This month’s story is For the Love of Maybelle, by Michelle Francik. To download a printable .pdf file of the story, please click here.
For the Love of Maybelle
by Michelle Francik
Born on the first day of May, Maybelle Lily Johnson was welcomed to the world in an unusual way.
Doctor Sercia kept insisting Darlene Johnson wasn’t due until early June, but she knew her body and was convinced her daughter was going to arrive early.
Darlene and her husband Jake hosted the May Day Carnival every year and even though she felt as huge as a house, she wasn’t going to let the community down. As she’d done every year for the past ten years, she promised everyone that this was going to be the best May Day Carnival yet.
“Darlene, sweetie, are you in here?”
“Back here, Momma,” she called out. “But watch your step. There are ribbons everywhere.” Darlene was in the extra bedroom, at the back of the ranch style house, trying to untangle the May Day ribbons from the previous year.
“Oh my. What is going on here?” Janice Roosevelt fanned her face with her hand. “This is a right mess, sweetie.”
Darlene bit back a sharp retort and pasted a huge smile on her face before turning to face the older woman. “Well, Momma, it’s a work in progress. I could use your help a lot more than your criticism.”
Janice’s mouth twisted into a frown and she placed her hands on her hips. “If you weren’t with child, I’d turn you over my knee for being so disrespectful to your mother.”
She snorted. “Momma, you’ve never turned me over your knee for anything and when I was a teenager, there were many times I surely deserved it.”
Janice grinned and shook her head. “I know. I’m all bark and no bite. How can I help? I mean, I have no idea where to even start with this mess. This is worse than your father’s tangled Christmas lights.”
“I really don’t understand how they get so tangled. I wind them up and put them away, neatly, in these boxes. But when I take them out, voila, a tangled mess.” She wiped at her eyes with the back of one hand, annoyed at the tears welling up in them.
For once, Janice backed down. She walked over to her daughter and rubbed her back. “It’s okay. I’m here to help. Just like I help your father with the Christmas lights.” She sighed and placed her hands on her hips. “Where, oh where, should I begin?”
Darlene laughed. “How about right here, Momma. Untangle this red ribbon for me, please.”
A few hours (and many suppressed curse words) later, all of the ribbons had been untangled and wrapped around spools. Darlene looked around with pride. She loved hosting the May Day Carnival and the May Pole Dance was one of her favorite things.
“Here you go, sweetie,” Janice handed her a frosty glass of iced lemonade and sat down in the chair across from her. “We did it!”
“Yes, we did, Momma. Was there ever any doubt?” Her eyes twinkled with mischief and she watched her mother’s lips twitch as she tried not to smile.
“Of course not. Never any doubt at all.” She took a sip of her lemonade and sighed. “I’m exhausted. You must be ready for a nice nap.”
“I wish,” Darlene snorted. “There’s still so much to do.”
“Well, where is that handsome husband of yours? Shouldn’t he be helping you?”
As if on cue, the front door slammed and a deep voice boomed, “Where are my favorite ladies?”
“We’re back here, honey,” Darlene called out. She started to stand up but fell back into the chair as a sharp pain ripped through her abdomen. Oh no you don’t, she thought as she rubbed her belly. You can come early, but not before the May Day Carnival. The baby kicked and rolled over, then settled down.
“Are you okay?” Her mom’s worried expression caused Jake to stop in his tracks, just inside the bedroom door.
Darlene smiled as she reached for her husband. She buried her face in his neck and his arms wrapped around her, holding her tightly, yet gently. “Nothing’s wrong. Your baby is just being a little feisty, that’s all.”
“Well, she definitely takes after her Momma, then,” he teased. He stepped back and took a long look at her face. “You promise to tell me if this is too much for you, right? I couldn’t bear it if anything happened to you or the baby.”
“I promise,” she whispered, fingers crossed behind her back.
The May Day Carnival was in full swing and Darlene was tired and sweaty, but happy. Things had gone off without a hitch and everyone was having a wonderful time.
“I don’t know how you do it, but every year you say the Carnival is going to be the best one ever and every year you outdo yourself.” Mayor Rhonda Russell shook her head. “I still think you should consider running my reelection campaign. There’d be no way I could lose.”
