Judging by the sound of the stream, she really, really had to go.
I actually heard her before I saw her. Over the last two years, I had developed the habit of walking quietly. I had also started carrying a camera, taking pictures of things that appealed to me. I found if I walked quietly, I was more likely to get a good nature shot, catching the odd deer, squirrel, or turtle. Once I came up on a bear, boy were we both surprised. He took off one way, I took off the other.
I came around the curve of the path, and there she was.
Really pretty backside. That's all I could see as she was squatting, urine splattering the ground. I didn't know what to do, so I said "Hi. Beautiful morning, don't you agree?"
She screamed and almost did a back flip, then started thrashing around, desperately trying to pull her yellow bikini panties and shorts up.
The scream got louder when I scooped her up in my arms and ran towards the lake. She was using words I had only heard rarely and beating my chest. I waded in about waist deep, damn that water was cold! Her shriek turned into a gurgle as I tossed her even farther out.
"Stay there!" I yelled as I reached shore, holding her shorts and panties in my hand.
I ran home, grabbed a handful of towels and a terrycloth robe. I also had a pair of swim trunks.
She was screaming and cussing to beat the band, it was echoing all over the lake. Too bad there was no one there to hear it. My head was starting to hurt.
"SHUT UP, YOU STUPID BITCH. THAT WAS POISON OAK YOU WERE WALLOWING AROUND IN! THE COLD WATER OF THE LAKE WILL KEEP YOUR PORES CLOSED. THAT WILL KEEP A LOT OF THE JUICE FROM SEEPING IN."
I stopped yelling and started using a conversational tone.
"Here" I said, tossing her a bar of soap.
"This soap has ingredients that will stop the spread and help with the itching, Was your bottom good, and make sure to clean the tender parts. As it is, you're still going to be uncomfortable for a week or two."
She calmed down, and I put the towels and the robe on a big rock.
"When you get done, use the towels, swim trunks, and robe. I'll leave your clothes here, but wrap them in a towel to carry home. The trunks will stay up if you pull the drawstring tight."
She had finally stopped cussing and stood in the water shivering. I told her to wait until I'm gone if it made her uncomfortable, then come to shore. She apologized and asked if I would bring her a towel out so she could wrap herself.
Hell, I was already wet, so I waded out and handed her a towel. Instead of taking the offered towel, she snatched the camera I had around my neck, breaking the strap, and hurling it as far as she could into the lake.
"That was a nine hundred dollar camera and a four hundred dollar lens! Are you as crazy as you act, or has the cold water numbed your brain?"
She had a triumphant smirk on her face.
"Neither, you pervert. Now you can't post the picture you've already taken, or the ones you were going to take while you hid in the bushes as I came out of the lake."
I was six feet tall and weighed one eighty, and worked out religiously. She was about five foot one and weighed one hundred and one pounds, in this case soaking wet. I literally snatched her out of the water, held her over my head, and tossed her as far as I could into deeper water.
There was a glimpse of bare bottom as she sailed out, apparently she went for the smooth look.
"YOU BAS..." was all she got out before she hit the water.
"See if you can find my camera while you're out there, bitch!" I tossed over my shoulder as I waded back to shore. I was shaking with rage as I gathered my things. Fuck her, I thought as I started to walk away. The only thing that stopped me was the snuffling and wailing going on behind me.
"Please leave me the robe and a towel. Please, I'm begging you."
Well I didn't want her to get a cold, or hypothermia. The temperature of that mountain water in mid May was about fifty eight degrees on average. I dumped the armful into the path and kept walking, fuming as I went.
This little lake wasn't really developed. Three fourths of the shoreline was owned by the power company. Five families had originally owned the rest of the property. I had managed to buy two of them out, giving me the lions share of the private property. The other three families had vacation homes, and from Memorial Day until Labor Day, I had neighbors.
