Many successful writers recommend entering contests or submitting to get use to being rejected. Many sources tell you to be rejected 40 or 50 times before getting accepted. One of the ways you get better is dealing with rejection. So for your reading pleasure, my first short story submitted to a writing contest. This story is a young romance story, and is off genre for me. The story had to be under 3000 words, and about romance.
1971 was a fearful year for me; I entered grade seven.
1971 – no cell phones, three T.V Stations. Color TV had only been around for a short time. The last cigarette commercial was aired on TV. Its the first time we get to see the Grammy’s on TV. A gentler more naive time.
Looking around the room it was easy for me to realize that, once again, I was the smallest person in the class. A stiff glance would blow me over. My years of elementary school had taught me to avoid eye contact, it was safer. Unfortunately my new teacher was getting everyone to say something about themselves.
“And you are?” asked the teacher politely.
“Grad,I mean, Brad Jones” , I replied croaking.
Some people chuckled, I couldn’t even say my name correctly.
“And what do you like to do Brad?”, the teacher continued.
“Football”, I blurted out not realizing what I had done until it was too late. I had just become a target.
Some more chuckles but the teacher moved on to his next “victim”
The recess bell went and we were all pushed outside.
Art, one of the guys from my class called “Hey ‘Grad’, catch.”
As I turned to the voice, a laser beam of a football pass streaked at my head seeking to decapitate me, I reached up and caught it. And threw it back. I could play football. Just no one believed me.
Art’s eyes blinked, his friends eyes blinked. Even the girls eyes blinked. Weird.
After that every recess and lunch hour we would be out playing football. My past didn’t matter, my size didn’t matter, I was finding out you can make new friends.
While the teams seemed to change, it seemed that Nancy was always on the other team. Nancy of the ‘oh so beautiful’ and ‘tough and pretty’ and ‘athletic’ and well…not that I ever hoped of being able to talk to her. She would try and play defense to stop me. I would always find a way to out smart her to catch a pass. I wished that for once we could be on the same team. Just to be closer. Maybe she would say something to me.
Art and I would play football in the evening with others. After a while it was the same four guys and the same four or five girls; one of them was always Nancy. But even then she was on the other side. At least I was still in the same area as her. It seemed that she liked Art, she was talking to him pretty regularly.
The cool fall air with falling leaves were a sure sign that football was almost over. We were out for our last game of the season.
I could always talk to Nancy’s friend Brenda to see if she would trade, so I could be on Nancy’s team this one last time. Brenda and I were almost always on the same team. I came to think of Brenda as a friend. At one point I even asked her if Art and Nancy were going out. Brenda just laughed and shook her head and gave me a little body check.
Our last game went on, a couple of the others drifted off and it was just Art and Nancy against Brenda and I. Art punted the ball, I caught it and started running. Brenda cut in front of me to block Art, and as she did he tackled her! Both of them went down laughing.
I stopped shocked, an obvious penalty.
SLAM! Nancy had launched herself at me, knocked me to the ground, arms wrapped around me. My arms were pinned to me side, the air knocked out me I started to gasp for breath. I opened my eyes and found myself staring into Nancy’s eyes.
“Got ya!”, she said triumphantly
And in that moment she was no longer tackling me, I could feel warmth, I was being held by someone who liked me, I was not alone. That place of isolation inside me melted away for a moment.
The shock of her lips touching mine knocked me out of my reverie. Our lips parted, I dropped the ball and was holding her gently in my arms; wonder and happiness coursing through my body. I wanted this moment to go on forever.
“Time to go guys! My mom is going to kill me for being late!”, Art called out.
I went to reply, but Nancy had let go of me, gotten up and we all headed off our separate ways home. I managed to yell good-bye, Art waved. Brenda and Nancy were walking off, talking, in deep conversation already.
What just happened, really happened?
The next day at school, I went to talk to Art, but he was talking to Jennifer. Jennifer one of the coolest kids in the school.
I had seen Art talking to her before. I didn’t dare walk over. But I needed to ask Art about last night. I was very confused. So I just stood there waiting. Then the unthinkable happened.
