- Southern women’s fiction, stand-alone novel
- Book length: approximately 95,000 words
- Includes discussion questions for book clubs
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.55(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.99(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Everyone knows the weather in lower Alabama can be fickle. Christmas with the AC pumping or an early June cool snap aren't the strangest things that happen down here. If you're not careful, quick changes like these can wreak havoc on your garden. A little advice: Research before you plant and plan ahead for potential problems. However, despite research and planning, a good gardener knows sometimes you have to rip it all out and try something new.
— Candace Gooch, Alabama Gardening for Beginners
I'd been on the porch steps shelling purple hull peas for less than an hour and my thumbnails had already turned purple. A bucket sat on the step between my knees and a plastic grocery sack full of empty hulls was perched next to my feet. Our red dirt road was always quiet in the early mornings, but today it seemed even more hushed than usual. With no sound other than the soft thuds of peas filling the bucket, a lone cricket chirping somewhere in the flower bed next to the house, and an occasional hawk cry in the treetops, the silence of Glory Road lulled me.
I'd gotten into such a rhythm — pinch the hull, pull the string, slide one thumbnail in, and flick the peas into the bucket — that my coffee had grown cold. When the front door opened behind me, I jumped, sending a handful of peas skittering down the steps to the grass below. I'd forgotten Evan was still inside sleeping.
I turned and smiled at my daughter as I leaned down to pick up the scattered peas.
"Morning," Evan mumbled. She rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands, reminding me of her at two or three wearing her Hello Kitty pajamas, holding her stuffed kitty by the tail and asking for a cup of milk. Today, instead of cartoon pj's and milk, it was a faded Fender guitars T-shirt with a stretched-out neck, a pair of my pajama pants, and a glass of orange juice. Her thick blonde hair — full of natural highlights some women would pay big money for — was gathered into a messy ponytail.
She sat on the swing at the end of the porch, tucked one leg underneath her, and pushed off the floor with the other. The chains squeaked a familiar tune. "Don't you need to open up the shop?"
"It's only eight. Mama's over there now waiting on the seed delivery. You know she likes to putter around when no one's there."
"That's so she can sneak succulents back to her house without you knowing."
"Oh, I know it. She only thinks she's being sneaky. When they disappear from the tables, I know exactly where they've gone."
My mother had obsessions, but at least they were harmless — potted succulents, Johnny Cash, and peach cobbler.
Evan sat up in the swing and fanned her shirt away from her skin. "It's so hot out here." She'd never been a fan of hot weather. She wasn't a fan of cold weather either, really. Evan liked everything to be balanced, under control, with nothing out of the ordinary. I worried about her starting high school in just a few short months. High school was a petri dish of weirdness, the exact opposite of ordinary.
"Why aren't you shelling those things inside? Only you would be sitting outside in the heat before you go off to work all day in the heat."
I crooked my head. "It's not that hot yet. But it's summer — it's like this every year. And anyway, I like the heat."
She stood and walked over to the top step, then plopped down next to me and sighed. I breathed in — not quite the same as the baby scent she once had, but still full of sleep and her own essence. I reached an arm around her, pulled her close, and kissed the top of her head. Thankfully, she didn't push me away.
"What do you have planned for today? Mama can take you up the road for a burger if you want. She told me last night she was at Jack & Mack's the other day and her onion burger wasn't up to snuff. I think she wants to talk to them about it." I elbowed Evan. She didn't like going anywhere with Mama alone. I knew how to rein in my mother when she got scrappy, but Evan, for all her unconventional ways, never wanted to be disrespectful. Not too much, anyway.
"Ruth's coming over later and we're going down to the Icebox to swim. If that's okay."
I nodded. I wanted to ask if anyone else was going with them — any boys, any older kids — but at fourteen, Evan was wiser than her years. An old soul. Her track record told me she wouldn't get into trouble, and I trusted her. It was the path I'd chosen — trust her until she did something to break the trust. We both knew that was the deal. Glory Road — all of Perry, really — was about as safe as a room full of cotton balls, but I still felt nervous anytime Evan left my sight. She and Mama were all I had.
"That's fine. Just don't forget your phone. I want you to be able to call me if you need me." Evan must have been the only teenager in the country — in the world, maybe — who was averse to smart- phones. She said they made kids stupid. It was hard to argue with that.
"You mean you want to be able to check up on me."
"I won't do that. I know you hate it. But you'll understand one day."
"I know, I know." She stood and reached her arms over her head in a big stretch and a yawn. "I'll understand when I'm a parent. A million years from now."
"It only feels that way." Evan was just ten years younger than I'd been when I had her. Ten years — a blink. Sometimes it felt like only yesterday that I sat on Mama and Daddy's porch, rocking on the swing, killing time before going to the Icebox with friends.
