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Authors: Dana Elmendorf

Tags: #Young Adult Fiction, #Lgbt, #Social Themes, #Friendship

South of Sunshine

BOOK: South of Sunshine
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South of Sunshine
Dana Elmendorf

Albert Whitman & Company
Chicago, Illinois

To my husband and two boys—
you are my heart, my soul, my everything.

Chapter 1

You don’t expect to be dumped five seconds after someone shoves his tongue down your throat. But that’s what Dave Bradford just did to me. I suppose the kiss was Dave’s idea of a consolation prize. Or maybe he was giving it one more try to see if there was any possibility of a spark. He’d have a better chance of lighting a wet match.

I want to tell Dave thank you for saving me from another week of spit baths before I eventually ditched him. Instead, Dave Bradford stands there—his fat slug tongue safely back in his mouth—and he gives me the whole “it’s not you, it’s me” speech. He has no idea how wrong he is, but I have no intention of enlightening him as to why.

Then, as if breaking up with me in the locker hallway in front of God and everybody isn’t enough, he also informs me he’ll be taking Chelsea to the big party Friday night. Wow. First day into my senior year, the boyfriend I’ve had for the last three weeks is my longest relationship. Ever. And because I’m unable to feign interest in any guy for very long, I’m being dumped for Chelsea Hannigan—
tiny tank top
Chesty Hannigan.

Dave leaves me hanging at my locker, feeling like a total loser, wondering if my kissing skills equal those of a dead fish.

I’ve kissed lots of boys. Well, what I think would be lots for the average seventeen-year-old girl. If we’re talking, say, Becky Staggs—who has kissed every guy this side of the Mississippi—then my lip-locking would be a drop in the bucket.

My first French kiss was the single most disgusting moment of my life. Hayden Mays, my summer boyfriend before eighth grade, had pulled me under one of those big beautiful oak trees. The butterflies in my stomach had migrated to my throat. Their wings raked against my esophagus, trying to get the hell out of there. It took a full thirty seconds of teeth gnashing and tongue lapping before I could decipher why the moment felt so terribly wrong. The second Hayden set me free, I ran straight home, immediately texted him, and broke up.

I shove my backpack in my locker and shut the door.

“Finally,” says my friend Van. He wraps an arm around my shoulders and marches us toward the cafeteria. “Thank God that relationship is over.”

“You’re such an eavesdrop whore.”

Van sticks his tongue out at me. “Dave may be a hottie, but I was worried you were going to drown in all that saliva.” He makes an exaggerated slurping noise, and I laugh.

That’s Vander Elgin Lovelace for you, all jokes to wash away the hurt. He’s been that way ever since preschool. Not that I’m sad Dave dumped me, but Van knows how hard I worked all summer to rally up a boyfriend, a charade that’s getting harder and harder to keep up. Now I’ll have to go to the Goodman’s annual kick-off-the-school-year party without a “boyfriend” again.

It’s a legacy party that’s been a tradition in our small Tennessee town for ten years. Thirty if you count the previous two generations of strapping Goodman boys. Three sons each generation—that family has some serious XY dominant chromosomes.

It started with Andrew’s grandfather’s barn dances. Then Andrew’s father and uncles hosted cornfield parties. Now it’s a bonfire bash by their family lake, unchaperoned. Andrew, the third and last Goodman boy of this generation, is the grand host. And anybody who’s anybody is going.

Van and I both grab salad bowls. “Nice tats on the shoes,” I say, complimenting his airbrushed Chucks—which I’m pretty sure is his third customized pair of Chucks he’s punked up. But Van, with his deep-purple skinny jeans, vintage Poison T-shirt, and black blazer, wears them like it’s the latest punk trend. His messy layered hair screams Johnny Depp.

“Thanks. I like the clawing tiger.” Van roars and mimics the slashing paw of the image on his shoes. His smile glistens when he bares his teeth.

“Look,” Van says, pointing to the spill of chocolate pudding on the counter, “a love note.”

In an attempt to clean up a drop of pudding, someone had inadvertently smeared it into the shape of a heart. Hearts abound in nature. Love notes from the universe, asking you to pay attention. I take out my cell phone and snap a picture of it to add to my collection.

Van plops four cherry tomatoes on my salad. I hate cherry tomatoes, but Van loves them, and the lunch lady in charge of the salad line is a tomato nazi. She only allows four per salad. Like our Podunk high school will go in arrears over an excess of produce consumption. Van smirks at the lunch lady as she scans his card.

We plunk down onto the barstool-style seats attached to the lunch table. Van calls the stools “orange butt mushrooms.” They’re one of the “mini upgrades” our school made over the summer, because what school wouldn’t benefit from butt mushrooms over new library books.

