Return to Evergreen


Return to Evergreen-2


This is a work in progress. If you’d like to read chapter 1 go here.

Chapter 2


“Gabe where is the packing tape? I’ve looked all over the upstairs bedroom and can’t find it anywhere!”

Gabriel Campbell could tell by the volume and tone of his wife’s voice that she was in a bad mood. Generally she was an easy going type. “I’m not sure. Maybe Makena knows. She may have it in her bedroom now,” he spoke loudly in the direction of the kitchen where she was packing boxes.

She rushed through the living room to where he sat in his recliner reading the city newspaper. “Gabe I know you’re tired but we’ve got so much to pack and so little time to get it done. Could you please give me a hand with the kitchen and pantry things?” Without waiting for an answer, she hurried toward her daughter’s bedroom behind the stairs.

After glancing up at her for a second, her husband returned to perusing the paper. He was used to her trying to rush everyone to complete a task at break neck speed though there usually was plenty of time to spare. He liked to take his time whereas she was a bit *obsessive compulsive or OCD. Somehow they complimented each other he imagined.

Standing in the doorway of Makena’s bedroom, her mother said, “When you’re finished with that tape please bring it to me in the kitchen. I’ll probably have everything all boxed before your dad finishes his newspaper. As her daughter taped a box full of books closed Keokee noticed the unhappy expression on her pale freckled face. “What gives girl? Why so glum? I thought you were ready for a change of scenery.”

Makena pressed her bow shaped lips together and said with downcast eyes, “I just don’t know if it’s gonna be any better there for sure. We haven’t been back in three years. I don’t even remember the kids I played with back then. And they probably won’t remember me either.”

“Landon Coffey’s girl Mindy still goes to school there. And she’s in the same grade as you isn’t she?” her mother informed her, trying to diminish her fears. In a way, she diminished her own worries by reminding herself that Mindy’s grandmother Lillie would be there too. How she had missed the closeness they once shared. Could they ever get back such a special friendship again? She wasn’t sure because so much had happened in the last few years that had put an uneasy distance of more than miles between them.

Makena reached her hand up to her long copper blonde hair and began twirling it around her forefinger. “I guess it won’t be so bad after all. Nana won’t be as far away from where we live and we can see her more too. Plus my cousins—even if they are way older than me.”

Her mother grinned. “That’s the spirit.” As she turned around and headed back for the kitchen, Keokee mused, Like mother, like daughter. She’s got my hair twirling gene too. I wonder how much I’m like my mother. Keokee bristled at the notion. After re-entering the kitchen, a thought flooded her mind.* What if  mother had still been living when happened? Oh God! My life would’ve been more than a living nightmare!

Leaving the kitchen, she went into the bedroom, closed the door and picked up her purse from her nightstand. Guardedly watching the door, she pulled out a prescription bottle and shook *two pills into her hand. Those thoughts, those horrible unrelenting, forbidden thoughts could not resurface again.

“Mrs. Milligan, Shelley is on line one,” Alana Milligan’s secretary informed her on the intercom in her chic tenth floor office. The executive editor of “First Class” magazine wore fitted dark brown twill pants and a green cowl neck which accentuated her meticulously made up olive green eyes. In addition she wore a gold star shaped necklace and matching earrings which paired well with her light golden tanned skin (plus softly rouged cheekbones) and brown hair with caramel highlights. The sixty-two year old woman believed in dressing in style every day.

“Thank you Joyce,” she said courteously as she pushed the button to speak to her daughter. “Well it’s about time you got back to me. I thought you’d left the country since it has taken this long to return my call.” There’s was a pause as she listened intently and gazed at her husband who sat on the black suede sofa that stood in the corner of her office and to the left of her slightly cluttered desk. “Really now?” she commented, as her eyebrows rose, giving her a curious look. “No I haven’t seen her in nearly three years myself. If you remember, she didn’t stay here in New York more than four or five months before moving down to Lenoir where her husband was going to pastor a church.”

Barry Milligan leaned forward on the sofa and reached to pick up his coffee cup from the oval glass table that set in front of him. The deep purple cup read “First Class Editor-n-Chief” in silver letters. His wife had it specially made for his sixtieth birthday three years earlier. It was the same year, he recalled, that she took the title of editor in chief of his women’s magazine. Of course, he wouldn’t have relinquished it to her if he had thought she couldn’t handle the job. Waiting for her to get off the phone, he perused her newly decorated office. Though he had told her that it didn’t need changing, he had to concede it was an improvement from the heavier, traditional style it had been previously.