I raised my head when the sound of a car roaring down the road made it to the porch. In my peripheral vision I saw Evan look up too. We heard rocks spitting out from under the tires and the soft whoosh of red dust before we could actually see anything.
I knew every car that drove past our home and my garden shop, Twig, right next door. Anyone who drove on by, deeper into the tunnel of pines and oaks down Glory Road, belonged there and had likely lived there most of my life. This wasn't one of those cars, yet I still knew it. It was just an image, an intangible picture that occasionally floated back to me in soft threads of memory. Funny how a car can be familiar after nearly twenty years.
It was an old Jeep Grand Wagoneer, blue with brown paneling. The sensations came back in a rush — the softness of the leather seats, the Armor-All shine of the dash, and the scent: a mix of gasoline, fresh pine, and lemons. I closed my eyes and the years peeled back. I could smell, see, and feel it all. Ben used to work on the Jeep every weekend. It was old even back then. I used to joke with him that he was fighting a losing battle, but he was determined to keep it running smooth until it took its last breath.
The Jeep drove a little too fast and music spilled from the open windows. I couldn't name the band or the song, but the rhythm thumped in my chest, making it ache, but not from pain, exactly. A boy sat in the passenger seat, his arm out the window, his dark hair whipping in the breeze.
"That's him," Evan said behind me.
Her words registered, but I was still focused on the music and the memories. Eyes still closed, I didn't answer.
"Did you see the guy in the passenger seat? That was the guy from school."
"Mom? What are you doing?"
I opened my eyes and shook my head to clear the fog. "Nothing, nothing." I leaned out to catch a last glimpse of the Jeep, but it was gone. All that remained was a haze of dust in the road. "What guy from school?"
"I stood next to him in line yesterday when I went to pick up my registration packet." She shrugged. "His name's Nick. He's new — or at least he wasn't at the middle school. He's a little older, I think. And different."
I turned to Evan. Her big blue eyes held a faraway gaze. "What does that mean?"
"I don't know, he just stuck out a little. He wore a black T-shirt, for one, and he was listening to music on his phone the whole time we were in line."
I studied my daughter. "How do you know it was music?"
"His head was moving a little, like ... I don't know." She shrugged again. "It's just a guess. Anyway, he didn't look like he'd been mucking out a chicken house or drinking steroid shakes for breakfast."
"Farming or football," I murmured. Outside of school hours, most young men in Perry — our small, south Alabama blip on the map — were either in the fields or on the field. Either that or getting into trouble. It had always been that way. "I know someone else who likes to wear black T-shirts and listen to music."
"Very funny. But he was different. He didn't seem to care that he stuck out. That he didn't look like all the other guys around here."
Evan may not have recognized it, but I knew she was doing her thing — Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan, the Converse high-tops and Fender shirts — to make herself stick out. To separate herself from the crowd. She wasn't a girl from a country song — tight cutoffs, bouncy hair, pink lipstick — and she wanted everyone to know. I also knew that despite her difference from the other girls, actually being different — not blending in — was hard. I loved her so much for trying though.
"I'm going to make some breakfast. You want anything?" she asked.
"I'm fine. I'll be going over to the shop in a little bit. Let me know when you head out, okay?"
"Sure." She opened the screen door, then paused, halfway into the cool stillness of the house. I bit my tongue and waited. It was a new thing I was trying these days — instead of asking too many questions, I was trying to stay quiet and let Evan speak when she was ready. We were both still learning how to navigate her new teenage emotions and sensitivities.
"You're not really going to dinner with that cop, are you?"
I sighed and rested my elbows on the step behind me. Jimmy Kellan was the new police chief in Perry. He was also single and handsome, which naturally sent the ladies in town into a frenzy. The DIVAS — Divinely Inspired, Victorious And Serving — from Perry Baptist were all over him in an attempt to "welcome him to the community," which everyone knew was code for "If I can't date him, I'll be the one to set him up with someone who can."
Mama had used no such false front. Last Saturday night, enjoying a milkshake from Jack & Mack's with Evan and me, she'd marched up to Officer Kellan's patrol car on Center Street, tapped on his window, and asked him if he would mind accompanying her daughter to dinner.
I shook my head. "No, baby. I'm not."
"How'd you get out of it? Gus was pretty determined."
"I just told her I wasn't going. I said if she didn't call him and let him down easy, I'd make sure I was wearing my oldest pajamas when he came to pick me up."
Evan laughed. "I bet she hated that."
"She didn't talk to me for twelve whole hours."
"I'm glad you're not going."
I looked over my shoulder at her. Framed by the doorway with one hand on the jamb and one on her hip, she was one part sassy, one part vulnerable, and I would do anything to protect that vulnerable side, to keep it innocent and sweet. "Why are you glad?"
She shrugged, and for a moment I thought she might actually let me in on something deep in her heart, some truth she needed to unload. Instead, she let the door close a couple more inches before tossing out, "You're too old to date anyway."
