A Gift of Time (The Nine Minutes Trilogy Book 3)

A Gift of Time

 

Book Three in the Nine Minutes
Trilogy

A Novel By

Beth Flynn

 

This book is a work of
fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either a product of the
author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to persons living or
dead, places, actual events, or locales is purely coincidental.

 

The author acknowledges the
trademark status and trademark ownership of all trademarks, service marks, and
word marks mentioned in this book. All trademarked names are honored by capitalization
and no infringement is intended.

 

No part of this publication
may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or
mechanical, including photography, recording, or any information storage and
retrieval system without the permission of the author, nor be otherwise
circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is
originally published.

 

RECOMMENDED FOR READERS 18 AND OLDER DUE TO
STRONG LANGUAGE, SEXUAL SITUATIONS AND VIOLENCE.

 

A Gift of
Time

Copyright © 2016 by Beth Flynn

All Rights Reserved

 

Edited by Jessica Brodie and Amy Donnelly

Cover Photo by Tara Simon

Cover Design by Sommer Stein with Perfect Pear
Creative Covers

Cover Model: Lasse L. Matberg

Formatting by Allison Simon

 

A Gift of Time is the third
installment in the Nine Minutes Trilogy. It is not intended to be a stand-alone
novel, but could be read as one. Still, I highly recommend that you read my
first two novels, Nine Minutes and Out of Time, to be able to understand the
background stories of the main characters. There are many twists and turns in
both books that can best be connected if read consecutively.

Throughout
the Nine Minutes series, we’ve learned so much about Ginny, Grizz and Grunt.
We’ve also learned about subterfuge, deceit, loyalty, and intertwining love
stories.

What do you
know about Ginny? Pull that out of your hat and get ready, because she will be
taking you home on this final leg of the tour. A little bit of a
secret—you will be happy to know that this last book is mainly her
journey. Not so fast, though! All of your favorites are present, and will keep
you on your toes right up until the end.

What should
you expect when you dive into A Gift of Time? This novel is told in rotating
POV’s, lending time for multiple pivotal characters to bring you the
story.
 
It is very different from
Nine Minutes and Out of Time in that it is the resolution of Ginny’s love
story. Yes, Ginny finds love. And she keeps that love. You will also find
answers to many questions from Ginny’s and a few other characters’ pasts. I
hope you enjoy this final ride!

 

This book is lovingly dedicated to

 

The Niners

 

Not one
single day has gone by where I haven’t felt your unconditional love and support
for me and my stories. Thank you all from the bottom of my grateful heart.

 

and to

 

The little
boy I met on a playground in 1974. The real Tommy.

 

A Gift of Time Contents

 

Timeline

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Six

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-One

Chapter Forty-Two

Chapter Forty-Three

Chapter Forty-Four

Chapter Forty-Five

Chapter Forty-Six

Chapter Forty-Seven

Chapter Forty-Eight

Chapter Forty-Nine

Chapter Fifty

Chapter Fifty-One

Chapter Fifty-Two

Chapter Fifty-Three

Chapter Fifty-Four

Chapter Fifty-Five

Chapter Fifty-Six

Chapter Fifty-Seven

Chapter Fifty-Eight

Chapter Fifty-Nine

Chapter Sixty

Chapter Sixty-One

Chapter Sixty-Two

Chapter Sixty-Three

Chapter Sixty-Four

Chapter Sixty-Five

Chapter Sixty-Six

Chapter Sixty-Seven

Chapter Sixty-Eight

Chapter Sixty-Nine

Chapter Seventy

Chapter Seventy-One

Epilogue

A Note To My Readers

The Nine Minutes Trilogy Playlist

Acknowledgements

 

Timeline

 

1975

Ginny/Kit’s
abduction

 

1985

Grizz’s
arrest

Ginny
marries Tommy/Grunt

Ginny
and Grizz’s daughter, Mimi, is born

 

1990

Ginny and
Tommy’s son, Jason, is born

 

1999

Moe’s remains
found

 

2000 Summer

Grizz’s
execution

 

Prologue

Ginny

2007,
North Carolina

 

A very old
and wise friend once told me, “It’s not by
coincidence that everything comes full circle, back to the way it was meant to
be.”

I remember
holding her bony and gnarled hands in my own. Her strong grip had a strength
that belied her age. Intelligent blue eyes met mine as she gave me those words.
I saw a challenge in them as if she was daring me to defy or question her
wisdom.

Looking back
at that moment, almost six years past, I have to concede she was right.