There had been a developer sniffing around, trying to buy up the property. I had flat out refused her, and she hinted around about imminent domain, and I circumvented him by having part of my property and a bit of my neighbors' placed on the historic register. There were three family graveyards and a small log church on my land. I gave free access to the descendants, and even kept the church in repair. It was often used for weddings. I let people use it for a donation to the local historical society. The power company property was in the process of being sold to the state to extend a park, so that part of the lake was safe.
About eight months of the year I was pretty much alone, sometimes even snowed in. I didn't care. If I really had to get out, I had a four wheel drive tractor with a scrape blade. I would clear my three quarter mile driveway, then get out my 1958 M38A, a one ton, six wheel drive Dodge that I had fully restored. You could drive up cliffs with that thing. Most times I stayed home.
My house was solar powered, with backup generators. I hadn't had a power bill in five years.
Was I a hermit? Not exactly. I enjoyed people and often traveled for my work. I'd had a bad experience six years before that made me extremely suspicious of people, and gave me a mountain of trust issues.
I was a writer. In my youth I had dreamed of writing the Great American Novel. Majored in English and minored in journalism. Worked for a few years with newspapers, getting better jobs with bigger papers as my skill grew.
I got my big break when I discovered corruption between local officials and state lawmakers concerning the proposed route of a four lane bypass. Bribery, kickbacks, strong arm intimidation, even an attempted murder. I got a nomination for a Pulitzer and three weeks in a hospital out of it. The attempted murder was mine.
Of course I wrote a book about the whole thing that became a best seller in nonfiction. I got a three book deal, specifying one had to be a novel.
The publisher agreed, knowing if it stank it would never grace a page. My second book was a biography of Billy Dixon, a larger than life Western hero that never got his due. I had been researching it for years before I got a book deal, so I put it together in eighteen months. It surprised everyone by being even better than the first. One reviewer said he could smell the gunpowder and sweat as he read it.
Both books were made into movies, and the Western got really good reviews.
My novel surprised even me, staying on the bestseller lists for three months. It became a movie also.
I got a seven figure advance on my next contract, a three book deal, on any subject I wanted.
I was putting the finishing touches on a book about what amounted to a small war between union
organizers, the local sheriff department, and the national guard. It was in 1929, in a small North Carolina town. Many of the union organizers were also Communists. People on both sides were killed, including the sheriff.
This was fairly recent history, I was able to interview many of the children of the participants, as well as researching the local papers, oral histories, etc. I got lucky and one of the descendents handed me the diary of his grandfather, documenting the whole thing, naming names, talking about under the table deals the organizers and the sheriff tried to put together but couldn't agree on, as well as a love triangle that figured prominently in the whole affair. Sex and money, politics, murder, tragedy, it had a little something for everyone, including candid photos that had never been seen. My editor and publisher were drooling. It was due out in August, and we were giving excerpts on the publishing website.
If I'm so successful, why was I alone?
I was married at the time I uncovered the road deal corruption, to a local girl. We had courted for nine months, and had been married for twenty two months. Newlyweds. We were still finding things out about each other.
I was at the newspaper, a fairly large one for the area. Like I said, she was a local girl, working for her uncle in the local county tax office. Her dad was county manager. I always had a good source of quotes about county business if I needed one. I got along well with her family.
Harvey Gant was the chairman of the Republican party, a local power broker, and owned a large scale beef farm operation. Her uncle was head of the Democratic party. To say these two didn't like each other was an understatement.
Slurs and accusations flew on a regular basis. I was covering politics, and I never lacked for a story. My wife Angie once told me her dog was run over and killed when she was eight, and her uncle told her a Republican did it. She's hated Republicans ever since.
Traffic through the county had been getting steadily more congested for years, and the state finally decided to build a four lane bypass. Making use of aerial maps, they had four different routes that would work.
That's when the fight started. Imminent domain was a time honored tradition of acquiring property for the greater good, and that's what ultimately happened. Some landowners actively lobbied to get the road to come through their property, while other threatened lawsuits if they even thought their land would be touched.
They did impact studies, cost estimations, rough surveying, and computer mapping to determine the best course. They held monthly update meetings with the public.
