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The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc

Chapter One

A girl has to find out if there's life before death.

Rule Number Forty-seven
The Southern Belle's Handbook

Sissy LeBlanc sank down on her porch swing and heard its old chains groan. She threw back her head and rubbed a cut lemon over her hair to bleach it a little in the sun, all the while wondering if you could really kill yourself with aspirin and Coca-Cola. Of course, she wasn't seriously considering suicide. Sissy never seriously considered suicide. Besides, only a teenager would try to poison herself with aspirin and Coke. She figured a bottle of a hundred would do it. Along with that six-pack of Cokes in her kitchen pantry. God, it was breathless today.

She ran her fingers through her hair. She'd just washed it and had hoped that letting it dry out here in what passed for a breeze would give her some relief. It didn't. She was too restless to do anything much in this heat, not that housework had ever been one of Sissy's priorities.

She'd been restless for days, feeling as if she'd burst if something didn't happen. Of course that was crazy, because nothing ever happened here in Gentry. Except she'd heard Parker Davidson was back. Parker Davidson, her high school sweetheart.

She flipped her wet hair over her face and leaned her chest on her knees. The honeysuckle growing wild along one of the six square columns that held up the porch roof was making another assault on the house, sending tendrils through the cracks in the warped planks under the swing. She'd have to crawl under the porch and do something about it. Soon.

Parker hadn't even called. Not that there was any reason why he should after all these years. She wasn't sure she wanted to see him anyway. He was probably fat and full of himself now. God, this heat was making her crazy.

She sat up and saw a telephone truck had stopped across the street in front of a scarlet oleander bush on the side of the Methodist church. A lineman had already stepped out. She didn't get a good look at his face, but he was big like Parker. That boy was sure traipsing through her mind today. If she went into town, she'd probably see his likeness in half the men who turned a corner or walked in front of her on the street.

As the lineman worked his way up the telephone pole, she saw his suntanned arms glisten with sweat. She watched his back muscles bunch up and smooth out under his wet work shirt.

Memories of old feelings crept over her. She reached for a spray of honeysuckle and wound it in her hair.

Lighting a cigarette, she found herself staring up at the lineman's thighs. She couldn't help but notice how his shrink-to-fit jeans had shrunk just right. She lifted her skirt a tad to let in the breeze.

The lineman pulled himself onto the top crossbar and bent forward to cut the wisteria vines that had twisted around the wires.

Sissy fanned away the smoke hovering in the still air in front of her.

Then he bent backward under the wires. He hung upside down by his knees and leaned way out.

She held her breath.

Reaching his arms above his head, he sheared away the vines. Clumps of wisteria fell through the damp air.

Suddenly, Sissy saw him begin to slip off the crossbar. The ground beneath him was littered with broken cement and covered with gnarled roots. She imagined him falling head first. Dying right there in front of her. Instead he tossed his clippers, jack-knifed up, grabbed hold of the crossbar. And waved.

Jesus! Sissy blew out a column of smoke. Of course he'd reminded her of Parker Davidson. He was Parker Davidson! And he was showing off just like he'd done in high school.

She stood up and waved back. Why'd he have to see her today of all days, when she looked like a drowned cat? As he made his way down the telephone pole, she slipped inside.

Sissy wasn't really beautiful, but men never noticed. With her deep green eyes, her shoulder-length auburn hair that swung when she moved, and the way she moved as if she enjoyed just being inside her body, men had always paid her lots of attention. Although after fourteen years of marriage to Peewee LeBlanc, she'd begun to need reassurance. Leaning into the little round mirror she'd hung by the kitchen door, she freshened her lipstick and grimaced. She took her hair and the eyes for granted. She was worrying about the almost imperceptible lines at the corners of her mouth and the tiny fleshy places that seemed to have dropped overnight from the edge of her chin.

But then, Sissy thought, it's not what a girl looks like that captivates a man. It's how hard he has to work for her. A smart girl makes a man sweat. She decided to make that Rule Number Sixteen in The Southern Belle's Handbook, which was what Sissy had ironically titled that compendium of helpful hints and rules her mother and grandmother had tried so hard to instill in her. Her mother had wanted her to grow up a gracious Southern lady. Her grandmother just didn't want the bastards to grind her down. Sissy had added to it over the years, until the Southern Belle's Handbook became her personal credo. She kept it in her head, assigning numbers at random, but then Sissy always had a random relationship with numbers.

Through the screen door, she saw Parker walk across the street. She filled two tall glasses with ice and grabbed a couple of Cokes from the pantry. All thought of mixing them with aspirin had…

Excerpted from The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc © Copyright 2002 by Loraine Despres. Reprinted with permission by HarperPerennial. All rights reserved.

The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc
by by Loraine Despres

  • paperback: 342 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0060505885
  • ISBN-13: 9780060505882