“500 channels, and nothing but Christmas specials on...”
Ken Dix flipped through the TV guide at a moderate pace, finding nothing but disappointment at every turn. As it was Christmas Eve, every show was a mushy feel-good romp spouting lines about family and goodwill to others. None of that spoke to Ken in the slightest.
“Ken?” a voice came from the kitchen.
“What’s up, Mom?”
“I’ve got my hands full with making everything for dinner tonight, but I’m going to run short on a couple of ingredients,” Helen Dix said, poking her head into the living room. “Can you run to the store real quick for me please?”
“Sure thing,” Ken replied, seeing as he had nothing better to do.
“Great, thank you. I made a list on the counter for you. The store should be open for another hour or two. The main things would be the eggs; I don’t have enough to finish my famous chess pie. If they have tea by the gallon, grab one sweet and one unsweet. The rest are great if you find them, but not essential.”
“Got it,” Ken said as he took the list from the counter.
Heading out to his car, Ken cranked up his Honda Civic and pulled out of the driveway. As he made his way into town, Ken reflected on his current situation. Though he loved his mom, being home for the holidays was always nerve-wracking for him. His hometown of Alpharetta, Georgia was crawling with former high school classmates of his, people he’d just as soon never see again. But up at MIT, he was actually among peers that he could relate to on an intellectual level. Not that he’d made that many friends up there. As a nineteen-year-old freshman, he was still stuck in the same boring math and science classes as everyone else. He couldn’t wait until he could start his health sciences training. Maybe then he could meet some decent people, perhaps of the female variety.
Ken soon arrived in the parking lot of the local Kroger. It was soon obvious that the place was packed with last-minute shoppers, all trying to find that one final ingredient they were missing. Locking his car, Ken sauntered into the store, grabbing a shopping basket along the way. He found the shelves of the store well picked over, striking out on the nonessential items on his mom’s list. Making his way to the drinks aisle, he was pleased to see that the store was keeping the gallon jugs of tea well stocked for the holidays, and picked up a pair.
Ken soon arrived in the refrigerated section of the store. Almost every shelf was empty, but he did manage to find one last carton of six eggs, just what his mom needed. Depositing the carton in his shopping basket, Ken made his way back to the front of the store, checking out in the express lane. He gripped the shopping bags tightly, being careful that the eggs weren’t harmed from the swinging of the bags. Arriving back in the parking lot, he was pleasantly surprised to see one of his former classmates, Jacqueline Brown. As he approached, she saw him coming.
“Ken? Kenneth Dix?”
She was extremely pretty, as was befitting one of the most popular girls in school, and kept her sandy-brown hair cut just below her jawline. Her soft, warm facial features and bubbly personality belied the sharp intellect hiding underneath. She and Ken had been partners a few times in various subjects, and he had helped craft her entrance essay to the University of Washington. This earned her a full ride scholarship. In spite of her popularity, they had worked well together, and Ken even dared to call her a friend, at least in his own mind. They had never hung out on a social basis; her circle of friends would never have let her live that down. Still, times had changed. They were both out of high school, after all. What could it hurt to ask?
“Jacqueline? Wow, I never thought I’d see you back here. Thought you escaped to cooler climates?”
“Yeah, Seattle is nice, but nothing beats Christmas at home,” she replied, adjusting her UW sweatshirt. “You back for the same reason?”
“Uh huh. Mom pretty much insisted. She won’t settle for anything less than a full family gathering on Christmas Eve. I’m just grabbing a few last things for her. But yeah, it’s great seeing you again. You, uh, you look good.”
“Um ... thanks,” she replied with hesitation.
“I’m, uh, gonna be home for a couple of weeks. Would you want to, I don’t know, hang out sometime? Maybe grab a bite to eat? My treat.”
“Well, Ken, that’s sweet of you to ask...” she said almost to herself. As she paused, her eyes suddenly lit up as if she had gotten an idea. “Alright! Here, let me give you my number.” She scribbled a series of digits down on a scrap piece of paper, writing her name next to them. “I’ll, um, talk to you later, I guess?”
