Chapter 18: Bless Her Heart
"Love is blind
despite the worlds attempt to give it eyes"
Miss Vick doesn't say anything for a 'goodish while.' Instead, she sips on her tea and hands me a glass of my own. I take a big sip to wash away the revolting taste of the Pall Mall.
"This isn't tea, is it?"
"It most certainly is or was - there's still a drop clinging to the ice, I imagine. I figured we could both use a bracer. Now, do you want to hear my story or not?"
"Yes, of course. Please, continue."
The cloud over the sliver of the moon passes, and I can see the map of Miss Vick's face, each line clearly showing her journey. There's sorrow, pain, curiosity, happiness, and even joy.
"I was an only child. I don't tell my age, because, to me, old is old. And I rather love a good mystery, almost as much as I love being mysterious, and, dare I say - notorious.
But you came here on the heels of danger, and I suspect you may have brought some of that into my home. I could have turned you away, and very nearly did. But there was something about you, Crowsie; something that seemed achingly familiar, yet strange too. I felt like if I turned you away, I'd be turning on myself.
You remember when you asked me if it was wrong for you to feel bad about wanting to kill that odious man?
"And I told you I knew many women who felt the same way?"
"Well, I felt that way about a man once. A man I loved deeply – passionately if you will. I know it's probably hard to believe that, looking at me now; at times, I find it hard to believe it myself. But I was in love once upon a time. With a wonderful man. Or so I thought."
"And you had a child with him?"
"No. I had a baby; I never had a child."
I notice her hand visibly shakes as she takes a sip of her … tea.
It takes me a moment to process her words, and when I finally register her meaning, I say the only words I can think to say.
"I'm sorry," followed by, "What happened?"
"The child was born too early. This was in 1965. Masenville didn't have a hospital then and wouldn't have one for another ten years."
"So … you gave birth, here – in this house?"
"I did. But that's just a small part of my story. Just a tiny scrap, really. I reckon that our lives are full of scraps, bits, and pieces of fabric, all sewn together. They don't amount to much on their own, but by the time you're finished, you've got a big old quilt. Some of it's downright ugly, but other parts are beautiful. I'm almost ninety years-old; mine is getting ready to have the final stitch. I suppose it'll soon be my shroud."
She lets out a sigh.
"My daddy was a judge. In fact, he was quite a prominent figure in North Carolina in his day. My mother passed when I was twelve years old. I loved her in my way, but she was a flibbertigibbet – a social climber if there ever was one. It was my father whom I could turn to – the one I told my dreams and aspirations to – my secrets and my tells.
After Mama passed, my father took on my education."
"You didn't go to school?"
"Oh, don't be a ninny, Crowsie; of course, I attended school. I'm not talking about academics – I am speaking about education. Haven't you finally figured out that there is more to life than classes, yet? Lord."
"Yes, ma'am – I am beginning to realize that now."
"Well, good. Maybe there's hope for you yet."
"I hope so."
"In any case, the Judge took it upon himself to teach me how to shoot, hunt, play cards, drink whiskey, and to detect bullshit from a mile away. He taught me so many things, but he didn't prepare me for love. Course, no father wants that task, I reckon.
I was quite the belle; had more suiters than I knew what to do with. Ole Mr. Jane chased them away as best he could, but Daddy was always waiting on this here porch … just sittin' in the shadows, puffing on his cigar. The flash of embers was like a blue light, warning my beaus that they'd be getting a citation, should they choose to loiter.
I didn't mind too much – I had no intention of marrying and settling down. No – I had ambition – brains. I was smart … I wanted to be a judge, just like Daddy.
So – he sent me off to college. That was rare back then – very few women went to university unless they were looking for their MRS degree."
"I swan, Crowsie – you must have been born in a cabbage patch. An MRS degree is code for "getting a husband."
"Oh. I guess women did that a lot back in the old – I mean, back then."
"Where did you go to college?"
