~ JESSE ~
“So you’re the decision maker now?”
He waits too many beats before speaking or maybe not enough. “I took on this role because, believe it or not, I care. I won’t pretend to understand the pain you’ve gone through, and I won’t pretend to understand your connection to this land. I’ve watched you grow up. I know, for you, this farm is like a Band-Aid on cuts that won’t stop bleeding.”
If that was meant to make me feel better, it didn’t. “You’ll never vote for me. You’re biased.”
“I’m not biased.”
For days I’ve been a stick under pressure, being bent too far. Finally, I snap. “I know you told Gran not to take me in after Mom died and to put me in foster care. You told her I was too broken and couldn’t be fixed. I know because I heard you. Tell me now you’re not biased.”
Guilt flashes over his face, and he tries to hide it as he flips through the folder in his hands. “If it helps, that’s why your grandmother set up the tribunal and chose two other people to help make the decision. Majority vote will win, and she believed you’ll rise to the challenge.”
I’m not sure if I respect him or hate him for not denying what we both know is true regarding the foster care. I’m also not sure how I feel that he doesn’t apologize either.
“She chose people who will give you a fair shake,” he continues. “This isn’t a death sentence. It’s a wakeup call. It’s August, and you have until May to prove you’re responsible. You have time. Take it. Prove me wrong.”
A growing sense of purpose takes root within me, and I do my best to funnel my anger and grief into it. “Who, besides you, is on the tribunal?”
If I tell you then I run the risk of you putting on a show for those people. This is your chance to change for the better. Take advantage of it.” Marshall leaves the paperwork on the antique table, shoves his folder back in his leather bag, and stands. “If it’s any consolation, I want you to succeed, but I want you to truly succeed. I won’t vote for you to keep the land unless you show me you understand what it means to run a farm of this magnitude.”
It’s no consolation. That’s him attempting to ease his guilt for when he votes against me.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Jesse. If you need to talk or if you’d like to stop by for a meal, you’re welcome at my house. And if you get tired of being here alone, you can live with us. We have plenty of room.”
I don’t believe any of that, but I nod because doing so will get him out of my home faster. Marshall stares at me for a few more seconds, as if contemplating saying more, but he doesn’t. Instead he walks out, shutting the door behind him.
His engine purrs to life and rocks crack under his moving tires. Then there’s silence. Maddening silence. I drop into Gran’s recliner, lower my head into my hands and close my eyes. I’ve lost Gran, and now I could lose my land. The only thing left that I love. The only thing in my life that brings me peace. “Why, Gran?”
I strain to listen in the silence, and my gut twists that there’s no response. “I miss you.”
Still no response and my head begins to throb. My cell in my back pocket vibrates. I dig it out, expecting to see a text from one of my friends, but I pop my neck to the right at the sight of Glory’s name. You need to stop by tomorrow night.
Glory: I know of your grandmother’s plan
Me: So do I
Glory: But I know who the people are who will be deciding your future.
Me—stone cold frozen.
Glory: Stop by tomorrow at nine. I should be wrapping up my last session then.
Me: I won’t be there.
Glory: Yes, you will.
A big thank you to InkSlinger PR for making me part of the review and excerpt tour for this awesome book!