Once Upon A Flash Drive

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Chapter Six

“It’s still ok to dream with a broken heart.”
~ Nikki Rowe

After hugs all around, and a promise to stay in touch, Susan returned to Hazelton late Sunday afternoon. Lara had misgivings about her mom’s decision to stay in Hazelton alone, but was determined not to give in to her fears or to let her insecurities morph into depression. Fortunately, her desire to write and sketch had once again blossomed. As long as she remained focused on Tina mouse’s harum-scarum activities, she didn’t have time to worry about the issues in her own life.

Nana Dora kept busy with a quilting project. She’d learned to quilt at her grandma’s knee and had continued the family tradition of winning blue ribbons at the state fair. When she was at home in Marion, she taught quilting and design classes at the local community college.

Most mornings, Grandpa Sam breakfasted with his buddies at Bella’s and then headed over to the marina and fishing pier for a morning of man talk. The afternoons were reserved for outings on the Corabelle, a forty-eight ft. Catamaran. Lara loved the boat, so rarely turned down an invitation to accompany him. Ms. Lou and Chris were frequently members of the crew, but Nana Dora joined them only when the mood struck.

Thursday afternoon, the five-man crew— Sam, Dora, Fran, Chris and Lara—set out across the lake to explore Summerfield Training Center, a restored historical complex. In the mid 1800’s Kendrick Summerfield, a wealthy farmer, established a work-study training center for orphaned boys. In 1891, a cataclysmic year for typhoid deaths in the United States, an epidemic swept through the center killing eight out of the ten boys enrolled. Two instructors and the chaplain also died. The youngsters and adults who lost their lives were buried in a small cemetery behind the one-room church on the complex’s grounds. Shortly thereafter, the center was abandoned.

The complex lay abandoned and forgotten for over fifty years. In 1950, a member of the State Historical Society stumbled upon the tumbled down buildings while out hiking. After two years of research and planning, and another year of restoration, the buildings were opened to the public. A historical marker located at the entrance of the complex gave a brief history of the center, its successes and its tragic end.

Tired after the day’s adventure at the training center, Dora retired to her room to take a nap. Lara and her grandpa kicked back on the porch to review the events of the day.

“Thanks for suggesting a trip to Summerfield, Grandpa. I was inspired. The center would make a great setting for a book, or even a series of books. I would need to go back and make sketches and do some further research, but that would be a pleasure. I’m not sure whether I would tell the stories from the students or the instructors perspectives. Chris had what I thought was an excellent idea. He suggested creating a storyline from the perspective of the two boys who survived the typhoid epidemic.”

“Sounds promising. Since your stories usually include animals, you could let the small, ground animals that lived on the property tell the stories. Or, what about a story told by a pet squirrel or pet rabbit. With Chris’ ideas and your photographs you should have enough copy to write and illustrate one book.”

“That’s not going to happen until I finish my first book, Grandpa, but I’ll keep that in mind.”

Her grandpa said, “I didn’t realize that Chris was a history buff when I suggested the trip. Maybe the next time out, we can take a trip over to Fort Pinnacle.”

“That sounds like something he could get into. I’m not usually a history lover, but his excitement was contagious. I noticed him frowning when he read the marker at the entrance. When I asked why, he said that the history sketch was a teaser. Before we were half way through the complex, questions were pouring out of him. What inspired Summerfield to establish the center? What was the average age of the kids living on the grounds? How were the boys disciplined? Where did they go when they completed their education? He was especially curious about how holidays were celebrated. I had a half-dozen stories swirling through my head before we headed back to Shafer Lake.”

“I admire Chris. He’s dealt with a lot for a kid his age, and he still has a positive attitude. Did he tell you that his dad is going to be in town next week?”

Lara said, “No, but he rarely mentions his dad. Have you met Wesley Tillman?”

“I have.”

“So, what’s your impression of him, Grandpa?”

“Hm-m. Imposing is the first word that comes to mind. He’s a big man, but it’s his keen intelligence that impresses me.”

“Really? I’m surprised that you were impressed by a man who shirks his parental responsibilities.”

Sam’s gaze locked with Lara’s. “Seems to me that after experiencing the media’s unfair treatment of your dad, you would be less inclined to judge situations you know nothing about.”

Lara sighed. “I stand corrected.”

