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Hidden Creek (Running Forward) (Volume 3)

By Lynn Hobbs

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Chapter One
Susan Penleigh tilted her head back and stared toward the horizon before focusing on the land. Dry greyish-green leaves scattered from massive oak trees―clearly a direct result of the devastating drought. A few tall pines had rare green pine needles. Speckled with brown blotches they appeared as velvet fur surrounding its branches. Numerous birds’ light, merry songs rang out across the parking lot while a dusty smell lay heavy in the air.
Not your typical fall afternoon.
She heard the harsh sound of an eighteen wheeler braking from nearby Interstate Twenty and tightened her grip on the open car door.
Dear Lord, I can’t endure another disappointment. If I’m not to be with Rick, then I pray for wisdom, Father, for I want to do Your will. In Jesus name, Amen.
A single tear slipped down her cheek and broke her strong resolve. Angry at herself for being so sensitive, she quickly entered her friend’s car.
“Let’s get out of here, Izabella. Please. I can’t deal with this. Not now.”
“You knew you might run into him here. His daughter has been at the rehab center for a long time.”
“I know, but I can’t explain this rush of emotion. It’s incredible, and his encounter left me with so many questions. That’s what I wasn’t expecting.”
Izabella refrained from speaking further, drove through the parking lot, and turned to exit. Without warning, a large, skinny dog with protruding ribs darted from behind a parked car and raced straight into their path. She swerved and missed hitting it.
Izabella yelled. She stopped the car and honked the horn, repeatedly. The frightened, long-legged animal loped away never looking back.
Breathless, Susan managed to speak, shoving tousled hair from her face with both hands. “Wow…are you okay?”
“I am.” Izabella huffed and started the car again. “Wonder if someone dumped that dog?”
“Must have…there’s nothing but county roads, and the highway around here. No neighborhoods. Poor dog.”
“If you ask me, the owners should be dumped and see how it feels to survive. Some people have no business with animals.”
“Izabella, some people are dumped. Haven’t you noticed the increase of homeless people across the nation?”
“They should go to work and quit panhandling.”
“We can’t lump all of them into one category. With the awful economy, many can’t find a job. I’m glad shelters are opening up.”
“So am I.” Izabella cautiously eased her car away from the rehab center and flashed a quick smile. “How’d we get off on that, anyway?”
“We do ramble.”
Izabella groaned. “Ohh…am I seeing things?”
An assortment of cars and trucks were at a standstill trying to enter the highway.
“What is going on?” She groaned again.
Susan leaned her neck forward and frowned. “I think it’s a stalled car. We may be here for a while.”
Izabella inched her vehicle into the line and laid her arms across the steering wheel. “Well, I must be getting used to the drought. It’s still a pretty day.” She shrugged.
“Not a cloud in the sky.” Susan ranted. “Why hasn’t anything changed? My world is falling apart and everything still looks the same; same big Texas sky, same Rick…” Her voice broke in mid-sentence betraying her calm appearance. “I can’t bear to turn around. Is he still…standing there?” She glanced at Izabella.
A sudden peek at the rear view mirror and Izabella shook her head. “Yes. Listen, if this is painful I can turn around when we get on the highway. We can go back.”
“No. I’m not ready for more drama. Can you believe him? What a surprise…he wanted to pick up where we left off…after all this time apart. It’s my gut feeling that’s bothering me. Rick Yeager is a wonderful person. Maybe he really was too busy with his wayward daughter, and I wasn’t put on the back burner. Keep driving. I’ll try to sort this out.”

Rick squinted against the harsh glare of blazing sun on Izabella’s car. Heart pounding in his ears, he gazed at the passenger’s window while the vehicle departed the drug rehab center.
Susan appears distraught. I’ve got to concentrate…got to figure this out…can’t believe she wouldn’t talk to me.
