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Fiction

One glance and she knew it was Her, Beth’s hands clenched on the steering wheel, squeezing as if they were on Her throat. In an instance the anger and shame surged back, like it was yesterday, and her dream of strangling Her, causing Her as much pain as-

    -Ba-dump! 

The van tires hit the curb, the small Eiffel tower dangling from the rearview mirror swung wildly. 

 “OMG, I am late!”  Tabitha said, mortified. Beth’s daughter, a long and lanky 12 year old jumped out of the car, her blue soccer jersey flapping behind her.  

In a matching blue jersey, Abby, a new player on the team, opened the door of the large white Lexus SUV parked next to them. She walked toward Tabitha and then they both jogged onto the field without looking back. 

“Good luck! With the new season, your team has no losses!”  Beth yelled out the window, knowing with this team a not-losing record might not last long, upsetting her hyper-competitive daughter. Beth loosened her fingers and watched her old nemesis out the window.

Abby’s mom slowly got out of the large car.  Tall and slim, wearing Lululemon yoga pants, and Patagonia puff vest, her long blond hair flowed loose behind her, evidence of a recent blow out. 

-Oh it is Her all right, Beth thought. 

Beth remembered the pretty cheerleader, one year older and with darker hair, always in the latest fashion. The best looking girl in school, and the meanest.  Beth’s feelings roiled inside her, anger and envy twisting, swirling. 

-How could she make me feel this way when it has been so long? 

Beth did not usually compare herself to other women, she had too much else to worry about. Some women, chose a better job, chose a rich husband, or were lucky enough to be born into a rich family. There were certainly enough women who were worse off, raising their children by themselves, working in a low wage job, or often both. But to see Meg again brought back all the jealousy she felt in high school. She looked away and saw her daughter’s half-eaten bagel left in the car. Beth had skipped breakfast, and felt the hunger pains. She had trained herself to welcome the pain, because of what Meg did. Beth gritted her teeth. 

-She would never remember me.  I can let this go, it has been almost 20 years, I need to move on.

Beth got out of her car and collected a small cooler and her old folding chair, ripped and torn, strings were blowing in the morning breeze. In her baggy sweatshirt and off brand yoga pants she suddenly realized she looked a mess. But she was much thinner than in high school, and just having that thought that made her mad all over again.  Beth was trying to tighten up her outfit, and the chairs strings, as She walked by, her nose literally in the air, Meg Standish.  

-Still the same stuck-up b****. 

“Good morning, Are you Abby’s Mom? I am Beth, Tabitha’s mom. Welcome to the Wildcats!"

She flashed her biggest fake smile.

“Oh hello, Bettie!  Yes, my name is Margaret.” 

“It’s Beth... Would you be interested in a coffee?  I sent Chris, my husband, out to pick one up for me to bring to the field. Should I ask him to bring you one?”

 “That would be great, do you think he could get me a Vanilla latte, double, with one pump?” The sun flashed off Margaret’s perfectly white teeth.

“Um, OK-”  Beth sent him a quick text.

Chris is not going to like buying a $5 coffee.  

“Should we head over to the field?” She started walking across the grass, following their girls. “How has your summer break been?” Beth said, forcing the conversation.

“Oh, we are still recovering from our trip to Europe.” Margaret said, in a monotone as if she was discussing a trip to the grocery store.  “We just got back and are still jet-lagged. We went to London, Valencia and Nice, um-” she checked them off on her fingers, “oh and Paris.  Have you been?”

 Beth gritted her teeth.  

“Weather in the south of France is ‘ravissante’.” Margaret pronounced, in a bad French accent 

“If you go, I suggest bringing an extra bag because…,”

 Did she emphasize the -if- too much? 

“…  I did not have room for all the clothes I bought!” Margaret continued, laughing. “I don’t work at an office anymore, but I have so much to do helping at Abby’s school, tennis, and I volunteer of course, and.. Well, it was nice to get a break!” She paused, lowering her voice to a vocal fry.

 “Tabiatha didn't appreciate the food much, but I did!” She ended brightly, waving her white-tipped fingers in front of Beth, dismissing her daughter and her whims.

 Aren’t french manicured nails out of style? 

