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Love At First Grade
I was only on my first of twelve grades, so the time for slacking had yet to arrive. Some kids, however, found their shoelaces, the window or the floor more interesting than our addition problems. I couldn’t help but feel these kids had underestimated the importance of the ability to add single digit numbers. Granted, it seemed to be a somewhat abstract concept, one only adults needed to know. But our teachers reminded us we’d be adults soon enough.
1+3=4. 2+2=4. 3+6=_?____. Geez, our lessons were moving a little too quickly. It’s hard enough learning all the numbers that can add up to four. Dismay spread throughout our class when the teacher announced we’d be moving on to a new concept the next week--subtraction. I personally didn’t understand how we could be expected to learn a concept whose name we wouldn’t be required to spell for at least another two grades. Anyway, I shrugged off the news and returned to my problems.
I was working on my last few problems when Brandon dropped a folded sheet of paper on my desk.
“What’s this?” I whispered.
“It’s a note from Jessie,” Brandon said.
I looked across the room and blonde-hair blue-eyed Jessie was staring at me intently. An unfamiliar sensation ran along my spine; butterflies fluttered in my stomach. Brandon nodded suggestively, so I went ahead and unfolded the note. It read:
I love you.
I felt sick and like singing all at once. Quickly, I folded the note to conceal its embarrassing contents. I couldn’t let anyone know of my new love. I opened my plastic Mickey Mouse pencil box and slid the note into a small sleeve. I shut the box and sighed of relief. I guess I knew what love was, but I’d never anticipated it would happen so soon. Some people go their entire lives looking for love and never find it, and I’d done it in just six years!
Jessie Stafford was easily considered the prettiest girl in our class. Suddenly, I became self-conscious: I had no idea what I’d done to catch that girl’s eye. I was afraid if I didn’t figure out the magic behind my improbable success, that I’d soon lose her.
“Time,” the teacher said.
I still had several problems remaining and I panicked. Rapidly, I began filling in answers as the teacher made her way along the aisles of desks collecting the students’ work. I filled in the last blank just as the teacher arrived at my desk.
“Mr. Keen!” she exclaimed.
I gulped and looked up sheepishly. “Yes?”
“Your work please. And, ugh, is that your pencil box still out on your desk? Class, did I not tell you to clear everything off of your desks, including your pencil boxes?” Mrs. Cottage asked the class. Then she took my little pencil box, walked back to her desk, and slammed it shut in one of her ogreish desk drawers. My face must have been pale white. What would happen if the teacher were to discover my love letter? I, or rather we, we would be exposed and our love destroyed in its seed before ever having had the chance to bloom.
The confiscated pencil box clouded my mind for the remainder of the school day. Even after I’d gotten off of the bus at home, the lost pencil box was still in my thoughts. What were the chances my teacher would search its contents? I was no odds maker, only a nervous little six year old. At night, I lied awake, unable to remove the thought of that little pencil box from my mind. Just to be able to sleep, I resolved to get the pencil box back the following day no matter what the consequences.
By the next morning, I was completely determined to recover the pencil box. When I first arrived at school, I waited to see what would happen. Maybe my teacher would just give it back to me. But if she didn’t give it back by lunch, well...
I watched hawkishly as the minute hand slowly lapped around the clock. I watched my teacher; making her rounds, helping students, grading papers, and scratching lessons across the lawn-green chalk board. I was studying her behavior, looking for trends and calculating possible opportunities to strike. The lunch bell rang, and everyone abruptly darted from the classroom to the junior high cafeteria. No one wasted any time eating in those days: recess immediately followed lunch, and the less time you spent eating the more time you had to spend at play. I ate lunch with Les and Brandon, but I let them do the talking. My mind was gripped by the fear of the situation. I hadn’t finished eating when Brandon and Les stood to leave, but I followed them out of the cafeteria anyway.
