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Lucky Southern Women

Lucky Southern Women

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Lucky Southern Women

Longitud:
420 página
12 horas
Publicado:
Jan 10, 2014
ISBN:
9781311650412
Formato:
Libro

Descripción

Phoebe Owens Price has raised herself literally by her own sharp wits from the poverty and ignorance into which she was born. Her dearest childhood friend, Sophie Patterson Harris, has done likewise but through very different means. Closer than sisters, they have always relied on one another and shared every secret –or so they believe. As adults, marriage and motherhood takes over their days and each of these two unique, spirited women strives for happiness and a sense of purpose in her own way. Through heartbreak and betrayal, Sophie and Phoebe come to realize that there are serious differences between the ways they each look at the world, but they manage to forgive one another’s faults and continue to be allies. Yet friendship and family ties clash with the difficulty of keeping it all together. Sophie and Phoebe find themselves in a constant battle between insight and accountability that seems to be leading to a better understanding of the world and their place in it –but is a better world really possible, given the ghosts of the past? And if so, at what cost?
One has no patience for ignorance; the other, the deep heart of a martyr. Religious belief and personal history wars with sanity and wisdom in this first novel of love, freedom, and the strength of friendship. Susannah Eanes explores the deep mysticism of family history, deception, and forgiveness in the tale of two women who are forced to confront the legacy of their youth, set in the deep south of the last decades of the twentieth century, and written in the unique language and viewpoints of the characters themselves.
Sophie, a student of classical literature, closet poet and diarist, is mentally and emotionally drawn and quartered by her inability to reconcile family love and responsibilities with her feelings for an ex-soldier who came home to run the family farm, but cannot share her secret life with the one who has been her closest ally. Phoebe knows something is not quite right with her friend but is at a loss to discover exactly what, instead judging her ruthlessly for the perceived sins of adultery and selfishness. The crisis that descends as a result forces them to face reckonings long buried, and the specter of fear itself.
Sexually charged and passionately descriptive, the rural landscape entwines around the lives and loves of two strong, yet troubled women, a beautiful contrast to the beliefs they absorbed as children. Only in moving beyond the past can they forge a way ahead not only for themselves, but for their loved ones. In so doing, each finds something vital that will give them the power and resilience they need to meet the greatest challenge of all.

Publicado:
Jan 10, 2014
ISBN:
9781311650412
Formato:
Libro

Sobre el autor

Susannah Eanes is a certified land-use planner and cartographer by education and has an extensive background in public service. Having minored in ballet in college, she also modeled and taught ballet and modern dance for several years. She writes poetry, fiction, non-fiction and personal essays, publishes book reviews and blogs regularly, and is a free-lance editor.Ms. Eanes was born and raised in a small town in Virginia at the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Beginning with the faithful keeping of journals at around age ten, Susannah expressed herself best in the written word, contributing poems and prose to several small publications throughout her school years. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Geography and has completed major coursework toward the Master of Science in International Studies. She earned an international certificate in French language and culture at the Université de Strasbourg in Strasbourg, France while a high school student.Winner of a Virginia Highlands Short Story Writing Award for “The Burning of Nellie’s Mountain,” she has produced short stories, poems, and non-fiction articles for several journals and regional publications, and has served as editor of an international alternative energy newsletter. She is the author of several novels and is a member of the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative, the Writers Guild of America East, the Appalachian Authors’ Guild, Valley Writers, and the Virginia Writers Club. An avid musician, historian, animal lover, and naturalist, she practices yoga, loves needlework, and lives with her family in her beloved Virginia mountains.

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Lucky Southern Women - Susannah Eanes

Lucky Southern Women

A Novel

by

Susannah Eanes

Published by Propertius Press

ISBN: 9781311650412

Copyright (c) 2014, 2016 by Susannah Eanes. All rights reserved. Published in the United States of America by Propertius Press. Book design by Lawrence duBois. Graphics by Stephanie Bridges-Bledsoe. Cover photograph by Steven Driskell. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a book reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

Also available in paperback and hardcover

Propertius Press

Roanoke, Virginia

www.propertiuspress.com

email: propertiuspress@gmail.com

The events in this book may have in part been inspired by autobiographical occurrences and others told to me by the persons to whom they happened. In the interest of fiction, these events have been woven into what the author hopes is a story of great courage and amusement. To paraphrase Mr. Wallace Stegner, I have used my own terms and devices to add to and edit the proceedings so the story came out the way I wished. This is a work of fiction, and all of it is my own creation, and therefore any resemblance to persons living or dead, or to places or incidents is entirely imaginary. It is not meant to reflect well or ill on any person or persons, nor on any group, entity, or institution that may or may not have been specifically mentioned. However, if you are easily offended by anger, resentment, abuse, bigotry, hatred, or violent emotion perhaps you should read no further.

