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By Lyn Cote
Warner BooksCopyright © 2006 Lyn Cote
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMaryland, August 24, 1963
I know why you're doing this," Leigh muttered beside her mother, Bette, in their Chevy Impala. Leigh kept her voice low, not wanting to upset her five-year-old sister, Dory, who sat in the backseat with a coloring book. "You think if you get me out of D.C., I won't be able to get to Dr. King's march."
Her mother made no reply. Leigh snapped on the radio, knowing it would annoy Bette. The air between them vibrated with the top-of-thecharts "Heat Wave," the words blurred by the hot wind rushing through the wide open windows.
Still her mother made no response. "I don't know why you have to act like this," Leigh muttered louder. That was enough to break her mother's silence. "This is not open for discussion," Bette said. "You have no idea what may happen this Wednesday. Have you forgotten mobs in Alabama clubbing Freedom Riders with baseball bats? I haven't."
"This isn't Alabama," Leigh snapped. "And Mr. Pitney, the advisor to the school paper, doesn't think there'll be any violence."
"Mr. Pitney is very young and should have better sense, Linda Leigh," Bette answered back, her voice fierce but low. "Don't call me that name. I hate it." Hate you. "I go by Leigh now."
Bette gave a sound of irritation. "Linda Leigh is a perfectly good name." She paused,obviously trying to control her temper. "You'll spend the last week before school starts at your grandmother's. And tomorrow, I'm going to call the school and tell the principal what I think of a teacher urging his students-my daughter-into harm's way."
"I will get back to Washington if I have to hitchhike there." Leigh stared straight ahead.
"Why can't I make you see sense? The march will be dangerous." Martha and the Vandellas sang out husky and loud, "heat wave ..." The raucous song evidently finally got to Bette. She snapped off the radio. "Why are we listening to that trash?" "It's not trash, Mother. It's rock and roll."
Looking out the window at the lush green tobacco fields rolling by, Leigh realized they were almost there, almost to Ivy Manor. She folded her bare arms on the open window and set her chin on them, frustration roiling inside her.
"There it is," Dory piped up from the backseat, sounding the usual joy of coming to Grandmother's house. "There's Ivy Manor!"
As her mother drove up the lane to the large house with white pillars and green ivy, Leigh felt a lift in spite of her frustration. Until ...
"Maybe Grandmother can make you see sense," Bette said as she parked and turned the key.
"No one-not even Grandma Chloe-is going to change my mind," Leigh kept her voice low as her little sister climbed out of the backseat.
Her mother ignored her, as usual. Now that they'd stopped and the wind no longer evaporated their perspiration, the humidity wrapped around Leigh, smothering her. She felt limp in the heat. Her mother, on the other hand, looked as fresh and collected as always. Of course, even when going to the country, her oh-so-proper mother wore a stylish red sundress and chiffon scarf, under which her bouffant style had every hair in place. In contrast, Leigh and Dory had dressed sensibly in one of their matching outfits that Dory loved so much-blue shorts and white sleeveless blouses with blue collars. The outfit now made Leigh feel childish in comparison to her mother.
Her insides still churning at highway speed, Leigh got out and slammed the car door, eliciting a world-weary sigh from Bette, who scolded her with a look for slamming the door. Leigh felt like going back and slamming it again. But she couldn't give in to childish anger. Instead, her ponytail swishing against her shoulders, she ran ahead, overtaking her sister, calling for her grandmother. Then Leigh heard the voice she loved best, summoning them to the shaded and screened summer house on the back lawn.
With Dory right at her heels, Leigh whipped inside the summer house and flew straight into Grandma Chloe's arms. Dory was right beside her, and they hugged Chloe together. Chloe wasn't overweight and she didn't rinse her gray hair blue or tease it like other grandmothers did. And she always smelled subtly of roses. The fragrance enveloped Leigh, giving her a sudden feeling of ease. Grandma Chloe would set everything right.
"Leigh, Dory, how wonderful to see you." Chloe kissed their foreheads and cheeks before releasing them. She rose then and reached for their mother. The two older women hugged. "Bette, honey, of course I'm happy to see you, but what's come up so suddenly?" Dressed in a cool, sleeveless lavender-print sundress, Chloe eased back onto the wicker rocker. Dory took her usual place, perching on one of its wide, curved arms.
With another sigh, Bette sat down on a white Adirondack chair. "I hope you can put up with these two girls for the rest of the week."
"No!" Leigh fired up, vaguely aware of her grandmother's surprised look. "Grandma, Mr. Pitney, my journalism teacher, said that the one of us who writes the best first-person account of the march on Washington will be the new editor of the Scribe this year."
"Your safety is more important than an article in a school paper," Bette snapped.
"Grandma, she's treating me like a baby again." Leigh pictured Mr. Pitney's face in her mind. He'd said the newspaper staff could call him Lance when they were working on the school paper. Mr. Pitney looked like a Lance-tall, young, with golden hair and a cool mustache. "I'm old enough to go to a public place alone. I've been to Lincoln's Memorial a zillion times."
