By Sandra P. Aldrich
Published by Bold Words, Inc.
Dru Mills Returns Home with New Dreams for a New LifeOne early morning in 1985, Dru drives off to leave everything behind in Michigan—her parents, her younger siblings and her cheating boyfriend, with all his empty promises. She’s convinced returning to Kentucky and taking the computer job at the local hospital will provide everything she needs for a fresh start. Within five minutes of crossing the Kentucky Eden County line, she’s welcomed—with a speeding ticket! This is not how she imagined her homecoming. After the annoying but admittedly handsome police officer hands over the ticket, Dru grumpily pulls back onto the asphalt. Chastised, she drives slower, remembering long-ago childhood scenes. Those memories are interrupted by the sight of an Amish buggy carrying a stoic bearded man. Soon after settling in, Dru’s life collides with both the policeman’s and the Amish farmer’s when a murderer invades Dru’s community. The three unlikely companions become intertwined in ways none of them wants, catapulting their inner guilt and disappointments to the surface and exposing emotional ghosts they’d all prefer to keep hidden. All three must find the strength to navigate their emotional hurdles. And with that strength, the hope to carry on.
CHAPTER 1: DRU MILLS
Dru Mills cranked up the car radio as Foggy Mountain Breakdown came on.
“Yessir! What a great song to welcome me!” she shouted as she sped toward her new life and past flowering dogwood, redbud and sarvis sprinkled across the gentle hills of Eden County, Kentucky.
Next stop, Garden Grove, she thought.
The radio’s blaring banjo chords kept her from hearing the siren, but the flashing red and blue lights behind her grabbed her attention.
“Shoot!” she groaned as she eased to the side. A police cruiser pulled behind her.
“Some welcome, all right,” she murmured as she snapped off the radio and put both hands to the top of the steering wheel as she often had seen her father do.
When the tall officer leaned toward her, Dru could smell his cinnamon gum. She wondered if he was curious about the contents of the jam-packed back seat.
Finally, he spoke. “Well, Miss. How are you this fine Saturday?”
What a stupid question, she thought. But she turned toward him.
“I think that’s about to depend on you, Officer.”
She saw him press his lips together while his brown eyes betrayed his amusement.
He moved the gum to the other side of his mouth.
“Do you have any idea how fast you were going?”
Dru shrugged and tried her father’s usual answer.
“No, Sir. I was just moving with the traffic.”
The officer shook his head. “You weren’t moving with it; you were passing it. May I see your driver’s license and registration, please?”
Dru clinched her teeth as she pulled the items from her wallet and handed them over. As the officer took them, Dru noticed the name Colby on the identification badge above his shirt pocket stuffed with packs of Big Red gum.
“Stay here, please.”
She huffed. “I’m not planning to race a police car in a second-hand Ford.”
He turned quickly. Through the rear-view mirror, Dru watched him enter his vehicle and lean to the right of the steering wheel.
Yeah, check all my information, she thought. Make sure I’m not some Michigan ax murderer.
She drew a deep breath as the cars she’d passed earlier now passed her. Peter would love seeing this.
Shortly, Officer Colby was back at her window. He began to read from her driver’s license.
“Well, Miss Drucilla Jean Mills. . . .“
“Dru. I go by Dru—not Drucilla.”
Her voice was harsh. She was in no mood for pleasantries.
“Okay, Miss Dru Jean Mills, you were going fourteen miles over the speed limit, but you’re not in our system, so I’ve lowered your ticket to seven miles over as a welcome to our fair state.”
“This isn’t a state,” Dru snapped. “It’s a commonwealth. One of the U.S. four.”
Officer Colby moved the cinnamon gum around again.
“Well, now. Most folks I give tickets to aren’t interested in that fact.”
He handed the driver’s license and registration back to Dru, then tore the top paper from his ticket pad.
“You can pay your fine by mail at the address listed,” he said. “But slow down for the remainder of your visit to our fair commonwealth.”
Dru forced herself not to snatch the ticket from his hand.
“I’m not visiting,” she said. “I’m moving here.”
“I hope you’ve got a job already,” he said. “This area isn’t as prosperous as Michigan was years ago.”
“Yes, I do have a job,” Dru said. “In the new computer department at the Garden Grove Hospital.”
Shut up, Dru. Shut up, she thought. Peter always said you talk too much.
“Best cheeseburgers in town at the hospital grill,” Officer Colby said. “Well, good luck. And slow down.”
Dru waited for him to walk back to his vehicle before she started her car. She was tempted to peel out to show him just what she thought, but she took a deep breath instead as she pulled behind a passing 18-wheeler. She glanced in the rear-view mirror to make sure Officer Colby wasn’t behind her. He wasn’t.
