Two Weeks Later
Charlie tiptoed into the room as he heard Fran talking on the phone, her tone and demeanor telegraphing both irritation and frustration.
“I don’t care if you don’t have a moving van, Jason! You need to come get your stuff!” Fran had grown tired of arguing with Jason ten minutes earlier and now wondered if she were getting through to him at all. “You don’t live here anymore! I NEED you to MOVE OUT!”
“I’m still hoping you’ll change your mind, Fran. When can I see you? C’mon, when is your next shift?” Jason implored as he paced the floor of his empty apartment, his cell phone digging into his hand from the grip he had on it. He’d already given the landlord his notice, with his plans to move into the farmhouse with Fran. Then dead Charlie had to show up and spoil everything.
“I quit the diner yesterday, Jason. I won’t be working there anymore.” Charlie moved towards Fran, poised to speak, but she cupped her hand over the mouthpiece and waved with her free hand, gesturing Charlie to stay back and silent. “Please, Jason, I’m DONE asking and I will not beg. Either come get your stuff or it goes out to the curb as trash. You choose!”
“But, Fran—” Jason tried to interject.
“No… no buts. This is it, Jason. I mean it! You have until Sunday night!” She slammed the phone down and plopped, exhausted, on their bed. Fran buried her face into her hands and sighed. “WHAT on Earth did I see in him?”
Charlie walked up to Fran, placed his gentle hands on her shoulders, and began to massage them. “Hmm. Let’s see. He’s young. He’s handsome. And I… was dead. I can see what attracted you to him, darling, but he’s harder to get rid of than a stray cat!”
She took his hand and nuzzled her face into it. “You’ve been so understanding and patient. It couldn’t have been easy to deal with.” He walked to where she sat, took her hand, and pulled her up. He sat, then she settled into his lap, wrapped around him. She loved being this close to him.
“It doesn’t matter now, honey. We’re a family again. You’ll have help with the farm this year. We can make it bigger than it’s ever been.”
Fran groaned with displeasure. More seedlings meant more work. “Don’t forget, we’re older than we’ve ever been, too. How did Mama do it, Charlie?”
“She had to, Frannie. You were her responsibility.”
“That’s true, and our situation isn’t much different. We still need to feed our family. Are you sure we’ll be able to make ends meet without the diner job? It isn’t a problem to work a few days a week.”
“My retirement from the military won’t be as much as my salary, but they owe me some retroactive pay. If we save it, we’ll be just fine.” He brushed a lock of hair away from her face.
“Is that a sure thing? Can Dan mess it up? I know you’re retiring against his wishes.”
“Remember the village I told you about? The one where I lived right after the mission, Frannie?”
She nodded her head. “Yes.”
“I have some information about that village that Dan would rather I didn’t.”
“So, you have some leverage over him.”
“If he tries anything, he knows I could testify against him and end his career. I don’t think he’ll be that stupid, sweetie.”
Fran opened her mouth to speak, but a sudden wave of nausea swept over her. “I’m gonna be sick,” she said before she darted to the bathroom. Charlie followed her in.
“That was sudden. Are you okay?”
She knelt on the floor and held the toilet with a death grip. “I don’t think so—” she squeaked out before dropping her head into the toilet bowl and vomiting. When she finished, she flushed and rested her elbows on the seat. “I haven’t felt this sick since I was… pregnant—” She stopped short and bit her tongue, but the word still slipped out. Oh no…
Charlie felt the blood drain from his face. He hadn’t considered it could be a possibility. “Could you be, Frannie? Pregnant, that is?”
She shook her head. “No. I couldn’t be. No…”
“You don’t sound so certain.”
Fran was forty-five years old, forty-six on her next birthday. Pregnancy should have been impossible. But as she sat on the floor in their bathroom, she had a sinking feeling in her gut, a feeling which prompted another round of vomiting. Now she needed to confess to Charlie the depth of her relationship with Jason, a topic she’d hoped to avoid. What she had done would hurt him. Tears welled in her eyes. “I’m not.”
He stepped back from her and fell back against the wall. Shocked was an understatement, but he wondered why he was. “I see…” were the two words he eked out.
“I’m so sorry, Charlie…” Fran looked up at her husband, tears rolling down her cheeks.
“There’s no need to apologize, Frannie. You believed I was dead, and I know you loved him. It was a natural progression for a serious relationship like yours. You both had needs and desires…”
“But—” She blinked back tears between the waves of nausea. Ugh! I don’t feel well, and this isn’t helping.
He knelt down beside her and placed his hand on her shoulder. “No ‘buts’. I’m not going anywhere. If you’re carrying his child, Frannie, we’ll handle it. I love you. I want you to know that.”
She shook her head. “I’m not worthy of you, Charlie. This is just one more heartache you don’t deserve—”
“That’s where you’re wrong, my darling. I know I’ve put you through hell more times than I can count, but we’ve agreed to not keep score.” Charlie replied, one of his wry smiles pulling his face. It gave Fran a spark of hope that everything would be okay. Eventually.
Fran nodded her head. “I need to call Jason and tell him what’s going on. He should go with me when I see Starla.”
“I agree. IF you’re pregnant with his child, then it’s his right to know. But I’ll be here waiting for you at home when you need me.” He held his hand for her. “Do you need some help up, love?”
“Thank you.” With her hands in his, he stood up and he pulled her to her feet. “I’ll make an appointment with the doctor right now, then I’ll call him.”
“While you’re doing that, I’ll go feed the horses and check on Marne. She was stumbling a bit when I saw her last night. I’ll give Sweetie a carrot or two, as well.”
“Yes, I noticed that, too. Thank you for taking such good care of them. Sweetie missed you, you know.”
He smiled. “I missed her, too. Maybe I’ll take her for a ride to the equestrian center while you’re with Jason.”
