Jericho Road by Icy Snow Blackstone
On Jericho Road, the lives of the Conyers and the Brights have been entwined since the War between the States, but as the South emerges into a new Era, the scars of a more recent war will soon tear the two families apart.
Wade Conyers’ return from Vietnam should have been a joyous occasion but it wasn’t. His past relationship with an African-American soldier threatens his recent marriage to a South Carolina socialite while his newly-acquired views on racial equality put him at odds with his father, a bigoted and prominent businessman.
Younger brother Heath is just emerging into manhood, and open to rebellion and temptation. An impatient virgin eager to taste life, he’s headed for trouble in the form of his new sister-in-law, and voluptuous town tramp, Gaylene Bright.
Wade’s sister Lindsey has fallen in love with a half-Native American doctor. Logan Redhawk is part-Mohawk, a New York Yankee sent to this color-conscious Middle Georgia town to work off his medical school loan. Logan’s already had brief run-ins with racism but his affair with Lindsey will be the catalyst ripping away the façade of normality, to reveal lies, secret sins, adultery, and ultimately murder.
The inhabitants of Jericho Road will never be the same.
May 25, 1970
Lonnie Bright scrambled onto the lowest limb of the scraggly yellow pine growing crooked above the ditch separating his pa’s property from Jericho Road. The tree was old, and a heavy spring rain had loosened its roots so they stuck half out of the red clay soil; it probably would have toppled if anyone heavier than Lonnie had been perched on that branch.
Mama’s gon’ be mad. She’d told him not to climb the tree, but at this particular moment,
Lonnie didn’t care. Wade Conyers was coming home today, and Lonnie wanted to be the first to
He’d been away four whole years, ol’ Wade had, in some place called Vietnam, which
Lonnie’d never heard of ’til Wade went there. Four years of fighting the Commies or the Chinese
or the Japs or some other enemy of the American Way of Life, but now Wade was home again.
Pretty soon, he’d be driving down Jericho Road, over the rickety old bridge, in that fancy
red car of his.
Lonnie liked that car. Jag-wah, Wade called it. Funny foreign automobile come all the way from London, England. He’d taken Lonnie for a ride in it once, even let him sit in the driver’s seat but he wouldn’t let him drive. Lonnie wasn’t old enough.
“Later, young’un,” Wade had told him.
Well, it was later now and wouldn’t Wade be surprised when he saw how Lonnie had grown while he was off defending America?
Lonnie wriggled in anticipation, and quickly got still again as the movement caused the tree to tremble slightly. Not only was Wade coming home, but he was bringing his new wife with him! Lonnie wondered what she looked like. Beautiful, he decided, probably like a fairy princess.
Wade’s wife would have to be.
He hoped she wasn’t one of them furrinuhs, one of them people Wade had fought. He’d heard Gaylene say that. “Oh, Mama, whut if’n she’s one o’ Them?” Men sometimes did that, Gaylene said. Married one of The Enemy.
“Lonnie? Lon-nee!” Mama’s voice cut into his speculations. “Wheah you at?”
For just a moment, Lonnie debated not answering but knew that would get him a tongue-lashing, if not something worse, when Mama found him. Reluctantly, he slid out of the tree.
Cleo Bright, red-headed as her son, was standing on the porch, holding a large boiler. Slowly, Lonnie walked over to the steps and looked up at her.
She fixed him with a suspicious eye. “Lonnie, were you in that tree agin?”
“Yes’m,” he admitted, wishing he wasn’t so blasted honest.
“Lonnie.” An exasperated sigh. “Young’un, ain’t I tol’ you—”
“It ain’t like I wanta stop you from doin’ whut you want but that tree’s dangerous. Whut if’n it fell jes’ as a car wuz comin’ down th’ road?”
“Yes’m.” He’d heard it so many times before he knew the little speech by heart. Whut if’n it fell jes’ as a car wuz comin’ down th’ road an’ you got runned over an’ killed, or worse, yougot hurt real bad an’ had t’ be put in th’ horspital? You know we ain’t got that kinda money,
Lonnie. Sometimes he wondered if she was really worried about him or just about how expensive
his getting hurt would be, and immediately he always felt guilty for thinking that. His mama loved him. She loved all her children—Raeford, Earl, Jr., Gaylene, Buckley, John Ira—including Lonnie, who was the baby, and, Cleo secretly hoped, the last one.
“But, Mama, I jes’ wanta be th’ first t’ see Wade when he gits heah!” he protested, fidgeting and thrusting his thumbs into his belt loops as he’d seen Raeford do. Mama hated that. She said it looked insolent.
“Don’t do that,” she said absently. “An’ don’t call him Wade. It’s Mr. Conyers.”
