I liked Jenny. I thought she was cute and fun and had a great laugh. When she laughed, her button nose turned up and dimples appeared at either edge of her mouth, and she was always laughing about something. She even read the same science fiction books I did and would talk during class discussion about how much she enjoyed Bradbury and Heinlein, her dark brown curls bouncing around her shoulders as she waved her hands around to emphasize this or that.
Of course, Jenny didn’t like me. I knew this because she took every opportunity to tell me so. She also took every available chance to call me stupid and ugly, occasionally throwing in words like nerd or dork. So when Sarah, Jenny’s best friend and co-tormenter, handed me a note in the middle of our reading class, I prepared myself for an insult of the worst kind. However, when I opened it, the words “I love you” jumped off the page and burned themselves into my brain.
I have never been terribly quick off the mark when caught off-guard and I was completely unprepared for a note like this. I had no idea what to do so I opted for blank neutrality, always a decent place to retreat to and regroup, and kept my face as blank as I could as I nodded and left the classroom.
The idea that Jenny might actually like me haunted me all through that week. I avoided my friends, lest they suspect that I might be involved with a girl, something that, in fifth grade, was to be avoided at all costs. I wondered if I was supposed to be Jenny’s boyfriend and just what the hell that might mean anyway. I wondered if it was a joke. I was afraid that the second I wrote back saying I loved her too, that the joke would be up and that I would be revealed as the nerd everyone said I was.
I did nothing.
I thought I caught Jenny looking at me during the rest of that week, a hopeful expression on her face, but I dismissed this as a fantasy and proceeded to ignore her and Sarah both and nothing else was ever said or written about it.
Years later, at one of the first boy-girl parties I ever attended I saw Jenny and I made a joke and she kissed me and I learned that the letter hadn’t been a joke at all.
I catch myself thinking of Jenny every once in a while, her bright face still clear in mind, and remind myself that sometimes, life is just what it seems.
Much respect most go out to Ron at GriddleCakes Radio for prompting the memory flood with his story “My Maria”; thank you for that.
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