It’s YA SCAVENGER HUNT TIME!! Spring, 2020

Posted Mar 31 2020, 3:00 pm in , , , , ,

Hello, YA Scavengers! Welcome to the Spring 2020 edition of our Scavenger Hunt. This is my favorite event in YA publishing. I’ve been participating now for years. In fact, this is my 10th time! 

This bi-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors…and a chance to win some awesome prizes! On this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt, which is a secret number hidden somewhere in this post. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize–one lucky winner will receive one e-book from each author on the hunt in my team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 120 hours!

Go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt. There are multiple contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of the BLUE TEAM–but there are other teams for even more chances to win a whole different set of books!

If you’d like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page.

Directions: Below, you’ll notice that I’ve listed my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the blue team, and then add them up (don’t worry, you can use a calculator!). 
Entry Form: Once you’ve added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.
Readers, I am SO happy to be hosting author Joyce Scarbrough! 

Joyce is the author of True Blue Forever. 

Jeana thinks she’ll never find a boy like the men in the novels she loves to read, so when Mickey Royal moves back to Alabama from Washington after his father’s death, Jeana is baffled by her instant attraction to this three-sport athlete with the bluest eyes she’s ever seen. Wade Strickland is Jeana’s childhood friend and the first boy she ever kissed, but something happens over the summer before sixth grade that causes Wade to break Jeana’s heart. He becomes an arrogant jerk and is the reigning football phenom when Mickey arrives, setting the two boys on a path to violence from their first encounter. Billy Joe DuBose is Jeana’s wise-cracking best friend who bonds with Mickey instantly over their shared dislike of Wade. Jeana doesn’t know how Billy Joe really feels about her, but his love for her is clear to everyone else. How will the lives of these four teenagers change on their journey to adulthood, and which boy will ultimately succeed in winning Jeana’s heart?

Just look at this cover? Isn’t it gorgeous?


Here’s some info about the author: Joyce Scarbrough is a Southern woman weary of seeing herself and her peers portrayed in books and movies as either post-antebellum debutantes or barefoot hillbillies á la Daisy Duke, so all her heroines are smart, unpretentious women who refuse to be anyone but themselves. The former senior editor for Champagne Books, Joyce now does freelance editing and writes full time. She writes both adult and YA fiction and has eight published novels as well as several short stories in multiple anthologies. Joyce has lived all her life in beautiful LA (lower Alabama), and she’s been married for over 30 years to the love of her life—a superhero who disguises himself during the day as a high school math teacher and coach.

If you’d like to buy the book, click here. Please visit Joyce’s website

You can find here on Facebook and Instagram, too. 

Some additional business before you settle down to read… I have a separate giveaway happening here on my blog. Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for a chance at 3 e-books:  Some Boys and Someone I Used to Know, my #MeToo Duo PLUS a bonus gift of You Too? An anthology of MeToo stories edited by author Janet Gurtler and featuring an entry from me. All 3 books are e-copy only due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 



Be sure to read ALL THE WAY TO THE END. I have a link to the next author in the Scavenger Hunt so you can continue your quest for more exclusive content and more chances to win! 


a Rafflecopter giveaway


Without further ado, here is your EXCLUSIVE content from author Joyce Scarbrough. 

“Masks, Mementoes, and Serpentine Dreams”

By Joyce Scarbrough


“A mask doesn’t hide you, it exposes you.” 
 ― Nuno Roque

* * *

Jeana got into the passenger seat of Mickey’s Mustang and held up her empty hands. “No books and no clarinet! Do you know what that means, Mickey?”

His expression was amusement mixed with barely-concealed adoration—the way he always looked at her. “You’re dropping out of high school to become an Olympic wrestler and you want me to help you train?”

“Ha-ha.” She gave him a one-sided smile. “I’m sure the training would be fun, but that’s not what it means. Not only do I have no homework, I also don’t have to march in the parade tonight. Mr. Whittaker gave us this first one off because we’re marching in all the others to raise money for our new band uniforms.”

Mickey started the car and backed out of the parking space in Vigor High School’s student lot. “And you want to go to the parade tonight? I didn’t think you liked Mardi Gras that much.”

