novel, pictures, Signing Events

Pop Shop Houston Summer 2016

As proof that it’s been raining daily for what seems like months-it poured down on Houston on Sunday June 12.  Silver Street Studio did lose power, and that’s when I left, which proved more difficult than expected since Edwards St. was flooded.  My car is pretty small, so I stayed on high ground until the water subsided below my knees (which is where it was when I first left (and I know because I got out of my car like an idiot and walked toward the street)).

There were some cars that had been parked along the street and had been submerged in the flood water-but most people simply stayed at the event enjoying the crafts and community until the water subsided.

Thankfully I did get to meet some new readers-one of which is also a fan of author D.L. Young (who will be taking over my blog next month when he answers my 20 Questions…). This avid reader, John Husisian, was a pleasure to speak to, and a true fan of local authors (or anything well written).

Overall it was a great event in which I could see friends, make new friends, and share my gift of storytelling with someone new.

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I’ll be at Comicpalooza on Sunday June 19 from 11-5 look forward to seeing you there!

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Everything That Counts, pictures, Uncategorized

What’s going on with ‘Everything That Counts’?

I’m proud to announce that my debut novel-a romanic thriller- ‘Blood On The Potomac will be released on May 21 through Inklings Publishing and will be available for purchase on Amazon.com.

But right now I’d like to talk about another novel-my debut Young Adult novel-‘Everything That Counts’.  In the novel you meet Blake Morgan the biggest loser in all of Annapolis, Maryland; maybe even the world.  We follow him throughout his senior year of high school as he makes the decision to finally live life rather than plan out every detail as he has with his future plans to become an astrophysicist.

I met with Kimberly Morris who offered her professional advice as a manuscript consultant.  Her feedback (the best of which I’ve included in this blog) was invaluable and thus I will re-work the novel to make sure the voice is consistent throughout before I hire an editor and eventually self-publish it.

At this moment in time I believe I can have it ready for you guys to read by late 2018, but until then here is a scene that really gets to the ‘core’ of Blake, through his conversation with classmate and crush Zoe Malone-the hottest girl in school.

 

 

That Saturday, Zoe and I were in my Dad’s car driving to the illustrious Annapolis Mall when she said. “I like you, Blake.”

My breathing stopped. No girl had said those exact words to me. I knew Sophie liked me but it wasn’t as if she liked me. She just enjoyed my company for some strange reason. But, Zoe was different. Zoe was free. Everything was an option for her, and that concept was highly intriguing to me. I let my eyes wander from the road toward her.

“I like you too, Zoe.”

She bit her lip briefly. “It’s just I got my heart broken by my last boyfriend which really sucked.”

“Sorry about that.” But I wasn’t really. I mean, since he dumped her she was available for me to date.

“Thanks. You know, when I told my Mom, she was like,” Zoe whined and puckered up her face as if she’d swallowed a lemon, “‘that’s what you get for being stupid enough to go out with an asshole.’” Then reverted to herself. “Which wasn’t helpful, like, at all. So, when I saw you I knew you’d be different, because you looked really smart.”

We’d been in the car a few miles and already the conversation had taken me to uncharted territories far beyond imagination. “Thanks?”

She leaned close enough that I could smell her perfume. It smelled like cotton candy. “I don’t mean for it to sound bad. It’s just that I don’t do well in school all the time, and feel so frazzled about it. But, you seem to know what you’re doing. It’s like you’re going somewhere, Blake. And that’s what makes me like you. You’re gonna be something when we grow up, and I want to be something too. I want to be remembered as something more than the blonde airhead that giggles all the time, you know?”

“I know exactly how you feel. I think that a lot of people feel like that, it’s just that not everyone says it.”

She giggled. “I can’t believe I make sense to someone as smart as you.”

“You’re smart, too. I mean we have English together, so you’re just as intelligent as me.”

“Maybe you’re just bad in English. I mean I bet you get that poem we were supposed to read. You know the one about the heart inside the heart, which totally grossed me out. I mean who carries around a heart, of like, someone they love?”

She was right. I didn’t understand language and the way it would evoke emotion when one might read or say a word. Much less why writing so incorrectly would ever be appropriate. Phrases held no power; it was only how they might be interpreted by others that gave them any meaning. And who’s to say that what someone wrote would ever be read? And who did e.e. cummings think he was to write so oddly thus making it impossible to understand his work and therefore get me a ‘B-’ on a test?

Although, my stomach turned into a tangle of knots the moment Zoe started this dialogue. I mean our plan was merely to grab something to eat, and watch a movie not divulge our deepest secrets. It was the same feeling I got the first time that I heard ‘Undone (The Sweater Song)’. When I opened my mouth next I put to rest all my preconceived beliefs about a well chosen sentence, the hierarchy of high school, and that the loser never got the girl, because I’d never felt more confident. “We’re not as different as you think, Zoe, about poetry especially. And that’s only one of the reasons you’re the most amazing girl I know.”

Her smile was wider than I’d seen it before and her dark eyes glittered like the night sky. “You really mean that don’t you?”

“I will never lie to you.”

“You know, if I was ready for another boyfriend, it would totally be you.”
Zoe saved me the unending embarrassment of responding like a geek by leaning over the gearshift, and kissing me. It was just long enough for me to get the taste of cotton candy on my lips before the slender fingers of her right hand turned the radio dial. She made a noise I thought might shatter the windows. “Oh I love Christina Aguilera!”

