1868
      Piedmont, New Hampshire


    “I’m dying.”

    Granny’s words caused ten-year-old Justine to take a step back from the bedroom door before showing herself.
    Granny couldn’t die! Granny was always there. Granny was . . . Granny.

    Justine heard her mother’s voice and stepped forward again, peering through the crack in the doorway.
    “You are not dying,” Mother said. Commanded. She fingered a perfume bottle on the night stand. “Don’t be so
    dramatic.”

    So Granny isn’t dying?

    “I’m the one who knows whether I’m dying or not, so I’d appreciate it if you’d stop arguing with a dying woman.”

    Granny sounded feisty. She sounded normal. Justine let herself breathe again.

    “Are you going to let me speak my mind or are you going to argue with me all morning?” Granny asked.

    Mother sighed. “Go on. Though I know what you’re going to say, and the answer is no.”

    “It can’t be no. You must take up our gift after I’m gone. You must continue with the Ledger. And after you,
    Jussie will continue our legacy.”

    “I am not moving back here to Piedmont.”

    “But this is where it begins.”

    Mother removed the stopper of the perfume, smelled it, crinkled her nose and put it back again. Justine loved
    the smell of honeysuckle. It was Granny’s scent.

    Then Mother said, “I left this town eleven years ago. Good-riddance was what I said then, and good-riddance is
    what I say now.”

    “Don’t be rude, Mavis. Your roots are in Piedmont, it’s the place where the Tyler ancestors first settled back in
    1800.”

    “I have no interest in the past, only in the present and the future.” Mother extended her arms out, as if putting
    herself on display. “Do you see this dress? I ordered it from Worth in Paris. It’s crêpe de chine.”

    “It’s as practical as a parasol in a downpour.”

    Mother huffed and sat in the chair beside the bed. “The point is, I’ve moved on from Piedmont. I don’t belong
    here—if I ever did.”

    “You could have belonged.”

    Mother shook her head. “I’m weary of this. Say what you have to say and let Justine and I get back to New York.”

    Granny closed her eyes and a ridge formed between them. Was she hurting? Justine wanted to comfort her, but
    she’d been ordered to stay out.

    Finally Granny’s ridge eased and she opened her eyes, but her voice was raspy. “I don’t know how to say it any
    stronger. It’s imperative you do what I ask, Mavis. Past secrets must be revealed, and wrongs made right.”

    Mother’s head shook once right then once left. “I am aware of what you went through. The condemnation, the
    threats. I will not put myself through all that—any of that.”

    “But there are truths that need to be shared,” Granny said. “I regret I wasn’t strong enough to follow through.
    But you are strong. You can do what I could not.”

    “Your neglect is not my problem,” Mother said. “None of this is my responsibility. You chose your way and I chose
    mine.”

    “But the gift—“

    Mother rose from the chair, forming fists at her side. “I didn’t choose the gift. And as such, I refuse to—“

    “’For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much,
    of him they will—‘”

    “’Will ask the more.’” Mother plucked a thread from her sleeve and let it fall to the floor. “I know. I know.
    Aren’t you getting weary of spouting that verse at me? I’m not listening.”

    “But you should. You must.” Granny sighed, then pointed at a dresser. “There’s a letter in the top drawer for
    Jussie, for her to open when she’s twenty. Promise me you’ll give it to her.”

    “If it’s full of this claptrap . . .”

    “Mavis. You must. The Ledger and the gift can’t die with me.”

    “Some things are better off dead.”

    Granny’s chin quivered. “Some people you mean.”

    With a sigh, Mother touched Granny’s hand. “Don’t go getting dramatic again. I’m not rejecting you, I’m simply
    rejecting—“

    “Our legacy. The legacy of all those who are depending on us to—“

    “Enough!” Mother shuddered as if the discussion had pushed her to her limit. She went to the dresser and took
    up the letter, slipping it into her pocket. “There. I took the letter.”

    “Good. Thank you.”

    “We’re leaving. Can I get you anything before Justine and I head back to the city?”

    “I’ve told you what I need.”

    Mother turned toward the door, then shook her head. “Justine? Tsk. Tsk. Naughty girl. It’s not polite to eavesdrop.”

    Justine pushed the door open. “Sorry.”

    “Come in here and say good-bye to your grandmother while I finalize our luggage.”

    Justine moved to the bed and Granny held out her hand. It felt so cold and smooth, like a pillow slip left in the
    night air. “Bye, Granny,” Justine said.

    Granny squeezed her hand and pulled her in. “You heard what I said?”

    “I didn’t mean to listen.”

    “You heard?”

    Justine nodded.

    “It’s up to you to carry on what your Mother rejects.”

    “I don’t understand.”

    “The gift will come to you when you’re twenty. What you do with it then is your choice. A very important
    choice.”

    “What gift?” (continued)