"Oh, no way. This is not happening."
Kate crossed her arms defiantly, turning away from her best friend's locker.
"Come on, Kate. It would be that bad."
"You set me up with Ross Evans, of all people! Did you seriously think we would be compatible on any level?"
"You have to give people a shot-"
"We have no chemistry, and no connection whatsoever. That just doesn't equal out to a healthy relationship-"
"Kate. I'm not asking you to become his girlfriend or marry him or anything."
"Well, of course not. Marriage is an archaic institution-"
"Designed to claim women as property, I know. You've only told me a million times. But it's just one date. It's not even like you'll be alone. I only did it because I really want to go out with David Thompson, and he asked if I could find a date for Ryan to come with. You don't even have to talk to him that much if you don't want to."
Kate sighed, turning back to face Leah. "Fine. But only because you're my best friend."
Justin Hendricks watched as his two best friends walked down the hall together, shaking his head at their typical fight-and-immediately-make-up routine. He should have been able to expect insanity when he decided to associate with- and eventually become best friends with- two girls during elementary school, but apparently that hadn't crossed his mind. He shook his head, smirking and following them out of the school.
"This is a disaster."
"That's the understatement of the year."
"He hates me. Absolutely hates me. I told you there would be no connection."
"Well, I'm pretty sure you turned him off when you started talking about the archaic institutions of marriage and the chemical compatibility between complete strangers." Leah sighed, leaning against the sink in the women's room at Goodman Diner.
Kate glared. "Well, what do I do?"
"I don't know. Tell him…you have to go pick up your brother and you forgot or something, so you have to go."
"Leah, I don't even have a brother."
"That's the point of a lie, Kate."
"Well then how do I get home?"
Leah bit her lip, trying to come up with a way to help Kate escape while still finishing her date with David.
"And admit that my date was a disaster? No way."
"He's your best friend, Kate. He won't bug you about it."
Kate sighed, following Leah out the bathroom door. "Fine."
When they got back to the table, Ryan and David were attempting to fling straw wrappers at other diners without being caught. A crumpled wrapper hit a glasses-wearing teenager who looked around spastically for the thrower, to no avail. When he turned away, Ryan and David high-fived each other over the table, "That was the best one yet."
Kate rolled her eyes and their immaturity and turned to Ryan. "Sorry, Ryan, but I just remembered I have to pick up my brother from his friend's house. I have to go. It was nice meeting you, though…"
"Do you want to hang out again sometime?"
"Um, maybe. I'll…call you later. Bye Leah. David."
She rushed out quickly, avoiding eye contact, and sighed in relief when she reached the cool November air. She flipped open her cell phone and dialed the familiar number, waiting for him to pick up on the second ring.
"Justin," she said, "Can you come pick me up?"
They drove down the dimly lit street with the windows rolled down, the breeze blowing Kate's hair out of place.
"So, it was a crappy date, then?"
"More than crappy. He's so shallow and idiotic, we couldn't talk about anything."
"Well, you do tend to intimidate people with your scientific knowledge."
Kate smiled, knowing Justin was smiling even though it was too dark to see his facial features.
"Kate," he asked, sounding almost afraid to finish the question, "Do you think you'll ever date anyone at school?"
She glanced over at him, confused. "Why? Do you not want to associate with a dateless loser?" She was half-kidding and half-serious, hoping he wouldn't actually answer yes.
"No! I just…I think about you going out with the guys at our school and…you're too good for them. You shouldn't be stuck on bad dates like this with stupid guys that you can't even have a conversation with."
Kate smiled. "Well good, because I don't plan on dating any of them any time soon.
As they pulled up to her house, she gathered her bag and opened the car door. "Thanks for bailing me out."
"I'll see you at Leah's party on Saturday, right?"
He rolled his eyes, "Yep. It's going to be…interesting, to say the least."
She waved goodbye to him and walked inside, putting the thoughts of her bad date to rest.
When Kate entered Leah's house for her seventeenth birthday party, the music alone was obnoxious enough for her to want to turn right back around. Bubblegum pop music blared over the stereo speakers, the kids from her schools gathered in exclusive cliques around Leah's basement. She recognized most of them but would never actually join their conversation, and was happier than ever to see Justin standing awkwardly next to the punchbowl.
"Hey. Thank God you're here, this is so awkward."
"I figured. Where's Leah?"
"In the corner playing tonsil hockey with David."
Kate turned to see them and shuddered, turning back around. "If there's one thing I never wanted to see, it's David Thompson's tongue down my best friend's throat."
Leah must have seen Kate looking because she broke apart from David and un-straddled herself, walking energetically towards the punchbowl.
"Kate! Justin! I'm so glad you guys are here. You're the only normal ones."
"Then why are all of these people here?" Justin motioned to the rest of the room, which held preppy cheerleaders and loud, egotistical jocks.
Leah shrugged. "My mom made me invite them. She said I needed to branch out my social circle. But whatever. She's not even here; she's out with her boyfriend until midnight."
"So I'm going to go back to David. Have fun!"
As she half-pranced her way back to David, Kate snorted.
