Lost and Found Dream
by Lois Carroll
Carrie faces a problem that's becoming more common—caring for a grandparent with Alzheimer's Disease. After returning to her small North Dakota hometown to arrange for caregivers, Carrie rides an emotional roller coaster.
She accepts comfort from the local pastor, Peter, and a strong attraction builds. But her past haunts her, and Carrie believes spending time with him will taint his good reputation. She loves him, so she must leave town and give up her lifelong dream of raising her own family in her grandmother's big house—the dream that Peter wants to share because he loves her
Can their dream ever come true?
Release Date: February 19, 2019
Genre: Contemporary Romance
A WHITE SATIN ROMANCE
“Give me a break,” Carrie Whitmore groused sleepily as she pulled her pillow over her head, intent on going back to sleep.
She quickly discovered the feathers couldn’t silence the constant roar outside her open bedroom window that had awakened her after too few hours of sleep. Moving on and then returning, it sounded louder each time it passed. It was getting closer to her open window. Sitting up in the antique sleigh bed, she looked out the window and saw someone pushing a gas-powered mower across the lawn just beyond her grandmother’s backyard.
A glance at the clock on the antique bedside table told her it was only seven-thirty on a Saturday morning. Way too early for that much racket. They were mowing the church lawn, for heaven’s sake. They should be more considerate, especially in a small country town like Sunville, North Dakota.
Suddenly, the fact that she was in Sunville, and not in her apartment in Fargo, registered in her sleepy head. She gasped. “Oh, no! You can’t make that much noise now,” she complained out loud, throwing off the light handmade quilt covering her. “You’ll wake up Grandma.”
Her grandmother, Madeleine Whitmore, was sleeping in one of the other five bedrooms in her immaculately preserved, three-story Victorian house. At least Carrie hoped she was still asleep.
Maddie, as everyone called the sweet eighty-six-year-old, had kept Carrie up far into the night. Dressed only in her nightgown and robe, Maddie had been determined to go to church. Intent on leaving the house, she told Carrie that the services would start soon, and she didn’t want to be late. Trying to reason with her grandmother to get her to understand that services didn’t start after dark on Friday night, did no good. Carrie had tried anyway, because she was new at caring for her grandmother. Eventually, she did convince Maddie, whose mind often wasn’t in touch with reality as her Alzheimer’s got worse that services weren’t until Sunday morning. She promised to take her grandmother to church when Sunday came, and that seemed to do the trick.
“Just one more day to wait,” Carrie assured her as she helped her back into bed.
“Grandma,” Carrie muttered now as the noise got even louder. “Please, please stay asleep.”
The noise had to stop. Now. Before her grandmother woke up. Carrie jumped out of bed and grabbed the blouse she’d worn the night before and left on the chair. She pulled it on over her short, yellow knit nightgown, with North Dakota State University blazoned across the front of the shirt in green and reached for her jeans. Hopping on one leg at a time in a zigzag path toward the top of the stairs, she stuffed her legs into the pants and tucked in her nightgown before closing the zipper. She began buttoning her shirt as she sailed two steps at a time down the stairs as she had done since she was a child. Her hand pivoted around the highly polished newel post at the bottom, and she ran toward the big eat-in kitchen that stretched across the back of the house.
Just a few buttons remained. She always had thought so many contrasting buttons close together were cute, but now she wished there were half as many. In the kitchen she hesitated only a moment longer to finish down to the last button as the insistent roar set her off at a run again.
“Come on. Come on,” she urged when the old-fashioned lock on the back door stopped her, adding to her ire when it wouldn’t open. She supposed she could have left it unlocked the night before as Maddie always did, but Carrie lived in Fargo, the biggest city in the state. She didn’t feel safe anywhere unless her door was locked. Not that she lived in a neighborhood that wasn’t safe. She lived alone though and just felt safer locked in.
The worker neared the hedgerow that provided a privacy screen to separate Maddie’s lawn from the church lawn directly behind her house. Carrie paused a moment to carefully close the screen, making sure not to slam it, and then dashed across the deep yard, mindless of her bare feet. She ducked through the break near the end of the row of bushes where people had worn a path by cutting through it for decades.
Breathless from the pace at which she’d traversed the distance from her bedroom, Carrie stopped ahead of the mower’s path. She clutched her side where a muscle was cramping from the exertion and held up her other hand like a school crossing guard. “Stop. Please. You’re making too much noise. Do you have any idea what time it is?” she managed between rapid breaths.
