Updated: May 1
For the next twenty-something days, I will be giving away six of my books absolutely free.
Through August 6, 2022 you can grab a complimentary copy of The Missing Lamb, a novella I wrote that takes place in my husband’s hometown, featuring fictional characters inspired by his grandmother, his mother, his auntie, and him.
If you’ve read my books, then you know that my stories are often inspired by true events. I enjoy reimagining my own experiences, weaving in a little magic, and in the case of The Missing Lamb, a lot of serendipity. After all, most writers write about what we know best.
Today, I’d like to share with you a story that I know best. It’s about my very own meet cute, the moment when I first met my husband, Shederal. This story happened twenty-seven years ago next month. Wow, twenty-seven years. When I think of the timespan from that perspective, it seems impossible. But here we are. And although the road has been rough, sometimes verging on impossible, we have managed to stay the course. For that, I am so very grateful.
I’m sharing our meet cute with you today to celebrate the free opportunity to download a sweet novella inspired by my now-family.
A photo of Shederal that I took when he was 17 and I was 19. It rests on top of the novella I wrote for and dedicated to his family and him. I have kept this photo in my wallet since 1996.
The second weekend of September 1995 I moved to Barnesville, Georgia to attend Gordon College, a two-year junior college that is now a four-year state university. When I knew I wouldn’t be able to go to SCAD (a long story, but you can read about it in The Scars We Choose, Book One), my parents tasked me with choosing a college closer to home. “At least for the first two years,” my mother had said. “And then you can transfer to art school.” Mama wanted me no more than two hours away so that she could get to me if she needed to. Today, having my own college-aged kids, I understand that need “to be able to get to them.” Then? When I was college-aged? I was irate at the idea. And I was pissed that I couldn’t go to SCAD—it was only four hours away! Again, that part was a long, sad story. However, not long after I moved to Barnesville, I was glad about the way things had turned out.
Before moving, Mama and I had visited and toured the town. It’s exactly what you’d think of when you think of a sleepy, picturesque, small southern town. And I use present tense because Barnesville still is sweet and cute even to this very day. It felt like home from Day 1, and while Mama and I were there, I stopped in to the local Pizza Hut and put in my application for a job. Back home, I’d been working at Little Caesar’s for a couple of years, so I figured it made sense to stay with the pizza theme. Not long after I’d applied, the manager called me and asked me to come interview. I set up the interview for Tuesday, the twelfth.
The day of the interview, the manager ushered me over to the first booth against the wall on the far left side of the restaurant’s dining room. True to self, I was so nervous the entire time! I still get sweaty armpits-nervous when I interview, so that occasion was no different. While answering the manager’s questions, I tried not to stay distracted by a table of teenaged boys who were sitting on the opposite side of the dining room. They were being loud, and because they were the only other occupied table in the restaurant, the noise couldn’t be overlooked. Nonetheless, I made it through the interview, but I do remember being aware that one of the boys—all I could tell about him from my peripheral was that he was tall—kept walking by the table where I was sitting. He walked by at least three times before I noticed. After the interview, though, I didn’t think anything of it and I shook hands with the manager (who hired me that same day) and went back to my dorm.
I call it a “dorm,” and it was, but technically Stafford House was an old, early 20th Century bungalow on the edge of Gordon College’s campus. The house had six bedrooms and two bathrooms, all shared by 14 girls. It was a hot mess! Living with 13 other girls was not for me—I’m terribly introverted and teenaged girls used to and still do get on my nerves—but in good spirits, and in an attempt at getting to know one of my housemates, she and I went up the road for ice cream cones at the McDonald’s located diagonally across the street from the Pizza Hut.
Not long after my housemate and I sat down at a small, two-seater table in the dining room, my attention was snagged out the wall of windows on our left. Two teenaged boys, one short and the other eight, nine feet tall, strolled up the sidewalk and turned to walk through the parking lot. The tall one was dressed in a maroon UMass basketball jersey and shorts and was lazily dribbling a basketball, occasionally bouncing it between his legs, all while keeping up a conversation with the other guy. I’m sure the girl I was with (I’ll withhold her name for privacy) thought I was being rude when I kept staring out the window watching the tall boy. But I didn’t care. The guy was, as we used to say in the nineties, “so fine.”
