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Author: Mary Eaddy
Original Title from Bella Rosa Books
5.5"x 8.5" Trade Paperback
Retail $14.95US

ISBN 978-1-933523-91-0
LCCN 2010926794

Chapter One

For as long as she could remember, fourteen-year-old Maggie Louise Gordon had heard her grandmother Laney say, "Men rule the world without consulting women, precisely why everything's in such a pure-T mess." That comment offended her daddy, John Powell Gordon, a pillar of the business community in the tiny railroad town of McCord, South Carolina, and led to heated family arguments.
      Maggie's daddy advised her to take a lesson from Runella Barcus, their housekeeper, because unlike Laney Gordon, Runella knew when to hush and when to speak her mind. Daddy said that was a universal sign of wisdom.
      Too bad Runella was off the day Laney raised the Browning Classic Featherweight and aimed its muzzle at a team of busy surveyors.
      Pressing the butt against her shoulder, Laney gripped the barrel, her scarlet fingernails vibrant against the black iron. "If you don't leave my yard before I count to ten, Eldon Rice, I'll blast you into eternity," she said. "God may love you, but you're in my way." Mr. Eldon was the project supervisor appointed to chop down dozens of historic oak trees on Main Street.
      Laney's reed-like index finger rested gently against the trigger. "You, a member of the Sierra Club, should save these trees, but instead you stomp around in my Snow Queen hydrangeas, a puppet of that sorry excuse for a mayor, Hobart Tinsley."
      For a moment, Mr. Eldon and his men froze beneath a blazing sun. "Maggie Louise," Laney said, her voice low and steady. "Phone the ambulance service and funeral parlor. We've got them a customer."
      As she leapt from the glider, Maggie's heart pounded. What if she asked for the shotgun, but Laney refused to surrender it? Other crew members were working nearby. If Maggie were to grab it, the Browning could fire in a tussle and hurt someone.
      "While you're dialing, phone the church, too," Laney said. "Tell the minister to slap Eldon Rice on the prayer list in Sunday's bulletin. If this bullet misses him and ricochets off his tripod, I'll have no choice but to fight. Either way, he'll stand in need of prayer."
      Given Laney's interest in courting again, five years after Grandaddy's death, Maggie was dumbfounded. Her mother, Beth Rutledge, had always told her to withhold political opinions from men outside the family. Maybe she'd neglected to share her good advice with Laney.
      Before Maggie could talk any sense into her grandmother, Mr. Eldon yanked off his straw visor and spun around. Dime-size beads of sweat clung to his forehead. To Maggie's amazement, he didn't look scared. "Put that thing down, woman," he ordered. "Widening Main Street ain't about trees, it's about jobs. Our high school graduates are gone, family farmland is wasting. Without good local jobs, your property won't be worth much, not to mention your precious flower bushes. Just hush and leave road-paving decisions to men. Mayor Tinsley's onto something. If these Confederate oaks are in the way of progress like that flag on the statehouse grounds, let's yank them down and get set for a new day."
      Laney replaced the safety and slammed her shotgun between the cedar siding and the edge of a glass side table. She paused for a deep breath before pouring a tumbler of strawberry lemonade. Clutching it in both hands, she stormed across her wooden porch. A bowl of freshly shelled butter beans quivered with every step. As she thrust the drink toward Mr. Eldon, a splash leapt over the rim. "I reckon shooting you won't cure the mayor's stupidity," she said. "Take a sip, before you pass out in this heat. Even if I missed, you'd probably fall to the ground to protect yourself and any bystander would wonder if I'd shot you." She fired a glance up and down Main Street. "McCord deserves better leadership."
      Maggie's heartbeat returned to normal. She grabbed the shotgun and went inside, where she hid it under the foyer love seat, returned to the glider on the porch and resumed drawing. It was the first time in her memory that Laney had backed down.
      Laney usually held her ground on important issues. Male dominance was one; the "G" word, another. Laney claimed the "G" word, short for "grandmother," was "nothing but a noose." But Maggie's friends called their grandmothers either "Granny" or "Me-me." Why couldn't she?
      If Maggie's daddy were around, there'd have been a loud fuss. "Why do you refuse to accept your God-given role as grandmother?" he would have asked and bam! There Maggie would land, smack in the middle. This type of discussion over the "G" word usually caused people to stare.
