That lit a spark under Big Paw’s butt, and he hurried over to the driver’s seat.

I waved goodbye one last time before Big Paw put the truck into drive.

I watched the two ladies wave to me through the sideview mirror until they were out of sight.

The ride to the airport was pretty quiet. Big Paw and I weren’t big on talking, and the silence didn’t bother me at all. My mind was too busy thinking about the future and the past. When we pulled up to the airport, he helped me toss my suitcases out of the back. I grabbed my guitar case and sat it down on the curbside so I could say my final goodbye.

Big Paw kept scratching his beard. “Ian, look, I know I ain’t good with words like your grandmother. She is much more emotional than most people, and well, she always says the right thing. That’s not me, so I’m going to say what I need to say and get it out of the way.”

He shifted around the baseball cap on his head before stuffing his hands into his pockets. He cleared his throat. “You’ve been a pain in my ass since you were a kid.”

Not the goodbye speech I was hoping for.

“It’s true.” He nodded. “You’ve been a fucking pain in my goddamn ass. Throughout your whole childhood, you pushed my buttons. You acted out and gave me every gray hair on my head.”

“Is this supposed to be an inspirational goodbye, because—”

“Just shut your hole and let me finish, all right?” he barked.

“Yes, sir.”

He shifted his feet side to side before pinching the bridge of his nose. When he locked eyes with mine, his stare was filled with tears, and I swore I hadn’t ever seen my grandfather cry. “I just want you to know that you got all those characteristics from me. The good, the bad, and the messed-up parts. You’re a mirror of your old man, Ian, and I wouldn’t want you to be anything other than who you are. So you go out to Los Angeles, and you give them fucking hell, okay? You be a pain in their ass like the damn devil you are. Push their buttons. Push the whole world’s buttons until you get that dream of yours. You get that success, and you hold on tight to it. Don’t you dare look back to this place until you truly need to, but when you need to look back, we’ll be here waiting.”

Damn . . .

Now I was crying.

I sniffled a bit and nodded. “Yes, sir. I promise.”

“Good. Now come on. Let’s get this mopey crap over with.” He held his arms out toward me and pulled me into a hug. I held on to him, and I missed him before I even let go. “I’m proud of you, son,” he softly said before letting me go. “Now go. Go be a rock star.”

I picked up my guitar case and grabbed the handles of my suitcases. As I walked into the airport, a small part of me wanted to turn around and look back, but I didn’t.

Looking back wasn’t an option. From here on out, I only looked forward.



The colors of fall painted the leaves of Eres, and it wasn’t long before summer moved out and autumn came crashing onto the scene. I spent the next few weeks trying hard to keep busy on the ranch.

When Big Paw called me to his office, I was just as nervous as the first day I’d met him. Even though over the past few months, we’d grown closer—in a Big Paw kind of way, which still felt not close at all—he still scared me a little.

“Sit down, Hazel,” he told me with his gruff voice, chewed cigar hanging from his mouth.

I did as he said and cleared my voice. “If this has anything to do with the chickens getting out of the coop, I’ll take full responsibility for that. The new guy left the gate open, but that was because I didn’t tell him to shut it,” I said, my words flipping off my tongue as the palms of my hands began to sweat.

“This ain’t about no damn chicken coops,” he uttered.

“Oh.” I shifted my weight in the chair and wiped my hands against my legs. “Then what did you call me in for?”

“I saw your mother the other day.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his hand across his jawline. “I drove up to the prison to talk to her. To make sure she was doing all right. She said she’s been getting your letters but felt bad answering them after her last talk with you. She was still detoxing her system, and I believe she said some things she didn’t mean.”

“How . . . wait . . . what? How do you even know my mother?”

His brows knitted as his hands clasped together. “Holly and I fostered kids in this town for as long as we can remember. Jean was nothing but a kid when she came through these parts. She was pregnant and scared—pretty much how she is right now. We took her in, and I did my best to care for her. Holly and I both did. She was a great kid. Quiet, but strong. She had dreams too. She talked about how she was going to go to college and get a degree. How she was going to make your life better than hers had been. How she loved you. She had dreams for herself and for you—but she came from a broken family. She had a lot of emotional bruises.” The somber look that fell against his lips made me want to cry. “She, um . . . she grew close with my daughter—Ian’s mother—which was the worst thing that could’ve ever happened to her, I believe. To this day, I blame myself.”

“Blame yourself for what?”