Ilse Falls, Waterfall, Long Exposure Lilly Jean hiked her skirt to her knees and dipped her toes into the water. Ooooh, it was cold. It could be hot outside as bacon sizzling in her mama’s cast-iron skillet and the mountain stream still felt like water dripping off an icicle. She stuck her other foot into the water, keeping her balance on the slippery rock-bed; she had been doing this ever since she was a toddler. Lilly Jean Hilkins had been born to these mountains. And this break in the stream was her favorite place. She stood still a moment while she got over the inner shiver that ran through her body. Where was Donna Sue? Probably stopped to pick a few daisies. Her best friend loved flowers—the few books in her room were bursting with pressed blooms. She had read in a library book about flower collections and was now trying to gather as many varieties as the mountains offered.
     Lilly Jean hummed a little as she skipped from one rock to the next. It was a really pretty June day—the kind just asking for a wedding. In her dreams, she always pictured a day like today—the mountain peaks covered with a violet haze, the valleys blanketed with wildflowers, a sweet breeze waffling through the piney woods, and a caring man standing straight and true, waiting as her Daddy brought her down the church aisle. Except, of course, there was no caring man and her Daddy had been dead for 8 years, since the logging chain broke and he was crushed under a ton of logs.
     It was time for her to be getting home. Mama would be pulling the breakfast biscuits out of the oven soon, and they had a full day of work in the garden patch. Lilly Jean stood up and bent to pass under a low-hanging branch. She listened for a moment to make sure Donna Sue wasn’t coming. They’d see each other later. 
     She took the left fork on the way home and took a minute to stop by Granny’s grave. The hump of earth was flattened now by the mountain rain; fresh green grass and a few dandelions making a patchwork covering over it. 
Hey, Granny. It’s Lilly Jean. Wish you were here to see this pretty 
June day. I’d love like everything to sit on your porch and hear one of 
your tales. Some of your peach cobbler would be tasty, too. Gotta go 
now; Mama’s calling. I know you’re up there singing with Jesus now, 
but I still remember our song. 
     Tara Stevens slapped the laptop shut. The gurgling of the water beside her was mesmerizing. She could hardly believe Grange had been able to arrange this accommodation. The Great Smoky Mountains were her favorite place; call it a blood tie. Their little romantic tryst here every year was a tradition since their honeymoon. Someday, when they had children, they’d bring them here too. It would be such fun to introduce them to the moist woods and sweeping views, to ride the chairlift together and buy them a little stuffed bear like the one she had as her first souvenir of the mountains. But more than that, Tara wanted to share with them the soul of the mountains. It was something she tried to describe in her best-selling books, but had to come back here to understand. 
     She heard her name and looked back toward the cabin. Grange was walking toward her. “You’re up early. Did you get the chapter finished?” 
     She nodded. “I think Grandma Lilly would like it.” 
     Grange slipped his arm around her shoulders and smiled. “You’re barefoot again. If your readers only knew that the New York Times Best-Selling Author wrote her masterpieces with her feet stuck in a mountain stream.” 
     She punched at him. “I can’t wear shoes here. It’s part of being a mountain girl.” 
     “Wild as the mountain and sweet as clover honey.” Grange quoted Grandma Lilly. “Come on, let’s eat; I’m starved.” 
     Tara put her hand in his as they walked back to their breakfast biscuits. Behind them, the stream rippled and splashed to the mountain’s rhythm. And in her memory, Tara could hear Grandma Lilly Jean singing too.                                                                                                          — VQ 

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