Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Chapter 30

Annabelle froze, realizing the happy idea she had just chirped out in her gush over Richie’s talent.  She snapped her mouth shut before turning back to face Tillie.  Annie tried to give her a nonchalant shrug, but the gesture came off more as a sheepish slouch.

“Well… maybe not right away.”  Annie crossed her arms over her chest again, unconsciously closing herself off to unsolicited opinions.  “He said somethin’ about maybe staying here awhile.”

Tillie’s brow arched, easily reading her God-daughter’s evasive answer.   “Stayin’ awhile, huh?  Just how long is that?”

Annie shrugged again, then straightened her shoulders.  “Don’t know.  Just… awhile.”

“Really?  What’s he gonna do for awhile here in Darien?  Hang around Eddie’s garage and go out an’ play his guitar at that Juke Shack on Saturday nights?”  Tillie’s tone was accusing.

“He can get a job.  Maybe at the paper mill.”

Tillie shook her head.  “Annie, you know as well as I do that the Mill ain’t hirin’.  For Pete’s sake, they just laid off a buncha folks.  Mel Watson was tellin’ me his son-in-law Randy was there four years an’ they just sent him home.”

Annie’s lips pressed together as she bristled at Tillie’s practical argument.  She knew as well as everyone else in Darien that times were tough.  “Well, he can find somethin’ to do, I’m sure.   He’s a hard worker, Miss Tillie, and he ain’t afraid to get his hands dirty.”

Tillie clucked disapprovingly, though she didn’t disagree with Annabelle’s assessment of Richie’s work ethic.  From what she had seen the young man really wasn’t afraid of an honest day’s work.  She tried another tack, one she was pretty sure would elicit an honest response.

“And just when did Young Richie decide maybe he should stay in our little town awhile?  About the time you were takin’ care of him, out at your nice little house?  Cookin’ and cleanin’ for him and givin’ him a place to sleep?”

Annie’s jaw tightened.  “No.  Actually…”  Her expression softened as she answered Tillie’s accusatory question.  “It was when he was at church.”

OH.  Church.  So Sunday’s sermon moved him so deeply that he decided to stay in Darien and become part of the parish?”  Tillie snorted.  “That might be the first time somebody actually listened to what the Reverend Purdy had to say from that pulpit.”

Annie couldn’t bite back a chuckle at Tillie’s sarcastic comment.  But still, she didn’t appreciate the older woman’s judgmental inquisition.

“It didn’t have anything to do with the sermon.  Richie told me he just likes it here.  The people are friendly, he feels welcome… He said Darien is a nice place to live.  So…” She blushed slightly in spite of herself.  “So he thinks he’s gonna stay.”

Tillie gave Annie a direct look, seeing right through her front.  It was obvious to her that Annie’s argument was more in defiance of her Godmother’s opinion than it was in defense of Richie’s motives.  There was also no doubt from the little catch in Annie’s voice that her support of Richie’s plan was half-hearted.

The older woman calmly set her coffee cup on its saucer, then placed the dishes on the counter.  When Tillie spoke again her voice was gentler. 

“Annabelle.  You remember that time you and your Mama found that little puppy-dog over at the fairgrounds?  You were about eight or nine?”  She smoothed her hands over her apron and waited for Annie’s response.

Annie’s expression turned quizzical as her lips curved into a little smile at the memory.  She nodded slowly.  “Rascal?  Sure.” 

“That’s the one.  That skinny, scrawny little mutt that was wanderin’ around all alone, diggin’ through the garbage for scraps.  You and your Mama felt sorry for him so you took him home.”  Tillie smiled gently, remembering how Annabelle’s mother had a soft spot for strays, just like her daughter.  “You fed him and played with him and scratched him behind his ears, and that little puppy-dog followed you everywhere.”

Annie nodded slightly, realizing where Tillie was going with her parable.  “Yeah.  He was a real sweet dog.”

