All The Love You Write
by D. G. Driver
A story about young love, first love, true love, timeless love, and the power of love letters.
Mark and Bethany are two mismatched high school seniors in a new relationship.
It’s doomed to fail.
Mark has adored Bethany since middle school, and she’s finally giving him a chance. Only, he’s clumsy at romance and knows he’ll lose her because of it. Bethany thinks Mark is sweet. Only, she’s afraid to commit her whole heart to him because he’s going into the army and she’s headed off to college.
Fifty years earlier, a boy and a girl from the same high school shared an amazing love story. They have now returned as ghosts and are interfering in Mark and Bethany’s relationship.
Who are they? Why do they care what happens to Mark and Bethany?
BUY THE BOOK
In all seriousness, this took me twenty-two tries, and I still hesitated before I hit send.
I know. It wasn’t original and definitely not clever. All I wanted to do was send Bethany some kind of sweet note to let her know I was thinking of her that morning. I wanted her to feel “aww” but not roll her eyes at my stupidity. At the same time, I didn’t want to write something too lovey-dovey-gooey and freak her out.
Some of my other attempts were: Good Morning my preshus, which I’m pretty sure was misspelled and made me sound like Golem from Lord of the Rings. First day at school as a couple. Excited as I am? which was honest, but her response terrified me, and, If you get bored in class, think of me, which was just dumb. Bethany probably never got bored in class. I’d get bored, I was sure, and I’d definitely think of her.
Around try number sixteen, I stopped typing them. My thumbs were getting tired. I thought the rest out in my head.
Beautiful day for a beautiful girl.
What’s wrong with that? I don’t know. Something. Try again.
I finally hit that frightening, non-retrievable button on my world-class lame text while I walked up the front steps into the school. By the time I got down the main hallway, she was already sharing it with her friends Lissy and Kat. They huddled over each of Bethany’s lovely shoulders like the good and bad angels of cartoons and giggled. Bethany had her hand over her mouth, but I could tell she was smiling and probably saying something like, “I know, right?”
As I passed my gorgeous, seventeen-year-old, brunette dream girl, I nodded and winked. All three girls burst into a storm of giggles and fussed over the phone. A moment before entering homeroom my phone buzzed. Her reply: 😉
Awesome! A success! Mark Dowd was a great, thoughtful, romantic boyfriend. And I stayed really proud of that fact for the next thirty-five minutes.
That’s when the ghost notes began to show up.
Even though it was Monday, I was in a great mood because this was the first day of my last semester of high school. Most of my required classes were done, which meant I had a fairly easy load; only five periods instead of six and only three of those were academic. My D+ average wasn’t going to leave me working at Shakes on Skates Classic Drive-In for the rest of my life, because I’d registered to join the army right after graduation. I was excited about my future for the first time ever.
On top of all that, Bethany started dating me over Winter Break, after four years of me dreaming about it and never daring to ask her out. Nothing could get me down.
We got our new schedules in homeroom, and then I headed down to Mrs. Hollstein’s room for British Lit, my last English course—ever. Not even the idea of writing essays about Shakespeare and Dickens upset me. I knew that come June it would never again matter that my spelling sucked, my printing was unreadable, and I had no grammar skills at all. Who needed any of that in the real world anyway? All I ever wrote were emails and texts. Those were done in shorthand. Anything more than that was a waste of time.
So, when I stepped into the room and found every seat taken, I didn’t freak out. A grin stayed firmly in place across my face as I leaned against the dry-erase board with three other slowpokes waiting for Mrs. Hollstein to straighten it all out.
“Okay,” she sighed, exasperation fraying the ends of her dyed red hair, “it seems the front office made a mistake and put too many students in this class. Again. Until I can sort this out, we’ll have to accommodate.” She addressed the four of us without seats. “Two of you can share my desk over here...” The two girls up front with me thought that was a good idea and lunged for the desk before the dude and I could even consider it as an option. “The other two need to find a friend to let them sit beside them at their desks.”
Clearly, this wasn’t going to work. Mrs. Hollstein had to know that. The student desks were those skinny ones attached to the seats that piss off left-handers because the elbow rest is on the right. No way could two people share that. Also, while I knew most of the people in the class, I didn’t really want to be that close to any of them for the next eighteen weeks. None of them appeared anxious to be that close to me either, because books, backpacks, and binders quietly began to appear on top of desks where they hadn’t been before. No one glanced in my direction.
“I’ll just use my lap,” the guy next to me said. I think his name was Jaden-Jay-or-Jason-something-or-other. He’d been in my classes before, but we’d never spoken to each other. The guy whose name started with “J” grabbed a folding chair from the wall and set up next to a file cabinet by the classroom door.
That left me standing very awkwardly in front of the class.
Following J’s example, I scanned the perimeter of the room for a better option. Way in the back of the room was this big, blocky piece of furniture covered with a stack of stuffed cardboard boxes, a globe, and an upside-down wooden office chair. The chair was the old-fashioned kind, really wide and heavy with castor wheels under the legs. It was too big to use in the space available, so I dragged a folding chair over.
