Thursday, January 2, 2014

Episode #14: The Chandler Massey Effect

“Hello, Jeff.” Vonda Kay smiled as she reached for the fresh spinach that was always on her list. She rued the day her youngest figured out it wasn't green leaf shaped candy she added to the salad.

He smiled warm and genuinely. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Shephard. Are you having a good day?”

“Yes, I am, sweet boy. Thank you for askin’.” Vonda Kay decided to buy more spinach just because he was so friendly towards her when he really didn’t have to be, with the strange family connection and all. “And you?”

“Doing well.” He cleared his throat a little. “Mrs. Shephard, how’s…you know..how’s Maw Maw doing?”

“Mama?” She wondered. “Just fine I reckon. I’ll see her tonight at the rehearsal…won’t you be there?” She fretted a little.

“Of course.” He said, looking up at her. “I’ve just been a little concerned, that’s all.”

“Concerned…about Mama?” She couldn’t help but be confused.

“Well after the whole Mark Hapka thing….”

“Huh?”

“I just thought, with…”

“You!” Came a brazen interruption. “You there!”

Both Jeff and Vonda Kay cringed. When she looked over at Jeff he was practically hyperventilating to the point Vonda Kay felt compelled to put her arm around him to keep him from slipping to the floor.

“Jeff, child, it’s only the school Librarian, not Satan incarnate.”

“I can’t tell much of a difference and there’s three of them…” He pointed out.

When she peered in the direction he was pointing she almost laughed out loud. “Calm down, Jeff” she whispered in his ear. “There ain’t three of her, but there are three of them. The other two are pretty harmless.”

“You!” The High School Librarian bellowed. “New one! Where is the manager of this God Forsaken Heathen outfit?”

Jeff swallowed hard.

“Now Vida,” Vonda Kay chided the woman. “Obviously you’re upset, but try not to take it out on poor Jeff. He just knocks the dirt of the watermelons. It’s not his job to make sure you or the manager don’t get off the chain in the backyard.”

“Yes, Vida, dear.” The look-a-like to the right said. “The boy’s not in school so watch yourself.”

“That’s right.” The look-a-like to the left chimed in. “He’s not on school grounds so he can beat the crap out of you and not get expelled.”

Vida Leigh spun her head around and leaned in to the apoplectic Jeff. “He wouldn’t dare lay a hand on me!”

The bookend sisters each grabbed the corresponding arm and pulled the rabid librarian back.

“Now, now Vida, you’re upset but no need to take it out on this Yankee boy.” The chunkiest of the three told her. “Sure, he’s not one of us but remember you’re a Southern gentle woman. It’s bad manners to talk bad about the poor Northerners…to their faces.”

“That’s right, Sister.” The thinner of the three chimed in. “At least wait until we’re in the car to talk bad about ‘im. That’s the polite thing to do.”

“You’re sisters?” Jeff kind of croaked out.

“Of course, we’re sisters!” The school Librarian raised that right eyebrow, again. “What did you think?”

Vonda Kay tried to take control of the situation. “Vida, let’s be polite and let me introduce your lovely sisters.” She turned to the shaking young man. “Jeff Neff, let me introduce you to Vada Leigh and Velda Leigh, Miss Vida’s sisters.”

Jeff smiled and shook hands with the two women. Vonda couldn’t help but think what a fine, young gentlemen the teen was.

“It is a pleasure to meet both of you.”

“Like wise” the women said in almost perfect harmony.

Jeff looked to his Librarian. “For some reason I assumed you were married.”

“I am married.” The Librarian snapped. “Have been for 22 delicious years, what on Earth would make you think that someone like me would single in defiance of God?”

“Uhh…” Jeff gulped. “Because you and your sisters all have the same last name?”

“Of course, we all have the same last name!” She crowed. “We married brothers…everybody knows that!”

“Calm down…” Velda told her sister.

“Yes dear sister, you know how your hair always cracks when you get frustrated.” Vada reminded her. She then smiled and turned to Jeff. “Of course, child, you had no idea. I married Mark Leigh.”

“I married Max and Vida married Mike.” The other offered.

Vonda turned to Jeff with one of those knowing looks. “Isn’t that sweet?”

“Just…charming.” Jeff said hoping he’d found the right word with Vida Leigh you could never be quite sure. “It’s a good thing you didn’t have another sister.” He tried to joke, “You might have run out of Leigh brothers.”

“Oh we have another sister.” Velda said.

“Verna.” Vada admitted.

“She thinks she better than us.” Vida harrumphed. “And she had her chance to marry a Leigh brother, but noooo; she had to run off with that Potter boy,”

Vada threw up a hand. “Now, Vida, once again in Verna’s defense, Milt is one of them homosexuals.”

“Oh don’t give me that, Sister.” The Librarian snorted. “Milt just needed a good woman to show him what for.” She crossed her arms and raised that right eye brow in that eerie way she could. “A good woman can make a man outta anybody.”

“Yeah, I hear that works real well.” Vonda Kay said just loud enough for Jeff to hear, who had to bite his lip to keep from giggling.

Jeff quickly decided to change the subject and hopefully get that creature out of his sight. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Leigh, you wanted to see the manager? Is there anything I can help you with?”

“Oh don’t go trying to brown nose me, New One! You don’t have the authority to meet my requirements.”

“I’m sure not, but I thought maybe there was something I could pass along to him.”

Vida rolled her eyes. “I wouldn’t trust you to pass a kidney stone on Easter. Just tell me where the manager is.” She demanded.

“He’s probably up front in the office.” Jeff smiled while biting his tongue. “If you go up to the service desk they will be happy to page him for you.”

“There was that so hard?” She put those bony hands back on those sharp, protruding hips. “When someone asks a question, Yankee, stop being snide and just give them an answer.”

“Now Vida…” one of the sisters said.

“Maybe you should just leave this one alone.” The other said.

“I certainly will not!” The mean sister snorted.

“What’s got you in such an uproar this time?” Vonda asked.

“It’s disgusting!” Vida launched in. “We walk through the doors; calmly got our carts and they were playing such nice music.”

“Oh, it was lovely…” Velda agreed.

“I hadn’t heard it in years.” Vada smiled and thought back. “It stirred up such nice memories.”

“And then…” Vida Leigh's lips curled and nostrils flaired. “And then they broke in with one of those timed in store announcements!”

“Well that doesn’t sound so bad.” Vonda told her. “I think that happens every twenty minutes or so.”

“Of course it does.” Vida stared at her like she was stupid. “It wasn’t that they did it, it what’s they said!”

“What they said?” Jeff sheepishly asked.

“Yes! All of a sudden this voice comes out of nowhere and tells me to enjoy my pork on a bun!” Vida snorted.

Velda rolled her eyes at her sister; the other shrugged and added, “Well they did interrupt Charlie Pride singing “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” when they did it.”

Vida crossed those arms again. “Which makes it pornographic and sacrilegious! You people are disgusting and I plan to put a stop to it.” She grabbed her cart and headed toward the front of the store.

“Oh, Vida?” One of her sisters called her. She stopped, but didn’t turn; only listened. “Remember, this isn’t the Johnson County High Library.”

“That’s right.” The skinnier one interjected. “If you tear pictures and articles out of the magazines at the checkout line they will charge you for them...again.”

Vida Leigh turtled her head but thrust on toward the front of the store. Both her sisters waited until they were sure she was out of sight before turning to Jeff.

“Quick, before she gets back!” Vada half whispered.

“Yes!” Velda agreed. “Do you have any Mandarin Oranges?”

Jeff blinked a moment. “I am so sorry ladies, but they aren’t quite in season for us yet.”

“Oh dear…” The sisters sighed in unison.

“But we do have canned ones on aisle two.” Jeff added.

“No thank you, Sweet Boy,” Vada put her hand on his arm. “We wanted to try the fresh ones.”

Velda nodded. “You know, just to see what all the fuss was about.”

Curiosity peaked; Vonda Kay decided to kill the cat. “Fuss?”

“Everybody’s talking about them.” Vada said and then looked at her sister. “Aren’t they?”

“I’m clueless.” Vonda Kay admitted. “Why is everybody but me and Jeff talking about Mandarin Oranges?”

“That Chandler Massey…” Vada said.

“Of course.” Velda agreed. “He’s leaving ‘Days of Our Lives’ to study them.”

Jeff tried not to laugh. “Ladies, Chandler Massey is studying Mandarin Chinese…the language, not the orange.”

Velda put her chubby little hand to her mouth. “Oh my. How embarrassing!”

“I thought that was strange.” the woman said knowingly. “When I heard that I kept thinking, why on Earth would someone want to leave a hit TV show and study oranges, but then I thought...well…he is a blond.”

“You don’t know that for sure, Vada.” Her sister retorted.

“Well, I’ve never seen him naked.” She smiled as she thought about it. “So I’m not for sure if the drapes match the curtains, but with men you can usually be pretty sure they do.”

“Oh, Vada” Velda chided.

“Except of course, if it’s that Ryan Seacrest…or Ricky Martin.”

“Which reminds me,” Velda turned to Vonda Kay. “How’s Miss Ruby doing? Is she okay?”

Vonda Kay was confused again. “Mama?”

“Yes, Thursday’s his last day, you know.” Vada added quietly and concerned. “How’s she handling it?”

“Handing it?”

“Honey, everyone knows how she took to her bed when Mark Hapka left her story.” Vada smiled sweetly.

The bells finally went off in Vonda Kay’s head. “Oh, now I understand.”

“Is she doing okay with it?” Jeff said now that he understood that she understood.

“Well, she’s extremely upset of course, but at least this time we saw it coming.” Vonda smiled. “We let her turn the Parents Party for the Pageant tomorrow night in to a ‘Bon Voyage, Chandler Massey’ soiree.”

“Oh we’re doing that at work tomorrow, too.” Vada beamed.

Velda nodded her head. “Everyone at the office is going to come to work wearing an ugly vest and carrying an empty latte cup in Will Horton's honor.”

Vada shook her head. “You know, I realize that money’s tight on daytime drama these days, but you’d think those people could afford to at least put some water in those cups.”

“Nobody’s that good an actor!” Velda finished for her.

“Well I’m not exactly sure what all Mama has planned, but everyone has to come tomorrow night dressed as their favorite character since Will came out of the closet.” Vonda told them and then admitted, “I’m a hikin’up m’boobs, drenching myself in bling and going as Kristin Dimera!”

“That sounds like so much fun!”

“Do you ladies want to come?” Vonda asked.

“Oh we’d love to, but Vida would pitch an absolute fit if we went anywhere near that pageant.” The skinnier one admitted.

“Or ugly whore parade as she calls it.” Velda sighed.

“Is she still upset they won’t let her give the contestants a Bible Drill when they’re in swimsuit competition?” Jeff asked.

“Of course.”

“Jeff is helping run the lights for the contest.” Vonda smiled slyly. “Have you decided who you’re going as tomorrow?”

“Let’s just say I’ll have a ribbon in my hair that matches my backpack.” He laughed.

“Ciara Brady!” Velda clapped her hands together. “You’re going as Ciara! Oh please, please post pictures on Facebook.”

“Yes, do!” Vada chirped. “I love that little girl. Lawdy, when she grows up she’s gonna make Kristin Dimera look like Theo Carver.”

“It won't take that long!” Velda put her hands on her hips eerily like her sister. “As soon as she finds out she needs braces she’s gonna rip a hole in the fabric of time!”

