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Chapter Four
Cookeville, Tennessee

Near six that evening, Max found he could tolerate the ache in his leg and the burning sensation between his shoulder blades no longer. Lily had moved to the back seat with Amanda after they had stopped for supper near Lebanon. To the child’s credit she had begun to talk more than grunt. In fact, she seemed to be letting Lily continue to call her Greta without correcting her. It sounded like a game, he thought as he listened to Amanda question Lily about what they liked to do together best.

As Lily fell into the role of younger sister, only occasionally drifting off track from one era of her life to another, Max had relaxed emotionally. The conversation in the backseat aided his own memories of Lily and Greta together. Where on earth was this leading? Lily was calm, so he didn’t push those thoughts too far. Max pulled into Cookeville and stopped at the first clean, safe looking motel he could find. The action alerted Amanda. She bolted upright in the back seat.

“Hey, why are we stopping here?” She demanded, her eyes narrowing as she glared at Max. “Look, Gramps . . .”

Gramps? Now it was Gramps not Dude. Had he been promoted or demoted? He closed his eyes momentarily and mentally recited the Lord’s Prayer. His mother had taught him that to calm his youthful hot headedness. Usually it worked and it almost did this time, but his voice still sounded tense to his own ears when he spoke.

He began, “Amanda, I am eighty seven years…”

“Wow! Are you really that old? And you’re still, still Alive?” A genuine awe filled Amanda’s words.

“I must be, because at this moment every muscle in my body declares, “Get some rest, OLD MAN!” So Yes, I am still alive. Now, young lady…”

“Amanda” She interjected. That was it! He had enough! The sharpness of her tone and continued rudeness unraveled his efforts at civility.

“Amanda, my name is Mr. Carnes to you! No more ‘Gramps’ and no more ‘Dude’ or any other clever little ditty that rolls off your tongue. If you behave, I may let you call me Mr. Max, but at the rate you are going, don’t count on it. Now you stay here with Lily and keep her settled, while I go get two, count them, two rooms for the night. OR, “

Amanda slumped back against the seat and closed her eyes. Lily started stroking her arm.

“Oh, Greta, don’t cry.” Lily pleaded, then to Max, “Tell her you are sorry. You sounded mean!”

Admonished by his wife, who in spite of her confusion, knew meanness when she saw it, Max turned in the front seat to look at them just as Amanda swiped her eyes with her arm. He turned back toward the front and opened the car door. He had won the battle, but decided it had been at a price. Winning wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Max had learned that many years before. He recited the Lord’s Prayer silently again before speaking. This time a gentler Max materialized.

“Amanda, I am sorry I sounded mean. I am eighty seven and tired. But I would appreciate some show of manners and respect. Can you handle that?”

There was a pause. Then in a small childlike voice he almost didn’t recognize, Amanda said, “Yes, Mr. Carnes,” She sniffed back tears and turned her head away.

“Thank you, I will be back shortly.” He set out toward the lobby to register.
Ž
Max flipped open the cell phone Peggy brought him. Staring down at the unfamiliar gadget, he contemplated the variety of buttons, lights and sounds. The little screen had the date and time: 20:04, military time, he thought. Um, he translated, eight o’clock. Where had the last two hours gone? Had he drifted off? He certainly was exhausted. Just looking at the foreign object in his hand increased his weariness.

It made him long for the days when he picked up the receiver to hear a pleasant, familiar voice request, “Number Please?”

Well, there was no getting around it, he’d better figure this gadget out soon or he’d fall asleep in the chair. No telling what his children with their overactive imaginations might do then. It had been their mother, he recalled, who had encouraged their imaginations. Ah, Lily, all those bedtime stories certainly expanded their minds. Given their propensity for stories of ghosts and serial killers with hooks for hands, they’d probably send the Tennessee State Police looking for them.

Back to the phone, he mulled it over. Why had it seemed so easy when Peggy was explaining it? Probably, he decided, because he hadn’t really been paying attention. Besides, that was hours ago. He supposed he could use the phone in the room. He looked over at it on the bedside table but that represented yet another learning curve, plus an additional charge to an already outrageous room charge.

