Thursday, December 23, 2010

Chapter One

Callie scooped half the bucket of popcorn into her bowl. It was the good kind, the chocolate and caramel-covered kind, and she’d helped herself.

“Hey!” Ten-year old Jon shouted, pulling the bucket away, rounding his shoulder over it protectively.

“Mrs. Toews, Jon won’t share his popcorn with me!” Callie hollered.

Andree came in, clicking her tongue in that distinctively French way and carrying a second bucket of the delicious popcorn treat. She reached over the couch and settled it into Callie’s lap. Callie stuck her tongue out at Jon, poured the bowl into the bucket and smiled because she now had three times as much dessert as he did.

“Girls suck,” Jon swore under his breath so his mom wouldn’t hear.

“Come out and play!” Eleven-year old Jon whined, banging his hockey stick on the green painted porch. Behind him, a group of neighborhood boys were spacing goals in the street, their breath clouding up before their faces in the crisp air of early winter.

“You mean come out and watch,” Callie said, a safe distance back inside the heat of the living room. “You guys never let me play and I’ll freeze to death if I sit still.”

Jon glanced over his shoulder. He tried to get the guys to let her play, at least let her stand in the goal, but no one ever wanted a girl on their team. Plus she had a bright purple parka with some shiny design on the back. If her coat had been blue, he thought maybe they’d have said yes.

“You could do cheers. On the sidewalk. To keep warm,” he suggested, keeping his head down. “Come on Callie!”

She shut the door in his face.

“It’s here, it’s here!” Jon ran shouting from the backyard of his house. Callie heard him next door, where she’d been helping paint the window trim a clean white wash. Her dad laughed as she splashed the brush into the can and tore off across the lawn.

Jon accosted the mail carrier and held the long, narrow box in front of him like a folded flag. It was as long as he was tall, which was about finally about the same height as Callie. She liked to call him “pipsqueak,” but the name wouldn’t be funny when it wasn’t true. Inside the box was Jon’s birthday present from his parents, some new-fangled hockey stick he’d been talking about for three months. Callie had come running to see what could possibly be more exciting to a twelve-year old than a new stereo or a computer game. He knelt down and tore the box apart as his parents made their way outside to watch. Wrestling with the paper and cardboard, Jon came up with the shiny silver piece.

“Let’s try it out!”

Ten minutes later, Callie was wearing twenty pounds of padding on her gawky frame while Jon chattered on about all the benefits of this new technology. The goalie gear was a hand-me-down neighborhood set bestowed on whichever unlucky kid got picked last for the team. Everyone wanted to be Gretzky. The honor of standing in the way of shots usually went to a fat kid, so Callie had to stand in a squat, knees and arms out, just to keep to equipment from falling off her skinny body.

“Hurry up, Jon!”

He shot and shot. At first she tried to stop them, but it made him so happy when he scored that she let him win just rocked from side to side. The stick was pretty, and Jon’s dad gave him some pointers on technique. An hour later, Callie peeled the helmet off.

“It’s hot and this stuff smells like Michael Waller,” she complained. “Can we take a break?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Jon said not looking at her. She sat in a heap and freed herself while Jon shot against the wall of the garage instead. He stayed there shooting when she gave up and went home.

“Nervous?” Jon asked as Callie climbed into the backseat of the car next to him.

It was their first day of their last year of junior high. Two thirteen-year olds balancing new backpacks on their knees, full of crisp notebooks and sharpened pencils. Jon was nervous. He really wanted Callie to be nervous too. She wore a gray skirt with a hot pink argyle sweater and saddle shoes, her dark hair twisted back in a ponytail that he knew her mom had done. She could never get it straight when she did it herself.

“A little,” she admitted. She knew Jon was, he always bit his bottom lip when he was nervous. It looked dry, like he’d been biting it for days. She unzipped a pocket and fished through five kinds of glittery, berry-flavored lip balm until she came up with the plain Chapstick kind.

“Here,” she held it out. “No girls are going to want to kiss you if you keep biting your lip.”

He made a face like she was stupid, hoping she didn’t notice him blush. The Chapstick did feel good on the cracked corner of his mouth. He returned the cap and handed it back.

“Ew!” she pushed his hand away. “Keep your cooties, Jon.”

Jon lay on his stomach, the plastic slats of the pool chair etching red marks into his skin like a ladder. Callie was one chair over, wearing her new one piece sky blue bathing suit with the flower pattern and looking across the neighborhood pool at Melissa Erickson and her friends. They were 14 and wore bikinis. Callie’s parents had told her no. Jon thought the other girls were okay – Katie McKenna had passed him a note in class saying he was cute. But that was last month, before summer vacation, and now he only saw them here. They never brought a book to the pool like Callie did, and they never had Chapstick in their backpacks. Only the glitter kind.

“I like your bathing suit,” Jon said, shielding his eyes from the sun.

“Thanks Jon.”

Katie and a friend came over, giggling into their hands. “Hi Jon,” they said. More giggling. “Sabrina is having a birthday party tomorrow, and you are invited. Six o’clock at her house, we’re having pizza and a campfire.”

