Just like every other Friday night when I took my family to the game, it started off in total chaos.

“Mom! Where’s my blue shirt?” Abby encamped herself back in the bathroom again, this time doing game primp instead of school primp.

“Laundry!” I yelled back as I dumped a load into the washer, including said blue shirt.

“I need it now!”

“You should’ve put it in yesterday’s load!”

I didn’t have to be a mind reader to know that got an eye roll from my eldest daughter as she flounced out of the bathroom. The other kids made a rush for the open door and crowded in the tiny room.

“Mooooom! Sarah’s hogging the sink!”

“Jacob threw his toothbrush at me!”

“Because she made that face at me again!”

“Mom, I’m hungry!"

That came from my little Mattie, who was always hungry.

“We’ll get hot dogs at the game.” I punched the button on the washer and heard the water gurgling as it filled.

“Ewww! Those things are nasty.” Abby appeared in a light pink, off-the-shoulder sweater showing a cream-colored tank top. “I saw a YouTube video on what they're made of. Absolutely disgusting.”

While I agreed with her, I was running out of time. “Do not argue if you want to make the kickoff. There’s peanut butter in the kitchen. Go make yourself a sandwich.”

“You made that for lunch today! I don’t want another one!”

“I want jelly on mine!”

“Most hot dogs are made from animal by-products like hearts and lungs and stuff.”

“Can I still have a hot dog if I have a sandwich here?” That came from Mattie.

Gah! My brain was ready to explode.

“Abby, you can either eat here or there, but you will eat something. Jacob and Sarah, stop bickering, and unless you gotta pee, share the bathroom. Mattie, you can have a hot dog if you’re hungry at the game, but you must finish it before I get you any other treats. Now, I’m getting in the van in fifteen minutes, and I swear if you’re not in there when I pull out of the driveway, I’m leaving all of you here and driving to Disney World!”

“Jeez, Mom. You don’t have to be so dramatic.” My fifteen-year-old flipped her hair over her shoulder as she sauntered past me to the kitchen.

I could hear my teeth grinding away.

The sun had started its downward arc as I finally got my group corralled and out the door. An old beat-up pickup truck pulled into the driveway, blocking my van. The other side of the duplex had been vacant since we moved in, but it looked like it would not be empty anymore. A tall figure climbed out of the cab just as a moving van  appeared and parked behind him. I vaguely remembered a message my landlord sent that the other half had been rented along with the work building behind the property. That must be him.

“Mom! We’re gonna be late!” Abby wailed.

“She just wants to see Ashton before he goes on the field,” Jacob tattled.

“Shut up, Jacob!”

The man turned and looked at the wide front porch where my kids were holding the welcome wagon. Just my luck to have them squabbling loudly when our new neighbor was moving in.

As we moved to the driveway, I noticed he was a large man, broad and solid. I wore mom jeans with elastic at the waist, sneakers, and an oversized hoodie with a picture of our school mascot peeling from age. My hair was scraped back in its usual ponytail, and any scrap of makeup I had on from earlier today had worn off hours ago.

Please don’t be handsome too. Please don’t be handsome too, I prayed. It would be more of my luck to have a real hottie move in when I looked every bit of my age.

“I blocked you in, didn’t I?” His voice was deep and slightly accented with something European. Irish maybe? Ya ain’t from around here, are ya? floated through my mind in a deep Southern twang.

“Um… yeah. We were just leaving for the football game, and you’re makin’ us late,” Mattie told him. Not a shy bone in that kid’s body.

“Mattie, don’t be rude.

The man didn’t seem to mind my son’s bold statement. “Sorry about that, lad. I didn’t realize you were leaving. Get on in your car there, and I’ll move my truck for you, yeah?”

As I got closer, his dark hair came into view. The lower half of his face sported a short beard of the same color. He wasn’t classically handsome, but he certainly wasn’t bad to look at either. His bright green eyes had small lines that radiated from them, making him around my age. He was definitely rugged, and his tanned skin made me think he worked outdoors a lot.

“Oy! Owen! Back out! These people have somewhere to be!” The man’s powerful yell made me jump.

The moving van jerked once as it reversed and backed into the street.

The man turned back to us. “I’ll park my truck on the street tonight, and we’ll figure out how to make it work later. Fair?”

