Becoming Bonnie by Jenni L. Walsh is a debut historical novel and the untold story of how the wholesome Bonnelyn Parker became half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo!
Just in time for the anniversary of the deaths of Bonnie and Clyde on May 23, 1934, comes the debut historical novel Becoming Bonnie by Jenni L. Walsh! Read an exciting excerpt below and make sure to sign in and comment at the bottom for a chance to win your very own copy!
The summer of 1927 might be the height of the Roaring Twenties, but Bonnelyn Parker is more likely to belt out a church hymn than sling drinks at an illicit juice joint. She’s a sharp girl with plans to overcome her family's poverty, provide for herself, and maybe someday marry her boyfriend, Roy Thornton. But when Roy springs a proposal on her, and financial woes jeopardize her ambitions, Bonnelyn finds salvation in an unlikely place: Dallas's newest speakeasy, Doc's.
Living the life of a moll at night, Bonnie remains a wholesome girl by day, engaged to Roy, attending school, and working toward a steady future. When Roy discovers her secret life, he embraces it―perhaps too much, especially when it comes to booze and gambling―she tries to make the pieces fit. Maybe she can have it all: the American Dream, the husband, and the intoxicating allure of jazz music. But her life―like her country―is headed for a crash.
Bonnie Parker is about to meet Clyde Barrow.
With Blanche’s threat looming over my head, today’s been one of those days where everything goes wrong. I caught Ma pouring water into the milk jugs to make ’em last longer; it was Roy’s turn to work a double at the cement plant, so I didn’t get to see him; Mr. Banks sent me home early from work; and then, when all I wanted to do was read a gossip magazine I borrowed from Blanche, Billie’s hound was barking incessantly, wanting to get out of the heat. I hollered at old Duke to be quiet; then, not even ten minutes later, I found the mutt in the bathtub, with my sister pouring cold water over him.
Now Ma finally rushes into the house, frenzied, her cheeks almost as red as her Ruby Lipstick lips, grumbling under her breath how the factory kept her late with no overtime pay and how the bus was running behind. I’m ’bout to offer to help her with supper, but she pins me with a Why aren’t you working? look. So I sit right back down and pick up my magazine. Go figure, the ink is smeared from the dog shaking off excess water all ’round the house.
For once, Buster is home, not scheduled ’til tonight at the plant so he can get the extra midnight-shift money. Him and Billie are playing Checkered Game of Life, looking carefree. Not me. My foot is tapping a mile a minute while I stare at the front door—waiting for the dreadful sound of Big Bertha’s engine, of Blanche’s car. Blanche showing up is inevitable, but I ain’t going inside that place with her. Not going to happen. Those places are illegal. I shiver. Hotbeds for raids.
Ma calls into the room for us to get washed up for supper. Not long after I shove a spoonful of lukewarm Van Camp’s pork and beans in my mouth, Billie goes off, proclaiming how excited she is for Roy and me. She keeps doing that and, each time, she makes me smile. Billie has an infectious way ’bout her.
“Your daddy would like how that boy turned out,” Ma says, much more pleasant than earlier.
Daddy’s chair sits empty next to me. Always five seats ’round the table, never four.
“Is Roy a lot like Daddy was?” I ask her.
Ma smiles, a distant look in her tired eyes, as if she’s remembering. “Your daddy had a lot of spunk. Always after bigger and better.”
Billie giggles, and I can’t help thinkin’ that sounds a bit like me. “Daddy was a hooligan?” my sister asks.
“Now, I didn’t say that.” But Ma has a grin on her face, like she doesn’t mind his once rebellious ways. I’m grinning too, liking that Daddy pushed the limits now and again, keeping Ma on her toes. “Your father was a good Christian man after he got the rest out of his system. The gentlest man who’s ever gone and held a shotgun.”
“When am I going to learn to hold one?” Billie whines, and not for the first time.
“Soon,” Buster says.
“Daddy taught you when you were younger than me,” she counters.
“I didn’t learn ’til ’round your age, Billie,” I say, smiling at Buster.
Ma pipes in. “You’ll learn soon, baby girl. Your daddy would teach you himself if he could.”
I love hearing ’bout my daddy. I glance at his seat, picturing him teasing Billie, the same way he razzed me, for getting more food on her face than in her mouth. Even now, I see Daddy in Buster’s narrow eyes. It’s as if he’s always squinting, always tossing a million thoughts ’round his head. Probably a million ways he can get himself in trouble. And if I don’t do as Blanche says, he’ll be out on the town with my best friend. She could even take him to that juice joint in my place.
