Arbor House Books

The Secret Song of the Ditch Lilies

The Secret Song of the Ditch Lilies

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📚Read an Excerpt

The Dream

It always started the same way with her feet making a soft, sucking sound against the damp earth. A bloated moon hung low and full—too heavy for the sky to hold. Another fifteen minutes and it would fall down behind the scraggly mountain, and the night would be thick with blackness.

She was alone. That much she knew, not because she couldn’t see anyone else, but because her isolation was so complete that it wrapped every inch of her body.

She walked without purpose through the tangled woods with its vicious vines that were hedging her in every direction. And yet there was something that drove her forward, something that kept willing her to take step after step.

She could only imagine it at first, a tiny flicker of light, a conjure of the imagination that was gone before her next breath. The darkness was a heavy blanket against her eyes.

She strained against it, trying to poke through the nothingness. And then another light flickered in the distance, but this one was stronger. How long she walked toward it, she didn’t know. Time had no boundary.

Then she felt the voice. It was barely above a whisper, yet it cut through to the bone in a way the wet never could. No, not a whisper but a chant. An even rhythm that rumbled and ebbed like the distant beating of a heart. She stole forward. They must not hear her. They must not know she was there.

And then they came into view. There were three of them.

She couldn’t see their faces, but there was something familiar in their movements. The one was feverish and wild, the other more careful and unsure. The third was shrouded with shadows, and there was something grotesque about the absence of light around the form that was as still as marble.

She wanted to walk away. What did it matter?

But then the younger girl turned her head, and she caught the curve of her chin and whimpered at the recognition.

Sybil. Here in the darkness. No!

Her heart began to pound, and she tried to get the words out. She had to warn her. There was something terrible in the woods. She had to get them away, but they just kept swaying to the rhythm that was changing to a maddening fast beat.

And then the still figure felt her presence. She tried to back away, but it was only a thought because her feet were useless. It willed her to stay.

When the figure raised its head, the shadows fell away.

A scream pierced the night air. Her scream.

Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. It was too late.

The nothingness was on top of her.

The Secret Song of the Ditch Lilies

Jennifer Youngblood and Sandra Poole

“Every lily has a song,” Mama used to say, “even the ditch lilies.  But theirs is a secret song, and you have to get quiet enough to listen. Shh … listen to the song of the lilies that’s playing against the beating of your heart. It’s been there all along.” 

What if the one thing you wanted most was the one thing you could never have? What If you’d done something so terrible that you could never go back?

Delia Reynolds has it all—money, social status, a husband who loves her. Then why is she so miserable? Why is she haunted by her past?

Delia tries to mold her daughter, Sybil, into her debutante life, but it’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Needing a new life, Sybil flees the fast-paced life of Atlanta and takes her daughter to, of all places, Delia’s hometown, nearly sending Delia over the edge. Faced with the trauma of losing her daughter to the place she spent a lifetime trying to escape, Delia is forced to relive the trauma of the past—trauma that began when her younger sister fell for the son of a snake handler.

Sybil takes a job at a real estate office and unwittingly becomes entangled in an explosive battle that escalates to murder. She becomes involved in a tempestuous relationship with Kade Langston who’s everything she ever wanted in a man and more. She suspects there may be more to Kade than meets the eye when a prominent town council member turns up dead.

A beautiful, engrossing tale of the fragility of the human heart and the courage it takes to embark on the stony path toward the one thing the soul yearns for most—home.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️"Wow! The characters in this book have such depth. The story was fascinating and the end was intense and suspenseful! Amazing book!"  

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️"One of the best books I've read in a very long time. Forgiveness is a very real thing in order to heal & I know that from experience!"

"I usually don't like to write reviews as I don't want to give anything away. This had it all: romance, suspense and endearing characters . This would make a fantastic movie!"

Read the First Chapter

Trailer Trash


I’m not trailer trash. Trailer trash is the bleached blonde in curlers and a tight t-shirt, throwing bacon grease out the back door.

From the looks of me, you’d never know I was anything of the sort. In fact, if you put me in a line-up with ten other women, I’d be the one sporting the Gucci shoes and holding the Louis Vuitton bag. The last pick for trailer trash, that’s for sure.

A nip here, a tuck there, hundred and fifty-dollar haircut. It’s like a peach with a rotten core. Juicy or not—how many layers do you have to mold around it to cover up the stench? That’s the million-dollar question.