Ken couldn’t believe it; he had actually done it! He had asked out the prettiest girl he had ever known! Moreover, she had given him her number! Things were definitely looking up.
“Dick!” a voice behind them yelled.
Ken turned, immediately recognizing Jason Brown, Jacqueline’s fraternal twin brother, along with his two flunkies, Brian and Barrett Sullivan. Jason had been the star quarterback at his high school, and the Sullivan boys were his best offensive linemen. They often served as his muscle off the football field, as well. Ken was intimately familiar with these three, as they had made it their mission in high school to make his life a living hell. Being stuffed in lockers, having his wallet stolen, all were commonplace with them. The three approached, attempting to appear imposing, which they were from the perspective of the ever-scrawny Ken.
“I’ve got nothing to say to you guys,” Ken muttered as they approached.
“Well I’ve got something to say to you, Mr. Kenny Dick,” Jason growled.
“Just shut up and leave me alone,” Ken replied, his blood boiling at the use of Jason’s longtime nickname for him.
“No! YOU shut the fuck up and listen!” Jason said, grabbing Ken by the collar of his t-shirt and flinging him against his car. In the process, Ken dropped his shopping bags, the jugs of tea landing directly on the egg carton.
“Jason! Stop it!” Jacqueline protested.
Undeterred, Jason threatened. “Listen fuckwad, you stay the hell away from my sister!”
“She’s an adult, dickhead! She can have anyone she wants as a friend!” Ken protested.
“YOU don’t belong on the same PLANET as her! You’re nothin’! A pathetic sack of guts your dumbass mother decided to give a name to! Know what? Just do us all a favor and drop dead!”
Enraged at the insult to his mom, Ken swung a wild haymaker at his assailant, but Jason was more than ready, pinning Ken’s arm back against his car. Jason then delivered a crushing punch to Ken’s gut, dropping him down to his knees. Before leaving, Jason knelt down next to his gasping victim.
“Next time, I won’t be so nice. Next time ... I might just kill you myself. See ya around. Dick.” Turning to his sister, Jason said, “Come on, time to go home.”
Jacqueline looked down at the pitiful form of Ken before muttering, “Sorry, Ken.”
The trio of boys sauntered off across the parking lot, laughing and high-fiving at their antics. Jacqueline followed right behind them. Ken picked himself up and inspected his groceries, discovering the crushed eggs in his bag. Swearing and cursing, he grabbed the misshapen carton and went to throw it in a nearby trash can.
“No chess pie tonight...”
As Ken returned to his car and began his drive home, Jason and his flunkies watched on from his car, still pleased with their efforts.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” Jacqueline said in a lecturing tone.
Jason turned to face his sister. “I do what I gotta do, Jacqueline. That fuckwad has no business gettin’ friendly with you. He needs to learn his place.”
“Be that as it may, I can take care of myself,” she replied firmly.
“Take care of yourself? Wait ... you didn’t?”
“I did. Jason, someday you’ll learn that there are more subtle and effective ways to ward off undesirables. Trust me, Ken won’t bother me ever again.”
Upon arriving back home, Ken couldn’t bring himself to tell his mom about the incident with the eggs. He instead told her that the store had run out altogether. She had spent many sleepless nights in the past worrying about the constant bullying her son was subjected to in school. Ken didn’t want to give her anything else to worry about. By this time, has uncles had started arriving, and the living room was soon filled with the sounds of football games. In Ken’s mind, these were no more thought provoking that the mindless Christmas specials he had found earlier. Ken went up to his room to take a hot shower, as well as get some alone time in the process. As he stripped down, he saw a bruise beginning to form on his stomach from Jason’s punch. He winced in pain as he touched the tender skin.
Shit ... that’s not going away for a while.
Ken took some Tylenol for the pain before stepping into the shower. The hot water helped relax his body, and the steam gradually built up, clearing his mind a bit. He finished after a while and, after making sure his door was shut, flopped facedown onto his bed. After laying there for around an hour or so, his mom finally called him down to rejoin the family for dinner.
