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Braking Points

Pausing in the midst of Life to ponder, pray and find footing to continue.

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Braking Points–The Novel

Braking Points–Epilogue

rocking chairs
Epilogue

Early winter in southwestern Kentucky comes in fits and starts with alternating icy winds and snow showers mixed with warming trends of various lengths. Sun, one day, might be followed by steel gray skies the next. Max found the warm days a respite for his bones and joints. He found if he dressed appropriately—his granddaughter Allison called it layering—he could sit outside in his rocker in the afternoons. Most days he’d carry his Bible outside with him. After the trip to the ocean he’d started going to church again. Ryan had stayed through the summer and then Millie and Andrew began taking turns picking him up and carrying him in to town church on Sundays. The other stayed at the house with Lily. Now he supposed they’d all be going together.

He’d been foolish to have stayed away so long. Worship in the presence of other believers reinforced the foundations of his life. He’d learned that as a boy, practiced it as best he could with his own family, succeeded at times, failed at others but even now there it was like the benediction, “May the Grace of God, the Love of Christ Jesus our Lord and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit go with you.”

With reluctance he glanced at the empty rocker next to him and then down at the two envelopes in his lap. Millie would be by shortly to take them to the post office. Peggy and Millie had taken care of the majority of the thank you notes, but he’d wanted to write these two, one to Sophia Winchester and the other to Amanda Carmichael. Both wrote often—Amanda suggested he get a computer so they could e-mail; He chuckled—that wasn’t going to happen—and Sophia called Millie frequently. Sophia plowed along like always, clearing the path for others. Amanda’s letters delighted him; they were mixtures of youth and maturity. She had started attending church with her parents. But was quick to add, “Now don’t go praying for me or anything”, as if she could stop him.

The envelopes were unsealed. Max reached into his jacket pocket and extracted two color photos, one for each envelope. The faces in the snapshot smiled up at him, the Carnes family—all grown up—framed by sea grass with the Atlantic Ocean as a backdrop. In the center sat Lily a half smile on her face wearing the blue outfit with white flowers, hat and all and next to Lily sat “Greta” her hand over Lily’s.

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Open Letter to Readers of Braking Points

Dear Readers,

In a few minutes I will post the Epilogue to BRAKING POINTS. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank those who have followed Max, Lily, Amanda, and Sophia’s journey. I wrote the novel in 2004-2005, while Terry and I were living in Pembroke, KY in Christian County. Max and Lily are based in part on my mother and father-in-law, Dorothy and Maurice Kisler. Dorothy had Alzheimer’s disease and Maurice chose, in fact refused all other options, to become her primary caretaker. Dorothy died November 21, 2004 at age 86 in her home with her two sons, her daughter Kaye preceded her in death in August 1987, and her husband Maurice at her side. Maurice lived to the age of 93, dying in his home during a horrible snowstorm February 7, 2011 in Tulsa with his eldest son, Maurice Lee by his side. On December 6th that same year, my mother, Ada Marie Ivy died at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa after developing pancreatitis and pneumonia. My mom was 89 years old and still mentally sharp right up to slipping into a coma hours before her death.

We often hear of “coming of age” stories, but I prefer to write “coming of OLD age” stories with multi-generational layers of characters, like the Carnes Family. My world owes so much to the generation that raised us and my world would not be complete without my children and grandchildren. I love having friends who are younger and older so much of the material I write about comes from their stories. I love that God allows me to pursue my passion which is writing and that He is my ever present friend, companion and muse. I told Terry when I was writing BRAKING POINTS and reading him segments daily that I could hardly wait to get to the keyboard after a day at work, so I could see what Max and his entourage were up to. I wasn’t even sure when it would end, but then I knew as I wrote Chapter 27.

Again I am grateful to those of you who have read this book in serial form for the past month. I would appreciate comments, questions, and suggestions. And as I promised, as soon as I publish this, I will publish the epilogue. You can comment on the website or on Facebook, but please take just a moment to do so.
Blessings on you all and remember if you get a head full of steam over something, say the Lord’s Prayer before responding, better than counting to ten.

Love to you all,
Carolyn

Braking Points–Chapter Twenty-Seven

cellChapter Twenty-Seven
Greenville, South Carolina

The promise to Amanda haunted Max as he leaned on the walking stick his children had purchased him. They had settled him on a bench in a shopping mall in Greenville, while Barry circled the parking lot looking for a place to park. Ryan, Andrew, Millie and Sharon stood several paces away from him feigning interest in the display at Belk’s. Peggy and Davis had opted to stay with Lily while the remaining siblings with their spouses took Dad to the mall for exercise and lunch. So far the only exercise he’d had involved a few steps on the sidewalk and few more to the bench.

Since his discharge from the hospital in Asheville and his arrival in Greenville, his children’s treatment of him reminded him of when they were toddlers and he was boss. At first the solicitous management had affirmed a long held opinion of his that Lily had raised them well. That opinion faded quickly when he noticed their tendency to huddle together in quiet serious conversations, giving him quick nervous glances, faking quick smiles when he caught them, but not including him in the discussions.