And he really was. At sixteen years old, six feet, four inches tall, and about 185 pounds, that young man was all lean muscle. He had broad shoulders, a small waist, and superhero legs. His complexion was like milk chocolate and he had the sweetest babyface that didn’t seem to match his Superman body. I remember my heart fluttering and my skin breaking out with goosebumps when the boy caught me looking at him through the window. We made eye contact, and he seemed to do a double-take, like he’d recognized me. That was impossible, though. I’d only just moved to town. I quickly looked back at my ice cream cone.
I nudged my head in the boys’ direction, telling my roommate to look and we both gawked at them as they entered the restaurant and approached the front counter. I’m sure we looked shameless, twisted in our seats and still licking on our ice cream cones.
After the two guys ordered, they strolled down the aisle toward our table, the shorter one with his McDonald’s bag and the tallest with his basketball. I remember looking at the tall one’s face, watching him as he approached our table, and he kept looking away. Glance back, look away. The other boy introduced himself as Tyree, pulling up a chair and sitting beside my housemate. The tall one didn’t introduce himself, instead kneeling beside the table and immediately asking my housemate if her eyes were real. Back then, colorful contacts were a new trend, especially the hazel ones. Those were her favorite and she wore them every day. “Yesss,” the girl purred, dipping her chin and batting her lashes.
“Naw hell! You a lie!” the tall boy barked. “Those are contacts.” He started laughing and I was immediately repulsed by it. I didn’t like that he was making fun of my friend. He had some nerve! The guy turned to me next, his eyes shifting back and forth like he was looking at my own (real) hazel color. “Are your eyes real?” he asked, softer this time but his mouth still twitching with the ripples of laughter.
“Yes, they are,” I spat, popping my neck and rolling my eyes.
“Nuh uh,” he argued. “I don’t believe it.”
The rest of that first conversation is blurry, although I do remember how the tall boy kept looking from my eyes to my hair. It made me feel really self-conscious and I was glad to have the ice cream so I wouldn’t fidget with anxiety. The boys eventually left, leaving me feeling flustered and defensive. I could not believe the nerve of that tall, cute guy, picking on my friend and challenging me like that, and I was relieved to see them go.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and I was back at McDonald’s again. Back then, if you wanted food that you didn’t have to cook, all you had to choose from was Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Hardee’s, and El Durango, the local Mexican restaurant. I didn’t like Hardee’s, I worked at Pizza Hut, and El Durango was too far up the road for the time I had, so McDonald’s it was.
That second time I’d ended up at the restaurant, I had gone by myself. I’m not sure why I didn’t go through the drive-thru and instead went inside and bought food, but I did. And after I left, I walked out into the parking lot where I saw a group of teenaged boys talking in a huddle. There he was. The tall, smartass boy with the basketball. I’d hoped he hadn’t seen me, hurrying to my car, hiding behind my curtain of dark hair, and pretending to ignore him. As I approached my driver’s side door, I could hear his basketball hitting the asphalt, the pang! pang! pang! getting louder and louder as he walked in my direction. I still ignored him. I wouldn’t look... until I couldn’t help it and he was standing right over me.
“Hey,” he said, glaring down at me, his brow gathered and his lips twitching with the threat of a smile.
“Hey.” I tossed my food in my car before turning to look up at him, bracing myself on my car door.
“You’re the girl from the other day,” the boy said, his voice buttery smooth. “What’s your name?”
My body and brain were worthless, betraying me with prickling skin and jittering nerves. While I wanted to continue with my ignoring the boy, I couldn’t. Even though he’d been a jerk the first time we’d met, there was something about his charismatic attitude and flagpole-straight posture that intrigued me. “Why?” I asked. It was the only response I could think of. And I was alone and skeptical about people I didn’t know. You didn’t just go around giving out your personal information to strangers.
“Uh...” He smiled, his tone sarcastic. “Becauuuse?” he added, dragging out his vowels.
“Mandy,” I snapped. “What’s yours?”
“Shederal,” he said.
“Spell it,” I demanded. I’d never heard the name before. It was unique. But I was also countering his cockiness.
