Four Women Jarod Has Kissed (And One He Will)

Four Women Jarod Has Kissed (And One He Will)

i. Amber

It's a memory he can't quite remember when he recalls it later, Emily watching him carefully in that way that makes him think of mice running mazes. For science, he adds mentally when he finds the clinical gleam in her eyes. And for cheese, he also thinks, which makes the whole situation slightly better. He watches her watch him, and hopes his cheese is really good.

He thinks maybe he's three, because it's really the first thing he ever remembers happening – he's not like Emily, who he thinks maybe can remember being in the womb – and then most vivid thing about it is his T-Rex T-shirt. To be fair, it was basically the most awesome shirt he had ever owned. He's pretty sure to this day his mother keeps it in a box in the annals of their attic, and that she must take it out sometimes and think "Wow, I'm an awesome mom."

His shoes he also remembers, because they only fit for two months tops but were also the best pair of shoes he ever owned. Second only to his first pair of big-boy shoes – high tops that roared like a T-Rex whenever you walked. Of course, his father eventually figured out how to turn off that, because after hearing "What was that?" from the aisle over at the grocery stop about fifteen times societal embarrassment sets in. But anyway, these shoes were cooler, because whenever he walked they left a T-Rex, a brontosaur, and a triceratops as your footprint.

Okay, so they like…tied with the roaring shoes. But anyway, they were pretty freaking awesome too.

He doesn't really remember much besides stomping around in the sandbox and saying "RAWR" at the top of his little lungs, being fierce and pretty much the dorkiest kid on the playground. He's pretty sure she must have been building a sand castle, but he only remembers that she had red hair and was (embarrassingly) a good deal taller than him. When he retells the story, he says she must have been five, but in reality he was really just runty as a kid.

He can recall vividly what happened next – a shadow blots out the sun and he looks up into some girl's face and she says, "You're cute!" and kisses him full on the lips.

Jarod, for the most part, is totally grossed out. And he tells her so.

She laughs and says her name is Amber. They end up hanging out until they're nine when she moves away to somewhere dumb like Alaska or something. Somehow she hears about him graduating high school years later and sends him a card with a picture.

She's pretty hot, but her boyfriend looks like he could do some serious damage. After all, he must have to like, fight polar bears every day for food.

All the card says is "Congrats!" followed by "PS. I hope you got better at kissing."

Of course, he leaves that part out when he tells Emily.

ii. Tiff

Every school has a bully, even ones for geniuses. Theirs is Tiff – Tiffany Van Wunderberger, which gives Jarod a clue as to why she's so mean. After all, she's basically named after a really good burger. When he was twelve – and really, really stupid – he asked if that was the reason. She decked him, called him a worm, and ever since she made it her own personal life's work to make his a living hell.

She, of course, was older, taller, and stronger than he was, and the only thing that ever changed was that he eventually broke six foot in junior year. But when he was thirteen, she stood a good four inches over him and weighed a good thirty pounds more than him. She was an average student – as average as any kid at their school could be – and generally antagonized the kids she thought were smarter than her. Except Emily. Whatever she saw when Emily looked at her was so off-putting, she avoided the girl all together.

But it wasn't like that stopped her from torturing him whenever Emily wasn't around.

It was one of those times – after all, Emily's parents always picked her up on time, and his mom had like, four other kids to worry about – that Tiff finds him. She chases him (he's gotten a little smarter about where he gets the crap beat out of him, because he knows he's got to be faster than her, since he's scrawny), and as always, she catches up, cornering him behind the school.

There's something different about today though – maybe it's because he's grown just a few inches taller since the last time since she pounded his face in, or maybe because his dad showed him how to shave last night – and when she throws him against the wall she hesitates. He sees her calculating, grinding through some algorithm whose result will either make her punch him, or something else.

He isn't quite sure what something else is, but it has to be preferable to being pummeled.

Tiff looks him over, slowly, before finally fisting a hand in his shirt and saying, "I'm going to kiss you, worm."

Jarod thinks this is probably the most exciting moment of his life. It also is probably the most mind numbingly terrifying.

It all happens too fast for him to really respond – at least, that's what he tells himself later. It's preferable to thinking that maybe he stood there like a cold, dead fish, eyes open in shock.

