Chapter 1 - Coming Home
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
The views, ideas, and opinions do not necessarily reflect the views, ideas, and opinions of the Author.
Growing up in the Ozarks has its challenges. Most stores and even houses are far away and you have to drive everywhere, the population is fairly small and everyone knows everyone. I often rely on my brother Ryder or my boyfriend Connor to drive me to my friend’s house or any after school activity that I want to do. Sometimes I hate living here and wish I could experience the fast pace life of a big city.
Growing up in the Ozarks also has its benefits such as growing up near a forest but also near a lake and several rivers. Spending your childhood in nature shapes you into an independent and strong individual. My family always makes sure to spend time outside and my dads taught me how to survive on my own if I ever got lost. I can hunt, fish, camp, and make my own fire from anything I find in nature.
Ryders and mine’s dads met when I was two years old and Ryder was four. Our biological mother could not handle our dad Marks coming out ‘phase’ as she called it and took off. Neither one of us has seen her much since. She will send the occasional letter or birthday present and I usually throw them out without opening it. I never felt like I owed her anything since she left us. Mark, later on, met Alex and he adopted us both.
I love both of my dads and I could not imagine my life any other way. They taught both Ryder and I to be kind, understanding and that you never know what sort of struggle a person is going through. They have been accepted in the community and no one bats an eye at their relationship anymore. That might be because my dad Mark is very intimidating when he wants to be. Alex is sweeter but also stern when he needs to be. At first, people worried about two children being raised by two men, especially since I was a girl but I guess that all changed when they saw how good my dads are at being parents.
Ryder and I both have brown hair with blue eyes. Ryder looks just like our biological dad Mark and even has his stern expression when he is focused. He is taller than me and over the years he grew into his body. My friends are always fawning over him.My friends are always fawning over him, it’s annoying but I’m used to it by now.
I look like a mix between dad and our mom, at least that is what I am told. I don’t really care if I look like her or not. I am a little taller than the average girl due to my long legs, which have given me an advantage in dance class.
I started dancing after Colt, my brother’s best friend, had encouraged me to try and to not give up on things that I want. He has always encouraged me to reach for the stars. He sees potential in me that he doesn’t see in himself. It is a shame really, he could be anything he wanted. He certainly has the charm and people skills for it, not to mention the intelligence. I think his mother being absent so much and his aunt labeling him as a problem kid hasn’t helped his self-esteem. He knows he has the looks but probably thinks that is all he has.
Dance is the only indoor activity that I enjoy, other than the occasional movie or book. The whole family usually spends the weekend either camping, at the lake, down at the river, or hiking. Our dads enjoy taking us to work with them when they can and we don’t have school. I have always had an interest in the outdoors, I just haven’t figured out what I want to do yet. I could follow in either of my dad’s footprints but I also want to go out on my own.
Mark is a game warden and usually leaves for work at the crack of dawn. His job is to enforce rules and regulations when it comes to wildlife and nature. Many hunters and fishermen avoid him at all costs because they are old school and don’t realize that the rules are there to protect the wildlife so that they can continue to enjoy their hobbies. He has also busted many high school parties with the local sheriff’s department and is known as a no funny business guy.
Alex is known for being a go with the flow guy and usually gets us out of trouble when needed. He is a botanist working for Game and Fish, which is how they met. They often still work many jobs together in the area when a botanist is needed but mostly he counts and catalogs different plant species and identifies any trouble such as invasive species or poisonous ones.
Ryder is about to start college at the local community college. He took a year off so that he could travel and experience the world. He thought that would help him gain some perspective on what he wanted to do in life or rather who he wanted to be. Colt went with him, although he already knows who he wants to be, and I have not seen either of them in 10 months. I miss them both and can’t wait for them to get home. It has been really weird these past months without them teasing me or watching me like a hawk, especially when Connor was over at the house.
Colt grew up with us and spent most of his time at our house. Colt’s mom works several jobs to support him and his sisters since their dad passed away when Colt was little. He has one older sister that moved out of the house a few years ago when she met a guy. They are now married with a set of twins. Colt also has a little sister that will start 8th grade this year. Colt tried to help support his family by working after school but his mother refused the help and told him that it was not his responsibility, he needed to be a kid for as long as he could. The money he saved working was instead used during their travels these past months.
I am starting my senior year with the same people that I have gone to school with for 12 years. One of them, my boyfriend Connor of three years, is also my best friend and I love him. We do everything together and know just about everything about each other. We have been best friends for as long as I can remember but once puberty hit I started looking at him differently and it turns out that so had he.
I am sitting on the front porch of our house waiting on Ryder and Colt to come home. They are due any minute and I can’t wait. I love them both and I have missed them while they were gone. They sent me postcards during their travels because I asked them to. I thought it was more fun that way than getting a text or an email. I assembled all the postcards into a book that I was planning on giving them when the time felt right.
Colt’s old Ford ranger pulled up in the driveway, Colt parked in his usual spot and both him and Ryder jumped out of the truck. I ran to hug Ryder and jumped up in his embrace. He spun me around and laughed. “I have missed you, Zoey.”
We hugged tighter. “I missed you to dufus.”
“Did you get into any new trouble while I was gone?” Ryder questioned.
I rolled my eyes “No, is that really the first thing you think of? I swatted his shoulder lightly. “You have been home for two minutes and the bossing around has already started.”
I jumped down and quickly embraced Colt with a bear hug. He stiffened at my touch and I wondered what that was all about. He has never minded my hugs before. After a few beats, he returned the hug but not with the same enthusiasm as I expected.
“Zoey, You can let go now,” Colt said.
“What is wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong, I am just tired after the long drive and spending 10 months with your brother,” said Colt. He turned to help Ryder get his bags out of the truck, they hugged, and then he went to the driver’s seat to drive away.
“Colt! I am glad that you are home. I have missed you dingus!” I said. “Don’t stay gone for so long next time.”
Colt flashed me that bright white smile that made all the girls melt and said “I have missed you too moonshot.”