Kiss Or Miss: By Julian Taylor
Chapter 1 – Roses Are Blue Violets Are Red
Sigh. You know, I THOUGHT things were going to get better. I did, Honestly! And I even gave it 3 months just to see if an artificial series of fake smiles and a false happy attitude towards her and her decisions whenever we were and even weren’t together would change anything. But, as the crisp fall breeze filled my senses with its autumn deep scent and a gust of wind blew past me lifting a few strands of my auburn highlighted hair from my shoulders where the back just barely touched, I realized it didn’t.
I know my mother tried her hardest to make us happy since we left Denver in August. She tried so hard to fill the void my father abandoning us left behind for us to endure living with. But, the reality is, sometimes, even the sweetest of desserts cannot satisfy an empty stomach. I took a few steps, quite quickly paced I might add, away from the school side door as I stepped outside on campus to begin my walk home. Home. I still can’t wrap my finger around it, yet. Was this new town really my home? Oh, god. It still feels like I’m on some vacation or something. Like… time itself hadn’t adjusted to my new life. And if TIME hadn’t adjusted yet, how the heck was I supposed to? It feels like only yesterday I first walked into these school doors with my mother and one of the staff members who greeted us to introduce me to their grounds ahead of time to get adjusted before school even started.
I stood at about 5’4 slim, slender, with sort of girlish hips that I was not proud of I might add. I was fairly athletic in build, actually, because I used to do intense gymnastics back home. My hair was always long, just barely touching my shoulders in the back and was a light hazelnut color which flowed over my eyes touching my cheek bones in the front if the air felt like pushing it that way. It swayed and moved with my every movement and I sometimes had to adjust it behind my ears or over away from my face if I needed to see what I was doing. I was always skinny. It’s just how I was. I had light hazel eyes and somewhat of a girly face. Someone once told me, in fact, that I was really pretty for a boy. That was their exact statement.
My mom decided, one day, that our lives were going nowhere & fast. She sat me down at our old large 3 story craftsman, custom built, wooden home back in Denver, Colorado in the kitchen table and explained to me that a much-needed change needed to happen. “It’ll be good to meet new people and see new places.” She said to me holding my hand. She even baked her famous triple chocolate truffle chunk cookies that night and poured us each a glass of milk to dunk them in. Was that her way of bribing me? Was I being bribed with cookies and cow’s milk? I wanted to argue, to scream, to yell, but I loved her. So, after an hour long discussion, empty glasses, and a full belly, I halfheartedly agreed.
She just wanted a fresh, new start somewhere for the both of us & I can understand that. She wanted to be in a place where we no longer had to see or think about the way things were when dad was still around or think about how they should be, how they should’ve been, how they could’ve been, or how they would’ve been. She didn’t want me to dwell on the times when I felt we actually meant something to him in his life. Even though I didn’t agree fully to it, I still agreed nonetheless & I’d never felt so isolated before…
Yes, my mother was right on some level, but, I just started high school this year and I was SO looking forward to going with all of my middle school friends! And, now? Now I was alone. I quickened my pace, and nearly stumbled as my left foot scuffed against the asphalt of the road leading away from school grounds and on to the sidewalk. God, it felt good to get away from that place. I thought a new school would change things. But, no, it was just eight scheduled hours of papers and constant reminders that I’ll never see my old school or life ever again. And the new house feels…empty. Cold, almost. Our old large home had a fireplace in it that only my father took the liberty to light, clean and maintain. And, when he left, that fireplace’s warmth left with him. It almost looked blue if you stared at it for too long. And I, suppose, that’s when the cold began. Our new home had no fireplace. It had no warmth in that same way anymore. It had my mom & I And that’s just what we needed to keep “warm” right? Right?
I didn’t even want to go home, that October afternoon. Though, that could be because I still hadn’t unpacked all of my things yet believe it or not. My clothes were first, and, then a few paperbacks, followed. But, my closet still held 3-4 suitcases full of things I had yet to find the heart to open. Why? Maybe I was waiting for it to feel the same as I wanted it to feel, and since that didn’t happen that’s why those items had yet to be opened. Or, maybe it was because the moment I unpacked those last few suite cases, I was finally admitting to myself that this was all real and this was my new home & I wouldn’t be going back ever again. So, me sealing those bags shut and keeping them so, unless absolutely necessary, was my silent act of rebellion.
