DISCLAIMER: The characters herein are used without permission. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: There is a lot of violence in this story. It is based off of the song Goodbye Earl by the Dixie Chicks on the album 'Fly'. I just heard the last verse and thought 'that sounds to domestic to be something that two 'friends' would do, so I wrote this. It is pretty much the long version of Goodbye Earl, so whatever you see in the song happens here, plus lesbian themes.
CHALLENGE: Submitted for the first International Day of Femslash.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Erin Griffin
I'll never forget the first time I ever laid eyes on Wanda McKenna. It was the summer I was going from a fifth grader to a sixth grader, and her family moved into the old Emery Ranch that had been abandoned for over three years. Everybody had to get a glimpse of the new family and found their reasons to go over to the new McKenna home. Me? I didn't really care one way or the other. We lived in a sleepy town where everybody knew your business through 'so and so told me' and 'well I heard...' sort of gossip, and if the McKennas had any children, I'd see them around eventually, if only at school. Not that I expected to become fast friends with any McKenna daughter, no matter how much people talked about her. I wrestled boys for candy and played baseball with the Shaw brothers, all seven of 'em.
Anyhow, my family didn't feel the same way I had. My daddy met old man McKenna at the used tractor store Mr. McKenna now owned, and invited his family over for supper. That meant I had to put on my Sunday best in the middle of the week. In SUMMER! I normally didn't really care if I had to dress up for school or for church, but it really made me mad when I'm called into the house in the middle of the sixth inning just to wash up and be lady like for a bunch of people I didn't know and probably wouldn't like anyhow. As the McKennas walked up our porch, they saw an angry twelve year old glaring at the door, hoping it would pierce her mother's heart like a knife. When I finally looked away from the door, I couldn't breathe.
Wanda was an only child, and when I saw her that day, practically hiding behind her daddy, I knew I would never forget the way her hair was like a golden waterfall down her back. She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen, even of all those models on TV. She was so shy. She made me shy. I didn't talk all throughout dinner because my mouth felt like I ate sock rather than steak and potatoes. Wanda probably thought I was either slow or a snob.
When school started, she never spoke to me, and I couldn't seem to speak to or around her. All of my friends would tell me all the time that Wanda and I had a lot in common, that it was this huge surprise that we weren't the best of friends attached at the hip. I guess two summers later, two years before we entered high school, everyone got their wish granted. We met again, or should I say, we had to speak to each other again at the county fair, where our mothers both had booths set up side by side. Wanda's mama had her fruit leather and canned tomatoes, while my mama had displayed our garden's produce. Wanda had just learned how to make Tennessee ham, and oh, how her mother was proud of it. All of it seemed a shoo-in for the blue ribbons. After I helped my mama set up, I wandered around some to look at other booths, and I heard running behind me. "MaryAnne, wait!" I turned to look at Wanda, and stopped walking. "I-I know you don't like me, but Mom told me to come with you. We don't have to be friends after that or nothin', but... I want to be."
"Who said I don't like you?" I asked, surprised that my brain had worked well with my mouth, enough to form a decent sentence.
"Well... You don't ever talk to me, even if we are in the same class, and even right now, you won't even look at me." It was true. No matter how much I tried, I couldn't look into her shimmering green eyes. I was speaking too well to go and mess it all up by looking at her.
"It ain't that I don't like you," I told her softly, "I like you plenty, but my mama says I'm not proper- Lady-like and all. I wrestle boys for ice-cream money. I didn't think someone sweet 'n' pretty like you would want a ruffian like me for a friend." When I looked up, Wanda was blushing, and I knew- just knew I couldn't add on the fact that she made my stomach act weird.
"Aw, MaryAnne, that don't matter to me. I think you're the neatest girl in school for puttin' them boys in their place like you do." It was my turn to blush.
"I think you're real nice to think that of me," I said softly.
"It ain't like it's the hardest thing in the world to like you, MaryAnne. You think we can be friends, then?"
"Yeah," I said, sticking out my elbow for Wanda to grab on to. "Let's go see Dixie and Chick, Mr. Lawrence's new calves. 'Heard they're twins even though they have different mamas." Wanda nodded, and together we walked to the stables.
It was then that we'd become inseparable, just as everyone had wanted of us. I think maybe they knew something that even we didn't then. In high school, I always worried that Wanda would go off and join the popular crowd while I knew I'd always be the tomboy on the softball team, most likely with the whispered 'lesbian' floating down the hall behind me. Wanda never did leave me behind when she had gotten popular, and I knew it would've happened sooner or later. She took me with her, in fact, telling me that she can't be alone. "You wouldn't be alone, Wanda," I'd say, "You've got all those boys at your beck 'n' call."
She'd always reply in the same way: "MaryAnne, without you, I'd always be alone, no matter who all's with me. You can't leave me." That might've been why we did everything together; I didn't ever want to leave her alone. By our junior year, it was a running joke around town to call out, "Hey, there's Wanda's girl' (to me) or "Hey there's MaryAnne's girl' (to Wanda). No one would ever know exactly how much I wished it were all true, but as much as I often wanted to, I never, ever told Wanda how I felt about her from the beginning.