      "Calling me 'Granny' kills my chances of courting or counting again," Laney would say. "When your granddaddy was alive, I changed this town. My ability to do that died with him. Everybody sees me as your grandmother, which kills both my sex appeal and political stature. Call me 'Laney'."
      Mr. Eldon and his men resumed surveying. "This isn't a matter of my pride," Laney continued. "It's our heritage. Ed McCord's great-grandmother, half-sister of General Stonewall Jackson, planted these oaks in honor of Confederate generals and other local military men." She waved her hands toward the towering limbs that spanned Main Street.
      "They're a living legacy. Hobart Tinsley ran roughshod over the entire council pushing them to chop these trees. Why? What does he stand to gain? Which big outfit's coming here, anyway, or is the manufacturing plant a secret, too, like that public meeting with no dissent?" Laney's porcelain skin turned a deeper shade of pink.
      "Them eighteen-wheelers can't shoot through this narrow Main Street," Mr. Eldon said. "Road's got to be wider to ship those plastic bowls."
      Maggie had heard the rumor about a new factory coming to town. She'd heard her daddy mention Rubberbowl. She knew Runella had stored some of last year's family garden crop in Rubberbowl containers, and Laney liked them, but probably not enough to cut the oak trees on Main Street.
      Laney spread her white running shoes and crossed her arms over her American flag T-shirt. "Tell those plastics people they aren't south enough, to keep driving those big rigs until they brush coconut palms in Haiti. They're not welcome here."
      As Mr. Eldon sipped, Laney tapped her right heel faster against the narrow plank porch. Maggie hunkered over her sketchpad. This was the time to be seen and not heard if ever there was one. Laney had said, 'Haiti' but clearly she meant 'Hades.' Did coconut palms grow there? Maggie hoped the surveyors in her front yard would leave before her grandmother popped a vessel.
      Compassion wasn't her only motivator. The drawing of her best friend, American Legion pitcher Tyrone Chellis, looked hazy. Tonight could be Maggie's last chance to draw his arm right. Laney, Tyrone's biggest fan besides Maggie, would drive her to the ballpark.
      Other grandmothers weren't addicted to baseball. Once when Maggie mentioned that, Laney had said, "I'm nothing like your friends' grandmothers. Those poor old matrons shuffle around town without purpose. They depend on men for their money and food for their joy. That way of living is an outright sin."
      True, Laney was slender and perky. Her brand of entertainment revolved around one public issue or another. Family legend held that, when home from Queens College one summer, she'd marched for peaceful integration of schools. And Maggie's daddy loved to tell how, as a young mother, she'd hauled him—a six-year-old—up to Washington, paying the driver of a Yellow Cab to watch him while she marched against the Vietnam War. That was way before Maggie was born, when her grandfather was a U.S. Navy Captain in Da Nang. Laney often told Maggie that nothing else tasted so sweet as a cause.
      Maggie's daddy said Laney's soul was a significant source of green power. She walked every morning and rode a stationary bicycle every night, although she had broken her left arm in a fall from it two years before—her "shelling arm," she'd called it. Maggie remembered the hidden shotgun. Laney's arm was better now.
      Returning the empty glass to Laney, Mr. Eldon flung his arms toward the sky. "I leave the governing to council," he said. "My job's to take down these trees. Consider this: If we cling to history, the future will pass on by. I don't understand why you need an opinion on this, anyway. Your job's to vote, not dictate town policy."
      Mr. Eldon's insistence seemed unnecessary. He should have been grateful for his life. "Daddy says only an idiot would meet in secret at the bus station and then lie about it," Maggie blurted.
      Over dinner last night, Maggie's daddy said town council had called a public meeting, but the time and date went unpublicized, except for a notice posted at noon on the door of the bus station. No one ever thought to check the door of the bus station for a public meeting, because the only people who went there were leaving town. Her daddy urged the family to stay out of the fray, as town council was trying to make a good business decision on an emotional issue. Brother-against-brother, father-against-son, her daddy said it sounded like the War of Northern Aggression again, one hundred fifty years later.
      Mr. Eldon waved over Maggie's comments about the secret meeting as though he were swatting a housefly. As he turned his back and leaned into his transit, Laney moved her rocker to face the cedar siding. She plopped down, stared at the wall and resumed shelling butter beans. An awkward silence radiated across the porch.
