Monday, November 16, 2015

#FreeReadMonday*** Chapter Three Down the Dirt Road

Note to New Readers!

If you are joining #FreeReadMonday for the first time, this is chapter three in a novel titled Down the Dirt Road about life, loss and love in small town America. Each week, on Monday, I am releasing a new chapter. The first two chapters can be found in previous Monday posts. I hope you will check them out and keep visiting us each week.

I would also like to announce that today Undercover in Six Inch Stilettos is going on tour with The Book Mistress. Each tour stop has something new about the story, the characters or the author. I hope you will join us at each top and say hello to the gracious hosts. You can find links to each of the stops here: Book Tour  I will also be posting links each day on my Facebook page
here: Author Carolyn LaRoche and on Twitter (@CarolynLaRoche)

Without further ado, I bring you...
Chapter Three:

    It finally rained the day of the funeral. As they stood under the blue awning gathered around the final resting place of John Marshall, torrents of water fell all around them. Heavy storm clouds rolled and rumbled overhead as if in protest of the loss of such a good man. Even Mother Nature knew thiswas wrong, so very wrong for John Marshall to be gone from the world.
    Jennie barely heard the minister as he spoke, his solemn tone colored with admiration for a man he described as a pillar of the community. Momma sobbed continuously, working her way through a box of tissues as Jennie just stared at the heavy wooden box where her beloved father would spend all of eternity. It was all she could do not to scream when they began to lower the casket. The hole was so narrow and so dark. 
    Daddy hated the dark. Always had; ever since the war. He never talked about it but there was always a light burning in the Marshall house.
    How could Daddy now spend an eternity buried in darkness?
     A single tear rolled down her cheek and dropped onto the chest of her black silk sheath. Jennie had never actually owned anything black. The five and dime and the farm store in town only carried practical work clothes, nothing pretty or formal or made for a funeral.  Momma had to take her into the city to find something suitable for that day. She hated it and would never, ever wear it again. 
    Trisha stood three rows back clutching Michael’s hand, tears streaking her tanned skin and sadness filling her blue eyes. Trisha had never known her own father. John Marshall had been the only father figure she’d ever had and his loss was apparently hitting her hard but Jennie didn’t really care. How dare Trisha even set foot on the memorial grounds?  It took a lot of nerve for her ex-best friend to show up there, especially on the arm of Michael McKee.
     The minister gave a final blessing and Uncle Tommy escorted her and Momma to the grave side. They were supposed to toss the roses they held into the hole on top of Daddy’s casket. It didn’t make sense, Daddy didn’t even like roses and now he would have to spend forever smelling them. At first she refused to toss hers in but then Momma turned to look at her, red-rimmed eyes full of anguish.  Jennie dropped the flower immediately.
     The rain slowed just long enough for the guests to make it to their cars. There was a reception at the farm immediately following the service. Jennie was in no mood for guests but this was what they were supposed to do. They were supposed to welcome people who had been close to Daddy in to their home to join their hearts in mourning the loss of one of the greatest men ever to walk the streets of their tiny little town. She just wanted to go home and curl up in a corner to cry but Momma said they had to do it. It was part of the process.
     Well, to hell with the process.  She wanted nothing to do with any of it.  All she wanted was to hear Daddy’s old truck bouncing along the rutted track toward home, engine growling, and alternator whining.  
    For three days after Daddy died, Momma stayed in bed and cried while Jennie took care of the chores, fed the animals and milked the cows. Momma slept until noon every day and poured over old photo albums until the wee hours of the morning in between crying fits.  Jennie fielded phone calls, met well-meaning neighbors bearing casseroles in the kitchen and handled all of the arrangements for the funeral. Momma never once acknowledged her presence until the day before the funeral when they climbed into Momma’s little car and drove thirty miles to the nearest mall to buy her the black sheath dress she now wore and officially hated.
     Momma expected her to go back to the house and make small talk with the townsfolk about the weather and what a good man Daddy was.
    And because she was a good girl, the ever diligent daughter, she would. All the while waiting for the chance to escape to her tree house, to cry for her lost father and contemplate the days, hours and minutes until she could finally escape the farm and make her own life as far from here as the confines of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans would allow for.
    The black Lincoln Towne Car from the funeral home stood waiting, the driver with an umbrella held the door open for her and Momma. The rain was falling at a steady rate, no more wind driven sideways downpour. The black dress had long since soaked through around her legs. The light fabric clung to her tanned skin and rubbed against the gooseflesh that had formed there. All she wanted was a pair of cutoffs and a soft, cotton tee shirt. Momma would never allow such a thing though until all of the guests were gone. 