Taking his seat at the table, Ken glanced around the room at his various family members. His mom had two older brothers, Lee and Stan. Though Lee was tall and still relatively youthful looking at forty-five, Stan was shorter and beginning to bald as he approached fifty. Still, both of them had one notable thing in common as far as Ken was concerned: they were both still jocks at heart. Ken had never known his father; it had always just been him and his mom. He could tell that his uncles tried to be male role models for him, but their efforts were usually ill-conceived attempts to “man him up.” Never once did they understand his introverted tendencies, and always tried to get him to be more of a people person. After a while, Ken stopped paying their advice any attention.
It was striking to Ken how similar Lee and Stan’s families were. They had both married beautiful, blonde cheerleaders, and now both had sixteen-year-old daughters, both of whom were among the most popular girls in school. It all sickened Ken; they were just perpetuating the stereotype of pretty and popular being the be-all, end-all in life. As the family ate, Ken remained silent for the most part. The adults were engrossed in discussions about their jobs, and the two daughters were giggling and playing on their phones the entire time. None of this was relevant to Ken.
“You know, I saw something interesting today,” Lee said as dessert was being brought out. “I was at Kroger filling up my car, and saw you in the main parking lot, Ken. Looked like you were, uh, havin’ some words with a few guys out there.”
Shit! He saw that?!
Not wanting to worry his mom, Ken replied, “It ... it was nothing.”
“Nothing, eh? Is that why that punk punched you in the gut?”
With a worried look on her face, Helen asked, “Ken, sweetie, what is he talking about?” She walked around the table to Ken’s seat and lifted up his shirt, seeing the bruise on his abdomen. “Was it that Jason boy again?”
“Mom, just let it go.”
“No! Ken, you know I worry about you!”
“You worry about ME?! I think you need to worry more about your brother!” Ken shouted, his anger exploding at last. “Right, Uncle Lee? Come on, you see your own nephew being ganged up on in a parking lot, yet you do nothing to help him out?!”
“A man’s gotta learn to fight his own battles,” Lee replied in a calm voice.
“No. You want to know what a man does? A man sticks up for his FAMILY! No. Matter. What! You stood there and watched your own nephew get beaten up. That says a hell of a lot more about you than it does me. And if that’s family ... I don’t want any part of this one.”
Without a word, Ken stood and left the dining room. He then grabbed his MIT hoodie and headed for the front door. As he was about to get into his car and drive off, he saw to his frustration that his uncles’ cars were parked in the driveway behind him, blocking him in. Cursing under his breath, he prepared to leave on foot.
“Ken! Come back inside, please!” Helen called after him, running down the driveway.
“No. I’ve got to go out ... clear my head...”
“Ken, it’s Christmas Eve. Please, come be with your family.”
“Mom, aside from you, not a single person in that house feels like family to me,” Ken replied coldly. “I’ll ... I’ll call you after while...”
Ken walked off into the cold Georgia night, not knowing for sure where to go or what to do. Nobody else was out, as they were all at home with their families. Remembering the square in historic downtown Alpharetta, he decided to head in that direction. Maybe the quiet walk would do him some good.
Arriving in the town square, Ken walked along the sidewalks for a bit, peering into the darkened windows of the various shops and restaurants. Everything looked so different to him with everyone gone for the day; it all seemed so peaceful. As he continued to walk, he soon saw City Hall in the distance. In front of the building was a large green space, which was teeming with a surprising amount of activity for it being Christmas Eve. Ken moved closer, now spying a large gathering of people sitting on picnic blankets, all bundled up in coats and hats. Ahead of them, a large screen projected the classic film, It’s a Wonderful Life.
Though Ken was never into the Christmas cheer, as it were, he felt strangely drawn to watch a few minutes of the film from a distance. He soon began to regret that decision, as the movie had reached the point where George Baily had an arrest warrant out for him, lashing out at his family in anger. Watching him get drunk and punched in a bar fight, Ken began to feel sick with anger. Despite all his efforts to help better the world around him, the universe conspired against George Baily ... just as it seemed to be conspiring against Ken. Unable to watch a moment more, he turned and walked into the nearby park.
