by: Sarah Stodola
**Even a girl can belong… if she gets a chance.**
“Hey, look at this!” Daisy Duke bounded down the stairs, hair flying behind her. Her dark blue eyes were shining with excitement.
“What?” her Uncle Jesse smiled, looking up from the peas he was shelling for dinner.
The slender young brunette was clutching a large leather-bound book, which she put down on the table. “I was looking through the old trunks up in the attic, to see what we could send to the church rummage sale, and look what I found!” She opened the book, running her hand over a plastic-covered page.
Jesse took the book, staring at it, then slowly smiled. “It’s the old picture album, from when you kids were just little tykes.”
“Uh-huh!” She brushed hair out of her face, and bent over his shoulder. “Look, there’s when I first came to the farm. Didn’t I look silly?” she grinned.
Jesse couldn’t help but smile. The photograph pointed to was of a small, very serious-looking girl, looking a bit uncomfortable in faded jeans and a blue plaid shirt. “You were somethin’ else,” he agreed. “A little lady to the core.”
“Yeah. And look here.” She pointed to another photo, one of two boys, one dark-haired and one blond, struggling with a large fish. “I didn’t know what to do when I caught that thing. Remember, it pulled me into the pond?”
“Luke and Bo had to fetch both it and you out,” Jesse recalled.
She looked a bit embarrassed. “I couldn’t do anything right, could I?” she admitted.
“Well, that depends on the point of view. To your Aunt Roseanne, you did everything right.”
Daisy made a face. “Yeah. I sure remember that. At least I didn’t stay that way.”
Jesse chuckled. “Yeah, you got real country real quick-like. A fact your aunt didn’t appreciate one bit.”
She shuddered dramatically, purposely overdoing it. “I sure do remember that. I thought I’d never get back home to the farm.”
“You almost didn’t. It was just thanks to those two cousins of yours that you did.”
“Yeah.” She hugged her uncle, smiling fondly. “But I’m sure glad I did.”
A roar-growl from a powerful car’s engine sounded from outside, and the two looked up from the old album. “Speaking of which, I think they’re home,” the farmer commented.
After a few seconds, the sound of the front door closing came to their ears, and a tall young blond man wandered into the kitchen. “Hi, everybody,” he said cheerfully, making a snatch at the bowl of peas. “What’s for dinner?”
“Get out of that, Bo.” Jesse batted his hand away, but not before his nephew had managed to grab several pods. “Those are for dinner, and it won’t be ready until I’m done here, so why don’t you all either help or get out of the kitchen?” He handed Daisy the picture book. “Why don’t you show them this? Out there,” he pointed.
“Show us what?” Bo asked, peeling one of the stolen pea pods open as he and Daisy went back out into the living room, and popping the peas into his mouth.
“An old album I found in the attic,” she replied, handing it to him and sitting down on the couch beside her other cousin, a tired-looking dark-haired young man older and shorter than Bo. “Move over, Luke, so we can all sit here.”
“What?” He scooted himself up from his slouching position and moved over, taking one of Bo’s pea pods. The blond cousin sat down on Daisy’s other side, and both boys looked over her shoulders as she opened the book to the first page.
Luke chuckled. “What a little lady you were,” he pointed to the first picture.
“Yeah,” Daisy admitted. She turned the page, and grinned delightedly.
“Hey, look, there’s the tri-county fair hayride!” Bo announced the picture she pointed to. “You got so mad at Tyrone Miller when he knocked me off that you tried to punch him out, ‘member?”
She blushed, embarrassed. “Yeah. If it hadn’t been for Luke, I would have been in serious trouble. That kid was twice my size!”
“At least it proved you had some honest Duke spirit under all that city-girl stuff,” Luke commented, grinning. “Boy, was your aunt mad when she saw how you’d changed!”
“I remember.” She looked up from the photo album, her gaze unfocusing. She remembered it all…
“Hey, comin’ your way!”
“Enos!! The game’s over here!!”
