“The trouble with me, I think, is that I’m always remembering—what I had for lunch, what some dude said to me on the train this morning, what that Brian looked like when he kissed me for the first time. You know what I mean?”
I want to pay attention to what Emma is saying, but instead my brain has frozen in the middle of her sentence. “Brian kissed you?”
She blinks at me, pausing in the middle of taking a drag from her cigarette. “Yeah,” she says, slowly, eyes not moving from mine, “Last week, in the break room. I told you about that, right? When we had coffee on Monday?”
I shake my head. “We didn’t have coffee last Monday. Remember? You had a gym thing.” The gym thing was a lie; I had known it then and I knew it now, staring at the far-away grin that was taking over her face.
“Right, the gym thing.”
I hoped my poker face was intact; hoped she couldn’t see my frustration that she was once again kissing a boy that wasn’t me.
“Well, he kissed me. In the break room. Had this weird, ‘I’m concentrating on kissing you’ look on his face the whole time, but I forgave him for it since he’s such a good kisser. I swear, we’ve hardly stopped since. My lips are actually getting chapped, a bit.”
I bite back a sigh. My frustration is two-fold. First: I would like to be the boy kissing Emma in the break room. But that issue has long since been put on the back burner, ever since I realized that hanging on to my unrequited love would never be worth the cost of not being friends with Emma. Really, it’s the second bit that’s getting me: I would like to be the boy kissing anyone, period. In the break room or in a creepy back alley or (preferably) in my apartment, on my wonderfully comfortable couch.
Emma is tapping her cigarette against the curb, and I bring myself back to the conversation.
“So this is good, right? You guys have been dancing around each other for weeks now.” Which is true. We’ve all been watching the two of them pretend to be discreet about their flirting, waiting for the tipping point.”
“Yeah,” Emma says, blowing out a cloud of smoke. “I guess.” She pauses, and I know more is coming. There’s always more with Emma. “I think I can only fall in love with memories,” she says as she grinds the butt of her cigarette into the pavement.
“Oookay,” I say. “Are you telling me you’ll only realize you’re in love with me after I’m dead?”
She barks out a laugh, quick and light, but then grows serious again. “No, not that.” She runs a hand through her hair, ruffling the back. “I mean…I love the rose-colored after-images. The leftovers of a good day or a good kiss or whatever. But in the moment? I feel nothing. I’ve tried. When Brian’s kissing me, I try to feel all gooey and romantic, but I can’t.”
“All right,” I say. “What do you feel?”
“Nothing,” she responds, too fast. “No, not nothing. More like I’m aware. Too aware. Too present. How do you even get lost in a moment?”
“I think you’re over-thinking it,” I say. “Maybe you should just kiss someone and focus on the kissing. Or on taking their clothes off,” I add with a wink. “Or you could pretend the present is a memory, and just—“ Before I finish the thought, I’m interrupted by her lips on mine.
For a second, I’m glad to be the boy who’s kissing someone, somewhere. Other people right now are wishing they were kissing someone, and I’m the one doing it.
Then all I can think is Shit, Emma’s lips. They’re soft, but she’s right—they are getting chapped. I can’t stop myself from thinking that it’s Brian’s fault they’re chapped, and wondering how he would feel about this now. Seeing Emma and I, together, kissing on the curb behind the shopping center. Will he find out?
I’m just starting to wake to the moment, to realize that Emma’s hands were brushing over my body and her tongue was in my mouth, when she pulls away, a smug smile on her face.
“See, it’s not so easy to stay in the present, is it?”
It’s a testament to our friendship that she can tell my mind is wandering even while she’s frenching me on our ten-minute break.
“Guess you’re right,” my mind is not really on our words, though. I’m thinking about how we’ll deal with this moment tomorrow, next week, next month. Are we still friends?
“Don’t worry so much, Jim-bo,” she says, nudging me with her elbow. “I was just proving a point.”
“Okay.” I nod, trying to shut off the worry. “I’m going back in. You coming?”
“In a minute,” she waves another cigarette at me, sprung from some pocket or hidden crevice. “I’ve got a quick date with lung cancer.” This girl, I swear; she’s got smokes stashed everywhere.
“All right,” I say. “We’ll talk more on Monday? Over coffee? No blowing me off to make out again.”
It’s later that night, and I’m at a house party. I haven’t been to a house party since I can’t remember when, but something about the day made me need to get out. Okay, not something—Emma’s kiss. I’m still busy worrying about it, even though she told me not to.
Two beers later, and I’m annoyed with myself. Emma says she can only fall in love with memories, but I think I’m the opposite. I want to capture that feeling again, that moment of being the guy who’s finally getting the girl, but every time I glance at a girl here, I think of us five months down the road. Will I still know her? Still want to toss her onto a bed or kiss in hidden corners? And how will she get along with Emma?
I grab another drink, hoping I can wash away this dumb preoccupation. And it works, mostly. Fifteen minutes later, I’ve introduced myself to an Emma-like girl who’s been eyeing me all night.
“James,” I say, and wish I was the type of person who would forget the name she says next.
“Alex,” she says. “Want a smoke?” Seeing my stare, she adds, “I know I should stop but I just can’t seem to.”
“Sure,” I say, nodding to the back door even though I don’t smoke, just watch Emma while she does. We walk outside, and before the first ashes hit the ground, her hands are on my waist and my mouth is attached to hers. She moans, just a little, and already I’m imaging telling Emma about this, imagining bringing Alex to meet her at work, and shuddering at the thought.
Alex must think it’s because of this kiss, though, because she deepens it. I can’t help the grin that spreads across my face, thinking about the drunk party story this will probably turn into some day.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll stay in the present. Today I’m stuck in the future, still far away from my past-tense girl.
Jenny Kawecki is an aspiring author, a fairy tale enthusiast, and a general lover of things. 22 years ago she was an awkward infant, and has since had the good sense to grow into an even more awkward adult. She currently lives with her husband in Annapolis, Maryland, and can usually be found curled up at home with a book or stuck in front of her laptop, editing articles for Ampersand Lit.