“S-H-E-D... E-R-A-L.” I could tell he was getting impatient with me, and he was probably sick of people asking about his unusual name.
“Shuh-daryl,” I nodded. “Okay. Sorry.”
“You go to the college?” he asked.
I nodded. “I just moved here.”
“I know,” he said coolly. “So, what’s your phone number?” he asked, catching his ball in his giant hand and bracing it at his hip.
“Why?” I asked again.
“Why do you always ask ‘why’?” he countered, shaking his head.
“Because I don’t know you!” I defended myself.
“Well, I’m Shederal, I live over there...” He nudged his head over his shoulder. “And my number is [four numbers].” Back then, you didn’t have to use an area code when you made phone calls, and all Barnesville phone numbers began with the prefix three-five-eight.
I examined the boy, still bristling even despite his face settling into a sweet smile. He shifted on his feet, as if my looking at him was making him self-conscious. “Five-five-six-seven,” I said, finally.
“Five-five-six-seven?” he repeated.
I nodded. “Yep.”
“You a lie.”
“How am I lying?!” I clucked, crossing my arms.
“Because it sounds fake,” he replied and then shrugged, pulling his basketball into his hands and tossing it into the air. “But, that’s okay,” he added, his eyes on the ball, spinning it on his finger. “If it is fake, I know where you live.”
“You know where I live,” I repeated, more of a statement than a question.
“Yep,” he snapped, pulling the ball back into his arms and returning his gaze to my face. “Barnesville is only so big.”
And he was right. And persistent. I could go on and on about how our relationship began, about how irritatingly sarcastic he was (and still is) and about how I attempted to evade his advances all the time but he would always find me no matter where I’d sneaked off to. But I’ll save those stories for their own days and their own books. Months after we’d started dating, however, when I recalled how and where we’d first met, Shederal admitted something to me. “I’d already seen you. Before that day in McDonald’s.”
“When?” I remember racking my brain trying to recall where he might have seen me; I’d only been in Barnesville a few days when we’d first met.
“At Pizza Hut,” he confessed. “You were in your interview.”
I immediately remembered the day and the tall boy who kept walking by my table. “That was you?!” I cheered.
He nodded. “Yep. Me, Deon, and Travis [his best friends] were there after school and I got up to use the bathroom when I saw you sitting there. I loved your pretty black hair.”
“So you had to walk back and forth?” I joked.
“Yep,” he smiled. “I sure did.”
And I’m so glad he did. Shederal and I started dating January 8, 1996 and this upcoming January will be our 27th anniversary. We’ve had a rough go, for sure, and there were times over the years when I didn’t know how we would ever pull through—sometimes our relationship could be described as “codependent” at best back then—but somehow we’ve managed. An important lesson I’ve learned over these 26-some-odd years is that no, you cannot survive off love alone, but love can pull you out of even the deepest ruts. Relationships that last as long as ours take a lot of time, effort, and love. You have to want the other person, warts and all. You have to be patient and compromising and capable of forgiveness. Sometimes over and over again.
After over a quarter century’s time, I have gobs of stories I can share about the life Shederal and I have made together, but our awkward meet cute is one of my favorites. Back in 2017, I wrote The Missing Lamb, a story inspired by Shederal and his family, my family. It’s magical and triumphant, and if you click the button below before midnight on August 6, 2022, you can download your copy absolutely free.
Coming September 9, 2022!
In her more than thirty years as a storyteller and visual designer, Amanda “Mandy” Hughes has written and designed over a dozen works of literary, Southern Gothic, and women’s fiction under pen names A. Lee Hughes and Mandy Lee.
Mandy is the founder of Haint Blue Creative®, a space for readers and storytellers to explore, learn, and create. She holds a Bachelor and Master of Science in Psychology, and she has worked as an instructional designer for nearly twenty years.
When she’s not writing fiction, Mandy enjoys the movies, theater, music, traveling, nature walks, birdwatching, and binging The Office. She is a tarot enthusiast who uses the cards to enhance creativity and foster wellness. She lives in Georgia with her husband and four sons, two of whom are furrier than the others (but not by much). Visit her website at haintbluecreative.com and follow her on Instagram @haintbluecreative.