The Monday morning after Snowflake Day, Charlie woke early for work. He had been home with Fran and took care of her all weekend long, and at bedtime the evening before she was feeling better. But Charlie insisted that she stay indoors and not do chores until her fever broke for good. On this morning, he didn’t have time to feed the animals outside before work. Unless Penny cared for them, the cows and chickens would wait until the afternoon. Before he left for work, Charlie lit a fire in the hearth to warm the downstairs rooms. The snow still fell, and it was bitterly cold.
Fran, when she got up, put another log on the fire and poked it a bit, then made breakfast for Penny and herself. It wasn’t long after she finished cooking breakfast that she heard the smoke detector scream in the living room. With her heart in her throat, she ran to see a small throw rug on fire near the fireplace. Penny, who had been outside to retrieve the newspaper, quickly ran inside and grabbed the extinguisher and made quick work of the blaze, and doused the flames before they could do much damage.
“Wow, Mama!” Fran exclaimed, visibly shaken. “You are good with a fire extinguisher.”
“I learned from the best, child,” answered Penny. Her thoughts went to Jake. He had taught her how to use the extinguisher without panic, and the lessons paid off that day. “Your daddy was the best fireman I knew…” Her voice faded as she choked back tears.
“I know, Mama,” said Fran softly and held back tears. Quickly, Fran cleaned up the ash and mess from the fire and placed a throw rug over the burned mark on the floor. “I need to go finish breakfast in the kitchen. Are you okay in here?”
“Yes, honey,” Penny replied. “I’ll be in my rocking chair.” Penny loved the rocker Fran had bought her for her last birthday, but until that day, it had been outside. After she noticed Penny’s horrible cough, Fran brought the chair inside. Fran turned to leave for the kitchen when the smoke alarm sounded yet again! Penny hopped up as quickly as she could to put the flames out when the fire licked at her nightclothes and ignited.
“Mama! Go jump in the shower!” Fran screamed at her mother, who was now in full panic mode. Obediently, she ran to the bathroom on the bottom floor and got into a cold shower. Before long, the flames were out, and Penny was safe, no worse for the wear. But she was lucky this time. The fire was too close for comfort. Fran had already tamped the flames down by the time Penny reappeared.
“Well, that won’t happen a third time, I can tell you that, child,” Penny stated. “I can’t push my luck anymore. We’ll just have to be a little chilly is all.”
Fran nodded as she hugged her mother. “I’m so happy you didn’t argue with me, Mama. It’s good you weren’t hurt,” Fran shuddered. Just as quickly as she cleaned up the last mess, she had this one swept up and mopped as though nothing had happened. Except for the odor of burnt wood and fabric, no evidence of fire remained.
Charlie returned home from work a few hours after the fire. The scent of smoke and char still hung heavy in the air. “What have you two been up to?”
“Oh,” Fran said, “We’ve had some excitement here. The fireplace spit an ember onto the floor, and it went up quick,” she explained. “Mama got the fire extinguisher and put that one out quickly.” She looked at Penny and swallowed hard. “Then another ember jumped from the hearth onto the throw rug I put over the first burn marks, and Mama’s nightclothes caught fire. She had to get into the shower to douse the flames. It was frightening!”
Charlie noticed she trembled as she told the story, and his face turned ghost white. “Oh, Frannie, I’m so sorry. I’m the one who started that fire this morning. What if it would have happened before you got out of bed?”
Fran hugged him and kissed his cheek. “We’re okay, love. We were lucky this time, though.
“I’m so happy you’re safe,” he said, shaking his head. “I need to figure out why that thing is spitting out embers like that. I might need to upgrade the grate on the front.”
“Will that help?” Fran asked. She knew nothing about that kind of thing, but she knew Charlie was very skillful.
“It should stop embers from coming out of the hearth at all if the grate is smaller. I’ll check into it tomorrow,” he said. He knew he couldn’t risk his family, and with the bitter cold outside, they needed the fireplace.
Penny coughed, a chill shook her. “I think I’m catching your flu, Fran. I’m going to go upstairs to rest, child.”
“I’ll bring supper to you, Mama,” Fran offered, but Penny shook her head.
“I’m just going to sleep, baby girl. But I’ll have some tea if it isn’t too much trouble.”
