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Excerpt for Blessings of Mossy Creek

Some people are born knowing their place in this world.  Others gradually grow into the idea, like a new pair of shoes bought to last two seasons.  Still others spend their entire lifetimes trying to find what was always right beneath their noses to begin with.

The summer I turned twelve was hotter than most and Mossy Creek's third year in a record-breaking dry spell.  It was the first year I can remember that my mama's gardenia's wilted on their stems, not able to suck enough moisture from the cracked red earth to give them what they needed to survive.  I still remember those doomed flowers of that summer, especially because that was the same summer I met Vivien Leigh Bodine, as much of a fated and thirsty bloom as the gardenias.

We'd all heard of Vivien, of course, just not ever seen her up close.  She'd been born in Mossy Creek, but she'd never been allowed to play with the rest of the children from town.  Mama would just say that Vivien was being raised differently and then send me outside to play kick the can in the Royden's back yard.

What I knew I'd found out at my open window listening to my parents talking on the front porch below.  Even now, I can remember the hot sticky nights and my parents' soft voices, the tangy smell of a cigar and the clink of ice cubes in my mama's iced tea glass.  I can see my father's discarded newspaper, fluttering like moths on the floorboards of the porch and picture my mother's hands stroking the back of his neck as they talked.  I can attribute everything I ever learned about the facts of life from sitting at my window when I was supposed to be in bed.

Vivien's mother had been a Bigelow who had got herself in trouble, as my mother would say, and had to marry before the baby started to show.  Vivien's real father had been a well-known actor, although nobody ever acknowledged it.  But Mrs. Bodine was the most beautiful woman any of us had ever seen, and it surprised no one when her husband agreed to spend the money to send Vivien to a private academy in Atlanta as soon as she was old enough to start school.  She'd lived with cousins, only returning home for weekends and holidays.

That long, hot summer, Mr. Bodine had died, and along with him the funds to pay for her private schooling.  Vivien returned to Mossy Creek and to a mother whose hopes and dreams seemed to be completely enveloped in her only child.

Daddy had sent me to the hardware store to get more hooks for mama's hanging flower baskets.  It was summer which meant I was barefoot and I was wearing my brother's old jeans that had been cut off to make shorts for me.  My tee-shirt was a size too small but it was my lucky shirt and I was planning on pitching a baseball game at the field after supper.

I'd never thought to be embarrassed by how I looked until I came upon Vivien Leigh Bodine sitting in the shade of the hardware store, wearing a white linen dress, straw hat, and red patent leather shoes.  She even had a red leather purse to match and I think it was that which made me stop in my tracks and stare.  She was sucking on a lollipop--red, of course--and her cat- like green eyes were staring at me speculatively.

"Hey," I said.

All she did was raise an eyebrow just like her namesake did in the movie at the part about Ashley's surprise birthday party.  I almost bust a gut laughing.

"What's so funny?"

I snorted loudly.  "You.  You look like a candy cane."

She tried to look stern but I could tell she was trying not to laugh.  "I do not.  I look like a proper young lady.  Which is more than I can say for you.  You look like a boy."

"That's only because I'm playing baseball tonight.  I don't usually dress like this."

She gave me that eyebrow look again and I could tell that she knew I was lying.  She sucked on the lollipop for a long moment before delicately pulling it out.  "What's your name?"

"Sammie Louise Pritchard."

"Sammie's a boy's name."

"It's short for Samantha.  But everybody calls me Sammie because I can pitch a fast ball better than most boys."

"My mama says it's not nice to brag."

I shrugged.  "I'm not braggin'.  It's true.  We're playing tonight at six-thirty if you wanna come see for yourself."  I'm not sure why, but it was important for me to show this confectionary girl that I was more than I appeared.

She looked anxiously at the front door of the store.  "I'll see if I can come.  I've never been to a baseball game before.  Mama thinks it's a tacky sport because the players spit a lot.  And they touch their privates in front of everybody."

"Well, I don't."  I climbed the steps of the hardware store.  "You're Vivien Bodine, aren't you?"

She looked away, her pale green eyes reflecting the relentless summer sky.  "The one and only."

Mrs. Bodine chose that moment to leave the store and I had enough sense in me to pretend I hadn't been talking with her daughter.  Without a word, I held the door open for her and ducked inside letting the door bang shut behind me.

I was surprised to hear the whoosh of the door as it flew open again.  I turned to see Vivien running down the paint and septic tank maintenance aisle toward me.  She thrust her lollipop into my hand.  "Thanks," she said, before turning in a whirl of white linen and red patent leather, and ran back the way she had come.

I stared at the lollipop for a long time, then put it in my mouth before I approached the counter.  If there was ever a symbol of friendship, that was it.  I knew then that Vivien Leigh Bodine and I were destined to be best friends.

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