Izabella had honked her horn sporadically and stopped the car. The near miss with the dog did not register with Rick though. He watched the car suddenly head for the line of traffic stopped on the highway’s on-ramp. Immobile, he stood with his legs spread apart as if concreted to the pavement. Rick’s mind raced.
What in the world caused this? Have I said something wrong? I sure can’t remember. Maybe I stayed away too long…
“Mr. Yeager? Mr. Yeager?”
He shook off his trance-like state and cleared Susan from his mind. The female attendant rushed down the sidewalk, a severe frown troubled her face. He watched her catch her breath. Alarm slammed his brain.
Now what?
“I saw you in the parking lot and ran out to tell you. Your…daughter escaped…the police have been alerted. She is dangerous.” Words tumbled from the woman. Her chest expanded a rapid rise and fall.
Rick struggled to speak. “Wha…what?”
“A drug addict will do anything to buy drugs. Tessa was not rehabilitated, Mr. Yeager.”
His remark was gruff. “I am aware of the lack of progress, but my regular visits seemed to comfort her. This just happened?” Rick glared at the attendant and stark reality swept over his body. Fragments of disbelief concerning Tessa, disappeared. Each beat of his heart sounded louder than a jack hammer sending anguish throughout his body. Shaky, muscles and veins strained against his skin.
“Yes, sir. Tessa failed to report for a scheduled psychological testing appointment thirty minutes ago. We discovered she was last seen outside feeding the birds but that was three hours before the appointment. Does she have friends here in Tyler?”
“Not to my knowledge. I can’t imagine where she went.” He glanced at his watch. “Ma’am, I’m sorry I snapped at you. I know you are only doing your job.”
“It’s okay, Mr. Yeager. We’ll contact you if we have news of Tessa. Please do the same.”
“Of course.”
The roaring of a car engine brought their conversation to a halt.
“What on earth?” The woman sputtered and covered her ears.
“No telling but it’s getting closer.” He scowled at the parking lot entrance. With tires squealing, a police car made the curve and slid in.
A police car.
Rick took a deep breath and said half aloud, “It’s about Tessa. I know it is.”
The officer parked and flew from the vehicle. Rick heard the attendant gasp.
They gaped at the officer while he dashed past them and entered the main office. The attendant lunged forward and charged in behind him. Rick remained frozen in the same spot.
The police.
The significance hit him hard creating a deep ache in his heart. His breathing quickened and tension painfully knotted his insides.
Oh Tessa, what have you done this time?
He squared his shoulders and stood at attention. Ready for whatever may come, he waited for the police officer to return.
Rick looked on while the officer emerged from the rehab center and walked in a long, steady stride towards him. The attendant did not follow.
Only you and me, I knew it would be like this.
“Mr. Yeager, I’m Lieutenant Dotson with the Tyler Police Department. Your daughter, Tessa, has been apprehended during a bank robbery here in Smith County.”
“A bank robbery?” Rick groaned. “That can’t be my daughter.”
“Yes, it is your daughter. Anyone entering a bank or simply standing in line is recorded on the bank’s cameras. She is on their surveillance tape. There are many witnesses.”
He sprinted to the officer. “Was she by herself? Were others involved?” Rick yelled, and felt his face flush.
“We don’t know if this was spur-of-the-moment, or if she schemed with friends. The investigation is ongoing. I will tell you this. The elderly teller Tesssa demanded money from died.”
Shocked, Rick opened his mouth, but nothing came out. For a split second his breathing was suspended. His raspy voice broke when he finally spoke. “Died? From fright?”
“It’s on tape, Mr. Yeager. The judge will decide.”
“She needs an attorney.”
“By law she will be appointed one.” The officer sighed, and stared at Rick, compassion etched on his face. “Your daughter escaped twice from a court ordered drug rehab program. From one father to another, Mr. Yeager; I can assure you the judge will now send Tessa to the Gatesville Women’s Prison.”
“Can I see her?”
“No sir, you may not. She is held in restraint.”
“Thank you for the information.” He nodded.