“Of course, Mama. Right away,” Fran replied. She walked to the kitchen and put the kettle on the stove.
Fran cooked a light supper of macaroni and cheese. Afterward, Charlie cleaned the kitchen, and they both headed upstairs for some rest and time together. Penny rested in her bedroom and remembered the fire, and she missed Jake like she hadn’t in a long time.
The next morning, Fran carried some fresh tea, juice, and medicine upstairs for Penny. She was in her armchair and stared outside at the snow when Fran greeted her.
“Good morning, Mama,” she said.
Penny jumped. “You startled me, child,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” Fran apologized. “I haven’t seen you this deep in thought in a while. Thinking of Daddy again?”
Penny nodded her head. That girl could still read her like a book. “Since the fire yesterday, I’ve thought of little else. I miss him, Fran.”
She set the tray on her nightstand and sat on the bed. “I miss Daddy, too.”
Penny shook her head. “How could he sacrifice himself like that, Fran? He had a family…” Her voice faded to tears.
“That little boy did, too. I’m so proud of him, Mama.” Fran hugged her. “Not just anyone can do what he did. It takes a special soul. The fire… it just seems alive.”
Penny coughed. “Indeed, it does. Thank you for the tea, sweet pea.”
“You’re welcome. How are you feeling today?”
“I’ve been better, child. Did you make soup last night?” Penny shivered and ached with fever.
“I didn’t, but I can today. I need to take care of the animals and garden, but I’ll start the broth before I go outside.” Fran sneezed.
“Are you sure you should be going outside? You’re still not well either,” Penny objected.
“I feel guilty for letting Charlie do my chores. He works a full day and then comes home to my chores. It isn’t right.” Fran set the juice, water, and medicine on Penny’s nightstand and took the empty tray.
“You’ll be no good to either of us if you get worse. I’m sure Charlie doesn’t mind, and it won’t be forever. Let him take care of you, Fran.” Penny took two pills from the medicine bottle and closed it, popped them into her mouth, and swallowed nearly the full glass of orange juice. “Thank you for taking care of me.”
“It’s my pleasure, Mama. You’ve certainly taken care of me enough.” Fran smiled at her mother. “If you need anything, let me know, and I’ll make sure you have it.” She left the room, the tray at her side.
Charlie called Fran on his lunch break. “Hello?” she answered.
“Hey, love,” he said. “I’m going to be late tonight. Drills are running long. Is everything okay at home?”
“What time should I plan supper? Mama is still sick, so I doubt she will join us. I’m making chicken soup for her. Is that okay?”
“Honey, anything you make is perfect. I think I’ll be out around six, so you can plan for seven.”
“Thanks for letting me know, Charlie. I’ll take care of the animals today. The cows can’t wait until then.”
“Make sure you stay warm, Frannie. I don’t want you to get sicker.”
“Don’t worry. I will stay warm. Charlie?”
“I love you. Be safe.”
“Oh, I love you, too. I’ll see you soon.” Charlie blew her kisses and hung up the phone.
Fran dressed in her warm coat, slipped into her boots, and grabbed the clean bucket from the cabinet. She sliced an apple into quarters and slipped it into her pocket and walked out into the snow. It was almost too deep to open the barn door, and she made a mental note to shovel a path to it.
Missy lumbered over to Fran and nudged her hand. Fran laughed. “Hi Missy,” she said softly. She walked to Cora first and gave her half of the apple much to Missy’s dismay. The young cow mooed her displeasure, and Fran laughed. “Okay, okay, Missy,” she chuckled and held the apple out for her to take. She loved that sweet young heifer.
She tethered Missy into place and pulled her stool from under the bench and sat. Fran’s warm, soft hands gently milked her, and when she finished, she took the bucket inside. Milk from the previous day still needed to be churned and cultured, and Fran was overwhelmed. So much work piled up when one of them was ill. She sighed heavily and took the second clean bucket back to the barn for Cora.
The chickens were always simpler to care for, but the coop needed mucking. Fran simply scattered feed around the cleaner areas and collected the eggs. In the spring, most of the eggs would be allowed to hatch. For now, fresh eggs made a good breakfast, and Penny used many of them in her baking.