She pulls back, makes a face and says, "Well, I don't see what the big deal is about."

The worst part is when he finishes telling Emily, years later, she doesn't believe him. At least Tiff does him the favor of not becoming a lesbian in high school and telling everyone it was because she kissed him. He's heard that happens to some guys.

Wow, that's gotta suck.

Still, nobody believing him comes in close second, he's sure.

iii. Penny

He only remembers Penny because Emily makes some comment on the long period of time between his first and his ("supposed," she says flatly) second kiss. Normally that wouldn't bother him, but there's a tone in her voice that makes him think she's questioning his prowess in the kissing arts. So maybe he questions the same thing, but still, she doesn't need to think that. You know, at all. He'd really rather she thought he was a great kisser. Cuz he totally could be. He thinks.

Anyway, Penny is shoved down deep, below all the levels of his subconscious, and he soon remembers why – because it is, without a doubt, the most mortifying moment of his grade school career. The humiliation is still fresh in his mind when he thinks about it, and it takes him a good ten minutes to finally be able to tell it, Emily cajoling him the entire time.

He thinks he may have been six or maybe even seven – he can't really remember, and he doesn't really try to. Grade school is just one big blur of awful and being too smart for his classes and being really, degradingly tiny. He imagines that for a bully, he must have been a thing of beauty: someone so smart he reminded you why you liked to pummel people on the playground, and so small that he could barely reach to fight back. He's actually not sure if a lot of the reason he can't remember ages six through nine is because of repression or because of permanent memory-loss due to one too many fists to the head.

("Maybe they just wanted to kiss you too," Emily adds in a tone that makes him think she's mocking him, but with her he never can tell so he settles for giving her a dirty look. Just in case).

Still, he managed to find friends – tall friends – who liked him despite his triple-digit IQ and vertically-challenged-ness, and he hung onto them like a really smart parasite. Well, not parasite. Maybe a commensalist bacteria. Or something. It was sort of like lichen, only with less mixing of tubes or genes or however that happened.

(Emily gives him look that makes him think she's amused by his attempt at biology and he adds, lamely, "Whatever makes it sound like I didn't make out with guys.")

In any case, it was Penny who ruined it all. He had been minding his own business at the top of the tire pyramid (back when playgrounds were fun and slightly dangerous and didn't have so much padding and plastic), when she sticks her head out of the tire below him.

"You're in my class," she observes.

At that age, he didn't really pay attention to girls, so he wasn't sure if she was or not. He settled for just glaring at her, since girls were the most notorious carriers of girl cooties. Gross.

"You're small," she reminds him, and he promptly decides he doesn't like her.

She climbs up next to him, sitting in the small gap the tires make at the pyramid's top.

He frowns. "Hey! I was here first!"

"You should share," she tells him, folding her hands primly in her lap. "After all, I'm a lady."

He thinks about this for a moment, since his mom says he should be nice to ladies.

"I don't think you are," he replies, eying her dubiously.

She folds her arms over her chest petulantly and pouts. "I am too!"

"You aren't wearing a dress," he says, confident. "Ladies wear dresses. And drink tea. You aren't drinking tea either."

"I like tea!" she insists. "I drink it all the time. 'Cause I'm a lady. Wentworth tells me so."

"What does Wentworth know?" he says derisively, not really knowing who Wentworth is.

"He's my bear! He knows all about ladies." She leans over and whispers, "He's an expert!" Louder she adds, "We have tea all the time!"

Jarod can't argue with that – if a bear thinks she's a lady, he supposes she's got to be. After all, he's an expert.

"I think you're cute!" Penny announces after a moment.

He's about to tell her she's gross when she leans over and plants a kiss on his lips. Ugh, gross.

If that isn't bad enough, his friends are all at the bottom of the pyramid, staring up at him with gaping mouths.

"Ew," says one, and the others agree.

"You have girl cooties," says another, making a face.

He had to have like, eight cootie shots before they'd play with him again, and, worst of all, everyone started calling Penny his girlfriend. Including their teacher.

Emily's laughing so hard she can't breathe, and Jarod thinks maybe she doesn't grasp the gravity of the situation.

