In Kimberly Karalius's First Kisses and Other Misfortunes, two boys discover that true love is harder than it looks, even in the charming town of Grimbaud, in this lovely novella from the author of Love Fortunes and Other Disasters.
Nico is worried. Again. After freeing Martin from the illegal love charms of his evil ex-girlfriend, Nico was sure that their love would be the perfect romance he'd been waiting for. But it's been months and Nico's still waiting for his first kiss. Between Martin's dedication to student government and Nico's responsibilities at his family's tourism business, there's been no time for romance or kisses. Fortunately, the Canal Festival is coming up and like all Grimbaud events, it will be filled with romance...especially the Water Parade, Nico's favorite part. And this year, Nico will be the captain of his own small boat! It's the perfect opportunity for a romantic (and hopefully kiss-filled) date with his boyfriend. There's just one small problem: Martin is afraid of drowning. Will Nico's dreams of a romantic first kiss be sunk before they are even launched?
About the Author
Kimberly Karalius is the author of Love Fortunes and Other Disasters and its sequel, Love Charms and Other Catastrophes. She holds an MFA in fiction from the University of South Florida and has been sharing stories on Figment.com with a strong following of enthusiastic readers since the site’s inception. Although Kimberly lives in sunny Florida, she prefers to stay indoors and sometimes buys a scarf in the hopes of snow. She loves watching really old cartoons and silent films. Being in Florida certainly has one big perk: going to Disney World. Which she does. Frequently.
Read an Excerpt
First Kisses and Other Misfortunes
By Kimberly Karalius
Feiwel and FriendsCopyright © 2016 Kimberly Karalius
All rights reserved.
Nicolas "Nico" Barnes believed that summer nurtured romance more than any other season. Summer bent the rules: children ran free, arms full of minutes and hours aplenty to spend outside a classroom. Schools closed. Desserts became cold enough to burn tongues. The heat made charms react slower but more powerfully. Grimbaud offered tourists looking for love a bit of magic to help them whittle away the summer months with its shaded parks, toothsome sweets, and the very best love charms. Nico needed Grimbaud's summer magic this year. I want romance, he thought, selling ticket after ticket, and I want my first kiss with Martin.
But instead of spending lazy hours in the company of his boyfriend, Nico was consumed with the family business. "Typical summer," he mumbled, tearing off a ticket and handing it to a lone tourist wearing a bulky camera around his neck.
Nico's shoulders and back still ached from scraping barnacles off the belly of a smaller boat that morning. He rubbed the thin patch of hair on his head and flinched. Sunburnt. After finishing with the boat, he worked the late morning shift in the main Barnes booth, selling tickets for the canal cruises and assisting the captains with their boats. The booth itself was small, narrow, and colorfully striped. A statue of a mermaid squeezing beating hearts in both of her hands graced the roof of the booth; it was an old family relic, though no one remembered what the mermaid signified. He had a few ideas himself, but none of them flattered the old statue. Nico exhausted the coffee machine inside the booth and kept a look out for Martin.
The nine o'clock tour was due to leave in a few minutes. Nico's eyes swept over the tourists waiting in line and the captain preparing the boat. Martin should be here any minute now, he thought, his stomach fluttering with nerves.
A child started to cry.
Nico leaned heavily out of the booth and spotted three little boys standing close to the canal's edge, peering down into the water. Unsupervised. The littlest one was crying into his T-shirt. "The boat's going to leave," Nico called, but the boys ignored him. With a sigh, he left the booth and jogged over. "You need to get back in line."
The smallest boy with the wrinkled blue T-shirt rubbed his watery eyes and sniffled. "I dropped Tanzie."
Nico bent down on his knees. "Tanzie?"
"His Malinois toy," said an older boy. "It's just plastic, but he won't go anywhere without it."
The canal water shivered as it flowed. Hopefully the toy weighed enough to stay put. Nico dashed over to the lockers and found a net attached to a long pole. He had used it the week before to fish an old man's hat out of the canal. He dunked the net into the water, trying his best to scrape along the bottom of the canal. The sniffling boy wrapped his arms around Nico's leg, pressing his wet nose against his tanned skin. Nico's heart squeezed at the gesture. "Don't worry," he said softly. "I'll get Tanzie."