      Maggie unwrapped a cherry Tootsie Roll Pop and jammed it against the inside of her left jaw. She bowed her head over her smudger. No point in fanning these flames, her daddy would have said. A volunteer firefighter, he'd taught her to hush in the presence of smoldering words. That was just as well, since her mama, Beth Rutledge, had told her more than once to accept adult commands, even when she disagreed. Who was she to question authority? Especially when she rarely understood it.
      "We can't cut these trees until after third reading, anyway," Mr. Eldon said finally. "We're just surveying the property to be sure they're in public right-of-way, that's all."
      Laney let out a loud "Humph." The fight was over.
      A few minutes later, Maggie heard the revving of a lawnmower across the street. With one glance at her friend Tyrone Chellis, her heart quickened. A deep blush heated her face. Tyrone said he'd soon be mowing the lawn across the street, but Maggie hadn't known he'd start today. Having him as her model now was awesome!
      Except, what if he saw her drawing and walked over? What if she waved at him and he came for a glass of Laney's famous lemonade? That would blow her surprise. She kept her head down until her pink face cooled.
      Glancing up when she thought he wouldn't notice, she watched each muscle in his back as he pushed the mower in a straight row across the lawn. She saw his black arms flex beneath the sleeves of a white V-neck T-shirt and felt herself blush again. He was handsome, but he was also much more. Tyrone was the nicest boy she knew.
      At the end of the row, he turned around. Now she could get the front of his arms. But as he turned, Tyrone looked straight at her, paused, smiled and lifted his right hand in a shy wave.
      She quickly lifted her hand and grinned. He nodded, glanced down and resumed his work.
      Maggie watched Laney shelling butter beans in a silent huff. Good, she hadn't noticed. Maggie's mama Beth said Laney held a grudge longer than anyone.
Laney should forgive Mr. Eldon and his crew. Although they weren't at the Gordon home on a social visit, Maggie believed workers from Dumbarton & Rice, a local engineering and surveying firm, deserved hospitality anyway. At the very least, they deserved forgiveness. The more she thought about it, Laney's outburst had embarrassed her. She leaned toward her grandmother. "Is it time to turn your other cheek yet?" Maggie whispered.
      Laney's head popped up from her task. "Jesus meant that purely as a figure of speech," she snapped. "A river of blood runs through the Old Testament. Sometimes a good fight works miracles. You do believe in miracles, don't you, Maggie?"
      As she glanced down the street lined with whitewashed stately oaks, Maggie accelerated the motion of her glider. "I . . . believe it's a miracle the McCord American Legion team is tied in the playoffs tonight," she said. "And I believe it's a miracle Mama and Daddy are letting me go with you to the game. I asked if I could ride 'Pink Lady' over to the ballpark, and they said no because the game won't end before dark."
      Laney sighed and shook her head. "Sometimes I wonder about your parents. They don't want me in the middle of this fight over the oaks any more than they want you to grow up, but you and I will show them, and the good mayor, too, that I can fight like any man. If Mayor Tinsley doesn't straighten up, I'm likely to start a petition for his impeachment for fiscal irresponsibility. There are still a couple of lawyers he doesn't own in this town, and I know who they are."
      Laney didn't have to prove anything to Maggie, because she'd heard practically everyone in town describe Laney as a "pistol." Even at church, when she disagreed with the minister's theology, Laney insisted upon having the last say—far too many times, Maggie's daddy said. When her American Legion baseball team lost, pure poison spun from Laney's mouth and hung in the air. It was a miracle Maggie's parents were allowing their daughter to accompany Laney anywhere a fight could erupt.
      But that wasn't the sole miracle today. Simply looking at Tyrone across the street convinced her he was a miracle, too. Tyrone, four years older than Maggie, spent more time with her than with teens his own age. They'd met two years before at an American Legion baseball game. She was happy that this portrait of him was filling out.
      "Your parents hover," Laney said. "I never hovered over your daddy. He rode his bicycle all over town day or night anywhere he wanted to go. I'd have let a girl do the same. Nobody would think they're bad parents for letting you ride 'Pink Lady' to that game. It's all about equal rights, but rights come with equal responsibilities."
Suddenly an abrupt crunching sound across the street caught their attention. The mower blade must have caught a fallen patch of acorns. "Look-a-there, Maggie, Tyrone's mowing the Hannas' grass, but he's tearing up their mower. Lord Bless him, that boy works hard. If he ever learns to add two and two, maybe he'll finish high school and enroll in a community college somewhere. You think he'll pass ninth grade this year?"
