BY JANE WOOD
Copyright is held by the author.
FROM THE moment Josh witnessed Desiree blowing succulent pink bubbles with her gum, he wanted to kiss her.
It was the first week of school, and everything felt scrubbed clean. The smell of floor wax hung over the wide hallways of Josh’s new high school inside which you could place his elementary school three times over with room to spare. In the Cafetorium, you could buy poutine and pizza and be rowdy at long tables in the cavernous space that held a stage at one end.
It was Wednesday, and Josh looked up from his poutine just in time to see Desiree float into the Cafetorium over by the milk fridge. Sunlight from the broad windows caught her hair as it fanned out in golden ripples across her shoulders. Her face radiated light toward the girl beside her. From across the huge space, Josh’s eyes were drawn to the perfect bud of her mouth, whose small pointed tongue flicked out to moisten the pink lips, and darted back in to press a wad of bubblegum into submission against her teeth. As she reached into the milk fridge, a feather-pink bubble formed between her lips, then grew larger, and larger still, and Josh was aware that he was holding his breath. The impossibility of the moment stretched on and still the bubble inflated, and the girl’s eyes above it were round with awe as she waved her milk carton in the air to signal her friend’s attention.
Josh wanted to cry out across the cavernous space and declare, “I see you! I am watching, and you are beautiful and amazing and I want to kiss you!”
(But of course he didn’t. He had to go to school here after all, and couldn’t ostracize himself in the first week of high school.)
And just as the bubble reached its perfect apex, it trembled and collapsed upon itself, deflated, spent, pillow-like against Desiree’s O-shaped lips. Josh exhaled long and hard as the girl’s small pink tongue circled her mouth and folded the soft pink chewing gum back into itself.
“Dude, you eating that?”
The voice intruded but Josh was helpless to pull his gaze away.
“I said, you eating that, or what?” the voice asked again. When Josh failed to answer, there was a pause, and the voice continued, “Give it up, man. I see who you’re looking at.”
Josh inhaled, imagining the smell of bubblegum. “Yeah, isn’t she gorgeous?”
“Give it up,” Brian repeated. “You don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell.”
Josh didn’t answer.
Brian swatted Josh on the side of his head and Josh jumped. “Hey! What was that for?”
Brian reached over for a forkful of Josh’s poutine. “You’ll thank me,” he said with his mouth full.
“What, for hitting me and eating my lunch?” Josh rubbed his ear.
“No, for protecting you.” He took another bite of Josh’s poutine. “I hear she eats guys alive.”
Josh gazed at the figure standing in the cash line, jaws working the pink gum rhythmically.
“Yeah, that’s what I’m hoping for,” he said.
“Dude, I don’t mean in a good way!” Brian made a move to swat Josh’s other ear, but Josh ducked away. “She eats guys whole and spits them out. She’ll use you, man. She’s trouble. Stay away from her.”
Josh didn’t answer. In his mind, he was floating across the huge room, honing in on that beacon of glowing hair, intersecting the girl’s path. But in the next instant, Josh’s daydream turned into slow-motion social disaster: Desiree, oblivious to the tall, skinny boy, Josh leaning down to plant a kiss on those glossed lips, Desiree turning her head, Josh’s passion deflected onto her small perfect ear, that ear, deaf to the tumultuous love of a teenaged boy, milk carton dropping to the floor, Desiree shouting “What the fuck!”, a million eyes looking their way, Desiree mumbling,“You’re pathetic.”
A hard smack across the head, and Brian’s voice in his ear: “You’re pathetic!”
Josh rubbed his head. “You’re right, man, she’s trouble.”