Sophia pulled the Buick into a space outside a converted brick schoolhouse, which looked like it had been built sometime in the 1930s. The sign at the road read “Bartlett’s Emporium and Restaurant.”
“Folks around Crossville say this place is worth checking out,” Sophia announced. “I’ve heard the food is good and the old classrooms are set up to represent different rooms from the 20s, 30s and early WWII years with antiques appropriate to the 1930’s kitchen in that room and so forth.
Maybe,” she pointedly looked at Amanda, “we can get something to eat and start this day over again.”
Amanda managed a nod.
Lunch was excellent. Afterwards Max found a bench in the broad hall of the building, leaving the females to their wandering. Sophia had insisted he take his medication over his flimsy protestations. It was barely afternoon, but he was bone weary, partially because of his trek through the shrubbery along the highway. The girls were off exploring. Last he’d seen of them Sophia was guiding Lily into a 1930 style living room just past the restaurant. Amanda had been close behind. He doubted Lily would last very long so he wanted to sit someplace that didn’t jar his bones like the car. He had always considered it a smooth riding vehicle, but that morning he had impressions of every bump on his old carcass somewhere. He breathed deeply and closed his eyes, just to rest them for a moment.
“Max, Mr. Carnes, Max.”
He stirred, opened his eyes and found Amanda sitting next to him. He shook his head to clear the cobwebs. He wondered how long he’d been asleep.
“I thought you were shopping.”
“Nah, Sophia’s with Lily and I, ok, now don’t be offended, I am really not into old things, if you know what I mean. Besides, I wanted to ask you something.”
“OK?” What on earth was she about to ask?
“You remember the other night when you were writing in your journal.” He nodded and she continued, “Do you write down the truth in there or do you write stories? I mean if I were to read your journal would I be reading facts or fiction or what?”
“Well, I just try to record the things that happen on that day, but sometimes I write a little about how I feel about it. I would say it is true for that day from my perspective.”
“Would it be wrong for me to read your journal?”
His impulse was to say there was nothing in his journal so private but that anyone could read it with or without his permission, but Max was recalling slowly the conversation they had had that second night in Cookeville; Amanda’s mother had kept a journal, one filled with secrets, according to Amanda. And the fact was he had read letters belonging to another without permission only to take up a burden that he longed to unload, but couldn’t quite put down. And there was the matter of the letter from Ed tucked away in his Bible. He would be devastated if someone read that without his knowledge and judged Ed. He mulled over her question for several moments, so long in fact that she interrupted his thought process.
“Max? Are you ok? Did you hear me?”
“Yes, I’m sorry. I was distracted momentarily. You asked if it would be wrong to read my journal, but I think you were asking me if it was ok if you read your mother’s.”
Amanda looked away quickly and then back again. He could see tears pooling in her eyes. She swiped at them with the back of her hand. Working hard to pull her face into a semblance of contempt, but failing miserably, she finally managed to speak again. This time regret hung on every word.
“I lied to you. My family isn’t in Knoxville.”
Every fiber in him wanted to break forth with the questions he had been asking himself about Amanda since Springfield, but he struggled to find the self-control to restrain his inquisitiveness for the moment. That would need to happen and soon, but there was time.
“I know,” Max said simply and pulled the now weeping child close, letting her cry on his shoulder. Oh, dear, he thought, what to do for a crying woman always baffled him, so he did what he had always done. He patted her shoulder and whispered repeatedly in hushed tones, “There, there, everything is going to be alright.” Silently, he prayed his words were truth.
After several moments, Amanda headed to the Ladies’ Room to wash her face, and hopefully, reduce some of the swelling and redness around her eyes. Max idly observed the traffic that was thinning as the lunch crowd dispersed. The clock, an antique itself, indicated it was nearly 2 p.m. Max was ready to go and delighted when he saw Sophia headed his way.
“Well, you about ready to get going to Knoxville? Once Amanda gets here with Lily, we can be on our way.”
Max’s puzzled expression must have alerted Sophia, but it wasn’t until a second later when Amanda joined them that she realized Lily was not with Amanda. Try as she did Sophia could not hide her sudden apprehension.
