Just Thirteen

by Michelle LaGue
(California, USA)

He was just 13 and new to the school.  His parents moved the family several times during his elementary career and he found himself starting over again in 8th grade making friends in yet another new school in yet another state.  This move was particularly difficult because it came at a time when he was trying to cope with the physical changes caused by puberty.  His deepening voice emphasized the slow Texan drawl.  It was hard to be different but even harder when every time he opened his mouth, his accent generated giggles from the girls and parroting from the boys.  He didn't know it then but, while the boys were jealous, the girls thought his accent was mysterious and sexy.

Two months after he arrived at his new school, an event occurred that would forever change America and deeply impact this group of thirteen year olds.  While on a trip to Texas, President John F. Kennedy was shot by an assassin.  Sister Mary Discipline, looking unusually soft and human, made the announcement in her math class.  The entire school filed into the church across the street to pray (or to remain confined until parents could come pick them up).  School got out early that day, but it was not a gleeful event.

Everyday there was more talk about the assassination.  The country and the world were obsessed with the story.  Re-runs of the motorcade aired on the news and everyone asked why.  The nuns spent a lot of time shepherding students across the street to the church to pray.  Special masses were offered up and calluses began to form on knee caps.  This was a particularly difficult time for the students who could not sit still in the best of situations.  Detention slips were passed out like candy on Halloween.  The kids with the behavior problems were becoming special guests of Sister Mary Discipline every afternoon after school.

He was one of Sister's most invited guests.  If she had wanted to spend the weekends facing her little group of deviates, he would have spent his weekends with her too.  The slow Texan drawl no longer generated giggles and parroting amongst his new friends.  It now received unwanted attention... the President had been murdered... in Texas.  The thirteen year old with the accent might as well have been the one who pulled the trigger.  He felt guilty enough because his family did not particularly like JFK, but his classmates made him feel even worse.  JFK was the first Catholic President of the United States and he was THEIR President.  Every time they said, "Dallas", they sounded reproachful and he felt like they always looked at him when they said it.

Eventually things began to get back to normal around the school and around the country.  On Valentine's Day, he showed up at school with two boxes of signed Valentine cards.

"You can't give those out!  That's for the little kids.  It's not cool," his buddies counseled him.  "If you give them out you are going to look like a real dork."

He observed some of the girls passing cards out to their friends.  If any of the guys had been made to sign a bunch of cards by their moms, those cards would not see the light of day.  Some boys might be bold enough to give a card to one of the girls who starred in their pubescent fantasies, but it would take guts.  He knew that the girls would probably shoot him down with some snide remark, so he decided to pass.

"What am I supposed to do with them then?" he asked.

"Why don't you give them to her?" his buddy replied pointing out the fresh-faced girl in the bobby socks.

She was just thirteen.  Her soft brown eyes and long dark hair caught the imagination of many of her hormone driven male classmates on the verge of sexual discovery.  Like a timid mouse, she would quickly scurry away at any indication of attention from the opposite sex.  She didn't realize it then, or if she did she cleverly hid her awareness, but she was the cause of many a schoolboy crush.  The boys fantasized about the womanly girls who filled out their blouses but they "fell in love" with her.

"Are you kidding?  She is way out of my league," he replied.

"I'll do it then!"

Grabbing both boxes, he ran across the playground.  He came up behind her and tapped her on one shoulder.  As she turned in that direction, he ducked to the other side.  She turned the other direction and he ducked back.

"Go away!  Leave me alone!"  She shot him a dirty look.

"No, I brought you something," he said.  "These are not from me, they are from him."

She looked and saw him sitting on the lunch bench.  She thought she could see him blushing even from that distance.  "Keep them, " she said.

The bell rang.

All the students headed for their classrooms before the second bell.  It was Math class with Sister Mary Discipline.  The 8th graders wouldn't dare be late or there would be hell to pay.  He kept following her with the cards.

"He likes you."

"No he doesn't.  He likes her," she said pointing at the voluptuous eighth grade girl who had the eyes of virtually every boy as she moved across the classroom to her desk.

"He likes you, " he said, shoving the boxes into her hands.

She rolled her eyes and unceremoniously tossed the boxes into the teacher's wastebasket.  She didn't notice that he had walked in the door at that moment and saw her do it.  She was much too concerned about the heat rising to her own cheeks.  She quickly made her way to her desk and buried her face in a book.  She didn't see the hurt expression cross his face as he dropped his head and made his way to his own desk.

After school, she volunteered to clap the erasers.  She forgot that detention would be held in this room.  She never got detention.  Very few girls ever got detention.  She tried to ignore the group of boys who were Sister's invited guests this day.  She could feel their eyes on her as she erased the board.  Why had she picked this day to volunteer?  Uneasy, she turned and looked over her shoulder and noticed that they all had their heads buried in their books.  All... except one.  He was the only one who dared to let his eyes wander from his books and face the wrath of Sister Mary Discipline if she caught him.  He quickly looked down to avert her eyes.