I grabbed a small handful of peas and threw them at the door, but she'd already let it slam closed. She disappeared down the hall to the kitchen, her soft laughter winding its way back to the porch.
I reached down and tied the handles of the grocery sack together. A few of the empty hulls edged out of the top and fell to the step by my feet. I grabbed the escaped hulls and poked them back in.
Too old. Of course, in the eyes of a fourteen-year-old, thirty-eight seemed ancient, but I didn't feel ancient. Sometimes I didn't feel a day over eighteen. An age when everything felt ripe with promise and possibility. When it felt like everything would work out perfectly, because why not?
Behind me in the house, the phone rang. Evan answered it, paused, then groaned. "Gus, it's too early for your singing."
I smiled. It wasn't perfect, but it was good.CHAPTER 2
Tomatoes need consistency over all. Establish a regular watering pattern and stick to it. If you water them too little, then you overcorrect and water too much, your tomatoes can explode — or at least crack. Not a preferable situation for anyone, not least for the tomatoes. They can do quite well with little interference if given the proper growing conditions.
— Edwin Nickerbocker, 1916 Treatise on Tomatoes
It had felt so strange yesterday to walk down the wide center hallway of the high school during the summer when it was quiet and mostly empty. I imagined how it would be in a couple months when I sailed through the doors as a ninth grader. Probably weird and awkward, but that was nothing new — middle school had felt like that most of the time.
I hadn't realized until I opened the front doors of the school that I had no idea how to get through the maze of hallways. Mom, having been a student here eons ago, would have been able to tell me exactly where to go, but I'd made her stay out in the car while I ran in to pick up the packet of information the incoming students were supposed to collect. I wanted to do it all on my own, but I ended up feeling kind of lonely. Every time a door opened, I hoped to see Ruth's face.
Ruth Simms was just about the happiest, perkiest girl I'd ever met. Even her hair was perky — her dark curls were often out of control, bouncing and springing everywhere. Looking at us, no one would think we'd be friends, but somehow we meshed. Probably because we were both outsiders. Ruth came from strict fundamentalist Christian parents who didn't approve of rock music, shorts, or tank tops. They probably didn't approve of me either, but my obsessions — Eat a Peach, The Sky Is Crying, my vintage concert tees — weren't the worst they'd seen from kids in Perry, so I guess that made me okay.
Ruth and I hung out a lot during school and after, although we rarely talked about anything deeper than homework, music (she had a secret love of Joni Mitchell), and our dreams for after college. But I was thankful for her friendship, especially since we were both about to enter this strange new world of high school.
I finally made it to the gym. Still no Ruth. Two lines of students zagged across the basketball court and led to two long tables set up in front of the bleachers. A handful of bored teachers sat behind the tables in folding chairs, handing out thick white envelopes and directing the students where to sign their names. I took my place in the shortest line and kept my head down but lifted my eyes to scan the kids in front of me. Who would be annoying me come September? Who would maybe, just maybe, be a new friend?
As the lines crept forward toward the desks, I heard his voice before I saw who the voice belonged to.
"Nick," the voice said. "Nick Bradley."
His voice was deep — deeper than the guys in eighth grade for sure. I lifted my head. The voice had come from a guy standing a few feet away at the head of the other line. He must have been at least a junior. His phone was tucked into his back pocket and red earbuds snaked up to his ears. He moved his head to a beat only he could hear. I so wanted to ask him what he was listening to, where he came from, something.
My line shifted then, passing me to the front. When the teacher behind the table asked for my name, I said it quietly. She squinted up from her clipboard. "Name?" she repeated. Loudly.
A few feet to my right, Nick glanced at me. The look plainly said, "Poor kid."
The woman said it yet again, and I muttered my name, my cheeks roasting.
"Say it one more time, dear. It sounded like you said Evan."
"I did. My name is Evan Ashby." I enunciated so she wouldn't ask again. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Nick grab his packet and head for the glass doors at the back of the gym. I turned and watched him go. Just before he pushed the metal bar on the door, he looked back over his shoulder.
Later on, when I met Ruth at the Gas-N-Go for slushies, I wanted to ask her if she'd seen the guy at school or around town, but talking about boys was something we rarely did. Ruth wasn't allowed to — I wouldn't have been surprised if her parents had a secret tape recorder in her backpack to make sure she didn't talk about anything sinful — and I didn't often see anyone worth getting worked up over.
But there was something about this guy.
As I'd sat on the front porch with Mom this morning, watching her shell those slippery peas, part of me wanted to tell her how Nick had made me feel — all loosey-goosey inside, as Gus would say. Like my stomach and intestines and whatever else was sliding around, bumping into each other. But my mom wasn't the right person to ask about love.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Glory Road"
Copyright © 2019 Lauren K. Denton.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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