Up close, I could tell the base of the tower was some kind of old cabinet or desk made of dark wood. It was turned backward to the room, making the drawers inaccessible. I had to sit sideways beside it, because there wasn’t any place to put my legs. The thing was badly scratched and worn out, like it had been at the school since the place was built and was too heavy for anyone to ever bother moving it. Considering that Two Lakes High had been around long enough that my grandparents had been students there at one time, the concept of that desk being from the sixties or even earlier wasn’t farfetched.
So much stuff cluttered the top of the desk that there wasn’t enough room to lay a piece of paper flat on the surface. Surely, Mrs. Hollstein wouldn’t hold that against me when grading my penmanship. Not really wanting to use my lap all semester, I seriously hoped that some junior would get bumped out of the class and free up a real desk for me. I stuck my backpack under my chair, against the wall and corner of the desk and pulled out a pencil.
Mrs. Hollstein finally started up class after taking roll, making a seating chart, and handing out her syllabus. As she droned on about how many points everything was worth, I started poking around the desktop with my pencil, allowing the tip to find old scratches in the wood and then imagining what had caused them. My pencil bumped into a groove along the very back corner of the desktop, almost hidden by the window ledge that jutted out over it by an inch or so, and stuck. Carved into the wood was something written in cursive with a heart around it.
I couldn’t make out the word, although I assumed it was a name. I learned cursive in third grade and forgot it in fourth. I’d never written or read a word of it since.
I pressed my pencil tip into the carving and traced the heart and cursive letters. Some dust came up when I pulled my pencil out. Whoever had done this had carved it deeply, probably with a knife, not a pencil. I wondered how long ago that could have been because kids got expelled these days for having plastic butter knives in their lunch boxes. We were supposed to spread mayonnaise with our fingers, I guess. Anyway, I decided the kid with the pocketknife had to have carved this valentine at least a decade ago, if not two.
The name was really elegant the way it was written, too, like something you’d see on a Hallmark card. I imagined this girl with a high ponytail and wearing a poodle skirt working hard to carve it just right one day when she was really bored in class. Maybe Mrs. Hollstein was her teacher, too. She certainly looked old enough, and she sure was boring enough.
Mrs. Hollstein rambled on about something I’d probably need to know later and got a couple volunteers to help pass out textbooks. While that happened, I pulled out a piece of notebook paper and put one corner of it over the heart. Using the side of my lead, I colored the paper until an etching of the heart showed up. I could see the name more clearly now, but it was still this mess of loops. Below the etching I tried to copy it on my own.
My first few tries were hideous looking, jerky, and full of stops and starts. I would never be a professional forger—that was sure.
On my sixth try my penmanship improved. By my eighth try it was a passable copy. I’d run out of room on the paper, though, so I pulled a black permanent marker out of my backpack and tried one more time on the back of my left hand. This time, I got it just right. It was so perfect in my eyes that it seemed to glow and sparkle for a second.
“That looks pretty,” said Jill Pietenpol over my shoulder. She was passing out textbooks and handed one to me. Actually, she dropped it in my lap because she was staring at the heart on my hand. “What kind of marker are you using to make it glow like that? I’d like to get one for my art project…” She stopped herself and cocked her head. “Oh, never mind. I thought for a second that it was…It was probably light coming in from the window.” She looked up at the window to find the shades drawn. She shook her head. “So, who’s Eileen?”
Jill giggled in this high-pitched nasally way that had never changed since we were in kindergarten together. Her voice never deepened to a normal register like all the other girls in school. She was seventeen and still sounded five. My spine stiffened at the sound of it.
“You’ve got her name all over your paper and on your hand.”
“If it’s Eileen, that would mean a guy made the heart,” I said, mostly to myself. “No guy is going to write all flowery like that.”
“You’re not making a lot of sense.”
“Eileen doesn’t make sense to me,” I told her. I directed Jill’s attention to the heart carved in the desk. “See that? It’s old, right? You think that was done by a guy? I don’t.”
Jill just raised an eyebrow, or at least the part of her face where an eyebrow would be if she hadn’t plucked them to near oblivion. “Whatever, Mark. Just make sure Bethany doesn’t see this. If she finds out you’re crushing on some Eileen person, whoever that is, it’ll be over.”
That caught my attention. “I’m not...”
But Jill was gone—bouncing off to deliver more books and stick her nose into other people’s business.
Great, I thought. Now some rumor was going to start about me having a thing for some chick named Eileen. I didn’t even know an Eileen. Was there even a girl that went to our school named Eileen? That was an old-fashioned kind of name.
And by the way, how did Jill know Bethany and I were dating? I didn’t think she and Bethany were good friends. It was only the first day back at school. How did everyone find out so fast? I wasn’t even sure myself if Bethany was officially my girlfriend. I just kind of assumed it was going that way.