Loud chatter and shouts rose from the gang of boys fighting for possession of a rather beat-up looking basketball. There were at least fifteen boys there, maybe more. It was hard to tell, just as it was hard to tell who was on which team. They were all just too quick, too confused as well, to keep track of.
Finally one blond boy managed to get his hands on the ball, and he ran for the opposing team’s hoop, uncoiling himself into the air and throwing the ball with all his young strength. It went through. Both teams screamed, one in victory, the other in frustration at losing.
A whistle blew, the only indication besides uniforms that this was at least a somewhat official game. “For once,” the announcer smiled, “Chickasaw loses!”
The losing team, decked out in yellow, shook fists in the air angrily, and their coach could be seen to toss his hat to the ground and stomp on it. Chickasaw County was a poor loser.
Of course, the other team, dressed in red, was pleased as punch. They hardly ever won a game. They leaped into the air, screaming for joy. They almost drowned out the announcer, who was saying, or at least trying to say over the noise, “And Hazzard County wins!”
Needless to say, the festivities were wildly triumphant, and the boy who’d thrown the winning ball made much of by his team, until he wandered away, blushing.
Another boy, a little taller than him and dark-haired, ran up behind him. The first glanced back, then took off sprinting. The other followed, then leaped in a tackle that sent both sprawling to the ground, where they rolled around in the dirt, laughing as they wrestled, rough-housing as only two energetic boys can do.
The man watching them sighed, and pulled the note out of his pocket once again, wiping tears from his eyes as he read one more time the news of his late brother’s wife’s death. Now he was the only Duke left. Except… His eyes wandered again to the playing boys, and he smiled, then shook his head. They were the future. Not only for him, but for the whole clan. But, then again, that didn’t really matter. What mattered was them having a family to grow up with. The two boys had both been orphaned at early ages, and their uncle had proudly raised them. Now, it looked like he would have yet another child to bring into the fold, now that Henry’s wife had followed him.
Jesse Duke sighed. But the boys would not be pleased when they found out who it would be.
“A *girl* at the farm?” Ten-year-old Luke Duke grimaced. “Are you kidding? Does she have to come *here*?”
“Yeah,” grumbled his two years younger cousin Bo, kicking at the ground. “A girl will spoil everything.”
“Pick up this, be nice to her, keep her safe.” Luke’s jaw clenched in stubborn, youthful anger. “A girl!”
“Hey!” Jesse’s angry voice quickly pierced through their grumbling. The two boys looked up almost as one, and Luke swallowed, stepping back a little. “Look,” his uncle demanded, “I took you in! How can I do less for your cousin?”
“But she’s a *girl*,” Bo attempted a last protest, which was silenced by Jesse’s stare. The blond boy looked down and away.
“She’s a Duke,” Jesse said, as if that settled everything. “You will watch out for her and take care of her, if for no other reason than that she’s family. And,” he added, a sudden twinkle hidden deep in his eyes, one that Luke almost missed, “you might find that she’s not so bad after all.”
“Fat chance,” Bo whispered to his cousin, who privately agreed with him.
This was going to spoil all their fun. They wouldn’t be able to go fishing or climbing, or jump in the pond with their friends. They’d have to take care of a little girl! The two boys’ dark blue gazes met, both saying the same thing — *This is gonna be one boring summer.*
Alone. She didn’t want to accept her mother’s death, but she still knew it to be true. But she didn’t want to believe it. Life was so much better if she didn’t.
She bit her lip, hard, and curled tighter into the chair. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to shut out the world around her. But it was no use. She *was* here. And her mother *was* dead. Gone. Forever.
A hand touched her shoulder, and she jumped, glancing up with wide dark blue eyes. The lady who ran this orphanage — the girl didn’t know her name — smiled gently. “Your uncle’s here.”
She nodded, slightly. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to go with him. She didn’t know her uncle; she’d been raised in the city on a fancy manor, and he lived all the way down in farm country.
“Come on,” the lady chided kindly, crouching down on her level. “He seems a kind man. And he is your guardian according to your father’s will, so you sort of have to go with him.”
