Jen, not Jenny (never Jenny)



Girls are lined up alphabetically along the numbered west wall.

Boys are lined up alphabetically along the numbered south wall.


Rudy – a black haired, disheveled fourteen year old chicano in black jeans, a band tee.

Jen – an auburn haired, petite fourteen year old beauty in black tights with a black and grey leotard.

Nicole – a typical fourteen year old girl in gym shorts and a tee and one of Rudy’s only friends at yet another new school.

Gym Teacher – old white dude in too short shorts, and smokers cough, leathery skin, and an impatient disposition.

Others – bunch of high school sophomores in various gym attire preparing for an hour of tumbling.

Rudy had a habit of never dressing for gym class. He was too cool for school. A legend in his own mind.

But really, it was hit and miss on whether he would attend class at all. His friend Nicole convinced him to come to class for tumbling because it was one of the only times the boys and girls were going to participate together and he’d be the only person she would know.

Rudy walked into the gym and threw his backpack and jacket into his assigned locker hoping someone would steal all of it. It was chilly, but not really cold but his old man made him take a jacket to school everyday, “you better wear the damn thing.”

He found his assigned number along the south wall, leaned back onto it, stuck his hands into his pockets and kicked up one flat foot onto the wall and pretended to not notice the rest of the gym filling in. He was so fucking cool, the little douche.


He looked to his left and saw Nicole waving at him. He liked Nicole. She was the kind of person who looked out for her friends. She was sweet without being annoying, but she’d throw down for her friends without hesitation.

Rudy walked over towards her, hands in pockets, cool-disaffected before Ethan Hawke made it a thing. Then he stopped. He felt the air leave his lungs. “Oh shit,” he thought. She sat there on the floor in her black and grey leotard and black tights, legs crossed, foot tapping to some tune only she knew, playing with the ends of her long, auburn hair. He stood there for maybe a second; maybe a lifetime. She wasn’t beautiful. Beautiful was a word for mere mortals. She was redolent, but of what he wasn’t sure yet.

He gathered himself and walked the rest of the way to Nicole. Nicole just happened to be assigned the number right next to this auburn haired … what is she? She isn’t an angel. She isn’t a minx or a fairy or any other cliché… she’s something else… fuck, what is Nicole saying?

“Are you even listening?”

“Hmm? Uh, yeah, totally.”


“What? Oh shit, teach is here, gotta go!”

Rudy dressed out for gym class the next day in his Larry Bird shorts and, well, the same unwashed band tee from the day before. He had mad tumbling skills that were sure to impress nobody in particular. He couldn’t get out of the locker room fast enough. There she was. Sitting on the floor, foot bopping along to some unheard tune again. Playing with her hair again. He became acutely aware of breathing. Such a ubiquitous thing, breathing. We all do it without thinking every second of our lives and yet, the moment he saw her he felt his lungs fill with oxygen in a way he’d never noticed before. The air was sweeter, his lungs fuller, the oxygen… oxygenier. Is that even a word? What is wrong with me?

He walked over to Nicole and ignored her entirely. She leaned in and whispered, “are you gonna talk to her?”

Startled, “what? Who? No. What?”

Nicole chuckled. “Boys are stupid,” she said.

Rudy glanced down at the auburn haired mystery. She seemed oblivious. He was relieved.

The next day he made up his mind. He was going to get her attention somehow. No, not by actually talking to her. Nothing as pedestrian as that. He was going to say something witty and loud enough for her to hear. Fart jokes are witty, right? This kid was hopeless.

He walked out of the locker room. He watched her the entire time he walked towards Nicole. “Hey, Nico -“

He felt a kick on his calf and looked down to see hazel eyes staring up at him accusingly, “are you ever going to talk to me or are you just going to keep coming over here and looking at me when you think I don’t see you?”

Nicole laughed, “boys are soooo dumb!”

“Yeah they are,” from the floor.

More laughter.

Rudy was frozen. So much for disaffected. So much for cool.

“I’m Nicole, “ Nicole said to the floor.

“I’m Jennifer,” the floor said back.

“Sorry about my friend.” Nicole looked back at Rudy. He’s pretty if not very bright.”

More laughter.

Panic was setting in. Say something, dumbass, he thought. “I’m…

fuck, fuck, fuck, what’s my name?


“Are you sure about that?”

Again, the laughter.

Rudy had no choice but to laugh at himself with them. “Yeah, I’m sure. I’m also sure I would rather be literally anyone else at the moment.”

“But then you wouldn’t be here with me.”

She was looking right at Rudy in a way that left him feeling simultaneously disarmed and a bit like the most important boy in the world.

“I’m Rudy.”

“I know.”

“You’re Jen.”

“I know.”

To Rudy that kick – that entire exchange – was like the sunlight rudely hitting his face after three hours in a dark movie theater watching a horrible movie. The bright light startling before your eyes adjust, giving way to the warmth as you tilt your head back and let it wash over you. One of those moments that remind you that you’re really alive. Those wasted hours spent in the dark weren’t real. This moment, this warmth, these rays of sunlight, these photons racing through every fiber of your body, this is real. This is what it is to be alive.

To be continued… tomorrow. Probably.

Me & Jen
©2024 Rudy Martinez