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Braking Points

Exploring the Adventure of Aging

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Braking Points–The Novel

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.”

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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.

Braking Points–Chapter Twenty

Trooper badge
Chapter Twenty
North Carolina State Police

Bob Pritchett of the North Carolina State Police sat across the desk from Amanda and her mother. Amanda’s mother and grandmother had arrived at the hospital in Clyde in the early hours following Amanda’s admission. For three days attempts at any communication beyond strained politeness had proven to be a legion of false starts that intensified the awkwardness for all involved.

As a member of law enforcement, Bob Pritchett had experienced the human failure to communicate on several occasions. The mother-daughter anguish in front of him aroused both sympathy and irritation. The victim, Amanda Carmichael, slumped in the upholstered chair barely making eye contact with him and not at all with her mother. The mother—he looked at his paperwork—Virginia Carmichael sat rod upright with the merest portion of her bottom on the edge of a chair identical to her daughter’s. Their body language spoke volumes.

The mom’s eyes flitted from Amanda to the trooper; several times he noticed she started to speak, but buried the urge as quickly as it emerged. Being a parent, he recognized in Mrs. Carmichael’s behavior the burning desire to tell her daughter to sit up straight and act right—to somehow take control of the situation—but with obvious restraint she sucked them inward and held her silence.

Given the attitudes of the pair and the information he had obtained, he chose to balance his tone on a narrow ledge somewhere between stern law enforcer and compassionate friend. He elected to share first the status of the two truckers. Dave and Ray had been apprehended at a weigh station near Charlotte; currently both were in the custody of the local sheriff’s department. Both men had records; Ray’s ex-wife had a restraining order against him, because of his violent tendencies. Trooper Pritchett lumbered through the information before pausing with his finger on the report. He looked up and waited until Amanda lifted her head and locked eyes with him before continuing. This concerned her and by golly he wasn’t going to deliver another ounce of information to the air above her head.

“The hole we found in Ray’s forearm matches the chunk of flesh we found in your teeth; he’s being treated for a nasty infection. Just for future information the human mouth is packed with bacteria; bites often lead to infection. The two of them will probably be out on bail before you get back to Oklahoma, but that’s one of the things I need to talk to you about. The District Attorney wants to get a deposition from you before you leave and you will need to come back if there is a trial.”

“You mean they’ll just go free? What do you mean if there is a trial? They kidnapped my daughter!” Virginia Carmichael’s voice provided a sharp interjection into the conversation. She reached to take Amanda’s hand as she plunged in. Amanda snatched her hand back without a glance at her mother. She locked eyes with Bob. The reaction was not lost on Bob Pritchett and he made a mental note that the difficulties that had sent this child fleeing would continue to deepen unless resolution happened soon.

He curbed his own reaction tendency. His upbringing—including the occasional peach switch applied to his skinny legs and the department’s rigorous communication training—compelled him to be polite. He moved his head and eyes to the child’s mother.

“No, ma’m they will not just go free, but it might be in everyone’s best interest if they plead out. And, Mrs. Carmichael, technically they did not kidnap your daughter. They have been arraigned on their treatment of her after she entered their truck. Her deposition will help with the process to make them responsible for their actions.” He turned back to Amanda noticing the tint of her face pale while her lower lip quivered.

“Can I do it right now?”

“No, we will set up an appointment for tomorrow. . .”

“No, I want to do it today, now. I have to get to Asheville to check on Max.”

“Amanda!” Ginny Carmichael popped, her voice a good deal sharper than she had intended. Amanda straightened from her slumped sitting position and faced her mother full on for the first time since their arrival. The look bordered on contemptuous, but her voice leveled as she directed her response to Bob Pritchett and her mother.

“Max and Lily have taken care of me for days now. I was hiding out from another scumbag like Ray and Dave when I first ran into them. I have to talk to Max. I know they say he is going to be okay, but I have to talk to him. I want to do the deposition today and go on to Asheville!” Her voice trembled, but she worked to control it. Bob Pritchett made a note, took the phone number at the Holiday Inn Express and Ginny’s cell phone number.