The focal point of the room was a glass sphere, globe hanging from the ceiling by a silver chain. In front and to the left set Alana’s L shaped desk with a cherry top. The base of the desk was black and contained hidden file cabinets. At the present it was cluttered with papers, files and photographs alongside of a glass vase with purple carnations, a stone colored paperweight, silver pen and pencil holder, flat screen computer and office phone. On the far side of the office set a hutch with a smaller size desk. Both desks had ergonomically correct swivel chairs. In addition, there was a loveseat that matched the suede sofa he was now sitting on.

Becoming increasingly impatient, he rose up and walked toward the back wall of the office where three windows faced the front of the high rise building. After giving a quick glance at the New York City skyline from the tenth floor, he hurried to the side of his wife’s desk.

“Lana, I’ve got to leave in a few minutes. Catching my plane to London-remember?”

His wife continued to listen to her daughter with one ear and appeased her husband by glancing in his direction as she held up a long slender finger. “One moment please” she quietly mouthed in his direction. Then she spoke to Shelley, “Yes honey I’ll call you on the weekend and let you know if I can attend the party. You know I’ll try my best. Take care and I hope to see you and the children soon. Bye now.”

After she hung up the phone, her husband said in disbelief, “Do you mean to tell me you are going off to that decrepit little town of Evergreen Gap when the issue is so close to ship time?”

Alana adjusted the rounded collar of her blouse and then said, “Of course not Barry honey. I know the responsibilities I have to live up to here. But I couldn’t fully explain that to Shelley. You know she never has understood the great time and detail it takes in putting a magazine as large and in vogue as this together.” Next she put on her small shaped reading glasses and examined a photo of a female airplane pilot that was to be used for the next cover of “First Class”. Then she continued, “They’re having a birthday party for Dallas. He will be thirteen on the third of November. Shelley considers it a milestone so she’s going all out for it. And she said that Keokee and her daughter Makena are coming too. It appears that they’re returning to live in that coal dust covered, ghost of a town. Only God knows why.”

Evergreen Gap has only two entrances by which it can be reached. One of them Straight Gap Road, flanked by train tracks and a tree-lined river-leading to the town from the south. Though a minor portion is truly straight, the remainder of the route is a succession of winding curves that follow alongside Lonesome River. Beyond the tracks loom three giant silos, now forsaken, once used for the black rock’s processing and storage-ghostly relics of a time decades ago when ‘coal was king’.

From the north, an exit ramp descends and converges with Railroad Avenue leading into the main part of town on *Grand Street. The elementary and middle school can be found on Railroad Avenue. The High School had to be consolidated four years earlier as a result of a poor economy. For a few tumultuous years the community had discussed, debated and argued over what would be the best solution for the children and the county. In the end the school board agreed to consolidate with Copper Creek High, a larger, more modern school ten miles north of town. Many people predicted the death of Evergreen once it happened but as time passed they came to realize it wasn’t much worse off than before-when it was already on life support.

Before arriving in the small town wedged between the ridges of Black Mountain the Campbell family took in the beautiful fall scenery along Straight Gap Road.  As they approached the entrance framed by a train trestle, Keokee was reminded of the times in her youth when traffic would be backed up because some large truck was unable to clear the bottom of the trestle. Eventually they lowered the road underneath to take care of the impasse.

Unfortunately, the town’s police force chose to lower their standards also.  Once called a great place to raise a family, Evergreen Gap could no longer hold such a reputation due to the fact that the chief of police had secretly been selling drugs on the side. In addition, the deputy was investigated for the murder of his wife within the same year. Then to add insult to injury, the year after that the mayor and a few councilmen were indicted for electoral fraud. Their crime of trading cheeseburgers for votes made the town a laughing stock on late night television shows.

Some people blamed the disintegrating state of the community on loss of jobs due to the coal industry issues. Others were sure it was because of prescription drug abuse aided by doctors writing too many prescriptions. Several of the older town folk believed there was something much deeper at the core of its sickness. They called it “the loss of the fear of God”.

Suggestions or comments are welcome.