She shrugged. “I loved going to the night parades when I was little, but Daddy usually took us to Biloxi on Mardi Gras Day because it wasn’t as crowded as Mobile. To tell the truth, I haven’t been to a parade that I wasn’t marching in for a long, long time.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “And I’ve never been to one with you. Tonight can be another first for us.”

He looked sideways at her, his dimples threatening to make an appearance. “Are you talking about the parade or something else?”

She laughed, one eyebrow arched mischievously. “Who knows? Catch me some blue beads and blue serpentine and there’s no telling what might happen.”

* * *

After supper, Jeana dressed in jeans and a green blouse that looked good with her red hair. Typical of Mobile weather, there was a thirty-percent chance of rain in the forecast, but the low temperature was only supposed to be in the mid-fifties, so she also got a light jacket to take with her. Right after she got to the porch swing to wait for Mickey, she smiled when she saw the owner of a curly blond afro walking across the street.

“Hey, Billy Joe,” she said. “Mickey’s coming to pick me up in a few minutes, but you’re welcome to keep me company until he gets here.”

He sat beside her in the swing and stretched out his lanky physique. “I’ll be keeping you company all night. I’m going with y’all to the Boom Boom.”

“How did you know we were going?”

“Mick called and said he needed help keeping an eye on you, in case you got in a fight over those banana Moon Pies.”

She wrinkled her nose. “Eww, the only thing I hate more than banana-flavored things is—”

“Orange-flavored things,” he said. “Yeah, I think I’ve heard that a few million times before.” He picked up the plastic bag from Delchamps grocery store that was lying between them on top of Jeana’s jacket. “You’re gonna need a way bigger bag than this, kiddo. I got something that’s gonna let us rack up on the throws.”

She frowned. “What are you talking about?”

He pulled a plastic pasta server and a roll of duct tape from the back pocket of his jeans, affecting a commercial announcer’s voice. “Introducing the Mardi Gras Goody Grabber, patent pending. Be the envy of all your friends! Impress the ladies! Grab all the goodies that tragically fall on the wrong side of the barricades!” He winked at her then stood up. “I just gotta find a long stick before we leave. Let’s go look in your back yard.”

She laughed and let him pull her to her feet. “Okay, I get the feeling I might need a big stick too.”

He put an arm across her shoulders as they walked to the back yard. “Hey, you’re not mad ‘cause I’m horning in on you and Mick, are you? ‘Cause you know I don’t care and I’m going anyway, right?”

She laughed again and pushed him away. “Yes, I know that. And no, I’m not mad. I would’ve invited you myself but I thought you hated Mardi Gras ever since that lady in the evening dress pushed you down in horse poop when you grabbed the doubloon she wanted. Did you forget about that?”

He scowled. “Of course not. But I’m a lot bigger than I was when we were eleven. Plus, I got Mick blocking for me now. I don’t think those ladies wanna mess with Vigor’s star fullback and homerun hitter.”

Jeana laughed. “I’m sure they don’t, but I’m also sure that Mickey’s too much of a gentleman to tackle an old lady just so you can get some candy and Moon Pies.”

Billy Joe found the perfect stick for his Goody Grabber—patent pending—and they took it back to the porch so he could attach it to the pasta server. While he taped it together and Jeana held it steady for him, she thought about the last time she and Billy Joe and Wade Strickland had gone to a parade together before Wade moved away the summer after the fifth grade. They’d had so much fun that day—Billy Joe and Wade competing to see who could get the most beads and putting them all around Jeana’s neck. That was when the two boys had still been best friends. It would still be another four months before she came between them and ruined their friendship forever.

She and Wade and Billy Joe had been best friends the whole time they were growing up, until the disastrous combination of puberty, Wade’s move, and middle school had changed everything. And the biggest change had been in Wade’s personality after he started playing football in the seventh grade. He’d gone from being the sweetest boy Jeana knew to an arrogant jerk she could barely stand to be around.

And things had gotten progressively worse in high school when Mickey moved back to Alabama from Washington. He and Wade had hated each other from the start, and it all came to a violent head after Vigor’s final football game last fall when they’d gotten into a horrible fight.