The memory
washed over me now as I sat on the cool grass, inhaling its sharp, crisp scent.
I’d always loved the smell of freshly cut grass, which would hang in the humid
air like a blanket during the hot summer days in Florida. That’s where I grew
up and spent most of my life—Fort Lauderdale, Florida. But I was a long
way from there now. The sun warmed my shoulders and felt good on my face. I
grabbed another weed, tugging it softly. It came up easily, and I tossed it to
the side.

I glanced
around the tiny cemetery and sighed as I looked at the gravestones. Some were
bigger and newer, standing erect in tribute to a lost loved one. Some were worn
and slanted, fighting to stay upright out of respect to the person or persons
that lay beneath them. One thing they all had in common: Not one grave was
bare. They each displayed some form of remembrance. Flowers—fresh and
artificial. Flags, banners, personal mementos. Regardless of the dates, some
going back to before the Civil War, each grave was cared for with high respect.

My eyes
settled on a headstone two rows over that always caused an ache in my heart. It
simply read “Our Children,” then listed seven names with a set of dates beside
each one. Each child hadn’t lived past the age of two years old, the last one
having passed away in 1932. I was fascinated enough about that grave to do some
research when we’d first moved here. After all, they were family, and I was
very curious to know what had happened. Well, they weren’t exactly my family,
but they were distant relatives of my husband and children, and even though I
wasn’t their blood ancestor, I still considered them my family.

I returned
my gaze to the dark granite gravestone I sat before and found myself fighting
back tears. Another ache in my heart. One that would always be there.

But along
with the tears came acceptance. Acceptance of the gift we call life and all it
brings, including death. His death.

I never
expected to be sitting on a mountaintop so far away from the hustle and bustle
of Fort Lauderdale. So far from the ocean and the feel of the sand beneath my
toes. So far from everything that had been familiar and safe to me. But I’d
more than willingly traded it for this existence, this new beginning. And I
wouldn’t have it any other way.

I traced my
left hand over the gravestone, over his name. In spite of the sun’s warmth, the
hard granite was cool beneath my fingertips. My nails dug into the crevice
where his name was etched, and almost unconsciously, my eyes focused on my ring
finger. Two rings. One of ink and one of gold. Not too many women would ever
know the blessing of being loved so deeply by more than one man.

Blessed to
still have one of them in her life now.

Just then I
heard them, and I quickly turned my gaze to the tiny white clapboard church
adjacent to the cemetery. The majestic Blue Ridge Mountains served as a
backdrop to the picturesque scene. As I watched, my husband walked down the
wooden deck steps, a child clinging tightly to each hand. It was a Wednesday
morning, and we had the old church and family cemetery all to ourselves. Our
four-year-old daughter, Ruthie, stopped and looked up at him.

“Pick me up,
Daddy. Pick me up!” she insisted.

I watched as
he smiled down at her and effortlessly scooped her up, wincing when she
accidentally kicked a tender area. He’d suffered a serious wound years ago, and
it still caused him some pain and probably always would. It was a reminder of
our old life. The life we’d finally put behind us.

Ruthie’s
twin brother had already let go of his father’s hand and ran to me, plopping himself
down hard on my lap. I buried my face in his hair and inhaled deeply. He
smelled like soap, sweat, and maybe even some dirt. I smiled. I remembered
telling my husband when I’d confirmed my surprise pregnancy, “I’m too old for
this. We’re too old for this!” He’d just laughed then, and reminded me I was
always the one talking about unexpected blessings, fresh starts, and new
challenges. Well, I can say for sure having twins at our age was and still is a
challenge. But I’ve never been so invigorated and optimistic about the
future—in spite of certain things I’ve learned. And I’m loving every
single minute of it. I didn’t love the extra stretch marks that came with
having two babies in my belly, but there is even beauty in those. I feel like
they speak to me: Look at the beautiful children you’ve made. Job well done,
Ginny.

I watched as
my son lifted his hand to the headstone and put his tiny finger in the name
engraved in it, spelling it out loud and clear as he followed the grooves. When
he was finished, he tilted his head back and looked up at me.

“Just like
my name, Mommy. His name is the same as mine.”

“Yes, it is,
sweetheart,” I answered him, smiling softly. “Yes it is.”

 

Part One

 

“You can’t
start the next chapter of your life if you keep rereading the last
one.”—Unknown

 

Chapter One

Ginny

2000,
Fort Lauderdale (Three Months After the Execution)

 

I don’t remember
how long I sat on the hot asphalt of
Carter’s driveway and just stared at the ground. After awhile, I lifted my hip
and pulled the blue bandana from my pocket where I had stuffed it just minutes
ago. Or had it been an hour?

