It was my eighteenth birthday, and I was going to die a virgin. Not because I was sick, or lived in a war torn country, or had to hunt for my food. But because I’m a geek. It didn’t matter if you called me a nerd, loser, bookworm, or dork. I wasn’t having sex either way.
Every guy I knew was better with girls than me, especially my older brother David. I assumed he was the living embodiment of every woman’s wildest dreams because he was constantly surrounded by an array of the fairer sex. All the characteristics that made the Georgetown University political science major look like the cover of a magazine were the inverse for me. David’s long straight brown hair hung ever so slightly in his eyes. Mine was wavy, unruly, and regularly gelled flat to my head. He stood six feet tall, broad shouldered, muscled, and tan. Although I was taller, pale skin covered my bones since I only needed enough strength to carry my AP Physics book to class.
He looked like a Congressman; I looked like tech support.
Girls thought David was hilarious. I thought he was a tool. His current ‘friend’ sat next to him wearing a tight dark green top. Instead of looking at the candles atop my German chocolate cake I couldn’t stop watching her chest rise with every breath she took.
“Blake! You’re getting wax all over the icing!” Mike, the youngest of us Morgan sons, and David’s doppelganger squawked. Although he sat next to me, I knew he’d rolled his eyes.
“Give him a chance to make a wish.” The only light came from atop my cake but Mom’s ebony hair still shined as she tucked it behind her ear. Her face was soft and fair, but the wrinkles around her eyes were imprinted on her face even when she wasn’t smiling.
My eyes turned to the flames in front of me. I knew it was a cliché to wish for a girlfriend, but I pushed my glasses up the bridge of my nose and blew.
“What did you ask for, kid?” David nodded at me.
“You know it’s bad luck to say,” Amber, the sorority girl, cooed.
The stained glass chandelier suddenly blazed above us. My father returned to the head of the large oak table with eight high back chairs surrounding it. The light blended his age spots, from hours on the golf course with clients, in with the rest of his face as he smiled at me. A framed print of a Monet’s Water Lilies hung above him on the mint colored walls of our dining room.
My mother extended the plate of chocolate and coconut in front of me. I stared at the confection for a moment, listening. My parents talked about work, Amber whispered in David’s ear, and Mike’s fork scraped the plate.
I had to get out of there. Everyone was living their lives, and I was just treading water. “Can I be excused?”
“You didn’t even touch your cake.” My mother shot me a stare as if to say ‘I spent all that time baking it, and you’re not going to eat it.’
“I’m not hungry.”
“He just wants to see his girlfriend” Mike raised his voice an octave, mouth covered in brown icing. “Sophie.”
I rubbed my hands over my face. “How many times do I have to tell you she’s just a friend, who happens to be a girl?”
David raised his eyebrows. “What the hell’s wrong with you, Blake? You need to remember you’re a goddamn Morgan. We’re men. Girls aren’t friends.”
My hands slammed flat on the table. It was an unconscious reaction, one that I’d never had when my brothers teased me. Before I could retort my father bellowed.
“Boys!” The three of us froze and turned to him, “Both of you need to leave your brother alone. Especially you David, when you’re under my roof you follow my rules by watching your mouth. It’s your brother’s birthday, dammit.” He turned to me and nodded. “You can go if you want Blake, just be home by curfew.”
August twentieth had always been the end of summer as far as anyone in Anne Arundel County public schools was concerned. Sophie and I held a tradition, a stop at Rita’s to celebrate another year of my continuing to be a carbon based life form, and the last night before our overbearing school workload. The dessert stand was at one end of the brown brick shopping center. Two pizza shops, a movie rental store, a grocer, and a dozen other businesses were sandwiched between Rita’s and Sophie’s dance studio.
After purchasing a couple of gelati we’d amble down Hilltop Drive, then turn onto one of the many streets named after a tree. We’d gaze at the stars contemplating if in another galaxy there was an alternate Blake and Sophie doing the same thing. In an Annapolis where people went mountain climbing instead of sailing.
