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Braking Points

Exploring the Adventure of Aging

Month

August 2013

Braking Points–Chapter Nine

imageChapter Nine
Near Midtown, Tennessee

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.

“Bare Wrestling.”

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.”

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Braking Points–Chapter Eight

Sophia Winchester
Sophia Winchester

Chapter Eight
Near Rockwood, Tennessee

How had this happened? Whose trip was this anyway? Max found himself fighting annoyment as he was packed into the back seat of the Buick like another piece of luggage, and belted securely next to Lily, who to top things off, looked at him with bewilderment before asking, “Do I know you?” His headache dulled by drugs on top of the commandeering of his plan almost got control of his tongue to snap at her, but one look at her searching eyes grabbed hold at the last second.

“Let me introduce myself. I am Max and I believe you are Lily.”

“We are going to the ocean. Do I know these people?”

Initially, he thought she was asking him about the highjack twosome in the front seat, but felt her put something into his hand. It was the family photograph that had brought them to this place. He took it and mulled it over. Much as he wanted to be offended and just plain mad, he realized if Sophia had not come up with a workable solution that would keep them traveling east, Andrew, Millie and Peggy too, would have arrived this morning to take them home. With careful attention, he told Lily once more who each person was.

Sophia looked back over her shoulder, adjusting her seatbelt, “You all ready to go?” Then over at Amanda, who in Sophia’s presence found some of her misplaced manners.

“Yes, m’am.” Amanda replied softly.

“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!” Max muttered hanging on to a smidgen of his anger.

“I beg your pardon!” Sophia said, frowning back at him with her spinster schoolteacher look.

“Just drive,” Max said, “And be sure and stay on the roads Andrew marked.”

“Aye, Aye, Sir.” Sophia said with a mock salute, “Let’s take this boatload to Knoxville and points beyond.”

Max fully intended to keep his eyes open all the way to Knoxville if only to prove he could have done it. Before they were out of Crossville on Highway 70, Lily had conked out and her head lay naturally against his shoulder. Within minutes he also was sleeping soundly, his head nestled against the top of hers. ‘Darn drugs’ was his last conscious thought as he slipped into sleep.

*

Sophia turned her full attention to the highway, aware that Amanda cast occasional furtive glances her way. At times it seemed she was ready to speak, reconsidered and turned her gaze away. The silence was not uncomfortable, but electric.

For the last two days Amanda and Lily had been houseguests in the Winchester home. With Morris at Austin Peay in Clarksville and Samantha at David Lipscomb in Nashville, Elliot and Sophia had more room for guests. Their younger daughter, Amy, was a sophomore in high school and of the three Winchester children the most hospitable, so rarely were there any compelling reasons to turn away strangers. Sophia found it a natural outpouring of her volunteer chaplaincy at the hospital and Elliot, God bless him, agreed. Amy enjoyed having company and for the most part, her older children ignored it, unless of course, it caused them any inconvenience. They were good kids, but it was Amy who had a heart of compassion.

During their stay, Sophia recognized Amanda was despairing over something. She’d spent some time discussing it with Millie, Max’s daughter-in-law and her major liaison with the Carnes family. Whoa! That was a whole other issue. In fact she’d snapped some photos with her virtually unused digital camera and e-mailed them to Millie.

Amanda had no intention of giving up the truth easily, but Sophia sensed with her mother’s heart that out there somewhere there was a family heartsick with loss. Amanda vacillated from sweet, almost sugary, to hard cold and way older than her years. She also managed to hit a bunch of points in between. She seemed to have a genuine affection for Lily, who still called her Greta. It was hard to get a grip on how she felt about Max. One thing Sophia was pretty sure of was that Amanda’s family was not in Knoxville. She glanced over at her, finding Amanda staring back.

“What?” Amanda asked in that haughty teenage tone that summoned Sophia’s baser instincts, which included shaking the fire out of her. Instead she responded in as level a tone as she could manage, her eyes back on the road.

“Please do not use that tone with me or for that matter with anyone. It’s disrespectful.”

Amanda let out an intake of air, but did not speak. She averted her eyes out the passenger side window and crossed her arms tightly across her chest. Sophia sighed softly and checked her backseat passengers. The rock wall Amanda had constructed had very few toe grips and would have challenged the most skillful psychological rock climber. Recalling the past couple of days Sophia thought the time she spent playing basketball one on one with Amy in the driveway was the only time Sophia believed, with any conviction, she’d had seen the real Amanda.

They would be in Knoxville soon. Sophia had no intention of leaving her at a bus stop or anywhere else, but she also had no plan as to how to prevent it, short of turning her over to juvenile authorities, which she also had no intention of doing until she had more information. With all her thoughts in disarray, lunch seemed the only viable solution to delay some serious decision-making. Less to engage conversation and more to obtain information, she spoke to Amanda.

“We ought to stop for lunch pretty soon. I’m sure getting hungry and I expect everyone is.”

“I’m fine,” mumbled Amanda, her face averted from Sophia. Sophia restrained herself again, unsure how long she would be able to keep doing that; she instead picked up the map on the console and shoved it without even a side glance into Amanda’s lap.

“Stopping points so far have been circled. Find Crossville and tell me what the next town is after. She squinted at the sign on the side of the road, Rockwood. It’s time you stopped sulking and started participating in this little trip.”

“Why, I, I’ve been helping, with Ms. Lily and the cell phone and—uh,” Amanda protested sitting up straight for the first time that morning, “I was helping a lot until you came along and took over . . .Bitch!”

Sophia didn’t think; she reacted. No way was she going to put up with trash talk. She whipped the Buick off the road onto a patch of green just off the shoulder. She set the car in park and turned off the key. Max and Lily started to stir in the back seat.

Sophia usually maintained a fairly even keel, she’d never been easily riled, but she had been raised to speak to adults, indeed, to all people with respect. She’d demanded it of her own children. She wasn’t about to let this vagabond, no matter how needy she was, call her names.

For an instant Amanda and she locked eyes before Amanda jerked on the door handle, found it still locked and let out a yelp of undecipherable venom as she tried to find the release. As soon as the lock snapped open, she yanked the handle again and bolted from the car into the brush and trees along side the road. A few vehicles slowed as they approached the scene but then continued on their way. Sophia felt molded to the front seat, staring at the open door and empty seat that marked Amanda’s departure. She knew she should move, go after the girl, but she also knew that she had to get her emotions under control before she would be of any good to either of them.

A tap on her shoulder reminded her she was not alone in the car. Turning, she saw Max’s face, as he leaned forward.

“I’ll go get her. You stay here with Lily.”

“Oh, Max, I don’t know. You shouldn’t be out…”

“Hush!” he ordered, “I may be old, but it’s you who shouldn’t be leaving this car until you calm down.”

“Oh, Max, I am sorry. I really blew it. That child is hurting, but I . . .”

“I heard her, Sophia. She had no business talking to you like that.”

Sophia looked at the heavy foliage into which Amanda had disappeared, “How will you find her?”

He smiled, “Don’t you worry about that. I grew up in the country and was a foot soldier. I’ll find her.”

He got out of the car, closed the doors, stretched to loosen the kinks and started off, only to return a moment or two later to tap on the window. Sophia rolled the window down. He leaned in and smiled at her.

“Try praying the Lord’s Prayer.” Her quizzical look prompted him to explain, “Something my mother taught me to control my hot headedness. Works pretty good most of the time.”

Sophia smiled, “Thanks.”

*

The search took Max less than ten minutes, even moving as slowly as he did with his bum hip. He found Amanda seated on a rock next to a natural spring that emerged from a rock near where she sat. The sun was bearing down so he was thankful she’d at least chosen a shady spot to light. She sat with her knees tucked under her chin, turned at the sound of his movement through the brush. So much for stealth, he thought, and looked away as if she could drive him back by ignoring his arrival. He also noticed she’d been crying and suspected she didn’t want that vulnerability revealed.

“Go away,” she commanded as he settled down on the rock near her but not too near.

“I will not. You disrupted my nap, young lady!”

“It wasn’t my fault.”

“Wasn’t your fault? Hmmm?”

“She is so all fired bossy! She even bosses you and Ms. Lily. You don’t like it either.”

Galloping goose feet! The child had him there. Max wasn’t a man who liked being bossed around. It had been the source of many a bloodied nose in his youth.

“Sophia is a strong willed woman, isn’t she,” he assented in part to Amanda’s observations, “ decisive actions, strong opinions, and down right annoying at times to folks like me and you who have a lot of the same characteristics. I’ve certainly been called stubborn and a few other terms I wouldn’t care to repeat. You certainly can get your back set, too. Why I’ve only known you, what is it now, about five days? And darn if you haven’t made me want to bring you down a notch or two.”

Amanda started to protest, when Max held up his hand. She dropped into silence and began watching the water again.

“Truth is, Amanda, if Sophia wasn’t driving, we wouldn’t be back on the road at all. Lily’s and my trip to the ocean would become a family tale, more of a joke than anything else. And you, young lady, wouldn’t be meeting up with your family in Knoxville. Seems we both need to examine our attitudes and show a little gratitude to Sophia and her family for sharing her with us.”

Amanda didn’t speak. If his words penetrated, there was no visible sign. Still, her silence and the quietness of the place had a peaceful quality that lulled Max into his own thoughts.
Max didn’t know if it were the drugs or just the jumble of events of the past few days, but in the hospital he had started trying to put together some of the absent pieces of his and Lily’s life together. He’d been dreaming more about the past, about his brother Ed, about Greta, and about the secrets Lily and he had kept from one another. Sitting on the bank of a nameless spring in Tennessee let him indulge in those recollections.

He sensed it was too late to clear those lapses of openness with Lily, but he wanted to understand them, to get a handle on them, and to find a resolution that would finally lay them to rest. Lily and Greta’s correspondence had been difficult to read and digest because he recognized his own lack of discernment about the whole matter. He had judged Greta without ever knowing the full truth. Perhaps Lily had tried to share and he cut her off. Maybe he just chose not to listen. So much time had passed that he could not remember.

He had his secrets, too. While he was in Italy, he received what was to be the last letter Ed wrote to anyone. A lot of water had gone under the bridge since he tore open that letter from his younger brother. Still, brim gathered in his throat; the letter stood in time as one of the saddest secrets he carried. When he received word that Ed had died within possibly hours of sending the letter, he wept more bitterly than he ever had before or had since. Like Lily saved Greta’s correspondence, he had saved the last letter he had received from Ed, unable to understand how war had brought him closer to God while driving his brother away. Sitting next to Amanda now, he hurt for his brother who had died denying God and felt ashamed he’d kept his hurt from Lily all these years. Of course, he had always hoped in the last instant of his life that Ed had changed his mind, but the letter was all he had.