"It's not funny!" he says. "It's humiliating!"

"That's your most embarrassing moment?" she asks, incredulous.

He gapes at her. "I had to change schools!"

"Because a girl kissed you?"

"And everyone saw!" he adds emphatically. She only laughs harder.

Women are heartless, he thinks, but he keeps the idea to himself. He's pretty sure if he said it Emily would only laugh harder anyway.

iv. Courtney

He only brings up Courtney because Emily drags it out of him. Not that it's a bad memory, like Penny – oh no, he thinks of it quite often with more than a little smile on his face – but because he knows that it will upset Emily, even though it's pretty much her fault that she wouldn't go to the winter formal with him anyway. Still, things are going so well – he's never heard her laugh this much; or at least not all at once, even if it has to be at him – that he doesn't want to ruin it by bringing up something that will make her really, stupidly angry. He'd like to say 'for no reason', but he's sort of figured out that maybe she does, it's just not a good reason, or at least one that follows earth-logic. But she's a girl, so it's not like he can expect much else.

As soon as he says the name, Emily's face falls and she says in a cold tone, "Oh, her."

"We don't have to talk about it," he says, hoping that she'll agree and they can leave this whole awkward moment behind him.

"No," she looks anywhere but him, so he's pretty sure she's lying, "it's okay, I want to hear it."

He tries to convince her that it's not a story he needs to tell, but she tells him in a flat, deadly voice to continue. So he does, even though he can see all the points he had been winning with her swirling down the proverbial drain, never to be seen again.

He chooses not to remind her about the fiasco that was his attempt at asking her to the dance. Suffice to say, it involved her thinking he was joking, laughing in his face, and never talking about it again until she found out he was going with Courtney and then being irrationally peeved at him. He also remembered – ugh, stupidly – asking what she had expected him to do, not go?

It turns out that, no, she didn't think that question was either logical or rhetorical, because obviously he should have known that yes, that was exactly what she was expecting. You know, since they were friends. Jarod feels like they have a pretty lame friendship if she really thinks that, but even he knows that he shouldn't say something like that.

He does, however, allude to the fact that as a friend, she should be totally happy that he got a popular girl to even talk to him, never mind actually go out on a somewhat date with him. He hints at the idea that perhaps the correct response would have been a high five. Or a chest bump. Or something manly like that.

She looks at him like she has some choice words for him, but presses her lips together and doesn't say them. In fact, she doesn't say any for a good week, at least to him.

He starts after that, because he's pretty sure reminding her of all that may cause her to remember just why she didn't talk to him for that long, and pick it up again. He chooses to start sometime after they go to the dance, which is at the same time lame and also totally awesome for reasons he's not quite sure he can put into words. The music is completely from middle school or something, which he only knows because he hears Courtney telling her friends that, and they all laugh and groan like it's true, so he supposes it must be. She also has a lot to say about the decorations, but when they pass Miriam, who headed the committee, she does not say the things she told her friends. Jarod think the whole place looks fine. Better than the gym usually does, at least.

Courtney, for one, looks great, but she spends a lot of time asking her friends whether they think her dress is okay. Jarod begins to suspect after the first few times that she knows that it looks pretty great, and she just likes to remind everyone that she hit puberty earlier and faster than all the other girls and is reaping the benefits. He can't help but think that Emily would never do that, and not because her chest isn't as big as Courtney's. She's just not like that.

He dances a lot – a little with Courtney, but she seems way more interested in Doug James, the JV quarterback. He mostly dances with her dateless friends, but he's not quite sure who is taking pity on who. He leaves out that for most of the night, he wishes Emily had said yes. Sure, it would probably make her happy, but also smug too, and for some reason that means he would also be admitting he was wrong or something, and he doesn't feel like there's a right and a wrong with the situation anyway. It's just easier to avoid the whole thing.

After a night he would describe as 'somewhat adequate', he drives Courtney home in near silence. Well, he's silent, and she fills it with pop music from the radio and her own inane chatter. He pulls up to her house and waits for her to get out and never look at him again. She, instead, asks, "Aren't you going to walk me to the door?"