She hadn’t wanted to tell Mickey that the reason she didn’t go to parades anymore was because they reminded her too much of when Wade had been sweet and they’d been friends, the same way she avoided a lot of things for that reason. She was hoping that going to this parade with Mickey would make some new, happy memories that would erase the ones that broke her heart to remember.

* * *

Mickey paid to park in the Civic Center lot because he didn’t think it was safe to leave a Boss 429 Mustang under the I-10 overpass where it was free, and Billy Joe agreed. After they parked, they walked over to Government Street and found a spot across from the Admiral Semmes Hotel to wait for the parade to start. They’d been standing there about five minutes when Billy Joe said he needed to go find a bathroom.

Jeana sighed. “I told you not to get that Big Gulp at 7-11 when we stopped for gas.”

“I can’t help it if I was parched from running track,” he said. “I’m training for two events now, you know.”

“Really?” Mickey said. “What are you doing besides the 440?”

“The 4-by-440 relay,” Billy Joe said. “I’m running the first leg.”

“That’s great, buddy,” Mickey said. “I’d run track with you if it wasn’t the same time as baseball.”

Billy Joe started hopping from one leg to the other. “How ‘bout we sprint together over to the public bathrooms at Cathedral Square?”

Mickey looked at Jeana sheepishly. “I drank a big glass of tea on my way over to pick you up.”

“Go with him,” Jeana said, rolling her eyes. “I’ll stay here and save our spot.”

“You sure you’ll be okay, baby?” Mickey asked. “I can stay here and go after Billy Joe gets back.”

Jeana shook her head. “No, that’s silly. I’ll be fine. I see some people over there who go to my church. I might go talk to them.”

“You heard her, Mick,” Billy Joe said. “Let’s go. My eyeballs are floating!”

Mickey bent to give her a quick kiss. “Okay, we’ll hurry back.”

They disappeared around the corner at Jackson Street, not quite at a sprint but an extra fast walk for sure. Jeana looked for the Pullman family she’d seen standing in front of the Presbyterian church but didn’t see them anymore and wondered if they’d left to go stand somewhere else because of the group of loud, weirdly-dressed people who were there now. Jeana was used to seeing people dressed in all kinds of wild outfits on Fat Tuesday, but not so much at the night parades. These people looked more like they belonged on a Las Vegas stage than downtown Mobile.

The crowd around her was dressed normally, but it was swelling at an alarming rate that made her wish Billy Joe and Mickey would hurry back. From the way she was getting jostled and bumped from all sides, she could tell the boys would have a hard time getting back through to where she was in the front beside the barricades.

“Hey, watch it!” she said indignantly after getting elbowed in the back by someone behind her.

She turned and was immediately grabbed around the waist by a guy wearing a New Orleans Saints shirt. The hand not attached to the arm that was squeezing the life out of her held a plastic Mardi Gras cup filled with beer. 

Mais, I’m sorry, me.” The guy’s Budweiser breath and slurred speech told her he’d already emptied his cup multiple times. “Laissez les bon temps rouler!

The two guys with him—one also wearing a Saints shirt and the other in an LSU jersey with Gajan on the back—laughed raucously and surrounded her too. Nobody nearby was paying any attention to them, but they couldn’t have seen much anyway since she was enclosed in a sweaty, beer-soaked cocoon. 

The guy wearing the LSU jersey fingered a lock of her hair.  “Marcel, cas’ an eye on all dis red hair! Your mama a redhead too, cher? Where she be?”

“Get away from me!” Jeana stopped pushing on Marcel’s chest so she could slap away the hand in her hair, panic starting to grow inside her in a rising tide.

The third guy, a swarthy brute with yellow teeth, thrust his cup of beer in front of her face. “Hold ‘er while I give ‘er a swig, T-Boy. Mayhap dat’ll make her nice, hah?”

“Hokay, Claude!” T-Boy’s fingers closed around a handful of her hair and pulled her head back so Claude could push the rim of his cup against her lips.

She couldn’t open her mouth to scream because she didn’t want it filled with beer, so all she could do was close her eyes and pray that Mickey and Billy Joe would come back. When she heard a grunt of pain and felt T-Boy’s fingers release her hair, she thought her prayer had been answered. She supposed it had, but not at all the way she’d expected.

