The Cool Night
“Well, of course I don’t want you to be gone an extra day. I miss
you. The kids miss you. Yeah, I understand. Not mad, just
disappointed. Love you, too. Bye.”
Lacie hung up the phone and fought back burning tears.
It seemed like all of his business trips lately had been extended
for one reason or another. Every phone call that started with “I’m
sorry, baby, but—” sent pangs of self doubt through her. He had
never given her a reason not to trust him, though. Not lately,
anyway. No man had hurt her in a very long time. With effort, she
hoisted herself from the chair in front of the phone. On a whim,
she hurried into her bedroom, the bedroom in which she would once
again be sleeping alone, and took a plastic bag from the back of the
closet. She situated herself on the bed and regarded the bag. It
was tied tightly shut, hadn’t been opened in years, but the memories
it held were slowly drifting out.
“Whoa! No, wait. Stop.”
She pulled her lips away from his and looked up at him,
“I mean, you are definitely the coolest chick I know, a
really great friend. Otherwise I never would have asked you to come
with me tonight. I just don’t think that things can be like that
In the ten, maybe twenty, seconds it took her to close
her eyes, draw in a deep breath, and open her eyes again, it seemed
like millions of thoughts filled her head. The first ones (is he
gay? committed to being a virgin? trying not to get too serious too
fast?) had nothing to do with her own possible shortcomings.
The next fast-moving, cloudy, dark thunderstorm of thoughts that
converged on her dealt much more with his shortcomings than her own:
Was he really just a jerk after he had seemed so close to perfect
for so long? Was he so insecure that he had to reject her to feel
powerful? Was he just playing with her emotions?
Finally came the darkest, deepest fears of all: Had she chosen the
wrong prom dress? Was her makeup not right? Was she not thin
enough, not beautiful enough, or popular enough, or prom-queen
enough, for him?
She swallowed her anger, her sadness, her insecurities,
and carefully, guardedly, met his gaze.
“You don’t think things should be like what with us?”
“Like more than friends. I mean, it’s not—we’re buds.
Pals. Things are good the way they are.”
“I see. Fair enough. You wanna take me home?”
“Yeah. You pretty much just brutally rejected me. How
did you think I would feel?” Her eyes darted around his bedroom,
searching for the place in which she had discarded her sweater.
This had always been a place where she felt safe before, not to
mention the place in which she had always thought she would make,
for the first time, to a man she really did love. A few tears
blurred her vision then, but when she faced him her dark eyes were
flashing and she was smiling.
“Just a test, anyway, really. Wanted to see if you got
into the spiked punch or not. Guess not.” Lacie laughed hollowly
as she finally located her sweater. She turned away from Jake and
slid her arms into it.
“Come on, babe. Lacie, I didn’t mean—”
“Yeah, I know exactly what you meant. I just need to go
home. I need some time to myself.”
At home, Lacie slipped silently into the house. She
didn’t want her parents to hear her and come ask all kinds of
questions. She didn’t feel like trying to come up with some stupid
excuse for being home so early. It didn’t matter, anyway, though.
Her parents were sitting side by side on the couch, holding hands
and totally engrossed in whatever they were watching on TV. It was
easy enough for Lacie to go unnoticed.
When she had safely closed her bedroom door behind her,
she slipped her sweater over her shoulders and let it drop to the
floor. She fell back onto her bed and wondered how things had gone
so horribly wrong. The tears swam back into her field of vision.
This time, she let them fall.
It was supposed to be the perfect, fairy tale night.
The night which held the very best moments of her high school
years. For months now, she and Jake had been seeing each other
almost every day. Nothing romantic, but you could feel the edges of
romance dancing around them. Lacie had wanted more than friendship
right from the beginning, but she had been careful about it. She
usually had no trouble getting dates, seducing guys. High school
boys were easy. All they thought about was sex, and if you were
willing to give it to them, they would do anything for you, no
matter who you were.
Lacie set the plastic bag aside, got up from her bed,
and undressed. She pulled on a robe and then went to open the
window. The May air rushed in around her, soothing her just a
little. Being all alone, her children sleeping and her husband away
for so long, remembering—it was a melancholy sort of night. Funny
how the memories could still hurt after so long. Some things, a
girl just doesn’t forget. The first time Lacie had seen Jake, for
instance. It was all still there.
