Today we’re offering a sneak peek of Jaye Robin Brown’s novel,
Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit!
Read on for more about Jaye Robin Brown, her novel, a sneak peak, plus a giveaway!
Meet Jaye Robin Brown!
Jaye Robin Brown is the author of No Place to Fall.
She lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina and teaches art at a public high school.
Joanna Gordon has been out and proud for years, but when her popular radio evangelist father remarries and decides to move all three of them from Atlanta to the more conservative Rome, Georgia, he asks Jo to do the impossible: to lie low for the rest of her senior year. And Jo reluctantly agrees.
Although it is (mostly) much easier for Jo to fit in as a straight girl, things get complicated when she meets Mary Carlson, the oh-so-tempting sister of her new friend at school. But Jo couldn’t possibly think of breaking her promise to her dad. Even if she’s starting to fall for the girl. Even if there’s a chance Mary Carlson might be interested in her, too. Right?
“Come on Eileen” is a terrible song at any wedding. But when the wedding is being held at the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta—the bride’s overpriced choice—one might expect better tunes, even if they are being spun for my dad’s evangelical masses. When the song ends and the DJ segues into a line dance, I realize there’s no hope. The whole room gets up, because, you know, line dance, wedding, white people. My dad, Reverend Anthony Gordon, handsome in his tuxedo, and the newly minted Elizabeth Gordon, aka Three, lead the dancers in a right, left, front, back shuffle that even the good Baptists of Rome, Georgia, must feel isn’t too much of a sin, because they’re all out there electric and sliding.
“Don’t feel like dancing, dear?” An elderly woman pauses as she passes my hiding spot, a crevice tucked between a wall drape and a hotel tree well acquainted with future divorces in the making. I’m working up a suitable answer when my best friend, Dana, slides in and cuts off the woman’s direct route to the preacher’s daughter, aka me.
“It’s electric. Boogie, woogie, woogie.” Dana brings an invisible microphone to her mouth and runs her other hand up through her spiky hair, totally ignoring the fact that the woman’s still standing there, waiting for a response.
Eventually she harrumphs and toddles off, muttering about lack of manners and what happened to God-fearing decency.
“Really?” Dana looks over her shoulder,then plops down behind my potted plant shield. “I can’t believe your dad’s making you move your senior year. Total douche play. You’re going to be in the sticks, girl.” She points as the woman is swallowed into the crowd. “With winners like that.”
Not the word I would have used, but I get her point. Rome, Georgia, is definitely where queer girls go to die. In real time, it’s only a couple of hours north, but in theoretical time, it’s like twenty years south. I know I could raise a conniption over it, but as much as I do not want to leave Dana and Atlanta, and as much as I have serious concerns about this marriage, I’ve never seen my dad this happy. And my agreeing to move and be a part of his new life, he claims, is a big part of his happiness pie chart. So what’s a loving daughter to do but put on her Walmart panties and move to the boondocks? Besides, it’s not like he’d let me stay anyway.
“You never gave me your approval. Wedding appropriate? Hot?” Dana stands up again and twirls in front of me. She’s in a pinstriped, skinny-pants and blazer combo with some black shiny wingtip shoes I’m sure she found at the Value Village. She does look hot, inappropriate crush on your best friend hot, but I would never tell her that in a million years. Dana’s ego is massive enough without compliments from me.
“Blondie seems to think so.” I nod toward the late twentyish, early thirtyish bi-curious cougar Dana had been flirting with before she deigned to check in on me.
Dana sits back down and slumps in the chair, then crosses her leg across her knee, a rakish grin settling on her lips. “Yeah, her.” She digs a flask from her pocket and swigs before passing it to me, never taking her eyes off the woman, who blushes red to her scalp line under Dana’s scrutiny.
I hold up my hand and wave it away.
“Aw, come on, liquid courage.”
“I told you. Dry wedding.” I slump farther into my sulk. “Dad asked for best behavior.”