“That’s very fair, Mister…?” I hedged.

“MacAteer. The name’s Connor MacAteer.” He held out a giant paw. Lord, the man was a bear!

“Beverly Archer.” Heavy calluses scratched against my palm as his hand swallowed mine in a firm handshake. “Nice to meet you.”

“Mooooooom! We gotta gooooo!”

He let go of my hand after a light squeeze and hurried to the driver side of his truck. “Be out of your way in a bit. Enjoy the game,” he grunted, not looking back.

The heat from his broad palm lingered, and I hadn’t seen a wedding band.

I hurried to my huffing, impatient children, backed out of the driveway, and drove off with a wave. So we had a new neighbor or neighbors. The duplex wasn’t terribly big or new, but it had a nice big fenced-in backyard and a huge empty workshop in the back. I had chosen the smaller side mainly because the rent was affordable on a teacher’s salary, and it was in a good neighborhood close to the schools.

We got to the high school and the only spots left open were in the back of the parking lot. I managed to shuffle my brood to the gate, buy tickets—teacher discount, of course—and get us settled on the cold metal bleachers. Immediately, Abby ran off with a quick I’m-gonna-go-find-my-friends-and-ignore-all-of-you wave, Jacob asked if Mr. Barnard, the robotics teacher, would be there, Sarah stuck her lip out at being abandoned by her older sister, and Mattie asked about food. Melanie sent me a text asking our location and joined us, looking like she’d just stepped out of the pages of Vogue.

“You’re wearing designer jeans and heeled boots at a high school football game? How did you manage not to get mud on them when you walked through the field to get here?” I groused while pulling another twenty out of my wallet.

“I’m talented like that,” she trilled with a big smile, then plopped her custom stadium chair next to me. No cold ass for her.

I handed the money to Jacob and told him to take Sarah and Mattie to the concession stand. This would be the first of several trips, as the athletics department worked the food stand, the marching band had a bake sale going, and the cheerleading squad had a coffee and hot chocolate station. A fund-raising wine bar would attract a lot of people, but I guessed that wasn’t a good idea at a high school. Pity, as I would have dropped money on a glass of wine right now. Perhaps two. Or three.

The marching band loudly made its way to the track around the football field, the drums pounding out a dancing cadence and the flag girls twirling their long poles of glittering silk. As the chorus teacher, I knew most of the music students in one way or another, and even though I was not part of the band program, I loved the spectacle of the massive colorful marching shows.

“What’s happening for you the rest of the weekend?” Melanie asked as we stood for the national anthem.

I put one hand over my heart, the other holding an invisible microphone to my mouth, and assumed a game show host’s tone. “The usual. Tomorrow morning will be a titillating time of housework and the drama of making four kids clean their two rooms. A luxurious afternoon shopping trip to Walmart for groceries, followed by a wonderful session of grass cutting provided the mower works well enough. We will top the night off with an argument from Abby about hanging at the mall with her friends. But wait! There’s more! It’s a night of Redbox for the kids while I hide in the bathtub for a hot minute and ponder life’s inequities. We’re not done yet! Sunday, I’m subbing at the big Baptist church on Fifth Ave in the morning, then rounding out this exciting weekend with laundry in the afternoon. It’s bedsheet week.” I finished my presentation with a hand flourish, bugged-out eyes, and a wide-open smiley mouth.

Melanie rolled her eyes and let out a loud huff. “Such excitement in your life!”

“Here’s something you’ll find exciting. I have a new neighbor now. He was moving in just as we left to come here. A guy named Connor MacAteer. He’s a big fella, and before you ask, that’s all I know.”

She blinked at me. “Damn, Beverly! You could’ve invited him to the game.”

“Did you miss the part where I said he was just moving in? He pulled up in a pickup truck and had a moving van right behind him. He was probably ready to get his bed set up and jump in it, not come to some random high school football game in a city he just moved to.”

“How do you know he just moved here?” She was like a dog with a bone sometimes.

“I just got that impression. Plus the plates on the truck said New Jersey.”

I watched as she fluffed her hair—a useless gesture, as she had on a pretty cream knit beret and scarf. “Well, that’s a missed opportunity. Anyway, I’m surprised you’re here. I thought you were kid free this weekend and going to do something fun, like say, go out with me to the Saddles and Spurs club.”

