Time Will Tell--LDS Romantic Suspense
The wheels of the overturned car had barely stopped spinning when the paramedics were finally able to pull the two young men from the wreckage. The stretcher was quickly brought from the ambulance, but the paramedics on the scene knew it was too late.
As they maneuvered the stretcher through the crowd that had gathered, the ambulance driver got out to open the wide double doors. He caught a glimpse of the young man who lay limply on the stretcher and caught his breath. He recognized the familiar name tag and the young man who wore it. He was Elder Carlson.
Closing his eyes momentarily the driver remembered the first time he’d seen Elder Carlson when he’d spoken in his ward and marveled at his enthusiasm for missionary work. As the body of the young man was lifted up into the ambulance, the driver brushed away the unbidden tears and closed the doors. Why would the Lord allow one of his chosen sons who was serving him in the mission field to be taken? It didn’t make any sense. His heart turned to his home as he thought of his own children and it ached for the phone call he knew would have to be made to Elder Carlson’s home in the United States.
Doug and Ashton Carlson arrived early at their hotel in Yellowstone and Ashton started to unpack her things. “Let’s start with Old Faithful and some of the paint pots and geysers right around there,” she suggested. Doug’s reaction was less than enthusiastic and she sighed. It had taken a herculean effort to finally coax her husband Doug to even take this weekend vacation to Yellowstone with her. She had hoped that if they could just get away for a few days, they would be able to start working on their marital problems. Yellowstone seemed the logical choice since they’d honeymooned there and it had special meaning for them.
Doug was still unpacking and grimaced. “I’d rather read my book,” he told her as he finished hanging up his clothes and flopped on the bed with a paperback.
Taking a deep breath Ashton counted to ten. “Let’s do something together. Then we’ll have a nice lunch at the Lodge.”
He gave a low groan, but got off the bed and did as she asked. As they drove to the southern end of Yellowstone, Ashton wondered if she was doing the right thing. Their marriage had never been particularly passionate, but she knew Doug loved her in his own way. Since Michael had been gone on his mission however, it was painfully obvious that they’d grown apart as a couple.
They had become more like roommates than a married couple— stuck in a routine that never seemed to end. Doug was always pleasant and courteous, but their conversations rarely went beyond the surface. Ashton longed to feel close to her husband, to know what he was thinking. She hoped to at least make a start at remedying that situation before Michael came home from his mission–-thinking that maybe if they just spent more time together, without work and other outside influences getting in the way, they could rekindle the romance.
So far, it didn’t seem as if Doug was interested in changing their marital situation at all and Ashton couldn’t understand his attitude. He only seemed to be tolerating this little trip and it was totally opposite for her. She loved nature and seeing the wonder and beauty of the National Park was refreshing. Yet, it took all of her powers of convincing to get Doug out of the car and walking on the boardwalk with her. After practically dragging him around to a few geysers, she finally suggested they go to lunch at the Old Faithful Lodge. That was the best part of the day because Doug finally seemed interested in something—the food.
They ate in silence and Ashton decided to just enjoy the scenery and not let his mood ruin the trip. There didn’t seem to be anything she could do about it. She wanted to work on the marriage, but it had to be a team effort, and she hadn’t realized how difficult it had become for them to be alone together with no outside distractions.
As soon as he finished his lunch, he wiped his mouth on his napkin and stood up. “I’m ready to go back to the hotel room and relax. Okay?”
She agreed, giving in before she pushed him too far and they went back home. When they got back to the hotel room, she took a long bath, while Doug read his book. After flipping through the channels on the television, Ashton found a travel brochure and started planning the next day. “Do you want to drive up and see some wildlife on the north side?” she asked.
He muttered his agreement, but she wondered if he’d even heard her. Ashton tried to write it off as being tired, knowing inside it was more than that, but unwilling to face what she knew was true.
She was just deciding where they should go for dinner when she heard the phone ring. Doug was closest to it, so he picked it up and she was surprised to hear him say hello to Bishop Tolson. She went to join Doug in the small sitting room, listening intently to Doug’s side of the conversation, wondering why the bishop would call them on their vacation.
“Okay,” Doug said. “Is he all right?”
Knowing it could only be about Michael, her heart began to pound. Something was wrong. Her mind began to race with possibilities, but when Doug asked how Michael would get home, Ashton’s mouth fell open. Had her son done something wrong? Was he being sent home? She discarded that thought immediately. He was so thrilled with the work and was anxiously engaged in preaching the gospel. His every letter showed his commitment. Doug said goodbye and hung up the phone slowly. Turning to face her, his familiar brown eyes were shining with tears.
“Tell me,” she demanded.
