I originally wrote THREE BROTHERS with chapters that included both present and past scenes, but after discussing it with my editor, we felt the flashback scenes slowed the story down. There are about five chapters that take place from the time Scout first arrived at Red Mountain to the time she left, and I think they're fun in the sense of shedding light on her relationships with the three Armstrong brothers.
I was planning on keeping these scenes for my own grins, but since THREE BROTHERS did break into a few international top 100 charts on Amazon (not to mention breaking the top 200 in the United States!), I wanted to release one of these scenes as promised. When it reaches 25 reviews on Amazon, I'll release another scene, along with another when it reaches 50. Should it break the top 100 on Amazon U.S., I will release another!
Please keep in mind this is an unedited version and a way to say thank you to everyone for making the release week of THREE BROTHERS so outstanding! I hope you enjoy getting to know the young Scout and Armstrong brothers as much as I enjoyed writing about them.
whole life, all thirteen years of it, had been packed up in a couple of boxes
and one old suitcase. I hadn’t realized my life had been so small until I’d
seen it stacked on the porch of the place that I was expected to call home now.
It was a place I’d never seen before, in a state I’d never come anywhere close
to. Inside of it lived people I’d never met or even seen before in an old
Mountain Ranch owned and run by John Armstrong and his three sons was
apparently a legend out here in the still semi Wild West, but to a girl who’d
spent her life jumping from one high-rise apartment to the next buried deep in
the city of Chicago, ranches and mountains were places I’d seen in magazines or
were portrayed in the pictures hung on waiting room walls.
mom had never been one for losing herself in the country or finding peace in
the quiet places of the world. I think she felt most comfortable and at rest
when she was socked in by people and skyscrapers. Where the air around her was
filled with such a din of noise she couldn’t hear the voices in her head.
mom wasn’t crazy—at least by a devoted daughter’s point of view—although her psychiatrist
might disagree. I suppose if she hadn’t been crazy, I wouldn’t be here now,
trying and failing to crawl out of a car and face “home sweet new
eyes had been locked on the black leather headrest in front of me since I’d
scrambled inside of the car at the airport and even though I could sense a
shadow looming up on the porch waiting for me, I couldn’t seem to force my
stare from that headrest. The fear of the unknown was crippling. I’d left
friends and all that was familiar behind and even though I knew there was no
going back, that didn’t stop me from longing for it.
minute passed and that shadow lumbered down the steps, stopping just outside of
the car door. The instant the door opened, a dozen new smells rushed at me,
flooding the car with scents that were as foreign as this place. Earthy smells,
like trees and flowers, weeds and grasses. It was a potpourri of scents I had
nothing to compare it to; all it brought to mind was the way the Earth had
probably smelled the first days of its existence. Nothing in the city smelled
like this, nothing even close, not even the scent of fresh bark the city raked
into the flowerbeds every spring at the park by our last apartment.
sorry about your mom, Scout. She was a fine person, Make sure you don’t forget
voice was a man’s, low and rough from old age and what I guessed had been a
hard life. His voice reminded me of the way a grizzly bear’s pelt I’d once
touched at a museum felt—course and weathered. Like even the strongest of
storms couldn’t cut through it.
hands were clutched together, sweat clamming them up. “She was weak,” I
whispered, immediately followed by my head lowering. My mom might have been
weak, but she deserved better than me broadcasting it to the world.
mama wasn’t weak, nowhere close to it. She was strong.” That rough voice filled
the air, seeming to boom right off that giant mountain towering above this
place. “It just turned out that in your mama’s case, the demons in her past
felt something stir in my blood. Something hot and explosive. It was a
sensation I’d been becoming more and more familiar with since my mom’s death
and the comments and criticisms that had come with it. “Is that what you tell
all of the orphaned children you take in after their mother’s swallow a bottle
of the very pills that were supposed to be helping with her depression, not
letting her give in to it?”
Armstrong didn’t say anything. He could have, after the words I’d fired off at
him in the tone I’d encased them in, he had every right to fire back with
something of his own, but he didn’t. Instead, he held out his hand that was as
large and weathered as the size of that Grizzly Bear paw, and he waited.
hadn’t realized I’d taken his hand until he was guiding me out of the car and
once I was standing in front of him, he placed his hands on my shoulders. There
was a smile on his face, but there was a sadness behind it, like no matter what
happy moment or joyous encounter, nothing could smudge away the sadness from
this man’s past. It made me wonder if my smile would be the same going forward.