Finally, two routes were recommended by the state.
When the announcement was made, everyone was stunned when neither was chosen. The route that appeared to be the most expensive and least likely was chosen. People were in an uproar.
The highway commissioner held a press conference, lauding the route and refused to answer questions, giving out press packets instead. It was one of the most interesting fairy tales I had ever read. There wasn't one solid reason given as to why they chose that particular route. Something smelled. Bad.
It was my area, so I started digging. Without getting long winded, The commissioner, my wife's uncle and dad, and Harry Gant had conspired to have the route approved. It pretty much destroyed the biggest farming rival Harry had, taking almost his whole farm, took an unexplained bend, and just skirted Harry's farm, taking scrub land of little value. Harry got almost twice the value off his acreage, the other farmer got about sixty per cent of the estimated value.
The other farmer was no fool, and he too had friends in high places.
I had reported weekly on the story, digging deep and finding a disturbing paper trail that led to their downfall. It was getting hot for every one involved when I started getting threatening phone calls, which I taped and stored.
Her father paid me a visit at home. I often worked from home, and had an office set up in a spare bedroom. I had a slogan an old reporter had given me, it was a quote, I never knew from who.
"It is the job of a good reporter to report the news, factually, and raise hell."
I had another quote from Rikki Tiki Tavi, a Rudyard Kipling book of the nineteenth century.
Rikki Tiki was a mongoose, a small mammal that liked to hunt and kill cobras. They had no immunity, if they got bitten they died, but they were both smart and quick, and usually beat the snake. There were no slow, dumb mongoose alive.
It talked about the curiousity of the species, saying the mantra of any mongoose was "Go and find out"
My father in law had evidently read the book.
"Be careful Sam. A mongoose can easily beat a cobra, but what if there's several, and they all attack at once? Survival chances would be slim to none."
I threw him out of the house. That's the day my marriage died. Angie begged me to drop it, but I was like a bloodhound. I had struck the scent, and I had to follow it to the end.
I passed my evidence on the the FBI. I didn't trust the locals, and because we lived in a border county, and part of one of the farms had acreage in both states, they had jurisdiction.
The players panicked. I had a hot tip and went out to meet my informant. Nobody was there. I walked around for a bit. I was at a small pond in the middle of nowhere. Bored, I bent down to pick up a flat stone to skip over the water.
It saved my life. They gave a good old boy five thousand dollars to kill me with a deer rifle, a Remington 7mm. The shot went through the top of my shoulder, breaking the collarbone before splitting in half. One part went down the outside of my ribs and out just past my short ribs. The other half went under the ribs, nicking a lung before exiting out just above my hipbone. I dropped like a rock.
I was in shock so I wasn't hurting. I managed to call 911 and give them my location before the pain hit. And when it hit, it rendered me incapable of anything else.
I was less than two miles from a volunteer fire department, and one of them with EMT training was there in less than ten minutes, and had me stabilized before the ambulance arrived. When I came into money later, both groups got a sizable donation. I was taken to a hospital at the state capital and placed under FBI protection. In the next week, Her dad, uncle, the highway commissioner and two of his deputies, Harvey Gant, and a few local flunkies were all indited. Angie was arrested as an accessory, and actually served a year. They ratted the guy who shot me out, hoping for a lighter sentence.
Angie filed for divorce while I was still in the hospital. Mental cruelty, if you can believe it. She was the one who talked the guy into shooting me, sealing the deal with a little bedroom romp. If that had come to light during the trial, she would have to serve at least eight years. I could have given the D.A. what I found, but it just didn't matter to me anymore. We were divorced before she started her prison term. She was twenty four. I never spoke to her after the divorce.
I sued everyone who conspired in my murder attempt, and got a nice cash settlement. Not a lot, but enough to allow me to work exclusively on my book. When the money started rolling in, I never looked back.
I came home three days later, to find my swim trunks, robe, and towels laundered and stacked neatly on my porch. No note, nothing.
