Many of you have asked me what my novel-in-progress is about. The following is the prologue and first chapter, exactly as it appears in the story. Hope you enjoy it!
June - Present Year
The minivan crept along the cemetery road past rows and rows of tombstones, coming to a stop in front of one underneath an ancient weeping willow tree. A young woman emerged from the vehicle and reached back inside for a bag and the box of plants sitting on the passenger seat. She shut the door with her leg and carefully made her way over to the tombstone. Next to it was a bench, and onto this she set her armful of plants. Then, she reached into the bag for her gardening tools.
She knelt in front of the tombstone, digging holes and then planting each of the various bunches of flowers in the loamy soil. Satisfied with her work, she wiped her brow with the back of her hand and settled back in the lush grass.
With a sigh, she thought again about today’s date: June 2. Had it already been a year? It didn’t seem possible. This was the first time she’d been to his grave in months. She’d last visited eight weeks after the funeral. At first, she was in no shape to even leave the house, sicker than she’d ever been in her life. Then, once she’d started feeling better, their little town of Cancun, Colorado experienced the full brunt of a brutal mountain winter. She just couldn’t risk an accident on the mountainous road between her house and the cemetery--not when she was the only parent they had left. And then in recent months, she’d been busier than she’d ever thought possible. No matter how busy things were at home, or how much seeing his beloved name in stone with those two dates below it hurt, she knew nothing would keep her from being here today with him. On the very worst kind of anniversary.
Andrew Emmitt Darcy
Safe in the arms of Jesus
She ran her fingers lovingly over the name, melancholy once again at the gruesome thought of his life cut so violently short. He’d only been thirty. So young. It still didn’t make sense to her. But did losing a loved one this way ever make sense? She wasn’t the first, and would certainly not be the last to experience this kind of horror. However, there was no comfort in knowing that.
She listened to the wind whispering its words of comfort through the leaves on the trees, closing her mind to the memories of that dreadful night. Not yet. She was not ready--there were other things to think of first. Using her sleeve to wipe the tears from her eyes, she brushed her hands off and reached once more for the bag. From inside, she carefully pulled out a small box made of marble. Lifting the lid, she extracted each item one by one. A picture drawn by her four-year-old son of his interpretation of Daddy singing with the angels in Heaven. A small plastic bag containing several wispy locks of hair taken from her two-year-old son’s first haircut. Another plastic bag containing several pictures. These she removed from the bag and held up, explaining each one.
“Here’s Emmitt at his fourth birthday party with the toy train set our parents chipped in and bought him. And here’s Will taking his first steps.” She flipped through the pictures one by one, each memory more bittersweet than the last. She would always treasure these special moments with her sons--Andrew’s sons. They were pieces of him she would have with her forever. They both even boasted more of his features and appearance than hers. Yet, she wished once again that it could’ve been different. That he could’ve been in the pictures, sharing these precious memories with her.
There were several pictures that had been separated from the others when she’d first removed them from the bag. These she now took in her hands.
“When I was here last, I told you that I suspected I might be pregnant. Turns out that I was. Andrew, I’d like to introduce you to your little daughter, Andrea,” she said, and held up a picture of a tiny infant wrapped in a pink blanket. “I named her after both of us--Andrea Joy.” One by one, she held up several pictures of their daughter taken at various stages in her short four months of life. “She was conceived that morning....that morning we were together for the very last time. She was my very last gift from you, my love.” A daughter. When Will was born, they’d talked about trying once more for a little girl. While he loved his sons, Andrew had always wanted a daughter. One who would be “Daddy’s little girl”. And of course, she had dreamed of having someone to dress up and show off. Now, they finally had a daughter. A daughter her husband would never hold close to his heart. A daughter without a father to walk her down the aisle when she married.
It was still incomprehensible to her.
She returned the pictures to the bag, gently lay them in the box with the other mementos, and then placed the box behind the flowers up against the tombstone. She’d leave them here for him. Even though she knew he wasn’t actually here, it comforted her somehow to know that the box was there.
