My sincere thanks go to my family for their support, especially my wife who served as my first reader. Thanks to bestselling author Jonathan Maberry. Without his mentoring and content editing, this book would not have come into being. My gratitude goes to Sally Ann Darnoi whose literary expertise gave the book credibility and polish. A thank you goes to the members of the ‘Writer’s Coffeehouse’ whose encouragement stopped me from giving up. And last, but not least, thank you Elizabeth and the staff of the Rebel Ink Press for believing in my novel.
This book is dedicated to the Parents and Grandparents who had to helplessly watch their children destroying themselves.
Ashley Fay stared at the old man in the wheelchair. He looked so lonely sitting all by himself in the corner of the terrace. He’d his eyes fixed on a cemetery across the valley. Deep lines marred the old man’s face. He paid no attention to the group of happy residents loudly enjoying their games. Nor did he seem to enjoy the beauty of the valley that stretched out beyond the terrace.
“Mr. James Paul Garner. Former mayor of Garners Corner, local plumber, investor, billionaire philanthropist, and once an energetic, kind man,” a voice behind Ashley announced.
She turned around and saw a, somewhat past middle age, woman in a nurse’s uniform holding out her hand in greeting. “Hi, I am Vicky. I am the administrator of the Garner Nursing Home.”
“Hi Vicky! I am Ashley. The old gentleman in the wheelchair looks so lost and lonely.”
“Yes! Mr. Garner harbors a lot of mental anguish hiding in that cocoon.”
They sat down at a table by the glass wall that faced the terrace and beyond. Vickie’s office had a panoramic view of the valley with all its splendor of vibrant colors. The deep gold, bright yellow and rust bathed in the early autumn sun, setting above the evergreens in the background. But, Ashley’s eyes wandered back to the old man in the wheelchair. Vickie duly noticed it.
“You are Dr. Kessler’s wife, right?”
“Yes, I am.”
“What can I do for you?”
“Well, as you know we just moved here. We have a sixteen year old daughter who wants to follow in her father’s footsteps. So, we thought it might be a good idea if she would spend some time as a candy striper. A nursing home would be a perfect fit. Would you have an opening by any chance?”
“We certainly do. Not many young people are interested in volunteering for that those days. Have her come in and see me after school tomorrow.”
“That would be great. Thank you so much.”
“Don’t mention it. You’re doing us a favor… How do you like country living?”
“I love the picturesque landscape. And the town has so much character.”
“Yes, it is pretty around here… I want you to know, I am a big fan of yours. I read every one of your books. But I never thought I would be chatting away with Ashley Fay Thornton, the famous author. How come you don’t write as Ashley Fay Kessler?”
“I had established my writing career before Gus and I got married. You don’t want to change your pen-name once you’re known. It becomes your brand.”
“That makes sense. Do you have another book coming out?”
“Yes! In the beginning of the year, THEY FOLLOWED THE CALL”
“I can’t wait to read it. What is it about?”
“It’s about a young single mom that gets called up to serve in Iraq. The story deals with the daily hardship and the pain of being separated from her little boy.”
“Oh, whoa, that sounds like a tear jerker.”
Ashley’s eyes kept wandering back to the old man. She couldn’t help thinking, what it is that that keeps him locked inside this cocoon.
“Ashley, you write great fiction. Have you ever thought of writing a nonfiction book?”
“Yes! I would love to write an interesting biography, a good memoir, or interesting narrative nonfictions. I just haven’t found the right story yet.”
“I can’t help noticing your interest in Mr. Garner. His life would make a great story, but a sad one. Are you interested?”
“Yes, I would be. He strikes me like a fascinating man that is painfully encapsulated in an impenetrable bubble.”
“You have that one right. I tell you what. I am going to be off the day after tomorrow. Why don’t you come to my place for breakfast? Let’s say, around nine. We’ll have some coffee or tea, and something to nibble on while we talk. It probably will take more than a day to tell you what I know about his story and that is not even half of it.”
“Great! I’ll be there.”
“And don’t forget, have your daughter come and see me after school tomorrow. What’s her name?”
“Brooks! She’ll be here.”
Vickie Lister went to Rose’s Chili Pepper Diner, the local restaurant, and picked up a Chicken dinner for her husband and herself. He walked in ten minutes after she got home. “Hi Babe!” He gave her a peck on the cheek while Vicky set the table.
“Hi Mike! Did you have a good day?”
“Well, no one got killed. I didn’t have to arrest anybody. I didn’t have to use my gun. And I wrote two-hundred-and-fifty dollars worse of citations. So, I guess this was a good day for Mike the sheriff. How about you? How was your day?”
“Great! Ashley Fay, Dr. Kessler’s wife came to see me. Her daughter wants to be a candy striper in the nursing home.”
“Oh well, that’s good. You have been looking for someone for some time. I guess that’s coming in handy. Ashley, eh…that sounds pretty chummy.”
“She is really nice. We hit it off right away.” Vicky held up a book, and said, “You know, she is a writer. She wrote this book.”
Mike looked up at the picture on the back of the book, and mumbled, “Uh-hu.”
“Mike, that picture doesn’t do her justice. She is absolutely beautiful. She is 5’7, slim, but nicely curved, and her auburn hair accentuates her milky white skin. She has beautiful, warm, big, brown eyes, high cheekbones, and nicely shaped, full, lips.”
“Oh, you are signing up to become a judge in the Miss America contest?”
“Oh come on know. She really is beautiful. And she is smart. She writes wonderful novels. I invited her over. She might write a book about Mr. Garner. She wants me to tell her what I know. Of course, there is a whole lot that I don’t know. But you do.”
Mike looked up from his plate and gave her a long look. “Is that so? Well, you know better than to think that I am going to talk about Mr. Garner’s affairs. That’ll never happen.”
“Oh Mike, she is going to…”
“That’s enough, Vicky! This conversation is over!”
Mike picked up the paper and retired into his armchair. Cool air engulfed the rest of the evening.