Bubba Alton's gravelly drawl is magnified over the speaker. 'I thank every one of you for your kind, Christian service today. Jesus thanks you.'
Miss Delilah leads a spirited cheer and the assembled crowd fizzles. Despite the chill in the air, the small square is packed. Part of the draw may be the free hot chocolate and coffee being handed out by Miss D. Or the day off school. But, as I've discovered in the last few months, most of the residents of Hopton Hill just care. They want to help.
My motives are less altruistic. All Varsity team members at HHHS have to pitch in at the Harvest Festival Drive. It's a duty, not a choice. But seeing everyone awaiting their instructions fills me with a strange sense of purpose. A sense of pride in this strange, little community.
A sharp whistle cuts across the animated hum and a familiar voice calls out for the Hurricanes. Cricket grabs me. In the two days since Nashville, she's not left my side. Her anger was fleeting, and she revels in the knowledge she's the only one who knows about Finch. She's still uneasy about what's happening - not that I can blame her. She's watched girls crying over him in corridors and wrapped around him at parties since Junior High. Her closeness is protective. She wants to keep me safe.
Hands wrapped around a steaming coffee cup, Coach Zheng waves for the team to gather. Her dark hair pokes out from below her woollen hat, and her cheeks are rosy with cold.
'Thank y'all for all showing up on time and with a smile on your faces. Let's help as many people as we can today and show everyone that famous Hurricane spirit. Anything to add, Twila?'
Twila shoots her famous smile. 'I know we all love helping the town - even at this hour of the morning.' This gains a few titters. 'As you're helping, take a moment to be mindful of how incredibly lucky we all are.'
Most girls nod their heads but Savannah snorts.
'Easy to say when your Daddy's a senator.'
Twila colours. 'It's true,' she says gracefully, 'that some of us have more to be grateful for. I, for one, hope to count my blessings today.'
Before Savannah can retort, Coach Zheng steps forward. Some of the older girls straighten up. Emily Sutton, a tall Senior with bee-stung lips and dark eyes, whispers into Twila's ear. Something's about to happen. Coach clears her throat.
I rub sleep from my eyes and lean into Cricket. 'What job do people want to get?' I ask, finding it hard to enthuse over chores early in the morning.
'Running the clothes drive is always a winner as it is held in Miss D's. Free pie for everyone in the name of charity and the Good Lord.' Cricket crosses her fingers and screws her eyes shut.
'Painting the fences at the old people's home on Emerson: Cody, Gia, Olivia, Scarlet, Jenna and Shelby. Litter picking the blocks between the square and McTavish's: Sara, Addison, Aubrey, Chelsea, and Cricket.'
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Under Tennessee SkiesTeen Fiction
When she moves from England to the small town of Hopton Hills, Tennessee, Martha Heysham finds both her dream of Oxford University and her heart at risk from her new neighbours, the Whittingham boys. **** Martha Heysham hates Tennessee. The sticky h...