He had appeared in her 11th grade creative
writing class toward the beginning of the year, a new student, very
intellectual looking. The kind of guy Lacie always noticed. The
kind of guy who never seemed to exist in such a small town, so far
away from universities and any kind of sophistication. But there he
was. His poetry blew her away. His words, and the deep, smooth,
jazzy voice that spread them through the room, were the most
striking, beautiful, haunting things she had ever experienced. By
the end of that class period, Lacie was sure she couldn’t live
without him in her life.
So, when the teacher divided the class into pairs for
their final project, Lacie had a quick after-class conference with
her. Lacie was one of the good kids, one of the smart ones, the
student every teacher wanted in every class. So as always, Lacie
got her way. She and Jake were a pair, at least in creative writing
Lacie was pretty sure her little maneuver had broken
poor Joey Madden’s heart. Well, not his heart, because it wasn’t
his heart he had given her. It was his virginity, something that
she knew was rarely tied to matters of the heart in high school
boys. That didn’t bother her too much. She liked Joey well enough,
but she was smart enough to know that it wasn’t she he loved; it was
merely the very feminine attention she gave to the most masculine of
his parts. He would get over it, she knew, and in the meantime, she
and Jake could produce an absolute masterpiece and maybe fall in
love in the process. That was her plan, her hope, her dream.
They worked hard, spent long hours on their project, and
of course, in the end, it had been a hit. Even the mostly bored,
disinterested members of their sixth hour creative writing class had
recognized its brilliance, and Joey Madden had actually risen with
the rest of the class to applaud when they had finished presenting
it. Their teacher had asked permission to enter it into a statewide
creative writing competition. Together, Lacie and Jake were
When the project was completed and the school year was
over, Lacie worried that Jake would find other people to occupy his
time. All for nothing, though, because they continued to spend
every spare minute together. They visited each other at work,
shared meals, read together, never stayed apart for very long at
Lacie lay awake every night, remembering every moment of
every day in which Jake had spoken to her, looked at her, touched
her. She even stopped sneaking Joey Madden and the few other boys
she had spread her attention among into her room at night. It was
no longer the act of sex that kept her awake at night, but rather
anticipation of love. She dreamed every night of the day that Jake
would fall in love with her.
That day hadn’t come, though, not really. She wondered
if he was shy, or afraid of commitment, or just cautious, but with
Joey and company waiting in the wings, she never once thought to
wonder if he actually liked her. Because he had always been there,
because he had never gone out with any other girls, because of the
expression he wore when they were together, Lacie took it for
granted that he liked her, that sooner or later he would fall in
When their creative writing project had won first place
in the state competition, Lacie had been elated. She was being
recognized for her writing, the man she loved was being recognized
for his writing, too, and they would finally be forced into spending
an entire night alone together. She spent hours fantasizing about
all the possibilities. Lacie imagined that this night, together,
alone, in a hotel room a few hundred miles from home, would help her
create the intimacy she craved in their relationship. With Jake,
she would have everything she dreamed of. There would be no quick,
giggly blow jobs or hurried, desperate, careful-not-to-get-caught
sex. Everything would be somehow effortlessly, naturally, easily
right with Jake.
The night of the awards ceremony, in the hotel room,
Lacie and Jake slept together. They began the night on opposite
sides of the bed, but by morning they were completely entwined with
one another. Jake never tried anything at all, though; all he did
was sleep. Lacie, on the other hand, did not sleep. She lay awake
for almost the entire night alternately daydreaming about what might
happen and crying because it hadn’t happened yet. For the first
time since she was twelve years old, Lacie was afraid to make the
first move, afraid to do the wrong thing.
Back at home, their relationship continued the way it
had always been. They were inseparable. Anyone who didn’t know
them would have mistaken them for the closest, most loving couple in
town. Lacie, sometimes, deep in her imagination, pretended they
actually were the closest, most loving couple in the world. And
then on Valentine’s Day, Jake invited Lacie out for dinner after a
yearbook committee meeting that ran late.
“We can just stop at McDonald’s on the way home, sound
A part of her perked up immediately at the thought that
he had asked her out on Valentine’s Day, almost like a real date.
