The new girl stood over by the jungle gym, not climbing or talking to the other girls, but just standing there, peering into a brown lunch bag. She pulled something out of it, but I couldn’t see what it was from the distance.
Matt, a skinny boy with round glasses, was talking about a scary show he had watched on television. “I wasn’t scared,” Matt boasted. “I thought it was stupid.”
We all looked in awe at Matt, and told him of our own bravery stories. Still, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the new girl.
She was now examining the object taken from the bag earlier. The new girl had come to our class at the beginning of the week, and Miss Emily, our kindergarten teacher, had introduced her, but I couldn’t remember her name.
My curiosity got the better of me, and I walked over to the girl. I was too shy to say anything, however, so we just stood there, looking at each other.
Finally, the new girl held out her hand, holding out the thing she had taken from her lunch bag, offering it to me.
It was a pear. A red one.
“Thanks,” I said, softly.
I took the pear from her, and the girl giggled. “I’m Jenny.”
“I’m Jason,” I said, and a little pear juice dribbled down my chin.
“That’s funny,” said Jenny, giggling again. “Our names both start with ‘juh’.”
Then, both of us broke into unexplainable fits of laughter, and whenever one of us began to calm down, the other one would continue to giggle. This would result in even more laughter, making it harder for either of us to stop.
“Class!” Miss Emily called from outside the school door. “Time to come back inside!”
Jenny and I swallowed our laughter, and separated into our groups, me with the boys, and Jenny with the girls. However, even in our different groups, we smiled at each other before naptime.
* * *
“I’m going to Jenny’s! I’m going to Jenny’s!”
Thank goodness my seatbelt was tightly fastened; I was practically bouncing off the walls of my family’s minivan. My mother, up in the front seat, was begging me to keep calm.
“We’re almost there,” she told me.
But I didn’t listen, because I was going over to Jenny’s house.
“I have lots of fun stuff to do,” Jenny had told me earlier that week. “Legos, roller skates, and . . .” Jenny’s eyes grew wide “. . . Barbies.”
I had frowned. “Barbies? I don’t like Barbies. They’re for girls.”
Jenny shrugged, not seeming hurt in the least. “That’s OK. There’s my dog, Max, and . . .”
Our van pulled up in front of a nice, brick house with a colorful flower garden in the front. It was a small house, but it fit so well with my imagination’s former version of the house. On the porch, in the front of the house, there was a porch swing and on the swing sat a young girl.
“Jenny!” I ran out to greet my friend.
“Hi, Jason!” Jenny smiled, then waved at my mom, who was walking up the walk.
A friendly-looking woman came out of the front door of the house, and smiled at me. “Hello, Jason. I’m Mrs. Weber, Jenny’s mom.”
“Hi,” I said, growing shy.
Our mothers began talking to each other about very motherly things, so Jenny took my hand and led me inside. “You can meet Max now.”
We played all afternoon. We played with Legos, built castles in her sandbox, and played hide-and-seek.
Once we got exhausted from playing, we went back to the kitchen, where our mothers were now talking at the counter. Jenny’s mom smiled at us when we walked in. “My cookies are almost out of the oven.”
Jenny squealed with delight. “Mom makes the best cookies!”
The timer rang, and Jenny and I greedily ate the chewy chocolate-chip cookies. “Mmmm!” I exclaimed.
There were several more visits at Jenny’s, and I enjoyed every second I spent there.
Then the inevitable teasing began.
“Hey, Jason, is Jenny your girlfriend?” the boys would say. “Stay away from Jason, he’s got cooties, too!”
That’s when I stopped playing with Jenny.
Without me, Jenny was friendless. She had given me her friendship, and had trusted me, but, even in kindergarten, I had my reputation to look after. I often saw Jenny sitting on a swing, alone, swaying a little, but not attempting to go over the top of the swing set, like she used to.
Sometimes our eyes would meet, and when that happened, I would quickly look away.
* * *
I was skateboarding to school that day. It was my first day of the eighth grade, and I had spiked my hair just for the occasion.
One girl I passed obviously didn’t care how she looked on the first day of school. She was wearing an ugly brown sweater, and her long, brown hair was wet. I snickered as she tripped over her untied shoelaces.
At lunch, after I was reunited with my old friends, our conversations got off the subject of how we spent our summer vacations, but on the other people in the school.
“Who’s that?” I asked, motioning toward the girl I had seen on my way to school.
Alex turned around to look at her. She was eating a sandwich at an empty table. “That’s Jennifer Weber,” he said. “Her dad gets transferred a lot. She was here, back in the old days.” Alex chuckled.
“She’s really weird and depressed and stuff,” Matt said.
They kept talking about Jennifer’s abnormality, but my mind was elsewhere. Jennifer Weber. Jennifer Weber. Jenny Weber. Jenny.
A picture of a red pear and chocolate-chip cookie came into my mind. Then an image of a little girl, sitting alone on a swing.
This image stayed a long time in my mind, not like the cookie or the pear, which vanished as quickly as they came.
“Don’t you think so, Jason?”
I glanced up. “What? Oh, yeah, sure.”
Alex looked over his shoulder at Jenny, where I had been looking. “I know what you mean, man.”
I started feeling around in my lunch bag, and pulled out a red pear. My mother had put it in my lunch, against my will, for “something healthy.”
“Yeah, and he said—man, where’s he going?”
I had got up from our table, pear in hand, and was walking toward Jenny’s table. Jenny looked truly shocked when I sat down in front of her.
“Here,” I said, and I held out the pear to her.
Jenny took it and smiled. “Thanks,” she said, softly.