“Amanda, where’s Lily?”
“I don’t know; she was with you the last time I saw her. You were in that kitchen over there.” All three of their heads turned at once.
Max struggled to remain calm. The three of them stood as if nailed to the floor. With the exception of their heads they remained perfectly inert for several seconds. Their heads, however, moved in unison; if one looked up, they all looked up; if one looked down, they all looked down. There were three levels if you counted the basement in the building. Inertia gave way to a state of panic with everyone talking at once. How had this happened? I thought she was with you. Well, I thought she was with you. Where could she have gone? Finally, Sophia held up a hand and spoke.
“We need a plan. I am going to find the manager and see if we can get some help from the staff. Amanda,” Sophia looked directly at her, ready to give her marching orders, but changed course at the last minute, “Where do you want to look, upstairs, down? Max, you stay on this floor, no stairs, or better still, sit here and wait.”
“I will not stay here and wait! Lily is MY wife. I should have stayed with her. I will look on this floor.”
“Of course, sorry, Max.”
Amanda spoke, “I’ll look upstairs, but,” her voice got quieter, “someone needs to check outside, just in case, you know.”
They all sighed in unison. Amanda had brought up the one possibility none of them had really wanted to consider. Outside was far more dangerous than inside.
Some of the staff remembered Lily. No one recalled seeing her leave the building, but the manager, who grumbled about watching out for the senile, reluctantly sent two of the clerks out to check the parking lots. Amanda set off up the stairs. It was hard to imagine Lily climbing stairs, but the manager pointed out that an elevator had been installed to make the building accessible. Sophia went to check the elevator and the basement rooms. Max watched the frenzy with no comment before making his way along the hall where he’d last seen Lily.
He could hardly check the Ladies’ Rooms, but he suspected they’d sent someone to do that. He knew Lily better than any of them, well enough to know that the chances of her being on the elevator were nil to none. Lily hated tight places especially since she’d begun to slip mentally.
Max needed to get in touch with Lily, his Lily. Would she wander around or would she come to a place that would reach out like the smell of bread baking and hold her attention? Would she seek something not only familiar but desired? What would draw her in this place with so much of the past in every corner?
As he walked slower, because he felt weary and sore more than he’d been earlier in the day, he thought about her state of mind lately. When he’d peek in a room set up to display articles from the different eras in natural settings, a part of him responded emotionally to the common furniture and household items that he recognized from the past. Lily with her mind that traveled randomly down this path and that, sometimes in the present, but more often stuck in some past place, might have searched for a particular object or room.
Down the hall behind him the troops were still looking.
He could hear them calling her name. Near the end of the hall, he saw a room with its door partially open. He felt a slight breeze. There was a window open. With a slight swell of anticipation, he peeked in. Pushing the door wider, his eyes scanned the room slowly, taking in the beauty of it. The lighting was subdued, further adding to its charm. It was a bedroom but looked oddly out of place here in Middle Tennessee. Above the four-poster bed, suspended from a ring on the ceiling, fine white mosquito netting billowed down draping extravagantly over the bed. Fine white pine furniture formed the perimeter of the room with articles clearly feminine set in various displays. A white wicker rocker occupied a spot diagonal to the bed. The open window allowed a breeze that played with the lace curtains.
Uncle Ben and Aunt Isadora had refused to let them take off immediately after the ceremony to head for Kentucky. A wedding night spent in a Pullman car on the Central of Georgia suggested the poorest of manners. Lily laughed at them good naturedly, but they insisted. They had arranged for Lily and Max to stay on the coast at the Seaward Hotel. The room in which Max stood reminded him of that room, reminded him of that magical fulfilling night with the only woman he had ever or would ever love. The memory caused him to blush. Enchantment almost obscured his hearing as a familiar voice spoke his name, but not for long—Lily?
Where was she? It had been a while since she had spontaneously called his name.
The room’s poor lighting was no help so he moved farther into the room and listened closely, hoping that she would speak again. Momentarily, she did and he caught the direction of her voice. He turned toward the bed and saw movement beneath the heavy netting. Oh my goodness, he thought, she’s in the display. As he approached the bed, he noticed a path of clothing strewn across the floor—Lily’s clothing. Oh my, what in the world? He was processing the scene, when he felt her arms reach up and around him through the mosquito net and pull him onto the bed with her. Flattered as he was and warmed by Lily’s display of desire, Max heard other voices and realized the searchers were approaching.
