Kayla had read about first kisses, watched about first kisses, and heard about first kisses. She just never had had one yet. Maybe it was because she was a little too tall as a girl, and a little too athletic, and her chest was a little too flat, and her braids were a little too heavy. Or maybe because she didn’t know much about makeup and fashion. In a high school full of girls that dressed up as if going to parties instead of going to school, Kayla was something else. In her class, she was the tallest, period. She was even taller than some of the boys in the basketball team.
She didn’t worry too much about the first kiss, not like the rest of her friends. There were a couple cheerleaders in her group, and they were already way beyond just a simple kiss. They worry about her, though. Or rather, worry for her.
She was already sixteen, they said to her more than once during lunch breaks; go hook up with someone, someone in the football team or basketball team. But they are my buddies, she would argue, only thinking about kissing anyone of them makes me wanna throw up. Her girlfriends would laugh at her like crazy, almost barking. There is no buddies for girls, idiot. We are always the preys, like it or not, and they are always the predators; it’s just that they haven’t realize that you are just as tasty as others. And at this point, she would punch one of the girls on the shoulder, and change the subject to something else.
But she couldn’t say that those comments didn’t get under her skin. Lately, more than once, she had found herself standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom, biting her own lips and trying to make them look redder, or wiping water on her eyelashes and trying to make them look denser, like her friends when they used mascaras. She tried to picture herself with full makeup, silver eyeshadows and crazy bright lipstick, looking like Zendaya when she shook her hair loose.
When her girlfriends set her up and insisted on taking her to one of those pool parties that were thrown throughout the summer around town, she half freaked out, half felt like it was some kind of joke. The only swimming suit she owned was a diver’s suit that she bought when she went to Australia with her family. No one wore diver’s suits to a pool party.
Her friends took her on a party preparation shopping, and went straight into Victoria’s Secret once they arrived at the mall. She had refused to go inside at first, because she wearing a set of Victoria’s Secret bikini was the most hideous image that she could think of. Her legs were too muscled from years of printing and running, her shoulders were too wide, and she had absolutely no curve. Her friends wouldn’t listen to her reasons. Oh c’mon, they pulled on her arms and particularly dragged her into the shop. You’ll look gorgeous, girl, and that’s when you are gonna hook up with someone.
But I am not hooking up with anyone, she tried to protest. And then a set of bikini was pressed into her hands. You don’t want anything too showy? Go for these high-necks. And see, the black and white palms are just so you.
She had no idea what that was supposed to mean, but at last she compromised and went to the fitting room. Her friends filed into the small stall with her, and six girls whispered in excitement like they were on some kind of treasure hunt. You look like Zoe Saldana, one of her friends said, just a little taller.
She changed back into her own T-shirt and ripped jeans without taking a closer look at herself in the mirror, partly because it was too crowded in the fitting room, partly because she felt like a doll in a dressing game. She knew her friends meant well, but this was just not her. She didn’t want to be Zoe Saldana, she wanted to be her, the girl who loved to run for hours without stopping.
By the end of the trip, she brought home a set of bikini, a bright red lipstick, a plate of glittering eyeshadow, and some other stuff from Sephora that she had never used before, and probably wouldn’t used again after this party. But she felt that she did this more for her friends than for her. If they wanted her to roll with it, then she would roll with it. No harm was done, anyway, if she didn’t care too much about her pride. But if you ask her, she’d rather go running tracks then be stuck in a fitting room.
On the day of the party, her friends came pick her up with one of their parents’ Honda Civic. The car was already packed, and she managed to sit against one of the girls. All of them took a glance at her and then started yelling, some of them saying that she’d done her eyebrows wrong, which she just couldn’t understand how, and some of the others saying that no one would recognize her at the party. Kayla wasn’t sure how much of that comment was true, since she would still be the tallest girl in the house, and her chest and butt wouldn’t magically be bigger just because she had put on some makeup. She playfully smacked away the hands that tried to grab at her tank top, and they all settled and off they went.
Kayla could hear the hip-hop music they played from two blocks away, and the alarm in her heart went off. She had a feeling that the night was going to involve some drugs and alcohol and police, and she was afraid that it wouldn’t end well. And so even before getting out of the car, she had already started planning her getaway.
