Savoring Silverhill

"Remind me why you took this gig."

"Spot, would you shut up?"

"Starving bohemian musicians aren't supposed to do gigs like this. We don't belong here."

"Starving being the operative word. More importantly, not starving. And if we don't belong here, why you been so hell-bent on getting in good with them?"

"It's for Sarah and Morris...and by the way, darn you and those stupid peglegs of yours. Anyway, someday I'm gonna get you to take a day off. Bongos aren't so important, are they?"

"Thank you for that one. You really boost my self-confidence, spouting off like that," Race spat. "Anyway, my wounded pride aside, I'm the leader of this band, Spot. I can't take a day off."

Spot leaned back in his thickly cushioned burgundy chair and barely resisted the urge to flick a peanut at the bald spot on the head of the man sitting in front of him. Race, seeing the familiar glint in his boyfriend's eyes, grabbed the bag and shoved it into the pocket that laid alongside his right hipbone, glaring. Spot bared his teeth at him wickedly, but before he could say anything, Race hissed, "You're not supposed to eat during sermon anyway, you pig!"

"Well what the hell am I supposed to do then?"

"Listen to the sermon, maybe?" Race said, a little too loudly. The balding man and his wife, who was wearing an enormous, lacy pastel pink hat, turned around and made sour "shh!" faces at them.

Spot rolled his eyes in exasperation once they turned around, with half a mind to cause a real scene, should it allay his boredom.

The pastor was certainly on a roll, and for no apparent reason that Spot could see. He was basically giving a history lesson, not a speech concerning the proper methods for avoiding hellfire and brimstone in one's near future (which he wasn't too keen on hearing either).

"French writer Alexis de Tocqueville, after visiting America in 1831, said, 'I sought for the greatness of the United States in her commodious harbors, her ample rivers, her fertile fields, and boundless forests--and it was not there. I sought for it in her rich mines, her vast world commerce, her public school system, and in her institutions of higher learning--and it was not there. I looked for it in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution--and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power.'"

Amen! said the congregation.

Spot muttered, "If the church is the only thing making America great, no wonder the Ruskies are winning."

Race gave him a very dark glare and mouthed something about losing the gig and Aunt Sarah throwing people out and extra mouths to feed.

"Finally, friends, on this day of great rejoicing both for our blessed country and our great lord, it cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians, not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ!"

"I fail to see how that has anything to do with what he was just talking about," Spot groused into Race's ear. Racetrack gave him a hard shove with his elbow.

The audience clapped loudly, murmuring their agreement, as Pastor Denton stepped away from the podium, microphone gripped firmly in his hand.

It was August 10, 1958. In all honesty, for all his grousing, not even Spot could complain that Reverend Denton's overly long on his sermon afforded them a chance to savor what they could of the cool indoors before the annual cook-off was to begin. It was ninety-five degrees outside with sixty seven percent humidity. (At least it wasn't as hot as it had been on the fourth of July, though...now that was hot. Even Aunt Sarah had walked around in a bikini top on that day...Spot hadn't known that Sarah even owned the scandalous piece of clothing, if it could even be classified as such.) After loading up the band's supplies and filing out of the chapel Spot and Race helped set up the slow cookers and cracked open cans of sterno, earning themselves brownie points with the ladies of the South Silverhill Baptist Church. This was done mainly on Spot's behalf, to make up for the fact that Race had tucked his hair up into a side-cocked purple beret and wore his black pants and sleeveless turtleneck too tight for pleasant society's liking.

("Aren't you gonna be too hot?" Spot had asked as he watched Race dress that morning in the bedroom they shared. Race had grinned, blowing smoke rings in Spot's face. "I'm always too hot, man. Always." That, of course, had been the cue for Spot to kiss him, and he had done so with feverish enthusiasm.)

