Lily's Song southern historical fiction

Lily’s Song

A novel.

In Lily’s Song, a mother’s secrets, a daughter’s dream, and a family’s loyalty are masterfully interwoven in this much anticipated sequel to Amazon and Nook #1 bestseller The Secret Sense of Wildflower.

“Wildflower” McAllister’s daughter, Lily, now 14, struggles with her mother’s reluctance to tell her who her father is. When a stranger appears on the family doorstep, drunk and evoking ghosts from the past, it threatens to break the close-knit McAllister family apart.

Meanwhile, Wildflower has a deep secret of her own. When Lily discovers it by accident, it changes everything she thought she knew about her mother. The events that follow silence the singing she dreamed of sharing with the world.

With her signature metaphors, Gabriel weaves a compelling tale that captures the resilience and strength of both mother and daughter, as secrets revealed test their strong bond and ultimately change their lives forever.

Set in 1956 southern Appalachia, Lily’s Song stands on its own, and readers who are new to Gabriel will be drawn into the world she so skillfully depicts. As a sequel, it will captivate fans of The Secret Sense of Wildflower (a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2012), who have eagerly awaited more.

Available in ebook, print and – soon! – audiobook.

Click “add to cart” below to get your autographed copy and start enjoying Lily’s Song. Includes a personal “thank you” from the author and a personal dedication, if desired.

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Just read The Secret Sense of Wildflower and Lily’s Song. Absolutely loved both and can’t wait for the 3rd book of the trilogy. Based on that wonderful reading experience I will definitely read Temple Secrets. Thanks for sharing your talent with all of us! I too love Savannah so I’m looking forward to visiting it again through your book. Wonderful place to go to escape a Minnesota winter!

Laura Lusso

“I have finished Lily’s Song, and enjoyed every second. You have told a story with characters that are so authentic; I feel they are a part of my life. Such a reminder that we all have a little good and a little bad and are a product of environment and what we bring with us to this world. Thank you for sharing your talent. I look forward to your next book! As my grandmother used to say after reading something she enjoyed, “those folks were so real, I found myself praying for them!” Prayers for you and all the Wildflowers and Lily’s in the world!” 

Martha Snow

Having read 2 1/2 of your books, I can say resilience is one of your characters’ strongest qualities. Moments ago, I finished the passage in “Lily’s Song” where Wildflower finally experiences a moment of grace with her mother. It was one of the most beautiful and understated scenes I’ve ever read. Thank you for writing such real human interactions, and for allowing these two women such a profound breakthrough!

Linda Blackford

Lily’s Song

by Susan Gabriel

© 2016 All rights reserved

CHAPTER ONE

Lily McAllister

At the kitchen door, I try not to light too long or Granny will give me something to do. Granny doesn’t believe in lingering. Lingering makes a soul lazy, she’s told me more than once. But it turns out that lingering is what I am especially good at, and my soul doesn’t feel lazy at all.

“Where’s Mama?” I ask, giving her a quick hug.

“Wildflower’s up at the cemetery already,” Granny says. “You know how she gets on the anniversary.”

Granny takes a baking sheet lined with biscuits out of the oven. My mouth waters from the yeasty smell and the sight of the golden tops. Mama says that Granny’s biscuits can make a believer out of anybody. That’s because if you add fresh churned butter and a healthy dollop of homemade strawberry preserves, the first words out of your mouth are Oh, God. Or Oh, Lord, depending on whether you’re leaning that day toward the Father or the Son. 

“Take those scraps out back for Pumpkin and the others,” Granny says.

The biscuits have caused me to linger, and I’ve been caught doing nothing again. The plate of scraps from breakfast sits next to the sink, and I grab them to do as I’m told. The cats have already gathered, as though possessing secret knowledge that I’ve been asked to feed them. Pumpkin sits at the center while the others weave around him like kite tails on a windy day.

Pumpkin is a year older than me. Fifteen is old for a cat here in the Tennessee mountains. Most cats are lucky to make it past year one, given hoot owls consider them biscuits right out of the oven. Not to mention the foxes and bobcats who hunt morning and night for their next meal. Pumpkin is good at surviving and has scars to prove it. Half an ear is missing, as well as the tip of his tail, and one paw points to the right like he’s hitching a ride into town.

