Everything Changed That Spring

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8 Years Ago

Natalie stared at the flowers, sash and crown lying on the passenger seat of her car. Miss True Beauty. She shook her head, grabbing the cheque that had come with the title, the only reason she’d entered the True Beauty Pageant, searching for girls who were as pretty on the inside as they were on the out.

She and Scott needed the money, and they needed it quickly. He’d lost his server job at a posh country club a few weeks ago after showing up high to one of their fancy functions and accidentally pouring snails all over one of the guests. He’d been fired on the spot. Now, without his income adding to hers they were going to be short on rent, so Natalie had gone and done the one thing she’d sworn to her mother she’d never do again, she’d entered a beauty pageant.

She stepped into the apartment and found Scott on the couch, right where he’d been when she’d left that morning. The TV was on but he wasn’t really watching, he just sat there, blankly staring at the screen, his expression unreadable. Warning bells set off inside her head, just like they always did whenever that blank expression took over his features.

“How did it go?” He asked, his eyes not moving from the screen.

“You’re looking at the newest Miss True Beauty.” She replied, doing a little twirl that he didn’t see.

“Are we gonna make rent?” He asked.

“Yeah.” She replied, setting the check down on the counter.

“This isn’t working.” He said, the words making her blood run cold.

“What’s not working?”

“This.” He said. He turned his head and met her eyes for the first time. She hoped she’d see something in them, anything to tell her what was going on inside his head, but they were heavily guarded, making it impossible for her to see anything. She could stare all day but it would be in vain, no one could decipher the mystery in those eyes if he didn’t want them to. “Natalie you’re entering beauty pageants again. You hate beauty pageants.”

“It’s just temporary.” She replied.

“No it’s not.”

“Yes it is.” She insisted. “You’ll get a new job, you’ll play again, and we’ll be fine.”

“I’m not gonna play again.” He said, his voice low, shameful.

“What? I thought your knee was better?”

“It is. But it didn’t get that way by itself.”

“What are you saying?” She asked, already knowing the answer.

“I took something for it. To help it along. A kind of steroid that helps with muscle growth. They found it in my drug test.”

“Okay so you’ll…”

“I won’t do anything.” He exploded, jumping up from the couch so fast the movement caught her by surprise. “I’ve been expelled Natalie. No other school is going to take me after this. I’m done.”

“You don’t have to be. People come back from stuff like this all the time.”

“Yeah, professional athletes who already have a career and a legacy. They come back from it. Guys like me, ones still starting out, we never get another shot.”

“You don’t know that.”

He was such an idiot. This had to be, without a doubt, the stupidest thing he’d ever done. What had he been thinking? She really wanted to know what the heck had been going through his mind when he’d decided it was a good idea to take supplements. The more she thought about it the angrier she became. He had to have known this would happen. Did he really think he’d be able to get away with it? Was it really that bad just waiting another year? These were all things she wanted to scream at him, but she also knew there’d be no point. He knew all of this already. He knew how badly he’d messed up. He didn’t need her to tell him that right now. She’d yell at him later. Right now he needed to be told everything would be okay.

She reached for him, her fingers wrapping around his arm as she tried to pull him to her. Instead he shrugged her away, anger briefly flaring behind his dead stare. Okay now she was getting annoyed. He’d made this mistake all on his own, and here she was trying to make him feel okay about it and he was practically shoving her away.

“This isn’t working.” He said again. “This, us, it wasn’t supposed to be like this.”

“What are you saying Scott?” She asked, no longer able to hide the annoyance in her voice.

“I’m saying this isn’t working. We’re not working. We never will. I can’t give you the life you want, if we stay together we’ll both just be miserable.”

The asshole.

The fucking asshole.

She’d done nothing but support him through this. When he’d first hurt his knee she’d been there, fussing over him and soothing him and doing everything she could to make him feel better. She’d helped him with his physical therapy, cheered him up when the pain and the stress got too much. She’d even put up with all the crap of the past few weeks, the coming home drunk almost every night, the getting high, the partying all the time with that idiot Travis. She’d been there through it all, because she loved him, because she believed in him. She had complete faith that he’d come out of it, and she had faith that even if he didn’t he’d find something else.

She’d had every opportunity to give up on him, to walk away, but she’d stayed, she’d fought, she’d gone and entered a fucking beauty pageant. Now it was his turn to step up, to be strong, to fight, and he was trying to break up with her. No. Screw that. He was better than that. She wasn’t accepting this crap.

“Here’s an idea.” She snapped. “You could stop feeling sorry for yourself and actually try to do something about this. Get those drugs out of your system, and try like hell to get into another program. If it doesn’t happen then we’ll figure something out, but you need to at least try.”

“There’s no point in trying.” He said. “It’s not going to change anything. I’m done. We’re done. I can’t do this anymore.”

“No.”

“You can’t just say no.” He exclaimed. “You can’t just say this isn’t happening. It’s happening Natalie. Just accept it and move on with your life.”

“No.” She said again, louder this time, firmer, hoping he’d finally hear her. “Scott, I love you, and I’m not going to walk away just because you’re having a bad day.”

“Natalie.”

“No.” She repeated. “No.”

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