Honeysuckle Season Page 1

Author: Mary Ellen Taylor

Genres: Fiction , Romance


Tuesday, April 5, 1994

Trenton, New Jersey

The unraveling of Olivia’s youth had begun in the fall of 1940. The war in Europe was raging, and the Pacific was sowing the seeds of another great explosion. As world events burrowed their roots deeper into her innocence, she desperately tried to replenish the soil, believing she could still sow the seeds of new dreams and hopes. But the earth had continued to shift and erode until finally she had stumbled, and her rose-colored glasses had fallen away forever.

She now sat by the hospital bed, holding the pale hand of her dying friend. Blue veins, so pricked and prodded by doctors and nurses, lined small hands that for the first time were not coiled and poised for a fight. Her old friend appeared at peace, as if she now welcomed death.

That was what age did for the lucky. As life stripped away youth and vitality, it also softened some of the regrets and perhaps exchanged a few devils for angels.

Her friend’s face was narrow and deeply lined and her once-wiry body whittled down to bone and skin. Thick auburn hair had thinned and grown as white as her paper-thin skin. IVs dripped sedatives and painkillers while monitors beeped softly. The window shades were pulled closed so that the light did not hurt her eyes. Of all the places she could imagine her old friend dying, it was not here in this dark, sterile room so far from her home in the lush Blue Ridge Mountains.

Olivia almost regretted being here now and perhaps losing the image of the vibrant, strong girl who had dared life at each curve in the road. As much as Olivia wanted to cling to the old images she treasured of her friend and ignore the ravages of this cancer, to abandon her friend now would be a regret her old shoulders could not bear.

Closing her eyes, Olivia stood silent until she felt a gentle stirring in the woman’s body. She opened her eyes to see watering blue eyes staring at her.

“You came?” Her voice sounded strained and weak.

Olivia smiled, refusing to give sadness any ground. “Of course I did.”

“Is my child here?”

“Yes. She drove me. My eyesight won’t allow me to drive beyond my little town.”

As if Olivia had not spoken—“How is my daughter?”

“She’s grown into a fine woman.”

“Good.” For a long moment there was silence broken only by the beep of the monitor. “Thank you for looking out for her.”

“You did the same for me, didn’t you? Looked after my granddaughter when she needed it most.”

“How is she?”

“She just had her second baby.”

She thought back to that one single act of courage a half century ago that had bonded the two women. They had risked life and limb for each other and kept so many secrets.

Fragile brows gathered in a frown. “Don’t go to your grave with your secret, Miss Olivia. You and I both know it’s the kind that binds the soul to the earth,” she said.

Olivia had locked away so many memories over the years that they had tangled together. She feared a tug on one would unravel the entire lot. Confession might be good for the soul, but by her way of thinking, it did little else. Her secret had served a purpose, and if keeping it meant her soul was bound to this earth forever, then so be it.



Tuesday, March 15, 1943

Bluestone, Virginia

Blue Ridge Mountains

There were three tricks to hiding. First, it was important to breathe as shallow as possible. If you were doing it right, your nostrils barely flared, and your breathing was as shallow as the James River in drought-hot summer heat. Next, a good rabbit tamed its racing heart and did not allow it to pound and drum against the ribs. Sounds had a tendency to echo beyond the confines of the body.

And the third trick, and not the least by far, was keeping your eyes cast downward. You never looked at whoever was hunting you. A fox might not be able to see a rabbit, but it could feel its stare as surely as if it were being tapped on the shoulder.

Sadie Thompson crouched behind the thick tangle of a honeysuckle bush twisting around the large stump of a fallen oak. Her heart beat fast in her chest, rapping against her ribs so hard she struggled to catch her breath. She was out of shape, and the mile-long run through the woods from her old truck had taken a surprising toll. A year ago, she would have done the run like a deer, twice as fast without breaking a sweat.

Darkness had descended on the Blue Ridge Mountains, tossing an inky blackness over the land. What little moonlight trickled through the thick rain-ripe clouds was caught in the canopy of trees. An owl hooted. Deer, disturbed by her unwelcome intrusion, bolted through the woods.

The poor visibility suited Sadie. She was accustomed to traveling at night and was intimately acquainted with the hills and the valleys of Nelson County. Her father had taught Sadie and her brothers how to negotiate the narrow back roads barely wide enough for a car. It could be rough going, but they were the best routes moonshiners had when avoiding the law. Her pa had made them memorize the sharpest curves in the road, walk the old Indian paths that cut up the side of the mountains, and he’d shown them the secluded caves best suited for cooking mash into moonshine. She and her family knew all the ins and outs of this part of Virginia, and they could stay lost forever. If that was what they wanted.

Sadie pressed her face against the damp leaves and took a moment to shake off the lingering panic that had sent her bolting into the night. Crickets whirred nearby, and a spider crawled over her hand, but she gave neither a second thought. She had a bigger problem facing her now.

Sheriff Kurt Boyd had arrived at her mother’s house an hour ago, most likely bent on arresting Sadie for attempted murder—maybe even murder, if the man did not pull through. Sadie was not a bit sorry for what she had done but now wished she had been smarter about exacting her revenge.

She had run from her mother’s house with not even enough time to pack a bag or kiss her sleeping baby before sprinting to her truck. She put the car in neutral and coasted down the backside of the hill, careful not to make a sound. Only at the bottom did she start the engine. But the sheriff must have heard the commotion of the rumbling engine and taken off after her. She drove as far as her old truck’s radiator would take her until it boiled over, leaving her no way to quickly repair it.

Arms pumping, and her work boots rubbing against her swollen feet, she dashed into the brush as the rumble of Boyd’s Dodge grew closer. She thought maybe she could cut across the mountain on an old Indian trail, but Boyd had seen that trick before and would simply circle around. That left her with no choice but to hunker down.

She would wait Boyd out and maybe later circle back to her truck and see if it had cooled enough to run again. Her aim was to get to Charlottesville and then ride a train as far away from Bluestone as she could manage.

As she lay on the ground behind the shrubs, the rumble of a car engine echoed. She recognized the sound of the sheriff’s grumbling Dodge engine moving slowly down the road. He knew she was close. He might not have been the smartest man, but he knew Indian paths, mining trails, and hiding spots almost as well as she did.

Seconds later headlights appeared. She pressed her belly closer into the damp soil, her tender breasts still filled with milk, straining against her roughly hewed shirt. Too curious for her own good, she stole a peek in time to see Sheriff Boyd’s thick frame pass in front of his headlights. He stopped and stood with his feet braced and a meaty right hand resting on his belt. She could not see his face but guessed he was frowning. Boyd had always reckoned a thoughtful man did not need to smile or say much. That was just as well, because when he opened his mouth, he never had anything worth saying. A flashlight’s beam cut deep into the darkness, passing just a few feet above her body.

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