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Chapter One

I stood ankle deep in the morning dew, sipping my coffee and watching Belle circle the giant maple tree that centered our backyard as she sniffed for the perfect blade of grass to water. Once she completed her first task of the day—second if you count the stretch and fart in my bedroom that announced she was ready to herald the dawn, as reliable as any rooster I’ve ever owned—she focused on her nemeses, the evil squirrels chittering from their high branches. Much to her dismay, they once again refused to come down and play her games.

Her gait might not be as steady or her hearing as acute as they once were, but if a coyote hid in the weeds or a bear rustled in the shadows, she would bark and chase it away. This morning, though, she remained focused on the scampering tree rats.

The sense of wrongness I felt deep in my bones, much like a twinge announcing a coming storm, was mine alone.

Nothing visible lurked in the neat rows of corn stretching from the edge of our yard to the horizon. Our home had once been the main farmhouse, but Shelby and I scraped together the down payment forty-five years ago. The family that owned the surrounding land had built a new place across the vast field out by the paved road and were willing to sell their old place at a price we could afford. We were newlyweds envisioning a brood of kids filling its numerous bedrooms and playing in this yard. Things hadn’t worked out as we had hoped, and now only Wyatt and I remained, his snores echoing out of the open windows of his upstairs bedroom.

The crops stretched into the distance, disappearing into the morning fog obscuring the North Carolina mountains rising on either side of the valley. The unseen creek burbled in the distance as it had for thousands of years. Birds squawked as they hunted and protected their families. The dirt road in front of our house faded into the mist, long before I could see the paved road it intersected. The church steeple marking the entrance to our cove was obscured. The faint whiff of the paper mill over in Canton hung in the air.

Clutching the warm mug in my hands, the one Shelby had given me years ago, I spun slowly on my heels, trying to identify the source of my unease.

My hammock swayed invitingly in the breeze, biding its time until my afternoon nap. A pair of unoccupied rocking chairs waited for the evening on the porch of the faded white clapboard house. Nothing but serenity stretched for as far as I could see, but I sensed something was out of place.

I sipped my coffee and willed it to fire my brain cells into wakefulness as I walked a wide circle around the house. The place was much too large for me to maintain anymore, certainly too big for only two people, but I couldn’t give it up. My best memories were here.

My search under the shrubbery and in the shadows for any threat went quickly, despite entangling with spiderwebs woven overnight. Nothing ominous lurked in the yard, so I returned to my starting point and looked down the short driveway to the dirt road. Wyatt’s dew-covered Toyota 4Runner sat parked in its normal place. Beside it was only a patch of oil on the gravel.

Then it hit me.

My car was missing.

Chapter Two

Missing? Misplaced? Lost? Stolen?

My mind raced to accept what I was seeing as I stared at the empty spot where I had parked the night before. And the night before that. And so on. Except for the rare vacation, I had left my car in the same place for all these years. Same spot. Same car. Same house. Same wife. I was a creature of habit.

I didn’t like things being out of place or routines being disrupted. Every morning, my car waited in its place for me to come outside and drive into town. No reason for it to be anywhere else.

Except this morning, the car wasn’t here.

The exposed oil on the gravel taunted me. I rarely paid attention to it because my car hid it from view. Was the blot accusing me of poor mechanical skills because the engine leaked? Maybe, I argued silently with myself, I was a good mechanic because the car was older than my marriage. Neither was perfect, but both had lasted a long time. Both took work.

Just misplaced. Misplaced is temporary. Not gone. Gone is permanent.

I scanned my surroundings as if there might be a ton and a half of metal hidden somewhere in the yard. No matter how much I looked, though, my ride was absent. This wasn’t like looking for lost items in weird places in the house—a cell phone in the refrigerator, my wallet in the cookie jar, or Shelby’s wedding band in a bag of flour.

I had once found my car keys in a dog food bag. I’d unlocked the door and rushed to feed Belle without emptying my hands first. Sure enough, I’d buried them in the kibble, discovering them only after searching the rest of the house for hours before thinking of the odd spot.

Good thing I hadn’t left them in the crazy old dog’s bowl. She had consumed stranger things in her life.

If not here, where?

Maybe I hadn’t driven the car home. In my younger and wilder days, I’d partied as hard as everyone else. My car stayed overnight in the parking lot of a few bars while a more sober friend took me home.

