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Charlie and Maria were headed for the Post Office in Waldmeer one lovely, sunny morning. Their sunniness was interrupted by a lone, male voice and snickering.

“You still kissin’ girls, Charmaine?” The intention was to insult. However, Charlie would have felt it was more insulting to be called, Charmaine. No one called her by her real name. She turned to see who it was.

Charlie groaned to Maria and said under her breath, “Those idiot boys.”

Maria knew them well. It was a group of boys from her school year level. She didn’t like them then. She still didn’t. Bullies, she thought, led by the biggest bully of all, Harry Maclary. Harry’s parents owned the dairy outside Waldmeer. He was spoilt, not so much with material things but with too much pandering and too little responsibility. The result was not pleasant. Many times at school, Harry and his hoon mates would torment Maria.

“You still a virgin, Maria?” they would say to her loudly. “We can help you with that.” They would laugh and amble off proudly. Maria was quiet at school and found them embarrassing, offensive, and scary.

Being pleased with the annoyed look on Charlie’s face, Harry continued, “Or you kissin’ that pussy-boy you live with?” The boys found this even funnier.

Charlie was no push-over. She had a mouth on her and a spirit to match. However, instead of firing up, to Maria’s surprise, Charlie was withdrawing. Maria remembered that Charlie had recently had more upsetting confrontations with her girlfriend, Elizabeth, and she must have been feeling defeated. Harry opened his big mouth again as he was on a roll. The other boys looked on with amusement as if it was the best morning fun they had had in a while.

Suddenly, Maria swung around and headed straight for Harry. She disregarded the other boys who instinctively moved out of the way. Maria had her eyes tunnelling into Harry. He looked startled and tried to regain his position. Every past memory of his abusive, threatening behaviour to Maria and every other vulnerable girl he had harassed came to the forefront of Maria’s mind. His current remarks about Charlie and Gabriel threw fuel onto the fire.

Looking for support, Harry nodded to his boys who circled Maria and stood a foot above her in height. Charlie disappeared from Maria’s view as the tower of boys closed in on her. She was not afraid anymore. You can hurt my body but I don’t care, Maria thought. I will never allow you to hurt my soul ever again. And you will not hurt those I love.

Maria poked a finger into Harry’s chest, “Do not come into our cafe again, Harry Maclary, until you have learned some manners.” Did she say, Harry Maclary? She might have said, Buffoon. Either way, he got the point. Harry was so shocked that quiet little Maria had lost her fear that he stood there dumbly and the boys decided to open a path for her and let her out.

When Charlie and Maria got around the corner, they collapsed into hysterical laughter. It all seemed so ridiculous, including, Maria’s reaction.

Maria was driving up the long driveway to her little shed the following Saturday after work. Gabriel was back for the weekend. He walked up to her car and smiled.

“Charlie told me about your run in with the buffoon. Thank you for defending my ‘pussy-boy’ status,” he said still smiling, “but you don’t need to bother. I am fine.”

“Of course, you are fine.”

“Well, don’t put yourself in that position next time.”

A few days later, when visiting the cafe while Maria was out getting fruit and vegetables, Charlie decided to tell Lucy about the incident with the hoon-boys. Charlie was like that. Why hide things? she thought.

That evening, Lucy, in turn, told Lenny. Lucy was a mother. She tended to be more understanding of the problems of other people’s children.

She would say, “There but for the grace of God go I,” and be thankful that somehow she had cornered lots of God’s grace.

Lenny said nothing but he was a father. His job was to protect. Harry and those boys had better watch out the next time they crossed paths with the gruff fisherman of Waldmeer!

A few weeks later, a small posy of flowers was delivered to Waldmeer Corner Store and Cafe with Maria’s name on it. It didn’t have a sender’s name. It was the sort of posy with pretty, pink paper that you buy if you don’t have a lot of money but you want to impress somebody. It had a little hand-written note by someone who looked like they were trying to write neatly but didn’t write very often. Sorry Maria, was all it said. The writing looked familiar. A memory from school came up. Maria smiled. She had already forgiven Harry. After all, forgiveness is something you give yourself every day.

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