Sunday, August 23, 2009

First Kiss

Hear the story read by the author.

In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. Michelle Tellum, the pretty, 28-year-old associate pastor, had just started dating a young man by the name of Ian Wells. Ian played guitar in a jazz band, and for their second date he invited Michelle to come hear him perform at a local tavern on Saturday night.

Michelle was really excited to hear Ian play. She knew that staying out late on a Saturday would have an impact on her functionality Sunday morning, but this particular weekend she was only doing supporting duties during the church service so she figured she could handle it.

Michelle was excited for another reason. Her first date with Ian had been over lunch and ended with a hug. She expected this date would end with a kiss. Michelle put a lot of stock in the first kiss. She believed it set the tone for the whole relationship. Michelle thought Ian was clever, dashingly handsome, and gave off just a hint of danger. Those ingredients led her to believe he would be an excellent kisser.

Ian, being a gentleman, picked Michelle up at her apartment. Which was slightly inconvenient because the band had to arrive at the bar several hours before their set to do a sound check. Michelle didn’t mind, though. She thought the whole process was fascinating. And it gave her and Ian time to chat as the bar slowly filled up with customers.

It also gave Michelle time to meet the rest of the band. She was painfully aware that they were sizing her up, but at least they were all polite about it. All, that is, except Ian’s roommate Rico, the band’s drummer, who nudged Ian and said “nice!” upon being introduced. Still, it could have been worse.

A little after 9:30 p.m. the band took the stage. They played a hot, Dixieland style of jazz. Michelle enjoyed the music a lot, though as the evening progressed she had to work hard not to yawn. She was not used to such late nights. Every few minutes Ian would steal a look in her direction and give her a little smile or wink. That would perk Michelle right up and turn her thoughts again to the impending first kiss.

When the band finally finished, Michelle waited patiently as they put away their instruments, hoping her fatigue wasn’t visible on her face. Ian eventually joined her and asked what she thought of the music. She waxed suitably rhapsodic and he was suitably modest in response.

Then they fell quiet. Ian took her hand. This was it, Michelle realized. The first kiss. She would have preferred it didn’t happen in a bar, but sometimes a girl’s got to be flexible. Ian leaned in…

And then Rico threw his arms around both of them. “Dude!” he yelled. “We were awesome tonight. Didn’t you think so, Ian’s girl?”

“Michelle,” Ian reminded him with obvious annoyance. It was clear Rico was drunk. Ian would later explain that was an occupational hazard when the bar provides the band with free drinks in lieu of pay.

“The show was fantastic,” Michelle said.

“I knew I liked you,” Rico slurred. “Ian has good taste.”

“Excuse me a moment,” Ian said and guided Rico away.

Michelle composed herself. She wasn’t going to let the interruption spoil the upcoming kiss.

Ian returned. “Here’s the thing,” he said. “Rico’s too drunk to drive and the other guys have already left. Can we swing by our place so I can drop him off and then I’ll take you home?”

“Sure,” Michelle said. She was a little annoyed, but at least this way the first kiss would be on her doorstep. The traditional aspect of the idea appealed to her.

However, on the way to Ian and Rico’s apartment Rico fell asleep. The upside was that they didn’t have to endure his babbling during the drive. The downside was they couldn’t fully rouse him when they got to the apartment and had to carry him in, one of Rico’s arms draped over each of their shoulders.

“Wait here and I’ll get him into bed,” Ian said when they reached the living room.

Michelle had a seat on the couch. The apartment was surprisingly clean and tastefully decorated considering two guys in their mid-20’s lived there. Michelle particularly admired the framed posters of classic jazz performances that lined the walls. She decided this wouldn’t be too bad a location for a first kiss either.

Ian returned after a few minutes. “Sorry about that,” he said. “Can I get you something to drink?”

“Some water, thanks.”

Ian got two glasses of water and sat down beside her. “Rico’s really not a bad guy most of the time.”

“Forget about it,” Michelle replied.

“Thanks for being cool,” Ian said and slipped his arm around her shoulders. She settled against him and let her eyes close, just enjoying his proximity and the sense that she might, indeed, be cool.

The next thing she knew, Ian was shaking her awake. “Mm,” she said groggily, “I must have fallen asleep.”

“So did I,” he told her. “It’s 10 a.m.”

Michelle sat bolt upright. She realized sunlight was streaming in through the windows. “I have to go home! I have to be at church at 10:30.”

“You’ll never make it. I’ll drive you straight there.”

She looked down at her spaghetti strap silk blouse. “I can’t wear this to church!” she exclaimed. “I’m a pastor!”

“Let me see what I can do,” he said and went into his room. Michelle found the bathroom and quickly cleaned herself up. She scrubbed the smeared make-up from her face and pulled her hair back in a ponytail. When she came out, Ian was waiting with a plain blue sweater.

