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Excerpt for Sisters' Treasure by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Books by Mary Jane Russell

Lesfic

The Arcanum of Beth © 2009, Intaglio Publications

Murder in City Hall © 2010, Intaglio Publications

Just a Little Romance © 2011, Intaglio Publications

Sisters’ Treasure © 2012, Intaglio Publications


Nonfiction

Collected Correspondence of Robert Achilles Russell © 2016, DiggyPOD


Middle Grade Fiction

Margie © 2018, Smashwords


Nonfiction

Quaker Runes © 2018, Smashwords



© Info


This eBook is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons living is coincidental. This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only and may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Copyright © 2019 by Mary Jane Russell. All rights reserved.


Published by Mary Jane Russell at Smashwords.

Printed in the United States of America.


Previously published by Intaglio Publications, Walker, LA © 2012. All rights released prior to revision and reissue.


Cover photograph, quilt made by my grandmother, Alma Keith Harvey, and diary kept by my great-grandmother, Judith Candler Russell.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

1917

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

1903

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

1890

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

1880

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

1869

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

1862

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Six

1860

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Chapter Thirty-Eight

1850

About the Author

DEDICATION


For the Harvey women:

Ada Harvey Gibson and Mildred Harvey Warters, two of my grandfather’s sisters

Alma Harvey Russell, my mother

and especially Nancy Harvey Floyd, my favorite aunt

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


Many thanks to Kate Sweeney, Sheri Payton, and Tara Young; also for Intaglio Publications’ release of the rights to this book and the opportunity to revisit a project and hopefully make it better.

Any time I write about family, I think of my parents. I miss them more with each passing year. They instilled in me an appreciation of books and a love of my sister that have endured a lifetime.

Finally, this one’s for my only and always favorite aunt, Nancy Floyd, as a small token of thanks for decades of love. There was no richer treasure than you.

CHAPTER ONE



“That’s my girl.” Tracey Stephens raised her can of Coke in a salute to the television screen. She was a creature of habit—as soon as she entered her apartment after a day’s work, she turned on the television for background noise and went to the refrigerator for an ice cold Coca-Cola. She was fortunate that her metabolism burned off the sugar and caffeine with no ill effects to her weight or ability to sleep. She wore the same size jeans as when a senior in high school seven years earlier. It didn’t hurt that she played golf every weekend possible.

Clearing a space on the end table for the can, she pulled her hair back in a ponytail using a wide elastic band from an ash tray that had never received cigarette remains. Her hair stayed a light blond year-round, thanks to her time outside playing golf, and reached midway down her back. She faced the sofa and pushed aside the pile of laundry that needed folding. If clean clothes stayed on the sofa too long, Tracey simply washed them again.

The living room furniture was purposely kept to a minimum to accommodate the treadmill set against the back of the kitchen cabinets that divided the room. Golf clubs and water skies were propped against the front wall. Her nonfiction books were in stacks on the floor of what was intended to be a second bedroom that had two folding tables piled high with papers instead of a bed. She considered herself a historically minded jock.

Tracey settled onto the sofa to watch the local evening news. Once the news ended, she’d switch to Netflix and her obsession with BBC programs. She tolerated cable television for The Weather Channel and ESPN. She refused to pay for premium channels yet hated sitting through commercials. She was halfway through Doc Martin, fascinated by how obtuse the main character was as she crushed on the schoolteacher. A typical winter evening was spent glancing at the television while reading a book or cataloging documents from the previous two centuries, or both.

Ginny Daniels stood with a microphone in hand, leaning toward Alese Walthall with genuine deference that emphasized a stark contrast of different generations of black women. Ginny was twenty-three, slim, and not born in Virginia. Alese was seventy, plump, and a native of Danville.

“You’re a retired schoolteacher who now works at Southside Museum and volunteers at local historical sites?” Ginny nodded attentively during Alese’s summary of her careers and current activities.

“You’ve no idea.” Tracey shook her head and sipped her drink, waiting.

Mrs. Walthall had been one of Tracey’s elementary school teachers. She’d retired after three-and-a-half decades of teaching. Retirement bored her, so she joined the Southside Museum at its inception as its first museum educator. She’d been an excellent teacher, more so for riding out the first wave of soft integration in Virginia. She’d also been the first black professional woman Tracey’s mother had experienced when placed in her classroom in 1965. Alese survived the system to be Tracey’s teacher thirty years later. She was a gentle taskmaster who made her pupils work for the knowledge that lasted them a lifetime.

Tracey credited Alese with her decision to be a history major. Tracey’s mother teased her that the only surprise was when Tracey decided not to follow her mentor’s footsteps and become a teacher. Tracey had been thrilled to reunite with Alese at the museum when hired as its curator three years earlier.

“I hope you did your homework, girlfriend.” Tracey tensed, sensing that Ginny was about to make the point of the interview—Black History Month justifiably came across as a double-edged sword in the South. Especially poignant was the impending anniversary of the start of the Civil War. So far, Virginia was the only state to appropriate funds for commemorative events. The NAACP was already cautioning members and organizing demonstrations against celebrating slavery.

Ginny was an anomaly to the area and Tracey’s life. She was born and raised in Ohio with a strong family and upper middle-class neighborhood support structure that reinforced Black History. Her childhood friends were a mixed bag of Toledo’s population where no one paid much attention to last names. Both her parents had earned doctorates.

Tracey lived in the shadow of generations of tobacco farmers who passed land but not money to the next generation. Danville had briefly served as the Confederate capital during the closing days of the Civil War. It was a city strongly rooted in country music, tobacco auctions, textile production, and its adjoining county’s annual cantaloupe festival. Tracey’s parents had been the first generation not to attend racially separated schools.

Tracey had never had a black girlfriend. She’d been too shy during high school to be anything more than friends with anyone and had watched the girls she grew up with move away for college and careers. Tracey had been too focused on her golf scholarship and college curriculum to seriously date anyone, knowing her parents couldn’t afford the cost of another daughter’s undergraduate education.

