Millie squeezed Molly’s hand and wondered if by daylight she would extend another act of kindness and love. The feelings of guilt and worthlessness were always the first signs the manic stage was over, that her body, mind, soul, and spirit had peaked and she was spiraling downward, out of control. She prayed, doubting it would do any good.
Six months ago Dr. Maharaja prescribed Latuda for Millie’s depression, worried that some of her symptoms fit a schizophrenia diagnosis, especially the voices she occasionally heard. Millie opened her purse, removed the bottle of Latuda pills, and placed one under her tongue. She didn’t want to wait until tonight to take one as prescribed. Now was tonight, she told herself as the bus picked up speed heading for Pittsburgh.
Five minutes later Millie couldn’t decide if she was dreaming or simply exploring her memories. Either way, the guilt and worthlessness were center stage, wrapping her inside a heavy cloak of mistakes that engulfed her reality.
Millie had grown up as the only child in a happy household on the outskirts of Sanford, North Carolina. Her father wanted her to follow in his footsteps and become a lawyer. Although a good student at Lee County High School, Millie was an outdoorsy girl who liked to build things and, she wanted to travel. Uncle Dennis, her mother’s brother, was an expert welder and advised his niece to do what he’d done twenty-years earlier. He’d spent half-a-day at the high school and then rode a bus to Central Carolina Community College to learn to weld. After graduating he’d joined the local union and become a journeyman welder. “My job has taken me all over the country. If you want to see inside a nuclear silo, then become a journeyman welder. And, that’s what Millie did, to the consternation of her father.
In late summer 2006, a year after graduating from Lee County High School, Millie was given a four-month assignment at Belews Creek Steam Station in Stokes County, N.C. There, she met a dark-haired lumberjack figured man from North Alabama named Michael Lewis Tanner. Like Lewis, it was Millie’s fifth assignment as a union welder since turning eighteen. The two worked along with a hundred others side-by-side at the Duke Energy power plant during the day. Three weeks after meeting, simple and easy conversation and mutual attraction triggered a passionate romance. Time, touch, and talk came to a standstill when December came and new assignments appeared. Alabama Power’s Greene County Electric Generating Plant in Demopolis, Alabama for Millie. Nisource, Inc.’s Schahfer Generating Station in Wheatfield, Indiana for Lewis.
After a month of separation and a call or two per week, Millie sensed Lewis’ feelings were quickly waning and their intimacy had been nothing more than curiosity for the two nineteen year old inexperienced lovers. Then, Millie learned she was pregnant. This changed everything for Millie. There was never a doubt, she would become a mother and somehow raise her child; she would marry Lewis and they’d love their daughter (it had to be a girl) like her parents had loved her. But, a week later, when Millie finally got the courage to tell Lewis, he was cold, uncaring, and seemingly unwilling to shoulder any degree of responsibility. This had been the last time Millie and Lewis had talked, until August the second 2007, the day after Molly Leigh Anderson was born.
This time, Lewis was kind, sympathetic, open to a friendship, and willing to bear some of the costs of raising their daughter. However, things had changed for him. He was now a long-haul truck driver for J.B. Hunt, having completed his training in early July. The open road was now his life, and he’d come home, at most, once a month.
Lewis wasn’t the only one who’s life had taken a detour. In late April, after the Greene County job in Demopolis, Alabama ended, six months pregnant Millie returned to Sanford and her parents home. This time, she listened to her father, “picking up roots every three or four months is not the life for you and our grandchild. You need to go back to school, maybe become a teacher. You can live here with me and your mom and commute to my alma mater.”
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill had to wait, but Central Carolina Community College was the place to start. It took Millie a year to complete the associate’s degree she’d begun as a high school junior, plus, during this time, she’d had Molly and begun working for her father at his law firm. The latter had silenced her desire to become a teacher and seeded a growing interest in someday becoming a lawyer.
However, by Fall 2009, a smothering home environment and mounting tension with her mother over the raising of young Molly was fueling Millie’s impatience and need to blaze a new trail. Her sympathetic father came to the rescue and moved his daughter an hour away to Chapel Hill and paid the full tuition for the school’s Paralegal Certificate Program although it was mostly taught online.
Millie was startled to wakefulness when the loud speaker above her head announced the need for a detour. “Sorry ladies and gentlemen, we’ve got to exit here to avoid an overturned truck up ahead.” She raised her chair to upright and squinted down the bus’s center aisle. She couldn’t see anything but the white dashed lines in the road.
“A live-haul chicken truck turned over at the Franklin Park exit.” The anorexic-looking girl across the aisle declared holding a weird looking device attached via cables to her ears. The two met eyes and Millie semi-smiled and nodded her head as though saying thank-you for the update.
She activated her cell phone. It was 4:50 AM, and she was suddenly hungry. As she knew Molly was although she was still in a deep sleep, ear buds in, as though she hadn’t heard the blaring intercom.
Millie affixed her own ear buds, activated an Art Pepper playlist, and reclined her chair. She wanted to complete the journey she’d started over an hour ago.
In January 2010, certified as a paralegal by the North Carolina Bar Association, Millie was contacted by a legal recruiting firm based in Chicago. A week later—over the objection of her father who wanted Molly and Millie to return to Sanford and work with him—Millie flew to the windy city and interviewed with three law firms. By far her first choice was Quinn Law Offices but they didn’t extend an offer. With some hesitation, she settled on Winston and Strawn, the oldest firm in Chicago.
It was at a deposition a year later that Millie and Matthew Quinn met for the second time. Her professionalism and graceful assistance during the next hour prompted his phone call the next day. Three weeks later, Millie moved to the seventeen floor of Grant Thornton Tower and became a paralegal apprentice for the man who would become her number one fan and supporter.
For the next five years, all had gone as perfect as Millie could have wished or imagined, including the 2013 purchase of a cozy home on S. Princeton Avenue, and Molly’s exceptional adjustment and ongoing thriving at Harvard Elementary School.
Life was near perfect for the hardworking, hard-playing mother-daughter team until Millie met Colton Lee Atwood. Even after he moved in, life remained good. For the first year. Then, all hell broke loose.
“Greyhound Bus welcomes you to Pittsburgh. We’ll have an hour layover. Plenty of time for a good breakfast,” the bus driver’s deep voice resonated over the intercom.