As the lawn-service guy stretched out his strong arm and turned off the mower, Carrie straightened. Her heart was still beating rapidly, but she was relieved to discover the muscle in her side no longer pulled.
She smiled at the guy. “Thank you,” she said, waving a hand toward the mower. As Carrie swallowed and steadied her breathing, she couldn't help but notice that the man’s shoulders were a great deal broader than his tee shirt could accommodate. His worn cut-off jeans and holey sneakers had seen much better days but then, she wasn’t expecting to find North Dakota’s best-dressed man pushing a mower across the church lawn. Although, she wasn’t expecting a man in such excellent physical shape either.
Annoyed with herself for even noticing details about his person, she said, “Ah, I'm sorry to interrupt your work. Thanks for turning it off. It's very early for so much noise.”
He ran his fingers through his dark hair, pushing it back into some order. She didn’t want to notice how tall and attractive he was. Not a man in this little town, but she really couldn’t look away.
“I’m sorry if it caused a problem,” he said with a friendly smile that lit up his face and made him even better looking. He stepped around the mower and stood facing her. He whipped off his sunglasses, revealing the lightest blue eyes she’d ever seen. Dark hair and pale blue eyes.
Wow, she thought.
Struggling to persevere in her mission instead of just enjoying the view, Carrie swallowed past a new lump that had settled in her throat and looked down at the mower instead of at him.
“My grandmother...ah, the noise,” she tried to explain. “You see, I was up half the night with her. She’s…ah…ill and…and I was afraid your mower would wake her. She should get as much sleep as she can.” She glanced at his friendly smile and those gorgeous eyes again, and this time she absolutely couldn't look away. Her legs would not follow her directions to back away either.
“Hey, I'm sorry,” he said in a smooth baritone voice. “I guess I was so wrapped up in getting my work done that I didn't think about how early it is.” He pulled the work gloves from his hands. “And I'm sorry I woke you up, too.”
“Woke me up?” Surprised by his accurate statement, her hand splayed on her chest.
“Yeah.” His smile blossomed into a fun grin. A mischievousness light sparkled in his eyes. “Or do you always button your shirt that way?”
Carrie pulled her shirttails forward and saw two empty buttonholes at the bottom of one side while two lonely buttons sat at the top of the other side by the collar. She groaned as she felt the heat rise into her cheeks. She slowly shook her head. A laugh bubbled up within her. “You caught me,” she admitted with a smile. “I was trying to catch a few extra Z’s too. But really, thanks for stopping the mower. I... I know that with the new minister having been at the church just a few months, you want to get the lawn done early to make a good impression.”
“No, I’m not—”
She didn't let him finish. Her legs started to believe that she wanted to back away from him. “Believe me, an hour or so isn't going to make much difference to Reverend...ah...um...whatever his name is.” She dismissed trying to remember with a little wave of her hand and a shake of her head. “I can't remember what Grandma said it was. But an hour could make a big difference in how my grandmother feels when she wakes up.” Carrie smiled and turned back toward the hedge. “Thanks again for stopping,” she added with a little wave over her shoulder as she walked toward the opening in the hedge.
He followed a few steps, and Carrie stopped reluctantly and turned back to be polite when he spoke.
“Wait, I'm really sorry about the noise so early,” he reiterated with that friendly grin that seemed to appear so easily. “I got an early start because the church youth group is due in an hour to start a car wash that they are running all morning. I can finish mowing later, but as for doing it for...”
“Good,” she said, interrupting him again but keeping the smile on her face. “I’ll be sure to put in the good word for you with Reverend...ah...what’s-his-name when I meet him—if I meet him, actually. I hope I won't be stuck here in Sunville that long.”
The workman frowned and tried to say something more, but she shook her head and stopped him again. “Don’t worry. I’ll tell him it was entirely my fault that the lawn mowing wasn’t finished before the kids got here. As a matter a fact, if Grandma is up to going to church tomorrow, I’ll go too because she can’t go anywhere alone. I’ll tell him then. I promise.” She smiled and turned toward her grandmother’s house again. “Thanks again,” she called over her shoulder as she dashed through the break in the bushes.
She was jerked to a stop when her sleeve caught on a broken branch jutting out from the bush beside the path. In a moment’s panic about her new blouse, she stepped back. She could hear the man’s footsteps coming up behind her.
“Need some help?”