“That’s right.  And when your Mama heard about that family over in Jesup, whose little dog got loose and got lost tryin’ to find his way home… Well, she knew the right thing to do was to find out if that little puppy-dog she found belonged to some other child.  Even though her own little girl loved that dog.”

Annie felt a light sheen of tears mist her bright blue eyes, recalling the heartbreaking vision of the little dog peering out the back window of the family’s car as it rolled away down the drive.  She blinked rapidly and gave Tillie a half-hearted glare. 

“I know what you’re tryin’ to do, Miss Tillie.  But Richie ain’t somebody’s pet.  He’s a grown man.  He can make up his own mind about where he belongs.”

“I know, I know.  But sometimes men are like dogs, Annie.  You take ‘em in, you feed ‘em and scratch their bellies and show ‘em a little love….”  She smirked lightly.  “And they think they belong with you.  Even though they have a family… their real family… waitin’ on ‘em to come back home where they really belong.”

Annie saw in Tillie’s sympathetic gaze that the older woman could see through her façade.  Her heart squeezed at the silent confirmation that her own instincts had been right all along.


Eddie grunted quietly as he stood upright, his aching back giving a twinge of protest.  He set his wrench on the Impala’s engine block before pulling a grimy rag from the pocket of his overalls and swiping it over his sweaty brow.

Beside him, Richie ducked out from under the hood.  He reached up to pull a hand through his sweaty bangs, then down the back of his head to adjust the band that held his shaggy dark hair gathered into a long, damp ponytail.  The Georgia summer was fully upon them today.

“Okay, so that should about do ‘er.”  Eddie nodded at the big engine.  “Everything else looks fine.” 

Richie nodded mutely, both relieved and a little uncomfortable.  While he was glad his car was once again in working order, the time had come to reveal his poverty to the man who had so generously helped him.

“Umm… listen, Eddie…”

Richie’s tentative confession was cut short by the crunch of tires on rocky asphalt and a loud ding!-ding! warning from the fuel dais as a customer pulled up to the pumps in front of the shop.

Ignoring Richie’s arrested comment, Eddie turned to look at the arrival.  Recognizing the woman driving the big white Lincoln-Continental, he grinned widely and waved.

“Well hey there, Miss Gladys!”  Eddie gave Richie a sideways smirk before muttering from the side of his mouth. “She’s President of the P.T.A.  Knows everything about everybody in the county.  Nosiest woman in the state.”

Richie snorted softly.  “Well then, she probably knows about me.”

“You can count on that, Son.”  Eddie winked and stuffed the rag back in his pocket.

“You want me to go service her?”  Richie blushed slightly as he realized how his question could be construed.

Eddie chuckled.  “Naw, I got somethin’ to ask her anyway.  Marlene wants to know about the Fall Festival Committee.”  He took a few steps toward the waiting automobile before pausing.  He half-turned back toward Richie.

“Hey, why don’tcha run over to Tillie’s and grab us a couple burgers?  I gotta call in a parts order, so by the time Otis cooks ‘em up and you get back over here I should be done.  After we eat we’ll run your Impala out and see how she goes.”

“Okay.”  Richie nodded.  He shoved his hand in his pocket, feeling for the meager wad of bills crumpled there.  He wasn’t sure if Eddie intended for him to pay for their lunch, or if Annie would ply them with free burgers, or what.  He didn’t mind repaying Eddie’s kindness by picking up the lunch tab, but considering he couldn’t even pay for his auto repair…

Realizing it would be impolite to ask, Richie quickly swallowed his question.  He yanked his greasy hand from his pocket and turned toward the Impala.  Richie was careful to remove the abandoned wrenches from the engine compartment and return them to the tool box beside the Chevy’s front wheel before slamming the heavy hood down. 

As he felt the dull thunk vibrate up his arm Richie silently prayed that his car was indeed operational again.  It would give him the freedom to come and go as he pleased and remove the burden from Annie of having to drive him everywhere.  Though he believed her when she said she didn’t mind, Richie still felt as if he was taking advantage of her generosity. 