Again alone with his thoughts, Ken sat on a bench near the fountain in the center of the park. He contemplated many things, as he often did in solitude. He thought about his piss poor excuse for a family, intent on changing him into what they say he should be. If only they could love him as he is. He thought about Jason Brown, a perpetual asshole that managed to get all the beautiful women his heart desired. If only the universe would serve up his just desserts, rather than conspiring against Ken. Sighing in frustration, he stuffed his freezing hands into his jeans pockets.
Feeling the scrap of paper still in his pocket, Ken suddenly felt a glimmer of hope in an otherwise dreary day. He needed something, anything to lift his spirits, and hearing her kind, sweet voice might just do it. Hell, he didn’t even care anymore if she was interested in him in a romantic sense; he just needed someone to listen and understand him. Digging out his phone, he dialed the number. After a single ring, a message began to play, seeming to be read by a game show host.
“Congratulations! You’ve reached Live 95.5 FM’s world-famous Loser Line! Live 95.5; featuring the best entertainment in Seattle! If you’ve reached this message, you have attempted to hit on a girl WAY out of your league! That poor young lady wants nothing to do with you, but you just couldn’t help creeping on her! That’s where we come in! Now you know what a loser you really are! So leave the girl alone, loser! You’re doing everyone a favor! If you’d like to leave a message for the world-famous Loser Line, begin speaking at the tone! BEEEEP!”
Ken hung up the phone in quiet disbelief. How could he have been so wrong about Jacqueline? They had worked so well together in school, and he even considered her a friend! She always spoke so kindly to him, how could this have happened? Was she really as nasty and shallow as her dumbass brother? Was she really just that good of an actress? As he pondered all this, Ken’s rage finally exploded out of him.
“That two-faced bitch! Who the fuck does she think she is?! I trusted her! Hell, she would never have gotten a full scholarship without my help! All I ever did was LIKE her! And after all that, she doesn’t even have the decency to turn me down to my face?! WHAT THE FUCKING HELL?!”
Slumping back down onto the park bench, every thought that entered Ken’s mind brought him lower. Jason was an ass, but then again, he didn’t know how to act any different. Uncle Lee was a moron, but then again, he had no malicious intent. But Jacqueline ... she was the last straw. He had trusted her, opened up to her, and she repaid him by committing the single most cruel and senseless act Ken could ever imagine. Everything was crashing down around him. As he continued to sulk, Jason’s words entered into his mind once more.
“I should just do everyone a favor and drop dead ... is that what you want, Jacqueline? Seems like you agree with your brother, or you wouldn’t have given me that number.”
Ken reached into his pocket, withdrawing a folding knife. It had been a high school graduation present to him from his grandfather, before he passed a few months later. A far cry from the typical Swiss Army knife, he unfolded the shiny, four-inch blade, which stood in beautiful contrast to the wooden handle. Inscribed in the wood were Ken’s initials. He had not used it for anything yet, never had any need to. As he stared at his reflection in the blade, Ken kept replaying Jason’s words in his mind.
“Maybe that’s not such a bad idea...”
Just as Ken took a firm grip on the handle, preparing to take the knife to his throat, an unfamiliar voice came from off to the side.
Gabrielle Libertine relaxed in a lawn chair, savoring the crisp, cold air of Christmas Eve. This was her favorite time of the year, and being able to enjoy an outdoor showing of her favorite Christmas film, It’s a Wonderful Life, made it even better. It all fit in perfectly with her life philosophy: live for happiness. Not only her own, but as much as could be had for the world around her too.
“You want the moon? Just say the word, and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down.”
“Oh, Jimmy Stewart, you charmer you...” Gabby sighed.
Soon, her emotions welled up as the hopeless romantic that was George Bailey began to succumb to the pressures and injustices of life. He had blamed his own uncle for destroying their business, lashed out at his wife and children in anger, and gone crawling to his hated rival for a loan. The hardest scenes for her to watch were always the bar fight and the car crash. Still, she always stuck it out. The best was yet to come.
Just as George stood atop the bridge, Gabby caught sight of something out of the corner of her eye. A young man of about nineteen or twenty was watching the movie from a distance away, leaning against a tree near the road. His face twisted in angst as he saw the pain on display in the film, and he soon spun around, walking into the nearby park. Gabby couldn’t explain why, but something compelled her to follow him and make sure he was ok.
