"That's the last straw, Mother. I'm running away from home." Liz slammed her palm on the counter for emphasis, rattling her half-empty bowl of Froot Loops.
"Don't be ridiculous. You've been threatening to run away from home when you don't get your way since you were old enough to talk." The woman smiled at her daughter from behind her glasses and continued slicing strawberries. "Besides, I wouldn't reinstate your driving privileges for a wild escape. You'd need me to drive you to the bus station."
Liz scowled. Unfortunately, her mother had a point. Liz had been grounded from driving ever since that itty-bitty incident with the mailbox. And the tree. And the frightened pedestrians. Still, she'd never let logic stop her from getting her point across.
"Regardless, Liz. Irregardless isn't a word."
Liz took a deep breath. "Whatever. The point is that it's totally sexist and old-fashioned. Not to mention incredibly disgusting."
Her mother set down her knife. "For goodness' sake, Liz, it's a kissing booth, not a brothel! You know you'd be going to the carnival anyway. And it's to raise money for the Pediatric Wing besides. Try thinking about someone other than yourself for once."
Liz rolled her eyes and slumped on her stool. The Clearview County Carnival was the small town's annual fundraiser for local institutions, an event that Liz usually attended with her best friends Raegan and Maria. It was pretty lame, she had to admit, but there was no denying that riding the Tilt-A-Whirl, begging the games booth guy for a giant pink teddy bear and eating her weight in cotton candy was fun. Of course, my lovely mother has other plans for me, Liz thought stormily. Her mother, the head of Pediatric Surgery at Clearview General Hospital, had helpfully volunteered Liz for the Saturday afternoon shift at the hospital's—eurgh—kissing booth. The very thought of it made Liz's stomach turn.
"Look, Liz, I need you to do this. It's very important to me."
Liz lifted her chin slightly from where it had been resting on her crossed arms. "Important, hmm?"
Her mother cocked an eyebrow. "What are you thinking?"
"Like, give-me-back-my-right-to-drive important?"
"Privilege, Liz, not right." Her mother sighed. "Yes, I guess it's that important."
Liz pumped her fist triumphantly. "Excellent! I shall ride again!"
"Not so fast. You've gotta stay there the entire shift—twelve to four, okay? And should said driving privileges be reinstated, you're to keep your curfew as if your very life depended on it, capiche?"
Liz nodded. "Right, sure, great." She paused, considering. "Just to clarify—these are cheek kisses, right? Because otherwise—"
Her mother laughed. "Cheeks only. Do we have a deal?"
"Deal," Liz said, and she took a triumphant bite of Froot Loops.
Driving, here I come.
The carnival was held on two adjacent baseball fields behind Clearview Elementary School. Flashing, clanking rides covered the spiky green grass, and the distinct smell of fried dough and candy apples met Liz as she slammed the door of her mother's black Passat behind her. Her mother turned the car around and stopped by where Liz stood at the entrance.
"Well, have fun," she said, and Liz mentally rolled her eyes.
"How could I not, mother?"
"Don't be so sarcastic. No one will want to kiss you with a sour attitude like that." Her mother surveyed her. "At least you can't help but look beautiful."
"Mom." Liz put her hands on her hips. She'd worn her worn-down rubber flip-flops from two summers ago, a basic denim miniskirt and an emerald green tank top that set off her short red curls.
"Sorry. It's my job to embarrass you, you know." She gave Liz a little wave. "I'll be at the hospital until 9. My pager's on. Have fun!" She rolled up the window and pulled away.
"You said that already!" Liz called after her, but she was too far away to hear. Sighing dramatically, Liz walked up to the ticket booth, where a large sign proclaimed ADMISSION $3.00.
"Hi. I'm working here at the kissing booth. Do I have to pay to get in?" she asked flatly.
The adolescent boy behind the counter leaned forward. "Half-price," he said, "but I'll let you in free if you give me a free sample." He puckered his lips.
"Gross! How old are you, like, eleven?"
"Twelve," the boy said as he backed up, a little disappointed.