If Max’s drop into reverie troubled Amanda in the least, she did not let on. The stream of water seemed to have mesmerized her. Max looked over at her. He suddenly wanted to finish his story about Greta, to pour out what he had learned from the letters to this girl, but was that wise? But what possible purpose could unloading the events of more than a half century ago on an unstable teenager have? Did he need a confessor so badly that he would choose Amanda, because she had expressed an interest and seemed the least intimidating? The rock was leaving a permanent imprint on his bottom so with no resolution to his thoughts forthcoming, he finally reached over and touched Amanda’s hand.

“Let’s get back to the car. Help an old man up.”

Amazingly, she stood without protest and offered her hand to Max.

Amazingly, he had expected she would do just that. As they walked back, she finally spoke.

“I am not apologizing!” She stated emphatically.

“Yes, you are!”

“I am not.”

But at the end of the trail, she did and found Sophia’s arms wrapped around her in an embrace that would have suffocated her if it had lasted one more second. Sophia’s tears drenched the top of Amanda’s head as she cried over and over,
“Oh, child, child, child . . .”

Finally, her grip loosened and she held Amanda out at arms length as if to check her over, a wide grin burst forth on Sophia’s face and Amanda could not help but smile back.

“Know what, nothing like a good scuffle to work up an appetite. I checked the map and I think we will stop and eat at Midtown.” Sophia proclaimed, hustling around to the driver’s side door.

Max started to get into the back seat, when Lily spoke, her voice shaky.

“Greta, Greta, I was so worried. Sit back here with me. You shouldn’t go walking alone. I don’t know where we are, do you?”

Amanda slid past Max into the back seat with Lily, patting his hand as she did.

“I’m ok, Lily. We are going to the beach. You remember that, don’t you?”
Max saw Lily’s tenseness relax with Amanda next to her.

“Oh, yes, Greta. We’ve always loved the beach, haven’t we?”

“As long as I’ve known you.” Amanda replied. Sophia and Max exchanged glances, as the Buick pulled back onto Highway 70, headed for Midtown and lunch.

Braking Points–Chapter Seven

image

Chapter Seven
Crossville, Tennessee

The bright light pierced like a bolt of lightning through Max’s head. He tried to blink, to shut it out, only to find his eyelid was clamped open by someone with a very strong thumb. He shook his head to break free, sending rivets of pain to every corner of his head before traveling down his neck to his shoulders.

“Whoa!” the possessor of the thumb cried, stepping backward. “Looks like you are coming around, Mr.” he checked a pad in his hand, “Mr. Carnes. You got a nasty goose egg on your forehead. How do you feel?”

How did he feel? Like his head was in a vise grip, like he had been run over by a truck. There were so many aches and pains, he couldn’t count them all, but definitely the pain in his head took top honors.

“My head hurts.” He stated the obvious. Better not to elaborate, Max thought, nothing like listing numerous physical complaints to confirm his age. Not that he was trying to hide anything, but he needed to find out what had happened before they went off on how he shouldn’t have been driving at his age.

“We are going to get a CT Scan of your head and neck, Mr. Carnes, just to make sure there is no serious damage. But it looks like you are going to be ok except for that bump on your head, which is going to cause you some headaches. I think you should be able to get out of here by tomorrow. Of course, we’ll need to see the x-rays first.”

Max squinted at the doctor or he supposed he was a doctor. He was writing something on a clipboard. He appeared to be about Bobby Lee’s age well, maybe a little older; he was blurry. Where in tarnation were his glasses? He reached to his shirt pocket only to find he wasn’t wearing his shirt. They had him in one of those ridiculous backless hospital gowns.

“My glasses? Do you have my glasses?”

This time he heard a female voice and realized another unfamiliar person was standing next to “Dr. Thumb”.

“Mr. Carnes, I believe your granddaughter has your glasses. She’s out here in the emergency waiting area with your wife. Do you want me to bring them in? It will be a few minutes before they get here to take you for your scan. You’ll go to room 318 after that. They could come in now or we could have them meet you in 318.”

It took a second to sink in.

“My granddaughter?”

“Yes, Greta, I believe. Is that right? She has been so helpful to Mrs. Carnes and she told everyone how your quick response was the only thing that saved your lives when that log came off the flat bed truck. Those curves out on that piece of Highway 70 can be real problems when things aren’t tied down tight. You are all very fortunate.”

“Please, send them in.”

This should be good. In the precious short time he’d been out of commission, Amanda, waif from who knew where had become Greta, his sister-in-law, now his “granddaughter”. One thing for sure, the lying had to stop. But with the relentless pounding in his head, he couldn’t handle straightening it out right now. It took a few minutes to dawn on Max that the doctor had said he would need to stay overnight. He couldn’t do that. Lily needed him. He would have to get released. They could stay locally, wherever locally was. Good Grief! He realized he had no idea where he was.

“Hey, how are you?” Amanda edged toward the narrow emergency room bed with Lily clinging to her arm for dear life. Lily looked bewildered and wary..

“Greta, where are we?” Lily asked. “I don’t like this place. It smells.” Her eyes darted all around and she shrunk behind Amanda out of Max’s vision.

“My head hurts.” Max answered Amanda. “Do you have my glasses?”

“Yeah, they’re right here. They fell off when you hit the steering wheel, but they didn’t break.”

“That’s one good thing,” He said, taking them from her and putting them on his head. The pressure on the bridge of his nose and over his ears sent little electrical charges through his skull. He must have grimaced.

“Hey, are you sure you are ok? They said they are going to do some more x-rays.”

“I’ll be ok. How is Lily?” Lily hung behind Amanda, peeking around occasionally like a shy child.

“Pretty scared, but she calmed down a little in the back of the patrol car that brought us in to the hospital. We went to the cafeteria and had ice cream. She liked that.”

“How?” he started.

“How did you get here? By ambulance. You passed right out. Scared the wits out of me.”

Max knew he was circling around the big issues, but for some reason circumventing appealed to him. Maybe it was the pain in his head, but he was avoiding getting to the crux of the matter more directly.

“What about the Buick?”

“Car’s fine but they towed it in since I don’t drive and neither does Lily.”

“Amanda, where are we?”

“Crossville, I think.”

“What happened? The nurse was going on about logs, quick reactions and so forth. What I recall is you screaming, grabbing the wheel and stomping on my foot on your way to the brake.”

“That’s ok. You’re welcome.”

“I’m what? Welcome for what?”

“I know that was your crabby old way of saying ‘thank you, Amanda’ for saving our lives, not to mention my driver’s license.”

“What!”

“Look, Max, Mr. Carnes, did you or did you not see that log fly off the back of that flatbed?”

Max closed his eyes. He could not remember. They had been talking about Greta, then Amanda was screaming, they were swerving, the trooper was at his door and now he was here. They had almost been killed. What in him resisted admitting this child had reacted quickly and appropriately averting almost certain death? It was his old nemesis, pride. Would he never be rid of that devil?

“No.” He admitted softly. “I never saw the truck or the log. Thank you, Amanda.”

“Like I said, you’re welcome.”

“Mr. Carnes?” A voice interrupted and two attendants entered, one briskly checking his hospital bracelet. “We are going to take you for a little ride. Your wife and granddaughter can meet you in room 318. That’s where you’ll wind up after this.”

He didn’t have time to protest as they efficiently rolled him from the room. Amanda waved good-bye with Lily peaking out from behind her.

“We’ll meet you up there. Come on Lily; let’s go get us something to eat while he’s gone.”

“You know all about hospitals, don’t you, Greta.”

“Huh? Oh yeah, that’s right I’m a nurse.”

“And a good one. You went to save the children, but you’ve been gone so long. I thought he’d stolen you away. Momma hated him, Papa, too. But you are back and I am so happy.” Lily smiled and Amanda smiled back.

Amanda didn’t know what to say, but she would let Lily talk as much as she would. It helped ease her sense of apprehension. She had thought about moving on, especially when the cop was asking her questions at the scene and then here in the hospital. He had assumed she was the granddaughter, but suspicious. She could see it in his eyes when she had to dig through Max’s wallet to come up with an address. Lily had calmed in her presence and called her Greta, so maybe that made him decide to stop questioning her, but she couldn’t be sure he wasn’t checking her out.

Not that there would be anything to find. Nobody had wanted her since before she was born. If it hadn’t been for some do-gooder on a sidewalk she’d have been toast before she even popped out. Nobody would be looking for her. Of that she was certain.

As they approached the cafeteria, Amanda became aware of a faint rendition of the William Tell Overture in her pocket.

“Uh, Oh,” she thought, one of Max and Lily’s kids.
*
The phone call had been from Dr. Ryan Carnes. La-de-da, Amanda thought. He’d certainly wasted no time letting her know that information, as if she cared. When she had asked him what kind of doctor he was, he let her know in crisp tones that he was a full professor of International Studies and Economics at Princeton University. Amanda listened as politely as she could.

She’d been introduced to Home Economics in the eighth grade. Her teacher, Mrs. McDermott, had been the home economics teacher at William Howard Taft Middle School for forty years. Amanda’s Granny Nan had been in Home Economics the very first year she’d taught and then she taught her mother before winding up with Amanda, who had neither skill nor inclination toward sewing or cooking. Mrs. McDermott stressed the basic skills, but frankly, who cares if you can do a flat felt seam or a bound buttonhole.

Needless to say, Dr. Ryan Carnes, professor of Economics and world history or whatever he said, did not impress her in the least. Foremost on her mind was how she was going to get him off the phone without raising any suspicions and keep him from checking with the Tennessee Highway Patrol. As she listened to him list his credentials, she pulled Lily toward her into a window alcove near the hospital cafeteria.

Dramatically, she crossed her fingers in front of her. Amanda marveled as Lily’s face uplifted with a conspiritory smile and she mimicked Amanda’s gesture crossing her fingers in unity with her. Drat it! Amanda thought Lily looked so cute, so cute in fact, that Amanda smiled also and winked at her. Don’t get distracted, she thought.

“So, young lady, now that we have established who I am. Just who are you?”

Oops! She hadn’t anticipated his asking her that. She flinched slightly trying to remember if she’d said Smith or Jones. Neither rolled off her tongue very easily so she said simply, “I’m Amanda.”

“Amanda, who?”

In an instant the name came. “Smith”, she responded with what she hoped sounded authentic. If it didn’t he was too busy a man to be chasing that rabbit. He came to the point.

“Amanda,” Ryan Carnes said emphasizing her name. Why had he done that? Was he on to her? He completed his request, which allowed her time to exhale the breath she’d been holding. “Please put my father on.”

This was the request she had expected. To make this work she needed to tell the truth without really giving all the details.

“He’s lying down at the moment.” That was undoubtedly true, at least he had been the last time she’d seen him. “Could I have him call later?”

“Lying down? It’s one o’clock in the afternoon, maybe noon there. Wherever there is?” The last of his response trailed away from the first, and then he asked with what sounded like genuine concern for the first time in the conversation, “Is he sick?”

His response instantly solved one issue for her. No wonder she was hungry. Lily must be too. They’d eaten breakfast at 6:30 in the lobby of the Inn in Cookeville. She smiled at Lily who stood straight as a soldier with her goofy look and crossed fingers.