The sound of an engine breaks into my thoughts. Blanche is here. We all know it’s her, immediately, even Duke Dog, considering most people in Cement City don’t have a car. That type of prosperity hasn’t reached this side of the tracks. One would think it would’ve, with concrete being so popular, but that’s the problem: competitive plants have been popping up all over the West. And we’re left not being able to afford luxuries like vacuum cleaners or dishwashers.
Duke’s barking rumbles ’round my head, adding to the fear already rumbling through me. Billie rushes from her seat to the front door and Ma hollers how she hasn’t been excused, but it’s too late for that. Ma merely waves her hand, not bothering to discipline my little sister any further.
Seconds later, Blanche appears. My sister always pouts and says Blanche and I, with our blonde hair, look like sisters more so than she and I do. I just remind Billie how she’s got Daddy’s dark hair and it puts the smile back on her face. A smile rivaling the one she wears now, as she’s wrapped ’round Blanche’s waist like one of those life preservers, Duke Dog bouncing at their feet.
“Hello, Mrs. Parker,” Blanche says. “I’m mighty sorry to interrupt your supper.”
“Nonsense. Would you like a bite?”
“Oh no, I’m more than fine.” Blanche turns to my brother. “Hi there, Buster Boy.”
She’s more snooty than seductive. That’s for my ma, so she doesn’t get any ideas that Blanche is crushing on Buster. The arrogant part is for me. If I deny her tonight, she’ll make good on her threat and put her vixen claws all over my brother. And, with how Buster is staring at her like she’s the second coming of our Lord Jesus, she knows she’s got me by the throat.
Billie doesn’t help matters. “Blanche, are you taking Bonnelyn out to celebrate? Roy is stuck at the plant tonight.”
“I sure am!” she says, not missing a beat.
Her enthusiasm for something she knows zero ’bout still creates electricity in the room. Ma beams, Billie squeals, and Buster drools a bit more. Duke Dog even barks once for good measure.
Blanche turns to me, and I reckon I’m the only one who recognizes the hurt in her voice as she says, “I’ve been wanting to take Bonnelyn out ever since she told me the good news.”
Guilt goes and jabs me in the gut. Yesterday I should’ve told her ’bout Roy and me, but ever since Blanche’s ma left her daddy high and dry … well, I didn’t want her stomping all over Roy wanting to make me his wife. She’d lecture me, sayin’ how we should be luring boys, not settling down with ’em. I figured I’d tell her, eventually, but Billie let the cat half out of the bag.
“Sounds wonderful, dear.” Ma hides a yawn behind her hand. “Where are you two headed?”
“Most likely Victor’s,” Blanche says.
Ma smiles approvingly; ain’t much trouble Blanche could get me in at a soda shop.
And there it is. My fate is sealed. I rub the base of my neck; it ain’t helping to soothe me one bit. Round one goes to Blanche, in record time, and in this case her winnings include my wary company, not at a soda shop but at a speakeasy. A speakeasy … with its scantily clad women doing scandalous things with wicked men.
“Let me get cleaned up.” I push back from the table with shaky arms.
Blanche grabs me, releasing a squeal that rivals Billie’s. But once I close the door to my bedroom, Blanche’s deep voice is in my ear. “You got some explainin’ to do.”
“In the car,” I whisper back.
That mollifies her, for now. Too much, I’d say, from how she doesn’t nitpick my choice of attire or the modest way I repin my hair. Blanche is simply quiet, sort of. She hurries me along, insisting we can’t be late. Some of her anger fades when I begrudgingly comply.
Ma is waiting for us in the living room. “Here,” she says. “Put your lips together like this.” She puckers and I copy her. Then she slides her best lipstick onto my lips for the first time. “A woman who’s spoken for should look her best. Touch it up after you’ve finished your soda.”
I rub my lips together and force a smile for my ma, wanting a do-over of this moment.
“Perfect,” Ma says. “You girls have fun, but don’t be home too late.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Blanche and I say in unison.
We ain’t in the car for more than a second when Blanche says, “Spill the beans.”
I pause, letting my head fall back, and stare through Big Bertha’s open roof. “Do you believe in soul mates?” I rock my head toward my friend, expecting her to scoff at the term. But her expression ain’t mocking; it’s cocky.
