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Later, when the deputy was driving the three villains away, Barney and Thelma Lou stood on Andy’s porch, watching.
“I can’t believe that Aunt Bea wasn’t real and Opie had a mother,” Thelma Lou said. “It’s just so…so…fantastic. And Andy was in on it all the time.”
“I wondered,” Barney said. “When he had the guy clear those papers off the sofa. Aunt Bea would never have let papers pile on the sofa.” Thelma Lou nodded. Barney put his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face him.
“But there’s another part to the secret, isn’t there, Thelma Lou?” he said. His eyes held her. “A part that you know, and that you’re only now beginning to understand.” Thelma Lou looked away.
“Yes, I know,” she said. “I hadn’t thought about it before, but it fits. You know how I was gone from town that year, how I was ‘traveling’ with family. I wasn’t, of course. I was pregnant.”
She drew a deep breath, gaining strength from Barney’s steady gaze. “And I had a boy, and I gave him up for adoption.”
“That’s right,” Barney said. “Andy had a wife, and she died, but she wasn’t Opie’s mother. Thelma Lou, you are.”
“Oh Barney,” Thelma Lou said. “That means…well, you know what it means…”
“Yes,” Barney said. “I know what it means. I know I’m the only man you’ve ever been with, Thelma Lou, so I know that I’m Opie’s father.” He nodded sadly.
“That’s the real secret, Thelma Lou. That’s what Floyd knew. And that’s what he died to keep hidden. He was the only one I ever told. The only one I trusted with the secret…the real secret of The Mayberry Code.”