“And if Nick really is dead…” Jeff chimed in, “Don’t you know that body will turn up in her backpack!”

“Either that or Dr. Dan’s desk.” Vonda Kay added.

“Oh no!” Velda said. “They’d never find it on Dr. Dan’s desk.”

Vada half closed her eyes. “I think Nick is so hot! He was lookin’ good when he showed up last week.”

“Ew, Miss Velda.” Vonda said. “He showed up as a floating corpse in the river.”

“Hey I’ll take my Nick any way I can get him.” She smiled. “I love me some bad boys…the more confused the better!” Velda leaned against the shopping cart. “…And those big pouty lips, those big, big eyes…”

“Vada!” Her sister snapped. “Do you need some privacy?”

“Oh heavens!” She giggled. “Sorry, I guess I got carried away…uh…I assume Miss Ruby will be showing up as none other than Will Horton himself?”

“You know, I’m not sure.” Vonda Kay told them. “But I wouldn’t count on it and you can rule out Caroline Brady, too. Mama says she’s already a senile old bat seven days a week so she has no plans to show up at a costume party dressed as one.”

“I think she’ll show up as Victor.” Jeff interjected.

“And Little Tucker will come as Maggie then.” Vonda smiles. “Those two have just become inseparable.”

“I thought for a while Tucker, Modine and Brod were gonna go as Eric, Sami and Brady but…” Jeff frowned, “Brod says he hasn’t got enough of a six pack to pull Brady Black off.”

“Shoot.” Vonda Kay smirked. “Just tell Brod to whip his shirt off and we’ll draw the one ab he’s missing in.”

“Brod Moretz with his shirt off?” Velda Leigh waved her hands like a fan to her face. “My, my…oh yeah, he could pull Brady off, no problem at all. “

It was Vada’s turn. “Do you need some privacy, now?”

Velda laughed. “Well, my only complaint these days with ‘Days’ is the writer’s keep comin’ up with too many ways to keep Brady dressed.”

Vonda Kay agreed wholeheartedly. “Between Brady and Father Eric my DVR is always in need of a cold shower and a cigarette.”

“Lawd, Eric is one hunk of a Priest, ain’t he?” Velda leaned in. “Makes me wanna forget I’m a good Southern Baptist, slap on a habit and ask that man to show me how to use a rosary!”

“Law, Velda!” Vada snickered. “It’s a good thang Vida can’t hear us, she’d lock us in a closet until we repented of our ways.”

“Anyway…” Jeff tried to change the quickly becoming uncomfortable subject. “I think most of Salem will be represented at the party Thursday night. I think Louie Kirk is even going to come as Sonny.”

“All we need is a Will, especially since it’s a bon voyage for Chandler Massey.” Vonda said. “I thought maybe one of my girls would do it or even Trey but they all have other plans.”

“Who are they going as?” one of the sister’s inquired.

“Well Ruth Ann and Ann Bliss have decided to go as Anne Milbauer and Jennifer Horton, but I think they just want an excuse to slap the snot out of each other all night long and not get grounded and Trey, to my surprise his Daddy is going to allow him to go as Theresa Donovan.”

“Little Trey is going as Theresa?” Jeff’s mouth dropped open.

“Oh don’t be such a prude…Ciara Brady.” Vonda chided him and then playfully ribbed him. “He has such a crush on that girl. You know Jen Lilley, who plays her, is from Roanoke. He’s just sure they’re gonna get married.”

“Aw that’s so cute!” Vada cooed.

“You know all that boy wanted for Christmas this year was to go up to the Glade Spring exit to 81 in hopes he’d see her driving by on her way home for the Holidays.” Vonda Kay shook her head. “He figured whether she flew in or drove home from California that’s the one place they could ‘accidentally meet’.”

“That is so sweet.” Velda sighed. “…and a little creepy.”

“My thoughts exactly.” Vonda told the little group. “But he’s eight and I think just a little too innocent to mean any harm by it, and it made him so happy to sit there, for two hours mind you, thinking he may get the chance to see the girl of his dreams just drive by.”

“That Jen Lilley is so pretty.”

“And talented, I just love to hate her as they say.” Velda cocked her head a little as she reached for a few kiwi. “You know I can’t think of a another character on that show that makes me wanna laugh til I puke while strangling her until her pretty little eyes bug out at the same time.”

“I have to ask.” Vada chirped. “Our sister is an advisor for this beauty pageant, isn’t she?”

“Well…yes.” Vonda Kay admitted whether she liked it or not.

“So she’s coming to this party?”

“I doubt it, unless it’s long enough to pitch a fit and then stomp out when she doesn’t get her way.” Vonda admitted again, this time with no guilt.

“No one’s seen her since Miss Vista told her that her idea for the set and opening weren’t appropriate.” Jeff told the sisters.

“Bet she loved that.” Velda bit her lip.

“Do you know she wanted the set to look like a Bible…”

“King James, of course.” Jeff interrupted.

“And for the introductory runway walk she wanted all the girls to look like marble angels come to life.” Vonda cocked her head, “To be honest it was a little more artsy than I expected from her.”

“Well she means well…” the skinnier sister sighed.

“Actually her idea for the set and even her insistence on a Bible Drill as part of the competition planted the seeds for a few ideas we actually ran with.” Vonda told them.

“Oh?” Both sisters were intrigued.

Vonda smiled. “You’ll have to come to the pageant and see what I mean by that though…”

Jeff smiled broadly. “I hope you already have your tickets reserved because as of 3 PM today the pageant is sold out.”

“I’m not surprised.” Velda said as she inspected a few tomatoes. “Ever body knows what those Football Players did and to be honest ever body wants a gander.”

“Believe me, those football players are going to have the tables tuned on them.” Vonda grinned.

“Talk about a soap opera.” Jeff added.

“So…” Vada thought. “In order for Vida to show up and complain about something Thursday night, she’ll have to some dressed as a character from Days of Our Lives?”

“That’s right…even to get in the auditorium to protest.”

“I wonder who she’d go as.” Velda pondered. “Kate?”

“No.” Vada was quick to say. “She’d have to break her hair. God knows I love the old battle ax…” she leaned in “Both Kate and my Sister, but I don’t think that Vida could last for two seconds without at least one can of Final Net sprayed all over her head.”

“Excuse me?” came the voice behind them that no one expected, so unexpected Velda stuck three fingers completely through the cantaloupe she was sniffing.

“Vida, we were just talking about you.” Vonda smiled broadly 'fessing right up.

“I gathered.” Handing a Kleenex to her sister she pulled from the handbag she had made out of recycled Christmas cards and the twist ties that came off loaves of Wonder Bread. “My ears haven’t been this hot since I got too close the fireplace right after having my hair done.”

“We were just wondering what character you might go as to the pageant Parents Party tomorrow night.” Jeff swallowed hard.

“I have no intention of gracing that disgusting ritual.”

“Well, we knew that.” Velda wiped her hand and shoved the sticky tissue under her bra strap. “We just wondered who you might show up as if you did.”

“You know…for fun.” Vada mimicked her sister and put her hands one her hips and raised her right eyebrow. “Fun? You remember that. It’s the feeling you get when you’re on your knees pointing out everyone else’s transgressions.”

“How rude!” The Librarian dismissed her sister’s comments. “I find the theme to that party not only distasteful and sinful but completely in appropriate.” Turning back to her sister she ended with, “Obviously you aren’t surprised by that.”

“Not at all.” Vada said.

“I’m sorry, Miz Leigh,” Jeff looked at the floor. “But I don’t see what’s inappropriate about it.”

“First of all, New One,” Vida smirked, “A person of your age shouldn’t even be watching such filth. My children are only allowed to watch the Inspiration Channel and Hee Haw.” She said proudly. “And The Mary Tyler Moore Show, pre-Sue Anne Nivens, on their birthday and they are better Christians because of it.”

“There is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoyin’ a little daytime drama for time to time”, the skinnier sister spoke up.

“How shameful, Vada!” Vida Leigh spit at her sister. “All that debauchery, fornication and clam chowder can only lead one down a path of sin and regret!”

“Yeah,” Jeff smirked, “I can see how Hee Haw would be a much better example to follow.”

“Don’t you dare mock me, young man!” She shook her finger at him. “Those shows are pure fantasy, lustful fantasy…disgusting and have absolutely no basis in reality whatsoever…none!”

“Okay…stop right there.” It was Vonda Kay’s turn to sternly slam her hands to her hips. “You do realize that you are screaming at my twin sister’s ex-husband’s late wife’s son, don’t you?”

“I…uh…”

She took a calculated step closer to the Librarian. “And I’m sure you recall how just a few months ago you relished in telling everyone about my poor unfortunate nephew who was falsely accused of murder because he accidentally ran over a dead body with his hay baler in the field behind my house?”

Vonda Kay took a deep breath. “Now you wanna explain to me again how soap operas don’t reflect reality at all?”

“Well…” Vida Leigh stood her ground and started to say.

“Just shut up Vida.” Velda and Vada took a step back, pulling Jeff out of the line of fire with them. “After years of listening to you it’s your turn to pretend to politely listen to my rant.”

“I can do that.” Vida Leigh said quietly and looked at the floor.

“Good.” Vonda Kay took a deep breath and forged on. “Now you’re probably right that daytime drama isn’t a great example of Christian life, but that’s not the point. Its escapism, pure escapism, a way to sit down for an hour and forget about how hard and rotten life is sometimes and there’s nothing wrong with that. We all get a little carried away with it, but that’s part of the fun, Vida.”

“And as far as it not being appropriate for this party, you are dead wrong…dead wrong. This is a celebration of Chandler Massey, a young man we’ve never actually met, but have come to know and love because he created a character named Will Horton. You do know who Will Horton is, Vida, do you?”

“Of course, I do.” She defended. “He’s that little gay boy on that soap opera.”

Vonda shook her head. “Oh Velda, he is so much more than that. He’s a young man who in four years has dealt with so much pain and heartache while struggling with his own identity. He’s what they call a legacy character from the show, a child born in a story line that we’ve watched grow up just like he was one of our own children.”

“In watching over the years we’ve all been mesmerized by his story, seeing a little part of our family, our neighbors and even ourselves in that boy. We saw him make choices, wrong ones and right ones, but always making a choice and never wavering from it, willing to suffer whatever consequences that came along. In doing so, by God, that boy taught us all a lesson.”

“And pray tell what on Earth would that be?” Vida crossed her arms slyly.

“That no matter how hard and impossible it all seems the key to love and survival is not the acceptance of everyone else, but simply to accept yourself for not what you are but who you are. And that Vida is a basic truth we all need to know and follow no matter if you are straight, gay…”

“…or just stupid.” Velda interrupted looking straight at her sister.

“This young man, Chandler Massey, came on the show four years ago and let’s face it, at that time ‘Days of Our Lives’ was a train wreck. But that young man, barely 20 at the time, became the focus of a storyline that struck the hearts of a lot of people, not only because it was a little different and a little controversial, but because it was grounded in truth. It both hurt and healed to watch, and as that storyline grew the whole soap itself sort of changed with it.”

“You know,” Velda offered. “I think you’re right about that.”

“When the audience attached themselves to Will and Chandler, the writers realized something they’d forgotten in storytelling, that if you allow the stories, no matter how wild or farfetched, to be grounded in a character that is struggling to be who they are despite what anyone else may think the audience will fall in love…and they have.”

