The Dahlonega Sisters

Chapter Four

 

Dawn nudged its way through a sliver of the wooden blinds in Mutzi’s room, hinting night’s gloom was on the move. She rose, still rattled from her failure to dispose of the ring, and untangled the twisted sheets, spreading them across the bed as quietly as the sun inching above the horizon. Hoping morning would bring a fresh perspective to her troubles, she headed to the bathroom.

She wanted to be rid of the ring and all of its painful memories. The joy she’d naively anticipated it would bring had long ago been obscured by missed opportunities, unrequited love, and even death. Hidden in a drawer for years, the ring’s power lay dormant, yet the shadows of destruction continued to haunt Mutzi. She wouldn’t expose her sister to the same bad mojo.

Mutzi ran a comb through her thinning silver hair and stared in the mirror. What would she do now? If her sister learned where the ring came from, she’d never forgive Mutzi for the unthinkable sin she’d committed so many years ago. Marge always insisted Mutzi’s fears were silly superstitions and a result of too much time spent on the computer. But they weren’t. The ring was the reason nothing ever worked out right.

As she left the house, Mutzi counted each of the twenty-five cracks in the sidewalk as she stepped over them. She’d made the five-block walk to Agnes Mayer’s house many times. She’d be house-sitting at Agnes’ place for the rest of the week and hoped—no prayed—in her absence, Marge would forget about the ring. Mutzi slipped the key into the lock. When she pushed the door open and stepped in, four cats encircled her ankles. “Guess you’ll get my mind off things.” She reached to stroke the calico who mewed and nuzzled against her hand. “How about some food?”

#

Four other women from the Historical Society arrived in the parking lot of the Dahlonega Community Center, promptly at nine in anticipation of their thirty mile drive to Gibbs Gardens. Marge, the designated chauffeur, greeted each of them as they climbed into her car. With the last one in, Marge put the key in the ignition and said, “I can’t wait to see the holiday decorations. I hear they are spectacular this year.”

A chorused response, “Me, too,” made Marge smile, happy she’d suggested the trip.

The women chattered about the successful festival as they headed out of town. The treasurer, Brenda, announced from directly behind Marge, “Mutzi brought in the most money with her gold bricks.”

The news brought a nod from Marge. “She’ll be happy to hear that. She put a lot of thought into each surprise.”

One of the ladies giggled. “I heard some of the apples didn’t fare too well, but Max’s wife sure was happy to get the recipe and the nice pie plate.”

The words settled in, stirring Marge’s memory. That’s where the other pie plate went. That little stinker. She shook her head and released a subtle chuckle. “I was worried about the apples. When I was closing up on Sunday, I found two more of the bricks stashed under the table and bought them.”

“Ooh.” Brenda shot forward and grabbed hold of Marge seat. “What’d you get?”

With her right hand elevated, Marge wiggled her fingers to show off the gold miner ring.

“Wow. How unusual.”

The women scrambled to see the ring and two of their noggins bumped. “Ow.”

“Where in the world did Mutzi get it?”

A loud pop startled Marge before she could respond. The car jolted to the right with such force, she gripped the steering wheel trying to maintain control. “Oh, shit!”

Marge slammed the brakes, screeching, “Stop! Stop!” as the car came to a halt on the soft shoulder, just shy of a deep ravine. Her purse slammed into the dashboard, spilling its contents onto the floorboard and sending a tube of lipstick under the gas pedal. “For heaven’s sake.”

Whipping her head around to check on the other riders in the car, Marge stifled another yelp. “Is everyone all right?”

The ladies glanced at one another. Brenda took a deep breath and nodded. “We’re all okay.”

Gertie shook her head. “Marge, I can’t believe you cursed.”

Closing her eyes for a moment, Marge released a sigh, relieved no one was hurt. “Don’t you dare tell Mutzi.”

The women giggled and responded together, “Not a word.”

The taut seatbelt threatened to strangle Marge. She released it and adjusted her blouse. “I can’t believe this. I just bought new tires last month.” Marge checked her mirror for traffic and got out, walking around to the passenger side to inspect the deflated tire. She shook her head in disgust and returned to the other side of the car.

“I’ll keep watch while you all get out. It’s too dangerous to stay in the car.”

The other women unbuckled their seat belts. One by one, they made their way onto the road, standing in front of the disabled vehicle.

“Now what?” Gertie, the oldest of the bunch, asked.

Marge reached into the car and retrieved her phone and wallet from the floorboard. “I’ll call roadside assistance.”

Brenda squinted, peering down the street. “Ooh. We’re really close to that antique store I’ve wanted to check out.”

Eight wide, hopeful eyes stared at Marge. She rolled her eyes at the four silly faces. These women lived to treasure hunt. “Go ahead. I’ll wait here.”

“I’ll stay with you,” Gertie said as the others turned to go.

“No.” Marge sighed. “Go ahead with them. I’ll be fine. I’ll come get you when the tire’s fixed.”

“Are you sure?” Gertie inquired.

“Yes. Go.”

