In honor of That Kiss, being completely out, for the whole world to see, I have decided to post the first chapter, in it’s entirety. As you may know, it’ not only available in paperback, but also in e-book form. So, without further ado, I present to you, chapter one. Enjoy!
Here I am, stuck in the slowest line in the grocery store. It didn’t seem like the slowest until I got in it, and then all movement ceased and the dreaded blinking light came on. Ugh! Just one time I would like not to be the curse that makes all checkout lines stop. I run my hand through my shoulder-length hair in exasperation as I glance down at the miscellaneous items for sale in the small aisle leading to the cashier.
There are all sorts of candies, gum, and chips, but my eyes land on the latest issue of a tabloid magazine. As I readjust the shopping basket in my hand, I pick up the magazine and gaze at the cover. Ah yes, another star who has fallen into rehab and a picture of another star on a beach in her bathing suit that does anything but flatter her post-baby body.
As I shuffle along, waiting my turn, I remember that Jenna asked me to pick up some red wine on the way home.
Jenna is my roommate, best friend, and the only one I can vent to when my day has not gone according to plan. I’ve known her for nine years now, but she is more like a sister to me. She is outgoing and beautiful, and her sense of fashion is spot on; she is everything that I am not. Oh, the things I could do if I only had an ounce of her self-confidence.
The line moves again, and the baby in the shopping cart behind me begins to scream. Why would you bring your infant out to a store at ten o’clock at night? Shouldn’t she be asleep well before now? We move again, and it’s finally my turn. On the conveyer belt I place all of my items and then add a copy of Rolling Stone. The very bored girl behind the counter rings me up, and I’m out the door.
After stopping at a small liquor store, I walk through our apartment door and I’m greeted by Chiffon, Jenna’s cat.
“Hi, girl,” I say, stroking her soft white back as she purrs like an engine. As I make my way to the kitchen, Chiffon weaves in and out of my legs. I almost trip twice. She has a habit of doing this, and one of these days I’m going to fall flat on my face.
Jenna comes out from her bedroom in a shimmery hot pink top and skinny jeans that hug her perfect little figure. She must be going out tonight.
“Chloe, you’re back!” Jenna says. “Did you get the wine?”
“Yes, I got it. Is this okay?” I ask her, holding the bottle out for her to inspect.
“Yes, that’ll do. Trent and I are going to celebrate our one-month anniversary tonight!” she says as she winks.
“That’s great, Jenna. I hope everything goes well. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” I chuckle, knowing full well she’s already done way more than I would do.
“Oh, Chloe, you really need to get out more. Trent has a friend. I could set you up,” she says with a devious grin.
“Jenna, stop. You know I’m not into blind dates. Besides, I’m just not interested in dating right now,” I say. I try to look as convincing as I can.
“Chloe, is it old what’s-his-name again? You need to get over him. He had his chance years ago, and he blew it. I know if you just put yourself out there, some hot, young guy would snap you right up,” she says matter-of-factly.
“Yeah, maybe. I don’t know,” I reply as I put the groceries away. Jenna is always trying to set me up with her latest boyfriend’s friends. I always make excuses as to why I can’t go out. I know she is onto me, but she never says so and neither do I.
“So where are you going tonight?” I ask her out of politeness.
“Trent’s picking me up. We’re going out to the pub and then probably back to his place.”
I know exactly what that means, and I give her a have-fun kind of smile as she saunters back to her room.
By ten thirty, Jenna and Trent are out the door, and I’m left alone again. Just me and the cat. Is this how it’s always going to be? Me, sitting at home with the cat, crocheting an afghan while listening to sad music on the radio? Is this really my future? The crazy cat lady—great. Why is it that men just seem to fall into Jenna’s lap? What makes her different than me? Sure, she’s very beautiful with her long auburn tresses and her figure puts Barbie to shame while I’m thin and kind of pale. And my face…well, it isn’t awful, but still nobody seems to notice me. There is that guy at Starbucks, but I’m pretty sure he’s gay. The fact is that there’s nobody who I’m attracted to either. I haven’t dated much because most men are the same. No one has ever made me feel as though I wanted a second date…except for one.
Matt was my best friend from a very early age. We used to play outside all summer long. The two of us were inseparable, splashing in the pool and making mud pies during the day and catching lightning bugs after dark.
