My name is Steve Merriman and I’m eleven years old.  I go to Darby Avenue Elementary School where I’m in the sixth grade.  Today, March 11th, 1969, after school, I have to kiss a girl.

Now, you may be asking yourself how a guy can get himself in such a pickle that he’s got to kiss a girl.  In the movies I’ve seen and heard about, it happens all the time.  It usually happens because of a confusing but funny string of events, and afterwards the boy and girl are happy about it.  The reason I have to kiss a girl is simple, and I’m not happy about it at all.

It all began today during recess.  The sixth-grade guys were playing dodge ball on a sea of black asphalt the teachers call the playground.  I haven’t mentioned yet that I live in Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, and that the only grass at my school grows out in front of the principal’s office.  You get in trouble if you step on that grass.  So, instead of playing on grass, we have to play on black asphalt painted all over with lines to make boundaries for games like two square, four square, kick ball, tetherball, and my favorite game, dodge ball.  The playground also has hopscotch squares painted on it, but only girls play hopscotch and when they do, they like to draw their own squares with chalk they take from the classroom.  The sea of asphalt, painted lines, and chalk lines stretch for miles in all directions.  At least it seems that way.  Right up to the bungalows the principal keeps moving onto the playground to handle the new kids that show up every week.  It’s funny to think that as the school grows, the playground shrinks.

Another thing worth mentioning about the playground is that in the 110 plus degree heat of summer, you can see waves of heat being pumped out of the asphalt, making the school buildings, monkey bars, and surrounding houses shimmy like they’re doing the hula.  The asphalt becomes so hot that it melts the patches laid down over the cracks in winter, making pools of hot, sticky tar that’ll sure ruin a new pair of Keds in a hurry.  Take my word for it.

Anyway, I was about to tell you how this kissing thing got started.  Like I already mentioned, I’m in the sixth grade, what’s called an upperclassman, but what I haven’t mention is that I’m the biggest kid in the sixth grade and that all the other guys in school look up to me as their leader.  Being a leader can be tough and one good way to keep being a leader is to win at dodge ball.  It was looking like my team was going to win again today, and I was slinging the ball really hard to make sure that’s what happened, when something I hadn’t thought would happen happened instead.

It all began with a try at splitting Jimmy Pazooli’s lip with a shot to the chops from the red rubber menace with some heat on it.  Jimmy was a wise-cracker, and it was time to remind him why it was best to direct his wise-cracker-ness toward kids other than yours truly.  I launched the ball using my catapult sling technique borrowed, with some important improvements, from a stupid game called cricket, and to my satisfaction saw that my aim was dead on.  Unfortunately, Jimmy was looking straight at me.  He was prepared, and he was squirrelly, and by that I mean quick.  As the red sphere of death came whistling toward his kisser, he managed to drop to all fours in time to have his hair parted by the passing shock wave but to avoid more serious damage.  Maureen Keller wasn’t so lucky.  She was glancing my way, and therefore must have clearly seen the dreaded orb speeding toward her face, but she was not prepared and she was definitely not squirrelly.  Her reaction to the ball could best be described as tortoisey.

What happened next happened quick.  Only later was I able to replay it in my mind in slow motion to fully appreciate the magnitude of the disaster.  The rubber ball hit Maureen high in the head, just above the left eye.  The speed behind it made the ball seem to deflate on impact, turning it into a wide sheet of rubber that slapped itself hard onto her face, then wrapped itself around her head and ears like a mask.  The mask then blew itself off her face as the energy from the ball was converted to a sharp backward snap of Maureen’s head, followed by her body when her head could go no further.  She went down like a felled tree, and would have received even more abuse from the asphalt if she hadn’t been lucky enough to fall backwards into the arms of Katie Wilcox, who fell on Cathy Spenser, and so on.  A line of girls went down like dominos, receiving little harm beyond black asphalt smudges on their dresses and butts.  Except Maureen.  After the shock wore off, which also happened pretty quick, she started to wail.

I ran fast to Maureen’s side, not just to help, but to shut her up, and here’s why.  As I already mentioned, I’m the biggest kid in the school, and in response to past accidents, I had already been warned by Principal Drake to take it easy with the smaller kids.  Based on many past conversations, I knew the principal would believe me when I told him that hitting Maureen was an accident, but what about my intended target, Jimmy?  Principal Drake was no dummy, and I had no interest in finding out whether rumors of a spanking machine hidden in a back office were true.