For a moment I contemplated the lengths a man would go to be in the company of a pretty girl, and the possibilities that her acquaintance might entail.

 

Her mouth on mine for the majority of the day seemed well worth listening to a pop star.

 

 

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Uncategorized

First Chapter of ‘Everything That Counts’

CHAPTER 1

AUGUST 2004


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.”

“Why?”

“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?”

“Iraq, still.”

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.”

“What?”

“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.”

“Me too.”

“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.

“Looks good.”

“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?”

“Denver.”

“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.”

“You what?”

“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?”

“Yeah.”

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.”

“For what?”

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?”

“Gwen.”

“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.”

“Cool.”

“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?”

“Zoe.”

“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?”

“Yeah.”

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.

“Blake?”

“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?”

“No.”

“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?”

“Yes.”

“What else happened?”

“Nothing.”

“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?”

“Yeah, Dad?”

“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.”

“What?”

“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.

“Yeah, right.”

“I don’t.”

“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.”

I shrugged.

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.

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Sophie’s 18th Birthday

That particular car ride to St. Margaret’s was longer than I had ever remembered it being, and not just because I had to slow down for an endless stream of trick-or-treaters.
I picked up Sophie first since she lived only a few blocks away from me. It took all my will power not to grin as I walked up the driveway to her front door. Before I knocked I stuck my hand in my coat pocket to double check that the envelope was still in there.
When the door opened I was greeted by a crooked smile. “Hey, Blake.”
“Hey, birthday girl.”
She giggled, the sound as gentle as a butterfly. “Lemme just grab my bag, and we’ll go.”

There was a plastic jack-o-lantern filled with fun sized candy. I wasn’t there a few minutes before the doorbell rang and Sophie’s Dad handed out candy to a princess and a superhero. It reminded me of the first year I met Sophie and we had already become fast friends by her birthday. Chris and David grumbled when our parents told them they were in charge of us, along with Mike, as we ambled throughout the neighborhood. It wasn’t what we wore, or how much candy we got, or how scared Mike was of the creepy clown that seemed to follow us that stuck in my memory. It was how Chris treated Sophie.
He held her hand the entire night, told her that she was the prettiest mermaid he’d ever seen, and although he was joking around with David he made sure that his little sister was safe by always keeping her in his line of sight. I know my brothers love me as much as I love them, but it was obvious that Chris would do anything to protect the sister he loved more than anything. All my life I’d been surrounded by men, but it was my best friends older brother that taught me how to treat a woman. I already knew I wasn’t good enough for Sophie before Chris told me right before he stepped on the bus to basic training.
I could still see the way his face turned to stone as he and his broad shoulders leered at me and said, “Watch out for my sister, make sure any creep keeps his hands off her until I come back to kick their ass. That goes for you too, Blake. Don’t want to have to beat up my best friends little brother.” He ruffled up my hair, and left.
It was the first time anyone articulated my feelings for Sophie, that I wanted more. But even Chris knew I was too much of a loser for her.

As if my thoughts manifested her, and brought me back to the present, she walked toward me. “Let’s go.” Sophie zipped up a dark green jacket.
“Don’t you want your present?”
“You have it right now?”
“Yeah.”
Her eyes traced my entire lanky frame, before she grinned, and said, “Is it you, Blake?”
“No, it’s a million times better than me.” I pulled out the lavender envelope with her name etched in black calligraphy on the front, and handed it to her.
“Doesn’t look like a pony.” She ripped open the top with her fingernail.
“They didn’t have any rainbow colored ones, so this will have to do.”
Her pale fingers glided under the gold embossed letters of the tickets that spelled out ‘The Rockettes’. Before I could ask her if she liked it a squeal erupted from her, and she threw her arms around my neck. Words rushed out of her mouth, “Thank you so very much, Blake, it’s the best gift ever.”
I knew I was supposed to say ‘You’re welcome’, but I couldn’t break from the spell of vanilla that her wavy hair seemed to exuded. My hands burned as they rested on the small of her back which blocked any signals from my brain to the rest of my body. When she unwrapped her arms from my neck she looked up at me. I rested my forehead on hers just long enough to imprint the feeling of her skin on mine, and the way her back muscles tightened against my palm. I took a breath, then stepped back two paces, and exhaled. Slowly.
I was still close enough to count the freckles on her cheeks when I said, “I know you always wanted to see them.”
“How’d you know my parents were going to New York for Thanksgiving?”
“I asked them.”
“This is the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me. You must have spent everything you have! I don’t deserve this, seriously.”
“You deserve everything, Sophie. You’re the best person I know.” I noticed that I’d double knotted my left shoe, but not the right.
She laughed. “You really think that?”
“If I could, I’d shrink the Earth, and put it on a chain, so you could wear it around your neck.”
“Well, if you turn the Earth into a pendant then where will we be?”
My gaze met back with hers as I scoffed. “If I have the ability to decrease the atomic mass of a planet without destroying it, I’m sure I’d have access to a space shuttle.”
“I guess you’re right. Thanks again, it’s really cool that you got these tickets.”
“I thought it as on par with a first edition.”
“Totally, let me just put these up.” She rushed up the stairs to her bedroom which gave me a chance to concentrate on slowing my heart rate. Her forest green boots bounded back to me, and we opened the door just in time to catch the next batch of superheros.
For a second I reached for her hand as we walked down the cracked concrete driveway, but I stopped short. Even if I had just given her a dream present, it just didn’t feel right. I could hear Chris’s voice in my head as if her were behind me, and not in Iraq, yelling ‘Keep your hands off my sister asshole!’. I also dreaded the unending awkwardness between us if she pulled away. I could never touch her, not really, because that could ruin all we had. I could live with us being friends, but I couldn’t live if we were nothing.
That’s why I kept my hands at ten and two once we got into the car.

