Graded in Red| Chapter 3

Chapter 3

I couldn’t believe I was back home. Even after packing all of my earthly belongings, driving three in a half hours from the city, and unpacking my things into the basement apartment, I couldn’t believe it. But here I was, walking into my favorite local pub Murphy’s. Scott and Cindy were the owners and had been alive for as long as I can remember. I swear it’s the homemade brew that they make here in Broken Bow. That is what keeps them alive and kicking. 

Our town is small. Everyone knows everyone. A person’s personal business is technically not their own here with a population of 4,000 people. There are some great things about this.  For example, I grew up never knowing a stranger. However, there are downs to this as well. Every person I ran into knew about the fact that I couldn’t make it in the city, Oklahoma City. 

“Hey everyone! Look who’s back! Mags!”, squealed Cindy as she ran from around the counter to envelope me in a huge hug. 

“Hey Cindy! How’s it going?” I breathed as Cindy squeezed all of the breath out of my lungs. She smelled the same, of citrus and cigarette smoke. Not the most appealing of scents but it made the reality of being home so much more clear. They say that scent is one of the most important of the five sense, it can bring back memories a person thought was forgotten. 

“Oh you know! My back has been acting up, and Scott fractured his hand when a crate of beer fell on it! It’s never boring here! But we are fine just the same. Smithwicks for you Mags?” Cindy asked as she squeezed my shoulders one last time before heading back behind the bar. 

“Yes! You remembered! You’re the best. Have you seen Vic? She was supposed to meet me here to talk about the beginning of the school year.” I  said as I wove my way in-between the tables to get to an empty barstool table with two seats. 

“No, she hasn’t made it in yet. But grab that table and I will point her your way when she gets in. Until then here is your beer, want anything to snack on while you wait?” Cindy took out a notepad from her apron and took the pencil out from behind her messy bun. 

“Got any specials today?” My stomach was rumbling. I remembered that I hadn’t had anything to eat since this morning when I was filling up my car with gas at a QuikTrip. 

“We have some cheese fries, chili, and some broccoli soup with bread from the bakery down the street. Any of that sound good to you?” 

“I think I’ll have some broccoli cheddar soup and two pieces of the bread, thanks Cindy. You’re the best.” I smiled at her as she nodded and walked back to the kitchen. 

Looking around the pub I noticed that things hadn’t changed much. The booths still had the same green cracked leather and faux wood veneer. The lights were still dim and caked with years of dust and other things that I didn’t want to think about. But I could tell that Cindy and Scott were doing well. They had new beer mugs, new taps, and a new POS system, with a fancy touch screen. 

As I was scanning the room my eyes fell on the last person I wanted to see, Bridgett Nickel. I could tell time had not been kind to her. There were lines deeply edge in her face from years of smoking and a hard life, I assumed. Her hair was bleached to the last possible inch of its life. She looked a good ten years older than me, and yet she was still wearing clothing from what looked like our high school days. 

A tight red halter top, a size too small, a black lacy bra, not strapless, a short jean skirt with embroidered flowers on it, and  bright red stiletto heels. She was leaning down talking to a man at the bar, so she didn’t notice me staring. They looked to be having a heated discussion, he grabbed her arm, she pushed back and yanked it out of his grasp. He grabbed her waist and pulled her in, giving her a very sloppy and messy kiss. I couldn’t tell if she was enjoying it or not. As I was trying to figure it out someone came up from behind me. 

“Hey Mags, what are you staring at?” A soft voice whispered behind me. 

My heart jumped into my throat at being caught staring, but I knew that voice almost better than my own, “Victoria Star! You know it’s rude to sneak up on people unannounced!” I said as I grabbed her and forced a hug on her. 

“Ha! Says the woman who was staring down Bridgett over there. You know, if you are going to spy on people, you should at least be more secretive about it. You know, put a magazine in front of your face, and peak over it every once in a while. Haven’t you ever watch a James Bond movie? Or Harriet the Spy?” Victoria lectured as she put her Mary Poppins bag on the table and started to bring out stacks of papers, I swear that purse had no ending. 