They parked across the street, and the driveway of the house that was holding the party was already crowded with people, among those she immediately recognized some of her best guy friends from the soccer and basketball teams. At this point she had a sudden urge to run back to the car and hide there the whole night. She did not want them to see her with all this makeup and her possibly “wrong” eyebrows, and her skintight tank-top. But her friends had grabbed her and pushed her forward, and she was particularly hurled into a group of boys with red cups in their hands. They burst out laughing and rising their cups at her, and one of the basketball player called Alex put his arm around her and declared that she was his date tonight. Despite that Kayla knew he didn’t care about her that way, and they always ran tracks together after practice, she was flattered. The kind of girls he dated was everything she was not; they were always petite and sweet and soft and curvy. She had imagined what it might’ve felt like, holding a girl like that. Surely a guy wouldn’t want to put his arm around a pile of bones and hard muscles.
The sky was turning dark, and the boys urged them into the house. Kayla didn’t know the owner of the house, but it hardly mattered. She believed that at least half of the people in this two-story house didn’t know one another; it was always the case for this kind of party. Someone had brought his or her friends, and their friends had brought some other friends, and no one really knew anyone. But that was kind of the point, right?
She was surrounded by a lot of people and music that in her opinion was way too loud. She loved hip-hop and rap and all that, but she preferred it a little quieter. She had lost track of her friends once they moved into the living room, and despite being one of the tallest people in the room, it was hard to find anyone particular among all the milling figures. She grabbed a cup from the table next to her and took a sip, and the liquid in it was so stingy it made her eyes water. She’d never tried Vodka before, and she wouldn’t want to in the future. She put it down, hoping no one had noticed, and snuck out of the living room, preparing a backup story that she was looking for a bathroom in case anyone asked her. She ran into another couple of athletes in the hallway, but most of the people just ignored her. When she did pass the bathroom door, she saw two figures make out inside, and they didn’t even bother closing the door. She turned her head away a little too quick, and gratefully spotted the door leading to the backyard. The swimming pool must be there, and hopefully she could find some peace around the water.
But the backyard was just as crowded, and maybe even more noisy with all the splashing and screaming and laughters. She didn’t expect so many people by or in the pool, and the music out here was something faster, like electronic dancing music, and for some reason, it got on her nerves. She started to consider the possibility of hiding upstairs, but thinking of seeing someone else make out made her cringe inside, and she thought better of it. She moved back into the house and let herself into the kitchen.
To her surprise, there were only a few people here, and the music was muted by the doorway and all the cabinets. She took in a deep breath and stretched a little, a habit she kept for years. When she thought that no one was looking, she opened the refrigerator and found some fruit punch. She poured herself a glass and was ready to move to the corner, and that was when she realized she had backed into something—or someone, to be more exactly. The drink flew out from the glass and splashed on the floor, and she whipped around to apologize, while this other person also turned around and opened his mouth and let out three words: “Oh my crap.”
“Excuse me?” She was stunned, if not dumbfounded. The way he looked was actually hilarious: his eyes were wide open behind those heavy glasses, eyebrows arched high, mouth in the shape of an “o”, and she could almost see sweat emerge on his nose. He was tall and skinny, actually at her height and probably her weight, with a set of broader shoulders and bonier limbs, visible under his flannel shirt. His skin was fair, and his hair was just as bright, a mess of curls sitting on top of his head and cover most of his fore head. His eyes were a strange shade of green that looked almost like gray. She’d never seen him at school before, or she would definitely remember him.
“Sorry, sorry, I am so sorry, I didn’t mean to curse…” he stepped back with a jerk, as if realizing he was physically too close. “It’s just…I thought I’d seen M.J. when I saw you, you know.”
“M.J. who?” Kayla asked. She was ninety percent sure that he was drunk and mistook her as someone else, and the other ten percent…well, that was what she was interested in.
“M.J. as Mary Jane? The new M.J. in that new Spiderman movie?” He said. “she is a mess in the film and her real name is not Mary Jane, of course, but she’s something…definitely something. Not that she is not attractive or anything, but she is—uh, I guess that sounds weird. I am sorry, I don’t know what I am talking about, I am just—sorry.”
