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Authors: Susan Gabriel

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The Secret Sense of Wildflower

BOOK: The Secret Sense of Wildflower
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Table of Contents

Title Page






















About the Author

Interview with Susan Gabriel

Reading Group Guide

Other Books by Susan Gabriel


The Secret Sense of Wildflower



a novel by


Susan Gabriel




Wild Lily Arts




The Secret Sense of Wildflower

Copyright © 2012 by Susan Gabriel


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


Library of Congress Control Number: 2012936549





Wild Lily Arts



Praise for
The Secret Sense of Wildflowe


“Louisa May immerses us in her world with astute observations and wonderfully turned phrases, with nary a cliché to be found. She could be an adolescent Scout Finch, had Scout’s father died unexpectedly and her life taken a bad turn...By necessity, Louisa May grows up quickly, but by her secret sense, she also understands forgiveness.
A quietly powerful story, at times harrowing but ultimately a joy to read.
” - Kirkus Reviews


"In this the story about a young girl who must grow up faster than her time and make peace with several factors there is also
mystery and drama along with the palpable female protagonist and soulful narrative to keep the reader emotionally charged and invested
The Secret Sense of Wildflower
is eloquent and moving tale chock-filled with themes of inner strength, family and love." - Maya Fleischmann,


Also by Susan Gabriel



Temple Secrets


Grace, Grits and Ghosts:

Southern Short Stories


Seeking Sara Summers


Circle of the Ancestors


Quentin & the Cave Boy



Fearless Writing for Women:

Extreme Encouragement & Writing Inspiration


Available in print, ebook and audio formats.





For my daughters

Krista and Stacey








Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow:

they neither toil nor spin;

and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory

was not arrayed like one of these.


Matthew 6:28-29








There are two things I am afraid of. One is dying young. The other is Johnny Monroe. Whenever I see him I get a creepy feeling that crawls up the length of my spine. Daddy used to say that fear is a friend that teaches us life isn’t to be played with. Friends like this I can live without.

On my way to the graveyard I run into Johnny standing by the road. His smile shows shreds of chewing tobacco caked around the edges of his teeth. But the scariest thing is the look in his eyes when he sees me or my sisters. He is like a wildcat stalking his next meal. People living in the mountains know that anytime you come across a wildcat you don’t look it in the eye or make sudden moves. Every time I see Johnny Monroe I slow down and stare at the tops of my shoes.

“Hey, Louisa May.” Johnny drawls out my name. At sixteen, he is nearly four years older than me, and is a good six inches taller, even slouched. He dropped out of school in the sixth grade and spends a lot of time just standing around.

I wish I’d turned back when it first occurred to me. Aunt Sadie, Daddy’s sister, calls this my secret sense. The secret sense is a nudge from somewhere deep inside that keeps you out of harm’s way if you listen to it. Aunt Sadie is full of ideas that most people don’t cater to. Not to mention that she never married, a fact that makes some people nervous, and sometimes wears a fedora. Sadie collects herbs and roots to make mountain remedies. People come from all over to have her doctor them with red clover blossoms and honey to cure their whooping cough or to get catnip mint to soothe their colicky babies. She also makes the best blackberry wine in three counties.

“What’s the matter, girl, you deaf?” Johnny says.

“I’m not talking to you,” I hiss behind clinched teeth.

“But you’re talking to me right now,” he says. He grins.

“Go away,” I say. I focus on the worn spot at the end of my shoe and roll my shoulders forward so Johnny will stop staring at my chest, even though there’s nothing much to stare at.

“Where’s that sister of yours?” Johnny asks.

I know he means Meg. Johnny asks after her every chance he gets.

“I wouldn’t mind getting her out behind those bushes. She’s not scrawny like you are, Louisa May.” Johnny laughs.

An empty tin can sits on the ground next to him and he spits a mouthful of tobacco juice toward the can. It pings against the side. Only Johnny would make a sport of spitting into a can with “cling peaches” written on the side. He could just as well spit on the road, but he appears to take pride in the “ping,” like a dart thrower hitting the bright red bull’s-eye in the center of the board.

