The First Kiss Hypothesis

The First Kiss Hypothesis

by Christina Mandelski
The First Kiss Hypothesis

The First Kiss Hypothesis

by Christina Mandelski


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Nora Reid believes scientific laws control everything, even love. With her grandparents

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781979039826
Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date: 10/23/2017
Pages: 250
Product dimensions: 7.90(w) x 4.60(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 13 - 17 Years

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Today is the annual Keep Florida Wild! Ecology Festival, and the air in the Edinburgh High School gym reeks of tofu and onions. Between the Vegan Club's taco stand, a February heat wave, and the broken air conditioner, I admit these aren't ideal conditions to rescue the planet. Or find true love.

But I'm still going to try.

Every year, I've set up my kissing booth and raised money for an endangered animal that gets ignored by mainstream media. Four years in a row, I've had a line of horny high school guys willing to pay for a chance to lock lips with yours truly.

I'm pretty good at raising money. Not so much at finding true love.

My grandmother started me on this path, telling me over and over the story of how she met my grandfather at a kissing booth. He walked up, paid his quarter, they kissed, and boom! Thunder rumbled, lightning struck, and the earth shook.

They got married two weeks later and were inseparable for forty-three years.

If you hear a story like that enough — and you're obsessed with the laws that govern the universe like I am — eventually you come up with a working scientific theory, a testable hypothesis.

For each person in the world, there is exactly one other person who, at first kiss, causes an immediate and intense reaction.

It's like the chemistry experiment last year when we mixed sugar with sulfuric acid. Instantly, there was smoke and fizz everywhere.

Or, for the nonscientific types out there, true love at first kiss.

And that's why I sit here, charging five bucks a kiss to SAVE THE GOPHER TORTOISE!

I glance down the line and sigh. I've kissed a lot of these guys already. That's fine. As long as I'm doing good in the world and there are a few new customers (the kid who just moved here from Texas, and that uber attractive German exchange student), I'm not giving up.

I'm a scientist, after all. I leave no stone unturned.

I'm also prepared, as always. I have germ destroying breath spray. I'll gargle with extra-strength Listerine when it's over. My vaccinations are up to date, so I've minimized the risks. I'm ready to find love in the most sanitary of ways.

Except that next in line is Keaton Drake, so in this case, I know the result.

We kissed at the 80s dance freshman year. Slow dancing to a Madonna song, his hands roaming lower and lower, he gazed at me and our lips touched and ... nothing.

He lifts his eyebrows. "Hey, Nora."

Inside, I cringe. I really don't want to kiss him, but it's not like I can pick and choose who gets in line. "Keaton." I nod and reach for the five he's holding.

Think of the gopher tortoises.

"What's with the hair?" he asks.

I fight the urge to smooth it down — it's super curly, which is only made worse by how humid it is in here. Not a good mix. "Just time for a change." Two weeks ago, I found out I was accepted to my dream college. Even if it's a dream that likely won't come true, I wanted to do something big to mark the occasion. Pierce my nose. Get a tattoo. All of which would have given my mother a heart attack. So I decided to let my hair down, after years of wearing it up.

I'm not a huge fan of change, so it feels like a big deal.

Keaton winks. "Pretty sexy."

I hand over the breath spray.

"What's this for?"

"I like to keep things hygienic."

He sprays, and then slowly pushes back his mop of blond hair. He's an athlete, football and baseball, and he thinks he's a sex god.

I lean forward, across the table; he leans in, and his lips touch mine. There's a firmness to this kiss that tells me he's had some experience since he paid his five dollars last year. Just the right amount of moisture. Good for him.

Still, no reaction whatsoever. Not that it matters since, according to my hypothesis, it's only the first kiss that counts.

He smiles. It's not the worst smile. Too bad.

"Thanks, Nor. I hope you save the turtles."

"Tortoises. They're tortoises. Here, take a brochure."

Next is a very skinny freshman. I don't know his name, but his lips are so chapped I almost offer him my lip balm.

He's followed by Paul Betts who kisses like my mouth is a stone wall and his is a battering ram. Every year.

Then Michael Lovejoy, a really good guy who's jaw-droppingly handsome. Too bad kissing him is like kissing my brother, if I had one.

Between customers, I see Abby checking out my booth. We've been friends for a long time, though we don't hang out like we used to. According to what I see online, she's jump-started her social life this year without me. I have no idea how she manages to party while taking five AP classes and making the finals in the state Science Olympiad. She seems to have it figured out, though.

"How's it going over there?" I ask.

"Nora ..." She rolls her eyes. "You're going to get the plague."

I shrug. "Anything for science."

She takes a dollar from a kid in exchange for a manatee-shaped cookie. Save the Manatees. Everyone knows about manatees, which is great, but they've got plenty of help. I'm surprised she didn't come up with something more original.

The last bell is about to ring, and my line has fizzled out, just like every kiss. The guy from Texas was a no-show. The exchange student was like a hyper puppy. I kept waiting for him to have an accident on the floor.

Nothing today, but that's okay. I've got time.

