I kissed a girl today.
The afternoon had gone, more or less, like any other summer day except for the fact that I kissed Missy Taylor for the first time. Well, actually she kissed me, but I guess I should start from the beginning; Mr. Thomas, my fourth-grade writing teacher says it’s best to write that way.
August was sweltering, so after lunch, Bobby, Little Pete, and me went swimming. We don’t know why Little Pete makes us call him that, seeing as he’s bigger than Bobby and me put together. He said that’s what we’re to call him. He said he’d sit on us otherwise. I saw him sit on Matthew Perrywinkle once, made Matthew pee his pants. Matthew had to leave school early, and all the little kids laughed at him. So when Little Pete said to call him that, we obliged him.
Anyways, we trooped down to the swimming hole, and like I said, it was hot. Bobby liked to say it was “righteous hot.” Said he’d heard some of the middle school guys calling it that. Bobby always likes to act older. I think it’s because he’s the smallest. He actually wears hand-me-downs from his little brother who’s two inches taller than he is. If I was smaller than my little brother, I’d probably try to act real smart too. But I don’t have to worry about that because I don’t have no brothers. I got a little sister, but she don’t count.
By the time we got near the creek, we were all cranky. A deer fly had been tailing Bobby ever since we got in the woods , and all his attempts to out-maneuver it had failed miserably. Little Pete and me laughed while he laid about him with a stick and abused every adult word he could think of. The fly kept after him.
“I’m agonna kill it!”
“You’re gonna put your eye out is what you’re gonna do.” Little Pete caught the stick mid-swing and yanked it away from Bobby. Bobby lost his balance, tripped on a vine, and tumbled into the undergrowth. Two more flies joined the attack.
“‘s what you get for takin’ a bath,” Little Pete sniffed. He had—what he liked to call—a “gener’l dislike” for bath water.
“You jus’ hate baths ’cause you can’t swim!” hollered Bobby. I instinctively took a side-step, anticipating a round-house swing from Little Pete. After Little Pete failed the beginner “Doggie Paddle Class for Children,” it was understood that his affinity for swimming was not to be mentioned.
“Can too!” Little Pete roared. “I jus’ hate the water.” He chucked the stick at Bobby who dodged and returned fire with a dirt clod. Both missed.
“Y’all shut up.” A momentary cease-fire descended on the woods as they crawled through the bushes to where I’d poked my head out over the swimming hole. Below me, two girls were swimming. Hearing us, they looked up. Little Pete turned green, and somersaulted backwards with a groan.
The two girls were Missy Taylor and Francine O’Toole. Francine was Matthew Perrywinkle’s cousin, she was big enough to sit on Little Pete, and after the incident with Matthew, that’s exactly what she had done. At least, that’s what Little Pete told us she did. Bobby and me still couldn’t figure out how you get a bloody nose from being sat on. Little Pete said not to ask questions.
Missy waved at Bobby and me. “Hey, Bobby. Hey, Cal.” We waved back.
Francine executed a perfect dive, then breached gracefully. Moby Dick would’ve been proud. She blew water out of her nose. “Did I see Pete up there with you?”
“It’s ‘Little Pete,’” corrected Bobby. He thought Francine was beautiful. He talked about her to me sometimes when Little Pete wasn’t around. I’d heard enough from the high schoolers to gather what went on between boys and girls, and when I looked at Bobby, the sheer logistics of such a relationship boggled my mind.
Francine hollered up at us again. “I’ll call him whatever I darn well want, unless he wants to come down here and fight me.” She flexed a set of arms that would’ve made a circus performer proud. I looked over my shoulder. Little Pete didn’t look up to the challenge. In fact, from what I could make of him tumbling back through the bushes, it didn’t look like we’d be seeing him for the rest of the day.
“Think he got sick,” sniggered Bobby. “C’mon.” He punched me in the arm, and we slid down the bank and joined the girls.
The sun was getting low in the trees, painting the forest in a murky half-light when we decided to head home. Francine hopped out of the water; the easy way she moved was disconcerting. Bobby scrambled after her while I turned and helped Missy up the bank.
“I’ll walk you home, Francine.” Bobby extended an arm. Francine looked at him crosswise and leaned on his head while she adjusted the strap on her sandal.
“You gon’ be okay, Missy?” Francine was glaring at me.
“I’ll be fine,” Missy smiled and hooked an arm through mine. It was suddenly very hot.
Francine raised an eyebrow, “You don’ talk much, do ya, Cal.”
I shrugged. Bobby attempted his best grown up voice, “Cal’s a thinker. He don’ have to talk much.” His voice cracked.
Francine snorted, then hocked and spit with practiced ease. Bobby eyed her with admiration and spit as well. It dribbled down his chin. He wiped it with his shirt before Francine spun and plowed into the underbrush. Bobby tore after her, a canoe in the wake of a paddle boat.
“So you gonna walk me home?” Missy still held my arm. I nodded and looked down—my feet had suddenly become very interesting. “I think you’re cute, Cal.”
“Thanks,” I muttered. When I looked up, she was standing directly in front of me. I hadn’t ever noticed how tall she was. I was looking straight into her eyes, except she wasn’t looking at my eyes. She was looking at my nose, wait, no, she was looking at my li….
And then I felt her face on mine. At first, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. For one moment, I wished I’d had an older brother to coach me through how these things went: like, what do you do with your hands, and are you supposed to shut your eyes, and dangit my nose was getting all kinds of in the way. And the next moment, it all made sense. Her lips on mine, mine on hers, our young bodies—not even aware of our sexuality—pressed together curiously, wonderingly.
I realized that I’d been holding my breath when I finally pulled away and exhaled, still a bit shocked by what had happened. Missy smiled at me. “You’re a good kisser.” I felt my cheeks flush in response. “Think you’ll come out here and swim again?”
I sensed a deeper question than my young mind was ready to unravel but felt my head nodding before I gave it permission. I reached out and took her hand, my body completely on autopilot.
“Good.” She smiled again. “Walk me home?”
I held her hand the whole way.