Home > The Best of Me (Blessings, Georgia #13)

The Best of Me (Blessings, Georgia #13)
Author: Sharon Sala

 

Chapter 1


   There are places on earth so perfectly aligned with the universe that they develop a rhythm…like the heartbeat of a living, breathing thing. And when something comes along that threatens the life flow and the sanctity of those places, the people within rise up as one to protect that which is theirs.

   Those places hold and shelter the best of humanity, and the humanity within holds fast to the blessing and gives back the best of themselves.

   And so it goes in Blessings, Georgia.

   Those who are hurt are healed.

   That which is broken is fixed.

   That which threatens one threatens all.

   And such a tragedy or intrusion is not to be taken quietly or lightly.

   ***

   The Greyhound brakes were squeaking in protest as the long, gray ride pulled up and parked at the bus stop next to the Blessings police station. Intermittent clouds of black smoke were coming from the muffler, as if in protest of the pause in its journey, when the bus door abruptly opened. The driver, a slightly rumpled middle-aged man in need of a shave, jumped off and headed for the luggage compartment.

   Behind him, a gaunt young woman emerged, staggering slightly as she reached back to the little girl with her and took her hand to steady her as she came down the steps.

   The driver had two suitcases out on the sidewalk.

   “Shirley Duroy?”

   “Yes. That’s me,” the woman said.

   “You just had the two suitcases, right?” he asked.

   Shirley nodded, then glanced at the blanket and stuffed toy her daughter, Carlie, was clutching and brushed a stray strand of blond curls away from her forehead.

   The driver eyed the dark circles beneath the woman’s eyes and the tremble in her hands and voice. He’d been concerned about her ever since their boarding in Little Rock, Arkansas. She looked like death warmed over, but now that she’d debarked, her journey was none of his business.

   “Well then, thank you for traveling Greyhound,” he said, then climbed back on the bus and drove away.

   Carlie looked up. “Mama, is this it?”

   Shirley choked back tears. “Yes, this is Blessings. It’s going to be your new home. Can you help me pull our suitcases to that building?”

   Carlie laid her blanket and stuffed rabbit on top of one suitcase, grabbed the strap on the wheeled suitcase, and began pulling it toward the door. As soon as she got it off the street, she ran back to get the other one and pulled it up as well, then ran back to her mother.

   “Hold onto me, Mama.”

   Shirley took a quick breath. Everything was spinning. The sun was hot, and she needed to get in where it was cool. Her heart was pounding in her chest in an erratic rhythm that did not bode well for her, but she already knew her fate. It’s why she was here.

   Then she felt her daughter’s hand in hers and looked down at her through a veil of tears. This isn’t fair. But Carlie Duroy’s existence is not, nor has it ever been, based on fair.

   It felt like forever, but they finally reached the door to the police station. Shirley grabbed the knob, gripped it with all the strength she had left, and turned it. The door swung inward, and Carlie grabbed her blanket and toy from the suitcase and led her mama straight into the front lobby. She sat Shirley in the first chair they came to, dumped her things in the chair beside her, then went back to drag in their bags.

   Shirley was in something of a panic. She was realizing that the time she’d counted on settling Carlie in wasn’t going to be given to her. Her heart, which had been pounding, was suddenly skipping beats—a lot of beats, and she was losing her breath.

   Oh God. I needed more time. I needed more time.

   Avery Ames, the dispatcher, jumped up the moment they came inside and ran to them, then didn’t know who to help first.

   “Ma’am?” he asked.

   Shirley pointed at the open door and Carlie, who was trying to drag a suitcase over the threshold.

   “Help…” she whispered.

   “Yes, ma’am,” Avery said and ran to the door. “I’ll get that for you, honey,” he said.

   “We have two,” Carlie said.

   “I’ll get them,” Avery said.

   Carlie went back to her mother, pushed her blanket and toy aside, then sat down beside her and reached for her hand. Her shorts and T-shirt were rumpled from traveling, and the backs of her bare legs were sticking on the wooden chairs, but her only concern was Mama.

   Avery pulled the bags over to where they were sitting and then paused in front of the woman.

   “Ma’am, how can I help you?” he asked.

   “Chief…” she mumbled, and then leaned back and closed her eyes.

   “Yes, ma’am,” Avery said and bolted down the hall and into Lon Pittman’s office without bothering to knock. “Chief! Come quick. There’s a woman with a little girl in the lobby. The woman looks bad sick, and she asked for you.”

   Lon was on his feet and running, with Avery right behind him.

   One look at the pair sitting in the lobby, and Lon knew something dire was happening. The little girl looked terrified, and the woman wasn’t breathing right.

   “Avery, get an ambulance here, stat.”

   “Yes, sir,” Avery said and ran back to his desk.

   “Ma’am, I’m Lon Pittman, the chief of police. How can I help you? Are you sick?”

   Shirley moaned. “Carlie…sorry, baby, sorry.”

   “Mama’s dying,” Carlie said.

   Lon reeled as if he’d been sucker-punched, staring at the little girl and the tears shimmering in her eyes.

   “How do…? What’s your mother’s name?” he asked.

   “Shirley Duroy.”

   Lon was checking the woman’s pulse as he spoke, and it was blatantly obvious the kid knew what she was talking about. The woman’s heart was barely beating.

   “What’s wrong with her?” Lon asked.

   “Her heart is sick. I take care of her.”

   Oh Jesus. “How old are you, Carlie ?”

   “Seven…almost eight,” she said and started shaking. “Mama can’t live no more. I have to live for both of us. I have to be good and do right.” Then she turned and hid her face against her mother’s shoulder.

   The last time Lon had felt this helpless was the day he thought his wife, Mercy, had drowned. Only she hadn’t been his wife then, just the love of his life. He could only imagine what this little girl was feeling.

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