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Truth or Beard(3)

By:Penny Reid

“Jess.” I felt Claire nudge me with a sharp elbow. “Jessica, what’s wrong?”

How some pre-teens lose their minds for boy bands, rock stars, and hot celebrities, I always lost my marbles for Beau. It all started when he climbed a tree to save my cat. I was eight. He was ten. He’d kissed me on the cheek. He’d wiped my tears. He’d held my hand. He’d hugged me close.

He was my hero. He’d saved my cat.

I wondered for a flash whether there was something truly wrong with me, whether there were other twenty-something women out there who still experienced paralysis at the sight of their first crush.

Shouldn’t I have outgrown this by now?

My voice was a weak whisper, and my mouth was dry when I finally answered Claire’s question, tipping my head just slightly toward the pair. “That’s Beau Winston.”

There was a little pause, and I knew Claire was looking past me to where I’d indicated.

“No.” She squeezed my arm with hers. “No, that’s Duane Winston.”

I shook my head, forced myself to look away, and met Claire’s eyes. “No, that’s Beau.”

Claire’s mouth hooked to the side as she studied my features; I’m sure my face had gone mostly pink, a byproduct of being blessed with freckles and an insane, persistent crush on the nicest, sweetest, funniest guy in the world. I wasn’t embarrassed, but I was impressively flushed. Growing up, whenever I’d been in the same room with Beau, he’d had that effect on me. Full-on butterflies in the stomach and music only I could hear.

“I’m telling you, that’s Duane. Beau’s hair is shorter.”

“Nope.” I shook my head again, more resolutely this time as I tried to regulate my breathing and body temperature. “I go a different kind of haywire around Duane. That must be Beau.”

In fact, Duane and I didn’t much get along. During the same episode that initiated and solidified my life-long adoration of Beau, my aversion for Duane had also been established. While Beau was climbing the tree to save my cat, Duane was throwing rocks at the branch. While Beau had been kissing my cheek, Duane had been rolling his eyes.

I could tell Claire was trying not to laugh as she added, “Cripes, you weren’t kidding when you told me you had a crush on that boy. Is this the first time you’ve seen either of them since high school?”

“No. I saw Beau once at the Piggly Wiggly during my sophomore year of college when I was home for winter break. He was buying bacon and green beans, and I stood behind him in line.”

She stopped trying to hide her smile and grinned. “This is fascinating to watch.”

“What is?”

“You, struck stupid. I mean, you’re Jessica James. You have this plan that ensures life-long freedom from commitment. All you ever talk about is traveling the world. You’re home just long enough to pay off loans and gain experience for your résumé. Yet here you are harboring a treasured memory of an encounter in the Green Valley Piggly Wiggly with Beau Winston. I bet you can recall that conversation word-for-word.”

I stared at her, wanting to deny it, but also not wanting to lie. She was right. I could recall the conversation word-for-word, action-for-action. He’d turned to me and asked if I’d mind passing him a gum package that was just out of his reach. I tried to shrug, but I’m sure it looked more like a minor seizure. Then I fumbled for the gum, accidentally knocking an array of breath mints to the floor.

He’d knelt and helped me pick up the felled mints, our hands had touched, I’d almost fainted, and I was certainly bright red. Then he smiled at me. I almost fainted again. Then he helped me stand, and I almost had a heart attack.

He’d asked, “Hey, Jess…are you okay?” dipping his head close to mine, his amazing blue eyes all sparkly and lovely and concerned.

I’d nodded, not able to speak because his hands were still on my forearms, and had gazed up at him. Butterflies and music only I could hear—that time it was Eternal Flame by the Bangles—drowned out the sound of his voice and the next words from his mouth. I did see that his lips curved in a barely there smile as he’d studied me.

Then my brother Jackson appeared and ruined everything by telling Beau to mind his own business. Beau shrugged—an actual shrug, not a semi-seizure—and turned back to the cashier. He’d paid for his bacon, green beans, and gum, and then left.

The thing was, I was not a shy person. Not at all. I considered myself confident and levelheaded. I had a brother, boys were not a mystery to me. But Beau Winston had always rendered me beyond completely tongue-tied. He rendered me stupid.