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Authors: Melissa Walker

Small Town Sinners

BOOK: Small Town Sinners
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Contents

Cover

Title Page

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-one

Chapter Thirty-two

Chapter Thirty-three

Nine Months Later

Acknowledgments

Imprint

For Dave,
who is
always
asking questions

(like, “Shouldn’t this book have paranormal
beings and action sequences in it?”)

Chapter One

“Take the wheel,” says Starla Joy, sticking the grape lollipop she’s been working on into her mouth. She doesn’t even wait to see if I’ve followed her instructions—she just lets go and strips down, pulling off her light cotton sweater to reveal a bright red tank top dotted with white hearts.

I lunge across the front seat to make sure her old truck stays straight. A little dust kicks up as we skim the edge of the road.

“Starla Joy!” I shout. “I don’t even have my license yet.”

She grins at me as she takes control of the car and says, “Just two more days!”

I sit back, glad she’s driving again. At least we’re on a straight stretch—last time she pulled this around a curve and I nearly peed my pants. I think she did it on purpose.

Starla Joy takes the lollipop out of her mouth and holds it in one hand next to the wheel. There’s a ring of bright lipstick around the stick. She’s recently started wearing really strong colors. She has dark brown hair, blue eyes, and fair skin, so a ruby pout makes her look like an old Hollywood actress—from the neck up anyway. I don’t think those movie stars wore tank tops and cutoffs.

“Do you think your parents will loosen up a little once you’re driving?” she asks.

I stare out at the flat plains ahead of us. “I don’t know,” I say. “I mean, they’re not that strict now.”

“Ha!” she says, sticking the grape candy back into her mouth. “I love your parents, Lacey, but they’re definitely strict.”

I smile. “A little more freedom would be nice,” I say. My mom and dad aren’t draconian or anything. I mean, I have a summer job and I spend plenty of time with my friends. I’ve never really wanted to stay out past my curfew. Nothing much happens in my town after nine o’clock anyway.

But sometimes, when I’m in the truck with Starla Joy, driving down a dusty road and looking out at the wide-open spaces around us, I think it would be nice to have this much room to breathe all the time.

“Lacey Anne,” says Starla Joy, “let’s have a wild summer.”

She throws her head back and laughs then, and I just smile and look out the side window, glad that I have a best friend who’s as fun as Starla Joy Minter.

When we get to my house, I open the door and I can already smell Mom’s brownies baking. Starla Joy and I sidle up to the kitchen counter and Mom hands Starla Joy a beater with chocolate batter still on it.

“Just don’t ruin your dinner,” she says. “You
will
stay over, won’t you, Starla Joy?”

“I’d love to,” says Starla Joy. “I’ll text Momma.”

Mom winks at me and goes back to the sink, where she’s peeling potatoes. Sometimes I think my parents like having my friends over for dinner just as much as I do. Starla Joy’s been licking Mom’s brownie batter since we were in preschool, and though I’ve lost my taste for it, she’s still got a huge sweet tooth.

When I’m sitting in church and the light hits the stained glass just right, I think I can see God. The sunbeams stream through the clearest parts of the multicolored dove and olive branch scene above the pulpit, and there are dancing rays of heat that seem directly linked to something sacred. Starla Joy says I’m hallucinating, but my dad agrees that it’s definitely the Holy Spirit. “God is all around us,” he likes to say, opening his hands wide, as if he’s welcoming the Lord in for one of his famously strong hugs. But I don’t see God everywhere—just in those beams of sunlight, which are especially bright on this Sunday in August.

I look across the pews and see that Starla Joy’s in her usual uniform of a T-shirt and jean skirt. Her sister, Tessa, sitting next to her, has on a bright yellow sundress, and her light brown hair spills over her freckled shoulders.

I catch Starla Joy’s eye, and she mouths an exaggerated yawn. I shake my head at her disapprovingly. She’s kidding, but her attitude sometimes gets her in trouble.

Me? I never get in trouble.

My other BFF, Dean Perkins, says that’s because I scare easily. “Lacey,” he’ll say, “you’ve lost all your color from fright!” I know he’s just joking because my hair is such a pale yellow that it’s almost white and my skin is near translucent. Sometimes in bright light I can see blue veins through my forehead, and my mom makes me wear SPF 50 sunscreen every day, even in the winter, so I don’t burn. People say I have a sensitive constitution.

Maybe that’s because I’ve always been really close to my parents. For my sweet sixteen last week, we had a family party, complete with red velvet cupcakes and a new white Bible from Mom and Dad. As pretty as my new leather-bound Word of God is, I’d rather have a car. I picture myself in a bright blue convertible, not worrying about sunblock or the speed limit or even what people say as I race past them with the wind in my face. My very own movie moment.

I’ll never be alluring in my mom’s old Honda—it’s not a car that makes heads turn, at least not in a good way. Still, it’s something, and I know I should be grateful.

