This story is by David Elderton and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Who IS this girl?
13-year-old Tommy Frye made it his quest to find out.
The year was 1949 when the rural town lad walked to the store that sunny day to spend the nickel he found. Along the way, he spied a small paper rectangle on the sidewalk. He passed countless pieces of litter that day, but something compelled him to pick up that particular one, even though it appeared blank. Instinctively, he turned it over. It was a school picture of a pretty girl about his age.
An instant connection occurred with the 2-dimensional black-and-white image and Tommy took time to study every nuance of her face. Her eyes, he imagined, looked straight at him, as if she was thinking of him the moment the camera captured her smile, which was gentle and friendly. She was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. He was smitten.
Who IS she?
A plan percolated in his head. Picture in hand, he arrived at the Royal Blue grocery store. Doris, the owner, knew everyone in town.
The brass bell above the door jangled as the boy entered. Doris looked up from her crossword puzzle. She scrutinized him as he placed the photo on the counter and slid it toward her in slow motion, like it was a $100 bribe. “Miss Doris, someone lost their picture. If you tell me who she is, I’ll return it to her.” He was giddy with excitement.
Doris, with an ever-present cigarette dangling from her bright red lips, looked older than dirt, but without the personality. She glanced at the picture, expressionless. Then she stared at Tommy for several seconds while she slowly exhaled a plume of smoke overhead. Deadpan, she said, “Don’t know her. Now, flip it, kid.”
He wrinkled his nose and flicked the nickel in a high arc toward Doris. Her practiced hand plucked it out of the air with two fingers. She rang up the sale, dropped the coin into the cash drawer and shooed Tommy along like an unwelcome cat.
He selected five ropes of red licorice out of the big jar, picked up the photo, then trudged out the door.
Tommy sat atop a picnic table at City Park to cogitate. The picture proved she’d been to town. Therefore, he surmised, somebody in town knew her. He just had to find them.
How hard can it be?
Tommy sat deep in thought as he gnawed away at his last rope of licorice. The corners of his mouth twitched upward as a new strategy evolved.
I’ve got it!
Tommy ran to the playground where some friends were playing. He wanted to carry out his sure-fire solution without delay.
“Hey, Billy, want to see my new girlfriend?” he asked, catching his breath.
“Girlfriend?” Billy was incredulous. “YOU have a girlfriend? ‘Tough-Guy-Spit-in-Your-Eye Tommy Frye’ has a girlfriend?”
“Yeah, she gave me her picture to prove it. Take a peek.”
“Wow, Tommy, she’s a looker! What’s her name?”
“You don’t know who she is? C’mon, Billy, everyone knows who she is. See ya later!” Tommy ran off to show the picture to the other kids.
Tommy showed the photo to all of his friends, and anyone else, for weeks, but no luck. Still, the enthusiasm for his clever scheme never waned.
The church Tommy’s family attended was a mix of town and country folk, but because of his sporadic attendance, Tommy didn’t know all the country kids.
Before Sunday school began, he spotted a friend who hadn’t seen the photograph. Tommy sat down beside him and pulled out the treasured, now dog-eared picture. He placed it on the table and gave his well-rehearsed speech.
On the opposite side of the table sat a country girl. When she saw the photo, she became quite interested in Tommy’s story. When he proclaimed the person in the photograph was his girlfriend, the country girl popped up like a Jack-in-the-box, pointed at him and bellowed “YOU don’t know her!”
All sounds ceased. All eyes looked. The girl’s face was red with anger, but Tommy grinned from ear to ear. His plan had worked!
“She knows her!”
“We’ll talk later,” he said as the teacher walked in. Tommy played it cool, but his heart was beating faster than a Singer sewing machine.
When Sunday school dismissed, he sauntered up to the country girl to learn more. As he approached, she folded her arms across her chest and scowled.
“Why do you think she’s not my girlfriend?”
“Because,” she said, “I’m her best friend. She would’ve told me if she had a boyfriend.”
“Hmm. Think so?”
“Know so,” she declared.
“Ah, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know her.”
“Is that so? Then how come I’ve never seen you at her farm?” she asked.
Tommy’s brain cataloged the new information.
“She lives too far away, that’s why,” he bluffed.
The country girl’s eyes narrowed as a devious, wry smile crept onto her face.
Tommy sensed trouble.
“Okay, lover boy, you know her so well… what’s her name?”
Tommy felt like she smacked him in the face with a cast-iron skillet.
“Her name? Uh, just because — “
“Hah! I knew it,” the girl said. “You don’t know her at all! I’m going to warn Marion about you!” She turned and marched away, her mission of protecting her friend accomplished.
Other kids shook their heads at Tommy’s embarrassment, but he didn’t care. He found out her name!
Marion… that’s perfect! Now, how can I meet her?
Wheels churned as Tommy took inventory of the established facts. Her name was Marion. She lived on a farm. She’d start school in town that fall and… that was it. No last name, no address, no phone number.
The situation required more study.
Weeks passed until one brisk Saturday, Tommy went to the store wearing his favorite plaid coat. As he walked home from the Royal Blue with a fistful of red licorice ropes, he kicked a stone in front of him as he went. The “Marion Project” was at an impasse. No one but the girl at church knew her and Tommy hadn’t seen that country girl since then. He had abandoned all hope of meeting Marion until the school year started.
Tommy gave the stone a good, long kick. When he looked up, he saw two girls walking toward him. When he recognized them, his heart leapt into his throat and his stomach clinched as if gut-punched.
It was Marion from the picture! Accompanied by her best friend, who exposed him as a fraud.
Despite the blustery wind, he broke out in a sweat because he suddenly realized he’d never contemplated what to do or say when he met her face to face.
His brain was free falling without a parachute; impact was imminent.
As the trio closed the distance, the country girl recognized him. When they were a few feet apart, she took a deep breath and introduced the two young strangers.
“Marion, this is the boy I… told you about. Tommy.”
“Tommy, this is my best friend, Marion.” She emphasized ‘best friend,’ as a warning.
Tommy stared at Marion in silence as she sized him up.
Tommy beheld the beautiful girl standing before him. She exceeded every high expectation.
Tommy was awestruck.
But pressured by the silence, he devolved to ‘Tough-Guy-Spit-in-Your-Eye Tommy Frye.’ Acting on pure impulse, he grabbed Marion’s coat and pulled her closer.
Oh no! What am I doing?
His brain scrambled to find a plausible reason to justify his inexplicable actions when he noticed a small yarn doll pinned to her lapel.
“What’s this?” he snarled.
She squinted at him to prove his neanderthal behavior did not impress her one bit.
As additional brain cells fluttered back to life, Tommy released her coat. He turned away from the stunned girls and went home.
“And that’s how we met,” Doctor Thomas Frye told the gathering of 50 friends and family.
The crowd clapped and cheered.
“I’m grateful that I intrigued Marion enough that she granted me a second chance to make a first impression. When she held my hand on the bus that first time, I knew I’d won her heart. A few years later, this town lad married that country lass 65 years ago today. Divine intervention brought us together for an incredible life journey and it’s been a wild, exciting ride!”
Tom raised his champagne glass toward Marion, who raised hers in return.
“To you, Dearheart, because even after all these years, I’m still smitten. Happy Anniversary.”