Victoria Star had been my best friend since we were in middle school. She was into oldies music, black and white movies, and old books. Of course, in a small town like Broken Bow, where sports ran the schools, this made her an outcast. It didn’t help that she was 5’2” with bright red hair, and had a garish laugh. She might have been small, but she was fierce. As an awkward middle schooler who basically lived in the library, hit puberty way to early, and actually liked school, I wasn’t part of the ‘cool kids club’ either. Thus a wonderful friendship bloomed. 

Victoria took to her artistic way of living and got her degree in the Visual Arts at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. She tried her hand at show business, I mean, with the last name of Star, she had a lot to live up to. But she missed home too much and came back home about 5 years ago. She got a job at the local high school as the Art and Drama teacher.  

“Listen, you know Harriet the Spy was my favorite book and movie growing up. I just didn’t expect to see Bridgett here in town. I thought when we graduated she was going to make it big as a TV anchor or something like that. You hadn’t mentioned her during our weekly phone calls. I was just caught off guard.” I said defensively and I watched Cindy weave her way through the now full pub with my bread and soup. 

“Hear ya go darling. Enjoy! Anything I can get you Vic?” Cindy asked while wiping the table next to us off with a damp rag. 

“I’ll have what she’s having. A smithwicks right?” Victoria looked at me with a glint in her eye. I knew I was predictable but I liked what I liked. No sense in straying from something I knew was going to taste good. 

“Alright, it might be a little bit longer, we always get slammed around this time every day. The new school they are building brings in a lot of thirsty and hungry construction workers. See ya in a bit, I’ll bring your drink over first though.” Cindy made her way back to the bar, getting stopped every few steps to take empty glasses, pick up tabs, and orders. She made it look easy, but I knew it took a special person to be able to handle this kind of crowd. 

“I didn’t know that she was back in town. I knew that she was in and out of rehab after we graduated high school. She got knocked up, by her drug dealer, I believe, and the kid lives with her parents while she wanders around town.” Victoria look like she was going to cry. I knew that she didn’t feel bad for Bridgett, she was just as mean or more to Victoria in high school then she was to me. There had to be something else that Vic was upset about. 

“What’s wrong? Why are you so upset?” I asked

“It’s just, I know her son, Blake. He is in 3rd grade now, and is the sweetest, most talented kid I have in the Young Actors Guild that I run after school. She isn’t the kindest to him. She picked him up last week, drunk off her rocker and swearing at him. Calling him a fairy because he had stage makeup on. It was just hard to watch, and I feel so bad for him.” Victoria wiped away a tear as she started to sort the papers in front of her into piles that only made sense to her. 

“Hey Vic, I’m sorry! Just know that everything you are doing with your after school clubs and before school tutoring is amazing! You are a wonderful mother figure for these kids and you are helping them with everything that you can.  But you have to remember that you are human, you can’t do everything.” I squeezed her arm and smiled at her. 

“Oh I know! This is me being tough, you should have seen my first year teaching. I cried every day. Speaking of first year teaching, you read to tackle History for Juniors and Seniors? I brought the textbook and the most recent state standards for you to look over before school starts. You’ll be working with Mike, the 9th and 10th grade teacher on collaboration and lesson plans.” Victoria went into organization and planning mode. I knew that I wouldn’t get anything else out of her if we didn’t get everything settled and sorted out now. 

“Mike? Who’s Mike? You never mentioned that I would have to work on a team with anyone else. What was it that you said? ‘Mags, you’re basically your own boss. You won’t even have to deal with adults, besides parents. I promise this will be amazing!’, I’m pretty sure you didn’t mention working with anyone else.” I didn’t like surprises and Victoria knew that. 

“Listen, I knew that you might say no if I told you that you weren’t going to be 100% on your own. And no job lets you work all alone, you need to socialize more! Besides, it’s not like its a stranger. You know Mike.” She said while averting her eyes from my gaze. 

“I do? Who is Mike?” 

“Michael Johnson. He was a year behind us. He followed you around like a lost puppy our senior year. Asked you to prom but you decided to go with Jack instead. Which I still can’t understand.” Victoria scrunched up her face to show her displeasure in my choices ten years ago. 

