BY: JACK SPROUSE
Theirs is an improbable story. She is a girl from Vermont, purposeful and dedicated to her calling in life. He is a rancher from the high country of Colorado who takes life one day at a time and never plans to be anything but what he is. When they fall in love, their lives change forever. She becomes his purpose and calling in life, and he becomes the only thing she really wants or needs. In the end, she is torn between the man she loves and the obligation she is honor-bound to fulfill—and whichever choice she makes is likely to break her heart…
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Magnolia Road by Jack Sprouse, Emily Quarters is a high school student with an autistic brother. Her parents want to send her brother Murphy to an institution, saying that they can’t handle him, but Emily begs them to let her work with him and keep him at home. The parents will agree, providing the doctor agrees. Not only does the doctor agree, but he puts Emily down for a scholarship when she gets out of high school. When Emily graduates from high school, the doctor arranges for her to have a scholarship to the University of Colorado. There she meets Case MacNicol, an alpaca farmer. They fall in love, but Emily is obligated to go back home and teach for the group who paid for her education, and she will have to leave him for at least four years.
Mixing a sweet romance and charming characters with a heartbreaking story of the working with autistic children, Sprouse shines a spotlight on a little-known but-all-too-common disability. An interesting and well-written book. Definitely a good read.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Magnolia Road by Jack Sprouse is the story of Emily Quarters, a young woman with an autistic brother, Murphy. Emily takes it upon herself to work with Murphy and teach him to read and write. Deciding that she wants to make autistic children her life’s work, she wins a scholarship to the University Colorado, but there’s a catch. After graduation, she has to return home to Vermont and work in the institute there for four years. She sees no problem with that until she meets Case MacNicol, who has an alpaca ranch outside of Boulder, Colorado. Now she is torn between her love for Case and the obligation she is honor-bound to fulfil. And if she leaves Colorado to go back and teach in Vermont, will Case wait for her for four long years?
Magnolia Road is more than just a romance. It’s a story of love and dedication, along with the consequences of making promises that you may not want to keep when the time comes and the obligations you are honor-bound to fulfil may just break your heart—a thought-provoking and entertaining book.
The quiet scenic town of Middlebury, in Addison County, Vermont, lay in the central western part of the Green Mountain State. It was an almost idyllic village of picturesque buildings and surrounding countryside that evokes sentient emotions and love of the natural wonder of God’s creation. The town was cut in half by the intrusion of Otter Creek, which ran through it and served to enhance the already unique personality of the little town.
The Quarters family, Norman and Edna and their two children Emily and Murphy, owned a house on South Street on the west side of the creek. An old style two-story home with a walk-around porch that circumvented the entire house made it a comfortable and pleasant place in which to live and grow up.
Emily, the oldest child, was gifted from birth and excelled at everything she did. She maintained honor roll grade point averages all through her lower grades and entered Middlebury Union High School with a solid 4.0 GPA. Her life might have held greater promise for her, except for an unfortunate set of circumstances that had afflicted her family.
Her younger brother Murphy, five years her junior, had been born with Autism. It did not become immediately noticeable until the boy was about three years old and he didn’t start talking until he was five. The family was thrown into turmoil over the revelation that their son and brother was a special-needs child.
By the time he was nine, they were almost distraught.
“What are we going to do, Norman?” Edna Quarters wailed at her husband. “You know we can’t afford to take care of a retarded kid.”
“Murphy is not retarded, Mother,” her daughter, Emily, shot back, “I think he’s autistic.”
“What is autistic, Emily?” her father asked.
“I don’t know everything about it but he’s not retarded. He may be slow at learning, but he is also very bright. He draws things and he talks to me, not well, but I’m trying to help him speak more clearly.”
“But they know so much more about taking care of those kinds of problems at state facilities than you can ever know,” Norman said. “Your mother and I are too old to deal with this.”
“I’ve been studying it on the internet, and I’ve learned a lot, Dad. He speaks when we’re alone. He just doesn’t talk when he’s around other people. He gets scared when he’s around people.”
“We’ve talked to the doctors from the local hospital, Emily. They think it would be best if we send him to Burlington. They can take care of him there, and he can be taught by professionals.”
“But they’re not family. Let me talk to them and show them what I’ve done with him, and maybe I can convince them that it’s better if he stays with us.”
They met at the local hospital facility, and Emily took Murphy with her. She had him read from a couple of children’s books she had used to teach him. “I don’t believe his unclear speaking is physical,” she told the doctors. “He doesn’t have a cleft palette or anything else that I can see. I think it’s all mental related. He just doesn’t form his words properly.”
“So, can you show us what you do, Emily?” Doctor Gregory asked her.