The behavior heightened his alertness, prompted an extravagant stream of “Our Father’s”, and left his tongue sore from biting it. Lily had raised them to be kind, to be sure; so to the contrary their conspiratorial tendencies had the Carnes’ stamp all over them. Acting as if he were dumb to all the scheming strained his natural inclination to butt heads with them, figuratively at least. Max decided he’d force them to speak and make them sweat when they did. So he sat on the bench, waiting them out with the promise he’d made to Lily, Amanda and himself turning uncomfortably in his head. In his gut, he knew whatever his kids were plotting threatened that vow.

*

Lily’s escape attempt prompted better security measures, but Peggy agreed with both Millie and Sharon that Lily’s current state did not seem to warrant the enhanced safe guards. Lily, in a matter of a few days, had slipped further away. Atrophy diminished her physically so she could not walk without assistance. Mentally, well, Peggy thought ‘at least she no longer confuses me with Grandmother Stanton.’ Lily’s eyes when not closed registered only the barest of responses, the majority defensive. When spoken to, she would search all directions, but no recognition crossed her face; localization of sound existed no longer though she still startled to loud sounds and to touch.

Millie confided to Andrew on the phone on the day their Dad was being released from the hospital her concern that Lily might have had a stroke. She explained that since Lily’s return from her brief disappearance, the only sounds she made resembled gibberish, lacking even the inflection of speech; they were mere guttural murmurings, primitive, animalistic vocalizations.

The mornings took both Millie and Sharon and now that she had arrived Peggy to dress Lily and get her moving. Once in the chair, she sat. In her hand she clutched the aged photograph which had been the impetus for the journey to the ocean. Her fingers curled around it. Efforts to take it from her created such agitation that no one tried anymore. Not one of them had seen her look at it, but like a security blanket it calmed her.

Once in the chair, she seldom moved except for the periodic attempts to take her to the bathroom or to feed her. She showed little interest in food and even less with feeding herself. Trying to coax her into opening her mouth reminded Millie, to whom the job fell most of the time, of her children as babies. Somehow “open the garage door, here comes another truck” didn’t seem appropriate and frankly didn’t work, because Millie had resorted to trying it with no success. Peggy along with the others noticed that the food Lily did allow past her lips stayed in her mouth until someone prodded her to chew and swallow. Drinks of water frequently dribbled down her chin and onto her clothing, leaving her soaked and in need of a change of clothes. The towel they had resorted to tying around her neck like a bib provided some protection, but magnified her infirmity.

Peggy chose the couch directly across from her mother who slept again, Lily’s head awkwardly dangled on her towel draped chest and her toothless mouth wide open—attempts to insert her dentures had proved how strong an emaciated but determined person could be. Drool seeped from the corner of her gaping mouth, caking on her cheek before reaching the towel. Peggy had dabbed at it a couple of times before retreating to the couch in surrender to the perpetual drip. She could hear the baseball game, Davis was watching on TV in the adjacent den. Her own eyes closed but not in sleep.

At a mall somewhere in Greenville, her brothers were determined to explain to Max the importance of getting back to Kentucky as soon as possible. Max hadn’t fooled her at all; his grim face as they prepared to leave convinced Peggy that he was aware of their planning behind his back. What didn’t make sense to her was his silence about it. That pattern of behavior might suit some men of 87 years, but her Dad was not one to hold his tongue or allow others to set his course. Rising from the couch she wiped Lily’s mouth and chin once more, noticing the dampness was chapping her mother’s face. She headed to the bathroom to prepare a warm washcloth and get some moisturizer for repair, sighing as she went. I’d rather be cleaning up drool than telling Dad his driving days and his road trip to the beach are finished.

After cleaning her Mom’s face, Peggy stared down at the photograph. The edges were barely visible from her vantage point and the vise like grip her mother maintained on the photo unabated. She knew the scene by heart but only from the photograph. She remembered not one whit of the trip. There she was in her Daddy’s arms. Her little face beamed and was so like her daughter Kaitlyn’s at about the same age that it made her heart lurch—would Kaitlyn and Rob one day be yanking Davis or her car keys and shutting down privileges that she thought of as rights.

She must have been somewhere near 18 months old in that photo. Her Dad thought it was around 1960, but that was unlikely since she was born in 1957—most likely it was 1959. Her two older brothers remembered the trip; Ryan was a teenager and Barry around nine. Even Andrew only 4 years her senior recalled snatches of the sand and the waves, but Peggy remembered nothing. Dad seemed to think they’d made several trips to the same beach, but Peggy honestly could not remember a one. There had been trips to the mountains and one to Florida, but not to the particular spot in the picture—Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina.

Peggy rubbed her Mother’s shoulders gently still looking at her clutched hand with the tattered picture. How much farther could it be? A few hours at most and even if they took a couple of days what would it matter? Of course, convincing her stubborn brothers would take some doing.
*
The drive back from the mall after lunch reminded Ryan of the night his Dad had been rousted from his bed in sub-freezing weather to rescue Ryan and two of his buddies after a near miss with a neighbor’s cow—the cow had no business being in the middle of the road—the boys slid down an embankment burying Ryan’s car in fresh snow. With no cell phones available back then, the three had done what most folks did when stranded; they’d walked to the nearest house and called for help.

