The Kid Contest
Title Of Entry: The Three Kisses
Word Count: 3,178
The sun shone brightly on the school's kindergarten playground, the sound of bright, bubbly childish laughter eclipsing anything else. Kids were everywhere – on slides, on the floor, on the handrails and even just running around in circles. Why? They would've scoffed if anyone had asked them such a ridiculous, grown-up question: kids don't need a reason.
Mary Alice Brandon twirled around and around, her dress flying out carelessly. She was trying out her new toy, a little plastic container with soapy water on it she could use to make bubbles, and they surrounded her, bobbing cheerfully in the spring air.
Little legs pumping, black hair flying behind her, five-year-old Alice ran as hard as he could, leaving bubbles and bubbles behind her. Suddenly Sam Collins – one of the big boys – set his foot smack in the middle of her path.
Before she could react, little Alice was flying, terrified, the open bottle of liquid soap in her hands. She struck the hard ground knees-first, and, covered in mud, began to cry at the sight of her broken toy.
Suddenly, chaos. Sneaker-clad feet ran past her, the little blonde boy that the belonged to pushing huge Sam to the ground and kicking him, "Leave her alone, you meanie!"
Crying, the bully ran in search for a teacher. Alice hiccupped.
"Are you OK?" The boy asked, standing in front of her. Alice took the hand he was offering her and got up, wiping the tears away. She nodded.
"Thanks. I'm Alice."
"I'm Jasper." He grinned, showing her the most adorable, gap-toothed smile.
Alice cocked her head to the side thoughtfully, her long hair falling around her, "Nope. You're Jazz, now."
He shrugged, "That's cool."
"And we," Alice went on, grabbing his hand, "are gonna be best friends."
"I'm telling you, Jazz, I don't think that's such a good idea." Alice frowned, crossing her arms over her non-existent chest.
"Stop worrying, Ali." He said carelessly, "I'll be fine."
She sighed and shook her head, "For the record, I have a huge bad feeling about this."
Ignoring her, Jasper grabbed his new skateboard and ran over to where Emmett and Edward, his new friends, were standing in front of the deserted elementary school steps. They looked huge to tiny, almost-ten-years-old Alice, and she shook her head again.
Jazz had been acting like that the whole summer, always wanting to hang with the guys instead of her. Alice looked at the bright yellow nail polish on her nails, rolling her eyes. She didn't have any other special friends, and she was always the one Jasper came running to when he got bored or hurt.
This time, though, she'd been truly worried. Those steps were tricky even for the most experienced skaters, and Jazz had only had his board for two days!
Well, if he's cocky enough to think he can nail it… Alice shrugged, trying to convince herself that she didn't care.
She folded her legs underneath her, sitting on the hot pavement, and leaned her body on her bike. Alice picked at her sneakers, bored. She took a hair band from the pocket of her new denim shorts and tied her long hair back in a ponytail, uncomfortable in the heat. She sighed.
"Ok, ready?" Emmett asked loudly. Both Edward and Jasper nodded, skateboards ready.
"One…" Jazz began, "Two… Three!"
The guys were skating almost instantly. Emmett was the first one to fly over the stairs, Edward hot on his heels. Alice's breath caught in her throat.
Jasper soared through the air quickly, landing wrong and becoming a heap of tangled arms and legs at the stairs' base.
"Jasper?" Alice shouted. Edward and Emmett had already run off to go play somewhere else, not knowing their younger friend was hurt. "Jasper!"
Alice ran and knelt by her best friend in the world. Blood seeped out from his wide forehead, staining the pavement. Alice took him by the shoulders and shook.
"Jazz! Jazz, wake up!" She looked around desperately, "Come on, JJ. Please…"
Tears in her eyes, Alice searched for the water bottle she always kept in her back pack, her hands shaking. She found it and, without hesitating, dumped it over Jasper's head, causing him to sputter himself back to consciousness.
"Ali?" He squinted his eyes up at her, "Ouch. My leg hurts."