Jon looked at Callie, who was pretending to read her book. Katie followed his eyes.

“I guess you could come too, Callie. There should be enough pizza.”

Callie dropped her backpack on the porch. “No.”

“Please Callie? Come on. Why don’t you want to go?” Jon kicked his feet along the gravel.

“They only wanted to ask you, Jon. They only invited me because you were sitting next to me.”

He shrugged. “So I’ll sit next to you at Sabrina’s too. Just come.” He wanted to go. He wanted to know what went on at a girl’s birthday party, now that it was okay for boys to like that kind of stuff. But he didn’t want to go alone. “I will let you have the front seat to school for a month next year.”

That was a big offer. “Three months,” Callie shot back.

“Fine. Jeez!” Jon stormed off and Callie slammed the screen door.

It rained on the day of Sabrina’s party, so they all moved indoors and watched movies while devouring pizza. There wasn’t room for everyone on the couch, so they sat on pillows and leaned against the table. Callie sat on the floor next to Jon’s feet. Katie McKenna sat next to him, squeezed in tight even though Lizzie Brecker on her other side was the smallest girl in school. Yuck, Callie thought.

When they were through the movie, some of the kids’ parents picked them up early because of the storm. About ten were left, including Jon and Callie who could walk home as soon as the rain let up. Katie McKenna stayed, along with a few other girls and a handful of boys. Sabrina led them all down into the finished basement where they resumed sitting around. A moment later, Katie came down carrying snacks and a glass soda bottle.

“Let’s play Spin the Bottle!” she squealed.

Everyone looked at each other in turn. Callie looked straight at the heavy weave brown carpet. Her face got hot and she could hear the rain pounding on the roof. Callie had never been kissed.

Jon looked at Callie. He knew she’d never been kissed because he’d never been kissed either. I’m 14, what’s the big deal? Do I want to be a baby forever? I’m almost in high school, he thought, squaring his shoulders. He kept his head up.

Katie sat across from Jon and volunteered to go first. Callie could hardly watch. It seemed too dark in the room, as if someone were going to perform a séance. Surely Sabrina’s parents would open the door any second and catch them. Save them. Katie flicked her wrist, the bottle wobbling as it turned.

Callie knew Katie was aiming for Jon. Katie would have hit him over the head with it for the chance to kiss him. The carpet made a tiny runching noise against the friction of the glass. When it stopped, the nose of the bottle was pointing just left of Jon, by inches. Right into the lap of Derek Ward.

“Woohoo!” Derek shouted, leaning up on to his knees. Katie’s face fell, but only for a second, then she steeled her fake smile and leaned across the circle. The kiss was long – rules said 10 seconds of lip contact were required – but chaste, like the kind you give a grandmother. Katie pressed her lips together so hard she looked like a duck. The rest of the kids counted slowly down, then clapped and screamed.

“Next spin to your right,” Sabrina advised. It was a rule to keep all the same kids for getting kissed – once you were kissed, you couldn’t spin again. You only kissed again if someone’s spin landed on you. Jon picked up the bottle like it might be radioactive.

“Don’t be shy, Jon!” Katie said, having wiped her mouth hard with one sleeve.

Jon snuck a glance at Callie, who was still examining the carpet like a crime-scene investigator. His adam’s apple, just starting to show as he hit puberty, bobbed in a big gulp before he let the glass twist from his fingers. The bottle made a single, slow revolution, one entire turn and just a little bit extra. It stopped on Callie.

Oh my God. Callie blushed furiously, her face surely hot to the touch. I can’t kiss Jon. Her first kiss was supposed to be Orlando Bloom, dressed like a pirate, saving her in a cannonade. Not her best friend in someone’s basement.

Thank God, Jon thought. He didn’t want to kiss Katie, not the way she was looking at him. She’d know it was his first time, embarrass him or make fun of him. Callie knew. She wouldn’t laugh. She wouldn’t know anything either, how could she be mean? I’m glad it’s Callie.

“Come on, you two, haven’t got all night,” Katie sniped, clearly annoyed and in a hurry to get her chance.

Callie turned to make an excuse. To ask for a do over. Her lips were parted but no words had come out yet… when Jon leaned in and kissed her. His mouth covered hers, surprising them both, and they stuck together like magnets for a moment wondering what was happening. Without meaning to, Jon opened his lips because Callie’s were open. She turned her head to the side involuntarily, still stunned, and they were really kissing.

Jon didn’t know what he’d been expecting. He’d just watched Katie kiss Derek like it was nothing important and certainly didn’t make the boy parts of your body tingle. But he was rooted to the spot, tiny sparks going off in his brain, vaguely wondering why he’d never done this before.

Callie’s brain shut down completely. Jon’s mouth was so, so soft and she tasted pizza dough over the Chapstick she’d lent him earlier. One she’d taken back with no jokes about cooties. Her hand almost came up to touch his face.

“Ten! That’s ten!” Katie shouted, picking up the bottle and tossing it onto the couch. “If you guys are going to cheat then we’re doing something else!”

