by Anj
(a.k.a. Azurenon)

Written 1992, Revised June, 2001

Introduction: At the age of 21, Marion Faith Neilson's life has been turned upside down and inside out. A plane crash has left her partially paralyzed, slightly disfigured and alone in a world of strangers. A rich uncle steps in to take care of her, providing for her needs in lavish fashion. But, can she trust him? A full-time nurse/therapist, Sara -hired by Faith's uncle- is the closest thing she has to a friend. And Faith soon finds herself emotionally attached and physically attracted to this woman. Yet, with the mystery that surrounds Sara's past, can Faith truly trust her? Can Sara help Faith battle the demons of self-pity and learn to walk again? Can Faith help Sara unravel the mystery of her past?
This is an original story.

No Uber fiction here. But don't get me wrong; I'm a big fan of the beautiful Warrior Princess and the Battling Bard of Poteidaia. Along with a partner, I've even tapped out a few tales about these two glorious heroes, under the pen names “Azurenon and Savanna Mac”. This story, however, was written… possibly before Xena was even a glimmer in Rob's eye. So no resemblance to these characters should be found here. ) All characters contained herein, as well as, the estate of Shady Grove, are products of the author's imagination and belong to Anj. Any resemblance to person's living or dead is purely coincidental.

Violence: There are references to and one scene involving attempted sexual violence.
Sex: Yes, there is. This story is about two women engaged in a sexually explicit relationship. If this offends you or you're not old enough to read this, it's against the law where you are… blah, blah, blah… please exit stage left.

Author's notes:
I'd like it known that I have no medical knowledge whatsoever, so please overlook any glaring mistakes I've made. I'm not good with accents, except for down-home Southern ones, so please forgive any mistakes in the English/British maid's accent. (I tried dropping the consonants, but this was hard to read)
Thanks go to all my friends for their unending support and encouragement over the years and to my partner, for putting up with me -soon to be twenty years now. Thanks to the readers who wrote in on “Looking For Love”. Your comments mean a lot. I appreciate each and every one.
A special thanks to Maverick, who read this in raw form and still believed in the story, as well as, my ability to improve upon it. (Which I sincerely hope I did.)

