Recently, round one results of the NYC Midnight 2019 short story contest were released.
My piece, “The Unlikely Trouble with Pecan Pies” placed forth and I moved on to round two!!
Without further adieu:
The Unlikely Trouble with Pecan Pies
By Erin Crocker
The screen door of Emma Lee’s Beauty Shop didn’t get as much as an afternoon nap the day before the Holcomb County Summer Festival. Ladies, along with their gossip, poured in and out of the small building like pink lemonade over cracking cubes of ice.
Emma Lee put her hands on her hips and took a satisfied glance at the women sitting under the blow dryers. “Ladies, I’m gonna go in the other room and refill the tea pitcher.”
“Add some more ice this time, will ya?” Bernadette Oglebee adjusted her posture and shook her head. Emma Lee nodded before exiting. She looked a few seats to her right and continued. “Josephine?” When the petite lady failed to look from her magazine, Bernadette called out a bit louder. “Josephine!”
Josephine’s irritated sigh caught in her throat, but she managed to respond. “Yes?”
Bernadette furrowed her brows. “If you don’t turn that hearing aid down, you’re fixin’ to have every dog in a ten-mile radius chasing you when you leave here. You hear me?”
“Why…I don’t hear a thing. Is it acting up again?” Josephine gripped the magazine and pursed her lips to keep from snickering at Bernadette’s chagrin. “Oh, I’ll turn it down.” The lady steadied her hand and fought with the small device in her ear until she was certain it was no longer buzzing. “You happy now? Got me all distracted from my readin’.”
Ignoring the remark, Bernadette turned to Susannah. “Well, I heard that a certain someone is moving back to town…” Her eyes sparked with enough intrigue to entice all the women to lean their bodies in to hear more; even Emma Lee paused, still holding the pitcher brimming with cool sweet tea and refusing to set it down until Bernadette finished the story. “Howard George—”
Eyes widened. Hands flew to chests, and between the humid gasps, curious silence held its grip throughout the room. “I mean, I only know what I heard, but what I heard was that after spending half the summer in Paris and the rest in the Hamptons, he’d cleaned out the New Yok loft and was driving to town late tonight. And as one of the only single ladies in Holcomb, I think it best appropriate that I greet him.” Bernadette’s eyes held an ambitious tint that challenged anyone in the room to disagree.
Susannah grimaced. “He wasn’t all that attractive even back in school. Plus wasn’t he always in love with Lucille Blanchard?”
Bernadette huffed. “Attractive?” she scoffed before continuing. “Ladies, who cares about attractive. He’s wealthy. Could you imagine it? Weekend getaways, socialite dinners, shopping in Paris.” Her far-off expression indicated she was already halfway down Avenue des Champs Elysées.
“Oh, phooey! What the hell are you gonna be buyin’ up in Paris, Bernie?”
Bernadette scowled at Susannah’s remark.
“Besides, what about Lucille?”
Josephine’s ears perked at the mention of her lifelong friend. She knew she had to listen with care to what the other two ladies were about to say. “Lucille? She’s an old maid…waited for him all this time. He’s not coming for her. He wants someone with class now that he’s wealthy.” Bernadette squared her shoulders back.
Susannah sighed. “I’m only sayin’ I remember the way he talked about her. Especially her eyes. He always said he was in love with her pecan-colored eyes. I reckon the color hasn’t done got up and ran off.”
Josephine didn’t bother listening to the remainder of conversation. She waited with the impatience of a five-year-old standing in a supermarket checkout line for Emma Lee to finish unrolling her hair and brushing it out so she could drive over and tell Lucille the news.
Lucille Blanchard had just finished setting out a separate bowl of food for the final cat when the pressing need for an afternoon nap came to call. She eyed the recliner sitting in the corner and kicked the thermostat down to sixty-eight degrees before shuffling to her favorite napping spot. The wooden handle caused a struggle but finally relented, agreeing to support and elevate her exhausted feet. After positioning her body to one side and nearly smashing Curly, a calico kitten, she closed her eyes but noticed her left hip falling asleep. She shifted her weight until it spread evenly throughout both legs. A long sigh followed the readjustment of her cheek against the back of her hand, but before she could settle, her knuckles pushed against the side of her ear. She moved her hands and shifted her head. In a single deep breath, she relaxed, and Curly’s purrs soothed her into a near sleep—until the sharp ring of the doorbell jarred her awake.
“Well, hell,” she muttered in an exasperated breath.