She opened her eyes to see Marcel lying on the ground with a hand held to his bloody mouth. Standing over him—incongruously decked out in full costume de rigueur adorned with Mardi Gras beads—was Wade Strickland, his face a mask of lethal fury as he held Claude and T-Boy a foot off the ground by the front of their shirts. Jeana had seen that fury before and knew their lives were truly in danger.

“Wade, stop.” She tried to keep her voice calm so she wouldn’t escalate the tension. “I’m not hurt. Put them down and don’t hit anybody else.”

When she didn’t see any reduction to the malice on his face, she knew she had to do whatever it took to get through to him. She put a hand on his cheek and turned his face so he had to look at her.

“Wade, please. Do it for me.”

Her words induced an immediate and astonishing transformation. His features lost all trace of anger and softened into a plaintive look of genuine affection that sent a stab of regret to her heart. And it also made her certain of something she’d come to suspect: something terrible had happened that changed Wade from the sweet boy she’d grown up with to the angry volcano always on the verge of eruption that he’d become. And whatever it was, the Wade she knew was still in there somewhere. She got glimpses of him every now and then, like the previous fall when she’d been forced to tutor him for an English test. But it was only brief glimpses, and he never stayed for long. Somehow, she had to figure out how to get him to come back for good.

But now wasn’t the time, so she pulled on his arm and said, “Put them down, Wade—easy.”

His green eyes stayed locked with hers a few seconds longer, then he sighed. “Sure, Redhot. Anything for you.”

He didn’t set the two clods down easy, but he also didn’t smash them into the sidewalk the way he could’ve done. The drunken trio scrambled to their feet and looked around at the people in the crowd staring and laughing at them, and they apparently decided that three wasn’t nearly enough to take on this tuxedo-clad Colossus who was still glaring at them with deadly intent.

“Hokay!” Claude said, pulling the other two away with him. “We gone, us. You couyon for true, man!”

Wade took a threatening step toward them and they doubled the speed of their exit. A light spattering of applause rose from the crowd, with a few Roll Tides thrown in for good measure. A couple of ladies asked Jeana if she was okay, while their red-faced husbands apologized to Wade for not paying attention to what had been going on.

“The cops are on strike in New Orleans,” one of the men said. “They cancelled the parades over there, so a lot of people came to Mobile instead. Unfortunately, the riffraff came too.”

“Just wait,” the other man said. “We’ll show ‘em we don’t put up with that garbage at our parades.”

The two men and their wives joined the people around them in an impassioned, self-righteous discussion of how Mobile had the oldest Mardi Gras celebration and was the “Mother of the Mystics,” something Jeana had heard about all her life. She smiled and nodded to be polite, then she pulled Wade over next to the barricades.

“Thank you for rescuing me,” she said. “Mickey and Billy Joe went to the bathroom. How did you know I was in trouble?”

“I didn’t.” He looked down at her with a smile reminiscent of the ones from her childhood. “I saw you from across the street and came over to say hey.”

She looked across the street at the Admiral Semmes Hotel. The balconies over the entrance were filled with formally dressed people, all the women wearing fur coats or stoles despite the mild temperature.

“Well, that explains the tux,” she said. “I didn’t know they came in linebacker size.”

His smile widened and he flexed one of his huge arms. “Had to special order the shirt and jacket.”

“I’m not surprised,” she said. “But I am a little surprised that you’re going to a ball. Don’t you have to be eighteen to get in?”

His smile disappeared. “My dad’s been in the Conde Cavaliers since they started two years ago. He’s making me escort one of the . . . waiting ladies in the court. Whatever they’re called.”

“Ladies in waiting.” Jeana bit her lip to keep from laughing. “Which one is she?”

He sighed and turned to look. “The one in the purple dress with her nose in the air higher than everybody else’s.”

“Let me guess,” Jeana said. “She goes to Julius T. Wright?”

Wade shrugged. “Who knows? She hasn’t said more than five words to me all night. And she keeps calling me Wayne.”

Jeana couldn’t stop the laugh this time. “Does she know about your Corvette? That usually impresses all the girls.”

“No, not all of them,” he said. “Not the smart ones.”

