Originally Posted In: SoftWordsofLove’s Journal
Fiction Title: Southern Grown
Chapter Title: There’s no chapter yet. This is just a taste.
Warnings: Language, Adult Language
Disclaimer: This is purely fictional out of my own mind and woven of my own fantasies.
Summary: Delilah Suttner comes back home after years of being away because of her father’s death. Her hometown holds many heartaches and many elations for her. Will she stay and see what kind of live she can build for herself now that she’s older? Or will she go back to the California glamour she’s learned to call home?
Nothing is quite like that paradoxical moment where you’re standing in a place you never thought you would step foot in again; for reasons that are only your own. It’s like a time-space-logic anomaly. There’s no way to describe the feeling. And Delilah Suttner, well, she was no different.
Delilah had been a thousand different places, seen a thousand different days. But here, the sun never quite felt the same. She felt it slowly sinking into her skin, enveloping her in its warmth, and of all the thousands of times she’s felt that same warm feeling, it never quite felt like this. Here, now, it felt like when she was seven, eating watermelons at the park on Fourth of July. The breeze that blew past her had been like something she had felt countless times in her life. But here, she could smell the magnolia blossoms. A smell that brought her back to a time where sneaking out of her bedroom window in the middle of the night was a common occurrence. When she’d come home to find the porch lights on…and knew she was in big trouble.
Right where she stood, she heard the traffic slowly rolling along the sleepy little town she grew up in. Almost nowhere she had been allowed people to just stop and chat at an intersection through their vehicles, regardless of the light changing. It had been nearly fifteen years since Delilah had stepped foot into the town of McCaysville, Georgia, but it hadn’t changed a damn bit.
Eighty-six miles away from main civilization – Atlanta, Georgia – McCaysville boasted just under one-thousand residents in their population. The scenery was always gorgeous no matter the season and you had a clear view of the Cohutta Mountains. As a teenager, you had your choice of enjoying the small rivers and creeks that ran through the area, the drive-in theater, going to a local diner, or trolling a strip mall. Ma and Pop stores were still stronger than ever here, and church on Sunday was a good way to catch up with the people you hadn’t seen in a week.
When Delilah set off for college on a full ride scholarship to a university in California, she put this town in her rearview and never looked back. There were too many memories. Some were good, some were bad, but the vast majority was bittersweet. Those bittersweet memories were the ones that smarted the most. They were beautiful to take out and look at, but once they played out, the pain came back dull and hard.
The moving truck would arrive after the following day, but Delilah had all she needed at the moment in the back of her little 2005 Chevy Camaro – an upgrade from the 1995 version she used to high-tail it out of there. Though she made good time driving all the way to McCaysville, dusk was just starting to settle and the street lights were turning on. All the kids would be heading home by now. Unable to face the house that would soon loom over her and remind her of her childhood, Delilah decided she didn’t want to go home. Seemingly on autopilot, she found herself parking her car just outside of Tippy’s, a local watering hole that catered to all kinds.
From the dusty parking lot to the flickering neon sign, Tippy’s looked a lot like Delilah remembered, albeit a fresher coat of paint. But the inside was what really got her. Nothing at all had changed in there. Taking off her cowgirl hat, she saw that the twelve-point buck Tippy had shot one season was still hanging over the bar, along with various other forms of game he had hunted. Photographs were nailed to the walls all over the bar of Tippy and his wife, the staff, and regular patrons. There, just by the till, was a picture of Delilah and Marla, Tippy’s wife, when Delilah used to work there on summers to save up for her ’95 Camaro.
Nobody seemed to give Delilah a second glance as she walked up to the bar and sat herself down on a stool while setting her hat down next to her. Marla was working the other end of the bar, talking shop with old Judd Warren.
Who knew that old coot was still alive? Darla thought. He must be damn near a hundred by now.
Marla seemed to be her sweet old self as well, when she wanted to be. She could also be a mean cuss when she had to be. She wiped down the bar in front of Delilah and tossed down a coaster.
“What’ll it be, darlin’?” she asked in that familiar Southern drawl that could only come from Georgians. Delilah was about to order a shot of whiskey when Marla gasped. “Eyes like honey,” she breathed. “Little Lilah Suttner, is that you?”
Delilah could feel her cheeks heating, but forced a smile all the same. It had been thirteen years since she’d even so much as written a postcard to anyone in McCaysville. Marla had always been good to her, often giving Delilah more of a share of the tips so she could get her car quicker, though she had a mouth on her. Anyone that knew anyone that knew Delilah would know that she was back in town before they could finish their morning coffee tomorrow. And that was best-case scenario.
“Yes, ma’am.” Delilah replied through gritted teeth. “It’s me.”
“Well, hold on! Let me come around this bar so I can get a good look atchya!”
Marla scurried out from behind the bar and Delilah stood for Marla’s perusal, turning when the older woman pushed her shoulders to do so.
