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Authors: Rachel Vail

If We Kiss

BOOK: If We Kiss
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if we kiss

RACHEL VAIL

Dedication

To Mitch, Zachary, and Liam:
I love you all over the map.

one

KEVIN LAZARUS STOPPED in front of me in the hall, turned around, and asked me if I was ready for the bio quiz. While he was asking, he touched my hair. It was a strand on the front left side. He twirled it around his index finger and then let go. When he did that I couldn’t remember if I was even taking bio this year. I think I may actually have said “duh.” Kevin smiled and strolled into class. I sat down right there in the hall because my knees had lost their ability to support me.

I should say right up front that I don’t like Kevin Lazarus. He French-kissed his last girlfriend twelve times at one party, with everybody watching (and counting), and broke up with her the next day online. He is exactly the kind of boy who has never interested me at all. But there I was on the floor outside bio.

“What are you doing on the floor?” my best friend, Tess, asked me.

“Waiting for you,” I lied.

I got up and followed her into class. I should also say that at that point I had never kissed anybody. No interest, for one, and also I had some romantic ideas about how my first kiss would happen. Maybe there would be a tree above us, maybe some music would be playing. Tess thinks atmosphere is a cliché and I should just get the first kiss over with already. Since before ninth grade started, she has been trying to convince me to kiss George Jacobson.

George Jacobson is a really nice guy. One time last May during a debate in social studies, George said that, though he disagreed with my premise, it was clear that I was an independent thinker and a moral person. It was a slightly weird moment. After class, Tess said wow, George Jacobson is totally in love with you. I said no, he’s just a nice guy, a gentleman. All the mothers like George. Everybody does. I like George. Good old George.

Kissing George would be like kissing my cousin.

But as I sat down at my desk in bio I realized that I was ready to kiss someone. I was suddenly, overwhelmingly, sick of waiting. I couldn’t remember what exactly I’d been waiting for anymore. Tess has fallen in love with all three boys she’s kissed, and she said there was no way I could possibly understand how awesome and overpowering that kind of love is without experiencing it for myself. She said it was beyond describing. Every single experience in my entire life has been describable. In fact, I have described most of them to Tess.

Kevin may be a jerk but he had scrunched his eyes when he looked at me.

Tess passed me a note: “You okay?”

I realized I hadn’t started my bio quiz, hadn’t even turned it over. I flipped the paper and filled in the answers.
Yes, Kevin, I did study.
I flipped it back over and picked up Tess’s note again. She is my best friend. We tell each other everything. She would be happy if I finally got a crush on somebody, maybe especially Kevin Lazarus, given my rants against him. Tess is a big fan of irony.

I didn’t write back, pretending instead I was still working on the bio quiz. It might be a passing weakness, I decided, like a tickle in your nose that never grows into a sneeze. I would probably stop thinking about kissing Kevin by the end of the period, I hoped, anyway, and return to my rational, self-controlled self.

Well, a week later I was almost fully back to normal. My proof is that as I was following Kevin off the bus at school the next Tuesday morning, I was deep in thought not about what would it be like to kiss him or how cute it is that the bottom bit of his hair curls up where it hits his collar, but about which is better, peanut butter with M&Ms or peanut butter with chocolate chips. At that exact moment, Kevin stopped in front of me again.

“Hey,” he said.

I almost swallowed my gum.

“You walk home.”

This was true. It was a statement of fact. It felt like an accusation. I started to shake my head.

“I thought you did.”

Caught. What could I say?
The cover-up is worse than the crime
is what flashed through my head. “Um,” I said. “Not until, um, after school.”

He looked a little baffled at that, reasonably.

That broke my nervousness; I snorted a laugh. “Oh, really?” I couldn’t help mocking myself. I put on a space-cadet voice and asked myself, “You mean you don’t walk home immediately after getting off the bus in the morning?”

He grinned at me. “Come ’ere,” he said, and grabbed my hand. The warning bell had rung. It was time to get in to school. I’m never late for school.