“I will see what I can do.” He shut the folder and stood. Ginny and Amanda followed his example and exited the office in silence. Nancy Mayes met them in the lobby, but the sullen silence that infested the group of three held their tongues to the floor. Bob Pritchett shook his head as the three females exited.

****

With some cajoling the deposition was arranged for 2 pm in a small conference room at the station. All parties arrived on time and an hour later it concluded. Amanda had shared her account of the incident. The court reporter and the legal counselors packed up and left. For all intent and purpose the business was concluded until further notice, but the three sat. An atmosphere of ice prevailed in spite of the bright sunlight that bathed the room. Mrs. Carmichael and Mrs. Mayes dabbed at their eyes, while Amanda sat like a slab of marble next to them.

Bob knew his limitations—family counseling was way over his head—but someone needed to say something to this family. His gut—not always as reliable in situations like these as it was to signal hunger—told him that these ladies and that little girl needed to square off with each other and let the punches fly. Mrs. Pritchett’s baby boy Bob decided with his gut.

“I have two daughters at home myself.” The heads all turned his way with identical expressions of confusion. He continued. “Doreen is 17 and Ellen is 12. I don’t know what I would do if one of them took off over some piddling bit of teenage angst.” He watched Amanda as her expression suggested protest. He raised the palm of his hand to silence her. “I do know if either of them ever did, I would want to get it all out on the table when I found them. Packing stuff up inside—well, it doesn’t solve a thing. Now” Bob Pritchett stood. “I am going to go get a cup of coffee and I am going to close that door behind me and leave you ladies to get the matter settled.”The three sputtered in protest, but Bob strode to the door pulling it closed behind him leaving the ring. He’d check periodically to see if anyone had drawn blood.

Amanda spoke first after Bob exited reciting the Lord’s Prayer as her mother and Granny Nan gaped at her. At the conclusion, they echoed her “amen”. She pulled two crumpled pieces of paper from her jeans pockets; with care she spread them out on the table, smoothing the creases as best she could with her hands. All eyes studied the objects, the page of a journal and a fifty-dollar bill.

Braking Points–Chapter Nineteen

combineChapter Nineteen
Asheville, North Carolina

Something is definitely wrong with this combine, Max thought. The noise had been growing steadily louder and less intermittent than when Max had first noticed it. The sun glittered on the golden grain ahead of him. He was having some trouble remembering how many acres remained to be harvested, but the noise in the combine signaled a problem that was going to require stopping. There’s too much to do. I can’t stop now, but the noise only grew louder.

When he looked down at the controls to turn off the combine, he was suddenly baffled. Why on earth was he holding his army rifle and wearing fatigues? Without warning, he found himself flat on his back and realized some sort of animal with rubbery skin had him bound. He heard suction and felt it in his throat. The creature was sucking the life out of him. He fought back yanking at the tentacles that held him. He could hear voices. Andrew’s? Did the creature have him, too? Got to help him! Wrestling against the beast, his eyes flew open and he stared into the face of his attacker.

“Mr. Carnes, relax. The doctor’s going to take some of these tubes out.” The small sandy haired girl in green scrubs motioned to a figure near the end of the bed that moved in closer.
“Dad, it’s Andrew. Relax. Everything’s okay.”

Max stared at his son. He looked up and around the room taking in the scenery. No combine, no rifle and no monsters that he could see, but the noise continued. He tried to say something but a large garden hose in his throat stopped him. He raised his hands and noticed the sandy haired girl ready to snatch them back if he bothered anything. He stuck his fingers in his ears and mouthed, “Too Loud.” Andrew and the young nurse chuckled.

“That’s one of the first things that the doctor will turn off. It won’t be long now.” She scooted out of the tiny cubicle. Max’s eyes fell on the clock and calendar on the wall across from the end of the bed. The furrow between his eyes deepened and he pointed to them, mouthing, “How long?”

‘Four days–we’ll talk about it later—after they get you detached. There are a lot of people here to see you, lots praying for you, too, back home, Greenville, here in the hospital.”

“Lily?” His lips formed the words as the impact of his time apart from the world descended.

