kathy lynn harris
A blue straggler is a star that has an anomalous blue color and appears to be disconnected from those stars that surround it.
But this is not a story about astronomy.
Bailey Miller is “disconnected” from the cluster of her rural south Texas family. She has never quite fit in and now in her early 30s, she finds herself struggling with inner turmoil and a series of bad choices in her life.
Bailey’s drinking too much (even for a member of her family), has a penchant to eat spoonfuls of Cool Whip, works in a job that bores her beyond description and can’t keep a relationship longer than it takes for milk to expire in her fridge.
Even with the help of her two outspoken friends, Texas gal Idamarie and her quirky college pal Rudy, she’s having a hard time.
So she packs up her Honda and heads out of Texas in search of herself and answers to secrets from her great-grandmother’s past. The novel takes readers on a journey from San Antonio, Texas, to a small mountain town in Colorado and back again, as Bailey uncovers not only the secrets of her great-grandmother’s life, but also some painful secrets of her own. All while finding love along the way.
If you have ever wondered why you got stuck with the family you did, what you are doing with your job and your life, or had a sudden desire to run off to the mountains, sit back and join Bailey for this laugh-out-loud, yet poignant ride.
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About the Author, Kathy Lynn Harris:
Kathy grew up in rural South Texas — and comes from people who work hard, love the land and know how to have a good time on a Saturday night. As a writer, Kathy was lucky to have been surrounded by exceptional characters throughout her life, many of whom have lived their lives exactly the way they wanted. The rest of the world could take `em or leave `em! Inspiring, to say the least.
In 2001, Kathy made the move from Texas to the Colorado Rockies to focus on her writing and soak up All Things Mountain. She lives in an authentic log cabin near the southernmost glacier in North America, at 10,500 feet above sea level, with her husband and son, plus two fairly untrainable golden retriever mixes. It is there that she writes.
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Excerpt from Blue Straggler:
On my kitchen wall hangs a framed photograph of my brother and me astride a black mechanical bull at Gilley’s near Houston. I’m twelve and wearing pigtails; Mike’s just turned eight. Our lips are stained deep purple from sno-cones my father bought roadside on Interstate 10. Mike’s grinning for the camera, of course, and holding an empty beer bottle he picked up like a souvenir. I’m trying my best to follow my mother’s orders—no blinking, pretend we like each other, sit up straight on Mr. Bull. But despite my extra-wide-open eyes and fixed smile, my right hand rests on my hip, impatient. The other’s discreetly tugging at the edge of my yellow terrycloth shorts.
For many of my adult years, I have believed several things are evident from this picture. Apparently, awareness of sufficient thigh coverage begins at an early age in my family, as does the penchant to have at least one beer bottle in our hands at all times. It also seems my parents considered a famous redneck bar a viable summer vacation option, and the mechanical bull a pleasant alternative to Six Flags. All of which has led me to understand my family might be a few steps to the left of normal. Or, as my wise friend Idamarie puts it, several cups of sugar short of a pitcher of iced tea.
These days, though, I often speculate that a more perceptive person than me might’ve long ago examined the photo with greater care, looking beyond the bull, so to speak, and studying the image as a kind of strange South Texas anthropology artifact. Cracking it open like a Hill Country pecan and picking apart its meaning. Separating the nut from the broken bits of shell.
And perhaps that same individual, after the thorough analysis, might’ve even had the foresight to look me right in the eye and say, “Bailey, honey—that’s how perceptive people talk in Texas—you’re gonna wake up one day, sometime after your 30th birthday, still in possession of at least two items of unfashionable terrycloth clothing and a Gilley’s keychain, and wonder just who you are, how you got here, and where the hell you’re headed.”
But I swear on the Alamo, and that’s fairly sacred here, it’s all been a huge surprise to me.
The truth is, my present storm of high-quality inner turmoil essentially snuck up on me one day a few months ago, for reasons I’ve yet to determine. (I did, however, blame a rather greasy order of jalapeno-chili-cheese fries for a short period of time.)
Ever since then I’ve been knee-deep in a state of mind I like to compare on a grander scale to what my grandmother must feel as she’s waiting for her bingo numbers to be called. Entire hours of monotony, crossbred with anxiety. And not in a good way.
Idamarie tells me the bingo analogy is wearing about as thin as her dead husband’s handkerchiefs she still uses for dusting. I no longer question her on issues such as this, mostly because she’s got a temper and 40 years on me.
So, in lieu of bingo references, I recently decided to jump head-first into psychotherapy and grant my condition a separate identity all its own. Thereby distancing it from my true self. This concept was suggested by my therapist, who I should also mention fell asleep during one of my appointments and who believes his poodle is the reincarnation of Liberace.