Once home and employed by the museum, Tracey concentrated on work. She’d been interviewed a little over a year before by Ginny and hadn’t been able to stop thinking of her. She’d thanked Ginny for the increased foot traffic to the textile exhibit by taking her to dinner and was delighted to discover that Ginny had an ulterior motive for the interview after seeing the staff photograph on the website. They’d been a couple ever since, traveling to North Carolina’s nearby metro areas for concerts and women’s basketball.

“Was there Underground Railroad activity in this area in the decades before the Civil War?” Ginny held the microphone toward Alese.

“None that has been documented this far inland. The Tidewater area had churches linked to steamship routes.” Alese folded one hand over the other,other clearly displeased that research was lacking or she was being manipulated.

“My ancestors fled Virginia in the eighteen fifties and served the North during the war. Yet here you are, a native, working on the preparations for the one hundred fiftieth celebration of the beginning of the Civil War as part of Danville’s tourism effort.” Ginny held up a recent brochure from the state office of tourism.

Tracey groaned.

Alese stiffened. “I’m a guide at the National Cemetery where the federal soldiers from Danville’s Confederate prisons were buried and at the Freedman’s Cemetery that once was part of Green Hill Cemetery. I work at the museum to bring to light the wealth of African-American artifacts hidden amongst family collections. We’ve commemorated the pain and suffering of the labor force, as well as the strides made since the time of Abraham Lincoln. Some of us stayed here to make it easier for successive generations rather than being lured away from our heritage by anonymity and paychecks in Northern factories.”

“Danville—a contradiction to itself.” Ginny walked with the camera as the adjoining cemeteries were panned. The newscast went to commercial break.

“She did not just say that.” A man’s voice was raised to be heard through the dividing wall of the duplex.

“Oh, yes, she did.” Tracey went to the refrigerator for two more Cokes and , then dashed from her front door to the adjoining unit without a jacket to ward off February’s chill.

Adam Bruffy held the door open. His apartment was as sparse as Tracey’s was cluttered. He resisted all urges to decorate after his divorce other than adding a bar in the corner of the living room to display his beer bottle collection. It also served to hide empty liquor bottles en route to recycling. He’d amassed a collection of bean bag chairs that he piled together in the middle of the living room. His bed was a mattress thrown on the carpet of the master bedroom. His one furniture purchase had been a race car bed for the second bedroom. Adam lived for his visitation rights with his son.

Tracey handed off the cold Coke to Adam, continuing into his kitchen to transfer groceries from bags to cabinets. He was as bad about food as she was clothing, often leaving plastic bags along the wall until the contents were used. Tracey made it a habit to check the contents—laundry didn’t spoil.

“Wonder how many people are watching this.this?” Adam directed his voice to the kitchen while his eyes focused on the screen. “I haven’t seen that look on Mrs. Walthall’s face since I mooned the audience of the sixth-grade play.”

Tracey chuckled. “I forgot she was your teacher also. I just remember you being the star high school quarterback that most of the girls, including my big sister, had a huge crush on. I was so jealous.”

“Who’d have ever thought I’d end up as the divorced land surveyor who drinks too much?” Adam set the Coke aside in favor of the bottle of beer he was half through. “Thanks for reminding me that I’m older and of the same romantic persuasion as you.”

“I wonder how many people are looking for the parent station’s telephone number in Lynchburg. Ginny’s days as a one-woman affiliate may be numbered.” Tracey held up one of the cans of chili. “I’m assuming you don’t have any hot dates in your future.”

“Lesbian buddies and pay-per-view are my bestest friends.” Adam flashed a toothy smile at her and waggled his mustache.

“Eww.” Tracey shook her head. She teased Adam about being a throwback to Burt Reynolds. His black hair was shaggy on his collar, and his mustache was heavy on his upper lip and corners of his mouth.

Adam laughed. “I’m betting you won’t be taking Ginny home to meet the parents this weekend.”

“I’m not closeted, just very private about my social life. I had enough of a don’t-ask-don’t-tell reaction from Paula to learn my lesson.”

“I never would’ve guessed your sister was so uptight.” He tried the Coke again and made a face. “I think this needs more sugar. How do you chug these things?”

“Paula went to college to nab a husband and earn a degree she had no intention of using. Poor Ashton built her a huge house and fathered her prerequisite—and dearly loved—two children, so she could climb the ladder with the Baptist Young Women and support the Republican Party.” Tracey shuddered. “Don’t waste any of that Coke. At least my addiction is legal.”

“I heard that.” Adam crushed the can and threw it behind the bar.

“I’m hoping Alese won’t hold this against me. I introduced Ginny to her to set up the interview.” Tracey took her cell phone out of her pocket and hit the speed dial for Ginny. She waited through the voice mail prompt. “You looked great on the news tonight as always, sweetie. Isn’t Mrs. Walthall something? Don’t forget dinner Friday night.” Tracey closed the phone with a snap.

“Chicken shit.” Adam was engrossed in the five-day weather forecast that determined how much he’d be able to work.

“You betcha. That’s chicken shit with a date, thank you.” Tracey thumped Adam on the crown of his head in passing.

CHAPTER TWO



Tracey wore exam gloves at work as second nature. She’d nagged her boss into ordering a box of smalls shortly after being hired so her hands weren’t engulfed by the powdered latex.

Southside Museum had been initially funded by the proceeds from the national tobacco settlement administered by the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission. The thirty-one-member body was responsible for economic growth and development in the communities dependent on raising tobacco. The commission was nearing the end of payment to farmers or quota owners who once depended on flue-cured or burley tobacco for their livelihood. To date, and Tracey followed the grant awards closely, the commission had doled out almost $800 million above the nearly $300 million in indemnification payments over the past eleven years.

Tracey would never forget meeting the museum’s executive director, Mitchell Wilkins, at her interview.

He’d leaned so far back in his chair that Tracey feared he’d topple over. “First of all, call me Mitch. Secondly, how do you feel about being part of a museum that glorifies the three dead Ts—tobacco, textiles, and trains?”

