Teaser from my new book: A Cleft in the World

From Chapter Two: The first you-know-what hits the fan.

Stepping forward, the board chairman Beau Duffy pulls a slight smile, accepts the clip-on mic from Susan and attaches it to his navy and red striped tie. He clears his throat.

Lina pokes my thigh.

A local pediatrician, nearing retirement and the kind of guy who would come over and roust a mouse from your house, Beau surveys us a moment. He peers at his notes. The room has the preternatural hush of a moon. My own deodorant is breaking down, my armpits growing slick.

“I’m not going to dance around this,” the chairman begins, the microphone fuzzing his words for a moment. “In the last two years, Willa Cather’s endowment—that which keeps us in the black—has dropped sixteen million dollars.” Alarm pricks at my skin like an incipient rash.

The chairman motions to the CFO, Sawyer Hays—who resembles Pierce Brosnan—holding a stack of papers to his chest. Agendas? Sawyer’s face and hands are deeply tanned, as though he’s spent a month on his cruising sailboat, The Willa. Considering the state of our endowment, maybe he has; the man is so formal and aloof, who would know?

The chairman speaks again. “Coming to you are the exact figures.” All heads turn to follow the passing of the stack. The only sounds are the rustle of paper, the creak of metal chair. “As most of our endowment is restricted—it must be used to fund scholarships or faculty salaries and the like—we have been forced to draw from the unrestricted portion for operating expenses.”

I look at Lina as she passes the stack to me, her hand the chill of granite. She murmurs her Italian version of what the hell, “Che cavalo?” without moving her lips.

Beau’s ruddy complexion deepens. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are twelve million dollars in debt.” Fear nibbles at my core.

The math instructor fumbles the stack. Pages drift and slide on the marble floor. No one moves to help. A voice rises from near the front, and then a surf of questions break.

“Why are we just hearing about this?”

Two years?”

“What does this mean for salaries?”

Beau raises his hands like a bank teller in a hold up. “Please. Let me finish.”

A gust of wind carrying breath mints and alarm brushes the back of my hair, as people behind us bend and shuffle to grab up the scattered pages.

“The board has voted to create a new position—a one-year interim position—of vice president of finance and administration. Truman, will you stand?” Truman. That’s a name I  haven’t heard in a while. The man stands and turns to face the faculty. My chest tightens the way it did when I once narrowly missed getting t-boned on Fourth Street. “Truman Parker comes to us from Emory University and Columbia Business School. He . . .” The chairman’s voice echoes in the suddenly airless, book-lined room, and bounces off the ceiling.

“The Ivy League to the rescue?” I think I hear Lina whisper over the blood pounding in my ears.

Truman Parker smiles and buttons his navy suit coat, his blue eyes giving off sparks in the dim, old room. Something breaks loose near my heart. The rest of the board chair’s introduction is lost on me. I don’t remember losing my first tooth, the Christmas I first understood that Santa wasn’t real, or what I wore for a Halloween costume in fifth grade. But I’ll never forget the first time I saw the fourteen-year-old strawberry blond, the first boy to capture my heart.

Excerpt from Book # 3, A CLEFT IN THE WORLD

Back in the coupe, I aim for home. Despite the ground sirloin, bacon and ice cream in my backseat, I pull onto the hilltop shoulder just before the turn-off to the college. This perfect birds-eye view of the campus that has been my home stops my breath and heart. In the slanting afternoon sun, it’s an enchanted green isle, the rising sun-bleached steeples and towers like the turrets of a great castle, the winding roads like soft gray rivers. In twenty-five years, its beauty is undiminished. For a moment, I simply sit there, feeling a peculiar peace and stillness stealing over me and soothing my worries. I sit with my hands on the wheel, thinking of all the young women who arrived here first with trunks, then with smart hard Samsonite cases, then boxes, and monogrammed duffle bags full of hopes and dreams.

My Grandmother, a Beauty Icon

I wrote a little piece for submission to the beauty & style section of Southern Living Magazine. It was well received, but as they have quite a backlog, we’ll see it in print one of these months.

My grandmother, Lucille Oeland Sumner of Greenville, S.C., was a glamour puss. Though elegant in every sense of the word, Mudda—as I called her–had a lively sense of humor and often dissolved into helpless giggles. She never failed to meet me at the door of her home without a, “Hey, darlin,’ you’re so beautiful!”

