G2 Prologue – Meet Destiny Farmer, Part Two

Author’s Note: This chapter contains scenes with adult situations. Reader discretion is advised. 

iii.

The funerals were held on the same day, a combined celebration of Mama and Daddy’s lives together. The entire town showed up, and much to my surprise, so did the Bradfords. Aunt Sunny and Uncle Caleb hadn’t changed a bit—older and grayer, but the same nonetheless—and it was good to see them. 

Aunt Jenny and Uncle Paul took Sweetie onto their farm and promised me she would live the rest of her days being spoiled and pampered. Jenny helped me close up the house and vowed that she would take care of it until I came back from school that summer. Two weeks after I’d flown home, I was on my way back to Sim State.

I carried one suitcase full of photos, more clothes, and some small personal items back to school. Jeff waited for my flight at the airport. I was relieved to see him there. I walked toward his open arms, which enveloped me. He kissed the top of my head and held me, saying nothing. We stood like that for a few moments as other passengers brushed past us. 

He finally took my suitcase, and we left the airport. That night, we spent time together. He let me cry on his shoulder, both literally and figuratively. I fell into bed exhausted, but at peace. I was back in familiar surroundings with an established routine.

Catching up on missed schoolwork was difficult, though every professor showed me grace and allowed late assignments with no penalty. By the time midterms came around, I’d caught up. I was on track to make the Dean’s list again. 

Jeff and I became inseparable after my return to school. He wanted to keep my mind occupied and my heart focused on anything but my grief. We did fun things together on the weekends, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fall in love with him. 

Jeff never asked me out on official dates. We did things together as naturally as Mama and Daddy used to do. We were bowling one Saturday night after grabbing supper at the all-night burger joint. I’d bowled a turkey, which is three strikes in a row. Jeff walked up behind me and slipped his arms around my waist. He planted his chin on my shoulder, a kiss in my favorite spot.

“That was quite the feat. Congratulations!” he whispered into my ear. 

“Thank you, kind sir!” I said. I turned around in his arms and smiled. 

“Damn, Destiny, you’re so beautiful.” He kissed me and pulled me close. “I think… I’m falling in love with you.” 

I pulled back and peered into his eyes. “Did I just hear you correctly?” 

He laughed at my proper speech. “You did, Miss Grammar Wonk.”

I gave his shoulder a gentle smack. Should I? I wrestled with my inner self. “I have a secret,” I teased. 

“Do you?” 

“Mmhmm,” I said. “Come closer and I’ll whisper to you.” 

He pulled me closer to him, kissing my neck. “Is this close enough?” 

“Mmhmm. Wanna hear my secret?” 

More kisses and a whimper. “Of course, beautiful.” 

I leaned into his personal space, my lips next to his ear. “I already know I’ve fallen in love with you.” 

He looked at me with a sly grin. “I knew it.” 

“So much for not wanting a relationship,” I chuckled. 

“Yeah,” he said. “Let’s get out of here.” 

“Back home?” 

He nodded his head. “Oh, yeah.” 

Jeff took my hand, paid for the games, and we left the bowling alley together.

Now, I know what you are thinking; we never brought our relationship to the physical realm that night. Jeff knew ahead of time what my feelings were on that subject, and he respected me enough to honor it. What happened was a night of romance; cuddling, kissing, sparkling cider and fresh fruit we bought on the way back to the dorm. It couldn’t have been better. Austin? Austin who?


Spring term ended with finals and graduation ceremonies, but not for us. We each had two years remaining. I locked my room when the dorms closed for the term. We stood in the common area on the first floor. I paced, dreading my return to an empty house. There was so much to do. Would I be able to get it done in just three months?

Jeff’s watch chimed with the alarm, telling us it was time to go. I packed very little for the trip home; most of my clothing was still at the farmhouse. He took my hand, with my suitcase in his other one. “Are you ready, honey?” 

I nodded. “Not really, but I have to face it.” 

“Are you sure you don’t need help? I can change my ticket and come stay with you for the summer. It’s not a problem.” 

“I appreciate the offer. And maybe, if I didn’t have so much sentimental stuff, I’d welcome it. But the pain is still too fresh…” I felt that familiar lump rising in my throat. “I don’t want you to see me like this.” 

“Like what? Human?”

“Vulnerable,” I said. “My entire world back home is different. I don’t know which end is up, Jeff. I need to figure that out before I invite anyone else into it.” 

He looked at me with a hurt expression. “I thought I was already in it?” 

I smiled. “Of course you are, Jeff.” 

“I sense some hesitation there…?” 

“No,” I said. “I just have a lot to do. I want to take my time sorting stuff. There are three generations’ worth of memories in that house.” 

“Okay. You know where I am if you need me, though. I can be there within a day. Just say the word.” He opened my car door and helped me in. The trunk popped open, and he put my case and his backpack into it. The car shook when he slammed it closed; he walked to the driver’s side and got in. “What time is your flight?” 

“Five something. I don’t remember the minutes. We have plenty of time.” 

“Mine leaves at six something. I’ll walk you to your gate and then catch mine.” 

“I’d like that, Jeff.” 

He gave me a wry smile. “I know you would.” He started the car and began the half-hour drive to the airport.

*****

Aunt Jenny picked me up at the airport and brought me to their ranch for the night. I appreciated it more than they realized. I didn’t look forward to being home without Mama and Daddy. We all expected Daddy’s passing; Mama was a total shock I was not ready to face. I still wasn’t, and I wished Jeff had come back with me. Why was I so stubborn, anyway?

Once I was settled down, I put on my boots and wandered outside. Sweetie grazed about thirty feet from me, and when I whistled for her, she perked up and whinnied. I didn’t share Daddy’s bond with Sweetie, but I knew she had to be lonely. “Come on, girl!” I called her. Sweetie pranced around, making happy nickers and whinnies. I couldn’t imagine what she thought or felt. She didn’t understand. She only knew that things were different. It was a reunion I hadn’t counted on, but I loved it just the same.

After I was finished with Sweetie, Aunt Jenny sat down with me in their rustic, homey living room. I had my shoes off my feet, my legs tucked up under my bottom. She had a cup of chamomile tea, which she offered to me, but I declined. The evening air was crisp; a fire flickered in the hearth. 

“So, Destiny, tell me about school. Are you adjusting up there okay?” 

I nodded, unsure how much I should disclose. “I’ve made a few friends. My dorm room is enormous, and I have it all to myself.” 

“Oh, so that went through for you! I’m so glad!” 

Now I was confused. “What’s that, Aunt Jenny?” 

“Uncle Paul pulled some strings for you to get a single. I hope you don’t mind the interference. Your daddy asked him if he could. You know that’s Paul’s alma mater, right?” 

“Yeah, I knew that. Daddy set that up?” 

“He did.” Aunt Jenny beamed with joy. “He wanted to ensure you had the best room in the best dorm, so you’d have the privacy and quiet to practice your songs. You have to know how much they both adored you, Destiny.” 

“I know I was their miracle baby.”

“Oh, Desi, you were so much more than just their miracle. Everything they did, every decision they made, was ultimately for your benefit. They went without, providing what you wanted and needed. I know your Mama worked on the farm much longer than she had planned because she so desired to see you succeed. They wanted you to have the opportunity your mama didn’t, more so after your daddy got sick.”

I didn’t know any of this had gone on. The guilt was overwhelming. “They did all of that for me?” 

Aunt Jenny nodded. She must have noticed my expression, because she came and sat next to me. “Oh, sweetheart, I didn’t tell you that to make you cry. They did it because they loved you. You are their legacy, and they both live inside you. Desi, as long as you remember them, they’ll never be gone.” 

There was that nickname again, the one I disliked when I was younger. It was amazing how much I longed to hear ‘Desi’ one more time from them. “They will never be forgotten as long as I draw a breath, Aunt Jenny. Thank you for letting me stay here tonight. I wasn’t looking forward to being in their home without them.” 

“It’s your home now, Destiny. I know you’re intending to sell it. However I can be helpful, I’m there for you.” 

“I’m relieved you understand why I can’t stay here. I’d be disappointing them now if I did.” 

Aunt Jenny nodded and sipped her tea. “Your daddy wanted you to see the world, to live your life to the fullest, and be what you’ve dreamed of becoming since you were a little girl. You have that opportunity. There’s no shame in that.” 

My cell phone signaled a text message, and I recognized its tone: Jeff. I peeked at its three simple words and smiled. 

“I know that look,” she said with a grin. So much for my poker face. “You have a guy at school, don’t you?” 

“Mmhmm,” I said, returning my own lovesick grin. “He’s been there for me in ways I never expected or asked. Jeff made loving him so easy.” 

“Do you have a photo? I’d love to see one.” 

I nodded and showed her my favorite one, taken right outside my dorm room door. “That’s us.”

Screenshot-478 (4)

“Ooh! He’s handsome! You two make a beautiful couple.” She handed my phone back with a Cheshire cat grin. 

I blushed. “Thank you. I don’t know where it’s going, but I’m having fun with him in the meantime.” 

“No judgments here, Desi,” she said with a snicker and a wink. “I’m not your mama.” 

“Not that kind of fun, Aunt Jenny.” Now I was really blushing. “But he’s very romantic. He always considers me first when we do things.”

“As well he should!” She yawned and stretched. “I’ll help you at the house in the morning if you need it. I’m going to bed. Do you need anything, sweet pea?” 

“No, but thank you. I’m heading to bed myself.” We hugged for a moment before she walked up the steps to their master suite. The room where I slept was Joshua’s old room. Seeing all of his computer equipment and tech books made me miss Polly, and I wondered what she was doing these days. Rather than let her invade my thoughts, I opened the text app on my phone. 

Hi Jeff, I’m here and settled in for the night. Heading to the house in the morning. I love you, too.

I changed into my pajamas, whispered a prayer in the evening’s stillness, and turned out my bedside lamp.


In the months that followed my arrival back at the farmhouse, I got the barn cleaned out, the greenhouse refurbished, the garden plot plowed, and the remaining manure incorporated into the soil. Jeff helped me do some of the heavy work. He arrived after I called him for help. He was all too happy to oblige.

Two weeks before I needed to be back at school for the fall semester, Aunt Jenny and I held a garage sale. I didn’t want to clutter a new home in Starlight Shores with a bunch of trinkets or knick knacks. There were things I couldn’t part with; those we packed into boxes and placed in the sitting room. 

The sale did well, and with proceeds from it, I financed my books and supplies for the school year. Aunt Jenny and Uncle Paul helped me to cover furniture to keep it clean while I was gone. This year, I would spend the Snowflake Day holiday with Jeff. I wouldn’t see Appaloosa Plains again until next spring. 

The morning of my flight back to school, Aunt Jenny and I stood on the house’s front porch. I handed her my key for Daddy’s pickup truck. She looked at me with an odd, but surprised, expression. 

“What’s this for?” she said, the truck key dangling off her finger. 

“I can’t take it with me to school, and I don’t want to drive it to the city. I’m afraid it wouldn’t make it. Maybe Uncle Paul can fix it up and use it?” 

“But it was your daddy’s truck. Are you sure, Destiny?” 

I nodded. “I know it has some life left. If he can fix it, maybe give it to a needy family? Mama would have wanted that.” 

Aunt Jenny smiled. “You’re a good kid, Destiny. Never change.” 

“I’m going to try.” I looked at my watch. “My flight leaves in two hours. I need to get going.” 

“Do you have everything you need, sweet pea?” 

“Mmhmm. Thank you again, Aunt Jenny, for everything. I love you.” 

She wrapped her arms around me and squeezed tight. “I love you too, kiddo. Let’s go.”

*****

I opened the door to the residence hall to see Jeff standing in the common area, waiting for my arrival. We’d only seen each other a few weeks before, but it surprised me how much I missed him. By this time, his pet names for me had grown in number and intimacy. “Babyluv” was now my favorite. 

“Hi babyluv,” he said with a kiss. “How was your flight?” 

“Uneventful,” I said with a return kiss. “How did you know I was coming?” 

He laughed and gave me a sly grin. “I have my ways, and I bet you’d love to know them!” 

“Yeah, I would, actually!” I hugged him again and kissed him. It was so good to be together.

“It’s quite scientific.” He took my luggage in one hand and led me upstairs, talking all the while. “You see… are you sure you really want to know my secrets?” 

I rolled my eyes and giggled at him. He excelled at the tease. “Yes! Please tell me?” 

We arrived at the top step on the third floor. He took my hand, spun me around into a dip kiss, and stared into my eyes. He said it with a straight face, but I could tell he was having a tough time stifling his laughter. “You told me your flight number.” 

“You’re such a brat!”

“But you love me, anyway!” He held his hand open for my key, which I gave to him. “Miss… your room,” he said with the flick of a wrist. Even though it was late August, the temperatures were brisk. The fireplace would get used tonight. 

“So, what’s up your sleeve for tonight, sir?” 

“You can read me like a book,” Jeff teased. “I thought we’d go off campus and have a quiet dinner together.” 

I looked at him, my head cocked. “We missed the dinner hour already.” To me, dinner was what most folks call ‘lunch’.

“Well, what do you call it, Miss Country Bumpkin?” I had to laugh at his choice of words. I’d never been called that before. 

“The evening meal is ‘supper,’ where I come from.” I walked to my closet to pick out an outfit he would like. “What should I wear?” 

He walked up beside me and wrapped his arms around my waist. “How about this one?” He chose my favorite casual dress; a denim jumper I usually wore with lacy leggings. “I bet you look sexy in that one.” 

My cheeks flushed red. “I never noticed, to be honest. I don’t choose clothing with that quality in mind.” 

“You’re so beautiful when your cheeks match your hair,” he said, pulled me into a passionate kiss, and left me breathless. “Are you sure you want to wait, babyluv? I need you.” 

He always made it difficult to say no to him. But I’d promised my mama that I would keep myself pure for the man I’d eventually marry. “Jeff, you know how I feel about this—”

I knew he was frustrated. He huffed and pulled away from me. “Well, I need a little extra time to get ready for our supper date.” He winked at me. “Let’s meet downstairs at six?” 

I needed to freshen up a bit, too. “Sounds good.” We kissed once more, then he walked toward his room. I heard the door open and close; a frustrated growl emanated from his room. I felt like I’d made a mistake in telling him no.


With the fall semester in full swing, Jeff’s attention was sporadic. I had assumed it was because our schedules were full. My course load was extensive, but I was committed to graduating in three years instead of four. We seldom passed in the hall, and by the first month into the semester, I worried about us. I walked across the hallway and knocked on the door.

Jacob, the unfriendly roommate, answered it. “Oh, you must want Jeff.” 

I nodded. I certainly wasn’t looking for him. “Yes. Is he here?” 

Jacob hemmed and hawed. Something was wrong. I could feel it in the pit of my stomach. “He’s… um… out.” 

“Where is he?” 

“I dunno.” 

“Is he around?” 

“I dunno.” 

“Is he in class?” I thought I’d ask, even though it seemed unlikely at 9:00 PM.

“I dunno.” 

I was getting irritated. “Jacob, just tell me!” 

“He’s on a date.” Jacob could have punched me in the gut and it would have hurt less.

“He’s… what?!”

“Sorry.” 

I stumbled backward into a chair and fell into it. Tears stung my eyes. Jeff was cheating on me, and I was too stupid to notice? Jacob watched me, then closed the door, emotionless. When I collected myself, I trudged to my room and slammed the door. 