“He said I could call him Wade,” Lonnie answered stubbornly. “Wade says I’ve got po-tenti-al!” He wasn’t sure just what potential was but if Wade said he had it, it must be good.
Cleo shook her head. “Sometimes I think it wuz a mistake t’ ever let you ’sociate with him. He’s puttin’ ideas in your head, boy.” She broke off, thrusting the boiler at him. “Heah. Go feed them dogs.”
“But I might miss Wade.”
“If’n you do, you kin see him later,” came the unconcerned answer. “Now, skedaddle!”
Mama didn’t understand. He just had to be the first one to welcome Wade home, just as
he’d been the last one to see the Jaguar as it disappeared down the washboard road heading for the airport on that day four years before.
“Do whut I say, Lonnie!” Mama’s voice was getting an edge to it. In a minute, she’d call
him by his full name and he’d be in big trouble.
“Listen, Alonso Jeremiah Bright!” Uh-oh. That did it. “You go feed them dogs! That’s your chore an’ you do it! Your pa ain’t gon’ like it if’n he finds out you’re lettin’ his prize coonhounds starve!”
Stupid animals won’t starve. They get fed twice a day plus table scraps. Heck, they eat as good as we do! Reluctantly, Lonnie took the boiler. It held the remnants of the Brights’ supper, a greasy combination of broken-up biscuits, ham slivers, bacon rind, and grits, over which red-eye gravy had been poured. Shoulders slumping in the defeat only a child overpowered by an adult’s authority can exhibit, he started around the house to the pen where the hounds were kept.
Cleo, watching him, softened a little. She wasn’t a vindictive person nor a cruel parent, but she knew routines had to be kept and discipline maintained. “Lonnie?”
“Yes’m.” He stopped, didn’t look back.
“If’n I hear that car, I’ll call you.”
“Yes’m.” Lonnie smiled. He ran toward the pen, carefully balancing the boiler so its contents didn’t slosh out.
Smelling the ham, the hounds began to bark as he approached.
Teats swinging, Belle came out of the little shed Pa had built for her, the puppies trailing
behind on clumsy fat legs. She was a blue tick, and Pa’s prize bitch. Just six weeks before, she had whelped a litter of six. Pa had paid a lot of money for Belle. She had a pedigree and everything and she won a lot of ribbons at hunting competitions. Wade had always said he wanted one of Belle’s pups.
Lonnie had to fend off the other dogs as he fed Belle. They were always fighting to get her food and she needed all she could eat to make those puppies strong. He felt something touch his foot and looked down at one pup who was busy trying to gum his bare toe to death.
He picked up the puppy, scratching its ears. It squirmed and tried to escape and he set it
down. That was the one he’d give Wade, he decided. “Hurry up, Belle!”
She was eating leisurely, enjoying the special attention. He’d almost swear she was chewing every morsel ’stead of wolfing it down as the hounds usually did.
“I don’t wanta miss—”
He heard the tires hitting the loose planks on the bridge.
Lonnie whirled, poured the rest of the boiler’s contents into the other pan and ran out of the pen, hearing the dogs attack it with a loud rush of gulping noises. Then he was dropping the boiler in the dirt and running toward the tree, shouting, “Wade! Wade!” as he climbed again to his perch.
Just then the red car reached Jericho Road, and the driver looked up, swerving and bringing it to a tire-squealing, red dust-raising halt directly under the tree. Lonnie stared down, almost beside himself with joy.
“Wade! Hey, Wade! Oh, golly!”
The big blond man on the driver’s side turned off the engine and removed his sunglasses.
“Lonnie! That can’t be you! Shoot, you’ve gone and grown up, young’un!”
For a moment, Lonnie couldn’t answer. He just sat there, hugging the trunk of the tree, staring at Wade who was looking up at him with simulated disbelief.
Wade Hampton Conyers the Fourth. His great-great-granddaddy had been a member of
Hampton’s Legion, fighting alongside General Wade Hampton at Manassas and Cemetery Ridge. Surviving both battles, he wrote write home to his wife, who was shortly to give birth, that the expected baby was to be named after his commanding officer, “Be it son or daughter.” Fortunately, it was a son and there had been a Wade Hampton in every generation of Conyers ever since.
Blue eyes twinkling in the early evening sun, Wade smiled up at the little boy as Lonnie
said, “Welcome home, Wade!”
“Thanks, Lonnie. It’s good to be back, believe me.”