“Hiya, Johnny!” Greeted Sarah from the back of the counter where she lifted her head from writing what I saw looked to be some sort of receipt. She was a sweet girl. A bit older and taller than me and was a Junior at our high school. Not only was she a great athlete and was one of the prettiest dark haired, blue eyed girls on campus, with the reputation of being one of most popular kids in school, but she became a close friend over the last few months the moment we met and had the kindest & sweetest personality I had ever seen on a girl her age. Being an only child, she easily became an older sister type figure to me that I could always count on to ease any tension I had mentally and emotionally built up for myself whether she realized it or not. She could easily have been a supermodel if she wanted to be & I wouldn’t be surprised at all if, one day, she became one.
It wasn’t just her, in fact, they were all sweet here at Nelly’s pizza shop. This was the town’s pizza place. THE pizza place. In my opinion, every town has one. I mean, right? The place only the locals know about to go for their after soccer dinners & Friday nights slices. I hate pizza. I only discovered this place because I walked in here on my first day of our move on August 12th looking for an orange soda. My favorite. Hehehe. Is that childish? I guess so. Shockingly, I tried a margarita slice that day because they were sampling some on the counter as a new recipe and I thought it was garlic bread with sauce. Nope! So, when I found out, I smiled & found the only pizza on God’s earth that I’ll ever enjoy & made it my regular every Thursday night & Friday afternoon.
So, respecting my traditions- “Can I get a margarita slice?” I asked in a quick low mutter while not exactly looking in her direction as I glared off to the side lost in my own subconscious thoughts as I rested my forearm on the register counter, leaning my body weight on the surface in an annoyed/ impatient manor. I wasn’t in the mood that day. I just felt… cold.
“JEEZ, Applebee, you didn’t even say “Hi.” to me.” Sarah laughed. “Everything, alright, babe?” Oh, I forgot to mention my full name is… oh god, Johnny Applebee. The ONLY reason she knows that is because I dropped my school ID on the floor one day and she picked it up and smiled and said she liked my name. Well, that makes one of us. Ugh.
“Oh, sorry. I’ve just got lots of homework I’ve gotta do tonight.” I lied, not having any homework at all and wouldn’t even do it on a Friday night if I did. I flicked my hair out of the front of my collar bone with my right hand as I bent my neck to look through my wallet to pay. And to think some people including some kids at my new school asked if I was a girl. I rolled my eyes at that thought as I payed for my meal.
I turned away from the counter and sat down with my drink and snapped the metal top of the glass orange pop bottle open and began taking a few sips at a table I chose by the front window of the place near the entrance. A few minutes later, my pizza arrived. I took my fork & knife & began cutting into the square crusted slice to begin eating my meal. Yes, I use a fork and knife. I don’t know why but eating this without one feels messy. Call me a clean freak. I guess, I am. I took a few bites and realized I forgot my Parmesan cheese which is on the ‘serve yourself’ counter on the other side of the place from where I was. So, I tapped my lips with a napkin and got up to go grab some. I picked it up and thought some Italian seasoning flakes would go perfect with my slice and smiled and grabbed that as well. I turned around to walk away and…
I was on the floor.
My BUTT had literally hit the floor so hard I gasped out loud from the impact before I even knew what hit me. And I looked down and noticed sauce was all over my light blue sweater. I LOVED this sweater. My mouth as I could feel, was hanging low as I looked at the sauced covered chest and stomach area of my clothes, looking like I was a survivor of a bloody murder scene. I saw on my left side a figure on the floor as well. I looked. “Oh, God. Sorry! I’m real sorry, man!” Before I could really look at him I felt a tug at my arm pulling me up as he got up with me, feeling quite annoyed about the whole situation with what was already on my mind prior I… I saw… I saw Green. I saw bright green eyes peircing right at me. They were like bright headlights. These weren’t just your average set of eyes, or hazel eyes for that matter. These looked like two whirlpools of a deep dessert storm so bright you’d think they had lights behind them. I literally felt like a panther was glaring right at me. Animal eyes. If you told me this boy was the human manifestation of a dessert tiger, I’d, instantly believe you. It almost felt like I was looking at a force of nature rather than a person. This boy stood about an inch taller than me with light pale skin & jet black hair cut into a sporty style with a slim, athletic basketball or hockey player type figure wearing a black hoodie & looked right at me with concern. “You alright? Jeez!” He stated and decided to go quickly into the kitchen for a moment. Sarah saw me and widened her eyes.
