Jay Branch woke up at 6:00 a.m. bleary eyed and barely able to tolerate the glaring ray of sun peeking through the side of his blinds. He had done a major scaling back of the drinking since the days he spent in hell back in the Arizona desert but he still had not figured out how to welcome the sun like a friend on a daily basis.
“Wake up slacker!” Grace entered the room already dressed armed with a large pink pillow and began to slam it relentlessly into her father’s head.
“Okay, okay I’m up Sarge, I’ll make you breakfast as long as you stop hurting me.
“Breakfast is on the table daddy.” He sat up in his bed and squinted his eyes as he looked through the door wondering what kind of healthy meal he would get to shove down before their run that would begin at 6:30. This was the new norm for Jay Branch and his daughter Grace; up at 6:00 in the morning, healthy breakfast and then a three mile run before Grace went off to school. Jay would then on alternating days go to the gym and work out with weights. He, Grace and her friend Suze would also do CrossFit workouts at least three times a week and twice a month they would go on survivalist camping trips to a cabin that Sam Dantello owned in the North Georgia city of Blue Ridge where they practiced shooting, hunting, knife skills and anything else that Bear Grylls and Chuck Norris would be proud of. John William Grant had taught them that they were not prepared and they had learned that lesson and were working as hard as they could to make sure that it would never happen again.
Following the events in Arizona, Jay and Grace had become minor celebrities for a time doing the cable news circuit and even the Tonight Show but in a twenty-four hour news world that had died down quickly, thanks to some reality star being arrested for wrecking their car into another reality star’s car. Thus leaving the Branch’s to proceed with as close to a normal life as humanly possible after everything. Susan Price’s Aunt Betty had made a full recovery from her injuries and decided to be closer to her brother in Georgia by moving into the last remaining small house in their neighborhood. Betty still true to form was not an early riser and did not often make the morning jog but on days when Jay worked late the night before they would take the lengthy walk to the local Starbucks for mid-morning coffees.
Now that he and his daughter were back in the little house in Smyrna, Georgia that he and his wife Beth had picked out what seemed like a hundred years ago and Grace’s college fund was back in the bank and being added to on a regular basis, things were sliding back into a good and new normal. The International Scout II her mother had driven was now parked in the driveway right behind a primer black Ford Bronco that now had working windows and an air conditioner and that Jay promised weekly would soon have a paint job. There was even talk of a reality show for Dantello’s, featuring of course the man that killed the Ransom Murderer. Yes life had definitely changed as much as it could in one years’ time.
At fifteen minutes after six Suze Price knocked on the front door in her usual ungodly perky mood for this ridiculous of an hour, ready to run with the Branch’s. Jay knew that between the two hyperactive teenage girls and the years of previous bad living from before everything had happened, he had an uphill battle but at least now he knew what the top of the hill was.