For once I thought about doing a Valentine’s story before the last minute. It’s a good thing too, because I stumped myself. I wanted to use characters from Atonement, Tennessee, and bring back one from a past Valentine from Atonement, Tennessee as well. However, connecting that part to another Atonement character presented quite a problem. Every story-line I started took me to a spoiler!
Finally I settled on Marge Tipton, a very minor character. No spoilers, but I had a devil of a time figuring out how Cupid’s arrow could strike bachelorette Marge. You can read a little more about Marge here.
It’s a little longer than I’ve been posting, but fewer than 2,500 words. I hope this little romp leaves you with a happy glow. Here’s your 2017 Valentine from Atonement, Tennessee. Enjoy!
PS: I made a video trailer too…
Deme and Honeybell’s Valentine
Silver light washed down from the moon to illumine the sidewalk. Earth’s lone satellite was just past full. The clock in the town square struck midnight on February 14th.
The moon wasn’t the only thing that glowed that night. Two friends also emanated an ethereal radiance of their own, as they walked the deserted street.
Honeybell gave a surreptitious glance over her shoulder toward the second of two traffic lights on the main street of Atonement, Tennessee. She grunted softly, fascinated by the slowly changing colors, red to green to yellow to red.
It seemed an odd decoration. It made her nervous. This was all Deme’s idea. Honeybell hoped her friend wouldn’t land them in trouble. Deme could be something of a prankster, and Honeybell was getting the same reputation. Still looking over her shoulder at the lights, Honeybell gave a loud snort as she bumped into Deme.
“Pay attention and stop acting like an unsophisticated pig,” Honeybell silently scolded herself.
Deme had stopped. Her eyes were closed in concentration. When she opened them, her sapphire orbs were bright with excitement. She reared up to point at the sign, Annie’s Antiques and Consignment Shop, and her front hooves came back to the sidewalk with a sharp clip.
“It’s still here!” Deme quietly exclaimed.
Honeybell wagged her curly tail happily.
“What about the woman? Is she close enough?” she asked Deme, concerned about all the details coming together properly.
“The woman lives near the first red-green-yellow light. It is an easy run from here,” Deme replied in a satisfied tone.
The glow from the two otherworldly pigs brightened a as they stared at the door of the antique shop. Grunt, snuffle, snort. Grunt, snuffle, snort,” they vocalized in unison.
The door swung open, shop-bell chiming in welcome. Deme and Honeybell walked inside.
“I feel it!” Honeybell cried. “I feel the rose quartz.”
Honeybell made a beeline to the back of the shop and a glass case. As the pigs drew near, a necklace inside the case illuminated. The filigree setting was polished brightly and held a large heart-shaped gem. The pastel pink rose quartz stone pulsed softly in ruddy radiance.
“It’s as if the heart is beating,” Honeybell said in awe. “What a lovely gem.”
Deme agreed, her sapphire blue eyes wide. “Rose quartz helps us accept and love ourselves,” she replied agreeably.
Honeybell nosed at the necklace until it fell from the glass shelf to hang around her neck. Deme made a sardonic grunt at her friend.
“The most practical way to carry the necklace is to hang it around my neck,” Honeybell explained in a very indignant tone. “Oh look! That light over there is not earthly,” she quickly changed the subject, and was happy when Deme followed her gaze. (More about Annie’s Inventory Notes here.)
The otherworldly pigs went to investigate the luminescence near the cash register at the front of the store. The light shone through several layers of paper in the special inventory notes kept by Annie, the shop owner. If the writing glowed, that meant an item had awakened. Deme and Honeybell looked at the rosy sparkle of the necklace and nodded to each other in approval.
After a briskly refreshing run, the two otherworldly pigs entered the home of bacehlorette and local diner owner, Marge Tipton.
Deme looked around the spotless kitchen. She saw a local newspaper and an advertisement on the table. There was also a deposit receipt from the local First Bank & Trust.
Honeybell snuffled as she scented the air and listened to the vibrations of the house. “I feel a lot of hidden sadness,” Honeybell murmured, eyes brimming with tears.
“So do I, but get ahold of yourself. We can’t afford to let our own emotions get mixed in with what we’re about to do,” Deme told her firmly. “Things could go quite badly if we did.”
The small pigs moved toward the bedroom where they could hear the regular breathing of Marge Tipton.