“Thanks for the offer, but I’m going to be a little busy with this one,” she said, patting her belly.
“When are you due, anyway? You look like it could be any day now.”
“The doc says early June, but I think she’ll be here much sooner than that.”
The mayor nodded and patted her hand. “You let me know if there’s anything you need. Anything at all.” Jake walked up as the mayor headed off.
“How are you doing, love? Would you like a cold drink or a snack?”
“No thanks. I’m okay, just a little tired. And it’s very warm out here.” She wiped at her face with a napkin, feeling her husband’s eyes watching her. “It’s about time for the May Pole Dance, isn’t it?”
“Are you sure you’re up for it?” he asked. “Everyone would understand if you skipped it this year.”
“No way! It’s my favorite part of the carnival. I bought an emerald green ribbon to celebrate our daughter’s arrival in May and I’m going to dance with it!”
He laughed. “You know the doc says she’s not going to be here until June.”
She blew a raspberry at him and shook her head. “Our daughter will arrive when she’s ready and that’s going to be in May. I can feel it.”
The Mayor’s voice over the loudspeaker interrupted their discussion. “Alright everyone. It’s time for the May Pole Dance. Gather round the May Pole and choose your ribbon.”
Darlene’s eyes lit up. “Help me up, Jake. It’s time to dance.”
He helped her up, placed a kiss on her cheek and escorted her to the May Pole. He handed her the spool with the emerald green ribbon then stepped back, out of the way of the dancers.
This is it, Darlene thought. It’s time to dance. Smiling, she danced to the music, bobbing and weaving around the other dancers, her ribbon twisting and twirling around the other ribbons. The music ended and everyone clapped.
Darlene made her way over to Jake and stroked her hand along the side of his handsome face. “It’s time,” she said.
Jake frowned, confused. “What do you mean? It’s time for what? The May Pole Dance just ended.”
She grinned up at him. “I know that, silly. It’s time for the baby of course.”
As her words registered in Jake’s tired mind, her water broke.
“Oh, my word,” Jake stammered. “You stay here and I’ll get the car.”
“There’s no time dear husband. Our daughter is coming . . .NOW! And Maybelle Lily Johnson was born at the May Day Carnival next to the May Pole, behind the ring toss booth.
Since Maybelle was born on May Day, just moments after the May Pole Dance, many people assumed that’s where she got her name. But actually, she was named after her two paternal grandfathers: Maynard Roosevelt and Bellingham Johnson.
Little Maybelle had Maynard’s fine blond hair and Bellingham’s brilliant green eyes. She also had their stubbornness, in spades.
“Maybelle’s stubborn because she’s a Taurus,” Grandma Janice announced.
But Grandma Martha disagreed. “I don’t believe in all that hooey. Maybelle was born the day after the Eta Aquariid meteor showers lit up the sky. You know the meteor showers are caused by Halley’s comet which orbits the sun in the opposite direction of the earth and the other planets. It’s going backwards, so that’s why she’s so contrary.”
Grandma Janice crossed her arms over her chest and stomped her foot. “That’s hogwash and you know it.”
Whether it was because of hogwash or hooey, baby Maybelle’s stubbornness was undisputed.
When Darlene tried to get Maybelle to eat her pureed peas, she clamped her lips shut and shook her head no. She refused to eat until she got something she wanted. When Jake tried to get her into her car seat, she crossed her arms and refused to get in until he buckled her doll, Molly, into the toy car seat next to it. If Molly didn’t get buckled in, neither did Maybelle.
The family quickly learned that when their daughter made up her mind, there was very little they could do to change it.
As she grew, her stubbornness transformed into determination. She was kind and unselfish, but if she thought someone was being treated unfairly, she stood up for them and didn’t back down. Bullies didn’t stand a chance against Maybelle. It didn’t matter how much bigger they were, she showed no fear and refused to let the bullying continue.
When she was in sixth grade, a new boy moved to town. His name was William Hawthorne and he had two dads.