He wants to say no, because, hello, he isn't her monkey. She spends all night flirting with some jock and leaving him to make stilted conversation with her friends who don't even like him that much and then expects him to get out of his car to make sure she, what, doesn't get attacked by a badger? Right now he's thinking that would be a perfect end to this mediocre night.

Of course, he says yes, because she probably has this whole grand idea of a formal dance that all girls do, where at the end of the night the guy escorts her to the door and says something charming, and he's not keen on disappointing her. Also, she has breasts, and even though she's been a jerk all night he's still seventeen and secretly hoping that she might let him touch them

Uh, yeah, he leaves that out too. Emily doesn't need to know that. Like at all. Ever.

Courtney stops when they get to her door, and smiles at him like she hasn't been a complete bitch and says, "I had a great time, Jarod."

He thinks, of course you did, you got to do everything you wanted to.

He says, "Good."

Ugh, because he's lame.

"Good," she giggles, like they had a great time, you know, together.

He's ready to go back to the car, and starts to turn, when she rocks up onto her toes and kisses him.

If he was telling the story to a guy or something, he'd say it was some sort of tongue and teeth extravaganza, because he's a stud or whatever. To Emily, he leaves it at a peck.

The truth is somewhere in between; the kiss lasts a long time, and Courtney tries to do something with her tongue, but at first he's still dumbstruck, and later he's concentrating so hard on not sucking at the basics that he's not comfortable adding something new that could potentially be super embarrassing if he screwed up. He can just chalk it up to being classy or something ridiculous.

After, he wishes he let her, because he's sure that some base in that weird sexual baseball analogy, and being on base means he's not sitting in the dugout like a loser. His brother assures him that it means he's at least up to bat, and maybe four kisses are like four balls, so maybe that means he gets a walk to first. Like he's technically on first, even if he didn't get there by merit or whatever. They both think about that for a while, wondering if the rules of baseball applied to that sort of thing.

He also leaves this out when he tells Emily, because it's another one of those things she really could do without knowing. At least for his sake.

The mood is gone when he finishes that story, and he goes home not long after, just to escape the aura of awkward they're both putting out. The next day, everything fine again, and for a long, long while, they never talk about Jarod's history with women. And he's definitely okay with that.

v. Emily

He wishes he got to have the normal college experience most people did – living by himself for the first time with strange people, making new friends because he knew no one around him, pretending to be far drunker than he is with people he barely knows at a party he desperately wishes he wasn't at – but he doesn't. Emily's task can't wait that long, now that she knows what it is, and he can't ask her to, because if he really thinks about it, she – or whatever she stands for, he guesses – has been waiting for just about forever to do its thing. Still, he gets a good year or two to be a normal kid, making bad choices by himself with friends who are making choices of the same quality. Still, he doesn't regret it when Emily's need calls him back home, and she goes about and changes everything for everyone.

It's a few years before that though; the first year after college, a year since she told him about the hummingbirds, but years before people start bandying around the phrases 'antichrist' and 'second coming' when they talk about her. She's still just Emily, and he's still just Jarod, and they're still just friends.

Whatever the hell that means now.

He's the oldest kid at home now – his older sister and brother have moved out and moved on, and so he finally gets the attic to himself. It's a dream he's had since he was seven, and one that was postponed after kid number five – Jill – who is still embarrassingly young, despite him being almost nineteen. Yeah, she's like, four, which is completely unacceptable, because that means his parents had to have like…done it while he was fourteen or something. Which, um, hello, is disturbing to think about.

Jill is obsessed with Emily, and has been since she could sit upright to look at the girl's face. She follows her around with a cute little awed smile on her chubby face and has to show Emily any and every new toy that has passed through her hands since she last saw her. Emily suffers it graciously and, Jarod suspects, enjoys it more than she lets on.

His sister just had her birthday, and Aunty Lila got her the most ridiculously, grossly cute hamster than does little more than poop, eat, and run on a wheel at all hours, but Jill is in love with it. She tries to carry it around with her everywhere, like its some sort of stuffed animal, and Mom manages to not let that happen as often as Jill would like. Especially since Jilly has this thing where she gets distracted, and puts it down somewhere and forgets about it, letting it roam free and do as it pleases – which is usually to poop over everything everyone else in the house holds dear and sacred.