"I went to Meredith. I enrolled at Wake Forest University and was accepted into their school of law.
I obtained my law degree and passed the bar a week later."
"That was a huge accomplishment back then – especially for a woman."
"Truly. I was the only female in my class."
"You must have been very proud."
"Oh, pish … that was just acquiring knowledge. Any fool with half a brain should be able to memorize the rules of law. No, pride came later.
I returned to Masenville and began working for my father. But after a few years or so, I realized there simply wasn't enough in this town to hold my interest. In short, I was bored out of my damn mind. Still, a decade passed, and I felt like I was festering. I told Daddy I wanted to leave Masenville – maybe work on civil rights – there was a young woman in Charlotte – Dorothy Counts - who attempted to attend an all-white high school. It was simply devastating to see how she was treated. I followed that story for weeks, and decided it should be my mission to work on changing laws and helping those in need.
"Wow … that – that was very progressive back in those days."
"Well, just because I am an aging belle doesn't mean I don't believe in equality. I do and always have. Passionately. The Judge, on the other hand … well, he was part of the good ole boy's generation … white privilege and all that. Still, he supported my decision to leave, providing I didn't get mixed up with those people If you get my meaning.
Anyway, I took a position in Alabama, and later, in Mississippi, working for Dr. King.
Oh my God … this one constantly amazes me.
And that's where I met Bobby Johnson."
I noticed that her voice shook when she said his name – just a quiver – but it was there all the same. I waited as she lit another cigarette and took a long drag, followed by a long pull of tea.
"Bobby was a young, brash lawyer from New York. Oh, he was a go-getter. Just as fine a man as any I'd ever met. We worked in the same department. That was challenging, and that I was proud of, 'cause I felt like we were making a difference. The whole world was changing, and Bobby and I were standing on the precipice of something great.
We started seeing each other privately … it was all very clandestine. Secret meetings in the library. Going for long drives in the country. Having supper in my apartment. We were as sneaky as two snakes."
"Why what? I declare – for someone who claims to have a Ph.D. in English, you certainly have a limited vocabulary."
"I'm sorry. I just … why were you being so secretive? I mean – you must have been in your –"
"Thirties? Yes, I was – late thirties, truth be told."
"So … if you were of age and independent, why …"
"Because, Bobby Johnson was a POC."
She rolls her eyes and stubs her cigarette out with a huff."
"A person of color. Bobby was African American. Course in the 60s, he was called many other things, bless his heart."
"So, I suppose you couldn't …"
"Get married? No. I'm afraid that was illegal in most states back then, although we might have gone to New York.
We should have -
Maybe if we had, I'd have him sitting next to me today instead of a foolish girl like you, Crowsie. But we didn't."
"Because I got myself knocked up, that's why not. And Bobby turned tail and ran."
She sighs and lights a fresh Pall Mall.
"Poofed … ghosted me – isn't that what you youngsters call it? Lord."
"You mean – he left you?"
She shrugs her frail shoulders.
"Well, I don't exactly know what happened, to be perfectly honest. We started making plans to run off to New York. I gave up the lease on my apartment, packed my bags, wrote a farewell letter to my boss, and waited for him to collect me. But he never did. I waited for him like Delta Dawn. After a while, I realized I was turning into every bad country song ever recorded, so I got my things and returned home to Masenville."
"And your father?"
"I didn't breathe a word to him about my condition."
"But surely he had to find out – you must have shown?"
"Oh, I showed all right, but I wore baggy clothes and kept myself scarce. He knew I was suffering from a broken heart – he didn't ask many questions, and I didn't supply him with any answers."
"Until the night I gave birth to my son."
"Oh, my goodness," I said weakly as I reached for my tea. This time I took a swig that Jasper would be proud of, and when I swallowed it down, it didn't burn one bit. So, I took another. And then another. My mind began to drift.
"Careful now, or you'll be sleeping on the stairs again, Crowsie."
My head was starting to swim. I feared I might be drunk. I let out a small hiccup just to prove my theory.
