Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Worth A Thousand Words

Louise Colln


"Stop!"

I whirled around to confront the man behind me as I walked away from the Farmer's Market.

"What is it, Sir? The lady at the plant booth told Alice I could borrow the wagon. Look at this," I waved a hand toward the houseplant settled cozily in the small red wagon I was pulling. "It's practically a tree." My best friend, Alice, had just convinced me that I could use it on my deck to screen off the overly interested lady in the condo next to mine.

"No, no." He came to an abrupt halt and flashed a grin that almost made me willing to listen. "I want to take your picture." He held up a camera. It wasn't one of the cameras that news people carry around. It was just a small camera. Which made me wonder a bit.

Now, I'm not way overweight. I read all the articles about the healthy things to eat and follow most of them and I exercise regularly with Alice. But chocolate ice cream and a good mystery novel take the edge off the sudden lonely evenings I've had since my husband died two years ago.

Let's just say that it's been a long time since I've worn a bikini. So why would a complete stranger want to take a picture of a middle-aged woman wearing a floppy red hat and pulling a red wagon? Especially a complete stranger with a cute young lady standing very close to him, who looked young enough to be his daughter (and who could very beautifully wear a bikini).

I didn't return his smile when he pushed the button on his camera, but he acted as if I had. Holding up his camera he called, "I'll bring the picture to this very spot one week from today. You and I have a date. Don't be late."

"Sure you will," I muttered, as with a cheery wave he loped off to the parking lot, his young companion never leaving his side. I was curious enough to watch them get into an expensive looking car and drive off, before I went to my own compact. The ungracious thought wandered through my mind that if he were a gentleman, he'd have waited and helped me wrestle my plant into my little car.

All that next week I told myself that he wouldn't be there on Saturday and neither would I. Meeting a stranger could be dangerous even if I were interested in meeting that particular stranger again, which I wasn't. Not him or any of the men Alice kept trying to introduce me to.

I discussed it with Alice, over our three-times-weekly morning exercise and tea on my backyard deck. "I feel foolish, Alice, even thinking about it. He probably wouldn't even be there if I did go. Or, he's a fly-by-night selling candid pictures and I don't know that I want a picture of me pulling a little red wagon, and wearing a floppy hat."

Alice put her barbell down with a resolute clunk. "Callie, you're getting much too sensible in your old age. Of course you're going to go. What else that interesting has happened this week?"

I brought out a pitcher of tea, iced because of the hot day. Alice rustled around in her outsize bag for homemade cookies, and we settled down to discussing our latest mystery novel, which took some of the pain off the exercise program.

Later that week when I was doing my twice-weekly walk in Grove Park, I saw the man and the sweet young thing again sitting on a park bench. Something about the way they were sitting close together told me that she was no way his daughter. We pretended not to see each other as I walked past behind them, but when curiosity got the best of me and I turned to look at them, they were both watching me. They quickly turned around as though hoping that I hadn't seen them.

"But I did," I told Alice that afternoon over a small square of brownie. "They were watching me. Alice, what is going on?"

Alice chewed her brownie thoughtfully. "Probably just wondering if you're the one he took a picture of last Saturday, " she decided. "You're getting weird. You need to let me introduce you to that widower I met at the Country Club yesterday."

I ignored her, the way I'd been doing for about a year now. "Well, I don't know about them. Remember in Rachel Comb's last book how this couple scoped out Miss Thelma with evil ideas about her silver mine?"

Alice snorted. "I could write a better book myself. You got a silver mine, Callie?"

"Well, no, but remember Sadie Forrest's book where this couple followed our heroine to her old mansion full of secrets in the Smokies?"

"You get an old mansion full of secrets in the Smokies I'll guard it for you. Relax, Callie, it's just happenstance."

I called Alice early the next morning. "Come over quick."

"Come over? Now? You've got hot coffee? Fresh baked sweet rolls?"

"Um, yes. Anyway I will when you get here." I reached behind me and pulled a box of cinnamon rolls out of the freezer. "And something else I want to show you."

"You call this happenstance?" I asked as soon as she threw open my kitchen door. "Just look what came this morning."

Alice took the note from my hand and read it a couple of times before she handed it back and sat down at the table. "How did it come?" she asked.

"It was stuck in my door when I went for the mail."

"Well, it doesn't sound very scary. 'Don't forget Saturday morning.' Just a reminder, isn't it?"

I took the cinnamon rolls out of the oven. "Remember in Samuel Rich's book how this couple kept pressing the heroine to meet them and they took her away in her Rolls to this dark mansion on the moors?"

"You got a Rolls, Callie? How close are we to the moors? You think he'd prefer your little car to the one you saw him get into?"

I slid a sweet roll onto a plate and tossed the icing into the garbage. "We're not eating the icing. Do you know how many calories there are in icing?" I poured coffee and sat down across from her. "I'm not going Saturday morning. I just want to read about brave women fighting off evildoers. I don't want to really do it."

"Callie, you'll be in broad daylight by the Farmer's Market. The most he's going to do is charge you an exorbitant sum for a simple snapshot. But I tell you what. I'll go with you. I'll be in the background. Maybe standing by one of the stalls looking over cantaloupe. I'll have my phone in one hand and my car keys in the other. If he drags you away to his car and races off, I'll follow you, tires screeching and horn honking."

She wiggled off a bite of sweet roll. "You know these rolls are really better with the icing. But, hey, I've got an idea. My nephew is in the police department and I happen to know that he's off Saturday. I'll get him to come with me. Please go, Callie. You know how I hate to not know the answer to things."

"Okay," I agreed reluctantly. "If you promise to have the policeman there."

Saturday morning was hot and cloudless. I wore the same hat, and feeling extremely foolish, drove over to the Farmers Market. If he had a picture, I promised myself, I would pay him whatever outlandish price he wanted and he and his perfectly-capable-of-wearing-a-bikini-girl could just go away. If he was there.

He was there. Standing in the same place where he'd taken my picture before. Smiling that smile when he saw me. Making me almost want to smile back.

I stopped, unsure, but feeling a thrill that was surprisingly close to pleasure when he came toward me. "Callie."

I almost turned and ran. How did he know my name? I looked to be sure Alice was watching, ready to protect me. She was walking toward us, a mile-wide smile on her face.

"Callie, this is Bryan Fraser," she said.

"You know him?" I stammered.

"Well, yes I do and I promise I won't have to chase you down the highway with my tires screeching." She looked thoughtful for a moment. "Though that would have been fun."

"What a coincidence," I murmured, letting my hand nestle into his.

Alice laughed. "Coincidence, schmoincedence," she chortled.

"Remember how I've tried to get you interested in several men and you wouldn't even meet them? Well, this time I wrote a little scene to get you interested. See, I told you I could write a mystery. I even threw in a sexy young girl to give it pizzazz. She's engaged to my nephew." Alice nodded toward the booths where the young girl waved to me from the arm of a handsome policeman.

As for Bryan, he seemed to only be looking at me and he hadn't turned loose of my hand. I found that I liked that. I found that I liked following this mystery all the way to whatever future it may have.

*****

Louise Colln writes in Franklin, Tennessee, where the natural beauty and sense of history encourage her interest in earlier times and the care of the world we live in now. Louise, who is secretary of the Council For The Written Word, speaks at seminars. She has four books published by Heartsong Presents and has adapted three children's classics. Her short stories and poetry are published in magazines and anthologies.

© Louise Colln

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012