I Love You, Jilly Sanders, page 1
I LOVE YOU,
Cindy Lou Daniels
Copyright © Cindy Lou Daniels 2013
Published in the United States by First Kindle Direct (Digital Edition) Publishing KDP, February 2014.
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author or from the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, or actual locales is purely coincidental.
Cover Art by “The Cover Collection”
TABLE OF CONTENTS
BOOK ONE: DEPARTURES
Oh Lordy! Jilly’s first glimpse of the town of Briar Rose rising up like a heat wave in the distance did not feel the least bit comforting. She could count on one hand the number of buildings she saw huddled together, their roof-tops poking up haphazardly toward the sky to form an eerie sort of sanctuary smack-dab in the middle of nowhere. The individual beats of her heart slip-slid together. Could that be the place where she’d been abandoned sixteen years ago? If so, she should feel lucky she hadn’t been eaten by wolves. Or by coydogs.
The thought made her uneasy, and she looked suspiciously around her. Shadows filtered into dangerous shapes. The hair rose on the back of her neck as she froze in place and peered intently into the deep wooded area that lined the side of the road. The heat from the old sun-softened blacktop burned its way through the soles of her sneakers as she hesitated. She’d read somewhere that when you were trying to look for something in a dense woodland you had to look through the trees, to almost pretend every single tree trunk was transparent, in order to see what was really there.
To her amazement, the technique worked. The trees blurred into the background and all the space between them stood out in sharp focus. The coydogs she’d been imagining, those strange half-breeds somewhere between a coyote and a dog, were either in hiding or sleeping because she saw nothing. She let out a sigh of relief and felt her limbs relax.
Still, the burr-like thought stayed with her as she started walking again. She wouldn’t have been surprised to discover that someone, at some time, had been eaten by coydogs right outside this speck of a town that hadn’t even warranted a pin-dot on the map of the United States she’d stolen from Lester’s glove compartment before she ran away.
At the time, she’d had no idea Briar Rose nestled snuggly inside the Adirondack Park region. When she’d searched the US map and found no mention of the town, her stomach had filled with the pudding-weight of despair. Had the social workers lied to her all those years? Made up a story simply to give her the illusion of a past?
She had forced herself to detour from the main highway and go into a gas station to purchase a map of New York. Once outside, she stood under a streetlamp searching for twenty long minutes until the name popped out at her from an area shaded in green. Her breath had caught against her throat, and her fingers trembled as she awkwardly refolded the map.
Seeing the name of the town, however small, had been like bumping into something solid she had begun to fear was nothing more than a figment of her imagination. The fact that she’d been found at a church in Briar Rose when she was about a month old was the only solid information she’d ever known about where she came from. She couldn’t imagine that fact being snatched away from her – not now.
Putting the crumpled map in her knapsack had given her a feeling of security as she set out again, her resolve renewed. Never mind that she had to keep telling the truckers she’d hitched rides with the names of nearby towns because nobody else had ever heard of Briar Rose; she knew it was real.
Too real. She could see now why the town hadn’t merited a mention on the US map. This was the kind of place where people left and never came back. The negative thought kited through her mind as she reached the first building at the edge of town.
Feeling as though she was entering an alternate universe, she walked past a small grocery store called Digg’s and saw a bored cashier leaning against the counter inside, flipping through the pages of a magazine, her jaw working furiously on a piece of gum. There wasn’t a customer in sight.
Right next door to the grocery store stood a small one-story red brick building with two separate sets of steps leading up to two separate wooden doors. Above the left door hung a wood-burned sign that said POST OFFICE; above the right, the same style sign said LIBRARY. Jilly blinked. She imagined a person could have taken a buzz saw and split the entire dwelling neatly in half without disturbing a single thing inside.
The diner directly across the street looked like a silver trolley car. The hand-lettered sign propped against one dingy window read: ‘ALL U CAN EAT 4 LESS’. Jilly hiked her knapsack higher onto her back, tempted to visit the diner. She hadn’t eaten since yesterday afternoon, almost twenty-four hours ago. As if in protest at the rude reminder, her stomach rumbled. Coydog growl, she thought, biting her bottom lip as she cast a glance toward the Mobil station mini-mart down near the end of the lane.
She’d be smarter, since her meager funds were fast disappearing, to go there and grab a Yogi Bear lunch. That’s what Lynette and Lester called stopping at a convenience store and grabbing snack food for a makeshift picnic; they also called it ‘going out to dinner’ depending on what time of day it happened to be when they passed one by.