He struggled to keep his footing on the floor, while trying to lift Lily off the bed. Footsteps clicked on the hardwood floors. Where did this frail woman get this sudden burst of strength? He tugged and she tugged back, squealing with delight. Suddenly, with simultaneous crescendo, the netting pulled loose from the ceiling and the search party, with Sophia as head scout, burst into the room.
The whole scene erupted as people kept pushing around Sophia who had stopped dead in her tracks, flung her arms out and tried desperately to block the door. The shock at the sight of Max and Lily on the bed wrapped in gauze clothe startled her at first, but it was when she saw the scattered items of Lily’s apparel on the floor, that her mouth fell open, remaining agape for several seconds.
She was doing her best to hold back the crowd, but to little avail. Good thing it wasn’t a crime scene, she thought, because contamination was rampant. It took her a moment to realize that Lily had Max clamped tight and was, yes, giggling. Oh my stars, Sophia thought. She began to hear nervous laughter from the staff members who had pushed their way in and were now better able to observe the twosome on the bed.
“Oh, Oh, Look what they’ve done to my Savannah room. What on earth happened in here?” The manager arrived full of angst over any damage her antiques might have incurred in the fracas. With some effort, given her petite height and broad build, she stretched to see over Sophia’s arm and then slid beneath it with a grunt into the room. Her sniggering employees received a stern look and genuinely tried to stop laughing, but with no effect. With a decisive thumb she sent them scurrying out of the room and turned back to Sophia, but not before glaring at the shrouded couple on the bed.
“Old Fools!” She muttered derisively, and then back to Sophia, “I need to speak to you in my office, after you get them back together again. And don’t, I repeat don’t try to fix anything in here you’d undoubtedly only make it worse.”
She pushed from the room in a huff almost knocking Amanda off her feet. She’d come running when she heard from one of the giggling staffers that Lily had turned up in the Savannah bedroom, in bed with her husband. The manager’s exit was anything but silent, so the silence that followed gave the remaining group breathing room.
Sophia still stood in the door, with Amanda at her side now, “Max, are you and Lily ok? What happened?”
“We’re fine. I’ll explain later. Help us get loose from this ghastly gauze net and one of you…”
Lily’s voice strident with fear cut him off. “Max, are there people here?
Where’d they come from? Oh, oh… I’m not dressed. Oh, Oh. ” She released the clamp she had on him and began clawing at the fabric, drawing it up and around her body and pulling herself into as small a ball as she could.
“I’ll help her.” Amanda said, quietly assertive, “You two go settle up with the old witch and I’ll get Lily dressed and to the car.”
“Amanda!” Max said sharply as he managed to get to his feet.
“What?” She screwed up her face in genuine obliqueness.
“Watch what you call people.” He said softly but with emphasis. “Ms. Who- ever-she-is is an adult and deserves to be treated with respect.”
“I said, “witch”, not…” Their eyes met, she paused and then said, “Yes, sir.”
As Max and Sophia moved away from the door they heard Amanda talking to Lily about unwinding the netting and getting dressed, so they could get to the ocean.
Max looked at Sophia as they walked down the hall, stopping outside the manager’s office. She turned to enter and he put his hand on her shoulder. Bewilderment graced her face momentarily, before light dawned.
“I’ll go get the get-away car started.” Sophia said brightly, “while you handle the b . . .” she paused before completing the word, “business here.”
He frowned, disapprovingly, but there was a twinkle in his eyes.
“Did I ever tell you that we Carnes’s are famous for two things and one of them is bear wrestling?”
“And what might the other be?” Sophia asked looking down the end of her nose at him.
Her quizzical look told him he’d put that one over on her. With great resolve, but aching bones and joints, Max reached for the doorknob. Turning the knob he heard Sophia break out in laughter.
Her laughter pushed him through the door to settle matters with the manager of “Bartlett’s Emporium and Restaurant.”