Love, Jane

Love, Jane

Didn’t Place > Romance / An Abandoned Building / A disabled person

Synopsis: Ben was my best friend until he became more, and then I couldn’t let it be less. 


Dear Ben,

We will go our separate ways soon, and it’s important that I set our record straight.

I was ten when curiosity overcame obedience and I defied my father’s many warnings and snuck into the abandoned barn slumped on the edge of Murphys county line.

The door had come off its track and was permanently slanted against the frame, making a gap just big enough to squeeze through. The inside was still and smelled of damp earth in dark corners and metal tools rusting on their hooks.

Glowing through the gloom, the hayloft was sunlit by big windows, and—although my father would’ve had kittens knowing I’d climbed that rickety ladder—the loft was where I made my secret clubhouse, where for years I was the only member.

Until Ben.

I should have told you a long time ago that I love you.

I knew as soon as I slipped into the barn that August day, that it wasn’t empty. The quiet was different, supercharged with an inaudible buzz that lifted the fine hairs on my neck.

It took my eyes a moment to adjust and then I saw him. A boy, maybe my own age, all pointed elbows and knees, reading the composition book I kept as Captain’s Log—my journal.

“Hey,” I called.

He stood, startled, and the flimsy notebook that held all the observations of a lonely eleven year old girl flapped to the floor. 

“You’re trespassing,” I warned.

“So are you.”

I twisted slightly, attempting to hide what my mom used to lovingly call my baby-arm, the one that will forever be useless.

“That’s fair,” I admitted. “No one comes here, and that… that’s mine.”  I pointed to the book at his feet.

He scooped it up and smiled at the cover, then turned it to show me my own childish doodle of the Starship Enterprise.

“Can I join?”

I said sure before I knew his name, before I knew that he loved to read sci-fi and draw fantasy, or that he was allergic to peanuts. I learned those things later.

I learned that his mother had also passed away—though he’d lost her at birth, while mine was taken by cancer. I learned he preferred his hair long, and that sometimes people mean well, even when they do wrong.

You were my best friend. It took me a long time to realize that I wasn’t yours, even though all the signs were there.

Ben was new to Murphy’s, and he joined my small eighth grade class with more ease than I had, despite having grown up in this tiny, rural town. It didn’t hurt that he was athletic as well as smart, and everyone seemed willing to overlook the fact that his ears stuck out.

I watched in amazement as the popular kids at Murphys Middle School made room for him at their lunch table. He sauntered by where I sat with Sherlock Holmes, and acknowledged my wave with a barely there chin-nod. Like he didn’t know me. Like we hadn’t spent all of August trading favorite comics and playing poker in the hayloft.

I went back to my book and when Sun Li asked in broken English if she could sit in the seat I’d unnecessarily saved for Ben, I said yes.

         But that was okay. I didn’t need to be best or only.

“Hey, come up.”

He’d swept the loft, and I climbed the ladder through dancing motes of dust, especially bright in the beams of sunlight that skewered the room from windows to weathered walls. There was a new transistor radio on an upturned milk crate, and a big box full of camouflage boy-scout gear.

 “You’re going to turn this into a real clubhouse.”

Ben’s dark eyes twinkled, though his mouth stayed serious. I thought maybe he was embarrassed of his teeth, which were a little crooked.

“I saved you a seat at lunch.”

“I saw that. Sorry I didn’t sit with you. I’m hoping to make the basketball team, so, you know.”

Of course I knew.

         As long as it was honest, and open. Which I was, in all things but one.

Ben made the team. He made frosh team the next year, and as a sophomore he was recruited to the senior squad.

I didn’t go to his games anymore, I told myself it was because I was busy with Mathletes and Bio-club, but mostly it was because I used it as an excuse to watch him, and it didn’t feel right, especially when his girlfriend Angie sat a few bleachers away, cheering.

I didn’t really like basketball, anyway.  And we had the barn.

“Do you ever wish you were someone else?” I asked.

He looked thoughtful. “Why do you ask?”

