Shhh...Can you keep a secret? You have to sit really close for this one. There are parts that I'll only be able to tell you with my hand cupped around my mouth as I whisper them into your ear. I might giggle a little. For sure I'm going to blush. Because I'm about to kiss-and-tell. I'm going to tell you what happened the first time I opened my heart to loving a boy.
The one who changed everything.
14 years old
That’s his name, and I don’t spend the reception of that funeral twiddling my thumbs in the corner or forcing myself to stick to the classics of appropriate chitchat. Instead, I spend it discussing different kinds of classics—namely the literary ones and others of film and TV. We talk about music and theater and art and travel and writing and school and the fact that he knows how The Chocolate War ends and he’s curious about what I will think of it. He’s an independent thinker as passionate and talkative as I am when I feel like someone truly wants to hear what I have to say.
And does he ever.
That’s a novel experience for me.
I even tell him that I’ve started writing a novel, and I tell him what it’s about.
At most sedate social events packed with strangers, I watch my parents like a hawk, jumping up the second they breathe the merest word about getting ready to leave. Not today. The hours pass more quickly than I'd like them to.
Numerous gray-haired strangers cast us the hairy eyeball, and my aunt gives me the Stern Sarge glower. Jonathan and I share a cringing grin. "Jeez," I murmur, "we really shouldn't be talking like this here."
"I know," he says. "We should probably just exchange phone numbers and continue this after we've gotten home."
I nod. We should.
But we don't.
When his gaze shifts to take in who’s standing over my shoulder, I see that Mom and Dad are watching us, curious and not entirely approving either.
I cast them a look like, “I know I’m not supposed to be smiling like this at a funeral and you have no idea how hard we're trying to keep things subdued but…”
But for once, I don’t feel like I have to wear a choke-chain and a muzzle to stave off the huge eyes and the swift backing away from The Freak. On the contrary, this elegant, eloquent boy with the engaging eyes and the reckless hair keeps leaning closer. He eggs me on, encouraging me to tell him more, to go deeper, to consider things I’ve never thought of before.
Jonathan and I don’t spar.
We dance. Hard.
Conveniently (thankfully!), we’re not blood-related. He’s some sort of non-immediate cousin to my cousins on the side of my dad’s brother-in-law. Jonathan has already introduced me to his mother and sister; I introduce him to my parents. He stands up and shakes their hands. There’s a moment of extra bonus when my dad learns that this well-spoken, respectful young man goes to school at his alma mater. I hold my breath when they learn that Jonathan is a junior. And when they notice the ruby stud in his left ear.
They let me give him my phone number anyway.
He calls me the next day.
And the next day, and the next and every day thereafter. I don’t feel the need to sneak the roam-phone from their bedroom anymore. Instead, I answer his calls in the living room and openly switch to my room. But not always. There are many times that I feel perfectly comfortable talking to him right there in the dark kitchen as Mom and Dad watch TV in the next room. We get together for lunch with our moms at the mall, and he makes the forty-five minute drive out to my house for dinner. I love seeing how easily he converses with my parents.
I love how easily he conversed with me even more.
For our first official date out alone, he takes me to the Winter Dance at my school. Ohhhh, the looks on the faces of Queenie, Princess, and the whole Court when I show up on the arm of this tall, adventurous junior with a pierced ear and hair like their favorite bassist. He wears a brown leather jacket that matches his boots, a bold, purple shirt, and a pair of black, acid-washed jeans that show off every inch of his perfect physique.
Their flocking around us stuns me. They want to be introduced to him, want to know who he is and how we met, how he has come to be in our midst, this older, sophisticated boy from the big city.
And what is he doing with ME?
They don’t say it, but I know them well enough to see the flabbergasted gawking for what it is. They dole out elbow jabs and winks usually reserved for each other. During slow dances, they give me huge grins and thumbs-up behind his back.
The boys from my school say nothing to him, and that tells me everything.
Right there in the center of the darkened gymnasium, under the soft glow of the muted stage lighting and the spinning disco ball, Jonathan Marshall takes my face in his hands and kisses me like a young man kisses a young woman that he is absolutely smitten with. He is strong and confident, practiced and patient, drawing me in. Drawing me right up to him and then pausing to inhale, to feel into me before letting me edge that millimeter closer in my unhesitant, unmistakeable YES before he sweeps me deeper.
During our last dance of the night, his left hand comes around the back of my head while his right tips my chin ever so slightly higher. His grip intensifies. So does his kiss, and when he slips his tongue between my lips, I open to him like the peonies to the sun.