“She is soundly asleep,” Deme whispered. “Honeybell, you seem better attuned to this woman than I am. Do you detect anything in this house that can be used to work with the rose quartz necklace?” Deme questioned, delegating some of the authority she had bestowed upon herself.
Honeybell snuffled and grunted quietly. She went to a box in the closet. A broad satin ribbon was tied around the box. Honeybell pulled the ribbon, untying the bow. Inside was a stack of old postcards, with postmarks in the 1980s.
One postcard had been torn in half and then taped back together. Honeybell noticed the scribbled writing said “I can’t wait to get back to Phoenix to see you. Love, Chad.” Some of the cards were marred by tearstains, particularly one that was addressed to “Marla” with the name crossed out and “Marge” written next to it. Most of the words were rendered illegible by the long dry tears.
With an excited snort, Honeybell scampered back to the kitchen. Deme followed curiously. The checkered cloth muffled the clatter of Honeybell’s hooves when she bounded onto the kitchen table. Her twisty little tail wagged at a quick pace as she inspected a colorful sheet of paper.
The two pigs went over every inch of the flyer and the newspaper article that lay next to it, and the bank slip too. The ad was from the Rowdy Rooster, a large redneck bar outside the town of Atonement.
“Hit recording artist and 80s TV star of The Medical Files, Chad Allen to perform!” Deme read the flyer.
“The postcards were to Marge from Chad Allen,” Honeybell whispered then looked at the newspaper. “They were lovers when she was a young woman. Marge had a happy life then in Adrian, Texas. But he left her to travel with the rodeo and got famous. Then he recorded a hit song and did that television series and became a big star — for a while anyway.”
“He lied to Marge for years before she could admit the truth to herself. She felt so betrayed and so ashamed that she never forgave herself for being foolish. Then she came here when her brother begged her, saying he needed her,” Honeybell commented knowingly.
“So she is not in Atonement, Tennessee to atone,” Deme commented in a speculative tone. “Her brother is.”
“Perhaps she actually is atoning too,” suggested Honeybell. “She would not love herself enough to say no to those who did not deserve her love.”
The glowing pigs looked at each other for a moment. They seemed to come to a silent agreement.
“Help me put everything back the way we found it,” Deme said and they put the newspaper, flyer, and even the bank receipt in place. “Let’s leave the rose quartz laying on these papers. That should be enough to get things started,” Deme said.
Honeybell dropped the necklace onto the papers. There was a tiny spark when the gem touched them. Then the rosy radiance filled the entire room before dying down.
“Come on Marge! So what if you don’t care about seeing a washed up TV star. It’ll be a night out with the girls. We’re both scheduled to be off,” Jenny, the lead waitress at L-O-L-A Lola’s Bar and Grille, pleaded into the phone. “When you turn loose, you’re the life of the party!”
“Good gravy, Jenny. It’s too early in the morning to be planning a night at a bar,” Marge grumbled sleepily.
However, Jenny saying Marge was the life of the party brought a reluctant smile to her lips. She had never told a soul in Atonement, Tennessee about the Chad Allen episode, as she thought of it. She told her brother Tracey once, but he was too drunk to remember, so that didn’t count.
Jenny was still talking, but Marge had slipped into the past. Every time she thought of her home back in Adrian, Texas she became melancholy.
Marge shook her head thinking of that evening of inebriated confessions with her brother. They both sure had tied one on. She thought it was such a shame that her brother couldn’t get past his drinking. Tracey had a good heart and was surprisingly generous. Once he gave her a diamond tennis bracelet for no reason at all. She knew he must have saved his money for years to buy it.
“It won’t be half as much fun without you. All the girls still love Chad Allen,” Jenny went on, and for a second Marge thought she might change her mind.
Opening the refrigerator door, Marge took out a container of milk. The coffee was done. As she poured the steaming liquid into her mug, she wondered what it would be like to see Chad again, even from across the big room of the Rowdy Rooster.
Then all the scenarios of what people would tell her she should do, what she should feel blasted into her head. Maybe Chad had changed. His star had risen and fallen. What if he had actually become the person he made her think he was back then, before she learned what a lying, philandering jerk he really was.
Marge was sure anybody she knew would tell her she should — no she had to go and see him. She gave her head a shake. Would she feel vindicated or sad if the years had been unkind to him? She told herself that he’d never recognize her. If he did, he’d likely cringe at her appearance and pretend he didn’t remember.
