Eleven months ago

“You ready to head back home, Mrs. Armstrong?” he asked.

“I guess. I just wish this feeling could last forever!” his new wife told him.

“If we make it a priority, I don’t see why it can’t.”

“I know they say ‘all good things must come to an end’, but it would be so wonderful to have another two weeks added to our honeymoon.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” her husband said. “But two weeks from now we’d be facing the same thing, right?”

She sighed then told him, “You’re right. As always. Okay, Mr. Armstrong. I suppose I’m ready to go home. If we have to.”

“Well, we do have the room for another hour. Is there anything we could do in just…one hour?” he said as he took her in his arms.

“Hmmm. Let me think,” she said as though this was a tough one. “I suppose we could do that thing we’ve been doing the last two weeks.”

“Ah, yes! That thing. I like the way you think,” he told her before gently pushing her back onto the bed and making love again to his wife of 15 days.

Doyle Armstrong was a general contractor who’d learned the trade from his father. He’d been around job sites since he was in Kindergarten and could build pretty much anything from a designer wall unit to a gorgeous, multi-story home. In fact, he and his new bride, Chelly, had finished the blueprints together for their dream home during their honeymoon.

Doyle’s father had not only been his mentor but his best friend making his death a little over two years ago an unbelievably difficult loss. His mother was still dealing with the aftermath, a shooting by a former employee who’d been fired and returned looking for vengeance. Doyle’s father and the general manager who’d fired the man were both gunned down in cold blood along with another employee before the gunman took his own life.

Had it not been for Chelly and the unconditional love she provided, Doyle wasn’t sure how we would have been able to move on. But she’d been there for him each and every day and her presence made his life not only worth living again, but a joyful celebration. He couldn’t speed up the healing process for his mom, but Chelly had done that for him, and he loved her with all his heart.

“You are so beautiful,” he told her as he lay beside her after coming inside her for the second time that morning.

“And you are so handsome,” she told him truthfully.

Both of them were very good-looking people. Their looks made attraction possible, but it was their loving, giving personalities that kept them together and allowed them to love each other with such passion.

They’d met not long after the death of Doyle’s father, and after a very slow beginning, romance blossomed and love bloomed culminating in their wedding just two short weeks ago.

“We better shower quick if we want to get out of here on time,” Chelly said.

“I guess we better not shower together then, huh?” Doyle said with a smile.

“Definitely not,” she said before kissing him once then getting up. “I’ll only be a couple of minutes. Don’t come near me until I’m dressed again, okay?”

“I can make no such promise!” he said as she walked away.

At 23, Chelly’s body was hard and firm and was as delicious to him as her beautiful face which was downright gorgeous. At 24, Doyle was also a hardbodied young man made so from years of doing construction work on countless job sites.

Both of them had many admirers and still attracted a lot of attention from the opposite sex, but from the time things got serious between them, it wasn’t just a cliche to say they only had eyes for each other.

“Your turn!” Chelly said as she came out drying her hair with a towel.

Doyle walked by and gave her that look.

“Don’t even think about it!” she said trying not to smile.

“Oh, I am gonna think about it,” he let her know making her laugh.

She was just so beautiful and amazing—inside and out. Doyle quickly showered and fifteen minutes later they were on their way back home.

“I know the rain keeps everything green here in the Evergreen State,” Chelly said as they drove over Snoqualmie Pass on their way back to Seattle from a small town called Roslyn where the TV series Northern Exposure had been filmed. Both of them loved the outdoors and enjoyed hiking and camping and had spent two weeks exploring the area on their honeymoon.

Roslyn was on the leeward side of the Cascade Mountains in eastern Washington and located in the transitional area where things went from lush green to dry and brown. They were now well back into the western side of the state where gray skies and rain ruled the day. It was too warm to snow, but it was still very cold and raining like a banshee, and even with the wipers on high, Doyle couldn’t see more than maybe 30 yards ahead.

He was driving 45mph on Interstate 90, and yet it still felt too fast for the conditions so he slowed down another five miles per hour and turned on the emergency blinkers.

“Yeah, we do get a lot of rain, but it doesn’t Bayan Escort Gaziantep usually come down in buckets like this,” Doyle said as he strained to see the road up ahead.