Then again, perhaps you should.

"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.

We love, because he first loved us."

1 John 4:18-19 (RSV)

He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 10:39 (RSV).

Contents

Destiny

Chapter One

Remembrance

A Song for Me

Chapter Two

Breakdown of Family

Sophie’s Diary (One)

Chapter Three

Song for a New Love (1)

Sophie’s Diary (Two)

Song for a New Love (2)

The Revival

Chapter Four

Warning

Chapter Five

Sophie’s Diary (Three)

The Inner Solution

Chapter Six

The Journal of Phoebe Owens Price

Midsummer Finds

Chapter Seven

Sophie’s Diary (Four)

Surfside

Holding In the Quiet

Treasure

To the Wandering Heart

Chapter Eight

The Reckoning

Chapter Nine

Answer

Chapter Ten

Acknowledgments

Meet the Author

DESTINY

A small leaf drops into the river of life

and floats away, downstream

to begin a long journey

Who knows where?

Others join him and they are soon

floating

down

together.

On the way they will meet new obstacles

cataracts

and shallow places

Maybe we will reach the sea

and

maybe

we will not.

Sophie

Greenwood, Alabama

August 14, 1973

* * * CHAPTER ONE * * *

Alabama heat gets into your blood. It gets in your eyes and ears, you breathe it in and out, day after sweltering day, until it becomes just another part of you, like your arms or your head. The harsh heat couples with the soil, pressing down deep into the ground with moist breath quickening each tiny pod and seed –and in response that blushing sprout stretches outward, instinctively spinning up through the warm black loam into the fabric of a landscape as intense and proud of lusty increase as Eden must have been. Summer warmth is the element that ignites the passion of a fruitful earth, and nowhere will you find better proof of that ardor.

Here in the backcountry the crape myrtle is a deep ruby-red and stands forty feet tall beside timeless magnolias that blossom freely on cascading branches beside the highways, where in the bright pulse of early June soft heads of crimson clover spring up by the millions, profuse as fairy dust. Pastured herds of Angus grow plump on the lushness of a living emerald wake as ubiquitous as the ever-stretching sea. Thoroughbreds while away their days grazing at ease between moments of ecstasy among the grasses, cream-colored sheep dot select luxuriant hillsides; semi-managed forestry tracts await harvest in bosky tedium.

Here, too, gathering rivulets flow into streams that quilt the land, clear, cool, and artlessly serene, a haven for birds and other small creatures. At the edges of the meadows the cedars and black gum trees march together in a densely curving line interspersed with Indian hawthorn, cinnamon fern and stately live oaks, river birch and shagbark hickory, their upturned branches touching in scattered patches of sunlight with silent shadows creeping deep under them. Under the thick blanket of last year’s leaves patterned in brown fungi, curling lichen, old moss and decaying detritus, their roots cling together in a living web of nourishment that is indivisible. And all the lives that entwine and tangle along the miles of countryside from Andalusia to Dothan depend in some form, however removed, upon these acres of forest and farmland, hundreds of thousands of acres, much of which is plentifully sown in cash crops of peanuts, cotton, and soybeans.

So our Alabama is neatly woven together, like the threads of an old lace tablecloth, with every variety of comfort and necessity for a happy existence. The sky sits like a protective cloche over this earthly heaven, resembling an enormous upturned teacup, or a debutante’s pale blue taffeta skirt trimmed with high, white clouds pushed eastward by the celestial wind. The air is as clear as new glass –when it builds up a storm in the afternoon, often you can watch a silver thunderhead grow and dissipate from twenty miles off.

As I sit here I think to myself, it’s fulfilling to be able to observe the greatness of creation like this. All this beauty, all this exuberant, fecund life surrounding us gives me a sense of being firmly rooted in the world, to be able to see what’s coming and know that when it gets here it isn’t but a matter of time before something else will take its place. I wouldn’t live anywhere else. We've been north to Huntsville and the mountains and the lakes are sure pretty but it's not the same. I even traveled to Connecticut when I was working as an accounts rep for Eastland Machinery, and I will not describe that state other than to say it is not where I'd send a dog I didn’t like, much less raise my son. I like it here, and I've come back to stay, partly because of the weather. Anywhere else, it seems like the days just don't ripen like they do down south.