Vonda smiled quietly and continued. “And now Chandler Massey is leaving in much the same way that Will Horton struggled. He is going to finish what he started and complete his education; not because he’s unhappy or disappointed but because he feels this is something he has to do to complete himself. Now how absolutely wonderful is that?”

“I tell you,” Vada sniffed. “I am going to miss that boy so.”

“Here, Honey.” Velda pulled the Kleenex from her bra strap and handed it to her sister. “I’ve got to hand it to that Guy Wilson.”

“Who the heck is that?” Vida demanded.

“The young man who is stepping into the shoes left empty by Young Chandler.” Vada wiped her nose with the tissue then sniffed it and handed it back to Velda.

Velda tucked it back in place. “He has got to have one big ol’ steel set of…”

“Velda!” Vida sniped.

“Well he does!” Her sister insisted. “Can you imagine what guts it takes for someone to take over in a role that so many, many people have come to not only adore but look up to?”

“Well, it’s going to take some time,” Jeff said quietly but assuredly “But I’m sure we’ll come to accept and love him as Will, too.”

“Okay, you’ve made your point Vonda Kay.” Vida turned back to face her. “But I still don’t see how any of this makes it an appropriate theme for these young girls in this beauty pageant.”

Vonda just shook her head. “Oh Vida, you know how these girls got elected to be in this pageant. It used to be such an honor to be chosen, but this year a bunch of kids got together and somehow convinced every home room to choose a girl to represent them that everyone either made fun of or thought was the ugliest possible choice in the class.”

“That’s just ridiculous.” The Librarian insisted, “I know every one of those girls and I don’t believe that for a second.”

“Oh come on, Vida. No one was even for sure that Louie Kirk was a girl until we gave her a tube of eye liner!” She reminded her.

“And she looks so much better now that she knows you’re not supposed to use it around your lips!” Jeff chimed in.

“Every one of those girls was chosen not out of pride but out of ridicule, one of them even told me she heard they wanted her to be the best nag in the Horse and Gunny Sack parade. All of them have spent most of their school years limited by everyone else’s misguided perceptions of them. It’s taken a lot of work, but I think we’ve managed to help all fourteen of them stop seeing themselves through everyone else cruel eyes and finally, finally believe in themselves.”

“Mrs. Leigh,” Jeff had to add “You will not believe how those girls have changed. It’s like the moment they stopped to understand that it's who you know you are, not what everyone else thinks you are that they just...blossomed.”

The skinnier one turned to the chunkier one, “Oh I haven’t heard anything so beautiful since they cancelled ‘Designing Women’.”

“He’s right, Vida.” Vonda Kay smiled widely. “All those girls needed was to believe in that little bit of beautiful they found in themselves to make every bit of ugly on the outside go away…and that’s what the character of Will Horton is all about, finding that something inside you that makes you who you are and allowing it to make you strong no matter how scary that might be. So a Bon Voyage to Chandler Massey is a perfect theme to this party because every one of those so called losers has become a winner, just like Will Horton.”

There was a moment of silent, finally broken by Vida Leigh herself. “Fine…”

With a flourish she ripped a green produce bag of the role near her, whipped in the air to open it and handed it to Jeff. “Here, New One, load me up with Mandarin Oranges. Let’s see what all the fuss is about.”



























Saturday, September 8, 2012

Episode #13: Soft Spots

“Oh come on,” Lou Lee Eller put her hand on her hip and looked out at her would be audience while rehearsing her talent for the Miss JCHS Pageant, “Michael Jackson’s not dead. He’s alive and well. He just goes by the name of Justin Bieber now.”

The girls and sponsors watching from their own preparations laughed. Lou Lee continued. “He’s everything he always wanted now, totally white and 100% annoying.” She launched into a perfect imitation of Michael’s “Rockin’ Robin” then segwayed into another dead on impression of Bieber’s “Baby”.

After two stunning impersonations, Lou Lee returned to her normal self. “Can you honestly tell a difference?”

She took a comic beat. “Well, except for the hair…”

Vonda Kay Moretz turned to her sister Vista Kay. “She is so funny.”

“And she can impersonate anybody.” Her twin sister agreed. “She’s gonna be hard to beat in talent after all.”

“This is so much better than her original idea of snorting spaghetti up her nose in time to “Take a Chance on Me”.

“Although I do have a soft spot for ABBA”, Vista sighed.

“You know I just have no idea whose gonna win, do you?” Vonda attention was drawn by the sporadic applause as Lou Lee completed her routine. She looked up at her. “Oh my, Lou Lee. That was wonderful, just wonderful.”

“Thank you, Miz Moretz. I’ve worked so hard.”

“It shows.” Vista nodded in agreement. “But honey, you might wanna cut that part about Michael Jackson wantin’ ta be white. It’s funny, but it’s also just a little offensive.”

“Why don’t you just say ‘He’s now everything he always wanted to be’ and leave it there. Maybe make some kind of facial expression to let the audience know they can fill in their own joke.” Vonda suggested.

“Oooh….that’s a good idea.” Lou Lee beamed. “I like it.”

“Good.” Her mentor smiled. “Now go get ready, as soon as Louie gets done, it’s your turn for the mock photo shoot.” Lou Lee shot her thumbs up and dashed out of sight.

Vista picked up a clipboard and started going down their list. “Okay looks like everything is under control.”

“Except Marcella Tater.” Vonda frowned. “She still hasn’t bothered to show up.”

Her sister threw up her hands. “I told both Marcella and her mother that if she didn’t show up tonight she was out of the pageant. She’s way behind the other girls as it is.” She placed the clipboard on a table and glanced at the older lady hunkered down trying to be invisible.

“Mama!” She scolded. “What are you doin’?”

Ruby Acres tried not to look guilty. “Nothin’.”

Vonda Kay put her hands on her hips and respectfully chided the 86 year old. “Now Mama, we lock the girl’s cell phones and IPods away. It ain’t fair for you to be a playin’ with yours.”

“I’m sorry. Morgan Fairchild responded to one of my Tweets.” She beamed. “And when Morgan Fairchild responds, you get right back.”

“Morgan Fairchild?” Vonda asked. “Morgan Fairchild follows you on Twitter?”

“Oh no.” The woman everyone else lovingly called Maw Maw responded. “I just found out she was on Twitter and followed her. I tweeted how much I enjoyed her and she responded back.” The old lady smiled. “What a classy broad.”

“Oh, I love her!” Vista cooed. “I still get chills rememberin’ her goin’ through that plate glass window on “The Secret Storm” all those years ago.”

“I remember that!” Vonda jumped in. “She was s’mean to Eunice and John. I just loved to hate her.”

“And she hasn’t aged a bit.” Vista added. “Mama, tweet her an’ ask her what her secret to stayin’ young is.”

“Oh child, you know she either bathes in virgin’s blood or there’s a pitcher in an attic somewhere just a goin’ ta hell.” Mama said as she busily and expertly punched at her Droid. “Let’s just chalk it up to good genes and healthy livin’. It’s dull, but I’m sure that’s what does it for her.”

“Regardless, Mama…” Vonda Kay pointed at the gizmo in her mother’s hands. “Put that thing away.”

“Fine…” Maw Maw hit one last button and started to slip it in her pocket.

Vonda cleared her throat and held out her hand.

“Fine again…” The mother handed her daughter the phone. “But make sure I…

Ruby Acre’s attention was drawn to the back of the auditorium. “…Speakin’ of a pitcher goin’ to hell look what clawed its way outta the dirt and is limpin’ this way.”

The girls turned their heads around to see Arzella and Marcella Tater, nasty looks on their faces, stomping toward the ladies.

As soon as Arzella caught Vonda Kay’s eye she screamed from the back of the room, “Vonda Kay Moretz, who do you think you are tellin’ my daughter, the next Miss JCHS, that she was outta the pageant!”

“Now, Arzella that is not what I said.” Vonda kept her tone calm and respectful. “I simply informed both you and her that if she didn’t start showing up for rehearsals that there was no way she could catch up. All the other girls have put in so much work. It just isn’t fair.”

Arzella Tater screwed up her face and looked down her nose. “When I ran this pageant it was like a steel trap. We didn’t need rehearsals. The girls just showed up in time to get ready on Saturday night and things went just fine.”

“That explains a lot”, Maw Maw snorted.

“Ruby Acres…!” Arzella’s furs started to stand up.

“What Mama meant was that should explain why we are havin’ so many rehearsals Arzella.” Vista made up.

Vonda smiled and picked right up. “We are havin’ to work so hard because you have set the bar so high.” Vista nodded her head and stepped in front of her mother at the same time to keep her out of view. “This is such hard work, and we do not want to disappoint the many Johnson Countians who have come to expect the high production values you always guaranteed.”

“Uh hmmm.” Vista bit her tongue so she wouldn’t giggle.

“We will be so glad when you take back over next year.” Vonda added.

“Well that makes a little sense.” The woman snorted, “You must work on your tact though, Vonda Kay. It sucks.” Arzella reached into her huge black purse and pulled out a yellow note pad. “And knowing how incomp…er…inexperienced you are I took the liberty of double checking a few things.”

“Oh?”

“And I must say, although I am not surprised, I am disappointed.”

“About what?” Vonda Kay swallowed hard.

“Well, first of all, Inez Fulkerson says you haven’t gotten any sheet music to her…but I promised her I'd drop it off at the home after leaving here tonight. I assume with all the ‘rehearsing’ you’ve been doing you have some idea what music she’ll need to play.”

“Music?” Vonda Kay raised one eyebrow.

“You know, runway music…accompaniment for the girl’s talent?” Arzella sneered. “Inez is a wonderful musician but she’s old and cain’t sight read for squat anymore.”

“Oh, I’m sorry Arzella. I thought she understood.”

“Understood, what?” Arzella barked.

“We aren’t in need of her services this year.”

Arzella laughed out loud. “Oh I see. You gonna have all these losers just move their mouths to records?”

“Actually, we’ve enlisted the talents of 22 professional musicians for an orchestra this year.” Vonda smiled broadly at the way Arzella Tater’s mouth dropped open.

“That’s one of the reasons we moved the pageant to Heritage Hall this year.” Vista twisted the knife just a little. “The stage there is bigger.”

“Professional?” Arzella wasn’t buying. “You got 22 piece orchestra for fifty bucks?”

“Of course not.” Vonda held up her hand to stop Arzella from saying anything until she added. “You remember my baby brother?”

“Gatton?”

“That’s the one.” Maw Maw piped in. “He’s in show business, ya know. He called in a few favors and got some friends of his to volunteer their services for us.”

“Whatever.” Arzella rolled her eyes, ripped off the top sheet from her pad and handed it to Vonda. “Now here’s the list of judges I contacted. They will all expect a high class dinner. I always get them fried chicken from Hardees.”

Vonda smiled. “Uhm…Arzella, once again, that’s already been taken care of, but thank you.”

“But I’ve already…”

“Arzella, we have nine judges already lined up. They will all be here Friday night to begin the judging.”

“Friday night?” Arzella looked confused. “The pageant isn’t until Saturday night.”

“Yes, but the interviews are all on Friday.” Vista turned to Marcella, oddly quiet during this time. “Marcella your interview is scheduled for 5:20.”

Marcella stopped twirling her rainbow colored hair. “Interview?”

Vonda Kay smiled. “It was all in the packet you were given three weeks ago. Didn’t you read it?”