It’s been sixteen excruciating days since I saw Jonathan. And another week since he kissed me on the dance floor. Lying on my bed, I crush my pillow against my face to muffle my squealing giggles as I kick the heels of my slippers in uncontainable delight. My first French kiss! Right there in almost the same spot that Steven had arranged for Suzy to cut in on the only dance I ever shared with him. Such a miserable, mean-spirited little boy, and such a miserable, spiteful little girl.
I am so at ease, so overflowing with joy that I can’t even care about that anymore. None of it, and something strange has happened at school since the dance. The popular girls no longer torment me in the locker room or the hallways. Occasionally, they ask me about Jonathan, or even about normal stuff. The boys still don’t really speak to me, but they give me a wide berth, like they know they had better watch themselves around me.
Jonathan isn’t combative. He isn’t a hothead, but I have no doubt he could--and would--kick any of their butts if they ever laid a finger on me again.
I let him lay a finger on me. Just one.
He came over for dinner again, and Mom and Dad let us watch Monty Python’s Meaning of Life in the TV room. They didn’t let us close the door, but they left us alone. We sat so close and Jonathan is always so warm and he smells so incredible. I love the way he traces my fingers, love the way one of his fingers caresses my palm. Or my forearm. Or my upper arm. Between bouts of kissing, we were holding hands and he hooked his other fingers inside the crook of my elbow. He was totally focused on the movie, laughing and exchanging grins with me at the funniest and naughtiest parts. (And that movie is chock full of funny naughtiness!)
But there was another piece of him focused on me.
He’s better at that than I am. I can barely remember the second half of the show. All I remember is when his thumb stopped caressing the outside of my arm. Instead, his middle finger started moving along my bicep. Then farther inward…slowly…gradually. I snuggled closer, knowing exactly what he was about. We shared a brief little smile over it. He could no doubt feel the heat blazing in my palm against his. Could he feel the pounding of my heart?
I was wearing my cornflower blue shirt with the little pink and yellow flowers on it. That and my peach nylon bra. A double layer of thin, soft fabric was nothing against the lighting that shot through me when his finger brushed across me. Across my--
My face blazes all over again, and I stare at the ceiling, still breathless at the memory. I want to whisper-scream it to the stars: I let Jonathan Marshall touch my boob!
Oh, it was heaven. It made me dizzy and made me forget everything going on in the movie. I caught snippets of the...educational nature of the classroom scene. I think I kept laughing whenever Jon did. Inside, I was delirious. I couldn’t believe it. So much heat from one tiny touch. Barely a fingertip. Now I understand why everybody makes such a big fuss about being touched by a boy. And that was barely second base!
I wonder if it felt that good to him when I put my hand on his thigh and inched up to the crease in his jeans where his bulge grew by the second. It must have felt that good, because when two of my fingers traced the length of it, his breathing changed. It wasn’t spongey like Trent's. It certainly wasn't icky. It was hard and so alive! So hot, like what burned between our palms.
Jonathan's fingers clenched mine. His eyes went hazy, and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t paying attention to the movie anymore either. He leaned toward me, his breathing slow but heavy. His eyes lifted to meet mine, and in them he told me everything he ached for. Even though we both knew it couldn’t happen tonight with my parents right around the corner, he asked me for it anyway.
In a melted version of myself, I gazed back at him--looked more deeply into him, telling him with my eyes and the way I touched that most private of his places that, yes, a thousand times YES, I would keep touching him. I told him that if we’d been alone I would have touched him exactly as he needed me to.
After those revolting seconds with my hand forced down Trent’s pants, I hadn’t known if I would ever again want to think about what’s behind another boy’s zipper. But Jonathan…
He never forces. Never rushes. Never demands or pushes or makes innuendos like a full-court press. He certainly never calls me mean things or treats me like a stupid little girl. It’s the opposite. He is so clear about what he wants, and then he asks me for it. Truly asks. That’s why it’s so easy to tell him yes, because I want the same thing. Everything is so natural between us, and that makes it a thousand times sweeter and better. A thousand times hotter than any of Trent’s dirty talk or Steve’s form fitted jeans.
Jonathan looks better in his anyway. I want to know what he looks like out of them. I want to see him in swim trunks. I think I might even want to see him out of those, too. Someday. It wouldn’t be gross with him. It would be magic.
As I lie on my bed, staring at the ceiling, I replay the memories of everything that's happened between us since the moment we met. I’m not a little kid anymore. I’m old enough to know. I feel it in my heart, in my guts, in the very marrow of my bones. I know about him the way the birds know it's time to return in spring.
