HELENA – There’s something missing in the Pentecost house.
It’s got all the evidence of a happy home – toys scattered here and there, kids’ art projects hanging on the wall next to prints by local artists, letter magnets on the refrigerator, bicycles in the garage, a friendly black Lab running laps around the backyard.
Still, something’s not quite right. Two-year-old Layne seems to sense it.
He looks out the window when the dog barks as if he expects to see someone, then settles back into his favorite giraffe-spotted chair.
His grandparents, Jean and Karl, watch him. A rare smile spreads across Karl’s face. It’s a bright moment in an otherwise dark day. After a while, Karl excuses himself to go pick up Layne’s 6-year-old brother, Evan, from kindergarten.
Above the TV is a family portrait – Layne and Evan sitting on the laps of their beaming parents, Karl Robert and Char. The photo was taken early last June, shortly after Jean asked her son, “Are you happy?”
Karl Robert’s response was, “Mom, I have a job I love to do, a beautiful home, a beautiful wife, two beautiful sons – life doesn’t get any better than this.”
Karl Robert and his wife Char had spent most of the previous 18 months or so building their dream home near Fox Ridge Golf Course about 10 miles outside of Helena. Karl Robert referred to the house as the “Pentecastle.”
The home has a large master suite, and rooms with a connecting bathroom for the boys. Downstairs is a partially finished basement filled with more toys, Karl Robert’s hat collection and snowboards, Char’s craft supplies, and boxes that the couple had not yet gotten around to unpacking.
In the master bedroom, there are piles of clothes that look like they’re waiting for laundry day. A copy of “Eat, Pray, Love” rests on the bedside table.
A rattlesnake skin hangs above the window in Karl Robert’s home office. Toys and piles of papers haven’t been touched since last June.
Karl and Jean haven’t wanted to move anything out of place.
“The house is exactly the way they left it,” Jean says.
The way Karl Robert and Char left it before celebrating a beautiful summer evening with a ride on their Harley around Canyon Ferry Reservoir and dinner at O’Malleys.
They were on the way back to their boys and their dream home when drunken driver Travis Fuqua smashed head-on into their motorcycle.
“I’m haunted by thinking of their last moment,” says Jennifer Pentecost, Karl Robert’s sister. “They must have been so scared.”
Karl Robert, 35, and Char, 37, never made it back to the Pentecastle. They died at the scene of the crash that June 24 night.
The boxes in the basement still unpacked. The book on the bedside table never finished. The laundry unwashed. Children left parentless. Parents left devastated.
“Layne knows something’s wrong, something’s missing,” Jean says. “He can’t figure out why his parents won’t come home.”
Karl tears up when he recalls how he delivered the news to Evan.
“I took Evan outside and I told him, ‘Your mommy and daddy went to heaven last night and they’re not coming home.’
“I don’t know if he understands the forever part of it.”
Peggy O’Neill can be reached at (406) 447-4074 or firstname.lastname@example.org.