The kite tails mew and stand on their back legs as I lower the plate. Yet they wait until Pumpkin takes the biggest piece of scrambled egg before digging in themselves, as if to show respect to their elder. At least half of the cats assembled are orange tabbies like Pumpkin. He’s been a daddy and a granddaddy many times over.

As for me, I’ve had neither. The mountains are my kin, just as much as the people, my Great Aunt Sadie tells me. So any time I linger on a soft piece of earth, I imagine sitting on my Granddaddy McAllister’s lap. I’ve heard stories about him my entire life. About how he knew all the names for things here in the mountains, read books and played banjo better than anybody in Katy’s Ridge. He used to sing, too, and Mama says that’s where I got my singing talent.

Every year on the anniversary of the saw mill accident that took his life, Mama spends the day at the cemetery. Today marks fifteen years since it happened, and I think she still misses him.

The longing I feel for a daddy goes beyond missing and is the dull pain that comes from total absence. Sometimes in the middle of the night I can feel the loss at the center of my chest, like old Pumpkin has fallen asleep there, pressing on my heart. The grief feels as old as he is.

Just this morning I dreamt about a man standing in the shadows of my bedroom watching me. I’ve had this dream several times in my life, and I can never see his face, but I can hear him breathing and feel his presence. When I wake, I am full of yearning. Mama refuses to tell me who my daddy is, no matter how many times I ask. I know she has her reasons for not telling me, but that doesn’t make me not need to know.

“Can I take Mama a biscuit?” I ask, when I come back inside. “She’ll be getting hungry about now.”

“I reckon,” Granny says, tucking a sigh at the end of her words. She and Mama have been tearing down and fixing the same fence their entire lives. Love resides in the center of all the mending. Of this I am certain. But I can’t imagine the two of them living together without ending up looking like Pumpkin.

Granny gets a small basket from the cupboard and wraps up two biscuits with melted butter and jam already on them. They ooze their sweetness onto the worn cloth wrapped around them. Granny puts a ball jar full of water in there, too, in case our mouths get gooey.

Before I leave, Granny kisses me on the forehead and says, “Give a kiss to your mama, too.”

I tell her I will.

Granny is fond of saying I’m just like Mama, and she smiles when she says it like that’s just what she deserves. I’d rather hear how much I am like myself. Or how much I am like my daddy. That would be something different at least. But nobody ever mentions him and me in the same breath. Nobody mentions him at all.

I’ve lived in Granny’s house since the day I was born, so I’ve had time to figure out ways to stay on Granny’s good side, which doesn’t have a whole lot of room. Mama says she wasn’t always irritable. She says she changed after Granddaddy died. Sometimes I wish I had known her before.

The anniversary of Granddaddy McAllister’s death is treated sacred like Christmas or Easter. If it falls on a weekday, I get to stay out of school so I can go to the cemetery with Mama. Then later this afternoon, all my aunts, uncles and cousins will come over for a special supper and I’ll be asked to sing. Usually I sing Down in the Valley or Amazing Grace, the songs my granddaddy loved most. My family is sometimes my only audience, except for the times I sing at the small Baptist church. At this rate, I’ll never reach my dreams.

The first chance I get I’m leaving Katy’s Ridge. Although I’m pretty sure it would break Mama’s heart if I did. In some ways, I’m all she’s got. Yet a voice tells me from somewhere deep inside, I am meant for bigger things. I want to sing in each of the 48 states and then go around the world and sing in every place I’ve ever read about in books. Cathedrals. Palaces. Concert halls. Nobody knows my dream of becoming a world renowned singer. It is a secret I keep even from Mama.

After leaving the house, I take off down the path that leads to the road. It is 1956 and most of the roads in Katy’s Ridge are now paved and a few folks even have paved driveways, but not us. Mama said we didn’t have indoor plumbing until after I was born, so I won’t be holding my breath for a paved driveway. Unlike me, Granny has never made a friend of change and is fine with her world staying small.

Katy’s Ridge is about as small as the world can get. If it were a puppy or a kitten it would be the runt of the litter and in danger of not surviving. Most kids I know have no intention of staying in this area after they graduate high school, and many don’t even keep it a secret. 

Mama’s old Ford truck that she drives to work every day sits at the bottom of the hill, but on the anniversary she walks to the cemetery. I run my fingers along the truck’s passenger side. Although I learned to drive as soon as I was tall enough to reach the brakes, Mama says I can get my driver’s license in a year to make it official. Mama’s not a big stickler for rules. Never has been, to hear her tell it.

