Kiss of the Dalek

He's chubbier than his Facebook photo, was my first involuntary thought when Carlo Romano caught up to me in the lineup at Second Cup. Not that it mattered; he was still good-looking enough, with a nice smile and deep brown eyes, and frankly (as an almost six-foot-tall girl with no fashion sense and some serious social hangups) I was in no position to be picky about my date's appearance. I smiled at him and introduced myself, trying for optimism. From there, it went downhill.

Firstly, all the armchairs were taken, leaving us to sit on wobbly, skeletal plastic. Secondly, the lid on my cup split open, splattering hot chocolate all over the table. Then the conversation flagged. Carlo's father, who worked in a small video store at which I was a devoted borrower of Doctor Who, had set us up; in hindsight, that should have been my first red flag. The chance at a face-to-face debate with a fellow sci-fi geek (as opposed to on an internet forum) had been almost as intriguing as the chance to go on an actual date. Instead …

"I don't like Martha," he said.

"Why not?"

"Um … she's kind of a bitch."

"What do you mean?"

He looked at me blankly. I launched into a speech about why Martha Jones from Doctor Who, who could rescue herself from hostile aliens and bad relationships alike, was one of my most favorite characters of the entire franchise. If only Carlo had explained why he thought she was a bitch, things could have gotten interesting; instead, he simply asked about my hobbies, parents, nationality etc., as if he were ticking off a list. His sesame bagel disappeared with a sudden speed, as if his hunger had finally caught up with his nerves. My hot chocolate had gone cold and tasted far too much like styrofoam.

I missed my classmates from the Prose Fiction Workshop, with whom I could have argued for hours. Then I felt like a snob for expecting Carlo, who'd never even been to university, to act like a sophomore English major.

His next question, however, drove any thoughts of class differences away.

"Um, can I … would you mind if I kissed you?"

We were just outside Second Cup by then, standing awkwardly on the corner of St. Catherine West and Maisonneuve. It was snowing, the light of the winter afternoon already turning gold. I admit, part of me was melting inside. How cute was it that he'd actually asked for permission? And how simple, too – no signals to misinterpret, no confusion. He was probably as new at this as I was. And yes, it was finally going to happen. My first kiss, right here and now.

"Okay," I said, put my hands on his shoulders, leaned in –

- and regretted it.

His face looked distorted up close, like a reflection in a spoon. No wonder people always close their eyes. His mouth latched onto the lower half of my face like a wet, slimy toilet plunger. I remembered, somewhat hysterically, that there are creatures in Doctor Who that kill people in a similar way. Oh my God, I'm kissing a Dalek.

I broke away, my lips and chin coated in saliva. It took all my manners not to scrub it off.

"How was it?" he asked anxiously.

"Um … good?"

I felt like bursting into giggles – or tears – but did neither. Disappointment hit me so hard, I could barely breathe. Was kissing always like this, or were Carlo and I just bad at it? Did it get any better with practice? Had too many fictional romances in books and on TV set my standards unreasonably high? Was romance nothing more than this?

"I'm so sorry," said Carlo, making me wonder just how obvious my thoughts were. "I didn't mean to move too fast … I feel like an idiot."

"No, no, it's not your fault."

"It's up to you. We can be friends, or … "

What in heaven's name was I supposed to say to that? No, I can't be your friend because A, you're a boring conversationalist and B, I'm too embarrassed to ever see your face again? Absolutely out of the question.

He walked me to the metro station like a gentleman, which only made it worse. How often would I meet a man who was not only sweet and considerate and liked the same shows I did, but was actually interested in me as a potential girlfriend? What if I was passing up my only chance?

But then I thought of Martha Jones, who when she realized the Doctor would never return her feelings, had walked out with her head held high and found a man who loved her as much as she deserved. If she could refuse to settle for less, so could I.

/

"A good kiss," said my mother by the time I finally got home, after I'd washed my face and told every juicy detail I could remember. "Is when you don't think about the spit. Frankly, I'm not such a fan of it myself."

I was half relieved, half appalled.

"What, not even with Dad?"

"He's all right. I've had worse." She smiled wryly at me over the rim of her teacup, both of us curled up on the living-room sofa after dinner. "At least Carlo asked you first. The first time someone kissed me, I didn't even get a warning. There was just this – this face in my face, and I thought: wait a minute, is he going to … ? Eww!"

We shrieked and giggled like teenagers, setting each other off. By the time we calmed down, I felt a little bit better. It could have been worse – a lot worse, actually. At least Carlo was decent. Besides, now I could finally say I was single by choice instead of necessity. Waiting for the right man … if he ever came.

"You're twenty-one, for God's sake," my mother reminded me, rolling her eyes. "Don't worry so much. You have plenty of time left."

"I guess so … "

At that moment, my father came home from work. As usual, the first sign of his arrival was the rumble of the garage door opening and closing, followed by his boots climbing up the stairs. He smiled at us as he paused in the doorframe, red-faced from the cold, with snow in his hair and one end of his rainbow-striped scarf almost brushing the floor.

"Good evening, my dears," he said mock-formally, sweeping in to kiss his wife.

I looked away with faint disgust, wondering if I'd ever look at kissing scenes (real or fictional) the same way again. I thought of Mom's pragmatic assessment of "all right" and wondered if that was why Dad was always the one to start it. But when I turned back, both of them were smiling. Her eyes, blue like mine, were as soft as Rose Tyler's were when she kissed the Doctor on that Norwegian beach. I knew that look. My parents had been like this for longer than I could remember.

See? I thought. It does exist. And if they could find it, why not me?