As clichéd as it may sound, I remember my first kiss like it only happened yesterday. It was behind Zen’s yogurt shop, where all the couples went to make out every day after school. Charlie Bishop. Sandy-haired, green-eyed and a head shorter than me. I remember his hot, slightly stale breath, the abundance of saliva, and just the basic grossness of it really. I’d counted to five and suddenly it was over. I opened my eyes and saw him staring at me.
“That was … um, great,” he said sheepishly, looking at the floor.
“Yeah. Great! Really Charlie, it was,” I said quickly with a huge grin, sensing that he’d picked up on my barely concealed abhorrence.
“Um, I’ve gotta go. Homework, you know? I’ll text you later, Becca,” he said, picking up his backpack and mounting his bike.
“Sure,” I murmured, more to myself, as he rode away down the alley.
As I made my way past all the kissing couples, my eyes met those of Jeremy Plyer. Jeremy, who had a new girl on his arm every week. Jeremy, who I’d always had the biggest crush on. Jeremy, who at that moment gave me a knowing look. A look that stayed with me for many years to come.
He never did text me. Charlie, I mean. We went on as if the kiss had never happened. We spoke, only when we had to in class, but never about what had happened. High school passed in a blur, and we all moved on, surrendering our childhood and all of its awkward memories.
“Becca? Becca, can’t you hear that?”
I broke out of the sudden reverie that had persuaded me to forget my surroundings, as well as the screaming kettle on the stove. My flatmate looked at me with a frown and moved the kettle aside.
“Sorry Sherry!” I said, waking up to make the tea.
“Sit. I’ll make it,” she smiled, getting out some cups. “You’re so distracted today. What’s up?”
“This.” I held up the white and gold cardboard for Sherry to see.
“Oh dear,” she said, making a face.
“Oh dear indeed.”
“Are you gonna go?” she asked, setting a cup of tea in front of me.
“Why not? It would be nice to see everyone again.” I grinned at her.
“Yeah, but high school reunions can be so brutal,” Sherry said with a cringe.
I looked over at my friend and decided she was probably right. It was definitely going to be brutally awkward. But seeing everyone after ten years would be fun. And the thought of seeing one person in particular was even better.
I knew I had to look the part. I mean, it had been a decade since everyone had last seen me. So on the morning of the reunion I got my hair and makeup done at Sherry’s beauty salon. She added subtle highlights to my strawberry blonde hair, and expertly made up my hazel eyes. The dress I’d chosen was buttery yellow and cocktail length, short enough to show off my long, tanned legs. Once I was done, even I was pleasantly surprised.
“Whoa Becs! You’re definitely going home with the best dressed award tonight,” Sherry whistled from across the living room as I click-clacked in on my heels.
“There’s no such thing, silly,” I laughed at her.
“Well then, you’re definitely going home with something. Or someone, I might add,” she said, winking mischievously at me. I rolled my eyes and grinned. And with one last look at her sprawled on the couch, I picked up my keys and headed out on a trip to the past.
It took me four hours to get to the venue where the reunion was being held, and I was already late. I had always been a nervous driver, so after four long hours my nerves were frayed beyond belief. It hadn’t helped much that when I approached a green traffic light the world’s worst driver decided to run the red light across the left of the intersection. I braked immediately, but the driver behind me wasn’t as quick. I heard the crunch of glass as he crashed into me. I swore under my breath and exited the car to survey the damage.
“I am so sorry!” said the driver. He stared at me unabashedly for a few seconds and I stared back. I couldn’t help it. The man was the quintessential tall, dark and handsome. His eyes were dark green and stood out against the tan of his skin and the dark stubble around his jaw.
“It’s not your fault really,” I said, clearing my throat, “Next time, just pay more attention.”
“Definitely. Sorry again. Look, let me give you my insurance details. For the damages,” he said, fumbling around in his wallet.
“That’s fine. It’s only a broken tail light. Your car seems to have fared better.”
“I insist. Really,” he said, handing me his card.
“Okay, fine. Look, I really have to go. I’m already late for something,” I gabbled as I got back into my car. I tossed his card into my glove compartment and gave the gorgeous guy one last look in my rear-view mirror before heading down the road.
I arrived at the party, which was already in full swing, and I was immediately thrust back into 2004. Some people I didn’t recognise, but most of them still looked the same. They had the same hairstyles and the same vacant expressions that only the thought of high school could have reproduced. I headed over to the bar, because alcohol was definitely needed for any possible attempts at interaction tonight. Just as I was ordering a martini, a voice sounded behind me.
“Rebecca Roberts! The years sure have been good to you,” slurred the voice.
I turned around and there he was. Jeremy Plyer. He looked as good as I’d remembered, except that he was ploughed-out-of-his-mind drunk. He peered at my face but couldn’t quite keep it in focus.
“Jeremy! Hi …” I gushed, turning pink. He was, after all, the reason why I’d even come tonight. High school crushes sometimes tend to stick with you, even in adulthood. He slowly looked me up and down before resting his eyes on my chest.
“Wow. You wanna get outta here?” he breathed, alcohol permeating the air between us and turning my smile into a grimace of disgust. In that second I took another look at Jeremy and realised that the particular gawk he had always reserved for women, and was now directing at my chest, was more of a creepy, perverted leer than anything else.
“No thanks,” I said, picking up my drink and brushing past the guy I'd so often wondered about. What a creep. And what a disappointment.
I walked out onto the terrace and immediately bumped into someone making his way back indoors.
“Whoops. Sorry about …” I began, but quickly lost function of my mouth. It was him. The guy who’d crashed into my car earlier this evening. He didn’t seem as surprised as I was, however.
“Hey Becca,” he grinned down at me. I didn’t recall giving him my name, though. Oh right. The name tags. The obligatory name tags that we all had to wear so that we could distinguish between our once friends and once enemies. I looked closely at his coat lapel to see what his tag said. Charlie.
“Charlie??? Charlie Bishop?” I squeaked in disbelief. How could this be little Charlie, who had always been shorter than all the guys in our year? Charlie, who at 14 had shared my first kiss with me. He laughed out loud at my expression.
“Yep. Only, I go by Charles now. You can still call me Charlie, though,” he grinned, showing off pearly teeth.
“I don’t believe it. What happened to you?”
“Puberty finally kicked in, I guess,” he joked, winking at me.
“So … did you know it was me back there on the road?”
“Of course. I’d never forget you. I was a little taken aback for a second, though. I mean, look at you,” he smiled, spreading his hands. I blushed.
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Thought I’d give you a surprise.” He grinned again with those perfect teeth.
“A very pleasant one,” I said, blushing even deeper.
We sat out on that terrace for the rest of the night and didn’t even think about going back inside. We talked. About our lives, about relationships, about that god-awful first kiss we shared. We talked about everything. And at the end of the night, when he kissed me for the second time in our lives, I realised that one often regards one’s first impression as one’s last, but sometimes life gives you a second chance to make that first impression.
At that very moment, Charlie Bishop was taking full advantage of his second chance at leaving a perfectly lasting first impression.