The next week my sometime neighbor stopped by, I assume to check up on his vacation home. We sat on the porch and drank coffee.
"How do you like your new neighbor?"
I looked up.
"I didn't know I had a new neighbor."
"Bill's girl. Went through a messy divorce, I hear she's staying at their cabin this summer, or until they sell it. Bill's retiring, says he's going South. Says he's tired of being cold even in the summer."
"Has he listed it yet?"
He paused, thinking.
"Not yet, I think he said he was going to let his daughter stay there until she had her head together before he did."
"Have you got his number? You know I want to keep the property out of the hands of developers. I'll pay fair market value, maybe a little more if he sells pretty quick. I'll even let his girl stay all summer if she wants."
The old man smiled.
"Thought you may say something along those lines. Here's his numbers. He said call anytime after five. Thanks for the coffee, and keeping an eye on my place. I'll be up for the summer in a couple of weeks. My wife wants you to come over for supper. She thinks you ain't right in the head for not havin' a woman. Gonna dangle a niece and a cousin under your nose. Be prepared."
He's had a lot of entertainment watching his wife try to fix me up off and on for the last four years, says it's better than a soap opera. So far the score has been eight to zero in my favor. But I'll give her her due, she has persistence and doesn't understand the concept of quit while you're losing. One of these days I was going to put her in one of my novels. Still I liked the old girl, when she wasn't trying to marry me off.
I called Bill, he had it appraised, and I gave him ten percent over tax value, a good price, considering the real estate market. I left it in the hands of the lawyers, and up to him to tell his daughter.
I saw her about a week after we first met, at the little town at the foot of the mountain. Two gas stations, two churches, a small grocery store, a Dollar General, and a hardware/feed store, that also sold bait and fishing supplies, and a post office. One small diner. Any thing more than'that you had to travel another thirty miles, to the county seat.
She was pumping gas. She turned about eight shades of red when I pulled up on the other side of the pumps.
I said hello, she didn't bother to answer me. For some reason that irritated me, but I shrugged it off. Fuck her. She was gone when I came back out.
The good ol' boys were talking about her.
Bob, who had to be at least 130 years old, commented while looking straight at me.
"She's a looker, that one. Bet she's lonely, up at the lake by herself. Too bad she don't have a friendly neighbor or two."
"Good try, but she's like that actress out of the thirties. She wants to be alone. What was that actress's name? You dated her, didn't you Bob?"
The rest of the men laughed while Bob spit into his cup. That shit was gonna kill him someday.
He surprised us all.
"Greta Garbo, and she never actually said that. She said I want to be LEFT alone. And, she was a fine lookin' woman. Some say Marlene Dietrich said it first, but who knows?"
Well, you never know. Bob apparently had a huge collection of classic movies, and a pile of books on movie trivia. His friends spent a bunch of time trying to stump him when they found out, and rarely did.
I left the next week for a short promotional tour of my book, hitting the early morning and late night talk shows. I tried to schedule them in bunches, and they would air them when the book was released. I neither liked nor disliked doing them, they were a job requirement, somewhere comparable to being required to wear a suit or safety glasses on a regular job. Plus, there was one local morning show hostess that I liked to spend time with. Nothing serious, if she was seeing someone it was just lunch, but if she was between relationships, it would be dinner, followed by breakfast the next morning. We had waffles, usually.
It was eighteen days before I got home. I sighed as I got out of the car, happy to be out of the rat race. I walked through the house, breathing the familiar smells, and out onto the deck, stopping to grab a beer out of the fridge.
There looked to be a genuine wood sprite sitting on my deck, but on closer inspection turned out to be a girl, between ten or twelve. She had on a green one piece suit and cutoffs, black curly hair, and green eyes.
"Who are you?"
She let out a little scream, going halfway off the deck before she stopped, looking back warily.
"Who the hell are you, asshole?" she asked back.
I tried to hide my amusement by taking a firm tone.
"Do you kiss people with that potty mouth?"