When Max arrived to pick them up, he’d thanked the neighbors and motioned the boys toward the car. He didn’t utter a word to any of them. Even Ryan’s normally rowdy pals had the good sense to make the ride in silence departing with meek falsetto whispers “thank you, Mr. Carnes”. Ryan saw from the corner of his eye the set of the mouth and jaw he’d seen that night, his Dad’s face had aged but the expression was timeless.

That night—must have been 1961—his Dad didn’t speak until they reached the sight of the accident, there the path of Ryan’s tire tracks, his attempt to stop, the swerve and finally his car’s resting place with the nose buried in the snow provided a glaring indictment in his Dad’s headlights. They’d been goofing off. Ryan had prayed it wouldn’t be so obvious, a prayer that went unanswered.

For a long moment, Max just sat with his head against the steering wheel, then he said, “Son, you got your car keys?”

Ryan remembered the humiliation he felt digging in his jacket and pants pockets for the keys, before realizing he had failed to pull them from the ignition.

“I, I must have left them in the car.”

His Dad had opened the door and moving sideways like a crab on ice inched down the embankment to the car, struggled with the already frozen door until it opened, reached in and yanked out the keys, depositing them in his pocket. They used a tractor to pull the car out the next day but it had been three weeks before Ryan saw the keys again.

His Dad’s Buick keys now rested in his pocket. Ryan tried comforting himself with the purpose; they were protecting their parents not punishing them, but the dismal silence in the van, marked especially by the absence of Millie’s lively voice, and the set of his father’s jaw argued the latter. For the first time in his whole life, he grasped the meaning of ‘this is going to hurt me more that it is you’. The greatest pain stemmed from the acknowledgement that his strong forceful father no longer was invincible. Ryan grimly conceded time had caught up with his Dad and was winning.

The other realization built on that foundation was that not a one of them could halt that stern measure; the relentless march of seconds, minutes, and hours became years then decades. Ryan’s ruminations joined a chorus in the stillness; he sensed a strange cacophony of thought that screamed in the silence. He caught Andrew’s eye in the rear view mirror and held it for a long moment; it took only a heartbeat to recognize the unity of their thoughts, the natural harmony of blood. Andrew averted his eyes first, but there was no denying the understanding that had passed between the brothers. Barry sitting opposite Andrew caught the exchange and nodded in affirmation.

In unison the Carnes brothers chuckled out loud. Max turned and looked at each of them, his brow furrowed in reproach and them smiled. Millie and Sharon giggled nervously from the back, baffled.

Ryan spoke, “Dad, how about we make one more stop on this trip—as a family?”

Max couldn’t speak; tears welled up in his eyes.

“That would be real nice, Son,” he paused before adding ruefully, “It’s going to be interesting watching you three sell this to your sister.”

The van erupted with laughter.

*
Amanda took off her shoes and dumped them and the contents of her canvas bag into the plastic container at airport security. Her mother and Granny Nan cleared and were retrieving their purses and shoes. She waved at them before crossing the metal detector portal.

The sound of the alarm startled her and the security officer asked her to empty her pockets. What in the world? Reaching into the pockets of her jacket, her fingers touched a familiar object. Rats! Sophia had asked her to return Max’s cell phone when she saw him and she had forgotten. Pulling it out, she handed it to the official and stepped back through the door to try again.

Stepping through a second time she heard a familiar signal of another kind, but it was no less startling than the alarm. It was the William Tell Overture.

Braking Points–Chapter Twenty-Five

angry kidChapter Twenty-Five
Ashville, North Carolina

Andrew poked his head in at the door of his Dad’s room. Max was sitting in a chair next to the bed his head tilted onto his shoulder napping. Ryan sprawled out on the only other chair in the small room, his head hanging backwards and his mouth slightly open, snoring. Andrew’s grin preceded him into the room but the sight of his brother and father widened it. They looked like bookends. He tapped Ryan gently on his shoulder, shushing him with his forefinger to his lips when he started at the touch. He waited while Ryan shook off his drowsiness before whispering.

“They found Mom. She’s okay, but very confused.

The brothers regarded each other for a moment then slapped hands at the shared good news. Ryan pulled himself to a standing position, motioning Andrew toward the hall. Max stirred, but continued to nap.

“Let’s get a cup of coffee.” Ryan said once the door closed. Andrew nodded. Turning together, Ryan reached across put his arm across Andrew’s shoulders and gave him a squeeze. The action flustered Andrew. He looked quizzically at his older brother.

“Remember when we used to call you Andrew the Kangaroo?”

“Do I? And I’d come flying into you or Barry only to wind up with a bloody nose. You know I can’t figure out why on earth that made me so mad.”

“Me, either. It made Momma so mad at the lot of us that she would spank us all. You should have seen your face. Did you ever get hot! After you got to be about ten, we could not make you mad with it anymore. Ruined our fun.”

“That’s after Daddy had his little talk with me.”

Ryan raised his eyebrows, his interest peaked.

“According to him, he was a real hot head growing up.”

“DAD? You have to be kidding! Momma, maybe, but not Dad. I don’t remember him ever raising his voice, not that he spared the paddling, but anger, couldn’t be so.”

“That’s what I thought, but he shared the secret Grandma Carnes shared with him.” Andrew paused and let Ryan’s curiosity crest.

“Which was . . .?”

“The Lord’s Prayer. That’s the secret formula to cooling off before reacting.”