Tracey sputtered through an answer based on growing up outside of Danville. “My ancestors grew tobacco or worked at Dan River. Tracks run parallel to the family farm.” She deliberately avoided the rest that Mitch well knew.

Mitch had ended the interview by congratulating her on her new job and consoling her. “At least we didn’t completely sell our souls for funding—we don’t dress in period costumes.”

Tracey loved the square, three-story building that had begun as a tobacco warehouse, served as a Civil War hospital, survived the fire of 1890 that decimated the adjoining city block, and finally been renovated for the museum with large, high-ceilinged open rooms.

She adjusted the angle of the diary she was attempting to read and wished again that the diarist hadn’t experimented with a purple ink that faded worse than the usual sepia. She pulled the swivel arm of the light clamped on the edge of her table so the fixture was centered over the book and straightened on her stool to look through the round magnifying glass surrounded by a fluorescent tube. Last resort would be an ultraviolet light that was often more trouble to connect than it was worth to use.

Tracey adored the drafting table that she worked at more comfortably than her desk. It was fifty years old, solid oak, and a whopping three feet by six feet with drawers large enough for blueprints and family tree charts. The top surface was a mint green board cover preferred by draftsmen for ease on the eyes. Tracy was thankful for the Internet shopping sites that allowed her to replace the cover once a year.

She wondered if any draftsmen continued to work by hand on paper—another form of dinosaur heading to extinction—rather than hunching before a computer terminal. Drafting tables in engineers’ and architects’ offices were abandoned for metal desks and large monitors. Adam had salvaged hers from the auction pile where he worked after hearing her wish for a surface big enough to actually spread out documents. “Their loss, my gain.”

The telephone warbled. They had far too many choices for ring tones. Tracey looked over her shoulder, debating letting voice mail take the call.

“I know you’re in there.” Her boss shouted from the next room, using their usual intercom system. “It might be a blue hair who won’t leave a message regarding a huge donation.” Mitch had lost no time in delegating calls from elderly women to Tracey.

As two-thirds of the full-time staff, she and Mitch worked out of offices on the first floor of the museum, dividing an interior room that was between the two galleries on the rear of the building behind the large main gallery room that spanned the entire width of the building. Alese worked from a classroom on the second floor. Part-timers and volunteers shared space in the second floor or basement workrooms. Their secretary was beside the front door in the large gallery, managing ticket sales between answering the telephone and turning Mitch’s scribbling on legal pads into Word documents—a task Tracey thought worthy of any archivist.

Tracey sighed and carefully placed the diary on the table before dashing for the phone. She didn’t have a chance to speak.

“Just don’t say anything. I had no choice but to call you at work to get you to talk to me. I need to hear an actual voice now and again to verify that you’re among the living. You never answer the phone at your apartment. I’m tired of leaving messages that are ignored.”

Tracey rolled her eyes. “Mom.”

“Don’t start on me with that tone of voice. You’re the one who won’t answer. I even tried your cell phone, but no, you use caller ID to avoid me. You brought this on yourself.”

“Okay, Mom. Point made. I’ve been busy lately.” Tracey rearranged the piles on her desk.

“And I haven’t? I work full time, as well as plenty of overtime when we’re running large cases, remember? As does your father.” Harriet was a paralegal with a firm that practiced criminal law. Rory was a self-employed contractor who always overbooked renovation projects that he managed to complete on schedule.

Mitch paused in the doorway connecting their offices. Tracey willed him to summon her for a meeting, raising her eyebrows hopefully.

“Tell Harriet ‘hello’ for me,” he whispered.

Tracey tried to hand him the handset, but he neatly sidestepped away from her.

Mitch and Harriet had been in the same class through primary and secondary school. Mitch was 5’7” tall; barely able to hold his own if Tracey wore anything other than flats. He was stocky and kept his once black hair in a neat shingle cut and his face covered by a gray speckled beard. He wore reading glasses on a chain around his neck. His style of winter clothes had changed little in the last decade. Corduroy trousers, plaid shirt, sleeveless sweater vest, and wool sport coat. He looked at Tracey, shrugged, and waved. “Meeting with the commission.” He rubbed his fingers together, signifying money, and fled their offices.

“At least come by the house this weekend and do your laundry,” Harriet said.

“Adam and I already made plans to hit the laundromatLaundromat on Saturday afternoon. We hang out with friends. Besides, twenty-five is a little old for you to be doing my laundry.”

“We could hang out while your clothes wash and dry. You could do all the work yourself.” Harriet made it sound as though a huge sacrifice on her part.

Tracey made herself take a mental deep breath. She put her mother on speaker so she could go through her inbox while at her desk. “How about if I come by Sunday afternoon this weekend or next and bring a DVD for us to watch?”

“Don’t expect your father to do anything but doze through it. I’ll make us a nice lunch. Bring your friend Adam if you like.” Harriet sneezed. “You’d best be alone in the office if you’re broadcasting our conversation.”

“Adam’s just a friend, and he has plans with his son most weekends.” Tracey looked longingly at her drafting table. “I’m alone.” She knew how much her mother hated speakerphones and used the ploy to speed up their conversations when both were at their offices.

“I’m not the only one who misses you,” Harriet said.

“Don’t go there. Paula has the girls scheduled with so many activities outside of school that she never gives her kid sister a thought, which is okay by me. We’ve always been too different from each other to be friends.”

“Shame on you for dismissing your only sister, but that’s not who I meant.” Harriet’s other line beeped. “All I ever hear from Agnes and Marian is that they never see you anymore. Honey, when you live in a small town, you can’t very well avoid your relatives. I should know.” The last was muttered rather than spoken.

“Since when do you care what Granny’s sisters think?” Tracey only broached the subject of the long-standing feud when she had to push back against her mother’s need to micromanage all their lives.

“They’re both in their seventies. I stop by once a week to check on them. It’s my duty since Mother isn’t here.” Harriet had been named for her mother, the baby of the family affectionately known throughout her life as Harry.

“Uh-huh,” Tracey said.

“Okay, so you’re smart to stay away from those two crazy old women. There, I’ve said it.” Harriet sighed.

