Gone Country Page 73


“Good to know.”


She sobered quickly. “Gavin. Sweetheart. You look like hell.”


“Feel like it too.”


She handed him a bottle of water. “Follow me.”


They cut through the first pasture and followed the fence line up a steep incline. Gavin found himself studying the ground, seeing the variances in grass and the occasional wildflower. Gray rocks popped up and sagebrush abounded. But the only scent carried on the wind was manure and a hint of Vi’s perfume.


They stopped at the apex of the rise. The land spread out in a carpet of green, which he knew would only last a few more weeks if it didn’t rain soon. The view wasn’t a breathtaking vista. No steep canyons. Just a view of rangeland. Simple. Timeless.


Two chunks of rock, embedded in the earth about six feet apart rose up like stone pillars. The heights were nearly identical and someone had placed a foot wide piece of wood across the top.


“So, you come here often?”


Vi snorted. “Often enough. Something about this place helps me sort stuff out.” She uncapped her water bottle and drank. “I figured it might work for you too. So, son, you wanna tell me what’s going on?”


Gavin intended to give her the basics. But for some reason, everything just poured out. Everything he was thinking, feeling and he didn’t bother to filter any of it.


She mulled over his words for a good long while before she said, “Well, that’s a bit of a shocker.”


“To say it’s knocked me on my ass is putting it mildly.”


“I assume you’re talking to me about this because you want my…insight?”


“Yeah.”


“Okay. Sierra has overstepped her bounds. But she won’t see it that way.”


“Why not?”


“Because she’s used to getting her way. Is she forcing this on you maliciously? No. She is a sweet girl. I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t know she’d done anything wrong. Teens are notoriously self-absorbed. Her rationalization is that this behavior has always gotten her what she wants in the past and she doesn’t know any other way to be at sixteen. However, she is using manipulation and you cannot give in to it.”


Gavin faced her to argue.


“Hear me out completely before you jump in. You’re a good father. But that is not all you are. You are a good man who deserves what you’ve found with Rielle.” She smiled a little devilishly. “Between us? For a few years I thought Ben and Rielle would get together. Until I realized she’d never let him boss her around the way he likes to.”


He choked on his water.


Vi patted him on the back. “You and Rielle complement each other. You’re both stubborn enough and set enough in your ways that you won’t settle for the first warm body that walks through your door. I’ve known Rielle a lot of years. She was content. But when I see her with you? She’s happy in a way I haven’t seen. You, my dear boy, are the same way with her. Why on earth would you give that up?”


“I don’t want to.”


“Then it’s simple. Don’t. Tell Sierra you’re sorry she’s so miserable here and you only want her happiness. So if that means her skipping off to France, then bon voyage.”


Somehow he kept his jaw from dropping. “You think it’s that easy?”


“Heavens no. But she’s the one who put you in this position. Remember she’s not making it easy on you. She’ll make mistakes whether she’s here, Arizona, France or Timbuktu. Some you’ll even know about. You can’t protect her from everything. And she’ll never learn to protect herself if you’re always there to do it for her.” Vi took a long pull from her water bottle. “Does that sound harsh? Who would ship a sixteen-year-old off to handle things by herself?”


Light bulb moment. “Your father did.”


“That wasn’t a parallel I was trying to make, believe it or not. Your biggest worry is that Sierra will go off the rails in France if you’re not there to stop the train. Don’t look at it that way. Look at it as you’re telling her that yes, if she really wants to go to France, then you’re trusting her to make the right choices once she gets there.”


In that moment, a huge weight fell off his shoulders.


“You’ll miss her. That’s part of the guilt. The other part is that you’re consciously choosing to do something that’ll be good for you at the expense of what might be best for your child. I’m pretty sure that’s a brand new feeling for you.”


“I don’t know if I can live with either decision.”


“Oh, I know how that feels, trust me.”


Gavin took a breath to ask the question Vi had been expecting for a long time. “Do you regret your decision to give me up for adoption?”


“Every single day of my life. Would I do things differently?” Vi looked right into his eyes. “No.”


That answer didn’t sting as much as he thought it would. “Why?”


“Because I would’ve been a terrible mother at that time in my life. As much as I ached that you were gone, I would’ve resented you if you’d been there.” Vi reached for his hand. “Can you imagine Sierra with a baby right now?”