The soup had cooked for an hour, and the broth smelled good when Fran returned to the kitchen. She turned it off to allow the pot to cool off. Fran would pick the meat from the chicken bones and use it for a different meal. For the soup, she would use the broth, fresh vegetables from the garden, and some noodles. Nothing tasted better than chicken noodle soup during an illness. Penny would enjoy it that evening, and so too would they.
When the soup was ready, Fran filled a bowl and brought it upstairs with another cup of tea and a glass of juice for Penny. She knocked softly on the door and opened it.
“Mama? Are you awake?” she asked.
“Yes, child,” Penny answered. “Come in.”
Fran walked through the door. “I brought some soup and juice for you, Mama.” She set the tray on her nightstand and sat on the bed next to her mother. “How are you feeling?”
“I wouldn’t mind if the Reaper came for me, Fran. I feel that awful.” She groaned in pain. “Maybe I should see a doctor.”
“I’ll call him when I get downstairs, Mama. Maybe he will come out to see you tonight.” She took two more pills from the medicine bottle. “Do these help at all?”
Penny shook her head. “No, they haven’t touched the fever, and I hurt all over.” Another tight cough rattled her, and she groaned. “Please, Fran, call the doctor for me.”
“I’ll go do it now. Try to sip on the broth, Mama. I’ll be right back.”
Of all the nights for Charlie to be late, this was not a good one. She picked up the house phone and called Penny’s doctor. She suspected he might suggest bringing Penny to the ER.
“This is Penny Hutchins’ daughter Fran. She is home in bed with the flu, but she said she needs to see the doctor. Is it possible for him to make a house call tonight?”
The receptionist tapped some keys on her computer. “I can arrange for him to see her after his office hours if that’s okay? Otherwise, he is booked solid.”
“That is fine. I would bring Mama to the hospital, but my husband has the only vehicle at work. I can’t thank you enough.”
“It’s our pleasure,” the receptionist replied, and they ended the phone call.
Fran hurried up the steps to Penny’s room. “The doctor will come after his regular hours, Mama.” She sat on her mother’s bedside and felt her forehead. “I’m going to check your temperature.”
Penny shook her head. “Don’t bother. I did it an hour ago, and it was 103. It hasn’t moved all day.”
“Just hang in there, Mama. If you need me, call me. I’m not far away.” She kissed Penny’s forehead and left her room.
The doctor arrived at five-thirty that afternoon and rang the doorbell of the small farmhouse. “Come in, Dr. Miller. Mama is upstairs.” Fran led him up the steps to Penny’s bedroom. She was sleeping when Fran knocked on the door. “Come on in any way,” Fran motioned to the doctor.
Penny awakened when she heard footsteps in the room. Fran left him to examine Penny in privacy and waited downstairs for Charlie to come home.
The doctor descended the steps a half-hour later. “Fran, your mother should be in the hospital. I’m worried about secondary pneumonia in someone her age. When will your husband be home?”
She checked her watch. “Any time now. Charlie is later than usual.”
“Well, when you can bring her, I’d like to admit her right away. Just take her to the ER when your husband gets home. You shouldn’t have to wait.”
Fran was anxious. “Thank you, Dr. Miller. We’ll bring her as soon as we can.” The doctor left, and Fran paced the floor as she waited for Charlie’s return from work.
Charlie did not come home until almost seven that evening. He was tired and hungry, and he only wanted to have supper and go to bed. He hung his coat on the newel post on the stairs and flopped into his recliner. Fran heard him downstairs and ran to meet him.
“Hi, love,” he said. “You’re a sight—”
“Charlie, we need to go. Mama needs to go to the hospital,” she interrupted him. “The doctor was here earlier. They are waiting for her.”
“Why didn’t you call me earlier?” he asked. “I could have come home if I had known you needed me, darling!” Adrenaline took him over, and he rushed upstairs to Penny’s bedroom, Fran was on his heels.
“Mama, we’re going to take you to the hospital like Dr. Miller wanted,” Fran told her.
She nodded her head weakly. “Let me feed the chickens first…” she said. “The wolves will eat them.”
Charlie looked at Fran. “We need to go now. She’s hallucinating.” Gently, he lifted Penny from her bed and carried her down the steps and to the garage. When he got her buckled in, they discovered a problem. With Penny in the passenger seat, there was no room for Fran. The pickup was only a two-seater. “Can you drive the truck, Frannie?”