“Honey,” she says, and slides on her sunglasses, “Blanche don’t believe in anything or anyone, ’cept maybe herself.”
It’s a typical Blanche response—one where she speaks ’bout herself as herself. Most would find it weird, but I find it sad—for me. I may sing at church and school, but I wish I had the Blanche-like confidence to put myself on display in normal life. Or the gumption to say exactly what’s on my mind.
Blanche puts Big Bertha in gear, lets out an exaggerated sigh, and starts driving. “Please don’t tell me you believe in soul mates, that you think Roy is yours. I heard what your ma said, how you’re spoken for.”
I raise my chin. “What if I do and what if I am? Roy is plenty sweet.”
“So are candied yams.” Behind her sunglasses, she takes her eyes off the empty road, looks me up and down, and I shrink deeper into my seat. “You’re just chasing that silly ‘American dream.’ Though I don’t see no handcuff on that ring finger of yours. Did he give you anything? A necklace even?”
For once, smugness clings to my voice, as I sit up straighter and say, “A house. Roy gave me a house for us to live in one day.”
Golly, that shuts Blanche’s fat mouth right up. She just sits there tapping her lip, ’til that finger is pointing at me. “What ya got to understand, Bonn, is that it’s all in the eyes. Lust. Passion. You and Roy don’t ogle each other.”
I cross my arms, focusing on the stretch of farmland between my town and Dallas. “I love Roy. You’re just sayin’ all this ’cause you don’t like Roy, never have.”
Blanche shrugs. “Let me ask you this. Have ya made him your Roy Toy yet between the sheets?”
Her question should shock me. Instead, I rub my face, careful not to smear my lipstick. “Blanche, I ain’t having a bull session with you. What Roy and I do—that way—ain’t any of your beeswax.”
And it’s mostly ’cause we haven’t done nothin’ yet, it being wrong to do that before we’re married. But that doesn’t mean we’re lacking passion. Maybe I define passion as something more long term, a love like my parents’. Nearly a decade may’ve passed since Daddy died, but Ma loves him all the same.
She clucks before saying, “Well, if you’re insistent on marrying the fool, I suggest trying him out first.”
“Blanche,” I growl. It won’t help telling her I’ve had years of trying him out—in other ways. I know he likes more peanut butter than jelly. Blue instead of black. Dogs, not cats. We’ve spent nights at the picture house, afternoons by the lake. We’ve got history. And, thinking of our doodles, we’ve got ourselves a future. Ogling or not, we’ve got something stable. Love and stability. Ain’t those two things better than only having lust?
Blanche laughs at my growl. “One of these days you’ll quit being a priggish Mrs. Grundy.”
“Stop calling me that.”
“Stop acting like one,” she counters. “You’re such a wet blanket I’m surprised you don’t leave a trail of water behind you everywhere you go.”
“Really?” I say. “I ain’t that bad.”
She chuckles. “Okay, that was a bit of an exaggeration. But don’t go denying you ain’t tight-laced.”
Blanche slams on the car’s brakes, inches before the train tracks into Dallas.
I exhale, looking left, right. “There ain’t a train coming.”
“Glad to see your eyes are working.” Then she smiles, a devious Blanche-like grin, clearly no longer in a tizzy with me for withholding my news—probably ’cause she doesn’t consider anything related to marriage good news. “We got to get ourselves ready.”
Ready. For the speakeasy. Talking ’bout Roy distracted me from that. I lightly touch Blanche’s arm. “Hey, how ’bout we go to Victor’s, for real.”
“We will,” she says.
“I meant now.”
“Oh, I know what you meant, but it ain’t going to happen. This is important to me, Bonnelyn, and you said you’d help.”
“You didn’t give me much choice,” I say between my teeth—which are seconds away from chattering, and considering how hot it is, it ain’t from the weather.
Blanche lowers her sunglasses and looks at me over their frame. “What was that you just said?”
“Um,” I start, hiding a cringe from her glare, “there has to be another way for you to make some money. This just seems dangerous and reckless.”
“Reckless is my middle name.” She pulls something from the backseat. “Here, put these on.”
I take the bag she shoves at me and hesitantly peek inside. Clothing. It clicks. That’s why Blanche didn’t care what I was wearing. She brought a dress for me. Nothin’ new there; been wearing the clothes she’s outgrown for years, ’til her clothing became less modest. But this dress ain’t old. I shake my head in annoyance, pulling it out and letting its full length show. “Oh, no, no, no. This here’s ’bout six inches too short.”