There he was again—the Wade she’d grown up with. And she knew he would disappear any second, especially if Mickey and Billy Joe came back while he was still talking to her. He’d get mad and put on one of the masks he always wore to hide who he really was, most likely the smug, arrogant one everybody knew as the Wademan, the jerk who didn’t care about anything or anyone. She wasn’t sure how many more times she would get to see the real Wade, so she had to try to talk to him while she had the chance.

“Wade, remember when I tutored you last fall and you took a rain check on us having a serious talk—just you and me with no interruptions?” She touched his white bowtie. “Don’t you think it’s time to use that rain check?”

“Nah, not yet,” he said, smiling down at her again. “I’ll let you know when it’s time.”

A commotion behind them made Jeana turn to look. Mickey and Billy Joe were trying to make their way through the tightly-packed crowd. She immediately took a step back from Wade and looked at him in alarm.

“Don’t worry, Redhot,” he said. “I’ll leave so your boyfriend’s head won’t explode and ruin the parade for everybody. I just got one more thing to do before I go.” He looked down at his chest and removed a string of beads that he put around her neck. “You know I always gave you my blue beads.”

He touched her chin, then he vaulted over the barricade and crossed the street with his usual swagger. She watched him walk away, more determined than ever to find out what had happened to change him so much.

“Was that Strickland in the monkey suit?” Mickey said when they finally reached her. “What was he doing here?”

For obvious reasons, Jeana didn’t want to say anything about what had happened with the three drunken fools, so she tried to skirt the truth. “His dad’s making him escort some girl to the ball. He just came over to say hello.”

As usual, when it came to anything involving Wade Strickland, Mickey looked skeptical. “He just happened to be in the same spot as you out of every place along the parade route?”

“No, he saw me from that balcony over there at the hotel and wanted to get away from Debutante Debbie—the snooty one in the purple dress.”

Billy Joe followed her gaze and shuddered. “Man, you know I love purple, but I’d rather date Mickey than a girl like that. She looks like she’s trying to figure out who’s got dog crap on their shoes.”

Jeana laughed, but Mickey didn’t even smile. “Did Strickland give you those beads?”

She looked down at them. “Oh . . . yes. He had a whole bunch of them and knows I like the blue ones.”

Billy Joe laughed. “Yeah, remember that time he got socked by a toddler because he snatched a string of blue beads for you right before the kid picked ‘em up?”

Jeana gave him The Eyebrow. “You’re just full of nostalgia today, aren’t you, Billy Joe?” When she looked at Mickey again, his eyes were darker blue than her beads. She put a hand on his chest and smiled up at him. “I like blue beads, but blue serpentine is my favorite throw. If you catch me some of that, I’ll have to give you a big reward for sure.”

“Oh, gross,” Billy Joe said. “I might have to take the bus home.”

By the time the parade started, Mickey was his usual self again, and the three of them had a great time. Jeana critiqued all the bands and announced that none of them were as entertaining as Vigor’s band. Mickey caught her several rolls of pastel blue serpentine and plenty of beads in purple, green, and gold, but no blue ones. Billy Joe was indeed the envy of everyone around them because of his Goody Grabber—patent pending—and he racked up on all the throws just out of arm’s reach through the barricades.

For some reason, there was a bigger-than-usual gap between the last two floats, so Jeana got a glimpse of the hotel balcony again. All the people on it were masked now, but she spotted Wade easily since he towered over everyone else. His mask was blue and had no feathers or other adornments on it, and it kind of reminded her of Batman’s mask because of the points on either side at the top. It should have looked bizarre on his face, but it almost seemed natural on him. Probably because he was so used to wearing masks.

With a wistful smile, she threw a roll of rainbow serpentine in his direction, the colorful streamer unfurling from her fingers in a silent thank you to him for rescuing her and for not causing a scene with Mickey. When he lifted his hand to tip the side of his mask, she knew he’d seen her and got the message.

Then the last float arrived and blocked the other side of the street from her view. Just as the back of the float went by them, one of the maskers threw a small teddy bear in their direction. Mickey jumped up and caught it as it was going over his head.

“Nice catch, Mick!” Billy Joe said. “No wonder you play centerfield.”

Jeana laughed as Mickey started to give her the bear, then she glanced behind them and saw a little girl with blonde pigtails being consoled by her mother.