Fran relied upon carpools for work before the wedding. They hadn’t owned a car since Jake had passed away, and Fran never learned to drive. “I can’t drive at all, Charlie. You need to take her. I’ll ride in the back.”
“Darling, no. You’re still sick yourself. I’ll take her and call you.” He got into the pickup and started the engine, opened the garage door, and put the truck in gear.
“Call me, Charlie. I love you. The doctor said to bring her to the ER.” She blew him a kiss, and he nodded.
“I love you, Frannie,” he replied. He pulled out from the driveway and onto the street, headed for the hospital.
A few hours later, he called Fran. “They still don’t have her in a room, love. I guess her doctor didn’t do the paperwork, and she’s still here, but they have her on oxygen and an IV drip. She’s in good hands.”
Fran had been pacing the floor since he left with Penny, worried sick. “How is she doing?”
“She is sleeping right now. She insisted that I go home, that she is fine. Should I leave her?” Charlie asked.
“Come get me and drop me off. I’ll sit with Mama, and you can rest for work. I need to stay with her.” Fran wrung her hands nervously. Her mother hadn’t been this sick since her father had died, and she was worried.
“I’m on my way, love.”
Twenty minutes later, Charlie pulled up outside the front door of the house. Fran was waiting for him, ready to go. She ran to the truck as safely as she could in the snow and got in the passenger side. “How was she when you left, Charlie?”
“Resting comfortably. I think the nurses were almost ready to move her, so we’ll have to find out if they did. Are you sure you want to stay with her, love? You’re barely over this yourself.”
“I’m all she has, Charlie. I have to.” He nodded his head and drove.
When they returned to the hospital, Penny had been brought to a room, hooked up to monitors, IV fluids, and oxygen. The sight of her frightened Fran, and she trembled in Charlie’s arms. “This doesn’t look good,” she wept.
“Oh honey, I think she’s going to be fine. She is right where she needs to be. But Frannie, I am tired and hungry. If you’re sure you want to stay with her overnight, I will leave you here. Call me in the morning when you have some news, okay?” He kissed her tenderly.
Fran nodded. “I’ll call as soon as I know something. The soup is in the fridge, and I cared for the animals tonight. Get some rest. I love you, Charlie.”
“I’ll miss you tonight. I love you, too.” Charlie kissed her again and left the hospital. Fran curled up in a chair by Penny’s bedside and kept vigil in her room.
The doctor woke Fran the next morning when he came to examine Penny. “Fran, she’s doing well. Her lungs are clear. We’re just trying to control the fever at this point. I’m going to start her on antibiotics just in case we’re dealing with something other than just the flu, for which she tested positive. Do you have any questions for me?”
“When can she go home?” Without Fran at the house, the animals would suffer.
“Probably tomorrow if the fever reduces. I will check on your mother after my office hours tonight and make the final decision.”
Fran nodded. “Thank you, doctor.”
About an hour later, Penny awakened in horror to see her daughter asleep in a chair. She reached to touch Fran’s hand.
“Have you been here all night, child?”
Fran nodded. “Yes, Mama. I couldn’t leave you here alone.”
“Sweet pea, you have Charlie and the animals to think of, not me. Go home and get some good sleep, Fran.”
“But Mama,” Fran objected, “I’m all you have.”
“You are Charlie’s wife first, child. You need to be with him.” Penny patted her hand. “I’m going to be okay. I’m worried about you.”
“I’m alright,” Fran assured her. “Besides, Charlie has the truck until after work. I’m stuck until then. How do you feel?”
“Still rotten, Fran. I hope they figure out what’s going on. I don’t recall ever being this sick.” Penny groaned and rested her head back on her pillow.
“Just rest, Mama. I’m here for you.” Fran curled up in her chair and watched the snow as it fell outside, thankful they were warm and safe. But she missed Charlie.
Charlie called Fran on his lunch break to check on his family. She answered her cell sleepily.
“Hey, my love,” he said. “How’s your mama?”
“She’s still pretty sick. But she wants me to go back home tonight. She has a point, Charlie. You need me. The animals need me. I should take my place in our home.” She noticed the snow had stopped, though the sky was still overcast and threatened storms.
“I will get you on my way home, then. I missed you last night, honey. And yes, your mama is right. Missy and Cora still give milk even if no one is home to take care of their bounty.”
