The following is an original, and much rejected, short story that is on its way for a rewrite and inclusion in a larger narrative, but today it will be here. Hopefully my dear readers will take a few minutes to read and perhaps comment as well.
The story is based on one that Rob told me about a guy he knew in high school and his pick up technique. According to Rob, his late wife was once this fellow’s chosen recipient but she never did tell him the outcome of the tale. I imagine it ended with a boot to someone’s head.
Anyway, I wrote the story for Rob.
The White Boots by Ann Bibby
Jess had left her runners in the middle of a pile of shoes and boots that spanned the cross-section of divergent groups at Beaver Lodge High. It being late winter, even by northern Alberta standards, there was still snow enough on ground to trigger the customary donning of footwear on the front porch or in the foyer of homes. She’d arrived late and the party was well under way, so slipping off her brand new Adidas runners, she’d dropped them on top of several other similar pairs without bothering to find clean floor space for them to drip and dry. It hardly mattered. Wet shoes were a fact of the long winters and wet springs. In farming communities like Beaver Lodge, a person seldom had footwear with clean soles for long between the gravel and dirt side roads, drives and parking lots. Grimy shoes marked one as a native in the same way that people who had to be asked to remove their footwear before entering a home or school tagged them as an outsider.
Jess waded through the partygoers, smiling and hugging and generally greeting one and all. She knew everyone and everyone knew her. A heart-shaped face with full rounded cheeks that shone like porcelain, and a rosebud mouth that broke into an amazingly wide toothy smile without much provocation, Jess was what city kids would refer to as part of the “in crowd” but out in the northern prairie she was simply a standout in a pond too small for the luxury of such labeling. With barely more than 60 kids in her senior class, the high school attendance rolls peaked at just about 200 students total though the number rose or fell a bit depending on the time of year and the temperature.
As she skirted the hallway and rounded her way through the kitchen, Jess kept her eyes peeled for the new boy. And he wasn’t technically new anymore as he’d arrived with his family late in the fall of grade eleven, but he wasn’t born and bred and it showed. He didn’t have the Scandinavian looks of most of the rest of his classmates whose families counted back two or three generations in the area. Instead he was darker complected with shoulder length brown hair that hung like silk curtains when he was hunched over his desk during literature class and filling his paper with typewriter perfect letters and words. Jess marveled that such big hands could produce such delicate script in comparison to her chicken scrawl.
She slipped through the bottleneck at the doorway that connected the kitchen to the living room and scanned it hurriedly. He wasn’t there. And she was disappointed because this meant that he either hadn’t come or that he’d been spirited away to some upstairs bedroom by one of her more predatory classmates. She doubted that he would initiate something of that nature on his own. He barely spoke to girls at all as far as she could tell. He usually sat on the edge of things be it in class or the lunchroom or even at the house parties and bonfires that constituted high school social functions. Vaguely Jess wondered if “wall-flower” was a word that could be applied to a boy because if it could it fit the new boy well.
Shawn, she reminded herself, a bit annoyed. He was Shawn.
Until just a few weeks earlier she had not really paid much attention to him though now that she thought about it, he always seemed to be just on the edge of her vision all the time. She really didn’t know what made her notice him that day. As usual, he hadn’t said anything to her, but when Mrs. Dunmore decided to set them to work in partners to translate scenes from Romeo and Juliet instead of allowing them to choose partners as she had always done, she insisted that they pair boy and girl to get the “benefit of both gender perspectives”. The soft tap on her back and the equally soft voice asking her to be his partner surprised Jess.
Up close and with his hair brushed away from this face, Jess was startled to be met with an intensely lit gaze that threw her off just enough to elicit a “yes”, and he stood up to help her turn her desk around to face his. It was such a gentlemanly act and one that was out of the character of any of the boys she had known longer it seemed than she could even remember.
“I’m Shawn,” he said as they both retook their seats and were finally facing after a semester and a half of him merely staring into the nape of her neck, she realized.
