To have and, like, to hold
For eighth graders, Jessica and Mike have had their share of experience in love. Asked to count their past relationships, they realize they have both reached the double digits. Off the top of his head, Mike knows how many girlfriends he has had.
"Fourteen," he says after taking a sip of his chocolate milk shake at Steak 'n Shake. "Swear to God."
Jessica has to do some math. Steve was her first flame, in fifth grade. Later, there was that guy who thought they were going out but she never knew it, so she doesn't count him. Then there was the guy who was involved in the kissing accident.
Dinner time is cuddle time for Jessica and Mike who dine out at Steak 'n Shake on a date. Their friend Meghan Dempster shares the booth, though they don't seem to notice.
[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
"He didn't actually bite my tongue," she says. "He just scraped it."
In all, she has had 10 relationships, most of them lasting only a couple weeks. "That's my usual -- two weeks," she says, then turns to Mike and grins. "You got lucky."
Her count of 10 includes the first time she and Mike hooked up, back in the sixth grade.
He asked her out -- that is, asked her to go steady -- over lunch in the school cafeteria. Twelve days later they had their only real date, at an after-school dance. They arrived separately and paid 50 cents each to get in.
The afternoon did not go well for Jessica, who expected Mike to slow-dance with her, or at least acknowledge her existence. He did neither.
"I was just all aggravated with him," Jessica says.
Afterward, they went with some friends to Astro Skate Center in Tarpon Springs, where he continued to neglect her. Well, there's only so much a 12-year-old woman can take. She decided she would break up with him the next day.
But Mike had made a decision of his own. Jessica and Mike were skating on opposite sides of the rink when Mike's friend Steve -- Jessica's fifth-grade boyfriend -- skated over to talk to her.
"He came up to me and said, "Yo, Mike doesn't want to go out anymore,' " she says, rolling her eyes.
Now, at Steak 'n Shake, Mike tries to defend himself. "I knew she was gonna dump me the next day, so I got to her first."
Jessica smirks. "Yeah. Whatever."
She exacted her revenge the next year, in seventh grade. She flirted with him incessantly in hopes he would become interested in her again. It worked.
"He'd ask me out and I'd say, "Nope!' " she recounts gleefully.
Her attitude changed this year. Once, in September, they talked on the phone late into the night. Near the end of the conversation, Mike asked her if she wanted to go out with him. She said she would tell him the next day after school.
"But I had volleyball practice that night, so I had to wait an extra two hours," Mike says. "She made me wait the whole day."
Jessica the secret agent slayer
Jessica and Mike are spending a rainy afternoon in Mike's bedroom, with the door open as always. House rule. Other 14-year-old kids are having babies or doing what it takes to get them, but Jessica and Mike are in a simpler time of life, one filled with talking and wondering but not with doing, not yet.
|You can e-mail staff writer
Katherine Gazella at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please add your thoughts to our guestbook
To hear an audio clip from Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive, go to www.amazon.com, click on music, and enter these search terms: Gloria Gaynor anthology.
www.buffy.com ... the official site of the TV show, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
www.steaknshake.com ... Jessica and Mike's favorite restaurant.
At this moment they are surrounded by all the things that matter to a 13-year-old boy: posters of Michael Jordan, his tongue wagging, his body defying physics. On the dresser is a gift from Jessica: A Halloween photograph of the couple dressed as Sandy and Danny from Grease
, with the words "I love you Chubby" painted on the frame. Pictures of Sarah Michelle Gellar, who plays the title character on TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer
, adorn three of Mike's walls. There's Buffy on the cover of YM
magazine, Buffy on a motorcycle, Buffy with big devil horns and blacked-out teeth. The last one was altered by Jessica.
Jessica and Mike sit side by side on Mike's twin bed, playing the Nintendo 64 game GoldenEye 007, which involves secret agents. Jessica barely knows how to play, and Mike, an expert, is taking advantage of that.
"Hey, wait, which one am I?" Jessica asks. "You keep changing the controls! Am I the guy on the top or on the bottom?"
Seconds later, her secret agent dies. She was, as it turns out, the character at the top of the screen -- the one that was blown to pieces by Mike's secret agent.
"No fair!" Jessica says.
They elbow each other, pout and giggle, delighting in this perfect moment when being together is all that matters. And why shouldn't they enjoy it? Someday, whether or not they stay together, things will be far more complicated for Jessica and Mike. If they're like most people, sooner or later they'll build up a little scar tissue on their hearts. It's a hard thing, getting together and staying there. Just ask Jessica's mom. And yet you see Jessica and Mike and it gives you hope, if you didn't have it already.
Yes, things will be hard. But for now, this is the way it should be: lighthearted and carefree and set to the rat-a-tat-tat soundtrack of a video game shooting match.
After a while, Jessica and Mike put on their shoes to go outside. When Mike bends over to tie his sneakers, Jessica grabs one of the controls and slaughters his unsuspecting secret agent.
Mike lets out a yelp. "Oh! No way!" he shouts.
He gently strangles her, then puts her in a headlock. She pats his stomach and says, "I'm sorry, Chubby."
And with that, all is forgiven.