Mosquitoes were traveling in heavy hanging packs; even for them, the bloodthirsty suckers, it was too hot. Racetrack was smoking tea rolled with mint, claiming they were easier on his mouth in the oppressive heat, and between that and the church cook's sorely underappreciated chocolate mousse, he tasted of mint juleps and chaw. (He wasn't much of a tobacco chewer, but it sure did things to him when he was licking the taste of it off the syrupy-slick interior of Racetrack's mouth.) Spot still marveled at how impossibly cool his childhood sweetheart had become during those months they'd been separated; one year previously to the day, Spot's foster family was transplanted to Alabama from their beloved Brooklyn. Being as this was Racetrack Higgins Spot was dealing with, Race had tracked him down, resurfacing in Silverhill with a set of bongos in tow and a slew of colored poetry spewing from his mouth, seemingly hell-bent on offending Spot's neo-separatist community. But much to Spot's amazement, rather than shunning the kid with his newly cultivated beat culture and socially liberal policies, Silverhill seemed amused by him, and he became a kind of mascot for much of the community, that "strange transplant from New York." Most of the folks had even gotten on moderately well with Boots, a boy he'd dug up from the black part of town, who played sax for their band (The Daiquiris), as long as he kept to his side of the drinking fountains. (Race and Spot made a point of sitting with him in his section of the bus whenever they were traveling to gigs out-of-town; it pissed the hell out of some people, but they were not the members of the audiences the boys played for, and so it didn't matter what they thought either way.)

Of course, nobody in town knew Race's biggest secret, or so they tried to convince themselves. Nobody knew Racetrack had followed Spot Conlon to Silverhill, of all places, because he was going mad with loneliness back home; that he could no longer stand sharing his bed with boys and girls who did not have Spot's beautiful sea green eyes, knobby knees, and ash-cream skin.

("Spotty, I was so blue 'round that place without ya, I was losing my head," Race had said, a little desperate, when he'd shown up in the middle of a hellish thunderstorm in early June. It was lucky for the both of them Aunt Sarah and Uncle Morris were at bible study, so they could have appropriate alone time to deal with the situation properly.)

Neither of the guys were interested in the cook-off itself; both were boycotting cow (Race because of Spot, and Spot because he had developed such severe hay fever the previous fall that he insisted even beef made his stomach loop the loop) and the main entrees being offered were all variants on a "beef and cream-of-mushroom-soup something-or-other" theme. How so many sweet old ladies had managed to come up with original beef recipes involving cream of mushroom soup was beyond either of their imaginations, and both were not lacking in that department. So, content at spending the rest of the cook-off well hidden in the shadows behind the church house's back entrance, they situated themselves upon the grass with their tiny bowl of homemade Jell-O and Cool-Whip chocolate mousse fully prepared to bask in the febrile, sticky sweetness of each other's company.

However, as was often the case with the pair, it was simply not to be.

"There you two are!" came Aunt Sarah's shriek as she rounded the corner, causing Spot to drop the spoon he'd been caressing Race's lips with onto the grass in panic. "Why, we've been looking all over for you!"

"What?" Spot asked, unable to keep sheer animosity from peppering his voice. "Why?"

"Well, you're our judges this year, aren't you?" she said with a laugh, bosoms bouncing.

Both Spot and Race blanched, blinking at her stupidly.

"Gee, Auntie Sarah," Race replied, having acquired the nickname for his own use while they were still kids in Brooklyn, "you know we don't eat stuff like that."

"Don't tell me that's another funny habit you picked up from those beat kids back home," Sarah said with a roll of her warm brown eyes, causing Spot to do the same with his blues.

"Aunt Sarah, I don't eat that stuff either, and I haven't for a year now. You know that," he said with a long-suffering sigh, flopping back into the grass with fingers laced behind his head. "Get Uncle Morris to do it...or better yet, Sykes. He's always up for food."

"He'll eat anything, he's no judge," Sarah insisted. "And you're afraid of cows, is all! Really, all that grass gets burnt away when the meat is cooked. And look, you're laying in it now, and you're still alive and well, aren't you?"

Racetrack put on his "charming-the-women" smile and stood, brushing his thin legs off. "Now come on, Aunt Sarah." He gently touched one of her soft, round arms. "We'll come watch the cook-off, if it'll make you happy, but we ain't touching a drop of that stuff."

"Now hold on just a minute, you two," Aunt Sarah said, pulling away from him. "You better not be thinking you're too good for downhome cooking."

Oh, shit, Spot thought, picking up "that tone" in his adoptive aunt's voice. "Sarah, that ain't it at all, 'kay? Anyway, why's this so important, huh?"

"You're always looking for ways to become an accepted member of this community," Sarah said, seriously. "This is a grand opportunity. The elders elected you to judge this contest."