Tracey chuckled. “You almost pulled it off.”

“They’re my mother’s only two surviving siblings. I feel an obligation toward them. They’ve just worn out my patience over the years, but there’s no point going into all that now.”

“I’ve heard what you’re willing to say about them many times before.” Tracey winced as she sliced her fingertip opening an envelope.

“They do love us.”

“In their own peculiar way.” Tracey grinned. She had a special fondness for her two widowed great aunts. They lived on and continued to work the family farm after losing their husbands and older brother. She often wondered if she and Paula would end up doing the same but just couldn’t see that version of the future. The sisters had introduced Tracey to homemade wine and beer when alcohol was forbidden in Harriet’s house.

“I’ll see you soon on a Sunday when you guys are home and drop in on them one night during the week,” Tracey said.

“Thank you, honey. Love you. Bye.”

“Love you. Bye.” Tracey repeated the words but didn’t know if her mother stayed on the line long enough to hear them.

“There’s nothing like a mother’s ability to employ guilt.” Alese Walthall stood in the door leading to the hallway beside the drafting table.

“No, ma’am.” Tracey stood and returned to the diary. She glanced at Alese. “There’s also nothing quite like a teacher’s disapproving stare, either.”

“I’m not going to criticize your friend.” Alese shrugged off her coat. As the school liaison, she usually spent half the morning in a classroom and left the museum early for late afternoon programs at area community centers. Other times, Alese used the classroom on the second floor when she brought in field trip groups.

Tracey froze. Oh, Lord, she thought, Alese knows.

“But she’s the very reason I continue to work. Why do young blacks dismiss those of us who work inside the system?” Alese was on her way to the basement. Her current project was verifying the cataloging of the stored collections while keeping an eye out for significant items that her predecessors might have overlooked.

Tracey knew no answer was expected.

“I’ve made a lunch date with her. I’m going to work on her. I see something in that girl that warrants nurturing and educating to our ways.” Alese nodded for emphasis.

“Ginny is very special to me,” Tracey said.

Alese hesitated. “Just be careful. We aren’t that far removed from the old ways of thinking. Being around children for thirty-five years made me change what I was brought up to believe—that’s one of the reasons I loved teaching even after I became tired of fighting the system.” She turned to leave.

“Mrs. Walthall.” Tracey reverted to speaking as though a grade school student again. “Alese. How about lunch? My treat.”

“You owe me for not bitch-slapping your girl on camera.” Alese imitated a former pupil.

Tracey laughed so hard and so suddenly that she choked. “Now that would be worth the price of admission. You’d have the museum staff on one of the reality programs.”

“Humph.” Alese disappeared around the corner.

Tracey returned to her work on the diary, reading through the chronicle of eighteen hundreds farm life for mention of local families or current events. She had a new exhibit in mind when she wasn’t thinking of Ginny.

CHAPTER THREE



Ginny leaned across the table and lowered her voice. “It’s not considered a romantic restaurant just because there’s only one television located discreetly in the bar.”

Tracey met her in the center of the table and whispered back, “I don’t care because right now I’m looking down your bodice at an incredible view.” Tracey grinned. “I can’t believe I used the word bodice in an actual sentence.”

They had both dressed up—an effort on Tracey’s part—and ventured to Oita’s, the local Japanese steakhouse and seafood restaurant, for a real date. Oita’s was named for the city in Japan the original owner emigrated from in the seventies. Change in ownership had included keeping the name when a local businessman bought the restaurant. Usually, they took turns picking up takeout food and alternating apartments so they could eat dinner, watch television, and go to bed early but to sleep late.

Tracey and Ginny didn’t want to live together, not yet anyway. They worked long hours to establish careers and enjoyed their privacy and the newness of having their own place. They had admitted as much early on and giggled over the relief of feeling the same about cohabitating even if letting down the lesbian stereotype.

Ginny wore the same dress as for the evening news report done live for six o’clock and played back at eleven. There had been yet another series of layoffs at the Goodyear plant that quelled the resurgence of the furniture industry. Danville struggled as did so many small Southern cities with the transition away from manufacturing.

Tracey wore tan wool trousers and a pink pullover—the closest she came to being girly. She was fortunate that her eyelashes and eyebrows were a dark blond rather than as light as the sun kept her hair. She refused to give in to the time that makeup required.

“You’re so full of it.” Ginny sat back in her chair.

“I can only hope.” Tracey smiled and raised her wine glass in a toast. “To beautiful views and bodice ripping.” Tracey was thankful that Ginny had selected the wine. Her sense of taste was geared to light or dark beer, both of which she enjoyed on special occasions. Left on her own, Tracey would’ve ordered her usual Coke.

Tracey swept her hair behind her ears, bothered by the residual static electricity created by winter’s heating systems. She envied what she normally teased Ginny about—a plethora of hair products used daily so that Ginny’s long hair hung straight and perfect no matter what she was doing. Tracey fought the urge to pull hers back in a ponytail.

Ginny smiled. “I’m sensing there’s something you want to talk about.”

Tracey shook her head. She’d promised herself not to go there. She raised her eyebrows and whispered. “No televisions around the room and linen tablecloths—that’s fancy in my book.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Come on. Say it. What about the interview is bothering you?”

Tracey took a deep breath. “You know I greatly respect your work.”

“That bad, huh?”

“Alese was a groundbreaker in her day.” Tracey stared at the plate of food just served from the grill in the center of the room. She’d lost her appetite.

“And you idolize her.” Ginny’s face tightened.

“Yes, I do. Fresh out of Hampton Institute, Alese was sent here to teach to pay back her student loan. She earned respect from her students and their parents with her demeanor and hard work. It was a big deal then for a black teacher to have a classroom with a majority of white kids.”

“Okay.” Ginny frowned. “As compared to me thinking I’m entitled to respect?”

Tracey briefly covered her face with her hands. “I didn’t say that.”

“No, but the implication’s always there. Speaking my mind, thinking my opinion matters, and not holding anything back—I can’t help the way I was raised.” Ginny attacked her meal.

