Three Years Later
Charlie hauled the last branch, broken from a tree during an early summer storm, to the curb for collection. Across the street, preparations for the summer festival were well under way. Since the spring thaw, contractors worked to build and equip a brand new stage pavilion at the festival grounds, set to open on the first day of the summer fair. Town government approved its construction to attract tourists into Appaloosa Plains. Charlie thought it absurd to place a tourist attraction in town, and hated that it was across the street from their modest farm. Despite objections from the neighbors who lived on Pomona Promenade, the town government decided, by unanimous vote, in favor of the improvement.
Sweetie trotted to where he stood, breaking the dry limb with his boot, and she nickered at him. “Yeah, it makes no sense to me either, girl,” he chuckled and patted her neck. She nudged his shoulder, hoping for a carrot or cube of sugar. Since Marne’s passing several years ago, she needed more love and attention. Charlie was all too happy to provide it; their bond was deep.
The school bus pulled up in front of the farmhouse to drop off Destiny. It was her last day of school for the year. She didn’t bother to wave to her father; instead, she headed straight into the house. Charlie shrugged and continued to rake leaves. In the small pile of debris he’d collected, Sweetie plopped down and rolled around. He shook his head and laughed.
“You were waiting for me to rake that, weren’t you?” Charlie realized his losing battle with Sweetie, so he walked back to the barn to muck her stall.
Destiny ran through the farmhouse’s front door, her heavy footsteps alerting Fran to her arrival. “Mama!” she squealed. “Mama! You’ll never guess what!”
Fran had been working in the field and stood in the sunroom, removing her dirty work boots. “What’s wrong, Desi?” At almost fifty-two, she lacked the energy to run after a ten-year-old dynamo.
Destiny dropped her backpack at the steps and ran to the kitchen, waving a flyer printed on bright yellow paper. “Look, Mama!”
Fran walked to the sink to wash the remnants of dirt from under her fingernails. “How was your last day of school, sweet pea?”
The young girl grew impatient. “Mama!” she exclaimed with a whiny cadence. “LOOK!” With no further hesitation, she shoved the paper into Fran’s immediate line of vision. Fran wrinkled her nose at Destiny, took the paper from her with wet hands, and gazed at the text.
“A talent show?” Fran murmured under her breath. She wiped one hand on her jeans and held the flyer with the other. “When is this going on?” She scanned the paper she held, her lips moving as she read the words:
Starlight Shores Scouts To Judge Appaloosa Plains’ First Annual Talent Show. Top vocalists could win recording contracts and other cash prizes! Auditions on June 30. Talent Show Quarterfinals on July 10, Semi-Finals and Finals TBA.
“Oh…” her words faded to quiet contemplation.
Destiny hopped back and forth on her feet, her excitement nearing peak levels. “I’m gonna win it, Mama! I just know it!”
“Destiny, don’t get your hopes up so high. What if you don’t win, have you considered that? There are a lot of talented people out there.” Despite her best efforts, keeping Destiny’s feet on the ground and her head out of the clouds was a losing battle.
“Of course I haven’t! That’s because I’m gonna win, Mama. I’m a sure thing.” She reached into her backpack and pulled out her book of written songs. “I need to practice these right away!”
Fran sighed. When she told Destiny to aim for the stars, she meant when the girl was older, not the tender age of ten. “Daddy and I will talk about this tonight. Now, tell me about your last day of school! How was field day?”
Destiny shrugged her shoulders. “I dunno. It was okay, I guess.” She pulled a chair out from the dining table and sat slumped over onto it. “I don’t care about sports, Mama.”
She sat next to Destiny, took her hand, and held it. “Sweet pea, I don’t want to discourage you from doing what you love. But the talent show is a big deal, and it has real consequences. What if you win it, Desi—”
Destiny interrupted her. “I am going to win it, Mama. Sara says I have the voice of an angel, and angels never lose.”
Fran read the rest of the flyer. “The first prize is a recording contract in Starlight Shores. We can’t move there, honey. We have the farm and Sweetie to consider.”
“What about Joshua?” Fran could see her thoughts, trying to figure out how to make her inevitable win a reality. “I want this so bad, Mama. Please? I’m gonna be a star someday!”
She shook her head. “Desi, you can’t go live with Joshua. He has his own life and interests. He won’t want to care for his ten-year-old cousin, sweetheart. Your daddy and I won’t let you move to Starlight Shores by yourself, either. You’re much too young for this sort of thing.”
“But Mama…” tears filled Destiny’s eyes. “Lots of kids my age are stars.”
Fran bit her lip. If she was trying to kill her daughter’s dreams and excitement, she was a phenomenal success. “Let Daddy and me discuss it tonight, okay?” Fran knew Charlie was a pushover with Destiny and her dreams. The chances were good that he would overrule her. “Why don’t you go upstairs and practice your songs? I’d love to hear you singing while I’m cooking supper.”
The suggestion perked Destiny up a bit. “Okay.” She got up from the table and walked toward the steps.
“Don’t forget your backpack!” Fran reminded her. A frustrated huff and muttered complaint made her chuckle.
A half-hour later, Charlie came in from the barn. He opened the door to the kitchen and walked inside in sock feet. Fran made a face—he smelled of manure and dirt.
“Hi, love,” he said. “Sweetie’s stall is clean, and she’s fed.” He walked to Fran to kiss her, but she ducked out of the way.
“You stink!” she teased. “Shower first, and then we’ll talk about that kiss!”
Charlie laughed. “Since when does the aroma of horse bother you?”
“Since I’m fixing supper.” She took a slice of carrot and fed it to him; he licked her fingers and kissed her hand. “Hey!” she giggled. “You’re still filthy!”
Her laughter always made him happy. “I get my affection where I can, darling.” His impish smile made her giggle harder. “I’ll be down soon if you still need help.”
“I’ll always need your help, babe.” She set her work aside and walked to the fridge, where a whole chicken waited to be dressed and roasted. “We have something to discuss later. It involves Desi.”
“Oh? What happened?”
“Didn’t you hear? There’s a talent show this summer at the festival, complete with scouts from the big city, and our little songbird wants to take part.”
Charlie grinned. So, that’s why they built the stage, he thought. “She would win it, you know.”
