Author Note: Another text-only chapter.
Gwayne Bayless wasn’t a devoutly religious person, but there were three things she considered to be sins – gambling, drunkenness, and unexpected visitors. When the wife of the mayor and treasurer of the city council drove up in front of her home on a mid-Simtober day, Gwayne found herself feeling hot and bothered.
“I’m not looking to donate nothin’ to your campaign and all,” Gwayne grumbled, turning away as she bounced the baby in her arms. “And I ain’t in’erested in your politics.”
Rachel Colt… or Racket…did she take her husband’s name? Gwayne couldn’t remember… the finely-dressed politician stepped from her vehicle and walked across the dirt driveway.
“I’m not here for donations,” Rachel remarked, offering her hand in friendship.
Gwayne glared at her suspiciously, but nonetheless, shook the woman’s hand. “Then what are yer here for?”
“I am here to help a neighbor however I can,” Rachel said softly.
Shark was right. Chase Bayless lived here in this small rundown shack with her parents and five other siblings, and it was clear the mother was pregnant again. Rachel spied a hole or two in the shanty roof, and the wooden walls looked as if they were rotting in a few places. Rachel swatted a mosquito. She recalled the days of living in the neighborhood, and was grateful she wasn’t raising Hope in the swamp where the ‘skeeters would eat her baby alive.
“We ain’t ‘xactly neighbors,” Gwayne remarked.
“Well, we used to be,” Rachel tried to think of anything she could say to make the woman feel more comfortable. “And I know your oldest daughter.”
“Chase?” Gwayne cocked her head to the side in disbelief.
Perhaps that wasn’t the best thing to say. How else would Rachel have met the pretty Bayless girl if it weren’t for her nephew?
“Yes, she hangs around with my niece,” Rachel decided to leave the relationship aspect of her nephew and the oldest Bayless girl out of the equation.
“Lolly Racket, right?” Gwayne still seemed tense, but she smiled slightly. “She plays the angel at the Toys for Tots drive at the hospital at Christmas. My boys all got good gifts last year.”
Rachel felt the air clear between them, at least metaphorically. The Twinbrook humidity still was at an all-time high, even for mid-fall.
“I didn’t know they was friends and all,” Gwayne remarked, and shifted the babe in her arms, who had since fallen asleep. “Land sakes! Where’s my manners and Southern hospitality and all? Would you like some lemonade or somethin’?”
“I would love some,” Rachel nodded in appreciation.
They were soon settled on the back porch, nestled between an outside wash line and a noisy washer and dryer. Gwayne brought glasses along with a pitcher of lemonade with a spring of mint. Rachel figured she might be trying to be fancy given she was aware of her guest’s wealthy connections. She hoped to put the woman at ease and find some way to offer her assistance. Gwayne gave her oldest son the baby down in her crib, lectured two of her sons who tracked mud into the house, and helped her middle daughter tie a shoe strap before returning to her seat. She introduced each child as they breezed through – Tay, her oldest son, Avery, the next oldest, the twins, Tyler and Skyler, and of course, the baby, River.
“You’ll have to forgive my kiddos traipsing through here… such is the life of a mother,” Gwayne chuckled. “They was playin’ in the swamp mud…”
“Kids will be kids,” Rachel shrugged and offered a polite smile.
Would her own daughter play in the mud in the swamps someday? It seemed an inevitable playground. Mud was like a magnetic for children.
“Mrs. Bayless…” she began.
“Please call me Gwayne… Ms. Rachel…”
“Of course… Gwayne…” Rachel tried the name and it sounded odd. “What does your name mean? It’s unusual, but pretty.”
“Gwayne… oh…” her hostess blushed. “It’s a boyish name, ain’t it? But my daddy loved him some King Arthur and his knights.”
“Ah… Sir Gawain…” Rachel nodded, making the connection.
“That’s whom I’m named for… guess daddy wanted a boy or somethin’. I’m told Gwayne means ‘white hawk of battle.'”
“Yeah… don’t know how many battles I’ll be seein’ but it’s a nice sentiment…”
Rachel bobbed her head. “My name means ‘little lamb.'”
“Interesting… we’re both named for one of God’s creatures…” Gwayne said.
“Yes, I suppose,” Rachel had never thought of it that way. She decided she better get to her point so as not to waste the woman’s time. “Gwayne… I was hearing from Chase that you seem to be having some troubles lately… financial… maybe.”
“Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean to offend, but well, we like having Chase around the manor. She’s a good influence…” Rachel stopped short, neglecting to add on Shark. “And she didn’t mean anything by confiding in me.”