“My point exactly,” Tracey said. “Neither can Alese. Neither can I.”

“Oh, God, here we go again. I wasn’t born in this area so I can’t possibly understand its culture and politics.” Ginny took a gulp of wine.

Tracey raised her hands, palms upturned.

“Well, shit fire and save matches, let me go home and order a pair of overalls.” Ginny set the wine glass down with enough force to make Tracey wince.

Tracey decided she was too far into the conversation to let it drop. “Slavery is a touchy subject—there’s resentment from those whose ancestors were and guilt from those whose forefathers owned Negroes. Southern families lost fortunes and future bloodlines over a trade carried out by Northern businessmen. Danville was the last capital of the Confederacy—Sutherlin Mansion housed the Confederate president for a week. Jefferson Davis conducted his last meeting with his Cabinet there.”

Ginny covered her mouth to yawn.

“Okay, forget all of that.” Tracey waved her hand. “Danville rebuilt on industry—textiles, furniture, and tires—and counted on tobacco growth and auctions. Tell me what all those manufacturers have done in our lifetime.”

“Tanked?”

Tracey nodded. “Throw in the past few years’ economy,economy and most people around here don’t sleep too well at night.”

“So Danville’s finally recognized the need to join the twenty-first century.” Ginny’s tone implied an unspoken so there. “That’s why the state funded the big glass-walled think tank that sits empty most days. Don’t get me started on the fallacy of that plan.”

“People behind the scenes—like Alese Walthall—have pushed change for decades. Progress is slowly taking hold, but we are what we are.” Tracey reached the same exasperation point as always when having this discussion with Ginny.

“Using cemeteries as a tourism draw.” Ginny couldn’t resist the dig.

Tracey growled. “I hate it when you do that. MWhen you minimize us just because we have such a rich history. Don’t belittle the Crossing at the Dan. Who else has taken an old rail yard and turned it into an outdoor amphitheater? We have a science center. We have Amtrak service from New York to New Orleans. We have baseball, skateboarding, and bike trails. We have new tech companies locating in renovated historic buildings. Southside Museum consistently grows its visitation numbers.”

“When did you go to work for the Welcome Center?” Ginny asked.

“Okay.” Tracey held up her hands in surrender. “I officially give up. We’re a bunch of rednecks who only listen to country music and date our first cousins.”

Ginny chuckled. “I’m yanking your chain. I love to get you fired up. You usually manage to be so damn polite with everyone.” She reached for Tracey’s hand. “I know what you’re saying. I like the changes in the city or I’d never have moved here even if my parents think I’ve lost my mind. If I could just be assigned a decent story, I’d be in line for moving up with the network. There’s definitely a big city in my future. Do you really think all I want from a career is my face on camera reading local news? I dream about bringing real stories to light. I want to make documentaries that compel people to stop what they’re doing to watch. You’re the historian. You know how much is out there that isn’t public knowledge, even about your precious Danville.” She squinted across the restaurant. “But you might be right about the first cousin thing.” Ginny stared.

Tracey looked over her shoulder. “Dear Lord.”

Adam was on the far side of the dining area, facing a woman older and larger than him. His only effort was raising and lowering his highball glass.

“Wooing a potential client?” Ginny raised her eyebrows.

“He made an error on a land survey and has to marry the farmer’s old maid sister?” Tracey was at a loss with Adam’s dinner partner.

Ginny kicked Tracey under the table. “Blind date?”

“Someone would have to be blind to set the two of them up.”

“How much has he had to drink?” Ginny refilled their glasses.

“Not nearly enough.” Tracey pushed her chair back.

“You’re not going over there?”

“He’s my friend.” Tracey looked across the room. “She looks like she’s ready to lead him out to the parking lot and beat the crap out of him.”

“Might not be a bad idea.”

“He wouldn’t abandon me if the situation was reversed.”

“Are you kidding? He’d be searching for a video camera.” Ginny waved Tracey off. “Go save the day.”

“I’ll be right back.”

“You’re on your own. I’m not rescuing you if she turns on you.” Ginny focused on her meal of chicken, shrimp, and fried rice.

“At least run for the car and start the motor if you see me dragging him this way.” Tracey grinned.

Ginny considered the request. “Okay.”

Adam looked up as Tracey crossed the dining area. His face turned red. He gestured toward his date. “My boss’s sister is in town for the weekend.”

“And he’s the only single guy at work. I’m Liz Rosas.” She waved one hand. “But, hey, I got a decent meal out of the evening. That’s all I expected. I hate going to a restaurant by myself.” Liz was in her early forties, olive skinned, wore at least 2X clothing, dyed her hair an unnatural black, and was heavy handed with makeup. Tracey blinked—the look worked when the details were observed at close range.

“And I’ve had enough drinks not to care.” Adam raised his glass.

Tracey smacked him on the shoulder. “Shame on you. Be glad she’s willing to put up with you.”

Liz smiled, causing her dark eyes to sparkle. “I’d be even gladder to buy you a drink.”

“Oh, ho!” Adam waited for Tracey’s response.

“And I’d take you up on it if my date wouldn’t kick my butt for it.” Tracey nudged Adam. “You’ve had enough. Liz, I’m assuming you drove.”

“Yes, I did.”

“Want me to take him off your hands?”

“I’ll owe you that drink sometime when you’re not on a short leash.” Liz gathered her coat and bag.

“Deal, on both accounts. Come on, Burt.” Tracey tugged Adam’s sleeve.

Liz snapped her fingers. “I’ve been trying all evening to figure out who he reminded me of—the Smokey and the Bandit actor.”

“Sad but true.” Tracey pulled Adam to his feet and nudged him.

“Thank you for a lovely evening.” He smiled at Liz for the first time.

Tracey snorted.

“What? I was channeling your technique.” Adam frowned at Tracey.

“Liz, nice to meet you. Don’t judge us all by him.” Tracey winked.

“You sure you’re leaving with the right ones?” Liz asked, looking from Adam to Ginny.

Tracey grimaced.

