Once Upon A Flash Drive

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Epilogue

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt


Graduation day:

Lara was lounging on the back patio gazing out across the back lawn, but seeing only a kaleidoscope of images in her mind. Too many of the images were spattered with tears of sorrow and too few were washed with golden sunlight. She remembered her grandma Dora saying that tears washed away the grime of life. Maybe that was true, but there was some grime that couldn’t be washed away. One thing for sure, the tears had washed away her naiveté. These days she was less inclined to see the world through rose colored glasses. Even so, she believed—or wanted to believe—that there were special moments and special people to be cherished.

She had always loved her mom, but she hadn’t always appreciated her. Now, she made it habit to thank her for her understanding, her support and her love. One of her treasured memories was of her mom’s concert performance. When her mom stood to take a final bow, there was a look of satisfaction on her face. Satisfaction from a job well done. Despite her grief, she’d spent countless hours practicing, and the practice paid off. She richly deserved, and received, a curtain call. In addition to frustration and aching muscles that accompanied long hours of practice, she’d continued her search for answers about Lara’s dad’s disappearance. Through it all she’d been Maddie and Lara’s rock. The people who knew and loved her mom had prayed for a flawless performance that evening, and when their prayers were answered, a roar of applause rocked the walls of the auditorium.

She was grateful to the people of Shafer Lake. She had dozens of happy memories from her summer in Shafer Lake. Many of them included Chris. Lara's eyes twinkled when she recalled Chris’ flailing arms as he barreled out of Backstories. At that moment, he reminded her of the bumbling Inspector Jacques Clouseau in the Pink Panther movie. Chris, being Chris, was able to laugh about the incident. He readily admitted that he could be a klutz. He was funny, good-natured and bright. It amazed Lara that someone so young could handle adversity with such aplomb. Despite his disability, the loss of his mom and a temporary separation from his dad, he was rarely downcast. He had inspired her. If she could pick a brother, she’d pick Chris.

And Pastor Brian. He’d been there when she needed a friend. Her conversations with him had helped immeasurably, but more than that, he had inspired her with his patience and compassion.

It saddened Lara that there were so many tear-stained images of her Aunt Maddie. Her aunt’s attitude and health had improved dramatically once she began working with a ghost writer to complete her memoir. Who knew. There had been all kinds of speculation about what she was working on before the accident. No one guessed a memoir. Nothing would please Maddie more than proving to the naysayers that she was capable of writing another blockbuster.

Travis and her Aunt Maddie denied anything but friendship, but Lara was betting that by Christmas, they would be singing a different tune. Her Aunt Maddie’s eyes lit up when Travis entered the room, and his voice softened when he spoke to her. For her money, they made a cute couple.

There were still days when she found it hard to believe that her dad and Aunt Maddie had taken on city hall and Van McCorkle. She’d known that he believed in justice, and that his integrity was impeccable, but she hadn’t given him credit for his courage. She still missed him every day, and she was extraordinarily proud to be his daughter.

The months during the investigation had been tedious, but she’d eventually learned to deal with uncertainty, fear and anger. After months of trying to deal with her hostile feelings toward Van and Milo McCorkle, she felt relief and some semblance of satisfaction when the brothers had been found guilty of numerous crimes.

Milo had been tried in Baton Rouge, but the trial was closely followed by a reporter from the Hazelton Times. The reporter had snapped a photo of Milo at the time the verdict was read. Milo’s usual sneer had been replaced with a look of panic.

Van remained stoic throughout his trial, but he turned deathly pale when the verdict came in. He had expected the high-priced lawyer that he’d brought in from Chicago to easily win his case, but some cases can’t be won. If any two people ever deserved to rot in jail, it was the McCorkle brothers.

When her mom spoke, Lara brought her mind back to the present.

“There you are. I wondered where you disappeared to. Lara? What’s wrong, honey?”

“Oh, hi, Mom. I’m fine. The guests will begin to arrive any minute. I wanted a little private time, time to reflect.”

“Are you ready to walk across the stage?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be. Graduation will be bittersweet without Dad in the auditorium.”

“He’ll be there in spirit, if not in body.” She took a folded sheet of paper out of her pocket and handed it to Lara. “I think your dad would want you to have this. He wrote it the day you entered first grade.”

“Is it a letter to me?”

“It’s more of a reminder to himself. He didn’t want to forget the role of a child’s parents in their education. I found it when I went through your dad’s desk. When you were struggling with a decision about your senior year, I thought about giving it to you. I considered it again when you were making a decision about college.

“Your dad believed that parents and teachers are supposed to provide the materials and tools that foster education, but that decisions that affect the student should ultimately be the student’s decision. He expressed his hopes and dreams for you, but he also wrote about his love. I think that you’ll treasure it.”

“Thanks, Mom. I’m going to wait until I’m alone to read it.”

“Perfectly understandable. Are you packed?”

“I am. I’m looking forward to spending June and July in Shafer Lake.”

“Since Shafer Lake is the location for your sequel to A Home for Tina, that’s where you need to be.”

“I’ll be working with Mary at Backstories from one until five, but that leaves plenty of time to make the preliminary sketches for Ralphie’s Adventure.”

“Has Mary mentioned the book fair in August?’

“She’s already made arrangements. Keep your fingers crossed. This year I don’t want anything to interfere with my travel plans. I wish you were going to be with us in Shafer Lake.”

“You’re due a break from your Aunt Maddie and me. Since you’ve decided to attend the local community college, you’ll get your fill of us come fall. Maddie, Travis and I will drive down for an occasional week-end.”