To hide my secret further from her, I played along, got myself a boyfriend after she and a boy named Danny started dating, and I had to double date with his friend Jordon, a boy I often whooped on in elementary school when he'd pull my hair at recess. When Jordon and I 'broke up' three days later, people often joked that Danny was dating both Wanda and me, since more often than not, Wanda would feel guilty about leaving me home alone on Saturday nights (no matter how often I told her to go have fun with him). Not that there was anything worth doing, as our town's big hang out was a Wendy's restaurant in town and a drive in theater a town or two south. Still, I'd somehow always end up in a skirt and some of Wanda's newest shade of lipstick, crammed in the middle of Wanda and ol' Danny boy. I remember feeling so jealous when they held hands and occasionally kissed, but I always tried to hide it when I was near them because Danny was a really good guy. He was very good to Wanda and never tried to get fresh with her like Jordon had with me (which resulted in our 'break up'), even on the rare occasion when I won with Wanda and told her to have fun alone with him. Danny was always the gentlemen, and always consulted with me before he'd take her somewhere romantic (meaning without me), as if I was the overprotective daddy with a shotgun hidden somewhere. Wanda would always tell me how slowly they were going, when most girls in our class and even younger had already gone all the way.
After a while, I made a deal with Billy Cartman: he tells no one I'm in love with my best friend and I won't tell anyone that he's in love with his. We were cute together, even though he flamed more than my kitchen after I attempt to cook. The four of us, Danny, Wanda, Billy and I, would all double date almost every weekend until Billy, who was a year older than the rest of us, went off to college, forcing us to break up, and Danny moved a little bit after that because his family had lost the farm. Wanda was devastated, but we all tried to keep in touch through letters and the rare phone call. Eventually, we'd all moved on, Wanda and me going into our senior year of high school, and we put all our energy into school work and studying for college entrance exams, even though Wanda hadn't wanted to go to college. She said she wanted to someday own her own business, and she'd take some courses when she got the money to do so. I had applied for scholarships and grants for college and got excepted to a university in Atlanta, Georgia.
I blame myself for the events that followed, I really do. The day my daddy (so proud that one of his children- the youngest at that- was going off to college) packed my last suitcase into the trunk, I felt as if I was dying. I held on to Wanda as if she'd somehow save me, even though it was my decision to go in the first place. I wanted something better than that town. I wanted to be something big and get out of there. I wanted to take Wanda with me and we'd live our lives well, and Wanda could get her business started whenever the heck she felt like it. We promised to write, knowing from past experiences that we may not fully keep those promises. Reluctantly, I let go and got into the car, watching my best friend's figure as she got smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror before the car turned a corner and I couldn't see her at all.
I loved college, though. As much as I missed Wanda, I loved not having to wear a skirt to places if I didn't want to. I got a job at a hair cutting place, mostly cleaning up hair and washing the sinks. College, as much as I loved it, was hard, and there was a lot of homework and studying, but between work and school, I managed to call Wanda once a week. Wanda always told me how much she missed me, along with the town's latest gossip, so between nine and ten each Thursday night, it felt as if I' never left Tennessee. I'd laugh along with her as she'd tell me who got hitched, who'd probably get hitched and who had an affair with whom. There was a lot of that in our town.
One day though, when I called two weeks before that first holiday vacation, she said something that made my stomach hurt. "MaryAnne! I've got some good news. I've met someone. He's a little bit older, but he's good to me, and.... Well, I think I'm in love." I clutched the phone until my fingers turned white, and I'm pretty sure one of my knuckles cracked.
"Really? S-So so what's his name? Do I know him?" I asked, trying to hide my hurt. I should have known sooner rather than later my best friend would have found another man. Who wouldn't have wanted a girl like her?
"His name's Earl, and he's a carpenter," she said, and I could ear the happiness in her voice. I then carried on a conversation about him, pretending that I actually cared that he was good at fixing anything that was set in front of him. All I cared about was the fact that I had just gotten proof that Wanda's heart could never be mine. Part of me hoped that this relationship didn't last long, but I knew that Wanda wasn't one to get into a relationship that didn't last, so there was a fat chance in Hell before that happened.
When I finally hung up the phone, I fought back tears. I met Earl later that year on my Spring break. I would have met him sooner on my Winter break after Wanda told me about him, but his mama was sick with some kind of cancer, and he'd gone to the next couple of towns over to care for her. I could tell immediately when I met him that Earl didn't like me, which was just as well. I already didn't like him. By 'a little older', Wanda forgot to mention that he was nearing his midlife crisis, had a receding hairline that matched my daddy's, and a beer gut that probably prevented him from seeing his own toes. Luckily for the likes of Earl, Wanda never did care what people looked like. She was one of the rare people who had actually meant it when she said looks didn't matter to her as long as the man was good to her, and Danny was very good to her. Earl, well, he was at first, I'll give him that, otherwise Wanda wouldn't have started dating him in the first place. Anyway, I knew he didn't mean it though when he said "It's nice to finally meet you." Not that I cared what he thought of me. Still, there was something about the way he said, "Wanda's told me so much about you. She speaks of you constantly," (which I didn't believe) as if Wanda brought my name up more than he liked. He may have thought I was competition for her time and affection, which was ridiculous because I was off in college.
Wanda called me when I was in my second year, about the middle of November. That in itself surprised the heck out of me because by that time, the phone calls had dwindled after Earl's appearance in her life. She was never home when I called her. By then, I had just left the dorm payphone number and hoped she'd call sometime. When she did, I was glad I was sitting down, because had I been standing I would have lost feeling in my knees and fallen. She told me that her and Earl had planned to elope and she wanted my blessing first. My heart pounded, and I felt the start of tears, yet still I gave my blessing. What else could I have done? I just kept telling myself that more than anything, I wanted my best friend happy. The thing was, when I requested pictures in a lighthearted tone, Wanda told me that Earl didn't want to make a big fuss of it all. They were getting MARRIED for Heaven sake!
That was one thing that I should have paid a little more attention to. I should have paid more attention to the many times Wanda had started a sentence with 'Well Earl said', or 'But Earl thinks'. I'm pretty sure it was because of this and Earl's dislike of me that the letters from her got more and more infrequent by the end of my sophomore year of college.