Sound from the adjacent room, where Lily and Amanda settled, drifted in as he pushed buttons randomly on the cell phone, only to open up new screens and baffling choices. Were they giggling? He listened. He had been apprehensive when Lily refused to stay in their room, insisting on staying with “Greta”. He didn’t push the point, though he was reluctant to allow it. To her he was ‘that man” while Amanda was her sister, Greta. They hadn’t been gone from home twelve hours and already this trip, like every trip he and Lily had ever taken, detoured from the neat excursion, he imagined. If he could figure this contraption out, he planned to tell his children very little. He especially planned to leave Amanda out of the mix.

He heard a tiny knock on the adjoining door. He rose to answer it, thinking maybe Lily had changed her mind. Even without recognizing him at home, it comforted him that they continued to sleep together like spoons in a drawer. As she had grown more fragile, he found himself holding her closer in the night as if she might dissolve with the morning dew. She hadn’t seemed to mind, but tonight she was adamant. That he would think she was “that kind of girl” disgusted her. He, Max, disgusted her. They could get a new driver! Max back pedaled, sputtering nonsense to his dismay.

Amanda had come to his rescue. Amazingly, the flippant rude child disappeared and a calm poised young woman stepped in. She calmed Lily. Amanda assured Lily thatshe’d misunderstood Max’s intentions. Max retreated in bewilderment, shaking his head. Who was this odd child?

“Mr. Carnes is such a nice man, Lily. He just wants to get our things in our room and get us settled for the night. He has his own room.” She put her arm around Lily and guided her to one of the double beds. Max sat the bag on the bed and Amanda flipped it open. She pulled out a nightgown and robe. “Oh, how pretty! Why don’t you wear this?” She said to Lily as she dismissed him with a backhanded wave.

On that note he backed out of the room into the adjoining one, but now the knock beckoned him. His stiff hip caught as he moved. He was slightly off balance when he reached to open the door. His body shifted sideways so that when the door opened, his weight carried him against the doorframe. Bobbling the cell phone, which suddenly was playing the “William Tell Overture”, he lost his grip on it.

The cell phone flew past Amanda who was standing in the door while he tried to grasp something solid and stay upright. Amanda looked between him and the cell phone before reaching down, picking it up, pushing a key and saying, “Hello, Mr. Carnes’ telephone. Oh, sure, he’s right here. He just dropped the phone when he was falling.”

So much for discretion, he thought, baffled by the ease with which Amanda described the situation so casually. She looked at him and asked, “Are you okay? It’s your daughter. She sounds like she’s wound pretty tight.” Amanda handed him the phone and showed him how to hold it.

Wound pretty tight, that summed up Peggy. Max collided with her formidable attitude more times than he could count. He limped slightly as he returned to his room to try and explain the events of the day since they had parted eight hours earlier. Before shutting the door lightly, he mouthed to Amanda, “I’ll be right back.” Thirty minutes later, only slightly mentally bruised, he was true to his word. He knocked on the door and Amanda answered. He held the cell phone out to her.

“Amanda. Do you know how to use this?”

“Well, yeah. Don’t you?”

“No”

“Do you want me to show you?”

“No.”

“No?”

“I would like for you to handle it; take my phone calls. Make my phone calls, at least till we get you home in Knoxville.”

“Knoxville? Oh, yeah, Knoxville. Sure. I’ll be your personal assistant.”

“Personal assistant? Yes, of course, Lily’s and mine. Will you do that?”

“Oh, sure.”

“My daughter put some family members’ numbers in there. Can you find them?”

“Sure.” She made it sound like child’s play. Well, undoubtedly it was. He discovered that some skills were best left to children. At least till Knoxville he wouldn’t have to mess with this blame thing. After Knoxville, he’d lose it somewhere in the Smoky Mountains. Bears probably used cell phones better than he did.

“Thank you.” He turned and started to close the door.

“Wait, Mr. Carnes.” He turned back.

“Yes, Amanda.”