“Sure, Doctor. Murphy, come over here, please. Remember the name of your favorite stuffed bear?”
Murphy shook his head.
“Oh, come on, Murph. You remember, Jerome Bear, don’t you?”
“Jome Bear,” the boy said.
“No, now watch my mouth, Murph.”
The boy turned his head and looked at her mouth.
“Juh,” he said.
“Rome, Juh rome.”
He repeated the phrase, “Juh Rome. Juhrome.”
“Now say Jerome Bear.”
And he repeated it.
She gave them several more examples and Murphy followed her lead just as he did at home with her.
“So, what do you plan to do about Murphy once you graduate from high school, Emily? You’re not going to stay home and devote your life to teaching him, are you?”
“No, Doctor, I suppose when that time comes I’ll have to let my parents decide what is best for my little brother.”
“Do you plan to go to college? And if so what field do you plan to go into?”
“I’d like to teach special needs children, Doctor.”
“I kind of figured that might be where you were headed. I’d encourage you to stick with that. You have an aptitude for it, I think.”
“Thank you, sir,” she said. “I taught his him to draw by using tracing paper at first but eventually he learned to look at objects and draw them without having to trace them.”
“I see,” Doctor Gregory said. “Well, I’d have to say you’ve done a pretty good job for a girl with no formal training.”
After Emily left his office, Doctor Gregory picked up the phone and dialed a number in Burlington. “I’d like to speak to Doctor Shelby,” he said.
“May I say who is calling, please?” the reception said.
“This is Allen Gregory in Middlebury.”
“Allen, this is Jason Shelby, how are you?”
“Just fine, Jason. It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”
“Indeed, it has,” Shelby replied. “What’s on your mind?”
“There’s a young lady here in Middlebury who has been teaching her little brother how to communicate, write, and draw, and will, no doubt be teaching him to read and write before she is finished with him. He’s autistic. The parents wanted to send him to you guys but the daughter begged them to keep him at home so she could work with him.”
“Really? She sounds like somebody we might want to talk to. How old is this young lady, Allen?”
“She’s fourteen and has a very high GPA, and that’s what I was thinking too, Jason. Why don’t I email you her information, and you do with it what you think is best?”
“Thanks, Allen, I’ll certainly check her out. Thank you. We’re not ready at this time for another project but as soon as we are, I’ll contact the girl”
“She’s a very engaging girl and as smart as they come.”
Emily was fiercely protective of Murphy. When some rude person would make fun of him, he would immediately incur the wrath of Murphy’s older sister. She never held back when chastising someone for their stupidity. A boy in high school once asked her: “Hey, Emily, where’s Arnie?
“Who is Arnie, Jimmy?”
“Arnie Grape, the retard, your brother.”
“He’s not a retard, you stupid ass,” she screamed at the boy who had overstepped his boundaries. “He’s smarter than you are.”
The boy, seeing her anger, made a feeble attempt to apologize but Emily would not hear it. She brushed him off and never spoke to him again. Her fellow students soon learned what an ill-advised act of inconsideration it was to cross Emily Quarters when the subject was her brother Murphy.
At sixteen, Emily had started to blossom. She didn’t think of herself as overly attractive and she dressed down to detract from her rapidly developing perfect figure and abundant breasts. She refrained from wearing tight pants and, instead, wore baggy sweaters and skirts with legwarmers, which served two purposes. They kept her legs warm in the cold Vermont winters, and they took attention away from her shapely legs.
None of her efforts, however, managed to fool or discourage Danny Miller. Danny took a liking to Emily and, even had she worn a sleeping bag to school, he would still have been smitten. Nothing Emily did could ease his pain. Danny was nothing, if not persuasive, and Emily eventually consented to a going to a movie with him.
“There’s a party at Jimmy Snowden’s house on Saturday, Emily, will you go with me?”
“Drunk jocks are not really my thing, Danny,” she told him.
“But you’ll be with me,” he said, “nobody will mess with you.”
“Okay. As long as you promise not to get drunk.”
“I promise,” he said, and he kept his promise, sort of. He didn’t get really drunk. “I wish you would brush your hair so that it stays out of your face,” he said as he pulled his car into the park.
“Why? she asked.
“Because you’re beautiful, Emily.”
“I don’t think I’m beautiful, Danny.”
“I do. You are beautiful.” He took her hand and pulled her across the seat to him, put his arm around her, and stated kissing her. She didn’t resist.
“I love you, Emily,” he told her, in between kisses.
“I’m not ready to fall in love, Danny. I have a lot of plans for after high school.”
“I know you do, and I won’t interfere with them. I just want to be a part of you. Will you be my girl?”