The doorbell chimed once more. She rolled to her back and kicked hard at the footrest to push it down. “Imma comin’. Give an old lady a chance to get to the door, why don’t you?” She maneuvered around the coffee table and into the foyer.
Once at the door, she could hardly swing it open before Josephine pushed through and didn’t slow her pace until she reached the kitchen. She rushed to the cabinets and Lucille stood, hands on hips, and watched her friend sort through pots and pans. “Where’s your pie plates?”
“What on God’s green earth…” Lucille studied her friend. “I see you were at the salon. Did Emma Lee over sweeten the tea again?”
Josephine stood. “No Emma Lee did not over-sweeten the tea again.” She bobbed her head to mock the question. “But I overheard that you-know-who is coming back to town.”
Lucille studied her friend and waited. After some time, she spoke up. “Who?”
“You know who.”
“No. I don’t know who.” Lucille’s voice grew impatient.
“Oh, fine—” Josephine looked up from the cabinet. “—Howard George.”
Lucille’s face evolved from shock to surprise until finally she wrinkled her nose in disgust. “And what do I want with Howard George? I’m sure he ain’t changed one bit. I still remember going to the spring formal with Calvin Umberman because Howie waited until ten minutes before the dance to ask me. You hear me? Ten minutes before.”
“Maybe he’s changed.”
“Changed? Man’s gonna dawdle around until they got him twenty feet underground and then he might consider changing. I spent too many years waiting for him and for what? Nothing. I have my cats…and you. I’m doing okay.”
Josephine stopped digging through drawers and cupboards and turned around. “I’m not hearin’ it. I know you’re more stubborn than a cow being loaded into a trailer, but you’re gonna listen. You’re still in love with him, and from what I hear, he’s still in love with you and your pecan pies.”
Lucille gasped and leaned in to scrutinize her friend. “Pecan pies? Why I’d never made a pecan pie. Don’t tell the girls, but I always bought ‘em right up there at the store and pulled the stickers off before church picnics.” She thought for a moment. “And those pies were never pecan.”
“Well, Howard begs to differ. He’s probably sittin’ back in a rocker somewhere just salivatin’ for one of your pecan pies.” She nodded to the gamut of cooking utensils and bowls spread across the countertop. “So, get to it.”
Lucille’s posture caved. “Well…I can’t remember exactly, but didn’t I make a pie for a high school social? Maybe that was pecan.”
“Now, I don’t remember, but I’d bet that’s exactly where he first tasted your pecan pie.”
“I’ll make this pie, but I’m not gonna do it for him. I suppose I can offer it to the fair’s bake sale. That’ll show him just what he missed out on all these years, I reckon.”
Josephine smiled and nodded. “Alright. I’m off, have some pants to hem before the festival. I’ll be back first thing tomorrow morning to pick you up.”
Lucille didn’t respond. She found herself lost in her thoughts. “I oughta put cat food in the pie and walk it straight over to that man,” she muttered to herself. “Bake? I didn’t ever bake that I can recall.” She sighed and retrieved an old recipe book her momma had handed down to her. “How difficult can it be?”
Lucille sat at the kitchen table and stroked Armond, a grey Siamese, from head to tail while she guzzled her second cup of coffee for the morning. She jumped when the front door breezed open but relaxed when Josephine appeared around the corner.
Josephine’s eyes widened in confusion. “What in the hell?” She rushed into the kitchen and surveyed the sink that spilled over with pans and silverware, measuring cups lining the remainder of the counters, coupled with pans full of what she guessed to be pies. Some displayed charcoaled tops while others seemed gooey and undercooked. Her gaze darted to the cluttered table. She motioned to the fridge.
Lucille nodded. “It’s filled up too.” She shrugged. “Figured you’d help me pick the best one.”
Josephine huffed. “Well, you can’t use any of the ones sittin’ out. They went bad long ago, Lucy. Maybe one of these here in the fridge.” She opened the refrigerator and assessed the desserts. “Maybe…this one. At least the top ain’t as burned. Now, come on. It’s nine-thirty and I’m not gonna be known around town as being late.”
“Let me head upstairs and grab my purse.”
As Lucille disappeared up the stairs, Josephine moved into the living room carrying the chosen pie. She shifted her weight and watched the secondhand tick around the clock twice before calling up. “Hurry up, now. I swear you’re slower than a Sunday afternoon.”
“I’m doing my level best,” came the irritated reply followed by Lucille sauntering down the stairs. “Were it up to you, I’d just slide down the stairs.”