The only bar in Miller County, though, was Sammy’s Pub. I hadn’t darkened those doors in weeks, and that was for his roast beef sandwiches and iced tea at lunch, hardly the start of a bender.

Besides, I wasn’t the young buck I used to be. I hadn’t thrown a good drunk in decades. Shelby never tolerated that junk from me, not even in our youthful times. She was no longer here to greet me when I came home, but her influence still guided me. I’d barely had a half-dozen beers in the last month.

Calm down. Think. Retrace your steps. Just like you did when you finally found those blasted car keys in the dog food.

Last night, like every night for the past two years, I had driven over to the Mountain View Nursing Home for dinner with Shelby. Beef stroganoff with carrots and peas and a dollop of banana pudding for dessert. I remembered it clearly. Soggy peas on an old woman’s chin made an impression. She had stopped eating after only a few bites, so I had spooned it into her mouth. She forgot things like finishing meals. Or the day of the week. Or who I was. Or what planet we were on.

After I returned her tray to the food cart, we sat together on the couch, talking about nothing, which was all she could remember last night, until her bedtime, which came early in a nursing home. Once she was safely in her room, I came straight home.

Wyatt and I ate together at the kitchen table—another habit, except for the nights he had a better offer, and I ate alone. He was young and deserved better companionship than an old man, so I didn’t begrudge him a social life. Last night, though, he’d cooked. I remembered because we took turns, and he was a better cook than me. We could both come up with food marginally better than nursing home beef stroganoff, but neither of us claimed to be a chef.

After our meal, I washed the dishes. The one who didn’t cook handled the cleanup—house rules. Once everything was put away in the cabinets, Wyatt watched TV in the den. At one point, I heard him on the phone with one of his buddies. Nothing unusual about that.

I sat in my rocking chair on the front porch, swatting at mosquitos as the sun set over the mountains. Entranced as always with the natural beauty surrounding me, I didn’t care that I had lived here forever, except for a few years when Uncle Sam put me to work. Mother Nature puts on the best show for those who pay attention, not that I’ve had much success convincing Wyatt it’s better than anything on that blasted television.

Bats swooped through the air, gobbling up insects. The last light of day waned along the ridges to the west. A pack of coyotes yipped down near the river. The leaves rustled with the summer breeze. The smell of fresh soil lingered in the cool air. Distant heat lightning flickered in the sky. No better art could be found in any museum, not that I had been to many.

When darkness claimed my surroundings and the lightning bugs took over, I woke Belle from her snoring slumber on the porch and sent her into the yard to do her nightly business. Then the two of us went to our room. I sprawled in the bed I’d shared with my wife until I couldn’t care for her at home. Belle curled up on an old blanket in the corner. She was welcome to climb into the bed, but old habits and arthritis prevented that. I went to sleep listening to the muffled sounds from whatever show Wyatt watched.

Had my car been in the driveway when I turned in for the night? Despite the fact that I had sat not twenty feet away, I couldn’t honestly say. I wouldn’t have thought to look for it. Why would I? Surely, though, I would have noticed it was missing.

Had Wyatt seen or heard anything?

Despite Belle and I stirring about in the hazy light of sunrise, Wyatt’s upstairs window remained dark. His snoring had settled to a heavy breathing, still obvious in the morning quiet. He never rose this early, preferring to stretch his sleep for as long as he could. His morning routine consisted of grumbling he was going to be late, scampering about the house, and racing out the door. For those few moments between his awakening and departing, he was little more than grunts, doors slamming, and feet stomping. Quiet wasn’t his forte.

Confident he was still in bed and not watching me from his vantage point, I inched my way over to his 4Runner. Once he had straightened out his life enough to start earning a paycheck, he saved the money to make a down payment on that SUV, despite it being older than him and having over two hundred thousand hard miles. He needed something that could handle the mud and snow found on the construction job sites he worked. I tried to steer him toward an old Ford F-150—an American-made truck, not some foreign vehicle—but to no avail. He didn’t listen to me about that any more than he listened to anything else I said. I had to give him some credit, though, because he kept the thing running with lots of help from his mechanically inclined friends. As the oil spot attested, that didn’t include me.

