David drove his truck down the center of Main Street in Gypsum Creek, wondering what the big emergency was this time. It had been months since he’d been home, the longest he’d been gone since moving to Nashville to work a construction job the year before.
He’d been sad to leave home at first, had, in fact, not minded the first time Jessie called him home to help him defend Swensen’s mountain. But he’d settled in after a year, made some new friends, even had a few dates with a nice woman that had the potential to turn into more.
Now Jessie was hinting that it was time for him to come home to stay, but he wasn’t sure that’s what he wanted, wasn’t sure he was ready to give up what he’d built in Nashville. As much as he loved Gypsum Creek and his family’s farm, it wasn’t enough; he wanted more than to spend the rest of his life barely scratching out a living.
The farm had been in his family for generations, but it barely produced enough to keep the taxes and upkeep paid. The money he’d been making in Nashville had been the only thing that had kept his mother and sisters from starving, and he couldn’t imagine how Jessie thought they’d all survive without it.
But Jessie had sounded so sure of himself, so sure that David would be excited to hear his plan. So, once again, he’d packed up, taken time off his job and made the drive up to Gypsum Creek. Now as he drove through town, he felt a little nervous, wondered what Jessie’s big news was and how it was going to impact his life.
When he got to the school where Jessie’s wife was supposed to be teaching, he parked and got out of the car. He stood next to his car and took a deep breath of the warm spring air, the scent of new growth filling his senses, and realized that it was one of the things he missed while living in the city.
But that wasn’t enough to make him come home, he decided as he climbed the stairs to the front door of the school. As he pushed the doors open, the memory of the last time he’d been there surfaced, and he grimaced, remembering the angry people who’d refused to help them that night.
It had all turned out okay in the end, but it had been a real slap in the face when his friends and neighbors had chosen to let them face the moonshiners who wanted to kill Jessie and Sophie alone. He pushed those thoughts away; things had changed since then, people weren’t quite as scared of Jessie, had learned that a black werewolf wasn’t as scary as some of the other things out there in the world.
It was dark inside the school, and it took his eyes a few minutes to adjust, but then he saw Jessie and Sophie over by the fireplace. When they saw him, they both jumped to their feet and crossed the room to meet him, each giving him a warm embrace.
“It’s been too long,” Jessie said, giving David a quick once over. “But you look good. I guess city living agrees with you.”
David shrugged. “It’s not so bad once you get used to it,” he said, “and it’s nice not to have to worry about my mother and sisters.”
“We were just up there last week. Natalie just got home from school,” Sophie said, gesturing for him to follow her over to the fire. “She’s going to graduate early, but I guess you probably know that.”
David sat down in a chair by the fire. “Yeah, although I’m not sure what she’s going to do with a degree in hospitality around here,” he said.
Sophie handed him a cup of coffee from the pot brewing over the fire. He took a sip and sighed; nothing tasted better than coffee made that way. “Oh, I think you might be surprised,” she said, a secretive smile on her face.
David looked over at his cousin, who had that same smile on his face. “Okay, what’s going on around here? You both look like the cat that swallowed the canary.”
Sophie laughed. “I guess that’s a good way to put it,” she said, then turned to Jessie. “I’ll let Jessie explain everything.”
Once she was seated, Jessie said, “I think it’s time to put Gypsum Creek back on the map, to bring it back to life.”
David nodded. “We’ve been talking about that for a long time, but no one’s ever been able to figure out just how to make that happen,” he said.
“That’s true, but what we always lacked in the past was a comprehensive plan and the money to put it into action. We have both now,” Jessie said, handing him a map of Gypsum Creek and the surrounding area.
David looked at the map, noticing that Jessie had included not only the farms scattered around the mountain, but the Appalachian Trail, and the few buildings that made up the little town. He handed the map back to Jessie, then waited for more explanation.
“What we need is tourist dollars: we need to bring people into Gypsum Creek. That’s the only way this town is going to survive,” Jessie said, pulling out another map.
David took the map from him and looked it over, his eyes going first to his family farm, then to town, which had grown a lot on the new map. “Why are these farms circled in red?” he asked, noticing that his farm along with four others had a big red circle around them.
“Have you ever heard of eco-tourism?” Jessie asked, then when David didn’t reply, began to explain. “Basically, you bring people to experience life on a farm and have them help run the farm. They’ll stay for a weekend or a week, get an experience they can’t get anywhere else.”
David stared at him in disbelief. “People want to do that kind of thing?” he finally asked.