A million dollars? Hah! It’ll take more than that to help me figure this one out.

I always thought that if I ran fast enough, I could put enough distance between me and that rusty blue trailer with the flaps of underpinning hanging out the bottom like a can opener had chewed it open. Now here I am, driving through this lonely stretch of road I know so well. To the outside world, I’m a visitor, just passing through to somewhere else.

I’ve seen this place a thousand times in my dreams. It looks different now. At least there was room to breathe then. Now there are scores of dilapidated houses thrown together, looking like they’re trying to elbow their way into a stuffed elevator, and if that weren’t crowded enough, there are trailers propped up on cinder blocks and crammed in impossibly tight spaces between the houses like someone kept opening the door and throwing one more in.

There’s a dog chained to a tree, licking up the dust on his paw like a greedy child sucking on a Popsicle. And there are junk cars, heaps of them left in the yards, waiting to rot.

There must be some unspoken prerequisite: Have a clunker that won’t run and an old coon dog? We’ve got a trailer that’s just right. Move on in. Yes, it looks different, but the more I look at it, the more it looks the same.

My pulse bumps up a notch when we pass a particular side road. I glance at the profile of my husband to see if he senses the change in me. His expression is bland, his mind a thousand miles away. Why would he notice? It’s a nondescript piece of dirt that looks much like countless other places. How could he guess that it’s my road?

I imagine myself walking down that dirt road. I see the burnt-orange lilies, or ditch lilies as we used to call them, growing in bunches on the side of the road. They look like willowy ladies, tipping their fancy hats in the same direction to hear some secret song that plays only to them.

I step into the curve of the ditch and wince when I land on a bed of thorns. It’s not often that I run up against something thick enough to penetrate the soles of my feet that are beef-jerky thick. The tall grass swipes zebra patterns across my battle-scarred knees as I reach for the prize.

I break the stem of the lily and bring it to my face. The soft petals that tickle my nose are moist and supple like the inside of an orange. “My little ditch lilies,” that’s what Mama used to call Sissy and me. We’d grab armfuls of them and haul them home. Mama’d dig an old fruit jar out of the cabinet, and we’d stuff it full.

If I close my eyes, I can conjure up an image that’s real enough to touch. I open my eyes. The ditch lilies won’t be in bloom. It’s still too cold. But there’ll be daffodils, mountains of them. We used to call them buttercups. Just up the road is the trailer. Is it still there? Of course not. I don’t see how it could’ve lasted all these years. A metal can is only able to hold together so long before eating itself in rust. Besides, it was barely holding together back then.

Whether or not the trailer’s there doesn’t matter because it’s real to me. It’s so real that I can still see the moisture sweating on the metal paint that’s shedding like layers of clothes on a beach. I could go up to it and pretend that it hasn’t been thirty-seven years since I last walked through that door.

Before I realize it, we’ve passed my road. I steal another glance at my husband. He’s oblivious to the dark emotions churning in me. We pass more houses and trailers and then head down the mountain. I look off the edge and see the groggy little town nestled below. Wisps of smoke hover over the paper mill. And from a distance, the smoke looks static, like it was captured in the frame of a camera.

I move my gaze upward to the other side of the road where the giant boulders fit together like Legos. The dogwoods are in bloom, bringing explosions of whites and pinks. Everything else is blossoming too. I’ve never seen so many shades of green in one place. An underwater stream juts out between two rocks, spraying down the side of the mountain like a jug of water turned on its side. It’s a breathtaking sight—some of the prettiest countryside God ever built.

I feel a burst of hope. Maybe home isn’t that far away. I can feel it, filling my lungs with delicious anticipation. My voice is throaty with emotion. “Isn’t this beautiful?”

My husband looks from one side of the road to the other before answering. For a moment, I think he’ll just nod, but he finally speaks. “All I’ve seen for the past several miles is a bunch of trailers, pines, and power lines.”

His comment is a bucket of ice water that jolts me from my revelry and dashes my dreams. I sit up straight in the seat and clamp my mouth shut. I want to lash out, tell him how things really are. But then I see his hand on the wheel, his Rolex gleaming in the afternoon sun, and I realize that he didn’t mean it as an insult. He doesn’t know.

I rub my hand across my brow. What was I thinking? I can never go back. Too much has happened. Sissy’s face floats into my mind like a breeze that’s soft as a summer’s morning before it goes chill and clutches my heart.