“No, ah, no thanks,” she said, glancing back to see he was nearly at her side. She lifted her sleeve from the splintered end of the branch that had caught it. “I got it. Thanks though,” she said as she fled toward her grandmother’s kitchen door, happy to see her shirt hadn’t ripped.
The lawncare man called something out to her, but she didn’t catch what he said. She just kept on running. The sparkle in his eyes and his good-looking smile had triggered a response in her she’d never expected to feel about any man in Sunville. Not again. She needed to stay free and clear of the men in this little town. She never even drove out here except to visit her grandma. She'd visited for a weekend after her senior year at the state university in Fargo. But after what had happened here that year, and the fact that everyone blamed her for it, she knew she could never be happy living in Sunville again. Never.
Glancing out through the kitchen door as she closed it, she saw the lawn-care guy pushing the silent mower toward the church. Somehow this man was different from others she knew. When he looked at her, she felt as if he could see the terrible secret she thought she kept so well hidden. And if he learned her secret, he would soon turn against her like most people in this town had. It would be best to steer clear of him altogether, she decided. And that should be easy. It wasn't as if she would run into a lawn service guy again. Confident in her new resolve, she ran upstairs to check on her grandmother.
She tiptoed across the hall to Maddie's room and peeked in the partially open door. Carrie smiled when she saw that Maddie was still asleep, her slender body barely making a mound on the bed. Her hair, as white as the pillowcase under her head, framed her face that looked so serene in slumber.
If only more rest would make her well, but Carrie knew it wouldn’t. Maddie was getting worse. Her disease was what brought Carrie back to Sunville now. She’d had to return to find and employ a live-in caregiver for her grandmother. Such responsibilities had fallen to Carrie because her parents had died the summer before her senior year at NDSU. Her sister, Mary Ellen, who lived in Boulder Colorado, was Maddie’s only other close relative. However, Mary Ellen was in no position to help Carrie because she worked full-time, as did Carrie. The difference was Mary Ellen had a husband and two young daughters who needed her there too.
For a number of years, Maddie had managed quite well on her own and enjoyed independent living in her own home. Several months ago, however, when she’d shown signs of needing help, Carrie had hired a housekeeper to look after her. Working days, the housekeeper did all the cooking and cleaning. On Maddie’s bad days, the housekeeper even helped her bathe and dress. Sometimes she served meals in her bedroom when Maddie couldn’t or didn’t want to go downstairs.
Then last weekend, dressed only in her long cotton nightgown, Maddie had wandered out of the house after the housekeeper left for the night. Walking home from a date, some neighborhood teenagers had seen her and walked her home. With a caring concern for her neighbor, the young woman persuaded Maddie to go back to bed before she and her boyfriend left to tell the girl’s mother what had happened. The following morning, the girl’s mother called the only doctor’s office in town to report the incident to Maddie’s doctor, Dr. Bolton. Dr. Bolton immediately called Carrie’s apartment in Fargo to tell her Maddie could no longer live alone.
Carrie had long resented the small town environment where everyone knew everyone else’s business. In this instance, though, it seemed heaven sent, and she was thankful. Her stomach did flips when she thought of what might have happened to Maddie out at night, alone.
After rearranging her work responsibilities as an assistant editor at a Fargo based company that published several magazines, Carrie took a leave of absence to tend to Maddie herself until she could find live-in help to take over. She couldn’t say how long she would be gone but hoped that wouldn’t take longer than a few days at the most.
Heading back to the bedroom on the back of the house where she always slept on her visits, Carrie hugged the wall to avoid the squeaky floorboards. After a childhood of playing and sleeping here whenever her folks were out of town, she knew where each loose board was.
After showering and dressing again, this time in shorts and a clean knit top with no buttons, Carrie headed for the kitchen. She made just a small pot of coffee for herself because she knew that Maddie had to steer clear of caffeine. Mug in hand, she phoned her sister. She wished she could use her cell phone, but with poor or no reception in most of the town, she was restricted to using her grandmother’s landline.
“Sorry to call so early, but I wanted to catch you at home. I'm in Sunville, and the news isn't good,” she reported.
“Let me have it,” Mary Ellen responded in her typical no-nonsense way.
“I talked to Dr. Bolton as soon as I got to town yesterday. He said we have no choice. We must find someone to live with Grandma full-time, to see that she eats properly, and to care for her when she isn't capable herself. It was hard to hear him say we can't trust her not to wander off again.”