"Aunt Sarah, you double crosser. You volunteered us for this. If you were a guy, I'd deck you."

Sarah ignored him. "And you, Anthony...you're always looking for good publicity for the band, aren't you?" Race smiled, old poker face from youthful days gone by affixing itself for his protection. "This is an awfully good chance to make yourselves—the both of you—look real good."

'Real good,' thought Spot disgustedly at the affectation. I don't want to look 'real good.' I don't care about this community; this isn't MY community.

"The band already does Sunday services. The audience already knows us," Spot snarled, lip curling.

"Yes, and the rest of the time you play in bars." Sarah sighed. "Not that we discuss that in bible study or anything, but we all know it; this isn't the city after all."

"You know, Mrs. Delancey, you got a point there," Race said, pulling out his little smoke pouch to roll himself another of his funny mint cigarettes. He shot a look at Spot that clearly said "Trust me." "It would be good publicity for us, Spot."

"Oh, swell!" Sarah said, clapping her hands together. "I knew you'd see it my way."

"And if we didn't?" Spot asked, jets flaring before he could help himself.

"I'd've taken the garage away from the band, and you'd be back to practicing in the Goorjian's barn," she said with a shrug before leading them off.

"She's absolutely wicked," Spot muttered as he watched her round the corner.

Race smirked. "Obviously. Only the wicked could put up with the likes of you, man."

"What does that make you, I wonder?"

"Who says I put up with you? Maybe I'm the only one in the world who can bend you to my will."

Spot scowled. "You don't bend me to nothing, Higgins, you know it."

