By Nicole Cater
Lucy left all the comforts (both real and imagined) of Schaumburg behind when she split off Interstate 90 onto US Highway 20 outside of Cherry Valley. It wasn’t so much that she minded skirting Rockford, it was more the knowledge that she was traveling west. West in Illinois toward the Mississippi River. It was the last direction in which she wanted to head.
Her silver 2005 Honda CRV was crammed full. She was thankful that the car gods had smiled on her and given her SUV had a towing package. She had never needed to use it before. She had never thought about the tow hitch after the second month she bought the car and stuck a fancy heart cover into the hitch socket. Now the CRV and the U-Haul behind encompassed all she owned in the world. With rent so high in the Chicago suburbs, and her elementary teacher salary below average, she hadn’t had much extra to spend on frivolous items. Most of her money went toward her three bedroom apartment in the Legend Park complex in Schaumburg. She splurged on the extra room so her family could visit her and always have a place to stay. It was worth it to stay on the east side of the state, never returning west.
Besides, her apartment complex offered just about any amenity she could wish. Between the lush and immaculately kept grounds, the swimming pool, athletic center, sport courts and clubhouse, something was always happening. She had a ready-made social life. Not that she socialized all that much. Even her West Highland White Terrier, McTavish, was welcome and had his own pack of friends. And the complex was close to her school, Edwin Aldrin Elementary, just on the tip of Eagle Park. She was a highly respected sixth grade math teacher, covering both regular and accelerated programs. She was one of the faculties responsible for the STEM club and its high achievements. She was most definitely on the top of her game.
At eighteen, she had entered Chicago’s DePaul University, pursuing a teaching career with laser-like focus. For four years, she lived on campus, in various dorms, until she worked her way up to a single, where she wouldn’t be bothered by other students. She didn’t care that the students around her called her “the nun.” She worked in the library for extra money, and the rest of her time was spent studying for her major in Early Childhood Education and minor in Mathematics and Computer Sciences. She didn’t join any sororities or clubs. She rarely socialized, unless it was over a meal in the common cafeteria. As smart as Lucy was, she knew the other students thought her snobbish, aloof, elitist. In truth, she thought herself no better or worse than any of them. She just displayed a level of dedication that her fellow students couldn’t comprehend. It was almost as if she were on a military tactical mission: get in, complete the objective, get out. And it was how she lived her life. The payoff was walking across the stage, collecting her degree as the announcer called her name, her major and then added Summa Cum Laude. The principal at the school where she performed her student teaching deemed her smart, capable, deferential and quiet. At twenty-two, she had her pick of schools, and she chose Schaumburg.
But her years of self-enforced solitude had one unintended consequence, a drawback she never noticed. Lucy was bright, gifted even, and had an incredible work ethic. But all that was on the inside. On the outside, she was an average height of 5’6”. And that was where the average stopped. Her long wavy blond hair cascaded down the middle of her back like a cloud. She was an expert at pulling it back into a braid, bun or twist. But when it was loosened, it had a life of its own, and an unimaginable allure. Her high apple cheeks set off her overly-large deep blue eyes. Every aspect of her face was perfectly proportioned, from her button nose to her lips, just shy of plentiful. Lucy had no say in her genetics, she was beautiful. And when she smiled, which was not often, she was gorgeous, her whole face and eyes glowing with an interior fire that couldn’t be extinguished. Lucy abhorred makeup and wore just enough to look professional and presentable to her colleagues and the parents of the children at her school. She didn’t ask for her beauty, nor did she want it, so she wasn’t about to accentuate it. Similarly, she chose clothes that hid the willowy natural grace of her body. She wore oversize sweaters and blouses, long skirts and ballet flat shoes. Her disguise attempts were her one total failure. She continued to look exactly like whom she was; a beautiful woman desperate to hide that fact, even from herself.
Matthew Reynolds took one look at her his first day of orientation at Aldrin and saw Lucy for what she was. It was his first year as the new science teacher, and the reserved math teacher was assigned his tour guide and unofficial watchdog. He was immediately besotted. Lucy was not impressed.
