Promenade

In the aftermath of Josie revealing herself in front of God and country, not to mention the entire senior class of 1999, there are a lot of things Guy Perkins doesn't tell anyone. He doesn't tell anyone how angry it makes him, that she was using him, or how guilty he feels later, when he realizes that maybe he deserved to be used. That maybe he deserves a lot worse.

But the most important thing Guy Perkins doesn't tell anyone is how he felt for that minute and a half he was dancing with Aldys.

It was the song, he tells himself. And it was the way she'd let her hair hang loose for once, and she wasn't wearing her glasses. And God, it was that slightly metallic skintight blue bodysuit. (Guy thinks that all girls should probably start wearing slightly metallic skintight blue bodysuits, especially girls who've got bodies like that.) He tells himself all this, but he doesn't really believe it. (Okay, it was probably a little bit the bodysuit, but not totally.)

Really, Guy knows, it was the way she moved her hips, and the way he moved his against her. The way she's a head taller than him but they still seemed to match up just right, arms and legs and fingers and necks in all the right places for once in his life.

Because another thing Guy doesn't really tell people is the fact that he's never actually had a girlfriend, never even really kissed a girl.

At first, it was like a mark of status, another mark among all the other marks that made him cool. Guy's always been cool, and no girl was ever cool enough for him, and all the girls knew it. Even Kirsten, Kristin, and Gibby never tried to make a move, no matter how crazy the party or how drunk they were. And so that was the problem, really, because if they weren't cool enough for him, no one was, and by the time he hit sophomore year, Guy Perkins really just wanted to do someone, anyone. Like really.

But everyone would have known about it the second he did, and Guy knows all the rules of being cool: the way it only takes one person to think you're in to make you cool, but it only takes one person to think you're out (one ugly chick at one party) to leave you in the dust forever.

Which is why Josie's ascension to cooldom was a dream come true, the kind of dreams Guy had every night without ever really knowing if he was dreaming them right or not, because there's only so much porn can really teach a guy. A new girl, a cool girl, a girl he could get his lips all over without it doing anything but raising his stock.

He almost kissed her that night in what turned out later to be her old bedroom, almost leaned the four inches forward to make their faces touch after he asked her to prom and after she said yes. But as soon as the thought, the I-could-actually-do-this thought made its way through his brain, Guy could feel his heart fluttering and that choking feeling in his throat that was definitely not cool at all. So he just smiled, and leaned back, and nodded, and walked out the door. He thought for sure they'd make out at prom, if not do the deed itself, because didn't girls cream at the idea of having sex on prom night, with the hotel bed full of rose petals and all? Guy would have done it. He would have gotten the hotel room except for all the shit that went down that night that made it actually a good thing he never did.

Because even if the truth about Josie hadn't come out, Guy knows he never would have been able to go through with it. Because as soon as his hand settled on Aldys's hip, he felt something he'd never felt when he was dancing with or smiling at Josie, something he'd never felt when drunk, horny freshmen pushed up against him at parties. He doesn't know how to describe it in a way that's not distinctly uncool, doesn't know how to describe it at all except to say that it was like fire, burning hot and clean and then warm and bright, making him want to push Aldys up against the wall and pull that magnificent bodysuit down off her shoulders and then just stand there looking at her for the rest of forever.

Of course he didn't get the chance to even really contemplate that before the girls were covered in dog food and Josie was throwing down her crown, and the whole world (or at least most of Chicago) knows how that turned out.

And now they're here, watching Josie stand on the pitcher's mound as the clock counts down, and Guy thinks, it's now or never, and if he hasn't learned a lesson about what it really means to be cool by now then he probably doesn't deserve any chance at happiness ever. So it's now or never.

"Hey man, where you going?" Jason calls as he swings his legs up over the bleachers and starts pushing through the row behind them, and "You're totally gonna miss it!" Gibby adds, but suddenly the fire's there again, burning through Guy and making him sure that this, this is something that he's got to do.

