The Kiss Roxanne Project
(This short story was inspired by a viral video of 20 strangers kissing back in 2014. I wrote it for the "First Kiss" blog hop.)
“Come on.” Greg unclipped from his pedals and hopped off his ride. “Why live in this crazy city if you don’t become part of the performance art sometimes?”
Rick propped his bike on the other side of the rack, unable to resist scanning the small and eclectic crowd lining up for the Kiss A Stranger project.
He lived in San Francisco because he could step out his door and ride forty-six miles across the Golden Gate Bridge and back every Saturday. The city was the art—he didn’t need to watch a performance, and he sure as hell wouldn’t be in one for fun. The mayor kept him tap dancing and the Board of Supervisors was pretty much a shit show. “No way.”
The flock of hip twenty and thirty somethings were dressed to impressed, and surely didn’t smell like they’d just pedaled a half-century.
“Dude,” Greg chided. “You haven’t been on a date in months. You so need to kiss a stranger.”
Rick kicked his heel onto his saddle and stretched his hamstring. “That’s impossible, like needing a kitten.” They were cute to cuddle for three minutes then turned into a pain in the ass, and they sure as hell weren’t essential to anything.
Greg had knelt to fiddle with his bike lock, and he grinned up, all helmet, shades, and teeth. “All work and no kissing makes Rick a grumpy bastard. Consider this an intervention.” He closed his bike lock with a definitive click, attaching Rick’s frame to his own.
Rick couldn’t help but laugh—a cheap trick, downright Machiavellian, but not an outright victory. He could easily do the awkward cleat-walk home and force his buddy to bring back his bike. “Like I said, I’m out. And be careful. If you pop wood, everybody’s gonna notice in those pants.”
Greg’s grin faltered as he looked down at his skin-tight cycling shorts.
Rick took the chance to cast the crowd of stranger-kissers one last glance. A trio of feminine backsides greeted him, three women bent over a folding table, signing papers. Release forms, no doubt, promising they wouldn’t sue if they drew the lot to kiss a sweaty cyclist with an assertive hard-on. They moved toward the entrance and his gaze got stuck on the one in the middle. Tall, her long straight hair blacker than ink, she walked with the upright posture of a woman who knew people were looking. The others seemed to be ushering her inside as if they were her entourage.
Damn. Some ferrel urge seized control of him and demanded he get a look at her. So much for gawking. He was going in there in his sweaty spandex, to kiss some stranger. Hell, he’d do worse, just to see that woman’s face.
He signed the release without even glancing over it. Inside, a red LED board mounted near the apex displayed the kissers’ numbers, like at the goddamn DMV.
He weaved between people until he found her. The view was an unsatisfying profile and she still wore her sunglasses. He shifted to see more, but the tent kept filling up, and he lost sight of her. Numbers were called out of order. Forty-two, twelve, sixty-three. Someone repeated it over a bullhorn a few times before he thought to look at his number. Sixty-three.
All for nothing. He’d come in to see her, and hadn’t even managed it. Time to bail.
In the crush of people, it took a moment to find the door he’d come in through. Hordes more people had crowded in. Hell, he’d get out of there faster if he went through with the randomly assigned kiss. He ran his tongue over his teeth. A hint of cherry-flavored energy gel lingered in his mouth. That was something. He unhooked the chinstrap on his helmet and showed his number to the bullhorn guy.
“Right this way.” The staffer guided Rick down a long hall and into a room equipped with video cameras.
A small woman stood, watching with big eyes. Pixie haircut, trendy clothes, serious mouth. Not bad, if not his type.
He met her under the lights and gave her a little wave. “Hi.”
She turned beet purple and burst out laughing. “Oh God, I can’t do this.” She snorted and covered her mouth, doubling over with a textbook nervous laugh. Someone led her out while the bullhorn guy came to Rick’s side.
“Sorry. She told us when she came in she was having second thoughts. We’ve already posted the next number.”
At least it wasn’t Rick’s skintight spandex that had offended her. In fact, this was perfect. He could just follow her out. “Hey, man—”
The door opened and two women came inside.
His heart sped up to max, like he was climbing a steep grade without a warmup.
Her friend had hold of her elbow and seemed to point her toward Rick while standing on her toes to whisper in her ear. Head-on, the woman’s striking face was nothing like he’d expected, more exotic than beautiful. Firm jaw, wide mouth, long and narrow nose. He didn’t want to look away.
“Which one of you is fifty-six?” asked the staffer.
Her, please. A silent plea to the gods of performance art.
She raised her hand.
She shoved her dark glasses up on her head. Her eyes didn’t focus on him, didn’t focus anywhere.
