Drafting–King of Prussia > Philadelphia

Millie watched Tracey as she walked across the parking lot toward the bus station. Lacy flakes were drifting out of the sky and slowly covering pavement, walkways, and the tops of cars a thin layer of white. Sunlight was sparkling in a glittering display.

The bus started to move and was soon winding its way around a small city park. Snow was threading through the trees and frosting branches and bushes. There were only a few tufts of dead grass poking their way up through the white oasis. Footprints were making paths in the fresh snow as people walked their dogs. Millie imagined small, meandering tracks by mice, chipmunks, and birds barely visible on the snow’s crust. And, further out of town, in the country side, deer, rabbit, and coyote prints were making trails in the woods. “If this continues, cold winds will force the snow into drifts. I hope we can stay on schedule.” She said to Molly who was staring outside her window at the developing beauty.
The snow brought back happy memories of childhood: sledding, making snowmen, playing outdoors, etc. Millie hoped this gift from nature had the power to pull her out of her dark thoughts long enough to notice and appreciate its beauty.

Millie stared at Molly who was still seated across the aisle next to the window with Tracey’s empty seat beaconing. The twelve-year-old was also staring, but not at her mother. She was staring toward a Costco as the bus crossed the 276 bypass. Was she thinking about their recent trip to the warehouse club, and what Christmas would be like this year?

The Costco Christmas shopping trip had started three-years-ago, December 2016, a week after Millie invited Colton to move in with her and eight-year-old Molly. What a mistake. But, like many things in life, it had started out good, even exhilarating. Memories of that first trip appeared: Colton, the carefree, respectful, loving lumberjack of a man insisted he pay for whatever Molly chose. The precocious child had long ago concluded Santa was a myth, so secrecy and surprise wasn’t a part of the game.

December 2017 was another fun-filled Saturday, the last of a three person, short-lived tradition. In early 2018, the verbal assaults began. That year ended with the first physical assault, and Millie and Molly, alone, Christmas shopping at Costco. This year, 2019, had been the same.

Molly reclined her seat and inserted her ear plugs, listening to music. Millie kept staring toward her daughter and through the window at the deepening snow. She hoped she’d made the right decision. A week ago after her and Molly’s Costco shopping trip she arranged for the giant retailer to gift-wrap and mail the items to Bird & Foley in New York City. Millie had bantered her options back and forth—torn between transporting them via car, or shipping them via FedEx or UPS—finally letting Molly flip a coin.

Now, she was convinced chance had chosen correctly. Storing them for a week at home would have been too much of a temptation for Colton. He’d ask too many questions and, if suddenly outraged, might destroy the items. And now, there was an equally persuasive reason that chance had done Millie and Molly a favor. Although there weren’t that many packages—two were rather small: the ones containing the Apple AirPods and the Wacom Digital Drawing Tablet–transporting them by Greyhound bus would have been problematic, especially given the Sofa Chair Molly had selected. It was pink, with no legs, had a high back, and didn’t fold. To say the least, even if Greyhound allowed, it would be rather bulky. Millie imagined that chance somehow knew the Sentra would die somewhere along their 900 mile journey.

Millie reclined her chair and smiled, determined she wouldn’t let anything, her mental health or the dark side of chance, interfere with this year’s Christmas holidays. Since Molly was born, Millie had never had two weeks off work during the Christmas season to spend with Molly. Yes, this year was shaping up to be the best they’d ever had.

Millie closed her eyes and imagined how it would be. Tomorrow, they’d do nothing but rest and buy groceries. On Monday, the two of them would hire an Uber and travel to Bird and Foley and retrieve the packages. While there, hopefully her boss, Stephen Canna, would give them a quick office tour and introduce them to other staff members. After returning to their apartment, they’d spend the rest of the day—and probably Tuesday—shopping and decorating their new apartment. Wednesday, Christmas Day, would be spent opening presents and trying out a few new recipes, Starting Thursday and for the next twelve days until January the 6th, they’d explore Manhattan, eat at fancy and not-so-fancy restaurants, and spend quality time together, forgetting the past and planning a wonderful future, wholly devoid of Colton Lee Atwood.

Molly inclined her seat and edged across the aisle. Her mom was in a deep sleep. “Mom, wake up, we’re in Philadelphia.” Molly nudged her shoulder, moving aside to let other passengers disembark. “Mom, we only have forty-minutes.” Slowly, Millie’s eyes opened. After a sixteen-hour day [RF, CHECK THIS], her eyelids felt like broken window blinds, rising and falling unevenly. She grabbed her phone, focusing a little. It was almost one PM. For several seconds Millie looked at Molly and her surroundings, believing she was still dreaming. “Mom, I’m hungry. Come on.”

The bus station was the worst one so far. A concrete landing with a covered awning reminded Millie of an old train station. Just outside the entrance was a giant metal garbage can with crumpled food wrappers, paper coffee cups, ticket stubs, and cigarette butts overflowing onto the ground.

Inside was somewhat better, just garbage of the human kind. Millie scolded herself for such a thought. People of all shapes, sizes, and colors were laying prostrate on black, metal benches scattered along the outer walls. Some had opened newspapers blanketed like bed-covers over their heads.

“There’s a Subway.” Molly pointed, pulling Millie along. The modern day fast food joint seemed out of place. The floors and walls were relics of times gone by, probably to a train station a hundred years ago. Molly made a mental note to record the contrasting elements into her writing notebook, and became sad. Sad that she’d never see Ms. Thornton again. Sad, that she would never again have such a caring, compassion, and competent writing teacher, one who’d take such personal interest in her students.

While the server was preparing Molly’s six-inch turkey on wheat, Millie’s cell phone rang. Since she hadn’t entered any Contacts, the cell screen read, “unknown caller.” She almost didn’t answer but then assured herself it had to be from either Matt or Catherine. They were the only ones she’d given her new number to. “I need to take this. All I want is a bag of plain chips, and maybe a cookie.” She turned, walked to the corner booth, and pressed the red answer button.