   The ride down the rutted track toward home was bumpy and uncomfortable. Jennie kept her hands on the door handle, trying hard to keep herself on the leather seat slick with rain water wishing she was in an old blue Ford pick-up instead. Momma sat as still as a statue, eyes facing forward, focused not on the road ahead but some unknown picture in her mind. Probably some long forgotten memory of Daddy, judging by the tiny sad smile playing at her lips.
     By the time the Towne Car pulled up in front of the two story farmhouse, the sun had begun to peak out from behind the heavy clouds, washing away the grayness of the day and adding a touch of warmth to the air. Jennie jumped from the car without waiting for the driver to open the door. Splashing through the muddy water pooled in the driveway, she gave no mind to the fact that her pumps were soaked through by the time she reached the wide front porch.  Kicking the offending shoes off before heading inside, she pretended not to notice the streak of black one heel left on the white siding.
      Daddy would have made her stop and clean it off but what did it matter? Daddy wasn’t here anymore. And soon she wouldn’t be either. Besides, it’s not like Momma would notice anyway. She hadn’t paid attention to anything since that day.
     The kitchen counters were already covered with casserole dishes and trays of deserts and cakes. Everyone the Marshall family had ever known had dropped off some sort of food dish for this afternoon’s reception. Padding around the kitchen barefoot and in her still damp funeral dress, Jennie began to warm things that needed warming and arrange meals on the big wood dining table. Might as well keep herself busy.
    The kitchen door creaked open as she dug through a drawer in search of serving spoons and a spatula.
    “Jennie?” The single word was timid, tentative. She froze, her shoulders instantly stiffening at the sound of her former best friend’s lilting voice.
     She didn’t say anything, just went back to digging through the drawers. Maybe if she ignored her, Trisha would just turn around and go back to Michael and leave her alone. Her heart couldn’t handle any more pain right now.
      “Jennie.”  The voice was closer, a little more resolute. She ignored it until she felt the hand on her arm. Trisha’s touch singed like a brand against her skin.
     “I don’t want to talk to you.  Go away.” Jennie’s words were firm but her voice shook.
    “You can’t ignore me forever.”
    “I can and I will.” She turned her back on her former friend and began placing spoons and spatulas into various dishes.
      “Jennie, I’m sorry ‘bout your dad.  I really loved him.”
      Anger consumed her.  Fury turned her vision white; her hands shook as heated blood boiled through her veins. 
    “Don’t you dare say that!  Don’t you dare tell me you loved him! He was my father! I love him! You can’t take that away from me the way you took Michael!”
     The wooden serving spoon she wielded sliced through the air like a sword.  Each time she moved her hand, Trisha flinched as though Jennie sliced through her with the motion.
     “I never meant for any of this to happen.” Trisha took a step toward Jennie, a hand reaching out tentatively to touch her on the arm again. Jennie stepped back.
     “Just leave, Trisha. You are not welcome here anymore. It took an awful lot of nerve for you to show up at my father’s funeral in the first place! And then to come with Michael…!”
       “I’m not leaving until we talk about… what happened.” Trisha stood firm, feet planted shoulder width apart, an ‘I mean business” expression on her face.
     “This is not the time nor the place, Trisha. Now, just leave.” Jennie turned her back and continued fiddling with the utensils in the drawer. There was no way her former friend was going to see the tears in her eyes.
     “This is the perfect time and place! You won’t take my phone calls or answer my emails. We have to talk about this.”
      “In case you forgot, my father just died! What makes you think I am even turning the computer on? Really Trisha, not everything in this world is about you, you know! You made a choice.  You chose to sleep with my boyfriend so obviously you weren’t all that concerned about our friendship! Now that my father is gone, suddenly working things out with me is so important? Get out of here! Go! I have nothing more to say to you.”
    Tears streamed down Trisha’s face but Jennie didn’t care. Her former friend turned pale, her tanned skin becoming a pasty white as her eyes rolled up toward the ceiling. And then Trisha collapsed, her head slamming into the corner of the butcher block counter top on the way to the worn, wide planked, wood floor.
    “Trisha!” There was no answer as her ex best friend crumpled to the floor in a graceful heap. Even when she fainted, Trisha managed to do it with style and finesse. If not for the counter top breaking her fall, she would have been as graceful as a swan. and Jennie would have questioned her swooning.
 Trisha looked almost regal in her black satin tank style dress and red sandals, her blonde hair fanned out behind her like the feathers on a peacock. Scarlet liquid that exactly matched the leather straps of her sandals began to run in a tiny river through the golden strands.  Jennie grasped the edge of the counter as her own knees threatened to buckle. She had always hated the sight of blood. 
