Peaches with bonus mater.., p.1
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       Peaches with Bonus Material, p.1
 

           Jodi Lynn Anderson
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Peaches with Bonus Material


  Peaches

  with Bonus Material

  A Novel by

  Jodi Lynn Anderson

  Dedication

  For the Breakspears, who taught me long

  ago what friends can be

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Dedication

  Before

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Acknowledgments

  Excerpt from Tiger Lily

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Back Ads

  About the Author

  Credits

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  Before

  That summer, at a bar on Mertie Creek, two truckers by the names of Saddle Tramp and Mad Dog emerged from a night of drinking booze and listening to Kenny Chesney on the jukebox to find girls’ underwear—one thong, one Days of the Week (Sunday), and one monkey face—lying across their windshields. That same summer, rotten fish of an unidentified variety was found in the vent openings of several bathrooms at the Balmeade Country Club, and nobody suspected the connection. In late August, Lucretia Cawley-Smith was forced to admit to herself that she loved her oldest daughter best. Jodee McGowen stopped wearing seagulls on her nail polish for good. And on September 1, a migrant worker by the name of Enrico Fiol left Georgia carrying a tuft of dog fur in his shirt pocket.

  Through it all, the Darlington Peach Orchard, with a past as shady as the grass under its tallest trees and a future teetering on the edge of extinction, stretched itself over the summer like it had every summer previously—softly, quietly, and shyly, like a belle walking up the stairs of her first ball.

  That spring, Murphy McGowen, sixteen, of Bridgewater’s Anthill Acres Trailer Park (whose mom, Jodee, had dated, in chronological order, the WRUZ Praise DJ, Horatio Balmeade, and one of the Bridgewater High School Statesmen football players), did not notice anything that might be interesting about the orchard, her town, or existence in general. Murphy was missing from her own life and she didn’t even know it.

  Walking by Hidden Creek Primitive House of Worship one Sunday, Murphy didn’t know that Birdie Darlington, of Darlington Orchard, was inside, stuck between her parents like the peanut butter in a sandwich that was falling apart, wishing she was anywhere else, although she wasn’t sure where. Nor did Murphy know that Leeda Cawley-Smith was four miles away getting a maple sugar massage at her family’s B & B, wondering how she could look like a million dollars but feel like twenty cents simply because her sister, Danay, was lying next to her, looking even better.

  So, that spring morning, Murphy just kept walking, staring at the sign out in front of the church with the weekly message scrawled in black block letters. This week’s message was Let It Be.

  It was funny. That was probably her least favorite Beatles song—and Murphy had a tiny tattoo of Ringo Starr beside her left-lower-back dimple. Murphy wasn’t about to buy into the message. But then, if she had, the summer would never have come to be what it was.

  Birdie and Leeda might never have found their answers. Two truckers would have been less three undies. And Murphy would have never realized she was missing from her life at all.

  Chapter One

  Every spring since she had turned thirteen had started the same way for Murphy McGowen. She started feeling restless at the very same time as the crocuses began busting out of their buds every year. She’d start to want to bust out of her skin too, into a skin that lived, say, in New York, or Paris, or Buenos Aires, anyplace that wasn’t Bridgewater, Georgia. Outside the historic downtown district—which was basically unlived in and which barely any tourists came to—the town was mostly a strip of motels, fast-food joints, and traffic lights.

  From then on, each spring had started with

  A. The restlessness

  B. The ache in her chest for the thing she didn’t know was missing

  C. The guy with the hand up her shirt

  At fifteen, there was also the addition of the other hand, down the pants—usually cords, sometimes army surplus, all three dollars or less at Village Thrift. The boys she hadn’t bargained for; they had just sort of come. Because like many girls in Georgia, Murphy was as girl as a girl could be. Green eyed and smooth skinned with beauty marks here and there on her cheeks, with brown wavy hair and high apple breasts. Like most young girls at the Piggly Wiggly on any given day, she was more juicy than fine, more sexy than delicately beautiful. In a word, Murphy McGowen was yummy. A few more words that had been used to describe her were brilliant, bold, and rotten.

  Her favorite spot for C. was the edge of the Darlington Peach Orchard, just two miles out of the center of town, but what felt like a million miles from anything resembling the Piggly Wiggly. Most of Bridgewater felt like a collision of old southern big-porched homes and a giant strip mall. The orchard, with its endless acreage and overgrown greenery, felt like the Garden of Eden.

  Murphy, who wasn’t much into nature, didn’t know why she liked it. In lots of ways it was a mess. The white fence that ran along the property line was chipped and rotting. An old tractor had been abandoned by the train tracks and was grown over with weeds. The farm itself was obscured by layers of overgrowth along this edge so thick that even now, when there were no leaves, Murphy could see only tiny glimpses of the peach trees themselves and the white farmhouse through the brush.