“Eeeeee!” Sarabeth squeals as she sits down across from us. “Four more days!” She wiggles on her butt mushroom.

Sarabeth Anne Beaudroux’s local family lineage dates back to the early eighteen hundreds. Her family owns a historical yellow colonial home in the heart of Sunshine—as in “Sunshine, Tennessee. A good place to be.” (According to our clever, catchy, and completely lame city limit signs.) Her home has the oldest, grandest oak tree in town, with a rope swing to boot. And she is the epitome of a southern peach—all charm with a pinch of scandal and intrigue. Shampoo commercials have got nothing on her blond shine.

“Whatcha gonna wear, Kaycee?”

“Definitely not plaid,” Van answers before I can. A death stare beams from Sarabeth. On cue, Andrew Goodman—in his light blue plaid shirt—sits down next to Sarabeth, pecking a quick kiss on her cheek just before he tucks into his lunch: two cheeseburgers, a glop of spaghetti, and a mountain of dinner rolls. I wonder if he plans on trucking in his dessert.

“Haven’t decided,” I say before Van cares to elaborate on plaid. “Maybe just a T-shirt and shorts.” I know what’s coming next—a sour face, a grunt in disgust. I want to remind Sarabeth of our childhood days in her Granny’s creek bed, catching crawdads and riding horses. Where plaid shirts, jean overalls, and muddy waders were our wardrobe of choice. That is, until one kiss from a cute farm boy at eleven—after that it was dresses and pink for Sarabeth. Thank goodness all that pink didn’t go to her head, or we wouldn’t still be riding horses in that old creek.

“Ugh.” Sarabeth and Van exclaim in unison. Though they butt heads occasionally, they have a united front against my all-natural look. My jeans, T-shirt, and lip gloss kind of style drives their fashion genes insane.

A herd of plaid cattle fill in behind Andrew. “Seniors!” bellows Charles Buck, who likes to call himself Chuck the Buck. He high-fives his best bro, Andrew. Their thick hands make a loud clap. Chuck the Buck spreads the wealth and high-fives everyone at the table. I’m even a little caught up in being Kings of the Cafeteria. Heck, Kings of the School! I high-five him too.

Andrew stretches his palm across the table to give Van some senior love, but when Van reaches his arm out to reciprocate, Andrew yanks his back and slicks it over the side of his hair. “Not happening, daffodil.” Laughter moos from his audience.

“Asshole,” Van mumbles. I hope I’m the only one who heard.

“Are we ready to kick some Viking ass next Friday night, boys?” Andrew asks. Chuck and the other thick-necks sit to graze at the same time. The heels of my feet rise slightly off the floor as the weight of meat tips the table off balance. Next to me, I hear Van snicker.

Andrew, who was saying something about the upcoming football scrimmage, stops shaking one of his
three
cartons of chocolate milk and glares at Van. The laser vision dares Van to make one smartass remark. I nudge Van’s knee with mine, a plea for him to keep silent. It’s bad enough Van’s first act as council president was to convince the student body to help fund our struggling art program instead of customizing the football player’s practice jerseys with their last names. We don’t want to piss off Andrew any more than we have to.

Van keeps his trap shut, miraculously.

The boys at the jock end of the table talk about the rival schools they will face this season. Sarabeth leans over to me to discuss more important stuff. “I was thinking you’d look cute in my white summer dress, with the cherries.” Her southern drawl makes it sound like “chair-ees.” Her voice is whisper-sweet and breathy. “You know—the sexy one with the ruffle neckline that hangs off the shoulders.” A small grunt comes from Andrew. Sarabeth shoulder bumps him with a giggle, acknowledging his caveman approval.

“Let me guess, she can borrow your cowgirl boots to wear with it too? Cliché.” Van rolls his eyes, wiping the smile off Sarabeth’s face. “I think you should wear that slinky orange one-shouldered dress we got at Spitx.”

Sarabeth forks a cucumber. “Oh, so she can wear your hoochie-momma hot pink pumps and sink her heels into the cow pasture?”

“I borrowed ‘em from your momma,” Van snaps back.

“Guys.” I throw my hands up in surrender. “Shut. It.” I shake my head at Sarabeth. She promised me she wouldn’t goad Van. Van humphs, and I elbow him in the ribs.

“I have some really cute cut-off jean shorts,” I say to Sarabeth. “And a glittery lips Rolling Stone strapless top.” I look at Van. “Okay?”

Sarabeth picks at her salad. Van spears one of my tomatoes. Their lack of protest says they silently approve. I don’t get their constant need to jack up my style. My social life certainly isn’t suffering from it.