Ginny watched them cross the room. “You’re kidding me, right?”

“Afraid not.” Tracey seated Adam at their table as she signaled the waiter for the check and fished in her pocket for a credit card. “I need a box.” She’d barely touched her dinner.

Ginny finished the last bite of her meal and glowered at Adam.

“I guess a threesome is out of the question?” he deadpanned.

“Not in your wildest dreams,” Ginny said. “Or yours.” She looked at Tracey, then across the room. “You can drop me off on the way to your place.”

“Burn!” Adam said.

Tracey glanced over her shoulder at Liz and was ashamed of herself for wondering about that drink.

CHAPTER FOUR



“I’m so glad you answered the phone.” Tracey relaxed and leaned back against the sofa cushion.

“Hi, honey. How are you? Is everything okay?” Rory asked.

“Are you alone?” Tracey lowered her voice.

Rory chuckled. “No. Want me to whisper and take the phone in the closet? We could pretend to be teenagers.”

“Dad!”

“Well, that’s what you sound like. What’s the big deal?”

Tracey huffed.

“I know what that means, and I didn’t teach you to do it, by the way.”

“Ha, ha. Okay, I’m avoiding Mom. Happy now that I’ve admitted it?”

“I’m happy most of the time all on my own. You called me, remember?”

“Can we start over?”

“Excellent idea, honey. Ring, ring.”

“Well, at least I come by my sense of humor honestly.” Tracey cleared her throat. “Hi, Dad. I’m having a problem with the bathroom sink faucet. Can you put me on your repair schedule?”

Tracey rented half a duplex built and owned by her father. Her rent was slightly less than Adam’s since she did the mowing and painting.

“How about if I come over this afternoon? I finished up a job this morning and stopped by the house to restock the van. I don’t need to be home for good until dinner. I was going to catch up on estimates.” Rory worked nonstop. He overbooked jobs, managed to assuage irate property owners, and was willing to be called out all hours without charging exorbitantly. He liked being busy, and he still liked working with people. He didn’t like sitting around his own house. As a rule, Sunday was his only day off.

“It’s not that urgent, but sure, this afternoon’s fine.”

“See you in an hour or so.”

Tracey glanced about the living room. She folded the treadmill and propped it against the back of the kitchen cabinets so the path to the bathroom was clear. She returned all the golf clubs to the bag and folded up the indoor putting green. She closed the door to the second bedroom that served as her office. Even she realized that having to sidle through a room was not a good thing. She went to the kitchen and started a pot of coffee, lingering at the Mark Twain biography she’d begun reading with her morning cereal.

The tap was followed by the opening of the door. “Are you decent, kiddo?”

Rory entered the apartment carrying a plumber’s bag in each hand. He grinned as Tracey walked across the room to meet him.

Tracey stretched up and hugged her father. “Did you eat lunch?” She looked at him closely. “You never gain any weight.”

Rory Stephens was not quite six feet tall. His clothes hung loosely on his body. His black hair was streaked with gray that showed even with the buzz cut he claimed kept him cooler. His skin stayed tan year-round. His baseball cap sat on the back of his head. He walked with a slight limp from an injury when a teenager. He’d never attended college but read and created floor plans for projects, easily calculating materials in his head and generating invoices by hand.

Rory glanced about the apartment. “I don’t think I brought enough tools to fix all this. No wonder your mother doesn’t like coming over here.”

Tracey punched him in the upper arm. “I like things out where I can see and use them. It’s neat enough in its own way.” She followed his gaze to the clothes, equipment, and files brought home from work.

“I’m glad you think so, honey.” He picked his way across the carpet, avoiding stepping on any of the magazines or shoes strewn about.

Tracey took one of the tool bags from him and went into the bathroom. She glanced down at the contents and spied a box of miscellaneous washers. She already had the valve to the cold water tap turned off and the handle removed. “I’m hoping not to have to replace the entire faucet.” She searched through the washers, trying two before finding the right diameter and thickness.

Rory leaned against the door casing. “You could’ve gone to the hardware store for that.”

Tracey glanced over her shoulder. “But then I wouldn’t get to see you. Besides, I don’t take any repair for granted. I’ve seen too many pipes disintegrate when touched not to have backup around.”

Rory nodded. “You’re wasting your time at that museum. You should come to work with me.”

Tracey snorted. “I don’t have your patience with the general public. That’s why I enjoy working with artifacts.”

Rory glanced around. “It’s almost spring. Have you thought any more about what we talked about last time?”

Tracey frowned. “I’m not sure I’m ready to sign my life away to a thirty-year mortgage.”

“Rates are low and material prices are holding. Plus people are selling off lots bought as buffers because they need the cash. We could do a sweet deal on a house for you. I’m willing to do the work at cost. We could do a duplex like this if you want extra income to help with the mortgage payments. I can chip in on the loan down payment or co-sign.”

“I know, Dad, and I really appreciate the offer. It’s a great deal. The holdup is me. What if I need to move in a year or two?” Tracey flipped her ponytail over her shoulder.

Rory set the second bag down. “You mean away from Danville?”

Tracey tightened the screw in the faucet handle. “It’s a possibility.”

“Because of someone you’re dating?” Rory asked.

Tracey didn’t look at him. “Yes, sir.”

“Honey, one of the most important things you’ll do as an adult is find someone to share your life with. I was hoping that would happen here since you came back home after college. If it means moving, then you have to move.”

Tracey stared at her father. “It depends on her promotion and working out of a major metropolitan area.” She watched her father’s reaction.

He didn’t drop his gaze. A gentle smile crossed his face. “I always liked having a tomboy daughter.”

Tracey was embarrassed by the tears that came to her eyes. “Oh, Dad, how long have you known?”

“It’s not exactly something we talk about, is it? Known for sure—thirty seconds. Suspected—ever since you were in high school. Did the possibility cross my mind when they first put you in my arms as a baby—no. Does it change anything between us—absolutely not.” He processed his daughter’s coming out as though a project. “You and Paula are so different. You always wanted to be outside with your basketball or golf clubs or in the workshop using tools with me. The boys who came around always treated you like a buddy. It drove your mother crazy that you never went steady in high school.”

