As you may already, I have a new book coming out in a few weeks, January 15th, 2018. As it is a new ghost story/southern family drama, I thought it would be fun to post the first chapter. I do hope you love Harper, Jeopardy and all the people who call Summerleigh home. Both the living and the dead! Here's your SAMPLE CHAPTER!
Desire, Mississippi 1942
Dressed in nothing but a cotton slip and a head full of rag rollers I tiptoed to the rusty screen door. Poised impatiently with my hands on my skinny hips I frowned at my sister’s shadow as she crossed the front porch.
“Momma is going to kill you D-E-A-D, Jeopardy Belle! You better get in here before she finds you’ve been out all night,” I whispered disapprovingly at her silhouette as I reached up to unhook the screen door latch. My eyes felt like someone had thrown a handful of sand in them but I could very clearly see my sister’s petite frame and the outline of her long, wild hair.
Didn’t she know I needed my beauty sleep? How could I sleep when I had to wait for the sound of her footsteps on the porch or her fingers tapping at our bedroom window? I’d just about given up hope that she would ever come home until at last, I heard the creaking porch boards, the evidence of her late arrival. Maybe instead of covering for Jeopardy, I should have told Momma everything--that Jeopardy went out smoking and drinking with whatever boy she took a fancy to just about every night of the week but I couldn’t bring myself to break her confidence. Doing so would mean I would abandon my role as the family peacemaker; I may be a lot of things but never disloyal. Especially disloyal to Jeopardy — she had so few friends. She needed me. How strange that I loved her so deeply yet secretly loathed her.
‘Honestly, Jeopardy. All you think about is yourself.” I whispered in frustration as I struggled with the latch. It didn’t want to budget this morning for some strange reason. Daddy had installed it too high, I had to stand on tiptoe to pop it open but I finally got a good grip on it. Easing the door open slowly to avoid its obnoxious squeaking I waited for Jeopardy to stumble inside. Once I smuggled her back in our room I was going to give her a real piece of my mind, and good too. Lightning popped across the dim morning sky; I expected it to illuminate Jeopardy’s guilty face. How was it that she was the oldest? Not only was I the most mature of the Belle sisters but I was also the tallest and plainest. And this morning, I was certainly the most tired.
Was tiredest even a word? Thank goodness I didn’t have school this morning and thank goodness today wasn’t the George County Spelling Bee. My brain was too sticky and exhausted to put two letters together much less o-n-o-m-a-t-o-p-o-e-i-a. I couldn’t abide it if Martha Havard won the spelling bee. I’d have to move to Mobile just to escape the shame of it. Not that anyone in this house cared. Momma would show up for the Harvest Queen competition but never the spelling bee.
Suddenly the bottom fell out of the sky and rain trickled through the leaks in the tin roof porch but to my surprise, my older sister was nowhere to be found. I closed my eyes and opened them again but she did not appear. I flipped up the hook and opened the screen door completely puzzled by this turn of events. I had seen her—I had certainly seen her! Suddenly, my tummy felt like a bowl of jelly, all wiggly and uncertain.
Something was wrong. Was I dreaming? Had I fallen asleep?
“Jeopardy? Don’t play games with me.” I stepped onto the wet concrete of the screened-in porch and even though it was predicted to be a scorcher of a day after the rain, my feet were freezing. It was as if I were standing nude in the soda shop, the only place in town with air-conditioning and every hair on my body stood at attention. An unholy cold crept into my bones. Where could she be? We had no porch furniture except Momma’s rocking chair and a full grown girl of fifteen couldn’t hide behind it. Even one as petite as Jeopardy Belle.
This must be some sort of joke. “Jep?” She hated that nickname but seeing as she wanted to play games with me I had no alternative but to insult her. I searched the porch and even the narrow stairs leading up to them but there was no sign of Jeopardy. I know I had heard her footsteps; I had even seen her figure a minute ago. No way could she move on and off the porch that quickly, especially not in the clunky high heels she wore last night unless she had managed to lose them somewhere. I prayed that was not the case for those were Momma’s high heels and her only pair of white ones but Jeopardy was one to take risks. Momma would be fit to be tied if her favorite pair of heels came up missing. She had to send away to Montgomery Ward’s to get those shoes.
A voice from behind me surprised me, “Harper? What are you doing out here? It’s raining cats and dogs. You’ll catch your death. Are you walking in your sleep again, baby?” Lightning flashed again now illuminating my guilty face. I had no choice but to lie to Momma. She and Jeopardy carried on a lifelong feud and I was one strive for peace, even if that meant lying to one or the other if need be. I would do as much for Jeopardy to make her think more highly of our Momma. In some ways, it was as if I were the grown-up in our family.
Where are you, Jeopardy Belle? Maybe I had been dreaming or sleepwalking. I used to do it all the time before we moved to Summerleigh.
“Sorry, Momma. I didn’t mean to frighten you.” To my surprise, she hugged me. Hugs were distributed infrequently in our home and were rarer than a rib eye steak dinner. I breathed her in, enjoying Momma’s particular fragrance, peaches, and cold cream.
“Come inside and you can help me make biscuits. You girls have choir practice this morning.” She kissed my cheek and patted my back as we walked into the house. I swallowed the lump in my throat and resisted the urge to spill my guts to Momma. Maybe if I knew she wouldn’t unleash her rage on Jeopardy I would have been more forthcoming. In hindsight, I would regret not telling her everything right then and there but hindsight is always twenty-twenty, as they say. I heard the baby crying and offered to get see about her before she woke up the rest of the household. Caring for Loxley would provide me enough of a distraction to gather my wits and come up with some sensible explanation for Jeopardy’s absence.