“Jess,” she said and then felt silly because of course he would know her name. He was the one who she’d never taken the time to notice.
He smiled, not shyly or even with reproach, but with an amusement at her embarrassment. Normally, that would have made Jess angry, but she could see a teasing attitude in his eyes and the way he shook his hair off his face as he leaned back in his seat. What she had mistaken for shyness the first time she’d noticed him at the beginning of the year was really just a general indifference to the kind of drive for recognition and popularity that fueled almost everyone else Jess knew.
It was then that Mrs. Dunmore walked by and handed Jess the passages she wanted them to work on. Jess barely managed to conceal a blush when she realized what part of the play they were to work on together.
“What did we get?”
“The balcony scene,” she hoped her voice did not betray her discomfort because she was finding it hard to define or even explain it to herself.
“Oh, when he asks her to have sex with him” he seemed more amused than before and Jess found this attractive and infuriorating.
“He wants to marry her.”
“Not until he realizes he can’t have sex with her any other way.”
“And it’s ‘make love’, not ‘have sex’, okay?”
“You don’t make love to someone you hardly know,” he said in a tone that she was sure he reserved for the simple-minded, and it brought her out of her earlier uncertainty because she was beginning to find this Shawn person a bit too smug.
“It was a case of love at first sight. You have heard of that, right?”
Shawn ran his hands through his hair in a gesture that seemed to Jess to reveal his chagrin at angering her.
“There is no such thing as ‘love at first sight’. You just don’t fall in love with someone from across a room or a dance floor.”
“Their eyes met and they experienced a recognition of souls.”
“So now they are soul mates too?”
“Of course,” to Jess it seemed so obvious but her look of scornful pity would prove to be her undoing.
Shawn leaned forward unto the desk until he was close enough to speak in such a soft, low tone that no one but Jess could hear.
“One soul mate per customer?”
Jess nodded, not realizing that she was leaning in too.
Again she gave assent, noticing the musculature of his arms and the way his hair curled at his shirt collar.
He sat back and crossed his arms.
“If all that is true, then where are all these happy shiny people? These soul mates,” he waved his arms around for emphasis before refolding them. “Point them out. Can you? Do you know anyone who met and married someone because they were soul mates? Who knew each other on sight across the aisle at the bowling alley or on the other end of the pub? No, you don’t, and neither do I. Love is something that is made after getting to know someone and feeling them from the inside out. It’s not magic. It’s time and effort and work. That’s the point of the play. That’s why Shakespeare kills them off at the end of it.”
Jess said nothing as she took Shawn’s words in. Studied the seriousness of his slightly exotic features and memorized the intensity of his gaze. She wanted to tell him in that moment that he was as wrong as he could be, but she didn’t want to have to explain how she knew, so she said nothing.
Taking her silence as agreement, Shawn took the assignment from her desk and picked up his pencil. Jess watched in wonder as he began to write some of the translation on the page. Usually it was the girl in the group or pairing who got stuck being the “secretary”, and he had simply taken over the task without even asking.
Every day after, Jess spent the minutes before class in conversation with Shawn. She knew without being told that he would not be changing his opinion about love anytime soon, and so she did it his way but in her own time and style.
Her inquiry into whether or not he would be at the party that weekend was as casual as she could make it, but still he gave her a quizzical look before replying that he thought he might drop by though it would be later in the evening because his dad had chores for him to do.
Shawn’s family was an interesting bunch. She remembered when they had arrived looking for all the world like the Clampetts from the American television show with two vehicles stuffed with probably not even everything they had ever owned but just the stuff that they could pack into that cramped green Chevy wagon and an old Ford truck. The pick-up had makeshift walls of plywood all around the bed to contain the overflow that was secured with a half-dozen or more ropes. Her mother referred to them disdainfully as “migrants” and though many of the men in the community had initially done business with Shawn’s father, few would now. He wasn’t as tall or solidly built as his son but Mr. Macfadyn possessed those same prepossessing eyes, and despite being known as a con artist, he continually amazed his neighbors and managed to find new victims in their small community. Enough to keep his family fed and build them a new home on an acreage just west of Beaver Lodge. Jess wondered what kind of work his father had him doing and hoped that it was of the shady variety, but she also had a feeling that Shawn kept himself well clear of his dad’s more nefarious dealings.
