It was another gray, overcast day. The snow that melted last night was replaced by a fresh new dusting. Another school day cancelled. I celebrated by microwaving tomato soup with extra cheese and watching Matlock. Yes, Matlock. I embrace the fact that I have a tendency to act like an 80-year-old woman.
I slurped the creamy soup and watched as this charming, old man solved murder after murder. In the middle of my third episode of the day, the doorbell rang, throwing our two dogs into a chorus of barking. The leather of my dad’s recliner buckled beneath my hands as I pushed myself up, using the armrests as leverage. Feet dragging sluggishly behind the rest of my body, I slowly made my way to the front door.
I peeked out the window, expecting the UPS man or someone unimportant, and standing there, in a state of perfection, was Mario. I immediately woke up, my eyes wide with fear. I backed away from the door slowly. On one hand, I wanted to answer and see what he was visiting for, but on the other hand, I was still in my Winnie the Pooh pajamas with no makeup and my hair in a messy ponytail.
My back hit the bathroom doorknob and I hopped in, remembering that my mom kept a stash of makeup in our downstairs bathroom for emergencies just like this (Ok, maybe not for emergencies just like this…but in the case that she had unexpected company). The doorbell rang again sending the dogs into yet another fit.
Shit! I furiously applied foundation to my blotchy skin. “Uhhh, I’ll be…I’ll be there in a minute!!!!” Oh God….don’t leave, don’t leave, don’t leave….
I swept blush over my cheeks, dabbed some gloss on my lips and rushed from the bathroom to the front door.
“I’m coming!!!!!!!!” The dogs chased behind me excitedly like I had salami in my pajama pockets. I swung the door open, my chest rising and falling rapidly. My cheeks were naturally flushed from the excitement and when I quickly stole a glance in the mirror I cursed myself for putting on blush. My entire face was a salmon shade of pink.
“Oh, hey Mario, what’s up?” I shrugged one shoulder nonchalantly and did my best not to sound out of breath.
“Hey Col-Leen. Where were you? Running a marathon?”
“Oh. Haha, um, no. I was…outside with the dogs.”
“But your dogs were in here.” His eyes narrowed at me. “I heard them barking.”
“Right. That’s what I meant. I was in here with the dogs.”
“Then what took so long to answer?”
“I was, uh, in the bathroom.”
“You were in the bathroom? With the dogs?”
“Yeah.” There was a long pause and we stared at each other, saying nothing for what seemed like hours. His face twisted, the wrinkles on his forehead revealing how confused he was. “They, uh, follow me in there sometimes. You know, dogs follow their noses, and, um….” Oh God. Shut the hell up, Colleen. Just change the subject. Anything is better than this. “Um, so, what are you doing here?”
He smiled. He knew I turned into a babbling idiot around him and he enjoyed it. Jerk. He spoke through a suppressed laugh and tried to make it sound like he was clearing his throat. “Well, no one’s heard from you all week. I thought maybe you wanted to grab lunch or something.”
“I already ate.” I cringed. Idiot. When Mario invites you to lunch, you accept. You eat two lunches. You eat 10 lunches if necessary. “But, I could go for some ice cream.”
“It’s freezing out, though.”
“Oh. Right.” I thought for a minute. “But at least it won’t melt on us.”
He laughed. “Well, can I come in while we make a decision? It really is cold out here.”
I stepped aside and let him in. Even Mario’s walk was unique. It was confident, but not overly cocky. He swaggered in through our front doorway, but not so much that he looked like a James Dean wannabe. His heather gray, cable knit turtleneck and his black pants made him look like he should have been performing spoken word at the local coffee shop. All he needed was a beret to complete the outfit. His hair, now dyed black, contrasted with his pale skin.
Immediately upon entering, my dogs were all over him, sniffing his crotch and jumping up in excitement. We walked into the kitchen and continued chatting, sitting across the counter from each other. The conversation hit a lull and I saw curiosity flicker in Mario’s eyes. He played with a penny that was on our white countertop with his index finger. Sliding it in circles, he looked down, then back at me. “Have you been crying, Colleen?”
My throat tightened. He didn’t say my name in the silly way he usually did. What did he already know? What rumors are already flying around about me even with school not being in session? Or did I just not use enough concealer when I was throwing makeup on my face before? My eyes drifted away from his and over his shoulder to our kitchen window. I stared for what felt like an eternity at the fat, cotton snowflakes dropping from the sky. “It’s snowing again.”
“Yeah?” Mario turned to look out the window. “Wow, it really is snowing, isn’t it?”
“Let’s go play in it.” My eyes lit up and I stared at him like an eager puppy waiting for food to drop on the floor.
“But there’s only two inches on the ground.”
“And that’s two inches more than North Carolina usually has! C’mon!” Before he could protest again, I grabbed his hand and dragged him out through my back door. We ran around throwing snowballs at each other and attempting to build snowmen and forts. There was not enough snow to build either and the result was several blobs of snow throughout my backyard. Every now and then, he’d stop and stare at me smiling for just a moment more than what I would consider normal.
Eventually, we both fell on our backs into the powdery snow. Our heads were next to each other’s and our bodies fanned out creating the letter V. We were out of breath and laughing. I turned my head to the left to look at him. His cheeks and lips were red, as though he had just finished eating a cherry popsicle. His breathing slowed down and began returning to normal. My own heart rate calmed as well.
I was smiling. I was smiling my first genuine smile in about a week. The cold air stung my lungs as I inhaled and my smile faded. “Ian and I broke up.” The words came out for a reason unknown to me.
Mario continued to look up at the sky. “I know.”
“Actually, I’m lying. Ian dumped me.”
“I know that, too.”
I didn’t ask how he knew; I didn’t have to. The lump in my throat decided to make another guest appearance. I closed my eyes and my eyelashes became moist with tears. My contacts were cold against my eyelids and one fat tear rolled down the side of my face, past my temple and landed in the snow, burning one perfect, tiny hole all the way to the grass. When I opened my eyes, Mario was on his side, propped up on an elbow watching me.
I watched him watch me.
He leaned in and softly pressed his lips to mine. My top lip nestled into the nook between his top and bottom and he gently rested a hand on my waist. I could barely feel it through my thick winter coat, but I knew it was there. I’m not sure if he intended it to be a “friends” kiss, but it quickly went from being G-rated to PG-13. My lips parted into his and the kiss grew firmer. As it ended, I tried to pull away, but he didn’t let me. Pulling me closer into him, he kissed my forehead. I buried my face in his chest, silent tears falling from my eyes again. His arms tightened around me and after a couple minutes my whimpers started to subside.
With my face still against his body, I relived our moment, Mario’s and mine. That was a good kiss. I mean, it was a really good kiss. Way better than any kiss Ian ever gave me, and definitely not the kind that should make someone cry. I sniffled and in the pit of my stomach, felt one sole butterfly flitting around, bouncing off my stomach lining. Giggles bubbled up from somewhere deep inside of me. At first, it was a soft laugh. Mario’s body grew tense around mine, unsure of what was happening. My laughter grew louder and louder until I had to pull away from his grasp because I couldn’t breathe. Pulling my knees to my chest, I gulped in the cold winter air and continued laughing in a way that someone watching standup comedy would. Confused, Mario started laughing too, because—let’s face it, what else could he do?
* * *
Some kisses are good. Some are great. Some are bad. Others are so terrible that you would do better to suck on a cold, wet noodle for a couple minutes. This kiss was defining; it taught me that there would be many more to come, and that with every heartbreak, there is a new experience to be had. That was the only kiss that Mario and I ever had in ten years of knowing each other.