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Truth or Beard

By:Penny Reid

CHAPTER 1


“Not all those who wander are lost.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring


~Jessica~


I pulled into the Green Valley Community Center parking lot and scared the crap out of five senior citizens.

Even though it was Halloween, inducing heart attacks in the geriatric population was not on my agenda. Unfortunately for everyone within earshot, my truck made a ghastly, high-pitched whining sound. This happened whenever it idled.

The group of five jumped—obviously startled—and glared at me. Soon their glares morphed into wrinkled squints of befuddlement, their eyes moving over my appearance from my perch. It took them a few minutes, but they recognized me.

Everyone in Green Valley, Tennessee knew who I was.

Nevertheless, I imagined they were not expecting to see Jessica James, the twenty-two-year-old daughter of Sheriff Jeffrey James and sister of Sheriff’s Deputy Jackson James, dressed in a long, white beard sitting behind the wheel of an ancient Ford Super Duty F-350 XL.

In my defense, it wasn’t my monster truck. It was my mother’s. I was currently between automobiles, and she’d just upgraded to a newer, bigger, more intimidating model. Something she could plaster with bumper stickers that said,

Have You Kissed Your Sheriff Today? and

Don’t Drink and DERIVE, Alcohol and Calculus Don’t Mix, and

Eat Steak!! The West Wasn’t Won With Salad.

As the local sheriff’s wife, mother to a police officer (my brother) and a math teacher (me), and the daughter of a cattle rancher, I think she felt it her duty to use the wide canvas of her truck as a mobile pro-police, pro-mathematics, and pro-beef billboard.

I waited patiently for them to look their fill, giving them a small smile they wouldn’t see behind my beard. Being stared at didn’t bother me much. After a few more minutes of confused gawking, the gang of seniors shuffled off like a herd of turtles toward the entrance to the community center, casting cautiously confused glances over their shoulders.

As quickly as I could, I maneuvered the beast into a space at the edge of the lot. Since inheriting the truck, I usually parked on the edge of parking lots so as not to be that person who drives an oversized vehicle and takes up two spaces.

I adjusted my beard, tossing the three-foot, white length over my shoulder, and grabbed my gray cape and wizard hat. Then I tried not to fall out of the truck or flash anyone on my hike down from the driver’s seat. Luckily, my costume also called for a long staff; I leveraged the polished wood to aid my descent. The rest of my costume was negligible—a one-piece mini-skirt sheath dress with a low cut front—which made stretching and moving simple.

I was halfway across the lot, lost in delighted mental preparation for my father and brother’s scowls of disapproval, when I heard my name.

“Jessica, wait up.” I turned and waved when I found my coworker and friend Claire jogging toward me.

“I thought that was you. I saw the staff and cape.” She slowed as she neared, her eyes moving over the rest of my costume. “You’ve made some…modifications.”

“Yes.” I nodded proudly, grinning at her warily amused expression. Claire hadn’t changed since work; she was still wearing an adorable Raggedy Ann costume. Lucky for her, she already had bright red hair and freckles. All she had to do was put her long locks in pigtails, then add the overalls and the white cap.

“Do you like what I’ve done?” I twisted to one side then the other to show off my new garment and my high-heeled strappy sandals.

“Are you still Gandalf? Or what are you supposed to be?”

“Yeah, I’m still Gandalf. But now I’m sexy Gandalf.” I wagged my eyebrows.

Claire covered her mouth with a white-gloved hand then snorted. “Oh my God. You are a nut.”

A sinister giggle escaped my lips. I’m not much of a giggler unless I’ve done something sinister. “Well, I couldn’t wear it to work. But I love the irony of it, you know? All those stupid Halloween costumes that women are expected to wear, like sexy nurse and sexy witch and sexy bee. I’ve actually seen a ‘sexy bee’ costume. Am I missing something? Is there a subset of men who get off thinking about pollinators?”

“I agree. You can’t wear the sexy Gandalf costume to work. In addition to being against the dress code, you’re already starring in the sex fantasies of all your male students as their hot calculus teacher. If you’d worn sexy Gandalf at school instead of regular Gandalf, I think they’d go home feeling confused about their sexuality.”

I laughed and shook my head, thinking how odd the last three months had been.

Like me, Claire was a Green Valley native; also like me, she’d moved back to town after college. However, where I was here only temporarily—just for the few years until I paid off my student debt—Claire was here to stay. She’d become the drama and band teacher during my senior year of high school. Now we were coworkers. With her gorgeous red hair, light blue eyes, and a strikingly beautiful face, during my senior year as well as now, she was labeled the hot drama teacher.

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