Authors: Ellisa Barr
POWERLESS NATION: BOOK ONE
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
2 Timothy 1:7
farmhouse and peeled slivers of paint from the old porch swing. Inside, she could hear her parents talking to her grandpa and getting ready to leave. They were going on a cruise and leaving her on a tiny, run-down farm in the backwoods of northern Washington.
She sat still and listened when her mom's voice dropped to a whisper, “Thanks so much for doing this. It's just been so hard. You have no idea.”
Grandpa chuckled, “You might be surprised. Don't forget I raised four kids of my own.”
“Oh, Dad, things are different now. Kids text each other all day and all night. Even when she's home it's like she's not there. She hasn't talked to me about anything important since... well since, you know.”
Her grandpa's voice was reassuring, “She'll come around; you just need to give her time.”
“Well, a week is a good start. Maybe she'll make up her mind to have a good time.”
Grandpa replied, “I sure hope so, and I hope you do too. Which ports are you stopping in?”
Dee lost interest in the conversation and stared at the farm without seeing it. She wished they would hurry up and go so she didn't have to listen to anything else about Alaska. You'd think it was the Bahamas or something, not just a bunch of ice and rocks.
She felt the porch swing rock as her dad sat down next to her, but she kept peeling paint and resisting the urge to check her phone for new messages. There wasn't any reception out here, and as soon as her parents left she was taking the old man's truck into town to look for a hotspot, and maybe even a bus station that would sell her a ticket back home.
“I'm going to miss you,” her dad said.
She gave him a flat look she hoped would convey utter disbelief, but he kept talking.
“I know it's been a tough year, Dee, and I'm sorry I haven't been around more. It's been hard for all of us but I should have been there for you.
Dee kept her gaze straight ahead but she could feel a traitorous tear forming at the corner of one eye.
“When we get back from this trip, things are going to be different.” he said. “I'm going to tell my boss I can't travel so much. I know it will take a while but we're going to be a family again. Would you like that?”
Dee gave a half shrug. There was no way they'd be a family again.
He put an arm around her and gave her a squeeze. “Don't give up on us kiddo. We will never, ever give up on you.”
He stood up, and Dee wanted to yell that he had given up on her. Dumping her at Grandpa's house in the middle of nowhere while they went off on a vacation was the definition of giving up. She wanted to say it but she was afraid her one tear would turn into an uncontrollable flood.
Her mom came out and stood in front of the swing for a long moment. Then she put a hand under Dee's chin and lifted it until Dee was looking into her eyes. She let them slide away to look at a spot above her mom's left ear.
“Maddie,” she said. “Just look at me for a minute.” Her voice faltered. “Please?”
Dee met her mom's gaze with hostility. She wished they would just go.
Her mom took a deep breath and Dee braced for a lecture, but her mom surprised her. “I love you, Maddie. No matter what you do, no matter what happens. I will always love you.” Then she gave her a kiss on the cheek. Dee was so surprised she didn't even remember to flinch away.
Her parents were waving at her from the car now, and somehow she was waving back. Part of her wanted to run after them and beg them not to leave, but the other part just wanted them gone so they would stop pretending things could ever be the same. How could they be a family again when her brother was gone and never coming back?
She was surprised when her grandfather put on his boots and said he was going out. “I've got to go check on a sick cow down to Louisville, so you just make yourself at home and I'll be back in time for dinner.”
This confused Dee briefly. It wasn't even nine in the morning. Was he leaving her alone all day? He must have seen her confusion because he reminded her, “Dinner on the farm is around two. Maybe you could whip us up something to eat? There's some bacon and eggs in the fridge and plenty of food in the pantry.”
Did he really think she was going to be his personal chef? Nuking some nachos was pretty much her limit when it came to cooking, and she hadn't seen a microwave in his kitchen; just an old gas stove. That thing was probably dangerous – no way was she going near it.
“Don't worry, old Jasper will be here to keep an eye on things.” He meant the black and white Shetland Sheepdog that was eyeing the pick-up hopefully. Then to Jasper he said, “Guard the farm, boy.” Jasper stopped wagging his tail and sat dutifully at the foot of the front steps. A few minutes later, Dee had the farm to herself.
“I guess I'll go take a look around,” she told the dog, “since my ride into town just drove away.” He responded with a wag of his tail and followed her inside.
