All around, dry lips were cracking. But I could still make a mean spit bubble.
Relief from the heat came when my second cousin, Margaret, decided to have a boy-girl pool party. Margaret's pool was known for the steep, spiral slide attached to one end. And a dangerous, bouncy diving board greeted happy kid feet. All the good stuff.
When I arrived at the party, all the kids were pumped up, running in circles. Most were laughing, shouting, flirting, quickly stripping clothes off, revealing suits, jumping into the pool. A lot of jackknifes, back flips, twists and cannonballs. Soon, we all heard the laughter and echoes of "Marco," "Polo," "Marco," "Polo."
I swam softly, lightly kicking, trying to blend in. I wore my new, blue one-piece Polo suit. My hair was growing out from a bad cut, and my body was growing out of a bad chubby stage. The braces were newly gone. I ran my tongue over my teeth repeatedly, feeling the welcome smoothness there, licking my lips.
My tanned face was clear and smooth. The fierce acne breakouts hadn't come on yet.
I was crawling with fear -- fear of fitting in, fear of people seeing my body in my new suit and mostly fear of the pack of boys. But I was a good actor, swimming and splashing, hitting the slide again and again. I took great leaps from the creaky diving board.
Deathly shy, I was bursting with insecurity, but I glanced at the strange boys, nervously craving touch, a wink, something. Love.
The boys were from another school. Margaret's twin brother had invited them over. So not only were they weird just because they were boys, but they were foreign, other-school boys, which made them aliens.
I didn't talk to any of them. Instead, I slowly toweled down my newly thin, awkward body, drying out in the sun enough so that the seat of my suit wouldn't turn my shorts wet and dark, making it look like I peed my pants.
Then I followed the girls inside. We tiptoed down to the basement. The boys crept after us, squishing in their shoes, still half-wet. Suddenly, everyone was silent. For the moment, there were no parents around.
In the basement, we sat in a circle. I felt my wet hair brushing my shoulders, my collarbone. I ran my hands through the tangled waves. I settled there Indian-style, waiting for some brave girl to make a move, to tell us what to do.
I was shifty, silent. My legs tingled. I searched underneath them for microscopic, slithering, sneaky snakes. Nothing there.
Someone found a Coke bottle, suggesting we play Spin the Bottle. I knew what that meant. I bit my lip, turning my tongue around in my mouth, feeling my smooth teeth.
As we played, I watched other couples kiss, looking for pointers. Some would quietly lock lips, tilting their heads. Others would quickly purse their mouths then pull away, scrunching their noses. Then the bottle was spinning again. It pointed straight at me and Evan (name changed), a strange, small boy across from me, the tan one with the buzz cut.
He moved forward, taking a hold of my shoulders, pulling me close, slightly opening his mouth, kissing me so softly, it felt like a butterfly.
I didn't think about the people in the room. I just kissed him back, letting my lips move over his.
He pulled me closer.
We stayed there for a while. Too long. People started laughing.
When he pulled away, Evan said, "Hey, you're a good kisser."
I smiled and said, "I've had lots of practice." A big, fat lie. I'd never kissed anyone or anything, other than my stuffed horses.
For a moment, we paused, face to face. I looked into Evan's tan skin, his small red, curved mouth, his sun-kissed brows. I studied his eyes. Green. No, blue. Tricky, like mine.
Then the basement door opened, and we all heard Margaret's mom's heavy footsteps. Then her voice, calling for us to come up and eat.
On the way home, when my mom asked me how the party was, I scowled and said, "All right." But on the inside, I was full of glorious fear, the fear that more was to come and the fear that I might not ever see Evan again.
I never did. But I never forgot the magical spin of that bottle, Evan's buzzed hair, his curious eyes and the way he turned into a butterfly.
Many years later when I was newly sober, recovering from alcohol addiction, I met Scott (name changed) at a 12-step meeting. As we talked, we realized that we used to hang around the same people. Then, amazingly, we discovered that we'd both been to Margaret's pool party on that very day I had my first kiss.
I asked Scott if he knew Evan. He did. Turns out Evan had just been released from a rehab facility out west. Like me, he was struggling to recover, struggling to live.
They say that like attracts like. I suppose so, even in the land of Spin the Bottle.
Evan, if you're reading this, I'm still pulling for you if you're pulling for me.
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