Spoiler: "Mud Bowl"
Summary: Jackie doesn't need a PhD in stupid to know it's going to end badly.
Disclaimer: Don't own them, just borrowing them for a few paragraphs.
Author's Note: Reposted now that FNL has its own category, and to correct editting errors. The title and theme went through a few transformations before I settled on some inspiration from Nada Surf. It's my first venture into FNL fic, so be gentle. Enjoy.
Jackie isn't from Texas.
She has the accent down pat and can tease her hair within an inch of its life like any self-respecting Southern belle, but she's from Georgia, and worse, Atlanta, and Texas is as foreign territory to her as a father is to her son. It's bigger and broader and emptier than home, and after the first rain there isn't red clay sticking to the soles of her work heels the way they did on her grandaddy's ranch outside Macon. There isn't a rainstorm at all, just dust, filling every nook and cranny of her house and catching in her hair and in her clothes and even the last of the sourdough bread she trucked in from the Whole Foods in Austin. She thinks back to history, because she's supposed to learn from its mistakes so another Hank doesn't walk into her life and stomp on Bo's heart all over again, and she remembers the films they watched in history class and the cloud of endless black that stretched across the plains for miles and made people think the end of the world was coming.
She thought the same thing the first time she came apart in Tim Riggins' arms.
On the first day of work on the first day of her new life, she drives out on the backroads that will eventually be the death of her eco-friendly Honda and feels every bump, every jolt jarring her awake and opening her eyes.
She watches the wind blow through the prairie grass and the tumbleweeds spiral across the plains while the sun paints everything in bleak shades of brown and gold, and she thinks she's never seen anything so beautiful. She breathes in deep, taking in the Texas air that isn't like home, and the dust catches in her lungs and she feels a little less empty, a little less alone, and like maybe this place can work after all.
It's two days before she meets Tim Riggins. She doesn't know yet. She doesn't understand.
When Jackie was sixteen-years-old she had braces and bad skin and no boobs to speak of, and the only thing she wanted more than getting out of Duluth was getting Dave Springs to smile at her.
She thought it happened once, when their eyes locked in the hallway before chem and the biggest, brightest smile curved the turn of his lips, the blue of his eyes matching this letter jacket. Her heart had clutched in her chest and the excitement had slipped into the nooks and crannys of her lungs and she hadn't been able to breathe with the way it filled her up. She'd smiled back, so wide she'd thought her cheeks might split, until she'd caught Kristen Conrad's reflection in the trophy case behind him and she still couldn't breathe with the sobs creeping up into her throat.
Sixteen years later her teeth are straight and her skin has cleared and the boobs still haven't come in, but there's another football player smiling at her while she smiles back.
His eyes are green and his hair is too long, but she knows the broad expanse of his shoulders were made to wear a letter jacket rather than worn through sheepskin.
The first time she meets him she yells at him; the second time her son tortures him; the third time he smiles at her, the biggest, brightest smile curving the turn of his lips and for a moment she's sixteen-years-old again and Dave Springs is making all her dreams come true.
His skin is rough when she take his hand in hers and it's foreign and familiar all rolled into one, because she's been waiting for this moment half her life and it isn't how she expected it but that doesn't stop it from happening.
His hands scrape over her skin as his fingers tighten around her hips and ease into her just right. She sighs, then moans, then blushes full on crimson because he's a boy and she's a woman and what the hell is she doing? He smiles his big, bright smile, because he's broken into her thoughts, and Dave Springs stares right back at her and he's moaning her name and her breath whooshes out in a painful hiss and she kisses him to keep from waking Bo. She ignores that she's twice his age and half as smart, because he wanted to do the right thing and she wanted him and her dreams to come true and focuses on his hips sliding against hers and his fingers tangling in her hair.
She tells herself it won't happen again; she's naïve enough to believe her own lies.
When Tim Riggins sleeps his hair falls over his brow in a way that makes her want to push it off his face like she does Bo's. In the early morning light the shadows fall softly over the planes of his face and he doesn't look more than twelve-years-old.
Her fingers tighten around the handle of her coffee mug because she can't breathe through the bile rising in her throat.
She turns away from the bedroom and runs to her back porch and the Texas sun is rising fresh and new over her poor excuse for a backyard and it glints off the rusty swing set in the southeast corner that Bo looks at longingly and she refuses to let him touch because he hasn't had his latest Tetanus booster and her insurance isn't that great, and she almost drops her mug when a gust of prairie wind rises up to greet her and spreads a film of dust across her face.
She breathes in deep and her stomach settles and she thinks she can do this. She made a mistake, but she can fix it. She's no longer sixteen and never been kissed; she's too old for football players.
There's a creak from the loose plank on the porch, another reminder on her endless list of things to fix, and Tim Riggins is standing behind her, her mama's blanket wrapped around his waist. She took it with her to college when she got out the way she dreamed and thought she'd make them come true, and she took Bo home in it even though it was about eight times his size and the nurse in Knoxville thought she was nuts, and she still thinks she might be a little crazy because the morning is greeting her with the teenager she slept with wrapped up in her mama's careful knitting.
