Eddie Ray Younger hadn’t noticed me, but why would he? Late bloomers didn’t get noticed. Besides, just about every girl in Cottonwood drooled over him. Then one summer I blossomed like a mesquite after the last frost, and all of sudden Eddie Ray knew I was on the planet.
The first time he offered to drive me home from school, I said yes. From then on, we were tight.
Daddy refused to smile when he gave me away to Eddie, suspecting, rightly, that a grandchild was already on the way.
Mama hugged me and talked through her tears. “Sherry Jo, if you ever need to come back home, you know our door is open.” I told her that wouldn’t happen.
The first couple of years were okay. Eddie worked in his uncle’s shop changing oil and rotating tires. He gave me his dented sedan and bought himself a classic muscle truck. He painted her candy apple red and called her “Agnes.”
Baby Max looked like his daddy, and Eddie spent time every evening playing with him. I was grateful for the break, although Eddie never touched a diaper.
I’m not exactly sure when things changed. I just know that one Saturday I came home from grocery shopping and found Eddie in the back yard with some of his friends, polishing off a case of beer. I put Max down for a nap and went outside. “What’s goin’ on?”
Kent, Eddie’s best friend from high school, smashed an empty beer can in his hand. “Hi, Sherry Jo. How ya been?”
“Fine.” I turned to Eddie. “I thought we were going to the movies. Mama said she’d watch Max.”
He ran his fingers through his hair. “Baby, I thought it’d be more fun to stay here and barbecue. I’ll grill and you make potato salad. I don’t think we can afford a movie anyway.”
It was all I could do not to say, “But we can afford to feed these guys?”
The next thing I knew, we had barbecues practically every weekend. Eddie’s buddies ate our food and drank beer till after midnight. Some of their wives and girlfriends came too, barely covered up, and laughing too loudly.
Now and then they all came back on Sunday afternoon and did it all over again. Eddie showed up late for work a few times on Monday morning. If he hadn’t been working for his uncle, I know he would have been fired.
One Sunday morning I got up early and flipped on the closet light.
Eddie rolled over in bed. “Turn that light off.”
I ignored him and looked through my outdated dresses.
He pulled the covers over his head. “C’mon Sherry Jo, I’ve got a headache.”
“Course you do. You stayed up drinkin’ till two. I’m lookin’ for something’ to wear to church.”
“Since when do you go to church?”
I pulled out something I thought was presentable, then woke Max and dressed him. We went to church and stayed for the pot luck dinner. Feeling guilty, I fixed Eddie Ray a plate.
He was watching football when we got home. He glanced up and got in a dig. “Did you get saved?”
I dropped the plate on the coffee table and went to Max’s room to change his clothes.
Not long after that, I joined the Cottonwood Victory Church. Eddie Ray refused to go with me, sayin’ there wasn’t nothin’ but a bunch of hypocrites there.
That’s about the time I began hearin’ stuff around town. Haley down at the light company asked me if Eddie Ray had a blonde cousin.
I kept my eyes and ears open and things began to fall in place. How many people do you think actually need an oil change after nine o’clock at night?
The clincher came when Wednesday night prayer meeting let out early. I just got Max in his car seat when Eddie Ray’s shiny truck sped by, leaving me lookin’ at the tail lights and a blonde sitting right up against him.
Max munched on animal crackers while I drove out to the sticks. Pulling off my cheap wedding ring, I decided it wasn’t worth hocking. I barely hesitated before I threw it out the window.
Max squealed from the back seat. “Frow ‘way.”
Something hit me in the back of the head. I picked the soggy, headless lion out of my hair.
I looked at my naked ring finger and cried. “That’s right, Maxie. Throw away.”
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