Collecting her lawn chair, she walked along the perimeter of the green space, soon arriving at the entrance to the park. As she went, she began to hear angry shouting up ahead of her; it sounded like the young man was in distress. After a few minutes, she came upon the fountain situated in the center of the park. On a bench sat the man from earlier, appearing to be deep in thought. By the glow of the lamppost, Gabby could now get a good look at him. He appeared to be of average height, maybe 5’7”, and had shaggy black hair that seemed a bit unkempt. Still, it’s color shone in the light of the park, and his white skin provided for quite a striking appearance. A pair of black horn-rimmed glasses framed his face, which combined with his red MIT hoodie to project a very specific image into Gabby’s mind. He had to be incredibly intelligent.
As she studied him, she saw the young man pull an object out of the pocket of his jeans. Catching a glimpse of something reflective, she could now see that he was holding a small folding knife. Gabby tensed up and wondered if she should run, but soon decided against it; he didn’t seem to have even noticed her presence. In fact, the way he looked at the knife was quite unsettling. It was as if he saw that little blade as his best friend in the world. She knew the look in his eyes. She knew what would happen in a moment if she did nothing. Taking a deep breath, Gabby decided to act.
Ken was startled by the unfamiliar voice. Looking up, he now saw a woman in her early twenties standing across the way. She gazed at him with intent, but for what reason he did not know. Looking back at her, Ken’s typical awkwardness began to kick in, as he could see that she was quite beautiful. Dressed warmly in a black winter coat and blue jeans, she wore a grey knit cap over her long blonde hair. Upon first glance, she appeared to be of some sort of Scandinavian descent, or perhaps German, though Ken couldn’t be sure. His mouth went dry as he tried to find the words to speak.
“Everything ok?” she asked.
“Uh ... f-fine. W-why do you, um ... why do you ask?”
Smiling, she replied, “I saw you over on the green, watching the movie. By the look on your face, you were having a tough time with it. When I saw you walk off towards the park, I felt I should come and see if anything was wrong.”
“N-no, nothing’s wrong...”
“Good. Then I shouldn’t be concerned about the way you’re looking at that knife of yours, right?”
Shaking his head, Ken answered, “I’m not going to hurt you. Promise.”
“That’s not what I’m concerned about.”
“Wha ... what do you mean?” Ken asked, his eyes growing wide.
“I’ve seen that look before,” she said, taking a couple of steps closer. “I am, sadly, all too familiar with it. You were about to hurt yourself, weren’t you?”
“You don’t know a thing about me, lady,” Ken muttered, preparing to leave.
“I don’t have to know anything about you to be concerned,” she fired back.
“Concerned,” Ken snorted. “How could you be concerned about me? You don’t even know me!”
“Easily rectified. Gabrielle Libertine. My friends call me Gabby,” she said, sticking out her hand with a warm smile. When he didn’t respond, she smirked and continued, “This is the part where you tell me your name.”
Sighing, he replied, “Ken. Ken Dix.”
“A pleasure, Ken,” she said as they shook hands.
“So ... Gabrielle, eh? You supposed to be my Clarence or something?”
With a playful gasp, she responded, “Oh my God! Does that mean you’re Jimmy Stewart?! I’ve had the biggest crush on you for YEARS!!!”
Ken gave a nervous laugh. “Alright, alright, I walked into that one. But in all seriousness.”
“No, I’m not a Guardian Angel or the Word of God or anything like that. Just an average person like you.” Motioning to the bench, she asked, “May I?”
“S-sure, I guess,” Ken answered, scooting to the edge.
“Thanks.” Taking a seat, she continued, “So tell me this, Ken: why would you want to hurt, maybe kill yourself?”
His face twisted in pain. “You don’t want to know...”
“I do. Believe me, I do.”
Sighing with reluctance, Ken relented and began to tell Gabby of the events of the day. He started with Jacqueline and Jason, then the confrontation with his uncle, and finally the fake phone number showing Jacqueline’s true colors. Through it all, Gabby sat in silence, maintaining eye contact and nodding whenever appropriate. At last, he finished his story, and Gabby could feel her heart breaking within her chest.