She reached for the radio knob but changed her mind. Instead, with her eyes on the truck ahead, she fumbled for the notepaper on the seat beside her and pulled it to where she could read the next item in her aunt’s string of directions: Leave highway at Garden Grove exit, turn right.
I’ll worry about that stupid ticket later, Dru thought. Aunt Wilma said she’d have supper waiting. I bet Mom’s called her a million times by now.
After cautiously exiting the highway and turning right at the bottom of the ramp, Dru drove for less than a mile and turned left onto a two-lane paved road. For the next several miles, she glanced at the directions clutched in her hand and was relieved when she saw the red brick church ahead. The building hadn’t changed in the past two decades. The brick still was faded and the five concrete steps leading to the porch still were cracked.
I wonder if Miss Mable still teaches the second-grade girls, she thought as she read the next instruction: Turn right at the first road past Garden Grove Community Church. Go past three stop signs.
Dru turned right, smiling as she remembered her long-ago Sunday school teacher’s welcoming hugs each Sunday morning. As she approached the first stop sign, a black Amish buggy rounded the curve on her right, the horse trotting smartly. The bearded driver pulled on the reins, slowing the buggy and watching the car as though to make sure the vehicle stopped fully. Then with a light slap of the reins, he gave the horse permission to resume its gait. His passenger, a younger man, never looked her way.
Dru watched, fascinated. Aunt Wilma said the Amish are buying farms around here, she thought. I hope an Amish family bought our old place. I hope they’ve got a little girl and a big tree swing. And a puppy named Rusty! And she eased her car forward.
CHAPTER 2: BILL COLBY
Officer Bill Colby leaned against the hood of his squad car as he watched Dru’s blue 1981 Ford Fairmont pull behind a passing 18-wheeler.
Well, Miss Dru Jean of Ypsilanti, Michigan, height: five feet, six inches, hair brown, eyes hazel, he mentally repeated from her driver’s license. If you’re working at the hospital, I’m gonna see you again real soon. And ya gotta be impressed I can pronounce Ypsilanti. Got an uncle who moved there for a job years ago. Now you’re moving here for one.
He grinned, remembering her comment about racing him in her used car.
I like your feisty style, he thought. I almost busted out laughing when you said that, and it’s been a long time since a woman made me laugh.
Suddenly, he shook his head and looked down at his polished black shoes.
“Who ya tryin’ to kid, Bill?” he whispered. “A woman like her would never be interested in somebody like you.”
He walked beyond the pavement shoulder and spat his gum far into the tall weeds. As he unwrapped two new sticks of Big Red, he had one thought: I want a cigarette.
He shoved the fresh gum into his mouth and looked over the guard rail to the old road below. An Amish buggy came into view.
Might be Levi Stahl taking his little boy home after therapy, Bill thought. No. That department’s not open on Saturdays.
He half-heartedly raised his hand in greeting even though the buggy was far below. Then his stomach tightened as he pondered the accident last fall: the tourist slumped over the steering wheel of the car, the horse on its side with his entrails spilling out as he kicked at the overturned buggy, Levi frantically trying to pull his pregnant wife and little boy out from under the buggy’s wheel.
Bill had just started his shift and was on the old road headed for the main highway when he came upon the scene. He drew his pistol as he ran toward the buggy, knowing the horse had to be killed—not only to put it out of its misery but to stop the destruction the thrashing hooves were causing. The crack of the single shot brought the driver of the car out of his stupor, and he emerged from his vehicle still holding his camera and babbling repeated apologies. Bill had shouted and ordered him back to his car then turned to help the Amish father pull his wife and son from beneath the buggy.
When Bill’s hands had gripped the young wife’s shoulders, her eyes fluttered open, and she murmured, “Oh, my poor baby” as she put her hands over her bloodied belly. And then her eyes had closed for the last time. Levi had cradled her head in his lap while his tears and blood from the cut above his eye flowed into his beard. Bill had pulled the little boy free and carried him to the police car. There he quickly radioed for an ambulance as he held compresses on the unconscious child’s mangled leg.
At his meeting that autumn night, all Bill could say was, “Today was tough. I saw a bad accident that took innocent lives.”
Now from his position above the old road, Bill lowered his hand but continued to watch the black buggy until it disappeared behind a grove of white flowering dogwood trees.
He rubbed the back of his neck. Easy now. Dwelling on the accident won’t undo it.
He glanced at his watch. Two more hours ’til my shift’s up, he thought. With any luck, maybe I’ll get to tonight’s meeting on time.
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