The girl looked at her mother. “Mama?”

“You mean that little envelope you handed me?” Arzella waved her hand in the air. “Oh, I just tossed that nonsense. Marcella watched me run this pageant for ten years. She knows what to do.”

“Obviously not, Arzella.” Vista smiled. “We’ve made a number of changes.”

“Changes?”

“Besides the opening production number…” Vonda turned to Marcella and touched her arm. “…it’s not difficult, honey, but the girls will have to help you catch up.”

“Mama!”

Vonda turned back to Arzella. “We’ve also added two new elements to the competition, to make it more than a simple beauty pageant.”

“Vida Leigh insisted on something more substantial this year and she seemed very pleased with what we came up with. I’m surprised she didn’t tell you about them.”

“Oh God.” Arzella’s face fell. “You really are gonna make them have a Bible drill during swim suit, aren’t you?”

The sisters laughed. “Of course, not.” Vista Kay assured her. “We’re making the judging more like the Miss America Pageant.”

“Miss America?”

“Yes.” Vista informed her. “Each girl will be interviewed for twenty minutes by the judges.”

“Interviewed…” Marcella was chewing the inside of her jaw. "...About what?"

“They’ll just asked questions about current affairs, pop culture, get each girl’s opinions and thoughts about what’s going on in the world.”

“What?” Arzella said. “This is absurd….”

Vonda Kay cocked her head to the side. “The school board actually suggested it.”

“You said a couple of things…” Marcella was bordering apoplexy. “What’s the other thing?" And quietly as if to herself she added, "Oh God, don’t make it awful.”

“Oh it’s not awful honey.” Vonda Kay put her arm around the sweaty girl’s shoulders. “Friday morning you’ll be administered a test.”

“A test?”

“Yes, each of your teachers has submitted questions, general knowledge things from each of your classes you show know. Each girl’s teachers did the same for her. The study guide was in the manila folder your mother threw away.” Vonda pinched the girl’s very white cheeks. “Don’t worry, hon. It’s easy stuff and I’ve got a copy of your study guide if you like.”

“This isn’t fair.” Arzella stomped her feet.

For the first time, Vonda Kay Moretz raised her voice to match Arzella Tater’s. “If you had bothered to allow your daughter to participate with the other girl’s from the beginning there wouldn’t have been a problem.”

“Well, I…”

“Arzella, no excuses. Fortunately Marcella is a bright girl and your inexcusable behavior shouldn’t hurt her chances.”

Mrs. Tater took a deep breath and patted her hair. “It’s really no big deal. Your silly little test is just one tiny element in the judging.”

“Fifty percent.”

“What?”

Vista Kay repeated herself as she handed a copy of the tossed folder to Marcella. “Fifty percent, the interview and scholastic scores will be fifty percent of the total score; talent 30; swim suit, evening gown and casual wear each ten.”

“Casual wear?” Marcella looked up from the papers.

“Don’t worry honey.” Vonda Kay, arm still around her, patted her again. “It’s all taken care of.”

A beautiful young girl that Vonda motioned to came right over. “Marcella! So glad you finally made it. You’ve missed it. We have been having soooo much fun!”

The girl hugged Marcella, who kind of pushed her away. “Do I know you?”

The girl laughed, “Of course you do.”

Arzella Tater took her hand and pushed the girl back, quickly turning to the sisters. “What is going on here?” She looked at all the girls in the auditorium. “Who are all these girls? I don’t know a single one. Are you stacking the deck with ringers, trying to pass them off as students, so my daughter will lose?”

“Of course not.” Vista held up a paper of the contestants names so they could both see. “That’s Lou Lee Eller…over there is Vernette Krueger…and up on stage, that’s Louie Kirk.”

Marcella Tater’s mouth dropped open. “Louie Kirk’s actually a girl?”

Vista nodded her head. “She’s beautiful isn’t she? Somehow our Louie has become our Louise. You’ve got some stiff competition, young lady.”

“Alright some of them look a little familiar.” Arzella insisted and pointed at the young girl in front of them. “But you! I know I have never laid eyes on you in my life.”

“Yes you have, Mrs. Tater. I was in your homeroom last year.”

“You were not." She insisted. "I never forget a student!”

“Even the ones you made sit in the back corner every day until the bell rang because you said their face made you nauseous first thing in the morning?” The girl smiled.

Vista Kay was shocked. “Arzella Tater, you actually said that to a student?”

“Well, I…”

“Yes, ma’am, yes she did.” The girl respectfully said before turning back to her Freshman Homeroom Teacher. “My name is Isadene Icenhour. You probably don’t remember that because you always referred to me as…”

Marcella Tater’s eyes lit up in shock, “…Uglirella?”

Isadene smiled. “That’s me…well that was me, but there really are Fairy Godmothers.”

Arzella Tater cleared her throat. “Well, Ug…Isadene you clean up quite nice. I’m sure you’ll do quite well in the pageant. I can’t wait to see your evening gown.” The woman coldly looked down on the beaming girl. “Will you be wearing your mother’s wedding dress, the one she bought at Ramsey’s 5 & 10?”

Mrs. Tater sneered and leaned into Isadene as she added, “If I remember correctly you and three other contestants could probably wear it at the same time…”

“Arzella Tater!” Maw Maw had had enough and stepped toe to toe with the woman. “You can be rude and nasty to us adults all you want, but this young lady is one of your students…”

Isadene put her hand on Ruby Acres shoulder. “It’s okay Maw Maw. Mrs. Tater can’t ever hurt me or any of these girls again. If there is one thing you all have taught us these past few weeks is that some people can only feel good about themselves when they make everyone else around them feel ugly. Don’t lower yourself to her standards, ma’am. We’re all better than that.”

She took Marcella’s hand. “Come on, Marcella. Let’s go look at some of the stuff we put aside for you.”

“Put aside?” Arzella curled her lips. “My Marcella doesn’t need any one’s hand me downs. We’ve purchased all her things at Target!”

Vonda Kay smiled. “And if Marcella still wants to wear any of them that is her choice. But honey, go take a look at some of the stuff the girls put aside for you. You might like some of it.”

“…Okay…” Marcella looked at her mother in fear.

“Vonda Kay, what is going on?”

She smiled. “Oh that’s right, you didn’t read the packet.” Vonda Kay reached over to Marcella’s hand, flipped a few pages and pointed.

“Oh my!” Marcella cooed. “Mama they got a bunch of dresses donated from designer shops and some celebrities. We get to keep anything we wear!”

“Designer, huh?” Arzella looked dead into Isadene’s eyes. “Marcella’s dress is designed by Old Navy. Who’s your designer, sweetie?”

Isadene looked just as dead back. “I keep forgetting her name.” She snapped her fingers. “Oh yes…Vera Wang.”

As Arzella clutched her hand to her chest, Isadene took Marcella’s arm. “Come on, I can’t wait to see if you like what we picked out for you.”

Marcella dropped her voice an octave lower. “It’s not all tent size, is it?”

Isadene shoved her playfully. “Don’t be silly. Most of its vintage stuff.”

“Vintage?”

“Yeah, we thought it suited you best.” Isadene grabbed a sparkling cocktail dress off the rack. “Ooh, I thought this one would bring out your eyes for casual wear.”

“My eyes?” Marcella fondled the dress and tried not to show how wonderful she thought it was.

“It’s one of your best features. George said to highlight your best features.”

“George?”

“George Guzman. He won an Emmy for Hairstyling on “The Young and the Restless”. We had a number of Skype sessions with him, and Nadia Bjorlin and some others to teach us hair and makeup.”

Marcella’s face fell. “You did?”

“Don’t worry. We’ll all help you.” Isadene pulled two evening gowns off the rack. “And I’ve been texting George. I bet he’ll do a special session for you, since you missed all the others. Now which do you like better? This one I think is a Bob Mackie, but this is my favorite. It’s an Edith Head.”

Marcella couldn’t help but be awed. “Edith Head, where did you get it?”

“Maw Maw and Coach Cheesy tweeted and called people, explained what was going on and stuff just started pouring in from people’s closets.”

Speaking of Maw Maw, she appeared out of nowhere. “That would be lovely on you Marcy Girl.”

She smiled and held it against her. “You think?”

“Go put it on, hon.”

“I’m afraid it’ll be too tight.” Marcella hesitated to admit.

“Don’t worry bout that honey. You put it on and let Maw Maw wave her magic needle and thread wand over it. We’ll make it look like Ms. Head made that dress just fer you.”

Marcella nodded and started to rush off. “But why?”

“Why what?”

“Why are you all bein’ so nice to me?” She jutted out her hip. “You know I’m gonna win.”

Isadene smiled. “Oh Marcella, I think that would be wonderful.”

“You don’t wanna win?”

“Marcella, after seeing the look on your mother’s face,” She grinned from ear to ear. “I have already won more than any banner that says Miss JCHS.”

“And that’s what it’s all about.” Maw Maw added quietly.

Vista Kay popped into the set up costume alcove. “Marcella, honey, before you do anything else, you wanna practice your talent? Louie’s still busy so we have plenty of time to get some initial light and sound cues set for you.”

Marcella straightened up her back. “Mama says…” She chewed the inside of her jaw a bit. “Never mind what Mama says.”

“That’s m’girl.” Maw Maw patted the youngster on the cheek.

She rooted through her purse and handed Vista a CD. Just dim the stage lights and start the music.”

“That all?”

“Oh yeah. This is gonna blow your mind.” Marcella giggled. “Soooo spectacular.”

“Can’t wait.” Vitsa took the CD. “Head to wherever you want to be and let us know when you’re ready.”

“I’ll hold these for you ‘til you’re ready.” Isadene carefully took the two dresses and hung them gently over her arm.”

Marcella let out an excited breath. “I can’t wait to hear what you guys think.” She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and smiled.

Maw Maw came up behind her. “Child,” she touched the spiky, stiff locks of her hair. “Why don’t you pick a favorite color and we’ll go from there.”

She tilted her hair to one side and thought a moment. “Just one?”

“Well, narrow it down to two…”

“Marcella?” Vonda Kay shouted from the middle of the auditorium. “We’re ready when you are.”

“Go for it Marcy Girl!” Isadene encouraged her.

Marcella hiked her purse up on her shoulder and walked to the middle of the stage, plopping it down at her feet and looking out toward the auditorium. “Okay dim the lights, then give me just a minute.”

“You got it honey.” Vista Kay walked over to her sister. “I’ve heard bragging about this for two months. This better make me lose control of my bowels.”

“Arzella dreamed this up.” Vonda shot her sister a look. “As long as I don’t lose the contents of my stomach. I’ll be happy.”

“Okay.” Came Marcella’s voice in the dark.

The sisters and everyone in the auditorium peered toward the darkened stage with baited breath. The opening rift to “Dueling Banjos” could suddenly be heard over the intercom. When the second rift came through Marcella flipped on a flashlight, then a second. As the music continued Marcella flipped the flashlights on and off in time to the music.

As she began twirling the flashlights like batons and keeping the lights flashing in the rhythm of the music, Vonda Kay discreetly leaned over to her sister.

“Well, I think we finally have a talent worse than Sula Keppel playing the Doctor Who Theme on water glasses.”

Vista Kay sighed. “I don’t know. I do have a soft spot for Doctor Who…”




Friday, March 18, 2011

Episode #12: Every Day Is Somebody's Birthday

Brod Moretz looked over his Grandmother’s shoulder to the picture she’d pulled up on the computer screen. “Law, Maw Maw, why’d a want me ta see that? Ya tryin’ ta make me suicidal?”

