The first time I saw Jennifer Stuart was in one of the back hallways of the high school, over near the gym. She was walking towards me, talking to a guy who I assumed was a senior on account of his full beard. I think I was staring at them a little bit, partly because Jenny was striking and partly because her friend was one of the first people I’d ever seen who made wearing glasses look cool. Jenny turned her head a bit and followed me with her eyes.
“Hello there, friend,” she said.
I was a little freaked out; I didn’t want this pretty girl to think I was creeping on her, so I pursed my lips and nodded at them and sped away as fast as I could while not technically running away. This had been about a month into my freshman year, so just before I had found out about Jeremy. I had met a few new people, so I wasn’t a complete social waste. It’s just, most of them were sort of like me. My locker was near a display case in the main hallway of the school. Steve’s locker was a section down and on the other side of the hall, and Chris was all the way at the other end, so he came up our way in the morning to hang out before class started. It just seemed natural to hang out in front of this display case, so we didn’t block other people’s lockers. Well, as time went on, we found other people hanging out there as well. It’s not like we invited them; they just ended up there. It was as if wearing a black T-shirt and a flannel made you a certain shape, and when you got shot down the hallway, you would fall out of the hole that was your shape. The hole for our shape was in front of the display case near my locker, and so I’d met a bunch of new kids and was making new friends and doing okay in the ways of wading through freshman year. But none of these people were like Jenny.
At the same time, no one was like Jenny. She was popular for sure because I saw her talking to people all the time. To all different people though—she talked to football players and burnouts and Asian brainiacs and JROTC kids, just everybody. She didn’t dress weird, but she didn’t dress normal. She was a sophomore. She didn’t have a boyfriend. She lived with her mom and older brother. I’m not even sure how I knew those last few things; it was like it was just something everyone knew. Everyone knew about Jenny because why wouldn’t you know about Jenny. Then one day, I saw Steve talk to her in the hallway by his locker. Afterwards he came up to the display case, and I wanted to get the scoop.
“Hey, so you know that Jenny girl?”
“Yeah, she’s cool. I met her at the diner.”
“You went to the diner?”
“Yeah, Tuesday night with the drum line.”
“Lucky. You know she’s a sophomore, and she lives with her mom and brother? And I don’t think she has a boyfriend.”
“Yeah.” (See, everyone knew it; how does that happen?)
“So what were you guys talking about?”
“I dunno, nothing I guess. She’s just nice. I’ll introduce you guys.”
And so he did. A few days later, I was near the library when I passed Steve and Jenny in the hall.
“Oh, hey, this is my friend Casey. I thought you should meet him.”
“Well, hello, friend Casey, I’m Jenny.”
I almost said, “I know,” but I caught my creepiness before it escaped my mouth. I quickly saw why everyone seemed to be friends with Jenny. She just had an easiness about her, a positive attitude that infected you. We became friends right away, because that’s just what everyone did; you became friends with Jenny right away. Unless you were Chris.
“I dunno, dude, she just seems phony. How can anyone be that happy?”
“I know what you mean,” I said, “but that’s the thing, she really is. That’s the really cool thing about her.”
So Chris was not a fan, but that was okay. We didn’t all have to like the same people. Steve played the drums, so he was making a whole bunch of band friends. And Chris, he had a couple guys who were really into tanks and machine guns and stuff, so we were all branching out. Although, not liking Jenny was a bit weird, for sure.
Not long after we met, I found Jenny waiting outside the school on the patio.
“Hey, Jenny. What’s up?”
“Just waiting for my brother.”
“Can I wait with you?”
There were at least two seconds of silence after she said I could stay. Two whole seconds of never-ending silence. I had to say something.
“Is he a big brother?”
“No, normal size.” She smiled.
“No, I mean, not like his bigness, like is he—”
“He’s my older brother, his name is Norman.”
“Oh, that’s so—”
“Old, I know. I always tease him about it. Old Man Norman.”
“Maybe you could just say ‘Norm’. Nah, that’s not good either.”
“No, it’s not, is it!”
We were silent for a second or two after this, but somehow it wasn’t terrifying this time.
“I’m going to write you a letter,” she said.
I didn’t know what that meant exactly. Things in high school were going slightly better with girls than they had in middle school, but only slightly. And I’d had a couple of girls pass me notes in class, but they were mostly of the “I’m so bored” variety. A “letter” sounded very formal. Plus, she didn’t even have my address, did she?
Norman showed up about a minute later. Jenny waved goodbye and got into Norman’s car, and they drove off.
I got her letter the next day. She didn’t mail it; she just handed it to me. It was folded into just a regular rectangle, not fancy girl-folds where you have to figure out how to open it. And it was definitely not a note:
I had a glorious afternoon. I was able to get out into the SUN! The sun brings so much warmth to our earth and its denizens. It feeds our bodies, our minds, it grows the food we eat. Thank god for the sun, right? I spent some time in our garden, nourishing my fingers in the soil. It’s good to feel the earth right against your skin, isn’t it, Casey?
I have a longing to find Truth, Casey, Truth in friendships and loves and the stars. I find the most Truth when I return to the earth, communing with the bugs and worms and roots. Truth is an elusive mistress though, so many sights blind my eyes, so many visions. I am part of this equation myself, as are we all. We are just the visions, Casey. You as well, you are a vision. And we’re all blinding someone somewhere.
So, as you can see, this was not a note. And it wasn’t just because Jenny was a physically beautiful girl either. We all know how actions or attentions from a beautiful girl can pepper the mundane. It didn’t matter what Jenny looked like; she just had an earnestness about her, a quality, a vibe. It infected you and made you feel better about yourself and the world around you. You had to wonder how someone could be so positive and good, but you also had to wonder why everyone else wasn’t when she made it seem so easy.
Dan Pullen lives in Connecticut with his wife and three children. He writes stories about simple people and their complex lives.