"That is so bizarre."
"Oh, I know. I've been here for ten minutes and it took her that long to come up for air and notice I was here."Kate laughed and joined Justin where he sat on the floor. "Let the night begin…"
"What are we doing?" Kate asked, returning from the bathroom to see everyone in a circle on the basement floor.
"Playing seven minutes in heaven." Leah answered, as if it were obvious.
Kate rolled her eyes. "What are we, ten?" she muttered under her breath as two other students were released from the closet, looking red-faced and awkward.
She sighed, going to get more punch before looking back around the circle. "Where's Justin?" she asked, scanning the guests.
"In there." Leah pointed to the closet, smirking.
Apparently, in the minute it had taken to get punch, they had sent Justin into the cramped space. She couldn't let this happen, couldn't let a guy like Justin be taken advantage of by a blonde, bitchy cheerleader.
"Who's going in there?" Leah asked, and no one responded. "He's nice, guys, come on." Still, none of the freewheeling- and possibly plastered, Kate considered- cheerleaders volunteered. She sighed, rolling her eyes again.
"Fine. I'll go."
All eyes went onto her, eyebrows raised and mouths agape.
"Are you serious? Kate, you do know what this game is, right?" Leah asked, standing to walk next to her.
"I know," she proclaimed to satisfy the mosh pit of people on the floor, then added, in a whisper, "Which is exactly why I'm only pretending. I'll go in there and sit with Justin, and we'll come out and pretend something happened."
Leah smiled. "You would. But it's nice of you, not to subject him to…that." She glanced behind her at the group of giggling girls. "Good luck."
She closed Kate into the closet and Justin looked completely nerve-wracked, wringing his hands in anticipation of who- or what- would be grabbing at him while he was currently blindfolded.
"Justin, it's me," Kate said, "I'm bailing you out."
He pulled off the blindfold, sighing in relief. "Thank God. I thought it would be someone repulsive, like Becky Morton."
Kate laughed, sliding to sit next to him on the floor. Becky Morton was the school-wide slut, after anything with testosterone. "It's a good thing it wasn't. You'd have an STD by now."
They laughed together, then fell into a silence.
"You know," she remarked, "This is actually somewhat of a torture chamber. This shouldn't be legal. Morally, locking someone in a cramped space is a form of psychological torture-"
"You were doing one of your genius rants again."
Another pause, then. "So, what are we going to say when we get out there?"
"I don't know. We have to look the part though, and just pretend something happened to shut them up."
"I don't know. I don't make it a habit of making out with people in a closet."
Actually, Kate thought, she'd never even kissed anyone. She wondered at that moment, not for the first time, what would happen if she never did. She would probably become one of those lonely, elderly women with a bad perm and seventeen cats.
"Well, mess up your hair or something, and…pull the sleeve of your dress down on one side."
She attempted to make herself look disheveled, shaking her head violently.
"No, no. You're not a heavy metal rocker, Kate." Justin laughed. "Here, let me do it."
He ran his hands through her hair quickly, tangling it beneath his fingers, and pulled one of her dress straps down by a few inches. She flinched, trying to ignore the sparks that had seemingly radiated off of his hand and onto her shoulder. Scientifically, she knew that was impossible, but it felt like it to her.
She watched as he unbuttoned the top button of his shirt, messing his own hair up enough. "There. I think we look believable."
She nodded, looking at herself and then at Justin, then feeling pathetic. What if this was her whole life? Pretending she had a great, romantic relationship with a great person, but in the end, that's all it was. Pretending. She was well aware of her social outcast status, and it wasn't even the status quo she cared about. Secretly, she wanted to be loved. Wanted to feel like someone wanted her for who she was and not a stereotypical, superficial teenage girl. But no one, it seemed had measured up to her standards of intelligence or sincerity. No one except for Justin, she realized, and tried to push the thought out of her mind. She couldn't, and wouldn't, admit her attraction to him in Leah's basement closet.
But what if, she wondered, this was her only chance?
"Justin," she said, softly, "I was thinking about what you said on Thursday, when you asked me if I wanted to date anyone in school."
He nodded. "You were right," she continued, "They're not good enough. They're not kind-hearted, or smart, or funny, or genuine. But you are. You're…Oh, what the hell."
She leaned over and captured his mouth with hers, feeling the same illogical and impossible sparks.
She felt herself being pushed back onto the wall as he responded, breaking apart only to whisper, "I've waited so long for you to figure this out." He came back to her and then pulled away once more, still close enough that she could feel him breathing. "I won't let you down, and I won't leave you. I love you for who you are and not for anything else."
It seemed ridiculous, love confessions of seventeen year olds in a closet. But she kissed him back anyway, letting her hand snake around to the back of his head.
Part of her told her that her first kiss should be perfect. A moonlit beach walk or at the top of a Ferris wheel or in Central Park under the streetlights. Not on the dusty, dirty floor of Leah's cramped basement closet, tangled together and pressed up against boxes of family photos and papers in the dark.
But another part of her came back and said to take every chance you got. Because if seven minutes in heaven was all she had, she was using every minute of it.