Les took off to the swings, and Brandon waited patiently in line for the slide. I just leaned up against the side of the school building. The sky was overcast, but the air was warm for late October. I picked up a twig from the ground and used it to draw on the sand below my feet. Standing there, I subconsciously began drawing out the classroom: the desks and a route through them. It’s all simple really. The pencil sharpener was just beside the teacher’s desk. I would walk over to it with a dull pencil and wait until she was distracted in a one-on-one explanation with another student on the far end of the room, back turned, and then I would strike. From my desk, to the pencil sharpener, to her desk drawer, to my cubby where I would hide the pencil box in my own book bag, and then I would run back to my desk. All I had to do now was act normal and wait.
Following the successful completion of my plan, I’d never been so anxious for the bus to depart the school building. I imagined the teacher realizing the contraband was missing, pulling me off the bus, discovering I’d retaken the seized property without permission, and subjecting me to some unthinkable punishment. But none of this actually came to pass. Instead, the bus reversed before pulling forward and lurching on to the highway. I nudged my backpack zipper open to peek in at the pencil box, just to make sure it was still there. I was free from my teacher’s wrath for the moment, but still plagued by the terror of my own guilt.
I had never been as nervous as I was when I arrived at home. I felt like the word “guilty” was written in bright shining letters across my forehead. The instant I entered my house the phone rang, and a troubling thought occurred to me: What if my teacher later discovered the missing pencil box, and was phoning my mother to tell her what I did? The terror was too much to bear, so I quickly devised a plan. I knew of an unused, but working telephone we kept in our finished basement. I plugged the phone in to a discrete and unused phone jack, and left it off the hook. This way the phone would not ring, and my mother could receive no incoming calls. But what if my mother or father wanted to make a phone call? Such need would no doubt drive them to find the phone that’s off the hook. I guessed the only thing for me to do was keep them busy, all night if necessary, if that’s what it took.
After dinner, Dad usually b-lined to the phone for some evening business calls. I knew I had to intervene. “Do you think we can watch a movie after dinner, Mommy and Daddy?” I asked.
“Um, what would you like to watch?” Dad asked hesitantly.
“I don’t know. I was thinking about that Castle Blanco movie Mommy always talks about, or maybe a John Wayne movie?” I could already see I’d sparked some interest. They absolutely loved it when I took a curiosity in adult things. “Or a John Grisham movie? Don’t ya’ll love lawyer movies because they’re about the law?” I felt bad now because they seemed so genuinely impressed, but my plan was working. “Whatever you guys want to watch really,” I said. With that, I’d duped them for good.
“Jessie (my mother’s name is also Jessie), do you want to go and pick one out while I do the dishes?” my father, Thompson, asked.
“I’d love to,” my mommy said. “I just have kind of a guilty conscience for making Kyle watch something I know he won’t A-P-P-R-E-C-I-A-T-E. You know I hate having a guilty conscience.” I had no idea what she was saying. I seriously should have set aside some time earlier in life to learn the code known by the name spelling. Still, if life had always been such an easy swindle. We spent the rest of the evening watching The Firm. I still remember it being about suits and old people conversing.
After the movie, my daddy tucked me away in bed, and when I heard my parents’ bedroom door shut, I darted to put the phone back on the hook and raced to climb back in to bed before having roused the least bit of suspicion. I quickly drifted off to sleep.
The next day, fate turned against me, but I didn’t sense it at first. It actually played a mean trick on me. First, I hadn’t had the chance to write Jessie a response to her letter because of Mrs. Cottage’s distraction. Then, Jessie came up to me in the hall and asked if we could talk at recess. Well, of course we can talk, I said. Forget playing at one measly recess, I could have talked to Jessie Stafford at every recess for the rest of my life.
Finally came the bad news.
“Kyle, could you come over here?” my teacher asked just minutes before recess. She didn’t even look up from grading assignments at her desk to ask. I obliged her and walked over to her desk.
“Yes,” I responded meekly.
“I took your pencil box from you yesterday,” Mrs. Cottage said.
“Yes ma’am,” I replied.
“I had placed it in my desk drawer and intended to give it back to you just now,” she said.
