The thing was though, Lloyd was smarter than anyone else. He wasn't bragging — because he never said it to anyone — he understood math problems like instantly. Science experiments were a snap. He loved history and always read beyond the assignments to learn more. And in English, well he just breezed through the stories and books they were given and would write essays twice as long as he was assigned and in half the time. Lloyd took French too and was practically fluent after only two years. The only trouble Lloyd has was in PE — he was awful, although he always tried his hardest. Lloyd also had trouble socially. For example everyone hung out in their cliques at lunch time or at least with a friend or two. Everyone was socializing or doing sports or playing cards or something. But not Lloyd. He sat off by himself. He’d eat the lunch his mom packed and then read a book. All by himself.
No one seemed to mind. No one paid Lloyd any attention. It was like he wasn’t even there. Sometimes a ball would bounce over to where Lloyd was sitting and he’d weakly throw it back. That was pretty much it. There was a girl named Jenna who sometimes would sit down next to him and ask for help on a math problem. She was probably the second smartest person in the school — after Lloyd — and like him was among the five 8th graders who went to the high school for advanced algebra. Jenna was really nice and kind of cute but she only ever talked to Lloyd about math problems and he was glad to help but he never tried to talk to her about anything else, not that she would be interested anyway. Lloyd guessed that Jenna was popular. Of course Lloyd guessed everyone but him was popular.
Lloyd had no conception about what the future might bring beyond going to high school and then to a top university. He was neither excited nor worried about his life. Lloyd just took each day as it came, breezed through his school work, dutifully performed his chores at home and tried to ignore how lonely he was. He was an only child so Lloyd’s only companionship came from his parents. Dad was an economics professor and mom wrote books and articles about art history. They were busy people but always managed to give Lloyd a lot of their time, which often meant trips to museums, short nature hikes, and vacations in Europe during the summer. They also watched old movies together, which somehow Lloyd enjoyed most of all. He had an aunt and uncle who lived nearby but their two children were much older than Lloyd and he found them patronizing — a word that had recently joined his already impressive vocabulary. There was one living grandparent on each side of his family but they both lived far away.
It was during the first week of Lloyd’s two week Christmas vacation that his life changed. Afterwards Lloyd realized that it was inevitable that something dramatic would happen. After all he’d lived just a month shy of 14 years with nothing out of the ordinary happening. He was due. Lloyd had gone Christmas shopping downtown. For Lloyd this meant buying three presents, one each for mom, dad and his grandmother who was flying in from back east. He was browsing in a clothing store when he saw Jenna. This terrified Lloyd. He never ever knew what to say to any of his classmates when he saw them outside of school least of all a girl and especially a cute one. The fact that he had a relationship at all with her (and that just being discussing math problems) somehow made it worse.
Sure enough Jenna saw him and she immediately broke into a big smile and said, “hi.” Then she walked over to Lloyd who muttered, “hello Jenna.”
“So I guess you’re Christmas shopping too or you wouldn’t be in this store, huh?”
“Yeah. Um…I’m looking for someone, I mean something for my mom or grandma.”
“I thought you were Jewish and didn't celebrate Christmas.”
“Umm. No we’re not Jewish or even Christian or anything but we do celery I mean celebrate the holiday.”
“Say,” Jenna said her countenance expressing excitement. “I could help you! Being a female I’m probably better than you are at picking gifts for other females. No offense.”
Lloyd was not offended. In fact, Lloyd was finally relaxing in the presence of another person and a girl at that. “None taken. I’d be gl hap glad and happy for some help. If it’s no trouble.”
That settled, Jenna squired Lloyd around the store and helped him select a gift for his mother. She then took him to two other stores where she helped him find a gift for his father and then his grandmother. All the while they chatted freely about school and then movies and travel and food with Lloyd getting more and more comfortable. Lloyd was completely engaged in talking to and being with Jenna. It was not until she excused herself to use the restroom that he reflected on how happy he was and how easy talking to Jenna was. Lloyd was practically giddy. When Jenna emerged his joy was further compounded when she suggested they go the Burger Barn for lunch. This was practically a date! When they ended up at table by the window that afforded a view of the downtown boulevard. Lloyd mused on the fact that maybe someone would see him “dining” with Jenna. This both excited and frightened him. He imagined how impressed others would be but also worried that he’d be asked 1,000 questions. Lloyd had taken a huge step today but was sure that he was nowhere near ready for lengthy conversations with curious schoolmates, especially if it invoked a lengthy q and a.
Lloyd was munching on his burger and listening to Jenna discuss her brother’s high school experiences when for some reason a taxi cab parking across the street caught his attention. Lloyd watched as a woman got out of the cab and was mildly surprised when it turned out to be his mother. Before he could consider whether he should get her attention, he saw a man also get of of the taxi. It was not a person he recognized. Lloyd could feel himself frown in concentration. Then he watched as his mother kissed the man. On the lips. For several seconds. Next his mother and the man walked off in opposite directions but Lloyd noticed that they both looked back at one point and exchanged coquettish waves.
Lloyd could not finish his burger.
“What’s the matter? Did you see something strange?” Jenna was genuinely curious.
“I just saw my mother kissing another man.” Lloyd said it automatically, robotically and seconds later as silence filled the air, he could not believe that he had uttered those words.
The two young teenagers sat in dead silence until Jenna said, “oh my god, Lloyd, that has got to be so weird for you. I’m…sorry.”
Lloyd looked Jenna straight in the eye. “I probably shouldn’t have said that it’s just, just that I was so stunned.”
“Do you want to talk about it ‘cause if you do we could but if you totally don’t want to talk about it we could not or if you want to be alone or — ”
“It’s okay. I don’t need to talk about it and you don’t have to go. But we are done shopping so I guess you want to go home or something.”
“Let’s go to a movie!” Jenna exclaimed.
And they did.
Movies always took Lloyd’s mind of things. He had no problem escaping into the story, but on this occasion his attention was half on the film — which wasn’t that great — and half on his mother. Lloyd found that he was both upset and accepting. He’d always been comforted by the fact that he came from a happy home so this incident suggested that perhaps it wasn’t happy as he imagined and that it might break up someday, perhaps even before he was off to college. But Lloyd also felt something new. Determination. Lloyd had just been given his first good hard slap in the face by life and he wasn’t going to let it get him down. If life was going to mete out a little undeserved punishment from time to time by gosh he was just going to absorb the blow and move on. He remembered what his current history teacher, Mr. Tricamo said recently, “it’s not what happens to you that is important, but how you respond to it.” Lloyd was a changed young man simply because something unforeseen had happened.
After the movie Lloyd and Jenna walked toward their homes. When it came time to part Jenna said, “I had a really nice time with your Lloyd. Maybe we can hang out again soon.”
Lloyd said, “I had a nice time too and thanks for your help and suggesting lunch and then the movie. I’d like it if we could get together again.” Lloyd had never spoken so long and so eloquently (for his standards) to a girl before. He thought about his mother and got a little angry but shook the thought away, then he leaned forward and gave Jenna a small peck on the cheek. She responded by giving him a small peck (though not as small) on his cheek.
Walking the last two blocks home Lloyd sung a Christmas carol out loud. No one was at home when Lloyd arrived. He sat down and turned on the TV. Lloyd clasped his hands behind his head, leaned back and smiled.