Neither he nor she was prepared for it, that kiss. Oh, they knew it was going to come; in fact, it was some weeks into their relationship overdue. They sensed its presence, always hovering in the background, darting in then veering wildly away like an indecisive butterfly in a garden full of temptations, but neither was prepared to be the instigator. Something between them, within each, knew that that the moment was not yet arrived, yet arrive it surely would, in the fullness of time, and each knew it individually; both understood it collectively.
Romance ? the sweet-painful social evolutions ? had been observed. Like water-birds, they danced upon the surface of it, dived occasionally below the surface of it, took off and landed upon it, but always properly choreographed to protect each from the other, from a move of commitment, a getting too close to that inevitability.
They dated, which is to say that they met and shared food and drink, attended entertainments, spoke with increasing familiarity each to the other. And they danced.
They danced in each other's arms to music heavy with violins and smelling of the past: those halcyon days which neither was old enough to have experienced, remembered, when men and women on black-and-white celluloid dipped and twirled, waltzed, tangoed, managed instinctively the subtle guides which allowed two to dance as one.
And they were readers, this pair. Each had learned how to live vicariously through the printed word, to so subjugate one's self that the author takes control and the work comes alive in the mind. Because they shared a common taste in literature they more quickly than should be supposed evolved into a couple with hundreds of plots, thousands of words, millions of small nameless clues and understatements individually acquired and now mutually shared which invisibly wove their lives together in a tapestry of shared history, to which neither had experienced but both accepted within themselves.
But they were not twins ? identical or otherwise ? they each held the strong opinions that are the hallmark of keen intellect. Each was able to hold forth at length in defense of personal freedom of belief, but never to dominate; more to compliment and complement the other.
And for a month and more, it floated just above their heads, the kiss, its presence like the something seen from the corner of the eye, only to disappear when stared at head-on. Now a month, in the schedule of mankind's presumed threescore and ten, is such a tiny wedge to be afforded much importance in one's personal history that it scarce bears mention ? except for the issue of the kiss ? which they both feared and welcomed. Would its capture, its mutuality of submission and domination set alight that miniscule slice of life like an atomic explosion, blinding onlookers and killing the participants, driving them apart, away, far up into the atmosphere; or would it be a hot fusion, forever ending their divisibility and pulling all inwards from three dimensions? Because they were young they could not know, could not even guess at the answer.
Young they were, she and he, both in years and experience, despite their second-hand education through the words of others and they kept their distance from the uncertainty of the kiss, knowing that Never-Never- Land would soon be closing its gates and they would be expelled outwards from their Eden to begin acquiring the scars of time and the calluses of pain. By some undiscussed agreement he and she, each and both, knew that they would be together during this ejectment, sharing the moment when myth becomes reality and literature becomes life.
She admired him, her chosen companion for the sweet death of childhood, in ways that told her she was a woman waiting to emerge from her cocoon of gossamer silken girlhood. She admired his inner confidence, his growing strength both emotional and physical, that took her breath away when she dared examine it in detail. He appeared to her as a young god, beautiful to behold, thrilling in the chase as she led him willy-nilly through the enchanted forest of her imagination.
He thought of her more frequently now, aware of her transformation and his response to it. He sensed the approach of the kiss not in night-long fantasies of pursuit and capture but in daydreams of his moment of becoming a hero, an ability to protect and defend what he knew she was becoming.
And that kiss, that first step out of the garden for them both, took strength from all these thoughts and dreams. It grew in form not size, slowly materializing in the narrowing space between them. Had they been able to see it with their eyes instead of their hearts, they would have known it as a burning bush from which, inevitably, the voice of God would issue.
No spring can be forever wound, no cup forever filled; time was the enemy of their childhood, could they but know it and spring and summer were nearly extinct before their coming together through that kiss could be held at arm's length a day longer.
The day of the kiss arrived in a circus-pink dawn, redolent with promise. Grapes hung heavy on the vine. The instinct for harvesting, for ingathering and hoarding-up had begun to stir. Hand in hand, as was their custom, they marched through ripe meadows and in passing scattered the seeds of the future crop unknowingly as they passed.
