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"Jasmine Boudreaux! You girls watch out for snakes now, ya hear?" Mama's honeyed drawl drifted over the languid green river to the wooden raft where I was sunbathing with my three best friendsBunny Bennett, Mary Alice Cunningham and Misty Stewart.
Although we were as different as the four points of the compass, we'd been best buddies since our first day in kindergarten. Mary Alice was thoughtful, sensitive and more than a little religious. Bunny, the wild child, was on the opposite end of the spectrum. And Misty was our version of intelligentsia, bouncing back and forth between arcane ideologies. One day you'd find her quoting Ayn Rand; the next she'd be reading Karl Marx.
And speaking of dichotomiesI was a walking, talking Gemini. Although I was the most pragmatic member of our group, I was naive enough to fall for every practical joke in the universe.
I was fairly sure Mary Alice and I were the only two virgins in our senior class. I say that tentatively because virginity, or lack of it, was one of the few things we didn't discuss.
"Bucky said he saw at least half-a-dozen moccasins in the river last night, and you know how those nasty things like to get up on that old dock to sun."
"Yes, Mama, we'll be careful," I replied, although I didn't bother to open my eyes. Through some strange quirk of fate, Bucky was my brother. He was a junior at the University of Texas and he was absolutely positive he was the grand pooh-bah of the Western world. Truth be told, he was a pain in the rear.
Bunny sat up and engaged Mama in conversationan exceptionally bad idea since my mother loved to talk.
"Miz Boudreaux, did my mom call?" Bunny could put on thethickest Texas accent you ever heard. And this was one of those occasions.
"No, honey, she hasn't. What do you want me to tell her if she does?" Mama had to yell in order to be heard.
"Just remind her I'm spending the night here, if you would. Not that she really cares where I am." That last sentence was meant strictly for our ears.
"Sure thing, honey," Mama agreed. "Jazzy, we're eating at the country club so you girls go to the Pink Pig for supper. I'll leave some money on the kitchen table."
In Meadow Lake, Texas, population 8,631, the Pink Pig Burger Emporium was the "happening" place. "Happening," that is, if you were into junk food, teenagers and the occasional redneck"happening," of course, being a relative term.
Growing up in a small south Texas town when your daddy's the police chief presented some challenges. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, thought it was their job to report my every move. Swear to goodness, if I'd been audacious enough to utter the f-word, Mama would've known about it before I closed my mouth.
Every weekend, the kids had this ritual where we all circled the Pink Pig, cruised to the park on the other side of town, came back around to check out the movie theater, swung by Garcia's Pizzeria and then completed the circuit with a trip back to the PP. Round and round we went in a relentless circle of teenage hormones.
I was so busy thinking about life in the high-school zone that I almost missed the fact that Mama was still dispensing advice from the shore.
"Misty, you watch out and don't get sunburned. With your red hair, you could blister right up." Mama was well into her drill-sergeant routine.
"Yes, ma'am," the redhead in question yelled as she rolled over and smeared more baby oil on her exposed stomach. "Maybe if I get my freckles to run together I'll be able to tan. What do ya think?" she asked, even though we all knew it was a rhetorical question.
Misty had been trying to tan since the fourth grade and she'd never progressed beyond the burn, peel and freckle stage. I, on the other hand, had the skin of my Cajun ancestors and by the end of the summer I was as brown as a berry. It was one of those things that made her crazy.
One of the benefits of living in a small town was that you could have lifelong friends. We'd shared everythingour thoughts, our dreams and on occasion our communicable diseases. The only exception to the "share and share alike" rule was boyfriends. But that's a story I'll get to later.
Bunny's dad owned a tractor factory, which employed half the people in town. She was our bouncy blonde. The bouncy part came naturally; the blondeness was courtesy of a bottle.
The Bennetts were filthy rich and loved to flaunt it. Mrs. Bennett's diamonds rivaled the crown jewels. And that marble mausoleum Bunny called home was totally sterile.
Misty's parents were professors. They had to be book smart or they wouldn't be teaching at the college. However, I thought their general IQ was questionable. Sometimes they treated their only child as if she'd just popped in from another planet.
Mary Alice was a total sweetheart. A bit clueless in the fashion department, but one of the nicest people you could meet. Her dad was a Holy Roller preacherneed I say more?
So now you have an idea why we spent so much time at my house. My parents were cool, most of the time anyway, plus we had a ski boat. And for some unfathomable reason Misty had a major-league crush on Bucky. Just thinking about Misty and Bucky doing anything erotic exceeded my yuck factor.
We were freshly minted high-school graduates and feeling invincible. Actually, that wasn't quite the truth, at least for me. I was terrified. In a moment of insanity I'd applied to the school of architecture at U.C. Berkeleythat's in Californiaand to my amazement I was accepted. It seemed like a good idea when I was filling out the application, but California, good grief!
What was I thinking? "Jazzy! You're daydreaming again." Misty put her thumb over the lip of her Coke bottle and pretended to spray me. "I have a rumor to spread."
"Wow," the rest of the group said in chorus. Misty was usually the last person to hear anything. Not that she was ditzy; she just didn't pay much attention to gossip.