Unfortunately, Jonathan is in Greece right now on a class trip. His school is so much cooler than mine. I’m so jealous.
And thrilled for him.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about him since he left, wondering what he’s doing, what amazing things he’s getting to see, what adventures he’ll tell me about when he gets back. Traveling is one of my favorite things in the world, but I've never been overseas. Before he left, he said he wanted to take me to Greece someday and show me himself, and I would love that more than anything.
I would love to do a great many things with him. Things that are great and important. Cosmically more important than all the stupid stuff that goes on in the narrow-minded, backward bushes of my hometown.
One thing great and important has already happened to me, and I have to tell him. He’s supposed to come home tomorrow, but I don’t know when, so I call his house to ask.
His mom answers.
“Hi,” I say, happy to hear her voice. She is so awesome and he’s said that she really likes me. So does his sister, just like my parents like him. I’m even happier to know he might be somewhere over the ocean as we speak, getting closer and closer to home with every second. “I was just calling to ask when Jonathan’s supposed to get back.”
“Oh,” she says, surprised. “He’s actually been home for several days now.”
I blink hard and my heart thumps in alarm. “Really? Oh. Um…I guess I must have gotten the days mixed up.”
She doesn’t reply.
I also guess jet lag must have prevented him from calling me…? I’ve never had jet lag, but I’ve heard it’s horrible.
When he comes to the phone, that's clear in the way he says, “Hello?” He's obviously drained but, oh God, that voice! That beloved, favorite voice.
My grin splits my face. “Hi there! I didn’t know you were home yet. How are you? How was the trip?”
“Um…yeah. Yeah, it was good.”
I so wish I could reach through the phone and hug him. He sounds so rough. “I thought you were getting in tomorrow.”
There’s a pause, and then, “Uh huh. Um…no, I-I got in on Thursday.”
“Oh. I guess I had the days mixed up?”
“Mmm. H-how are you? Are you good?”
“I am.” My finger twines around the cord as I pace the kitchen floor, carefully tiptoeing from one avocado-green diamond to the next. “But I’m way better now that I know you’re home safe. I missed you so much! I hadn’t realized how much I love talking to you every day.”
“Mm-hmm. I missed you, too.”
I look up at the overhead light. It’s off, but I’m surprised the whole room isn’t lit up from my smile and the glow that has to be radiating from my chest. “I so want to hear everything about your trip, but Jonathan…I just…” My pulse races. My stomach does flip-flops and a whole flock of butterflies spirals and swirls inside my rib cage. Nobody’s home yet, so I say it as loudly and boldly as I feel it. “I have to tell you this or I swear I’ll go crazy. I have been waiting and waiting and waiting to say this to you, because I have thought about you the whole time you were gone and I just…you are so amazing and I love you so much!”
My breath hovers on edge.
I stare at the shadowed ceiling as I wait.
In the silence.
I know the phone call hasn’t dropped because his breathing sounds faintly through the receiver.
I suddenly wonder if I should regret saying that. I mean, I can’t regret it. I won’t take it back. Not for anything, but…
“Um…” His voice is shaky. Choked off with discomfort. “Listen, I’m really—I…I’m sorry I didn’t call you when I got back. I just…I can’t—I need to—”
My head gives off rapid shakes. Oh no. Oh, please don’t say it. Please-please-please-oh-please don’t tell me that you don’t feel the same. Or that you met some gorgeous Greek twenty-year-old bombshell and—
“I gotta go. Okay?”
I flinch in shock. “Jon?”
“I can’t…um…I can’t talk. About it. I just—”
My lungs will only make shallow snatches at my breath. “Wha—I didn’t do something to—?”
That word bolts from his mouth so quickly and with such force that I believe him. “Okay…?”
More of my frantic panting.
“Sweetheart,” I say, trying to put the gentlest of hugs into my voice. I’m suddenly afraid that there’s something worse than a raven-haired Aphrodite. “Are…are you okay?”
“Yeah.” Such a hollow sound.
“Are you sure? You don’t sound okay. What’s going on?”
“Nothing. I just…listen, I gotta go. And I can’t talk. Anymore. Okay? I just…I need to be done. I’m sorry.”
“I…” My throat closes around anymore words. All I can do is nod. He can’t see it so I push the air through the front of my mouth in one disbelieving, “‘Kay.”
The nod of finality sounds through his voice when he mumbles, “Thanks. Bye.”
The dial tone is like a steady, clean knife through my guts. It drones on. And on. And on.
--UP NEXT: WAITING. For the phone to ring again.
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