“Hello.” Millie said, sliding into the booth.

“Millie, it’s Catherine. It’s nice to hear your voice.”

Work. The past. Gone. What a blessing it would be to have such a supporter at Bird and Foley, Millie thought before replying. “Hey girl. Thanks for checking on us.”

“How’s New York?” Catherine asked, obviously not knowing about the Sentra’s death, or the nearly-as-painful bus slog.

Millie laughed. “We’re in Philadelphia. At a Greyhound bus station. The Nissan died.”

“Oh my gosh. I’ve never ridden a bus. You should try flying.” Catherine liked to poke and joke.

“So, how’s Houston?” Millie asked, thinking of how silly her ploy had been to misdirect Colton.

“Okay. A good place to visit, but I’d hate living here. Four too-many nosy parents. Catherine and husband Brett had grown up in Houston, and both sets of parents were still living.

Molly arrived and sat across from Millie. She secured her phone between her should and ear, and opened the bag of Lay’s. Molly opened her sandwich and moved half of it to a napkin and slid it across to her mother. “Eat.” Millie shook her head in the negative and pushed it back.

“I hate to tell you but felt like I should. Colton just called me.” This shocked Millie although she had known he would.

“I take it he didn’t buy the airline tickets ruse?” Millie crunched chips, looking into an already near-empty bag.

“You’re right about that.” Catherine paused. “Millie, I’m a little scared.”

“What? What did he say?” Millie regretted bringing this attention onto her best friend. It had been so stupid.

“He obviously asked where you were. You know I wouldn’t dare say. Then he said I had two days to get my mind right, or I’d be sorry.”

“So, you took that as a threat?” Millie had never fully shared how mean Colton could be, even though Catherine had seen the bruising.

“How else was I to take it?” Millie tried to make out voices that had entered the conversation. No doubt from Brett and their two girls. “You’ve said he’s capable of doing anything.” Even though Millie had told Catherine about the pending criminal charges against Colton and his friend Sandy, she’d stupidly shaped the story to indicate the two men had an alibi.

Molly was half-finished with her sandwich and scrolling her phone. But, this wasn’t the time to be completely open with Catherine. Molly didn’t know the full truth and Millie believed that was for the best. “I really don’t think he’d do anything rash. He’s smart enough to know that will would come back to haunt him.” Millie decided she’d call Catherine back when she could speak openly. For now, her best friend and her family were safe. They’re in Houston.

In the background, Brett was arguing with Carrie and Connie. Something about Joel Ostein and his wife Victoria. “Okay, if you say so. I trust your judgment since you know the man.”

Suddenly, the intercom crackled and a gruff man’s voice said, “let me have your attention.” Millie now was well aware of the two announcement process at five minute intervals: “all-aboard bus 684 bound for New York City.” Molly stuffed the last bite of her sandwich in her mouth headed to the drink fountain for a refill. “Catherine, I’ll call you later. You guys enjoy your time in Houston.”

Five minutes later, after a quick stop at an ancient, wood-floored restroom, Millie and Molly boarded the bus, tired, and anxious to end their twenty-eight hour nightmare.

Drafting–Colton & Sandy tour house, unload & attempt to hide the RAM

Pop’s place was a small two-bedroom one story clapboard-sided house built in the fifties on a one-acre wooded lot. At the rear of the house was an attached two-car carport. Sixty-feet to the northwest was a single-car detached garage, currently locked, with an attached shed used by Mildred Simmons to protect her riding and push mowers, and an assortment of lawn-maintenance tools, including weed-eaters, blowers, edgers, and seed-spreaders. Pop’s house, as well as Mildred’s and the other ten houses on this side of Ruskin Drive, faced south and were surrounded on the north and east by the 3,500 acre Busse Woods Natural Preserve, itself encircled by a paved biking trail that meandered parallel to the homes rear boundary lines.

The inside of Pop’s house didn’t look like it had changed since it was constructed nearly three-quarters of a century ago. The floors in the utility room, kitchen, and both baths were linoleum. The other rooms—a large den, a small study, and two bedrooms—had low-pile shag carpeting, either yellow or green. The latter reminded Colton of guacamole, without the onions.

“Your Pop lived rather sparsely.” Colton had noticed several bare walls in the bedrooms and the absence of any type desk in the study.

Sandy looked inside the refrigerator, then opened every cabinet door, top and bottom, and each of the drawers. “At least she didn’t take the pots, pans, utensils, and a pound of coffee.”

“Your sister? But, she took the antiques and paintings you mentioned.” That explained the house’s empty feel.

“About two weeks ago. Sarah hired a moving company. She flew here and supervised the loading, and flew back to Phoenix without even a phone call.” Sandy said, leaning against the kitchen sink.

Colton returned to the den but still within Sandy’s earshot. It was odd an American Gothic hung on each of the den’s four walls. No doubt, reproductions, since the original of the 1930’s painting is in the Art Institute of Chicago’s collection. Apparently, Pop liked the now dead but still famous painter Grant Wood who favored scenes of rural people and Iowa cornfields. American Gothic portrays a farmer and his daughter standing in front of an Eldon, Iowa house. The farmer is holding the handle of a three-speared pitchfork while his daughter is staring at someone or something to her left. Colton would never have known these details if it weren’t for a visit with Molly and Millie to the museum shortly after they started dating. It was something to do with a school research project. That too was odd, since at the time Molly was only in the forth grade. “I guess Sarah didn’t like reproductions.”

Without responding, Sandy removed a notepad from a kitchen drawer along with a pencil and started writing a grocery list. “Coffee, creamer, sweetener, beer. Do you like pot pies?”

