Read The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc Online

Authors: Loraine Despres

Tags: #Loraine Despres - Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc 356p 9780060505882 0060505885, #ISBN 0-688-17389-6, #ISBN 0-06-050588-5 (pbk.)

The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc (5 page)

BOOK: The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc
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down a hundred feet in some places. He’d never be able to dive that

far. Lightning flashed through the water and then the thunder. Oh

God. Anyplace but here.

Sissy ran barefooted through the dunes of gravel piled up

next to the pit. The thunder crashed around her. She wrapped Chip

in her arms. “When did you lose sight of her?”

But Chip wiggled away. “First you gotta promise, I get that

chemistry set at Rubinstein’s, the big one, and oh, yeah, Billy Joe

wants a red Schwinn.”

“What?” Sissy couldn’t make out what he was saying. She pushed

him away from her and looked into his face. He was grinning. Billy

Joe, his tears totally gone, was shaking his head. Lightning crackled

above them. Sissy screamed through the thunder. “Where is she?”

Chip didn’t budge. “First you gotta promise.”

“The only thing I’m going to promise, young man, is to let you

live . . . maybe. Now, where’s my baby?”

“She’s not in the water, Mama.”

“Shut up!” Chip hit his brother on the shoulder. “You’ll ruin

everything.” Billy Joe swung around, ready to give as good as he got.

2 8

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

And then as the lightning flashed, Sissy saw Parker against the

darkened sky, lashed by the wind and rain, standing on top of a tall

gravel dune. In front of him was a small girl in a big T-shirt. She

waved at her mother.

Sissy ran down to the edge of the pit. The boys ran with her. “Oh

my God, Peewee, get out of there!” She screamed, but her husband

didn’t hear her. He had disappeared beneath the surface. The rain

beat on the water, hiding all traces of him.

Sissy looked up and saw Marilee alone on the hilltop. She

called for her to come down, but her voice was drowned out by the

thunder.

“I’ll get him.” Billy Joe took off toward the edge of the pit.

Sissy ran after Billy Joe and pulled him back. “You don’t have the

sense God gave crawfish. You know you can’t swim in an electric

storm.” She waved at Peewee when he came up for air, but he

ignored her and dove again.

She turned back to Chip. “Get Marilee.” Chip didn’t budge, so

Sissy started up after her daughter, sinking into the gravel with

every step. The boys trailed behind her. “Your daddy’s gonna whip

the pants off you when he finds out.”

“No he won’t,” Chip said with smug assurance as he came up

next to her. “ ’Cause you’re not gonna tell him nothing.” Sissy

glanced at her firstborn and began to shiver, but it wasn’t from the

rain and the wind. She turned back and kept on climbing, barefoot

in the slippery gravel. She recognized that tight smile, the squint of

those pale blue eyes.

“We was trying to rescue you, Mama,” Billy Joe said on her

other side. The twelve-year-old put on the tragic face he had worn

in the kitchen and then broke into a self-conscious grin. “We just

wanted to give Mr. Parker time to get away.”

But he didn’t get a chance to finish. Chip ran around her and

punched him. “Shut up, I’ll handle this.” Then he said to his

mother, “We saved you. Now you owe us. Deal?”

Sissy didn’t want to believe what she was hearing. Chip pursued

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 2 9

her up the hill. “A chemistry set would be very educational. Okay?

Okay?”When he wanted something, he wanted it bad.

Sissy picked up her daughter and ran with her, sliding through

the gravel. The little girl giggled. “Did Chip tell you what I want? A

movie star doll with her own suitcase. Did he?” It was all a big

game to her.

Lightning sizzled through the sky immediately above them.

Thunder shook the water. Sissy began throwing gravel. When Pee-

wee came up, she pointed to Marilee, who waved to her daddy and

then ran up the embankment to her big brother.

“Is she gonna do it?” the little girl asked, panting.

“Course she is,” said Chip. And then, “She better.”

Sissy bent over to pull Peewee out of the pit. And as the folds of

her skirt fell away, Chip spotted a creosote handprint. A mean smile

spread across his face. “Don’t worry. She’ll do it.”

Inside the biggest, hairiest man, a little boy is asking,

“What do I do now?”

Rule Number Fifty-two

The Southern Belle’s Handbook

C h a p t e r 2

Parker Davidson drov

e slowly down the muddy service

road that surrounded the gravel pit. Piles of rock cast phantom

shadows through the rain. Every few seconds when the windshield

wipers cleared away the sheets of water, he could see the landscape

of mud and pebbles and it looked like a landscape on the moon.

He knew he hadn’t heard that note of terror in the boy’s voice.

Not the terror he’d heard during the war, when boys, not much

older than Billy Joe, looked into the grimace of death. But he had to

be sure.

He rolled down his side window. The cold rain beat on his face,

but he had to see. He drove almost all the way around the pit,

before in a flash of lightning he spotted the little girl hiding,

pressed like an angel into a hill of gravel in somebody’s big white

T-shirt. Kids.

He got out of the car and spoke to her softly as the rain lashed

them. But she was skittish of him, which was only right, he figured.

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 1

She started to run up the gravel dune. He followed her to be sure

she wouldn’t veer off, run somewhere else. As soon as he was cer-

tain Sissy had seen her daughter, he disappeared. He thought about

sticking around, but decided he’d gotten her into enough trouble.

The truck lurched in the gravel and mud. Then it caught and

leaped ahead. He was surrounded by thunder.

He rolled up the window so the rain no longer pounded on his

face, turned down the feeder road, and headed back to town away

from the dreary landscape of the strip mine. Raindrops beat a tat-

too on the roof of the cab.

“Jew boy,” echoed through the raindrops.