If after finding one’s mother and only known family member dead on the bathroom
floor with an empty pill bottle still clutched in her hand, her eyes for the first
time ever peaceful, would drip enough sadness into my life to ensure all of my
smiles going forward would miss their mark.
will be okay, Scout,” John said, giving my shoulders the lightest squeeze.
this is where you try to comfort me that time will heal everything, you can
save yourself the effort. A few dozen others have already beat you to that
John Armstrong towered a foot over
me and had to weigh three times what I did. He was a pillar of a man who had a
beard that was thick and tangled with streaks of gray. His face was dark
already and summer had only just begun, but he had the deep canyons of wrinkles
to prove he didn’t hide from it like my mother had. With that mountain in the
background, John Armstrong seemed almost the same size of it, and just as
rugged. I should have been intimidated into silence from the size of this man
alone, but I wasn’t. Instead, the silence I’d kept close to me since my mom’s
death was finally falling away, revealing a person I wasn’t quite familiar
I guess I’ll be the one to tell you the truth.” Somehow, the lines of his
forehead drew deeper before he led me up the steps to his house. “Time won’t
heal everything—it won’t really even heal some things.”
you saying I’m always going to feel this way? That I’m always going to feel so
. . . lost?” I wasn’t sure if that was the word I was searching for, but it was
nodded and that nod should have depressed me more than it did, but something
about someone finally telling me the truth was a relief. Hearing a word of
truth in a sea of lies was refreshing in the most unexpected of ways. “Time
won’t fix the past and the scars you sustained as a result, but it does make it
easier for you to endure them.”
not sure I want to endure this for the rest of my life. I’d rather forget it.
I’d rather have it wiped from my memory for good.” The steps creaked and
groaned beneath my soft footsteps, but they barely made a sound beneath John’s
large, mud-coated boots. It was like he was a ghost passing over them . . . or
he’d just learned where to step so they didn’t sound like they were about to
that’s what you really want, that would also mean your memory of your mother
would have to be erased for good as well. To forget her death means forgetting
her life as well. Is that what you want?”
thought about that the rest of the way up the last few steps and crossing the
wide-stretching porch to the front door. As hard as life had been living with a
chronically depressed parent, there’d been enough good to almost even the
scales. There’d been enough random whims where my mother had pulled me out of
school to spend a sunny afternoon sprawled out on a blanket in the park while
we binged on gelato and vanilla wafers. There’d been enough happiness to
counteract the sadness. Enough joy to skew the sorrow.
I don’t want to forget her. I guess,” I added when I felt that familiar stab of
pain in my stomach when I thought of her . . . only to realize the only place
I’d ever see her again was in my mind or photographs. She’d laughed her last
laugh and we’d fought over the last bite of lemon gelato for the last time.
people we love are as much a curse as they are a blessing, Scout. I know that’s
not what people want to believe, but it’s the truth. The ones we love can lift
us high as much as they can tear us down. To know love is to know pain, and to
feel love is to feel pain. Choose who you love carefully. Make sure they’re
worth the pain that comes with loving them. Make sure they’re worth the gut
wrenching feeling that’s surely going to come. Make sure they’re worth your
hadn’t known what to expect when the lawyer had read me my mother’s will,
informing me of who she’d named as my guardian, but when I’d learned he lived
on a ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and was named John Armstrong, I hadn’t
expected he’d start our first conversation with a lesson on the merits and
pitfalls of love.
you saying some people deserve to be loved and some don’t?” I asked slowly.
deserves love. Some just deserve your love more than others.” As John’s hand
swallowed the doorknob as he prepared to open the door to my new life, my
eyebrows pulled together.
then how do I know what people deserve my love?” I wasn’t sure if we were still
talking about my mom in some loose sense, or if we’d moved on to something else
entirely, but this seemed like a powerful enough life lesson to have clarified.
easy.” Another smile touched by sadness pulled at his mouth. “They’re the ones
who love you back, not the ones who back away from your love.” That was all he
offered before pushing open the door and motioning me inside of his home.
sucked in a long breath before taking my first timid step inside of Red
Mountain Ranch. The lawyer who’d informed me of what my life would be like from
here on out had given me a little bit of history on John Armstrong and his
relationship to my mother. Apparently, they’d met in college, been the best of
friends before quite likely giving the role of lovers a try, and after that had
failed and they’d graduated, they’d gone their opposite ways and remained in
contact with the occasional letter or phone call until their different lives
had cut off all connections.
