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Excerpt from Sweeter Than Tea

Never Promised You A Rose Garden by Kimberly Brock

The trouble with growing up rooted deep in a family, tucked safely in a pretty valley south of the Mason-Dixon, is how your future lies in front of you like a clean sheet just off the line. Ask me. You’ll take it for granted.

All my life I knew when the first crocus would come up by the back step of Mama and Daddy’s house. I knew when the first hay would come in from the field, when the scent of a wood burning fire would curl out of the chimney, and when the sunflowers would stand taller than a man. And I knew that on the first fall weekend I’d clean out Mama’s perennial beds so they could bloom again the following spring. There’s something about that kind of security that will make you believe you have all the time in the world. Until you don’t.

When my baby sister called, I’d just topped the hill overlooking the farm. “I’m already pulling in the drive, Bossy Mae,” I said. She hated when I beat her to the punch.

“I hate how you answer the phone, Beth. And how do you know that’s why I called you?”

Since she’d had her little girl, Leslie lived by a schedule that would have made the Marines proud and for some reason, she’d seen that all the rest o fun were put on schedules, too. She assigned our family responsibilities and mostly we went along just to avoid conflict.

“This is Wednesday. Aren’t you supposed to be at work?” she snapped.

“I took a personal day.”

“Well, Lord, that must be nice.” Leslie worked as a bank teller and regularly complained about day care for her daughter. “It’s like I drop her off and they spend the next three hours rubbing her down with every germ on earth. I can’t remember when we slept all night. I’m about to fall over head first.”

“Oh, I’m sure,” I said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” The way she sucked in her breath, it was a wonder my ear didn’t snap off the side of my head.

“I understand, Les. It’s got to be exhausting, keeping up with all you do.”

“This is not about my Pampered Chef party, because I already told you I had to do that. I promised a friend. You think I’m not out at Mama and Daddy’s every extra minute I have?”

“I didn’t say that.” In fact, there was a lot I wasn’t saying. Like how I hated the damn Pampered Chef, for one thing. I could have let her have it between the eyes, told her everything about my fears, the appointment looming ahead of me, how sick I’d been. But all I wanted was to get down in the dirt and not think for a little while. “Maybe I can’t blame a kid, but I had too much going on last week, Leslie.”

“Oh, that’s nice. Like you know anything about my life or what it’s like to be a single mother.”

“Pampered Chef doesn’t have a gizmo to help you with that?”

“Just grow up, Beth, and go help Mama. Enjoy your personal day.”

She hung up on me. Everything with Leslie had always been a fight. That was the Hyde in her, Mama’s side. Leslie helped Mama set out bulbs. Leslie set tables and bake casseroles. If you needed a flower arrangement, Leslie was your girl. We could admire her contributions to no end. But the thankless job of pruning back Mama’s garden always fell to me. What Leslie couldn’t understand was that they were hallowed ground. They were the altars of Mama, and I couldn’t get there fast enough today.

The farmhouse looked like a starched, white apron squatting on the green hillside and I wanted to crawl underneath it and hide. But first, I went around to the shed out back to get Mama’s pruning shears and a pair of her old gloves. I needed to work up the nerve to go inside. I’d never been any good at keeping things from Mama. If I meant to make it through this day, I was going to have to keep my head down. All I wanted was to clear those flower beds. In a few months, they’d spring back to life. Whatever else came and went, you could count on it, if you were willing to do the hard work. Today, I needed to believe that was still true.

I opened and shut the heavy shears. All I knew for sure anymore was that I was ready to lop something off.