“I dressed up for you and your dad. There’s no way I’m staying sober.” Dana’s eyes hone in on my new stepmom’s thirty-two-year-old ass. She elbows me. “Three’s a total MILF.”
Three is a very attractive female, but she’s also my dad’s and that is gross enough on its own. I shove Dana’s drinking arm. “Put your pecker back in your pants, party girl. That’s my new mama. And can you be a tad more discreet with the flask? Three’s mother keeps giving us the stink eye.”
Dana leans back and smiles across the room at my new grandmother. I can’t believe Dad went and got married again. I can’t believe he’s moving us to north Georgia. And I can’t believe the ugliness of this stupid blue dress I’m swaddled in.
But Dad’s smile is so hopeful as he swings Three around the dance floor and his eyes so soaked with love that I pray, because that’s what he and I do, that this one sticks. Not like Two, who bitched about the lack of money and then, when it finally started rolling in, was already screwing a radiologist. Or One, aka Mom, who lost her battle with breast cancer when I was barely two. Dad’s worked so hard to be a family for me even when things didn’t work out quite right. He really does deserve happiness and I’m just going to have to suck it up and be a good daughter, even though I hate everything about this new development.
Dana slings back farther. “Seriously, though, Jo. Your new stepmom is the—” She has the good sense to cut off her conversation when the woman she’d been flirting with approaches our tree-hidden chairs.
“So.” The blonde, eyes narrowed at Dana, slides into a seat. “You never did tell me your name.”
Dana thrusts out her hand. “Dana Parducci. Troublemaker, miscreant, jailbait.”
The woman grins and I sense trouble. Dad has been pretty cool about my sexuality, what with him being a preacher and all, but I’m also cool, too. I don’t flaunt it around the flock. Not that I’m hiding, but I have my own secret mission—get my father to agree to a youth program where I can talk about all the issues—and for now, being chill when necessary is part of the plan. Dana, however, has no such inhibitions, and she’s got her freak flag lit in neon rainbow lights.
“Dana . . .” I hiss at her, but blondie cuts me off with an arm across my chest as she reaches for Dana’s flask.
“You going to share?” She looks around. “I can’t fucking believe they had a dry reception.”
Dana leans forward and winks. “Right? Here you go.” The woman takes it and with a furtive head twist sips, then hands the flask back, letting her hands linger on Dana’s for a few seconds before turning to me. “You’re Elizabeth’s new stepdaughter?” The woman smiles. “Joanna, right?”
“Sure,” I say, though all my friends call me Jo, but tonight, in this confection of baby blue picked out by Three, I don’t feel like explaining. Joanna seems to fit my new role as small town stepdaughter.
“Well, I know Elizabeth is glad y’all are moving up to Rome instead of her moving here. She’s never been much of a city girl. She hated having to work down here for her training weeks. Well, except for meeting your dad, of course.”
“And you are?” I ask.
“Sorry. I’m Jennifer. I went to high school with Elizabeth, but I live in Dallas now.”
“Texas, huh?” Dana scoots her leg forward so her heel parallels Cougar Jen’s heel, and I’m stuck awkwardly between them.
“Where we like things bold and brash.” Cougar Jen pulls her lower lip into her mouth by the tips of her teeth, a classic come-hither look if there ever was one. I don’t know how Dana does it. In her mind, every woman on the planet is fair game and most of them tend to agree with her.
I’m not interested in an endless string of nothing hookups, and older women, even when attractive, aren’t my thing. I have definite fantasies of finding the one, but I doubt that’s going to happen now that I’m moving to the land of “Who’s your boyfriend?” Plus, Dana’s always by my side, sort of a combination queer crusader and safety net. She’s like my girlfriend, just not in the girlfriend-that-I-kiss or have-my-heart-broken-by kind of way. It’s the perfect symbiotic relationship—I’m her wing girl and she’s my fauxmance.