“Sure,” Lacie responded, because she never said no to
Jake. He even paid for her Big Mac when they got there, which Lacie
thought was incredibly sweet. Another part of her, though, probably
the more rational part, reasoned that it was only McDonald’s, and
that she had been waiting the better part of a year for him to make
a move, and that he had given her no indication that his feelings or
intentions had changed.
It was after ten when they finished eating, and the
restaurant was empty except for an old man reading a newspaper, a
group of college students animatedly discussing the a recent
football game, and an assortment of falsely cheerful employees.
“Hey, Lace?” Jake mumbled through his the last of his
Big Mac. “Wanna go play?”
“In McPlayland. No one’s paying attention, we can get
away with it. I haven’t been in one of those ball pits in years.”
“Oh, my God, you’re crazy! Okay, let’s do it.”
They quickly cleared their table, both grinning
stupidly, and ducked into the play area, slipping off their shoes as
they did. Lacie slid into the ball pit and started moving as if
making snow angels, reveling in the sensation of the cool plastic
balls giving way to her limbs. Jake immediately sunk to the bottom
of the pit; Lacie couldn’t see him, but the shifting of the balls
that were piled on top of him let her keep tabs on him. She was
watching this movement, intrigued, when a sudden voice made them
both stand up.
“Hey! Hey, guys, outta here! What’s wrong with you
two?” An angry looking manager had appeared in the playroom,
staring at Lacie and Jake through the mesh walls of the ball pit.
His face was red and he was pointing at the door with one hand and
waving the other menacingly in the air.
Lacie turned and scrambled toward the entrance to the
ball pit. Just as she was about to escape, she felt herself being
pulled back in, Jake’s hand tightly wrapped around her ankle.
“Hey, Lace,” he whispered as she fell toward him.
“Wanna go to prom with me?”
Before she could even think about answering him, the
angry manager had grabbed her wrist and was pulling her away from
“Come on, out! You are way too tall, not to mention way
too old, to be in here. Besides, this room closes at ten!”
“Sorry.” Lacie jammed her shoes on the wrong feet and
hurried toward the door. Gototheprom, gototheprom, gototheprom—she
didn’t trust herself enough to believe that she had actually heard
him right, but she was afraid to ask him to repeat himself, for fear
that she had heard him wrong.
On the way home, Jake and Lacie laughed about the
expression on the manager’s face when he yelled at them. They
discussed the yearbook meeting. They wondered whether the
basketball team would make it to the state championship. Neither of
them said the word prom at all.
As soon as Jake stopped his car in her driveway, Lacie’s
nervous energy propelled her out of her seat and toward the house.
She paused, though, and turned, when she heard his tires gently
crackling on the pavement as he backed out. Before she could change
her mind, before he could drive away, she ran back to his car.
“Forget something?” Jake asked as he slid the passenger
window open just a crack.
“Yes. I mean—no, but yes. Yes.” Lacie quickly walked
back up the driveway, not looking back, not stopping until she was
on the doorstep, fumbling for her keys. By the time she turned the
key in the lock, her cell phone was ringing. In the window, she
could see the reflection of Jake’s car, his lit-up cell phone
glowing from within.
“Yes to the prom?” he asked when she answered.
“Yes to the prom,” she whispered back.
Lacie went to the kitchen, stopping on the way to make
sure her daughters were still sleeping, and poured herself a cup of
coffee. Her stomach was upset in anticipation of the memories she
knew were coming next: after prom, in her bedroom, alone. So
alone. It was almost like watching a movie she had seen before; she
wanted to turn down the volume, shield her eyes from the next
Back in her bedroom, Lacie set her coffee cup on the
dresser and eased herself back onto the bed. She picked up the
plastic bag once again. Hugging it to her, she swore she could
still smell the perfume she had been wearing the night she had
sealed the bag shut. Despite her efforts, the movie kept on
She angrily rid herself of her dress and heels. She had
driven three hours twice to find that stupid dress! No place
closer had a prom dress in her size that didn’t make her look like
someone’s grandma. Her stupid shoes had just about cut off the
circulation to her feet, too, and she’d gone all day without eating
so she wouldn’t get nervous and throw up, and for what? She had
finally gathered up the nerve to make a move, damn it, and now it
was all over.