The officer reached out and shook hands with Rick. “I’m sorry I had to bring such bad news.”
“Thanks.” Rick moved toward his truck, opened the door, and entered the cab. Slouching in the seat, he swallowed as bile rose from his throat. Ransacking the glove compartment, he grasped the bottle of Extra-Strength Tums. Popping two in his mouth, pent-up tears slid down his face in a rapid flow.
It’s shocking to grasp how quick Tessa has deteriorated as a moral person. I’m disappointed I couldn’t help her more, but I am not her Savior. Dear Lord, only You can help her now. She is in Your hands.
He spotted the cell phone on the front seat and after a moment’s hesitation seized it. Bolting upright, he poked each key roughly attacking the phone while his determination grew. He entered Susan’s number in a matter of seconds and placed the call on speakerphone. She answered on the first ring.
“Hello?”
“Susan, it is imperative we talk. I wasn’t expecting to see you earlier.”
“Rick, I hadn’t heard from you in a long time. I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know what to say. We came to visit Lisa. I had met her at the refugee shelter, and she agreed for help with her drug addiction. I brought her to rehab a few weeks ago.”
“So…that’s why you were here. I wondered about some other things, too. Susan, will you have dinner with me tonight?”
“Uh, yes, and I am living in River Town with Izabella. Do you know her address?”
“I know where she lives. How about six o’clock?”
“Okay…wait…where are you?”
“Still at the rehab center.”
“I’ll be right there.”
Rick heard a brief click followed by a dial tone. He blinked and drummed his fingers against the steering wheel. Surprised by a new-found calmness, he sensed a new turn of events.
And for the better, I won’t mess this up. I won’t let her down.
Lost in thought, Rick sat in the truck until a loud tapping on the window startled him. He twisted to one side and saw Susan standing rigid, concern shadowing her face. She held her mouth together in a tight line.
Izabella’s car idled nearby.
Rick fumbled with the door handle, gave a powerful shove, and leaped out. Immediate eye contact held while both stood still. Rick held his arms out, and Susan ran to embrace him.
Thank you, Lord, she has returned.
Rick rubbed her back in circular motions. He savored the sweet, clean smell of her hair, and they stepped apart. Rick bent and planted a kiss on her forehead.
“I’ve missed you,” Susan whispered.
“I’ve missed us.”
“I didn’t know there was an us.”
“That explains my other question…why you were so distant with me earlier.” He sighed. “Susan, we must work on this together, and I do want us together.”
“Rick, I understand why you moved, but we live two hours apart. How…?”
“Let me interrupt.” He embraced her and stroked her hair. “I apologize for not including you in my attempt to help my daughter improve.”
Susan tilted her head and scowled. “Your attempt? Do I detect something is wrong?”
“Yes. Reality hit me square in the face…again. Tessa can be so deceptive. She will require more treatment than a rehab center can offer.” Shaking his head, he quit talking and pressed his lips tightly together.
“Rick, go on, what happened?”
Overcome with shame, his cheeks suddenly flushed and a ruddy complexion appeared. He spoke in a subdued tone. “I came for my regular visit. I thought she was improving. They said she escaped this facility and robbed a bank in the past three hours.” His voice cracked. He stiffened and held in a sob.
“Oh, Rick…I am so sorry. I know what a struggle this must be; an emotional roller-coaster. You look exhausted. Have you had lunch?”
“No. I can’t eat, not now.”
“We need a place to talk.”
“Where?”
“Just drive.”
“Okay.”
Susan waved at Izabella. “Rick will bring me back to your home, later.”
“It’s a long way to River Town. Are you sure?” Izabella yelled out from her car and frowned.
“Yes.”
Susan watched Izabella wheel the vehicle around and leave.
Rick started the truck, buckled his seat belt, and Susan hurried to fasten hers. Within minutes they were on Highway 69.
“I remember a park off of this highway. I think it’s called Love’s Lookout Scenic Park.”
“Any idea when we’ll arrive there?” Rick shifted his weight in the seat.
