I'm pleased to provide a sneak peek of one of the books I'm working on, tentatively titled “Shirley Goodness and Mercy”. Enjoy the excerpt!
Unedited excerpt from “Shirley Goodness and Mercy”
© 2007 Sharona Nelson.
All rights reserved.
I reach old Route 13, otherwise known as 13A, and turn left. Miz Smyth lives just north of St. George Road. The solitary ride in the quiet night reminds me, oddly, of teenaged summers, of speeding down these dark country roads too fast, windows down, Nirvana blasting from the tape deck. Hot, humid air that stirs my sexuality surrounds me like silk, and I long for a lover's touch.
I reach Miz Smyth's house, a double-wide with neat plantings flanking the front door. My sedan is dwarfed by two supercab pickups and several enormous SUVs, the kind that take up one-and-a-half parking spaces at most malls.
The rural south is the land of trucks and testosterone, and southern Delaware is way more southern in flavor and temperament than you'd expect from a state that sat out the Civil War. I mean, the War of Northern Aggression, as I learned young.
I climb the stairs of the well-tended ranch and knock, booze and jelly in hand. A thirtysomething man in work clothes, no hair on his head and a large gut, answers the door.
"You here about Sonny?"
I nod. "I'm his niece."
"Well, I'll be. Didn't recognize you at first. Shirley-Lou, right?" He holds the door open. "You come right on it, sweet thing. Remember me? Bobby Bishop. I used to see you around in the summers."
I enter the house, taking his offered hand. He pumps mine with vigor. "Football player, right? Star running back for Delmar, as I recall," I say.
He grins. "Yeah, my glory days." Suddenly he remembers why I'm there. His face turns somber. "Mighty sorry to hear about your uncle. He was a fine man, a good neighbor. Passed on too young."
The lump is back in my throat. "Thank you kindly."
"Hey, I guess you want to see Miz Smyth." He lowers his voice. "She's doing rather poorly, truth be told."
"Maybe a little bourbon will perk her up."
"Shore would me," he says, eyeing the bottle.
I don't take the hint. Instead, I thread my way through the small crowd till I reach Lacey Smyth. She's holding court in a brown corduroy La-Z-Boy, but I don't mean than unkindly. Just that she's surrounded by friends.
She indeed looks poorly. I creep towards her until she notices me approaching.
She stands, falling into my outstretched arms. She's a tiny bird, barely reaching my shoulder. Her hug is weak.
"Miz Smyth, I'm so sorry. How can I help you?"
"You call me Lacey and hush that 'Miz Smyth' talk. Nobody's called me that since I left teaching. You don't have to do a thing, darlin'. It's all taken care of, like I said before."
"I'll go put these in the kitchen, all right?" I brandish the bourbon and jelly.
She leans in, whispering, "Hide that bourbon, y'hear? And help yourself to whatever you see to eat and drink."
With that, she turns back to the locals, letting them fuss over her. On the sideboard, I see macaroni and cheese, Jell-O salad—the orange kind with shredded carrots in it—and a few other local favorites, including, of course, fried chicken. I see a cooler filled with Budweiser and my mouth waters, even though when I drank I couldn't stand Bud. Right now, I'd do a lot for a beer, bourbon, scotch, any damn thing.
I rub the one-year recovery medallion I received just last week at my regular meeting. I know I'm in most danger of sliding back now, with a year of sobriety resting cockily in my pocket and an emotional crisis to handle.
I force myself to focus on the diet soda. After I tuck away the bourbon and jelly, I fill a red plastic cup with ice and splash Diet Coke into it.
With my cup in hand serving as a security blanket, I make the rounds. I shake lots of hands, hear expressions of sympathy, and thank the givers for the kindness. Duty done, I scurry back to the sideboard and dish myself some mac-and-cheese. My fork's halfway to my mouth when Mercy enters the place, dressed head-to-toe in black, with simple but expensive gold jewelry that sets off her blonde curls.
Next to her, I look like a poorly-dressed Amazon in my gray business pantsuit, an outfit that does nothing for my dark hair and eyes. But hey, it was seventy percent off, and renders me sufficiently neutered to work around sex-deprived geeks without hearing any heavy breathing.
Her eyes work the room, scanning her surroundings. She, like her Porsche, is always in stealth mode.
"Food any good?" she says to me, wrinkling her nose ever so slightly at the selection.
"Macaroni's not bad."
She regards the drink selection, sighs, grabs a bottle of beer. "Beggars can't be choosers, I guess."
I nudge her foot with mine. "Go see Miz Smyth before you eat."
After fluttering her fingers at me in acknowledgment, she threads through the knot of mourners to Lacey, now standing next to her chair. They hug, exchange a few words, then my sister is back at the sideboard, sinking her teeth into a chicken breast.
Mercy, the carnivore.
"Mmm, yum," she says, wiping her mouth between bites. "Best damn chicken I've had in six months."
"That's because the only places you eat are fast food joints and casino buffets. How the hell do you stay a size two?"
Sister's ninety-eight ponds sopping wet, tiny and blue-eyed. She's Mutt to my Jeff. Despite my low-fat, healthy eating, I battle the bulge constantly.