“Just be careful. If you get yourself killed, I’ll never forgive you,” Chelly teased.

“Me? If I lost you, I’d kill myself!” Doyle said with a smile even though he wondered if that might not be true.

“Well, I’m not going anywhere, Mr. Armstrong,” she said with a smile.

She leaned over for a quick kiss and against his better judgment, Doyle did the same. He only took his eyes off the road for a second, maybe even less. As his eyes looked back to the front, he saw yellow flashing lights, and his brain told him to hit the brakes and swerve.

He thought he heard Chelly scream when she noticed the semi stopped in their lane, but wasn’t sure as he cut the wheel hard to the left in order to go around it. However, the tires wouldn’t bite the road and the car drifted broadside into the truck with the point of impact hitting the passenger door at about 35mph.

When Doyle came to he was strangely aware of being in an ambulance, but unaware how he got there. He could see faces and hear voices, but nothing made sense as he tried looking around. And then he remembered.

He tried to sit up but his chest was strapped to the gurney and his neck and chest felt like they were on fire when he moved.

“My wife! How’s my wife?” he asked now feeling desperately afraid.

“Just try and relax, sir,” the EMT told him.

“Don’t tell me to relax! Is my wife okay?” he yelled as loudly as he could.

He saw another EMT push a syringe and the world went dark.

“Doyle? Honey? Can you hear me?” was the next thing he heard.

Doyle blinked his eyes several times until they focused.

“Hey, Mom,” he said feeling very groggy. Again, he tried to sit up but couldn’t.

“Easy, Doyle. You’ve got several cracked ribs and a serious neck injury from the whiplash,” he heard her say.

He reached up and felt the neck brace then remembered.

“Mom. Where’s Chelly? Is she okay? What happened to her?” he said, the desperation returning with full force.

He felt her take his hand, and when he saw tears falling from her eyes he knew.

His body let go of a primordial groan that sounded alien-like.

“Nooooo!!” he said as he grabbed the metal guardrails.

“I’m so sorry, honey,” she said.

They put him back under and it was two days later before Doyle learned what had happened.

Chelly’s neck had been broken from the sudden side impact as the car slammed into the huge truck. It was no consolation to hear she hadn’t suffered as the break had been instantaneous. And he felt no better knowing her body was being kept in cold storage until he could attend her funeral.

Two days later, a close friend wheeled Doyle Armstrong into the chapel where the body of his late wife lay inside a beautiful, shiny casket covered in flowers as her parents sat there in somber silence just glaring at him.

Too numb to feel anything, let alone cry, Doyle sat there in silence himself waiting for someone else to move him from place to place. As much as he didn’t want to see her that one last time, he knew he’d never forgive himself if he didn’t. The funeral director opened the lid, and his Chelly was laying there in her wedding dress looking as beautiful as she had the day she’d worn it for him less than three weeks ago.

He heard someone say ‘what a wonderful job they did on her’ but Doyle couldn’t focus or even speak. He wasn’t even able to stand, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to kiss her goodbye even if he could. Seeing her in death was one thing; feeling the cold on his lips was another.

The graveside service was short, and just like that, his beloved wife was gone, and Doyle was now in a place far darker than he’d been after the murder of his father.

His physical recovery was slow, but his mental recovery seemed non-existent.

He knew how the brain worked now. It was like a computer in which all of the available memory is in use, mourning for the person every second of every day. At some point, it could no longer handle that kind of strain and would release a small amount to be used for something else. Then it would ‘max out’ again then later release a larger amount until one day, the brain could, in most cases, even function normally again. It would, of course, never forget, but it would be forced to stop holding on so tightly and make way for the ‘new normal’ the survivor’s life would become.

How quickly that happened varied widely and depended completely on the individual.

Eighteen months later?

“You know you’re welcome to stay as long as you like, but I really think it’s time you give some serious thought to getting back to living your life again.”

“Don’t start, Mom,” he said flatly.

“You’ve been home for a year and a half now, Doyle. And it wasn’t your fault. I don’t know how many times I have to tell you that, but it wasn’t.”

