After I finished watching Jeopardy!, I went back upstairs. I checked my email; no new messages. I was glad to have a night at home by myself, but I had no immediately apparent way to take advantage of this night at home. There was no long dormitory hallway to walk down and see who was free. It was my parents’ house, the other bedrooms were empty, and the only other people in this house tonight were cats. I could sit in front of the computer in a chat room, but for some reason I was not in the mood for that tonight.
My eyes drifted around my bedroom. I saw my yearbook from my senior year at Plumdale High sitting on top of a box of books that I had not completely unpacked from when I moved out of the dorm last month. So far, this summer, I had seen exactly two high school friends exactly once each. The situation was made worse by my fear of using the phone. And I was self-conscious about having friends in the first place, because my mother makes fun of people behind their backs, and I was afraid of what she would say about them.
I started to reach for the yearbook. Some of the nicest things that people had ever said to me were in that book. Two girls whom I did not really know until senior year both wrote messages that seemed more like what someone might write to a lifelong friend, not someone they had only known for one school year. But then one of them moved away without saying goodbye, and the other had a boyfriend so it did not matter, and neither of them had stayed in touch. I had lost touch with so many of my high school friends.
I reconsidered and did not open the yearbook. My mind and eyes continued to wander. Next to the computer on my desk was a stack of letters, all from girls. Mom noticed a few days ago when I got letters from both Molly Boyle and Tiffany Rollins on the same day that I seemed to be keeping in touch with mostly girls over the summer. She was right. Guys were mean to me in elementary school, and I felt safer communicating with girls. Taylor was really the only guy I was keeping in touch with.
Molly lived in central Pennsylvania. She was studying early childhood education at Lock Haven University and, like me, she was home for the summer after her first year. We had met in a chat room, and she had written to me the most so far, six times. She was working a boring job that she disliked, but she needed the money in order to afford to go back to school. She lived in the country and did not have much of a social life, which probably explained the frequent letters. I opened the most recent one and began reading.
I spent the weekend in Philadelphia with Christina, my roommate from last year, and it ended up being a disaster! This guy she knows on the Internet who lives in California was in Phila. for the weekend too, and they had been planning to meet for a while. Her parents didn’t want her to go alone, so she brought me along. When we got there, the guy was busy, so we saw all the touristy historical stuff. When he was finally free, they just went back to the hotel and cuddled and did other stuff, and I felt really uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to go do something in the city by myself. Then they just left without telling me where they were going or when they would be back. So I was stuck alone in the hotel room for over an hour. And then while they were gone, her parents called the hotel room looking for her. Apparently before we left she lied and told her parents we were meeting our friend Michelle in the city, but Michelle called Christina’s house while she was supposed to be with us so they knew she lied. And her dad started lecturing me about stuff like this, even though this wasn’t my idea and I didn’t know she lied! This isn’t the first time Christina has done something completely selfish. Maybe I’ll learn my lesson and stop letting her use me.
Molly may not have had much of a social life, but her weekend seemed a lot more interesting than anything that had happened to me recently. Christina appeared to be the kind of person I would not want to be friends with.
Tiffany had written three times. She and I had two math classes together last year. She was home in Ashwood, about a two and a half hour drive to the east. Like Molly, she also had a boring job that she hated, doing office work. I had told her about being self-conscious about having friends at home, and she understood completely, because her mother still lovingly teased her about a boy she liked in tenth grade. “So is there anyone you are interested in that way?” she wrote. “You don’t have to answer, I just thought I’d ask.” The thought crossed my mind that she might be dropping a hint to me. I liked her as a friend, but I just didn’t feel attracted to her.
Danielle Coronado, who had lived down the hall from me in Building C last year, had written a fairly long typed letter a couple weeks ago. She was back home in Desert Ridge, about 250 miles southeast in a part of the state I had never been to. She told me a whole lot about her job working at a day camp for children. Unlike Molly and Tiffany and me, Danielle enjoyed her job. Spencer Grant, who lived on the first floor in Building C last year, was also from Desert Ridge; he and Danielle had been hanging out some, although they were definitely just friends. Danielle wrote that Spencer was loud and obnoxious, but really a nice guy underneath. I could see that, although I had mostly only seen the loud and obnoxious side.