Parker tried to shake it off as he turned onto the blacktop lined

with tall loblolly pines. He’d run into that sort of thing a couple of

times in grammar school when one of the country boys called him

“nothing but a dirty Jew.” And a minister’s daughter explained

politely how he was going to hell because he’d gone to her daddy’s

Bible school and knew about Jesus and still didn’t believe. But he’d

hardly ever run into it since then. He wasn’t so naive as to think

anti-Semitism was dead. The war made that clear. But people who

didn’t like Jews tended to stay away from him. Or at least they

didn’t insult him to his face. Peewee’s offhand remark had thrown

him. Is that the way they all talked behind his back? he wondered

as he drove down the leafy residential street, slowing for the stop

sign in front of the Methodist church. He looked at Sissy’s house

across the street, where he used to take her after movies. They used

to kiss good night on that same front porch.

When he’d first heard Sissy was going to marry Peewee, Parker

had kicked a hole through his bedroom wall right into the living

room. It had taken three tall glasses of Scotch and water to calm his

father down enough to inspect the damage. Finally he walked into

Parker’s room and said, “You’re just going to have to face it, son.

Girls like Sissy will date Jewish boys, but when they get married,

they generally find themselves a nice gentile.”

3 2

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

Parker hadn’t believed it. He didn’t know why Sissy had dumped

him for the toad, but he didn’t want to believe that.

Steam was forming on the inside of the windshield. He rolled the

window back down and hit the gas pedal, splashing parked cars

with muddy water on the rain-slick street. But he couldn’t go very

fast, not with the speed bumps and stop signs and cross traffic. He

rubbed his hand on the steering wheel. He could still feel the curve

of Sissy’s waist under his palm. And the way her flesh yielded to his

fingers when he slid them down her body.

He’d missed his last call, and now it was nearly six, past time to

close up. Calvin Merkin, his supervisor, would be hopping mad at

having to wait for him. Parker had blown into town without much

money. He’d never liked to save for tomorrow what he could spend

today. Calvin, who’d been in Parker’s class, but whom Parker

barely remembered, had taken him on right away, made a job for

him. Parker had tried to hold out for something better. But this was

about the only job in town.

Suddenly, a rickety pickup packed with crates of chickens swung

out in front of him. Parker fluttered his brakes as he came into the

intersection. The telephone truck skidded sideways. Lightning

flashed on an old hearse full of high school kids coming straight at

him, paying no attention to the stop sign. Parker threw his weight

on the wheel, turned into the skid, and managed to get the truck

out of their way. The teenagers were safe, but he couldn’t get

around the chicken farmer, who was going fifteen miles an hour. He

heard the thunder growl in the distance.

Parker pounded on the steering wheel with his fist and then

forced himself to relax. He inhaled the dark, woody smells of the

rainy summer evening and thought about the auburn-haired cheer-

leader who’d jumped into the air and yelled for him every time he

made a touchdown. And then leaped into his sweaty arms when the

game was done.

He’d tried to put her out of his head at first, but over the years

he’d found memories of her helped. He’d thought about her during

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 3

the war, when the wet heat of the South Pacific nights and the

buzzing of the flies made him think about Gentry.

He thought about her after the war, too. He was just twenty-one

in 1945 when it ended, and he hadn’t a clue what he wanted to be

when he “grew up.”

He’d always expected he’d get a football scholarship and then

turn pro. Everyone did. But that dream ended on some no-name

island when he caught a load of shrapnel while building a bridge

under enemy shelling. A bridge that in the end was never used. He

got the Silver Star for leading his men on that fool’s mission.

Nobody in his right mind would have done it. But then, during the

war, nobody ever accused Parker of being in his right mind. He was

just young and wild.

Sissy’s father gave him a big write-up in
The Weekly Avenger
.

GENTRY’S GREATEST FOOTBALL STAR BECOMES GENTRY’S MOST GALLANT

WAR HERO. Schoolchildren from all over the parish wrote him fan

letters. He read a couple and threw the rest away. Too many of his

men had died.

The chicken truck headed toward the intersection at Church and

Grand Avenue. The light was green. Come on, come on, Parker

willed. He sure as hell didn’t want to be fired his first day on the

job. It would be like flunking your high school reunion. But here he

was, caught in the Gentry rush minute, behind a shipment of poul-

try that slowed for oncoming traffic.

Lightning shot across the sky. A car pulled out of the courthouse

parking lot and the poultry truck stopped politely. And missed the

green light. Parker shook with the thunder.

He wished he were back in Asia where you could nudge fright-

ened farmers right through country intersections.

He’d taken his discharge overseas. With no career and nobody

waiting for him, he’d set out to see the world. Somewhere there had

to be something that made him feel as good as running ninety-five

yards for a touchdown with Sissy leaping up in the air and the

whole town standing up and cheering for him.

3 4

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

He bummed all over Asia. He never worried about money. With

his training in the engineering corps, he knew he could always pick

up something.

Of course his parents were desperate for him to come back and

go to college on the G.I. Bill and then take over the shoe store. But

Parker wasn’t ready to settle for that.

The chicken truck turned left on Grand. The town was founded

in 1870, shortly after the Civil War, but the streets were named in

1910 in a fit of civic boosterism: Grand Avenue, Progress Street,

Commerce Street, Education Drive, Church Street, and of course

Hope. All that naming hadn’t helped much. The population hardly

grew at all. Parker shot straight across the tracks, hung a right, and

drove through the two-story stucco business district that ran for

five blocks on Grand along both sides of the railroad tracks. His

father’s shoe store was gone. The neon sign he’d helped hoist over

the entrance had been replaced by a wooden plaque with “Nettie’s

Knits” burned into it.

All those years of worrying about “the business.” All those

entreaties to set a good example and become a pride to his race,

while of course never mentioning or calling any attention to his

BOOK: The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc
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