“So how was it?” Her cherry flavored Italian ice dessert matched her crimson hair. Since I was a foot taller than her I had the perfect vantage of the bun wrapped tight on top of her head. It reminded me of a cinnamon roll. Sophie’s hoodie was zipped up covering the black leotard I knew was underneath it. The oversize bag on her shoulder made her lean to one side, but I’d never asked if she needed me to carry it, because even if she was a ballerina, she was tougher than me.
“The same,” I said. “My dad made a huge deal of cursing, while cursing. Mom made me German chocolate cake even though I hate coconut. David has a new girlfriend.” Lime ice with its swirl of vanilla custard ignited my taste buds.
“Then it’s not the same.”
I shrugged. “Whatever.”
“But you always say you feel stuck, like nothing’s new. Like you’re invisible or something. You don’t notice the little things in life that make it worth living.”
“I wouldn’t describe my brother bringing someone new home as a revelation.”
Sophie rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean.”
“Here one day just fades into the next.”
She sighed. “I see that the precipice of adulthood has brought on depression.”
I smiled. “I guess it has.”
“Well, how would you like to celebrate your new level of responsibility and thus elevate you from the depths of despair?” Her voice had a steady rhythm to it. “Sign a contract, buy cigarettes, register to vote?”
“I don’t want to become an adult. Not yet.”
“I got an idea.” A crooked grin covered her lightly freckled face.
The air smelled like salt, a cool breeze washed over my face, and the moon glittered on the water. I couldn’t wait to leave Maryland. After eighteen years of drudgery, opportunity hovered on the horizon. Yet, I’d always miss the water.
We sat on the warped wooden bench looking out onto the Magothy River. Sophie scraped the bottom of her cup at my side, and then tossed it to the trashcan. She missed by a yard.
I laughed. “I don’t know why you try anymore.”
“Because one day I’ll get it.” She walked over to the remnant of deliciousness and placed it into the receptacle.
The waves were calm; the metal links from the swings clinked, and leaves in the trees rustled above us. I had spent six summers with Sophie since she’d moved from California. At first we were competitors, continually tied for highest grade on every math and science test. Then we found that if we stuck together, at least we wouldn’t have to eat lunch alone.
She dug in her messenger bag and handed me a rectangle wrapped in dark blue tissue paper. “Happy Birthday, Blake. I hope you like it.”
I tore through the wrapping and saw a red cover, with two spiraling ribbons of gold on the right. Etched in white lettering read ‘The Double Helix’. My fingers ran down the spine of the first edition, flipped it open, and thumbed through the pages. “Where did you find this?”
“I have my ways.”
The tip of my index finger moved from left to right, scanning the words.
Sophie giggled, “No wonder you wear glasses.”
“It strains your eyes to read about the atomic structure of DNA by moonlight.”
I shut it, and turned back to her. “Thanks for the book.”
“You’re welcome. I’ll be expecting something just as difficult to acquire in a few months.”
“You get candy every year for your birthday, Sophie.”
“Yeah, but I had braces for three years, and my parents are so uptight they confiscated most of it when I did go out.”
I remembered the last time we went trick or treating, on her thirteenth birthday. We took Mike, in a Batman costume, from house to house. When she showed up on our doorstep wearing a white lace gown and full size wings with feathers she’d meticulously handmade for months I felt embarrassed for not dressing up, even though the whole reason I didn’t was to avoid feelings of inferiority. Sophie dug through her purse until she found black eyeliner and drew a lighting bolt on my forehead.
“Seriously,” I laughed. “Harry Potter?”
Sophie arched her eyebrow, “Be quiet or I’ll make you carry a wand. Besides, Harry Potter is really cool.”
I gave her every piece of candy I’d collected that evening.
Back on the beach, I pushed my glasses up my nose. “Is Chris coming home soon?” Sophie’s brother played lacrosse with David, I had seen him intermittently the past three years.
She shook her head; still gazing out at the water, “Doubt it.”
“Do you know where he is now?”