Dee wanted to poke around her grandfather's house anyway. She didn't know much about architecture but she figured it was a fairly traditional farmhouse. Most of the downstairs was taken up by a combined living room and dining room. There was a wood stove at one end of the long room, and a doorway leading to her grandfather's office.
She tried the doorknob of the office and went inside. Dee bit her lip when she saw how he'd decorated the room. School art projects and homemade cards that she and Jacob had made filled the walls. She saw a handprint turkey she'd made in second grade and placed her fifteen-year-old hand over her seven-year-old hand. Jacob had made one that year too, and his traced hand was even smaller.
Dee made herself stop staring at the tiny handprint and scanned the rest of the room. A large desk and leather chair took up most of the space, along with file cabinets and a bookshelf filled with Louis L'Amour Westerns and books on farming. She looked through the desk drawers and wondered where her grandpa kept his computer. He had to have a computer, right? She couldn't find one though, and when she checked her phone she didn't see any wireless networks either.
No texting and now no email?
“This isn't happening,” she muttered to herself as she left the office.
She missed her friends desperately. They'd been mortified when she told them her parents were shipping her off to Washington for a week. “What do they even do there? Cow-tipping?”
“Maybe you'll meet someone,” said Natalie. She was Dee's best friend.
“As if,” said Dee. “Like I'm going to fall for some country music lovin' bumpkin.”
“I didn't say you had to fall for him. Just a hook up, you know?” She reached into her purse. “See this stick of gum? It's lucky. When you find the guy you want to kiss, just pop it in your mouth and the lucky gum will do the rest.”
Dee had laughed and put the gum in her pocket. She patted the pocket now and wished Natalie was here. They always had fun together.
She wandered into the kitchen. It was already her favorite room in the house, and Jasper clearly agreed with her. He ran to his own little bed tucked away under a tall side table while she looked around. The kitchen was painted a pale yellow with sage green crown molding and window trim. White airy curtains were pulled aside, letting sunlight fill the east-facing room and brighten the older appliances and worn butcher block countertops.
Yellow daisies were tucked into an old fashioned Coke bottle. She touched one – yes, it was real. Was her grandfather sentimental about flowers? A large table took up most of the other half of the room and there was a large antique-style map on the wall next to it. Dee had a sudden vision of her mother doing homework at the big table while her grandmother made dinner on the old gas stove.
A door leading off the kitchen led down a brief hallway to her grandfather's room. She went inside and stood in front of the large vanity. Tiny perfume bottles were organized on the surface and Dee breathed in their old fashioned fragrances.
She sat at the table and looked at herself in the mirror. Straight brown hair reached below her shoulders and hazel eyes gazed back defensively at her.
Not much to see there.
stood to go out.
Dee picked up an apple from the bowl in the kitchen and polished it on her shirt while she wondered what to do next. It was only nine-thirty in the morning and she was already bored. What was she supposed to do all day with no phone and no internet? In the end she settled for one of her grandpa's westerns about a couple of young kids that lived through an Indian attack and had to survive in the wilderness while they tried to find help.
“I wouldn't make it one day in the wilderness,” she told Jasper. “In fact, I'm not sure I can make it one day without a dishwasher. Better hope I can find some paper plates.”
It was getting close to “dinner-time,” (she mentally added air quotes to the word) and although she had no intention of cooking a meal, she decided to see what the food situation was. First she checked the fridge and saw a couple of eggs. They looked normal enough, even though she knew they came from Grandpa's own chickens. Somehow she'd expected farm fresh eggs to be covered with some kind of gross chicken slime. The milk was in a glass bottle, and she could see a thin layer of something resting on top of it. Dee wrinkled her nose. Cereal was out too.
She spotted the bacon he'd mentioned and then looked at the knobs on the gas stove for a few minutes. This morning Grandpa had used a match to light it, and with her luck she'd probably blow the whole thing up. No thanks.
Sorry bacon, it's me, not you.
Jasper, who hadn't taken his eyes off the bacon since she'd gotten it out of the fridge, saw her put it away and gave a sad, dog groan as he put his head back down on his paws.
Maybe there would be something in the pantry she could make that didn't require cooking. When she opened the door of the pantry she saw just the thing: Home-canned pears. She picked up the jar and glanced at the rest of the shelves, taking in cans of soup, a few tins of tuna and chicken, as well as more jars of home-canning. There wasn't a lot, but she supposed it was more than enough for one old bachelor. She wondered if anyone would deliver a pizza this far out.