She's sitting with her nerd friends, all the way across the stadium, and there are only two minutes and twelve seconds left. He makes it there in one.

"Aldys?" he says, panting, coming up at the end of her row, next to that guy who's always hunching over and giggling, and Guy spares half a second to think that he should probably learn his name or something before his mind snaps back to her.

She twists her head to look at him. Her lips tighten, and she flips it back around. She's back in the overalls, but he notices that she's left her hair loose again. "So you do know my name isn't Alpo," she says coolly. "I wondered."

He can't quite get past the guy between him and her and so he puts his hands in his pockets to hide the fact that they are shaking in the most loserish way and shrugs and says, "I'm sorry," and wonders how to make her believe it.

"Look," he tells her, and she's still not looking at him, her eyes fixed on Josie down there on the field. Forty three seconds left. "I meant what I said. At prom. I wanted to put it all behind us. I was an jerk, and I'm sorry."

"But you knew about the dog food thing," she cuts in. "Very unoriginal. Not that I would expect anything else from you and your lemmings."

"Look," he says again, and then, "Excuse me, could we just, like, switch places here?" and the guy between them puts up a finger and says, "Technically we could, but would we is an entirely different—" But Guy just pushes past him, because there are thirty seven seconds left and he doesn't have time for this.

Now he's standing entirely too close to her, can see the nervous darting of her eyes and her fists clenched tight in her overall pockets, and he says, "I'm sorry," again, because what else is there to say?

There's everything else to say, and no more time to say it.

"Hey," he says, and grabs her shoulders. "Will you just listen to me for half a second?"

She shakes him off, crosses her arms. "Give me one good reason why I should. You're an ass, Guy Perkins."

This is as good an opening as he's going to get. Guy takes a breath. "I've never been kissed," he says, and then, finally then, she looks at him.

Her mouth is slightly open now, all the defensiveness gone out of her face and replaced by disbelief. "You?" she says, "You've never been…"

"No," he says. He sighs and the crowd sighs with him, and he knows there must be something going on down on the field but he can't look away from Aldys. "I haven't. And I want it to be you. I want to kiss you, I mean." He's stammering now. Guy Perkins never stammers.

"But…me…why?" He's never seen her speechless, never seen her anything but guarded and closed and hurt, and he hates himself even more than he's been hating himself all week when he sees that guarded look start to shutter down her eyes again. She thinks this is just a repeat performance of prom, finishing the job, and that's all his fault and he doesn't know how to make her know that that's not true. That that's not him anymore.

So he does the only thing that makes sense, the only thing he can do. For once in his fucking life, Guy Perkins tells the truth. "Because I think I might be in love with you or something," he says, and then he kisses her.

Her mouth is still open a little bit when his descends on it. Well, okay, if he's honest with himself, there's no descending, because he has to lift his chin to reach her mouth. But that's okay. Everything's okay once their lips touch, hers soft and giving wherever his press. She exhales half a breath into his mouth, and Guy thinks there's never been a better feeling than this.

And then she jerks away. "What the hell was that?" Aldys asks, and she has to yell over the sudden cheering all around them. But neither of them looks down. Neither of them looks away.

"My first kiss," he says, and he knows he's smiling and he knows he's ridiculous, but suddenly, Guy Perkins can't find it in himself to care.

Aldys shakes her head. "You're really not lying."

"I'm really not lying."

"You're really not about to pour pig's blood all over my head?"

He laughs. "I'm really not."

Her mouth twists again, but her eyes are bright, and she's taken her hands out of her pockets. "I still don't trust you," she says. A pause, and then, "But I'm willing to try that again. For the sake of experimentation. And…science."

Guy smiles then, and he feels the fire, this time soft, light, warm, spreading through his chest. "I never thought I'd be thanking science for anything," he says. "But I'll take it." His hand finds her hip through her overalls, and to his surprise, her arms come up around his neck, shaking only just a little bit.

In the end, Guy doesn't see Josie get her first kiss. He's too busy getting his.