“As I recall, your friend Kinsey didn’t impress me. Do you remember what you said to me?”

“Not word for word.”

“You went into great detail about her family life, or her lack thereof. When you finished your explanation, you looked at me and said, ‘Grandpa, I would have probably been a bigger brat than she is if I had a dad who berated every word that came out of my mouth.’ How is Kinsey, by the way?”

“Nothing has changed for Kinsey. She rarely sees her dad these days. It’s taken time, but she is finally beginning to realize that all males aren’t jerks.

“The schools are full of students who have been emotionally damaged by uncaring or uninvolved parents. I’m grateful that I had a dad who knew the meaning of the words parental responsibility. Even when Dad and I were at odds, I knew he loved me. We verbally sparred almost daily, but it was all in fun.”

Her grandpa asked, “Has Chris ever said anything negative about his dad?”

“Not that I recall.”

“Things aren’t always what they seem, sweetie.”

“I’ll take your word for it. If I meet Wesley Tillman, I promise that I’ll be civil.”

Her grandpa’s silence effectively closed the subject, or so Lara assumed. When he broke the silence, she found his words thought provoking. “While Wesley was in Shafer Lake last summer, I invited him to spend a couple of afternoons on the Corabelle. He’s an extremely private man, so I didn’t expect him to share confidences. I was wrong. He told me about his job, Chris’ loss of hearing and his wife Shannon’s untimely death.

“After Shannon’s death, Shannon’s mother Fran flew to Washington for her funeral. She extended her stay because of Wesley’s temporary inability to function efficiently. He was devastated by Shannon’s loss. When he was able to pull himself together, he and Fran sat down and discussed Chris’ future.

“Wesley understands that Chris’ emotional and physical needs are not being met. His job requires long hours and frequent trips out of town. If Chis lived with him, there would be a need for a housekeeper. Wesley wasn’t comfortable hiring someone who didn’t understand the security issues that come from being the child of an FBI agent.

“Additionally, Chris was dealing with the loss of his mom and his loss of hearing. Life wasn’t easy for him. Wesley’s concern is Chris’ wellbeing—physical, mental and emotional. Fran has worked with special needs kids, so she was and is uniquely suited to work with Chris. She also loves him.”

“So, is this a permanent solution?”

“Wesley can retire in two years. Chris will remain with Fran until that time.”

“Wow. That’s quite a story. Since an agent’s job requires a certain amount of anonymity, I’m surprised that he shared that kind of information with you.”

“To my knowledge, only two people in Shafer Lake besides myself know that Wesley is with the FBI. Fran and Brian.”

“Are you breaking a confidence by telling me?”

“I’m making a judgment call. In this case, I’m confident that Wesley would approve. You are trustworthy, and you are Chris’ friend.”

“Thanks for your vote of confidence. I won’t let you down.”

“Lara, there’s something that I’ve been meaning to ask you about. When your mom was filling us in on the news from Hazelton, you didn’t seem surprised. Why have you been so quick to declare your dad dead?”

Lara was momentarily conflicted. Expressing her thoughts on the subject usually stirred up trouble. “For one thing, I know that Dad is not a prodigal husband and dad. He would never willingly leave Mom and me. I reiterate . . . is not a prodigal husband and dad.” She paused before adding, “If I’m wrong, and he returns home, Mom and I will kill the fatted calf.”

“And, your other reason or reasons?”

“I knew from day one that he wouldn’t be coming home. When Mom told me that he was missing, I was devastated but not surprised.”

“Please explain.”

“I don’t claim to be physic, but I know what I experienced that day. It was one of those horrible days when everything went wrong. I hadn’t slept well the night before because I had put off studying for a history test. I was woefully unprepared, and I needed a good grade in history class.

“Fortunately, the test wasn’t a complete disaster. I should have walked out of the classroom feeling elated because I’d passed. Instead, I broke out in a cold sweat. Initially, I attributed the panic attack to a loss of sleep and stress. As the day wore on, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the invisible thread between Dad and me had been broken. I was convinced that something was terribly wrong.

“Our relationship wasn’t perfect. We frequently butted heads, but there was a special bond between us. I know that Dad’s dead, as surely as I know that the sun will rise tomorrow.”

“I hope that you’re wrong, but I don’t question the bond that you and your dad shared.”

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