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Chapter 1: Secrets & Blood (From Candy, Too!, the sequel to Candy, Sweet & Sour)

 Chapter 1: Secrets & Blood

Chapter 1: Secrets & Blood

​​I have a secret. It's a secret so big it keeps me up nights. It feels like a bird in my chest trying to come out all beating around in there and batting his wings, causing a racket and making it where I can hardly sleep or even breathe sometimes. I swear I can see it moving in my chest just underneath my breastbone and below my collarbone. I have two secrets, actually, but one of 'em is bigger than the other. If you know me, you know how hard it is for me to keep secrets. Mama always did call me Mouth of the South, said if you wanted everybody to know something, all you had to do was tell me and I'd be sure to broadcast it. I'd do it even faster if you told me it was a secret and not to tell anybody. Mama sure did know me, and she knew how much I loved to spill the tea. Only this time, it's my tea, and I don't want to share. Not all of it, anyway.

After Mama died and I came to live with Grandma Delray and Papa, Daddy Bobby came to see me. He even stayed here at Grandma's in the old yellow school bus she has out back. Grandma can't stand to get rid of anything, and everyone in this whole ding-dang family uses her for free storage. The bus has been parked outside behind her house as long as I've been alive, and who knows what all was in them boxes she had me carting out of there and into the carport shed so Daddy could use the bus when he came. I done been through some of em when I've been out here snooping, as Grandma calls it, but I haven't found anything interesting yet, just old junk from Aunt Darlene and Mama's crafting days when they was selling stuff up at the flea market.

We slept out there for two nights listening to the frogs and the crickets, and he told me stories about him and Dreama Mae and Mama living in that bus out at his Mama's house out near the lake. He said there used to be a wood stove in there and that was what they used as their living room. Said it was blocked off with blankets he had strung up on both sides to divide the bus into three rooms. I could see the hole where the wood stove used to vent to the outside only now it was covered up with some kind of weird metal plate with a rooster on it, and if I looked close, I could see where the metal hooks had been to hold up those blankets. It was weird for me to think of Mama having a whole life before she had me. It was almost like a whole different family. She had already moved out and was in college by the time Mama had me, so I never have even lived with my sister. Ricky Rebel and Cooter Dale hadn't been born yet, so Dreama Mae had Mama and Daddy Bobby all to herself for a few years before Mary Margaret was born. Mary Margaret is our sister who died before I came along.

Daddy Bobby's eyes had lit up when he took me on his Imagination Tour of that old bus, he called it. We had walked towards the back, him saying, "Imagine this. We had this bus parked at my Mama's house, and Dreama Mae slept here in this first room. I can still see her here all curled up with a book, her blonde hair on the pillow behind her." He smiled at me when he said that last part, probably thinking about how much I looked like Dreama when she was younger, and then he kept walking and talking.

" Your Mama and me slept here in the back. Look," he said, pointing to what appeared to be a handmade quilt hanging on the wall. "My Mama made this blanket for me and your Mama when we first got married." He reached out and pulled it aside, showing me a closet that still had some clothes hanging in it. "This here was our closet in the master bedroom." His eyes got shiny then because he had started looking through the clothes still hanging in that closet and realized they were his and Mamas in there all together after all these years. I saw some bell bottoms and made a mental note to try those on later. There was a weird purple feather boa in there that was calling my name. I pulled out an old brown suit that felt like polyester and looked straight out of the 1970s. I held it up to me, and twirled around, trying to cheer him up, but he kind of got short with me and told me not to touch his things. We went back up front real quick after that.

They had taken all of the seats off the bus except for two at the front. The one right behind the driver's seat was turned around backwards and there was a table in the middle bolted to the floor. That was still there, and it's where we set to play checkers. I asked Daddy Bobby where they used the bathroom and he pointed outside. I couldn't even imagine prissy Dreama Mae peeing or pooping in the wild. I could live on this bus with Daddy Bobby, though. I'd be real happy. I got to thinking the same thought I'd had since Mama died. What if he's my daddy? He always treated me like one of his kids, but I don't look a thing like him. But what if he's my real daddy? Then I could live with him. He would have to come off the road and quit driving his truck, but I could live with him in his big house with its three bedrooms and two bathrooms and the brick foundation, and it would just be him and me and it would be real quiet and peaceful, you know?

It is possible. Ricky Rebel thought Daddy Bernie was his daddy, we all did, but then Mama said Daddy Bobby was his daddy. That was a big deal when we found that out. I don't know what made Mama get that test at the doctor, but I do remember all the whispering that went on about it, how Mama tried real hard to keep me from finding out. Of course, I didn't know what the whispering was about then. But when you live in houses with thin walls and too many people, everything comes out eventually, especially when your Daddy has a tendency to get drunk and then angry and then loud, in that order. But Ricky and me still have the same last name, and even if that blood work says he's my half brother, he's my whole brother just like the rest of them. Family's family and I ain't never seen no half person.

So, anyway, Daddy Bobby came all the way out here to see me and stayed away from home for two days. I was so happy when I found out that he was coming that I even helped Grandma pick some green beans out of the garden and snapped them, too, for dinner that night. It made me feel like he really loved me that he made the trip all the way out here to see me. He's real particular about his house and his chair and bed and doesn't like to be away from them. He likes everything nice, neat, and orderly. Just so. When he is at his house, everything is just the way he likes it, and he's in charge. He doesn't like to drive when he's off work, and I don't blame him. I wonder if it's because he spends all that time sleeping in his truck away from home in dark, scary parking lots that he likes being at home as much as he can?