Charlie headed to the barn while Fran dialed her doctor’s number and made the appointment. Her next phone call would be difficult, considering how she ended the previous call. She dialed Jason’s cell number. He answered before it rang one time.
“I knew it! You changed your mind, didn’t you, baby?” was his hopeful greeting.
“I need to talk to you, Jason. It’s important, but I don’t want you to read anything into it. Pick me up in an hour. I have a doctor’s appointment and I need you there with me.”
“What’s wrong? Are you okay? Did Charlie hurt you? I’ll kill him if he hurts you—”
“It’s nothing like that. I’m late. And I’ve been throwing up.”
“Late…?” Jason responded, the question clear in his voice.
“Yes, Jason, late. Like the kind of late that starts with a capital L and ends with a baby.”
“You mean—you’re pregnant?!” Jason paused for a moment. A really pregnant pause if ever there was one, Fran thought. “Oh Fran, you can’t just dump me if we’re pregnant. I want you to involve me in everything, baby.”
“Slow down a bit,” she laughed despite herself. “That’s why I have the appointment. IF I’m pregnant, you’re in my life forever, whether or not I want you there. But it changes nothing between us. I’m still married, Jason. Charlie is my soulmate and the father of my daughter.”
“But I’ll be the father of our baby.”
“Let’s not put the cart before the horse. That’s what we’ll find out from the doctor. Please don’t get so excited that you’ll be devastated if I’m not, okay?”
“When can I pick you up?” Jason ignored the last comment she made. He knew in his heart she was pregnant. She had to be. A baby with her was his heart’s desire, his last chance to hold on to her.
“In an hour. When I’m ready, I’ll meet you by the mailbox.”
“I can’t wait, Fran. I’ll be there!” As she hung up, she couldn’t fault the man for being excited. Somewhere in her soul, the thought of another baby excited her. It also terrified her.
A few minutes later, Charlie walked back into the house and shivered. “I’m not taking Sweetie anywhere. It’s already drizzling, and she gets squirrelly in the rain. Tomorrow’s another day.” He slipped his riding boots from his feet and set them by the fireplace to dry. “Is he taking you to the doctor?” he asked as he sat down in his chair.
She nodded. “He’ll be here in an hour to get me.” She walked to where he sat in his recliner. “I’m so sorry I even have to do this, Charlie. I didn’t want to hurt you.”
He held his arms open for her and she resumed her place in his lap. “Honey, we’re going to be okay, no matter what happens. I promise.” He peered out the window at the building clouds and the rain pattering against the glass. “Please be careful out there, sweetheart. It’s supposed to change to freezing rain.”
“Jason’s a skillful driver, Charlie. He’s used to snow and ice and he knows how to drive in it.” She snuggled into his arms. “Destiny had a field trip today, so she might be a little late.”
He kissed her cheek and held her close. “I’ll wait in the rain, snow or hail for that little girl, honey. It doesn’t bother me.”
“She’s okay today, but I don’t know if she’ll survive another harsh winter. She’s not a young mare anymore. I’ll make sure I put some extra hay and another blanket in her stall.”
“I hate that she’s failing. It isn’t fair…”
Charlie hugged her. “She’ll tell us when it’s time, love. Until then, we just love her and take care of her. The rest is in God’s hands.” Fran only nodded, her words choked with grief.
The rain had transitioned to sleet as Charlie watched Fran from the house. Jason pulled up to the mailbox and put the truck in park. He got out and swaggered to greet Fran, a bouquet of red roses in his hand. An ember of anger swelled deep within Charlie’s chest.
“Hello, Jason,” Fran said in a cool tone. “The flowers weren’t necessary, you know.”
“Nonsense! Of course they were! They’re not as beautiful as you, but they’re as close as I could get to perfect.” Jason took her hand and kissed it.
Fran blushed, her cheeks hot with emotion. Despite his stubbornness and Charlie’s return, she still felt twinges of love for this desperate man. “Please don’t, Jason. I’m begging you.”
“I’m just pampering the mother of my child, Fran.” He opened the truck door and helped her into the cab. “Are you comfortable, baby?”
She nodded, but huffed under her breath. “Yes.”
He closed the door and ran to his side, slipping on the accumulating ice. When he got to his feet, he opened the door and grinned. “Oops!”
Fran wanted to laugh, but she stifled the giggles by biting her tongue. “Nice move, Scott Hamilton.”
Jason smiled. “Just like old times, baby. You still love me. I can see it in your eyes.”
She couldn’t deny his words, but she wasn’t about to admit it. She shook her head. “I’m married. It can’t go further than this, Jason. You know that.”
Ten minutes later, they arrived at the doctor’s office. Jason opened the door and took her hand as they walked together. After she checked in, they sat together quietly in the waiting room. Or so Fran had hoped.
“I’m thinking of names,” Jason said. “I’m thinking Natalie for a girl or Thomas for a boy? What if it’s twins? Twins run in my family, you know. We could have a boy and a girl, or twin boys or twin girls…”
Fran closed her eyes and shook her head. “You’re getting way ahead of yourself, Jason. We don’t even know if I’m pregnant yet.”
He grinned at her. “Of course we do! You said you were late, and you spent the morning throwing up. What other evidence do you need, baby?”
She rolled her eyes. “Well, a pregnancy test would be nice so we know either way.”
Jason started to speak when the nurse called them back, an action Fran was thankful for. She took Fran’s vital signs and jotted them into her chart. “The doctor will be in soon, Mrs. Farmer.”
Jason took her hand and squeezed it. “I know you say you love Charlie, Fran, but you can’t deny you love me, too. I see it in your eyes, on your face. Baby, please think about being with me if we’re expecting my child?”
“Jason, you’re being impossible. I can’t! How many more ways can I say it—” Jason opened his mouth to speak—a soft knock sounded on the exam room door.
“Hello, Fran, long time no see.” Dr. Starla Engle said as she entered the room, a smile crossing her face. “And who is this young man?” Jason stood to shake the doctor’s hand, wearing a huge grin.
