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Scandalous Summer of Sissy Leblanc: A Novel

Scandalous Summer of Sissy Leblanc: A Novel

4.3 78
by Loraine Despres

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It's a steamy June afternoon in Louisiana, circa 1956, and Sissy LeBlanc is sitting on her front porch, wondering — half seriously — if she could kill herself with aspirins and Coca-Cola. She's been living in stifling old Gentry since the day she was born and trapped in a sham of a marriage to PeeWee LeBlanc since she was only seventeen. In short, she's


It's a steamy June afternoon in Louisiana, circa 1956, and Sissy LeBlanc is sitting on her front porch, wondering — half seriously — if she could kill herself with aspirins and Coca-Cola. She's been living in stifling old Gentry since the day she was born and trapped in a sham of a marriage to PeeWee LeBlanc since she was only seventeen. In short, she's fed up, restless, and ready for an adventure.

Sissy just never imagined temptation would come into her life that breathless summer day as she sat smoking on her porch swing. For although she may have been fixated on the taut muscles of the lineman shimmying down the telephone pole across the street, she hadn't allowed herself to imagine that he'd be none other than her high school sweetheart, Parker Davidson, who left town fourteen years before without so much as a wave good-bye. But suddenly, here he is, leaning in for a kiss that will stir up more excitement than Sissy could ever have imagined...

Editorial Reviews

The Tennessean
“Loraine Despres knows her way around a good story.”
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
When the sassy former cheerleader Sissy LeBlanc's handsome high school sweetheart, Parker Davidson, returns home after a 15-year exile, his presence stirs up not only gossip and scandal galore but all kinds of long-dormant feelings in Sissy. Stuck in a stifling marriage to PeeWee LeBlanc in small-town Louisiana, Sissy has long felt confined by her life as a housewife with three mischievous children. Years ago, Sissy had mysteriously and abruptly abandoned Parker, the town football star, and taken up with PeeWee. Since then, she's survived on a strict diet of advice from her very own "Southern Belle's Handbook," a "compendium of helpful hints and rules her mother and grandmother had tried so hard to instill in her," adding her own bits of wisdom along the way, like: "Rule Number Sixteen -- A smart girl makes a man sweat." But now that Parker's back in town, Sissy can't stop thinking about him. She's been craving adventure for the longest time, and finally, an opportunity comes calling. Satisfying her cravings will be no mean feat, though, as Sissy will first need to clear the hurdles of her blackmailing, chemistry-crazed son; her no-good father-in-law; and her jealous, put-upon husband. In Sissy LeBlanc, screenwriter Loraine Despres has created a warm, wisecracking, and sexy Southern belle who tells it like it is. Balancing deftly between comedy and tragedy, The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc introduces readers to a fresh new voice -- in the middle of winter. (Winter 2002 Selection)
Library Journal
While most readers may not immediately recognize the author's name, many will be familiar with her TV work. She's written for Dynasty, The Waltons, Love Boat, and Knots Landing and is probably best known for the "Who Shot J.R.?" episode of Dallas. Her television background serves her well in this debut novel. Her timing is excellent and the plot twists are both delightful and surprising. Sissy LeBlanc lives by a code she calls "The Southern Belle's Handbook." When a pithy idea pops into her head, she instinctively knows how that code applies to her life. Sissy understands her role as granddaughter of a suffragette, daughter of a newspaper editor, wife of PeeWee, and mother of three, but lately she's been feeling restless. When her high school sweetheart comes back to Gentry, LA, after a 14-year absence, Sissy decides that it is time to make some changes in her life if they cause a little scandal, so be it. Readers may be reminded of the movies Fried Green Tomatoes and Something To Talk About. Despres's heroine has spunk, her villains get their comeuppance, and her ending is psychologically satisfying. Recommended for public libraries with large collections of women's fiction. Pam Kingsbury, Florence, AL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harper Perennial
Edition description:
First Perennial Edition
Product dimensions:
7.78(w) x 5.26(h) x 0.79(d)

Read an Excerpt

A girl has to find out if there's life before death.
Rule Number Forty-seven
The Southern Belle's Handbook
Chapter 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 seriously considered suicide. Besides, only a teenager would try to poison 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 happened 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 columns that held up the porch roof was making another assault on the house, sending tendrils through the cracks in the warped planks under the swing. She'd have to crawl under the porch and do something about it. Soon.

Parker hadn't even called. Not that there was any reason why he should after all these years. She wasn't sure she wanted to see him anyway. He was probably fat and full of himself now. God, this heat was making her crazy. She sat up and saw a telephone truck had stopped across the street in front of a scarlet oleander bush on the side of the Methodist church. A lineman had already stepped out. She didn't get a good look at his face, but he was big like Parker. That boy was sure traipsing through her mind today. If she went into town, she'd probably see his likeness in half the men who turned a corner or walked in front of her on the street.