“Ken ... I’m so sorry. I can feel the pain in your voice. No one deserves what you’ve gone through today. I know it’s of little help, but I do understand what you’re going through.”
“Understand?” Ken said, incredulous. “How could a girl like you understand any of this? I mean, look at you. You’re gorgeous, and I bet you’ve always been popular. Just like Jacqueline. Just like Jason. Just like Uncle Lee. None of you could ever imagine the world I live in.”
With a stern look on her face, she replied, “I’m going to choose to let that slide, considering everything you’ve told me. Still, you need to know that what you just said was quite hurtful. Almost as hurtful as the things that have been said to you today.”
Ken recoiled. He knew she was right. “I’m ... I’m sorry. You’re right; I should never have said that. You’ve been nothing but nice to me tonight...”
“Apology accepted,” Gabby said with a smile. “Humility is a rare trait in men these days. Hang on to that.”
Ken thought she might be mocking him, but bit his tongue nonetheless. He had already insulted her once, and he wasn’t going to chance a second time.
Seeking to turn the conversation to happier topics, she asked, “MIT, huh? You’re an awful long way from home, aren’t you?”
“Huh? Oh, the hoodie. Yeah, I’m a freshman there this year, just home on break right now.”
“Health sciences. I want to go to medical school after MIT, though I’m still figuring out a specialty.”
“Plenty of time to decide that. I’m sure you’ll find the right career path,” she said with a grin.
As nice as it was to talk about a familiar topic, a few things still bugged Ken’s mind to no end. “I still can’t figure it out ... why would Jacqueline do this?”
Frowning, Gabby replied, “Some people are cruel. Often the ones that are the cruelest disguise it with a kind, warm public demeanor. Jacqueline sounds like she fits that mold to a T.”
“And she hid it all that time while we were in school?”
“You were useful at the time, in her mind. She wasn’t going to chance losing that. Once she got what she needed, she had no more reason to hide her true feelings.”
“Yeah, but still. Why be all friendly to me in the store?”
“In her twisted mind, she probably felt she was doing you a favor. She wanted to ensure you never tried to contact her again. To a cruel person like her ... that’s her idea of doing you a kindness,” Gabby replied sadly. “We just have to hope that there’s enough real kindness in this world to counteract such cruelty.”
Now noticing a silver cross hanging from her neck, Ken pointed to it and asked, “I guess this the part where you start lecturing me about suicide? That I’m being selfish and trying to go against God’s plan?”
“No,” she replied with simplicity.
“No. Ken, I meant it when I said that I’ve seen that look before. I know better than most that suicidal thoughts are rarely that simple. There’s no switch that can turn them off. It’s a tide that must be turned back, bit by bit.”
Stunned, Ken started to see that this woman understood what was important in life. Realizing he still had the knife in his hand, he folded it closed and put it back in his pocket.
“Bit by bit,” she said with a smile. “My car’s around the corner. Is there somewhere I can take you? Where do you live?”
“I’m not going home. Not yet,” Ken replied. “Not with my uncles still there...”
“No problem. I’m not going to force you.” Thinking a moment, she continued, “It’s pretty cold out here. Why don’t you come back to my place for a bit?”
“That’s ... unnecessary. I’m fine on my own.”
“Nice try, but no cigar,” she said. “I’m not leaving you alone with that knife, mister. And I’m certainly not leaving you alone on Christmas Eve. Nobody should be alone for the holidays.”
“Thanks, but ... won’t your husband mind?”
“He would, if I were married.”
“Nope, just my townhouse and me. Pretty cozy, all things considered. No problems with you coming over, but I do have one condition.”
“And what’s that?”
Smirking, Gabby replied, “You call your mom right now and tell her you’re ok.”
Hesitating a moment, Ken soon relented. “Fine.” Tapping his phone, Ken waited as it rang. “Hey Mom, it’s me ... Yeah, I’m ok ... No, seriously. I’m fine ... Yeah I’m just hanging with a friend. I probably won’t be back ‘til tomorrow ... I will ... Love you too ... Bye.”