“You mean, ‘Our Father who art in heaven. . .’ that Lord’s Prayer?”

“The same—you say it before blowing your cool and usually you don’t”

Ryan hooted.

“Barry and I worked overtime trying to get you riled up. We decided you’d had some kind of “religious experience”. He paused mid stride and grinned at Andrew before chortling, “I guess you had—in a way.”

The brothers laughed and exchanged the traditional male shoulder slaps before continuing down the hall.

Braking Points–Chapter Twenty-Six

grandsChapter Twenty-Six
Asheville, North Carolina

“Lying out there by the highway, I thought I might die. Those men, Ray and Dave, especially Ray, treated me like, like, well, you know.”

Max watched as Amanda’s eyes now filled with moisture briefly locked with his before returning to her lap. They had been sitting in a lounge area talking about little more than the weather and social trivia for several moments, before Amanda or Max dared to venture deeper. Occasionally a hospital staffer, visitor, or another patient wandered into the area giving the unlikely pair a questioning expression, but no one disturbed them. Neither Max nor Amanda noticed. The horror of her experience in the company of Dave and Ray tumbled out like a basket that had been upended, the contents dispersing in all directions and the retrieval without order or sequence.

“Did they tell you, the police or Sophia, did they tell you, those guys even peed on me?” Amanda shuddered, her voice broke with a sob and she took a couple of breaths trying to regain control. The vulgarity of the men’s actions and hearing a fourteen year old child speak them grated on Max’s sensibilities. He wanted to tell her to stop, wait a bit, but he wasn’t sure whether that would be for his sake or hers, so Max held his tongue and offered her a Kleenex from the cardboard container on the table. She took it, wiped her eyes and managed a wee smile which Max received as a token of gratitude.

“You thought you might die?”

He heard all she said and concealed his aversion to the graphic images brought up by her bluntness, but he focused on her first statement. The time Amanda had been a part of Lily and his journey had been short, Max sensed the child had self-destructive notions. That knowledge demanded he prompt her to elaborate. She did not pull back as he feared.

“Yes, I panicked when Dean, Mr. Bell, got to me. He and his wife—oh, and their dog found me. I thought Dave and Ray had come back to make sure I wasn’t going to tell anyone what happened.” Amanda paused.

“So, you didn’t want to die after all?” The probe seemed cruel to Max even as the words exited his mouth, but there they were and it was too late to retract them. It was Amanda’s turn to grimace.

“You knew?”

“Not at first, but after a while. Of course, after I talked to your grandmother, all the little clues became even more obvious. Truth is, Amanda, I didn’t know what to do to help you except get you home and let them deal with you. I hoped you’d open up, but, well, you literally slam doors and lock them.”

He tried to make the last of his words lighter, less forlorn, and she humored him with a little laugh, a smile and an Amanda style retort.

“If you’d been traveling at regular speeds on regular roads, I might be dead right now.” The bantering felt good to Amanda and made her dark words easier on the emotional palate.

“But no, we kept stopping every few miles right up to right now. Every one of those stops reminded me of the “time outs” my mom used to discipline me when I was a kid.”

Max smirked to himself at the words “a kid”, but decided an interjection would be untimely. He savored the gentleness of the words, “my Mom” evidence that healing was taking place. Without words, within minutes of her arrival even, Max sensed a difference in Amanda’s attitude about herself and her family.

“I hated all the stops. They blocked my plan, and not only that but they also were painful. Every stop fractured me in one way or another. Lily thinking I was Greta and then finding out what happened to Greta. I liked Lily thinking I was her brave sister but I hated it too. When I saw the ambulance speed by the truck on the interstate, I thought something happened to Lily. It’s crazy, but I thought, oh, no it’s my sister.”

Max sensed the tears in his own eyes now. He turned his head upward to stare at the ceiling. If Amanda noticed she didn’t say. At least she wasn’t offended. Perhaps she understood, maybe better than anyone else. Amanda kept talking.

“Sophia made me so mad, but darn it she could be so much fun, too. I would get mad at myself that there were times when I actually was having a good time. Greta’s story hurt me but it caused me to question a lot of my choices and after I heard my own story it helped me understand how hard choices can be. Without Greta’s story I might have closed my ears to what my Mom shared. Somehow Greta’s life showed me how little I knew about the people I . . . love. It all confused me, but it wasn’t until I tried to get away from Ray and Dave that I realized how much I wanted to live. ”

“All those stops annoyed me, too, Amanda.”

“They did?”

“Yes, I had planned to take our time, but I hadn’t planned that at three weeks out we’d only make Asheville, unless we were on our way back home. I also didn’t plan to be traveling with a runaway and a hospital chaplain. Pretty soon the interruptions got to be as important to a journey as the miles we covered. I realized that I have resented intrusions into my plans all my life. Lily’s illness interrupted these last years of our life together, I resented that one most of all, but I’m not angry about that anymore.”

“You were angry—?”

Max leveled his face with hers considering his words before speaking.
“I have been angry with God, I suppose. Couldn’t admit it even to myself, but that’s the truth of it. This trip taught a stubborn old man how important it is to let others into Lily’s life and not keep her shielded from people. I thought I was doing right by her, but I was keeping her home more to prevent me from being embarrassed in public. I got to thinking I was the only one who could possibly care for my demented old wife. Little by little on this trip, you, Sophia, and now my kids have watched over and cared for Lily. In the last week or so—I’m losing track of time—I haven’t done a thing for her and she’s fine. I was like an old gander all puffed up with self-importance and honking at any one who got close.”

