Three Kisses, One Past


She paused and took a long sip of wine, and then started her pacing across the room again. "Anyway, that's when Uncle Eric stepped in. He and my mom, you'll never find two people who love and hate each other at the same time so much as they do. He was already sort of like a parent to me before then. Anyway, he had a friend who ran a progressive rehab camp out West, girls only, and he pulled some strings with the cops, I guess. I don't know how he did it, but he got me sent out to Montana instead of juvie hall. That's where I finished high school. Felt like prison at first, but once I'd cleaned up and started trying in class for a change, I loved it. The woman who runs the show, Uncle Eric's friend, said I was one of her greatest success stories. They take grooming seriously out there, all part of learning to respect yourself, so that's how I got in the habit of dressing like this."

"I was wondering," I said.

Christine laughed. "I don't blame you. Sometimes I still barely recognize myself in the mirror! But yeah, I've been out for a year and a half, and back here staying with Uncle Eric, and I could have gone back to wearing jeans and sweatshirts all the time, but I really didn't want to. I just feel more confident when I dress up now, like I've left my bad old days behind. I guess this is all so representative of how I've changed." She stopped and took another swig of wine. "I hope you can believe I've changed, Jack. This isn't just a matter of putting a tomboy in a skirt and tights and hoping the sugar and spice will rub off on her. I mean, I am still kind of a tomboy underneath it all, but I'm not the jerk I was then."

"You don't seem like it," I admitted. "But you've got to admit this is awkward."

"For me too." Christine did look nervous standing still again by the door. Actually she wasn't standing still, but rather wiggling back and forth like she was waiting for the bathroom. She gulped down the last of her wine -- I was still only sipping mine -- and set the glass down and once again began pacing the floor, a bit faster this time.

"For you too?" I asked. "Why?"

"Because I know you remember me as the little monster I always was to you, Jack, and that's humiliating. I think of my childhood now and all I can remember is what a bully I was, the way I picked on anyone who wasn't like me, and I wish I could go back and undo it all! The crazy thing is, with you especially, I always wanted to be friends."

"With me especially?"

"Oh, Jack, come off it!" She burst into a nervous-sounding laugh as she said that. "You know I was crazy about you! You were nothing like the other boys, all noise and bragging and showing how tough they were, and you were so quiet and nice. I adored you, Jack, but I picked on you because that's how I treated everybody back then if they weren't just like me. And now look at us, Jack, we actually are a lot alike. We both cleaned up awfully well, don't you think?" Christine was now walking back and forth faster than before, and with both hands free she was gripping at her skirt and tossing it about again and again. I would come to learn that was a nervous twitch of hers that she engaged in all the time; she was lucky short skirts were out of style that year if she valued her modesty at all.

"We sure have," I said. "I mean, you do look beautiful..."

"Thank you, Jack." She stopped her pacing and once again stood looking down at me with one leg curled around the other. Maybe she really did have to pee? But she didn't mention it.

"I remember all too well," I began hesitantly. "I remember...when I started at my new school, you had to wear a coat and tie, and the girls had to dress like you are now, and all through the first couple of weeks I kept thinking, isn't anybody going to notice I'm a poor kid underneath this? Isn't my hair too greasy to look any good even with these clothes?"

"I remember that feeling!" Christine agreed. "Totally. I think it took me more than a few weeks to get over it, too. Maybe that's why I still stick to getting dolled up most of the time. It still feels like I'm growing into my new self or something. And I like it!"

"So you had a crush on me, did you?" I finally finished my wine, and set the glass on the windowsill by the bed.

"You really didn't know!" She was finally standing stock still before me, and then at long last she sat down beside me on the bed. "Don't you at least remember that day in the woods, sixth grade?"

"My first kiss," I said. "Of course I remember it. And I remember there was nothing loving about it, Christine."

"I know, I know!" she put one hand over her face and touched my arm with the other one. "Heavens, I know, Jack. And I'm sorry about that too. I'm sorry about everything! The thing I remember about that kiss, though -- and I didn't know it was your first kiss, that's kind of sweet that you remember that, in spite of everything -- the thing is, I knew for once I'd gone too far, and I tried to back off on you after that. I thought maybe then we could be friends after all, if I treated you a little better. And for a while it seemed like we were, but then you got really cold with me and I never knew why."

