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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright Â© 2010 by Suzanne Supplee
eISBN : 978-1-101-43292-1
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Published in the United States by Dutton Books,
a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014www.penguin.com/youngreaders
To the ones who listen,
Julie Strauss-Gabel and Ann Tobias,
and to the ones who make me feel like somebody,
Scott, Cassie, Flannery, and Elsbeth
You'll never do a whole lot unless you're brave enough to try.
everything begins with an ending
EVEN ON GRADUATION DAY, the Starling High School gymnasium smelled just like it always didâa combination of old sweat and dust masked somewhat by cherry-scented disinfectant and floor polish.
In spite of my C average, I sat on the stage with snooty, holierthan-thou valedictorian, Desiree Gibbons, on my left and some three-piece-suit guy the principal introduced as the superintendent to my right. I knew the ceremony lineup by heart, of course. As soon as Brother James quit praying, which at the rate he was going might be sometime after Labor Day, I was to sing the National Anthem. Then, after Desiree finished her long-winded speech about what a great student she'd been, I'd launch into that tearjerker Trace Adkins song, “You're Gonna Miss This.” After that, Mrs. Lyn, our guidance counselor, would call our names, and Principal Langford would hand out the diplomas.
Admittedly, “You're Gonna Miss This” is a very pretty song. It's all about growing up and appreciating every little stage of life, no matter how miserable you may feel at the time. But, truth be told, I'm not going to miss much about Starling High School.
“And now, we have Retta Lee Jones to sing the National Anthem for us,” I heard Brother James say. Discreetly, I unstuck my navy skirt and polyester graduation robe from my sweaty thighs and clicked toward the microphone in the painful high heels I'd borrowed from Mama.
While the crowd of proud parents and grandmas and aunts and uncles got to their feet, I took a deep cleansing breath, the kind my chorus teacher, Miss Stem, taught us to do way back in ninth grade. Oxygen filled my lungs, making my diaphragm expand, and in that moment of so-quiet-you-could-hear-a-pin-drop anticipation, I let the words ease off my tongue, soft and low at firstâ
Oh-h, say can you see
âthen after a few lines, louderâ
the bombs bursting in air
what so proudly we hailed
, I closed my eyes.
When I belted out that last line,
the land of the free and the home of the brave
, I glanced down at the kids in the front row, and Shelton Albright caught my eye. Tears were rolling down his cheeks, and I remembered then that he'd gone and signed himself up for the army. The room thundered with applause. Daddy whistled. Desiree clapped enthusiastically, and even the superintendent gave me a thumbs-up.
It was the kind of moment most people would want to last forever, but I couldn't wait for it to be over so I could get on with my real life, the one I'd been staring out the window and daydreaming about all through high school.
eileen regina edwards
BORN: August 28, 1965; Windsor, Ontario, Canada
BIG BREAK: Deerhurst Resort, Huntsville, Ontario, in the late eighties.
LIFE EVENTS: After her parents' tragic death on November 1, 1987, Shania became the guardian of her three younger siblings.
she's not just a pretty face
“COME ON, RETTA. DO IT.
” Brenda pleaded, and batted her purple-shadowed, kohl-lined lids at me. “It's the least you can do after I bought your supper.”
“It was a
,” I pointed out.
“Well, I still bought it,” Brenda replied, and stuffed our empty food containers into the sack. It was graduation night, but Brenda and I decided to skip Tercell Blount's big show-off party out on River Road. Instead, we sat on Baker's Point, gossiping and listening to the radio, just the two of us. Just like always. Brenda rummaged through her pocketbook. In search of a cigarette, I knew.
“You're not smoking in here.”
“It's my car,” Brenda replied.
“Well, you're still not smoking in here. Do you want me to sing or not?” I asked, like I was making a huge sacrifice. The truth is I love singing for Brenda.
,” Brenda snapped, and dropped her steamer-size purse onto the floorboard again. The weight of it nearly broke my toe. “I won't smoke, but do Bobbie Gentry first. âOde to Billie Joe.' I just love that song.”
“All right,” I replied, and turned off the radio. When I concentrate real hard, I can sound just like Bobbie Gentry did way back whenâor Dolly or Loretta or Tammy or Emmylou, too, for that matter. Miss Stem always said my voice is just like Play-Doh: it can take on any shape I want. I closed my eyes and tried to get myself in the Tallahatchie Bridge mind-setâall dark and eerie and tragicâbut it was too cramped in the car. “I've got to stand up,” I said. I swung the door open and tromped through the itchy weeds to the front of Brenda's metallic orange Camaro.
Brenda switched on the headlights then climbed onto the hood. “Rett-
!” she chanted, and raised her cigarette lighter.
“This is not a Pink Floyd concert,” I reminded her.
“I'm just preparing you for fame is all,” Brenda said, and increased the flame to torch mode. She made roaring crowd noises and pounded the car. She may be just one tiny, skinny girl, but she can make the racket of forty people. I closed my eyes and imagined it thenâan eager audience, the glare of stage lights, the plunk of a guitar, the haunting swell of violins, then me, Retta Lee Jones, a.k.a. Bobbie Gentry, circa 1967.
“It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta daa-aay . . .” I paused for effect, then took off toward Choctaw Ridge.
When the song was finished, Brenda gave me a standing ovation. “God, I wish I could do that, Retta. I
wish I could do that. You sound just like her! Do another one. Come on. Do Dolly this time. âCoat of Many Colors.' Please,” she pleaded, and sat down again.