Alice turned to look at his leg, bent at an odd, unnatural angle and bit her lip, lying, "It's Ok, Jazz, but I don't think you'll be able to walk. And your head's bleeding…"
With some difficulty, Jasper managed to sit up and watched the world spin for a moment. His hand went to his forehead and felt the hot, sticky blood dripping from it, "I think you'll have to go get help, Al."
Alice looked around her obediently. Few kids lived near the school, and no one was nearby during the summer anyway. She shook her head and blinked back tears once more, willing herself to be strong. "Come on."
She stood and offered her friend a hand. He looked at her quizzically, "Uh… I don't think I can stand up, Alice."
She took his arm forcefully, "Yes, you can. And I'm gonna help you."
Pulling with all her might, Alice managed to get Jazz into a wobbly standing position. He gasped in pain and she put and arm around his waist, supporting him, "Come on, J. The hospital's just three blocks away. You can do this."
Step by step, Alice and Jasper slowly began walking towards their destination. They made an odd picture, a skinny little girl supporting a boy twice her length. Finally, half an hour (and a whole lot of sweat) later, the two kids arrived at the nearly empty ER, panting heavily.
The nurse sitting at the front desk took one look at them and did a double take, "Oh, my…"
Alice helped Jasper sit down on one of the chairs, slumping down next to him tiredly, "My friend's hurt."
"Well, yes, child, I can see that." The nurse – a heavyset, strong woman – smiled worriedly and began making calls, "Don't worry, dearie, someone'll be with you two shortly."
Alice squeezed Jazz's hand. He gritted his teeth painfully. It was like his leg was being run over again and again, like a Furby was chewing at his bones and going at them with a chainsaw.
"I think I'm gonna throw up." He said, his voice wobbly.
Alice sat with him through it all – even when the doctors began setting his leg. Horrified, she watched as they placed a piece of dry wood on his knee, then pulled it until it cracked. Stabs of pain coursed through Jasper's body and he yelled, high and loud and broken.
By the time Alice's mom came to pick them up, both kids had gotten over the shock. Alice was scolding a mournful Jasper for ignoring her, and he was just staring at his new green cast. The two of them hopped into the car.
"The doctor said it's gonna be on for weeks and weeks, Mom." Alice prattled, "Right, Jazz?"
He nodded silently.
"Hey, wanna go get some ice cream? I rented this totally awesome movie yesterday…"
Mrs. Brandon smiled, watching the kids in the mirror. Yes, it was good to see the two bestest friends together again.
Summers flew by and were soon followed by autumn, and that season was one of the saddest of Alice's life. By November, her parents' fights had become not only more constant but also incredibly louder. Soon, they were quarreling over everything – where to have dinner, Alice's grades and her sister Cynthia's babysitters became a constant source of strife.
"She's not responsible enough, Jared!" Ophelia Brandon screamed at her husband, cheeks flushed, her long blonde hair falling about her, "She's just a child!"
"Nineteen is hardly a child." He scoffed in return, "This is the fifth babysitter you've tried to fire this month. What's wrong with you, Phe?"
"It's not my fault you're acting like a pedophile." She defended, "Staring at the girls, teasing them – they're not your personal whores, you know!"
Jared froze in disbelief, "Oh. So that's what this is all about. You really think I'm cheating, Phe? With Cynthia's babysitters?"
Her silence made Alice's stomach clench. "Oh my God. Oh my God. That's it, Ophelia. That is the last damn straw!"
"What the hell are you talking about now, Jared?" She demanded, "You think I don't see it? How your secretary's eyes follow you everywhere you go? You might as well have spelled it out for me!"
"I AM NOT CHEATING, DAMMIT!" Alice clutched her comforter tighter, praying for Cynthia not to wake up. Their house was so small, everything was easy to hear, and she didn't want her little sister to suffer. "I just don't understand you anymore."
"Christ, Phe, you're borderline neurotic." Mr. Brandon shook his head, ignoring his wife's protests, "No, no, I mean it. You think I'm cheating on you with every woman you can think of. You're much more edgy – and touchy – and you're always snapping at the girls, losing your patience with them."
A tear slipped down Alice's face. "Jared, I–"
"You're not you anymore." The hurt in his voice was apparent, "I fell in love with a woman that was always smiling, laughing, telling jokes – you sang in the shower, Phe!"
