Gilly and Jack, part 1

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Funny Romance Coming of Age

Most unusually intelligent girls are difficult to woo. This is because the unusually intelligent girls are fully aware that any living, breathing man within five feet of such a girl is most likely saying rather stupid things.

In movies, there’s always one guy that she falls for-- his unshakeable confidence, remarkable height, waves of dark hair, and that smirk which seems to drive every female protagonist wild. You can smell the smoke coming from her underwear through the TV, even as she keeps him at bay with stern, too-smart comments bordering on bitchy, and pouty lips that make him come back to hear what else she has to say. But characters like this are proof that too-smart girls are much rarer than the media would have you believe. There are intelligent girls, and those are the ones sparring in bars with attractive men-- and then there are highly intelligent girls, whose standards are pressed upon all those she meets and who brings the men gushing and crowding and working rather harder than they should. Because no man can miss out on a challenge. Every man has a girl he wants to put in a cage, just to prove that he was the one who managed to catch her.

Gilly was one such girl. Her full name was Gigliola, but she thought that was quite a ridiculous title and had refused to put up with it since the ripe age of four. On first days of school, she had been forced to be quick: whenever the teacher took role and began to say her name, she would stand and shout, “It’s GILLY, actually, I go by GILLY!” This took a decent amount of concentration: choosing the moment when interrupting wasn’t considered rude. She’d been sent to the principal’s office once by arguing with her seventh-grade history teacher, who seemed determined that a name was a name and that nicknames were an excuse for an insufficiently practiced mouth. 

She had wavy brown hair that was usually tied back with a pencil stuck through it, a freckly face, and smooth features, including a perfect little nose that made the other girls debate over whether she had had an operation. 

She wasn’t popular in middle school because she had good grades and a stack of books taking up space on the otherwise-empty lunch table, but in high school the student body realised that an attractive, straight-A student was a lot of fun to be around, and they voted her Prom Queen for her junior year, and probably would have done the same for her senior if she hadn’t skipped prom.

She dated but they were all too dull for her. It was a con of being one of those irritating girls whose lives fall into place around them, envied and scorned by others because of the sheer nerve she had to dare be happy.

“You always go after the same guys,” said Eloise. “Shake it up a bit. Brainiacs with glasses and student debt aren’t that interesting after a while.”

“You’re awfully rude,” Gilly informed her, taking a sip of her beer.

Eloise shrugged. The lights above her head glinted in her curly black hair and on the frames of her glasses. “I’m not wrong.”

“It probably makes me a bad person to agree with you,” Gilly sighed. She took another tiny sip of her drink and adjusted the straps of her dress.

She hadn’t been planning to spend her Friday night crammed into a bathroom with Eloise, sitting against the sink and drinking a beer that tasted like piss. But parties were spontaneous and unstoppable, sweeping innocent students along with promises of a fun evening and leaving most of them regretting it the next day. Eloise had dragged her, pointing out that the two of them were a little too married to their laptops and that some fresh air could do them some good. 

They sorely regret that decision.

“Should we, like, go back in there.” Eloise said.

Gilly thought about it. “For twenty minutes. To prove that we’re, like, socially active.”

“Fine,” said Eloise. She stood up, grabbed Gilly by the elbow, and marched her through the door into a mess of yelling and bad music washing over everything. Gilly winced at the noise. A guy standing next to her with frizzy hair and several gold chains around his neck winked at her. Gilly bared her teeth back at him and he looked startled.

“Why don’t you try talking to one of those guys?” Eloise said in her ear as the frizzy guy moved away. She nodded towards the group of boys holding sway in the living room. “None of them are braniacs for sure.”

Eloise wasn’t interested in guys, but she liked playing wingwoman for Gilly anyway. In return, Gilly informed her which girls at their college Eloise was allowed to date and which ones seemed to be, “a bloody whining nuisance.” Eloise couldn’t handle people who complained and cried all the time.

Gilly eyed the guys in the middle of the room. There were about seven of them, all a range of ethnicities, all of them fairly good-looking. One guy was wearing a lampshade over his head. A sandy-haired man sat on the couch, smoking a cigarette and holding a soda can. A third guy with pale skin and feathery black hair leaned against a wall in a very attractive, brooding sort of way-- Gilly might have gone closer to him if she hadn’t noticed him eyeing the gold-chained frizzy menace with great interest. 

“I’m good,” Gilly muttered into her drink. “They all look like they would make dull conversation.”

“Bored of guys, then?” A man with a round face and square glasses appeared next to her, grinning down at Gilly. “I suppose you’ll never be content with anyone. You’re quite the special snowflake, aren’t you?”

Gilly gave him her sweetest smile. “Aren’t we all? I know you. You’re the one in Professor Vector’s class that thought White Fang was a waste of time.”