"Ms. Reid." Mr. Chaffee, faculty sponsor of the Eco-Fest, stops by my booth, shaking his head. "I believe kissing booths went out of style sometime in the last century." He picks up one of my brochures and smirks. "I get that you want to save the ... gopher tortoise? But I can think of at least a dozen noninvasive ways to raise money for a cause."

I smile confidently. After four years, I've thought this through. I point to my handmade sign that clearly states "NO TONGUE." Bold and in all caps, though a few always try to slip through. Hazard of the experiment.

"Well I suppose that's something." He scratches his beard and squints at me. "Really, though. A kissing booth, of all things?"

Also something I've considered. I lift a shoulder. "It's perfect. What hormone-crazed teen is going to say no to a kiss, even if he doesn't care about gopher tortoises? And you never know, maybe one of them will turn out to be a keeper."

His eyes widen. "Oh, so you have an ulterior motive?"

A flash of panic zips through me. "No. NO!" As much as I'd like to share my hypothesis with another scientist, I'm not stupid. He wouldn't get it.

He chuckles. "Good. Because you'd have to kiss a lot of, uh, gopher tortoises, to find a prince in this lot."

My stomach sinks. My hypothesis is controversial, I know. Some might say crazy, which is why I've mostly kept it to myself. I gather up my brochures and glance at him. "The most important thing is, I did just raise a lot of money to save a very adorable reptile species."

"Yeah, you did, I guess. Speaking of ..." He pulls a paper out of the folder in his hands and passes it to me. "I printed this out for you. These deadlines are coming up, so if you or your mom need any help, just ask me."

"Thank you, Mr. C." I bite my bottom lip, take the paper, and shove it inside the box with my brochures.

"Anytime," he says and moves on.

Mr. Chaffee is a good guy and a great scientist. He's also my favorite teacher, the one who pushed me toward clinical research, suggested I apply to Emory, and is now giving me scholarship information.

As he moves on to Abby's booth, I wonder about him. He's married with a few little kids, but is he happy? I think about this a lot, about people in general. People meet, go on a date, have that first kiss. Maybe it's an okay kiss, but that's all there is — no fizz, no smoke, no chemical reaction. Maybe that's enough for some people, but I believe that's the universe telling them they're incompatible. That they're inert compounds.

If more people paid attention to that first kiss, the world might be a better place. I've seen what it does, ending up with the wrong person. My parents, for example. Good at first, then boring, then mean, then ugly, and eventually just sad.

Speaking of the wrong person, I look up and lock eyes with Eli Costas, strolling toward me with a slight limp.

Immediately, my brain short-circuits and I forget what I'm doing.

Eli. Neighbor, best friend, part-time chauffeur. That hair, dark and wavy, sticking out in ways that invite you to run your fingers through it. The olive skin like a real-life Greek god, and eyes that look just like the blue oval in the watercolor sets Mom used to buy me when I was little. He's tall, and a lacrosse maniac with an upper body to prove it. Your basic unrealistically attractive high school student usually only found in books or movies. The difference is, he's real, and everyone wants him. Including me. It's a battle I fight daily.

He flashes me a grin. One side of his mouth quirks up higher than the other, and a dimple cuts deep into his cheek. Holy cow.

As he moves into my airspace, I force myself to focus on counting the tortoise money. Five. Ten. Fifteen. Twenty. Twenty-five. Forty. It always takes me a minute or two to get my bearings when it comes to Eli. To remind myself that nothing can happen between us.

It's a sad story. Of all the kissing I've done in the name of science, he was the first. Spring break, eighth grade, Madison Dunn's birthday party. My hypothesis was newly formed, and I had a huge crush on him. I was sure that he was the only human I'd ever need to kiss — that he was the lightning, the thunder, the sugar to my sulfuric acid. The night of the party, I decided to prove it.

I followed him into the garage, where he'd gone to get a Coke from the extra fridge. With total confidence, I kissed him — hard — on those full lips, right there in the glow of the refrigerator light.

It was horrible.

He'd just taken a giant swig of soda, which was probably why his lips were so cold. And then they were just ... wet. Zero reaction.

When it was over, he moved in to try again, but I backed away. It was too late.

I shared my hypothesis with him, naively thinking he'd understand. He didn't. He called me crazy, got mad, and wouldn't talk to me. It was terrible. There was nothing I could do, though. I had to trust the result. I believed in my hypothesis. The universe had spoken loud and clear, and Eli became the first failed kiss of my experiment.

Eventually, we made up and went back to being best friends. It should also be noted that my rejection didn't wreck him long term — he's done more than fine with the ladies.

The problem is my crush on him still exists. Not helping is the fact that he's only gotten hotter and funnier and easier to be with.

He sidles up behind me and I catch the slap-you-in-the-face man scent of soap and sweat and Eli. I'm intoxicated by that smell, and have been for a long time.

"I wonder how the gopher tortoises feel, being used like this?" he whispers, close to my ear, so that the little hairs inside stand at attention.

A shiver runs through me and I fumble the pile of cash. "I'm trying to count here?"

He laughs that deep Eli laugh, the one that has always made me feel so safe. I listen for it in the hallways at school. I miss it when we're not together. I love that laugh.