He looked just a little tired, Lonnie thought, and different, somehow— there were lines in
his face that Lonnie didn’t remember seeing before he’d left, and a kind of tenseness in his whole
body. Like the way Felix the old dominecker cat looked whenever the dogs were around. That was it—but what did Wade have to be on guard about? As for the lines—well, Wade was pretty old, Lonnie guessed, the same age as his oldest brother Raeford who was almost twenty-five, so he supposed he should have a few wrinkles.
“Honey, aren’t you going to introduce me?” asked a soft, little-girlish voice.
“Is this her, Wade?” Lonnie turned his attention to the speaker, not giving Wade a chance
to answer. “Is this your new bride?”
He studied the young woman with open curiosity and she, in turn, looked away slightly,
refusing to meet his eyes. He’d seen that gesture before, from Gaylene when she had a date and
they wanted him to get lost.
“Yes, Lonnie, this is Marcella.” There was so much pride and—Lonnie guessed it was love—in Wade’s voice that the boy frowned. “Marcella, this is Lonnie Bright, best young coondog handler in all of Sardis Crossing.”
She looked up at him then, taking off her sunglasses also—she had brown eyes, big ones,
like Ol’ Man Crosby’s Jersey cow—and brushing back the long pale hair. Lonnie could see she was wearing one of those dresses with the funny high waists, and a sash tied just under her
boobs. Empire, Gaylene called it. The dress had a real short skirt, the kind Mama and Gaylene
always argued about. “Why, I’m just so pleased to meet you, Lonnie.” Her voice was like spun
honey, a little too sweet, Lonnie decided. “Wade’s told me so much about you.”
Lonnie didn’t answer. In that instant, he didn’t like Marcella Conyers at all. She might be
pretty but she didn’t really mean what she said. There hadn’t been the least bit of friendliness in
her eyes but there was plenty of disgust.
She doesn’t like me.
He looked at Wade again, wondering how his friend could love someone who was a liar. He almost wished she had been The Enemy. If she was, there might be a reason for her to dislike him. “Belle’s had puppies, Wade! She—”
“I’ll have to come by and see them, Lonnie.” Wade didn’t give him a chance to say more. He started the car again. “But right now, we’ve got to get going. Mama and Daddy are waiting.”
Lonnie couldn’t believe it. Wade, his hero, was brushing him and his news aside!
“After we get settled, I’ll come over and see the pups,” he promised but Lonnie wasn’t really listening. He was biting his lip to keep the tears from falling, and as the car sped away, he struck the tree with his fist, throwing his arms around the trunk as it caused the tree to shudder.
Wade had really changed. Either that war or that girl had made him different.
* * *
Unconscious of the esteem he’d lost in Lonnie’s eyes, Wade adjusted his sunglasses.
Beside him, Marcella put on her own.
“You didn’t tell me you associated with White Trash,” she accused.
He didn’t take his eyes off the road. “I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t call the Brights that, Marci!”
His voice was quiet but she had a sudden feeling she’d overstepped herself. She’d never seen Wade angry and realized how very little she knew about her new husband’s opinions and dislikes.
“Of course, Honey!” she said quickly. “Whatever you say. It’s just that I’m a little surprised, that child obviously being of a lower social class and all.”
“The Brights were my Great-great-granddaddy’s sharecroppers,” Wade said. “When that
bastard Sherman came through here—” To Wade, like a good many Southerners of an older
generation, the War—and they didn’t mean Vietnam or Korea or even World War Two—was still very real. “—and burned everything and the slaves ran off, Leonidus Bright stayed and helped Great-great-granddaddy Silas rebuild.”
He took his eyes off the road long enough to glance at her.
Marcella sat very still, feeling just a little weak, the way she always did when Wade looked at her. Oh, goodness, I love him so! Loved his blue eyes and that blond hair bordering on being red, and the way his arms felt so strong when he held her and… She forced herself to concentrate on what Wade was saying.
“In gratitude, Silas gave Leonidus that bottomland the Brights now live on.” He looked back at the road again. “They may have been Po’ Whites once but now? Hell, they’re like Family!”
“I’m sorry, sugah.” Immediately, she was repentant, leaning across the seat and putting one hand on his shoulder. “I didn’t understand. Of course, I can see how you might feel about them.” She didn’t, really. In Marcella’s world, people were either acceptable or they weren’t, and
as far as she was concerned, the Brights fell into the weren’t category.
Nevertheless, she smiled prettily at Wade and planted a kiss just under his ear, touching her tongue to his earlobe and nuzzling gently against it.
“Whoa!” He allowed the car to swerve slightly. “Better stop that, Lady, or you’ll land us
both in the ditch!”
Marcella giggled. “I wouldn’t mind being in a ditch with you, sugah!”
His right hand left the wheel to rest against her thigh, almost totally exposed by the short
hem of the dress. His fingers tightened slightly, then relaxed, brushing against her bared skin.