“Gasp.” Blanche pulls her blouse over her head and shimmies off her skirt. A plunging red dress—that comes well above her knees—is all that’s left.
My jaw drops open.
“What ya think?” she asks, reaching into the bag, fastening a headband over her loose curls. “I wanna ooze sex appeal.”
“I can almost see your crotch!”
“I’m sitting. When I stand, the dress will be longer. Maybe.” She shrugs and drapes pearls ’round my neck, pokes something into my pinned-up hair. “If you won’t wear the dress, let’s gussy you up.”
I peek at Big Bertha’s rearview mirror and my mouth drops open again. “You’ve gone and put a feather on my head.”
Blanche takes one looksee at me and hoots with laughter. “I do suppose you look a bit like a peacock.” She tugs at my hair, removing the feather and letting a few strands fall onto my neck. “At least let down your hair. You got ’em all wrapped up like it’s the nineteen hundreds.”
I swat her hand. “Leave me be.”
She chuckles to herself and slides a cluster of bangles onto her wrist. “All ready.”
A few minutes of my nervous foot tapping later, Blanche stops Big Bertha outside a row of buildings. I’m no stranger to Elm Street in the heart of Dallas. It’s the way to school, where I run most of our errands, and Blanche and I have been to the picture house and soda shop here on many occasions, Blanche flirting and me blushing.
I scan the paved street. Nothin’ is out of the ordinary. No illicit bars, no unusual crowds of rowdy people. Many people are carrying on with their business, but no one seems to be doing anything illegal.
Blanche yanks the napkin from Buck from her brassiere and examines the buildings. Her brows scrunch. “Well, this here is a physician’s office.”
I release a sigh of relief. “Yup. Looks like the address is phony.”
Blanche pouts. “You think Buck lied to us?”
“Probably. He seems like the type.”
“Rhatz.” Blanche throws the napkin onto the dashboard.
The door to the physician’s office is flung open, catching both our attention. A man—no, a boy—saunters onto the sidewalk amidst a handful of people and peers up and down the block. I don’t like the looks of him, with his dark gray suit, bow tie and vest, and hair parted down the center. Too smooth.
I cringe, knowing who he is. And I was so close to getting myself out of this jam.
“Buck!” Blanche squeals. She practically lunges for the car door’s handle.
I instinctively reach for her arm. “You’re really going out there? Doing this?”
She’s baffled, like she’s solving an impossible mathematics problem in her head. “Ab-so-lute-ly. Now get your ass in gear.”
I can’t. Not when my imagination conjures police fabricating out of thin air and swarming the building. I lick my lips and shake my head. “Blanche, I’m sorry. I can’t. I ain’t going in with you.”
She sulks, staring at me. I expect her to drag me out of Big Bertha, but instead she twists in her seat, toward Buck. “Suit yourself.” The motion knocks my hand off her arm. “But I need this.”
I can’t help picturing her arms pinned behind her back, Blanche being forced into the back of a police car.
I grab her shoulder despite her warning, and she pierces me with her determined green eyes.
Blanche is going to be Blanche. I know she ain’t going to listen to a word I say ’bout this being dangerous. Or how there’s got to be another way to earn money to make her daddy happy. I pull my hand back. “I’ll stay right here in Big Bertha. If I see any funny business, I’ll come get you.”
Even as I say it, I don’t know how—or even if—I could help her, but Blanche’s face warms, and telling the lie helps ease my guilt from staying behind.
“Thanks, Bonn. Now, how do I look?”
I sigh, still not happy with her, with this, with everything. But an idea pops into my head. From my pocket, I take the red lipstick my ma gave me and tell Blanche to pucker up.
She doesn’t say thanks when I’m done, but she looks at me—really looks at me—how she does every time I mimic my ma and do something maternal, something Blanche’s own ma would do, if she had one.
Blanche steps from the car.
“Be careful,” I plead.
“Always.” She winks before skipping off toward Buck, his fancy suit, and the physician’s office, her heels clicking against the street.
I’m left in the passenger’s seat, praying to our Lord God I haven’t made a mistake by letting her go.