On the outskirts of the neighborhood we picked up Jasper. He stood at the edge of his paved driveway wearing the white melted mask from the movie Scream. He opened up the passenger door, hopped in, and asked, Sophie, “So, how’s it feel to legally be an adult?”
She rolled her eyes, “Kinda like seventeen did considering I’m talking to someone while they’re wearing a creepy mask.”
He pulled it up so the thin jaw protruded from his forehead like a bill on a cap. “Happy Birthday, Sophie.” Jasper handed her a thin rectangle wrapped in the Sunday comics from the local paper.
“Thanks, but next time, use the crossword.”
“Well, I’d already finished it.”
“How long did it take you?”
“Ten minutes.”
Sophie swung her head until she faced, Jasper. “I swear I’m gonna beat you one day.”
He shook his head. “You can’t be great at everything.”
“I know I’m not, I’m just a little competitive.”
Jasper and I asked in unison, “A little?”
Sophie smirked at both of us, and tore off the paper from her present. She slid the mix CD into player. Aimee Mann’s melancholy voice filled the car.
I sighed, very loudly. “Seriously, man. You gave that to her now?”
Jasper shrugged. “It’s her birthday, aren’t we supposed to do whatever she wants?”
“Exactly!” Sophie playfully punched me, not nearly hard enough to jolt my hands, and turn the wheel. “You guys have to listen to what I want to listen to.” She hit the button and the next track started. I smiled at Jasper in the rear view mirror when Radiohead came on.

A few blocks from the church I made a left and Jasper asked from the backseat, “Where are you going, Blake?”
“Oh, this is where Zoe lives.”
“We’re picking up Zoe Malone?”
“Well, yeah. Thought you knew that.”
Jasper straightened his posture, “No, man. I figured since she lived so close she’d walk.”
Sophie shook her head. “And that’s why you’re single, Jasper. You’d make your girlfriend walk to a date in the cold, and at night.”
“Zoe’s just my friend,” I said. “And that’s why I’m picking her up, just like I picked up you two.”
Jasper took the mask off his head, shoved it under my seat, looked at me through the rear view mirror, and said, “We can’t both be your friends, dude.”
“Why not?”
“Simple. You and I have never made out, so by definition, I can’t be categorized the same as her.”
“Jesus Christ.” I muttered as I pulled into the Malone’s driveway. Only a friend that’s as much of a dork as me would ‘categorize’ our peers based on social mores. The fact that Sophie’s face had turned crimson when Jasper mentioned Zoe and I kissing took up more of my gray matter than I’d expected. I could feel the tension in her body rise, and not in the same way the muscles in her back reacted to my touch. I knew she was anxious. I just didn’t know if it was because of me, or Zoe.
But I chalked it up to girls were weird about other girls. It was like they were constantly ranking themselves based on the company they kept.
I got out and trekked up to her door, but Zoe opened it before I could knock. Her golden hair had been curled into perfect spirals, it reminded me of the shape of D.N.A. Her eyelids were dusted with green glitter, lips a pale pink, and she wore a tight white shirt which made me forget my own name.
“Hey, Blake.” I was glad she reminded me of it.
“Hey.” I heard my voice, but didn’t feel my mouth move.
“So, are we just gonna stand here all night?”
“Oh,” Feeling came back to my extremities. “No, come on.”
When I got back to the car and opened the drivers side door, I saw that Sophie had moved to the backseat with, Jasper. Her arms were folded on her chest, and her eyes refused to meet mine. “Why’d you move?” I asked as I sat down in the driver’s seat.
Sophie shrugged. “I figured Zoe should sit up front.”
Zoe flashed her a smile. “Thanks, and happy birthday, so you’re like nineteen now?”
“No, I’m eighteen.”
“Whoa, how is that? I mean you’re birthday is really late. I mean mine’s in November and I’ll be nineteen. Did you skip a grade or something?”
Sophie nodded. “The fourth grade.”
Zoe’s words were so soft I could barely make them out over Exit Music (For a Film). “Like the fourth grade is really that hard anyway.”
“So, how do you like Annapolis?” Jasper said in a voice deeper in tenor than usual.
“It’s ok, I guess. I mean my Dad said he’d take us sailing, but he’s like, always traveling opening up hotels, and casinos, and stuff.”
Sophie turned to Jasper and said. “Sounds very arduous.”
Zoe nodded at her through the rear view mirror. “I know it is rigorous, all that traveling, is like really hard.”
“That’s not what I said…” Sophie started.
“Yeah, but it means the same thing…” Jasper began.
But, Zoe interrupted them both, “What is this weird music, anyway?”
As her hand reached toward the stereo I said, “It’s Radiohead, one of the best bands ever. They’re up there with The White Stripes and Smashing Pumpkins.”
“Are they like, your favorite band, or something?”
I shook my head, “No.”
Zoe showed me a mouth full of teeth as she smiled. “Who is?”
“Weezer.” Jasper and Sophie said in unison.
“Oh, isn’t that the band with the geek as their lead singer?”
My heart, lungs, and soul were stuck in my throat. “Rivers Cuomo isn’t a geek. I’m a geek, he’s a rockstar.”
Zoe turned back to Jasper and Sophie. “Who’s Rivers Cuomo?”
“He’s the lead singer,” Sophie said.
“Of Blake’s favorite band,” Jasper continued.
Zoe returned her eyes to me. “I just knew him as the guy with the cool glasses.” A long tan finger touched the edge of my frames. “They remind me of yours.”
I know I should have taken it as an insult, since my crush basically called me a nerd, but I chose instead to believe that she called me a rockstar. Thankfully I pulled into the gravel parking lot in front of a single story white church. It’s white steeples reached up into the starlit sky. I didn’t bother locking it considering there wasn’t anything but a graveyard and a scattering of houses amongst acres of green. Besides there were nicer cars to break into than my Mom’s 1996 Ford Taurus.

