The night the sheriff came to the door...
We had just celebrated our fourth anniversary, Barry ecstatic that I might be expecting. We had been trying for a child almost since the day we got married. It had been a whirlwind courtship. At the end of that first summer in Habersham County, Barry and I knew we were meant to spend the rest of our days together. We got a blood test and a license and a justice of the peace - all in the same day - and made it official over the state line in Franklin, North Carolina.
Then we headed for south Florida where my mom lived in a retirement village. She was delighted with Barry and he with her and gave us her blessing. Barry's mom wasn't nearly as happy. She stayed aloof, rarely called me by my name, referring to me as Barry's Yankee gal. He kept telling me she'd come around but I didn't have high hopes.
I started painting what I saw in Habersham County and showed off my efforts in a storefront Barry rented for me in town. I turned it into a small gallery and people passing through bought my work. The money wasn't great but it was good and it was steady. Barry had taken over his father's dairies and did more managing than hands-on work but he could do what needed to be done if they were short handed.
We lived a good life - a nice house deep in the Blue Ridge with a great view. Barry bought me an "American" car - a Ford, and laughingly swatted my bottom when I suggested that the Chevrolet Impala I had my eye on was as American as apple pie. I never did get the hang of cooking and baking like Barry's mother but if the grocery gods provided the basics, I could whip most things together from a box. We never told that little detail to my mother-in-law; we didn't want her to think Yankees can't cook.
Life wasn't paradise; there were a few rough spots but my old-fashioned husband held me on his lap when I was mad at him. He'd spank the daylights out of me if I wouldn't talk about what was bothering me and believe me, he spanked hard. I still cursed a blue streak and paid for that but the man always cuddled me after he burned my rear end. I still hungered for his magic kisses and our loving filled both of us with joy. I knew he loved me and unlike some of his pals, I was positive he was faithful. When he'd get too busy with work and I needed some of his loving, I had a sure-fire way to get his attention.
I'd open the door to his office, give him a quick flash of thigh and ask if there was a Mr. Adams around. Then I'd run like the dickens.
"Mr. Adams is gonna burn your little butt, girl," he'd yell, coming after me faster than a locomotive going downhill. "And after he burns that lil butt, he's gonna love you till you beg him to stop."
I'd laugh and when he caught me, he'd upend me, give me enough swats to sting and love me until I'd fall asleep exhausted. I can't remember ever begging him to stop loving me.
The night the sheriff came to the door...
I had just put dinner on the table. Barry was late coming home and I was about to call his mother to see if he had dropped by her place first. When the doorbell rang, I thought he was playing with me; he often pretended to be the pizza delivery boy or the florist delivering flowers. I opened it with a huge smile on my face and blinked when I saw the sheriff standing there with his hat in his hand.
"Missus Adams?" he said in a soft voice.
"No!" I think I screamed. I know I heard a scream - just one. It was a short scream, so short, maybe a gasp. It was a hint of a scream, it died before it really came out of my mouth - died so fast it lived longer in echo than it ever had in reality. But I remember it well.
And I remember shaking so bad I couldn't stand. The sheriff was the head of the local Klan... the Grand Dragon. Barry had told me who was who and I had always kept a respectful distance. Now he was holding me so I could stand and his words were low and comforting.
"He's hurt bad, Missus," the sheriff said. "Hospital - car accident - unconscious - but alive. We need to get you there. You come along with me now."
"With you?" I managed to ask, picturing this friendly man with a white sheet and a white hat and crosses burning. He frightened me and he sensed it, backing up a little, giving me distance as soon as I was able to stand by myself.
"I knew Barry's daddy. We was kids together. I know his mama. I won't do nuthin to bring Millie Adams grief or shame her man's name. Barry's a good boy and he loves ya. Ya been good t'him. That's all that counts in my book. Ya gonna let me take ya to the hospital?"
I nodded but thought I needed to call his mother.
"Ya can do that but I think it's best ya see what's what first. Then I'll take ya t' her. She'll need ya when she gets the bad news... In case it's really bad," he amended.
It was bad. The first thing I noticed was that his face was bandaged and there were huge black bruises under his eyes. His nose was broken and so were most of his ribs and both legs, and by the time I arrived at the hospital, he had already been operated on - they had to remove his spleen. He looked awful but he was alive.
"When will he wake up?" I asked.
"We're not sure," the doctor said bluntly. "His brain waves show activity but he's in a coma. It could be temporary but I don't want to give you false hope. He may never wake up."
"Now don't go gettin your hopes up, Hope Adams," Barry chuckled as he aimed the basketball at the hoop in the concession stand at the county fair. "I'm good but I'm not promisin I can score 'nuf hoops to get you that giant teddy bear."
"If you don't..." I paused and grinned at my handsome husband. "Don't you go getting your hopes up that you'll score tonight."
"Gonna blister your lil butt, sugar," he growled but I could see the grin he was trying to hide.
"There you go," I laughed. "Making promises again. You better deliver, Mr. Adams!"
"Oh, trust me, Mrs. Adams. Mr. Adams's gonna deliver big time!"
And he did. I got the giant teddy bear and later, a very wicked and sexy spanking and oh Lord! That Mr. Adams gave me the sweetest loving.
"I have high hopes for your immediate success," he told me when he rented that storefront for me. I had high hopes, too but laughed at Barry. He was always playing with my name. "Don't want to give you false hope," he grinned.
"I don't want to give you false hope," the doctor had said. "He may never wake up."
"Never wake up?" I started shaking all over again and the doctor made me sit for a while and a cold glass of water was gently pushed into my hand. I don't know how long I sat there - could have been minutes, maybe hours. Finally, I moved my chair to Barry's bedside and looked long and hard at the man I loved. I took his hand in mine, rubbed my thumb over the back of it the way he always rubbed mine when he was comforting me about something.
I whispered to him that I loved him and that we'd see this thing through and that I was going to go tell his mama to ask the preacher to say a prayer for him at Sunday services. "I'll be back in a little while," I told him and turned around and saw the sheriff standing there.
"I'll take ya to his mama's place," the gruff old man said, taking my elbow in his beefy palm and half-leading, half-supporting me as we headed toward his cruiser.
When my mother-in-law opened the door and saw us standing on her porch, she looked from me to the sheriff and back again and knew the two of us showing up at her door couldn't be good news. "No!" she said just like I had, her eyes going wide as her hands pulled the skirt of her apron to her mouth and took a step back from us.
"Millie," the sheriff said softly.
"Mrs. Adams," I said at the same time.
"No," she said, softer this time. "Not my Barry, not my boy."
"He's alive," the sheriff announced and guided her to the couch.
I sat beside her and took her hand in mine, told her what I knew and that I had to get back to the hospital.
"Do you want to go with me?"
"Ya'd have me there even tho I never showed a likin for ya? I could go when ya leave if'n that'd be better."
"You're my husband's mother," I said as if it were news to all concerned. "He loves us both and he'd like to know we were both there for him. I accept you however you feel about me, Mrs. Adams. Barry loves you; I won't dishonor that love because you don't like me."
The sheriff made sure my mother-in-law was comfortable in the back seat of his cruiser and just before he closed the passenger door, I heard him say a few words to her. "Ya know, she ain't half-bad for a Yankee."