At 6’2”, with his strong square jaw and sandy blond hair just a shade messy, he was quickly the talk of all the ladies in the teachers’ lounge. He fixed his chocolate brown eyes on whoever was speaking to him with such intensity, even some of the men felt they might melt. Matthew was a cross fit enthusiast and made sure that every outfit showed his hard labor. He wasn’t conceited or cocky, in fact most time he was quite earnest and sincere. But his good looks and amazing physique labeled him a jock, and he didn’t much care about arguing with the stereotype. He was also a man who knew what he wanted. And what he wanted, or who, was Lucy.
It took Lucy months to realize that Matt was flirting with her. When she did see what he was doing, she still had no clue of what to do about it. They spent most of that year locked in a tango, Matt flirting, Lucy barely responding. When she thought about it, if she thought about it at all, she had to admit she was attracted to the man. But she had spent the last 25 years avoiding situations such as this, and she was at an utter loss for how to proceed. She went to Sephora and got a makeover. Compared with her days of wearing a little mascara and powder, the bill seemed astronomical. But she went home and put the makeup on again and again until she could copy what the sales associate had done to her face in the store. She took another trip to Woodfield Mall and spent even more hard-earned money on clothing that was more tailored to her body, jackets, pant suits, and pencil skirts. She visited a Victoria’s Secret store for the first time in her life and learned about undergarments, especially bras that pushed her breasts up and gave the illusion of cleavage.
She came home and tried on all these outfits with McTavish as her attentive audience. He didn’t really approve, but he didn’t seem to judge either. She had allowed herself to splurge on a several pairs of shoes with kitten heels, and she practiced walking around the apartment. She didn’t trust herself on anything taller. And she didn’t want it to look like she was trying too hard. With new makeup, clothes and shoes, it would undoubtedly look like she was trying. But wobbling down the hall on three-inch heels was farther than she was willing to go. If only she paid attention when her college roommates had flirted their way into relationships, then maybe this wouldn’t be so hard. She had a split second when she contemplated calling her mother to ask for advice. But she knew the truth; that was a horrible idea. After flipping out for God knows how long over Lucy meeting a man, her flirting and dating advice would probably be sketchy at best. No, she would do this the way she had always done things; she would research, and then apply. It might not be a fool-proof plan, but it was how her brain worked, and she could do much worse, she thought.
Two weeks after her drastic wardrobe change, McTavish found his dinner bowl empty as Lucy went out on her first date with Matt, for a simple glass of wine. And although everything was going well, Lucy still felt too nervous and claimed her dog’s empty food dish as an excuse to leave. Matt showed up the next night at her apartment. Had she mentioned where she lived? The wine… she just didn’t remember. He had flowers for her, a dog bakery bone for McTavish and reservations at an Italian restaurant. Lucy, who hadn’t thought to actually buy any nice dresses while she was shopping, donned a blouse and skirt combo and hoped it looked formal enough next to his suit and tie. He looked so handsome in a suit.
After dinner, which was mediocre in her opinion, but with good conversation, Matt walked Lucy to her door. And then he kissed her. It was no small peck, but a full on kiss, she felt the tip of his tongue parting her lips and she was panic stricken for a moment. She remembered all the girls in sixth grade said this was French kissing and that all couples did it. Yet she was still not prepared that it was being done to her. She parted her lips and stuck the tip of her tongue out in a feeble attempt to match his actions. After a minute or so, he finally stopped. Matt looked dazed and smiled widely. Though still somewhat taken aback, she didn’t dare tell him that that was her first kiss. It didn’t seem the appropriate time to share the information. So Lucy just stood there, not knowing what to do next. Matt solved the issue by leaning back in and giving her a much more chaste kiss.
“I think we should save all this for the weekends, don’t you?” he said, smiling.
“I guess,” Lucy replied, still on uncertain ground.
“No,” Matt said, “don’t misunderstand. I would see you every second if I could. But school, the kids. I just think this should be private time, you and me. Don’t you?”
“Yes, definitely, that sounds like a great idea,” Lucy heard herself agreeing before she really understood if she wanted to agree or not.