Two hours later, a soft knock sounded on the door. I couldn’t have looked worse; puffy, swollen eyes, tear stains on my cheeks. A headache that would make a Marine cry. I heard Jeff’s voice calling my name outside. 

“Go away, Jeff!” I yelled. 

“Des?” He sounded confused, and at that point, so was I. I walked to the door and opened it. I must have looked horrible. His face wore a look of pure shock. “What’s wrong, babyluv?” 

I wanted so badly to hug him, to have him tell me everything was okay, that my insecurity was unfounded, and he still loved me. “I went looking for you. Jacob told me something unbelievable, Jeff.” 

He sat down on my bed and patted the spot next to him. “What did he tell you?” 

“Jacob told me you were on a date. Is this true?” 

His reaction was anger; not at me, but Jacob. “Understand something about Jake, Destiny. He hates that we are so close, he hates that we’re happy because he’s such a miserable person.” He put his arm around my shoulder and hugged me. “I love you, Destiny. Sometimes I wish things were different for us, but I’m willing to wait for you, if that’s what it takes.” 

That made me feel better. “I love you, too. And thank you for understanding my sitch. I made a promise…” Grief choked out my words. I could still hear Mama’s voice in my head. “And I’m sorry I doubted you. My last boyfriend lied to me, not just once, and not insignificant lies, either. He broke up a longtime friendship with my best friend. I still can’t forgive him for that.” 

“Oh, honey,” he said. “I’m so sorry you’ve had so much to deal with. I never want to cause you pain. Goodness knows you’ve had more than your share of it.” Jeff always had the right words. That’s how I knew our relationship was strong.

“So we’re good?” 

He kissed my forehead and held me close. “Of course, we’re good.” 

“So, where were you tonight, anyway?” 

“I had a study date with some classmates.” 

We had some of the same classes; our majors were the same. “Oh? Who with?” 

“You know Jerry, right?” Jerry was an upperclassman who wanted Jeff to form a band with him. 

“Mmhmm.” 

“And Vic, and Bob. Jerry wrote some new music, and he wanted a four-piece band to try it out. I’d have asked you to come, but I don’t know your schedule, babyluv. We’ve hardly seen each other this semester.” 

“Why didn’t you just ask me, anyway? I’d have told you.”

“Next time I will, especially if it includes some fun. I know you could stand to have a little fun.” 

Oh, he had no idea. I was on the verge of burnout. “Let’s go bowling again on Saturday?” I said.

“It’s a deal.” He hugged me again and gave me one of his signature passionate kisses that made me question everything I believed. “I can’t wait, Des.” 

“Me too.”


iv.

Finals and winter break arrived, as though the semester was weeks long instead of three months. Jeff and I had plans to stay with his family for the Snowflake Day holiday, and my birthday would fall during that time, too. The week before break, I got a message from the admissions office. On my way back from the lecture hall, I stopped in to respond. 

I sat in the corridor in an uncomfortable folding seat. I’d never been in that building. It felt like forbidden territory for us students, but others were there, too. Seeing them made me feel more at ease. I couldn’t imagine why they needed to see me. 

I’d been waiting for about ten minutes when an older woman appeared in the doorway and called my name. She led me back to her office, held the door for me, and allowed me to enter first. 

“Please, Destiny, have a seat.” She sat behind her desk and opened a file folder with my name on it. “I have some good news for you.” I sat and listened with great interest. Good news was welcomed after the year I’d had. “The course load you’ve taken over the past three semesters here has put you on track to graduate in the spring; that is, if you continue with your planned schedule for spring term.” 

I nodded my head with a huge grin. “Yes, I was planning on doing the full credit load, plus sixteen work credits.” What she had told me hadn’t sunk in… yet.

“Assuming you pass all the courses with at least a three point GPA, you’ll be eligible to walk with the senior class this spring.” 

My mouth fell open. Flabbergasted didn’t describe the surprise I felt. “You’re serious? I only have one semester left?” She nodded and smiled. “This is incredible news. Thank you!” 

“Congratulations, Destiny. It’s very unusual for a student to excel under the strain of a heavy load like you’ve taken.” 

I blushed. “I don’t know what to say.” 

“Well done,” she said. “Enjoy your winter break with your family. We’ll see you back in January.” 

Hello lump, my old friend. Why are you in my throat again? I thought and then chuckled through the tears I tried to swallow. They sounded like words to a song. “See you in January,” I said, choosing to forgo the story of how my family was gone. But I had Jeff to share my news with. I hoped he would be as happy as I was.

*****

Jeff and I met to study that night. I toyed with how to tell him my good news. If all went well, I’d graduate at nineteen with a bright future in Starlight Shores. Because my room was bigger and more private, we studied in my dorm. I laid on the bed, and Jeff sat at my desk. 

We were quizzing each other, but it was obvious my mind was somewhere else when I incorrectly answered three questions in a row. He stopped and looked at me; I was lost in thought. I don’t know how many times he said my name before I finally heard him.

“Des!” 

“I’m sorry, Jeff…” I twirled some hair around my index finger. “I got some news today from the admissions office, and I’m trying to figure out when I should tell you.” 

He winced. “Is it good news?” 

“Mmhmm.” 

His expression was pure mischief. “When are you going to tell me?” 

“I guess right now!” I patted the spot on the bed next to me, and he took two giant steps to me, plopped down, and faced me. “Ready?” 

“Yes, and you’re killing me.” 

“I’m graduating in the spring!” His cheerful smile turned to a confused frown almost instantly. 

“Wait, what?” 

“I’ll have enough credits in the spring to graduate, Jeff. Isn’t this exciting?!” 

He looked more than a little hurt. “What about us?” 

“I’ll wait for you.” 

“Des, I was planning on moving to Bridgeport after grad. The nightclub scene is hot there, and it’s where aspiring musicians go to pay their dues.” 

I hated myself for what would come out of my mouth next. “Well, then I’ll wait here for you to graduate, and we’ll go to Bridgeport together.”

“That still solves nothing, Des.” 

“How so? I thought it was perfect—” 

“You’re not giving up your dreams for me. I’m not worthy of that.” He took my hands and held them. “I love you too much to let you do that.” 

“We don’t have to decide now, do we? I mean, graduation isn’t until May…” 

“No, you’re right, Des.” He stood and knelt in front of me, his head on my lap. I ran my fingers through his hair. “I’m getting ahead of myself.” 

“Hey,” I said, and stroked his cheek. “I love you.” 

“I love you, too, Destiny, more than you know.”

“Do you still need to study?” I already knew the answer. 

“Oh, hell no.” He got up and pulled me to my feet, laid me down on my bed, and we kissed all night long, snuggled up together like we were one person. We stayed that way until we fell asleep.


“Are you sure you have everything, Des?” Jeff helped me zip my luggage. “I mean, you have your whole wardrobe in that bag.” I detected his sarcasm and returned it with a stuck-out tongue. The suitcase was jam-packed full of warm clothing. Sunset Valley was frigid this time of year, its name deceptively cruel. 

“I have everything I need, and a few things I don’t.” He took my case and set it with his. I turned to Angaloo, who would sit sentry on my bed while we were gone. “You supervise everything here, Anga. I’ll be back before you know it.” I hugged the kangaroo to my chest, then set him back down. Jeff walked to Anga and booped his nose. 

“Take good care of the place, Anga,” he said. I was impressed. Either he loved me that much, or he was as crazy as I was. I smiled at him and the warm gesture. “Are we ready, honey?” 

“We are,” I said. He carried his backpack over his shoulder, and my case in his other hand, while we walked down the steps. 

Our flight was quiet, but long. He paid for my ticket in first class, which I probably shouldn’t have let him, but his family was wealthy and he said he wanted to spoil me for our first proper holiday together. I knew he couldn’t wait for me to meet his folks. 

It was after 1:00 AM when the flight landed. He woke me with a kiss and a gentle caress. “We’re here, babyluv.” 

I stretched and yawned. My hair was messy, sleep heavy in my eyes, but Jeff looked at me like I was the most beautiful creature on earth. “That’s good. I need to stretch out in an actual bed.” 

“We’ll stay at the hotel inside the airport, and then drive into town in the morning,” he said. “I already have our room booked.” 

“Mmm, awesome,” I said with a dopey grin. As I awakened, I fantasized about a life with Jeff. Would it be so terrible to be his wife? I could get used to being spoiled. 

He took my hand, and we left the plane together. Our luggage would make it to our room within the hour, so we walked down the concourse toward the hotel, whose lobby sat just outside of security. He checked us in. “Dean,” he said.

“Yes, Mr. Dean. Your suite is on the ninth floor. Take the elevators ahead, your room is on the right. Enjoy your stay.” She handed him two cards that looked like a driver’s license with no photo on it. 

“Thank you,” he said, and took my hand again. “This way, my princess.”

The hotel was fancy and expensive, and I was overwhelmed. “Jeff, this is…” 

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” 

“Extravagant. I don’t know how you can afford this.” 

“Don’t worry about that, Des. This vacation is on me. Just enjoy it, okay?” 

How could I argue with that?

Jeff picked me up and carried me across the door’s threshold. Suddenly, I felt like a young bride without the wedding, and I sincerely hoped Jeff didn’t expect me to fulfill the duties of said young bride. I loved him with everything I had, but I wasn’t ready for that next step. We weren’t even engaged. 

He set me down on the floor near the bed. The lights were on inside; the decor was elegant and refined. There were two beds, both of them bigger than Mama and Daddy’s bed at the farmhouse, a dark wooden desk and dresser, a small table with four chairs, and a sink outside a bathroom. The bathroom had a shower, a tub, a toilet, and something resembling a toilet. I found out later it was a bidet. I couldn’t guess what it was used for. The room cost more than my entire house. I was sure of it.

“What do you think?” he asked. I know he saw my wide eyes taking everything in. I felt like a fool, a backwoods hick in the city for the first time. Because in reality, that’s exactly what I was. 

I walked to the bed and touched the fabric on the spread. It felt smooth, like silk. That’s when I spotted the single red rose on the pillow, along with a foil-wrapped chocolate candy. “This is…” I sat down on the bed; the mattress felt like a cloud. “So much… Jeff, I’m not used to such luxuries. The most expensive thing I own is my senior prom dress, and I’ll never wear it again.”

He sat beside me on the bed and snuggled up with me. “This will be your life should you choose me, Destiny. All the fine things you’d want; you’d never need to clean if you don’t want to. Just stay home and raise our babies.” He kissed me again; I melted into his arms, so in love with him. 

“Stay home and raise… How many children do you want, Jeff?” 

“As many as we can make, sweetheart. You’d have all the help, too! Just say the word, and everything is yours, babyluv.” He unbuttoned my sweater and slipped his hand inside it, over the shirt I wore underneath it. 

“Jeff,” I tried to wiggle out of his grasp. “Please don’t.”

“Don’t you love me, Destiny?” He reached to undo the buttons on the shirt; my hands caught his and stopped him. His anguished look surprised me. 

“Of course I love you, Jeff. But we agreed—”

“Shh,” he put his finger over my lips, then kissed my neck. “Make me the happiest man in the world tonight, babyluv.” 

You’re making this hard, Jeff, I thought. I heard Mama’s voice in my head, that first talk about sex: 

Destiny, that gift is something sacred. Only give it to the man who promises you his life and follows through. Once you give it away, it’s gone forever. 

My will was faltering, despite Mama’s voice on a constant loop. I closed my eyes as I felt his hand touch my skin in places where he’d never seen, let alone touched. I jumped; he held me tighter. My mind’s eye saw Daddy’s face, staring at me with disappointment in his eyes. I only saw it once; it was enough. I pulled away from Jeff’s grip and stood up. 

“Destiny, come lay down with me.”

I choked up; so much emotion, so much confusion muddling my thoughts. “I need some time to think, Jeff. I can’t do this right now.” 

He was frustrated. I knew he was close to that point of no return. I hoped he hadn’t crossed it yet. He sat up and sighed. “You’re right, babyluv. When we met, you stated your case, and I agreed with you. But you’re so damned beautiful, it’s easy to get carried away.” He held his arms open for me, and I walked back to him. Jeff embraced me; he kissed my belly, then laid his head on it. “I respect you. So I will pull back.” 

I ran my fingers through his thick, black hair. “I love you, Jeff. Thank you for understanding.” 

“I owe you an apology, Des. I’m sorry I’ve been so pushy. You make it difficult to wait for you.” 

I understood that. “You’ve made it pretty tough to say no, too. But I…” I fell short of telling him my thoughts, my promise. He’d already heard that ad nauseam. “I’m just not ready yet.” 

“I know. Good things come to those who wait. And I’m willing to wait for the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” He kissed me again. “That would be you.”

The love I felt for him swelled inside me. Maybe with him, I’d found the relationship I desired. That unbreakable bond. I sure hoped I had—I already had names picked out for our first two kids. Premature? Probably, but I didn’t care. 

“I love you, Destiny, more than anything or anyone else in my life.” 

“And I love you, Jeff. You’ve been just what I’ve needed, when I’ve needed it. You’re my soulmate.” 

He sighed. “If you’ll excuse me, there’s an icy cold shower with my name on it.” He chuckled, but then grimaced. “I’ve had more than my share of those since I met you.”

I giggled, but I didn’t know what he was talking about. He opened his suitcase, removed a pair of long pajama pants, and walked toward the bathroom. After I heard the water running, I did a quick search on my phone. I needed to understand; it was an eye-opener, but I found it flattering that he got so disturbed by me, he’d need an ice-cold shower. 

I took advantage of the chance to get undressed, so I slipped into a warm, fuzzy pair of pants and a shirt that I wore to bed at school. I was at the sink, washing up, when he opened the bathroom door, already in his pajamas. He filled them out rather nicely. 

“I hope I make it through the night without needing another one of those,” he said and laughed. “The water is freezing cold up here in the winter.” 

I blushed. “I hope so too, for your sake.” 

“Since we’ve already been there tonight, we’ll take separate beds. I can’t guarantee your desired results if we share a bed, Des.”

“Do I turn you on that much?” 

He looked at me as though I’d uttered the most ridiculous statement in the history of ridiculous statements. “Tell me you’re kidding.” 

“No, I’m not.” 

“Destiny, you’re every man’s dream woman. Beautiful and sexy, but unaware of how beautiful and sexy you are. Smart and funny, with a charming, child-like naïveté. Not to mention, that accent of yours drives me out of my mind. You’re the total package, Des. I’m so lucky that you’re mine.”

My accent? I found that amusing. Most people poked fun at it, or made me the butt of their jokes. But Jeff found it alluring. Interesting. “Well, I’m pretty lucky myself.”

“How lucky is that?” he teased. 

I giggled and kissed him. “Pretty darn lucky.” I admired his shirtless body. He wasn’t muscular, but what he had was well defined. There wasn’t much fat on his body at all. For a fleeting moment, I wondered what he’d be like in bed. I shook my head and tried to forget what I’d just entertained. 

“Well, morning comes early, and it’s approaching fast. Let’s get some sleep.” He took my hand and led me to the bed opposite his. “Goodnight, my sweet babyluv.” He wrapped himself around me one last time for the night and kissed me.

“Goodnight, my handsome prince.”


Jeff’s parents were friendly and so kind to me, opening their home to a complete stranger. Jeff gushed all over me when he made the introductions, telling them how much I meant to him. His mother embraced me and planted a peck of a kiss on my right cheek.

“Welcome to our home,” she said. “I’ll let Jeff give you the nickel tour.” 

