It was my first day as a freshman at CU. I was here on a football scholarship. It was weird not knowing anybody. I guess some would say I was a social icon back at my high school so I wasn’t really used to being alone. But I figured I’d meet someone interesting by the end of the day.
I decided to explore the campus a little before my first class started so I went to the library. I saw a book that I hadn’t read since the seventh grade; To Kill a Mockingbird.
I was about to grab it until someone from the other side took it first. I saw a pair of dark blue-green eyes staring at me from the other side of the bookshelf. I couldn’t stop staring. They were the most intriguing color I’d ever seen. Before I knew it, the person had put the book back in its place. I couldn’t see her eyes anymore. I ran to the other side of the shelf but she was walking away. She had short blonde hair and was wearing a brown, leather jacket with skinny jeans and boots. She had an old, worn out, black bag swung around her shoulder.
I looked back at the book she had put back and grabbed it. “Excuse me, ma’am.”
She looked back with her hands in her jacket pockets. Those eyes…
I coughed nervously. “I think you left your book.”
She glanced from the book to me nonchalantly. “That’s okay,” she had a very smooth voice. “I don’t need it,” she told me before she walked away.
I don’t know why but I continued to chase after her. “It’s just, it looked like you were about to grab it and I didn’t want to be rude.”
“It wasn’t rude,” was all she said.
I was now walking stupidly beside her through the large library.
She must have known I was nervous because she finally spoke up for me. “Well, if you’re gonna follow me you might as well tell me your name.”
I didn’t know what to say. I probably should have corrected her and told her I wasn’t trying to follow her but all that came out was my name. “Jake.”
“Nice name, Jake.”
“Thanks,’ I laughed nervously. “What’s yours?”
“I don’t give that out.”
What? “But I just told you my name?”
“Well, that was your mistake now, wasn’t it?”
This girl was weird. “Well, how do you expect to make friends if you don’t give out your name?”
“People can make plenty of friends without knowing each others name.”
“But names are important.”
“No, just their story. If you know my story, my name will mean a whole lot more.”
“What are you talking about?”
She finally stopped walking and faced me. “What if I don’t look like my name?”
“How can you look like your name?”
“Well, when I first saw you, you looked more like a Peter than you did a Jake. Your name doesn’t suit me yet. Until I know you better, maybe then you’ll look like a Jake.”
Okay, I’d play along with this girl. We finally got to the couches and sat down. She pulled out another book from her bag and began reading it.
“So, tell me about yourself,” I smiled.
“You first,” she didn’t bother to look up from her book.
“But I want to know your name.”
“I want to know yours better. Until I get used to a name like ‘Jake’, I don’t want to tell you about me.”
“Okay…well, I’m here on a football scholarship and-“
“Thanks, that’s all I needed to know.”
“A Peter would never play football, but a Jake would. Your name is better.”
“Great, so what’s yours?”
“I don’t want to tell you.”
“What? But I thought my name was good enough now?”
“It is. But I don’t talk to ‘Jakes’.”
“You knew my name before I told what I do. How can you not talk to ‘Jakes’?
“Because I don’t talk to people who aren’t on the same level as me. So, Jakes, Justins, Ryans, Joshs… these would all be people I would avoid.”
I frowned. “Haven’t you ever heard the saying ‘you know my name, not my story’?”
She finally glanced up from her book for a split second with those diamond, blue-green eyes and then turned the page. “Of course.”
“Well, yes, I play football-“
She closed her book and leaned forward. “And you got a free ride here to CU just for being athletic. I’ve been working on my dream since I was two and I didn’t get a full ride. But you probably have been playing football since you were-what? 14?”
She rolled her eyes, sat back, and opened her book once again.
I huffed but kept my cool. “Well, what’s your dream?”
She kept reading.
“Fine,” I sat back comfortably. “I’ll just keep telling you about my story.”
She pursed her lips and raised her eyebrows as if to say ‘go ahead. You’re still not good enough for me.’