“Jason Matthews, ma’am!” he said with great enthusiasm, clasping her free hand in his. Dr. Engle shot a look over at Frannie and read desperation in her eyes.
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Matthews. And your relationship to Mrs. Farmer…?”
“Boyfriend. Father of her—”
“Ex-boyfriend…” Frannie muttered, cutting Jason off. “And, the father of the baby if I’m pregnant.”
“Ah, well. Mr. Matthews, I’m going to ask you to step outside for a few moments while I do the initial exam.”
“Out, Mr. Matthews. Per HIPAA guidelines.” Dr. Engle said, her hand gesturing toward the door.
Jason knew he was fighting a losing battle, so he stepped out of the exam room door. “I’ll be right outside when you need me, Fran—”
“OUT!!” Dr. Engle emphasized again, pushing the door shut behind him.
“Thank you, Doctor Engle,” Fran sighed with relief.
“You looked like you needed a break,” the doctor smiled. “And since when are we so formal, Fran? You and I’ve known each other too long for you to call me ‘Doctor Engle,’” she chuckled.
“I know, Starla, I know. I’m just so confused and conflicted right now, I can’t seem to think straight.”
“Well, why don’t we start with you telling me what is going on! Fran, I thought Charlie was back home?”
“He is, Starla, and I’m so beyond happy to have him home. But when I thought he had died, I met Jason down at the diner and we started dating and then…”
“You did what any sane, red-blooded woman would do. You got yourself a boyfriend. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in that, Fran. You’re only human.”
“I feel terrible, and not just for me. This affects Charlie and Jason, too.”
“You know, Fran, you can call me anytime if you just need to talk.” She patted her friend on the shoulder. “Are you ready for Hurricane Jason?” Fran nodded her head and laughed. Starla peeked her head outside the door. “We’re ready for you, Mr. Matthews.”
“Jason,” he corrected her. “Please, call me Jason.” He walked to the exam table, sat, and took Fran’s hand into his, a huge grin on his face.
“Well, let’s see if Destiny will have a brother or sister, shall we?”
Please let there be nothing, Fran prayed. Jason took her hand while Dr. Engle performed the exam.
Two sets of prayers went up; one prayed in desperation for a baby, the other prayed just the opposite with matching fervor. No one spoke a word while the three of them sat, holding their breath, staring at the ultrasound machine. “How late are you, Fran?” Starla asked.
She thought for a moment. They’d been together once, about a month before Charlie reappeared. “About three weeks? It was only one time, and it shouldn’t have happened, but—” Fran stopped and blushed. She didn’t enjoy discussing her love life with anyone, doctors included.
“That was no accident, Fran,” Jason said. “It was natural and normal for two people in love—”
“Alright, please stop, Jason.” Fran glared at him. “Is there a problem?”
“Only that I can’t find evidence of a pregnancy. Stop at the lab, and we’ll do the blood test. You can never be too cautious.” Starla scribbled a prescription on her notepad. “Start these anyway, just in case.”
Jason reached for the prescription. “When do we know the results of the blood test?”
Starla looked at the eager young man. She knew what Jason saw in Fran. She wondered how Fran could fall for someone so much younger. “A couple of days, tops. I will expedite it, how’s that?”
“Sounds good.” He reached to shake her hand while Fran relaxed on the table. Then Jason heard the sudden sound of Fran retching and rushed to her aid with a trash bin in his hand. “Are you okay, baby?”
She shook her head and retched again. A chill ran over her skin, and she groaned in discomfort. “I think I might have my answer on being sick. I feel terrible. Destiny was sick a couple of weeks ago. Maybe it’s still going around.”
Starla measured her temperature with a forehead scanner. “Your temperature has gone up two degrees since you’ve been here. Stop by the lab, anyway.” She looked at Fran’s death grip on the trash can and chuckled. “Take that with you.”
Three Days Later
Fran was resting on the sofa when the phone rang. Charlie was taking care of the horses, mucking the stalls and grooming Sweetie, and Destiny was in her room, playing with Angaloo. She reached for the handset, and the ringing ceased when she answered the call.
“Hi Fran, this is Starla. I know you already counted on this, and it shouldn’t be a surprise, but your pregnancy test was negative. Your… um…” She wasn’t sure what to say. “I know this will disappoint Jason, and maybe you.”
Relief washed over Fran, and she let out an audible sigh. “Charlie has been understanding, but I think a baby would push the boundaries of his tolerance. I’m happy, even if Jason won’t be.”
“How are you feeling?”
“I’m better, but still weak as a newborn kitten. Charlie and Destiny are taking good care of me, though.”
Starla smiled. Never had she met a couple cuter than Charlie and Fran Farmer. “I’m glad to hear it. I guess I’ll see you around, then.”
“Mmhmm,” Fran said. “Thank you, Starla.” She let her head fall backward as she hung up. She knew she needed to tell Jason, but she dreaded the phone call. He was so excited about the baby. She didn’t want to be the one to break his heart. At every turn, Jason had gotten the short stick. But this one would hurt the most. Her fingers pressed his too-familiar phone number into the keypad, but his voice mail answered. Rather than hang up, she left a message:
Jason, this is Fran. Call me when you can. I have the test results, but I’d rather tell you in person. We’ll talk soon.
Satisfied, Fran rested her head back on the sofa, covered up with an afghan, and closed her eyes to rest.
About an hour later, Charlie noticed Jason’s pickup when he parked it in the driveway. What are you doing here? He thought to himself, and hurried inside. If he was here to cause fireworks with Fran, Charlie would extinguish the punk before Jason lit them.
A heavy knock sounded at the front door. Charlie was already in the kitchen before Fran got up. “I’ll get it, love,” he yelled to her, walking faster than he was able. When she opened the front door, Charlie stood beside her. Jason was not pleased to see him with her.