“Only if I’m starving. Let’s unload the truck, make a pot of coffee, and keep brainstorming our strategy. We’ve got lots to think about.”

They walked through the combination laundry and utility room to the carport. Colton made two trips, bringing in two duffle bags, a metal lock-box filled with a cache of pistols, and a briefcase stuffed with bank statements and a spiral notebook Millie used to capture names and addresses of plumbers, heating & air repairmen, carpenters, electricians, and anyone else she believed might be needed in the future. Sandy made one trip with a suitcase, a smaller duffle, and three extra-large pillows.

“Where’s the key to the garage?” Colton asked after depositing his things inside Pop’s bedroom. Naturally, Sandy had chosen the one he occupied in the summers while growing up since Sarah rarely visited.

“Pantry. You best be glad Pop was organized and a creature of habit. Or, we’d be looking for a hacksaw or bolt cutters to open the lock.” Sandy opened the narrow door beside the refrigerator and grabbed the labeled key from a small pegboard filled with an assortment of keys and screwdrivers.

Since making the decision he and Sandy had to disappear, Colton wondered what to do with the Ram. He knew they couldn’t use it in Chicago. At first, he’d thought about going out of town and trading it for something else. But, that seemed to swap one problem for another, given the near-certainty investigators would check the Department of Motor Vehicles database. Ultimately he’d gone with Sandy’s suggestion to use Pop’s Buick.

Colton sat in the Ram and turned up the heat. The weather was deteriorating. Snow was thickening. The temperature was falling. He eased the truck forward as Sandy crunched through two inches of the white stuff.

The key worked flawlessly. Sandy removed the Master Lock and raised the over-sized garage door. He couldn’t believe what he saw parked inside. Colton put the Ram in park and exited. “What the hell?”

The dark blue Mercedes Sprinter van looked brand new. “Damn, Pop lost his mind. He hated traveling. Was an absolute homebody.”

“These things don’t come cheap.” Colton added, walking to a locked driver’s side door. “Run grab the keys.” If Pop was so organized, the key would be on the pegboard. Yet, the key to the Buick was under the floor mat.

“Something’s wrong.” Sandy said, walking to the passenger side, checking the locked door, and peering inside the cab. “I bet this isn’t Pop’s. Two reasons. One, he wouldn’t dare spend this kind of money, and two, he’d never have a Branson, Missouri brochure.”

“Uh?”

“On the seat.” Sandy pointed as Colton joined him and stared at the colorful front page advertising Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction.

The sound of an approaching vehicle from Ruskin Drive caught their attention. At first, given the near-blinding snow, all they could see were two headlights. But then, a 1990’s Impala appeared and parked behind Colton’s Ram.

“Shit, that’s Mildred Simmons.” Sandy said, recognizing the car Pop’s favorite neighbor had purchased new when he was a ten-year-old lad.

Without exiting the Impala, and while leaning her red-haired head out a lowered window, the ancient woman with more wrinkles than an African bush elephant, half-screamed, “I’ve called the police. You’re not going to steal my van.”

“Well, that explains it. Just the hell we need.” Colton spouted, remaining in front of the Sprint.

“Rusty, it’s Sandy, Pop’s grandson. We’re not stealing anything.”

It took three attempts to convince her, including the inspection of Sandy’s driver’s license, and the correct name for the Pekingese Mildred, Rusty, owned fifteen years ago. After some deliberation Sandy said, “Scarlett.” No doubt, the dog was red.

“Oh my goodness.” Mildred said as she made a smooth exit from the Impala. “I’m so sorry about Pop, and for not making the funeral.” Pop’s death had been sudden, six months ago by heart-attack. Sandy and Rusty reminisced over bygone days with him silently regretting his near-failure to visit his grandfather during the last ten years of his life.

Fortunately, shortly after two Elk Grove police officers arrived, they departed with repeated assurances from Mildred she’d made a mistake in calling 911. The deciding assurance was her detailed narrative of the van purchased a year ago and Pop’s insistence she park it inside his detached garage. She even showed the officers her key that fit the Master Lock.

After Mildred returned home, Sandy lowered and secured the garage’s overhead door while Colton backed the RAM once again inside the carport.
Shivering, both men returned to the kitchen for more coffee. “Rusty is going to be a problem.” Sandy said as they stood with their backs to a five-grate gas heater just inside the den.

Drafting–Colton & Sandy go off-grid

Today, as usual, I reread the prior day’s writing. I decided to re-do the last sentence.

Here’s how it was:
“Uh.” Colton said stopping in front of the two-car garage.

Here’s the updated version:
“Uh.” Colton pulled into the paved driveway already half-covered with snow. “What’s fitting?” He pointed the Ram toward a detached garage, then backed into the carport’s unoccupied spot beside Pop’s twenty-year old Buick.

Sandy didn’t respond but jumped out and headed to his grandfather’s car. He hoped, at worse, all it would need was a battery charge. A thrill of confidence flooded his mind. Finally, Colton was letting him have a say. First, Pop’s place as base camp, then his well-maintained car as transportation to and from Chicago. As usual, the key was under the floor mat. Thankfully, it started right off.

“Somebody’s either living here or routinely coming. Otherwise, the battery would be dead.” Colton said, standing between the Ram and Pop’s Buick, worrying about the house’s heat, given the bitter cold weather forecast.

Sandy stared at the dash, his face red as a male cardinal. He thought of Mildred Simmons next door. “Shit.”

Drafting–Colton & Sandy go off-grid

“Turn right on Biesterfield Road. It’s about a quarter mile.” Sandy said from the front passenger seat of Colton’s crew cab Ram truck. The two had spent the past ninety minutes heading west to a house along the southern edge of the Busse Woods Forest Preserve, located just south of Rolling Meadows. Their quest to disappear had led them here.

It seemed their best option. Certainly, they couldn’t stay at Colton’s on S. Princeton, or Sandy’s on S. Farrell St. These places would be the first locations Chicago Police would look once the arrest warrants were issued. Neither man doubted that’s what would happen in court shortly after 10:00 AM on Monday. Hell, the whole purpose of the hearing was to determine whether the defendants would appear in court to face their charges. The judge, the new pro-prosecution judge, would order both men be immediately arrested and held in jail awaiting trial.

Colton turned right, and momentarily squeezed his eyes shut. Why hadn’t he seen this coming? Why wasn’t he more prepared? Why did the damn bank only allow a maximum daily ATM withdrawl of $300.00?

Sandy tried to think of the last time he’d been to Pop’s place. The best he could recall it was three or four years ago. Pop was the only father-figure he’d ever really known, since his biological father had died in his mid-twenties when Sandy was only three. James Todd Hickman was his maternal grandfather, who’d once owned two-hundred acres south of the the Busse Woods Preserve. Over the years he’d made a fortunate selling off twenty to forty acre tracts to eager developers. Now, Pop was gone, as was his only daughter, Sandy and Sarah’s mother, who’d died last February of a brain aneurysm. Any day now, his mother’s estate, which included most of Pop’s estate she had inherited, would be distributed to Sandy and his sister.

Sandy stared at Seibert Landscaping on his right and remembered the physically-exhausting summer he’d worked there. Pop’s had said it would show him what real work was like, and motivate him to do better in school. The only good thing to come out of the three-month torture was the owner’s daughter, the deeply-tanned and delectably toned thirteen year old Rachel Duncan. Oh my, Sandy whispered to himself wondering what might have been if his mother had let him live with Pop year-round.

“What if Sarah reneges?” It was the third time Colton had mentioned the agreement. Although Stella Hickman Brown had left everything in equal shares to Sandy and Sarah, the two had supposedly reached an agreement whereby Sandy would own the Busse Woods home outright, with Sarah receiving an extra $150,000 from Pop’s cash assets for her half of the real estate.

“Again, she lives in Phoenix and has no need or desire for sticks and stones in Rolling Meadows. Oh shit, turn left, right here. Beisner Road.”

“What about the contents. You said Pop’s had a lot of antiques, and several expensive paintings.”

“Get off of it, will you? It’s all in the agreement. That’s where the extra $50,000 comes in.” Sandy pointed ahead. “Slow down. Right on Winston.”

The idea had been Sandy’s. After him and Colton met at Mitchell’s Tap, they’d sat in his truck and brainstormed the safest place to setup base-camp as Sandy called it. After listing a few not-so-desirous spots—including an abandoned warehouse close to Lincoln Park Zoo owned by Colton’s immediate supervisor at work—Sandy had suggested Pop’s house. The only negative being it was ninety minutes from either one of their houses. Colton had reluctantly agreed but was worried that cops or bounty hunters could likely discover the link in Sandy’s ancestral chain.

“Left on Ruskin Drive. About a block.” Pop’s place was the thirteenth house on the left, and backed up to the 3,500 acre nature preserve. Sandy’s mind returned to Rachel Duncan and the summer night they’d hiked to Busse Lake and gone skinny-dipping. Where had his life gone so horribly wrong? Such promise, including an all-expense college education compliments of Pop’s. But, such disappointment? Beginning in the eleventh grade in Chicago. Drugs and stealing had led to juvenile detention and eventually to dropping out of high school. “Here it is, 622 Ruskin Drive.” The last account Sandy had of Rachel was she was married to a Dallas, Texas gynecologist. “Fitting,” he said aloud.

“Uh.” Colton said stopping in front of the two-car garage.

Drafting–Pittsburgh>King of Prussia—Molly

The driver kept pointing to his watch-less wrist as Molly, Tracey, and Millie filed onto the bus. “Thirty more seconds and you’d be walking.” The gruff older man with graying hair and beard announced at 6:01 AM according to the digital clock above the door at the rear of the bus. Without response, they’d walked the aisle and returned to their seats.

After returning to the bus station, the three had gone to the Ladies room. Millie had closed herself in a private stall and lingered. And, lingered. She’d taken another Depakote and hoped for a bowel movement. Molly and Tracey had done their business and waited outside in the lobby. After five minutes Molly had returned and retrieved Millie after considerable prodding.

As the bus rolled forward, Molly and Millie exchanged seats, at the younger’s insistence. She wanted to continue talking to Tracey. For three reasons. She wasn’t sleepy nor did she want to listen to music. Second, it was Saturday and therefore too early to text with Alisha. Third, she was intrigued with what Tracey had said at breakfast. Something like, “I’m amazed and disappointed that schools don’t teach young people anything remotely related to mindfulness.”

Before Molly could think of a way to reignite her and Tracey’s conversation, Millie gently elbowed her arm and pointed to the half-page flyer the ticket clerk had given them in Toledo. “I’m impressed with Greyhound. They’re sticking to the schedule like glue. It looks like we should be in New York right around 7:30.”

Molly turned and looked at the digital clock. “That’s thirteen and a half hours. A lifetime.” One thing was certain, she had done everything she could to change her mother’s mind about fleeing to New York City. “Why not go to the DA and tell him the truth?” “Why not just move and get one of those restraining orders you’ve talked about?” “Why don’t we borrow one of Colton’s guns, go on a picnic, and kill the bastard?” Molly had only thought the latter idea and dared not say it aloud, although she was convinced she could pull the trigger.

“We’ll make it.” Millie said it because that’s what any good mother would say, though, right now, there was an energy inside her itching to explode. “Why don’t you listen to some music? Matt wants me to call him.” Millie removed her phone from her purse and dialed.

