Fifth grade. Danny. He had freckles and smelled like some exotic spice: cardamom or coriander. He was a foster kid and only lived on our street for a year before being sent to another home. What drew me to Danny (other than the mysterious scent) was that he came from a family more screwed up than my own. His brother was in juvenile detention. His mom was in rehab. His dad was in jail.
Danny talked like a thug. He pronounced the town he was from — Southington — Suddinton.
He took me to his treehouse, said one day we’d get married and live in a real on-the-ground house. I’d stay home and raise the babies while he went off and joined the army. He’d go to war. I’d miss him very much. Send him letters sprayed with perfume and naked pictures of myself. He had it all planned out. He shared his Fresca with me (stolen from his foster mom) and told me I was the only girl he’d taken up to the treehouse, which pretty much sealed my fate as his one day wife. Then we kissed. Not a sweet little innocent dry-lipped kiss, like I was expecting. No, this was more like being mauled by an overly friendly St. Bernard.
This kiss became the basis for the first kiss of Kate, the protagonist in Promise Not to Tell. Kate is in fifth grade too and in no way prepared for what kissing an older, more worldly boy is really like. She is (as I certainly was) surprised by the banging of teeth, the involvement of tongues.
I don’t know what ever happened to Danny. A few weeks after that kiss, we had a falling out that ended with me throwing a brick at him and knocking him off his bicycle. I think I was mad at Danny for being Danny which sounds simple but was very complicated back then. He was sent to another home soon after that and I never said good bye. I think of him still. I wonder if he got married and joined the army. Or got locked up like his big brother and dad. I think about the secrets we shared up there in that treehouse, all the painful family crap that each of us understood so completely. And I think of the things I didn’t tell him, too. Like that I had a huge secret crush on his foster sister who was in high school and was a volunteer firefighter. Danny and I went to see her march in the town parade. I remember holding his hand when she walked by. As if it might help me hide somehow. As if Danny and his messy Fresca kisses and promises of marriage could protect me from the fact that deep down inside, I wanted it to be her up in the treehouse.