Mom always said my first kiss would make my scalp tingle—make it light up like a summer field filled with fireflies. My first kiss wasn’t like that at all. My legs dangled from a chair in Nurse Jenkins’ office. I had a roll of gauze twisted into my right nostril. Leonard easily maneuvered around it, pressing his lips to mine. They were too large, too wet for my own. It reminded me of the time the neighbor’s Saint Bernard jumped the fence and bowled me over, his paws pressing into my shoulders while his tongue slithered over my mouth, lapping up the taste of the cherry Popsicle I’d just eaten. It wasn’t like I could have expected a lot. It had to have been his first kiss, too. Boys who wore bowties and kept a sewing kit in their front pocket in case one of their buttons sprang loose didn’t exactly attract armloads of girls.
Leonard held the kiss for two whole seconds; I counted them out by the ticks of the second hand. He had to stop when Nurse Jenkins said it was time to replace the gauze. I’d bled through it already, a small drop showing on the front of my T-shirt. We both knew she’d never tell—wouldn’t report us to Principal Dickens. She couldn’t have worried our kiss would quickly progress into something else, and even if she had, it hardly seemed the time to send us scuttling down the hall to the principal’s office.
Just minutes ago, we’d both been victims of Danny Wiggins’ dodgeball bombs. We’d hit him on a particularly bad day. Rumor had it that it his parents were divorcing. And he was getting stuck with his mom, whom the entire school knew as a woman so large that she regularly wore men’s clothes—mostly flannel shirts and large jeans with an elastic waist. Incapable of speaking at a normal volume, she yelled everything, which came in handy when she was coaching the varsity girls’ soccer team. They’d won states two years in a row, and half the players on the team had had to go up a shirt size in order to find sleeves that would accommodate their growing biceps. She pushed them hard enough—ordering out series after series of sprints until the sun set and the soccer field went dark—that she occasionally had a fainter, but that only made the girls work harder. Every fainter, having proved she was willing to push the limits of the human body, earned a starting position in the next game.
I could only guess that this sort of logic resulted in some interesting child-rearing practices. So when Danny’s ball slapped me across the face and the smell of rubber filled my nose at the same time blood began to pour out of it, I felt a twinge of pain not only for myself, but for Danny, too. He always hit me, often even had the courtesy to eliminate me first so that I could then sit against the wall reading a novel. He had always been careful to hit me in the leg, or even gently roll it at my ankle. But not today.
“If I had to guess,” Mrs. Jenkins said, pushing a new roll of gauze up my nose, “that’s broken. I’m going to give your mom a call.”
Leonard squeezed my hand. He had a cut above his eyebrow, but it wasn’t deep enough to need stitches. He’d get to go home, but wouldn’t have to stare up at a doctor. He wouldn’t have been there in the nurse’s office at all had he not, in the middle of the game, turned his head to ask me a question. He wanted to know how my twin sister was doing—was she having fun at the new boarding school? And that’s when we were both hit, him and then me in a quick one-two succession, blood flowing and the game stopped, no opportunity to tell him that while my mother had said boarding school, that was just a term to cover-up treatment facility for eating disorders. Mom had said that to tell my classmates where Jody had really gone would be hurting her chances of getting better. “She can’t sit there all day thinking people are talking about her at school,” Mom said.
Now Leonard rubbed a hand against my back. “How can I make it better?” he asked. He was trying to sound older than his thirteen years. I guessed maybe he had heard his father say this to his mother after she’d broken a dish or had one of the rosebushes succumb to frost.
“I’ll get to skip history,” I said. “I guess that’s a form of better.” We were learning about gas masks in World War II. They only reminded me of my nebulizer—instantly made my mouth tingle with the taste of it.
“Hey,” he said, staring at his shoes now. He blinked and then looked back up. “The winter semi-formal is this weekend. Do you have a date?”
I shook my head. Of course I didn’t have a date.
He smiled and the cut above his eye curled with the smile. “Would you like to go with me?”
I wanted to say no because Leonard wasn’t exactly a dream date, but since I had quit band—Mr. Scotts had demoted me to playing the wood block and it just wasn’t the same without Jody—Mom was on me about going to the dance. She wanted me to have some kind of social life, even if it was entirely lame. “Sure,” I said.
He looked to see that Nurse Jenkins was still on the phone, then kissed me again.
I pulled away, telling him my nose hurt.
In the emergency room, after the doctor had taped a metal splint to my nose, I told Mom about Leonard’s proposal to take me to the dance.