St. Margaret’s Church had a hospital grade tile floor. A dozen plain glass windows ran along the white concrete walls. I’d never been there on a Sunday, but I didn’t think the cold and impersonal building would make me feel closer to God.
Since it wasn’t a holy day there were two dozen fold out metal chairs in the center of the sanctuary. There was still a crucifix above the stage I assumed the minister used as his pulpit, but the band always played below it, about five feet from the front row. In all the times I’d been there, I’d never seen anyone actually sitting while music was being played. Everyone talked in between sets, or like now, long before the headliners started. The three guys were freshman, and their timing made me believe they’d just learned the song a few days ago.
All the teenagers drank our of blue plastic cups, half of which I knew were spiked with something. David had come home a fair share of nights long past curfew, and wasted, after a night at St. Margaret’s. But as further example of how different I was from my older brother I didn’t follow the same path. I still loved live music, besides we lived in Annapolis, what else was I supposed to do with my free time?
“Hey, Morgan,” Trace said my last name, but I didn’t know why. He’d never spoken to me when I was actually in his house at one of the dozen parties Zoe had taken me to.
I pushed my glasses up the bridge of my nose and when I opened my mouth a stranger spoke. “Yeah?”
“You’re friends with the hot red head, right?” He nodded his angular jaw toward a girl dancing in the crowd.
Granted she looked pretty with her long wavy copper hair, tight aqua colored sweater, and leather boots that reached her knees, but I wouldn’t describe her as ‘hot’. “Her name’s Sophie.”
“She’s not seeing anyone is she?”
I shook my head.
He bit his lip as his eyes lingered on her as if he were peeling of her clothes. The jock ran his hand through the thick bushy long hair that verged on an ’60’s boy band. All the lacrosse players wore their hair the same as if it were part of their uniform. Then again I hadn’t had a haircut in months either. “Cool.”
I don’t know if I asked him because I was looking out for my best friend, like Chris told me, or if I was jealous. “Aren’t you still with, Nina?”
“Nah. I like meeting new people too much.”
In my mind I punched him until his nose bled, and he lay sobbing on the floor. In reality I watched him walk over to Sophie. I didn’t have long to analyze how I felt about the situation before Zoe wrapped her arms around my torso.
“I missed you,” she nibbled on my earlobe. I assumed she did it because she thought I must feel some pleasure from the sensation, but I didn’t. It made me feel as if she were testing me before she decided whether to devour me whole or not. Zoe’s lips fused with mine, which was a sensation I did thoroughly enjoyed, until I heard Trace yell over the blaring music.
“You spilled your drink on her man!” The lacrosse captain pushed the tall dark haired boy. He was on the team too. In fact Joey had shoved me into a locker when we were in seventh grade. It was Sophie who got me out, and was presently covered in a dark liquid I believed to be beer.
“It was just an accident.” Joey raised his hands above his head as if Trace were a cop.
Trace pulled on his flannel shirt so their faces were inches apart. “Apologize to her.”
“I’m sorry.” But, Joey didn’t look in Sophie’s direction.
“Whatever,” she shook her head. “I’m going home.” Sophie walked over to Zoe and me. “Can we go home now, Blake?”
“No we can’t yet, the band hasn’t even played!” Zoe whined still hanging on to me.
Sophie’s glare met with Zoe. “I’m sorry to ruin your night, but I’m covered in beer on my birthday.”
Zoe twirled a lock of hair around her finger. “Your shirt will dry out.”
“Forget it, I’ll call Lilly.” And in a flash my best friend was gone.
I took Zoe’s hand and started toward the door. “I have to take her home.”
“She said she’ll call whoever, Blake.”
I picked up the pace. “If it was the other way around I wouldn’t let you go home alone either.”
“Whatever,” Zoe sighed.
We found Sophie standing in the gravel parking lot as she hung up her phone and dropped it back into her purse.
I came up to the side of her. “Come on, I’ll give you a ride home.”
Sophie shook her head and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Lilly’s five minutes away, I’ll be fine.”
“I’ll wait with you.”
“No, it’s freezing!” Zoe tugged on the sleeve of my jacket.
I looked down at her. “Go back inside where it’s warm, I’ll be back in time to hear the band.”
“OK,” She stood on her tip toes and kissed me before she went back to the safety of the church.
The cold breeze sung in my ears but it couldn’t block out the sound of electric guitars and teenagers cheering.
“You don’t have to wait,” Sophie said.
“Yes I do because something’s wrong,” I said.
“I’m covered in alcohol that I didn’t even have the pleasure of drinking.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about. You’ve been acting weird for weeks.”
Her eyes lingered on mine, “It’s nothing.”
I poked her in the ribs in hopes to alleviate the tension, the action made her face turn orange, as if all her freckles had merged together. “Tell me.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” She pulled her black knit beanie down until it covered most of her face save her lips.
“I’ll get it out of you eventually.”
“It wouldn’t make a difference even if I did tell you.”
“What does that mean?”
A car horn honked as Lilly pulled up alongside the curb. Sophie flipped up the edge of her beanie up and turned to me. “It doesn’t matter because you have a girlfriend.”
I brushed the hair off my forehead. The downward spiral of the conversation was starting to take a much darker turn then I’d expected. “Zoe’s not my girlfriend.”
“You keep telling everyone that as if it makes it true.” She yanked the car door open, “Goodnight, Blake.” Her words became a mist that hung in the air, long after she was gone.

