Two Weeks Later
Fran returned to the market for the first time since Penny’s death on a late summer morning. The plants still produced beautiful vegetables and fruits, but instead of a stand full of fresh produce, jars of preserves and jams took nearly half of the display. In the weeks before and after Penny’s death, when no one brought their bounty to market, it was Fran’s only choice. Now she hoped the demand for preserves and jams was as high as it was for the fresh produce.
That morning, she had a cup of coffee from home and was setting up her display when Sunny appeared beside her. “Good morning, Fran. Caleb and I were so sorry to hear of your mama’s passing.”
Fran swallowed hard. “Thanks, Sun. It’s been a hard road back to normal since she passed away.”
Sunny had a fresh blueberry muffin in her hands, wrapped and ready for Fran. “I baked a fresh batch this morning and kept my best one for you. Enjoy it with your coffee before we get started.”
“Thank you, Sun. It looks delicious!” She opened a jar of fruit preserves, spread some onto the muffin, and took a bite. Since she now had an opened jar, she decided to use it for samples, so Fran doled some into a cup with a butter knife along with some crackers she brought for lunch and set the preserves out on display.
Throughout the morning, one by one, the other vendors approached Fran to express their condolences. And one by one, she thanked them for the generous gifts that saved her beloved farm. At the end of the day, she had a fistful of cash, an empty produce display, and just a few jars of preserves left. She left the market feeling better than she had in months, confident and very relieved.
Charlie was already home and had the cows and chickens tended when she walked through the front door, tired but happy. She walked to the sitting room and kicked her shoes off, stripped naked, and walked into the shower on the first floor. Charlie followed her in, intrigued about her day.
“Hey, love,” he greeted her, and she jumped.
“You startled me!” she laughed. “Oh, Charlie, it’s so good to be back to normal. What a day.”
“What happened, my Frannie?”
“Everything good! My day started with a fresh muffin from Sunny. Then every single vendor at the market made their way over to express their condolences. I had a chance to thank everyone who blessed us. And to top it off, I sold out of almost everything!” She turned the water off and stepped out of the shower. “I did well today. I can’t complain.”
“I have good news, too,” Charlie beamed. “I begin flight training next week. I have a big promotion coming up, and a nice raise to go with it.”
Fran didn’t care that she was naked. She didn’t care that she was still soaking wet. But she was so excited to hear Charlie’s good news she squealed and nearly jumped into his arms. “This is wonderful news!” She covered his face in kisses.
“Wow, Frannie,” Charlie laughed. “If you keep that up, we might not get to supper tonight.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I’m taking you to the bistro. Now, it’s nothing fancy, but I want to celebrate us tonight. We haven’t spoiled each other for a long time.”
Fran wrinkled her nose. “Ordinarily, I’d say no. But we’re in decent shape right now. We can splurge just a little.” She hung her arms around his neck and kissed him again. “What should I wear?”
He laughed uncomfortably. “Well, not that.” He brushed a wet, curly strand of hair out of her face and kissed her. “Whatever you wear, you will be beautiful, my darling.” He picked her up amid a flurry of laughter and carried her up the steps to their bedroom.
An hour later, they were ready for supper at the bistro. Charlie drove to the downtown restaurant and parked the truck outside. Arm in arm, they walked in and were seated immediately.
“The last time we were here was our first anniversary, Charlie,” Frannie said. “It doesn’t look a bit different, either.” They were seated by the fireplace though there was no fire within. The table was cozy and comfortable. When the waiter appeared, they both ordered sweet tea, which gave them time to peruse the menu.
Fran’s eyes sparkled in the dim lighting of the dining room, and she looked beautiful to Charlie. He took her hand and kissed it. “You realize that, with this raise, I’ll be making enough to start saving some money back for our procedure. it will still take some time to save up twenty-five thousand simoleons, but we’ll be on our way.” It was his priority, his all-consuming desire.
With all that had transpired over the past months, Fran had almost forgotten about the procedure. But she nodded her head. “It will take a very long time to save, but we’re good. Missy and Moo get to stay, the chickens and that ill-tempered rooster get to stay. And before winter, I’ll see if I can find an apiarist who will either take the bees or sell us a new box. They’re valuable to me on the farm, and I’d like to keep them if possible.”
Charlie watched her as she talked about the farm. He knew how much she loved it and was so happy things had turned around for her. The look on his face was sweet, and she reached to caress it. “My goodness, Frannie, you are beautiful,” he said and nuzzled his face into her hand.
She blushed. “What are you thinking, Charlie? I’ve done all the talking.”
“I’m just watching you, honey. You’re so happy, and it’s good to see you like this.” He kissed her hand. “I’m enjoying you right now, and I love it.”
