Authors: Pepper Phillips
“Convenient.” I snorted. “Is that your only reason?”
Leaning back in his chair, Grant frowned slightly. “No.”
Waiting for an answer, I slowly drummed my fingertips
against the tabletop.
Grabbing my fingers to stop the irritating sound, Grant
continued to hold them. “Well, it’s a long story...”
Before he could finish, a stocky elderly man slammed open
the front door, entered the Hole and called out, “Where is she?”
Everyone in the Hole pointed to me.
Grant groaned. “I warned you.”
The man bustled over to our table and pulling a chair out,
sat between us. He glanced at Grant and nodded, then turned his attention to
“So you’re the woman who professes to be Maudie Cooper’s
I stared at the brilliant blue eyes before me. As I
watched, he took a small tablet and pen from his pocket, then looked
expectantly at me.
“Well, is it true?”
Grant released his hand from mine and faced the intruder.
“Sara, I would like to introduce T-Jack Couvillion, chief
gossipmonger and self-deluded newspaperman. T-Jack, this is Sara Elizabeth
McLaughlin, Maudie Cooper’s natural daughter.”
“Maudie never told anyone she had a daughter,” T-Jack
replied, a suspicious look in his eyes.
“She told me, and that’s all that counts. Now if you don’t
mind we are trying to eat dinner.”
As if on cue, Naomi walked up and placed salad plates in
front of us along with a container holding several bottles of salad dressing,
grabbed up the soup bowls and left in a hurry.
“But, this is news,” T-Jack said.
“No, it’s not news. It’s an item of interest only. Now,
please, we’re trying to eat.”
I interrupted. “Why would it be news?”
“Well dang, girl, no one knew Maudie Cooper had a daughter.
Where have you been all this time? Why didn’t anyone know? How did Maudie
keep a secret like this from everyone? Who’s your daddy? Why are you here?
Are you staying at her place? Are you going to live here? Dang, girl, I need
some answers...” His voice became higher and higher with each question. T-Jack
gripped his pen over his tablet and waited for me to speak.
Overwhelmed, I sat there with my mouth slightly open, my
eyes focused on T-Jack in amazement. “I can’t believe you asked me all that.”
“I need answers, girl. I have a deadline.”
Grant pulled T-Jack’s pen from his hand and stuck it back in
“We’re eating now. Your deadline isn’t until Wednesday.
Give her a chance to rest and question her tomorrow at the store. She’ll talk
to you then. Good-bye.”
Grant picked up his salad fork, speared a chunk of tomato,
and put it in his mouth.
“Okay.” T-Jack stood, grabbed his tablet, and replaced it
in his pocket. He grinned broadly, winked at Grant, and said to me, “See you
in the morning. I’ll have thought of some more questions by then. Man, is
this going to be the scoop of the decade.” Sticking his hands in his pockets,
he jauntily marched across the Hole and left.
“Well, you’ve met Boggy Bayou’s answer to the roving news
I placed a hand over my heart, now beating a mile a minute.
“I never had anyone ask me so many questions at once. He must drink way too
Grant laughed at my remark, then added, “You’re lucky. He
also handles any big court cases we might have, and it’s downright embarrassing
the questions he asks.”
“Does he get answers to his questions?”
“Sometimes.” Grant gazed at me speculatively.
“Then maybe he can answer some of my questions.” I smiled,
and grabbing my fork, cheerfully dug into my salad.
Frowning, Grant stated, “Or he might bring up questions that
no one has the answers for.”
We ate in silence. My mind was reeling with questions that
I had of my own. The main reason being ‘why?’
Naomi breezed up to the table with a tray, removed the salad
plates, then laid huge platters of thickly sliced ham, smothered potatoes with
onions, and green beans with crumbled up bacon pieces in front of us. She
hesitated a second, then asked, “Y’all need anything else?”
Grant rubbed his hands together expectantly. “Just some more
iced tea to wash it down.”
“Gotcha.” Naomi turned and waved her backside as she went
to do his bidding.