That summer, right before entering my third year of college, my family had a reunion at my folk's house. It became a circus as the house filled up with nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, my three sisters and my brothers in law, grandmas and granddaddies, and one great grandma on my father's side. Just when I thought the house would burst at the seams, there was more knockin' at our door. Doing a head count, I couldn't figure out who could have been left off of the guest list. My heart raced when I looked through the peep hole and saw my best friend. She looked so much different from when I saw her in the winter. Even though it was hotter than hell outside, she had on an oversized turtleneck, black denim jeans, and the cowboy boots I bought her for her seventeenth birthday. She wore a pair of huge sunglasses, which seemed to hide the tip of her cheekbones and the bottom half of her eyebrows.
"Hey MaryAnne," she said, smiling weakly at my surprised look, "I heard you were having quite the party today, so I thought I'd bring by some Tennessee ham to help feed the masses if you mama's sweet potatoes prove not to be enough." At that, we shared a smile.
"Well, don't just stand out there all shy-like, come in." I moved to put an arm around her shoulder, but she ducked. I looked at her and she shrugged.
"Sunburn," she said. I nodded and kept my hands at my sides.
"I'm sorry I didn't get a hold of you. Earl said you wouldn't have been able to make it when I called last week to invite you. He said he'd have you call me if your plans changed," I said after a little bit of an awkward pause.
"Huh," she said, "I didn't get that message. Well, knowing Earl, he didn't write it down, and, well, men... They forget everything." I nodded, noticing that her face seemed almost blank of emotion, but because of the sunglasses, I wasn't sure of anything. I walked with her into the kitchen, where my sisters, Molly, Angelica, and Lisa were all at work, cutting up any and all vegetables under the moon. Who knew what all it would all go into. Mama was watching over a boiling pot of water. Being the cooking disaster I am (except for the rare occasion I make a decent strawberry jam), I stayed out of the kitchen and next to my daddy all day entertaining the kids with The Little Mermaid and slapstick comedy before Wanda had come over.
My sister greeted Wanda as they always had, with open arms, and Molly, the second oldest of us girls, asked, "So where's Earl?" The happiness on her face upon being brought in by open arms had disappeared. Now, you know something ain't right when the mention of your spouse makes your shoulders slump instead of your heart leap. Maybe Wanda figured we wouldn't have noticed, but I surely had. Seeing the look exchanged between Angelica, the oldest, and Lisa, I'd guess they saw it, too.
"Earl's been tore up since his mama died last month, and he left yesterday to take care of business regarding the lake house she left him in her will." I heard her unspoken statement, though. If Earl wasn't gone, Wanda wouldn't have come by, and certainly not with any of her delicious ham.
"Well," I said, no longer wanting to hear Earl's name, "since you've helped in feeding us, why not be part of our army and stay for dinner? We've got some catching up to do." I reached my elbow for her to take, and we walked out of the kitchen. As we walked into my old room (which was also my sisters' room for the week as we housed the rest of the family in the other bedrooms), I said, "Boy, you sure do look like a movie star with them sunglasses on." I was trying to be casual, but I'm pretty sure my voice was low. Luckily for me, Wanda was used to my compliments.
"Thank you," she replied. She blushed. Wanda always blushed when I complimented her, even if she was used to them.
"I think it is safe to say," I told her as I watched her go to the window and look out, "that the sun won't get atcha in here. Why don't you take them off for now?"
"I think I will keep them on. I like them," she said. I was surprised by this turn of events as well as disappointed. I wanted to look into her beautiful green eyes. I didn't push it any further, but when I closed the door behind me and Wanda sat down on my bed, her shoulders began to shake in a silent sob. I crossed the room quickly and sat by her on the bed.
"Wanda?" Slowly, her hand went to her sunglasses, and she seemed to debate whether or not she would take them of after all.
"MaryAnne, promise me that what I'm about to tell you stays in this room. You're my best friend and you know I can't keep anything from you."
"You know I'll take your secrets to the grave. Always have, always will." It was then that the sunglasses left her nose, and I gasped at how purple her left eye was. "Sweetie..." I gaped at her like a fish, "what happened?"
"He got upset. His mama had just died, he was stressed out at work, and after they laid me off at the general store, I wasn't doing anything to be useful... It was an accident, MaryAnne." She saw my look of disbelief though I didn't say anything for a long time.
"No one has the right to hit you," I said coldly, the image of Earl touching Wanda at all, let alone unkindly making me feel sick to my stomach.
"He didn't mean it, MaryAnne," Wanda pressed, "He said he was sorry, that it would never happen again, and I believe him."
"Be sure that it doesn't," I muttered. I stared at the floor, then turned to face her, bringing my knee up on to the bed. My foot dangled above the floor. "So... now that you're not working, what do you do?" I asked, wanting desperately to change the subject. Wanda shrugged.
"Look for more work, take on odd job... clean house. I sometimes work at my daddy's store when money's tight or when he's sick." I nodded. I remembered the summer Wanda and I were sixteen working together in Mr. McKenna's store when the boys he had hired turned out to be thieves and he'd needed quick replacements. We spoke of good times after that. 'Remember so and so? Well (s)he's now...' It was fun, but I still felt queasy when I saw that eye. When we were called to the dinner table, we were cackling like witches. Wanda put her sunglasses back on and together we went to join the rest of my family. Dinner was fantastic, and add in Wanda's ham, it was heavenly. Afterwards, Wanda excused herself. "I should get on home. There is still a lot of work to be done." I walked her to the door. On the porch, I grabbed Wanda's shoulder and she turned to face me.
