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Sloppy firsts, p.22
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       Sloppy Firsts, p.22

           Megan Mccafferty
 
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  "Where’s Mia?" I asked.

  "Mia?"

  "Yeah, the girl you mack with in the hall every day."

  "Oh, her." I knew he was joking around even though he sounded serious. "Mia is in Philly for her grandmother’s birthday."

  "Oh."

  "So I was thinking, I’m free, why not see if you wanted to do something with me? Maybe go to Helga’s?"

  My tongue inflated to a bizillion times its normal size. It must have, because I could barely breathe, let alone speak.

  "Darlene, are you there?"

  I had to be cool about this. I had to be his nonsexual female friend who could care less if he was asking me to do something on a Saturday night, which was the closest thing I’ve had to a date, uh, ever. I had to make a joke out of this. Or else.

  "So I’m sloppy seconds, is what you’re saying."

  "Oh no, Jessica," he laughed. "You’re sloppy firsts."

  Have truer words ever been spoken?

  I sighed and told him I’d be ready in fifteen minutes.

  Sixteen minutes later, we were cruising in the Caddie on Route 9. I was surprisingly not nervous. The Caddie was in the same exact condition it was in the last time I rode in it. Only no Roja. The fact that he hadn’t cleaned it up especially for me reinforced that this was no big deal. Just two friends, going to the diner on a Saturday night. The radio was busted, so Marcus popped Barry Manilow into the eight-track player. Rain pounded on the roof, and the volume was turned way up:

  When will our eyes meet?

  When can I touch you?

  "I know this song!" I shouted over the crescendo. "My mom plays it when she does housework."

  "Did you know that Rolling Stone called him ’the showman of our time’?"

  Wow. I actually did know that. It’s what my mom says every time I complain about Manilow on the stereo. But the fact that Marcus knew it freaked me out. I mean, how many seventeen-year-old guys know that Barry Manilow is the showman of our time?

  Fortunately, we got to Helga’s Diner before I had a chance to obsess about this for another minute.

  Marcus hopped out of the car and didn’t even attempt to open my car door for me. Good. Again, he reminded me that this was not a date.

  We walked into Helga’s lobby. Bam! Mirrors everywhere. A million Marcus-and-me’s to remind us that we were actually doing this. We were going out in public on a Saturday night—together.

  "Smoking or non," growled Viola, our waitress. She intimidated me pretty well for someone who came up to my chin.

  "Non," I said before Marcus had a chance.

  Non-smoking. Non-date, I thought.

  We slid into our booth. He took off his wool pea coat and I was made instantly happy over his decision to ditch his shirt and tie in favor of an oldie but goodie.

  "Backstreet’s back?!" I asked, pointing to the boys smiling on his chest.

  "What?"

  "No jacket and tie?"

  "Nah," he said. "That’s just for show at school."

  Helga’s was decked for the holidays in the sad but well-intentioned way that diners and gas stations and other public places often are.

  "Fake Christmas trees depress me," I said, pointing to a shabby evergreen with plastic, toilet-brush-like branches.

  "Me too," he said. "How about fake Christmas trees spray-painted with fake snow?"

  "Yes!" I said. "How about fakeXmas trees spray-painted with fake snow?"

  "Yessssssss! I hate that word," he said. "Xmas."

  Then we rattled off a list of things that depressed us about the holidays: pop divas who mess up holiday classics with their show-offy vocal gymnastics; fruitcake; when people don’t write anything but their names inside mass-produced greeting cards; Salvation Army bell-ringers; animatronic Nativity scenes …

  "This would’ve been great to write about," I said. "Too bad I already turned in my next editorial."

  "What’s the topic?" he asked.

  "’Rudolph Revisited: A Red-Nosed Nerd’s Revenge.’"

  "Classic," he said, nodding his head in approval.

  We stopped bah-humbugging when Viola chucked our plates on the table. I poured on the ketchup and dug in.

  "You eat," Marcus said, after a few minutes of face-stuffing silence.

  "Yes," I mumbled in between mouthfuls of cheeseburger.