“Hey Brad,” Jennifer was calling. I looked around to see who she was talking to.
“Brad, don’t be a dummy head, get over here,” Art waved me over.
“Brad you know Jennifer” He said looking at her.
“Hi Brad, what are you doing Saturday? Would you like to come to my birthday party?” Jennifer asked me.
That’s how cool Jennifer was, she could ask boys questions directly, right in front of their friends. She was so mature!
I looked down slightly embarrassed, as I looked down I noticed that Art and Jennifer were holding hands.
My best friend was going steady with the coolest girl in the school, who had just asked me to go to her birthday party! I thought I had been kissed last night. Now my world was totally blown apart. All of this in less than 24 hours!
“I hope you can come, Brad, Nancy is going to be there, the party starts at seven. I have to run to class, see you later Art.” The smile in her eyes for Brad was amazing. No one had every looked at me that way.
Art and I started walking to class. I started to ask him about last night, but he cut me off.
“Brad, you have to go to Jennifer’s party, Nancy told Brenda to tell Jennifer that she won’t go if you are not going! And Jennifer really, really wants Nancy there. So Jennifer told me to tell you that you are going, ok?”, he finished out of breath.
Confusion was now in full control of every aspect of me, walking was difficult. I went into math class and promptly forgot how to add. Grade seven and I couldn’t add. A wreck is what I was. Ms. Peters started to scold me because I couldn’t answer a simple addition problem, she saw the look in my eyes, smiled and turned away to ask another student.
That night at supper I asked if I could go with Art to a birthday party. My mom and dad said yes. They didn’t even ask whose birthday. Now I was convinced the world was off its rocker.
Friday, I started to ask Art about Nancy’s tackle on me the other day, but, instead…
“Did you ask your parents if you could go?” Art asked fervently.
“They said I could go” I replied
“Good, I had my mom call and talk to your mom so there would be no problem” Art explained.
Somewhere in my brain, part of me said, “ACK! ACK!”
I watched as Jennifer walked over and gave Art a little squeeze.
“Hi Brad, how are you doing today?” Jennifer asked, smiling.
I swear she could make anyone do anything with that smile.
“Hi Jennifer, my parents said I could go to your party.” I said.
“That’s great, Brad, see you there”, said Nancy who was smiling, just beside Jennifer. I hadn’t seen her walk up!
I blushed so hard I started sweating. However, I have to admit, watching Jennifer, Nancy and Brenda walking away from me was one the nicest sights I had ever seen.
Turning to Art “I am so confused…” I said.
Art replied, “I know, isn’t it great! And did you see how Nancy looked at you!”
Saturday came, I worked through my chores. I was thinking, what was going to go on at this party and of course I started to get scared. The more I thought about it, the more scared I got.
“You are not getting a cold, it is just from all the cleaning”, Mom said. “Now go get ready to go to Art’s; and stop coughing! That was that. I never ever disobeyed my mother. Or disagreed with her, ever.
I went to my room and found my “church” sweater on the bed with a clean pair of jeans. I took the hint, got dressed and went upstairs.
“OUCH! That hurts!” I cried, as my mom tried to comb my hair. My hair didn’t want to be combed. My hair never wants to be combed. But still she tried.
“Brad, you are giving Jennifer a book for her birthday, a very important book. It is called ‘Lives of Girls and Women’. Remember the name, for me OK?” My mom asked. We always gave books for presents. My parents always taught me that books can change the world.
“Got it mom, ‘Lives of Girls and Women’, sounds silly to me, but OK.”, I replied.
At 6:30 my mom shushed me out the of the house, the door clicking loudly in my ears.
I don’t remember the walk to Art’s house, it was a blur of confusing thoughts. What did one do at a boys and girls birthday party?
As Art walked out the door with his church sweater and well trained hair, we looked at each other and started laughing at each other as only good friends can. I realized that I entered grade seven without a friend in the world, scared, skinny and alone. Less than three months later, I had a friend, a good friend and we were on our way to a birthday party with girls! I felt great! I felt confused.