I toss a wave to the four Red Bud sisters, trees that Granddaddy McAllister named back when Mama was a girl: Susie, Samantha, Sally and Shirley Red Bud. More than once I’ve wished for sisters, at least one, instead of being an only child. It would make it so much easier to leave Katy’s Ridge if Mama had someone else to fret over.

After walking down the road a few hundred yards, I take the shortcut beside the old dogwood and follow the path Mama took earlier that morning to the cemetery. Because of my earlier dream, the shadows look thick enough to hide a person and the breeze through the trees sounds like breathing. To take my mind off the creepy things, I pretend I’m Judy Garland walking the yellow brick road. Except I’m actually walking a leaf-covered path that I’ve taken a million times. I hum Somewhere Over the Rainbow and take note of the blue skies, wondering if dreams really do come true. 

The Wizard of Oz finally came to the movie theater in Rocky Bluff two summers ago, when I turned twelve. A movie has to be a hundred years old before it makes it to the backwoods of Tennessee. Most Saturday nights the theater runs Gene Autry films and other cowboy westerns that are as dull as old kitchen knives. The women in those pictures work in saloons and are always in need of rescuing. Mama doesn’t rely on men for anything, except maybe Uncle Daniel, who keeps the books at the sawmill.

I think of Crow Sector, who I’ve had a crush on forever. With his black hair and blue eyes, he can ride up on his white horse and rescue me any time he wants. I’ll just throw up my arm like in one of those cowboy westerns and let him pull me up in the saddle.

Meanwhile, it is mid-October here in Katy’s Ridge and the tree leaves race each other to the ground. They crunch underneath my feet releasing the perfume of fall. On the path in front of me I find a perfect red maple leaf, its color bold in the afternoon sun. I put it in the front pocket of my overalls to give to Mama.                  

Gusts of wind race over the mountain and my long hair flies wild behind me. I never think to bring a rubber band, and I stop long enough to tuck my hair into the back of my shirt. A whirlwind of leaves dances up the hillside, gathering others to join in. It’s the most playful time of year here in the mountains. The leaves and the wind have a last bit of fun before the seasons change. A hint of winter floats on the breeze, a ribbon of cold air mixed in with the warm.

At the footbridge I repeat the ritual Mama taught me when I was younger. A rabbit’s foot keychain hangs from a small nail under the top railing of the bridge. I take it off and rub it between my hands before returning it to the nail. Three months ago, on my fourteenth birthday, Mama gave me a necklace that she’d had since she was a girl, a Madonna and Child that my great grandmother gave to her. I kiss the Madonna and ask for her blessing and protection. Then I ask Granddaddy McAllister, and any angels he knows, to help with the crossing, too.

A much older bridge crossed this ravine years ago, but my uncles Daniel and Nathan built a new one the year I was born. It doesn’t look so new anymore, but it’s as sturdy a footbridge as you’ll ever cross. At least that’s what my Uncle Daniel says. This doesn’t change the fact that I get an uneasy feeling every time I cross it.

At the center of the bridge, the whispers start. I tell myself it’s just how the wind sounds when it blows through the trees. But it sounds more like a human voice than the wind. It’s like this part of the mountain has a secret story, and it can’t help saying: Once upon a time…. I want to know the rest of the story….

Lily’s Song

by Susan Gabriel

© 2016 All rights reserved

CHAPTER ONE

Lily McAllister

At the kitchen door, I try not to light too long or Granny will give me something to do. Granny doesn’t believe in lingering. Lingering makes a soul lazy, she’s told me more than once. But it turns out that lingering is what I am especially good at, and my soul doesn’t feel lazy at all.

“Where’s Mama?” I ask, giving her a quick hug.

“Wildflower’s up at the cemetery already,” Granny says. “You know how she gets on the anniversary.”

Granny takes a baking sheet lined with biscuits out of the oven. My mouth waters from the yeasty smell and the sight of the golden tops. Mama says that Granny’s biscuits can make a believer out of anybody. That’s because if you add fresh churned butter and a healthy dollop of homemade strawberry preserves, the first words out of your mouth are Oh, God. Or Oh, Lord, depending on whether you’re leaning that day toward the Father or the Son. 