Most of the people in the small town welcomed the family warmly. They were good people, after all. Darlene and Jake invited them to dinner once they’d settled in and the families quickly became friends. Maybelle and William spent the next few years as best friends and later, she’d remember that time as one of the best times of her life.
But there were darker forces at work and one day, as she was heading home from school, Maybelle found William cowering behind the school dumpster, his face bloodied and his body bruised.
“What happened?” she asked. “Who did this to you?”
“It’s nothing. I just tripped and fell.”
She snorted. “Yeah, right.”
“Seriously, Maybelle. Just leave it alone, okay?” He shoved past her and left her standing with her mouth hanging open.
Why would he lie to her? It was obvious that someone had beaten him. He knew she’d stand up for him, so why didn’t he tell her the truth? She shook her head and continued towards home.
The next few days were frustrating for Maybelle. William refused to talk to her, avoiding her every effort to get near to him. She was used to being close with him and being shut out was tearing her apart.
“What’s going on with you and William?” Darlene asked her one evening, after dinner.
“What do you mean?”
“We invited William’s family over for dinner twice this week and they turned us down both times.” She placed her hands on her hips. “So, I’ll ask again. What’s going on with you two?”
Maybelle sighed and shook her head. “I have no idea, Momma. I truly have no idea.” The next day William didn’t show up for school and Maybelle was heartbroken when she learned the family had moved away.
Maybelle was 18 years old and about to graduate high school. For as long as she could remember she’d helped her parents with the May Day Carnival. She loved creating games and setting up booths and prizes. But, just like her Momma, the May Pole Dance was her very favorite.
“Can you come help me with the ribbons?”
She headed for the back bedroom and was surprised to find her mom sitting on the floor, holding a spool of emerald green ribbon to her chest.
“What’s that, Momma? I’ve never seen that ribbon before.”
Darlene smiled. “That’s because it’s a very special ribbon. This is the ribbon I danced with the day you were born.” She held it out to her daughter.
As she took the spool from her mother’s hands, she smiled. “Hey Momma, the green matches my eyes.”
“Yes, it does, isn’t that amazing?”
Something in her mother’s tone made her uncomfortable. “Momma, you’re scaring me. Is everything all right?”
Darlene’s eyes filled with tears. “Don’t worry, darling. Everything’s fine. I’m just a little emotional because my baby is all grown up.”
“I’m grown Momma, but I’ll always be your baby.” She sat on the floor and threw her arms around her. “What’s really going on?”
Darlene shook her head. “You always could read me, couldn’t you. I can’t tell you because it’s a surprise. But I think you’re gonna like it. Just be ready for anything, sweetie.” As Maybelle looked down at the green ribbon, she added, “And promise me you’ll dance with this green ribbon.”
May Day dawned bright and clear. Maybelle yawned and stretched her arms above her head. She was a little sore from toting things around the last few days and setting up the chairs and games, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. She’d inherited her parent’s love of all things May Day.
Since she knew there was a surprise, but had no idea what it entailed, she dressed carefully. She wore sturdy, yet comfortable shoes, a pair of stretchy jeans, a pretty cotton tee-shirt and a plaid button up to keep her arms safe from sunburn. She pulled her hair into a high ponytail and added a swipe of gloss to her lips. She looked at herself in the mirror, noting the way her eyes sparkled with excitement.
“Maybelle, it’s going to be a great day today,” she told her reflection.
After a breakfast of eggs, sausage and biscuits, the Johnsons were ready for the Carnival. They picked up Grandma and Grandpa Roosevelt on the way. Grandma and Grandpa Johnson were meeting them there.
Mayor Robert Russell presided over the opening ceremonies while his grandmother, Rhonda, the former mayor looked on proudly.
The day passed quickly, and before she knew it, it was time for the May Pole Dance. Maybelle smiled at her mother and father and held up the green ribbon. Her mom nodded and her dad waved.
The music started and Maybelle danced! She weaved in and out and twisted her ribbon around and around. She’d never felt happier or more free. Suddenly, the music stopped, and she stumbled, startled out of her reverie. The loudspeaker squawked, drawing her attention to the stage.
“Hey everyone,” a familiar voice called out. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I have an important announcement.”
