Jess Daniels was window shopping along the main street of the quaint little seaside trendy vacation town when he heard somebody call his name. He was three hundred miles from home so hearing his name being shouted was the last thing he expected to hear here.
Jess turned to see a short older woman crossing the street with a huge smile on her face.
"Jess!" She laughed. "Jess Daniels!"
"Yes," he confirmed, confused and stumped as he stared at the woman, having no idea who she was.
"It's me!" She grinned. "Louise! Louise Davis!"
Jess never would have recognized her in a million years. Of course, he hadn't seen her in a million years so it was really no big surprise that he hadn't immediately identified her.
"How in the hell did you know it was me?" Jess asked with amazement.
"Oh, that familiar Daniels gait with the slumped shoulders and bobbing head is universally recognized," she laughed. "It came back to me like a lightning bolt!"
"You must have cryptic memory," Jess remarked.
"Well, I've been following you around for the past hour or so," Louise admitted sheepishly. "My memory bell went off but it took me a while to finally place you and I've been working my courage up for the last fifteen minutes to actually say hello!"
Jess tried not to gawk at Louise but he couldn't help himself. She was an attractive woman in her late fifties, still short of course and a bit husky but it was her face that he noticed the most – clear skinned and smooth. Her hair was pleasantly styled – mostly gray but shaded in a way that made it look professional. The coke bottle glasses were gone – most likely replaced by contacts. She was wearing a trendy attractive flowered blouse and designer shorts with sandals.
It occurred to Jess that Louise Davis was one of those rare women who actually got better with age because – and he was embarrassed to even think this – Louise Davis had been one of the least attractive girls he had ever known. She was also the smartest girl he had ever known but that didn't matter in the world of adolescence.
Poor Louise was the forever girl of koodees, acne, ridicule and distain. She was picked on unmercifully, labeled as hideous, revolting, repulsive, and ghastly by cruel classmates and an insensitive peer group that took disgusting delight in making fun of her, marginalizing her, and shaming her.
Jess felt the others went too far in their meanness and he went out of his way to be kind to Louise, befriending her, defending her, and protecting her. Because the locker assignments were alphabetical, Jess was always near Louise (Daniels-Davis). Same was true for seating assignments too.
Jess hadn't seen Louise in forty years and as they stood on the sidewalk of the resort town he couldn't help but grin at the circumstances: Reunited after all these years!
"You're on vacation?" Jess asked.
Louise smiled. "Just a weekend getaway," she told him. "I have a room at that lovely inn overlooking the water. You?"
"I've been here all week," he said. "Motel down the coast road. My boss sent me on a forced vacation. Said I was burned out."
She grinned. "Well, it's great to see you!"
"You too," Jess replied, not quite able to get over the change in her appearance.
"Well, I guess I should let you go," Louise remarked.
"Are you here alone?" Jess blurted out.
The idea of socializing with another woman seemed scandalous since his divorce but Louise was part of his past and all those adolescent and teenaged memories were flowing back to him like a river.
"Yes," she replied with just a hint of a blush on her face. "You?" She asked tentatively.
He nodded his head affirmatively and she hesitated, waiting to see if he was going to say anything else. He picked up on the cue. "Would you like to hang out together?" He asked hopefully.
"That would be nice," Louise replied with a smile.
"What were your plans?" Jess asked.
"Oh, just take in the sights, window shop, that sort of thing," She said. "They have some nice art shops here."
"Sounds good," Jess replied. "That was pretty much my schedule today."
So they began their tour of the town. Jess had already seen most of the sights since he'd been around all week and he gave Louise a tour guide overview of what he had seen and learned so far. They conversed with friendly banter as they walked along the streets with the other tourists.
Their conversations revealed that Louise was a teacher at a private girl's high school and Jess was an overworked business executive in an undermanned firm. She never married and he was the divorced father of two adult children.
"Forty years after all that high school angst and here we are reminiscing about the old days and catching each other up on our lives," Louise grinned as they paused in the window of a novelty shop.
"Chatting away like two old friends," Jess smiled.
Louise glanced at him. "Weren't we friends?" She asked.
"Yes, of course," Jess said awkwardly, blushing slightly.
"I always considered you a friend," she said.
"Well, thanks," he said, glancing about awkwardly.
"I realize I was uptight and miserable in high school, resentful and bitter about the way I was treated and angry at the world for the unfair treatment I received but you didn't behave that way," Louise recalled. "You were nice to me. Most boys weren't. But you were."
"You were nice to me too," Jess offered lamely.
"I was a sullen, unhappy and shy person who focused on my studies to survive the hand I'd been dealt," she said. "You don't have to act like you didn't know, Jess."
"All I know spending time with you here now is that you're a humorous, enlightening, cheerful, happy and terrific woman," Jess said.
"I moved on and away after high school, forgot about my past and succeeded in my life," Louise reported. "Now that we're together like this I can't help but remember those awful times and how nice you were to me."
"I'm glad you did well," he smiled.
"Are you surprised?" She challenged, giving him a raised eyebrow.
"Not at all," he insisted. "You were the smartest person in our class."
"Yes, but I was a loser," Louise reminded him with a knowing look.
"No you weren't," Jess said.
"Why were you so nice to me?" Louise wanted to know as they strolled to the next window of interest. "You were a popular jock. You had plenty of girls interested in you. You didn't have to give me the time of day."
"No, I didn't," Jess agreed.
"But you did," Louise said with fascination. "Why?"
"My mother told me to be nice to people," he revealed with a shrug. "Especially those in need."
"I was in need?" Louise sounded insulted.
"My mother was in need," Jess corrected her.
"Your mother?" Louise asked in surprise as they took a seat on a bench in front of a café.
"She was sick," Jess explained. "Died when I was eleven."
"I don't think I remember that," Louise admitted.
"She had been bedridden for months," Jess said. "Very sick. She wanted to instill in me a lifetime of lessons and philosophies in a few months. She wanted me to be as nice to other people as I had been to her on her death bed – reading to her, visiting with her, staying with her."
"You were eleven," Louise marveled.
"I think of it as my Private Ryan moment," Jess revealed. "When Tom Hanks tells Matt Damon to 'earn it' Her words motivated me to do the right thing and be a good person, just as she had been good to me."
"I'd say she'd be proud of you," Louise said. "You were kind, sensitive, principled and helpful to me."
"I adored my mother," Jess let her know.
"I do too," Louise said warmly.
"I'm sorry you had it so tough," Jess said with sympathy.
"Every school has to have an ugly girl," Louise said with a shrug. "Why not me?"
"Because it wasn't fair," Jess said angrily.
"I heard it all," Louise recalled. "Frankenstein's coming. Four eyes. 'Does your face hurt, cause it's killing me', all that stuff."
"Such jerks," Jess complained.
"Freshman Welcome," Louise said, thinking about it. "I learned how to dance at home. Bought a dress. Braided my hair. Wore make-up for the first time. Went to the dance nervous but hopeful. I knew I'd never be popular outside of the nerd and brain cliques but I just wanted to be accepted without being laughed at or mocked. The taunts hurt so I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible."
"Such shallow people," Jess said.
"Do you remember asking me to dance that night?" Louise asked.
"I remember," Jess admitted.
"I was able to make it through all the rest of it because of that one moment of random kindness on your part," Louise revealed. "You could have cared less what I looked like."
"I talked with you because you were smart and interesting," Jess replied. "I thought you were fascinating. You knew everything."
"I didn't know boys," she said with a sigh.
"You didn't miss anything," Jess smirked.
Louise laughed and stood. "Come on," she said. "There's an Art Place on the next block I want to check out."