"If he hurts you again, Wanda, tell me." She didn't say anything, and that worried me as I watched her go to Earl's truck and drive away.
I didn't get a chance to see Wanda again that summer, even though I'd gone by their house once or twice. Earl made it clear that I wouldn't get a hold of her, which made me hate him tenfold, and I didn't think it was humanly possible to hate someone that much. When I started my junior year of college, I started getting letters from my sisters stating their concerns for my best friend, who they thought of as their sister as well. My new roommate, Sarah, had heard my ranting and raving about my hatred for Earl so much that it didn't take long for her to figure out my true feelings for Wanda. That winter, I went home determined to speak to my best friend. Even though a lot of the things I heard about Wanda through my sisters were mostly gossip of the town, there's always a little bit of truth in every tale, and I didn't want to sit there and wonder what exactly was the true story. Either way, I didn't like what I read, tidbits of overheard conversations between Wanda and Earl, the obvious lies told by both of them, and the way Wanda sometimes flinched at some movements made me sick.
I walked up the front drive of the house Earl and Wanda lived in and knocked on the door. I heard voices inside, one gruff and loud and the other once soft and smooth. No need to guess who each voice belonged to. After what sounded like a short argument, Wanda appeared at the door. Her eyes widened at the sight of me and she looked back inside before joining me on the porch. "Now isn't a good time, MaryAnne," she whispered almost painfully. "I'm sorry."
"When is?" I asked, feeling as if I was going to punch a wall, I was so angry.
"I don't know, honey. I'll have to see when Earl-"
"Are you trying to tell me that I need HIS permission to see you?" I knew the answer to that, seeing how she was over the summer. I'd hoped that the way it sounded would make Wanda see how odd it all was. Apparently, I'd said that too loudly, and she shushed me.
"Shh! Not so loud. Look, Earl goes out to the lake house this weekend. I'll come over then." I stared at her, but nodded, knowing that that was the only chance to see her. She kissed me on the cheek as a way to dismiss me. I hesitated.
"Promise you'll come?"
"I've never broken a promise to you, MaryAnne, and I ain't gonna start now. I'll be there unless Earl decides not to go to the lake house for some reason, okay?" I nodded, and slowly backed off of the porch.
"Okay, bye Wanda."
Wanda kept her promise and came over at noon that Saturday like she had said. She wasn't wearing the sunglasses, but she had a bulky green sweater on. When I'd told my parents, the only ones in the house then, that I needed to speak to Wanda, they offered to make themselves scarce for the day to give us the time and space to talk. "I'm glad we finally got the chance to get together and talk. Just the two of us this time, you know?" I started off by saying. Wanda smiled.
"I've missed you so much it's hard to breathe sometimes, and things have been so crazy the last few times you've come home. It was never just us. I miss that too, being 'MaryAnne's girl'." My heart sped up at the sound of that. "Now I am just 'Earl's wife around town." She sounded so glum.
"You'll always be my girl, Wanda, no matter what." I stared at her for a second as she thought about this. "I know you think me going to college means I'm going to graduate and leave you behind."
"Isn't that what usually happens? You graduate, go off to the city and only come back on major holidays... like you do right now?"
"Yes, but I told you I'd never leave you. I guess in the back of my mind I thought we'd go off to the city together after I graduate, I'd put my degree to work, save up enough money to take lavish vacations and such. I hadn't thought about the possibility of you getting married." I gave her a weak smile, embarrassed by my honesty. I knew even then that it was stupid of me to think that I could be some sort of knight in shining armor for her and whisk her away into the sunset or something. "I doubt Earl'd like it in Atlanta," I said lightly.
"No, Earl don't like change. If it were up to him, no one would ever change."
"How boring," I blurted.
"Wanda? I been hearing some things- and I know it's gossip, but after you showed me the eye over the summer, I can't help but wonder if some of it's true. Does Earl still hit you?" Her eyes sifted around the room.
"Liar," I accused. "Wanda Lauren McKenna, we've been friends way too long for you to start lyin' to me. Prove it. Roll up your sleeves as far as they can go and show me your arms." When Wanda didn't move, I shrugged.
"Okay, you win."
"I wasn't competing for anything, Sweetie. I was hoping you'd prove me wrong."
"I can't," she said after a moment of silence. "He gets upset. It's mostly my fault. I know he loves me, MaryAnne. I just upset him too much," she explained, lifting her sweater from her back long enough to let me see the ugly bruises. I couldn't only stare, reaching out my hand to lightly touch then with my fingertips.
"It ain't your fault, Wanda. And this ain't love. No one who really loves you would ever hurt you no matter how upset they got for whatever reason." Quickly, Wanda pulled her shirt down and turned to me; anger was clear on her face and I didn't expect that.
"What do you know about love? The only two boyfriends you ever had were Billy and Jordon, and I know you well enough to know you you weren't in love with either of 'em." I stared at her. "So I doubt you're one to tell me what love is, MaryAnne."
"I'll have you know that I've known love all my life. My family and friends give me all the love in the world. Just because I haven't put my heart into romantic relationships doesn't mean I don't know what love is, Wanda."
"Huh, then tell me. Tell me what it is and what Earl ain't since you seem to know everything College Girl." That stung, and I think my hurt showed on my face right before I turned away from her. A hand was on my shoulder and I was forced to look at her. "I'm so sorry, MaryAnne. I didn't meant to say that-"
"Yes you did. You're still upset that I left." I felt so guilty, more than I felt the sting of her words. "I don't know exactly what love is, Wanda," I told her softly, "but this," I gestured towards her arms as I looked down at our feet, "isn't it. Love is waking up safe, being comfortable with yourself and your significant other. Love is laughter- and some tears... but lots and lots of laughter. Love isn't physical pain. Emotional... Well, that is a whole different story." Our eyes were locked on each other, and I focused on the green. "Love is never getting enough, never wanting the person to leave or never wanting to leave them." At this, Wanda's eyes shifted over my face before her eyes locked with mine again. "Love is... is..."