“Mom’s doing fine, Dad. Millie and Sophia took her on to Greenville to Sharon and Barry’s house.”

Max nodded. His eyelids began to feel heavy. The mattress curled up around him pulling him farther and farther into its billowy depths. The noise grew more distant, fading as he sank into the cushioned banks. Succumbing to the warmth and softness, he felt Andrew pat his hand.
When Max awoke again, the room was silent and dimly lit, the date on the calendar had not changed but the clock indicated 6 hours had passed. Vaguely he could recall waking slightly two or three times, before sinking again into sleep. The machine responsible for the noise was gone as was the garden hose in his throat. The quietness was seductive. Before he realized what was happening, he slept again.

*****

The intensive care family waiting room represented the current trend in hospital décor—providing an atmosphere unlike a hospital. The muted indirect lighting around the edges of the ceiling matched the barely audible classical music that drifted through the filtered air. A kiosk laden with coffee, tea and condiments, and a basket of candies and snacks from a local church group sat in a corner.

Periodically, a pink-coated lady appeared and tended to it, coming and going so quietly that the families and friends of the ICU residents rarely noticed her. Partitions in the room provided areas of privacy, but while family members did chose one area or another, everyone soon knew who they had in one of the cubicles beyond the double doors and could have easily updated anyone who called on any patient.

Sofas and chairs along with end tables on which sat attractive lamps and art work reminiscent of the work of the Impressionists completed the environment, which resembled a lounge in a five-star hotel. The trick failed, no one thought this was a hotel, but at least the furniture was comfortable and the coffee drinkable.

Ryan folded the newspaper he had been trying to read and placed it on the cherry wood table in front of him. He removed his reading glasses and out of habit rubbed the bridge of his nose. Leaning back into the cushions of the sofa he focused on the room that had been home to the Carnes siblings for days. Pamela would appreciate the use of therapeutic ambiance to help families during a difficult time. He considered calling her but discarded the thought. She had moved on and he needed to acknowledge the severance. He would too if only the phantom pain that had him seeing and hearing her in his head and even like now as his ears tuned to the subdued music hearing her in poignancy of Mozart.

Movement at the double doors caused him to sit up as Andrew returned from his Dad’s cubicle. Pamela or at least the absence of Pamela vaporized leaving behind only the stump. Ryan had no intention of studying the wound now that the blood had dried. The stitches held and he was almost learning to walk alone without leaning on her.

The music receded to inaudibility as a flutter of Carnes’s plus Davis arose to greet a smiling Andrew. The reports since Max had emerged from surgery had all been good, better in fact than any of them had hope given their father’s age but the smile on his youngest brother’s face bordered on more than relief and good news—Andrew’s face fairly burst with amusement.

“He thinks he’s riding a combine that’s been taken over by aliens.” Andrew laughed. Peggy, always the most serious, Ryan thought—not realizing that was the position assigned to him by the younger three—looked aghast.

“You think that’s funny? Daddy’s talking out of his head and you think that’s funny?” Peggy sputtered giving all of them who joined Andrew in laughter a decidedly dirty look. Only Davis attempted to rein in his laughter, which Ryan noted caused him to look like a blow fish.

“Peggy!” Andrew interjected between chuckles, “He was just dreaming. We had a sensible conversation too. He wanted to know about Momma. They are taking the tubes out and will probably move him to a less critical room in a few hours.”

“Oh, when can we see him again?”

“Couple of hours, but he may move by then.”

“That’s great.” A chorus of Carnes’s chimed.

Others in the room waiting for encouragement about their patients came over to bask in the sunshine of Max’s progress. Ryan took hold of Andrew’s arm and drew him aside.

“Andrew, I’d like to have a few minutes alone with Dad next time he can have visitors.”

If that request baffled Andrew, he didn’t let it show. “Sure, Ryan. I know Dad will like that.” Andrew continued to exhibit grace, Ryan thought, not unbraiding him for the neglect of his parents he’d practiced since their mother’s diagnosis and the amputation of Pamela from his life. In a surge of uncharacteristic affection Ryan hugged Andrew patting him the perfunctory three times on the back before releasing him. Andrew did look baffled at that, as did the others. So what, Ryan said to himself and for the first time since he grudgingly decided to join this mini reunion turned into hospital vigil Ryan was glad to be with them all. Other than with Pamela there was no other place he’d rather be.