All of David’s failures absorbed my parents’ attention, and his triumphs on the lacrosse field seemed of far greater value than mine in the classroom. But, I would never want him to have to face death every day like Sophie’s brother. If David made me seem like a little boy, compared to Chris, I was an infant as far as my physical prowess.
“He’ll be okay.” I felt like I should hug her, console her, but I didn’t.
“There’s a 63% chance that’s true.”
“How did you figure that?”
“It’s easy to find out how many troops are deployed, and how many are, you know.” Her green eyes grazed mine, “Not coming back.”
She was just like me. In a stressful situation you form a hypothesis, perform an experiment, sift through the data, and learn to accept the conclusion as fact. Although, I’m sure she hadn’t thought of the probability altering greatly since Chris was a medic. A ruthless warrior would kill a healer if they knew it would mean the death of many more men.
I didn’t want to share my thoughts, and was pleasantly distracted when she poked me in the ribs with her elbow. “Something pretty cool happened today, Blake.”
“I auditioned for Swan Lake at the Kennedy Center.” Her cherry stained lips turned up. “And it went really well.”
“That’s amazing, when do you find out?”
“By the end of the week.”
“You’ll get it.” Whenever I saw her dance, I could tell she loved it. Grace was an innate quality for Sophie, so much that she pointed her toes when she put on her socks.
“You really think so?”
“Of course,” I poked her back. “They’d be lucky to have you.”
“Would you come to the show in the spring, if I get it?”
“You want me too?”
“Duh, you’re my best friend.” She shoved me and I swayed to the side.
“I thought that was Lilly.”
“No,” She shook her head and her face glowed, her words soft as the wind. “It’s always been you.”
“It’s not Jasper?”
“No, it’s always been you.” I poked her in the ribs again.
I ran a comb through my wavy brown hair, a glob of gel in my hand like every other morning of my life. I needed a change. I rinsed off my hands, leaving my brown hair a wavy mess like Mike always did. Maybe it would work; he’d just turned fifteen and had a girlfriend.
Back in my room with it’s midnight blue walls, which, my mother claimed, were ‘relaxing’, I pulled on a t- shirt, wrapped a belt around my jeans, and laced up my sneakers. The four walls I’d spent my entire life in were filled with books on subjects ranging from Ansel Adams to Stephen Hawking. A twin bed was shoved up next to the window, and a couple of posters hung on the wall, including one that Sophie had given me a few Christmases ago. It read ‘Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.’ The simple two-tone poster was a replica of a sign that Einstein had in his office while teaching at Princeton. I didn’t get it; the words were meaningless to me since everything could be quantified. For instance the moon is 4.56 billion years old while the Earth is 4.8 billion years old. The poster remained on my wall in the hopes that one day I’d experience something that would alter my reality.
Before I left my haven, I gently pushed Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’ back so its binding matched up with the rest of the titles on the shelf. It was yet another object Sophie had given me, one that we’d read together the summer before high school. Mostly so we could learn Italian. She still wrote me notes in the musical language.
Mike and I trekked downstairs, grabbed some buttered toast prepared by our mother, who told us to “Have a great day.”
We shoved the toast in our mouths in response, and each downed a glass of orange juice. Sophie knocked on my door at precisely 7 a.m. I opened it, and followed her to her shiny white 2001 Honda Accord.
“Trying something different?” She eyed my hair.
“Yeah.” I shrugged.
“Hey!” Mike rushed out after us. “Can I have a ride too, Sophie?”
“No way,” I grabbed the door handle. “You’ve got a million friends, ask one of them.”
“Blake, c’mon, you’re my brother.” Mike whined.
“David didn’t give me a ride when he was a senior and I was a freshman.” I opened the door.
“Yeah, but he’s a jerk. You at least hang out with me.” He dug his toe into the dirt on the side of the driveway.
I turned to Sophie. She tilted her head to the side; her red hair shimmered in the early morning light. Orioles sang above us. “What’s the big deal? You said it yourself, he has a million friends. He’ll get another ride by the end of the week. Besides,” Her peach colored lips formed a crooked smile. “You’re not a jerk.”
I turned to my brother and sighed. “Get in.”