So, when she couldn’t find Shawn that evening at the party, she was disappointed. More than that she would not admit – even to herself. Grabbing a beer, she wound her way to the sofa and determinedly kept her back to the door for the rest of the night.
At some point in the wee-er hours, Jess decided that she’d had enough and had proved her point – to herself only – and was ready to leave. The party was dying down. People disappeared or become objects on the floor to be tripped over, lying there in their various stages of sleep, drunken or otherwise. Careful not to step on anyone, Jess retraced her original path to the foyer. It was then she noticed that her runners where gone and in their stead stood a pair of white cowboys boots. Already suffering from letdown, Jess stared the offensive footwear down with barely concealed indignation.
The boots belonged to the older of the two Paley boys, Zane. He was the same age as her next older sister and not too surprisingly a drop-out as well who like Candy, couldn’t seem to stay away from high school house parties. She had briefly seen Candy earlier in the night as she was slipping quietly off to the upstairs with a boy that Jess actually didn’t know. But Zane she hadn’t seen at all, though she had seen his younger brother, who was also too old to be coming to these parties. Byron was slower than Zane, who had the mental capacity of a sheep in Jess’s opinion, but had a better pick-up technique than the tired white cowboy boot routine of Zane’s.
Zane would position himself where he could watch as people would shed their footwear and note especially the location of the shoes of girls he was interested in. As the party would begin to break up, Zane would survey the shoes to see which girls seemed to still be hanging around. He then would take the shoes of some girl or other and leave in their place his own white cowboy boots.
Those boots were well known around Beaver Lodge and were an instant source of amusement that never quite lost its fun for the men and boys of the area, but for the young women of Beaver Lodge High, they were as welcome as missed period.
Jess had never been on the receiving end of the dreaded white boots but her cousin had gotten them one night over the Christmas vacation this last year. Jess and a crowd of others had watch with some amusement as her tiny cousin had threatened to beat Zane with the heel of one the boots unless he returned her runners to her. The white boot trick worked only infrequently but often enough that it kept Zane convinced he was a lothario of renown.
Jess took several deep breaths before beginning her search of the house for Zane. She was going to hurt him but wanted to be calm enough to do measurable damage. She scooped up the boots and turned right into Shawn. He had been watching her from the doorway to the upstairs. Jess realized that he must have been sitting there just up and out of the light all the time.
Smiling slightly he reached back into the stairwell and pulled a pair of runners off the stairs. Her runners.
“Where did you get those? Did you see Zane take them?”
“Zane’s passed out in the basement. Has been for a couple of hours now.”
Confused, Jess looked at Shawn, realizing that he must have taken her runners and replaced them with Zane’s boots.
“That’s not funny,” she said, tossing the offensive footwear back into the foyer.
“Yeah, I know. But I don’t go for that locking eyes thing and I figured it might make a romantic enough story for you to tell our kids about some day.”
He offered her the runners and she took them, holding onto his arm as she slipped one and then the other on.
“Did you drive yourself?”
“I was hoping so. I hitched a ride here with Zane tonight and kinda need a ride home now.”
“You came with Zane.” The disdain was palpable.
“He’s working for my dad right now,” Shawn said.
They stood in silence that wasn’t awkward but hard to break nonetheless. Finally Jess looked up. He was awfully tall. She held up a hand, palm out. Smiling he did the same and as their fingers interlocked, he leaned down and kissed her.
Yes, she thought. A pretty good story.