* * *
Day turns to night as I sit here in Blanche’s soft-top breezer while God only knows what goes on inside that physician’s office. At first, the three-story building ’cross the street casts a shadow over me. As time passes, the square of darkness creeps away, inch by inch, with the retreating sun. Streetlights flicker on above my head, and tiny spotlights line the sidewalks.
People wander the street, in and out of the lights. I scrutinize them, my eyes playing tricks on me. A belt buckle becomes a policeman’s badge. In the shadows, umbrellas become guns. A shout becomes a threat of a raid. Each time, I grip the door handle. But I know, pathetically, that’s as far as I’ll go.
Fortunately, the only folks actually out and about are plain ol’ men, and kids ’round my age.
A few people come and go from the physician’s office—a group of men, a group of women. But never men and women together. Most women are at home, tending to their families. I reckon that’ll be me, after I become Mrs. Roy Thornton.
I startle, that being the first time I’ve referred to myself that way. The title causes mixed feelings, as if I’ve put being a wife above all my other dreams. But that can’t be true. Roy doesn’t even know I’m here, can’t know I even thought about coming here. He’s ready to settle down, not saddle up to a bar, ’specially with his daddy’s alcoholic ways. I got to imagine the idea of me being ’round giggle juice would leave a bad taste in his mouth.
I close the roof of the car, needing something to do to busy myself. For the seemingly millionth time, I wish I’d brought something to read—not that I’d even be able to read the darkened pages. But holding a book always puts me at ease, knowing a happy ending is in between my fingertips.
Movement catches my eye, and I hold my breath. Buck takes another step out of the physician’s office. I slink down in my seat, afraid he’ll spot me. He scans, sees me through the car’s open window. There’s a jump in his step as he approaches, lighting a ciggy by the time he gets here.
“Well now, Blanche said you’d be hiding out in … Big Bertha.” He says “Big Bertha” as if it’s a question. “She’s just using the li’l girls’ room. Figured I’d come see your bonny face in the meantime.”
I swallow, not having much experience with boys who ain’t Roy, and certainly not with boys with red lipstick staining their collars. I settle for a nervous nod, leaning away as much as the seat will allow.
“Harmless inside the office, ya know.” He blows a puff of smoke.
“I’ll take your word for that,” I say, finding my voice, albeit an uncomfortable-sounding one.
He laughs, a mix of nicotine and booze on his breath. “You are reserved. And that friend of yours is a bearcat. How’d the likes of you become friends?”
I shrug, feeling like a naïve little girl in comparison to my bearcat friend. Not sure why that bothers me a smidge. Her wild ways with boys—and life in general—shouldn’t be something that sparks even the slightest bit of curiosity within me.
As if Blanche’s ears are ringing from my thoughts, she stumbles out from the physician’s office. I’m relieved to see her, even if she can’t walk straight.
“Your friend there,” he says, pointing to Blanche, “had a bit of giggle water.”
His voice sounds as if he whispered it into a megaphone, coming out dangerously loud. I gasp, peering up and down the remarkably empty and darkened street, expecting those police to materialize and apprehend her … us.
But Blanche falling into Buck’s arms is all that happens. Scandalously, she wraps her leg ’round him. Buck grabs the bare skin of her upper thigh and nuzzles into her neck. A high-pitched yelp escapes from Blanche and she pushes him back. I avert my eyes but still hear her say, “Watch yourself now. Better not leave a mark or my pa will have your hide.”
“Blanche.” I stare at the dash, dim under the streetlight’s glow. “I think it’s time for us to go.”
I feel for the handle, intending to help her into the car, when her face is suddenly next to mine, leaning into Big Bertha.
“Not yet,” she whispers.
“Now,” I say, and wait for her backlash.
For once, it doesn’t come. She turns into Buck’s chest. “Saint Bonnelyn is making me leave.” I don’t have to see her face to know a pout accompanies her words.
Buck winks at me, and an uncomfortable heat surges into my belly. “Hopefully I’ll see both of you tomorrow.”
I shake my head no, but he’s too busy giving Blanche’s rear end a pat to notice. She giggles, laying another kiss on him before opening the door.
“To the driver’s seat? You know I’ve never driven before.”
She rolls her eyes, all the answer I’m going to get. It ain’t illegal, I don’t need a license, so I move over, despite my lack of know-how, desperate to escape. I swallow down my nerves and lay my hands on a steering wheel for the first time.