“Take those scraps out back for Pumpkin and the others,” Granny says.

The biscuits have caused me to linger, and I’ve been caught doing nothing again. The plate of scraps from breakfast sits next to the sink, and I grab them to do as I’m told. The cats have already gathered, as though possessing secret knowledge that I’ve been asked to feed them. Pumpkin sits at the center while the others weave around him like kite tails on a windy day.

Pumpkin is a year older than me. Fifteen is old for a cat here in the Tennessee mountains. Most cats are lucky to make it past year one, given hoot owls consider them biscuits right out of the oven. Not to mention the foxes and bobcats who hunt morning and night for their next meal. Pumpkin is good at surviving and has scars to prove it. Half an ear is missing, as well as the tip of his tail, and one paw points to the right like he’s hitching a ride into town.

The kite tails mew and stand on their back legs as I lower the plate. Yet they wait until Pumpkin takes the biggest piece of scrambled egg before digging in themselves, as if to show respect to their elder. At least half of the cats assembled are orange tabbies like Pumpkin. He’s been a daddy and a granddaddy many times over.

As for me, I’ve had neither. The mountains are my kin, just as much as the people, my Great Aunt Sadie tells me. So any time I linger on a soft piece of earth, I imagine sitting on my Granddaddy McAllister’s lap. I’ve heard stories about him my entire life. About how he knew all the names for things here in the mountains, read books and played banjo better than anybody in Katy’s Ridge. He used to sing, too, and Mama says that’s where I got my singing talent.

Every year on the anniversary of the saw mill accident that took his life, Mama spends the day at the cemetery. Today marks fifteen years since it happened, and I think she still misses him.

The longing I feel for a daddy goes beyond missing and is the dull pain that comes from total absence. Sometimes in the middle of the night I can feel the loss at the center of my chest, like old Pumpkin has fallen asleep there, pressing on my heart. The grief feels as old as he is.

Just this morning I dreamt about a man standing in the shadows of my bedroom watching me. I’ve had this dream several times in my life, and I can never see his face, but I can hear him breathing and feel his presence. When I wake, I am full of yearning. Mama refuses to tell me who my daddy is, no matter how many times I ask. I know she has her reasons for not telling me, but that doesn’t make me not need to know.

“Can I take Mama a biscuit?” I ask, when I come back inside. “She’ll be getting hungry about now.”

“I reckon,” Granny says, tucking a sigh at the end of her words. She and Mama have been tearing down and fixing the same fence their entire lives. Love resides in the center of all the mending. Of this I am certain. But I can’t imagine the two of them living together without ending up looking like Pumpkin.

Granny gets a small basket from the cupboard and wraps up two biscuits with melted butter and jam already on them. They ooze their sweetness onto the worn cloth wrapped around them. Granny puts a ball jar full of water in there, too, in case our mouths get gooey.

Before I leave, Granny kisses me on the forehead and says, “Give a kiss to your mama, too.”

I tell her I will.

Granny is fond of saying I’m just like Mama, and she smiles when she says it like that’s just what she deserves. I’d rather hear how much I am like myself. Or how much I am like my daddy. That would be something different at least. But nobody ever mentions him and me in the same breath. Nobody mentions him at all.

I’ve lived in Granny’s house since the day I was born, so I’ve had time to figure out ways to stay on Granny’s good side, which doesn’t have a whole lot of room. Mama says she wasn’t always irritable. She says she changed after Granddaddy died. Sometimes I wish I had known her before.

The anniversary of Granddaddy McAllister’s death is treated sacred like Christmas or Easter. If it falls on a weekday, I get to stay out of school so I can go to the cemetery with Mama. Then later this afternoon, all my aunts, uncles and cousins will come over for a special supper and I’ll be asked to sing. Usually I sing Down in the Valley or Amazing Grace, the songs my granddaddy loved most. My family is sometimes my only audience, except for the times I sing at the small Baptist church. At this rate, I’ll never reach my dreams.

The first chance I get I’m leaving Katy’s Ridge. Although I’m pretty sure it would break Mama’s heart if I did. In some ways, I’m all she’s got. Yet a voice tells me from somewhere deep inside, I am meant for bigger things. I want to sing in each of the 48 states and then go around the world and sing in every place I’ve ever read about in books. Cathedrals. Palaces. Concert halls. Nobody knows my dream of becoming a world renowned singer. It is a secret I keep even from Mama.

