Thanks to everyone who told their friends to stop by and like my facebook page. We hit our goal!
So as promised, here is a very, very early (unedited) draft of an ultimately deleted scene with Anna and Jackson (and a couple others) at the Iron Bowl, the annual football game between Alabama and Auburn. You might recognize a few bits and pieces that filtered into the final story in different places.
(After reading this draft, my critique partners suggested I de-Southernize Jackson and Louisa a bit. I reckoned they had a point, and the Jackson and Louisa you see in Southern Fried Blues today are what resulted from their feedback.)
Hope you enjoy!
* * *
Football in Minnesota was usually a frigid affair, so tailgating in short sleeves with a chilled beverage in hand felt a little wrong to Anna. But the levels of body paint were about the same, though the blue-and-orange college kids here probably had no idea how lucky they were not to have to worry about frostbite in unfortunate places.
They’d been set up in the back of Craig’s big, shiny truck, trading barbs about Bama and Auburn with the occasional insult aimed at Minnesota for less than ten minutes when Louisa suddenly darted out of her seat and past a clump of kids practicing their War Eagle yell to another group of kids under an Auburn tent. She wrapped herself around a mangy-looking guy that Anna pegged as a sixth-year liberal arts major who still lived with his parents.
Both Jackson and Craig straightened from their positions over the grill. They exchanged one of those silent male looks, probably unnecessary since Jackson’s Bama attire already labeled him as the Bad Cop, but when they moved toward baby sister, Anna latched onto Jackson’s arm. “Wrong move.”
His jaw was locked, eyes squinting blue flame in the direction of the young couple. “That asshole’s molesting my sister.”
Anna barely held back a grin. It was cute when he cussed. “Kinda think you’ve got it backwards, bub.” She tugged on his arm again. “Sit. If she knows it bothers you, she’ll keep him around longer. Besides, he could be one of those brilliant computer kids who has the next Google tucked up in his dorm room. He could be the answer to her prayers.”
Jackson reared back and stared down at her like she’d lost her mind.
She choked trying not to laugh. “Or maybe not,” she admitted.
Louisa was dragging the kid over, the gleam in her eyes all the proof Anna needed she was just trying to get her brothers’ goats. “Jackson. Craig.” She paused, and as an afterthought, added, “Anna.” She bounced on the balls of her feet. “This is Stone.”
Anna leaped forward before either of the men could. “Stone! It’s so great to meet you.” She pumped his hand, noticing the intricate angel wings inked on his forearm. “Love your tattoo. Did you design that?”
He tossed his bangs back and looked down his nose at her. “It’s henna.” His voice came out nasal and just a little high-pitched, as if puberty had slightly missed its mark.
“He paints them on himself,” Louisa said.
“Oh, wow, are there more?”
Jackson even managed to elbow her out of the way like a gentleman. “Stone.” With a flick of a glance in Anna’s direction, he shook hands with the younger man. Neither of them flinched, and they broke the shake too soon for it to have been a silent shake-wrestle. Craig gave Anna a curious glance, then followed suit with the simple handshake.
Louisa seemed dumbfounded. She jiggled from foot to foot, gnawing on her lower lip.
“Pull up a chair,” Jackson said. “Got lots of food.”
“We was plannin’ on eatin’ over there with the free-thinkers,” Louisa said.
A vein pulsed in Jackson’s neck. “Well, if’n they ain’t got enough to eat, come on back.”
Stone’s gaze flicked down to Jackson’s shirt. “Hope you don’t get beat up.”
“Ain’t too worried,” Jackson replied.
Louisa bounced faster. “C’mon, Stone, ‘fore all them good seats get gone.”
“Not good,” Craig sighed as Louisa skipped away, dragging the sedate Stone along with her.
Jackson clapped his Bama hat on and grabbed a spatula out of the back of the truck. “Better be right ‘bout this one, Anna Grace.”
For Louisa’s sake, she hoped she was.
Away from the house and family, Craig turned out to be more engaging than Ann had suspected at first. He and Jackson got along with an easy affability that spoke of a long friendship, which made sense, given their family history. They grilled up burgers over the small charcoal grill, then Jackson pulled a bag of marshmallows and a couple skewers out. “Just for you,” he told Anna with a grin.
