The first thirty seconds in a person’s presence are the most important. This is the time when you can ascertain all you need to know about a person, if you’re clever enough. The first time I met Daisy, she told me this. It was the autumn of 1954, the start of our senior year, and here was a new girl who seemed to know a shocking amount of information about me. When we first met, she looked me up and down, gracefully said a hello, and politely shook my hand. When I asked her what she was doing, she calmly explained that she was learning all about me. She told me that I was 5’7”, not 5’8” as I had taken to telling people. She told me that I weighed 140 pounds, although again I lied about this frequently so as to make it seem that my slight appearance was just that. She told me that I was meek, and had a crush on her. She told me a lot more, all equally spectacular for their truth. For nearly the entirety of our friendship, she refused to tell me just how she had known any of this. But it became a game that we would play; she was new at school, I had known everyone there since before I could walk, and she would tell me stories about them. She told me that Billy O’Reilly had a crush on Alex Owens, his best friend, although honestly this was something we had all suspected for years. She told me that Shirley Macdonald was cheating on her boyfriend with Alex Owens, and that she was pregnant. She actually told me this numerous times; apparently Shirley got pregnant a lot. She would never tell me how she knew these things, or why she deigned to share them.
Even more curious was the idea that she had chosen me to be her friend. Shy, nerdy James. She could have been anyone she wanted to for that year she lived in Dexter. She could have been the popular girl, on the cheer squad, winning homecoming queen and dating the quarterback. She could have been a rebel, getting around to every guy in school. She could have been anyone. And people wanted her to be. Her first week of school, she was irresistible. Not just for being a new person in a town where everyone knew everyone and everyone’s great-grandparents had played poker together. She drew people in. She didn’t share a thing about herself; in the entire year that I knew her, I don’t think I ever knew as much as she knew about me. She was an enigma. While this could have made her the town oddity and a source of contention for the town otherwise, after barely a month she just became a part of the scenery. Mr. Gregory down at the grocery knew exactly what she would buy every single time, not because he found her interesting, but just because that was his way. Old Mrs. Lee would yell at her as she passed her front porch, claiming that Daisy was stepping on her petunias, just as she yelled at everyone else. But Daisy never tried to separate herself from the crowd. She went to all the town dances as we all did (that being one of the few sources of entertainment available to us). She was perfectly average in her classes, never raising her hand too much or too little. After a while, everyone forgot that she was new at all. She just fit in. She would sit with people at lunch, but she hadn’t cemented herself within a group. She had become perfectly ordinary.
I found this life of hers ridiculously enthralling. I spent my days trying to find something, anything, weird or different about her. But, from a distance, nothing would show. So, on that November day that we met formally, something overtook me, and I approached her calmly and without regret, going against my nature. That meeting, when she told me all the things she knew about myself, was the start of our friendship. The basis of our relationship was truly how especially extraordinary she was, once I got to know her. Her genius and observation skills meant that we had a secret, something that bonded us together. In the early days, that was all we would talk about. The day after I acquainted myself with her, she walked right past her regular lunch table and sat down across from me. Usually during lunch I would sit by myself and read; sometimes someone would take my table and I would eat in the bathroom. But that day, someone joined me and I didn’t move. Daisy set down her tray with intent and leaned forward. “I think that we would make wonderful friends,” she said. Dumbfounded, I didn’t reply. “I do hope you’re smart, because you certainly seemed smart when we met yesterday, and I’m seldom wrong. I like smart people. Everyone else is rather boring, don’t you think?” She looked at me, waiting for an answer. I was so flabbergasted that someone wanted to be my friend that I couldn’t find it in myself to construct a singular word. Some part of her must have been able to sense this, as she seemed to sense everything else, so she leaned back and began eating. In between bites, she gazed around the room at the people surrounding us. These were people I had known for years, but never really known. Then, she began talking. This was when she told me all about Billy O’Reilly, and his life and what he was like and who he was. This became our tradition. Every day she would tell me about one of our classmates. This happened for the rest of the year. We never talked about ourselves. I never learned any more about her, and I never told her anything about me. Yet, somehow, we were best friends.
We continued in this fashion of only talking about others for months. Then, one day in May, things changed. She flounced over to our table, somehow more energetic than usual. I expected to be regaled with the story of yet another one of my classmates, but not that day. She sat down and started talking at breakneck speed, not even waiting for a response. “Now, James,” she said, decisively, “something has recently come to my attention. You’re going to college.” She then lowered herself onto her elbows so that she was looking up at me, something that seldom happened.
I was rather perplexed. My father was an academic, so yes, I was going to college. This was a fact that had been well-known around my town for as long as I could remember. It was just a fact of my existence. My eyes were green, the Soviets were coming for us, and I was going to college. While Daisy hadn’t been in town for very long, it was still hardly understandable for her not to know this vital part of my life. Tentatively, I said that yes, I was going to college, and asked what she made of that.
