Inspired by Alice in Wonderland
The next day I headed to Ling’s study, my stomach tied in knots. Why had I agreed to do it? Lapse in sanity, I guess. But I had promised Ling, so after Professor Douglas’s dance class, I showered, dried my hair, brushed my teeth, and dabbed on a bit of lip gloss before heading to Clark. I was wearing jeans, my UGG slippers, and a hoodie from my old dance studio. It was a blind kiss, after all; it’s not like I had to impress anyone with my fashion choices.
Once I got there, I knocked on the classroom door. Ling answered without a word and ushered me in. There were four girls all chatting next to a table of juice and cookies.
“Go ahead and have a snack.” She leaned in and whispered near my ear. “I have a flask with rum in it, if you want.” Why did everyone in college drink rum? It has to be the most disgusting liquor. Also, Ling was more nervous than usual, which made me more nervous.
I smiled. “No thank you. I’ll just wait.”
There was a connecting room with paper covering the window in the door. Ling spoke to someone on a walkie-talkie and said, “Okay, ladies, we’re gonna go in and show you the studio. The boys are waiting in another room on the other side of the studio.” She pointed to each girl in front of me and said, “You’re one, you’re two, you’re three, you’re four, and Penny, you’re five. That’s the order you’ll go in.”
“You’re not matching us up based on looks, are you?” one tiny blonde girl with a pointy nose and pursed lips said.
Ling stared at her for an uncomfortably long time. “Are you serious, girl?” Ling was so awesome.
“Well?” Pointy Nose said.
“No, it’s totally random and looks are subjective. That’s the whole point!” Ling practically shouted at her.
We went into a large classroom where all the chairs had been pushed to one side to create a staging area. There were four students in the room: one guy behind a camera propped on a tripod that faced a small makeshift stage, another guy, and two girls standing near the stage with clipboards.
“Hi ladies, I’m Tracy. Ling and I are heading up this study.” Tracy was all business, complete with brown hair in a low bun and a pair of glasses on the end of her nose. I noticed the heater had been cranked up really high in the room.
I whispered to Ling, “It’s hot in here.”
“Just wait until people start making out.”
“No seriously, I might puke.”
“That would be really gross, Penny. Please don’t do it on camera. When it’s cold, people’s nerves go haywire, so we’re trying to make everyone comfortable. Take off your sweatshirt if you have to.”
I only had a dancing tank on with no bra, not that I needed one. “Umm. Well, okay it’s not like he’s going to see me.”
“Exactly,” she said.
I tore off my sweatshirt and threw it on a nearby desk. The students showed us where we would be walking and standing, so once we were blindfolded we wouldn’t feel disoriented. Afterward, we were led back into the first room to wait.
Girl number one, a tall, gangly thing with mousy hair, wearing basketball shorts and a T-shirt, was called in first. We waited and waited and then finally Pointy Nose said, “Jesus, are they f***ing in there?”
When the girl came out we all bombarded her with questions. She was quiet. She just said, “That was really weird. He was all right, I guess.”
“What took so long?” a girl dressed in a club outfit and stilettos asked.
“They ask a lot of questions when you’re blindfolded and then after … when you’re just staring at each other awkwardly.”
Girl number four, who looked like every other hoodie-clad college girl, stood up and said, “I’m outta here.”
“No, please,” Ling said as she came back into the room to usher in girl number two.
“I’m serious, I’m not doing it. Keep your stupid Java Hut gift card.” The girl stormed out.
Ling turned to me. “Well, Penny, I guess you’ll go fourth. I’ll tell guy number five he’s been cut.”
Ling pointed at me. “No, you’re doing it. I said I’d watch you dance. You’re doing it, Penny! And you’re going to win the award for best guinea pig at CSU.”
“Is that really a thing? I don’t think I want that.” What’d I get myself into? “Let me just take a breath.”
I opened the door that led to the hallway and saw girl number one pass by me. She waved to a guy coming out of the adjoining room on the other side of the studio area, and he waved back. I assume it was the guy she had just swapped spit with. He was not attractive at all. I felt bad for thinking it, but it was going to be hard for me to not picture that guy when it was my turn. He was at least four inches shorter than me, which made basketball-shorts girl easily a foot taller than him. He seemed nice but he had pretty bad skin and fairly greasy hair. He was definitely a freshman, if not a devious seventh grader who had found a way to sneak in.
When Ling came after me, I was scowling. She handed me the flask and I took a large, disgusting swig.
“They’re not all good-looking.” I cocked my head to the side. “Liar.”
“You might be off the hook,” she said.
“Thank you, God!” I shouted. Clubbing Girl and Pointy Nose turned and glared at me.
“Yeah, so it looks like we’re actually missing two guys, but we still need to give it a few more minutes.”
“I’m so happy to hear that. I can’t believe you told me they were all hot.”
“Honestly, I never even saw them. That was Tracy’s job, not mine, I just had to get the girls.”
“You are such a liar!” I poked her in the shoulder and glared at her.
“It’s just a kiss. Jeez, it’s not like we’re asking you to sleep with him.”
I dry heaved. “Have another swig.” She handed me the flask and some breath mints.
As the hour went on, the other girls cycled in and out like it was no big deal. I was gathering my things, getting ready to leave, when Ling walked in. “Not so fast. Your guy was late—that ass—but he’s here and they’re blindfolding him now.”
“Oh God, did you see him?”
“Just chill. The other girls handled it like pros. What’s your deal?”
“Those girls looked like pros.”
“Penny, shut up and turn around. Just let me blindfold you.”
“I hate this study so much. You have no idea. Did you see him? Why’d you call him an ass?”
“I didn’t see him but Tracy said he was bitching about only getting a ten-dollar Java Hut card.”
