Read an Excerpt
The Green Series
By Judy Christie
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2012 Judy Christie
All rights reserved.
New cookbooks are available at Brushy Woods Baptist Church and include the much-sought-after boudin recipe from Jon Summers. "My husband didn't want to give up that sausage recipe," Sarah Summers said, "but I told him it was for a good cause. My recipe for two-flavor fudge is also included."
—The Green News-Item
Bayou Lake looked like a golf course, its surface covered with a shiny green weed. The change had occurred in only weeks and was so much worse than I expected. Walking through mud to the edge, I knelt and tugged out a sample of the plant that had spread so fast.
"Lois!" an excited voice called from behind me. "Lois!"
My heart lightened as I turned. Katy approached, her oversized purse bouncing up and down with her. She hurled herself at me like my dog, Holly Beth, at the end of a long day.
"Is it spring break already?" I teased, soggy fern still in hand. "Seems like you just left."
"Tammy said I'd find you here," she said as we hugged. "I didn't think this week would ever get here." She ran her fingers through her pixie short hair, dyed a bright yellow-blonde since the first of the year. I reached up, patted down a wispy strand, and tried not to obsess on the color. Katy's hair changes seemed to correlate with her state of mind.
Looking past me, her eyes widened. "Didn't there used to be a lake here?"
"Before giant salvinia moved to town." I held up the slimy plant. "It multiplies too fast to control, floating on the surface. Every time the wind blows, more comes from the other side of the lake."
"Until you see it with your own eyes, that's hard to believe" Katy said. "This doesn't look like the same place."
"The lake stunned me when I drove into town today," I said. "I'd been working from home and wasn't prepared for this."
"What is it?" Katy asked, touching the plant in my hand as though approaching a rattlesnake. "The news stories make it sound like some kind of plant monster."
"That's not what biologists call it, but that's what it feels like," I said. "Salvinia doubles its size every week or so. Doubles!" I moved my arm from side to side. "As you can see, it's taking over the lake."
"How do people fish and ski?"
"They don't," I said. "The state announced today it plans to drain the lake."
"Drain the lake?" Katy delivered the words with more than her normal amount of drama. "Isn't that a little drastic?"
"They insist it's the only practical way to kill salvinia. Everything else is too expensive or dangerous." A black water snake slithered across the bank and disappeared in the brush as I spoke. A crow cawed overhead. Not one of the usually abundant big blue herons was in sight.
"Bayou Lake without the lake? That's going to be a big, muddy mess," Katy said, putting her thumb and forefinger over her nose. "It'll stink, too."
I tried to conceal my worry. Katy, Molly, and the others counted on me to have hope when things looked bad. The weed was only one of our challenges, and I was determined to come up with something to keep Green from going the way of scores of other small towns.
"We'll deal with it," I said. "Maybe Green will come up with a way to eradicate salvinia."
"It doesn't take a genius to know that we can't stand another setback," Katy said. "The News-Item can't afford to lose more advertisers."
Attempting to hide a smile, I turned toward town. Since Katy had done a project on newspaper management for an economics class, she expressed strong opinions on the wisdom of my business decisions.
Katy cast her eyes on Main Street, too. "There's hardly anyone down here. I can't imagine what it'll be like with no water. Plus, when the new highway opens ..."
I patted her hand and felt my frayed nerves calm. When Katy wasn't annoying me, she cheered me up. "I'm glad you're back. We can use an extra reporter for a few days. We'll assign you to work on the lake coverage and help with bypass stories."
"You are writing an editorial about this, right?" she asked.
Rubbing my eyes, I nodded. "Knowing what to say is tough, though. If Green doesn't drain the lake now, we may not have a lake in a few years. However, if we drain it, the marinas and the property owners will be devastated. If the lake dries up for good, downtown will dry up."
"You'll figure something out," Katy said, pulling me by the hand. "You always do."
"Right," I said, "between changing diapers and washing clothes."
She laughed. "I bet you're the most Type A mother ever. How's the baby?"
"Growing about as fast as this weed." I smiled as I always did when I thought of our new child. "You'll see for yourself at the party tonight."
"And Coach Chris? Have you found me a guy as great as him yet?"
"Not yet, but you're young," I said. "We'll find the right person for you one of these days. Don't rush it."
"You sound more like my mother than my matchmaker," she said.
"I'm not a matchmaker. I prefer to think of it as facilitator."
We both laughed and walked back toward the newspaper, crossing the street that ran beside the lake. The little, old-fashioned dairy bar looked forlorn in the morning light, having been boarded up for years now. Major Wilson's real estate office stood out, modern and sporting a fresh coat of paint.
"I wonder who took care of that?" I asked, pointing.
Katy glanced over her shoulder and shrugged. "Probably one of Major's minions," she said. "No doubt he enjoys bossing people around from jail."
The grass seemed high at the two nearby churches, and hanging baskets on street posts needed watering. I threw a dismayed look over my shoulder at the choked-up lake and wished I could head home to Route Two.