“Would it be ok with you if I wore some of Lily’s pajamas? I sort of don’t have any and I wanted to take a shower.”

“By all means, whichever one you want.” The girl certainly needed a shower, no doubt about it. He smiled and so did she. Even with the make up, the smile transformed her face.

Thanks, Mr. Carnes. Good Night. She started to close the door.

Wait, Amanda. Is Lily ok?

“She’s sleeping like a baby. She talked and talked about all sorts of things we’ve supposedly done together. In fact, she fell asleep talking. I am starting to get a feel for this Greta. She’s pretty cool for someone who must be way old.” She paused then added, “Lily’s pretty cool, too.”

“Thank you and uh, Amanda, please call me Max.”

“Ok, Mr. uh, Max,” she said hesitantly, “Good Night.”

*

Amanda snapped the bolt lock on the door between the rooms. No need to take any chances. In 14 years she’d learned that the most innocent looking people could perpetrate the greatest evil. Tomorrow, she promised, she’d simply slip away into the shadows again and keep running. Today with her belly filled, the promise of a real bed to sleep in and a shower that beckoned, her guard had dropped. Certainly, the tiny woman who slept with the tiniest whiffle of a snore didn’t frighten her. Mr. Carnes, however, well, she just couldn’t be sure. Tonight she’d transform again and tomorrow she’d be gone.

The shower felt like paradise. She allowed the warmth to wash over her head and body. There was no regret as she watched the shades of purple and pink pool at her feet and wash down the drain. The complimentary shampoo bottle was emptied by the time she had washed and rinsed her hair several times. She scrubbed furiously at her face and body. Patting her eyes as soap threatened to seep in under her tightly closed eyes, Amanda emerged from the shower. Her eyes widened as the mirror cleared of fog.

Tears welled. There she was, the girl she’d been before she’d known the truth. Only a few days and yet a lifetime ago, she thought the worst thing that could happen to her would be to not make the basketball team roster.

She pulled on a nightshirt she had found in Lily’s bag and carefully washed out her only underwear in the sink. With careful avoidance she tried not to watch herself in the mirror. If Amanda Carmichael had been a lie, then who was she really? Where did she belong?

*

Max slept deeply, so deeply in fact that it took him several moments the next morning to get oriented to his surroundings. Gradually, as he stared around the unfamiliar room, his head cleared. He heard sounds in the next room before he managed to even sit up on the edge of the bed. The sound of a faint knock on the door finally roused him. “Mr. Carnes, you have a phone call.”

“Be there in a minute,” he called through the closed door. He struggled to get his pants on. The aches in his muscles resisted every movement. Just getting decent was a huge mind over body action. Getting old, no, he corrected his own thoughts, being old took more raw courage than crossing the Rhine. And it took more energy, too.

When he finally made it to the door, Amanda thrust the phone to him through a small crack. He took it, asking who it was. “Some man,” Amanda responsed. Before he could answer the phone, Amanda whispered through the small opening.

“Could I wear something out of Lily’s suitcase? Just today. Till we get to Knoxville.”

Nothing would please him more than that child in decent clothes, “Of course, and Amanda, help her pick out something to wear too. OK?”

“Sure, no problem.”

The door shut and he heard the dead bolt lock click. He stared at the phone, and then hesitantly, as if it might bite him, put it to his ear.

“Hello”

“Dad?”

“Barry!” They had the whole family on his tail. “Good to hear from you. How are Sharon and the kids?”

“They’re fine. Dad, what’s this about you and Mom traipsing all over the country? And who answered the phone?”

“You’ve talked to Andrew and Peggy?”

“They called us yesterday or rather Millie did. She said you might be dropping by for a visit on the way to Ocean Isle Beach. Dad, is this wise?”

Max mulled that over before answering. Wise? What kind of a question was that? It certainly didn’t seem that way. Right now he wasn’t sure a visit to his second son’s home would be wise given his tone of voice. He had no intention of submitting to an interrogation about his soundness of mind. Besides, who would choose to discuss wisdom with a man who twice, not once, brought property in a flood plain and lived to regret it both times. Of course, now he lived on a hill in Greenville, at least that was the account he gave.

