In the game of love and of life, everyone roots for the underdog. You know. That girl-next-door who wears glasses and has a shy smile and who falls for the quarterback. But what about the quarterback's cheerleader girlfriend? You know. The one he dumps in order to take shy girl to Homecoming? What about her feelings? Why should she be punished for being genetically blessed and likable?
What about her?
What about me?
See, my momma was Miss South Carolina and Miss Dixie Belle, and her momma was both Homecoming Queen and Prom Queen for two years in a row. My handsome daddy was smart and invested in real estate one block off Myrtle Beach, and when zoning laws changed and allowed for skyscraper hotels to build off the beach, he sold his land for millions.
I had inherited both Momma's good looks and charm and Daddy's smarts and magnetic personality. They both had attended Socastee High School, and since Momma's best friend was also the cheerleading coach, I had made the Varsity squad as a sophomore. (It wasn't entirely based on connections; I mean, I had been taking gymnastic lessons since I was four.)
My life was pretty perfect. My parents were still madly in love. I got good grades, and I had bunches of friends.
I was also in love with Myrtle Beach's most perfect boy. No, Bobby Bishop was the world's most perfect boy. I loved how his brown hair curled into his green eyes, and how his skin glowed tan against his white teeth. I loved how his muscles made me feel delicate beside him, and I loved his easy laugh. Bobby was the quarterback of the Socastee Braves, and even though people could have stereotyped him as some meathead, Bobby was so nice and so sweet.
I swirled the combination to my locker, admiring how my French manicure contrasted against the black paint. Momma was very insistent that a lady should always look her best. 'Show respect for others, sugar, by showing respect for yourself," she would drawl with her magnolia-tinged voice, applying her bright lipstick. Momma usually gave pretty good advice, and so I always made sure I looked good.
"Maggie Baby, have I told you how much I love when you wear that uniform?" I felt arms slide around my waist, and I had to choke back a gleeful giggle.
"Maybe we both have uniform fetishes, sugar, because I wish you would wear that jersey every day." I twisted around to grin up at Bobby. Oh. Yeah. Bobby Bishop wasn't just the world's most perfect boy. He was also my boyfriend of two years. I ran my hands down the black and gold jersey, lingering on the hard cut of his abs. God, I loved this boy. "Look, honey, I lost three pounds!"
I stepped back to twirl in a slow circle. This year, Socastee High had switched from one piece cheerleading uniforms to more skimpy two pieces. I hadn't felt so comfortable wearing what was basically a sports bra to school on game days, so I had asked Momma for a new diet to really flatten my abs. And it had worked!
Bobby's green eyes slid down my body, and I nearly blushed at the look on his face. "You were beautiful before, honey, and you're beautiful now. Again. Have I told you how much I love that uniform on you?" His hands slid to the bared curve of my waist, and I smiled as he pulled me in for a kiss.
"Jesus. Get a room!" Tommy Phillips slammed the locker next to us, causing me to jump back from Bobby and blush. Tommy was the running back for the Braves, and Bobby's best friend. Even though Bobby was the best looking boy in the county (no, in the world!), Tommy definitely held his own with his bright blue eyes and blonde curls.
"Don't swear around ladies, Tommy!" I swatted at his bicep, and he grinned down at me. Our daddies had been playing golf together at Pine Lakes Country Club since we were babies.
The bell rang then, signaling our first class of the day. "Shit, we're picking lab partners today," Bobby sighed, hoisting his book bag over one muscled shoulder. "Oh, sorry, baby." He looked down at me apologetically. I was never comfortable around cursing. Momma always said, 'Sugar, gentlemen should never be cursing around ladies, but they might need some reminding here and there.'
"Just don't let it happen again!" I twinkled up at him, sliding an arm through his.
"Got to run, Mags. I'll see you at lunch." Bobby dropped a kiss on my forehead and disappeared into the classroom behind us.
I watched him go, the familiar spark of love making me feel warm down to my toes. "Ah, Maggie May," Tommy half sang, dropping his arm on my shoulders. "Bobby's a lucky guy."
"Duh!" I grinned back, wrinkling my nose up at him.
Looking back, Bobby hadn't acted that different at lunch that day. We sat at our usual table with Tommy, Abby and Artie Souter, identical twins who looked like matching blonde supermodels (Abby was on the cheerleading squad with me, while Artie played soccer), and Missy Vesper, my best friend in the whole world.