As the lineman worked his way up the telephone pole, she saw his suntanned arms glisten with sweat. She watched his back muscles bunch up and smooth out under his wet work shirt.

Memories of old feelings crept over her. She reached for a spray of honeysuckle and wound it in her hair.

Lighting a cigarette, she found herself staring up at the lineman's thighs. She couldn't help but notice how his shrink-to-fit jeans had shrunk just right. She lifted her skirt a tad to let in the breeze.

The lineman pulled himself onto the top crossbar and bent forward to cut the wisteria vines that had twisted around the wires.

Sissy fanned away the smoke hovering in the still air in front of her.

Then he bent backward under the wires. He hung upside down by his knees and leaned way out.

She held her breath.

Reaching his arms above his head, he sheared away the vines. Clumps of wisteria fell through the damp air. Suddenly, Sissy saw him begin to slip off the crossbar. The ground beneath him was littered with broken cement and covered with gnarled roots. She imagined him falling head first. Dying right there in front of her. Instead he tossed his clippers, jack-knifed up, grabbed hold of the crossbar. And waved.

Jesus! Sissy blew out a column of smoke. Of course he'd reminded her of Parker Davidson. He was Parker Davidson! And he was showing off just like he'd done in high school. She stood up and waved back. Why'd he have to see her today of all days, when she looked like a drowned cat? As he made his way down the telephone pole, she slipped inside.

Sissy wasn't really beautiful, but men never noticed. With her deep green eyes, her shoulder-length auburn hair that swung when she moved, and the way she moved as if she enjoyed just being inside her body, men had always paid her lots of attention. Although after fourteen years of marriage to Peewee LeBlanc, she'd begun to need reassurance. Leaning into the little round mirror she'd hung by the kitchen door, she freshened her lipstick and grimaced. She took her hair and the eyes for granted. She was worrying about the almost imperceptible lines at the corners of her mouth and the tiny fleshy places that seemed to have dropped overnight from the edge of her chin.

But then, Sissy thought, it's not what a girl looks like that captivates a man. It's how hard he has to work for her. A smart girl makes a man sweat. She decided to make that Rule Number Sixteen in The Southern Belle's Handbook, which was what Sissy had ironically titled that compendium of helpful hints and rules her mother and grandmother had tried so hard to instill in her. Her mother had wanted her to grow up a gracious Southern lady. Her grandmother just didn't want the bastards to grind her down. Sissy had added to it over the years, until the Southern Belle's Handbook became her personal credo. She kept it in her head, assigning numbers at random, but then Sissy always had a random relationship with numbers.

Through the screen door, she saw Parker walk across the street. She filled two tall glasses with ice and grabbed a couple of Cokes from the pantry. All thought of mixing them with aspirin had vanished.

Then she strolled onto the front porch and found Parker standing on the sidewalk. His tool belt was slung on his hips like a holster. Out in the country, the afternoon freight blew its warning whistle.

"Steal any police cars lately?" he asked.

Sissy shook her head. "Crime just hasn't been the same without you, Parker." She remembered the night after he'd scored five touchdowns against Gentry's biggest rival, they'd stolen the sheriff's car and ridden all over town with the siren blaring in celebration. Until they were arrested. The sheriff had chased them halfway to Hammond in a commandeered pickup.

Her parents had been upset. Parker's had been beside themselves. "We have a business to run in this town," Mr. Davidson growled when he had Parker by the arm and was heading out of the police station.

Mrs. Davidson whispered to Parker, "Sugar, you just can't embarrass us like this in front of the gentiles." But the Davidsons didn't have to worry. Nobody blamed Gentry's star football player. The teachers. The coach. The other kids. Nobody blamed him at all. They blamed Sissy. Rule Number Six, Southern Belle's Handbook: Whatever happens, they always blame the girl.

Parker tried to make everyone believe it had been all his idea, that he'd talked her into it, but everyone knew he was just being a gentleman and taking up for her. The truth was they'd gotten into trouble together. The decision had been mutual, made in a flash. They'd raced each other to that empty patrol car.

Parker took the stairs two at a time. "God, Sissy, you're all grown up."

She set the Cokes on a wicker table. Her hand fluttered up to her hair. "Fourteen years will do that," she said and wondered if he meant she looked old.

"I think you're even prettier than you were in high school." Was he serious or just putting her on?

