First Date—Part One
Kenmore Middle School
Friday, April 26, 2002
“You’re kidding me, right?” Lisa stared at Jenna as if she’d suddenly grown another head. “You mean he hasn’t asked you out yet?”
“Not yet,” Jenna said.
“Not to the movies or skating or anything?” Lisa asked.
“No. Why?” Picking up her burger, she watched as Lisa and Christy exchanged glances. “Is that weird or something?”
“A little,” Lisa said. “I mean, you’ve known him for a month now, haven’t you?”
“A month and twenty days,” Jenna replied. “We mainly talk on the phone.”
Christy dipped her French fry into a pool of ketchup. “What do you mean mainly? Has he come over to your house yet?”
“Well—no,” Jenna hedged—the thought of Chris coming over to the house with her dad there—Dad, whose face still turned several shades of red at the merest mention of the ‘b’ word. “But we did talk at the bowling alley and he emailed me his yearbook photo. And then when I called him last night he—”
“Wait a minute,” Lisa held up her hand. “You call him?”
“Sure I call him,” Jenna said. “Sometimes I call him, and sometimes he calls me—that’s normal, isn’t it?”
“Actually,” Lisa reached into her backpack as she spoke. “Now that you mention it—I found this book that used to belong to my big sister.”
“Oh no,” Christy moaned. “Not that, Lisa—you promised you wouldn’t bring that up.”
“I had my fingers crossed,” Lisa shot back as she pulled out the tattered paperback. “Anyway, Jenna—it’s this book called ‘The Rules’—and it says in here that you never call a guy. You wait for him to call you.”
“Never?” Jenna repeated, a knot forming in her stomach. Had she been doing the wrong thing all this time? She didn’t think she had been—every time they talked they had a lot of fun—he enjoyed talking to her.
But on the other hand, it had been over a month and he hadn’t even suggested that they go anywhere. Was it because he didn’t want to? Maybe he was just being nice, humoring her—maybe he didn’t want to see her again.
She just wasn’t so sure anymore. Suddenly not hungry, Jenna placed her half-eaten burger back on the tray.
Christy snorted. “That’s got to be like the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“It’s not dumb,” Lisa turned the pages. “It says here that guys like girls who play hard to get—they like the chase and a touch of mystery in a woman.”
“I’m not a woman,” Jenna told her friend. Not yet anyway. She certainly didn’t look like one—or feel like one.
“Women, girl—whatever,” Lisa said. “It’s still true.”
“Sense of mystery? This is 2002, Lisa—that book was written a long time ago.” Christy said. “And personally, I think that boys appreciate a girl who is assertive. Maybe you should ask him out first, Jenna—maybe he’s just shy.”
“Ask him out?” Lisa sounded horrified. “He needs to make the first move, Jenna. It’s still not too late for you to play hard-to-get, you know—there are things you can do—”
“Hard to get is just silly,” Christy insisted. “What she needs to do is—”
Ask him out—let him ask her—Jenna took a sip of her milk as Lisa and Christy continued talking—her mind racing wildly.
SMK SMK SMK SMK
4247 Maplewood Dr.
“Hello? Hello?” Amanda said.
Silence—for a moment she thought she could hear someone—soft breathing—but then there was a click and the line went dead. Looking at the phone’s caller ID Amanda saw the word ‘Unavailable’—no phone number given. Probably telemarketers, she thought—though lately these hang-ups had been coming more and more frequently. With a quiet sigh she replaced the cordless’ receiver back on the hook.
Now what had she been doing only a moment ago—she stared at the open oven. Of course. Using two potholders, she carefully lifted the glass casserole dish.
“Mom, can I ask you a question?”
“You can ask me anything, sweetheart.” Amanda put the casserole into the oven, closing the door firmly. “What is it?”
“How do you know if a boy really likes you?” Jenna asked. “I know that sounds like a silly question and all—”
“No, it’s not a silly question.” Closing the oven door Amanda turned to look at her daughter, sitting at the table, pen in hand and her homework spread out in front of her. “When you say boy, do you mean Chris?”
Jenna hesitated. “Well there is Chris, yeah—but boys in general. How do you know?”
