New Birth

by Alexandra Spears

Penny Andrews picked at her lunch in the cafeteria of Midway High School, where she was beginning her junior year. She could hardly eat as she stared at a handsome senior boy by the name of Jeremy Jackson.

"Hey, Penny-Ante," said a female voice.

Penny looked up and brushed her long copper-colored hair from her face. "Yes, Miss Susie?" she asked, arching an eyebrow.

"You so have a thing for Jeremy, don't you?" Susan Peterson chuckled as she slammed her books down on the cafeteria table and sat down across from Penny. She tossed back her long, wavy mane of blond hair. "I bet that Melissa Jacobson is about the only girl who can't appreciate a hot-looking guy."

Melissa Jacobson was what other students called a "fundie." She was a junior; she'd been home-schooled up until freshman year and was giving high school a try. She was considered strange because she mostly wore knee-length skirts and dresses, never anything flashy or in style. She was very quiet, but every time she opened her mouth, it seemed, it was God this or God that. It was obvious that she was the one leaving comic-book tracts around the cafeteria and girls' lavatories until told to stop by the school administration.

Penny shrugged. "Less competition," she said. "She'd probably only go with some churchy-type guy anyhow-she'll probably have an arranged marriage."

"With about a hundred kids," Susan snorted. "That's so medieval!"

Penny took another bite of mystery meat, then pushed her tray away. "I can't eat right now, Sue," she said. "I'm in love."

"So what are you gonna do about it?" Susan asked as she cracked her gum.

"Hope he notices me," Penny sighed.

"I don't see why he wouldn't, you're not bad-looking," Susan told her friend. It was true; Penny was a pretty girl with the copper-colored hair (hence her name), her light-brown eyes, and great figure. She had next to no trouble getting a date.

"Here he comes!" Penny hissed.

Jeremy passed by their table. Penny blushed as he seemed to grin right at her. Susan was sitting there with a knowing smirk on her pretty face.

The bell rang, and the girls jumped up, threw their trash out, and headed for their lockers.

Penny was just coming out of the school building after the last bell rang when she almost ran smack into Jeremy Jackson. "Penny for your thoughts," Jeremy teased.

Penny blushed furiously as she looked up at the handsome seventeen-year-old, who was nearly six feet tall and had light-brown hair and green eyes. She could not think of anything to say. "Oh-hi, Jeremy," she stammered. For the longest time she'd been watching him, crying inwardly when she saw him holding hands with other girls, saw other girls wearing his letter jacket-and now he was talking to her. And apparently he didn't have a girlfriend right now, as he was wearing his blue-and-gold letter jacket; he played football and soccer for the Midway Marauders.

"Can you use a ride home?" Jeremy asked.

Penny blinked. "Why yes...yes, I sure can, thank you," she stammered. "I get kinda tired of walking all the time...here I have a driver's license and no car..." She felt like kicking herself for babbling so.

"My car's this way," Jeremy said as he led her out to the parking lot.

Penny felt as if her wildest fantasy was coming true. Jeremy was actually going to give her a ride in his red Ford Explorer. "Where do you live, Penny?" he asked.

Penny gave Jeremy directions. He started up his SUV and they drove off. Penny saw Susan walking along and she rolled the window down and waved; Susan gave her a thumbs-up in return.

The ride to Penny's house was too short for Penny's liking. Jeremy pulled into the gravel driveway that ran along the small, three-bedroom house. "Well, Penny, home sweet home," said Jeremy.

"Thanks, Jeremy," said Penny as she opened the passenger-side door.

"What time should I pick you up for school tomorrow?" Jeremy asked.

"Um...how about...seven-thirty?" she asked. School started at eight.

"Sounds good," Jeremy nodded. "Do you have a date for the Homecoming Dance?"

"No...not yet...," Penny said slowly, daring to hope...

"How would you like to go with me? Marie dumped me for some other guy on the football team," Jeremy said.

Penny blinked. "I'd love to," she said.

Jeremy grinned. "It's a date, then."

Penny stood there, holding the door open as she pulled her schoolbag out, wondering what to say. "Well...I guess I'll see you tomorrow, then...," she said. "And thanks again."

"No problem-Penny-Ante," Jeremy said with a grin.

Penny smiled back as she shut the door. Jeremy pulled out of the driveway as Penny ran up the few steps and opened the front door.

"Is that you, Penny?" asked Jim Andrews, Penny's father. Penny's mother had left a few years back; she'd run off with her boss to further her career, something Mr. Andrews had never really gotten over.

"Yeah, Dad."

"Who drove you home this time?" asked Mr. Andrews as he came out of the kitchen, a can of beer in his hand.

"Jeremy Jackson."

"Now you be careful with boys, young lady," Mr. Andrews said.

"Now, Dad, you know I haven't done anything with any boy," Penny sighed.

"Let's keep it that way." Mr. Andrews had apparently just gotten home from work himself; he was taking off his blazer. He kicked off his shoes and plopped down in the recliner in front of the TV, then popped the beer open. "I don't want you becoming a tramp like your mother."

Penny sighed at her father's usual display of bitterness. Her mother's departure had hurt Penny too, as Sherry Andrews seldom if ever came around to see Penny. The last Penny knew, her mother was living with that guy; she'd initiated the divorce and let Mr. Andrews have full custody of Penny. Mr. Andrews had been about ready to get out his shotgun and kill that other man.

"Dad, I've got homework to do," said Penny. "I'll be in my room."

Mr. Andrews said nothing as he clicked on the TV and started channel-surfing.

Penny could hardly focus on her math homework, so she pulled out her diary and began writing:

Dear Diary,

Today Jeremy Jackson actually took me home in his SUV and guess what! He invited me to the Homecoming Dance this Friday night! I am so thrilled! I'm going to go to the Homecoming game on Friday, and watch him lead our team to victory!

Maybe he'll let me wear his letter jacket.

Penny closed the diary and resumed her math homework, happy in the knowledge that she was now Jeremy Jackson's girlfriend.