I followed her through an old-fashioned kitchen as big
as half my apartment, then out the back screen door. To my dismay, she made
straight for what I'd begun mentally calling "the Forest of No
Return." I ran to catch up--had to, she walked that fast. She plunged
right into the profuse undergrowth, and miraculously, it seemed to know her
and part before her.
That's when I saw the trail, little wider than a shoe
width, double A at that. After the first vine sent tiny needles into my
forearm, I rolled down my sleeves and stuck my hands in my pockets in
self-defense. "Miss Shelby?"
"Heavens, don't call me that. I taught junior
high for over forty years. Still get shell-shock every time I hear `Miz
"What should I call you then?"
She shrugged. "Magnolia, Maggie, whatever."
"The man who drove me called you Miss
"Hugh's one of my former students. Never could
get him to drop the Miss. Use it if it makes you feel better. Or you could
call me Mary. My christened name. Hardly anyone knows it, except Joel since
it's my legal name, too. Wouldn't mind you calling me Mary. Only when we're
"Why me? I mean, Mr. Peyton saidľ "
She stopped walking abruptly and swung around.
"Can't tell you. Not yet. Joel says to wait until you sign the papers.
He'll be over with them tonight." Again she canvassed me, toe to head,
sighing when she reached my nose. "Say your name for me."
She repeated it, sounding as Italian as my
grandmother. "Pretty name. Melodic. You prefer Patricia?"
I shook my head. "Pat."
"Suits you." Turning her back on me with a
nod, she resumed her brisk pace.
Not ready to give up, I tried a roundabout approach
to my mysterious benefactor. "How'd you come to be named Magnolia?"
She laughed. "My granddaddy called me that
because I loved to climb that old cucumber magnolia in front of the
"You said you taught junior high. What
"History." As she said it, we stepped out
of the forest, into another semi-clearing.
Before us rose a mass of vines, in places twice my
height and three times as wide as the farmhouse we'd come from. I supposed
that association made me say, "This was a house, wasn't it?"
Her eyes widened in surprise. "Beats me how you
could tell. Burned during the Chancellorsville battle. Most of the original
bricks have been hidden by this jungle long as I can remember."
I was barely listening. A powerful feeling had come
over me, almost as if those long-concealed bricks had suddenly sat up and
greeted me. And the single word that came into my mind, and stuck there, was
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