BOOK DETAILS

Jaybird's Song

Jaybird's Song

by Kathy Wilson Florence

ASIN: B01MUWFBES

Publisher Kathy Wilson Florence

Published in Literature & Fiction/Contemporary, Literature & Fiction/Genre Fiction, Literature & Fiction

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Book Description

Affectionately called “Jaybird” by the father she adores, Josie Flint’s childhood in 1960s Atlanta is defined by her role as the oldest of the three sisters and crowned with the presence of her grandmother, Annie Jo.

Surrounding their world, however, is the turbulent South. As Josie’s school desegregates and the country meanders through new ideas, a personal tragedy breaches Josie’s world.

Josie’s story is told from her teenage years and 35 years later when her beloved grandmother dies. When a long-kept secret unfolds for the Flint family, a new kind of heartache begins.

Sample Chapter

American astronauts landed on the moon the day I almost lost my virginity. It was July 20, 1969, a Sunday afternoon just a little more than a year after my Daddy died.

The world was focused on America and the first-ever mission that might really bring astronauts to the moon, beating the Russian cosmonauts to the feat. My sisters and I had been cutting newspaper articles from the Atlanta Constitution for weeks to put together a scrapbook Mother said we would want to show our children some day. Everyone I knew had plans to watch the televised moon landing later that afternoon.

But it was the middle of summer and my new best friend LaDarla and I had been invited to Lake Allatoona with the Carr family. We spent Saturday night at Karen Carr’s house and on Sunday we drove to her family’s lake house with plans for an entire day of boating and skiing.

The three of us had been spending a lot of time together that year. Karen was the last of the three of us to turn 16. I’d been 16 for two and a half months.

Karen’s mother fried chicken and made a big Tupperware-full of macaroni salad Saturday night while Karen and LaDarla and I listened to my “Tommy” album by The Who and made up dance routines to “Pinball Wizard.”

“Is everyone excited about the lake?” asked Mrs. Carr as she held out a plate of brownies. All three of us extended an arm, each wrapped in identical macramé bracelets, toward the plate at the same time.

“Don’t stay up too late tonight girls. We’ll leave early in the morning.”

Mrs. Carr looked more like a typical mother than my mother did. She wore a pinafore-style apron over her shirtwaist dress, and her hair was cut short and curled around her face.

“We’re really glad you can join us, girls,” she added smiling, but she was looking directly at me.

That feeling again.

It had been 15 months since my father’s death, but I still felt people lingering when they looked at me like they had more to say, but couldn’t bring themselves to do it.

“Thanks for the brownies, Mom. We’ll go to sleep soon,” Karen shouted as she turned up the volume of the record player.

I sensed that Mrs. Carr might still be looking at me, but I pretended to look for something in my overnight bag and didn’t look up. I saw LaDarla dancing in front of the mirror as I pulled out my shorty pajamas from the bag and Mrs. Carr shut the door with a melodic, “Well, good night, ladies.”

The next morning we packed the car with the picnic lunch, beach towels, a change of clothes, extra life jackets and a cooler of Cokes and Sprites. The three of us rode in the backseat of the Carrs’ mint green station wagon to the lake house.

Karen’s brother Steve had just finished his freshman year at North Georgia College and was taking summer classes to get ahead. I had met him many times at the high school football games before he graduated from Northbridge and he’d never given us much attention, but I knew he had good manners. He’d won the citizenship award at our school’s honors day.

He and four friends from college arrived in a yellow Volkswagen soon after we arrived at the lake house, and they all jumped out of the tiny car like clowns at the circus — if clowns were shirtless, tanned and good looking and had much nicer bodies than high school boys.

We packed the pontoon boat with the picnic supplies, extra gasoline and coolers while Steve and his friends loaded the skis and ski ropes into the Carrs’ ski boat, which was already hitched to an old truck they kept parked on a gravel driveway next to their lake house. The plan was to drive both boats to the marina where we would put the boats in the water and then anchor the pontoon out in the water while the ski boat carried up to six skiers and spotters at a time. Those on the pontoon boat could swim aside the boat or sun on the deck.

LaDarla, Karen and I had all tried on our bathing suits the night before and fussed over how we were going to look in them in front of college boys. Karen ended up letting me borrow one of hers because she and LaDarla thought it was a lot cuter than mine.

“It makes you look rounder at the top, Josie,” Karen said. “And that’s a good thing.”

But the boys were much better looking than we had anticipated, and I was really grateful for the cutoffs and t-shirt I’d worn over my suit as I tried out excuses in my mind of why I might not take them off all day.

“Mine’s the one with the blond hair!” LaDarla teased when we were alone in the kitchen.