The little girl poked out her lip for just a second, then she shrugged and said, “That’s what I get for being short.”

Mickey looked at Jeana, his incredible blue eyes telling her what she already knew. She smiled and nodded.

“Here you go,” Mickey said, holding out the bear to the little girl. “I didn’t want it to go over your head, so I caught it for you.”

The little girl’s eyes widened, then a smile overtook her entire face. “Thank you!”

Her mother reached for Jeana’s hand and squeezed it. “You certainly are blessed to be surrounded by such gentlemen. First that young man in the tuxedo who rescued you from those miscreants, and now this blue-eyed sweetheart.”

Jeana winced but managed to force a smile. “Yes, I’m a lucky girl for sure.” She looked at Mickey in the hope that he hadn’t heard what the woman said, but she could tell by his face that Lady Luck had deserted her this time.

“Jeana, what was she talking about?” Mickey asked as they started walking back toward the Civic Center. “What did Strickland do?”

“Yeah, and what the crap does ‘miscreants’ mean?” Billy Joe added.

Jeana sighed and told them a toned-down version of what had happened. “Wade just happened to show up at the right time and scared them away. It was no big deal. Really.”

Mickey stopped walking and turned her to face him. “Did they hurt you? Do you think they’re still here somewhere?” He looked around at the dispersing crowd.

“No, they didn’t hurt me,” Jeana said, “and they probably headed straight back to whatever bog they crawled out of.”

“Why didn’t you tell us about it when we got back?” Mickey asked.

“I didn’t want you trying to find them,” she said. “Which is exactly what you did when you found out.”

“We shouldn’t have left you by yourself,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, Mickey.” She tiptoed to kiss him then turned to punch Billy Joe in the arm. “It’s yours and your stupid Big Gulp.”

“Ow!” Billy Joe grabbed his arm as if he’d been shot. “Somebody call one of those cops on the horses. I wanna report a vicious assault.”

As they were about to get into the Mustang in the Civic Center parking lot, Jeana looked toward the gate behind them and was surprised—and more than a little worried—to see Wade. His bowtie hung loose around his neck and the top buttons of his shirt were undone. The blue mask dangled from one hand, and he threw it into the trash barrel outside the gate as he came through it. Jeana could tell from the way he was walking that he was mad about something and hoped he wouldn’t see them, but Lady Luck screwed her again. He walked over to the Mustang wearing his typical smirk, and Jeana braced herself for the trouble that was surely coming.

“Hey there, Redhot,” he said. “I thought I’d better come see if you needed a ride home. I figured these two losers left you all by yourself again.”

Now that he was standing right in front of her, Jeana saw that his bottom lip was cut and starting to swell. After what she’d overheard two of Wade’s friends talking about at school, she suspected that his father was responsible.

“Got kicked out of the ball, huh?” Billy Joe said. “Guess they don’t like obnoxious jerks any more than we do.”

“Kiss my ass, DuBose,” Wade said. “Don’t you and your buddy need to go take a piss or something?” He looked at Mickey and sneered. “Got something to say, Yankee-boy?”

The muscles in Mickey’s jaw twitched noticeably, but his reply took everyone by surprise.

“Thanks for looking out for Jeana earlier. I shouldn’t have left her alone.”

Actually, Jeana wasn’t surprised. Mickey didn’t know how to be anything but honorable and fair and honest, and he had no problem admitting it when he felt he was wrong about something. It was just one of the many reasons she loved him. She slipped her hand into his and squeezed it proudly.

Wade’s reaction was a bit different. He seemed to take Mickey’s gratitude—grudging though it was—as an insult, as though Mickey had said it just to show him up once again. The angry flush that started at Wade’s neck crept rapidly upward when Jeana took Mickey’s hand.

She couldn’t help feeling bad for Wade that he had such a lousy father and that he would always come up short in any competition with Mickey—something Wade clearly knew even though he would never admit it. True to form, instead of just accepting Mickey’s thanks and acting decent for a change, Wade tried to provoke a fight.

“No problem, asshole. Taking care of Jeana is just one of the many things I can do better than you.” He took a step closer to Mickey and jabbed a finger in his chest. “You better remember that.”