Okay, I confess to a weakness for old-fashioned carbs like biscuits, cornbread, and cobblers. Never met a fruit dessert I didn't love.
"Who's the hunk?" Mercy says, motioning with her beer. My eyes follow her gesture, but don't see any man I'd consider a hunk. Unless she means...
"You talking about that old man standing next to Miz Smyth?"
"He's not that old, maybe forty," she says, eyeing him while swigging her drink.
"Sixteen years older than you isn't old? Oh, I forgot about your father complex." I do not find men who look noticeably older than me attractive, and have never understood the women who do.
"Father complex? Bitch," she says without emotion between biting off chunks of cooked bird flesh.
I hold my tongue to keep from responding "takes one to know one" or something equally immature. Instead, I stuff my mouth with some banana pudding so I can't I stick my foot in it.
"You never told me who that man is," she says.
"Mmm. I think he's what-his-name's older brother. You know, the ex-football star with the huge gut and no hair." I take a slug of Diet Coke.
She grimaces. "Hard to believe they're even related."
I manage to keep from making the same observation about us.
Mercy drifts over to the older man, and it's as if she threw a switch—she's bubbly and flirty and moving her body for maximum effect. And the guy's eating it up. My nee-no tingles when I imagine what the two of them will soon be doing. What is it about death that makes people horny?
Actually, sister stays in that state, I'm convinced, and she doesn't stay in one man's bed for long. Move or die, that's her motto. Just like the shark.
Till a couple of years ago, you were the same way, my inner old lady scolds. Had to have it, no matter the cost, didn't you?
That's right, I snap back at her, and I paid that bill, with interest.
These days, I don't jump every hot man I see, just because I can. But not doing so is costing me a fortune at my favorite "marital aids" web site. Not to mention, I should buy stock in whoever makes Duracell batteries.
"Bud not good enough for you?"
A male voice startles me out of my sex-starved reverie. I stare him down while sipping my diet soda so he doesn't think I'm impressed with him. Even though my nee-no is banging a gong, and all I'm doing is looking at him. He's taller than me, built like a brick outhouse, and dressed like an Eastern Shore cowboy, all smart-assed attitude and form-fitting denim clothing. His eyes are tawny, like a cat's, his grin, the half-sneer that Elvis made famous.
"I don't drink," I say with a shrug to ensure he knows how unimpressed I am.
"Why's that?" His stare never wavers. Arrogant prick.
Too bad my weakness is arrogant pricks.
"I decided it was more interesting to say I gave it up than to keep drinking."
He moves closer, invading my personal space. But I refuse to give ground.
"Are you Shirley-Lou, all grown up?" A feral smile shapes his lips.
"Maybe. Who are you?" I send my gaze around the room. He's too attractive to me.
"I'm hurt you don't recall our summer nights. You were a not-so-sweet sixteen." He places his hand over his heart, acting stunned.
"Considering why we're here, pantomiming a heart attack's pretty tasteless."
Damn, he smells like leather and testosterone and the faintest hint of whiskey.
"Sorry, darlin'. You're right." He holds his wrists up. "Handcuff me, take me to the woodshed, have your way with me. I'll bet I'd like payback from you."
"Who the fuck are you?" I keep my voice down, but my snarl travels across the room during a lull in everyone's conversations.
People look my way. Heat floods my face.
"Shirley-Lou, I know it's you. Don't you remember those nights in the woods? It's Luke."
I blink. "Luke? Luke Callahan?"
"The one and only. Why don't we go somewhere and renew our acquaintance?" He brushes his fingers across my lower back, inciting a firestorm of memories.
Luke was my first. His teaching was pure pleasure, and I was his very eager student. A wave of wanting rolls down my body, kind of like a shiver, only when it reaches my lower abdomen, it stays there, rippling, rippling. I sure hope to hell and goddamn that I packed my vibrator.
My insides feel swollen, molten. And that pisses me off.
"Luke, tonight's not good for me. Care to guess why? My uncle just died, you ignorant son of a bitch."
He scratches his head. I don't want to look at his thick thatch of blond hair. But I do.
"Yeah, I know, I'm sorry, Shirl. I just got carried away, seeing you again and all. You light my fire."
I roll my eyes at the cliché.
He grabs my hand, writing something on the palm. "Here's my number. I'm single, no woman in my life, I promise. I'm ripe for the... plucking." He winks. "Call me while you're in town, okay, darlin'?"
I'm unable to move. This is a nightmare, and I hope I wake up soon.
He leans down to whisper in my ear. "I remember all your favorite activities, and I got ideas for new things we can try, too. Call me. And I'm real sorry about your uncle. He was a good man, even if he did chase me away from you with a shotgun. More than once."
He brushes his lips against my ear, and that makes me press my thighs together. Tightly. I can't speak, so I nod.
Luke ambles over to Miz Smyth. I watch him put on his most respectful, sad face to express his condolences. After that, he leaves without a backward glance.
I want to run after him, take him in the truck I'm certain he drives. For sure we can't do it in my car, not with our sets of long legs. I blow out air through pursed lips and unclench my thighs. No Mercy, no older man, I see.
The crowd is thinning, and Lacey beckons me over.
"Let's go have some of that bourbon," she says, hooking her arm in mine. "I have something to tell you about Sonny's will."