It had been a lifetime since Stanley first lifted Elsa into a stagecoach, but his bride was even lighter in his arms now than she had been on their wedding night.
Even so, his back ached and his knees cracked like the spine of an old book as he settled her into the seat.
“We’re taking the coach all the way into Applecross, Elsa, and we’ll spend the night at the Colton Hotel. Just like when we got married. Remember?”
Flat, cloudy blue eyes answered him: “I can’t remember anything.”
Stanley rapped on the shell of the carriage, and the driver called out to his team to move along. Stanley gripped Elsa’s hand in his and pointed through the window as the landscape passed.
“That open area there used to be Ted Thompson’s ranch,” he said. “Remember how the hills rolled out to the west before the railroad came through?”
As the miles unfurled, the landmarks of their shared lives came into focus and blurred to a mist. Towns they had visited with their children, mountains that had provided shade for picnics, dusty cemeteries where they buried loved ones.
None of it registered on Elsa’s face.
The moon shone on the road before them by the time the twinkling lights of Appleton came into view, and Stanley motioned for the driver to stop. Stanley hopped down from the cab and hoisted Elsa into his arms once more.
He carried her to the edge of a small but towering grove of white pines and gasped — there on the tallest biggest tree were their initials, carved by Stanley himself more than fifty years before.
Elsa trembled in his arms, and he turned his gaze to her. Tears streaming down her cheeks whispered to her beloved …
“I remember everything.”