Happy Valentine’s Day, ladies and gentlemen! Are you alone this evening? Whether you’re at home or out with a date, you can definitely appreciate the excerpt from my new novel, “The Wingmen” below, as it’s all about 17-year-old high school senior Molly Doyle’s first Valentine’s Day with her boyfriend Jon.
To give you a little more context, this is a flashback scene. When you read this, Molly and Jon aren’t a thing anymore, so she’s looking back on Valentine’s Day with both fondness and sadness, as the night seemed so perfect to her yet clearly wasn’t since they’re no longer dating. Before V-Day, they’d been dating a few short weeks, so their relationship is still fairly new and awkward at this point. Read the excerpt below, let me know what you think, and definitely get the book if you can! And oh yeah, happy Valentine’s Day!
“That first love. And the first one who breaks your heart. For me, they just happen to be the same person.” – Sarah Dessen, “Along for the Ride”
Flashback: February 14, 2005
My first meaningful Valentine’s Day could have easily been plucked from a romance film.
We finished track at five that day, so Jon dropped me off at home to shower and freshen up before our dinner at his house. I didn’t know how fancy my attire should be, and I was generally more casual than most, so I picked out a green Rampage top to wear over my pair of American Eagle jeans. After blow drying my hair, I applied lavender eye shadow right above my lashes. It was a lot for me to wear mascara, eye shadow, lip gloss, and a dab of foundation, so I hoped Jon would notice that I’d gone above and beyond to look decent for the night.
He rang the doorbell an hour later. I wondered how he’d showered and cleaned up so quickly, but I soon learned that he took as little time as possible cleaning up, a good trait for someone wanting to move to the east coast.
When I first opened the door, I didn’t recognize Jon. Even at the “Meat and Greet” event a few months earlier, he’d worn a modest polo. That night, his tan complexion glowed underneath his suit. He didn’t smile, and that alone increased his physical appeal. He wore an American flag pin, which I touched for no reason at all.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” he said, stepping inside the house to give me a hug. As we parted, he handed me a single rose, which instantly brought me back to the opening scene of “Beauty and the Beast.” I placed the bundle beneath my nose, taking in the freshness.
“Thank you so much,” I said, grabbing his hand to leave. My dad approached from the television room before we could shut the door behind us.
“Turn around, you two.”
I sighed but followed my dad’s command, hoping he would glance up and down and then send us on our way. Moving closer, he shook his head.
“Molly, you’ve embarrassed me. Your boyfriend looks great and you’re wearing the same clothes you wore to school!”
“No, I’m not.”
“Jon, I’m sorry my daughter is so underdressed. She’s taking etiquette classes after your date.”
“She’s stunning,” Jon replied.
“So are you,” I said, dragging him out the door. I was a little hurt by my dad’s comment, but tried to forget about it on the ride to Jon’s house. At the set of red stoplights, Jon let his right hand go limp on his lap. I took this as an opportunity to hold his hand. I was beginning to know the composition of his hands, which were blistered and dry from his rigorous physical activity. He also had cold hand syndrome, which went away soon after we started dating.
Jon’s Chocolate Labrador, Tumbles barked and jumped all over us as soon as we entered the house. Jon barked back, giving me an excuse to laugh and joke in a state of nervousness. Jon’s dad, Guy stood by the kitchen table, a few feet away from his fiancé Cathy at the sink.
“Hello you two,” Cathy said, smiling. “You both look so nice.”
“No, your future stepson does,” I said, echoing my dad.
“It’s all her,” Jon replied, elbowing me before letting go of my hand to join her by the kitchen counters. He reached for a pan beside the stove and asked if she’d started on the shrimp yet. She hadn’t gotten around to it, so he went straight to the burner as she inched over to me. I grabbed the closest chair, needing something to hold onto.
“So how was your day, Molly?”
“It’s been great. Jon and I had fun at track, only he got really excited once the rain came down on us. I however, wasn’t so thrilled about the wet weather.”
“He’s crazy,” she said. “He goes out of his way to go camping in the rain.”