Blanche’s words slur as she climbs into Big Bertha, right on through the window, and drops the key in my lap. “Ishkabibble. It’s easy. Just pull out the ring thingy, turn the crank, retard the spark, push up the throttle, but,” she says loudly, “not all the way up. Then, crank again, advance the spark, push the hand lever, more throttle, stomp the clutch, and go.” She yawns and mimics rocking the wheel back and forth. “Easy as pie.”
“Helpful,” I mumble, and survey the shadowed levers and pedals, trying to ignore the drip of sweat trickling down my back.
Blanche smiles, but her gaze misses me, and her “Mm-hmm” response is delayed.
I jump at Buck’s amused voice next to me. “I’ll handle the ‘ring thingy’ and the crank.”
He strides to the front of the car, laughing, no doubt from my reaction to him, and I like him even less.
He bends out of my line of sight. I’ve seen this part done before and can picture him giving the handle three swift turns. Priming the engine, it’s called.
Buck comes back to me. “Shall I walk you through the rest, Saint Bonnelyn?”
I steal a glance at an unconscious Blanche and nod briskly, despite the nickname, despite not wanting his help.
“All right. This lever goes up into the retard position,” he says, reaching for the closest one. “And this…”
I bite my bottom lip. His arm stretches ’cross me, dangerously close to my chest.
“Is the throttle. We want it up, but not all the way—as Blanche here said.”
I’m not sure it’s possible to press any harder against my seat. When Buck’s limbs aren’t inappropriately positioned in my personal space any longer, I relax.
He points to the dash. “Key goes there.”
That I know, but I keep my mouth shut.
“Turn it left,” he adds.
I do, and Big Bertha’s coil box starts buzzing. I hope the annoying sound will startle Blanche awake. No such luck.
“Back in a jiffy.” Buck winks.
I hate that he winks.
With one hand on the front bumper, the rest of him disappears behind the front of the car to turn the crank again. Always use your left hand, never your right. If the car backfires, and you’re using your right, it’ll go and break your wrist. I remember Blanche sayin’ this before, in her know-it-all voice. Buck’s head bobs into view as he gives the crank a yank, and the sound of Big Bertha’s engine roars to life.
I jolt from the sudden rumble. The car shakes as if it’s fighting back. Beside me, Blanche stirs, her foggy eyes peering ’round. A smile stretches ’cross her face momentarily before she drifts back off. I confuse her smile as being for me, ’til I catch Buck from the corner of my eye. His hand is reaching into the car again. He pushes the left lever down, and Big Bertha’s angry rumble smoothes to a soft purr.
“Good girl,” Blanche says, awake again, and she strokes the dashboard.
Buck looks at her with—what is it? Lust? Intrigue?
Whatever it is, it’s enough to make me blush. After a lifetime of looks from Roy, none has ever been as heated as what I just witnessed. But just ’cause Roy and I aren’t throwing ourselves at each other, it doesn’t mean we’re lacking lust, right? I lust plenty, deep down inside.
I shake my head, clearing the thought. “What’s next?” I grudgingly ask Buck.
He flicks on the headlights. “You drive.”
While he shows me how to use the clutch, reverse, and work the brake pedals, I release a slow, controlled breath.
“You’ll be fine,” Buck says.
“Yes,” Blanche agrees. “No crashing, though.”
I glare at her before following Buck’s directions. Big Bertha bumps forward and Blanche whoops, pressing her hands against the vinyl roof for support. “Bye-bye, Buck, I want to fu—”
“Blanche!” I scold, tightening my grip on the wheel. She giggles. Buck laughs more heartily outside the car, a few feet back.
I slide the right lever down and our speed accelerates, faster, faster. Big Bertha sputters, and stalls.
My pulse spikes, and I mentally go through the steps again, flying through the directions in my mind, afraid I’ll be too slow and Buck will be at my window again.
Big Bertha lurches forward. Slow but steady, I get her moving. I risk a prolonged blink, relieved to be leaving Buck, his speakeasy, and the threat of a raid in the dust. Never again, I tell myself.
Double-checking my surroundings, my gaze flicks to the rearview mirror, and there stands Buck, waving.
“That was fast,” I say under my breath, while I maneuver a right-hand turn.
“What was?” Blanche slurs.
“You hooking Buck. You’re normally fast, but that boy—”
A car’s horn erupts in front of us and I swerve, nearly clipping Big Bertha’s side mirror.
Blanche slaps her hands against the dash. She screams. I scream. My heart pounds and I mix up my hands and feet, pulling and pushing anything I can find.