“Why is he only getting ten?”
“Because he said yes the second Tracy asked him to be in the study.” She huffed. “You should be happy. You’re getting forty dollars’ worth of coffee. It’s basically liquid gold during finals.”
She used a dark floral scarf as a blindfold and triple checked it to make sure I couldn’t see a thing.
“Take my arm, I’ll guide you,” she said.
I linked my arm through hers and followed her into the makeshift studio. “I’m nervous.”
“You’ll be fine. Okay, step up.” She led me to a spot on the small stage where I felt a pencil on the ground. “Keep one foot on that. That’s your mark. The guy will be here in a minute.”
I heard his voice first. It was deep but soft, grounded in his chest but not husky. “Wait, where am I? Oh s***.” When I heard him trip, I started laughing.
“Hey, woman, are you laughing already? I haven’t even kissed you yet.” Everything was black but for some reason his demeanor instantly put me at ease. I could feel him standing opposite me now.
“Reach out and take each other’s hands,” said the guy behind the camera.
Ling guided our hands toward each other. His were warm and large; they swallowed mine up. “Tiny little hands,” he said.
Ling started in. “Okay, we’re going to ask you a few questions and then ask you to kiss. You can take as long as you want. You don’t have to force yourselves to stop or continue, just let it happen organically.” I couldn’t imagine how that would be humanly possible.
He squeezed my hands in a way that was calming.
“So, girl number four,” Ling said, “Are you nervous?”
“What about you, guy number four?”
“Why did you agree to this?”
He spoke first, “Free coffee.”
“What about you?” Ling poked me in the shoulder.
“Um, yeah. The coffee, I guess.”
“So what do you think this experiment will give you? You go first.” She poked my arm again.
“Herpes simplex one.”
The guy chuckled. “No, I’m good,” he said.
“What about you?” Ling asked.
“I don’t know. An experience.” He didn’t seem nervous at all. “Like, what can you feel from just a kiss?” He ran his thumb over the center of my palm. It sent shivers down my spine. “Or by touch alone. I mean, I do wonder, you know … like, if it’s different, if I’ll feel nothing because I don’t know what she looks like.”
I huffed and tried to pull my hands away but he held them tight. “Where you going, lady?”
I didn’t respond.
Ling poked me again. “Tell him your name and what you like to do.”
“Penny. I’m a dancer.”
“Tiny little T-Rex dancer.”
“You smell good.”
“Stahhhp!” I was embarrassingly turned on by his little thumb strokes on my palm.
“Now you go, dude. Tell her,” Ling said.
“I’m Gavin, and uh … I don’t know, I like to play guitar and work on cars. I’m an engineering major.”
It was unusually quiet in the room after that. Even without sight, I could tell Gavin was tall, just based on where the sound of his voice was coming from. We were close. He smelled like mint and cardamom soap. I could feel the specific heat of his body even in the warm room.
“Ling?” I said.
“One sec, Penny. Josh is changing a setting on the camera.”
She was far away now. I could sense that only Gavin and I were on the stage.
“Are you really nervous, Penny? Your voice is shaking.” Gavin said, only loud enough for me to hear.
“Yeah.” He clasped my hands together between his and brought them to his chest. I could feel his heart beating. I could tell he had a strong, lean body. “I’m nervous, too,” he whispered.
“You don’t seem like it. Why’d you say you weren’t?”
“I was trying to impress you.”
“Go ahead, you guys,” Ling said.
“What?” I asked.
I felt like I was going to pass out, and then Gavin’s hands were on me, one on my back and one on my waist. I was acutely aware of everything. He was wearing a T-shirt. He was warm. I felt safe. My hands naturally went to his broad shoulders. I couldn’t speak. He pulled me flush to his body and moved a hand from my waist to caress my cheek. We were acclimating ourselves to the space and to each other’s bodies. My hand went to his face and felt his scruff.
His hand on my back was strong, pulling me up and in, and then his mouth was on mine. Slow and gentle at first. He laid playful slow kisses on my bottom lip until I opened to him and we were kissing harder, faster. Our tongues were dancing, gently teasing. He was a good kisser. I knew that immediately. I had no awareness of my surroundings, only a feeling of wanting more, as if we had kissed before. Nothing awkward, no teeth clanking. His hand went to my neck and then he pulled away and trailed kisses down my jawline to my collarbone. I was going to spontaneously combust. If he was the ugliest guy in the world, I would have still been attracted to him. It was an easy decision standing there on the stage, blindfolded, while Gavin nibbled on my ear.
He slowed and stopped just after placing one last delicate kiss on my lips.
“Whoa!” Ling shouted. “It just got way hotter in here.”
Gavin and I laughed nervously. We were no longer touching. It felt odd. I wanted to bury my head in his chest.
I was still standing motionless when Ling said, “Not yet, Gavin. We have some questions first before you take off your blindfold.”
He clapped his hands together. “I’m just dying for that gift card, you know?”
I could tell he was being sarcastic.
“Okay, Gavin,” Ling said, “what do you think Penny was trying to tell you with that kiss?”
“Tell me? I think I did most of the talking. Wouldn’t you agree, honey?”
I laughed abruptly and nervously.
He went on. “Confidence, maybe.”
No one had ever said that to me.
“What about you Penny?”
“It was … sensual.”
“Yes,” Gavin agreed, nonchalantly.
“Okay, you can take off your blindfolds.”
I pulled mine over my head. He did the same. We saw each other. He was gorgeous, with warm green eyes and an angled jawline. His full lips were slightly parted. He was staring at me, squinting, and then he said softly, “Hi, beauty.”
-----------------END OF SNEAK PEEK-----------------