Home > Come Together (Butler, Vermont #7)

Come Together (Butler, Vermont #7)
Author: Marie Force

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

“If you love large, you’ve got to hurt large.”

—Sarah McLachlan

 

 

The rattle of his alarm clock woke Noah Coleman at five o’clock as it did every weekday morning without fail. Keeping his eyes closed, he reached over to silence it, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He was on his way back to sleep when his backup alarm went off five minutes later. That one usually did the trick because he had to get up and cross the room to shut it off.

Shivering in the early morning cold, he went directly to the woodstove downstairs, added wood and had it putting out heat five minutes later. Then he went back upstairs to make his bed before heading to the shower, which was part two of his wake-up ritual. He kept the water on the chilly side until he felt fully awake. That’s when it was safe to add some hot water. Otherwise, he might fall back to sleep right there in the shower.

Noah was famous for his ability to sleep anywhere, any time, under any conditions. The single greatest challenge he had as a self-employed construction contractor was getting his ass out of bed every morning. Thus, the multiple alarms and the rituals. Lately, however, that wasn’t his greatest challenge. Getting up in the morning had nothing on the pain-in-the-ass architect from Boston overseeing his latest project.

But he didn’t need to think about her—or deal with her—for another hour or so. He planned to fully enjoy that hour, because the minute he got to the site, she’d send his day spiraling into multiple forms of hell that would last eight hours.

He followed the same routine every day with few exceptions. This time of year, he often skipped shaving the scruff that helped keep his face warm in the frigid Vermont winter. Dressing involved layers—lots of layers—topped with a red plaid flannel shirt that he tucked into flannel-lined jeans he bought at his family’s Green Mountain Country Store.

After grabbing the lunch he’d made the night before and the three bottles of red Gatorade that kept him hydrated from the fridge, he donned his Carhartt work coat and emerged from the house twenty minutes after the second alarm. He did a doubletake when he saw his mother standing next to his truck. Wearing boots and a heavy parka over flannel pajamas, she held a travel mug that she handed to him.

“What’s this?”

“Coffee.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

He took a sip of the coffee fixed just how he liked it, with cream and a dash of sugar. “What’s the occasion?”

“No occasion. I just hadn’t seen you in almost two weeks, so I figured I’d try to catch you before you left for work.”

“Sorry I haven’t been around. We’ve been busting ass at the inn.” Mrs. Hendricks had hired his company to rebuild the Admiral Butler Inn after it burned last year.

“I know. It looks good. Everyone is saying so.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“We missed you at Christmas.”

“Sorry. I had some stuff to take care of.”

“What kind of stuff?”

“Nothing important.” He’d checked into a hotel in Stowe and had spent the holiday skiing. These days, Christmas was just another day to get through, and he found it easier to endure the day by himself than to be with his family, even if he knew that probably hurt his mother’s feelings. Eager to change the subject, he said, “So whose truck is that in your driveway?”

She looked over her shoulder to her house a few doors down. “Ray’s.”

“What’s it doing in your driveway at five thirty in the morning?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“I would. That’s why I’m asking. Seen it there a lot lately.”

“We’re, you know, spending time together.”

“Overnight time?”

She gave him a withering look. “No, he leaves his truck at my house and takes a cab home.”

Her reaction amused him. He knew whose truck it was and how many nights it had spent in his mother’s driveway, not that he was keeping tabs or anything. Ray was a good guy, and if his mother had found happiness with him, who was Noah to begrudge her that? His dad had left her with eight kids to finish raising when Noah was fourteen. If anyone deserved a second chance at love, it was her.

As long as it wasn’t him. Noah was good with second chances for other people. He’d learned the hard way to steer clear of shit like what his mother was doing with Ray.

“I’d ask you not to out me to your siblings, but since you never talk to any of them, I suppose there’s no need to be worried about that.”

“I talk to them.”

“When do you talk to them?”

“Gray came by the site last week. I gave him a tour that involved talking. Izzy has been photographing the construction for a book Mrs. Hendricks wants to do about the inn’s history before and after the fire. I talked to her while I showed her around. Vanessa called me last week when her toilet wouldn’t flush, and I talked her through a repair to the ball cock. I talk to them.”

“I’m glad you do. They look up to you.”

“No, they don’t. They look up to Gray.” His brother Grayson was the eldest of the Colemans.

“They look up to both of you and Izzy. They remember how the three of you stepped up for our family when we needed you.”

She meant after their father left, but she didn’t have to spell that out. He got it.

“We did what anyone would’ve done.”

“You did way more than you should’ve had to, and I’ll never forget it.”

“Thank you, but is there a reason we’re taking this trip down unpleasant-memory lane at five thirty in the morning when it’s dark and freezing?”

“I just wanted to see you.”

“Now you’ve seen me.” He gave her a spontaneous kiss on the forehead, which took her by surprise. That made him feel guilty for neglecting her. He’d try to do better. “Thanks for the coffee.”

“You remind me of myself, you know.”

He didn’t know that. “How so?”

“When shit goes sideways, you retreat into yourself.”

Noah had no idea what to say about that.

“I don’t know what happened with Melinda, but whatever it was, you haven’t been the same since, and I miss you. I miss the Noah you were with her.”

He wanted to snap at her and tell her not to mention her name to him ever again, but because she was his mom and he loved her, he didn’t snap. But he wanted to. The Noah he’d been with her had been a blind fool. He’d never again be that guy. “As much as I’ve enjoyed our visit, Mom, I gotta go to work.”

“Have a good day, son, and don’t be a stranger.”

“You have a good day, too.”

Noah got into his truck and turned on the engine to get the heat going. He’d forgotten to use the remote starter the way he did most days while in the early-morning brain fog. He waited until his mom was safely inside her house before backing out of the driveway and heading for the diner to pick up the breakfast Megan had waiting for him every morning.

He took comfort in the routine he’d established for himself since the disastrous end of his marriage. It allowed him to bury himself in work and kept the residual pain and anger locked away where it couldn’t fuck with him every minute of every day, the way it had at first. On the weekends, he headed for the hills, either hiking or skiing until he was so exhausted, he fell into bed and slept like a dead man. Whatever it took to get through the day without the ghosts.

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