At Thomasville Middle School, Olivia was eating her lunch alone and the kids around her were snickering and pointing fingers. A girl approached Olivia’s table, holding her tray.
“Mind if I sit down?” the girl asked.
“Sure, go ahead,” Olivia answered.
“Never mind these jerks, I’m Carmen,” the girl said as she sat down across from Olivia, set down her tray, and stretched out her hand.
“Olivia,” Olivia said as she shook Carmen’s hand.
“Are you the girl whose mom videotaped the sheriff?” Carmen asked.
Olivia paused, giving Carmen a suspicious glare.
“No, relax. I think your mom did a brave thing. It’s about time somebody stood up to that creep. He’s been harassing my family for years. And he still does. He gives my mom a hard time,” Carmen said in a serious tone, “And it’s going around that he had something to do with the death of our last sheriff, Sheriff Crawford. He was my dad.”
“Oh, my goodness, Carmen. I’m so sorry. Honestly, I don’t know anything about that. I don’t know anything about this place, period,” Olivia said.
A girl’s voice sounded behind Olivia and Carmen.
“Well, looky-here, y’all! Carmen the Varmint is sitting with the new girl!”
Another girl’s voice sounded.
“Well, that new girl’s mom had the nerve to try and get our sheriff in a heap of trouble by posting some stupid video! Birds of a feather always flock together!”
This was followed by a chorus of cruel laughter.
Later that afternoon, at the Markowitz house, Brielle and Popeye sat in the living room across from each other, sipping coffee and talking. Popeye finished his cup and rose from the lounge chair. Kennedy sat in her play pin, frantically shaking her rattle, then picked up a small teddy bear and seemed to study it, turning it every which way and looking carefully at it. The play pin sat beside the sofa Brielle was sitting on, not far from the big picture window.
The sound of a school bus and the squeal of breaks sounded, followed by the sound of running footsteps and giggling girls. The front door then flew open, and Jane and Olivia came into the house, carrying their backpacks. The baby flinched from the sudden arrival, then looked up and smiled.
“Hey, Mom! Hey Popeye!” the girls as they hurried past, on the way to their bedrooms.
“Hi, girls,” Brielle said cheerily.
“Howdy, girls!” Popeye said, glad to see them.
Popeye smiled and finished his cup of coffee before he and Brielle then rose to their feet.
“Welp. I would sit and talk more, Brielle. But I got a field to tend to. Can’t neglect the crops, you know. Harvest time is just around the corner,” Popeye said, “Thank you for the coffee. You make some good coffee.”
“You’re very welcome, Popeye. Stop by anytime,” Brielle said with a smile.
“I sure will,” Popeye said with a nod and a handshake before walking out the door.
“How was your first day of school, girls?” Brielle called back.
“Don’t ask,” Olivia called back.
“Boring,” Jane answered from her bedroom.
Brielle shook her head as she bent down and took the empty mugs off the coffee table in front of the sofa. She took them into the kitchen, then came back into the living room. She sat down on the sofa, picked up her smartphone from the coffee table, and touched the screen before placing it to her ear.