His hand was warm, and it was in mine.

As discreetly as possible I pressed my right fist against my mouth and stuck my gum to the back of it, just in case this was going to turn into a kissing-type thing. Even in my inexperience, I knew you are not supposed to have gum in your mouth while you kiss.

Kevin led me quickly around the side of the building, then stopped. I managed not to crash into him. I tried to look calm, cool, unperturbed. I told myself not to laugh, especially not a snorting kind of laugh. “Wha—what did—”

And then he kissed me.

There I was, pressed up against the brick wall, kissing Kevin. A decorative sticking-out brick was digging into my backbone, but I didn’t want to wreck my first kiss by readjusting. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to concentrate.

I wanted to be mature and focus on the kiss, but even beyond the stabbing pain in my back and the fact that the late bell had long since rung by then, I was really distracted by wondering what kind of sick French person invented this bizarre way of kissing. I’m not even supposed to share a bottle of water with anyone because of germs.

When we finished kissing I had to wipe my mouth dry. We didn’t say good-bye or anything. I took my gum off the back of my hand and put it in my mouth. Luckily there was still some mint flavor left because the taste in my mouth was a little mildewy. I thought, maybe this is what Kevin’s mouth always tastes like—Ew. To keep myself from gagging, I tried to concentrate on the mintiness and also on the fact that it was the kind of gum that supposedly kills the germs that cause bad breath so, well, maybe it could kill whatever germs Kevin might’ve given me. Which made me that much more queasy.

We started walking toward the entrance of school. I let my hand dangle in case he wanted to hold it again but apparently he didn’t.

I picked up the pace as we got to the door and, crossing the lobby, scanned the halls for Tess. She wasn’t there. Surprisingly I felt a little relieved. I wanted to not tell her all about it for a few minutes. I wasn’t sure yet whether it had been a describable or indescribable experience. My first kiss. Well, it was disgusting, but I liked it. Uh-oh. Describable?

I heard Kevin’s footsteps behind me, coming closer. Maybe the experience was still going on, and that’s why I wasn’t sure. We were approaching the corner near the office and Kevin was catching up to me. I slowed down. Should I spit out my gum again, in case he was coming back for more?

two

JUST AS KEVIN caught up to me and I spat my gum into my hand, Mr. Herman rounded the corner and said, “Charlotte, Kevin, follow me.”

Mr. Herman is the head ninth grade teacher. He scares me because he’s so hairy. Everybody calls him Mr. Hair-Man. Not to his face, of course. I think it’s mean but I call him that, too, and you have to be really careful when you talk to him, to make sure you say Mr.
Herman
. One kid supposedly made a mistake and called him Mr. Hair-Man a few years ago and got suspended for a week, which goes on your permanent record.

So there I was, totally busted, walking down the hall with Mr. Hair-Man between me and Kevin, and I almost started to crack up from the adrenaline and also because by mistake my gum-filled hand brushed against the Hair-Man’s paw. It took me all the way until Hair-Man’s office to calm myself down. He made Kevin wait on the chair outside his office. Divide and conquer, I guess.

“Charlotte,” he said. He is the only person who calls me Charlotte except for my father and sometimes my mother when she’s pretending to be really mad.

“Yes,” I said, dropping the gum wad into his trash.

“Sit down.”

I sat down, feeling like quite the obedient puppy. My right leg was shaking, bopping up and down, like my father’s does. I wiped my sticky palm on my jeans.

“You’re late.”

“Yes.”

“Look out my window.”

“What?”

He indicated the window with his furry hand. To stop looking at the paw, I went to the window. There, just to my right, was the spot on the wall with the decorative sticking-out brick where I had just gotten my first kiss. Uh-oh.

I did not want to turn around.

“Not only were you and your boyfriend deliberately tardy, you were kissing on school property, right outside my office window.”

My boyfriend?