With a final stealthy glance up at his window, I placed my hand on the hood of his 4Runner. Cold. A thick layer of dew. Many nights, I had heard his car leave long after I had gone to bed only to return in the wee hours of the morning, but apparently that hadn’t happened last night.

In his first few months living with Shelby and me, he had taken my car without permission a number of times, usually late at night and always when he was up to no good. I had even hidden my keys for a while, not that it slowed him down since he could hot-wire a car.

The truth, though, was he hadn’t taken my car in years. His snores told me that was true of last night, too, because he was here, and my car wasn’t—knowledge that didn’t stop the doubts rising in my brain.

Chapter Three

Like most bad news, the phone call had come late at night. “We regret to inform you…”

The cold, impersonal voice on the other end of the line belonged to a detective with the Knoxville Police Department. Jessica’s body had been found in a suspected drug house. She was probably a victim of an overdose, he said, but an autopsy would tell us more.

We had long expected such a call. We’d hoped and prayed she was doing well and living a good life, but we had feared it wasn’t true. That soul-crushing confirmation of our worst nightmare via an impersonal phone call brought home the devastating reality.

We asked all the questions we had feared we might one day have to ask. Were they sure it was her? How long had she been living there? Was she a victim of a crime? How did we claim her body?

The more pressing issue, the detective advised, was what to do with her son.

That revelation, we hadn’t seen coming.

* * *

Twenty years before that call, Shelby and I had been scrambling about the house, preparing for a normal day. I worked first shift in one of the factories, and she had a clerical job with the county. If Jessica missed her bus—again—one of us would have to drive her to school and be late for work. My earlier shouts up the stairs hadn’t created any response, so I went up to her bedroom, knocked, and told her to get moving. I heard nothing, so I pushed open her door and surveyed the room. The bed was unmade, and clothes were strewn about. In other words, normal for a sixteen-year-old girl, except for the fact Jessica wasn’t there. She had never been a morning person, so long experience told me she had snuck out the night before after we had gone to bed.

Our first reaction was anger, not fear. She’d snuck out numerous times to hang out with her friends or see a boy. We had both done the same a few times as high schoolers, so we could only feign so much indignation. Shelby called a couple of Jessica’s friends, who denied knowing anything. Kids back then didn’t have cell phones, so we had no way of leaving her a message.

We guessed she’d come home after school, pretending we’d just missed each other that morning. We agreed we’d ground her as punishment as soon as she turned up, not that that had ever had much impact on her behavior before.

When she didn’t show up for school, everything changed. Shelby had stopped by to confirm she was okay, but the records showed her absent. Sharing our alarm, the principal and teachers asked her friends for information. No one admitted knowing anything.

She had broken up with her previous boyfriend a couple months earlier. He said the split was amicable, no hard feelings, and no, he hadn’t seen her lately.

The police became involved. They searched her room and then our whole house and the fields around us. They dragged the poor ex-boyfriend in for questioning. They interrogated her friends, and some of them suggested there was tension at home. They pointed to a recent argument with her mother, though Shelby said it was just the typical thing.

The police asked us questions about our home life. The fact we hadn’t panicked at the first sign she was missing was interpreted that maybe we knew more than we let on. They treated us more like suspects than victims. I grew angrier at them as each day passed without a clue of where Jessica might be or even if she was okay.

Out of the blue a week later, she called. She was in Atlanta. No, she wasn’t coming home. No, she didn’t need money. She had a job. No, she wouldn’t tell us doing what. No, she wouldn’t give us an address. She didn’t want anyone to try to make her go back to Millerton.

A police detective was in our house when she phoned. She assured him no crime had happened. We were bad parents, she agreed in answer to his questions, but not criminal.

Having seen too many TV shows, she became convinced the police were trying to trace the call and hung up.

The police lost interest. She had told them she was safe and had left of her own accord. She was under eighteen and a runaway, but no crime had occurred. If the authorities happened to locate her, they would send her home, but did we realize how big Atlanta was? Did we know how hard it would be to find one girl? If she got arrested, that would change things, but otherwise it would be difficult. They never apologized for all the accusations they had leveled at us.

We reached out to shelters and groups in Atlanta that worked with runaway teens. Yes, they would keep an eye out, but the number of kids they saw was overwhelming. Their experience also made them curious and suspicious about why she had left home in the first place. Many of their kids were running from nasty family situations. Was something happening we weren’t telling them? Had we hurt her in some way?