"My mother was on the phone talking to Dean Patrick. She was whispering, but I got the drift of the conversation. Sandy Sorenson is getting married. Her daddy's on the faculty, you know." She paused for dramatic effect. "Sandy has to get married!"
"Sandy Sorenson," Mary Alice whispered. "Oh, my God, she is so beautiful."
Sandy was in her freshman year at the University of Texas, and rumor had it she'd taken the campus by storm.
"Who's the guy?" Not that I was prone to telling tales, but I figured we might as well get all the facts.
"I don't know. When Mom saw me she went into the laundry room and closed the door." Misty frowned.
"Isn't it awful that Sandy has to get married?"
Her comment sent me into my women's lib mode. "Why would anyone 'have' to get married in this day and age? Please!" Talk about making me crazy. We weren't living in the 1950s. I Love Lucy and its archaic view of sex was nothing more than a TV rerun.
I was about to continue my rant when I noticed that Bunny was curiously silent. Usually she was the first to jump in on a good story.
Mary Alice piped up instead. "A baby needs parents who are married."
Our sweet little friend was getting annoyed. Normally she was fairly open-minded, but on the topic of babies and pregnancy her church background came to the fore.
"Billy Tom said he's ready for tonight," Bunny commented. That girl was the queen of the non sequitur, and this was a subject that definitely needed to be changed.
So Sandy Sorenson took a backseat while we discussed our upcoming adventure. Although it took some world-class wheedling, we'd finally convinced our buddy Billy Tom to help us get drunk for the first time. As a group, we had a well-earned reputation for being "goody-two-shoes"no booze and no pot. Since we were all heading to college, we decided to take a walk on the wild side in a safe environment. And you couldn't get much safer than being with Billy Tom. It wasn't so much that he was benign; it was the fact that we had a ton of blackmail material on him.
"He paid some guy five bucks to buy us three six-packs. That's four apiece." Bunny was our soiree coordinator.
"I'm not sure any of us will be coherent after four beers."
Neither was I, but I was certainly no expert. Most of the kids went out to the river to drink and neck and God only knows what else. Daddy was well aware of the kegger parties and periodically sent a deputy to patrol the area. Needless to say, I had never attended one. If my daddy had caught me there, I would've been grounded until I qualified for social security, and that wasn't in my game plan. I had people to see and places to go.
"What did you tell Charlie we were doing tonight?" Mary Alice directed her question to Bunny. She was referring to Bunny's boyfriend who was, unfortunately, the love of my life. But that was a secret I wasn't about to share with anyone, not even my best friends, or to be more specific, especially not my best friends. Charlie, darn his hide, treated me like his buddy.
Charlie Morrison and Bunny had been a couple for almost a year, and in my opinion it was an ill-fated liaison. The Bennetts despised him, more than likely because he wasn't rich and his family wasn't socially prominent.
When Bunny and Charlie first started going out, her parents made the mistake of issuing an ultimatum, which was like waving a red flag at a bull. Tell the girl she couldn't do something, and she went full steam ahead. So all year she used her friends as an excuse to get out of the house.
I'd known Charlie's parents almost my entire life and I thought they were fantastic. They owned a fishing camp/restaurant down the road from our house. Looking back, I suppose it was little more than a beer joint but Mrs. Morrison's Friday Night hush puppies and fried catfish bash was famous throughout the county.
I'll never forget when I met the Morrison twins. It was my first day of school and Mama made a huge production about me riding the school bus. That was also the day Bubba Hawkins decided to make my life a living hell.
To give it a nice spin, he was a big, fat bully, and like all tyrants he homed in on the vulnerable. What he hadn't expected was Charlie Morrison. After Charlie and Colton, his fraternal twin, got through with Bubba he never bothered me again. That was the day I fell in love with Charlie.
When we were in elementary school, the Morrison twins and I spent most of our summer days playing cops and robbers in the pecan orchard by the river. Colton was a great buddy, but even then I knew Charlie was special.
It seemed like my entire life consisted of a collage of Charlie memories. He risked life and limb teaching me to water-skiI wasn't the most coordinated person in the world. And when I got my learner's permit, he instructed me in the art of driving a stick shift. Again, a scary proposition.
But it was in the pecan orchard on a sultry summer night after our freshman year that he truly stole my heart. That was my first kiss, and what a kiss it was. My life would never be the same. Too bad the feeling wasn't reciprocated. Darn it, the idiot never kissed me again!
"I told him I was busy. He got all snotty. He'll just have to deal with it. It's not like we're joined at the hip," Bunny groused.
If Charlie wanted to stick to me like glue, I'd have been a happy, happy girl. But he was a passion I needed to ditch because obviously it didn't have a chance in H-E-double toothpicks of going anywhere. We were another Romeo and Juliet, except Romeo wasn't enamored of Juliet.
So there I was, a seventeen-year-old virgin (in more ways than one) planning to sneak off to the drive-in with a bunch of girls to slurp suds. And we were going to pull off this great misadventure in Billy Tom's '57 Plymouth that didn't even have a working radio.
How pitiful was that?