“It doesn’t count if you’re already planning your defeat,” Stella said. She leaned over to peer around the tall guy in the torn t-shirt in line ahead of her and sighed. She hated waiting for anything, and this line was longer than she would have liked.
Stella opened her shoulder bag and began searching for the coffee flavored lip balm she purchased the day before. She pulled the tube from her bag and twisted the top off. “You sign on for these things and immediately check out,” she said, pointing the uncapped tube in Jeff’s direction. “Face it, Jeff. You’re a serial contestant. I don’t think you even care what you sign up for.”
“I enjoy competition,” Jeff said, a hint of defensiveness in his tone.
“What I don’t understand is why you bother if you sign on for these things if you expect to lose,” Stella said.
“I do no such thing,” Jeff said. “When I compete, I give it my all. You know that’s true.”
Stella snorted, drawing a scornful glance from Jeff and a questioning look from torn t-shirt guy. She ignored them both and set to work applying the balm. She smacked her lips, replaced the cap and dropped the tube back into her cavernous bag. “So, you’re saying you play to win?”
“Always” Jeff said.
“Really? Let’s review. There was the July gelatin mold debacle,” Stella asked, digging in her bag for her hairbrush.
“Debacle is a strong word,” Jeff said.
“Your creation did not come close to resembling an American flag, and you went into pout mode when your sister took the trophy,” Stella said.
“My sister had a mold in the shape of an American flag custom made. How was I supposed to compete with that?” he asked.
The line moved forward.
“Did you expect to win the pie eating contest at this year’s block party?”
Jeff shuddered and tucked his hands into his arm pits. “You know how I feel about being sticky. We are civilized human beings, Stella. I was not going to eat pie sans silverware. I refuse to apologize for saying no to plunging my face into a blueberry pie.”
The line moved again, inching them nearer the registration desk.
Stella finished with the hairbrush, dropped it into her bag and began rummaging for a breath mint. “And the hot dog eating contest at the Memorial Day celebration?” she asked. “Did you lose that contest because you weren’t provided silverware?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Jeff said. “Nobody expects to win the annual dog eating contest as long as Herb Walker lives on Ash Lane. The man is a human vacuum.”
“So, you admit that you entered that contest with the expectation of losing,” Stella said triumphantly.
“I believe in supporting my community,” Jeff said.
“What about the annual bunny hop in the park contest?” Stella asked. She held a tin of breath mints in one hand and a pack of chewing gum in the other, weighing her options.
“I have bad ankles,” Jeff said. “Besides, no one expects the bunny to lose the annual hop.”
“You’re admitting you threw the race?” Stella asked.
“It’s not a real race,” Jeff said. “Participants sign up as a community service. It's our way of helping keep the fantasy alive for the kids.”
Stella extracted a stick of gum from the pack and dropped the mints and remaining gum into her bag. She removed the wrapping, folded the gum into thirds, placed the folded piece in her mouth and chewed.
The line moved forward.
“You never got past the starting line at the Give Love blood drive in February.”
“That was not a contest,” Jeff snapped. “And you promised you wouldn’t bring that up again.”
“I told you, fainting is nothing to be ashamed of,” Stella said, digging in her bag for a tissue.
“I did not faint,” Jeff insisted. “I felt a bit light-headed due to lack of nutrition. I had not eaten well that morning.” He waggled a finger at Stella. “Everyone focuses on hydration, but no one mentions the importance of ensuring you’ve eaten well before donating blood.”
Stella nodded, extracted a tissue from the packet, wiped her nose, and looked around for a trash can. “Right. Right,” she said.
“You weren’t there,” Jeff sniffed.
“I was at the New Year, New You party,” Stella said. She located a trash can, walked over to deposit the used tissue, and stepped back into line, earning a glare from the petite woman who had stepped into line behind Jeff.
Jeff sighed and took another step forward.
Stella gave the diminutive woman a shrug and began searching her bag for her day planner. “You came in dead last in the Resolutions Met contest.” she said.
“Mildred Fleishman cheats,” Jeff said stiffly. “She should be excluded from future contests. The woman had a list of thirty-seven items and claimed to have met them all by January 15th. Honestly, how can anyone accept ‘Return library books promptly’ as a legitimate New Year’s resolution?” Jeff challenged.
Stella extracted the day planner from her bag and plunged back in, this time in search of a pen. “Appropriate management of loaned materials is apparently important to Mildred Fleishman,” Stella said. “The contest is supposed to be fun. You weren’t a very good sport, as I recall.”
“There is nothing fun about being the laughing-stock at our New Year, New You party” Jeff mumbled. “Billy Wilson was brutal. He just kept on and on needling me. It got old very quickly.”
“Billy Wilson is ten years old, and he checked all four resolutions off his list,” Stella pointed out, not for the first time.
“Drop it,” Jeff warned, stepping forward.
“Sure. Sure.” Stella shuffled ahead, extracted a red pen from her bag, opened her day planner and said, “I suppose you don’t want to discuss the annual gingerbread house contest.”
Jeff gave her a look that confirmed that he had no intention of revisiting that experience but whispered, “Robbed,” under his breath.
“Last year’s turkey trot is not open to discussion?” she asked, flipping through the pages of her day planner.
“It is not,” Jeff said.
The line moved. Jeff moved. Stella located the desired page in her planner, circled a date on the calendar and dropped the pen and planner back into her bag. Shorty cleared her throat. Stella locked eyes with the woman and took one giant step before flashing her a smug smile and turning back to Jeff.
“This isn’t a neighborhood contest,” Stella said. “Competition is going to be stiffer than you’re accustomed to.”
“I am well aware of that,” Jeff said. “I—"
“Do you mind?” short-stuff asked, gesturing for Stella and Jeff to move up. Jeff offered the woman an apologetic smile, which earned him a snarl he felt was undeserved.
He looked at Stella for support, but she seemed to be ignoring him.
Jeff shrugged and moved up in line.
Stella gaped at the sign posted behind the registration desk. She snapped her mouth shut with a audible click, drawing Jeff’s attention. She hooked a thumb at the sign. “You’re sure this is the contest you want to sign up for?”
“Yes,” Jeff said, without looking at the sign. He gave Stella a curt nod and crossed his arms over his chest.
Stella shrugged. She dug through the contents of her handbag, pulled out her cell phone and began snapping pictures of Jeff’s face from various angles.
“What are you doing?” Jeff demanded.
“Documenting your face,” Stella said.
“Why?” Jeff asked.
“Because you’re in the line to sign up for the Bull Riding contest,” Stella said, pointing at the sign over the registration desk. “Care to predict how this could turn out?”
The tall guy in the torn t-shirt stepped up to the registration desk and bent over the table to sign the forms.
Jeff looked up at the sign. His eyes widened in surprise. His brow furrowed. His lips moved as he silently swiveled his head from side to side reading and re-reading the sign. “Bull Riding?” he croaked, swallowing hard.
Stella nodded. “Bull Riding,” she said.
The little woman standing behind him scoffed. “What did you think you were signing on for?”
Jeff gulped. “I thought I was signing up for a Dull Riding contest,” he said quietly.
“Dull Riding?” Stella sputtered. “What in the world is a Dull Riding contest, Jeff?”
“I didn’t exactly think it through,” Jeff said quietly. “The letter ‘B’ looked like a letter ‘D”. I saw the word contest and headed over to sign up.”
Stella dropped the phone into her bag and pulled out a plastic knife and fork wrapped in a napkin. “There’s still time to sign up for the pie eating contest,” she said.