Part One: My First Kiss
My name is Jessup Albuquerque (pronounced like alba-cur-key). Yes, like the city in New Mexico. I was born and raised in Sacramento, California. I grew up with a mom who drove me crazy, a dad in the home (sometimes), and I went to an excellent Christian charter school when I was younger. Now I attend an ordinary and underfunded high school like most of you; in a way, you could say I used to be a pretty lucky but average guy. I am just a regular, blonde-haired, and blue-eyed kid—a kid whose whole life was turned upside down.
Please do not jump to conclusions, though, as I give you insight. Let me give you the details of how my life got jumbled and scrambled. Things are not always as it seems. Life is not always as predictable as we like to think. To read my story, you must have an open mind and do not assume things; you might have heard the common saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover?” My life is a lot like that; you can’t judge it until you hear how it all went down.
Four Years Earlier
It all leads back to my 14th birthday; it was only one month before starting 8th grade. I remember it very vividly, almost as if it were only yesterday; it was the day I had my first real kiss. I am not talking about those innocent pecks, like those you get in kindergarten under the slides at recess. I am also not talking about the kind of kisses the prude girls give to you on the quad at the school because all of her friends said she should. No, this was a real kiss.
My mom had invited everyone in the neighborhood and extended the invite to some of her co-workers’ families. I was kind of embarrassed that my mom was still throwing me an ‘under the sea’ themed birthday party. Trying to be positive, I had invited some kids that I knew, which were my best of buds. Matt, Aaron, and Kayden were as thick as thieves for as long as I could remember. Matt and I were pretty much like brothers. The party (no matter the lame theme) could not be that bad when I had my boys there.
I remember my mother in her pink dress and blonde hair curled like Marilyn Monroe; I look a lot like my mother. My mother always drenched herself in perfume and cared significantly about social appearance. That is why she stood in the overly bright yellow painted kitchen, stomping her pink heels on the beige linoleum; freaking the fudge out. She was stressing about the cups, the sea star streamers, the fact that my dad hadn’t shown up with the cake yet, and the fact that I was not wearing the silly outfit she had picked out for me. My mother did this every year, and every year I resisted her. I guess you could say I was a little butthole at times, but it’s not like she didn’t sometimes deserve it.
“Mom, why would I want to wear that? My friends are coming - I will look so stupid.” I pointed to the blue button-up and her pink bow tie (she liked us to color coordinate), ultimately choosing to ignore the break down she was having.
She gripped the marble counter, and through clenched teeth, she responded, “Boy, you will wear what I tell you to wear because I am your mother. You live under my roof, and I have been working so hard on this party. We have so many people coming over. How do you expect me to let you look……” (I’m sure you get the point).
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my mother with my whole heart, but she’s one of those women that needs to control every aspect of your life. She’s one of those mothers who go to all of your soccer games and wears shirts with your name on them. The kind of woman who needs perfection so much so that she watches you clean your room, so she knows it was done right. She is also the kind of woman who brags about you all the time but then dictates how you scoop peas into your mouth at dinner.
My dad, on the other hand, is always late. He’s a relaxed, collected individual. He is the reason I have been playing soccer since I was like two; he’s Australian, so soccer is a big thing over there. Yet, he works a lot in Nevada, working with the mines out in Elko. He has always smelled like dirt to me, even when he’s clean. He’s tall, strawberry blonde, and handsome (at least that’s what my mom says). He’s a kind, hard-working man, but he was invisible when crap was hitting the fan with my mom (much like this instance where she was on the brink of a panic attack).
He also doesn’t care as much about the social expectations of our neighborhood as my mother does. This only proves he loves her because he lets her ramble day and night about short and dark-featured Mrs. Whaley, also known as the freaking demon of Lemongrass Drive (the street we share). They always compete against each other (they even work as cashiers at the same Wal-Mart). The way my mom talks about her, I can consistently hear the disdain in her voice. I sometimes imagine a warfare scene from Call of Duty, only Wal-Mart style. I picture them fighting with scanners or competing to see who can check their customer out the fastest, instead of machine guns.
Anyway, there I am, looking at this stupid outfit. Of course, my mother gets her way; she always does, and I end up looking like a white Carlton from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I know that show is old, but Will Smith is still a legend (haven’t you seen I Am Legend?) At this point, I can hear my mother speaking very loudly in the kitchen.
