She wakes up to Drew choking her and manages to escape. He doesn’t seem to realize what’s happened to start with, but when he does, he begs her forgiveness. Alma has been forgiving a lot of his slips, knowing he’s hurting, but this is different. He could have killed her and the baby. She tells him that, and he flinches, but doesn’t deny it. She asks him to get inpatient help, since the therapist he sees sometimes through the VA isn’t doing enough to help him. He tells her there’s no help and no hope for a man like him. Alma tells him that if he doesn’t go get help that very morning, she’ll be gone when he gets home. He gives her a sad look, touches her stomach once, and whispers goodbye before stumbling out. In tears, she calls Sawyer, hoping he can get through to his friend, but he’s curt and hangs up on her. She packs her bags and leaves, hoping Drew can find the man he was, but knowing she has to protect their son. She tries to reach out through letters, but he doesn’t reply. When he does, it’s with a forgive me/goodbye letter, and she finds out he killed himself. 4,000
A year later
He’s in L.A. for a gig he just finished and decides to swing by to see Drew and Alma. When he arrives at their old home, he finds new tenants. The neighbor next door tells him Drew killed himself about eight months before, and Alma moved out months before that. He’s stunned and grieving, wondering how no one could tell him. He Googles the obituary to find the cemetery and goes to visit Drew’s grave. He’s sitting there, lost in thought and wondering how things went so wrong, when he hears footsteps. He looks up to see Alma, with a baby in a sling, and he feels a whirl of conflicting emotions—anger that she didn’t tell him, sorrow for her and Drew, and a fierce surge of the inappropriate love he’s felt for her since he met her. He hates himself for that, and he ends up being harsh with her when he demands to know why she didn’t tell him. Alma’s quiet and composed, but there is obvious guilt in her expression when she tells him she had other things happening in her life, and he made it obvious he didn’t want to talk the last time she called. He recalls hanging up on her, and his anger fades. He asks her to coffee, so she can tell him the whole story. She looks like she’ll refuse, but relents a moment later. 8,000
As she drives to a nearby diner, aware of his rental car behind her the whole time, she wonders what she’s doing. Sawyer should be off-limits. He made it clear he didn’t want anything to do with her, and she can’t blame him. She remembers the night she kissed him, just a week or so before he fled to Taos. He kissed her back, but she instigated it, even knowing it was wrong. Drew had already been so out of reach at that point that she was tired of trying to make it work with him. She still loved Drew, but was no longer in love with him. That makes her feel even guiltier for the kiss, and for not being there for him, and she’s emotionally raw by the time they arrive at the restaurant. Ty (not sure what name you want to use, so this is just a placeholder name) is asleep, so she carries in his car seat. Sawyer takes it from her so naturally that it takes her breath. She briefly wonders how different things would have been if she’d met him first. He came home from Afghanistan six months after Drew, since he was recovering in a military hospital due to more serious injuries, and she was already married to Drew by then. (They had dated for a while before the IED, and when Drew came home, she wanted to “fix” him and accepted his proposal though she already had reservations about how different he was, and how the relationship had changed.) She shoves aside the thought, angry at herself for thinking it. It’s disloyal to Drew—but can’t help briefly wondering if Drew would still be alive if he hadn’t carried the burden of harming her and turning his back on Ty. She tries to maintain her distance as they talk, but starts crying when she tells him about Drew’s letter and rushing to find out if he was still alive, only to arrive to the sight of police on the scene. When Sawyer asks why she wasn’t living with Drew, she tap-dances around the full truth, not wanting to reveal Drew’s darkest secret. She knows he’d hate to have anyone know what he did that last night, so she’s taken the blame with his friends and family, who believe she cut out on him when his PTSD was too much for her to handle. 12,000
He’s stunned by the turn of events and wonders how Alma could be so cold as to walk out on Drew when he was hurting so much. When she tells him Drew left him something and invites him back to her house to get it, he agrees, but doubts the wisdom of it. He’s quiet, not wanting to say something cruel to her when she must already feel guilty enough for driving Drew over the edge. ::(Just his perception at this point and will contribute to him feeling so worthless when he learns the truth.):: He follows her back to her house, and she leads him inside. He sits on the couch, and she hands him Ty w/o asking as she goes to retrieve the object. He holds the baby, who has a couple of teeth and a drooly smile. ::(I’m picturing him around nine months?):: He’s never really held babies, since neither he nor his brother have any, but he likes the little guy.