The entryway was grand. An enormous chandelier hung in the foyer from the second floor ceiling. The floors were polished hardwood—rustic and beautiful—with rich-looking wallpaper on the walls. Crown moulding and fancy baseboards finished the look, and that was just the entrance. The living room was decorated with expensive furniture and an ornate fireplace. A tall, slender tree adorned with heirloom ornaments sat in the magnificent picture window. Plush rugs, oak accents, and house plants dotted the room. The living room was larger than the entire ground floor of the farmhouse. 

Jeff looked at me and smiled. He saw how overwhelmed I was because he took my hand and kissed it. “This is your home for the next four weeks, my babyluv. I hope you’ll be as comfortable here as you made me in your home.” 

I felt inadequate for him. My parents were hard workers, but they were always struggling to make ends meet. We had what we needed, but never any excess. Jeff’s life had always been abundant. How could I measure up? I was dumbfounded, but I followed him around, taking everything in. Every room he showed me made me crawl further into myself. 

He opened the door to a beautiful bedroom. The bed was much larger than the ones at the hotel and sat in a four-poster frame. The linens were beautiful and soft; the sheets had to be satin. I’d never felt anything so luxurious in my life. There was a dresser, a desk, and a walk-in closet bigger than Mama and Daddy’s bedroom. He pulled me to him and kissed me. 

“Do you like this room, babyluv?” I nodded, still looking around and admiring everything. He kissed me again, then whispered into my ear. “It’s your room. Make yourself comfortable.” 

“Really?” 

“Really. You can unpack your clothes into the dresser or closet. Your laptop on the desk. I have a guitar you can use while you’re here. Maybe you’d like to sing for us? I know my pop would love that.” 

I turned around in his arms and kissed him. “Where’s your room?” 

“Right next door,” he said. “That’s my next stop.” 

He took my hand and led me to the room adjacent. When he opened the door, I gasped. The room was twice the size of the one he’d shown me, and full of instruments; a keyboard, drum set, guitar, bass, a violin, and cello. “You play these, Jeff?” 

“Not all of them. I’m best at the drums, but I can play bass and keyboard, too. Everything else is for my jam sessions with my buddies. There’s a studio in the basement where I can make demos.” His face lit up. “Des! You should record a demo of that one song you love so much while we’re home! I can call my buddies to play, and I’ll play drums for you. It would be so much fun!”

A demo? I still remembered what Katie had told me about that song in particular. I trusted Jeff, but I didn’t know his friends from Adam. “Maybe,” I said with a coy grin. 

“Well, I know this is overwhelming for you, babyluv. Why don’t you get settled and unpacked? I will check on you soon. How’s that?” 

I nodded. A little quiet would do me well.

Most of my clothes hung on satin-covered hangers in the closet, except for my pajamas and other unmentionables. In my case, I had a small, wrapped gift I bought Jeff for Snowflake Day, though it seemed so insignificant now in comparison. It was a necklace with a Celtic snake pendant; masculine but not overstated. I could see it around his neck. I knew he’d love it.

A knock on the door startled me as I lay on the bed, daydreaming. “Come in?” 

Jeff peeked his head inside the door. “There’s my babyluv.” He wore a wide grin on his face. I couldn’t remember seeing him this happy. “My mom loves you, Des. I knew she would. My pop, though…” he paused for a moment. “Don’t be surprised if he’s a little rough around the edges. He can take a while with someone new.”

Somehow, that made me nervous. “Will he be okay with me staying here, Jeff? What if he doesn’t like me?” I wrapped a long piece of hair around my finger and twirled it. He grabbed my hand and looked into my eyes.

“There is nothing about you to dislike, Des. You’re perfect.” He stroked my face with the backs of his fingers. “Damn, you’re so beautiful.” 

I blushed a deep red. “I’m far from perfect.” 

“You are to me.” His eyes danced with mischief. “I can’t wait until your birthday!” 

“What’s going on then?” I asked, being flirtatious. 

“I bet you’d love to know.” He kissed my cheek and darted away from me. “I know, I’m being a brat. You’ll find out in good time.” 

I loved surprises, but I was especially good at reading people, and sometimes I could predict what was coming. However, Jeff had me stumped. For this, I was thankful. “I can’t wait!” 

“We can hang out by the fireplace. I’ll make some cocoa and we can snuggle.” 

He knew the way to my heart. “That sounds so romantic. I’m game.” 

The house backed up to a wooded area, rife with woodland creatures, from deer to small bears. The family room, where a second fireplace stood, was rustic and charming, much like Aunt Jenny and Uncle Paul’s ranch house back home. An overstuffed sectional sofa made a partial “U” shape around a large coffee table. The seating looked toward the fireplace.

Jeff’s mother, who I learned was named Audrey, made two piping hot mugs of cocoa and brought them to us as we settled onto the long section of sofa. He laid on his back; I snuggled up with him on his right side. I felt so cozy and loved. My head on his chest, I closed my eyes. 

I must have dozed off, because I awakened to Jeff talking with a young female with blonde hair. His fingers traced the curve of my body; it tickled, and I stifled a laugh, not wanting to disturb them. Instead, I wrapped my arms around him tighter, and snuggled much closer.

“You’re awake, babyluv,” he whispered. “Barb, this is my girlfriend, Destiny. Des, this is my twin sister, Barbara.” 

I knew Jeff had a sister, but I didn’t know they were twins. “So you’re the one who’s enchanted my brother? Nice to meet you.” 

Enchanted, huh? “Nice to meet you, too,” I said. 

“She’s an heiress, aren’t you, babyluv?” He rubbed my back, and I closed my eyes again. All this attention was amazing. 

“Heiress? Of what? A horse farm?” Barb looked down her nose at me and gave me a condescending smile. 

“That’s what my family home is. A horse farm, a field of award-winning fruits and vegetables…” I didn’t want to choke up and get emotional in front of Jeff’s snooty sister. My voice quivered, and a tear dropped onto Jeff’s shirt. “This is my first holiday without them…” A single sob shook our bodies, and then a deep sigh. “I’m sorry.” 

Jeff looked into my eyes and caressed my cheek. “You have no reason to be sorry.” Then he lowered his voice and side-glanced at his sister. “Just ignore her. She takes after my pop.”

Barb got up from the sofa. “Enjoy your hillbilly girlfriend, Jeffy.” She walked out of the room.

That didn’t make me feel better. “I’m going to turn in, Jeff. I don’t feel well.” It was a small lie. I felt fine, but I couldn’t take any more. I had been thinking about Mama and Daddy. Being bullied by his sister was the last straw. 

“Are you sure, babyluv? Mom is making a big dinner… I mean, supper.” 

I wiped tears from my eyes. “I’m just tired, I think.” Though I was relaxed, I needed to be alone. “Goodnight, Jeff.”

“At least let me walk you there?” I got up and stood on shaky legs. He didn’t miss a beat, lifting me into his arms and carrying me back to the bedroom. He set me down on the bed, then curled up next to me. “I won’t leave you until you fall asleep, or tell me to leave.” 

He always knew just what I needed. “Thank you.” I laid my head on the softest down pillow with a satin pillowcase. Jeff’s body spooned next to mine, his warm breath in my hair. I was tired, so it wasn’t long before I felt the gentle tug of slumber calling me back to its realm. Before he left me, I felt him cover me with a blanket, a tender kiss on my cheek, and his whispered confession of love in my ear. 

I’m not sure how much later it was when shouting woke me from sleep. The male voice was Jeff’s, but I didn’t know the female with whom he argued. Though I knew I shouldn’t, I laid quietly, eavesdropping on a very personal, very heated discussion. 

“… she shouldn’t be here, Jeff! What about Pamela? What is she going to say?” the female voice shouted. My heart leaped into my throat. Who was Pamela??

“What about her, Barb?” Oh… well, that made sense. I kept listening. “Pam and I are done, over! She’s the one who ended it, not me! So ask me again ‘what about Pam?’ Barb! I don’t care!” I heard angry footsteps, and then a door slam.

“Don’t you walk away from me, you overconfident ass!” Barb screamed at him. Jeff never answered the jab. Instead, I heard heavy footsteps approaching my door, and then walking past it; the door next to mine slammed shut.

Guilt overwhelmed me. I assumed their spat was my fault. I mean, who wouldn’t make that same assumption with what I’d overheard? But I had nowhere to go. I was stuck in a house where a brother and sister fought like cats and dogs, and I was their subject of disagreement. I pulled the blanket over my head and wept, desperately missing home and the family I loved.

*****

The next morning, I felt like death warmed over. My eyes and face were puffy from hours of tears. My head pounded. I felt like I hadn’t slept a wink all night. Jeff’s quiet knock on the door came moments later. 

“Des?” 

I pulled the blankets up over my body and settled back down into bed. “Come in, Jeff.” 

He couldn’t have mistaken my puffy face and tired eyes. “Are you okay, babyluv?” 

There was no sense lying about it. He’d find out, eventually. “I… I heard you and Barb arguing last night. Jeff, I shouldn’t be here—”

“Oh honey,” he said and sat on the bed next to me. “I’m sorry you heard that. My sister and I don’t see eye to eye on most things.” 

“Who is Pamela?” I couldn’t help it. I had trust issues. Thanks, Austin.

He took a deep breath and exhaled. “Pam is my ex-fiancée. We were engaged for all of five minutes before she had enough of me. In her defense, we were too young to be engaged. I was stupid, and I thought I loved her. But it wasn’t meant to be. Barb is her best friend, so that should tell you something.” 

“How young were you when you asked her?” I knew he was barely twenty-one.

“It was prom night, senior year. We dated through most of high school, from freshman year until, well, graduation. I went to Sim State with a broken heart. I had no intention of falling in love again.” He kissed me and stroked my cheek. “That was, until I met you. Des, you made it so easy to love you, I couldn’t help myself.” 

“Barb is right, Jeff. I shouldn’t be here; I’m interfering with your life—”

“No, honey,” he put his finger to my lips with a serious look. “You’re not interfering with my life at all. You are my life.” His words brought tears, though I wasn’t sure why. Happiness? Guilt? Relief? It didn’t matter. He kissed each one of them away, then hugged me close. “Do you realize, Des, how much you mean to me?” 

I gave him a teary half-smile. “I think I’m getting the hint.” 

“Good. Babyluv, please don’t believe you don’t belong here. As long as we’re together, you belong here, too.” He eyed my choice of pajamas and snickered. “Is that your ‘Jeff-repellent’ outfit? If so, it won’t work.” 

That made me laugh. “Good! I don’t want it to work, because I need you in my life.” 

His radiant smile made me happy, too. I couldn’t believe how much I adored that man. “Let’s go for breakfast.” He picked me up off the bed amid my squeals of protest and carried me to the kitchen.


My nineteenth birthday was three days before Snowflake Day. Jeff had plans for us, but he was being tight-lipped about it. His mom, who I adored, took me into town to shop for a dress. “Jeff’s treat,” she said, but divulged nothing else. I was so curious about everything. He was a master of the tease. 

We stopped at a boutique that carried evening gowns and cocktail dresses. He’d given her specifics about what he wanted. Her job was to make sure that I was properly outfitted, according to what he desired. 

A jingle bell on the boutique’s door rang as she pulled it open. “Hi, Mrs. Dean!” the shop owner said. “And who is this lovely young lady?” 

“Hi, Ana,” Audrey said. “This is Jeffery’s girlfriend, Destiny.” She covered her mouth with her hand, as though she was telling a secret. “They met at college! Isn’t she just the cutest thing? And wait until you hear her talk!” 

There’s that accent thing again. I never even knew I had an accent until I left home for school. Now, it’s as though no one’s ever heard a country drawl before. I was a little self-conscious about it. But Ana walked to me and held her hand out for me to shake. “Pleasure to meet you, Destiny.” 

I smiled at her. “The pleasure is mine,” I said, and then cringed. Destiny, you sound like a hick from Hicksville, I thought. 

Ana giggled and nodded at Audrey. “You’re right! She’s just adorable.” They whispered, and though I couldn’t discern what they were saying, I surmised it was about the dress we were there to buy. Ana looked me up and down. “I’m guessing she’s about a size… three?” 

I couldn’t believe it. “Yes,” I said and nodded. “That’s right.” 

“Let me see what we have that fits Jeff’s requirements. You stay right there, beautiful!” Ana said; she turned on her heel and excused herself to the stockroom.

Audrey walked up to me and put her arm around my shoulder. “You seem a bit out of place, dear. Just relax and enjoy yourself.” She gave me a quick hug and then whispered in my ear, “I’ve never seen Jeffy this happy before. You’re very good for him.” 

“I adore him,” I said with a smile. “He’s made it very easy to love him.” 

Ana had brown hair and a smile that reminded me of Polly back home in the Plains. Her eclectic clothing style was almost medieval with a corset that cinched her waist, a bulky necklace with a huge pendant, and distressed black jeans. Adorable ankle-length boots finished her odd, but somehow coordinating, look. 

Ana came back with a handful of beautiful evening gowns, all of them with no visible price tags. Drat! She held a baby blue gown up to me with a smattering of sequins around the skirt, and nodded. “Let’s try this one first!” She ushered me into a dressing room, and she stood there with me, ready to offer help. Well, this was awkward. No one had ever seen me undressed before except Dr. Jordan, when I had a physical for school. And Mama, of course. But Ana nodded at me in expectation. I sighed. Here goes nothing…

My sweater came off over my head, and Ana clicked her tongue at my bra. “We’ve gotta fix that!” she said with a chuckle. “You can’t wear something this elegant with that brassiere!” I couldn’t wait to slip off my jeans. Maybe she’d suggest I wear a thong. I rolled my eyes.

The gown was simply beautiful. Had it been up to me, I’d have stopped looking with this one. But Ana looked at my image in the mirror and consulted with Audrey. They twirled me around until I was dizzy, inspecting every fold and tuck in the dress. On my last turn, I stumbled toward the chair sitting nearby. Enough with the spinning already. 

“What do you think, Destiny?” Audrey asked. “It’s perfect for what Jeff wanted. There are others, though. Ana?” 

“It wouldn’t hurt to try another couple of dresses, sure!” Ana concurred.

Oh, goody. 

Next up was a purple, strapless number. Right off the bat, I hated it. Purple is not my color. I have blazing red hair. Let’s be real about this. But, to satisfy Audrey and Ana, I stepped into it and let her zip the back. Not my favorite, and Audrey seemed to agree. Two down, fifty gazillion to go. 

Ana held the next one up, and my heart skipped a beat. This is the one! I thought. Now, if Jeff approved, albeit through his mom, I was golden. It was a beautiful, creamy off-white with lace cap sleeves and a plunging back. I’d need a plan for a new bra with this number. The fabric was silky, and as Ana slipped it over my head and let the fabric fall around my body, I fell in love with this gorgeous gown. I imagined myself attending elegant dinner parties on Jeff’s arm, feeling like royalty, with flowers woven into my braided hair and wearing this dress.

Audrey’s mouth dropped open when I stepped onto the platform in front of the mirrors. She bobbed her head, and I thought I saw her wipe a tear away. If Mama could see me now, I thought. My eyes welled with tears.

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“Destiny, you’re a picture of grace and beauty in that gown. I think we have a winner,” Audrey said. “Ana, wrap this one.” 

Ana looked at me, inspected the gown; she noted everywhere it touched my body, how it accentuated every curve. “This doesn’t need a stitch. I seldom see gowns like this fit right off the rack.” She spun me around once, inspecting how the skirt flowed, and whirled with me. “The length is perfect, the fit is phenomenal. I’m blown away.” She stood next to me and hugged my shoulders. “You’ve made my job easy. Now, for the fun part! Let’s get you what you need!”