"Except judging cook-offs." And with that he planted another chocolatey kiss on the side of Spot's mouth before they walked the funeral march to the judge's table.

~~~

Crockpot number three hundred and fifty-seven had potatoes in it—thick, slimy chunks of lukewarm, unseasoned potato. Spot was already green around the gills by the time they'd gotten to it, and from the way his stomach had rounded beneath the white of his tee-shirt, Race could see why. Spot was not a heavy eater to begin with, and now they were force-feeding him food he couldn't stand on top of it. Sweat was rolling down everybody's foreheads at that point, but Spot appeared to be melting.

"Hey Spot, you gonna throw chunks all over the place?" Race whispered in his ear when Grandma Pittney dished out the potato stuff.

Spot gave him an utterly miserable look. "I need to shag ass, man," he whispered, trying to ignore the little cup of food in front of him.

"And our last entry is from Mrs. Ballatt of Overton Street!" And here the crowd clapped politely. Race gave Spot a grin over the his plate.

"Down the hatch, buddy," he said, downing it in a single bite.

Spot, swallowing harder than he thought possible without doing serious damage to the tubes in his throat, managed to get down a bite of the stuff before tears began to form in his eyes from the pain in his stomach. The Bomb had nothing on the explosion he was going to make if he tried to fit anything else in his gut. The crowd burst into loud applause: the contest was over at last!

"Now, boys, we'll give you fifteen minutes to tally up your marks and give us the top three," said Reverend Denton, smiling kindly upon them. Spot couldn't bring himself to return the expression. Besides the fact that he was about to be violently ill, he hadn't kept any tallies; he figured Racetrack had, but Race was shooting him the same slightly worried look. (Race rarely showed genuine emotion anywhere beyond his eyes, so Spot had to become literate in the language of Racetrack's non-expressions.)

The crowd was watching them expectantly. Spot, without standing up, suggested, "Why don't you all take a break for a moment? Go admire the Goorjian's brand new station wagon. We just, you know, we just need some privacy to discuss our decision. You know...ensure fair judging and all that."

The crowd murmured its assent and made for the parking lot, chattering as they went, still brimming with anticipation.

"You pay attention to that slop at all?" Spot whispered in Race's ear as they headed off.

"I liked the thing with the tater tots," Race replied. "And somebody had something with pasta in it...the thing in that white casserole over there."

"Oh yeah," Spot said, still too green to have tasted anything worth awarding. "Who brought the chili?"

"The chili!" Race nodded emphatically. "I say we give the tater tots first place, chili second, pasta third."

"Hell no," Spot spat. "I hated the tater tots."

"What?" Race's brow knitted. "You're nuts. The tots was the best out of all of 'em."

"Give first to the pasta. It was the best."

"No fucking way."

"Why not?"

"The shit had Spam in it!"

"I like Spam."

"Spam is sick, you douche bag."

"The only reason you don't like it's 'cuz everybody else in the world does. You're a regular rebel without a cause."

"I got a cause, and it sits wrapped in a membrane of salty Jell-O substance, pink and wiggly and counting down the seconds 'til it can strike."

"Racetrack, spam is practically an American institution."

"Another mark against this rotten country of ours."

"Better not let the good folks of this here town catch wind of that."

"Well then, better mark me a Communist and send me back to the old country, 'cuz Spam is shit and that's that."

"We already marked you a Communist," Spot replied coolly. "You wear girl's pants."

"I do not!" Race snarked, slapping him upside the head. "These were designed by Mush!"

"The hell's Mush?"

"Only one of the best designers on Broadway!"

"Mush sounds like a girl's name."

"He is no girl."

"He sounds like a queer, then."

Race let out a bark of laughter. "You're a queer, you...queer!"

Spot considered this for a moment, before giving Race a smug, lecherous smile. "Oh yeah. Guess I am." Glancing around to make sure nobody was watching, he snaked a hand underneath the table and squeezed his boyfriend's thigh. "And I'm a damn good one too, aren't I?"

"The sheer blasphemy. You two are in public, at a church function," came a voice behind them, and both boys' heads twisted around in a panic, flying apart from each other.

Standing before them, cackling, were Boots and Specs, two of the members of the band, guitar and sax, respectively, strapped to their backs.

Spot was practically hyperventilating, hands clutching his swollen stomach. "You stupid sons of—" He couldn't finish that thought, though, because a moment later, he was violently sick all over the grass.

"You shouldn't 'a done that," Race said disapprovingly, shaking his head in Spot's direction.

Boots stepped away, now looking ill himself, before he said dully, "Boy...the food was that good, huh?"

"Scram, you two," Race said, waving them away.

"Oh mah goodness!" cried someone standing a few yards off. "Sean's just gotten sick!"

"Oh for the love of God," Spot muttered, face gone red. "Uggh."

"Here," Race said, pulling out his packet of mint leaves and pressing them into his boy's hand. "Chew it. Chew all of it."