“What about her
hair
?” Sarabeth asks Van, as if I’m not sitting right here.

“I am not getting lowlights again,” I say before they can suggest it. Last time they decided to experiment on me, I had these god-awful black streaks that made me look like I had a yarn wig on top of my wavy sandy-colored hair. We had to bleach it three times before the color stripped away.

Never. Again.

“Does anyone still have their graded copies of Mrs. Engel’s tests from last year?” Melissa clunks her tray on the table. Her fraternal twin sister, Misty, swings in beside her. More of our normal crew joins us. Everyone talks shop, from whose teacher sucks worse, to who’s going with whom to the party. The I-don’t-have-a-date-to-go-with void grows a little bigger. Not that I could show up with my kind of date anyway.

“Hey, did y’all meet the new girl yet?” asks one of the M&M twins.

There’s a new girl?

“I hear she’s like an Amazon,” says one of the plaid cows.

“A Brazilian Amazon, if you like them slightly browned. But dude, she matched Andrew point for point in b-ball this morning,” says plaid cow number two.

Andrew nods, almost admiringly. “She has a wicked jump shot.” Resident football, basketball, and golf pro Mr. Goodman is not threatened by a fellow athlete? That’s a shocker. Must be because she’s a girl.

“You know what Harry found out?” asks Chuck the Buck.

“Pipsqueak Harry?” Sarabeth laughs. “Figures he’d molest the new girl before she’s even had lunch.” Harry’s height deficiency landed him a position as the school’s Wildcat mascot instead of front point guard for the basketball team.

“He says that back at her high school in Boston, she already had college recruiters from UT Knoxville and Notre Dame scouting her out. When she was a junior, no less.”

Andrew whistles an impressed approval. “That lucky bitch.”

Not much happens in Sunshine. Besides Nashville’s Baptist Youth Conference or family vacations to Florida, most of us never meet out-of-towners. A new student from Boston is like a celebrity in our midst.

Sarabeth’s gasp refocuses my attention. “
What
is your boyfriend doing cozying up to Chelsea Hannigan?” She nods across the cafeteria.

“Ex. Dumped.” Van so eloquently updates her in two syllables.

Mouth agape, I gawk at Van. “Hag.” I smack him.

Sarabeth’s puppy dog eyes are sympathetic. “Aw, honey. Again?” Her hand pats mine.

“Not
again.
” I yank my hand away in protest. Sarabeth cocks a brow. Van clears his throat. “Chris Wiggins did not dump me. Nor did Milton Ross Jr.”

Both were earlier attempts at securing a boyfriend until I was so grossed out I couldn’t fake it anymore and
let
them slip away. It’s a small town. The well does not run deep.

“Oh gawd.” Sarabeth scrunches her nose and turns her head in revulsion. “He just slimed her. And what is up with her hair? It looks like a cat’s been licking on it.”

Everyone watches the Dave and Chesty make-out hour. Happy it’s her and not me getting the spit bath, I laugh and turn to check out her hair.

There—just beyond the tongue fest—standing like a Roman column, is the new girl. She has full pouty lips and smooth eyes under sleek, arced brows. Mink brown hair, off-the-neck short and voluminous on top, curves over her head pompadour style. The sides are back smooth, vintage biker chic. The sleeves of her Boston Marathon T-shirt bunch at her shoulders. Athletic shorts give way to her oh-so-long gorgeous legs.

Flanked on each side of her are LaShell Hayes and Tawanda Shaw, two of our all-state regional girls basketball champions. She’s not really going to sit on
their
side of the cafeteria, is she? While laughing at something LaShell says, the new girl sits down with them, unfazed by the criticizing stares for sitting outside her group. I wish I didn’t care what people thought.

Before taking a bite, she scopes the cafeteria. Her confident air radiates. I’m completely thrown off kilter. Everything about her vibe, her look, her
everything
screams fresh, different, and alluring. Just like an obsessed fan, I find myself wanting to know more about her.

Her eyes scan me from head to toe and then lock with mine.
Did she just check me out?
An easy smile curls her lips, and she tips her chin up. I’m caught in the awe that is the new girl.

And then I realize … I’m staring.

Blood rushes to my face, and I whip back around. A clammy sweat breaks over my skin, and I stare directly at my salad and hope to God no one sees me blushing. This is not good. I clamp down on the part of me that wants to escape, and command it to stay hidden. Before I can go over the edge into a full freak-out, I see Andrew jerk his head to acknowledge the new girl in return. Instantly, I feel like an idiot. Of course she wasn’t checking me out. I breathe.

BOOK: South of Sunshine
3.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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