Molly kept staring across the aisle to a closed-eyed Tracey who had leaned her seat back and was clutching a small leather-looking journal in her hands. The bus hit a pot hole and Molly kept staring. Tracey’s pose didn’t change. So peaceful and content, not a worry in the world, Molly thought now noticing for the first time a beautiful necklace around Tracey’s neck. The beads looked like pearls except they were brown, maybe made from wood. At the end of the long thread-looking chain, was a lighter-colored tassel.

“If you’re mother doesn’t mind, come sit by me. We can continue our chat.” Tracey said, opening her eyes ever so slight. Molly was embarrassed, her face turning a pinkish red.

Millie was talking with Matt and looking away, through the window at a landscape of passing houses, what Molly figured were similar to theirs on S. Princeton Avenue. She unbuckled her seat belt and eased across the aisle and in front of Tracey who inclined her seat. “Thanks for inviting me.” Millie had always stressed good manners.

Molly followed Tracey’s lead in reclining her seat. Not knowing what to do, Molly sat and pondered. Finally, she decided Tracey wouldn’t have asked her over unless she was willing to talk. “I’m sorry for being so dumb and asking a stupid question.”

Tracey turned her head toward Molly and smiled. “You’re as far from dumb as Albert Einstein, and there’s no stupid questions. How else are we to learn?”

Molly, relieved, returned the smile. “Thanks, so, why are you so skinny?” The twelve year old was certainly uninhibited.

Tracey leaned her head back and snorted, “wow, I asked for that. You go girl.”

“If that’s too personal.”

Tracey interrupted. “No, I’m not anorexic. It’s my metabolism. I eat constantly but have trouble gaining weight.” Molly thought it would be great to be able to eat all she wanted but knew that wasn’t herself. During the second part of fourth grade and all of fifth she’d overeaten and become rather pudgy. She eventually learned it was a response to her mother letting Colton move in, and his subsequent abuse of the two of them. “Anyway, looks are not everything.”

Easy for her to say, Molly thought. In her eyes, Tracey was a beautiful woman. Silky Auburn hair, penetrating green eyes, a perfect oval face, and symmetrical lower and upper lips. Plus, to be so skinny, models would kill to have her height and body shape.

“You said you were headed home. To New York City. Where do you live?” Molly felt free to change the subject.

“At The Stratford. It’s an apartment house on the Upper East Side.” Tracey inclined her chair and opened her journal. “What about you guys?”

Molly hesitated and recalled her mother’s words, ‘we have to be careful who we talk to and what we say.’ “Well, uh, I’m not sure of the address. Somewhere in Manhattan and it’s a studio apartment, but we haven’t seen it yet.”

Tracey closed her journal without writing anything. “No problem.” She paused, and then asked, “do you know where you’ll be going to school?” Again, Molly paused, but this time told herself Tracey was safe, there was no way she was or could be connected to Colton, and now, glancing across the aisle, saw her mother was sleeping.

“It’s Robert Wagner, Robert Wagner Middle School. I’ve already been accepted and start January the 6th.”

“That’s a great school. Matter of fact, it’s only a ten minute walk from my apartment.” Tracey leaned forward and removed a large leather bag from beneath her seat. “Would you like a snack?” She removed two large red Delicious apples.

Molly smiled, still full from breakfast. “No, I’m good thanks.”

Tracey continued, “I’m trying to persuade Mr. Waldeck, the 6th grade principal, to let me teach a class. Meditation for Children is what I call it.”

Molly knew very little about meditation. “What would that do for the students?” That seemed like a logical question.

“Whether we are young or old, our minds are where we live, where we experience everything. My goal for my clients and likewise for the students is to show them how meditation can initiate moments of calm, bring about self-awareness, and to begin connecting their mind and body.”

“Oh,” is all Molly said.

Tracey laughed and took a bite of her apple. “Let me be clear, I’m not into religion or anything metaphysical. But, I am all in for learning more about how our minds work.”

Molly was a little confused. “What do you mean by megaphysical?”

“Metaphysical.” Sorry, I spoke with a mouth full. “As you know, physical refers to the natural world, metaphysical goes beyond that, beyond the physical world. It attempts to transcend the laws of nature, which, to me, makes it wholly abstract and overly theoretical. I think it’s pure woo-woo. But, get this, my brother’s position is 180 degrees the opposite.”

Molly pondered what she believed. Ever since her and her mother started attending St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, she’d felt loved, appreciated, safe, but was troubled over what she heard from the teachers and pastor. Now, with Tracey’s definition, Molly concluded what St. Paul taught was, at a minimum, difficult to understand. Maybe it was woo-woo, but she wasn’t sure.

During the remainder of the ride to King of Prussia, Tracey responded to Molly’s question about her personal life: where she’d grown up, whether she had siblings, where she’d gone to school, whether she was married (or had been).

As the bus rolled to a stop, Molly felt encouraged by Tracey’s story, how someone could survive heartache and traumatic events, and still go on to live a satisfying and rewarding life.

Tracey had grown up in Harrison, Arkansas in a happy family of five: mother, father, brother, and a twin sister. The happiness evaporated when mother and sister were killed when the twins were twelve. What had made the tragedy even more tragic was the mother was killed in a head-on collision while she was driving home to meet the school bus delivering her daughters. Tracey’s sister had been killed thirty minutes later when she stepped into the path of an oncoming car. The tragedy had nearly destroyed Tracey, her brother, and her father. Two years later, the three had moved to New York City.

Tragedy again revisited their lives the night Tracey graduated from high school. Her father was shot and killed at a convenience store after attending the school ceremony.

Tracey, 33, and Aaron, 35, had stayed in New York City, graduated college but had taken opposite paths with their lives. Tracey had become a Zen master, and established a meditation center. Aaron had become a Southern Baptist preacher and founded Faith Haven Church. The siblings relationship had deteriorated over the years to the point they now rarely spoke. However, Tracey’s life, at least as it sounded to Molly, was rich and rewarding.