I was born in the town of Red Level, Alabama, in Currington County, right near the Florida line. My name is Phoebe Owens Price. I have a twin sister, Amelia, who is dim-witted and not as pretty as me but she is my mirror image just the same. Twins run in my family, on my father's side, and not uncommonly there is a slow twin and a smart one like with Amelia and me, so we weren't that much of a surprise to anyone. Daddy himself is a twin to my uncle Daniel who died before reaching his full potential.

When we were born Daddy wanted to call us Pepper and Sally Lou after his two favorite hunting dogs, but Mama wouldn't hear of it –in her family firstborn children are always named after someone important, like an esteemed relative or hero from the War. She named us after both of her grandmothers right quick before Pa could speak up, but that didn't faze him at all. He calls us Pepper and Sally Lou anyway. He's never even said our real names –and he says the original Pepper and Sally Lou were a whole lot smarter and prettier than either Grandma Pelham or Granny Sneed, so it’s a high compliment he pays us. He is my Daddy, and I love him dearly. He has coal black hair and jet black eyes and people say Amelia and I take after him in looks. Mama is another case entirely. She and I never saw eye to eye on anything, anything at all, it is like we are from two different planets in the universe.

It is almost spring in the Year of our Lord 1988 and Red Level is still about as dry, dusty, and dead-end a place as you can have endured childhood. Here, almost nothing has changed since Prohibition, and people seem downright proud of their ignorance. Which, if you are an outsider, you can have absolutely no concept of what I'm talking about. But I haven’t let a backward start get in my way. I may have been raised dirt-poor and hungry half the time, but I had my eyes open and my ears were listening for the whistle of the first train out of there. I got away as soon as I could –probably not the best way, but in retrospect, at least I did leave. I married –way too young, I might add –and moved to the town of Geneva a couple of counties over. Not much has changed in Geneva in the last hundred or so years, and even less in the last fifty, as change merely for the sake of doing so is considered wasteful and even arrogant. Still, in terms of opportunity, Geneva stands at least two centuries beyond Red Level.

Here is a nice, rather typical town, where nearly everybody knows everyone else, and those who aren’t related by blood or marriage better have a good reason for being there, or be subjected to constant scrutiny as to the suitability of your presence and abilities to contribute to the upstanding social climate. It is a lively place of abundant commerce and high expectation, filled with natives worthily magnifying the holy name of Jesus. The streets are laid out in neat blocks and squares, Main Street being anchored on one end by the venerable county courthouse building facing the Baptist Church on the other. Between these two august edifices stand a lively confusion of commercial architectural variety in the form of Sophie’s Parisian Boutique, Miss Teresa’s School of Baton and Dance, Joe-Don Smith’s Barber Shop, McPoule’s Hardware & Harness Repair, and several other establishments, all regularly frequented by an assortment of proud patrons who publicly espouse local commerce but in actuality are too poor to afford the gas to drive the fifteen miles to the shopping malls in Dothan, or to pay city prices once they get there.

This may be an economic advantage the locals never realized, come to think about it.

I used to help out at the drug store on Main Street, where there still exists a real honest-to-goodness soda jerk, a thing I bet you have never even seen in your life, the sweet essence of which is just as out-of-this-world as it was in 1908, as young and old alike still appreciate its myriad timeless flavors. Turner Parts & Auto Maintenance, where Jesse works, occupies an old dry goods emporium across the street.

In 1927 the Carnegie Foundation built a library and stocked it full of nineteenth-century classics, most of which have not seen the light of day for the past thirty years. Its sentinel in the form of Miss Delilah Avengood takes her duties as librarian in the most serious and stentorian manner and the suddenness of her sharp affectations over library rules nearly scare most of the poor patrons to death. Miss Avengood is consumed by a fear of uncivilized behavior, a notion that seems to pervade her generation, and I’m not sure why that is. Everyone here knows how to behave, and those that don’t, eventually leave. Civic solidarity is further assured by the Town Council, which meets twice a month on Tuesday evenings at the Geneva Elementary School cafeteria, where they conduct business on such important projects as designating the Good Citizen of the Month, discussion of the best color to paint fire hydrants, and defining the continued good character of the locality via ordinance and decree.

