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Mavis Jeeter sat on the bus stop bench beside her mother and whispered goodbye to Hadley, Georgia. She took a deep breath and let out a big, heaving sigh to send a signal to her mother that she was tired of saying goodbye.
“Why can’t we stay here?” she asked every time her mother announced that they were moving.
Then her mother would explain how she was sick of Podunk towns and godforsaken places. How she needed a change of scenery. How she had a friend or a cousin or a boyfriend waiting somewhere else.
This time they were leaving Hadley, Georgia, so her mother could work as a housekeeper for a rich family in Landry, Alabama.
Mavis let out another heaving sigh that blew her tangled hair up off her forehead. Then she leaned forward and squinted down the road.
“When’s the bus coming?” she asked for the umpteenth time.
“Soon,” her mother said for the umpteenth time.
Sometimes Mavis wished she lived with her father in Tennessee instead of just visiting him every now and then. Her father stayed in one place. But then, he lived with his mother, who disapproved of Mavis.
“That child runs wild,” she complained right in front of Mavis. “Not one lick of discipline from that so-called mother of hers,” she’d say, as if Mavis were invisible and not sitting on the couch there beside her. “Lets her run wild,” she’d mutter, flinging her arms up and shaking her head.
Finally, the bus came roaring up the road, and the next thing Mavis knew, she was watching Hadley, Georgia, disappear outside the window.
“Goodbye, fourth grade,” she whispered when the bus rumbled past Hadley Elementary School. “Have a nice summer,” she added.
It was only a few weeks ago that kids had hooted and hollered on the last day of school, but now the window shades were drawn in the empty classrooms.
“So long, Bi-Lo,” she whispered when they passed the grocery store where her mother had worked for a few months—until she came home one day and announced, “I’m not asking ‘Paper or plastic?’ ever again.”
“Adios, best friend,” Mavis whispered as they drove past Candler Road, where her best friend, Dora Radburn, lived. Then she let out another big, heaving sigh. Actually, now that she thought about it, Dora hadn’t really been a best friend. She never saved Mavis a seat at lunch, and she had flat-out lied about her birthday party. Maybe if the Jeeters stayed in one place long enough, Mavis could have a real best friend.
So as the bus turned onto the interstate, Mavis said one final goodbye to Hadley, Georgia, and decided right then and there that in Landry, Alabama, she would have a real best friend.
Sometimes it seemed to Rose Tully that everything about her was wrong. It also seemed as if her mother reminded her of that nearly every minute of every day.
“Don’t slouch, Rose,” she’d say.
“You can’t wear that, Rose.”
“Stop slurping your soup, Rose.”
But even if Rose sat up straight or changed her dress or sipped her soup as daintily as could be, there would still be something wrong.
And so it was that on a fine summer morning in Landry, Alabama, with the sun streaming through the dining room windows overlooking the garden, Rose plucked raisins out of her oatmeal and waited for her mother to tell her what was wrong.
“Stop doing that, Rose,” her mother said.
Rose plopped a raisin into her mouth and glanced at her father. Sometimes he would say, “Aw, Cora, cut Rose some slack.” But today he didn’t. Today he gulped down his orange juice in a way that made Mrs. Tully squint, and then he grabbed his briefcase and hurried out the door without so much as a goodbye.
“Hurry up, Rose,” Mrs. Tully said. “There’s liable to be traffic on the interstate, and I’m not even sure where the bus station is.” She took one last sip of coffee and added, “I’m starting to have reservations about this Jeeter woman if she doesn’t even have a car.”
“But she’s bringing her daughter, right?” Rose said.
“Unfortunately, yes,” Mrs. Tully said. “I’m not sure this was one of my better ideas.”
Rose folded her napkin and placed it neatly next to her plate. She didn’t say it out loud, but she was hoping that this Jeeter woman’s daughter was nicer than Amanda Simm.
“Wait for me outside,” Mrs. Tully snapped. Then she snatched her napkin off the table, gathered plates and bowls and juice glasses with a clatter, and disappeared through the swinging door into the kitchen, leaving a cloud of discontent behind her.
When Rose opened the front door, a wave of thick summer heat drifted in and mingled with the icy air-conditioning in the foyer. The pleasantly mild days of May had given way to the sultry days of early June, the beginning of a sure-to-be stifling Alabama summer.
Rose’s house was the biggest one in Magnolia Estates. It had a winding driveway lined with neatly trimmed boxwoods and a doorbell that chimed Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” On each side of the front door sat a concrete lion, its mouth open in a mighty roar. When the Tullys moved there two years ago, Rose had named them Pete and Larry.
Out on the porch, Rose patted Pete and Larry on the tops of their heads and savored the smell of freshly mown grass. Monroe Tucker, the gardener, had already been there this morning, getting an early start like he always did to beat the midday heat. Because the Tullys’ yard was so large, Monroe came three days a week, trimming the boxwoods and weeding the gardens and making sure the azaleas were the exact same height, the way Mrs. Tully liked them.
Rose ran to the end of the driveway and looked up the road toward the gatehouse. She wished she could visit Mr. Duffy instead of going to the bus station with her mother. She wished she could take him some blackberries to try to cheer him up. She wished she could show him how good she had gotten at the magic trick he had taught her. But more than anything, she wished Mr. Duffy’s little dog, Queenie, hadn’t died.
Text copyright © 2018 by Barbara O’Connor