There were seventy-six people in my high school graduating class.
There are no more than seventy-four left. More than two may have died
by now; I don't know. I do know that Janet and Russ were the first
Janet was a small girl. Our senior year in high school she weighed
around ninety pounds. Her long, black hair hung straight down around
her blue eyes. She always highlighted those blue eyes with too much
blue make-up. Her skin was average in color, with just a few freckles
here and there. She had a small button nose. She bounced when she
was cute; but didn't think she was cute.
had a terrible crush on her.
Russ was the perfect example of Wisconsin farm country good looks.
He was about six-one and well built, but not at all muscle bound.
He had reddish blond hair with just a touch of natural curl. The hair
matched his mustache and beard perfectly. Even in high school he had
a mustache and a little beard. He was handsome, and had learned to
carry it well.
in her sophomore year Janet began to keep a journal. It started in
a spiral notebook, just something to keep her thoughts in. The bulk
of the early material consisted of song lyrics transcribed from the
There were poems written by other people. Now and again an original
poem or comment would show up. As the summer and her junior year went
by the outside material was less and less and the self-authored pieces
increased. By Christmas of that year the notebooks were full of her
poetry. I wrote a bit back then and out of a shared interest I got
read that poetry. My crush quickly turned to infatuation.
played football, and basketball, and baseball. He played them all
very well. The two most successful plays our football team ran were
"Run Russ Right" and "Run Russ Left." He was captain
of the basketball squad. The year the baseball team went to the regional
playoffs he was a key member of the squad.
He handled himself with a sportsman's grace when he played those games.
He also had a true sportsman's attitude. He was a good winner and
he was a good loser. He played fair, and he played hard, and he respected
other people's efforts, even if that other person had very little
natural talent, like me. He accepted my desire, even if I lacked ability.
hatred slowly turned to respect.
During Janet's senior year I began to see references to love and pain
and a broken heart in her work. I thought I began to see me in there.
A particularly painful piece appeared in her journal one day. Someone
wasn't returning her love. She felt rejected and alone. Ignorantly
and egotistically I asked her if I had done something to hurt her.
No, she said.
she said, "How those that should worry don't, and those that
Russ and I both went to the awards banquet during our senior year.
We both got awards. Russ got a letter for each of the sports he played,
recognition for his outstanding efforts, and a rousing ovation. I
got certificates for forensics and drama and a ripple of applause.
During the reception, as we ate cookies and drank punch, Russ and
I and a few others ended up off in a corner of the cafeteria.
Russ said he felt really out of place. "Nothing to worry about,"
Andy," Russ went on, "you're the only person here I really
Janet dated a little. I took her to a movie once, but was too nervous
to ask her out again. She went out with a couple of other guys. She
didn't seem to find what she was looking for. It seems she had a crush
Russ dated whoever he wanted. Of course, he dated one of the cheerleaders;
the best looking girl in the school. There were many different girls,
some even came from other schools. He went out with Janet once.
Somewhere in all of this Janet told Russ how deep her feelings ran.
Russ reacted like a lot of high school boys would have. He got very
nervous and he avoided her.
Graduation came. Russ went off to a small college on a football scholarship.
He found out that being a big shot at our high school didn't mean
much, even at a little college. He didn't start on the football team,
and he didn't make the basketball team. He lasted one
semester and ended up back on the farm.
Janet went to junior college in a nearby town. A few people from our
class went there. It was a little bigger than the high school but
the attitude was exactly the same size. It was high school relocated.
She lasted a year, and then she quit.
Both took jobs here and there. Both met new people who were just like
the people they already knew. Both went out to all the local bars
and taverns. Both drank a little too much a little too often. They
saw each other around and they went out now and again. They grew into
small town life and it grew into them.
One spring night Janet was coming back from Sheboygan. She'd been
to visit some friends. There was a light rain falling. Old Highway
23 used to cross a lot of little county trunk highways as it curved
through the edge of the Kettle Moraine. At one of those curves the
highway met a county road and Janet's car met a pick-up truck. Twenty-one
and forever dead.
That fall they found Russ in his car. It was in a shed out behind
the barn on the family farm. He had shut the doors, fired up his customized
black Nova and let it idle. It idled until it ran out of gas, long
after Russ ran out of breath.
~ * ~
Davis brings his Illinois and Minnesota talents to WordSmitten and
we are delighted to present him with the award of $1,010.00 for
"Same Thing, Only Different"
--his winning short story.
A story of relationships pulling on a thin thread of time and chance.
Editors and Fiction Panel
WordSmitten's Annual TenTen Short Story Award
Janet Burroway, 2007 Fiction Judge