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Karla Harding

©2006Karla Harding reading

First Kiss (excerpt)

This is the story of a shy, unsure adolescent girl from a dysfunctional home, Jen Ricker, who finds herself madly in love with one guy, Mark, while another guy, Justin, pines away over her at a middle school dance. Everything is going wrong. At this particular point, she is trying to decide whether to just leave, without her ride, or wait for further disasters to happen to her. The choice is up to her, or is it? 

Mulling over the idea of facing a mile walk home in the February air without a coat, her eyes turned to watch the happy couples on the dance floor. The scent of sweat and cologne mingled, cloying. The cottony taste of silence choked her. Heart plummeting, her gaze narrowed in on a pair, Angela and Mark. The silken movements and tinkling laughter astonished Jen. The golden locks cascading down her back, the milky complexion, the way she seemed to glide like a swan on the dance floor hypnotized Jen. Mark’s arms wrapped about Angela’s waist, his eyes drinking her in. Even as Jen’s gaze invaded the moment, his speckled face bent low over Angela’s. Lips pursed, they joined and severed Jen’s connection. Her eyes flitted to the floor. To the ceiling. To the doors. Oh, how Jen had wanted to feel the smooth sweetness of his lips, inhale his Drakkar, hold him close in her arms as they danced.

“Jen?” Chris Nelson stood with his bushy white-blond hair covering the tops of his bulging bug eyes, a young Einstein with no brains. His white shirt hung cockeyed over his brown tweed pants. Could this night get any worse? Chris Nelson?

“Care to?” he motioned with a grand sweep of his hands to the dance floor. A grin like a circus clown pasted to his face.

“No offense Chris, but I’m really not feeling well. Nothing personal.” It was the truth. She felt like sinking into the floor.

“Oh. Well I guess I could just join you.” Sitting next to her he scratched his head, a dog in search of fleas, launching into the complexities of Star Trek. 

This isn’t happening, Jen thought. Would this night never end?

“I was watching Voyageur the other night and I was thinkin’ it’s only an Intrepid Class starship. Man, that’s piddly compared to the Enterprise D which is a Galaxy Class starship. Yah know, the flag ship for the federation.” Chris’s voice croaked from high to low as he continued on excitedly.

“Oh yeah, and I was watchin’ this one episode, of Next Generation, and Worf escorted this Klingon warrior, and the warrior’s like−get this pa-toc out of my face.” Chris spat out, laughing hysterically.

Oh my god, Jen groaned inwardly. She nodded her head and settled in. What a nightmare?

Twenty minutes later, after another round of scratching, Chris excused himself to play ping-pong with Matt Carter. Jen sighed. THANK GOD he hadn’t asked her to join him. She had had enough of the intricacies of Star Trek to last her a lifetime.

Justin crept back into her thoughts. He was so different from the other boys, not taking himself so seriously. A smile creased her lips when she thought of his growl. He was strange, weird, deranged. Oddly enough, she concluded that she loved that about him. Maybe she shouldn’t have been so quick to run away. Glimpsing up out of the corner of her eye, she spotted him, leaning against the edge of the doorway, half in-half out. 


He had come to the dance for her. Watching her across the room, he could see the pain flash into her eyes when she saw Mark and Angela kiss. Justin wondered if she knew how beautiful she was with her wavy brown hair kissing her cheeks and her long willowy legs crossed in those fitted black pants. Look once at her and you couldn’t help but look twice. Look twice and you were caught. 

Not that all he liked was the way she looked. She was sharp, knowing so many things. She always had her nose stuck in one book or another. He liked her spunk, never felt like he had to let her win. Most of all, she never acted like make-up and shoes were the end-all be-all like other girls did. 

Justin had tried to tell her how he felt during the basketball game but he messed up big time. He wanted to kick himself. Why had he mentioned her running away from something? Stupid. Standing against the wall it was sweet to just watch her. A pang of jealousy swept through him when Chris Nelson asked her to dance until he realized that she really had no interest in him. Amused, Justin watched as Chris talked to her non-stop for twenty minutes. 

