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As promised, today I’m sharing a DELETED SCENE FROM MY UPCOMING NOVEL I AM NUMBER 13

/May 31, 1986/

My father died today and took my whole adulthood with him. I idled in front of Nashville’s Parthenon, its concrete columns wavy through the lens of my tears. I found him there when I was a lost nine-year-old girl. My prostitute of a mother kept us apart for two years, but her manipulative voodoo couldn’t counter the our magic. I ran away from her New Orleans brothel and finally embraced my father under Athena’s watchful gaze.

“Justice,” she whispered. And it was just.

For nine years, Dad was the engine of my life. He helped me with my homework and listened to my frustrations with school cliques. During sophomore year, I started a charity project to assist refugees overseas. Dad gave the first donation and asked his friends in the country music business to help. When I won a scholarship to Vanderbilt, his bragging extended to strangers at neighboring restaurant tables or at the mall. He was even prouder of me for deferring college a year to work with refugees in Honduras.

He wouldn’t die and orphan me on the day I graduated from high school. It wouldn’t be right.

I pried my shaking hands from the steering wheel and shuddered. I didn’t want to believe Dad’s body vaulted over the dashboard and smashed through the windshield of his red pick-up, a single-vehicle accident on the Natchez Trace about seventy miles south of Nashville. What was he doing on that desolate stretch of highway? Did he misjudge a turn? Or did he swerve to avoid an animal? Could it be something even more nefarious, like another driver running him off the road?

I stepped from my gray Honda Civic and approached the Parthenon on shaky legs. “Let him be here,” I whispered. Salt stung my cracked lips.

“Please, please let him tell me what happened.”

Knowing what caused the accident wouldn’t change its outcome. Rescuers found him near the mangled remnants of his truck, but it was in better shape than he was. It took them two hours to separate his corpse from the oak branch that impaled his mighty heart and shredded his torso from throat to pelvis. Sometimes, Death reveled in making a gory spectacle of his work, but why did he have to choose my dad for such a tasteless show?

The Greek temple’s hulking shadow stretched across the lawn. Dad was waiting inside. He’d tell me why. Before his essence evaporated like steam over a hot spring, he’d explain why he left me too soon. Whatever he said wouldn’t grant me peace but it might give me the will to trudge through life alone, one last bit of magic before I graduated from high school and crossed into adulthood.

But as I pounded up the steps and threw my weight into the colossal door, I wanted more than little-girl fairy dust. I lasered onto Athena’s gold-rimmed eyes and forced my knees to stop knocking together. My shouted wish pinged off the walls of the empty room.

“Give me my father!”

I didn’t feel the thwack of my knees on marble, and I swatted away the stars that swam through my sight lines when my forehead hit the floor. Prostrated in front of her, my fists burned with every fresh pound into stone. Its pattern glistened through my tears. Maybe if I inflicted enough pain on myself, I could bring back my father.

“Emmaline.”

I flopped onto my back and reached toward the light touch on my shoulder. Athena gave me my father the first time I asked her nine years ago.

I knew she wouldn’t disappoint me.

But before I melted into Dad’s embrace, I gazed into the bird-like eyes of Uncle Teed. My father didn’t touch me after all, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t here. Crabbing away from him, my ravaged face grew smaller in the mirror of his shined shoes. I welded my hands to the iron gate surrounding Athena. Her golden skirts shimmered like falling water. I swore her eyes followed me. I dove into their bottomless center. Words ground through clenched teeth. “Please. You gave him to me once. Right here. In this room. I was nine, and I asked you to bring him to me, and he walked through that door. You can do it again. I know you can. Let me talk to him just one more time.”

Uncle Teed’s gravelly voice knifed through darkness. “Emmaline, what happened to Lee’s a goddamn shame. I know you’re busted up. Hell, I am, too. But I sure am glad he ain’t here to see you like this, groveling on the floor in front of some idol decked out with whore paint.”

The worsted wool of his custom suit scratched my bare arms. I elbowed him in the ribs and shook free of his embrace.

“She gave him to me. When I was nine. Don’t you remember?”

“I recall picking you up on the Natchez Trace and dropping you outside there, you and that idiot you was with.”

“Don’t you call Merry an idiot. He’s my lifetime hero. He plucked me from a rainy alley when I ran away from my mother and brought me all the way from New Orleans. No matter how hard it got, he never left me, not even when the Judge came after us and tried to take me back to my mother.”

Uncle Teed waved his stubby arms and rolled his hawkish eyes. “And then Merry killed the Judge right outside here and vanished, only nobody ever found a shred of blood or a body. Please, spare me the billionth telling of that tall tale.”

“I’m not making it up.”

“Grief drives people crazy, girl. I get why you’re coming unglued and all. Hell, I loved Lee, too.”

I turned to face Athena and scraped my ragged edges into a pile at her boat-sized feet. The space was quiet enough to hear Athena breathing. I listened to her steady non-pulse and waited for my father’s shade to latch onto her and let me know he was there. Magic didn’t work when we gave up on it. I closed my eyes. Full lungs burned against my rib cage. I emptied my mind of everything but the sound of Dad’s voice vibrating through the void.

After an eternity of empty nothingness, Uncle Teed sighed and sank onto a bench a couple of feet from me. Stale breath sputtered through my lips. I slumped against the iron railing and wiped my cheeks with the backs of my hands. “You don’t understand, Uncle Teed. I really believed this place, this room, might still hold some of the magic that brought us together the first time.

And if it’s still lingering in the corners, I hope it’ll let me tell Dad how much I love him.”

“Aw, Emmaline. He knows. He always knew. You were the center of that boy’s galaxy. And if he were here right now, that’s what he’d tell you.” He held out a manicured hand. “Now, come on. You got to buck up, graduate from high school, make Lee proud.”

His palm squished against mine. I wobbled to stand alone in a world without my father in it. No last words. No magical goodbyes. I forgot to hug him when I bounded through the kitchen on my way to school this morning. We didn’t know his distracted “have a good day” would be his final words to me.

But as I crawled into the passenger seat of Uncle Teed’s Porche and watched the Parthenon fade into Nashville’s West End, I knew I didn’t need to walk across a stage and turn a tassel to morph into an adult. I became a grown-up the second magic failed to bring my father back to me.

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Want to visit Nashville’s Parthenon? Find out how HERE.

Haven’t read Hard to Die and To Live Forever? BE READY FOR I AM NUMBER 13! Get the first two books in my Nowhere series HERE.