“We walking home together?” Becky Sue asked me as I rummaged through my locker on Friday afternoon. We had just finished up our first week of school and I was in a hurry to go.
“Only if we leave right now,” I told her, slamming my locker door.
“What’s the rush?” Becky eyed my stack of books. “How much homework have you got, anyway?”
Last year’s testing had put me into accelerated classes, Conners’ college prep program. It meant a lot more book work for me. Yet I was glad to be among about twenty in our entire school to be selected for the newly created mix of high-scoring students. I realized that it had fallen to me to do what no female in our family before me had done: go to college.
I said, “Two papers due Monday, plus a current events report for government class. Mr. Kessler wants weekly written reports about current events. He also wants everyone in his class to do a project before the end of the year.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Don’t know. Maybe something about Vietnam because there’s lots of material about it.”
“He lost a son in Vietnam. Remember? We were in fourth grade.”
“I remember.” Mama and Papa had gone to Jeb Kessler’s funeral and to the funerals of three other young men from Conners in the following two years. “I just have to think of a good angle,” I told Becky Sue. “I want an A.”
Becky took two of my books and settled them onto her smaller stack. We walked out of the building together and the September heat hit me like a volleyball slammed over the net. The locals called it Indian summer. I just called it hot. The sidewalk in front of our school swarmed with kids. First graders were lined up waiting for cars to pick them up. Conners only had one school bus and it did triple duty, taking elementary kids home first, then middle-schoolers, and finally high-schoolers. I lived about six blocks from the school and Becky Sue lived two blocks farther, so we never had to ride the bus. We’d walked to and from school together ever since we were nine years old.
“Can you come to Byron’s with me tomorrow?” Becky asked. “I’m going to buy Mom a birthday present.”
Byron’s was Conners’ only department store. Short of going to Atlanta, sixty-five miles north, it was the only place to shop in our town. “I reckon,” I said. “Papa’s driving Mama to Atlanta tomorrow for an appointment at Emory Hospital, so I can’t leave until after they’re gone.”
“All the way to Emory? What’s wrong with Dr. Keller?”
“She’s already been to Dr. Keller and he wants her to go to Emory for some tests.”
“What kind of tests?”
I shrugged. “They didn’t say. That puts me and Adel at the house together alone, so as you can imagine, I don’t want to hang around with my sister all day. Maybe we can go to the movies after you buy your mom’s present.”
Two squirrels jabbered at us from overhead tree branches as we walked.
“Is Adel still going to those weekend get-togethers at the army base?”
“Hasn’t missed a weekend in the past seven,” I said. The training base was just outside Atlanta and was full of young soldiers, but that was about all I knew about it. That and the fact that my sister and her best friend, Sandy, drove there once a week for Red Cross–sponsored gatherings with lonely servicemen. Adel had assured our parents that there was plenty of supervision and that everything was conducted in an upright and proper manner.
There were five years and a whole lot of differences between Adel and me. Ever since her graduation, she’d been working at Papa’s bank. Well, Conners Community Bank didn’t really belong to my father, but he was responsible for running the place. He’d hired Adel for training as a teller right after she graduated from high school because it was a known fact that while my sister was beautiful, she wasn’t college material.
“Bet she’s got herself a boyfriend at the base,” Becky said.
“Bet you’re right. I mean, what would she do without
a boyfriend to worship and adore her?”
We laughed about my sister’s popularity. At school she’d been Queen of Everything and had left a string of brokenhearted boys behind her when she hadn’t agreed to marry any of them. “I don’t plan to stay in Conners,” she’d told everyone. “I want to see the whole wide world.” But to me it looked like Conners was where she’d always be. I, of course, was planning on staying in our hometown forever. I loved Conners.
A car full of boys drove past us. The driver honked the horn. J. T. Rucker, a junior and one of our high school’s top football players, leaned out the window. “Hey, Boney Maroney! How’s your sister? She ready for a real man?”
I felt my face flush. “You know any?” I yelled back.
“Come over here, Darcy. I’ll show you my manhood.”
“Get lost, you creep!”
He slapped the side of the car hard, making me jump; he laughed and the car drove off. “I really hate that guy!” I said to Becky.
“Don’t judge all boys by J.T. Take Russell Danby, for instance. Don’t you think he’s cute?”
We’d known Russell since first grade and I’d never thought he was cute. “When did you start thinking Russell was cute?” I asked.
“Ever since third period when I dropped my pencil and he picked it up for me. When our fingers touched, I got a physical shock. I’m telling you, it went right through me. It was like I was seeing him for the first time. My heart went thump-thump and I knew he was the one I wanted.”
I decided not to mention static electricity. Becky Sue was my best friend. She liked a different boy every year. She’d write his name on her notebook cover and go all flirty every time she got within ten feet of him. “So your heart thumped—that’s a dead giveaway if I ever heard one.”
“One day you’re going to fall like a rock for some boy and I can’t wait until it happens. Then you’ll see what it feels like and you won’t be so skeptical of others’ emotions,” Becky lectured.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Garden of Angels by Lurlene McDaniel. Copyright © 2003 by Lurlene McDaniel. Excerpted by permission of Laurel Leaf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.