He looks up when the door opens, seeing an unfamiliar guy. His stomach tightens with jealousy as he imagines he’s Alma’s boyfriend. The guy glares at him and demands to know who he is. Before he can answer, he makes a snarky remark about Sawyer being Drew’s replacement and comments it didn’t take “the bitch” long to move on. About that moment, Alma returns. She turns pale when she sees the man in her house and demands he get out. He tells her he’s there to see his nephew, and Sawyer finally recognizes him as Jim, Drew’s brother. He’s just grown up. Alma tells him to get out, and Jim is cruel to her. When Sawyer hears him accusing her of being the reason Drew killed himself, it strikes him how wrong his own thoughts about that were, and he leaps to her defense, pointing out PTSD changes someone, and it’s unfair to blame Alma for not being able to handle the changes. Jim is clearly angry and hurting and reiterates his accusation that he’s the new guy. Sawyer tells him in a quiet voice just who he is, and what he experienced. Then he tells Jim to get out until he learns some respect and manners. Drew’s brother leaves in a huff, and he turns to Alma, who looks resigned rather than angry. 14,000
She thanks him for sticking up for her and tells him his family (and most of their mutual friends) blame her leaving for Drew’s suicide a couple of months later. Jim never misses a chance to remind her of that when he comes by—which is too often. He asks why she gave Jim a key if he’s harassing her, and she tells him she didn’t. Her landlord is Jim’s boyfriend (happened after she moved in), and he helped himself to a key. Sawyer’s angry on her behalf and tells her to file a police report. She waves it off, telling him she’s moving out at the end of the month. He looks around, clearly skeptical, and asks where are the boxes? It’s a furnished place, so they just need to take their personal things. He asks where she’s moving, and she admits she hasn’t found a place yet. She hasn’t gone back to work, since she has enough to take some time off after the life insurance payout, and she wants to breastfeed Ty until at least a year old. She has the money for a place, but hasn’t found someone to rent to her w/o a job yet. He asks if they owned the home they lived in, but they didn’t, so she can’t sell that either. She tells him she’ll figure it out and gives him the beat-up compass Drew left for Sawyer in a box of things, along with his will. He pales when she hands it to him, and she asks why Drew left it to him. He tells her it’s a reminder of a promise they made each other. What promise? A promise to watch out for each other, and keep each other on the right course. He starts to cry when admitting he failed. She goes to sit beside him and Ty, holding his hand and telling him they all failed, including Drew. They sit in silence for a bit. 18,000
He holds the compass tightly in his hand, remembering the other part of the promise he’d made to Drew, in the early days after they were both home from Afghanistan and messed up in the head. Drew had told him he was sure Sawyer would overcome it and move on, but he wouldn’t. Sawyer hadn’t believed that and promised to keep him on track, if he kept Sawyer on track. They promised, and then Drew reminded him about another promise he made, way before the IED, when they were pinned down once. Drew had asked him to watch out for his family and Alma. There had been awareness in his eyes that made Sawyer uncomfortable, as though his friend knew he was already half in love with his girlfriend just from the stories he’d heard, the letters Drew had read to him, and the pictures he’d seen. He made the promise and tried to forget it. Now, he remembers. He blurts out that she and Ty should come with him to Taos. He builds Earthships with some friends, and there’s one available. ::(I have no idea how that actually works, so you might need to tweak it.):: She protests at first, but he counters her arguments. She has no job in L.A., soon no house, no family, and most of her friends turned away from her when Drew killed himself. She needs a fresh start, and Ty deserves to grow up somewhere without the tension between Alma and Drew’s family. He’s surprised when she actually agrees, and he promises to come back the next day to help her pack. 21,000
She thinks she’s crazy for agreeing, but doesn’t renege on her agreement when he shows up the next day. They pack her things and make plans to leave the next morning. She fields a call from Doreen, Drew’s mother, who demands Ty for the weekend. When she refuses, Sawyer asks if his family ever gets to see the baby. She tells him they did until they seemed determined to attack her at every opportunity. They’re clinging to Ty as their last connection to Drew, and she sympathizes, but she can’t trust them. His parents threatened to take Ty from her, and she doesn’t know if they’re serious, or what measures they would take, but she won’t leave the baby alone with them now. Sawyer’s grim and tells her it’s good she’s leaving L.A.