The giddy women hurried down the shoulder of the road as quick as their fashionable pumps could manage.

A tow truck arrived within fifteen minutes. The driver’s tight t-shirt hugged his chest, concealing, but not hiding young muscles that rippled beneath it. He brushed back his wavy brown hair revealing a large dimple. “Morning, ma’am.” He extended his right hand and locked eyes with Marge, the corners of his lips turned up—not quite a smile—but enticing.

Her breath caught in her throat as she read the name on his shirt. George. She blinked and regained her composure. Realizing the man was waiting for her keys, Marge handed them over.

He popped the trunk and turned to her. “You’re having a bad morning,” he said with a soothing, southern drawl. “Your spare’s flat, too.” Slamming the trunk closed, he pulled a rag from the snug, hip pocket of his jeans, and wiped his hands. “I can tow it down the street to Pete’s. He’ll get you fixed in no time.” The young man opened the passenger door of his truck. “Hop in. I’ll give you a ride.”

Frozen in place, Marge considered the offer. Taking a ride from a stranger? She thought of the hundreds of news reports and warnings she’d heard over the years. Still, what was she to do? She had called him, and the sign on the door of his truck looked legitimate. Besides, his name was George. Her eyes drifted toward the sky.

As if the driver read her mind, a smile spread across his handsome face and he gave a three finger salute. “It’s all good. Scout’s honor.”

Reassured, Marge moved toward the open door, and then halted, her eyes focused on the raised running board, guessing it would require more movement than her pencil skirt allowed. She shimmied the hem an inch above her knees and tried to step up. Unable to negotiate the distance, she turned sideways, hiked it a bit higher, exposing a little thigh, and tried again. The seam in the back of her skirt split just as the young man stepped closer. He placed a strong hand on Marge’s bottom, giving her a boost, and sliding her into the seat. His touch sent a flush of heat to her face.

“Nice undercarriage,” he said with a wink and walked to the back of the truck to prepare her car for the tow.

Once he was out of sight, Marge chuckled. Shame on him. Yet, it felt good to have a man notice her firm bottom. Her husband had often said things like that when he was alive. She’d missed hearing it. She giggled again. Shame on me for letting him get by with that.

When the muscled man finished hooking up the tow and returned to the truck, Marge stared straight ahead, hesitant to make eye contact for fear she’d start giggling again. They rode in silence the few blocks to the station.

George, Jr. turned toward Marge. “Here we are.”

She cleared her dry throat and nodded. Grabbing the door handle, she hesitated. If she moved it would reveal the split in her skirt. How in the world was she going to negotiate the distance to the ground? The driver came around to the passenger side, opened the door and offered his hand. With as much dignity as Marge could muster, she accepted it and swung her legs to the right, planting both feet on the running board.

George kept his eyes focused on Marge’s face as she lifted her skirt enough to step to the ground.

Exhaling the held breath, Marge straightened her jacket to cover the exposed area. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure.” The driver bowed and closed the door. His pearly white teeth gleamed as he pointed to the front entrance of the building.

Without waiting for him to unhook her car, Marge hurried into the service station restroom and dug into her purse for a few safety pins. After performing damage control on her skirt, she returned to the lobby. Pete, the service station manager, motioned to her to come into the garage where her car sat elevated on a rack with the wheel removed.

“You’ve got more problems, lady. Your brake line is leaking.”

Both of Marge’s hands clasped her cheeks. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“You’re looking at two hundred bucks and a couple hours. I wouldn’t suggest driving until it’s fixed.”

Shaking her head in dismay, Marge responded, “Well, I don’t have a choice. Please get started as soon as you can. I’ve got a group of women waiting for me at the antique store down the street.”

Pete rubbed his chin. “My nephew needs to get some parts from a store near there.” The mechanic pointed to the corner of the office. “You can wait here, or he can give you a ride and come get you when it’s done.”

Another ride with a stranger? Marge glanced at the greasy, white—at least, she thought, it may have been white at one time—plastic lawn chair in the corner. “I’ll take the ride. Thanks.”

#

Marge stood near the antique store’s window and checked her watch for the sixth time in fifteen minutes. It had been two hours since Pete’s nephew had dropped her off. She felt foolish that she hadn’t taken down the number of the business where her car had been towed. She had decided to ask the proprietor of the store for a phone book when the man returned. She hurried out to the car and they drove back to the service station, the radio blaring with hip-hop music.

Pete shoved a piece of paper toward Marge, a $400 bill for his services.

She frowned. “I thought you said $200?”

The burly man removed a stubby cigar from his mouth with oil-black fingers. “It’s all listed there, lady. Cash or charge. Don’t take checks.”

The bold letters on the bottom of the bill read Friendly Highway Service. “My foot,” she mumbled. “It should say highway robbery.” She fussed as she thrust her credit card toward him. Once the transaction was completed, Pete handed her the keys.

Marge steamed as she left the lot feeling like she’d been ripped off. By the time she picked up the other woman, it was too late to make the trip to the gardens. All Marge wanted to do was get home and go to bed.