I kissed her then. I leaned in and kissed her softly on the lips. I backed away enough to see her eyelids flutter before I kissed her again just as softly, and I tried to put everything I ever felt for her into that kiss somehow. I felt her respond to me, something I hadn't exactly expected. I'd hoped, but never expected. As the kiss deepened, I knew that my own words were true. I knew I'd never get enough of her. When she backed away, I watched as she brought a shaky hand to her lips, not to wipe them of me, but to pat them with her fingertips, as if she was checking to see if they were still there. It was silent between us and I waited for a reply of some sort. She looked out the window, then back at me.
"I should get home. Earl might get back at around five. I should go grocery shopping for something to make... for dinner." As she walked past me, I grabbed her arm but she took it back. My hold on her was never even there, so it wasn't a hard thing for her to do. "Please MaryAnne, I have to go." I walked behind her to the door.
"He hurt you again, Wanda, I'll kill 'im. I promise you that." She said nothing, just got into the truck and drove off. She didn't call or anything after that, and I backed off, giving her time and space. I hoped she didn't hate me for kissing her, for loving her. I spent days hoping I didn't lose her friendship. That would have killed me. I went back to school, but at night, I had troubles sleeping. My heart ached and I couldn't listen to my country music without thinking about Wanda and wanting to cry my eyes out.
Finally, I couldn't take it all anymore. I had given it a couple of weeks, almost a month. I really didn't know how long I was supposed to give it. I had to get a hold of her. I had to see if she hated me. I waited for the gal in front of me to finish her conversation while I looked for the phone, and after I punched in all those numbers, pass codes and finally the number to Earl and Wanda's house, it wasn't my best friend's voice I heard. It was the voice of my enemy. Earl sounded drunk as he practically spat out his greeting into the phone, which really didn't surprise me.
"Is... uh Wanda th-"
"Wanda ain't here! She's gone! Left me!" When he said the last part, I was shocked. Wanda left Earl?
"You know if she's at her folk's house?"
"Might be. Who is this? Is this her friend? The dyke? I bet you did this. She always talked about you... I bet you turned her into a fucking dyke!"
"I did no-" Earl cut me off yet again.
"Oh yes. Yes! You come by on Christmas, you leave, and suddenly she's divorcing me. Got a restraining order on me and everything. I can't even look at her thanks to you." He called me a few names, his favorites being 'dyke' and one name that starts with C and rhymes with 'hunt'. I hung up the phone after that. I was so happy, I danced around the dorm. My roommate blasted her rock music so loud that my ears rang. I am surprised that no one came in to yell at us. I started my own song about how much I hated Earl and how much I loved Wanda even if she may hate me. I forgot how the song went or even if any of it rhymed. I didn't care, either way.
As I settled down to do my homework with the music at a softer volume a while later, my happiness turned to horror when one of the heads of the dorm came into the room saying I had a phone call. I raced to the phone. "MaryAnne?! Oh thank God! Wanda's in the hospital. Earl did it. She's in intensive care. She needs you." All of this was said in a rush. Angelica tended to talk fast anyway, but it was almost impossible to understand what the heck she was saying. The words 'Wanda' 'hospital' and 'Earl' got my attention and my spine got cold. "MaryAnne? MaryAnne, you there?"
"Yeah. When did this happen?"
"About an hour ago she was taken in. We've been trying to get a hold of you ever since Mr. McKenna called for your dorm number. Daddy's gone. He went to go wire you some money for a plane ticket and cab fare. He'll pick you up in the next town at the bus station. Hey, you got a way to get to a wiring place?"
"Bus. I'll see if I can borrow the fare from somebody," I said absently.
"See that you do that, get the wired money, and head straight to the airport."
"I will. Bye 'Gelica."
"Be safe, MaryAnne." I hung up and ran back to my dorm room.
"MaryAnne!" I scared my roommate, I knew. "What's the matter?"
"Wanda, Sarah-" I hurried to my bed, where there was a cubby drawer under it. "May I borrow a dollar for the bus?" I asked as I stuffed a pair of jeans and a T-shirt into my backpack. I had a lot of my clothes at home, but I needed something to do with my hands as I tried to keep my concern for my best friend and anger at Earl under control. Sarah jumped off of her bed, scattering a couple of pieces of paper and her book on the floor.
"What happened, MaryAnne? Is your girlfriend okay?"
"She's not- not- No, she's not okay. I've got to go to her."
"I've got $7.25. You can have it. You leavin' now?" she asked, digging into her pocket. I nodded.
"As soon as possible." Sarah gave me the seven dollars, a hug and a passing warning to get something to eat before the flight. I ended up ignoring the warning, getting the money and a ticket for the red eye fight at midnight.
It was hell waiting for the taxi after calling my daddy in Nashville. I knew the hospital wouldn't let me in unless David or Martha Finn were there, and I prayed the whole time that they were. My dad was at the Fred Meyer across the street from the bus station. He had a bag of leftovers, and though my mind was telling me that it had been over twelve hours since I had eaten anything, my stomach was warning me that it would throw out anything I'd try to eat then. When we got to the hospital almost two hours later, it was close to seven in the morning. I knew from the time Molly got into a car wreck when I was eleven that visiting hours were nine in the morning to eight at night. I didn't want to have to wait two more nerve wrecking hours to see the condition of my best friend. I only knew that she was in intensive care, and my dad didn't know much more than that, either. Was she steady? Was she millimeters away from death? The thought that she could have already died scared the hell out of me.