Beth felt a slight burning sensation on her cheeks, and herself shrinking. This conversation was bringing back the jealousy, and Meg, no ‘Margaret’, could still make her feel like she had less; less glamor, less status and less money.  She shared one trait with Tabitha, hyper-competitiveness. For what was money but a way to compare oneself to another, identifying your place in the strata of society? Beth and her family were losing badly in this game. 

She stopped paying attention, focused on getting across the field.  The grass was filled with duck poop and it was cold. Watching the kids run around and kick the ball Beth had a fierce desire to join them to get away from this conversation. 

Beth’s lifelong dream is to go to Paris, but instead she is on this field covered in poop, trapped listening to Margaret talk about a shopping trip. Beth was going to have to use her credit card to cover bills this month and this damn woman went on a multi-city tour of Europe. 

Where did she go wrong, what choice did she make to get where she was today? 

Was it choosing to be a teacher? 

The pay was terrible, but she really loved the work, most of the time. She loves the kids, and could not imagine doing anything else. 

Was it her choice of husband? 

She remembered when Chris asked her to marry her. That was not a choice, it was a joy, a feeling of connection and of shared dreams.

Did she spend too much? 

Yes! She liked thrift stores too much, and had a fierce coffee habit. But she would choose coffee over most things in her life so that is not going to change. She had followed her heart to end up here, and look where that got her.  Her heart was not a good teammate in this game of success.  

“...in Paris…” Margaret's mention of the City brought Beth back to the conversation.

 "...on L'avenue des Champs-Élysées. I bought these there.”  She kicked up a sparkling white, uniquely-styled tennis shoe behind her in an artistic pose.  

Glamorous until Beth saw the duck poop smeared on the sides. 

“Oh it was amazing.” Margaret said. “Have you taken any recent vacations?” 

“We just visited my Aunt up north, on Clearlake. I have a large family, with a lot of cousins so the kids had a great time, and we had a chance to sleep in!” Beth smiled. 

“We did have a water slide!” Beth laughed, remembering.

“Chris had  found a long piece of plastic in a dumpster and he put it on a grass hill in the backyard with a hose on it, like a slip and slide? It was really long, I even went on it!”

Beth’s smile disappeared after she saw Margaret’s expression of disgust. 

“You got it from the trash?” Margaret’s face was twisted as if she encountered a foul smell. “I wonder what it was used for? You know it could have had some chemicals on it or could have animal droppings on it…”

Beth opened her mouth to defend Chris and the tarp, but stopped. 

“Why don't we set up here?” She took out her anger on her folding chair, slamming it on the sideline of the soccer field. 

“Oh OK, are we at the field?” Margaret awkwardly put on some thick lens glasses and looked around. She stared at Beth closely, before taking them off again. 

Margaret set up two brand new folding chairs. From a top outdoor brand they looked like twin sculptures with thin metal poles and bright colored fabric. She looked around, “My husband Dan should be here soon.”

A whistle blew to start the match, and the game turned against the Wildcats quickly.

“Is your daughter the goalie? She is getting a lot of action,” Margaret said with a sideways glance. 

“She says she prefers these games to the ones where she just stands around.” Beth said. “I told her being challenged keeps her sharp and she will improve as a goalie.” 

“But she is losing, doesn't that bother her?” Margaret turned, shocked.

 Losing is what the family does.

“Gooaal!”  Is shouted from the sidelines, and the red-shirted girls ran back to the middle of the field with their arms raised. 

“A tough day for the Wildcats,” Chris said, walking up, as the blue-shirted girls slowly walked to the middle of the field to kick off. 

Beth turned to see her husband holding several coffee cups. She tried to see him as Margaret would.  Almost bald, except for a few wisps of hair, he had gained weight this year with the stress of his City job wearing on him. His faded Denver Broncos sweatshirt and cargo shorts made him look disheveled.  But once he smiled at her, Beth forgot about what Margaret thought and felt a warm joy wash over her.

“I brought some coffee, anyone interested?”

 The bright colored cups showed a gas station logo. Chris handed Beth a cup, “I already added the cream for you. No sugar.” He smiled.

Margaret looked over, “Are any of those a latte?”  

