Photo by Joanne Francis

They found Elizabeth at the bottom of the driveway. Newspapers said her body was curled up around her son. Gabriel didn’t know the son’s name. It wasn’t mentioned in the stories, and he’d only corresponded with Elizabeth. Josh Moore, who was a volunteer firefighter, and whom Gabriel went on a few dates with pre-Patrick, told Gabriel that Elizabeth was found curled up near the gate. The son was some 40 feet back up the driveway. Elizabeth’s mother was midway between the two of them. Elizabeth’s husband Jim and her two daughters had taken the car to the general store and got trapped in town. They survived the night.

Gabriel didn’t tell Patrick what Josh told him. He knew Patrick would judge Elizabeth. He’d wonder why she didn’t protect her son. He’d verbalize it and upset Gabriel. Gabriel didn’t blame Elizabeth. Who the hell knows what actually happened — the Coopers were from New Jersey. They don’t have wildfires in New Jersey.

Elizabeth, her son, and her mother were three of the four casualties of this fire. They may have survived had they stayed in the house. The garage burned, and half the property’s trees were gone, the smoke damage was heavy, and the patio was scorched, but mainly the fire ravaged the area around Carson Lane and left the houses up on the ridge mostly intact. Patrick wryly noted how this new lack of trees gave the cabin a better view of the park. We might, he said, finally get some five-star reviews.

Elizabeth gave them four stars on her last stay. It pissed Patrick off, but Gabriel gave her a pass. She’d been perfectly reasonable and unflinchingly polite when she’d called to complain about the hot water not working. She even noted in her review that he and Patrick were easy to work with once she was able to reach them. The reviews don’t matter, Gabriel told his husband, if they keep coming back. Elizabeth did. Those customers are more valuable than five five-star reviewers.

Gabriel went to assess the property three weeks after the fire. Patrick was right about the new view. Gabriel texted him and asked if they should install a hot tub on the patio. Patrick answered immediately. He thought it a brilliant idea. “We could start charging $495.00 a night,” he wrote. Gabriel called Josh and asked when he thought they’d open up Carson Lane to non-residents. Josh told him probably within four weeks, so Gabriel started researching which local spa shops were up and running.

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