“Maybe I should just settle for scrawny,” he says. But it seems he’s talking more to himself than to me.

To keep the words from spewing out, I bite my bottom lip hard. I want to call Johnny a low-life and a good-for-nothing, which is exactly what he is. Instead, I shuffle forward and don’t look up again until I reach the bend in the road. When I glance back Johnny is still watching me and licks his lips.

Before Johnny, I can’t say I ever hated anyone. I’ve come close a couple of times, with Doc Lester and Preacher Evans, who have the obnoxious habit of acting like they are better than everybody else. They remind me of gnats and I just want to take a newspaper and shoo them away. But Johnny is more like a black widow spider. He stands on that corner every day hoping some unsuspecting girl will fall into his web.

In my weaker moments, I feel sorry for Johnny. Life must be desperate and lonely standing on that road, kicking rocks all day. Not to mention that he doesn’t have a mother. Word is she died from tuberculosis when he was nine. Mama said once that his old man hates kids and would just as soon sell them if he could get a decent price.

“Hey, girl,” Johnny calls after me. “Come back here and talk.” But I know better than to look back.

Johnny has a sister my age named Ruby and another sister named Melody who is probably around ten by now. Ruby doesn’t come to school anymore, just stays home to cook and clean for Johnny and the old man. Her younger sister Melody never even started school. I’ve tried to talk to Ruby a few times, but she won’t have any part of people around here. Every time I see her she looks like she’s made best friends with misery. She is as slight as a thirteen-year-old girl can be, but she drags herself around like she carries a fifty pound sack of potatoes on her back.

Meanwhile, Johnny stands out on that road like he’s waiting for his mother to come back and make his life different than it is. That doesn’t make the things he says to me right, or make Meg want to give him the time of day, but in a way I think I understand why Johnny is stuck on that road. He’s waiting for a better life to show up since he’s been dealt such a crummy one.

If Daddy was here he’d knock Johnny Monroe’s rotten teeth right out of his head for looking at me the way Johnny does. But Daddy is one of those markers in the graveyard where if you subtract the years, you know he was thirty-eight when he died almost a year ago. Every few days I walk up the hill and sit with him and tell him about things in my life so we don’t lose touch. That’s where I’m headed right now. I won’t tell him about Johnny, though, because I wouldn’t want him to worry.

Sometimes when I’m at the graveyard I’ll hear Daddy talking back to me. Mama would say that’s just my imagination working overtime, but Sadie would say it’s the secret sense. I’m grateful for it, whatever it is. If we run out of things to catch up on, I’ll ask Daddy to talk to God for me. Mainly I have questions, like does a praying mantis really pray? And why does God send lightning to hit old dead trees? And why did Johnny Monroe have to end up here in Katy’s Ridge? I’ve found a favorite sitting spot by Daddy’s grave so I can wait for him and God to answer. They haven’t so far, but I have time to wait. Time is about the only thing I have plenty of in Katy’s Ridge. That, and chigger bites.

With Johnny out of sight, I quit looking at my shoes, pull back my shoulders and approach the shortcut I found to Daddy’s final resting place. The old trail meanders up the mountain and to the far corner of the graveyard where they pile all the dead flowers. The path is so overgrown in spots I have to guess which way it points. And it has a footbridge built across the highest point of the stream that has only one sturdy board left. The rest I wouldn’t trust to hold a cricket.

A dogwood tree on the shady side of the hill marks the beginning of the trail. That old dogwood is twisted and tangled from fighting its way toward sunlight. But all that struggling has made it beautiful. Thick underbrush hides the trail behind it like a locked gate. As far as I know, nobody else is aware of this old path. With three older sisters, who have already done everything before me, having a secret way through the woods is like finally having something of my own.

BOOK: The Secret Sense of Wildflower
5.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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