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Sealed with a Kiss This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     Picture a gawky girl of nine with long hair and big glasses. Behind the glasses she is all eyes - two blue saucers in a pale, thin face. Painfully shy, she hovers at the edge of the group, eyes expanding to plate-size as she takes in the wonders around her. She stands in the studio of her favorite artist, Mary Engelbreit - heaven on earth to a young girl with an active imagination and a passion for art. She takes in the artist’s trademark cherries, small dogs, flowers and bright colors that cover every surface, and wishes she could live here forever.

* * *

Eight years later, the girl is a young woman. No longer gangly, with shorter hair and a fuller face, her eyes once again open wide to take in the beauty around her. Her shyness has never completely gone, but she stands among friends: six girls gaping at the Irish castle in front of them. A real-life castle! Not pink, not at Disneyland, this castle played host to real history, and the friends circle it in awe. The girl takes in the rolling green hills - a green more intense than any at home, a green she thought existed only in trite poems about Ireland, the “Emerald Isle.” She knows she is standing in the most beautiful place she has ever seen.

***

“All right, girls, welcome to the Mary Engelbreit studio! We’re so excited you could come today. Before the tour starts, we like to give visitors the opportunity to have their photo taken. Anyone who wants to can put on this special crown and stand right over there and I will take your picture!”

Wow, a crown. With that crown, I could be princess of this entire place. Not many girls get to come here, I’m lucky. And how special to have a picture of myself here, a memory from this perfect day!

“Laura, do you want to have your picture taken?”

“No, Mom, it’s okay,” I mumble.

“What?”

“No.”

Why did I say no? I really want my picture taken, more than anything. Okay, after this girl goes, I will step to the front ... but then everyone will look at me. What if they think I’m weird-looking or talk about me to their friends? But I really want this picture. After this girl ... now.

“Anyone else? Don’t be shy!”

“Laura, are you sure you don’t want your picture taken?”

The little girl follows the rest of the group into the next room with her eyes down and her fists clenched. Something in the pit of her stomach seems to have fallen on the floor - something heavy that tugs away at her insides.

***

“All right, let’s go to the top!”

The top.

The girl has always had a fear of heights, and the top of the castle looms ten stories above her.

I just climb up and look. I can do this. Thousands of people kiss the Blarney Stone every year, it is not a big deal. And it will be such a fun story to tell everyone when I get back! I can’t go to Blarney Castle and not kiss the Blarney Stone. I can totally do this.

She follows her friends up a narrow, twisting staircase hewn out of rock hundreds of years ago. Up, up, up, spiraling and winding with no end in sight, curving away so sharply at each bend that only five or six steps are visible at a time. The girl feels dizzy and grips the rope that hangs from iron rings on the wall.

Come on, don’t be such a wimp. It’s just a staircase. Everyone else is climbing just fine. You climb stairs every day. Just put one foot in front of the other.

***

The tour stops in front of an overstuffed red sofa. All the little girls take a seat as their guide hands out paper and markers. The little girl loves coloring, but today she does not feel excited. In the back of her mind she chants, If only, if only ...

***

Atop the castle, the six girls stand blinking in the sunlight. They can see other tourists below as they lie on a mat and lean back, rushed by a cantankerous old man who holds their ankles as they kiss the stone. Three people remain until the girl and her friends have their turn. She focuses half her attention on her friends as they carry on a lively conversation, but the other half never strays from the mat ahead.

Calm down, it’s too small for anyone to fall through. It’s only so they don’t get sued. This is really not that bad. Wow, they really have to flip over far ... I wonder if you can see the ground from upside down ...

The girl’s grandmother used to buy crackers shaped like butterflies with a unique flavor between salty and bitter. Once, the little girl ate too many and an acute stomachache left her hunched over for the rest of the day. She can still taste those crackers every time someone talks about “butterflies in the stomach.”

Two people remain in line before the girl. Her palms are clammy and her stomach feels sickly and hollow.

Okay, after this guy goes, it’s my turn. I’ll just lie down on the mat, kiss the silly thing, and it will be over. This will be fun. I’m in Ireland. It’s completely safe. Everyone else can do this. I’m so sick of being afraid. Okay, I’m just going to go ...

Her turn arrives and she freezes. “Katie, you go first.”

“But I’m holding your purse!”

“Here, give it to me, you go.”

“Next, please!”

Hurried by the peevish old man, the girl flushes with shame. She wrests her purse from Katie and shoves her friend toward the mat. She slips to the back of her group. One by one, the others sit, flip over, kiss the wall and rise, smiling and laughing,

No one left but me. Okay, I’m just going to do it - no, I can’t! Come on, it’s not worth it, I’m just going to skip it.

***

The tour finishes and the little girl and her mother walk outside. What a fun day, the girl thinks, as she replays the tour in her head: sights she never believed could exist outside her imagination all came to life! It had been a marvelous day, yet somewhere deep inside her continues to nag away: If only, if only, if only ...

***

The girl’s turn arrives. Her stomach knots tighter, but she steps toward the mat. She remembers every time she missed out on something because of fear, and takes another step.

I am in Ireland. This is the trip of a lifetime. I will not wonder “what if” for the rest of this trip. I am sick of this fear. It’s time to let go.

Almost in a daze, the girl sits. Two bony hands pin her ankles down. She flips over, but eight inches stand between her and the wall. Swallowing all fear - I did not go through all this to kiss air! - she hoists herself farther backward, out over what moments before seemed like a gaping ravine of death, and plants a huge kiss right on the cold stone. She stands, flushed and disheveled, 50 pounds lifted from her back.

Something as silly as kissing an old stone, something as small as a picture untaken - and yet, standing on the other side of the ravine between them, the girl feels like the queen of the world with a shiny cardboard crown on her head.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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