She squeezed my hand. She glanced at the clock, probably wondering how long it would take for the nurse to return with the prescription for a painkiller.
“I want to go,” I said. Anything seemed better than the freakishly white hospital. I pictured that gymnasium—the same one I’d left a small puddle of blood in just an hour earlier—decorated with blue streamers and sparkling snowflakes, a disco ball hanging from the ceiling.
“Honey,” Mom said. She leaned in close and I could smell the dirt on her hands from the work she’d done in the gardening section of Lowe’s. “I know I said you should go, but do you know what your face is going to look like by Saturday?”
I kicked my sneakers together and stared down at them. What she meant was: Do you really want to add this to your awkward list of firsts? Have your first boy-girl dance be one in which a piece of metal was plastered to your face? My first day of kindergarten I’d showed up in a bulky back brace after a misstep on the monkey bars. On my first field trip, I’d gotten left on the bus after falling asleep on the way there. When I woke up, the bus was empty and the door was shut. My first day of swimming in physical education class, I wore a suit I’d had for two years. When I cannon-balled into the water, the elastic on the straps gave. I emerged bare-chested.
“It’s not like I’ll look pretty in a dress anyway,” I said. Secretly, I thought that going with a nose splint might really be my best bet. Even Brittney Harper was less likely to chide my style choices with my face looking the way it would.
Mom wrapped her arm around me. She ran a finger over the splint. “We’ll get you a dress. I’ll take you to the dance. But something tells me I’m going to have to be very careful about the flash on my camera if I want a picture of you.” She leaned in closer and nuzzled her nose against my ear. “Too bad you couldn’t make a solar panel out of that thing—at least lower our electricity bill.” She couldn’t help but draw improbable connections between the little pieces of her life that were falling apart, as if she were trying to fit together puzzle pieces that didn’t match.
I rubbed her forearm. “We could start turning the lights off at night,” I said. “We could read at the kitchen table together with flashlights.”
Mom took me dress shopping at the Salvation Army store. She parked with the car facing away from the front of the store and then rushed inside, as if after I entered—after I had missed the sign—I might think that we were inside a fancy dress boutique. If it hadn’t been for Jody, the treatment facility, we might have at least made it to Target.
Stacked sweaters sat on a front table. Behind that, old pots and pans hung from a rack. The place smelled like a mix of must and old perfume. An old woman searching through a rack of blouses turned to stare at my nose splint. I wondered if she could see her reflection in the metal and hoped she looked even larger than she was—that my nose reflected her body back to her the way a mirror in a funhouse would.
“Come on,” Mom said, tugging me toward the back of the store where one lonely rack of dresses stood. Several of the dresses were too large, had probably been worn by high schoolers rather than miniscule middle schoolers. Mom quickly slid them to the other end of the rack. She pulled out two possibilities. One was a pinkish red—the color of an overripe watermelon—and the other a deep eggplant purple.
She held them up to me, glancing from the dress to my face and back again. “Now,” she said, speaking loudly enough that I guessed anyone in the store could hear her, “do you think the dress should match the circles under your eyes or be a different color? They always say to wear something that brings out the color in your eyes. Is this like that?”
She stared at me as if I had an answer to the question. I shuffled my sneakers. My nose splint felt heavy. My head drooped toward the floor.
Mom then proceeded to ask the woman at the cashier’s desk. “Come on,” she said, “come take a look at my girl.” Mom nearly knocked over a rack of ties as she led the woman back to me.
The cashier pushed her hands into her pockets. “I don’t know a lot about situations like this,” she said kindly while she got a good look at my splint. “I think she just ought to take the dress she feels most comfortable in.”
Mom eyed the purple dress. “The doctor said she will probably be pretty purple by Saturday,” she said.
I felt the old woman’s gaze on my back. “I’ll just try them on,” I said, taking the dresses out of Mom’s hands and heading to the changing room.
In the mirror, the splint shone back at me. I wondered if the doctor had really needed that much tape to hold it in place, or if he’d laughed on the inside as he taped it on. I had only small circles of purple under my eyes now, though they were supposed to get worse. Mom was taking pictures twice a day to keep track.
I slipped into the red dress first, ignoring the musty smell that emanated from it. It was a simple dress—no sequins or bows or flowers—and I appreciated that. But it was a little loose, the fabric at the chest drooping downward. I instantly recalled the cannonball incident from years ago. I could stuff the dress with tissues, but then I ran the risk of having them fall out on the dance floor. Besides, the tag in the back itched like crazy.