She leaned back against the tree, drew her knees up into her chest, and closed her eyes. Even closed, the words on the tombstone were clear enough that they seemed embedded in her very mind. Against her will, the memories of that day flooded back to her. Some of the memories were achingly tender, precious. But others, like those from that horrible night...
The night of the reunion---the night Andrew was killed.
June, 1 Year Ago
Emma Darcy awoke to the smell of coffee percolating in the kitchen down the hallway from the bedroom she shared with her husband, Andrew. There wasn’t anything quite like that first scent of her favorite caffeinated beverage first thing in the morning. And thanks to Andrew’s Mother’s Day present last month, each morning the coffee pot was timed to wake her up with a fresh brew promptly at six-thirty. She rolled onto her side and glanced at her husband, only to realize he was already awake and watching her. She knew that look--he had something in mind.
“‘Mornin’, babe,” he purred, leaning in for what he intended to be a lingering kiss.
She grinned at him before covering her mouth with her hand. “Morning breath, Andrew. Can I please brush first? Can you please brush first?”
Laughing, he pulled her into his arms and began nuzzling her neck. “Doesn’t bother me if it doesn’t bother you.” He proceeded to trail kisses along her ear and neck, then started inching lower.
Emma giggled, placing a restraining hand on his bare chest. “Andrew! I’m serious! Can’t we at least have a mint or something?”
He reached over to the bedside table and found a roll of mints left there for such occasions. After unwrapping two of them, he popped one into his mouth and the other one into hers, wiggling his blond eyebrows at her suggestively. “There, is that better? You know the munchkins will be up soon, so we don’t have a lot of time here.”
“Romantic, honey. Real romantic.”
He framed her face with his hands. Brushed his lips across hers in a sweet kiss. “Can I help it if I’m madly, passionately, in love with--and can’t get enough of--my wife?” he asked, tenderly caressing her lips with his thumb before kissing them again. “You are so beautiful. What did I ever do to deserve you?”
She favored him with a watery smile. “Andrew,” she half whispered, half sighed. “I love you.”
Two hours later, Emma finished drying her hair, then slipped her feet into a pair of flip-flops. Andrew was finishing up in the shower and then they’d decided to take the boys out for breakfast this morning. It was up to her to make sure they were dressed and ready to go.
She snuck to the room next to theirs and carefully opened the door. Amazingly, the boys were still asleep. It was practically unheard of for them to sleep so late. Thinking back to the last two hours she’d spent with her husband, she was extremely thankful for their stolen time together.
Emma crept to one-year-old William Andrew’s crib and gently peeled back his light blanket. Will was laying on his stomach, knees pulled up and his little bottom stuck up in the air. His blond, curly hair--so much like his Daddy’s--was plastered to his head and the back of his neck in tight corkscrews. Thumb stuck firmly in his mouth, with plump, cherubic baby cheeks, he was absolutely adorable. In the toddler bed across from the crib was three-year-old Emmitt Michael. The little boy was another little miniature of his father, except that his hair was not curly and stuck out in large tufts from the top of his head.
She turned slightly when she heard her husband enter the room, smiling when he slipped his arms around her from behind, drawing her firmly against his broad chest.
They stood there together, watching their sleeping sons for a few minutes. Then, he turned her in his arms and lowered his mouth to hers for a tender kiss. “They take my breath away---just like their mother,” he whispered, caressing her cheek with the back of his hand.
Emma melted into his arms. “I love you, Andrew.”
“I love you more, Em,” he whispered back, kissing her nose. “Shall we wake up the little princes?”
Forty-five minutes later, the family was settled at the corner booth in their favorite Mom & Pop restaurant, waiting for their orders to arrive. Andrew and Emma enjoyed a leisurely conversation while the boys colored on paper place mats. After breakfast, they took the boys to a park near their house that had a playground geared more toward smaller children like theirs. They took turns pushing Will in a baby swing and chasing Emmitt between the swings and the slides. The family’s delightful morning together was concluded with chocolate ice cream cones from Dairy Queen before it was time to head back home. The boys were exhausted after their busy morning and needed a nap.