The congregation had once again piled around the table, asking about a thousand questions a minute about Spot's sudden loss of health. Spot, who only liked to be the center of attention when it meant he was effectively imposing his will, regarded them all like a squirrel caught in the middle of forty-fifth street traffic. The ladies were fussing over him, demanding to know whether he was alright and if not what they could do for him; most of the men seemed more interested in the vomit itself, trying not to look too interested in it, but trying to snatch glimpses anyway. The little ones, however, were unabashedly picking apart its contents, visually tagging each identifiable piece of food so that they could discern a culprit.

"Clear off, give the guy some room," Uncle Morris said, breaking to the front of the crowd. "And for Christ's sake, Matthew, don't touch it! What got you sick, kid?"

"He just ate too much," Race said, fanning him with the morning's program, unable to keep the goofy grin off his too-cool face. Sarah was trying to push forward behind Morris, but nobody was letting her through. "New York stomach's ain't used to down-home suppers, you know."

"You ain't gotten sick," a little kid said, long piece of straw protruding from his lip.

"He doesn't eat like a New Yorker," Specs supplied as he and Boots fled the scene, "he eats like a pig."

Race cocked an eyebrow at that, but refrained from commenting.

"So who's did you in, Conlon?" asked Sykes, smiling at him kindly.

"Wasn't mine!" declared a woman near the back.

"What was yours, Jeannie?"

"The Tot Casserole! What'd you make, Cornelius?"

"The pasta salad."

"The one with Spam in it?"

"'course, Spam is an American institution!"

Jeannie looked smug. "That's what did him in, I bet."

"Mama, there's lots 'a tots in there!" one of the little boys crouching down beside Spot's mess gleefully declared.

"IVAN PETER DUDYNSKY! You get away from there now!"

Spot rolled his eyes as Race chuckled softly beside him.

"Let's have our winner named!" shouted someone else, a grumpy looking old lady in a gigantic purple hat.

Race shot a look at Spot, who shrugged in return, and spat his spent leaves into a napkin. They hadn't exactly decided on who the winner was, what with being so rudely interrupted by their fellow bandmates, and Race had been slightly put off on his tot vote by the fact that Ivan Peter Dudynsky was absolutely correct in his assessment of Spot's...projection.

"Give the poor boys a break—why, Sean looks like he's got a touch of the heat stroke," said Miriam Hayes, a girl clad in clam diggers and a paisley top tied up at the ribcage. She batted her big brown eyes at them. "I say we go let them lie down for a while. I'll go get the cold compresses!"

Spot smirked as much at the way the crowd reacted to that statement as the blatant pleading in the girl's all-too-angelic voice.

"Let Conlon lie down, then; Higgins is perfectly swell, ain't yah, Higgins?" called Borris Mayweather, the tall, strapping step-son of the governer.

"Here, here!" shouted several other men.

"But, Spot—"

"I'm fine," Spot insisted, face still red. "Race, name the winners already."

"Done and done," Race said, pretending as though he'd actually written something on the napkins provided as score cards. He stood (which didn't do much to aide his visibility, due to his underwhelming vertical measurements) and cleared his throat.

"After much careful deliberation and..." he gave a furtive glance in Spot's direction, "consideration, we have selected the following dishes as this year's winners. In third place, Peggie Sue's Hot Beef Chili!"

Peggie Sue, who actually turned out to be the owner of the neighboring barn, strolled up to the table, hands at the small of her back, wearing an expectant smile. Race and Spot blinked stupidly at her for a few moments before she said, in a slightly hysterical voice, "Well ain't ya gonna give me a ribbon?"

"Uh...Spot? The ribbons?" Race gave him a sharp kick under the table, and Spot, in turn, shot an angry look at Uncle Morris.

"Um—the ribbons?" Morris replied, looking dumber than usual.

Sarah had finally fought her way forward at that point and blew an errant strand of hair out of her face. "You were supposed to get them from the car this morning," she snapped.

The crowd laughed as Morris said, sheepish, "Oh, right. I'll just...uh...go get them."

Peggie Sue nodded, obviously still a little confused, as Morris raced off in the direction of the car. Race and Spot rolled eyes at each other.

"In second place, um...this...nifty brown crockpot here with the real nice pasta...in it!" Race called, making it appear that he couldn't read his own writing. That nicely covered up the fact that the boys had no clue who'd made it from the git-go.

"The one with Spam?!!"

Race managed not to grimace. "Yeah, that's the one."

A very hefty, short man waddled up to the stage and said, in a very, very thick accent, "When ah were jus' a bo-eh, mah mama tol' me, 'Carnelius Arch-eebahld, you gonna go out there, and you gonna do a-maaaay-zin stuff with that there macaroni and cheese some day,' and I says, 'Mama, I ain't never in all my days as head chef of St. Patwork's Café and Deleecatessin on third and Blahssum-"