A self-taught hat designer, Mudda opened a home studio in the nineteen forties, Lucille’s Studio of Millinery, where an array of her creations blossomed from pegs and faceless forms. I remember gloved ladies coming by to shop the collection, that would make a derby party attendee salivate. Trying on those hats as a little girl made me feel as beautiful as Mudda believed I was.

I was riveted by her beauty routine. My grandmother poured L’Air du Temps perfume into an atomizer with a big puffer and then spritzed it on. She plumped her slender lips by creating an exaggerated cupid’s bow with rose lipstick. She did her eyes, wearing the only pair of magnifying make-up applying readers I’ve seen to this day.

And her hair! When an occasion called for an updo, Mudda matched hair pieces to her Clairol Summer Blonde coif. In the nineteen sixties when mature women cropped their hair, Mudda wore hers longer. She hosted cocktail parties in taffeta hostess skirts, a white gypsy blouse, and gold shoulder-brushing loops.

Darlin’, she was so beautiful.

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Book Number Three Has A Name!

In its first months of life–through research, a twelve-page outline and the first six chapters–my poor book baby has lived with a blank name card on its bassinet. Like a newborn, whose parents declared they couldn’t name her until they knew her, she waited.

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The chapters are prefaced by quotes from brave women, including the late great literary author Willa Cather. One that sums up my main character’s initial propensity toward seclusion reads, “How easy it would be to dream one’s life out in some cleft in the world.”

I’ve seen my baby’s face. I know her bones, her personality, her quirks, when she needs to be fed or changed.

Her name is A CLEFT IN THE WORLD.

I can’t wait for you to meet her.

Let’s Play Ball!

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In the spirit of baseball season and my fave team, The St. Louis Cardinals, this half scene from GEORGIE GIRL will leave you wanting extra innings.

Spring was passing like one of those flip books where you draw your thumb across the edge, and the pictures move in quick succession to make a story. Following a fortnight of rain and unseasonable humidity, everyone was excited to turn out on a beautiful day for the final Browning baseball game.

I poked an orange macramé belt through the loops of my jeans and cinched it tight—my waist was getting so small—then pulled my hair into a ponytail with a hank of blue ribbon. Truman came by early with a surprise for Ronnie: an oiled leather baseball glove, a scuffed ball in its palm. He flexed his fingers like a cat’s claw. “It’s too small for me now. Thought you might like to have it.” Ronnie beamed so brightly you could have read by him.

We headed en masse down the hill and past the Persimmon trees to the immaculate ball field where the white lines stood out like radioactive bones against the Virginia clay. My mother, who had convinced my father she could handle the walk, looked pretty in jeans and a sleeveless blouse, an orange cotton scarf knotted around her throat.

At the field, the aroma of hotdogs and popcorn from the equipment shed/concession stand made my stomach rumble. “Can I have two hotdogs, Daddy?” Ronnie asked. Little greedy-guts.

My parents and Miss Foxie took seats on the front row generally reserved for faculty. Truman and I stomped up to the top row of the student section—where Lacey and Findley waited amidst a flock of orange-and blue-clad spectators—and exchanged greetings.

Miss Magpie teetered across the grass in high-heeled sandals and tight white pedal pushers; a blouse tied at the waist, a yellow hat and Jackie O. sunglasses.

“Oh Lordy,” I saw Miss Foxie mouth to my mother.

I grinned at Lacey. “I know what those two are thinking, don’t you?”

“Yep. It’s not yet May, and Magpie’s wearing . . .”

“White pants,” we finished in tandem, giving each other a high five.

A trio of seniors in front of us snickered at the woman. “What a slut,” one of them murmured.

From the dugout, Coach Lucius Cassidy regarded the players’ warm-up and whistled “Sweet Georgia Brown.” Dr. Banks—a baseball fanatic who had played for Duke University—strode to the announcer’s table, his grin wide as the horizon.

Miss Magpie picked her way to the dugout. “Yoo-hoo, Coach Cas-si-dy!” she called, blowing her husband an ostentatious kiss. A sudden gust of wind blew the hat down over her face. Miss Magpie snatched it from her head and abruptly sat on the front row, swiping at the lipstick that streaked its brim. The top rows cracked up.