Thirty
minutes ago, my childhood Bible was returned to me along with a letter from my
mother, Delia. The letter revealed some sad truths about her past and mine. I'd
read about a twin sister who died in the hospital after Delia abandoned her and
I found out I was actually two years older than what I'd always believed. And
now, having just discovered the missing motorcycle and Carter's unspoken
confirmation that he was alive, Grizz was still alive, I could do nothing but
sit and stare at the empty spot in the garage. It was all just too much.

I quickly
looked back over my shoulder to see if Carter was close by. She wasn’t. I held
the bandana to my face and started to cry again, this time with small but
soulful, gut-wrenching sobs. The kind of sobs that come from a place so deep
within your chest you didn’t know they existed until they confronted you with a
ferocity that caused physical pain. The kind of sobs that if you stifled them,
it caused your ribs to hurt and your back to ache. I hadn't even cried this
hard after his execution.

I tried to
fathom why that was. Was it because his death was final? Or so I had thought. I
could neatly tuck my love and grief in an imaginary box and label it “In the
Past.” Where was this new grief coming from now? What was I actually feeling?
Betrayal? Hurt? Love?

No. I
wouldn’t do that to myself. I couldn’t let myself believe, even a tiny bit,
that I was still in love with him. I loved Tommy. I was in love with Tommy. Our
love was real and not a consolation prize after Grizz’s arrest, incarceration,
and supposed death. Yet…what was it? I wouldn’t let myself finish the thought.

I had to
battle the urge to get Carter and insist she tell me everything she knew. I had
to fight the instinct to dig for answers. Something bigger told me I shouldn’t
do any probing, that Grizz’s secret was large enough to have repercussions
should I decide to investigate—which was what my flesh wanted me to do,
but my spirit knew better. No, I wouldn’t question. I wouldn’t ask. I would do
what he apparently wanted and just file away the knowledge he was out there
should I need him, but move on and live the life he insisted I have.

I sat up a
little straighter then and resolved to do just that. You want me to move on,
Grizz? You got it. Shoving the bandana back in my pocket, I picked myself up. I
avoided glancing at the empty spot in the garage where his motorcycle had
been—the spot where he had recently been—and I headed around the
side of the building. I charged up the stairs to the guesthouse with a
determined resolve I wasn’t feeling. I reminded myself that I was the master of
illusion. I could and would act fine until today’s revelation eventually made
its way to the back of my subconscious.

Yes, it was
time to start convincing myself he was dead and gone. For good.

I swung open
the door and let myself into the guest apartment. I strode to the windows,
opening up the blinds, unlatched the window locks, and hoisted them open. They
were still in good condition but stiff from years of disuse. I inhaled the hot,
thick air as it floated in and thought about turning on the air conditioning.

A plan
formed as I worked: First, I would assess how much cleaning out I would need to
do. I swung around, and with my hands on my hips surveyed the tiny living
space. It was clean and neatly but sparsely furnished. I walked over to the
small alcove that served as a kitchen. I started opening up the cabinets and
found the bare necessities—plates, cups, and silverware. I knew I
wouldn’t be cleaning out these things, but I was stalling for what needed to be
done.

I walked to
the small bedroom. The light was dim, but I couldn’t miss the small cardboard
box sitting on top of the bed. I stood staring at the box that had suddenly
become the size of a mountain in my head. I’d told myself cleaning out the
guesthouse and garage was going to be a huge physical task that would require
lots of sweat and muscle.

But it
wasn’t huge. There would be no lugging things up and down the stairs. It all
came down to that box. The box sitting on that bed.

We’d made
love on that bed.

Don’t go
there, Ginny. I eyed the room. The bed was stripped bare of its linens. Two
small nightstands with matching lamps flanked each side. It was all outdated
but in good condition. They could stay. The telescope I’d given Grizz as a gift
sat in a corner. I pretended not to notice it. Carter should be using this
space for when she had friends in town. It was time for the garage and guesthouse
to be used again. I wasn’t following his rules anymore.

Slowly, I
approached the bed. I wasn’t the one who’d packed his things up all those years
ago. It had been Carter. She’d been living with me then and suggested we start
moving some of his belongings out. I’d resisted it at first until Grizz told me
to do it. I shook my head as realization dawned. Of course. Carter had probably
been in touch with Grizz and told him I wasn’t moving on and then, voila! I
hear from Grizz telling me to do exactly what Carter had suggested. Stupid and
naïve. I clenched my fists at the memory.

I had been
so devastated then that I couldn’t bring myself to part with his things, so I’d
spent the day away from the house and asked Carter to do it. I knew she would
have donated his clothes and shoes to charity, which meant I was going to find
even more personal items in this box. Mementos she, or Grizz, thought should be
kept. I couldn’t blame either one for what I might find. I’d wanted no part of
it. I remembered tasking Chicky with packing up Moe’s belongings many years
earlier. Clearly, I had a difficult time staring at tangible reminders of
painful events.