"Whatever," she said, pulling two crumpled dollars from her pocket. "Keep the change." She walked through the turnstile and into the midst of carnival mania. Sugar-crazed kids dragged harried parents from ride to ride. Giggly knots of girls gathered around the good-looking carousel operator. Two little boys attacked each other with balloon swords.
Liz whirled around, looking for the source of the voice. Raegan, one of her best friends, was coming across the field, holding hands with her boyfriend Alex.
"Ray! Thank God you found me!" Liz said, giving her a hug. "This place is freakin' crazy!"
"I know! It's great, isn't it?" Raegan smiled. "Did you just get here?"
"Yeah, my mom dropped me off a couple of minutes ago. Have you been here long?"
"Alex was helping to sell snow cones for Orchestra. And look!" Raegan lifted a puffy plush alligator from under her arm. "Apparently the guy is handy with darts."
"Only took me 20 tries," Alex said sheepishly. Liz smiled. They were a truly sweet couple—almost nauseatingly so, but not quite. Raegan and Alex had been going out ever since Valentine's Day, when Raegan had drawn his name from a box for a date. In fact, Liz had put Alex's name in the box herself…as a joke. She still felt a pinch of guilt whenver she thought about it, but brushed it off when she saw how happy they were together.
"Pssh. It's great anyway." Raegan smiled at Alex, then turned back to Liz. "So, you feel like hitting the ferris wheel with us? Or maybe some Whack-A-Mole?"
Liz shook her head. "Can't. I've got to work at the, uh…kissing booth. Favor for my mom."
Raegan looked genuinely disappointed. "Oh, that sucks! Well…I guess we'll see you around, then?" Liz nodded. "Kissing booth is over there, by the way," Raegan added. "Oh, and watch out. I saw Tom Lowry skulking around here."
"Ew. Thanks for the heads up," Liz said, giving them a wave as they headed towards the ferris wheel. Tom Lowry had been the guy Liz had picked for Valentine's Day, a metalhead who, as Liz had later discovered, was rather sparing when it came to personal hygiene. She made her way through the crowd to a small booth at the corner of the fairground. The words KISSING BOOTH were spelled out in shiny red letters against two large, pink hearts. A paper cupid taped to the side read KISSES $1.00.
Here goes nothing, Liz thought. She pulled the key her mother had given her from her pocket and unlocked the small door behind the counter and stepped into the booth. Reluctantly, she flipped the sign on the counter to read Open for Kiss-ness. She winced at the pun.
She propped her chin on her hand and leaned over the counter. Thankfully, no one was stopping. She closed her eyes and breathed out a slow sigh. Think about the car, Liz, she reminded herself. Think about driving. Think about the wind in your hair, the freedom of the open—
"Can you scoot over a little?"
The voice startled Liz from her daydream. Her eyes flew open and she found herself staring into the face of a guy. A rather attractive guy, at that.
"Um." She cleared her throat. He was standing right next to her at the side of the booth. "The line is on this side of the counter," she said, pointing in front of her.
The guy wrinkled his eyebrows. "Er…I'm, uh, not here to kiss you." Liz straightened on her stool. An odd flicker of disappointment shot through her.
"Mmkay, you…guy, you, am I going to have to call security?" she asked, pursing her lips. He was tall and lanky, wearing a dark blue t-shirt and with slightly messy brown hair. Something about him set her on edge.
"Relax," he said, hopping over the door to the booth and leaning in towards her, "I just work here."
Liz was suddenly aware of how close he was to her, and she swallowed, trying to regain her thoughts. "Right. A guy at a kissing booth."
He shrugged. "Apparently the girls here need something fun to do."
"And that's why they have a clown making balloon animals."
He laughed. A moment of silence passed. "I'm Patrick, by the way." He stuck out a hand, and she shook it.
"Liz. My mom made me do this." Brilliant introduction there, Liz, she thought.
Patrick chuckled. "My dad's idea." He made a comic frown and lowered his voice. "'Son, get out there and show those women what they've been missing!'" Liz rolled her eyes, but still laughed. She felt Patrick watching her as he laughed as well.
"Yeah, so I'm just waiting for them to be lured in by my irresistible charm." He looked around. "Ladies? Come on, how 'bout a kiss? It's for a good cause!" He raised his eyebrows at two older women in sunhats, who walked away hurriedly. He shrugged.