I decided to be proactive. To head things off, I snuck my phone out of my pocket. Discreetly, under my seat, using one thumb and not even looking at the keys, I texted Bethany:
Thnkn of u
I knew she probably wouldn’t reply because she was the kind of person who never texted during classes. Bethany was a straight-A student, the kind that follows the rules.
I pushed the boxes on the desk to try to make a little more room, but they wouldn’t budge. I was only working with like two inches. With a shove of my shoulder, I purchased one more inch, enough for my forearm to rest. As I lowered my hand, it came to rest on a corner of a yellowed paper sticking out from under the boxes. I tugged at it and freed it from its prison, curious as to how long it had been there.
What I found was a lined page from a 5x7 spiral notepad. A faint green line divided the page in half, and the top was frayed from having been ripped out. Written on it was a short note not addressed to anyone or signed, like something that might have been passed eons ago during a class and shoved under a box so a teacher couldn’t find it.
None of this seemed all that odd except that the words were in the exact same cursive handwriting as the carved “Eileen” on the desktop. It had to have been written by the same person.
Hairs raised on the back of my neck. I didn’t know why I got spooked like that. I mean, it made a certain amount of sense that once upon a time some guy sat at this desk carving his girlfriend’s name into the wood and writing a note to a friend. It’s just that, after all these years, how weird was it that I discovered them both on the same day?
I tried to read the note, but it was really hard for me to decipher. I pulled out a fresh piece of my notebook paper and wrote the letters I thought I recognized with little placeholder dashes for the letters I couldn’t figure out. In the end, I had some horrible Wheel of Fortune game with no clues to help me decide if I wanted to buy a consonant or a vowel.
“Jill,” I called out. She was still playing teacher’s pet and flitting about the room. I waved my book at her like I had a problem with it. She huffed back over to me.
“No trading. You get what you get.” I think she was trying to sound stern, but her helium voice just made me want to laugh at her. I stifled my smile.
“No, it’s not that.” I held up the fragile note and winced. “Can you read this?”
“Are you stupid, Mark?” she asked.
“No, Jill,” I returned with an equal amount of attitude. “I just can’t read cursive.”
She gave it a once over and then handed it back without a word.
“Well?” I asked.
“It doesn’t mean anything. Just some note someone passed in class once.”
At the edge of my patience, I asked, “What does it say?”
“Read, Mark. What does the note read? A note can’t say anything.”
Jill did her snotty face, another thing she perfected in kindergarten and never let go.
I tried again, rephrasing my question correctly to appease her only because I really needed to know the answer. “What does the note read?”
She sighed, took it back again, and then read it aloud:
What kind of note was that? Does it even make sense? You can’t even spell, let alone romance a girl. Try again.
Jill handed the letter back to me. “Does that mean anything to you? It’s a little vague to me. And pretty rude.”
I shook my head and stared at the cursive words, watching the loops and dots magically morph into something I could decipher.
“Hey look, Mark,” Jill said. “Mrs. Hollstein said to start reading page 282. I don’t know if you heard her.”
“Oh,” I said distractedly, “thanks.” I put the note down and opened my book. Jill went back to parading around with textbooks and handouts.
Some weird story about a boring dinner party full of dead people passed by my eyes, but I didn’t take any of it in. The note was on my mind. It was so strange to read only a part of a conversation. I wondered who this guy had been writing to and what had prompted this response. Surely he wasn’t picking on lovely Eileen’s letter writing skills. That wouldn’t have won him any points.
To be honest, it felt a little like the letter was written to me. I had just dashed out a poorly spelled, pointless love message a moment before that note appeared.
No. That was ridiculous.
The note could be fifty, maybe even sixty years old for all I knew.
Still, I felt compelled to pull out my phone again. Hiding it inside my book, and thankful Mrs. Hollstein was preoccupied on the phone up front arguing to someone in the front office about her class being over-full, I typed a new text. This time I used full words, which is something I’d never done before. It took a couple of minutes.
You look sexy in those jeans today. Cant wait to see more of you at lunch.
Okay, so I didn’t put in an apostrophe on “can’t.” Otherwise, I thought I spelled everything right. That was an effort, too. I didn’t have one of those fancy smart phones with an automatic spelling corrector. I had an older phone, a hand-me-down from my mom that didn’t have any memory for apps. All I could do was text, call, and access my email. It was my fault. I accidentally drove over one phone and dropped another in a toilet. My parents said they weren’t ever going to get me another good phone. If I wanted one, I’d have to buy it myself. Up until now, the cheap phone and my texting shorthand were all I needed. I read my text again and nodded, proud of myself, feeling confident that my compliment of her awesome body would win me a kiss in public at noon.
I hit send.
When I was done, I pulled out the note and filled in the blanks on my cheat sheet with the correct letters. Now I felt like I had a key to the cursive code. If I found another note—which I knew was unlikely—maybe I could decipher it without Jill’s busy-body help.
The bell rang, and I scooped up my bag from the floor and stuffed my new, heavy English textbook into it. The note and my folded-up practice page went in my back pocket. I walked to my next class, waiting for the familiar buzz of my phone as Bethany texted me back with some appreciative reply.
It never came.