The guy looked offended. “I thought it was bloody stupid, that’s all.”

“Jack London was one of America’s greatest writers in the early 1900s. Rather rude of you to toss aside his writing like that and question the teacher in one fell swoop.” Gilly took a sip of her beer. “Degenerate.”

The guy looked woefully confused. “Degenerate?”

“What do you want?” Gilly asked impatiently. “You had a point in coming over here, and it was more than to call me ‘special snowflake.’ I thought that was rather rude, by the way. You should probably apologize.”

Eloise smiled at the guy. “I could’ve warned you. She’s got claws.”

The guy scowled at her, but spoke anyway. “You’re not giving any of these guys much of a fair shot. The guy with the lampshade is fabulous in bed, for one-- or so I’ve heard,” he added hastily. 

“I ship you two,” Gilly said solemnly. 

“Jack Andrews takes girls on the strangest dates ever. He took one girl to an escape room for Valentine’s day, and took another to help out a friend of his who cuts hair for homeless people every second Monday of the month.”

“I doubt they wanted a second date,” Gilly said.

He scratched the back of his head. “Uh… not really, no. The girl in the escape room had a meltdown, I think.” 

“Girls don’t really like adventurous first dates. They prefer conversation.” Gilly gave the group of guys an appraising look. “I think I’d prefer the adventure.”

“I’ll tell Jack,” the guy offered.

Gilly went scarlet. “What? No, don’t--”

Apparently annoyed about her jab on White Fang, the guy cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, “Oi! Jack!”

The sandy-haired man in the middle of the group looked up. “You bellowed?” he yelled back.

“Lady over here wants a date with you!” The guy clapped her on the back and grinned. Gilly could’ve died.

The sandy-haired man-- Jack --cocked his head to one side. “A date like the fruit, or a date like the romantic appointment with the dinners and the talking and the crying?”

“The second one, you idiot.”

“Shame,” mused Jack. “I do love a good date.”

The guy seemed at a loss for words. Gilly couldn’t blame him.

Jack vaulted over the couch and came to stand in front of Gilly, looking at her with interest. “Do you want to, then, or is he dragging you into this?”

Gilly studied him. His face was angular with several dark moles scattered up his neck. He had a long nose, and curly blondish hair, and thin fingers covered in silver rings. She couldn’t say she found him unattractive.

“He’s dragging me,” she said. “But why not? Though I should warn you, I can be a bit of a prick.”

“Excellent,” said Jack, grinning down at her. “I rather enjoy spending time around pricks. They always say what they think instead of… beating around the bush.”

Gilly blinked hard. She couldn’t tell if there were innuendos in there. “Do you flirt?”

“Always,” said Jack, “but not in this case, no. Shall we?”

Gilly shot Eloise a look and she nodded, expressionless as usual. “Alright then.”

On their way out the door she texted four more friends the fact that she was headed off with a total stranger and to be on the lookout for panicked texts. They sent her back thumbs-up and questioning ‘is he cute’ messages, which she ignored.

The boy Jack led the way down a road full of streetlights glowing orange and reflecting on his hair. Gilly followed, shivering in her thin dress, wishing that she hadn’t given her coat to Eloise.

“I’m not going to sleep with you, by the way,” she called to his back.

He laughed and looked over his shoulder at her. “What makes you think I’m going to try and sleep with you?” He hopped up onto a stone wall overlooking the sidewalk and began to walk, arms held out and swaying.

“You’re a red-blooded college student,” Gilly said, walking next to him. “I’m a girl who agreed to accompany you to an undisclosed location in a becoming dress--” she glanced distastefully down the front of it. “--and who left the comfort of friends and booze with a stranger. Some would interpret that as ‘giving signals.’ Actually, most college boys interpret anything as giving signals.”

“I don’t,” said Jack, still teetering on the wall. “You’re bound to make a fool of yourself when you get rejected. College girls tend to be pickier than the ones in high school. High school girls are just determined to have a boyfriend. College girls prefer the fiercely single lifestyle-- I’m assuming like yourself,” he added, nodding at her with respect.

“Fiercely single does describe me well,” she said thoughtfully. “But really, though. No wooing.”

“How about instead I woo you in a way that doesn’t end in bedsheets and uncomfortable questions from my friends?” he asked. “Besides, I wouldn’t want to anyway. I’m a virgin.”

Gilly gave a snort of laughter. “You? Really?”

“You flatter me.”

“The company you hang out with don’t exactly seem the sort of boys who go around claiming to be virgins. I suspect trickery.” 

“At least humor my trick!” he said with a grin. “You’re very blunt. You don’t play games, then?”

“I play my own games, not the games of others. They’re too easy to win.”