        Voices drifted into my consciousness.
        "Marion... Marion?" called a man's voice.
        Someone is calling my mother, I thought. But who? Why? I tried to open my eyes, but nothing happened.
        "Marion?" the voice called again, a bit more insistently.
        "I thought she was going to wake up," a scratchy, yet distinctively feminine voice said. "But… I guess I was mistaken."
        I'm awake, I wanted to say, but nothing would come out my mouth and my eyes felt like they weighed a ton. Could this be a dream? I wondered. Was it one of those crazy dreams where you believe you're trying to wake up, trying to open your eyes and speak, but nothing comes out? Surely this is the case, I reasoned and stopped struggling. I had always found fighting a dream futile, at best. The dream would give you up when it was good and ready, and not before.
        "Well, at least she moved," the same female voice said, invading my thoughts again. "That's a good sign."
        "Perhaps," said the man, "but I have seen lots of these cases. And movement does not mean they're out of the coma. It could have been an involuntary response. I'll reserve my judgment until she truly wakes up."
        Coma? I thought, Oh lord, this is a nightmare. My mother is in a coma? I have to wake up!
        I heard footsteps receding away from me, as I strained to open my eyes. They fluttered open briefly and bright light filtered through momentarily. Where am I? I wondered, as my eyes involuntarily closed.
        "Wait!" the female voice called out. "Her eyes... she opened them."
        I tried once again to force my eyes open. The bright light blinded me as I struggled to focus.
        "Marion... Marion?" the man called again, as footsteps neared me.
        I tried to move my hand in order to clear my vision and block some of the bright light so I could focus better, but my arm felt like it weighed two tons and it pained me to even try to lift it.
        "Lu...l... light," I finally managed to say.
        "Cut that light out!" the man demanded.
        The bright light left with the flick of a switch. The room swan into view very slowly, along with the face that was hovering over me: round, nearly cherubic, a large nose upon which were perched a pair of half glasses -black in color- gray eyes peering out from behind bifocal lenses.
        "Marion, can you hear me?" the man asked.
        I knew the face belonged to this man, because I had seen his lips move in time to the words. But why is he looking down at me and calling my mother? I wondered. Another face came into view near his shoulder. All I saw were blue eyes and blonde hair. My first thought was my mother.
        "Mu... mother?" I murmured, as my vision blurred and my heavy eyelids closed again.
        "I... I'm sorry, Marion," the feminine voice said, while soft hands touched my right arm, "I'm not your mother."
        She called me Marion, I thought. She wasn't talking about my mother. She was talking about me, and to me. Now why would...? Of course, my first name and my mother's middle name… they're both the same. This woman thought I was called Marion. But, who is she and where am I? Surely this had to be a dream! There was no other explanation.
I resigned myself to play my part and let the dream play it self out. Perhaps I'd wake up soon. "Fai... Faith," I struggled to say, in a hoarse voice I barely recognized as belonging to me. Might as well set this dream straight, I reasoned.
        I managed to get my eyes open again and saw the blonde when she mouthed the words, "Faith?" and turned her head in a quizzical manner.
        "Faith is her middle name," said a deep male voice that sounded very similar to my father's.
        "Fa… father...?"
        "No, Faith, I'm your uncle, Brandon," replied the man who appeared on the other side of me, looking like an older version of my father, minus the moustache. The thinning dark hair on top of his head and the gray streaks around his temples made it quite plain: he indeed was not my father. I'd been told I had an uncle named Brandon, but had never met him. "Can you see me, Faith?" he inquired.
        "Y-yes," I replied. "But... wh… where am… I and…?" I paused and swallowed. God in heaven how that hurt! For a dream, the pain was real enough! "…where's my… father and mother?" I finished, breathing the last word, rather than speaking it.
        He looked up at the other man and then glanced over at the woman, who were both standing beside me, still peering down at me. I heard whispers and saw lips moving, but I couldn't make out what they were saying.
        "You don't know where you are, do you, Faith?" my uncle asked.
        "No. Where's... mother?" I asked, a bit more demandingly, even though it hurt to do so. I was getting tired of this dream!
        "She's... she's not here, right now," he answered.
        My eyes slowly scanned the faces in front of me and came to rest on the blonde, who wore a pained look on her rather attractive visage. "Where... is she?" I demanded of her.
        The woman lowered her eyes. One light brown eyebrow arched slightly, while the other followed the sad expression that was quickly contorting her features, as if she were about to deliver bad news.
        "She... she's here… in the hospital," Uncle Brandon replied.
        At this, the woman looked over at him and her expression changed dramatically to one of sheer surprise. Then she turned towards the older man beside her. And for the first time, I realized that these two were dressed in white. A doctor and a nurse. I'm in a hospital! This dream is getting worse by the minute!
        My eyes flitted back over to my uncle, who was wearing a gray three-piece suit. Memories of a businessman I had seen in an airport flashed through my mind. When was that? I wondered. What am I doing in a hospital? What's that sighing noise near my right ear? I cut my eyes in that direction and caught a glimpse of a tall machine with tubes running from it. I followed their course with my eyes and found them traveling in my direction. Suddenly, I had the sinking feeling this was no dream! I allowed my eyes to close again. If this is reality, I want no part of it! No, it can't be reality! It's just a dream. Just a dream! You'll wake up any minute now!
        "Faith... Faith..." the doctor said. "Are you experiencing any pain?"
        Yes! I'm in lots of pain! I wanted to scream. This is a nightmare and I wanna wake up!         "Faith... can you hear me?" he asked, as he raised one of my eyelids.         "No… pain," I replied, realizing this dream was not going to let me go until it was finished. I yearned for the comfort, safety and security of my family. "Father... where is he?"
        "You shouldn't talk too much now," the doctor said, then cleared his throat.
        "Faith, Dr. Rosemund here is going to take real good care of you," Uncle Brandon's voice added.
        I opened my eyes and looked in his direction. "Where... are they?" I asked again.
        He merely smiled warmly and gently reached down and placed his hand on mine, as if to soothe me. But his dark eyes betrayed him, when they strayed from mine towards the doctor. If he's looking to him for answers, I thought, I will too. I fixed the doctor with my gaze and he immediately looked away, the dim overhead light gleaming orange off his shiny, balding pate and the unnatural brown colored sides taking on a red hue.
        "You had us worried there for quite a while," Dr. Rosemund began. "You've been… unconscious for nearly two weeks."
        "Two... weeks!" I screeched. Oh, sweet Jesus that hurt! “Wh… What happen-ed?”
        The doctor glanced over at my uncle before answering. “You were in a very bad accident.”
        “Ac-cident?” I mouthed the words slowly, my eyes involuntarily closing. And as they did, I felt as if I were sinking into the bed. Propelled backwards through a gray, hazy, spinning vortex. Memories began playing out before my mind's eye: not in flashes, but in full, real-time, vivid detail. I was reliving the past, complete with thoughts, emotions and sensations.