I snapped open my can of Diet Coke, watching Bobby shovel tacos down his throat with envy. I was watching my calorie intake like a hawk—this new uniform made me suddenly very aware of my body. "Bobby, who was the weird girl sitting next to you in Chem this morning?" Missy moved to South Carolina from Boston in junior high, and every time she spoke, her rough accent jolted me.
"Oh, it's one of those super depressed chicks. You know. The ones that wear all black and hate their life," Artie leaned back until his chair came up on two legs.
"Guys, be nice. Chloe seems nice," Bobby said mildly.
"I just don't understand people like that," I dropped my chin in my hands, wincing as my stomach growled. "Like, it's just so selfish. Everyone hurts. Everyone has crappy things happen to them. I think people need to focus more on the wonderful things they do have than think about the negative all the time."
"Here, here, Maggie May!" Tommy raised his can of Coke over his head.
Giggling, I continued. I was on a roll. "And, I mean, really, bless her heart, how is that much black flattering for anyone's complexion?" Black was okay in some situations, but Momma always said that wearing happy, bright colors made everyone feel better around you.
I heard a sharp intake of breath behind me, and I saw a girl with pale skin and long dark hair standing behind us. She had tears forming in her eyes. "Oh." I said softly. That girl wasn't from around here. Maybe she didn't realize that the "bless her heart" balanced out anything negative that followed. Mamma was always saying that people just needed a good dose of the truth, but to make sure they knew it came from the heart.
"I just wanted---I wanted to give you your half of the outline—" Chloe broke off sharply and shoved a piece of paper into Bobby's hand before rushing out of the cafeteria. I had examined her closely in those ten seconds, trying to make sense of a girl who didn't wear makeup or care about her hair.
The table was silent for a minute. "Oh, Maggie, look what you did!"
"I wasn't talk about her! I was talking about people in general…I mean…" I felt my heart sink. I didn't want her to think I was just being mean for no reason. "I'm going to go apologize—" I stood up to follow her out of the room, when Bobby interrupted me.
"Don't worry it about it, Mags. Let me talk to her."
"Emo girl will definitely respond to those gorgeous green eyes!" Artie lisped femininely, clasping his hands under his chin and causing Missy and Abby to burst into giggles.
Bobby smiled back, but I couldn't get my lips to curve back at him. I felt horrible. "Bobby, are you sure?" I chewed on my lip.
"It's fine, baby. I'll be back in a few." Bobby squeezed my hand, and it felt like he was squeezing an extra shot of love into my body. I took in those beautiful eyes, and his chiseled chin, and his sweet smile, and I thought that he had a face a girl could look at the rest of her life.
"Okay." We watched Bobby follow Chloe from the cafeteria, and then the table conversation flowed back to normal.
I guess that was the day I began to lose him.
"Maggie, you have nothing to worry about! Stop futzing around the mirror!" Missy batted my hands away from where I had been pulling at my skirt. Despite the diet I had been on for the past two weeks, I still felt fat in my uniform. I protested as much to Missy, who rolled her eyes and turned me to look at myself in the mirror. "Mags, you have the body of a Playmate. You look perfect, and you know it. Just be confident!"
I smiled gratefully at Missy in the mirror. She always knew what to say to make me feel better. I loved my Momma to pieces, but former beauty queens had a way of making a girl feel slightly sub-par. I supposed it was her way of loving me, pushing me to be my best.
"Miss, I'm just nervous. You know. About them announcing Queen at the game and all." I tugged at an auburn curl nervously. In another change from tradition, Socastee was announcing their Homecoming Queen at the football game, rather than at the dance the next night.
"Why be nervous? We all know you're going to win. Isn't like your legacy?" Missy wasn't bitter. Our friendship was never competitive. She was tall and blonde, while I was curvy and redheaded. She didn't exactly understand the South's obsession with tiaras, while Momma had already cleared out a space in the trophy case for the crown I was sure to win tonight.
"Yeah, I just…I don't know." Nearly sick with nerves, I applied another coat of mascara to my already long lashes.
Missy watched me for a minute, and then slid off the counter in the bathroom where she'd been watching me primp for the hundredth time before the game. "Is this about Bobby?" She asked softly, her Boston accent not as grating as normal.
I nodded, trying not to let the tears building up ruin my makeup. "I just…I wish that he…" I trailed off, my voice shaking.