The girl stared at her. “You…” she managed, “you sure it’ll be nice, living on a farm? I don’t know anything about farms.” Her mother’s family had wanted her to be a part of their society, and not a “hillbilly”.
“You’ll love it,” the lady assured her. “From what I hear, you have a couple cousins there, too. About your own age.”
The girl brightened a little, uncurling slowly. “Any girls?”
“Well, I don’t know. Maybe.”
The girl thought about it, then finally nodded, slowly. “Okay. I’ll go.”
“Good girl.” The woman patted her shoulder, then stood, holding out her hand. “Shall we go meet your uncle?”
“Okay.” She climbed out of the chair, looking up at the other. But she didn’t take the proffered hand. She preceded the lady out of the room and down the stairs.
Jesse turned as the door squeaked open. The woman who ran the orphanage came through, then turned and beckoned. “Come on,” she encouraged. “It’s okay. Hey, you can’t stay here,” she said lightly.
The farmer raised his eyebrows slightly. Then a small hand came around the edge of the door, and a young girl peered out, obviously nervous. Wide eyes flitted around the waiting room, then up to meet his. Jesse smiled. She had dark blue eyes, just the same as he and the boys.
“Come on,” the lady encouraged again. The girl finally stepped around the door and to the center of the room, stopping a little ways away from her uncle and looking him up and down. He was doing the same.
She was pretty. Very pretty. Long brown hair was neatly combed and tied back, but a few curls strayed out of the smooth ponytail. She was wearing a blue dress, probably a Sunday one. She was slender, maybe even as much as the boys, and maybe about the same height as Bo. From what he’d been told, she was the same age as his younger boy, too, eight, though a couple of months younger. Her eyes came up to meet his, and he saw fear and pain there, but an undying curiosity, too.
The woman smiled and put a hand on the girl’s shoulder. The girl looked up at her. “This is your uncle Jesse,” she said softly. Then, looking at Jesse, she told him, “And this is Daisy Mae.”
Jesse glanced back down at his young niece to see her staring up at him, very seriously. Then something seemed to break through the mask of the perfect young lady, and she ran for her uncle. Jesse caught her as she leapt into his arms, and picked her up, hugging her. “Hello, Daisy,” he said gently, fighting back tears.
She buried her face in his shirt as he let her slip back to the ground. “Uncle Jesse,” she whispered.
Daisy Mae watched the scenery go past, eyes wide with amazement. She’d never seen the country before, at least not country like this. She’d been on picnics in the local meadows, sure, but this was wild land. Forest grew up around the road, which had turned to dirt some time ago. It made for a bumpy ride, but it was fun, too, in its very difference from all she’d known. They rattled over a bridge, and she looked down to see a creek running swiftly over rocks; the water was so clear that she could see to the bottom. She saw a fish leap out of the water, and jumped back involuntarily. Then she spun to grin at her uncle. “I saw a fish!”
“Yep,” he smiled. “There’s good fishing ’round here.”
“Are we almost there?”
He nodded. “Almost.”
“Then I’m really going to live out *here*?” She couldn’t keep excitement out of her voice if she tried, which she didn’t.
“You don’t mind?” he smiled, seeming to tease, much as a friend of hers, the gardener at the manor, had. A friend her aunt had disapproved of, saying he was below their rank’. But he’d been fun to be around.
“No! It’s so… so pretty!”
“Yes, it is,” he said softly, and she glanced over to see him unobtrusively wipe tears out of his eyes. She wondered why he would be crying.
Daisy Mae finally shrugged slightly, trying to regain her composure, and turned to look back out the window. She saw horses running free, and a boy called a goat out of the road just before they drove past. The mountains were starting to lower into hills, and there were more open spaces. She could see fields behind the line of trees that went on either side of the road. They were in farm country now, and she felt excitement bubble up inside of her again, despite herself. She was almost to her new home. She wondered what her life would be like now.