Dr. Banks and the announcer for the opposing team, Karen’s school, Laurel Ridge High, called the players out one by one. Karen, who had zero interest in family events or team sports, was not in attendance.

Lacey and I hooted and cheered when Frank’s name was called, and then stood for the invocation and national anthem. I looked at Truman, handsome in the orange and blue plaid shirt I remembered from the fall, and wished I could rewind the months to when our love had been carefree. But then, he smiled and put his arm around me, and I relaxed in his embrace.

The Browning Eagles scored two runs in the first inning. Dr. Banks’s bass voice from the loud speakers was exuberant. Laurel Ridge scored one run in the second. At shortstop, Frank’s body thrummed, his cleated shoes seeming to hover above the packed earth.

At the fence behind first base, Clover and Blue stood in the red dust, their feet bare, their fingers hooked through the chain link fence. Clover held a ragdoll with yellow hair the color of her own in the crook of her arm. Now and then she looked down at it, a fond smile curving her lips.

“Who’s ready for a hotdog?” Lacey asked.

Findley’s legs were bouncing like bad checks. “Wait till the bottom of the fourth.” The score was tied, six-six.

“Let’s you and me go, Lace,” I said.

We squeezed to the end of the row and hopped onto the grass. We passed my father and brother on their way back from the shed, Ronnie clutching a dog and grinning, his cheeks already painted with mustard. Lacey and I fell in line behind a broad-shouldered boy with a tight bottom and dark wavy hair.

My heart sped up. Kelly.

 

Lacey said, “Hi, Kelly!”

 

He turned and dipped his chin. “Ladies.”

“Gorgeous day, huh?” Lacey said.

“Yeah, the best,” he answered, looking at the unsullied blue miracle of sky and then at me.

“Next!” the surly senior working the window demanded, a greasy apron around his middle.

Kelly stepped up. “A dog and a Coke, please,” he said. Kelly’s changed so much. He even has polite manners. I wish he could sit with us at the game and be friends with everyone. But Truman would—

“Where are you guys sitting?”

Lacey shaded her eyes and pointed to our seats. “We’re on the top right.”

Findley waved. He raised two fingers and pointed to his chest: Get me two. Truman’s face was shadowy and very still.

Something blew into my eye. “Oww,” I said, holding my eye open wide with my fingers. “Lacey, what’s in my eye?”

Before Laceycould move, Kelly stepped forward and gently took my chin in his hand. My heart trip hammered in my chest.

Oh, no, is Truman looking?

Kelly, his breath warmer than the afternoon sun on my face, said, “Close your eyes.” His finger touched the corner of my eye and scraped softly downward. “Here’s the culprit.”

Blinking rapid fire, my eye streaming, I peered at a tiny blade of grass on his fingertip.

“Thanks,” I said, brushing the tears from my cheek. I didn’t dare look at Truman.

“Dog and a Coke!” the concession guy barked.

Kelly collected his refreshments, then smiled at me and then at Lacey. “Well, guess I’ll see you at school Monday.”

My heart was still pounding as I took my place beside Truman, my mind a tilt-a-whirl ride.

He eyed me as I unwrapped my hotdog and took a bite.  . . .

Panning for Gold

Writing a scene today, in which the main character’s memories are sifting down to her from a painful past. She’s comparing the feeling to panning for gold. Check out this cool video I found on youtube to learn how it’s done and how to use the right terminology: https://youtu.be/PxfcAhS08u0.

Now, if you’re still with me, here’s how it looks in the scene:

In the safety of my coupe again, I sit in the parking lot of the market, my hands on the wheel, my breath fogging the windows. Since Truman Parker came to town, the memories have swirled and concentrated, stratifying and settling themselves apart from the rest—like soil through a gold panner’s sluice. The worst memory of all seems to be coming for me, though I can’t yet see its shape.

 

Today’s one word prompt “chaos” in one hundred words or fewer.

Chaos & Chemistry

Remember the show, Get Smart?

CONTROL spies, Agents 86 and 99, were out to destroy the evil KAOS.

Bimagesut in 1965, I had no context for clever acronyms. I simply wanted to be Agent 99. Barbara Feldon’s lustrous bob, velveteen voice, and mod little suits made her the distillation of cool. And how she longed for her partner, bumbling Agent 86! Though she batted her lush lashes and gazed at him with adoration as he muttered into a shoe/transmitter, he remained oblivious.