Jilly pushed the thoughts of what she hoped were her final set of foster parents firmly out of her mind. There had to be other things in this town as well, shooting off from this main street that wasn’t really a street at all. Two cars would be lucky to travel past each other without touching side mirrors. Not that she had seen two cars traveling simultaneously at any point while she’d been here. For that matter she hadn’t seen two people at the same time since she’d been here.
“This isn’t exactly the best time to freak yourself out,” she said aloud. The sound of her own familiar voice centered her scattered thoughts and she paused.
Dinner or the gas station? The sun smacked the cracked white-hot sidewalk, directing its rays upward into her face that already felt flushed and red. She longed for a cool shower, clean jeans, and to wiggle her toes outside of the twelve dollar sneakers Lynette had let her buy four months ago at Payless. She longed to slip into the murky diner and let some nameless stranger wait on her.
But if she did that, she might never continue.
She gulped in a hot drink of air and headed toward the Mobil station. Whoever worked in there would no doubt be able to tell her how to find the local church. And that’s what she was looking for, what she had come all this way to find . . . that and the feather-slim chance of finding her real mother.
The idea of her mother curled Jilly’s stomach into a snail-shaped shell. She’d dreamed of her last night, in those hours before dawn, when she’d finally succumbed to blissful dreams, too tired to care she had to sleep outdoors, fifty-feet off from the nearest road, hidden under a pine tree that offered a bed of fallen needles, too tired to care that she’d been unable to get a ride toward her destination since the last trucker had dropped her off at a side road that afternoon.
In the dream, she’d seen someone tall, like herself, and although she couldn’t make out the person’s face, she knew she’d heard the words ‘I love you, Jilly Sanders’ and that had been enough to startle her awake and send her scrambling like a chipmunk out toward the road again blinking her eyes against the early morning sun.
A few miles later she’d came upon a brown and yellow sign that said in fancy script: BRIAR ROSE 14 MILES and her belly did a loop-de-loop.
Coming upon the sign had been like confirming her own existence. The town existed, so therefore she, too, existed. No matter that her last social worker told her to quit daydreaming about a place that had nothing to do with the present. No matter that she’d told Jilly in the same exact tone that if Jilly didn’t straighten up and fly right, she wasn’t going to be able to continue to live with Lester and Lynette for the two years she had left before she hit the magical age of eighteen and would be on her own.
Jilly had straightened up and flew right out of Lester and Lynette’s grasp. She had to. That case worker wouldn’t even listen when Jilly tried to explain exactly what had caused the latest batch of trouble that sent Lester into a funk, which in turn sent Lynette to the phone to call in a complaint. Lynette thought Jilly had punched Lester in the eye out of pure meanness, mostly because that’s what Lester told her had happened.
The truth was that Jilly had refused to play any more of Lester’s invented games, including his most recent creation, ‘Hug-Me-Squeeze-Me’, which she herself had reinvented as ‘Hug-Me-And-I’ll-Poke-Your-Eye-Out’. Served him right, Jilly thought, not at all remorseful she’d popped him one. Just the thought of Lester’s wet palms against her arms made her mouth pinch up in dry horror.
She knew in the child-like part of her heart that still believed in goodness there had to be decent, loving people in the foster care system. She’d just never been lucky enough to find any of them. In point of fact, she hadn’t been lucky at much of anything. She’d lived in a group home when she was a baby, right up until the time she turned seven, and she’d been placed with a couple who’d requested a young girl.
Their names were Hilda and Carl. They didn’t have any children of their own, and Jilly ended up being practice for them. Carl practiced being an invisible dad and Hilda apparently practiced unsafe sex. She managed to get pregnant eight months after Jilly went to live with them, and she immediately decided to send Jilly back to the group home. Apparently, blood really was thicker than foster-water.
Jilly’s stomach flip-flopped as the unwilling shame-memory of how she had cried and begged Hilda to keep her surfaced. Hilda had been sorry, she said, but they didn’t have room for Jilly anymore. She’d been so point blank Jilly’s tears had dried up and left her with a burning sensation in her stomach painful enough for Hilda to send her back early.
That was the last time Jilly could remember feeling sorry for herself. She’d discovered the emotion was futile, especially as she moved through a succession of other families. Some were lifers: foster families who made a living from taking in kids of any type or need; some were first-timers: rosy-eyed dreamers who hadn’t a clue of how to deal with kids who’d never been wanted by anyone. Others wanted kids to work for them, and some realized they wanted a boy instead of a girl or vice-versa. Jilly had often wondered what criteria would have made her the perfect match for one of those families, but she could never figure out the answer. Maybe if she had been prettier or smarter or . . . something she probably didn’t have the ability to be . . . she wouldn’t be out here now, wandering in the Adirondacks searching for a family of her own.