I’ve met the poodle, by the way. He does have a definite flamboyance to him.
Regardless of how unconventional it may sound, I gave the identity idea some real thought. Not entirely sober thought, I’ll admit, but that’s not important here.
Short for Recurring, Obstinate Dread and Anguish.
My mother and various other people can accuse me of exaggeration all they want. It feels right. Plus, I now enjoy making statements like, “Sorry, RODA’s feeling testy today.” Or, “RODA fancies the lights off, please.” My other good friend Rudy hums the theme song to Mary Tyler Moore when I mention her. Not many people our age know that song.
Unfortunately, RODA’s with me again this morning as I begin my day much like I have every other for some time now—sitting at my favorite table in Idamarie’s downtown San Antonio café and searching for relief, or deep personal insight, or a smidgen of both. Yesterday I read Self-Hypnosis for Dummies. Today I’m creating a hand-drawn replica of the Gilley’s photo on a paper placemat. I choose to take a few liberties, though, such as adding stylish cowgirl boots to my attire and portraying my brother’s head as large and alien-like. Some things deserve a revisionist perspective.
Idamarie squeezes past me with two plates of eggs, sausage and gravy for a nearby table, and the smell of fresh sage and real butter fills the small dining area. I take a sip from my second cup of coffee and decide to give up on my artwork. A mechanical bull is not an easy thing to illustrate with stick figures.
I begin to hunt for the horoscope section of the Express-News while chewing the chipped bronze polish off my pointer finger. My horoscope, once I find it, isn’t the least bit encouraging. It appears I’ll need to use my feminine wiles to get through the day, and I’m afraid my wiles have been on strike for some time. I should’ve known they’d eventually unionize to demand more favorable conditions. I grab a compact mirror from the bottom of my purse and subsequently grimace at my much-too-pale face and straight hair, which I just realize is similar in color to wheat toast. I’m not talking the dark, multi-grain kind either. Bargain wheat bread.
I stick out my tongue to inspect it, fully realizing that may not be a routine thing to do over breakfast. But a magazine article I read last week claims you can tell if your chi is out of alignment with one glance at your tongue. From what I’m seeing, at least two of my chakras could be clogged. I’m seriously in need of Chakra Drano.
“For the last time, put that mirror—and your tongue—away. You’re scaring my customers,” Idamarie says, adjusting her bifocals and tugging on the fabric of her gold silk blouse. She moves to straighten the sign in the café’s front window, the one that reads “Free Orange Juice.” She’ll serve at least twenty-five glasses of the stuff every day to some of the city’s homeless, thinking she’s solely responsible for San Antonio’s underground immune system.
She’s been doing this for as long as I’ve known her, since Rudy and I began meeting here our first year out of college. We were both new to the working world back then and new to living in the city. Idamarie, obviously not using her common sense at the time, took us in. Or at least tolerated us. And still does.
“Well,” she says, making it sound like more than one syllable, “give it to me straight. Am I gonna live or die today?” She wipes off the table next to me then peers over my shoulder at the open horoscope section.
I take a bite of my warm cinnamon roll and scan for Aries. “I think you’ll survive, but you should avoid new business ventures.”
“Considering the way this one’s going, that’s pretty good advice.”
I smile; Idamarie always complains about business. But the proof is in the number of people who frequent her black Formica and chrome tables, the ones who know the menu by heart. Some afternoons the sounds from the kitchen—pots clanging and dishes knocking against each other—make the whole place seem nervous. That’s why I prefer mornings here, when I can settle in and not feel as though I’m using some of her much-needed space.
Idamarie pulls up a chair and places a glass coffee pot on my table so I can help myself. Her scent today is sweet cornbread and musky Revlon perfume, and like the fourth-generation Texas woman she is, her white hair is styled high on her head. Everyone always comments she looks years younger than her real age. Her secret, she says, is a steady application of superior makeup at all times and a nip of peach schnapps on Sundays.
I actually joined her one Sunday for the schnapps treatment. Two hours later we ended up dancing in the living room with our blouses tied up around our boobs—not a first-rate look, incidentally, no matter what your age—and singing Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man.” We meant every word, too. Only neither of us has anything resembling a man in our lives, unless you count Rudy. And I think we both would classify Rudy as more like an amusing but necessary accessory.
Idamarie breaks off a piece of my sweet roll, then winks at a customer who’s waving goodbye. I shake my head and laugh a little, out of pure admiration. “I’d give my left arm and three toes if I could flirt like that. It’s completely and utterly natural for you.”
“I wouldn’t call it natural, honey. I’d call it strategic.” She pulls her dairy order list from her front jeans pocket and adds an item to it with a ballpoint pen. “And don’t forget I’ve got some day-old, half-and-half in the back for that varmint of yours.”