Armstrong came from old money and his family had a rich history in Wyoming.
Somewhere in his ancestry line had been one of the founding families of Jackson
Hole, and somewhere else had been the family who’d built the very ranch I’d
wound up at. He’d married, had three sons, and his wife had died a while back.
I didn’t know the particulars or even a few details, but I did know this was a
wealthy and influential family and that I was a girl from the inner city who’d
grown accustomed to having the water shut-off and having to get creative with
whatever was left in the fridge when it was mealtime.
mom had considered herself a starving artist, and she was proud of it. She
wasn’t a sell out like so many others she’d seen rise to fame, but the cost to
not selling out meant not selling very many of her pieces. So we ate canned
soup for more dinners than I liked to remember and the second hand store on
Fifth and Browne was responsible for keeping clothes on my back and shoes on my
wasn’t sure how to act in a home where they apparently had so much money, they
could throw tens and twenties to keep the fire burning in their fireplace all
winter long and not feel its effect. It wasn’t like there was a manual for
young teenage girls whose poor, artist of a mother had just killed herself and
she was now being swept off to one of the wealthiest families this side of the
Mississippi. I wish.
followed me inside of the house, closing the door behind us. When I heard the
driver pull away, the sound of crunching gravel growing fainter and fainter, an
air of finality settled over me. This was it. There was no going back. I was
home. Although it was a home I knew nothing about and next to nothing about the
people living within it.
even the names of John’s three sons, or their ages.
to Red Mountain Ranch.” John’s hearty voice filled the vast entry, bouncing off
the timbered walls. “I’m sorry if it’s lacking something of a warm, welcoming
touch. I’ve found that to make a home inviting, it requires a woman’s touch and
my wife’s been dead for long enough now I’m not sure I remember what the scent
of her coffee cake smelled like or the way her smile could light up a room all
wasn’t sure what to make of this giant of a man who talked so openly, but I
figured I was safe with issuing an, “I’m sorry.”
eyes scanned the entry, almost like he was expecting to find her. “I’m sorry
too,” he said after a moment, a sigh immediately following.
is a really nice home you’ve got,” I said conventionally, clueless as to what
to do or say next. I felt like a thank you was in order given he’d agreed to
accept guardianship of me having never even met me, but I wasn’t quite sure if
I was thankful yet. This whole situation made thanksgiving a difficult emotion
to conjure up.
great, great grand-daddy built the first establishment a mile off to the north
of here. It’s still there, but slowly crumbling away. My great grand-daddy
built the big barn you might have seen when you pulled up. And my granddaddy
built this place a year before my daddy was born.” John scanned the room again,
but instead of seeming to search for his wife, it was like he was seeing
shadows and shapes invisible to me. “Every generation of Armstrong has somehow
added something to this place.”
are you going to add?” I asked, inspecting the vast room, imaging what was left
to be added.
not going to add anything. If I had my way, instead of building this place up,
I’d burn it down to the ground.” John’s eyes were already dark, like the color
of water as the sun set, but they went another shade darker.
took another look around. I’d only seen the outside of the house and the entry,
but it didn’t seem like the kind of place a person would want to take a match
to. The walls were made of round, wide logs, gleaming like a sheet of ice, not
dilapidated walls that time, rodents, and un-reined tempers were crumbling. The
ceiling was high, the floors were a shade darker than the walls but just as
shiny, and the furniture and décor scattered throughout the room was tastefully
done and had the look of things that had been purchased at a hefty price tag.
It might not have been my style and there might have been five too many animal
heads adorning the walls, but Red Mountain Ranch had its charm. I didn’t understand
why anyone would want this place to burn
would you want to do that?” I asked, verbalizing my thoughts.
didn’t answer me right away. I was almost certain he wasn’t going to answer me
at all when he let out a long exhale. “Because this place, and the land
surrounding it, is cursed.”
waited a moment, then I waited a couple more, hoping he’d expand on his answer.