They moved toward one another until they were standing so close, she felt engulfed by his physical presence. Overwhelmed. She'd forgotten how tall he was, well over six feet. She lifted her face to kiss his cheek and then thought better of it. His shirt and hands were covered in creosote, the dark brown tar they painted on the telephone poles to preserve them. She stepped back. "Parker, what in the world were you doing on that telephone pole?"

She caught the blush even on Parker's dark skin. She saw the color rise up his neck and over his cheeks. "Have to clean the debris away from the lines before it takes out the power."

From the sheepish way he said it, Sissy had a sudden insight. No one had actually sent him to cut down the wisteria across from her house. She'd bet Parker had thought that up on his own when he saw her sitting on her porch. Was he just showing off for her? She examined the pole and realized that when he'd leaned way out, he could look directly into her backyard. He wanted to see if Peewee's truck was parked there. He was spying on her. Damn! Nobody had gone to that much trouble for her in years.

She wondered why he was working for the phone company in the first place, but she felt it would be rude to come right out and ask. Rule Number Nineteen, A lady never embarrasses a man with direct questions. That had come from her mother, but Sissy being Sissy had embellished it with an addendum all her own: There are plenty of other ways a smart girl can find out what she wants to know. She fell back on her teasing ways. "I don't know why I'm even talking to you, Parker Davidson. I know for a fact you've been in town over a week. And you haven't even called." She tossed her wet hair.

Parker licked a droplet of water that had been whipped off her hair and onto his lips. "I tried. Three, four times." She thought he must be lying. Then she remembered the phone had rung several times that week, but when Peewee or one of the boys had picked it up, no one was there.

As if reading her mind he asked, "How is old Peewee?"

"Fine, just fine. He works for the parish."

"Sounds like a real steady job."

"It is."

The freight train rumbled through town. They felt the house tremble. Sissy searched the man for clues of the boy she had known. He had the same strong features, the same dark brown hair and heavy eyebrows, the same dark eyes. But now, their corners were crinkled. She felt an irrational envy. He'd gotten those lines without her. His skin was tanned tight across his high cheekbones. With his athletic grace and dark skin and prominent nose, he looked like an Indian. Not a real Indian with their round faces, flat noses, and slightly oriental eyes. But the movie version: Jeff Chandler playing Cochise. Tall, dark, and Jewish. She caught an earthy smell of musk mixed with the creosote.

The ladies' choir began to file into the Southern Methodist Church of Gentry on the opposite corner. They wore starched cotton dresses with sleeves and collars so as not to give offense in the House of the Lord. Some of them waved to Sissy, standing barefooted on her porch in her low-cut, yellow sundress. Parker and Sissy parted self-consciously and waved back. She saw Amy Lou Hopper — who always prided herself on dressing appropriately — adjust her pointy blue glasses before entering the church.

Poor Amy Lou, Sissy thought.

She took a seat on the far corner of the swing and smoothed her circle skirt demurely over her knees. Underneath, she felt her legs stick together. Parker took off his heavy tool belt and sat down so hard the swing jumped and whined. They turned to one another, but fourteen years of silence came between them. Sissy took a Coke off the wicker table and offered it to him. She heard the ice clink and felt the glass sweat. For the first time in fourteen years their hands touched.

Sissy was shocked at the sensation that rushed through her body. It was as if he had reached his big, hairy hand down her dress.

"Thanks," he said and took the glass, leaving Sissy's hand wet and empty.

She touched the tips of her fingers to her cheek and felt where his hand had touched hers. She started to speak, thought better of it, offered him a cigarette and took one for herself. He cupped his hand and leaned forward to light hers.

A hummingbird fluttered inches from the honeysuckle on the porch post. It hovered in space, lusting for the nectar. The silence between them became charged and dangerous. Sissy had to fill it, but she didn't want to sound strained, or worse, stupid. But she felt stupid and he looked strained. And then she remembered Rule Number Eleven. Men find themselves the most fascinating subject of any conversation. When in doubt, let him talk about himself.

"Sammy showed me some of those postcards you sent." Parker hadn't sent many, but the ones he'd sent had pictures of golden Buddhas, elephants, Chinese junks. "Did you really see all that stuff?"

He was flattered by her interest, as she knew he would be, and launched into the story of his travels. "You'd love it, Sissy. Temples a thousand years old next to skyscrapers." He told her how he'd sailed the South China Sea, trekked through the mountains of Thailand on elephants, swum in the Bay of Bengal.

"It must be something to be wild and free," she said, and there was naked longing in her voice.

"It's something, all right."

Sissy flashed back to that last year in high school, when her future was wide open. Anything seemed possible then. Anything, except that she'd spend the rest of her life trapped in the little town she was born in. While Parker roamed the world. Oh well, like her grandmother said, Don't jump off the roof if you don't expect to hit the ground. Rule Number Sixty-two.

