The nip of a Tennessee October could be felt in the air, mingled with the somewhat diverse odors from the landfill next door.
On the same air floated a gentle, draggy voice: "Honey, can you help me with this here counted cross stitch? I've lost count again!"
"I'm coming, Aunt Lady-Maria," said Honey Price with a brave smile.
Just at that moment, someone flung open the door with a loud tinny crash. Lady-Maria gave a jump and accidentally knocked Pug off the orange-and-green plaid tweed sofa onto the burnt-orange shag carpet. The dog, now knee-deep in the carpet, began to yip in a spastic fashion and the man who had entered aimed a kick at it in his advance. Pug skittered out of reach and then paused and squatted, but no one noticed, for the tension in the room was electric.
"Mr. Tom!" said his wife, looking up at the tall figure of a large, beefy man whose bald head came perilously close to the ceiling. "You're back early from the farm."
"Well, yeah, you better believe I am. I figured I'd better come on back when Young Tom phoned me to ask for money and I heard what these kids were gettin' up to."
Honey quivered slightly, then lowered her head and stared fixedly at the Counted Cross Stitch on Nylon Mesh Doggie Christmas Box ornament which she had just taken from her aunt. So far it showed only one leg of one doggie, and that one appeared to be badly deformed. After considering it for a moment, she laid it down on the walnut-grain formica built-in end table of the sofa.
"What do you mean, Tom?" Mrs. Bertram asked lazily. "They all seemed so busy and happy. Been in and out of here all the time. Playin' their guitars, and stuff."
"I mean this damn foolishness whereby they was going to appear at a so-called music club in Nashville. And a cheap, shoddy, filthy place at that. I been there, I seen it today, before I come here. Walked in and that young Yates turkey was belchin' his nonsense right in my face. Practicin', he said! It's a mystery why the cops ain't closed it down already for drug dealing. I done told my kids they can forget the hell about that little scheme.
"Honest to God, Lady-Maria, I absolutely don't know what possessed you to let them Crawfords hang around here in the first place while I was gone. They are purely trash, I tell you. Trash to the nth degree. And to think that my son -- my son Edmund -- says he's got the call, wants to be a preacher -- and damned if he didn't get mixed up in it all.
"What could make him think he could be a singer? Never in a million years. And Tom tells me he's been makin' eyes at that ..." Mr. Bertram here slammed his large hand on the table and the Counted Cross Stitch on Nylon Mesh Doggie Christmas Box bounced and fell to the floor. Luckily, the noise he had made drowned out the next word, and he continued, "...Mary Crawford! Well, I'm sending them packing, you can count on that. Where's the key to my gun case? Fanny!"
But the girl had slipped out. The pug ran to the kitchen door and whined after her.
"Tom, I wish you wouldn't call Honey that," Lady-Maria observed.
"Why not? Fanny's her name. It was good enough for your grandmother, and it's good enough for your niece. You ought to be proud of your niece, anyway. She's got more sense than the whole pack of the rest of them."
Fanny hurried down the gravel road, under the trees, breathing a little fast. At its end was the figure she had been longing to see. He had just slipped off the motorbike and leaned it against the large yellow-brick gate sign as she ran up to him.
"Honey! Here's your bike! I told Mary she could not borrow it any more. It hasn't been fair, her riding it all this time and you having to stay home. Anyway, her and Henry are getting a rental car today and packing their stuff to go on home to Knoxville."
"Thank you so much, Edmund," Honey said demurely, glancing up at him.
"Oh, Honey, I was so wrong. We were all wrong together," Edmund said, fervently embracing the girl. They kissed and there was a long silence; then Edmund said:
"Honey... will you marry me?"
She smiled at him through brimming eyes.
"I know you'd really make a perfect preacher's wife. And listen, I finally got the word today, Lacey Bible Church over in Thornton is calling me as their pastor. But Honey, they can't afford a house for us," he looked anxious, "not yet at least. Could you stand to on living here, next to my folks? It'd be real modest, we probably couldn't even afford a double-wide, like my father has."
"Edmund, it's all right! I'd be happy and proud to live anywhere with you! Just so you've really gotten over that awful Mary Crawford," she added with swift caution.
He smiled reassuringly, put his arm tightly around her shoulder and turned her. Together they faced the sign, and their future: