If all goes according to plan, Through the Waters will go live this weekend! Yay! And so I decided to provide an excerpt of the prologue and part of the first chapter. I hope you like it!
“I gotta tell you somethin’, Sissy,” Carlotta confided to me in a childlike voice. Her eyes shone as she stood next to me in the kitchen of her mama’s house, drying the dinner dishes after I finished washing them.
I turned toward her.
“I told him yes,” she said.
I just about dropped the dish I’d been holding in my hand. “What?” I shrieked. I lowered my voice. “Carlotta, you can’t marry him,” I insisted. “You don’t even know him, really.” I looked out the window and saw Truitt Tate standing there, looking smug.
Carlotta stood next to me in the kitchen, drying as I washed the dishes in her mama’s house. “Well, I reckon I know him well enough,” she huffed.
I was silent for a minute, trying to find the right words. “Carlotta, you’re my cousin,” I told her. “I’ve known ya as long as I can remember… I guess my main concern is, he ain’t saved.” Then I picked up a little steam. “And what does he do for a livin’, exactly? The man’s always got money, but never seems able to explain where it came from.”
With a hurt look in her eyes, she turned away from me. “Sissy, just stop yer worryin’ for a moment. I’m in love, and that’s all that matters.” She paused. “I thought you, at least, would be happy for me,” she said in a bitter tone.
I stopped looking out the window and turned toward Carlotta. She was so hopeful. Beautiful and petite, she could have chosen any man she wanted. But clearly she had started sleeping with Truitt, and that complicated things somethin’ major. I sighed.
“I’ll be right back. I need to take some water to Pop-Pop,” Carlotta announced. She plopped two ice cubes into a glass, filled it with water, and left me alone in the kitchen.
The back door creaked open and Truitt Tate entered the kitchen slowly, as though I might attack him at any second. He gave me a big smile, then scanned my body up and down with appreciation as if he were trying to figure out if I was real.
“Can I help you?” I asked him coldly, when I’d had enough of his smirk.
He shook his head. “No, Ma’am, Miss Little,” he responded with a twinkle in his eye.
“Carlotta’s that way,” I said, pointing. He started to move toward the dining room, but I raised a hand in the air, stopping him. I grabbed a dishtowel to stop the droplets of water from traveling down my arm. “Just what are you doin’ with her, anyway?” I demanded.
“Ma’am?” he replied with raised eyebrows.
“With Carlotta? You really love her, or you just playin’ games?” Once again his eyes scanned my face as though memorizing it.
“I’m not playing games,” he said finally.
“So do you love her?” I asked. He looked away.
“Now, Truitt…” I began.
“Tate. Call me Tate.” He took a few steps toward me. The expression on his face was serious, but his eyes danced.
“Tate,” I hissed, “marriage ain’t a joke. I wish you would take this serious.”
He cocked his head for a second. “I’m beginning to see that it is very serious, Miss Little.” He paused. “And I thank you for your concern for me and Carlotta, but you don’t have to worry about us,” he said, getting closer and closer to me. He was a handsome one, I had to admit. But I wasn’t one to be taken in by a pretty face.
Nervously, I turned back to the dishes. There was no talking sense into him. I would just have to continue praying this situation through.
I felt his eyes burning through my back. Finally I whipped around to face him. “And stop starin’ at me like that!” I told him.
I turned back around.
“I must say, you’re a rare kinda lady, Miss Little. Never met anyone like you before.”
“Because I’m the only woman in this world not fallin’ head over heels for you?”
He placed his hand on the counter. “Maybe,” he said nonchalantly. “But there’s something else about you that’s different, too. Can’t quite place it, though.” He met my gaze, searching as though the answer were written in my brown eyes.
We both heard Carlotta talking, headed our way. I thought Tate would move away from me, but he didn’t. Carlotta walked into the room and stopped short when she noticed Tate standing so close to me. Then she smiled real big, walked over and kissed him on the lips. I stepped back. He pulled her off of him and headed for the back door. “Love you, Tate!” Carlotta called after him.
He turned and nodded at her, then at me. “See you, Carlotta. See you around, Miss Little,” he said, slipping out the door.
Carlotta beamed at me and squealed, “Isn’t he amazing? And he is SO handsome… Oh, Sissy, I’m so happy. I just couldn’t give him up! Not for anybody.”