“Amanda, are you still there? Is my Dad sick?”

“No, no, nothing like that.” Banged up, confused as all get out, cranky, sporting a knot on his head the size of a golf ball, but not sick, at least not exactly sick. She continued as quickly as she could, anxious to get the conversation to a mutual disconnect. “We had a little car trouble on Highway 70 so they brought the car here to Crossville. We are going to rest here overnight and get going again tomorrow. I’ll have him call you, I promise. His daughter programmed in all your numbers.”

“Good for Peggy,” Ryan commented, “at least one of my siblings did something sensible before letting them set out for the Atlantic Ocean.”

Amanda really didn’t like his tone. They were doing just fine! So what if a log almost smashed them. Almost being the key word; it didn’t. Max was ok, she assured herself, hoping more than knowing.

“I will have him call you!” She reiterated emphatically. “Now I have got to go. Your mother and I are hungry.” As she was shutting the tiny phone, she heard Dr. Ryan Carnes plead distantly, “Wait!” She did not.

Dropping the phone into her pocket, she took Lily by her crossed fingers hand and started toward the cafeteria. “Let’s go get some lunch, Lily. You hungry? I am.”

She glanced at Lily and found her searching her face, slightly confused.

“What is it, Lily?” She asked gently, worried that she might be getting ready to freak out again.

“Greta, who’s Amanda? Do I know Amanda?”

Amanda squeezed her upper arm slightly, “Yes, you know Amanda. She’s your friend.”

“Okay, Greta. I have trouble remembering sometimes.”

“That’s ok. I’ll help you.”

“Yes, you always have. You are the best big sister in the whole world.”

Amanda looked away and blinked. As long as she was Greta, not Amanda, at least one person in the world loved her, even if it was a senile old woman. Keep focused on the ocean, she warned herself, even as she turned to Lily and smiled.

*

The cafeteria was crammed with people. Evidently noon or one o’clock, whichever, was a universally popular time to convene for eating. Earlier when they had come in for ice cream, negotiating the various food islands had been no problem for Amanda with Lily in tow. Besides the focus had been the soft serve ice cream machine but now called for more substantial nourishment. Amanda had not been hungry many times in her short life, but she had not forgotten that two days before, she’d experienced real deprivation. In spite of the ocean of people, they were going to eat, but obviously a strategy was needed.

The swarms of people around them were bent on getting their trays filled and finding a place to settle and eat, so Amanda and Lily found they were being bumped from all sides. Mumbled “excuse me’s” and “sorry’s” sufficed as acknowledgement of intruding on another’s space as they became pressed by the crowd. Amanda felt Lily tighten and begin to shake slightly beside her. Something like a low moan rose from Lily’s throat. Amanda scoured the cafeteria for a place to settle Lily so she could get them both some food.

Momentarily, her eyes came to rest on a circular booth in a far corner from the food service, which was amazingly empty, far from any visible escape routes and in direct line of sight of the food islands. It would be perfect. Amanda, pulling an increasingly nervous Lily along, headed for it. As she drew closer she read the sign above it and her heart plunged. “Reserved for three or more guests.”

As she turned with Lily wondering “what now,” she bumped the tray of another cafeteria patron. Now it was her turn to say “excuse me and sorry.” Her eyes began their careful search of the even fuller appearing room, when a rich soft voice broke her concentration. She looked up into the face of the woman she had bumped. Her defenses gathered as she expected a reprimand for her clumsiness. The voice inside was already snapping out a crisp, ‘I said excuse me!’ which fortunately did not make it to the level of audition.

The substantial woman before her was smiling, not just with her mouth but her eyes. Her face was the color of dark honey and her voice had that quality, too. When she spoke, Amanda thought she must be an angel.

“Were you looking for a place to sit? I was wondering if you would like to share the booth with me.” She indicated with her elbow the very booth Amanda had been heading to before the forbidden sign became readable. Amanda sighed with relief and realized that Lily wasn’t the only one trembling. She too felt her lip quiver as she nodded and knew she was on the verge of tears. The day with all its unexpected events, coupled with her hunger, was imploding all her inner resources, which were not any more extensive than any ordinary fourteen year old. With the potential of tears as close as the deepening pools in her eyes, she could only manage a nod.

She introduced herself as “Sophia Winchester” and proceeded to scrunch her amply endowed body into the booth. Amanda could see as she helped Lily into the booth that Lily had calmed and was staring at Sophia. Sophia didn’t seem to mind. She didn’t even flinch or look upset when Lily began questioning her.
“You’re Bertha Mae’s sister, aren’t you?”

“No, m’am. I have two sisters, Clarisse and Jeanine, but no Bertha Mae.”

“Well you look just like her!” Lily stated matter of factly. Amanda started to try to shush Lily and apologize to Sophia, when Sophia smiled up at her and waved her off. “You go on. Get you two some food. Ms., uh?” she stopped and looked at Amanda who supplied Lily’s name, “Ms. Lily and I will be just fine till you get back.”

“But she’s kind of confused. She gets really nervous, too.”

“Like I said, you go get something for you to eat and I will watch after Ms. Lily till you get back.”

Amanda didn’t need any more prodding. Sophia might not be an actual angel but she was certainly one to Amanda at that moment. She selected food she liked for both of them and hoped Lily would like something on the tray. At the cashier she could see Lily and Sophia in the booth chatting. No telling what Lily was saying. She pulled Max’s wallet from her pocket and paid for their lunch. Putting it back in, she felt the fifty dollar bill she’d picked from it the day before and with it a ripple of guilt.

Amanda watched Sophia and Lily as she ate her lunch. Sophia seemed to have a knack with Lily, who ate ravenously, better than Amanda had seen her eat in the two whole days she’d known her.

Amanda’s attention, however, rested primarily on Sophia. Sophia wore a hospital identification badge and her half sized glasses around her neck. They both rested atop her generous bosom which seemed purposefully designed as a shelf for both objects. The badge was attached with a clip, therefore fairly stable. Amanda could see the hospital name, but could not even with her perfect vision make out anything else on the badge without staring really hard, and that seemed embarrassing, given where the badge resided. The glasses on the other hand were free floating on Sophia’s natural shelf, bobbing and shifting as Sophia talked and threatening to slide over the edge when she laughed, which she did more than once during lunch.

Who was this woman? Amanda thought. She was wearing a very tasteful dress, not a uniform or scrubs, plus she possessed an air of authority. She reminded Amanda of the guidance counselor at her former school, Mrs. Dorthea Watkins. Sophia had the same quality of being a subdued, but wise listener, that Mrs. Watkins had. Amanda shared an abbreviated description of the accident and Max’s need to stay overnight without ever really identifying herself, a neglect that was not missed by Sophia.

“And you are…?” Sophia asked with eye contact that seemed to penetrate every lie Amanda had told since she had left home a week ago. The look was not unkind, but probing and uncomfortable nevertheless, especially to someone who was beginning to have to keep her lies in proper order to remember them all.

“Greta” Lily announced, “She’s my wonderful older sister. Are you sure you don’t know Bertha Mae?”

Sophia smiled at Lily then looked back at Amanda, who breathed and shrugged. Rising, she helped Lily from the booth, paying careful attention to chatting with her as she piled their plates, napkins and utensils on the tray. Sophia remained seated and mute, evidently not bent on pursuing the answer to her question, but watching. Finally, she rose and took the tray from Amanda, scooting her own underneath and piling her dishes on top.

“I’ll take these, Greta,” she said with emphasis and elongation of “Greta”, “I know you and your sister want to get back to check on the patient.” Her tone was not easily readable, but conveyed a tinge of disappointment. Rats! Amanda thought, there went that tingle of guilt again. She started away, but her feet felt like she was wearing iron boots. With a sigh she looked back at Sophia, who continued to watch them.

“Amanda.” She said quietly. Sophia nodded and smiled.

*

The trip for the CT Scan had left Max exhausted, but anxious, too. Just as he was being inserted into a tube head first, he remembered he had been supposed to take some pictures and send them to Millie to be scanned. His memory was none too sharp anymore either. When Amanda and Lily got back, he’d have Amanda get Millie on the cell phone so he could tell her—Whew! What could he tell her?

Max couldn’t say he had never told a lie, but telling the truth had always been a priority. He’d stressed it with his children, finding they paid attention to truth and plain old listened to him more, if he lived the principle. His Daddy quoted “practice what you preach” so often while Max was growing up that he supposed it had taken root. So, he didn’t have many choices. The outcome would depend, not on how skillfully he could spin the story, but on how Millie reacted to the bare bones facts. Max knew he was going to need a sizable portion of Divine intervention, but he didn’t expect it in the form of his next visitor.

“Good Afternoon, Mr. Carnes, I am Sophia Winchester. I’m with the hospital’s pastoral care.”

Max batted at the night table in search of his glasses, so he could get a clear view of this apparition. Sophia crossed the room and gently slid them from the top of his head onto his nose. “Ouch,” he said quietly. Now he remembered why he had them up there. He stared up at her round pleasant face.

“I’m sorry. Are the glasses painful on your nose?” She apologized. ‘Would it be better if you had them off?”

“They’re fine,” he replied, even though the pressure was relentless, “my whole face is painful right at the moment. Did you say you were a preacher?”

He cocked his head slightly sideways and studied her. She didn’t speak immediately, but instead, found one of the chairs in the room and pulled it up bedside, then sat.

“No, I am with the pastoral care staff. I’m a volunteer chaplain. I usually only preach to my kids.” Her voice remained pleasant and level. She looked down at the sheet on her clipboard. “When you arrived at the hospital, your paperwork was incomplete. Evidently, your granddaughter was answering questions and didn’t have a lot of information. She didn’t list a religious preference, so as a part of my service I came to fill in the blank, see if you have a preference and to offer any spiritual assistance, whether you do or don’t.”

“Oh, we attend a Christian Church back home.” Max relaxed against the pillow as best he could. His head was still pounding. Without thinking he slid his glasses back to the top of his head.

“Is it Independent?”

“A few, mostly Democrats; at least that’s the way they register. There’s a smattering of Republicans. I doubt you’ll find many Libertarians.”

She looked up at him ready to restate and explain her question. As she met his eyes she recognized the sparkle of genuine amusement. Sophia raised her eyebrows and shook her pencil at him. She changed the subject.

“They tell me, Mr. Carnes, that you were traveling east on Highway 70 N, when you had your little mishap. Where were you headed?”

“North Carolina coast, down just a little north of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.”

“Seems to me I-40 would be a little more direct.”
“No,” he said turning his head to look at her, “too dangerous.”

The absurdity of his response registered as Sophia’s eyes swept up and down the hospital bed before resting directly on Max’s face. She managed a very serious, “Doesn’t appear to have worked too well.” It probably wasn’t all that funny, but they burst into spontaneous laughter.

