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Tess approaches the move as she would a new game of chess, plotting her course through the unfamiliar reality of her new life. While heeding Zander’s long-distance advice for making new friends and strategizing a means to endure her dad’s imminent deployment to the Middle East, she quickly discovers how ill-equipped she is to navigate the societal challenges she encounters and becomes convinced she’ll never fit in with the students at her new school.
When Leonetta Jackson is assigned as her mentor, she becomes Tess’s unexpected guide through the winding labyrinth of cultural disparities between them, sparking a tentative friendship and challenging Tess to confront her reluctant nature. As the pieces move across the board of her upended life, will Tess find the acceptance she so desperately desires?
Read an Excerpt
When I was nine-years-old, my dad was the one who dealt with illness and injury, bovine or otherwise. Knowing this, I didn’t question the concern in his voice the morning he hollered through the screen door for the rest of us to get dressed and meet him in the barn as quickly as we could. Groggy and still rubbing sleep from my eyes, I ran into the barn, following his voice to the partitioned stalls where cows are kept if they can’t stay with the rest of the herd for some reason. Mom and I were surprised to discover, on this particular occasion, one of the heifers had been separated because she was having difficulty delivering her calf on her own. And although I’d witnessed dozens of calves being born over the years, this was to be the first time I would assist in the delivery.
The pregnant cow, one of the herd’s youngest, was stomping her hooves and braying mournfully in distress.
“The calf is breech,” Dad explained as he stood by the heifer’s side, patting her neck as if she were the family dog. “I didn’t realize until this morning she’d gone into labor overnight, and now I’m afraid she’s been trying to give birth for too long.” His eyes were frantic, and I felt the weight of his accountability. “I tried correcting the calf’s position, but my hands are too big. I can’t get a good grip on the blasted thing.” He turned to me then, pleading. “I need you to try and turn the calf so the front feet come out first, or there’s a chance we’ll lose them both.”
It wasn’t a question. He wasn’t asking if I could or if I would. He was telling me to slide my tiny nine-year-old hands into the cow and turn the baby around.
I didn’t hesitate.
After several minutes trying to distinguish hind hooves from front hooves, I finally felt the smoothness of the calf’s snout and was able to begin correcting the presentation from breech to head-first. Slowly, laboriously, the calf twisted within its mother’s womb, and once I was convinced I’d done it properly, my dad instructed me to pull.
Moments later, I held the calf in my arms as Dad tried in vain to resuscitate it, covering its mucus-laden snout with his entire mouth while the heifer looked on. Sadly, the calf would not survive.
“Remember this, Tess,” my mom said, handing me a tissue to dry my eyes as we shuffled back to the house in the pale light of morning. “Let the pain be a reminder—you can’t get attached to these animals. They’re a commodity. Nothing more. Don’t waste your tears on the herd.”
But as I lay in bed that night, I couldn’t stop thinking of the mother cow. Of how woefully she’d watched as we’d carried her baby away. Her soulful eyes haunted me as I stared at the ceiling—I couldn’t let her spend the night alone. And so, after slipping on my coat and boots over my pajamas, I snuck out of the house, cringing as the screen door scraped against the jamb.
I found her back in the barn, lying on her side amongst a fresh pile of straw, no longer damp with birthing fluids. She lifted her head to greet me, and I recognized for the first time how her spot did sort of resemble Florida. I could see it now, if I turned my head to the side, even if it was a stretch.
I’d never been to Florida, but I’d heard it was a sunny place.
“I’m going to call you Sunshine,” I said as I spread a blanket on the ground behind her and propped myself against her back. “I’m sorry about your baby. But I promise to always be your friend.”
Standing with her now, I remember my pledge and feel the overwhelming urge to look away. Down the line are Greta, Flower, Minnie, Daisy, Maggie, Bella, Penelope, Annie, and Muffin. I smile to myself because despite my mother’s counsel, every cow on our farm has a name.
Names that will be lost forever the moment we move away.
About the Author:
When she's not at the computer coaxing characters into submission, you can find Amalie swimming laps, cycling, or running on the treadmill, probably training for her next triathlon. She hates pairing socks and loves avocados. She is also very happy time travel does not yet exist. Connect with her right here in the present day at these social media sites:
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