A Playground Kiss

About my tenth time around the rink, I accidentally bumped into the girl in my third period biology class, knocking her to the ice.

“Sorry,” I said, “I wasn’t looking where I was going.”

Even in the frosty cold, I blushed, embarrassed so quickly, especially when a pretty girl was within a few feet of me. It was like an emotional bomb had detonated inside of my head.

I picked her up from the ice. She wore a puffy white parka, pink mittens, and a red woolen beanie that came down to her eyebrows. When I helped her up, she smiled with perfect white teeth. Her long auburn hair hung loosely on her shoulders. Her brown eyes danced in my head. 

“You’re so cute,” she said. “You have gorgeous green eyes. And I like that little bump on the bridge of your nose.”

And she touched my nose with her pink mitten that instantly warmed my face.

When a girl gives you a compliment, who knows what to say? I was freezing and overwhelmed with instant love—speechless under those circumstances.

“Aren’t you the kid in my third period?” she asked.

“Yes, I sit in the back row. Your name is Jill, right?”

She smiled as if she had known me for years and took my hand with her pink mitten. My icy cold body thawed instantly. I didn’t want to let go. Jill wasn’t shy. Junior High girls seemed to mature faster than us Neanderthal boys. They always knew the right things to say, thank God. While she talked, I was entranced by her beautiful wintry essence, her rosy cheeks, and thought wouldn’t it be nice to hang out with her for a bit longer? Like, say, for the next ten years.

“Build Me Up Buttercup” blared from the big speakers in the rafters of the rink. The massive sound system was better than the Foundations playing live. The melody stuck in my head like a gigantic earworm— Why don’t you build me up, buttercup, baby, just to let me down and mess me around…

Jill led me around the rink like I was her puppy. Our faces froze into a smile as we tried to avoid the other skaters, many of whom were either unable to stay upright on skates or didn’t watch where they were going. I had to push a veering skater into the boards several times so he wouldn’t crash into us.

My friend, Jake, meanwhile, was making inroads with Jill’s friend Arlene. They were flirting at the snack bar, sharing a box of butter popcorn in such an intimate way that it made me blush again. Between mouthfuls of popcorn, Jake tickled Arlene under her arms and made her laugh until tears ran down her cheeks.

Jake was a year older, even though we were both in ninth grade. But, there was something special watching him flirt with a girl so effortlessly. He had a gift with girls, probably because he had an older sister. Whereas I just had two goofy brothers who always made armpit farts and wrestled. It also might have been Jake’s curly red hair jutting out of the sides of his beanie that made him so popular with girls.

“Harry! Harry! Who are you staring at!?” shouted Jill with a laugh.

“Just checking out how well my friend and yours are getting along. Isn’t it a coincidence that we all met at the same time? How cool is that?”

“It’s written in the stars,” Jill said. “My mother is into astrology, and she says that the alignment of the stars with the planets determines everything.” And she tugged on my coat sleeve to get back on the ice.

“You must be an Aries because they get along so well with Geminis,” she said.

“How did you know?”

“Because you’re romantic. You weren’t afraid to hold my hand, even though you hardly knew me.”

***

We skated for another two hours until the rink closed. It was amazing how fast time sped by when you were with someone you liked. Soon I forgot I was on the ice, mindlessly going around in endless circles, just the two of us gliding on a sheet of clouds like nothing else mattered. My feet didn’t ache and the brisk winds numbing my face didn’t bother me. Nothing mattered except being with Jill, holding her pink mittens.

The lights flashed, signaling that the skating rink would be closing.

“What do you want to do now?” Jill asked, with sadness in her eyes.

“I don’t know. Let’s see what Jake wants to do.”

The four of us took off our skates, put on our sneakers, and we followed went to the Tarken playground. Jill and I sat on the steel kiddie-go-round and talked under the winter moon while Jake and Arlene went off somewhere alone.

The temperature outside dropped to below zero, but the pounding of my heart stoked my inner fire. We bared noticed the murmur of Jeff and Arlene’s giddy voices somewhere in a dark corner of the playground. I figured they were making out by the monkey bars.

It seemed like Jill and I were the only ones under the moon that night. “Build Me Up Buttercup” faintly played in my head as we talked about silly things like long johns with tiny roses on them. We held each other’s hands and watched our mist of breath float skyward.

Our friends were now laughing in the distance, and I imagined Jake tickling Arlen again until she pleaded for him to stop. And like the girls he met in the past, she was probably putty in his hands.

Glancing up at the sky, I felt the earth spiraling with the rest of the spinning planets in the galaxy. Jill and I were spending only a millisecond in human existence together, taking a once-in-a-lifetime ride on the kiddie-go-round. We held each other tight, knowing that once we let go, the moment would be lost. 

Like two magnets attracting, we held each other to keep warm. The stars reflected in Jill’s youthful eyes, and I was grateful for sharing this one solitary moment that we would remember forever. It was a gift from the universe.

And in the flash of a shooting star, we kissed.

I don’t remember who made the first move, but her full lips were warm and tasted like grape chewing gum. The smoke of our breath seemed to form hearts above our heads. While holding her hand, I kept feeling the shape of her fingers under the mittens. Our blue jean knees touched with static electricity that sent shock waves up and down our spines.

The moon was bigger than it had ever been, and the stars morphed into musical notes across a sky of sheet music. It was my first and only kiss with Jill Solano—but that one made me melt on one of the coldest days in February.

After that day in the playground, I would only see her during third period and the hallways. We’d make eye contact, stop for a moment, remember the playground kiss, and give each other a knowing smile, and then join our respective friends. But every time I saw Jill in the hallway, the song “Build Me Up Buttercup” played in my head—Why don’t you build me up buttercup, baby, just to let me down and mess me around…

The song was all I had from that night.

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Mark Tulin is a former therapist from California. His books include Magical Yogis, Awkward Grace, The Asthmatic Kid and Other Stories, Junkyard Souls, Rain on Cabrillo. He's been featured in The Opiate, Scuzzbucket, Vita Brevis Press, The Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, and others. Follow Mark at www.crowonthewire.com. On Twitter: @Crow_writer. On Instagram: @Crowonthewire_poetry.
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