She stripped off the incredibly tight, uncomfortable
under-wire bra she had been wearing, and the matching royal blue
thong. Jake’s favorite color, and he had never even gotten to see
it. No, he had chosen not to see it. Lacie slumped into the
chair in front of her computer and, chin resting in the palm of her
hand, jabbed at the power button. She sat back and studied her body
while she waited for the computer to boot up.
Her breasts were full and high, not huge, but enough to
make the boys take notice. Her legs and arms were large and strong,
twice the size of most, but still—nothing not to like. Her belly
was full and round, soft, womanly. It wasn’t tight and flat, the
way so much of the world seemed to think it should be, but Lacie had
never had a problem with it. She had always imagined her body had a
certain gentle charm, a hint of sensuality, and Joey Madden and his
friends didn’t seem to disagree. They were all too willing to slip
into her warm, soft bed and spend the night enjoying her. But
Jake—maybe Jake was different in more ways than she had thought. In
all the wrong ways.
Lacie forced herself to turn her attention to the
computer screen. She logged in to MySpace, MSN, Yahoo, AOL. No one
was online to chat with. Of course they weren’t. They were all out
celebrating prom night, or just one of the first warm Saturday
nights of spring. Only losers were sitting at home online.
That last thought gave Lacie an idea. She picked up her
cell phone with a surge of hope. She knew exactly what could make
her feel better. It had been a few months since they had really
talked, since Lacie had begun to devote her nights to thoughts and
dreams instead of flesh, but it was worth a try.
He answered on the second ring.
“Hey, Lace. Long time no see. What’s up?”
“I was just wondering if you went to prom tonight. I
didn’t see you there.”
“Nah. I’m not really into the whole prom thing, so
much. Just chilled at home.”
“Yeah, I know whatcha mean. Hey, I was just wondering,
too—would you—ya wanna come over?”
“Yeah.” She dropped her voice seductively. “I’m naked
and waiting for you.”
When Lacie’s phone beeped to signify that Joey had ended
the call, she tossed it onto her desk and glanced once more at her
computer. Jake—that was who she had really wanted to talk to, not
anyone else—still wasn’t online. She swiftly crossed the room and
opened the window, then arranged herself on her bed. At first, she
pulled the blankets into a pile and artfully placed them across her
stomach, but then she remembered that this was Joey, not Jake. Joey
liked her just the way she was, lumps and bumps and all, even if he
would never love her. She bared herself completely and
sprawled on her bed, waiting. Her skin tingled and her muscles
tensed when she heard him climbing in through the open window.
“Hey—oh, wow,” he started, then broke into a low
“Shh! My parents are home. And they think I’m not.”
Joey lowered his voice to a whisper.
“It has been way too long.” It took him only seconds to
be out of his clothes and on the bed next to her. Electricity raced
through Lacie as he ran his hand down her body. He slowly began to
retrace the path with his tongue and was just burying his head
between her breasts when Lacie heard her computer beep out a tone
informing her that she had received an instant message. She froze.
unwillingly, her thoughts shifted from the exquisite things that
Joey was doing to her body to the topic that occupied every waking
and sleeping moment of her life for the last two months: Jake.
Was it Jake? She desperately wanted to find out, but
couldn’t figure how to go about it. She tried to glance at the
computer screen without looking letting Joey know that she wasn’t
completely caught up in the moment, but the screen was too far away
to see. As Joey slid his tongue down her belly, Lacie sighed and
slipped out from under him as gracefully as she could.
“Sorry. Just a sec. I need to check this out real
Joey slumped onto the bed with a ragged sigh and lay
“Okay. Do whatcha gotta do. I’ll be here when you’re
A mild, queasy feeling of guilt washed over Lacie, but
she shrugged it off and sat down at her computer anyway.
“Hey,” read the message. It was, indeed, from Jake.
“Hello,” she typed back. She didn’t want to seem too
happy to hear from him, seem too desperate or needy.
“Sorry for tonight.”
“Yeah. No prob.”
“No, really. I am so sorry. I was hoping you’d be
online because I wanted to explain some things. I though it might
be easier here than in person.”
“God, I knew you would be mad. Hell, I’m mad. Not at
you, I mean. At myself.”
“Okay, fine. Explain. I tried to give myself to you.
You made it seem like that’s want you wanted. And then you
completely rejected me. This better be good.”