Jeana could almost feel the anger radiating from Mickey’s pores and held on to his hand like a vise. “Don’t let him goad you, Mickey. You know he always has to play these stupid macho games.”

“Come on, Yankee-boy,” Wade said, his eyes locked with Mickey’s. “You know you wanna kick my ass and show her how tough you are.”

“He’s already done that, Wade,” Billy Joe said. “No need to repeat himself.”

“Shut up, Billy Joe!” Jeana said. “You’re not helping anything.”

“Don’t worry, baby.” Mickey’s gaze never wavered from Wade’s. “Billy Joe’s right. I got nothing left to prove, but the main reason I’m not gonna break his face is that I owe him for looking out for you.” He leaned forward so that his nose was almost touching Wade’s. “But my debt is paid after tonight.”

They glared at each other a few seconds longer, the space around them so charged with combustible energy that any movement would set off an explosion. Terrified that Wade would hit Mickey and start a fight anyway, Jeana acted on the same instinct that had told her how to diffuse Wade’s anger before. She put her hand over one of the clenched fists at Wade’s side.

“Don’t spoil everything nice you did for me tonight. Please, Wade.”

It worked, almost like something mystical. Kind of apropos for Mardi Gras she supposed. With a mirthless laugh, Wade took a step back.

“Now you owe a debt to Jeana for saving your Yankee ass.” He looked at her and added, “Make sure he pays you, Redhot. He looks like a welsher to me.”

He started to walk off in the direction of his Corvette, then he stopped and turned around again, reaching into the pocket of his tuxedo pants.

“Oh, I almost forgot. I caught you something else when I was on the balcony.” He tossed a box of Red Hots to Jeana and Mickey caught them in his free hand. “In case you need to make your hair a little redder.” He winked at her then walked away without waiting for any reply.

Billy Joe opened the door to the Mustang. “Well, I for one am pretty dang relieved that you saved Mickey’s ass, Jeana. I didn’t wanna have to do it and risk breaking the prototype for my Goody Grabber—patent pending.”

Jeana laughed, grateful that she could always count on Billy Joe to lighten the mood no matter what happened. Nothing else was said about Wade on the ride back to Chickasaw, but when Mickey and Jeana were sitting in the porch swing after Billy Joe went home, she could tell he was thinking about the night’s events.

“Mickey, I hope you’re not still feeling bad because of what happened when you and Billy Joe were gone. I told you it wasn’t a big deal, and if it wasn’t for the police strike in New Orleans, those creeps would never have been here. There’s no way you could have known about that.”

“That’s not what’s bothering me.” He sighed and looked through the darkness at the house next door where Wade had lived when they were kids. “Jeana, there’s something I didn’t tell you before. I saw you and Wade and Billy Joe at Mardi Gras once when we were in the fifth grade. I only knew Billy Joe back then, but I remember watching the three of you together and wondering why either of them wanted to hang out with a girl. Eww…” He paused to laugh and put his arm around her. “I get it now, but back then I didn’t understand it at all. And then all of a sudden I did.”

Jeana’s forehead creased. “What do you mean, Mickey?”

He was still looking at the silhouette of the house next door. “I saw the way Billy Joe and Wade looked at you when you didn’t know they were watching you. Even though I was completely clueless about anything but math and baseball back then, I knew they both liked you for more than a friend, and I could also tell that neither one of them knew the other one felt that way.”

He looked down into her eyes.

“Sometimes I get jealous of how much longer they’ve both known you and of all the memories you have with them. Then what do I do? I go and ruin the memory of our first Mardi Gras parade together by leaving you alone and setting Wade up to be the big hero.”

“Oh, Mickey.” Jeana moved to sit on his lap and put her arms around his neck. “You’ll always be my hero, and it has nothing to do with chasing away creeps.”

He smiled, but it was still tinged with melancholy.

“Mickey, what’s wrong? You know Billy Joe is like a brother to me, and you can’t be worried about me having any feelings for Wade Strickland, other than disappointment that he grew up to be such an obnoxious jerk.”

“I don’t think that’s the only thing you feel about him, Jeana.” He touched the blue beads around her neck. “Why did you take these from him, and why did he stop trying to pick a fight with me because you asked him to?”