I stepped into the purple dress and pulled the spaghetti straps up over my shoulders. Goose bumps rose along my back when I looked at myself in the mirror. Yes, it matched the purple circles under my eyes, but it also smoothed my small stomach and hugged my hips without strangling them. The dress widened and fell a few inches below my knees. I imagined Leonard twirling me around and the dress billowing out as I spun.
I took the dress off before I could find something wrong with it.
“This is the one,” I told Mom outside the dressing room.
At the cash register, she asked if the woman could wrap it in tissue paper and put it in a nice box. The woman looked under the counter and came up with a plain plastic bag.
“It’s okay,” I told Mom.
“We’ll get you some new shoes,” she said, emphasizing the new.
By the evening of the dance, the purple circles had spread halfway down my face. Though I’d spent a good deal of time with a bag of ice nestled above the splint, my face had still swollen considerably.
“Look on the bright side,” Mom said. “You don’t have to worry about eye shadow.” She helped me smooth shiny lip gloss over my lips and then pulled out a super strength tube of antiperspirant. “So your first dance won’t turn out like mine,” she said as she handed it to me.
After she had zipped my dress, she stared over at Jody’s bed. Jody would have looked prettier in a dress than I did. Mom always said that she had legs that went on forever, hips the perfect size, and a smile that could smooth over any wrong. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen Jody smile.
In the kitchen, Mom tried to find the best angle to flash a picture of me without my metal splint appearing as a glowing bar of light in the photo. The lines on her forehead told me she still hadn’t gotten it right when the doorbell rang.
Goosebumps tingled up on my calves. I pretended I was Dorothy and knocked my glittery purple shoes together before opening the door.
Leonard stood on the porch in a black tuxedo, a purple tie tucked smartly under his jacket. He’d gelled his hair into short spikes on top of his head.
I opened the door wider so that he could come inside. We both stared at each other, him eyeing my sparkly shoes and then working his way up to my purple face. That evening, of course, was when the doctor had guessed the bruising and swelling would peak. It’d all be downhill after that. I stared at Leonard—his long pants and jacket—suddenly wishing I were a boy, that my limbs were covered, that I didn’t have to worry about my skirt coming up too high when I spun around or sweat beginning to drip down my bare arms.
“You’re beautiful,” he said. He slipped a purple corsage over my wrist and then leaned in close. He backed off an inch when he saw Mom watching from the corner of the room. “It’s fake,” he said. “Because I know you have allergies. I didn’t want you sneezing while we danced.” He lifted up a hand and ran it over the French braid Mom had finished minutes ago. She’d suggested wearing my hair down, but I wanted it out of the way for kissing. I’d read a magazine article that said kissing was like playing the piano—you needed a lot of practice.
Leonard said our first dance had to be the chicken dance. It got his mojo going. I didn’t mind waiting for the song. I’d gotten nervous enough that my feet had gone cold. They felt smaller inside my shoes and I was afraid I was going to lose one on the dance floor. Besides, the punch tasted like Kool-Aid. At home, Mom would have let me try wine before she’d have let me drink that.
When the DJ finally played the song, Leonard tugged me toward the center of the floor. We flapped our arms. We knocked our knees together. We spun around. Leonard spun so quickly the wind of his movement blew my bangs up and down. Some of the other couples had wandered off for punch and pretzels, perhaps using dancing logic that was the opposite of ours. I noticed Brittney Harper hadn’t chosen to participate in this dance. Danny Wiggins, however, was there—dateless, but still prominent in a red jacket. We all left him a wide berth for his chicken dance, his elbows even more intimidating after our most recent dodgeball game. When he came within a few feet of us, I felt the vibrations of his stomps through the gym floor. Leonard extended a flapping arm and wrapped it around me, steering me away from Danny and his chicken call—a guttural groan that sounded more like a bullfrog than a bird.
“Are you ok?” Leonard asked when my breathing grew heavy.
“Fine,” I said. It was hard work keeping up with his chicken dance, but the small pocket Mom had sewn into my dress for my inhaler assured me that nothing could go too wrong.
The music slowed and I realized Leonard’s idea had been a good one. I was tired enough that my head naturally fell toward Leonard’s shoulder, my cheek brushing against the front of his jacket. Hours ago, in the bathroom mirror, I’d practiced getting the right angle against the towel hung on the towel rack.
“I hope they play the chicken song again,” he said.
I didn’t say a word, just let him guide me across the gym floor, my cheek flattening against his chest. I could hear his heart beat, its pace slowing from the excitement of the chicken dance.
