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Abigail pulled the back hatch of her minivan down to close it, and, as she turned to push her shopping cart to the corral in the supermarket parking lot, she muttered, “Dang it!” She had just spotted Tammy Hall walking in her direction. Abigail looked at her phone in her hand as she pushed the cart, hoping Tammy wouldn’t notice her.
“Abigail!” Tammy’s nasal voice assaulted Abigail’s ears.
Abigail lifted her head and forced a smile. “Oh, hey, Tammy. I didn’t see you there.”
“You had your eyes glued to your cell phone,” Tammy clucked. “Everyone’s always glued to their screens these days. That’s why I still have my trusty, old flip phone. I just refuse to isolate myself from people because of a screen.”
Abigail swallowed down a retort as Tammy showed her the outdated flip phone she pulled from her pocket.
“It’s funny I ran into you today,” Tammy cocked her head to one side, “I was just going to give you a call.”
“On your flip phone?” Abigail couldn’t help herself.
Tammy laughed, and swatted at the other woman, “Oh, you! You’re always such a cut-up.”
“That’s me.” Abigail slipped her smartphone in her back pocket, and gripped the handle of the shopping cart. “What was it that you needed to talk about?”
Abigail got calls from the women in her husband’s congregation nearly every day. Some of them called with prayer requests, others with questions, and some of them just called to chat with their pastor’s wife–as a friend. However she had never received a call from Tammy that wasn’t part of her personal agenda. Usually some glorified bit of gossip she wished to confirm or to “put a bug in Pastor’s ear” about something she was “concerned” about.
“I just have some concerns,” Tammy answered. She affected a grave look. “I’ve heard some upsetting things about Pastor’s brother.”
“About Titus?” Abigail played dumb.
“Oh, yes.” Tammy nodded. “I heard about the vandalism.”
Abigail hated the way Tammy spoke. All the “oh, you!”s and “oh, yes”s. Abigail was sure an “oh, my” was soon to come. She just nodded in reply to Tammy’s statement. She would make her work for it today.
“It’s true, then?” Tammy prodded.
“Yes, it’s true.” Abigail squinted against the setting sun. “His house was vandalized.”
“How does Pastor feel about the situation with his brother?”
“He’s obviously upset about it.” Abigail narrowed her eyes. “It’s always upsetting when crimes are committed in Little River. Especially to people we know.”
Tammy shifted her weight and peered at the other woman. “But it’s a little bit understandable in this case, don’t you think?”
“I don’t know what you’re getting at.” Abigail’s face was stony.
“Well,” Tammy looked down at her feet, “living that kind of lifestyle in a God-fearing place like Little River is bound to rub people the wrong way.” Tammy glanced up at Abigail’s face, and quickly added, “Not that I’m condoning vandalism, of course.”
“Oh, of course not.” Abigail failed at keeping the sarcasm from her voice.
“I know two wrongs don’t make a right,” Tammy had squared her shoulders, as if she were daring Abigail to defend her brother-in-law, “but I’m just saying I can understand the frustration.”
Abigail just looked at the other woman.
Not to be deterred, Tammy pressed on, “I know a lot of people are talking about it. People are wondering why Pastor doesn’t speak out against his brother’s sinful lifestyle.” She studied Abigail’s face for a reaction. Not finding one, she continued, “People are starting to say Pastor is taking a weak stance against sin,” she paused, then added, “when it’s in his own family.”
Abigail felt anger pulsing in her veins. She wanted to smack the self-satisfied look right off of Tammy Hall’s face. Instead, she asked, “What people?”
“What people?” Abigail repeated. “Who is expressing these concerns to you?”
“Oh, I don’t want to betray anyone’s confidence,” Tammy said, her smile not reaching her eyes.
“Yes, I can see how that would be a concern.” Abigail’s pointed look was meant to be demeaning. “We wouldn’t want to violate anyone’s privacy with idle gossip.”
“Gossip?” Tammy looked offended. “Oh, my! I would never presume to gossip about your brother-in-law, Abigail. I just wanted to make Pastor aware of the things people are saying. I wouldn’t want his reputation as a Godly man in our community to be hurt.”
“Thank you for your concern.” Abigail’s eyes bore into the other woman’s. “I’ve got to be going now. See you later.”
As Abigail put her cart away and got into her van, she could feel Tammy’s eyes following her. When she looked in the rearview mirror to back out of her parking spot, she saw the other woman walking toward the entrance with her flip phone pressed to her face.
“Jonathan!” Abigail was calling for her husband the moment she walked through their front door.
“He’s outside,” Luke said, not looking up from his video game.
Abigail walked through the kitchen, setting the groceries on the table, and went out on the back deck. Jonathan was sitting at the patio table, one long leg crossed over the other, his Bible balanced on his knee. He was staring up into the leaves of the oak tree the kids’ tire swing hung from.
When she shut the door, Jonathan stirred from his reverie and smiled at her. “Hey, Babe.”
“Hey.” Abigail sat down in the chair next to him.
Jonathan peered at his wife’s face, concerned. “What’s wrong?”
“Tammy frickin’ Hall is what’s wrong!” Abigail spit out.
Jonathan chuckled. “What’s she done now?”
“It’s not funny.” Abigail glared at her husband. “She stopped me in the parking lot at Kroger. She said she had concerns about the situation with Titus.” Abigail made quotes in the air with her fingers when she said ‘situation.’
“What situation?” Jonathan asked. “The vandalism?”
“No.” Abigail shook her head. “The homosexuality.”
“Apparently,” Abigail pushed her hair behind her ear, “people are saying they are concerned you are taking a weak stance against sin.” Abigail again made the air quotes.
“People, who?” Jonathan looked weary.
“Who knows?” Abigail threw her hands up. “She wouldn’t say. Just said she’s concerned about your reputation. She’s just trying to stir up trouble. It was probably her that spray-painted Titus’ door.”
Jonathan laughed in spite of himself. “Abby, I don’t think Tammy Hall TP’d my brother’s trees and busted beer bottles on his porch. Much less spray-painted his door.”
Abigail gave her husband a grudging smile. “I wouldn’t put it past her.” Looking thoughtful, she added, “And I really wouldn’t put it past her son.”
“You think Jordan did it?”
“Who knows?” Abby shrugged. “They seem like the type to do it. When they’re not bombing abortion clinics on the weekend.”
Now, Jonathan really laughed. “You crack me up.”
Abigail smiled at him.
“Don’t worry about Tammy Hall, Honey.” Jonathan reached for his wife’s hand. “Everyone knows she’s just a gossipy busybody. No one takes her seriously.”
“I hope not.”
©2015 Rachel Holbrook
Rachel Holbrook writes from her home in Knoxville, TN. She is the author of the syndicated serial, Little River, Volumes 1 & 2. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Burningword Literary Journal, *82 Review, Ink in Thirds, Akitsu Quarterly, The Avalon Literary Review, and various other literary journals. When she’s not writing, she enjoys going on literal and literary adventures with her husband and six children.