I’m less than five miles from the old blue trailer, but I’ll never make it home because a lifetime’s not long enough to make up for the things I’ve done.

I turn on the radio, anything to crowd out the thoughts. My stomach growls, and that’s all it takes to catapult me right back to the thing I’m trying to avoid. I remember being hungry then too.

* * *
A lifetime ago …

“Trailer trash!”

Delia stared so hard at the sheet of music in front of her that she might’ve burnt a hole through it. The hateful words hissed around her, a poisonous vapor trying to find a chink in her armor.

She willed her mind to think of something else. Habit kicked in and plunked in her favorite daydream. She was rich and lived on a ranch in Spain. She had a maid and could have all the ice cream she could ever want and a—

“Did you hear me? Parker! I’m talking to you!” The voice circled around again, looking for another way in. It grew softer and more menacing, a tiger homing in on the kill. “I said you’re trailer trash.”

No response.

“Look at them clothes. Didn’t you wear them yesterday? Are them the only ones you got? Delia! You look at me when I’m talking to you … Delia!”

The voice sliced through her name like a butcher knife slicing through a cantaloupe, separating it into two parts, sounding like “deal – ya.” She glanced at one of her classmates. Lisa’s eyes met hers for the briefest of seconds before looking down at the ground. No one would speak up against the voice. She was on her own.

“Trailer trash! Trailer trash! Stinks like an icky rash.”

The words were strung together in a rhyme that was all too familiar. One she’d heard so often in the classroom that it was starting to carry over into her mind. She felt a yank on her sleeve. This left her no other choice but to turn in her chair and face Lataine Dunn, her tormenter.

It seemed hard to believe that the ugly words came from such perfect lips. Lataine was flawless with her silky blonde hair pulled up in a crisp ponytail and flanked with red ribbons. Her blue eyes were the color of the sky in June.

Lataine was so pretty that it hurt to look at her. Because every time she did, Delia was reminded that Lataine had everything and she had nothing. Everyone wanted to be Lataine’s friend, and she was the teacher’s pet. Plus, she had nice clothes and lived in a presentable white house with a sidewalk down the front. And if that weren’t enough, her mama picked her up every afternoon from school in their brand new 1964 Plymouth that was shiny red with a white convertible top.

Lataine looked Delia over from head to toe. Her clear eyes lingered for a moment on her dull bobby socks and tattered shoes with the frayed laces. Delia wanted to shrink down to the size of a fly crawling on the floor. She fought the urge to tuck her feet farther under her chair. Lataine’s eyes stopped at her clothes, and her petulant lips turned down.

“You wear them same clothes every day. Don’t you get tired of them?”

Delia glanced down at her checked brown skirt and wrinkled pink blouse. Maybe it would be easier to hide the fact that she had only one skirt if it were plain. The skirt was almost as ugly as her stinky shoes and shabby shirt.

“Poor Delia.” Lataine was purring like a cat.

Delia hated cats, almost as much as she hated Lataine Dunn. Her eyes flashed. “Well, I washed them if that’s what you’re worried about.”

It was a lie but a good one. She wore the clothes at least three times in a row before washings. It was too much work to wash every day, and there was so much iron in their water that she and Sissy had to go up to Grace’s house and tote water back to wash the whites. Otherwise, everything turned a dingy orange like her socks that accidentally got washed in the tainted water. But Lataine didn’t know all this … and neither did any of the other girls.

One girl chuckled at Delia’s remark, causing pink to tinge Lataine’s cheeks. She sat back in her chair without saying another word, giving Delia a moment to focus on her music. She rubbed her sweaty palm on her skirt and licked her dry lips. She raised the clarinet to her mouth and tapped the reed with her tongue. She knew what Lataine was trying to do, and it was working. There was only one thing that Delia had that Lataine didn’t, and Lataine was determined to get that too.

Delia’s stomach turned a somersault when the band director entered the room. He gave his stand a brief tap with his wand. “Let’s warm up by going through a couple of scales, and then we’ll begin the challenges.”

Delia’s fingers went through the routine of playing the scales as she glanced at Lataine out of the corner of her eye. She couldn’t tell for sure, but she thought Lataine looked nervous.

“I’ll bet you get first chair again,” Lisa whispered.

“No, you will,” Delia whispered back, even though they both knew it wasn’t true. Every week the band director allowed the students to challenge each other for first chair. Delia won the coveted slot at the beginning of the year, and Lataine challenged her for it every week.