Fran stopped what she was doing and looked at him. “I know. That’s what frightens me.” She sighed and rolled her eyes. “Why can’t she just love the animals like I did, Charlie? I don’t know how to deal with her lofty ambitions.”
He nodded his head in agreement, but his inward thoughts were different. He understood Destiny’s wanderlust and her desire to do things bigger than herself. It was the sole reason he joined the Army out of high school; he desired to see the world, too. “We’ll talk about it together after my shower, love. You’re right. I stink to high heaven.” He kissed her nose despite her wiggly protest; her laughter filled the bottom floor of the house. “Hold that thought, okay?”
“Okay, love.” Fran turned her attention back to meal prep. Supper wouldn’t cook itself, after all.
Charlie’s footsteps carried him up the stairwell to the shared bathroom. Destiny’s singing emanated from her bedroom and brought a smile to his face. He walked into the bathroom and locked the door that led to Destiny’s bedroom and ran the water for a shower. Then he stripped down and stepped into the warm spray. He could still hear his daughter’s cheerful songs in the next room.
Ten minutes later, he still stood under the stream of hot water, his eyes closed and daydreaming, when a sharp knock sounded on the door. “Daddy?” The sound startled him back to reality. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, sweetheart,” he called back. “I’ll be out in a minute.” He turned the shower off and stepped out onto the bath mat, careful not to drip water everywhere. He dried off and slipped into his flannel pants, unlocked the door to Destiny’s room, and walked from the bathroom. Two amethyst-colored eyes and a flaming red ponytail greeted him at the door. “Desi! What are you doing in here?”
Destiny blushed. “I thought you were sick. I didn’t hear you for a long time.” She walked to the bed, climbed up, and sat cross-legged on it. “Come sit, Daddy.” She patted the spot near her in expectation. “I want to ask you something.”
“What is it, sweetheart?” He sat on the bed near her.
“There’s gonna be a talent show at the summer fair this year. Daddy, I wanna sing in it.” She took a deep breath and sighed. “I’ll win it, you know.”
Charlie didn’t doubt what she said was true. However, he knew Fran was hesitant to allow it, so he tried to gauge her expectations. “What did your Mama say, Desi?”
“She’s gonna talk to you about it.” Destiny twiddled her thumbs and shifted her position.
“Well, we talked a little about it downstairs, but we need to talk more.” He leaned to kiss her cheek. “Why don’t you give us a little time to discuss it, and then we’ll tell you what we decide? How’s that?”
Destiny ignored his comment and sidled up next to him. “I wanna sing a song I wrote! Wanna hear it?”
“You know I’ll always listen to your songs, baby girl.” Though he loved to hear her sing, Charlie’s mind was on the kiss Fran owed him. “What’s this one about?”
“You’ll see!” she giggled. Destiny hummed the tune she had in her head, and her voice filled the bedroom. It was a song Charlie hadn’t heard before, and he sat in awe of her. Where did all this talent come from? He wondered in silence. The song’s subject was well over her age level, mature beyond her ten years. When she finished, he still sat, dazzled.
“Wow, sweet pea. You wrote that?” he asked when he regained his composure.
“Yep!” came her sweet, innocent reply. “Did you like it?”
“Where did you learn about all that stuff, sweetheart? That’s a really grown-up song.” It was a song about love gone wrong, a topic she should have known nothing about at her age. So much for keeping her a child, he thought to himself.
“You hated it, didn’t you?” Her expression changed, and for a moment, he thought she might cry.
“No, just the opposite, Desi. Your song is amazing. If you sing it at the show, you’ll win it.”
Her ear-to-ear grin returned. “I can’t wait to get a record contract, Daddy! I’m gonna be a BIG star!”
Charlie didn’t know how to react. He knew Fran’s opinion of the talent show, but he also believed that discouraging Destiny was the wrong move to make. Instead of uttering a word, he held his arms open for his young daughter, and he hugged her.
Later that evening, Charlie laid in bed reading a book. Fran walked from the bathroom, turned out the light, and padded toward the bed. She wore a troubled look, but Charlie didn’t need to ask why. A heated discussion between her and Destiny had her emotions worn to the nubs. He set his book down on his chest as she flopped onto the bed, very near to tears. Her shoulders heaved, trying to stifle the sob she’d fought all day.
“Things aren’t any better with Desi, are they, darling?” He picked his book up again and closed it. It didn’t matter that he’d lost his place. He set it on his nightstand with his reading glasses and embraced his wife.
A lone sob shook the bed—silent heartbreak worn on her face. “No…” Charlie felt two more solid rumbles and then heard her ragged inhalation. Her voice caught in her throat. On her exhale, more sobs reverberated until she released all the air in her lungs. He heard nothing more from her.
“Frannie?” He shook her shoulders, hoping she hadn’t stopped breathing altogether. But her breath came in small gulps, gasping like a fish out of water. Her weeping seemed less dramatic, but he still needed confirmation she was alright. With a gentle touch, he rolled her onto her back. Fran opened her eyes and met his. This started the sobs anew, and she rolled toward him, curled into the fetal position. “Baby, what happened?” He held her close to him and kissed her forehead. He hadn’t seen her this upset in a long time.
Fran’s weeping subsided long enough to squeak out three words: “She hates me.” She buried her face in Charlie’s chest and wept. “I never expected to hear her say those words to me, Charlie. She broke me.”
“Would you like me to talk to her? Your feelings matter, and she can’t play with them like that.” Charlie stroked her cheek and brushed damp locks of hair from her face.
She pulled away from his embrace for a moment and shook her head. “No, she’s just angry with me. I told her she’s too young to sing in this talent show. And I know you’ll probably overrule me, so all of this anger is for nothing…”
Fran’s words cut Charlie to the heart. “You don’t think I’ll support you on this, Frannie?”
“Where Destiny is concerned, most times, you don’t. I know you want to encourage her, but I…” Her broken expression destroyed him. “I’m always the bad guy. The one who crushes her dreams, the one who tells her she can’t…” She laid her head on the pillow next to him and sighed. “I expected I’d be her killjoy when I was her only parent. I didn’t figure I’d be alone now.”
