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First Kiss

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"I'm tellin' you the truth," exclaimed Billy Brittain, "She said she wanted to meet you at the movies Saturday afternoon!" The scene was the school grounds just after the last bell on Friday.
"Bull", snorted Jerry Langdon, "She never said that. You just made that up!"
"No, I didn't neither, and I can prove it!" Billy called to his older sister walking just ahead with two other girls. "Hey, Janie! Wait up a minute!"
Janie Brittain frowned, then slowed down so Billy and Jerry could catch up. "What do you want, little freak? If this is for a loan, Momma said not to give you any more money!"
"Aw, who wants your old money, anyway? Weren't you with me at the Dairy Treat when Peggy Mossman said she would like to meet Jerry at the movies Saturday?"
Janie stared coldly at Jerry. "Yes, she said it, although, why she would want to have anything to do with either of you little twerps is beyond me. Is that all you wanted?" Billy ignored her and she ran to catch up with her friends.
Jerry laughed and said, "She's kind of mean to you."
"Aw, she ain't mean, she just acts that way because she's sixteen and I'm fourteen. Anyway, are you gonna' believe me now?"
"Well, - - are you real sure she meant me? I never even spoke to her more than twice. Most girls don't want to be seen with me because of my face."
"You mean your zits? My mom says all boys have them and most girls, too."
"Yeah, but I've got mine plus someone else's." They stopped in front of the large, old frame house where Jerry lived with his aunt and grandfather. "I guess I better get inside and hit the books. You wanta' come in?"
"Naw, I'm goin' to the football game tonight, so I have to get all my chores done or Dad won't let me go. You goin'?"
"Not likely! You know how much trouble I'm in with Miz Barger in history class. Besides," Jerry laughed and said, "I have to be finished in time to go to the movies tomorrow afternoon."
Billy laughed, then turned and skipped down the sidewalk singing, "Har, har! Jerry's got a girlfriend, Jerry's got a girlfriend."
* * *
Studying proved difficult for Jerry that night, although he did finally plow through the chapters Mrs. Barger had assigned him. He ate little supper and, when asked why, he just mumbled something about not being hungry. He sure wasn't going to tell Aunt Josephine about Peggy Mossman, because she would just make fun of him. She had a good heart, but she wasn't his mom. After listening to his favorite radio programs, Jerry crawled into bed and hoped he would dream about Peggy.
Saturday morning was an eternity. He mowed the lawn, raked the clippings and the leaves, carried them to his aunt's compost pile, then swept the sidewalk and the front porch. His aunt came out to see what he was doing and exclaimed, "My land, what's got into you, boy? You've already done all the things I was going to tell you to do. Are you sick?"
Jerry looked down at his shoes, then answered, "No, ma'am, I want to finish early so I can go to the movie."
"That so? Well, what's playing?"
"I'm not sure, but it's probably a western. Anyway, I'm supposed to meet someone there."
She smiled. "Anyone I know?"
Jerry looked down at his feet. "Ruther' not say."
She looked at him for a moment, then smiled. "All right, but don't get into any trouble." She opened the door and disappeared in the darkness of the hallway.
* * *
Jerry paid for his ticket, bought a box of popcorn, and headed through the heavy curtains into the theater. At first, he could see nothing, so he stopped to let his eyes adjust to the darkness, then started walking slowly toward the front. Suddenly, he froze. Oh, my Gosh, there she is! Is she really waiting for me, or am I going to make a complete fool of myself? He was about to turn and leave when she saw him and motioned for him to come and sit down. He walked slowly down, then moved sideways until he reached the seat next to her.
"Uh - - Is this seat taken?"
"Of course not, silly!" Jerry sat down and, with a shaking hand, offered her some popcorn. Looking up at the screen, he saw Roy Rogers singing a love song to some pretty blond girl. Jerry settled into his seat, not knowing what to do next. He felt pressure on his right arm and turned to see Peggy had moved over as close as she could. She looked up into his eyes and said in a dreamy voice, "Aren't you going to kiss me?"