The bus driver’s gruff voice interrupted Molly’s thoughts. “Folks, just a reminder this is a quick stop. Keep your seats. No exiting. You’ll have a forty minute rest stop in Philadelphia, and that’s only fifty minutes away.”

Tracey stood and removed a bag from the overhead rack. “This is my stop.” She noticed Molly staring at her with a ‘deer in the headlights’ look. “I have a client here and will be taking the 5:30 bus. You take care.”

Molly was disappointed but didn’t want to seem rude. “Okay. It was nice to meet you.”

“Oh, here.” Tracey removed a card from her small bag. “This is my contact information. Feel free to call me anytime.” Tracey turned to leave and glanced at Millie, who was waving but talking on her phone.


Drafting–Pittsburgh>King of Prussia—Molly (partial)

The driver kept pointing to his watch-less wrist as Molly, Tracey, and Millie filed onto the bus. “Thirty more seconds and you’d be walking.” The gruff older man with graying hair and beard announced at 6:01 AM according to the digital clock above the door at the rear of the bus. Without response, they’d walked the aisle and returned to their seats.

After returning to the bus station, the three had gone to the Ladies room. Millie had closed herself in a private stall and lingered. And, lingered. She’d taken another Depakote and hoped for a bowel movement. Molly and Tracey had done their business and waited outside in the lobby. After five minutes Molly had returned and retrieved Millie after considerable prodding.

As the bus rolled forward, Molly and Millie exchanged seats, at the younger’s insistence. She wanted to continue talking to Tracey. For three reasons. She wasn’t sleepy nor did she want to listen to music. Second, it was Saturday and therefore too early to text with Alisha. Third, she was intrigued with what Tracey had said at breakfast. Something like, “I’m amazed and disappointed that schools don’t teach young people anything remotely related to mindfulness.”

Before Molly could think of a way to reignite her and Tracey’s conversation, Millie gently elbowed her arm and pointed to the half-page flyer the ticket clerk had given them in Toledo. “I’m impressed with Greyhound. They’re sticking to the schedule like glue. It looks like we should be in New York right around 7:30.”

Molly turned and looked at the digital clock. “That’s thirteen and a half hours. A lifetime.” One thing was certain, she had done everything she could to change her mother’s mind about fleeing to New York City. “Why not go to the DA and tell him the truth?” “Why not just move and get one of those restraining orders you’ve talked about?” “Why don’t we borrow one of Colton’s guns, go on a picnic, and kill the bastard?” Molly had only thought the latter idea and dared not say it aloud, although she was convinced she could pull the trigger.

“We’ll make it.” Millie said it because that’s what any good mother would say, though, right now, there was an energy inside her itching to explode. “Why don’t you listen to some music? Matt wants me to call him.” Millie removed her phone from her purse and dialed.

Molly kept staring across the aisle to a closed-eyed Tracey who had leaned her seat back and was clutching a small leather-looking journal in her hands. The bus hit a pot hole and Molly kept staring. Tracey’s pose didn’t change. So peaceful and content, not a worry in the world, Molly thought now noticing for the first time a beautiful necklace around Tracey’s neck. The beads looked like pearls except they were brown, maybe made from wood. At the end of the long thread-looking chain, was a lighter-colored tassel.

“If you’re mother doesn’t mind, come sit by me. We can continue our chat.” Tracey said, opening her eyes ever so slight. Molly was embarrassed, her face turning a pinkish red.

Millie was talking with Matt and looking away, through the window at a landscape of passing houses, what Molly figured were similar to theirs on S. Princeton Avenue. She unbuckled her seat belt and eased across the aisle and in front of Tracey who inclined her seat. “Thanks for inviting me.” Millie had always stressed good manners.


A few notes I made toward the end of today’s drafting

Did tracey lose a daughter, a sister (her twin?)?
Was necklace Tracey’s sister’s?

That death, triggered the eruption in her and her brother’s relationship.
He’d turned to God?
She’d turned to Zen?

Drafting–Colton speaks with his attorney, and Sandy

Colton pressed Accept on his iPhone and suppressed his dissatisfaction with the attorney who’d come highly recommended. “You’re up early for a Saturday.”

“It’s my golf day and I’m about at the first hole so I’ll be quick.” Colton visualized Cliff driving his cart, and could hear someone beside him talking, probably on a cell phone. “Hey, tried calling you several times last night.”

“Sorry. I was, well, out of range. Plus, my phone died.” He sat in his recliner, put his phone on Speaker, and grabbed his cigarettes and lighter. “What’s going on?”

“I’ll go first,” Cliff’s passenger announced.

“Court. Monday. 10:00 AM.”

“What the hell. You said my trial wouldn’t be for months.” Colton lite a Marlboro and took a deep pull.

“That’s right, this is about your bond. The DA refiled his motion and the new judge set a hearing. Just be there. Dress nice, and be on your best behavior.”

“Shit man. Shoot me straight. What’s going on? Am I about to go to jail?” Sweat popped out on Colton’s forehead. He remembered Cliff telling him Judge Stewart had to retire. Health reasons. And, to hope his replacement wasn’t some deranged pro-prosecution crusader.

“I hate to say it but the new judge, Judge Rhodes, will probably put you in jail until your trial, or increase the bond amount. Possibly to something you cannot afford.”

Colton lowered his foot rest, stood, and headed to the kitchen. He needed a beer. “Can’t you do something? Why is this happening? Why doesn’t Judge Stewart’s order still stand?” Four months ago, the DA had pulled this same stunt, filed a motion to revoke or modify Colton’s bail, and Judge Stewart had refused to set a hearing. Cliff had said then that given the seriousness of Colton’s crime, a majority of judges wouldn’t be so friendly.

