For well over a decade, Maureen Morgan had been known as the “Queen of Serene” in the village. She was everybody’s confidante and everyone’s counselor. She never lost her cool, yet she continuously maintained her warmth. She was a treasure and the Rock of Gibraltar. But she had never been through an earthquake before, especially one in which she was expected to be the mother hen to a whole village of little chicks who scrambled to the safety of Mama for comfort and advice.

Her cell phone nearly overheated from the non-stop barrage of calls, texts, and private messages. Some folks wanted news. Some wanted advice. Some wanted to share gossip. Occasionally someone would ask how Maureen was doing, but in reality, they just assumed she was fine.

When the battery on her cell phone had dwindled to three percent charge left, she decided it was time to plug it in for a recharge and turn the ringer sound off. She needed a break.

“I need a breath of fresh air!” she said aloud. Peering out her front window, she saw that some of the street lights had come back on. She took that as a good sign that things might be starting to return to normal. Grabbing her keyring which held her house keys, car keys, and a pepper spray canister, she lastly snatched up her big red nine-volt Coleman flashlight and stepped out the front door.

It was time for a look at the foundation, roof, and windows of her home. She headed left and scanned the exterior of the house, high and low. She could occasionally catch fragments of conversation from a few neighbors who were prowling around their own homes, checking for damage. Suddenly, from the corner of her eye, she glimpsed a young woman running. Hoping that the woman
wasn’t running from some bad guy pursuing her, Maureen shone the light down the street as far as its beam could penetrate. She saw nobody else running.

However, when she panned the light back to the runner, she spotted about fifty feet in front of the woman a man who seemed to be wandering aimlessly. His head drooped and his gait was a tired shuffle.

Just then, the running woman stopped in her tracks. “Ruston?!” she yelled, with a shrill edge to her voice. “Is that you?”

The wandering man came to a dead halt. He stiffened. He stammered, “Jezebel?”

“Ruston!” the woman yelled, her voice cracking as it broke into a cry. She collapsed into an Indian-style sitting position in the street, and sobbed like a child, her hands over her face.

Ruston was overcome with compassion, and maybe something else – maybe he had feelings of love for her, after all. He hurried to her and sat down beside her. He put his arms around her and quietly repeated, “There, there. I’m here.”

Maureen had been silently observing this scene play out. Her thumb had been perched on the trigger button of the pepper spray from the second she saw Jezebel freeze in her tracks, but she could tell right away that this was not an “imminent danger” scenario.

Knowing exactly who these two were, having heard “Jezebel” and “Ruston” in the interaction she had witnessed, Maureen now had a bit of a dilemma. Having been at the very nerve center of every phone conversation that transpired in Warm Springs Village, she knew who Ruston and Jezebel were, and she knew Jezebel was supposed to be in jail. Surely the jailer wouldn’t have chosen the
middle of an earthquake to release a prisoner, she thought.

She also reasoned that since Ruston had been living with Missy and Norman, last she heard, it was a little bit strange that he would be aimlessly wandering the streets in the immediate aftermath of an earthquake. Should she approach the couple? Should she inquire about their presence in the middle of her street?

They didn’t look dangerous right this minute, but she knew that this was the woman who had hidden in Lena’s attic, and shot Joe. Would Maureen’s dear friends, Joe and Lena, be in danger again, with Jezebel roaming the streets at all hours? Maureen stood quietly, unnoticed by the couple in the street, and quickly debated with herself on what action to take. She knew that once she moved at all, she would likely be spotted by the pair, in the semi-darkness. They could be dangerous, too, she reasoned, and the only weapon Maureen had at hand was a pepper spray canister on her key ring, which was purported to be able to project a stream of cayenne for twenty feet. If Jezebel had a gun, Maureen’s pepper spray would surely finish a poor second place in a showdown.

She maintained her position, still as a statue, but mosquitos were starting to poke their itch-inducing proboscises into her ankles and arms, making her efforts a “mission impossible” until finally, the decision was made for her. Quietly, smoothly, she must retreat into the house without a sound. She stealthily eased up onto her porch and did a masterful job at choosing the right key and noiselessly inserting it into the lock and turning it, while using the other hand to turn the knob, all without dropping the flashlight. Once inside, she quickly stepped down the hall and into the bathroom, where she flipped on the light and ruthlessly obliterated the three mosquitos who were still sucking the lifeblood out of her. “I hate mosquitos!” she yelled. “Worthless little vampires!”

Now she had a few minutes to collect her thoughts while she searched for the little green bottle of Campho-Phenique that she knew was somewhere in the house.

Out in the street, every hurtful deed ever perpetrated by Ruston or Jezebel toward one another had been forgiven, and they sat in a huddle, rocking gently. Ruston stroked her long hair and cupped her face in his hands. “Do you still want to marry me, Jezzy?” he whispered.

“Yes!” she cried. “Yes! Let’s go tonight, right now! We can be miles away before full daylight, and get married before anyone could find us!”

“Yes, Baby!” Ruston murmured, “We don’t need anyone but each other! Here, let me help you up.” He took her hands and lifted her to a standing position. “C’mon, Sugar, let’s go make you Mrs. Wrigley!”

Arm in arm they went, in synchronized steps, giggling like a couple of lovestruck ninnies, unaware and uncaring about anything else or anyone else in the world. Within ten minutes, they would walk right past Missy’s house which had Ruston’s only brother inside, and he wouldn’t even slow down or make mention of that fact. Oh, no, they were going to get married. That would be the end of all their troubles…they thought.


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