Now that the business is out of the way, it's time for some fun stuff- the Monday free read! Each Monday I will be releasing a chapter in a currently unpublished novel. Make sure you drop by each week for the newest installment from my book Down the Dirt Road.
“How could this day get any worse?!” Jennie Marshall yelled up at the clear blue sky from her ungraceful position on the shoulder of the old dirt road. If she had been paying better attention as she made her way home maybe she would have seen the watermelon sized rock she had just tripped over. Now, sprawled on the ground, she winced as she shifted her body. Her big toe hurt like crazy and definitely felt wet. Rolling over and sitting up, she inspected her injured foot. Dirty and streaked with blood, the toe had obviously met the rock up close and personally.
Damned old dirt road.
And while she was at it, damn Michael McKee and Trisha Parker. If not for them and their big announcement she wouldn’t have been so consumed with anger she might have noticed the stupid rock sticking up right in front of her.
For once in her eighteen years, Jennie wished she had just been like everyone else. Or, at the very least, a lot more like Trisha. Jennie was always so cautious, thinking everything through. Trisha threw caution to the wind. If Jennie had just given Michael what he really wanted instead of thinking so much, she wouldn’t be sitting here crying over a stubbed toe on the side of the road while her ex-friend and former boyfriend danced off into the southern sunset together.
She winced, not sure if it was the pain in her toe or the thought of that night, a couple of weeks ago when Michael had taken her to the lake for a sunset picnic. He was so sweet, the setting romantic- perfect actually for her first time. And she really did want to do it, she just couldn’t shake the voice of her Momma deep in the back of her mind telling her to wait for marriage. Wait for someone who would love her forever.
She thought she would marry Michael. He told her it was OK if she wanted to wait; he could be patient. What a damned fool she had been. The frustration had been right there in his eyes. They obviously had very different visions of what their futures held. Michael made that perfect clear twenty four hours later when he took Trisha for a roll the hay in his daddy’s barn.
She slammed her fist against the hard soil, crying out in pain at the contact. How could they do that to her? Trisha was supposed to be her best friend and Michael was supposed to love her.
Momma had tried to warn her but Jennie was young and in love and didn’t want to hear what her mother had to say about the older, more experienced man that had been courting her only daughter.
The tears threatened again so Jennie forced all thoughts of her broken heart from her mind. It was hot out, her heavy curls were clinging to her face and neck and rivers of water ran down her back. Her foot was sore but she needed to get out of the scorching Virginia sun and into Momma’s cool kitchen with an even colder glass of lemonade. Dumping a little water on her toe from the bottle she carried, Jennie pulled herself to her feet and started walking again. The hot summer sun was beating down in full force, another day in the hottest summer they had experienced in a decade. Air heavy with humidity that never seemed to turn into rain was drying out the grasses and gardens. They needed rain in the worst way.
How could her best friend betray her like this? Michael—well he was a guy. Everyone knew they did stupid stuff but girlfriends were supposed to stick together. Even way back in kindergarten as they both rode the big yellow school bus for the first time, away from home and into the unknown world of school Trisha had seemed like the sister she had never had. Jennie was shy, reserved, terrified to leave her Momma even for a few hours. As she sat, huddled in the corner of the huge green seat, hugging her My Little Pony backpack to her chest, Trisha Parker climbed the steps to the bus like she was walking the red carpet in Hollywood. With a smile as bright as the neon pink bow in her long blonde hair, Trisha plopped down in the seat next to Jennie and held out her hand as she introduced herself. No, Trisha had never been afraid of anything. Her friend Always jumped into the water without testing it with a toe first. The other girl embraced all of life with an excitement Jennie never understood. Trisha’s carefree ways were often reckless, something else Jennie struggled with. While she herself carefully weighed each decision, choosing the safest, most reliable path, Trisha let loose without even considering that someone else might get hurt.
Jennie sighed against the hot, heavy air. She was so over being hot and sweaty. Maybe the weather was what drove Michael and Trisha into each other’s arms. Out in California they say the hot, dry Santa Ana winds made people do strange things. Maybe the hot Virginia coastal winds made people unable to control their sexual urges.
The weather had nothing to do with it. Jennie wasn’t feeling any uncontrollable urges. Michael and Trisha did what they wanted to because of that very reason- they wanted to.
From behind her, she could hear the familiar whine of her daddy’s old Ford pickup truck. It must have been later in the day than she thought if Daddy was heading back from town all ready. Each day, promptly at four thirty in the morning, before the rooster crowed and the cows started braying, Daddy climbed into his worn out old truck with the failing engine and drove into town for his shift at the factory. At one each afternoon, he drove home to the family farm and worked until Momma called him in at sunset for supper.
Jennie hated small town life almost as much as she despised her ex-best friend and former boyfriend. She counted the days until she could escape. College started in two weeks. She would hardly miss the man she once thought she would marry.
Hardly at all.
Daddy’s old Ford stopped in a cloud of dust beside her.
“What ya doin’, Jennie girl? It’s too hot to be walkin’ this time a’day. Hop on up in here and I’ll get you home and in the kitchen with a glass of your momma’s fresh lemonade in a jiffy.”