“Listen, I got to go. Be at court early, say 9:30, and we can talk more. Have a good weekend.” The call ended. Colton downed half a bottle of Bud Light.

“Have a good weekend, my ass. That’s fucking easy for him to say.” After returning his half-emptied beer to the refrigerator Colton walked to his recliner and called Sandy. Still feeling the need to talk outloud to himself, he said, “shit, he’s in the same boat I’m in. The only difference is the names of our attorney’s.”

“What the hell are we going to do?” Sandy’s answer left no doubt he was also due in court Monday. “Where you been? I tried calling all night.” Sandy sounded desperate. Colton walked outside and stood on the front porch knowing his best friend believed he still had a tender reed of hope. Unfortunately, that was about to burn up like the morning fog.

“Sorry. I just heard. Cliff called and told me about the hearing.”

Before Colton could continue, Sandy blasted, “Millie’s going to be there. And tell them. Right? It’s time man.” For months he had blamed Colton for their predicament.

“Sit down and brace yourself. We’re in worse trouble than you think.”

“Huh? What the fuck are you talking about?” Sandy had always been pliable, almost like a puppet, especially for Colton.

He started to lie and tell Sandy the best thing they could do is wait until trial and surprise the DA with our alibi, but then decided that was bullshit. Plus, he needed Sandy to help execute the plan that was percolating in his head. “Millie’s gone, left yesterday. Don’t know where she is, but we have to find her.”

Again, Sandy jumped in. “And how the hell will we do that while sitting in jail?” A well-articulated question by the construction worker.

“Pack a bag and meet me at Mitchell’s in an hour. It’s time we go off the grid my friend. Millie’s out there and we’re going to find her.”

“Shit, shit, shit,” was all Sandy could say.

Drafting–Colton begins plotting his search

Colton is awakened to the alternating sounds of a skillsaw and a chainsaw. A month ago the old house next door sold and the new owners, a young couple from Rockford, began their first remodeling adventure. Weekends were not only made for Michelob, but for six AM demolitions.

His head was pounding. Too much beer, not Michelob, but Bud Light. Last night, he’d downed a six-pack while pondering Millie’s note, then driven to D & J Liquors for two twelve packs, thinking that would last him the weekend. He’d consumed way more than he should before passing out in his recliner down stairs. How or when he’d made it up upstairs to his bed was a mystery.

Colton rose slowly and shuffled down the hall to the bathroom. After peeing a pint he swallowed four Tylenols ignoring what the high dosage might do to his liver. “Shit, the beer and whiskey will kill me first.”

A sharp, stabbing pain exploded in his right temple the moment he thought of Millie and his predicament. He returned to the bedroom and rifled through her nightstand, chest of drawers, and closet. Useless. He inched slowly back into the hall and down the stairs, taking one step at a time. Coffee was his first objective.

On his second cup, Colton sat at the kitchen table and started to focus. He knew a plan was imperative if he ever wanted to see Millie again. He couldn’t just do nothing, go to work, come home, and wait to see what happened. There was no doubt, he had to act and act quickly and decidedly, otherwise his life was over and he’d spend his remaining days behind bars.

The first person Colton thought about was Matt Quinn. He was Millie’s number one cheerleader. It hadn’t taken a genius to figure this out. Since Colton moved in with Millie and Molly two years ago, Millie had received at least four raises and two promotions all while her work hours had stayed the same. Actually, for the last six months, she’d worked less.

Colton grinned as he thought about his foresight and wisdom in hiring private eye Butch King to tail Millie after work each day. Although it had taken him a few weeks to spot the Thursday pattern, he eventually learned she exited Grant Thornton Tower at 2:30 every Thursday and walked four blocks to the Clarity Clinic. With some clever subterfuge Butch had discovered Kira Maharaja was Millie’s psychiatrist. With little doubt, even without considering the human interaction between Matt and Millie that Colton had observed at several office parties, including the BBQ at his home less than two months ago, Matt Quinn possessed invaluable information concerning Millie’s whereabouts.

He turned Millie’s note over and grasped the pencil she’d used to scribble her revolt. At the top of the page, Colton printed Matt Quinn. Then, he paused, closed his eyes, and nodded his head up and down, ever so slightly. Kira Maharaja was the next name he added to his list. It seemed the plan to escape, to run away, would be something a mentally ill person might share with her psychiatrist.

Who else would Millie talk to about her plans? Colton stood, walked to the coffee maker beside the sink and refilled his cup. He looked through the kitchen window to the house next door, its windows open, allowing gas fumes from the chainsaw to escape. He returned to his chair and drew a circle in the lower half of the page.

Who else was inside Millie’s circle? He paused, cocked his head as though an invisible hand was prodding him in a new direction. Molly also has a circle and the two don’t perfectly overlap. Colton again picked up the pencil and started printing. This time at the bottom of the page. Work, church, school, friends. He paused and thought. Millie’s best friend at work, other than Matt, is Catherine. What about Molly? That’s easy, she has only one. Alisha, Alisha Maynard. She lives in the Auburn Gresham area. Colton remembered driving Molly there for a sleep-over. That was a year or more ago. He could see the street, and the house in his mind’s eye.

Colton had just penciled Alisha, Harvard Elementary School, and was trying to remember Molly’s favorite teacher when he heard his cell phone vibrating. After his first cup of coffee he’d noticed it on the table beside his recliner. The battery had been dead and he’d plugged it into a charger. “Millie.” He said out loud knowing there was no way in hell she was calling.

He stood and walked into the den. It was his attorney, Cliff Blackwell. “What the fuck does he want?”

