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Wild by Sophie Stern (1)

Present day

Tabitha

 

"It just wasn't meant to be," I tell Veronica, sipping my coffee. We're in the middle of our favorite bistro in the middle of the afternoon. Pedestrians are walking by on the sidewalks, scurrying to their meetings and jobs, too busy to pay attention.

I'm as tense as they all look, but I'm trying to keep it under control.

For my kids.

I'm trying to keep it under control for my kids.

"No offense, sugar, but it sounds like a cop-out to me," Veronica has never had a problem giving it to me straight. It's one of the reasons I love her, but right now, I also sort of hate her for it.

"And no offense to you, but you weren't there."

She wasn't there for the fighting.

The arguments.

The tears.

She shrugs and rolls her eyes. Then Veronica picks up her coffee and starts drinking it. Even though we've been friends for the better part of three years, her hazel eyes still hold judgment.

"I'm just saying maybe you should give him another chance."

"Would you give Tom another chance?" I ask, raising an eyebrow.

"That's different and you know it."

"Is it?" Veronica and I met at a divorced military support group. Being a military spouse is incredibly difficult and being a divorced military spouse is even harder. I still have to deal with deployments and military lifestyle difficulties, but now I get to do it with two kids and no husband. Go me.

"He cheated on me constantly," she says.

"You cheated, too," I point out.

"We all make mistakes," Veronica rolls her eyes. "But I also don't have kids, Tab. I don't have kids and you do. Maybe you should give it another chance with Lex, for their sakes."

"Piper and Gregory get plenty of time with their dad. Even on deployments, they get to video chat with him almost every day."

"It's not the same and you know it."

"What do you want me to say, Roni?" Now I'm the one getting upset. I haven't even touched my sandwich and if there's one thing anyone knows about me, it's that I love food. Like, seriously love food. "Things didn't work out."

"You never say anything bad about him," she mentions nonchalantly.

"I don't have anything bad to say."

"That's fucked up, Tabitha. Everyone has something bad to say when they get a divorce. Everyone. When you get a divorce, you blame the other person and you talk about how much they broke you. You never do that. You always take responsibility."

"Of course he made mistakes. We both did."

"That, right there." She points with her fork. "You're doing it now. You're taking responsibility."

"Because I'm an adult, Roni."

"Because you're still in love with him."

"I am not."

"You are."

"Fine," she holds up her hands. "Whatever you say. I'm just saying that he's coming back soon and you should ask him out."

"I'll think about it," I say, grabbing my sandwich. We both know this is my polite way of telling her to fuck off. We both know it, but Roni doesn't push me, and I eat my sandwich in silence.

We finish our meals quietly, both lost in our own heads. Then we start making polite conversation about random things that don't really matter: my kids' school, her new job. When we finish, we split the check and share a hug.

"Don't let your pride ruin your future," she whispers, kissing me on the cheek. Then Roni disappears around the corner, back to her job as a real estate agent. She works close to this bistro, which is why we chose it. She can meet up easily and still hurry back to the office if a client drops in.

For a minute, I watch her go, wondering if she's right. I shouldn't wonder. I shouldn't think about it. Lex is gone. Our relationship is over. Now he's the father of my children and I'm the mother of his. We talk all the time, but we're careful to keep the conversation focused on our kids and not on anything personal.

Is he dating anyone?

I have no idea.

Am I?

He doesn't know.

We keep that part of ourselves separate because knowing the truth would hurt too much.

I walk the few blocks to where my kids go to school. Sunnyside Elementary is a fun school with teachers who really care. Best of all, it’s close enough to base that the teachers are familiar with the kids of issues military kids go through.

It’s hard to deal with your dad being gone for a year or your mom being sent to a place you can’t visit. It’s hard to cope with the fact that your parent could die at any time, and you know it. Sometimes military brats struggle in school because of this, but the teachers at my children’s school really understand.

I’m grateful for that.

I head up to the parents’ waiting area.

“Hey Tabitha,” a stereotypical soccer mom, complete with bleached-blonde hair pulled in a ponytail, greets me.

“Natasha,” I nod, hoping that’s the end of our interaction, but it’s not.

“I heard Piper got in trouble at school,” she says boldly.

“I heard your husband likes to fuck co-eds,” I respond without blinking, and she clamps her mouth shut.

Yeah, I went full-bitch, but I really don’t need to deal with judgment right now. I know Piper is having a tough time with her dad being gone. I know it. He’s been gone nearly a year with only a short, two week break where he could come back and spend time with the kids, but that was half a year ago.

Piper’s grown two inches since then.

Greg’s grown one.

They’ve both gotten three new pairs of shoes since then, four new friends, and gone to six birthday parties between the two of them. In Little Kid World, that’s a lot. That’s a lifetime.

And she misses her dad.

She wants him to be a part of her life, but he’s not. He’s gone off to save the world and if I’m honest with myself, I think Piper resents that a little bit. There’s some anger there, some built-up anxiety. She doesn’t want to be mad at Daddy because he’s the one gone, so it’s easier for her to take out that anger on me and Mrs. Brown, her teacher.

Sure enough, Gregory comes bounding out of the school, followed closely behind by Mrs. Brown. She has a grim expression on her face.

“Somebody’s in trouble,” Natasha chants quietly under her breath.

“I swear I will punch you in the mouth if you don’t shut it,” I say, and her face pales. Seven years as a military wife and three as an ex taught me a lot. Mostly, I learned that I don’t have to put up with anyone’s bullshit. I don’t care if someone is a military wife, an officer’s wife, or the damn preacher’s wife.

I’m not interested in dealing with petty, childish crap right now.

Right now I just want to help my daughter.

I silently follow Gregory and Mrs. Brown back into the school. My kids are 10 months apart, but they both hit the same cut-off for school, so they’re in the same grade. Piper is older than Gregory, but only a little, and their maturity levels are about the same.

“What happened?” I ask quietly, following Mrs. Brown to the principal’s office.

“Piper started a fight with another child,” she says quietly, and my heart sinks. This is her second fight this month and I know exactly what they’re going to say.

They’re going to tell me she needs to get it together or find another school.

They’re going to tell me I need to find a different place for Piper to learn.

They’re going to tell me she needs psychiatric help.

I head into the principal’s office and Miss Bradshaw, the new principal this year, smiles up at me.

“Mrs. Baker,” she says. “Please, come in.”

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