“Still pretty as a song,” Marla said. “Your hair’s a little different, but you look beautiful. What have you been up to? Have a seat. I’ll get you a whiskey on the house.” She went back around the bar and pulled out a shot glass for Delilah before pouring some Evan Williams. “Now tell me all about it, honey,” she continued. “Tell me about school and your new life out there in, where was it you went? California, I recall.”
“Yes, Mrs. Marla, I was in California. Went to school to become a large animal veterinarian and worked on ranches they have out there. There’s really no story to tell, though.” Delilah replied, sliding the shot glass closer to her. “I went to school, got a job shortly after graduation and been working ever since. Now I’m here for an undetermined amount of time to deal with my…um…the estate.”
A sad shadow fell over Marla’s eyes and she patted the hand Delilah wasn’t holding her drink with.
“I’m sorry to hear about your daddy passing, Lilah. He was a good man. One of the finest I’d ever met. You must be heart broken.” she said. Delilah shot the whiskey and set the glass on the bar, but Marla filled it up with another right away.
“I had my time to mourn on the way over. I couldn’t come right away, of course. I had to get my affairs in order, so that gave me some time. I’ve come to terms with it, I guess.” Delilah said, hoping the old woman didn’t think she was being too callous.
Truth was, Delilah wasn’t torn up over her daddy’s passing at all. He wasn’t the family man that everyone thought him out to be. He was quite the opposite, actually. But he certainly put on his best face at the Sunday picnics after church.
“So is there a fella waitin’ for you back home? Did ya start a family?” Marla asked. Delilah looked down and could feel her eyes widen slightly almost in exacerbation. She downed the second shot and quick as a whip, Marla filled the glass again.
This was where Delilah knew it was going to get sticky. Here in this town, you got married at least by the age of twenty-one and had your first kid by at least the age of twenty-three. If you got married by twenty-five and had your first kid by twenty-seven here, you were considered a late bloomer. Whereas the rest of the world thought those odds were normal. But here Delilah sat, in her dusty jeans and cowgirl boots, thirty-one years old with no man at her side and no children waiting for her at home. It was unheard of in McCaysville.
“No, Mrs. Marla, there’s no family waiting.” Delilah answered reluctantly, again throwing back her shot. She grimaced a little this time, the liquor starting to burn. Certain the tirade of how her biological clock was ticking was coming, Delilah sighed. “No man either.”
Instead, Marla surprised her by changing the subject. And pouring her a fourth shot.
“Well, Tippy’s been gone for but three years now, bless his soul,” she said. “So it’s been just me dealing with the crazies that come in and out of here. I have some help from the regulars when things get hairy, of course, but it still gets tiring for an old woman like me.”
That actually got a smirk out of Delilah. Marla would work here at Tippy’s ‘til the day she died, that was the gospel truth. The two women continued to catch up until other patrons began requesting Marla’s attention at the other end of the bar. Delilah returned her hat to her head and finished her last shot before throwing down some money and turning around to get a look at the rest of the bar.
There was a booth open in the back corner, across the small lacquered wood dance floor and not too far from the pool tables, with the jukebox nestled close by. Delilah made her way to it and settled down on the vinyl seat, making sure to face out toward the rest of the joint to see who came and went. A waitress came over and took her drink order along with an order of beer nuts. Delilah scanned some of the faces scattered around and recalled a few of the older patrons from her childhood.
Over there was Summer Fields, and Delilah couldn’t help but let out a snort of laughter. After all these years, she still thought that name was corny as all hell. She never really much liked Summer through high school, and judging by the look she was giving Harold Tooms, they were probably married. Yup. There’s the mutually appreciated peck that confirms that.
The waitress returned and set down a whiskey and the beer nuts in front of Delilah. She had asked for a double this time, so she could sip it as she casually watched the people around her. Was that Luke Peters and Connor Nole over there shooting pool? She was good friends with both those boys in high school, but now they looked like they just got off work at the lumber yard. That seemed to be the fate for a lot of the boys that grew up around here; they either became miners, worked in the lumber yards, or became farmhands. Those were the three biggest industries in McCaysville, and if you didn’t have the burning desire to leave this town, that’s what you were most likely going to end up doing.
Delilah was debating on getting up to go speak to them when the door opened and a man named Charlie Elkins walked in holding the hand of her high school best friend, Mary Smith. They joined Connor and Luke over at the pool tables, saying something about being able to get a sitter for the night. The clock must have chimed a special hour because more people poured into the bar, slamming Delilah with all kinds of memories and names to go with the faces. The din turned into the dull roar that only small town bars can seem to achieve. Smiling to herself, Delilah raised her fingers to her mouth and blew a sharp whistle, getting the attention of those closer to her.
Those that didn’t recognize her turned back to their conversations, but Luke, Connor, Charlie, and Mary all dropped their jaws in surprise. Mary let out a shriek of excitement and nearly tackled Delilah where she sat in the booth, making her grab on to her hat or else lose it.
“Well, I’ll be damned!” she exclaimed loudly over Mary, “I come in here for a drink before I head off home and lookie who shows up!”