Two weeks before:

        "Faith... Faith... get up sweetheart," said the same sweet voice, that had awakened me countless mornings over the years. It's slight lilting British accent, making her words sound like much to my ears. She brushed back my hair from my face. "Faith... remember we have a holiday (which she pronounced 'oliday) planned with your father. And we really need to be underway."
        I could lay here forever, I thought. My mind drifted back in time to when I was a little girl and she used to read me bedtime stories or sing me to sleep when I had a scary dream. How wonderful I'd always thought her voice sounded. I suppose if both my parents had the same accent, then I would have found it commonplace. Yet, my father had a pronounced Southern accent to his deep, gentle voice. The same accent that I myself possessed, for I was surrounded by it in my hometown of Jackson Falls, Tennessee.
        "I know very well you are listening, sweetheart," she was saying, as I drifted back. She then caressed my cheek one last time before she rose to leave. "Alright... I suppose I'll be forced to walk about Hollywood by myself. We'll take lots of pictures for you to look at when we return."
        Hollywood! I had completely forgotten that this was not just another one of my father's short trips to Memphis, in order to autograph his latest book. This time, instead of just promoting his new novel, he was flying to Hollywood to seal a movie deal. They were actually going to make a movie from my father's newest novel!
        "Hollywood!" I said excitedly, opening my eyes and hopping out of bed. "Swimming pools... movie stars!" I went on, reciting the theme from an old sit-com.
        My mother laughed, as I pretended to dance a little jig like one of the characters. "I thought that would lift your spirits," she said, with a giggle. "I just wasn't aware how high it would lift them."
        "Isn't it exciting?" I reached out taking both her hands in mine and began imitating a square dance I had seen on TV. "I wonder if movie stars are any different from the rest of us? Surely they are," I continued, letting go of her and spinning around by myself. "Should I be more dressed up than this?" I asked, motioning to the off-white polyester blouse and beige gabardine slacks I'd already laid out to wear.
        "I'm quite sure that whatever you choose, you will look lovely in," she remarked, with a broad smile.
        "Oh, Mother... you're no help," I mumbled, as I sat down on the stool to the simple brass vanity table that she had given me on my fifteenth birthday. Unlike most girls, I seldom used it for more than a mirror, so that I could blow-dry my hair and brush into compliance. Of course, I did enjoy being able to spin around on the stool at a moments notice.
        "As you've told me before, you're quite old enough to make your own decisions," she said, coming up behind me, her voice dropping an octave in the process, taking on a more serious tone.
        I had always loved the way it did that. It was as if her voice followed her emotions. And it betrayed her at certain times, when she'd rather hide those feelings.
        "You have turned into a beautiful young woman," she continued, her voice becoming low and raspy. She gently placed her hands on my shoulders. "I just wish..."
        I looked up at her reflection in the mirror and found her blue eyes quickly taking on a misty appearance. "Well... just hurry along now," she continued, patting my shoulder. "Breakfast will be ready shortly." With that, she slowly turned and walked towards the door.
        I watched her seemingly glide across the room, her feet appearing to barely touch the floor, so soft and short were her footsteps. What a beautiful mother I have, I thought, watching her shiny blonde hair, swaying gently as she moved. Some people were merely beautiful on the outside, living up to the old saying "Beauty is only skin deep". Then there were others whose beauty was internal, as well as external: those rare people who made a complete mockery of that old saying. And my mother was one of the latter. Kind in thought and deed, with a heart of pure gold.
        Needless to say, I had not inherited this from her; nor was it the only thing I had not been so blessed with. I didn't have her external beauty; nor her grace and style. The one thing I did inherit, however, was her eyes. There was no mistaking that feature, for they were much the same as the deep set, sea blue eyes I had always associated with warmth, love and security. Although my hair was the texture of hers, very thin and soft, that's where the similarities ended, in my opinion. For where her hair was blonde, mine was dark brown with only a few light highlights -more evident in the summer months. The rest of my features came from my father or a mixture of the two. I didn't have mother's dainty, slightly upturned nose; mine was larger and more pronounced, even a bit rounded on the end, like my father's. I also had my father's full lips, rather than her thin ones. And I'd inherited my larger bone structure from him, as well. Making me, at twenty-one, two sizes larger than my mother. Sharing clothes, to her dismay -since she always liked for me to share her taste in clothing- had ended at age sixteen.
        The former had not been so hard for me, however, because as with most everything else, I hadn't inherited her sense of style, either. I was strictly a jeans and T-shirt kind of gal and truthfully, always had been. Yet, for years I'd humored her, rather than see that sad look that came over her face when she knew I didn't want to wear the outfit she'd picked out for me. After entering college and being on my own, she hadn't forced the issue of clothes, since.
        As I stared into the mirror, debating my facial similarities, I couldn't help but recall her misty eyes, only moments before. I had known at the time, exactly what she'd been referring to when she said, "I only wish..." She'd been thinking of my brother, Jonathan David Neilson Jr. who had died at the very tender age of six. I remembered it clearly, as if it happened only yesterday, but in reality it had been over twelve years since that terribly sad day.