My father stood in the doorframe of our living room, and my mother’s arms were coldly crossed in front of her, “Jack, how could you be this late? I needed the cake to be here thirty minutes ago. The guests will be arriving at any moment. It would help if you got changed, you’re still dirty from work. I left a blue button-up with a pink tie on the bed. Go now - if you care even an ounce about me!”
My father walked up to her and grabbed her, and began hugging her. My mother sighed as she began to relax in his arms but only to re-tense, “Jack, this is important. You know, Mrs. Whaley is going to be here. Her husband is probably going to be wearing Calvin Klein. She’ll probably be wearing the newest blouse for this season, that freaking bit….”
My mother hated cussing. She would always begin the word when she was truly upset or frustrated. However, as soon as she began to speak, she would seem so shocked. She’d act as if she had sinned. I have that in common with my mother, others cuss, but I don’t see the necessity in it. My father looked at me, saw what I was wearing, and pretended to choke himself. My mother did not find this humorous, and I could see her rage inflame even more.
Yet, my father ignored her, smiling as he squeezed her shoulder, “You look, great hon.”
He walked upstairs, the sound of his heavy metal-toed boots stomping on the cherry-oak staircase, still winking at me. My father never let anything bring him down; although that annoyed my mother, I am sure that she loved him for it. They balanced each other out. He was the yin to her yang, as cheesy as that sounds.
I proceeded, although knowing better than anyone not to provoke my mother. Knowing this would make her even more frustrated, I asked while grabbing a string cheese from the fridge, “Why do you invite her, then?”
The rampage began, her voice laced with annoyance at me, “That would be rude, and she would tell everyone how rude I am. I invited everyone from the neighborhood. I also invited most of our social group from work. She will have to come and try to show me up at my own son’s birthday. It must all be perfect.”
Right then, the first guest knocked. My mother sprang to action. She set the cake down, and like a trained actor, she became the most angelic and tranquil looking mother I had ever seen (as if she hadn’t been stressing for hours). She opened the door, and it wasn’t someone I knew- it was one of her co-workers. There stood a sweet looking middle-aged Hispanic woman in an oversized orange floral dress. She had black and graying hair clipped up in a massive-sized butterfly clip. She seemed very lovely, and she had a small accent indicating that her English had been learned.
“Hello, Jennifer, I hope I am not too early. I brought Flan; it’s like pudding.”
My mother said a tad bit over-excited as she waved her in and widening our bulky red front door, “Oh, thank you, come in. You’re not too early. You are the first guess, though. I’ll take the Flan. Go ahead and go outside; that’s where we will be having the party.”
The lady moved aside, and behind her stood a shy girl with the most dazzling eyes I had ever seen. Her hair loosely dangled at the base of her hips in dark heavy waves; (not that I was looking that closely), and it was healthy and beautiful looking. She was wearing blue jeans and a red t-shirt that had a bunch of gold glitter on it. It had the printed statement on it, “BOSS,” which I found slightly humorous.
The lady said encouragingly, “Come in, Meja. Let’s go outside.”
The girl looked at me nervously. Yet as she passed by, she slightly smiled as she walked outside. Of course, me having no game and being super lame with girls, I strode right beside her, showing her the way. I acted as a tour guide even though our glass sliding door was not more than ten feet away and showed clearly the backyard. I noticed she had a scent like vanilla, which I found strangely alluring and liked.
I couldn’t help but announce, “Hey, I’m Jessup. This party is for me. I’m 14 now. Also, why do you smell like ice cream?”
She laughed so shyly and innocently. I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed. Her laugh was so adorable as she laughed at my lameness. Even now, as I recall this moment, I shiver and cringe at the memory of being awkward. I had no game or experience with the ladies, as I had said.
She probably could see the red in my cheeks as she responded, “I’m Rosie, I know. My mom has been talking about you and the party all day. I’m 13, by the way. Also, thank you, I guess. It is a compliment to smell like ice cream, right?” I nodded in reply. She walked beside me and didn’t leave my side as we began bursting into meaningless but engaging conversation; it was as if we had always been pals.
More people began to show up. My parents were in their matching blue and pink outfits. They talked to all the adults floating around, and my mother could be heard laughing exaggeratedly. However, more excitingly, my friends had finally shown up. We included Rosie in all of our endeavors, even playing video games in the living room. Everything was going just like any regular birthday, except for our carefree spirits that ran wild. We wrestled all over my mom’s beige shag carpet, jumped all over her green leather couch, and looked like a bunch of rabid monkeys gone wild running up and down the staircase.