Braking Points–Chapter Eighteen

ICUChapter Eighteen

The murky fog, surrounding him, was like no fog he’d ever experienced. He felt buoyant floating not on top of the vapor, but within it. Occasionally Max heard voices in the distance, but he had no interest in them. The puddle of mist rocked him gently. The presence of his arms and legs lying curiously still, bobbing along with the ebb and flow of the misty cushion failed to alarm him. Max desired nothing more than to drift in this warm sea. A whoosh of noise rose and fell with the movement of his chest. Oxygen flowed through him, but he was not conscious of breathing. Was he dying? Did life here on earth end as it began—in the womb? Would the contractions of labor soon start or had they already begun pushing him through the birth canal into the arms of God?

Thoughts fled his mind as quickly as they formed as he floated along, whirling now and then. The warm sunlight filtered through the leaves dancing like fairies on the water. He watched it flicker on the current that carried him along creek. The sounds of his brothers’ voices scuffling on the bank ended with a sharp splash that rocked him on the old inner tube. Seconds later, he felt a thrust from beneath the water tilting him up, over and into the icy spring. He surfaced furious to encounter the laughter of Ed and Mitch who tussled with each other over the lone tube. Max splashed water on both of them and grabbed at the tube only to be upended again. Max raged to no avail against his brothers while Fred squalled from the bank for them to cut it out or he was going to tell. Hot headedness fueled Max so that making him mad was half the fun. If the tube hadn’t started floating away no telling how long the battle would have lasted.

He tried to reach for it but the hazy cocoon curled her fingers around him drawing him out of ear shot of his brothers. The rhythmic whoosh returned like the melodic beat of milk being hand pressed from a cow’s udder. His hands remembered the rolling motion that coaxed the milk into the bucket. Every morning and evening, but early on Saturday night, the Carnes brothers milked. Saturdays were special especially in the summer. The lot of them would finish up early, pile into the back of the back of Daddy’s old pickup truck and head into Trenton.

“Hey, Thad, Mary Ellen Bryson’s sweet on you. You plan on courting her tonight?”

“Golly, Mitch, I’ve got better things to do in town than hang around with old Mary Ellen.”

“Such as?”

“Such as—Nothing!” Ed made wild kissing noises in the air, while the others hooted with laughter and good natured punches. Henry Robert and Donald sat backwards in the seat of the pickup cab, wedged between Walter and Opal, eyes wide with envy watching every movement their older brothers made.

The gray ocean shifted and moved, but Max’s body and limbs remained suspended. He felt nothing but the mild rocking of the waves, but he sensed the faintest of breezes and a mild fragrance he tried to identify only to have it drift away. The muted voices somewhere beyond the shadows returned. While they were indistinguishable, mere jargon absorbed by the watery haze their message soothed Max’s senses. Yet those hushed voices drifted in and out leaving only the rhythmic whoosh centering his being and those long past—the tires on Daddy’s truck, the spirited voices of his brothers and the community that gathered in front of the General Store in Trenton on Saturday night.
*****
If Sophia had not known the form in the bed was Amanda, she might have excused herself and stepped out of the room. Most of the plastic apparatus had been removed, but the filth covering her face and clothing obscured her features. Sophia noticed a stench of ammonia not unlike what she had encountered in her visits to residents of some long term care facilities.

Amanda’s hair hung in tangled strands full of burrs, twigs and assorted other debris she’d picked up in her roll down the embankment. There were fine streaks on her face from crying, but her eyes were dry at present. Several deep scratches on her face, neck and arms glared as blood mixed with dirt coagulated. The sum of the parts rendered the picture of a battered child, but the totality of Amanda’s physical appearance could not capture the fragility Sophia sensed as their eyes met. She gasped before she even realized she had. Amanda’s lower lip trembled but she didn’t cry. Sophia wished she could take the gasp back, but could not.