Well… He’d have freedom if Eddie would let him drive his car for more than a test run, anyway.  If Richie couldn’t work out some payment arrangement, the Impala may be sitting idle at the Texaco until he could come up with cash for the repair.  Richie’s expression sobered at the thought.

Turning away from the car, Richie started walking toward the brick-paved street and the little diner beyond.  His path took him past the fuel pump where Eddie was now conversing with the prim-looking middle-aged brunette woman through the driver-side window of the Lincoln.

“Oh!  Yoo Hoo!  Hello there!”  Interrupting whatever Eddie was saying, Miss Gladys called out to Richie in a cheery chirp.  Her manicured hand fluttered out the window, attracting Richie’s attention.

Richie stopped in his tracks, surprised by her call.  Then he turned to look toward the car window in acknowledgement of the greeting.  Richie grinned sheepishly at Eddie’s subtle eye roll for his benefit.

“Uh… hi.  Ma’am.”  Richie quickly remembered his manners.

“You must be Annabelle’s friend.”

Eddie chortled and came to Richie’s rescue.  “Oh yeah, sorry. Gladys, this is Richie.  Richie, Gladys Turnbull.”

Gladys beamed as Richie nodded politely.  “And how are you liking our little town of Darien, Richie?”

“It’s nice.  People are real friendly.”  Richie smiled, sincere in his assessment.

“And how long will you be staying?”  Gladys’ arched brows were almost comical.

“Uh…” Richie glanced at Eddie.  “I’m not sure…”  He cringed inwardly when he saw the big mechanic’s brow lift as well.

“We just got Richie’s car fixed up, so if’n she runs he can go whenever he’s ready,” Eddie interjected.  He tilted his head toward Tillie’s restaurant and gave Richie a look that clearly invited him to escape the uncomfortable situation.

Richie understood, but was only able to take one step toward the street before Gladys addressed him again.

“Well, if you’ll be in town a few more days, you’ll have to be sure to come on down to the Lions Club carnival!  Maybe bring Annabelle along?”  The cheery comment was more of a directive than a request.

Richie gave the woman a weak smile.  “That sounds like fun.  But I’m not sure if Annie will want to go…”

“Oh, of course she will! She’s been goin’ since she was a little girl.  We have the carnival every year.  It’s the highlight of the summer!”

Richie nodded and took a step backward, trying to hasten his escape.  “Umm… okay.   I’ll ask her if she wants to.”

“It opens tonight, down in Brunswick.  Rides are half-price!”  Gladys fluttered her hand at Richie again.  “Y’all can ride the ferris wheel together!”

“Uh, anyway Gladys…”  Eddie interrupted the woman’s now almost-frantic promotion of the carnival, stepping more fully in front of the car window and lowering his head.  “Marlene wanted me to ask you about…”

Richie saw his chance to escape and took it.  Quickly turning his back, he strode across the street and between the cars angle-parked in front of Tillie’s diner.  He breathed a sigh of relief as the tinkle of the bell announced his entry into the little restaurant.

Richie paused inside the door, looking around the room for Annie.  When he didn’t immediately see her he moved to the counter and settled on the stool at the far end, next to the jukebox.

Seconds later she pushed through the door from the kitchen, her serving tray laden with plates holding thick slices of fruit pie.  A smile automatically curved Richie’s mouth as he watched Annabelle deliver the desserts to a table of patrons on the far side of the room.

“Hey, Hippie Boy!”  Otis’ cheerful baritone pulled Richie’s attention away from Annie’s activity.  He gave the cook a little grin.

“Hey Otis.”

“You want somethin’ to eat?”

Richie nodded.  “Yeah.  Eddie sent me over for burgers.  To go.”

Otis nodded.  “You want fries or rings?”