He asked about old friends. Sissy answered mechanically, but she was listening to the sound of his voice, not his words. The air was breathless, heavy, the way it gets before a storm. She felt they were wrapped together in the late afternoon heat. She rubbed the cold, wet glass against her neck and rolled it over her chest.

Parker watched and stopped talking. He gulped down his icy drink.

The organist across the street played the first chord. Sissy felt anxious. "You want another Coke?" she asked. Her voice was strained.

"If it's not too much trouble," he answered softly, still watching her.

"No trouble at all."

She stood up, threw her cigarette butt on the concrete porch step, and ground it out with her bare foot. She'd read about ballet dancers whose feet were that tough and was proud to find hers were too, after summers of climbing barefooted over the rocks at the creek with her kids. But she hadn't meant to put out a burning cigarette in front of Parker. She caught him staring at her. She felt like a damn fool. He was going to think she'd turned into some kind of a redneck hick. She practically flew off the porch and into the kitchen.

Sissy had always been a flirt. She'd tried out a lot of rules on how to do it, and discarded most of them, but Rule Number Five was always with her: Boys will squirm and grown men will pull on their collars when a girl tosses her hair and looks at up them through her eyelashes, or even better, over her shoulder. Through the years, she'd learned that this was more than a rule, it was a law of nature, immutable and very reassuring. But Sissy always did it for fun, just fun. She wasn't going to actually do anything.

When she married Peewee, she'd promised to be a good and faithful wife. And Sissy never went back on her word. Of course, it hadn't been so hard to resist temptation. There hadn't been a lot of it around.

But here was Parker, back after all these years.

The strap of her sundress had slipped down over her shoulder. She hitched it up and reached her long, freckled fingers into the ice bucket. Empty.

She pried a gray metal tray up out of the little freezer section, but the lever was frozen tight. So she picked up the ice tray and smashed it hard against the sink, which gave her some relief, but didn't help much in getting at the ice. She turned on the tap. Pretty soon the cubes were floating.

What was wrong with her today?

A shadow fell across her body. Parker leaned against the doorway. She didn't turn. Nothing would make her turn or look at him over her shoulder.

"Anything I can do to help?" he asked. She felt the weight of his shadow on top of her. She shut off the tap.

A calloused hand reached over her shoulder and picked up a dripping cube. He rubbed the ice over her shoulders as she stood paralyzed. He ran it under her hair, under the strap of her sundress and over her chest. His hard calluses scraped gently as they slid across her freckled skin. She started to say something, but he ran the ice cube over her lips. She tried to tell him to stop. He gently pushed the melting cube, hardly more than a wafer now, into her mouth.

He bent down — and without touching her body — kissed her lips, tasting their cold wetness, licking her lips until Sissy shivered. She touched his chest and found heat radiating from it.

"Open my eyes so I may see..." Choir practice had begun and Sissy snapped out of her fantasy. Parker was still leaning in the doorway. "Need any help?" he asked again. "Here." She gave him the Cokes to open. She threw the ice cubes into the glasses and poured the rest, water and all, into the ice bucket.

Parker handed her the opened bottles. She turned and knocked over the bucket with her elbow.

"I don't know what's come over me today," she said as ice and water spilled all over the peeling linoleum with its faded yellow and orange flowers.

Parker bent down as Sissy grabbed a dish towel. "No harm done," he said, cupping the ice cubes in his big hands and throwing them into the sink.

Sissy was mopping up the water under his work boots, when Parker bent and gave her his hand. The pungent scents of musk and creosote rose around her. She felt disoriented, confused.

Inhaling deeply, she could actually feel the heat radiating from him. It was real. Her lacquered fingernails were shaking. She thought about releasing the buttons on Parker's work shirt. When the blue denim fabric fell away, would she see the brown hair, just as she remembered it, curling softly over his chest? She wanted to bury her head in it. She imagined his big suntanned hands sliding around her. Those big rough thumbs caressing her small breasts. Rubbing them. Sissy felt her nipples harden. Her body came alive. She wanted to run her hands over those wonderful thighs. She could almost feel the bulge under those metal buttons on his shrink-to-fit jeans. Feel him bunching up her skirt, sliding his hand under her pants. She groaned softly.

"Sissy, are you okay?" he asked, still holding her hand. Reality returned. But she didn't want any part of it. Then she realized his hand was trembling, too.