Despite being on the defensive again, we did our best to assure them otherwise. Maybe some believed us, because they warned that most teenage girls who run away to Atlanta turn to prostitution within forty-eight hours.

Panicked, we drove to the city and searched for her. We asked people at homeless shelters and soup kitchens if they’d seen her. We talked to kids hanging out in parks—other runaways who eyed us warily and hit us up for money. We gave them what we could spare.

We even asked hookers as they looked for work. We showed her photo to dozens—maybe hundreds—of people. No one recognized her.

The second phone call came a month later. Mobile, Alabama. She had met a guy. He was nice. That worried us, but she told us she had a job waiting tables, so that made us feel better.

Three months until the next call. New Orleans. New guy. New job.

Then six months passed until Dallas.

Then nothing.

* * *

Was she alive? Was she dead? Was she hurt somewhere and needed us? Maybe she had settled down and was happy, and the last thing she wanted was our interference.

Shelby wanted to look for her, but where could we start? Based on the few calls, she had moved first south and then west. Was that a pattern? Maybe she was headed to California. Maybe she wasn’t. How could we pick up her trail if we didn’t even know which direction to look?

We considered hiring a private detective. Books and movies made it look so easy. We talked to one in Asheville, but he didn’t give us much hope. The cost just to sniff around was well out of our reach.

The police were unsympathetic. There was little they could do. The best hope they offered was the off chance she’d be arrested, and they’d match her using records of missing persons. Once she turned eighteen, though, even that chance would disappear. The calls she’d made proved she had left voluntarily and wasn’t in harm’s way. How could we say she was missing when she had let us know where she was?

Months of silence led to years. We’d think about her, wonder where she was, pray she was happy, but we didn’t have an answer.

Until the call from Knoxville.

* * *

After getting the news, I’d gathered Shelby in my arms, and we wept. All those years of worrying and praying, and I was still surprised how hard the grief hit us. We weren’t just mourning her death, though, but all those years of her life we hadn’t been able to share. All the old doubts resurfaced. I replayed every argument, every time I hadn’t been there for her, and every mistake I had made.

When the tears finally slowed, we stayed in each other’s embrace and confronted the immediate problem. What were we going to do about her son, the boy we hadn’t even known existed?

The detective hadn’t pulled any punches and made clear his disdain. The boy was fifteen, so Wyatt had been conceived long after Jessica had left Millerton and long after our last contact with her. No one we talked to had a clue who the father might be. He was a tough kid with a checkered history with the police. Social workers in various cities had been involved. Courts had debated cancelling Jessica’s parental rights, but there were no good alternatives to offer Wyatt. He had spent time in foster homes and juvenile detention centers, but Jessica had always been able to get him back.

When her body was found, Wyatt was sitting with her head cradled in his lap. Heartbreaking. He was high and had drugs in his pockets. Heartbreaking in a totally different way.

When the police asked him about other relatives, he could only shrug. He didn’t have any more of a clue who his father was than we did. She’d mentioned us to him, but he’d never met us, and based on what she had said, he didn’t like us. He knew only that we lived in some dead-end town that she’d sworn she was never going back to. He had no interest in meeting us. My heart couldn’t break any more.

We cried through the night, holding on to each other and arguing, hammered with grief, confusion, and questions. How could Jessica have had a son without letting us know? What were we supposed to do with a complete stranger? On the other hand, how could we ignore his plight?

I pointed out that if we encountered a stranger with a police record and a drug addiction, we’d cross the street to avoid him. Shelby still wanted to embrace him. The things she didn’t know about him didn’t matter, she argued—he was her grandson. He was her family, even if I didn’t think of him that way.

By midmorning, we were on our way to Tennessee in my Chevy Nova, the two of us still unsure what we were to do or even what we would be allowed to do. Did we have custody rights? And did we want them?

* * *

We met with the police, who made clear they thought of Wyatt as nothing but a budding criminal. We talked at length with a social worker who was confused and concerned about why we were so disconnected. Jessica had told her that her parents were dead. The fact that she was barely a year older than Wyatt when she had run away didn’t help. Discussing what had happened two decades earlier opened up all those old wounds and put us in her crosshairs. Nothing we said seemed to make her more comfortable, but how could we explain something we didn’t understand ourselves?

