RISING SUN -- A Cecil County mother stares at the portrait on the piano in the living room and remembers. She sees a young man in a tuxedo and wonders. She thinks of a tiny baby and aches.
Gracie Bryant Brown knows she will never again see her son, Gregory, pull his car from the family driveway just outside this town of 1,263 in northern Cecil County.
Gregory Brown died in what investigators are calling a game of chicken that ended with only losers. A Cecil County grand jury last month indicted the young man authorities believe caused the Nov. 20, 1992, accident. But that provides Mrs. Brown with no comfort.
She speaks softly, more with resignation than emotion. Gregory's friend, 25-year-old Joseph Ruello, doesn't deserve to go to jail, she says. He, too, has suffered enough.
"I feel so sorry for Joseph and his parents," Mrs. Brown says. "They have to live with this, too. The only difference is, his life will go on. For Greg -- and us -- it's over."
"At first you feel anger, but now it's more like being in a whirlwind," she says. "You try to put the pieces together, but they don't fit or stay in place."
Gregory Bryant Brown was 10 days old when Gracie and Paul Brown adopted him. He was 22 when he died in an automobile crash about 100 feet west of his parents' driveway.
No drugs or alcohol were involved, investigators say.
It's still a shock, Mrs. Brown, 58, says 10 months later, and it's still senseless.
Police say that Greg Brown had just pulled away from his parents' driveway in the 2200 block of Joseph Biggs Memorial Highway at about 7:25 a.m. He was headed west toward Rising Sun and his job as a heavy equipment operator with a Pennsylvania-based excavating contractor.
Police reports show that a 1978 Ford 150 pickup driven by Mr. Ruello, of the 500 block of Hopewell Road, Rising Sun, was traveling east.
Mr. Ruello's truck crossed a double yellow line -- prosecutors believe he was attempting to frighten his friend, a stunt they say Mr. Ruello apparently had pulled off before.
But this time, Mr. Ruello slammed head-on into Mr. Brown's 1982 Subaru. The truck rolled over the Subaru and crushed it.
Mr. Ruello and two passengers in the truck, Gary L. Morgan, 24, and Jason D. Webb, 19, both of Rising Sun, were not seriously injured.
Mrs. Brown was inside her house when the accident happened. She remembers hearing a loud banging sound but recalls little else. A therapist told her that she has blocked the tragedy out of her mind.
Her husband, R. Paul Brown, who has a heart condition, had to be tracked down at work at the Hope Creek Nuclear power plant in Salem, N.J.
Greg died instantly, says Mrs. Brown.
But her anguish has lingered.
"That night, Joseph's parents and sister came to the house to offer condolences," Mrs. Brown recalls. "They were devastated."
Nine months later, on Aug. 20, a Cecil grand jury indicted Mr. Ruello on a charge of vehicular manslaughter.
"It is the state's theory that he [Mr. Ruello] caused the accident," says Cecil County State's Attorney John L. Scarborough. He says a passenger in the truck heard Mr. Ruello say, "Watch me scare him."
Mr. Ruello was released on his own recognizance. If convicted, he could receive a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and $5,000 fine.
Mrs. Brown says she does not believe that her son was playing chicken, at least not knowingly.
"As a parent, you realize you can't always know what your child is doing all the time," she says. "I just can't believe Greg was playing some game at that hour of the morning, and I don't believe Joseph meant to hurt him.
"I am angry at the stupidity of it, but not at Joseph."
For Mrs. Brown, Mr. Ruello's trial -- not likely before spring -- will serve no useful purpose, however.
"I don't want Joseph to go to jail," she says. "I have no animosity toward him or his family. I just try to think what Greg would want if he were here."