Chapter 1 "She's here. She got in about an hour ago," Charlotte said, her gum popping audibly over the phone. Rose was sure it was pink. The gum, that is. Tension sank into Rose's back as quickly as a pig into mud. She started tapping the steering wheel with her right hand. "You're sure?" "Am I sure? Oh no, forgive me. It's not your mother that just walked through the door. No, oh my goodness. No, I think I was completely wrong. Well, I'll be. It's Flora Mae Jacobson, Suge's sister, from the family who obviously has a fondness for baking products. How could I have been so blind? . . . Of course it's your mother, Rosey." "Charlotte, please." "Oh, I'm sorry . . . Of course it's your mother, Rose. Now, why exactly did you want me to call you and let you know when she got here? You're going to have to see her whether you like it or not." Rose knew it was true. She'd simply felt that she wouldn't have to officially begin dreading every aspect of this trip home until the exact moment her mother arrived. Welcome to that moment. "What's she doing now?" "Scrubbing the countertop in the kitchen. So all the food that's arriving soon can just dirty it all up again." Rose's mother had been scrubbing things for years. Trying to clean away her guilt since Rose was twelve. "How much longer till you get here?" "I just left." "You just left?" The drawl in her cousin's voice escalated. As if that were possible for a girl capable of winning the "Talks So Southern She Sound Likes a Foreigner" contest. "You said you were leaving by seven." "I left at seven fifteen." "Well, Uncle JT and Aunt Claudine are going to be here around noon, and then Aunt Nella and Uncle Wusser are coming shortly thereafter." Rose was certain that her mamaw's labor pains had been so intense that they were the reason for her judgment paralysis when it came to naming her children. Obviously the worse-than-normal labor pains were epidemic in that region. "So please hurry. Until you or your brother gets here, I'm forced to endure these crazy people all alone." "Isn't your brother there?" "Like I said . . ." Rose laughed. "Well, I talked to Christopher this morning. He should be there any minute. I mean, craziness does deserve company." "Well, I don't deserve craziness. Maybe a bus ticket to the pit of wickedness--at least according to people's evaluations of me around here--but I don't deserve craziness." "Hang in there. I'll be there in ten hours, give or take an hour." Rose didn't plan to break records to get home. "We're all going to see Mamaw when you get here." "How about I just meet you there." It wasn't a question. "That's not in your mother's plan. She has us all driving over together so you can catch up with your family." Rose's mother had been reaching out to her with endless effort. Each attempt hit Rose's brick wall and bounced back. "Like I said, I'll just meet you there." "You can avoid, but you cannot hide." Rose's mother's shame only ran so deep. "She will have all of us together for dinner." The steering wheel's leather seemed to meld underneath Rose's fingernails. "That's fine," she said, knowing that there would be multiple red and white buckets with a smiling old man on the front. She wouldn't touch the stuff. "Well, I need to go. I have another call coming in. Thanks for letting me know." *** Rose didn't check the caller ID on the display screen of her dashboard before pressing the small telephone icon that was built into her steering wheel and settled nicely beneath her thumb. "Rose Fletcher." "Rose, it's Helen. Did you finish that proposal?" Rose felt her shoulders loosen. Work. This was a world she knew, understood, could control. "This job, not to mention this city, waits for nothingHildreth, Denise is the author of 'Flies on the Butter', published 2008 under ISBN 9781595543707 and ISBN 1595543708.