"Alright!" Race said, stepping in front of the man, much to the relief of the congregation, "and in first place, the winner of nineteen-fifty-eight's amazingly eventful Annual Silverhill Baptist Summer Cook-Off is..." he raised his hands and the napkins high in the air and called out, "Miss Constance Washington of the Silverhill Baptist Kitchens with her excellent Jell-O and Cool Whip Chocolate Mousse!"

The crowd literally seemed to cave in on itself with the announcement. Even Spot was caught offguard.

"Well?" Race demanded, eyes sweeping over the stunned congregation. "Where's our winner?"

"In the kitchen, where she ought to be," said a sunburned man near the back, who was promptly shushed by his daughter—the scantily clad Miriam.

"But Anthony—she ain't even entered in the contest," said Peggie Sue.

"My tots didn't win anything?" Jeannie Dudynsky asked, stricken. She looked like she was about to pull a Spot.

"He done threw up a whole potato gem, Mama!" little Ivan called merrily. "Didn't he, Matthew?"

"Sure did!"

"Sorry Mama, I ain't voting for you neither!"

"IVAN DUDYNSKY!"

The entire crowd laughed at that, even as Spot called out, "Mrs. Dudynsky, it tasted fine; it's just a health hazard, that's all."

"We can't have nobody change the rules of our contest, it ain't never been done," bellowed out Oscar Delancey from where he stood next to Sarah. "No damn Yankee upstart's gonna change that."

Sarah, Spot, Racetrack, and Morris, who'd just come back from retrieving the ribbons, froze in their tracks, each staring, wide-eyed, at Morris's brother.

A small, circular expanse of empty space had formed around him as the congregation backed away, leaving a narrow, half-moon of grass in front of the judge's table where Oscar Delancey had clear, undivided access to the boys.

"We don't live in that filthy city for a reason," Oscar went on coldly, "and we don't need it bein' shoved down our throats like we was infants who couldn't feed ourselves. Whoever voted you twisted beatniks onto our good town's church committees ougtta be strung up along with you."

"Oscar, calm down now," Denton said after the awkward silence had grown so oppressive it was tangible. "There's no need to get angry."

"We been starin' at those faggots up there for eight months now, infiltrating our once respectable services with that freakshow band of theirs," he railed on to the hushed, stunned crowd, pointing a thick finger in their direction, "and I'm sick and tired of it. I'll have no more a this tainting my brother's and mine's good name."

Race looked as though he'd gotten the wind knocked out of him, and he sat back down in his chair with a thunk. Spot's vision had gone so red that he had forgotten all about being sick; all about playing the good Christian kid and the cook-off and his duty to his adopted family. All he knew was some half-witted ass wipe had insulted his Racetrack, one of the only decent human beings he'd ever met in all of his nineteen years, in front of the entire town...and the shame he'd managed to peg on him was true.

"Try the pudding," Spot roared as he knocked the chair down from behind him with his force. "You just try that fucking pudding before you tell us Yanks we're destroying your precious little congregation!"

"The both of you oughtta be ashamed...how dare you say those words in a place of God, in front of our children!" roared Elder Kloppman, shaking his cane at them. "Ivan, you stop giggling over there, it ain't funny! Look, I don't care how deep an insult you been afforded, Sean, we all expect it of a Delancey, but not outta you!"

The edge of Morris's lip curled up, and he put a hand on Kloppman's shoulder. "He insulted my boy's honor, Kloppman. But you listen here, Oscar. One more word outta you, and I'll be the one sullying that good name of ours, not my boys."

"I don't give two cents about honor!" Spot spat. "You insult Race, you're insulting one of the only truly decent people I ever met in my life! You call him a faggot and a twisted beatnik like you know what those words mean? Oscar, you tell the whole congregation just what you mean, saying those things about someone as intelligent and compassionate and better than you as Anthony Higgins. How dare you?!!"

"Spot--!"

"Bite it for one second Aunt Sarah," Spot snapped. "We didn't choose this task, or this church, or this town! We done it all for your brother, Delancey, 'cuz he chose to take us in when dirty people like you thought we had no worth! Racetrack Higgins ain't done a single thing to you, to sully any of you, hasn't done one thing to offend any of you bums, beatnik or not! He teaches your kids piano on the weekends and gets 'em to read classics on Monday through Friday for a buck an hour, when he was used to painting on commission for Manhattan bigwigs at hundreds of dollars a job! Why? At first it was just for me, 'cuz he felt bad for me having to move out here all on my own, but then things changed. He thinks you're good people! He thinks you're better than those swindling Wallstreet bums who look through those office windows of theirs every day and can't see past their own reflections." His chest was heaving so hard that the sweat was pouring down his forehead in rivulets. "We like you, we really do, all of you. You been better to us than we ever thought possible, being city kids coming to a place like this. You never been cruel or harsh and you even treat Boots like a human being. So why doubt us now?"

The crowd began to murmur again at this, and Spot turned to see Race blinking up at him dazedly.

"We never doubted you," Pastor Denton said, eyes wide. "We like you, otherwise we wouldn't've elected you as judges!"

