Bets

byColleen Thomas©

Elizabeth Walker felt the tension drain from her body as she settled into the wrought iron deck chair. She was on the patio at Sven’s, an upscale bistro overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Situated far enough away from Fisherman’s Wharf to escape the brunt of tourist traffic, the dining was upscale but still casual. She wasn’t really dressed for dining out, but she had just finished moving the last of her belongings into her new apartment and wanted to treat herself.

When her waitress arrived, Beth gave her a long, measuring look. She was tall, far too pale for a Californian, with more piercings than Beth cared to count, most of the holes empty now, save for two ear rings and an eyebrow barbell. Goth girl. If she was like the others Beth had known, she was also not happy to have to be working.

“What would you like?”

“Just the house salad and water,” Beth replied. The girl was cute, but way too young and she wasn’t sending out any of the right vibes anyway. Still, Beth watched her ass as she walked away. What was the point in coming to California if not to girl watch?


She turned her gaze from the girl’s shapely behind to the panoramic view of the bay. It was such a dazzling shade of blue, so unlike the gray and windswept Atlantic. Beth hoped all the changes this move brought were as pleasant. Staring out over the rail, she followed the ferry making its way to Alcatraz. This brought her eyes to rest upon a woman sitting at a table by the rail. She was alone, but obviously expecting someone, as there were two plates at the table and the spare chair had not been pulled over by other customers.

Beth cocked her head and felt a faint stirring of memory. The ferry momentarily forgotten, she concentrated on the woman. She was tall and muscular, almost as muscular as a man, and her body was shown off by the short shorts and royal blue bikini top she wore. Her arms bulged and the muscles of her back were so well defined that Beth could see them moving beneath her sun bronzed skin as she lifted her drink to her lips. Her hair was fire engine red and close cropped, not exactly in a buzz cut, but very short. Her legs were even more impressive than her arms and Beth imagined she was a swimmer of some sort, to have such finely developed muscles in her thighs and calves.

The woman seemed to feel eyes upon her and turned quickly. Her deep green eyes caught Beth’s brown eyes and held them for a second. Beth blushed slightly, but didn’t turn away. The woman smiled tentatively before turning back to the bay. Beth didn’t even notice. The woman’s face was hauntingly familiar, from the high forehead and cheekbones, to the thin lips and aquiline nose, every detail was there. The moment she saw the woman’s face a single name flashed in her head and with it came a collage of memories that simply wouldn’t be denied.

Chauncy Phillps.

That single name transported her back, back across thousands of miles and twenty odd years to a fateful summer in Savannah. Beth had been eight and her brother Rudy ten. They both sat and watched as the huge moving van pulled into the old Peterson place down the street. Large black men sweated and groaned as they moved the heavy furniture in the sweltering humidity. They often stopped to wipe their heads with white handkerchiefs and curse the glaring sun. She had been far too young to appreciate what they were going through then. Men could do anything. Like her father they were all super big, super strong and nothing daunted them. She and her brother weren’t watching the men so much as they were waiting for the family to arrive, hoping that they would get some new playmates.

When the men and the van had left, a beat up old station wagon pulled into the drive and Beth got her first look at Chauncy. She was ten at the time, wearing faded blue jeans, a washed out blue shirt, high top converse sneakers and a blue ball cap with a big C on the front. She had a sling shot in her back pocket, way too many freckles and a wad of chewing gum that pushed her cheek out and made her look like a big league ball player with his cud of tobacco.

Beth’s mother made her and Rudy go over and introduce themselves. Rudy did all the talking, with Beth hiding behind him and only daring to peek out once or twice. The girl’s green eyes unnerved her and her demeanor was aggressive, almost pugnacious and totally unlike what Beth had been taught little girls should be like.

Even Rudy was a little put out by her, but soon the whole neighborhood would know her. The neighborhood’s first tomboy.

“Would you like a dressing with that? I’m sorry I forgot to ask,” the waitress asked as she placed Beth’s salad in front of her.

“No thank you, but I could use a twist of lemon for my water.”

Beth’s mind was flying back down rarely traveled roads of memory before the girl even nodded and moved a small bowl with sliced lemon from the table behind Beth. Another day, another world it seemed. Summer again, the smell of red dirt, new mown grass, hot dogs and pretzels. She sat in the bleachers next to her dad. Rudy stood at the ready, in a semi crouch, popping his fist into his glove. Her parents, to their dying day, were always so proud of how their daughter had supported her brother. Only she knew that her eyes almost never strayed to Rudy, they stayed on her hero.