“No, just a regular cup of joe!”  He said. “I have sugar and creamer too.”

Margaret turned away, “I don't know if I can drink that!”  

Beth agreed but felt she should support her husband. She sipped her cup and winced. Thin and weak, the chunks of powdered creamer were gritty in her mouth.

“Oh, it tastes fine!  But there was no Starbucks, or better coffee?” 

“Oh I didn't look, this place is across the street, and a lot cheaper. Chris put the extra coffee on the ground and then left for a better position to watch the game.

After he left, Beth purposefully knocked her coffee onto the grass. “Oh, it spilled...” 

“I see Dan,” Margaret had her glasses on again, waving to a man on the phone at the corner of the field.  He ignored her.  

“I am going to go bring the girls these oranges before halftime” Beth said, and picked up her cooler with the oranges she had cut that morning. 

I am sure Margaret would have had her assistant do this.

 After dropping them off with the team, she took the opportunity to walk back around the field to see Dan up close. Lean and fit with dark black hair, he was wearing tan khakis and a loose open collar linen shirt. As Beth walked up, she couldn’t help staring at his radiant good looks, nor overhearing his conversation.

-“Oh honey, this weekend is tough,..”

-”Ok, ok!  I'll make it happen. I'll be at the usual hotel, I really can't do more than one night…” 

-”Damn woman!  It is too early in the morning for that kind of talk!”  

-”Ok,ok two nights!  I ll see you this Friday night, and, we’ll…”

-“Yes, I love you, why do you ask that...”

Oh no! Don’t let him see you! 

Beth moved around so she was positioned slightly behind Dan, and slowly backed away, watching to make sure he didn’t see her. She vaguely heard sounds from the soccer game, they were getting louder, and louder. She took large exaggerated steps to not fall in the thick grass. 

Oh, poor Margaret. 

“Mother, mother! Beth!”

She turned at her daughter yelling her name, and saw her, just steps away. What was Tabitha doing on the sidelines? Then Beth looked up and realized she was in the middle of the field, surrounded by the players of both teams. She looked up at the referee looking back. 

She waved and ran off the field, and then looked up to see she was running toward the team bench, not the sideline where her chair was. 

She made a quick turn and tried to run as fast as she could. 

“Sorry! Got a little turned around!" She said, looking at no one. 

Dan walked up staring curiously at Beth and sat down next to Margaret.

“That was work.  I am going to have to stay in Phoenix through the weekend next week.  I 'm going to help out at a trade show…”

“-Again!” Margaret exploded- “This is the second weekend this month!”

“Hey it is what it is.” Dan said, turning slightly red. ”It will just be the week. I'll be back next Monday and take you out to that French place you like. We can reminisce about Paris.” 

“It'll be just like Paris! Sitting in an empty hotel room with Abby. You were gone the entire time, with work, or, with someone else?” 

Dan looked over at the game, ignoring Margaret. “I can’t see from here, I am going to get closer.” He stood up and walked away. 

“I think he is having an affair.”  Margaret said quietly to the empty chair.

“I’m sorry, Beth said. 

Tears roll slowly down Margaret’s cheeks. 

“It is just I don’t really have any family anymore,. It is just the three of us, and with Dan gone all the time and Abby, well you know teenagers, she is in her room.  It is so lonely. The trip was supposed to fix things, but we just brought our problems with us, packed like dirty laundry in our suitcases. Abby was on her phone the whole time, would not talk to me, and Dan was just gone. It was terrible.”

Margaret turned toward Beth.

“It is so hard to hear about your trip to your family,  because I wish for that, wish for a big sprawling, messy family.  And Abby, she is having a tough time.  Maybe she would do better at a different school, the girls at St Paul’s aren’t very nice. Abby’s best friend moved and she hasn't found a new group yet.  The girls on this team are so friendly! We joined this team to get Abby some new friends, who aren't quite so, so…” 

Pretentious, vain, conceited, stuck-up, b***hs, like you were!  

 “Clique-y?”  Beth finally offered.

“‘Clique-y,’ Margaret nodded. “Maybe it is the age. Remember back in high school? Everyone was so clique-y and in their little groups.” Margaret looked over at Beth.