It was funny seeing Grandma and Papa falling all over themselves to make Daddy Bobby feel at home. Mama always said her family loved him better, and watching them run around getting ready for his visit like a king was coming, I believe it. Papa replaced all the lightbulbs that had been burned out ever since I got here. Grandma rooted around in one of her storage sheds on the property and brought in a box of stuff she gave me to decorate my room with. I done been down here near about seven months, and she hadn't done much to make me feel at home until she found out Daddy Bobby was coming. I was still crying when I walked in her house after Mama died. Couldn't help it really, just walked around crying for days back then and didn't even know I was doing it. She told me to stop crying, rubbed the tears off my skin so rough that my face stayed red for awhile, and then said I could take Uncle Tommy's old room seeing as how he was gone and she didn't reckon he was ever coming back, that all her kids growed up and left her. I pushed open that door and saw the dark wood paneling. It looked like my soul so I didn't mind it too much even if it was ugly.

In that box Grandma dug up, I found some of what had to be Mama's old things, but mostly it was just stuff that used to be Dreama Mae's. Old hand-me-down crap. A green teddy bear with one eye missing. A Care Bear blanket that looked like it was made for a crib. A chewed up Star Wars poster. One day I want to have all new stuff, my stuff, and I will make a world that's mine and call it CandyLand. But right now I have a black sheet thumbtacked over the window and I left Uncle Tommy's old posters on the wall right where he hung them--Bart Simpson on one side and some Baywatch chick in a tight red bathing suit on the other. At night when I can't sleep, my fingers find the grooves of his childhood, tracing the smooth, carved curls that spell out E-Money from that time Tommy that he was a rapper, Easy E, the pot-leaf he burned into the paneling with a wood burner from when he was in high school, back when weed was all he smoked and his only crime was being too indulged and skipping school some times and drag racing with his friends. Cheating on school assignments. That sort of thing.

When Daddy Bobby got here, they was waiting on him hand and foot, and I do mean foot. Grandma popped his socks right off and gave him a good, long foot rub after dinner the first night he was here when they was watching Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. It was weird watching her with the lotion rubbing his long toes between her crooked fingers. I had seen Mama do that so many times even though she was already married to my Daddy when I came along.

Good thing Daddy Bobby's diabetic. Never thought I'd see the day that I'd say that, but when we was setting around Grandma's table that first night, I saw him check his blood sugar with that pokey thing. I had already been dreaming about what if he was my daddy for months, and I knew I had to figure out how to get some of his blood. I remember hearing about DNA in school back when I lived in the mountains and there was some sort of way to get it tested to see if he was my daddy. I already know on account of Ricky that the blood tests work and will show who my parents are. Maybe I can get on that Jerry Springer or Maury show, you know, the ones where they find out who the baby's daddy is.

I am going to have to get Grandma to get the Internet around here so I can do some research. We are so far out in the country though, that the only thing we can get is satellite internet and that's expensive. I can't do it at school because Grandma ain't enrolled me yet. I didn't think I'd ever want to go back to prison, basically, but maybe it's high time I get back in school. At least there I might have Internet access, even though it is so po-dunk country out here, I don't even know. And we will probably only be allowed to go to the computer lab when my teachers sign us up and them government folk are real strict about how we use those computers, always walking around and looking over our shoulders to make sure we are on task.

What I need to look up is going to take some time and some digging, and my anxiety is too much for me to try to sneak this in at a school, but maybe if I'm the new girl and they don't know much about me, I could get away with it. I'd use my cellphone but Grandma ain't bought no minutes, much less any data.

I'm one smart chica though, and my brain works quick when I focus. Step one was to get his blood. Then I got to get my blood but that's easy peasy because it's always circulating around inside of me. And then I need to send it into some fancy lab somewhere. Of course, I'll need to get a job to buy the Internet but who hires 12-year-olds? Grandma's bout ready to send me back to school, so maybe I can figure out a side hustle there, maybe I can sell some stuff at school.

Or maybe I can just get Grandma real good and mad with me. She says this homeschooling mess wasn't something she signed up for and seeing as how I don't listen to her when it comes to schooling, she's gonna send me to somebody that will make me listen. Seems to me like I ought to start acting a fool and show Grandma what a real hellion I can be so that she does take me back to Public Enemy Number One: SCHOOl. She says that's what her tax dollars are for anyway.

This was really important to me, getting Daddy's blood, and as soon as he was done with that test strip, I offered to clean it up. Even though he told me to be careful with it on account of blood having diseases, I stuck it up my sleeve on the way to the trashcan. I still opened that nasty thing up and pretended like I put something in there in between the egg shells, old coffee grounds, and paper towels. Instead, I hurried to my room to hide it.

That's my big secret. I got Daddy Bobby's blood in a sandwich baggie rolled up and stuck in a sock in my drawer. It's right beside the flowers from the wreath at Mama's funeral and the gun Aunt Darlene gave me when I moved down here for protection, just in case any of these menfolk (Papa, mainly) try anything with me. I kept it under my bed in a suitcase for awhile, but then I finally figured I was staying, and unpacked the gun.

When I say those things that way, it sounds weird. That's me. Weird. And I've got a plan to get out of this place and to get to work on building CandyLand. 


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