Tracey reached under the sink and opened the valve. “Does Mom know?”

Rory shook his head. “If she does, she’s not talking about it, and your mother’s not one to hold anything back.”

Tracey turned on the tap. No water leaked from the base of the faucet. “That’ll do for a while.”

“I’ll pick up a new one the next time I’m running a big project through the books.”

Tracey studied her father. “Are you and Mom okay?”

Rory sighed. He glanced over his shoulder. “Do I smell coffee?”

Tracey set the plumbing bags down in front of the treadmill and cleared off a stool at the cased opening with a narrow countertop separating kitchen and living room. She went into the kitchen, rinsed out two mugs, and poured them each coffee.

Rory sipped and made a sound of contentment. “Harriet’s all about planning for her early retirement and filling her time away from the office with Paula’s girls.” He shifted on the stool, adjusting the position of his leg. “We’re slowing down, even though neither of us wants to admit it. Heck, I’ll be the first to claim title to old and boring.”

Tracey quickly did the math. “You’re only fifty-five.”

“I can feel a difference, though. I think Harriet and I are both going through menopause.” He glanced down at his cup. Tracey topped off the coffee. “I’m content enough, though. Heck, I’ll work like this until I drop. Your mother has always worried about things and opinions too much. She still hates it that I was a promising football player who suffered a bad enough injury my senior year to lose my college scholarship.” He blew air between his lips. “Big whoop. I’ve done just fine without college. I’d have gone nuts sitting in an office for thirty years. I don’t know how guys wear neckties every day. Our house is paid for. We have rental property for extra income. No major illnesses. I’m blessed with two daughters and two granddaughters. I’ve got it made.”

Tracey finished her coffee. “Is Mom going to blow a gasket when she figures out I’m dating a woman?”

Rory considered the question. “If you tell her you’re planning on having kids in a serious relationship, I don’t think she’ll mind who you’re with.”

Tracey did a double take. “I won’t be that serious about anyone for years.”

Rory chuckled. “That’s what we all think in the beginning.”

“You never mentioned college before, Dad.” Tracey tilted her head.

“It was a long time ago. The best you can do is go along with how your life takes you. Fight it and you make yourself miserable. If you think you can control anything, you have another think coming.” Rory stood. “I’ve time to quote a job. Everything else around here working okay?”

Tracey nodded. “Will you check the lawnmower in a week or two? It’s almost time to start yard work.”

“I already have a new blade for it. Make Adam mow this year.” He drained his cup and shook his head when Tracey held the pot up, offering a refill.

Tracey snorted. “Not if you don’t want the shrubs ruined. He only mows with a beer in hand. I learned my lesson from the one time I asked for his help last year. Besides, I like having an excuse to putter around the yard. I can’t play golf all weekend.”

Rory stopped in the doorway. “I’m sure you have something or someone to occupy yourself.” He grinned and touched the brim of his hat.

“Thanks, Dad. Love you.” Tracey waved from the doorway. She hoped she still had Ginny in her life. Their conversations had been polite and brief this past week. They’d taken a break this weekend with Ginny traveling alone to cover a network story and hoping for air time. Tracey kept thinking about Ginny’s wistful tone when talking about working in a big city. Tracey was afraid she was leading her on. Danville had a strong hold on her. Tracey knew there was something here that she was meant to do. She didn’t expect Ginny to understand what she couldn’t articulate.

Tracey sighed and unfolded the treadmill. Maybe a few miles would help clear her mind. “Kids,” she said. Rory had given her yet another major life choice to consider.

CHAPTER FIVE



Tracey perched on the edge of the sofa cushion as though ready to bolt and willed herself not to fidget. She wished she hadn’t worn a sweater. She longed for pants rather than the skirt and pantyhose she’d felt obliged to wear. The weather had taken a spring-like lurch with March daytime temperatures uncharacteristically in the sixties. The owner of the house had not adjusted her thermostat accordingly.

Sara Lukens was in her early eighties yet carried herself as erectly as though twenty years younger. The bright red Mini Cooper parked in the driveway attested to her state of mind. She was taller than Tracey, thin, and immaculately dressed and coifed. She lived with the ease of old money. Her husband’s family had made their profits in tobacco warehousing and sold out before the market bottomed, making wise investments overseas. Her husband had been a well-respected attorney. Her only child had been killed in Vietnam.

Tracey smiled and held her hand over her cup, declining more coffee. She was close enough to breaking a sweat without drinking anything hot. This was one part of her job she didn’t think she’d ever become used to—glorified begging.

The forties1940s-era house had the appearance of large sums of money being spent on the services of an interior decorator. The walls and furniture were all in blending pastels, the window treatments shear to allow daylight, and the floors covered with a rich mahogany laminate. The furniture was without dings and screamed high-dollar antiques.

Mrs. Lukens had shown Tracey to the conservatory on the front corner of the house for their chat. If her intention had been for a more informal setting to put Tracey at ease, the strategy hadn’t worked. To reach the conservatory, they passed the library. It had taken all of Tracey’s willpower not to detour into the room and roam the wall-to-ceiling shelves for books long out of print and no longer available to anyone on a budget. The entire contents of the house were a treasure trove as far as Tracey was concerned.

Tracey tugged at her collar. She wore a golf shirt under her sweater, both a shade of blue to accentuate her eyes. She had pulled her hair back into a chignon, trying to appear older and more feminine. Mitch had snickered in passing all morning before she left the museum for the appointment after accusing her of playing dress-up.

She’d reminded him that the reason she was making the call was to broaden their dead industry base with a genealogy room. Mrs. Lukens was the perfect sponsor of such an endeavor. If she supported the project, others in the community would follow her lead.

“Do you mind if I turn on the television?” Mrs. Lukens asked.

“By all means,” Tracey said.

The flat screen came to life with women’s college basketball.

Tracey blinked.

“I have to keep up with my girls from Old Dominion University—my alma mater.” Mrs. Lukens turned the sound down. “When I attended, it was the Norfolk division of the College of William and Mary.”