“Yeah, well, I wasn’t supposed to have the kids this weekend, but Doug bailed on them again. Mandy booked them a trip to New York and didn’t include the kids.”

“Bitch” was Melanie’s response. “Think your ex will ever grow a set of balls and stand up to Little Miss Silicone Boobs?”

I laughed as I wiggled my freezing behind on the cold bench. I love my BFF!

“Honestly! What if you had plans, or a big date, or a weekend out of town yourself? Doesn’t he ever think about anyone but that bimbo he’s dating? I swear she snaps her fingers, and he jumps. I’m so glad you’re not with him, girlfriend, but at some point, you really do need to get a life of your own.”

“I was saving up for one, but the state insurance didn’t cover all of Jacob’s braces, and I had to spend my single’s cruise money on his mouth.”

“I’m serious, Beverly. You spend your life being a mom and a teacher, and that’s great, but you gotta be you too. When are you going to start dating again?”

“What year is it?”

“Ugh! You’re impossible!”

Melanie was gearing up to lecture me some more but got interrupted by the kids returning with hot dogs and drinks. I took a bite of the soggy red-dyed health hazard and promptly dropped a big splodge of mustard and chili on my chest. I wiped it off as best I could with the flimsy napkins the school provided, but it didn’t do much more than smear the mess around.

The first quarter ran well, even though the opposing team scored first. The cheerleaders bounced around, and the band blared out “Eye of the Tiger” anytime the team got close to the goalpost. Our mascot was a cougar, but no one cared about that detail in the song.

Mattie wanted hot chocolate, and I sent him and Sarah off to get three of the overpriced cups. Jacob had found Mr. Barnard and was talking animatedly to him. Melanie played on her phone and started asking me a bunch of questions.

“When were you born?”

“What are your interests? Hobbies?”

“Where is your favorite place to go on vacation?”

“What are your pet peeves?”

I gave her random answers as I intently watched the game. I was one of those anomaly women in that I loved the arts but also loved sports. Our team was getting closer to the goal, all of them crouched in a line, ready for that final push before halftime, and I was so ready to jump up and cheer for a score. The band had emptied their spot in the stands and was lining up for their show.

“I like Disney World, and my biggest pet peeve at the moment is a nosy friend asking me questions when I’m watching a football game! What the hell are you doing?” I blasted in irritation.

“I’m making you a Meet-n-Match profile. Look, see? I used your picture from graduation last year. It’s the best one I have on my phone.”

She turned the screen toward me and showed me the app with my pic and profile. I’d admit the pic was a good one, showing me in a partial profile, my hair styled for once, and wearing full makeup. I was smiling and relaxed, as that ceremony completed the end of school year, and my students were moving upward to bigger and better lives.

“Are you nuts? I don’t have time for that, and I’m not that desperate!”

“Really? When was the last time you went out on a date since the dirtbag left?”

Bleh! I love my best friend, even when I could just smack her. “So I haven’t been out much. It'll happen someday.” I spotted Sarah and Mattie returning with white Styrofoam cups. I also spotted something unexpected, and my belly threatened to send back my hot dog.

“Daddy!” Sarah yelled, dropping her cup and sprinting toward the couple that was walking away from the home side bleachers. Doug looked around sheepishly and quickly put a grin on his face. I didn’t think he expected to run smack into his ex-family.

“Hey, pumpkin, how ya doin’?” She jumped into his arms, not giving him a choice but to catch her.

“Momma said you were going out of town.”

“Um, yeah we are, but not ’til tomorrow morning. Mandy’s sister is a cheerleader on the visiting side, and we came for a bit to see her. We have to get home to pack.”

Sarah blinked, her exuberance gone in a heartbeat. She released her grip and dropped to stand in front of her father and the woman he was with.

Mattie didn’t show any such restraint. “You came here to see Mandy’s sister and not us?”

Doug faltered. “Uh, I didn’t know you’d be coming to the game. I’m glad you did.”

Mandy rolled her eyes but stayed silent, like it was beneath her to say any words to my son.

Me? I saw red, and my little-ears filter turned off. “I cannot believe you, Doug. You could’ve had the kids tonight, at least, instead of canceling completely. Showing up at the game anyway? How could you?”

Doug waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. “It’s not what you think, Bev.”