Charlie came to a devastating realization—Fran was right. He always took Destiny’s side over hers, regardless of her rationale or opinions. His actions invalidated her, and they made her feel alone. Then Charlie understood Destiny had played him earlier, and he was not pleased.
He caressed her cheek, dropped his hand to her chin, and lifted her face to his. “I’m so sorry, darling. It’s my fault you’re so upset, and that you’re having problems with Desi. You’re right, Frannie. I take her side against you far more often than I realized. We will stand united in our decisions from now on; whatever is best for her and our family.”
His confession began a whole new round of weeping. At last, she felt like an equal partner instead of being alone. “Thank you…” she whispered between sobs. “This means so much to me.”
“Oh, sweetheart.” He kissed her tears away and held her close to him. “I’m sorry I’ve made you feel like this. Frannie, you do the lion’s share of everything, including parenting. I want you to know I’m here for you.”
Fran contemplated her next move. She knew what she wanted, but their time together had been fleeting since his leg surgery years before. She was unsure of his reaction, his desires. “Charlie?”
“Yes, my darling?”
“Love me, please? I need you so much.”
Charlie kissed her. “Oh sweetheart, of course I will.”
The next day, Charlie knocked on Destiny’s bedroom door with Fran beside him. Together, they would present a united front. Destiny called to them in between singing and strumming her guitar. He recognized the song; it was the one she sang for him the previous day, the one she had hoped to sing at the talent show.
Fran stepped through the door first. Destiny’s expression went dour. Both walked to the bed and sat. Undeterred, Destiny continued to play and sing until Charlie reached for the guitar’s neck. The young girl growled under her breath. “What?”
“We need to talk to you, Destiny. I would like your full attention,” he said. Fran wrung her hands, but Charlie gave her an encouraging pat on the back. “It’s about the talent show.”
Destiny stood and placed the guitar into its stand, sat back down, and closed her music journal. She crossed her arms in front of her with the same sullen expression. “You’re not gonna let me sing, are you, Mama?”
“No, sweet pea, we aren’t.” Charlie saw her searching him for a trace of support, but she found none. “We decided together that you’re too young—”
“But Daddy, I’m going to win it.” Tears filled her eyes. “Please let me sing. I want this so bad.”
“You’re only ten years old, Desi. You’ll have your whole life to fulfill your dreams. Your mama and I want to let you stay a child just a little bit longer. So, that means no talent show.” He squeezed Fran’s hand and felt her squeeze his in return.
Destiny looked at Charlie, bitter teardrops rolling down her cheeks. “I hate you both!” She screamed. He felt Fran’s breath hitch as the words left their daughter’s mouth.
“I’m sorry to hear that, sweet pea, because your mama and I love you to the moon and back.” He stood and pulled Fran to her feet. “You will thank us for this someday, Destiny.” Charlie led her from Destiny’s bedroom; her cries of sorrow echoed through the house.
Fran broke down in tears just outside Destiny’s bedroom door. “How can you stand hearing those words, Charlie? After everything we’ve sacrificed for her?”
“Oh, Frannie, you’re okay. She is just angry with us, but she will get over it soon enough. Then she will act like nothing ever happened—”
Just then, Destiny burst through her bedroom door, pulling her overnight bag behind her. It was the one Fran used when Destiny stayed overnight with Sunny and Caleb. “Goodbye, Mama and Daddy,” she growled and started down the steps. Charlie outpaced her on the stairs and stopped her.
“Where do you think you’re going, little missy?”
“I’m running away, Daddy. I’m gonna go where they’ll let me sing in the show.”
“Well, OK. I’ll just give your room to Sweetie. But don’t go farther than Caleb and Sunny’s house. And be home when the streetlights come on.” Charlie stifled his laughter under a serious, deadpan expression.
“Good BYE!” she screamed. Her angry footsteps stomped down the front stairs, and at the end of the sidewalk, she turned left, heading toward the Bradford house. He walked back up to Fran and took her hand.
“Charlie, how can you be so calm about her? How do you know this will work?” Fran sniffled and wiped tears from her eyes. “She’s such an ungrateful little—”
Charlie put his finger to her lips and took her hands in his. He led her back to their bedroom and sat on their bed. She took the space next to him, and he put his arm around her. “Sweetheart, that little girl doesn’t just look like me. She and I are cut from the same cloth. When I was her age, I wanted to join the military. But my folks didn’t let me go to military school like I wanted. They wanted me with them until I was old enough to leave.”
Charlie kissed her forehead, hoping that he was helping to soothe her worry. “I can’t tell you how many times I screamed those exact words to my Ma and Pa. The first couple of times, I know Ma took it like you are. But by the time I was thirteen, they’d heard ‘I hate you’ so often, it was another blip on the radar. Frannie, we’re going to survive this. I promise you.” He picked up the phone to call the Bradfords. They needed fair warning they’d have company, and he figured she would be there soon.
“Hello?” Sunny answered.
“Hey Sunny, it’s Charlie. Be on the lookout for Desi? She’s running away, but I told her not to go past your house. I’d bet my teeth she’ll be there in minutes.”
Sunny belly laughed. “You have an interesting way of parenting, Charlie! That is the funniest thing ever!”
“It worked on me when I was her age. Like father, like daughter.” Charlie responded, a lilt of humor in his tone.
“We’ll keep her with us and feed her some supper. I’m frying up some chicken and I just pulled an apple-rhubarb pie out of the oven. Caleb will bring her home once we finish.”
Charlie smiled. “Thanks, Sunny. We owe you.”
“Don’t worry about it, Charlie. We’ll take good care of her.” Sunny was still laughing when they hung up the phone.
Five hours later, Caleb’s soft knock came at the front door. Destiny was draped over his shoulder, sound asleep. Her suitcase sat by his feet, and Angaloo was grasped in her hands.
“Hi Caleb,” Charlie said with a grin. “We were expecting you.”
Caleb said nothing at first, but carried Destiny up the steps to her bedroom. Fran met him there and took over getting her into bed. He walked back down the stairs, chuckling.
“How did you know she would end up with us, Charlie?” Caleb sat in the rocking chair across from Charlie’s recliner.
“Well, I used to pull the same stunts when I was her age, Caleb. I’d run away. Ma would tell me to be home by dinner. I didn’t dare disobey her, because if I did, there’d be hell to pay. Jenny and Grace kept to themselves, but I did enough for all of us.”
