idol friend and rivals | week 7 | 1000 words
This is a gift, it comes with a price, who is the lamb and who is the knife?
They met the summer Eli came back from the war, just two weeks after Jenny moved to Waynesboro to live with her aunt and uncle.
Jenny was seventeen, too young to live alone, and Eli was twenty—too changed to live at home, but stuck there all the same. Jenny was out walking just for a change of scenery and Eli was wandering the streets because he couldn't sit still. Their paths crossed at the drugstore on 4th and Main, Eli's hand on Jenny's as they both reached for the door.
"Oh!" Jenny said. "I'm sorry!"
"My fault," Eli said. "I don't think I've seen you around here before."
Jenny smiled. "I just moved here. I finally had a chance to get out of the house."
Eli laughed. "I know what you mean. I'm only going inside this store 'cause I have nothing better to do. I'm Eli, by the way."
"Are you busy right now, Jenny? Could I buy you a soda?"
"I believe I'd like that," Jenny said, and the two of them went inside.
They sat at the counter and talked the afternoon away. Jenny had never really met a soldier before, and Eli had never met anyone half so pretty as Jenny. He asked her to go to the movies with him the next night, and she agreed.
A week later, they were inseparable.
They went for walks together, often through town or by the river. They was a place along the shore where they liked to swim, next to an old covered bridge on an abandoned road. Jenny would bring a picnic lunch, and sometimes invited her young cousins along. She'd never had brothers or sisters, but she was grateful for the family she did have, now that her parents were gone.
Come September, Eli had a job and Jenny was busy with school, so they mostly saw each other nights and weekends. They left messages for each other near their swimming spot, surprises to ease their time apart.
Under a stone beneath the bridge by the river lay a necklace with a locket in the shape of a heart.
Eli and Jenny got married once she turned eighteen. Her aunt and uncle thought her too young, and perhaps she was, but the decision was hers alone. She and Eli lived with his family while she finished school. Jenny counted the weeks until graduation, when she could look for work and they could afford a place of their own. Eli visited rental houses and apartments the whole month of June.
Under a stone beneath the bridge by the river lay a key.
Their first apartment was nothing fancy, but it was theirs, just the two of them. Jenny no longer worried that she might have to move in with other relatives if times got hard. She sewed curtains and put wildflowers in jelly jars. Sometimes she even forgot to wonder whether her parents would have been pleased about how her life turned out.
Over the next two years, Eli went from being an apprentice to a journeyman, and he and Jenny were able to move into a nicer apartment. They still left things for each other in their secret place—a new pocketknife, a pressed flower, a love note or two.
Under a stone beneath the bridge by the river lay a plastic rattle.
They named the baby Sally, and Jenny sang to her and took her in a stroller for walks out in the sun. Sally was a cheerful, curious baby, such a joy that Jenny never minded those rare times she cried or fussed. The baby grew into a happy, busy toddler, and then a sweet, clever little girl.
Jenny had thought there might be brothers and sisters for Sally, but Eli wasn't home as often as he used to be. He spent weeknights out with friends, coming home drunk long after Sally was in bed, and he always seemed to be busy on the weekends.
"Got a game to watch at Harry's," he would say, or "This engine rebuild's taking longer than we thought."
Jenny ached with loneliness at those words, hardly daring to say anything after too many of Eli's painful dismissals: "Why are you such a nag, Jenny? Christ—you used to be fun."
It had been years since she'd found anything in their special spot under the bridge. She'd left a lucky coin for Eli that sat there a full eight months before he'd discovered it.
When Sally started school, Jenny went back to work. The emptiness of the house during the day was too much for her, and her part-time job at Dr. Fine's office meant she could still pick up Sally after school. She even made a few friends. It was a relief to have other adults she could talk to, people who wouldn't judge her like her relatives had.
Eli didn't seem to care one way or the other what Jenny did.
He was still gone more often than not, and sometimes came home smelling like some other woman's perfume. Jenny gave up trying to figure out just whose it might be.
One Friday afternoon she came home to an eviction notice taped to the front door. After she put Sally to bed, she quietly counted up all the money she'd set aside over the past few years.
She had a friend from the office who was looking for a roommate, and had asked Jenny several times—knowing that Sally was part of the deal.
In the morning, Eli was still gone from the night before, but maybe that was for the best. Jenny packed boxes and suitcases for her and Sally, and wrote Eli a letter. She put their things in the car and left the letter on the scratched-up kitchen table.
Maybe Eli would check their usual hiding spot before coming home, but it didn’t seem likely. None of that mattered anymore.
Under a stone beneath the bridge by the river lay Jenny's ring.
I am part of a team this week, where votes for the team as a whole matter! Please vote for any entries you enjoy from my Weird Sisters team, any other teams, and the standalone "Rivals" group. All stories are here...