“Maureen, I’m really sorry,” I solemnly offered.  “Are you okay?” I asked quickly, slipping into my earnestly concerned face.

By this time, the domino girls were beginning to set themselves upright and take notice of the asphalt stains on their clothes.  It was obvious that things were about to go from bad to worse when their voices joined in a piercing chorus of whining.

“My dress,” said Cathy Spenser.  “You completely ruined my Sunday dress!”

Her dress was pretty badly smeared owing to the fact that Cathy had been at the back of the conga line and most likely bounced and slid the most when she hit the ground.  Of course, my first thought was to point out that it served her right for playing dress up for school.  Fortunately, this probable trouble-maker stayed buried in my mouth as additional voices sang out.

“Oh, I think you broke my backside, you stupid idiot!” Wendy Barns accused.  Wendy Barns had a huge backside, which I doubt could be broken by a fall from an airplane.  “You big jerk, you hurt Maureen!” Paula Sinclair bellowed, punching me in the shoulder—didn’t hurt.  And then came the real killer.  “I’m telling!” Katie Wilcox threatened, hands on hips and turning to seek out the recess lady.

Holy smoke, I thought.  I had to do something and quick.  Having no time to think, I blurted out the first thing that came to mind, hoping to buy time.

“Maureen, I’m really, really sorry,” I tried again, this time doubling the really part to show that I meant it.  “I didn’t try to hit you.  It was an accident.  Please don’t tell!” I added in short bursts.  Getting no response, I decided to go for broke.  “I’ll do anything to make it up to you. Anything, just name it!” I pleaded.

I really didn’t expect this last gasp effort to work, the previous concerned look and apologies having done no good.  So, I was surprised when I heard Maureen stop crying.  I guess the domino girls were surprised too since the threats and attacks stopped and all eyes turned to Maureen; except Katie’s, of course, which were instead turned my way along with a look that said “Now you’re going to get it, you big creep!”  Katie is just that kind of girl.

Maureen looked up from her lap.  Although her eyes still pooled with tears, they were no longer filled with pain and anger.  Instead, they hinted at confusion and a touch of curiosity in response to my offer.  I wasn’t sure but that I didn’t prefer the pain and anger.  She brushed her hair out of her face and I could clearly see an ugly red bruise forming over a large portion of it.  She seemed to be mulling over her options, her eyes staring straight through me; then I guess she made up her mind since she broke her stare and dropped her gaze back to her lap.

“You can kiss me,” she offered timidly.

I blinked hard, then swallowed harder.

“What did you just say?” I asked, sure that I’d heard what she just said but equally sure that I couldn’t have actually heard what she just said.

“You can kiss me,” she repeated, this time with confidence, returning her gaze to my eyes.  I noticed that all confusion was now gone from her face, replaced by a look of stubborn determination.  Now I found myself missing the confused curiosity.

At first, I didn’t know what to say.  After some thought, I still didn’t know what to say.  Being this close to her, what she’d just said, and the creepy look she kept giving me, all combined to make me feel antsy.  It didn’t help that the other girls started whispering and giggling, then turning their heads back and forth between the two of us like picnickers watching an egg toss and hoping for someone to get egg on their face.

“If you really, really mean it, that you’ll do anything, then today after school you can meet me behind the bungalows and kiss me,” she said, restating her terms in greater detail and keeping me pinned on the tines of a wicked I dare you glare.  I had to admit that it was pretty clever throwing that repeated really thing back in my face.

Sometimes it’s tough being a leader.  For one thing, you need to know when to try new things and when to pass.  Like the time John Martin offered me a shiny, ripe, black olive picked fresh from the tree in his front yard.  I didn’t know that olives straight off the tree tasted worse than dog poop.  It just seemed like John was a little too eager to offer me a treat, being my brother Drew’s best friend and all.  So I passed.  After seeing Ricky Saye’s reaction when he finally gave in and chomped that shiny black olive between his molars, I’d say I dodged a bullet that day.  The only good part was that Mrs. Martin saw Ricky gagging in her front yard and asked John what he had done.  She boxed his ears when he told her and then took Ricky and me into her house for a cookie and a glass of milk.  I still don’t think this made it worth doing—Ricky didn’t look like he was really enjoying that cookie a whole lot.  And his tongue was black for a week.  Anyway, I always say that you should never let a guy see you cry and never, ever let him see you puke — at least not if you want to be a leader.

