One Last Kiss


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Part 1: Christmas Eve Magic 

It was Christmas Eve, and as they had done every year since they’d been five years old, Ashley and her boyfriend Larry were going to the community tree lighting together. It was always such a pretty show, and both of them loved Christmas – especially when they spent it together. 

Ashley was talking to some friends while waiting for Larry to arrive. When he turned up at last, he looked like a complete wreck. His nose was dripping and his eyes were watering. 

"Ooh, you don't look so good," Ashley said, reaching out to stroke his arm. "Are you feeling okay?"

Larry wiped his nose and smiled at her. "Not really. My nose itches. I’ve been needing to sneeze all day."

Ashley giggled. He didn't know it, but she loved it when people sneezed. She'd never have the courage to admit it though.

"Poor baby,” Ashley said. “C'mon, let’s go have cocoa. That always makes me feel better."

"Okay," Larry agreed.

They purchased two steaming cups of hot cocoa from a nearby stand. Larry paid and the plump man at the counter grinned like Father Christmas himself as he wished them a merry evening. Larry and Ashley found a bench, and then sat close together, enjoying each other’s company as they sipped cocoa and smiled at the little kids who ran by. Everyone was excited about the holiday season.

"Gosh," Larry groaned. "My nose is burning!"

“Then sneeze already," Ashley joked.

"I wanna," he said with a sniffle, "but I can't get anything to come out."

Ashley thought it was adorable when he talked this way. She loved to hear about him needing to sneeze badly, and how those sneezes were getting stuck… Larry’s sneezes were always getting stuck. Just being near her boyfriend at a time like this made her feel warm and tingly all over. She was about to lean over and nuzzle Larry’s neck when, with rotten timing, her thirteen-year-old brother Justin came running up.

“Look, mistletoe!” Justin cried, giving the cuddling couple a big, overdone wink. 

Ashley grinned. Maybe this interruption wasn’t such a bad thing after all. "Yeah, Larry, why don't you kiss me?”

“Mistletoe kisses are always loads better than regular kisses,” Justin chimed in, and then he started to hum a song that Ashley recognised as being Jesse McCartney’s “Why Don't You Kiss Her”.

She was delighted. For once, her brother was helpful instead of annoying.

Larry, however, was definitely not getting into the holiday spirit in the way Ashley was hoping he would. He wrinkled his nose and pulled back: “It’s not that I don’t want to, but I have the worst cold and I’d hate for you to get sick.”

Ashley thought, “I so don’t care!” but out loud all she said was, “All right. But you have to promise you’ll make up for it when you’re feeling better.

“Yup," was Larry’s response. "But if you want me to get better, then you’ve got to take care of me while I’m sick.”

He said it with a smile but his eyes were kind. Secretly, Larry loved the comforting, nurturing side of Ashley’s nature. He wasn’t one of those guys who always needed to have the upper hand and be on top of every situation. When he felt weak, he had no problem in admitting to it, and in those cases, he was more than happy to let Ashley take the lead. If he cried, she'd wipe his eyes and tell him everything would be fine. If he was sick, she'd sit at his bedside and hold his hand while he slept. Just thinking about that now was a start in making feel better.

Almost as if she’d heard his thoughts, Ashley took his arm and squeezed it. “You know I will," she cooed. “I’ll take care of you until you’re all better. And then, I hope you’re going to give me one heck of a good thank you kiss!”

Larry squeezed back. “That kiss is gonna be just the start, believe you me, honey.”

"Aww, gross,” Justin said, picking up on unwelcome grown-up innuendo. He snatched away the mistletoe he’d been holding above the pair and buried it in his pocket where it could wreak no more havoc. “It’s getting cold just standing here," he said, looking over his shoulder until he spotted a group of his friends who were building a snow fort at a suitable distance. “I’m gonna go play with Jeff and Martin. See ya!”

Larry and Ashley waved him off.

