Gint Aras’ first kiss, on the shores of Lake Michigan, comes back to him every time he washes his face.
The first time I saw Gemma was at a high school dance, where we had both lined up for punch. I had never seen such full lips or such striking lipstick. I caught her name when someone called to her, and I imagined how it would be to kiss Gemma. But I didn’t dwell for very long— at that point in my life, I wasn’t the kind of boy who got kissed by girls like Gemma.
She turned out to be a year older, the friend of a friend of a family friend. I happened by her again the following summer at a Great Lakes resort along the coast of Lake Michigan. In the evenings, the adults would sit outside cottages while the teens went down to the beach to hang out and build bonfires.
I spent an entire day mesmerized by Gemma and her strawberry red lipstick, which was magnetic and somehow accentuated the fullness of her mouth, adding fullness to her entire body. Gemma was so attractive that the feeling frightened me, and I’d drag my eyes along the dirt anytime she faced my direction. Somehow, without searching for her, I seemed to know where she was at all times.
We first spoke while I was waiting to play pinball. She asked if I liked pinball, and I said that Oh yes I did. Very much. I told her my name, that I was so-and-so’s friend and lived in such-and-such a suburb of Chicago. I did not mention that I knew her name, that I had memorized her face instantly while standing queued up at a high school dance many months before. Though impossible to imagine how, I somehow maintained a conversation through the fantasy of kissing her. The only thing that existed in the world was her mouth.
Evening soon fell. Two dozen of us teens sat around a beach fire telling stories and poking fun at each other. Gemma had not joined the group yet, and I feared she wouldn’t come. But then she appeared right next to me, even though her friends were all on the other side of the bonfire.
Couples started to withdraw, some to the dunes, others to disappear into the darkness away from the fire’s glow. An odd person here or there would yawn and announce that they were ready for bed. But Gemma sat next to me the whole time, and I got to hear all about her terrible Driver’s Ed class and her hope that she would get in to the University of Minnesota. While she talked, she managed to inch closer to me. We were soon the only ones sitting by the bonfire. She had her hand inside my knee, her head pressed against my ear. How had this happened? My shock and elation stunned me silly.
Very gently, she pushed me back into the sand, and kissed my mouth and face, my forehead, my chin and neck. She nibbled on my ears, kissed the bridge of my nose, her mouth delightfully soft and warm. I lost all track of anything; perhaps we kissed for minutes, or maybe it was hours. We walked up to the resort together and, in a shadowy space beside a pathway that led to her family’s cottage, she planted another soft kiss on my mouth. Gemma whispered, “I’ll see you tomorrow” and disappeared down the path.
I slept the deepest sleep of my life. In the morning, still in partial disbelief, I lay weighing what words to say when I’d see her next—at the tennis courts or pinball machines or beach. I finally got up and went to the kitchen where my brother and our friends were arguing over a pack of doughnuts.
When I appeared, they all started howling. My brother threw a doughnut at me and the other guys started heckling, “Score!” and “Work it!” I had no idea how they would’ve known about my night with Gemma. But then saw myself in the bathroom mirror.
My face was smeared with strawberry red lipstick. It was everywhere, my cheeks and forehead, my upper lip and neck. The smears resembled bruises more than kisses, a scene so sloppy compared to the feelings of the previous night that it seemed absurd, impossible. Of course, I washed my face quickly with loads of soap, sure to check every place.
The ensuing teenaged romance with Gemma was short-lived, lasting only one summer, but it was powerful. I am happily married now with two children, and yet I recall Gemma’s mouth most anytime I wash my face.
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