“Shotgun!” He yelled and shoved me out of the way.
Sophie laughed at me in the rear view mirror as I buckled myself into the backseat. We drove down a single lane of traffic that remained congested on the sharp right turn the car made to enter the senior parking lot.
Homeroom was the place where the last vestige of freedom a teenager held was stripped away. Even the nurse was unavailable to me if I fell to the floor and had a seizure, unless I also had written authorization from a teacher to visit her. But, I followed the rules, because that’s how I would get a scholarship. Then I would appease my parents by attending GW, get my graduate degree from Berkeley, and become an astrophysicist so I could study the ever-expanding universe. At times all that space full of the unknown made me feel small, but we were all made of carbon, and that connected everything.
A stranger breezed into our class. A waterfall of hair the color of spun gold hung over one shoulder, she had dark outlined eyes. She wore low-rise jeans that barely clung to her hips, and an orange t-shirt that, thankfully, looked as if it had been shrunk in the dryer. Before she even spoke, once I saw the silver loop through her belly button, I thought she was the most interesting girl at our high school.
Her voice was light as a hummingbird, “Hey, I’m Zoe Malone, is this the right home room?”
“Yes,” Mrs. Tanner straightened up in her dark pantsuit and took a slip of paper from the vixen’s hand. “Where are you from, Zoe?”
“Welcome to Cape Saint Claire High School,” The teacher’s eyes moved across the page. “It looks like you have a few classes and lunch period with Blake Morgan. You can sit next to him, and he can give you the grand tour throughout the day.”
My heart stopped.
Zoe turned to the class, “Umm, which one is he?”
“The tall one in the back, with the glasses.” Mrs. Tanner pointed at me.
The new girl’s hips swayed as she walked to the back of the class. The closer she got, the more my face burned. I slouched in the chair as if preparing for impact. The rest of our peers continued to talk, but the only matter in my universe was her. She consisted of much more than carbon.
“Hey,” The goddess sat down.
I tried to speak but instead started coughing, loudly.
“Are you okay?” Her dark eyes widened.
“Yeah,” I pounded on my chest, “All good.”
“I’m Zoe,” she giggled. “But, I guess you already know that.”
I wanted to say that, I was indeed the infamous Blake Morgan, and it would be my pleasure to attend to her every need until the next Ice Age. All that came out was, “Blake.”
“I like your hair.”
“Your hair just makes me want to…”
And that’s when it happened. Day became night, the sun went out, and black holes were no longer a mystery when she ran her hand through my hair. Up until this point I was unaware that girls like Zoe would ever contemplate touching a loser like me, much less do it. My confusion and excitement must have shown on my face when she pulled away.
“Oh, sorry. I’m just a hands-on kinda girl.” She shrugged as if that made it okay to run your hands through a stranger’s hair.
Which it totally did.
“So what do you guys do for fun around here, Blake?” She twirled a lock of hair around her finger.
“You mean like, me and my friends?”
The truthful answer was: quiz each other for Academic Decathlon, play video games, watch horror movies, or simply study in the same room. “We go to D.C. sometimes.”
“And do what?”
“Just you know, hang out.” At the Smithsonian, I should have added.
“Isn’t the Naval Academy nearby?”
“Yeah.” I almost dared to ask if she was aware that Annapolis was also the capital of Maryland. But, she was beautiful, therefore I thought better of it.
“So, there’s like a bunch of hot guys there, right?”
“I don’t generally check out the Midshipmen, but my friend Sophie likes to go at the end of school for plebes-no-more.”
I pushed my glasses up my nose. “The freshman, they call them plebes, and at the end of the year they have to traverse this pillar that’s over twenty feet high and pull a uniform dress hat off the top.”
“What’s so hard about that?”
“They grease it up, and tape down the hat with like, duct tape.”
Her eyes widened. “What’s the point?”
I shrug. “To not be called an underclassman?”
“And why does your friend Sophie like this?”
“You’d have to ask her, but she drags me there every year.”
“Will you take me this year?”
Her words did not make sense to me. “What?”