“What the heck happened to YOU?” She said. The other kid with the slightly taller frame than mine came jogging back out with a used towel and began rubbing the sauce off me in an attempt to wipe it all off. I mean, that wasn’t really going to do anything but seeing him on me with his tongue out in concentration wiping his heart out to try and “erase” his mistake was kind of a funny scene to watch to be honest. “Salem, are you crazy?! Omg, I can’t believe you.” She shrieked. No other customers were in the place but me at the time. So, I guess hiding her emotions behind the faceless wall of professionalism was, at the time, forgotten entirely.
“Shutup, Sarah! It’s not my fault.” His voice, a little more breathy in tone than mine, was not exactly a low voice, just more boyish and airy I suppose you could say as though more space was allowed in his throat to allow his windpipes the ability to grant his speech the ability to catch a few extra tones than mine. It was definitely getting ready to change in the future. And he shrieked in anger. You could just SMELL that they were brother and sister.
“What’d you do?!” She hollered with an annoyed tone.
“I just came out with the pot of sauce to fill the saucing station. I noticed it was empty, & we sorta crashed.” He had this sort of interesting way of talking. Not exactly a “Rumble In The Bronx” type of accent, but definitely talked like he was from somewhere else, like “somewhere out there.” A little bit of a gang banger accent I suppose you could say. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, exactly. But, it was definitely something different I was not used to hearing here and especially back in my home town of Colorado.
“You KNOW you’re supposed to bring the sauce cauldron to the BACK and fill it there, and this is exactly why. Johnny, I’m so sorry. This is my brother, Salem. Unfortunately.” She scowled at her brother from behind the counter. I noticed her accent was different than his, which I found interesting since they were related. In fact, no one around here spoke the way he did I concluded. From my peripheral vision I looked down and took notice of the Parmesan cheese I was holding which was now scattered all over the floor.
I turned to look over at him and his eyes glared at me. I tried to figure out what to say in silence for a moment. ”…It’s alright.” I said softly. There was something about him that just caught my attention. It was really interesting to me for some reason. I had never actually met someone like this in person before, definitely not at school. He was just different.
“Sorry, about that, bro.” he said.
“He doesn’t know you, Salem.” She retorted.
“I’m tryin’ to be nice.” He barked back narrowing his eyes at her. Honestly, with the contrast of his pale skin and midnight shining hair, he just gave this really strong aura that if he wanted to be, he could be a real bully. The kind who would be sitting in the back of the classroom always sneaking some type of ruckus and mischief and getting in trouble holding every kid on the tip of his finger with a smirk. The kind all kids wanted to be around as the leader of the group no matter where he was. The one who just felt “sharp” if you were just standing next to him somehow and he could somehow cut you if he wanted to just by being there. The kind who if he really wanted to, could mess with you, MERCILESSLY.
I decided to peel my gaze from their little banter and bent over to help pick up the two items I dropped off of the floor and said “I’m sorry. I dropped all of your cheese.”
Sarah, immediately, replied before I could even touch the shaker with my hand, “Don’t you worry about that. Salem, here, will pick it up.”
He, instantly, looked up “Ohh-oh, yeah I got it.” he said & went to get a broom. Why? Why was I just standing here looking at the shape of a dark haired, differently mannered, boy I knew nothing about? Why wasn’t I hungry or angry anymore? Why do I feel nervous and excited, somehow, all of the sudden as though I were being called to sing a solo piece in front of the whole entire school assembly for no reason at all? And, why do I keep staring at the door behind him even after he already walked through it? I shook my head and decided to walk over to Sarah.
“I’ll help too, Sarah I feel bad, okay?” A few minutes passed and all of the mess was cleaned ,minus my clothes, and I had decided to get my food wrapped so I could go on home & clean up. By that, I mean, toss out my sweater. I looked down at the drying up tomatoey mess which began to darken and turn into crust on my clothes, making my skin feel uncomfortably cold and noticed he looked at it too, obviously feeling a bit guilty. I decided to get going and clean up.
He followed me out the door and as it was still open he leaned himself with one hand on the frame as he stood to talk to me casually. “Well, uhm, listen. I’m really sorry about that. Maybe next time you come by if I’m around it’s on me alright? You come here often, apparently, and I’ll be here every weekday after school, so…” He smelled good. I couldn’t tell what it was, but, he had this ocean-type, cologne, sweet smelling breeze fragrance to him I kept getting whiffs of into my little nose & I couldn’t tell if it was something he was wearing, laundry, both, or just the way he smelled like. I’d never smelled anything like it before. And, I just found it really appealing.