“We should bounce.” Dana looks around the room, then looks at me, her eyes a hopeful question mark.
“Dude, it’s my dad’s wedding.” I yank out a handful of blue froth from where it’s gotten tangled around my leg.
“There’s a warehouse party in East Atlanta tonight.” Dana bats her eyelashes at me. “DJ Gabby F. is spinning. You know you want out of that dress.”
Cougar Jen pouts. “Y’all can’t leave. We’ve only started to get to know each other.”
Pretty sure she means Dana can’t leave, but whatever.
“You could come with us.” Dana’s voice is weighted with innuendo as she leans across me to flirt with Cougar Jen.
Great. I slump back behind my tree. I wonder how long this hookup will take.
“Sounds more fun than here.” Cougar Jen is actually growling.
“Come on, Jo.” Dana pouts and puts her forefingers together at her lips. “Let’s make like a tree.” She pats my bark-covered shield for good measure. “And leaf.”
“No way, dude. If I’m not here for birdseed flinging and the big bon voyage, I’m screwed. You go. You’ve got a card to my room. Just don’t wake up half the hotel when you get back.”
Cougar Jen giggles. For real, a grown-ass woman giggling. “You want to hit the minibar in my room, first?”
“You know it, sweetheart.” Dana stands and holds out a debonair hand for Three’s friend.
I think I may hurl. But I don’t get a chance, because before nausea can even set in, they’re out the door. I glance around to see if anyone noticed, but all eyes seem to be on the dance floor.
I plant my chin in my hands and contemplate moving to Rome, Italy, instead of Rome, Georgia.
“Where did Jennifer go?”
I look up and Three is standing in front of me, sans Dad, who’s been pulled into the middle of a throng of followers. Her eyes keep darting toward the door. Maybe someone did notice after all. I shrug. “Don’t know. She went that way.”
“And your friend?” Three’s looking down the hallway with confusion in her eyes. Or is it judgment? I know Dad told her about me. He told me about their conversation. How at first Three was surprised, but then told him it was fine and didn’t affect how she felt about him. He seemed convinced it was no big deal, and I believed him. It’s not like I’ve been part of their whirlwind courtship, since most of it took place on Three’s terms and without my involvement. But her telling him my being gay didn’t affect how she felt about him doesn’t really address how she feels about me. Or this situation. There’s one sure way to test it.
“Thinking she went that way, too.”
“Oh.” Confusion gives way to horror, then a second “Oh!”
It’s one thing to understand something in a somebody-else’s-life sort of way, but the reality of the this-is-my-life-now situation seems to be hitting Three hard based on her sprung-wide eyes and slack mouth.
“It’s no big deal,” I say as Three glances in the general direction of her family table, one I’ve assiduously avoided for fear of Southern judgment and small town mind contamination.
“Right, of course you’re right, it’s just Jennifer, and . . .”
My dad steps in to save the day. “Sweetheart, they want us to cut the cake.”
Three is totally flustered. It shouldn’t fill me with such unmitigated glee, but it does. Go Dana. Go Cougar Jen. And, what the hell, go cake.
I follow the newlyweds to the round table at the side of the room. She’s not a bad person. But she did insist my dad move out of Atlanta. Which in turn means me having to move away for my senior year. Which, if I really think about it, is a pretty shitty thing for her to do. The look on Three’s face when she connected the dots between Dana and Cougar Jen pops back into my mind and I laugh, even though I shouldn’t. Making my new stepmom’s life hell might just be the perfect hobby to keep me entertained when Dad moves me to lower Mongolia.
“Can’t believe this is it.” Dana’s standing on the steps of the Morningside house where I’ve lived with my dad for the past four years. We’d moved here after Two took the Buckhead house right out from under us in the divorce. Moving men are carrying boxes and the few pieces of furniture Three deemed acceptable down the steps to the van parked out front.