Justin shuffled his feet, willing them to move in her direction now that Chris had finally left, but the process was slow. He knew she was oblivious to him. He knew with certainty that she liked Mark Schmitt. Yet, Justin swore he caught her glancing up at him for a moment. A slim hope gripped him. Determined to change her mind, he broke free from the doorway. He had to try. Wiping his sweaty palms against the blue of his jeans, he crossed the gym floor, his shoes squeaking, an announcement to the world of his intentions.

One step. Another. A bit closer. His heart out of control, Justin inched past the swaying dancers and chortling boys who patted him on the back. The blue and red lights flashed in his eyes, blinding him but never stopping him. One foot in front of the other, almost within reach. He wiped his hands again on his jeans. Take things slowly, he warned himself. She was hurting, he could feel the throb of her pain, see it in the dullness coating her brown eyes.

Reaching the table Justin sat down on the bench next to her, his leg brushing hers. She didn’t look up.

Clearing his parched throat as best he could, Justin ran his tongue along his lips once. He drank in the smell of her, a mixture of roses and bubble gum. Now or never, he thought.

“Hi, Jen.” hope clung to his greeting.

“Hi.” she didn’t even turn her head. Her eyes were fixed on Mark. 

“So. . .I’m sorry if I said something down in the gym that bothered you.” Justin gazed intently at her, willing her to look back, even if only for a moment.

“It’s no big deal. This day has just really been a bummer. I just want to leave.” She glanced at him for a moment, eyes glistening with tears then turned away again, thinking he hadn’t noticed.

They just sat together hypnotized by the thrumming of guitars, the beat of drums, and the lilting voices of couples talking. It felt good to sit next to her but Justin confessed to himself that he wanted more.

“Dance with me.” It escaped from his lips. Not a question at all. A statement squeaked out, hoped for, pushed forward from the recesses of his mind. He willed her with his eyes to step away from the table. No letdown, he pleaded silently.

Justin wasn’t sure if it was a look of pure fear or surprise that crossed her face in the next moment. He stood up, held out his right hand, and hoped it wasn’t shaking too badly. She took it. Justin found a place away from Mark, away from her friends, and away from the boom of the speakers. The song had a slow, steady beat. He had never danced with a girl before. Who wanted to? Girls had cooties. Yet, he wanted to dance with her.

Justin’s arms held her loosely about the waist. They turned in a slow circle. Each in another world, unshared. He willed her to look into his eyes, share a moment. He was sure that if she did she could glimpse how much he felt for her but hadn’t been able to say. Locking eyes with her, the world slipped away in an instant. 

It was in that moment that Justin lost himself completely. He hardly knew what he was doing, so swept up in the music and lights that reflected in her eyes. Slowly, gently, he bent his head, tilted it, and brushed his lips to hers. His eyes drifting shut, he held them there for a moment savoring the warm, slippery feel of lip gloss than eased away. Opening his eyes he tried to speak, to tell her what he held in his heart.

Jen severed their embrace, fixed him with a look of utter terror, and fled. Justin had hoped she might be as lost in the moment as him. The look on her face was like a slap, cold and hard. She left him standing in the gym, one arm held outward with an open hand, tasting the last sweet remains of what seemed to be cherry flavored lip gloss and his own tears. Fool, he exclaimed to himself. You’re such a fool. The music continued around him but he remained transfixed in his own world where no music could penetrate. Jen was gone.


Out in the parking lot under the pale half moon’s light, Jen’s breath drifted upward in cold puffs. Why? Lost in her own world, the cold didn’t faze her. She made her way across the parking lot, slipping and falling on a sheet of ice hidden by a thin coat of snow, choking on the tears. She needed to go home. Now! Leaving the lights of the school behind her she stumbled into the darkness and drove herself onward. Always onward, away from the light of the schoolyard, blindly feeling her way through the darkness and the pain of a night of shattered dreams.