On the night of his sixteenth birthday, Keller crept downstairs and slipped out of the house past his grandpa sleeping on the porch, just has he'd done on countless nights before.
He half-walked, half-jogged the route to Vivian's house, just as he'd done on countless nights before.
When he reached the bottom of the trellis that led up to her bedroom window, he stopped for a second and ran a hand distractedly through his hair, brushing it upwards at what he hoped was the perfect angle. Then he breathed hard into his hand and checked that the mouthwash he'd used earlier hadn't stopped working, and briefly wondered if he should have showered for a second time.
This was not something he'd done on countless nights before.
They'd talked and joked about it, on and off, since they were fourteen years old. An offhand suggestion at first, but one that they eventually started to take more seriously, until Keller made the second solemn vow of his life: that if neither of them had found anyone to do it with by the time they were both sixteen years old, then they would do it with each other.
That first time, Keller had straight up asked her if she was serious. Vivian told him that they had enough problems coming from a town so small that the entire population only ran to double figures, without worrying about being virgins too. It just made sense really, if you thought about it.
And Keller did think about it. Every so often, he would ask her if she was still serious, figuring that one day, as sixteen drew closer, she'd eventually change her mind. Vivian's sixteenth birthday had been two months ago, and ever since then she'd been teasing him about making it with an older woman.
And today had been Keller's sixteenth birthday. Well, technically it had been yesterday as his watch had now ticked over past midnight. He started to climb the trellis, and if his legs were shaking just a little bit, he chose to ignore that fact.
Before he could reach out and tap gently on Vivian's window, she pulled it open and after a beat, gestured to him to come inside, a shy smile on her face. Just as he'd done on countless nights before, Keller swung his legs over Vivian's windowsill and climbed in, dropping quietly to the floor on the other side.
The first thing he noticed was that, unlike the countless nights before, Vivian wasn't wearing her usual cotton nightgown or flannel pyjamas. Instead she had on something short, floaty and delicate, and Keller was pretty sure that she didn't have any underwear on underneath it. He felt himself harden at the thought, and quickly turned to adjust himself under the guise of closing the window.
There was a long silence, during which time Keller wondered if he'd actually forgotten how to speak. Finally he managed, 'Are you...?'
'Yes, Keller, I'm sure,' Vivian cut him off. He just nodded, not sure he could say anything else just then. 'You've been asking me that question for over two years now. I was sure then, I've been sure every time you've asked me since and I'm sure now. So quit asking me,' she finished, like he was five years old or something.
'What about...?' he didn't really know how to finish that sentence.
She smiled at him. 'My sisters are away visiting with our cousins. Momma took a sleeping pill around nine, and Daddy could sleep through the end of the world, so Momma says. No one's gonna,' she paused, searching for the right words, 'disturb us.'
With that, Vivian held out her hand to him. Keller took it, hoping that his palms weren't too sweaty, and let himself be led to Vivian's bed. They sat down on the edge of the mattress, and once the springs had settled it was too quiet again. Although Keller couldn't tell for sure in a room lit only by moonlight, he could’ve sworn that he actually heard Vivian roll her eyes at him.
'Will you just relax already?' she said, softly. 'It's me, remember?'
'I know,' Keller replied, swallowing hard. 'It's just... You plan something for so long, y'know? And suddenly, when the time comes...'
Vivian cut him off again, this time with a kiss, which pretty much stopped Keller from worrying about how to get things started. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her back, trying not to think about how he'd never touched Vivian with only a thin layer of material between them before, even if other parts of his body seemed to be thinking about nothing else.
She wasn't the first girl he'd ever kissed. It wasn't even the first time he'd ever kissed Vivian, given that long nights spent in the hideaway he shared with Squirrel, John and Terrell Lee inevitably led to teenage experimentation. But it was the first time he'd ever kissed anyone knowing that it was actually leading somewhere. The thought of it kind of made his head spin.
They were lying back on Vivian's bed now, having gradually worked their way from vertical to horizontal, and Keller was pretty much at the limit of his previous experience, although he was trying not to let it show. He guessed he might not have been doing such a great job at that when Vivian took hold of his hand and placed it purposefully on her breast.