There were other kids in the neighborhood to play with, but something always drew us together. Early in high school, even though we both had new friends, we still hung out once in a while. Matt eventually got into sports, and a very popular, very pretty cheerleader turned his head. After that, we didn’t see much of each other. They broke up after a few months, I think, but we never had the same friendship. Then one night, we both ended up at the same graduation party. I’m not sure how that happened because we just didn’t run in the same circles anymore.
As I sit on the couch, next to Chiffon, who is purring quite loudly now, I close my eyes and remember that fateful night as if it were only yesterday. Even though I try not to let myself go there again, I just can’t help it this time. My thoughts begin to drift.
“Hey, Chlo! What are you doing here?” Matt asks with the definite scent of having had too many beers.
“Hi, Matt. Jenna dragged me here. Apparently I need to get out more. So are you still planning to go to OSU in the fall?”
“Nah, I’ve decided the only thing I want out of school is me. I’m gonna go into the family business. Besides, electricians make decent money,” he says casually.
“I see. I thought you wanted to do something in music.” I try not to seem too excited that he will not be moving away.
“Yeah, well, plans change,” he replies. “How about you? Where are you headed?”
“Baldwin Wallace. They have a pretty good dance program there. I don’t want to stray too far from home, you know?”
“Well, it looks like we both are staying local. Maybe I’ll see you around,” he says as he walks away, and I can’t help but feel as though the whole conversation was just bland small talk.
Jenna finds me and hands me some kind of concoction that smells of cheap liquor. Hmm, I’ve never been much of a drinker, but after that unfulfilling chat between Matt and me, I take the proffered drink and gulp it down.
“Whoa, Chloe! Slow down, or you’ll be sick!” Jenna says. “You don’t drink that often, and these things will catch up to you quick.”
“I’ll have another then. It’s a celebration, right? Let’s get drunk,” I say with a halfhearted smile on my face. I chug down the tainted beverage.
We drink several more until I can no longer walk straight. My eyes don’t focus as they do normally. I know that I am hammered. Jenna is not in any better shape than I am, and some guy, who I think is one of the jocks, is hovering around her trying to keep her upright.
I need air; maybe that will sober me up a bit. I glance around the room and spot a door, but there are too many people crowded around it. I don’t want to take the chance of falling into them like bowling balling into a set of pins. After a few minutes I decide to try the back door. Bingo! There are only two people by it, so I make my way through the kitchen trying not to disturb the make-out session going on. I’m almost there when I suddenly trip over my own two feet. I’m bracing myself for the fall when out of nowhere two arms grab me and prevent me from crashing to the floor.
“Chlo, be careful!”
It’s Matt. He must have followed me in here knowing I might need help.
“Where are you going? You can’t get out that way. It just leads out to the deck,” he says, still holding me in his arms. I gaze up at him and he at me, and I am lost in his intense stare.
“Um, yeah. I know that. I was trying to get some air, that’s all.”
I am mesmerized by his beautiful green eyes. With his arms around me I feel so safe, so cared for so…what? Loved? No way! This is Matt after all. I’ve known him most of my life. If he had feelings for me, surely he would have revealed them by now, right? But I can’t help this overwhelming need to kiss him. I want him to kiss me, kiss me in a way that lovers do. Full-on passionate, no holds barred, tongues entwined kind of kiss.
“Are you okay, Chlo? You have a strange look on your face,” Matt says softly after a beat.
I say nothing, still entranced, caught like prey in his web. “Come on. Let’s get you that fresh air.” He stands me up and walks me outside to the deck. I hold on to the deck rail as if it were a lifeline for what seems like forever. My head is still fuzzy even though we’ve been outside for a while. It’s getting chilly, but somehow I am very warm. The spell that I was under is gone now, but I find that I am still speechless.
“Tongue not working?” he says with a snicker.
What? How did he know what I had in mind for my tongue? I sweep my head up and look at him in a panic. Oh wait, he’s referring to my lack of communication. Say something, anything!
“Um, thank you…for helping me with my, um, clumsiness,” I say and try not to look flustered. I am shaking now, and I’m not sure if it’s because of the chill in the air or the close proximity to my best friend, who for some reason is making me feel jittery.
“You cold, Chlo?” I give him a small nod. “Here take this.” He takes off his black sweatshirt and wraps it around my shoulders, keeping his arm around me.
“Thanks,” I say shyly. It’s warm and soft and smells like him. It’s very comforting. “You don’t have to babysit me, you know.” I say it, but I’m not sure I mean it.