They drive away shortly after that with a small trailer attached to her SUV. (He returned his rental car and canceled his flight, so he could ride with her.) The drive itself isn’t bad, and they manage to fill the silences pretty well. She even laughs a couple of times as they stop and do some touristy things on the way. The only awkward part comes when they stay in a hotel for the night, and they linger outside her door for a moment. She’s thinking about kissing him, remembering how it felt, and the guilt of having done so while still with Drew snaps her out of it, and she goes into her room. In the room, she thinks about what a temptation Sawyer is, but doesn’t feel worthy of a second chance at happiness after not being able to help Drew—and “cheating” on him with that kiss a couple of years ago. ::(You might need to adjust the timeline a bit. I’m not sure how long Sawyer’s been in NM.):: She resolves to avoid any situations that might tempt her. 25,000
He didn’t get much sleep and tries not to be grouchy with her or Ty the next day. He’s withdrawn, feeling guilty for wanting Alma when Drew hasn’t even been dead a year. He’s absorbed in his thoughts, so when a tire pops, the sound throws him back to Afghanistan. He veers off the freeway and parks erratically on the shoulder before trying to cover Alma with his body to protect her. After a moment, the panic recedes, and her hand holding his is a welcome anchor to reality. He pops a metapropol (a beta blocker drug used to treat the physical effects of PTSD, thus shortening their duration) when he’s calmed a bit and tells her he hasn’t needed one of those in months. She tells him the popped tire, and his stunt driving, nearly made her pee her pants. They laugh more forcefully than the words should make them, and then they kiss. It’s quick, and they jerk apart simultaneously. He slips out of the car to change the tire, taking a chance to cool his fevered thoughts. When he gets back in, she won’t look at him, and he avoids looking at her. He knows they’ll have to talk about what happened, but he isn’t eager to either. 30,000
She spends the rest of the drive stewing in her guilt and being quiet. He doesn’t talk either, and they arrive in Taos in the early evening. He takes her to a nearby hotel and promises to introduce her to Big D ::(not sure the other character’s name, or if he’s the one who helps set up Earthship housing, so you might need to change that):: the next day, so she can get settled. They don’t mention the kiss, and she’s too tired to beat herself up about it. She has a familiar nightmare—Drew strangling her—and wakes up with a scream trapped in her throat. In the early hours, with her defenses down, she admits she wishes Sawyer was there to hold and comfort her after the horrible dream. She deserves to be happy, doesn’t she? When she falls to sleep again a bit later, she dreams of Sawyer. 32,500
It’s been a few days, and she’s settled into an Earthship of her own. He’s taking her a housewarming gift—::a clipping? from the macadamia or banana tree maybe::—while reminding himself to keep his distance. When she invites him in, he helps her with an Earthship-related task ::(not sure what)::, and she invites him to stay for dinner. He still feels awkward, but she seems more relaxed than she did a few days ago. He knows he shouldn’t, but being with her and Ty feels good, so he agrees.
Todd stops by too, so she invites him and gets acquainted with his brother. Sawyer feels jealous when they’re laughing together, and he excuses himself to step outside to get perspective. He knows she wasn’t flirting with Todd—and she has a right to if she wants—but he still feels possessive of her. It’s why he pulled away so much shortly after he got home. He was stunned to find himself falling in love with his friend’s new wife, so he pulled away from both of them. He doesn’t like this feeling, especially since he’s sure it won’t be assuaged until she’s his.