"I'm just stressed." Her excuse sounded pathetic, even to her own ears.
"That's just the thing. I can handle stress. But the fact is, you have nothing to be stressed about. You're a mother – so what? You've been one for almost fifteen years. I don't think that's the problem."
"Stop!" Ophelia sobbed, "Jared, we can work through this…"
"No," He said, "We can't. You're just not the woman I fell in love with anymore. You've changed, Phe, and it's hurting me. And the girls."
Alice covered her mouth with her hands to stifle the sounds of her crying. Her mother sniffed tearfully.
Jared Brandon took a deep, shuddering breath and finally spoke the words he'd been avoiding for months, unable to face the reality, "I want a divorce, Ophelia. And I wanna keep the girls."
The woman let out a choked cry that nearly broke Alice's heart and fell down on the sofa, broken. Jared wiped his own tears away.
Alice looked at her sleeping sister, pulled her blanket tight over her, and climbed out their window, barefoot. She looked up at the starry sky, feeling that the world would come crashing around her any minute. Shivering in her thin pajamas, she ran down the streets, block after block, until she reached a warm, yellow house.
Alice paused for a minute to regain her breath, still sobbing. The window above her opened silently, "Alice? What are you doing here?"
Jasper quickly climbed down and hugged her, "What happened? What's wrong? Is Cyn OK?"
"She's fine." Alice answered bitterly "I – I – my parents –"
Seeing she was crying too hard to speak, Jasper stifled his burning curiosity and led his friend across the street. The neighborhood park was bathed in chilly moonlight, completely deserted – lifeless. Jasper sat down on one of the cold metal swings and tugged on Alice's arm until she was sitting next to him. He wrapped his arm around her, not sure whether she was shaking from the cold or from pain, but figuring the gesture would be comforting in both cases.
Some time afterwards, Alice wiped her tearstained face and whispered, "My parents are getting a divorce."
Jasper nodded quietly.
"What am I gonna do?" Alice cried, sobbing again, her face in her hands, "What's gonna happen to me?"
"I don't know, Ali," Jasper admitted truthfully, "But I'm planning on sticking around to find out"
She looked up at him, confused ,"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means I'm not gonna leave you, Al." Jasper said, "So if you ever hear any fighting going on again, you come to my house and we'll steal cookies from my Mama's jar, K?"
Alice smiled a watery smile and nodded.
Sixteen-year-old Alice stood in front of her bathroom mirror, her hands on her hips, looking at herself critically. Her pale purple dress, though beautiful, barely reached her knees, and she was thankful it was still September. It was made of breezy gauze, after all – and it was also sleeveless, held in place by the thinnest straps. Cynthia tied the sash at her waist and smiled at her sister. Alice's hair was almost below her chest, making her paleness stand out. She grabbed the tube of lip gloss on her dresser and applied it carefully to her plump lips, making them redder than they already were.
"Stop worrying, Al." Cynthia said from the bed, "You already look gorgeous"
Alice smiled weakly at the child, her stomach twisting nervously. She grimaced, "I'm gonna throw up."
"Who cares? You'll still look great afterwards." Cynthia shrugged. Laughing, Alice gave her a quick hug, teetering precariously in her high heels.
She opened the door, "Bye, Cyn. Love you"
"Me? But I thought it was Jasper you'd fallen for." She teased. Alice sighed and slipped out of their room and down the stairs.
Jared Brandon sat at the kitchen counter, staring at the nothingness outside the window. Alice took her place beside him, "Dressed already, Ali? You still have half an hour"
She smiled, "Cynthia wanted to see me before she went to sleep"
"Ah." Her father nodded understandingly, "Yes, she's always thought you were beautiful. She says you look just like your Mother"
Alice blushed and waited for the time to go by in silence. Ever since that night at the park two years ago, Alice's feelings for Jasper had begun to grow into the biggest crush she had ever witnessed. It had taken her parents' divorce to make her realize she liked him, true, but she couldn't make herself feel even a tiny amount of guilt. She smiled, thinking of the way they'd met. She had long ago decided that they were meant to be, their fate sealed by the little boy that had tripped her in the school playground. Sam Collins had no idea what a favor he'd done her, and she thanked God he had such a mean disposition every day.