“I know I should be sad. But I haven’t felt this happy in a long time.”
“Frannie, grief will be there for a while. But embrace the happy times when they happen. You have great memories of your mama. She would love to see you happy.”
“You’re right, Charlie. I mean, I do miss her. For a long time, it was just her and me. But it gives me comfort knowing she’s not suffering anymore, that she’s with my daddy.”
Charlie smiled at her. “I love you, darling. And someday, you will continue your family legacy. Giving you the baby you desire is my ultimate goal, Frannie. I won’t stop until you have that. Until we have it together.”
She wiped a tear from her eyes. “I love you so much, Charlie.”
Their tender moment was interrupted when the waiter brought their meals. They sat and enjoyed them, sharing bites, laughing, and having fun. It was the first time since Penny’s illness that either of them had laughed, and it felt good.
A week later, a letter arrived for Fran from a prominent attorney. It came by a carrier, and she needed to sign for it. Nervous, she opened the envelope and read the letter within. She dropped the paper on the floor, sat down, and cried. Charlie was in the kitchen and came out with a towel in his hand.
“Who was at the door?”
“Charlie…” she handed him the paper from the floor. “You’re not going to believe this.”
His lips moved as he read the letter. It was from an attorney representing the owner of the equestrian center not far from the farm. “Am I reading this correctly? What did we inherit?”
“A purebred Arabian mare. Mama never said so, Charlie. She owned a fifty percent stake in it, and the owners are surrendering their share to us. As of the first of the month, we own a horse.” She buried her head in her hands. The property was big, but with the cows, there was no room for another building.
“Where are we going to put her, Frannie?”
“I don’t know.” An expansion of the existing barn would cost thousands and time they didn’t have. “We can’t catch a break.”
“Well, things will work out somehow, love. I know they will.” He placed a hand on her shoulder. “We’ve never been let down before.”
“I hope you’re right. It is something we can’t control, something I had no idea would happen. What was Mama thinking, not letting me know?” Fran sniffled and wiped her eyes.
“I don’t know.” He kissed her forehead. “Sweetie, don’t worry. We’re going to figure this out one way or another.”
“Would you drop me off at the market this morning, love? I’m running late.” Frannie wiped her eyes and stood. “I have the truck loaded up.”
“Of course, I will. I’m going to work in the yard while I’m home today. The cow barn needs mucking, and so does the coop.” He took his keys from the bowl on the table. “Did you need help at the market today, baby?”
“Oh, no, that’s okay. The animals need care, and if that’s what you have on your list today, then you should stick with it. But thank you.”
They both got into the truck, and Charlie drove her to the market, helped her unload the boxes of produce, and carried them to her stand. Sunny Bradford greeted both of them happily.
“Good morning, Charlie, Frannie.” She studied the face of her friend and cocked her head. “Is something wrong?”
Fran shook her head. “It’s nothing.”
“It doesn’t look like nothing. How can we help?”
“Penny left us half ownership of an Arabian mare, and the other owners are relinquishing their claim to it. Next month, we will add a horse to our farm,” Charlie said. “We have nowhere to shelter her right now. It’s quite a predicament.”
Sunny wrinkled her nose. “She never told you about it, Fran? You realize what an Arabian mare is worth, don’t you?” Fran looked at her, confused. “Arabian horses are rare in Appaloosa Plains, and they are bred for speed. Chances are, she is a racehorse. She is potentially worth thousands, and any offspring she has would be, too, simply based on her pedigree.”
“You’re kidding.” Fran was stupefied.
“I’m not,” Sunny said. “You have a treasure, Fran. Did your mama have a will in place?”
Fran shook her head. “I’m not sure. She might have, but she didn’t have much to worry about.”
“It might be worth researching.” Sunny hugged her friend.
“I will thank you.” Charlie stood nearby and waited for a kiss. “Are you heading home now?”
“I am. I have a full day of chores ahead of me. Call me when you’re ready to come home, and I’ll pick you up, sweetie. Have fun!” He kissed her cheek.
“I love you!” she called to him as he turned to leave. He turned around, walked backward, and blew a kiss.
“I love you more!”
When Charlie returned home, he retrieved mail from the mailbox and set it on the desk like he did every day. But this time, there was a letter from an attorney in a downtown office addressed to Fran. He set it apart from the other mail on the desk, changed into his overalls, and went to the barn.
A few hours later, his phone rang. He worked on the chicken coop, so he set the pitchfork down and wiped his hands on his pants.
“Hi, love,” Fran greeted him. “Nearly everything has sold, so I closed my stand early. I can sit with Sunny while I wait for you, so take your time.”
“I’ll be about twenty minutes, darling. I just need to finish the coop, and I’ll be on my way.”