“The kid’s right,” Larry said, suddenly sounding miserable. “It is pretty cold.” He scooted closer to Ashley, who smiled and cuddled him. “I really hate being this stuffy and itchy. I wish I could just sneeze already. I just know I’d feel better with that out of the way.” He was shivering, sniffling helplessly.

“Then do it,” she said, unable to resist this throwaway invitation.

“I can’t; I just said so,” Larry moaned.

"Poor baby,” she said, stroking his soft blonde hair and wrapping her large jacket around the both of them. “Here; let me keep you warm. Otherwise, your cold's gonna get worse."

When he closed his eyes, Ashley smiled and kissed his cheek. Even though she knew her sweetheart wasn’t feeling well, being this close to him made her feel good in a way she felt at a loss to describe. It wasn’t exactly that she had a certain power over him (though she did); it was that this vulnerability seemed to draw her closer to him, to make her feel needed. As though the mix of his need and her caring instincts came together to form some intoxicating mixture that made her feel happy, safe and… dare she admit it? Oh all right then: rather excited. The promise held by Larry’s offer to give her “a kiss that was just the beginning” was, at that moment, very tantalising indeed. She knew her honey was in no shape to oblige, but she’d have loved to lay his cold-stricken body down on any available and relatively stable surface and to have her wicked way with him.

Ashley ran her hand gently down the side of his face, stroking it tenderly. His eyelids were a delicate, pale mauve, and there were circles of bruised flesh under his eyes. He’d probably not slept well because of his cold. In spite of the low temperature, his forehead felt warm and his cheeks were flushed. “Poor baby,” she whispered, more to herself than to her feverish boyfriend. She gently touched the bridge of his tickly, sensitive nose. He must have been rubbing at it a lot; it was tinged red around the nostrils, and the skin there appeared rather irritated. For a moment, he wrinkled his nose and Ashley’s heart stood still – was that stuck sneeze about to come out?­ – but then Larry relaxed again. Ashley lost herself in her observation of him, how sweet he looked like that, and kept on stroking his face and hair gently until Larry was nearly asleep.

After what felt like tenderly pleasurable hours, Justin came running up to them again, his cheeks flushed with excitement.

“Hey you guys, it’s almost midnight! They're about to light the trees!"

Larry started and pulled away, blinking as though his lashes were sticky with sleep. “Mm, already?” he asked, visibly disoriented.

"We'll be there in a minute," Ashley promised Justin.

Once she’d gotten her coat back on properly and buttoned it up, and once Larry was all the way awake and had given his nose a good blow in a handkerchief he carried in his pocket, the threesome started walking. They made their way toward the long line of colourfully decorated Christmas trees, admiring the magical décor around them. It was such a perfect evening, Ashley thought, squeezing Larry’s hand in her own. Justin was jumping around, trying to get the lovebirds to hurry up, but they were too engrossed in each other and they kept on at their own unhurried pace.

Then, suddenly, Larry pulled away from Ashley. "I... *sniff* I... can feel... my sneeze... coming...” He took a big breath and tensed, expectantly. “I'm gonna sneeze!"

"Not on me!"

Ashley pretended to be squeamish, but she didn’t mean it. In fact, just hearing Larry’s announcement had filled her with a burning sensation. The truth was, actually, that she’d love to be sneezed on. A wet spray would be nice, both hot and cool against her skin, impossibly erotic. But to mention it at that very moment seemed impossible. Not that Larry would have been receptive anyway – one look at his slack jaw, raised eyebrows and tightly shut eyes was enough to convince anyone that this was one guy in need of delivering a truly satisfying sneeze.

Larry, with what he thought was consideration for Ashley, turned to the side. He cupped his nose and, at long last, delivered the pair of sneezes that had been tormenting him all evening: "Ah... cchoo! A... ahmmph!"