Cursed? Were we talking some voo-doo hoo-doo witch had sacrificed a dove here
and made a star using its blood? Or did he mean cursed in the way a person said
half-heartedly as a way to explain a sequence of bad luck with no real
explanation to pin the blame to? Maybe John meant something else entirely, but
whatever his definition of cursed was, I learned one thing—that was all he was
going to say about it right then. Well, and I suppose I learned something else.
That based on the way he’d said it and how his expression had changed, it
became clear that this was the thing he both feared and hated the most in his
might have been the cool temperature lingering in the hallway or it might have
been the topic we’d just glazed over, but something caused shivers to cascade
down my back, trickling down into my legs.
this place really is—“ One sharp look from John stopped me from repeating the
word—“what you say it is . . . then why haven’t you burned it already?” This
was the strangest conversation I’d ever had with a stranger, and that I was
having it with the person who was my parental figure and guardian by the court’s
standards, was either a good thing or a bad thing, but it definitely wasn’t a
sons,” John answered in a simple tone. “I’m getting old and this place belongs
to them now more than it does to me. If they decide to burn it, they have my
blessing. If they decide to repeat the same mistakes of their ancestors and
myself before them, then God have pity on their souls.”
mom had always accused me of being more curious than a cat, and if curiosity
killed the cat, what was it going to do to me? But I’d shrugged it off and
claimed a healthy amount of curiosity could just as easily keep a person alive
as it could kill them. So far, I’d proven my point since I was still alive and
kind of mistakes?” My curiosity asked as I followed John through the foyer. I
didn’t know where we were going or what came next but for some misguided
reason, I trusted this man and his unconventional topics of conversation.
of my sons,” John’s voice raised over each word as he leaned his head back,
“they all swore to me on their mama’s grave that they’d be here to greet you at
seven o’clock on the dot and if they don’t get their asses down here now I’m
going to help them find their own graves!” John’s voice filled the foyer,
bellowing up the stairs leading to the second floor where I guessed his truant
sons were hiding.
be hiding too if my mom had told me a stranger would be moving in with us and
I’d be expected to treat her as just another member of the family. I could
hardly expect John’s sons to roll out the welcome mat and chime the bells that
I’d arrived when I wouldn’t have done the same for them.
that was when I caught a glimpse of someone lumbering down the stairs from the
second floor and when he made his way far enough down so that I could see all
of him, I realized I would have rolled out the welcome mat, chimed the bells,
and thrown a parade if this was the guy who showed up as the new member of the
older than me, this guy who I assumed was one of John’s three sons couldn’t be
described as hot because any guy with a nice body and face could be described
with the same weak word. No, hot didn’t cut it. Not by a fraction. This guy was
. A god in human form and one
that was making my stomach twist into so many knots I doubted it would ever
was tall and wide like his dad, but unlike the darker features of John, he had
dark blond hair that was already starting to lighten from the early summer sun.
I couldn’t tell what color his eyes were, but they were far lighter than John’s
near obsidian color, and from the way this young man carried himself, I would
have guessed he didn’t lack for confidence. When he stopped at the bottom of
the steps, his focus shifting from the phone in his hands to me, he gave me a
quick once-over before his gaze cut to his father.
older than I thought she’d be,” was all he said, giving his attention back to
his phone when it chimed.
told you she was thirteen,” John replied.
but not all thirteen-year-old girls are created equal.” The guy’s gaze
flickered to me again, just enough to make my stomach tighten once more, before
it flickered back to his phone.
you seem intent on arguing the definition of a thirteen-year-old, I’ll lead
with the introductions.” John shook his head at his son. “Scout, this is my
oldest son, Chase. He’s seventeen, thinks the world was created to meet his
every whim and wish, and is responsible for breaking so many girls’ hearts,
he’s recognized wherever he goes by the locals as well as most of the vacation
reputation wasn’t earned by just breaking hearts, if you know what I mean.”
