Cora McAdams, still slim and gorgeous in her late thirties, looks like the stylish, sophisticated French woman she’s been impersonating for her entire adulthood. But she sounds like the girl who grew up on Bathhouse Row in downtown Hot Springs, above the old wood-paneled pharmacy and luncheonette that’s been in her family for a hundred years. Hanging onto her Arkansas accent has always been a point of honor for Cora. She may have craved a more adventurous and cultured life than Hot Springs could offer, but she never wanted to deny the Southern girl she was at her core.
Cora’s mother ELEANOR was a strong-willed Yankee who was the driving force behind the business handed down through her husband’s family. She was also the one who kept her alcoholic husband functioning, who paid her trackie son’s gambling debts, and who encouraged Cora to grab a scholarship to Boston University, to take off for France on her junior year abroad, and to marry the French Moroccan man she met there.
When Eleanor dies suddenly, the family is thrown into disarray – but Cora doesn’t realize how much disarray until her own marriage breaks up and she leaves France with her daughter to come home to Hot Springs. There, she finds the luncheonette shuttered and in shambles, her father ill and barely conscious in his filthy apartment, and her brother JAMIE missing.
The only doctor her father will allow her to call is GEORGE FORREST, who was Cora’s brother’s best friend growing up. Cora remembers George only dimly as an Eagle Scout; he was younger than she was, and he and Jamie stopped being friends after high school. When George shows up, it turns out he’s not a physician but a veterinarian. He takes care of the horses at Oak Lawn, the race track. But still, he does what he can to help Cora’s dad.
Besides coping with her father and brother, and the hull of a family business, Cora’s other big problem is her daughter JULIETTE, who was outraged at having to leave Paris to begin with – and is triply outraged now that she discovers what a wreck life is in Hot Springs. Cora’s job is to keep Juliette from getting into big trouble by bolting from Hot Springs….but also to keep her from getting into even bigger trouble by staying.
Check out what’s cooking in Cora’s kitchen.
Read Cora’s side of the story.
George Forrest is Cora’s counterpart in every way – smart, attractive, active, principaled – with one major difference: He stayed in Hot Springs while she left. George stayed partly for family reasons: His mother died when he was still in high school, and he helped raise his three younger brothers and sisters while putting himself through the local community college. His father promised that then George could go to the university in Fayetteville, but when the time came their no-good father disappeared, leaving George stuck in Hot Springs holding what’s left of the family together.
George has such a big heart that he’s always being taken advantage of, even by those who love him, but that’s also his saving grace. His lifelong love of animals leads him to get a job at the horse track, and he decides to become a veterinarian. Commuting to college in Little Rock while also holding down his job and taking care of his siblings, he finally gets his degree and becomes the track’s official vet. And the Old Timers of Hot Springs as well as its young underworld – the street kids and drug addicts – go to him for emergency medical care.
One such waif who washes up on George’s doorstep is TARYN PIPER, a runaway turned dancer at the Exquisite A Go Go who’s been beaten up by her drug-dealing boyfriend. George patches Taryn up and helps her get into a rehab program. When she gets out of rehab, he hires her as his assistant to keep her away from her old life, and ends up falling in love with her. The two marry, and a year later have a daughter, BETH, named for George’s dead mother.
George is crazy about his wife and daughter, and Taryn tries to be a good mother and wife, but she just can’t handle it. She starts sneaking away and using drugs again, eventually becoming addicted to methamphetamine and leaving her daughter and George, sporadically reappearing in their lives when she’s high or needs help. Her current boyfriend is Jamie McAdams, Cora’s n’er-do-well brother.
When we meet George, he’s struggling to finally break the bond with Taryn and to raise his now-six-year-old daughter alone. His brothers and sisters are now grown and gone, all successful professionals, which makes George proud. But he’s left by himself to manage his world, and he’s sorely in need of the help he’s always given so freely to others.
Read George’s side of the story.
LaTonya Jones, an African-American massage therapist in the historic Buckstaff Bath House, dropped out of Hot Springs High when she had the first of her five children. Eventually learning massage therapy and building a lucrative career to support herself and her family, she earned her GED and bachelor’s degree on the side. Now, she wants to be a doctor, and George is tutoring her to take her medical boards. Though she and Cora went to high school together, they barely knew each other there – but now, as two fish out of water with deep ties to the community, are becoming friends. LaTonya’s two oldest sons,DWAYNE and DaSHAWN, are high-profile men about town: Dwayne as the dynamic pastor of the ever-more-popular evangelical church, and DaShawn as the proprietor of the Exquisite A Go Go.
Juliette is Cora’s determinedly French teenage daughter: gorgeous, sexy, stylish, as exotic as an alien in backwoods Hot Springs. Though Juliette, with her American mother and Moroccan father, never felt like a real Parisienne, now that she’s in Arkansas she refuses to speak anything but French and wears clothes that would look outrageous on the Boulevard Saint Germain. Juliette is upset that her parents have split up, but she’s much more upset that her mother has forced her to move to this nowhere town. Her aim: to cause so much trouble her mother will have no choice but to take her back to Paris.