On the mound, Chauncy was mowing them down. Her fastball was untouchable and her older brother had taught her how to throw a curve. At this level, no one could hit it. She looked so strange in the mustard yellow jersey with Al’s Catfish House stenciled across her budding chest. Her trademark Cubs hat was absent, but her face was set in a scowl and the ever present wad of gum puffed out her cheek. The only girl on the field, she dominated much like her favorite pitcher, Fergie Jenkins had. A hopelessly devoted Cubs fan, she avenged each defeat of her favorite team when she took the mound in the neighborhood’s little league park. All-state, undefeated, first team all star, and one small, shy girl’s hero.

Another memory, this one cherished and replayed so many times it had become somewhat surreal. The bus stop up the road from her subdivision. There had been three of them, older boys, not mean yet but unable to fathom how much their words hurt. Amazing how taunts like brace face and four eyes could wound back then. She was only eleven and dealing with her budding body, glasses and braces. She was at that awkward stage where nothing was easy or comfortable and even her own body seemed alien. One of them shoved her and she fell, her books going everywhere.

Their laughter was cut short by a squeal of pain and she looked up through her tears to see why. Chauncy was there, a whirling dervish, delivering punches and kicks as well as curses that would make a sailor blush. It was over in moments, the surprise onset and ferocity were too much for her tormentors. Chauncy didn’t hit like a girl nor did she fight fair. She watched them all run away with a scowl on her face, before she turned to Beth and smiled.

She picked up Beth’s books, then put a strong arm around her shoulders and walked her home. Beth never forgot that walk. It was the one time in her adolescence that she felt graceful and comfortable. The one time the world seemed right.

A cool breeze off the water pulled her from her memories. Beth nibbled at her salad, but for some reason she was no longer hungry. The fading sun colored the water fantastic shades of red, yellow and orange. As she watched the waves twinkling she found herself slipping back into memory, back to the one she didn’t want to recall.

Her sweet sixteen. She was going out with John, her boyfriend and some of his friends. They were all out in front of her house, arguing about which hangout to go to when Chauncy pulled up in her Vette. It was black, with tinted windows and black rims. Cars were big then and Chauncy’s was the fastest in the area. She won a lot of races and a lot of money, but things were different now. She was no longer fighting for respect among the guys, she was fighting for the attention of the cute girls. Savannah back then was far too traditional for that. Beth had seen little of her lately and due to her close friendship, she had been spared the rumors that were going around about her best friend. She would hear them all after this night.

She ran up to the car excitedly and Chauncy rolled down the window. Her face was gaunt and her eyes wild, but there was a strange calm about her that made Beth feel slightly uneasy.

“Hey Bets, you look great in that dress,” she said by way of greeting.

“I swear, you’re the only one that still calls me that, what ya up to?”

“I’m getting out of this berg. Heading up to New York City, gonna crash with some friends till I get on my feet.”

The words had stunned her. She knew Chauncy was done with school, but no one ever left town and it was inconceivable that she was about to lose her best friend.

“Anyway, I just wanted to say goodbye…I know you don’t need to hear this, but I’ve had a crush on you forever,” the lithe girl said.

How could she respond to that? The answer would take a life time. Even as the memory played through her head she cursed the shyness and shock that had held her speechless. Chauncy took a long drag on her cigarette, tossed it past Beth to the street and sighed heavily. John walked up and put a possessive arm around Beth. “Don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t the silent treatment. Have a nice life Bets,” she said before rolling up the window and driving away.

“Would you like some coffee or something?” The waitress asked softly.

Beth brushed the tears from her eyes before looking up.

“No, nothing thank you,” she managed.

“Are you all right?”

“I’m fine. Could I get my check please?”

“Sure,” the girl said and walked back into the restaurant. When she returned Beth paid and left a large tip. She was slightly embarrassed by her tears and started to leave, but her eyes were drawn again to the woman at the rail. She still sat in her chair, alone and looking forlorn. On impulse Beth made her way over.

“Excuse me.”

“Yes?” The woman said, turning quickly.

“I know this sounds very strange, but I wanted to thank you,” Beth began awkwardly.

“For what?”

“You reminded me of someone I knew long ago and have brought back some memories that I haven’t thought about in quite some time.”