I was psyched when Dad finally agreed I could stay with Dana for the duration of his and Three’s honeymoon. He’d been insisting I go to Rome to stay with my new grandparents, but he changed his mind at the last minute. Which was one hundred percent fine by me. Even having to listen to Dana talk, ad nauseam, about her Cougar Jen hookup was worth avoiding two weeks of awkward.
“Me neither. It sucks.” The reality of my situation burrows under my skin like a well-inked tattoo. But unlike a tattoo, this isn’t permanent. One year. I can do anything for a year.
I watch the movers load up the last of our boxes and then I turn to Dana. “Peace, dude.”
“Peace to you, dude.”
I throw my arms around her and squeeze, freaked that when I let go my whole life is going to blow away. “Don’t forget about me up there.”
“As if.” She clubs me on the shoulder. “Let me know how the chicks are. Maybe I’ll come up and unleash the Dana on them.”
I roll my eyes. “Whatever, but you and me, we’re celebrating my freedom after graduation.”
“Gonna be off the hook.”
At least I’ve got our long-planned after-grad road trip to look forward to—my dad has to give his permission now that he’s making me move away. Dana waves and jogs to where her mom is waiting. I drag my feet on the way to my car. One of Dad’s radio techs, Jamal, is finishing up with the movers and handing the keys over to the real estate agent. My Atlanta house has locked me out. It’s time to roll. When I press the ignition button, AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” blasts from the radio. I look to the sky. “Really, Goddess?”
I haven’t been in the new house for more than thirty minutes and my brain is already blown. “You want me to do what?!”
My father, the preacher, the man with the big heart and the big voice, dragged me into the landscaped backyard and laid out the most unbelievable mess of bullshit I’ve ever heard.
He sighs and repeats himself, this time more succinctly and straight to his ridiculous point. “I want you to lie low. Don’t be so boldly out of the closet up here.”
I can’t even process this nugget. My father, the one who’s said he supports me one hundred percent, is taking some percentage of that back. He knows I have a handle on the right time and the wrong time to wave my sexuality. This isn’t something he should ask. It’s completely freaking wrong. “I can’t believe this.” I cross my arms and uncross them and cross them again.
“Joanna, please. I need you to help me out.” He stands, arms slack, in front of me, then repeats one word. “Please.”
My father’s guilt talks have a way of plunging to the core of my being. And that love-soaked please was exponential. He’s serious. It takes another minute. A slow, second-dropping minute, but what he’s saying sinks in. My mouth drops open in fractions before I gurgle out the words. “You for real are asking me to pass? To completely hide my gay?”
He rubs his chin, shifts his jaw, and avoids my eyes.
“It’snot like that.” My dad takes my hand and pulls me to the stone wall, where we can perch. “Look.” He opens his hands and I hear his sermon voice. “I’m asking you to take it easy for a year. Concentrate on school. Not be quite so in-your-face. It will make things easier for us.”
My ears do not believe what they’re hearing. My father is asking me to lie, to hide who I am, and to be someone I’m not, to appease Three’s family.
“I don’t even have words.” I stand up and pace across the patio.
“Joanna Gina.” He only uses my full name when he’s serious. “Elizabeth’s mother was apoplectic about seeing Dana and one of the wedding guests fooling around in the hall outside her room. It was everything Elizabeth could do to talk her mother off the ledge, to convince her she hadn’t married into the den of Satan.”
“Like that’s not dramatic,” I mutter.
“Jo.” My dad only uses my nickname when he really wants something. “Stop pacing and look at me.”
I do. This time his eyes meet me full on and what I see scares me. It’s a swirl of pain and hope and love and fear. It’s him projecting how much this means to him. And it guts me. My dad is literally all I have. My real mom I don’t even remember. My grandparents died one by one before I turned twelve, and both my parents were only children. Yeah, there are some scattered third cousins up north, but that’s it. I’d do anything for my father.
“Dad.” The word comes out a whisper. “I can’t. You can’t ask me to do this.”