“Would you take me to check out the Naval Academy? You seem really nice and since we’ll see so much of each other I thought it would be fun. I mean if later you think I’m a freak you can totally back out and I won’t hold it against you. Or, whatever.” She shrugged.
“Yeah, sure, sounds great.” I don’t know if I said it because I wanted a change or because I was completely enamored by this person.
The bell rang and I ushered her to the photography lab.
At lunch I gravitated toward the table to the far left, the one Jasper had already claimed with his laptop and slice of pizza.
He didn’t lift his gaze from the screen, which cast an eerie green glow on his ebony skin. “So, is it different now that you don’t legally have to be here?”
“You already know the answer to that question.” I chomped on my own slice of pepperoni.
“Yeah, same song, different verse.” He ran his hand over his bald fade and powered down.
“That sounds like something my grandmother would say.”
“My grandmother does say that.” Jasper laughed and chugged his soda.
I checked to make sure we were still alone at the table then said, “Something weirdly awesome happened in homeroom.”
“That’s a paradox in terms my friend.”
“There’s a new girl in my homeroom, and she wants to hang out with me.”
“Did she mention any head trauma in her past?” Jasper raised an eyebrow.
“I’m serious, she ran her hand through my hair.”
“She touched you?” His arm froze; a soda can halfway to his mouth.
“Yeah, well my hair.”
“It’s a good thing you ditched the shellac. Her hand would still be in there.”
I remembered the bubbly sound of her giggle, the curve of her hips, and her rose colored cheeks. “She’s really hot.”
“On a scale of Gwen Stefani to Courtney Love, how hot are we talking here?”
“You have to introduce me to this elusive woman, Blake. Right. Now.”
“What elusive woman?” Sophie set her bag on the floor and a salad on the table with Lilly following suit.
A long mocha colored braid fell over Lilly’s shoulder. She also wore the required uniform for a teenager in Maryland: jeans, t-shirt, sneakers. “Is it another online girlfriend for Jasper?”
Jasper turned to Lilly who sat next to him. “She couldn’t have been my girlfriend, we never met. She was just a friend who happened to be a girl.”
“That sounds familiar,” Lilly mumbled as her plastic spork punctured lettuce.
Sophie shifted in her seat next to me, and Jasper kicked me under the table. I kicked him back. “What the…”
“Dude,” Jasper nodded toward something behind me. “It’s Gwen.”
My mind had never gone blank at school until the moment I heard, Zoe, my crush say, “Hey Blake! Is it okay if I sit with you guys?”
Before I could open my mouth, I heard the guy I’d known since first grade yelp, “Jasper.”
“Huh?” Zoe had a quizzical expression on her face.
“Yeah, go ahead and have a seat.” On autopilot I sounded smoother than I thought possible. “Zoe this is Jasper,” I pointed toward a guy whose longest relationship had been with a hard drive, and worked around the circular table. “Lilly and Sophie. Guys this is Zoe.”
“Hey!” Zoe’s smile filled her oval face as she sat down next to me and turned her dark eyes to Sophie, “So, I hear you know where to find some really cute guys.”
Sophie’s face turned red as fire. “Where did you hear that?”
“Blake told me about the Navy guys climbing some statue?” Zoe twirled a lock of golden hair around her finger.
“I don’t go to find a boyfriend, but, yeah, it’s kinda cool.”
“Why not? Aren’t they cute?”
“Yeah, but,” Sophie shook her head. “They’re in college.”
Zoe shrugged. “So?”
Sophie raised her eyebrows. “I’m still in high school.”
Zoe opened her mouth once more, but before words came out Lilly asked. “So, why’d you move here?” Her flat expression told me Lilly wasn’t interested in the answer, which didn’t bother me, since I couldn’t understand Zoe’s fascination with The Naval Academy anyway. She didn’t strike me as the kind of girl who followed rules as stringent as the military.
“My dad’s parents are like, super old, and they wouldn’t move to Denver. But, everyone seems really nice here. I’ve already been invited to a party this weekend.” Zoe giggled.
