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Authors: Sandra Moran

State of Grace

BOOK: State of Grace
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Bywater Books

Copyright © 2016 Sandra Moran

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.

Bywater Books First Edition: August 2016

Cover design by TreeHouse Studio

Bywater Books

PO Box 3671

Ann Arbor, MI 48106-3671

www.bywaterbooks.com

ISBN: 978-1-61294-092-2 Ebook

For Cherie and Cheryl

Contents

Foreword

Prologue

Part I: 1981–1988

     
Chapter 1

     
Chapter 2

     
Chapter 3

     
Chapter 4

     
Chapter 5

     
Chapter 6

     
Chapter 7

     
Chapter 8

     
Chapter 9

     
Chapter 10

     
Chapter 11

     
Chapter 12

Part II: 1989–1993

     
Chapter 13

     
Chapter 14

     
Chapter 15

     
Chapter 16

     
Chapter 17

     
Chapter 18

     
Chapter 19

     
Chapter 20

     
Chapter 21

Part III: 2001–2004

     
Chapter 22

     
Chapter 23

     
Chapter 24

     
Chapter 25

     
Chapter 26

     
Chapter 27

     
Chapter 28

     
Chapter 29

     
Chapter 30

Epilogue

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Foreword

State of Grace
is the first book Sandra wrote. It is the book that started her writing career. When asked why she chose to tell THIS story, she simply would say, “No reason other than to prove to myself that I could write.” Well … she could write.

After she completed the book, she began reaching out to literary agents. She knew, to give herself the best chance to be successful as a writer, she needed an agent. An intern with Marcil-O'Farrell Literary, LLC was given the story to read. She liked it enough to suggest that the owning partners read it. They, too, liked the story and signed Sandra as a client. They worked with Sandra a great deal on the story. They also suggested she hire a professional editor, which she did. After those changes were incorporated, the agency did its best to market it to several big publishing houses. Sadly, it was never picked up by any of them.

While all of this was occurring, Sandra kept on writing. She wrote
Nudge
next, followed by
Letters Never Sent
. The work involved with publishing and promoting those books simply left
State of Grace
waiting in the wings. Sandra never gave up on this story, though. About the time she was wrapping up
All We Lack
she decided she wanted to revisit
State of Grace
and focus on its publication.

She felt her original story had gotten lost with the multiple rounds of edits. She got out her original version, made some changes she now felt important, included some from the professional edit, and then sent it to her beta readers. She incorporated many of their suggestions and had it the way she wanted it on September 14, 2015.

The story had been lost and now she had it back. It was HER story again.

Because of this, it was paramount to me, and to her family, that
State of Grace
be published precisely as she left it. I did not want to see it edited again. Perhaps the story could have been improved upon by editing. To me, that is irrelevant. This is the last book any of us will ever read that is from the amazing mind of Sandra Moran. I believe you will enjoy it, just as it is. And, as you read, you will know, she completely approves of every word you are reading.

—Cheryl Pletcher (Sandra's spouse)

Lenexa, Kansas

Prologue

Were you to ask my friends and family, they would tell you I am not the most reliable of storytellers. They would warn you to question everything I'm about to say.

But, were you to ask me, I would tell you that they're wrong because the story I'm about to tell you is the truth. Granted, it's from my point of view—but it's still the truth. That's not to say I don't take creative liberties. I do. I admit that. But they're important details if you're truly going to understand what happened the summer that Grace Bellamy was murdered—and how the brutality of that event affected the rest of my life.

It's a complicated tale and if I mislead you as a result, I apologize. I just know of no other way to tell my story.

Part I:

1981–1988

Chapter 1

I grew up in Mayberry.

Actually, that's a lie—although, for anyone familiar with the television show, and who has also been to Edenbridge, Kansas, they would know it's not too far from the truth.