Todd comes out, telling him he’s heading home. He tells Sawyer to stop paralyzing himself with indecision and go for it. Sawyer plays dumb, but Todd tells him not to bother. The chemistry between them is scorching, and they’re both single adults. Sawyer’s wasting a chance to be happy, and if he’s doing it for his dead buddy, he’s cheating himself and Alma. Sawyer doesn’t know whether to hug or hit him, so he settles for a hard pat on the back as his brother goes by.
When he goes back inside a moment later, he finds Alma in the kitchen. He tells her he’s not sorry for kissing her, and she tells him she feels the same. He admits he’s wanted her for years, and she points out she has too—she kissed him when she was still married, after all. He asks why, and she tells him she was sad and overwhelmed, and she gave in to the desire at a low point, when she had no defenses. It was a horrible thing to do to Drew, but he forgave her. Sawyer takes a step back, demanding an explanation. She admits she confessed to Drew a few days later, and he forgave her. He said something cryptic about things would have been a lot different if she’d met Sawyer first and told her not to feel guilty. Of course she did, but he never brought it up again. 37,000
When she kisses Sawyer this time, he kisses back, and they have sex. 39,000
They start spending a lot of time together, and he quickly realizes the feelings he had for her were genuinely the beginnings of love as far back as when he just knew her through Drew’s letters. Being with her (and Ty) now is amazing, and he’s falling for her. They still have their moments of guilt and doubt, but they’re working through them together. He gets an assignment that will take him away for a week, and he wants to turn it down, but she insists he has to go. He takes it and misses her. They talk every day, and when he FaceTimes her the day before he returns, Ty pulls up on her leg and waves at the iPad, saying Sawyer’s name. After hanging up, he realizes he’d like Ty to call him Daddy and wonders if Drew would hate him for that. He pulls out the compass he’s keeping in his pocket and remembers the promise he made to look after Alma. Despite the last couple of years, when they drifted apart, he thinks he knew Drew well enough to be sure his friend would be happy to have him protecting Alma and Ty, and building a family together. When he gets home, they make love again, and he tells her he’s in love with her. She hesitates for a minute before telling him he makes her happier than she probably deserves to be, and she’s falling for him too. 44,000
It’s been two weeks since that night, and she’s musing how good life is. She loves Taos and her new home, she has a great guy in her life again, and she’s not inundated by calls from Drew’s family. She’s appreciating the peace and quiet, and a chance to make a new life, when a process server comes to her door. She’s devastated to read Drew’s family is suing for custody of Ty. She’s wiping away tears when Sawyer comes over, and she shows him the lawsuit. She has to be in L.A. in two weeks. He tells her they’ll fight, and she agrees. She doesn’t really think the court will take Ty from her. She’s stable and his mother, but she’s afraid they might grant grandparent visitation, and she really doesn’t know if his parents would try to take off with Ty. Sawyer tells her they won’t let that happen and suggests they get married. She loves him even more for the offer, but declines. She makes it clear if they get married, it will be because they’re both ready, and not because Drew’s parents forced them into it. He seems hurt, but she can’t marry him under the circumstances. 47,000
Someone in Taos is keeping Ty? They’re in L.A. for the hearing, but they’re having a preliminary meeting with Drew’s family and their attorney. His family is disdainful to Alma and Sawyer. Alma has her own attorney, and they confer quietly for a bit. He hears a couple of snatches, along with Alma’s insistence on not revealing something, but can’t hear what. When everyone’s settled, and the mediator arrives, James and Doreen demand full custody. The mediator and their own attorney tells them it won’t happen, but they won’t listen. They insist on going through with the custody hearing the next day. The meeting is unproductive, and Alma’s attorney advises her to “think about it.” When Sawyer asks “think about what,” she won’t tell him. He tells her whatever it is, she’d better be prepared to talk about it if it keeps Ty safe, and he can tell his words settle heavily on her. 50,000