She took the time to measure me. She came out with a set that almost perfectly matched the gown’s color. The bra had clear straps and no back. I’d never seen such a contraption before. I was surprised at how comfortable it was. The panties were, as I suspected, skimpy but soft, and a garter belt held up real silk stockings. A pair of high-heeled shoes looked a lot better than my bare feet under the dress. I didn’t want to know the price tag on that shopping excursion. I bet it was more than Daddy paid for his truck.

Ana winked at Audrey. “Shall I have this delivered?” 

“Yes, please.” She handed Ana a card, signed a slip of paper, and took a shopping bag with my unmentionables inside. “Thank you, dear, for your help. I’m sure we’ll be back.”


On the morning of my birthday, I awakened to a dozen long stemmed red roses on my nightstand, and a card. I sat up in bed and sniffed one flower; for a rose, it was surprisingly fragrant. The card was enclosed in a scented envelope. My fingers slid under the flap, removed the card, and opened it. 

Destiny, I wanted to give you all my love for your birthday, but there’s no box big enough to hold it. Besides, it’s already yours. Happy birthday, my babyluv. – Jeff

I wept, and I didn’t feel bad about it. How lucky was I that I had someone who loved me so much? I was already feeling melancholy. A year ago, Mama and Daddy were celebrating my eighteenth birthday with me. They’d already been gone almost a year; it didn’t seem possible.

I was trying to collect myself when a knock sounded at the bedroom door. “Come in?” 

Jeff peeked his head in and waved. “Happy birthday, babyluv.” he said. 

“Thank you, Jeff, for the beautiful roses.” 

“And…?” 

I was confused. “And… what? Oh, the card. I loved it! Thank you.” 

Jeff smiled and walked to my bedside and the vase of roses. Hanging on a prong inside the bouquet was a gold necklace. The chain had a gold heart pendant with diamonds, and it was exquisite. 

“This, babyluv. You didn’t see it, did you?” He took the necklace from the flowers and placed it in my hands. “It’s not as beautiful as you, but it’s close.” 

The necklace took my breath away. “Oh, Jeff…” I didn’t know what to say. 

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“Let me put it on you, babyluv.” He took the delicate chain from my hands and placed it around my neck, secured the clasp, and spun me around. “Its beauty only enhances yours.” He drew close to me and embraced me. “I can’t wait for tonight. It will be unforgettable.”

I rested my head on his shoulder, completely overwhelmed. “I love you,” I whispered. 

“Des, I will love you forever. Believe me when I say it.”

“I do,” I said.

“Mom is making breakfast for you. Get your robe and slippers, and let’s get some coffee.” 

I nodded my head, still in a complete daze. “Okay.” Jeff held the robe for me, then I slipped my fuzzy socks on my tootsies. We walked to the kitchen together.

Audrey had cooked an impressive spread—pancakes, sausage, bacon, omelettes, toast, bagels, and French toast. Was she feeding all of Sunset Valley? I wondered. “This smells amazing, Audrey,” I said. 

“Happy Birthday, Destiny Grace,” she said and gave me a hug. As many times as I told her my middle name was Penelope, she told me ‘Grace’ fit me better. Who am I to argue with someone who can cook like that?

“Thank you,” I said, blushing. 

“Help yourself. Jeff, don’t let her be shy.” 

He loaded plates for both of us while I sat at the dining room table, our coffee waiting for us. I sat stirring my cup when he returned. He had a stack of pancakes, eggs, and bacon on his plate. On mine, he had placed a ham, swiss and asparagus omelette, wheat toast, and a wedge of honeydew melon. I’d never seen asparagus before—I had to ask him what it was!—but I discovered I liked it. 

We ate together, not saying much. When I’d taken my last bite of omelette, I was stuffed. Audrey brought some bacon and sausage into the dining room and placed a couple links onto my plate, despite my protests. Jeff looked at me, struggling to put one more morsel into my mouth, and he chuckled. 

“You don’t have to eat that, Des. Mom is a feeder.” 

“Whew,” I said. “I can’t fit another bite in there.” I sipped the last of my coffee; Jeff stole the sausage from my plate with a mischievous smile. “I’m good until supper.” 

“Well, save your appetite, babyluv. You will want to eat where I’m taking you tonight.” 

I studied his face, trying to read him. What did he have planned? He was a master at hiding his emotions. I couldn’t glean one clue from him. “Any hints?” 

He clicked his tongue at me. “Nuh uh uh! No hints! In fact,” he began, and then reneged. “Nope! No more tricks either, you cheeky girl! You almost got one out of me!”

I stuck my tongue out at him and giggled. “You can’t blame a girl for trying, can you?” 

Jeff kissed my cheek, leaving a wet print on my skin. “Nope.” 

After breakfast, he strongly encouraged me to shower, which I did. At noon, he took me downtown for what he called ‘extreme primping.’ The car he kept at the mansion in Sunset Valley was much nicer than the Camaro he had at school, and I was pretty impressed with that one. He had a Mercedes Benz, whatever that was. It was jet black and shiny, and it felt like driving on a cloud. 

My appointment was at a local day spa, where they would do my hair, nails, and makeup to complement the gown he’d bought me for our special date. He showed them a photo of the dress, and the stylist showed a couple of basic styles by twisting my hair into shape. We decided on a classic updo, neutral shades of makeup, and skin care they said would make my face glow. Jeff kissed my cheek, left his phone number, and said he’d be back to get me when they were finished making their masterpiece. 

My hair stylist, a young man not much older than Jeff, was fascinated with my accent. Wayne—as I learned he was called—washed, dried, and styled my hair into a beautiful setting. When he was finished tucking every stray lock of hair, he handed me the mirror and spun the chair around. “What do you think, love?” he said.

I gawked at the elegant style, overwhelmed by how much Jeff was willing to do for my birthday. The gown, shoes, the unmentionables, the necklace, and now a full makeover? How was I worthy of it all? 

“It’s stunning, Wayne. I love it.” 

He fiddled with stray locks of hair and then froze my style in place with at least half a can of hairspray. When he finished, it was clear I was stuck with that hairdo for a few days. 

“I’m done with you here. Over to Kat for your nails, and then Tammy for a facial and makeup!” He gave me a quick hug. “You are drop dead gorgeous, girl. Knock him dead.” 

“Thanks Wayne,” I said, blushing. 

Kat welcomed me, and we sat down at her table. Mesmerized, I watched her manicure my fingernails, then apply acrylic nails over my natural ones. She painted them a blazing shade of red and affixed tiny rhinestones into the polish. When she finished, I gawked at them. I’d never be able to type on my laptop or play guitar with these things on my fingers. But if Jeff wanted them there, I’d work with it.

“Over to Tammy now,” Kat said. “It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Miss Destiny. Enjoy your evening.”  

“Thank you,” I replied. Tammy was ready for me, so I walked to her station, which was set up like a professional makeup studio, probably because it was. Tammy applied cleansers, moisturizers, and a base foundation to cover up what she called minor imperfections. So minor, in fact, that she almost didn’t bother with concealer. 

She asked me what color blush and eyeshadow I preferred. I only owned one color of each, so that’s what I wore. But Tammy explained each color she chose and what it would do to complement my natural complexion. I almost didn’t recognize myself when she was finished. 

“What do you think?” she asked. 

I chuckled and said, “Who am I?”

“You’re beautiful. That’s who you are. Mr. Jeff is going to love this.” 

“You know Jeff?” 

Tammy nodded. “We went to school together. I don’t think you realize what a catch you have in him, Miss Destiny. He’s the most eligible bachelor in the Tri-City area.” 

“Tri-City?” 

“Sunset Valley, Dragon Valley, and Midnight Hollow.” She snickered at me. “I guess you’re not familiar with the area, judging by your accent.” 

I was growing to despise my country drawl. “Not at all.” 

“Well, you hang onto him. Every woman in this town wants him.” 

If how he treated me was any sign, I had little to worry about. “I think we’re good.” 

“He’s worth millions. If you marry him, you’ll never need to worry about anything.” 

I shrugged. “I’m not interested in the money.” 

“Honey, you’d be the first one who isn’t. Maybe that’s why he adores you so much.” Tammy nudged me. “Here he is now.” The door opened and Jeff walked through it. 

“Where’s my gorgeous babyluv?” he said with a broad grin. “Hi Tammy. I hope you dolled her up all pretty for me.” 

“She needed very little. She’s a knockout.” Jeff signed a slip of paper, took my arm and kissed my cheek. 

“That’s true. She’s beautiful right out of bed.” I blushed a deep red and elbowed him. “Oof, Des,” he whispered. “You’ve got quite a kick.” 

“Please don’t imply we’ve been intimate. I’m not comfortable with that,” I whispered back. 

He kissed me again and stroked my cheek. “You’re right, and I’m sorry.” He walked to Tammy and whispered into her ear. I saw her nod, then wink at me. “Ready to go, sweetheart?” 

Yes! Please get me out of here! “Yes, Jeff.” He took my hand, and we left the spa.

When we got back home, he hugged me and gave me a long, passionate kiss. “I need to get ready for tonight. Be out here by five. You have an hour to dress and finish primping. Please wear this necklace? I bought it to go with your gown.” He fiddled with the heart necklace he gave to me that morning. 

“Of course. I’ll see you in an hour, right here.” 

“On the dot. We can’t be late.” 

“I’ll be here, Jeff.” We walked hand in hand back to our rooms.

The gown had arrived the day after our visit to the dress shop, packaged and draped on a satin hanger. I removed it from the plastic bag and laid it on my bed. The bag of lingerie still sat on the dresser where I’d placed it when we came home that day. I carried it to the bed and began dressing. 

Underneath, I wore a matching bra and skimpy panty set, a coordinating garter belt, and silk stockings. I observed myself in the mirror, and what I saw shocked me. I was a woman; little girls don’t wear this kind of clothing.

The gown was more elegant than I remembered it, silky to the touch and perfect in fit and style. I walked to the full-length mirror in the bedroom. The flood of emotion that came with it was unexpected. If only my parents could see me.

With fifteen minutes to go, a soft knock sounded at my bedroom door. “Who is it?” I called out. 

“It’s Audrey, dear.” 

I walked to the door and opened it. She walked right inside and inspected my dress, my hair, my makeup. She had a small box in her hands, wrapped in gold paper. “This is for you, Destiny.” She sat on my bed and patted the spot next to her, so I joined her. I took the box from her hands and unwrapped it. A long, beautiful scarf-like object was inside. 

“Thank you, Audrey. This is… gorgeous.” What do I do with it?

“It’s a pashmina,” she said. “You wear it over your shoulders.” She took the item from me and draped it over my body. I fell in love with the luxurious fabric on my skin. “This will be all you need to keep warm tonight.” 

I couldn’t think straight. Why was I deserving of so much pampering and spoiling? I’d never want to return to Appaloosa Plains, not even to sell the house, if he didn’t stop spoiling me. “This is… I’m speechless, Audrey.” 

“My son loves you, Destiny. He wants tonight to be perfect.” She kissed my forehead and stood. “He will adore this. Have a lovely time tonight.” 

“Thank you, for everything.” What else could I say? At every turn, Jeff’s family treated me as their own. 

“You’re welcome,” said Audrey. “He’s waiting in the breezeway.” 

I took my small satin purse, wearing my elegant gown and pashmina, and I walked to the foyer where Jeff waited for me. He wore a black tuxedo with a vest underneath that matched the color of my dress. A single red rose was pinned to his lapel. His mouth dropped open as I approached him. 

“You…” he said. It was almost as though he couldn’t speak. “You look elegant tonight.” 

I felt so shy and intimidated. “You look handsome in your tux,” I finally squeaked out. He held his hand to me. 

“Shall we?” 

I nodded. He led me outside, where a stretch limo awaited us. He whispered to the driver, who held the door for me, then slipped a tip into his fingers. The driver nodded as Jeff climbed into the limo after me. 

“Where are we going?” I asked. 

“Oh, babyluv, you’re going to love this.” He took my hands and kissed them. “Everything will be revealed soon.” 

Twenty minutes later, we pulled up outside a gate at what looked like the airport. The driver showed credentials, and the guard allowed us to pass. The limo pulled up beside an airplane. 

“What’s this?” I asked, more nervous.

“This will take us to our dinner reservation tonight, Des. We’re going to Bridgeport to dine at their most exclusive restaurant. The flight will be about an hour. Our reservation is for seven.” 

I couldn’t handle it anymore. My emotions overtook me, and I wept. I didn’t want to ruin my makeup, so I dabbed my eyes to keep the damage to a minimum. “Jeff, this is way too much—”

“Nonsense,” he whispered. “This is just the beginning.” 

Almost ninety minutes later, we were on the ground at Bridgeport’s municipal airport. You’d think with a city as large as Bridgeport, it would have an international airport. And maybe it did. Another limousine took us from the plane into the city. 

If I thought Sunset Valley was a big city, then Bridgeport was a metropolis to me; a far cry from my hometown of Appaloosa Plains. Wide-eyed, I looked out the limousine’s window. I couldn’t imagine what Jeff thought with me gawking. All these things came naturally to him. I felt like a misplaced hillbilly.

The car stopped outside a venue with crowds of people lined up. The driver opened the passenger side door. Jeff stood with a hand to help me out. The temperature must have been cold, but I don’t remember feeling a chill in the air. A dusting of recently fallen snow blew around on the sidewalks. I put my hand in Jeff’s and stood. With a confident stride, he led me past the throng of waiting would-be patrons and inside the establishment. 

“Dean,” he told the host. “Party of two.” 

The gentleman looked down at his book, found the name, and nodded. “Right this way, Master Dean.” Jeff looked at me, took my arm, and we walked together about five paces behind the host. 

“Your table, sir.” He led us to a corner table away from the main dining room; just a few tables surrounded ours. A vase with another dozen long-stemmed roses sat on the table. What he’d spent in flowers alone must have been astronomical. Jeff held my chair until I sat, then took a seat to my right. 

The dining room was elegant. Dark wood paneling adorned the walls, which made the crisp, white linens on the tables pop. Each table was set with golden flatware and two glasses. One for water, I assumed, and one for wine. Nearby was a fireplace burning with gas logs. It radiated an impressive amount of heat, too. I could see why Audrey was certain the pashmina would be suitable. 

Jeff looked at me with pure love on his face. He took my hand and kissed it. “What do you think, Des?” 

I shook my head, but smiled. “How am I worth all of this fuss, Jeff? A year ago I was with my daddy, watching him die day by day…” I swallowed that old familiar lump. I couldn’t cry now. I had nothing to touch up makeup if I did.

“You’re worth it because I love you.” 

They were words he’d said a thousand times, but hearing them in that place made my heart flutter and butterflies swarm in my stomach. “I love you, too. You have outdone yourself.” 

“Never,” he whispered. “For you, nothing is too good or too expensive. Destiny, you are my queen.” 

The waiter came by in the middle of our exchange. Jeff ordered a bottle of champagne; the waiter didn’t ask if I was old enough to drink. He simply nodded and walked away, then returned with two chilled flutes and a bottle of champagne. He popped the stopper from the bottle and poured two bubbly glasses, then placed the bottle into a bucket with ice. 

Jeff picked up his glass and raised it. “To you, my sweetheart. Happy birthday.” 

“Cheers.” I said. “And thank you.” 