“It’ll be big on you,” he said.

“It’ll work,” she replied and slid it on.

They raced to the church and arrived just after 10:20. Michelle breathed a sigh of relief. “Made it.”

“I’m really sorry,” Ian said. Michelle glanced over. He looked about as miserable as he possibly could.

“It’s as much my fault as yours,” she reassured him.


“Really.” She patted his hand. He closed his fingers around hers.

“Well, you still have eight minutes to kill,” he noted. Michelle smiled. Ian leaned over and kissed her.

It was better than she hoped. She didn’t even notice the seatbelt cutting into her shoulder as she pressed toward him.

“So can I see you again?” he asked.

“Uh huh,” she mumbled, feeling a little lightheaded.

“You better get inside.”

“Uh huh.” Her wits seemed to have abandoned her. He was a really good kisser.

She managed to get out of the car.

And that’s when she noticed seventy year-old Henrietta Miggins standing on the sidewalk, arms crossed, staring directly at her with a disapproving frown. As soon as their eyes met Henrietta turned and stalked inside the church.

“That isn’t good, is it?” Ian asked.

“Uh-uh,” she replied.

Michelle’s euphoria was quickly dissipating.

To be continued…

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Hear the story read by the author.

In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. The church has a softball team called the “Miracles” that plays in the Normal Interdenominational Summer Softball League. Del Winslow plays first base, the same position he played on his college intramural team. Of course Del’s college days are quite a few years and quite a few pounds behind him.

The softball season was approaching and choir director Shane Reed, who coached the team, discovered he had a hole to fill. The outfield was made up of Pastor O’Donnell, his daughter Katie and her friend Tabitha. Kevin Boyer pitched and Missy Moore was the catcher. Shane handled second, Thad Wheeling was at shortstop and the previous year Katie’s boyfriend Joe had played third. But Joe had bowed out this year because he had taken up another sport: stock car driving. Actually, it was a video game about stock car driving, but it occupied much of his weekends.

Shane was telling Del about his dilemma at coffee hour after church when Del’s daughter Carrie and her new husband, Carlos Lopez, joined them. Carlos and Carrie had moved in with Del and his wife, Karen, after the company the younger couple worked for went out of business. Del was not particularly pleased with the arrangement, but it didn’t look like it was going to change anytime soon. Carlos had decided to go back to school to get his MBA and Carrie had just discovered she was pregnant.

“I’ll play,” Carlos said, upon learning of the open slot. “I was on the company softball team back in Cincinnati.”

“Carlos!” Carrie exclaimed, “You don’t have time for softball. You have so much studying to do, not to mention getting ready for the baby.”

“She has a point,” Del said. He already saw more of Carlos than he wanted at home. He was looking forward to softball as a nice break from his domestic situation.

“But Sweetie,” Carlos protested to his bride, “it will be a good way to get some exercise. You don’t want me to get fat, do you?”

“It’s only one practice and one game a week,” Shane interjected hopefully. “And the season will be well over before you have your baby.

“Well… I guess,” Carrie said. “But you would have to promise to quit if it interferes with school.”

“Yes!” Carlos yelled and high-fived Shane. The two were grinning ear to ear. Carrie grimaced. Del forced a smile, but he kind of wished his daughter had stuck to her guns.

Shane had no such doubts as he put the team through their paces at the first practice. Carlos turned out to be not just a competent fielder, but also an excellent power hitter. Kevin was no slouch as a pitcher yet Carlos routinely pounded his throws over the low chain link fence that served as an outfield wall at the Normal Public Athletic Fields. The whole team was quietly beginning to think that, unlike last year, they might actually get more than one win this season.

The day of the first game arrived. Del waited impatiently for Carlos in the foyer. “Carlos,” he yelled, “come on. Time to go.”

“I’m ready,” Carlos said as he jogged downstairs.

Karen poked her head in from the living room. “Don’t forget sunscreen,” she said.

“It’s in my bag,” Del replied.

“Wait up,” Carrie called from the top of the stairs. She had a big purse slung over her shoulder and was wearing a floppy hat to keep the sun off her face.

“Where are you going, Sweetie?” Carlos asked.

“To the game,” Carrie replied. “You don’t expect me to sit home while you’re out having fun, do you?”

“But… you know you can’t play,” Carlos said carefully. “I mean you didn’t go to practice.”

“I’m not going to play, Dummy,” she told him. “I’m going to watch. That’s allowed, right?

Neither Carlos nor Del could think of a reason it wouldn’t be. The three of them piled into the car and headed for the field. “Did you put on sunscreen,” Carrie asked her husband.

“No,” Carlos replied.

