One or the Other


“Hey,” I said.

“You wanna go with me?” It was Henry, the new kid. He was nice and cute, but kinda weird. He had caught up with me on our second Friday afternoon since the start of school, just as I was unlocking my bike to ride home.

This is off-topic, but have you ever noticed how kid bikes are way meatier than adult bikes? And awesomer? (Yeah, I know awesomer isn’t a word. It should be.) Mine was dark blue with hints of deep purple and pink and splattered with glittery sparkles. It was fast and sturdy, and it looked it. No kickstand (I mean, come on), no tassels, no goofy flag on the back. Just pure girl-power, take-over-the-world, pedaled transportation. With the right tires I could storm the beach heads of a Milan fashion show on this baby. On a sunny weekend morning, a leisurely whip around the block could turn heads and stop traffic. No adult bike could do that.

Back to Henry.

“Go where?” I asked, not quite out of It’s the weekend! mode and into Stop and talk to people mode.

“Um…well…you know, just…like, go with me.” He paused, expectantly.

“Oh.” I think my face looked like one of those old pictures I saw in a movie once where you’d snap the shot and the camera would spit out a little square and slowly, slowly an image would appear. “Do we have to kiss?” I asked.

“Huh? No, I don’t think so…unless, I guess, if you want to.” Henry was ten, much too young for me. But I felt sorry for him because his parents named him Henry. But he was cute.

“I dunno. If I feel like it I’ll let you know.”

We stood there uncomfortably for a moment. Then, “So…is that a yes?”


Henry smiled. It was the awkward smile of an innocent boy. Our relationship lasted three days. I saw him exactly three times, all of them at recess on the Monday after he had asked me out. It was hard to break his heart. I mean, he’s a nice guy and, as I mentioned, pretty cute, but I just could not live with the…um…charade. It was like I was robbing the cradle and it was awfully awkward. Would you want to be going with somebody that seemed like he was still a child to you? (My mom said she’s married to just such a person, but I don’t know if she was serious.) It’s weird, right?

I learned something, though. It was our third recess as a couple (after the morning break and lunch period). We had avoided each other for most of it, but now it was time to go to the door and line up to go inside. Henry caught me just as I getting off the swing. He tapped me on the shoulder.

“Hi,” he said.


“So…um…how was recess?”

“Good,” I replied.

“I guess it’s time to go in,” he said in that goofy way that really means I don’t know what to say.


We both paused. I wasn’t sure what he wanted, but I figured it was probably a kiss.

“Are you hoping for a smooch?”

“What?!” he nearly yelled.

“You’re hanging around thinking that you can kiss me because I’m your girlfriend but you’re too inexperienced to know how to go about it so you’re just standing there looking like you’ve had a brain cloud and displaying the conversational wittiness of a tree stump. Am I right?”

“You are…so, like…”

“‘Right.’ The word you are looking for is ‘right.’”


“So do you want to kiss me?” I demanded.


“All right, then. Give it your best shot.”

“Ok, I will.”

“Whenever you’re ready.” He leaned in a little. “Closer. A little closer.”

“You’re distracting me,” he complained.

“I’m sorry. You’re right. Try not to think about how this is the first time either of us is going to get kissed and how we’ll always remember the awkwardness and sweetness and fleeting innocence of it. Just pucker up and-”

He kissed me. Well, “kiss” is a bit optimistic. He sort of head-butted me. Don’t get me wrong; I liked it. But it wasn’t the most comfortable thing I’ve ever felt.

“You call that a kiss?” I said.

“Well, what do you call it?” he demanded.

“I say that was pretty weak. Let me show you how it’s done.”

Then I kissed him. Well, again, “kissed” may not be the right word. You see, even though I am not a kid anymore, that doesn’t mean that I know everything that grown-ups know, and that includes kissing.

So I slobbered. I’ve seen movies, and I thought I knew how it was done.

“That wasn’t right” he said.

I nodded. “Maybe we should break up,” I suggested. “You know they say that if the chemistry isn’t right, it’s just not right.”


“Thanks for trying. And for the kisses.”

“Sure.” He paused. “Emma?”


“What’s chemitsry?”

And so I learned: Don’t go with boys that have small vocabularies and don’t know how to kiss. One or the other is fine, but both is a deal-breaker.