“You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,” another chaste kiss, and then Matt squeezed her hand and walked off to his car, leaving an increasingly bewildered Lucy standing at her door.
“Things are probably going to change,” she said to McTavish as she leaned against the door, now closed against the outside chill. McTavish cocked his head, as if she were explaining calculus and almost grasped it. Lucy smiled to herself; few things could make her smile like that little head cock. She went into her bedroom, shed her fancy clothes, and donned a double extra-large t-shirt from her alma mater. She booted up her computer and ordered a copy of The Joy of Sex. Lucy was always prepared.
But there are some things you can’t prepare for, no matter how hard you try, despite all the studying in the world. Lucy couldn’t prepare for Matt wanting to move so fast. She couldn’t prepare for his immature attitude when she forced him to slow down. When she did feel like finally moving forward, she was shocked at how little effort he seemed to put into lovemaking. Like the kiss, she didn’t tell him it was her first time. But she had read the book. She figured that sex was an even playing ground, some things for her, some for him. But Matt’s style was all for him. The joy the book talked about was nowhere to be found. Her disappointment must have been obvious, because he spent the next hour pouting, before he finally got dressed and left.
Lucy wasn’t exactly sad, she was more perplexed. Was that what everyone raved about? Surely she was missing something. She knew it would hurt at first, but then she expected it to feel spectacular. Instead, she just felt like she wanted it to be over. But it was all so new. Maybe all she needed was practice.
Several more dates of varying interest with Matt ended in her bedroom. And yet, she still felt the same as she had the first. Matt certainly seemed to be enjoying himself, but Lucy just lay there, not knowing what to do, waiting for it all to be over. And each time Matt would get angrier as if it was her fault. But she knew from the book that it was his. And their last night together, she tried to bring up the book, tried to talk about some of the things in it. It proved a disaster, as did the sex afterward. This time Matt didn’t even stay around to pout. He just quickly got dressed, told her there was something wrong with her, and left.
And the next day it happened. She walked into the teacher’s lounge and everyone fell silent. But not before she heard one word, “frigid.” She knew what this word meant. She also knew if others were saying it, then Matt was talking all about the things he swore were private between them. Surprisingly, the betrayal hurt worse than the label. She came home that night and scrubbed her face clean. The next day she was back at school in her baggy blouse, long skirt and minimal makeup. Matt wouldn’t talk to her, but he would snicker with the other male teachers when she was around. It’s all so useless, she thought to herself. I won’t let him do this to me. But he did, day after day. And soon the women on the faculty seemed in on the joke. And so, with two weeks left of the school year, she went into the Principal’s office and told him she wouldn’t be returning. He was sympathetic, but didn’t act too surprised. And on her lunch break, she rented a U-Haul trailer, one way, from Schaumburg to Galena, Illinois. She was going to go home.
Her family all lived in Galena and it was from them that she ran. She, being an only child, had much to prove, and she wouldn’t stop until she had accomplished her goals. But as she skirted Freeport and US Highway 20 became two lanes, she realized that all she was doing was running away from her problems. She hadn’t liked how her family thought she couldn’t be taken seriously, so she ran east. Now, with the disaster of a relationship still fresh, she ran west. She had been gone nearly eight years. Eight years of making her parents visit her in the suburbs, eight years of trying to forget how to spell Mississippi, eight years of growing and learning. She supposed her cousins grew and learned during the same eight years. But that was hard to think about, a mere smokescreen. She knew Alex was married and had two little girls of his own. He was taking over his parents’ bakery. Claire, who ran the bakery with him, was married too, and was expecting her own child. She wasn’t exactly sure what Danny did, but he was the same age as her. She couldn’t picture him without a high-school graduation cap and gown. And of course, there was Bethany. Bethany and her bookstore and God knew what else was going on in her life. These were her father’s family and they had always bewildered her. She didn’t want to go back to them. But she had nowhere else to go. So she drove west, past nothing towns, wondering what eight years had wrought on the family that she had known, but not quite loved.
This is our new Wicked Short Stories page with submissions from various Authors. Please look for bio-snippets about the Author at the bottom of the various pieces. Enjoy!