Kiss her! Oh my gosh, did she say that? Jerry leaned over her and she placed her hand gently on the back of his neck and pulled him down to her waiting lips. His last conscious thought was, I hope no one sees me!
Jerry had no idea how many times he and Peggy kissed, and absolutely no recollection of the movie. When she told him her father would be angry if she did not get home soon, he would have been glad to marry her right on the spot. On the way to her house, Peggy stopped in front of Mrs. Lang's rose garden to sniff the sweet perfume. She smiled and said, "I just love roses, especially red ones."
As they neared her house neither of them noticed her father watching from the front porch. Mr. Mossman owned the local ice factory, and Jerry had been told to stay clear of him because he was a bully. He walked Peggy up to the porch and she started to introduce him.
"Go in the house, young lady!" Peggy lowered her head and opened the door. Mr. Mossman turned and grabbed Jerry by his coat collar and shook him. "Stay away from my daughter, you little pimple faced shrimp, or you'll turn up in a block of ice - - HEAR ME?" He shoved Jerry backward and stomped into his house, slamming the door as he went.
Jerry stood momentarily trying to regain his composure. He was used to mean grownups, his uncle had been the worst before he died, but this was different. This was not a relative. He turned and started home, his mind racing back and forth between Peggy's lips, and her father's fist, but the sweet wine of Peggy's kiss soon overpowered every thought and he knew he must see her again.
All day Sunday Jerry seemed to float from place to place and task to task, not thinking of anything except Monday and seeing Peggy at school. They agreed to meet at the side door and he would carry her books to her locker, then to her first class. When Monday morning came, he ran to school and hid in the side door so Mr. Mossman would not see him. Finally, she arrived and they went inside.
"Oh, Jerry, I am so sorry about the way Daddy treated you. He's been like that ever since Mom died. It's almost like he is afraid someone will steal me, or something!"
Jerry squeezed her hand. "Don't worry about it. As long as we can see each other on Saturday, it's OK."
They reached her first class and she took her books. As she opened the door, she said, "I'm not feeling very well." She saw him frown, and she smiled. "But I'm sure I'll see you at lunch." She touched the tip of her finger to her lips, then to his and smiled as she disappeared behind the door.
* * *
Jerry hurried to the lunchroom so he could get a seat next to Peggy. No longer caring what others might think or say, he just wanted to be near her. He went through the line and got his food, then sat down at a table near the entrance and waited. With every passing minute, he grew more anxious. Where is she? She didn't look well this morning. Mary O'Hara walked by with her friends. Jerry rose and caught up with them.
"Mary! Wait up!"
She turned, and with a quizzical expression, said, "Were you calling me?"
"Yes," answered Jerry, trying not to appear too excited, "have you seen Peggy Mossman today?"
Mary giggled and grinned. "Yes, Jerry, but she was kind of sick, so Mr. Baxley sent her to see the school nurse. Mr. Baxley told class the nurse called her dad and he picked her up. Don't know what's wrong with her, though."
The rest of the day was just a blur for Jerry. He tried to listen to the teachers but heard very little. Finally, when the last bell rang, he grabbed his books and raced out of the building. Jerry knew it wasn't a good idea to walk past Peggy's house, but his feet had a mind of their own, and soon he was standing there, staring at her front door. He must have been there for a while, because Mrs. Speers from next door came out and said, "Jerry, if you're waiting for Peggy, her dad took her to the hospital in Dallas."
Jerry's face dropped like a stone. "What's wrong with her?"
"I don't know, Jerry. He's not very friendly, you know. He didn't say much, he just put her in the car and tore out."
He thanked her and walked away.
Jerry hardly slept that night. Tossing and turning for hours, his thoughts were all of Peggy. This is no schoolboy crush! This is the real thing! The next morning he left without breakfast and ran most of the way to school. He stood in the doorway and waited, but her father's green chevy' never showed. When the bell rang, he ran down the hall to Mr. Baxley's classroom and asked about her, but no one knew anything. Totally in despair, Jerry walked to his class. He was late, but so was Mrs. Le Clair, the teacher. When everyone was seated, she said she had a special announcement.