Sunny’s soft knock sounded at the door seconds later, and Charlie waved her in. Fran was heading down the stairs and spotted her.
“Hi Sunny! This is unexpected.” Fran and Charlie both moved to the couch, Charlie offering up his recliner to Sunny. From the look on Sunny’s face, Fran sensed this was more than just a social call after dropping off Destiny. “What’s going on?”
Caleb looked at his wife and shrugged. Sunny huffed at him in return. “I’m afraid Sunny and I have some news that you won’t like, Fran.”
By instinct, Charlie put his arm around Fran. “What is it?”
Sunny wrung her hands. “Junior and Lisa are expecting another babe, Fran.”
A broad smile pulled her face. “Sunny! This is fantastic news!” But Sunny wasn’t smiling. “I mean, isn’t it?”
Caleb took Sunny’s hand in his and held it while she spoke. “It is fantastic news… for us. But Fran,” Sunny hesitated. So many times, she’d been there to help soften the blow for bad news. Now, she was the one about to break her best friend’s heart. “It’s twins. Lisa will need some help. So Cale and I…” Her shoulders heaved in sorrow.
“We’re moving,” Caleb blurted out. “Junior and Lisa have asked us to come help them. We’ve got the ranch up for sale. We’ve already had an offer, so we’ll be packing up and heading out.” Caleb knew his delivery was harsh, but he figured it would be for the best, likening it to yanking off a Band-Aid.
The news stole the breath from Fran’s lungs. “Leaving?”
Sunny took a deep breath and exhaled. “I’m afraid so. Fran, I’m so sorry to have to tell you this. We never dreamt our retirement would take us away from all our friends and family here. But with Cale and Lisa needing extra hands… I couldn’t say no.” She sniffled and wiped away an abundance of tears. “I want to enjoy our grandchildren, Frannie. Cale’s tried to transfer back here, but he’s too important where he’s working now. They can’t spare him.”
Charlie stroked Fran’s long, red hair as she sobbed into his shirt. “Well,” he said, “you have to do what you need to do. That’s all there is to it.” He couldn’t believe it, either. “We’ll need to get together for a cookout before you leave.”
Caleb shook his head. “That’s the thing, Charlie. We don’t have but two weeks before we go.”
“When did you find out, Sun? This is really short notice!” Fran couldn’t decide if she was sad or angry or both. “When were you going to tell me? On your way out of town?!”
Her tears broke Sunny’s heart. “I’m very sorry, Frannie. You have every right to be angry. I should have told you sooner, but I’ve been agonizing over telling you.”
Fran shrugged. “Well, I can’t say that I blame you. When Desi moves away to the city and has babies, I can’t imagine we’d stay here, either, if she asks us to come. Right now, she’s so angry with us, she might decide she doesn’t want us at all.”
“Well, we might have tamped down her excitement for the talent show a bit. Tommy lives in Bridgeport, and he always tells us crime stats in the big city. It’s unnerving. I don’t reckon the Shores is much different.” Caleb chuckled. “She didn’t seem as excited about winning the contest after talking to him.”
“I appreciate that, Caleb,” Fran said. “Anything that helps to divert her attention from this talent show is a win for us. How is Tommy, by the way?”
“He’s back to help us move, and then he’s going back home when we leave. Maya might come back here after graduation. Her boyfriend wants her to move to Aurora Skies with him to start a practice.”
“What about Kristen, Sunny? What is she going to do?”
“Kris is interviewing with a company in Riverview to do architectural consulting. She has a bright future ahead of her. We’re fortunate that Twinbrook is pretty central to everyone, so they can all come to see us on their vacations.”
Caleb looked at his watch and stood. “I reckon we should go, Sunny. It’s late, and I’m tired.”
Sunny and Fran stood at the same time and hugged. “I hated to be the bearer of bad news, but I knew you’d understand, Frannie. Don’t worry, though. I’ll see you before we leave. I promise.”
“You’d better,” Fran squeaked out before her eyes welled with tears again. “Say hi to the kids for us.”
“We will!” Sunny said. Caleb took her hand, and together they walked from the farmhouse toward their ranch.
“Are you okay, sweetheart?” Charlie wrapped his arms around her. He had his answer in her devastated sobs. Though he knew he shouldn’t, Charlie picked her up and carried her up the steps to their bedroom.
The summer festival still had weeks to go before its commencement. The small park that occupied the land just outside the grounds was still open. On a normal day, Destiny would play on the dirt mound in the yard while Charlie and Fran worked in the field, pulling weeds and watering. But early summer storms brought flooding rains that made the hill muddy.
“Daddy, please take me to the park? It’s too mucky outside for my cars and dolls.”
“Why don’t you play inside, sweetheart? Mama needs help with the field today.”
“I don’t wanna play inside, Daddy. Please?” Destiny employed her old friends—puppy dog eyes and crocodile tears—and she begged him until he had enough and relented.
“Okay. Let me tell your mama, and we’ll go across the street.” Charlie would be on her proverbial ‘fecal roster,’ with this news.
He strolled into the kitchen, where Fran was pouring her first cup of coffee. He walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her. “Hi, love.” He nuzzled his stubbly chin into the place on Fran’s that he knew she loved.
“What did she talk you into this morning?” Fran laughed. She knew his game. He either needed something, or he’d promised something to Destiny. She suspected the latter, as she had overheard some of their jibber-jabber.
“Damn, baby, you can read me like a book. I suppose after thirty years together, you have an advantage.” He brushed her hair aside and kissed her neck. “She wants to go to the park across the street to swing.”
“Charlie,” Fran said and turned around. She wore a look of utter frustration on her face. “Don’t you realize how much weeding needs to be done?” But she thought of Destiny’s disappointment over the contest and sighed in defeat. “Take her. The weeds will wait for you.”
“We won’t be longer than an hour, sweetheart.”
“Tell her I said to have fun.” She kissed him just as Destiny walked into the kitchen.
“Eww!” She giggled, her nose wrinkled, and her tongue stuck out to show her feigned disgust. Then she turned to Charlie and smiled. “Are we going to the park, Daddy?”