"Just my mother. You didn't answer my question."
"I asked first."
"Brittany Brianna Jones."
"Harrison Hardison Smith. Now Miss Jones, how do happen to be on this deck?"
She stood as tall as her four foot eleven height would allow, trying to look confident.
"I've got permission. Mr Howell asked us to look in on his house. I come here because I can get WiFi."
I noticed the tablet in her hands.
"Well, Miss Jones, that[I pointed to the house down the hill, just barely visible] is Mr. Howell's house. This one is mine."
She went about six shades of red.
"You sure this is your house?"
"That's what it said on the deed last time I looked. Want a coke?"
"I don't know you."
"That's right. But it wasn't me sitting on your deck. You can stay if you want. I have questions. Chips?"
I went back in and put my beer away, getting two cokes and a bowl of chips and sitting them on the table. I sat in a rocking chair while she sat at the table, asking questions one after another, between munching on chips and sipping the coke through the straw I gave her. She started.
"How come I haven't seen a jet ski or a powerboat?"
"Because the state owns most of the shoreline and banned them. Canoes, paddle boats, and sailboats only."
"Are you married?"
"Got any kids?"
"Live here by yourself? Got a girlfriend?"
"Yes, and no."
"Don't want one."
"Don't want one now, or don't want one ever?"
"Just right now."
"You're not gay, are you?"
"No, and if I was, I wouldn't want a boyfriend right now, either."
"Can I come back?"
"'Cause this is the only place I can get reception."
We switched. I started asking her questions.
"Who are you here with?"
"Mom got a name?"
"Sarah Parker. She took back her maiden name in the divorce."
"Ah, is she the one who showed up a while back, before everyone else? The real friendly woman?"
"No. She's the one who showed up with a bad attitude. She's here to get away from everything, everything being my dad."
"How do you feel about that? Did you feel the need to get way from everything too?"
For the first time, the little girl in her surfaced.
"Yes, bit it sucks. Dad was mean to her and me. He didn't hit us, but called us, especially mom, a lot of names. I don't think he loved us much. I know he doesn't, now."
"Now, how would you know that?"
"Because he told us."
"In those exact words? I don't love you?"
"No, his exact words were 'now that the bitch and the brat are out of the way, I can have some real fun'. He was living with some woman the next week. Says he's gonna marry her."
What an asshole.
"You're right. That does suck. Look, it's getting dark, do you need a flashlight to get back home?"
She looked around.
"Oh no. Mom's gonna have a cow. Will you walk me home? I was supposed to be home before now."
"I'll do you one better. Ever been in a canoe?"
I could see the excitement in her eyes.
"No, but I've always wanted to."
"Come on, then."
I pulled my two seater out of the shed, and put her in the front, making sure her life jacket was tight.
"Canoe class, first lesson. A canoe is like a bicycle, it'll go in the direction you lean. Lean too far, and over you go. Sit up straight, keep your center of balance. Ready?"
She did well, actually listened to me. Once I got us out in the water and going in the direction we needed, I even let her paddle, steering with mine when I needed to correct course. In a third of the time it would have taken to walk, we were beaching in front of her house.
Her mom was in the yard, looking up the trail. She liked to be called B.B., and her mom was calling it out, to get a response.
"Behind you, mom! Look, I drove a canoe. It was great, can we get one?"
You don't actually drive a canoe, but I wasn't going to spoil her mood. I didn't need to worry, mom was more than happy to do it for me.
"Where have you been, young lady? You were supposed to be back an hour ago. I was worried to death."
"Gee, mom, I'm fine. I was talking to Mr. Smith and lost track of time. He brought me home in the canoe, isn't it great? We need to get one."
She looked at me with blood in her eyes.
"You! I might have known. Stay away from her, you pervert."
B.B. was looking back and forth at us with her mouth hanging open.
"Mom! Leave him alone! He was nice to me. I was trespassing on his deck. I didn't know it was his house. I thought I was at Mr. Howell's house."
She was still angry.