“Hi Jason,” she greeted him and invited him inside.
“Hello little mama,” Jason said and stepped into the living room. He looked at Fran with love in his eyes and hope in his heart. He wanted this baby more than he realized, and he hoped she did, too. “What’s the good word?”
Fran noticed his cheerful expression and felt guilty. This will hurt you, and I don’t want to say it. “Well, I have some good news, and some bad news.”
“What’s the good news?” Charlie asked.
She turned to Charlie, his hands in hers. “I’m not pregnant.” Charlie’s smile was unmistakable, but from the corner of her eye, she saw Jason’s countenance fall.
“It’s not true,” Jason cried. Oh, please no… “It can’t be true. Fran… please…” A single tear formed in the corner of his golden brown eyes. His lip quivered. His shoulders heaved with sorrow. No…
She buried her face in her hands. The tears in his eyes tore her heart to shreds. “I’m sorry, Jason. The results are back. It was negative.”
“I see. I guess I’ll move out by Sunday.” He couldn’t have gotten worse news, and with it came the death knell of his relationship with Fran. Jason’s heart ached with unimaginable loss. “No, you know what? Keep it, all of it. This is all junk to me now.” He turned to leave, but Fran caught his arm.
“No, Fran. You’ve made your choice. You’re not carrying my baby, and it’s obvious you don’t love me. What’s the point of all this stuff,” he waved his hands for effect, “if you’re not with me to enjoy it?”
He wiped tears from his eyes. “Goodbye, Fran.”
Though this was the result she desired, she underestimated how much it would hurt to hear those words. You’re wrong, she thought. I do still love you, but I can’t have you. She took from her ears the diamond earrings he had given her, attached them to one another, and tried to hand them to Jason. “You should have these back.”
Jason pushed her hands away from him as a tear dropped onto his shirt. “You know how to wound me, woman. I bought those for you, and I’d like you to keep them.” His breath hitched as he tried to swallow his emotion. “Please, Fran. They’re no good to me.” She shook her head, but he closed her fingers around the studs and held her hands in his. “If you don’t want them, give them to Destiny when she gets older. Tell her they’re from me. But I don’t want them back.”
“I’m so sorry, Jason. I-I never meant to hurt you.” Fran wept bitter tears. Her hands trembled with emotion. She set the earrings on the end table before she dropped them.
Jason looked at Charlie with disgust. How he despised the man who stood with her, the one she chose over him. “Yeah, well, that’s a moot point now.” Jason kicked the floor with his boot and rubbed his neck. This sucks, he thought. “I’m leaving town by next week. I have no reason to stay. Not anymore.”
“What should I tell Destiny?”
“Tell her whatever you want. I’ll miss you, and I will love you forever, sweetheart, but I can’t stay in the Plains and live in his shadow.” Jason scowled at Charlie and clenched his fist, but then relaxed it. Though he wanted to, decking him would make things worse. He sniffled and reached for the door. “Goodbye, baby. And congratulations, dead man. You win.” Jason said nothing more as he left the farmhouse.
Charlie closed the door with a gentle push. He understood the gravity of the situation. “Oh my darling, I’m so sorry,” he whispered, and kissed her forehead. He noticed as her lip quivered. Charlie held his arms open to her, and she went to him—her body trembled with emotional suffering, and he held her close to him while she sobbed.
Two Years Later
The front door of the farmhouse opened, and Charlie hobbled inside. The last steps to his chair were the longest. He clenched his teeth together—the throbbing in his leg was excruciating. The mail he gathered fell from his hand as he flopped into his recliner, his muttered curses barely audible when he bent to pick it up. “I’m getting too old for this crap.”
Fran walked from the kitchen. “What’s wrong, babe?”
A painful hiss escaped his mouth. “Oh, this stupid leg. It’s getting harder and harder to put my weight on it. I know it didn’t heal well, but I hoped to get more miles on this model before I trade it in.” He tried to chuckle, but the pain prevented his attempt at jocularity.
“What did your doctor say when you saw him?”
“It surprised him I’m still walking on it.” He grimaced in pain. “I think it’s time to talk about surgery. Or just cut the damned thing off.”
She frowned at him. “You’re not in the Army anymore, Colonel. Please don’t cuss, and especially not around Desi.”
He gave her a sheepish grin. “I’m sorry, love.”
“Will the military cover the surgery, since the injury happened in the line of duty?”
“I’m not sure, darling. I’d have to check, but I’m sure I’m the last person Dan wants to see again.”
“I don’t give a flying fig about Dan, Charlie. We need to consider what’s best for our family!”
He laughed. “You have a spunk and fire you didn’t have years ago, Frannie. It looks good on you. Dare I say it’s a little sexy?”
Fran blushed, but winked at him. “I’m a mother. When it was just me and Destiny, I learned to be assertive.”
“But I bet you still don’t know how to shoot my pistol, do you?”
She snickered. “No comment.”
He shook his head and laughed.
Days later, Charlie and Fran sat in the waiting room, scheduled for his consultation with an orthopedic surgeon. Their hands clasped together, Charlie played with the wedding ring on her finger. He wouldn’t admit he was nervous about this appointment, but he didn’t need to. The perspiration on his palms gave him away.
“Are you doing okay, babe?” Fran asked.
“No. I’m not looking forward to recovery, or the pain from it. The last time it broke, I was miserable for months.”
Her charming smile soothed his anxious heart. “But this is different. You won’t be recovering in a makeshift infirmary this time. This hospital has the equipment they need to fix it.” She laid her head on his shoulder. “And, you’ll have me to dote on you. You didn’t have that last time.”
Charlie couldn’t deny the last part was a definite perk. “I won’t be able to baby it. The therapy will be intensive so I don’t lose strength. Around the farm, I can’t afford to be off my feet forever.”
“No comment on me doting on you?”