Past where Starla Joy’s sitting, I see the Raymond family, all in jeans. Not many people dress up for church anymore, which drives my mom crazy. I glance down at the sleeve of her new pink velour blazer—she got it on sale at TJ Maxx, but it’s an Anne Klein original. My mother always finds designer stuff when she shops at outlet stores—it’s part of her picture-perfect life. And even though the pink blazer looked stuffy on the rack, Mom makes it classy with her tiny gold angel pinned to the lapel. Her black slacks are well pressed, as always, and I look up to see her flawless rose-colored lipstick mouthing the words to the Lord’s Prayer.

Oops! Head down, I fold my hands in my lap and join in with Pastor Frist and the congregation. Church is almost over. Usually I don’t mind lingering in the sanctuary, shaking hands and accepting the glowing smiles that come my way. I’m Lacey Anne Byer, daughter of Ted and Theresa Byer, pillars of the community. What does that expression mean anyway? I’ve heard it my whole life. Does it mean the whole town would collapse if we weren’t upright, holding its weight? We are longtime members of the House of Enlightenment, an evangelical church that serves as the center of West River. My dad has been the children’s pastor here since forever. Well, since
my
forever, meaning my whole life.

As soon as Pastor Frist finishes his sermon, I stand up and make my way down the aisle and out into the parking lot—I don’t even pause to say good-bye to Starla Joy or Dean, though I do give him a wave. He nods from behind his shoulder-length curtain of hair, which looks greasier than usual.

I push open the church door and walk outside. I need to get home and go over the DMV manual one more time before my driver’s test tomorrow—I expect to pass the test with flying colors, but I don’t want to be overconfident. I start to sweat as I lean against my dad’s white Ford Taurus and wait for my parents to bob and weave through the polite Sunday greeters. I’m sure they all want to shake hands with Dad and compliment Mom on her new pink jacket.

I told my parents that a quick exit was important to me today, though, and I think they listened. I smile as I see them come through the double glass doors of the House of Enlightenment.

Ken Wilkins is walking rapidly behind my father—trying to talk about some committee or church dinner or child-care issue, no doubt—and Dad is nodding but not slowing his pace. Ruth Wilkins ambles behind her husband. She has an unfortunate problem with facial hair, and I can see her whiskers in the sunlight from twenty feet away, though I try not to look. When Dad and Mr. Wilkins reach our car, Dad gestures at me and says, “Well, Ken, I do hope you understand that we have to get Lacey here home to study for her driver’s test.”

Mr. Wilkins looks over at me. “
Six
teen,” he says, emitting a low whistle.

“Yes, sir,” I say back, turning to open the car door so he’ll know we
really
have to go.

“You be careful now, Lacey,” says Mr. Wilkins. “Cars are dangerous, in more ways than one.”

“I will, sir,” I say, wondering when people will stop telling me to be careful. Don’t they know I’ve been careful my entire life? I wouldn’t even sit down in the bathtub as a toddler till Mom told me it was safe—not too hot, not too cold. That’s me, careful Lacey Byer.

“We’ll see you later this week, Ken,” says Mom, hustling around to the passenger side of the car.

I shoot her a grateful look.

“Bye-bye now,” says Dad, opening his door and ducking his head to fit his six-foot-three frame inside the Taurus.

I smile at the Wilkinses and they wave back. Mr. Wilkins looks slightly dissatisfied that he didn’t get to resolve whatever issue he had, but I don’t let him bother me. Tomorrow I won’t be waiting by the car anymore, I won’t even be in the passenger seat of Starla Joy’s truck—I’ll be behind the wheel.

The DMV isn’t a good place to have a movie moment. There’s a long line of people, and Dad has to stop and shake hands with almost everyone while I stand at the back to hold our spot. I tap my toe impatiently and look around.

I see a new person, someone I don’t recognize, near the front of the line. In other towns, I guess that might be normal. But in West River, where you know everyone from the mail carrier to the pharmacist to the pet store owner—
and
their family histories—new people don’t walk into your life every day. Especially not new people who look like this.

He’s wearing a pink polo shirt, the kind that the football guys would definitely make fun of at lunch—I can hear Geoff Parsons’s voice now, calling it “girly” and “gay”—and as he raises his dark sunglasses up onto the top of his close-cropped, golden-blond hair, I see that he has blue eyes, even from across the room. As he hands a form to the DMV lady, he grins and makes a joke that I can’t hear, but it gets her laughing. He is utterly sure of himself.

I’ve so been looking forward to this day—I mean, how many times in a girl’s life does she take her driver’s test? Well, if you’re Starla Joy you take it three times, but I’m planning on just taking it once, God willing. Now, though, I can think of nothing but this guy. Who is he? Where did he come from? How does he put the DMV lady—who is truly one of the most grouchy people in town—at ease?

He looks like he walked out of a movie. He makes me think that maybe I don’t need a convertible to turn heads.

“Lacey, your form.” Dad touches my arm and I snap to attention. The line moved quickly, and I’m up next. I hand over my license application to the waiting clerk. She stamps it and tells me my road-test evaluator will be right out. Dad and I sit down in the waiting area, with its brown-gray walls and buzzing yellow lights, and I concentrate on
not
looking at the golden boy. He can’t just breeze into West River with a Hollywood smile, wearing a pink polo shirt and charming the DMV lady. People are going to talk.

BOOK: Small Town Sinners
8.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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