She took the erasers and hurried outside to clap the dust from them.  Rather than clapping them over the railing like she normally did, she took them downstairs.  She noticed her favorite teacher was still in Room 7B tidying up.  Not in a rush to go back upstairs, she went in to say hello and help.  She liked Sister Elysia.  Sister Elysia had been her teacher in 6th grade and again in 7th.  She was always kind and had a smile for every student.  If she was in charge of detention the boys would be in Heaven, so maybe this is why detention was Sister Mary Discipline territory.  If there was Hell on Earth, Sister Mary D's room was probably it!

When she noticed the boys filing out of detention, she said goodbye to Sister Elysia and took the erasers back upstairs.  He had gone behind the partition to retrieve his jacket and was too afraid to step out when he saw her walk back into the classroom.  She placed the erasers in the tray on the chalkboard and then walked to her desk to get her books.  Standing in the shadows of the cloak room he watched.  As she passed the wastebasket, she noticed the two boxes of Valentines sitting in the trash.  She paused for a moment and then bent to pick them up.  She brushed the spit balls and pencil shavings off of them and looked around to assure herself that no one was watching.  She then carefully placed them between her books and left.  A soft smile crossed his lips.

That night, she showed the cards to her younger sister.  Her name was not on the envelopes but every card had been signed.  Before turning out the light, she placed them beneath her pillow.

The next morning, he was standing with his buddies as she stepped off the bus.  Their eyes met momentarily and both quickly turned away.

"Hey, Mouse Meat!" his buddy called after her.  She blushed and walked faster.

"Hey, Mouse Meat, did you like my cards?" he chimed in.

"I threw them in the trash, they were full of cooties!" she yelled back, her voice a few octaves too high.

"Yeah, but you took them back out of the trash," he taunted.

"I did not!  I wouldn’t take anything of yours if you paid me," she retorted.

"And I wouldn't give anything to you if you paid me!  They weren't for you anyway!"

"Who else would want them?" she shot back.

"Drop dead!" he yelled a bit too loud.

Suddenly he noticed that many eyes were on him.  Only two of those eyes bothered him however.  He was back in Sister Mary Discipline's detention hall again that afternoon.

I apologize for being mean and disrespectful.
I apologize for being mean and disrespectful.
I apologize for being mean and disrespectful.
I apologize for being mean and disrespectful.
I apologize for being mean and disrespectful.

He had to write the same thing 100 times.  To make the punishment even worse, he was going to have to apologize in person!  He’d rather write it a thousand times or even a million times.  He’d rather write it a BILLION times than to have to say it to her face.  Sister Mary Discipline’s brand of punishment this time qualified as "cruel and unusual".  What was wrong with using the ruler? He certainly had experienced the ruler enough times.  He’d broken several with his knuckles.  The ruler would have been much easier!

The next day before school, Sister Mary Discipline was waiting.  When the buses started arriving, he started to sweat.  Route 8 pulled up and Sister unfolded her arms and started to approach in his direction.  He turned to go to the classroom but was not quick enough.  Sister told him to wait.  He started to feel like he was going to vomit.  He saw her step off the bus and start walking in his direction, toward the classroom which was just behind him.  She started to make a detour, when the nun called her name... first and last name.  She stopped in her tracks and her face suddenly went white.  She never got in trouble and Sister Mary Discipline only called people by first and last name if they were in trouble.  Sister motioned for her to approach.  When she got near, Sister looked at him.

"I apologize for being mean and disrespectful," he blurted out.

"That's okay," she said looking at the scuff marks on his shoes.

Without saying a word, Sister Mary Discipline turned and walked to class.

"Thank you for the Valentines," she said softly.

"They weren't meant for you," he said.

"I know."

"I mean only one was meant for you.  I brought one for everybody in the class."

"I know."

The bell rang.  They started off to class before the second bell.

"Wait," he said.  She paused and looked at him.  He took her books from her arms.

"Come, let's hurry.  We don't want to get in trouble again." She smiled and they hurried off to class.  No further mention was made of the Valentine cards.

The year progressed.  The eight graders made plans for high school and promised to stay in touch.  Neither noticed the other leave that last day.  They went off to their new schools and left their old world behind.

They thought of one another occasionally through the years a fleeting thought that would bring a nostalgic smile to their lips.  One day, she was browsing through the bookstore, picking up books that caught her interest.  She decided to get a basket to make it easier to carry her selections.  Turning suddenly, she bumped into a gentleman who was carrying a similar number of books.  The collision sent all the books flying, knocking several off the shelves in the process.

"Oh, I'm sorry!" she said.

"No, it was my fault," he apologized.

They both stooped down to retrieve the scattered books and simultaneously attempted to pick up one of the books that had fallen from the shelf.  Their hands touched and they instinctively looked into each other's eyes.  They both took a quick breath as they instantly recognized the other.  They looked at the title of the book and suddenly blushed like two teenagers:

Junie B. Jones and the Mushy Gushy Valentine

"Was this one yours?" he asked feeling like a nervous thirteen year old again.

"No, it's not yours?" she asked feeling butterflies flutter inside.

He helped her to her feet and picked up her books.  "You're still cute," he said.

She smiled.  "Thank you.  The years have been good to you too."

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