In the middle of the dining room sat a grand piano with a pianist playing romantic songs. I recognized quite a few of them from music appreciation classes. Jeff stood and reached for my hand. “I’d love to dance with you.” He pulled me up and into his arms with just a gentle tug. 

“I can’t dance very well,” I said. “I’m sure line dancing and two-stepping isn’t quite appropriate in this setting.” He must have seen me blush, because he pulled me close to him. 

“Just follow my lead,” he whispered. “You’ll be fine.”

Screenshot-105 

Jeff led me to the dance floor; he held me in his arms, and at first we swayed to the music together. As we danced, I wondered how different my life would be if I married him, if he ever asked. Could I give up my dreams and ambitions to be a kept woman? I knew I wanted children eventually. Would it be enough for me to sit at home while Jeff lived my dream? I couldn’t answer that question. 

We danced together for three songs; when we walked back to the table, he stopped two feet from my chair, took my hands, and stared into my eyes. 

“Destiny, I never thought I’d meet someone like you, so perfect for me in every way. And I can’t imagine a moment of my life without you in it.” I saw him reach into his jacket pocket. I watched as he knelt before me, one knee down. He opened a clamshell box and inside was the biggest diamond ring I’d ever seen. My entire body trembled. 

Screenshot-97

“Destiny Farmer, would you do me the honor of being my wife?” By now, everyone in the restaurant was staring at us. He stayed there on one knee, tears in his eyes. I was fighting my own; my head bobbed. I shocked myself when I spoke. 

“Yes!” 

Jeff placed the box on the table, stood, and picked me up into the air. He let me back down, my arms found their way around his shoulders, and he kissed me. “You’ve made me the happiest man in the world, Destiny. I love you.” He took the ring from the box and slid it onto my left hand. Immediately, the ring sparkled and dazzled me. I hadn’t even noticed the applause and commotion our moment had caused. 

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“I love you, Jeff.”

He took my hand and led me back to my seat, held the chair for me while I sat, and took his place next to me again. My thoughts, my head, were muddled. Though it should have been a joyous occasion, I wanted to cry. “Order without me,” I whispered into his ear, choking on the emotion I bore. I excused myself and went into the ladies’ room.

How I hadn’t ruined my makeup was a mystery to me. I sat on a loveseat for a few moments to collect my thoughts and my composure. Jeff blindsided me with a marriage proposal; all my doubts about my future went out the window. I was going to be his wife. A huge part of me was excited, but the dreamer in me believed I was disappointing my parents by giving up on my plans and ambitions. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, I reasoned to myself. Maybe I could join his band and sing with him. That was the answer my restless soul needed. Yes! That was my plan. 

A few minutes later, I walked from the ladies’ room and rejoined my fiancé in the dining room. Boy, did that feel weird. I had a fiancé. 

“Are you okay, babyluv?” he asked. 

“Yes, I am now. I just needed some time to compose myself.”

“I’m surprised you said yes.” His confession stunned me.

“Why?” 

“I know you feel out of place, with all this extravagance and luxury. I promise you, it gets better.” 

“There’s plenty to discuss, but not tonight.” He kissed my hand while I spoke. “We can do that some other night.” 

“What do you want to do tonight, my love?” 

I smiled at him. “I want to enjoy everything.”

He cocked his head at me. “Everything?” 

“Well, not that.” His disappointed look made me laugh. “Just because you gave me a ring, it doesn’t mean I forget my promise.”

“Damn,” he said, feigning sadness. “I was hoping for the mile-high club.” 

I didn’t want to know what that was.

*****

It was past 3:00 AM when our limo pulled back into the mansion’s driveway. I slept most of the way back, curled up in Jeff’s arms. He woke me with a soft kiss and a gentle caress. 

“We’re home, babyluv,” he whispered. He got out of the limo and lifted me. With ease, he carried me in his arms through the front door, down the hallway, and into my bedroom. 

“Mmm…” I muttered. “I’m not ready for the night to end.” I heard Jeff laugh.

“Des, you’ve been ready since we left the restaurant. I guess the champagne went right to your head.” 

“Well, I’m underage. I’m not supposed to drink.” I felt him unzip the zipper on my dress. 

“Do you need some help to get ready for bed?” 

I forgot what I was wearing under my gown, nor did it occur to me it might cause an issue. I nodded my head. “Yes, please.” 

He slid the gown off my shoulders, and it fell to the floor quicker than I could process it. I stood in front of him in the sexiest lingerie I’ve ever owned. I must have still been tipsy, because I didn’t seem to mind it. 

“Oh, Des,” he mumbled. “Are you sure you want help? I’m not sure I can keep my hands off of you.” 

“Mmhmm,” I remember saying. “My pants are in my drawer…” 

I can’t imagine how difficult it was for him to take the lingerie from my body. I have to give him credit; he got my clothes changed and me into bed. I felt him curl up behind me, and he kissed my neck and shoulders before I fell asleep.

*****

The next morning I woke up with Jeff beside me, and a sinking feeling in the pit of my gut. What happened that I didn’t remember? I gazed at my left hand, where the enormous diamond engagement ring sat. Yeah, I remembered him proposing, and me saying ‘yes’. Everything after that was a blur. 

I wiggled away from him and noticed I was in my pajamas. How did I get undressed and into my jammies? I needed to remember; I made a mental note to stay away from champagne. He must have seen me—on my birthday, ironically—in my birthday suit. A part of me wanted to vomit. 

I stumbled into the bathroom attached to my bedroom. The good news? My panties were still on my body. While I was busy in the bathroom, I heard Jeff calling my name. “Just a sec,” I yelled to him. That wasn’t a good idea. My first lesson in overindulgence: alcohol causes headaches. 

“Des?” He was there in seconds. “Are you okay? You were pretty tipsy last night.” 

“Yeah, I’ll be right out.” I splashed some water on my face and patted it dry. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what happened.

The door swung open to him sitting on the bed where we’d slept together. I hoped that was all we did. “There’s my beautiful fiancée. Come here babyluv.” He held his arms open for me and wrapped me in a hug. “Are you sure you’re okay?” 

“I have a headache, but I’m alright. Please tell me we only slept in that bed, Jeff.”

“We only slept, Des. You were too tipsy, and I want you to remember our first time, honey.” 

A tremendous wave of relief washed over me. “I don’t want to sound like a prude—”

“Shh, Des.” He put his finger over my lips. “You’re not. It’s refreshing to have a woman like you. You’re not after me solely for sex or my fortune.” 

I shrugged. “I don’t care about the money. And the other part? It’s a thing back home. It’s very unheard of to see teenage pregnancy or premarital sex. I want to honor my parents, Jeff. It’s what they expected of me.”

He kissed the top of my head and snuggled me closer. “And I respect that, Destiny. Your innocence is precious to me. I’ll never jeopardize that. You have my word.” 

That… that was exactly what I needed to hear. Our next kiss was tender and passionate. “I love you so much, Jeff,” I whispered into his ear. 

He brushed my hair out of my eyes and smiled. “I love you, too.”

v.

For Snowflake Day, I met his whole family; cousins, aunts, uncles, his brother that lived in another city. I didn’t even know about him. Our engagement was the topic of interest. Everyone congratulated us and told me I had snagged the most eligible bachelor in the city. Somehow, though I’m not sure why, that made me uncomfortable. 

Jeff loved the necklace I bought for him, but it seemed like such a token, a mere trinket compared to what he had done for me. But I reminded myself, too, that I’m not rich. Not yet, anyway. Someday, I’ll wear a wedding band in front of my diamond ring, and I’ll fit that description. 

Audrey and Barb made a huge supper, and the best pecan pie I’d ever had. Gathering around the fireplace in the family room, we sang together all the holiday classics. Jeff stayed with me the whole day, doting on me with a display of true love and affection. 

At 7:30 that night, I was tired, and I needed to call Aunt Jenny back home. Though I loved them, I didn’t look forward to the call because it would only serve to remind me that Mama and Daddy were really gone. I said goodnight and excused myself to my room. 

Aunt Jenny answered the call right away, her sing-song voice on the other end greeted me. “Hey Desi! Happy Snowflake Day, sweet pea!” 

Hearing Mama and Daddy’s nickname for me ripped my heart in two. “Hi Aunt Jenny. Happy Snowflake Day!” I hoped my happy greeting covered the emotion I felt. 

“How’s it going up there in Sunset Valley? Are you having a good time with Jeff’s family?” 

Where did I start? “You could say that. Jeff and I are engaged.” 

“What?!” she shrieked with joy. “Oh Destiny, that is wonderful news! When? How?” 

I smiled, remembering the night. “On my birthday, he flew me to Bridgeport to this fancy, exclusive restaurant. It was amazing and SO romantic!” 

She didn’t speak for a moment. “A private jet, Desi?” 

“Yes! His family is very wealthy, judging by the mansion I’m staying in. The formal living room is bigger than the whole farmhouse.”

“Your mama and daddy would be very proud of you!” she said. “Did Jeff like the necklace?” 

I nodded, even though she couldn’t see me. I had a bad habit of doing that. “He loved it! Though, after he gave me the ring, the necklace seemed so trivial.” 

“Psh,” Aunt Jenny said. “Anything you give him, Desi, he’ll cherish. I’m so happy for you! Are you moving to Starlight Shores after you get married? Where do you think you’ll get married? Goodness, I’m so excited for you!” 

“That’s the thing, Aunt Jenny. We’re not moving to the Shores. Jeff wants to go to Bridgeport and promote his band. He says all aspiring musicians live there and pay their dues in Bridgeport.” I bit my lip. 

“Well, that’s surprising, Desi. I never thought you’d give up Starlight Shores for anyone.” 

I didn’t think so, either. “Well, there’s a chance I can sing with him in his band, so I won’t be giving up much.” 

“A chance?” 

“We haven’t discussed it yet, and we’ve made no concrete plans. But a wedding is over a year away, after graduation.” Nice segue.

“Well, keep me up to date on everything, sweetheart. Are you still graduating in the spring?” 

“As long as I keep up the course load I’ve been doing, yes. I’ll have a year to spend in the Plains getting the house ready to sell.” 

“Isn’t Jeff graduating in the spring, too?” 

“No, he’s a junior this year. He has one more year left.”

“I’m surprised you’re not staying on campus with him, Desi. Can you bear to be apart from him?”

I sighed. “That doesn’t matter. I have work to finish back home. Maybe if the house sells quickly, I can go back sooner. But I want to at least visit Starlight Shores before I surrender my dream.” 

“You sound a little sad about that, Destiny. Be sure you want to abandon everything you’ve longed for and worked for.” Her smile came through the phone. “I love you, kiddo.”

“I love you, too, Aunt Jenny. When we’re back on campus, I’ll call you. Happy new year!” 

“You too, Desi. Be safe, and have fun!”

The emotions I’d hid all day came when I disconnected the call. The pain of missing Mama and Daddy, missing the familiarity of home and family, overcame me. Only a year ago, we were still together. I wept into my pillow until I fell asleep.


Jeff partially moved into my dorm room with me once we were back on campus for the spring semester. I made a spot for him in my closet, despite him still living with Jacob. We spent all our free time together, studying and planning for our future. 

That February, Love Day was upon us. Jeff told me to keep the date open, that he had something special planned. He was secretive about it, but I didn’t question him. He loved to surprise me, and I found I loved when he did. 

His big surprise was an elegant restaurant about twenty miles off-campus. It wasn’t as exclusive as the one in Bridgeport, but it was cozy and romantic. I wore the gown he bought for my birthday, and he dressed in a tailored suit. We drove in his fancy sports car to the restaurant, parked in the lot, and he escorted me inside as though I was royalty. 

The hostess sat us by the window, overlooking a lake with a waterfall. Snow still blanketed the ground outside; the scene was idyllic. He held my chair as I sat, then took the seat to my right. “No champagne for you tonight, I’m afraid. They will card you here. My family has influence in Bridgeport, which is why they didn’t ask you.” He took my hand and kissed it. “I’m sure you won’t mind, though.” 

I laughed. “Nope! I might never drink again.”

Jeff looked at me with love in his eyes. “Damn, Des, you are so beautiful. You make me ache for you.” 

I blushed. “You always have a way of rendering me speechless,” I whispered. 

“What would you like for supper tonight?” he asked. I was impressed that he called it ‘supper,’ too. He was proving to be trainable.

“You choose for me, Jeff. It doesn’t matter. You haven’t disappointed me yet.”

The waiter came to get our order. Jeff ordered a glass of wine for himself, and a sparkling cider for me. Our meal orders were a secret. After the waiter left, he stood and pulled me to my feet.

“Care to dance, beautiful lady?” 

“Of course, my handsome love.” He led me to the dance floor; we swayed together for a few songs and then returned to our seats. 

We chatted about nothing of consequence, which to me was odd. Plans needed to be discussed, and yet we were talking about mundane things. I took his hand and held it. “What will we do after graduation, Jeff?” I asked him. “We have to plan our wedding, and pick a date for it. Not in that order, of course.” 

“I’m not sure,” he said. His demeanor had changed from sweet to standoffish. Something was wrong. “I mean, you’re out of here in May, and I’m stuck for another year.”

“Is that an issue?” 

He shook his head, but his face told a different story. “Not at all.” 

“What’s wrong, Jeff?” 

“Nothing, Des.” His answer didn’t sit well with me.

“Are you sure—”

“Drop it!” he snapped at me. 

I wasn’t sure why, but he was preoccupied. Was he angry with me? I couldn’t tell, but if he was, I didn’t know what I’d done. Though I wanted to excuse myself to the ladies’ room, I stayed. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. “Whatever I did, I’m sorry.” 

His expression softened. “It’s not you. I don’t mean to take it out on you, either.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” 

He shook his head. “No. It’s okay. I’ll just figure it out when we get back.” 

So it was me, and he didn’t want to say it. 

The rest of the evening was lackluster. The meal came, and we ate together, but it wasn’t the occasion I’d expected when we began. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d done something he didn’t like. 

Turns out, it was something I didn’t do.

On the drive back to campus, he was back to his loving, sweet self, and I just assumed everything would be normal. He parked his Camaro in the lot behind the dorm, opened my door, and helped me out. We walked hand in hand up the steps to my dorm room; I turned the key in the door and opened it for us. 

His friend came and placed a bottle of wine with two glasses, roses, and strawberries. That was a shock, a welcomed one, especially after the uncomfortable evening we’d had. “Surprised, babyluv?” he asked. 

A smile crossed my face. “This is lovely,” I said. I had qualms about the wine, but I let it go. We would be the only ones drinking it, and I committed to just one glass. He uncorked the wine and poured two glasses. 

“A toast. To the love of my life.” 

“Cheers!” I said, and took my first sip. The wine was dry, almost undrinkable. I took another sip. Yep, hated it.

“Babyluv, I’m sorry I’ve been distant. I didn’t mean to be a grump through dinner. I’m just so…” He didn’t finish his sentence. 

“So, what…?” 

I looked at him, trying so hard to figure out what was bothering him. “It’s nothing. You’re perfect, Des.” He took a deep sip of his wine; almost half of the glass was gone in one gulp. He went back to fill it, and drank half of that glass, too. Surely, he couldn’t like this stuff. It was terrible. “I could kiss you forever,” he said.  

“Then why don’t you?” I winked at him, patting the spot next to me on the bed. That might have been my first mistake. 

He took another gulp of wine, emptying the glass, then set it down and joined me on the bed. I felt like he was undressing me with his eyes. His kisses were forceful but passionate… different. “Damn, you’re gorgeous,” he whispered into my ear. He laid me back on the bed, something we’d done many, many times before. But something felt unusual. 

