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“Say that to my face, hick!” a voice threatened from behind me, interrupting my sentance. I had been talking to Rachel about her new home and the lovely housewarming Barbeque we were in the middle of. Rachel’s eyes widened at the sight of this new person intruding on our conversation. I could feel her hot breath on my shoulder as she breathed heavily. Anna. I turned around to see Anna’s eyes scanning me from head to toe, the same way they had for twenty years. She smirked at the sight of my short black hair, brown eyes, and small, rounded nose.
“Say what?” I asked because I had no idea what Anna was talking about. As usual, she had assumed I knew what was going on in her messed-up head. Anna had been doing this since high school. One of her friends would mis-inform her with a bit of gossip and she’d go on a rampage because she thought someone talked poorly of her behind her back. I never understood this cycle, yet I was usually her target. Eventually, I learned to just walk away and ignore Anna. Unfortunately, Anna was like a fungus that kept coming back.
“Oh, don’t play dumb with me, Mandy,” Anna’s thick brown eyebrows formed a sharp V shape above her deep green eyes. Her hands were precisely placed on her hips. I shrugged and began to walk away, but Anna’s bony hand reached out and grabbed me by the arm. I stood there in shock, trying to figure out what was going on in Anna’s head. She knows I hate being called Mandy. I’m not a child, I am a grown woman and my name is Amanda. No- don’t let her get to you. She’s looking for a reaction. Don’t give her what she wants- then she’ll win.
“You’ve been talking s*** about me behind my back.” Anna’s words were slurring.
“Anna, I swear I have not said a word about you,” That was a lie, but Anna’s reputation was the talk of the town. How could I not say anything? She can’t go around getting drunk every night and not expect people to talk. That’s not how things work around here.
Having been born and raised in Atlanta, I guess I would call myself a southern belle. From birth, my mother taught me how to fry chicken, clean the house, and entertain our guests without chipping a nail or making a mess of my hair. My momma made sure our family was present for church every Sunday, and she would always stay and chat with the other moms in our neighborhood until it was time to come home and make supper. I’d always planned on following in Momma’s high-heel-wearing footsteps, starting with her love of beauty pageants.
That was where I first met Anna. We were both ten years old and competing in a national pageant in Nashville. I thought Anna was the sweetest girl on the planet. She smiled at everyone, had the perfect dress and easily won the judges’ hearts. I thought for sure she was going to win the pageant, but I came in first place. Something in Anna’s eyes shifted and she swore she would make my life miserable. Anna may be a witch, but she sure does keep her promises.
“Shawna told me that you said I was an ugly, deadbeat, good-for-nothing drunk,” Anna spat the words out, along with a few drops of saliva that smelled like alcohol and flew onto my face.
“I never-” I tried to speak but Anna cut me off, letting go of her grip on my arm and waving her finger in my face.
“She told me that you thought you were better than me. You know what? You’re not because I’m married and you’re gonna end up with fifty cats,” Anna cackled as she walked away, fists at her sides. I stood in the same spot, unable to bring myself to move, fight back, do anything. I looked around the deck. Anyone who was out here had quickly filed inside and they were all watching from the kitchen window. Birds chirped in the bushes below the deck and the sun shone above me. Still, nothing about this moment seemed happy in the slightest bit.
Usually Anna spits meaningless insults at me and I can brush it off, but this time she struck a nerve. Marriage has always been a sensitive subject for me. I’ve always wanted to follow in my mother’s footsteps; if I was doing it right I would’ve been married by now. Don’t listen to her. You’ll get married someday and have kids of your own. You still have time to start your family.
I couldn’t control the tears as they began to roll down my cheeks.
You are a strong, independant woman. Anna cannot control you. You don’t need a man in your life to be happy.
Now I was beginning to sob and the tears were streaming down my face, making an abstract painting with my make-up. I ran down the steps on the deck, across the driveway and stumbled on a tree root on the way to my car. My hands flew to my purse, searching for the keys to my Prius. My fingers clumsily danced around in the depths of the small black bag, touching everything yet missing the keys completely. Finally, I gave up and slumped to my knees on the pavement as my purse dropped down beside me.
I can hear footsteps. These footsteps are different from all the others I’ve heard today though. These aren’t fancy heels that clickity-clack from a mile away or shiny loafers that thump-thump on the blacktop. These footsteps made a sound that resembled both the heels and the loafers. I opened my teary eyes to see a pair of old leather cowboy boots standing in front of me, spurs and all. I lifted my head to see a tall cowboy with tanned skin, blue eyes, and a lopsided smile filled these shoes.
“Are you alright there, ma'am?” he asked in a deep voice with a distinct Georgia accent.
“I think I’ll be alright,” I blushed as I stumbled to my feet. Cowboy looked at me for a long moment before saying, “Would you like to join me for dinner sometime?”
“That is so not what happened,” Maggie interrupts me.
“Yes it is, you can even ask Dad if you don’t believe me,” I tease. Maggie and I are sitting on our favorite bench outside the church, waiting for John, my husband and her father, to finish helping out with the Sunday School kids. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and Maggie is looking at me with her curious blue eyes. Even at fourteen years old she’s full of questions and wonder.
“So you and Dad met at a party?” Maggie tilts her head to one side, her long black hair falling off her shoulders.
“Right here in Tucker,” I nod. “It was at one of my friends’ house, just down the road from here, actually.”
“Does she still live there?” Maggie asks.
“Yes, she lives in the same house.” I smile.
“Woah,” Maggie leans back on the bench as if in awe of our surroundings. I guess I’m in awe, too. It’s hard to believe I met John more than ten years ago and we’re still together. I proved Anna wrong, didn’t I.