Josephine shrugged. “If you think it’d get us there any faster…”
The glistening black stretch limo only added to the county’s excitement about the summer festival. Citizens stopped and took a few moments to stare. In particular Bernadette whose heels sunk into the damp ground as she hastened to the limousine. She stopped short as Howard exited from the driver’s seat. “Bernie?” His grin widened. “Bernie from school?”
“Guilty.” She giggled. “And I see you haven’t changed a bit.”
“Well, that’s great. Seems money can cause folks to change. I mean, it would never change me.” Bernadette ran a finger down Howard’s shoulder, and he swallowed hard.
Before he could say more, two women approached them. He immediately recognized one as Lucille and his heart jumped. As they neared, his eyes darted to the pie the other lady carried before returning to Lucille. He cleared his throat. “Lucy…I-It’s been so long—”
“Here.” Josephine outstretched her hands before Bernadette could interject. “She made your favorite—a pecan pie!”
Howard grasped his throat. “Pecan pie? I’m allergic to nuts.”
Horror replaced the excitement that danced across Lucille’s face. She took the pie from his hands. “I-I am so sorry.”
“You must’ve forgot.”
Lucille, followed by Josephine, turned and left. Bernadette stifled a laugh. “Those two. So dramatic,” she joked as the passenger side of the limo opened and a tall, young gentleman with dashing black hair and sun-kissed skin exited and approached.
Howard wasted no time introducing him to Bernadette. “Bernie, this is my boss, former boss, Huntley Davenport.”
Bernadette’s eyes widened. “So…So you mean to say that, that you, that none of this is yours? You’re saying…” Her stutter trailed off.
“I’m his driver.”
“And friend,” Huntley added. “Say, Bernadette. How about you show me around this fair of yours?”
She straightened her posture and looked down her nose at Howard. “Why, of course.”
Huntley winked at Howard who returned the gesture with a mischievous grin. With Bernadette distracted, he found himself free to search for Lucille. Howard scoured the festival and she was nowhere to be found until Emma Lee reported she’d seen the women get in Josephine’s Buick Century and take off.
Once home, Lucille lost herself in the daunting task of cleaning her kitchen when the doorbell rang. “What now,” she groaned as she dried her hands. She paused before slowly opening the door. “What are you—”
“I’m sorry for the confusion, Howard said. “But most of all, I’m sorry for taking so long to finally tell you how much you mean to me.”
Her frown was a palette of hurt and anger. “You left.”
“I did.” He ran a hand through his thinning, white hair. “I procrastinated. Perhaps too long because I was insecure and afraid that I’d hurt you. After my mother passed away, then my dad—”
“A horrible man. I remember that much.”
“Yes, and I didn’t know how I could love you if I didn’t even love myself. That terrified me. When I moved away, I tried to find who I was. I searched down the neck of empty bottles, and when that failed, I buried myself in work. It’s where I met the late Mr. Davenport; Huntley was young back then. His father didn’t have time for him. Mr. Davenport hired me as a driver, but I became much more. I was able to be the dad to Huntley that I never had. In return, he taught me self-worth through example. I retired a few months ago and came back here to Holcomb; to you, if you’ll have me. After all these years I can truly say that I love you, Lucy.”
Tears glistened along Lucille’s eyes. “Howie, that is simply beautiful, and worth the wait. I do love you. I would ask you to stay, but all the pies in my kitchen…”
“How about we take a week and go to the island house.” Lucille cocked her head and Howard explained. “As a retirement present, Huntley gave me the keys to his house. It’s off the coast of Florida. He owns the entire island. How about we go?”
Lucille tried to shrug off all her excitement. “Well, I could pack a bag if you don’t mind waiting. But, my cats?”
“Seems like your friend Josephine might owe you an apology favor?” He shook his head.
“I swear that woman couldn’t hear an airhorn durin’ Sunday prayer in church. I suppose she has some apologizing to do.” She scowled and disappeared for some time and returned with a satchel full of outfits and other necessities. He took her bag and the couple meandered down the uneven sidewalk.
“I always dreamed of riding off into the sunset with a handsome gentleman.”
“Actually, the sun sets in the west tonight. We’re traveling east.”
Satisfied laughter drifted and melted into the summer humidity, and as the car door clicked behind Lucille, she sighed. That time it wasn’t from exasperation. After all the years of waiting, she was happy, but most importantly, she was whole.