“Did you order the oil rigger special?” I asked.
“Nah, just the regular blue plate special.”
“The plate isn’t blue.”
“It would clash with the ham.”
“Oh, how true. I may be eating ham for breakfast.”
“Remember, you’re supposed to be fixing me breakfast in the
“Well, if you want any ham, don’t eat all yours tonight.
Because I’m not sharing.” With that, I picked up my knife and fork and started
to cut into the thick slab of meat.
“Here you go, kids.” Naomi filled our tea glasses from a
pitcher. She continued to stand there.
Grant gave me a quizzical look.
Naomi’s gaze dropped to her hands, then at me. “If you’re
really Maudie’s daughter, she would be proud of how pretty you are.” Abruptly
she turned around and jerkily stalked off.
I blushed redder than a newly boiled crawfish.
Grant paused, then said. “You are pretty, and Maudie loved
“Oh.” I sat there trying to regain normality by ignoring
everything around me.
He thought I was pretty.
* * *
We silently walked back to the antique store. I inserted
the key into the lock and stepped inside. Grant was locking the door behind me
when I noticed an attractive picture frame resting on a cherry wood table.
Striding to it, I stopped and picked it up. The frame was gorgeous. Art
Nouveau in style, and by the weight, silver, though slightly tarnished. The
workmanship was fabulous. Then I looked at the picture.
The blood in my body pooled to my feet in one instant.
I shakily sat on a side chair, the frame in my hands,
Grant reached over and took it from my hands. “This is a
“Yeah, a cute kid.”
“Me. The picture is of me.”
“Are you sure? This kid is about five or so.”
“Yes, I’m sure. This is me. I’ve never seen this
particular picture, but I’m positive it’s me. That was a favorite dress of
“Well, you were a cute kid.” He placed the frame back on
“That’s not the point, Grant. How did Maudie get a picture
of me I’ve never seen before, and why is it in this frame, in her store?”
Rubbing his fingers through his hair, Grant sounded
exasperated. “You’ve got me.”
“I’m sorry. I’m just so confused. It’s been a terribly
long day and I...”
Something inside me collapsed. I placed my hands over my
face and began to sob.
Kneeling down beside me, Grant wrapped his arms around me.
“Hey, Sara, it’s not that bad. You’ll find the answers.” He stroked my hair with
one hand, comforting me.
“It’s been a tough day for you. Let’s go upstairs so that
you can relax,” he said softly.
Stifling a sob, I dug in my purse for a hankie and came out
with Grant’s pink one. Wiping my tears away, I grinned half-heartedly at him
We both stood. I took one last look at my picture and touched
the frame with my forefinger.
“Maybe she really did care,” I whispered.
* * *
June 16, 1990
I found her today.
My sweet, sweet child.
How I longed to run up to her and hold her in my arms.
But I’ll be smarter this time. They can’t run off and hide her from me again.
I bought a camera with a zoom lens so I could take her
picture, even if it’s from a great distance.
Will I ever be able to hold her again? Probably not.
I should have kept her.
If only I had.
If only I had.
I was embarrassed by my emotional display. I never cried in
front of strangers. Family, either, for that matter. Yet, today I cried in
front of a stranger, twice. He must really think me an overwrought goober. I
was glad to be hiding in Maudie’s bedroom. Mine now.
Opening my suitcase, I barked out a laugh. I must have really
been out of it this afternoon when I read the letter. All I packed were a bra,
three pairs of panties, two socks that didn’t match, my college oversized
t-shirt, an orange pair of shorts, my lab coat and my sneakers. What was I
I wasn’t thinking. That was the problem. My emotions had
been on overload ever since I opened that letter. I’d returned that morning
from a workshop in Shreveport, and when I decided to come to Boggy Bayou, I
dumped the contents and repacked. I needed to make a list. Organize my
thoughts. Organize my life. Find out what happened and get out of here in six
weeks or less. Yes, I could do that.