"Morning," he says and his voice eases into her and fills her up. He takes a step closer, so his chest brushes her robe, and he's warm and he smells like sex and her and he's making it hard to breathe.
"Morning," she manages to whisper and her voice cracks a little and she winces inwardly because she doesn't sound or feel a day over sixteen. "Sleep well?" It's an awkward question, a dumb question, not unlike the one and only time she managed to talk to Dave Springs and she asked him about the weather while it rained cats and dogs and the semi-final football game got pushed back a week. He'd looked at her like she'd lost her mind and she'd wanted to melt into the floor right then and there, which really should have been possible with the amount of rain outside, and when Tim meets her eyes with the same mocking expression lurking in his, she kind of wants to sink right through that loose floorboard and take a trip down the rabbit hole.
Whatever's waiting for her in that special hell can't be worse than the mess she's made out of her life. "Look, Tim," she starts and forces herself to concentrate because he's still smiling Dave Springs' big, bright smile and he's still making it hard to think. "Last night was great, but it can't happen again. Bo's dealing with a lot in his life and he has attachment issues and he can't get hurt again and -"
She would have continued, she really would have, if Tim Riggins hadn't kissed her right then and there and she hadn't felt sixteen again and sure that if she tried hard enough and prayed long enough her dreams would come true.
"Jackie," she thinks to herself as his tongue twines around hers and does things no high school boy's tongue should do. "You aren't in Georgia anymore."
Later that morning he wakes in her bed and smiles through the veil of his hair and she concentrates on the muscles of his chest and the magical things those rough hands can do and ignores how much of a disaster this is. "Don't worry so much," he says when she places a mug of coffee on the nightstand and he looks at it like it maybe might explode. "It's going to be fine."
He kisses her again and she forgets who she is and what she does and the little boy sleeping only one door away. It's a little like falling through the rabbit hole and she pretends she isn't scared of where she'll wake up.
She's been sleeping with Tim Riggins for three days when Bo's teacher, Mrs. Charlton, calls her in for a private conference.
The room is decorated in floor to ceiling blue and there are posters screaming slogans like "GO DILLON!" and "PANTHER PRIDE!" and she forgets for a moment that she's in a classroom and not a Booster Club rally.
Mrs. Charlton has a frosted blonde helmet and glasses perched on the end of her nose and if she weren't gripping her pencil so tightly, Jackie might have mistaken her for her grandmother back in Macon.
"Is everything all right?" she asks once she eases herself into a too small chair and her heart clutches in her throat when Tim's lecture about Bo and bullies jumps to the forefront of her mind. She worries that something terrible is happening to her son, and the fear clutches in her gut until it's hard to breathe.
Mrs. Charlton looks at her hard and her lips compress into a tight frown and Jackie is suddenly terrified that Bo's kicked some serious ass and taken out half the fourth grade. "Bo said something during recess today, and one of the playground monitors was wise to report it." Mrs. Charlton's eyes narrow too, and Jackie doesn't need a confirmation to know where this is going. "He said Tim Riggins had a sleepover at your house last night."
Now Jackie really can't breathe because she's busted - busted - and they're going to haul her away in handcuffs and make a really bad TV movie about her life or parade her around Oprah so Dr. Phil can analyze her and she'll lose Bo and all those dreams will be just a tiny speck in the rearview mirror when they cart her off to prison. "He's my neighbor," she manages to say and she shocks herself with how calm her voice is and how carefully she manages to choose her words. "He watches Bo sometimes and when they stay up late watching movies he crashes on the couch." She smiles and rolls her eyes. "I know it's bad, but they're kids. I hate to wake them."
"Jackie," Mrs. Charlton says. "You know State's coming up." Her eyes narrow again. "We wouldn't want anything getting in the way of those boys taking home the trophy, now would we?"
Jackie blinks, because this isn't what she expected, but then she remembers that she's in Texas and literally surrounded by a sea of blue and the only thing on the radio for the last week has been talk of playoffs and caravan routes and the best place to tailgate in Dallas. She blinks again and Mrs. Charlton is still staring her down and the Panthers banners are still swaying slightly from the breeze coming in through the open window and the sunlight is still highlighting the dust that seems to fill every open space. "Uh, okay," she says and her voice comes out slightly strangled. "I'll be sure to call those movie nights early," she suggests and Mrs. Charlton smiles brightly and if she hadn't just gotten a lecture on her sex life's effects on the high school football team's prospects, she'd still think she was staring right at her grandmother. Only her grandmother would have cared more about the boy half her granddaughter's age, and less about winning a stupid game.
"I think that will work," Mrs. Charlton says and reaches over to shake Jackie's hand. She responds numbly and picks her way out of the school, passing the fifth grade on their way to a pep rally.
There are two or three boys wearing jerseys reading #33, and one of them has green eyes and long hair in need of a cut, and she blinks again because it's like looking at Tim ten years earlier.
She doesn't feel right in this place. She doesn't think she ever will.
