[Read by Carrington MacDuffie]
It isn't every day a movie star steals your husband. When that day comes for Chiffon Butrell of Cayboo Creek, South Carolina, she looks to the Bottom Dollar Girls to help her out of one fine mess.
With three kids to feed and Lonnie's paycheck from the NutraSweet plant being forwarded to a California address, Chiffon is coming up more than a dollar short. There's just one thing to be done -- call on her estranged older sister, Chenille. As crisis reigns, Chenille is welcomed by the Bottom Dollar Girls for her cool head and quick thinking. And when Chenille runs into a little trouble of her own, she begins to see the future in friendship. A rollicking, hilarious novel about two sisters who are each one of a kind, A Dollar Short is a delicious page-turner worth every last cent.
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Karin Gillespie is the author of the Bottom Dollar Girls novels. Before becoming a novelist, she was a special education teacher at an inner-city school and an editor of a regional parenting magazine. She is currently a biweekly columnist for the ''Lifestyle'' section of the Augusta Chronicle in Augusta, Georgia, where she lives with her son, Brandon, and her husband, David. She travels the Southeast with three other Southern authors, and they call themselves the Dixie Divas.
Menstruation, menopause, mental breakdown. Ever notice how all women's problems begin with men?
-- Comment overheard under the hair dryers at Dazzling Do's
It isn't every day a movie star steals your husband. Chiffon Butrell certainly wasn't expecting such a major upheaval in her life on that nippy Tuesday in January. Instead, she was grappling with more trivial aggravations, such as hunting down a pencil for her eight-year-old daughter, Emily.
Her oldest child stood near the front door, fully dressed, her light brown hair gathered up into a neat ponytail. Wearing a mask of quiet stoicism, she kept glancing at her Hello Kitty wristwatch.
Chiffon, her blond hair snarled into rats from sleep, rummaged through the junk drawer of a battered desk. "You'd think that somewhere in all this mess there'd be one lousy...Ick!" She snatched back her hand as it touched something sticky.
With her thumb and index finger, she picked up the offending object, a Hulk action figure, covered head to toe with peanut butter.
"Dewitt, what is this?" she asked her five-year-old son, who was slicing the air with a series of karate chops.
"It's a spearmint," he said, continuing to deliver blows to an invisible assailant.
"What?" Chiffon said, bewildered.
"An experiment," Emily said matter-of-factly. She was a frequent translator for her younger brother. "He likes watching Bill Nye, the Science Guy. We'd better go. The bus will be here any minute."
"I just can't believe -- Wait a second." Chiffon picked up her pocketbook from the floor and scrabbled inside. "Aha!" she said, handing Emily a pencil she'd fished from the bottom. "Here we go, baby."
Her daughter examined it with large gray eyes. "Mama, this is an eyeliner pencil."
"It won't do in a pinch?"
"I'm taking a standardized test today. I need two sharpened No. 2 pencils."
Chiffon vaguely remembered signing an official-looking letter from Emily's school about an upcoming test. And Emily, being a responsible child, had almost certainly mentioned that her pencil supply was running low. Unfortunately, Chiffon had completely forgotten about both.
"Don't worry, Mama," Emily said in an even voice. "My teacher will probably have some spare pencils. Come on, Dewitt, let's go."
Emily opened the front door, letting in a gust of frigid air. Chiffon shivered and gripped together the lapels of her skimpy leopard-print robe. The local morning TV show had said it was 28 degrees outside, uncommonly chilly for Cayboo Creek, South Carolina, even in winter.
"Stay warm!" Chiffon hollered after the pair. They waved at her with bare hands already pink from the cold as they crossed the frozen lawn, which looked like it was covered with a layer of powdered sugar.
"Shoot," Chiffon said to herself as she sprinted barefoot across the freezing wooden floor. "I should've made them wear mittens." Trouble was, when she'd looked earlier, she hadn't been able to find a pair anywhere in the house. Yesterday there'd been a light snow, and the kids had had to wear their daddy's athletic socks on their hands to make snowballs.
"Gotta go to Goodies and get some mittens," she said to herself, adding to a mental list of errands she needed to accomplish today. Tuesday was her day off from her waitress job at the Wagon Wheel steak restaurant.
Gabby, her six-month-old daughter, who up until now had been amusing herself with a plastic spoon, screwed up her face and let out a cranky cry.
"Hey, kiddo," Chiffon said, scooping up the baby from her walker. "Yeesh. Your diaper's sopping."
On her way to the nursery from the living room, she banged her hip against the corner of her husband Lonnie's pool table. "Dang it," she said with a grimace, knowing a vivid yellow-blue bruise would soon blossom there. She didn't know how many women would put up with a deluxe-size pool table smack dab in their living room, but she guessed the number was few.
She changed Gabby's diaper and outfitted her in flannel footie pajamas and a knit stocking cap. Then she dressed herself in a black turtleneck, jeans, and a fleece-lined denim jacket. Taking it from the hook by the door, she clapped Lonnie's plaid, ear-flapped hunting hat over her head. Before she started her day, she wanted hot coffee, along with a dose of chitchat, and she knew exactly where to get it.
