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Five Kisses That Didn't Count and One That Did

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My first kiss didn't count. Not when it blindsided me. So suddenly it came. We were just playing games, horsing around. Being held down and being kissed by a boy you don't like probably didn't look like a game from the outside. And definitely would've been way worse if any of us had been older.

But it was a game. A stupid game, gross game that is much more cruel years later when I look back at it, but it doesn't bother me as much as I think it should.

It was stupid. It was cruel. It was a game. It wasn't real. It wasn't my first kiss. It didn't count

My second kiss was more for her than it was for me. I hate that I didn't hate as much as I wish that I did. I hate that I still picture it sometimes. Even now I can still picture her lips on mine. I can still sometimes taste the pistachio ice cream.

But when I picture the moment in my head again, I'm not in the guise of a boy. The Glamor is not there. It's just me. The real me.

It was a lie, of course. One I almost made myself believe. One I wanted to believe. It made me feel gross and dirty almost as soon as it was over. I really needed that verbal beat down from Lucy.

I'm glad she was there to, metaphorically, smack sense into me. She was right. As much as I hated cutting contact with Pam, I knew it was for her own good. She didn't deserve to be tied up into some Dark Fae plot because I was an idiot.

It still hurt, though. And at the time I wondered if it would contribute to already low self-esteem. Having someone you thought was a friend suddenly not talk to you couldn't have been easy.

It was a lie. It wasn't me. It didn't count. I didn’t let it count.

The third one was not romantic at all, not in the same kind of non-romantic that the other two were. It was a kiss between friends. It was consensual. No string attached.

Verona didn't know what that term usually meant at the time. To be fair, I didn't either, but it's still something I tease her about it. How innocent she (we) were to think that a term like that would only extend to things like small kisses and cuddling.

We didn't get more than on quick peek on the lips and a bit of snuggling for warmth that night. I didn't even get a chance to accept or reject Verona's proposal to do it again without attachments, because Karma chose that moment to bite us in the ass.

After that chaotic night, and the mess that was the clean up afterward, neither of us brought up the subject again. I think Ronnie knew, even if I didn't tell her, that it wasn't what I wanted.

It was nice. I liked it, and she said she did too, but it was more a favor for a friend, an experiment, more than anything else.

No, that's not right. I guess, it was also a promise that died before it could be made. One that would be made again, properly this time.

It was for the better, I think. No one got hurt. And I think some would’ve gotten hurt if we had gone through with it back then.

It was the first kiss I didn't regret. In a way, it was more real to me than the others. But it's not the kiss I would've wanted.

It didn't count either.

The fourth kiss made me want to wash out my mouth with mud.

Maricica had won. She got everything she wanted, just like she wanted, and paid no real price for it. Instead, it was up to everyone else to bear the brunt of her actions. It didn’t feel fair. It wasn’t fair. We beat Musser. We beat his lords. We overcame every Other and Practitioner who got in our way until that point.

It wasn’t always a perfect victory, sometimes we lost some things and someone, but we won more often than we lost. We scrapped and fought and struggled for each and every victory for so many years. And even then it wasn’t enough. Even then, Maricica still dealt us our greatest defeat. Took the most from us than anyone else had.

And it was at the height of her victory, while basking in the afterglow of her greatest triumph that she took something else from me.

Her new form appeared as a girl our age that danced on moonbeams with a long dark dress and in her eyes held the power and experienced that a dark fae of her previous caliber should have, but which was very much not of the fae, not even the smallest connections between the two remained.

I was stunned by both overwhelming misery and regrets, so many regrets that I didn’t even really notice when it happened. I hadn’t noticed when she seemed to glide her way towards me. And I don’t remember what it was she said to me. I just about remember her tone of voice, teasing and so very much pleased with herself.

The next thing I knew, her lips were on mine.

We never saw Maricia again. Part of me is glad we didn’t. Another, bigger part of me wishes we could stop her from hurting anyone else.

That kiss did not count. I couldn’t let it count. I wouldn’t let it count. Not for her.

The fifth kiss I didn't see coming until just before it happened. In hindsight, I should've seen it coming earlier. The signs were there.

It started with a call, one that reached me all the way to the Paths thanks to an upgraded cell phone, courtesy of Zed.

I rolled my eyes and changed directions. I was chased by no less than five incarnations that night, because of that phone call. Annoying.

It was past midnight when I came out the othe rside. For the bartender looking after Fernanda Whitt it couldn't have had been more than 15 minutes after she made that call. It didn't matter if I had entered the Paths all the way across an entire ocean, and I'd never been to Paris before then. It didn't matter that it actually took me an hour to reach my destination inside the Paths. Magic was funny that way.