      Laney's words stung Maggie as if those acorns had fired across the street and popped her in the chest. Maggie also knew her parents weren't wild about Tyrone, even if he was her best friend. They opposed any sort of failure, and Tyrone had failed ninth grade. Maggie figured Tyrone wasn't the problem. His family had held him back from school one year to sharecrop—that is, until the county superintendent told them they'd go to jail if it happened again.
      "Smart isn't everything," Maggie said. "Daddy says nice counts for something, and nobody's nicer than Tyrone."
      Because he'd missed so much school, Tyrone had almost given up on book learning. Maggie had taught him how to spell the name of his baseball team, how to make a verb and subject agree, and how to count the money he earned most evenings at the sawmill on the edge of town.
      A loud clang rang up and down Main Street. A worker yelled, "Whoa, Boss, over here! And hurry!" He sounded scared.
      Mr. Eldon abandoned his transit and raced toward the row of Laney's Snow Queen hydrangeas next to the house. He helped the worker pull something from the mulch. It looked like . . . a man. Maggie catapulted from the glider, her pastels and sketchpad flipping off the porch. She yanked Laney up from the rocker and pulled her toward the steps. Even from far away, Maggie recognized her next-door neighbor, William Herbert McCord.
      Prone to falling into neighbors' shrubbery occasionally after a night on the town, William was the only male descendant of the town's founder and first mayor, Mr. Ed McCord. William owned interest in the sawmill where Tyrone worked and was an investor in River Plantation, the new upscale neighborhood on the edge of town. He ran the local movie theater for fun.
      The men stretched William out and Mr. Eldon fell to his knees. He pressed his cheek against William's nose. "He's breathing, but barely. Quick, Maggie, call Marion Ambulance Service."
      Maggie dashed inside to the foyer and called information for the number. When a somber voice answered at the ambulance service she said, "Hey, this is Maggie Gordon. Please hurry. William has passed out dead drunk again in Laney's hydrangeas. Mr. Eldon Rice says this time, he's barely breathing."
      Maggie feared William's condition must be serious. Hanging up, she bowed her head a moment to pray for him and two tiny tears dropped onto her pink cotton shorts. In a world of good drunks and bad drunks, William was definitely the former. On sober days, he gathered fresh eggs from the chickens and cooked omelets for the neighbors and his mother, an invalid seamstress, now nearly blind. Maggie occasionally joined them for an egg biscuit and family stories about the town, until her daddy summoned her home with the reminder that it was impolite to drop in at mealtime.
      By the time Maggie returned to the front yard, she could hear the whine of the ambulance siren only two blocks away. Maggie's heart sank as Laney stroked William's hand.
      Squirming between the adults, Maggie squatted and wiped his forehead with her palm. "How about some fresh lemonade, William?" she asked. "Laney makes the best strawberry lemonade." He groaned and turned away.
      Mr. Eldon patted her shoulder. "Let's wait for a doctor's orders first," he said. "There's a bad gash here on his left side." Mr. Eldon lifted William's grey plaid shirt and pointed to a nasty wound caked with dried blood.
      "At least his belt was tight enough to stop the bleeding, but his shirt is soaked," Laney said. Maggie stood and turned away. She caught her breath to stop whimpering, but the sound spilled out.
      Laney clapped her hands. "Stop that right now, child. It's no time for a crybaby. We have to stay strong to help him. Run get Mrs. Ed, and make it fast."
      Evelyn McCord, or "Mrs. Ed" as close friends called her, was the mother of William and Julia. As Maggie pounded repeatedly on the elegant mahogany and beveled glass door of the old Victorian house, the ambulance, red lights flashing, backed into the Gordons' front yard.
      Still in her nightgown and hairnet, Mrs. Ed opened the front door. She pushed it against the white pine siding with her walking cane. Mrs. Ed must have been home alone, as her only daughter Julia was nowhere in sight. "Why, hello, honey," she said. "William and I haven't seen you in a while." Then, one foot over the threshold, Mrs. Ed watched Mr. Eldon and the ambulance driver load her only son onto a stretcher. Before Maggie could explain, Mrs. Ed passed out cold.
Maggie screamed and jumped back.
      The ambulance driver set William on the ambulance floor and rushed over to Mrs. Ed. "I swear, Eldon, this town's full of twofers this week," he said. "Must be the full moon. Help me load up the old lady, too."
      He and Mr. Eldon rolled a second gurney over to Mrs. Ed's porch. They loaded her up and closed the door. In a few minutes, she was lying beside her son.