He sat up and straddled my hips, trapping me under his body. Jeff took my hands in his and pinned them down to the bed. “Jeff…” I started, but he kissed me hard. It happened so fast, I didn’t have time to react.

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“We’re doing this tonight. I need you so bad, I can’t see straight. Please, baby, let me make love to you.” 

I tried to sit up, but I couldn’t. “Jeff, no…” 

“Yes, Des. It’s time, and I’ve been more than patient with you.” 

“We’re not married—”

“We’re good as married! Dammit, Destiny, you owe me this!”

I don’t remember what came next, but before I knew it, I was standing, and my hand stung. On Jeff’s left cheek was a bright red handprint, courtesy of my right hand. His face wore a look of hurt and betrayal. “Jeff, I’m so sorry—”

“I need some space,” he said, gathered his coat, and left my room. I collapsed, weeping on my bed. 

An hour later, I decided Jeff was right. I was being unreasonable, and selfish, and prudish. I dressed in the lingerie he’d purchased and then slipped the gown over my head. My hair looked okay, a quick fix on the makeup, and I looked presentable. I swallowed my worry and gathered a healthy dose of courage, straightened myself up, and walked across the hallway to his room. I knocked before I turned the doorknob; it was open, so I peeked my head in.   

“Are you busy, Jeff?” 

He didn’t look up from his homework. “No.” 

I walked in and sat on his bed. “I’m sorry. For everything. I don’t need to be so uptight and prudish—”

“Shh. Des, what happened wasn’t your fault. You were absolutely right to stop me. I’m not being respectful of you and your promise when I act that way. So in every way, I’m the one who owes you an apology.” He walked to the bed and sat with me. “Baby, I’m so sorry. I promise you one thing from this day on. I won’t put you in a position like that ever again.” He kissed my fingers. “I don’t want to push you away, and I’m afraid if I keep pressing this issue with you, I’ll end up doing that.” 

Trying to dispel the emotion I felt, I shook my head. “I’m ready, Jeff. I came here to tell you—”

His gentle, charming smile put me at ease. “I’m not, babyluv. If you say yes now, it’s because I’ve pressured you. That’s not how love should work.” 

I couldn’t believe what he was telling me. The evening’s emotions overtook me; I broke down in his arms. He rocked me as he held me, whispering words of love and comfort to me. When I collected myself, I kissed him. “I love you, Jeff.” 

“I love you more than anything else in my life, Des. Let’s finish our date. What do you say?” 

I nodded. “I would love that.”


Aunt Jenny and Uncle Paul couldn’t make it to Sim State for my graduation. Without them, I almost considered skipping the ceremony and having my degree forwarded to the farmhouse back home. But I dressed up anyway in the nicest dress I owned. The off-white gown was overkill for graduation, so I chose one I’d brought from home.  

My BA degree was in fine arts with a concentration on vocal performance. The university honored me for my proficiency in writing, art, and instrumental performance. The dean, who presented the special honor, explained that no other student in the school’s history had accomplished what I had done. It should have been a proud moment; I only thought of Mama and Daddy. How I wished they were there.

After the graduation ceremony, I packed up what I was taking home with me, and labeled other items to ship them. Jeff helped me carry boxes and bags full of stuff to the common room downstairs. Jacob stood there watching us with his usual condescending look. In the two years I attended Sim State, he never took a step to befriend me. I supposed what Jeff had said of him was true: Jacob Salaman was indeed a miserable person.

Jeff drove me to the post office to mail three boxes back home, and then we left for the airport. He had offered to come help me clean and get the house ready to sell, and I accepted every opportunity to be with him as our college days together came to an end. We were no closer to figuring out our future, either. 

We waited together at the gate where we would board the plane, talking and laughing. He bought us both a coffee while we waited. He handed mine to me and plopped down beside me. 

“There you go, babyluv,” he said. “Just how you like it.” 

I took a sip and smiled. Was there anything he didn’t know about me? “Thank you, Jeff. It’s perfect.” 

“Like you.” 

I snickered. “Hardly.” 

“Psh. You’re your own worst enemy, Des. You’re more than perfect. You’re mine.” 

I couldn’t argue with him on that point. 

Not long after, the attendant called our flight to board. Jeff paid for my first-class ticket again; we walked on board, our fingers clasped together. He took my carry-on bag for me and stowed it. And being a gentleman, Jeff gave me his window seat. 

I slept most of the way home with Jeff wrapped around me. He later told me he loved watching me sleep, that he could see my happiness even in my slumber. It would be our last summer together, but I was looking forward to having him there.

Aunt Jenny and Uncle Paul loved Jeff and were so impressed with how he treated me when we were all together. We spent our first night back in Appaloosa Plains at their home; they welcomed Jeff into the family like he’d always been part of it. Aunt Jenny drew me aside to say what an excellent match he was, and that Mama and Daddy would have approved. That made me weepy, but in the best possible way. I realized how much I loved them, and how important they’d been in my life. 

Jeff and Uncle Paul worked to landscape the front yard and the pastureland we had on the property, and Aunt Jenny and I painted the whole inside in three days. The house was ready to show within a month; I accepted an offer at the end of the first week. With a contract and a closing date, I had my timeframe to move.

*****

Jeff left for home a week before closing on the house. He needed to prepare for his upcoming senior year at Sim State. I drove him to the airport in Mama’s little old car, the one Daddy bought for her when I was born. We said little, despite my growing need for clarity and resolution. 

We walked into the airport together. The elevator took us to the terminal level; we made it through the security checkpoint together. He took my hand as we walked toward his gate.

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“You doing okay, Des?” 

I shook my head. “Not really. Jeff, I don’t know when I’ll see you again. That’s not okay with me.” 

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We sat together at the gate. “I’m sorry we haven’t talked about our future together. I’m struggling with being away from you. Now that I have you, I fear losing you.” He brushed hair out of my face and stared into my eyes. 

“I’m afraid of that, too. How will we make this work? I’m leaving for the Shores in a week. What happens if we can’t make it back together?” 

“Babyluv, we’ll figure it out. I love you too much to let you go.” He played with the diamond ring I wore on my left hand. “This ring means something, Destiny. It means that you’re mine, and we’re going to be married someday. It will happen, I promise you.” 

I believed his heartfelt words, but inside, I still had doubts. I hated the unknown and the uncertainty of two people who refused to budge on their dreams. To me, our relationship had ‘failure’ written all over it. “I will trust you, Jeff.” What choice did I have?

“That’s my girl.”

Ten minutes later, they began calling passengers to board. Jeff, being in first class, was among the first. We stood together; that familiar but detested lump in my throat grew to the size of a grapefruit. He saw the tears welling in my eyes and embraced me. We shared a tender but passionate kiss. 

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“We’re going to survive, Des. I won’t let this go any other way.”

He’d already promised, so begging would accomplish nothing. Nodding, I stared into his blue eyes. “I believe you.” 

Jeff took his suitcase and walked toward the gate. This was the moment I dreaded. I needed one last kiss, one last touch. I grasped for his hand. “Don’t go…” 

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He embraced me one last time. “You know I have to go, Des. I need to finish my degree. But I’ll call you tonight, I promise.” 

I stepped back from him and nodded. “Okay.” 

The attendant at the doorway took his ticket, then he walked through. He didn’t turn around or look back as I watched him walk down the jetway to his airplane until he disappeared from my sight. My heart broke into pieces as he left. 

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I couldn’t drive, not when I was this emotional, so I sat at the gate trying to collect myself, feeling like a fool. I despised being emotional in public. His plane sat at the gate for a while; I stared out the window at it, wishing he’d come running back down the jetway and into my arms. It was a fool’s errand wishing for it. Jeff was going home, whether or not I liked it.

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The plane pushed back from the gate after the jetway door closed. I stood at the window, my face nearly pressed against the glass, watching… wanting. All the times I had denied him were now heavy, endless regrets. Why am I so stupid? I stood there until the plane taxied away from the gate, my heart heavy with sorrow. I wept all the way home.


Four months from when I graduated, I sat at the title office in downtown Appaloosa Plains with Aunt Jenny by my side. We closed on the house, and I handed over the keys to its new owner. The sale, of course, was bittersweet. Mama was born in that house, and her mama before her. Three generations of Hutchins women lived in that home, myself not included. For the first time since its construction, the farmhouse belonged to someone besides a family member. 

Aunt Jenny and Uncle Paul both brought me to the airport. I knew it would be the last time I’d ever see them. I hadn’t planned on returning to the Plains except on tour someday in the future. Aunt Jenny wept when we hugged, planting a kiss on my cheek.

“Remember, Desi, what you’re going to Starlight Shores to accomplish. Work hard, do good, and remember where you’re from. That’s all your daddy and mama wanted for you. Do them proud, baby girl.” Aunt Jenny wiped tears from her eyes. Uncle Paul said nothing, but hugged me close to him and patted my back a little harder than he probably intended. 

Inside my backpack, I had a surprise for both of them. I reached in and removed an envelope addressed to them. “I asked the title company to cut a check for you, as a thank you for all the help and hard work you’ve done on the farm.” Aunt Jenny took the envelope from me. “I couldn’t have done everything we did without your help. Please, do me a favor and go on a vacation somewhere warm and tropical, for Mama and Daddy?” 

Aunt Jenny hugged me and rocked me in her arms. “We’d be so honored to take that trip in their memory, sweetheart. Thank you.” It was time for one last hug. I had to walk away, because if I didn’t, I’d never leave. Taking the handle of my suitcase, I turned to go. A few steps away, I turned around. They stood, weeping and waving the same way Mama and Daddy were when I left them standing at the mailbox. 

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“Thank you again! I love you!” I shouted at them. It was so hard to leave them, but I needed to go. I walked the jetway to the airplane that would take me to Starlight Shores, the first step toward fulfilling a lifelong dream. Look out, world, I thought. Here comes Destiny Farmer.

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Up Next: Chapter One, Generation Two


Pose Credits

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Poses By Bee
Couch Cuddle Set 1
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Engagement Portrait Poses
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Wedding Guests – Standing

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Save The Last Dance by Lenina90

*****

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Around The Sims 3
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Five-Star Restaurant Set
Glass of Wine
Wedding Shop

Butterfly Sims (Site defunct)
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G2 Prologue – Meet Destiny Farmer, Part One

In the small, rural town of Appaloosa Plains, Destiny Penelope Farmer loved to play in the yard in the summer atop a heap of fill dirt left over from restructuring the half-acre farm plot. She’d play on the dusty hill from morning until dusk, when the fireflies lit the evening skies in the lot behind the little farmhouse. The dirt pile, dubbed “Destiny’s Hill” by her mother, Fran, was her favorite spot on the entire property. 

While her father, Charlie, was on deployment and her mother tended their farm, Destiny would play on the hill, riding her favorite dolls on toy horses, pretending to be the queen of her own kingdom. It was this mound of dirt that inspired her eventual stage name: Destiny Hill. It was the name that would become known in every corner of the world; the red-headed girl with the small-town drawl and the big voice.


i.

My name is Destiny Farmer. My parents called me Desi, mostly because I couldn’t say my name when I was three, and I guess they thought it was cute. This is my story—all the who’s, the where’s, the why’s, and the how’s. Maybe I should start at the beginning? Yes. The beginning. 

I’ve always lived in Appaloosa Plains on Pomona Promenade. Across the road were the festival grounds, the place that would set my life on its current trajectory. Each year, the summer festival was my favorite, because that’s when the rides came into town. I loved the carousel, because Daddy would stand next to me, and steady me on the horses. Though I loved my parents the same, Daddy and I had a special bond. Mama called me a ‘daddy’s girl’.

When I was a little girl, he was deployed overseas to fight in the big war. He didn’t come home with the rest of his unit. I remember my mama being sad, and I remember seeing a big box, which I found out later was his coffin. But he wasn’t inside the big box that day. He came home much later, in his own time, on his own terms. Since that day, when I was old enough to understand what he’d endured, I made sure he knew I loved him. We were very close. I could always count on Daddy to have my back. 

Next door to us lived the Bradfords; Caleb, Sunny, Junior, Kristen, Tommy, and Maya. They were Mama and Daddy’s best friends. Maya lived with us when I was little, while Daddy was stationed on his last deployment. She attended veterinary school, and now lives in Hidden Springs with her husband, Clay. We saw her occasionally during the summer festivals, but since their first baby came, they stay closer to home. Of the four Bradford kids, Maya was the only one I knew.

My favorite subject in school was, of course, music class. Sara Thompson, the elementary school music teacher, taught me to play every instrument I could get my hands on. She was also the children’s choir director at the chapel, where we attended services every Sunday morning. It was she who fostered in me my love of singing and vocal performance. 

I’ve always been a creative spirit, writing my own songs and lyrics, sometimes as I sang them. I had journals full of songs I’d written over the years. From the time I learned to read and write, I wrote songs; love songs, ballads, tunes with a pop flavor, even though my main genre was country music. That was all we listened to on the radio, in the car, or while Mama and Daddy worked on our half-acre farm.

When I was ten, the county built the stage at the fairgrounds. The first year, the festival featured a talent show, and I remember wanting to sing. But that was the year I broke my wrist in the park. It was also the year the Bradfords sold their ranch and moved away. I learned that family isn’t always blood-related; Mama cried the day Aunt Sunny and Uncle Caleb left Appaloosa Plains for good. She told me that Aunt Sunny was the sister she never had.

After the Bradfords sold their ranch and moved away, another family moved into their house. Their only daughter, Polly, was just a few months older than me, and from the moment we met, we were pretty near inseparable. She was beautiful; thin with brown hair and eyes to match, and black plastic-framed glasses. Polly wanted to be a programmer when she graduated college; she loved computers and gaming. We giggled about everything. We had each other’s backs in high school. She was definitely my BFF. This was us at the farmhouse, back when things were good, and we were still friends. I miss those days.

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The summer before our junior year, when I was fifteen, and she was sixteen, we both got our first jobs. Hers was at the spa downtown working as a receptionist, but I worked backstage at the festival on the setup and breakdown crew. The job was hard and tiring, but I learned how to run a soundboard and the stage lighting. I also had access to every visiting singer that performed in our little park, including my favorite singer, Katie Price.

Katie opened the festival the first year the fairgrounds had the stage, back when she was still only playing at carnivals and small venues, back before she caught her big break. But she loved playing at county fairs and festivals, which is why she returned to Appaloosa Plains every year, even after her star burned bright and everyone knew her name. 

The summer before my senior year in high school was the best of my life to that point. The best, because I finally had the chance to sing on the big stage; Katie asked me to open her concert on the festival’s first day. 

The night of my debut, I was so excited, and I wanted Daddy backstage with me. Katie let me borrow a dress from her wardrobe, some of her stage props, and even had her cosmetologist do my makeup. When I walked onto the stage, Daddy was having the time of his life. I saw him mouth the words, “I love you, Desi,” as I took the stage. I played his favorite song first, because he requested it, and because he loved it. After every song, I looked over my left shoulder, watching him enjoying the concert.

Just before my last song in the set, I saw him teetering, grasping at the air, and then collapsing onto the floor. I screamed, and Mama ran right up onto the stage. The crowd, who’d been chanting my name just seconds before, watched as paramedics loaded him onto a stretcher and took him to the hospital. That was when I first learned about his illness. You see, my daddy had cancer; lymphoma, to be exact.

