My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction. Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazon
I still recall my first love. Just in case he reads this, I will call
him “Jeffrey,” but every girl in my grade at East Side School would
know immediately his real name, because they all loved him too. Or
“liked,” as we said back then. Jeffrey was the Clark Gable of East
Side–popular with boys, girls, and teachers. An excellent student,
he was good at sports too. He was reserved and seemed more mature
than other boys in our class. Though his name was frequently linked
to the popular girls like Maureen, Helen, and Alice, I don’t ever
recall him openly claiming them. He was the strong and silent type.
Part of what made Jeffrey the prince of the class had to be the fact
that his mother always brought treats on holidays–Halloween,
Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and–of course–on Jeffrey’s
birthday. There were bound to be cupcakes, cookies, candy, Kool-Ade,
and sometimes ice cream. You might guess that Jeffrey was an adored
only child, and likely a surprise late child. Fortunately, Jeffrey
didn’t act spoiled. True, he took the class adulation as his due, but
he never seemed egotistical.
Me, I’m not positive I ever got up the nerve to speak to him. Still,
no doubt about it–I was in love. If he brushed my arm on a trip to
the pencil sharpener, I got chill bumps. If his glance bounced in my
general direction, my heart pounded. Once when in line behind him, I
noticed he even smelled good.
In eighth grade we had a teacher who was very interested in the
romantic lives of her students. “Mrs. Brighton” kept up with who
liked who, and who had “broken off.” One day when it was almost time
for the dismissal bell, she said, “You know which two I think would be
a good match?” “Who?” the class chorused. There followed a guessing
game in which every combination of the popular kids was presented.
Mrs. Brighton answered no to each suggestion. Then when the bell
rang, she said, “Faye and Jeffrey.”
My face reddened. My heart raced. As we ran for the buses, I could
hear the whispered talk around me. “Jeffrey and Faye?” “Faye and
Jeffrey?” Maureen Bailey ran up by my side and asked, “Do you like
I shrugged. “He’s okay, I guess.”
“But do you like him for a sweetheart?”
“He’s okay,” I repeated, darting into my waiting bus.
Jeffrey was already on the bus, seated many rows back from his usual
place behind the driver. I took the seat beside my sister, Jean, near
Life went on. After that year, Jeffrey left East Side and enrolled at
Dalton High. I eventually went to North Whitfield High. After
college, I taught at North Whitfield for two years. I got a car,
gradually bought a few nice clothes, and started getting good
haircuts. Life was definitely getting better.
One day when I was dressed for some big occasion, I stopped for gas,
and there on the other side of the pump was Jeffrey. He looked like
he’d just stepped off the movie screen. “Faye,” he said, smiling his
wonderful smile. “Faye Junkins–the girl I secretly loved for years
at East Side….”
I’m lying. The truth is, Jeffrey didn’t recognize me until I told him
my name. And maybe not even then. But the worst part was, the grown
up Jeffry was so ordinary. So average. Not at all like the shining,
gallant Jeffrey of my memories. It’s been a few decades now, and
thank goodness, I’ve managed to blot out that meeting almost entirely.
Handsome Jeffrey is restored to my memory in all his glory, and he is
still my first love.