Amelia Karidokkus has spent most of her life staying away from her hometown and the past. A turn of events forces her to confront the choices that led to a ruined marriage, a crashed career, and has kept her from pursuing her high school sweetheart Jeff Herrington. In another turn of events Amelia is thrust into a decades old family controversy that could ruin those she loves. If she can solve the mystery and outwit a murderer she just might finally find a home for her heart.
Amelia McKenna Karidokkus sat with her family in attorney Ira Winslow’s austere office. Winslow was late in reading her aunt’s will. Amelia looked at her watch, and then tapped her foot impatiently to let those around her know that she was tired of the delays. Remaining in town was not solving her problems. She heard papers being shuffled in an adjacent room, but her sister Kristin and brother-in-law David seemed content to wait however long it took for Winslow to get items ready.
Amelia was wrapped in a cocoon of problems. She was barely 30, and everything she had worked for was gone: her job, her home, and her marriage. The only family member who could comfort her was gone. There was too much emotion to speak, and too much sorrow to go on. How could this happen when she did everything as right as her sister?
Life had been so easy for Kristin. She was not as pretty as Amelia, but Kristin’s personality had always made her more popular. Kristin met her husband David within weeks of moving to Monticello. They never dated anyone else. She was settling into married life in small town America while Amelia was pushing through one of America’s most prestigious universities.
Within a few years things did come together for Amelia when she met a reporter named Nick Karidokkus. Together they made a life, but now it had unraveled and she was destitute. What is someone to do when her world has been shattered like a crystal vase on a brick fireplace?
As she listened to the papers being shuffled, she knew a document was being crafted in an Atlanta law office: the decree that would end what she had with Nick; a decree that disconnect her from a solid foundation for the second time in her life.
Amelia brushed her hair out of her eyes and grabbed a magazine from a table with an exasperated turn of her hand. All her signals were doing nothing to get Winslow to move faster. In the same fashion no matter how hard Amelia tried, she could not escape the vignettes of the past that raced through her mind. The haunting thought that kept coming was if she could only go back to that day two years ago, but it really began ten years ago.
What lies behind us, and
What lies before us
Are small matters compared to
What lies within us.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Amelia, are you going to the Spring Fling luau?"
"Not today, I’m going to the lake."
Amelia sat at her desk closing her books. It was nearly the end of the semester and she was tired of studying for finals. The afternoon was clear. A warm, gentle breeze blew in the windows of the century-old dorm that was covered with ivy.
"You’re never going to find anyone by hiding among the bulrushes, Moses. You need to open yourself to adventure." Jackie looked in the mirror and adjusted her shorts and top.
"I know adventure," said the twenty-year-old Amelia. "I just wasn’t raised to party." Amelia tried to act as if it didn’t bother her, but she missed having a special someone.
"Neither was I, but time is marching on. You’re going to be a senior and you haven’t had two dates this year, and that’s twice the number you had last year. Just one time do what all the others do, okay?" Jackie was persistent as she checked out which hat she was going to wear with her outfit.
"I don’t want to present a false image. I’m going to the lake to sun, and that’s my afternoon. My mind is made up." Amelia pushed her desk chair into its cubicle for added emphasis.
"Ame, you’re one hardheaded girl; too stubborn for your own good," Jackie said, as she tugged on her shirt in front of the dorm room mirror one more time.
"When my knight-in-shining-armor comes around I want him on my terms. My aunt Gwen raised us conservative, but that’s okay. You’re a doll to be so concerned for me, but parties aren’t my style."
Amelia pulled her hair back in clips. She was a fresh as honeysuckle on a spring morning and looked like an advertisement for the ultimate California girl of the 1960s: a wide smile, pink lips, and freckles. Her blonde hair was long and straight over her shoulders. Amelia had a slight overbite and she was perky like a high school cheerleader. She was also naïve and trusting.
"Ame, you’re brilliant, beautiful, and a people person. Why can’t you get past that boy in the hometown?"
"Jeff Herrington?" Amelia asked, with a sparkle that would light up Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
"The one you said you couldn’t wait for any longer, but everyday you wait for him," Jackie said, as she gathered her purse and keys.
"It just wasn’t working, and I needed…"
"The glorious life you have now?" Jackie said, as she opened the door.
"My knight is on his way. Jeff wasn’t him, but maybe today there will be a white horse." Amelia’s anemic smile had no light. "I’m in no rush, but if the horse is at the Spring Fling, send him to Radnor Lake, okay?"
Amelia smiled as Jackie closed the door. At the lake she took out her laptop and began to write. Writing was her passion: anything from short stories to romances to mysteries. No one knew about the poems or prose except Jeff who had received a verse or a letter everyday of high school. All the writings were carefully locked away within her computer from anyone who might discover the secrets of her heart.
