Time for another Chuck Wendig provided flash fiction challenge. This time, it’s a randomized title challenge. My random number generator landed on the words “screaming” and “starfish”. I’ve been writing a lot of horror lately, so I’m shooting for a more romantic direction this time, in spite of the presence of “screaming”.
“Maddie! Are you ready?” I yell to the empty hallway, towards her room.
A moment later, my six-year-old daughter bounds into the living room. She’s wearing her soccer attire: black shorts that appear to be on backwards and her team shirt bearing the image of a starfish.
She plants herself in the middle of the room and puts her hands on her hips. “I’m ready,” she says in her best tough girl voice.
She scrunches her face, like she wants to start a fight.
I laugh and walk to her, pulling her shorts to check where the tag is. “Your shorts are on backwards. Fix them, and we’ll go.”
She pulls them off, drops to her butt, and spins them around, putting them on backwards again. “Will Daddy be there?”
I grab her shorts before she can get them on all the way. “No, honey. We talked about this.” While I hold the shorts the right way, she puts her legs into them and stands up.
Soccer was Daddy’s idea, but that was a year ago. He’d suggested it a week before he moved across the country to live with the girlfriend he’d managed to hide from me since Maddie’s birth.
“What do you think of soccer, Mads? Your cousins all play. I can help you practice,” he’d said over dinner that night.
We’d gone to a few of their games, so she knew exactly what he was talking about. “Yeah! Can I?”
I didn’t want to put her in soccer after that, but the girl wouldn’t let it go.
It only reminds me of the illusion of our perfect family, which fell apart a week later.
After what felt like daily badgering for the next year, I finally gave in and signed her up for the pee wee league. I dread taking her to every practice and game. She asks about Daddy every time. Will he be there? When is he coming home?
She’s recently started to remember that it was just the two of us now. And I have no desire to change that dynamic.
She closes the velcro on her shoes, and we make our way to the car. “Who are we playing, Mommy?”
“Today, it’s the Starfish versus the Dolphins.”
“Dolphins?” She huffs. “We can beat a bunch of wimpy Dolphins.”
“Remember, honey, this is just for fun.”
We arrive at the field, and Maddie runs to her coach. We’re early, but a few of her friends are waiting. I find a seat in the front row of the small stands set up on the side of the field and keep my eyes on my daughter. The day is cloudy and cool, but she shows no signs of being uncomfortable. I wish I’d brought a jacket and cross my arms.
She’s playing chase with two other girls. They’re running and screaming after one another.
“Seems like they’re the screaming starfish today, doesn’t it? That should keep them warm,” a male voice says from behind me.
I assume he’s talking to someone else. When no one responds, I turn around.
He’s sitting alone in the top row, two rows above me. His appearance catches me off guard: he’s probably late thirties, has short dark hair, and his grin reveals a single dimple on his left cheek. His hands are in the pockets of his black fleece jacket.
I almost ask if he was talking to me before I realize the obvious answer; he’s looking right at me. I manage to mutter a response. “Oh. Yeah.” I look back out to the field, trying to stay focused.
The guy is insanely attractive. But talking to guys is not why I’m here.
I force myself into the most unwelcoming posture I can muster: crossed arms, slightly hunched over, not looking back to him again.
The stands shake and I turn around; he’s moving to the row behind me.
It seems my “go away” posture wasn’t obvious enough.
I keep my eyes on him as he takes his new seat, deciding that I’ve never seen this man at a game before. I would remember.
“Your daughter is a Starfish, right?” he asks.
I nod. “Is yours?”
“Yeah. My daughter is Gabi, the one with the long pony tail.” He points towards the group of screaming and running girls. “This is the first game I’ve been to.” He holds out a hand. “I’m Eric.”
I shake it. “Angie.” For warmth, I cross my arms again. “Did your wife bring her to the other games?” Finding out he’s married would be the quickest way to shut this down.
He shakes his head, then looks confused. “Well, her mother did, but she’s not my wife. We’re divorced. I finally won the custody battle on Tuesday. I get Gabi on the weekends now. I’ve barely seen her since this time last year.”
He moves to sit next to me, where I can clearly see his dimple and the fine lines around his eyes.
I groan a little inside. Why did he want to talk to me? There were plenty of other women around, lots of soccer moms to choose from.
We chat throughout the game, stopping only to offer water to our daughters during a break. I try to keep our topics superficial – our kids’ eating habits, or what their schools are like, but he doesn’t have much to offer.
With five minutes left in the game, I think I’m in the clear.
“You’re not wearing a ring. Can I ask if you’re seeing anyone?” he asks.
There’s the internal groan again. This isn’t what Maddie and I need right now. For some reason, I answer honestly. “No, I’m not. I just want things to be stable for us for a while.”
He nods. “I get that. Well, can I give you my number? Maybe we can get the screaming starfish together to play.”
The kids would like to play together, I decide. “Okay.” I pull my phone from my pocket and enter his number as he recites it.
As we’re saying goodbye, he pats my shoulder, filling my stomach with nervous butterflies.
Walking back to the car, I shake my head. If this is how I behave at the slightest amount of attention from an attractive man, I’m in big trouble.
“Mommy, I saw you talking to Gabi’s daddy.” Maddie is looking up at me and beaming.
“You did, huh?”
“Yeah. Me and Gabi want you to get married so we can be sisters.”
Maddie skips ahead of me and waits by the back door of the car.
Just a conversation has gotten her hopes up.
I pull my phone from my pocket and delete the new contact.