Big Bertha groans in protest. Then the car’s quiet. Perfectly quiet. I’ve stalled again.
Blanche bursts into laughter. “Well, that was close,” she says, and playfully slaps my arm. “Oh, Bonn, this adds to an already exciting night. Did you know Buck’s been arrested before?”
My head snaps toward her. “What?”
“How scandalous and delicious.”
“No, Blanche. Not scandalous or delicious. That’s bad. He’s bad.”
“He’s sexy. Oh, and you know what? He has a brother.” She winks.
I shake my head. How dare she suggest such a thing mere hours after I told her ’bout Roy and me?
“The brother’s been arrested too,” Blanche says. “He could be as equally scandalous and delicious as Buck.”
“Blanche, just stop.”
She snickers, and then goes on rambling ’bout Buck and the juice joint. I half listen, trying to get the car started again, trying to will my erratic heartbeat to calm, trying not to get caught up in her excitement of the lights, the energy, the music, the—
“The music?” I parrot. The mere thought makes me want to touch the ivory of a piano.
The car’s engine begins to purr. Blanche puckers her lips and wiggles her fingers, making short, chopped noises.
“What’re you doing?”
“Well, I’m a trumpeter. Ain’t it obvious?”
I chuckle, despite the stern response Blanche deserves for her drunken antics.
“Perhaps this is more obvious to understand.” Blanche leans forward, shakes out the bust of her dress, each bill falling into her lap. She grabs a handful. “I made a lot of dough tonight.”
My eyes lock on the fistful of green in her hand. “You made all that in a couple hours?”
Blanche nods proudly, though her head wobbles. “My pa problem is no more.”
I shove Big Bertha into a lower gear, the car moaning. We’re silent for a few seconds while my brain tosses ’round thoughts. Having that money could do a world of good, taking care of our electric bill and then some, but …
“What’d you have to do to get it?” I ask her.
Blanche whips toward me, no doubt to lash out at the implication. She straightens, going stiff. “Bonnelyn, you’re going the wrong way.”
“No, I’m not,” I say firmly. “I’m taking you home. I’ll walk to mine.” I don’t care it’ll take me all night and end in nothing but blisters.
“Nope, my pa can’t see me like this. We’re going to yours.” She grabs the wheel, and my heart skips a beat.
“Blanche!” I knock her hand away, righting the wheel. “What in God’s name is wrong with you?”
Her eyes may be cloudy, but they hold venom. “Bonnelyn, I’m getting fed up with you and your Bible-thumping ways. All your life you’ve judged me. You know what? Sometimes part of growing up is doing what ya got to do to survive.”
I shake my head, puzzled. “What does nearly driving us off the road have to do with God?”
“I don’t know, but I’m sure you can twist it somehow to make it ’bout Him.”
“You ain’t even making sense. What’d you do in that club tonight, Blanche? What are you doing to survive?”
“Oh, get over yourself. All I did was mix a few drinks. Much better than marrying a man ’cause I got nothin’ else and ’cause I’m desperate to be with someone like my daddy.”
“You heard me. You got a daddy complex.”
“What’s that sayin’”—my fingertips go white on the wheel—“’bout opinions being buttholes? Everyone has one, most of ’em stink, and no one wants to hear yours.”
“Well, lookie here. I got Mrs. Grundy to say ‘butthole.’”
I roll my eyes. “It’s not even a real curse.”
“Well ain’t that big of you, finding a proper way to insult me.”
Blanche, I start, rehearsing in my head how I’m going to respond, you listen here. You listen good. There ain’t nothin’ wrong with marrying a Christian man and making a household together. And there ain’t nothin’ wrong with wanting someone like my daddy. You talk ’bout surviving? Well, this is how I want—no, need—to survive.
I press my lips together, the words slipping away. All I ever do with Blanche is rehearse, never truly standing up to her. I turn onto my street, exactly as she’d instructed me to do, and let out a long, low growl, Blanche’s snore eating it right up.
Copyright © 2017 Jenni L. Walsh.
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Jenni L. Walsh has spent the past decade enticing readers as an award-winning advertising copywriter. Her passion lies in transporting readers to another world, be it in historical or contemporary settings. She is a proud graduate of Villanova University, and lives in the Philly 'burbs with her husband, daughter, son, and goldendoodle. Becoming Bonnie is her first novel.