“It’s Daniel Goddard from Young ‘n’ Restless.” She told him.

“I know who it is, Maw Maw, but why’s he is in underwear?”

“I’m tryin’ ta prove sumpin’”. She turned to look at him.

“That I need ta work out more? I know I ain’t got a six pack...yet, but I’m workin’ on it. I’m up ta five an’ a half. I swear!”

“No.” She pointed to the computer screen. “I tol’ ya—tighie whities is sexy and they go with ever thing.”

“What’cha lookin’ at?” Vista Kay chirped as she came in the kitchen surprising them.

The window was quickly closed. “Nothin’” her son smiled nervously.

“Me an’ Brod was just tryin’ to decide what ta git cha fer yer birthday.” Maw Maw made up.

Vista hung her coat on the rack Brod had made for her in shop class. “Well m’birthday’s four months away, but if that’s what yer getting’ me I’m gonna need those four months fer endurance trainin’.” She giggled, reaching over and bringing the window back up.

“Mercy!” Vista whistled. “That’s a man!”

“It’s Daniel Goddard.” Maw Maw told her. “He use ta play Cain on Young ‘n’ Restless.”

“Oh, I know who it is.” Vista stared at the picture and smiled.

“He follows me on Twitter.” Maw Maw was proud. “He tweets from the tub a lot.”

Vista's voice dropped two octaves. “Well…I’m ready fer some sweet dreams.”

The women sniggered as Brod tossed up his hands. “T.M.I.”

“Brod’s right, Mama.” Vista went to the fridge to pour herself some juice. “We needs ta be careful what we pull up on the internet. We keep forgettin’ there’s a six year old in the house now.”

“Aw, they ain’t nothin’ shameful about that picher.”

“A course not, but it might give the poor boy a complex a some kind.” Vista said.

“Hain’t gonna happen.” Maw Maw pooh poohed.

“I’m eighteen an’ it give me a complex.” Brod snorted. “I’ll be in my room…doin’ sit ups…’til I’m forty.”

The two watched Brod tromp down the hall lifting up his shirt and looking at his belly.

Vista turned to her mother and quickly asked. “So how did you make out with Tucker?”

The old woman grinned from ear to ear. “Oh we had us a good time. That’s a wonnerful li’l boy.”

“I just feel sa bad.” Vista sat at the table with her juice. “Him and his Daddy movin’ in and me spendin’ so much time workin’ on this beauty pageant.”

“Honey, don’t fret none. They’s borders not people ya gots ta entertain.”

“But I want ‘em ta feel like family while they’re here.” Vista sighed.

“They’s people we like that pays rent. They's already better'n family.” Maw hit a few keys on the laptop and checked her Twitter. “And Thatch was right there with ya. He’s a workin’ almost as hard on this thing as you are.”

“Oh Mama,” Vista sighed. “The set he’s a buildin’ is gonna be so beautiful! An’ he got ever scrap bein’ used donated. We ain’t spent one dime a that cheapo fifty dollar budget.”

“Don’ act so surprised Vista. They’s lots a people willin’ ta help put, ‘specially people who left the area and wanna find a little way ta give back.” Maw Maw looked at the screen in front of her and then turned to her daughter. “George Guzman says he had a great time and hopes it was helpful.”

“Law Mama, it was perfect, just perfect. You tweet him a big ‘ol thank you an a kiss from me an’ all the girls.” Vista gushed. “An’ make sure he does the same for that sweet Eileen Davidson.”

“Ashley Abbott helped him?” Maw Maw looked up from her Twitter.

“She was his model.” Vista smiled. “And she gave some really great advice. Mercy, she must be one a the most beautiful women on the planet. The girls was so excited.”

“But did they learn anything?”

“Mama, them ducklings turned into swans within the hour. It was just amazin’. Between George & Eileen tonight and that Nadia Bjorlin last night, not only have the girls learned how to make the most a what they have, but they’ve already had the most memorable experience of their life.”

“Ya didn’t have no trouble settin’ up that Skype thingy?” Vista’s mother asked.

“Not at all. Lou Lee Eller slapped it all together in the blink of an eye.” Vista sighed. “Too bad she cain’t do that for her talent.”

“Still not findin’ anything she kin do?”

“So far it looks like the only talent she’s got is anything connected with a computer.” Vista took a swig of her juice. “And snortin’ a noodle up one nostril and blowin’ it out the other.”

Maw Maw frowned. “Cassie Shouns did that for talent last year.”

“That’s why we ruled it out. Don’t wanna be accused a copycattin’.”

“Ever body else doin’ fine?”

“Most of ‘em need some work, but we ain’t gonna start a polishin’ all that up till the end a the week. Vonda and I are hopin’ to change a few minds when it comes to talent.”

“Not a lot a good ones?”

“Law Mama, these girls is gonna knock ever ones socks off, but some of the choices just aren’t the best. Like Ginger Snodgrass, she wants to clog and prove that it’s accessible and modern.”

“What’s wrong wi’that?” Maw Maw asked.

“Why nothin’, but somehow cloggin’ to “Born This Way” isn’t gonna do that.” Vista Kay bit her lip. “And I don’t know why but that reminds me I got confirmation of another judge tonight.”

“That’s good wif the two I got fer ya, that should be more’n enough.”

“Who’d you get?” Vista tried to put off the good/bad news for her mother as long as she could.

“Well, if Vonda will let ‘em stay in the cabin that week, I gots us Arianne Zucker and Kyle Lowder from “Days of Our Lives”. She gots a break comin’ up and wants me to teach her how to make m’ apple pies.”

“That’s wonderful, Mama! That’s a former governor, two former Miss JCHS, a Miss Oklahoma and three Daytime TV stars!”

“Three?” Maw Maw was surprised. “Who’s the third?”

“Well…you remember when we saw “Peter Pan” at Theatre Bristol back in the ‘90s?”

“Sure do.” Maw Maw smiled. “That sweet little boy stole the show. I cain’t ‘member his name. Wonder what ever happened ta him…”

“His name is Mark Lawson.” Vista smiled. “He’s all growed up now and a star on daytime TV. I talked to his Mama, Barbara and she says he’d be happy to be a judge for us. Ya know he just got pre-nominated for an Emmy.”

“Really?” Maw Maw got very excited. “What show’s he on?”

Vista braced herself. “One Life to Live.”

A grin stretched tightly across her mother’s face as she slowly and deliberately closed the lid to the laptop. “That is so wunnerful, Vista Kay. This fiftieth pageant is gonna be one hum dinger.”

“I think so.” Vista said skeptically.

“Do you by enny chance have Vida Leigh’s phone number? I needs ta get her to teach me how ta do sumpin.” Ruby Acres calmly asked.

Vista took a sigh of relief. “Sure, Mama. It’s in m’phone book on the desk in the livin’ room.”

“I won’t call her tonight.” Maw Maw pushed herself to her feet. “I’ll try her first thang in the morning.” She kissed her daughter on the forehead. “Turnin’ in, love ya honey.”

“You too, Mama.” Vista watched her mother head out of the kitchen. She sighed again. “Well that was easier than I thought.”

She stood up and rinsed her juice glass and put it in the sink when the thought hit her. She whirled around and yelled. “Mama, you are not gonna get Vida Leigh to perform an exorcism on Mark Lawson!”

Thatcher Tate appeared in the kitchen doorway. “What was that?”

“Nothin’.” Vista smiled. “Thanks for all your help this week.”

“I’m enjoying it. And thank you for letting Tucker and I move in this house. It is so much nicer than a motel room.”

“Mama and I just couldn’t bear the thought of that sweet little boy stuck in the Mountain Empire. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Mountain Empire, but he’s six. He needs space ta run aroun’. Heavens knows a parkin’ lot for a front yard and Pizza Palace for a back yard couldn’t have been much fun for him…or you.” Vista rambled.

“You’re sure we’re not in the way living here?” Thatch put his hands in his pockets.

“Not t’all. It’s a big ol’ house. It’s nice to have a few more people ta fill it up.” Vista smiled. “I just had some juice. Would you like somethin’? I can make some tea er hot milk?”

“Actually I wanted to thank Miss Ruby for spending so much time with Tucker. I kind of feel like I dropped him on your doorstep and disappeared.”

“She loves it. So do the rest of us. We love spending time with him. He’s such a great little boy.”

“Well he loves it here.” Thatcher sat down at the table.

“How ‘bout you?” Vista pulled the chair out opposite him and seated herself.

“Absolutely. You’ve made me feel so at home, I’ll hate to leave.”

“Good. And are your rooms okay?” Vista was concerned. “I really haven’t had much of a chance to check, been so busy m’self. We tried to fix ‘em up and put ya’ll where you’d have some peace ‘n’ quiet.”

“They’re perfect. Thank you.”

“We picked out Tucker’s room ‘specially. It was m’ brother’s, ‘course all the rooms belonged to a brother or a sister, but that one is special.”

“A favorite sibling?”

Vista smiled. “Now I tried never ta play fav’rites, but I have ta admit me ‘n’ Spook…we always had a special bond.”

“Spook? You had a brother named Spook?”

She laughed. “Well his given name was Elmer John but we always called him Spook cause he was sa quiet ya never knew he was around ‘til he said somethin’. Then it was such a shock ya lost last week’s dinner out both ends.”

Thatcher Tate laughed out loud. “Vista, I love your way with words.”

Vista put her hand to her mouth and giggled. “Sorry, I must sound like an idiot sometimes.”

“You sound perfect.” His smile made Vista blush. “Now how many brothers and sisters did you have?”

“Well, there's sixteen of us altogether, but by the time us little ones come along some a the older ones had already moved off ‘n’ started their own fam’lies.”

“You and Vonda are the babies?”

“Oh, no. We was a surprise but eighteen months later my baby brother came along as one final shock. He’s the youngest.”

“That was Spook?”

Vista smiled with a sad look in her eye. “No. Spook was six years older, got a sister Winnie in between us. For some reason me an’ Spook seemed more like twins than me ‘n’ Vonda.”

“You’re still close?” Thatch asked.

She shook her head. “He died when I was sixteen. Just a silly, silly accident. They kept him alive on machines for twenty four hours. That was the hardest part. He was the first organ donor I ever knew.”

“It’s a good thing.” Thatcher tried to smile.

“But it’s hard. At first I was horrified, but it was somethin’ Spook believed in and we let it be. Now...now I find it comforting knowin’ that my big brother’s eyes are helpin’ someone to see, and his heart…his heart still beats and feels so deep, I just know it.”

Thatcher Tate nodded his head and put his hand on Vista’s. “I understand. My wife, she wanted the same thing.”

Vista pulled herself from the past she was slipping into, smiled and put her other hand on his and squeezed. “I keep forgettin’ other people have breaks in their hearts, too.”

After a moment of understood silence, Thatch cleared his throat and said. “So sixteen of you? I bet this house was never quiet.”

“It rarely is now.” Vista laughed quietly. “Mama and Daddy had a love so great in a hundred years we won’t be a family anymore. We’ll be a race of people. Sixteen kids, 43 grandkids; all ready two great great grandchildren.”

“Miss Ruby is an amazing woman.” Her companion smiled.

“I can’t keep up with ‘em all m’self, but Mama? Mama knows every name, every little smile an’ never misses a birthday.”