"Well, so be it; pass me the bottle; it's under the table on your right."
I did as she requested and noticed it was the same flask that I fetched from her cabinet the week before. I was going to have a big head tomorrow. I hope Boots packed some Tylenol – those BC Powders made my stomach queasy.
"It was a terrible night, one of the worst storms I can ever recall here in Masenville. The winds were near hurricane velocity and the thunder … it just shook your bones and made your teeth rattle. Daddy asked me to help close the shutters, and I couldn't say no, even though I knew a woman in my condition had no business outside, least of all climbing up ladders to get to the top of the house. But it was far too late to say anything about that to the Judge, so that's exactly what I did.
And then I fell.
And that's when he found out the rest of the story.
I don't know what all happened after that ... I remember him carrying me up these steps and to my bed. I remember him calling the doctor and explaining that I'd taken a tumble and was bleeding … down there. Doctor Brawley came within minutes. By then, my pains started. He and my father went into the hall, but I could hear hushed whispers and promises of money to keep traps shut. Of course, I imagine the Judge must have added quite a bit more to the booty once my son made his way into the world.
That didn't take long. I gave birth an hour later."
"I'm so very sorry," I say, uselessly. She surprises me by patting me on the knee.
"It was a long time ago, Isabella. Fifty-years."
"I know, but …"
She nods her head. Although I don't see any tears, her eyes look glassy. She reaches in her pocket and produces a white handkerchief.
She hands it to me.
I didn't realize I had been crying.
"And the baby?"
"Stillborn. I never did see him. I started hemorrhaging and passed out. When I woke up five days later, the baby was gone, and so was my father."
"Yes, he had a massive stroke the day after I gave birth; he died instantly."
"I'm so very –"
"Sorry? Yes, I know. But don't be sorry for me; I don't deserve your sympathy."
I start to say something, but she stops me with her hand.
"I killed my child by being negligent. I didn't receive the proper care because I was too afraid and ashamed to go to a doctor. And if that wasn't bad enough, I killed my own father by not telling him the truth. He didn't deserve that."
I digest her story and reach for the pack of Pall Malls.
"I thought you didn't smoke?"
"I don't," I say, lighting the tip. Cough-cough-sputter-sputter. "This is just something to do with my hands."
She chuckles, and I hand her the pack.
After a bit, she starts telling me about her inability to leave the house after she recovered.
"My body healed quickly. My mind, though … well, that's a different story."
"So, you never left the house after that?"
"No, I never did. Carlisle tried to get me some help, but I told him no. I just had no desire to see what became of the world after that. Oh, I watch TV and read – I've stayed up to date on happenings and whatnot. But I suppose I just gave up. Of course, after Carlisle and Esme started coming around, things changed. People started coming to me."
"What do you mean?" I ask, genuinely curious. I'm sure I slurred, but she doesn't seem to mind. She's made herself comfortable and is practically sitting on the floor. One of her chopsticks snags on the wicker, and she plucks it out with a jerk.
"Well, I took in unwed girls who found themselves in a similar situation to my own. I donated generously to The Boiling Spring Children's Home and kept that afloat. As the years passed, and the stigma of being a pregnant, unmarried woman changed, I started taking in foster kids. That's how Mary Alice and Rosalie came to live with me." She says, using her errant chopstick to tick off her accomplishments.
"I had no idea." What a remarkable woman!
"I helped Carlisle establish the What-A-Burger as means of training for young people as well as to provide them a small income and to help pay for the costs of running the home. But that place took on a life of its own, I swanny. I have never set one foot inside it, although the girls have brought me a Witch Doctor from time to time. I hate those damn sour pickle drinks, but I drink them anyway," she laughs.
I tell her about the pickle story and Miss Maupin's drink and how the girls played a trick on me, and she laughs even harder.
"They're just nasty."
Oh, she's definitely on her way to happy town.
And taking me along with her.
