“Hey, Peaches! When did you get so big? Not too big to give your old man some sugar, I hope.”

Sugar. My dad’s word for a kiss.

Old man. His term for father.

Peaches. His nickname for me.

“Dad, my name’s Cassie.”

“Actually,” he says, “it’s Cassandra, after a girl in Greek myth . . .”

Oh, no—that old story that grosses me out.

“You remember . . . snakes licked Cassandra’s ears so clean she could understand the language of animals—”

“I know, Dad. But call me Cassie. It’s what everyone calls me.”

His shoulders droop a little. “Cassie it is,” he says.

The beard scratches when I kiss his cheek. “You grew a beard . . . your clothes . . . you moved here. Why?”

I had a window seat on the flight from Austin to Amarillo. When we circled to land, the ground below looked like a big brown pancake. I don’t eat pancakes. They taste like play dough unless you put a ton of butter and syrup on them. But butter and syrup are on Mom’s verboten list. Verboten is German for forbidden. In French, it’s tabou. Mom’s studying foreign languages.

“Why’d I move here? Why’d I grow a beard? Or . . .” He looks down at his clothes. “What’s wrong with the way I’m dressed?”

“Why . . . all of it?”

I haven’t seen Dad since Christmas when he left Austin, but he calls me every weekend. He and Mom divorced two years ago when I was ten, and they share custody of me. I spent every other weekend with him before he moved. Back then, he shaved and cut his hair short. Wore shoes instead of lace-up boots with scuffed toes. A suit and tie, not faded jeans and a shirt with holes at the elbows. He looked nice then—handsome, even.

“Well . . .” His mouth smiles, but his eyes still look shipwrecked. “Your mom wanted to follow her dream, so I decided to do the same.”

This is your dream?” As far as I can see, the land is flat—clear to the horizon.

“Just wait,” he says. “It gets better.”

We walk to the parking lot, my big black suitcase bumping along after my dad, my daypack bumping against my shoulder blades. A bossy wind is blowing, kicking up dust that stings my eyes, twisting my hair into knots. Barely able to see, I bump into Dad when he stops.

I look around for his SUV, a red Mazda with gray leather seats, but Dad lifts my suitcase into the backend of a dirty blue pickup with a long, metal box behind the cab.

“You drive a truck?”

“Yep. This Chevy suits my needs now. The CXT would tow a lot more weight, but it had a hefty price tag . . .”

I tune Dad out as he talks about towing capacity, gas mileage, and telescoping mirrors. Like I care? A minute later, I tune him in again.

“. . . but the International cost more than this carpenter can afford, so I bought this one. It got good ratings, too.”

“Carpenter?” The metal box in the backend suddenly makes sense. It’s a toolbox. “Your dream was to become a carpenter?”

My dad used to work for a computer company in Austin, like my mom still does. She’s on her way to Europe to attend a six-week training course for managers. He was already a manager, working in technical support, but he quit his job when he moved away. And all the times we talked, he never said a word about any of this. Why? Has he totally flipped out?

He pauses, thinking. “More of a construction worker, I guess. I do painting jobs, too. Some plumbing, electrical. Little bit of everything.” Rubbing the back of my head like he did when I was a little girl, he says. “Hop in. Don’t want to ruin the surprise.”

More surprises?

Yay, me.