"I'm warning you. Stay away from her."
I looked at her, thinking if I had been married to her I would have left too, and it wouldn't have been over another woman.
"If that's your wish. Bye B.B., it was good to meet you."
She looked like she was going to cry.
"Bye, H.H." She had called me that because like her, my first two initials were the same. I thought it was cute.
Sound carries over water really well. As I paddled away I could hear the exchange between mother and daughter.
"You had to do it, didn't you mom? One person in this wilderness, and I can't talk to him. Do we have to make a career out of being miserable?"
Her voice sounded weary, almost defeatist.
"No, honey. But I don't trust that man. Stay away from him."
"What did he do, mom? Why do you dislike him so much?"
"Stop, B.B. Go on into the house, we'll make some hot chocolate. It's supposed to be summer, damn it."
I could hear the child's grumbling voice as she went into the cabin.
I didn't see them for five more days.
And as usual, it was inopportune. They were sitting on the side of the road, with the hood up and steam coming out of the engine compartment.
I pulled behind them and got out.
"Need some help?"
"We're fine." she snapped refusing to look at me. It was getting dark. B.B. didn't look fine.
"All right, just thought I'd offer."
I walked back to my truck slowly, shaking my head at stupid, stubborn people. I had walked around the car on the way back. It must have just happened, there was to much steam to see the problem.
I heard the door fly open and running steps. It was the girl.
"Please, H.H., don't leave us out here in the dark."
I felt bad for her.
"I wouldn't do that. I was going call a tow truck when I got down to the village to pick your car up. I figured by the time I came back your mom would smarten up enough to let me take you home."
While we were talking her mom got out and came to the truck.
"B.B.! Get in the car. I can handle this."
God, that woman was irritating.
"And just how are you gonna handle it? I'm sure by now you know you can't get cell service until you get to the bottom of the mountain. Maybe you were going to walk the six miles into town, just a nice, leisurely stroll in the dark with your daughter. A good bonding moment, huh? By the time you get to town the garage will be closed and no one can get to your car until Monday, Bob refuses to work on Sunday. Then you can walk back up the mountain and on home. It's only eleven miles, more or less."
I was standing close to the girl and put my hands over her ears.
"Get your head out of your ass, goddamnit! Think of your child first, for a change."
She drew in a sharp breath, ready to explode as I took my hand off B.B.s head, hopefully cutting off any profanity riddled rant.
She was past red, she was purple. I didn't give her a chance to speak.
"If you need anything out of the car, get it now. If we hurry, maybe Bob will come out before he goes home tonight. B.B., you can ride in the front, okay?"
B.B ran and got her mothers' purse and a small backpack. My truck had an extended cab, with a small back seat. Sarah refused my help getting in. B.B. settled into the front seat and immediately started chattering.
"I looked you up. You're kind of famous. Where can I get your books? I've never met a writer before."
I glanced into the rear view mirror. Was that interest on her face?
"Don't waste money buying any. I have a few copies you can have, just tell me when you're coming and I'll leave them out on the porch."
"Can I keep them?"
"If you want."
"Will you autograph them for me?"
"Yes. But first your mom has to give her permission."
She turned around to her mom.
"Can I mom? You're always after me to read more. Please."
It nearly choked her to say yes.
"Leave them on your porch tomorrow morning and I'll pick them up."
"If that's the way you want it. I won't be there, I'll be at church."
The disbelief was obvious in her eyes.
"You're a church goer?"
"Does that shock you? I don't go every Sunday, but I try. You should come."
I looked over at B.B.
"You should come too. It'll give you a chance to meet some of the locals your age."
Her eyes lit up. She was starving for contact with people her age.
"Can we Mom? Please?"
She had the decency to look uncomfortable.
"Maybe later. Remember, our car is down. We couldn't go this week anyway."
She turned her eyes on me.
"Can we ride with you? You're going anyway."
I heard the sharp intake of breath in the back.