Sykes and a few of the other elders murmured their agreement.

"And we like your pants," said an older woman from somewhere in the group, which raised a few chuckles and muttered disagreements.

"Then try the pudding," Spot repeated, coldly, daring them to do differently. "Try that pudding and tell me your church's cook don't got the best food on this table."

Shoving his brother out of the way, Morris took his wife by the hand and stalked to the other end of the table, grabbing a little plastic cup full of the stuff and downing it in three bites.

"I second your motion," Morris declared. "Constance is the winner."

Sykes and Denton followed, and they were quickly tailed by Jeannie (who wanted to make sure that her casserole was not slighted in bad blood), her little blond son, Miriam, and an older gentleman in a straw hat. A few moments later, the others joined them as well, eager to get a hand on the controversial desert.

Race was still staring at Spot as he settled back down in his chair, heartbeat still pounding violently against his ribcage. They watched in silent amusement as Morris shoved a cup into his brother's hands, forcing him to try it, before dragging him off toward the parking lot...probably to hit him out of the view of his fellow Silverhillians.

"I bet Oscar's sleeping around with Jeannie, that's why he's so sore Constance won," whispered Miriam as she passed by their table with her pudding. "And don't worry, none of us think one thing about Jeannie losing this contest. She's won four years in a row now with that stuff, and nobody likes it, 'cept we all feel bad 'cuz she's such a swell lady and losin' her husband in Korea 'way she did and all."

"Miriam, go find that cook, girl!" her father roared from the table.

"Going, Papa," she called back, before winking at them.

Spot heaved a sigh and turned a weary gaze on Racetrack. "Next time you get a bright idea like that, don't share it with nobody, got it?"

"You meant all that?" Race asked in a whisper, still looking slightly shell-shocked. "What you said about those kids and...and..."

Spot felt the blood begin to pool around his ears. "I was angry. Don't start to expect that kinda thing."

"I wish we were in the barn right now," so I could take you so hard you'd feel it vibrating in your eardrums, Race hissed between coffee-stained teeth, adding that last part in mentally. "You trying to make me lose my cool or what?"

"I was about to go lose my cool all over Oscar Delancey," Spot grumbled, still embarrassed.

"As long as you didn't lose it like you lost Jeannie's casserole," Race said, trying to hide the smirk that he knew was slinking its way onto his face.

"Put a sock in it."

Jeannie approached their table next, accompanied by Denton, both pudding-stained 'round the mouth and serious-faced to boot.

"This really is better than my stuff, but I can't see how it fits the beef requirement, 'sides it maybe being brown like beef," Jeannie said, giving the boys a stern frown. "But look here, never you mind what that uncle of yours has to say. He's rotten to the core. And Yankees or not, we love you here in Silverhill."

"For as long as this is your home," Denton continued, a hand on Jeannie's shoulder, "you'll always be welcome with us. Got that?"

"Sure, Pastor," said Spot with a nod, feeling a bit awkward...but not that awkward.

"Hey, Spot," Race said, watching over the shoulders of the two retreating adults as Miriam came back cook-less, "what say we go find that errant cook of ours, huh?"

A wicked smile crossed Spot's face. "Sounds like a pretty good idea."

"Come on," Race whispered, trying not to look as lecherous as he felt. There was something tantalizingly erotic about Spot defending his name to a bunch of closeted almost-backwoods church-devotees. "If they're gonna slander our good names, we might as well make the most of it. Auntie Sarah, we're gonna go find old Constance ourselves."

"And when you do, tell her to bring more mousse!" Sarah called as Race dragged Spot back toward the tool shed where he just knew Constance would never be hiding. "This stuff is just like heaven!"

"No problem, Sarah!" Spot replied, waving at her.

He missed the worried look she wore as they went, but even if he'd caught it, it wouldn't have mattered. Sarah was a kind woman, she'd keep their business to herself. She'd never judge them any harsher for it.

When they collapsed, laughing quietly, among the muddy hoes and shovels and cans of paint and petrol, sticky with the sweat they had shared all summer, Spot knew that Silverhill would never really be home as long as Brooklyn was waiting for him, but it wasn't such a bad place, really. And when he finally had Race smeared on every surface he could easily gain access to (still tasting of mint juleps and herbal cigarettes and smoke and Brooklyn and Racetrack) he couldn't help but believe, if only for a second, that the God those little Alabamans so adamantly worshipped might not be such a bad guy after all.

~*~

Denton's sermon taken from http://www.bible.org/illus.php?topic_id=580

Inspired by my Southern-bred relatives and the scandals of my misspent church-going days.

Sorry that the garage band practice was only mentioned in passing—I don't know much about bands, so this was the best I could do while maintaining quality. =D Hope you enjoyed!

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