Sweet Southern Hearts
Author: Susan Schild
Publisher: Lyrical Press
Genre: Contemporary Women's Fiction
Susan Schild welcomes you back to the offbeat Southern town of Willow Hill, North Carolina, for a humorous, heartwarming story of new beginnings, do-overs, and self-discovery…
When it comes to marriage, third time’s the charm for Linny Taylor. She’s thrilled to be on her honeymoon with Jack Avery, Willow Hill’s handsome veterinarian. But just like the hair-raising white water rafting trip Jack persuades her to take, newlywed life has plenty of dips and bumps.
Jack’s twelve-year-old son is resisting all Linny’s efforts to be the perfect stepmother, while her own mother, Dottie, begs her to tag along on the first week of a free-wheeling RV adventure. Who knew women “of a certain age” could drum up so much trouble? No sooner is Linny sighing with relief at being back home than she’s helping her frazzled sister with a new baby…and dealing with an unexpected legacy from her late ex. Life is fuller—and richer—than she ever imagined, but if there’s one thing Linny’s learned by now, it’s that there’s always room for another sweet surprise…
Back home, after they’d unpacked Jack left to pick up Neal at his ex-wife’s house and Linny hopped in her trusty old Volvo to drive the ten miles from their farmhouse to her mother’s house. She bumped down the long gravel road lined by rows of bushy tobacco plants thriving on the land her mama owned and leased out to other farmers. Rolling down the window, she breathed in the country fragrance of loamy earth, mown grass, and honeysuckle. She caught a whiff of skunk and it didn’t bother her a bit. It just smelled like her childhood.
Slowing, she approached the driveway of the aqua blue trailer—the one her mother had let her stay in for free when Linny’s second husband had stolen her money and then died on her. The trailer had become such a haven for her while she’d rebuilt her life. She peered down the driveway, but it was too overgrown for her to see much. She spied a clothesline strung with brightly colored T-shirts and dresses that danced gracefully in the breeze and felt better. Mama said the new renters were a real nice young couple who adored the trailer Linny had turned into a little jewel box with new drywall, fresh paint, and reclaimed wood floors from Habitat Re-Use Center.
Linny pulled in to the driveway of her mother’s tidy ranch, right beside the carport that housed her mother’s Buick. Trotting up the front walkway, Linny knocked on the screen door and looked inside. “Mama? Mama?” she called. In the background she heard a man’s voice on the TV, which was turned up to her mother’s usual blare level. Linny rapped harder and peered in the crack between the door and the frame. Her mother had a hook and eye holding the door shut, her version of home security. Linny pulled her cell from her purse and dialed Dottie but heard the ring and ring of the phone from inside the house. No one picked up. Her heart fluttering faster, Linny cupped her hands and called more loudly, “Mama! Mama!”
A clatter sounded and Curtis barreled down the hallway, woofing a baritone bark that would have sent burglars straight into cardiac rehab at Raleigh Memorial. Her mother followed, cooing to the dog, “Now, sugar, you just hush. That’s just our Linny.”
Breathing a sigh of relief, Linny broke into a smile. Though she’d always loved Mama, she’d only recently begun to really like her. Once Dottie shared the truth about how empty her marriage had been to Linny’s father, some weight had been lifted from her. Dottie had become sunnier, warmer, and more real—and Linny wanted all the time she could get with her. So if Dottie had a cold, Linny worried it was budding pneumonia. If she had a headache, it was a sign of an impending stroke. Dottie was a fit fifty-nine with no real health problems. And ever since she’d met the dapper Mack and begun to play pickle ball and dance the tango with him, she’d lost ten pounds and started doing a Jane Fonda DVD every morning. She could probably lap Linny in a 5K. Trying to hide how rattled she’d been, Linny waved too animatedly and made a big show of fussing over Curtis whose face was now pressed to the screen. “How are you, baby dog?”
Curtis began to wag his long, thick tail—the one that could clear side tables and buckle you if he clipped your knees.
“Sorry for not hearing you sooner, honey. I was snoozing with that Inspirational Living channel on in the background to keep me company,” Dottie said.
Linny tried to be surreptitious in sizing up Dottie as she shooed away the dog and unlocked the door. Her hair was bunched up on either side like she’d slept on it funny, but she was steady on her feet and her eyes were bright. “Hey, Mama.” Linny wrapped her mother in a hug, comforted by the familiar smell of Jergens hand cream and baby powder with a hint of Aqua Net.
“How are you, shug?” Dottie asked, motioning Linny to follow her back into the living room. “How was your trip and why are you back early?”
Dottie sank into her velour chair and reclined and Curtis gracefully curled into a loop on the carpet beside her. Linny filled her in on the honeymoon, omitting the part about Vera’s dramatics and talking instead about Jack needing to get back for a work issue. As her newly tech-savvy mother scrolled through the trip pictures on Linny’s phone, Linny noticed she was wearing a faded, polyester pink zip-up housecoat and those awful white Velcro-shut sandals that she thought had been relegated to the Goodwill box. Those were remnants of the bad old days when disappointment had made Dottie dress like a frumpy woman twenty years older than her actual years.