Momma lit a slender cigarette and took a puff and I said, “I’ll get Loxley, Momma. She’s probably soaked through her clothing.”
My mother looked tired this morning. I clearly saw the fine lines around her mouth and between her eyes despite the thick layer of powder she had applied to her face. She wasn’t even thirty-five but she didn’t smile much anymore. When was the last time I’d seen Momma smile? It sure wouldn’t be this morning. “I don’t know why Loxley has to wet the bed every night. You girls aren’t giving her water at night are you?”
She frowned again, “She’s four now, too old to leave puddles behind.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I agreed. “I will clean her right up.” Maybe if I softened the blow with some good deeds, my mother wouldn’t get crazy angry when she found out that her oldest daughter was nowhere to be found.
“No, I’ll go tend to Loxley, dear. You start sifting the flour.” My stomach did a double clutch as I watched her walk away. Hopefully, she wouldn’t go to my room and discover one Belle missing. Momma walked down the threadbare carpet runner towards the bedroom where Loxley and Addison slept. Jeopardy and I shared the smaller room just beyond but Jeopardy usually slept on the couch or on the floor in one of the upper rooms of our dilapidated mansion.
I dumped flour into the sifter and added the salt and baking powder. “Darn you, Jeopardy!” I thought as I tapped the flour through the sifter pausing only a few seconds to light the gas stove. The stove was the only luxury in this big old house; at least Daddy had come through for us with the new Wedgewood Stove. It was a beauty and cranked up with just one strike of the match. Now if he could do something about the indoor plumbing he would truly be my hero.
Daddy was something of a dreamer but you couldn’t help but love him anyway. He was so handsome and kindhearted, even Momma loved him, even if most of the time his head was in the clouds. I heard Momma once tell her friend Augustine that even when daddy wasn’t at the war he was there in his mind. War does things to people’s minds. Or at least that’s what everyone says. I miss you, Daddy. How long had it been since he’d come home? Six months now? I wished he would write me. He always promised to write but he never did. And now Jeopardy was missing.
Oh, Daddy. What do I do?
Reaching for the biscuit pan I greased it with a faded checkered kitchen rag and set about finishing up the biscuits. Loxley must have made a real mess for it was ages before I heard Momma again but at least Loxley wasn’t crying which meant she hadn’t been spanked for her accident this morning. That meant Momma was in a good mood. How long would that last now? Once the biscuits were in the oven I started the coffee percolator going and took the peach jelly and butter out of the refrigerator. Augustine Sims called Momma to share the news that there was a new opening at the church. She accepted the call and put a pouting Loxley in the chair behind her. From what I could hear of the conversation, Reverend Reed needed a new secretary now that Ola got married and there was going to be quite a bit of interest in the position. Even Momma thought it might be nice to apply for the job.
I must have looked out the kitchen window a half dozen times but there was no sign of Jeopardy. A bright June sun rose over the thick clump of peach trees in the backyard and still nothing. It was early for the peach crop but the trees that already produce copious amounts of the succulent fruit. Any day now, Momma would send us girls up the trees to collect peaches so that we could sell them to our neighbors. Jeopardy had always been the best at climbing. Where are you, sister? I suppose in some homes it would’ve been strange to have a child missing for breakfast. But then again that’s how things were around here. Sometimes Momma and Jeopardy when days without speaking to one another or facing one another. I didn’t understand it but I had to believe they loved one another. I kept my silence during breakfast and thankfully, Momma didn’t ask about her. Loxley chomped on her food, Addison picked at hers but only ate a few bites and I pretended to eat while Momma finished her phone call. She and Augustine made quite a meal of Ola and Reverend Reed. I guess they’d closed their ears during the pastor’s latest sermon about gossip and the dangers of a “wagging tongue.”
Despite the evils of gossip, I was glad that Momma has something to distract her Jeopardy’s latest escapades.
“Girls, get dressed for practice. I’ll tidy up here and Harper can walk you down to the church. I guess your sister doesn’t plan on participating?” Momma raised an arch eyebrow at me over her chipped coffee cup and I stumbled over an answer. Nothing sprang to mind and my stomach churned as if at any moment it would reject the few crumbs of biscuit I’d eaten and the glass of milk I’d swallowed. I was no good at lying and knew I would fail miserably at any attempt.
“I am going to fail you, Jeopardy. I’m can’t do it,” I thought as tears filled my eyes. Before I could open my mouth and confess my sins someone banged like a freight train on the screen door. Startled at such an early caller, we all trailed behind Momma as she went to answer it and she didn’t shoo us away. Unlike me, she didn’t have a head full of rag rollers but was as always looked pretty as a picture complete with neat dress and perfect makeup.
To our surprise, the caller was Sheriff Andrew Kennedy, a nice man with short brown hair, serious eyes, and a tidily pressed uniform. He spoke to Momma in low, serious tones but I couldn’t hear a word he said. He clutched Jeopardy’s purse in his hands, along with Momma’s stolen high heels and my sister’s clothes. Momma’s white hand clutched the doorframe as she listened to the sheriff continue to talk. Another vehicle pulled into the driveway at a high rate of speed. It kicked up dust and rocks and Loxley began to cry. All I could hear was the beating of my own heart. Something bad had happened to Jeopardy. Something really bad.
This can’t be right! I saw her—she was here! Momma turned around with Jeopardy’s items in her hands. Her blue eyes wide, her lips moved but I couldn’t hear her either.
Suddenly I heard something heavy hit the ground beside me and the world went black.