Drafting–Breakfast in Pittsburgh

When the bus driver shut down the engine Millie tapped Molly on the hand. “Wake up. Breakfast time.” The kid could sleep through a tornado.
Molly, startled, inclined her seat, removed her ear buds, and shook her curly hair out of her eyes. “I’m starving,” she said looking at her mother.
“Sally Ann’s your best option.” The anorexic-looking girl across the aisle was standing and politely waiting for Molly and Millie.

“Say again,” Millie said, smiling at the young girl who looked like she hadn’t eaten in years.

Molly glanced at her mom, unplugged her iPhone from its charger underneath the seat, and stuffed it into her book bag. “It’s a restaurant.” Molly whispered to her mother.

The girl motioned for Millie and Molly to go first. “The reviews advise staying away from The Pitts. That’s the fast-food joint inside the bus station.”

The three exited the bus and walked inside the rear double-doors of the terminal. The lobby was large, much bigger than Toledo’s, and, so far, much cleaner. The gray and black floors looked like they’d just been waxed. “How far away is Sally’s?” Millie asked, not that hungry but knew Molly was, as always.

“It’s just two blocks north on 11th street. I’m going. Join me if you like. My treat. By the way, I’m Tracey.” This confused Millie. Anorexic’s are opposed to eating. And, why would this skinny, yet attractive girl who neither her or Molly knew, offer to buy their breakfast?

“I’m Molly. This is Millie, my mom.” Molly grabbed her mother’s hand and squeezed, knowing she needed to take charge as Millie battled depression. “Sounds good to me.” Molly said, shifting her book bag to her other shoulder.

Tracey led the way across the lobby, out the main entrance, and onto 11th street. Nothing much was said during their five minute walk.

The restaurant was small, and crowded. Six booths and an eight-stool counter. Not an available seat anywhere. For a minute, the three stood inside the front door, staring at the menu on the back wall taped to the metal hood above the griddle, and pondering whether to leave or wait. “Take ours.” An older man said from two booths away. “Come on Mildred, time to let these nice folks have our table.” The woman, probably his wife, looked like Millie felt: alone, sad, helpless. “You’re lucky. Food’s great. Come here every day.” It took another minute or two for the man to coax his wife from her seat, slip on a wide red scarf, and lead her outside. Millie couldn’t help but think how lucky the two seniors were, to have each other, hopefully after a long, satisfying life together.

“Where are you headed?” Molly broke the silence after the waitress filled their water glasses and took their orders. Millie removed her phone from her purse and started typing Matt a long text. She’d promised to update him every day.

“The Big Apple.” Tracey said, pouring half a Splenda into her water glass, then two shakes of salt. “New York City,” she added to clarify, but you probably know that already.” She stirred and used a spoon to test her concoction.

“What do you do there?” Molly was uninhibited.

“I teach meditation, also known as mindfulness.” Oh my, Millie thought about the Moonies along Canal Street she’d see every Thursday afternoon during her walk to her psychiatrist.

“Sounds like woo-woo to me.” Molly had no filter. Millie eyed her daughter, shaking her head sideways.

Carrie Borders was a Moonie, and she was a paralegal at Winston and Strawn. She occupied a cubicle in Millie’s quadrant, and like her, reported to law partner Kimbal Deitrich.

Tracey chewed slowly as though garnering time to frame her response. “I teach Zen. It’s nothing to do with the metaphysical. Simply put, it’s an exploration into the nature of the mind, a tool to open completely to our lives.”

Millie wasn’t especially spiritual but for the last year had attended a small church in their neighborhood. The unspoken reason was to create more time on weekends away from Colton. She ate a bite of her bran muffin and recalled Friday’s at Winston and Strawn.

Once per week, if their schedule allowed, the paralegal staff was allowed to dress casual. Carrie would always wear a t-shirt that read, “I’m a Moonie and I love it”. Millie had tried to avoid Carrie as much as possible but sometime she’d be stuck with her in a conference room indexing depositions. There, Millie learned a near-complete history of the Unification Church. It’s founder Sun Myung Moon, was allegedly a Messiah, second only to Jesus, wholly sinless. Moon’s purpose, as was all his followers, was to replace Christianity with his mission which was, in essence, to unite all humans into one family under God bringing peace throughout the earth. Woo-woo for sure, Millie had always concluded.

Molly ordered a refill of orange juice and continued peppering Tracey. “Where have you been? Did your car breakdown?”

Tracey pushed back her oatmeal bowl and forked a slice of pineapple. “I love your inquisitive daughter.” Her eyes met Millie’s and lingered a long while. “Two or three times per year I go on retreat. I always travel by Greyhound. For me, it keeps me rooted to life, real people, and real dependency. But mainly, I’m selfish. Riding the bus creates a lot of time to meditate without having to worry about driving.”

Molly interrupted Tracey. “Where was your retreat. This time?”

The waitress delivered their ticket and waited. Tracey removed a card from her pants pocket and handed it to the voluptuous red head. “Ottawa, Illinois, One River Zen. The center is a beautiful Queen Anne Victorian built in 1890, situated on the scenic banks of the Illinois River.”

“How long are retreats?”

“They vary. At One River they’re either a weekend or a week. Mine was the latter.” Tracey ate two bites of cantaloupe, and swallowed some water.

“Does meditation cause you to be so skinny?” Again, absolutely no filter.

“Molly, that’s too personal, borderline offensive.” Millie hoped her daughter would grow out of this.

“Oh, I love it.” Tracey replied. “So natural. She’s got a bright future.”

“Millie activated her cell. “We best be going. It’s almost 5:45. We don’t want to miss our ride.”

The food had been better than great. Even Millie bragged on the eggs, although she’d only taken a bite from Molly’s plate, who had wolfed down a southwestern omelet and a side order of bacon. Tracey’s appetite was equally as strong as Molly’s although she chose oatmeal, fruit, and unbuttered toast.

Millie was surprised she ate anything at all.

Drafting–Youngstown to Pittsburgh—Millie

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.