“Well, that’ll be my favorite part.” He gave her an impish grin that made her giggle. There it is, he thought. That’s what I love to hear.
“Charles… Framer?” A nurse called out the name, a chart in her hands.
“It’s Farmer, but I’m here.” Charlie laughed. That’s a new one, he thought.
“This way, please.”
Charlie settled on an exam table and a tech set him up for an x-ray of his bad leg. When she finished, he sat up on the table and huffed the air from his lungs. He didn’t want to see the damage for himself. “The doctor will be here shortly.”
“Thank you,” he said. “Darling, I have to admit I enjoy being in a doctor’s office much better when you’re the patient.” He knew a swat was coming his way, but he also knew he deserved it. What he got instead was Fran’s contagious, trademark laughter.
“You’re still a brat.”
“Thank you. I try.” His sly smile made her laugh harder, which was for his own benefit. Her giggles made him happy, and he could never hear them enough.
It wasn’t long before the doctor entered the room and introduced himself. “I’m Dr. Owens. I’ve looked at your x-ray.” The doctor gazed at Charlie’s chart and set it down on the desk. “You stated this is a military injury. How did you break it?”
“My plane went down during a mission. Somehow, I survived the crash, but my leg didn’t fare so well.”
“You survived a plane crash, and the only injury you had was a broken leg?”
Charlie nodded. “Yes. I mean, I had some burns from jet fuel, but that was nothing compared to the leg.”
“Well, to be honest, Charlie, I don’t know how you are walking on this.” He stuck the x-ray image on the backlit screen and pointed to the bone. The bones didn’t contact, save for a centimeter or two. “You shouldn’t bear weight on this until we can schedule you for surgery. If you can’t manage crutches, we can arrange for a wheelchair.”
This wasn’t good news for Charlie or Fran. With him off his feet, her workload around the farm doubled. “I’ll see if I can manage crutches. Our home can’t accommodate a wheelchair.”
“Let’s try to get this scheduled for early next month. The nurse will get you set up for testing and preparation.”
“We own and operate a small farm. How long is the recovery time?” Charlie asked. He felt awful to stick a full summer of gardening and market on her shoulders while he recovered.
“You can expect to be on crutches for at least three months. Your physical therapy will coincide with that, though you might end it sooner if you’re regimented and faithful with it.”
Charlie gazed at Fran. “Can we afford for me to be out of commission that long?”
Dr. Owens looked at both Charlie and Fran. “Let me put it this way, Charlie. Adding strain on an already-compromised bone puts you at risk for greater injury and more needless pain, not to mention more time away from your work on the farm.”
“Then, let’s do this.” Fran said. She reached for Charlie’s hand and squeezed it. “What do you think, Charlie?”
He shrugged. “I guess I have no choice. We’ll schedule everything on our way out.”
“You’ve made a wise decision, folks. I know it’s not ideal, but I will fix that leg. It’s a guarantee.” Dr. Owens shook Charlie’s hand with a firm, almost painful grip.
“Thank you, doc,” Fran said.
“Check with the nurse before you leave. She’ll get the process underway. And I’ll make sure you have a pair of crutches before you leave this office. You are not to bear any weight on that leg.”
“Sounds good.” Charlie grimaced at the thought. He would need to visit the base to consult with Dan about coverage. That was one chore he dreaded.
A couple of days later, Charlie parked his pickup in the “Visitor” area of the military base. He tucked all his paperwork from the hospital into a folder, which he carried inside a satchel. Still awkward on his crutches, he fumbled with the bag that crossed his body and sat on his left hip. “Oh, these freaking sticks!” he muttered under his breath. “I’m too old for this.” When he coordinated his crutches with the satchel, he made his way from the parking lot to the administration offices.
Maddy squealed when Charlie approached her desk. “Hiya Colonel!” she said, and hugged him. “What happened to your leg?”
Charlie smiled at the warm welcome, but grimaced in pain. “This is the injury from the crash. The x-ray looks bad, which is why I needed to see Dan. I have some questions about coverage.”
“Oh!” Maddy exclaimed. “You poor man. Haven’t you been through enough?”
Charlie laughed. “You know, Maddy, I ask myself that question every day!”
“I’ll let General Rhoades know you’re here, Colonel.”
Moments later, Dan emerged from his office. Farmer was the last person on Earth he wished to see. “Colonel Farmer. Good to see you.” Dan gritted his teeth and hoped his greeting at least sounded sincere.
“General,” he nodded. “Likewise.” Charlie’s answer was curt, but cordial. Being sullen wouldn’t help his cause, and he needed Dan’s advice and help.
“Step into my office.” Dan allowed Charlie to enter first and followed him inside. When the men sat at the desk, Dan folded his hands on his desk and swallowed hard. “What can I do for you, Farmer?”
Charlie wiped the perspiration from his palms. “I have a question, perhaps a request regarding medical coverage for an upcoming surgery. The injury occurred in the line of duty.”
Dan tapped a few buttons on his computer and pulled up Charlie’s personnel file. “Is it your shoulder, Charlie?”
He shook his head, looked at the crutches, and wondered if Dan was serious. “Um, no. I can’t walk on my right leg anymore. It broke when the plane crashed. I’m sure you recall—”
“Oh yes, your leg.” Dan paged through more of Charlie’s records and scratched his chin. “It seems the Army doesn’t recognize your leg injury as being service-connected. Since you did not wait for the recon mission to rescue you, the Army considered you detached.”
Charlie was furious. “Detached? Let me see that!” He reached for the computer monitor to spin the display, but Dan blocked his action.
“I’m not joking, Colonel. It’s right here.” He turned the monitor around and pointed to the entry. “This comes from the top brass. See the signature? Not mine. I can’t overrule this decision. I’m sorry.”
Charlie studied the screen and slumped in his chair. “I’m stuck footing the bill for this? Dan, you know this isn’t right! I’ve given the Army thirty years of my life, and this is my thanks?!”