I just snorted, grabbed a plate from the sinkful of soapy dishes, and started scrubbing.
The day I found out John Bateman was dead, I can honestly say, to my everloving shame, that I didn’t really care one way or the other. But I pretended like I did.
“They found him where?” I asked. I was standing in the small room that passed as the teacher’s lounge with the third-grade teacher, Miss Rose Hanson. She was four years younger than me, a real sweet and pretty girl, and sometimes I could scarcely believe we were co-workers. I reached around her for the coffee pot and poured me a big cup of the stuff. I didn’t care too much for it, but it kept me awake.
“In his grandma’s old barn, hangin’ from a rope,” she stated. “I can’t believe it… Who coulda done such a thing?” she said and drank from her cup. I looked down at her and noticed her tawny skin and beautiful greenish-brown eyes. Had I ever been that young?
“I doubt anyone killed him. Sounds like he mighta killed himself, Miss Hanson.”
“But he had a fiancé, and they were always so happy together.”
“How would you be knowin’ that? Did they invite you to their engagement party or something?” I asked sarcastically. We both knew she hadn’t been invited to no white man’s party.
“Growin’ up, I knew his fiancée. Laura Tillman was her name. In fact, I just ran into her the other day and she was goin’ on and on about the weddin’.”
“Alright now, Sherlock Holmes,” I teased her.
Miss Hanson just shook her head at me slowly. “I just don’t know. My mama seen him the night before at the McKinneys’ party, and she knew somethin’ wasn’t right.”
I ignored that tidbit. Louise Hanson always thought things weren’t right, and it was easy to say so after the fact. “Well, who killed ‘im then?”
Miss Hanson shrugged. “Don’t know. You know how people are in this town. Ain’t no fair court system. Just martial law. He may have stepped on some toes. He wasn’t from around here, either.”
“Well, all I know is that the man is dead, and his death doesn’t have a thing to do with us.” A bell rang outside. “Excuse me, Miss Hanson, I have to go get my class from outside,” I told her.
I brought my class inside and ran them through a bunch of math drills. Since spring break was about to start, I wanted to be sure they had math facts coming out their nostrils so they wouldn’t forget it all by the following week.
My two boys, Moses and Willie, waited outside for me, chasing each other around and around the big Spanish moss in front of the schoolhouse. I didn’t bother telling them it was time to go. When they was done playing, they’d run and catch up with me on the road. But the sight of that big tree reminded me of my conversation with Rose Hanson. As I walked, I lifted up a quick prayer for the Bateman family before setting my mind on what I would do this evening.
I’d only taken a few steps when a familiar voice called out, “Sissy!”
It was Carlotta. I was happy to walk with my cousin, but I couldn’t help noticing how the past couple of years had aged her. I stopped and let her catch up to me. She had two big shopping bags in her hands.
“Been shoppin’?” I asked her.
“Yeah, I had to pick up somethin’ for my trip to Georgia. I’m leavin’ Friday and won’t be back for two whole weeks.” We resumed walking toward the house. “Did you hear about that man that done hanged himself?” she asked. I nodded, and let my mind wander as Carlotta droned on and on.
“Think you can help me?” she asked hopefully.
Embarrassed, I snapped out of my daydream. “Um…I’m sorry, Carlotta. Help you with what?”
“Help me apply for school, Sissy?”
“You ain’t been listenin’,” she said in a hurt tone.
“Sorry. I’ve just gotta lot on my mind.”
In a hesitant voice, she said, “I’m thinkin’ about becomin’ a nurse. What do you think?”
I didn’t say anything at first. To be honest, I thought it was a terrible idea. I’d seen Carlotta when her brother Earl had been real sick, and she had been a disaster. Unsure how to respond, I said, “Well, Carlotta, I think you can do whatever you put your mind to.”
“You really think so? I don’t know, Sissy… I ain’t sure I’m smart enough to make it through.”
“Don’t you tear yourself down, honey. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. Only His opinion matters,” I told her firmly.
As we continued on our way, I thought about Truitt Tate. Evidently he’d been nothing but a player. He’d left Carlotta two years ago, during the time she was expecting his baby, and she was still trying to pick up the pieces.
Carlotta and I kept talking ‘bout schools until we reached a fork in the road. I hugged her goodbye, and she went one way and I went the other.
Want more? Look for it this weekend!