This is a fictional story written by Mary Clare Agnew, a senior at Hickman High School and a student in Nancy White's Creative Writing class, for which this short story was written. Agnew is fond of composition notebooks and said that as a kid she had a crush on the fictional character Tom Sawyer.
So, I was back in time — like a kid again, you know? — with dirty sneakers and Levi jeans and what not. But I wasn’t like little and snotty, not that young. I was about fifteen and crazy for this girl, Jenny. And in this dream or whatever, she was there again with me by the docks telling me about her dog or something and how he died. I think he was hit by a car or something and she was real broke up about it. But anyway, she was still all cute and young with her brown hair and freckles like what had driven me all crazy for her when I was just a kid. Man, I miss that girl or just that feeling, when just sitting on a dock with a girl made your palms all sweaty.
Jenny was just the sort of girl who held your hand without trying to hold it and walked without having to look at you all over like some girls do when they're self-conscious and scared that you’re not really there with them. Not there, like next to them, but there like staring at them like they’re beauty embodied. She was only fifteen, but she already knew how to put her shoulders back and laugh without being horsey or girly. And she had this funny way of reading a book where each page that she turned she had to clear her throat and stretch her eyebrows up before beginning the new page. When we sat in class, I would just look at her across the table like some kind of creep watching her arch her eyebrows, “Huck turned to Jim …” She got my thoughts all caught up in ribbons, you know? Like girls do when you’re fifteen and your hands are sweating on your old edition of Huckleberry Finn.
We did go to the dock when I was a kid, just me and her. And once when we were walking down Bing Street and the sun was all low and the birds were out, she just took my hand like it were an accident. But she meant it, and she didn’t have to say she did, and she didn’t have to look at me to see if I liked it. She just sort of held it soft in hers — which wasn’t sweaty like mine — and kept walking. And, you know, I didn’t get scared that she’d think my sweaty hand was gross or sad or anything like that. I guess I was just too excited that pretty Jenny with the funny way of turning pages was holding my hand.
By the docks she took her shoes off and let her feet hang in the water, and she didn’t kick her feet or try to be cute about it. And her socks, I remember, they were striped. Man, that was cute. I don’t think we talked much, but she laid her hand over mine on the old boards of the dock and said something about going home. We walked up Bing Street again, I don’t know how long it had been, and she didn’t take my hand. I sort of watched that hand like I might will it to reach for mine if I stared hard enough, but it didn’t. From the depths of my manliness, I summoned the courage it took to take her hand myself. I was scared and all so I looked over to see if she was hating me or trying to figure out how to let go of my sweaty hand, fix her hair or something. But she was smiling soft to herself, like a secret, and she didn’t look at me. And that’s why I liked her.
So I’d been thinking a lot about Jenny after this dream, which I know is weird and all, considering I knew her when I was just a kid, a sweaty kid who loved girls on docks and Bing Street. But she just had this way about her, like how she smiled like a secret and didn’t have to look at me. Girls don’t do that anymore, not like she did. Now when they do it, I know it’s because they’re thinking about it, not like her, she meant it. It was how she was.
I guess I got myself so transfixed on this girl, Jenny from forever ago, that I couldn’t quit thinking about her. Maybe not her, so much as how I liked her. I mean, I really liked her. Not like I just thought she was cute, and all. I just really liked her. I liked the way she rode a green bicycle and wore tennis shoes that she tied with the bunny-ears method, not the cowboy-with-the-lasso method. I liked the way she turned her pages and the way she always sat on the edges of chairs. And I liked most how very much I liked her and how much every stupid little thing about her excited me. She was all new, and I was all new, and she thrilled me. I dedicated all the little nothings to memory until I had all this stuff piled up, documentation of Jenny; Jenny with the freckles and the striped socks.
Don’t think I’m weird or anything for thinking of this girl so much. I just wish I knew a girl like that again. I wish I liked a girl like that again, who drove me crazy with all the little things she did so that I sat up at night, clinging to the covers because Jenny lent me her pencil, because Jenny smiled across the room at me, because Jenny kissed my cheek before she walked up her porch steps. Because Jenny didn’t mind when my palms were sweaty or when I didn’t know what I wanted to say.
All of this about Jenny was driving me crazy, and I wanted some pizza and a liter of root beer for the night. It just sounded good. So I went to the store on the corner with the sign that has green letters over the door. I was waiting in line looking something like the living dead, my mind floating somewhere in the infinite summer of recollection when I heard somebody say “well, that’s good news for modern man.” And I looked up and all around like some kind of fool. Jenny used to say that, didn’t she? She did, she did all the time in class when someone said something sort of dumb that they thought was worth the 7 o’clock news. She was funny. And someone said it.
I was craning my neck to see the check-out girl, she had said it. I swear I must have almost dropped my bottle of root beer. The girl behind the cash register had brown hair all up in a pony tail that swung when she moved. And she had freckles, little sheets of freckles spread across her cheeks and the bridge of her nose. Soft freckles, not the sort that look like spilled pepper or punctuation, the sort that sort of whisper. And she had a soft little smile that played now and then on the corners of her mouth.
It had to be Jenny. Who else could it be? Who else said “well, that’s good news for modern man” and had whisper freckles. It had to be Jenny. Her nametag. I would read her nametag. But I couldn’t, not from that far away because my eyes aren’t that good and all, and I just won’t wear glasses. So I wait and wait there in line, and I swear I must have given myself an ulcer what with all the nerves I had stirring up in my guts. My mind was racing a mile a minute; if it was her, would I say something? Hey, it’s me, Charlie Baron, remember me? We went to the dock now and then, and you kissed my cheek that one night, and I swear I was walking on air for weeks. What if she didn’t remember? Or what if she did and all she said was hi, and she didn’t think about me anymore because she didn’t see me in dreams with my sweaty hands.
The man in front of me who was sort of old and bent in half in his house shoes and all had his cold medicine checked out and was shuffling past me. I rushed to the counter and fumbled with my frozen pizza — which had gotten all melty from my sweaty hands — and the root beer. The check-out girl just sort of smiled and began to ring them up. Right, the nametag, the nametag.
It wasn’t her. It wasn’t Jenny. I felt stupid for my sweaty hands all of a sudden. Maybe she changed her name. But I knew that wasn’t true. Jenny wouldn’t change her name. She wasn’t like that, with her secret smile and all that.
Like some kind of kicked dog, I shuffled back to my apartment and made that frozen pizza which tasted like disappointment rung-up by Jenny-lookalike and chased by cheap root beer. I know it’s sad and all to be so broke up about a girl I knew that long ago, but if you knew Jenny, I swear you’d understand. Maybe your hands wouldn’t get so sweaty, but I swear, there was never anything better than watching her go up those porch steps that night she kissed my cheek without looking back.
This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.