Ashley was about to bless her boyfriend when, unexpectedly, a few more sneezes exploded out of him. They were hard sneezes, wetter than the last ones, but to her ears they sounded ever so much more satisfying: "Acktooh!... Ah...*sniff*  hachoo!”

Larry paused, waiting to see if any more sneezes were coming, but this was apparently not the case. “Ugh bless me. And finally! About time that came out!" he laughed.

“Bless you, sneezy boy," Ashley smiled, running a hand through his golden hair.

If only there was a way to tell him how much his display had thrilled her. However, it was nearly midnight and already, all around them, the atmosphere was shifting, filling with a sense of energy that made the magic of Larry’s sneeze dissolve. Kids were running and jumping, including Justin who was pogoing next to them, shouting out the countdown to Christmas:

“Ten! Nine!”

“I need to sneeze again,” Larry stated, matter-of-fact.

“Eight! Seven!”

He sniffled. He sounded so very congested. Ashley ground her thighs together, wishing they could be elsewhere while at the same time loving the situation, precisely the excitement brought on by the inappropriateness of the situation. Her secret delight, here, with everyone around, about to happen, maybe… unless, again, Larry’s sneeze got stuck…

“Six! Five!” the children were yelling, their parents joining in.

“It’s coming… I can f-… feel it…”

“I...  I'm really gonna sn... sn... ah...”

From the crowd: “Two! One!”

From Larry: “Hachoo!”

From Justin: “Yaaaayyy!”

From Ashley: “Bless you.”

She handed her boyfriend a much-needed tissue and patted Justin on the back. “Merry Christmas, you guys!”

Part 2: One Month Later


Larry walked up to Ashley and gently put his arms around her waist. She could see tears in his eyes and immediately knew that something was wrong. Larry hadn't in years – not since, she recalled, his older brother died in a car accident.

He took a deep breath and explained the cause of his current disarray: "I'm moving tonight. Its my last day here."

She couldn't believe it "What?" she cried, tears rising to her own eyes. "What do you mean?”

“I know it’s suh-sudden,” he stammered, shaken. “My parents, they… they only told me yesterday. My Dad got transferred, and they’ve… Well, they’ve been planning the move for weeks.”

“Well then didn’t you know?” Ashley said.

“Thing is, they said they didn’t want me to worry about it, and they thought it was best if they-”

“That’s so stupid!” Ashley interrupted. “How can they do this? You’re a grownup, you could’ve handled it, we could’ve…” She stopped, at a loss for word.

“Believe me, I said the same thing. I couldn’t believe they decided to do it this way. I hate this, I hate that I have to go. So much…” Tears were streaming down his sweet cheeks.

“Please don’t leave me! I need you,” Ashley said. The sight of him crying was too much for her, and she was tearful as well.

"Ashley, I cried about this all night. You're the only person I've ever loved.” Larry flung his arms around her and held her tightly to him. “In fact, you’re the only real friend I ever had. Most people don't care about me, but you... all you've ever done is care about me.” He sniffled wetly and ran a hand through her long, dark hair. “It’s going to be the hardest thing in the world for me to live without you. Please remember that, and don't forget me."

She hugged his warm chest. "I could never forget you. Where are you going?"

"I don't know yet," Larry sobbed, "so I don't know if I can keep in touch."

The words ‘can't keep in touch’ were a nightmare for Ashley. She felt as though the very ground beneath her feet were crumbling. She hugged him tighter than ever before, as though with this embrace she could keep her love from departing, perhaps forever. At length, however, Larry slowly loosened his hold upon her.

"I... I have to go in 5 minutes..." he said.

The crying had made his nose stuffy. He leaned to the side to sneeze, but he stifled it so that it was soundless and only caused him to bend slightly at the waist. Yet even this tiny little act warmed her heart a bit, as though he’d given her a private, special farewell imbued with secret portent. Ashley tried to smile. His sneezes reminded her of that most magical Christmas Eve they’d spent together exactly one month ago.