“I’ll be waiting!” Fran said.
When he arrived, Fran was in a much better mood than when he left her that morning. She and Sunny were chatting as he approached them, and she ran for him. “There’s my Charlie,” she said. Fran threw her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek. “I’m so happy to see you.”
Charlie smiled. “I see you are in a happy mood. Did you have a good day, love?”
“I had a great day. I only have a few jars of preserves. We only have three more days left of the market, and the season is over.” While she was happy that her days would be free, she didn’t look forward to the end of steady income. But the weather was already threatening frost for the following evening, and she had some work to do.
“Do you need help with the boxes, baby?”
“If you wouldn’t mind.” He carried the majority of them back to the truck, stacked almost too high for him to see, but he insisted.
On the drive back home, Charlie remembered the letter. “Fran, there’s a letter for you from an attorney at home.”
“Oh? Did you open it?”
“No, it’s yours. I wonder if it’s about the horse.”
Fran shook her head. “Maybe it’s about Mama’s will. If she hid the horse, she probably had a will I didn’t know about, too. Who knows what else will pop up?”
“Hopefully, only good surprises, my love. We could use a break.”
“Amen to that,” she wholeheartedly agreed.
They left the boxes in the pickup and walked together to the house. Fran’s first stop was the mail pile that sat on the desk, and she opened it carefully.
“Charlie? Can you get Tuesday next week off from work? The attorney would like us to meet with him. I hope this is good news. We can’t afford another setback.”
“I will request it, sweetie. Did he give any hints about the meeting?”
“Only that it concerns Mama’s will. I’ll be anxious until then, but I will confirm it in the morning.”
He walked to her and hugged her tightly. “I’m sure we will be okay, my love. In the meantime, how about a nice shower together?”
“Mmm, that sounds delightful!”
That Tuesday, Charlie and Fran drove to the downtown office of her mother’s lawyer, the letter clutched in her hand. Charlie looked professional in his dress uniform, and Fran wore her best dress. Both were nervous as they opened the door and checked in at the front desk.
Ten minutes later, an older gentleman appeared from a closed hallway. “Mr. and Mrs. Farmer?” They stood together, and Charlie took Fran’s arm as they approached him. He led them to his office through a maze of hallways and cubicles, sat behind his desk and motioned for them to be seated. The furniture in the office was mahogany, and the atmosphere was that of sophistication and professionalism.
There was an uncomfortable silence while he searched through the papers on his desk for the Hutchins file. Charlie took Fran’s hand, and she looked at him, worry on her face. Finally, the man spoke.
“Clifton Carrier, attorney at law,” he finally introduced himself. “You must be Penny and Jake’s daughter. You take after your mother.”
Fran nodded. “Yes.”
“Very well. I asked to meet with you because your mother had her will on file with this office. You have my condolences on her passing. She was a wonderful lady.” Fran nodded. “By now, you have been informed of the Farnam’s intentions regarding the Arabian mare. Your mother’s testament largely deals with this. Were you aware she had a life insurance policy, Mrs. Farmer?”
Fran shook her head. “No, I was not. She never disclosed any of this to me. It was quite a shock to learn about the horse.”
Cliff nodded his head. “She wished to leave this for you as a surprise and an investment. Her life insurance policy was put into place when she took partial ownership of the horse. Though you may use it for whatever purpose you desire, she intended the policy to cover her last gift to you and your husband, specifically for the building of an extension of the existing barn or construction of a new one to shelter her.”
Fran shook her head. “I don’t understand. How long has she owned this horse, Mr. Carrier?”
“Marne is seven years old, and she bought into it shortly after the dam became impregnated.” He shuffled through the paperwork. “I have the original contract here if you wish to see it.”
“Please.” Fran took the contract from him and skimmed it. “Charlie, she’s had this since before you and I reunited.” She smiled and handed the contract back to Cliff. “She had incredible foresight.”
“Why a horse, though, Fran?” Charlie was confused.
“When I was a little girl, I took riding lessons, and I always begged Mama and Daddy for a horse of my own. After Daddy died, my dream of having a horse died with him. But she must have planned it. She knew I wouldn’t be able to resist it, that I would keep it as a final gift from her.” Fran wiped a tear from her eyes. “She knew me so well.”
“Then we will use the proceeds of her insurance policy to provide for, what did you say her name was?” Charlie asked.
“Farnam’s Shiny New Penny, call name Marne. She is a thoroughbred Arabian horse of impeccable pedigree. She was bred for speed, and she is a proven winner. Her offspring will be valuable.” Cliff sat at his desk, his hands folded in front of him.
“How much was her life insurance policy?” Fran asked.
Cliff referenced the paperwork in front of him. “Ten thousand.”