“Come on lets go, we don’t want to be late!” Art kidded.
As the door opened the last rays of sun played on Jennifer’s face like liquid gold dancing on the fairy queen. Her hair were tresses, golden, that framed her features, a painting of grace, and her eyes, her eyes were what men dreamed of at night. All of this beauty only made her smile more intoxicating.
I looked at Art, he was a lost cause, he had surrendered to beauty and beauty’s name was Jennifer.
Turning back to the door I saw that Jennifer had paled in comparison to the vision of creation beside her. If Jennifer’s eyes were what men dreamed of, then Nancy’s eyes were the eyes that men died for. And to make things worse, my assignment for English class started running through my head and out my mouth, “The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars”.
I looked at Nancy and in that timeless moment of truth, I saw that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. More importantly, I learned that all women are beautiful, some are more dangerous than others. Nancy was the most dangerous person I had ever seen.
We entered the house, which, thankfully allowed me to breathe. Nancy’s momentary spell was broken while I took off my jacket and shoes.
Naively I asked, “Where are your parents, Jennifer?”
“They are out for the night, Brad.” Jennifer replied calmly, “All Night.”
I had no idea what the point of saying “All Night” was, but I started getting scared again. What party could last all night? What would you do? Professional football games only lasted 3 hours? What could take longer than that. I certainly couldn’t talk that long!
Cola, there was a cola staring at me.
“Take this, it will help”, Art said shoving a glass at me.
It was some sort of brown fizzy soda, I hated cola. But it was my first party with girls, and all the cool kids drink cola. So I drank cola.
“Sail on Silver Girl,
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way”
“See how they shine, if you need a friend, I’m sailing right behind”,
and realized they were all looking at me singing.
Blushing, I handed Jennifer the present that was still in my other hand, saving me further embarrassment.
“Its a book, we give books in my family. My mom says its important, its called Wives of Lirls and Men.” I said stumbling.
They were all laughing now, I was beyond blushing, I was a heat wave.
“This is so sweet, Brad. Lets see what it is really called!” Jennifer said sitting down.
“Lives of Girls and Women is the correct title silly! I love it! My mom will be so happy I got this. ” Jennifer said.
Then she came over and kissed me, not on the head, not the cheek, but full on the mouth. I was shocked, Art’s girlfriend kissed me, I was his friend. I looked at Art and then Nancy, neither of them were surprised. They took it as natural that Jennifer would kiss me, on the mouth. The door bell rang and Nancy and Jennifer went to answer it.
Whispering, I said to Art, “She kissed me! On the mouth.”
“She does that,” said Art, “isn’t it wonderful.”
The rest of the gang were here. I realized as they came in that they were all the people we played football with, it also dawned on me that they were the coolest kids in the school. I didn’t put it together before because we were always playing some game.
Some of the girls were up dancing to the music.
“Come on Brad, lets dance” said Brenda, grabbing my hand and pulling me up.
I started dancing with Brenda, talking and laughing like we always did until the record ended. We milled about as Jennifer changed the record and new music came on.
All the girls had magically changed partners; Brenda was in front of Steve, Jennifer in front of Art, Nancy was in front of … me . As I heard the intro to the song I started to sing along and then the words hit me
“Baby, I’m-a want you
Baby, I’m-a need you
You the only one I care enough to hurt about
Maybe I’m-a crazy
But I just can’t live without”
It was good to see that Nancy could blush too. Tentatively I put my arms around Nancy for the first time not trying to tackle her and gently pulled her towards me. She likewise pulled me to her with her hands and arms around my waist. While we slowly turned in the living room dancing as only junior high kids can do, I sang the whole song to her. Living in an endless moment of joy and love, of something that made me feel truly human.
The song ended, we just held each other there for a movement. She started to let go, I started to pull away,stopped, looked into those eyes that men would die for and kissed her, full on the mouth.
That moment in my life, of knowing that there was someone else who loved me, just because, forever changed my life. I knew that I would never be alone.
As to what we did for the rest of the night, well that is a story for another day.