  "Most girls don’t eat."

  He was doing it again. Marcus was reminding me of all the other girls he’s had before me. Well, I was going to remindhim that this didn’t bother me a bit. Not one bit.

  "You would know, wouldn’t you?" I said, popping a fry into my mouth. "Because you’ve datedmost girls, haven’t you?"

  "Most," he said, with a sly smile. "But not all. Not yet."

  I barely had time to savor these lip-smacking words when I was bitch-slapped back to reality with one shrieky Omigod!

  Sara, Manda, Scotty, and Burke had just burst through the door on a gust of ice-cold air. This was my fault. I should have known they would come here on a Saturday night. There was no way Marcus and I would get out of this without being seen.

  "What’s wrong?" Marcus asked.

  I jerked my head in the direction of their noise.

  "Why do you care?" he asked, leaning back in the booth.

  Why did I care? Did I care? How could I still care what the Clueless Crew and Co. thought?

  I looked at Marcus. He was sitting still, with his hands folded calmly on the table. A serene smile on his lips. He wasn’t tapping his foot or drumming his fingers on the table or flicking his lighter open and shut. Marcus wasn’t all hopped up and hyperkinetic. He was loose and relaxed in a way that I haven’t seen him since he stopped using. And then I realized that I hadn’t felt nervous around him all night either. I’d felt more comfortable in my own skin than I had, well, since Hope moved away.

  So did I care about what these assholes thought? No. Let them see us. I—we—belonged here.

  Too bad I didn’t get the chance to tell this to Marcus.

  "Omigod!" screamed Sara so loud, I thought she’d shatter the lobby mirrors. "Look who it is! The Class Brainiac and Krispy Kreme."

  All heads turned in our direction. Eight eyes on us.

  "I’m still thinking she’s a dyke," said Burke.

  "Puh-leeze," said Manda. "She just got tired of being the last virgin in school."

  "Mutherfucker," was all Scotty had to say.

  Finally, after what seemed like back-to-back life sentences, plus twenty-five years for good measure, Sara said, "Omigod! Maybe we’ll have to arrange a two-for-one drug test."

  Her words stunned me like a taser.

  The next thing I knew, I was watching a million Marcuses leading a million mes through the lobby and out the door, into the cold.

  Once inside the car, Marcus tried to ease my mind. "She doesn’t know anything. She was just being a bitch."

  Holyshitholyshitholyshit! Did Sara say what I thought she said? Was it directed toward both of us? Or just Marcus? Did Sara know about The Dannon Incident? How could Sara know? No way she knew. If she knew, she would’ve busted me already. Right? Or maybe seeing us together was all the evidence she needed to nail us?

  I was too busy thinking about all this to talk, let alone notice that Marcus had turned down a dark dirt road off Forest Drive. He pulled over to the side of the road and turned off the engine.

  "Why are we stopping?"

  The only light shone from high beams. Marcus got out of the car, walked around the front, came over to the driver’s side, opened the door, and held out his hand.

  "What?"

  He just stood there with his arm outstretched.

  I unbuckled my seat belt and grabbed his hand. He pulled me out of the car. A chill shot through me from the inside out.

  "Keep your eyes closed," he said.

  He took my other hand in his.

  I was so freaked out, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

  He pulled me close. I inhaled the earthy, autumna
l scent of his skin—the scent that had inspired fantasies about stealing his BSB T-shirt and using it as a pillowcase so I could breathe him in as I sleep.

  I felt his smoky breath on my face.

  Hot.

  And at that moment, I just knew he was going to kiss me. I was petrified. So much so, that I hadn’t even noticed that I’d been chewing the left side of my lip—until I felt a sharp nibble on the opposite side.

  Marcus bit me! He nipped my lip!

  I nearly jumped out of my boots—not because it hurt, but because no one had ever chewed on my mouth besides me. I couldn’t believe that the first person to do that to me was him. Marcus Flutie. I opened my eyes and there he was, looking at me. Grinning.

  "Shall we?" he said.

  He opened the door and slid inside, and I followed suit.