“If that’s what you want, then fine,” I said flatly.  “I’ll meet you behind the bungalows right after school.”

I remained crouching beside Maureen, returning her glare.  Then I realized what I’d just said.  I felt my stomach begin to cramp up and sweat begin to form on my forehead.  I thought I was going to heave, but we continued to glare at each other instead.  I was sure that this stare-down would soon end with me passing out in front of everyone from the terror I felt punching me in the gut, then Maureen up and ended it for me.

“Fine,” she said, smiling and bouncing to her feet as if nothing had happened.  She then turned and walked away across the playground, the rest of the girls following like a herd of geese, but looking back over their shoulders to blow me kisses.

What had just happened?  Was she faking it?  Did I really just say what I know I just said?  Did I just get conned?

I was very confused and feeling very shaky.  What a guy needs at a time like this is his friends to stand by him, tell him everything is okay, and most important of all, help him figure out how to get out of the mess he’d just gotten himself into.  Apparently sensing my need, the guys gathered around me and a raucous discussion was soon under way.

“Geez,” my best friend Stanley Becker said to open things.  “I mean, just geez.”  Admittedly, this was not the most brilliant contribution, but his statement did manage to convey a proper degree of concern and certainly summarized my thoughts at the moment.  Most of the guys showed that Stanley spoke for them too by nodding, patting me on the back, and then bursting into flat-out laughter.

I was still stunned by what had just happened and by the fact that Maureen wanted to kiss me; especially after I hit her in the face with a scorcher.  I knew she liked me but, as Stanley would say, geez!  I think I first impressed Maureen by not getting involved when others started calling her Murine; that being the name of drops parents put in their eyes the day after bridge night, or just about any other night they stay up late and the kids are sent to spend the night in the back rooms of the house.  I mean, I agree that Maureen is a funny sounding name, but didn’t see it as a big put-down getting tagged with the brand name of an eye drop.  After all, it isn’t like they were calling her More Butt, or The Marine—now those are names you can have some fun with.  Anyway, after the others saw that I wasn’t laughing, they seemed to get bored and laid off.  I think Maureen saw that I was the reason they stopped, and that may be the reason she wanted to give me something now.  To say thanks.  But a kiss?  Why not a matchbox car or a neat marble she found on the way to school–anything but a kiss.

“Steve, you can’t do it,” said Jimmy Satz, looking at me like I had just been condemned to the gas chamber.  I returned a look that showed that I fully agreed, but threw my hands out to show that I didn’t know how to avoid it, not wanting to be a welcher.  I did the mime act because I couldn’t speak yet.  Jimmy acknowledged my dilemma with a nod, then got an excited look on his face and blurted, “Maybe you can kiss her, but be wearing wax lips.  I got a pair last Halloween.”

It seemed to me that Jimmy was on to something with this advice.  After all, using wax lips to kiss a girl made sense the way that a drop drill makes sense.  Drop drills are something teachers make us practice once a week just in case the Reds decide to drop the big one on us.  They involve dropping onto all fours, crawling under your desk, and throwing your arms over your head to protect yourself—and doing it all as quick as possible.  And the teachers always holler at the kids about keeping their backs to the windows so flying glass doesn’t get poked into their faces and eyes.  Now, I view drop drills as a good thing; after all, if the Reds are in such a hurry to bomb my school, then I want to be ready for them.  But I’ve always wondered how good a wooden desk could really be at protecting you from an explosion strong enough to knock all the windows out in your school.  Heck, the Martins, who live three houses down from us, built a concrete and cinder block bomb shelter in their side yard to protect them from the big one.  What chance did I have hunched under a flimsy wooden desk? And besides, wouldn’t there be other bad stuff going on if the commies did try to bomb our school?  It seems to me that handing out guns might be a better way to protect ourselves from attack than learning how to climb under our desks fast.  Anyway, the point is that I was willing to hear Jimmy out, but with what my dad calls reservations.

“Okay Jimmy, I like your idea,” I responded.