“Just walkin’ home from Trisha’s. Didn’t know how late it was.”
“It’s not late, sweet pea. Just wasn’t feelin' so great so the boss let me leave a coupla’ hours early.”
“Oh. O.K.” She climbed up into the old truck and relaxed against the cracked vinyl of the bench seat as her daddy shifted the gears. The truck lurched forward as the transmission squealed and then they were on their way, lurching and heaving over the cratered dirt road.
They rode on in silence. It was nearly impossible to carry on a conversation anyway as the engine roared and the truck bumped and clumped along the road. Daddy always drove just a little faster than he should. He enjoyed the challenge of dodging the craters and seeing just how fast he could make it the mile from the main road to their front door. Jennie held on tight to the door handle as she bounced up and down on the broken springs. Every rut caused a new shimmy or shake in the truck’s frame, the shocks groaned and the cab rocked back and forth almost precariously.
The open windows provided little relief from the oppressive heat. There was no such thing as air conditioning the year John Marshall bought his beloved Ford.
The front end of the truck crashed down hard against the packed dirt sending Jennie flying forward. Daddy shot out an arm to stop her from slamming into the windshield as he had done so many times before as far back as she could remember.
“Sorry, sweet pea. Guess that dip got a little deeper after the spring rains.”
It was what he always said when he hit that spot a little too hard. If the spring rains had been responsible that dip would be in the center of the Earth already. Sometimes he managed to make the jump though. Those were the times when the old Ford’s worn tires would go air borne over the deep drop in the road before slamming hard against the ground on the other side. Those were the days he grinned like the young man he once was in a Mustang fastback, street racing down back roads. In the space of a few moments John Marshall reverted back to more than just a father and a husband and a farmer. He became a man with a wild streak and a love of all things dangerous.
What would he have become if he hadn’t met Elise Johnson twenty three years ago and fallen head over heels in love with the farmer’s daughter?
Jennie took a deep breath and steeled herself against the next set of dips and drops as the truck bounced her around like a wet sneaker in the dryer. They were still a few hundred feet from the driveway. Dusty sweat poured off of her forehead and ran off her arms and legs.
Finally the bouncing stopped and the old engine sputtered to a stop, emitting a loud bang and a purple plume of burned oil. The frame shuddered and then the cab was eerily silent.
“Why don’t you get a new truck Daddy? Put this one out of its misery already.”
Daddy chuckled as he patted the dash of his old Ford lovingly. “She’s a classic, sweet pea. We been together a long time, me and her. Longer even than me and your momma. You wouldn’t want me to replace your momma just because she got a little old and creaky, now would you?”
“Of course not, Daddy! But Momma’s a person. This is just a truck. An old, broke down, embarrassing truck!” Jennie pushed the heavy passenger door open with a loud creak and jumped to the ground wincing slightly as her injured toe jarred on contact.
“Shhhh… Jennie! She’ll hear you! I need her in top form to keep this place runnin’!”
“For cryin’ out loud, Daddy! She’s a truck! An inanimate object! She doesn’t have feelings!” Jennie stormed off up the worn wood steps of the front porch, shoving past her mother who opened the door just as Jennie reached for it.
“Sorry, Momma!” She called over her shoulder as she ran through the house and grabbed a glass of water. Her throat was as dry as the old dirt road had been. As she gulped the ice cold fluid she listened to her parents in the front room.
“What’s up with that girl?” Elise asked her husband. “And, what are you doing home so early? Everything OK at the factory?”
“Everything is fine. I was just feelin’ a little under the weather. Boss said I could take a few hours to go home and rest before I have to do the chores ‘round here.”
Elise frowned. “Should I call Doc Hansen?”
“Nah, I’m fine, Elise. Just need a little rest.”
“Well, if you say so Johnny.” Momma looked skeptical nonetheless. “Now, what’s up with that daughter of ours?”
“Don’t rightly know but I suspect it has somethin’ to do with that boy o’ hers. Found her kickin’ rocks up the lane heading toward here. She seemed a bit outta sorts but she wouldn’t tell me a thing. Just said she was headin’ home.”
“She spent the mornin’ at Trisha’s and was supposed to go see that boy of hers at noon time. Been gone a week; thought she would get in as much time with him as possible. Wasn’t expectin’ her home till supper time, actually. It’s barely noon now. Maybe I should go out back and talk to her.”
“Nah, leave her alone a bit. If she’s nursin’ a broken heart, best to let her do it alone for a bit.”
“What makes you think she’s got a broken heart, Johnny?”
“I heard a bit this morning in town about Trisha and that boy spending some time together while Jennie was gone. You know how fickle teenagers can be. That friend of hers, she be advertisin’ a whole lot. Hard for a young man in his prime to resist.”
She heard a loud thump as someone tripped and fell. Maybe she should have been more worried when she heard the concern in Momma’s voice.
“You sure you’re feelin’ all right Johnny?”
“I’m fine, Elise. Just fine. I’ll catch a quick nap and be down ‘fore the evening chores.”