Nancy Austin was a pretty girl, shy and sweet. Her strawberry blonde hair was cropped at her chin, and her wide eyes and perfect skin made her look like a porcelain doll. She dressed in pastel colors, and had a beautiful smile. Still, she didn’t have many friends. There was always something distant about her, like she didn’t belong.
Nancy was fifteen in the fall of 1949, the start of her sophomore year of high school. She was starting new, this time at George Washington High in Boise. Her freshman year, she’d lived in Miami with her family. Before that, Duluth, Minnesota. Before that, Cleveland, Ohio. Houston, Texas. Phoenix, Arizona. And Denver, Colorado. Nancy had never known a time when they hadn’t moved. Six schools in six years. That was part of being an Army brat, and maybe, part of the reason she didn't want to make friends. Because eventually, she’d have to leave them all behind.So when she caught the handsome boy staring in history class, she didn’t pay it much mind. She wanted to do well in school, and while she was getting to the age where boys were starting to pay attention to her, if she couldn't risk having friends, then she definitely couldn’t risk boys.
The teacher was an old man who spoke slowly, and no matter how hard Nancy tried to listen to him talk about the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and how it led to World War I, she kept nodding off.
The boy was still staring too, and there was something about him that made her want to stare back. The weather was still warm, and while most of the boys wore short sleeves, this one wore a long sleeve shirt, one that seemed to hang tightly at his wrists, almost as if it was too small for him. But it was more than that. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but Nancy felt drawn to him.
That was when she noticed a note on her desk. She opened it.
“With this, who needs The Ed Sullivan Show?”
She looked back at the boy, who gave her a smile. Nancy pursed her lips as she thought about what to write back. “I’ve never been more interested in the history of the first World War than I am now.”
She felt her hands shake as she slipped him the note.
“What class do you have next?” He wrote back.
“Mind if I walk you?”
“I’d like that.” It was as she was handing him back the note that she felt the teacher’s eyes on both of them.
“Jay Whitman,” he snapped.
The boy, Jay, sat straight up.
“Would you like to bring me that note?”
Jay knew he didn’t have a choice and obliged.
It was embarrassing, having their notes read aloud for the rest of the class to hear. Nancy buried her face in her arms the whole time. When it was done, the teacher threw it in the garbage and told the class if he caught anyone doing it again it would be automatic detention. He resumed the lecture.
After the bell rang, Nancy saw Jay lingering at her desk.
“Well, can I walk you to English, then?” He asked.
She saw the teacher looking at them. Almost as an act of defiance, she nodded yes.
In the hall, they properly introduced themselves to each other. Nancy mentioned that she was new to Boise, that her family moved around a lot. He said he lived with his mother and stepfather.
Nancy wondered what had happened to his father, but she didn’t want to ask now. She could have talked to Jay for hours, but the walk to English class was only a few minutes.
For a moment, they lingered at the door, moving out of the way of students streaming into class. She didn’t want him to leave, and it seemed like he didn’t want to either.
“See you tomorrow?” He said. She could have sworn that he was blushing.
It was after class on the second day that he asked her to the movies. They ended up meeting at the theater, since neither had their license yet, even though Jay was learning how to drive. Nancy arrived early, and waited for Jay beside the poster of The Red Shoes, the film they’d decided to see. She waited patiently, and just as she was starting to have doubts about whether he was going to show up at all, a car pulled up and he got out.
A few minutes before it was due to start, a car pulled up and he got out. A blonde woman in the driver’s seat gave Jay a loving look and waved towards Nancy before Jay got out of the car. Nancy assumed it was his mother, but she seemed young.
“Hello,” Nancy said.
“Hi,” Jay replied.
“Was that your mom?”Jay nodded.
“She seems nice,” Nancy remarked.
“Mhmm,” said Jay, but it didn’t go much further than that. They stood in line to buy their tickets, and they went inside.
The movie was in color, about a young dancer who becomes obsessed with her craft. It was romantic, unsettling and sad all at the same time. Jay held her hand all throughout.
It was autumn, and still a warm night. For a moment, they stood under the marquee. “I actually…” Nancy started.
“What?” Jay responded with a smile.
“I’ve actually thought about trying out for the talent show,” Nancy said. “But I’m nervous.” She confessed that she was a singer, and Jay said he wanted to hear her sometime.
“You should try,” he said. “What do you have to lose?”
That was when Jay noticed his mother was already there.
She was young, but very beautiful. She turned to Nancy first, and extended her hand.
“Hello,” she said. “I’m Jay’s mother. Mrs. Flynn.”
“Nancy Austin,” Nancy replied, accepting the handshake.
Nancy knew Jay’s last name was Whitman, but she also remembered he had something about a stepfather. Maybe, if Jay trusted her enough, he would tell her what exactly was going on with his family. Maybe his father had died, and she didn’t want to be insensitive.
That was when she noticed her own father. They said goodbye with the understanding that they would see each other again.