Fran tapped her fingers on the desk. It would likely be just enough to build an expansion of the barn and stock it with feed for the winter. She also considered that she would need to plant some new pasture grass in the yard for the warmer months.
“Well, that will solve the problem with the barn,” she finally said after a long silence. “How do we get that going, Mr. Carrier?”
“I have the paperwork already completed. All you need to do is sign it.”
“You will take your fees from the proceeds, I assume?” Charlie asked.
“No, Penny prepaid this meeting when she arranged everything. There is nothing due from you.”
Fran looked at Charlie with wonder. “She thought of everything.”
Cliff placed the life insurance application in front of her. “Take your time to read it, if you’d like. But I assure you, Fran, that you are the sole beneficiary. It just needs your signature, and it will take two weeks for the check.”
“May I take a copy of this so that we can guarantee payment to a contractor? We don’t have money to put down as a deposit, but to finish construction before the weather turns, we’ll need to break ground soon.” Fran signed the document and slid it back to Cliff.
After everything was complete, Fran and Charlie left the office with a copy of all Penny’s paperwork. They felt confident and now looked forward to taking ownership of Marne. But Fran was quiet on the way home, lost in thought.
“What’s on your mind, love?” he asked.
“Mama. She was sneaky. This horse, you know, it fulfills a lifelong dream, Charlie. And she made sure what she bought was the best she could get. She’s a champion. It must have killed her to keep it secret from me.”
“I’ve truly never met anyone like your mama, Fran. She was one of a kind.” He reached for her hand and held it.
“That she was.”
The expansion of the barn began three days later. The contractor, who worked with Caleb Bradford, came highly recommended. The project would complete in two weeks, which would leave just a week overlap for Marne. But in the meantime, they would shelter her with Missy and Moo.
One week later, Marne arrived at the farm, and Fran was shocked. She was expecting a brown or black horse. But Marne was a palomino, and the horse was beautiful. Fran’s jaw dropped open when she saw the young mare.
“Oh wow, Charlie, look at her. She is magnificent.” She ran her hand over the horse’s back and shoulders. Marne nickered at Fran and nuzzled her. “And she’s friendly.”
“She is beautiful, that’s for sure.” Charlie inspected her. “New shoes, freshly bathed and groomed. She’s unmistakably loved. And now she’s yours, my sweet Frannie.”
“She’s ours, Charlie. I can’t wait to ride her.”
“Did they bring her tack to us?”
Fran nodded. “It’s in the garage until the guys finish the barn construction.
For the rest of the afternoon, Marne was left in the pasture to graze and run. She was used to having a much larger space to exercise, and Fran knew she wouldn’t be content without a daily ride.
Shortly before dark, Fran brought out her brushes and combs, and she thoroughly groomed Marne before she stabled her for the evening. The mare loved the attention and nickered as Fran’s capable, gentle hands groomed her. A blanket fastened around her for warmth on the upcoming chilly night, Marne was ready for her first night as a Farmer. Fran fed her a carrot from the garden and rubbed her nose, already in love with the pretty mare.
Charlie was serving the supper Fran made when she returned to the kitchen. “Oh, thank you, love,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting this.”
He smiled at her. “Well, you were busy with Marne, so I thought I’d help out. How is she settling in, Frannie?”
“She loves to be groomed. Whoever trained her was very hands-on, because she craves attention. From all I know about racehorses, they aren’t usually this friendly. She was loved.”
“What do Missy and Moo think of sharing their space?” he asked and dipped a chunk of bread into the bowl chili that sat in front of him.
“Missy doesn’t care, but Moo is fascinated with her. With every whinny, Moo looks at her. I think they’ll be fine. I’ll get up early and turn her loose in the pasture so she can graze. I believe it’s supposed to be warm tomorrow. When I finish my chores, I plan on riding her to the equestrian center and back.”
Charlie smiled. “So when is the barn scheduled for completion? I know it’s looking great. The contractor is working hard to get this finished before the first snow.”
“When he finished this afternoon, he said another six days. The frame is up, and the roof is on. He just needs to run electricity and plumbing for the water trough. He’s going to put a sensor in it so it auto-fills, and it’s no more money than not having the sensor.” Fran pushed her bowl away. “I’m full.”
“The chili was amazing, darling,” Charlie commented. “Why don’t you go relax, and I’ll clean up the kitchen?”
“At some point, Charlie, you need to stop spoiling me.”
“Never,” he replied and smiled. “Please, sweetie. Let me take care of you.”
“I’ll go check on Marne and the girls, then. I’ll meet you upstairs afterward.”
“That sounds like the best idea yet, darling.”
Up Next: Chapter Eight, Generation One
Love and Horses, A Pose Pack by Kaleeko
Missy and the Cow Barn
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