Sophia laughed heartily. Max could tell she was a woman who laughed often. He liked that in people. Max laughed less heartily because the action sent waves of pain throughout his head.

As Max often noticed, people who love to laugh frequently get caught in a self-perpetuating cycle. Sophia’s laughter continued unabated for several minutes and when she tried to stop, it bubbled up again. Even clamping her mouth to shut off the giggles proved fruitless. Her face resembled an inflating balloon as she tried to regain her composure; pressure built until another eruption occurred, signaled first by sputtering spit-filled air escaping through her lips followed by another round of uncontrollable laughter.

She finally managed to shut it down in gradual increments, only to find that she had the hiccups. Max smiled at her as she poured a cup of water from his bedside pitcher. He’d experienced uncontrollable laughter, but Lily really had been the one with the unpredictable funny bone and a dysfunctional laughter valve.

“Careful, they charge me for that water.”

“I’ll leave a quarter on the table.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Oh?”

“It’s a dollar.”

“For a man who escaped a battering ram through his windshield, you seem a mite too relaxed. They have you on heavy drugs?”

Several minutes passed; the conversation expanded to include several topics. Max, in spite of his headache, relaxed in this woman’s presence. He felt a pressure lift from his spirit. When she finally seemed rid of the hiccups, Sophia continued down yet another path, but one that seemed utterly suitable for a hospital chaplain talking to an eighty-seven year old man who had come within inches of meeting his Maker.

“Are you a Christian, Mr. Carnes?” Sophia asked pointedly, her pencil back in the slot at the top of the clipboard and her arms folded across her chest.

“Guess that depends on what you mean by a Christian.”

“How so?”

“Well, Mrs. Winchester . . .”​

“Sophia”

“Well Sophia, if you have in mind some old stuffed shirt, self righteous, all fired sure only his “church” is really the only one right with God sort of Christian, then by golly, I am not. My dearly beloved wife of sixty five years was a high church Episcopalian when I married her and still is as far as I know. She’s gone to church with me all these years, taught Sunday school and Bible School, cooked for shut-ins—you name it–without ever joining the church. She thought about it early on until one preacher’s wife got right in her face about her infant baptism and implied she was in danger of the fires of hell unless she chose to be fully immersed.

Lily wasn’t against immersion, you understand; every one of our children were immersed. Lily stood firm in her faith that the God who had saved her wasn’t measuring her by the number of drops of water or when they were applied, but by her relationship with Jesus. By golly until she got sick, Lily’s faith kept me on an even keel and probably is what still does. So I’d say I am a vanilla Christian–one who knows, by the Grace of God, the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord.”

“Halleluiah!” Sophia proclaimed softly. “Now, tell me, Mr. Carnes . . .”

“Max,” he corrected her.

“Max, just between two old ordinary—how did you put it—vanilla Christians, your wife, Lily, would she now be in the company of your granddaughter, Amanda, or is it Greta?”

Sophia leaned forward in her chair so that their eyes could engage without the painful pressure of his glasses. Their gazes locked. Max made a decision, though later he decided they’d over medicated him. In the next several minutes he unloaded the past two and a half days lock, stock and barrel on Sophia.

Sophia, who practiced listening, sat back without comment, while Max told her of the photograph, his family’s concerns turned to cautious support and how Amanda joined the little journey. He slowed down a bit as he described the wild child they had somehow become tied up with when they first met in Springfield. He shared with Sophia what Millie had suggested. He also told Sophia that it had been Amanda’s flash reactions earlier in the day that had saved all their lives. When he finished, he felt tired from the telling but relieved that someone knew the truth or at least as much of it as he knew.

Sophia opened her mouth to speak when a knock sounded on the door, followed by Amanda’s head peeking around, “Hey, Max, can we come in.”

*

Amanda entered with Lily close behind. She stiffened slightly when she saw Sophia sitting in a chair beside Max’s hospital bed. What was going on? What was Sophia doing in Max’s room? Getting Lily in and out of the bathroom after lunch had taken a lot longer than she had anticipated. Now she wished she’d hurried her a little more, not that hurrying Lily was possible.

“Hi.” She said uncertain how to proceed.

“Hello, Greta-Amanda,” Sophia’s response to Amanda’s greeting had a hint of teasing in it, but did nothing to calm Amanda’s anxiousness. Since the Trooper questioned her that morning, she’d felt the urge to bolt and run more than once. She would, too, if Lily would turn loose of her arm for five seconds. She had Max’s wallet. She’d take the money, most of it and leave the rest behind. It was a plan that could work, which did not explain her next words at all.

“I still have your wallet, Max. Do you want to keep it here?”

Max wrinkled his forehead as if uncertain of what she had said. Boy, he looked awful. The knot and the skin across his forehead were bruised and the color had deepened to a dark purple since their last visit. The sound of deepening fatigue could be heard in his voice.

“Wallet? You have my wallet? I don’t know. . .” He tried to squint to see her better. He sounded slightly confused and his voice was fading.

Sophia broke in, “The hospital can put his wallet and any other valuables in the safe. I’ll go get the nurse and we’ll get that taken care of. Then we are going to need to get you two ladies settled someplace so Mr. Carnes. . .”

“Max,” he corrected her in a drowsy breath. She patted his hand.

“Max is going to need to rest and so are the two of you.”

What right did she have running the show? Amanda’s first urge was to tell this bossy woman to back off, but frankly she was tired and had no clue where Lily and she were going to stay until Max got out of the hospital. She’d learned the inside of the hospital pretty well, at least the areas she was allowed in, but she certainly didn’t know anything at all about Crossville. So let the power hungry dame charge ahead. When Amanda looked up at Sophia, eye contact confirmed that she guessed the content of Amanda’s thoughts. Sophia gave her a ‘don’t even go there, girl’ look.

Amanda looked at Max and saw he had fallen asleep, then at Lily who was clawing at her sleeve.

“Where are we? Won’t you let me sleep? I’m so tired? Where are we?” Lily’s plaintive tone indicated they’d better light somewhere soon.

Amanda lifted her eyes to Sophia once more and said, “Thank you, Lily and I are both pretty tired.” Sophia smiled and left to go to the nurses’ station.

*

The afternoon passed with Max in and out of sleep. The pain medication and muscle relaxants kicked in, allowing his body to relax into several respites of slumber. The doctor showed up about four o’clock to pronounce him a mighty healthy, not to mention lucky, eighty-seven-year-old man. The bump on the head had caused a minor concussion but with no other problems. Max would be a free man after his overnight stay, barring any unforeseen events. He would need to take his medications for several days and Doctor “Thumb,” who was actually Dr. Thomson, directed his next words with the authority given to him by virtue of the white coat he wore: “No driving until you are off your medications.”

Max smiled benignly at the physician, who, he noticed, did resemble in shape and motion, a large thumb. No wet behind the ears pup of a doctor was blocking his departure post haste from Crossville, TN. A plan was hatching, even as the doctor continued listing restrictions, while writing prescriptions to be filled. It might have worked, if Sophia had not chosen that precise moment to pay Max a visit to update him on Lily and Amanda. Oh, but that woman could be bossy.

Come to the Mountain of God–What is Worship to me?

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The sermon text this morning was from Hebrews 12:18-29. Terry ask each of us to consider the question, “What is worship to me?” He then went on to say that undoubtedly it meant different things to different people and then he read the scripture. I had some familiarity with the passage, but unlike Hebrews 11, which I have read more times than I can count, the latter part of Hebrews 12 has never drawn me in as it did today.

Terry went on to say that we often connect worship with physical structures, including the building, the altar, the musical instruments or with the liturgy, order of worship, even the bulletins…even the preaching, songs, communion are physical…they are evidence of worship, but they are NOT worship. Worship comes from the content of our core, our relationship with Christ, with the Holy Spirit, with God the Father. We may express it physically now, but a time is coming when all that has been created will be destroyed.

Then ONLY the UNSHAKEABLE KINGDOM will remain. We will come to the mountain of God, not a physical mountain, but a spiritual mountain.

After the sermon I took my notes and wrote the following bit of verse.

Come to the mountain of God
Where others before have trod
Come to the mountain of God
Follow the footprints deep in the sod
Come to the mountain of God

Come to the mountain of God
Stand close together on His Holy sod
Come out of the darkness, the sadness, the storms
Into the Almighty’s outstretched arms.
Come out of the darkness, Come into the light
Say goodby to sadness and storms of the night

Come to the mountain of God
Where others before have trod
Come to the mountain of God
Follow the footprints deep in the sod
Come to the mountain of God

Come to His mountain, to the city of God
Come stand with the angels on His Holy sod.
Gather together with the saints who are there
As sprinkles of Christ’s blood fills the air
Covering forever the sins we have done
A message of grace that makes us one

Come to the mountain of God
Where others before have trod
Come to the mountain of God
Follow the footprints deep in the sod
Come to the mountain of God

Come to the mountain, hear the voice of God
Come listen, come kneel on His Holy sod.
In the beginning, God spoke the world into being
And He promises his voice will shake all we’re seeing
Once again his voice will shake all he made
And yet the unshakable things will remain.

Come to the mountain of God
Where others before have trod
Come to the mountain of God
Follow the footprints deep in the sod
Come to the mountain of God

Come to the mountain of God
Unshakable Kingdom, on His Holy sod
Come singing his praises, hearts filled with thanksgiving
Worshipping God with awe and trembling, alive and living
On His mountain of Grace
Alive in the light of His Face.

Come to the mountain of God
Where others before have trod
Come to the mountain of God
Follow the footprints deep in the sod
Come to the mountain of God

Come, Come to the mountain of God
Stand with the angels, the saints on His Holy Sod
Where there’s no hint of darkness, sadness or storms
Where we are joyful and safe in his mighty arms
Come to the mountain of God.
Come to the mountain of God.

I recommend you read the whole scripture text, Hebrews 12:18-29 and consider your answer to the question Terry posed, “What is worship to you?” especially if all the physical evidence of worship went poof!!

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Braking Points–Chapter Six

World War II Nurses
World War II Nurses
Chapter Six
Somewhere between
Monterey and Crossville
Tennessee

“So tell me about this Greta. You promised.”

Max glanced sideways at Amanda who was sulked in the passenger seat next to him with her arms crossed over her chest staring out the side window. Her indifferent attitude throughout the morning was complete with lethargic movement when he asked for help loading the car. She had a full repertoire of bored facial expressions that any actress would admire; her attitude did not incline him toward storytelling.

He’d stopped short of sending her packing a couple of times. If she hadn’t been so kind to Lily, he might have done just that, he told himself. No, he admitted, he wouldn’t have, not that she didn’t deserve it, but because something in him wouldn’t let him. So natural inclinations aside, he thought back a few moments about Greta, glanced over the seat to see Lily sleeping soundly and began.

“Greta was Lily’s older sister, five years older…” he began.

“Please! You already told me that!” Amanda groaned as if she were addressing a doddering old idiot.

