Ashley snuck next door by the back paths, not ready to see anyone yet. Her mom and Sarah were in the house, sweeping up glass and attempting to bring some semblance of order. Ashley felt obligated to at least say hello to them before going upstairs. She gave her sister a hug and then turned to her mom.
“Can I take a shower here at home?”
“No, honey. The well pump doesn’t work when we don’t have power.” Deanna explained. “I’m sorry.”
“We need to get a generator,” Ashley mumbled to herself as she trudged up the stairs to find some clothes and toiletries. Her mom chuckled from the living room.
Ashley didn’t like the idea of having to shower at someone else’s house, but wondered if the bathroom would smell as good as Paul’s bed had. She doubted it. There was no reason why it should. A bathroom that was shared among eight people was unlikely to smell like one of them. Still, the thought was kind of exciting to her. She gathered her things and felt a little better trekking back to the Davis’.
It didn’t take Ashley long to find Paul’s cologne sitting on the bathroom counter and she felt silly as she sprayed one puff of it into the air. That made her smile as she got into the shower. It was a strange feeling to be in his shower, wondering which shampoo he used each day and whether he’d used the same bar of soap that morning. They were silly thoughts, but she was reminded again how fun it would be to be married to him.
She took a long time combing and braiding her hair and just relaxing. After the trauma of the day before, and the knowledge that she had to go back out into the war zone again as soon as she left this room, she just wanted to stay there for as long as she could.
When Ashley came down the stairs, she saw the last person she would have expected to be walking into the Davis’ kitchen. Caleb pushed the door open with a large platter of sub sandwiches. There looked to be enough for twenty people.
“My mom insisted,” he told Mrs. Davis as he set the tray of sandwiches down on the table. “She wanted me to tell you how sorry she is for your loss and that if there’s anything else she can do, to let her know.”
“That’s very kind of her.” Sue smiled at him. “Thank you Caleb.” They both looked up as Ashley arrived at the bottom of the stairs.
“Hi,” Caleb said. “How are you doing this morning? Well, almost afternoon.” He chuckled slightly. He sort of looked over at Mrs. Davis standing there and Ashley felt a little uncomfortable.
Sue seemed to realize that Caleb and Ashley would want a minute alone, so she made an excuse that she would go out and tell the others that lunch had arrived.
Ashley crossed the room and folded herself gently into Caleb’s arms. She took a deep breath and realized that he smelled as good as Paul did, but in a different way. She wondered if Caleb could smell Paul’s cologne all over her since she’s sprayed it one more time in the bathroom after her shower. There wasn’t much she could do about it now. But she wanted to be in Caleb’s arms for a few minutes, so she pushed the thought to the back of her mind.
She led him into the living room and was in his arms and kissing him faster than she knew what was happening. Her guard was down and the emotions of the past few days overtook her. She couldn’t help herself. She drew so much strength from him and he gave it right back to her. They pulled away from each other, and she was a little embarrassed.
“I’m so sorry about yesterday. I guess I wasn’t much fun to be around.” She chuckled nervously.
“You don’t have to apologize,” Caleb reassured her, and suddenly they were back in each other’s arms kissing again. They pulled away from one another quickly when they heard the back door open. All the guys were shuffling into the kitchen, washing their hands and reaching for sandwiches as fast as they could. They were obviously hungry and several of them complimented Caleb about the tasty sandwiches.
“I can’t take much credit,” Caleb said. “My mom bought them from the deli. All I did was drive them here. I’m just the delivery boy.”
“We’re all very thankful for the delivery boy.” Steve spoke around a mouthful of food.
Paul came around and shook Caleb’s hand, thanking him for helping out his family. It was obvious that Paul knew what Ashley and Caleb had been doing before they all walked into the house, and his eyes narrowed a little, but he didn’t say anything.
When Caleb walked into the kitchen and left Ashley standing there, Paul leaned over to Ashley and sniffed the air.
“Are you wearing my cologne?” he whispered.
“Sort of,” she admitted, looking up at him sheepishly.
“Well,” she stammered, very embarrassed. “It was just sitting there in your bathroom when I took a shower, and I love the way it smells on you, so I sort of sprayed some in the air just so that I could smell it.”
“You took a shower in my bathroom?” he asked.
“I had to,” she explained. “There’s no power at my house.” They were both still whispering, hoping no one in the kitchen could hear them.