'It's okay, y'know? You're allowed to touch me,' she whispered in his ear before kissing it softly. He could hear the smile in her voice.
'I was just getting to it,' he said, smiling back.
'If you say so, Keller...'
He kissed Vivian again, softly, his hands exploring her body. The heat against his palm felt so intense, and when she moaned quietly as her nipple harden under his touch, Keller couldn't help but feel a little proud of himself.
Of course, it didn't help much that he made the exact same noise himself when he ran his hand up Vivian's thigh and discovered that his earlier theory about a lack of underwear had been pretty accurate. Vivian just giggled softly and kissed him again, slipping her hands under his t-shirt and pulling him closer until there was nothing but a breath between them.
Her fingers tangled in the soft material as they kissed, until she told him, 'You should really take this off, y'know...'
'You first,' Keller said without thinking.
'Okay.' Vivan replied, kneeling up and pulling the flimsy nightgown over her head, her naked body briefly illuminated in the moonlight before she lay down again, quickly pulling the coverlet over herself. 'Your turn, Keller.'
Once he'd stored the image away for future use and remembered how to breathe again, Keller sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed before pulling his t-shirt off. He chanced a quick look over his shoulder at Vivian, who raised an eyebrow at him to let him know that he was expected to take all of his clothes off. Keller unbuckled his jeans and managed to shuck them off along with his underwear in one reasonably slick move before sliding under the coverlet to protect what was left of his modesty, grateful that his blushes couldn't be seen in the darkness.
Keller rolled towards Vivian as she moved in to meet him. They kissed again, and suddenly he was very aware of the fact that they were both naked. Couldn't really think about anything else. The feeling of skin against skin with nothing between them left no where to hide from the inevitable.
'Do you have anything...? Y'know, for...' Vivian looked up at him, biting her lip a little.
It was really a conversation that they should probably have had earlier, given that that tonight had been more than two years in the planning. Fortunately, Keller was nothing if not prepared, and after an awkward if slightly cryptic conversation with Terrell Lee, he had managed to procure a condom. Just the one though, so he was praying that he didn't screw it up.
'Uh, yeah. Hang on a second...' Keller groped around on the floor for his jeans, nearly falling out of bed in the process, Vivian sniggering quietly as she held on to his hips to keep him from tumbling onto the floorboards.
Finally Keller found what he was looking for and came up waving it triumphantly. Vivian just fixed him with an amused look and said, 'Well, it ain't gonna do any good you waving it in the air like that.'
'Oh,' Keller blushed and Vivian kissed him on the cheek, pulling him down on the bed again. 'I guess I should...?'
Vivian nodded, and Keller hoped that she couldn't hear his heart, which appeared to be hammering wildly in his chest. His hands shook as a mantra of, "don't screw this up" played on a loop in his head. Finally he was ready and moved over to lay top of her, and for the first time in his life, he wished that he had put a little more planning into this. God knows, he felt like he could use a set of instructions or even a diagram at that point.
Obviously Keller knew about the birds and the bees. That had all been explained to him when he was twelve; an awkward talk one afternoon with his grandpa that had left him fascinated and horrified in equal measure. Keller was living proof that sex education from an old man in his seventies really wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
But right now, he was wondering if he shouldn't have paid a little more attention.
Keller positioned himself between Vivian's legs and pushed forwards, his breathing erratic, hands still trembling a little. Nothing much happened, which wasn't exactly what he'd been expecting.
'Um... I think... Maybe if you could...?'
'Hang on a second... How's that...?'
There was some awkward shifting and just as Keller was starting to wonder if somehow he'd managed to get it hopelessly wrong, Vivian lifted her hips and suddenly he was all the way inside, which took them both by surprise.
'Woah!' Keller breathed before he could stop himself, just as Vivian gave a stifled cry of pain - something else he hadn't been expecting. He froze, too scared to move at all. 'I'm so sorry, Viv, are you...?
'If you ask me if I'm sure, Keller Coleman, so help me god I will kick your ass!' Vivian hissed between gritted teeth.