“It was a prompt in Humanities, today.” I lied, trying to turn it into a philosophical discussion.

“I think I’ve wished for things to be different about me. But still to be me.”

I nodded slow, considering.

“So, what would you change, besides…” he gestured at my arm.

I looked at it, the twisted underdeveloped limb locked into a limited range of motion against my ribs. I tried to think of anything else that mattered as much, or at all.

I laughed, and scooted awkwardly back to lean against the barn wall. “I can’t think of anything, actually. Just this. I’d wish others were different instead.”

“Right.” His eyes were distant, his mouth a serious line, his dark brows down.

“Like maybe I’d make your nose a bit smaller. And your ears, too.”  I joked, his ears didn’t stick out as much as they used to.

“Anything else?”

Just like that, I was stuck. Stuck in this dumb conversation, trying to come up with something to say that showed my friendly regard, and not my darker want of him.

Like so many other things that would never be mine, I’d imagined him slinging his arm around me in the hallways, instead of Angie.

But the me I imagined, didn’t look much like me. She had my dark hair and blue eyes and maybe my smile, but she walked like Catwoman and played volleyball, like Angie.

“Nope,” I tried to be light. “You’re pretty perfect.”

I’ve been in love with you for so long. I think you knew.

We were reading The Odyssey. I lay on the worn rug listening to Ben pronounce each word as if it were new, so we could squeeze every ounce of meaning out of it. He would occasionally quiet, giving us both time to ponder, but his current silence seemed long. I finally rolled my head to look at him and found his eyes lost in his face.

“Hey,” I said softly, to bring him back.

He glanced toward the book in his lap, then at me. His puffed lips parted as if to speak, but instead his head drooped in slow motion—like a big flower on a thin stem—as he touched his mouth to mine.

All I heard was my heart pounding in my ears.

He opened my mouth with his and I felt his tongue. I kissed back.

The heavy book fell away as he uncurled his big body and snaked his arm under my neck. I reached with my good hand, grazed and held his jaw, felt it move languidly as he poured heat into me.

He smelled like forest and cinnamon, and his mouth tasted pink and clean. I grew hotter, in my cheeks, and other places—my stomach, and lower.

I wanted things I only vaguely understood.

It was dusk when Ben breathed ragged into my ear that he had to go home. My watch confirmed I was also late. I floated home, and told my dad I’d fallen asleep under the sycamore tree.

I didn’t ask questions I didn’t want answers to, and maybe that made it my fault.

Ben kissed me in the barn. Where no one could see.

I glowed with our secret lust. I’d catch him looking at me across the classroom or at lunch, and heat would bloom inside my skin.

It was okay that nobody knew. It was better that way.

I thought that way for a long time, despite the obvious.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

I hadn’t realized he could tell. “I was in the library today.”

He dropped his backpack and folded himself to the ground beside me.

“I heard, you and your friends, talking. About me.”

I could see it in his face, the moment he remembered the name he called me. The name everyone called me.

Chicken Wing.

“Jane, you know I mean it… I don’t know. Lovingly.”

“Those friends of yours have never meant it lovingly,” I snorted.

I wasn’t hurt by what people said. A lot of it was true. I was standoffish and I did think myself smarter than them. I ran the Mathletes team with Sun Li and Jake Mabry. They were my friends from 7:55am to dismissal at 3:15pm. The time when Ben usually ignored me.

         Despite the fact that it was your fault, too.

“You know how I feel about you,” he said.

Of course I didn’t.  

“How?” I pushed.

His shrug was endearing, and if I’d learned anything from TV, it was a gesture that said he cared about me.

But only privately, I guessed.

My heart did a pathetic little squeeze.

“Ben. How?”

He didn’t answer. He pressed me back to twirl his tongue against mine and sigh his hot breath against my neck. He opened the buttons of my jeans and I stopped him.

“I don’t mean sex,” he said.

He just wanted to touch me.

I let him. I touched him back.

I watched his face as it changed, as animal noises made his Adam’s Apple bob.

I didn’t think about tomorrow or the next day.