“That sort of turns me on, thinking of you in my shower.”
“Paul!” He’d never said anything like that to her before, and it was shocking, yet a little exciting.
“I really want to kiss you right now,” he leaned down and whispered in her ear. “But I’m not sure I want to make out with Caleb, so I won’t.”
He nuzzled her neck and kissed her behind her ear, which made her almost fall over.
“He’s not really my type.” Paul smacked her lightly on her rear end before winking at her and walking over to the kitchen to grab a sandwich. He’d never done that before and it made her feel funny inside in a way she kind of liked. It had been a really confusing morning.
She left the boys to their feast and snuck out the front door to go check on Shelly and the other horses. Of course they’d already been fed and cared for, but she patted their necks and talked to each of them softly. What she really wanted to do was brush her pretty mare and go out for a quick trail ride, but she knew that wasn’t possible right then. She needed to pull herself together and get out to the yard to help with the cleanup.
She waited a little while, staring out the large back door of the barn at the little forest where the cattle had taken shelter. She couldn’t understand how one section of the yard could have been left unscathed, yet another be completely decimated.
Ashley didn’t want to go around to the other side of the barn, because that was the side where the landscape had been destroyed. She took a few minutes to do something she hadn’t thought to do yet since the storm. She prayed. She thanked God that He had protected her and her family and their homes and their animals. She thanked God that none of their neighbors had been hurt and that the majority of damage was here, and not scattered throughout the county. She asked for His assistance that she would be strong in the face of the upcoming weeks and the trials of rebuilding their broken farms.
Before she closed her prayer, Ashley’s thoughts turned to the two beautiful men who were waiting patiently for her to choose between them. She didn’t have the heart to specifically ask God to tell her which man was the right man for her. It didn’t really work that way. She needed to make a choice and listen for the Spirit to confirm to her if she had made the right choice. She knew that she would feel a sense of peace if her decision was correct.
When the time was right, she’d know. In a way she wasn’t ready for it to be time. So instead of praying for God’s confirmation, she prayed for the love and patience she needed from them. She didn’t really feel as if she deserved their patience, yet she felt a sense of peace come over her that told her she would indeed find love and patience from those two wonderful men.
She thanked Heavenly Father for that little gift, and vowed to do all she could to show both of them the love she felt toward them while trying not to hurt the other. She closed her prayer, took a deep breath and opened her eyes.
Ashley searched her mind to take inventory of what needed to be done, and where the priorities were so that she could find the way that she could be of the most service.
The barn would need to be rebuilt, but that would have to wait awhile. The trees needed to be chopped and the wood stacked. There wasn’t much that could be done for the crops, and she wasn’t sure where they would get a winter’s supply of feed at short notice or replace the lost income from the loss of crops. That was a problem for the insurance adjustor and her parents to deal with.
The fences. They would need to be rebuilt. After that, the animals needed their pastures restored. She would go out and help rebuild the fences. That is where she would be of the most service. She turned around and walked with determination through the barn and out the front door. She was shocked once again at the devastation, but forced herself to see past it.
Her eyes were drawn to a pair of men working on a section of the fence not far from where she was now standing. Caleb and Paul were working side by side to lift a board back into place, and close to them her brothers were removing broken pieces and hauling them away. Farther back, she could see her father and Paul’s father measuring a board to build a replacement section.
I guess they all came to the same conclusion as I did. This was where the priority was. The fences.
She stepped cautiously around broken branches and walked over to where Caleb and Paul were working.
“What can I do to help?” she asked. They both looked up and smiled at her softly.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Over the next few days, a steady stream of neighbors showed up to help. The men brought chainsaws and pick-up trucks. The women brought food. Anyone old enough to lift branches and chop wood rolled up their sleeves and started to work. People from the community and friends from both the First United Methodist Church and the Howell Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came in droves.
Within a few days most of the debris had been cleared, the fences were back together, and a barn had been raised on the foundation of the one that had been destroyed.
One week and three days after the storm, a local farmer came around the bend with his tractor pulling a large wagon. Stacked high on the wagon was enough hay to fill at least part of the new barn.
Stan Hardman broke down in tears.
Ashley couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She couldn’t fathom the love that was pouring from their friends and neighbors. While her dad fell to his knees sobbing into a handkerchief, her brothers and neighbors began lifting bales of hay off the wagon and up into the loft of their new barn. In the wake of tragedy, they found a community full of love.