“Yes, Desi. Let me get my boots on. Make sure you have breakfast, sweet pea.”
“I’m not hungry.” She bounced on her feet and giggled. “Hurry up!”
Fran poured a glass of orange juice and handed it to Destiny. “Here, sweetheart. At least have some juice.”
Destiny sipped from her glass; her face scrunched in disgust. “Gross!” she squealed.
“Did you just brush your teeth?” Fran chuckled. She knew that look. She remembered the face, and the sour tang of mint and orange combined.
Destiny nodded and set the glass on the counter. “Yuck!” Fran smiled at the distant memory of her father. And don’t brush your teeth right after you’ve finished a bowl of Cap’n Crunch, either! He had told her. Jake hadn’t crossed her mind in a long time. As his memory captivated her, a sense of sadness swept over her as well. He and her mother had both missed their chance to be grandparents, something she deeply regretted.
“Why did you laugh, Mama? That was disgusting!” Destiny wiped her still-puckered face on the back of her hand.
Fran shook her head to clear the memory. “It’s nothing, sweet pea. Just thinking about my daddy. You know that picture upstairs—”
“Daddy!” Destiny’s happy squeal interrupted Fran’s thought when Charlie’s heavy footsteps descended the stairs.
“Let’s go, sweet pea.” He took her hand, and together they strolled from the house toward the park across the street. Fran chuckled, shook her head, and drank the contents of Destiny’s juice glass.
As they neared the playground, Destiny’s tugging became more forceful. “Come on, Daddy!” she giggled.
Though Charlie’s leg healed well after his surgery, some days it was painful. This day was among the worst since the procedure. As much as he tried to keep up with her, he couldn’t. “I’m coming, Desi. But wait for me, okay?”
She ran to the swings and chose the one she wanted, plopped down on it, and waited for her father. Charlie hobbled, limping and favoring his right leg. He never wanted to disappoint her, so he pushed through the pain, though he knew he shouldn’t. “Hurry, Daddy!” she squealed. “Push me!”
When he got to the swings, she pushed herself backward with her feet. Charlie got behind her and gave her a gentle nudge. Her joyful laughter made him forget the ache in his leg as he pushed her a little harder, a little higher. At the top of her highest arc, Charlie heard a strange noise, the creak of metal against metal, and then a sickening snap. The forward motion of the swing threw Destiny into the air and ten yards forward. She tumbled to the ground and screamed for him, crying in obvious pain. He scrambled to her side as fast as his leg would carry him.
“Daddy! My arm hurts real bad,” she wept. He saw an ominous bruise forming on her wrist and recognized it as a break. No blood, he noted to himself. That’s good. He picked her up over his shoulder and started walking toward the house.
“You’re going to be okay, Desi,” he said, trying to reassure her. His leg throbbed, but he ignored it. He climbed the front steps two at a time, twisted the knob, then swung the door wide open. “Frannie!” he called out. “Frannie!” He set Destiny down on her feet. “Hold your arm still, sweet pea. I need to get your mama.” He ran through the house to the field where Fran worked, pulling weeds and watering the plants. “Frannie!”
His urgent tone startled her. “Charlie? What’s going on?”
“Desi broke her arm on the swings across the street. The chain just snapped and threw her off mid-swing.” He bent over, leaning on his knees. He winded himself by carrying her home; the pain in his leg was nauseating.
“Oh no! My poor baby!” Fran was on her feet in an instant and heading toward the house. Charlie lagged, limping all the way in. “Desi!” she yelled.
“Mama!” Destiny cried out. “My arm hurts! Like, really bad!”
“I know, sweetheart. We’re taking you to the hospital.” It didn’t matter that Fran was dirty or that she looked terrible. Charlie cleared the back door while Fran and Destiny were making their way outside. He grabbed the cane that sat at the front door, took his keys from the bowl by the stairs, and met them outside.
Several hours later, Charlie carried Destiny into the house with Fran on his heels. Her brand new cast went from the base of her fingers up to her elbow. A hairline fracture at her wrist, and a complete break of the ulna required the heavy plaster cast she wore. She couldn’t have weighed over sixty pounds, but to Charlie, she felt like a ton of dead weight. His leg screamed at him with certain rage, and he was sure he’d regret the extra strain in the morning.
“I’m going to put her into bed, darling,” he said. “Whatever they gave her knocked her clean out.”
“Do you need help?”
He shook his head. “Nah, I have it under control. I’ll meet you in our bedroom.” One by one, Charlie took the steps, carrying his most precious gift in his arms. Every step for him was sheer agony. He hadn’t had this much pain in his leg since the surgery.
She yawned as they reached the top step, and she tried to open her eyes, but the gentle tendrils of sleep were pulling her back into their realm. With bleary, tired eyes, she looked around. “Where are we, Daddy?”
“We’re home, little princess. I’m going to tuck you into bed, snug as a bug.” Though he struggled with the cast and the armholes of the pajama top, he finally shimmied the garment onto her slim form. When she was ready, Charlie got her into bed and kissed her forehead. “Get some rest and you’ll feel better in the morning, sweet pea. I love you, Destiny.”
He watched as she snuggled up with Angaloo, the toy tucked under her arm. “Ni Ni, Daddy…” She was asleep before he finished tucking her in. Her first soft snore was the telltale sign of comfortable sleep. He slipped from the room and into the master bedroom.
Fran had just stepped from the shower and was walking to their bedroom when he reached their door. “How is she? Did you have any trouble?”
“She’s resting. The cast was tough to get through the pajama top, but I managed.” He plopped down in the chair next to the bed. “Do I have any of my pain medication left, darling? I’m in a lot of pain from hauling her around. I started off sore this morning, and the accident didn’t help.”
Fran reached into her nightstand drawer. “I think there’s one left. Did the doctor give you any refills on those?” She tossed the bottle to him, which he caught with one hand.
“Nah, I think this is it. I don’t see why, though. He knew I’d still have days where it hurt. I guess I’ll talk to him when I see him next month.” He opened the bottle and removed the last pill from it. “I hate to ask, but would you get some water for me, Frannie? If I don’t have to walk, I’d rather not.”
“Of course, Charlie. You don’t even need to ask.” She padded back to the bathroom, filled a cup with water, and walked back to him. “I’m sorry you’re hurting.”