He sighs and buries his face for a second, then looks up again. “You’re right. I’m sorry. But I’m still asking.”
“Ask? Right. More like telling.”
“Jo, stop. Ten months. I’m asking for ten months of compromise. Besides, Rome is not like Atlanta. It won’t be as easy here as it’s been for you in the past. When have I ever stood in your way when something was important?”
“Um, you’ve stood in the way of my summer trip.” I stand up again and cross my arms. “You’ve stood in the way of my doing a radio show for the ministry.” Over the privacy fence I hear kids splashing in a neighboring pool. They sound like they’re having way more fun than me.
He sighs. “Fair enough. If you are big enough to do this for me, then I can be big enough to let you travel with a friend. You have my permission for your summer trip with Dana.”
“Yes. I imagine I would have relented closer to graduation, but your point is solid, so yes, I’ll say it now. You can go.” He grabs my arm and pulls me back to sitting by his side. “I know this is going to be hard, Jo. And I wouldn’t ask unless I thought I needed to. I want you to be safe and I want us to make a good life with Elizabeth and the Foleys. You can keep busy with school. You can even do some work at the station with me. You have talked about that for a while.”
Not just a while. But since I came out. The whole being-gay-and-a-preacher’s-daughter thing comes with some weird mixed messaging—Jesus Loves You. Well, maybe not you. It’s been a constant internal struggle, having grown up in a religious household, desperately wanting to believe in the great goodness all around me, yet hearing so much hate even when my dad did his best to shield me. About a year ago, I decided starting my own ministry within his could be an amazing way to help other queer and faith-filled youth. Maybe now, with what he’s asking of me, I’ll get him to listen.
“You mean work like my radio show?”
My dad straightens. His ministry, Wings of Love, is not a brick and mortar church. It’s a radio station with Christian evangelical programming. He tapes his sermons and they go on throughout the day on Sundays and Wednesdays. In between he runs syndicated programs with topics of interest for his listeners. I want my own show, about youth topics and how Jesus was not the kind of dude to preach any type of hate. He was a total out-of-the-box guy and I’ve always loved him. But some of his followers are fucking nuts. And they might stop sending Dad donations if I go on the air.
I cut him off. “No. You moved me my senior year. You swear how cool you are with my choices, and now it’s like you’re saying that was all a lie. The trip offer is awesome, but like you said, you would have agreed eventually, and I’ve saved my own money for it. What would really make me okay with this is the radio show.” I know I’m pushing here. But maybe this show would be the thing that could make living in this town bearable. If my new grandparents figure out I’m intelligent and thoughtful, if the local listeners get some insight into how to be better Christians, Dad might not freak out about us having to be on our best behavior. And I won’t have to adhere to this ridiculous new rule. I could help make the world, and my new town, a safer place for kids like me.
Now Dad’s the one pacing. Five steps toward the yard, five back to me. He does this twice. Twenty steps to decision.
A kid yells, “Cannonball!” and there’s the sound of a huge splash from somewhere over the fence.
Dad stops walking. “Okay.”
“Okay?” I’m sort of shocked.
Nothing good ever comes after that word.
“Any agenda you have needs to be approached cautiously. I want us to work on the planning together.”
I deflate, then shake my head and roll my eyes. Yeah, it’s what I wanted, but if it’s too watered-down it might as well be pointless. Although, maybe a foot in the door is better than being locked out. Once I’m in, proving my salt, gaining my own following, then I can pull out the big guns . . . and, blam—queer girl sucker punch. I can do anything for a year if there’s a rainbow at the end of it. If they love my dad, they’ll love me. And maybe once they love me, I can make some real change and talk about being young, queer, and faithful. It might make this worth it.
This time he’s the one who’s shocked. “Okay?” He lets out a huge breath of air and plops back next to me, pulling me into a side hug. “This means a lot to me, kid. I wouldn’t have asked otherwise. You know I’m proud of you.”