To be completely honest, sometimes I wish we could go back in time to Madison's garage and try again, but the scientist in me knows that's not how it works. My hypothesis is clear: a reaction either happens, or it doesn't.

And as much as Eli tempts me, I will not be one half of an inert compound.



Nora seems annoyed, but I don't let that stop me.

I move to her other ear and catch a whiff of the shampoo that she's been using since we were kids. Strawberry passion fruit something or other. "So? Any luck? I didn't sense any seismic activity."

"Shh, I'm counting ..."

There's a wad of cash in her hands. Cash she made kissing douchebags like Keaton Drake. She moves her head and her dark copper hair sorta bounces. She's been wearing it down these last few weeks. It looks good.

When I step around her, the scent of strawberries fades and I smell my lacrosse bag. So gnarly. I drop it on the floor. "Just saying. I didn't hear a sonic boom or anything."

She glares at me, like she always does, with those giant brown eyes.

"If you must know" — her steely gaze melts into a disappointed frown — "only the tortoises got lucky this year."

When she stands, my eyes accidentally move over her body. She's wearing tight black jeans and a gray T-shirt that hugs her in the right places. I can't tell her that. We can never be more than friends, she claims. Also, she'd accuse me of objectifying the female body. Which I guess I am.

"You know you're delusional, right?" I ask.

She slides the cash into a yellow envelope. "People thought Thomas Edison was delusional. Electric light? Not possible! Isaac Newton, Marie Curie, Galileo, everyone thought they were nuts." She picks up her book bag. "They were right, though, and so am I. One day I'll prove it and in the meantime, I'm not wasting time with the wrong person."

All the muscles in my body tense up. She means me.

This whole bullshit theory comes from Gigi's story about how the first kiss with her future husband supposedly shook the planet off its freaking axis. I know Gigi, though. She didn't mean for Nora to twist it all up into some impossible quest. Nora's just like that dude, Don Quixote, tilting at imaginary windmills. We read that book sophomore year. He was off his rocker, too.

"Okay, Einstein," I say. "You know, theories get proven wrong all the time."

"Yeah, well. Not this one." She slings her bag onto her shoulder. "You ready?"

I grab her box of turtle brochures, accidentally twist funny on the way out the door, and flinch. My bad knee's been bugging me all week, and I should probably do the stretches the physical therapist gave me —


Just under the cardboard flap of the box, something catches my attention. It's a printed website page that says Emory University Scholarships across the top.


The sun is blazing hot outside the gym. A couple of my teammates shout from across the parking lot. I wave, but I'm not thinking about them. Nora gets into the truck and I carry the box to the back, then lift the cardboard flap to get a better look at the paper. Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia. Scholarships. On top of the paper someone's written Nora, deadlines coming up. Come see me for help! in red pen.

I stare through the window at the back of her head, at that wild hair.

What the hell is this?

Next year, Nora is going to Citrus State, five miles east of here, with me. Her parents don't have much money, and my grades suck, so we both planned to spend the first two years at State. I'll play lacrosse, we'll take our basic courses, then we'll transfer to UF. I'll still play lacrosse, because it's all I'm good at, and eventually figure out something to major in. She'll become a mad scientist and save the world. It's been our plan since freshman year. She has never, ever mentioned Emory University.

Why hasn't my best friend told me she applied to a college out of state?

"What's wrong?" she asks when I climb in and yank on my seat belt.

I glare at her. "Nothing."

She flips down the visor mirror and checks her hair. "Something's wrong. You look like someone kicked your dog."

More like someone just kicked our friendship to the curb. "I'm fine." I channel all my confusion and anger into making my truck's damn engine turn over, which does not happen.

"Fine," she says. "Just tell me it's a PFE day."

I take a deep breath. PFE is code for "Pie Fixes Everything." Yeah, it's lame as shit, but in our defense, we came up with it when we were nine.

My brain is trying to work out this Emory news and it's coming up with nothing. "I don't know."

"So no pie?" she says, pleading.

It's a look I've never been very good at resisting.

I try the ignition again, and the third time's a charm. I back out fast, just in case it thinks about dying. "I'm pretty busy, you know. Homework." This is weak. I usually do my homework the period before it's due, if I do it at all. From her silence, I know she's thinking the same thing and wisely decides not to make a smart-ass comment about it.

"Okay, fine. No pie. Homework."

I grumble, unable to ever say no to this girl. "Fine. We can get pie. As long as it's to go."

"You sure you have time? All that homework ..."

I glance her way. She's definitely mocking me. I think of that letter in the box. Pie isn't gonna fix this.

"I said we could go, didn't I?"

"Okay. Yes, you did. PFE, to go."

My pulse pumps harder as my truck winds through historic downtown Edinburgh, which is about as exciting as it sounds. Not far from the beach, our town used to be a big tourist destination back in the old days. Now it's rundown as hell. A few antique stores, the funeral home, an old courthouse, a hotel, and the Mermaid diner, which is where we go for pie.


Excerpted from "The First Kiss Hypothesis"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Christina Mandelski.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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.

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