He kicked off his shoes and curled his toes around the edge of the concrete, leaning out as far as he could go. The net bumped against something. Nico stuck out his tongue and strained to scoop it up. His legs wobbled.
Someone grabbed Nico's elbow and pulled him away from the canal's edge. Nico's back collided with a solid chest.
"That was dangerous," Martin said softly in his ear. "You could have fallen in."
Nico grinned and spun around, careful not to smack his boyfriend with the net. "Thanks," he breathed. The net had indeed caught a miniature plastic Malinois; the toy was pretty accurate, with the dog's defining black mask, black ears, and fawn-brown coat. He dried off the toy using his shirt and handed it to the grateful boy.
The three boys thanked him and ran back into line just as the captain called for boarding.
Nico turned back to Martin. "You didn't have to worry," he said, his elbow still tingling from Martin's touch. "If I fell into the canal, I'd be fine. I've pulled myself out of the water plenty of times before."
Martin shuddered. "Really?"
"Another Barnes rite of passage. Being one with the canal and all that," Nico said. "Dad never told me to stay away from the edge. He wanted to make sure I'd learn to save myself."
Martin pinched the bridge of his nose. Goose bumps covered his pale arms. "Is that even legal?" he asked. "Because safety is the most important feature of any workplace, and canal cruises are hazardous by nature with all the water and drowning and deadly sharp boat propellers ..."
Nico let him ramble. He knew he was being selfish, but he loved Martin's spontaneous speeches. They were the rough drafts, sloppy and heartfelt and real before Martin took a red pen to them and turned them into stiff student-government president material.
"Nicolas, are you listening?"
Warm tingles spread down his spine. He not-so-secretly loved it when his boyfriend called him by his full first name. "Every word," Nico insisted.
As they walked back to the booth, Nico stole glances of his boyfriend. Summer hadn't yet touched Martin's pale skin. Or his frame of mind. Martin still wore his student government polo shirt. His thick-framed glasses needed cleaning. His floppy black hair was deliciously thick, making Nico self-consciously finger the thinning hair in the back of his own head.
"Just promise me you'll be more careful," Martin said. "You know how I feel about the canals."
I'd never forget, Nico thought, his happiness dulling. Back when they were both in elementary school, Martin had been bullied during a school party on one of the Barnes boats. After Martin had fallen overboard, Nico jumped in and saved him — and fell in love with Martin. It was a rather soft memory for Nico, but not so for Martin, who'd been choking on canal water and fear that night. Martin had never set foot on a Barnes boat again: a rather inconvenient problem for Nico, since his romantic plans for his boyfriend involved boats and water.
"I wanted to ask you something," Nico said, his stomach twisting in knots. "It's about the Canal Festival."
Grimbaud's annual Canal Festival was the highlight of the summer; it took place in the middle of June and jump-started revelry for the rest of the season. Aside from some locals who managed waterway delivery businesses, the Barnes family handled the festival's main event: the water parade. People rented the Barnes boats for the parade and decorated them like floats. After night fell, the boats traveled through town in a grand procession.
Nico's parents were less than human during the weeks leading up to the festival; he barely spoke with them as his father ran from client to client and his mother treaded in piles of paperwork. So he tried harder to keep the regular day-today business running smoothly. Despite the franticness involved, Nico loved the water parade: the magic of gliding along the smooth, inky water; the town, lit only by warm lamps and candles; the music, overlapping as quartets and bands across town played together in unbelievable symmetry. And this year, he wanted to share it with the boy he loved.
Nico took Martin's hands in his. "I want you to be part of the water parade with me."
Martin raised his eyebrows.
"My parents trust me this year to sail the last boat in the parade by myself," he went on, growing more excited. "You won't believe how beautiful Grimbaud looks from the boat."
Martin twisted his hands out of Nico's grip. He eyed the canal behind them. "I can't."
As soon as Nico had come up with this idea, he knew Martin would need persuading. His worries had spiraled like a tornado, leaving him breathless and awake in the middle of the night, but he thought he'd come up with a way to reassure Martin. Nico raised his chin, determined. "But it'll be perfectly safe. You'll be with me. I won't let you fall in."
Martin stiffened. His cheeks reddened, and he looked at his feet. "How can you say that when you'll be sailing the boat? If it's just the two of us ... you can't watch me and do that at the same time."