He looked at her rather differently than he had a few minutes ago. The flashy grin was gone. His expression was quieter and another smile crawled up half his face: a real one. “You and I are in the same mind.”

Gilly sniffed. “I should think not.” She smirked at him to show that she was joking. “Why are you a virgin, then? You party. Surely the opportunity has come up.”

“It has,” he agreed. “But I am a man of drinks and drugs. Debauchery doesn’t appeal to me. Very messy business, emotions and whatnot.”

“You’re afraid of the morning after?” Gilly laughed.

“And the wooing, and the during, and the idea of being cuddled.” Jack shuddered. “I’m not a very touchy person.”

Gilly noted the sleeves extending past his wrists. “You’re an unusual man.”

“What about you?” he asked. “Debauched anyone recently?”

“I’ve done… things, but I don’t really like boys. Not like that,” she added, when Jack nearly fell off his wall. “They’re all just so sweaty and loud and you can always tell what they’re thinking about--”

“Video games?”

“Yes, exactly. Even the ones who think they’re clever usually aren’t more than pretty words. I don’t like awkwardness with anybody.”

“It pleases me to be labelled outside of ‘them’,” Jack said, and indeed he looked pleased. “I see what you mean. Forgive me, but your sex can be quite dull as well. They all think every boy they meet wants them, and get offended when it’s not true. They move in armies and pick us gents off one by one. Disturbing.”

“It pleases me,” smiled Gilly, “not to be labelled as one of ‘them’.”

Jack grinned at her. “You belong to your own category. I can already tell.”

“You do as well.” She stopped walking and turned to face him. “You’re a good conversationalist. Those are rare.”

He hopped down from the wall. “I like thinking of interesting things to say. Clever words throw half the people I meet off guard, and confound the rest. Sometimes I stumble over my words, though, in my haste to get them out.”

“You haven’t stumbled once while we’ve talked,” Gilly reassured him. She glanced around the darkened street. “So are we actually going somewhere? I should let you know that if you intend to kill me, I told six friends who I was with and I have a knife hidden on me that I’m actually rather good at using.”

Jack tapped his chin in mock thoughtfulness. “Well, I thought I would attack you, deprive myself of my virginity, and dispose of you in the Temps, but you turned out to be more fun to talk to than I anticipated. I suppose I’ll do it next time a girl’s friend suckers her into a date with me.”

“Hearing that makes me want to punch you and laugh at the same time.”

“Hit me anywhere but the face. I’m proud of my nose.” He wrinkled the feature and smiled. “We are going somewhere. It’s just a couple blocks away now. Do you want my coat?” he added, noticing her shivering for the first time.

“I’m fine. You know how warm and balmy London is at night.”

Jack grinned and draped it over her. “I thought all that hair would keep you toasty.”

Gilly groaned. “No big hair jokes, please. It’s bad enough I get mocked by everyone for my name.”

He brightened instantly. “Which is?”

“Gilly. Well, full name Gigliola, but surely you can see what a stupid word that is. I wish my mother wasn’t dead so I could call her up every once in a while and scold her for naming me ‘Gigliola.’ Fool of a woman.”

“Gigliola.” He chuckled. “That’s pretty awful.”

“My parents reckoned it was sweet.” They walked on past a little convenience shop shedding bright white light onto the sidewalk, and past a boarded-up jewelry store that winked at them, the interior fulls of gems glittering like little stars.

“Sorry your mum’s dead,” he said. “Mine is too. Car crash.”


He glanced at her with an odd gleam in his eye. “My brother’s dead too. Died about six years ago.”

Gilly squinted at him. “I have a twin sister who was stillborn.”

“I was shot when I was eight.” He pulled back his sleeve and showed her a puckered scar. “Dad moved us out of Texas and we came here instead.”

“I had cancer when I was in middle school,” Gilly shot back. “Environmental. Tumour right in my throat.” She traced the scar with a finger.

He was grinning. “I was bullied so badly in sixth grade they locked me under the floorboards of the chemistry classroom. I was found by the janitor.”

“A boy attacked me a few years ago. It’s why I carry a knife.”

“A teacher got fired for trying to groom me.”

My puppy died.”

“Whoa.” He raised his hands. “Too far, Gilly.”

She started to laugh, and then made him recount his stories before she told him hers, so by the time they had arrived at a large grey building called SUNSHINE RETIREMENT HOME they were both in stitches. Everything terrible seemed very funny when it was told to someone who didn’t look at them with large, pitying eyes.

December 09, 2022 20:29

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1 comment

Amany Sayed
15:50 Dec 11, 2022

Love this! Dialogue was very smooth and the chemistry between Gilly and Jack is really nice, even if they end up as just friends. Running to read part 2!


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