Bok, who lived on the first floor last year and would be rooming with Danielle next year, sent me a postcard with big trees and a forest floor covered in ferns. She and her family were camping in Olympic National Park in Washington, and would be headed north across the border to British Columbia before returning home. That sounded beautiful, but I had never been camping, so I could not really relate to the experience. Mom was the only one who took initiative to plan vacations in my family, and Mom hates camping.
Sarah Winters, also from the first floor, had written to me once. She was home in Ralstonville, a couple hours’ drive northeast of here. She passed the time playing flute and learning guitar, and she had been spending time with her older brother and the girl he would soon be marrying. She also spent a day with Liz Williams, Ramon Quintero, and Caroline Pearson at Caroline’s house in Walton Canyon. That sounded fun. I missed all of them.
I had not heard from Liz or Ramon, but Caroline had written once. Caroline grew up in Australia, and she would be visiting her family there in August. That would be an exciting trip. She ended her letter saying, “Everyone from Jeromeville that I’ve talked to is wanting to get back up there. I think that we all suffer from homesickness, strange as it sounds, even though we’re at home!” She was exactly right. Plumdale felt like home to some extent, but my connections here were not very deep to begin with, and my life was in Jeromeville now.
I looked around at the desk. My eyes rested on the telephone. My bedroom was part of a remodel that my parents had started seven years ago and technically never finished; the room still had plywood for a floor. At some point in high school, I had figured out how telephone wiring worked and hooked up the telephone jack in the bedroom myself, so this telephone worked, although it was on the same line as the rest of the house. I was always so nervous about making phone calls as it was, and with three phones in the house on the same line, it was frightening to think that Mom might pick up and listen in on my call. Tonight would be the perfect night for a phone call, since I was alone in the house; the rest of the family had gone to watch some of my brother’s friends in a baseball tournament. But whom did I feel comfortable calling? One of my high school friends? One of my Jeromeville friends? I did not have Molly’s number, so she was not an option. Even if I did have her number, Mom would not appreciate a phone call to Pennsylvania, although Mom had come around to the fact that this person writing me was probably not a 37-year-old pervert named Chuck.
It would make more sense to me to call someone I knew from Jeromeville. I still had my copy of the campus directory, which had many students’ home addresses and phone numbers in addition to local contact information, but that seemed kind of creepy looking up people who did not expect me to have their phone numbers. A few of my dorm friends had shared their home phone numbers at the end of the school year, with the intent of keeping in touch. Of the people who had written so far, Danielle was the only one who had shared her phone number. I felt safe talking to her.
I picked up the phone and started dialing, but gave up halfway through the number and hung up. Mom would see a call to Desert Ridge on the phone bill. She would want to know everything I said. She might even tease me about liking Danielle, even if I explained that she was just a friend. But Mom was always telling me to be more social, so she would probably be okay with me making one long distance call. I picked up the phone but hung up again before dialing anything. Danielle probably was not even home. It was a Friday night. Normal people are off having fun on Friday nights. But, on the other hand, maybe that would be better. I could leave a message and tell Danielle to call me, and I could get the phone call done earlier and feel like I did the best I could, not feeling guilty about wasting a night home alone. And If Danielle ever did call me back, then I would have to talk to her and not chicken out.
I took a deep breath, picked up the phone, and dialed the numbers quickly. A male voice picked up on the third ring. “Hello?” he said.
“Hi. Is Danielle there?”
“Yeah. Just a minute.” I heard muffled voices on the other side of the line, and after about half a minute, Danielle’s voice said, “Hello?”
“Hi. This is Greg.” After a few seconds of silence, I added, “Greg Dennison. From Building C.”
“Greg!” Danielle exclaimed. “I wasn’t expecting you to call! How are you?”
“I’m doing ok. Just kind of bored. And I’m alone in the house tonight. The rest of my family is busy.”
“I’m glad you called! How is that bookstore job going?”
“It’s okay. It’s nice when I get to read on a slow day, but that store just really isn’t my clientele.”
“That’s tough. But it isn’t forever, right?”
“I know. That’s what I keep telling myself. How’s your work with the kids?”
“It’s exhausting, but I love it so much! Yesterday we took them on a field trip to the fire station. One of the little ones really loves fire trucks, so he was having a great time.”
“I bet that was fun.”
“And there’s this one eleven-year-old boy who lives in a foster home. He’s been through a lot in life. He gets in fights and acts all tough, but he has this soft side too that he doesn’t show many people. But I see it. He likes me and he trusts me.”