"You never knew why?" I repeated incredulously.

"I'm guessing I must have slipped up and done something pretty lousy to you, Jack, but I swear I don't remember."

So I reminded her of that awful day in the cafeteria, capping it off with her big line -- "Watch him start crying now" -- her exact intonation still branded on my mind as if it had been the day before instead of seven years ago. I didn't add anything about what had come after, figuring there was no need to.

I was right, there was no need to. Christine looked at me throughout the tale, then stared down at her hands in her lap, and then it was my turn to watch her start crying. "Jack," she sniffled, "I don't remember that, but I believe it. I promise I believe it. I'm sorry."

"Thank you." I didn't know what else to say.

"I'm so sorry." She stood up again, not trying to hide her tears, and I had to appreciate that. "I can only hope you believe I've changed," she said again. "But there's one other thing. I've been taking psychology courses at the community college, I'm thinking of majoring in psych when I get into a real college --"

"A community college is a real college," I interrupted.

"That's nice of you, but you don't have to say that. Your mom told me where you're studying."

"I'm not a snob, at least I hope I'm not," I said. "There's nothing to be ashamed of getting your start at a community college. And I really am impressed with what you've made of yourself from what you were before."

"That's sweet," she said. "Anyway, the psych courses, one of the things I've learned is about how we deal with other people when we're jealous of them or we don't know how to tell them how we feel, sometimes you lash out at people." With a sad smile, she looked me in the eye and said, "I hope you can understand that's one reason why I was so nasty sometimes. It's true what they say about bullies, sometimes we tease you because we like you."

"My mother used to tell me that," I said. "But I didn't believe her."

"Your mother's a smart lady," Christine said. "I've gotten to be pretty good friends with her, really. Jack, I wish things could have been more like that all along, honest I do." She sat back on the bed, keeping a respectable distance this time. "Do you forgive me?"

"You're kind of putting me on the spot, here," I told her. "But it's been nice clearing the air and being so honest with each other."

"Can I give you a hug?" Her eyes were dry, but pleading now. "Please?"

A gentleman doesn't refuse a request like that, and she did really seem sincere in her apologies. So a moment later we were lying comfortably together, entangled in one another's arms and laughing with relief that we'd crossed the line successfully.

"God, I wanted this so many times back then," Christine said, squeezing me. "And you never knew?"

"And I never knew."

"Are you comfortable with it now?" she asked.

To my own surprise, the answer was yes. "Yes," I said. "Thanks for the apologies and everything." Then I couldn't help adding, "The new you really is a nice change. Beautiful."

She leaned in and kissed me on the cheek once, then again, then our lips met. A long kiss, lasting at least a minute before she came up for air and lay back on the pillow gazing happily at me. "The second kiss," I declared, "Eight years in the making, huh?"

"And worth it," Christine added. I sat up then, and she got up and sat in my lap just as naturally as if we'd done it a hundred times before. "Totally worth it," she said. I slid my arms around her middle, not pushing too hard for anything more intimate just yet. But Christine had other ideas. "Come on, Jack, don't be shy now of all times!" She took both my hands in hers and slid them upward to her breasts. "Careful, they're a little tender right now, but if I know you, you're always gentle with these."

"It's been a while since I've had a chance to be," I said. But they did feel lovely in my hands, and she seemed to enjoy my soft stroking.

She didn't say anything for a while as I played with her breasts, but her breathing grew heavier and she began to wiggle pleasantly in my lap. I nuzzled her neck a bit here and there as well, but concentrated mostly on her breasts. Finally she spoke up. "Just a little bit more," she said. "This isn't nearly enough." She leaned forward and gathered her hair out of the way. "Unzip me," she ordered. I did as I was told, and she pulled her dress down to reveal her bra clasp. "Undo that too, please," and I did. Then she tossed the garment aside happily and once again placed my hands on her now-bare breasts. "Just like before," she requested. "Your touch was perfect, but it wasn't intense enough through my clothes." And so I was back to caressing her breasts carefully, and she began moaning ever-so-softly. "Ohhhhh, that's good, Jack. Ohhhh yes." I was rock hard by now and I was sure she could feel me bulging against her backside, but things didn't go any further.