We danced another two slow songs and then “YMCA,” a close second to Leonard’s beloved chicken dance, came on. Leonard let go of my hands and my fingers suddenly felt cold. We held our arms in the air, forming the letters, and I found myself grateful for Mom’s tube of antiperspirant. He moved toward the center of the floor again, wanting to dance underneath the disco ball. “Like we’re in a lightning storm,” he said.
I followed him through the dancing couples and outstretched arms, noticing that Marissa Sanders might have done a better job of shaving her armpits and that Katie Miller’s bra strap was showing. When we were nearly under the disco ball, someone’s Y—a flailing forearm—hit me smack across the middle of my nose. Pain radiated from my nose, spreading in waves to my forehead and cheeks. I blinked back tears. I pushed a hand against the cold metal splint.
Leonard thrust everything he had into his A, standing up on his toes to make his arms reach above everyone else’s. Then he looked at me. His arms fell to his sides. “Your nose, it’s bleeding,” he said. He took my hands and led me to the corner of the gymnasium, clearing a path with his elbows.
Dizziness had tickled into my scalp and I leaned back against the stack of exercise mats. “Don’t tell the chaperones,” I said. “This isn’t like Nurse Jenkins’ office.”
He nodded, but scanned the room as if he were looking for one anyway. He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and held it up to my nose, holding my right nostril closed. “You know,” he said, “you should have worn one of those clear masks, like the guys in the NBA do after they break their noses.”
“I think I would have gotten laughed out of the dance,” I said. His kindness made me want to tell him about Jody—how she needed so much more than a mask.
“Which letter was it?”
“Of course, the Y. I should have been looking out for you then.” He pulled the handkerchief away to see if the bleeding had stopped, but it hadn’t. I felt it drip down my upper lip. “Maybe you could wedge some toilet paper up there like Nurse Jenkins did with the gauze?”
I nodded, trying not to cry. Why hadn’t Mom thought of a pocket for extra gauze? “I don’t know,” I said; “maybe we should just leave.”
“Come on,” Leonard said; “I’ll help.” He took my arm and led me into the boys’ bathroom.
The urinals were closer to the floor than I expected, and I began to wonder about aim and how hard it was. The blue tiles—the color of a clear spring sky—were more comforting than the pink ones in the girls’ bathroom that only reminded me of the earthworms we had dissected in biology class.
We rounded the corner to the stalls and found Danny Wiggins sitting against the wall. His legs were bent so we could see his black socks and a patch of hairy leg in the gap between where his socks ended and where his pants began.
“Hey,” I said. I knew Leonard hadn’t forgiven him for the dodgeball incident, but I had. Secretly, I was jealous of what Danny had done. Ever since Jody left, I’d felt like I was the egg in one of those contraptions you build to keep the egg from breaking when you toss it off the school roof. I was always falling—always on the urge of breaking—but it was important to keep it together for Mom. She was now taking weekend shifts at Lowe’s to help pay the bill for Jody’s treatment center. I knew she didn’t get as much sleep as she should, and it was best if I didn’t add any extra trouble, even if I did feel like I needed to crack my shell to pieces and start all over again.
Danny wasn’t afraid of splitting open in front of others. He stared at his knees. His shoulders were hunched. Tiny ovals of sweat showed in the armpits of his jacket. He had a faraway look in his eyes, like he was ready to skip out of this world into another one. I swallowed hard and squeezed my hands together and apart. Just a few weeks ago, after Jody hadn’t returned any of my texts or calls, I’d sat in my closet, wondering if it would be possible to hang myself with a sash from my dress. It’d been a fleeting thought—one easily cured by a batch of Mom’s oatmeal and raisin cookies—but now I remembered how thick the darkness had been in the closet, how comforting the sash had felt against my skin.
“I don’t think you’re allowed to just hang out in the bathroom like this,” Leonard said.
“He’s probably just catching his breath,” I said.
Leonard gave me a hard stare. “We should report him.”
Danny gazed up at me. His lips quivered and for a moment it looked like he might cry. Then he stretched his arm against the tiled wall and slowly stood up. He slipped his Swiss Army knife out of his pocket. He pulled out the blade.
Leonard shot his arms up in the air. “Hey, we’re not here for any trouble,” he said. “We were just leaving.” He squeezed my hand.
“No leaving yet,” Danny said. He spoke each word slowly, as if he was learning a new language.
“Then what do you want?” Leonard asked. His voice was higher now.