“Yes, Barry, your mother and I are taking a little trip. Don’t know if we’ll make it by, I am just following the yellow highlighted road.” His voice tripped lightly over the last three words in what he hoped reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz.

“What?”

“Andrew marked the maps for me.”

“Oh.”

The remainder of the conversation was a series of monosyllabic exchanges and it wasn’t until Max snapped the phone shut that he realized he hadn’t answered Barry’s question about Amanda. Oh well, let him get the scoop from Peggy.

Suddenly, humming, he felt a little more energized. A plan was brewing. He’d promised to take Lily shopping for a new swimsuit and certainly the child needed something of her own, something modest, to wear. They’d get breakfast and go shopping before they got on the road.

*

Who was this chameleon? The child bore no resemblance to the Amanda of yesterday. Gone was the cotton candy hair; gone was the make up; gone were most of the earrings and the eyebrow doodad. Her light brown hair had been pulled back into a loose ponytail and she looked up from painting Lily’s fingernails when Max entered the room. She looked paradoxically both older and younger than she had just hours before.

The wonder of soap, Max thought. Who was this child? Where did she come from? Yesterday she could have blended with the fringe element he caught glimpses of on TV. Today she looked like Allison and her friends from church.

If Lily noticed the change, she wasn’t reacting to it. They looked like unmatched bookends, representing the span of life. Lily wore a red shirt and slacks while Amanda wore a duplicate in turquoise. He remembered Millie had bought them for Lily’s birthday, but he couldn’t recall her ever wearing them. Millie, bless her heart, must have packed them. He wondered what else Millie had discovered missing and quietly covered by seeing to it the bags held essentials and much more.

“Hi.”

“Good Morning.”

“Is this ok for me to wear?”

“Certainly, you both look lovely.” He bowed slightly. Lily giggled and Amanda blew softly on the fresh polish adorning Lily’s nails.

“Mr. Carnes, you crack me up.”

“Really.”

“You are so, so. . .”

“Old?”

“Nah!”

He must have looked bewildered. What new phrase could she come up with to call him now? He didn’t have to wait long to find out.

“Goofy.”

“Goofy? Well, yes Amanda, I suppose I am just that, goofy.” He smiled and stuffed his hands in his pockets, rocking slightly in place. He certainly thought that was a description even his children would agree fit.

*

Surely, it had not been his idea, this shopping excursion. He had lost track of time but checking his watch every few minutes hadn’t proved helpful. He sat now in a chair, which he supposed was there for the express purpose it now served. Amanda had grabbed up a couple of pairs of jeans and T-shirts for herself so fast, Max had been lulled into thinking they were going to be in and out of here in minutes.

Unfortunately, Amanda worked more methodically in selecting swimsuits for Lilyto try on. Max had no idea the endless selection of swimsuits available. The first few suits Amanda had pulled off the rack included a bright tangerine bikini. She draped it very seriously over Lily for him to see and then burst into laughter as his jaw dropped. He blushed, then mumbled something incoherent before taking the seat to which he had become permanently affixed.

Fortunately, the department store offered swimming attire much more suited to a woman of Lily’s age. Unfortunately, it offered more than one and Amanda seemed determined to get Lily into every possible combination before a decision could be made. He must have said “that one is perfect” a dozen or more times but still there seemed no purchase in sight. Lily looked tired, but strangely enough, continued changing from one to another without retreating inwardly or becoming agitated.

Max had amused himself reading the various signs that hung from the ceiling in the store. His favorite was: Shoes – Buy One get the Second 50% off. He supposed ruefully that might be an advantage to someone with two different sized feet.

“This is it!” Amanda announced, emerging from the dressing room with Lilyclutching at her arm.

Finally! Max thought, sitting up straighter in the chair and reaching for his wallet.