ReadJuliette’s Secret Diary.
Read Juliette’s side of the story.
Cora’s younger brother is not at heart a bad guy. He’s sweet, and funny, and tries to be loving. But he’s got a weakness – or rather, several weaknesses. He loves to play the horses, and blows every penny on gambling. All his considerable intelligence is trained toward trying to beat the system at the track and strike it rich, which of course never happens. Jamie is also a drinker and a devoted pot smoker, though he’s never let himself descend into the world of hard drugs as his new girlfriend Taryn had done – though he feels himself slipping under Taryn’s negative influence. For a long time he held his ailing father and the family business together, but now he’s given up and taken off to a cabin in the woods with Taryn, and may be cooking and using meth himself.
James McAdams Sr. – called Senior by everyone in town – is the father of Cora and Jamie, descendant of one of the first settlers of Hot Springs. A pharmacist by profession, he took over the family drugstore and luncheonette from his father. Senior’s family once owned a lot of property in town and were political and economic forces to be reckoned with. But Senior, as the handsome, dashing, but spoiled oldest son, ran through much of the family’s holdings. A weakness for liquor and drugs, often swiped from the pharmacy, led him to be an ineffectual husband and father. But with first his wife’s help and then his son’s, he always held it together, parading down Bathhouse Row every day in his expensive clothing, like the dandy he was raised to be. Now, though, he’s descended into ruin, is in thrall to the predictions of his new gal pal Jimmie Sue Fallon, and it’s up to Cora to try to pull him and the business back together.
Small and slight, blonde and sweet-voiced, Taryn Piper looks and seems barely older than the 19-year-old girl she was when she first met George Forrest. But she’s 25 now, and her meth use is starting to show in her face and her behavior. She’s a woman on the verge: You can still see the gorgeous, vulnerable young girl she was, but she’s slipping toward the ravaged addict George was always afraid she’d become.
Take a peek inside Taryn’s Little Black Book.
Read Taryn’s side of the story.
The delicate six-year-old daughter of George and Taryn, Beth is painfully shy and barely speaks since her mother left. In fact, the breaking point in Taryn and George’s marriage was when Taryn brought Beth to a meth lab during the day so she could get high. But little Beth still misses her beautiful mother, and doesn’t understand why she’s gone. Taryn’s sporadic reappearances only confuse the little girl further. Beth attaches herself to Juliette as a surrogate mother, following the teenager all over town.
As the pastor of the Divine Light Evangelic Church, Dwayne Jones commands a congregation of hundreds, growing every week. White and black, poor and upper-class, everyone flocks to Dwayne’s church. Not only does he have an enormous influence on the community, but he’s becoming a rich man – which is causing conflicts of its own.
DaSHAWN is the opposite of his bible-thumping twin brother Dwayne, except that they both love money and crave success. But DaShawn is seeking his riches in the underworld, pimping for the dancers at the Exquisite, bleeding the demimonde that populates Hot Springs’ seamy side. DaShawn doesn’t drink or tweak or gamble, but he knows how to exploit those who do.
LaTonya’s youngest son, her only child still at home, is at Hot Springs High, where he meets Juliette, with whom he starts a tentative romance. Darrell is pulled between the two poles characterized by his brothers. He’s smart and wants to be successful in mainstream society, like his oldest brother Dwayne, but he just can’t jump on the Jesus bandwagon. He admires his two older sisters, one at Harvard, one working at a bank in New York, but he’s scared to leave Hot Springs. And he also wants excitement and great wads of cash like DaShawn, but he’s too much of a good boy to embrace the underworld.
Jimmie Sue Fallon is a blowsy 60-ish woman with way-too-long bleached hair and crystals dangling from her ears, her neck, her entire body. A self-styled faith healer, she’s glommed onto Senior and is draining him of what little is left of his money, claiming she can cure and cleanse him, make him young and handsome and strong again. What makes Jimmie Sue even more dangerous is that she actually believes in her own powers, and is able to persuade others that she can help them when all conventional methods have failed.
Check out Jimmie Sue’s latest predictions.
Cora’s ex-husband, the son of an absent French father and Moroccan mother who raised him alone in the Arab style in the suburbs of Paris, is angry that Cora has left him. Though he wasn’t a very good husband or father while she was there, he’s determined to get her and Juliette back. He appears in Hot Springs occasionally to try to do just that, though his tough guy tactics don’t play as well there as they do in France.
THE BANJO BOY
The Banjo Boy is a young traveler who is passing through town when his car breaks down. With no money to repair it, he plays his banjo and sings on street corners all over Hot Springs, not expecting payment but sometimes getting it. His songs provide a soundtrack for the character’s lives, and sometimes for the site.