After a few minutes she stopped guiding my hands and clutched at my legs on each side as I rubbed, and continued voicing her approval. A few minutes past that, she twisted around and lay back on the bed, and gave me a come-hither motion with her fingers. I got my first good look at her breasts then, small but supple and with the outlines from her bra still visible; but it was a brief look before she pulled me down to them, and soon I was suckling her into a happy ending. I didn't have to kiss her breasts for very long before she came, and that moment left no doubt that she had: a quick, sharp shriek and she bucked her hips up before melting back onto the bed.

She followed that with a deep sigh. "Thank you. You're really good at that." Then she sat up and set about putting her bra back on. "Know how to clasp these?" she asked, turning her back.

"I'm better at undoing them, but I'm sure I can figure it out," I quipped. She laughed, and I followed up by also zipping her dress back up.

"Thanks," she said, standing up. "I'd let you go further, but believe me, you don't want to touch me down there today."

"Period?" I asked.

"Yes. That's another reason why Uncle Eric lets me drink wine. I guess he heard somewhere it helps with cramps. It doesn't, but why should I tell him that?" She laughed, collecting her wine glass from the bookcase where she'd left it. "Anyway, Jack, that'll be out of the way in a few days, you know."

"I have to go back to school in a few days," I reminded her. "Of course you could come visit me. I'm sure I can get my roommate to get lost for a few hours."

"I'd like that," Christine said, opening the door. "Wonder what your mom and Uncle Eric will think when we go downstairs?"

"I don't think they'll be surprised, to tell you the truth," I said.

I was right. They were on the couch watching the football game with a few other hangers-on, and when Christine and I appeared together, they definitely exchanged a knowing look.

I didn't see Christine again before I went back to school three days later. Mom insisted I join her for her Black Friday shopping, and then on Saturday Christine's uncle dragged her off to some family reunion off in another town. I knew this because she called me late that afternoon to grouse about it, as we had exchanged phone numbers and e-mail addresses under the approving eyes of Mom and Uncle Eric. "My cousins are so annoying!" she bleated at me. "I just begged off for a few minutes to get some air because some of them are smoking in the living room. I'm on the back porch now. It's frigid out here, but at least the air is clean!"

"You used to smoke, didn't you?" I asked. It was a question, but I definitely recalled Chris sneaking cigarettes in the woods after school.

"Exactly, Jack. You know how hard it is for an ex-smoker to stay that way when you're surrounded by them?"

"Ouch. Hadn't thought of that. I've heard it's damn hard to quit."

"One of a lot of 'damn hard' changes I went through in Montana, Jack. I'll never go back to all that, I promise, not after all I went through to get straight, but my family isn't making that easy now. They're the ones who fucked me up in the first place, you know. All that shit I pulled on you when we were kids, I had to learn it somewhere!"

"You can do it," I said, glad she couldn't see me grinning on the phone as I imagined her in another pretty dress and yanking at it again and again. I was tempted to ask what she was wearing, but I didn't want her to know I was that interested just yet. "I saw the change yesterday, after all."

"Thanks, I needed that," she said. "That's why I called you, I knew I could count on you to say a thing like that."

"You knew all that after just one conversation yesterday?"

"It was a very intimate conversation, wasn't it?"

"Can't deny that," I admitted.

"Listen," she said. "I really liked your idea of me coming out to see you, if you'd be okay with that. We still have a lot more to catch up on after all, and I'd like to get a look at your college too."

And for all my consternation that day after dinner, I found I liked that idea a lot. So it was very much on my mind on Sunday when Mom dropped me off at the train station. With Thanksgiving over with, the Christmas decorations were suddenly everywhere at the station -- always a joyful development for me. I won't deny anything here: I love Christmas. The decorations and the well-wishing and even the cheesy songs and me, they were always a symbol of another year accomplished and the promise of a better future. Since that future had now arrived, the holiday season was all the sweeter to me. Those last few weeks of the semester were always super busy and stressful and the weather was colder and the days shorter, but that just added to the magic as far as I was concerned.