        It had all come about because of one of my father's business trips, on which we sometimes accompanied him. This particular trip was to New York City, the "Big Apple" as they called it. My father had gone there to sign with another publisher, who wanted to publish his newest adventure novel. Why he had changed publishers I didn't know -I was only nine at the time. I just remember my mother saying that his former publisher had not promoted his books adequately. She never failed to have "faith" in my father and his talent, although; from time to time, her belief in herself wavered a bit.
        And that particular day in New York, her confidence wavered considerably. She blamed herself for my brother David's death. Many's the time I'd heard her say, "If only I had held on tighter to his hand." And my gentle, loving father would soothe her with, "It wasn't your fault, darling. It was no one's fault. We can only assume that Fate intervened that day and it was meant to happen. Remember the saying, 'Only the good die young'."
        His words were meant to relieve her guilt, but they never seemed to penetrate deep enough. I could understand that, for I had my own share of guilt. David lived in my memory as a very special, innocent child, who was always happy, loving and bursting with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for life. And maybe the latter of the three was what caused his death. For, as we walked across a very busy street in New York City, David bolted away from my mother's grasp and ran over to see the "horsy", as he called them. The taxi driver coming down the busy street couldn't stop in time; David darted out in front of him so fast there was just no time to react. It was all over in a matter of moments. Mere moments that, in my memories, seemed more like hours; for, they played out before my eyes in slow motion.
        A tear fell onto my cheek, as I wondered what would have happened had we never went to New York City. Would David still be alive to enjoy this trip to California? Or would Fate have played out a different scenario in order to take him? Was it destiny? Or was it merely an accident? What if we had never crossed that particular street at that particular time? What if mother had held onto his hand a little tighter? If only the horse had not been there, he would not have bolted away from her.
        I wiped the tear that was careening down my cheek and tried to clear my head by thinking of other things. This wondering "what if" and "if only" could go on forever, and as my father always pointed out, when mother brought this up, "It doesn't change the reality of the here and now". And my reality was, I needed a shower.
        What a wise man my father is, I thought, as I dried my hair. It seemed there was no problem too big or small that he couldn't handle, except of course, when it came to his writing talent. From time to time, he doubted his ability to produce that next novel. Many nights had I went to bed, lulled to sleep by the rhythmic tap, tap, tap of his typewriter, only to awaken to the same rhythm the next morning. And somehow, after spending those long hours grueling over it, he always came up with that next novel.
        Yet, no matter how engrossed or involved he was in his writing, he always had time for even the slightest of problems I might have. Of course, when I was younger, my mother ran interference for him, quite often. She'd hear my problem first and if she couldn't offer a satisfactory solution, then she'd permit me to interrupt him. As I grew older, I weighed the problems myself.
        “The solutions to all your problems are within you,” he'd once told me.
        Wise advice, I thought, as I dressed in the outfit I had chosen to wear.
        When I reached the dining room, my mother and father were already there.
        "Good morning," Father said, with a serious look on his face. "Are you all ready for the trip to... Memphis?"
        For a moment, he almost had me believing that my mother and I had been mistaken. Yet, as I sat down at the table and watched him out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that all too familiar silly grin on his handsome face. The one that always gave him away, because he looked like the cat that had swallowed the canary. I saw his thick dark brown eyebrows twitch involuntarily, as did the very tip of his equally dark moustache.
        "Well..." I said, reaching over to pick up the bowl of scrambled eggs in front of me. "I don't know about the two of you, but..." I paused, as I dumped a spoonful in my plate. "I'm packed and going to California. Swimming pools... movie stars," I added, stressing the latter four words, by drawling them out in a very pronounced and exaggerated Southern accent.
        Both my parents looked at each other and then started laughing. I could tell they were as excited as I was.
        The breakfast chatter consisted of what all we planned to see while there. Of course, a tour of the star's homes was near the top of the list, battling it out with Gramman's Chinese Theatre. Everything else would be taken care of as we came to it, and if Father's schedule allowed. I could tell from the animated expressions, which flitted over his face, he was just beaming over with pride at the thought of having a movie made about one of his books.
        "I told you, you are talented," my mother said, as she reached over and squeezed his hand.
        "Yes, you always said to just have faith and my dreams would come true," he remarked, as he smiled broadly and winked at her.
        "Well, I can't take all the credit," I said, without cracking a smile.
        Both of them looked over at me and burst out laughing.
        I could tell the two of them were still very much in love. And I wondered if I'd ever meet a man like my father, whom I could love as much as my mother obviously loved him. So far, there had been only a few boys who'd even piqued my interest. I had learned quite early in high school that most of the handsome boys had only one thing on their mind. And that one thing was something I wasn't in the least interested in.