Return To Evergreen


If you like critiquing writing, feel free to comment on the first chapter of  a half-finished manuscript of mine- ‘Return to Evergreen’. (working title).


Why am I doing this? What’s it going to prove-that I’m a masochist? I’m a liar already. Why did I lie to Gabe when I said I was going to a bookseller’s convention? He seemed so trusting too. But I have to know if I can take living in this town again after…Alex.

The deep blue, September sky was shrouded by a hazy fog that hid most of the evening sun’s rays and cast a shadow over the neighborhood homes and the gently sloping mountain ridge behind them. She stood staring bewilderedly up at the two-story wooden frame house ten feet in front of her. Except for a few golden and scarlet colored leaves being rustled by a soft wind, the sidewalk leading to the front porch was free of debris.

Why had she come here today? What possible reason could there be? From that devastating moment onward, all previous happy memories had been wrenched out of her soul and exchanged for the pain and loss that ensued. It was as though joy became a foreign concept to her –some ethereal feeling from another time or dimension that she could never hope to reach.

Slowly, methodically she retrieved the key from her pants pocket and climbed the concrete porch steps. As she reached for the weather worn screen door, a piercing scream echoed in her memory. Suddenly, before touching the handle, her hand froze in mid-air. Peering through the glass of the front door she saw another door beyond, near the back of the house. It was painted dark blue with a large football stenciled on it. How could she have imagined she would be willing or able to cross the threshold and relive such agony? Wasn’t the aftermath enough to have to endure?

At that instant she heard a car door shut in the distance. Turning around she saw that her old friend and former neighbor was approaching. Descending the porch steps she met up with Lillie Coffey, a plump woman in her fifties with a dark shag haircut and deep brown, luminous eyes. “Hi Lillie. It’s been so long…too long. You’re looking well.” She gazed beyond to Lillie’s driveway and noticed a dark blue van with green and yellow lettering on the side. “That’s a beautiful vehicle. It’s about time you got a new one for your business.”

“Yea. Well it’s mostly used to taxi my grandkids around to parks and different places. I take them on my day off from the café.” Looking slightly hesitant Lillie continued, “Come on and give me a hug Keokee. It really has been a long time.” After they warmly embraced, she asked, “So are you all moving back?”

Feeling transparent, Keokee replied, “Uh, it’s not definite yet but probably. I guess you heard that Gabe may be taking over as pastor at the church. He feels like it’s meant to be,” she finished with her voice trailing off as she averted her friend’s gaze.

“What about you? Do you think it is? Or do you want to come back?”, Lillie spoke earnestly.

Deliberately avoiding her gaze, Keokee faintly shook her head and replied with false cheerfulness, “There’s a reason for everything. Every day there’s a new opportunity around each corner. Makena says she wants to leave Lenoir. Says the school’s too big and the kids are too snobby for her. So that’s a positive I guess. How’s all your kids doing?”

“Pretty well I guess. Aubrie seems to be having things the hardest right now. She’s still trying to get over the divorce.” she shrugged. “The others are about the same.” There was a tense silence and then she quietly asked, “Will you be moving back here or somewhere else?”

The heaviness in Keokee’s chest increased as her mouth became dry. Attempting to speak, she had to clear her throat before answering, “Not here. Since the Henderson family moved out of it, Gabe is in the process of renting it out to some of his kin people from Cracker’s Neck. Their house was hit by the tornado that came through there last month. I came by here to…to just make sure everything was in fair shape. Of course, I guess you know his friend Marvin has been looking after the place since…,” she stopped in mid-sentence, a look of utter anguish displayed on her face. Quickly she glanced back at the house and then waved her hand nervously in Lillie’s direction as she rushed to her parked car. “Why? Why did I come here today?” she muttered to herself as she pulled out of the cul-de-sac too fast and almost hit a mail box.

Lillie Coffey, still rooted to the front yard, stared after her in disbelief. In the distance she heard the cranking of an engine and then a moment later her oldest son Landon pulled up in a riding lawn mower. “Mom, who was that peeling out of here like a maniac?”

“It was Keokee. She’s coming back home.”

“Home? Really?”

“To Evergreen Gap.”

Thanks for reading. Comments and critiques are welcome!

P. S. Hopefully I’ll have an update on ‘Alley Rose’ next time.