“I’ll let her know then. I can’t wait to see you,” she whispered so she would not wake Penny. “When can I expect you?”
“I work until two, so I will be at the hospital around two-thirty,” he replied. His voice lowered, almost whispered. “We will have the house to ourselves.”
Fran blushed as though Penny could hear him. “After I finish my chores,” she whispered back. “But only if you help me.”
Charlie sat up in his chair, not expecting a serious answer to his flirtation. “Done!” he exclaimed. “I just noticed the time, sweetie. I have to get back to work. I’ll see you soon, love.”
“I will wait for you,” she said. “I love you, Charlie.”
“I love you, too,” he answered and ended the call.
The nurse came in to check Penny shortly after and was pleased to see her fever broken. She turned to Fran. “Are you comfortable, hon? Have you had anything to eat today?”
She shook her head. “No, I haven’t eaten since I got here last night. My husband is coming soon to bring me home.”
“Very well. The doctor will be pleased to see her progress.”
“She still was feeling pretty sick earlier,” Fran said.
“Well, her progress is mostly on paper right now. Her temp is normal, there is no secondary infection, and her lungs are clear. Eventually, she will feel better.” She patted Fran’s hand. “Don’t worry about her. She is where she should be.”
“Thank you,” Fran replied. The nurse left the room.
Penny and Fran were both asleep when Charlie entered the hospital room. He walked to his wife and kissed her cheek, and she opened her eyes. “Hi, love,” he said softly.
“Charlie!” she exclaimed. She jumped out of her chair and hugged him. “Oh, how I’ve missed you.”
“I missed you too. How is your mama doing?”
“She has been improving, though she doesn’t feel well. This morning, the doctor thought she might be able to come home tomorrow, but he hasn’t been back. Chances are, he won’t before we leave here. He does have office hours after all.” She kissed his cheek.
“That sounds like good news!” He looked at Penny. “She looks better, love. Her color is better.”
Fran nodded. “I agree. The nurse told me her progress was mostly numbers. Normal temperature, no infection, her lungs are clear.”
“Bringing her here was the right choice. But now it’s time to go home. Missy, Cora, and I need you.” He leaned closer to her and whispered, “I need you most of all.”
Fran blushed but smiled at him. “Let me wake her. She’s been sleeping all morning.” She reached to touch Penny’s hand, and she awakened gently. “Mama?”
Penny’s eyes opened and focused on Fran’s face. “Oh, Charlie is here!” She smiled at her son-in-law. “Are you taking my sweet Fran from me, I hope? She needs to be home with you, son.”
Charlie nodded. “I am. And when it’s time for you to go back home, I’ll be here to get you.”
“Good enough, Charlie,” she said and laid her head back on her pillow. “You two go on, now. This old lady will be okay.”
Fran kissed Penny’s forehead. “I’ll keep in touch with your doctor, Mama. Rest well. I love you.”
“I love you, child. Get some rest, Fran.” They waved as they left her room.
That evening, when Fran and Charlie finished their chores, and they had eaten, they cuddled in bed together. The weather was cold, but the snow had stopped. Charlie looked at his wife and smiled at her.
“It’s good to have you home tonight,” he said softly. “I missed you.”
“It feels good to stretch out and relax,” she sighed. “But I am worried about Mama.”
“Aww, Frannie, she’s right where she needs to be, love. She has the best care in the county, all snug and warm in her hospital bed where she can recover. She will progress the same whether you were here with me or there with her, you know. When she’s home again, you can spoil her.” He kissed her cheek and caressed it.
“You’re right, Charlie, as usual.” She laid her head on his bare chest and heard his heart beating. His hand ran through her hair, and he hugged her close. “Charlie?”
“Yes, my love?”
“I think it may be time to try for that baby you promised me for Snowflake Day.”
“If you say so,” he grinned.
Two days later, Charlie pulled into the garage with Penny in the passenger seat. She was feeling better, and the danger of secondary complications had long passed. He helped her to the front door and into the house where Fran waited for them to arrive. They both shook the snow from their boots and walked into the house. Penny smiled as the familiar smell of home hit her senses.
“It is so good to be home,” she said and shivered from the cold. “But if you don’t mind, I think I’m going to take a bath and go lie down for a while. I’m better, but not well.”
“I’ll help you up the steps,” Fran offered, holding her arm to Penny. But she shook her head.