“I’m sorry, Colonel. My hands are tied. You may appeal, but you know that will take years. It doesn’t look like you have that kind of time, my friend.”
Charlie clenched his teeth together. He knew Dan was no friend, so his intimation of friendship was an insult. “How am I going to afford this?”
“Well, the hospital works with impoverished folks—”
“We are NOT impoverished! And it’s shameful how the Army is treating me after all my years of dedication and service!” Charlie shook his head and rubbed his temples. Fran wouldn’t like what he had to tell her.
“I wish I could do something—”
“No, you don’t, Dan. I know you’re loving this, so don’t patronize me, and let’s not pretend that we’re buddies.”
“I never did like you, Farmer. Too bad you didn’t stay in. You could have been out of my hair, and I, from yours.”
Charlie’s blood boiled. He knew the reason Dan wanted him out of Appaloosa Plains. “Well, I didn’t. Just remember, Dan. You have reason to be cordial to me. I never had an interest in pursuing your ‘mistake,’ but I can change my mind.”
“Is that a threat, Farmer?” Dan tensed his muscles, his fists clenched and ready to strike at a moment’s notice.
“Let’s just say I’m reminding you. Remember, Dan. I’m a civilian. Or to use your term, ‘detached.’” Charlie maneuvered his crutches and stood. “You don’t have to show me out. I know my way.”
Dan said nothing more, but watched as Charlie hobbled from his office.
Destiny watched out of the front door, her little face pressed to the glass. “Where’s Daddy?”
“He’ll be home soon, Sweet Pea. He had something to do at work.” Fran dusted the end tables in the sitting room.
“Work?” She cocked her head. “Daddy doesn’t work anymore, Mama.”
“Well,” Fran nodded. “The base, Desi. He had some business there.” Destiny was fidgety and excited. She knew their daughter had something on her mind. “What’s wrong, honey?”
“I have a surprise!” she sang. “But I wanna wait for Daddy.”
“What kind of surprise?” Fran asked, but Destiny shook her head and giggled.
“Mama! I’m not telling!” She stood with her hands on her hips and huffed with exasperation. She looked so grown up that Fran laughed out loud. “What’s so funny?”
“You are, you silly girl.” Fran walked to Destiny and booped her on the nose. “I can’t wait to hear your surprise.”
“Me too!” She turned her attention back to the front door. “When’s Daddy coming home?”
Fran rolled her eyes. That child has a one-track mind. “He’ll be home soon. Do you have homework?”
“Then why don’t you go play upstairs?”
“Do I have to, Mama?”
Fran stood with her hands on her hips and the dust cloth in her hand. “Yes, you do. You don’t want me to tickle you, do you?” A wry smile pulled her face, and Destiny’s squeals and giggles filled the bottom floor of the house.
“No!!” Her little feet couldn’t carry her up the stairs fast enough, with Fran on her heels to the bottom step. She collapsed into Charlie’s recliner and smiled.
An hour later, Charlie’s slow ascent into the house ended with a huff and a dropped crutch. “Damn!” he cursed, propped up against the house to retrieve it from the porch. Fran stood at the door, about to help him, when he finally grasped it.
“I heard that, Colonel,” she smiled. “It’s okay. She’s upstairs.”
“I’m sorry, love. We need to talk. I didn’t get good news from Dan.”
She studied his face. His expression concerned her. “What’s wrong?”
He hobbled to his chair and sat down harder than he intended. “We’re on the hook for this surgery, Frannie. The Army doesn’t consider the leg injury to be service-connected.”
Her smile faded. “What? That’s ridiculous!”
“I know. I can appeal it, but we don’t have time to wait, especially since the doctor said it’s urgent.” He held his arms open for her, and she snuggled into his lap. “We have some in our savings we meant for a rainy day. I don’t suppose it gets rainier than this.”
She rested her head on his good shoulder. “Are we ever going to catch a break, Charlie? I mean, really. I’m tired of struggling.”
“We should have a good season if we can bring it all to market. But that’s a lot of strain on you, darling.” He buried his face in her hair and took a deep breath. Her fiery red mane smelled of strawberries, and he loved it.
“Well, we have an option, but I’m not sure how viable it is.” Her gaze shifted to the stairwell. “I can keep Destiny out of school next year and homeschool her so she can help me at the market and in the garden. She isn’t too young to learn hard work.”
Charlie pulled back from her. “She’s only seven, Fran.”
“I know. I hate to do it. She will miss her friends…”
“Oh, sweetheart. There has to be another way.”
“I can’t see how, Charlie. This is worse than getting the news about the surgery.”
“Mama?” a faded voice from upstairs called. “Is Daddy—?” She stopped at the top of the steps and saw Charlie’s head in her view. “Daddy!” Her little feet ran down the steps as quickly as she could go, and she jumped into his lap with Fran.
Fran caught her mid-jump, though the impact still made Charlie wince with pain. “Sweet Pea, you need to be careful with Daddy, okay?”
Destiny stopped her giggles for a moment, looked into Charlie’s eyes, and smiled. “I’m sorry, Daddy.”
“It’s okay, sweetheart,” Charlie said. His lap, and his heart, were full.
“So, Destiny, what is it you wanted to tell me and Daddy?” Fran kissed her cheek and the giggles resumed.
“I was in music class today, and Miss Thompson from chapel is my teacher. She wants me to sing a solo at the chapel, Mama!”
“Really?” Fran had heard Destiny sing along to her favorite songs on the radio, but she never paid much attention. It was something Fran did when she was Destiny’s age, but she couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. “This Sunday?”
“Nuh uh, but soon! I’m so excited!”
“I’ll have to call Miss Thompson and find out details, then.”
“She said something about seeing you soon.” And then Fran remembered—parent-teacher meetings!
“Oh, drat! Charlie, we have to go to the school tonight to meet her teachers. Will you be okay to walk?”