“They’re all dolls!” said Karen in a half-squeal, half-whisper. “This might be weird because my brother thinks I’m a big dork. No telling what he’s told these guys.”

We were just preparing to leave when Mrs. Carr crawled over the trailer hitch between the station wagon and the pontoon and sliced her leg all the way from ankle to mid calf on a sharp piece of rusty metal on the side of the hitch.

“Jim! Oh my gosh! Jim!” she screamed. We all came running.

The bright red blood was running down her leg, becoming dark, grainy and coagulated as it mixed with the dusty gravel of the driveway below her.

She looked like she was going faint. Steve rushed to pull her arm around his shoulder as Mr. Carr took a closer look.

“Okay, this is going to require stitches and fast,” said Jim Carr, an accountant who clearly knew how to stay calm in a crisis.

“Karen, get some towels and some rope or tape. Steve, there is duct tape in the ski boat console. Get that,” he ordered. “Karen, get your mother a big cup of water, and the rest of you boys unhook the boat so we can get the station wagon clear. I’ll get your mother to the car. We’ll go to the emergency room in Cartersville.”

Mr. Carr took over as the shoulder to lean on and led his wife to the back seat of the station wagon as his children darted into action.

“Josie, get a blanket off of one of the beds and bring it to her,” he yelled as he helped her settle her into the car.

Mr. Carr wrapped her leg in a towel and taped it with the duct tape. He covered her with the blanket and handed her the water, checked the then-unhooked hitch and was ready to leave in just minutes.

“Should we go with you, Dad?” Karen asked.

“You all stay here,” he said wiping sweat from under his chin with the back of his arm. “Steve, take the extra gas cans to the station on Highway 41. I forgot to stop on the way in. That way we won’t have to pay the marina prices.”

He pulled a twenty from his wallet and handed it to Steve.

“Hopefully, we will be back quickly and your mother will still be up for some boating this afternoon.”

Karen peeked into the back seat of the car where her mother was looking pale. LaDarla and I stepped up behind her.

“Karen, go ahead and bring the food into the house because y’all will be getting hungry,” she said. “We’ll be back as soon as we can.”

Dust kicked up from around the station wagon as they took off down the driveway and up the gravel road toward the main highway.

“I guess that means we can’t take out the speed boat until they get back?” asked one of Steve’s friends.

“No. I don’t think so,” Steve responded. “I think my dad would have said so if he thought that was okay.”

“I’ve driven lots of boats,” he tried again. “You don’t have to worry about that.”

“I’m sorry, Cary. I think we are stuck here at the house until they get back.”

The one named Cary rolled his eyes and looked at the other guys.

“Well, at least we can go get the gas your dad wanted you to take care of,” offered the tallest boy, Nate. “I’ll ride with you. Anyone else want to go?”

“We’ll stay here,” said Karen looking at me for assurance.

“I’ll stay too,” said Cary looking at the remaining two guys and nodding. “The rest of us will stay here and hang out until you get back.”

“All right,” Steve shrugged as he threw two empty gas cans into the back seat of the VW and grabbed a shirt from the back seat and pulled it over his head. “We’ll be back soon.”

The rest of us entered the house and the girls went to the back porch while the guys went to the living room. The awkwardness was debilitating as LaDarla, Karen and I tried to find something to do that didn’t involve peeking or obvious eavesdropping on these three college guys we found ourselves alone with. Starting a game didn’t seem right. There wasn’t a television there. It was too early to get out the lunch. And when we tried talking, we found ourselves whispering so the guys wouldn’t hear us, and that felt weird too.

Finally, LaDarla picked up a Tiger Beat magazine she’d found in a rack by the sofa and headed out to the outdoor swing. Karen found a book on the shelf and curled up on the sofa. I walked out to the screened porch where I could sit and look at the tops of the trees that blocked the view of the lake beyond. Dark clouds were rolling in.

I could see LaDarla’s back as she moved back and forth on the squeaky swing. It wasn’t long before I saw the blonde boy, Jake, talking with her and then joining her on the swing. I looked again and he’d moved his arm around her shoulders.

I’d kissed my first boyfriend Tommy Wilson a lot of times. I’d tried kissing my neighbor Donnie Baker twice but both times were fails. Other than a spin-the-bottle game I played at a church youth group night and got stuck with two different guys I didn’t know— one who pecked me on the lips, the other who just offered an awkward hug— my experience stopped there.

I was just wondering what my mother and Annie Jo would think about how this day was turning out when Cary walked onto the screened porch and plopped himself down beside me.

“Josie, right?” he said.

“Yeah,” I managed. “Cary?”

“Yep. Steve was on my hall at school last year. He and Nate were roommates. My roommate was a dud so I hung out with Steve and Nate most of the time.”