“Now that the investigation is behind us, do you have enough to keep you busy here in Hazelton?”

“I’m working on several music arrangements, and I’ll be working with two students who need extra instruction.”

Lara nodded.

“Lara, you’re not sorry that you came back to Hazelton for your senior year, are you?”

“It was the right thing to do. Under the circumstances, or should I say despite the circumstances, it’s been a good school year.” She picked up the letters she’d put on the glass-top table earlier. She quickly glanced at the return addresses. “I’m going to have to spend my first week of vacation thanking people for their gifts and cards.”

“Who sent that batch of cards?”

“The Lawrence’s, the Balke’s, the Lee’s, the Taylor’s and . . . Ariel Keller.”

As usual, her mom’s look was guarded when Ariel’s name was mentioned.

“Mom, I know that your friendship with Ariel ended badly, but she was always good to me. Whatever poor decisions she made, she has more than paid for them. She lost everything.”

“I know, and I hope that her fortunes will change. When did you start communicating with her?”

“I sent her an email after she sent a Christmas card to me.

“Is she working?”

“She’s training horses. I browsed the Livingston Horse Farm website, the farm where she works. It’s amazing. The endless green fields with white fences are breathtakingly beautiful, and the horses are magnificent. When I saw the photos, my first thought was that Tina would thrive on a horse farm. I’m not sure how I could get a mouse to Kentucky, but it’s a thought. Maybe it can be Tina’s Kentucky cousin. I can’t think of a better location for a children’s book.”

Reluctant to stir up trouble on such a happy day, she asked without censure, “Are you ever going to forgive Ariel, Mom?”

Her mom took a deep breath before answering. “I’ve forgiven her, honey. I just don’t want to be her friend.” She paused before adding, “She always had a soft spot for you. You know a side of her that I don’t.”

“Other than you and Dad, Ariel was the first person to encourage my talent. I sent her the publishing date for A Home for Tina.” Lara slipped a letter out of its envelope. “She sent a graduation card, a gift card and a letter. Listen to this:

Lara,

The day I received your email, I stopped by Deuterman’s Books, my favorite bookshop. Polly, the owner, is a friend of mine. I spent a good two hours singing your praises. She suggested that I preorder your book, and I did.

She called Monday to let me know that your book was in. I dropped everything and hustled over to the bookshop. I’m totally impressed with your gorgeous illustrations and your delightful characters. So is Polly. When you have a break in your schedule, she would very much like to hold a book signing for you. Send me a list of possible dates if your answer is yes. Polly advertises heavily, so there are typically hundreds of people who attend her book signings. She guarantees a profitable and fun-filled evening.

I invite you to stay with my family at Livingston Farm. If you have enough down time, I’ll treat you to a riverboat ride on the Dixie Belle and we can lunch at the historic Beaumont Inn. There is much to see and do in Lexington. Since you too are an animal lover, you should thoroughly enjoy meeting the horses at Livingston, especially Peaches. She’s sassy like you. Maybe you will be inspired to write a book about by my four-legged friends.

Lara looked up and asked, “So . . . what do you think?”

“If you want to do a book signing in Kentucky, I think you should.”

“Will you make the trip with me?”

Her mom was noncommittal. “Let me think about it, Lara. Let’s get through graduation, and then I’ll give you an answer.”

“Fair enough.”

Susan said, “Oh, by the way, I received a text from Wesley this morning. His case closed sooner than expected. Travis and Maddie are on their way to the airport to meet his flight.”

“I’m glad he’s coming, but I hope that he didn’t feel obligated to attend my graduation services.”

Her mom laughed. “Ms. Lou and Chris don’t agree. Both of them told him that he’d be in the doghouse if he didn’t show up.”

“How are things going with you two, Mom?”

Her mom’ s eyes blazed. “Don’t try to turn our friendship into something it’s not, Lara.”

“Whoa. I didn’t mean to start a firestorm. I know that the two of you have been emailing and texting.”

“We started texting during the trial. He was entangled in a case and couldn’t be in Hazelton. On the days that I was in the court room, I gave him a play by play account of the proceedings.” She paused before adding, “I’m not interested in a relationship, Lara. Wesley’s great, but I’m not in the market for a replacement for your dad.”

“I wasn’t suggesting a replacement, Mom. I realize that you’ll always love Dad, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be lonely. He would want you to be happy. Actually, I think that he would like Wesley.”

“Two men couldn’t be more different.”

“Maybe in looks, but there are likenesses. Dad might have been a high-powered businessman, but he obviously had a little bit of detective in him. Wesley, is a stoic agent, but his sense of humor reminds me of Dad.”

“Your dad got along with everyone, but Wesley would be a stretch. Besides, Wesley isn’t my type.”

“Tall, dark and handsome is every woman’s type, Mom.”

Her mom’s voice softened. “You got me there. I value his friendship. I do. But, both of us come with excess baggage.”

“It’s your life, Mom. All I’m saying is that I think you should keep the door open.”

“You’re fine one to talk, Lara. For a young woman who used to have a date every Friday night, your social calendar is shockingly empty.”

“It’s been a year of recovery, Mom. I haven’t had time for boyfriends.”

“Maybe it’s time to change that.”

“Maybe. I’m open to changes in my life, so who knows what the summer will bring. Greta’s brother Carleton is scheduled to spend part of his vacation in Shafer Lake. I’ve had my eye on him for years.”

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