“I know, but you’re like my sister, so someone has to protect you from your clumsy nature,” he says with a half grin.
The word sister burns into me like a branding iron. Sister? Really? He thinks of me as a sister? Could I feel any worse? Ugh! I jerk away, and he flinches.
“Well, I think I’m warm enough,” I say more forcefully than I mean. “You can have your sweatshirt back.”
“What’s wrong? What did I say?” He scans my face, but I keep my expression as neutral as possible. I hand him his shirt and turn to walk away.
“Chlo, stop!” he shouts. He seems confused and bewildered, so I stop and turn my head to the side to show him I’m listening. “Please come back. Did I say or do something to upset you?”
“No. I’m fine. I just want to find Jenna and get out of here,” I say in a calmer voice.
“Well, if you’re sure you’re okay,” he mutters.
“I’m fine, I told you. I need to hunt down Jenna. See you later.”
I stalk off in the direction of the last place I saw her. She’s on the dance floor with the jock. It’s a fast song, but there they are, locked in an embrace, slow dancing in the middle of the rest of the drunken crowd. I tap her on the shoulder.
“Jenna, it’s time to get going. Let’s go home.”
“What? The party is just getting good. Let’s stay just a little while longer, please?” She has the most contrite look on her face, and I roll my eyes and cave in.
“Fine. Just half an hour more, and then I’m putting your butt in a cab.”
She smiles at me and nods.
“Sure, Chloe, anything you want.” Jenna is very drunk. I’m not much better, but I make a promise to myself to keep an eye on her, knowing I might have to save her from herself.
I look around for a place to sit so I can watch her. A very wasted guy approaches me.
“Hey, sweetheart, how ’bout a dance?” he slurs. Ugh, I really don’t like sloppy drunks. I’m about to say no thanks when Matt walks into the room. He’s looking around. Is he searching for me? Our eyes meet, and he makes a beeline straight for me.
“Sure, I’d love a dance,” I say to the sloppy drunk guy. I take his hand and lead him onto the dance floor before Matt can reach me. He stops in his tracks and watches us carefully. I seize this opportunity with both hands. This should be fun. A song with a pounding beat comes on, and I get to work. I am dancing my ass off all over Sloppy Drunk Guy. In fact, if you didn’t know better, you might think I was about to start stripping off clothes. Sloppy Drunk Guy, whose name I think is Dave, is very willing to accept my advances and gladly reciprocates. I glance over at Matt, and he looks seething mad. Ah yes, exactly the reaction I was hoping for. He comes barreling toward us and grabs Dave by the back of the shirt, effortlessly tossing him across the room.
“Go sober up outside, asshole!” he says with a fury I’ve not seen before. Then he turns his anger at me. What? Why the hell is he mad at me? “Let’s go, Chlo! I’m getting you out of here—now!” He takes me by the arm and leads me into a hallway. We stop halfway down, and he stares at me. If looks could kill, I’d be at the morgue. “What the hell were you thinking? That wasn’t you out there, Chlo,” he shouts. “Do you really think acting that way is gonna get you anything but trouble? Dave is a sleezeball. He’s fucked every girl in school who would let him, and he tosses them aside afterward. What were you trying to prove? You’re not like those other girls.” His tone softens.
“I don’t know. I was waiting for Jenna, and, well, I figured I’d try and entertain myself,” I say guiltily.
“Entertain yourself?” He’s livid and yelling again.
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking,” I reply and hang my head in shame.
“Clearly,” he says. I can tell he’s trying to reign in his temper. “Let’s go. I’m taking you home.”
“I can’t go yet. I have to make sure Jenna gets home.”
“Ugh! Fine, but I’m gonna make sure you stay out of trouble.” He grabs my hand again and leads me into a bedroom where several coats are laid on the bed. “Find your jacket. I’ll find Jenna.”
“You’re awfully bossy today,” I add bravely.
“And you’re a handful. Just find your coat so we can go.”
He leaves the room on his mission, and I sift through the plethora of jackets strewn all over the bed. I need to sit, as I am still dizzy from all the alcohol. Drinking this much is never a good idea. Matt rushes back in the door as if he were on fire.
“Get up!” he shouts at me. “We gotta go—now!”
“Why, is the house on fire?” I say sarcastically.
“Worse! It’s the cops!”
The police are here, and we’re all underage and drinking. I grab my jacket and stand up quickly. The room spins. Oh jeez, this can’t be good. Matt sees me sway and puts his arm around my waist.
