2 - Where Girl Meets Boy

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 2 

         I peered out from behind my mother’s skirt, clutching the cotton like it was my lifeline. My other hand held on to a ragged stuffed rhinoceros, thumb stroking the cashmere fur.

         I had grown to believe that as long as I could feel fabric under my podgy hands, I was safe. It did not matter whether or not it was cotton, polyester, or wool, satin, silk or even fur. As long as my mother wore a skirt (which she almost always did) I had something to conceal myself with, and as long as I had my stuffed rhino, I had a friend to keep me company, all I needed, really.

         Every time it was the same. What would have been a plain stranger to anyone else was a predator to me, and in my realm of child thoughts, I was the prey they hunted.

         You can imagine the surprise I felt when I found myself sticking my head out from behind my mother’s skirts to look at a kid. My own age, too.

         “Jass, come out, honey. You have a new friend!” my mother said, trying to pivot around me. As she twisted away, I lost my grip on her skirt. Standing out in the very middle of a grassy field, I felt vulnerable.

         The boy scratched his head, looking at me like I was no different from the ants that were marching through the blades of grass.

         Even at my small age, I found it goofy that he was standing in the green stalks surrounded by chrysanthemums, orchids, honeysuckle and daisies. There was the occasional sizzling and pop! of several fireworks as they went off. The noises wrapped around him in a symphony of bangs and flashes of color. Stranger than that was how nobody seemed to notice the ruckus that orbited him but me.

         His eyes had focused elsewhere, as if he found I was worthy of no more attention than the first few seconds he had spared me. Having the faint knowledge that someone as old as I was could disregard me so at the age of seven, I found it disgruntling.

         I stepped forward cupping courage that was slipping through my fingers like water. “Hi.”

         His gaze swivelled to me, round blue eyes finally crashing down from whatever universe he was in. He seemed to zoom in on me—the little girl forcing herself to sound brave and unafraid though her insides churned with insecurity. Mouth twisted slightly, he opened it until the tiniest of gaps appeared between his lips.

         “Hi.”

         “I’m Jass. What’s your name?” I asked while feigning boldness, especially because my mother had just ruffled my hair and told me to run along and play while she went and talked to the grown-ups. Her parting words had been,

         “Jass, you be a good girl now, okay?”

         I turned back to the funny boy, who was still standing there with his funny flowers.

         “My name’s Jacoby.”

         I didn’t catch what he said. He’ll make fun of me if I ask again. Al I heard was a Juh- and a buh-, so I went with my best guess.

         “Can I call you Jacob?”

         “No. Jacoby.” His voice became harsh. “If you’re not going to call me by my real name, why did you even ask in the first place?”

         I stopped. He didn’t need to be rude. A royal frown appeared on my face. “You’re not very nice.”

         A humourless laugh, startlingly cruel, escaped his mouth. “That’s surprising, isn’t it?” he said softly, with just as much cynicism as before.

         I opened my mouth, ready to call him the most insulting name I could think of (probably doofus), when I remembered my mother’s words: Be a good girl.

         I shut my mouth and spun away on my heel.

         Later that day, I pulled on my mother’s hand and asked her who the Jacob kid was, my eyes on his back and flowers as he and his parents left. I had problems pronouncing his name. I said it like I would say Jacob, but added an ‘ee’ sound after—I hadn’t heard him properly the first time, after all. My mother smiled and ruffled my hair. “Jacoby is Mrs. Harold’s son. Who else?” When I huffed and crossed my fat little arms, my mother laughed. “Be nice to him, Jass. He doesn’t seem to have many friends.”

         “Well that’s ‘cause he’s weird!” I exclaimed, scowling with distrust at his family’s shiny BMW as they pulled out of the campsite across from ours.

         “Don’t you go saying that to Jacoby, okay?” my mother said as she paused tidying up our things and sat down. She pulled me onto her lap.

         “But it’s true!”

         “No, Jass. You can’t say that to him. You’ll hurt his feelings.” My mother started to stroke my hair, pulling it back from my face. “Look here, honey. No matter how weird you think he is, you can’t say mean things to him. Understand?”

         I huffed again, trying to wriggle out of my mother’s arms. “But he was the one that started being mean to me. I only asked his name and he got all mad.”

         “It wouldn’t hurt to get his name right, you know,” my mother replied. She lifted me up from under my arms and turned me around to face her. “Say it with me, Jass. Jacoby.”

         I repeated after her, Juh-coe-bee, articulating every syllable slowly and carefully.

         “You’ve got it!” I was lifted high into the air by my mother and I smiled down at her face.

         “Juh…Coby!” I said, laughing.

         “That’s right, hon. Jacoby.”

         “Jacoby!”

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