Donning my t-shirt and shorts, I walked to the bathroom, and,
after checking the medicine cabinet, found a new toothbrush and brushed my
teeth. It was a good thing I always carried the basic makeup in my purse, else
I’d be without eyebrows tomorrow.
The bed was comfortable, the night clear. I could see the
stars in the sky above me which resembled the one time I went camping in the
backyard when I was a kid. Strange how you see things so differently when you
are a child.
Everything is so black and white when you’re young. It’s
only later when you can see the various shades of gray. The darkness that life
can sometimes bring you.
I shut my eyes and rolled over, wanting to be home, if only
I knew where home was. The home I grew up in was on the seller’s block. It
was way too large, plus it had never felt like a home. I wondered if I would
ever feel comfortable enough in a place to call it home. I snuggled deeper
into the comfort of the bed and wished.
* * *
Bright sunshine woke me up. There was no way a body could
sleep late with the sun poking you in the eye through the skylight. Thank
heavens, I didn’t have a hangover.
I dragged myself to the bathroom and, after looking at
myself in the mirror, I wondered again who I was. I felt so different, as
though the face in the mirror was a stranger’s. I brushed my fingers across my
cheekbone. Just who did I look like? I didn’t notice a picture of Maudie
anywhere, but Grant might have one.
I found him in front of the refrigerator, those tight buns
tempting as heck, as he bent over to reach something in the back. I watched
him for several seconds as he scrounged around in the refrigerator, finally he
straightened and brought an orange juice container to his mouth and drank
straight from the carton.
“Remind me not to drink the juice.”
Grant jumped at my remark and had the grace to turn around
and look at me sheepishly. “Sorry. Maudie avoided orange juice, so it’s
mine. Or was mine.”
We continued to look at each other briefly. I turned my
glance away first. There was something in his eyes that unsettled me. It was
as if he could see deep inside me and knew all my secrets.
“So, tell me, why are you renting a room?”
Grant replaced the cap on the carton and put the juice back
into the refrigerator. He walked to the living room and flung himself into an
He indicated that I should sit, so I did.
“My mother died when I was thirteen.”
“Well, she died suddenly. But I miss her. To this day, I
I knew how that could feel...to love someone so much, you
missed them for years. When my father died, I was stunned by the suddenness of
it. Then being sent to a distant boarding school so that my mother wouldn’t be
bothered by raising me hurt. It hurt more than I was willing to admit.
I drew my legs up on the chair and hugged them. “Yes, I can
Grant frowned, running his fingers through his hair.
“Yeah, but I didn’t understand why my father remarried just
three months after she died.”
A pain stabbed my heart. Another man who cheats. I’d had
enough of one to last me a lifetime. That’s why I can’t stand jocks. “Oh.”
“Yeah, oh! I was incensed. At my father, my mother for
dying when I needed her, the world in general. I started to get into trouble
and then Maudie stepped in.”
I dug my fingernails into my legs. “What did she do?”
Grant gave me a grim smile. “She rescued a scared,
rebellious, terrified kid and made a man out of him.”
He was definitely a man. “How?”
“First she got my father to agree to let me live here. She
gave him some cock-and-bull story about being afraid of staying here alone and
hired me to sleep at night. The deal was I was to be here at closing time, eat
dinner and sleep. Saturday, I helped her in the store and did deliveries.
Sundays, however, I stayed at home until dark then came here. It gave my
father and stepmother a relief from my hate, and gave Maudie time to defuse that
hate and turn it into something else.”
So he was friends with Maudie, was that the reason he was
rather cold to me at times? I wondered. “That was kind of her.”
“Kind...it depends. I was rebellious. It’s a wonder she
didn’t throw me off the balcony and say good riddance. I was testing everyone
until she made me see the light.”
“How did she do that?”
There was a long hesitation, Grant looked everywhere but at
me. Almost as if he was afraid to say the words. “With love.”
I didn’t expect that. “Love?”
“Yes. After one Sunday at home, I came here and was madder
than ever, Maudie just came up to me and wrapped her arms around me and began