I couldn’t believe I was back home. Even after packing all of my earthly belongings, driving three and 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 could remember. I swear it was the homemade brew that they made here in Broken Bow. That was what kept them alive and kicking.
Our town was small. Everyone knows everyone. A person’s personal business is technically not their own here with a population of around 4,000 people. There were some great things about this. For example, I grew up never knowing a stranger. However, there were downs to this as well. Every person I ran into knew about the fact that I couldn’t make it in the big city, Oklahoma City.
“Hey everyone! Look who’s back! Mags!” squealed Cindy as she ran from around the counter to envelop 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 said that scent was one of the most important of the five senses, it could 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.
“ Of course I remembered! I follow you on your Facebook! Trying to keep up with all of those city drinks! And 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 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 in the 10 years since I had last been here. 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. Maybe put a magazine in front of your face, and peak over it every once in a while. Haven’t you ever watched 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’re 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 know it takes 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 to town.” Victoria looked like she was going to cry. I knew that she didn’t feel bad for Bridgett, she was just as mean or worse 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’re only 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 ready 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?” I could feel the apprehension climbing from my stomach to my heart and into my throat.
“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 Jake 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.
Looking back I realize that I wasn’t the best of friends with him that I could have been and I didn’t want to have to relive my past mistakes even more than I was already going to.
“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 have my teaching certificate which is more than a lot of alt-certified teachers here in the state.” I could feel the vein in my forehead bulging. When I get mad or upset that traitorous vein always pops.
With the recent cuts to education in the past ten years Oklahoma teachers were flocking to the surrounding states for better teacher pay and support in the classroom. This left a lot of empty holes that needed to be filled in Oklahoma schools.
Instead of actually raising teacher pay, the legislators decided that they were going to give emergency certifications to people who have degrees semi-close to what they would teach. They would have two years to pass the state test for the subject, but until then the school districts would throw these adults into the lion’s den with students who would eat them alive due to lack of classroom management or understanding of children’s phycology.
“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’ll march into the Principal’s office to demand a 5-page report on why little Suzy got a B+ instead of an A for the paper they wrote for them because God forbid kids do their own homework and then they’ll force you to share your lesson plans with them and quickly respond by supplying you with their own they downloaded off some home-schooling website, while threatening to have you fired because they attend the same country club as the superintendent. And all because their child didn’t score high enough on the SAT, which how could they have when their parents were doing all the work for them or hired it out to tutors….” 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 on them, “ Maggie Turee! Ha! Is that you? It can’t be, your face isn’t the Grand Canyon 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 so 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 than 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 am. 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.