She then sprang up out of her chair and pulled herself up into a sitting position atop the table. She usually would have been given dirty looks by teachers for doing this, but it was the end of our senior year, and few teachers cared enough to enforce rules for us anymore. As she began swinging her legs, she said, “Well, apparently I’m not. Grandmum doesn’t think it proper for a woman to go to college. She wants me to stay home and marry a nice, rich man.” At this, she gazed at me thoughtfully. “Will you marry me, James?” This caused me to choke on my milk, which made her laugh. She leaned close to me, as she had on the day when we first became friends, and glanced around as if what she was about to tell me was some earth-shattering secret, “James, I think I’ll run away. I’ve heard there are jobs for pretty young things in the city. I’d make a wondrous telephone operator, don’t you think?”
She would. She might spend more time talking the ear off of whomever was trying to make a call than actually making the call, but she’d be wonderful at the job anyways. I was a bit reluctant to say this. While we had only known each other for six months, some part of me couldn’t bear to let go of the best friendship I had ever had. But, knowing Daisy, by no means did she need my affirmation. She was going to do what she wanted to do, and that was that. While I was mulling this over, she continued jabbering. She had all the necessary credits to graduate, she said, so all she had left was the diploma. And that was really just a piece of paper, wasn’t it? She kept talking like this, not seeming to notice my silence. Or, knowing her, perhaps she did notice, and just chose to allow me my quiet reflection.
She decided to take a train two weeks later. She used the rest of her savings to book a ticket. When I asked her what she would do when she got to the city, she nonchalantly said that she would start looking for a job. When I inquired as to where she would stay, she smirked and said that she can always find a place. As she was running away, she decided not to tell anyone, except for me, of course. She left a note for her parents, telling them that someday she would marry a rich man and send back barrels of money and show them all. I’ve always wondered if she realized the irony in that.
So, on the Thursday that her train was leaving, I drove her to the train station. I had borrowed my father’s clunky old station wagon for the day; when he had inquired as to why I needed it, I told him the truth: a friend needed a ride to the train station. I was a tad embarrassed about the car, as it was noisy and had a rather pungent odor. But Daisy didn’t seem to mind. She far too excited to care about how she was getting to the city, she just cared that she was getting there.
I parked on the side of the street. I hurried around to open her door as soon as I shut the car off; we might have been riding in a dump, but I was determined to make her remember me as a gentleman. I didn’t want to be just that odd person with whom she ate lunch during her senior year. I also carried her bag, which was suspiciously light. If a person is running away, you would expect them to carry much more than she did.
We arrived at the train station early, so we placed ourselves on a bench on the platform. We didn’t talk for a while, which we were both perfectly content with. Then, about five minutes before her train was scheduled to depart, it pulled into the station. As soon as it came to a stop, Daisy spun around and looked at me intently in a way that I had never seen her look at me before. She smiled wryly, and said, “James, I like you. You’re naive and sweet and you believe every word out of my mouth.” I bristled at being called naive. But I didn’t speak up. This was our last time together, and I didn’t want to ruin it. She kept talking. “You believed every single word that I ever said without question because that is just who you are. You trust people. That’s either going to get you very far in life or it means you’re never going to be able to enter the real world.” She furrowed her brow. “I can’t decide if I envy you for that, or if I feel sorry for you.” She pulled herself to her feet, and picked up her bag. She walked a few steps towards the train. But, I couldn’t just let her go like that. I jumped to my feet.
“Daisy, wait!” I said, albeit higher-pitched and more desperate than I meant to. She turned and looked at me expectantly. I took a deep breath, and finally asked the question I had been dying to ask. “How do you do it? How did you know all those things about all those people who you had only barely known for days?”
She burst into the radiant smile that I had so come to love about her. She giggled, and said, “I could tell you I’m a modern day Sherlock Holmes, or that I’m a genius, or that I broke into all of their houses and figured everything out that way. Because James, you would believe me. You would believe anything I told you. So I’m going to tell you that I made it all up. I’m going to tell you that Shirley is exactly the pious person she appears to be, and that Billy doesn’t have a crush on Alex, and that everything I told you was false. That’s what I’m going to tell you. I’m going to tell you that I said all of that because I wanted you to like me, and I thought that making you think I was a genius was the way to that. Because really, James? I’m an idiot.” She turned and began to climb the steps up onto the train as I stood on the platform, slightly less shocked than I should have been. She disappeared into the train car, and then appeared at the window. She smiled at me, and, as the train began to pull away, yelled something. I couldn’t hear her, and obviously that confusion registered on my face. She yelled again, but she was already too far gone. As the train pulled out of the station and she pulled her head back into the car, I stood on the platform, confused. What was it that she had wanted to tell me?
Suddenly, I felt someone tug my jacket cautiously. Twisting around, expecting to have to fend off a pickpocket, I was surprised to discover a young girl, maybe six or seven, wearing a pink dress. One hand was holding onto my jacket, while the other was clutching the hand of a man who must have been her father as if it was a lifeline. The little girl smiled shyly and mumbled something. I knelt down to her level, curious just what she wanted to say to me. “What was that?” I said, softly.
The little girl leaned close, and whispered in my ear, “She said that she lies a lot.”