Miss Augusta Pinckney stood in the doorway of the family’s antebellum home listening to her cousin speak into the telephone receiver.
“Why, yes, I understand, Reverend Hampton, of course. Yes, I’m more than happy to help. Well, you’re welcome. See you Sunday, Reverend. Yes, same to you.”
Lucy pushed the end button on the cordless phone, placed it in the garden cart beside her, and returned to the petunias she was planting in the newly fertilized beds.
“Well, now, I thought I heard the telephone ring,” remarked Augusta coming down the front steps and crossing the yard to where her cousin was busy on her hands and knees. “Here, Lucille, I’ve brought you a Fresca. And what did the dear Reverend want from you this time? ”
Lucy placed one last flower in the ground, removed her gloves, and gratefully accepted the cool glass.
“Thank you, Augusta. Apparently the Sunday School needs a teacher. He rang to ask if I would take it over for a time.”
“And am I to assume you said yes?”
“Well, yes. I -
“Now, really Lucille, what were you thinking? It’s time you slowed down and enjoyed your retirement, be with friends and family, not run around after a pack of heathens every Sunday morning.”
“But, I don’t mind, really.”
“Yes, you most certainly do mind. You only say that to be polite.”
Augusta sighed deeply and proceeded.
“Lucille, I have something very necessary to say to you. I’ve been thinking this over for several weeks now and it’s become all too apparent that you have a problem. That Reverend Hampton is taking advantage of your generosity. It’s high time you asserted yourself. You really must learn to say ‘no.’ ”
With that, Augusta swept back into the house and Lucy returned to her petunias in peace.
Nothing more was said on the matter until a few weeks later. Then one day, a big brown truck rumbled down the Misses Pinckney’s narrow drive and deposited a package on the front porch. Lucy went outside to collect it.
“The Assertiveness Training Company, Freeport, Illinois,” she read from the label on the box. “Now, what in heaven’s name …”
“Oh, good, it’s finally arrived.” Augusta had come bustling down the stairs at the sound of the truck and grabbed the package from Lucy’s startled hands.
“May I ask exactly what has arrived?”
“The answer to your problem, my dear cousin. The answer to your problem. As soon as I read the advertisement, I knew Professor Lewis’ lectures were just the thing.”
“No buts about it dear. We both know that you’ve always been the backward one - heaven knows I’ve tried over the years - but now that I’ve seen first hand how that minister takes advantage of you, well, I had to do something.
“Augusta, it’s really not –
“Now, Lucille, do not protest. I will not take no for an answer. This study course is exactly what you need.”
That evening was a quiet one. Lucy seemed a little more thoughtful than usual, but it passed largely unnoticed. However, the next morning as Augusta came downstairs, she was surprised to meet Lucy in the vestibule, coming in from outside, purse in hand.
“Why, Lucille, have you been out? It’s just now 8 o’clock.”
“Well, yes, last night I realized I needed to run a few errands this morning. Oh, and I stopped by the church to discuss matters with Reverend Hampton.
Augusta smiled knowingly to herself; her cousin’s metamorphosis had already begun.
“Well, I suppose that’s best. We’ll have a simple breakfast, and afterward, we can begin the Professor’s lectures.”
Lucy hesitated. “I’m afraid that may be somewhat difficult.”
“Oh, I don’t believe so. We’ll begin with the cassettes and read the companion book - ”
“No, Augusta. I mean… well… ,” Lucy stammered, “what I would like to say, is...”
“For heaven’s sake, Lucille, just say it.”
Lucy took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and looked her cousin in the eye.
“What I would like to say is that I’ve just returned those cassettes to ‘The Assertiveness Training Company, Freeport, Illinois.’ Augusta, I believe you were right after all. They were precisely the thing I needed to learn to say ‘no.’”
Lucy turned, leaving her cousin, Miss Augusta Pinckney, speechless. Crossing the threshold into the kitchen, she paused and turned again.
“And one more thing, Augusta, my name is not Lucille. It never has been. It’s simply Lucy.”
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