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Chapter Twenty-Three

Max’s progress astonished his surgeon, but once all the tubes and paraphernalia had been removed, they moved him out of ICU and into a regular room with a regular diet. Max thought if he never saw orange jello or chicken broth again, he’d die a happy man—not of course that he had any intention of dying any time soon. They’d bored three holes in his head but evidently they’d left a substantial portion of his brain, because he’d done better than the contestants on “Wheel of Fortune”. He clicked the remote to off when he heard the tap on his door.

Ryan peeked around and asked if he wanted some company. Must be important, Ryan wasn’t one for small talk—frankly Ryan didn’t share big or small things; he kept most things tied up inside. Of all the children, he favored Lily the most, especially his eyes. Max’s eyes moistened as Ryan patted his hand before sitting in a chair and pulling it up close to the bedside.

“How are you feeling?”

“Not too bad. Took a walk from the bed to the chair this afternoon. What’s that two three steps? Not bad for an old man who just had holes strategically placed in his head. How about you? Aren’t you needed on campus?”

“I’m . . . taking the summer off. If it’s alright with you I thought I’d spend some time with you and Mom.”

“Oh?” Max couldn’t keep the quizzical sound out of his voice. He stared at the top of Ryan’s head unable to make eye contact. His eldest son’s focus seemed to be squarely on his shoes. Max wondered if he had heard him correctly; when Ryan raised his head and looked directly into his eyes, Max knew he had heard it right.

“We’d love to have you, son.” He wanted to ask him about Pamela. He really didn’t know if they had just separated or if they had divorced.

“There are some things in my life I need to work out, before I go back to Princeton or anywhere else. Pam filed for divorce last month.”

Well, Max sighed, that answered that question. He considered what to say. The pain in Ryan’s voice didn’t sound at all like the bravado he’d heard over the past several months about divergent paths, still good friends, exploring new possibilities. The tightness of a man’s speech when trying to maintain control and dignity in light of a great loss divulged more than Ryan probably intended, but Max knew. He’d visited that place himself more than once in his life. Words failed to come, but he reached out and put his hand on top of his son’s.

The sudden tap at the door alarmed both men. Peggy stuck her head in; she looked slightly agitated, but with Peggy that was fairly common. She waved at her Dad.

“Hi, Dad, I am going to steal Ryan from you for a few minutes, Ok?”
The furrowing of Ryan’s brow indicated a touch of annoyance but he rose, leaned over and hugged his Dad and said, “I’ll be back shortly.” Before exiting the room behind Peggy.

In the hall, he found Barry, Andrew and Davis waiting also. Something was wrong. It was Andrew who spoke.

“Momma’s missing. She evidently snuck out while Sharon and Millie were busy in the kitchen. She had been napping in the living room. Sophia had gone to pick up some gifts for her family before flying to Nashville tonight and came in commenting about leaving the front door wide open. Apparently, she just wandered off. They have alerted the Greenville Police and the neighbors, but so far no one has seen her.”

*

Aaron Wilkins skidded off of the street and onto the bike path. He should have known staying to play one more game on Eric’s Wii would make him late for his piano lesson. Maybe he wouldn’t be more than 5 or 10 minutes overdue if he cut through on the path. He just hoped he didn’t run into any joggers, but it wasn’t likely this time of the afternoon. Most of them would turn out closer to dusk. Miss Emily would make him do extra finger exercises if he was more than 5 minutes late and she’d probably call his mother.

The path ahead looked clear. Great, he thought, changing gears and sailing along; he might . . .just then a figure stepped out of the bushes directly into his path. Aaron swung his bike to right and hit the ground, the bike flew out from under him and he slid on his side for several feet. The bike continued moving for several more feet coming to rest in an azalea bush. The figure on the path moved toward him and he saw it was an old woman.

She stood studying him. Obviously, she was homeless, Aaron thought, though he’d never really seen a homeless person. It looked like she was wearing three or four dresses and the one on top was inside out.

Aaron scampered up from the ground, but his right ankle protested. She looked pretty feeble but he didn’t want to chance her bashing him in the head. He limped to where his bike had fallen and picked it up. A couple of spokes in the front wheel looked bent but otherwise it seemed ok. Forget piano lessons! At least he had a valid excuse. His right arm stung, a glance told him he’d scraped it. Blood trickled from the wound.

“Oh, Andrew, you’ve hurt yourself.” The bag lady moved closer.

“Hey, Lady, my name is Aaron and you almost got me killed.”

She apparently didn’t hear him.

“Andrew, we need to get you back to the house and get that cleaned up.”

“Stay back, Lady.” Aaron edged away from her and mounted his bike heading off the path back onto the street. Within minutes he was home. He called out for his mother, but with no answer he headed into the bathroom to clean up. Nope, he thought, better call Miss Emily. With an about face he headed to the kitchen and punched out her number. The phone was ringing when he saw his mother’s note.

‘Aaron,
If you get in from your lesson before I get home, there’s a snack in the refrigerator.
I am out helping look for Sharon Carnes’ mother-in-law. She’s old and has wandered off.
Hugs and kisses, Mom’

Aaron hung up the phone just as Miss Emily answered, ripped off the note and set out for the bike path. Who knew, he thought, maybe there’s a reward.

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