He swallowed the pill with a mouthful of water and sighed. “I’m getting too old for this, Frannie. No one told me having an active ten-year-old at fifty-four would be this hard.”
“Believe me, I’m not in much better shape. All those years of manual labor, picking the harvest and weeding the plants. It’s a harder life than I imagined.”
“Would you do anything different, Frannie love? I mean, running the farm, doing the market every season. If you had the chance to start over, would you still choose to farm?”
She nodded in quiet contemplation. “I would do everything just the same. Except maybe I’d save for a small tractor. Or I could have used the horses to pull a plow.” And then something occurred to her. “The only thing I’d change now is Sunny and Caleb moving away. I can’t believe it, Charlie. Who will help me plow the field come springtime?”
“We might have to hire it out, sweetheart. I don’t think Sweetie would appreciate being used as a workhorse. She’s much too prissy to drag a plow.”
Fran laughed. Sweetie was a racehorse, prone to prancing and showing off when she knew she’d done well. “I second that. What an understatement!” The laughter faded into nothing when she realized the problem that still existed. “What am I going to do?”
“Oh, Frannie, we’ll think of something. And if we don’t, you can retire, too. You’ve done more than your share of hard, back-breaking work, don’t you think?”
“I’ll never be able to retire, Charlie. I’ll be working in that field until the day I die. If Destiny is home…” She shook her head and sat on the bed. “No, we can’t afford to exist on just your pension. We need the farm income. We can’t survive without it.”
Charlie took a deep breath and sighed. “Sweetheart, I wish we weren’t always struggling to make ends meet. I should have worked harder to give you everything you want—”
“No, Charlie. I have everything I want right here with you. You’ve given me a daughter, this beautiful love we share, and a life I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. You complete me.”
He wrapped his arms around her and hugged her. “You don’t regret marrying a broken up, worn out, old military man, sweetheart?”
A wry grin wore on her face. “Well, you weren’t broken up when I married you.”
Charlie bit his tongue. Instead of joking with her and meeting her sarcasm with the same, he kissed her. “Would you marry me over again, Frannie, knowing what you know now?”
She pulled back from his embrace, her eyes met his. “Charlie, of course I would. None of that other stuff matters anymore. I thought for sure, though, when we broke up that summer before I started high school, you were done with me.”
He cocked his head. “I never told you why I stood you up, did I?”
“No,” she whispered. “I thought it was because you found someone else.”
“Your dad, Frannie. He threatened me if I came around looking for you again. I would have been his target practice, or at least, that’s what he told me. I couldn’t chance that he had a rifle to point at me.”
She rolled her eyes. “Why am I not surprised? Mama said nothing about it, though she had to have known. Oh, how I cried that night. I was so heartbroken.”
Charlie smiled at her. “It made our reunion even more satisfying, didn’t it?”
“Yes, it did. Both of them.” She snuggled into his embrace. “I would do everything just the same, Charlie. No doubt in my mind.”
“Hearing that makes me so happy, darling.”
She side-glanced at him. “Exactly how happy?”
“Why don’t I show you?”
“What about your leg?”
“Mmm,” he growled, “what about it?”
The sign on the front lawn of the Bradford ranch read, “SOLD,” in big, red letters. Every day when Fran walked past the house, it taunted her. On this morning’s walk, the garage door was open. Caleb stood inside, taping up one last box. Other than piles of boxes and furniture, the garage was bare. He waved to Fran as she stood, gawking at him in silence. She tried to greet him, but her voice caught in her throat. A simple wave would have to suffice, she thought.
“Wait here, I’ll get Sunny for you,” Caleb said. Fran just nodded. The moving van would be there within the hour.
Five minutes later, Sunny walked out of the front door, her long, gray hair in a ponytail. As soon as she saw Fran, her heart broke in two. “Hi, Frannie,” she finally said as she approached. “This is it, huh?”
“Well, for now,” she squeaked out. “I know Charlie and Desi want to see you before you leave this afternoon.”
Sunny nodded in acknowledgment. There wasn’t much left to speak. “How are you doing?”
Fran swallowed a growing lump in her throat and kicked the dirt road with her boot. “I’ve been a lot better.” She bowed her head and turned away, hoping to hide her obvious emotion from her best friend. Sunny was having none of it.
“Come here,” she said, her arms wide open. Fran couldn’t contain the torrent of tears any longer.
“I’m going to miss you,” she sobbed into Sunny’s embrace. “More than you realize.”
“Oh, I know exactly how much you’ll miss us, Frannie. I’ve been crying all morning. This dry spell won’t last long. Trust me.” She laid her head on Fran’s shoulder and heaved in sorrow. “You’re my best friend in the entire world. How am I going to live without you nearby?”
“I always assumed you’d be here. Sunny, Charlie and I owe you so much that we’ll never have the chance to repay—”
Sunny put her finger to Fran’s lips and shook her head. “No, sweetheart. What we did for you and Charlie was out of love, and nothing else. We never kept track, we never kept score. You don’t owe us a thing except your love, Frannie. It’s all we need, and all we’ll take from you.”
This, of course, made Fran cry harder. “I don’t understand, Sunny. How could you just wipe the slate clean?”
“Fran, it’s called love. You blessed us, being friends and neighbors all these years. You entrusted us with Missy and Moo. We stood by you when you had to put Marne down, and we wept with you. With Destiny’s arrival, we rejoiced with you. We stood with you in agony at Charlie’s funeral, and then celebrated with you when he came home.” She hugged Fran again and kissed her cheek. “I love you, but I know you know that.”
“I love you, too. Your whole, sweet family, Sunny. I adore each of you. You’ve made this town a great place to live and raise a family. But, now it’s time to concentrate on you and Caleb. Junior and Lisa are so lucky to have you in their lives. And Kristen, Tommy and Maya, too. Each of your children has your beautiful, giving heart.” Fran wiped tears from her eyes. “I’m going to miss everyone so much.”
Caleb called Sunny’s name from inside the house, the phone in his hand. “Baby, it’s the movers. You should take this call.”
Sunny looked into Fran’s green eyes. “Cale and I will come by before we leave. You have my word.”
“I’m going to hold you to it,” Fran teased. “We’ll see you later.”