“Not happy memories apparently,” the woman observed.

“Not all of them, but more happy than sad. Anyway, I don’t know why I had to say thank you, but I did. I’m sorry for bothering you.”

“It’s no bother. Perhaps I should thank you. I was expecting someone and apparently I’ve been stood up. I wasn’t thinking very good thoughts when you said hi,” the woman said.

“I’m sorry,” Beth said automatically.

“No need to be. I’m Margaret, Margaret Chambliss, pleased to meet you,” she said, extending her hand.

“Elza, Elza Walker,” Beth responded.

“Would you care to have a seat? It’s my birthday and I was going to order one of the dessert specials, but they’re really meant for two.”

“I’d be delighted,” Beth responded, surprising herself.

The woman nodded slightly to a waitress who seemed to be hovering nearby, just waiting for a signal from her. Beth looked out at the bay and so did her tablemate. The silence was deep, both lost in their thoughts, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. In a strange way, Beth felt she knew this woman.

The double chocolate and fudge brownie dessert came a few moments later. Beth took small bites, trying not to totally blow her diet in one sitting. Margaret ate heartily, finally tossing her spoon into the empty glass dish with a loud clink.

“Well, I must be going. Thanks for the company,” the tall redhead said as she rose and took her jacket off the back of her chair. Beth rose too, feeling the chill in the wind off the water and wishing she had brought her own coat. Margaret exchanged friendly words with both the cook and woman at the counter before she and Beth parted ways at the front door. Beth caught a ride on the trolley. She was so deep in thought that she almost missed her stop.

Back in her apartment, Beth began opening boxes and arranging things. The process was slow and haphazard, she had packed hurriedly, and had not remembered to label the boxes. On a whim she began digging through the book boxes, hoping to locate the one with her yearbooks in it. By the time she opened the fifth box she was beginning to fear she hadn’t packed them. When she opened the last book box, the one on the top was her Sophomore yearbook and Beth breathed a sigh of relief. She took it out, pushed aside a pile of clothing to make room on her small sofa and sat down.

The cover was black, with gold lettering down the spine. The Herald, the letters proclaimed. She opened it and smiled as she read the many messages scrawled there by her schoolmates. Some made her laugh, others made her tear up. A few were signed by people she only vaguely remembered. Giving in to the wave of nostalgia, she opened the book to the section with sophomores and found her own picture. The grainy black and white photo showed a frail girl, with long black hair, braces and glasses.

“So long ago,” she whispered to herself.

She flipped to the section with the seniors and turned to the second page, but Chauncy’s picture wasn’t among those on the page. She started to flip to the P’s, but realized she had remembered correctly and the seniors were listed by first name rather than last. The pictures of the seniors were larger, and below each was a quote. She scanned the C’s again, Carmen B. Jacobs, Chad F. Rivers, Christine D. Berkman, Claudia C. Windtree, Crystal M. Thorpe.

“That’s strange, I’m sure she would have been a Sen…”

Beth froze for a long, drawn out moment and then nearly ripped the pages out as she tuned to the page with the M’s. She dropped the yearbook in shock and sat there a moment, utterly dumbfounded. Beth then snatched the yearbook up and flipped back to the page. It was still there, third from the left.

Margaret C. Phillips.

“How could I have been so stupid!” She exclaimed as she grabbed her coat and ran out the door.

***


The Bistro was closing up for the night by the time Beth got back. She didn’t know what she was doing, but she hoped someone at the place would know where she could find Chauncy, if it was really her and not some demonically cruel coincidence. She had seemed friendly with some of the staff and Beth was hoping against hope. It was a chance in a million, but so was finding Chauncy in San Francisco.

As she walked into the building the heavyset woman behind the register cocked her head and smiled.

“Back so soon? Forget something?”

“No,” Beth began uncertainly, “I was wondering if anyone here knew who the woman I had dessert with is or where I might find her? I tried the phone book, but she isn’t listed.”

“You mean you don’t know?” The woman asked, arching an eyebrow.

“No,” Beth replied, blushing and lowering her eyes.

“Well, I know her as a customer, but I don’t think that’s what you want. Can you wait just a moment?”

“Of course.”

The woman went back to the back and soon a thick woman with short black hair and tattoos on both arms came out.

“You the one looking for Mags?” She asked in a thick Brooklyn accent.

“Mags?” Beth stammered.

“Yeah, Mags Chambliss or Chamblee, if you want to get all fancy.”