“I always envied you, you were comfortable with everyone, the jock-types, the theater kids, and the,” she smiled, “nerdy girls.”

“You remember me?” Beth asked, shocked.

“How could I forget you, Elizabeth, Lizzie! Captain of the softball team and star of the Godspell play that year. You were the pride of the school.”

Beth felt the pinpricks of sweat over her body, the conversation she had wanted to have for so long was happening now.

“But not good enough to make the Cheerleading Team, Meg. What did you say about me then, ‘Too Fat to Be a Cheerleader’?”  Beth felt her cheeks wet with tears.

“I was a little chunky then, but that hurt. I was so jealous of you and how you looked and… It took a long time to get over that.” Beth said, her lips quivering. 

I am not over it. 

Margaret looked over, shocked.

“What? I never said that! Who told you? We didn’t offer you a spot on the team, but that was because your softball coach told us not to. He didn’t want you to skip out on his fall practices.” 

Margaret looked out into the field, remembering. “Too fat? That must have been some dumb high school rumor.  Remember Jennifer Paddy, or Carla B? They were on the team, and they were pretty chunky!  You were an athlete, we would have loved to have you.” 

Margaret wrapped her arms around herself.

“But I was a bitch back then, and only thought about myself. I might have said something close to that.  I am sorry.  I hope I have changed, but maybe not enough. My marriage is breaking up, my daughter won’t speak to me. I wish I had your life, even with the bad coffee.” 

Margaret picked up the cup of the gas station coffee. She took a sip with a slight twinge in her mouth.

 “Maybe I haven’t made all the right choices.”

“I understand about choices.” Beth said, ``"Maybe we can go out sometime for real coffee?” 

She glanced at the gas station coffee cup in Margaret’s hand.

“Yes!” Margaret tilted the cup pouring it out.

Both women laughed. 

Three whistles blew and a great cheer went up from the field.

 Beth looked over, trying to see who won by the body language of the two teams. 

Seeing mostly blue arms in the air, she said  “I think we won!”

“Oh, good. I can't see anything without my glasses.” Margaret said as both women stood up.  

 Tabitha ran off the field and right into Beth giving her a sweaty hug. 

“We won Mom! We won!” 

Beth squeezed Tabitha close and smiled at Margaret. “We did win. It is a good beginning to a great season, I can tell.”

August 05, 2022 18:20

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6 comments

Tommy Goround
22:17 Aug 11, 2022

Clapping. Will she tell Margaret that her husband is cheating over coffee? Will Abby get so mad at her mother that she wants to live with Tabitha? Will Chris get a Keurig for Christmas and accidentally realize that $0.40 for a fresh cup of coffee is immensely worth it? The world is waiting with bated breath. :) (I found the story very enjoyable and smooth. Thank you)

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Marty B
22:42 Aug 11, 2022

Yes, to all of the above! And then they both dump their husbands, forswear men, move in together, and spend their mornings in bed with homemade vanilla Macchiatos from their De'Longhi espresso machine. That is a happy ending! -I would do really well with a 'coffee' prompt. ;)

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Yves. ♙
08:47 Aug 07, 2022

I was so glad this ended happily! I loved the tension-- so intense it almost got romantic-- and I'm glad the two figured things out. We're all so cruel in high school!

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Marty B
16:04 Aug 08, 2022

Thanks! I need more happy endings generally in my life ! :)

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Michał Przywara
16:53 Aug 06, 2022

This is a good fit for the prompt, for sure, and it's nice it ends happily. Both women have insecurities, and they lean on their strengths to hide them. And then seeing the strength of the other woman, they are only reminded more of their own shortcomings. It's easy to focus on our own flaws and the victories of others. A tale as old as time. That's one of the reasons social media can be so dangerous, isn't it? I imagine Margaret's would be full of glamorous, wealthy photos, and Beth's full of big, laughing family photos. But maybe that's...

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Marty B
16:13 Aug 08, 2022

Social medial and the damage it causes to self-image is a prompt by itself! I hope wisdom comes with age, I'm still waiting ;) I have been focusing on my own flaws and victories and appreciated the opportunity for Beth and Margaret to have the conversation for me. Thanks for reading!

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