HM – The Lightning Tree


Rating: T for language and sexual situations

Summary: Lilly had never met anyone like Miley Stewart before - mysterious, fun, beautiful. But in the town of Crowley Corners secrets abound. Lilly is mystified by the town's odd behavior regarding her new friend, but she is determined to find the truth.

Chapter 1

The heat blanketed her, it invaded her and it was making her utterly miserable. She had spent her entire childhood in Southern California, but this was nothing like the summers there. This was sticky and oppressing and hard to breathe and she hated it already. They had only been in Tennessee for five minutes and she was ready to go home. Of course, Lilly thought derisively, this hellhole was their home now and never again would she enjoy cool ocean breezes and the feel of the surf carrying her body. From now on she would only get to be sweaty and dirty, suffering from an overpopulation of mosquitoes and, quite possibly, have to eat some sort of road kill on a regular basis. Right at that moment, Lilly hated her parents.

"This is nice, isn't it, kids?" said Ken Truscott, taking a deep breath of the country air and spreading his arms wide. He was practically standing in the middle of the road, but no cars were coming.

"This is a horror movie waiting to happen," said Lilly's older brother, Michael, morosely and Lilly was glad at least one person was on her side. She followed his gaze to the building across the road. It was old, dilapidated, a health hazard for sure. The large glass windows lining the building were covered in dust and Lilly could hardly see the, likely sticky and ripped, vinyl booths inside. Large neon letters were mounted on the front of the building that once spelled out 'The Diner', but some of the letters had fallen off and Lilly grimaced at what was left of them. She hoped 'Te Die' was not indicative of what the food would do to her.

"It looks quaint," said Heather Truscott, trying to keep a positive tone in her voice, but her kids could tell the diner was not her first choice of restaurant. Lilly wondered if there even was another choice in this town. Judging by the name, it at the very least looked like there was only one diner in town. Add that to the creepy, half-dead tree they had passed somewhere in town, and this really was like a set out of a horror movie.

Lilly threw a brief glance at their shiny SUV parked across the road, looking completely out of place among the two or three beat-up, old and rusty trucks she had seen around. She hoped all her belongings would be safe and some hillbilly didn't break into the SUV and steal their stuff. She had practically begged her parents to just go straight to their new house, lack of furniture and cooking utensils be damned. But here they were, sweating in the oppressive Tennessee heat, about to enter a death-trap diner and her parents didn't even seem concerned.

A bell jingled as they entered and Lilly met her brother's eyes, both of them wearing identical 'Kill me now' looks. The family crowded into the entrance way somewhat awkwardly, but the cool breeze sweeping over them from the air conditioner was too nice to pass up. It was pleasing enough Lilly suddenly felt herself amenable to staying. An older woman in an ugly blue uniform was wiping down the bar and looked up as she saw them. "Y'all sit wherever ya'd like. Mindy will be right with y'all."

Ken nodded appreciatively and ushered his family to an empty booth by one of the windows. The diner was mostly empty but for a few older men sharing a booth and arguing loudly, a family with small children, a few grimy guys at the bar and a girl on one of the barstools who seemed completely out of place.

Lilly had noticed her first and shoved past her brother to sit on the far side of the booth, just so she had an unobstructed view of the bar. She could not explain why she had done it; she normally prided herself on not being a perverted oogler of pretty girls, but something just wouldn't let her look away. Though she could only see her partially from the side, the girl looked to be about Lilly's age. She had her brunette hair tied up in a messy bun and her skin looked naturally tan. The girl was wearing jeans, despite the heat, a tight t-shirt and knock-off Converse, but even though she wasn't decked out in designer gear, Lilly didn't think she looked like a dirty hillbilly. The girl was quite beautiful and Lilly hadn't expected to see anyone like that in this kind of town.

She caught an elbow in her ribs and turned to glare at her brother. Michael was smirking. "You know, they'd probably string you up for that here."

Her eyes darkened. "I don't know what you're talking about."

He nodded towards the girl. "Staring at that hillbilly. You know they don't have gays in Tennessee."

Lilly scoffed and averted her eyes from the brunette. "Well, they do now. Hey, when'd you guys order drinks?"

Michael laughed, holding up his glass of Coke. Moisture was beading on it and the ice cubes clinked together tantalizingly inside the glass. Lilly's mouth suddenly felt incredibly dry and she reached for her own glass, only to discover there wasn't one.

"The waitress came by while you were off in gay la-la-land. Though come to think of it, I think that's redundant…I mean, la-la-land is probably always gay…" Michael went off on a tangent and Lilly rolled her eyes. She briefly considered merely taking his glass, but it wasn't worth the fight. She just wanted a cool, refreshing glass of Coca Cola. The blonde girl stood and punched her brother in the arm, before walking to the bar.

The old lady tending the bar was wiping off the back counters and had her back turned, so Lilly stood behind the barstools and waited. She'd purposefully picked the ones almost right next to the brunette girl, but told herself it was merely because it was where the old woman was standing. And in all honesty, the grimy men a few stools down creeped her out. Lilly tried not to be too obvious, but she snuck a glance at the girl just two stools down. A glass sat in front of her, half full, while she was shredding a napkin into a neat little pile before her. She looked utterly bored, though intensely focused on her task, until she noticed Lilly.

The girl looked up and Lilly swallowed hard when she met her eyes. They were incredibly blue and reminded her of the ocean she already missed so much. There was a sadness in the blue she immediately recognized, though she'd never been one to read people's emotions well. She felt herself moving closer subconsciously. The girl smiled brightly and Lilly's heart did a funky beat. She knew she must have been staring, but it took all her willpower to shake herself out of her stupor.

"Are you alright?" asked the girl with a small smile and Lilly shook her head to clear it, offering a smile in return.