“Aw nuts,” Jimmy interrupted before I had time to urge him on.  “I think I ate my wax lips last week,” he explained.  I was crushed by the news.  After a short exchange, round-table fashion, I found that no one else had a pair of wax lips and that this was the only plan that made any kind of sense that anyone could think of to avoid kissing Maureen.  I hung my head in defeat and despair.

“You’re gonna get cooties,” said Henry Barnes, staring up at me with eyes that always looked too big for his head but now looked like they might pop right out.  Henry is a second grader, so technically, he shouldn’t speak directly to me.  Instead, he should have given his two cents to someone in the third grade, maybe fourth, to be considered and then forwarded if it made sense.  However, realizing that this breach of command structure probably had more to do with concern for my wellbeing than a need to challenge tradition, I decided not to give him a wedgy on the spot.

By the way, a wedgy is what happens when someone, usually someone a lot bigger and stronger than you, reaches down the back of your pants, grabs your BVDs, and gives them a yank.  Depending on the seriousness of the lapse leading to the wedgy, it can be used as a mild reminder or a major reprimand, actually lifting the target of the attack clean off their feet, or even tearing the underwear if they’re an old, favorite, heavily worn pair.  Depending on the hygiene of the guy getting a wedgy, the wedgy can cause a monster skid mark in the underwear that Mom can’t even get out with Boraxo.

One final note, it’s worth mentioning that no one ever gives a girl a wedgy.  I think this is either because no one wants to put their hand down there since they’re afraid of what they might find, or because girl’s panties don’t work like guy’s underwear so that you couldn’t give a girl a wedgy even if you wanted to.

“There’s no such thing as cooties, numb nuts,” said Randy Smith in reply.  Randy was the member of our group who was always coming up with neat, new expressions he heard from his two older brothers, Hyrum and Lenny.  I had heard the numb nuts one before, and although I knew what nuts were and what could make them numb, I still wasn’t sure what accusing a kid of having been kicked in the family jewels, another of Randy’s expressions, had to do with their opinion.  In any case, Randy had in a round-about way supplied support for my own feeling that cooties were like Santa Claus: fun to believe in but a bunch of malarkey — that word a favorite of my dad’s.

“He’s right,” I stated confidently.  “There’s no such thing as cooties.”  And with that, I turned away further discussion of the topic, only to be brought up short by my second best friend, Billy Moony.

“They do have The Siff,” Billy announced.

All eyes turned his way.  I knew I needed to regain control of the conversation fast.

“The Siff,” I said in disgust.  “What’s that supposed to be?”

Billy seemed hurt by my response, but had obviously come prepared to defend his beliefs.

“It’s something girls get on their lip from the toilet seat,” he replied confidently.

“How do you get something on your lip from a toilet seat?” I asked.

Billy looked a little uncomfortable about my challenge, but then he explained.

“My oldest brother told me he got The Siff from either being with a girl or the toilet seat,” he began.  I accepted this as fact, but still felt like he had fallen short of a full explanation.  Apparently, Billy was only beginning to outline a string of well thought out facts because he soon continued.  “He told me that being with a girl means kissing and stuff.  So, he could have gotten The Siff off a girl’s lip.  Since girls don’t kiss girls, that means that girls can only get The Siff from a toilet seat.”

It took a while to mull this over, but in the end I couldn’t argue with the facts as he’d laid them out.  Besides, Billy always gets better grades in everything than I do.  Also, I could tell when Billy was lying; and this time, he wasn’t lying.

“So, how can you tell if a girl has The Siff?” I asked.  “I mean, what does it look like?”

“I’m not sure, but it’s supposed to itch and I think it doesn’t smell very good,” Billy responded, throwing up his hands to show that the well was now dry.

“So, all you gotta do is watch to see if she scratches a lot and pull back quick if she smells funny,” Johnny Westbrook offered.

“That’s no help,” Alex Bateman replied.  “All girls smell funny.”

With this, an argument broke out.  I lost track of what anyone was saying, but in the end was told that no one had seen Maureen scratching at her face and I should turn tail and run if I find out she smells worse than Eddie Randle’s older sister’s bedroom—a place Eddie and I sneak into to use her makeup to make realistic war wounds on our G.I. Joes.