“Umm… both, I guess?”  Richie shrugged, not knowing which fried burger accompaniment Eddie would prefer.

“Comin’ right up.”  Otis’ grinning ebony face disappeared from the window behind the counter as he hustled to prepare Richie’s order.

Richie turned on his stool to look again toward Annie’s last location.  He was momentarily startled to see her just a few steps away, now picking up a check and tip from the table immediately behind him.  He watched as she sweetly thanked the patrons, then stepped away from the table to turn her attention to Richie.

“Hey there.  You get your car runnin’?”  Annie’s question was quiet, her voice soft despite the noisy clatter of the bustling restaurant.

“Yeah, think so.  We haven’t driven it yet, but it starts up.”  Richie felt his stomach tighten a little as he thought of the conversation with Eddie that was coming.  “Gonna take it out after lunch.”

“Well, that’s good, right?”  Annie smiled brightly. 

“Yeah.  Then you won’t have to drive me all over the place.”

Annie chortled gently at Richie’s half-lament.  “I don’t mind.  It’s nice havin’ the company.”  She turned her head to glance around the room, checking to see that her customers were all content.  Her blonde curls swished softly over her shoulders as she returned her smile to Richie.

“But to celebrate, how about you take me out tonight?  You can drive me in your newly-fixed Impala.”  She smirked and leaned in a little closer, her voice dropping discretely.  “Maybe you can show me that broken spring in the middle of the back seat.”

Richie’s groin tightened a little at Annie’s not-so-innocent suggestion.  He gave her a little nod of agreement, hoping he would be able to oblige her request.  “Yeah… uh… I hear there’s a carnival in town.”

Annie’s grin widened.  “Eddie told you ‘bout that, huh?  It’s the Lions Club carnival, down in Brunswick.  They have it every year, to raise money for children’s homes and stuff.”

“Actually some woman named Gladys told me about it.”  Richie tipped his head toward the diner’s front window and the gas pumps beyond.  “She seemed pretty excited.”

Annie giggled.  “Gladys Turnbull?  Yeah, she gets excited about everything.”  Her blue eyes sparkled as she gave Richie a sweet smile.  “So, you want somethin’ to eat?”

“Otis is fixing burgers for me and Eddie.”

“Okay.  Wanna Coke?”


“Comin’ right up.  Just lemme refill Mister Jackson’s coffee first.”

Richie nodded and watched Annie move along the counter and around its end to retrieve the coffee pot.  His expression sobered as he considered the plans he had just made, to take Annie out on a date tonight.  He didn’t know how he was going to pull that off, considering he had no money to spend on carnival rides or games… or on his car, to drive her there.

As he considered his predicament Richie’s gaze wandered aimlessly across the room.  It paused on an item in the far back corner, a shiny black and silver box on the wall next to the bathroom door.  Richie winced as he realized he had run out of options.

With a heavy sigh he pushed himself off the stool and wandered across the crowded little room.  He gave Annie a half-hearted smile in response to her inquiring look, but didn’t stop until he reached the pay phone. 

Ducking into the darkened little corner, Richie lifted the receiver from its cradle and held it to his ear before dialing “zero.”  A distant Southern woman’s voice sounded through the line.

“Operator.  How may I place your call?”

Richie swallowed hard.

“Collect call to six-oh-nine, seven-two-two, oh-one-one-eight.  From Richie.”


  1. Tillie, please don't make Annie push Richie away! I really love the two of them together. Yes he has family but that is something they can figure out how to deal with, he should be able to make his own decisions. I still think Richie should admit to Annie about his money situation, I know it's a pride thing but still. Maybe then she would understand a little more why he's been acting like he has! Glad he is calling home though.

    So happy to have this story back! I can't wait for the next chapter and I really hope there's more than just a couple chapters left!

  2. Nice to see this one back. Wonder if Richie is calling his parents for some cash? annie and Richie make a cute couple.


Ramblings Welcome