“Young Lady!” Max snapped keeping his voice quiet but without disguising the annoyance he felt, “If you want to hear about Greta, I suggest you try to avoid interrupting me, because I would be just as comfortable not talking as talking.”

“Ok” she said quietly, eyes still out the window and arms still crossed.

“From now on, I thought we had covered this before, I expect you to show me some respect, if only because you are getting a free ride.” He saw her open her mouth and before he thought, he pointed his finger at her, waggling it like some old fogey. Well tarnation, he was old! And this flibbertigibbet of impertinence tried his patience. She clamped her mouth shut and glared at him.

He sputtered, “Haven’t you learned any manners in your short life?”

“Yes, Mr. Carnes.” Her voice was almost flat but there was a tinge of contriteness in it, he decided. Of course that prospect seemed unlikely in view of her body language. He took a deep breath, said the Lord’s Prayer silently and remained silent for several minutes, taking in the scenery and negotiating the endless curves that marked Highway 70 as they moved forward through Monterey toward Crossville.

Being behind the wheel of a vehicle had always helped Max organize his thoughts. Of course, most of those vehicles had been farm equipment or his pickup truck. He’d really never been a long distance thinker. Too many hours at the wheel of a car dulled his mental resources creating instead a compulsion to get where he was going, then get back as fast as he could.

Fortunately, most family car trips and the two or three Lily and he had taken after the Carnes’ children were grown didn’t require long hours of reverie on his part, because Lily developed a number of ways of breaking up a trip and keeping things interesting. Before cassette players were in cars, she’d pick a book for all of them to share and would read the miles away. For a man who had for the most part read only his Bible, newspaper, and Sunday School lesson, as well as to a lesser degree, an occasional farming periodical, her long readings on the family trips introduced him to literature he never would have picked up to consider. When they did finally own a car with a tape player, she’d sometimes get books on tape from the county library.

It hit him as he remembered those trips that he could get a book on tape for this trip. Of course that might not prove too easy without a library card. Surely, he considered, you could probably get them other places and locked in some memory vault in Lily’s brain was where. Max frankly hadn’t a clue. He shifted his eyes toward Amanda; maybe she’d know. He shook his head, no, probably not. She caught him looking and with a look only slightly a notch above a sneer, muttered disgustedly,

“What?”

“Nothing.” He said, returning his eyes to the highway. “What would you like to know about Greta?” What did he actually know about Greta, he wondered?

Mostly stories Lily had told him. And, of course, now that he had read the letters, many blanks had filled in, but not without bringing a new load of questions. He’d only been in Greta’s company five or six times throughout his courtship of Lily and only once after their marriage. After she’d run away to England in 1939, Mr. and Mrs. Stanton rarely spoke of her again.

At her funeral in Savannah, her Uncle Ben had eulogized her as a free spirit; an idealist who sought to do something to help the suffering rather than sit idle while evil ravished the world. Max remembered watching his in-laws out of the corner of his eye. They sat stone cold. For them Greta had died over a year before. It had been a strange funeral. Maybe it was the unfamiliar liturgy of the Episcopal Service, but Max sensed the tension between Lily and her parents. To his knowledge the tension never resolved; it remained at every family gathering with like the heavy air before a thunderstorm no matter how joyful the celebration.

Lily and Isadora wept unashamedly at Greta’s funeral, as did Ben, who wiped his eyes often during the eulogy. Max, too, found tears pooling in his eyes, for Lily primarily and because he too had some unresolved issues about Greta.

“I don’t know.” Amanda said, “Where did she live? What kind of person was she?” She paused and then added as an afterthought, “And why on earth do you think Lily thinks I am Greta?”

He thought he would leave the last question until some hint of a reason occurred to him. So far he hadn’t any idea. He started the story carefully, wondering what he should leave out.

“Greta and Lily were born and raised in Brunswick, Georgia. There were only the two sisters, no other siblings. With the five years between them and their remarkably different personalities they easily could have grown up virtually strangers, but as far as I can tell, Greta doted on Lily from the day she was born.”

“Where’s Brunswick, Georgia?” Amanda asked.

“It is on the coast near Jekyll Island, south of Savannah. They spent a lot of their time in Savannah. Their Aunt Isadora and Uncle Ben helped raise them. Mrs. Stanton, Lily and Greta’s mother, had a nervous disorder after Lily was born and Mr. Stanton worked for the Central of Georgia Railroad and was gone a lot.”

“Post Partum Depression.” Amanda declared.

Max glanced her way. Where on earth did a child learn such things, Max wondered. She was undoubtedly right because Mr. Stanton had once in a rare moment confided in him that Margaret took to her bed and could not even look at Lily. In retrospect, Max realized he’d told him this after their first child, her grandmother’s namesake, died at birth. It had been Mr. Stanton’s way of showing concern for his only remaining child’s well being. It had been his way of warning Max to be vigilant.

“I think you are probably right, but they didn’t know much about that in 1918. Anyway, even though Mrs. Stanton recovered, Isadora and Ben became like second parents to both girls. Then when Lily was twelve and Greta seventeen, their mother got polio.”

“I’ve heard of that!” Amanda said proudly. Her voice took on a tone of interest that he had not heard all morning.

“Well, halleluiah, our educational system has not failed!” He laughed and amazingly she did too. The next voice they heard was a drowsy drawl from the backseat.

“You remember, don’t you, Greta? Momma had to stay in a sanitarium and we went to live with Aunt Isadora and Uncle Ben. We never went home again.”

Amanda looked at Max before saying anything. With a shrug of his shoulders and his eyes fixed ahead, he deferred to her. Frankly, he wasn’t sure what to suggest. When Amanda turned to answer after a brief pause, Lily had already slipped back into a deep slumber. She watched her for a moment wondering if she would open her eyes or show some sign of consciousness, but Lily did not.

“She’s sound asleep again.” Amanda said. Max wondered where Lily’s response had come from. It had been so, so out of the blue and on target.

“So go on, they went to live in Savannah then what?” Amanda prodded.

“Well, I met them both on a train from Chattanooga to Savannah in 1934. Lily was sixteen and Greta was twenty one. We managed to spend some time together in Savannah and then for the next four years I courted Lily through letters. At the end of that four years I struck out to Georgia and brought her home as my bride. They had stayed on with Ben and Isadora even after their mother had been released from the sanitarium and other than a slight limp, was fully recovered., By the time that happened both girls were in school and quite happy in Savannah. Greta was in nursing school at a hospital in Savannah when I met Lily and later she worked at the same hospital until,” he paused.

Max wasn’t sure what he should tell Amanda about Greta at this point.

“Until?”

“There were a bunch of things happening all over the world at that time. Greta became passionate about how the Nazi’s were overrunning Europe and targeting Jews. She often quoted Edmund Burke ‘For evil to succeed it only takes good men to do nothing’. Lily and she corresponded constantly. The letters, every one of them were in the box he’d found. I had never read them until after Lily became sick. They were personal and well, you would have had to know about Greta and Lily together to even begin to understand how sacred that privacy seemed to me.”

“But you have read them now?” Amanda asked. Max nodded and continued trying to explain Greta and Lily to a stranger, a child.

“The bond between them was so great that even as adults with thousands of miles separating them they could sense each other’s joys and pains. A long time before fancy gadgets like the web and cell phones, those two sisters were hot wired together. I watched it happen more than once.”

Max forced the next words, “The night Greta died, Lily was washing dishes in the sink. I was drying and kidding around with her. Earlier in the evening, I had carved a jack-o-lantern. From the scoops of pumpkin Lily had made a pie for supper. It was a night to celebrate. We had been married a little over two years and had just found out that we were going to be parents. It had been a wonderful evening. There we were both laughing, hopeful, when suddenly Lily turned as white as a sheet. She literally froze in place. I panicked, started shaking her. She folded like a rag doll burying her face in her apron. It was only minutes but it seemed like hours before she spoke. Finally, she raised her head and said calmly, too calmly, ‘Greta’s with Jesus.’ For two days after that incident in our kitchen, Lily seldom spoke; she moved like a mechanical toy until the telegram arrived. The tragedy became even more personal to me, when Lily lost our baby.

He paused, the long ago loss of Lily’s sister and their baby, washed over him with a freshness that left him near tears, but he continued.

The Nazi Luftwaffe’s air attack on London pounded that city for fifty seven consecutive nights in 1940 from September 7 to November 2. Greta had been walking home from her shift at the hospital when the air raid siren sounded; she never made it to a shelter. It was the fifty fifth night of the blitz, Halloween.” His voice broke with emotions the memory raised in him. He had wrestled with those feelings for all the years since.

Max remembered the helplessness he had felt those two days, how he tried to reach out to his hurting wife, tried to tell her that she was being silly; she couldn’t know Greta was dead. But she had known. Unreasonable as he knew it was, Max had been jealous of the connection Greta and Lily had shared. Jealous that Greta could break into their lives in Kentucky and ruin a perfectly lovely evening. Mostly he was jealous because as much as he loved Lily and she loved him they did not have what she had had with Greta.

His hands tightened on the steering wheel. His resentment, which had reached a crescendo by the time the telegram arrived, crumbled. In the face of his young wife’s grief, he dealt with two other menacing emotions; revulsion at his selfishness and fear that Lily would not be able to forgive him if she ever learned how he felt. And then she lost the baby, so his grief became real, but in a way he still blamed Greta. Lily grieved, but in time recovered enough to move forward. When she recalled Greta, which she did often in the beginning, she told funny stories of their antics and adventures as children. She seldom, if ever, talked at all about Greta running away to London or any of the events that precipitated it. She never spoke of her parent’s refusal to forgive Greta.

After Ryan’s birth in 1945, she dropped all references to Greta. Max suspected it was because of his reaction to his moodiness when she mentioned her sister. The gravity of her anguish hit him hard as he discovered whole story from the letters he had discovered since her illness. All evidence of her search for answers ceased after the war. There were questions left unanswered, but Lily had never spoken a word of it to Max. Likewise, he had never spoken of his own resentment of Greta and had never been able to ask her forgiveness. He wondered now if she had suspected. If so, she never said.

He glanced back at Lily in the rear seat, still sleeping, regretting again that he had failed to ask her forgiveness while she could still forgive him. Returning his eyes to the highway, he noticed Amanda looking at him.

“What?” he asked, more impatiently than he intended.

“Never mind. You just looked kind of, you know, sad. Are you ok?”

“It was a sad time. The war was sad. My younger brother died at Guadalcanal in 1943. Lily lost a sister and I lost a brother.”

“This was World War II, right? Nazis and Japanese?”

“Yes, I guess they still teach you about that in school?”

“Yeah, sort of. Did you go to war?”

“Yes, I enlisted after Pearl Harbor. You have heard of Pearl Harbor?”

“Oh, sure, I saw the movie. It was really good, but long, you know.”

“Not nearly as long as it was for the people who lived through it,” Max replied, not sure what to say next. As it turned out, he didn’t have to come up with something.