  I don’t know how I managed to make it through the drive home. Or how I got the word good-bye out when he dropped me off. I don’t know much of anything right now. But what I really don’t know is if that lip nip counts as our first kiss.

  the tenth

  All night I repeated his name over and over and over again out loud. Marcusmarcusmarcus. And after a while, I started to hear what it really meant.

  Markissmarkissmarkiss.

  Marred kiss.

  Jesus Christ.

  So let’s just preface this by saying that I was very desperate for advice this morning. And now, after seeking that advice, I’m more desperate for advice than ever.

  Bridget was still in her pajamas when I knocked on her door. Even at her groggiest, she looked as fresh and dewy as Sleeping Beauty. I needed to tell someone about what happened last night. I’ve created such a complex inner world for myself that I was starting to believe that I’d made it all up. And no matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t talk to Hope about it. She would die if she knew Marcus and I had done uh, whatever we had done last night. Bridget hated the Clueless Crew and Co. as much as I did, so I figured she was my best bet. She was my only bet. Make no mistake, I hated myself for telling her instead of Hope. I mean, what does it say about our friendship when I’m hiding more than I’m sharing? But I had to get it all out.

  So I told Bridget everything that had happened, from Marcus’s invitation to Burke’s lesbo comment to the bit lip. The only thing I didn’t get into was why Sara’s comment stung as much as it did. The Dannon Incident had to remain a secret.

  "He bit your lip?"

  "Yeah."

  "That’s like, so weird."

  "I know."

  "Does that mean you’re the girl Marcus is using to cheat on his current girlfriend?"

  I leapt out of the beanbag. "No!" I protested. "I mean, I don’t think so.… Uh … It wasn’t a kiss. I mean, I don’t know.… Uh …"

  Bridget clapped her hands and jumped in the air.

  "You like him!"

  "I like him as a friend."

  "No," she said. "You like him like him."

  "No I don’t!"

  "Then why are you acting like a total spaz?"

  Why was I acting like a total spaz? Why? I knew better than this.

  "There’s just something weird between Marcus and me," I said. "Since last year, there’s been this … energy between us."

  "Sexual energy."

  "Bridget! Stop it!"

  "I’m just trying to help," she said, twirling her ponytail around her finger. "Like, what kind of energy?"

  "I don’t know," I said. "Once we acknowledged each other’s existence last year, he started popping up all over the place. He was always around, causing controversy."

  She put her ponytail in her mouth for a few seconds, deep in thought.

  "I think the biting thing is maybe just another way to keep me guessing. It’s all part of his game."

  Bridget kept on sucking on the end of her ponytail. I wanted to tell her more about Marcus and me. More than was necessary. Just enough to make it real and get it all out of my system.

  "He slipped a note in my back pocket once," I said. "He had it all folded up origami-style, like a mouth. But I lost it before I got to read it. And when I asked him about it, he wouldn’t tell me what it said …"

  Bridget dropped her ponytail.

  "It was shaped like what?"

  "It was folded up, so it opened and closed, you know, like a mouth or something."

  "You’re kidding, right?"

  "Uh, no." I didn’t understand why Bridget was so hung up on the shape of the note when there were so many other details that needed to be analyzed to death.

  She leapt off the bed, bounded over to her dresser, and opened the top drawer. She pulled out a box with cherubs and hearts on it. She rifled through some papers before pulling out … the origami mouth I was just talking about.

  I almost peed all over Bridget’s comforter—which wasn’t living up to its name.

  "Is this it?"

  I fell backward on the bed and slammed my skull against her headboard. She took that as a yes.

  Bridget sat down next to me and bounced up and down on the bed. "I can’t believe it!" she squealed. "I can’t believe this is for you! I can’t believe that it’s from Marcus! I thought I’d like, never find out who it was to or from!"

  I started coming to. "How did you get it to begin with?"

  "I found it on the locker-room floor last spring."

  The locker-room floor! It fell out of my pocket as I changed for gym! I should have known!

  "I kept it because it’s only, like, the sexiest thing I’ve ever read!" she squeaked.