“Mr. Carnes, MAX! Look at Lily!” He did as he was told, a little whistle escaping his lips. Lily wore a bright blue swimsuit with large white flowers and a matching cover up. Perched atop her head was a white straw hat banded with a kerchief that matched the outfit. The combination erased years from Lily’s face. Her eyes told the story; the dullness he was accustomed to seeing had been replaced with a hint of sparkle. It was her face he noticed, not her eighty five year old body. His voice caught but when he managed to speak and not gawk, he said,

“Lily, you look beautiful.” And to the very depth of his soul Max meant those words. He smiled and nodded his thanks to Amanda. She shrugged, but smiled.

When Amanda disappeared with Lily into the ladies’ dressing room, Max settled back in the chair, pulling the photograph from his pocket. Looking at the faces of a much younger grouping of the Carnes’ family motivated him to push ahead to the sea, even though after less than 24 hours of travel he was road weary. He’d never been the one who loved to travel, he mused. Why would that change this trip? He settled back to wait and found his mind traipsing down various paths hunting for answers to questions he’d never adequately resolved.

Mitchell and Max Carnes, the two eldest sons of Walter Carnes accompanied their father to Savannah in the fall of 1934. His Daddy had business with a man to talk about introducing new cash crops, peanuts to the western part of Kentucky. Max had no interest in crops by that time; he had already made up his mind. Farming was not his ambition; he was looking forward to graduating from high school then setting out to see the country. That trip, however, convinced Max he was not cut out for the traveling life. Farming looked better than it ever had before when they returned home.

The trip promised to be the rarest of all adventures, traveling farther than either Max or Mitchell had ever been. At 17 and 18 neither brother had been more than 100 miles from home. Not only were they crossing two state lines, but they also were going to put their feet in one of the largest bodies of water in the world, the Atlantic Ocean. Geography books had whetted their appetites to see water that melted into the sky with no visible land on the horizon.

After a typical Carnes’ family discussion, which sounded like a heated argumentand might have sent some people to get the sheriff, at least those who didn’t know them, the decision was made to travel by train. That choice altered the course of Max’s life.

In Chattanooga, Tennessee two young ladies accompanied by their aunt boarded the Central of Georgia Railways at the same time the Carnes family boarded. They sat across the aisle only a few rows up from Max and Mitchell and the younger one caught Max’s eye the moment she sat down. She smiled at him only to be scolded by her aunt who immediately pulled out some stitch work, slapped it into her lap and told her in a terse but loud whisper to keep her eyes and hands busy.

Aunt Isadora, ah, Max thought, those girls certainly tested her patience. The other girl looked at Max, then Mitchell; Greta then gently poked her sister. Instantly before Isadora could whip out work for her idle fingers, Greta’s glance turned to the passing scenery that amounted to nothing more than a scruffy smattering of warehouse type buildings that appeared to intrigue her. Greta’s ability to escape by the hair of her “chinny chin chin” became legendary among those who loved her best.

The pairs often exchanged quick glances and smiles. These exchanges drew an occasional glare from Isadora. The journey and their chaperone prevented much conversation, but during the journey introductions were made and minimal small talk occurred. The brief conversations allowed Max to learn that Savannah was also their destination. Nevertheless, the formidable Aunt Isadora and Max’s own shyness threatened to doom all hope of getting to know one another better. Lily, with a boldness he found out later came from being prodded and teased by Greta, pressed an envelope and small piece of paper into Max’s hand as she passed him on the platform when the train finally pulled into the station on Grand Avenue.

The envelope read: Mr. Walter Carnes and Sons. Then on the card in beautiful feminine script:

Dear Mr. Carnes and Sons,

Welcome to Savannah. Please join our family for tea tomorrow afternoon at 4 pm at the St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church Parish House off the market square. We hopeto share a little Savannah hospitality with you. Sincerely, Mrs. Benjamin Robards, Greta and Lily Stanton. On a small loose piece of paper which Max received with the envelope he read: Aunt Isadora is really a dear and Uncle Ben is quite human for a priest. Lily

Once the note passed, she marched away quickly not waiting for a reply. She fell into step behind her rapidly retreating aunt. Max could not take his eyes off her. She rewarded him again with a quick glance and smile over her shoulder. He held the note in the air and nodded furiously. She ducked her head quickly as the crowd absorbed the entourage.