When we got inside, the nurse at the desk asked if we were family. "No, I'm a friend." I'd seen this nurse before. She must have lived in the next town over.
"Are you MaryAnne Gibson?" I nodded, and after checking my ID, she looked around before saying 'If anyone asks, you snuck in. She's been asking for you." I looked at my dad and he nodded before I went through the door the nurse pointed to. She wasn't asleep like I thought she would be. As I slowly walked towards the bed, I noticed she was alone in the room.
"I'm here," I whispered as I sat in a chair and rolled it towards the side of her with the least bandages. From the looks of it, she should have died, which was why I prayed she looked worse than she actually felt. When I looked at her face, she was staring up at me. I grabbed her hand and held it loosely in my own. "I'm here," I said again. "God, Wanda. You have no clue how scared I was. I'm glad you're okay, and I'm sorry I left you." I heard her take in a deep breath.
"You didn't leave me. I ran... away."
"Shhh... It's okay. We're together now, Wanda. We're together now. I've missed you." I paused, wondering if I should have said my next sentence or not. "I'm sorry I kissed you. I never meant for you to know that I- That I had feelings for you."
"There was always... the time or two in high school... that I wondered if the rumors were... true, but you... were with Billy for so long that I... forgot... about it." I shrugged.
"Never loved anyone but you." I said, looking at out hands.
"When you said... When you said that love was not wanting... to be apart from your significant other, it made me think a lot.... you know? You're the only person that mattered like that.... to me. Whenever you left me alone, and when you went to college... it all hurt so bad. When Danny moved and whenever Earl went fishin'.... or off to is mother's house, I didn't mind it as much... even when Earl and I first... started dating."
"Speaking of..." I lowered my voice and said, "you know I meant it."
"When you left that day I kissed you. Remember what I said?" Wanda slowly nodded. "I mean it. Earl has to die. I'm gonna kill 'im."
"MaryAnne, you can't seriously be thinking about murder."
"Why not? He hurt you Wanda. Not even your daddy ever hit you." I said. "I'd do the same if any of my sisters' husbands hit them. No one deserves to be hit. Well, you know, unless they was being bad first and started swingin'... But still, Earl's a dead man." Wanda stayed silent, and I thought over what I'd just said. Suddenly, a voice was heard; one word was whispered that changed my life forever.
"How?" Every possible scenario came to play in my mind, each one ending with Wanda in my arms sighing 'my hero'. I must have had a satisfied smirk on my face after a while because there was pressure on the hand Wanda was holding, and my friend whispered, 'MaryAnne? You're scaring me." I looked back at her and shrugged.
"I don't know," I said, "but I've got ideas."
"I'll bet," Wanda replied, and I thought for sure I saw the start of a smirk appear on her face right before it turned into a wince.
"Are you comfortable? Do you need for me to get you anything?"
"Can you get my water pitcher thingy?" I nodded and did as she asked, helping her hold it as she drank. "Thank you." I looked into her eyes.
"We'll have to get him back here first. He's not stupid, which is a shame. It would make things so much easier if he was. He'll have to believe I'm out of the picture, otherwise he'll know it's a trick, and that I'm behind it. He'll also know that if he goes to your house, the cops will be all over him, so he won't be there or his mama's lake house. Does he have another place he goes?"
"When he goes fishin' he sometimes rents out a cabin on the other other side of town. He might be there," Wanda whimpered. I nodded.
"Will you help me when you get better? You won't have to do anything but lure him in. Make him believe you want him back."
"But I don't-"
"I know. I know," I said, "but you've got to make him believe you do. Tell him... I don't know, that I never came to see you, and that it hurt you so bad, that we stopped being friends or something. He'll be so happy. Tell him that he's the only person you've got left, that you need him, but at the same time, you've got to be cautious. He'll understand cautious. You'll have to make him promise to be good to you if you go back to him and- I don't know, make him dinner. When he ain't lookin', put something in it-"
"Yeah," I said slowly.
"And what would we do with the body?"
"Let me worry about that. All you have to do is make him believe you long enough to cook him dinner and I'll do the rest, okay?" Wanda stayed quiet, and I waited for a long time. Close to fifteen minutes. The longest fifteen minutes of my life.
"If anyone gets caught, Wanda, it'll be me, okay? If you're convincing enough, the police will think you really wanted Earl back, whereas everybody who knows me know I hate his guts."
"MaryAnne... please. If you go to jail, we'll be apart again, and longer this time."
"After Earl's dead, you probably wouldn't want to be near me, anyway," I whispered, "but you can move on, you know? You'll be free of him. You can be with someone who'll treat you good forever." I turned away from her then and looked out the window even though our hands still remained in contact. Suddenly, after a moment of silence, I felt Wanda's grip tighten desperately.
"You. MaryAnne, I wanna be with you. I'll do it, but please, let's not talk about it anymore here." I looked down at her and nodded.
Everything changed after that. I ended up leaving college so that I could care for and protect Wanda while she was in the hospital. No one had a clue where Earl was, but one day I'd gone by to get more of Wanda's clothes and found anything of value like the TV and some of his mother's jewelry were missing along with his clothes and camping gear, which meant he ran off into the woods where it'd be a lot harder to find him. His attachment to his mama told me that he wouldn't be too far away from that lake house. Wanda healed up pretty well after three or four weeks, and she stayed with me an' my family because her daddy got sick again. At night, as I lay on the floor while Wanda slept in my bed, we'd talk about Earl's death, and more often than my best friend like, I'd say to her, 'The less you know about my part in all of this, the better off you'll be when or if the cops start to question you.' Oh how she hated whenever I said that.