We started with basics, which were loud munching on potato chips and video games. I inserted the racing game into the game console and handed a controller to Rosie, which shocked the boys. Aaron gave me the ugliest look as he slouched onto the couch.
Matt chimed in for my defense, “makes sense. She’s new. You got any moves, Rosie?”
Rosie shrugged her shoulder but took the red controller. Her moves were instantly good, and she was definitely going to beat my yellow Lambo in the game. She was great; she was almost professional. I couldn’t help but drop my mouth, and I could see Aaron start to perk up beside me.
Aaron laughed, “dude, she’s going to beat your as-”
I interrupted him before he could cuss; as I said, it’s not necessary, “Ace. And ya, I think she just might.”
She did beat my ace, and she left me stunned. Meanwhile, my mom was lucky to stay outside socializing because she would have had a heart attack at all of the chip crumbs that were falling from the boy’s mouths due to their shock. No one would have expected the turn of events to come.
It all began to change when Matt said, “let’s play truth or dare.”
We went back and forth between us, and I ate a pickle dipped in mayo, which wasn’t that bad. Matt had to go up to his mother and ask her to spell “ICUP.” Rosie had done 20 push-ups, which she sucked at, to be completely honest. Then, the turn that changed everything was when Aaron dared her that last dare.
He said boldly and mischievously, “Rosie, I dare you to kiss Jessup.”
I looked at her, and I was shocked. My heart was pounding, my palms suddenly felt very sweaty, and I am sure she could see my already super pale face get even whiter. I could see her shock as her small tan face began to turn slightly pink.
She played with her thumbs nervously, and she was about to speak when I heard a voice nearby, “Meja, where are you? We are getting ready to cut the cake.”
She jolted up, almost like she was relieved. The bell had saved her. I jolted up immediately as if we had been caught doing something terrible. Apart of me secretly felt bummed to have not done the dare, but I followed as we all ran outside.
The sun was shining brightly, which caused Rosie’s dark hair to shimmer. The picnic tables were lined with food and people. The garden my father so meticulously cared for was in full bloom. I could see Rosie admiring some of the flowers with her mother. I was about to sit down at the aging picnic table beside Matt when I heard shouting.
I was unknowingly lucky because, at that moment, I heard my mother’s voice boom, “Jessup, darling, please go get the cake from the refrigerator.”
I did a 180-degree turn and headed right back inside. As I shut the sliding glass door behind me, I took a glance at Rosie. I saw Rosie in a warm embrace with her mother as they talked side by side. She saw me stealing a glimpse, and she flashed me a smile before I turned my back to her.
I was arm deep, sticking my hands in the refrigerator. I could feel the icy coolness from the fridge, kissing my forearms. I hadn’t even closed the frozen cold refrigerator door when I overheard Rosie’s charming voice.
“Mama, I’m going to use the el baño really quick,” Rosie ran through the door, closed it, and looked at me intently.
Her eyes were aflame. She came right up to me, with my hands filled with cake, and grabbed my face. I was stunned, bewildered, and stuck in utter amazement as she kissed me. I’m sure I was a terrible kisser because right when I felt her tongue in my mouth, I froze up. I couldn’t help but stop moving my bottom lip. The vanilla scent and the sweetness of her breath overwhelmed me. Her hand was on my cheek; it felt warm and pleasant in contrast to the cold plastic of the cake in my palms.
She looked at me with her eyes still blazing. She laughed heartily with her breath running wild before running right back outside. I stood frozen for a second, even though my chest was pounding. I needed a second to recollect myself before I could also return outside.
For the rest of my party, she stayed near her mom. She would be looking down every time I would try to catch her eyes. I wondered secretly to myself if she had regretted kissing me? Did it maybe feel awkward now? Nonetheless, after a first kiss like that, I couldn’t help but feel alive.
I never saw her again. I remember thinking about her from time to time. I remember specifically at one dinner, where I asked my mom about her.
I remember feeling shy as she said, “Maria’s little girl Rosie? They moved to Los Angeles to be closer to her mother in law…”
After that, I zoned out because all I was focused on was the unfortunate fact that Rosie was gone. I thought at that moment that for sure, I would never see her again. It had been a perfect first kiss from a girl who would disappear, just as quickly as the kiss itself. Luckily, I would later find that I was very wrong: she would not be gone for good.