Then the pickup turned to follow a dirt road that went off to the side. They went up the road, then around a corner, and she saw a medium-sized house, not very large, but nice-looking. There was a porch, and the door was covered by a screen, so fresh air could come in but insects could not. Off to the side, a swing made out of an old tractor tire hung from a tree.
They stopped in the middle of the large dirt yard. No grass here, but high weeds and wildflowers sprung up all around. The girl turned to her uncle. “Uncle Jesse, is this it?”
“Yep.” He nodded and undid his seatbelt. Daisy Mae copied his actions, then something caught her eye. Actually, someone.
Just coming out of the barn was a dark-haired boy a bit older than her, carrying a pail of something… she thought it was milk. He stopped halfway to the house and put down the bucket, straightening to stare at the truck. Then he turned and put two fingers in his mouth, letting out an ear-piercing whistle that made Daisy Mae wince.
In response, a dog came running, a mutt that looked at least half hound. Right behind the dog was a blond boy, leaping over the bushes as he ran out of the field. Fascinated, she watched him come. He was bounding almost like a deer, maybe the fastest runner she’d ever seen, not that too many people had run at all back at the manor. She noted the dirt coating his faded jeans with almost wicked delight. She’d never been allowed to get really dirty back at home.
She looked around for any girls, and was slightly disappointed not to see any. She’d hoped. Now she opened her car door, when she realized that her uncle wasn’t going to do it for her, and slid down to the ground, bending over to try to straighten her dress.
Then she stood up again, and met two sets of dark blue eyes, just like hers. It surprised her a little; her mother had said the color was unusual. The boys’ eyes were just as nervous as hers, but there was hostility there, too, and she backed toward the truck. Why didn’t her cousins like her?
The girl was wearing a dress. Luke noted that with a frown. She was a city kid, that was obvious. So what was she doing out here? He could just imagine it — she wouldn’t want to get dirty by playing in the woods, or go swimming or fishing, or anything. Just great.
Bo came up beside him, panting from his run. “Oh, wonderful,” he grumbled.
“Yeah, I know.”
“Hey, boys.” Uncle Jesse came from the other side of the pickup with a small suitcase, and the girl moved toward him. He put an hand on her back. “Bo, Luke, this is your cousin Daisy. You’ll need to show her around, cause I’ve got to go into town.” He looked both in the eye, warning them to be nice.
Luke nodded, kicking at the dirt, and Jesse squeezed the girl’s shoulder, putting down her luggage, then turned and climbed back into the pickup. The truck did a tight U-turn and headed back down the road.
Luke met his new cousin’s eyes, studying her. She studied him, too, unashamedly. Then he looked her up and down, noticing first her dress, then her long, nicely-brushed hair. He couldn’t keep from smirking a little, feeling a bit superior. “First,” he started, “you’re gonna have to lose the clothes.”
Her eyes flashed.
“I mean,” he backtracked, trying to obey his uncle and be nice to her, “a farm is no place for a dress. You’re gonna have to get some other clothes for out here. You could still wear nice stuff in town, if you wanna.”
“Oh…” She frowned, slightly. “But nice things are all I have.”
Bo rolled his eyes toward the sky, and Luke elbowed him. “You’re sk… not real big,” he noted. “Maybe you could wear something Bo or me’s outgrown.”
“Maybe.” She looked toward the house. “Want to try?” She sounded almost eager. Maybe there was a real person under that city-girl get-up after all, Luke thought. But he wouldn’t hold his breath on it.
“Yeah. Come on.” He turned around and started for the porch. He heard a put-out sounding sigh from behind, and risked a quick glance backward to see her pick up her suitcase and come after him. Apparently she’d thought he’d carry her stuff for her!
Hah! he snorted to himself. Not! She was going to carry her own stuff, and do her share of work around here, just the same as him and Bo. Daisy Mae Duke might be a dainty little lady, but she’d have to learn to be otherwise! ‘Cause he wasn’t going to cater to her!
“Luke! Wait up!”