"I'd love for you to go with me, but that's something you should talk over with your mom first. Tell you what, I'll swing by your place about eight thirty. If you guys want to go, come out. If not, I'll go on."
That situation defused, I listened to her chatter all the way down the mountain.
We just made it to the garage. Bob grumbled, but agreed to get her car and check it out Monday.
I was on my way to the grocery store when I found them. It seems that was their destination too.
The diner was still open.
"Would you ladies like to join me for dinner? You should taste their pizza, they cook them in a clay oven."
Sarah was about to say no but B.B.was literally bouncing. Seems pizza was her weakness.
"Please mom? Please, please, please? I'll do extra chores next week. Please?"
She actually relented.
"All right, if we pay."
I shook my head.
"No deal then. I invited you ladies, so the meal is on me. I will not negotiate."
I saw her temper rising, but she swallowed it. She was still giving me evil looks when we went into the diner.
Mel and Mabel were the owners. They were also twin sisters, and despite being in their late forties they sometimes still dressed alike.
Mel bustled over with menus. She took a long look at us and giggled.
"Ooh, Harry. I knew some girl would land you eventually. Is this your daughter? She has your eyes."
I smiled while mom glowered. I hadn't noticed it before, but B.B., like me, had green eyes.
"No, Mel. These are my neighbors. I told them they hadn't lived until they tasted your famous pizzas, so here we are."
I did the introductions, and B.B. turned to the menu.
"You know what I want, Mel. Large veggie, mushrooms, red onions, red bell peppers, basil and tomatoes, light on the sauce. Heavy on the garlic. Extra cheese."
She gave me a disapproving look. In her world there was something wrong with a man who didn't subsist on meat. I wasn't a vegetarian, this was just the type of pizza I liked.
B.B. looked over at me.
"Can I have what I want?"
"Isn't that what I told you when we sat down?"
Mom was about to speak but B.B. beat her.
"I want a large meat lover, double meat, double cheese, thin crust, please."
Mel was beaming.
"Good choice, child. Now, what about you?"
Sarah looked confused.
"I'll just share some of theirs."
I grinned and looked at B.B.
"I'm not sharing, I take it home and have it for breakfast in the morning. What about you?"
She gave me an understanding smile.
"Oh, no. This one is mine. I intend to eat it all tonight. Mom, looks like you're on your own."
She didn't know what to do, so she ended up ordering a medium peperoni.
"Make that a large, Mel, double the pepperoni. And a pitcher of the house special, please."
There was a local company who specialized in root beer and sasparilla soda, very good products. It even came on tap, and was a local favorite.
It looked like bock beer. I poured a small taste and handed it to B.B. Sarah went red in the face, thinking I was corrupting her daughter.
"How dare you give my daughter alcohol! What kind of place is this?"
The other diners looked over and grinned.
B.B. played it up.
"This is great, mom. Have a sip, we'll both be feeling silly."
Before she could say another word a frosted mug was thrust into her hands. The smell hit her and she tasted it. She got even angrier.
"Root beer! Why didn't you tell me?"
"You never gave me a chance. Did you seriously think I would give a child alcohol, especially in a public place? You have issues, anybody ever tell you that?"
She sulked until the pizzas came out. The double meat pizza looked like it was about six inches tall with the toppings. B.B. was actually drooling. Mel told me later she put two hundred pepperoni slices on the one for Sarah, and extra cheese. Mine was the only average looking one in the bunch.
The way B.B. attacked that pizza was definitely unladylike. Sarah ate three pieces, while I had only two. B.B. was about to go for her fourth slice when I made her stop.
"Don't eat that! Leave room for dessert."
Her eyes got big. She started drooling again.
"Do you like chocolate?"
"Does Justin Beiber use hair products? Chocolate is my favorite."
I didn't give Sarah a choice, and got three of the house specials.
Large, triple chocolate brownies with caramel sauce and nuts, served hot with whipped cream and a small bowl of vanilla ice cream on the side. I thought B.B. was actually going to cry. I grinned.
"Now you know why I only had two slices. Enjoy!"