“You wouldn’t have read the letters either. You wouldn’t have known what really happened.”

“What?”
“The letters between Lily and Greta—you wouldn’t have read them if Lily’s mind had stayed on track. You wouldn’t have known the whole story and . . .”

“I would never have known how much I had failed Lily.”

Amanda wanted to respond. She wanted to tell him how much those letters, Greta’s story, had meant to her, how close her own story was to Olivia’s. The two seemed almost parallel. Late yesterday after the revelation in the State Police conference room, Amanda had talked for a long time with her Dad on the phone. That conversation left no doubt in her mind that she was his daughter and he would move heaven and earth to protect and care for her. If anything happened to her Mom, Paul Carmichael’s love for Amanda would not be disturbed. She wanted to reassure Max. In her heart she knew that Joel Levin had felt the same depth of fatherhood for Olivia, but she remained silent allowing Max to complete his thoughts.

“I spent a lot of time praying after I read those letters, but I couldn’t forgive myself. I wanted to talk to Lily about them. Telling you was selfish on my part. You became my confessor.”

“You mean like a priest?”

“Yes, just like that.”

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

She thought for a moment before answering.

“First, for telling me the story, I know it was hard to do, but as it turned out it was just what I needed to hear. Granny Nan said she had told you a little about my Mom’s story and all that . . .” Amanda hesitated unable to tell the story herself just yet. “ And for trusting me.”
Amanda diverted her eyes and drew a deep breath, “I don’t deserve your trust.” From her jeans’ pocket she pulled the crumpled fifty, handing it to him. Max straightened it out, cocked his head sideways and waited. Amanda took another breath.

“I wasn’t trustworthy. I lifted that fifty from the money you gave me to pay for the clothes—back in Cookeville.” With her head lowered she motioned in a generally westward direction. “Obviously, I didn’t trust you at all back then and every time I started to something else would happen. I wanted money for a getaway.” Her head popped up and she met his eyes, half expecting to see disappointment, but finding instead bewilderment.

“You stole this fifty in Cookeville?”

“Yes, and I am returning it now. I’m sorry.”

Max shook his head.

“Well, I didn’t miss it at all, but stealing is just plain wrong. Didn’t your folks teach you that?” The sternness in his voice reminded her of her first encounter with Max.

“Yes.” Her voice trembled. She had hoped he wouldn’t be mad, but she deserved it. Swinging her head away Amanda stared out the window hoping Max wouldn’t see the new tears forming in her eyes. He reached out and took her hand in his and held it tenderly until she turned back toward him.

“Truth is, Amanda, we’ve all done things that are just plain wrong. I wouldn’t be much of a Christian if I failed to forgive you. I need forgiveness everyday myself.”

Amanda wiped her face with the back of her free hand, managing a smile, “Thanks, Max,” Fresh tears formed, her lip trembled, and without another thought she reached out and hugged him. Blubbering into his shoulder, she could not see nor feel his tears falling on her head. “I’m going to miss you and Miss Lily . . . “then a giggle emerged through the sobs as she added, “And even bossy old Sophia.”

Max laughed deeply.

“You know whenever I need a laugh, I will just remember Sophia chasing you down in the church parking lot. You running in those crazy shoes and Sophia right on your heels. I hope you learned something from that.”

“Yeah, giants can run fast!” Her giggling stopped and she released Max to sit back. “Sophia stayed with me in Clyde until my Mom and grandmother got there. She was great.”

A nurse peeked around the corner.

“Mr. Carnes, do you feel like walking back to your room now? We don’t want to disappoint your doctor or delay your discharge, do we?”
“Just a couple more minutes, please.”

“Yeah,” Amanda responded, “I have to leave anyway.”

“Okay, I will be right back.” The nurse disappeared.

“Keep in touch,” Max said to her retreating form.

“What are you going to do from here?” Amanda asked.

“Same as when I started. I haven’t changed the plan; this is just another one of those minor delays. I am taking Lily to the ocean.” The tears were gone replaced by his familiar twinkle.

“Send me a picture and make sure Lily wears that great outfit we got in Cookeville.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek as she rose to leave.

“You can count on it.” Max said.

Amanda clutched at his hand, squeezing it as they made eye contact, hers were bright, his rheumy, but both sets were resolute. He clasped his free hand over hers as she held on tightly. They shook to seal the pact. At the door Amanda turned, smiled and gave a little wave before exiting. It stretched his recall to see the grungy smart mouthed girl with cotton candy hair in the young woman at the door.

“Promise?” she mouthed.

“Promise!” he responded, raising his right hand.

Braking Points–Chapter Twenty-Four

welcoming-baby-girl-BLOGChapter Twenty-Four

Bob Pritchett checked periodically on the threesome in the conference room. Whatever possessed him to turn them loose on each other must have worked because the atmosphere in the room was decidedly less icy than it had been. He had deposited a full container of tissues on the table in front of them during his last walk through, glancing back as he pulled the door shut once more. Three female hands reached for a tissue simultaneously.