“A party, huh?” I could hear Jasper’s mouth water as he spoke.
“Yeah,” Zoe spun her fork in bowl of spaghetti. “At this guy named Trace’s house. Any of you guys know him?”
We all did. Trace Allen was the most popular guy in school, now that my brother had graduated that is. An all-star athlete who had an on and off relationship with the captain of the dance team, Nina. Lilly and Sophie both held an underlying sympathy for her since Trace got with every other pretty girl in school whenever he and Nina were on a ‘break’. He also cheated off my paper the entire fourth grade.
“Everyone knows Trace.” I shrugged.
Zoe turned to me; “He said I could bring someone, if I wanted.”
“So, would you come with me, Blake?”
After the question left Zoe’s mouth I felt Sophie stiffen next to me. My best friend and I held our breath until I said, “Sure.”
“Awesome! Now I just have to go shopping…” She kept talking, but it was nonsensical to me.
“I have to go,” Sophie stood up so quickly her books fell to the floor. She bent down and stuffed them back into her army green messenger bag. I picked up her AP World History book and handed it to her. “Thanks.” She hurried to the exit on the east side of the cafeteria.
“Hey, you left your food!” Jasper called after Sophie. When she didn’t turn back he shrugged and returned his attention to Zoe.
“Is she like, okay?” The object of my desire asked.
“Yes, she’s fine.” Lilly glared at Zoe. “Just has a lot on her plate being top of the class, dancing all week.” When she turned toward me, her brown eyes became a slit. “And people that just don’t get it.” The brunette ballerina mirrored Sophie’s actions, minus the spill, and left the lunch table.
“Whoa, what is going on?” The vixen’s eyes doubled in size.
“Don’t worry about them, Zoe.” Jasper’s voice lowered an octave. “Now what were you saying?”
“Is it okay if I borrow the car this weekend?” I took of sip from the large glass of milk in front of me.
“What for?” Dad asked from the head of the oak table.
“Just going to hang out with some friends.” I speared a piece of broccoli with my fork.
Mike scoffed across from me. “You don’t have any friends.”
Mom ignored her youngest child’s comment. “Why can’t Sophie drive?”
I poked at the baked potato on my plate. “She’s not coming.”
“Then whom are you going with?”
“Who’s this ‘Zoe’ you’ve never mentioned before?” Mom’s light brown eyes narrowed.
“She’s new, we have homeroom together.”
Mike’s hand froze halfway to his mouth. “You mean Zoe Malone?”
“You’re taking Zoe Malone out on a date?” His mouth agape.
“No, we’re just hanging out, or whatever.” I couldn’t believe I had to explain my actions to my younger brother.
Dad looked over the frames of his wire-rimmed glasses; his eyes darted from my brother to me. “What’s wrong with this, Zoe Malone?”
“Nothing.” I said.
“She’s really hot, Dad,” Mike said.
My mother swatted at my brother. “Don’t talk about girls like that.”
Mike shrugged. “Well, she is.”
I turned back to Dad. “So, can I borrow your car on Saturday?”
He glanced at Mom, who nodded at him. “As long as you’re home by 1 a.m. and you swear not to drink a drop of alcohol.”
Mike chuckled across from me. “No one would invite Blake to a party that cool, Dad.”
“Neither of you better be attending parties ‘that cool’, Mike,” Mom said.
My brother muttered something unintelligible as he chomped on his garlic bread.
“So, when will we meet the infamous Zoe?” Dad asked.
“I don’t know she’s just a friend.”
Mike looked over at me. “He’s just worried that if he invites her over for dinner she won’t show up because he’s such a freak.”
“No, I’m worried she’ll meet you and be so disgusted that we share the same DNA that she’ll lose her appetite.”
“Boys,” Our father bellowed. “Can we have one meal where you’re not fighting?”
“No,” we said in unison.
“That’s it.” Our mother dropped her fork on her plate with a clatter. “You’re doing the dishes all week, Mike.”
“Why? For making fun of Blake? I always do that!”