”Oh, no, that’s okay. You don’t have to do that. You guys already refunded me for my food. You really don’t have to do anything else.” I smiled.
“No. It’s the least I can do, you know? Really, next time is all on me, okay?” Despite his intimidating antics and less than mild personality, he was really being nice about all of this. It wasn’t his fault at all, really. But, I did want to get home and get out of these clothes already.
“Okay, ….Salem right?” I said flicking the hair out of my eyes that blew over them as I spoke.
“Yeah, that’s me.”
“And, you’re… Justin?” He questioned with a wince, obviously not knowing exactly but trying to guess nonetheless.
“Heh, no I’m Johnny.” I extended my hand to shake his, but he slapped it and did some finger pull, boyish, bro sporty shake thing on me as I just stood there.
“Well, okay I’ll see you next time?” He asked me. I never met someone act like that in real life. It was kind of cool.
“Uhm, ok. Bye, Sarah!” I said looking under the arm he was using to lean himself on to view her as I spoke loud enough for her to hear me making my voice go into that high girl voice pitch it goes into whenever I try to speak loudly. God, I hated that.
As I was walking closer & closer to my house with more and more familiar homes coming into view of my suburban neighborhood, I caught myself thinking of that Salem kid. I thought about how different he was. How he walked and talked, but, not in an over exaggerated way or anything. He just had a certain dynamic flare about him I tried to understand. Hehe, he was like a bad boy. And his eyes were really cool and his name was… interesting, Salem. It sounded so mysterious and like…dark. It suited him just great. It was much better than my name, Applebee. Why don’t you just call me- sunshine daisy snowflakes?
I neared my front lawn and kept thinking about him and thought about how I really liked his haircut and how it made his ears look. I actually began to smile at the thought of them and stopped on my driveway. Wait. Am I smiling about a boy’s ears? Ewww. What’s wrong with me?! I gave a look of horror & shook my head. Okay. I’d officially lost my mind. I needed to freshen up and go take a shower.
Walking up to my house was no glamorous experience. Our one story home was cute, with a light blue paint job. But, knowing I was still stuck here was not a joy by any means. I walked in the front door and noticed my mother was still not home. As a local nurse at the hospital, some of her shifts went way past midnight. Many times she’d have something ready for me to eat in the fridge she prepared or I’d make something on my own, by that I mean pop tarts or a candy bar. But tonight, I took my shower and went straight to bed and slept in early.
I woke up with a ray of sunshine on my face as I rubbed my eyes in annoyance and decided to get up. In just boxer shorts and a tang top tee I had on, I sat on the side of my bed. I thought for a moment. What would I be doing today if I HADN’T moved here? I decided not to dwell and just get out of the bed. I brushed my teeth, fixed my hair nice so it was straight, nice and presentable, put some clothes on, remembering to toss out my sweater. And began to think about what I would do that day. Then, I realized I couldn’t just leave without money so I went searching for my wallet. In my dresser drawer? No. In my pants? Nope. The bathroom? Negative. Sigh. Under the bed?! No! Where was it? With widened eyes I realized it was on the seat where I was sitting yesterday which is the last place I remember having it. I guess with me wanting to hurry up and get cleaned so badly, I forgot it when I left.
Pancakes. I know that smell anywhere. “Hi, sweetie.” My mom called the instant I stepped into the kitchen to grab some cranberry juice for myself out of the fridge.
“Hi mom. What are you doing? Are you making pancakes?” I couldn’t help but break a smile. I loved her so much and her cooking was always a reminder to me that no matter what she always cared for me. And I won’t lie it smelled fantastic.
“You want some, Hon? I made the red velvet ones you like. Remember when I first made these?” I laughed. Who could forget? She got the recipe on TV last winter & raved for weeks about it until she finally made them for us. They tasted just like a red velvet should taste.
“Sure, Okay. Great.” We sat down & ate our little homemade Saturday breakfast which was a tradition my mother had every Saturday morning since as long as I can remember and she refused to stop doing so under any circumstances. So with some poured coffee for us both we shared some of them with whipped cream and some banana slices. I mean, you have to have these with whipped cream. After we finished, I finished my juice and told her I had to go back to Nelly’s to fetch my wallet and received a well predicted and admittedly deserved lecture on how not to leave my personal things behind and to be much more careful. Her Russian family was always very keen on responsibility, poise, and order to which she always made a point to pass down to me since I was a small child. With that I did our dishes, something my father basically trained me to do on instinct, and I was out the door in no time.
