What’s summer without a hot new author? Kris Dinnison’s debut YA novel, “You and Me and Him,” just released last month from Houghton Mifflin. It’s about two outsider friends who both crush on the new guy in their small town. It’s a captivating story of music, friendship, and making amends. Here’s a short story from Kris to give you a taste of her writing!
By Kris Dinnison
The first one was a sneak attack. I stood up after a successful penny-drop off the monkey bars and ginger-haired Patrick Doyle from Mrs. Fish’s first grade class pursed his lips and hit the side of my face with them. It was something more akin to a head-butt than a kiss. Then he ran away screaming, forever cementing my obsession with redheads.
My second kiss was more tender but less innocent. At Christie Patterson’s eighth birthday party, while we played hide and seek in the darkening yard, a neighbor, an older boy whose name I don’t remember, led me around the side of the house. He said we would hide together, but instead he pressed me against the clapboard siding, pressed his tongue into my mouth. When they couldn’t find me, my name echoed in the yard and the boy melted into the dark bushes, putting a finger over his lips. I never told.
Kiss number three came after a long dry spell typical of the elementary years. My body grew breasts and hips and learned to bleed, while I played Marco Polo at the local pool and spent long afternoons immersed in books and or hunting snakes and lizards with my brother and his friends. I dreamed of being a writer, never imagining my body would mutate, changing things in ways I’d never anticipated. But when fifth grade started, as we sat on the floor listening to Mrs. Sandusky read “The Hobbit,” Steven Palamino snapped my bra strap and everyone laughed. That spring, at my first girl boy party, Steven spun the bottle and it landed on me. He tasted like pepperoni and breath mints and salt.
That summer, Christie Patterson’s grandpa said we could help him with some yard work. While Christie was in the bathroom, Grandpa Jim said he wanted to show me something in his study. He shut the door and showed me photos of women who weren’t wearing clothes, who posed like they were trying to show you all their skin and also everything else too. Jim flipped through the pictures and said “Aren’t they beautiful? Aren’t they just gorgeous?” I was confused and I didn’t like the pictures, but it was Grandpa Jim, so I smiled and tried to be polite. Suddenly the door burst open and Christie was there saying “There you are! I’m not going to do all the work out there.” As she bustled me out of the room, Jim grabbed us both in a hug and covered our faces with kisses as he always did. But now I could smell onions on his breath, and I noticed his yellowing teeth. For a long time I didn’t count that kiss, convincing myself it belonged with the pecks on the cheek my Aunt Julie gave me, or the playful buzzing neck kisses my godfather always greeted me with. But later, after Christie told me what Jim had done to her, what he really was, his kisses morphed into something else. I wasn’t sure what to do that kiss, but it seemed to count even if I didn’t want it to. So that became kiss number four.
Five through about a hundred were with Erik Swan from swim team. Another redhead. We lingered in the hallway between the pool and the locker rooms, waiting for the others to head to the warm showers. Shivering in our suits, eyes red from chlorine and goggles, we warmed each other with kisses and talked about things we wanted and hoped for. One time he led me around the dark corner of the YMCA building, and I thought briefly of kiss number two. But I was older now, and Eric was my boyfriend, although we went to different schools and rarely saw each other outside of practice and swim meets. We leaned against the wall of the building, mashing our mouths together in earnest. It was our first time kissing fully clothed, but it felt more urgent somehow. When I heard someone yell my ride was there, I broke away from Erik and ran around the corner of the building. In the dark I didn’t see the tree branch, so I hit it at full speed. My face was bruised and I was embarrassed and things cooled off with Erik after that. It was only a few weeks before he broke up with me to go with my friend Jill, who was also on the team. Riding to our next meet, I watched them in the rearview mirror as they held hands, Jill’s head on Erik’s shoulder.
That summer I turned 14 and my grandma turned 75. My older cousins drove up from California for her birthday. That night I sat in the dark on her crumbling back porch alone, listening to the adults get silly on Bourbon and Fresca. My cousin, another Eric, stumbled towards the hedge to pee. When he saw me, he made his unsteady way to the porch and sat down next to me. He made me laugh then nuzzled my neck, swirling his fingers in a slow circle lower on my back than anyone had ever touched me. “We should be kissing cousins,” he whispered in my ear. He brushed his clumsy lips against my cheek then, breathing out cigarettes and something else, something pungent and skunky. I stood and helped him back around the house, handing him off to his younger brother, Joe. When Joe asked me about it the next day, I didn’t tell him.
The next couple hundred kisses didn’t matter. There was a movie-theater make-out session with a boy I hoped to bring to Jesus by inviting him to my youth group. He never came to church and I never kissed a boy at the movies again. There was the overnight orchestra trip where I sat in the back seats and kissed someone else’s boyfriend under his windbreaker. With his coat draped over us, it felt like nobody knew what we were doing until my older brother plucked the coat from our heads and made me come sit with him instead. There were kisses goodnight after dances, and a few drunken kisses at parties. There was a long list of boys I wanted to kiss but who didn’t want to kiss me back, and a much shorter list of boys who wanted to kiss me that I didn’t want to kiss.
The first kiss I felt all over happened long after I stopped counting. Red-headed Mark Bronson’s homecoming invitation included the football game the night before. He was a year older so he drove, and on the way home from the game he parked his car and we talked and talked and talked and kissed and kissed and kissed and for the first time I understood what a kiss could lead to. It thrilled me. It terrified me. It made me break up with Mark after only a few weeks even though I liked him and he liked me and we both liked the kissing. I told him on New Year’s Eve. Nobody kissed me at midnight.
I was in college before anyone kissed me again. Grant Fairwood was just a friend until suddenly, while typing papers in my room one night, he was more than that. I wanted him to kiss me everywhere: everywhere we went and everywhere on my body and everywhere in the world and all the time. Then one morning, after a long evening of kissing, he met me at breakfast and told me we needed to talk. His ex-girlfriend, who had driven across the state to win him back, won him back. My heart fell out of my mouth and landed in my scrambled eggs, and I spent weeks cleaning the remnants of that breakfast off it. I swore off kisses. I also swore off History Majors and scrambled eggs.
Until I met Sean Kenning. I wanted to kiss him from the first time I saw his mouth. There was nothing I could put my finger on except for the lightning striking my brain every time we stood in the same room. I was sure he could see my ridiculous scramble egg-stained heart beating on my ridiculous sleeve. But instead of kissing me, he kissed other people. People I knew, people he didn’t even like, people who were not me. Until one day, while sitting at a stoplight, Sean Kenning laced his fingers through mine, and leaned across the gearshift of his shitty car, and put his beautiful lips on my beautiful lips and we kissed a beautiful kiss that went on and on and on: one day and forever ago, and thousands of kisses and forever from now.
Kris Dinnison spent nearly two decades as a teacher and librarian, while dreaming of becoming a writer. She lives in Spokane, Washington her husband and a geriatric cat named Moon Pie. Her first novel, “You and Me and Him,” came out July 7, 2015 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.