“I should be. Who’s going to watch the half-pint?” Destiny giggled harder. She loved that nickname.
“I can’t wait to be a full pint!”
“It’s coming, Destiny,” Charlie laughed. Sooner than I want it to.
Sunny and Caleb took Destiny while Fran and Charlie attended parent-teacher meetings. Fran looked forward to meeting with Sara Thompson, the school music teacher, and children’s choir director at the small chapel where they attended services. They sat outside the music room while the teacher finished with another couple. Fran fiddled with her hair.
“Why are you nervous, Fran? This should be fun, not a chore. She’s brilliant, and she is never a problem.”
“Something about this solo at the chapel has me uneasy. Charlie, have you heard her sing? I mean, really sing? She sings in the car to songs on the radio. But Charlie, that’s not a solo at the chapel!”
“I’m sure Sara wouldn’t want her to sing if she wasn’t good, Frannie.”
“I can’t carry a tune.”
“Well, it’s a good thing Sara didn’t ask you, then!” He prepared himself for a much-deserved swat, but she only laughed.
A few minutes later, Sara Thompson called Fran and Charlie into the music room. Though she didn’t know the Farmers that well, Destiny was one of her favorite students.
“Hi Mister an—”
“Please, call us Fran and Charlie,” Fran interrupted her. “It’s nice to meet you. Destiny talks about you and your music class all the time.”
Sara nodded her head. “Destiny is my star student. She has such a beautiful voice, and she is learning three different instruments. She’s doing well at all three of them, too.”
Charlie sat back in his chair. “Three?” This is news, he thought.
“Yes,” Sara said. “Guitar, piano, and drums. She wants to learn bass, but it’s a bit too big for her to handle. She’s quite talented, you know.”
“I didn’t know.” Fran tried to wrap her head around the new revelation. “She doesn’t talk about that stuff at home, only how much she loves your class.”
“I’d love to feature her in a solo at the chapel, but only if it’s okay with you. I’d never place her into the choir without your permission, since she’s not already in the children’s choir. She should be, though. We could use a little girl with her talent.” Sara fiddled with a ring she wore on her left hand. “Would this be okay with you?”
Fran caught Charlie’s incredulous gaze. They sat together, speechless, until Fran nodded. “I don’t see why not?”
“By your reaction to all of this, I take it you haven’t heard your daughter sing. Miss Fran, she has the voice of an angel,” Sara said. “It’s a privilege to have such a talented student. She has a bright future ahead of her, if that’s what she wants.”
Charlie shook his head. “No. She sings along with songs on the radio, but she doesn’t sing otherwise.”
“You have a tiny star, Mister Charlie. She’s going to be a big deal someday.”
Fran smiled. “She’s already a big deal. We waited twenty years for her. She’s our biggest blessing.”
Sara folded her hands and grinned. “Well, prepare yourself. Everyone will want to hear her.”
“When are you planning her solo? Charlie has surgery coming up soon, and we don’t want to miss it.”
“I haven’t scheduled her solo because I was waiting for your permission. Rehearsals are every Thursday night. I’d love for her to attend the next one, if that’s okay?”
“That’s fine with me,” Fran said. “I’ll make sure she’s there.” She took Charlie’s hand and squeezed it. “Destiny will be a very excited little girl tonight.”
“She sure will. I look forward to Thursday’s rehearsal with her.” Sara stood. “I hate to cut this short, but I have another family right after this. I love meeting with families. There’s just not enough time with each one. I love my job.”
“It shows,” Fran said. “It’s clear you love your students. I look forward to seeing you on Thursday evening.”
“Likewise, Miss Fran,” Sara said, standing at the door to her classroom. “Tell Destiny I said hello!”
“I’ll do that.” Fran placed her hand on Charlie’s back to steady him, and together they walked from the school.
Two Weeks Later
“Come on, Destiny! We can’t be late, sweetheart,” Charlie called from the bottom of the steps. He heard commotion coming from her bedroom, and Fran’s laughter from the same place.
“We’ll be down in a few minutes, babe. Desi’s hair won’t behave!” She could imagine his face—the rolling eyes, the irritated sigh, and it made her chuckle. Charlie detested being late for anything.
He decided not to yell anymore, since his pleas and bargains were doing no good to hurry his two favorite ladies along. Instead, he stood at the door, his crutches under his arms, and waited.
Five minutes later, Destiny’s pitter-patter descended the steps, her mother behind her. Both of them were recovering from a giggle fit, and Fran wiped tears from her eyes as she tried to catch her breath.
“What was going on up there, ladies?” Charlie asked.
Fran pointed to Destiny’s ponytail. “You try tucking those tendrils from her mop into that band! Oh my gosh, Charlie. I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time.”
He looked at his watch, and then at his wife. “We have to be at the chapel in thirty minutes. Doesn’t Destiny have a rehearsal before her performance?”
“No, love. All we have to do is sit. She’s as ready as she’s going to be, aren’t you, sweet pea?”
Destiny erupted into more giggles and nodded her head. “I’m so excited!”
Fran helped Charlie down the front steps with his crutches. His surgery was the following day, so he was thankful for the distraction Destiny’s singing debut would offer him. Destiny climbed into the back of Fran’s little car, Charlie rode shotgun, and Fran settled into the driver’s seat. A station that played worship music was on the radio, and Destiny sang along. It amazed Fran that she knew the words to every song she heard.
At the chapel, Fran and Charlie walked together while Destiny ran ahead. She helped him into the sanctuary, and they sat in the front row by the choir. Once they sat, Charlie breathed a sigh of relief. His bad leg, though he bore no weight on it, still throbbed. If I could have a flask in church, I would, he thought. He dreaded the upcoming surgery, but the pain relief would be well worth it. He took a handkerchief from his jacket pocket and dabbed beads of perspiration from his forehead. Fran squeezed his hand.