“Yes ma’am,” I replied dumbly.
“Only when I went to look for it, it wasn’t there.”
“Kyle, do you know what happened to your pencil box?”
Now, I may not have been explicit before, but both of my parents were lawyers since before I was born, so I knew how to deal with these cross-examinations. Keep it brief and consistent.
“Well, then I’m ashamed to tell you that I’ve misplaced your pencil box. Would you mind to stay in from recess and help me look for it?” she asked.
Now I wasn’t that darned young and stupid. I knew this simple request was really a disguised punishment. She knew I took the box, but we also both knew she couldn’t prove it. And without evidence there is no crime.
“But, maybe we should just see if it turns up?” I suggested. The recess bell rang and all of my classmates ran outside.
“I think we’d better look for it now,” Mrs. Cottage said.
“But I have plans!” I declared.
“Do you have a reservation with the swings? I don’t think so, mister. You are going to stay in this room until we find that pencil box, and if we don’t find it, then I’m going to call your mother,” she said.
I pretended to look for the pencil box all recess: in her desk, under the radiator, in the cubbyholes, on the bookshelves, in the cabinets, and in the other students’ desks. I knew we wouldn’t find it because I knew where I’d hid it in the garage at home the day before. Still, I indulged her. Unfortunately, Mrs. Cottage caused me to miss the whole recess and my chance to have a recess date with Jessie Stafford.
“I’m going to call your mother tonight,” Mrs. Cottage said.
“And tell her what? That you lost my pencil box?” I replied.
“I don’t need this lip from you, young man,” she declared.
I didn’t get a good opportunity to talk to Jessie the rest of the school day. The moment never availed itself. On the school bus ride home, I dreamt of her. At that moment she was no longer real. She had become a dream, and there’s nothing that limits a dream from becoming perfect. Jessie was perfect then, and I was confident we’d be perfect together.
That evening, I repeated my sneaky strategy blocking the phones. I was successful, but I paid for my success with abject fear and suffering through boring old movies. For each success there’s a cost, and back then, I was beginning to wonder whether the success was worth the cost.
The next day my teacher seemed to have forgotten the pencil box. She was still giving me dirty looks, but she didn’t say anything to me about it. Now my classmates all had their reading books open, only I couldn’t pay attention. All I could do was gaze at Jessie. I was infatuated. That day at recess I would talk to her. We would be united. I would have my long-awaited reward.
The bell rang and all my classmates rushed to the playground. I was no exception. I saw Jessie on the jungle gym. She was sharing an ice cream with Eric. I climbed up the ladder and walked over to her. She didn’t look back at me.
“Jessie,” I called her name, but she didn’t turn. I was confused, and my confusion led me down and away from the jungle gym. I didn’t understand why she didn’t speak to me. Why would she not speak? Certainly people who love, spoke, or so I thought. I lived in a state of confusion the rest of the school day. After the final bell rang, after school had ended for another day, I walked across the worn asphalt to my bus in deep thought. I saw Jessie and Eric holding hands, walking to the bus. I didn’t understand.
“What’s wrong?” Lisa asked me on the bus; I didn’t immediately respond. I was picking a hole through the green synthetic leather bus seats. “You’re usually so happy. What’s wrong?
“Nothing. Say, why do people hold hands?” I asked.
“My mom holds my hand so I won’t get lost,” Lisa said.
“But why would a boy hold a girl’s hand?” I asked.
“For the same reason, but because they’re dating,” Lisa said.
“Oh,” I replied. I knew what dating meant. My heart dropped and my stomach turned in reaction to Lisa’s response. By this time I’d torn a fist-sized hole in to the school bus seat.
“Would you like to come to my house to play after school?” Lisa asked.
“No, I should probably just go home,” I said.
“Ok,” Lisa replied. She seemed disappointed. I didn’t really want to go home or anywhere for that matter, but what else was I supposed to do?
#ShortStory #Photography #AlexMcGlothlin #TylerRosado #YoungLove #Dating #FirstLove #HoldingHands
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