It was late afternoon when a knock sounded at the Farmer’s front door. Fran walked to answer it with dread in her heart; she knew who it was, and why they were there. “Charlie! Desi!” she called from the staircase before she answered the door. They, too, needed to say goodbye to the best friends they ever had. Destiny’s eager footsteps hurried down the stairs while Charlie’s slower, careful footfalls were behind her. Fran gazed toward her family before she turned the knob. The pain was unbearable.
“Hi Sunny! Hi Caleb!” she waved, her face wore a painted-on smile. After today, there would be no more chances for farewell. Once the Bradfords left the farmhouse, they’d be gone forever.
Sunny opened her arms once again and embraced Fran. This time, both women wept. Her gray hair in a ponytail, Sunny was still the portrait of grace and beauty. “I’m going to miss all of this, but especially you, Frannie.”
Charlie and Caleb stood in awkward silence until Destiny wrapped herself around Caleb’s waist. “Hi, Uncle Caleb,” she said. “I’m gonna miss you.”
He patted her head and wiped a tear from his eyes. “Hi punkin’. Aunt Sunny and I are going to miss you like crazy.” He lifted the young girl onto his hip and hugged her close. “Promise me you’ll be a good girl for your mama and daddy, okay? No more running away from home, because we won’t be next door anymore.”
“I won’t.” Her sniffles and quiet weeping brought Charlie to tears. “I love you, Uncle Caleb.” She kissed his cheek and wrapped her arms around his neck.
“I love you, too, Destiny. I can’t wait to read about your singing career someday.” She released her grasp and looked into his eyes. “You’re going to be successful, I can feel it. Just be true to yourself, and you’ll go places.”
She nodded her head and gave him an enormous smile. “I will, I promise.”
Caleb set her down on the floor and patted her head one last time. “Let me say goodbye to your mama.” He walked to where the women stood and tapped Fran on the shoulder. She hugged Caleb to her, weeping on his shoulder. “I have something to tell you, Frannie. I sold my plow and tiller to Paul and Jen. He’s taking over my jobs in the spring. I know you were worried about your field. I wanted to tell you.”
Fran pulled away from his embrace and smiled. “Paul will take good care of all your customers, Caleb.”
“I know he will.” He hugged her close again and kissed her forehead. “Remember, Frannie, that you have a place to stay if you decide to venture to Twinbrook. You and Charlie are welcome to come any time you’d like. You’ve been like a little sister to me, Frannie. I’m going to miss you.”
Fran’s weeping intensified. “My goodness, Caleb, I’m going to miss all of you so much. Thank you for everything you’ve done for us.”
“It was our pleasure.” They released their embrace, and Caleb turned to Charlie. “Brother Charlie, where do I even start?”
Charlie shook his head. “I can’t thank you for everything you’ve done for my family while I was deployed. You saved Fran’s life more than once. You took care of her when I couldn’t…” His attempts to remain stoic were fading fast. “I know you say we don’t owe you anything, but I do.” Charlie reached for a box he’d packed and handed it to Caleb. “Fran and I decided together that you should have a part of us for your new home in Twinbrook.”
Sunny and Caleb stood together while he opened the box Charlie had given him. Inside were packets of heirloom seeds taken from their first harvest. Fran and Charlie chose each type of seed specifically for Sunny and Caleb—blueberries, raspberries, apples, peaches, and many others. Every fruit and vegetable that Sunny used in her baking, Fran gave her those seeds to start their own garden.
“Oh, Frannie,” Sunny said. “This is extraordinary. What a beautiful gift!”
“They should produce a bounty of perfect fruit for your family,” Fran replied. “No one ever needs to miss out on a blueberry muffin fresh from your oven…” Her voice faded to tears. Except me.
“Well, I thought of that, too.” Sunny walked back out onto the front porch to retrieve a basket she’d left on the chair. “I baked these for you last night, Frannie. A final batch of blueberry muffins for you.”
Overcome with emotion, Fran sobbed in Charlie’s arms, for they weren’t just muffins. To Fran, they were the very essence of her relationship with Sunny and Caleb. “I will savor every one of them, Sunny. Thank you, so very much.”
“Psh,” Sunny smiled through her tears. “They’re only muffins.”
Fran sniffled. “They’ve never been only muffins to me.”
They embraced one last time. “I know, Frannie.”
Caleb noticed the sky getting darker and checked his watch. “We need to get going, Sunny. Our flight leaves in ninety minutes.”
“Just another moment, Cale?” she asked, to which he nodded. Sunny took Fran’s hands in hers and looked into her emerald green eyes. “I will call you when we get settled.”
“Have a safe trip. I’ll wait for your call.” Fran held onto Sunny’s hands until distance broke their grasp.
“Thanks again, Caleb, for everything. Be safe.” Charlie hugged his best friend one last time. They each gave Destiny one last hug and kiss. The Farmers watched from their front porch and waved as the Bradfords got into the car. The doors closed with a stark finality, and the horn honked as Caleb drove them away from the little farmhouse on Pomona Promenade.
Charlie looked at Fran, who stood waving at a car that was gone. “Are you alright, my darling?”
She shook her head and sighed. “No, I’m not.” She took Destiny’s hand and together, the three of them trudged into the house, broken-hearted.
A Month Later
“Destiny, are you ready for the fair, sweet pea?” Charlie called from the bottom of the staircase. Fran stood at the ready, waiting for her cry for help, but none came. Instead, she walked to the top of the stairs, beaming.
“Of course, I’m ready, Daddy.” In her non-cast hand, she carried her song journal. She still wore the same old plaster cast, grubby from playing on the dirt mound in their backyard. Destiny never complained about the discomfort of a broken arm, though Charlie knew it was painful. He was so proud of his little girl.
“Remember, you can’t go on the carousel tonight, not until your cast comes off. But we can ride the Ferris Wheel together.” He held his hand for hers. Her little fingers intertwined with his; Fran took his other hand when she descended the steps. He turned his head and smiled. “Ready, darling?”
Fran nodded and returned a grin. I wish it was early morning, and I could feed the animals, she thought. Lately, her father was on her mind. “Just a sec,” she whispered and dug a can of mosquito spray from her purse. She sprayed a bit into her hands and applied some to Destiny’s face and neck. “No skeeter bites for my princess,” she giggled, and Destiny wrinkled her nose and joined the laughter.