Nico had a plan for that too, but he wasn't sure if he could get the charm he needed in time for the parade. "You were blushing just now. Why?"
Martin's eyes shot back up to Nico's. "You keep telling me that you'll protect me. It's a little embarrassing." He frowned. "As your boyfriend, I should be able to take care of myself."
Nico's heart stuttered. He wanted so badly to hug Martin and feel how hot his red cheeks were burning. Stop it, Nico. Focus.
"I can't swim," Martin whispered fiercely.
"Let me teach you."
Martin sighed. "The festival's on Saturday, Nicolas. You can't perform a miracle in five days."
"Swimming's not so hard once you know the basics," Nico said, speaking over the thudding of his heart. He'd been waiting for this moment, this conversation. "We'll start today. One lesson every day until the festival, okay?"
"Can you get off of work?" Martin asked skeptically.
Nico swallowed. He'd find a way. "Don't worry about it. I will."
Martin played with the collar of his shirt, thinking. With a panicky nod, he said, "I'll try."
"Great," Nico breathed. "And if you're comfortable enough after the lessons, will you consider joining me on the boat?"
Nico would take that. He reached out to hold Martin's hand again, but the older boy shook his head and pointed to the booth. A long line for tickets bled into the street. "Oh, the tickets."
Martin still looked anxious, his cheeks a mixture of pale and pink. "Later?"
"Three o'clock at my house," Nico said. Our first swimming lesson. After Martin left, he set to work on making sure he'd be off booth duty by then.
* * *
Martin Pauwels had to buy swim trunks. The last time he owned a pair of swim trunks was when he was little, and even then, his parents had bought them for him. He didn't know where to start, so he put the task off until his duties as Older Brother forced him back outside again with his little sisters in tow. He dragged Jana and Eva into the first bathing-suit store he found.
"Why are we here? We have to be the first ones at Samantha's birthday party," Jana asked, narrowing her eyes. Both sisters had the Pauwels family traits of thick, dark hair and poor eyesight. Jana's glasses were hot pink. Eva's had brontosauruses glued at the corners. Their eyes looked owlishly big and annoyed behind their respective frames.
"You will be. I need to do this first," Martin said, glancing nervously at the wall of swim trunks. "It's a Nicolas thing."
The girls perked up. They liked Nicolas. He usually gave them candy when Martin had to bring them with him to see his boyfriend.
Without student government occupying his time, Martin was put on sister-watching duty by his parents. Jana and Eva had plenty of friends around Grimbaud; it was his job to drop them off and pick them up at these playdates. Normally, Martin didn't mind watching his sisters. They were kind of cute when they weren't scheming of ways to put chocolate in their mouths. Having to watch them and shop for swim trunks? He couldn't focus as his nerves took over. He didn't feel Jana let go of his hand or see her wander to the bikini racks.
I can't believe I'm doing this, he thought, sifting through the hangers. In an hour, he'd be in the water. Swimming. In theory. More likely panicking and making a fool of myself. That's not how I want Nicolas to see me.
Up until now, he had been overly cautious with his relationship with Nico. Besides student government activities, they hadn't spent much time together. Martin felt safer with the space. Like he was fully in control. There were moments, of course, when he felt himself sinking. The feel of Nico's hand curling around his under the table during student government meetings. The encouraging way Nico listened when Martin struggled with this task or that troublesome student. He caught himself staring at Nico's lips more and more often. Martin would never admit how often or how long he'd dreamt of kissing Nico. How, when his ex-girlfriend Camille's hold on him weakened, it was Nico's lips he thought of rather than hers.
But there was something about kissing Nico that made him break into a cold sweat. Sometimes he woke up with tears dried on his cheeks, clawing at his sheets as if they were waves dragging him down. Camille had drowned him once before with her cloying love potion. He was scared it would happen again, but he knew he was being unfair to Nico and to himself.
"This summer's going to be different," Martin vowed to the lime green swim trunks in his hand. He wanted to rid himself of Camille's lingering presence in his heart and memories and move forward with Nico.
"Are you going to get that one?" Eva asked.
Martin dropped the trunks. "N-No."
Eva scrunched her nose. "Need any help?"