While she waited to see what Jake would type back, Lacie
looked over her shoulder at her bed. Joey was leaning on one arm.
He was flipping through a copy of Cosmo that had been on her
bedside table. She closed her eyes to block out the scene, one man
awaiting her return while she was involved in a desperately
complicated conversation with another, and turned back to the
“I know that, baby. And I really did want you, I never
faked it or anything. I know it seemed like I wanted the same
things that you did. I was afraid, though. I am ashamed to admit
it, but I was afraid of you.”
“You think I wasn’t afraid? What the hell were you so
afraid of? It obviously wasn’t my rejection, since you knew you
wouldn’t get that.”
“There are just a lot of things I am afraid to face, I
guess. Not easy things to talk about. Not things I am proud of,
“Things like what?”
“I really don’t want to hurt you. And I might, if I say
everything that’s on my mind.”
“Well, you already hurt me once tonight. May as well
finish me off. Go for it.”
“I don’t want to hurt you. You have to know that. I
really don’t. I just have some issues I never really knew I had.”
“Yeah, so does everyone. You gonna spill, or what? If
you’re just playing games and don’t really want to talk, I have
other things to do.”
“No, I want to get it over with. It just isn’t easy.
It’s just that I sort of have issues I didn’t think I had.”
“Issues with me?”
“Sort of. Not with you as a person.”
“Then what? Tell me, Jake, I can take it.”
“Well, you’re kind of a bigger girl.”
“Yeah, no shit. You think I’m not aware?”
“It isn’t that I’m not attracted to you. It isn’t.
You’re beautiful. And I love you. There, I said it. I really do
“Then what’s the problem?
”I, God, I hate saying this. It’s just, it isn’t easy, you know.”
“Guys think things about other guys based on who they like. And it
makes a difference.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“It isn’t cool to like big girls. The guys just don’t get it.”
“Okay, great. So you rejected me because you think OTHER guys might
not like me. Point of interest number one: the ‘other guys’ mostly
like me just fine. Point of interest number two: so far in your
life, you’ve done pretty much everything the ‘other guys’ would
never do, and it never bothered you before. And point of interest
number three: the ‘other guys’ know we hang out like every day all
the time, and probably think we’re dating anyway. and it never
bothered you before, not ‘til I tried to kiss you, which they didn’t
know about anyway.”
“I’m not happy about it, baby. I always thought I was strong enough
to be my own person. It’s just hard, you know?”
“Don’t ‘baby’ me. It won’t help, and it’s sort of pissing me off.”
“I’m sorry. And you know, sex is part of a relationship, too.”
“Where the hell did
that come from?”
“Well, I just, say we were dating. We would probably want, well,
“Yeah, I would assume. And I was working on that part when you went
and freaked out. I am really confused right now. This conversation
might go better over the phone, if you wanna just talk about it
“I need to do it now. And it’s easier online, for me.”
“Whatever, fine. Hurry up.”
“I’ve never been with anyone like you before. A big girl. And it’s
kind of hard for me to imagine that part. The sex part, I mean.”
Lacie threw her head back in frustration and looked away from her
computer screen. Joey was sitting up on her bed now, a notebook in
one hand. A quick glance at the clock told her that she had left
him there, abandoned, for a half an hour now. God, how many
relationships could a person screw up in one night?
“You got a pen, babe?” he asked when he looked up and caught her
studying him. She tossed him one.
“I’m really, really sorry. This is sort of an important
conversation. I feel really bad; I’ll try to hurry up.” The mood
had passed for Lacie, but she figured after making Joey wait for so
long, she owed him something.
“It’s okay, really. I understand.”
“Thank you,” Lacie whispered. She turned her back on him again.
“I’m afraid of you, Lacie. Afraid I wouldn’t know how to make you
happy,” Jake had typed.
“No, you’re afraid I wouldn’t be able to make you happy, Jake.
You’re probably afraid I’d roll over on you and squish you or
something, too. That’s what I usually get from the REALLY ignorant
“Lacie… I just… no. I just don’t know how things would work out.”
“This may come as news to you, but I’m not exactly a virgin. I’ve
been with plenty of guys and done plenty of rolling around, and I’ve
never killed anyone yet. For a smart guy, you are really pretty
“If it helps, Lacie, I love you.”
