HARLAN LEANS OVER TO PLANT A KISS ON MY CHEEK. His fingers wriggle beneath mine so that our palms rest together, our fingers interlocking. It would be so easy to kiss him. Too easy. I lean back in my seat and pretend to be focused on the movie, letting the bright light of the fictional SonicMan world drown out the dark reality of the theater, and Harlan, and Harlan’s mouth.
The first kiss is special – that’s what my friends tell me. My first kiss tasted liked burned butter and browned lettuce and the vast airless blackness between stars.
The problem with being slightly psychic is that you’re never sure, until afterward, that you have been. It’s just a feeling. And then seventeen months later you find out that he’s stealing from you, and that he’s empty and sour and nothing in the world will ever fill him up. And you think, But I already knew that. Even though it’s stupid to break up with someone because of something you felt in a kiss, you feel like a moron for knowing and not having done anything.
After planting a soft, dry kiss on my cheek, Harlan sits back. I clutch his hand so that he won’t take it away from me, and he shoots me a small smile that I see only out of the corner of my eye.
I can feel my palm getting sweaty against Harlan’s. I haven’t kissed him yet because I don’t want to know. I don’t want to feel the thing that will come between us, not now, not when things are still so simple.
I lean over to rest my cheek on his shoulder, and after a moment I feel a slight pressure on the top of my head from where he’s leaning back. I close my eyes and listen to the rhythm of his breathing.
We haven’t kissed yet, even though we’ve been dating for months, but already I’m tired just thinking about how I will pull myself back together when this is done. When we’re over.
I open my eyes, and the movie is suddenly too bright and too loud. I sit up and shift away from Harlan, who tightens his grip on my hand for a moment before letting it go.
For the rest of the movie, I sit on my hands and try to pretend I’m actually SonicMan, beating the tar out of some alien baddies. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what the aliens have done to deserve it.
When it’s finally over, and the credits are rolling, Harlan asks, “What did you think?”
He’s always asking what I think, which is great, except tonight I don’t really want to answer. Can’t really answer. “It was loud,” I tell him, reaching for my scarf.
He grabs my hand again. “Stay,” he says. My heart flutters until he adds, “there’s supposed to be an Easter egg at the end.”
I fall back into my chair and cross my arms.
“We don’t have to,” he whispers.
When I look across at him, he looks hopeful. He’ll follow me if I go. “I want to stay,” I say.
The second boy I ever kissed, I mean kissed, like I meant it – that kiss was saltwater. I became a whole, huge sea knocking at the walls of him. We broke up three weeks later because, as he said, I wanted too much.
In the end, there’s a 45-second film clip that can most generously be described as a trailer for SonicMan 4. “Lame,” whispers Harlan.
I pretend to gag.
As we wander through the lobby to the exit, through lights that seem too harsh and white after all that cozy blackness, we walk close enough together that our hands brush although we’re not technically touching. I want to grab him, but I’m paralyzed.
Out in the street, we wander between the bright puddles formed by streetlamps. I can smell burgers at some local dinner, and fresh sticky buns. “Hungry?” I ask.
I shake my head. I grope for his hand until I find it, and he squeezes it tight. “What did you think of the movie?” I ask belatedly.
“It was loud,” he says, then laughs. “And dumb. But also fun.”
“Remind you of anyone?” I ask.
He pouts. Seeing him like that, I can’t help but stop in my tracks and pull him back to me. We sway together, and I hear his sudden intake of breath.
“Can I kiss you?” I ask.
“You don’t have to.”
“I want to.”
He pauses. “I want you to.”
Very slowly I lift myself up on my toes so that I can reach him. He doesn’t move, just closes his eyes and waits, giving me every chance to change my mind, knowing that I am afraid of this even if he will never know why.
But I don’t change my mind. And when our lips finally meet, his mouth is warm and sweet beneath mine, and all I know is that I like the feeling. I kiss him a little deeper, searching for something that I do not find.
It is just a kiss, with no hint of endings in it.
When I finally rock back on my heels, Harlan grins at me. “Wow,” he says. “That was… surprising.”
He looks happy – the way you should look when you kiss someone you like, after months of anticipation. But I have to slide my tongue between my teeth and bite down to keep from crying.
I didn’t learn anything. I don’t know what will go wrong this time.
“Again?” he asks, but softly, as if he’s afraid I’ll say no.
Which I don’t. But this kiss, like the first, only tastes like my own affections for him, and my own fears.
And I still don’t know how my heart will break this time around.
Or even if it will.