For a few minutes Amanda, her mother and her grandmother dabbed at their tears in silence. Some of the holes had to be plugged. Amanda had read the journal entry and a couple more, so some of her assumptions had been true, but one assumption was that her Daddy, Paul Carmichael was her natural father. She wasn’t sure how to ask the question that burned inside. As it turned out she didn’t have to, Granny Nan answered the unasked question.

“You must be wondering about your Dad, Amanda?” She went on without waiting for a reply, “The man who helped your Mom up followed us home from the Women’s Reproductive Center in Wichita. He didn’t come to the door that day so it was only later that he told us that was how he contacted us. By the time he did, we had all decided that Ginny would carry you to term and then give you up for adoption. Of course, the Buchanan’s couldn’t deal with that, so Ginny gave Robert his ring back. After much discussion your Mom went back to the University of Tulsa to finish the semester.

Amanda looked at her mother and saw a familiar gentleness wash over her expression while Granny Nan talked. She had seen it so often when her mother looked at her or at her Dad. She had not realized how loved it had made her feel nor how much she had missed it. Granny caught it too and patted her daughter’s hand continuing to tie up a vital loose end.

One weekend afternoon about a month after the trip to Wichita, Paul Carmichael showed up at our front door asking to speak to our daughter. He didn’t even know her name. Your Granddad answered the door, but Ginny was right behind him. She gasped when she saw who it was and your Granddad almost threw him off the property.” Granny Nan paused, but her twinkling eyes told Amanda more than her words, “Fortunately, he didn’t.”

“Who, What, I don’t understand,” Amanda babbled.

“Your Dad was the man who scraped me off the wet pavement in Wichita, Amanda. He said he loved me at first sight.” Ginny laughed slightly. Bob Pritchett stuck his head in the door at the sound removing it quickly but not before smiling and muttering, “Darn, Mom Pritchett didn’t raise any dummies!”

“I was more than skeptical, but over the next several months, he proved his point. We married two weeks before you were born and he adopted you.”

Over the next hour three generations moved closer together than they had ever been as questions were raised and answers given in a free flowing conversation that spanned Amanda’s life to the present. Some areas were tougher to cover including Amanda’s running away and yet even that offered some light even funny discussion. They all agreed that someone had always been watching over Amanda. The sun was going down when they gathered their belongings to leave. Bob Pritchett joined them and they all thanked him. He grinned almost sheepishly.

“Where are you going from here? Are you heading back to Oklahoma today?”

“In a couple of days,” Ginny responded, “Amanda wants to stop and spend some time with Max Carnes at the hospital in Asheville and see his wife Lily in Greenville. We have tickets out of Greenville-Spartanburg on Friday.”

Amanda nodded, scooping up the fifty-dollar bill from the table and stuffing it into a pocket.

“I need to return something to him and see if he’s okay,” She acknowledged. “And I want to see Lily, too.”

“Well, I hear he’s doing pretty well. I am sure he will be glad to see you.”

Braking Points–Chapter Twenty-Three

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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.

Braking Points–Chapter Twenty-two

>mother-teenage-daughter
Chapter Twenty-Two

Ginny Carmichael touched the edge of the journal page Amanda had produced. The evidence against her—she half expected Amanda to announce: Prosecution Exhibit # 1, but she lowered her eyes and stared at her hands now clasped before her on the table. The significance the fifty-dollar bill was a mystery, but there was no doubt about the journal page. She recognized her own handwriting and could clearly remember the entry. Tears pooled in her eyes. She didn’t need to read the words to know what was there.

It took only a certain aroma in the air, a song, a thousand sensory triggers to catapult her back fifteen years. A tentative reach to smooth Amanda’s hair produced a visible flinch as her daughter recoiled. Ginny withdrew her hand and placed it on the torn journal page. She reached with her other hand and pulled out three notebooks. The fronts of each had dates written on them with broad pen strokes; wordlessly she placed them in chronological order. Amanda barely glanced at the books, her eyes down. Ginny felt her mother’s hand caress her shoulder and knew that Nancy was praying, a habit Ginny both dreaded and craved. The journals had been hidden, a chronicle for her own eyes with no thought that anyone else would read them or of the effect the pages might have especially on Amanda.

Ginny took a deep breath and opened one and found near the beginning of the journal the ragged evidence of the page Amanda had ripped from it. She replaced it and closed the book, but not without her own memories catching up with her.

It had been a beautiful fall season. Ginny was a junior at Tulsa University sharing an apartment with Lindsey Meadows and Tiffany Bridges. They were a compatible group. Ginny, especially was happy that fall because during the summer she had become engaged to Robert Buchanan, from Edmund, Oklahoma. He had given her a very impressive engagement ring. Her grades were good; her future looked fabulous. The single negative in Ginny’s life was that Robert was finishing his architectural degree in Stillwater at Oklahoma State University, but even that had a plus side because she wasn’t tempted to spend too much time with him and ignore her classes. Her life could not have been better. She shared this with Amanda although she could not tell if she was listening.

Ginny glanced at her mother, who understood her dilemma. Nancy nodded and Ginny continued, knowing she might turn back unless she forged ahead. She started with the bare facts while her eyes lifted to the windows across from her. The wind ruffled the leaves on the tree outside the window.

