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Chapter 13

Ginny disliked hospitals intensely, the sterile décor, the medicinal smells and the sounds of wheelchairs and muted whispers behind closed doors. Her dislike dated back to the time when her teenage brother was in an automobile accident. She was ten, and she’d been terrified that Rob would die. She hadn’t been allowed to go to the hospital but once, and the experience was burned into memory.

Her positive experience in maternity had somewhat modified her dislike, but major injuries like the ones Ruth sustained brought back unpleasant memories.

Summerfield Memorial was a very small, but highly acclaimed hospital. Ginny had no trouble locating the waiting area for trauma patients. She spotted Charles on the far side of the waiting area. His head was back and his eyes closed. She crossed the room and took a chair adjacent to him, careful not disturb him. He must have sensed that someone had taken a seat close by. His eyes slowly opened. His gaze went toward the nurse’s post, then perused the room. When his eyes met hers, they widened. He took out his ear-buds. “Sorry, I hope you haven’t been here long.”

“No, I just arrived. I didn’t want to startle you.”

“When I’m stressed, classical music helps. It’s good of you to come, Ginny, but I hope you didn’t think that I was pressuring you.”

“No, I wanted to be here. As long as Molly is living with me, Charles, anything that affects her future affects mine. Besides, I like Ruth. Are Christine and Roger not here?”

“Roger’s here. He and Nell needed to stretch their legs. They went to find coffee. Christine is out of town for the day. Roger hasn’t been able to reach her.”

“In a way, that might be a good thing. She won’t have to endure the waiting. Is Roger frantic because he can’t locate her?”

“No. Christine is a free spirit. She turns off her phone if she’s depressed, or she is feuding with Gwen or Roger. There have been episodes when she stayed out all night.”

“Interesting. She must not have a job if she pulls disappearing acts.”

“She volunteers off and on. She and I rarely speak other than to say hello. Roger shares insight into her behavior only when he’s frustrated, and that’s not often. Even then, he’s reticent to say anything that reflects on her character. I only know about her disappearances because Gwen mentioned the episodes to Ruth.

“Unfortunately, Roger will be far more interested in Ruth’s prognosis than her daughter will be. Christine is too self-absorbed to get upset about another person's trauma, even her mother's. Roger, on the other hand, adores Ruth. He cares about her physical and mental health.”

“It’s good to hear that one of them cares about her. Charles, the timing might be poor, but there are a few questions that I need answers for. Since I’d rather not impose on your time at the law firm, is it okay if I ask the questions now.”

“If your questions don’t concern legal issues, yes.”

“No. Questions about Ruth’s relationship with Julie. She seems like a caring person. Why didn’t she try to find Julie when she disappeared?”

His voice registered surprise. “She did. She knew about Molly, and she was aware that Julie was a competent and dedicated mother and employee.”

It was Ginny’s turn to be mystified. “If she knew, why didn’t she respond to Julie’s Christmas card. Julie poured her heart out, begged Ruth to forgive her.”

“Ruth never received a Christmas card from Julie. She would have been on the phone minutes after she opened a letter or card.”

Did Ruth not tell him that she’d received one or was the card lost in the mail? Not likely, but possible. “Even if the card was lost, what about the letter Julie sent three years ago. Julie claimed that she groveled.”

“Ginny, there was no letter. She left a note the day she disappeared, and after that, silence. The day Julie walked out, Ruth called me in tears. She was determined not to make the same mistakes she made with Christine. She decided to back off and pray that Julie would come to her senses.

“The next eighteen months were agony for her. I think she would have suffered a nervous breakdown if she hadn’t turned to painting. When she couldn’t endure the waiting any longer, she hired a private detective. It took time to find Julie because of her name change.

“Since then, the PI has given Ruth updates every six months. If Julie had ever been in financial trouble, Ruth would have stepped in.”

“Are you telling me that Ruth knew about Julie’s illness and death?”

“Not until you showed up at her door.”

“She didn't seem like a mourning great grandmother when I told her that Julie was deceased.”

“Ruth isn’t a particularly demonstrative person, but believe me, she adored Julie. She was devastated that she hadn’t been brave enough to face Julie. She kept saying, ‘If I had, Charles, we could have gotten past the harsh words and misunderstandings.’ They were both stubborn, and they paid a price for their stubbornness.”

“I don’t understand. Julie was dying, she wouldn’t have lied.”

“And Ruth had no reason to lie to me. This new information takes some looking into.”

“I agree. Thank you for clarifying Ruth’s position.”

“Any other questions?”

“One. Did the nurse at the desk give you indication how long the medical team would be working on Ruth?”

“She informed us that Ruth’s injuries were extensive, which I already knew. She warned us to expect a long wait.” He paused, seeming to gather his thoughts. “I’ve been worried about Nancy. She and Ruth are close, so finding Ruth the way she did was traumatic. She was level-headed enough to call the ambulance and me, but I could tell that she was at a breaking point. How was she when you spoke to her?”

“Still upset but thinking rationally despite her shock. I’ll call her when we know what Ruth’s prognosis is. Have you talked to Grace?”

“We’re staying in touch. She’s agreed to take a turn sitting with Ruth when Nell and I leave. Callie, another friend of Ruth's, doesn’t have a lot of free time, but she’s agreed to be on call. If the medical team advises us to get a fulltime nurse, I’ll find one. She deserves the best.”