“At North Georgia College?”

“Yep. Dahlonega. Have you ever been there?” and before I could answer, “How old are you anyway?”

“No, I’ve never been there. And I’m 16.”

“High school,” he said. “I remember high school.”

“Aren’t you a freshman?” I knew my face was making the kind of snarl that my sister, Ansley, said made me look like a constipated ape.

“Sophomore as soon as I finish this summer quarter. I’ll be doing ROTC starting in September.”

We talked about the rain that was beginning to fall. He asked me about several people he thought I’d know from Atlanta, but I didn’t. I warmed up to him a bit after he talked about his younger brother who had Downs Syndrome, and when he offered, “I’m just teasing you about high school. You actually seem older than you are.”

Jake and LaDarla left the swing when the rain started and moved into the house. When Cary suggested we move inside too, I expected to find them in the living room but no one was there or in the kitchen.

“Come back here, I’ll show you a picture of Joby,” he said pointing to one of the back bedrooms in the Carr’s lake house.

He picked up a duffel bag from the floor and pulled his wallet from the side pocket.

“This is my brother Joby,” he said proudly. “He’s 7.”

The boy’s ear-to-ear smile was bent about three quarters of the way through before it finished on the other side. His eyes were bright blue and his hair stood up with a partial crew cut, but the sides were a little longer, almost like Captain Kangaroo.

“He’s so cute. And I like his name.”

“It’s really John Benjamin Grant, but we shortened it to Joby when he was a baby.”

“Even cuter,” I said. “Joby Grant. I’d like to meet him.”

Cary tossed the duffel bag back to the corner of the room and walked toward the door and quietly closed it.

“Wait. So, you’re Cary Grant?”

My mind was catapulting between the peculiar coincidence of his name and the fact that he’d just shut the bedroom door.

“Cary R. Grant. The ‘R’ is for Richard.”

He sounded as if he’d explained this before.

“Besides,” he added. “It’s my real name. The actor Cary Grant is really named Archibald Leach or something stupid like that.”

“No way.”

“It’s true, but who cares?” He sat on the bed and patted the spot beside him. “So Josie... I’ve only heard of one other Josie and she was in a comic book.”

“It’s short for Josephine. I was named after my grandmother.”

“You have pretty eyes, Josephine-named-for-your-grandmother.”

I swallowed hard and wondered what LaDarla and Karen were doing.

“Really, sit down. You are cute, and there’s nothing to do until Steve’s parents get back from the hospital anyway.”

I sat down but pointed my knees toward him to keep a little distance.

It didn’t work.

It wasn’t long before we were sitting side-by-side kissing, and not long after that we were lying on the bed kissing and his hands were inching toward my breasts in nonchalant ingress and egress.

Ingress and egress.

We’d learned the terms in social studies when talking about cities. Reviewing the vocabulary words in my mind gave me something to think about other than that the hand of a college boy I’d just met was moving back and forth toward my right boob.

And then more ingress, and this time through the sleeve of my t-shirt and with a slip of several fingers right underneath the elastic of my bathing suit top.

“Um, maybe we’d better see what everyone else is doing.” I tried sitting up but he put his face over mine and pushed forward with another deep French kiss.

“They’re all doing the same thing we’re doing, Josephine. Relax.”

I wondered if that were true.

“Well, just kissing, okay?” I said, noting the teasing inflection as he said my formal name.

“Just kissing. I promise,” he smiled. “Sorry about that little slip. It won’t happen again.”

He was cute. The dimple on his left cheek was as deep as Mother’s when he smiled. His eyes were a greener-blue than his brother’s but still had a lot of blue.

And he promised.

I relaxed while my mind whirled.

I’m kissing Cary Grant. I’m kissing a college guy. And he thinks I have pretty eyes. Are my friends kissing their college guys too? LaDarla and the blonde one? Karen and the one with the blue shirt?

I’d almost forgotten about Mrs. Carr’s leg and the picnic and the lake plans as I got more and more comfortable making out with Cary R. Grant on a bed in a lake house more than an hour’s drive from my sisters and mother and grandmother and my school and our house and our dog Cupie. It occurred to me that Cary didn’t know anything about what happened to my father and to our family.

I don’t want him to know, I thought as Cary stood up, pulled off his bathing suit and dropped it to the floor.

My heart was beating wildly as I pulled up to my elbows and leveled my eyes to his faded Rolling Stones t-shirt with the gnarled face of a cartoon Keith Richards before I got the courage to look further down.

Up to that point, I don’t think I’d ever even said the word penis. My friends and I whispered about boys’ willies or things, but this was no willie or thing. It was a fully engorged penis.