Learning about Daddy’s cancer changed my life, and it almost changed the direction of my career. I didn’t want to go to Sim State. But Mama sat me down and explained what the lymphoma meant to Daddy; to us as a family. There was a chance he could beat it. We prayed every day, hoping those prayers would be answered. 

When school started that year, Daddy’s cancer was in remission. I’d already been accepted to Sim State. The work I’d done at the festivals as a stagehand transferred to college as credits earned. I didn’t have to spend a year on prerequisites, which meant getting into my major quicker. Polly and I walked into school that first day of senior year when I felt him tap my shoulder. Who, you might ask? That would be Austin Linde. My first love, my first boyfriend. 

Let me tell you about my sweetheart. Austin moved from Sunlit Tides with his dad, who was in the Army like mine was years ago. He transferred to Appaloosa Plains, and Austin left his childhood friends behind. Austin saw my debut at the fair that July. He couldn’t resist telling me how much he enjoyed the show. 

Austin was my height, but he had muscles on top of muscles! He played any sports he could, and he started for the varsity football team that year. He was on the swim team, played baseball, and volleyball. You name it, and he played it. 

His hair was the color of the beach’s sand, and his eyes as blue as oceans I’ve only seen in pictures. Not to mention his freckles, which were adorable. We hit it off immediately, and he asked me out on our first day of school.

Polly and Austin got along okay, but sometimes I think she resented the closeness I had with him. He intruded on our friendship, though that was more my fault than his. You see, my mama and daddy loved each other with an intensity I took for granted. I believed every married couple was like them. I decided that, when I got married, I wanted a relationship just like theirs; loving, devoted, an unbreakable bond. 

Until I met Austin, I saw the world through rose-colored lenses. I believed every relationship survived, that every love was true and everlasting. I’d never met someone my age whose parents had separated, never mind divorced. But Austin’s had, and it turned my personal truth into an enormous lie. It made me realize nothing is perfect. Eventually, Austin would teach me that firsthand. 

Austin and I had our first date at the burger place in downtown Appaloosa Plains. He picked me up in his car and drove us there. Much to my great surprise, Mama and Daddy let me out of their sight long enough to date this incredible boy, one I couldn’t believe was interested in me. He held my hand as he drove, rubbing my fingers between his, much the way I’d seen my daddy do with Mama’s. 

Austin parked outside the burger place, jumped out of the driver’s seat, and ran to my side. He opened the car door for me, held his hand out for me, and helped me up. He was always the perfect gentleman, and I’d never met a boy as charming as Austin Linde. 

We walked inside, hand in hand; he guided me to a corner table with a strange-looking box sitting on it. He told me it was a jukebox. I had never heard of it before. So he asked me what song I’d want to hear. Naturally, I chose a Katie Price song! He dropped the coin into the slot, pressed some numbers, and I waited. And waited. He watched my face as I sat in expectation.

“Where is my song?” I asked.

“It’s in queue,” he said. “It will play eventually, depending on how many songs are ahead of it.” 

I must have worn a puzzled look, even after his perfect explanation. “How many jukeboxes are in here?”

“Look around, Destiny.” He pointed to each table that had the same peculiar box; it was every single one. “They’re all over.” 

I blushed a deep red. “I guess I’ve never seen a jukebox before now.” 

“That’s okay,” he said. “I think you’re beautiful.” Thankfully, he changed the subject. 

Feeling bashful, I looked away. “Thank you, Austin.” 

After the date was over, he brought me back home. He walked me to the front door, where I saw Mama waiting for me. I was much earlier than my ten o’clock curfew. “Can I take you out again? It was fun getting to know you.” 

I nodded my head. “I’d like that. Thank you, for supper, and for the song.” 

He stared into my eyes and brushed a lock of hair from my face. “I’ll see you in school tomorrow?” I only nodded. He kissed my forehead and stroked my cheek with the back of his fingers. “Goodnight, Destiny.” 

I couldn’t think straight. My head felt light, and butterflies swarmed in my stomach. I might have fallen over if not for his arm around me, steadying me. “Goodnight Austin,” I squeaked out. I reached for the doorknob and turned it—the door swung open with my gentle push. I turned around as I walked inside and blew him a kiss. 

“How was your date, sweet pea?” Mama asked me. 

My answer came in a three-word sentence. “Best night ever.”


Everyday through Snowflake Day that year, Austin and I spent time together. We grew close, much to Polly’s chagrin. But I convinced myself that she understood, that she just needed to find a boyfriend so we could double date. 

On Snowflake Day eve, Austin and I exchanged gifts. I couldn’t give him material things that he would need or want. What I gave him was much better. I sat down and wrote a love song for him, complete with musical accompaniment. Then on Snowflake Day eve, I played and sang it for him. Now, Austin isn’t the sentimental type, but the song made him a little misty-eyed. Then a broad smile crept across his face. It was time for him to reveal what he’d gotten for me. 

He seemed antsy as I reached for the box and tore the paper from it. The box was small, and I couldn’t guess what was inside. It held a smaller item, a clamshell-type box. The suspense must have been killing him, because he looked at me, exasperated. 

“Are you going to open it, or make me suffer?” he teased. 

I giggled at him. “I should go slower, just to make you wait.” 

“Oh, give it to me!” He grabbed the clamshell from my hands. “Close your eyes.” 

“Why?” 

“Just do it, Des. Please?” 

I huffed. “Okay.”

I heard a faint creak, and him shifting positions. “Open your eyes.” My eyes popped open, and so did my mouth. He was on his knees, sitting back on his feet. The opened box in his hand, a smile on his face, he presented this precious gift to me. 

“It’s our birthstones, Des. Green for mine, and blue for yours. I know we can’t get married, or even engaged because we’re too young, and our careers might take us down different paths. But this ring signifies a promise to you, Destiny. Someday, I want us to be together forever. I love you.” It was the first time he’d ever uttered those three words to me.

I wiped tears from my eyes. “I love you, too! Thank you, so very much!” 

A silver ring with two stones cut into the shape of hearts sat inside. It was the most beautiful ring I’d ever seen. He reached to kiss me. My heart fluttered, and so did the rainbow of butterflies that lived in my stomach. Then he took the ring from its box and slipped it onto my left ring finger. The dim lighting in the room reflected in the facets of the stones, making them sparkle. 

“I never thought I’d find someone like you. Someday, I’ll replace it with a big diamond ring, and a much bigger promise. But this ring shows everyone that you’re taken.” He kissed me again, much longer and with more passion. I melted into his embrace, so in love with the boy from Sunlit Tides.

*****

The next morning was Snowflake Day. I wore my new ring on my finger against my better judgment. Though Mama and Daddy liked Austin, I wasn’t sure how they would feel about the ring, and more importantly, the promise behind it. 

I was the first one up, so I lit the tree, illuminating the evergreen with shimmering light. Next, I walked to the kitchen and turned on the coffee pot. Last, I started a fire, so it would be toasty when Mama and Daddy came downstairs. The radio played holiday music; I turned the volume up a little and sang along. 

The fire had just begun to flicker when I heard Mama’s soft footsteps in the stairwell. She saw me sitting cross-legged in front of the fireplace and greeted me. 

“Good morning, Destiny. Happy Snowflake Day!” 

I turned around to see her. She was wearing her favorite white robe and matching fluffy slippers, and in the lighting from the tree, I saw my first glimpses of gray hair in her thick, red, curly mane. “Good morning, Mama,” I said. “Happy Snowflake Day. How is Daddy today?” 

“He’s still asleep, sweet pea. He had a rough night last night.” 

“What’s wrong?” 

Mama sighed and sat in Daddy’s recliner. “He had a bad nosebleed. It didn’t stop for hours.” 

I hated when he wasn’t well. “Let him sleep, then. Gifts can wait.” 

“But coffee can’t,” she said with a chuckle. “Thank you for starting it.” 

“No problem,” I returned. “I haven’t been out to feed Sweetie yet this morning.”

“That’s okay, Desi. She should be alright until later.” Mama joined me by the fire with her first cup of coffee in her hands. “Would it bother you if we don’t make a big supper today, honey? I don’t think Daddy will eat much, and I don’t feel like fussing.” 

“Of course not, Mama. Snowflake Day is more than supper and presents.” I sat at her feet, snuggled up to her legs. “You and Daddy are the most important people to me.” 

I saw her eyeing my ring. “Austin and Polly, too.” She reached for my left hand and studied my ring. “Did Austin give this to you, sweet pea? It’s lovely.” 

I nodded. “Yesterday. He said it was a promise ring.” 

“Remember how we talked about relationships and keeping yourself for your future husband, Desi?” 

Oh my goodness, is she really going to give me ‘the talk’ on Snowflake Day morning? I thought to myself. “Yes?” 

“Now that you and Austin are in a committed relationship, it doesn’t give you license to pursue a physical relationship with him. You’re much too young for that, Destiny.”

I tried not to act flustered. “I know, Mama. That doesn’t interest me yet. You don’t have to worry about me.” 

“Good.” We sat in awkward silence until she got up. “I’m going to wake your daddy.” 

“You don’t have to, Mama. Let him sleep.” I stood and walked toward the steps. “I’ll get dressed and feed Sweetie.” ‘No’ was not an acceptable answer, either.


As the school year went on, Polly drifted away, and I didn’t notice it. Austin and I were connected at the hip, so to speak, and I spent all my waking time with him. During my diner shifts, he’d come in and keep me company, and since he drove everywhere, I relied on him to carry me around town. 

I knew Polly was on the prom committee. One day, she asked me for some help with ideas for our senior prom. Though I was joking, my jest was poorly received when I said, “I’ll play the prom for free!” Her snarky comment took me by surprise.

“I’m shocked you offered that, Destiny. Do you think Austin would let you away from him long enough to sing?” 

Her comment stung, but I couldn’t see the pain in her expression. “Ouch, Polly. Where did that come from?” 

“If you have to ask, Des, then I’m done.” 

“You want to go there?” I asked. 

“You already did.” She pushed her glasses up onto the bridge of her nose. “I hope Austin makes you happy, but I pray someday you can see who he really is.” 

“What does THAT mean?” 

“He’s a snake, Destiny. He doesn’t love you.” 

“You’re just jealous!” I snarled at her. 

“Yeah, I used to be until I saw the truth. Gosh, Des, I hope you see it before he ruins you.” She wiped a tear from her eyes. “As long as you’re with him, I can’t…” 

“You can’t what?” I spat.

“I can’t be friends with you anymore.” She turned from me and walked away. “I hope he’s worth it.” 

“Polly?” I called out, stunned to the core. She never turned around or looked back. 

*****

“Austin, can I ask you a question?” I took the damp rag from the sink and wiped down the counter where he sat. 

“You know you can. What’s on your mind, Des?” 

“Why did you give me this ring?” I wiggled my finger. “What does it mean to you?” 

He looked shocked. “It’s a symbol of my love for you. I thought you knew that when I gave it to you?” 

I nodded. “That’s what I thought. But Polly…” I took a deep breath. “She called you a snake, and she told me you don’t love me.” Tears filled my eyes. “What did she mean, Austin?” 

“Why would she say that?” He took my hands and squeezed them in his firm grasp. “I don’t know what she’s talking about.” 

“You don’t know what she meant?” 

“No, of course not! She’s probably just jealous of me, Des.” 

I shrugged. “She says she used to be.” 

“Have I ever done anything to make you question my love?” 

“No, Austin, you haven’t.” 

“Well,” he said. “Consider the source.” 

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” I walked to him and stole a kiss. “I’m sorry.” 

“You’re forgiven. Why were you talking to Polly, anyway?” 

“She asked my opinion on entertainment for the prom. I joked and said I would sing for free. I didn’t get the reaction I expected. She hurt my feelings.” 

“You don’t need her, Des. All you need is us. And that reminds me…” Austin stood and dropped to one knee. My heart raced; all I could think was ‘No!!’ “Would you do me the honor of accompanying me to our senior prom?”

I breathed a sigh of relief, hopefully unnoticed. “Of course I will, though I just assumed we’d go together.”

“Nope! I couldn’t wait to ask you.” He laughed. “You should have seen your expression when I got on one knee!”

I stood with my hands on my hips, feigning insult. “That wasn’t funny!” He laughed harder, and I gave him a sheepish smile. “Okay, I guess it was a little funny.”

“I know this isn’t the time for proposals, Des. But I’m not going anywhere.” His sweet smile always had a way of making me feel at ease. “I love you.” 

“I love you, too.”


I worked long hours at the diner, and at the festival when they needed me, to afford the gown I wanted for our senior prom. It was a gorgeous, red, floor-length gown with a crushed velvet ribbon tied in the back; strapless and sleeveless. It was the most beautiful thing I ever owned. Mama drove me to the boutique downtown when I went to pick it up.

I held the door open for her, and she walked inside. “We won’t be long, will we, Desi? Your daddy hasn’t been feeling well since Snowflake Day, but he is too stubborn to see Dr. Bennett.” 

“I have to pay for the dress and we can leave. I can’t wait to show you, Mama.” 

We walked to the counter, and I told the clerk my name. She nodded and left. When she returned, she had the gown in her hands. Mama must have seen how my face lit up when I saw it. “That dress is beautiful, honey,” she said. “How much was it?” 

I didn’t want to admit it was a month’s wages at the diner. But it was my senior prom, and Austin already had the prom bid. “Probably more than I should have spent on it.” My voice sounded weak and unsure. I thought for certain she’d give me a hard time about it. Instead, she reached to touch the fabric. 

“I have never seen its equal, Destiny. I bet you will look like a movie star in it.” 

My complexion matched the color of the dress. I was sure of it. “Thank you, Mama.” I paid the balance owed and carried the dress and shoes to the car.

“So?” she asked as we got into the car. “When is the prom?” 

“A week before graduation, after the exams are finished. They said the timing was unconventional. But, the class president wanted prom to be our congratulatory ‘party’. The principal was outvoted by a wide margin.”

“What will Austin do after he graduates, sweetheart? I haven’t heard you mention it?” 

“He’s accepted to Sim State…” I paused. Though he had his acceptance letter, he hadn’t responded to it. “Come to think of it, I’m not sure what he’s doing.”

“Hasn’t the deadline already passed?” 

“Mmhmm.” 

Mama said nothing more.

*****

I stood in front of the full-length mirror in my bedroom wearing my new gown and shoes. “Mama!” I called. “I need your opinion.”

She walked in from the sitting room off their bedroom. When she saw me, she stopped in her tracks. “Oh, Desi, sweetheart.” I heard sniffles from over my right shoulder. “You look so statuesque in that gown.” 

“That’s what I needed to know,” I laughed. “So you like it?” 

Mama nodded. “It’s so elegant. You did a good job picking it out. Austin will love it.” 

“Thank you,” I said. “Mama, can I ask you a question?” 

She sat down on my bed and patted the spot next to her. “What’s on your mind, sweet pea?” 

“When you and Daddy got together, was there any doubt about him?”

Mama shook her head. “No, not at all. Why, Desi? What’s wrong?”

“It was something Polly said a few weeks ago.”

“Polly? I haven’t heard you talk about her in a long time. How is she?” 

“I don’t know. She ended our friendship. I think she’s jealous of Austin, and trying to break us up. But she’s gotten inside my head, and I can’t shake this feeling that she might be right.” 

Mama took my hand in hers. “What did Polly say, sweetheart?” 

“She said that Austin is a snake, and that he doesn’t love me.” 

I’ll never forget the look of surprise on Mama’s face. “That doesn’t seem like him.”