The dissonance created some of television’s first sexual tension, to-die-for chemistry, and “emotional KAOS” for Agent 99. Chaos

The Book Bracelet

Miss Ruth.

The administrator that took a chance on me, hiring me to teach fresh off the college vine. A fine teacher in her own right, Ruth taught me as much about myself as she did about nurturing and educating children.

Fast forward twenty-five years.

Ruth has since retired, but in all my years, she is still the best administrator I ever had. Recently, she and I reconnected via facebook. One day she asked for my snail mail address, and I curiously awaited what the mail would bring.

Ruth had learned that I had ventured into a second career, full-time writing. I opened a pretty, decorated box with this special silver book bracelet tucked inside. The note read, “. . . I am so proud of your achievements in teaching and now writing. You are an exceptional young woman, and I love you.”

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Ahhh, Sweet Young Love . . .

Here’s a Valentine’s Day excerpt from GEORGIE GIRL.

On Valentine’s Night, Truman arrived early to pick me up for our double date with Lacey and Findley. My parents kindly left us alone in the living room.

Truman looked adorable in a big, army green parka. Pulling a heart shaped box of candy from his pocket, he shrugged the coat from his shoulders, threw it across a chair, and caught me up in a kiss.

Breathless and grinning, I handed him his valentine, not a thought of Kelly on my radar. Lacey could assume anything she wanted, but I knew my virtue was proven. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Legacy.”

He unwound the blue cashmere scarf his parents had given him for Christmas that made his eyes hot sapphires. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Georgie Girl.”

He sat and ripped the envelope open with a thumb. My face pinked when he read the signature aloud.

“I love you too. Now, it’s your turn.” There were a lot of words inside my card. “I wrote you a poem.” He sniffed. “It’s not that great.” But his eyes skated my face as I silently read the words:

Georgie Girl

A boyish name belies

Her tender feminine ways.

Like her fingers through my hair,

Love twines through my days

Something stirred deep inside me. He liked it when I played with his hair. I read the words again, wanting to capture them like snowflakes on my tongue. “True, it’s too much.”

“Nah. You’re my sweetheart,” he murmured, the words roping around my heart.

My parents thumped around the back of the apartment, my mother calling to Ronnie to come get in the bathtub. Truman and I leaned against the back of the sofa. We kissed, our lips parting, melding. He slipped a hand into my hair, gathering it into a knot at the nape of my neck. Settling into his embrace, I kissed his cheek and earlobe, the one with the single freckle.

Ronnie popped up from behind the sofa. “Surprise!”

I screamed. Truman huffed out a breath of disbelief, his jaw appearing to have come unhinged. I was on my feet, ready to murder my brother.

“What the hell are you doing, you little monster?” I shouted. Ronnie scooched down and crawled from behind the sofa. He sprinted for the kitchen door and turned the knob, looking wildly over his shoulder. Our father jerked the door open.

My parents stood woodenly on the other side, my father’s face following Ronnie as he pushed roughly past.

“Do you know what that little brat did?” I said, my hands on my hips. I wanted to drag my brother by one scrawny arm down to the river and drown him.

“Back down, Georgie,” my father said.

“No, I won’t.”

My father raised his eyebrows about two inches. “Elizabeth George—”

“Georgie,” Truman said from the doorway. I’d all but forgotten he was there. He addressed my parents. “Ronnie played a little trick on us.”

“He invaded my privacy,” I said, my voice raised. “He had no business—”

“I don’t like your tone, Georgie,” my father said.

My mother sat down at the table where two cups waited for coffee, and turned my father’s chair around with her foot. He heaved a sigh, and sat looking up at me, with his long hands on his thighs.

“What in the world happened?” my mother asked.

“Ronnie was hiding behind the sofa.” I looked at Truman, who nodded slightly. “We were exchanging valentines. He jumped up and scared us half to death.”

“They were hugging and kissing, too,” Ronnie called from the safety of the hall.

Wanting to squash his head like a bug, I covered my face with my hands, but peeked through a crack at Truman, who was staring at his watch as though it had just appeared on his wrist.

“Ronnie,” my mother said, “please, go to your room.”

My hands fell. Were they going to let me have it for talking ugly to Ronnie in front of Truman?

My father scrubbed his hand over his mouth, his eyes moving between Truman and me.