"Yeah, sorry…must be the heat. I'm just not used to it." What a lame excuse, she thought, but the beautiful stranger seemed to accept it.

"Where are you from?"

Lilly decided she liked the girl's voice. It was somewhat husky, but not enough so to be off-putting and her Southern accent was just present enough to be noticeable, but not enough to make her cringe. Lilly could never have imagined that the first local she would speak to in her new middle-of-nowhere, Deliverance hometown, would be the most mesmerizing and beautiful girl she had ever seen.

"Malibu, California. The best place on earth," said Lilly wistfully, thinking back to the beach and the palm trees and civilization.

The girl laughed softly. "And here I always thought Crowley Corners, Tennessee was the best place on earth. I guess I was wrong."

Lilly made a face, realizing she'd come close to insulting the town this girl obviously lived in. The town Lilly now lived in. "Have you lived here all your life?"

The brunette seemed not to care about Lilly's lack of enthusiasm for the town and grinned, "Born and raised." She spread out the shredded pieces of napkin in front of her, before piling them back into a tower. She looked at Lilly again, face serious. "Am I the first hillbilly you've met?"

Lilly felt her face flush and was rendered speechless, struggling to come up with words. "What…I…Why?"

The girl laughed and Lilly's insides turned to mush. "I'm just jerking your chain. How long have you been here? I've never seen you around."

Lilly wiped a hand across her brow, nervous. She was making a fool of herself in front of this girl. "Uh…like ten minutes, I guess. We just got into town, decided to eat before going to our new house."

The girl's eyes widened. "Are y'all that family that's moving into the old Honnecker place?"

Lilly shrugged. She had no idea where they were moving to; she hadn't even wanted to look at pictures of the house – she'd known she would hate it regardless. The girl nodded, however, as if her question had merely been rhetorical. She looked down again at her napkin. Michael shouted her name and Lilly turned, seeing that her family already had their food. She hadn't ordered any of that, either. She glared at him grumpily as he theatrically stuffed a fry into his mouth.

"Is that your brother?"

Lilly turned back to the girl, nodding. "Yeah, and he's a pain. Sometimes I wanna just…ugh. Do you have any siblings?"

It was almost imperceptible, but Lilly noticed the girl's hand twitch. She merely shook her head and looked away. Lilly wondered if she was being dismissed. After a few moments, in which Lilly's awkwardness tripled, the girl looked back at her, smiling again. "I'm Miley, by the way."

Lilly smiled, relieved and stuck out her hand for the girl to shake. "Lilly."

"Well, Lilly from California, it's nice to meet you."

"Same here," said Lilly softly, trying not to blush again at the feel of the girl's skin against hers. Here she was, less than an hour into her life in Tennessee, and she was already having impure thoughts about near strangers.

Miley pointed at the old lady behind the counter. "If you want to order something, you're gonna have to yell. Edna's pretty good at ignoring the customers."

Lilly made a face and Miley, seeing her discomfort, yelled the woman's name until she turned. The gray-haired lady gave Miley a stern look, though it did not seem serious. "What now, child? Can't you see I'm working?"

Miley rolled her eyes. "Then get to work, Edna. My friend here wants to order something."

Lilly's heart did a flip at hearing Miley refer to her as her friend. She smiled at her new friend, until she noticed the expectant look Edna was giving her. Lilly hadn't even thought about what to order, but then again, all diner fare was normally the same. She shrugged. "Can I just get a Coke…and…some chicken tenders?"

Edna nodded and began jotting it down, but Miley interrupted her. "You don't want those." She met Lilly's eyes. "Trust me."

Lilly swallowed hard, but managed to nod. For some strange reason, she felt like she did trust the stranger. She shrugged. "How about a cheeseburger?"

Miley shook her head and, seeing the confusion on Lilly's face, turned to Edna. "She'll have a Grilled Cheese."

Edna glared at the girl, shaking her head. "I swear, Miley Ray, you have no sense of business. Your order will be right out, hun."

The woman left for the kitchen and Lilly studied the girl next to her again. "So, I guess I should thank you for saving me from certain death?"

Miley grinned. "It would've been rude to let you get food poisoning on your first day here…Southern hospitality and all. But you might wanna warn your brother; I think he ordered the burger." She motioned towards the booth Lilly's family was in. Lilly glanced over her shoulder at them and shrugged.

"No, I think I'll let him suffer. And my parents, too, for making us move here."

"It's not so bad here," said Miley softly and Lilly reprimanded herself again for insulting the town.

She watched the girl's face for a few seconds, before she smiled. "I'm starting to think it has its merits."

Lilly blushed immediately. She couldn't believe how stupid she was being, flirting with a random girl in redneck country. But Miley merely grinned at her, either not seeing the flirting for what it was, or not caring. Lilly didn't know which she preferred, but before she could make a further fool of herself, Edna was bringing out her food. She took the plate, reluctant to return to her family, but she couldn't very well sit here and eat her food away from them. She tried to suppress a sigh.

"Well, thank you, Miley Ray, for your lovely Southern hospitality." Lilly almost felt like she should have been tipping a hat at the girl while she said it.

Miley inclined her head, smiling. "You're welcome, Lilly from California. I'm sure I'll see you around."

Lilly returned to the booth, to varying stares from her family members. She really didn't feel like getting into it with them, especially not when she still felt like she was floating from her conversation with Miley. She smiled in spite of herself and Michael snorted.

"You work fast, lil sis, we've only been here like an hour."

She rolled her eyes and decided to ignore him. She ate her Grilled Cheese in silence and had to suppress a smirk every time her obnoxious brother bit into his burger. When they got ready to leave half an hour later, Lilly looked at the bar, just to get one last look at Miley, but the girl was gone. Lilly hadn't even seen her leave.