Delia’s stomach growled and she looked around, hoping no one heard. She didn’t eat lunch. It was hard enough to sit in the cafeteria and watch everyone else eat, but today Chuck Stewart made it worse by making a big deal about it.
She’d watched Chuck pinch off a chunk of his roll and dip it in his mashed potatoes. “Ain’t you hungry?”

Delia shrugged. “Not really.” She caught a whiff of his meatloaf, and her mouth watered.

“I don’t see how you can go without eating,” he said in between bites.

Some days she did eat. Those were the days she remembered to make a tunafish sandwich. She’d wrap it in aluminum foil and carry it with her. The mayonnaise always soaked through the bread, making the center of the sandwich soggy. Sissy would go hungry before she’d eat a soggy sandwich, but Delia would eat it.

One time Delia noticed that some of the kids went through the line and said “free” when the lunch lady got ready to take the money. Delia tried that a few times until her teacher announced one morning that the lunchroom ladies were complaining that some of the kids who weren’t supposed to be were getting free lunches. She wished she could qualify for a free lunch. She took the form home one time, but Mama shook her head and said they made too much money.

It’s too bad there wasn’t a place on that form to write that any money Mama made got drunk up by Quince long before it ever made it home.

Delia looked over and realized that Lataine was playing. She made it through the first three lines perfectly but stumbled a little over the eighth notes on the last two lines.

The band director nodded. “Very good, Miss Dunn. Now, let’s see what Miss Parker can do.”

All eyes were on Delia. She took a deep breath and raised the clarinet to her lips. The music seemed to come from someplace else, and her fingers flew over the keys like they knew their place even before her mind directed them. She enunciated every note, tapping her tongue against the reed. She got down to the last couple of lines and had to concentrate a little more as she made her way through the series of eighth notes. A moment later, it was done.

The band director clapped. “Bravo. Another flawless performance. First chair stays with Miss Parker.”

Lataine’s eyes cut into her.

“Good job,” Lisa whispered as they made their way into the hall.

Lataine came up behind them. “This ain’t over, Parker.”

Delia glanced at Lataine. Her blood went cold when she saw who else was standing there.

Joyce Bane was half a head taller than any of the other students. She was just as impressed with Lataine Dunn as everyone else. Lataine never fought any of her own battles; Joyce did it for her.

Delia knees turned to jelly. She watched Joyce beat her hand into her fist. In … out … in … out.

Joyce pointed. “Me and you. This afternoon.” The words seemed to rumble from somewhere deep in her chest.

Delia stumbled past them with Lisa close on her heels.

“What’re you gonna do?”

“I don’t know.”

For once, Lataine was right. Delia would pay. Joyce Bane would make sure of it.
* * *
No matter how hard Delia tried to concentrate on her math, all she could see was Joyce Bane’s hand crashing in and out of her fist. She wondered if she could keep from crying when her head got pounded into mush. She rubbed her tongue across her teeth. As long as she could keep them from getting broken, she’d be okay.

She glanced at Beaner Crabtree whose desk was across from hers. One of his front teeth was chipped. It was like someone took a knife and carved out a perfect diagonal from top to bottom. He was always sticking his tongue through the open hole that was big enough to fit a cow through. She shuddered. It was hard enough to go through school with one skirt. Heaven forbid if she were to be snaggle-toothed too.

What if Joyce hit her in the nose? It would blow up like a balloon. Her heart was pounding, and she could feel a cold sweat coming on. There were too many awful possibilities. She would give anything to relive that moment in band. She should’ve let Lataine win. There was no use in trying to fight. People like her always won in the end.


She jumped at the sound of her name and looked up at Miss Mays. “Yes ma’am.”

“Miss Crossland wants to see you.”

Delia’s eyes widened, and she heard Beaner Crabtree snicker. “You’re in trouble.”

Delia could feel all eyes on her when she stood and walked to the door.

All the way down the hall to Miss Crossland’s office she wondered why the guidance counselor wanted to see her. She paused a moment when she reached Miss Crossland’s door. The top portion was made of glass, giving her a view of the counselor’s silver hair hanging like a curtain as she leaned over her desk. Delia turned the knob, and the counselor looked up and beckoned her in.

“Have a seat.”

Delia sat on the edge of the chair with her hands clasped in her lap.

The counselor studied her, and Delia tried to put on a good face for those probing eyes. “How are you doing?”

She squirmed in her seat. “Fine.”