“About your conduct with Truman . . .” my mother said.

My face flamed as brightly as the burner beneath the coffee pot. “We were just kissing.”

My father closed his eyes. “We didn’t know Ronnie was there,” I said feebly.

My father shot me a look. “This is not about Ronnie.”

“Georgie and Truman,” my mother said evenly. “It’s normal for you to want to share your affection, but remember when you’re in the throes of young love, it’s easy to get . . . swept away by feelings.”

My pulse raced with mortification. I could feel the heat coming off Truman’s face.

He turned to me. “Your parents are right. What we were doing was inappropriate.”

The only thing holding me up was breathing. What? We weren’t doing anything wrong, I said with my eyes. The rattling boil of the coffee pot drew our gazes. My mother got to her feet and lifted it from the stove.

Truman lowered his chin and spoke to my father. “I didn’t act like a gentleman,” he said miserably. “I imposed on your . . . hospitality. I’m sorry.”

Seriously?

My mother looked at me and raised a brow. But shock had taken my tongue and lopped it off. “We know you’re a gentleman, honey,” she said.

My father stood and put a hand on Truman’s shoulder. “Thank you, Truman. Considering your apology, you may still escort Georgie to the movies as planned. But we’ll expect you to have her in this door by curfew and then say goodnight.”

“Yes, sir. Absolutely.”

“We’ll talk with you when you get home,” my mother said to me.

Truman and I retrieved our coats and left the apartment.

“Want my scarf?” he asked.

I glared at him. “No!”

“Georgie—”

“You took my parents’ side and embarrassed the heck out of me! How could you?” My teeth chattered with rage. Truman unwrapped his scarf. I shook off his hand. “I don’t want your damned scarf.”

. . . 

Out of Leftovers?

You can still enjoy an excerpt from the Thanksgiving chapter in GEORGIE GIRL.

 

Truman and I sat at the kitchen table on Thanksgiving morning, buttering tins for cornbread. Though anxiety nibbled at my midsection, I feasted on Truman. The proud blue of his shirt would have been embarrassed if it could have seen the blue of the boy’s eyes—it was just that superior. And I’d never seen Truman in faded jeans. He looked sort of . . . rugged for the first time, his gold-straw hair shaggier than ever.

It had been days since he had kissed me. With Kelly arriving soon, I needed the seal of Truman’s sweet lips as a talisman.

My mother and Ronnie were out gathering natural materials for the Thanksgiving table decorations.

I batted my eyelashes at him. “Will you kiss me now that we’re alone?”

Truman looked toward the living room where my father was reading the paper, frowned, and drew his finger across his neck in a slit-my-throat gesture.

I sighed.

My mother and Ronnie came in then, their cheeks rosy from the wind, the old wicker picnic basket full of clippings. Ronnie pulled a pair of dull shears from his tool belt as though he were drawing a gun.

“I cut the branches,” he said.

“I’ll take those, sir,” my mother said, snaring the shears. She shivered. “It’s nice and warm in here. Smell that turkey! Thanks for helping, Truman.”

“You’re welcome, Mrs. Bricker,” he said, wiping his hands on a dishtowel.

I wrinkled my nose and stuck my tongue out at him.

“I’ll help Tru-man!” Ronnie said. With a finger, he wiped the spills Truman had made around the muffin cups, licking the salt-buttery batter.

“Our maid never let me lick batter,” Truman said. Then he chuckled. “My father said Lizzie made Howard Hughes look positively devil-may-care when it came to germs. Father got a big kick out of teasing her—fake coughing and sneezing and stuff in the kitchen.”

Ronnie’s green eyes widened. “Not even cookie dough?”

“Nope.” Ronnie looked at Truman as though he’d spent his childhood chained to a rack in a rat-infested basement and climbed into his lap.

“We always eat cookie dough,” I said.

“And lick the beaters,” Ronnie said happily, bouncing on Truman’s knee.

“Georgie, please arrange these branches in the vase with the fluted top,” my mother said.

At a knock-knock, knock-knock on the door, Ronnie jumped down. “It’s Miss Foxie!”

Miss Foxie had said her “Brobdingnagian brood” in Leesburg wore her out, so she would spend the day with us. Ronnie told her that he put the teeny marshmallows on the sweet potatoes. He’d also eaten half the bag while my mother’s back was turned.