“That’s so cool.”
“I know! Today he told me I was his favorite. And he told me all about this girl he likes, but he doesn’t think she likes him.”
“That’s so cool that you can really make a difference with someone like that.”
“Yeah. It’s amazing what these kids are like when you get to know them. I’m going to miss them when the job is over.”
“When is that?”
“Two weeks. After the camp closes for the summer, we can keep working for another week to clean things up and take things down. That’s not going to be fun, but I’m going to do it for the money.”
“That’s a good idea. I don’t think I’m making quite a difference in the lives of the customers at the bookstore.”
Danielle laughed at this. Then she said, “Hey. I heard you went to Jeromeville and you got to see Taylor? How was that?”
“It was fun. My cousins Rick and Miranda, they live way up north in the middle of nowhere, they were visiting that week, and we just went up there for the day so they could see where I lived, and my new apartment, and stuff. And I took a break to go see Taylor. And Jonathan too, but he had to study for part of the time I was there.”
“Figures. That sounds like Jonathan.”
“You said you had been in touch with Taylor too?”
“Yeah. He wrote me back. Pete still hasn’t. It’s like he fell off the face of the earth.”
“Some people just aren’t good at keeping in touch.”
“He’s a jerk,” Danielle said jokingly, chuckling. Last year, both Taylor and Pete seemed to have something going on with Danielle. I was too oblivious to know exactly what was going on, and it probably was not my business anyway. Danielle continued, asking, “Did you visit anyone else when you were in Jeromeville?”
“I’ve only been in touch with one other person in Jeromeville this summer, someone not from our dorm. And she was busy that day. I really want to go back. It’s boring here, and I rarely see the few friends I have left.”
“I know how you feel. Bok and Theresa are going to visit for a few days in August.”
“That’ll be fun.”
“Have you heard from them? Or anyone else?”
I told Danielle about everyone I had heard from this summer. Some of these people Danielle did not know, and she seemed particularly interested in finding out more about Molly. I told her a little bit about her, including how we met. “She’s the first person I met on the Internet who I trusted with my contact information in real life.”
“That’s brave of you.”
“We had been emailing for six months by the time she wrote me on paper. You’d have to be pretty good at being an old pervert and pretending to be an 18-year-old girl in order to keep it up for six months, so I’m pretty sure she’s really who she says she is.”
“Well that’s really cool! Do you like her? Like, more than just a pen pal?”
“I don’t know. We’re just friends right now.”
Danielle and I talked for almost an hour. I told her about watching roller hockey, and about the time I broke the picture frame at the store. She told me about going camping with her family on an unusually hot day and getting badly sunburned, and about her next youngest sister also going to Jeromeville in the fall. “And she’s going to major in psych, just like me. We even have a class together in the fall.”
“Is that going to be awkward?”
“It might be. When we were younger, we hung out in the same circles, and we fought about everything. We’ve learned that we should kind of have separate lives.”
“That makes. My brother and I are six grades apart, so we never were at the same school at the same time to run in the same circles.”
“Consider yourself lucky.”
After a few minutes and another lull in the conversation, I said, “I should probably get going.”
“Yeah. It’s getting close to bedtime. But thank you so much for calling!”
“It was good to hear your voice!”
“Yours too. Tell Bok and Theresa I said hi. And Spencer, if you talk to him again.”
“Good night, Greg.”
I hung up. That was nice. Keeping in touch with my Jeromeville friends was keeping me going that summer. I had a month left until I would be able to return to Jeromeville, and I needed every bit of contact with that part of my life that I could get. I was done making phone calls, it was getting late, but I looked through the stack of letters again. Something that Molly had written caught my eye:
A suggestion for you: don’t look in the past and see how much you haven’t done, but look into the future and see how much time you have to do whatever you want. I try to look at the positive things instead of the negatives, so I don’t get depressed.
Molly was right. I needed to stop dwelling on the negatives. Sure, I felt like I had missed out on some things in the almost nineteen years I had lived so far, but I had a lot of life left, and I did not need to let that which I missed out on define me. I would get back to Jeromeville, where I belonged, in a little over a month. I had people there who wanted to be part of my life, and the stack of letters on my desk was evidence of that.
I walked over to the box of books, lifted a bunch of them up, and put my high school yearbook near the bottom, where I wouldn’t see it.