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Lights On The Bay-A scene from ‘Everything That Counts’

Before I fell to deep into despair over Chris’s circumstances we were driving down the narrow brick streets of downtown Annapolis. On each side of us were row-houses. Most were brick, others with wood shutters, and they ranged in color from cardinal red to snow white. You could see large Christmas trees covered in lights in each bay window on the bottom floor, and all the steps leading to the front door were sprinkled with large grains of salt. It didn’t snow often so close to the water, but it always iced. Invisible ‘black’ ice was the worst.
My father parked and we strolled down West Street with a couple dozen other families. The Capital building loomed behind us, the harbor a few blocks ahead of us. The narrow inlet that Kunta Kinte had been brought to was what locals called ‘Ego Alley’ because only people with the nicest boats sail by in essentially a three point turn, just to show off to the entire town.
Tonight the sailors would have a parade of sorts. Their rigs would be outfitted with Christmas lights, and they’d take them across the entire harbor making sure to make a pass through downtown. The displays were innovative: glittering snow flakes forming the outline of the sails, the Grinch climbing up and down the mast with a full sack of presents, gingerbread men doing cartwheels on the deck, and purple lights strung across the entire boat that met at point starboard forming the beak of a raven.
I found it odd how much Maryland used Edgar Allen Poe as the state mascot, when his only connection was to have the misfortune of dying here.
I thought about that until I gazed out onto the sparkling lights from the next boat. The smell of the water, the frozen breeze that whipped my cheeks, and a starry night above me made me feel at ease. Being in nature made me feel at home, at least until I got hungry.
Through the crowd Lilly and Sophie maneuvered their way on the wooden dock towards my brothers and I. She and Lilly seemed deep in conversation but Sophie still threw a glance our way. I took a deep breath and reminded myself to play it cool, didn’t want to let on that I’d stayed up all night polishing a music box. Especially since saying the words aloud would only give my brothers more gasoline to the fire that was their unending torment of me. As Sophie’s face caught the light I realized that my creation could never be anywhere near her beauty.
David wrapped his arms around my best friend before I could say a word to her. “I hear you’re gonna be dancing at the Kennedy Center!”
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” Sophie said. The girls looked as if they’d just come from rehearsal for Swan Lake. Their faces were perfectly made up with a line of black above their eyes and bright red lips, hair wrapped in a tight bun on top of their heads.
“You’ll have to do the Nutcracker next year so I can get off school and see it.”
“This is probably gonna be my last year, David.”
“Why?”
“Because,” I said. “She’s attending Johns Hopkins next year, duh.”
“Chris always said you were ten times smarter than this dummy here.” David punched me in the arm, and I hated to admit that it hurt. “And just like him I’ll make time away from school so I can interrogate any creep that thinks he’s good enough to date you.”
Sophie rolled her eyes, “Well you won’t miss much school since I haven’t been asked out by anyone. Ever.”
Lilly grinned. “There is Trace.”
My heart stopped beating, and an overpowering need to clean my room took up all the free space in my brain.
“He’s not my boyfriend, Lilly,” Sophie said.
“So what? He’s just been IMing you every night, and says he needs a” Lilly made quotation marks in the air with her fingers, “‘study buddy’ in order to keep his full ride at Penn State.”
I threw up in my mouth a little when I realized that Trace Allen had been accepted to Penn State when he hadn’t read anything more advanced than Cliff Notes.
Sophie shoved Lilly in the ribs. “He’s having trouble in Algebra!”
“Probably because I’m in Calculus and he can’t cheat off me anymore,” I muttered. Sophie shot me a look of disdain.
“Is this guy Gracie’s little brother?” David asked.
“You should know, you took her to Prom,” Mike said.
“Oh, yeah, the blonde, right?”
“No,” I said. “She’s a brunette you idiot.”
“That’s why I want to meet any guy you wanna date, Sophie. Can’t be dating players like me.” David ran his hand through his long wavy brown hair and I noticed a few girls in the crowd began to drool.
“I’m telling you, David. There’s no one.”
Mike chuckled. “I would have thought you’d get a boyfriend before this freak got a girlfriend. Especially one as hot as Zoe Malone.”
“It just doesn’t make sense, you know, Sophie? I mean you’re pretty, and Blake is a total dipshit,” David said.
My jaw was clenched so tight I didn’t know how words came out of my mouth, much less why I chose them. “Zoe’s not my girlfriend.”
“Well you obviously haven’t slept with her because she’d dump you after the worst thirty seconds of her life.” David laughed and Mike high fived him. Lilly giggled and Sophie turned beet red before she looked down at her shoes.
I turned to my older brother, “You’re the biggest as…” I growled.
My mother joined the group and interrupted me. “Lilly will you take a picture of us please?” She nodded and took the camera from my Mom. When Sophie stepped away from us Mom pulled her back and said, “No, stay here, you’re a part of our family too.” She positioned her in-between Mike and me.
Even though rage was still surging through my body, when the tips of my fingers brushed the cuff of her gloves, I wanted to hold her hand. I pictured weaving my fingers with hers as we walked back to our parents cars, and we wouldn’t have to say anything to each other. Simply exist.
Instead I spent the rest of the night sulking.

