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Authors: Loraine Despres

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The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc

BOOK: The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc
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The

Scandalous

Summer

of

Sissy

LeBlanc

A Novel

Loraine

Despres

To my husband, Carleton Eastlake, who fifteen

years ago succumbed to the charms of a Southern belle

and proves every day that marriage is definitely

not the root of all suffering

Love is the crocodile in the river of desire.

—Bhartrihari,
The Vairagya Sataka,
c. a.d. 625

Contents

Epigraph

Prologue

Part I 5

Chapter 1

Sissy LeBlanc sank down on her porch swing and heard...

7

Chapter 2

Parker Davidson drove slowly down the muddy service

road

that...

30

Chapter 3

Sissy stood in the bathroom window, her hand on the...

38

Chapter 4

Parker and Calvin Merkin sat at a table at the...

48

Chapter 5

The men in Buster Rubinstein’s glass-enclosed office at

the

top...

58

Chapter 6

Bourrée LeBlanc sat at the round dining table, with his...

68

Chapter 7

Sissy shifted her weight in the hard wooden seat. She...

80

Chapter 8

Peewee had objected, of course. He didn’t think they needed...

98

Chapter 9

Peewee had the windows of the truck rolled down, but...

113

Chapter 10

The next morning, Sissy didn’t get up for breakfast. After...

138

Chapter 11

Sissy drove the younger children and the revived dog home...

152

Chapter 12

As the muggy days of July dripped into one another,...

169

Part II 181

Chapter 13

Sissy stood in her short cheerleading outfit, looking down at...

183

Chapter 14

Sissy looked at her watch. Ten more minutes and cheerleading...

203

Chapter 15

Sissy stayed away. She stayed away from the whole family...

229

Chapter 16

Sissy didn’t set out to trap Peewee and make him...

244

Part III 255

Chapter 17

Parker opened the front door of the Guest House and...

257

Chapter 18

Labor Day in Gentry was usually celebrated with the same...

271

Chapter 19

Sissy climbed up on the bandstand where Ida May

Thompson...

286

Chapter 20

Tibor assessed the applause as his daughter left the stage.

300

Chapter 21

“Get off me!” Sissy tried to push him away, but...

312

Epilogue 334

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Credits

Cover

Copyright

About the Publisher

When you get to be a certain age, you realize that the only

thing you have time for is doing exactly what you want.

Rule Number Fifty-six

The Southern Belle’s Handbook

P r o l o g u e

Sissy stepped into the main terminal of the New Orleans air-

port and was captured by that Louisiana aroma that encircled her

memory and swept her back in time. On the flight from Washington,

she thought she’d been prepared. But she’d forgotten the smell of

bourbon and Coca-Cola that permeated the airport even at ten in the

morning. In the recycled air, it mixed with the dank, sensual smell of

oysters on the half-shell and invaded her very pores. The scent car-

ried her back to that summer almost fifty years ago that ended when

Peewee LeBlanc walked into the Paradise Lost and saw her sitting on

Parker Davidson’s lap and went out to buy himself a gun.

It had been a real hot morning.

But that’s already redundant. If you know anything about sum-

mer in Louisiana you know that the heat, moist and heavy, presses

down on the pavement until it sends up shimmering mirages, and

lovers, looking for a little noontime solace, stick to one another in

high-ceilinged bedrooms. But the bar was cool, especially after a

couple of tall glasses of bourbon and Coke over cracked ice.

2

L o r a i n e D e s p r e s

She remembered how she’d jumped up off Parker’s lap and

smoothed down her skirt. “Peewee . . .”

Beads of sweat dripped into her husband’s eyes. He wiped a tar-

stained hand across his forehead.

“Mama, over here!”

The sight of her daughter running through the airport snapped

Sissy out of her reverie. Marilee LeBlanc was thin, tense, and per-

petually in a hurry. She wore the uniform of the East Coast career

woman—black. They all wore it.

Sissy wondered what they were in mourning for, their lives prob-

ably, because they sure didn’t seem to have much fun these days.

Not that Sissy had had that much fun when she was young, but at

least she’d had the concept.

She introduced her daughter to the gentleman who had been kind

enough to help her with her carry-on bag. He was Marilee’s age and

handsome, Sissy thought, in a beefy, Southern way.

Marilee took the bag, but there were no smiles over fluttering

eyelashes. “We have to hurry. The senator is waiting.”

Sissy shook hands with the gallant stranger and thanked him

warmly. She watched him walk toward the escalator with a bounce

in his step. Men love to rescue damsels in distress, as long as it

doesn’t take too much time or effort, Sissy thought.
To get a man to

feel good about himself—and you—ask him do something for you

and thank him sweetly
. That was Rule Number Forty-eight in

Sissy’s Southern Belle’s Handbook, a rule she’d been using with

great success for years.

