The first time I met her, I didn't actually see her. At fifteen, I yearned for girls, but I couldn't seem to cross the invisible line that separated me from them. Besides, friends' younger siblings aren't really girls. John had invited me over to play some new games on his computer. The oldest of five, his parents had trained him to be polite. So, he introduced me to his siblings in no particular order, "Liam, this is Josh, Jessica, Bobby, and Jenny," he said, waving in the direction of the couch as we ran through to the computer.
We promptly ignored them for the rest of the day. They still got underfoot, but not so any of them stood out from any other in my mind.
Mom came and picked me up late in the evening. "I had fun," I told her.
The second time I saw her, I still didn't notice her, but she soon remedied that. I entered John's house through the side door, walking past the kitchen, down the hall toward the living room where I could hear John hurling curses at the computer.
A jet engine roared to life less than two feet behind me, and it said, "WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR LUNCH?"
I froze, my ears ringing, fillings aching, hair standing on end. I turned around to see John's eldest younger sister beaming up at me. I took inventory of what I saw: long dirty-blond hair, bright brown eyes, pink t-shirt, faded jeans, and about a year younger, eight inches shorter, and seventy-five pounds lighter than me. "Never do that again," I growled through clenched teeth.
"Do what?" she said, her smile fading.
"What? You mean didn't see me jump out of my skin?"
She slumped and looked very ashamed. "Uh-uh."
I suddenly felt like a troll. I hadn't meant to ruin her day or anything. I tried to think of something conciliatory to say. "What do you have?"
"What's for lunch?"
"Oh, uh... is a tomato sandwich an-and water all right?"
I hated tomatoes with a passion. I paused, wondering if I could ask for anything else, but she looked as if another question would make her cry. "Fine, great!" I said as heartily as I could muster.
"Okay," she mumbled and then shuffled back into the kitchen.
About ten minutes later as John obliterated my last spaceship, she walked in and handed me a sandwich on a plate and a glass of water.
"Yours is on the counter in the kitchen," she said quietly to John.
John said nothing for a second, and then wandered out of the room. I sat contemplating my sandwich. "I hate tomatoes, I hate tomatoes, I hate tomatoes," echoed through my head.
"I put mayonnaise on it," she said, interrupting my mental tail-chasing. "You like mayonnaise, right?"
"Sure," I said, still just looking at it. I noticed some kind of cheese under the tomatoes. "What kind of cheese is that?"
"Monterey Jack. That okay?"
"Yeah. Um... what kind of bread is it?"
John walked back in, chewing on a second large bite of his sandwich. I couldn't stall any longer. I picked up the sandwich and took a small bite out of one corner. I'd been ready for the usual disgusting, watery, mushiness of tomatoes, but the cheese, mayonnaise, and bread made it almost tasty.
"You like it?" she asked.
"Phure," I said, spraying her with crumbs. "Oh, phorry."
"Try the water ... Go on," she prodded.
I picked up the cup and took a sip. "It's definitely water."
"It's purified," she said righteously. She went on to explain that her mother sold water purifiers, and then she enumerated all the advantages of purified water over plain tap water. I smiled and nodded, but mostly inhaled my sandwich as fast as possible, following bites with gulps of water. When I finished she said she'd take my plate back to the kitchen. John had finished before me and returned to slaying computer opponents.
"What's your name, again?" I asked her.
"Call her 'Da'," John interjected between explosions.
"When I was a baby," she said in a well-rehearsed-speech tone of voice, "John pronounced my name 'Jessida' and eventually he just shortened it to 'Da'. So that's my nickname."
"Oh... well, thanks, Jess." I inclined my head in a slight bow, smiled, and spun the swivel chair back around to get ready for another game. The door closed softly behind her.
"How did you get her to do that?" John demanded after he was sure she had gone.
"That!" he pointed after her.
"The sandwiches and the water and the plate and smiles," he said exasperated. "That that!"
"What about it?"
"Never mind. Just setup the game, you bean."
I still didn't understand what he was talking about. Probably nothing imporart.
Mom picked me up a couple hours later. "I had fun... Can we grow some tomatoes in the garden this summer?"
I came over several times following week to play with John, but I didn't see Jess. Of course, I also wasn't looking for her. Then, late the next week, in the middle of particularly engaging game, my world shook. I looked around to see a nerf football bouncing crazily to rest at Jess's feet. I turned to John in disbelief. I had been crowned with a nerf. Unacceptable. In the face of such an attrocity, I had to retaliate.
"Let's soak 'er!" John yelled, thinking faster than me as usual. I smiled. Ah, a soaking with the garden hose: no revenge more satisfying or humorous than drenching a fully clothed opponent, seeing their clothes hanging off them like thirty pounds of wet seaweed. I corned her, slung her over my shoulder, and toted her outside to be watered.
By then John had already made it outside and turned on the hose, but he couldn't find the other end. He scampered around the yard like a drunken monkey, following the path of the hose. I didn't know how long it would take him and my shoulder was getting tired, so I made a waist-level seat with both arms and lowered Jess so she sat on my left forearm.
I felt a cool April breeze cross my face. Her bare arms fell loosely around my neck and her warm hands came to rest on my right shoulder. She leaned into me, soft and firm, her lips almost touching my ear, and her moist, sweet breath flowed over my cheek.
"I like you," she murmured.
I thought I jumped like someone tagged by a taser. I thought almost dropping her. My head snapped around to look at her. In my arms I held a real, live, attractive, friendly, girl! ... Who didn't seem to have noticed my surprise ... Who was looking at me, waiting for me to say something. I felt myself blush from head to toe, but I managed to stutter, "Uh, I - I like you, too."
"Good," she said and kissed my cheek.
"Uh-huh," I said, now completely dazed, all fuses blown.
I came back to my senses as John yelled, "I GOT IT! Quick, Liam, put 'er down so I can soak 'er."
"No-no, John," I yelled back, setting Jess on her feet behind me. "That's good enough!"
"Just forget it, okay?"
"You're ... " he paused, bewildered, water splattering the grass at his feet, the hose momentarily forgotten. "You're going to let her get away with that?" He'd obviously never considered that option before.
"We'll get her later," I lied. "Uh, let's go finish our game."
He stood there for a moment, lost and confused. Then an evil grin spread across his face. I saw his grip on the hose tighten a second before he screamed, "TRAITOR!" and drenched both Jess and me to the bone.
I was still damp when Mom picked me up. My shoes squelched as I climbed into the car. "I had fun... Don't ask."