Not a Competition (Fiction Short Story)

All through school I loved to compete, be it sports or academics I loved the stress and adrenaline rush I got from competing, especially when I win.

Yet I am learning now as an adult competition is fine in the business world but not in my home life. At 5’8” I am taller than some guys, with heels I am as tall as most guys. There are not too many men who are not intimidated when the girl they take out on a date is same height or taller. Add to that a girl who can out think you out run you, great at video games, cards, pool they simply are not manly enough to enjoy her company. With that said I spend a lot of Friday and Saturday nights home alone. I will not lessen who I am for any one. I do want to get married have kids, it would be dishonest of me if I were not 100 percent real as they say these days.

This Friday I have been invited by my best friend and her husband Dave to a canoeing get together, with Chelsea’s family. Chelsea and I have been best friends since junior high, Chelsea is 5’ tall, was never good at sports but she was competition for me when it came to academics. Dave and Chelsea were high school sweethearts, Dave learned early on if he wanted Chelsea I am part of the package. Dave and I get along fine, once he got over the fact that I am at least 2 inches taller than him also I know all the sports statistics, keep up with baseball, football, soccer and I am a great cook. He does get a bit miffed with me when I correct him on a statistic, or beat him too often at pool, yet I have let him win from time to time that seems to bruise his ego more, so I usually bow out when asked to play.

On this family event 2 of Dave’s cousins are joining us. I do not know any of Dave’s family only Chelsea’s. I am so looking forward to canoeing down the Ausable River; it has been a long time since I have tackled this challenging river. Dave said he has never canoed down the Ausable before. Hmm when I heard that, I  wondered if he is capable of maneuvering this river; Chelsea and I have done this together; I did most of the work, we will see, Chelsea seems to think Dave can handle it.

We all gather at the canoe livery, I picked the canoe I wanted to use. As it turns out I am teamed up with Dave’s 2 cousins, one is a School teacher the other is a Marine Coronel. I bet the school teacher is a wus but the Coronel and I should pair up nicely. The Coronel mumbled something about having a girl on his team, I laughed and told him that if he needed help I will reach out and help him. So the taunts started at first they did not seem to be good natured, by the first turn in the river he learned I was able bodied. So much able bodied I think he was getting the same idea I had; let’s get rid of the school teacher, we could diddle each other before the rest of the group catches up to us. No such luck, all though the school teacher wasn’t too bad, average looks but he was good with the canoe. I am getting an off vibe from him and I cannot put my finger on it.

We are all to meet at the 3 mile mark, there are picnic tables, and the canoe rental offers a barbeque as part of the package deal for a group. Pulling over and hauling the canoe out the first need I had was find a place to piss. There are porta potties set up. After coming out of the porta potty; the Coronel was waiting for me, this gives me a chance to ask about the school teacher.

“So Coronel, what’s the scoop on your cousin the school teacher, I am getting an off vibe from him?”

“Let me put it to you this way, I have had that vibe about him since we were kids, if I had kids, I would not leave them in a room alone with him.”

“Well that was my thinking as well, cannot prove it though right?”

“Nope just a hunch and that does not prove anything, I keep an eye on him when I can.”

It is a bit unsettling to hear that someone else gets the same vibe and there is no proof to stop anything bad from happening.  The others finally caught up everyone getting their canoes out of the water, I wanted to laugh when I see Dave, he was beat, and soaking wet. I bet  he thinks he is part of the Deliverance cast with banjo’s playing in his ears; I say to the Coronel “Your Cousin Dave looks in over his head.”

“Yes, Dave tries hard but he does not have the right stuff for physical ventures, put that man in a board room he will get the most savvy business man eating out of his hand.”

“Really? I never would have suspected that, with as sensitive as he is to losing.”

That made the Coronel laugh, he then said “Oh I heard about you, he would say Damn that Val she thinks she is better than everyone else.”  We both laughed the Coronel added “ I said, oh Dave you just don’t like losing to a girl, man up keep trying.”

I feel real comfortable with this guy, not sure if he is the kind that loves them and leaves them but I want to find out. We walked over to the group took a seat at the picnic table, hamburgers, potato salad with cold water was just what I needed to finish the next 4 miles.

Off we go, this time I take point, school teacher behind me, Max my Coronel is in the back, we power off, at first the going is smooth, till we hit some unsettled water the current is strong, the school teachers instinct was to paddle in the opposite direction when we needed to go with the flow, this caused more turmoil than we needed. Max started yelling at him “Stop fighting us Mike go with the damn flow”

Mike the school teacher said “Shut the fuck up, I am not one of your men you can boss around.”

I jump in and say “Mike you ass hole just put the paddle down and goggle it on your stupid phone, go with the fucking flow.”

Instead of listening he fought that much harder against us, I turned and looked at him, he had such fear in his eyes I actually felt sorry for him. So I said “Mike listen it is no different than being on a motorcycle, you lean into the curve as we need to lean into the current.”

By that time it was too late we simultaneous hit a large rock and a low tree branch hit Mike square in the face, he was thrown out of the canoe, Max and I did our best to steer out of the pull of the river to get back to him, there was no use, we were already a half mile down river before we could stop. Max and I dragged the canoe out of the water and ran back to where we thought Mike would be. There were two more canoes coming in tandem hitting the rapids, their canoes banged each other, then ran over Mike.

I called the livery asking for help, with 4 wheelers and 4 wheel drive vehicles they got to where we were pulling Mike out of the water. Nothing could be done for him; he was probably dead as soon as he hit the water.

This was humbling for both me and Max, being we are both veterans at maneuvering canoes, the fact we could not get back to Mike will stay with us for a long time. I was glad when Max suggested we get a drink, I upped the ante and suggested those drinks should be enjoyed at my place.  Max had 2 weeks leave which he spent with me. We went to Mike’s funeral together and both were surprised that none of Mike’s 5th grade students came to his funeral. I asked Dave about it and he said “Unbeknown to anyone in the family Mike was on a suspension pending an investigation; the allegations were he had molested 3 of his male students, telling them their grades would reflect the outcome and their ability to keep their mouths shut.”

Now Max and I aren’t feeling so bad about the events that led up to Mike’s untimely death. Or was his death that untimely, I am not sure but the world is a better place without him in it. My world is a better place with Max in it; we stay in touch, he promises to spend his leave time with me. We will see where this goes, life is interesting as the Ausable River with its twists and turns pools of tranquility and sometimes you get pulled into its current and do not have a choice except to lean into it.

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