“Mom, you know I love you, but I swear to God if you don’t stop this bullsh…”

Her son stopped talking, calmed himself then stood up and said, “Sorry. I’m going out.”

“I’m sorry, honey. I just can’t stand to see you like this. I know you lost your wife, but please don’t forget I lost my husband and daughter-in-law, too. And it’s starting to feel like I’ve also lost my son.”

“Mom. I know dad was only 51 when he died. I know that’s very young, but Chelly was just 23 years old, for God’s sake! And if I hadn’t been so distracted and…”

“I’m going to bed,” his mother said throwing her hands up as she walked away. “If you really are leaving, please lock the door on your way out.”

His mother, Dora Armstrong, wasn’t trying to be mean, but they’d had some version of this conversation at least once a week for the last several months. Her son had barely said ten words a day the first month and not many more the second after Chelly’s death.

But once he started talking again, an emotional dam burst, and what flowed out inevitably turned to the accident and how he’d killed his beautiful wife of just of just two weeks. A year and a half later, he still blamed himself for her death, and as much as his mother hurt for him, she was at her breaking point with his endless self-pity and self-flagellation.

Doyle had abandoned his plans to build their dream home, moved out of his apartment, and moved back in with his mom which was, initially at least, a blessing in disguise for her as she hated living alone since the untimely death of her husband. But as grateful as she was to have someone in the house, her son’s unwillingness to do anything but sit home all day, every day with no job or social life was no longer acceptable.

It wasn’t that he needed money. Because of the life insurance policy Dora had convinced them both to have on the other, one that paid double in the event of an accident, he was financially set for the foreseeable future. Dora and her late husband had had no life insurance, and it had been a rough slog for her ever since.

If Doyle didn’t want to go back to work that was fine. But at 26, he needed something to give his life purpose. This endless sitting around the house and moping all day had to stop. If not for his sake, for hers and for her sanity.

Doyle Armstrong had been a superb general contractor. Other than the love he’d felt for his beautiful wife, nothing gave him more pleasure than restoring an old home and making it not only livable again but beautiful. There was nothing he couldn’t do outside of certain plumbing and electrical work which required special licenses, and the quality of his work was invariably first-rate.

Chelly had been a budding interior designer who also staged homes. He met her when a young couple who flipped houses hired her to stage one he’d just helped remodel, and although there was some initial interest, the two hadn’t exactly hit it off immediately. However, she continued to pursue him, and within six months that had changed dramatically. Within another six months, they were engaged.

They were the quintessential beautiful couple. Doyle was tall, athletic, and very good looking while Chelly was just flat-out gorgeous in every way. Doyle had always been a kind, calm, contented, and very quiet person, while Chelly was more outgoing and had drawn him out of his shell, making him happier than his mother had ever seen after watching him drowning in grief over the death of his father.

She therefore, truly understood how badly he was hurting. But at some point, enough was enough. And although she’d thought about this several times, this was the first time she’d been motivated enough to make the call. As she went to bed that night, she knew exactly what she intended to do early the the next morning.

“Yes, I was calling about the farmhouse out in Carbonado on your listings. Is it still for sale?”

The agent replied, “Oh, yes. Yes, it is. That’s an incredible buy for the right person. A little TLC and that will be an amazingly beautiful home. Are you interested in taking a look at it?”

“Yes. My son and I would like to see it,” Dora said not having mentioned it to Doyle. She also knew it would take a boatload of money along with the TLC to make it livable, but her son had money and the talent to that. What he didn’t have was the motivation or any purpose in life.

“Just let me know when, and I’ll be happy to meet you there or drive you if you’d prefer to stop by the office.”

The next morning his mother firmly announced, “Grab your coat. We’re going for a drive.”

She didn’t wait to hear him complain about not wanting to go anywhere this time. She knew he knew ‘that look’ and even though he’d lived on his own for several years before, he still respected his mother. He grabbed his coat without argument and followed her outside.

“Where are we going?” he finally asked.

“Carbonado,” she replied.

“No. No way. What are we driving out to hicksville for?”

“You’ll see.”

Carbonado was very small town about 50 miles southeast of Seattle. It was near the beautiful Carbon River, hence the name.

