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By:J. B. Salsbury

Sitting outside the old double-wide portable office with the Jennings Contractors sign slapped on the side, my stomach ties in knots. It’s not facing off with one of Payson’s most respected citizens, which isn’t saying much for a town with a population of 15,000, and it’s not my dad’s disappointment I’m nervous about either. It’s the satisfaction I’ll be giving him once he sees he was right.

“Good luck makin’ it out there on your own, Shy. You don’t belong out there. You belong here in town close to your momma.”

“Pretty sure she doesn’t give a crap where I go, Dad, seein’ as she’s dead. Besides, she left home when she was my age, found you. Don’t be a hypocrite.”

I cringe at the memory of our last conversation the morning I left town, his glare practically shoving me out the door along with the parting words that sliced through my gut.

“You’re nothing like your momma.”

He’s right.

She was strong, resilient, walked away from her childhood home and never looked back.

I came crawling back just as he always said I would.

“Fuck!” I slam my open palms against the steering wheel. “Ouch!” Gasping in pain, I shake out the nerve sting, willing myself to calm down.

Almost two hours in the truck that included a very long lunch break at an old café just outside of town and I still haven’t perfected my speech, which I managed to put together in my head without even a sliver of suck-up to the Great Nash Jennings.

“I’m back, but it’s only temporary. I’d love a place to stay while I get back on my feet. I’ll find a job, save some money, and then I’ll be out of your hair.”

He’ll have to torture me to get me to beg or admit I screwed up. He can’t know how close I was to making it big only to make an even bigger ass out of myself on live television.

A tiny part of me whispers that maybe he already knows. He wouldn’t get my old news channel here in Payson, but he’d get the Phoenix feed. Shit, how many people in town saw me make a complete fool out of myself and will know when they see me that I’ve been fired?

I swing out of the truck and go to wait inside. Chances are the old man forgot to lock the door.

The familiar feeling of rocks and dried pine needles crunch beneath my feet as I drag myself up the steps. A gust of crisp, dry mountain air whirls through the tall trees and I can’t deny the comfort I find in it.

Reminds me of when my mom would walk me through the forest and tell me old Navajo stories about the tricky coyote who slayed a giant or the boy who became a god. She always made it easy to believe I was capable of becoming so much more than a small girl in a small town.

I reach for the door handle, but it’s locked. I’m about to drop down on the steps and wait when the roar of a truck engine and spinning of tires in dirt sends my stomach plummeting.

Pulling together every bit of pride I have left, which isn’t much, I square my shoulders and watch my dad’s truck jerk to a halt.

The engine cuts off and my dad studies my truck in confusion. He must see me move from the corner of his eye, because his glare snaps to mine. I hold up one hand, maybe a wave, maybe an alien “I come in peace” greeting, which would make sense judging by the scrutiny of his cold stare.

His eyebrows drop low and he opens the door, swinging out his long, denim-clad legs tipped with massive steel-toe work boots. He leans back against his truck, arms crossed over his chest.

No welcome-home smile, arms open in acceptance? No, in typical mountain-man style, Nash Jennings is not going down without a fight. Shit.

I drop heavy footsteps down the stairs. “Hey, Dad.”

“Shy. Everything okay?” As hard as he is, I detect the edge of worry in his voice.

My dad never has responded well to subtlety, and I agree it’s a waste of time. “Lost my job.”

He remains stoic, not giving away an ounce of what he’s feeling. “This visit, it temporary?” Translation: How long till you take off running again?

I close a few feet of distance between us but stay at arm’s length. I hope he sees it as me being brave, standing on my own, rather than the buffer zone I need to keep from throwing myself at his mercy.

Fact is, I’m desperate. And, hell, I miss having someone to lean on. Trevor was okay, but it’s hard to lean on a man who’s more concerned about me crinkling his New York Times.

“I don’t know. I’m broke, don’t have anywhere else to go.” I shrug one shoulder and dig the toe of my white Ked into the dirt. “Thought maybe you’d give me a place to stay while I get on my feet.” So much for my tough-girl speech. One look from my old man and I’m back to being sixteen years old.