Publishing rights just reverted back to me after the February publication. If anyone missed it here it is again.
First Kiss – featured in Montana Mouthful Vol I – February 15, 2018
by Brett Ramseyer
While I sat in a Yakeley dorm room, McQuetta pulled my t-shirt away from my neck like a rubber band she intended to shoot across the room. She peered down at my chest ogling what she saw there. She apparently undressed me with her eyes so she thought why not use her hands.
I clutched my neckline like a beauty queen back stage at a Trump pageant despite being a white boy. Being objectified by a six foot tall black woman I didn’t know with double F breasts was a little intimidating and quite a first month welcome to my freshman year at Michigan State. The elastic of my neck hole snapped back and sagged, forever changed.
McQuetta laughed with her mouth wide open and head back. She spoke at a volume more suited to calling across vast open spaces of a church than the close proximity of dorm life. I lived two halls over in Campbell, but visited the all women’s dorm with regularity to see new friends I met there in the main cafeteria of West Circle.
When she released my shirt that first meeting and walked echoing down the long hall to her single corner room, I said, “What was that?”
They told me McQuetta.
I foundered for a frame of reference that could place her name or personality, up to that point in my life, there was none.
In a month or so, I discovered McQuetta’s corner single hosted the social hub of the second floor. Girls stopped by to microwave this, chat about that, watch Friends on Thursday nights, check their make-up in the mirror on the way to a frat party in mini-skirts and high heels or introduce their boyfriends. Quetta’s door was always open, no face a stranger. She didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t date, didn’t stray from the straight and narrow. She mother-henned us all since she was a junior in the land of freshmen and we loved her for it.
By February I called home to break my high school girlfriend’s heart. Not that I knew it then, but that news made the rounds on Yakeley 2 East before I hung up, tears in my eyes. Quetta and company consoled me with a surprise birthday party and I finally felt like I was forging a new life of my own separate from where I grew up. I belonged there and most of my weekends passed through the hub.
Many early evenings would start for me in Quetta’s room. She would run her fingers through my hair and marvel at how the white boy’s do snapped right back into place. She’d run her fingers through her own and laugh when the strands continued to stick straight out like a picture taken in the wind. In Quetta’s room late night conversations stretched into the mornings when I found that she wasn’t always so loud. She would press her forearm against mine comparing colors. My faded tan still darker brown than her cloistered long sleeve covered skin. In time I saw behind her smile to notice the loneliness her public volume hoped to hide. I loved my friend.
On some sub-zero Saturday night a circle of us sat cross-legged around a seven-fifty of Smirnoff. The drinking games were not allowed in Quetta’s house so we were well down the hall. By midnight the bottle drained. My warm face and heavy legs made everything funny. Each laugh burst through fricative lips. We fell upon each other in a ring of drunken dominoes. Resident Assistant’s ears began to prick up to the lightweight thump of underage drinkers.
Quetta stopped by to rescue me. She whispered me down the hall. “Shh Quetta, why you being so quiet? You takin’ me home?”
We wound around three flights of stairs and I looked with confusion over my shoulder as we passed underground instead of out the door. I clung to the arm of my friend. She took me to the study rooms in the bowels of the building. Quetta disappeared here when the rigors of her academic life needed to escape the social, but we didn’t have any books.
Quetta unlocked the door to which few had a key. She sat me down across from her. She faced me, her hands clasped in front of her. I smiled at her. No one would bother us down here so early in the morning.
Quetta knew about Tamara’s midnight “practice” sessions with her music professor. “I bet he accompanies her playing the one string viola.” She knew Callie lived with her unemployed, non-student boyfriend down the hall. “That fool said his first class starts at 9:25. What class you know that start at nine twenty-five?” She knew who dated whom. She knew I broke up with my girlfriend. Quetta knew she was missing something.
She told me she had never dated anyone. No one had ever asked her out. Twenty years old and she had never been kissed, not the slightest prospect. “We always talk about you,” said Quetta. She leaned forward. I squirmed in my seat under the weight of the sobering tête-à-tête. My liver kicked into high gear. My face burned. I knew what she would ask. “What would you say if I asked you to kiss me?”
I stared at my friend suddenly clear-headed, contemplating such a kiss. I looked at her lips. I could barely feel mine. Ours were two fleshy mechanisms set to different sensitivity, poised to register dual meaning from the same event. There was much to learn in the study room in the basement of Yakeley Hall, but none of it from books.
“Please don’t ask me Quetta.”
“You don’t want to.”
“I don’t want to let you down. It won’t mean for me what it does for you.”
“What if that’s okay?”
“I don’t think it is.”
“You like white girls?”
“Some of them, but it’s not about that.”
“What you think of Callie? Is she pretty?”
“She’s with Lonnie. She’s not interested in me.”
“Would you kiss her? Would it mean the same thing to both of you?”
“I-I don’t know Quetta.” I looked at the door over Quetta’s shoulder, but I stayed seated. I saw no escape for this friendship.
“Would it mean the same as you kissing me?”
I pulled my stuck tongue from the roof of my mouth. I filled my lungs. My chest that Quetta peeked at in the beginning of last semester rose and held the air. I heard the tick of boiler pipes expanding at the height of winter heating overhead.
“No,” exhausted from me like a pressure valve. I put both hands aside my face and closed my eyes. “I’d do it if you made me.
“You’re my friend Quetta. I love you. Just don’t make me.”
She smiled in one cheek, the kind that dimpled while the other did not. She placed her hands on the top of each thigh. “I love you too,” she said. She pressed down with her palms while she stood. Quetta slid her chair back under a distressed wooden table. I stood in front of her, our eyes at a level. I turned the knob and we walked in silence from our friendship down the long hall.