They both gave valiant efforts, but could only get half down. I ordered another each to go, and had the leftover pizza boxed. I think B.B. was actually waddling when we got to the grocery store.
I couldn't believe what I heard.
"I'm sorry, what did you say?"
She darkened up.
"I said thank you. B.B. really enjoyed tonight. I did too."
It sounded like she would rather have had an root canal than admit it.
"You're welcome. I had a good time too. You really should let her go to church tomorrow. She needs kids her own age around her."
The friendliness was gone.
"I'll decide what's best for my daughter. The rest is none of your business."
I just looked at her.
"As you wish."
She didn't speak to me again, but B.B. was bubbly.
She talked nonstop all the way back up the mountain. When we pulled in the drive she gave me a big hug. I saw Sarahs' face freeze in hard lines.
"Thanks, H.H.! I'm gonna have pizza for breakfast too."
"Your welcome, baby. Maybe we can do it again sometime. Go on in the house, now. I want to speak to your mother."
She looked between me and her mom, gave a sigh, and went into the house.
She glared at me. "What?!"
I waited a second, hoping she would calm down.
"I need to tell you something. I'm not him."
"Your husband. Neither is any other man on this planet. Don't tar and feather us all because you ended up with a world class asshole. Believe it or not, we have no interest in hurting you. You could actually be friends with some of us, if you'd calm down. Get your ass off your shoulders, or your head out of your ass, or whatever contortionist trick you're using to keep reality away, because it's not good for you. Or your daughter."
"You got shit on. I understand it. My ex wife paid to have me murdered. Screwed the guy, too, to seal the deal. I got shot. Nearly died. I'll show you the scars sometime. That doesn't mean I think every woman I meet has a hit out on me. Quit feeling sorry for yourself and think about your daughter. End of rant."
She was quivering, she was so angry.
"Thank you so much for your concern, but I'll decide what's best for me and my child. Good night!"
She stormed inside and slammed the door.
Oddly, I was in a good mood the rest of the night.
She must have a change of heart, because they were both on the porch waiting when I pulled up the next morning. And they both looked very nice in their dresses. I complimented them. B.B. was in such a good mood she let her mom sit in the front. I was telling them about the church as we drove.
"I don't know what religion or denomination you are, but this is a Baptist church. About half the congregation are black, as well as the reverend. There's just not enough of us to have two churches. The only alternative is going all the way into town. They're good people, they'll make you welcome."
When we got out I slipped B.B. a ten for the collection plate. I assumed they had money, hadn't really thought about it. I just wanted to make her comfortable.
We were there a little early, so they got a handshake and a hug from everyone, especially the preacher. He had a daughter close in age to B.B., and he introduced her. They seemed to hit it off. Soon they were clustered with three more girls in the same age group, one black and two white, whispering, giggling, exchanging email, Facebook, and phone information. It was a good sign. I noticed a few young boys, checking out the new girl.
That left Sarah with me. I bet she was about ready to kill the next person who asked if she was my new wife, but she smiled and made an effort to be friendly.
It got interesting when Sunday school was called. B.B. disappeared with her new friends, while Sarah and I sat with young adults, singles and married. Our teacher was a new age type of woman, we didn't discuss scriptures, but how to hold relationships together, how to deal with grief, adversity, and temptations. How to follow the rules of Christianity in the real world. The discussion was quite animated at times.
Sarah got really quiet, but suddenly spoke up about temptations and forgiveness.
"Sometimes, despite everything you do, you fail. Sometimes love and forgiveness just isn't enough. Sometimes you just have to give up, and recognize things don't always work out. What do you do then?"
She was crying.
Three women went into a huddle, hugging her and talking softly. Then they prayed, and even Sarah bowed her head. When she raised her head, it was the first time I saw her without traces of bitterness and anger on her face. It made her look quite beautiful.
The lesson was over, and there was a ten minute break so everyone could restore circulation. B.B. found us, and begged to be allowed to sit with her new friends.