He needed a lot of help, but overthinking swim trunks made him feel even more embarrassed. He grabbed the nearest pair, nondescript and gray, and nearly ran to the cashier to buy them and end his indecision. I don't have enough time to go home and change. Better do it here, he thought, asking the cashier to cut off the tag. After dropping his sisters off at Samantha's, he'd be just in time to walk over to Nico's house for the first lesson. Martin ducked into the changing room to put on his new swim trunks. He tried not to blush when he imagined Nico seeing them. But then he wondered what kind of swim trunks Nico would wear, and his cheeks turned blotchy red.
After shoving his shorts into the shopping bag, Martin expected to see Jana and Eva waiting for him. Instead, only Eva was there. His skin went cold. "Where's Jana?"
"Bikinis?" Eva said, pointing at the colorful tops.
Martin couldn't see Jana over the forest of racks, but she was rather short for an eight-year-old. He grabbed Eva's hand and searched the store. Sure enough, his sister was nowhere to be found.
Eva rubbed her stomach, looking suspiciously unconcerned. "I want waffles," she said. "Two waffles. One for eat cheek pouch." She poked her round, pink cheeks to emphasize the point.
Martin caught his breath. I should have known. Keeping a tight hold on Eva, he left the store and saw a vendor selling waffles drizzled with milk chocolate across the street. Jana was second in line, holding a fistful of coins she had probably found between couch cushions and from Martin's allowance that he had to keep hiding in different spots in his room. He jogged across the street with Eva at his side.
"No waffles," Martin said tiredly, reaching Jana just in time. "Let's get out of the way so these nice people waiting in line can get their food."
"'Nice people,' huh? Surely you don't mean me," said Camille Simmons, next in line.
Martin trembled. He curled his hands into fists to hide it. He hadn't seen her in months. Not since she'd been sent away for using an illegal love charm on him. Camille had worn the charm as perfume; whenever Martin had smelled it, he fell madly in love with her — zombiefied, almost. Overexposure to the charm had made him sick, but thankfully Nico and the other rebels rescued him in time from Camille's charm — and helped him to expose her to Grimbaud High's principal afterward.
She still looked the same: hair long, sheet-straight and parted down the middle; flawless caramel skin; and plump lips painted dark chocolate. Her shoulders were slack, a purse hanging from her elbow.
This is what a living nightmare looks like, he thought, trying to breathe. When you wake up and it's still there, ready to sink its claws into you.
Camille slid her sunglasses down her nose to study him.
"What are you doing here?" he asked hoarsely.
"Summer vacation. Even schools for delinquents are closed," she said with a haughty laugh. "I'm home for the summer before I go back to that horrid boarding school in Glastonberry."
Martin should have known that her return to Grimbaud was inevitable; it wasn't as if she had been exiled. Her punishment had been being expelled from Grimbaud High, forcing Camille to find another school for her senior year. Glastonberry was far enough away to have not heard or seen her ... until now.
Camille reached out and ran a finger down the buttons of his polo shirt. "I'm so happy to see you again, Martin. Don't think I've forgotten you for even a moment."
Martin swallowed. Eva whimpered and hid behind his legs.
"I have to share a room with two girls," she said, grabbing his collar. "The staff knows my record. They won't let me have a moment alone. It's maddening."
Martin tore her hand away from him. "Don't touch me," he warned.
Camille obliged with a complacent smile. She pushed her sunglasses back up. "We're not through. I plan on enjoying my vacation. Perhaps you'll help me out with that."
Martin moved out of the way as she approached the vendor and ordered her waffle. When she walked past, winking at him, he held his breath in case she wore charmed perfume. Like last time. He shivered despite the heat.
"I'm not hungry anymore," Jana said sullenly.
"I want to go," Eva whispered, tugging on Martin's hand.
Martin blinked and looked down at his sisters. He nodded, and they walked faster.
Excerpted from First Kisses and Other Misfortunes by Kimberly Karalius. Copyright © 2016 Kimberly Karalius. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Staying Afloat,
Chapter 2: Treading Water,
Chapter 3: Air Leak,
Chapter 4: Strokes,
Chapter 5: Buoyancy,
Excerpt from Love Fortunes and Other Disasters,
Excerpt from Love Charms and Other Catastrophes,
About the Author,
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