“Then what is it?” Melanie quirked an eyebrow.

Have I mentioned I love my BFF?

“None of your business, really. Come on, Dougie! They’re gonna do the big dance routine soon, and we’ll miss it!” Mandy’s whine cut through my head.

“Okay, Dee-Dee. We’ll make it in plenty of time.” Doug turned from his children and put his arm around Mandy. “Great to run into you. I’ll call next week.”

Dougie? Dee-Dee? Really?

Doug looked good. His styled blond hair shone under the stadium lights, and he was wearing nice pants with a sharp crease, a white dress shirt, and a tailored blazer. Mandy was dressed to the nines in designer everything, even more so than Melanie, and looked every bit the fashion model. I sat there in my mom jeans and mustard-covered hoodie, with a bare face and sloppy hair.

Mandy lifted her left hand to Doug’s shoulder as they walked away, and I noticed the big rock she had on. Neither of them glanced back to see the looks of hurt on my kids’ faces. The fight bled right out of me.

We walked back to our spots on the bleachers and sat down. Sarah and Mattie stayed quiet as they drank the two surviving hot chocolates, and I watched the halftime show, keeping the tears in my eyes from falling. Melanie made a few snarky comments about Barbie dolls and trolls, but when I didn’t respond, she left me alone. I was feeling all sort of feels and thinking all sorts of thoughts. I flew from angry to hurt, depressed to enraged, decisive to irresolute, over and over again. The love I had for the father of my children had been trampled flat and thrown out like garbage. The years we spent together building our family and making our home became meaningless to him at the recitation of a few sentences denoting his fortune. Now with his bright shiny new toy and bright shiny new life, he had no time or consideration for any of us, not even the four precious lives we made together. I wondered if he’d ever loved me at all.

The band finished its show and, with a swirl of flags, left the field as the football players came back out for the second half. Jacob wandered back and sat next to Melanie, gushing about the robotics project Mr. Barnard would help him with. Sarah and Mattie lost their quiet mood and began to squabble over something. I saw Abby hanging with her group of girls, flipping hair and gossiping, probably about boys. I wiped at my eyes and shook myself off. Time to put it away—again. I was getting really good at this. I greeted my students as they walked by with nods and waves, asking about weekend projects and other school-related bits. At the end of the game, I gathered my ducklings and ushered them back to the van, even the oldest one, who was arguing and stalling in order to see her latest boy crush.

The duplex was quiet and dark when we got back home. The moving truck sat on the street in front of the pickup truck. I pulled into the driveway, making a mental note to talk to my new neighbor about how to work out our vehicle situation. The kids were loud, pumped up on too much sugar, as we clattered up the steps to the porch, and I shushed them several times. Jacob was jumping off the walls to work on his robot thingy, Abby disappeared into her room to text her friends and use up more than her share of cell phone data, Sarah turned on the TV, and Mattie was hungry again. I sighed and waved a hand, telling them to do their own thing, just don’t burn down the house. I retired to my room with a sigh and flopped on my bed.

Now I could let it out.

I curled up as close to the wall as I could and jammed a pillow over my mouth to muffle the sobs. Even though the divorce was final a few months ago, my heart still hurt. I cried for my failed marriage. I cried for my kids’ pain. I cried for me, my age, my looks, and all the what-ifs I had built up in my head.   

“Mom! Mattie took the last Little Debbie oatmeal crème pie!” Jacob yelled up the steps.

I ignored the cookie crisis for a moment. It was a good thing my makeup had worn off so the kids wouldn’t see me with raccoon eyes. I blew my nose and dabbed at my eyes. Not too swollen. I can hide this, I thought as I picked up my phone.


“I’m coming! And quit yelling! We have new neighbors!” The irony of my volume was not lost on me.

I sent a quick text to Melanie.

Me: Did you really make a profile for me on Meet-n-Match?

Melanie: Absolutely! Looks nice. I just have to make it active and then the dates will come rolling in!

I hesitated over the buttons for a moment, but then the vision of that big fancy rock on Mandy’s finger flashed before my eyes again.

Me: Post it.

Melanie: Woohoo!!

I’m glad someone’s happy tonight, I thought as I made my way into the crème pie fray that was happening downstairs.



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ML Nystrom

Author  of MC and Contemporary Romance.

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