Chapter 1

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He lifts the index finger of his left hand from the steering wheel and nods his head at about the same time he completes the one-finger wave directed at the old man in faded overalls driving a light blue tractor in the other lane. The tractor's owner, Mr. Arnold, ran the farm two miles up the road, and would often ride down once in a while to check on his farm for him. Reciprocating with his own wave and nod, Mr. Arnold lifts a gnarled finger off the tractor's wide plastic steering wheel for a few seconds.

Still watching the old man on the tractor, he pulls into the gravel drive of the ancient farmhouse slamming on the brakes of his green Ford Explorer just coming to a stop in front of a wide oak tree. Through the grimy windshield splattered with bugs and other debris, he stares at the rusty orange wire hoop nailed about ten feet up into the massive trunk. He and his brother, Reggie, had used the hoop to play basketball with uncles and cousins every Thanksgiving. Now, his brother lived in Seattle and their parents in Arizona. He'd also lost touch with the cousins who last time he checked still lived in eastern North Carolina near New Bern -- not far from the Atlantic Ocean. Because he was the only relative living in western North Carolina, that put him closest to the farm making him executor of the estate and responsible for hiring someone to grow and maintain the crops.

During the two-hour drive just below the Blue Ridge mountains from Hickory through Charlotte and Monroe to Union County, he'd tried to remember all the different crops his Grandparents had grown on the twenty-three acres of land they had owned for eighty some years. He'd only been able to think of Milo -- a feed grain for cows and other livestock--, peanuts, and sugar cane. He knew his Grandma had always kept about a third of an acre behind the little white wooden house for growing her family's own corn, tomatoes, beans, carrots, potatoes and beets. Her little garden had helped to keep eight hungry mouths fed during the years of hard times and for years after that. They raised no livestock, but still made a good living putting the four boys to work in the fields and the two girls to work in the kitchen. His Mom was the oldest child, and had been the only one to leave the farm and go to College in nearby Charlotte where she'd met his and Reggie's Father. After she graduated, they'd moved to Hickory where he and Reggie had been born and raised. As far as he knew once his Grandparents passed away, no relative except for him had set foot on the farm in over fifteen years.

"Hey, there Justin. How ya doin'? Been almost eight months since we seen you in these parts -- it was last Christmas, wasn't it? So, what 'cha been up to?"

Justin smiles at the short skinny man as he steps out of the SUV smoothing his khakis with one hand and his light green polo shirt with the other. "Hey, there Mr. Arnold. How've you been? Thanks for checking on the place for me. I really appreciate it. Things have been hectic at work lately so I didn't get down here to Union county as soon as I thought I would."

"So you're still working as an Accountant, I guess?"

"Yep, afraid so. It keeps me busy. Out of trouble."

"I thought that's why that wife of yours left ya. Too busy."

"Well, that was one reason. Seems she found a younger and richer fella, too."

"You ain't that old Justin -- what are ya about thirty?"

"More like forty, but sometimes I feel thirty again."

"Me, too," Mr. Arnold says swinging his head back with a loud cackle.

Watching the bald man howl with laughter, Justin looks around at the overgrown bushes and two feet high grass and weeds surrounding the front porch along with broken limbs dangling from several pine and two magnolia trees. Affecting Mr. Arnold's slow soft drawl, Justin says, "I'll probably wish I was thirty again when I start trying to clean up this yard by myself."

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