"Did you ever try looking for Bobby over the years?"
"You mean – did I Google him? Of course."
"And nothing. I assume he returned to New York and lived out his life there. His people were originally from the Eastern part of North Carolina – his mother still lived there when I knew him. But there were no records of any kind for Mr. Johnson. It was as if he never existed."
"Did you ever think he used a different name?"
"At the time, all I thought about was the various methods of killing him."
"Yeah … they all need to die."
"But we gotta remember to double-tap them."
"And don't you ever forget that, girl."
"I won't. Even If I live to be a hundred."
"At the rate you're going, you'll be lucky to make it to thirty."
"Ain't that the tuuurth."
"So, what about you and young Edward? Ya'll seem to be getting serious."
"Oh … I …" Need to get my shit together, I think.
"Well, you best not be setting to break that poor boy's heart – he's in love with you, bless his foolish heart."
"You think zoo?"
"Crow, you're drunk."
"Yes, Ma'am. I think I muzz be."
"Well, you know where I keep the spittoon if you feel you must heave."
"I don wanna throw-up."
"Does anyone? I declare you say the dumbest things."
"I know. I do. All the time."
"So, do you love him, or is he just someone to scratch an itch while you wait for Doctor Death to arrive?"
"No … I love him!"
"Well, that's good, I guess."
"But we haven't known each other long enough, have we?"
"Oh, poo … love is love; it don't matter a tinker's damn, whether it's two-weeks or twenty-years."
She gives me a hard look.
"I suppose you'll be marrying him if you survive."
"You think so?"
"Now how in the world would I know; I am not Mary-Alice, though she certainly seems to believe it'll happen. Of course, her trances are subject to turn on a dime. Still, she seems quite certain you'll live to be old with Edward by your side. Bless his heart. Though I must admit – you're a sight better than that piece of trash, Tanya was. Course that's not hittin' on much."
After that, we stop talking. The drinking, however, continues for another twenty minutes. I glance over and notice her eyes are closed. Her long, lavender dress gathers above her knees, and her legs begin to sprawl.
Pretty soon, she's going to be sprawled out on the floor.
I get up and try to cover her – to assist her into a sitting position, but I'm so tipsy that I fall over her feet.
Damn, she has big feet for such a tiny person.
That thought set me off, and I start giggling like the drunken girl I am.
"Watch my bunions!"
That makes me giggle and snort.
A few minutes later, the Volvo reappears. Boots hops out and looks at us from the bottom of the steps.
"Oh, hell – ya'll started without me. What did I miss?"
Miss Vick's head pops up.
"Not a thang."
Our words blur together in one, long drunken sentence that's punctuated with laughter.
"Mm-hmm. Well, good thing I showed up when I did, otherwise ya'll would have to be explainin to Bip why her great ant is practically laying on the porch showin' her unders, and her future, step-mother, is railing a pack of Pall Malls like it's her full-time job with benefits."
"What color are they?"
"Pink. And they say, Friday."
"Well, shee-it." But she makes no move to change her position.
"Best wishes, Crow." Uurp. "Pardon me." Cackle.
I crawl into a sitting position and stare at him. I never noticed he has two sets of eyes.
Hmm. Twice as nice.
"Great day …"
"Waz so great about it?" I quip. Those green eyes of his are starting to frighten me, just a little. He's got really big nostrils, too.
"Are you so drunk you don't remember me proposing to you on the porch swing?"
That gets my attention.
Okay … in my defense, I am, as Jasper would say, "Drunker than Cooter Brown."
"You never did any such thing, Edward Cullen."
"Oh, didn't I?"
"Nope … not even a little bit. Not even a winkie of a proposal. Not even I love ya, gurl. You din't give me a darn thing. I got zip."
"That's not true; I kissed you."
"Nah … I kissed you to shut you up. And you liked it. I'm getting ready to do it again because you're making my ass ache."
"Oh, I'll make your ass ache, all right."
"Edward; do not say ass, in my presents."