“With a family that big every day must be somebody’s birthday.” Thatcher smiled again.

“Just about.” Vista realized they were still holding hands and shyly slipped hers back to her lap. “And you know, Mama is not gonna put up with you callin’ her Miss Ruby much longer.”

Thatcher Tate just blushed and nodded his head. Vista couldn’t help but smile when the man looked up again and caught her eye. “Vista, Tucker and I talked it over and we decided we want to give you something.”

“Aw, that’s sweet Thatch, but I don’t need anything.”

“This is for your fund.” He said reaching in his pocket.

“My fund?”

Thatcher slipped a half folded check across the table and under her fingers. “I know lots of money has been coming in, donations of all kinds.”

Vista understood. “We’re putting all the money into a scholarship fund. Don’t say nothin’, the girls won’t know until we announce it the night a the pageant. It ain’t gonna be a lot, but from now on ever year every girl in that pageant’s gonna get just a little money to use for college. You know what little there will be this year is more than most of the girls will ever have to further their education.”

“That’s great, Vista.”

“We’re calling it the Fran Atkinson Scholarships, after the lady who owned and ran WMCT. That's the radio station here in town. She was a firm believer in the betterment a this county and I can’t think of a better way to honor her mem’ry than to give to the betterment of the young women in our school system.”

“Well, me an’ Tucker want to give our little part to do just that. We haven’t been here long, but no matter what a big part of our hearts are always gonna be here.”

“Johnson County is certainly unique. It’ll drive ya crazy, but ya can’t help but fall in love.” She smiled.

Thatcher looked in Vista’s eyes. “I think it’s just inevitable.”

There was a moment of shared, pleasant silence before Thatcher Tate nodded his head and smiled again. “Well, I need to go tuck m’little Tucker in and listen to his prayers.”

“Give him a big kiss goodnight for me.” Vista looked up at him as he stood.

“More than happy to.” He turned to leave the kitchen as Vista remembered the check, opened it and looked.

“Holy crap, Thatcher Tate!” Her shocked voice made him stop and turn to look at her. “That’s some crush you’ve got on this county.”

“Who said it was on the county?” He winked at her.

“Thatcher Tate, are you flirtin’ with me?” Vista couldn’t believe she blurted out.

“I been tryin’ for a couple of months now, but I must not be very good at it.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and turned to leave the room. “You never seem to notice.”

Vista Kay sighed and leaned back in the kitchen chair. “I noticed, I just didn’t think I was hearing right.”

Thatch stopped at the door frame but didn’t turn back around so she couldn’t see the schoolboy grin on his face. “Your hearing’s just fine Vista Kay.”

He walked through the house and up the old staircase to the bedroom at the end of the hallway on the third floor. His son’s bedroom door was open.

“You ready to say your prayers?” Thatch asked his son.

“Sure, Daddy.” Tucker smiled up at him as he closed the book he was reading. His father joined him on the big old bed.

“What’cha readin’?” He asked as the boy put the hardcover on the nightstand.

“An old book I found on the shelves over there.” He pointed to the bookcase packed full of books. “It’s called ‘The Red Pony’. Brod and I have been takin’ turns reading a chapter every night. Tomorrows my turn to read, so I wanted to make sure I had all the words good ‘n’ right. Some of ‘em is purdy hard.”

“John Steinbeck, my favorite.” Thatcher Tate slipped his arm around his son and kissed him on the top of the head. “Did you have a good time tonight?”

“Oh yes, Daddy.” Tucker smiled brightly. “Maw Maw and I had so much fun. We watched ‘Minute to Win It’ an’ then we competed with each other to see who could do the stunts the bestest.”

“Who won?”

“Well, Maw Maw can blow the cards off the deck better’n me, but I tear up shakin’ the balls outta the Kleenex box tied to m’butt.” Tucker grinned as he asked his father. “Did you have fun tonight?”

“Sure I did.”

“Miss Vista said if you said it was okay, I can go help back stage. That would be fun. Can I, huh, can I?”

“We'll see. Right now I think it’s time to say your prayers and get some sleep. Tomorrow’s a school day.”

The father smiled as the son crawled out of the bed covers and got on his knees by the bed, folding his hands and gently starting off with “Now I lay me down to sleep…”

When Tucker thanked the Lord for everything and everyone and said ‘Amen’ he gave his father a powerful hug and a kiss and crawled back under the quilts that would keep his love warm through out the night.

Thatcher Tate always had to fight the tears of happiness and pride when he listened to his little boy recite the prayer his father had taught him when he was a child. He took one last look at the lad. The boy’s eyes closed tightly as he flipped off the light and shut the bedroom door.

Tucker waited patiently, listening for his father’s footsteps back up the hall to his own room. As soon as he was sure he heard the door shut, he slipped out of the bed and went back to his knees on the floor. Head bowed and hands folded he spoke quietly but firmly, “Dear Lord, it’s me again. Tucker Ray Tate.

First of all, forgive me for the baby prayer I said before. My Daddy still thinks I’m little so that was just for him. I know you understand. Adults get so funny about their little boys a growin’ up. So until I thinks he can handle it, you’ll still be hearin’ now I lay me down to sleep from me for a while. But that’s just between us. Okay?

I just had ta thank you for my new home. It’s so wonderful. Them apartment’s we was livin’ in was nice, but as Maw Maw said I needed a place to be young an’ wild. This house is just perfect, everything I ever dreamed of. Your just sa good at answerin’ prayers, but I reckon that’s why your God and I’m just Tucker.

Now I know this is just a temp’rary place ta live, but if’n ya wanna make it forever you’d get no big fuss from me. An’ I think m’Daddy likes it here, too. He’s got this big ol’ smile on his face all the time now, ‘spcially when Miss Vista’s around with a big ol’ grin on her face, too.

I think they like each other, an’ you know God, that’s fine by me. Wouldn’t it be just perfec’ if Miss Vista became my new Mommy, real like? My Daddy’d be so happy and I need a Mommy so bad. So if it’s okay by you, I’ll just pretend it’s so for a while.

I don’t know why you took my Mommy from us, but I understand that sometimes you gotta do things that makes you cry, too. I miss her every day, but I know she’s up there in Heaven with you. So I can live with that, since I has to.

Oh, and for Maw Maw, just in case Miss Alice Horton ain’t up there with you all, could you send my Mommy to check on Maw Maw’s husband from time to time? He’s up there, too and Maw Maw’s so worried he’s a wearin’ socks that don’t match. My Mommy was real good at stuff like that.

An’ before I forgets, thank you so much for Brod and Maw Maw. I must have been extry good lately a cause they’s both the really good prizes in the bottom of the box a the Cracker Jacks of my life. I always wanted a big brother an’ you give me Brod right outta the blue, even if it’s just for a little while.

We play ball and video games. Sometimes we just horse around and act silly until one time Miss Vista had to tell us to calm down. Course I don’t think she’s really mad but we was awful loud and she did have a cake in the oven. Thank you for makin’ that cake turn out sa good. You know God, if’n ya made brussel sprouts taste more like chocolate cake we kids would eat a whole lot more of ‘em. I'm just sayin’.

Where was I? Oh yeah, thank you so much for Maw Maw. I love her. Please let her stay with us forever. I don’t know how old she is, but she keeps tellin’ me she gots zits on her bee-hind older’n me, so she must be way up there.

Tonight she let me help make dinner. We had roadkill soufflĂ©. Actually it was just chicken casserole with broccoli but we had so much fun a pretendin’ to chop up critters like possum and wood varmint and drop ‘em in the dish. We watched TV while we ate, but don’t tell Daddy or Miss Vista. They don’t like the TV on at dinnertime.

Say God, did you know there’s a big ol’ barn for me to play in here? What am I a sayin’? A course you did. It’s soooo big! They don’t have cows or pigs or chickens no more but they still gots that big ol’ barn. By the way don’t say nothin’ about there bein’ no chickens to Maw Maw. It tends to rile her up so.

Anyway, Brod took me up to the tippy top hayloft and showed me a place where he carved his initials when he was my age. He says I can carve mine there to. Maybe someday I will, but only when I know that I’m gonna live here forever but that’s up to you.

Just one more thing Lord an’ I’ll let you get to bed. You must be tired a listen to ever one moan and complain all day long. It’d wear me out. I wouldn’t have your job for the world.

Anyway, please be with all them ugly girls in that beauty pageant Miss Vista and Miss Vonda are workin’ so hard on. Now you and me knows that them girls ain’t ugly…well, most of ‘em anyway. I think theys all beautiful, ‘specially Modene. I'm gonna marry her when I grow up, but that’s not m’point. Them girl’s in that pageant? Could ya prove to ever one of ‘em just how beautiful they are? That way they can all win.

And Lord, if me and Daddy has to leave this place, can we stay until Mark Hapka’s last show on “Days of Our Lives”? Maw Maw loves him so much. She’s puttin’ up a good face an’ all; Twitter’n him and such. But that day’s gonna be hard on her, so I really needs ta be here.

I’m savin’ up my allowance to buy some extry Kleenex for when it comes. She just about died when Bo and Hope kissed today. I’m not sure whether ta thank you for that, or ask for a little warnin’ next time. It was a rough one, an’ she was happy ‘bout it. Don’t know whether any of us will make it out alive the day Nathan Horton leaves her story.

Kissin’ is kinda gross Lord. I’m not sure it was your best idea, but I reckon we all gots ta live with it. When Modene and I gets married we ain’t gonna kiss. We’re just gonna eat popcorn and play video games an’ live happily ever after.

Well, I’m sure there’s a whole lot more we could talk about, but tomorrows a school day an’ I’m a little worn out. You must be, too. You musta been tired the day you made school. It ain’t one a your better creations neither. Oh well, Maw Maw an’ Daddy says you do every thing for a reason an I can live with that.

So, good night God. I love you so much. Thank you for this new place and these wonderful people you just dropped into my life an’ it wasn’t even m’birthday. Thanks a bunch.”

Tucker started to open his eyes and crawl back into bed when he thought of something else. “And God, when I grow up would you please make me look like Daniel Goddard when I’m in my underwear?”

He smiled and said, “Amen.” before crawling back up into the deep bed and under the warm covers, drifting quickly off into the happy dreams every six year old boy should have.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Episode #11: A Little Bit of Beautiful

“Can I sit with ya’ll?” She asked with a smile on her face, lunch tray balanced in one hand and crutch under her other arm.

Modene looked up at her aunt and smiled. “Sure. There’s always room for you.” She scooted her chair a little to make room at the round for her.

Vista stuck her straw in the milk carton. “This is so much fun fer me. I haven’t been to school in ages.” She took a slurp.

“So yer enjoyin’ bein’ a substitute?” One of the other girls at the table asked.

“Oh yes.” Vista looked at her tray. “I was so bored sittin’ around the house with m’leg up. I was surprised they asked me.”

“Well, it makes perfect sense.” Modene said playing with her French fries. “Get a real writer to teach the journalism class. I think you should do it all the time.”

“Aw thanks, honey.” Vista smiled. “But I’m only here ‘til Miss Trayer comes back. It should only be a few weeks before she gets that Visa mess straightened out.”

“How did she end up in Slovenia anyways?” Modene asked.

“I’m not really sure, darlin’, but just stand warned never to sign up for a singles website on Facebook.” Vista took a bite of meatloaf. “Now what was you girls talkin’ about afore the nasty ol’ teacher sat down with ye?”