It's a place most people never see unless they're heading to or from Oklahoma on Highway 69, running on fumes and knowing they won't make it someplace bigger to fill up. But those outsiders who have no choice but to venture off the interstate and onto the county road, they find Edenbridge—a small, outwardly quaint village where life moves at a slower, simpler pace. Today, most of the businesses have closed down or been replaced by ambitious start-ups that have no chance of success. But in the '80s, when I was young and ran wild through the town with my friends, Edenbridge was a place of endless adventure.

We had the required cast of characters: the town drunk, the town lawman, and more than a few town eccentrics. Each had their own story—though, over time and multiple retellings, no one really knew what was real and what was embellished. In the end, it didn't really matter because the fiction became the accepted truth.

A perfect example of this is Puddin' Puddin'. Today we would say he was “developmentally disabled,” but in 1981, there wasn't such a thing as cultural sensitivity. Puddin' Puddin' was simply “a retard.” His real name was Edwin and he was the son of Otis and Sarah Glenderson, an elderly couple who lived south of town on a scraggly piece of property that abutted Brush Creek. The lot, which was overflowing with abandoned vehicles on concrete blocks and rusted appliances that no longer worked, looked like a junkyard. It
was an eyesore and the cause of more than a few muttered comments when the subject came up over coffee at the town mercantile. Still, folks would say with a shrug, what can you do?

Though it was clear when he was born that he “wasn't quite right,” no one realized how much so until he flunked out of the first grade four times. Eventually he was kept at home and spent most of his days prowling the woods behind his house. As he got older, his territory extended to include Brush Creek and the town of Edenbridge. By the time I was old enough to know about him, he was a child trapped in a man's body—a man who spent most of his days riding a creaking, fat-tired bike around town muttering “puddin' puddin' puddin'” to simulate the sound of a motorcycle engine.

Even as a child, I understood that Puddin' Puddin' was the town's responsibility. Otis was known for his drinking and Sarah was known for putting up with it, and as such, it was our job to collectively make sure that Puddin' Puddin' was okay. It wasn't hard. Most of the time he just pedaled around town in the same ill-fitting khaki pants and long-sleeved Oxford shirt buttoned at the neck and sleeves. They were most likely hand-me-downs from his father who was at least five inches shorter than his son, but that wasn't regarded as a bad thing. Frugality was respected and hand-me-downs were common in most families—my own included. Still, many of the farmers laughed and nudged each other as Puddin' Puddin' rode past, his head bent forward, his large, ruddy face intent, his enormous hands tightly gripping the handlebars.

They also laughed—though with maybe more respect—at Bill Hawkins. “Hawk,” as he was known, was a bow-legged, lanky man who lived in a small, one-story limestone house just outside of town on the banks of Brush Creek. If you didn't know better, you would have thought the house, which was more than 100 years old, was abandoned. The windows were covered with yellowed newspapers and the electrical and telephone wires had been clipped at the pole.

“No gov'ment bastard is going to tell me what to do,” Hawk was quick to tell anyone who would listen. “It's like them goddamned radios and TVs! The gov'ment uses them to watch what you're doing in your own goddamned house! It's against my
civil liberties as an American!”

Hawk hated the government, refused to pay his taxes, and chose instead to grow his own vegetables and keep chickens and a goat in his backyard. He fished and frogged in the creek, and to make money for the things he simply had to buy, he dug up earthworms to sell in town at the general store. Each day he would walk into Edenbridge with his bucket of night crawlers and barter with Mr. and Mrs. Gray, the owners of the Mercantile for the things he needed. Though some of the worms went into the shallow, wooden “worm box” in the back of the store to be sold as bait, most were discreetly returned to the same field from which they originated, only to be re-exhumed by Hawk the following night. It was charity that took his pride into consideration. Something I didn't understand at the time.

Hawk and Puddin' Puddin' were objects of fascination for me. I had a vivid imagination when I was young and tended to fabricate wild stories in my head about anyone who was the least bit different. I know I stared at them, sometimes too hard, in an attempt to drink in every nuance of their oddity.

“Why does he do that?” I asked one day as my mother and I drove past Hawk limping along the short stretch of highway into Edenbridge, head down, a dented bucket full of dirt and worms in one gnarled hand. Without looking to see who it was, Hawk had raised the forefinger of his free hand in a gesture that passed for a wave in our part of the country.