“See? Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?” Gabby teased him.
Eying her, Ken asked. “You’re seriously ok with bringing me to your home?”
Taking his hand, Gabby led him to her car.
The drive had been silent for the most part. Ken was still trying to comprehend everything that was happening. Who was this woman? Why would she go to such great lengths for a stranger she didn’t even know? Gabby seemed to pick up on this, refraining from prodding him for any further conversation. She could tell he was still processing the events of the day. Soon, they arrived at her townhouse complex and pulled into her garage.
“Come on in, make yourself at home,” she said as she turned on the lights. “Can I offer you something to drink? Coffee? Hot chocolate?”
“Hot chocolate sounds good, thanks.”
“Comin’ right up!”
As she hung her hat and jacket up on a rack, Ken couldn’t help but stare. He now saw that she wasn’t just a pretty face; her entire body was sublime. She wore a tight burgundy sweater and a pair of tight, form-fitting jeans. This ensemble only served to accent her body even further. Her hourglass figure was delectable, her slim waist contrasting with her curvy hips and ample bust. She was also just as tall as him, perhaps a bit taller, with legs for miles. Though Ken had fantasized about some of his classmates, none of them could come anywhere close to Gabby. She was a woman, not a girl, and in the prime of her life no less.
“Here you go,” she said, handing Ken a mug.
After blowing on the hot drink, he took a sip, feeling the warm liquid spreading through his body. “Thanks,” he sighed.
“No problem,” she replied with a smile. “Come on, let’s go relax in the den.”
She led him into an intimate area with a sofa and a loveseat. The only illumination came from the twinkling multicolored lights on her Christmas tree in the corner. As Ken took in the relaxing surroundings, smelling the delicious scent of her Frazier fir tree, Gabby stepped over to the fireplace opposite the sofa. Flipping a switch, she soon had a comfortable fire roaring from the gas logs. She then sat on the sofa, placing her mug on the side table and patting the spot next to her.
“Come sit. I promise I don’t bite,” she said with a playful grin.
“Um, ok...” he mumbled, scooting as close to the armrest as he could to give Gabby plenty of space.
“Tell me about MIT,” she inquired. “You mentioned you want to go into health sciences. Does that include medical school?”
“Uh, yeah with any luck. Harvard would be my top choice, but I don’t know if I could afford it. But assuming so, my dream has always been to be a brain surgeon.”
“Brain surgeon?! That’s so cool! They’re like ... the most badass of all the badass doctors! Not just surgeons, brain surgeons!” Gabby gushed.
“It’s, uh, not that big a deal,” Ken replied as he blushed with embarrassment.
“Well, I could totally see you as a brain surgeon. Don’t ever give up on it.”
“So, what then for you, Dr. Dix? What happens once you reach your dream?”
Ken began to feel a strange amount of comfort with this woman, and started to open up to her. “Honestly ... I don’t know. I mean even if I become a brain surgeon, I’m still hopeless around girls. Maybe Jason’s right. I’m gonna die a virgin...” Realizing what he had confessed to her, he turned to Gabby and blurted out, “Not that it’s your problem, or anything. S-sorry, I just ... I shouldn’t have gone that far...”
Gabby just smiled and moved closer to him, brushing her hand against his arm.
“Don’t worry about it. You have goals, both personal and professional, but aren’t sure exactly how to achieve them. So you’re a virgin. That’s nothing to be embarrassed about, and it’s healthy to express your anxiety about it. That can help you overcome your fears. In all seriousness, I think you underestimate yourself, Ken.”
“Of course,” Gabby replied. “You’re smart, considerate, polite, you even held the car door for me earlier! Any girl you’d want to be with is gonna swoon at traits like that. I can also tell that you still think of yourself as unattractive, but I disagree. You wear glasses, yes, but that doesn’t make you a dork. Your hair is a little shaggy, but not greasy or anything. You may not have a tan, but your skin complexion is damn near flawless. You have nothing to be ashamed of, be it your looks or your personality.”
“You’re about the only woman who thinks so,” he sighed.
“Doubtful, but if it’s that big a worry for you, I can give you a couple of pointers, if you like.”