"Presents? Is it Christmas?"
"Ho-ho-ho." Miss Vick drawls, accordingly.
"Do I have to get down on one knee and say it all over again?"
"Say what, Daddy?
I hadn't even heard the roar of Rose's Bel-air pull in behind Boot's Volvo.
Boots drops to his knees just as they all pile out.
What is that fool doing now?
I think he is
He's done lost his mind
I think it's sweet
It's too soon – laws they barely know each other
We married two weeks after we met
That was different
It's the way it was always supposed to be, Ro.
I know, but she's …
They both are
Cork high and bottle deep
I'll go get Mizz V and tuck her in
Better wait till the shows over
"Isabella Swan, AKA Annabelle Crow … will you do me the honor of making me the happiest man in all of Masenville?" He holds out a small cardboard box. It's got a Boots Tow and Go label on the front. He lifts the lid.
I crawl to the edge of the porch. Yup, he's got a ring, all right. An ugly ring, too.
"That ring is ugly."
"Yeah, it is. But it's just temporary; it's a lug nut."
"I luurve it."
"Is that a fact?"
"Yeah … it' ugly, but it's practical.; ya never know when you might need a lug nut."
"So … do you love me?"
"Lord knows I do."
"Yeah, me too." I lay my head on the floor. It hurts. Miss Vick tosses me a pillow, and I pop it under my chin. His eyebrows are really, bushy. They practically have tentacles.
"Me too, what?
"I dunno … my head's spinning, Boots."
"Well, what does your heart say?
"That it been spinning since I met you. But, it loves you, and we need to go to bed," I warble into the pillow. I glance up; his grin is wider than the Housatonic River.
I force myself up, take two steps down, make some sort of odd little pirouette, grab hold of the railing, and promptly throw-up in the Hydrangea bush.
"I guess that's a no, then?" Boots laughs, scooping me up and placing me over his shoulder.
"No - I will. I do. Just as soon as my head stops swimming and you put those tentacles away."
"Gracious … he's gonna need to change that shirt, bless his heart."
Boots chuckles all the way upstairs.
And that's how I got engaged to Edward Anthony Cullen.
A/N: I hope you enjoyed this chapter!
I suppose Miss Vick's story might seem suspiciously timely given the current state of our country and today's date. While it is timely, it was not orchestrated to take advantage of the situation or Juneteenth. Her backstory was developed well over five-years ago. Is it an integral part of this story?
But I won't tell you why just yet.
As for the "engagement," that's all on Boots. He never does what I tell him to do. He goes against his word on the regular, and just does whatever impulse strikes his fancy. Sigh. It's certainly the worst proposal I've ever read, let alone written.
Or is it? 😉
In any case, I think it's safe to say that ya'll will enjoy the next chapter. Boots puts a lot of work into this one, js. There's also a couple of happy surprises in store!
PS: Thanks for all the reviews last chapter. I only got to answer a few yet they all mean so much to me.
Finally, I want to thank Miss Frannie for her edits. All mistakes are my own. She knows I fiddle after the fact. Lol!
This here is Boots. Mizz Jayne got her tail all up on her shoulders, on account of the fact that I decided to pop the question in this here chappie. Lord … she was meaner than owl shit over it, and that's the truth.
What can I say …? I pulled in and saw Bella and Mizz Vick just hee-hawing and sprawled out like a couple of Hootchie Mama's for all the world to see. And that's when I knew I couldn't waste another minute; I just had to stake my claim and put a ring on that girls' finger. I also realized that leaving these two alone is a bad idea all around. Not that I'm worried about their safety so much, (Mizz Vick is always packing ,and even drunk is a better shot than most hunters I know, and that's a fact) but when they get liquored up … hell, all bets are off.
But still – even I know I could have done better. And I will in the next chapter. I promise.
Till then, ya'll stay smart. And if you can … please leave a review for Mizz J. She gets tickled over ya'll's comments. Truth be told – so do I.