“Do what?” she asked, glancing sideways at me.

“Why does he dig up worms and sell them in town?” I asked. “And why does he always wear those same overalls and shirt?”

She frowned slightly and was thoughtful before answering. “Hawk lives by different rules than the rest of us. He believes things other people don't.” She paused and then continued, “It's not bad. It's just different.”

“Grandpa says he's a crazy SOB,” I said. “He says—”

“I don't want you repeating what your grandfather says.” Her tone was sharp. “He's a bigoted old—” She stopped herself from finishing the sentence, tipped her head back slightly, and took a
deep breath, her eyes still on the road. After she had exhaled, she smiled slightly and glanced again at me. “I want you to make sure you're always nice to Mr. Hawkins,” she said. “Do you understand?”

I nodded and she returned her attention to the road. As she drove, I studied her profile. My mother was an attractive woman. I knew this not just because of how I saw her, but also because I saw how
other people
saw her clean lines and even features. But there was more to it. She had a vitality . . . a fierceness . . . that drew people in just as much as it seemed to push them away. Despite having grown up in Edenbridge, she was different from the rest of the locals. A self-proclaimed atheist, she had managed to offend most of the town with her godlessness and disregard for social norms. We never went to church and she took great pleasure in sitting on the front porch on Sunday mornings drinking her coffee and reading the newspaper as people drove past in their Sunday best.

And then there was the Mustang. Midnight blue with a black hardtop, my mother's car was the talk of Edenbridge—not just because it was a two-door sports car in a world of dirty pickup trucks and dusty sedans, but also because it had glasspacks and an eight-track player on which she blasted Elvis Presley and Linda Ronstadt as she rolled through town. She stood out and was different in her own right, so condemning or even commenting on Hawk's strange behavior wasn't, in her mind, appropriate. They were fellow misfits in our small corner of the world—misfits, but still accepted because they were both descendants of two of the first families to settle in Edenbridge.

The town of Edenbridge, Kansas, was founded in 1850 by three families—the Webbs, the Hawkins, and the Holloways—all of whose ancestors immigrated together to North Carolina from England in the 1700s. The Holloways were my father's people, and my mother's family was descended from the Webbs. This joint lineage to two of the founding families made my sister, Tara, and me Edenbridge royalty, if such a term can really be applied. It may seem trivial, but in places like Edenbridge, who you are, who your parents are, and who their parents were before them is of the utmost importance. It tells people what you're made of—your stock.
And from what I know about the Webbs and the Holloways, they were a hearty bunch. I suppose they had to be to survive—first in North Carolina and then later in Kansas.

I'm not sure why Hugh and Elizabeth Holloway, William and Grace Hawkins, and James and Agnes Webb decided to move to Kansas or why they decided to name their corner of the Kansas prairie after their ancestors' homeland. Maybe, like me, they had grown up hearing the romanticized stories and wanted to pay homage to them. Or maybe they just couldn't think of anything more original. I don't know. But every Pioneers Day, just before the potluck and games, we would all gather in the gymnasium of the grade school and listen to the story of the founding of Edenbridge. Usually it was read by Mrs. Gray, the elderly school librarian. We called her Old Lady Farts behind her back because she had a tendency to pass gas silently as she moved around the library reshelving books.

Each year's program was the same. Mrs. Gray would welcome everyone to Pioneers Day, we would all stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, and then Reverend Ackerman would lead us in a prayer. At first, I would lower my head and close my eyes like everyone else. But as I got older, I found that it was much more interesting to keep my eyes open and watch everyone else pray—everyone, that was, except for my mother. I enjoyed watching her watch them with a slightly amused expression on her face. Even more than that, though, I enjoyed meeting her eyes over everyone else's bowed heads and watching her enigmatic smile turn into a grin. That shared experience made me feel warm . . . happy . . . as if we were co-conspirators in some grand scheme.