“Miss Mays tells me that you’re making all A’s and B’s this year.”

“Yes ma’am.”

The counselor leaned back in her seat and straightened the front of her blouse. Delia thought she caught a whiff of baby powder. “I want to congratulate you on your success in your schoolwork. I know the past year has been hard. Do y'all hear from your daddy much?”

“No.” She looked down at the floor. There were smudges of dirt around a patch of gum that had been partially scraped off.

“I think you’ve done very well under the circumstances. You come to school looking neat and clean, and you’re very polite.”

Delia’s cheeks began to burn. What did Miss Crossland know about being so poor that you only have one skirt? What did she know about watching your mother cry herself to sleep every night for six months after your dad walked out the door? What did she know about anything?

“I called you in here today to talk about Sissy.”

Her head shot up. “Did something happen?”

“Yes, I’m afraid it did.”

Delia’s lower lip went to jiggling, and she bit it to keep it still. It was her worst fear. She’d imagined it happening a hundred different ways. Mama would be standing on the edge of the mountain, waving at Delia to follow, a carefree smile on her face like the one she used to have before Dad left.

Then her smile would falter, like it was too heavy to hold in place and one foot would slide and then the other. Delia would try to reach her, but her legs wouldn’t move. Mama was still waving, but this time her arms moved in jerky motions like a puppet trying to grasp onto something solid.

The air couldn’t hold her. She fell backwards and out of Delia’s view. When she finally willed her feet to make it to the edge, she’d look over. Sometimes Mama would be there and sometimes Sissy.


Delia’s heart tore at her chest like it was trying to come out. What would she tell Mama? She felt the tears welling and put up the stone wall to hold them back. Her fingers pinched a plug out of her leg.

“Delia, honey, are you all right?”

She looked at the clock on the wall and saw those cold, black hands ticking … always ticking.

“Delia, you’re white as a strip of lace. What’s gotten into you?”

She focused on Miss Crossland’s lips. They looked like two smears of blood. It was all she could do to get the words out. “What—happened—to—her?”

“She’s been talking back to Miss Talley, and then there’s the problem of her wetting her clothes.”


The counselor nodded. “Miss Talley’s at her wits end. I would’ve called your mama in here, but she’s never available and …”

The words tumbled out of the counselor like soup overflowing from a Tupperware container, and Delia didn’t hear a word. She felt giddy all of a sudden and had to bite back a giggle. Sissy’s okay. Sissy’s okay. She kept repeating these words over and over in her mind as fast as the counselor was speaking.

After a few moments, Miss Crossland stopped and looked at her funny. “Delia, have you heard a word I’ve said?”

“Yes ma’am.”

The counselor’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t believe you have. What I was saying is that I need your help. You’ve got to talk to Sissy and tell her that she can’t keep wetting her clothes. She smells bad, and the other children don’t want to be around her.”

“I’ll try,” Delia said, feeling like Miss Crossland had just asked her to pull down the sky and make it purple. Her stomach growled, and she hoped that Miss Crossland didn’t hear it.

“Sissy’ll listen to you. She can’t keep talking back to her teacher. Miss Talley has tried paddling, putting her in a corner, but nothing seems to work.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

Miss Crossland smiled. “I knew I could count on you.”

Delia started fidgeting. Maybe she should tell Miss Crossland about Lataine Dunn and Joyce Bane. She seemed like she wanted to help. Maybe she would know what to do.

She cleared her throat. “Miss Crossland?”


Her heart started hammering. “Um … something happened in band … Lataine Dunn … I mean …”

Miss Crossland’s face grew soft like she’d just taken a bite of apple pie. “That Lataine Dunn’s a fine young woman. I’m so glad to see that you’re making friends.”

Delia nodded and looked down. She rubbed her foot across the patch of leftover gum. Her eyes fell on the dirt smudges. She’d thought they were gray when she first came in, but she was wrong.

They were streaks of black.
* * *
The bus ride home proved to be just as long and bumpy as Delia feared it would be. She chose the second row from the front and kept her eyes fixed forward. If Joyce Bane wanted to pound her, she’d have to do it up here in front of the bus driver. Not that he would do anything to prevent it. The old coot might as well have been deaf. He never took care of any problems on the bus. It was like there was this invisible wall behind him that kept him from seeing or hearing anything.

All went well for the first half of the ride home. Just when Delia started to relax, she heard the commotion in the back. She didn’t think much about it until one of the boys tapped her on the head.