“Dear, child, you look pitiful.” Then with hope of lightening the dismal scene, Sophia added, “You have got to stop rolling around in the dirt!”

Amanda tried to smile, but the attempt failed. The possibility of a comeback eluded her, but there was gratefulness in her eyes. Sophia moved quickly to her side and fingered one of her scratched hands avoiding the application of any pressure
.
“I am so sorry, Sophia. I heard you on the phone talking about my Mom and Granny Nan coming to get me. I am such an idiot. . .” Her words dropped as a sob rose from her throat. Tears pooled in her eyes rolling over the rims in sheets rather than drops.

Sophia grabbed a tissue from the night stand and patted gently at Amanda’s face while Amanda tried to catch her breath between sobs. Amanda grimaced with pain. Sophia jerked her hand back
.
“Did I hurt you?”

Amanda shook her head still trying to get her breath, “No, it’s, it’s my left side. They think maybe I have a broken rib or two.”

“Amanda, they need to get you x-rayed and treated. They have permission from your Dad. He’s really worried. Your Mother and Grandmother arrive in Greenville tonight.”

Amanda sniffed deeply, wincing each time.

“Max, what happened to Max?” She grunted in between gasps.

“The accident, when he hit his head—back in Tennessee–he has a brain bruise that’s gotten swollen. He passed out, had a seizure at the Rest Stop.” Sophia knew her words sounded rushed, but Amanda’s need for medical attention superseded any elaboration. “They are taking him to Asheville for surgery—in fact, he may be gone by now. His kids are meeting him there.”

Amanda tried to speak, but fresh tears appeared leaving Sophia to wave off any further questions.

“Later, Child, Lily and I will be here. You let them get you fixed up.” Sophia backed from the room bumping two attendants with a gurney. They obviously had been waiting at the door. A registered nurse followed them into the room.

Braking Points–Chapter Seventeen

stretcher

Chapter Seventeen

Amanda clung to the warm sheet the paramedics had placed over her in the ambulance. Her head and neck had been stabilized with a contraption akin to a strait jacket. An IV drip worked to rehydrate her system and a fiberglass boot held her ankle firm. The whole experience whirled around in her brain making her a little dizzy. How long had she lain on that patch of earth below the highway? It was still daylight so it couldn’t have been all that long. The greatest physical sensation she had at the time of her rescue was thirst; her throat burned and her lips were parched.

The people who found her allowed her only a few sips of water until the emergency team arrived. She wanted to thank them, but they drifted out of her line of sight and then she was being loaded into the ambulance. Her agitation mushroomed as Amanda realized she hadn’t treated them very well when they found her and now she’d lost the opportunity. Unable to move, Amanda began to wail.

Somehow the fact that she hadn’t said “thank you” to the Bells overlapped her concern about what had happened to Lily. Her lungs and vocal cords worked amazingly well considering the restrictions the rest of her body endured. The paramedic, a woman named Josie, reassured her that the Bells were following them into the hospital but she didn’t know about Lily. They would find out at the hospital, if that was where she’d been transported. With those words she quieted for the rough ride into Clyde, North Carolina.

******************
“Looks like the Weigh Station is open, Ray.”

“Figures! Just what we need, one more delay!” He thumped the stirring wheel with his fist and winced. Blood trickled down his arm. He slung it across the cab splattering everything in sight including Dave.

“Watch it! That looks nasty. Maybe you should…”

“What? See a doctor? Just get the First Aid Kit out of the back, squirt some of that antiseptic stuff on it and bandage it. I should have bashed her head in.”

“Don’t say that.”

Ray guided the truck into line on the long ramp to the scales. Scales always slowed transportation, but these guys must be training new help, he reasoned as he edged the rig along. Maybe they are running only one scale. He craned his head out the window aware that traffic behind him was piling up and he couldn’t really see what was going on up front.

Dave finished bandaging the injured arm, so he jerked it away and turned up the CB radio. In a few minutes he had the scoop from the front. State Police and the Feds were checking every truck looking for that missing teenager. A slide of his eyes right told him Dave’s color resembled a dingy sheet.