“Nothin.’” The morose figure directly in front of her sighed. It took Vista a minute before she realized it was a young girl and another to remember who she was.

“Louie Kirk.” Vista put on a wide grin. “It’s a pleasure ta meet you. I have read all about you in the Tomahawk.”

“Thank ye, ma’am.” The girl smiled.

“Imagine bein’ on the All-State Basketball and Volleyball teams an’ just a Junior?” Vista was so proud of her. “You are doin’ our little county sa proud.”

Louie blushed and went back to her meatloaf. Vista looked around the quiet table. “Should I move to the teacher’s room? I feel like I just sat down in the middle of ya’lls plot to overthrow Libya.”

“No, Aunt Vista, yer fine.” Modene looked up and assured her.

“Good.” She smiled. “That little room they want us ta eat in makes me feel like one a them giraffes at the Knoxville Zoo. I keep expectin’ someone to knock on the glass and tease me with a head a’ lettuce.” None of the girls cracked a smile. “Are ya’ll sure now?”

“Believe me,” Modene said half looking up from her lunch tray. “Nobody at this table was about to hold hands and sing Kumbya”.

“Obviously they is somethin’ wrong. You wanna talk about it?”

“No.” Louis Kirk made that very clear.

“Okay, honey. Don’t bite m’ head off.” Vista smiled.

“I’m sorry ma’am.” Louie looked up sincerely. “We’s all jest in a foul mood. Ain’t been a good day fer none of us.”

Vista nodded her head and shifted around a little. “It’s okay, Louie. I understand all about bad days. Sometimes it’s good to jest sit around with yer best girlfriends and all be miserable together.”

“Reckon that’s what we’re a doin’.” Modene said quietly.

“Well, don’t make me the only happy cluck in the henhouse. Tell me what’s goin’ on so I can kick the fire outta the cat when I get home, too.”

“Oh, good, four of you at once.” A voice came behind Vista’s shoulders.

Louie looked up from her plate at whoever was behind Vista Kay. “If you wanna talk about what I think you wanna talk about, let me jes’ say fer all of us at this table…drop dead!”

“Louie!” Vista was shocked.

A third girl, a timid little mouse looked up. “I kin speak fer m’self, Louie Kirk.” The tiny little girl looked at the figure behind Vista and was vehement. “Why don’t you go f….”

“Honey!” Vista dropped her fork on the floor. “You kiss yer mother with that mouth?”

“I’d rather do that than be in enny stupid ole beauty pageant!” She said huffing and folding her arms across her chest.

“Is that what this is all about?” Vista asked.

Modene rolled her eyes and nodded her head. It took a moment to maneuver her body around, the cast on her foot making it difficult. She turned around to see Unita Cheeseman, the girl’s phys ed coach, standing behind her perplexed.

“Girls, you should be honored.” The woman said. “Your homerooms voted you to represent them.”

Louie Kirk squinted her eyes at the woman. “No they didn’t, and we all know it. Jest go away Coach Cheesy.”

Vista turned back to the girls. “Oh, that’s excitin’! All four of ya got voted in?”

“Every one of them.” Coach Cheesy said. “We’re gonna start rehearsals next week. I’m hopin’ all four of you will participate.”

“No thanks.” Modene managed to smile before rolling her eyes and stabbing a blob of meatloaf with a fork.

“But why?” Vista tried to encourage the morose quartet. “It’ll be so much fun! It’s the fiftieth year ain’t it? They’s bound to be a real big ta do. Ya’ll be a part a history.”

There was no response from the girls. They continued to poke forks at the meat loaf and French fries. Vista turned to Coach Cheeseman who just shrugged her shoulders. Vista put her own fork down and turned back to the girls.

“Now I know it ain’t ever girl’s dream to be in a beauty pageant but ya’ll are actin’ like ya just got voted to be given a las’ wish an’ shot at sunrise”.

“Might as well be…” The mousey one said quietly.

“What’s goin’ on here?” Vista asked. “Is there somethin’ I don’t know about?”

Modene looked up from playing with her food a moment. “Look at the list Aunt Vista.”

“What?”

“That’s the list a girls voted to be in Miss JCHS you got in yer hand ain't it, Coach Cheesy?” When the coach nodded her head guilty, Modene told her. “Let Aunt Vista see it.”

The petite little woman sighed and handed the folder to Vista. Vista let out a little giggle as she opened the folder. “Just think, one a the lucky young ladies on this list is gonna be the fiftieth…oh my…”

Vista looked up at Coach Cheesemen and back down at the list. She plastered a smile on and turned back to the girls. “It’s hard to pick a winner. It’ll be some pageant.”

“Oh yeah…” Modene slurped her milk.

Turning back to the list, Vista scanned it. “Look, Marcella Tater…and you girls…”

“Kind of a surprise list, ain’t it Auntie?”

“Well…” Vista closed the folder and put it in the center of the round. “I have to admit I’m a little surprised Ruth Ann or Ann Bliss aren’t on that list, but they’re in the same homeroom, prob’ly canceled each other out this year.”

“Look at who got chosen over ‘em.” Modene glared.

Vista picked back up the folder. “Let’s see, they’re in Miz Brookshire’s homeroom…” Her eyes scanned down the page. “Oh yes, Donnette Cornwall. Why she’s…umm…”

Louie Kirk looked at her. “Let’s just say she’s in special ed, and leave it at that.”

“…and a wheel chair.” The mousey one spoke up and trailed off.

Coach Cheeseman pulled a chair from the next table and sat down defeated. “Okay girls, I’m beggin’ for some help here. We all know what went on, and so far the only girl in the pageant is Marcella Tater. I get no more girls and she wins by default.”

“By default?” Vista was shocked. “Surely a number of these girls are gonna participate.”

The four at the round all looked Vista in the eye and shook their heads.

“Of course they are, this is such an honor.” Vista struggled for the right encouragement. “It’s…its tradition. You know how much we inbred rednecks love country music, shootin' stuff and tradition.”

“None of us are gonna be in that stupid pageant, Auntie. That’s final.” Modene slammed her fork down in the mess she’d made of her lunch.

“But why?”

“You’ve seen that list.” The mousey girl said.

“Yes, I have.” Vista opened it back up. “And ever’ one of these girls would make a fine Miss JCHS.”

“Well, looks like ol’ Marcella Tater’s gonna win by default.” Louie said. “Ain’t no one else on that list ever gonna be in that pageant. We’ve all got more respect for ourselves ‘en that.”

Vista started to argue, but Coach Cheeseman put her hand on Vista’s about to flail arm. “Miz Moretz, they’re right.”

“What?”

Modene turned to her aunt. “The football team decided it would be fun to make the big pageant this year a…what did they call it?”

“A dog and gunny sack parade.” Louie didn’t look up from the pile of ketchup she was drawing a circle in.

“They kinda made sure in every home room, the girl voted in was one people made fun of er they thought was the ugliest in the class.” Modene admitted. “Even if some of ‘em wanted to be in that pageant, Auntie, they’s so poor they kin barely afford what few clothes they wear ta school.”

“That’s jest awful.” Vista finally understood. “Why would them boys do that?”

“They thought it would be funny.” The mousey one piped up.

The intercom interrupted the sudden quiet. “Coach Cheeseman come to the office please. Coach Cheeseman come to the office.”

The coach looked at Vista as she picked up her folder. “Wanna bet that’s the firing squad?”

Vista smiled at the young woman. “Goo’luck.” As she got up to head toward the office, Vista added. “Let me know if I kin help.”

The table watched the defeated woman head toward the office. Coach Cheeseman was usually so perky and energetic. It was easy to see, she’d lost this game and had given up any chance of a last minute rebound.

“I never thought I’d see the day, girls.” Vista admitted. “I am at a total loss fer words.”

A chubby little girl with six or seven unnatural colors in her hair appeared at the table and looked on them. “Hi, girls!”

Modene rolled her eyes. “Hi, Marcella.”

“I jes’ wanted you all ta know that I’m gonna be the next Miss JCHS. My mama ‘n I already bought my gown from Target, an’ Erma Plotkin is gonna be here ta do my hair ‘n make up personal.” She put her hands on her ample hips. “An’ my talent is spactac’lar. It’s gonna blow this Podunk town wide open!” She sneered.

Lou Lee Eller, the fourth until now silent one at the table, looked Marcella Tater in the eye. “Does it include puttin’ on yer knee pads and given yer neck and jaw muscles a workout?”

Marcella Tater squinted her eyes. “That’s sa’ funny I fergot to laugh. I look forward to whippin’ yer hiney and when I do I’m gonna make you bend over and kiss my royal…”

“Marcella Tater!” Vista stepped in. “I have heard enough. You spoke yer mind, now run along.”

“Fine.” She hadn’t realized an adult was at the table. “I apol’gize Mizz Moretz. These girls has teased me all my life, an’ I guess I let the devil git to me. You know how the devil steps in when the Lord finally sits ya on the right track.”

Vista squeezed a tight smile on her face and nodded as the girl swished away. As soon as Marcella was out of sight, Vista turned back to the table and slapped her hands on the Formica surface. “You girls gonna let that little stuck up snot get away with this?”

“What kin we do, Miz Moretz?” The mousey one sighed.

“I’m sorry, what’s yer name honey?”

“Virginia, Virginia Alexander, but ever body calls me Mousey.” She smiled.

“Well, Mousey, It’s nice to meet ya, and I’ll tell ya exactly what you kin do.” Vista leaned in. “Forgive my language, but you kin be in that pageant and whip that little slut’s ass.”

“Ain’t gonna do it.” Louie was firm.

“You wanna let that thang treat you like loser afore ya even tried ta prove yerself?”

“First of all, we ain’t got no chance.” Lou Lee snorted. “And secon’ of all, the school’s just gonna howl and cat call ever time we walk on stage.”

“Who says?” Vista was equally vehement.

“Look at us, Miz Moretz.” Mousey was almost in tears. “Speakin’ fer m’self, I gots a figure like a prayin’ mantis wif the legs ripped off.”

Vista smiled. “Honey child, that’s what God made chicken cutlets fer.” The table giggled. “Ev’ry one a you girls has a chance ta win this thing. All ya got to do is do it.”

Louie Kirk shook her head and put down her fork. “Miz Moretz, I ‘preciate the encourg’ment, really I do. Yer right Lou Lee, Mousey and ‘specially Modene would have a real shot, but me…I ain’t gonna ‘embar’ss m’self.”

“Now why would you think that?” Vista asked.

“Com’on, be honest.” Louie sat back in her hard plastic chair and folded her arms. “I’m surprised the kids in m’homeroom even 'membered I was a girl.”

Vista bit the inside of her mouth. “Honestly? I dint say it wuddn’t gonna take some work, but we can do this.” She reached across the table and took Louie’s chin in her hand. “Honey, inside of everyone there’s a little bit of beautiful. You believe that and I bet we can make everyone see just how beautiful you are on the outside, too.”

“No disrespect, Auntie, but why should we?” Modene looked at her Aunt. “It ain’t no honor this year. We all been branded with a Scarlet Letter only the modern version with a big ol’ ‘L’ stomped on our foreheads.”

“High school is hard ‘nuff bein’ on the bottom tier.” Mousey agreed with Modene. “All the girls in this years pageant, fiftieth er no, is gonna wind up in a special bottom a the barrel section.”

“We’d jest be jest tellin people to ta humiliate ‘n’ tease us...in front of ar kinfolk!” Lou Lee admitted.