How to answer this? From Jenna’s expression and the tone in her voice she could tell how important it was. “A lot of times it depends on the boy,” Amanda began. “I remember when I was in third grade there was a boy—Timmy Andrews. He used to sit behind me in class shoot spitballs at me.”
Jenna made a face. “Oh mom, that sounds so gross. It doesn’t sound very nice, either.”
“No, it wasn’t,” Amanda agreed. “And I was really upset at the time—and your grandmother was furious.” Furious was an understatement—her mother had been ready to march down the block to the Andrews’ and give them a piece of her mind before her father had talked her out of it.
“I can imagine,” Jenna said.
“But as strange as it sounds,” Amanda replied. “That was actually Timmy’s way of saying that he liked me.”
“Oh.” Comprehension dawned on Jenna’s features. “Like Kyle Robinson when I was nine and he put that gum in my hair.”
“Like that, yes.” The gum had taken forever to get out, Amanda recalled. They’d tried baby oil, olive oil, mayonnaise—even a paste of baking soda and water. They had been on the verge of cutting it out when Leatherneck had dropped by and suggested peanut butter, which had actually worked.
“Do you know the next day Kyle gave me a Valentine and a paper heart?” Jenna shook her head. “Boys can be so weird.”
“Well I know it might seem that way, sweetheart,” Amanda sat down at the table beside her daughter. “But you know, when boys do things that might seem ‘weird’, it’s only because they have trouble expressing their real feelings.”
“Did Phillip and Jamie do those kinds of things?”
“Sometimes—you know you can always ask them about it if you want.”
“Yeah, I know.” Jenna fell silent for a moment, her pen tapping methodically on the tabletop. “But boys my age—they don’t do stuff like gum and spitballs anymore, right?”
“Hopefully they don’t,” Amanda replied. “But you know every boy is different. Is this about Chris?”
A small shrug. “Yeah, kinda.”
“You’re wondering whether he likes you or not,” Amanda said.
“He’s been calling you two or three times a week on the phone, for over a month now.” Amanda reminded her. “He wouldn’t do that if he didn’t like you, would he?”
“No, I guess not—but, Mom, what if he thinks I’m just like his buddy or something? What if he just likes me and doesn’t, you know, ‘like like’ me?”
Like like—teenage jargon sometimes. Amanda shook her head reflexively. “Is there a difference?”
“Mom, of course there’s a difference,” Jenna replied, sounding as if that should be obvious. “Lisa says that if he ‘liked liked’ me he would’ve come over to the house or asked me to go out somewhere by now. It’s been over a month.”
That’s not all that long, Amanda wanted to say, but then she stopped herself, remembering how when she was that age a month could seem like forever.
“Is that what Lisa thinks?” She asked. “Or is that what you think?”
“Maybe a little of both,” Jenna confessed, biting her lower lip. “I was starting to wonder about it myself, but when Lisa said that he should’ve asked me by now. I really started to worry. And then she said I wasn’t following the rules—”
“Wait a minute—what rules?”
“It’s this crazy book she has called ‘The Rules’,” Jenna said. “And it says that you should never call a guy—that you should always wait for him to call you. It also says that guys like a girl who’s mysterious and plays ‘hard to get’. If that book is right, I’ve already screwed up majorly.”
The Rules—Amanda vaguely remembered that book being touted on talk shows and morning television—sometime in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, wasn’t it? She also recalled a book of a similar nature written in the ‘70s that told women to never let their husbands see them without makeup and to occasionally greet them at the door wearing nothing but saran wrap—honestly, the things people came up with—
Realizing that Jenna was waiting for an answer—Amanda took her daughter’s hands in her own.
“Sweetheart, listen to me. In my opinion, a boy will like you if you just be yourself. You shouldn’t have to play games.”
“I don’t want to play games, Mom—but I don’t want to make mistakes either.”
“Trust me,” she told Jenna. “If you’re true to yourself you should be just fine. And as for you calling him—didn’t he give you his phone number first?”
“So he wanted you to call him, didn’t he?”
“I guess—but shouldn’t he have asked me out by now?”
“Not everyone goes on the same schedule,” Amanda replied. Her ears registered the faint sound of the door opening and closing—Lee was home. “Maybe he’s just taking things slow, and that’s okay.”