Luke, Connor, and Charlie took turns giving Delilah a hug as soon as Mary decided to release her death grip. Kisses on cheeks were passed around and they all settled into the booth, giving the waitress their orders. Delilah gave them a short summary of her time in California and in turn, urged them to tell her all about them.
“Well, Charlie and I are married with three little ones,” Mary said, holding on to Charlie’s arm fondly. “Sarah is our oldest, she’s in fourth grade. Mitch is our middle one, and he’s in second grade. Little Anise is our youngest and she’s just getting into preschool.”
“Three kids?” Delilah exclaimed. “Good Lord. What about you two?” she asked, turning to Luke and Connor.
“Oh, my missus is at home,” Luke answered. “We have two hell-raisers of our own, Mark and Andy. They’re eight and ten. Connor here, his missus is at home too. They don’t have any kids.”
“Well thank God I’m not the only one!” Delilah exclaimed, toasting Connor and taking a swig of her drink.
The five of them reminisced on old times and in a short amount of time, it was almost like Delilah had never left. Pictures were passed around of significant others and children, they regaled each other with embarrassing stories of one another from high school, and continued to drink.
“I have to warn you, Delilah,” Mary started off in a quieter tone than she had been speaking in. “Mason Jones is still in town. He works over at the Gavin farm as a farm manager. He’s making good money, but he’s changed a lot since high school. He used to be, well, you know how he used to be. He’s quieter now, and he only ever really hangs out with Ricky Rodgers. You remember him, don’t you? Well, he’s a diesel mechanic on the Gavin farm now.”
Delilah nearly choked on her drink. Through all their catching up, no one had mentioned Mason to her. And she had honestly put him out of her head. She turned a steady gaze to her old best friend.
“Why are you telling me this, Mary?” she asked. Mary fidgeted umcomfortably.
“Well, we know how y’all were, Delilah. I mean, we all thought you two were going to get married and have babies and settle down here. But,” Mary paused. “Well, Delilah, we all know how it ended too. You just drove out of here without a backward glance. It hurt all of us, mostly him.”
“What Mary’s trying to get at,” Charlie interrupted. “Is that Mason comes here sometimes.”
“He sits at that stool over there, out of the way.” Connor added. “Comes in after work for a few belts, watches the game on the TV, and heads home.”
“Gotta admire his self-control,” Luke laughed. “He swats away women like he’s swatting flies. Just the other night, Scarlett…”
Charlie slapped Luke upside the head. Luke looked around and cleared his throat, muttering an apology.
“Well, he’s not saying anything no one in this town don’t already know.” Mary scolded. “Scarlett Yates has been after him for years.”
“Yes, love,” Charlie replied, “But there are certain people at this table who ain’t been in town lately to notice.”
Mary shot Delilah an apologetic look. “I’m sorry, girl. It’s just it feels like you ain’t been gone but a minute.”
Despite her racing heart, Delilah managed a small smile. She was sure a sweat-line had formed on her brow. She was hardly ready to face what her father had in store for her beyond the grave, much less her old high school flame. She just wasn’t ready for it. She grabbed her finished drink and threw some bills on the table.
“It’s been swell catching up, y’all, but I’ve got a long day ahead of me tomorrow.” she said, stumbling as she tried to get out of the booth.
“Are you sure you’re alright to drive?” Luke asked, putting out a hand to steady her.
“I haven’t had much to drink before you got here,” Delilah lied. She didn’t care if she had to crawl, she was getting out of that bar.
After assuring her old friends that she would let them know when she got home safely, Delilah stumbled slightly out of the bar. She was sure she looked a mess. She felt white as a sheet and tried to keep her head low as she left the bar, but also trying not to look like a strung out, paranoid druggie. She made her way through the poorly lit parking lot to her car and fumbled with the keys to unlock it.
Her hands were shaking and she dropped them into the dirt. Exhaling a curse, she stooped to pick them up, but lost her balance and fell on her butt.
“Shit.” she whispered, righting herself and grabbing her keys.
Her vision was too blurry, and she was seeing double as she tried to fit the key in the lock. Giving up, and deciding it wasn’t safe to drive after all, she turned to walk home. Before she could take a step, she slammed into the chest of someone who was much taller than her. She stared at the white t-shirt for a moment before realizing it was covered by a black leather jacket.
Slowly moving her gaze up, she paused on the jawline of the man in front of her. She knew that jawline all too well, stubble and all. She had kissed it too many times to forget. She was hesitant to move her gaze up to the silver eyes she knew would be staring at her, but she finally did. This, as it seemed, was another paradoxical moment for Delilah. Never again did she think she would see this man before her for any reason. It was almost too painful too look at him now.
“You know better than that, Moonbeam,” he said in that heartbreaking baritone of his.
Delilah tried to say something, but her eyes fluttered closed and she began to fall. Mason caught her with cat-like reflexes and held her sagging form against his chest.
“Great to see you again too,” he muttered.
I so look forward to feedback and constructive criticism! I know it's a bit rushed, and I planned on rewriting it, but I wanted to see what others thought first. Thank you for reading!