“Just don’t mess your jeans, Davey. You see any teenage girls in here? Keep your mouth shut.” The cockiness in Ray’s voice contradicted the worms crawling in his gut.

**********

The afternoon in the emergency lobby passed with stretches of boredom and moments of frenzy. The Carnes family had arrived at the hospital in Asheville a good two hours ahead of the patient. Sophia had managed to get Max’s neurologist in Clyde connected to the family to explain Max’s current status and the surgical plan once he arrived in Asheville. Sophia eavesdropped on the conversation with not the slightest hint of guilt and she talked to Millie later after the neurosurgeon waiting for Max’s arrival located the family at St. Joseph’s.

Max currently was being kept in a drug induced coma to prevent any further swelling on his brain. The surgery would be relatively simple and presented few complications. It involved burring holes in his head or something like that. Sophia wondered if the surgeon would think having holes drilled in his skull was minor. The family would be able to see Max before the surgery, but he would not be conscious. Afterwards he would be in Intensive Care for at least 24 to 36 hours.

Lily lay curled like a cat on one of the lobby couches, sleeping. Amanda’s arrival by ambulance managed to topple several emotional apple carts, leaving Sophia feeling like a damp rag that had been sparred over by two Jack Russell terriers. It took all the self-restraint Sophia could muster to keep from swooping down on the gurney when the EMS team rolled Amanda in looking like a fiberglass igloo. Lily, unshackled from mere protocol had shown no such restraint.

Sophia had noticed Lily’s approach on the arm of a nurse immediately after the automatic doors sprang open to allow the paramedics to enter with Amanda, but was as surprised as the others at her reaction to the scene. There was no mistaking the look of terror on Lily’s face at the sight, but nothing prepared her for either the speed with which Lily reached the gurney or the strength or accuracy with which she shoved the attendant’s hand from the rails.

Sitting on the couch now, Sophia eyed the frail woman. Where did that burst of energy come from? Surely the shot of adrenaline alone could have killed her, but instead it shoved her into overdrive. More than anything, Sophia wished she could crawl inside Lily’s brain so she could follow better the divergent paths her cognition took. Sophia couldn’t help but chuckle quietly remembering the stunned expression of the young woman as Lily took charge.

“Greta, oh Greta,” Lily patted Amanda’s hand before staring down the paramedic and demanding, “Did she get caught in the rubble or was she hit by a bomb? Is she ok?”

Ignoring the young paramedic’s silence and gaping mouth Lily turned back to Amanda, who was grasping for her with her free hand.

“Greta, I’ve come to take you home, you and Olivia. Max sent me. I don’t know how, but we are going home away from Hitler and his Nazi thugs. I’m here, Greta.”

“Oh, Lily, I thought you were hurt or dead,” Amanda sobbed, unable to wipe the tears of relief from her face.

It was Lily’s turn to look baffled, “Dead, hurt, why would you think that?”

“The ambulance, the Buick. . .Who was in. . .?” Sophia moved within Amanda’s line of vision. Understanding and the darkness of realization descended in Amanda’s eyes as she locked on Sophia’s face and saw her mouth the word, “Max.”

The exchange between Sophia and Amanda was lost on Lily who still stood firmly fixed in a time long past and addressed the medical team who now moved in to regain the territory Lily had invaded. Lily patted Amanda’s arm and whispered loudly to the paramedic.

“Poor Greta, it must be shell shock. She’s completely out of her head.”

God Bless her. Sophia thought recalling the remark with clarity as she sat watching Lily sleep. It takes one to know one.
*
Telling Amanda about Max fell directly on Sophia’s shoulders. The hospital staff had contacted Amanda’s father in Oklahoma and the delicate business of providing necessary medical care to his minor daughter didn’t present as an issue Sophia had to tackle. The immediate problem wasn’t tied to permission to treat. Amanda refused any treatment until she had some information about Max. She wanted, no demanded to see Sophia. Typical behavior, Sophia thought.
Marcy stepped in again to watch after Lily, promising to stay right with her. Sophia watched as Marcy pulled a chair up to her desk, helping Lily to sit, just like a teacher with a difficult student. Sophia barely had time to meet the Bells, Dean and Shannon, but the officer in charge wanted a few words with them anyway. Nothing stood in the way of her speaking to Amanda, except her own trepidation. Steadying her insides, Sophia walked toward the ER treatment room Marcy indicated, determined to let Amanda set the tone of the conversation.