"Oh, Mags." Missy folded me into her arms, squeezing me tight against her chest. Bobby had been acting so distant lately, and I couldn't figure out why. The other day, I had been talking about the dress that Momma and me had bought at Nordstrom in Georgetown for the upcoming Miss South Carolina pageant, and he had snapped at me.
'Maggie, there are more important things in life than fucking beauty pageants.' His green eyes were angry. The curse word had felt like a physical blow. Bobby never cursed around me.
I had sat back in shock, suddenly sick to my stomach. I wasn't some pageant head like Momma, but the scholarship I'd win would more than pay for getting my MFA at the University of Virginia. Daddy may have had millions, but paying for college on my own was important for me. I didn't want to be that girl who sponged off her parents her entire life. I had looked down, trying to not cry while Bobby aggressively shifted gears.
Even thinking about that night now made me start crying all over again. "Why won't he just talk to me, Miss? Why is he being so cold?" My breath came in shuddering gasps. We were supposed to be on the field in ten minutes, and I was a nervous, crying, raccoon eyed wreck. The night Bobby yelled at me wasn't even the worst part. What I hated more was that he was always canceling his plans with me, going to a study group or some show at the House of Blues.
Even Tommy had confided in me the day before, pulling me aside after football practice. 'What's wrong, baby doll? I hate seeing you so sad.' We sat on the bottom row of the bleachers. I let my forehead fall on his shoulder and sighed.
'It's Bobby, isn't it?' His blue eyes had creased with concern.
'I know, Mags. He's been acting weird with us too. He skipped Poker last night.'
I had looked at Tommy in shock. 'Bobby skipped Poker Night? He loves playing poker with y'all!'
'Something's off with him.'
'Maybe I could—'
'It's not you, Maggie. You're everything I—a guy could want.' Tommy smiled at me, patting my leg. 'I mean, you're gorgeous, and you're sweet, and you're talented. Bobby's really lucky. It's not you. It must be him.'
We had sat together in silence, and I had felt better knowing that our friends understood.
"Mags," Missy was saying as she leaned back from my face. "I all done. Now, you look even better than before." Her teeth were white against her pink lip gloss. She flipped her blonde hair over her bare shoulder.
I turned around to see my reflection in the mirror. I looked even better than before I started crying. "Miss, you're brilliant. You should be a makeup artist."
"Maybe one day. Now, Mags, let's go out there and get your crown. Bobby will come to his senses when he sees how beautiful you look."
Bobby Bishop, the love of my entire life, had broken up with me as we stood on the stage about to receive our crowns. His palm had felt cold and clammy when I slid my fingers into his. I studied his profile as he stood and looked out from the fifty yard line over the bleachers. His profile was so handsome, I felt my knees wobble.
"Bobby," I whispered as Principal Browning droned on about Homecoming, and welcome North Myrtle, our competitors, to the field.
He ignored me, staring ahead.
I squeezed his fingers, biting my lower lip. "Bobby."
"Yeah?" He looked over then, looking past me like he wasn't even seeing me.
"Baby," I felt a sense of urgency to make him come back to me. Wherever he was looking, I wanted him to come back to me. "Baby, I love you. You know that?"
His green eyes seemed to uncloud for a moment, and Bobby Bishop looked down at me. "Maggie," he began, his face softening. My heart leapt. "You're beautiful, you know?"
It wasn't what I wanted to hear, but we were interrupted then by Principal Browning saying Bobby's name, announcing him as Homecoming King. The crowd roared their approval as the best boy in the world stepped forward to receive a silver crown on his perfect brown hair.
Both Abby and Missy were on stage with me, also competitors for the crown, but none of us were surprised when the principal called my name next. I beamed, picking out Momma jumping up and down in the crowd and Daddy clapping for all he was worth. As I stepped forward to adjust the glittering tiara on my head, the crowd began to chant. "Kiss her. Kiss her. Kiss her."
I felt a rush of excitement as I turned to face Bobby, raising my chin to accept my favorite thing in the world. I loved him so much. This kiss would fix everything. We were meant to be together.
The crowd began to boo as Bobby pulled away. His green eyes were apologetic. "I can't, Maggie. I'm in love with someone else."
And just like that, the most perfect boy in the world left me on a stage alone in front of the entire school, crushed my heart to pieces under his heel, and walked down to slide his arms around a skinny girl in black.
Some girl had gotten her happy ending.
It sure wasn't me.
((I had intended this to be a one-shot, but I actually kind of want to continue in the aftermath of the great breakup. What do you think?))