He’d tried to look at it from that angle and the image never jelled. He shook his head.


“As irresponsible as you think Sierra acts sometimes? Multiply that by ten and you’ll get me—Violet Louise Bennett—at that age. A naïve rebel. Sneaking out at night, gloating I was oh-so-mature having sex with an older guy like Charlie McKay. Then the next morning after my secret rendezvous? My mother had my breakfast on the table. My lunch packed for school. She’d probably ironed my clothes. I was a child. I had no idea how to be a mother because I didn’t see my mother. She was there to do things for me. So I’ll admit, it was selfish of me to give you up. But at that time in my life? I didn’t know any other way to be.”


An almost thoughtful silence lingered between them.


“So you don’t blame your father?” Gavin asked.


“There is that…side of the issue. Yes, my father made the decision to send me to the unwed mother’s home. He knew once I was living with other girls in my condition, I’d follow the herd mentality. And I did. But that just strengthens my point. I didn’t have a backbone to stand up for myself, let alone stand up for a child I’d be responsible for, for the next eighteen or so years.”


Gavin blew out a breath. “I’ll admit I thought of you the day Sierra was born. Not in a good way. I wondered what type of woman could look at a baby and say, take it away, I don’t want it.”


“I don’t know what to say to that. I don’t know if I can ever explain my mindset at that time to your satisfaction, Gavin. Adopted kids, no matter how happy their childhoods with their adoptive parents, are resentful on some level. I talked to a counselor about that when I needed an unbiased opinion on how to handle you either being in our lives or not being in our lives.”


“You saw a counselor?”


“Yes. This hasn’t been easy on me, or on your father. Let me ask you a hypothetical question. If you would’ve tracked me down and discovered I’d married another man, and had children with him, would you feel differently? Instead of knowing I went back to your father and had three other sons with him?”


“Probably. Because I’m odd man out in any family situation.”


“Maybe it feels like that to you, but it doesn’t to the rest of us. Especially not to me. I finally feel like my family is complete.”


Gavin processed that. His family had accepted him with open arms and hearts. He liked them and his life was better for all of them being part of it. He didn’t want to give that up either.


“I know you’re wondering how this situation with Sierra popped up from out of nowhere. I think I can shed some light on that.”


“Really? Did she call you?”


“No, I talked to Carolyn today and she mentioned that Boone West just up and joined the army. He left for basic training yesterday.”


“Shit.” Gavin briefly closed his eyes. “Now it makes sense. She met Boone the night before last. The next morning she was packed and ready to go.”


“Boone must’ve told her that night he was leaving.”


“But why would she throw her life into upheaval over some boy?” Why wouldn’t she tell me?


Vi patted his leg. “Gavin. Sweetie. You aren’t that clueless. Think about what you just said.”


He frowned. “But she and Boone weren’t even dating.”


“That doesn’t mean Sierra didn’t feel something for him. Something big. Something that crushed her entire world when he took it away.”


“Like…love? For Christsake. She’s sixteen years old! How can she possibly know what real and lasting love is at that age?”


Vi remained quiet and a little stoic.


Gavin knew he’d stepped in it. “I’m sorry. I don’t get it. I never had that feeling until Rielle.”


“You didn’t feel that way about Ellen when you first met her?”


“I don’t remember. What happened after we got married tainted any good memories I had of her or us.” Gavin let out a slow breath. “Can you please explain this to me?”


“No, sweetie, I can’t. Because no matter how well I explain it, you’ve never experienced it so you won’t understand. I knew Charlie was the one for me at that same age. Charlie knew I was the one for him. Same with Quinn and Libby. To some extent, it’s the same with Tell and Georgia. The gut feeling that you’ve met the person who is the one for you is powerful and it’s very real.


“So it’s more than Sierra throwing her life and everyone else’s into upheaval over some boy. She’s devastated in a way you can’t understand. Not only has she lost him, she’s lost the potential of anything ever happening between them. It’s not trivial to her. So please, whatever you decide to do, don’t discount how serious this is to her. If you do, it will change your relationship with her—not in a good way. Especially since she hasn’t felt comfortable telling you the real reason for wanting to leave.”

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