While Jesse and I lived in Geneva, every Sunday we attended the Church of the New Gospel Covenant, one of four equally righteous cornerstones of the community that further ensured the morality and stability of all of that part of the world. We did all right at first, both of us working full-time until the young’uns started coming. I did my part and went back to work part-time as soon as I could, kept the house up, the children clean, the windows washed and the yard mowed. But it didn’t seem to help –no matter what I did it seemed we were always coming up short at the end of the month. Eventually Jesse moved us into an ancient mobile home his brother had abandoned in Florala, which, if there could be said to be a place further off the map than Red Level, Florala would have to be it. But thankfully, that didn’t last too long.

Let me be clear: I didn’t last there too long.

Today, I’ve settled in a nice older neighborhood in Dothan, the biggest city in this corner of the state, in a charming area of nice brick English cottages and Victorian carpentry-laced mansions that sit back from the street, with yards full of azaleas and flowering perennials, where live oaks shade the sidewalks and corner parks. The neighbors are quiet, respectable, and mind their own business. My circle now runs with the mostly well-educated middle-class paragons of the thriving regional social and political sphere, with a few odd archaic or artistic characters peppered throughout the boxwoods just to make life interesting and not too predictable. In other words, I’ve risen up a bit, although it was not without a struggle.

But this is not about me and mine but about my best friend, Sophie Harris. Sophie and I have known each other for the past twenty-two years, but lately I'm finding out that you can know someone their whole life long and still not know everything about them, no matter how much time has passed. Sophie has always been a pistol, but she surprises me so much lately that I don't know what to think anymore. She has worn me out trying to keep up with her in the past, and damned if I’m going to go down that road again. No sir.

I used to follow Sophie head-on whenever she had a thought, no matter how unprecedented or extreme - but now? I’m exhausted, and it’s got to stop. I honestly feel a bit like Jethro, Jesse’s old redbone, who instead of laying down to rest after an all-night coon-hunt used to run five or six times from the porch to the yard, chasing his tail in circles, before finally collapsing under the trees from exhaustion. It was like he needed to make sure there was nothing else that needed his attention before he’d let himself relax, and also to be certain he’d chosen the best place to do it, where there was a bit of a breeze so the flies wouldn’t get too bothersome.

Well, I’m not a stupid hunting dog; I can tell myself it’s time to stop and try to learn from my own experience. Maybe I ought to try to tell Sophie to do the same. So I’m going to put down a few observations, and at least these thoughts may stop turning round and round in my head and give me some peace.

* * *

Last Friday Sophie and I took our lunch down at the River Junction, where the two mighty rivers that drain the entire southeastern portion of Alabama come together just below downtown Geneva. The river and shadows lend coolness to the place; it has a calming, almost soporific effect that creeps slowly up on you even in the steamy Alabama summers. There is an ancient live oak there, holding court in the very center of that park. If you stand underneath and look up, you see massive branches the size of tree trunks in an overpowering canopy of leaves. There is room underneath for an entire church social. Five sets of arms linked together cannot circle its trunk. It is what they call a champion tree, over 300 years old –and at its base there is a bronze plaque, which reads:

"This tree is a Living Witness. It was alive

at the time of the signing of our Constitution

and continues to grow and prosper

with our nation today."

We sat in the grass with our backs to a tree right on the bank a ways from the Old Oak, looking away downstream, watching the place where the water swirls with the meshing currents and straightens out again, feeling quiet and companionable after sharing a couple of chili dogs we’d picked up in town. We hadn’t said much; thank goodness Sophie and I do not feel like we have to keep up a constant stream of chatter. We’ve been through nearly everything together, and even though we don’t always agree on things, most times we can read each other’s thoughts and that’s enough. She and I are closer than family that way. This was one of those times. And then suddenly Sophie said something I thought I'd never hear come out of her pert little mouth.

Without taking her eyes from the river, Sophie said, Well, Phoebe, I’m leaving Beau. It’s time. Aaron and I want to become legal.

