Jenny was four years older than me. She was one of the oldest of a pack of eight cousins in our branch of the extended family who were crammed into a four-year age band. I was the youngest of the group. I had vague memories of seeing Jenny a couple of times when she was just a little girl and I was still a toddler.
My first solid, distinct memory of her was from a family re-union when I was ten years old and all the cousins were there. As the youngest by at least two years, I was excluded or picked on the entire time. The worst offender was my own brother, Howie, who was the oldest of the group and the unquestioned ringleader. Well, unquestioned except by Jenny, who took pity on me and made an effort to include me and be nice. She even got into an argument about it with Howie at one point, and she was ferocious. She succeeded in getting him to treat me slightly better, and she was Wonder Woman in my eyes.
Flash forward to the next family re-union, featuring little Jake at thirteen. At that point, I was older and wiser and probably a little more able to stick up for myself and hang with the big kids, except...
Except gorgeous Cousin Jenny showed up with her brand-new woman's body. Jenny at seventeen was already a goddess. I was just starting to notice girls and holy *** did I notice her. I was a stammering, blushing wreck. Howie and all the others couldn't help but notice my noticing, and they were merciless. I was mocked, teased, and tormented like never in my life.
I spent that entire weekend hiding and wishing I was dead. I was desperately in love, I was humiliated, I felt like the whole world was laughing at me. Life couldn't possibly be worse. Until Jenny, clearly understanding the problem, tracked me down and talked to me and said all the right things and even though it was horrible and painful, she somehow got me through the weekend.
Flash forward four years. Jake at seventeen was a rangy but muscled 6'2" with a trophy on my shelf that said WATER POLO STATE CHAMPIONS. Heading into the family re-union, I wasn't worried about being picked on anymore.
But I was worried about Jenny. The college junior had recently "come out" as a ***. Her unhappy parents, instead of keeping it in house, had blabbed to some other relatives, and they told others, and now the whole extended family knew. So now it looked like Jenny's saga would be the major scandal at the reunion.
My parents, who were slightly more open-minded and enlightened than Jenny's, or most of our relatives for that matter, took me aside a couple of days before the re-union. After my dad stumbled through a horribly awkward attempt to explain lesbianism to me, and after hearing my assurance that I knew what it was, got to the point.
"Just be nice," he said. "Don't give her any *** about it. If you don't have anything nice to say to her, just keep your trap shut."