“So I’m here on a scholarship because I was the best quarterback at my school, worked my ass off to get good grades and-” I stopped myself. I realized that everything I was saying was completely superficial and had nothing to do with my story. I sighed and leaned forward, starting over. “When I was 12, my big brother was killed in a hit and run.”
She glanced up from her book again but then looked back down. I think I was getting somewhere. At least she looked at me.
“He was the one who taught me how to play football. Everyone thought he was going to be one of the best football players out there. He was a god on the field…” my voice trailed off. I swallowed and tried to carry on with the story. “After he died, my mom and dad were so devastated that they lost him, so I guess…I decided to be him. So I got up every morning at dawn and practiced. I worked hard for my grades, and even though I knew I’d never be as good as my brother…I still tried.”
I looked up not even realizing my gaze had fallen to the floor. She was staring right at me. The book back in her bag. I felt better knowing I had gotten her attention.
“What was his name?”
I gave her a cocky grin. “But you don’t even know his story?” I mocked her theory.
“I know yours and you said you’re just like him so I guess it’s close enough,” it was the first time I had seen her smile in the small time we had known each other. Her teeth were perfectly white and seemed to sparkle under the bright red lipstick she had on. Perfect.
I laughed. “Collin. Not one of the people you’d talk to, huh?”
She shrugged. “I like Collin. It’s nice.’
“Better than Jake?”
She gave a cute half smile. “Yeah… a lot better than Jake. But I guess I just have to get to know you better…then maybe your name will eventually match your story.”
I smiled. I liked this girl. Genuinely liked this bizarre girl. I didn’t even know her name or her story…but her personality was flawless. Her name didn’t even matter to me anymore. I just wanted to sit here and talk to this girl all day.
“Singing. My dream is to sing. I sing at a local coffee shop just down the street. No pay, but I love it.”
I beamed at the confession. I’m so glad she was finally telling me about herself. “When?”
“Every night at eleven.”
“What kind of songs do you sing?”
“Jazz. I also come from a small town in Rhode Island. My favorite show is Seinfeld, my favorite food is sushi and I currently have 6,000 followers on my tumblr.”
I couldn’t stop smiling this girl was incredible. “Anything else?”
Her eyebrows tightened and she stared at the ground. My smile fell with her. “Yeah…” she rubbed her arm. “I lost someone, too…” I could see her jaw locking.
I stayed quiet, not wanting to scare her off. I waited until she was comfortable.
She finally looked back up at me. “My mom passed away about three years ago. She had lung cancer. My dad raised me. I love him more than anything in the world.”
I didn’t say anything. I knew she wouldn’t want me to say sorry because I wouldn’t want anyone to say that to me when it came to my brother. I just stared at her. It sounds cruel but…I almost relished the look on her face. Not because she was sad, but because it was the one person I’ve seen make the exact same face as I made after Collin died. It was nice to meet someone who knew how I felt.
She looked up and gave a light smile. “But yeah, that’s…that’s my story.”
“It’s a beautiful story.”
She smiled because she knew I meant it. “You know…” she started with the same cute half smile I loved. “Most people would have walked away after I said I didn’t like their name. They would have been offended.”
He smiled. “I get called worse when I’m on the field.”
“Well, I guess with a name like Jake you have to learn to smile,” she laughed.
I gave her a playful frown. “Jake’s an awesome name.”
“Ehh…too biblical for me I guess.”
“I’m not Jacob, just Jake. That’s all that’s on my birth certificate and for your information it means satisfaction.”
“Yes. I know. It’s also slang in old English. It was never meant to be an actual synonym for satisfaction. That’s just what some peddler made it out to be. Look it up, Jake,“she mocked.
“Okay, then, I bet your name’s not any better.”
“My name is the best name.”
“Oh, really?” I leaned forward. “Then come on. Let’s hear it.”
Her adorable half smile came back.
“Jess. Jessie Bell.”