She spent a restless night and isn’t well rested. She’s been thinking about Sawyer’s words, and her attorney’s advice to tell the court why she left. She doesn’t want to admit it in open court, but her attorney is prepared, having gotten the hospital report from the day after the injury, when she had herself checked because she was spotting, and of course the ER doctor noticed the bruises on her neck. She asks her attorney to get them all together again before the hearing. When they arrive, James and Doreen seem to think she’s there to negotiate. Instead, she tells them exactly why she left Drew, and she asks them to please drop this before it gets out in open court how far Drew had descended into his illness. She doesn’t want to further taint his memory. His parents are shattered after seeing the hospital report, and they tell their attorney to dismiss the custody suit. They’re crying together, so she and Sawyer leave. She reaches for his hand, but he’s aloof and pulls away. She’s bewildered, expecting him to be as happy as she was with the resolution, but he’s distant for the whole flight back. 54,000
He’s devastated to learn what Drew did. When they’re back in Taos, Alma asks if he’s disgusted that she left Drew when he was hanging so precariously. He tells her of course not and asks her if that was why she called the day he told her to talk to Drew and hung up on her. She says it was, and he’s physically bent over from the guilt for a moment. If he’d taken the call, he might have been able to help. He might have saved Drew and helped them reunite. He never would have had Alma for himself. He hates himself for that last thought and leaves her home, ignoring the way she’s calling him back. He can’t cope right then. He just runs, plunging into the desert and trying to outrun his guilt and misery. When he finally calms down, he feels despicable for running out on her, but knows he doesn’t deserve to be with her. He let his love for her keep him from helping Drew—from keeping his promise to help him stay on-track—and might have contributed to Drew’s death. He deserves to die in the desert and let the sand erase his presence, but he’s not suicidal. He walks back to his home and brushes off Todd’s inquiries. When Alma calls, he doesn’t answer. He checks his phone log and realizes he missed several calls from her. It’s for the best. 57,000
She’s so confused about what happened, and why he won’t talk to her. She tries calling a few times, but he doesn’t answer. Todd has no explanation either when she sees him at the grocery store a few days later. He tells her Sawyer’s locked down tighter than he was after he first moved from Hollywood to watch over him. Alma’s sad for Sawyer, but also angry at how he’s acting. He owes her an explanation, and she goes straight to his house to demand one (after Todd gives her the key). She’s not going to lose someone else she loves, and she’s genuinely worried about his safety and mental health. When she enters his room, she’s relieved to find him alive, but clearly brooding. She tells him he has to talk to her, and he tells her why he left. He remains insistent that he doesn’t deserve to be happy with her and Ty. She points out they all carry their share of guilt and blame, but she’s sure Drew wouldn’t want them to be miserable for the rest of their lives. When he was whole and healthy, he was a generous, loving man, and he would have hated what he did to both of them (and Ty) by killing himself. He tells her to give up on him, and she gets really angry. She tells him she’s already seen the outcome of one lost cause, and she won’t go through it again. When he’s done hurting and ready to heal, come find her. Then she walks out. 61,000
He does some thinking and realizes he’s hurting both of them to atone for past sins. He’ll always feel guilty for not helping her then, and for not doing more to reach Drew, but he knows the hopelessness of depression and PTSD, and of being certain he’d never be happy or healthy again. Being honest with himself, he knows he couldn’t have reached Drew either. If his friend wasn’t ready to get the help available to him, and he refused inpatient care, Drew chose his own path. Sawyer doesn’t want to follow him down that same dark road, so he goes to Alma to ask forgiveness and assure her he’s ready for a future. She accepts him, and he tells her he loves her and Ty. When he proposes, she says yes. 66,000
Two years later
James and Doreen are visiting them in Taos. She’s still not comfortable leaving Ty alone with his grandparents, but they’ve behaved during their visit. They’re saying goodbye at the airport now, and Ty asks if they’ll be coming back for the baby. Doreen tells him he’s a big boy, not a baby, and he tells her Mama’s baby and points to Alma’s stomach. She hadn’t told them, since they seemed to be having a hard enough time dealing with her marriage to Sawyer. They both look sad for a moment, but then James says they’ll be back whenever Alma wants them to come. She hugs both of them, feeling some real healing and peace between the three of them. They disappear into the airport, and she turns back to Sawyer, taking her husband’s hand, and Ty’s with her other. He stops and lifts his arms, so Sawyer picks him up to carry him instead. She accuses him (gently) of spoiling Ty, and he admits it with a big grin and tells her he’ll be just as bad with their next baby. She’s happy and content. 70,000