"This morning, Peggy Mossman passed away at Baylor Hospital in Dallas. She apparently died as a result of the same heart ailment that took her mother. We should know the funeral arrangements by tomorrow."
* * *
Jerry looked down at his feet, which seemed glued to the sidewalk. The funeral was at a church just three blocks away, but he wanted to get there early. Aunt Josephine had pressed his Sunday suit and his white shirt. He polished his school shoes and one of his uncle's old ties completed the picture. Now his feet felt like bricks - - he was scared. What if Mr. Mossman throws me out? He turned and saw Aunt Josephine standing on the front porch.
"You'd better go on, Jerry, or you'll be late." She walked down the steps and smiled. "It'll be all right, boy - - you'll see." Then, as she turned to go into the house, she said, "And mind your manners."
Well, that was that. I'm not afraid! I have a right to be there, and I'm going! He took one step, then another, his pace now stronger, more strident. As he walked past Mrs. Lang's house, Jerry paused momentarily in front of the rose garden. He closed his eyes for a moment, remembering Peggy enjoying the beauty and fragrance of the flowers. Was it really only last Saturday? It seems like forever! Mrs. Lang came out her front door, pulling her gloves on as she walked.
"Well, don't you look nice, Jerry. Are you going to the funeral?"
"Yes, ma'am." Jerry looked up at her and asked, "Miz Lang, could I have one of those red roses? Peggy loved roses." Five minutes later he stood in front of the church. With the rose clutched in his hand, he walked up the first set of steps and started for the door. As he neared, he saw Mr. Mossman sitting in the front pew with his head down. Jerry entered with the family just ahead and slid into a rear pew. He never even saw me, thought Jerry triumphantly.
One by one, the pastor and various speakers got up and spoke in glowing terms of Peggy's kind and gentle nature, charming smile, and of her relationship with God. Jerry heard all of them, but his mind raced with his own thoughts. She's up there in that coffin. How can I even go up there? I'll just fall apart, is all - - I'll want to pick her up and run out with her in my arms. What am I doing here? He looked down at the beautiful rose and knew what he had to do.
Finally, the time came to file by and say one last ‘goodbye' to Peggy. Jerry waited until everyone was in line before he stood and took his place at the end. He reached the front of the church and turned. There she was! So beautiful, her face framed by the pink satin lining surrounding her. Fear and confusion brought him to a standstill and, for a moment he was motionless. Jerry shook his head as if to clear it and moved to the casket. He stopped and turned, whispering, "It's now or never!" Placing the rose gently on Peggy's folded hands, Jerry turned to leave and found himself face to face with Mr. Mossman.
"What did you put in my daughter's coffin?"
Jerry hesitated for a moment and looked down at the lifeless figure that was his first love. He didn't care what happened now, this was for her. He picked up the rose and looked straight into Mr. Mossman's eyes. In a trembling voice, he answered, "Peggy loved red roses."
Mr. Mossman stared at the flower. Suddenly he sat down and looked up as if asking for Devine help. His voice quivered as he spoke. "Peggy's mother loved roses." He paused, then said, "God, I miss her! When she passed away, I blamed the world for her death. Peggy was my one bright spot and now . . ." He put his head in his hands and fell silent.

The sound of footsteps returned them to reality as the pallbearers surrounded the casket and started to close it. "Wait!" Mr. Mossman stood up and said, "Jerry, give me the rose." Dumbfounded, Jerry handed it to him. He gently placed it in Peggy's folded hands, then stepped back and allowed the pallbearers to close the casket. He turned and put his hand out to Jerry and said, "Walk me out." As they left the church, Mossman put his hand on Jerry's shoulder. "I've got some pictures of Peggy and I'm certain she would want you to have a couple. Come by some evening next week."
At the door Jerry shook Mr. Mossman's hand, then walked out and down the stairs. On the way home, he stopped to smell Mrs. Lang's roses. Peggy loved roses.