After the prayer, Mrs. Gray would approach the microphone with her worn copy of
The Unabridged History of Edenbridge, Kansas
and read the story of the town's founding. As she neared the end, she would point to Mrs. Ackerman, the church organist, to play the opening bars of “Home on the Range.” Dutifully, we would all stand and sing. I liked to imagine the Webbs, Holloways, and Hawkinses standing on the flat expanse of prairie that bordered the Salt Creek Valley, the hot wind blowing from the south, as they gazed for the first time at the place that was to become their home.

Much of the town's early success was due in large part to its location at a bend in the Brush Creek. It was one of the only places where a wagon traveling north to connect with the Oregon Trail could ford the Creek. Later, when the stagecoach routes were created along the wagon trails and travelers started coming through the area, Jacob Webb built an inn—a massive limestone structure that still stands today, though it's been turned into a residence and a bed and breakfast.

In its day, Edenbridge was a destination in our corner of the world. And then the railroad came. The problem, though, was that it didn't come to Edenbridge. Rather than following the stagecoach route, the tracks were placed through a town about 15 miles to the east. As stagecoach travel was replaced by rail, Edenbridge's prominence dwindled. It was a blow to the town, but there were still plenty of businesses and there were lots of farmers. Edenbridge didn't grow, but it didn't shrink either. That didn't start until the 1930s, when the impenetrable clouds of swirling, red, brown, and gray dust and grit made it impossible to farm anything. Still, the people of Edenbridge held on. “That which does not kill you, makes you stronger,” they would tell each other. And they were right to a certain extent. They survived the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and World War II. And by the time my parents were born, though the town was a lot smaller than it had been in its heyday, there was still the general store—now called the Mercantile—a diner, a doctor's office, a dentist's office, the phone company, the post office, three churches, and two filling stations—one of which was owned by my father's father and also served as the farm implement dealership.

I'm telling you all of this not to bore you, but so that you can understand the dynamics of our community—who we were collectively because of our history. Ours was a community built on the bedrocks of family, God, and country. It was a strong foundation, but one that was perhaps outdated. The world began to change and Edenbridge, for all of its authenticity, was being left behind. Kids began to graduate from high school and move to Wichita or Oklahoma City. The town began to shrink as the
population dwindled and businesses began to fail. By the time I was born, all that was left of Edenbridge were the schools, a handful of businesses, and, of course, the Congregational Church.

In a town like Edenbridge, even the smallest of events are significant—which is why the rape and murder of my best friend, Grace Bellamy, stunned and, in many ways, crippled the townspeople. We had never dealt with murder—and certainly never that of a child. The closest we'd come, coincidentally happened earlier that same summer with the disappearance of Adam Walsh from a Sears store in Florida. It happened the last week of July and the entire country was obsessed by the story.

I remember the day I became aware of the significance of Adam Walsh's disappearance. It was the first day of August and about a month before school was scheduled to start. It was a Saturday. I know this because I had spent the day with my father working at my grandfather's gas station in Edenbridge. During the week, my father worked as a printer and copier repairman for Xerox. Every morning he would disappear from the house smelling like soap and Old Spice and return in the evenings with the slightly spicy odor of cigarettes, stale cologne, and some unidentifiable smell I decided was “the city.” But on weekends, he would pull on his oldest jeans and a stained white T-shirt and go to the shop where he pumped gas, smoked cigarettes, and gossiped with the farmers.

Often I would go with him, playing in the greasy garage, prowling through the dusty storage area that smelled of oil, grime, and age. I explored the dirty recesses of the buildings, avoiding only the exposed drain in the corner where all the men peed when they thought I wasn't looking. Although I realize now that the men affectionately tolerated my presence, at the time, I honestly believed they considered me an equal. I drank Coca-Cola out of thick glass bottles scuffed and cloudy from use, dangled candy cigarettes from my mouth, and at the end of the day, used the same thick, petroleum-based hand cleaner and filthy nail brush the men used to remove the worst of the grime from my hands.

BOOK: State of Grace
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