In a matter of a few hours too much had happened to allow setting the whole mess upright in one conversation. She knew that the team had arrived to transport Max to Asheville, but the outcome of his condition dangled without a predictable conclusion. The troopers had not revealed much information about what had happened to Amanda after she entered the cab of that truck nor had they shared how she ended up on a ledge off the interstate. She did know they were looking for two men for questioning. A sick feeling at the possibilities halted her steps for a moment. With the professionalism of an experienced Chaplain, she realized she had no time for this. The gremlins playing havoc with her insides would have to step aside. She knocked on the door and entered.

Braking Points–Chapter Sixteen

van

Chapter Sixteen

The distance between Greenville, South Carolina and Asheville, North Carolina stretched the way time and miles so often do when you want to compress it. The first half hour, the occupants of the Carnes van passed in relative silence with the exception of Millie and that confounded cell phone. Amanda, the runaway child, had been found alive. Ryan sighed in unison with the others, but resented the child’s interference into his parents’ lives. He still bristled remembering her attitude and lack of truthful communication during their single phone conversation.

He noticed Millie sniffled a few times when she relayed the good news to Sharon. Ryan watched the road from the passenger side next to Barry, who drove. He felt somewhat more connected to Barry simply because neither of them had been responsible for letting their feeble elderly parents take off on a joy ride across the southeast. The guilty parties rode behind their elder siblings.

Ryan hated symbolism—a major point in the demise of his late but not yet buried marriage—but at the present could not help but relish the fact that the sane Carnes offspring were at the helm. Barry was pilot and he was co-pilot though he wished that those roles were reversed since Barry drove like—what was it his mother had always said when they’d get stuck behind a slow driver—like a little old lady out for a Sunday afternoon drive.
Momma had a bit of a lead foot, Ryan remembered. She hated wasting time getting from one point to the next. The thought brought a half smile to his mouth. Barry obviously hadn’t gotten his driving preferences from Momma. An unplanned chortle escaped.

“What’s funny?” Barry asked. Ryan glanced his way. There he sat perfectly erect, hands at ten and two, eyes straight ahead. Ryan’s chuckle swelled to a hoot, which thanks to years of university classrooms he managed to reel in quickly.

“Momma didn’t teach you to drive, did she?”

“No, I was one of the first students in Driver’s Ed classes, why?”

“Because you drive like a little old lady on a Sunday afternoon and Momma never did.”

Barry started to sputter in his defense but Andrew broke in from the far back.

“That’s for sure and she didn’t slow down as she got older either. She about scared me to death one time about 8 or 9 years ago. She insisted on driving herself into town to a doctor’s appointment, but Millie insisted that one of us needed to go with her, because even then she was having some trouble remembering things.”

“I offered to go,” Millie interjected.

“Well, anyway, I went. I got into the car and before I hardly had my foot inside and the door closed, she hit the accelerator. We bounded backwards so fast that I barely had my seatbelt on when she whipped out of the driveway onto the road and I swear to you never checked over her shoulder or in the rearview mirror.

Soon as we hit the road, she dropped it from reverse to drive and hit the gas again. I remember saying something like ‘Momma, slow down, we’ve got plenty of time.’ She gave me one of her ‘Momma looks’ straight from childhood memories. You all know the one—‘be quiet or you’ll be out walking, young man.’”

The van erupted with laughter and “Momma-isms” from the four siblings, Peggy’s husband, Davis and Millie. The convergence of memories from childhood to the present produced the strongest ambiance of family they had experienced in years. With the atmosphere relaxed, even Ryan sensed a change of his own attitude. His years at Princeton served as a buffer between who he had been as a child and the person he pretended to be on a daily basis.