This is from my new novel, The Sanity of Strawberries, to be published in 2018.
I should have known William Delaney was bad news the first time he stepped up on Mama’s front porch, on account of he showed up with my cousin Drake, and everybody knew what all kinds of meanness Drake was into. But all I could think of when I saw William was how big he was. Big and tall and solid. Ever one of us Meadows looked like the runt of the litter, pushed back on the hind tit and never getting quite enough to grow right. William looked like he always got his share and then some.
The old boards bowed a little with his weight and he stood there looking down at me with the evening sun so bright behind him it was like looking up at a big man-shaped shadow outlined in bright gold.
I was on the porch because there was no room in the little living room, not even on the floor. My sister, Brenna Mae, had moved back in with her three kids and her boyfriend and his two kids. With Mama and Earl that made nine people in there squashed up together in front of two rusty box fans and the new 52 inch TV Earl just brought home from somewhere.
Grandma Mary Ella shared my room since she got kicked out of the nursing home for setting her sheets on fire by falling asleep smoking. It was my fault, really, I was the one who took her the smokes. She wanted them so bad, I couldn’t say no. So I said she could share my room and I’d look after her. I didn’t mind, she was a sweet old thing, you know? But after Brenna Mae came back home, it just got too crowded to breathe hardly. Grandma was in there now taking taking a “nap” – knocked out on pain pills – which is why I couldn’t hide out there like I did sometimes.
When Drake said, “Hey Misty, want to take a ride in a brand new pick-up?,” it should have been a no-brainer. An automatic no-way-ho-say cause running around with Drake was likely to be hazardous to your health and a danger to your freedom. Last time I went anywhere with him I ended up walking six miles home in the dark while Drake got escorted to the county lockup.
But when William stuck his big hand down in front of me, I grabbed on and let him pull me up. I climbed up in the cab of his pickup truck without him having to ask twice and sat there between him and Drake with the air conditioner cooling my face and William’s solid denim covered thigh right up against my bare leg. By the time we dropped Drake off at the Thirsty Hog, I was already half in love with William’s rumbling bass voice, his easy laughter, his dimple that winked in and out with every smile.
I went home with him that first day and when I saw the house I was a goner. Two stories, bright white with fresh paint, surrounded by a big yard shaded by a dozen hundred year old oaks, then all that farmland stretching out flat and green as far as you could see. Delaney crops growing on Delaney land. Four bedrooms, five baths, and a living room bigger than our whole house.
I was half in love with William. And all the way in love with the idea of being a Delaney, of being somebody who belonged in that house.
That was my mistake, the thing I did that caused everything else.