*

“Mr. Carnes, Mr. Carnes, MAX!”

He sat bolt upright, dazed by the brightness of florescent lighting. Someone was shaking his shoulder. What was going on? Where was he? He blinked furiously and squinted at the source of the interruption.

“What?” He said rather sharper than he intended. The fuzzy figure cleared. It was Amanda.

“Come quick, Mr. Carnes; it’s Lily. I don’t know …she’s freaked out or something. Hurry, Please. She’s scaring everyone.”

There was genuine panic in Amanda’s voice. Max tried to stand but his muscles and joints protested and he lurched forward. Amanda broke his fall. He could see she was crying.

“Just show me where she is, Amanda. And leave us alone for a few minutes, OK?”

“You got it.”

“I, uh, what?”

“I’ll get out of the way. She is way over the edge.”

Lily crouched in the corner of a tiny dressing room surrounded by mirrors. The swimsuit wadded in a little ball was clutched tightly to her chest. Her tremors alarmed Max, driving away the drowsiness he’d been fighting since Amanda awakened him. With great effort, he lowered himself to the floor, wondering as he did how on earth he would get up. He shrugged it off.

There were folks around; he heard muffled voices outside the tiny unit, redirecting customers to another dressing room in the next department. He’d ask for assistance. Time comes, he thought, when the Lord gets your attention in dramatic ways. Being self-sufficient either yields to the help offered or pride garbles your innards and bites the hand that feeds you. Lily needed him. Pride had no place here. He would need help getting up and he would ask for it. Right now his place was by her side.

“Help me, Lord,” he whispered as he reached out a hand to Lily. He had no idea how she would react. In an amazing moment she took it and moved into the circle of his waiting arm. He leaned back against one of the mirrors. For several long moments she laid her head on his chest as he held her. Max watched the whole scene unfold in the mirror on the opposite wall. The images reflected disturbed him. He closed his eyes, rocked Lily gently and sang the first songs that came to mind, Hard Hearted Hannah followed by Open My Eyes, Lord.

*

Amanda waited immediately outside the dressing room where she had left Lily crumpled on the floor. She knew she should have retreated with the sales clerks and other store patrons, but concern, guilt or some strange mixture of the two held her in place. She leaned her head against the wall. Everything had been going so well. It had actually been fun helping Lily pick out and try on the swimming attire.

One moment they’d been giggling like girlfriends, then Lily freaked out, jerked away, and screamed at her. The sales clerks had rushed in. They must have thought Amanda was abusing her. They tried intervening to calm Lily down which only set her off more. A tug of war had broken out as Lily refused to turn loose of the clothing. Amanda hung back watching. Lily’s sudden physical strength astounded her. She put up quite a fight. In the end the two store employees backed off and Lily sank like a trapped animal into the corner.

“You’d better go get your grandfather,” one of them said to Amanda.

“Huh? My grandfather? They’re not my grandparents!” Suddenly she had wanted to detach. Why on earth had she gotten involved with two old lunatics anyway? The clerk who had spoken glared at her. Amanda turned on her heel and marched out to get Max.

“Whatever!” she muttered.

Now outside listening, she considered the clerk’s assumption that Max and Lily were her grandparents. Her own grandparents despised her, so why would she want to take on another crazy old couple as substitutes. Her own grandparents lived maybe 700 miles away from this place in Mulvane, Kansas. She wondered what their reaction would be when they learned she knew the truth and had left. Hot tears stung her eyes as she recalled all the times she’d delighted in seeing them. They’d put on a pretty good act; she had to admit, pretending to adore her. She had swallowed the whole farce. Never again would she let anyone suck her into trusting them. Amanda knew the truth now. They wished she’d never been born. The pathetic twosome in the next room weren’t substitute grandparents; they were merely a free ride. She’d play the little game as long as it took to get where she was going. In fact, she patted herself on the back; she was getting pretty good at it.