Now, I have to tell you, Sophie has been married to Beau for thirteen years. He may not be perfect, but he is a good provider and he has always fairly worshipped the ground Sophie walks on. Their marriage has produced three children: Benji, Teddy, and Mary Aileen. If Sophie hasn't been the perfect wife she has at least been discreet and put on a public face that would do credit to any church-going woman. She's always dressed to the nines and has her hair done in Dothan once a week, and she kept a beautiful house for Beau and the kids. People said that she did her Mama proud as a good cook, even though her Mama had not a thing to do with it. She always gave the most generous gifts at baby showers and weddings, not to mention being good company for many an elderly soul through the Geneva Church of the New Gospel Covenant’s Ministry to Shut-Ins.

Now out of the blue, I’m hearing Sophie saying she's going to leave Beau Harris for Aaron Stuart, and I know that if she’s said it there's nothing anybody can do to change her mind. After all, if there was one thing I knew, it was that the best way to inflame Sophie and make her go ahead and jump off a bridge was by telling her outright that she’d kill herself doing it. She would have to try to prove you wrong. So I bit my tongue hard so I wouldn’t let out my first reaction, which was that she must be going stark raving mad, closed my eyes tight, and considered carefully before I spoke.

I knew Sophie Harris had been carrying on with Aaron Stuart for well over four years now, and we’d had that conversation when I first confronted her over it long ago. At first she had denied it vehemently, calling on her Christian upbringing to stand in her favor. Sophie could seem like a paragon of virtue when she chose to. Later on when I faced her with some pretty damning evidence I had seen with my own eyes, she had admitted that there might be a little something between them, but they were both firmly committed to their families and there wasn't anything that could take her away from Beau and the kids. I had warned her then that she was being reckless and foolhardy, not to mention hurting Beau and putting her whole way of life at risk. People had begun to talk, I told her. She couldn’t go around flouting the standards of our quiet and respectable community and think folks weren’t going to notice, this was not Birmingham or Hollywood for pity’s sake. It was just plain wrong. I told her it was her duty to put her children and her marriage first and let her hormones just cool it before they brought her to a bad end. Sophie had chewed her lip and shrugged, and for a while she had seemed to take my advice and let be with Aaron.

I shifted my weight, settled back on my elbows, and then just lay down flat on my back in the sweet cool grass to stare up at the sky. Sophie was watching me, but I wasn’t ready to speak or even look at her. Normally calm and always, always controlled, she would deliver an opinion or provocative idea and then assume I understood and would go along. Most of the time, she was right. The dichotomy of Sophie’s outwardly respectable demeanor and the force of her inner nature was something that I had always respected, against which I had never considered saying a word. Why? It would be like shouting into the wind, for one thing, a complete waste of time –and to be fair, her actions to this point had been carefully orchestrated so as to never result in anything but good. With daring aplomb she’d managed to pull off a number of creative, wonderful things that on the face had appeared to be impossible. So I wasn’t in the habit of questioning her or offering advice. In fact, it occurred to me that she probably wasn’t actually interested in what I had to say –especially if I wasn’t inclined to agree with her.

Which meant I didn’t need to say anything. I needed to think. And maybe do something.

When we were little, Sophie was plain and scrawny but she was smart as a tack. She was one of those kids who was determined to get ahead and show everyone that she was better than what they took her for. And here’s the thing: even though she never set foot inside any college or university –except maybe on Rush Weekend –as she grew older she was absolutely the most well-read person I knew. She devoured books, mostly written by dead people. For reasons I won’t go into now, she lived with us off and on during our growing-up years, and I’d come home from cheerleading practice and find her curled on the couch, and seeing she had descended once again into the past, Mama or I would shout out (for her own good, of course) "WHAT is that you’re reading now? Propertius? What the hell has he got to say that anyone would care to know about, in this day and age?"

But we could never shame her into putting down any of her reading. She completely ignored anyone who attempted to break her concentration, and took her time in coming to the surface, and our only reward for our apparent misplaced concern was a perfectly bland smile topped off by a slightly derisive sniff. None of us could ever understand what it was in those old encyclopedias and philosophies that held such attraction for her. When I looked inside them all I saw was columns in narrow print, often written in some form of discordant verse, none of which made much sense to me –silly rigmarole about history, a preoccupation with loss or even death, and something called the ‘cosmos.’ Most of the names were completely unpronounceable. I figured it was just her way of being different, and not necessarily in a good way. I couldn’t see how she could understand even half of what was in those books, such a waste of time. But the more Mama, Amelia or I harassed or cajoled, the more it seemed she would read. Finally we gave up entirely –fine then, I thought. Have it your way –empty-headed, dusty nonsense. Bound to make you crazy at some point –all that thinking. It gave me a headache just remembering it, and I believed it was just another credit to her stubbornness. I’d much rather be living life than reading about it.