I nudge him in the ribs with my elbow. “I love you, Dad. I want you to be happy.” But I don’t tell him I know he’s proud. Because for the first time since I told him my truth, he’s acting like it may be a problem.
Dana’s straight up guffawing on the other end of the phone. “Are you serious? That old lady that stuck her head out of the room when I had my hand up Cougar Jen’s skirt was your new grandma? I guess I wasn’t really paying attention. Had other things keeping me occupied.”
“Yep. That’s who it was. New grandma.”
“You sound pissed.”
Somehow between my talk with my dad, the awkward post-honeymoon dinner at our new family table, and me finally escaping to my room to call Dana, I have gotten pissed. She knew what the wedding was going to be like. She knew the folks there were on the more conservative end of the spectrum. Who the hell acts like that in the hallway at the Ritz-Carlton? It’s like she thinks she’s Shane from The L Word and nothing she does is going to come back on her. “Three’s mom recognized you as my friend. And now she thinks my dad is the Antichrist because he can’t manage his offspring. An apology wouldn’t hurt my feelings.”
“No way. I did us a favor. The trip is on, and besides, you’re going to get that stupid show you wanted. I swear, I do not understand why you’re still all up in Jesus’s house. You know those people don’t like homos.”
“Wrong. Some of those people. And that’s the whole point—my show is supposed to change hearts and minds.”
I press the bottom of my feet against the padded headboard and push up into a stretch as I wait for her response.
“So, what’s your approach?”
“Be myself.” I drop flat again against my new bed.
Dana snorts. “Isn’t that exactly what your dad said you couldn’t do?”
“You have a point.” I hate when she’s right. It takes all the anger out of my balloon.
“I’m serious. Your dad wants you to blend in for the year. Then fucking blend. If you think you have half a snowball’s chance in hell to turn some of those haters into allies, I’ve got your back.” She pauses and I can tell she’s strategizing. “This is too nuts for me, but what if you do the whole small town makeover?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know, girl-next-door, cool-kid table—I mean, not the really cool kids, but the ones who think they are, county fairs, and prayer group. Oh, and Sephora. You have to promise me you’ll go, with Three, and get a makeover. No more fauxhawk. Let that shit grow out. You’ll be so pretty with a dark little pixie cut and some rose lips. And finally, new wardrobe. No Docs. No ripped jeans. No black.”
“Screw you, Dana.”
“No, screw you. Papa D. is only trying to help you out here, and you have to admit this idea is brilly.”
It’s so stupid I can barely stand it, but again, the girl has skills at getting to the heart of an issue. It might make my transition easier.
“Papa D. could be right.”
“Yaaaas! And pictures or it didn’t happen. Besides, maybe Three will try on clothes with you and you’ll get to see what your dad’s hitting.”
“That is the nail, dude.”
“Yeah, but who’s in the coffin?”
“So we’re cool?”
Dana’s quiet on the other end of the line, then she sighs. “Yeah, bitch, we’re cool. But I’m serious. If you’re going to do this shit for the cause, you might as well go for broke. Then we can bust you out of your chains on graduation day. But don’t be thinking you can avoid my texts. Me with no car and you with your new life, I don’t know how often we’re going to get real-life visits.”
“You’re going to be my lifeline, dude. Don’t forget about me.”
“As if.” She laughs. “Give my regards to Grandma.”
I hang up and stare at myself in the mirror. Normal makeup, hair, clothes? No time like the present to start a slow death. There’s genius in Dana’s plan. Blend in. Keep my enemies close. Maybe I’ll even figure out how to pilot my own life instead of always being her wingman. I lean in closer and look myself in the eyes. “You’ve got this, girl.” The fear worms its way in again. I’ve never lived in a small town before and they’re not known for being kind to girls like me. Maybe Dad’s edict won’t be the worst thing in the world.
Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit
By: Jaye Robin Brown
Release Date: August 30, 2016
Three winners will receive a copy of Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit (US only).
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