“Look out! Stop!” Amanda screamed.

Max fought to find the brake with his right foot, but it slipped. He felt Amanda’s foot over his leg and the Buick swerved to the right and came to rest in a canopy of trees. Mercifully, the vehicle had not hit anything, but Max banged his forehead against the steering wheel and fought the involuntarily trembling that overcame his muscles from head to foot. Lily was screaming, but apparently unharmed. Amanda shoved the gearshift into park and bounded from the car.

What on earth was going on! Max struggled to break loose of his seat belt, but felt nausea rising in his throat. Where was that darn release? He heard a tapping in his left ear, looking up he saw a State Trooper. Max rolled down his window, painfully aware that Lily was still screaming in the back seat. He needed to get to her, to help her. What on earth had happened? Why had Amanda hit the brakes and grabbed the wheel?

“Sir, are you folks ok?”

“My wife, I need to get to my wife. She gets confused.” He struggled again with his seat belt, finally pushing the release button. Fumbling for a moment he managed to get the door open, just as everything went black.

Braking Points–Chapter Five

imageChapter Five
Cookeville, Tennessee
Extended Stop

Max watched Amanda pat Lily’s arm. He’d seen this girl dressed like a hooker then like the girl next door. He had caught glimpses of humor and rudeness. This morning she had proved resourceful, helpful and honest. After the incident in the department store she had become almost surly, but now she was acting quite kindly. He realized he had taken a chance when he handed her his wallet. Andrew would have a conniption fit if he knew. But crouched on that floor with Lily he saw Amanda’s shoe poking around the corner; he knew she was listening. She hadn’t interrupted but she’d stayed close. In the quietness, he’d heard her sniffling, crying. He sensed that child had a heavy load. Something was tearing her apart and for reasons he couldn’t begin to understand, Lily and he were supposed to help. Max couldn’t figure how he knew that, but half the time anymore he couldn’t figure out how or if he knew anything.

He rubbed his eyes. Later he would take a stab at finding out what was going on with her. He certainly had no intention of dropping her off on a street corner in Knoxville. At least that possible conflict had been delayed. He needed some recovery time. Lily’s breakdown, awful as it was, postponed Knoxville.

“Ladies, let’s get back to the Inn. We old folks are going to need a little rest. The young one is going to have to fend for herself a while.”

He slid out of the booth and stood awkwardly. Amanda rose also helping Lily to her feet. He put the tip under his coffee cup, reached out to take Lily’s arm, but she pulled back gripping tighter to Amanda. Lily’s lower lip trembled.

“Can I go to sleep now? You never let me go to sleep.” Lily accused. She looked up at Amanda. “That man, what’s his name?”

“Max.” Amanda said gently not able to look up at Max. Ouch, that must have hurt. Not that she cared, but it had to hurt when his own wife couldn’t remember his name.

“Max. Why can’t I remember that? That man is mean to me.”

“No, Lily, Max isn’t mean.”

“Yes, he is! He never lets me sleep.”

“No, Lily,” Amanda began. Max interrupted by touching her shoulder. When she looked up she saw his watery eyes with a quick shake of his head. Her eyes shifted quickly to her feet and she was silent.

Back at the motel Max helped Amanda get Lily settled under the covers. She lay on her left side with her right knee pulled up to her chest. He watched her settle into the bed. The experts said she would gradually pull into a fetal position, but for now she slept pretty much as she always had. When she was asleep, he leaned over and smoothed back her hair from her face and kissed her gently. Amanda sat on the other bed simply watching. He couldn’t read her expression but heaven knew he’d never unlocked the mysterious way women’s minds worked.

He finally rose. His legs felt especially heavy today. With a nap, a good dinner, some time with the box of old letters, maybe even a little TV and then a good night’s rest, he’d recover. Tomorrow they might make it to Knoxville, but with the way things were going so far, Max wasn’t going to count on it.
As he started toward the adjoining door, Amanda spoke for the first time since the restaurant. He paused.

“Mr. Carnes?”

“Yes.”

‘Later, would you tell me about this Greta? The one Lily thinks I am.”

“Ah, Greta.” He pondered that. “Tell you what, Amanda; could you wait until we are on the road in the morning?”

“Sure, no problem. You don’t mind do you? I mean she’s not like the “bad seed” is she?”

“Hardly, though I suspect she had her doubts about that. She was Lily’s older sister. Tomorrow, Amanda.” He waved to her as he stumbled slightly over the threshold. “The lounge chair in here is calling my name.”

“Whatever.”

Max pulled the door shut behind him. Just as he settled into the chair, he heard the deadbolt click on the adjoining door. Amanda wasn’t taking any chances. Sleep came as a warm tingling upward from his legs spreading out over his whole being.

Two hours later he was awakened to a distant orchestra playing the “William Tell Overture”.

*

“Millie!” Max said, “Good to hear your voice.”

“Yours, too, Pops. Andrew came in for lunch just a bit ago and we were wondering where you all were now. Peggy and Barry both told us you and Momma Lily had a young traveling companion. Everything going ok?”

“Fine, just fine, Millie. We are still in Cookeville. Momma had a little episode while we were out shopping this morning.”

“Are you ok? Is she ok?”

“We are now. Our “traveling companion” as you called her helped. She is about Allison’s age.”

“Good grief, Pops! What on earth is she doing traipsing around the country alone? Where are her folks?”

Max started to share his suspicions about Amanda but he looked up before he answered noticing the adjoining door open and Amanda’s shadow through the partially open door. Better save that discussion for a later time, he decided.

“That still hasn’t been established, but we’ll get there eventually.”

“Huh? Oh, you have company.” Millie replied softly. Max could almost see Millie’s look of understanding. Andrew had gotten a good one in that woman. She was quick.

“What’s going on there? Have you been out and about any?”

Millie took the hint and launched into sharing the most recent event she could think. With the deft flair of a good storyteller she could take the ordinary and make it extraordinary.

“Well, I carried a casserole up to Uncle Fred’s today. I thought he might be getting hungry since Evelyn’s in the rehab center now.”

Fred was the fifth of the Carnes’ brothers, eighteen months younger than Ed.

He’d never married but lived his entire adult life in the home of Max’s oldest brother, Mitchell, and his wife, Evelyn. The couple had no children, so Evelyn had devoted her life to cooking, cleaning and taking care of both Mitchell and Fred. When Mitchell died suddenly five years ago, nobody in the family raised an eyebrow when the living arrangements of a lifetime continued.

Unfortunately for Fred and Evelyn too, Max acknowledged, Evelyn had a stroke six weeks ago. Her residence changed for a yet undetermined time to the rehabilitation center in Pembroke. The whole family wondered what on earth Fred would do. Here was an 80-year-old bachelor who had never even made a pot of coffee by himself. Millie had immediately started taking a casserole by every week and just checking in on Fred.

“How is Fred?” Max asked, anticipating a good tale.

“He’s taken up cooking.”

“Fred? Cooking? Sounds down right dangerous to me.”

“Probably. I mean, maybe not, but the place isn’t quite as tidy as it was when Evelyn was there. He’s been rolling his cigarettes on her dining room table and evidently his cooking experiments have involved every square inch of the kitchen. He invited me in to sample his stew.”

Millie’s intonation lifted on the last phrase meaningfully followed by a pause. She was baiting him and though he tried to resist, at least momentarily, he found himself lunging at the dangling interval anxious to know the outcome.

“So, did you?”

“Well,” Millie drew the word out to hint at her reluctance to enter the kitchen, let alone taste anything Fred might have cooked. Max tried to imagine the expression on her face. “You know, Pops, there he stood in the kitchen, surrounded by stacks of dirty dishes, holding a large crusty wooden spoon. I mean, Pops, that spoon had stirred more than one pot of stew, if you get my meaning. But, darn it, there he stood proud as a peacock, grinning from ear to ear.”

“Did he have his teeth in?”

“No.” Millie stated matter-of-factly, “But, he did have a cigarette dangling from his lower lip with an ash the size of Texas.”

“That would be Fred all right,” Max, laughed at the description. “So, did you sample his stew?”

“I did. Only a little bit and I closed my eyes really tight to avoid catching a glimpse of that spoon up close. And you know what? It wasn’t half bad. Now he did want me to sit down and have a bowl, but I declined. Told him I might ruin my supper.”

Max whooped aloud at the very thought of Millie’s eyes clamped shut tasting Fred’s stew. His laughter evidently drove Amanda away from the door. He saw the shadow dissipate. To check for sure, he crossed the room and peeked through the opening in the door. Lily still slept and Amanda was across the room at the table, painting her nails and watching TV.

“Millie,” he said quietly, changing tones while moving as far from the ajar door as he could while still watching it. “This girl, Amanda, I think she may be running away from something. Can’t quite figure her out. Big mood swings, you know.”

“Do I ever? We have a teenaged daughter, Pops. Seriously though, most parents don’t let their teenagers tramp across the country hitching rides with just anybody.”

“Wait a minute.”

“Pops, I wasn’t talking about you and Momma Lily. I am guessing she’d been on the road before you picked her up. Am I right?”

“Looked that way. She was broke, hungry, dirty and madder than a Momma Bear with cubs. Still is angry, at least some of the time. Rude, too, but then she can be sweet. Tarnation Millie, I am too blame old to figure out female emotions, but I am worried about her.”

“What name does she give?” The sound of Millie pulling a pencil from the holder by the phone caught his ear.

“Amanda Smith. I think Amanda’s her name but Smith isn’t.”

“Take a picture of her, with Lily or alone.”

“Darn it! Millie, I don’t remember packing a camera.”

“Pops, use your phone and text the picture to me.” she hesitated, ” do you know how to do that?”there is a camera in Lily’s small bag.”

After a lengthy pause, Max muttered, “I ‘d do better with a camera, Millie.”

“Pops, there is a camera in Lily’s small bag.”

“There is? I’m sure I don’t remember packing one.”

“You didn’t.”

“O-o-h” he said understanding. Millie laughed.

“You are going to want some pictures and I suggest you start taking some tomorrow. Get some good ones of Amanda then take them to the one-hour photo shop at Wal-Mart. Get duplicates and send one set here to me.”

“Huh?”

“Pops, I’ll scan them.”

“Scan them?”

“Right and put them on one of those missing or found children sites on the Internet. In the meantime I’ll get on some of those sites and see what I come up with using the little bit we know.”

“You can do that?” The hedge in his voice indicated his doubtfulness.

“I can.”

“Watch your mail.” Max conceded. He heard Lily stirring in the next room.

“Lily’s waking up, Millie. I’d better go. Give Andrew and the kids our love.”

“Will do, Pops. Don’t forget the camera and pictures. Write it down.”

“Bye, Millie” he said pushing the off button thinking, why’d she say that? My mind is as good as it has ever been; a mental note should suffice.

