Upon her return to Steppe Hills, Anna was brought to the assistant principal who informed her in a very severe tone that she was suspended. At this, Anna raised her hand and very politely asked what being suspended entailed, and was subsequently informed it meant she would not be allowed at school for a few days. A puzzled Anna questioned whether this was a particularly effective punishment- after all, she didn’t want to be at school anyway- but the assistant principal, an older, big-boned man who seemed to sweat profusely at any given moment, was adamant that she return home immediately.
Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Anna thanked the assistant principal profusely and wished him a good day. The assistant principal merely grunted and returned to his work, and Anna began the long, relaxing walk home.
As Anna strode through the grimy streets of Weary Winds, she attempted to picture it in its heyday as a glistening, bustling city of tomorrow. However, strolling past the sea of shuttered storefronts, Anna found this to be beyond even her imaginative capabilities. Shrugging off the brief sadness her hometown sometimes elicited, Anna turned her thoughts to the Acres instead- to Oinky, and her father, and the rolling hills she called home- and amused herself by imagining all the fun she would have during her suspension.
Anna took a shortcut through the grounds of the Acres and found herself taking a brief detour to the barn. Inside, Ben was just finishing up some chores, flanked by his two golden retrievers, Scruffy and Daisy, both of whom were graciously allowed on the Acres by Thomas McDermott after Anna had taken a liking to them.
“Anna!” Ben blinked, looking thoroughly confused, and somewhat concerned. “What are you doing back?”
“I was suspended from school for skipping school,” Anna explained simply, approaching Daisy and scratching the young dog behind her ears. Daisy’s long tail began to wag profusely, even as the easy-going Scruffy watched without a hint of jealousy.
“You were what?” Ben gasped, nearly dropping the load of grain in his hands.
“I agree, it makes no sense,” Anna sniffed. “But I’ve found punishments rarely do.”
Honey padded aside patiently as the snorting, small form of Oinky emerged from the shadows, excitedly waddling up to Anna and booping her ankle gently. Anna laughed, picking up the pig and stroking her gently. Oinky gave a contented sigh, and melted into her friend’s arms.
“Well, I doubt your dad will be pleased to hear about this,” Ben muttered, regaining his bearings as best he could. “Maybe after his meeting, we can break the news.”
“Meeting?” Anna frowned. She paid very close attention to her father’s itinerary, feeling it was her duty to ensure he didn’t overwork himself. During long meetings, she brought him and his colleagues glasses of cold water, which seemed to amuse his partners and embarrass him slightly. Anna did not embarrass easily. She didn’t see much of a point in it.
“Yes, a very important visitor stopped by,” Ben sounded excited. Despite herself, Anna narrowed her eyes. “If he goes into business with us… well, let’s just say it would be a great opportunity.”
“A Very Important Visitor?” Anna repeated. The words sounded wrong on her lips. There was something very sketchy about all this, and Anna did not like this one bit. “I think I’d like to meet this Very Important Visitor.”
Ben opened his mouth and closed it again, for Anna and Oinky were already off, striding dutifully towards the farmhouse. Ben sighed and shook his head, knowing there was nothing anyone could do to stop Anna now.
“That girl is something else,” he murmured, and Ruffy gave a bark of agreement.
Anna found her father and the Very Important Visitor inside his study, flanked by two men in identical grey suits which seemed to go perfectly with the black SUV parked outside. They were chattering urgently, staring at some rather dull-looking pieces of paper as Anna entered, straightened her overalls slightly, and cleared her throat.
Abruptly, the room went silent, and Thomas, the Visitor, and the two Grey Men turned, surprised, to the little girl.
“Good morning,” Anna spoke slowly and clearly. “My name is Anna.”
“Anna,” Thomas’ face flushed the way it always did when his daughter did something outlandish or he was faced with a particularly exciting piece of paperwork. “What are you doing here?”
“I have been suspended from school,” Anna informed him coolly. “I assure you that it was completely my fault.”
The two grey man exchanged looks of distaste, which was unpleasant enough, but not nearly as unsettling as the wide smile on the face of the Visitor. Wordlessly, he strode over to the little girl, extending a hand.
“Anna,” she took his hand, and he shook it. “I’m Mr. Emmett Samuels, but everyone calls me Sam, or Uncle Sam.”
“Why?” Anna asked.
“Well, many people find themselves extraordinarily comfortable around me due to my open and down-to-earth nature,” Mr. Samuels explained, very proud. “I’m known for being very approachable”
Anna did not find Mr. Samuels approachable and was exceedingly uncomfortable around him. There was a smug air to him which unsettled the young girl, and made her wish she hadn’t left Oinky in the hall outside. She could use the piglet’s fearlessness when faced with this peculiar man.
“Uncle Sam is one of the most successful men in America, Anna,” Anna’s father stood up, a warning in his voice. “And guess what? He was born and raised in Weary Winds!”
Anna remained silent, frowning. She found it hard to reconcile this polished man with her hometown.
“Indeed I was,” Mr. Samuels smiled. “I was privileged to grow up here, and now I hope to return the favor.”
He paused, as if expecting Anna to ask him what he meant. Anna said nothing, merely regarding the older man carefully. She took in his receding hairline and neat salt-and-pepper hair, the crisp red, white, and blue suit which seemed to shimmer in the afternoon light, and the extraordinarily patronizing look in his eyes.
“It’s actually a stroke of fortune that you showed up,” one of the grey-suited men spoke up, causing Anna to jump slightly where she stood. Part of her had forgotten the men were there, they’d been so still the past few minutes.
“Indeed it is,” Anna’s father laughed nervously, strolling excitedly over to the table and retrieving the papers they’d been looking at. “Anna, sweetie, could you sign something for me, please?”
Anna crossed her arms. “What am I signing?”
“You don’t need to worry about that,” Mr. Samuels cooed. “It’s grown up business.”
Anna’s father flinched at this, and for good reason. Anna drew herself up, as tall as she could, and regarded Mr. Samuels with visible distaste.
“I find that while grown up business is often quite tedious,” she declared. “It is nevertheless important to understand. Father,” she turned to Thomas McDermott. “What do the papers say?”
“Well…” Mr. McDermott hesitated, unwilling to meet his daughter’s eyes. “It’s the deed to the Acres, you see. Mr. Samuels has offered us a more than generous portion of money for the farm. When your mother… passed, she left the land to you. I can’t do anything without your permission.”
Anna stood very still for a moment, taking this in. “What does he want a farm for?”
“We don’t want the farm,” One of the Grey-Men clasped their hands together, a patronizing look in their eyes. “We want the land.”
Once more, Anna’s father flinched. Anna’s jaw tightened, and she made a mental note to have a long conversation with her father about this later. But, for the moment, she had more pressing issues.
“I’m going to build a resort, Anna,” Mr. Samuels stepped towards the little girl, a sparkle in his eyes. “Weary Winds was home for me, and now others can see its beauty. Once we lay down the–“
“No,” Anna said simply.