He turned, groaning, to see his little cousin bounding up behind him. Her brown hair flew out behind her, loose and tangling in the breeze. Her hair was shorter now, just to below her shoulders. Jesse had had to cut it when she’d gotten it caught in the ice cream freezer. She also wore a shirt and pair of jeans that Jesse had had Bo give her, as she was certainly skinny enough to wear boys’ clothes. Which did cut down on costs, their uncle had reminded Bo when he’d complained about giving up what was his.
She skidded to a halt, eyes shining as she looked up at him with what seemed almost adoration. “Where are you going?”
It was almost a week since Daisy had come to live on the farm, and she’d been getting more annoying every day, always following him around. And his patience was about to snap. “It’s none of your business,” he told her. “Go home.”
“Why?” She scowled. She sure had the Duke temper down right, Luke thought.
“Look, I’m gonna go fishing with my friends, and I don’t need a girl cousin followin’ me around, so beat it!”
“Why?” she persisted stubbornly. “Uncle Jesse said you have to let me play with you.”
“Why do you want to play with a bunch of boys, anyway?” Luke demanded. “Go home! Find some dolls or something!” With that, he ran away, knowing she couldn’t keep up.
“Luke!” she called, and he glanced back to see her trying to chase him. Then she tripped, and fell into the mud of the newly-plowed field. He made his getaway before she could get up and try again.
Stupid girl! he thought angrily. Why couldn’t she just find some other girls to be friends with? Why follow him and Bo around?
Daisy picked herself up out of the dirt, sniffing back tears as she tried to scrub the mud off her face. Why didn’t Luke like her? She knew that her cousins weren’t really happy with her being there, but Bo at least was nice to her, sort of. But Luke…
She watched him run off, then turned and trudged back to the farm.
Jesse came in from the fields to wash his hands for lunch, and noticed the mud smearing the kitchen sink almost immediately. “Oh, Lord, what have those boys gotten themselves into now?” he muttered, half to himself, half to God. He studied the mess and saw no blood stains, so apparently no one was hurt.
So all there was was a big clean-up job. But why hadn’t the boys cleaned up after themselves? Sighing, Jesse reached for the dish towel to dry his hands. And that was when he noticed that it wasn’t where it should be. It was lying in a crumpled mess on the counter, mud on it as well. His eyes flashed. What had gotten into the boys to leave this in such a mess? They knew better!
He turned and climbed the stairs, stalking down the hall to the boys’ room. But something caught his attention before he got there. The sound of a child crying. Jesse opened the shut door to his niece’s room, more worried now than mad.
Daisy looked up as he came in, and sat up, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. Her hair was wet and tangled, and she was wrapped tightly in a towel.
“What happened?” he instantly wanted to know.
She shrugged, looking away.
Jesse went over to the bed and sat down beside her, reaching out a hand. She didn’t move for a second, then scrambled over, forsaking the damp towel for her uncle’s hug. She was really crying now, softly, not in pain but more… heartbroken. “What is it?” he asked gently.
She shook her head wordlessly, not looking up. He leaned back and raised her chin with one hand. Her eyes finally flitted to his, and he was struck once again by how pretty she was. *Just like her mama*, he thought sadly.
“Daisy, you aren’t hurt?”
She shook her head, sniffling. “No.” He smiled slightly to himself. She’d acted surprised at first at the shortening of her name from Daisy Mae to just plain Daisy, but she’d taken to the change like a duck to water.
“Here.” He handed her his handkerchief, and she wiped her face and eyes, still biting back tears. “Now, what happened?”
“I… I can’t tell you,” she sniffed.
He took her shoulders in his hands, staring at her firmly. “Tell me.”
She looked away, then whispered. “I can’t. Luke would get mad at me, and I don’t want him to get mad at me.”
Jesse’s eyes widened slightly. He had a sneaking suspicion what this was about. The girl looked up to the two boys almost to the point of hero worship. He also knew that Luke’s patience with his little cousin was wearing thin. “Did Luke hurt you?”
“No, not really…”
“What *did* happen?” he asked. “Tell me. That’s an order.”