Now the sweat actually slid down his cheek, and Kayla had an urge to laugh. She didn’t want to be rude, though, and the true was, she had zero idea what he was saying.
“Well, first thing first, I am not Mary Jane, or Mary, for that matter. I am Kayla.” She set down the glass and offered her hand. The guy in front of her seemed a little confused by her gesture, but thank God, before she decided to take her hand back, he held it and gave her a quick handshake.
“Sorry, my hand is kinda sweaty. It’s too warm in here. They should have opened the windows.” He looked around, and when he found that there were still a few people around in the kitchen, he shifted a little on his feet. “I am, uh, I am Peter, by the way.”
“Peter Peter?” Kayla said with a laugh. “Like the Spiderman Peter?”
“That’s the one.” His face lit up a little by the comment. “You like Spiderman too?”
She shake her head. “Sorry, that’s probably all the knowledge I have about him. I mean, and that quote, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ I watched the first movie with my parents when I was in elementary school.”
“Classic. It’s ok; it’s so far my favorite Spiderman movie of all, although I am pretty excited about the latest…” he caught himself and looked at Kayla, and there was something in his eyes that made her feel like he had just seen her for real the first time. “Sorry, I did that again.”
“My friends said that I act weird around girls, and it’s just impossible to have a normal conversation with me. I guess I talk about this kind of stuff too much—you know, like comics and animate and things like that.” He shifted again.
“It’s ok.” She assured him. “At least it’s better than standing around and having absolutely nothing to say.”
“You mean like this party?”
“I don’t wanna be rude. But yeah.”
He relaxed a little, shoulders slumping. “Surprise. I was on a hunt for a place to hide, but then—”
“Same here.” Kayla said. “So, what were you doing here in the first place? Well, it’s kinda personal, so you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”
“It’s ok. Ted and some guys said they had this new board game that they wanted to show some of other guys in the party, so the whole club came here together as a group. You could say I was brought here against my will.” He said with a small smile at the corner of his mouth, and she found it kind of cute.
She smiled back politely, and suddenly ran out of things to say. It was good to actually talk to someone when her friends were no where to be seen, but it seemed like the conversation had come to an end.
Just before she could make an excuse to sneak away, he spoke again. “Um. Did I see you somewhere before? Do you go to Wedgewood High too?”
She nodded. “I am an junior.”
“You don’t happen to be in the track team, do you?”
“Well, as a matter of fact, I do.” She could feel that her face was getting hot for no obvious reason. People recognized her all the time, especially after the race last semester. But it was somehow different this time.
“Shit, I knew it was you—you were the county 100 metres champion? Kayla—Kayla Maine?”
Now it was her turn to become a little uncomfortable. But not in an unpleasant way. “It was yours truly.”
“Holy—so why on earth are you hiding? There are tons of jocks out there in the living room and by the pool, like, literally everywhere. I bet you a buck that you know every single one of them.”
“First, one buck isn’t too much of a bait; second, no, they might know of my name and I might theirs, but I don’t personally know a lot of them. Plus, most of my athlete friends are real athlete. No jock shit.”
She didn’t mean to say it in a harsh way, but it must have come across so, and he was taken aback.
“Sorry, no offense. I wasn’t about to patronize you or your friends or anything…”
“No offense taken. I guess people can’t help thinking of us that way; there are some jerks on the teams for sure. And they are always loud.”
As if confirming her point, a scratching scream (or laugh) came from the living room and followed suit by a wave of whooping and hollering. He burst out laughing and she did, too. “See what I mean?”
“Yeah, I guess it’d be better if you just stick with M.J.” he said.
“Sounds like a fine idea to me. But I am nothing like Kirsten Dunst.”
“Definitely no, and that’s for the best. I love a non-bitchy M.J. for a change. So, um…” He paused, and started again, “so I am gonna check on the board game club in the study. Maybe you would want to come along? I mean, if you don’t have better things to do.”
“I don’t see anything better to do.” She agreed. “so where is the study?”
“That’s what we are gonna find out.” He smiled that little smile again, and she had a feeling that he didn’t know he was doing this and that it was actually quite attractive.
And so she followed him out of the kitchen. And she made a note to herself that she would definitely check out this new M.J. in the latest Spiderman movie after the party.