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First kisses are supposed to be perfect. They're supposed to be romantic and sweet. You're supposed to fall in love just after you kiss and feel fireworks all over your body. You're supposed to be under the stars at your front door after the perfect date. A shooting star flies by, and he says, “I just wished that you would kiss me,” and you – feeling unusually flirty and confident, because you're in a perfect moment – kiss him and it lasts for the perfect amount of time and doesn't get gross or walked in on by your parents. And then he says he loves you and you say you love him too and give him another sweet kiss before walking in your door and not telling anyone about it because it was too wonderful.
That's how first kisses are supposed to be, but not always how they are.
Larkin was in the girls' bathroom after school, crying. She tried wiping at her eyeliner, but it streaked even more. Her eyelashes felt heavy and clumped, and she cursed herself for wearing waterproof mascara but regular eyeliner. Then she began to cry again and retreated back into a stall.
Her eyes were red and her lips were puffy. Her nose was stuffed up and she tried to smile, hoping no one would notice. But when she smiled into the mirror to see if it looked like tears, it was unmistakable. So she began to cry.
She finally emerged from the bathroom 20 minutes after the buses had left. There was no late bus, so she had to walk home, a mile away. And she had a huge load of homework. So she walked, sniffling as she went.
I hope I don't see anyone I know, she thought, but knowing me, I will.
And how well she knew herself, because walking right in front of her was Jackson Davies, a boy she had known since first grade but never really talked to. He was nerdy, tall and lanky, and super pale, unlike the guys she liked who were tan and buff and … well, still tall, but they were into football, not computers. Or whatever Jackson and his friends were into.
“Please don't turn around,” Larkin whispered, willing him to keep going. She made as little noise as possible with her flip-flops, but it was a challenge. However, it was also slow, so it put her even farther behind him, which was good.
A stoplight was ahead. It was a long wait, and if it was still red when she got there, she'd be forced to talk to him.
Please say walk, she willed again. But she knew luck was not on her side that day, and how right she was. She took a deep breath as Jackson turned around.
Look upset and maybe he won't talk to you, she said to herself, trying to force tears.
“Hi, Larkin.” Jackson waved.
No tears came when she needed them. She sighed and rolled her eyes. “Hey,” she said softly.
He looked closer. “Are you crying?”
“I was,” she answered truthfully.
“You wanna talk about it?”
Larkin considered this. She wanted nothing more than to pour her heart out to someone who wouldn't judge her. She looked at Jackson in his white socks, pulled up to the calf, and his bright orange basketball shorts and running shoes. She figured he wouldn't be one to judge.
Five minutes later, they were sitting on a bench outside Taco Bell, talking.
“It's just that I wanted him to stay with me into high school,” she admitted, forgetting who she was talking to. “I sort of envisioned us going to homecoming and spending the summer together … I just never thought he would be the one to end it. I mean, I thought of ending it a million times, but I never did. I wanted him to be my first kiss. I wanted him to fall in love with me.”
Jackson sighed and touched her shoulder. She jumped a little at his touch, but then relaxed. He wasn't making a move; he was Jackson Davies, for crying out loud.
“You can't wish for someone to be in love with you. You just have to enjoy them so that first ‘I love you' and that first kiss are unexpected. You can't plan love,” he advised.
Larkin looked up at him, confused. Jackson's face was inches from hers, and suddenly, he wasn't so bad. His breath smelled like 5 Gum and he had freckles that were kind of … cute. His teeth were white and straight because of braces in sixth grade. And his lips were the perfect pink a guy's lips should be: not girly pink, but natural.
And now, Larkin didn't care that things weren't perfect. She didn't care that this wasn't homecoming and she wasn't in a beautiful dress with her hair done. She didn't care that Jackson wasn't asking her to dance under the stars. She didn't care that she was in a smelly Taco Bell parking lot in ripped jeans and worn flip-flops. She didn't even care that Jackson had a pizza stain on his shirt. And mostly, she didn't care that Jackson was, well, Jackson. It just felt right.
She scooted closer and leaned in. Then he leaned in and … then he stood up.
“I should get going,” he said. “Nice talking to you.”
Larkin didn't even wave. She just watched Jackson Davies, the boy she had never paid any attention to and suddenly wanted to be her first kiss, walk away from her.
She ran into the Taco Bell sniffling, clenching her teeth to fight tears. She ran straight up to the counter.
“You got a bathroom?” she asked frantically.
“For customers only,” the greasy guy at the counter replied.
“Crap!” she squeaked, running out and down the street.
Her eyelashes felt heavy as she ran and tears moved toward her ears and her flip-flops broke.