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The end of Chapter 3-October from ‘Everything That Counts’

That particular car ride to St. Margaret’s was longer than I had ever remembered it being, and not just because I had to slow down for an endless stream of trick-or-treaters.
I picked up Sophie first since she lived only a few blocks away from me. It took all my will power not to grin as I walked up the driveway to her front door. Before I knocked I stuck my hand in my coat pocket to double check that the envelope was still in there.
When the door opened I was greeted by a crooked smile. “Hey, Blake.”
“Hey, birthday girl.”
She giggled, the sound as gentle as a butterfly. “Lemme just grab my bag, and we’ll go.”
There was a plastic jack-o-lantern filled with fun sized candy. I wasn’t there a few minutes before the doorbell rang and Sophie’s Dad handed out candy to a princess and a superhero. It reminded me of the first year I met Sophie and we had already become fast friends by her birthday. Chris and David grumbled when our parents told them they were in charge of us, along with Mike, as we ambled throughout the neighborhood. It wasn’t what we wore, or how much candy we got, or how scared Mike was of the creepy clown that seemed to follow us that stuck in my memory. It was how Chris treated Sophie.
He held her hand the entire night, told her that she was the prettiest mermaid he’d ever seen, and although he was joking around with David he made sure that his little sister was safe by always keeping her in his line of sight. I know my brothers love me as much as I love them, but it was obvious that Chris would do anything to protect the sister he loved more than anything. All my life I’d been surrounded by men, but it was my best friends older brother that taught me how to treat a woman.
“Let’s go.” Sophie zipped up a dark green jacket.
“Don’t you want your present?”
“You have it right now?”
“Yeah.”
Her eyes traced my entire lanky frame, before she grinned, and said, “Is it you, Blake?”
“No, it’s a million times better than me.” I pulled out the lavender envelope with her name etched in black calligraphy on the front, and handed it to her.
“Doesn’t look like a pony.” She ripped open the top with her fingernail.
“They didn’t have any rainbow colored ones, so this will have to do.”
Her pale fingers glided under the gold embossed letters of the tickets that spelled out ‘The Rockettes’. Before I could ask her if she liked it a squeal erupted from her, and she threw her arms around my neck. Words rushed out of her mouth, “Thank you so very much, Blake, it’s the best gift ever.”
I knew I was supposed to say ‘You’re welcome’, but I couldn’t break from the spell of vanilla that her wavy hair seemed to exuded. My hands burned as they rested on the small of her back which blocked any signals from my brain to the rest of my body. When she unwrapped her arms from my neck she looked up at me. I rested my forehead on hers just long enough to imprint the feeling of her skin on mine, and the way her back muscles tightened against my palm. I took a breath, then stepped back two paces, and exhaled. Slowly.
I was still close enough to count the freckles on her cheeks when I said, “I know you always wanted to see them.”
“How’d you know my parents were going to New York for Thanksgiving?”
“I asked them.”
“This is the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me. You must have spent everything you have! I don’t deserve this, seriously.”
“You deserve everything, Sophie. You’re the best person I know.” I noticed that I’d double knotted my left shoe, but not the right.
She laughed. “You really think that?”
“If I could, I’d shrink the Earth, and put it on a chain, so you could wear it around your neck.”
“Well, if you turn the Earth into a pendant then where will we be?”
My gaze met back with hers as I scoffed. “If I have the ability to decrease the atomic mass of a planet without destroying it, I’m sure I’d have access to a space shuttle.”
“I guess you’re right. Thanks again, it’s really cool that you got these tickets.”
“I thought it as on par with a first edition.”
“Totally, let me just put these up.” She rushed up the stairs to her bedroom which gave me a chance to concentrate on steading my heart rate. Her forest green boots bounded back to me, and opened the door just in time to catch the next batch of superheros.
For a second I reached for her hand as we walked down the cracked concrete driveway, but I stopped short. Even if I had just given her a dream present, it just didn’t feel right. I could hear Chris’s voice in my head as if her were behind me, and not in Iraq, yelling ‘Keep your hands off my sister!’. I also dreaded the unending awkwardness between us if she pulled away. I could never touch her, not really, because that could ruin all we had. I could live with us being friends, but I couldn’t live if we were nothing.
That’s why I kept my hands at ten and two once we got into the car.
On the outskirts of the neighborhood we picked up Jasper. He stood at the edge of his paved driveway wearing the white melted mask from the movie Scream. He opened up the passenger door, hopped in, and asked, Sophie, “So, how’s it feel to legally be an adult?”
She rolled her eyes, “Kinda like seventeen did considering I’m talking to someone while they’re wearing a creepy mask.”
He pulled it up so the thin jaw protruded from his forehead like a bill on a cap. “Happy Birthday, Sophie.” Jasper handed her a thin rectangle wrapped in the Sunday comics from the local paper.
“Thanks, but next time, use the crossword.”
“Well, I’d already finished it.”
“How long did it take you?”
“Ten minutes.”
Sophie swung her head until she faced, Jasper. “I swear I’m gonna beat you one day.”
He shook his head. “You can’t be great at everything.”
“I know I’m not, I’m just a little competitive.”
Jasper and I asked in unison, “A little?”
Sophie smirked at both of us, and tore off the paper from her present. She slid the mix CD into player. Aimee Mann’s melancholy voice filled the car.
I sighed, very loudly. “Seriously, man. You gave that to her now?”
Jasper shrugged. “It’s her birthday, aren’t we supposed to do whatever she wants.”
“Exactly!” Sophie playfully punched me, not nearly hard enough to jolt my hands, and turn the wheel. “You guys have to listen to what I want to listen to.” She hit the button and the next track started. I smiled at Jasper in the rear view mirror when Radiohead came on.