“Yes, I’m looking for her.”

“Why?” The woman asked, her eyes sizing Beth up with an almost knowing glance.

“I think I knew her when I was a child,” Beth replied, feeling very uncomfortable under the woman’s scrutiny.

“Doubt it, she ain’t from around here.”

“I was born and raised in Savannah, Georgia.”

“Don’t say? Well, Mags is from down south somewhere. Can’t tell it by her accent, but she had a bad hick drawl when she first got to the City.”

“New York City?”

“Yeah, where else? But you had dessert with her, why didn’t you say something then?” The woman asked. Her tone was hard, but not hostile. Beth took a deep breath.

“I didn’t know her as Margaret. She was Chauncy. And her last name was Phillips back then, not Chambliss. I’m recently divorced, and used my husband’s name out of habit. I know it sounds crazy, but you have to believe me. I’m not a stalker or anything. Please, I’m begging you.”

“Well,” the woman said, drawing the word out, “Mags is a private person. She don’t let many folks get close to her and she will probably whoop my ass for telling you anything.”

Beth had feared such a response and hung her head.

“But, it so happens I’m a friend of Mags’ and no one this side of the Mississippi knows what the ‘C’ in her name stands for ‘cept me,” she continued. Beth looked up quickly to see the big woman smiling.

“And now you. I’d like to help you missy, I really would, but before I invite the wrath of God I need to know something.”

“Yes?”

“Are you just interested in seeing an old friend, or is there something more?”

“There was a lot left unsaid when we last saw one another,” Beth said.

“All right girlie, I won’t press, your blush says enough,” the woman said with a crooked smile. She pulled a waitress’s note pad from behind the counter and jotted down some directions. She tore the page off and handed it to Beth.

“Do you think she will be home?” Beth asked as she read the directions.

“Hard to say. She used to be pretty wild, you know out ‘till dawn, raising hell. Lately she’s slowed down some, stays home more. She, Uh… Hell,” the big woman said.

“What?” Beth asked.

“Well, she had a bad break up not too long ago. She hasn’t gotten back into the swing of things. Part of the reason I was willing to give you her address is because a visit from an old friend might be just the thing to pick her up.”

“I hope so, but it’s been over twenty years. She may not even remember me,” Beth said.

The woman looked hard at Beth, arched an eyebrow, and then smiled when Beth blushed.

“Trust me honey, she’ll remember,” the big woman said as someone called her name from the back.

“How can you be sure?” Beth asked as the woman turned and answered the call from the kitchen.

“A woman doesn’t forget a dish like you girlie,” she called over her shoulder as she disappeared through the swinging doors.

***


The building was a three story apartment with a stucco façade. It had a vaguely Spanish flair, or at least it reminded her of buildings she had seen on their vacation to Acapulco. The directions said third floor, but there was a grill across the entrance way. Beth hesitated and then tried it. She was surprised when it gave beneath her touch and swung open on squeaky hinges.

On the third floor landing her courage almost failed her, but the name Margaret C. Chambliss, neatly stenciled on the mailbox was enough to calm her nerves. She hesitated only a fraction of a second, then took a deep breath and knocked on the door. She was reaching to knock again when the door opened and Margaret stood in front of her. Beth swallowed hard and struggled to find her voice.

“Hello Bets,” the tall woman said softly.

“Chauncy?”

“Who else?” The tall woman said with an enigmatic grin. She still wore the bikini top and shorts, but was now barefoot.

“Well, don’t stand out there all night, come on in,” Chauncy said after a long silence in which Beth couldn’t find her voice. Beth followed her into the apartment. The living room was just off the foyer. It had one wall that was just floor to ceiling glass and the lights that twinkled in the darkness made Beth believe the view must be spectacular. The furniture was heavy, solid wood. The floor was covered in deep shag carpeting, and the walls were a pleasant, if bland, beige. The kitchen opened off the living room, with a bar acting as divider. On the other wall there was a fireplace, with gold paraphernalia, including a screen and tool tree.

Report Story

byColleen Thomas© 37 comments/ 178743 views/ 116 favorites

Share the love

Report a Bug

Next
3 Pages:123

Forgot your password?

Please wait

Change picture

Your current user avatar, all sizes:

Default size User Picture  Medium size User Picture  Small size User Picture  Tiny size User Picture

You have a new user avatar waiting for moderation.

Select new user avatar:

   Cancel