First Kiss

Inspired by Roxy Vice's "Good to Be Me"

"I used to bicycle down the street / in the middle of the summer in the hottest heat / the wind in my hair, and my dirty feet / feeling free with no place to go. / But that was the summer that I grew up / That was the summer I fell in love / Where I'm going, I can't tell / And maybe it's as well I can't see ahead / 'Cause time is on my side, I'm gonna enjoy the ride / Look at me, feels so free, it's good to be me."

Heat and humidity rose from the asphalt, distorting the view of the road where it met the horizon. The air hung hot and sticky, and there was no promise of a coming breeze to cool the day. Cicadas chirped from the few trees planted along Main Street, and people darted in and out of buildings while running their errands, allowing a temporary blast of cold air conditioning to rush outdoors. Children abandoned their summertime lemonade stands to play in the sprinklers. It was summertime in New Jersey, and the world felt a little more at ease.

Veronica pedaled her sky blue bike down Main Street, soaking up the sunshine and the sights of her small town as she approached Ray's, the diner where she had just begun to work her summer job. She was a rising high school senior, but academics were the farthest thing from her mind. The backpack on her back contained her shoes and waitress uniform, and she savored the feeling of the pedal-generated breeze tangling her long, brown hair. The bike slowed to a stop and she pulled it into the bike rack, kneeling to chain the front tire. The sound of another bike's brakes squeaking behind her caused a smile to spread across her face as she rose to tie her hair back in a ponytail and pull on her shoes.

"Hey, Veronica," the familiar tenor voice greeted, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. Veronica tugged on a shoe, looping her fingers around the laces.

"Hi, Eric," Veronica greeted, walking towards the cement steps of the diner. Eric was another summertime hire, possibly the only short-order cook who didn't speak Spanish. On slow nights in the diner, Eric would watch baseball games with Veronica. Perhaps the only thing for which Veronica could begrudge him was his undying loyalty to the Boston Red Sox.

"How late are you going to be here tonight?" Veronica asked as the pair ascended the steps and opened the door, greeted by a cold rush of air kissing their faces.

"'Till close," Eric remarked, quickly stepping in front of Veronica to open the next door to the dining room, complimented with a smile and wink. "You?"

"Same," Veronica said, stepping inside the restaurant. "Maybe it'll be a baseball night tonight!"

Eric chuckled and shook his head, walking behind the counter that housed the cash register and making his way to the kitchen. "All-Star Game," he explained. "It's kind of a throw-away game. Are you sure you want to watch?"

"Absolutely!" Veronica exclaimed, stopping to pin her nametag to her black polo shirt. She managed to catch Eric's stunning smile and a twinkle in his eye as he ducked back behind the red swinging doors that lead to the kitchen. She felt her stomach flip-flop about as her heart was set thumping excitedly. She immediately dropped her eyes to the sparkling black tile floor, having just been freshly mopped.

"Girl, I saw that look," a woman behind the cash register purred in a lightly Hispanic flavored accent. Veronica fidgeted nervously and brushed imaginary pieces of lint from her beige shorts.

"What look?" Veronica feigned innocence, eyes darting about the diner. Maria edged closer to the younger woman and smiled.

"You know what look," Maria teased. "He likes you."

"He does not like me," Veronica said defiantly, grabbing a spray bottle and rag as she proceeded to run to her section and begin wiping down tables.

"Of course he does, chica," Maria snapped her fingers. "Just you wait. You'll have a boyfriend soon enough."

"I am far too young to have a boyfriend," Veronica protested as she forcefully wiped the rag against the table. "I'm only sixteen."

Maria clucked her tongue. "Too sensible," she muttered. "Just you wait."

Veronica tried to put Maria to the back of her mind as she continued her cleaning responsibilities and the first few customers filtered in for lunch. However, as the day wore on, she couldn't seem to erase the image of Eric's warm smile from her mind and noticed how she felt just a little bit better when she could catch a glimpse of him through the kitchen pick-up window.

It was about eight o'clock when Veronica finally cleared her final dinner table and was able to sit at the bar and open a plastic sandwich bag filled with sliced apples. She swung her tired feet back and forth as they dangled from the stool, thankful for a reprieve from standing. The sweet, crisp burst of apple filled her mouth and she sighed as she finally had a chance to relax. The diner would be open until ten, but it was unlikely that anybody would be coming in late on a Wednesday night.

"First pitch is at 8:05," Eric's voice called from the kitchen. Veronica shook her head and chuckled. She hopped down from the bar and walked around the counter, producing the television remote from its usual resting place.