Somehow, though, the social worker relented later that afternoon. We had apparently passed her test, and we were rewarded with our first glimpse of Wyatt. His shaggy hair was dirty, tangled, and matted. His eyes were sunken and dull. His clothes were ratty and filthy. He was thin with stringy muscularity. He eyed us with as much doubt as we felt. One look at him, though, and Shelby insisted we try to care for him. She had seen the family resemblance in his face.

The details of the next few days were many but mostly unimportant. Wyatt was a minor, unable to live on his own. No one was claiming paternity or demanding parental rights. Jessica left no instructions of what to do. That left only a painful choice—Wyatt was in our charge or at the mercy of the state.

The decision was largely up to him since he could easily scuttle any agreement. With his open warrants and long list of arrests for minor crimes, the police wanted him locked up. He shocked us by telling the social worker he preferred juvenile detention, something he knew and understood, to us.

She explained that even after he got out of detention, he would be a ward of the state in a boys’ home until he turned eighteen. At his age and with his record, few foster homes would take a chance on him. Only faced with that reality did he reluctantly switch his choice to us.

* * *

A judge signed off on temporary custody. Reports from a social worker assigned in Miller County and a guardian ad litem—a volunteer whose sole job is to represent the best interests of a minor—would determine the permanency of the situation. The open warrants would be purged if he stayed out of trouble until he turned eighteen.

The police released a canvas backpack—no bigger than a book bag a student uses in school. Scribbled on the back with a magic marker were the words Wyatt Earp. In response to my raised eyebrow, he shrugged and mumbled, “Nickname.”

The bag contained everything he owned—two pair of underwear, a pair of socks, a pair of blue jeans, three T-shirts, a hoodie, and a single crinkled photograph of his mother and him taken a decade earlier. That, plus what he was wearing, was the entirety of his worldly possessions. Every piece of his clothing was filthy and riddled with holes.

He rooted through the bag and shot a look at the officer. “Where’s my money?” he demanded, though with a far more colorful vocabulary.

The cop looked down at the printed inventory sheet. “No money was listed.”

“I had cash in here.”

The cop jabbed a finger at the sheet of paper. “That chicken scratch right there? Your signature says you agreed this list represented everything we confiscated. No money.”

“It was there.”

“Watch it, kid. No one here took anything from you. The junkies you lived with probably got it.”

Wyatt’s face reddened, and his nostrils flared.

I asked him, “How much?”

He turned to me, his eyes cold and hateful. “I don’t know. Thirty, forty dollars.”

I tilted my head toward the door. “Let’s go. Not worth it.”

His eyes flicked back and forth between me and the police officer. He snorted, grabbed his bag, and stomped toward the door. I followed him out the building and toward our car, where Shelby was waiting. When we were halfway there, he spun and got in my face. Even at fifteen, he was taller than me. “What if I took off right now? Ran? What would you do?”

I studied him and answered honestly. “Get in my car and go home.”

The shocked look on his face told me he hadn’t expected my reply, so I continued to push. “I’m not going to lie to you. You’re faster than me, so I can’t catch you. You know places to hide, so I can’t find you. If and when the cops pick you up again, they might call me. I’d come get you then.”

He rocked back on his heels and looked around the parking lot. I half expected him to jackrabbit. “And what if I get in the car? Then what?”

“We take you home. You’ll get a hot meal, a shower, your own room, and a comfortable bed. Tomorrow, we’ll get you some clean clothes and a picture frame.”

He averted his eyes. Weighing his options, I guessed. “And after tomorrow?”

“Day at a time. Get you back in school. Maybe a part-time job. Help you figure out what you want.”

“You’ll have a bunch of rules?”

I shrugged. “A few. Clean up your language. Go to school. Stay out of trouble. No drugs.”

He turned back to me. His face had softened. He looked less like a criminal and more like a lost little boy. “I don’t know if I can do that.”

“Which one?”

“Drugs. School. Language. Trouble.”


His tongue ran across his cracked lips. “I’ll try.”

“Then I’ll help you.”

We stood silently in that parking lot, sizing each other up. The choice was his, so I waited. He looked down at the tattered bag sitting between his feet. His words came out soft and resigned. “I don’t want to end up like her.”

I found a distant point on the horizon to study. I barely knew him, but I didn’t want him to end up like Jessica either. My vision blurred as tears filled my eyes. “Then don’t.”

