I remember the first girl that I had ever kissed. It happened during the summer when I was fifteen years old. That year, on the weekends, I would make extra money by doing yard work for my next-door neighbor, Mrs. Tillman. She would pay me ten dollars and give me a glass of sweet tea when I was done. She always said I was a good kid, but then again, she said the same thing to every other kid on my block. One weekend Mrs. Tillman was sick and her granddaughter came over to take care of her. When I was finished with the yard work that day, I came up to the house and saw Mrs. Tillman’s granddaughter sitting on the couch. She was the most beautiful person I had ever seen. Seeing her felt like seeing the sun set after a perfect day. She was cute as a button, with big brown eyes and dark hair. She seemed to reflect a warmth that reached all the way across the room to where I was. She smiled at me and my face turned beet-red when I realized I had been standing in the doorway staring at her. Mrs. Tillman was in a recliner under a blanket watching T.V when she turned to greet me.
“Come on in, son,” she called to me in a raspy voice. “Get the boy some tea.”
The girl made her way into the kitchen and poured me some tea. She looked to be about my age, maybe a little bit older.
“Here you go,” She said handing me the glass of tea. She smiled at me and I instantly felt it strike my heart. I decided that I had to find any reason I could to stay at Mrs. Tillman’s house that day.
The intense heat of the August afternoon had made us become lethargic and I suggested that we watch a movie. I turned on an old black-and-white western on the large, box-shaped television. Mrs. Tillman fell asleep right away and began to snore softly in her chair. The girl quickly became disinterested in the film and I was frantically trying to think of a way I could talk to her. After a while, I picked up the remote and muted the television. I watched the screen as the cowboy began to load up his gun. When his character began to speak, I tried to imitate the best version of a cowboy voice that I could muster.
“I reckon I can catch up with them scoundrels. Old blue here is the fastest horse in the west!” I said, in a hoarse Texas accent.
The next few moments after that felt like hours as I waited for a reaction from her. My face started to turn red. I began cursing at myself in my mind for being such an idiot. I thought I had totally blown it. Then, my anxiety faded as a grin formed on her face. A big burly character came into frame and the girl immediately cleared her throat and spoke in a comically low voice.
“Now wait just a minute! Them bandits are real dangerous!” she was giggling so much she could barely finish her impersonation.
“You could get kill’d!” she exclaimed in her low cowboy voice, which made us both break into laughter.
My stomach began to rise like it did when I rode my bike down the big hill on our street. I was completely smitten by a girl who I had only met an hour ago.
In the next scene, the cowboy caught up with the bandits who were terrorizing a group of Native Americans. He helped fight off the attackers and rescued the chief’s beautiful daughter.
“You ok, miss?” I said in my cheesy fake western accent.
“Oh my you are so brave!” she answered, in an exaggerated tone, giggling.
Just then, the cowboy took chief’s daughter in his arms and kissed her.
“Kiss me.” The girl said, only she was speaking to me this time.
The cowboy on screen was speaking again, but I was sitting motionless. I had suddenly become frightened. I had no idea what to do.
In the scene, the chief’s daughter and the cowboy got onto his horse and they kissed each other again in a more dramatic way. I looked over at the girl and she was already looking at me, her brown eyes cutting me straight to my heart. Without saying anything, we both moved closer to each other and my heart began to pound so hard I was afraid that she could hear it. My hands were shaking as I leaned in and pressed my lips against hers. Her mouth tasted like cheap lip balm and bubble gum. I felt a glowing warmth throughout my body and I wondered to myself if that’s what it felt like to be in love.
“I’ve never done this before.”
“It’s not too hard.” She said, smiling.
We ended up kissing on the old woman’s couch until the movie was long over and the sun had gone down. At some point, we both became aware of the complete silence in the room. The labored breathing of the sleeping old woman could no longer be heard.
“Grandma? Are you alright?” The girl asked as she walked over to the recliner where Mrs. Tillman rested.
“Do you need anything?”
She placed her hand on her shoulders and the old woman didn’t respond. I got up from the couch and walked over to the recliner. Mrs. Tillman wasn’t asleep anymore. She was dead.
For a minute the girl just sat there, staring at nothing, looking straight through reality, itself. She looked like a mannequin in a storefront window with her head cocked downward and her eyes wide open and all glossed over. I put my hand on her shoulder and she suddenly sprung back to life. She screamed and fell to her knees on the living room floor and began to cry hysterically. I was startled at the sight of this girl, who now resembled a startled animal. Her big eyes were darting around as she shook violently on the floor, sobbing into her hands. I wanted to try and comfort her, to somehow provide any kind of help. My grandpa had died the year before and my mother had told me that he would always be alive in our memories and in our stories. It made me feel better inside at the time. I decided that telling her what my mother had told me would only make things worse at the moment so I picked up the phone and called the police. They asked what had happened. I started crying on the phone.
We sat on the front steps of Mrs. Tillman’s porch and waited for the police to arrive. The girl looked at me and her face was that of someone suffering; someone who had become completely undone. Her brown eyes glossed over and streaked with red, a complexion of lost composure. I will remember that face until the day that I die.
“I’m so sorry.”
“No one in my family has died before.” She said, sniffling.
“You’ll probably get used to it after a while.”
I was so upset with myself for saying this but it didn’t seem to phase her at this point. She seemed to be slightly detached from reality; somewhere between girl and ghost. We ended up kissing some more as the EMT loaded Mrs. Tillman’s body up on a gurney. The feeling was different that time, less special like we knew each other too much for it to feel good anymore. The way she held on to me, like a scared girl clenching on to her mother’s hand, made a sick feeling form in the pit of my stomach.
“Never leave me.” She said to me. My head started spinning. I couldn’t understand. I wish I had.
“I don’t even know you.”
“My name’s Maerie.” She said.
“I’m glad you were here with me, Nathan.” She told me, her voice breaking.
I sat on the porch with Maerie and waited for her parents to come pick her up. We didn’t say anything to each other. We just sat there, staring at the empty street in front of us. There was a special sweetness and innocence about her, about both of us, that was now absent. It was replaced by a raw vulnerability that my fifteen-year-old brain couldn’t process. Maerie was a fire that had suddenly been extinguished. I wanted to say something else to her, to assure her that everything was going to be ok. I wanted to tell her that I was there for her, but I couldn’t make myself do it. Occasionally some tears would form in my eyes and the streetlights would grow into large orbs of light, like dozens of small exploding stars. I wondered if Mrs. Tillman had seen anything like that in her last moments.
A new family moved into the house a few months later. A little boy named Seth lived there. I hated Seth. He would throw water balloons at my dogs and leave his toys out on the sidewalk. One time I tried to scare him by telling him that I saw a woman die in his living room. Seth started crying. I started crying too. We ended up moving down to Florida the next summer and I never did end up seeing Maerie again. I like to think that maybe she married a really nice guy and had a couple of kids. Isn’t that what people always want?
Even now I still think about Maerie, this first girl I had ever kissed. I’m sure she thinks about me sometimes too.