Then again, you couldn’t say Sophie didn’t take life by the horns. She loved dancing and music, and swam like a mermaid. She and I took turns sitting at Mama’s old Singer sewing machine and made our own skirts and tops, and we loved to out-do each other in the kitchen. We often took warm baked bread and muffins to the homeless shelter when we were younger. And we hiked for hours in the woods, where Sophie seemed to be especially happy. Eventually I realized her inner landscape needed words and thoughts to ponder as much as most people need water and exercise. And I learned to appreciate our differences, and to respect the fact that she was oh, so much smarter than most of us… for which I believed myself quite open-minded and perceptive.

Besides reading, Sophie wrote, too. Often I found her scribbling furiously in a cardboard journal she kept in a box under the bed. When I had teased her about wanting to be a famous writer so that people would read what she wrote after she was dead (in the belief that I was being remarkably observant), she merely gave me a look: mildly disgusted raised eyebrow, pursing lips and flaring nostrils, and kept on writing. When we were much older, I had the grace to ask her about it with a bit more respect, and she then told me that she wrote poetry and prose to keep herself on track, to express emotions that welled up within, threatening to jar her existence, and to record things that happened so that she could go back and learn from them later. Getting things down on paper helped her to control and direct her days and thereby her future, and it had nothing whatever to do with being a writer. It must have worked. I had a hard time picturing Sophie off track. She was the most single-minded and determined girl I have ever known. There seemed to be almost nothing that shook her up or frightened her.

Consequently, since the time when we were younger I tended to go along with just about everything she said and did. She never seemed to hesitate or not know what to do, and her calm serenity was like a mantle that reflected a core of solid steel over which was slipped a soft, gentle whisper of silk. On the surface she exhibited a vulnerability and sweetness of disposition that was once considered ladylike and alluring, and is almost extinct nowadays. She was not pretty in the usual way, but she had never had a bit of trouble attracting attention from boys back then, including that of Aaron Stuart. Now that I considered it, he probably had carried a torch for her since high school; he was one of the steady ones in her constant circle of admirers. Her figure was nice, her smile was genuine, and she nearly always wore dresses, feminine ones that clung to her waist and wrapped invitingly around her legs in ways that set male imaginations to firing. She had long, silky brown hair that she wore straight down her back no matter how hot and sticky it was outside, and eyes that at first appeared benign, the color of weak tea, but with a cat’s steadily unflinching amber gaze that grew on you silently and serious as a vow. Sophie was like a cat in more ways than one, appearing at times quite soft and defenseless, but underneath was hidden a hard and independent streak four miles wide. And she was certainly no one’s pet –she was more likely to wrap you around her own little finger than tolerate any influences herself.

Even knowing this, that Sophie in fact was a complicated enigma who had never not been in control of her own destiny; I was stunned at Sophie’s daring to consider such a violent change in her family’s circumstances, and her own. I had believed up to that point that a stable home life was part of what Sophie relied upon to keep her centered, whether she realized it or not, and in retrospect I do not think I was mistaken.

Suddenly I realized that she was chattering beside me, her words tripping off of her tongue with a jarring absurdity and making absolutely no sense. I can get any man I want, she was saying, going on to explain how Aaron's soybean crop had done so well this year he had gone out and bought a new Porsche. That's really for me after we're married. You know he'll never drive anything but that old pickup anyway. I was only half listening to her words, trying desperately to think of something to say. After all, Sophie was my friend, and I thought it my duty –my Christian duty –to try and steer her back on the straight and narrow. But as Sophie went on, I began to wonder if she still knew what that was. Had she ever? How long had it been since I hadn't worried about Sophie, secretly and silently in the back of my head; only now it seemed that this silent fear had suddenly grown out of all proportion to my ability to keep it inside. I felt speechless, and horrified at what would happen when her poor unsuspecting children were told their mommy didn’t love their daddy anymore.

How could she be so selfish? Whatever was she thinking?

I wanted to wring Sophie's neck.