“Hey, your little sister’s ‘bout to get whooped.”

Sissy! She’d seen her get on the bus earlier but didn’t think twice about it. It didn’t even enter her mind that Joyce would …

Without completing the thought, she grabbed her books and clarinet and got up from her seat and began making her way to the back through the mass of students standing in the aisles.

She heard Sissy before she saw her. “You just wait till my big sister gets ahold of you! She’ll tear your head off.”

There stood Sissy, her face red with rage, her head just making it to the top of Joyce’s chest. Delia’s legs started wobbling and she caught hold of a seat to steady herself.
Sissy pointed. “Here’s Delia! You won’t believe what this cow called Mama.”

Joyce turned.

Delia stepped back. She was torn between her desire to flee and her need to protect Sissy.

Joyce smiled, but her eyes narrowed into tiny slits. She balled her fist and hit it into the palm of her other hand. It was just as Delia pictured. She grabbed Delia by the shirt and yanked her forward. The force caused Delia to lose her grip on the clarinet case, and it went down, landing square on Joyce Bane’s toe. She yelped and doubled over. Sissy came up behind Joyce and started pelting her. Each hit looked as insignificant as a horsefly trying to have a punching match with an ox. Joyce forgot about Delia for a moment and turned on Sissy. She balled up her fist and reared back for the strike.


It was like a wave halting in midair before crashing to the shore.

“Wait!” Delia said again. “Y’all can’t do this.”

Joyce’s mouth twisted to a sneer. “Say’s who!” She glared at Sissy who didn’t have any more sense than to glare back.

Sissy’s feet were planted in a stance, and her fists were clenched, looking like she could actually take Joyce on. Had Sissy’s life not been hanging in the balance, Delia might’ve laughed at the absurdity of the situation. It was David against Goliath, and Goliath wasn’t going to be held off much longer.

“I’m gonna give pissy pants Parker just what she deserves.”
Joyce looked back at Delia. “And then I’m comin’ for you.”

“I ain’t pissy!” Sissy shouted, but her voice lacked conviction. Tears were forming in the corners of her eyes.

Delia racked her brain for a solution. There had to be a way out of this. There just had to be. She wedged in between Joyce and Sissy. This would either work or get them pounded. It was hard to say which.

“Wait a minute. Do you remember what Mr. Barton said?” She didn’t look at Joyce’s face but instead kept her eyes fixed on her fist. She didn’t wait for a response before continuing. “He said that if one more fight breaks out, then we won’t have a band party.”

Joyce laughed, sounding more like a snarl. “We’re not in band right now, you idiot.”

“No, but you’re a band member, and so am I.”

Delia glanced at Joyce’s face and saw the blessed doubt creep into her eyes. “Just think how mad Lataine’s gon' be if she finds out you’re the cause of us not getting a party. All the kids will hate you.”

It only took Joyce a second to make up her mind, but to Delia that second seemed like forever. Finally, Joyce’s fist relaxed. They were coming up on Delia and Sissy’s stop. Thank goodness. She motioned to Sissy. “Let’s go.” She reached for her clarinet.

“Gimme that.” Joyce yanked it out of Delia’s hand. A wicked grin spread across her face as she placed the case on the back of the seat and opened it. She twisted the clarinet together and touched the mouthpiece that still had the reed attached. She broke off the tip with her finger.

Sissy made a move to grab the clarinet out of Joyce’s hands, but Delia stopped her. “You’ve been enough trouble today,” she said, her teeth clenched. Sissy jerked her arm out of Delia’s grasp. Before Joyce or Delia could react, Sissy grabbed the case and took off down the aisle like she was running for a touchdown. The bus came to a stop.

Delia looked at Joyce. “Give me that back,” she said, trying to keep the pleading out of her voice. Panic was building in her chest. “We’ve got to get off.”

“Go on then,” Joyce said, holding the clarinet away from Delia’s grasp.

Sissy was already off the bus and waving her arms for Delia to follow. The tears were gathering, and Delia was afraid she couldn’t hold them back this time. “Please give me my clarinet.”

Joyce grinned. “I’ll give it to Sissy.”

She turned her back, and before Delia knew what was happening she pulled the window down.

“Hey Sissy!” she yelled. “Catch!”


Delia saw it all in slow motion. Joyce shoving the clarinet out the window. The way Sissy’s eyes widened just before it hit the ground. The bus starting to roll forward. Sissy reaching for the clarinet.