These days, Dottie had a nice lady at Belk who helped her pick out sassy but age-appropriate clothes. So why was the frumpiness back?
After her mother’s final so pretty! and that looks so sweet, Linny settled back on the couch and cocked her head. “How are you feeling, Mama?”
“Oh, I’m bumping along,” Dottie said, not meeting Linny’s eyes.
Trying to sound casual, Linny persisted. “So you didn’t feel up to going to the RV show?”
“It’d be real crowded, plus my stomach was bothering me.” Dottie picked an imaginary piece of lint from her housecoat.
“I thought it was your feet and your sugar,” Linny said, raising a brow.
Flushing guiltily and probably trying to remember her original ailments, Dottie nodded her head vigorously for emphasis, “It was all three. Stomach, sugar, and feet.”
The poofs on her mother’s hairdo bobbed as she nodded, and Linny pictured Precious the poodle with the faux tummy-toothache-itching issues. Linny was such a bad person. She bit the inside of her cheeks and tried to keep a straight face. “What’s really going on, Mama?”
Her mother blew out a gust of a sigh. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “Maybe I’m just getting cold feet about the whole trip.”
“Why, Mama?” Linny asked. All she and her two friends talked about was Graceland versus Dollywood, interstates or secondary roads, and how to find the most accurate reviews of campsites on the internet.
Dottie paused and blurted out, “I’m scared. What if we have a flat tire or pick up a murdering hitchhiker or fight with one another the whole way? What about beavers with rabies coming after us? That happened in a campground in Arkansas just last weekend. Dragged the man under while he was swimming at the lake. What if we drive over a steep ravine?” She made a swooping downward hand motion to simulate driving off a cliff.
Linny hid her smile. She’d had the same awful visual of the motor home flying off a cliff when she’d first heard about the US of A trip. Clearly, Mama was the genetic link to her own worrywart streak. “Anything else on your mind?”
“Well, none of us are world trotters.” She glanced at Linny and smoothed the lace doily on the arm of the chair.
Linny suppressed a grin. World trotters. Globe travelers. Dottie could mix an idiom, mash a metaphor. But it was a big deal that Mama and her girlfriends, who had been homebodies for most of their lives, were taking this trip. Travel could be daunting, especially when they were all in their late fifties and early sixties and planning on driving a giant bus of a motor home/camper thingy.
Her mother went on, her words rushing as she let them go after penning them up for so long. “I’d never been out of the state before the big cruise and the girls had only been to South Carolina. Ruby went to Myrtle Beach once and Dessie went to Dillon, South Carolina, because she was underage and wanted to marry her first husband, who…”
Linny raised a hand to try to head off the inevitable spelling, but it was too late.
“…turned out to be G-A-Y.” Her mother nodded, looking proud of herself for being so wildly progressive as to know a G-A-Y person. “Anyhow, what if we can’t handle it? What if we get lost? What if Mack finds another lady friend while I’m gone? What if Curtis forgets all about me?” Looking stricken, she leaned over to scratch under the giant dog’s chin and stare at him soulfully.
“You’ve been worrying about this a lot, Mama,” Linny said softly.
Dottie nodded, poodle poofs bobbing again. Linny felt like reaching over and gently smoothing them down but didn’t. Dottie was feeling inadequate enough right now, the way her husband Boyd had made her feel for most of their marriage.
“All of you are smart, competent women, and you did so well on that cruise,” Linny said in a soothing tone. “And you went to all of those islands and had different languages to deal with, and you flew in and out of some of the busiest airports. That’s pretty impressive.” Linny didn’t think she needed to mention that none of them had ever even flown before.
Her mother considered this, a little smile playing at her lips. But after a moment doubts must have crept back because she threw up her hands and shook her head wearily. “I don’t know, sugar. I don’t think I’m up for this.”
“What could make you feel more comfortable about taking this trip, Mama?” Linny’s mind was in high gear, sifting through options. Was there a Triple A deal for RVs or campers? Could the three women pool their money and hire a driver or…
Her mother didn’t miss a beat. “I'd feel better if you came with us on the first week of the trip.” Dottie’s gaze was steady. “You can help us learn the ropes.”
Linny opened her mouth and closed it again. Her big mouth. But she watched her mother patting Curtis and saw the thin gold band she still wore despite her husband’s betrayal. Linny understood every one of her mother’s fears and was so proud of her for all her courage. But Linny’d been married less than a week. She breathed out a sigh. “I can’t, Mama. Jack and I are just getting settled in and Neal’s coming to stay with us for a while.”
“I shouldn’t have even asked,” Her mother nodded, but her lower lip trembled and she looked as though she might cry. “I’m afraid I need to cancel on the girls, then.”
Susan has an undergraduate degree from James Madison University and a master’s degree (MSW) from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has used her professional background as a psychotherapist and corporate trainer to add authenticity to her characters.
Susan is a wife, a stepmother, and a dog lover. She and her family live near Raleigh, North Carolina where she is busy finishing up the third novel in the Willow Hill Series.
a Rafflecopter giveaway