While Andrew made sure the boys were asleep, Emma headed back to their room and pulled out the new black dress she’d purchased for tonight’s reunion. It was hard to imagine that it had already been ten years since high school graduation! Where had the time gone? She stood in front of the full-length mirror on the back of the closet door and held the dress up to her body, trying to imagine how it would look once she’d completed her hair and makeup.
Andrew stopped in the doorway of their room and leaned on the jam, his muscular arms crossed in front of him. He caught Emma’s eye in the mirror and a slow, seductive smile spread across his handsome face. “I confess I can’t wait to see my hot wife in her sexy new dress.”
She rolled her eyes at him and tossed the dress onto the bed. “I’d hardly call it that, Andrew.”
He sidled up to her and grasped her slim waist. “Consider what I normally see you wearing, babe. T-shirts and jeans. Trust me, it is sexy.”
Emma favored him with a sly grin and cupped the back of his head, pulling him toward her for a kiss. As often happened between them, the kiss quickly intensified.
Reluctantly, he broke the kiss and distanced himself from temptation. After a quick glance at his watch, he groaned. “As much as I’d love to crawl into that bed with you and show you just how sexy I think you are, it’s time for me to go. I’m gonna be late if I stay much longer.”
Emma sat on the bed, watching him pull together materials for both of his classes. “I can’t wait until you’re finished with your Master’s, honey.”
“I know, Em, me too. You bringing my suit tonight?”
“If you like. The black one?”
She rose and wrapped her arms around him in a tight hug. “I’ll see you later tonight.”
“Count on it,” he whispered, resting his forehead briefly against hers before giving her a last lingering kiss. “I doubt I’ll be able to concentrate in class, I’ll be too busy thinking about going home with the hottest girl at the reunion.”
Emma laughed and blew him a kiss.
After watching Andrew’s Durango pull out of the garage, she checked on the boys one more time and then headed back to her room to rest awhile. She knew her husband would find something to do to keep them both up late tonight and she’d need every minute of rest she could get now.
Dr. Justin Bennet slid several coins into the vending machine and pressed the button for some water. Twisting the cap off, he brought the bottle to his full lips and guzzled almost half of its contents.
“Thirsty, eh, Bennet?” came a thick Southern drawl from slightly behind him.
He turned and grinned at the sweaty man who’d spoken. “You ought to know, Williams, considering I beat your sorry self at tennis just now.”
The other gentleman laughed heartily. “That’s a good one. Keep on tellin’ yourself that if it makes you feel any better,” he quipped as they made their way toward the gym’s locker room. “And what does Cancun’s Bachelor of the Year have planned for tonight?”
Justin rolled his eyes and groaned. Not that again. He could not understand how in the world he’d even been nominated for that title, let alone actually winning it. Surely there were men on the list more befitting the title than him.
“As a matter of fact, I’m going to a high school reunion.”
Williams’ face mirrored his displeasure. “Sure you can’t get out of it? There’s a great party tonight at the Chief of Staff’s mountain cabin.”
Those kinds of parties held about as much thrill for Justin as that blasted Bachelor of the Year title. His idea of fun was not spending an evening watching colleagues from the hospital get plastered. Social drinking held no appeal. Not anymore. What was enjoyable about becoming so inebriated you couldn’t remember what you’d done the night before? Not to mention the physical after-effects of being drunk. He’d left all of that behind him years ago, thanks be to God. “Thanks, but no thanks. You know I’m not into that.”
His friend punched his arm and chuckled. “And that’s why you won the title, my friend. A respectable, successful surgeon who’s a gentleman to boot. You truly are an enigma to the people of this town. Have fun at your reunion,” he called as the two headed to separate parts of the locker room.
“I fully intend to,” Justin whispered softly.
After all, she would be there.