“Well, technically, we are still in Tyler. So, it’s about forty minutes from us, before we get to Jacksonville. We drive past it on our way to Izabella’s home in River Town.” She paused. “How are the boys?”
“M and M? That’s their nickname in case you didn’t know. Doing great, couldn’t ask for better young men. Take pride in their work…a lot of help. You should see the old farmhouse we are remodeling.”
“Making progress then?”
“Oh, yes, and they are a lot of company. Hard to believe they ended up victims of the wildfires. How long did they stay in Marshall at the refugee shelter?”
“I’m not sure. I know their home burnt to the ground. While at the shelter, they assisted volunteer fireman each day.”
“They talk very little concerning their past, and I don’t pry. Strange, though, neither Matt nor Mead ever mention their Parents.”
“From what I heard, the parents were in and out of jail; the boys had no other family.”
Rick’s thoughts drifted to an earlier conversation when the boys first moved in with him.
“Susan, I guess you know Matt was incarcerated when he was younger. He was upfront, explained how his bad choice to burglarize a car hurt him. Never could graduate with his class, and didn’t get a GED either. He tells everyone about it.”
“I knew, and I also knew he only needed a chance to start over. I’m glad you took the brothers in when you did. You were their way to a new beginning.”
“Well, I’m glad you phoned and asked if they could work for me. I wanted to mentor them, and did, and now they are part of my family.”
He turned his attention to driving, glanced at his speedometer, and set the cruise control. Susan sat relaxed.
What is she thinking about?
He considered Susan and M and M living through the historic Texas drought and wildfires of 2011, and the effect it had on them.
I can’t imagine what they experienced at the shelter…
“Must have been an ordeal living at the refugee shelter,” he pondered aloud.
Susan shook her head. “It had its high and low moments. I’ll never forget the many faces and raw emotions. It was like your whole life was held open for public display. No secrets, nothing private. Friendships grew and prayers were said. We moved forward with our lives. We had to.”
And during that time I left River Town, moving to Tyler with one main objective…helping my daughter make it in rehab.
“Susan, I can’t avoid talking about Tessa any longer. I won’t dump this mess on you, but she is part of me.”
“I’ll stand beside you Rick, and God will lead us. You can’t carry the whole world on your shoulders.” She turned to look at him, and they shared a brief smile.
A comfortable silence engulfed them for the remainder of the ride.
Susan gasped when they arrived at the park. “Look at the rolling hills…how beautiful. Even with the drought the forest is breathtaking.” Hues of red, yellow, orange and brown welcomed them, mixed with light, beige patches of dead grass.
Rick zipped into the parking lot, killed the engine, and both climbed out of the truck.
“Sure is.” His gaze roamed the area, and he grabbed her hand. They strolled, taking in the view, and found a bench. Neither spoke while basking in the warm sunshine. Minutes passed and Rick abruptly stood.
“It’s almost magical here. Splendid hills and valleys, and I can see for miles and miles.” He looked down at Susan, lifted her chin, and gazed into her face. “I don’t want miles between us.”
“Rick, I don’t want anything between us.”
“Where do you want us to live?” The words rushed out, and Rick’s heartbeat sped.
Her face beamed. “River Town, of course, and…” She paused.
“And?” Rick flinched.
“And we are a we?” She bit her bottom lip.
“Yes, we will be married, if you’ll have me.” He swallowed hard.
“Counseling with the pastor first?” She gave a half smile, eyes dancing with mischief.
Rick lifted her from the bench, and their laughter rippled through the air until he stood her on the ground.
Susan brushed her fingers across the side of his face.
He covered her hand with his, and his pulse elevated as his senses heightened.
“Lady, I wouldn’t have it any other way. This is our time.”
His cell phone jarred the pleasant conversation. He withdrew it from his pocket.
“Hello?’ Rick listened a moment. His mouth flew open, and he yanked the phone from his ear as if it hurt him.

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