The two of us stood there, still unsure what to do. I should’ve hugged him, but I’d never been good at things like that. If I had, I’m not sure how he would have reacted. Would he have hugged back? Or would he have turned tail and run?

Instead, I asked, “Ready to go?”

He picked up the backpack and slung it over one shoulder. “Nothing left for me here.”

* * *

We drove back across the mountains to Millerton and gave him his choice of bedrooms upstairs. He picked the one with the best view, the same one Jessica had grown up in, the one farthest from Shelby and me.

That had been five years ago. I would love to say everything had been idyllic from there, but it wasn’t. He wasn’t accustomed to a curfew, but we didn’t yield. He hated going to school, but we insisted. He didn’t like chores, but we tied his task list to privileges around the house. His language was filthy, but we stuck to our rules.

The thing that almost broke us was chemical. I’d never understood addiction. Wyatt had seen drugs kill his mother. He knew the toll they took on his friends and others around him. He felt the lure in his own body. He said a thousand times he wanted off them.

But he kept going back.

Within weeks of him moving into our home, we knew we were in over our heads. We got him into a rehab program—no easy feat to find space for a fifteen-year-old. There were far too many teenaged addicts and far too few slots available. He completed the program and came out clean. He was using again a week later.

Shelby found the drugs stuffed under his new underwear in a drawer. She had been putting away his clean laundry, but he thought we were searching his room. He ran away that night but hadn’t realized how long it would take him to hike out to the interstate. He reached the truck stop around dawn, just about the same time I realized he had left. I pulled into the lot as he was trying to hitchhike with a trucker.

I pulled up beside him and pushed open the passenger door. “Where are you going?”

“Back to Knoxville.”

“I’ll take you. Safer than a stranger.”

He looked stunned. With a last glance at the truck driver, though, he threw his bag onto the back seat of my car and climbed in.

I shifted the car into gear and headed down the on-ramp. I aimed west and settled in for the ride. I was retired by then, so the only thing I was missing was the Liars’ Table. I almost never skipped, but my friends would wait a day.

He didn’t speak until we were almost in Tennessee. “You really taking me back?”

I shrugged. “If that’s what you want.”

Another twenty miles rolled by.

“She shouldn’t have searched my room.”

I explained about the laundry. “Besides, you shouldn’t have drugs.”

Fifteen miles.

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry to me, to your grandmother, or to yourself?”

Ten miles. We were approaching the exit to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge along with the hordes of tourists flocking to their vacations.

“Everyone, I guess.”

“What do you want?”

The bridge over the Holston River, the border into Knoxville, loomed.

“I don’t want to do drugs.”

“I’ll help you if you want it.”

He nodded, his voice barely a whisper. “Please.”

“Then let’s go home.”

A tear rolled down his face. I turned around at the next exit.

Chapter Four


I heard the crash of something falling in his room. Probably his alarm clock. He was always rough on them, even destroyed a few as if it was their fault he had to get up. In his early years before living with us, he had been as likely to go to bed at dawn as the other way around.

Mumbled cursing floated through the open window. His throat cleared, and he called out, “What’re you yelling for? I’m not late.”

Now twenty, Wyatt reminded me so much of his mother sometimes. Jessica had often accused Shelby and me of yelling when we hadn’t been. At least, we hadn’t thought so. I took a deep breath to calm my voice. “Can you come out here, please?”

In the quiet of the morning, I could hear every noise from inside the house. His bedsprings squeaked, and then his bedroom door opened. His bare feet slapped the wood steps as he descended to the main floor and crossed the den. The shriek of the screen-door springs announced his presence. His hair was a tousled nest of chaos. He blinked against the daylight. “Yeah, Grandpa?”

I cringed at that moniker. I didn’t like being called that, but I was more distracted by the way he was dressed. Or, more accurately, wasn’t dressed. That boy hadn’t even bothered to put on pants. He was clad only in his boxers. “Aren’t you worried someone is going to see you in your skivvies?”

Wyatt exaggeratedly looked around at our surroundings. No neighbor houses were within view. “Who’s going to see?”

I needed more coffee before I debated him, not that I ever won no matter how caffeinated I was, so I tried a more reasonable approach. “Just get dressed before you come outside from now on, okay?”

He shrugged and opened the screen door to go back inside, but I stopped him. “Have you seen my car?”