After leaving the house, I take off down the path that leads to the road. It is 1956 and most of the roads in Katy’s Ridge are now paved and a few folks even have paved driveways, but not us. Mama said we didn’t have indoor plumbing until after I was born, so I won’t be holding my breath for a paved driveway. Unlike me, Granny has never made a friend of change and is fine with her world staying small.

Katy’s Ridge is about as small as the world can get. If it were a puppy or a kitten it would be the runt of the litter and in danger of not surviving. Most kids I know have no intention of staying in this area after they graduate high school, and many don’t even keep it a secret. 

Mama’s old Ford truck that she drives to work every day sits at the bottom of the hill, but on the anniversary she walks to the cemetery. I run my fingers along the truck’s passenger side. Although I learned to drive as soon as I was tall enough to reach the brakes, Mama says I can get my driver’s license in a year to make it official. Mama’s not a big stickler for rules. Never has been, to hear her tell it.

I toss a wave to the four Red Bud sisters, trees that Granddaddy McAllister named back when Mama was a girl: Susie, Samantha, Sally and Shirley Red Bud. More than once I’ve wished for sisters, at least one, instead of being an only child. It would make it so much easier to leave Katy’s Ridge if Mama had someone else to fret over.

After walking down the road a few hundred yards, I take the shortcut beside the old dogwood and follow the path Mama took earlier that morning to the cemetery. Because of my earlier dream, the shadows look thick enough to hide a person and the breeze through the trees sounds like breathing. To take my mind off the creepy things, I pretend I’m Judy Garland walking the yellow brick road. Except I’m actually walking a leaf-covered path that I’ve taken a million times. I hum Somewhere Over the Rainbow and take note of the blue skies, wondering if dreams really do come true. 

The Wizard of Oz finally came to the movie theater in Rocky Bluff two summers ago, when I turned twelve. A movie has to be a hundred years old before it makes it to the backwoods of Tennessee. Most Saturday nights the theater runs Gene Autry films and other cowboy westerns that are as dull as old kitchen knives. The women in those pictures work in saloons and are always in need of rescuing. Mama doesn’t rely on men for anything, except maybe Uncle Daniel, who keeps the books at the sawmill.

I think of Crow Sector, who I’ve had a crush on forever. With his black hair and blue eyes, he can ride up on his white horse and rescue me any time he wants. I’ll just throw up my arm like in one of those cowboy westerns and let him pull me up in the saddle.

Meanwhile, it is mid-October here in Katy’s Ridge and the tree leaves race each other to the ground. They crunch underneath my feet releasing the perfume of fall. On the path in front of me I find a perfect red maple leaf, its color bold in the afternoon sun. I put it in the front pocket of my overalls to give to Mama.                  

Gusts of wind race over the mountain and my long hair flies wild behind me. I never think to bring a rubber band, and I stop long enough to tuck my hair into the back of my shirt. A whirlwind of leaves dances up the hillside, gathering others to join in. It’s the most playful time of year here in the mountains. The leaves and the wind have a last bit of fun before the seasons change. A hint of winter floats on the breeze, a ribbon of cold air mixed in with the warm.

At the footbridge I repeat the ritual Mama taught me when I was younger. A rabbit’s foot keychain hangs from a small nail under the top railing of the bridge. I take it off and rub it between my hands before returning it to the nail. Three months ago, on my fourteenth birthday, Mama gave me a necklace that she’d had since she was a girl, a Madonna and Child that my great grandmother gave to her. I kiss the Madonna and ask for her blessing and protection. Then I ask Granddaddy McAllister, and any angels he knows, to help with the crossing, too.

A much older bridge crossed this ravine years ago, but my uncles Daniel and Nathan built a new one the year I was born. It doesn’t look so new anymore, but it’s as sturdy a footbridge as you’ll ever cross. At least that’s what my Uncle Daniel says. This doesn’t change the fact that I get an uneasy feeling every time I cross it.

At the center of the bridge, the whispers start. I tell myself it’s just how the wind sounds when it blows through the trees. But it sounds more like a human voice than the wind. It’s like this part of the mountain has a secret story, and it can’t help saying: Once upon a time…. I want to know the rest of the story….

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