Vista Kay Moretz knew they were right. She hadn’t been in high school for a long time. It was tough for the kids who weren’t popular or rich, and somehow in 2011, the popular and rich had created a whole new way to publicly bully and get away with it. But she would not be swayed.

“There’s got ta be a way to turn this all around girls.”

“’Less you can find us all a fairy godmother and a whole punkin patch it ain’t never hap’nin’”. Mousey frowned.

But that statement made Vista smile. “If they was a way to not make this pageant a dog ‘n’ gunny sack parade would ya’ll be willin’ ta do it?”

The girls looked at each other and shrugged. “Good.” Vista beamed. “I got an idea. You talk to ever girl on that list. Tell ‘em not ta worry about money fer dresses, er bein’ teased. We’re gonna turn this sucker around.”

Mousey brightened up. “You promise Miz Moretz?”

“I not only promise, I guarantee.” Vista took the girls hand. “Now you have ever girl interested in makin’ the football team eat crow outta their protective cups with Marcella Tater servin humble pie come ta my house tonight fer dinner. We gots lots a work to do.”

Vista pushed herself back from the round and reached for her crutches. Modene grabbed her arm. “But Auntie, me ‘n’ Lou Lee’s seniors. Seniors never win.”

“Aw honey, this year it ain’t about winnin’ the crown it’s about steppin’ on all them tongues that are gonna drop to the floor when we prove to ‘em beauty’s in the eye a the beholder but stupidity goes clear to the bone.”

Modene smiled, the first one Vista had seen from her all day.

“Oh, an’ Modene that thing about seniors ain’t true.” Vista hauled herself up on her crutches and hobbled toward the office. “I was a senior when I won.” She tossed over her shoulder as she headed towards her destination.

She had to stop a moment before she could throw open the office door. Bernadine Cunningham, as usual sat behind the desk. She looked at Vista and smiled.

“Is Coach Cheeseman still in his office?” Vista asked.

Bernadine got a worried look on her usually happy face and nodded her head. “I wouldn’t disturb them. Arzella Tater and Vida Leigh’s in thar, too. Cain’t be pretty.”

Vista smiled and headed her crutches to the door. “You might wanna take a break, Bernadine. Ugly is about ta have a nuclear meltdown.”

“Uh…”

“You was warned.” Vista didn’t bother to knock. She threw open the office door and walked right in.

Arzella Tater spun her head around. “We’re busy.”

Mac Moretz sat behind the desk with the nameplate that said principal. “Vista Kay, this probably isn’t a good time.” He looked to be discreetly trying to find some holy water.

“Ya’ll discussing the Miss JCHS Pageant?” She smiled sweetly.

“Yes.” Vida Leigh shouted in a tone she’d gun down anyone using in her library.

“So you gots no business in here, Vista Kay.” Arzella spewed. “Leave!”

Vista turned her body awkwardly and firmly closed the door behind her. “As the only former Miss Johnson County High School in this room, I’ve got more business bein’ here than any one of you.”

She noticed the happy twinkle in her ex-husband’s eye as she helped herself to a chair.

“Listen, missy…” Vida Leigh took a step toward her.

“Vida.” Mac cut her off. “She’s right. Vista and her sister are both former winners. She deserves to know what’s going on.”

“Oh, Mac. I pretty much know what’s going on. Now what are we gonna do about it?”

“I’m not sure what we can do.” Coach Cheeseman finally spoke up.

“I keep a tellin’ ya. Nobody’s gonna care if my daughter’s the winner.” Arzella huffed. “Let me run it as usual an’ ever thing will be wonnerful. No one would dare believe it’s a big joke with me in charge agin this year.” She smirked.

“Watcha gonna do Arzella, let yer daughter have a one woman show and then hand ‘er the crown?” Vida put her hands on her hips. “If Marcella’s in, then yer out. I’ve been a dyin’ to change that blasphemous heathen parade inta somethin’ fer the glory a the Lord.”

“Interesting.” Vista said. “You’d make changes, I’m assuming.”

“A course.” Vida crossed her arms and looked down her nose. “Nobody ain’t got no talent so that goes, an’ most a the girls is poor so no ev’nin gown.”

“What just have ‘em come out in jeans and hold yer hand over their head to measure applause?” Vista tried not to ask too sarcastically.

“Don’ be stupid, Vista Kay.” Vida harumphed. “It’s a beauty pageant. Have the girl’s come out in swimsuits and recite their favert Bible verse. The five best has a Bible drill until theys only one left. Miss JCHS will fin’ly be the girl wif the best morals.”

“…and the nicest hooters.” Vista smirked.

“Look, the bottom line here is…” Mac Moretz had to admit. “if Unita can only get one girl to be in this thing, I have no choice but to cancel or open it up to any girl who wants to be in it.”

“Any girl?” Arzella sputtered. “But it’s always only been open ta girls voted in by their homerooms. It’s tradition!”

“It’s better then having one girl compete against herself.” Vida smiled and crossed her arms.

“And she’d still prob’ly loose.” Unita Cheeseman said quietly for only Vista to hear.

“Well, Mac, ya don’t got to do neither.” Vista announced. “As of right now ya got five contestants and by this time tomorrow you’ll have more.”

“Five?” Unita Cheeseman turned to look at Vista’s face as she nodded and smiled.

“Modene, Louie Kirk, Lou Lee Eller and Virginia Alexander have all just committed to bein’ in the pageant an’ they’s gonna talk to all the other girls on the list and try ta get more.” Vista confirmed.

“Louie Kirk?” Arzella half laughed and half squealed. “Marcella’s still gonna win.”

“Maybe, Arzella, but if Marcella’s still in…” Mac said.

“Of course, she’s still in.” Arzella scoffed.

“Then your out.” Mac smiled triumphantly.

Vista leaned forward. “And Miz Leigh, that means yer out, too.”

“Me?” The librarian demanded. “Why me?”

Vista turned to Arzella. “Unless you dropped that restraining order Arzella, Miss Leigh still cain’t come within a hunnerd feet of Marcella. Am I right?”

Vida Leigh turned violet in anger. “I did not touch yer precious little girl, Arzella.”

“You tried ta perform an exorcism on ‘er!” She yelled back. “My poor baby still cain’t take a bath without passin’ out first.”

“That settles it then.” Mac Moretz smiled in relief. “The pageant is still on, but the two of you will have to settle for being on the sidelines.”

“Fine.” Arzella said, Vista swore through her flaring nostrils. “But whose gonna put on this pageant then? It hasta be someone connected with the school if yer gonna stick to the rules.”

“Why, Unita here.” Vista put her hand on the Coach’s shoulder.

“Coach Cheesy?” Vida Leigh almost laughed. “It’s a beauty pageant not a innermural!”

“I’ll have you know I was second runner up three years in a row in Miss Oklahoma.” Unita smiled. “I don’t know how that happens, second three years in a row. You’d think I’d go up or down, but nooooo...always second runner up…but I’m not bitter.”

“There.” Vista grinned. “An’ me and Vonda Kay will help out.”

Arzella grinned and leaned forward. “But ever body knows Modene’s yer niece. What’s the differ’nce in you sponsorin’ and me sponsorin’.”

“She's my niece too, Arzella.” Mac put his foot down. “This is Johnson County, Tennessee. Like it er not every body’s related some how to every body else. I doubt anyone would think twice about any kind of wrong doing if Modene won.”

Vista stepped in. “An’ Arzella you done such a good job the past few years, you deserve a break. Just concentrate on workin’ one on one with Marcella. Let this be a mother ‘n’ daughter project. Next year, the pageant’s all yours agin.”

“Well, it would be nice to not hafta worry about the other girls a fallin’ off the runway.” She thought out loud.

“No body blames you for Stella Coopley’s mishap last year.” Coach Cheeseman assured her. “She told us she was blind as a bat without her glasses. We just didn't listen.”

“I think she jes’ wanted ta sing that nasty song sprawled cross the top a the piano like a whore.” Vida Leigh seethed.

The office filled with music. The librarian grabbed the crucifix around her neck and braced herself screaming, “Satan get thee behind me!”

“Oh relax, Vida.” Vista reached in her pocket. “That’s just m’ringtone.”

“Dark Shadows Theme?” Coah Cheesy asked as Vista looked at her Iphone.

“It was our song.” Mac Moretz smiled.

“’Splains a lot don’t it?” Vista looked at Unita and giggled. “’Scuse me, it’s Modene.”

Vista pressed a number of buttons. “Up to seven, Inez Curd and Effie Rose Fickus are in.”

Arzella Tater grabbed a fist full of air and yanked it in barely controlled triumph. “Yes! Marcella’s still the winner.”

“I don’ know, Arzella.” Vida Leigh sneered. “That Effie Rose has the voice of a angel.”

“And the face of week old road kill.” Arzella shot back.

Mac Moretz stood from behind his desk. “Well, Mrs. Leigh, Mrs. Tater I thank you for volunteering but it looks as though your services are not needed this year. We’ll go it alone from here.”

“Fine.” Vida Leigh’s thin lips disappeared in her face. “Have yer hootchie coo slut fest an’ not include the Lord. Com’on Arzella, the new Midnight Globe is in m’mailbox by now.”

The two ladies turned their noses up and headed for the door.

“Arzella?” Vista remembered. “The pageant girls er all comin’ ta my house fer dinner. Tell Marcella she’s invited.”

“What fer?” Arzella sniffed.

“We’re gonna discuss the pageant an’ how we can all help each other to make it sumpthin special.”

“My Marcella, don’t need no help Vista Kay.” Arzella raised one eyebrow. “She’s gonna win.”

“But, I thought…”

“Back off.” The woman snapped. “We got all the help we want er need. Jes tell Marcella where to walk ta git her roses an’ crown.” With that she and the Librarian we gone.

“Speaking of roses.” Mac Moretz cleared his throat when the door was finally closed. “There’s not a whole lot of money to do this with.”

“Budget cuts off course.” Coach Cheesy tried to smile.

“How much?” Vista was almost afraid to ask.

“Fifty bucks.” Mac was embarrassed. “I don’t know how the board expects a big fiftieth pageant with fifty bucks, but at least there’s no rental for the auditorium and we always use the same crown.”

Vista beamed. “Don’t worry Mac, jus’ leave that all to me. Now, Unita, my house for dinner?”

“I’ll be there. What can I bring?”

“Just yerself. Now I got some phone calls ta make.” Vista stood and grabbed her crutches. “Mac, I’m gonna be askin around fer donations and volunteers. I assume it’s alright that I use yer name and the schools?”

“Anything you need.” He assured her.

“I’ll let you know.” She got her balance as she stood. “It’s a shame them boys on the football team thought they could get away with somethin’ like this.”

Mac nodded his head. “I didn’t know anything until it was too late, but I’ll be handing out some discipline they’ll never forget.”

“Oh Mac.” Vista smiled. “I’m thinkin’ maybe you should let it slide. Act like nobody knows what went on.”

Unita Cheeseman’s jaw dropped. “Act like nothin’…? Miss Moretz, those foul little…”

Mac put up his hand to cut her off. “Unita, I’m going to take care of this.”

Vista turned to her ex. “No, Mac, let the girl’s take care of it. The longer those boys think they’re getting’ away with it the better. Believe me, the Miss Dog and Gunny Sack Pageant is gonna be a night no body is ever gonna fergit!”