        I'd seen too many young girls who had "lost their virtue", as my mother would say, at a young age and been forced to drop out of school to become unwed mothers. I had plans for a career in psychology. And that meant many more years of college ahead. Of course, there were birth control measures, but no pill could keep you from falling in love. My mother was living testimony to that affect. She had been preparing herself for the same profession, but after only two years in college, she met my father and her career was history, as they say.
        I'd heard the story a thousand times, but I always enjoyed listening to her tell it again and again. So, as I helped her clear the table, I asked her to do so.
        "What brought this on?" she asked, her soft tone revealing the way she felt about what I assumed were sweet memories.
        "Oh, I just noticed the two of you at the table. I can tell you're still very much in love."
        "Does it show?" she asked, her voice revealing her surprise and a note of embarrassment.
        "Yes, to me, at least," I answered, as I separated the silverware in order to put them into the dishwasher. "How... how'd you know that he was the one? I mean..."
        "You'll know," she replied, very softly. "Some say you will hear bells, but... I say, your heart will tell you."
        "But... how did you... how do you keep it...?" I stammered, searching for the right words. "I mean, so many of my friend's parents are divorced," I finally managed, voicing my doubts about the state of marriage in general.
        Not only did I fear falling in love and dropping out of college, but I feared my husband might then divorce me and there I'd be with nothing.
        "To that I say: let no one fool you. Marriage is not a bed of roses," she replied, her voice dropping an octave to a more serious tone. "There will be hard times in the best of marriages. You have to work through them together."
        "Did you and father have hard times before.... well, in the beginning?"
        "Yes," she confessed with a sigh, a note of sadness creeping into her voice.
        "Tell me the story again, Mother, please," I pleaded, as I started loading the dishwasher. Although I'd brought up the subject of hard times, I really wasn't in the mood to hear anything sad. I wanted to hear the romantic story of when they first met.
        "If you insist," she relented with a sigh. "Well... as you know I was attending college in London at the time. And one day I was walking across the campus lawn trying to study for an exam by reading as I walked.”
        "What were you reading?" I asked, interrupting her; for, I didn't want her to leave out my favorite part, which made it all seem so romantic.
        "Romeo and Juliet," she said softly. "And, well... I wasn't paying attention to where I was walking and... I ran right into your father, who was doing the same thing I was, believe it or not. He literally knocked my down," she added, sounding and looking like a schoolgirl as she giggled and her eyes took on that familiar far away look, which seemed as though she were reliving it all in her mind. "I remember I hit the ground, quite hard as I recall and your father... he was very apologetic. He helped me to my feet. I was so embarrassed I could hardly even bring myself to look at him. But, he was so sincere with his apologies that he piqued my curiosity. So... I looked over at him. And... I fell in love with his dark brown eyes right there on the spot.
        Well... he felt so very awful about knocking me down that he offered to walk me to my next class and carry my books. I thanked him, but declined his offer saying I needed to study. It turns out that he had taken that particular class the semester before and as he walked me to class we discussed Romeo and Juliet. But, before he returned my books, he asked me to promise that I would consider going out on a date with him, so that he could properly make amends for knocking me down. And... from there... well, you know the rest."
        "Tell me again about Shady Grove," I prodded.
        "Oh my... look at the time," she said, excitedly. "We have to get moving. Where are your bags?"
        "In my room."
        "Well, hurry along and bring them down, sweetheart. We should leave for the airport soon. I wonder if John remembered to pack the..." Her voice trailed off, as she left the room, heading for their bedroom upstairs.
        I knew we had plenty of time, because my mother always made allowances for the unexpected. Matter of fact, we were always early, no matter where we went. I knew she had just used this, to avoid discussing a part of her past that, for some reason, had not been pleasant.
        She had revealed to me before, how after she and my father were married they went to visit his home, which had once been a large plantation, on the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia. The way she described Shady Grove it sounded like “Tara” in “Gone With The Wind”. I had wondered many times why she had left, if she and father had their own wing to themselves? Of course, she explained that father found it hard to work there, since he hadn't spent very much time there as a child. He and his brother, Brandon had spent most of their time in boarding schools, because their parents had "passed on", as they say, when my father was only a year old and Brandon seven.
        "Passed on", in this case being more of an assumption rather than a known fact, because the couple had actually disappeared from their yacht, somewhere off the coast of Florida. The story itself had always intrigued my ever curious mind; for, I'd known for quite some time that their yacht had been found adrift on the ocean and intact. When I was a child I used to wonder if they would turn up one day, after having been kidnapped by pirates. For, this was one of many theories expressed by their father's cousin, Raymond Graham, who was subsequently left in charge of the company and their guardianship via their father's will. Later, my more mature, analytical mind dismissed the pirate theory, as well as, either of them ever showing up again. But, the unresolved question of what had actually happened to them was a mystery I would try to solve late at night, when I needed a diversion in order to fall asleep.

