In the micro-verse that is early middle and late elementary school there are few girls to choose from, most of which were based out of proximity. My sister had a friend named Shelly. Even at a young age I could tell her face was broken and jagged. Strange angles gave way to muted expressions and rigid skin. In my entirety of exposure to women, school but mostly television, I knew what ugly was. Shelly was it.

In the haze of childhood I cannot remember which summer it was that I was forced into relations with Shelly but I remember it was short lived. My sister wanted to kiss my friend Johnny, a much older best-friend of mine, mostly because of that fact alone. The new couple devised that my first french kiss should involve someone who knew a thing or two about them. The train wreck, Shelly, knew a thing or two.

Her and I sat at the top of the stairs and I questioned her on the physics of it all to delay the inevitable: my tongue would have it’s first visit into a mouth besides my own, and it was into this creature’s face.

The moment was short and forced. I rammed my timid and sloppy mouth against hers, she and I sword fought with our tongues chasing each other around in there for what seemed for too long. I was over it maybe too quick and sat back looking at her timidly, wondering to myself who I would be able to use my newly christened skill with. Her twisted face broke into a smile looking for a reaction.

My sister called up from the living room down and behind us, “Did you kiss?”

This allowed me an opening to move away and not deal with the scrawled maw of my kissing concubine. I answered with an awkwardly cheerful “yeah!”

Shelly and I sat and went over the details of what I could do to improve and “what most girls like.” The bottom of the stairs and the front door where more interesting and kept the conversation going to placate the girl on my left.

Later, Johnny and I left to play video games and talk in private about how awesome kissing was. I tried to blind out the fact that he was talking about my sister and I was talking about the one girl everyone knew to be fiendishly gruesome. It was the last time I was left kissing Shelly and the last time he kissed my sister.

I’m not sure where it spun from with Diane. I think there was always this weird common ground between her and I. She was never into me, so far as I could tell, and my feelings were never that strong due to her better-than-average good looks and her status in the social rungs of high school. Diane was always holding her snubbed thumbs in clenched fists, drying out the knuckle and making them that much more noticeable. I found her fear and weakness to be admirable. She was in my classes in Middle School so there was familiarity as we aged.

Diane and I went out on our first real date on Valentine’s Day the same year I ended up with a car. Her and I ended up talking in class one day, in our after-lesson work time the teacher had provided. She was busy complaining about her dateless Valentine’s Day to the girl behind her, and I on helping the moose in front of me with his algebra. I waited for my time to jump in and said that “I’d take you out.” Something I thought was nonchalant, but I’m sure came out terrifyingly awkward. As a kid in high school, I existed in the frail state of between social circles, I was never sure of myself (a consistent aliment), and never knew if I should be honest or underhanded. A back and forth between her and I sprouted. It ended with me saying that I’d pick her up for dinner and joking that she better not stand me up.

We were going as friends.

Dinner was at Maggiano’s, a chain Italian restaurant with dark lighting and big booths – a high school equivalent to fine dining. Conversation was awkward and even our clothes were unsure if we were seriously considering this as a date. I had on my standard attire at the time – pleated kakis, beat up gym shoes, and some childish graphic t – with a collard shirt to dress it up a bit. She wore a pair of nice jeans and a dressy top, something she might wear to a nice party – the kind I was never invited to nor even knew about.

Our relationship had previously only existed on a level where we were surrounded by peers, in a loud hallway or a hushed classroom. This was new for both of us and we weren’t sure how to act. We were unsure if we were ready to become adults. Our date went surprising well after the initial jitters. So much so, that for the rest of the semester together and even when we’d see each other in the random splay that was the towns we lived in, she would mention how that had been her favorite date.

We stayed acquaintances for a long time, even without corresponding classes or social circles, during those couple of last years before graduation. I even took her to prom because her boyfriend didn’t want to shell out the cash. Which became the only dance and post-prom I had a good time at. All of the following dances were like Sophomore year in college where you return to only attempt to relive those moments you remember.

Speaking of college: on the first week there, I get a phone message from a number I don’t recognize. It’s Diane and she is at the same college. We meet up at her dorm and she takes me on a tour of her discombobulated floor structure, meeting all the fresh faces, and her room. Her wall held a cork board with the good times she was already having. I had only had two beers in my new collegiate life. Diane had concluded that she was, in fact, quite tired and laid down. I got into bed with her and she drew me close trying to remember something that was really never there. Unsure, overwhelmed, maybe missing all of the signs, I fell asleep. The afternoon faded away with us laying there reaching for memories of what was left of our awkward growth into adulthood.

Her roommate came back from wherever she had gone, making our transition from alone in bed to my departure that much easier. Words of calling me about a party or getting together again were passed but seemed forced. It was the last time I saw Diane.