The varmint she’s referring to is my cat, Weasel. It should be noted she named him without my consent—although she claims it was merely an observation and not a title. She’s also the one who made me take him home when he showed up at the café three years ago.
“Now, Idamarie,” I mock her robust accent, which is far worse than mine. “You know as well as I do that gifts of dairy aren’t going to help my situation with Weasel.” I drop the accent because I can tell she’s not all that impressed. “Besides, I live in constant fear that not only will he pounce on my head when I’m sleeping but that he’s secretly planning to have me committed.”
“I don’t think the cat’s all that smart, honey.” She clicks off her pen and watches me pile empty sugar packets, one on top of the other like a flimsy deck of cards. “And I wish you’d stop playing you’re your food.”
I feel the need to clarify the difference between food packaging versus actual food, but she interrupts me.
“Speaking of what the cat drug in …” She nods to the café door and gets up to hold it open for Rudy. His hands are full of disassembled newspaper pages, library books, science journals, a day planner and his blue coffee thermos.
“ `Ello, me ladies,” he says, in a moderately awful British-Renaissance dialect. His rectangular, Buddy-Holly framed glasses are crooked, and he’s wearing his lucky t-shirt, the one with Curious George on the front.
“Morning, Rudolph,” Idamarie says. “You need a separate table for all that crap, or you wanna sit here with the Princess of Darkness?”
“I’ll take royalty, I believe. Even if it is somewhat depressed and misguided royalty.” He plunks down his pile, and my coffee sloshes right out of its cup. “Did you know, dearest friends, that when an adult whale dives, his heart can slow down to about three beats per minute?” he asks.
“Fascinating, I’m sure,” Idamarie says, handing him a silverware set before seating another customer. We both try to ignore Rudy’s factoids as much as possible. He works as a freelance writer and researcher for science magazines and through fact-checking often discovers things most people don’t know. Of course, most people don’t care either.
As he gets settled I observe him, organizing his books and refolding his newspaper the way my father does. Hard folds, front page on top. Both would deny any similarity, hands-down.
I still remember the first time my dad met Rudy, in all his strangeness. I’d brought him home for Thanksgiving; his parents had decided on a last-minute cruise to the Bahamas. After Mom served the pumpkin pie, Dad pulled me aside and said, “That boy seems squirrelly to me.” Not intended as flattery by any means.
Rudy’s not squirrelly. He is, however, thin and tall, with ears nearly pointed, under orange-red hair. He also consistently wears loose cargo pants, and some days he uses every pocket. He’s looked exactly this same way since I met him in a freshman honors history course at Texas A&M. I like to say he attached himself to me that semester and never let go. He strongly asserts it was the other way around. Rudy would not be Rudy if he isn’t strongly asserting something.
Idamarie argued with me for months after meeting him that he was gay. I explained that indeed Rudy was odd, and perhaps even more incompetent than me when it comes to dating. But I’ve witnessed far too many genuine displays of lust for scantily-clad women in our years of friendship. She didn’t believe me until she asked him herself, point blank over an order of her famous garlic-cheese mashed potatoes. He asked for roast beef, a salad and dessert before answering. The man is not dumb. And not gay either.
He props his elbows on my table, then scrutinizes my Gilley’s drawing, turning it upside down and back. “Good God, Bailey. This could be the very worst depiction of an automated, bucking bovine I’ve ever seen.”
I yank the paper back from him and look at it again. “If you must know, I was hoping to recreate a time from my childhood that might explain …”
He lets out a sigh. “Sweet, Sweet Bay Leaf. I’m afraid there is no one day, one event.” He pours coffee from the pot Idamarie left behind into his thermos. “So I take it you and RODA aren’t any better this morning?” he asks.
I pick the remaining flakes of nail polish off my bottom lip as I talk, so I sound like I have a speech impediment. “Lasth night I paced tho much I made twracks in my carpet.”
He raises one eyebrow. This is a facial effect he rehearses. I know this because I’ve seen him practice in my car’s passenger-side vanity mirror on road trips.
Reaching over, he removes a final flake of polish from my chin. “So you need new floor coverings and possibly some speech rehabilitation. We’ve known both for some time.” He adds cream to his thermos. “I had sincerely hoped you were making some progress,” he says. “Perhaps we should review.”
I’d rather not.
“Have you, or have you not, addressed your addiction to Cool Whip, eaten with large cooking utensils, right from the container?”
“I beg your pardon. I use a soup spoon.”
“Still enjoying bottles of wine during Letterman?”
“Glasses. Glasses of wine during Letterman.” I say. “And I keep telling you, it really helps the opening monologue.”
Blue Straggler Release Day Party featured through CLNB Blog Tours.
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