But there
would be no escaping it today.

I swallowed
the lump that was beginning to form in my throat and opened the box. The
cardboard at first resisted but then opened easily. I peered into it and
inhaled deeply, making a conscious effort to release my breath and inhale
again. My hands shook as I pulled out the first item. Clutching it tightly I
had to loosen my grip so I didn’t snap it in half. It was a record album still
encased in a pristine plastic jacket. My Barry White album.

Memories
attacked my senses. I could feel the hot water as my hands stiffened in the
motel’s tiny kitchen sink all those years ago. I could smell the clean, fresh
scent of the soap coming from the sponge I’d been using. I could see Chowder’s
homemade strainer sitting on the drain board. I could feel the gentle and
feathery kiss Grizz left on my temple. And I could hear Barry White crooning to
“Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up” as I led Grizz back to the bedroom. I gulped
and heard myself whisper out loud, “You saved it.”

No, stop it,
Ginny! Don’t do this to yourself. I laid the album to the side and reached in
for the next item. I couldn’t tell what it was at first but immediately
recognized the soft plushness of a stuffed animal. Grizz had a stuffed animal?
I stared at the small toy for a second. It was a little gorilla, and I was
transported back to a happy memory. On one of our many midnight dates, Grizz
had taken me to a zoo. The night caretaker, who owed Grizz a favor, told us we
only had two hours to ourselves before other employees would be reporting to
work.

We had
wandered through several parts of the zoo when we stopped at the gorilla exhibit
to read the names and histories of some of the primates. One stuck out.
Apparently, the silver back, or alpha leader of the group, was a big nasty
gorilla named Grizz. I’d teased him about it for months after that date. As we
were leaving the zoo, Grizz had jumped over a railing to get to a beautiful
rose bush. He snapped some off, not even noticing the thorns had drawn blood
from his hands. He had quickly removed his T-shirt and wrapped the roses in it.
I remembered holding those roses and smelling them in the car during the drive
home. The memory was so fresh I felt like I could still smell them. I looked
down now, noticed something dangling from the stuffed toy’s wrist. It was a
card with a picture of a gorilla cradling a tiny kitten to its chest.

I carefully
opened it and read what was neatly printed inside. “Happy Birthday. I love you,
baby.” It was signed, “Grizz.”

I was
holding a birthday gift he’d never given me because he was arrested. I felt my
chest tighten. There was more handwriting at the bottom, but it was smaller and
hard to see in the dim light of the little bedroom. I squinted. “I’m taking you
to our special place tonight. Please wear them for me.”

Wear what? I
knew our special place. It was a little dive down by the docks called Vincent’s.
But what was I supposed to have worn? I looked back at the little gorilla and
couldn’t tell if I was missing something. Then I noticed them. The gorilla had
a diamond stud earring in each ear. I’d almost missed them because of the
thickness of the fur. That’s what he’d wanted me to wear to my birthday dinner.
Diamond earrings. Oh, Grizz. Why would you do this to me? Or rather, why would
I let you do this?

With a
trembling hand, I laid the toy down and swiped at the tears that were starting
to form again. Without looking, I reached into the box and latched on to the
first thing my hand came into contact with. I pulled it out and stared. A
slingshot. It wasn’t the store-bought kind. This one looked like it was
handmade out of wood, some kind of tree branch, and a heavy-duty rubber band.
I’d seen Grizz teach some kids how to properly use a slingshot once. Tommy had
told me the story about how Grizz had been out squirrel hunting the day his
little sister had died. Maybe he’d used a slingshot that day. Had this been
his? Why had I never seen it?

I gently
laid the slingshot on the bed next to the album and stuffed animal. One more
item was at the bottom of the box, and this one I recognized immediately. It
was a small black bag with a zipper running up the center. It was familiar
because I’d bought it for him. It was a shaving bag. I’d presented it to him
one Christmas and stocked it with necessities. His favorite— or rather my
favorite—cologne that he always wore, razors, shaving cream, deodorant, scissors,
and other manly items. I started to unzip it and hesitated. What if his cologne
was in it? I didn’t think I could handle remembering how he smelled right then.
Don’t open it.

But I knew I
had to. I sat down on the bed and reached into the worn leather bag. I took out
the single item it contained. And even though I didn’t remember the incident, I
knew exactly what I was seeing.

It was a box
of bandages. They were old and sported an outdated logo. The box was dented,
yellowed and worn, but it was recognizable.

They were
the bandages I had given Grizz back in 1966.

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