“Right now, that doesn’t help the tiniest little bit.”
Joey put his hand on Lacie’s shoulder then and interrupted her
typing. She hit send and looked up at him. His clothes were back
“Here’s your pen, Lace. I’m heading home. Give me a
call tomorrow, ‘kay?”
“All- all right. Joe, I’m really sorry. This night has
just been a big mess. It’s the rudest thing I’ve ever done, I know
that. I just—had to get through this conversation.”
“I know. It’s okay. Just call me tomorrow.”
“I will. Sweet dreams.”
“Night.” Joey climbed out of the window into the cool May night and
New tears rushed from Lacie’s eyes, this time because of her own
rudeness. At least she wasn’t breaking Joey’s heart, though, not
like Jake was breaking hers. Once again, Lacie turned back to her
“Even if it doesn’t help, Lacie, I love you,” Jake had typed. “And
when and if you are ready to try and make things work, let me know.
I want to make it all up to you.” He had signed out of messenger
while she was talking to Joey. Lacie shut down her computer and
walked across the room to the window. On the way there she scooped
up her dress, her shoes, all the things she had worn that night,
into a plastic bag and placed the bag in her closet. She sat down
on the edge of the chair by the window and rested her head upon her
crossed arms, leaning on the window sill. A breeze washed over her
skin. To the sound of the crickets outside and her parents making
their way to bed inside, Lacie fell asleep.
Now, ten years and two kids after her prom night, Lacie was happily
married. Well, as happily married as she could be to an absentee
husband. He was around sometimes, of course, but he was gone for
work more and more often, and the trips were getting longer. She
couldn’t help wondering. What if she had ignored Jake that night,
spent the night with Joey instead. Or even alone, but what if she
hadn’t sat and listened to Jake all night?
She had never really thought of herself as fat before that night.
Well, she knew she was fat, but she had never thought of it as a bad
thing, a problem, something that got in her way. She had always
accepted herself, and been accepted. But that night, Jake had given
her a totally new perspective. And looking back, it hadn’t been a
The summer after her senior year, Lacie spent holed up
in her bedroom writing and sleeping. Nothing else, or not much
else, anyway. She heard through a friend that Jake was hot and
heavy with a girl that worked at the gas station on Main Street, and
it just seemed easier to stay at home. When Joey Madden and just
about everybody else headed off to college, both Jake and Lacie
started at the community college in town. She knew that everyone in
town was wondering why two of the brightest and best had stuck
around instead of going off on to bigger and better things, but she
didn’t have the energy to care. She couldn’t think of herself as
fun or beautiful or sexy anymore, and didn’t dare attract any
attention at all to herself, sure that every person she encountered
would see her as Jake had.
Jake had sent her a few e-mails over the summer, but she
hadn’t answered them. It seemed too humiliating, encountering face
to face the person who had taught her just how the world really saw
her. A fat girl, that’s all she was. And all she ever would be.
She went from class to class with her books hugged
tightly in her arms and her eyes cast downwards. Everyone who had
ever known her ignored her now, because, Lacie was sure, they could
see who she really was now. No one. She got used to being
And so, in January, when she sank into a seat in the
back of her math class and saw Jake sitting 3 seats over, her heart
skipped a beat and her stomach heaved and she almost left class, but
she forced herself to stay, sure that he would never even notice
And it came as to a shock to her that she obviously
wasn’t invisible when a folded up paper with her name on it landed
on her desk. And the shock was even greater when she recognized the
handwriting. She would have known Jake’s handwriting anywhere, even
with her eyes closed. When she carefully unfolded the piece of
paper, it simply said, “Hey.”
Everything inside of her that had died in the last few
months came back alive. And at the same time, she suddenly appeared
stiffer, more withdrawn, more guarded than she ever had, on the
outside, anyway. Lacie couldn’t think of any way to respond. She
needed to sound like she hadn’t just about totally cut herself off
from the world because of him, and like she was happy to be talking
to him again, but not too happy, because then he would know how much
he mattered. And she couldn’t let him know that he still meant
everything to her. Casual and funny, that was how she had to do it.
“Passing notes? That’s sooo second grade,” she wrote,
and sent the note back to him.