Marcella felt that startling, still unaccustomed rush of desire.
“How much farther is it?” Suddenly, she was eager to get to Wade’s parents’ home, and
especially to Wade’s old bedroom.
She wasn’t wild about living with Wade’s parents but he’d explained to her that it was
necessary for a while, ’til he could get settled again. Rehabilitated, was what he’d actually said,
and Marcella thought that was a strange way to put it.
“We’re practically there. We’ve been on Conyers’ land since we left the bridge. We just
about own Jericho Road.”
Marcella was impressed, deciding that what she’d originally thought about Wade had been right. She’d thanked her lucky stars a thousand times that she’d gone to visit her best friend, Melissa Ann Williams, in Columbus. While she was there, she’d let herself be talked into going to one of those Let’s Support Our Boys dances the United Daughters of the Confederacy had organized for the soldiers at Fort Benning to counteract those dreadful draft-card burnings and peace marches. “After all,” Missy had argued, “it’s your patriotic duty, Marci!”
She’d been attracted to the tall blond man right away, thinking how handsome he looked
in his uniform, noting that he was already a Lieutenant, and when she’d learned his family had
Money, was, in fact, just as wealthy in Georgia as her own family was in South Carolina— Well,
she’d wanted him almost as much as he’d wanted her, and it had been hard not to give in, for Wade was one of those people whom no one could refuse for long.
Nevertheless, Marcella had. She’d said no so many times she was certain she’d lost him. Then, the day before he’d shipped out, he’d surprised her by presenting her with a diamond ring and telling her, not asking, but telling her, that when he came back—and he was coming back— they’d be married.
There had been four years of letters and fear and unfulfilled yearnings on her part and then, three weeks ago in the world’s fastest wedding ceremony, it had happened. It still hurt a little that there had been no time for all the showers and before-hand festivities, but now she was Mrs. Wade Hampton Conyers the Fourth and on her way to a new life in a south Georgia town called Sardis Crossing.
She looked up at the sky and gave a loud and happy sigh.
One side of the road was bordered by a stand of pine trees, soon to be cut for pulpwood. The other held a field, filled with rows of tall, green cornstalks whose ears would either be picked for the family table or left to dry on the stalk and harvested later for winter feed for the farm animals.
Wade looked up, staring at the trees.
A crow startled out of one of the pines, cawing raucously, black wings beating heavily…
…becoming the swoop of the Huey’s blades as it rode shotgun above the lurps as they started
into the tree-cover. God, it’s hot as Hell! Like being wrapped in plastic, a cellophane shroud, can’t breathe, can’t see—Number Ten, Man! and abruptly, all he can think about is Marcella and will he ever see her again and how can he ever feel healthy or clean or sane after this…
“Wade!” Marcella’s voice rose slightly. “Honey, watch where you’re going!”
He swerved the Jag just before the right front tire hit the outer edge of the shoulder.
“Sorry. Guess I’m so glad to be home, I just got all wrapped up in looking at the scenery.” He couldn’t tell her he didn’t remember anything of the few minutes before she’d called his name.
“Well, wait until we’re out of the car before you decide to appreciate Nature any more.”
Somehow, she managed to rebuke him without making her voice angry. “I’d like to reach your
mama and daddy’s in one piece, Honey.”
“Oh, you will,” he assured her, giving her a loving leer to banish the strange disconnection he felt. “And a beautiful li’l piece it is, too.”
“Oh, you!” She struck his shoulder. He could say such awful but exciting things!
“You’re pretty tired, aren’t you?” Wade’s hand returned to her thigh.
“No.” She looked surprised, “As a matter of fact, I’m just bursting with energy.” She wiggled slightly to illustrate.
“No.” He shook his head, and she was certain she saw the blue eyes laughing behind the
shield of his sunglasses. “I think you’re very tired from the plane flight and the drive. Almost
exhausted, as a matter of fact.”
“So tired,” he went on. “That, when we get home, you’re going to have to go straight to bed!”
Abruptly, she understood.
“Why, yes,” she agreed, feigning a yawn. “I do believe you’re right!”
“And I think I’m just a little weary myself.” Wade was grinning now. “And as soon as the door closes—”
“As soon as the door closes?” she echoed, returning his smile.
“Then, we’ll see just how much energy you’ve really got!”
Icy Snow Blackstone was born in 1802, in northern Georgia where her father, the Reverend John Blackstone, was prominent in local politics. Two hundred and five years later, her great-great-great-great-granddaughter began using her name as a pseudonym for her romance novels. The present Icy Snow Blackstone lives far from her Southern roots in Lancaster County, Nebraska, where she continues to write romances generally set in the South.
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