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First Page: Unpublished manuscript Semi-literary, Southern

First Page: Unpublished manuscript Semi-literary, Southern

Welcome to First Page Sunday. Individual authors anonymously send a first page read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. You may comment anonymously. You can submit your own First Page using this form.

It was good to have people talking about you, but not when they said what on earth is wrong with Nadine Lee?

They were in the kitchen after dinner, on the night before Nadine was to go away to Oxford. Nadine’s mother, Vivette, sat at the table and polished the silver, glancing up at her daughter, who stood at the sink washing dishes. Nadine was just nineteen, and acknowledged to be the most beautiful girl in Hattiesburg: fair-complexioned with very dark hair and eyes, and fine features that gave her every expression a sharpened edge. Vivette was a narrow woman in her forties, shorter than her daughter and graying. It was good that Nadine was so attractive, thought Vivette, and that the girl had learned to cook and clean house. Those were part of what made a good wife. As for the rest – a mother could teach only so much. But that unteachable portion was just what Nadine would need to find a husband, and it was the very thing that she lacked – warmth, charm, or at least interest in the boys who buzzed around her.

The girl handled the dishes with a troubled expression, stopping every few minutes to sigh and cover her mouth to stop whatever words she was about to say. When there were no more dishes to wash, Nadine turned to her mother.

“I can’t do this, Momma.”

“Don’t bring that up again. It’s all decided.” Vivette rubbed the tines of a fork with a cloth held between her thumb and forefinger.

“I’m not saying I won’t go. I’m just saying it’s not going to work.”

Vivette had decided to send Nadine off to the University of Mississippi in Oxford to find a husband. The best sons of the Magnolia State would be gathered there, and Nadine would be a glamorous novelty. The arrangements were complete. Nadine’s bus ticket hung on the refrigerator door, held fast by a tooth-shaped magnet bearing the address and phone number of her father’s former dental office. As usual for these days, Oscar Lee was not to be found in the house.

“Of course it’s going to work.”

“What does Daddy say?”

“What do you think? He doesn’t say anything. He agrees with me.”

Nadine flailed one hand in a gesture of frustration. “There are boys here. I could marry one of them if it’s so important.”

“Who? Who would you marry?” Vivette put her fork down on the table with a sharp click. It was far too late for Nadine to start thinking about this.

“John Stuckey. He left all those flowers and poems, don’t you remember? He left them on the front porch, on the rocking chair?”

“John Stuckey?” Vivette shook her head in sadness, thinking about the boy whose father owned three grocery stores. The young man had an extensive morning paper route that included the Lee house, and for a time had left Nadine presents and admiring notes along with the Clarion-Ledger. “John Stuckey would have been a fine husband for you, Nadine. Just fine. Except, what did you say to him? I forget.”

Nadine chewed on the inside of her lip. “I asked him to stop leaving the notes. He’d been doing it for a while. I got tired of it.”

“You gave them all back to him and said, you must be stupid to think I want these. In front of everyone.” Vivette had noticed that Nadine collected the notes in a box in her room, and had mistaken that tidiness for sentiment. Instead, Nadine had waited for the box to fill up before delivering it to the boy at his desk at school. Vivette was crushed to learn of this after it happened, and now Gwendolyn Stuckey would not speak to her at church.

First Page: Unpublished Manuscript M/M

First Page: Unpublished Manuscript M/M

Welcome to First Page Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a first page read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. You may comment anonymously. You can submit your own First Page using this form.

The world wasn’t supposed to end on a day like today, a day when the sky was a brilliant blue and the sun was shining, the temperature so perfect and mild that the air felt…soft, caressing. It wasn’t supposed to end while children were playing in their front yards, free for the day from the confinement of school, laughing with joy, enjoying the innocent pleasures of childhood.

The world wasn’t supposed to end at all, not like this. Not while Jeremy was standing on his own front porch, the smell of the pot roast Brent had put in the crockpot that morning wafting from the open doorway Jeremy stood in front of, listening as a grim-faced police officer said words like accident and hospital and serious.

“But he just went to pick up our dry cleaning,” Jeremy said stupidly for the third time, and he wondered at the pity that crossed the officer’s face.

“Sir, you need to get to the hospital right now. Mr. Speer has you listed on his emergency info as next-of-kin and the doctors will have some questions.” The officer’s tone was gentle, almost too gentle, like he was trying to keep Jeremy calm.

Jeremy just stood there, not wanting to face it. Brent was finally doing better, so much better, and now this? A painful injury could send him spiraling back down into the black hole he’d just climbed out of, and at the thought of it, Jeremy was suddenly exhausted, so emotionally tired.

“Sir, we need to go. Let me drive you to the hospital.” The officer’s insistent voice snapped him out of those disloyal thoughts, and Jeremy was bitterly ashamed of himself. For better or for worse, he told himself fiercely, remembering whispering those words time and again in Brent’s ear while wiping the tears from the other man’s cheeks with his thumbs, doing his best to comfort and soothe.

He nodded, stepping back inside and flipping the crockpot off before grabbing his wallet, keys and phone from the little basket just inside the door. The officer waited while he locked the front door then led him to his patrol car. As Jeremy settled in the cramped passenger seat, he wondered how badly Brent was hurt. After all, the dry cleaner was only about two miles from home, and most of the journey there was on side streets, neighborhood streets. Whiplash, some cuts and bruises, maybe a broken bone? Later Jeremy would wonder at his cluelessness, should have known that a few bumps and scrapes wouldn’t warrant an officer being sent to his house to get him. It was like his mind and heart were doing their desperate best to protect him, to insulate him, for just a few more precious minutes.

After all, the world wasn’t supposed to end today, not ever, not like this.