“Christy says I should take the initiative and ask him to go out with me—she says that maybe he’s too shy to ask and that he’s waiting for me to do it. Do you think she’s right?”
“That depends. How do you feel about that?”
“I feel—I mean, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking a boy out or anything,” Jenna said. “But I don’t want to rush things too much—and I don’t want him to feel like I’m pushing him. Does that make any sense?”
Even though he wasn’t in the room Amanda could sense her husband nearby—she knew he was listening. “Perfect sense.” She squeezed Jenna’s hands. “You do what you feel is right—don’t let anyone rush you.”
“And just remember that it’s important to be good friends with a boy before you’re anything else. Right?”
Jenna smiled. “Right,” she repeated. “Thanks, Mom.”
“Anytime, sweetheart.” Amanda pulled her daughter into a brief hug. “Now take this stuff upstairs, go wash your hands and then you can help me set the table. You can finish your homework after dinner.”
“I will.” Jenna gathered her things together and stood, leaving the room. Amanda waited until she was sure that Jenna was completely upstairs—
“You can come out any time you want, Lee,” she called out.
“Not so loud, huh?” Lee said as he came into the kitchen. “I don’t want Jenna to know that—”
“To know that you were spying on her?” Amanda asked.
His face reddened. “Come on, that’s not exactly what I was doing, Amanda,” he said defensively. “I just walked in the house, that’s all. It wasn’t like she was hard to overhear.”
Amanda smiled. “Oh—I see.” Grabbing the oven mitts, she opened the oven door.
“Here—let me.” Lee took the oven mitts from her—carefully he removed the casserole and placed it on the counter. “What were you two talking about, anyway? Was it about that boy?” Amanda noticed the way her husband grimaced as he said ‘that boy’.
“His name is Chris,” Amanda reminded him.
“Okay—okay —Chris. Was it about him?”
“Well yes—” Amanda opened the cabinet and took down three plates. Mother was having dinner with Captain Curt and wouldn’t be home until later. “—and no.”
“What does that mean?”
Amanda set the plates down on the table. “It means that most of it was just about boys in general.”
“Boys in general?” Lee repeated. A slight thud sounded upstairs—he lowered his voice. “Exactly what part of boys in general?”
“Lee, you did hear some of the conversation.”
“All I heard was something about Christy saying that Jenna should ask him out and Jenna telling you that she didn’t want to rush things.”
“Jenna!” Amanda called. “I could really use your help down here, sweetheart.”
“In a minute Mom,” came the reply. “I’m on the phone.”
“She’s on the phone,” Lee said. “So just tell me. What was she talking about?”
“I don’t know—” Amanda said slowly. “The last time I told you something like this you didn’t exactly react well— in fact you kind of overreacted.”
“Something like what?” Lee said. “Amanda please—I want to know.”
“Well if you really want to know,” Amanda retrieved the glasses from the shelf above the sink and placed them on the counter. “She wanted to know how she could tell if a boy really liked her or not. I just told her that every boy was different.”
“Was that it?” Lee asked. “That’s not so bad.”
How to tell him the rest? “That’s not exactly all of it,” she replied. “Jenna was also worried that Chris doesn’t like her because he hasn’t asked her out yet—and Lisa and Christy have been giving her conflicting messages.”
Lee’s face paled. “Asked her out? You mean like on a—” he stopped, not able to say the actual word.
“Yes, that’s what I mean.” Amanda watched as he slowly sank down into the kitchen chair.
“I really wish you hadn’t told me that,” he said.
“She is a teenager,” she told him. “You knew this was coming.”
Barely a teenager, Lee added silently. “Jenna’s only thirteen, Amanda. She’s too young to be doing this.”
“She shouldn’t even be thinking about boys asking her out.” Lee kept his voice low, but Amanda could hear the force of emotion behind his words. “And especially not this ‘Chris’ person. We don’t know anything about him.”
“I’ve spoken to his mother on the phone,” Amanda said. “He goes to Williamsburg Middle—he’s in the Honor Society—”
“Next you’re going to tell me he used to be a Junior Trailblazer or something.”