On the way, they passed through several other towns, some smaller than others. There was Enumclaw with its numerous dairy farms. Along with the Holstein milk cows, the town boasted maybe 10,000 people. Then came Buckley which was smaller still. Buckley was located just across the White River which separated it from Enumclaw making the two towns longtime sports rivals with both teams claiming the Hornets as their mascot.

Beyond that came the dot on a roadmap known as Burnett followed by tiny Wilkeson and finally the ‘booming metropolis’ of Carbonado where the welcome sign said a whopping 613 people lived. Doyle wondered if that included cattle or just people.

His mom stopped at an abandoned old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. There were two homes tucked into the heavily-wooded area within a quarter-mile radius so it wasn’t utterly and completed cut off from civilization. It only seemed that way.

“What do you think?” his mother asked.

“I know what you’re trying to do, Mom,” was his reply.

“Okay, fine. So I’m guilty of caring. Listen, since we’re here, why don’t we take a look around the house and the property? Come on! It’ll be fun!”

Doyle shot her a sideways glance that would have sliced and diced anyone else.

Dora took it in stride and said again, “Come on. Let’s go take a look.”

Her son reluctantly opened his door, and although he was grumbling under his breath, he got out and stretched his arms then said, “Okay. Lead the way.”

Just then a dark-blue minivan pulled up and a woman about his mother’s age got out. She was a bit on the plump side but was well dressed and had a kind of leather carrying case with her.

“Good morning!” she called out much too cheerily for Doyle.

“Hi there!” Dora called back. “We just got out of the car.”

She walked right up to Doyle, extended her hand and said (again with way too much enthusiasm), “I’m Kathy Perkins. Pleased to meet you!”

Doyle thought about saying something snide but decided on, “Good morning. I’m Doyle Armstrong.”

“Oh, just like the Tour de France Armstrong, right?” she bubbled.

“Yeah, except without the steroids and the cheating and the scandals,” he was tempted to say. He only smiled then waited for her to speak knowing it wouldn’t take long.

“Okay. So…how about I open this beauty up and show you two around?”

The steps to the front porch and the porch itself would need to be replaced. The windows were in tact, but Doyle wasn’t sure they could be saved, either.

Kathy let them in and that’s when Doyle’s trained eye started ticking off problems and adding up the estimated costs. By the time they got to the backyard, he was already at $31,000 and counting—and that was just for materials and didn’t include a new driveway, garage, or the roof.

The front and back ‘yards’ were more overgrown disaster areas with an old wooden shed sitting about 50 feet from the rear of the house out back. It looked like either a tool shed or possible even a wood shed. The farmhouse had a fireplace so it was very possible this is where previous owners kept firewood and kindling. It would also have to be torn down and/or completely rebuilt.

“Isn’t it just the most charming place you’ve ever seen?” Kathy announced once they got back out front.

“I think it has all kinds of potential. What do you think, honey?” his mom asked Doyle.

“Yeah, it has potential, that’s for sure. Potential to drain a guy’s bank account and suck up all his time.”

Kathy laughed loudly and said, “Oh, he is so funny!”

She was looking at Doyle but saying it to his mom.

“That’s my son. A regular laugh a minute,” she said with as much empathy as sarcasm. She truly hurt for him, but she also knew he needed a serious kick in the butt, and this was the only thing she’d been able to come up with that might provide said kick.

“What do you think?” she said in a softer tone. She stood beside him and looked around the farmhouse with him and waited for a reply.

“It makes me miss Chelly,” he said quietly. “I could see us living her raising our children.”

“Oh, so you have a family,” Kathy said in her happy, sing-song voice having no idea what had happened.

“Doyle lost his wife…”

“I didn’t lose her, Mom. I killed her,” Doyle said having heard his mother’s words even though she’d spoken very quietly.

Kathy’s eyes opened wide, and for the first time since she’d arrived, she was speechless.

“There was a car accident,” Dora said quietly to the real estate agent.

“Oh, my. I…I’m so sorry. I had no idea. Please forgive me.”

The three of them stood there for another full minute in total silence just looking.

“How much are the owners asking?” Doyle finally said.

Kathy was immediately back to her perky old self and said, “They’re very motivated to sell. A property like this would normally go for…”

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