"Place in my hands the wonderful key/That shall unclasp and set me free," the ladies sang across the street. The Southern Belle's Handbook chattered away in her head, reminding her of all the sensible reasons she should stay away from this man. To hell with the Southern Belle's Handbook. To hell with the creosote. Sissy stood on her tiptoes and raised her lips to his. And with the flash of mutual decision that had gotten them into trouble all those years ago, they were in each other's arms. He kissed her gently. She closed her eyes and felt the roughness of his sunburned lips and his cold, hard hands play on the wings of her back.

Sissy usually went through her life as through a tunnel, never touching the walls. But today the walls were crashing in on her. For the first time in years she wanted something.

As the sun lit up the stained glass window over the stove, Parker began to bunch up her full skirt. She felt his jeans rub against the bare skin of her thighs. He groaned softly. His right hand stroked her underpants, while his left hand reached into her sundress. She could hear the material rip, but she didn't care because he was working one breast out of her strapless bra. She sucked in her breath as he touched her nipple. She touched his jeans and felt the material around his buttons strain and pull tight and take on a life of its own. Parker lifted her up and pushed her against the sink. Breathing hard, he hooked her underpants and their lips came together as he slowly slid them off.

"Open my eyes, illumine me..." the choir sang.

"I can't, Parker," she said, and they were the hardest words she'd ever had to say. Pushing him away, she opened her eyes and saw the faces of her children pressed against the screen door.

"Oh my God!" she whispered, straightening her dress and pulling up her panties as best she could as the choir echoed,

"...Spirit Divine."

"Sissy..." Parker began, and then he saw the children's faces, too.

She unlocked the screen door. "What are you all doing here? I thought you were at a baseball game! I said I'd pick you up at six. How'd you get home?" She knew how stupid she sounded, how guilty, but she couldn't help herself.

"Hickey got mad and took the ball home. So Mr. Fletcher gave us a ride," Billy Joe, her twelve-year-old, said. He stared up at Parker.

The three children crept in together.

Chip, thirteen and surly, said nothing. His face was shut down, but his eyes cut back and forth between his mother and the stranger. He saw the wine-red lipstick smeared across Parker's lips and on his work shirt. And smiled.

Sissy pulled up the strap of her sundress and began to babble. "Children, this is Parker Davidson. He was captain of the football team when your mama was a cheerleader. I must have told you about him. Parker, this is Chip, my oldest, and Billy Joe, and Marilee, my baby." She put her hand on the little girl's shoulder. The six-year-old wrapped her arms around her mother's hip and eyed the stranger from the folds of her mother's skirt.

"Hey there, partners," Parker said, more coolheaded than she would have imagined possible. And then with a catch in his voice, he asked, "You got any more?"

"This is it," Sissy said brightly, too brightly.

Chip turned away in disgust. So Parker bent over slightly and held out his hand to Billy Joe. But the children weren't looking at his hand or their mother's wet hair, which she was trying to tie up in a prim knot on the back of her head. What they were staring at was closer to Marilee's eye level. Then Sissy saw it, too.

"Parker, for God's sake," she hissed, "turn around!" He did and saw the metal buttons on his jeans were straining to burst free. He tried to adjust his pants and caught the lipstick stain on his shirt. The children took off giggling, slamming the screen door behind them.

The ladies of the Southern Methodist Church of Gentry raised their voices once again. "You have a friend in Jesus," they trilled.

It's a good thing, thought Sissy as she ran down the stairs after her children. I'm gonna need all the friends I can get. "Get out of here!" she called back to Parker.

He watched her haunches work under her yellow sundress as she ran across the grassy yard, through the laundry hanging out on the line to dry, past the wilderness of white and scarlet oleanders growing along the fence. His heart was keeping time with the choir as they sang and clapped. He tucked in his shirt and tugged on his jeans, but there was nothing he could do about the bulge that had risen again as he watched her. Jesus. He'd had no idea she could still do that to him. He had to wait. He couldn't risk running into some stray Methodist and ruining Sissy's reputation once again. That was the last thing he wanted. He already felt terrible about the kids.

He focused his breathing. Pretty soon he was able to head for the door. He glanced into the mirror and spotted the indelible lipstick on his face. He had grabbed a towel and begun to rub his mouth when he heard a truck drive up on the gravel and a door slam.

"Sissy!" a male voice yelled. Peewee LeBlanc had come home.

Sissy ran after her children. She wasn't so worried about Marilee. She was still a baby, but the boys were different. She could imagine the smirks and dirty jokes.

"Sissy!" Peewee yelled.

She saw the kids hightail it over a fence and disappear. Maybe it was for the best. It would give her time to figure out what she should say to them. But what could she say? Neither the Southern Belle's Handbook nor all those books on child rearing she'd read over the years, and she'd read them all, dealt with what to tell adolescent boys who catch their mother kissing a strange man next to the kitchen sink.

