After dinner, Rob and I headed down the same path that Courtney and I had taken the night before; we walked across the green grass, past the old tree house, and into the quiet woods. There was a low hum of crickets and the sound of our feet crunching on fallen leaves, and for most of the way, neither of us spoke. Still, I knew something was on his mind by the way he raked his fingers through his hair, and each time he did so, his hair returned to the same exact spot.
“It sure is hot,” he offered eventually. (Surely, he had not been contemplating the weather for the last five minutes.) “But next year will be nice. With the change of seasons and all.”
“Uh-huh,” I muttered flatly.
“Like the leaves in the fall and the cherry blossoms in the spring,” he added, but I said nothing more. The trivial talk of weather turned into the subject of next year, and even though Rob and I were the same age, he was a year ahead of me in school. He had skipped the third grade and was in the waning weeks of his senior year. In the fall, he was off to Georgetown University, and considering the school was up in Washington D.C., it didn’t take a psychic to figure out how it would affect our friendship. And I knew it was wrong of me, but I never wanted to discuss his college plans. Sure, I was happy for him, just not outwardly excited, since the thought of next year caused a sudden hollowing in my stomach every time he broached it.
I changed the subject. “I’m glad Josh is taking Courtney to prom, aren’t you?”
“Anyone is an improvement over Ricky, but I wouldn’t say I’m happy about it.”
“She’s not right for him.”
“You mean not good enough.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Then what are you saying?”
“Nothing.” He looked down the path. “I just know how Josh feels about her, and I don’t want him to get hurt.”
“Oh.” His sincerity silenced me quickly.
“She was the first girl he ever kissed,” he added after a long pause.
“And some people are weird about that stuff.”
“No,” he returned emphatically.
“Yeah, me neither.”
Then I considered our stories for a moment as we walked along the path. His first kiss was with Kelly Winters, a girl who lived in a neighborhood next to ours. I can still remember her face, round and lightly freckled and eyes the color of wheat, and when she moved away, she sent him mushy love letters on Hello Kitty stationery.
My first kiss, however, was with a boy I see all the time. I dated Callie’s brother Landon after my growth spurt in seventh grade. He liked my long legs, but not my crappy jump shot. And I still think we broke up over my lack of skill on the court, but he said it was reverse height discrimination. Apparently, I told him that he was too tall to kiss and that I didn’t feel like searching for tree stumps or step ladders every time we parted ways.
“You know everybody thinks you were the first boy I kissed,” I broached casually but with an intended goal in mind.
“You know what I’m saying, Rob.” I was thinking about the picture in the stairwell and the countless pages in my scrapbook when I continued, “There are some really cute stories about us.”
And to that, he added nothing to the conversation.
“You ever think about those days?” I paused and flicked my head in the direction we had just traveled. “Like the time up in the tree house when we almost…” I purposefully let my voice linger and glanced over at him.
He shrugged, and my mind drifted to a summer long ago—it’s long when you’re only sixteen…
Back then, Rob and I roamed the neighborhood, wasting days with soccer games in the yard and Marco Polo in the pool. But one afternoon, we snuck away from the neighborhood gang, and with muddy feet and wet swimsuits, we climbed into the tree house all by ourselves…
I interrupted my own thoughts. “You honestly don’t remember?”
He shrugged again.
“You can recite sports statistics like a walking ESPN almanac, but you have no recollection of anything romantic.” I wondered about the last word, but my internal Thesaurus wasn’t offering any other suggestions.
“Romantic?” he repeated, finally joining the one-sided conversation already in progress. “You need to stop reading Bronte and Austen. They’re clouding your judgment.”
I was on the defensive. “It is romantic, because you were my first boyfriend.”
He countered quickly, “Chlo, we were little kids, and we played doctor until our parents caught us, and you went around topless just because I could. That’s not a relationship. It’s what kids do because they don’t know any better.”
“So, you were that way with other girls?”
“No, you were too possessive, and you got jealous if I hung out with anyone else.” A smile spread into his eyes. “And sometimes, you still do.”
“Oh, you’re so full of yourself.” I stopped and stared at him until his smirk faded. “And to think I was gonna’ tell you the truth after all these years.”
His voice softened. “The truth about what?”
“About why we never kissed.”
“Listen, it doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.” His smile appeared again, contagious actually, and that was the way it had been so many summers ago…
We were smiling and laughing uncontrollably, our expressions feeding each other. Very slowly, he reached across and held my tiny hand in his. He held it very lightly and sweetly, then whispered, “May I kiss you?” I said nothing as his lips neared mine. I watched his soft brown eyes close and his face move toward me, distorting his familiar features into obscurity, and as inches separated our lips, I yanked my hand from his and turned my head swiftly to the side…
“Do you want me to tell you or not?”
“Why not,” he deadpanned.
“Okay.” I looked at the grass and mumbled the reason like I had ingested truth serum. “I thought I could get pregnant.”
“You heard me.” Then I defended my childhood self. “And I was upset at you for trying to kiss me. I wasn’t trying to be mean or anything, but I wasn’t prepared to have a baby at six.”
“That’s pretty funny. Of course, it would have been even funnier if it had happened to someone besides me.”
“I wasn’t trying to hurt you, Rob. I was just trying to be responsible.”
He smiled. “So I’m assuming you’ve heard about the birds and bees by now.” He teased with a mocking glance, and my eyes narrowed back at him. “You’ve kissed lots of guys since then, and you don’t have a house full of mutant children.”
“Funny.” I said as I turned toward my house.
“Hey.” His hand rested on my shoulder. “You ever wonder what it would have been like?”
“That first kiss.”
Yes was the truth, but I turned and gave him a different answer. “It would have felt like kissing your sister.”
“Maybe,” he started. “But there’s only one way to find out.” He stepped toward me, cupping his hands on my shoulders. I looked up at him, and he smiled down at me. Then he leaned forward and placed a kiss on my forehead. It was soft and warm and completely fraternal. “Goodnight, Chlo.”