“Mickey, I—”

“I’m not saying you love him or anything like that, but sometimes when you look at him, I can tell you’re remembering when you used to like him. I can tell those memories mean a lot to you, and I can’t help wishing I was a part of them.”

She looked into his eyes—those incredible true-blue eyes that had taken her breath away the first time he said hello to her—and the uncertainty in them was like a shot to her heart.

“Mickey, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any good memories of when Wade and Billy Joe and I were growing up, but Wade made me want to forget all of them when he moved away and decided that Billy Joe and I weren’t good enough to be his friends anymore. Most of the time, I try to block all those memories because they hurt too much to remember. But sometimes, when Wade does something halfway decent, I guess it does remind me of when he was nice and makes me wish he still was.”

She looked down and picked up the string of blue beads.

“It did make me happy when he gave me these, because it gives me hope that the Wade who was my friend might come back someday. But do you know what I’ll do with these beads, Mickey? They’ll go into the box of things from my childhood that’s put away in my closet—things from a time I would never want to go back to, because it was before I knew you.”

She paused again to reach into the pocket of her jacket.

“But this blue serpentine you caught for me will hang from the corners of the bulletin board where I’ve saved all the souvenirs of our times together since I fell in love with you—the football ribbons from the games after you got here, the tickets to the movies we’ve seen together, the valentine and the rose you gave me, the notes you wrote me at school. All the things that represent the beginning of us.”

She put her hands on both of his cheeks.

“The first time you kissed me, it felt like I’d been on a long journey and had finally come home. I knew your arms were where I belonged, and I never wanted to leave. Nothing that happened to me before that moment matters, Mickey. Because I didn’t exist until you kissed me.”

He smiled again, this time with no trace of anything but happiness. “I felt the same way, Jeana, except I’d already known it for a long time. Since that day I heard you recite your poem at the fifth grade honors program.” He kissed her and wrapped his arms around her. “Okay, I’ll try not to be jealous of all the time I missed with you, back when you were that bossy little red-haired girl who always had her nose in a book and thought all sports were silly.”

She laughed. “I still think sports are silly, except for when you’re playing. And I still read just as much when you’re not around.”

“Yeah, and you’re still pretty bossy.” He grabbed her hands so she couldn’t punch him. “And kinda violent too.”

She wrinkled her nose at him, then her face sobered. “That reminds me, Mickey. I want you to promise me something.”

“Anything, Jeana. What is it?”

“I want you to do your best to ignore Wade when he’s trying to push your buttons and start a fight. Just like Billy Joe said tonight, you have nothing to prove to anyone. I can’t stand the thought of you fighting with him again, and I want you to promise me you’ll do your best to get along with him, even when he’s being his usual obnoxious self.”

“I already do that, Jeana, but when he says stuff about you—”

She put a finger over his lips. “Nothing he says matters, Mickey. And you know he only does it to get under your skin because you’re better than him in football. Better than him in everything.”

The amused-but-adoring look was back. “That’s not the only reason he does it, but I promise I’ll do my best to ignore him. For you, Jeana.”

“Thank you.” She smiled and put her arms around his neck again. “Now if I could just figure out a way to get Billy Joe to keep his big mouth shut and stop being an instigator.”

Mickey shook his head. “Yeah, like Scooby says, Rotsa Ruck.”

After he left and Jeana was in her room getting ready for bed, she took off the blue beads to put them away in the box of mementoes in her closet. She meant what she’d told Mickey about the things in the box, but when she picked up the star wheel Wade had given her for her tenth birthday and remembered the night she’d showed him all the constellations, she couldn’t help hoping that someday he’d remember what she’d told him about the North Star and would let it guide him back home. Then he could finally take off all his masks and be that boy she’d liked again.

She put the box back in the closet, then she opened the serpentine and unfurled it so she could drape it over the corners of the bulletin board that held all her new mementoes. She fell asleep looking at it, and just like every night since he’d come into her life, her dreams were filled with the blue-eyed miracle that was Mickey.

~ ~ ~


Woo! That was pretty awesome! Thanks so much, Joyce. 

Readers, I hope you’ll add True Blue Forever to your TBR pile! Ready to continue hunting ? 

Head over to author L.H. Nicole’s blog


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