Days later, when the only bandage she wore was the boot cast on her leg, I drove her over to the rental cabin where I'd hoped he'd be. I handed her a vial and said, "Take this. Put it in your pocket. If he wants your Tennessee ham, tell him to wash up first, then slip this into the black eyed peas or something. If he's smart enough to be suspicious of it all, asking you to eat it first or something, go ahead. I know you don't like black eyed peas, but take a bite to show him it won't kill him..." I trailed off at the irony of my own words. Wanda inspected the vial, then looked at me, her eyes clearly worried.
"What's in this?" she asked me.
"You know I can't tell you that. You ain't gonna get caught, since you don't know nothin'. Now, when you're sure he's line dancing with Satan in Hell, give the light signal, and then get out of here."
"No, I'm gonna help you."
"Not with that boot!" I hissed. She slapped my arm and I stared at her. "Fine," I said quietly, "Any sign of trouble and you leave, okay? Get on home as fast as you can, take the car if you need to, I'll understand." Again, we stared at each other, and she then she leaned in and kissed me.
"Just in case," she whispered. I felt like the world stopped, but I didn't like the way she'd said it. It made me think of police sirens and stuff, and that made my spine chill.
" 'Just in case' nothin', now scoot so I can go hide." She moved over and I slowly got out of the car. She slipped out after I hid and grabbed the 'peace offerings'. Watching her struggle with the platter of ham and the grocery bag filled with Tupperware, I fought the urge to run to her and help her, but if Earl were to see me moving just past the trees, it would have given everything away. Wanda hesitated for a moment. Why, I didn't know. She took close to two minutes before she wiped her eye with the back of the hand holding the grocery bag. She almost hit herself with it.
Earl opened the door after I saw the curtain move ever so slowly to the side to peek out at who was there. He stared at Wanda and to my surprise, he looked concerned for her. That was right before the suspicion kicked in, and he looked around. I couldn't hear everything between them, but after he glanced about, and he talked to Wanda for five minutes on the porch, he told her to get inside, checking her for wires or whatever on the way in. It killed me to stand, then sit behind that tree for so long, never really knowing what was going on in there. Close to an hour later, I heard a blood curdling scream from my best friend, then the lights inside flickered so rapidly that I jetted into the house. I threw open the door, and saw that Earl was face down on the floor seizing badly. "He just- he's been like this for a full minute now!" Right after she'd said that, he went completely still. Slowly, I stretched out an arm in front of Wanda to keep her from moving, then I approached him.
"How much of it did you give 'im?"
"A-All of it. Didn't you want me to give him all of it?!" Her tone was shaky, and I stepped back to her.
"No, shh... I'm sorry. I never told you. Damn, all of it. Man, this son of a bitch is really dead now." We stayed still for a long moment before I felt Wanda grab my arm.
"What are you going to do with him?"
"Throw 'im in the lake near the lake house. He don't deserve it, but I think he'll be best off near that lake house."
"What about his truck?"
"I don't know. Leave it here. Make it look like he ran off and stay gone after he beat you." Wanda nodded. "C'mon, we got to clean up from him eatin' and then we've gotta grab his tarp an' wrap him up in that." So we set to work. I wrapped him up in the tarp the best I could while Wanda put the Tupperware away. We were quiet as we did this. When I lifted the top half of Earl's body. I knew I'd have to drag him, but even I couldn't do it alone. Earl was a good two hundred fifty pounds.
When I said this out loud, Wanda said, "Won't the drag marks going towards the oil spot tip someone off to foul play?"
"Smart, smart..." My mind felt a little bit fuzzy then. I tried not to let my mind wrap to much around the fact that I had actually killed a man. I looked up at Wanda, hoping the panic didn't show anywhere, but Wanda's known me long enough to detect that sort of thing in me. "Can you help me? I mean, the cast..." I said, looking at the boot.
"I think so. Gimme a minute to put these in the car, then we'll do this together." I nodded, and as she went towards the table she placed a tender hand on my shoulder. I watched her movements and prayed she wouldn't go down with me if this was discovered. She didn't deserve all that after the shit Earl put her through. Despite what she'd said and done before that night, I always feared she'd start to see the murderer in me. I killed him without much (if any) remorse, and I would do it again if something happened in a freaky sort of way and time was reversed.
When Wanda got back, I waited, and together with a grand 'heave ho!', we had him up about an inch, sometimes two inches off the ground as we got him out of the cabin. I walked backwards with Wanda guiding my steps, and I was surprised to see she'd already popped the trunk open. We hauled his heavy carcass up to it and stuffed him in the trunk. "You know, if I think of this thing as carpeting or a rug, it all doesn't seem so... illegal."
"Good to know," I replied, not knowing what else to say to that. Once the trunk was closed off and we were back in the car, I sat there, still at the wheel. We'd done it. There was no going back. I turned the engine on and drove along the country road around the lake to the other side, where his mother's lake house was. I was just glad that I didn't believe in ghosts, otherwise I knew Earl's ugly face would haunt me until the day I myself died. Together, we worked on taking him onto the shore of the lake where we looked for the large rocks to put in the tarp, in case he floated (a fact I highly doubted), then we finally said 'Goodbye Earl', and dragged him in the water. Once there, he was easier to move. While Wanda waited, I took him out as far as I could go without the water reaching my neck before I sent him out a little more. I let the tarped body sink to the ground before I turned around and walked back to Wanda. "It's over. For tonight at least," I said, and together we walked back to the car, where my backpack next to the Tupperware was where I'd stashed an extra set of clothes for both me and Wanda if something got messy. I changed as Wanda played look-out, then we went home.