We went on with our small talk for a few minutes, and then I asked if I could be of any help. Jon told me to stay put as he fixed up our meal, putting me in a state of relief since I was pretty useless in the culinary department. After turning on the miniature television by the microwave, Guy walked over to me in an attempt to make conversation.
“So Molly, you’re a junior?”
“Have you thought about what you want to do after high school?”
“I definitely want to go into writing. I don’t know what exactly I’ll do, but I’ll be happy as long as I can write.”
“What do your parents do again?”
“My mom’s in advertising, and my dad did some tech writing for Adobe for a while.”
“And what’s he up to these days?”
“I’m not sure. You see, Mr. Breckenridge, we have a rule at my house that we keep work at the office,” I answered, shooting a smile at Jon. I knew about my dad’s job title all right, but didn’t feel comfortable discussing it with someone I barely knew. It wasn’t my place to do that.
“We don’t understand what that kind of separation is like,” Jon added, facing me. “My dad has been all about his firms since before I was born.”
“All that hard work appears to have paid off,” I said, thinking of all the cars they had.
I couldn’t stand to talk about money or work any longer, so I retreated to the restroom to text Erin, check my teeth, run a hand through my hair, and straighten my top. By the time I returned, Jon’s parents had left for the bedroom, allowing me to relax for a change. It was intimidating enough being around my new boyfriend, let alone getting questioned by his understandably suspicious dad.
While I was out, Jon had dimmed the dining room lights and dressed up the table. Above the cardinal-red tablecloth lay two white plates across from each other, both with clear glasses at their sides. A bowl of chicken Alfredo was placed in the center of the table. Jon had also set down a tray of shrimp, which I had promised myself I’d eat even though I was repulsed by the smell and taste. Jon winked as he pulled out my chair for me. I thanked him and dug into my meal.
I lied when Jon asked if I wanted shrimp for our Valentine’s Day dinner. To this day, I’m still a picky eater and dry heave upon chewing the texture of shrimp; but because he was taking a stab at cooking, I said none of this to Jon and regretfully swallowed the slimy food. When Jon excused himself for a minute, I took a handful of shrimp and whistled for Tumbles, who sniffed the contents in my hand. With one gulp, Tumbles relieved me of my only burden that night. The hardest part was over, and I scooped more pasta onto my plate, pretending I was enjoying all aspects of the meal.
We’d talked about a myriad of things over our three-hour dinner. Because I avoided my plate, I did a lot of the chatting. I brought up some peculiar encounters I’d had in my ninth grade PE class. Jon and I both had the same teacher during different years, and we laughed aloud about his eccentricities.
“I feel like my high school experience is full of crazy stories,” I said.
“Mine too. But they mostly surround you.”
“You just met me.”
“You make quite an impression.”
“Are you excited to hear back from Harvard?” I asked, trying to shift gears.
“Yes,” he said, his smile broadening. “I’ve been waiting for this my whole life, so it’s insane that the journey is almost over.”
“Are you sure you’re making the right choice?”
“I’ve known since I was seven that it’s my dream. I just hope it works out. I don’t know what else I’d do.”
I waited for him to come up with different things to discuss, and we talked about other personal stories as we finished our pasta. In between bites of ice cream in the unlit kitchen, we’d delved into more serious issues pertaining to our lives. Against one of the kitchen cabinets, Jon spoke of the financial struggles his family suffered when his family first started the firms. Up until Jon’s freshman year of high school, they were always on a tight budget and barely made ends meet. He’d spent a lot of his childhood eating Kraft macaroni and cheese, not because he loved it, but because it was inexpensive. Things changed dramatically in the early 2000s, when they were able to buy whatever they pleased, and more.
While we were on the subject of adversity, I brought up my relocation from southern California to Scotts Valley and mentioned the devastation I felt when my parents considered going back right before I started high school.
“We got really close to moving to San Diego,” I said. “They said we could get a bigger house there and promised me a swimming pool, but I still wasn’t sold. Even though I got bullied a lot up north, I really didn’t want to leave the Bay Area. I liked it so much more than So Cal.”
“I’m glad you stayed,” Jon said, accepting my hug. I had to stand on my tiptoes to be eye level with him. At 5’8,” I was Lady Bigfoot compared to most girls my age, so I loved that Jon towered over me.