It still didn’t make sense that a girl could get something on her lip from a toilet seat, but then I remembered the time Jimmy Bolton was thrown into the girls’ bathroom.  Jimmy is the smallest guy in our class and I guess it was just his bad luck to be walking past Mike O’Reilly the day Mike failed his math test.  Mike hung out with a bunch of the bad boys in his sixth-grade class, and seeing Jimmy walk by, they decided to work out some of their anger by grabbing Jimmy and chucking him into the girls’ restroom.  Jimmy stayed in there a long time, at least long enough for the catcalls to end and the sixth graders to get bored and wander off.  After he came out, he seemed confused.  I asked him what happened, and that’s when he told me.  There are no urinals in the girls’ restroom.  Since they have to use the toilet for everything, it seems to make sense that they are doing some strange stuff in there and that whatever they’re doing may result in lip to toilet contact.

At this point in the debate, the bell rang, putting an end to recess and further discussion.  Although I felt that more information could only help, I was also pretty glad to stop talking and head back to class, disappointed that it took so little time to learn all that my pals knew about both kissing and girls.  So, I joined the stream of kids marching back to their classrooms.  Sitting down at my desk, I was without a plan and running out of time.  But at least I would be running out of time slowly, since this would prove to be the longest afternoon of my life.

The hands on the clock across the room slowed to a snail’s pace.  School clocks don’t have second hands, probably to keep kids in predicaments like mine from simply watching the second hand go round while attempting to psychically will the hand to speed up, like Dr. Strange in that comic book.  Instead of slowly advancing, the big minute hand on the clock instead jumps forward, making a loud clunking sound that you can clearly hear if you’re waiting for it.  However, the clock in my classroom was broken, the clunking sound tolling the minute coming around only once an hour by my internal clock.  Instead of watching time fly, I got to feel time crawl.

Then Mrs. Hanson began the afternoon with spelling.  I hate spelling, probably because I can’t spell.  To hear Dad talk about it, I would guess I inherited the bad spelling bug from him.

Of course, my favorite part of any school day is when Mrs. Hanson reads to us from a book.  We’re currently doing Charlotte’s Web, which is kind of a girl’s book, but pretty good anyway.  It’s about a talented, loving spider and a pig.  I was excited to make it to the ending when we got to hear about Charlotte, the spider, and Wilbur, the pig, going off together to live happily ever after.  Unfortunately, I was going to have to wait two more days for Friday to arrive, before hearing the next installment of the story.  In the meantime, I had to endure spelling along with waiting for the school day to end.

I was glaring up at the clock, trying to psychically will it back into working order, when Mrs. Hanson called on me.

“Stephen?” she asked, and from the tone of her voice, I could tell that she already knew I hadn’t been paying attention and didn’t hear the question.

“Sorry, Mrs. Hanson,” I replied, “I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t hear the question,” I confessed.

Possibly due to the hang-dog expression I was wearing, but more probably due to the fact that she had already caught word of my plans for this afternoon, Mrs. Hanson decided to take pity on me rather than read me the riot act.

“That’s alright, Stephen,” she replied, flashing me a really convincing concerned look of her own.  Mrs. Hanson could sometimes be unexpectedly kind.  “It’s obvious that you have important things on your mind.  So, we’ll move ahead to Joey Beckman,” she continued, finding a new victim to drag from his day dreams into her dreary world of words.

Of course, being left out of the spelling and vocabulary milieu, which proves that I’ve paid enough attention to pick up some pretty big words along the way, also left me to stew in my own juices.  And boy did I stew.  As I came to terms first with the fact that I was indeed going to be kissing a girl in a little under an hour, I then found that I needed to consider just how to go about it.  I mean, I didn’t want to come off like a complete ignoramus in front of Maureen and who knew how many other kids.  As I started considering the finer points of kissing—whether and where I should touch her, how long to kiss her, whether to wet my lips first, and if so how wet, and if not what to do if our lips stuck together—I felt my intestines seize up and wondered if I would need to emerge from my comfy classroom exile to beg permission to run to the bathroom.