“I don’t know why you’re always picking up men,” Marilee said.

“And I don’t know why you aren’t,” said the older woman,

pushing her daughter’s hair off her face.

As Marilee drov

e over the causeway that shot straight

through the swamp, Sissy looked out of the window. Lovely white

water lilies floated in the gray water next to the freeway, choking

T h e S c a n d a l o u s S u m m e r o f S i s s y L e B l a n c 3

the life out of the wetlands. The merciless romance of Southern

decay.

She didn’t want to go home. And then she caught herself. It had

been half a century since she thought of Gentry as home. Where did

that come from? God, she needed a cigarette, but she didn’t dare

light up in her diet-obsessed, health-regimented daughter’s car.

Besides, she’d given up smoking five years ago, after dire warnings

from those Doctor DoRights who’re so set on keeping you alive,

they take away all reason to live.

Marilee was talking about the campaign. “We could have used

you down here with the older demographics.”

“We’ve been through all that. Small-town people have long mem-

ories.”

“But I still don’t get it. Daddy was the one who committed the

murder.”

“I know, sugar, but a lot of people thought I drove him to it. Of

course,” she added with a sigh and a stab of guilt, “they were

right.”

When they rolled into Gentry, Sissy asked her daughter to

swing by their old house. Marilee groaned, but turned the car up

Church Street. Memories were dive-bombing at Sissy from the roofs

of old houses, slipping through the slits in the windows with the

long poisonous fingers of oleander leaves. She began to feel queasy.

“Stop here for a minute, will you?”

Marilee protested, but stopped the car in front of their old house,

which had been renovated and restored to its nineteenth-century

glory. The gardens had been professionally landscaped, the honey-

suckle had been cut away from the square columns, and the whole

house gleamed with fresh, white paint. The for-sale sign in the front

yard said it was a “Heritage Home.” Sissy wondered how many

other families had lived there, and what kind of heritage they’d

found after she’d left those familiar walls in scandal.

4

L o r a i n e D e s p r e s

She popped the door open and got out. “Mother, we don’t have

time!” Marilee wailed.

“Sugar, when you get to be a certain age, you realize that the only

thing you do have time for is doing exactly what you want.
Rule

Number Fifty-six in the Southern Belle’s Handbook.”

“Spare me,” said Marilee, who’d heard about the Southern

Belle’s Handbook her entire life. “You know I have no intention of

ever becoming a southern belle.”

“I know, dear,” Sissy said, wishing she could help her daughter,

who was recovering from yet another miserable love affair. She

turned toward the house.

Marilee pounded on her horn. “Mama! We’ll be late for the vic-

tory celebration.” But when Sissy didn’t stop, Marilee jumped out

of the car and followed her. “The senator . . .”

Sissy cut her off. “I’m sure a United States senator will be able to

get along without me for five more minutes. Don’t you want to see

where you grew up?” She picked up the shining brass knocker and

let it drop.

They waited a minute. “Okay, nobody’s home. Can we go now?”

Marilee asked.

But Sissy, who was always so solid and filled with energy, seemed

to sag and stumble.

“Are you okay?” Marilee reached out and steadied the old

woman.

“Just let me rest for a moment.” Dizzying impressions, not real-

ity, but the reality of memory swirled in her head. She staggered and

reached for the reproduction of her old porch swing . . .

“Mama!”

P A R T I

1956

The

Temperature’s

Rising

A girl has to find out if there’s life before death.

Rule Number Forty-seven

The Southern Belle’s Handbook

C h a p t e r 1

Sissy LeBlanc sank down on her porch swing and heard its

old chains groan. She threw back her head and rubbed a cut lemon

over her hair to bleach it a little in the sun, all the while wondering

if you could really kill yourself with aspirin and Coca-Cola. Of

course, she wasn’t seriously considering suicide. Sissy never seri-

ously considered suicide. Besides, only a teenager would try to poi-

son herself with aspirin and Coke. She figured a bottle of a hundred

would do it. Along with that six-pack of Cokes in her kitchen

pantry. God, it was breathless today.

She ran her fingers through her hair. She’d just washed it and had

hoped that letting it dry out here in what passed for a breeze would

give her some relief. It didn’t. She was too restless to do anything

much in this heat, not that housework had ever been one of Sissy’s

priorities.

She’d been restless for days, feeling as if she’d burst if something

didn’t happen. Of course that was crazy, because nothing ever hap-

8

L o r a i n e D e s p r e s

pened here in Gentry. Except she’d heard Parker Davidson was

back. Parker Davidson, her high school sweetheart.

She flipped her wet hair over her face and leaned her chest on her

knees. The honeysuckle growing wild along one of the six square

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