“I know. I got to meet you,” I said. I hadn’t intended to say that at all, but it was what came out.
After a muffled giggle, Jon let out a deep sigh.
“God, I love you,” he whispered, hugging me tighter.
“I love you, too,” I said after a pause.
I’d known I loved him since the Meat and Greet, when he captivated an entire room with his political speech, generosity, unassuming personality, and ambitious presence. I wondered if he could feel my heart pounding against his chest as we held each other, motionless. Though he squeezed me once again, I felt as if the room was spinning and that I was seconds away from falling backward. What was keeping me on my feet, I did not know. I stared at my reflection in the window across the room. Though I could only see my eyes, my forehead, and the back of Jon’s suit, I kept looking at the two of us, watching the scene as though we were characters in a movie. It certainly felt like one.
We pulled apart, saying nothing. Jon led me to his front door, and I was more than a little disappointed that a kiss hadn’t come with the “I love you” package. I thought the two went hand in hand, but I’d only been part of the love club for about a minute, so my expectations on the matter were bound to be off. The night wasn’t over, though. He still had his chance once he dropped me off at the front door of my house, I decided, and I smirked at how cliché the possibility was. Could the night be any more predictable?
One hand on the wheel and the other on my knee, Jon backed out of his driveway. We hummed and bobbed our heads to The Doors’s “Love Me Two Times” until we reached the third stop sign on Jon’s two-way road. Without explanation, he slammed on his brakes, flinging the both of us forward.
“Sorry, but we have to go back to my house quickly. I forgot one thing,” he said, putting the Prius in reverse.
We re-entered the house and Jon closed the front door slowly, eyeing the stairs that led straight up to his parents’ bedroom. Their door was closed, so I felt we’d have privacy for whatever it was that Jon was about to give me.
With his arm around my shoulder, Jon led me into the kitchen, and by the telephone were two brown rubber bands. Upon snatching them up, he yanked a bouquet of roses from the vase in the middle of the kitchen table and wrapped up the flowers into a bundle. No freaking way.
“These are for you, my lady,” he said.
“Thank you,” I yelled before throwing my arms around his neck. I knew then that our perfect moment had finally arrived. Eyeing my reflection in the window once more, I grinned, mentally preparing myself for what was next.
After we pulled away, our foreheads touched and we stared at each other. Jon smiled, seeming to know exactly what I wanted him to do. It was just a peck at first, barely even that. Neither of us knew what we were doing, and for this reason alone, I kept my eyelids slightly open at first. Jon went in again for a longer lasting kiss and we stayed like that for about 15 seconds. I did a victory dance in my head, relieved to have finally kissed somebody after seeing all my friends do it for years.
Jon, I decided right then and there, was well worth the wait. I fought the urge to smile, as I didn’t want him to know just how dazzled and love struck I was. Though he seemed to be walking on air as well, I didn’t care to spoil our fun with over eagerness. I opened my eyes to check for his parents, both of whom were nowhere in sight. Jon’s eyes stayed closed, so I shut mine before he could catch me peeking.
“Let’s go,” he said, backing away. We strolled back to the car in silence, our hands entwined.
“You know, Jon, you were just my first kiss,” I said once we were on the freeway and The Doors’s “Light My Fire” had begun to play.
“And you were mine,” he said, offering his right hand, which I held onto for the duration of the ride home. I squealed, not even bothering to veil my thrill any longer.
We didn’t have to say anything else that night. Instead, we spent the next hour by my burning fireplace, stroking each other’s hair and repeating “I love you” over and over again. It was getting late and we had school the next day, but we stayed downstairs, soaking up our night of many firsts. We’d waited a considerable amount of time to have our first kiss, and not only did we experience it together, but on our first Valentine’s Day as well as the day we confessed the love we felt for each other. Everything about that evening belonged in a movie, but unlike the films I worshipped, Jon and I didn’t seem to have our happy ending.
A year later, we couldn’t even exchange a simple “hello.” How could he willingly push me away after everything we’d experienced together? How was it possible that the same person with whom I’d shared so much wanted nothing to do with me? To him, I was a nuisance of the past he just couldn’t shake off.
© Copyright Laura Donovan 2013