Uncoiling my legs from around the legs of my chair, I was preparing for a potential dash when I noticed first that I had had my legs tightly coiled around the legs of my chair, and second that my heart was racing like a stallion running the Kentucky Derby—Dad again.  The former fact pointed to a condition known as spaghetti-legs, where a growing boy’s feet end up sticking out sideways from being forced outward by being wrapped around the legs of a chair all day.  The other fact, my pounding heart, hinted that I might be having a heart attack.  If caught with spaghetti-legs in class, a kid is sent to a special class with special kids to work on improving their posture—potentially a fate worse than death.  A heart attack can kill you—a fate that is death.  I decided that with a little focus I could hide my spaghetti-legs for the rest of the day, since my feet already stuck out sideways like a duck’s anyway, so I should instead focus on my heart attack.

The more I tried to steady my heart, the more I realized I just wasn’t going to pull it off.  I would never have admitted this to another guy, but had to admit it to myself—I was excited.  I was curious about what it would be like to kiss Maureen.  I was scared that I might not do it right.  I had short fantasies of sweeping Maureen into my arms like in the movies and then leaving her yearning after me as I went off to war.  I wondered if she’d taste good, like candy, or bad, like liver.  In the end, I wondered if she’d like it or hit me in the face after I was done.

I was pondering all of these thoughts, and many, many more, when all thought was suspended by the sound of the bell tolling the end of the school day.  I could have sworn I heard the class share a collective intake of breath, but realized it was probably just me gasping for air.  I noticed that this day had not ended with the typical excited talk of kids waiting to be dismissed, and looked around the class to find all eyes turned my way, even Mrs. Hanson’s.

“Class dismissed,” Mrs. Hanson announced, sounding like the voice of doom.  I rose from my seat on legs of rubber and was glad to feel a hand slip under my arm to steady me as I turned to find Jimmy at my side.  He guided me like a blind man out of the room and back onto the playground where this whole stupid mess had begun.

Once more on dry ground, I soon found my land legs and started to walk.  I rounded the corner of bungalow 12B to find what looked like the people on either side of a street waiting for a parade to pass.  What boys weren’t already following me lined one side of the alley between the bungalows leading to the far corner of the school grounds.  The girls were all on the other side.  I was expecting cheers and confetti to start flying any time.  But as I walked through the crowd, instead of cheers, I heard nervous laughter and whispered words; instead of confetti, I saw anxious looks of concern and disbelief.  I guess the kids who had stopped by to see the show were surprised that the lead hadn’t decided to take a powder.

Assuming that Maureen was most likely already waiting for me, I led my posse to the farthest bungalow on campus, 13A, intending to continue behind to meet my fate.

“No,” a voice announced to accompany an out-thrust hand.  “Only Steve may pass.”  It was Margaret, of course, Maureen’s right-hand girl.

Margaret Sliz was large, smelled bad, and had the beginnings of a mustache.  She was the kind of large that’s just short of fat.  She wore thick, black, plastic rimmed glasses and had black, frizzy hair that came down to her shoulders, making her look like the sphinx.  And she was strong.  We found out how strong she was the day she got tired of being teased by Freddy Shultz and decided to throw him down and sit on him until his face turned purple.  I figured I could take her, but it would hurt.

Turning back to my buddies, I indicated that they should stay behind rather than rushing Margaret and pinning her down while the rest of us passed.  I wanted to avoid any unnecessary violence.  There’d already been enough of that, and besides, I didn’t think that an audience would help with what needed to get done.

Taking a deep breath, I put one foot in front of the other and ended up walking around the bungalow into the secluded alleyway formed by the building I’d rounded and a large oleander bush growing along the fence marking the edge of the school grounds.  Someone once told me that Oleander is poisonous, which made me wonder why you could find it growing at every school I’d ever visited.  Looking up, I spotted Maureen about ten paces ahead, midway down the alley.  I cleared my throat, and she twirled to face me.

The dress she wore, I only just noticed, was white and had little flowers on it.  Although now stained in several places with black smudges, especially in the back, it was pretty.  She wore short white socks, with a decorative fringe on top, which were folded down to make them even shorter.  These socks rode within a pair of nicely polished black, patent leather shoes in which I felt I should be able to see my own reflection.  Her golden hair was pulled back away from her face, gathered and then cascaded down the back of her head by one of those springy hair things.  The left half of her face was covered by a barely visible purple stain that looked like a birthmark.  When I saw this, the fascination I felt in examining her gave way to shame that I felt turning my own face red.