The life she’d lived up to now had been a lie. Could she ever run far enough away? Far enough from the knowledge that the people she had loved all her life, her Nana and Poppy, Granny Nan, her mom and her dad, had never loved her, never, ever? If she hadn’t seen the truth in black and white, in her mother’s own handwriting, she wouldn’t believe it now and would go on living as if she were loved.

With her head against the wall, she could hear Max singing, his scratchy old voice drifted through the partition. Lily and he were strange old birds. In spite of herself Amanda had been lulled into a false safety with them. Up until Lily started striking at her, she’d weakened, started to care a little. She was trying to help, then bam! Lily became a witch. Was she so desperate for love that she would latch onto two people she’d only known since yesterday? Amanda wiped her eyes on her sleeve.

“Amanda,” Max called weakly.

“Yeah?” she answered reluctantly. What did he want now?

“I am going to need your help in here.”

Amanda let out a loud disinterested sigh.

“Whatever!”

With Amanda’s help, he really was a feeble old coot, she thought, Max finally led Lily from the dressing room. In spite of her lack of concern she appeared in an instant, helping him rise from the floor, get balanced and then together they had lifted a calmer, though still trembling, Lily from the floor. Amanda wasn’t sure which one of the two looked worse. Max seemed wobblier and less sure of himself than he had earlier in the day, but he put his arm around Lily and escorted her out into the department store. If he noticed the stares of the store personnel, he didn’t let on. Amanda thought he had forgotten the swimsuit but just before the door, he handed her his wallet.

“Pay for the clothing, Allison. We will be in the car.”

“Allison? Who’s Allison?”

“What? Did I call you Allison?”

“You certainly did.” What? Now he was going to start calling her strange names.

“I’m sorry, Amanda.” He said wearily, “Allison is our youngest granddaughter.”

“Oh”. She looked down at the wallet in her hand, “Let me get this straight. You want me to pay for the clothes and bring your wallet to the car?” She asked, thinking perhaps he was nuts. Who cared? If he was crazy enough to turn it over to her, he deserved to find out you couldn’t trust people. She would bolt and run with his money and credit cards. She already had possession of his cell phone. It would be so easy and somebody would take pity on them.

Amanda broke with her thoughts still holding the wallet as she watched Max and Lily’s departure.

He looked back at her as he held the door open for Lily and with a slight smile he said, “I’ve decided to trust you. Call it a little message from God.”

She stood perfectly still absorbing his words, then turned and marched back to the sales clerk and paid for the clothes. But just in case they tossed her out on her ear, she tucked a fifty dollar bill in her pant’s pocket. Max didn’t look the least surprised when she climbed into the backseat of the Buick with the shopping bags and handed him his wallet. He didn’t have a clue how close she’d come to ripping him completely off. What a loon!

“Amanda”

“Yes.”

“Our travel plans are changing.” Max said.

“Whatever.”

He grimaced slightly at her tone, but continued.

“We are staying here another night. Your folks may be worried, so please give them a call, if you’d like, or if you want to go on, we could get you a bus ticket to Knoxville.”

Amanda stopped short of snapping, “Calling my folks will be the last thing I ever do!” but instead she reined herself in and changed tones, “Thanks. I’d feel safer with you and Lily, if that’s ok? I ran into a couple of bad dudes before I met you”

During lunch Amanda decided she did feel safer with these aging crazies than she had with her previous rides. Besides, the Carnes were feeding her and providing lodging. What a deal! She could put up with Lily clutching and picking at her arm. But if Lilyfreaked again, she would bolt then.

Lily had a comical side especially when she was calling her Greta and acting like they shared secrets. It bothered her more that Lily wasn’t talking and though no longer combative, dullness had settled over her face. In spite of herself, Amanda felt a trace of sadness for Max and Lily, but the anger she carried since she discovered the truth about her whole existence tainted any empathy Amanda could muster.

Patting Lily’s arm, Amanda actually wished she’d start calling her Greta again. Maybe she could change her name to Greta; she considered it, but then was reminded that a name change wouldn’t be necessary. Run until she couldn’t run any longer and then swim as far as she could, that was her plan. It was a plan that only required reaching the ocean, which was exactly where Max and Lily were heading.

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