"Bless you, sweetheart,” she said with a reverence that was almost elegiac.

"Thanks Ashley... Look, I... I don't wanna say goodbye." His sorrow was so real that it was like a dark, tangible presence already separating them.

"Larry, this isn't goodbye," Ashley assured him, trying to be strong, trying to pull herself together. She’d always been Larry’s tower of strength – even though it seemed impossible at the moment, she felt that she had to try for his sake. She wanted to make this easier for him, even though she knew her broken heart would hurt forever and that her own pillow would be soaked through with tears by the time morning came. "Let’s think of this as ‘goodnight.’ We'll be together again someday, I just know it. So until then. you dream of me and I'll dream of you. We’ll have our memories to tide us through the gap. And if you feel like crying, because I know I will, then keep in mind that I was always the girl who wiped your tears away and that things are going to turn out fine."

Larry smiled. What she was saying was true, and seeing Ashley being so brave made him feel a bit better despite the great sorrow he was feeling. "Okay then."

"Okay," she repeated. "Oh, and I get a kiss goodnight in that case. No kiss goodbye-for-good, okay?"

"Yes you do." Larry grinned through his tears. He leaned in to kiss her, but then he turned to the left and sneezed. "Urgh, not ag-... achoo! Not again..."

Before Ashley could bless him he sneezed 4 times: “Acchoo!… ha… acktoo!… cshoo! Aackshoo!”

"Are you through?" Ashley asked, handing him a pink tissue from her purse. As far as farewells went, she reckoned, her sweetheart could’ve done worse.

"Think so," he sniffed.

"Okay then. Bless you."

They were both smiling, albeit with reddened and dampened eyes, when Larry's seven-year-old sister walked up. Her pink Barbie backpack was bouncing jauntily against her buttocks. "Larry, were going. Mom says you gotta hurry and stop yakety-yakking with your girlfriend," she taunted.

"Later Ash," he said. And then, before he could hold back, one final sneeze escaped from him – “Hack-shoo!” – a big, wet, misty sneeze that left her cheek feeling softly damp, hot-cold, the way she had always thought it would, should such a thing happen. She couldn’t help it – she felt a rush of sadness-love-excitement-loss-fulfillment hit her all at once. It was so strong that it almost knocked her sideways, and all she could do was stand there, her eyes very wide, filled with tears while Larry scrambled to wipe her cheek with the back of his hand.

"Oh, I'm so sorry!" he said.

"It’s, uh… it’s ok," Ashley managed.

“Gotta go. I love you Ashley!”

And just like that, he was gone. It was only after the movers’ truck had turned the corner that Ashley realised there had been no kiss goodbye.

As it turned out, Larry did not keep in touch.

Part 3: Five Years Later In a Shopping Mall

Ashley was just walking by the arcade where she and her first boyfriend, Larry, used to hang out as teenagers when she saw a handsome man having an allergy fit. The poor dear seemed miserable, caught in an apparently relentless attack of sneezes. His hands were clamped around his nose as he just stood there, convulsing over and over again. Strangely, nobody else seemed to be paying the least bit of attention to him. Only Ashley was stopped, staring at him entranced, feeling her cheeks growing pink with excitement.

This was something that hadn’t changed since she’d grown up – she still loved to see a man giving in to a good sneeze. It never failed to get her hot and bothered. And here, virtually for her benefit alone, was a stranger indulging her with a multitude. They were strong, well-rounded sneezes – “Acchhoo!… Hah… Atchooo!” – with only a few seconds in between them. Ashley had no way of knowing what had set him off, but she felt herself growing hot with the results. The way his mouth hung open in anticipation of the next sneeze that always seemed to come, the way there were allergic tears pooled at the corner of his tightly shut eyes, the way his entire strong, well-defined frame shook with the effort of releasing sneeze after perfect, powerful sneeze… it was all she could do to just stand still and admire him. Dipping into the ladies’ room for a bit of instant gratification was not an option – if she did that, she might be satisfied, but then she would never forgive herself for leaving and missing the rest of what was truly one of the most spectacular allergy attacks she had ever chanced upon.

