robin; he guesses she’s checking for signs that he’s high. Maybe he is–when she waves her hand in front of her face, fussily clearing away the smoke, he bursts into laughter.
           Todd sinks down behind the steering wheel, arms crossed, dopey smile stretching. His knuckles graze the fleecy hair on Robin’s forearm. Their hips are at the edge of pressing together. Robin glances into Todd’s lap, still astonished at the idea that Todd is not wearing underwear. The folds of Todd’s jeans offer some abstract sense of the shapes beneath, just enough to make Robin nervous. Cut it out, he admonishes himself. Jesus.
           From the opening moments, when "Stayin' Alive" cranks up on the soundtrack and Travolta struts down the streets of Brooklyn, Todd is mouthing off. "Fuck, look at this fag." He asks Robin in disbelief, "You actually like this?"
           It’s the music Robin can’t resist. He knows every beat of the soundtrack. To finally see the movie is like meeting his destiny, as if by playing the album on his parents’ stereo all year long, he had conjured up this very moment. He feels like he understands the need in the lyrics: I’ve been kicked around since I was born... I’m going nowhere, somebody help me, somebody help me, yeah.
           Todd pulls a Budweiser from under his seat, guzzles from it and hands it to Robin. The can is slick with condensation. Robin takes in a mouthful, lets the fizz rub his burning throat.
           "Oh, great," Victoria sneers.
           "I’m thirsty," Robin rationalizes.
           "I’ll just tell that to your mother when you’re totally wasted."
           "Do you want some?" he asks, trying to appease.
           Todd retrieves the beer, his fingers covering Robin’s in the transfer. He sinks down further in the seat, widening his legs. His thigh slaps Robin’s and stays there. Robin closes his eyes and absorbs the contact into his skin before he pulls away. His heart is pushing blood straight up to his skull, pounding at his temples relentlessly. His dick–he realizes with alarm–is trying to get hard. This happens in school all the time; he’s learned to always carry a book with him so he can cover himself if necessary. He crosses his hands in his lap, petrified Todd will notice.
           He loses track of the movie’s plot, simple as it is, and supporting characters blur into each other. The actress who plays the love interest is annoying–why would anyone spend so much time chasing after her? Even Travolta seems tarnished to Robin, who starts comparing him with Todd–the two of them in a battle for coolness which Todd, through his Force-level disdain for every aspect of the movie, is easily winning. Concentration disintegrates. Blame it on the beer which Todd keeps offering him (which he keeps accepting); on Todd’s second-hand cigarette and pot smoke, which Robin sucks from the air experimentally; on being caught in the crossfire of Todd and Victoria’s steady bickering, which persists even after Victoria finally relents and has a beer herself. Blame it most of all on two hours worth of Todd fidgeting at his side–Todd’s leg/arm/hip again and again meeting his own–and on his own obstinate hard-on, impervious to any mental picture (bugs under a rock, his grandmother’s cooking, the bloody crucifix above the altar at St. Bart’s) he calls forth to banish it.
           Only near the end, when the movie climaxes in a series of eruptions–a big fist fight, a girl getting gang-banged in the back of a car, a guy falling off the Verazano Narrows Bridge–does Todd seem at all involved in it. And then Robin gets drawn in deeper, too. He remembers that some of these scenes are going to be cut out of the new PG version, that he’s lucky to get what he wanted. The final scene has the Brooklyn boy moving out, and moving up, to life in Manhattan. It's perfect: he gets away from his family, his lousy job, the mean streets of Brooklyn. The whole night is perfect–well, not completely; Victoria is annoyed with him. But Todd–Todd offers to drive him to school in the morning.
          


----From Chapter 1, "The World of Normal Boys," by K.M. Soehnlein
Copyright 2000, Kensington Books

"Staying Alive," Copyright 1978 Careers-BMG Music Publishing, Inc. (BMI)/
Gibb Brothers Music (BMI). All rights reserved. Used by permission.