      Maggie climbed into the back of the ambulance and perched on her knees between them. She hunched over to comfort Mrs. Ed, now coming to. "Changing our wills was a big mistake," Mrs. Ed whispered. "Now see what's happened. With this River Plantation mess, he could lose everything his daddy left him."
      William, groaning next to them, reeked of whisky and sweat.
      "Maggie, honey, come out now." It was Laney. "God is going with them. You're staying here."
      Maggie jumped from the ambulance. She prayed William would get to the emergency room fast. She opened her eyes to see the ambulance pulling away. Turning back, she noticed her sketchpad face down in the dirt and ran to get it. She shook off the light layer of fresh loam, and was relieved to see her work wasn't damaged. She set the sketchbook aside and wrapped her willowy arms around Laney's shoulders. "He loves to watch me draw," she said.
      Laney pulled her close and Maggie took comfort in her grandmother's arms. "William knows talent," Laney said. "When he was your age, he could draw, too. An art teacher in Asheville said he had the gift. Too bad it went undeveloped."
In the aftermath of all the excitement, Mr. Eldon and his surveyors packed up their truck and left.
      Laney sat on the porch steps and combed Maggie's auburn curls with her fingers. "Honey, when I was your age, all I could draw were flies and my paycheck," she said. "I don't know where your talent comes from, but your work is a joy to behold. Don't be like William, now, and let it die. Keep up with your work."
      Maggie's eyes moistened again. Her heart hurt for William. "What time is it?" she asked. The baseball team would warm up at four.
      "Not quite three," Laney said. "With all that's happened, it just seems later." She paused before adding, "Shouldn't we rest tonight and wait to see Tyrone play another time?"
      Maggie bristled. What was Laney thinking? "No! If they lose, this will be his last game of the season. Please, please, Laney. My picture! I have to get it right."
Maggie held up a rough rendition of a black baseball player rearing back on the mound, poised mid-pitch.
      Laney took the sketchpad. "I'm so glad your mama insisted upon those art lessons," she said. "Your eye for the human form is amazing." She handed the sketchpad to Maggie. "Tyrone beats any other American Legion pitcher to hail from McCord and he deserves our support. I bet nobody from his own family makes it to the game."
      Maggie noticed the lawnmower was silent. She glanced across the street and saw it parked in the Hannas' tall grass. "Where is Tyrone?" Maggie asked.
      Laney pointed toward town. "Why, there he is," she said. "Running away from us, over there, in front of the Quick & Go. I wonder why he quit right in the middle of the job, and why on earth he's running so hard in the other direction instead of coming over to see us? Why, you'd think I'd pointed my gun at him instead of Eldon. I hope Miss Cora didn't pay him in advance. She's not going to like that way of doing things, not one bit."
      Maggie hated for anyone to criticize Tyrone. She hoped this lawn-mowing thing hadn't caused Laney to change her mind about going to the game.
      "Maybe the mower ran out of gas," Laney said.
      "Yeah," Maggie said. "Tyrone has to hurry if he's going to finish before time to warm up in the bullpen." She noticed a metal can tucked against the Hannas' back left fence, next to the Azaleas, but she didn't mention it. "So, can we please still go to the game? Pleeeeease?"
      "Okay," Laney said. "We'll slip out for a little while. I want to see him play, too —he's been so sweet to you—but don't tell your daddy about all this hullabaloo with Eldon Rice. He'll accuse me of bad judgment."
      Laney was right. Daddy didn't relish conflict. He liked everything to go smoothly, and that included her grades in school. Maggie's final exam was Monday. If she froze for some reason and didn't do well, Daddy might cancel their family trip to Myrtle Beach. But Maggie, an honor student, wasn't focused on studying. All she could think about was Tyrone.
      Sometimes, when he had time off from his part-time job, Tyrone and Maggie played neighborhood softball with their friends on the town sandlot. Tyrone took her last hit at bat and let her run the bases to score. And when their turn was over, his pitches zoomed across home plate at ninety miles per hour. Two scouts had already come to watch him play on the town team, American Legion Post 27.
      If only her mama would see what a fix Tyrone's family was in, if only she would like Tyrone, everything except for the fate of the oaks in Maggie's world would be just fine.

©2010 Mary Eaddy

Author: Mary Eaddy
5.5"x 8.5" Trade Paperback
Retail $14.95US

ISBN 978-1-933523-91-0
LCCN 2010926794

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