And then she caught herself: was she really thinking about masturbating in the restroom at the local mall? Because a helpless stranger was suffering with allergies, and it was getting her excited? She couldn’t, she chastised herself, snapping back to attention. Instead of fantasizing about wrapping herself around the sneezing stranger’s body as one wraps a handkerchief around a nose in need, she told herself, she should go over and offer him assistance. In a form he needed. And then, a sneaky, crafty part of her brain insisted, maybe it would be possible to offer further assistance… but only if it seemed appropriate.

“Sorry, but could you use this?” She handed him the handkerchief she carried around in her purse. She never used it, but this seemed like an appropriate gesture given the circumstances.

“Oh, I couldn’t… Hyeeacchoo!”

“Please,” Ashley said, and without thinking about it, she unfolded the handkerchief herself and pressed it to the man’s nose. It was a curiously motherly gesture, but both of them were too absorbed in his allergy attack to give much thought. “Blow,” she instructed, and immediately he did.

“Oh,” he said at length when he’d gotten his breath back. “Thanks for that.”

“Good thing I was walking past this arcade, or else you might have stayed like that a while,” Ashley said, giving him a kind smile.

“You know, me and an old girlfriend used to sit here, in front of this very arcade, and talk. She was a nice girl. Caring, you know. A lot like you, it seems,” he said, looking at the handkerchief which he still held. “Oh gosh, I’m afraid I’ve quite ruined it. I can’t give it back to you like this, I –”

“Keep it,” Ashley smiled. “I never use it anyway.” But then, something at the back of her mind kept tugging at her and she found herself asking, “This old girlfriend, what was her name?”

“It was Ashley,” the handsome stranger said. “I miss her, even now…”

Ashley was dumbfounded. She squealed: “Larry?”

“Yes,” the man cocked his head to one side, unsure. “Yes, I'm Larry."

"Oh my God! I thought I'd never see you again!" Tears were bursting from Ashley’s shiny green eyes.

"Ashley? Oh my God, it’s you?” He looked at her for a moment, mouth agape with amazement, and then rushed up to hug her tightly to him. “Oh baby, you were right!"

"I was right about what?" she asked, her heart pounding.

"Don’t you remember what you said when I moved away? You said it was goodnight, and never goodbye. You told me that we were meant to be, and so we'd be together again some day. And here we are!"

Ashley smiled. She recalled that day all too well.

Part 4: A Month Later (Again)

Ashley sat in the park where she and Larry used to come every Christmas. Her boyfriend of old, now returned in his position as the Love of her Life, was sitting down next to her, his head on her shoulder as they both enjoyed the feel of sunshine on their faces. They’d spend the whole day just walking around town, enjoying the sights and sounds around them, just as they’d done so many times growing up. Incredibly, the old magic was still there between them and the pair were happier than ever that they had found each other again after all this time.

"Ashley, honey, I’ve been thinking…” Larry said right next to her ear.

“What?” she said, turning to face him, a sweet smile on her lips.

“I don't wanna lose you again," he told her.

“Larry, are you still worried, even after all we’ve been through? There’s no way you’re ever going to lose me.”

“I guess,” Larry grinned. “But I don’t want to take chances.”

He surprised her then by getting up off the bench and kneeling before her. Taking her hand in his, he said, “Will you marry me? I don't have a ring at the moment, but depending on your answer, we can go and pick one out together."

Ashley couldn’t believe how happy he was making her. "Larry! Yes, of course I'll marry you! I don't care about a ring - all I want is you. It’s always been you."

It was true, of course. Ashley couldn’t believe her luck, that she would get to spend the rest of her life with this man, with whom she knew she would always be happy and deeply in love.