The last time I saw Jimmy I was still thinking I might go to college. East coast. Or Northwest, maybe; I liked the forest. Just out, you know, and away. Then high school ended, and my grandfather was revealed to be extremely old person, who’d somehow convinced everyone that sixty-eight wasn’t really that old, just a bit more creaky, and got sick and died. They told me it was rapid-onset dementia, and that usually people had more time with their loved ones. They were very sorry.
This all happened after Jimmy left, but I never forgot about him. He had been the handsomest guy in school, I always thought, even though nobody agreed with me. He had a weird turn to his mouth and a chronic bad haircut, which maximized the size of his ears to truly menacing levels, but I’d always liked the weird ones. He was clean and polite and had a mean twist to his humor that always made me laugh. I’d thought he was going to take me to the prom, and we would wear cheap rented outfits that sort of itched and mock everyone who tried to dance, but he ended up taking Sara Carraway, who had a genius IQ and tits much bigger than mine, so it wasn’t like I had anything to say about that.
By the time he sauntered back into my life, two or three years later, I had fully accepted I would never be someone worth knowing. My whole life I’d been trying to fight it. When we’d been in school, I was still trying to be interesting, engaging, forcefully alive, and I’d been thinking that, just maybe, if I could escape this town, I could burgeon into something huge and bright. A girl Jimmy would fall in love with. I was so convinced it would happen, that I would explode into some kind of sun, but then dementia, and death, and then I was so rudely alone and found not even I could like myself.
Grandad was the only family I had left, so when he died I had to get a job. I ended up at the local Walmart—I could’ve worked at K-Mart, but that was too far away and I didn’t like their colors. I liked to watch the doors as I cleaned and stocked, liked seeing families laugh and glare, couples hug and kiss, feeling like I was halfway part of something. When a sour-faced, fast-walking woman blew open the doors and I saw my Jimmy stroll on in behind her, it was like I came alive all at once. It didn’t even take me a second to recognize him. The old buzz ran over my skin in an instant, like electricity, and the queasy feeling snaked up from my stomach to my throat, like it had never left. Wanting him ate me right up, and it dazed me to suddenly feel sharp again, conscious of every thought that passed through my brain. All of a sudden it was like I’d been sleeping since I saw him last.
I laid my mop against the shelves, turning away to stack boxes. I didn’t know whether to be embarrassed or not. I wasn’t self-conscious about my job—it was honest work, as my Grandad would say—but it occurred to me Jimmy had been living in the city for the better part of two years, hadn’t sought me out in any of that time, had surely gotten used to some level of fanciness. I frowned at my blue apron and picked at a price tag, glued haphazardly to a box, halfway hoping he’d pass me by like he used to in the halls.
“Hey,” said the warm, easy tones of my first love, “do you know where—oh. My God. Hi.”
I’d turned to face him, and he stared at me in blank shock. My lips curved themselves into that stupid familiar smile, and I tucked a loose strand of hair behind my ear, warm all over.
“Hi, Jimmy,” I said, knowing I sounded breathless.
“Hey,” he said, “there. How’ve you been?”
“Good. And you?”
“It’s good to see you,” he said after a moment, sincerely, maybe.
“Um, you too.”
I tried to bite back my smile but it wouldn’t swallow. How many times had I imagined, in my secret heart, that Jimmy would be standing here before me, his sweet dopey face illuminated so crisply in the fluorescent lights? Looking so dapper in slacks and a button-up, like that prom we could’ve gone to.
“Totally,” he said, heartfelt. Then he shuffled, like he was nervous, and I knew I loved him. “Um, do you know where the paper towels are?”
I couldn’t help the warmth in my tone. “Aisle six.”
He gave me a skittish glance and ran off, calling thanks over his shoulder. Only home for a little bit, probably, then back to the big city, where things happened. I went back to the stocking the shelves, dreaming of the day he would finally ask me to come away with him.