A few blocks from the church I made a left and Jasper asked from the backseat, “Where are you going, Blake?”
“Oh, this is where Zoe lives.”
“We’re picking up Zoe Malone?”
“Well, yeah. Thought you knew that.”
Jasper straightened his posture, “No, man. I figured since she lived so close she’d walk.”
Sophie shook her head. “And that’s why you’re single, Jasper. You’d make your girlfriend walk to a date in the cold, and at night.”
“Zoe’s just my friend,” I said. “And that’s why I’m picking her up, just like I picked up you two.”
Jasper took the mask off his head, shoved it under my seat, looked at me through the rear view mirror, and said, “We can’t both be your friends, dude.”
“Why not?”
“Simple. You and I have never made out, so by definition, I can’t be categorized the same as her.”
“Jesus Christ.” I muttered as I pulled into the Malone’s driveway. Only a friend that’s as much of a dork as me would ‘categorize’ our peers based on social mores. The fact that Sophie’s face had turned crimson when Jasper mentioned Zoe and I kissing took up more of my gray matter than I’d expected. I could feel the tension in her body rise, and not in the same way the muscles in her back reacted to my touch. I knew she was anxious. I just didn’t know if it was because of me, or Zoe.
But I chalked it up to girls were weird about other girls. It was like they were constantly ranking themselves based on the company they kept.
I got out and trekked up to her door, but Zoe opened it before I could knock. Her golden hair had been curled into perfect spirals, it reminded me of the shape of D.N.A. She wore a tight white shirt which made me forget my own name.
“Hey, Blake.” I was glad she reminded me of it.
“Hey.” I heard my voice, but didn’t feel my mouth move.
“So, are we just gonna stand here all night?”
“Oh,” Feeling came back to my extremities. “No, come on.”
When I got back to the car and opened the drivers side door, I saw that Sophie had moved to the backseat with, Jasper. Her arms were folded on her chest, and her eyes refused to meet mine. “Why’d you move?” I asked as I sat down in the driver’s seat.
Sophie shrugged. “I figured Zoe should sit up front.”
Zoe flashed her a smile. “Thanks, and happy birthday, so you’re like nineteen now?”
“No, I’m eighteen.”
“Whoa, how is that? I mean you’re birthday is really late. I mean mine’s in November and I’ll be nineteen. Did you skip a grade or something?”
Sophie nodded. “The fourth grade.”
Zoe’s words were so soft I could barely make them out over Exit Music (For a Film). “Like the fourth grade is really that hard anyway.”
“So, how do you like Annapolis?” Jasper said in a voice deeper in tenor than usual.
“It’s ok, I guess. I mean my Dad said he’d take us sailing, but he’s like, always traveling opening up hotels, and casinos, and stuff.”
Sophie turned to Jasper and said. “Sounds very arduous.”
Zoe nodded at her through the rear view mirror. “I know it is rigorous, all that traveling, is like really hard.”
“That’s not what I said…” Sophie started.
“Yeah, but it means the same thing…” Jasper began.
But, Zoe interrupted them both, “What is this weird music, anyway?”
As her hand reached toward the stereo I said, “It’s Radiohead, one of the best bands ever. They’re up there with The White Stripes and Smashing Pumpkins.”
“Are they like, your favorite band, or something?”
I shook my head, “No.”
Zoe showed me a mouth full of teeth as she smiled. “Who is?”
“Weezer.” Jasper and Sophie said in unison.
“Oh, isn’t that the band with the geek as their lead singer?”
My heart, lungs, and soul were stuck in my throat. “Rivers Cuomo isn’t a geek. I’m a geek, he’s a rockstar.”
Zoe turned back to Jasper and Sophie. “Who’s Rivers Cuomo?”
“He’s the lead singer,” Sophie said.
“Of Blake’s favorite band,” Jasper continued.
Zoe returned her eyes to me. “I just knew him as the guy with the cool glasses.” A long tan finger touched the edge of my frames. “They remind me of yours.”
I know I should have taken it as an insult, since my crush basically called me a nerd, but I chose instead to believe that she called me a rockstar. Thankfully I pulled into the gravel parking lot in front of a single story white church. It’s white steeples reached up into the starlit sky. I didn’t bother locking it considering there wasn’t anything but a graveyard and a scattering of houses amongst acres of green. Besides there were nicer cars to break into than my Mom’s 1996 Ford Taurus.