“I suppose, Danny, but you know I spend a lot of time working with my brother. I don’t have a lot of free time. And I plan to go to college to get a teaching degree. I don’t really fit into the crowd you run in.”
“You don’t have to, Emily. We can date on the weekend, go to a movie, or out to eat, or something like that. I just want to be a part of ‘your’ crowd.”
“All right, that sounds okay,” she told him, “that’s actually very sweet.”
He started kissing her again and she felt herself getting aroused.
“Okay, that’s enough, Danny, this could go too far.”
He never got angry about it when she backed off, and he was always apologetic. When she gave it some thought, she realized that Danny actually was very nice to her. She just wasn’t sure at that time that she wanted the kind of serious relationship with him that he wanted with her.
“I love you, Emily,” he always said when he dropped her off at her house, but she never responded in kind. She wasn’t entirely convinced that she would ever fall in love with Danny Miller, or anyone else.
Well-made plans, however, rarely survive contact with human emotions, and Emily–as disciplined and as driven as she was–was, after all, just a girl. And girls had feelings, and hormones, and when male and female bodies touch each other, intellect and reason often lose their influence.
Danny drove to the park again on Saturday night, parked in a secluded area, and began kissing Emily. “I love your lips, Emily. I get dizzy when I kiss you.”
She started chuckling at his seriousness. “You’ve been watching too many movies, Danny.”
“I’m serious, Emily. Something happens inside me when I kiss you. It just feels good,” he said. “You must feel it too because you kiss me back.”
“I enjoy kissing you but sometimes kissing can lead to going too far and the consequences of that can outweigh the temporary pleasure.”
“But I love kissing you.” He pulled her to him and his lips found hers again with renewed passion.
She felt herself enjoying his passion more than she knew she should so she backed him off a bit and stopped to catch her breath.
“You’re driving me nuts, Emily,” he said,” and she smiled at him.
He started kissing her again, and she became more aroused than ever before. Before long, she was down in the seat of his car and he was pulling up her skirt. His hand was on her thigh.
“No, Danny,” she said. “I can’t do this.”
“Please, Emily, I need you, I love you,” he kept saying as he struggled to loosen her clothing.
He was struggling to get her dress up and was having some difficulty. It was surrealistic, almost as if she were watching the whole event taking place, and not like she was a participant in it. She felt herself dig her heels into the seat and lift up so he could pull her skirt up over her waist. Then she lowered her panties just enough so he could take them down her legs and toss them onto the seat somewhere.
So, this is what it’s like, she thought, and gave up any pretense of resistance.
Afterward, they both had to spend some time catching their breath. When they had straightened their clothing, he kissed her again very passionately, and she returned his kisses with equal passion.
Emily showered as soon as she got home and then barely slept the rest of the night. All night long, she thought about what had happened to her. She supposed that she had become a woman, although she was only sixteen-years-old. It was not the horrible experience she had imagined it would be. In fact, if she were honest, and one is almost always honest with oneself, she really enjoyed it.
The next morning, however, she awoke and hated herself for what she had allowed to happen. The talk would be all over the school now and she would be no different, in the minds of every boy in school, from any of the “easy” girls who were so popular because they were easy. She felt just awful, as awful as she’d ever felt in her life. Her greater concern, however, was that she would get pregnant and that would ruin her life far more quickly than a bad reputation.
When the phone rang and her mother told her it was Danny Miller, Emily felt even worse. She couldn’t imagine why he would be calling her now. She answered with much reticence. “Hello,” she said,
“Emily, it’s Danny, how are you?”
“I’m okay, Danny,” she said.
“Emily, I’m really sorry about last night. I hope you can forgive me. You don’t know how bad I feel about it. I just love you so much, I couldn’t stop, I mean I really needed you. I don’t ever want any other girl but you. Nobody knows but you and me and nobody ever will. Just please tell me you’ll forgive me.”
“There’s nothing to forgive, Danny. You didn’t force me. Honestly, I wanted to do it too. Thank you for not telling anyone. I don’t think we should see each other for a while. We took a big chance, and I cannot risk getting pregnant.”
“I know and I’ll use protection next time, I promise. I hope you change your mind on that, Emily. I’ll go crazy if I can’t see you.”
“We’ll see each other at school, I just mean we shouldn’t date for a while.”
“I hope you won’t do that. I don’t want to break it off altogether. I do love you, and I can’t wait until you get back from college to see you again.”
“I don’t know where I’ll be going to school, Danny. I might go somewhere in Vermont. If that happens, then it won’t be too far away.”
“I hope that happens, Emily,” he said. “You’re the girl I want to marry.”
It was that comment that brought her back into the real world. She could not imagine now that she would ever come back to Middlebury and marry Danny Miller.
© 2016 by Jack Sprouse