“I’m sick, but I’m not helpless sweet pea. I’ll be okay on my own.” With that, she started up the steps to the bathroom she shared with Charlie and Fran.
“I have hot water ready for her,” Fran said. “I’ll take a cup for her after she finishes her bath.” She looked at Charlie. “How are the roads?”
“Passable but icy. I’m tired of this snow and cold, and it’s only January. Spring seems a long way off when two feet of snow cover the ground.”
Spring brought something different for Fran and Penny. The garden needed to be transplanted outside. The farmer’s market would generate income for the off-season. It meant a lot of hard work, but Fran loved the springtime.
“That reminds me, I need to arrange to have the garden tilled as soon as the ground is breakable. Caleb gets busy towards mid-season, and I don’t like to wait.” Fran jotted a memo on the calendar. Caleb Bradford owned a farm just down the street, and their families swapped with each other for goods and services. In exchange for tilling their garden, Fran would supply the Bradford family with fresh eggs, cheese, preserves, and a half-dozen chicks for his three children. It was an agreed-upon arrangement that happened every year since Caleb was Fran’s age, and he was now thirty-five years old.
Charlie’s cell phone rang, and when he looked at the caller ID, it was his superior officer. “Well, this can’t be good,” he said and excused himself. Fran busied herself in the kitchen with Penny’s cup of tea. She was almost finished and ready to bring it upstairs when Charlie reappeared in the kitchen, his face sheet white. His expression frightened Fran.
“You look as though you’ve seen a ghost. What’s wrong, Charlie?”
“There is some civil unrest in Dragon Valley, and my unit deploys for nine months.” He stood in shock. “This never happens… it’s peacetime…” his voice trailed off.
Fran’s eyes filled with tears. “When?” was all she could squeak out.
“I leave in two days.” He walked to the dining room and sat in the chair, his head buried into his hands. “Fran, I’m so sorry.”
“We’re going to be okay,” she said, tears streamed down her face as she walked to him.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen. My post is permanent here.” His mind raced with all he needed to do before he left. He wrapped his arms around Fran’s waist, and she held him.
“You have to go where you’re needed, and if Dragon Valley needs you, that’s where you go, love.” She understood, even if she hated it.
“I have so much to do. Will you be okay here alone?”
Fran chuckled. “It was just Mama and me for years, baby. I will miss you, though.” He looked up at her as she stroked his hair. “This is what I get for loving a military guy.”
“Honey, I’m so sorry. I need to start making arrangements to go.” He kissed her as he walked for the door and grabbed his coat on the way. “I’ll see you tonight.”
Fran carried the tray of tea and honey upstairs to Penny and knocked softly on her door. “Mama?” she called softly.
“Come in, child. I’m decent.”
As soon as Penny saw her, she knew something was wrong. And as Fran set the tray on the nightstand, she started to cry. “Mama, Charlie is…” her voice trailed off as she sobbed.
“What? What’s the matter, sweet pea?”
“He’s being deployed to Dragon Valley. Something about civil unrest. He is going for nine months, Mama! How will I live without him that long? We’re newlyweds!”
“When does he leave, child?” Penny’s eyes held concern. Now that Fran had a husband, Penny knew she couldn’t be without him.
“Two days. What am I going to do?” Fran sobbed into her hands.
Penny sat her up and hugged her. “I’ll tell you what you’re going to do, child. You’re going to support him, stay busy, and keep yourself for him until he comes home. There will be plenty to keep both of us occupied until then.”
“I will miss him so much,” she cried. “I don’t know how I’ll manage alone.”
“The same way you’ve managed without him, Fran. Hold yourself together. Spend time with him before he goes, and make sure you give him what he needs to hold him until you see each other again.”
“Mama!” Fran blushed.
“Come on, child. You two are married and very much in love. I know what you do in that bedroom when the door is closed.” She chuckled at Fran’s extreme discomfort, reached for her hand and patted it. “It’s okay, too, just so you know. That is what married couples do.”
“But Mama!” Fran wanted to crawl under the bed and not come out.
“I’ll go stay with Dory for a couple of days. She’ll be happy to see me. You two need some private time.” Penny was adamant. “Thank you for the tea. I’ll let you know if I need you.” Penny shooed her from her room and closed the door. Fran heard the tones of a dialed phone and a muted conversation in the room, and she walked toward their bedroom.