He, on the other hand, stared.
A long moment passed and he sensed eyes on him, everyone’s but hers. Next, he was going to get the crazy-nervous giggles. He swallowed down the giddy mix of surprise and excitement like it was a mouthful of his favorite beer. What kind of asshole wouldn’t kiss a gorgeous women because she happened to be blind? “Hi, I’m Rick.”
She stepped toward his voice and smiled. “Roxanne.”
He moved closer. “Can I show you to where we’re supposed to stand?”
“Right here.” He squeezed her elbow and moved to stand opposite, studying her face. Her closed eyes gave nothing away, the muscles around them seeming immobile. He was about to kiss a stranger. She was about to kiss one she hadn’t even seen. “Nervous?”
“A little.” She chuckled and her nostrils flared. Damn. She probably had super keen smell, or was that a stereotype?
“Sorry I stink. Just finished a ride. Wasn’t planning to come here.”
“Are you in good shape?”
Her arms came up and instinctively he took hold of her wrists, leading her hands to settle on his shoulders.
She smoothed them along the topmost seams of his jersey. “You’re tall.”
He wanted to settle his hands on her waist, but left them dangling at his side, helmet hanging from one finger. “Maybe this is completely the wrong thing to say, but you could touch my face, if you wanted to, you know…see me.”
Her smile fell.
Shit. “Sorry. Can I take it back?”
“No, don’t.” She pressed her palms into his shoulders. “It was sweet. It’s just…intimate.”
“More than a kiss?”
“Yeah, kind of.” And then the fingers of one hand came up to his ear and began a gentle examination, feathering through the hair at his temple, her thumb gliding across his forehead and finding its way along one eyebrow, then down his nose, then up again to touch the bump in its bridge. “I love a strong-nosed man.”
His heart raced like it was striving for a personal best. Her delicate brow furrowed and she brought both her hands to cup his face, tracing his lips with the pads of both thumbs. “Soft,” she murmured. Then she raked her nails against his Saturday stubble and pleasure tingled down his neck and spine.
Shit. There were cameras, an audience of staffers. This was performance art, with footage that could be used for God knew what.
“You said you weren’t planning on coming to this,” she whispered, her breath caressing his mouth. “What changed your mind?”
“My buddy dragged me in.”
“Well, I’m glad he did, and now I’m going to kiss you.” She brought his face down to meet her.
Her sweet lips brushed his then pressed firm. Chaste, and yet urgent anticipation coiled through his gut. After a close-up glimpse of her smooth skin, he closed his eyes. It seemed only fair.
He let her take the lead. The wet tip of her tongue licked at him and his mouth watered. He parted his lips and she darted in, stroking. He wanted to suck her tongue into his mouth, wanted to shove his own inside her, but he reined himself in and let her play in this shallow, teasing space. Something about the firmness of her mouth told him she was smiling and that cranked the coil of want inside him. He wanted to be the cause of her smile, wanted to get out from under these cameras, buy her a coffee and learn everything about her.
He nipped at her lip and she groaned, so quiet he might have imagined it. And then her body was there, small, firm breasts flush against his jersey, her pelvis fitting against him, drawing his blood to his groin.
All at once, she pulled away from his mouth. “Phew.” Her cheeks were pink, her lips swollen.
He wanted her underneath him looking just like that.
She smiled, sliding her hand up his neck to his face as if searching out his own response. “That was a great kiss.”
“Yeah.” Greg had been right. He needed a hundred more just like it today alone.
“Thanks.” Gratitude colored the word, and he wanted to punch anyone who’d made her feel lucky to be kissed.
“Are you kidding? Thank you. That blew the top off my skull. I didn’t want to stop.”
Great. Now he was mister aggressive hard-on. He stepped back, hoping like hell the chamois in his shorts left the exact shape of his package to their audience’s imagination. All four staffers clapped. His cheeks heated with the completely irrational feeling of violation, as if their kiss had been private.
Her friend was already walking toward her, ready to guide her out, and giving him an appraising look on the way.
“Can I call you sometime?” he asked.
Roxanne’s mouth fell open. “You’re not supposed to ask that. You agreed on the release form.”
Right. The one he hadn’t read. Damn it. Every single part of him from his gray matter to his gonads wanted a repeat performance. Greg had been wrong about that part. Rick didn’t need to kiss a stranger. He needed to kiss her.
“I’m Rick Jarvis. I work in the mayor’s office. If you call there, you’ll find me."
She bit her lip, obscuring a nascent smile. “Nice to meet you, Rick Jarvis.” And then she let herself be guided away by her friend. Just like the kiss itself, he’d have to let her take the lead.