A couple of kids “ooooooh-ed,” but Katie’s response seemed to confuse them. Sabrina followed Katie upstairs, so everyone else did too. Jon and Callie sat still on the floor, mouths only inches apart from the end of their kiss.

“First kiss,” Jon said. He sensed he should apologize, that he’d made her come to this party and that meant this kiss was his fault, something she didn’t want to do. Something he really wanted to do again. Just to practice, he thought.

“Sorry you didn’t get to kiss Katie,” Callie answered in a small voice. She climbed to her feet, making Jon scramble up as well. “She’s really mad.”

Jon grabbed her by the arm. “I don’t want to kiss Katie,” he whispered. “She scares me.”

Callie snorted a laugh. It was so sudden that it hurt, catching them both off guard and sending them into a fit of nervous giggles. They were scared and overwhelmed, grateful to have something else to think about. Sabrina appeared at the top of the stairs.

“Callie, your dad is here to pick you guys up.”

Callie put her homework down with a thump. One textbook slid off the far end of the coffee table, just missing Jon’s feet in their white tube socks.

“Katie McKenna? Jon, really?”

He kept his eyes on his science homework, pretending he knew the half-life of carbon. Katie had been passing him a lot of notes lately, like 10th graders do. She had blonde hair that always looked like it had just been brushed and she smelled like pineapple and sugar.

“She’s nice, Callie.”

“She’s a moron. Mr. Harding called on her in algebra and she gave him the Pythagorean Theorem instead of the quadratic equation. We learned that in like 7th grade!” Callie dropped her pencil like it too was stupid. “She only likes you because you play hockey.”

What’s wrong with that? Jon thought. He had been playing a lot and playing well. Everyone kept saying his growth spurt would come and then he’d really move up, really develop into someone who might go all the way. He really wanted that.

“Well I’m going to the movies with her. Ask someone to be your date so you can come too.”

“No thanks. She hates me from that birthday party two years ago, remember? I’d rather stay here and memorize the Periodic Table.”

Of course Jon remembered.

Jon sat on Callie’s couch, waiting. He’d been waiting ten minutes already and had half a mind to bust into her room when he heard footsteps on the stairs. She tromped down like an elephant, like always, and skidded to a stop in front of him. “Okay, okay, let’s go!”

He was a little startled. For starters, Callie’s hair was down. Dark and thick and falling into her face, which is why she was never without a ponytail. She wore a pair of jeans with winter boots and a white top under a gauzy gray cardigan. Her clothes were kind of… tight. Has she always been so curvy?

“Earth to Toews,” she waved a hand in front of his face, bracelets jingling on her wrist. “I thought you were in a hurry to see your girlfriend.”

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Jon turned away, face a little red. Katie was not his girlfriend, not in the way he seemed to think it should work. On the phone, he just listened while she talked. And she talked plenty about other boys. Her friends all had boyfriends and they were kissing and doing other stuff. Jon hadn’t tried to kiss Katie because she still scared him a little. Whenever he needed an excuse, he used hockey.

They had been going to the movies a lot lately – the only acceptable Friday night activity to teens in Manitoba – followed by hanging out at whichever pizza place didn’t care if they shared sodas and slices three or four ways. At first, Jon had gone with Katie and her friends a few times. They were nice but all they talked about were movies and celebrities and clothes. A couple of other guys came, but never for more than a week or two. Jon really wanted someone to talk to, so he convinced Callie to come along one night without a date. Katie had been weird, sitting really close to him and touching him a lot for no reason, but she wasn’t mean to Callie. And some of her other friends were nicer, more normal. Callie seemed to like them.

When they got to the movies, Jon thought that some of the other guys were looking at Callie too much. The girls made a big deal about how beautiful her hair was, touching it and sending the smell of flowers past his face every time. Katie arrived last, walking with another boy from their grade named Michael Arroyo. She barely said hello to Jon as Michael paid for her ticket.

Just as well, Jon thought. His parents worked really hard and there always seemed to be ice fees and new gear he needed. Especially now – he’d outgrown two pairs of skates in a year and would need new shoulder pads before his birthday. He had a good three inches on Callie these days. He’d keep the extra seven dollars in his pocket for something else.

Callie knew something was wrong in that way that girls can tell when another girl is doing something sneaky. Jon was walking right into a trap. When they got snacks, Katie announced loudly that she’d just share Michael’s popcorn and he should get Diet Coke. Callie bought a box of Junior Mints because they were Jon’s favorite, but he would never get them for himself. They sat in the same section as always – back left side – but Katie took the seat on the aisle instead of moving in. Michael climbed over and sat next to her, leaving Jon to climb over both of them. Callie dodged around to the row in front, stepped onto a chair and dropped into the seat next to Michael. Jon squeezed past her, all the way inside away from everyone, looking confused. Then Michael took Katie’s hand and held it, balanced on the armrest between them for everyone to see.

Callie knew Jon was looking at the ground, probably with his eyes closed. His hands were pressed between his knees like he needed something to do with them, like they were offensive or painful. She waited until the lights went down and then slid her hand between his palms.

His fingers twined into hers and held on for the whole show.