Chase arched a brow at me and made a clucking sound with his mouth. I wasn’t exactly
sure what he meant, but I could
take a few educated guesses.
was still shaking his head. “Chase, my first born, the child who was supposed
to be the disciplined, over-achiever of the bunch”—I noticed Chase roll his
eyes at his phone—“this is Scout. Think of her as your—“
Chase interrupted with another eye roll as he stuffed his phone into his back
pocket. “Yeah, I caught that the first thousand times you drilled it into all
of us.” When a car horn blared just outside the door, Chase started moving
As he passed me, I realized just
how much taller he was than I’d first thought. He might have only been an inch
taller than John, but he towered over me. Kind of like I was some tiny ant
staring up at this great, golden god.
had just passed me when he broke to a stop. “It’s nice to meet you, Scout.
Sorry to greet and run but my social calendar calls.”
cue, the doorbell rang and Chase’s smile slid higher. He was at the door and
pulling it open before John’s face could turn an impressive shade of pink. “I
told you not to make plans tonight, Chase. I told you that tonight I expected
us all to have dinner together and make Scout feel welcome.”
had the door halfway open when he shut it again, jogged back my direction, and
before I’d realized he’d wrapped his arms around me and scooped me up into some
kind of hug, my feet were back on the ground and Chase’s arms were unwinding.
“Do you feel welcome now, Scout?”
verbal response wasn’t possible, so I bobbed my head. My body was still all
tingly and warm from just having been so close to the divinity known as Chase
feels welcome, Dad. Gotta run.” When he opened the door for the second time,
Chase pulled it all the way open. On the other side of it were two girls. Two women
. Their smiles matched Chase’s,
slanted from what I guessed was expectation or maybe it was anticipation . . .
something they were all looking forward to. They weren’t as pretty as Chase
was, not by half, but if he wouldn’t have been beside them to compare to, I
suppose they would have been what guys considered major hotties. Chase slung an
arm around each one of their shoulders, and spun around to face us before
leaving. “And just so you know Dad, I didn’t make plans tonight. But plans kind
of showed up at my front door.” When the girls started laughing, Chase
shrugged, then winked at me before turning their threesome around and heading
down the stairs.
hadn’t shut the door behind him, so I had a chance to watch him leap into the
convertible running outside as one girl climbed behind the steering wheel and
the other crawled into the passenger seat. As the convertible sped out of the
driveway in a spray of gravel and dust, I sighed. I actually sighed all wistful
like. I was going to be living under the same roof as that guy.
that moment, life did not suck.
sorry about that. Chase is easily distracted. And frequently,” John said,
shaking his head at the spot Chase had disappeared from. “As for my other sons
. . .” John went to the bottom of the stairs Chase had jogged down a few
minutes ago and rested his hand in the large knoll-post that had been carved
into the shape of some kind of bird of prey. “Conn! Don’t make me come up there
and get you!”
John being all gentle and cautious with me, it seemed he was the opposite with
his sons. There was nothing gentle or cautious with the way John’s face and
posture were as he glared up at the top of that stairs, waiting.
wouldn’t want that, now would we.” An even, smooth voice replied from the
shadows in front of me where none of the lamplight glowing in the foyer could
reach. Pulled to that dark place, I took a couple of steps forward, but that
was when he crept out from his hiding place. With each step he took, more of
the light from the room illuminated him. “Don’t get so worked up, Dad. We
wouldn’t want you to have another heart attack.”
was only a few feet away when he seemed to notice me, but once he did, his
attention didn’t wander, not even long enough to blink. His stare was similar
to Chase’s in its investigation, but different in that it went farther, not
stopping until his gaze felt penetrating and on the verge of unwelcome. This
dark stranger was studying me like he couldn’t only see every last dark secret
I possessed, but he could sense the ones I was hoping to one day accrue.
Secrets like being with a guy like Chase Armstrong just to see if he was as
godlike in the bedroom as he was outside of it, or getting high on a beach late
at night, and going skinny-dipping all by myself. Sure, these might not have
been the deep, dark secrets people shriveled away from, but they were deep and
dark for a thirteen-year-old girl who had yet to kiss a guy or have her first
drink of alcohol.
long have you been skulking in that dark corner, Conn?” John’s eyes narrowed on
his son as he approached.
enough to see Doe Eyes here get even more so as she watched big brother drive
away looking like she wished he was what was being served for dinner.” Conn
didn’t stop moving my direction until he was so close I could see the flecks of
gold in his dark irises. “And I don’t skulk in the dark, Dad. I thrive there.”
shared a smile with me then, one that felt more chilling than it did warm, and
for some reason, I shared a smile of my own with him.