“Not only that but because drinking and driving seems to be a joke to you, which it isn’t.” She stood up and left the table. The three of us sat there as Mom strolled up the steps as if she were one hundred years old and shut the master bedroom door. Water rushed through the pipes as she drew a bath like she always did when she needed some space from ‘all the Y chromosomes’.
I pushed my glasses up the bridge of my nose. “Was that a yes, Dad?”
He mimicked my habit. “Yes.”
“What about me? Do I still have to do the dishes?” Mike leaned toward our father.
“Yes. And it’s your night to take out the trash as well, Mike.”
“Blake gets to go to a party and I’m punished! How is that fair?”
“You didn’t know that life isn’t fair? I’m glad I taught you that lesson now.” He wiped his mouth with a cloth napkin, stood up, and followed my mother upstairs.
“Thanks for the help there, Blake.” Mike glared at me.
“Hey, what are brothers for?” I dropped my napkin on my plate and went to study alone in my room.
The party was the most surreal experience of my life. People I’d known forever surrounded me but, to them, it was our first meeting. Even though Jack Hudson had wet his pants in the fifth grade, I was the freak. Not to say that I felt superior to anyone in the home where the class President resided. My mouth refused to open the entire night. Although, Zoe didn’t seem to notice.
After approximately three minutes my ‘date’ turned to me and asked, “Beer?”
I knew that my answer should be, ‘No thank you, Zoe. As you know I’m not the legal drinking age in the state of Maryland. And, I borrowed my parents car to drive us here after I swore to them I would never drink and drive.’
What I actually said was, “Sure.”
My mouth puckered at the bitterness of it, then I read the label, and realized why. Dad told me to stay away from Guiness after he gave me ‘the sex talk’ and a condom two years ago. It hadn’t expired yet, wedged between the bills in my wallet.
Some things about the party were like I imagined. Couples in various locations throughout the house, including the laundry room, having sex. A room full of people sitting on navy blue beanbags smoking weed. And an arm wrestling contest at the kitchen table next to the keg.
We danced. Or rather, she danced and I moved awkwardly around her holding an empty beer can. I tipped it back as often as Zoe did hers, and no one offered me another. With an hour left before my curfew, we left. I drove through the dark winding streets surrounded by trees praying that I did the math right when I calculated my blood alcohol level. The Toyota Camry made it to Zoe’s house without incident.
I put the car in park. “I can walk you to the door, you know. It’s what guys are supposed to do.” I pushed my glasses off my nose, and somehow knocked them off. I felt around for them, but stopped at something warm, Zoe’s thigh. My whole body froze.
She giggled, and put my glasses back on my face. The moment I saw shining dark eyes my hand returned to the steering wheel. Which wasn’t anywhere near as exhilarating as touching her. “Yeah, but you’re not like other guys.”
I took a breath so I didn’t stutter. “You’re not like other girls.”
“You’re right about that.” Then she leaned in, and kissed me, lightly on the cheek. “Goodnight, Blake.” She opened the door and darted up her steps. Once she entered the light on the porch went out.
Zoe was the second girl who’d kissed me, and although she smelled like beer, my whole body tingled. I pulled into my driveway. Before I got out of the car I threw a mint in my mouth and chomped on it. I checked my visage in the rearview mirror, ran my hand through my unruly hair, and adjusted my glasses before I strolled inside. A dim light flickered from the den that I knew was my father watching the news waiting for me to come home.
“Yeah, I’m going to bed.” I started for the stairs.
“Come in here first, son.” I marched, like a dead man walking, into the rose colored room.
“What’s up, Dad?” He gazed at me from over his wire-rimmed frames.
“I can smell cigarettes from here.”
“It wasn’t me!” I backed away in the hopes that he couldn’t smell anything else.
“So, you didn’t smoke?”
“You didn’t have anything to drink did you?”
I felt all the blood rush to my face. “Um, no, of course not.”
“Really?” My father might as well have tortured me for hours considering how quickly I gave myself up.
“Maybe. A little. One.”
He smirked. “I thought we had a discussion about that before you left with your mother’s car.”