Though her brain had been bursting with thoughts of Jasper for quite some time, Alice had to admit that the way her lips locked every time she tried to tell her about her feelings for him was a bit pathetic. But she was terrified of ruining their friendship with her silliness, and so Alice – who usually had no problem saying the truth, ugly or not – finally discovered the limit of her courage. She had never been afraid of anything, but she had to admit that what paralyzed her was fear, not intelligence, because she was pretty sure Jasper felt the same way. But every single time, her heart would try to run away, her breath hitching, and when she felt his eyes upon her Alice knew that she would remain silent about that for another month. Or two.
The doorbell rang.
Alice practically grew wings and flew away with happiness as she opened it and looked up at Jasper, standing on her doorstep shyly. He wore a pair of jeans and a dress shirt – her mother, she would wager, had picked it out for him.
"Hi," He said, finally raising his head from where it had been burning holes into the floor.
"Come on in," Alice smiled, "Cynthia wants to say hi before we leave"
At the sound of the doorbell, the twelve-year-old blonde had flown down the stairs hurriedly, and she gave Jasper a quick hug, "Hey, Jazz. Wow, you look great. I'll bet your Mom picked your clothes out, didn't she?"
Jasper ruffled Cynthia's hair, grinning at the freckled girl he considered his little sister, "'Course she did."
"Cynthia Brandon!" Alice's dad called from the kitchen, "It's ten thirty. You better have evaporated by the time I come out, young lady."
The girl rolled her eyes defiantly but was upstairs in a flash. Jasper and Alice laughed. Mr. Brandon peeked his head out of the kitchen, smiling, "She's gone? Good, then."
He kissed Alice's cheek, "You better be back by one thirty. Sharp, Alice."
"Yeah, yeah, stop worrying, Dad." She dismissed him. Jasper always went with her to the parties – as her best friend, of course, nothing else – and they had been to so many it was becoming routine. "Bye! I love you!"
"Bye, Mr. Brandon." Jasper opened the front door and let Alice walk through before closing it gently. The two of them climbed into Jasper's car – a gift from his wealthy Grandmother – and sat awkwardly as he turned it on and began the half-hour drive. The silence hung between them like a curtain, and Alice turned her head to look out the window and suppressed a sigh.
Jasper cleared his throat, "They say this is gonna be a great party."
"Hm." Alice agreed.
"Well, you know Gianna, her parents don't really care about anything she does, and it's not like there's a limit to how much money she can spend. Heidi helped her plan it, she said it's gonna be the party of the year, and that–"
"Jasper?" Alice asked sweetly.
"Stop blabbering and pull over." She demanded.
He froze "What? Why?"
"Jasper. Do it." He quickly obeyed, pulling over to the side of the road and raising an eyebrow at her.
Alice turned towards the window, took a deep, silent breath, and turned towards Jasper again. "I like you. I really like you."
He started at her bluntness. "Alice, I–"
She rolled her eyes and quietly pressed her lips to his.
Jasper pulled back, feeling like the world had just exploded, "Wow. Uh, I like you too. Really like you – and for the record, I am not just saying this because I feel like I have to. And I'd like you a lot more if you'd let me finish talking once in a while."
Alice giggled. "Admit it. You'd never have kissed me on your own."
He kissed her and pulled back again, putting his forehead to hers. "I would've. Eventually. I do things on my own sometimes, you know."
She laughed and Jasper quickly took a little plastic rose out of his pocket, "I've been carrying this around for a while – you know, in case I decided to tell you first. And I was just wondering if you would–"
"Yes!" Alice took the flower from him, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him for the third time.
"Great. Oh, Emmett's gonna be pissed." Jasper laughed.
"Why?" Alice asked suspiciously.
"We kinda had this little bet–"
"Jasper!" She slapped his arm gently, pretending to be mad.
"Ouch. I could make it up to you, though." He shrugged. "Depends."
He grinned "You think your dad'll find out if we skip the party?"
Alice climbed onto his lap. "Just focus on kissing me."