Chase had been big, blonde, and beefy, Conn was the opposite. He was still
taller than me, but only by a couple of inches, and his hair was the same dark
chestnut brown I guessed John’s had been before silver took over. His body
could be described as lanky and lean, and the dark long-sleeved shirt and pants
he was in gave off a sinister type vibe. That, matched with the brooding
expression told me this was one of those boys my mom had warned me against. The
kind who’d let too much darkness into their lives it suffocated out all of the
light—which seemed hypocritical coming from a woman who’d decided to kill
herself in her thirties.
Conn Armstrong, I didn’t need to have heard my mother’s warnings or remembered
them to realize this wasn’t the type of guy I wanted to get mixed up with. This
was the type of one I needed to avoid, so I wasn’t sure why I couldn’t seem to
look away from him and take a step back.
meet Scout. Scout, meet Conn.” John stopped off to the side of us, looking
between us like he was waiting to see who would be the first to blink.
kind of a name is Scout?” Conn tipped his head.
mom loved ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’” I explained with a shrug.
like Harper Lee’s Scout was a total opposite to the Scout you are. Your mom
must have been disappointed.” In a different tone, Conn’s words could have been
construed as harsh, but that wasn’t how they hit me.
took them a different way than I did though. “Don’t start, Conn. You promised
you’d behave tonight.”
All I’m pointing out is that Scout’s here namesake was a strong tomboy. Not a—“
little girl?” The words spilled out, boiling over before I’d even realized they
were forming. Something about this boy in front of me made me shed that layer
of discretion away.
eyes tumbled down me again, a sideways smile tugging at the corner of his
mouth. “Princess. That was more the word I was looking for. Only princesses
wear light pink and match their nail polish to their outfit. And their
lip-gloss too.” When Conn’s scrutinizing eyes landed on my mouth, not in a
hurry to leave, it wasn’t my stomach I felt knotting like I had with Chase, it
was my heart.
John warned, reaching out for his son’s arm but Conn deflected it by stepping
mom named me Scout because she hoped that I’d remember to question everything
and try to see the best in all people.” I didn’t know why I felt the need to
defend my mom’s choice of name for me, but it seemed important that this boy
who was looking at me like he was just waiting for a punch line, knew there was
more to me than a name and a pink dress.
do you see the best in all people?” His head tipped deeper.
didn’t look away from his intense stare. “Yeah, I do.”
gleamed in his eyes. A challenge? A secret? Who knows? “We’ll see.”
being so damn cryptic, Conn. You’re going to scare her.” There was an edge of
warning in John’s voice as he stared down at his son.
was just about to reply that I didn’t feel scared or anything close to it, when
Conn chuckled a couple of low, rolling beats. “How about I’ll stop being so
cryptic when you stop telling me who to be and not be?”
we not do this now?” John said, his face a light shade of red.
not the one who started ordering you to stop being so hot-headed and
narrow-minded.” Conn’s reply was eerily calm in contrast to his father’s.
damn it, Conn,” John hissed through a rigid jaw.
worry, Dad. I’m damned, all right, but it might take a few more years before I
can convince you.” Right then, in the most fleeting of moments, I saw it. I saw
what Conn was talking about. The mask slipped back just enough I caught a
glimpse of the Conn Armstrong who wasn’t all bravado and show, and that was the
image I latched onto. It would be that flash of the sad, scared boy I’d come to
regret for years to come, because that might have been the Conn Armstrong who
resided beneath the surface, but that wasn’t the man who broke my heart so many
times I’d stopped trying to put it back together.
was Conn who reminded me that it didn’t really matter who we were deep down
inside, because it was the person we were with others who defined us.
Harper Lee’s Scout was a strong tomboy,” I said, trying to slice through the
thickening tension, and also trying to figure out what this boy I was so
suddenly and inexplicable enamored by thought of me. “What does that make me?”
lifted a dark brow. “A princess. I thought we already went over this.”
arms crossed as I tried not to bristle at him repeating the term. “Strong
tomboy. Fill in the
adjective—what kind of ‘princess’ am I?”
rubbed at his chin. He was older than me, though not by much, but he already
had a dark shadow of stubble covering his chin and jawline. Watching him rub
his hand against it, made me wonder what it would feel like against my cheek.
a knowing expression worked into position on Conn’s face, I dumped that
pondering from my head. Hopefully, for good.