Tracey grinned. “I had no idea you were a basketball fan, or I wouldn’t have asked for an appointment during the tournament.” She felt herself relaxing.

Mrs. Lukens’s gaze didn’t leave the screen. “You played in college, didn’t you? I love seeing the girls swishing their ponytails up and down the court.”

Tracey chuckled—she could do ponytail. “I was too short and ended up in too many shoving matches to play anything but intramural or pickup basketball games. I was and still am a golfer.”

Mrs. Lukens nodded. “That’s right. I remember now that you played in the country club tournaments, winning when you were still in high school. Our garden club awarded you a small scholarship when you were accepted at UNCG.”

Traced smiled at the thought of the University of North Carolina Greensboro. “I greatly appreciated all the help I received. I’m so fortunate to have a degree and no debt.”

“I haven’t missed a Greater Greensboro Open yet.” Mrs. Lukens referred to the annual PGA tournament. “Sam Snead won there eight times.”

Tracey caught herself before she bounced with the excitement of making a real connection with her prospect. “I’ve played the course. Fuzzy Zoeller and Davis Love did wonders with the Forest Oaks greens.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t turn pro after college.” Mrs. Lukens turned off the television, satisfied her team had a strong enough lead over their dark horse opponent.

“I came close, but I didn’t want to play professionally at the cost of losing my love of the game. I enjoy the amateur tournaments too much. Golf kept me out of trouble through high school and paid for my college education. I still play on the weekends. It was always about bettering my technique and last score, not beating someone else.” Tracey took a sip of cold coffee. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to ramble.”

Mrs. Lukens settled back in her wing chair. “So what brings you to see me today?”

Tracey nodded. “I’m on a mission.” She smiled.

Mrs. Lukens waited.

Tracey eased back on the sofa, finally comfortable with her request. “I’ve approached my boss, Mitchell Wilkins, about adding a genealogy library to the museum. We’ve so many family papers in our archives that never see the light of day. There’s such an interest nowadays, particularly with collections that are scanned and made available on the Internet. My pet project has been an inventory of the family and county histories that were vanity published. The museum has acquired the publication rights to a few and plans to reissue special editions for fundraising.”

“I knew Mitchell’s parents well. He comes from good stock. I’ve always felt very reassured with him being in charge of our museum.” Mrs. Lukens nodded at her own statement. “I called in favors eleven years ago when the museum was created.”

“I’m fortunate to work for him. He’s taught me well and much in the three years I’ve been with the museum.” Tracey never missed an opportunity to sing Mitch’s praises—all well deserved.

“I know your family also,” Mrs. Lukens said.

Tracey held her breath. Whenever anyone said that to her, it was as though waiting for the proverbial second shoe to drop. Which of her family members was she about to have to defend? She was descended from extremes—Quakers as well as slave owners. “I never forget that this is a relatively small community.”

Mrs. Lukens laughed. “You can relax. I worked at Dan River with Agnes and Marian before I married. Those two were the life of the party, always trying to get me to go to some speakeasy with them. I was almost arrested with them once, but Agnes talked our way out of it. No one could dance, drink, or curse like those two.”

Tracey gulped. She had heard it said that back in the day most Danville adults either farmed or worked at the textile mill. Her great aunts had been no exceptions before marrying and settling down.

“You’re not like either of them. You’re more like your grandmother Harry, who worked on the farm rather than at the mill.” A smile passed across Mrs. Luken’s face at the thought of the youngest of the Martin girls of her generation. “You’re certainly nothing like your sister.”

“You know Paula?” Tracey tensed again.

Mrs. Lukens nodded. “She’s after me to sponsor her for the presidency of our garden club. She can’t climb the ranks of the Baptist Young Women fast enough—too many ahead of her. All that misplaced ambition.” She glanced out the row of windows toward the street, letting her thoughts drift. “We called your grandmother Harry instead of Harriet. She liked the nickname. She was the baby of the family, a tagalong to Agnes and Marian. They kept her in gum in exchange for running errands for makeup and cigarettes for them. Even as a child, she was serious and, simply put, good—the same traits I see in you. I know your family was devastated to lose her.”

Tracey nodded. “I was only four, but I’ll never forget the way my mother wept for days. I think losing her mother is partly why she has a difficult time being around Agnes and Marian.”

Mrs. Lukens started to speak and stopped herself.

Tracey had heard the stories about the sisters before—never a dull moment around the oldest Martin girls. “Well, we all have different strengths and weaknesses and frankly don’t know who will be left behind as stewards of our families. So many collections are lost when executors don’t realize the value of letters and diaries or musty-smelling old books that estate specialists put little value upon.”

“Were you around Agnes and Marian much growing up?” Mrs. Lukens clearly wasn’t following Tracey’s attempt at changing the subject.

Tracey made herself shift mental gears. “Weekends and holidays. I went with my dad when he helped Uncle Lester with chores about the farm. I thought Agnes and Marian a hoot and so different from each other and nothing like my mother.”

“Your father would go there but not your mother. How interesting. Rory is a surprisingly tolerant man.” Mrs. Lukens idly refilled her cup but didn’t drink.

Tracey frowned. She wasn’t here to talk about her family. What did Mrs. Lukens mean about her father?

Mrs. Lukens stood. “I’ll keep in mind what you’ve said. I admit that I’ve been trying to sort through things but making little progress.”

Tracey knew she was being dismissed. Saying more would jeopardize all hope of a donation. “I appreciate your time, Mrs. Lukens. I’ll give your regards to Agnes and Marian the next time I see them.”

Mrs. Lukens gestured toward the hallway and walked with Tracey to the front door.

“You strike me as taking after the Quaker side of your family—such an ideal religion for strong-minded women. Mitch is lucky to have you at the museum. I’ll be in touch. I want to look through the papers one last time. Best to make sure there’s nothing in writing that should remain private. My guess is that’s why some collections disappear. The past is not always as glorious as we’d like to convince ourselves. I owe my husband that much.” She held out her hand.


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