Later that evening Max reclined again in the lounge chair, this time with his Bible and opened the old box. The door between the two rooms was open. Lily had awakened from her nap more communicative, but after dinner dropped into another slump. Though not like the morning episode her confusion increased. He had handed her the photograph to reassure her. She now rested on her side with it tightly gripped in her hand. Amanda sat across the room watching TV.

Occasionally, when he looked up to check on Lily, he’d meet Amanda’s eyes, but she hurriedly diverted her glance. Was she watching him? He wasn’t really sure.

His Bible lay open in his lap to Isaiah, the prophet. Until recently he’d been a regular church going man. If he recorded his life in words a typical Sunday entry in his journal would have begun with, we went to church as usual. In the last several months, he’d stayed home with Lily more and more. Lately, after he discovered the box and arranged the contents chronologically, he read a letter every night. He was now reading through Lily’s collection the second time.

On Saturday night after reading from his Bible and reading one of the letters, he would pull out his Sunday school lesson book, study the lesson for the next day and then decide the following morning that negotiating the obstacle course of getting Lily and himself ready required more energy than he could muster.

His excuses were many, but in the lounge chair in a motel in Cookeville, Tennessee, he knew they were lame. If he could take Lily to Ocean Isle Beach, he could get them to church on Sunday.

Reading the words in Isaiah 43, he felt slightly ashamed. “When you walk through the fire.” He knew his reluctance to attend church came because of pride and a lack of trust. He hated people seeing Lily like she had become. He hated asking for help, getting ready, though certainly Andrew and Millie had offered. He hated enduring the pity he read in every face in the congregation. His flesh crawled knowing people they’d known all their lives pitied him.

The last time they had attended together, Lily had sat quietly through the whole service. When he helped her up from the pew, Agnes Wilcox descended upon them jabbering nonstop. He was barely listening to her, trying to get to the exit, when he noticed from the corner of his eye that Lily was looking down at her dress and fidgeting nervously with her pearl necklace. Tuning back toward Agnes and Lily, he heard his name and the word husband.

“Max? My husband? I don’t know any Max. I’m not married. Why are you saying those things? Who are you?” The edge of fear in Lily’s voice was unmistakable.

Agnes flushed and stepped backward, sputtering, trying to say something to disengage herself from them. Finally, she managed, “Well you do look lovely, Lily. That dress is very becoming with your pearls.”

Lily stared at Agnes and then down at the dress, grasping the pearls even more tightly, “This isn’t my dress,” she proclaimed loudly, “It must belong to this man!” She glared at Max, “tell her, you wore it yesterday, didn’t you?” With her index finger she thumped him in the center of his chest.

Everything stopped. Silence fell where moments earlier the clatter of multiple conversations had filled the air, as people said their good-byes, planned activities or decided where to meet for lunch and whether they would beat the Baptists there. The descent of the silence and the clatter of pearls coincided perfectly as Lily’s necklace broke from her strangle hold. A chorus of pings resounded as the pearls hit the hardwood floors and rolled a myriad of directions. Immediately, the remaining crowd went diving for errant pearls or dodging them as they bounced and rolled. During the confusion, Max managed to wrestle Lily out the door and in the car.

All the way home he replayed the scene in his head. Without intending to be, he admitted he was embarrassed and angry. Not angry at Lily, Lord, he knew she couldn’t help it, but angry still, angry with himself and, God help him, angry with God.

Wednesday that week, Brother Tom their pastor for the past 15 years brought Lily’s pearls out in a sealed envelope. He told Max he wasn’t sure if they were all accounted for; some might have rolled into the vents near the front of the sanctuary. They sat out on the porch for a long time talking about everything but Lily. She was napping. Neither man mentioned the scene the past Sunday.

Max couldn’t bring himself to talk beyond idle chitchat. Often since then he’d wished Brother Tom had brought it up, but he didn’t. The incident hung in his heart like a fish bone caught in his throat. The envelope with pearls, which were imitation, rested in the junk drawer in the kitchen where he had tossed it after Brother Tom drove off that day.

Petty, he thought, blaming the pastor and the folks he’d known most of his life for imagined failings. They were at a loss as to how to help a stubborn old man who was bound and determined to act as if he didn’t need help, as if nothing had changed, when in fact, daily, the disease progressed, stealing more of Lily from him and all who loved her. He longed to know the woman he had missed so he picked up another envelope from the box and carefully unfolded the thin paper within with the now familiar script.

The sense that he was being watched caused him to look up. The child stood in the doorway watching him.

“Do you need something, Amanda?”

“Nah. What are you reading?” She asked suspiciously.

“Just an old letter.”

“An old letter?” her voice matched the smirk that twisted her face.

“Yes, an old letter.”

“Why?”

He had had about all he could take of the girl’s attitude, but caught himself before giving her any satisfaction by snapping at her. He just wanted her to go away and leave him alone.

“So, I can know Lily better.”

“Whoa! Are they love letters from an old boyfriend? Are they full of secrets?”

“Secrets? A few maybe.” He pondered that statement. They really weren’t secrets. Lily would have opened all this to him from the beginning, if he hadn’t been such a hard headed fool.

“Really! Do you have secrets too?”

“Me?” In spite of his agitation with this girl’s insistent probing, he chuckled.

“No, a man my age usually has very few secrets, at least not any worth writing down. Most of them have either been exposed a long time ago or simply forgotten. I doubt much about my life is secret. It certainly doesn’t escape the eyes of the Lord, anyway.”

“You mean God, right? Do, do, Do, do, Do, do, do, Do,” the smirk on her mouth and her rendition of the theme of the Twilight Zone annoyed him, but he suspected she intended to do just that. She certainly could be a little twerp when she wanted to be.

“That’s the one,” he said matter-of-factly, returning his attention to the page before him. He was way too tired to tackle theological issues tonight even if he wanted to do so, which he did not.

“My mother had secrets and she kept a journal. She wrote down lots of secrets, dirty secrets.” Her voice dripped with the haughtiness only the young can produce, it clung to him like a wad of spit on the snow. He looked up to say something only to find that she had retreated. The door between the rooms snapped shut. The dead bolt clicked.

So much for that conversation, he thought. Max tucked the box and Bible in his suitcase. After his bath, he slid between the covers on the bed and slept soundly.

Filling My Dance Card

image

Do you believe in coincidence? The older I get, the less I do. Certainly, some events in our lives and the world’s happen because of decisions someone made…that I get, but things that happen that call us to pray for someone only finding out later that at that exact moment a great need arose, the flat tire that prevents my being involved in an automobile accident, the telephone call from someone with just the right word, when you hit rock bottom, the chance meeting of two people leading to a lifetime together, the “coincidences” of life…are they really happenstance? Call me foolish, but I doubt they are.

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At SHE READS TRUTH this morning, the scripture was Mark 5:25-34, the story of the bleeding woman, her desperation, her courage, even her defiance of Levitical Law. The devotional and many of the readers’ comments emphasized how many of us bleed without actual blood and how Jesus responds when we reach beyond human solutions and reasoning for his healing. For me the devotional hit me right where I am at the moment.

On Monday, August 26th, I am scheduled to have two surgical procedures by two physicians. My problems have been with me for several years but increasingly have become nearly unbearable. Without going into detail, WAY TOO MUCH INFORMATION!!, three pregnancies and deliveries, previous surgery, combined with family history and gastrointestinal issues have brought me to the point of desperation. While I am counting on the expertise of two seasoned surgeons to do their jobs efficiently, I am putting my faith in Jesus for the outcome.

Of course, there is the concern about my recovery and the pain management(not a big fan of pain), but do you know what I am also trusting Jesus for? Our household, two men, my husband and my brother, having to do the extra little things I do as well as all they already do, my two inside dogs, feeding the outside dog…get the picture, I am bleeding over the small stuff.

It takes a lot of courage to ask Jesus for the small stuff. We often feel like we should not bother him with the small bleeds. We should only ask for help when we are bleeding out. How foolish I am, we are…Jesus cares about anything that causes us to worry or fear or to bleed, small or large.

It was no coincidence that SHE READS TRUTH focused on the woman with the issue of bleeding today. After reading it a bit of verse came to me and as I prepare myself and my household for my surgery, I do it hanging onto Jesus like he was my last and only chance.

Last chance, last dance,
danced with medical teams,
danced with old wives’ tales,
nothing worked, everything failed.
No need to draw attention
because they’d send me away,
hiding my shame, my ugly stains,
This is my last chance,
fingertips stretched
touching the hem,
Feeling the power
from tips to my core
Feeling assurance that yes, I am well!
In an instant I stand ready to run,
knowing I’m healed but ready to go.
He turns and he searches
His eyes find mine, he sees me,
He smiles and blesses my faith..
He was my last chance
His glance fills my being
as I start to dance.

When it comes to mental, physical, relational,or spiritual needs no chances, coincidences, even medical marvels can I am filling Jesus name into every slot on my dance card

Every Dance of Life with Jesus
Every Dance of Life with Jesus

Braking Points–Chapter Four

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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.

Braking Points–Chapter Three

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Chapter Three
Springfield, Tennessee

Amanda Carmichael crouched behind a large trash bin next to a convenience store gas station combo somewhere, she thought, in Tennessee.  Truth was, she’d been on the road for three days now and these places all started to look the same.  The aromas around the trash bin made her want to retch, but there was nothing in her stomach to throw up.  Hunger, fatigue and poverty kept her edgy.  

She leaned against the brick wall, listening, until she heard the large rig she’d arrived in pull out of the parking lot onto the highway.  The creep of a driver aimed some profanities her way, but, thanks to whatever gods may be, he didn’t come looking for her.  Amanda sighed, slumped closer to the wall, and felt tears fill her eyes.  

“Stop it,” she demanded, wiping her eyes with her sleeve.  She had to get something to eat.  She had to clean up. No time for tears. Amanda rose from her hiding place.  With enormous effort to stay upright in her platform shoes, she tottered toward the convenience store entrance.  She dug into all her pockets finding just enough cash to buy a cup of coffee and a pack of roasted cashews.  Protein, she thought scornfully.  She loaded the coffee with creamer and sugar.

The clerk behind the counter was a middle-aged woman.  At least 35, Amanda thought as the woman looked at her suspiciously.  Amanda glared back at her and then dropped into the grimey plastic covered booth near the front window to drink her coffee and eat the nuts.  The place was busy, so thankfully, Amanda found the woman’s attention waned as a steady flow of customers came and went.

*
Max headed south.  The maps Andrew marked rested on the seat in between Lily and him.  He slowed to 35 miles an hour as he entered Trenton.  Trenton was his hometown even though the family place set smack dab between there and Pembroke to the north.

The acres were contiguous back then, sprawling out in such a way that there were portions both in Christian and Todd Counties.   Today those acres remained in the family, but the vast land Andrew and his two sons, Brad and Bobby Lee, farmed included several thousand more acres. The land they farmed no longer formed a continuum, presenting challenges that taxed man and equipment.  Agriculture represented big business in the world so Max was proud of the fact that one of his sons and his grandsons continued to work the Carnes’ land as a family.