An hour later, Dr. Ridley Sizemore appeared. He described Ruth’s injuries, but hesitated to make a prognosis. The news was good and bad. She was alive, but her injuries were life threatening. The pressure caused by swelling made it necessary to drill a hole in her skull. A monitor, which was inserted, would alert the medical team if the pressure increased. On the Glasgow Coma Scale, a scale used to detect the depth of a coma, she was an 8. Barring complications, she had a 69% of recovery. Complications to be on the alert for included age related issues, infection and blood clots. She was on life support and would need round the clock nursing until her condition improved.

Her arm and wrist were broken and her shoulder was dislocated. Although those injuries weren’t classified as critical, she would need long-term physical therapy.

Ginny was upset by the unofficial prognosis, but Charles, Nell and Roger were devastated. She wanted to say or do something that would ease their pain, but she’d learned from experience that it was easy to say the wrong thing. Different people dealt with stress and pain in different ways. Sometimes it was best just to be there for them.

Before heading back to Archdale, she stopped by Ruth’s house to have a brief talk with Grace. The housekeeper was still trying to make sense of the accident. Her words reinforced Nancy’s words. “The accident is disturbing, Ginny. Ruth didn’t go near the stairs for fear of making a misstep.” Her words would come back to haunt Ginny.

She planned to wait until she was back home to get a bite to eat, but hunger pains shouted at her. She knew exactly where she could get a good meal. Selma was not that far out of the way. Betty's dinner crowd usually came late, so there was a good chance the Ginny would be able to find a seat. The restaurant was a happy place, and she desperately needed a distraction.

It always surprised Ginny that no matter how long it had been since she’d been in Betty’s, she always felt at home. Immediately after she was seated a voice at her side demanded, “Stand up!”

Shocked, she turned to see who made the demand. She broke into a wide smile, then scrambled out of the booth. “What law did I break?”

Betty wrapped her in a warm embrace. “I couldn’t hug you when you were sitting down.” When she finally released Ginny, she slid into the seat across from her. “You’re looking good. I’ve been worried about you, especially since it’s been so long without a word.”

“Same here, Betty. Since Sam died, I’ve had to be Mom, Dad and business collaborator with Ron. I haven’t had a lot of time to do fun things.”

“I adored that man of yours, you know. He was as good a man as I’ve ever met. I keep watching the door hoping that he’ll walk through.”

Tears welled in Ginny’s eyes. She brushed them aside. “I know the feeling. I’m not sure that I’ll ever stop waiting for him to come home.”

“In time you will, sweetie. How’s Brian.”

“He’s a trooper. His senior year isn’t as exciting as I had hoped it would be, but he doesn’t complain. Before he heads off to school next fall, we’ll come for lunch.”

“Give that boy a hug and tell him that I look forward to seeing him.”

“I will. When I drove down Main Street, Betty, I couldn’t help noticing how many new shops there are. One of the most charming aspects of Selma has been what I call the resident’s small-town hospitality. It’s comforting to return and find that the locals haven’t moved away and that the changes in town only add to its appeal.

“Archdale, New Holland and Summerfield are always vying for new businesses and highways. It’s all about progress. When I think about the ideal place to kick back and relax, my thoughts invariably turn to Selma.”

Betty shrugged and threw up her hands. “As much as some of the old timers would like to stop the hands of the clock in the town square, it’s not going to happen. Towns either grow or die. Fortunately, Selma is growing. If you look carefully, you’ll find that most of the new shops are owned by artists or craftsmen.

"Frances Guthrie, a notable artist, moved her studio to Selma six or seven years ago. She encouraged her friends to follow suit, so now Selma has three artist’s studios, two potter’s studios, a weaver, a glassblower and a silversmith. We also have a published author who has a writing studio in town. The author doesn’t live here, just writes here. We’re getting quite uptown, Ginny.”

“Sounds like. Would I recognize the writer’s name?”

“I doubt it. Her name is Carla Rhodes. Her first book was published last year. She rented a studio apartment in Selma five years ago. Initially, she didn’t mingle with the locals, so I don’t know the exact date she arrived. Over time, she has become less of a mystery woman. She comes to lunch at Betty’s at odd hours, and most of the time she avoids talking to the locals.

"On one of her chattier days, she told me that she had finally snagged an agent. About six months later, her book was published. If you’re interested in reading Sweet Justice, Books Aplenty carries it. I haven’t read it, but my customers tell me that it’s a good read if you like crime novels.”

“The book store will be closed by the time I’ve eaten dinner. Maybe I’ll check on Amazon.”

“Here I am chatting away, and you are here to eat. It’s your lucky day, my dear. Meatloaf is on the menu.”

“Yum, I was hoping you’d say that. I had toast and coffee for breakfast and two peanut butter crackers for lunch, so I’m starved.”

“Good, then you’ll have room for chocolate cheesecake. I have one piece left and it has your name on it.”

Later, when Ginny asked for her check, she was told that her meal had been paid for. Ginny scribbled a message on the back of a Roark & Erikkson business card and handed it to the cashier. Would you please give this to Betty and tell her that she made a tired and hungry woman very happy?”

She grinned. “Sure thing. She said to tell you to drive safely, and don’t be a stranger.”

Ginny sighed in contentment. Her decision to eat at Betty’s had been a good one.

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