“He seems like a very nice boy.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Lee knew he was being unreasonable, but at this point he didn’t care. “Girls her age do not go out on dates!”
“Phillip did.” Amanda reminded him. “I took him and his girlfriend Linda to the movies and dropped them off.”
“Yeah, but Phillip was a little older, though—wasn’t he?”
“Actually he was a little younger,” Amanda said. “He had just turned thirteen the week before.”
“Phillip is one thing, Amanda—”
“And didn’t you have girlfriends at that age?”
Girlfriends—oh yeah. Lee could remember quite a few—he could also recall with perfect clarity what had been on his mind at the time. The thought of Jenna—his child— going out with the type of boy that he’d been—he shuddered inwardly.
“This is not about me,” he insisted. “With Jenna it’s –it’s just different.”
“Different why?” Amanda asked quietly. “Is it different because she’s a girl, or because she’s your daughter?”
Lee fell silent for a few moments.
“Both,” he replied finally. “Maybe—I don’t know.” All he did know for certain was that right now his gut was churning, his stomach busily twisting itself into tiny knots.
Amanda placed her hand on his shoulder. “Look, if it makes you feel any better he hasn’t actually asked her out yet.”
“Oh, he will,” Lee answered shortly. “Believe me.” It was like standing in the path of an approaching train—he knew this would be coming no matter what—all he could hope was that it didn’t hit too hard.
“At this age, it’s not even a real date,” Amanda told him. “Try to think of it more as a practice for the real thing.”
“Practice?” Lee’s voice rose and Amanda shot him a warning look. “Just what does she need practice for?” He asked, his voice falling to a near whisper.
“Well unless you plan on sending Jenna to a convent, I think she does need to learn how to deal with boys at some point.” Amanda rubbed his shoulder as she spoke, trying to calm him. “She’s growing up, you know—she’s not going to get any younger.”
Lee nodded. “Yeah,” he agreed. “I guess—I know you’re right. Part of me was just hoping that this would hold off for a little while longer.”
“How much longer?”
“Oh, until she was sixteen—maybe eighteen or so.”
“Or maybe even twenty?”
He glanced up at his wife. “Would that really be so bad?”
“As much as you’d like to,” Amanda said. “You can’t keep her a little girl forever.”
Lee ran one hand back through his hair, letting out his breath in a sigh. “I know—but it’s not easy.”
“Well no,” Amanda squeezed his shoulder. “But if and when this happens we’ll get through it—and it’ll be all right.”
“And we’ll get to meet this boy before he takes our daughter anywhere?”
“That’s a promise, Stetson.”
“Hey Mom, guess what!” Jenna ran into the kitchen, cell phone in hand. “I was on the phone with Lisa and Chris sent me—oh, hey Dad—I didn’t know you were here.”
“I just came home, munchkin,” Lee tried to keep his voice as calm as possible. “What did Chris send you?”
“Nothing special,” Jenna twisted her fingers, not meeting his gaze suddenly. “It was just a picture of himself—he sent it to me on his cell phone.”
“Sweetheart, that’s wonderful,” Amanda said.
“Can we see the picture?” Lee asked.
“Um—yeah, sure.” Jenna flipped open her phone and handed it to Lee. “It’s from last summer—he was in the backyard washing his dog Max, see?” She handed Lee the phone. “That’s him—doesn’t he look cute?”
“That is a nice photo,” Amanda said.
Lee stared down silently at the photo of the sandy-haired boy standing there with a sudsy-looking German Shepherd. “He doesn’t have a shirt on,” he said.
“Well it was hot outside,” Jenna said. “And like I said he was washing his dog. But that’s not the point. Doesn’t he look cute?”
“I—” Lee’s mouth opened and closed—he couldn’t seem to find the right words—or any words at all.
“Yes,” Amanda replied finally. “He certainly does—he looks very cute.”
Jenna grinned. “Thanks, Mom.”
“Did you wash your hands?” Amanda asked.
“Oh I knew I forgot something,” Jenna said. “I’ll be right back.”
Lee stared down at the cell phone as he listened to Jenna’s footsteps running up the stairs. “Amanda?” He said finally.
“Where is the nearest convent, anyway?”