        We left ahead of schedule, as I knew we would, for Nashville, which was a two-hour drive from our home. As we wound our way up the main two-lane leading out of Jackson Falls, I glanced back at my sleepy little hometown, nestled in the shadow of two mountains. Jackson Falls would be waking up soon; the sun was about to peak its head over the eastern mountain range. The pale morning light gave the landscape an almost surreal appearance. I wondered if it would seem different to me when we returned from California.
        I had seen it through different eyes when returning from college the first year. I seemed to have a more mature vantage point, after living in Nashville most of that year. And what had once seemed so very large, had suddenly diminished in proportion, as my horizons broadened.
        I took one last look at the surrounding mountains that were just beginning to bud out after the winter. March was usually windy and cold, but it hadn't been so this year, at least not by the middle of the month. Yet, there was that old saying, "If March comes in like a lamb, she will go out like a lion", and vice versa. And over the past few days, it had been rather warm for this time of the season. Nestled within that rising warmth, was the promise of the heat and humidity that summer would bring; humidity that could dampen your clothes with perspiration on a hot July day, just by simply walking out the door. But we would be back long before then, and I would be able to enjoy the pleasantness of spring, for a while.

        Once we were off the winding two-lane and on a major thoroughfare, I wondered what lay ahead. Would I like California? Could it be I might be visiting my future home? I had always known that I would leave Jackson Falls once I graduated and started my career. Because, there just weren't any jobs in that field around the area. Not that there weren't people in need of such services. I am sure there were, but most of the people had a hard enough time holding body and soul together, there was no money to pay someone to "probe around in their heads", or so I was told by old Doc Brown, when I inquired about trying to start my practice there.
        But, it seemed they needed plenty in California, all those stars with their many diverse hang-ups and with money to afford to pay someone to "probe around in their heads". Could it be that this trip was just another twist in the course of my destiny?