"Irresistible indeed," Liz said dryly. This guy was clearly too cocky for his own good.
"I don't see you doing much better," Patrick said with a half-smile.
Liz snorted. "Yeah, well. I think we both know who'll be doing most of the kissing here."
"Sounds like a challenge to me."
"Oh really? You're on."
"Loser…" he said slowly, "has to kiss a person of the winner's choosing."
"Deal." Liz turned and looked at Patrick and he stared her right in the eye. She felt herself blushing. Get a grip, she thought. She leaned forward over the counter. I can't believe I'm about to do this…
"Kisses right here! Get your kisses! Only $1, boys!"
The afternoon dragged on slowly. The first hour passed with only three customers; well, two, but the boy from the entrance booth came back twice. Patrick, on the other hand, had gotten at least ten. Not like it's that hard for him, Liz thought. Those stupid girls practically fall over their wedge heels to get to him. She watched as they dropped their dollars in the heart-shaped fishbowl and turned a vibrant pink as he leaned slowly over the counter to kiss them on the cheek. Each time gave her a twinge in her chest—not jealousy, she told herself. Just disgust at the giggling idiots in sundresses that were gaga over Patrick's half-grin and deep eyes. Morons.
As another girl made her weak-kneed way back to her gaggle of friends, Patrick stood up from his stool and stretched his arms above his head, his t-shirt inching up to reveal the undeniable contours of a six-pack. Liz looked away, refusing to let herself blush again.
"Jeez, it's like 3:30 and I haven't had lunch. I'm starving. Want anything?"
"What?" Liz said. "I mean, uh, no. I'm good."
"Okay." Patrick gave her a quick salute. "Hold down the fort while I'm gone."
She nodded. "Yup."
He ducked out of the booth and started towards the food stalls.
"By the way," he called over his shoulder, "I'm ahead, 25 to 17."
Liz clenched her fist. No way in hell am I letting that…her mind stalled, casting around for the right word…infuriating sleaze beat me.
She needed to increase her offensive. Try some new tactics. Sighing, she tugged at the hem of her tank top so that it revealed more of what she often sarcastically called "the goods". Leaning over the counter, she winked at a passing guy.
"Kisses! Just a dollar," she said, but he kept walking. Damn. She felt ridiculous doing this. But hell, if that's what it takes to win…
A group of college-age guys was walking towards her booth from the food stalls. Jackpot, she thought, smiling. She bit her lower lip as they passed, and one of them slowed. Bingo!
"Got a dollar?" she said, eyeing him coyly.
"Sure," he said, and she took the bill he offered. Leaning forward, she pressed her lips against his lightly stubbled cheek.
"There ya go," she said cheerily. "How about your buddies?"
Four minutes later, Liz had made the Pediatric Ward six more dollars and brought the competition to a close 23 to 25. She smiled.
"Hope Patrick likes the Petting Zoo."
"It's okay, I guess." Patrick said, returning to his seat with cartons of greasy food. "Why do you ask?"
"You'll have to kiss it. Them. The animals, that is. Once I win. Which I am. I mean, which I will." Well said, stupid, she thought.
Patrick looked at her quizzically. "Really."
She nodded. "Got six customers while you were gone. And I've got the money to prove it." She fanned out the six rumpled bills. Patrick grabbed her wrist and squinted at the money. She felt her pulse quicken under his touch.
"It's real. You got me," he said, dropping her hand and picking up a corn dog. "So I guess we're in a race to the finish now."
Liz nodded and swallowed, suddenly unable to speak. Patrick lifted a paper plate and dropped it in front of her, dusting the counter with powdered sugar from the funnel cake.
"Here. I thought you looked hungry."
"Thanks." She tore off a piece of fried dough and ate it, realizing that she had, in fact, been hungry.
"No one can resist deep-fried sugar. Have you ever been to the Stoplight Diner in Creston?"
Liz swallowed, shaking her head. "I'm grounded from driving anywhere. It's a long story."
"Bummer. They've got fried Twinkies there that could block a vegan's artery."