“Um, o-ok I guess.”
“Great! Ok, so you definitely give off the ‘geek’ vibe, but that’s not a bad thing. Don’t fight it; own it.”
“Well, you can make just some slight alterations to your outward appearance that can change the way others see you. For example, you could switch to wire-framed glasses instead of your horn-rimmed ones. Your hair is a great color, and would do well in a short, clean-cut style, if I do say so myself. You can also change out your usual t-shirts for some casual polo shirts.”
“So ... the secret to getting women to notice me is to change who I am?” Ken asked, feeling more than a little offended.
Cocking her eyebrow, Gabby replied, “Are you saying your glasses, hair length, and shirt choices define who you are?”
“Oh, uh ... fair point,” Ken conceded.
“See? Humility. Such a rare quality these days,” Gabby said with a grin. “To be honest, all the changes I suggested are things my brother did a couple of years back. He was a complete geek, maybe even bigger than you. The poor boy was helpless around the fairer sex. But after he made these changes, he no longer came off as the socially awkward geek. He came off as a self-assured, confident geek, one who loves himself for who he is. I see that potential in you, Ken.” Grabbing her iPad from the side table, she pulled up a couple of pictures for him. “See? Here’s before. And here’s after.”
“Woah,” Ken marveled. He could see the drastic difference. The guy hadn’t done anything to make himself stronger or bulkier, nothing to increase his manliness, but the things he did change just popped in all the right ways. Was it really that simple?
“That’s great and all, but can new clothes and a haircut get rid of social awkwardness? I still don’t have even a shred of confidence around women,” Ken said.
“They can help, but a change in your mental confidence is completely based on your willpower. You have to love yourself as much as you want others to love you. If you don’t, everyone else will pick up on it.”
“Knew there was a catch...”
Gabby bit her lip in frustration. There had to be a way she could give him the confidence boost he needed to love himself, but how? Getting one somewhat crazy idea, she moved closer to Ken.
“I’m guessing from your previous statements that ... you’ve never kissed a girl before. Is that right Ken?”
Poor Ken Dix didn’t even know what had hit him. Here he was, sitting with the most beautiful woman he’d ever laid eyes on, and the unthinkable was beginning to happen. She was moving closer, running her fingers through his hair, and now wanted to know if he’d ever been kissed! This was too much, way beyond any of his hottest dreams. Unable to find the words to respond, he managed to slowly nod his head.
“Close your eyes,” she instructed in her sweet voice. When he only blinked in reply, she whispered, “Close ... your eyes, Ken. Trust me.”
Guided by an unseen force, Ken felt compelled to obey her. His eyes finally fluttered closed, and his breathing became more labored in anticipation of what was to come. A small part of him doubted that she was being truthful, thinking that she’d fake him out just like Jacqueline had. Those doubts were soon quashed as he felt the warm sensation of Gabby’s face leaning close to his. He could feel her breathing. He could smell her perfume. If there was a God, Ken prayed then and there that He could make this incredible moment last forever.
After what felt like eons, Gabby finally released their building tension and touched her lips to Ken’s. Her kiss was soft at first, allowing him to savor the new sensations he was feeling. Ken was so terrified and excited all at once that he could barely even move his lips in reply. Not that it mattered to Gabby. She had expected his fear, and made sure to keep her technique simple yet enjoyable. After around thirty seconds, she withdrew at last, her face aglow in the Christmas tree light.
“Wow,” Ken managed to mutter as he opened his eyes. He soon noticed that he couldn’t see Gabby at all; his glasses had fogged up from their kiss.
“Here, let’s just take these off,” Gabby said with a giggle. She slipped his glasses off and laid them on her side table. “Now then, since we’ve gotten your first kiss out of the way, ready to really dive in?”
“Dive in to what?” Ken asked, his nerves beginning to fray.
“Kissing, silly! You do know there’s much more to it than what we just did, right?”
“Of course! Look, one day you’ll get the prime opportunity to kiss a special lady, and I want you to be ready when that chance comes.”
“I ... I don’t want to just be a charity case,” Ken replied. “If you do this-”