This is the second installment of Kate and the Grit Girls, a fiction piece published on my blog in short stories.
The first Tuesday of every month is community night in Bellamy. It may sound a tad hokey, but the whole town gathers and enjoys fellowship, a pot-luck meal, and games.
This month it was trivia night. Ansel Gilmore, a DJ for one of the big radio stations in Greenville who lived in Bellamy, always announced it and broadcast it on his own little backwoods radio station for the people at home to play along. The categories were money, country music, football, and anatomy.
Of course, the Grit Girls are a team. Our husbands often make up another team, usually with some sort of crass innuendo as a team name. This time it was “We Leave the Lid Up.” They’re so immature.
Naturally we were in the lead halfway through with thirty-two points. The men were trailing way behind with only fourteen. Of course, there were several other teams at various points in between. But the point was, we were winning over the men. And whoever loses gets extra household chore duty in their house.
But we’re all sitting around, drinking our teas and chatting away when the sound of a loud truck pulls up outside the Bellamy Bell Community House, which is a wonderful building where anyone can rent it for a party or the town holds meetings or community nights like this one.
Anyway, a big truck pulls up with the engine roaring so loud we couldn’t hear the first question about football – and you know everyone was sure they would know the answers to this category. So all eyes turn toward the window to see the school district superintendent, Richard Hatpen, sitting at the wheel of his old F150 looking like a deer caught in headlights.
He shuts the engine off and that’s when everyone in town noticed his passenger. A scantily-clad young blond was seated next to him. And I do mean next to him. Not at the passenger window, but in that tiny middle seat nobody fits in. She fit. She had to be at least twenty years his junior.
“Who is that?” Frankie Ann whispered to me. She wasn’t the only one. The whole room began to buzz with speculation.
“Well, it’s not his wife Gina. And it’s not their daughter Sadie. That much I do know,” I responded.
Delia, who had been making her way back from the ladies’ room, sat back down and hissed to us, “Nobody knows her. Everyone is wondering who she is.”
I looked around. Sure enough, the whole room was staring and looking perplexed.
For his part, Superintendent Hatpen didn’t even seem to realize a room full of people were staring straight at him. He was almost transfixed. The girl beside him, though, did notice. She looked down in her lap and began to squirm under the scrutiny of the crowd watching her.
She spoke. Only a few words. Why can’t I lip read?
“What did she say?”
“I don’t know.”
“Shhh, I can’t hear.”
“You couldn’t hear them anyway.”
Richard suddenly saw through the window and noticed the one hundred or so people watching him intently. He said what looked like two sharp words, the girl snapped to attention in the seat, he started the truck and fled the scene immediately.
Ansel Gilmore tried desperately to bring the attention back to the game, but the tongues were already wagging a million miles a minute. The cacophony happening around us was nearly deafening. Finally he gave up and announced a five minute bathroom break. Of course, he wound up standing at the nearest table retelling what he saw from his vantage point.
I listened to those around me. I had learned that from time to time, the best option was to be quiet and listen. You learn more that way.
“Was she even eighteen?”
“What was she wearing?”
“Did that look like a blonde wig to you? Maybe she’s undercover.”
“Does Gina know good old Dick is out with a younger woman?”
“Maybe she’s a friend of Sadie’s.”
Which was countered with, “Well, then where was Sadie?”
“How inappropriate. I hope she’s not a student.”
One teacher from the school district responded, “She’s never been a student of mine.”
Finally we resumed with the trivia questions, but everyone was still talking about it.
Poor Gina, I thought. I didn’t know the woman personally, but I had seen her at several events with her husband and children. In addition to Sadie they had two boys, both older. So Gina was at least forty-five I would guess. Still attractive, though, and not past her prime.
“Regardless of who that was,” Delia said in her quiet Southern drawl, “Mr. Hatpen is now marked as an adulterer, that poor girl is a floozy, and Gina Hatpen is an unfortunate victim in this whole ordeal.”
“Maybe she’s a relation,” I mused as I tapped the pen on our team’s answer sheet.
“No, not with that look on her face,” Frankie Ann said, looking to the window again as if it knew the answers.
The next day everything looked normal, but there were whispers throughout the supermarket and hair salon. The mail carrier passed along tidbits to different people he met along his route.
Now, I was raised up in the church – as were near to ninety-nine percent of the people in Bellamy – so I know gossiping is a sin. But Lord forgive me, it happens to the best of us. It seems every so often something like this happens and the whole world is abuzz about it for a time then it dies down or something else comes along to fill everyone’s minds up.
But I did feel bad for the whole situation. That girl had looked scared out of her wits. And I figured Gina Hatpen must have been hiding her head in shame that next morning. I know I said a prayer for their whole family.
Come to find out, the girl was Mrs. Hatpen’s niece who had run away from home in North Carolina. She was trying to make her way to Atlanta, but had run out of money and stamina by the time she got to Greenville. Only sixteen years old and without a driver’s license, the girl had begged someone to borrow their phone and called Aunt Gina. Richard drove up to a truck stop on I-85 and picked her up. She was dirty and scared, but otherwise unscathed.
Of course, even with the truth revealed no more than twenty-four hours after the incident, a few people still talked. Bless their hearts. Some people just don’t know when to shut their mouths.