Yesterday I went to a baseball game after work and so I didn't get any writing done. (Aces didn't win, but they put up a good fight!) Today I made up my word count from what I lost yesterday. So here are roughly 2000 words, rough and unedited, just as I promised all these posts would be this month.
The birds were mid-chorus when I opened the door unaware that this was the day I would kiss a girl. They had already caught the early worm hours ago and by the time I walked down the hill, the sun was streaming across the pond and had burned off most of the mist that clung to the long grasses. Beads of sparkling dew that cast miniature rainbows in their wake peeked out from the tips of the undersides of leaves and decorated spider webs like tiny jewels. The moisture that normally clung to the cattails coloring their soft heads a hazy brown at this hour was nearly gone.
I pulled a willow branch off the big tree by the shoreline as I walked by and skinned the bark away. I had read in a book that people made tea from willow bark and I peeled back a long piece to sniff at the pale core. It smelled a little like watermelon and I put a piece into my mouth to chew on. Wrinkling my nose at the bitter flavor, I spat it out and scraped my tongue across my teeth to get the stringy bits out.
I hummed while I walked and as I neared the swimming hole, I saw my best friend dragging her rubber raft down from her garden. Her mother had created a sanctuary on the other side of the fence filled with flowers that I found exotic having never seen their types before, and statues of women nude from the hips up. A small deck overlooked a path that ran through the middle of the shrubbery to a small bench that sat under an arbor covered with large clumps of fragrant wisteria where I loved to sit with my eyes closed daydreaming about places I had only ever read about in books.
“Hey, Dreamer.” It was the only name she ever used, a name her mother had nicknamed me and one her whole family adopted exactly one second later. Sometimes she called me Dreams for short and I called her Ally Cat or mostly just Cat.
“Takes one to know one,” I replied with my standard repartee.
I grabbed the handle on the backside of the boat and lifted it free of the ground. We never really had a lot of words between us. I guess because we never had a lot to say and we didn’t really have that much in common. Her mother was as exotic to me as her garden, someone who seemed too wealthy for our one bar town. Her father was even wealthier, but the family was broken in the same way as my own, fractured by divorce and jealousies. I’d spend time away with my father and she would spend time away with her father and we never talked about those moments when we were separated. Being a reader, I would retell the stories I devoured each evening once it was too dark to be outside, and being a pragmatist and a reflector who didn’t read, she would listen patiently as I babbled on waiting until I was done to start a discussion on the finer details about the plot or the story’s theme. She opened my eyes to a new type of reading that I never saw coming and only came to appreciate once I was much older.
“What did you read last night?”
“I finished The Outsiders.”
Together we flipped the boat upside down and onto its sides in the water so it was more of a raft than a boat and then stretched out on top to float around with our hands dragging in the water. I don’t think either of us wore shoes all summer long and most of the time we roamed around in bikinis since we never really went anywhere other than the pond and the parks around it. By mid-July we had dark even tans and white blond hair, hers a little thicker and darker than mine and mine overshadowing a zillion freckles across the bridge of my nose and down my shoulders.
“Remember Bob?” She nodded and I said, “Johnny killed him because he was trying to drown Ponyboy. Dallas gave them some money and told them to go hide in this church so they got this hair dye and dyed their hair blond.”
A minnow was nibbling at my fingers and the sun was so warm on my back that even though I had woken less than an hour ago I could have fallen back to sleep in a heartbeat, secure in the knowledge that everything was right in the world. She nudged me with her elbow and I told her the rest about the abandoned church catching fire and Johnny getting burned and about how Dallas was gunned down for robbing a bank and all the rest of it.
We talked a lot about the characters of the book that day. I was half in love with Dallas and half in love with Darry, each for their opposite characteristics. Dallas because he was a bad boy who did what he wanted when he wanted but who had the biggest heart in the end as far as I could tell, and Darry because he was the sensible one. He took care of Pony and Johnny and everyone else in the gang with love and affection, strength and responsibility. They both wanted to break out of their lives and find something more, but neither was equipped to do it and I thought maybe Darry might figure it out if he were given enough time.
Eventually we rolled off the boat into the water to cool off and swim around with the minnows and the sunfish. I look back on those days and think it was a wonder the police were never called because it wasn’t unusual for us to pop up under the raft on the inside where the sunlight glowed through the plastic and hang out there for long minutes at a time treading water or clinging to the handles. I bet they watched in fearful wonder waiting for the raft’s occupants to reappear. If they had known how many discussions we had about suicide packs and becoming blood brothers back in those days, they might have had a heart attack lingering with their hand on the phone poised to dial 9-1-1.
The day I told her about the Soc’s and the Greasers was the day Cat kissed me under the boat and probably why I remember the book so well all these years later. I had told her about Cherry and how much I thought Ponyboy wanted to kiss her and before I could finish talking about it, Cat rolled off the raft with a splash. I rolled off the other way and we came up under the boat at the same time.
“Have you ever kissed a boy?” she asked me.
I laughed. “On the same day even.”
“I am not!”
I had been kissed by two boys who were cousins and I told her all about how my younger brothers had egged me on to play spin the bottle at the home of one my mother’s friends. Being the only girl in the room, and never having kissed a boy before, I didn’t put up much of a struggle in saying no. The kids who wanted to play were a teenaged boy a couple years older than me and his cousin who was a couple years younger. My brothers were automatically eliminated because we were related and they hovered behind me eagerly waiting to see what would transpire.