Mary Ellen was silent. From the rustling, Carrie guessed she was wiping away her tears just as Carrie had done in Bill's office. Now she took a deep breath to steel herself against them starting again.
“I asked him if she was...” Carrie inhaled deeply again to strengthen her voice. “Dying,” she finally said, not wanting to utter the word.
“What did he say?” Mary Ellen asked hoarsely.
“Well,” Carrie began, trying to pick out the positive things to tell her first. “He said she's not in any pain or discomfort, and except for Alzheimer's, she's very healthy for her age. She could live for years.”
“That sounds good,” Mary Ellen responded, her voice more cheerful.
“But he wasn’t finished. As time passes, she’ll forget things more often. She’ll be aware of less around her. She won’t even know people who have been her friends for years.” She paused to take a deep breath. “He said Grandma won’t know us.”
Carrie waited while Mary Ellen blew her nose. “I had no idea how far Grandma’s illness had progressed,” she added then. “Mom and Dad always tended to her, not me.”
“I knew they spent a lot of time at Grandma’s house helping to fix this and that,” Mary Ellen replied. “Dad was always taking his tool kit over there for something. That’s why it’s in such good shape now.”
“Yeah, but now it’s Grandma who needs the fixing. And Mary Ellen? There isn't any tool we can use to fix the problem for her.” She pressed her fingers against her temple to relieve the pain starting there.
“There's nothing we can do to make her better? Some new pill she could take? An operation?” Mary Ellen asked hopefully.
“The doctor said nothing other than what she is already taking. If we can't find live-in help night and day for Grandma, the only other alternative is the one nursing home in town because this town is too small for a memory-care facility. She can't be alone any longer.”
“Oh, Carrie, it would break her heart to leave that house. She's lived there since she got married.”
“I know. I know. I could never be the one to make her leave. And I don’t want to even consider the alternative. That’s where Ralph died. I couldn’t stand the constant reminder of what happened there every time I visit her. I’ve spent all these years fighting the guilt I still feel.” She sighed and closed her eyes against the bad memories flooding back to the forefront of her mind.
“I understand, hon. Really, I do. There has to be something else that can be done.”
“Well, the doctor gave me the name of two services that provide round-the-clock caregivers who move into the house where they will work. Neither provider is in Sunville, but it’s such a small town, that doesn't surprise me.” Carrie hadn't hidden her contempt in her voice for the shortcomings of her hometown. “Anyway, I drove right here from the doctor's office and...” She broke off what she had begun to say and sighed heavily. She tipped her head down so her forehead rested in the palm of her free hand.
“What is it? What happened?” her sister asked.
“I came in the front door calling to Grandma like I always do. The housekeeper said she was upstairs in bed.”
“Was she okay?”
“Well, I ran upstairs to see her.” Carrie sniffled. She reached for a tissue and wiped her nose.
“What? Tell me.”
“Grandma asked me who I was,” Carrie admitted softly.
“Oh, hon,” Mary Ellen said, sounding equally moved.
“By the time the housekeeper left, Grandma at least understood that someone different would be staying the night. I can’t tell you how sad and lonely I felt.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’d like to think it’s what are we going to do?” Carrie responded pointedly. She sat up straight, ready to get down to business. “I can’t stay here and take care of her for more than a few days because I could lose my job. It’s complicated, but small companies don’t have to hold jobs for people on emergency leave. And there's no job in this dinky town for me, that's for sure, unless I want to bag groceries."
“Carrie, I hate to leave this all to you to handle. I had to do that when Mom and Dad died and then when Ralph...well, you know, a few months after that. I still feel awful about not being there for you, especially when I couldn’t even get to Ralph's funeral.”
“No need for us both to feel guilty,” she said with a weak try at a laugh. “You couldn't help that you were eight months pregnant and not able to travel.”
“All I can say is that I'll go along with whatever you decide.”
Carrie sighed and shouldered the heavy burden of determining Maddie’s fate without a complaint. “Well, Grandma can afford it, so I’ll find a full-time, live-in caregiver then.”
Mary Ellen agreed.
“Until I find one, I’ll tend to her for as long as I can. Speaking of which, I’d better start getting our breakfast. I’ll call again when I have more news.” Carrie said her goodbyes and set the phone back in its cradle. She washed her hands and poured more coffee in her mug, thinking about all she had to do and wondering how best to do it.
She knew no one in Sunville to whom she could turn for help or support. She’d never felt so completely alone and overwhelmed by her responsibilities.