Keller laughed softly. 'I was gonna ask you if you're okay, but I think you just answered that.' He heard Vivian take a couple of shaky breaths, then she laughed too. 'But we can stop if you want. Y'know, if it hurts or something.'
'You're sweet, Keller, but I'm okay. Besides, we made a deal to lose our virginities and I'm not going back on that.'
Propped up on one arm, Keller leaned in and kissed Vivian before whispering in mock seriousness, 'I don't know how to break it to you, but I'm pretty sure yours is gone already.'
'Well, you'd best get a move on then,' she whispered, kissing him back, 'You don't wanna be the only virgin left around here now do you?'
It wasn't as easy as they made out in movies. It felt like there was too much to concentrate on all at the same time; his movements were uncoordinated and it was hard to find a rhythm. But none of that detracted from how amazing it felt; the heat and the friction were almost too much, and as much as he wanted to memorise every little detail, it was just overwhelming and was all happening way too fast.
It was at that point that Keller realised his eyes were still tightly closed in concentration. He chanced opening them and saw Vivian lying underneath him, her soft, blonde hair that always smelt like flowers fanned out over the pillow. Her eyes were closed too and she was biting her lip. Keller told himself that it was a sign of enjoyment, and he had to believe that or he might have lost his nerve altogether.
Just as he felt like he was starting to get a handle on things, it was pretty much over. 'Oh shit, I think I'm...' Keller didn't get any further than that before it hit him. Lying on top of Vivian, she held him tight as he came with a shudder, kissing his temple and stroking his hair until he'd come down.
'Well, that oughta do it,' Vivian said finally with a grin.
Keller laughed and buried his face in her neck in embarrassment. 'Yep, I guess so,' he said, moving to lie next to her again. He stared up at the ceiling for a while, watching the moonbeams that fell across it, then turned his head to look at Vivian. 'I'm sorry it wasn't so good for you.'
'What're you talking about, Keller? It was perfect.'
And right at that moment, he loved her just a little bit for lying to him.
Keller swung his legs that still felt a bit like rubber over the side of the bed and dealt with the clean up in what he hoped was a gentlemanly fashion. Then he grabbed his jeans and underwear off the floor, turning around and holding them in a bundle in front of him.
'I'm just gonna... Then I'll...' he gestured with his armful of clothes and then nodded towards the window, hoping she understood what he meant.
Vivian sat up in bed, the coverlet pulled around her, and fixed him with one of her looks. 'Keller, will you please get back into bed? I'm not about to let you climb out of my window in the middle of the night.'
Keller chose not to point out that he'd already climbed in through her window in the middle of the night. Instead he dropped his clothes on the floor and climbed gratefully back under the coverlet. Vivian turned towards the wall and Keller lay down behind her, one arm draped over her waist. She turned back to him then. 'I'll wake you just before sunrise. That way you should get back home before your grandpa wakes up and finds you gone.'
Keller thought about telling her that his grandpa wouldn't notice he was gone until dishes from well-meaning widows started to pile up, but his eyes were starting to close so he just nodded.
Vivian leaned in and kissed him one last time. It was soft and friendly, all the heat and promise from earlier had disappeared, and now they were just two friends who'd fulfilled a longstanding promise to each other.
Just before sunrise, Keller was dressed in his jeans and t-shirt and ready to make his way back down the trellis. He kissed her softly before climbing over the windowsill.
'Like Romeo at Juliet's balcony,' he whispered with a grin, remembering the Shakespeare they'd studied last fall.
'Yeah? And if Juliet's daddy had a shotgun, they might not've needed that poison!'
Keller didn't need telling twice; he climbed down quickly, more surefooted than he'd been last night, and dropped quietly onto the grass. Walking away, he couldn't help smiling to himself because he just knew that Vivian was watching him. He let himself take one last look backwards and gave Vivian a quick wave. She smiled at him and waved back before quietly closing the window.
He didn't know it then, but in just over two years, Keller would leave Dancer, Texas for the bright lights of Los Angeles, California. And although he would go on to make other great friends and have plenty of other relationships, he would never regret Vivian and his sixteenth birthday...