.” He said my name in the
same tone he’d used when saying dad
Almost like it was more curse than address. “Other than your mother who killed
herself by swallowing a pharmacy worth of pills, you have no other family, but
because of some name your mom scribbled down on a piece of paper, we’re stuck
with you now and you show up at our front door in a pretty pink dress, and
those big, sad eyes of yours in hopes we won’t reject you like your own mother
did when she decided death was better than living with you one more day.”
me, John was issuing a string of warnings, but I didn’t hear them. All I heard
were the vile words spilling from the mouth of the boy in front of me. When I
tried to take a step back from Conn, I couldn’t. It was like I was stuck being
close to him. Not quite close enough to reach out and touch him, but close
enough to be affected by his toxicity.
say that makes you pathetic,” Conn continued. “One pathetic
princess. Be glad your mom isn’t around to see the strong
girl she hoped you’d become reduced to the pathetic one you are today. Be glad
she isn’t here to see you for the piece of shit you are like I’m glad my mother
isn’t around to see in me.”
words flowed over me like scalding lava, burning and singing their way deep
inside. I could feel tears pushing their way to the surface, but I wouldn’t let
them spill. I couldn’t let him see me cry. I wasn’t sure why and maybe letting
him see me cry was exactly what he needed to realize what kind of person he
was, but either way, I kept my tears to myself.
out! Now!” John’s booming voice finally cut through, making me want to cover my
ears from the volume of it.
Conn stayed planted in place, John pointed at the door and lifted his brows in
a way that suggested if Conn didn’t move himself, John would move him. Only
when John made a move Conn’s direction, did he finally stop looking at me long
enough to dodge his dad.
John’s and Chase’s footsteps had echoed through the foyer, Conn’s were silent.
He was more specter than man moving through that room.
should have kept my back to him and let him go, but something about wanting to
prove to him and myself and my mom if she could still see me from wherever she
was now, that I was the strong Scout no one seemed to believe I was. “You can’t
make me hate you just by spewing a few nasty words, you know.”
put his arm around me, probably more to keep me from following Conn through the
front door than as a show of support, but when Conn twisted his head over his
shoulder, his eyes black, that kept me in place more than John’s strong arm.
“No, I can’t make you hate me. You’ll figure out a way to hate me all on your
own eventually. Just ask my dad.” Conn’s eyes narrowed on me, but it was clear
that look of disdain was intended for the man on my left.
powered through the door, disappearing into the night, but my eyes stayed on
that spot long after he’d gone.
sorry about that. I was hoping to spare you from Conn’s . . . disposition,
for at least a few days
while you got settled in.” John couldn’t keep looking at the spot his son had
left, so he turned to face me. “If I would have known he’d be waiting for us,
armed and ready to fire every last bullet in his artillery, I would have taken
you in through the back door.”
he so angry?” I asked, wondering what happened that could have been so terrible
to make Conn the way he was.
hates the world and those in it as much as he’s convinced himself we all hate
him.” John’s voice had calmed, to almost sound sad, but his face was still a
special shade of red. “I love my son and he has his merits, but my advice to
you is to give him as wide of a berth as you can while you’re here.”
When I found myself fretting with the hem of the pink dress Conn had made it a
point to insult, I sighed. This morning, it had been my favorite piece of
clothing, but after tonight it was going into a garbage can.
he’s made it a favorite pastime of his to make sure everyone around him is as
miserable as he is.” When John’s face darkened, I caught a glimpse of Conn in
him. The two had such similar faces I could have been looking at the Conn of
the future. “Now, I promised you dinner. After those introductions, you’ve got
to have worked up an appetite.”
food and my appetite were the farthest things from my mind. Especially after
having just met one father and two sons who redefined
complex-bordering-on-unhealthy relationships. What kind of a family had my
mother farmed me off to?
you have three sons?” I asked softly, peeking up the stairs to see if one more
would come hustling down them, wondering what he’d have to say about me being
face softened instantly, the shadows under his eyes lightening. “Yes, I have
three. Two you’ve met and one you’ll meet soon.”
third that doesn’t have to fulfill the duties of his social calendar or won’t
get thrown out of the house for saying mean things?”