A couple of hours later, Dory Patterson appeared at the front door, a hug for her best friend and a hearty chuckle. “Frannie, you look fantastic! How’s married life treating you?”
Fran blushed. “We’re doing great, Miss Dory,” she replied. “I guess Mama said—”
Dory smiled at her. “Yes, your mama mentioned Charlie’s deployment. Don’t you worry, Fran. We will all keep you busy while he’s gone.” Penny’s heavy footsteps descended the stairs.
“Mama, are you sure about this? You’ve just come home from the hospital this morning.”
Dory moved in and spoke. “Don’t you worry about her, sweet Frannie. My daughter is a nurse, and we will both make sure your mama gets what she needs. You worry about that man of yours.” Fran wanted to crawl under a rug and die. Did the whole neighborhood know their bedroom habits? She wondered.
“Thanks,” she squeaked out. “Mama, call me if you need anything.”
“I’ll be okay, Fran. I’ll see you before Charlie leaves.” Penny kissed her forehead, took her overnight case, and together the two ladies left the Hutchins home, leaving Fran stunned, embarrassed, but she suddenly wanted Charlie to come home.
Charlie’s alarm sounded at three o’clock, the morning he had dreaded since the phone call two days prior. Quietly, he tiptoed into the bathroom and started the shower. It wasn’t like him to get emotional, but he was not looking forward to later and anticipated tears on both sides. His shower was quick but efficient, and he stepped out to dry. The morning air was chilly, so he dried off quickly and walked into the bedroom.
Fran watched him silently as he dressed. Since Penny had left that afternoon, neither of them had left the master suite except to eat. And now, even with all of the love they could squeeze into two days, it wasn’t enough. Her heart broke as she watched him lace his boots, and a sniffle broke the silence.
“You’re awake?” he asked. “You don’t have to be up until sunrise, love.” He walked to the bed where she laid and sat on the edge.
“I know,” she said softly. “I was hoping you wouldn’t leave without saying goodbye.”
“Oh, honey, of course, I wouldn’t.” He reached for her hand and held it. “My carpool doesn’t come until five, but I was going to let you sleep for another hour.”
“I’m going to miss you,” she sniffled again. “My life is so different than it was just months ago. Now I know what I’m doing without, and I don’t like it.”
“I know it’s not ideal, honey, but I have to obey this order. It’s only nine months, and I’ll be home in your arms again.” He laid down beside her for a moment and held her. He felt her body shake with sobs. It was apparent the departure would be harder than he could have foreseen, and it grieved him.
“I know you have to go, but I don’t want you to,” she cried. “But, I’ll wait for you and count the weeks until you’re home again.”
“That’s my girl,” he said and kissed her. “Come have breakfast with me downstairs, love. Let’s eat together one last time.” She sniffled and put her nightgown and robe on and followed him down the steps.
They warmed leftover pancakes from the previous morning and sat at the dining room table but didn’t say much. The house was eerily quiet; the only sound was the clock that hung on the wall near his desk. Finally, Fran couldn’t handle the silence any longer.
“Will you have your cell with you, love?”
“Only during break times, baby. We will have sixteen-hour shifts and eight hours’ rest time per day. But I will call you as soon as I can every day.”
“I don’t care if it’s in the middle of the night, I want to hear your voice, Charlie.” She stood and hugged him close to her. “You hear me? Even if it’s three or four in the morning, call me.” She held his face between her hands and kissed him. “I love you.”
“I love you, Frannie. You have my word. I will call you when we get in tonight the first chance I have.”
“You’d better, Captain Farmer,” she cried. A horn sounded outside the house, and Fran broke into sobs.
“Oh honey, you’re okay,” he wiped the tears from her eyes and kissed her. “Please smile, Frannie. I want my last memory of you to be happy, love.”
Fran pasted her worst fake smile and tried to laugh. “I love you, Charlie. Come home safely to me.”
“I love you, my sweet Frannie. I’ll call you soon.” He grabbed his hat from the side table in the living room where he had set it, took his duffle bag, and opened the door. She followed him onto the porch and watched him walk into the snow as it fell from the sky. Charlie blew kisses before he got into the car and waved as they drove away.
Up Next: Chapter Three, Generation One
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