Danny pulled his lips together and then let them fall apart again. He stared at me, first the splint, then my tiny chest, my waist, my legs and my glittery shoes. A strange shiver shot up my spine—it reminded me of the time a stranger on the bus, an older woman with her gray hair pulled back into a bun, had ran her fingers through my hair, telling me I had beautiful curls.
“We’ll just back out of here slowly,” Leonard said. He guided us backward a step.
“No,” Danny said. He stepped toward us, the blade of the knife pointed toward Leonard. He held it a foot from Leonard’s chest. I knew he wouldn’t hurt Leonard, though. I’d seen Danny whittling sticks at the park. When he was done, he always cleaned the knife carefully with spit and a handkerchief. It couldn’t have been that dirty, but he always spent a good two minutes on it. He was too proud of that knife that to push it into Leonard.
“Sooner or later someone’s going to come in,” Leonard said. His voice sounded calmer, but his hand was sweaty against mine.
Danny stomped a foot. “I know,” he said. “I want her.” He pointed at me, keeping the knife directed at Leonard. “I’ve never been to a dance with a girl before.” He wiped the sweat that was beginning to bead on his forehead. “I asked a few pretty nice ones. They all said no.”
I’d heard it was true. Samantha Wilkins might have said yes if it weren’t for her mom saying no, going so far as to find her a date at another school so she wouldn’t have to go alone.
Leonard squeezed my hand. “We came together.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Danny said. He stared at us without blinking.
I slipped my hand out of Leonard’s. “Might be the only way,” I said. “We’d better listen.” Electricity danced across my scalp.
Leonard wiped my lip with his handkerchief. The bleeding had stopped. I could feel the blood encrusted inside my nostril.
Danny squeezed his hand into mine. He pocketed the knife inside his jacket and gave Leonard a stare. “I know you’re going to tell on me.” He sucked on his lower lip. “You just give me one dance. That’s all I want.”
Leonard curled his fingers into fists. He looked about to blow, but I shook my head. The knife was inside Danny’s jacket. He didn’t need to say anything more.
Danny led me out of the bathroom and to a corner of the gym, his hand still squeezed into mine, his dress shoes clapping gently against the gym floor. His eyes quickly scanned the crowd, as if he were trying to determine if any chaperones were headed our way. Then a slow song started up. He wiped his forehead with his jacket sleeve before taking my hands. Minutes ago that right hand had held a knife, his fingers pressed against cold metal. Now his fingers were soft, surprisingly dry. His mom must have done something right because he knew how to dance. He led me effortlessly across the dance floor, his right hand cradling mine, his left settled on my lower back.
In the middle of the song, he dipped his head and whispered into my ear. “How’s your sister doing? Is she any better?” His steady gaze, the concerned wrinkle in his forehead, told me that he knew.
I thought of the last letter Jody had written me, the one that had said, This place is what I imagine the inside of a birdhouse to be like. It’s all dark, save one small circle of light, and no one lets me out of the nest long enough to touch it. I stared down at my glittery shoes. The right one had a small spot of blood on it.
“You don’t have to tell me,” Danny said. “We could just dance.”
That’s what we did. The disco light made the sweat on his forehead sparkle, but his hands stayed dry. When couples swayed too close to us, he maneuvered us farther into the corner, farther from the bright lights and loud music until I’d lost track of everyone else and it was just the two of us swaying from side to side—all of it feeling so natural, as if he were the boy who had asked me to the dance. Then he leaned in and kissed me. Not too hard or wet. It felt so smooth—like the time I’d caught a fly ball in the outfield only because it’d fallen perfectly into my glove. I hadn’t asked to catch it. I hadn’t even looked for the ball. It’d just surprised me by hopping in there.
I didn’t realize we were kissing the way we were—full lips and a little bit of tongue—until the couples around us had stopped to stare. Brittney Harper was looking, her jaw dropped and her hands planted on her hips. Then Principal Dickens was between us, a hand settled firmly across Danny’s chest.
Danny ran his fingers over the side of his jacket holding the knife. He glanced up at Principal Dickens and then stared at his shoes. Three more teachers lined up behind Principal Dickens. Danny brushed his pointer finger over the inside of my wrist one last time and then let Mr. Surlt escort him out the gym doors, a shaft of light from the lamp posts outside slipping in as he slipped out.
“Are you okay?” Principal Dickens asked.
I nodded. The music was too loud to say it wasn’t Danny’s fault. My mouth felt too big now—like something important had moved out and now there was all this extra space.