   Bracing herself against the counter top, Jennie made her way to the door between the kitchen and the living room. Pushing against the old style swinging door she called out to the guests gathered in quiet mourning.
      “Help! I need help. Trisha fainted and now she’s bleeding!” Her own knees gave way then as the room shifted sideways and everything flashed in a brilliant white. Strong arms grabbed her just before she hit the hard wood floor.
    When she next woke, the room was dim, the faint outline of the lamp on her nightstand told her where she was. The familiar fragrance of lavender and vanilla filled her nostrils.  Her head ached. 
    How did she get in her room?
    All the memories came back in a flood. The funeral. Trisha. The blood. She hated the sight of blood.
    She sat up straight in her bed. A light came on in the hallway outside her bedroom.  The door creaked open ever so slightly. Momma was there, a sad smile on her face when she saw Jennie sitting up in bed.
    “You’re awake.”
     “How do you feel?” Momma took a few steps into the room, closer to where Jennie sat.
     “OK, I guess.  How are you, Momma?” Despite the dark rings under her eyes and the red rimmed lids, Momma seemed more fine than she had since before Daddy died.
     Momma reached out and laid a hand on her arm. “I’m OK. I’m gonna be OK. I miss your daddy like crazy but I will be all right. Elise Johnson was born a survivor.”
    The tears rushed in like a spring flood. Jennie leaned over and grabbed her momma, hugging her tight for a long time. Momma just patted her back and reassured her that they were going to be fine, just fine.
    How could they really be all right? John Marshall was the glue that had held them all together.
    Finally Jennie sat back and swiped a hand across her wet eyes. Momma handed her a tissue which she promptly used. When Jennie was finally calm, Momma looked her deep in the eyes.
     “Sweet pea, you wanna tell me what happened in that kitchen today?”
     “Nothing. Trisha tried to talk to me, I told her to get out.”
     “How did she get hurt?”
     “She fainted. Hit her head on the counter. I had nothing to do with it. I am mad at her but I would never hurt her!”
    Her voice rose with every word. How could her own mother think she would do such a horrible, terrible thing?
     “Calm down, Jennie girl.  I am not saying….”
     “That’s exactly what you are saying, Momma!” Jennie interrupted, pacing the bedroom floor.   “How could you, Momma? Is that what everyone else thinks?” She stopped pacing in front of her dresser and studied her reflection in the mirror.  And then a horrible thought dawned on her.  She spun around and faced her mother, horror in her eyes. “Oh my God, Momma!  Is that what Michael thinks?”
    “Calm down, sweet pea. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. All that matters is what you and Trisha know.”
      Her knees buckled and she crumbled to the floor by the bed. Dropping her head on her arms atop the patchwork quilt she let out a moan. “Oh my God, Momma. That’s exactly what everyone thinks, isn’t it?”
       She was angry at Trisha, but Jennie wasn’t violent. How could her friends, her family, her neighbors think that she would do something like that?
     Momma patted her back and pushed her wild, unruly curls back from her damp forehead.
    “It’s okay, sweet pea. No one thinks you would deliberately hurt Trisha, baby girl.”
     “Is…Is Trisha okay, Momma? Is she at the hospital still?”
      “Her mom called a little while ago. They are going to keep her overnight, try to figure out why she fainted. And keep an eye on that head injury—just to be sure.”
     Jennie dropped her head onto her arms again and studied the pattern of the patchwork quilt for a moment or two before she spoke again. Momma sat by her bed quietly looking as sad as Jennie had ever seen her.
     Momma finally stood up and smoothed the skirt of her black dress.  “Why don’t you go splash a little cold water on your face and come help me in the kitchen? We have a lot of food to pack up and put away.”
     Jennie didn’t answer right away.  The last place she wanted to be was in the kitchen but Momma needed her. From now on it was just the two of them. They would have to help each other- they were all they had. When she went to college Momma would be alone.
   Momma would be all alone.
   How could she even think about leaving Momma now?
   Sadness enveloped her as the truth settled in firmly. She wouldn’t be going anywhere for a long time. Momma needed her here, on the farm. There was no way Elise Marshall could take care of everything on her own. She never even went into the barn. How would the cow get milked? And the eggs collected? And the horses fed and mucked? No, Jennie couldn’t go anywhere. Not now, not in a year when she graduated and not next fall when college started.
     Her destiny had changed and she couldn’t do a thing about it.
    Maybe her destiny had always been out of her control. Maybe she was meant to spend all her days on this damned farm. Alone and sad, for all the rest of her days.
    Well, if she was destined to die here then she might as well get started. That food wasn’t going to get itself wrapped up.
    She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and rose to her feet. “OK, Momma.  Let’s go clean up.”    

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