Delia bit down on her lip, drawing blood. Tears were stinging her eyes. She ran up the aisle. “Stop! I have to get off.”
* * *
“What happened next?”

It took Delia a moment to adjust to the present. She’d gotten so caught up in the memories that she forgot she was sitting in a plush office on the fifteenth floor of a high rise that was smack dab in the middle of downtown Atlanta.

She reached for her two-carat diamond ring and twisted it around her finger. She wasn’t that scared little girl on the bus anymore. She was a grown woman of substance. A woman to be reckoned with on any level.

Her expression soured. “You’re the therapist. At a hundred and fifty an hour I would think that you’d be able to figure it out.”

She watched color creep into his face. Good. She scooted back in her chair and folded her arms. The forty-something-year-old man sitting across from her was almost young enough to be her son. His sandy hair was bluntly cut and his features well proportioned. Intelligent eyes searched her face from behind his stylish glasses.

Yes, he thought he had it all figured out, sitting in his leather chair and strumming his manicured nails on a mahogany desk that cost more than most people made in a month. It wasn’t that she begrudged him for being wealthy.

There were plenty of wealthy people in the world. Plenty of good, wealthy people. It was that he had the audacity to judge her. She’d come here for one reason, and it wasn’t to spill her guts to this hotshot. He wasn’t going to make her another textbook case.

The silence in the room became oppressive. When he had the sense to realize that strumming his fingers wasn’t going to get him anywhere, he tried a different approach.

“Let’s go back to the beginning.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Weren’t we just there, doctor?”

His expression remained bland. He was ignoring her insolence now. She’d have to try something else. He went on talking. “You were telling me about the guidance counselor. I’m curious about something.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Why did you automatically assume that something bad happened to Sissy?”

“That’s what she said. Don’t you remember what I just told you?”

He looked down at his notes. “She said something happened, but she didn’t say what. You jumped to the conclusion …”

“All right. I see where this is going. You’re saying that I have some hang-up about my sister. Is that it?”

“Do you?”

“Do I what?”

“Have a hang-up about your sister?”

“You try having your father walk out the door and see how that affects you. I think I did pretty darn well under the circumstances.” She took a deep breath and tried to calm her nerves. This little trip down memory lane was getting ridiculous.

“Will you just give me my prescription? If I could get a good night’s sleep, my problems would be solved.” She flashed him a smile. Her voice grew cashmere soft. “It would make your job so much easier. I’m cured and you’re the hero.” She gritted her teeth. “Just give me my prescription.”

“What happened to the clarinet?”

Her fists knotted. “This is impossible!” She jumped out of her seat and went to the window. The view was dizzying. From this distance, the city looked like a giant cake cut into squares. And the cars were ants scurrying around, trying their best to get a piece. She let her mind get lost in the commotion.

“Delia, what happened to the clarinet?”

“I told you.”

“What happened after you got off the bus?”

“The clarinet was broken.”

“Did you get it fixed?”

Her hand went in the air. “Oh yeah, I snapped my fingers and ‘presto’ it was fixed.” She shook her head. “Isn’t it time for this session to end? I promised to come, and I came. Now, give me my prescription so I can get out of here. This is a waste of time.”

“I tell you what. I’ll make you a deal.”

She turned to face him.

“You come and sit down, and we’ll talk a few more minutes, then I’ll give you your prescription. How does that sound?”

“Fine!” She took her time getting to her seat, sauntering with her back stiff and chin in the air. He waited until she was seated.

“Now, tell me about the clarinet.”

It happened so long ago. Why was it so difficult to talk about? She took a deep breath. “The clarinet was broken beyond repair, and we barely had enough money to buy food, much less to get a new one. I dropped out of band, and that was that. End of story.”

“Did you ever play the clarinet again?”


“Anything else you want to tell me?”

She crossed her arms. “Nope.”

He began scribbling on a pad. “Here’s your prescription.”

She reached to grab it, but he held on.

“This is enough to get you through the week.”

Her eyes widened and then narrowed. The nerve. “What? This is absurd. Do you not realize who I am?”

“You come back next week, same day, same time, and we’ll continue our conversation.”

She jerked the paper out of his hand and stood.


“It doesn’t seem as though I have a choice, does it, doctor?”

He leaned back in his seat and pulled at his tie. “Oh yes, you always have a choice.”

She rolled her eyes.

“See you next week, Delia.”

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