Max wondered as he had many times since he had retired from the day-to-day routine:  Did he miss farming?  At times he did, but he talked the talk with Andrew and the boys.  Plus there were his coffee buddies, guys who had grown up on farms like he had. Most of them he had grown up and gone to school with.  They debated agricultural issues among other things.  Their coffee meetings tackled two of the conversational taboos, politics and religion; they purposely steered clear of sex.  Top all that with having never really left the farm and he was satisfied.

The old high school where Max and five of his six brothers had graduated sat just past the downtown section of town, across from the Baptist Church.  His brother Ed, the only Carnes brother not to graduate, joined the army when he was a junior at Trenton High School, went off to fight the Japs and never returned.  Ed was the impetuous one. Born the fourth of seven sons, Ed fought to stay up with the older ones and ahead of the younger ones. Max remembered his younger brother as the first to act on a dare.

Youthful escapades played through his head and he chuckled out loud.  There wasn’t an act too perilous Ed wouldn’t try.  It was a wonder he lived through them.  Except, of course, he didn’t survive, Max acknowledged somberly; a Japanese bullet at Guadalcanal ended Ed’s earthly life.  He hoped to meet him in heaven some day but worried Ed hadn’t chosen that direction.  Years of Sunday school and church hadn’t rooted in Ed’s life.  A wave of sadness washed over him.  It had been years since he had grieved for his lost brother.

Max glanced back and forth as he crept through the old town. Even with all the changes, it never failed to remind Max of times gone by, hard times but still good times.

He glanced over at Lily.  She was sleeping.  Sleep came as a blessing sometimes.  Lily calmed when she slept, but Max longed for his chatty, sharp-witted wife who tried not to sleep when he drove on long trips, “to protect them all”, she said.  Ah, but that was then and this is now.  Once again he shook off the self-pity that dogged his footsteps these days.  They were traveling together again, that was sufficient. Max focused on the road, admiring the languid roll of the land between Trenton and Guthrie.  What had Robert Frost written?  Ah, yes, he thought, “and miles to go before I sleep.”  He wondered, how many miles he had to go, realistically.  One of his grandfathers died in his thirties; the other one at seventy five.   His Daddy had lived to be eighty two years old.  Max was five years beyond that.  Still, aside from his broken hip, he hadn’t spent anytime in the hospital in his whole life.  He’d come a long stretch down the road of life, but there were still miles to go.  Enough for this trip anyway, he prayed silently.

“Uh, where is this place?”  Lily asked in a tiny trembling voice, “Where are you taking me?”  Max had stopped at the 3-way stop outside Springfield when Lily stirred in the seat next to him.  Her head bobbed this way and that trying to find some anchor of familiarity.  She clutched her sweater around her and began rocking slightly.  At times like this Max usually could find some familiar point, but they were outside the realm of sanctuary.  He fumbled through the maps and withdrew the photograph.  Handing it to her, he said,
“Lily, remember?  We are going to the ocean, to the beach.”  He wasn’t sure this would work, but he glanced heavenward and breathed a silent prayer, “I’m floundering here, HELP.”  Lily practically snatched the picture from him, but he felt her calm slightly as he negotiated the right turn.  Moments later a sideways look told him she was studying the picture carefully.

“Would you like to stop, Lily?”  He asked once she settled.  She might not need to, but Max did. This was more excitement than an 87-year-old bladder could handle.  For the first time, he considered that restroom and gasoline breaks might prove a little challenging.  It would be best to try this close to home, not that he had any intention of going back.  Without waiting for an answer he pulled into a gas station-food center on his left.  

***
Max paced nervously outside the Ladies’ Room.  She’d been in there for several minutes now.  He couldn’t help but worry.  The attendant assured him Lily had not emerged during his brief time in the Men’s Room.  Glancing at his watch and the door, he stewed over what to do.  If the clerk got a break in the seemingly endless trek of customers, he would ask her to check on Lily.  He toyed with the idea of opening the door slightly and calling her name. Not forty miles from home before potential disaster over-took them.  No! He scolded himself.  They were going to the ocean.  He turned and set out to get the female attendant.  

Just as he did the door of the Ladies’ Room opened. Lily emerged, clasping the arm of a very young, rather disturbing looking girl.  The look on the young woman’s face was a mixture of bewilderment, disgust and panic.  Frail as Lily was, she virtually dragged the child forward.  Lily was grinning.  Max smiled himself uncertain what to say.  It had been months since he had seen her grin, let alone interact with people the way she seemed to be with this rather bizarre looking child.

“Oh, look, Greta, that man, he’s our driver, look; Sir, what is your name?”  She squinted at Max, but went on without waiting for a reply. “Look who I found, my sister Greta.  I didn’t think we’d see her until the beach, but here she is.  She has always loved cotton candy, but I can’t believe she’s wearing it!  Greta really knows how to have fun.”  Lily clutched tighter on the child’s arm while with her free hand she patted the mess of purple and pink hair that spiked out in a hundred directions from the girl’s hair.  The young woman’s expression reminded Max of his third grade teacher, Miss Sellers, the afternoon Bailey Johnson and he found her smoking a cigarette behind the girl’s outhouse.  Malicious denial with an element of shock glared at Max as she worked to break loose of Lily’s grasp.
 
“Look, I don’t know what’s going on here.  I tried to help her in the bathroom.  She had a little trouble ge…; oh, never mind that.  All of a sudden she’s calling me Greta and talking about going to the beach.  You,” She pointed her finger at Max, “need to watch her closer.  She could get into real trouble.”
 
Max grimaced. He found being scolded by a mini skirted teenager with pastel hair, both irritating and amusing.  This child obviously was sorely lacking in manners and a quick look told him, basic hygiene.  Still she had helped Lily and in spite of her insolent mouth she deserved to be thanked properly.  He wondered if her parents lived nearby.  Did they let her out of the house looking like she did?  He hoped not.

Max took Lily’s hand and led her to the single front booth, motioning the young woman to follow.  Once he had Lily seated, he spoke to the girl who did indeed have cotton candy hair.  He mused that Lily had pegged that one right. Her hair looked every bit as sticky as the sugary treat.  What he could not understand was why Lily thought this gaunt, dirty child was her long deceased sister.  Years of good upbringing and natural politeness won over a dozen other parental based disciplinary actions.

“I want to thank you for helping her in the restroom.  My name is Max Carnes and this is my wife, Lily.  She gets confused at times.” Actually most of the time, Max reflected, but no need to dwell on it with this vagabond.  He paused, collected his manners and said, “I am truly sorry if she caused you any inconvenience, but I would like to reward you for helping her.  Kindness should not go unappreciated” What was he saying?  The sooner this child was out of there the better.

The girl looked baffled and leery, as if the word kindness held some darker meaning.  She stepped back a couple of steps, practically colliding with the newsstand next to the door, as her ankle turned and one of her five inch platform shoes turned outward from her ankle.  Ouch! Max thought.  She recovered quickly continuing her backward movement to the door.  

“Naw, that’s alright.  I’ve got to catch a ride and get going,” she waved her hand slightly, but there was a slight quiver in her nonchalance. Max couldn’t disguise a startle. Catch a ride?  To where?  With whom?  Do modern parents let their teenaged daughters catch rides?  He didn’t think so, at least not ones who cared or knew where their daughters were.  Max looked at her face; it was a study of practiced disinterest. For the first time, he glimpsed beneath the mask.  It wasn’t the mask created by heavily applied cosmetics, but the one that feigned detachment.  In that brief flash Max saw weariness, fear, and evidence of tears etched into the multiple layers cosmetics.  He must have been staring, because she snapped at him suddenly. 

“What are you looking at?  You folks give me the creeps. I am so out of here!”  She turned toward the door.

“Wait!” Max said impulsively, “Are you hungry?  It’s the least we could do.  Please join us.”

She turned still clothed in haughtiness, moved back to the booth and sat next toLily.  Lily immediately clasped hold of her arm and murmured, “Greta.”  

“Whatever!”  The child managed to say, but Max noticed a glimmer of softening.Eighty-seven years had taught him a multitude of things; one thing for sure, this kid was in trouble.

Over lunch he watched the girl. She, with pointed prompting, introduced herself as Amanda Smith, probably so he wouldn’t start calling her Greta, too.  In between the gulps of food she was consuming in huge chunks, she said she had encountered unexplained difficulties traveling to Knoxville and was stuck.    Her eating slowed only during the times when Lily grabbed her arm.   He noticed she was left-handed.  For some reason, that endeared her to Max.  His brother Ed had been a lefty.  Max ordered coffee for himself and ice cream for Lily.  His lunch at the farm still lingered.

By the time Amanda had consumed two cheeseburgers and a large order of French fries with a chocolate milkshake and a large coke, Max made a decision.  It wasn’t rational and it wasn’t safe, but not much about this trip was.
 
He pulled Amanda aside and asked if she would join them as far as Knoxville and help him with Lily.  Amanda feigned a “you have got to be kidding” look, but she was listening.  He could not fathom what was going on in her head.  When had kids become so rude?  He hadn’t noticed this before.  He waited for her answer; finally she shrugged and walked over to Lily, allowing Lily to pull her to the car.  She looked at Max before climbing into the back seat of the Buick and pointed her index finger at him.  He bristled instantly.  His mother would have snatched his finger from his hand if he had acted that way.

“Believe me, Dude; you’d better not try anything.  I am going to be watching you all the time.”

Dude?  Max thought as he buckled Lily into her seat.  He was unsure whether he should feel annoyed or flattered.  He chose annoyed based on her jabbing finger.  Before buckling himself in, he turned to respond to Amanda’s remarks, unsure if he should choose a defensive approach or an offensive one.  Would it be: “Young Lady, I assure you, you are perfectly safe with me?” Or “Now look here, you spoiled brat, settle down or you lose your ride.”  Neither was forthcoming. The child was sound asleep.
 
Two miles down the road so was Lily.  Max shook his head.  With both sleeping beauties momentarily out of commission, he was free to cut loose.  So out on the open road, Max picked up to 55 miles per hour and ignored the cars that rode right on his bumper and then leapt around him at the first straightaway.  Max hadn’t driven this far in years.  The roll of the highway made him long for that 1939 yellow roadster he’d bought for his bride.  Now there was a car, he thought.  Top speed was fifty miles an hour, but with the wind in their hair, it felt like eighty.

Would Lily remember that?  He doubted it.  She appeared to be living during a time he knew very little about, a time before they met.  Her mind seemed to have retreated to the early and mid 1930s.  The Stanton family had been living on the coastal area of Georgia.  Her dad was one of the lucky ones during the depression years.  He worked for the railroad.  Max met Lily on the train.  

With those thoughts Max lingered a while in the past.  He thought about how Lily had entered his life. Those were the days! The thought of the roadster and those departed times before he went to war lifted his spirits.   Max began whistling as they sailed along.

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