I walked into Nelly’s at around 11:45 am to see a familiar face. He was there. The mystery boy I was thinking about on my own driveway yesterday afternoon was standing about 6 feet away from me. And there were his ears. I felt my face turn hot as I looked at them remembering my private, strange thoughts I had yesterday feeling somewhat embarrassed as though he’d read my thoughts and know what I was thinking, somehow. He was behind the counter and Sarah was no where in sight. In fact, no one was. I was a little shocked to see him since he stated he would only be working on weekdays. He looked up and sort of looked… I don’t know, confused? All I know, is those green & yellow orbs of his peered right into my soul at that very moment and I was almost intimidated by their brilliance, again. As I slowly closed the distance between the counter and I, I felt like I was slowly invading the personal territory of a wild, coyote. Jesus.
”Hi.” I greeted being polite. I was nervous so I looked at his hands for a split second, then looked up. “I thought you only came here on weekdays.” He looked at me and forced a smile. FORCED; I could tell. I know that smile anywhere, being the grand creator of them myself over the last three months. I, instantly, took notice of a small metal hoop earring on his left earlobe wondering how I missed such a thing the last time I was here, yesterday.
“Oh, yeah my sis had something she had to take care of. She had some Soccer practice this morning at Felmor’s Park. So, I’m taking over her shift.” He sort of forced that last sentence, indicating he was obviously forced into coming here today on a weekend. I won’t lie, I was sort of glad to see him and, yet, I was strangely afraid of him all at the same time & it gave me this rush of dangerous excitement for some strange reason that quaked in the pit of my stomach as I sort of squirmed around a bit, relishing the unknown feeling for a moment.
“Oh, …okay. Uhm, heyyy listen. I think I left my wallet here, yesterday. Did you see it by any chance?” He smirked bringing back that charm of his, forgetting about his sister & reached under the counter & used a key to unlock something.
He pulled out his hand and said, “So, this is yours. That’s funny. I had a feeling it would be. Cool stitching by the way. Is this real leather?” My wallet went from his hand instantly to my own as he placed it there.
I grabbed it and said, “Oh, yeah! Thanks. It’s… uhm-my dad’s. I’m sorry. I must have forgotten it.” I said, remorsing my wallet’s source. For a split moment, our skin touched and I looked at my hand. For someone so rough & tough seeming, his hands were really.. soft.
“So, you go to Chestnut High?” He said, breaking the silence of about 8 seconds as I tried to comprehend what I was feeling just at the moment. “I started this Wednesday. I haven’t seen you there, though.” I definitely hadn’t seen him either. It was a big student body & everything, but, even if he had been there longer, with assembles and all, I would have noticed him regardless of the time frame. He would have stood out to me for sure from the other kids I had met so far.
“Yeah, I just started this year, too.” I responded.
“Oh, a freshy, huh? I’m a sophomore. I just moved from my mom’s in Brooklyn last week.” He said, casually mouthing the words to some song to himself as he proceeded to continue to open the place and move a few papers around to prepare the business for the day. So, that’s where it all came from, I thought to myself feeling this strange rush of satisfaction & relief from finally knowing & discovering where this boy was from. I almost smiled, but, stopped, immediately, the moment I noticed it coming on.
“Yeah, I hate this school, but, I had no choice when I moved, too.” I said, word vomiting my past & feelings for no reason at all by accident. Where did all of that come from? Why would I even say that to him?
“Oh, cool. Where are you from?” He said, genuinely curious as he began stacking a few written receipts to the side of the register.
I gave a blank look staring into nothing, remembering where I was from, suddenly, awoken from my temporary euphoria I had been in and was reminded of exactly where I had been living four months prior. “I’m-I’m, from Colorado. I moved here in the summer.” I said. I tried not to, but I began to pout. Why? Why did it bother me so much? And, why was I even talking about any of this to a stranger I barely knew? I mean, I could’ve just lied.
“Oh, that’s neat. You had lots of friends there?” He asked, beginning to count the money in the register, nonchalantly, waiting for my answer as he furrowed his brow & counted the numbers with his lips to himself.
”Yeah.” I said, blankly.
“Yeah, I did.”