Peewee stopped on the top step of the front porch and kicked the mud from his boots. He saw Amy Lou Hopper come out the side door of the Methodist church.

She whisked off her pointy blue glasses and waved a plump white arm.

Peewee turned. "Hey, Amy Lou, you seen Sissy?"

"Why, yes," she said, and smoothed the stiff wave of blond hair that dipped over one side of her forehead. "Yes, I have."

Storm clouds hunched together over the house.

The kitchen door faced the church. Parker cracked open the screen and spotted some of the women he'd known as a boy growing up. They were walking along the sidewalk, singing in two-part harmony as they headed for the parking lot. Then he saw Amy Lou Hopper standing on the curb and heard Peewee's voice coming from the front porch! Parker slowly eased himself back into the kitchen.

Peewee saw Amy Lou hesitate and then walk out into the middle of Hope Street. He felt like a jackass. Of course she wasn't going to stand out in front of the church and holler. It wouldn't be ladylike. Peewee knew that, unlike his wife, Amy Lou always acted like a lady. "She was sitting right out here in front of God and everyone," she said in a pleased voice as she placed a white, pointed-toe linen pump up onto the curb.

Amy Lou waited impatiently for Peewee to ask her what Sissy was doing in front of God and everyone. She prided herself on the fact that she was not a gossip, but of course if Peewee came right out and asked, she'd be bound as a Christian to tell the truth. After all, a man had a right to know what his wife was up to. She was crossing the sidewalk to enlighten him when Peewee spotted the tool belt lying next to the swing on the front porch. He picked it up and saw the name on it, Parker Davidson. And then he didn't want to talk to anyone. He turned abruptly, leaving Amy Lou striding across the broken concrete.

Parker was checking the window next to the pantry when he heard the front door slam. Would he have time to get the screen off? The only other door led through the dining room, and Peewee was entering it now.

Peewee walked around the old walnut dining table and straight into the kitchen. "Sissy!" He made his voice deep. He was the man of the house, after all. He had a right to know what was going on. "Sissy!" He heard his voice crack on the upswing.

The sun, dying behind the stained glass window, cast its red glow, but the room was empty. Peewee glanced through the pass-through into the pantry. Nothing. The kitchen window was open; its screen securely in place.

"Sissy!" Peewee yelled, not caring if his voice cracked this time, setting the tool belt down on a chair and throwing open the screen door.

The ladies in the parking lot turned to see what the commotion was all about just as Sissy, her mouth full of clothespins, pushed her head through the sheets hanging out to dry in the backyard.

"You want me, Peewee, or are you practicing for the parish hog calling contest?" She gave him an exasperated look and hefted a wicker basket filled with damp clothes onto her hip. "Don't just stand there, give me a hand before it starts to rain."

Storm clouds were closing in fast.

Peewee went out to his wife, who was jerking sheets off the line and dropping them into the basket. Under the eager eyes of the Methodists, she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, grimacing at the pungent odor of tar and stale sweat rising from his body. Her nose twitched as her lips brushed his blond stubble. "I thought you were working in the office today."

"No such luck," he answered as he pulled the clothespins off the sheets still on the line. "Norbert called in sick again. We was patching that stretch over by Raceland, so guess who had to go out there?" He dragged the last of the sheets down and waved to the ladies heading home before the storm.

Sissy knew that so much of the unpleasantness in a marriage is a direct result of the husband feeling underappreciated. Rule Number Fifty-five. What she could never understand was how a smart woman let that happen, especially since it was so easy to remedy. "You poor thing. You don't mean you were working all day on the road in this heat?"

Peewee nodded.

"Come on, you need a beer." Sympathy and understanding oozed out of her words. Peewee didn't exactly smile, but he did look grateful and he took the towering laundry basket from her.

She followed him into the house. His sandy-blond hair was cropped so short, she could see his pink scalp showing through and the place where his glasses made dark marks on the back of his ears. His otherwise trim figure was beginning to spread out softly in the middle and roll over the top of his slacks.

Peewee put the laundry on the kitchen table, and as he caught sight of her full on, his blue eyes narrowed. "What the hell have you been up to?"

"I can't imagine what you mean." She picked up a pack of cigarettes and slapped her pockets in vain for a match. Then she noticed an ice cube on the linoleum. She curled her bare toes over it.

"Look at yourself, woman."

Sissy looked down and saw creosote stains down the front of her sundress. It was not the afternoon attire recommended in the Southern Belle's Handbook.

"What's been going on around here?"

Rule Number Twenty-three popped into Sissy's mind. When a train heads straight at you, a smart girl derails it. She looked her husband in the eye and said, "Peewee, I have spent the day chasing after a bunch of kids, cleaning up your mess, and taking care of this big old house. Who do you expect me to look like, Dinah Shore?"

