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Miss Julia Throws a Wedding

Chapter 1

I've a good mind to sell this house. The thought came to me, full-blown, as I looked out my front window at the absolute mess across the street. A haze of red construction dust hovered in the air, while a layer of it had already drifted over the sidewalk and covered my porch and front yard. A huge flatbed truck loaded with pallets of bricks had just come to a brake-grinding stop, blocking the street and my driveway, while men high up on scaffolding waved trowels and yelled instructions. You could've heard them all the way to Main Street.

Fifty years, or close to it, in one place is long enough for anybody. Especially when a three-story brick monstrosity, courtesy of the high-flying aspirations of Pastor Larry Ledbetter, was being built right in front of my eyes. Then there was Hazel Marie on the road to rack and ruin, taking Little Lloyd with her, and Coleman so besotted with Binkie that he hardly ever stayed in the rented rooms upstairs, and I was right before being left high and dry in this house with nothing but reminders of Wesley Lloyd Springer to keep me company. Any of which I could do without and never miss.

"Lillian," I said as I heard her push through the door to the dining room, the strains of gospel music from the kitchen radio going up a notch. She needed to turn that thing down.

"Lillian?" I said again.

"I'm listenin' hard as I can," she answered, standing there with her arms full of folded towels on her way to the downstairs linen closet.

"I've a good mind to sell this house."

She put the towels on the sofa and walked over to the window. Looking out with me, just as a worker threw a clanging shovel into a wheelbarrow, she said, "You not gonna do no such a thing, Miss Julia. That Presbyterium church buildin' get built one of these days, then things quieten down, an' you be over yo' upset."

"Not likely," I said. "Things won't ever be the same as long as that thing is standing over there right in front of my eyes, with people coming and going all the time, doing first one thing and then another just to get in shape. A Family Life Center, of all things. All it'll be is a glorified gymnasium. And I'll tell you what's a fact, the church ought not to be in the physical fitness business. Its number one concern, to my mind, ought to be spiritual fitness."

I turned away from the window, just sick at the sight of that brick wall going up not two feet from the far sidewalk. Turning away didn't help, though, for what I had to face inside the house was an even worse mess.

"Lillian," I said again, holding my head in my hand, "I don't know what to do about anything anymore. I declare, I'm so tired of fighting losing battles I could just sit down and cry. And I may do just that."

"You think that gonna he'p anything?"

I looked up toward the back of the house as the sound of Hazel Marie's humming and singing the few words she knew of some country-western song came from her bedroom. Happy as a lark, packing suitcases and getting ready to move out of my house and into Mr. J. D. Pickens's. Without benefit, again, of marriage, I might add. You'd think after her decade-long experience as my husband's paramour, a situation that left her with a child and not a red cent to her name when he up and died right out there in my driveway, that she'd know better than to take up with another man of similar ilk. Not that Mr. Pickens was already married, as Wesley Lloyd Springer had been to me, but he'd told her he was not the marrying kind, at least, not at the present time. But if not now, when? She was playing with fire, I'd told her. But did that stop her? No, it did not, as the click of suitcase latches testified.

"I've got to talk to her again," I said. "I can't let her keep on ruining her life like this."

"You might ought to keep out of it," Lillian cautioned, ready as usual to offer advice, whether it was wanted or not. "She a grown woman, an' she ain't never been so happy in her life."

"But she could be happier! She doesn't know what she's missing." I stopped then, recalling my own less-than-satisfactory marriage. I wouldn't wish the same on my own worst enemy, and Hazel Marie was far from that.

"Here come Little Lloyd," Lillian said, as she moved the curtain aside to look out the window again. "That heavy ole book satchel gonna break that chile's back one a these days. He gonna want a snack with nothing but one a them school lunches on his stomach, which he don't hardly eat anyhow."

As she padded toward the kitchen, the run-down heels of her slippers flapping with every step, I went back to the window. My heart wrenched as I watched Little Lloyd walk toward the house, his head turned to watch the workmen across the street. In spite of my and Lillian's every effort, the child stayed skinny as a rail. His little thin legs looked like sticks poking out of his long shorts. A striped tee shirt just emphasized his puny chest, while a soft spring breeze lifted his fine hair, blowing it first one way then another. I could see him squint through the thick glasses, entranced as every child is with the activities of workingmen. As he reached my driveway, he turned to walk backward to watch the bricklayers on the scaffold, the Game Boy in his hand temporarily forgotten. Mr. Pickens had given him that electronic thing, now banned in the classroom, and he fiddled with it walking to and from school, and every other chance he had.

"Oh, Lord," I moaned under my breath. "How am I going to get along without them?" All I could think of were the long, lonely days stretching out in front of me, while I rattled around by myself in this empty house until I got too feeble to be of use to anybody. I could picture everybody going on about their lives, doing whatever popped into their heads to do-Coleman still carrying on with Binkie without the least hint of impending nuptials, and Hazel Marie living in sin with Mr. Pickens, and that child learning who-knew-what from their association, and Sam, well, who knew what he'd be up to. And here I'd be, old and forgotten, laid up in bed with my mind gone and my hip broken and needing a bedpan and nobody around to care if I got one or not.

Lord, I'd miss that boy, and him not a lick of kin to me, except for being my husband's child by way of Hazel Marie before I knew anything about it. Took nine years and Wesley Lloyd's demise for me to hear the first word of what he'd been up to. But that was all water over the dam or under the bridge or wherever it went.

I raised my head when I heard the screen door in the kitchen squeak as Little Lloyd came in, and Lillian's welcome and his laugh. Get hold of yourself, Julia Springer, I told myself, straightening my shoulders and tightening my mouth. Then I marched down the back hall to Hazel Marie's room, determined to give it one more try. Well, one more try today.