Still, it felt like I was missing something. It wasn’t like her to just throw thirteen years of stability and comfort out the window for the chance to have an adventure and drive a Porsche… and slowly it dawned on me that there had been clues that something was churning under that neatly manicured brow. Lately I had sensed a restlessness and impatience in Sophie, and little comments about a fear of growing into an old ugly housewife kept sneaking their way into conversations. Before I know it, she had wailed just the week before in an uncharacteristic tirade, I’ll be obsessed with matching the toilet paper to the bathroom walls. Yesterday I was afraid to leave the house without vacuuming for the third time this week, because if the house caught fire while I was gone, the firemen might see dust on the carpet. And I can’t seem to do anything for Mary Aileen and the boys. They don’t seem to need me anymore. I’m driving myself nuts, and Beau doesn’t even notice. All he ever says is, ‘Baby, everything looks nice to me. What’s for dinner?’

I remembered this now, and could have kicked myself for not really hearing the frustration, for missing the signs of an impending breakup. She had never complained about Beau before. She had respected him, or seemed to, and cherished every gift he’d ever given her. I should have suspected something was amiss when she sold the dress shop, which had been Beau’s gift when their youngest had started school, but at the time I believed what she told me and everybody else about wanting to settle in and spend more time at home with the kids before they were grown, being a soccer mom and helping them with their homework.

Sophie wasn’t a stay-at-home kind of mother. She was a mover, a shaker, someone who thrived off of every accomplishment. Selling the dress shop and staying home meant she was preparing for something that took time and energy to carry out –something that didn’t include the person who’d made it possible for her to be so successful, who had encouraged her to be a strong businesswoman. To be quite honest, she owed Beau a lot. She’d been a skinny brat of a teen-ager when he’d met her, and his money and standing in the community had given her respectability as well as a place to flex her creative spirit. And just now she’d spoken like a woman who had already made up her mind. There was none of the frustration of the past weeks in her voice. She must have been calculating the ins and outs of this for quite some time, and was now well on her way to making something happen.

Still, I could not begin to understand what Sophie saw in Aaron, or how this would solve anything. He may have been a rich soybean farmer whose family owned thousands of acres of land, but money wasn't everything in this world. I remembered him from school, and what I remembered didn’t amount to much. For one thing, he’d had teeth too big for his face, was way too tall, he’d often seemed restrained or dejected about something, and so he’d walked around in public slumped over with this awkward hangdog look that made him fade into the background. He always wore a green camouflage baseball cap pulled down low over his eyes so you’d have to make an effort to look into them, and I for one didn’t think it was worth the effort. I had never heard Aaron say a complete sentence the whole time I had known him. Granted, he had joined the military and gone away to school, so there was a remote possibility that he’d shaped up a bit, but from what I remembered –and knowing about Sophie’s dalliance –that seemed unlikely.

I was confused and upset, and had to speak my mind, so I sat up abruptly. Sophie, I’m frankly shocked. Her eyes widened as I continued. Really, Sophie, how in the world could you trust a man who has cheated on his wife and family? How are you going to know for sure he won't turn around and do it to you? There, I had her –I was positive she hadn’t considered that. But Sophie shook her head slightly, then slowly smiled and cut her eyes away toward the rivers. As I watched her face, a brief vision of Aaron and Sophie making love flashed through my mind and I felt as if I were going to be sick right there on the green grass.

She spoke to me as if I were as young as Mary Aileen. He's a good provider, and he thinks the world of me, she said firmly. And I love him. Do you even know what that means, Phoebe Price? Well, I do. Her arms crossed and her little pointed chin came down as she continued, And life is so damned short. We aren’t doing anybody any good the way we are, and everyone knows it. So. He's asking Deanna for a divorce this weekend and I'm going home and asking Beau for one, too. Sophie spoke as matter-of-factly as if she were going to ask Beau for the credit cards so she could go do some shopping in Atlanta.

I could see Sophie’s values sure had changed since I had last been paying attention. There was a time when I would never have believed she would consider anything so gossip-inspiring as divorce –her way had always been much more subtle. She was a master of accomplishing things that made her look good to others –she had always been so very careful and frequently put others happiness above her own, if only in spirit. But there was no way around this. She was dead serious.

When had she decided money and security, a pleasant home, and happy children weren’t worth the devotion of a faithful wife? Had she changed and I’d missed it? She must have. Or maybe she hadn't. Maybe it was me –maybe I’d never understood just who and what Sophie P. Harris was.

After all, things were very different before she came. Afterwards, the world was bright with colors and laughter. But how had she made this happen, really? What gifts had

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