“I’ll call your mom,” he said.
I shrugged my shoulders while he pulled out his cell phone and searched for a quiet corner.
In the opposite corner of the gym, Leonard leaned against the stack of wrestling mats. I made my way through the crowd. Brittney Harper was whispering to a herd of girls now, and their giggles rose behind me like the cackles of hyenas. Leonard had loosened his tie and shoved his hands into his pockets. When I stepped toward him, he slunk farther into the corner.
I waited for him to ask if I was okay, but knew when I said yes that would hurt even more. I went to the coat check, picked up my jacket and then headed out to the parking lot. It was a clear night—cold, but filled with stars. I searched for Danny, hoping I might be able to wave goodbye to him, maybe flash a smile of thanks that meant no, it hadn’t been a horrible dance; really, it had gone quite well, except for him having to leave like that. My magazine hadn’t said that with some people you didn’t need practice. With some people your lips just fell together as if they’d been meant for one another all along.
Minutes later, Mom sped to the curve. She hit it with her front fender. Inside, I saw that her mascara was running. She wiped at her face with a tissue. “He didn’t rape you, did he?”
“No,” I said. The question was so funny I almost laughed. But Mom would have killed us on the way home, driving well over the speed limit, talking so quickly she’d have lost sight of the road and steered us into an ancient oak tree.
“I should have known not to let you go,” she said. “Not with that nose. It was a sign.” Mom had thought everything was a sign since Jody had left. A chickadee filling itself in the feeder was a sign Jody was eating. The article saying deer were starving in the deep snow was a sign she wasn’t. This was the first time Mom had identified a sign that was mine.
I slumped in my seat and lowered my gaze to the heater vents, trying to look tired, trying to look like my first dance had been as bad as my first day of kindergarten. When we turned onto the back roads, when there weren’t street lamps lighting our way anymore, I let myself smile. Kissing Danny had been like stepping into a movie theater that’s just the right temperature, the movie the one you’ve been dying to see without knowing it, and the volume the perfect level. He’d known just what I wanted even though I hadn’t known what that was myself.
Danny was suspended for at least two weeks and had to see a special psychologist who would determine when he could return to school, or at least that’s what I heard. I spent the bus ride to school each morning thinking about him, wondering what he did with his free time at home. I bet he read a lot of books he never told anyone about, books like The Catcher in the Rye and This Boy’s Life. Books, I thought, made people perceptive, allowed them to realize when a girl got too skinny and needed help, when someone just needed to be tagged out of a dodgeball game to read. Leonard aced all the English quizzes, but he couldn’t apply the books to real life. I’d told Mom that we’d broken up, and she kept waiting for me to break into tears so that she could rub my back. “One day the glass will crack and you’ll cry it out,” she said.
One afternoon, on the bus ride home, when Danny’s two weeks were almost up, Shelley said that Danny had transferred to the private school across town. I turned to Molly in the seat behind me and asked for confirmation. She was just cool enough to be accepted in the popular crowd and just plain enough to speak with those outside of it. She knew everything about everyone.
“It’s true,” she said.
Shelley smiled. “Guess you’re safe for good now.”
I bit my tongue and managed to save my tears for my room. I pulled back the covers, crept under the sheets, and sobbed. I cried until my nose began to bleed. The splint was gone by then and my face was almost back to normal. The renewed surge of blood, the dull throb of pain, reminded me of Danny and the afternoon that had started it all.
When Mom returned home from work, she found me sitting beside my bed, a box of tissues to my right, a bloodied clump of them in my hand. She must have thought I was finally grieving for Leonard, and she let out a long sigh. She guided me to the bathroom, where I sat on the edge of the tub, the porcelain cold against the back of my thighs. She rolled up a sheet of gauze and kneeled beside me. She wasn’t as good at inserting it as Nurse Jenkins was. It burned, starting up a new wave of tears. With one nostril blocked, my crying sounded funny. Snot dripped down to my lip and Mom wiped at it with a washcloth. She rubbed my back while she kept watching my nose. She tapped a foot against the tiled floor. “You’ll meet another boy. Your nose will heal,” she repeated like a refrain, her hand rubbing the words into my back as if that could make them true.
Heartbreaking, sweet and full of yearning. “First Kiss,” explores the intricacies
of first love, family secrets, and justice in a story that tugs at all of our senses. I wanted
to wrap my arms around each and every character and give them all a bowl of warm soup and a soft blanket. Really lovely.
—Kathi Appelt, 2012 Katherine Paterson Prize Judge