Jessie nodded. “Lots of farmers and ranchers are doing this now; it’s a great way to bring in extra money. Your mother and sisters seemed excited about the idea. We’ll throw up a couple of cabins, do a few renovations on the farmhouse and you’re in business.”
David took a second to think about Jessie’s plan. “Where exactly are we going to get the money to do all this?” he asked.
Jessie turned to Sophie. “That’s one of the things we’ve been working on all winter, and I can promise you that funding won’t be a problem. My grandmother left me a trust fund that matured when I got married; it will be more than enough to fund this project and a few more.”
David couldn’t believe what he was hearing, “That’s going to take a lot of money, and I’m not sure I want to move back to the farm,” David said, shaking his head.
“Well, we weren’t planning on having you move back to the farm; we had something else in mind,” Jessie said, throwing a thick manila envelope into his lap. “Take a look at that and tell me what you think.”
Michelle leaned her head back against the car seat and closed her eyes, then slowly swiveled her head and opened them. The big front doors to her family home greeted her as they always had, but today she wasn’t happy to see them, knew that the next few hours were going to be some of the most difficult of her life.
Getting out of the car, she headed for the doors wishing she could skip this family dinner but knowing that it was time to share her plans with her parents. For the last few days, she’d been riding on a high, so excited about the possibility of interacting with a real spirit that she’d forgotten what it would mean for the rest of her life.
At first, she’d been sure that her parents and Bryce would be excited for her, but after her meeting with Bryce this afternoon, she wasn’t so sure. Of course, now that she’d broken things off with him, his opinion didn’t matter, but she really wanted her parents’ support, hoped that they’d understand how important this was to her.
She was prepared for the worst but hoping for the best when the housekeeper opened the door and pulled her into the house. “Your parents are already seated in the dining room, and not very happy that you’re late again.”
“It couldn’t be helped,” Michelle said, wishing she didn’t always feel like a kid when she came home.
Martha shook her head. “Well, you’d better get in there,” she said, then really looked at Michelle. “Something’s wrong; what happened?”
Michelle shook her head. “I’ll talk to about it later, Martha; it’s not really something bad, just something my parents aren’t going to like.”
Martha’s eyes got big, but then her mother’s voice could be heard from the dining room. “Michelle, is that you? You’re late again; dinner is going to be ruined if you don’t get in here soon.”
Michelle sighed, shot Martha an annoyed look and headed for the dining room. When she walked in, her mother sucked in a deep breath and shook her head in disgust. She waited until Michelle had handed her jacket to Martha and sat down before she spoke.
“Oh, Michelle, look at your hair,” she said, then wrinkled her nose and asked, “and what are you wearing?”
“I’m wearing something comfortable, and my hair is just fine,” she said, suppressing a sigh.
She’d left her apartment that morning without doing anything to her hair, had decided to let it cascade down her back in a wild riot of curls instead of pinning it up or straightening it. It had been raining in Seattle for weeks, and she was tired of fighting with her hair and worrying about ruining her designer clothes.
Her mother frowned at her. “What if someone saw you like that? You have a reputation to uphold, Michelle. Top models are never seen in workout clothes with their hair wild; you always have to be camera ready if you want to succeed in the modeling world. You just never know when someone’s going to snap a picture of you.”
Michelle couldn’t suppress the sigh this time. “Mother, it’s been raining for two weeks straight. I don’t think there’s any paparazzi out there taking pictures.”
“Well, all I’m saying is that you need to be more aware of what you’re doing. We can’t afford for someone to see you like that,” her mother said, then rang the bell next to her. “Let’s eat dinner and then you can go upstairs and fix your hair, maybe put on that cute outfit I bought you in Paris.”
Michelle wanted to scream at her mother, but her father finally spoke from the end of the table. “We have more important things to discuss than Michelle’s hair and clothes; the summer solstice is coming up, and she needs to be prepared. The entire coven will be there.”
“But first she has that modeling job in Spain,” her mother said. “I don’t have to remind you that this is her big break, her chance to finally be at the top.”
Her father waved his arm in the air. “Once she becomes the leader of the coven, modeling will just be a waste of time,” he said.
Normally when her parents began this debate, she zoned out, thinking instead of what she’d really like to do with her life. But tonight, was different; she wouldn’t be able to just sit back and let them debate her future. It was time to speak up, time to tell them what she wanted instead of going along with what they wanted.
Taking a deep breath, she cleared her throat, then spoke over them both. “I won’t be doing either of those things. I’m going to Tennessee to work on my master’s thesis,” she said as firmly as she could, even though her voice was shaking.
Shocked, both her parents turned to look at her. “What?” they asked at the same time.