I walked forward to get closer, and she shyly looked down at her feet as I approached.  I stopped in front of her and she looked back up with a smile, which made me smile in return.

“Hi, Stephen,” she said, assuming the formal version of my name used only by my teachers.

“Hi, Maureen,” I replied.

“I didn’t think you were going to show,” she said, cocking an eyebrow to show her curiosity.

“Neither did I,” I found myself confessing.

I was surprised that she seemed so calm considering the situation.  Then, as she walked over to toy with an oleander blossom, she explained.

“You don’t have to worry, Stephen,” she began.  “I’m not actually going to make you kiss me.”

“You’re not?” I asked, a little shocked.  I was also shocked that it was actually possible to feel both relief and disappointment at the same time.

“No,” she said, smiling back at me.  “That’s why I decided to meet you alone.  We only need to wait a few minutes, then walk back out and tell the others whatever we want them to believe.”

Wow, this girl’s mind had a seriously devious streak running through it.  It’s like I told Billy Saye, after he got back from a route I sent him on to catch a long bomb behind a parked car for a touchdown, sometimes you’ve got to be tricky to get what you want.  Maureen was apparently quite tricky.  Her stock had just jumped several points in my books.

“Yeah, you’re right,” I answered.  “That’s a really clever idea,” I had to admit aloud.

Maureen’s smile broadened as she walked back to stand next to me.

“Although I should make you pay for putting this ugly purple splotch on my face,” she said, pointing to the birthmark.  “Maybe pin you down and give you an Indian rope burn.  Isn’t that the standard price for such an offence?”

“Yeah, that would be about right,” I admitted as we shared a laugh.  I couldn’t believe how quickly a person’s world could change.  A few moments ago, I had been afraid I was going to puke and even more afraid of this girl standing beside me.  Now I felt great and was really beginning to like Maureen a lot.

“Well, that’s probably enough time,” Maureen said, beginning to walk to the corner of the bungalow.  “Let’s go show our faces and tell our tales,” she concluded.

“Maureen,” I said, stepping up to her as she stopped, then forgetting what I was going to say.  “Thanks,” I offered as the obvious choice, then added something a little closer to what I was really feeling.  “You know, you’re alright.”

This last statement seemed to please Maureen, since it forced a huge smile to stretch across her face.  I liked that smile a lot, and I wanted more.

“Maureen,” I began, then simply decided to go for broke one more time.

What happened next happened even quicker than the dodge ball fiasco, but in this case I knew that what was happening was something I’d replay many times in slow motion the rest of my life.  I grabbed Maureen by the shoulders and pulled her to me, surprised at how light she was in comparison to any of the guys.  She seemed a little shocked and scared, but I didn’t have long to check on her expression as my face moved quickly toward hers.  I was pleased that I had the intuition to turn my head sideways to avoid a nose collision.  Then our lips were touching.  I continued to press my lips against hers and was at first concerned by the rigidity of her response, but then felt her relax as both our lips parted slightly to more fully experience the contact.  Her lips felt good, and she sure didn’t taste like liver.  Of course, she didn’t taste like candy either.  She tasted different, but really, really good.

I have no idea how long we remained with our lips together.  At first I thought that I wanted the kiss to last forever, and then I started to feel self conscience.  I began to wonder if I should be moving my lips, or my head, or squeezing her tighter.  Guessing that I had probably reached the point at which the spell had been broken, and finally understanding what that meant, I gently pushed Maureen away, causing our lips to part.  I then felt the muscles of my face tense in preparation for getting hit, but Maureen didn’t seem to be paying any attention to me.  Her eyes were still closed, and she was rocking slightly on her heels.  Her tongue poked out of her mouth to lick her lips, like she was getting a tasty bit of sauce off her mouth after spaghetti night.  Then she opened her eyes and smiled real hard.  I felt her grab my hand and was afraid I was in for another lip lock, but instead she simply squeezed it twice before turning to run away around the corner of the bungalow.  She never said a word and didn’t even look back.  Just like that, it was over.

My name is Steve Merriman and I’m eleven years old.  Today, after school, I kissed a girl.  They say that being a leader is hard, but being a follower is even harder.  I don’t know much about that, but I do know that I plan on doing a lot more kissing in the future.  So, watch out, you’ve now been warned.