But I had work to do.
* * *
The colored glass in our antique door glowed with the late afternoon sun. The green roof shone in the light. The old frame house looked like it had a halo.
Our growing chicken flock, a gift from Chris's father, scratched in the yard, the lone rooster crowing every few minutes. Holly Beth and our three bigger dogs roughhoused in the backyard, barking as they played.
"Are you sure you don't want us to babysit?" my mother-in-law had asked again that morning. "You and Chris can go out."
"That's a sweet offer, Estelle," I said, not even needing to think about it. "But I want us all together at home. This is an extra-special day."
The screen door on the back porch squeaked as Chris came and went, the smell of charcoal hinting at the dinner to come. Tammy's husband, Walt, sprawled in a lawn chair by the grill, chatting with my husband.
Walt's bride and I sat in the yard swing, an ever-present stroller nearby, visiting and waiting for other guests to arrive. The pink dogwood, one of the trees that had outlasted tornado winds, had a handful of blossoms left. Occasionally a petal would drift down, like a pastel snowflake. My new rose bushes were budding, and a huge purple wisteria vine on the edge of our land smelled delicious.
"Do you need any bantam hens?" I asked Tammy as the chickens squawked.
Tammy pretended to consider my question. "I don't think our neighborhood code allows those," she said at last, pasting a dramatic look of fake regret on her pretty face. A big-boned woman in her late-twenties, quite a bit younger than Walt, she did a little of everything at the newspaper.
"I didn't allow poultry either," I said, "but Hugh had other ideas. He ordered six more last week. Our egg supply is endless."
"You like those chickens, even if you won't admit it," Tammy said. "You talk about them almost as much as you do about Eddie and Holly Beth."
"They are fascinating," I admitted. "Look at them. That hen is covering her chicks because that hawk's up there."
"Taking care of her babies, just like you and Iris," she said. "Our lives really have changed, haven't they?"
I watched how she smiled when she pointed the hen out to Walt. "If only—"
Katy and Molly's arrival cut Tammy's statement short. Katy spun gravel in the car she'd gotten two years ago for highschool graduation as they hurtled off the two-lane country road into our long driveway.
Waving and squealing, Katy jumped out of the car and rushed over. Molly, her best friend, accompanied her at a more sedate pace. "Oh, Lois, he's adorable," Katy said, looking into the stroller. "He's the cutest guy around, isn't he? I've missed him so much since I went back to school."
I held back a grin. "Absolutely precious and as good a baby as I've ever seen."
"Edward Thomas Craig," Katy said in baby talk, squatting on the lawn, at eye level with the baby. "I just love your name."
Tammy snickered but didn't say anything.
"I think he looks like Chris. Don't you, Molly?" Katy asked.
Now Tammy laughed outright.
"Katy," I said, fingering the infant's handmade quilt with tractors and farm animals appliquéd on it, "that's Eleanor Lois."
A moment of confusion ran across the college student's face, and then she giggled. "I wondered why Chris let you dress his son in pink for a cookout. Sorry about that, little Ellie." She looked around. "Where's Eddie?"
"In the house napping," I said.
"As a matter of fact, that's all he does," Tammy said. "He's like a lump of clay with a pulse."
"That's what ten-week-olds do." I scowled at her. My defensiveness about my newspaper was nothing compared to the protectiveness I felt for my son.
"He's a cute lump of clay," Tammy quickly conceded.
"Where's Iris?" Katy asked, stroking Ellie's arm lightly.
"She and Stan are coming later. They've moved back into the house down the road, and they're working on it. We're keeping an eye on Ellie."
The tiny girl's bottom lip trembled when I said her name. She stared right at me with bright blue eyes until I unbuckled her and lifted her out of the stroller.
"I knew you couldn't resist holding her," Tammy said. "Ellie's got Aunt Lois wrapped around her tiny little finger."
"She was unhappy," I said.
Tammy looked at Katy. "Lois grabs her if she so much as blinks. Eddie, too."
"You, on the other hand, wouldn't pick them up if they were screaming bloody murder." I adjusted the girl's insulated jumpsuit. "Do you think she's warm enough?"
Tammy snorted. "Since Iris has her dressed for the North Pole, she's probably burning up. Those poor kids have worrywarts for mothers."
"Being cautious doesn't make us worrywarts," I said, trying to recall a magazine article about overprotective moms. I was certain I'd filed it somewhere. "Kevin recommends infants stay bundled up during flu season."
"Flu season ended two weeks ago," Tammy said. "Fresh air is good for babies. My mother let me play outside in a diaper when I was that age."
"Look how you turned out," Katy said, grinning.
"Oh, Ellie's smiling," Molly said.
"That's gas," Tammy said.
* * *
A small nightlight glowed in the nursery when Chris and I went in to check on our son.
"Let's never tell Eddie he slept through his first party," I said as we stood by the cradle.
"At least he didn't cry," Chris said and leaned over and kissed the baby's soft cheek.
