Steadfast (True North, #2)

Written By: Sarina Bowen

Steadfast (True North, #2)

Sarina Bowen



Chapter One


Jude



Cravings Meter: 5


The last time I drove through Colebury, Vermont, I sat behind the wheel of a 1972 Porsche 911 restored to mint condition with a sweet new paint job in Aubergine.

Compare and contrast: three years later, I rattled down Main Street in a tattered 1996 Dodge Avenger I’d just bought for nine hundred bucks. The front fender was held together with duct tape.

The ugly car wouldn’t have bothered me if the Avenger and I didn’t have so f*cking much in common. We’d both ended up in the gutter, broken in body and spirit. The car’s muffler was shot. Exposed wires hanging out from under the dashboard were a perfect proxy for my jangled nerves. I was five months out of rehab and I still couldn’t sleep more than three hours in a row.

My arrogant teenage self would never have driven this heap, but that punk’s opinion didn’t matter anymore. I hated that guy. And while I was marking all the changes, I should also add that the last time I drove through Colebury, Vermont, I was high as a kite on opiates.

Today I was stone-cold sober. So at least I had that going for me.

In the minus column, I was now a convicted felon. I’d served thirty-six months for possession and vehicular manslaughter. I had very little money and even fewer friends. The one lucky thing in my life—a life-saving job at an orchard in the next county—had just ended. In November there were no more apples to pick or sell. So heading home was my only option.

There was, as usual, no traffic in Colebury. The little Vermont town where I grew up didn’t have a rush hour. It was more like a rush minute, and that hadn’t started yet. I made one last turn and the houses got smaller and the sidewalks became uneven. Three years later, the place was still as familiar as the back of my hand.

I would have never come home if I could have avoided it.

Pulling onto my father’s property, I shut off that loud-ass engine. Nickel Auto Body had the corner lot. On the left was our little old house with the sagging porch. On the right was a two-bay mechanic’s garage.

When I was a teenager, I’d thought the sign over the garage doors should read Nickel and Son. The year after high school I’d worked at least as many hours here as he did. But I’d never asked my father to make the change, because that would require conversation. My father did not converse. He also did not praise or even scold.

Instead, he drank.

I’d pulled the jalopy into the driveway between the house and the garage. My arrival brought my father out of the garage’s shadows. I saw him mosey out the door, eyeing the unfamiliar car. He was probably hoping I wasn’t a bill collector.

I climbed out, watching for some reaction on my father’s face.

He blinked twice. That’s all I got.

“Hey,” I said, reaching into the backseat for the two duffel bags holding everything I currently owned.

“You’re out,” he said.

Thank you, Captain Obvious. “Been out for six months,” I said. “I’ve been picking apples in Orange County.”

“Oh.” My whole life, he’d spoken in one-and two-word sentences. I used to think he was just a man of few words. Now that I’d spent a lot of time in addiction meetings, I’d decided that his silence was a way to avoid slurring his words. It was almost two o’clock, which meant that he’d probably drunk half his flask already.

“So…” I cleared my throat, wondering what would happen next. “There’s no more farm work until the spring. I was hoping to stay in my old room, if it’s available.” Tipping my chin back, I looked up at the narrow windows above the garage. The same faded yellow curtains still hung up there.

I saw him squint then, looking me up and down. “Yeah,” he said after a pause. “Okay.”

“I’m clean,” I added, in case he was trying to figure that out. Unlike so many of the addicts I’d met, I’d never had a fight with my father about my drug habit. He’d ignored it. He’d ignored me. The last time I’d seen my father was during the first month of my sentence. He came to visit me in prison exactly once. It was a long, stilted twenty minutes while we looked at each other from opposite sides of a beat-up table, trying to think of things to say. He’d been my only visitor for the entire three years I’d served.

To be fair, one other person had tried to visit me. But I wouldn’t see her.

“Actually…” I dug in my duffel bag for my keys. There were only a few of them: the Dodge, the garage, my room, and a fourth one, which I extracted from the metal ring by digging my fingernail between the coils. When the key was free, I offered it to my father.

Slowly, he removed it from my hand. “Why?” he asked simply.

I glanced toward the house where I grew up. “You probably keep some liquor in the house. I don’t drink anymore. It’s easier for me if I stay out of there.”

He gave me the squint again, but this conversation wasn’t going so badly. “I can work, too,” I offered. I needed to work, of course. After buying the Dodge and factoring in the parts I needed to keep it running, my savings would take a serious hit. I’d saved most of the money I made at the orchard, since room and board were included. But I didn’t have enough to start a new life elsewhere. Yet.