Home > South of Sunshine

South of Sunshine
Author: Dana Elmendorf


Chapter 1


You don’t expect to be dumped five seconds after someone shoves his tongue down your throat. But that’s what Dave Bradford just did to me. I suppose the kiss was Dave’s idea of a consolation prize. Or maybe he was giving it one more try to see if there was any possibility of a spark. He’d have a better chance of lighting a wet match.

I want to tell Dave thank you for saving me from another week of spit baths before I eventually ditched him. Instead, Dave Bradford stands there—his fat slug tongue safely back in his mouth—and he gives me the whole “it’s not you, it’s me” speech. He has no idea how wrong he is, but I have no intention of enlightening him as to why.

Then, as if breaking up with me in the locker hallway in front of God and everybody isn’t enough, he also informs me he’ll be taking Chelsea to the big party Friday night. Wow. First day into my senior year, the boyfriend I’ve had for the last three weeks is my longest relationship. Ever. And because I’m unable to feign interest in any guy for very long, I’m being dumped for Chelsea Hannigan—tiny tank top Chesty Hannigan.

Dave leaves me hanging at my locker, feeling like a total loser, wondering if my kissing skills equal those of a dead fish.

I’ve kissed lots of boys. Well, what I think would be lots for the average seventeen-year-old girl. If we’re talking, say, Becky Staggs—who has kissed every guy this side of the Mississippi—then my lip-locking would be a drop in the bucket.

My first French kiss was the single most disgusting moment of my life. Hayden Mays, my summer boyfriend before eighth grade, had pulled me under one of those big beautiful oak trees. The butterflies in my stomach had migrated to my throat. Their wings raked against my esophagus, trying to get the hell out of there. It took a full thirty seconds of teeth gnashing and tongue lapping before I could decipher why the moment felt so terribly wrong. The second Hayden set me free, I ran straight home, immediately texted him, and broke up.

I shove my backpack in my locker and shut the door.

“Finally,” says my friend Van. He wraps an arm around my shoulders and marches us toward the cafeteria. “Thank God that relationship is over.”

“You’re such an eavesdrop whore.”

Van sticks his tongue out at me. “Dave may be a hottie, but I was worried you were going to drown in all that saliva.” He makes an exaggerated slurping noise, and I laugh.

That’s Vander Elgin Lovelace for you, all jokes to wash away the hurt. He’s been that way ever since preschool. Not that I’m sad Dave dumped me, but Van knows how hard I worked all summer to rally up a boyfriend, a charade that’s getting harder and harder to keep up. Now I’ll have to go to the Goodman’s annual kick-off-the-school-year party without a “boyfriend” again.

It’s a legacy party that’s been a tradition in our small Tennessee town for ten years. Thirty if you count the previous two generations of strapping Goodman boys. Three sons each generation—that family has some serious XY dominant chromosomes.

It started with Andrew’s grandfather’s barn dances. Then Andrew’s father and uncles hosted cornfield parties. Now it’s a bonfire bash by their family lake, unchaperoned. Andrew, the third and last Goodman boy of this generation, is the grand host. And anybody who’s anybody is going.

Van and I both grab salad bowls. “Nice tats on the shoes,” I say, complimenting his airbrushed Chucks—which I’m pretty sure is his third customized pair of Chucks he’s punked up. But Van, with his deep-purple skinny jeans, vintage Poison T-shirt, and black blazer, wears them like it’s the latest punk trend. His messy layered hair screams Johnny Depp.

“Thanks. I like the clawing tiger.” Van roars and mimics the slashing paw of the image on his shoes. His smile glistens when he bares his teeth.

“Look,” Van says, pointing to the spill of chocolate pudding on the counter, “a love note.”

In an attempt to clean up a drop of pudding, someone had inadvertently smeared it into the shape of a heart. Hearts abound in nature. Love notes from the universe, asking you to pay attention. I take out my cell phone and snap a picture of it to add to my collection.

Van plops four cherry tomatoes on my salad. I hate cherry tomatoes, but Van loves them, and the lunch lady in charge of the salad line is a tomato nazi. She only allows four per salad. Like our Podunk high school will go in arrears over an excess of produce consumption. Van smirks at the lunch lady as she scans his card.

We plunk down onto the barstool-style seats attached to the lunch table. Van calls the stools “orange butt mushrooms.” They’re one of the “mini upgrades” our school made over the summer, because what school wouldn’t benefit from butt mushrooms over new library books.

“Eeeeee!” Sarabeth squeals as she sits down across from us. “Four more days!” She wiggles on her butt mushroom.

Sarabeth Anne Beaudroux’s local family lineage dates back to the early eighteen hundreds. Her family owns a historical yellow colonial home in the heart of Sunshine—as in “Sunshine, Tennessee. A good place to be.” (According to our clever, catchy, and completely lame city limit signs.) Her home has the oldest, grandest oak tree in town, with a rope swing to boot. And she is the epitome of a southern peach—all charm with a pinch of scandal and intrigue. Shampoo commercials have got nothing on her blond shine.

“Whatcha gonna wear, Kaycee?”

“Definitely not plaid,” Van answers before I can. A death stare beams from Sarabeth. On cue, Andrew Goodman—in his light blue plaid shirt—sits down next to Sarabeth, pecking a quick kiss on her cheek just before he tucks into his lunch: two cheeseburgers, a glop of spaghetti, and a mountain of dinner rolls. I wonder if he plans on trucking in his dessert.

“Haven’t decided,” I say before Van cares to elaborate on plaid. “Maybe just a T-shirt and shorts.” I know what’s coming next—a sour face, a grunt in disgust. I want to remind Sarabeth of our childhood days in her Granny’s creek bed, catching crawdads and riding horses. Where plaid shirts, jean overalls, and muddy waders were our wardrobe of choice. That is, until one kiss from a cute farm boy at eleven—after that it was dresses and pink for Sarabeth. Thank goodness all that pink didn’t go to her head, or we wouldn’t still be riding horses in that old creek.

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