Spring in Nashville was pleasant, and probably better than any place she had ever lived. On this gorgeous spring day Amelia felt nostalgic. She missed her parents and her home, and even Jeff. He had always been her knight, but that was long ago. Reason and logic told her that an indecisive man was not a man she would be happy with, and for the long term it was better to end it after the first year of college.
Amelia was born in Madrid, and was the second daughter of an artistic couple: her mother was a well-known sculptor and her father an architect. Life had been full of colors and fascinating trips as the family traveled the world to look at the great architecture. Amelia had inherited 99 percent of the McKenna creativity. She could do anything with a few colors, scissors, and glue.
The life with her parents ended before she fully appreciated it. When she was 13 a tragic accident had taken both her parents and Aunt Gwen’s husband. Gwen was spared because she decided to take the girls shopping. From that time it was just the three of them in a tight-knit circle.
Gwen McKenna was different from her parents. She was a tender and loving woman who was almost a best friend, but the flighty artistic whims were replaced by logical decisions based on facts. Gwen would never decide to go to Paris on a whim and overnight book a flight that would go through Egypt. It was with Gwen’s guidance that Amelia decided that a long-term relationship with Jeff would not be successful.
Jeff had been the defensive captain of the football team and looked like a Nordic prince. He would remove his helmet and a long golden hair would tumble out. His torso was firm and thick; his waist was sheer muscle. He was All-State Linebacker of the Year for Kentucky. While sports scholarships poured in Jeff wanted to get the restlessness out of his soul before he settled into college, career, and family life. His adventures led him to backpack through Europe after graduation. The next year he went to Oregon to get his degree while Amelia received a fully paid, four-year scholarship to Vanderbilt University. She had won his heart, but after five years of being ‘in like’, and then ‘in love’ and finally a long period of non-commitment she took action. Trips home were few these days, as she spent summers in New York to intern in advertising. When she did go home to Monticello she cut off any conversations that included information about Jeff.
Today the memory of Jeff was overwhelming. They had dreamed of the time when they would consummate their love. High school had been one big playtime for them, and there was no sign of settling into a mature relationship. During the summer he was content to fish while she wrote her stories. He talked of braiding vines to make a swing that was big enough to swing her over the valley. In the late summer and fall she was there with a video camera to capture each play so he could perfect his performance on the football field. One time she surprised him by making life-sized stuffed tackling dummies she hung from the clothesline. The romantic fantasy was not a lifelong commitment, and although they had been connected, there was something that kept them from going the distance.
Fantasy. Amelia thought as she reflected on their neatly milled dreams of the future, but she needed reality. Jackie was right, she did need to get on with her life, but school required so much of her time.
"Help me please! My child!"
A woman’s scream brought Amelia back to the moment. There was no one at this side of the lake to respond to the call, and Amelia ran the hundred yards to where the mother was standing.
"What happened?" Amelia asked the screaming woman.
"He fell in!" After pointing she fell limp onto the ground and pulled her hair in torment.
Amelia scanned the murky lake before jumping in. She could see faint movement in the water, but nothing more. Once she was under the water Amelia felt around for anything that would be human. Nothing. She could not give up. Carefully, Amelia opened her eyes to faintly see the top of the child’s head caught in the bushes. Quickly she pushed deeper into the lake and labored to pull him out, but he was caught. Amelia’s air was compromised as she worked furiously to free him from the massive undergrowth of bushes and trees. Just as she felt she would pass out she got his suspenders off of the tree limb and swam to the surface.
Gasping for air, Amelia carried the motionless body of the toddler to the grass where she performed CPR. It had been years since she had the training, but in the urgency of moment she was able to recall what she learned in her tenth grade physical education class. By the time an ambulance arrived she had handed the crying boy to his trembling mother. An emergency crew of firemen, police, and medical technicians were trailed by a news team from WKRN-TV. Medical personnel examined Amelia as the reporter asked to speak with her once they finished. Amelia nodded.
"Please, get my things—over there."
She pointed to her purse and laptop on a blanket. The reporter responded quickly, and got back to his position before he was to begin his broadcast to the station.
"This is Nick Karidokkus reporting live from Radnor Lake in the Oak Hill area of south Nashville where a toddler almost drowned. Spring rains have made Radnor Lake cloudy. Apparently the mother was distracted when the child fell into the muddy lake. Unable to swim, the child’s mother screamed and this young lady responded in a daring rescue."
Amelia steadied herself and smiled as Nick came to interview her. After a brief dialogue he ended his broadcast and cut the feed. Nick was the most handsome man she had ever met. Amelia had watched him on Channel 2 for two years, and now he was handing her the computer and her purse as the ambulance personnel finished with her. She needed to go to the emergency room, and Nick said he would lock her car. He got her number and promised to check on her the next day. Still shaking from the experience Amelia laid back on the gurney and rode to the hospital.