Guilty Pleasures

     “Time for your Scottish porn, eh?”
     “It’s my single guilty pleasure each week,” I placidly popped another popcorn kernel in my mouth, ignoring Jake, leaning idly against the doorjamb, cleaning dirt out from under his fingernails.
     “What time are you picking Tee up from soccer practice?” He leaned around the door frame and neatly snagged his truck keys off of the hook.
     “Me? I thought you were!” I reluctantly tore my eyes from the screen where Jamie Fraser and Dougal McKenzie were straining to brain one another in manly fashion, and peered across the room at my grinning husband.
     “Side job,” my husband straightened up and closed his penknife. “I told you that last night.” He slipped the penknife in his pocket and leaned further into the kitchen, picking a gleaming Granny Smith apple from the  bowl of fruit on the counter. “Gotta run,” he said around a bite of apple. “Tee’s practice is done in ten minutes. If you hurry, you can pick her up on time.”
     Grumbling under my breath, I turned off the show. I preferred to watch the first airing, rather than catch the show later. No matter how carefully I monitored my social media feed, inevitably a spoiler slipped by and the suspense was killed.
     Ten minutes to get to the soccer field, ten minutes to return home. I would still need to kill at least thirty minutes before Starz would play reruns. I grabbed an apple for Tee and my car keys and headed out the front door. We could make a pit stop at the grocery store and grab some frozen pizza and bagged salad for dinner. That would just about fill in the time. And then home again, home again, jiggety-jig. I was looking forward to Claire and Jamie’s latest escapades in France.
     Ten tries later, the ancient Chevy S-10 finally started and I breathed a sigh of relief, backing out of the driveway. Sure enough, I hit every single red light across town to the soccer fields. By the time I got to Tee, she was wound up tighter than a tick.
     “Daddy’s never late,” she snarled, sliding into the car, folding her arms across her chest.
     “Bully for daddy,” I left the car humming, in park, and folded my own arms across my chest.
     “Aren’t we going?” My daughter’s lower lip trembled, and I suddenly felt remorseful, flashing back to my own internal anxiety whenever my parents were late picking me up. It was a routine occurrence — at least on their side. None of us kids were allowed the luxury of being tardy for anything, ever. Now, as an adult, I took a secret pleasure in rebelling against the ingrained strictures of “on time, every time.”
     “Sorry, sweetie,” I gently brushed a wayward hair from my daughter’s cheek. “The truck didn’t want to start and then I hit every red light on the way here. Buckle up and we’ll stop by Safeway on the way home to get a pizza and bagged salad.” Tee snugged her seatbelt tight and I handed her an apple.
     “Thanks, mom.” Tee chewed reflectively for a minute, watching the fields slide by through the open window,  and then perked up. “Look! It’s Sandy! Pull over.”
     Sandy was Tee’s best friend from school. Unlike Tee, who was physically active and a tomboy, Sandy was a consummate girl, all pink and frills. Sandy took ballet and jazz dance, and was in great demand in our small community for her babysitting skills. Tee was more likely to be called on to do yard work and walk dogs. What the two found in common to forge their friendship, I didn’t know, but it worked for them.
     It looked like Sandy was having a hard day. Tears streaked the side of her face and her shoulders were shaking. We had pulled over next to where she sat on a rock overlooking the irrigation ditch that doubled as a creek, running through the middle of town. I sighed internally and looked at my wristwatch. Outlander would just have to wait a  while longer, I supposed . . .
     “Sandy!”  Tee had jumped out of the car and rushed over to her friend. Sandy’s face brightened at the sight of her friend and then crumpled again. The girls held a hurried conference, Tee hugging Sandy around the shoulders, and then they looked over at me.
     “Everything okay, Sandy?” I called through the open window. “Do you need a ride home?” I nobly added, stifling my sudden surge of irritability.
     Sandy sniffled and wiped another tear off her cheek, while Tee called back, “She can’t talk about it, mom. Can she come stay with us for the night? She needs a break.”
     For the life of me, I couldn’t remember girlhood being so emotional. With a shrug, I waved the girls toward the truck and tucked my purse down on the floor.
     “Thanks, Mrs. James.” Sandy sniffled again, and Tee handed her a Kleenex.
     “You’re welcome, Sandy,” I said, then added, “Call your folks and let them know where you are when we get home, please.”
     “Yes, ma’am,” she said, in a hushed voice.
     God, I thought to myself, the melodrama. How could twelve be so hard?
     We pulled into the grocery store. I had been intending on a quick dash, with Tee choosing a couple of pizzas and me finding a decent bag of salad. The pace was a bit more reflective of a funeral dirge, though, and I bit my tongue on hurrying the girls. The first round of the newest Outlander episode was winding up and the second showing would be starting. Great. Another hour to wait. Would I ever get home to watch it?
     I rejoined the girls in the checkout line. For some reason, there was only one cashier and about twenty people lined up waiting to pay. I didn’t recognize the cashier, which meant a new hire. And, of course, most hands held an assortment of coupons. I sighed again, this time externally, and tried to prepare myself for the long haul.
     Thirty minutes later, we finally escaped, the pizza only nominally frozen by this time, and the bagged salad definitely wilting. For some reason, the girls were dragging their feet, huddled together near the twenty-five cent carnival ride, whispering intently to each other.
     “Girls, let’s go,” I called to them from the truck door.
     “Mom,” Tee said as they slid into the truck and slammed the door shut. “Can we run Sandy home so she can grab some stuff?”
     Running Sandy home was not a small request, especially with groceries dying an untimely death in the summer heat. Sandy lived ten minutes outside of town, on a rutted, dirt road that took twenty minutes to navigate carefully.
     “Nope,” I said. “Sorry, no can do. We’ve got groceries to get home before they spoil. Maybe daddy can run you two out there after dinner.”
     “But, mom,” Tee wailed. “Sandy has just got to get home.”
     “Umhmmm,” I responded, turning onto Main St. towards our house. “And just how was she going to get there before we came along and found her sitting next to the creek?”
     Both girls subsided into a sullenness that reflected my own internal discord. Sandy’s parents were very straight-laced, and it was a sure shot I would not be watching my favorite TV show tonight lest Sandy inadvertently see something considered unsuitable for a girl of her tender years.
     I winced internally, hearing the grating, holier-than-thou voice of Sandy’s father in my head. He was one of two pastors in town, the fire and brimstone model, and I cordially detested everything he stood for and did.  On the other hand, perhaps the girls would decide to stay the night at Sandy’s house, and then I could see my Scottish porn, as Jake liked to call it.
     And then, on the other hand, I might not get to see anything on TV at all for some time to come, I realized, as I pulled into my driveway. Sandy’s father and the local sheriff were standing on my doorstep, arms folded and feet tapping, as we slid to a stop and hopped out. It was going to be a long night, I decided. Jamie and Claire would just have to wait.