“You knew from the beginning that I was going to be working with him didn’t you?!” I squeaked just a little bit too loudly, causing others in the tables near us to turn around and stare. 

I don’t know why I was so upset or why I was acting like a scared teenager. Mike never creeped me out or anything. He wasn’t a stalker by any means, but he did like to hang out with our group and try to be next to me most of the time.  He actually helped me study a time or two in the library for a history exam from Mr. Rod. His tests were always so brutal it was hard to keep up. 

“Yes Mags, I knew that you would be working with him. I didn’t think it would be a big deal. You both are mature adults, right? You can be kind and helpful to one another. Plus, he is your mentor actually, so you have to meet with him at least once a week.” Victoria said the ending sentence as quickly as she could while drinking a large gulp from her beer. I think she was hoping that I wouldn’t hear the last part. 

“EVERY WEEK?! Jeez Vic, I’m not a child. Just because this is my first teaching job outside of my internships doesn’t mean I need to be babysat. I do have a degree in American Studies, I know what I am teaching.” I could feel the vein in my forehead bulging. When I get mad or upset that traitorous vein always pops. 

“Do you know how to read IEPs? 504s? BIPs? What about the new OAS standards? There are many more acronyms that have come out since you graduated. You will need help with accommodations, talking to helicopter parents, and the flow of classroom management.” 

“Wait a minute, what is a helicopter parent? That sounds like something that would come out of a Science Fiction novel.” I laughed into my drink

“A helicopter parent, is a parent who thinks they know more about educating their child then you do. They will question every assignment, every grade, and they will pick apart every email you send them, looking for a comma splice and call you out on it.” Victoria’s voice got low and turned into a hissing whisper. It was like she was afraid a helicopter parent was going to pop up and scare her even before the school year started. 

Just as Victoria was finishing her scare tactic lecture someone bumped into my chair and sloshed their drink down my back. 

“Excuse me!” I gasped as the warm beer trailed down my back and into my shorts. 

I turned around to see none other than Bridgett Nickel, trashed. She was so wasted that her eyes were barely open. No wonder she slammed into my chair she could hardly see. 

“Whaaat?! You bumped into me witch.” Bridgett slurred, “You owe me a new drink!”

“The hell I do. You slammed into my chair, spilled your beer down by back, and you’re blaming me?” My voice was raising and people around the pub stopped their conversations to peer our way. I remembered quickly that this was an extremely small town and anything said would get around quickly. 

Bridgett narrowed her eyes as though she was trying to focus them, “ Maggie Turee! Ha! Is that you? It can’t be, your face isn’t the Grand Canon anymore and you’ve lost the baby fat. It looks like you’re still stuffing your bra though.” Bridgett hissed and looked around the bar to get people to snicker with her. She was met with silence. 

One of the many rumors that Bridgett spread around the high school was that I stuffed my bra or got breast implants. She was tall and skinny in high school and part of what my mom called the Itty Bitty Titty Committee. It was the one thing that I had that she couldn’t take from me. My genetics. 

Being heavy on top was not all it was cracked up to be. I had to buy shirts a size too big to that they would fit my chest. Bras would wear out quicker. Worst of all was the back pain that they caused. They were actually a bigger problem then they were a blessing. I had thought many times about getting a reduction, but never went through with it. 

“Wow, you really haven’t grown up have you? You still have to put others down in order to bring yourself up don’t you?” I was trying not to let her put me back into my old high school mindset. I knew who I was and what kind of person I was. I wasn’t going to sink to her level. 

“Hey Cindy! Do you think you can get Bridgett here a pot of coffee? She needs to sober up!” I called over all the people to the bar. 

Nodding Cindy started pouring a glass of coffee out for Bridgett. As I walked closer to Bridgett the smell of alcohol seeping from her pores and the acidic stench of cigarette smoke insulted my nostrils as I tried to coerce her towards the bar.

 “ Bridgett, you should go and sober up. Your son needs a mom. Someone to be there for him. You can’t continue to live life like this.” I was trying to be as kind as I could be. I was doing it for her son, not for Bridgett I told myself. 