I expected Fernanda to be shit faced drunk. I didn't expect her to literally throw herself at me. I was startled, and it was only thanks to my Practice enchanted reflexes that my estranged friend and one time ally didn't end up smacking her face on the ground that night.

It's not how I expected to see her again after those years. . . After everything that happened with Musser. With Kennet. With the Lords.

I thanked the bartender, and apologized for Fernanda, and found her car in the parking lot. I had to burn some resources I would've rather had saved, but at least I found my way back to her apartment without any issue.

She was acting funny all the way there. Talking about how I was ignoring her, and how I still talked Liberty and Zed, but not her. I knew she probably wouldn't remember any or it the next day, but I still felt like I had to defend myself.

I cringed any time she just threw out an opportunity to gainsay her. This is why we avoided drugs and alcohol. The Fernanda Whitt I remembered wouldn't have been that sloppy. She was too smart to say the things she was saying. Or at least let anyone, not matter who it was, catch her saying them.

She fell asleep sometime before we got to her apartment, so I made sure to tuck her in before I tried to leave, but before I could she caught my arm, and I was so caught off guard that even drunk she had pulled just hard enough to bring me down to her bed right next to her.

She started crying and ranting about her family. About how no matter how hard she had tired she still ended up being sold off for political power to another Practitioner family. I didn't know how to respond. I remembered how much she had dreaded this exact situation back when we were younger. And now that possible future she had tried to avoid was becoming a reality.

I felt pity for her. And anger at myself for not keeping contact with her. At her family for doing this. For turning her into this slobbering, drunk mess of a person.

I tried to comfort her, but I wasn’t sure if anything I had said helped at all.

She said she didn't want her first kiss to be with a man twice her age who she didn't even know, and then, then she looked at me with those eyes. She started to lean forward slowly, but relaxed her grip on me, a way out. I had enough time to make a decision, and I leaned forward, meeting her halfway.

Her breath didn’t taste like alcohol. I thought it wouldn’t. I realized what she was trying to do when we laid there on her bed, when I noticed the dead squirrel smell that comes from people who get this drunk wasn’t actually coming from her. It wasn’t glamor, but it was close enough. 

I still wonder how much of what she said when “drunk” was the truth, and how much was some sort of test, to see if I would take advantage of her in one of several ways. Later made sure to check that what she said about her engagement wasn’t also some sort of trick. It wasn’t.

I didn’t go to her wedding. I thought it would make things awkward. Besides, from what I heard she got a wedding present just fine. I’m glad she was smart enough to open it before the ceremony. I couldn’t give her the relationship she wanted from me, but I gave her what she really wanted. A way out. Funny enough, something similar to what Maricica had done to escape her Fae nature with her Self intact, but different enough that it didn’t require the sacrifices or time she had invested into her plot.

That kiss did not count either. It was just another favor for a friend. A friend I had failed, who I needed to make right with. Another lie in its own sense.

Lucy had a little boy. A sweet little thing she named Jamie. Both Verona and I were named as his godmothers, a position that took on a more tangible meaning with the Practice involved. Ronnie and I got married the previous year. It wasn’t anything romantic. It just made both our lives a little easier in some ways.

Oaths were made. Promises were struck. A Ritual was devised. It was to help stall his declining health in the future, or in the best case scenario outright stop it. It also offered protection against any curses he could "accidentally"  invoke on himself, and served as a buffer for any possible future Forswearing that could happen. Maybe we were being a little paranoid. We’ve made a lot of allies in our time, but also many enemies and gotten tangled in more than one Practitioner political web.

We had made ourselves targets. Too big to be messed with by most, but those that did have that kind power to throw around were. . . Concerning. So maybe it was for nothing, but if we had learned anything, it was that it was better to be safe than sorry. To give yourself every possible weapon, ammunition, and safeguard you could afford. And that you should expect your enemies to do the same.

It was one Christmas Eve when Jamie gave his parents, Ronnie and I a kiss on the cheek that it hit me.

In the end, I never got those five girlfriends Verona used to joke about. But I did have my friends. My family. My friends who had become my family.

It wasn't the ideal future, I had Invision so long ago when the three of us first Awoke together and hadn’t yet truly known how in over our heads we really were. But I wasn't that same girl who was desperate for a connection, any connection, anymore. I hadn't been for many years.

I was happy. That kiss, I let it count. He was a good kid. It was nice. Being an aunt wasn’t so bad.