Suddenly my shoelaces became very interesting. “I know, I’m sorry.”
“You sure it was just one?”
“What else happened?”
“You took a girl out, drank, and nothing happened?”
“No. I mean yes nothing else happened.” My father was the last person I wanted to tell that I’d gotten a kiss from the hottest girl in school, that particular conversation was reserved for Jasper.
“Just remember that it’s difficult to attend college and raise a child.”
“I know, Dad.” I wanted to add that would be scientifically impossible, but that was yet another discussion I didn’t want to have with my father.
“And college will be less fun if you get drunk and run over a bunch of school children.”
“Dad.” Although I really thought it was illogical for young children to be playing outside past midnight. I mean where were these hypothetical children’s parents?
“I let you use the car because you’re responsible, Blake. I’m very disappointed in you.” Although his tone led me to believe he was in fact angry, he winked at me. Letting my parents down always felt worse than if they did yell at me and grounded me for a lifetime.
“It won’t happen again.” I stared at my shoes. “I’m sorry.”
He waved his hand at me and I turned to the stairs. “And, Blake?”
“You’re a terrible liar.” My father turned back to the T.V.
I threw myself onto my bed and rolled over. My glasses were askew, and when I straightened them I saw glossy dark leaves reflecting the moon outside the large bay window. They swayed in the wind and reminded me of my first kiss, five years ago.
It was the Fourth of July and my parents had a crab feast for the block. David insisted we invite Chris, which filled me with relief, because then I didn’t have to admit that my best friend was his sister, Sophie.
The younger kids ran up and down the street with sparklers while Sophie climbed halfway up the White Oak in my front yard. “C’mon Blake, you can see the fireworks better from up here.”
“I’m good down here.” I was never a big fan of heights. If humans were meant to fly, we’d have evolved wings by now.
“Why? Too cool to climb trees anymore?”
I sighed and pulled myself up to the same limb she sat on. From my new vantage point I could see David making out with someone who wasn’t his girlfriend on the side of the garage. “Jesus Christ.”
“You didn’t tell me there’s a perfect view of my brother and Jordan down there.”
“Where?” She giggled and turned her head side to side.
“Right there.” I pointed.
“Ugh! I hate being so short.” She pulled up on my shoulder, until her face was parallel with mine. Her long red braid tickled my arm. “Whoa, I bet he knows what she had for lunch.” She sat on her knees so her eyes leveled with my throat, although she directed them to the night sky. “I can’t wait until someone kisses me like that.”
I shook my head. “Girls are so weird.”
She turned back to me. “Why?”
“Boys don’t think about stuff like that.” I knew it was a lie once the words left my mouth because I thought about it too. All the time.
“Oh, I forgot, I’m talking to the Casanova of Annapolis. So, what do boys think about?”
“I don’t know, stuff?”
She giggled then lowered her voice, “Like hunting, bowling, and beer?”
I laughed. “Yeah.”
She raised her eyebrows. “But, you don’t think about any of that.”
She exhaled the words. “Well, you must be right, because no one has ever thought of kissing me.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Because no guy has ever kissed me. I always thought I’d have my first kiss before I started high school.” She gazed at me with her big green eyes.
I don’t know what came over me since every action I took had always been carefully thought out. Maybe it was because I wanted to have my first kiss as well, or that I knew she wouldn’t laugh at me, or that her skin shimmered in the moonlight. My mind went blank when I craned my neck and pressed my lips to hers. She tasted like strawberries, sunsets, and honeysuckle. My first kiss lasted just long enough to wonder if Sophie’s mouth was made of flower petals.
For a while there was only the laughing of children running in the yard, the adults’ banter that grew in volume throughout the night, and the hooting of a distant owl, until I said, “Now you don’t have to worry about it anymore.”
She opened her mouth and began to respond when an explosion of fireworks erupted. Red, white, and blue lit up the sky blocking out the stars and planets I loved so much. Neither of us ever mentioned the kiss.
But, we did hold hands until the display of perchlorate, copper, and sulfur diffused into the atmosphere.