They sought height, unknowingly yet surely as if following a map ? they strove to overcome gravity as they moved ever upwards from hill to rise, until they paused to gaze down at the townfull of innocents and initiates spread below them. Bees seemed to buzz constantly, but there were no bees. A subtle shifting of the fingers, a clasp not more powerful than before but with an intense intimacy came to be.
The crest of the hill led downwards, opposite the town, to a small glade where water flowed and tinkled a symphony of welcome, where the deepest greens of life and love waiting to be taken lay in wait. But they lingered on the crest, each lost in their respective reveries of bidding good-bye to toy soldiers and baby dolls. The sun cast no shadow as they stood thus, and for half of an hour they kissed childhood on the lips in their minds. She felt the tears well in her eyes; he knew he could not speak past the ache in his chest and throat.
As one, in perfect unison, they turned to each other, his gaze and hers locked in mutual accord. They stood thus, and without knowing it he took her other hand in his. When at last their shadows reappeared they laid arms around waists and gently, oh so softly, accepted the invitation of the brook.
They sat side-by-side, he and she, their backs to a great tree, she to his left, he to her right.
They did not talk, but spoke with their eyes and their hands. He reached without intent, to trace a line down her nose. She cupped the angle of his jaw to stroke at the pulse in his neck. There was neither heat nor cold within them. Anticipation comes without temperature the first time, and when waiting is fulfilled, simply melts away.
Each locked eyes with the other, hers waiting to be taken, his waiting to protect her trust as he took.
The kiss came at last, the first kiss between these two.
It was not his first kiss, nor would it be his last; it was his most perfect kiss, the memory of which would remain fresh all of his life.
Likewise, she had been kissed before, but she herself had never kissed, and she somehow knew that this kiss, from him, would remain with her always, come-what-may.
Their lips met without haste or apology. He felt warm and safe to her; she felt cool and refreshing to him. For perhaps a minute they simply breathed in each other. The brook fell silent.
Then, with neither embarrassment nor pride, their lips parted simultaneously and they tasted their friendship anew. She liked the feel of his young cheeks mildly, gently rough in her hand. He marveled at how soft her face felt to his touch. She imagined he tasted slightly of cinnamon and cotton candy. He imagined she tasted of vanilla ice cream and honey.
Their Kiss ? that kiss which had waited so long to be born grew in them, possessed them completely. She clasped her arms about his neck, marveling as she did so at the swollen muscles of his arms and shoulders, and she shuddered gently. His skin seemed to glow, every fine hair erect and vibrating as he realized that here in his arms was a surrender so pure, so total, that his breathing became painful.
This kiss of theirs dominated them completely, radiating inwards and downwards ? for her in rolling waves like an ocean, piling higher and higher on an incoming tide ? for him with a growing heaviness that screamed through his lower body like the sound of a base cello building to some unexpected crescendo.
They had no need to couple, for hands or feet or anything beyond the power of that long-delayed but now-come kiss. The kiss was sufficient unto itself, repaying friendship, promising love and all the while rushing through their blood madly, leaving a trail of bubbles they could feel.
For perhaps a quarter of an hour they sat thus until the Kiss told them, whispered to them, for him to kiss her neck and for her to gently tease his ear with her breath. By mutual agreement both savored the effects of just that kiss. He felt ten feet tall, unaccountably strong and immensely heavy in the loins, while she gave in to the sleepy lethargy following the crashing of those waves and the sweet aches in her badges of womanhood.
They lay for some time, chastely touching faces, hands, arms, shoulders, all the while looking in the other's eyes for evidence of what had occurred.
They came into the sunlight again with a newer, deeper understanding of themselves and each other. At the crest of the hill they looked down with fresh insight at the town below. This time he took her hand purposefully, confidently, firmly, and they began that long, long walk back to take up their lives in the presence of others.
And as they walked a new dignity attended them. The field parted before them as they tramped the seeds they had earlier scattered into the waiting earth. And they laughed. Oh, how they laughed, each at the other and both together at the outside world ? for now there would always be outsiders to what they had shared, and it made them happy.
And what of the Kiss that had waited so long to be born? Because it had been valued, given the highest place of honor on this day between them, because they had allowed it to melt into them instead of being hammered in with an unnecessary and peremptory urgency, these two lucky people preserved ever after the ability to carry it forward into their future unblemished, undiminished and untarnished.