Before the first spin, the older of the two laid down the rules. He wasn’t going to kiss his cousin if the bottle pointed to him. And he wasn’t going to let his cousin kiss him either. I seemed pretty clear how the game was meant to play out and I was filled with such a nervous anticipation that my whole body felt like it was vibrating.
On the first spin, the younger boy drew his cousin and on his cousin’s spin, the bottle didn’t pick me either. Even on my spin, the bottle didn’t behave and ended up pointing at me as I giggled to relieve the anxiety. My face was becoming warmer with each spin and when the younger of the two took his second spin, the bottle pointed my way.
The older cousin pointed to the closet.
“In the closet?” I squeaked. “That wasn’t part of the rules!”
“Yes, it was! You just didn’t listen.”
I turned to the older of my two brothers standing behind me. “Was that in the rules?”
Both of them were shaking their heads.
“Fine. The rule starts on the next spin.” He was fidgeting with bottle, spinning it and stopping it, spinning it and stopping it. The younger one snatched the bottle and pointed it at me. “He still gets to kiss you though.”
My brothers were practically bouncing around like monkeys in a zoo. One of them was chanting, “Frenchie. Frenchie” and for some crazy reason, this was the most exciting thing they had ever experienced in their lives. Their sister was about to be kissed by a boy and before I was even ready, whatever that even means, the boy had planted one on my cheek.
I was so relieved I could have cried. It wasn’t that he wasn’t a good kisser or a cute boy, but he was younger than me and a couple of years when you’re eleven is a lot younger. Significantly younger. And I didn’t want my brothers telling anyone that a little kid kissed me and I like it. And they were bouncing around so much, one of them didn’t even see it. He was still singing, “Kiss her! Kiss her! You gotta kiss a girl!”
Gathered around the bottle, I held my breath while the older cousin spun it. It swung around three times and slowed on the fourth until it stopped and was pointed directly at me.
My ears were so warm now they felt like they had been sunburned. The younger cousin opened the closet door but I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t even think. My mind was racing a mile a minute spinning its wheels trying to come up with some way to get out of the predicament and coming up completely empty-handed. I wanted to kiss that boy so bad, but in equal measure I didn’t want to kiss that boy at all. I was terror and delight and apprehension and guilt and exultation bottled up so tight I was going to explode.
My brothers were pulling me into the closet where the older cousin waited and when the younger cousin shut the door, the darkness closed in with such finality that the breath I had been holding came out in a hiccup. Clothes I hadn’t seen because I was so focused on the boy reached out and enveloped me, the feathers from a boa hanging on the back of the door stuck to the sweat on my forehead. It seemed to have a mind of its own, entangling me as I tried to brush it away.
“Stop moving.” I jumped. The voice was in my ear and I realized the shirt I felt beside me had a living body inside that was reaching for me and seeking out my arm and then my hand and then it was moving up my arm again, to my shoulder, then my neck and to my cheek.
I closed my eyes blotting out even the last bit of light showing under the door and then jumped again when the younger cousin knocked loudly on the door and demanded, “Are you done in there or what?”
I froze and waited. And waited. What was he wait for?
“Are you ready?” His voice was deeper than the boys my age at school but I heard a waver in it and wondered if I was going to be the first girl he kissed.
I nodded and the boy’s other hand joined the first to cup my face. Ever so gently, his lips met mine and paused for a fraction of a second. I flew out the door, ran past my brothers and sailed down the steps with a full heart, albeit a guilty one, to the kitchen where my mother and her friend were sitting over cups of coffee.
“And what did you tell them?” asked Cat under the boat.
“Nothing. I asked for a drink of water. My mom’s friend asked what we were doing up there because I was all sweaty and I told her we were dancing. It was the first thing that came to my mind.”
“And they bought it?” She looked at me like I was crazy and I shrugged and nodded. “What did it feel like?”
“A kiss on the lips, you mean.”
“Yeah, a kiss on the lips. I don’t know. Soft. Like fingers?”
“Yeah, kiss your fingers.” I put two fingers together and kissed them lightly to show her. I had done it a million times trying to recapture the feeling of that boy’s lips on mine.
“Fingers are nothing like lips,” she scoffed.
I frowned and thought about it. “I guess not.”
“Show you what?”
“Kiss me. Show me what it felt like.”
I stared at her treading water and clinging with one hand to the handle on the boat.
“Show me,” she repeated and she closed her eyes and waited. She peeked open an eye and said it again. “Show me.”
I still stared. This was what the boy was feeling, I thought. Wanting to but not wanting to. Wondering what it would mean to kiss someone.
Cat moved closer to me and I put my hands on her shoulders. I was suddenly aware of the stuffiness under the plastic boat, the colder water down by my feet, the muddy smell of the water, the muffled buzzing of a cicada. And I kissed her. As gently as the boy kissed me, lingering a fraction longer, and watching her face.
With a splash, she was gone. Like a mermaid, she disappeared. In wonder, I brushed my lips with my fingers. I had felt that feeling again. That delicious thrill of doing something that felt just a little bit wrong and I wondered, now that I had kissed a boy, and a girl, if I would ever feel it again.