I didn’t want to think about that. I didn’t understand your shame. Or whatever it was.

“We should go to prom,” I brightly suggested.

It had taken a long time to work up the nerve. Not just to ask, but to want to ask. To want to find a dress and put my chicken wing on display.

He was silent, and I couldn’t look at him. Our safe space had shifted into something dangerous. I felt it like a chainsaw humming in the distance. A train speeding my direction.

When I finally did look at him, it wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t Ben, either. His lips pressed in, as he slowly shook his head from side to side.

“Angie,” was all he said by way of explanation.

My understanding shifted.

“Oh,” is what I said. “Of course.”

It used to be you ashamed of me. Now it’s also me, ashamed of me. But I want you to know that I know… that you didn’t mean to hurt me.

I dressed up anyway, and pinned my hair up as best I could. My dad thought I was going to prom with a group of friends, so he didn’t ask why nobody picked me up in a car, with a corsage. He took a few Polaroids, and told me how proud my mother would have been.

I didn’t want to ruin it for him.

I rummaged through the box of boy-scout gear to find flashlights and used them to light the loft. I decided it would be best if I wrote Ben a letter about how I felt. I would write it, and leave it in the loft. And not come back.

The floor was littered with balls of crumpled paper from all my failed attempts, when the air shifted and my skin raised goosebumps.

“You’re trespassing,” Ben said, from the floor beneath me.

“So are you.”

“I’ve been a jerk. And I’m sorry.”

I peeked over the ledge. He stood solemnly in a black suit, his hair combed back from his beautiful face, a bright bunch of flowers in his hands.

“Jane, can I come up?”

I forgive you.

Love, Jane 



{1943}  I was enthralled by this intense, poignant story. You have a gorgeous voice. The description of the setting of the barn was vividly drawn. The characterization of Jane was very strong. You portrayed her vulnerability with great skill. Her letter was heartbreaking, especially “that was okay. I didn’t need to be best or only” and “I didn’t ask questions I didn’t want answers to”. The name-calling of “chicken-wing” was awful, especially when she then criticized herself as if she was at fault, because “a lot of it was true”. This was a very strong piece of writing – well done!  

{1899}  You use good showing details to give the reader a sense of place. I like how she knows so much about Ben, all the little details too.That first kiss felt real and the details you use to describe it felt refreshing rather than cliche. I like how the relationship builds throughout the story.  

{1611}  This was a wonderful story of their friendship. Both characters felt well-developed and real. Some excellent descriptions to ground readers in the narrative.  


{1943}  I loved your protagonist, and the description of her childhood love felt heartbreaking real. I did find the ending problematic, because Ben was not just flawed, he was really not likeable. The fact was that  he ignored her in school, was overheard using the awful taunt “chicken wing” and then would fool around with her sexually but wouldn’t go to the prom with her. It was difficult to then view his final gesture as “romantic”. For romance to work, there can be a flaw, and it can be overcome, but I’m not sure that it can work with a guy who’s so self-centered and cruel.

Equally, it is hard to feel that it’s a romance when the heroine is such a pushover, so self-deprecating and lacking self-esteem, needing his approval to feel worthwhile. I think what you have here is more of a drama, that could be explored further (this did not impact your score in any way!) It would be interesting to see if you could make Ben less of a jerk and Jane more assertive in order to create a true romance. Or alternatively, retain their characters but alter the details and tone of the ending so it feels dramatic rather than romantic.  

{1899}  It was confusing that after the first bold section you were telling us backstory. I thought it was still part of the letter and that the non-bold part was a mistake, despite the clues (bold/indent). Suggest adding in another space between the sections to make it super clear for the reader. It’s also hard to remember what the previous bolded line said by the time I get to the next one and I find my self scrolling back for a refresher. I would suggest deleting the letter part now that I’ve read the whole story.  

{1611}  Reading the letter without the narrative in between the sections, it was a bit vague. She forgives him for taking her for granted, for being ashamed of her? Did he read the letter and decide to meet her after all? Will things be different? I felt slightly unmoored at the end.

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