But maybe all that life experience was a good thing. Maybe that was what fate had planned for her right from the get-go. Maybe she was destined to find her family on her own.
She knew she had one, even if various other life-facts remained as fragile Might-Bees or Could-Bees. The very worst Could-Bee was that she didn’t know for sure what day she’d been born on. Some hapless person, when she’d been turned into the system after she’d been found, had given her the birth date of June 1, 1981. And when June 1, 1997 rolled around, Jilly called herself sixteen and made a promise to herself that if it took her the rest of her life, she’d find out her true birth date.
Two weeks later, all in the space of one day, Lester had privately demonstrated his newly invented game, made up lies about why Jilly had smacked him in the eye, and Lynette had called Jilly’s current case worker.
Jilly had to admit that her attempt to explain her predicament had been half-hearted at best. She didn’t want to stay there anyway. She had more important plans.
Only she hadn’t realized at the time how scary being totally on her own would be…
Would-Bees apparently ranked right up there with all the other Bees in her life.
Jilly shook the thought away like a coyote shedding water. Certain facts were indisputable. Somebody out there—out here— must love her. She knew that somewhere deep down in her soul. She’d only been waiting for the right time to come and find out who. Now that she’d taken the first step, she figured the only thing she needed to get what she wanted was the courage to dream. It only made sense that sometimes people had to have faith in dreams when they were searching for the truth.
And now here she was.
She pulled open the heavy glass door of the Mobil station, and an old-fashioned cowbell dinged above her head.
“Well, bite my shorts! Chore a tall one, ain’t cha, honey?”
Jilly looked over at the wizened old man with ears as big as saucers who stood behind the counter.
“Skinny as a sunfish, too, ain’t cha?”
Jilly had no idea how skinny a sunfish was, but she got the general idea. This wasn’t the first time she’d been picked on about her too-tall height and her too-thin weight, and she knew she looked like an obscenely tall scarecrow with hay-brown hair. Still, this diminutive fat man didn’t need to rub in the fact of her awkward appearance quite so smartly, even if his tone was teasing.
She opened her mouth, tempted to tell him he looked like a dwarf-baby-elephant, except he so clearly did that, strangely, she didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
“I’m looking for a church here in Briar Rose,” she said. She pushed her hands into her front pockets and rocked back on her heels, a habit she displayed whenever she got nervous. She glanced around the establishment and took note of the shiny white shelving filled with merchandise. Somehow this didn’t seem like an old-time country store. There was even a Slush-Puppy machine in the corner and her mouth watered, waking the coydog growl in her belly.
“Ain’t no church here, honey,” the old man said. He sat down on a silver stool behind the counter, hooked his heels into one of the rungs, rested his elbows on his knees, and cupped his chin in his hands as he stared at her with curiosity.
The bizarre impression of miniature-elephantitis intensified. His ears almost flapped, and for a second she had the crazy thought he had the ability to predict the future and what he saw in store for her would make her recent journey look like a trip to Happy Land. Jilly felt the quick dart of unexpected tears spear her eyes, and the old man’s bottom lip quivered as though in sympathy.
He lifted his head upward in apparent astonishment. “Hey now,
Jilly shook her head; she half-expected sparks of fireworks to fountain out of his trunk-like nose, so clear was his agitation. She took a deep breath. “I don’t cry,” she told him, and even though her voice came out raspy, the urge to tears dissipated.
“Course cha don’t!” He beamed at her, relief visible on his face. “That’s the ticket! ‘Sides, I just remembered somethin’.”
He wrinkled up his already wrinkled nose to an unbelievable texture as he thought for a minute. “There used to be a church here. Down near the old cemetery on Jordan Road. That’s about a mile outta town. Cha follow the street here straight on--” he indicated the direction with a wave of his hand over his head -- “and take a left once cha get to a sign that says ‘Jordan Road’ and cha can’t miss it, I swear!”
Jilly tried to smile at him, but her heart felt weighted with pebbles. “Well, thank you, Mr.—ahh –Mr. —?” If the church was a ‘used-to-be’ what could she possibly learn out there?
He mumbled something that sounded like Santamantarantafam, and Jilly gaped at him idiotically.
“But cha can call me Ned,” he said sweetly. “What cha want to go down there for? Ain’t nothin’ there but some gravestones. Folks ‘round here go into the city for church on Sundays. Ain’t enough of us around to make it worthwhile havin’ a service held here.”
As far as Jilly could determine there wasn’t a place in this area big enough to merit the term ‘city’, but she imagined Ned had a different definition than she did.