So too did Christine, to my amazement. From the moment I arrived back on campus and knuckled down for the homestretch of the semester, I found I could scarcely await her visit, even before we knew for sure it would happen. Was I really so sure she had left her former self behind? Was it the sense of danger that came with falling in love with an ex-bully? Was it a sense of solidarity between the both of us for having escaped into the world of nice clothes and hope for the future? I wasn't sure. But the memory of that tender moment in my room back home made me thirst for more all the same.

My roommate, James, picked up on the change in me nearly as soon as he got back later that evening. James was from Harlem, so like me, this upper middle class small-town stuff was all new and a little alienating -- all the more for him since he was black -- and despite our very different backgrounds we shared something of a bond about being outsiders. As we discussed the holiday over dinner, it occurred to me that Christine would probably be able to identify well with him too.

That thought must have showed on my face, for halfway through dinner James asked, "What's up with you, Jack. You met a girl or something?"

"It shows?!"

"Sure does. What's her name?"

"Christine. She might be coming to spend a weekend here."

"Cool, man. Can't wait to see what kind of girl would finally get through to you!"

"Yeah, I'm a bit surprised at that too," I said. Truer word was never spoken!

After that, it was pedal-to-the-metal academics for the rest of that week. I spent most of the week in the library or my room, nose buried in a book, but of course I thought of Christine whenever I had a free moment. My free moments that week mostly found me in bed and eager to go to sleep at last, but along the way there was plenty of daydreaming about Christine and going all the way this time, and just what making love to my worst enemy might actually be like. By Friday I was wishing I had invited her for that weekend. As irresponsible as it would be to spend a weekend with her rather than studying, I reasoned a break would be healthy at that point. And I loved the idea of walking around our lovely little downtown with her on my arm amid the fresh snow and the Christmas decorations on every telephone pole and corner store. A holiday sweetheart was just what I needed.

So I was more delighted than bewildered when I got back from dinner on Friday night and found James on the phone. "Hold it, he just walked in," he said, and handed the phone to me. "It's for you."


"Jack? It's Christine!"

"Hi! Listen, I'm sorry I haven't called but..."

"No, Jack, I'm here!"

I already had my coat and boots on from the walk to the dining hall, so in minutes I was rushing to the train station. There was little time to be angry at myself for not having bothered to invite her, or at her for inviting herself, and I could only hope she would be okay with sharing the room with James. To my surprise, I didn't much care about all that. I was just delighted to be seeing her, and I could scarcely believe that! Through the festively decorated streets of town and the light snow that was falling, my anticipation grew -- our weekend together here was going to happen after all.

She was looking just as adorable as I had anticipated, holed up in a booth at the train station's little coffee shop with the warm glow of the dim lights and the aura of the Christmas music setting the perfect scene, and she jumped up to greet me when I arrived. "Jack! I'm sorry I didn't tell you I was coming. I was super busy all week just like I know you were, and this morning I checked on the Internet for train fares and there was a last-minute discount."

"That's great," was all I said as she threw her arms around me and squeezed me. I knew she was lying about discounts -- I knew the fares home and back by heart, and they were never on sale -- but that just added to the thrill of it all. "Let's get you back to campus. I'm sorry, we won't have any privacy just yet."

"That's okay," Christine said, hooking her arm through mine as I held her suitcase with my other hand. That, of course, left Christine with one hand free to grab at her skirt; even the chilly air didn't put a stop to that. "I guess I didn't give you much time to make other plans." Her voice dropping to a whisper, she added, "But I'm sorry we won't be able to make love tonight after all."

Hearing her say it gave me the creeps -- this was still Chris after all -- but as we stepped out into the snowy nightfall, I knew just what to say. "I was thinking, Christine, I'd like that to be really special, you know --"

"Me too!" she interrupted.

"Good," I continued. "So what do you say we don't do it until after we're both done with finals? It can be our reward for surviving the end of the term."

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