Liz laughed, surveying Patrick. It surprised her that she'd never met him before. "So…do you go to school here?"
Patrick raised an eyebrow. "Well, seeing as this is an elementary school…"
Liz rolled her eyes. "I mean, here in Clearview. I haven't seen you around Clearview High."
Patrick shook his head, wiping mustard off of his fingers with a napkin. "I just graduated from Easton Preparatory. Family tradition. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love the blazer-and-tie look, but I'm not like a hardcore preppie."
"There's a shocker," Liz said, and she warmed when Patrick chuckled.
"Right. 'Oh Muffy, dah-ling, won't you join me and Biff for a round at the club this weekend?'"
"That's scary," she said, laughing through her funnel cake. "You sound just like my parents' friends."
He shrugged. "Thanks. I spend a lot of time around my dad's boring doctor colleagues." He bit his lip, smiling and looking at her sideways. She looked back at him, her heart thudding annoyingly in her chest. He leaned his head forward and peered past her.
"Don't look now, but I think you've got customers."
Liz whirled around and saw two greasy-faced 14-year-olds, each clutching a sweaty dollar bill. She grabbed their money and ducked forward as quickly as possible, and the kids traded smug grins as they walked off.
Liz leaned back and sighed. "Did you see—" She stopped short. Patrick was whispering into the ear of a girl as he drew away from her. She was very pretty, with straight, shiny brown hair and a megawatt smile. Liz cleared her throat, about to start again, when the girl reached up and pulled Patrick towards her in a full-on, lip-to-lip kiss.
Liz felt like the wind had been knocked out of her. The girl pulled him closer still, and Patrick's eyes closed slowly. Liz turned away. Her chest was burning with—what was it? Shame? Embarrassment? No, she thought. Anger.
She coughed loudly. The girl let go of Patrick, and he drew back. She gave him a little wave, which he returned, as she walked off, her tiny minidress swinging. Liz gave a snort of disgust, but Patrick seemed unfazed.
A loud, insistent beeping jarred Liz momentarily from her anger. She fumbled with the buttons on her watch, turning off the alarm. 4:00. Her shift was over. And…
"Well, looks like I have won this little competition," Patrick said, extending his hand. "Good match."
"Yeah," Liz said numbly, shaking his hand. "You too." She got up, exiting the booth through the door. Just leave, she thought. Leave this jerk and you'll never have to see him again. Not like he's any different than any other guys.
"Hey, wait," Patrick called after her, but Liz didn't stop. Dodging running children and bunches of balloons, she walked as quickly as she could towards the exit.
"Liz! Wait up, would you?" His voice was more demand than request. She stopped and turned around.
"What do you want, Patrick?" Her voice was completely emotionless.
"Well…" He ran a hand through his hair. "Look, that girl…I mean, she was…I don't even know who she was."
"You know she was hot."
"Yeah. No! I mean…what I mean is…" he faltered. Liz couldn't help her amusement at Patrick's loss for words. It was humbling to see him like this…practically sweet. "What I mean is that I was wrong about what I said when I first saw you."
What is he talking about? "Meaning what?"
"Meaning I am here to kiss you." He stepped towards her, closing the space between them. Taking her face in his hand, he raised it to his own, but stopped short.
"For the record, you are obligated to do this under the terms of our bet. I've decided that you have to kiss m—"
"Shut up," Liz said, and she kissed him before he could say another word.
"Mom, I'm going out!" Liz called up the stairs, the car keys in her hand.
"Where? And who, for that matter?"
"To Creston. Patrick's here. He's going to treat me to a fried Twinkie at the Stoplight Diner."
She heard a sigh from upstairs. "Such a gentleman."
"Sorry, sorry. All right, go ahead. But be home by 11:30 sharp. I am not about to strike up another crazy bargain with you to undo another grounding."
"Please. Me either," Liz said.
Although, she thought as she laced her fingers with Patrick's as she started the ignition, the last time didn't turn out so badly after all.
A/N: Just a crazy idea I came up with recently. I thought Liz was such a great character and that she deserved her own story. Please review let me know what you think, and also read A Valentine's Day Dare if you haven't to read about Alex and Raegan!