Truman stood. “Happy Thanksgiving, Miss Frame.”

“And to you, Mr. Parker,” she said. “Your paper on “The Prince and the Pauper” was quite good. I enjoyed your perspective on the theme that clothes make the man.”

“Thank you.”

“Asher, will you pull out the turkey?” my mother said.

At another knock-knock-knock, I froze.

“I’ll get it!” Ronnie cried. “I bet it’s Kelly!”

Though sheepish-faced, Kelly, in yet another gorgeous pullover sweater—plum and a pair of pressed gray slacks—looked as though he had stepped from a movie screen.

“Welcome, Kelly,” my mother said, her face flushed from the stove. “Georgie, will you introduce Kelly to Truman?”

Oh, Lord. Just kill me now. Why did my parents have to be so charitable anyway?

My stomach a fist, I introduced the boys and watched them exchange hellos that anyone else would have found ordinary.

“Hello,” Kelly said, his hands in his pockets.

Truman moved to shake Kelly’s hand. “Kelly. Nice to meet you.”

My pulse picked up. As the two shook hands, I looked from my darling boyfriend to my . . . friend. The two formed a tableau: the clear blue-eyed sun that warmed and soothed me by day, and the murky moon that tugged at a mystical and unexamined tide.

My father’s voice boomed. “Dinner’s on the table.”

Miss Foxie was feeling her oats. “How would you like for us to sit? Boy-girl-boy-girl?”

A lamb to the slaughter, I closed my eyes and waited for God to take me by the shoulders and steer me to my predestined place. I opened my eyes as Truman pulled out a chair for me and then seated himself to my left. And sliding into the chair on my right, like a brand new key into a lock? Kelly McGee.

“Oh!” my mother cried, rising from her post at the end of the table opposite my father. “I forgot the cranberry sauce!”

“I’ll get it, Mom,” I said, hopping up.

In the kitchen, I ran my wrists under cool tap water, willing my cantering heart to slow to a walk. Then, I upended the can of sauce over a dish, and shook it. The jellied purple blob slid out with a long smmuuckk.

Taking a deep breath, I rounded the corner.

When I was seated again, my father began the blessing. “Dear Heavenly Father, we thank you for this splendid feast and the loving hands that prepared it. We are grateful for the many blessings you have bestowed upon us, and for those you have gathered to share our bounty. Amen.”

“Amen,” we all echoed.

My father stood to carve the turkey. He raised one of the wings, making it wave at Ronnie. “How many for white meat?”

“I want a drumstick in my tummy right now!” Ronnie said.

My mother looked at my brother as though she wanted to snatch the carving knife from my father’s grasp and use it to lop off Ronnie’s head.

“Son, that’s impolite,” my father said.

Kelly shifted, his leg nudging mine. “I prefer dark meat, Mr. Bricker, a thigh.”

I brought my glass to my lips, my teeth clicking against the rim.

Kelly passed the stuffing to me, and a whiff of musk rose above celery and sage.

“How’s that drumstick, buddy?” Truman asked Ronnie.

My father passed the breadbasket to my mother and bussed her cheek. “Everything’s delicious, Juli.”

“It is, honey, this stuffing is perfection,” Miss Foxie said.

My parents talked to Miss Foxie about her Christmas plans. I pushed the food around on my plate, feeling Kelly’s presence like a caul.

“Good cranberry sauce, Georgette,” he said. “Did you make it yourself?”

“Hardy-har-har,” I said, but stifled a grin.

Truman took my hand beneath the tablecloth.

“Georgie’s holding Truman’s hand!” Ronnie crowed. “He’s her BOY-friend!”

Kelly’s thigh pressed mine. Mortification burned a path from my knees to my neck as I peeked at him. He grinned around a bite of stuffing.

Truman tickled Ronnie’s ribs. “What do you know about boyfriends?”

As Ronnie wheezed with laughter, grins popped like flashbulbs around the table.

“Who wants dessert?” my mother asked.

After the dishes were cleared and soaking beneath a mound of suds, my mother and Miss Foxie shooed us all from the kitchen and Kelly mercifully left for home, but not before giving me a big wink behind Truman’s back.

Suddenly, I had to be alone with Truman.

I asked my mother if I could show him my room.

She studied the two of us. “Well, just for a minute. Keep the door open.” . . .