Bridgett did not see this as a kind gesture. She yanked her arm out of my grasp and screamed as loud as she could, “DON’T TOUCH ME! You all saw! Maggie Turee assaulted me! I am going to the cops! I’m going to sue you!” She was walking towards the door as she was yelling, tripping over her own feet as she went, “This isn’t over Turee! I will get you! No one makes a fool out of Bridgett Nickel!” Her voice faded as the pub door slammed shut. 

 

Graded in Red| Chapter 2

Chapter 2

“Hey! Do you need any help with that?!” Someone across the street yelled as I was heroically carrying three boxes from the moving truck. 

“No! I’m good! You know women’s rights and feminism and all that!” I hollered back struggling against the weight of the boxes I was carrying. Who in the sane world owns this many books? I mean seriously, ’Maggie read them once, donate them, sell them, move on!’, is what a sane person would tell herself. And yet, here I am, moving across the state, with more boxes full of books then basic materials to live. 

Hearing an exasperated sigh from behind me, I knew that I was about to get a talking to from whoever was behind me. The hair rose on the back of my neck as the person spoke. 

“Seriously I don’t mind helping, really! I promise, I will still look at you as the womanly woman that I think you are behind those boxes. You know, the kind of woman that doesn’t mind asking for help. Unless you’re cool with tripping over that next step, face planting, and then being a toothless feministic female who carries heavy boxes by herself.” 

I tried to move forward but was blocked by an unmoving object. I was pretty sure it was the frustrating  floating voice becoming a solid form and blocking my way into my parent’s basement apartment. 

I tried moving around the foreign object, moving left, and then right, but it kept impeding my advancements and I felt the load in my arms lighten and the brightness of the sun penetrate my once shadowed face as this stranger lifted one of the boxes from my arms. 

“Listen, I get it. You are a gentleman and you wanted to help the lady across the street. But I specifically said I did not need any help. Now, I have pepper spray in my pocket and I’m not afraid to use it. Put the box down and step away slowly. No one will get hurt.” I said as my eyes adjusted to the light that was forced upon them. 

I was however bluffing, after I moved back home from the city, I didn’t feel the need to carry my pepper spray and cat keyring with me 24/7. But this guy didn’t need to know that specific piece of information. I could front with the best of them. 

As my eyes focused on the person in front of me, I could not believe who I was seeing. Jake, the neighborhood terror was standing in front of me carry my box of books. The mischievous look in his eyes knew that I recognized him and showed that he was having a grand old time messing with me. 

“Margaret Turee, looks like you are still as stubborn as ever at letting people help you.” Jake said in a playful yet obnoxious way. 

“Jake Peterson, looks like you are still as pushy, overbearing, and still don’t understand the words ‘No Thank You!’. And its Maggie, its always been Maggie” I snapped as I pushed pass Jake and walked down the stairs, while not so gracefully tripping over the lifted up edge of the threshold as I entered the kitchenette and set my boxes down on the counter. 

Jake, obviously still ignoring everyone else’s wishes came down the stairs, missing the warped edge of the entryway, and set the other box of books on my counter. 

“Maggie, Mags, when are you going to get over what happened? That was 10 years ago. I came to help you out, I’m not the same person I was when I was 18. Are you?” 

I blew the hair out of my eyes and looked up at Jake. I wasn’t short for a woman at 5’7’’. I also wasn’t tiny, I liked to eat real people food. I weighed in at a solid 160lbs, and wore a size 10. 

But when I say that Jake grew into his body. I wasn’t kidding. His wide shoulders and big ears, and buck teeth became more in proportion with the rest of his body. It looked like he was growing his  chestnut colored hair out, from the military cut his dad always forced on him when he was younger. Being the son of the police chief was something that Jake had hated, growing up, but he seemed to have accepted it, as shown by the badge on his hip.  

“Of course I’m not the same person as I was when I was 18. Would you have seen me move back home?” I snapped as sweat fell down my face and threatened to fall and sting my eyes. 

The heat of Oklahoma never seemed to waver in July. Not only was the temperature hot, but the humidity was at 90% today. You got out of an air conditioned car and you were hit with a wall of wet fire. 

“Maggie my dear!” A voice hollered down the basement staircase. 