“What are skeeters?”
“Mosquitoes, Desi.” Charlie wore an impish grin. “They love sweet, little girls.” He wiggled his fingers as if to tickle her, which made Destiny giggle harder.
They strolled across the street. The sounds and familiar smells of the festival brought back memories for both Charlie and Fran. Destiny spotted Maya Bradford at the carousel, chatting with a young man. When Maya heard her name, she spun around to see Destiny standing there. Charlie and Fran were right behind her.
“Maya!” Fran said. “I’m surprised to see you here. Are you settling here in the Plains?”
“No,” she said back. “I’m here for the festival as the on-call veterinarian, and then I’m moving to Aurora Skies with Clay.” She picked Destiny up and hugged her. “We’re starting our own practice there.” She kissed Destiny’s cheek amid a flurry of giggles. “You’re getting so big, squirt!”
Charlie held his hand to the young man with Maya. “You must be Clay? Pleased to meet you, son.”
The young man nodded. “And you’re Colonel Farmer. I know your name. I’m a huge military enthusiast, and I followed your story. What an honor to meet you, sir. You’re a genuine hero.”
Charlie shuffled his boot on the ground. “Thank you, Clay, but I’m no hero. I’m just a guy who served his time in the military.”
“Oh, no sir! Everything you overcame to get back home? It’s astounding, Colonel. Frankly, I was hoping I’d get to meet you. I know Maya’s family is from here.”
It didn’t happen often, but Charlie was speechless. “I-I don’t know what to say, Clay.”
“Don’t say anything, sir. Thank you for your service, and welcome back home.” Clay extended his hand again for Charlie to shake. “The pleasure’s been mine.”
“Thank you,” Charlie whispered. He hugged Maya, and while she was close, he whispered to her, “He’s a keeper, sweetheart. Hold on to him.”
“Thank you, Charlie, and I will! I’m sure we’ll see you around this summer?”
He nodded and smiled at the young couple. “You will.”
Fran stood back and watched the entire exchange, touched by the young man’s words. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Clay,” she said. “When you talk to your Mama, Maya, please tell her we all said hello?”
Maya smiled and hugged Fran. “Of course, Miss Fran. She misses you!”
“I miss her, too.” Destiny tugged on the hem of her blouse, muttering under her breath. “Okay, sweet pea, we’re ready.” Fran chuckled and tousled her daughter’s hair. “Enjoy the fair, you two.” With Destiny’s hand in hers, the family walked away from Maya and her boyfriend.
“What do you wish to do first, Desi?” Charlie asked. “Ferris wheel?” They, of course, had plans to watch the launch of the summer concert series at the stage pavilion. The first act was an up-and-coming singer from Starlight Shores.
She looked at her father with a grin. “Please?”
“I’ll meet you over there,” Fran said, and took Destiny’s song book to hold for her. Charlie and Destiny walked ahead to get into line—Fran strolled to the closest bench and sat, waiting for her family.
An hour later, the show had mere moments before it began. All three of them sat on benches near center stage. Destiny’s excited chatter kept both Fran and Charlie entertained until the lights went down and the emcee introduced the young singer. Charlie watched the anticipation on his daughter’s face. The spotlight beamed its bright light—a silhouette appeared behind a curtain, her mic in her hand.
“Daddy!” she squealed with great excitement. “This is awesome!”
“Someday, sweet pea, that’s going to be you!” He put his arm around her shoulders and gave her a quick squeeze.
“You really think so?”
“Oh, Desi, I know so.”
The singer’s first notes blared over the speakers, and Destiny was enthralled. She sat and watched, mesmerized by the lights, the loud music, and the young woman on stage. Charlie observed her, and recognized the moment would forever change the trajectory of their lives, and Destiny’s in particular.
The show was two hours of music; much to their surprise, Fran and Charlie found they enjoyed it. Destiny sang along to every song, even though she’d never heard them before. When the show was over, the family walked to their home opposite the fairgrounds. Destiny was tired, so Charlie carried her over his shoulder. She was almost asleep by the time they hit the front door.
“I’m going to take her upstairs, darling,” Charlie whispered.
“I’ll be right behind you,” Fran said. “The barn needs to be locked, but I’ll be there.”
Step by step, Charlie climbed the stairs to Destiny’s room. He sat her down on the bed, which awakened her. She gave him a sleepy smile. “Thank you for the show, Daddy,” she said. “I had a lot of fun.”
He handed her a pair of clean pajamas. “You’re welcome, sweet pea.”
“You really think that’s gonna be me someday?”
Charlie nodded. “I do, little sweetheart.”
“Will you come with me to the city, Daddy?”
“We’ll see, Desi. Your mama and I still have the farm. We have time to consider it.”
Destiny still wore a smile on her face when Fran appeared in the doorway. “Hi, Mama.”
“Is everything okay up here?” Fran asked.
“I was just getting ready to tuck her in. Care to help me, Mama?” he said.
“Sure.” Fran walked to one side of the bed with Charlie on the other. Together, they tucked her in, and repeated the words in unison: “Snug as a bug!” Destiny’s happy but sleepy giggles filled the room. “Good night, Destiny.” Fran kissed her forehead.
“Good night, Mama. Thank you for tonight.”
“You’re welcome. Get some rest. Your cast comes off in the morning.”
“Can we ride the carousel tomorrow night?” she asked.
Charlie smiled. “Of course, sweet pea.”
“I love you.”
Fran took Charlie’s hand and entwined their fingers together. “We love you, too.”
Up Next: Chapter Nineteen, Generation One
Warm Hugs by Sea
Best Friends Forever by Clover
Around The Sims
Mod The Sims
Book by Kurineko
Poses By Bee
Luggage (SFS Link)
Arcadia Kids Bedroom Set
Sims By Severinka
Autumn Leaves 1-4
The Sims 3 Exchange
Country Flowers (Pattern) by Skyeseeker
Sugar Legacy Stables
Custom content and poses are not my property and are used in compliance with the TOUs.
A special “thank you” to Chris, for “polishing the diamonds” in this chapter. You never cease to inspire me!