“Of course it is, and you know you love it. Remember the night we
got kicked out of McPlayland? Oh, and I broke it off with Kelly,
“Who could forget? And why should I care?”
“Because you used to love me, and because I still love you. And
because I’m ready now. And so are you. Some things never change.
I can still read you like a book.”
Lacie couldn’t argue with that. In fact, it was all she could do
not to cry. She forced herself to focus on factoring polynomials,
and then as soon as class was over that day, she focused on other
things. Like teaching Jake to love a fat woman. She taught him the
ins and outs of her body, of her emotions, of her soul. She taught
him to be bold and unafraid, and she taught him about the strength
of the human body, and she taught him to make love to her soft,
warm, sensual flesh. She put to rest every fear that he had
expressed on that cool May night after prom.
Slowly, in the process, she came back out of her shell
and learned to live again, and slowly she accepted Jake’s misgivings
from prom night as his own temporary flaws and not the vision the
whole world had of her. It had taken a long time, though.
It had been a lot of work, teaching Jake, but it had
paid off well. Still, Lacie found herself thinking often of that
one stupid night, just like she was now. The humiliation she had
felt was not something that could ever completely disappear, she
supposed. She remembered how beautiful she had felt in her flowing
pink dress with her hair all done up, the promise of true love
standing arm in arm with her. And when she remembered, she
wondered. She wondered how her life might have been different if
she had found someone who could love and accept her, just as she
was, right from the start, if she had not had to go through that
summer of hell, in which she had believed she would never be loved.
She looked at the plastic bag that lay tied shut on her
lap. It was time to let the pain out of that plastic bag and say
goodbye to it forever. When she slowly untied the bag, the feelings
of that night, good and bad, rushed over her even more strongly than
they had been, all night long. She could still smell the perfume on
her dress and the sweat on her shoes. She grasped the dress by the
shoulder straps and pulled it out of the bag, an inch at a time.
She could feel the ghosts of May nights past dancing around her.
She buried her face in the soft, silky coolness of the garment. In
some ways, the night was still perfectly clear to her, as if it had
never passed, but in others she found herself hardly able to
remember who she had been back then. She pulled the dress fully
from the bag and shook the wrinkles out.
The stupid bra and thong she had chosen so carefully
fell to the floor. When she reached out to retrieve them, a piece
of paper fluttered to the carpet. Lacie set the clothing aside and
reached out to pick it up. It was folded into a tiny square.
Carefully, she opened it up.
Hey, Lace. I don’t know if you’ll ever find this and
read it or not, but I had to try. I am watching you talk to Jake
right now and its killing me. I don’t know what he did to hurt you
but I know he did something and I’d like to rip him apart for doing
You think that there is no way I like you for anything more than
sex, I know you do. And I do like that. But theres so much more.
You can’t seem to believe no matter how I try to tell you that I can
possibly love you. I can tell by the way you stop me every time I
try to say so. And its hard enough to get the words out the way it
is. I’m scared of getting hurt too. But I don’t know what you’re
so afraid of. I know I’m not a stud like Jake or smart like him,
but I really do love you, just the way you are, whether you believe
it or not.
You act all tough and cool and even a smart guy like Jake can’t see
through it, but I can. I haven’t climbed through your window all
these times and spent all these nights in your bed for nothing. I
see how you think other people see you, and how it makes you push
them away. You don’t even know it. You think you are all strong and
brave and everything, but you are not quite as brave as you think
you are. The only person you seem to want close is Jake, and its
because hes safe, because he doesn’t respond to you. I wish you
weren’t so afraid underneath it all. You are beautiful and you are
sweet and smart and kind and Beautiful—with a capital B. I am not
quite as smart as Jake and I am no where near as smart as you, but I
do know the one thing that is important. No matter what happens or
where I go, you will always be the first woman I ever loved. –J
J. J for Joey, not J for Jake. And yet, it was Jake
she had married. Because his love wasn’t strong enough to scare
Lacie stood slowly and went to kneel on the window seat. She
crossed her arms on the window sill and rested her chin on them.
Tears ran down her face and fell from her chin as she questioned
every decision she had ever made, all because of a little tiny piece
of folded up notebook paper. A breeze washed over her skin. And to
the sound of the crickets and the first love letter she had ever
received rustling in her quaking hand, Lacie fell asleep.