The wind had been blowing that October day when she and Tiffany were crossing from the Student Union to the McFarlin Library. Both girls were trying to no avail to keep their excessively teased hair from tangling without dropping their books and papers. Ginny closed her eyes and could feel the wind. Tiff and she lost control of their books simultaneously. Whoosh! The books hit the sidewalk and the loose papers sailed upward better than any paper airplane she’d ever seen. It was during the scramble that she heard male laughter, looking up she saw Tiff talking to a guy who looked slightly familiar but in a distant way, like someone you see frequently but don’t really know. He started grabbing at the papers with them and stayed until they were pretty sure they had captured the majority.

“Hey, Ginny, this is Tom Gentry.”

Ginny glanced up from where she knelt on the sidewalk reassembling the pages giving Tom a wave and smile. He smiled back and offered her his hand. She gratefully accepted it and stood. Tom continued to hold her hand applying pressure when she pulled away and then more when she attempted to yank it free.

“Ouch! Thanks for your help, but I need those fingers.”

He winked at her, raising his eyebrows before releasing her hand. His eyes drilled into her skull and the smile that had appeared so charming a few minutes earlier looked more like a sneer to Ginny. Tom spoke to Tiffany while still looking at Ginny.

“So, Tiffany, who’s your lovely friend?”

“Oh, Ginny Mayes meet Tom Gentry.”

“Jennie? Is it short for Jennifer?”

“No, Ginny, short for Virginia. Come on, Tiff, we need to get to the library.”

“Virginia.”

The way he said her name gave her the creeps.

“I am going on, Tiffany. I have a paper due next week.”

Tom grabbed her hand again and pulled her closer.

“So, Virginia?”

“Everyone calls me Ginny.” She hoped the ice in her voice would discourage him, but he snorted and squeezed her fingers until it really hurt. She let out a little gasp and he flicked her hand away, still sneering.

“Hey, Tom, Ginny’s taken, engaged.” Tiffany stepped up beside her roommate. Tiff’s voice was light; evidently she hadn’t gotten the same vibes Ginny had.

“That right? Well, I am really sorry.” The charming face returned, “I was just goofing around. I hope I didn’t hurt you. Let me make it up to both of you. A bunch of us are having a bash Friday night, why don’t you all come?” He looked directly at Ginny, “Bring your fiancé. It’s going to be some party.”
“I am sure I am busy.” Ginny said coolly. In retrospect she should have stood by that statement, but in the end she succumbed to Tiffany and Lindsey’s argument that with three of them together they could watch out for each other.

“Only trouble was, we didn’t.” Ginny said, turning her eyes from the conference room window to glance at her daughter.
***

The story that followed led Amanda on a convoluted path in her brain. As her mother’s story unfolded about her conception, she found herself remembering Greta’s story and another baby’s conception more than 60 years before. Her mind bounced from a campus party to a park in Savannah, Georgia. The more Ginny revealed the greater the kinship Amanda felt with Greta’s daughter Olivia. What if Max had never told her Greta’s story?

As Ginny disclosed the secrets and the grief that directed her pen on the pages of her journal, Amanda listened, initially with her eyes riveted forward. Nancy Mayes rubbed her daughter’s shoulders in encouragement but remained silent.

Ginny struggled forward reliving the event, she chose her words carefully because to Ginny Amanda was a still her little girl so even as she re-experienced that night she wanted to shield her from the horror.

When Tiffany, Lindsey and Ginny arrived at the fraternity house, the party had been going on for a while. The music wafted into the street and blasted their ears as soon as the door was open. Getting in required squeezing past pulsating bodies packed so tightly that what masqueraded for dancing was little more that vertical body rubbing. Ginny wanted to leave the second she arrived, but caught in the flow of people like being submerged in a rapidly moving river she finally surfaced near the bar.

In the crush of moving bodies she had been separated from her roommates. The mingling of body odors with booze along with a faint aroma of vomit added its own expression to the blasting music assaulting her senses and increasing her anxiety. Scenes from the nightly news flashed before her, trampling, fire, raids and collapsing structures filled her gut with a strange terror, which grew stronger as she found herself being crowded closer and closer by the crowd. Unable to push back or through the crowd, Ginny drifted with the flow, seeking escape at every pause in the movement.

“The party was in full swing when we arrived,” Ginny told Amanda, “There were people wall to wall. We got separated and I was very nervous, scared there might be a fire or something. I tried to get to an open space and found one on the staircase.”

***

When she reached the stairway, she stepped backward and up one step. For the first time since entering, she felt able to breathe; another backward upward movement increased her feeling of liberty. Unfortunately her flight ended with two more backward steps as two masculine arms embraced her. A look over her shoulder brought her face to face with a very inebriated Tom Gentry. Two other equally soused males moved closer to them. She struggled against his grip to the amusement of the others. The party of revilers less than four steps below her partied on oblivious or apathetic to her plight
.
Ginny shuddered as the clarity of the incident so many years past awakened within her senses an acute feeling of shame. It wasn’t a new feeling, but it never ceased being painful.

“I kept backing up on the stairs to get out of the crowd. I must have backed three or four steps when I bumped into Tom Gentry and two of his fraternity brothers.” Ginny gulped but continued, “They dragged me into a room upstairs. . .”