Doug was silent as if he was rooted to the floor, staring at the wall behind her.
“Tell me,” she said again, her voice dropping to a whisper.
“Michael was traveling as a passenger in a car to his new area in Wales. His companion tried to pass a large truck using the center passing lane. An oncoming car was also in the passing lane and in order to avoid a head on collision, they swerved into traffic and were broadsided. Both boys were killed instantly.” His voice was monotone, as if he was reciting a news headline.
Ashton’s gut wrenched, her blood running cold at his words. Darkness was swirling at the edge of her consciousness as if her brain wanted to spare her the comprehension of what she’d just been told. Her world felt like it was closing in. She could feel the hysteria rising within her, but managed to say, “He’s dead?”
Her tongue could barely form the words and her voice sounded strange to her ears. It just didn’t seem to register. She tried to reach for Doug’s hand, but he pulled it back. Ashton wanted to scream hysterically, but stood rigid. She heard someone moaning and realized it was her. “When did he die? What time?”
Doug looked at her strangely. “Why would that matter?”
She wanted to shake him. Her child that she had carried within her body for nine months, nourished, nurtured and loved for twenty years was gone and she had been on vacation and not known it. What had she been doing when he died? “Do you know what time?”
Doug looked at his watch. “About four hours ago, our time.”
Ashton’s mind raced back through the day’s activities. They would have been having lunch at the lodge near Old Faithful. Her child had died and she had been having lunch and not felt a thing. Shouldn’t she have felt something? A tremor in her body, a chill, something? She sank down on the hotel sofa, her knees no longer able to hold her up. “Did he suffer?” she could hardly get the words past the lump in her throat, sobs welling up inside her.
“They said he died instantly,” Doug said. He took Ashton by the arm and pulled her up beside him. For a moment she thought he would take her in his arms, but he held her away from him. “The bishop told me he knew that Michael was continuing his mission on the other side of the veil,” Doug said, his voice barely above a whisper. “I never thought he should go on this mission and now I know why.” His eyes finally focused on her and they were accusing.
“Michael wanted to go,” Ashton protested. “He loved his mission.”
“He only joined that church because of you,” Doug said, his angry tone magnified by the tears coursing down his cheeks. “I never believed in it.”
“You did once, before you left for Vietnam. I know you felt the Spirit then, but after you came back you never spoke of religion again. Doug, the Church is everything to me. You knew that when you married me. I thought you understood.” Her voice trailed off, the twenty years of prayers and hope that he would be touched by the Spirit dying as she looked at his face.
She threw her arms around him, but he stood stiff. Her own tears were overwhelming, but she felt she had to try to make Doug understand. “Michael’s gone and my faith is all I have left. I know Michael lives on. Truly, I do.” She slipped her hand into his and reached up on tiptoe to hold her own tear-stained cheek against his face. “We just lost our child. We need to be together.”
Doug jerked back and went into the other room. “We’ve lost the only thing holding us together,” he said, his voice cold. “I’ve felt it for a long time. We’ve grown apart. I just didn’t want to say anything until Michael got back, but now . . .” His voice trailed off. He avoided Ashton’s eyes and took his suitcase out and began throwing in his things.
Her first instinct was to go to him, and she moved toward the bed. She watched him for a moment, the face she’d loved since she was seventeen. He was three years older, but had a sister her age. He’d come to pick his sister up at the high school on a spring day and she had been coming out the large double doors when she lost her balance and tumbled down the concrete stairs.
At first, she was stunned, but the pain in her ankle quickly set in and she began to cry. Doug had waded through the crowd that had gathered and picked her up effortlessly in his arms. His sister, Debra had walked out just then and he motioned for her to follow. Within minutes Ashton had been deposited in his car and driven home. He carried her to her living room couch, explaining to her mother what had happened. Before she knew it, Doug had charmed both her and her mother.
When he came to check on her a few days later, he asked her out on a date. He’d seemed surprised when she turned him down because she didn’t date boys who weren’t LDS. He wanted to learn more and soon began taking the missionary discussions and becoming part of their family. He was strong and steady, his quick laugh attracting him to her. Soon they were drawn together and began a romance. She waited for him to fully commit to the gospel but before he could he was drafted to Vietnam.
Everything changed after that. She lived for his letters, praying every day that he would be protected and watched over. When he returned from his tour of duty he was wounded and spent months recovering. Yet, even after his recovery was complete, outwardly he looked the same, but inwardly he was different. He seemed distant and tense. He flinched and ducked at loud noises, refusing to share his experiences in Vietnam and seeming angry when she asked. Any talk of God or the church was cut off immediately. Ashton longed for the closeness they’d shared before he left, wanting to hear him laugh, and feel his strength and compassion again. She had thought that continuing with their marriage plans would return everything to how it had been before Vietnam. It didn’t.