The night the Panthers win the state semi-finals Jackie and Bo scream and cheer until their throats hurt and their vocal chords are stretched. It's raining and it's freezing and she should be worrying about Bo picking up a cold or the flu or freaking pneumonia but she lets the rain wash over her face and just enjoys the moment.
She breathes in deep and smells grass and mud and rain in the air and there isn't a speck of dust catching in her lungs.
The music soars around her and the boys whoop and yell and there's so much excitement that she thinks she could get used to this place.
The game ends and the Panthers win and Tim moves through the crowd and he only has eyes for her. He winks at her over Bo's head, and it's sneaky and secretive and only theirs, and he just helped bring his team to victory and she's the only person he wants to share it with.
She feels the blush creep across her cheeks as the slow smile spreads across his face before his overwhelmed quarterback tackles him into the mud and the smile across his face turns into something that resembles pure bliss, because he's made it and he's earned it and it's his time to celebrate it.
She watches the boys roll in the mud while Bo chatters at her side, and a couple cheerleaders and the girls in uniforms that they don't seem to get along with toss in the towel and throw down in the mud too. She watches as Tim drags a blonde-haired girl into the mud beside him, despite her yelps and pleas, and it takes everything in her to lock her boots to the ground and keep from prying the girl's fuck-me-red nails off her man.
Her own nails curl into the palms of her hands hard enough to hurt, and it takes Bo tugging at her wrist to realize the adults are all heading for home and bed while the teenagers keep the party going in the dirt.
She looks longingly at Tim but he's throwing a pile of mud at the loud-mouthed receiver and he isn't looking at her.
She suddenly feels every one of the years between them and all that's happened since she was his age. She lands at the bottom of the rabbit hole with a thud and doesn't know where she is.
She grips her son's hand like it's a lifeline because it's all she knows. He doesn't protest, even though she knows it must hurt him, and then she throws it all to hell, the mud and the rain and the infernal dust caking the underside of her tires, and gathers him in her arms and lets him get mud all over the upholstery because all she wants is to get away from this place.
She makes it home and gets Bo tucked into bed before she starts to cry. She tells herself she doesn't hate everything she's become with each tear that stains her mama's blanket.
A few days after the semi-finals Jackie picks Bo up from school and brings him home and sees Tim sitting on his front porch talking to a girl.
She shouldn't be surprised, because she knows he's the school stud and it's not like whatever they are is out in the open, but it still stings a little when the girl says something and he laughs and that big, bright smile lights up his face.
She watches for a moment, promises herself it will just be a moment while Bo goes off to get her a soda with lime, but it's a moment too long.
Tim and the girl rise to say goodbye and she reaches out to hug him and it's awkward and filled with things she doesn't understand, but Tim's arms eventually wrap around her and then they don't let go.
Jackie blinks, because she thinks it's the sunlight playing tricks on her or the dust blinding her, but something changes in Tim's eyes as his arms tighten around the girl and she buries her face in his neck and breathes him in, and Jackie can't breathe around the betrayal clamping through her lungs.
It's happening all over again, and she can see Kristen Conrad's blonde ponytail swinging in the reflection in the trophy case the way this girl's dark ponytail sweeps the graceful line of her shoulder blades. Tim watches her walk away and Jackie can't breathe the entire time because there's such a look of longing in his eyes that it makes her hurt inside where her dreams used to live.
She knows she won't ever belong here. She knows she made a mistake in more ways than one.
Sunday night rolls around and Tim doesn't show up for dinner. She orders a pizza anyway and lets Bo get whatever he wants and makes up an excuse about extra practices when he won't let up about his idol's absence.
She slips in bed beside her son and draws her mama's blanket over both of them. She can't remember the last time she washed it and it's probably full of germs and dirt and dust, always dust, but she doesn't care because it's familiar and it's not foreign and when it's wrapped around her she believes everything will be okay.
Tim calls, but he doesn't come around as much and she watches history repeat itself all over again when the light goes out in her son's eyes. She remembers her speech about attachment issues, and thinks maybe next time she should practice what she preaches.
She calls Hank after work and tells him it wasn't all his fault. She assures him that he's still an alcoholic and he's still an asshole, but Bo was her doing. He asks if he could send a Christmas card in the coming weeks, and she gives him her work address and says Bo will like that. It's all about her son these days - her own feelings aren't important.
One afternoon she piles Bo into her eco-friendly Honda and points out the wind blowing through the prairie grass and the tumbleweeds spiraling across the plains and sticks her spare sunglasses on the bridge of his nose to keep the glare out of his eyes. They roll into Austin and stock up at Whole Foods and she sneaks him into a re-released screening of "An Inconvenient Truth" even though she's sure it will give him nightmares for life because she thinks it's important that he understands the world around him and the legacy of the rusted oil rigs littering the land outside Dillon.
They drive back and Bo dozes in the passenger seat and Patsy Cline croons through the radio and she sips pomegranate juice as her poor Honda bumps over the highway. She breathes in deep, taking in the Texas air that isn't like home, and the dust catches in her lungs and she feels a little less empty, a little less alone, and like maybe this place can work after all.
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