She shivered. “He… he went fishing with his friends.”
“I wanted to go too, but he wouldn’t let me.”
“How’d you end up covered with mud?”
“I… fell down.”
“Fell down?” he asked sharply. If the boy had pushed her…
“Yes. He ran away and I was chasing him.”
Jesse relaxed slightly. “Well, Daisy, maybe he doesn’t want to always play with a girl, did you think of that?”
“Well, sort of, but…” She trailed off.
Daisy’s dark blue eyes met his again. “Uncle Jesse, why not?”
“Why wouldn’t he want to play with me?”
“Well…” He thought, then smiled, just a little. “It’s just sorta a boy thing, Daisy. I guess he feels that maybe his friends will look down on him if he brings a girl with him when he goes places. But that still doesn’t make leaving you behind right.”
“I just want him to love me, Uncle Jesse.”
Her sad plea tore at his heartstrings. He hugged her close and ran a hand through her hair, gently starting to untangle the knots. “I know, baby. I know.” Then he sat back a little, brightening. “Maybe Bo will play with you.”
“He went swimming. I couldn’t go because it was just the boys.”
“Oh.” Jesse understood. He’d been on more than one skinny-dipping trip to the creek himself when he was a boy. Then he frowned a little, curious about something. “Daisy, why don’t you find some girl friends? I’m sure some of the girls in town would like you just fine. Especially once you start school.”
“Yes. But…” She bit her lip, looking a little embarrassed.
“I… I just want to play with Bo and Luke,” came out in a sudden rush.
“Why?” he smiled.
She shrugged a little. “Their games look like a lot more fun. I… in the city, I’ve always had to be careful, be a lady.” She made a face, the first time that Jesse had ever seen her express discontent with her old life. “You know. Walk, don’t run; play quietly; don’t get dirty.”
“Oh?” he said carefully, suspecting that he was getting ready to see into the tight-locked heart of his young niece.
Daisy nodded, her eyes meeting his seriously. “Yes. Those have been my aunt’s rules ever since Mama and I went to live with her. She wanted me to be a lady. I’ve always done girl things, played with dolls and stuff. When I came here, you said you’d let me play in the fields, or climb trees. You let me wear pants, not just pants but jeans. And Luke and Bo could teach me to fish, and to play baseball… I wish they would.”
“I think I get the picture,” Jesse said softly.
She nodded, hard, the words now pouring out of her. “I’d like baseball and fishing and stuff. I’d like playing with their toy cars, even. It just seems… that boys have so much more fun.”
“Well, honey, that’s not always true in Hazzard,” he said slowly. “This ain’t the city, mind you. Girls can play rough here just as much as boys can.”
“But I just want to play with Bo and Luke.” Her voice and eyes were earnest.
Jesse sighed inwardly. She had her heart set on making her cousins her friends, and she had her teeth into the idea as stubbornly as any Duke could, despite her ladylike demeanor. “Well, maybe Luke just needs time.” Then, remembering why he’d come up in the first place, “But you shouldn’t leave a mess like you did.”
“Huh? Oh.” She bit her lip. “I’m sorry, Uncle Jesse. I was trying to clean up… I guess I forgot.”
“Well,” he stood, “if you come down and clean it all up, we’ll just consider it not done, all right?” He had too much work of his own to do; she had to clean up her own messes. He couldn’t coddle her, any more than he could the boys.
She scrambled to her feet. “Okay. Just… Uncle Jesse?”
“Don’t tell Luke I was talking to you about it, okay? I… I don’t want him to call me a tattletale.”
Jesse shook his head, smiling slightly. Sometimes he could just not understand the logic of children. “Well… all right.”
“Thank you.” She ran out the door.
And ten minutes later, as she picked up the last of the dirty towels that she’d used to clean the counter with, carrying it and the others off to the laundry room, he smiled slightly. Daisy was a one-of-a-kind girl, that was for sure. The way things were going, the perfect young lady from Atlanta just might be a rough-and-tumble tomboy before the year was out!