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The sun was just beginning to edge over the treetops. Still cold in the shade of the tall pines by the side of the road. She could hear the car slowing as it came up behind her. She got in back beside the girl. There were four of them. A tall guy driving, long hair. A young woman in the passenger seat up front. She had creamy skin and high cheekbones, auburn hair, beautiful round eyes. A model, perhaps.

In the back against the window, the other guy. Short, nasty looking, edgy voice, complexion like the surface of the moon. His girlfriend, childlike, and so voluptuous it was almost lewd.

Precious Gardner wasn’t sure why four young white people would pick up a rangy black woman shucking an arm full of bags from the Piggly Wiggly. But then they had lots of questions. How far was the beach? What was the weather like this time of year? Any good places to eat? Any good places to party?

She figured they had to be from someplace up north.

Precious had eyes as dark as night and they crinkled almost shut when she looked at you. Lips, chapped from smoking her daddy’s Swishers. Stubborn hair, pulled back with a purple scarf one of the ladies had given her. A knobby gap between her front teeth. Bushy eyebrows and ears that clung tight to the side of her head. Skin, tough from the sun. A faint scar under one eye, like a freshly fallen tear.

Tomato sandwiches, with Wonder Bread and Miracle Whip. They’d made her grow tall. Strong hands and big feet. Men’s feet. Good for walking. Shoes from the church store and dresses the ladies gave her.

Once a week she made the trek into town on foot, getting up at dawn while it was still cool. Always the first inside the door, hoping to get back before it became stifling, heading home with three or four bags in each hand, enough for her and her mom and Donetta, next door. Donetta didn’t get out much, with her back.

Unless somebody she knew came by, the Piggly was half a morning’s walk and she was glad of a lift and then they were heading out of town. They had a lot of liquor.

It was a sweet day already, a few wispy clouds moving slowly across a pale blue sky brushed in with orange and pink, blind mosquitoes in clusters, hovering over the road and at the edge of the trees, gathered there by instinct. The sun, climbing higher now, warming the air. Spanish moss plucking up like waves late at night in a silk breeze. The gassy smell of the cord grass and pluff mud, oysters and crab, as the marsh came awake.

The guy up front, smiling at her in the rear-view mirror. He kept looking at her. Smiling. Being polite. It made her uncomfortable. He was speaking slowly, holding the wheel with both hands. Too polite. Her stomach began to churn. She wished she hadn’t told them how far she was going.

And so she went along. Talking. Making nice.

At least it was good to sit. Precious spent much of her days on her feet, or her knees. The ladies didn’t hire her to dust or load the dishwasher. It wasn’t the easy stuff they wanted. She made her money doing the things the white ladies didn’t care for. Getting underneath things. Getting wet or picking things up and moving them. The heavy cleaning.

Still pretty, despite the work. Six days a week, when she could get it. And there was a fair amount of bowing and scraping. Uppity black folk tended to move on. Savannah liked them docile, with an eye toward how things had been.

She was trying that now, keeping her head low, keeping her voice soft.

She thanked them for the smokes and for the dope. But she wasn’t interested in making any money, not like that. She wasn’t pulling her pants down for two young white boys and then the tall guy started yelling at her, calling her names, telling her to shut up.

He’d gotten angry fast.

And now he was turning around in his seat and reaching for her. He was really strong. She pulled back, trying to get his hand loose from her shirt. They were off the road now, bouncing on the shoulder.