He let the door clang shut, rubbed his eyes, and stared at the empty spot beside his own vehicle. He ran a hand through his disheveled hair and stumbled down the steps into the yard. “Where is it?”

I did my best to hide the exasperation in my voice. “If I knew the answer to that, would I be asking you?”

He padded out to the driveway, wincing as his bare feet crossed the gravel, and pointed at the oil stain. “It was right here when I went to bed.”

“You sure?”

“I think so. Where else would it have been?” He did the same thing I had done—looked around the yard as if it might be under a bush or hiding in the cornfield. The only thing in the yard was Belle, hunched over and depositing her morning fertilizer. Wyatt shrugged and scratched his butt. “It ain’t here.”

I clenched my jaw in irritation and fixed my stare on him as he shook his head, his longish hair flipping across his face. He said, “Maybe a swarm of mosquitoes flew away with it. They were fierce last night.”

Memories of his mother’s teenaged sarcasm flashed into my mind again. I bit my tongue, something I should have done more of back then. “You have no idea what happened to it?”

His smirk faded into a chilly stare. “Why would I know anything?”

“I’m just asking, not accusing. You went to bed after me. Maybe you heard something. Saw something.”

“I don’t know a thing.”

Ever the peacemaker, Belle jogged over and nuzzled his leg. He squatted to scratch her neck. She flopped over on her back in her not-so-subtle hint for a belly rub. He obliged.

“You think it’s stolen?”

I looked at the bottom of my empty coffee cup. I really needed more caffeine. “What else could it be?”

“You going to call the sheriff?”

He no more wanted me to call the law than I did. I may have never felt the cold steel of handcuffs on my wrists like he had, but I still had my own disdain for cops. My experiences through Jessica and Wyatt told me all I needed to know.

Besides, I didn’t want a patrol car coming down our road, raising a cloud of dust and announcing its presence. We didn’t have many neighbors, but they would sure be entertained by a lawman’s visit. The rumor mill would fly, probably with speculation that Wyatt had gotten into trouble again.

“It’ll take them an hour to get a deputy out here. He’ll look around, type up a report on his computer, and leave. Not like he can dust the gravel for fingerprints. I’ll call them from Abe’s.”

“You don’t have to do that on my account. I’ll head into work before he gets here.”

“It’s not about that. I want to get into town.”

Wyatt stood, much to Belle’s disappointment. She pawed at his bare ankle to get his attention, but he ignored her.

“You could skip your breakfast club once. The world wouldn’t end.”

Rather than trying to defend my routine, I decided to use Wyatt’s challenging adjustment to our rural lifestyle. Being stuck at the house was his biggest nightmare, so I knew exactly what would get his agreement. “I don’t have a car. Too late for me to call C.J. for a ride, so if you don’t take me to town, I’m here all day.”

Belle, deducing no more attention was forthcoming, trotted up the steps to the porch. She waited by the screen door, casting an accusatory look in my direction to remind me it was breakfast time. I dutifully followed, calling over my shoulder, “Get dressed.”

“No one’s going to see me.”

“I see you, and that’s more than enough.” I let the screen door slam shut behind me.

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The best lies you tell your friends.

The worst lies you tell yourself.

In country stores and diners, old men gather over breakfast and coffee to swap tall tales. The fish are bigger, danger greater, and adventures wilder in the stories told at a Liars’ Table. No harm in stretching the truth when nothing exciting happens in their small town.

Until someone steals Purvis Webb’s car. Life is hard enough. A wife in a nursing home. An estranged daughter. A grandson he didn’t know existed.

Unable to accept one more indignity, Purvis takes matters into his own hands. His pursuit of the thief leads him to places he never thought he'd go and to decisions he never wanted to make.

In this rich, layered story about life spinning out of control, past and present entwine seamlessly with engaging characters. The reader will be eagerly flipping the pages to see what happens next.

 Memorable characters, a wonderful depiction of life in a small town, and the friendships that develop  

 I couldn’t stop reading it. When I had to step away from it I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  

 The book pulls you in and you have to keep flipping pages to find out what happens next.  

 Realistic, multi dimensional characters I will long remember, and a plot that has many twists and turns, both in the mystery of the car theft, and the story of Purvis himself.  

 A story of family, friends, and what you are willing to risk to save them.