***

When Amanda was about to enter school, Ginny had a minor breakdown. Irrational fears about Amanda’s safety plagued her day and night. Eventually, she had spent a week in the hospital and then a year in therapy. It was there she had first revealed the whole story of that night to anyone other than Paul. The words she used to describe the actions of Tom Gentry and his fraternity brothers brought an unexpected reaction from her therapist.

Ginny had said, “You might say, those gentlemen had their way with me.”

Dr. Gwen Mallory, sat bolt upright in her chair at that description. Dr. Mallory was not given to emotional outbursts so it made her words stick in Ginny’s brain.

“GENTLEMEN? Three brutes, twice your size, take turns raping you and you call them gentlemen? Call them what they are, Ginny; they are CRIMINALS!”

***

The bile in her throat now reminded her of the horror and though she chose her words carefully, she did not use euphemisms to protect the guilty. With her eyes rigidly fixed on the edge of the table she described being dragged into a bedroom and attacked repeatedly. However, she chose not to say how she felt like a cast off dirty sock nor Tom Gentry’s parting words, “Get dressed, Virginia, and get out. At least you are ready for your wedding night.”

Sometime midway through the recollection, Ginny felt Amanda’s hand reach out and touch her arm. Ginny reached with her other hand, placing it over her daughter’s. Tears welled and spilled.

Her daughter’s touch liberated Ginny. The story tumbled out, with stops and starts, with gaping holes that raised completely new questions, but Ginny thus freed by her daughter’s hand continued. Robert Buchanan didn’t exit when Ginny told him about the attack; he believed her, but when she told him she was pregnant two months later, his solution was “get rid of it. You don’t even know who the father is. I won’t raise some jerk’s child. Abortion’s legal and surely even moral in a case like this.” His parents agreed, but hers balked, “Ginny, this baby is our grandchild”, but in the torment of the moment gave in. Granny Nan, just as the journal entry had said, drove Ginny to Wichita, Kansas to the Women’s Clinic to terminate her pregnancy.

For the first time since the emptying had begun, Ginny Carmichael reached for the torn sheet, preferring to read the words she had written, words that had driven her daughter to run. Her hands shook, but her voice remained level, monotonously level.

“It rained continuously all the way up I 35 this morning. Mom drove. We didn’t speak, not one word. What was there to say? All I could think about was how ashamed she must be of me. And Daddy just looks so sad. Whoever coined the term “love child” to cover the truth? Certainly this piece of tissue in me did not come from “Love”. Poor unloved little mass of cells, got no Daddy to want you, no grandparents to care and a mother wishing you had never implanted in her womb. Better to end your suffering now than to thrust you into arms that would just as soon you had never been born. That’s what I was thinking over and over again on the way to Wichita.

Well, it didn’t happen. Here I am home again and several hours more pregnant than I was before not because of the mass of protestors outside the clinic; I had braced myself for that. Mom walked beside me to the steps, her head down, red faced like a criminal. I almost made it in the front door, when I slipped on the pavement and fell hard on my knee. Mom tried to help, but it was one of the picketers who caught me before I tumbled down the stairs. I expected him to scream “murderer” in my face. I wish he had. He just smiled and gently pulled me to my feet. Someone was sobbing. I could hear her and then I realized the sobs I was hearing were mine. We drove home after that. I have a nasty bruise on my knee, a fanatic’s face in my brain and I am still carrying this loathsome reminder inside.”

Ginny barely made it through the last of the entry before breaking down.

Braking Points–Chapter Twenty-one

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Chapter Twenty-One
Greenville, South Carolina
“Are you hungry? Sharon has some soup and sandwiches fixed. Would you like to come out to the kitchen and eat with us?”

Who were these people? Lily stared at one of her interrogators, the brown haired one. Another woman, the silver haired one, stood in a doorway across the room. Behind their smiling faces evil lurked, Lily was sure of it. A regiment of these despicable terrorists had abducted her and subjected her to cruel punishments without a shred of remorse. They seemed to be enjoying themselves at her expense, teasing her, mocking her She shrunk back as “Brownie” reached out to pull her from the chair.

“No! No! Turn loose of me. Why don’t you leave me be? Who are you people?”

Lily saw “Silver” moving in to assist “Brownie” so she yanked her arm back. As she did the skin on her forearm peeled back and blood sputtered from a hundred different capillaries on the surface of the tear. She looked down at the wound, at the arm and screamed.

“Sharon, get a damp cloth. Her skin is so fragile. We’ll need another large gauze pad and antibiotic cream, too. Sh-h-h, Momma Lily. We’ll get you all fixed up.”

The calming voice might fool some of their captives, but Lily wasn’t fooled. They’d patch her arm, before they drug her to the torture chamber. As hard as she tried to remember all that had taken place since they’d brought her here, only a few of the most terrifying experiences remained clear, and even those were incomplete like pictures torn in half.

In the shadows of her mind other horrors flitted into view only to dissipate before she could see them clearly. She glimpsed herself naked and screaming. Her throat constricted and her mouth dried out remembering vaguely a spoon being forced between her lips. Images drifted in and out of the fog in her brain. One thing was certain they wouldn’t stop until she was dead, but as big and evil as these monsters were, Lily didn’t plan to die without a fight. If she stayed, she’d be dead soon.

Escape was her only chance for survival.