        We arrived at the airport early and had at least twenty minutes to kill before our flight took off. I first went to the bathroom, to get that out of the way. Then merely sat by my mother, in one of those hard plastic chairs, watching the people pass by, while I pondered who they were and where they were going.
        I could pick out the businessmen easy enough in their three-piece suits and briefcases. And the tourists, already decked out for the weather they hoped to find in Florida, I assumed. Then there were the soldiers, unmistakable with their haircuts and the way they walked with their backs so straight and their heads held high.
        These didn't intrigue me very much. It was the ordinary people, like us, that aroused my curiosity most. Like the woman with two small children, who was dressed in a blouse and a pair of slacks, her hair neatly pulled back in a bun behind her head. Where was she going? To visit her parents, perhaps? To meet her husband somewhere? Or was she recently divorced and leaving him because he had been unfaithful?
        And how about the elderly couple, who both seemed as nervous as two cats on a hot tin roof? The man was constantly checking the tickets, while she fidgeted with the carry on luggage. What were they so nervous about? Was it their first flight? Or was there a more ominous reason for their nervous activity? Was someone in the family sick or dying perhaps?
        And what about the dark skinned man in the black suit with the moustache and the black bag, who kept looking up at the clock on the wall and then checking his watch, while his right leg pumped up and down to some unheard rhythm?
        Just as I was about to start speculating on him, our flight to Atlanta was called over the loudspeaker. Atlanta, Georgia, my father's birthplace and ancestral home, I thought, as I rose from my seat and massaged my right hip, which had almost gone numb. While my father checked us in, I tried yet again to get my mother to tell me about Shady Grove, but he returned too quickly. I knew it was a dead subject now; for, she never spoke of this matter in his presence.
        Although I never truly understood why, I had the feeling it had something to do with my uncle, Brandon, who ran Neilson Enterprises. His name was rarely mentioned in our house, except on Christmas and birthdays, when we'd receive a card from his family. And even then my father, who seemed not to want any contact his family, quickly dismissed the subject. My mother only grew sad and would often look at me oddly. Once, I even saw tears in her eyes. And whenever I inquired as to why we did not visit, so that I might meet my only two cousins, my father would reply "Perhaps one day".
        So far that day had not come. And I was even more curious about my cousins now than ever before. I often wondered if Jason was anything like David. But, I was especially curious about Ashley, who was six years older than myself. Were we at all alike? I wondered. And then of course, there was Shady Grove, which in itself, was enough to tantalize my insatiably curious mind. Will I ever see this place that sounded so much like Tara? I wondered, as we got in line to board the plane.
        Our plane departed on schedule and once we were in the air, I settled back and amused myself by staring at the miniature world, passing below our plane. Soon though, boiling bubbling clouds that quickly turned ominously dark covered it all. The air grew more turbulent beneath our small plane, which was shuttling us to Atlanta for departure to Los Angeles. Lightning flashed around us and the captain came over the intercom.
        "This is Captain Murphy. We are experiencing a bit of turbulence, but do not be alarmed. Please remain seated and fasten your seatbelts. Because of the weather we will be diverting our course slightly, but we should arrive in Atlanta in plenty of time for those making connecting flights."
        My mother fidgeted in her seat, checking the time and the departure schedule for our connecting flight. Father patted her hand reassuringly, then looked over at me and smiled.
        "Don't worry, Marion, I've seen this happen before. It'll be fine."

        We seemed to fly out of the worst of the storm, for a while at least, until we neared Atlanta. Lightning flashed once again and the lights inside the plane flickered. People murmured among themselves. Then screams rang out, as a tremendous jolt shook the plane. My mother's hand grabbed my left arm, her fingers wrapping around it in a death grip, fingernails digging into my flesh. I heard a loud crack overhead and then… darkness.

The same spinning vortex that had pulled me back into my past suddenly returned me from whence I came. Delivering me onto the shores of reality as carelessly as a battered and broken seashell upon the sand. My eyes flew open. The same concerned faces surrounded me: Uncle Brandon, Dr. Rosemund and the blonde with vivid blue eyes.
        "Mo-ther!" I screamed and bolted upright. The realization that our plane had crashed, hit me like the jolt which shook the plane right before everything went black. A sharp pain careened through my head and everything swam away in darkness once again.

Part 2

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