"Mother," Bette raised her voice, "would you please talk some sense into this girl's head? President Kennedy tried to persuade Martin Luther King Jr. to cancel-"
"Nothing's going to happen!" Leigh's hands tightened into fists. Her mother never took her seriously. Lance did. He didn't treat her like she was just another teenager. "It's going to be a peaceful demonstration. Dr. King believes in nonviolent protest-"
"Well, the KKK doesn't," Bette declared flatly. "The police in Washington and the surrounding counties in Virginia have had all leaves cancelled. The Justice Department and the army are practicing riot control-"
"Stop it," Leigh snapped, imagining the appreciative look on Lance's face when he read her account of the march. "Nothing's going to happen."
Chloe looked back and forth between her daughter and granddaughter with a look of growing distress.
"That's enough, young lady," Bette ordered. "But," Leigh began. Dory hid her face against Chloe's slender shoulder, bringing Leigh's words to an abrupt stop. She sighed.
"Sorry, ladybug," she apologized to her little sister with her favorite endearment.
"I don't like arguments, and don't speak disrespectfully to your mother, Leigh," Chloe scolded gently, rocking while patting Dory's head.
Leigh flushed, feeling warmth suffuse her face and neck. "Sorry." Her little sister looked upset, but their mother had involved her in this. Leigh hadn't.
"The KKK will not let this go by without reacting," Bette continued in a calmer voice. "They gunned down Medgar Evers on his own front porch just two months ago. What if one of them decides to shoot Dr. King right in the middle of the march? It would be chaos. Leigh could be trampled-"
"This is Washington, D.C., not Mississippi." Leigh felt her tenuous hold on her temper begin to fray. She could not lose this battle. She'd die if Mary Beth Hunninger got the editor's job. Mary Beth was "the girl" on campus at St. Agnes Girls Academy-runner on the track team, National Honor Society president last year, and now she wanted to horn in on the Scribe.
"Why does everybody got to be so mad?" Dory's small voice asked. "Make them stop fighting, Grandma." Again, Dory buried her face in their grandmother's shoulder.
"I'll do what I can, ladybug." Chloe smoothed back Dory's dark bangs and then tightened the little girl's ponytail. "Now, if I have this correct, Bette, you want me to keep your girls here at Ivy Manor this last week before school starts so that they will be out of Washington, away from Dr. King's march, right? And Leigh, you want to go to the march and write an article about it for school?"
Leigh stood in the center of the screened octagonal room, tension zinging through her.
Chloe sighed. "I hate being put into the middle like this, Bette." Leigh stood her ground. Surely Grandma Chloe wouldn't side with her mother. She couldn't.
Bette rubbed her forehead. "I know, but for some reason whatever I say, my daughter always does the opposite."
That wasn't true. Leigh folded her arms and glared at her mother.
"What does Ted say?" Chloe asked. Bette humphed. "He says he won't get into it."
Chloe nodded and continued to stroke Dory's hair. "Well, only because you asked me, I'll tell you what I think. You're both right. Dr. King plans this to be a non-violent protest. But there's always a possibility of violence whenever any very large group of people gets together."
Bette nodded and murmured a satisfied, "I know." Leigh frowned at her grandmother.
"They're preparing for at least one hundred thousand," Bette declared. "Apart from the KKK barging in with baseball bats, just a crowd of that size ... Anything could happen to Leigh."
Sensing defeat, Leigh flung herself down into a wicker chair with a sound of disgust.
"Why is reporting on this march so important to you, Leigh?" Chloe asked.
Leigh frowned. That was easy. She couldn't bear to think of having to take direction from Mary Beth, her rival ever since Leigh had started at St. Agnes in the ninth grade. "Grandma, I've worked hard on the Scribe the last two years. I can't let ... someone else get the editor job." I'm going no matter what you say or do, Mother.
"Your mother's fears about possible violence aren't exaggerated." Chloe rocked back and forth gently. She picked up a strand of Dory's ponytail and tickled the little girl's nose with its end, making her smile. "Even Dr. King is afraid that they may be met with resistance from white supremacists."
Leigh looked down at her lap, fisting her hands. No. No. Bette sat up, looking relieved. "So you'll keep Dory and Leigh for the rest of the week?"
Leigh could defy her mother, but not her grandmother. She recognized this, but couldn't explain it. She blinked back frustrated tears. Defeat tasted bitter. This can't be happening.
"Bette, while I agree to some extent with what you've said," Chloe continued, "I can't do what you want me to do."
Leigh's head snapped up to see her grandmother's face. Bette leaned forward. "Why not?"
Chloe met their eyes. "Because I'm going to attend the march myself."
Excerpted from Leigh by Lyn Cote Copyright © 2006 by Lyn Cote. Excerpted by permission.
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