All three of them kept glancing down at Louisa and Stone. In the big group, they’d gotten separated, and more than once Anna noticed the poor girl rubbing her foot against the back of her other leg. She couldn’t seem to figure out what to do with her arms, and her interactions with the other free-thinkers appeared short and one-sided. Once, someone from the tent next to theirs stopped to talk to her, and Louisa’s face lit up. Before long, she’d shifted over to join the other group, talking and laughing like a teenage girl at a slumber party beneath a banner of Greek letters.
Anna nudged Jackson. “See? She’ll be okay.”
“Them there’s sorority girls,” he said, not at all convinced.
“Sorority girls aren’t all that bad either,” Anna said with a wink.
Craig just laughed. “Ain’t gonna argue that one.”
By the time the game started, Anna was stuffed and sleepy. But she took her seat in the stands of Jordan-Hare Stadium between Jackson and Louisa, and after the kick-off, found herself on her feet cheering for whoever had the ball.
It was the best compromise, she figured.
Midway through the second quarter, Louisa flopped back into her seat. Auburn was up by fourteen, and apparently she was bored. Jackson hadn’t resorted to cussing yet, but he was surrounded by orange and navy. He’d taken to sighing and groaning a lot though.
Anna took her seat and smiled at Louisa. “You must be loving this,” she said over the roar of the crowd.
Louisa shrugged. “We always win at home. Bama just can’t bring it.”
Jackson glared down at her, then shifted so his back was to them.
Louisa crossed her legs, her foot bouncing up and down. “So you liked Stone.”
Ruh-roh. Dangerous territory. Anna wondered if maybe she needed a flashlight and a safety vest to wade through this one. “His artwork is beautiful. What’s he studying?”
She lifted a shoulder. “Still deciding. He just can’t be boxed in, you know?”
Anna smiled like the words didn’t make her want to jump out of her skin. “Yeah.” She crossed her legs and nudged Louisa’s foot with her toe. “I wish I’d had a Stone back in college.”
“Really?” Suspicion reigned supreme in Louisa’s blue eyes. “You would’ve dated a guy like Stone?”
Anna went for a casual shrug. “If I had to do it over again, probably. I didn’t date much in high school, and then I met my ex-husband pretty early in college. Didn’t really take the time to test the waters, you know what I mean?”
Louisa smirked. “You have no idea what you were missing.”
Ew. Just ew. “Well, I got a second chance.” She smiled brightly, though the words forming in her mind weighed on her heart, each one an anvil stacking atop the others, squeezing happiness from the little muscle like a juicer taking the best part out of an orange. “And I’m not wasting it this time.”
Louisa’s gaze flicked toward her brother’s back. “You guys seem serious.”
“We’re having fun.” Keeping her tone light was as easy as plucking her nosehairs. “But one day, I’ll finish up my masters degree and probably move home, or Jackson will get orders, and that’ll be that. I’m not interested in getting married again, but it’s been really good to remember how a man’s supposed to treat me. My ex-husband wasn’t a brute or anything, but if I’d dated around more, if I’d seen what else was out there, I don’t think we would’ve gotten married. But we did, and then we got divorced, and I get Jackson for now.”
Something prickled the back of her neck, and she glanced up to find Jackson watching her, his expression unpleasantly unreadable.
She tried to smile at him, to silently assure him she was playing Louisa like a fiddle. A referee’s whistle split the air. The crowd roared. Jackson blinked and turned back to the game, shoulders rigid, squeezing his water bottle until the sides caved in.
“Did your sister date around?” Louisa asked once the cheering had dropped to a level where they could yell above it once more.
“Beth?” Anna laughed, the fake sound choking her eardrums. “She got knocked up in high school, married right after graduation, and spit those three boys out before I even had my driver’s license. Then she put them all in daycare and went to dental school. They’re happy, but lordy, they’re going to be in debt until they day they die.”
Louisa picked at some invisible lint on her Auburn t-shirt. “Well, praise Jesus Russ’s payin’ for my schoolin’. And I ain’t ever havin’ kids.”
“Beth wasn’t planning on it either.” Anna gave another shrug and moved to stand. “Just never know what’s going to happen. But it worked out well for her.”
She reached her feet just as the Crimson Tide intercepted a pass. The linebacker with the ball jiggled on his feet, picked a direction, and ran.
And dodged and ran.
Right into the end zone.
Jackson pumped a fist in the air, then swooped around and kissed Anna like his team had just won the Super Bowl.
* * *
And the rest of the scene explains who won the Iron Bowl, but since this scene didn't make it into the final book, I'll let you decide which team won. 🙂 Maybe we'll take a vote on it one of these days.
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