Engorged. I’d hated that word even when I saw it for the first time in the “Wonderfully Made” book Mother had given me after I started my period.

My eyes shot back to his eyes and he was smiling at me. But this time he didn’t look cute at all.

I jumped off the bed and reached for the doorknob.

“Um, sorry. No,” I stammered. “I’ve got to find Karen and LaDarla.”

I was halfway down the hall before I finished my sentence, with my head reeling with whether I should have expected that or not.

I found the other four bringing the picnic in from the boat and setting up lunch on the kitchen counter.

“There you are. We’ve been wondering about you,” LaDarla sang with a teasing smile.

“Where’s Cary?” the third guy asked.

Fortunately Steve and Nate walked through the door before I was forced to answer.

“We’ve got the gas. Have y’all heard from Mom and Dad?” He looked at Karen.

“Well since we don’t have a phone here, no,” she said. “I guess you could go check for smoke signals.”

I saw her glance at LaDarla to question the smart aleck tone, but LaDarla dropped her face toward the ground, uncertain herself.

Steve ignored her. “Well I’m starved,” he said, grabbing a paper plate and piling it with macaroni salad and three chicken drumsticks.

By the time we’d all made our plates and were heading for the porch picnic table, Cary emerged. He was still wearing the Keith Richards t-shirt but had changed from his bathing suit into a pair of blue jean cutoffs.

Steve brought a transistor radio from the car, and we all listened to the broadcast from NASA, where the Apollo 11 was approaching the first moon landing.

The rain had stopped, so Karen, LaDarla and I walked down to the lake after lunch.

“Well, how did it go with Jake and Cary?” Karen asked. “Are they nice? Do you like them?”

“Jake’s really cute,” said LaDarla.

“Did you kiss him?” Karen whispered urgently.

“No. We just talked.” She seemed surprised by the question, and my heart fell. “But he asked me if I’d like to see a movie sometime,” she added. “Why, did you kiss Rick?”

Rick. That’s the one with the blue shirt.

“Yes. Three times,” Karen boasted.

“What about you, Josie? Did you kiss Cary?”

“Once or twice,” I lied. “But it was nothing.”

“Well, it didn’t seem like nothing. You were gone almost 30 minutes.”

“No. Nothing,” I said and headed back up to the house. I couldn’t think of anything except wishing I were at home, wishing my Daddy were alive, wishing I could go back in time to before everything happened, and knowing full well that the protrusion I saw poking from under the Keith Richards cartoon was going to haunt me forever.

It was after 4 o’clock before the Carrs drove back down the gravel driveway and hobbled through the door together. Mrs. Carr had a crutch under one arm and the other around Mr. Carr. Her leg was bandaged and splinted from her ankle to above her knee.

“Thirty stitches,” said Mr. Carr. “But we’ll fill you in on all that in a few minutes. Apollo 11 is landing any minute.”

“We’ve got the radio on in here,” Steve yelled.

We all hurried to gather around the radio.

“Houston, Tranquility Base here,” said the static-filled voice we’d come to recognize as Neil Armstrong’s. “The Eagle has landed.”

The lake echoed our cheers long after our group had quieted from the clapping and hugging.

I stole a look toward Cary, but he was keeping his distance from the group and fortunately, though I was afraid to look, I never felt his eyes on me.

“…. about every variety of rock you could find,” Armstrong’s voice continued. “The colors—Well, it varies pretty much depending … it looks as though they’re going to have some interesting colors to them. Over.”

In between checking in on the astronauts, Mrs. Carr described the day’s ordeal at the emergency room, the stitches, the splint that she’d have to wear to keep the stitches from opening, and the nice woman they’d met in the waiting room who returned after her husband had been treated and released for shortness of breath with bologna sandwiches and a thermos of coffee for the Carrs’ lunch.

“I’m so sorry to ruin the day on the lake, everyone,” she said. “I do hope we can try this all again. I just feel terrible.”

“It’s fine, Mrs. Carr,” offered LaDarla, as the boys’ voices concurred. “We found plenty to do.”

“Roger. Tranquility,” came a voice from NASA’s headquarters “Be advised there’s lots of smiling faces in this room and all over the world. Over.”

I wish mine was.

Continues...

Excerpted from "Jaybird's Song" by Kathy Wilson Florence. Copyright © 2017 by Kathy Wilson Florence. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

Kathy Wilson Florence

Kathy Wilson Florence

Kathy Wilson Florence is the author of You’ve Got a Wedgie Cha Cha Cha, an Atlanta Realtor, a graphic designer, commercial copywriter, former columnist and candlestick maker. Jaybird’s Song is her first novel. www.jaybirdssong.com

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