It didn't work. Peewee pulled the chair out from under the kitchen table and held up the tool belt. "What's this doing here?"

"How should I know?" She kicked what was left of the ice cube under the sink and picked up the laundry basket.

Finding no matches under it, she slammed it back down and started opening drawers. God, she needed a smoke.

"Says it belongs to Parker Davidson."

Sissy froze mid-drawer and then, with as much nonchalance as she could muster, said, "Oh, yeah. Parker's back." She heard the rumble of distant thunder.

"What was he doing here?"

Sissy didn't hesitate. "He came over to make indecent advances. In his spare time, he fixed the telephone line." She grabbed the box of kitchen matches from the stove and shook them, but she came up empty.

"What are you talking about?"

"He's working for the phone company."

"Come on." He sounded shocked.

"True." Sissy didn't understand it either.

Peewee was silent for a moment, taking it in. Then a smile spread across his face. "The great Parker Davidson, Gentry's biggest football star and war hero, is stringing phone lines? The Jew boy that was gonna bring back fame and glory?"

"Peewee! Stop it! You know I can't stand it when you talk like that."

"Damn!" Peewee said, ignoring her reproach. He couldn't remember when he'd felt so good. And then a nagging thought curled around his brain. "What was he doing on our front porch?"

Sissy wanted to explode, but forced a teasing smile. Rule Number Eighteen, Fools and husbands fall for flattery.

"Oh, Peewee, I just love it when you're jealous."

"I'm not jealous, I just want to know what's going on."

"I saw him working in the hot sun and offered him a Coke. Is that okay?"

He didn't say anything. He pressed his lips together and after some thought nodded as if the whole issue wasn't worth much consideration.

"Good. Now stop being so silly. I married you, not him. Remember?" She ruffled his blond crew cut, knocking his two-toned glasses askew, and kissed the air near his cheek. Desperate for a match, she sashayed into the pantry, a cigarette dangling from her lips.

And then she dropped her cigarette.

Parker Davidson was crouched on top of a shelf, partially hidden from the little window, displacing paper bags, a carton of matches, and four jars of Sissy's pickled watermelon rinds, which he was holding in both hands. The shelf was made of good, strong cypress, but it was bowed under Parker's considerable weight. He shrugged and grinned.

Sissy was furious. He thinks this is some kind of a damned adventure. She backed out of the pantry, closing the door behind her.

Stretching her mouth into an imitation of a smile, she said to her husband, "Why don't you go on over to the telephone company and drop off the belt?"

"Why should I?" He wiped off his two-toned glasses, which Sissy had smudged.

"Well, Parker just started working there. He could get into a lot of trouble."

"No skin off mine," Peewee said, taking a beer from the icebox and crossing to the pantry door.

Sissy heard the first drops of rain hit the roof and saw the sky flash white.

A small face peered through the kitchen window.

Sissy put her arms around her husband. "I'm sorry I blew up at you, sugar, but you know how I hate it when you ask me all those questions. I mean, I already have a daddy. I never expected to marry one." She kissed him and then made a face. His skin was greasy. "Why don't you run a nice bath and I'll come in and wash your back." She did her best to make it sound suggestive and it worked because Peewee said:

"For God's sake, woman, we haven't even had supper yet."

He took a swig of beer and pushed her aside. His hand was on the pantry door. Sissy blocked his way. Her heart was pounding. She had to think of something. She took the beer out of his hand and sipped it. Then she handed it back. "I wasn't making an indecent suggestion. I just thought you'd feel better after a nice, cool bath." Peewee wavered, and then turned the doorknob. "Just as soon as I get me some of your pickled watermelon rinds." "Why, sugar, I got a plate of them, nice and cold in the fridge. Tell you what, you just go and lie down in that tub and I'll bring them to you on a tray with another beer. What do you say?" She was proud of how casual she sounded.

Peewee let go of the pantry door. "You mean it?" There was surprise in his voice. She knew he felt she should wait on him more, the way women were supposed to wait on their men, but with three kids and a big house she could never work up the energy.

"Course I do. You deserve a little attention after spending the day in this hot sun."

That did it. "Sounds good to me." He turned toward the door, slapping her on the butt as he passed, when Billy Joe rushed into the kitchen, breathing hard. "You all gotta come..." "Billy Joe, you're sopping wet!" Sissy said.

Sounding just like his own father, Peewee took his son by the arm and said, "Young man, you know better than to stand there dripping all over your mother's linoleum. Now, march!"

He pushed the boy toward the bathroom, but Billy Joe stood his ground. "Marilee fell into the gravel pit."