It was a lie… a white lie… but a lie nonetheless.
“I just wanted to see if perhaps I could… well… I’d like your permission… to give Chase a job,” Rachel explained.
Gwanye arched a brow.
“And to see if you’d like a job as well,” Rachel continued.
Gwayne arched both brows. “Whatever do you mean, Ms. Rachel?”
“Well, Lolly tells me you have a degree in business finance…” Rachel said, grateful she had done her homework before visiting the Bayless residence. “And yet you’re working as a cashier over at the Wilsonoff Community Theater?”
“Yeah,” Gwayne confirmed with a frown. “I don’t like it though. Keeps me away from my babies too long and other people’s babies… they is going to see those movies filled with language and violence and drugs and all. I don’t let me kids see those things.”
Rachel nodded respectfully. “I understand. Chase also tells me that you are working at the hospital gift shop on the weekends too.”
“Yeah… listen if you’re here to make me feel bad… or cuz you got pity for me or somethin’, save it. My husband, well, he got a problem, and it’s no secret. I think half the town knows he’s up to his ears in debt to the Racket family so you are here to collect or something? Or rub it in my face?” Gwayne grunted. “Cuz I kicked him outta here… not a good influence on the babies and such… he needs to get hisself together before he’s welcome back here and I ain’t got no money to cover his debts.”
Rachel paled. Skeet Bayless owed money to the Rackets? Gwayne here had kicked him out? No wonder Chase was missing school. She was probably staying home to watch her siblings while her mama worked. This made her mission even more important.
“No, I am not here to rub anything in your face and I’m not here out of pity,” Rachel clarified. “I have contacts at Edgewater Global Business College, where you went to school, and they gave me a look at your transcripts. You graduated top of your class and your professors all speak very highly of you.”
Rachel leaned forward eagerly in her chair. “Look, I’m going to level with you. Yes, I guess, I am partly here on business because I could use someone like you working for me. I need someone to be my campaign manager for the city council position. I’m going to tell you something I haven’t told anyone else. I’m planning to run for president of the council instead of just treasurer.”
Gwayne’s eyes perked.
“And I need someone to help me with the finances part, and frankly, I need someone with your skill. I could also use some help with filing papers and that’s why I’d like to hire your daughter also. I think both of you would be a huge asset to my campaign, and ultimately to the city.”
“Now it’s going to be a real challenge. It’s only three weeks till the election, and of course, my opponent, the current president, is unaware that he’s being challenged so that all needs to be kept hush hush. But if you’re interested, I’m willing to hire you on immediately. And I’ll double… no… I’ll triple what you’re making between the theater and the hospital.”
“The work can primarily be done from home. I need someone to keep track of my donors and balance my books, but also keep track of important dates and meetings and such. And I need someone to practice my speeches on who isn’t biased and who won’t be a conflict of interest… like my husband… since he’s already the mayor and technically, the council works for him.”
“You wouldn’t have to leave your babies or rely on Chase quite as much. For the times when you’d need to leave the house, I’m sure we can arrange for a sitter. I’m happy to cover your gas and expenses if you’ll help me win. What do you think?”
“I…” Gwayne’s mouth dropped open. “Are you sure you even want me? I mean, I don’t even like no politicians.”
“I don’t care about your past feelings toward politicians, and I don’t even care what your political beliefs are,” Rachel explained. “What I care about is your experience and recommendations and qualifications… and I care about hiring the best, even if that means creating the most unlikeliest of teams. What do you say?”
Gwayne’s eyes moistened with tears. “I can’t believe it… Lord love a duck! He’s brought salvation for my family today. An angel… in a politician…”
“Oh…” Rachel blushed. “I don’t know about that.”
“Seriously… Ms. Rachel… I was just prayin’ down by the creekside earlier and asking the good Lord to help me find a way to provide for my youngins’ at least until Mr. Bayless and I can work things out and all. And here you is comin’ down to the swamps in your fancy car and all and askin’ me to work for you and tripling my salary,” Gwayne pressed her hands to her lips as if saying another silent prayer.
“I’ll quadruple it,” Rachel upped her offer. “If that’s a yes.”
“Yes!” Gwayne exclaimed, leaping to her feet. “Yes, yes, yes! Ms. Rachel, oh bless you!” she shook her hand vigorously. “You are an angel… a saint…”
“Uh Gwayne?” Rachel said uncomfortably.
“If you’re going to work with me, please… just call me Rachel.”
The other woman chuckled heartily. “Done.”