  The cold metal of the tracks dug into her butt as she took a sip of warm Mello Yello. She kicked off her sticky old Dr. Scholl’s sandals from Village Thrift, letting her bare soles bask in the warmest night they’d had since the fall. Across the grass behind them, Gavin’s car was choking out staticky Coldplay, a band Gavin said was brilliant, though Murphy claimed all their songs sounded exactly the same.

  Murphy watched lazily as Gavin, whose last name she didn’t remember, ran his fingers lightly up and down the back of her calves like they were made of gold. His eyes trailed up and down her legs.

  “What do you wanna do?” she asked, pushing her toes into the grass. She mentally urged Gavin to say something original. Impress me, she thought. Already she was wishing she’d come alone. Gavin was oblivious to their surroundings, which was depressing.

  The truth was, there was nothing she wanted to do. She wanted to float out of her body, out of Bridgewater, up to the moon. Coming to the orchard always made her restless. Energized with nowhere to put it. Stuffed up.

  When her mom had used to take her here on picnics, before the onslaught of boyfriends paraded into their lives, Jodee had said, “It makes me feel young, baby.” And maybe that was it. Sneaking onto the orchard grounds made Murphy feel the way she figured a girl her age was supposed to feel—awake. Though Gavin was making a valiant effort at bringing that down a notch.

  He squeezed her calf and then moved onto his knees like he was praying to her, putting his hands on her tight coil of a waist. Murphy held her can of soda aside to accept the
touch of his lips. He was ridiculously cute, she had to admit. But a lot of guys were. Somewhere along the line that had stopped being exciting. While he moved his mouth to the soft skin on the side of her neck, she watched the moon above them, which was three-quarters full and surrounded by a white haze. It made her think about how she couldn’t believe how big the universe was, but how small it was for her. Maybe she’d be sitting in Bridgewater when she was eighty, making out with somebody with just gums.

  “I’m bored.” It came out matter-of-factly. She extracted herself from him.

  Gavin pulled back and frowned at her from under his eyebrows, hurt. “Thanks.” He ran a hand through his messy brown hair and then scratched at his stomach through his thin White Stripes T-shirt. He pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and held one to his lips, lighting it. He looked irritated.

  Murphy wasn’t surprised. It was typical. Boys came in one flavor. The flavor that couldn’t stand it when you didn’t let them play with your toys.

  “Anyway, your tongue’s all slimy,” she said, bouncing up onto her feet. “Don’t you swallow, ever?”

  “You’re rough, Murph.”

  “Murphy. I hate it when people try to give me nicknames.”

  “Right, Murphy. Well, nobody else I’ve dated has complained.”

  “We’re not dating,” she said evenly.

  Gavin shook his head at her the way boys sometimes did, like he’d touched a hot plate and had to put it down. “Well, if you’re bored, what do you want to do?” His eyes squinted as he took a puff of his cigarette.

  Murphy jumped from one side of the track to the other, then back, then gazed into the trees that, she knew, led to the real heart of the orchard and up to the house. She knew this because she’d seen the house down the long dirt driveway on Orchard Drive, although she’d never explored beyond this area around the tracks.

  “Who cares? I just want to go somewhere.”

  “Done. We’ll hit Bob’s Big Boy. I’m starving,” Gavin said, substituting love of sex for love of food in the grand tradition of all guys everywhere. He sat up.

  “I’m not allowed in there.”

  Last year Murphy and a couple of friends had dismantled Bob’s Big Boy and left his giant punctured body parts scattered across downtown. When she’d finally gotten caught, the Bob’s Big Boy people had taken her picture and put it up in the manager’s office. Now she had to eat at Kuntry Kitchen.

  But when she’d suggested going somewhere, she hadn’t meant anything like that, anyway. She’d just turned in a report this week on a tribe of lesbian monkeys in Zambia, a topic she’d chosen to spite her ultra-homophobic AP Bio teacher, Mr. Jackson. She’d like to go to Zambia and see the lesbian monkeys. But despite the fact that she’d nailed the gay primate report, which she’d titled “We’re Here, Ooh Ee Ah Ah, Get Used to It,” Google was probably the closest Murphy would ever get to anyplace halfway exotic.

  “If we don’t do something vaguely interesting, I’m going to kill myself,” she said, hooking her index and middle fingers into the heels of her sandals and starting to walk.

  She stared at the droopy layer of branches up ahead. She and her mom had never breached them when they were both younger. It had been an unspoken thing between them: that the McGowens didn’t belong beyond the growth, that it was nice to have boundaries, and that some things were best when they were secret. Things were different now, though. Even with Google, lesbian monkeys had lost their mystery.

  Murphy’s pulse had picked up slightly, like it always did, at the thought of doing something with a high risk-to-reward ratio.

  She felt Gavin’s eyes traveling over her body behind her. Murphy took it as a matter of course. She knew what she was; she never looked in the mirror and wondered whether she was pretty or not, sexy or not. Gavin followed, not because he wanted to touch the mystery, but because he was a guy, and he couldn’t help it.

