How Much Tongue When Kissing?

By Kara Vernor

Sometimes life gives you a sign that you are ready for your next adventure. For me that sign was my period, which I got for the first time during Mrs. Keever’s eighth grade biology. We were learning mucus and mucosa, and I guess my body decided okay fine. I felt a wetness and went to the bathroom, and it was there in the middle stall on the second floor that I confirmed it: I was now a woman.

My mom reads tarot cards and my aunt reads palms, so I wasn’t totally surprised to find myself interpreting my underwear stain, which was shaped like a comet. I interpreted hard, listening for messages through the noise of a classmate blow-drying her hands and my toilet auto-flushing beneath me. Even though red usually means stop, in this case it became clear: the red meant go. It meant blast off! It meant it was time to French kiss my boyfriend Austin Cobb.

I told my friend Vanessa to tell Austin I’d be ready on Saturday. Saturday was the Teen Center “Luau with You Wow” dance party, and we’d both be there with leis on. As it turns out, Austin was super ready. He pinned me against the back wall of the gym, latched his mouth over both of my lips, and whirled his tongue around like a carwash mop. The song playing was “Wrecking Ball,” so passion was appropriate, but I was struggling to breathe through my stuffed-up nose. Mmmmeh, I protested, but he was not a gifted interpreter. His jaw clicked wider while his tongue continued its lathering. I was pretty sure French kissing was supposed to create a wormhole that bends the space-time continuum and opens into an otherwise hidden paradise. That’s how Vanessa’s sister described it. She talked about sunshine and waterfalls and fruit growing wild on trees, not near-suffocation. Thankfully one of the Center’s youth leaders, a high school guy in a polo shirt, pulled Austin off me. He weaved Austin through the couples rocking in circles and into the front office, where his mom would pick him up. There was a strict no-PDA policy, and I guess my innocence was clear.

The next day I had a chapped ring around my mouth. I smeared lip balm along it like I had an extra pair of lips outside my lips, like he’d left his lips on my face. I told Vanessa to tell Austin we were better as friends.

Next I went on a movie date with Mateo Vargas from Algebra One because the red had said to go for it. In the middle of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Mateo leaned into the side of my face and I turned and met his mouth. It’s okay because we had both already seen the movie at least once. His tongue felt like a wet feather—a tickle more than a kiss. I pushed my tongue in farther, but his retreated. After an awkward moment of basically no action, he returned to his light dusting, which did not transport me. I was in my seat with the armrest digging into my ribs. The next day I texted Mateo and told him I was pretty sure we wanted different things in life.

I slept over at Vanessa’s the following weekend, and after we finished our Starbucks hot chocolates and Cartomancy for Beginners readings, I came clean with her.

Vanessa, I said, your sister lied about the kissing.

No way, she said. Then why do people keep doing it? Humans kiss well into their twilight years.

It was a good point. It made me think of the women I knew who had been kissing guys for a long time, especially the same one guy, who might or might not be able to open up portals. Take my mom for instance. Did she like kissing my dad? Or was she going through the motions, her tongue a fish trapped in a bowl?

I decided to stop dating until my next period. I needed to do more interpreting, about how much tongue turns a kiss galactic. I’d made it to first base twice but I hadn’t made it to paradise. I hadn’t touched my lips after like they were wet with the juice of alien fruit. My guess was a quarter inch was perfect, but I’d wait and take guidance because maybe it’s actually, like, 3/8ths, and isn’t it amazing how close you can come while going nowhere whatsoever.

Kara Vernor’s fiction has appeared in Wigleaf, No Tokens, PANK, the Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere. She is an Elizabeth George Foundation Scholar at Antioch LA and was a 2015 Best Small Fictions finalist. Her fiction chapbook, Because I Wanted to Write You a Pop Song, is available from Split Lip Press, and she is currently at work on a series of shorts inspired by questions asked in middle school sex ed classes.