“There’s some in my bag,” Del said with a chuckle. He was thinking his daughter was a lot like her mother. Carrie retrieved the lotion for Carlos.

“You want some?” Carlos asked Del.

“I’ll put it on when we get there,” he said.

The game – against a Baptist team called the Commandments – was a nail biter. Carrie had brought a book to read – she wasn’t really a fan of sports, she’d mostly gone along to make a point – but by the fourth inning the book sat forgotten beside her on the bleachers as she became more and more caught up in the action.

Going into the bottom of the final inning the Commandments were ahead 7-6 but the Miracles had one last chance at bat. Thad Wheeling was up first. After watching a ball, he took a good cut at the second pitch and popped one up to left field. Unfortunately the left fielder was on her toes and caught the ball for the Miracle’s first out.

Next came Kevin Boyer. Kevin managed to hit a nice tweener over the second baseman for a double, putting the tying run on second and bringing Carlos to the plate with Del on deck.

Del swung a pair of bats idly, loosening up his shoulders, as he watched Carlos step up to the plate. Carrie yelled encouragement from the stands. She couldn’t see what Del could – Carlos was blinking rapidly. Del realized Carlos was sweating sunscreen into his eyes.

Carlos managed to make contact with the first two pitches but sent them both foul, giving him two strikes. Del started warming up more seriously. It looked like it would be up to him to win this thing.

Then on the next pitch Carlos took a perfect swing and hit the ball a good ten yards out of the park.

The team went wild, everyone mobbing Carlos at home plate as he came around to score the winning run. Everyone, that is, except Del, who was busy putting the warm-up bats away. The game was over and he had just missed an opportunity to be a hero.

Carlos and the crowd of players congratulating him headed for the dugout where Del and Carrie were waiting. “We won!” Shane exclaimed. “We’re actually undefeated. Admittedly, we’ve only played one game, but still!”

“We should celebrate,” Carlos said. “Anyone want to join me for a beer?”

Del and Carrie simultaneously opened their mouths to object, then simultaneously closed them again as the rest of the team gave a hearty endorsement to Carlos’s plan.

They went to a nearby pizza place and spread out across several tables. Katie and Tabitha, being teenagers, got sodas and huddled on the other side of the room from away from the un-cool adults. Kevin, Shane, Thad and Carlos gathered around one table while Missy and Carrie settled at a smaller adjacent table. That left Del and Pastor O’Donnell at a table a short ways away. Though Del enjoyed the pastor’s company well enough, he felt a little put out at not being included with the younger men.

“First round is on me!” Carlos shouted. The guys at Carlos’s table cheered that news enthusiastically.

“He can’t afford to pay rent but he’s buying drinks,” Del grumbled to O’Donnell, who was preoccupied with the menu and simply grunted in reply.

Del watched as the waitress brought a pitcher of beer to the other table. Carlos filled the other men’s mugs. But Carrie leapt up to stop him before he could fill his own.

“What’s wrong, honey?” Carlos asked.

“Are you really going to drink beer in front of your pregnant wife who can’t?” she asked.

“But…everyone else is.”

“Good point. Go ahead, then.”

Carlos was inexperienced at marriage, but he sensed a trap. He glanced at the other men. They were all apparently fascinated by something going on out the window since none of them met his gaze. Carlos looked to see what was so interesting but the street outside was empty.

“Can you bring me a cup for soda,” Carlos called to the waitress meekly.

“Poor guy,” O’Donnell said through a mouthful of hot wing. “I remember how Jennifer was when she was pregnant with Katie.” Del just nodded thoughtfully.

Later that evening, Del poked his head into the kitchen where Carlos was studying at the breakfast table. “Come with me,” Del said.

“Where?” Carlos asked.

“Just come.”

Carlos followed Del out to the garage. Del pulled a cooler off the shelf and opened it. To Carlos’s surprise, it held a six-pack of beer surrounded by ice. Del tossed a beer to Carlos.

“Karen didn’t like me drinking around her when she was pregnant either,” Del said. “So I used to sneak out here to have a beer every once in a while.”

“Clever,” Carlos said as he took a hearty swig and savored the taste. “Do you maybe have a tip on how to keep Carrie from spending all our money on baby clothes?”

“Sorry,” Del said. “She’s just like her mother that way as well. Hey, that was quite a hit you made to end the game today.”

“It was pure luck. Sunscreen ran in my eyes and I couldn’t see a thing. I was swinging blind.”

“I know,” Del said. “That’s what was so impressive.”

“Hey, you’re looking a little pink,” Carlos observed. “Did you ever put sunscreen on?”

“Shut up,” Del replied.

And the two men spent the next couple hours drinking beer, talking sports, and hiding from their wives.