  Murphy dropped her sandals at the edge of the cool grass and tiptoed up onto the porch of Birdie Darlington’s house, where Birdie’s mother, Cynthia, the other half of the sandwich, had lived until just that morning. Murphy squinted at a plaque beside the door that proclaimed the house had been built in 1861.

  The door was locked. Murphy tiptoed over to the window to the left and tried it, sliding it open without a problem. She had shimmied through many windows—of boys’ rooms, of camp cafeterias, of the school gym. She shimmied through this one with ease, leaving Gavin standing on the grass in front of the porch, where he was without a doubt watching her butt.

  The house smelled like it had been around since 1861. Murphy let her eyes adjust to the dark and then took a few creaking steps, listening for any sound. Nothing. She was in the dining room—a good place to start. She looked through the mahogany cabinet on the far side of the room, then the sideboard cupboard. Nothing.

  She wandered out of the dining room into a hallway and then down the hallway to where it dead-ended at a small kitchen.

  There was a little round table here and some framed photographs on the walls of a woman—Mrs. Darlington, Murphy assumed—standing in a black low-rimmed hat, holding a stirrup cup, and smiling in a Botox-like way that didn’t affect anything on her face but her lips. There was one of Mrs. Darlington and a gawky young girl, tennish, standing in front of the World’s Largest Peanut. Murphy remembered seeing the two before—in Bridgewater you saw everyone eventually—the girl trailing behind her mom like a puppy. In the picture, neither of them looked too thrilled about the peanut. But they wore twin smiles, and like in the other picture, the smile looked out of place on the faces.

  A bowl lay on the floor just to the right of the table, decorated with flowers and butterflies and personalized with the words Property of Toonsis. On the table, a piece of paper lay unfolded. Murphy had spotted a pair of curtains in the far corner. Walking over and parting them, she revealed what she’d thought she would, a stacked pantry—full of cracker boxes and cereal boxes and jelly jars filled with preserves and bags of bread. On the top shelf, tucked between a package of napkins and a bag of marshmallows, was a bottle. Crème de menthe.

  Well, it beat nothing.

  Biting her full bottom lip, Murphy stepped onto the bottom shelf to reach it, frowning as she pulled it down and swilled around the liquid inside. It was only about a quarter full. As she stepped down, she lost her balance slightly and landed on the linoleum with a little thud.

  Damn. She froze and listened.

  Tap tap tap. Tap tap tap. From directly above her head came the sound of paws on hardwood, tentative, thoughtful. Tiny dogs’ paws.

  Murphy sucked in her breath and stayed still for a few seconds, listening to the silence. A few seconds later she tried to move soundlessly, stepping toward the archway into the hall. The floor creaked beneath her.

  “Yip yip yip!” Tap tap tap tap. Now she could hear the dogs—more than one—moving across the floor above in a dead-straight line, their little footsteps slipping and sliding as they tripped over what sounded like the beginning of stairs, yipping in unison. A sound of heavy feet hitting the hardwood overhead followed.

  Murphy dashed down the hall as quietly as she could and hung a hard right into the dining room, hearing the dogs slip and slide down the stairs, frantic now. She clasped the crème de menthe to her breasts with one arm while holding her balance on the sill with the other, flinging one leg out the window.

  The dogs hit the ground floor with more yips.

  Murphy dove through the window, scraping her side against the molding, and yanked herself out with her free hand, planting it on the deck and pulling her other leg out.

  “Hey!” a male voice thundered from deep inside the house. Murphy didn’t look back. She jumped onto her feet. Gavin stood on the grass in front of her, his eyes wide.

  “Not a problem,” Murphy hissed, leaping over the three stairs that led from the deck to the grass. She broke into a run as soon as her bare feet touched down. Gavin raced after her. She could hear his breath behind
her as he tried to keep up and the sound of the front door of the house opening.

  “Get back here!” the voice called from behind them. After that there was silence for a second, then the unmistakable sound of a shotgun being cocked. Oh God.

  They started really running now, Murphy’s heels practically kicking her butt as they sprinted between the trees. She looked back once, her heart pounding, and saw a tall, broad man behind them, lumbering after her. Out ahead of him on the ground, yipping away and moving across the grass as fast as their skinny little legs could carry them, were two of the tiniest dogs Murphy had ever seen, their huge ears flapping.

  But three-inch legs could only move so far, so fast. She and Gavin were pulling way out in front. Up ahead, through the gap in the trees, she could see Gavin’s beat-up old Honda parked on the grass. She looked back again to reassure herself they were going to make it.

  Umph!

  Murphy’s foot hooked into the bridge of a protruding root. She landed with her upper body sprawling across the train tracks. Underneath her, the crème de menthe shattered and stabbed at her through her short overalls. At the same time, her ankle exploded with unbelievable pain.

  “Help!” Murphy called. Gavin had landed on the other side of the tracks and turned to look at her, then beyond her.

  “Yip yip yip!”

  “Help me up!”

  Gavin seemed to be considering.

  Murphy stared at him, helpless and disbelieving. “Come on!”

 
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