“I got you,” he murmurs as he looks down at me. For a moment our eyes lock again. That feeling is back, but it’s fleeting. We have to get out of here.
Matt tears his gaze away—reluctantly?—leads me to the door, and peeks out.
“We can’t get out this way,” he says. “We’ll have to go out the window.” Matt smiles at me, and it’s a childlike expression. It’s almost as though he’s enjoying this. Well, in a way, it is very exciting. He opens the window and gestures for me to go first.
“Good thing we’re not far off the ground, eh, Chlo?”
I nod, give a small smile, and sit on the windowsill. After swinging my legs out, I turn onto my belly as I dangle out the window, gripping it tightly. Matt grabs both of my hands to lower me gently down. His touch makes my hands tingle. I drop awkwardly onto my feet and then land on my behind. He quickly follows, but his dismount is much more graceful.
“Come on, Chlo. I know where to go.”
He takes my hand again and we run…well, he runs. I stumble along behind him trying to keep up. We continue to make our escape until we come to a graveyard. It’s a very old cemetery. We duck through a hole in the fence.
“This is creepy,” I say as we weave through the headstones.
“Yeah, I guess it is a little bit. Let’s rest over by that mausoleum.” He points in the direction of a small stone building. We make our way over to it and sit, leaning our backs against its side.
“That was exciting,” I breathe, trying to slow my panting.
“Yes, it was.” He frowns down at me. “Since when are you into that kind of excitement?”
I frown back at him, a puzzled look on my face. “I don’t know. Since now, I guess.” And then I remember my drunken best friend. “Jenna!” I exclaim. “I forgot about her. I hope she made it out before the cops got to her.”
The thought of her being arrested makes my stomach roll. How could I leave without her? Well, I wasn’t exactly in a position to help myself, let alone someone else. In fact, if Matt wasn’t there to help me escape, I would’ve been calling my parents from jail right now. That would’ve been a moment of pride for them.
“Relax,” he says. “I’m sure she’s fine. I’ll take you home in a bit. You can call her in the morning. Well, maybe in the afternoon would be better,” he chuckles.
We sit in silence for a while, neither one of us feeling the need to say anything.
“This is nice, you know?” I say softly.
“What, being at an underage drunkfest, drinking way too much and almost falling on your face, jumping out of a window, and running through a graveyard? Yeah, nice isn’t exactly the word I would use to describe this evening,” he says.
“That’s not what I meant. I mean we haven’t hung out in a long time. This is nice. It’s just us, like it used to be.”
I close my eyes, lean my head back, and smile wistfully, thinking about some of our past adventures as kids. “I miss it, you know? I miss…us.”
“Me too. And you are right. This is kind of nice. But now we’ve graduated, and everything’s going to change.” There’s a sad tone to his voice. I look at him, and he’s staring at me with a heavyhearted expression that changes to…what? Then I feel that pull again. We are two magnets being drawn together. There’s no controlling it. He leans forward. His face is getting closer to mine. I glance down at his lips. They are slightly parted, and then, slowly, they are on mine. He’s kissing me very gently. I gasp for precious air, and he eases his tongue in my mouth. Oh my God, this is so…good. I wrap my hands around the back of his head and entwine my fingers into his hair. He snakes his arms around me and pulls me further into him. We are both putting everything we have into this wonderfully passionate kiss. I’m floating. Despite the chill, my body is on fire. We are nothing but hands and tongues. He moans into my mouth, and it’s the sexiest sound I’ve ever heard. Just as I think my heart will burst from my chest, he pulls back and regards me with shock on his face.
I blink up at him, stunned. He pulls back further and shakes his head as if to clear it.
“Chlo, I’m…sorry. I don’t know what came over me. We need to go. I have to get you home,” he says after a beat. I’m struck dumb, speechless once again. He stands and holds out his hand to help me up. I take it and shakily get to my feet. I know the buzz from the alcohol hasn’t yet left me, but my legs feel like Jell-O, and I don’t think I can blame the alcohol. He starts to walk, still holding my hand.
“Wait just a minute. Let me steady myself.”
He looks back at me and halts his progress.
“Okay, I’m good,” I mutter quietly, and we’re off, headed back to my house, I think. What happened back there? Whatever it was, it was fantastic. We don’t speak the whole way home, which gives me nothing but time to think about our kiss.
We never spoke of that kiss again and even now, five years later, I touch my lips reflexively and think to myself, That was the best day of my life.