  "Sexy?"

  "Sexy."

  "Really?"

  "Really. It was better than anything Burke wrote me in four years. I wished it were for me," she said, heaving a sigh and hugging a lacy pillow to her chest. "That’s why I held on to it. As proof that someone out there thought sexy meant more than sleeping on the wet spot so I wouldn’t have to."

  Huh?

  "Sleeping on the wet spot? What? But you and Burke never …"

  Bridget dropped the pillow.

  "Oh, Jess," she said with a touch of condescension.

  "Oh, Jess, what?"

  "I thought you of all people would’ve seen through that."

  "Seen through what?" I asked, not liking the sound of where this was going.

  "I never said I was a virgin," she said, breathily.

  And that’s when I discovered that Bridget might have an acting career ahead of her after all.

  "I did it with Burke in like, ninth grade. I just made it sound like I was still a virgin to get Manda, Sara, and Hy off my fat ass about the statutory rape stuff."

  "But you said …"

  "I think I said, ’Who says Burke and I are having sex?’ which like, implied that we weren’t," she said. "And when I said it, we’d stopped having sex, so it wasn’t a lie."

  What did I tell you? Bridget does not lie. She really doesn’t.

  "Why did you stop?"

  "I just wasn’t into it anymore," she said.

  "Why?"

  She took a second to come up with the perfect answer.

  "It got like, old. By the time I left for L.A., I was like, a born-again virgin. So in a way, I don’t blame Burke for screwing Manda. He was really horny."

  "That doesn’t make it right."

  "I know. Which is why I’m like, never going to speak to them again."

  She started waving her hands wildly in the air, as if to wipe out the previous conversation. "Enough about that and back to this," she said, holding up the note. "All I can say is, you are a very lucky girl."

  "I am?"

  "Now I know how Marcus gets so many girls to sleep with him," she said. "He knows how to like, woo."

  Woo? I was freaking out at this point.

  "Can I read it?!"

  Bridget rolled up into a ball and giggled hysterically. "Oh, you can read it," she said. "But its gonna like, blow away your whole just-friends idea."

  And it did. Because here’s what Marcus’s origami mou
th had to say:

  FALL

  We

  are Adam and Eve

  born out of chaos called

  creation

  Ribbing me gave you life

  yet you forget

  there will always be

  a part of me in you

  yes

  I taunted and tempted

  you

  with my forbidden fruit

  does that make

  me

  the serpent too?

  Believe what you will

  but if I am exiled

  alone

  I know we will be

  together again someday

  naked

  without shame

  in paradise

  My thanks to you

  for being in on my

  sin

  the eleventh

  I couldn’t stop thinking about "Fall" all weekend. Or the quasi-kiss. And what one had to do with the other.

  I must have read the poem a bizillion times. And every time I finished, sweat was pouring from my armpits, down the inside of my T-shirt. Every time, it was too much. Sensory overload.

  I know we will be/together again someday/naked/without shame/in paradise.

  What else can that mean but what I know it means?

  At first I tried being blasé about it. He wrote that poem when he still deserved to be called Krispy Kreme, before he even knew me. We were different people now. Friends. He even said himself when we had our first talk in the Caddie that it was probably better that I never got to read it.

  But the more I read it, the more it disturbed me. Because it reminded me of the fling with Cal on the big day. Cal had convinced me—albeit briefly—that we had a connection, one that he concocted to get his rocks off. What if my phone friendship with Marcus was the same sort of thing? What if it was nothing more than the second phase of his plot to make me another donut?

  If we were going to continue talking, there had to be zero doubt that our phone friendship was not going to lead to sex. That meant no more lip-nipping. Nothing. Of course, Marcus didn’t make this confrontation easy for me. I had to hover at my locker for a few minutes before homeroom, waiting for him to finish feeling up Mia.

  Mia. Did she know about the lip nip? Did that count as cheating?

  When the spittle settled, I walked up to him. He leaned against the locker Mia had been pressed up against only seconds before. I bet it was still warm from their body heat.

 
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