“Yes mom! What is it?” I shouted back. Jake squinted and covered his ears at my response. In my family, we don’t merely walk to the other side of the house to have a regular conversation. This is what normal people in normal families do. Nope, in my family, we scream at the top of our lungs. Even if there isn’t a thing going on in the house, we scream. It’s just the way I was raised. 

“I just made a fresh batch of sweet tea, would you like one? It is hot as a whore in church out there. I am afraid that you are going to overheat!” My mother continued screaming down the stairs. 

You see, my mom, Heather, was what you would call a special woman. She did not care about what others thought, spoke her mind, and cussed like a sailor. This to my dad was a redeeming quality, since it was exactly opposite of himself. I guess the saying opposites attract really rings true when it came to my parents. Mom is loud and boisterous and has never met a stranger. Whereas my dad, Paul, was shy, rarely spoke out, and had the best sense of humor you could possibly imagine. I found my love of puns through him. 

Walking to the end of the stairs, I could see my mom peeking out of the door at the top, “I am good mom. I don’t need anything, thank you though!” I whispered up the stairs and shooed her away with my hand. 

“Oh! You want me to leave?! Who’s down there with you? A boy!? Paul! Maggie has a boy in her room!” My mom  shrieked into the living room, where I knew my dad was sitting in his recliner watching a sports ball game of some sort. 

“I’ll come on down and see who is here!” My mom said as she waddled down the steep stairs into the apartment. “Oh! Jake! It’s so good to see you! Were you coming by to see me? I need my front yard mowed and our gutters need cleaning out!” My mom started digging through her pockets in her jeans shirt and jean shorts coming up with a wrinkled $20 bill. 

“I’m sure this will cover both of those chores, now come on up for a nice cold glass of tea. If Maggie-Poo wants to die of dehydration that is her choice, but I want to make sure you don’t keel over while tending to the yard.” Mom said as she walked away and Jake trailed after her looking helpless. 

I had a tiny urge to rescue him from my mom, but then I remembered what happened 10 years ago, and I decided that this was his punishment. My mom could make paint peel talking it to death. I love her, but you can only listen to the same story so many times before your eyes start to roll. 

It was time to start unpacking. This was the beginning of a new chapter for me. I was going to meet with Victoria this evening to talk to her about my new job at the high school and what to expect. I needed to rinse off really quick, change into some shorts and a tank top, and head on over to the pub on Main Street. 

Graded in Red| Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Remembering the time I once told myself and everyone around me that I was an adult and that I  would never move back home and live with my parents. I remember that I meant it. I remember thinking that I had the world in the palm of my hand. 

I was thinking about that famous saying, “The best laid plans…” ? Yeah, 18 year me didn’t believe her plans would go sour. I didn’t know that after getting my degree in Education with a minor in history that I wouldn’t be able to find a teaching position. Well not a teaching position that didn’t require me to coach, work a second job, and still have trouble making ends meet. Millennial’s  believed that the world was their oyster. I believed I was going to have it all. Unfortunately, “The Best Laid Plans”, left me wanting. 

Long story short, I graduated from a state college with a degree in education. I was hoping to touch student’s lives, make a difference, and if anything get a kid to love history as much as I do. That however, was not realistic. I got a job at a soul sucking corporate office. Upselling the next biggest thing to ever hit the world market. Or at least until the next newest, shiniest, and biggest thing hit. I could have stayed at that job. It paid the bills and even allowed me to have a vacation once or twice a year. The kicker was falling in love with my boss. 

What is the one rule in dating? NEVER. DATE. YOUR. BOSS. However, I believed that this this was true love. Even when I found out that he was married, I believed that he would choose me. That were would be together forever. Yet when push came to shove, he chose his wife. Which I couldn’t blame him for. I look back at my decisions and cringe. There are just sometimes in your life that you question who you were as a person and who you wanted to be. 

So, when I got a call from my childhood friend Victoria to come and teach with her at the high school in my hometown. I knew that was what I needed, a fresh start. Of course, if I told 18 year old Maggie that we would be back to Broken Bow, Oklahoma as well as moving in with mom and dad again, I’m pretty sure she would faint. 

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