Gertie leaned forward from the back seat and placed a hand on Marge’s shoulder. “I’m starved. Let’s stop in Dawsonville and have dinner.”

Although Marge groaned, the growl in her stomach agreed, as did everyone else.

#

The house was dark by the time Marge pulled into her tree-lined driveway and parked. When she stepped out of the car, her foot settled on an errant pinecone and twisted, sending her plummeting to the ground, landing on her hip. “Ow!” She brushed gravel from her hands. “Great. Just what I needed.”

She rolled over, balanced on her knees and used her hands to push up, managing to stand. The movement drew another yelp. “Ow!” Unable to put any weight on her left ankle, she hopped to the steps and pulled herself up, balancing on the ball of her foot. Finally inside, she dropped her purse on the hallway table and hobbled into the kitchen for an ice pack.

Marge picked up the phone to call Mutzi, and then put it back in its cradle. She knew her sister would come home to help her, but she didn’t want to be a bother. Perhaps it would feel better by morning. She limped into the study and leaned her backside on the edge of the desk. “What a terrible day, George. I wish you were here. Things were so much easier when you were.”

Stretching forward to pick up one of her favorite photos of her late husband, the one of him on the beach showing off his six pack, she felt her skirt pull tight.

A flashback of the tight-t-shirt-man made her smirk. Well, maybe not everything is terrible. Still, it made her miss her George more. “If you were here, you’d wrap your arms around me and hold me until I fell asleep.” Marge set the picture back down. “It’s getting late. I think I’m going to go to bed. See you tomorrow, love.”

#

Mutzi was surprised to see Marge’s car in the driveway when she stopped by the house the following day. Normally, Marge would be gone to a meeting or out with some friends. She let herself into the house and found Marge’s purse laying on the table in the foyer. She peeked in the kitchen. It was untouched from the previous morning, her dirty dishes still in the sink.

“Marge?” Mutzi hurried through each room and called again. “Hey, Sis?”

A muffled groan came from Marge’s bedroom. Mutzi pushed open the door without knocking.

Marge hopped out of the bathroom on one foot and fell onto the unmade bed.

“What in the world happened?” Mutzi moved closer and poked a finger on Marge’s swelled ankle.

“Ouch. Don’t do that.” Marge laid her head on the pillow and closed her eyes. With one hand across her forehead, she sighed, her eyes remained shut. “It’s not that bad, really.” Marge opened her eyes and tried to sit up, leaning against the headboard.

“Yesterday was a mess. I got a flat tire. Actually, two flats. The spare in the trunk was useless, too.”

Mutzi grabbed another pillow and positioned it behind her sister’s head. “Not a good start to your day trip.”

“My skirt split getting in the tow truck. Then they found a leaky brake line.” Marge’s shoulders sagged lower with the accounting. “When I finally got home, I sprained my ankle getting out of the car.”

“That sucks, I mean stinks.” Mutzi picked up the limp icepack. “Do you want to go to the doctor?”

“No, no. I’m just exhausted from getting in the tub and dragging myself out. I’m sorry. I’m such a big baby.”

“Stop that. You are not. You’re tougher than anyone I know. I bet you haven’t eaten either.”

Marge closed her eyes again. “It’d take me another hour to work my way to the kitchen.”

“Stay here. I’ll refill the icepack and fix something.” Mutzi moved toward the door. “You’ve got time for a nap. I’m not too fast, but I promise not to burn down the kitchen.”

Marge opened her eyes and smiled. “Thanks, Sis.”

Mutzi hurried to the sink and put on a fresh pot of coffee. Trying to decide what to fix, she settled on scrambled eggs, toast, and a fresh fruit salad. Nothing that required the oven. Fifteen minutes later, she put all of it on a bed tray, refilled the ice pack and headed to her sister’s room.

Marge was sitting on the side of the bed when Mutzi entered. “That didn’t take long. Look at you! What a fine breakfast you made.”

“I’m glad to see you perked up.” Mutzi watched as Marge took a fork full of eggs. Her stomach knotted the moment she noticed the ring on her sister’s hand. “Did you wear that yesterday?”

“What?”

“The ring.” Her voice strained to a higher octave. “Did you wear it yesterday?”

Marge held her hand up and wiggled her finger. “Yes. I was showing the ladies. They thought it was beautiful.” She scrunched her face. “Come to think of it, I was showing it to them when the tire blew out.”

Mutzi’s chest tightened. “You need to take it off. Now.”

Marge set the tray aside and turned to her sister. “What’s wrong, Mutzi? What’s with the ring?”

“It’s cursed. Bad things happen. Trust me. I know. Look what happened to you since you wore it.”

Marge flipped a dismissive hand at the suggestion. “Don’t be silly. You know I don’t believe in silly superstitions.” She picked up her fork and stabbed at a strawberry. “If you want it back, just say so.”

Mutzi looked up at the ceiling, tears threatening to breach. “I don’t want the ring. I don’t want it in this house. I told you, it’s cursed.” She stormed out of the room, shouting over her shoulder as she left, “It’s not a superstition.”