“I know how hard this must be, coming back to where it all happened, but I believe it’s the only way to put an end to the nightmares,” Max said. “Once you see he’s not here, your subconscious can lay the past to rest once and for all, and you can move on with your life. From what you’ve told me about him, his anger issues and such, I doubt he’s even still alive.”
I nodded absently, my gaze on the woods and fields speeding by outside the car window, while thoughts of another journey taken down this same highway many years ago filled my mind.
“Once you bring your fears out into the open and deal with them, they’ll lose their power over you.” He reached across the console and squeezed my thigh with a smooth, sun-bronzed hand. “You know I just want what’s best for you, Chloe. I want you to be happy.”
I turned to him, forcing a smile. “I know, Max. You’ve been so good to me, a lot more so than I deserve.” Continue reading
“Won’t be much longer now, Chloe.”
Daddy’s voice snapped me to the present. My mind had been far away, back in West Memphis where Mama was buried.
As soon as her funeral had ended that morning—attended only by Daddy, me, and the preacher—Daddy had loaded our suitcases in the car, and we headed west out of the Mississippi River delta country. We were going to live with Grandma.
When I asked why we couldn’t continue living where we were, Daddy had said I needed someone to look out for me when he was on the road. Since I had been taking care of Mama and myself most of my life, I didn’t think I needed someone looking out for me now. But I didn’t say so to Daddy.
He had called his mother before the funeral and told her about Mama. Grandma had said for him to come back home, that she would welcome the company since she was all alone.
I had never met my grandma. When I was younger, I had once asked Mama why we didn’t visit her. Mama had thrown a conniption fit, ranting and raving about what a vicious old bitch Grandma was, and that she hated her.
I never brought it up again.
Mama had no one but Daddy and me to grieve her passing. She was an only child, and her parents had died in a house fire before I was born. Daddy told me she might have died too if she hadn’t been out on a date with him that night.
Now she was gone, and Daddy and I had crossed the state to live with a woman who was a stranger to me, a woman Mama had despised. I wondered if I would hate Grandma too. I wondered what she would think of me. Continue reading
The days following Daddy’s departure passed by uneventfully, one much like the other. I came to know and love Granny as I worked along beside her. She taught me how to do things I’d only read about it books: canning vegetables from the garden, milking a cow, washing clothes on a wringer washer, plus numerous other things I had never done before. It was all hot, hard work, but even so, it was fun. I felt as if l had stepped back into an earlier, simpler time, and was living a grand adventure.
Granny seemed to enjoy being my teacher. Her bright eyes shone with pride at each of my new accomplishments.
Early one morning about a week after my arrival, she announced that we were going berry picking. “I know where there’s a fine patch of blackberries, big as your thumb!” She waved said appendage under my nose.
With both of us carrying a clean, metal bucket, we set off down the road, back toward the highway. We walked in companionable silence along the dusty trail for about a quarter of a mile, until we came to the place where the road forked.
“Does anyone live out that way?” I asked. “Daddy told me some Indians used to live down there. He didn’t like them, and told me to stay away.”
“And with good reason.” She grabbed my arm and wagged her finger in my face. “You listen good, Chloe Walker—them no-account Jamisons ain’t nothin’ but trash, pure and simple. The man stays drunk pret’ near all the time and is meaner’n a snake to boot. Now the boy, he’s a strange one, sorta queer like. He stares at a body like he’d just as soon kill you as look at you. You steer clear of ’em. They ain’t nothin’ but trouble.” She spun on her heels. “Come on, gal. We got berries t’pick and jelly t’make.” Continue reading
The sun rose a bright-orange hot, promising another scorcher. It crept across the cloudless blue sky at a snail’s pace, seeming to mock my urging it to hurry by traveling even slower. More than once Granny had to repeat herself. I couldn’t concentrate. Ira filled my thoughts.
Guilt gnawed at me for not telling Granny about sneaking out last night and meeting Ira, but I remembered what he had said, that if I told, I wouldn’t be allowed to see him. I couldn’t take that chance. I had found a friend and I didn’t want to lose him.
When darkness fell and Granny and I went to bed, I waited for a while to make sure she was sleeping, then dressed again in the cutoffs and pink tank I had worn that day. Remembering Ira’s warning, I slipped on my sneakers before crawling out the window.
I ran most of the way to the old bridge, praying, Please, please, please let him be there.
Bathed in moonlight, I saw him in the place where he had been the night before: leaning up against the railing, gazing out over the water. Only then did I slow to a walk. At the sound of my sneakers hitting the boards, he turned in my direction. Continue reading
He screwed off the gas cap, which was on my side of the truck, and began pumping. A small smile curled his full lips when our eyes met. He was so close, I could have reached out the window and touched him.
Seeing him for the first time in daylight, I was taken aback. I had known he was nice looking, but, dear Lord, nice looking didn’t even begin to cover it: Ira was downright beautiful. He took my breath away.
Greasy blue coveralls fit snugly over broad shoulders and narrow hips. Parted on one side, hair the blue-black color of a raven’s wing fell in clean straight lines to the bottom of his neck. Sweat beaded his copper-hued face. Above high, prominent cheekbones, his dark brown eyes danced with amusement. “Better shut your mouth before something flies in it, little girl,” he murmured.
I closed my mouth with an audible snap. Continue reading