Then he went on to tell me that kissing was not a proper thing to do on school property, especially when we were supposed to be in homeroom. I nodded, still thinking, “
you and your boyfriend
” until the Hairball interrupted my pleasant little moment by saying, “I’m going to have to call your mother.”

“My mother?”

The shaking spread from my leg to the rest of me. Suddenly there were tears running down my face. I don’t even know why. It’s not like my mother would even be so mad, though she’d probably feel compelled to give me a Talk, which really is torture. But more than that, I was just coping with a lot at once. Mr. Herman was not exactly the first person I wanted to share my first-kiss moment with.

Anyway, I just kind of suddenly started bawling right there in the office. The worst part was that Mr. Hair-Man looked as surprised as I felt by the drama of my reaction, and started pulling out Kleenex and handing them to me one at a time with his hairy hand. He came around his desk and sat on the edge, telling me he wasn’t trying to be mean to me.

Yeah, well, your Nobel Peace Prize is in the mail.

I said I was sorry and could I please go to the bathroom.

He said, “By all means,” which is good because I had a sudden urge to ask him what he thought it meant if my “boyfriend” held my hand before our first kiss but not after—does it mean I did something wrong? Does it mean I am a bad kisser? It’s my first time! Maybe I will improve with practice! Can’t a person ever get a break? I hesitated briefly at the door; despite how hairy he is, maybe he’s kissed, sometime, in his life. Ew. But maybe, I thought, he’d have some insight or advice from the male point of view, if he has. Luckily my one functional brain cell fired again and propelled me out the door before I could get into a conversation that would surely freak me out and probably the Hair-Man, too.

I dashed past Kevin and spent the rest of the period in the stall crying. It wasn’t just Mr. Herman, it was so many things. I’ll never have another first kiss. When I’m thirty-eight and someone mentions the words
first kiss
, this day is what I will have to think of, and it will be all tied up with Hair-Man. No music, no tree, just a painful decorative brick. My throat felt sore; I didn’t know whether from crying or from Kevin’s germs.

Oh, man, how gross. His germs.

Kevin Lazarus. So much for being a pure person. Now I was the same as Darlene Greenfudder, the one who Kevin kissed the twelve times. My boyfriend? I didn’t even know if Kevin liked me. At all. Or if I liked him, for that matter.

What if I am a terrible kisser?

What if kissing is like gymnastics and if you don’t start really young, you’ll never be good at it?

When the bell rang I tried to go out but then I saw Tess. She asked me what was wrong and I instantly started bawling again. It was like throwing up—beyond my ability to control and basically convulsing my stomach, turning me inside out. We rushed back into the bathroom. Darlene Greenfudder followed us in, too. I was literally gulping for air, which was so weird because I did not even know what I was so upset about. I mean, I hadn’t gotten in that much trouble, really.

“What happened?”

“Hair-Man,” I said, sniffing. “He busted me.”

“For what?” Darlene’s been busted so many times; she looked psyched to have company.

I swallowed. “Tardiness,” I said.

Tess cracked up. I started laughing, too. That was so the least of it.

“What?” asked Darlene.

“You are dead,” Tess mocked. “Tardiness? Your mom is going to kill you.” Tess is always giving me crap about how lucky I am that my mother is so laid back and cool. Her parents probably
would
have a fit about tardiness.

“My mom would probably be psyched if one day the worst thing I did was tardiness,” Darlene said. “That means late, right?”

I smiled sympathetically at her. “Yeah.”

“If you get grounded and want to know how to climb out your window, you should call me.”

“Thanks.” Darlene is not one of my closest friends, but she’s sort of trying to shift over from the smokers to me and Tess and Jennifer Agnihotri. I don’t mind. I don’t look down on someone just because of how much makeup she wears. But I wasn’t about to share the news about my first kiss with her.

We got ourselves off the floor then, and after I washed my face, we all headed to class. I figured I would tell Tess later about
why
the tardiness had happened, when I got her alone.

BOOK: If We Kiss
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