deep chuckle came from John, vibrating deep in his chest. “No, no social
calendars or general disdain for humanity to worry about when it comes to my
he’s the good son,” I guessed. Chase was the playboy, Conn was the black sheep,
so the third one had to be the good one of the bunch. That was the only role
missing from the line-up.
is.” John nodded, his smile firmly in place.
makes him the good one?”
raised a brow at me, likely as surprised at my series of pointed questions as I
was. It might have been thanks to the Wyoming air stirring something up from
deep inside of me, or it might have been the feeling that this life was a new
start for me, a chance to redefine myself and be whoever I wanted. There was no
one from my past life to hold me to the person and limitations I’d held myself
to. This was a fresh start in every way a person could ever want one.
took his time replying, but when he did, I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen a man as
proud as he was ashamed. “Because he didn’t turn out anything like me. That’s
how I know he’s the good one.”
didn’t strike me as a saint, but he didn’t seem like the other kind of man
either. I was about to tell him so when someone jogged through the same door
two brothers had just escaped from. He looked different than the other two, but
there was no denying this was the third brother. The middle. The good one. It
seemed appropriate that he was the middle child given he was the bridge between
his two other brothers. Not as tall or wide as Chase, but not near as lean and
lanky as Conn. Instead of being light or dark, his hair was a warm brownish-red
and his eyes went with the same middle-of-the-road theme being brownish-green.
than John, he was the only other one who fulfilled the cowboy image when I
learned I’d be living on a ranch. His light colored hat was dotted with flecks
of mud, his boots up to the knees of his worn jeans were even muddier.
smile, though . . . well, it was wholly different from both of his brothers. It
was wide, pulled up as high as a smile could go on either side, and there was
no hint of any other emotion lingering within it other than genuineness.
so sorry I’m late,” he began, sliding his hat off and taking long strides my
direction. As he got closer, I could tell his face had also taken a beating
from the mud. When he held out his hand for me to shake, my eyes widened. “And
I’m also sorry for being such a mess.” He lowered his dirty hand, wiping it on
the leg of his jean. “Do you mind if I take a quick shower and catch up with
you at dinner, Dad?”
say that sounds like a good idea unless you want to finish the job of
convincing Scout we’re the bunch of barbarians your brothers and I have done a
good job of assuring her of.”
leaned in, like he was going to whisper something in my ear, but kept a safe
distance. Probably because he was slicked in mud. “They are
a bunch of barbarians, but me, I’m fairly evolved.” With a
shrug, he laughed when John shooed him away good-naturedly. John was a
different person with this son. It was strange how the dark mood of one son
seemed to have a direct effect on him, just as the light mood of this one did
to meet you, Scout. I look forward to getting to meet more of you once a little
less mud is meeting me.” He waved at his dad and me before jogging for the
your name?” I called after him.
was in the middle of kicking off his boots and dropping his hat onto one of the
pegs punched into the wall where a few other hats swung from. “Chance. My
I hadn’t realized I’d repeated his name out loud. Conn was a bit different, but
I’d gone to school with a guy with the same name, and I’d run into plenty of
Chase’s, but Chance? Not a single person.
you know, like a chance
take a chance
on me. Or—“
it?” I threw into the mix.
laughing, pulling off his socks that had somehow managed to also get muddy.
“Yeah, or as in the legendary, notorious, known by every corner of the world .
. . Chance
found myself laughing with him. It was the first time I’d laughed since I’d
found my mom’s body on the bathroom floor. “I like your name, Chance.”
balling his dirty socks up and burying them inside his dirty boots, he padded
barefoot up the stairs. “I like your name too, Scout.”
not like Harper Lee’s Scout if that’s why you like my name. You know, just to
clear that up.” I was picking at the hem of my dress again, replaying the
things Conn had said to me.
thing I like real life people only about a million times more than I like
fictional characters then, Scout, not-Harper-Lee’s-Version.”
you making fun of me?” I asked as he continued up the stairs. Unlike his two
brothers before him, I didn’t feel the need to worship every place his feet had
touched the ground. That was a relief. At least I wouldn’t be sharing the same
address with three brothers I couldn’t think straight around. Just two.
not making fun, just saying I like your name and that I’m looking forward to
being your friend.”
it turned out, Chance was the only friend I had that summer, and became my best
friend those five years I lived at Red Mountain.