I woke up close to a week later to the sound of knocking at Earl's house, where Wanda and I had stayed the night, clearing things out and got it ready to sell, only no one really knew that but the two of us. We were doing the same with the lake house as well. I groggily got to my feet from my bed on the floor of their living room and saw Sheriff Daniels, the best friend of one of my brothers in law who I once heard through a grapevine or two had a crush on Wanda when we were in high school. He had a look of concern on his face. "Morinin' MaryAnne. I was hopin' I could speak to Miss McKenna about her husband."
"She may still be asleep. I just woke up myself. Lemme go get her up. S'past eleven anyway." I was nervous. Any police or authority made me jumpy, even if they were just on TV. Sheriff Daniels nodded his head and I went to the couch where Wanda was and watched her for a second, then sat down next to her and shook her shoulder. "C'mon Sleeping Beauty. The sheriff's here, and he wants to talk to you about Earl." I heard a groan and some mumbling before a head emerged from under the blanket.
"Tell him I'm sleeping."
"Did that. Come on. You get up, and I'll let you have the rest of the home made strawberry jam on your toast this morning," I said in a sing-song voice.
"You were gonna do that anyway," Wanda whined, which was true, as I always let her have the rest of anything if we were just about out.
"Maybe... Maybe this morning I was going to reconsider it and have it all for myself."
"Nope, you're too nice for that foolishness."
"How about instead of having the last of the jam on toast you can have it on some.... Waffles."
"Mmmmmmy..." she moaned, and I smiled. Wanda absolutely loved waffles.
"You got ten seconds to get your tush up or the deal's off. I get all the jam AND waffles, AND you'd just have to make your own brunch." I thought I heard another whine, but she rolled herself until she fell with a thump to the floor and I helped her to her feet. "Wow, you really wanted them waffles, didn't you?"
"I wanted the jam..."
"Sure. Let's go." We both got back to the door where Sheriff Daniels was looking around the house again for good measure. He smiled when he spotted our less than perfect hair dos.
"Miss McKenna, Miss Gibson. I wanted to let you both know that we took another look around the cabin at Earl's lake house after we searched this place. We spotted is truck at the cabin rentals. The owner has been sent to jail for a few days for hidin' him. So far we got no clues as to where he'd run off to, but we're still on the case. If you hear from him, let us know, hear?" I nodded. "Thank you ladies," he said, and Wanda spoke up.
"Thank YOU, sheriff. I hope you find him. I'm worried about him." Sheriff Daniels tipped his hat, and Wanda went back inside. I was about to join her in the house when Sheriff Daniels pointedly coughed. I stopped and looked back at him. He took off his hat and played with it before he took something out of its inner band.
"Burn this good. I didn't find it, alright?" He tossed it at me, and I just barely caught it. It was the vile. My veins seemed to go cold. I looked up into Sheriff Daniels' face and his eyes slanted in a glare of sorts. "You treat 'er better than that asshole, or you're worse off than him." With that, he put his hat back on and left.
And that was that. Another six months rolled around, then suddenly a year. There was no word of Earl, the court gave Wanda everything Earl owned, as he had a will with no one else alive to claim the items. Since they were still married before Earl had 'run off', she was the one who got everything. After a while, the case dropped completely, as no one knew anything and no one cared anyway except for his already dead mama. He became the missing person who nobody missed at all. The whole time we waited for the cops to show up at the door with evidence that he'd been murdered by me, Wanda and I stayed by each other's side, but other than the night Earl was murdered, we never showed many signs of anything more than our friendship. There were moments, you know. I mean, there were many times we snuggled too close or we (okay I) came close to saying 'I love you' too many times.
Finally, when the lake house sold for over half a million dollars, and the house Earl and Wanda lived in sold for a couple hundred grand, we celebrated. I sat on the couch with her while she poured the wine, and waited until she sat down before I spoke. "You know... You can start your business now, Wanda."
"You don't want to start it with me?"
"Well, I-" I was startled by that. I didn't realize she wanted me in on it as well, and of course I wouldn't want anything more than to be with her in any way possible. "Yes, I just..." Wanda put her wine glass and the bottle down.
"Yes, WE can start OUR business now, MaryAnne. I think I'd like to start a roadside stand, you know?"
"What would we call it? And what would we sell?"
"We can call it MaryAnne and Wanda's Roadside stand. We'll have it on Highway One Oh Nine, and we can sell my Tennessee ham and your strawberry jam."
"Hmm," I said, considering this, "WandaAnne's Ham 'N' Jam." Wanda grinned.
"That's clever. I like it!" She put her wine glass down and put her hand on my cheek, directing my head towards her before she placed a kiss on my lips. I immediately wrapped my arm around her waist and kissed her back, the passion the same as the first time I kissed her.
The rest of the story was my happy ending. I went back to college and got a degree in business, and like we planned, we started up WandaAnne's Ham 'N' Jam out on Highway One Oh Nine. After a few years, we moved it to an actual building in town and sold a lot more than just the ham and jam. We also started selling books, candles, homemade ice-cream and anything else we had the notion to start selling. The store did well, and we bought some land and got a house built on it. Folks around town didn't seem too surprised when the gossip centered around the turn Wanda and my friendship took when we'd become lovers. I'm certain many didn't like it, but because most knew the two of us for over a decade, others didn't seem surprised, least of all our families. The thought shared by many was often 'rather her be a dyke than to be with Earl'. There were never no thoughts of Earl on my mind, though some times, Wanda would wake from a dream about him. Those left after another year or so, and we never lost sleep at night... well... some nights, and that was suited us just fine.
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