St. Margaret’s Church had a hospital grade tile floor. A dozen plain glass windows ran along the white concrete walls. I’d never been there on a Sunday, but I didn’t think the cold and impersonal building would make me feel closer to God.
Since it wasn’t a holy day there were two dozen fold out metal chairs in the center of the sanctuary. There was still a crucifix above the stage I assumed the minister used as his pulpit, but the band always played below it, about five feet from the front row. In all the times I’d been there, I’d never seen anyone actually sitting while music was being played. Everyone talked only in between sets, or like now, long before the headliners had started. The three guys were freshman, and their timing made me believe they’d just learned the song a few days ago.
All the teenagers drank our of blue plastic cups, half of which I knew were spiked with something. David had come home a fair share of nights long past curfew, and wasted, after a night at St. Margaret’s. But as further example of how different I was from my older brother I didn’t follow the same path. I still loved live music, besides we lived in Annapolis, what else was I supposed to do with my free time?
“Hey, Morgan,” Trace said my last name, but I didn’t know why. He’d never spoken to me when I was actually in his house at one of the dozen parties Zoe had taken me to.
I pushed my glasses up the bridge of my nose and when I opened my mouth a stranger spoke. “Yeah?”
“You’re friends with the hot red head, right?” He nodded his angular jaw toward a girl dancing in the crowd.
Granted she looked pretty with her long wavy copper hair, tight aqua colored sweater, and leather boots that reached her knees, but I wouldn’t describe her as ‘hot’. “Her name’s Sophie.”
“She’s not seeing anyone is she?”
I shook my head.
He bit his lip as his eyes lingered on her as if he were peeling of her clothes. The jock ran his hand through the thick bushy long hair that verged on an afro. All the lacrosse players wore their hair the same as if it were part of their uniform. Then again I hadn’t had a haircut in months either. “Cool.”
I don’t know if I asked him because I was looking out for my best friend or if I was jealous. “Aren’t you still with, Nina?”
“Nah. I like meeting new people too much.”
In my mind I punched him until his nose bled, and he lay sobbing on the floor. In reality I watched him walk over to Sophie. I didn’t have long to analyze how I felt about the situation before Zoe wrapped her arms around my torso.
“I missed you,” she nibbled on my earlobe. I assumed she did it because she thought I must feel some pleasure from the sensation, but I didn’t. It made me feel as if she were testing me before she decided whether to devour me whole or not. Zoe’s lips fused with mine, which was a sensation I throughly enjoyed, until I heard Trace yell over the blaring music.
“You spilled your drink on her man!” The lacrosse captain pushed the tall dark haired boy. He was on the team too. In fact John had shoved me into a locker when we were in seventh grade. It was Sophie who got me out, and was presently covered in a dark liquid I believed to be beer.
“It was just an accident.” John raised his hands above his head as if Trace were a cop.
Trace pulled on his flannel shirt so their faces were inches apart. “Apologize to her.”
“I’m sorry.” But, John didn’t look in Sophie’s direction.
“Whatever,” she shook her head. “I’m going home.” Sophie walked over to Zoe and me. “Can we go home now, Blake?”
“No we can’t yet, the band hasn’t even played!” Zoe whined still hanging on to me.
Sophie’s glare met with Zoe. “I’m sorry to ruin your night, but I’m covered in beer on my birthday.”
Zoe twirled a lock of hair around her finger. “Your shirt will dry out.”
“Forget it, I’ll take a taxi.” And in a flash my best friend was gone.
I took Zoe’s hand and started toward the door. “I have to take her home.”
“She said she’ll get a cab, Blake.”
I picked up the pace. “If it was the other way around I wouldn’t let you go home alone either.”
“Whatever,” Zoe sighed.
We found Sophie standing in the gravel parking lot as she hung up her phone and dropped it back into her purse.
I came up to the side of her. “Come on, I’ll give you a ride home.”
Sophie shook her head and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Lilly’s five minutes away, I’ll be fine.”
“I’ll wait with you.”
“No, it’s freezing!” Zoe tugged on the sleeve of my jacket.
I looked down at her. “Go back inside where it’s warm, I’ll be back in time to hear the band.”
“OK,” She stood on her tip toes and kissed me before she went back to the safety of the church.
The cold breeze sung in my ears but it couldn’t block out the sound of electric guitars and teenagers cheering.
“You don’t have to wait,” Sophie said.
“Yes I do because something’s wrong,” I said.
“I’m covered in alcohol that I didn’t even have the pleasure of drinking.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about. You’ve been acting weird for weeks.”
Her eyes lingered on mine, “It’s nothing.”
I poked her in the ribs in hopes to alleviate the tension, the action made her face turn neon, as if all her freckles had merged together.. “Tell me.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” She pulled her black knit beanie down until it covered most of her face save her lips.
“I’ll get it out of you eventually.”
“It wouldn’t make a difference even if I did tell you.”
“What does that mean?”
A car horn honked as Lilly pulled up alongside the curb. Sophie flipped up the edge of her beanie up and turned to me. “It doesn’t matter because you have a girlfriend.”
I brushed the hair off my forehead. The forward momentum of the conversation was starting to take a much darker turn then I’d expected. “Zoe’s not my girlfriend.”
“You keep telling everyone that as if it makes it true.” She yanked the car door open, “Goodnight, Blake.” Her words became a mist that hung in the air, long after she was gone.
What I didn’t understand was why she moved to the backseat when we picked up Zoe? Wouldn’t she want to sit next to me if she really did want to be more than a friend?

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Blake Morgan’s First Kiss

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 broil 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.”
“What?”
“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.
“Uh!  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.
“Yeah, right.”
“I don’t.”
“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.”
I shrugged.
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 fair 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.