Maybelle stared. It couldn’t be, could it? The man looked a lot like William. But William had left years ago. And this was a man. Tall, muscular and very, very handsome. She felt her heart do a flip flop in her chest as their eyes met.
“Hey Maybelle. Could you please join me up here on stage?”
A round of applause and helpful hands had her moving to join him before she even realized what was happening. She looked over at her parents who were grinning and clapping.
“What’s going on?” she whispered as she joined William. He smiled but turned back to the crowd.
“Years ago, when I was new in town, a scrawny 12-year-old with two dads, this lovely woman and her family accepted us into their lives. For a while my life was full of joy. Unfortunately, not everyone approved, and when I was fifteen, I was targeted and attacked because my family was different.”
A murmur of anger rippled through the audience. Maybelle reached out and took William’s hand in hers.
“My abusers threatened me and both of my dads. That I could handle.” He paused and looked down at the ground. “But when they threatened Maybelle, that’s when they broke me.”
She gasped and he met her eyes. “That’s why I didn’t answer your questions. I knew you’d take them on, and I couldn’t let you do that. So we left town. But I couldn’t get a pair of emerald green eyes out of my mind. They haunted my dreams. But they also gave me purpose and hope.”
He turned to Maybelle and took both of her hands in his. “Your strength and kindness buoyed me up when I was down. It guided me to find a solution to my problem. And I had a huge problem.”
Confused, she looked up into his face, searching for an explanation.
“I love you, Maybelle. I’ve always loved you. From the first time I saw you stand up to bully. From the first time I saw you laugh. When you accepted me and my family, no questions asked. I couldn’t bear to spend the rest of my life without you, but I couldn’t risk you getting hurt.”
“You love me?” she whispered.
“Tell them the rest of the story,” her dad called out. He gave William a thumbs up and Maybelle rolled her eyes.
William laughed. “Yes, sir. I surely will. For years I was afraid. I didn’t want to do anything to harm Maybelle or her family. But once I realized how I truly felt about her, I knew what I had to do. I reported the attacks and threats to the police where we lived and asked them for their advice. They contacted the police here and found out the boys who attacked me had been accused of attacking other people, but nobody had been willing to testify. Long story short, they were able to set up a sting and caught the boys in the act. Several other people besides me had had enough and agreed to testify. They’re going to be behind bars for a long time.”
The crown cheered and Mayor Russell stepped up to the microphone. “I can verify that the boys who’ve been terrorizing the town have been arrested and face a minimum of 10 years in prison, and that’s with good behavior. And it’s all thanks to William here, and his willingness to come forward about the abuse and threats.”
“No, it’s not because of me,” William said, shaking his head. “It’s because of my love for Maybelle.”
Maybelle felt her face grow warm as the crowd went wild. “Don’t I have a say in all of this?” she teased. “What if I don’t feel the same way?”
“Then I will spend the rest of my life being the best man I can be and doing everything in my power to make you fall in love with me.”
As she met his gaze, she sighed. “I don’t think you’ll have to work very hard at all.”
Maybelle and William were married at the May Day Carnival the following year. And two years later a very pregnant Maybelle danced the May Pole Dance for the last time before she became a momma to twin sons.
© 2023 Michelle Francik. All rights reserved.
May is a time of renewal and hope. Of new beginnings. I had my first son in May and having him turned my life around. I didn’t know I could love someone that deeply.
May hasn’t always seemed like a good month for me, as many of my surgeries have happened in May, but maybe I just need to reframe it as a time of renewal! Lol.
I incorporated Taurus, one of the zodiac signs for May; emerald, for May’s birthstone; and May Day/May Pole Dancing. I also found it very interesting about the Eta Aquariid meteor showers being caused by Halley’s Comet, so I had to include that!
I hope you enjoyed this month’s Story of the Month! Thank you for reading!
Michelle Francik writes cozy mysteries and paranormal cozies with a touch of romance, as well as a children’s fable series. She hosts Short Story Writing Challenges and publishes anthologies. She also creates and sells printables like planners, journals, posters and more. She loves cats, heavy metal music, reading, and helping people make their dreams come true.
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