With the baby in her arms, Chiffon slammed the front door behind her and made her way to her elderly Pontiac Firebird parked in the drive. As she strapped Gabby into her car seat, she noticed her eyes looked as glassy as blue marbles. Her daughter's vacant look and the fine thread of drool on her lips meant she was moments from naptime.
Chiffon cranked the car's engine, which wheezed in protest, and backed out of her gravel driveway lined with halved tires, wedged in the ground and painted white. Her purple one-story house stuck out in the neighborhood like a peacock in a flock of wrens. Its garish color and its location, directly in front of an ABC Package Shop, were the reasons she and Lonnie had been able to afford it.
She traveled down Main Street, watching red-cheeked passersby struggle against the sting of the icy wind. Unlike many boarded-up and abandoned small Southern towns, downtown Cayboo Creek bustled with a collection of thriving businesses. Boomer from the butcher shop stood on a stepladder taking down the letters from his outdated portable sign that read JANUARY IS HEAD CHEESE MONTH. Reeky Flynn, bundled up in a bulky ski jacket and wool mittens, fumbled with her keys to open the Book Nook. When she passed the storefront for Dazzling Do's, Chiffon touched a hand to her unruly blond curls. She was way overdue for a cut.
Parking outside the Bottom Dollar Emporium, she slung her sleeping daughter over her shoulder and strode toward the entrance. The pansies out front, potted in gleaming copper washtubs, had wilted faces, stunned by the polar temperatures. The row of white rocking chairs on the porch, often occupied by the town elders in balmier weather, creaked in the bracing breeze.
Chiffon pushed opened the door and immediately heard the querulous voice of Attalee Gaines, the soda jerk, coming from the soda fountain in back.
"What a lot of twaddle!" Attalee said. Chiffon guessed she was addressing the owner of the Bottom Dollar Emporium, Mavis Loomis.
Chiffon threaded past several wooden barrels, heaped high with bulk candy from another age. Every time her children came into the Bottom Dollar Emporium, their eyes glazed over as they tried to take in the vast hodgepodge of sweets. Voluptuous wax lips brushed up against Teaberry gum and lengths of licorice pipes. Burlap bags bulging with Gold Nugget bubblegum were nestled among Charleston Chews, Chick-O-Sticks, and a tangle of Slo Pokes.
If the barrels of treats failed to tempt customers, the line of glass jars crammed with Swedish red fish, anise squares, and peppermint sticks would definitely set mouths to watering. Chiffon gazed greedily at a jar packed tight with gummy bears, imagining them beating their fruit-flavored fists against the glass, pleading, "Let me out!"
With a swift motion, Chiffon shook a menagerie of bears into the metal scoop of the candy scale, poured her purchase into a small white paper bag, and scribbled the amount on a chit sheet, which she stuck by the register.
Weaving her way to the back of the store, she paused at a display of sourwood honey jars and courtin' candles (used long ago by fathers to let their daughters' beaus know when their dates were over). The Bottom Dollar Emporium was chockablock with all manner of items from a bygone era. Button-flap union suits, pine-tar soap, and galvanized watering cans could all be found among the cluttered aisles of the store.
Stiff floorboards groaned beneath her feet as Chiffon headed toward the rich fragrance of roasted coffee beans, which curled from the break area to her eager nostrils. She parked her gum in an old brass spittoon attached to the wall and poured steaming coffee into a heavy chipped mug with her name on it. The toasty cup warmed her hands, which were raw from the cold. She saw Mavis and Attalee fussing over some kind of contraption lying on the soda fountain.
"What have you got there?" she asked the two women as she settled the baby into her carrier.
"A Diaper Houdini," Attalee said, pointing a yellowed fingernail at the box on the fountain. She wore her soda-jerk uniform, and her crisp white cap sat on her head at a crooked angle.
"Diaper Genie," Mavis corrected.
Attalee brushed a gray sausage curl from her wrinkled face with the back of her hand. She was well into her eighties but still sported the fussy hairdo of a seven-year-old girl.
"Heck," she said in a voice like sandpaper over wood. "A real Diaper Genie would change the young 'un and wipe its bottom."
Mavis scratched her head in bewilderment. She was a plump woman with short, wiry salt-and-pepper hair and bemused brown eyes.
"As it is, we're not real sure what it does," Mavis said.
"That must be your baby-shower gift for Elizabeth," Chiffon said. Elizabeth used to be a clerk at the Bottom Dollar Emporium, and she and Chiffon had gotten to be best chums over the years.
Chiffon picked up the Diaper Genie box. "These things are all the rage. You can stuff about thirty diapers inside, and the Diaper Genie will twist them up into a cone with no stinky smell."
"That's all?" Attalee said, looking dispirited, as if she'd expected something more miraculous.
"Don't worry. Elizabeth will love it."
As Chiffon dropped into a heart-backed chair and propped her elbows on a small table, her eyes fell on the baby-word scramble Attalee had been working on as a part of the shower games.
"'Drool,' 'spit-up,' 'colic,' and 'stinky,'" Chiffon said, picking up the paper from the table and reading from it. "Shoot, Attalee. Couldn't you come up with some sweeter baby words for the scramble? You'll put a scare into Elizabeth."
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