Looking around the sage green nursery, my eyes lingered on the lopsided quilt I'd made. The quilting group, started by my friend Kevin, included a mix of very different women. I enjoyed meeting with them to sew and visit, and their guidance had eased me into motherhood. My first quilt helped set the tone for the entire room, and the women had shown me the kind of mother I wanted to be.
Late at night, I loved to slip into the room and listen to my baby sleep. I would pull the old painted rocker close to his bed and snuggle under one of Estelle's afghans. Now, though, it was time to run through the bedtime checklist. "We've got the nightlight and baby monitor on," I said. "He's on his back, nothing near enough to smother him. He's not stopped up, so we don't need the humidifier. I wonder if it's too cool in here with the air-conditioning? Do you think we should move the cradle back into our room?"
"He's fine, Lois," Chris said. "You know we'll look in on him two dozen times before the night's over."
"But what if we don't hear him cry?"
"I'd say that's unlikely, since you check every two minutes to make sure the monitor's working."
"No, I don't," I said so loudly that Eddie jerked as he dozed. I smoothed his forehead and looked at Chris. "I do, don't I? I'm obsessed. I'm terrible! He'll need therapy to get over all my worrying." I wandered about the room, noting each item as a hazard in some way.
"You're not terrible," Chris said. "You're just a first-time mom."
"Tammy says Iris and I fret too much."
"That's what new parents do," he said. "You just add a certain layer of Lois to it. I'd expect nothing less."
"I love him so much," I said. "I can't believe I've lived this long without him in my life."
Chris nodded and rubbed Eddie's arm. The sight of my big, handsome husband gazing down at the little boy, who was drifting back to sleep, caused a wash of emotions so strong I couldn't put a name to them.
"Today was a great day, wasn't it?" I whispered.
"It sure was." Chris stepped back and draped his arm around my shoulder. "Eddie's first party. And you went back to the office."
"And?" I prompted.
"And Katy got home for spring break?" He had his irresistible teasing look on his face. That look, strong and gentle at the same time, made me feel like a character in a romance novel.
"And?" I said.
"And Mama said your banana pudding was better than hers?"
He laughed softly and leaned over to kiss me. "And we celebrated two years of marriage."
"I thought maybe that had slipped your mind with all the commotion."
"Never." He put his forehead against mine for a moment. "I'll never forget the day I finally got you to be my wife."
I hugged him fiercely—thrilled, content, joyful. Then I pulled back and tiptoed over to the small closet, grabbing the present I'd stashed there before supper. "For you," I said.
He looked startled and tore into the package, whispering in delight when he saw the framed image of Eddie, "This is a great picture," he said.
"Tammy took it that Saturday she and Walt came by, right after Eddie was born," I said.
"How'd you have time to get this done?" he asked. "You've been so busy."
I felt rather smug. "I have my ways," I said and moved toward him.
Chris smiled and moved away, walking to the small chest of drawers we'd rescued from his parents' storage shed. Opening the top drawer, he reached under a stack of onesies and a large collection of light-blue and yellow outfits. He pulled out a wrapped gift very similar to the one he had just opened.
"Happy second anniversary," Chris said, kissing me thoroughly. My knees weak, I ripped the newspaper he had used for wrapping paper. Inside was the same black-and-white photo of Eddie that I had given Chris, in a slightly different frame.
"No wonder Tammy tried to talk me into a different shot," I said, keeping my laughter low.
"Great minds, right?" Chris said.
"Eddie sure is cute ... and sweet," I said as we studied the identical photos of our new son. "Does everyone feel this way about their first baby?"
"Probably." Chris stroked my hair as he spoke.
"But Eddie is wonderful," I said.
"Absolutely. He's got Lois Barker Craig for a mom."CHAPTER 2
The Green Lawns Municipal Cemetery terminated its spring mowing crew after the employees "inappropriately and without thought" drove their lawn tractors to a local fast-food restaurant for soft drinks. "It's not like anybody died," the crew chief said, but the cemetery director disagreed.
—The Green News-Item
A dark blue sedan zipped around the orange cones that blocked the highway and whipped into the makeshift parking area, did a U-turn, and pulled to the shoulder near where we stood.
"What kind of idiot is that?" I asked, turning to see if Tammy had gotten a photograph for today's News-Item.
Mayor Eva added an annoyed huffing sound to my question. "I specifically directed the highway department not to let cars on until after the ceremony," she said, narrowing her eyes at the car. "People from D.C. think they can get away with anything."
"Are you sure that's the congressman?" I asked.
"Who else would come blazing down here like that?" she said, her eyes hidden behind a pair of huge sunglasses. She looked like a corporate CEO in her knit suit and with her brown hair styled in a bob. "They said he was running late, but that's no excuse for rude behavior."
"At least he didn't tear the ribbon," I said. A man in a business suit emerged from the car and walked toward us, his shiny shoes kicking up a cloud of dust.
My breath caught, and it wasn't from the dust.
Excerpted from Downtown Green by Judy Christie. Copyright © 2012 Judy Christie. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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