Sissy saw the lightning splinter down the middle of the sky.

"I told you kids to stay away from there, didn't I, didn't I!" Sissy cried, clutching her son. Hysteria tightened around her voice. Sissy's brother Norman, the big brother she'd spent her childhood trailing after, the reason she was nicknamed Sissy — he couldn't pronounce Cecile — dove into the gravel pit the day he came home from college. And drowned.

She was surrounded by the thunder.

***** Rain sheeted over the windshield when Peewee skidded to a stop in the mud. Layers of clouds shrouded the late afternoon sun. Before Sissy and Billy Joe could get their doors open, Peewee jumped out of the pickup and ran to the edge of the water.

He knew his little girl could hardly swim. He'd never found the time in all her six years to teach her. He'd left that to Sissy, and that wasn't good enough, not nearly good enough.

Rain obscured his sight behind his two-tone plastic glasses. He took them off and wiped them on his shirt when a flash of lightning lit up the man-made lake and Peewee saw Chip, his oldest son, with his shirt off, staring into the far side of the pit. Then Peewee spotted a lump of pink caught up in a bunch of branches. Was that Marilee wrapped around a fallen tree?

He yelled. Chip looked up through the pelting rain, pointed into the pit, and yelled back, but Peewee couldn't hear him. Peewee bent down to untie his boots. He handed his glasses to Sissy, who'd run up behind him.

"Wait a minute," she said. "We've got to find out where she went..." But the rest of her words were smothered by the roar of thunder that seemed to shake the pond. Billy Joe was screaming something, too. He grasped his father's arm, but Peewee pushed them both aside and plunged into the deep water of the pit.

"Peewee, don't!" Sissy screamed.

But he didn't hear. He tried to strike a bargain with God. Don't take Marilee, not yet. Please. Let us have her a little longer and I'll...

Lightning zippered across the sky. The pit lit up. Peewee froze in the water. But no electricity charged through his body. He wordlessly thanked God for saving him this time and began to count the seconds before he heard the thunder. One and... He splashed wildly toward the mound of pink. Two and... His arms and legs were working like pistons. Please just let her hold on. Just let her hold on until I get there. Three and... He lifted his head up and yelled in Chip's direction, but he got no response. Four and... Peewee was swimming as fast as he could, but not nearly fast enough. His legs were getting heavy in his waterlogged slacks, which were riding up on him. Five and. .. Thunder shook the pit. God, he wished he were out of here. He tried to think about John Wayne. What would the Duke do? He wouldn't let a little lightning stop him. Finally Peewee reached the floating tree. Branches tore his arms as he fought through their tangle, but he hardly felt them. He snatched up the pink mound. And came away with Marilee's shirt.

His little girl wasn't in it. He put his face into the murky water and opened his eyes, hoping he wouldn't see her floating naked in the dark. The darkness went on forever. He'd heard the pit went 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.

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 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 Peewee 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."

Meet the Author

Loraine Despres is the author of the bestselling novel The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc and its tie-in title, The Southern Belle's Handbook. Raised in Amite, Louisiana, Despres is a former television writer and international screenwriting consultant. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and continues to enjoy bad behavior.

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Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 77 reviews.
ShakespeareInLove More than 1 year ago
This story was an easy suspenseful read...great for the beach, or just to get away. We women have been here before, wondering about first loves, and what would happen if we could re-kindle anything after being married for so long with children too..and burnt out of dead end romance. This book is purely fictional but full of sex, fire, and suspense.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a very quick read and I loved it! Also check out the Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book in a day and a half. I just couldn't put it down. It's one of those books that, while you're reading it, you subconciously become obsessed with it. I told EVERYONE about it...from my dad, to my best-friend, people around me who never read the book knew exactly what was going on. Now, parts of it are a little raunchy. So if you can't handle that. DON'T READ IT! However, I love a raunchy read any day! This book was great! READ IT!!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Two of my close friends and I came across a book sale, and we thought it would be fun to each select a book to read and pass. We were all quite excited about our selections, but I was nervous because they asked me to write notes in the margins!!!!!! I bagan doing this, but couldn't continue when the book became way too interesting, long before fifty pages. I really felt for this woman, Sissy, who sacraficed her feelings and emotions for those loved ones in her life. I'm still quite impressed with the empathy I had for these characters. Not every author is able to create such realistic characters. This was fast reading, and I'm sad it's over. I hope my friends' selections are as good as mine. Rule Number 150 Trust that your friends have good opinions. (I think I'll write more of my own rules.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Submits and starts sucking. He begins jerking himself off.
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I have read this book several times over the years. The book is well written and the charcters are great. A great book to read on the beach.
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