All this combines to create the perfect situation – Jilly dragging Emily around, trying to find the damn hamster, walking in just as the vacuum Mom's holding making a suspicious hiccupping noise that makes everyone's jaw drop.

They make sure his sister isn't in the room when they open the vacuum bag, because a crumpled up, dead hamster is scarring to four year olds. Hell, it's kind of scarring to almost-nineteen-year-olds and fifty-something-year-olds too. Emily's the only one not freaked out by dead things, and so she's the one to pick up the battered, bloody little furball. His other sister, Carrie, is audible the next room over, trying to explain to a toddler that her favorite gift in the whole world has gone on to a better place. The worst part is hearing Jill's quiet little sobs, and her asking whether it's her fault. Carrie falters.

Jarod looks over at Emily, who is staring quizzically at the little body in her hands. He can't tell what she's thinking, which really isn't anything new, because she's sorta quixotic on a good day, never mind a day where she just picked hamster bits out of their decade-old vacuum cleaner.

He thinks this is what a bad day must really be like.

She closes her hands, just a little bit, and she looks more thoughtful than he's ever seen her. He's about to ask what's going through her head, when he sees something wriggle in her hands. He's not sure what the right thing to say is – 'sorry my sister's hamster had its final death throes in your hands' or 'don't you think this is a bad time to pick up puppetry?' – when he sees a small, quivering nose emerge from the circles her thumbs make. The rest of the fuzz ball follows, as fidgety and vivacious as it was when Jilly got it.

Mom sees it too, and she calls for both girls to come over, sounding more relieved than she did when she found out his brother was actually graduating college. Jill freaks out, of course, and Carrie looks like she just dodged a bullet. Everyone's happy – except Emily, who looks like she's about to pass out.

That's when he knows. That fuzzy sucker was dead and gone, and she…

Well, she does whatever people do when they have life thrumming through their hands.

That's also when he believes her about the hummingbird thing. Like, really, truly, believes.

He doesn't know when his mom and his sisters leave to put the damn thing in its cage, but when they do, that's when she finally looks at him.

For once, he moves first. He closes the distance between them, and he thinks he hesitates a second – he's sort of bleary on the details, because he's really not thinking about anything – and then he does what he had hoped would happen in the truck, all those years ago.

He comes up for air and hopes that she looks thoroughly kissed.

….Okay, he'll settle for thoroughly confused. Close enough.

"Um," she says, eyebrows drawn together. "Um."

"Sorry," he says, contrite. He adds, "No wait. Actually, I'm not."

"Um," she replies, and then takes this big, huge breath, like she's trying to exhale all her extraneous thoughts.

"Could you just like, not pass out, please," he asks, instantly aware that maybe he's shocked her, just a little bit. "Or, um, not turn into a lesbian. I mean, I know that's kind of a weird request, but it would save me a lot of embarrassment if you could just…um, not. Especially, you know, right now. I suppose if you kissed a few more guys, then it'd be okay, but like, just not right now, because then it would totally be because I'm a bad kisser or because I'm like some sort of anti-magnet. You know, like, I make women be repulsed by men. Not that that's happened! Ugh…" He sighs. "I'm so lame."

"Jarod," she says, carefully. "How about…"

Ugh, here it comes. He braces for impact.

"Uh," she hummed. "How about you do that again or something. If that's okay."

"Oh."

"I'll try not to be…repulsed by men afterwards, if it helps," she offers and, dear god, she's sincere.

So he does.

He's not really sure what that means for the whole 'just friends' thing, or what it means if she is the second coming or whatever. He's not really into being seen as a good-hearted prostitute by future Emilites (or Emilians or whatever they end up calling themselves) just by some weird textual error that occurs when some cleric decides to apply Oakum's Razor the documents surrounding her life.

He thinks this may be a bad time to bring that up though. It can wait. You know, until she has clerics.

Dude, clerics. Textual errors aside, having clerics would be pretty awesome.

"Jarod?" she says after a minute. "What are you thinking about?"

"Uh," he replies. "You?"

He feels her smile. "Good answer."