“Are you doing okay, love?”
Charlie nodded. “This surgery can’t happen soon enough. I’m in so much pain, it’s unbelievable.”
“I’m sorry. There’s one more day to wait, love, and you’ll be on the mend.” She squeezed his hand harder and moved closer to him.
Sunny and Caleb walked into the chapel afterward and sat behind Charlie and Fran. Caleb rested his hand on Charlie’s shoulder. “How are you feeling, old buddy?”
Charlie snickered. “I’m feeling old, buddy.” He turned around and shook Caleb’s hand. “Here for Destiny’s big solo?”
“We wouldn’t miss it for the world!” Sunny said. “If you guys haven’t really heard her sing before, you’re going to be surprised.”
Fran was annoyed, but she forced a smile. Has everyone in town heard our daughter sing but us? She wondered. “We’ve only heard her sing songs on the radio.”
“Oh, Frannie! She is amazing!” Sunny patted Fran’s hand. “Though I can understand why she is shy around you and Charlie. She doesn’t think you’ll approve of her dreams and aspirations.”
Fran knew she meant nothing by it, but hearing Sunny’s confession stung. Their daughter was afraid they wouldn’t support her? The thought bothered her as they waited, and she blinked back tears. Charlie reached for her hand and held it. The revelation hit him in the heart, too.
Thirty minutes into services, the pastor introduced Sara Thompson and the children’s choir. Sara had marked Destiny’s spot on the floor, right in front of Charlie and Fran. Destiny whispered something to her, and Sara nodded, gave her a ‘thumbs up’, and seated herself at the organ. The other children filed onto the risers and stood spaced apart. Seven children were in the choir; three boys and four girls, Destiny included.
Sara played the song the children would sing. It was one of Fran’s favorites. All the kids, except Destiny, sang the first verse of the song:
“This little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine
Oh, this little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine
Let it shine, all the time, let it shine.”
Fran saw Destiny smiling as she closed her eyes and sang the second verse by herself:
“All around the neighborhood
I’m going to let it shine
All around the neighborhood,
I’m going to let it shine
All around the neighborhood,
I’m going to let it shine.
I’m going to let it shine
Let it shine, all the time, let it shine.”
Time stood still as the words left Destiny’s mouth. The sound of her voice filled the small chapel—Fran and Charlie were flabbergasted. Sara was right. Destiny’s voice sounded angelic! They both beamed with pride at their daughter. Destiny opened her eyes and saw her parents smiling at her. She stood a little taller, raised one hand into the air in worship, and sang her best.
When service was over, Destiny ran to Fran and Charlie in the sanctuary. Her smile made them happy, and Fran kneeled to hug her.
“Desi, you were amazing today. I didn’t know what a pretty voice you have.” She hugged her daughter close to her. “I’m so proud of you, sweet pea.”
“I didn’t tell you because I thought you wouldn’t let me sing. Mama, I want to be a singer when I grow up.” Her face was serious. Destiny gave it every consideration, and she made up her mind. She wanted to be a star.
Fran sat back on her heels on the marble floor in the little chapel, her seven-year-old daughter wrapped up in her arms. “Destiny, aim for the stars,” Fran whispered into her ear. “Your daddy and I will be here, supporting and loving you all the way.”
Charlie still sat in the pew, watching his wife and daughter in a tender moment. He closed his eyes and concentrated. He wished to remember the moment for the rest of his life. Charlie knew from this point forward their lives would be different.
Destiny observed Charlie’s face, his eyes closed and in deep thought. So she walked to him and touched his cheek the way she’d seen Fran do. “Daddy?”
Her soft voice and gentle touch brought Charlie back to the present. “Yes, Desi?”
“Did you like my singing?”
His eyes popped open to see her. She wore a concerned look on her face. He held his arms open and embraced his only daughter. “I loved it, sweet pea.”
She noticed the anguish on his face and climbed up to sit on his good leg. “Do you hurt?”
Charlie nodded. “Yes, sweetheart. I hurt a lot today. Do you know what would make me feel better?”
“No, Daddy.” Destiny shook her head, her violet eyes staring into his.
“I want you to come sing songs to me while I’m in the hospital. Would you do that for me?”
A huge grin appeared on Destiny’s face, and she kissed his cheek. “Of course, Daddy. I love you!”
He hugged her close and kissed her forehead. “I love you too, Destiny.”
She slid off his knee onto her feet, and Charlie stood. Fran steadied him and called to Destiny. “Let’s go home, kiddo,” she said, took her hand, and the three of them left the chapel, their lives forever changed.
Mod The Sims
- Bully by Spladoum
- The Morning After by Spladoum
- Pomp And Circumstance by Heaven
Poses By Bee
The Sims 3 By Severinka
- Romantic Piano Poses by Addie
- Ultrasound Poses by InkWisteria
Around The Sims
ButterflySims (Site Defunct, no link)
- Hair #60 (Destiny’s Hair)
Mod The Sims
- Hospital Set by Hekate999
- Nouk’s Long Wavy Hair (Fran’s Hair) by Anubis360
Skeletal Screams Blog Site
The Sims Resource
- Blue Toilet Rug by DOT
- Lace Tablecloth 2×2 Round by Lily Of The Valley
- Little Angel (Destiny’s Dress) by Altea127
- Modern Rug 19 by Ung999
- Table For 8 by Lily Of The Valley
- Wimmie’s Romantic Wedding Church by Wimmie
Carlin, Daniel Allan Jr. “This Little Light Of Mine,” Public Domain
A special shout out and “Thank You” to Bee at Poses By Bee for creating the Child Worship pose pack especially for this chapter. You have my utmost gratitude!
As always, a heartfelt “Thank You” to my partner in greatness, Chris, for “polishing my diamonds.” Without your edits, these chapters would not be as wonderful.
Custom content and poses are not my property and are used in compliance with the TOUs.