Even after Michael had been born, the happiness and joy that had attracted her to Doug, that had once seemed like his second nature, was gone—as though he’d left it in Vietnam. He just didn’t seem capable of trusting himself to be happy and had built an invisible wall around his emotions. He was always considerate, but aloof. She would wake in the middle of the night to find his side of the bed empty, knowing he’d had another nightmare. It was like whatever he’d experienced in the war haunted him and couldn’t leave him alone. She’d urged him to get counseling, but he had insisted he could handle it. Yet, no matter what the night had brought, during the daylight hours their household was filled with love because Michael was in it.
As she watched her husband pack and saw the steely anger in his eyes, she knew that now with Michael gone, their marriage was over and had been for a long time, just as he had said. She’d known it, but couldn’t admit it to herself. The time had obviously come. Opening her mouth to say something, she closed it again, not having anything to say. Doug didn’t even look at her and she folded her arms and went back to the other room.
Sinking to her knees, she raised her face to the ceiling. She wanted to feel something, but only felt numbness, the shock shielding her from overwhelming grief. She clenched the bed blankets in her fist, squeezing until it hurt. Bowing her head, she asked her Father in Heaven, “Why?” The wetness of her still damp hair, mixed with her tears as they flowed down her cheeks. It was unthinkable that she’d never see Michael again in this lifetime.
Opening her eyes she stared down at the hotel quilt, her head still bowed. The blue and yellow design swam before her eyes, making her dizzy. Blue is Michael’s favorite color, she thought. She’d bought him a deep blue tie right before he left on his mission. He’d smiled and told her that every time he wore it he’d think of her. She wondered if he’d been wearing it when he died. Her fists began to relax, but the tears started to fall. She bowed her head in submission, her thoughts turning heavenward and the answer came so clearly. He’d been called to serve beyond the veil. At the same moment Doug brushed past her and the hotel door clicked behind him, leaving a stillness hanging in the room he’d left behind. He was gone. Her son was gone and her husband had left her and she was alone.
She leaned over the blue and yellow bedspread, praying more intensely to feel the glimpse of comfort she’d just experienced. “Father,” she started, but the tears overcame her. “Father,” she sobbed, her voice cracking as she pleaded for the love and comfort that only her Father in Heaven could give her. She stayed there on her knees until her legs were numb, but she was oblivious to the prickling sensations, both her soul and her body grief-stricken and anguished.
At that moment, when Ashton thought she would be consumed with the pain, she felt the most comforting feeling come over her. It was like the spirit enveloped her body and spoke to her soul, testifying to her until she knew without a doubt that Michael had been called to a greater mission and she still had a mission to fulfill on this earth. She leaned forward and thanked her Father in Heaven for the comfort and knowledge that infused her. She got up slowly and laid on the bed, her head pounding from the tears, feeling drained but serene somehow. She wanted to share that comfort with Doug, but he was so angry, she knew he wouldn’t accept it. Ashton was alone in her knowledge of where Michael was, and having the comfort of knowing that while she couldn’t see him, his soul lived on.
The next few days and weeks were overwhelming. The missionaries in England had held a memorial service for her son and his companion, newspapers from around the world had been calling, and they were trying to prepare for the return of Michael’s body. Doug was quiet, his anger and bitterness apparent when he did speak. The only words he’d spoken to her had been curt, blaming her, God, and the Church for the loss of their son.
Ashton turned inside of herself and to her God, praying often throughout the day. She got through the viewing surrounded by friends and family, but it didn’t seem real. The one thing that struck her, looking at her son’s body, was that he looked so peaceful. Yet, it was after the family prayer, when they were about to close the coffin that it hit her. She would never see him again in this life. The smile and mischievous eyes that she had watched grow from a baby to a handsome young man were gone.
Her shoulders slumped and when she thought the grief would overwhelm her once again, she felt a touch on her elbow. She looked up into the kindest eyes she had ever seen, with love emanating from them. A counselor in the First Presidency of the Church held her arm. When he looked into her tear-filled eyes, he said, “The Lord knows your suffering. Lean on Him and He will heal you.” He gave her a gentle squeeze. “Be still and know that He is there.”
She barely made it through the service and when she came home, she was exhausted both physically and emotionally. Standing in her living room, the silence overwhelmed her and she closed her eyes to once again beg for the love and comfort she knew Heavenly Father could send her to relieve the loneliness and suffering she now felt. The life she’d imagined for herself and her family were all gone and she needed God more than ever now that her marriage was over, her son was dead, and she was totally and completely alone.