"Hazel Marie," I said, brought to a halt in the doorway at the sight of dresses piled on the bed, suitcases standing already filled, and shopping bags full of personal paraphernalia, like hair rollers and dryers and one pair of shoes after another. I recalled the night she'd shown up at my door, battered and bruised after a run-in with Brother Vernon Puckett's minions, without a stitch to her name except what she had on. And that was torn and mud-spattered and not fit to wear. Things had changed for her once Sam Murdoch, my onetime lawyer before he retired, and Binkie Enloe, my present-day lawyer, had straightened out Wesley Lloyd's two wills, so that now Little Lloyd and I shared and shared alike. Although his half was in a trust fund, which Hazel Marie and he benefited from, and mine was where I could get my hands on it anytime I wanted to.

"Oh, Miss Julia," Hazel Marie said, looking up from her packing, her face flushed and her eyes sparkling. "I didn't know I had so much. J.D.'s going to send me back home." And she laughed like that was the least likely possibility in the world.

"Hazel Marie," I said again, trying to keep myself together, although it was all I could do to keep from pitching a fit like I'd done a time or two before. "I wish you'd reconsider. What you're doing is just not right. What kind of example are you setting for Little Lloyd? To say nothing of what you're doing to yourself. Why, it wouldn't surprise me a bit if Mr. Pickens didn't think the less of you for not making him marry you."

We heard the telephone ring in the kitchen, and we both stopped to listen for Lillian to call one of us. When she didn't, Hazel Marie turned away, hanging her head-from shame, I like to think-so that her regularly touched-up blond hair hid her face.

"Miss Julia," she whispered, "you know how stubborn he is when he gets an idea in His head. And he's got this idea that everybody will think he's just after Little Lloyd's inheritance if we get married. He says we can have a good life together without bringing in all the legalities."

"Well, of course he would say that. What man wouldn't if he could get away with it? And you know that neither he nor anybody else can get at that inheritance. Binkie and Sam have it tied up tighter than Dick's hatband."

"I know." She nodded. "But I get a nice income from it to take care of Little Lloyd, and J.D.'s got his pride."

"Pride!" I threw up my hands. "If that's not just like a man! What does he want you to do, pauperize yourself so you'll be dependent on him? Hazel Marie, you are asking for trouble."

She looked away and refolded a dress that she'd already folded three times. "I know you think I haven't given it enough thought, but I really have. For one thing, Little Lloyd needs a masculine role model, all the books say so, and you couldn't find anybody more masculine than J.D. is."

I rolled my eyes at that. I knew what masculine meant to Hazel Marie. Well, and to me, too, at times. However. She had a point about the boy needing a man to look up to, since his own father hadn't exactly been an ideal for any child to emulate. Thursday night visits with the child and his mother hardly qualified as quality time, in my book. But, for the sake of my argument, I wasn't about to concede a blessed thing.

"Well, it just seems to me that if you're bound and determined to do this, the least he could do is make it legal." But I knew as well as she did how hardheaded the man could be.

Except for that one flaw in his character, Mr. Pickens was a good and decent man. Well, except for the fact that he was constitutionally unable to keep himself from flirting with every woman he met. And except for the fact that he'd never set the world on fire, financially speaking. I mean, how much can you make chasing down missing persons and investigating insurance fraud and the like? I'd told Hazel Marie that it looked like a woman had to make a choice between a good man and a rich one. The two didn't go together in my experience, limited though it was.

Well, then there was Sam, but he was another one who couldn't be counted on. I'd come to that conclusion after I realized how scarce he'd been making himself lately.

I sighed then, because she'd heard all my arguments more than once, and they hadn't done any good. But, I thought, Mr. Pickens hadn't heard them, and I determined then and there to give him a piece of my mind the next time I saw him. Turning away from the packing frenzy, I said, "I just hope you know what you're doing."

Then, shocking me speechless, she ran over and hugged me, a demonstrative gesture I rarely, if ever, encouraged. "Oh, thank you, Miss Julia, thank you," she said, as the Joy perfume Mr. Pickens had given her nearly made my head swim. "I've wanted your blessing ever so much."

Blessing was not what I'd had in mind; resignation was more like it, but before I could disengage myself and answer, we heard Lillian's shoes flapping down the hall toward us.

"Miss Hazel Marie," Lillian said. She stopped in the door, holding a dish towel in her hands. "Mr. Pickens, he jus' call an' say to tell you he can't come pick you up today. He'll let you know when he can move you out, but for now, he want you to stay here with us."

"Oh!" Hazel Marie moaned in disappointment. She plopped down on a chair, then shot straight up again. Her sewing box had gotten there first. Rubbing her backside, she said, "He didn't want to speak to me?"

"No'm, he say he in a hurry. An', Miss Julia, you better take off that long face you been wearin' all day. You got comp'ny in yonder, an' they not gonna be happy seein' you mopin' 'round like you jus' lost your best friend."

That was exactly what I had lost, or was about to lose. Two or three of them, in fact, but I refrained from pointing that out to her.

"Who is it, Lillian?" I asked, turning away from Hazel Marie to face my duty. Lord, I didn't feel like entertaining company, but when you're known for your hospitality, you pull yourself together and do what you have to do, regardless of how you feel.

"Coleman and Miss Binkie, that's who. An' they say they got a 'nnouncement to make."

Miss Julia Throws a Wedding
by by Ann B. Ross

  • paperback: 308 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
  • ISBN-10: 0142002712
  • ISBN-13: 9780142002711