"What channel?" she called. Eric's head popped into view as he leaned into the kitchen pick-up window and held up eight fingers with a lopsided grin. Once again, the familiar butterflies started their dance in Veronica's stomach, and she instantly tried to repress the feeling. She pointed the remote control at the television and changed the channel. Instantly, the television screen glowed to life with coverage of the All-Star baseball game.

"There's a little more to compete for, but it's still a garbage game," Eric called, peeling plastic gloves from his hands and dumping them into the trash can as she walked towards the counter at the bar.

"What do you mean?" Veronica leaned her head on one elbow which was propped on the countertop. Eric motioned to the television screen.

"Players are voted in by the fans, but any kid who creates a dozen fake email accounts can vote in whoever he wants," Eric explained. "I don't think it's an accurate result. One place where I prefer the NFL is that players vote in other players for the football All-Star Game. Baseball has an inaccurate representation, and until now, winning the game hasn't meant much."

"What changed?" Veronica asked, studying Eric's face.

"Well, the team that wins now will have home field advantage during the World Series," Eric said, turning to face Veronica. "It's not a huge deal, but players are going to be fighting for it, no matter how you slice it."

Veronica nodded, silently. She was as confused as a chicken watching a card trick, but she'd pretend to understand before Eric felt the need to further explain the nuances of baseball championships. Eric stood and clapped his hands together.

"There's no one here," he muttered, gazing at Veronica, who was still transfixed on the first few pitches of the game. "Do you want a milkshake?"

Veronica looked up at him inquisitively. Eric smiled and noticed a reciprocal grin on Veronica's face. "My treat," he explained. Veronica smiled and jumped down from her stool.

Fifteen minutes later, the bottom of the 1st inning had just begun and Eric and Veronica were situated back on their stools, sipping chocolate and strawberry milkshakes complete with whipped cream and a cherry.

"Check this out," Eric said, pointing to the screen excitedly. Veronica pulled her cherry from its stem and looked up at the screen.

"Look at how big of a lead he's got off the bag," Eric chattered. Veronica was puzzled.

"What does that mean?" she said, studying the screen. Eric chuckled softly.

"Do you notice how he's not standing on the base?" Eric pointed again. Veronica nodded. "Look how far he's moved to the left. They call that a lead, but his is way farther out than most. I'd be willing to bet he's going to try and steal second base."

Veronica took another swallow of creamy strawberry milkshake, nodding enthusiastically. She couldn't help but notice how close Eric's body was to hers, as he continued to lean in closer to explain the game.

No more than ten seconds later, the camera cut abruptly from its view of the pitcher to a runner sliding into second base. "What did I tell you?" Eric exclaimed. Veronica felt her face light up as the crowd went wild for the runner that had stolen second.

"He's so fast," Veronica murmured. "It's just amazing to watch. I think it's beautiful."

"I think you're beautiful," Eric whispered quietly. Veronica's heart skipped a beat and then assumed a frenzied crashing in her chest. She whipped her head around and turned to face Eric, who seemed unsure of his footing.

"I'm … sorry?" Eric started. "I guess what I mean to say is…"

"You think I'm beautiful?" Veronica breathed. Her eyes frantically searched Eric's face, searching for some indication of emotion. Eric gave a sheepish, uncertain smile, and reached up to tuck a wayward strand of hair behind Veronica's ear. She felt a blush rushing up her cheeks and quickly averted her eyes to the ground. Eric gently took his hand and turned Veronica's face upward once more to look into her eyes.

"Of course I think you're beautiful," he whispered. Veronica giggled quietly and smiled broadly at Eric, who returned the smile with newfound confidence.

"So, what are you going to do about that?" Veronica teased, voice peppered with giggles. Eric ran his fingers through Veronica's hair, having been let down from its ponytail, and gazed at her intently. Gently, he leaned in and kissed Veronica on the lips.

This kiss was gentle, it didn't demand anything, it wasn't forceful or abrasive. The feeling of soft lips meeting in a tender teenage embrace set the butterflies into full force and Veronica felt herself begin to smile. Then, as quickly as it began, the kiss ended, and Veronica looked up into Eric's full, smiling, handsome face.

Maria, of course, was watching from her faithful post behind the cash register, a smile broadly displayed on her face.

"Just you wait, chica," she proudly purred. "Just you wait."

Author's Note: In case you've never heard of the song... I went to an online high school, and one of my close friends released an EP during our junior year. In a weird mood (meaning: actually wanting to write fluff) at the beginning of the fall semester, I just happened to write down what came to mind while I was listening to the album. This one's for you, Twinny. :-) Please review!