She took a deep breath and brought her attention back to Jenny on the phone. Making up an excuse, Marge turned Jenny down in a firm “boss” voice. Jenny had worked for her long enough to know that tone brooked no argument.
Marge hung up the phone. Coffee mug in hand, she went to the kitchen table to finish reading the newspaper. That was when she noticed the beautiful antique necklace laying there.
“How? Who?” Marge stammered.
She picked up the rose quartz necklace with a sigh at its beauty. “Tracy,” she murmured thinking her brother must have left it there to surprise her. It couldn’t have been anyone else.
Marge plopped down into a chair. She glanced at the newspaper article and Rowdy Rooster flyer about her old love, Chad. She read both for the twentieth time. With each reading she promised herself she would never be betrayed again.
It didn’t occur to her that she held the rose quartz necklace tightly in her hand, or that she didn’t want to put it down. Then she fastened it around her neck. Not only was the necklace the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen, she felt pretty just for wearing it.
That evening Marge tidied up the kitchen. She picked up the newspaper and the receipt from First Bank & Trust. It was a morbid attraction, but she couldn’t help looking at the flyer. Taking a beer from the fridge, she read the article one more time.
“Marge Tipton,” she told herself aloud. “Don’t you ever let your guard down like that again!”
She had no wish to see Chad again. She had firmly stomped on the imagined voices of everyone saying she should do. So Marge wasn’t sure why she changed into some party clothes that evening, still wearing the rose quartz necklace. Neither could she have said why she got into her mint condition 1972 red Chevy C10 pickup truck and drove way out highway 41 to the Rowdy Rooster.
Almost an hour later Marge got out of her truck and walked across the parking lot. The noise of the patrons lived up to the name of the Rowdy Rooster.
Her footsteps became slower as she moved toward the door. The sound of the crowd inside grated against her nerves. She couldn’t imagine why she had come there in the first place, after flatly turning down Jenny’s invitation. Marge didn’t realize she had stopped in the middle of the parking lot.
“Marge? I mean, Ms. Tipton?” a voice intruded on her confused thoughts.
She turned toward the voice feeling muddled. “I only had one beer before I left home. What’s the matter with me?” she wondered and gave herself a mental shake.
He was barely recognizable in cowboy boots and a sport coat. Marge had only seen Russell Skeen, the manager of the First Bank & Trust, in a dark business suit.
“Are you okay, Ms. Tipton?” Russell repeated.
“Oh, don’t mind me, I just suddenly felt a little out of sorts, that’s all. And please call me Marge,” she stammered, feeling her cheeks heat with a blush. “I should have stayed at home,” she murmured.
“I know what you mean,” Russell admitted. “I do like the cowboy boots my daughter gave me, but I can’t say I care for this place. I let my daughter pester me into agreeing to join her and her friends tonight. Then wouldn’t you know, she just now called to say she won’t be coming,” he added in a bemused tone. “She means to get me out more,” he said with a shrug.
Russell Skeen drew back a bit and looked at Marge curiously. His hand rose toward her, but he stopped himself. He shook his head and chuckled.
“For a second there I thought your necklace was glowing. It must have been all those facets reflecting the light,” Russell told her. “I see that you like antiques. That one’s a beauty.”
Marge unthinkingly put her hand to the rose quartz necklace. It felt very warm to the touch. She looked at the unassuming bank manager as if she had never truly seen him before. Marge was pleased with what she saw.
“You know, there are a few antique shops between here and Atonement. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather browse through them than be inside that noisy bar. Do you think you could join me? Maybe we could get some coffee somewhere too?”
Marge looked toward the Rowdy Rooster. She thought about the flyer advertising Chad Allen. She thought of the stack of postcards she kept even though he had betrayed her.
She picked up the rose quartz and held it so that she could look at it. “Why did it feel so warm? It actually does seem to be glowing a little,” Marge thought.
“Mr. Skeen, I think that sounds like a fine idea,” she told him.
“Only if you call me Russell,” he replied as he walked her back to her pickup truck and politely took her hand as she climbed up into the cab.
“Did you hear that?” she asked Russell. “I could have sworn I heard a snuffling, snorting sound, like pigs.”
“There’s lots of farmland around here. It could be that one got loose. But you’d think all the bacon they serve in these places would scare a pig away,” Russell joked.
At the word bacon, a shrill startled-sounding noise was easily heard, but they still didn’t see any pigs.
Happy Valentines Day from Teagan’s Books and everyone in Atonement, Tennessee.
Copyright © 2017 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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