“I know. And she said she hopes I see what he is before he ruins me.” 

“Did you ask him about this?” 

I nodded. “Yeah, but he didn’t know what she was talking about.” 

“I see.” She put her arm around my shoulder and gave me a quick hug. “What does your gut say, Desi?” 

“It says I should trust Austin, and not Polly.” 

“You have a good head on your shoulders, sweet pea. Trust your instincts.” 

If only she knew how terrible that advice was…


Austin was supposed to pick me up for the prom at six o’clock sharp. Though supper would be served at 8:00 PM, we’d vote for prom queen and king and have photographs taken beforehand. He hadn’t seen my gown before that night. I wanted to surprise him, but I gave him a swatch of fabric so the tux shop could match the color. 

Mama took me to the salon to have my hair trimmed and put up, and my makeup done. When we got home, Daddy was sitting and resting in his recliner. He acted like I was a movie star. 

“You look beautiful, Princess,” he said. 

I walked to where he sat and kissed his forehead. He didn’t look good. “Thank you, Daddy. Are you okay?” 

He coughed and heaved a heavy sigh. “Of course I am. I’m just tired.” 

Mama took my arm and pulled me into the sitting room. “He sees Dr. Bennett next week after your graduation. He didn’t want me to tell you, but I vowed to you and myself I wouldn’t keep things from you anymore.” 

I felt a glob of bile rise into my throat. “Thank you,” I whispered. I wish she would have waited until after my prom to tell me. I thought of little else that night.

Two hours later, I walked down the staircase, ready for Austin’s limo to pick me up. Mama insisted she take photographs inside before we leave, and I know Daddy wanted that, too. 

Five minutes before six o’clock, a sharp knock sounded at the door. Austin stood there in a black tuxedo with a red vest under it, one that matched my gown. In his hand, he held a beautiful corsage with a red rose and greenery that slipped onto my wrist. Mama answered the door and invited him in. 

“Hi Austin!” she said and gave him a quick hug. “You look sharp!” 

I stepped out from inside the sitting room, and I thought he would drop the corsage he held. “Wow. Destiny, you are gorgeous.” 

“Thank you,” I whispered.

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Mama posed us in front of the fireplace, the usual spot for family pictures. I can’t recall one photo that was taken anywhere else but there. We did a formal portrait pose, and one candid shot. Daddy got teary-eyed when Austin took my hand and led me from the house. He didn’t think I noticed, but I watched every move he made. I wanted to remember him, and that night, forever.  

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The limo dropped us off at the school gymnasium; together, we walked inside. Much to my surprise, Polly was there by herself. I guessed she was there to make sure everything went as planned. She gave Austin a dirty look, then turned to hide her face. It didn’t occur to me that seeing me there with him was difficult for her, and that she missed my friendship. I was too focused on Daddy to notice much of anything.

We had our official prom picture taken, facing each other and looking cute. Afterward, we voted for prom queen and king, each voting for the other and not figuring either of us had a shot. The music and dancing started early, but Austin didn’t want to dance.

After supper, they announced the prom queen and king. Austin won prom king hands down. But the queen was Polly. She tried to get away from the crowd, tears running down her cheeks, but they formed a circle around her and forced her into my boyfriend’s arms to dance. When their dance ended, she glanced at me with the most pained, hurt look on her face; I excused myself to the restroom.

I don’t know how long I was in the ladies’ room when Polly came looking for me. “Des! There you are. I have something to tell you.” 

“What’s—”

“Your boyfriend has another girl.” She spat it out so fast. “During our dance, Des. He told me he’s not interested in you anymore, and he’s going to break up with you after graduation.” 

“Huh?” My head swam, and I didn’t want to believe her. Would Polly really lie to break us up? “No,” I said. “You’re not telling me the truth. He’d never do that to me!” 

“You don’t sound like you believe your own words, Des. I’d never lie to you.” 

This wasn’t helping the doubts I had about him since our last exchange together. “How do I know you don’t want him for yourself, Pol?”

“Because I hate him!” she screamed at me. “Don’t you see what he’s done to us? Des, you haven’t been able to think straight since he came into your life. Wake up!” Tears free-flowed down her face, ruining her perfect makeup. “I can’t stand him, but I’d never lie to you just to break you up. Go look for yourself if you don’t believe me.” 

I tried to stand up on jelly legs and wobbled myself to the door. I cracked it open to find Polly had been telling the truth all along. Austin was wrapped around someone else’s date, lip-locked with her, and it looked like he was having a grand time without me. I collapsed on the floor, sobbing. “No…”

Polly looked into my eyes. “I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, Des.” 

Ten minutes later, Austin’s voice came through the ladies’ room door. “Des? You’ve been in there a while. Are you okay?”

Polly, to her credit, stayed with me. “She’s not coming out,” she yelled to him. 

“Why not? I’m her ride home, and prom is nearly over.” 

“Why don’t you tell her, Austin, what you were doing, and what you told me?” 

“Des, please come out? I want to talk to you. I haven’t seen you since they announced the prom king.” He kicked the door. “Please?” 

I stood up and straightened out my red gown, now wrinkled and dirty from sitting on the floor. I checked my makeup—ruined—and walked back to the door. With a deep breath, I opened it. He stood there with his arms open. I walked past him and back to our table, Polly by my side. 

He followed me to where we sat and plopped himself next to me. “Can I talk to her alone, Polly? I won’t bite her, I promise.” That got a weak smile from me, but I was still heartbroken. When she walked away, he wiped tears from my face with his handkerchief and kissed me. “What happened?” 

“You tell me.” 

“What does that mean?” 

I took a deep breath, held it a moment, and forced the air from my lungs in one long huff. “I saw you kissing that girl, Austin.” 

“There’s an explanation for that.” 

“Don’t tell me. She was choking.” Sarcasm dripped from my words. 

“Hilarious. No, Des. She kissed me. I couldn’t get away from her.” 

“You’re telling me I peeked out the restroom door at exactly the right time? I don’t believe you.” 

“Remember what I told you when I gave you the ring, Des?” 

“Which part?” 

“I love you.” 

“Do you still?” 

His expression softened. “Yes. Destiny, you’re my life. And someday, I want to marry you.” 

“I want to believe you.” 

“Why don’t you?” 

My gaze shifted to where Polly sat. I didn’t know who to believe anymore. “Polly told me you have another girl, Austin. Do you?” 

“Des, I know you and Polly are best friends—”

“Were.” 

“Okay, you were best friends. I really don’t like Polly, Des. She’s spent the last three months trying to drive a wedge between us. I see it’s working.” He touched my face and kissed me. “Destiny, I love you. Please don’t give up on me.”

I was so confused. Someone was lying to me, and I couldn’t decide who it was. But I recalled my conversation with Mama, and I went with my gut—the same awful, terrible decision I’d made earlier. “I won’t. I love you, too.”


Graduation day. The end of one chapter, and the beginning of a new one. I gather that’s the reason they call it ‘commencement.’ I knew ahead of time that I would be valedictorian, and I had my speech already prepared. It should have been a happy day. So much weighed on me. So much was unknown. It drove me almost crazy. 

Mama and Daddy were waiting downstairs for me. Though it wasn’t confirmed, Mama and I both suspected Daddy’s cancer was back. He couldn’t stand longer than five minutes, and walking for him was impossible. Their bedroom was now on the ground floor in the sitting room. But I knew he wanted to see me graduate, to hear my valedictory address. He wanted to see his little girl take her first steps into adulthood. 

I stood in front of the fireplace alone while Mama snapped a picture of me in my cap and gown. She was having a hard time keeping it together, and I had a tough time pasting a smile on my face. It was anything but sincere.

“I’m so proud of you, sweetheart,” Mama whispered into my ear when she hugged me. Even she felt thin; I wondered if she was caring for herself as much as she cared for Daddy. 

“Thank you, Mama. We should probably get going.” 

Uncle Paul installed a temporary ramp over one portion of the front steps for Daddy’s wheelchair. But Mama needed help with it because of its steep grade. I steered the chair down backwards while she steadied the chair from the front. Step by step, we descended this ramp, my sheer force and determination holding his chair back from running away. 

Ten minutes later, we were on the way to the graduation ceremony. Our graduating class had twenty-two seniors. Did I mention Appaloosa Plains was a pretty small town? I was informed that ours was one of the largest graduating classes in almost fifteen years. 

Once Daddy was out of the car and Mama had him at the entrance, I needed to join my classmates. We agreed to meet out front after the ceremony, and they walked in ahead of me. Polly stood alone, looking just as sad and dejected as I felt.

“Hi Polly,” I said, approaching her. “Are you ready?” 

She didn’t say a word to me and turned her back. I guess taking Austin’s side at prom sealed our fate as friends. I sighed and walked past her. 

Austin found me and greeted me with a single rose and a kiss. “Hi, beautiful,” he said. 

I blushed. He looked so handsome in his cap and gown. He took my hand, and we walked to the staging area. The principal told us where to stand and sit. I scanned the room for the chair with “Valedictorian” on it, and nodded. That was my seat. 

Austin must have noticed I was out of sorts, so he put his arms around me and held me. “Are you okay, my love?” 

I nodded, but I had a lump in my throat. “I’m okay. Daddy…” I was trying so hard not to cry. “He isn’t well today. Austin, I’m scared.” 

He held me tighter, doing his best to comfort me. “Shh,” he said. “Look at it this way. He’s here, right? That’s a good thing!”

He could make things perfect with a sweet word or a kiss. “You’re right.” I opened the curtain and spotted Mama’s white hair in the audience. “See? There they are.” My smile returned as I pointed to them. 

His hand on my shoulder pulled me back to him. “I know how close you are to him. And I’m sorry he isn’t well.” Austin kissed my forehead and hugged me again. “I’m right here when you need me.”

“Thank you,” I said and took his hand. 

My valedictory address was brief and to the point. I acknowledged Daddy and Mama because of all they sacrificed for me and my future. And of course, I didn’t make it through my speech without emotion. One by one, the principal called us to receive our diplomas, and when the last graduate walked, we all threw our caps into the air. 

Austin and I had plans to meet for supper that night after the ceremony. He said he had some big news. I couldn’t decide if I was nervous or excited about our date. After the spectacular mess at prom, I didn’t know which end was up. I was hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.

He found me before I walked outside, and we cemented our plans for supper that night. The restaurant was fancy, so I decided I’d wear my prom gown. We kissed, and he left; I went in search of Mama and Daddy. 

Daddy was on his feet, waiting for a hug. I hurried to his side so he wouldn’t have to stand for long, and I wrapped his skinny body in a hug. 

“I’m so proud of you, Desi,” he whispered in a raspy voice. “It was a brilliant speech.” I helped him back to his chair. 

“Thank you, Daddy. I’m surprised I didn’t cry more!” Mama and I both giggled. She walked to his chair to push him, but I shook my head. “No, Mama. I’ll push him.” 

Once we got home, I made getting up the ramp a game for him. Usually, it took both Mama and me to clear the ramp in one shot. But this time, I got a running start with him. His eyes widened like we were on a roller coaster, and we made it up the ramp together, laughing like fools. 

“You’re a pretty strong little girl!” he said. “I had no idea.” 

“That’s what I get for working as a stagehand, Daddy. It’s hard to keep weight on because I’m so active.” I know he didn’t realize it, but I had a nice six-pack forming. 

“I wish I had that problem, sweetheart,” he said, looking sad. “Weight’s falling off me, but for a different reason.” 

“I know, Daddy.” I hugged him and kissed his cheek. “You’ve sacrificed and suffered so much. You deserve better than this.” 

He took my hands and stared into my eyes. “Even with this outcome, I wouldn’t change anything. Your mama and you have made my life complete, Destiny.”

It was one of the most humbling moments of my life.

*****

Austin knocked on the front door at five-thirty. We had a six o’clock reservation at the restaurant. Mama let him in while I finished getting ready upstairs. My hair was down, and I had on a lip tint with blush. I walked down the steps, and his face lit up. My uneasiness was abating. We were going to enjoy a beautiful evening. I could feel it in my soul. 

He took my hands when I reached the bottom step and kissed my cheek. “You look beautiful,” he whispered. “I’ll have her home by ten, Mrs. Farmer,” he told Mama, and she nodded. 

“Have a good time, kids.” She stood at the front door waving while we walked, hand in hand, to his car. 

Ever the perfect gentleman, he opened his car door for me and helped me in. After he got into the driver’s seat, he turned to me, took my hands and kissed me. “Destiny, you’re gorgeous in that dress. I’m sorry the last time you wore it was so miserable. I want to make it up to you tonight.” 

“That would be lovely,” I whispered, and bit my lip.

We drove to the fancy restaurant just a few miles outside of Appaloosa Plains, one I’d only been to once before. He parked his car and helped me out. My arm tucked under his, we walked into the restaurant and to the hostess station. 

“Linde, six o’clock,” he announced. The hostess nodded and motioned us to follow. She led us to a table set with a dozen long-stemmed roses. He held my chair while I sat, and he took his place next to me. 

Austin ordered for both of us. I felt so spoiled. The roses, the restaurant, the atmosphere were more than I expected. How could I have ever doubted him? The night was perfect. 

“You know, Des, I have some big news.” 

I nodded. A spark of excitement stirred within me. I couldn’t imagine what he had in mind, or what he was planning. “I can’t wait to hear it.” 

He moved his chair closer to mine and turned to face me. With my hands in his, he looked into my eyes. Whatever he had to say, it had to be big. “Des…” 

I closed my eyes, preparing myself for his big announcement. Maybe it was that diamond ring he promised me. That had to be it! I knew I would say yes, too. “Yes?” 

“I… I, um…” he stuttered. “I joined the Army.” 

What? I felt the blood drain from my face. “You… did what now?” 

“My dad talked me into enlisting. It’s why I never returned my paperwork for Sim State. I was waiting for the perfect time to tell you.

I wasn’t sure I could endure what Mama had with Daddy’s deployments. I was not cut out for military life. “What about us?” 

He took my hands and smiled. “Other couples make long-distance relationships work. There’s no reason we can’t, too.” 

“You’ll be away for months, maybe years at a time, Austin. Will you wait for me?” 

He peered into my eyes with the sincerest look. “As long as it takes. You know, you can come live with me on the base after I graduate basic.”

“What about my career? You know how long I’ve been dreaming of singing. I can’t give up my ambitions.” 

“Not even for me, Des?” 

My heart sank. “You don’t know what you’re asking of me.” 

“I don’t believe what I’m hearing from you right now, Destiny. I thought you loved me.” 

Why must it always be guilt? “Of course I love you, Austin. But you’re being selfish.” 

“I’m being selfish? You’re going to cause our breakup, and I’m selfish. Oh, that’s rich, Des.” He pulled away from me and crossed his arms in front of him. 

“Break up? No, I don’t want that!” I hated myself for what would come out of my mouth next. “I won’t go to Sim State, and I’ll go with you, if that’s what you want.” It wasn’t what I wanted, but I loved that boy. Nothing seemed too outrageous when he asked it.

“Then it’s settled. I’ll send for you when I graduate. Meantime, just work for your mom and dad on the farm.” He gave me a half-smile. “That is your last name, after all.” 

I was not amused. “Like I’ve never heard that, Austin.” Did he hear the sarcasm in my words?

He chuckled and took my hands in his again. “I just love you so much, Des. I’m not ready to let you go.” 

Ah yes, Mr. Charming was back. “I love you, too.”

*****

Mama was waiting for me when I arrived back home. But she sensed something wasn’t right. She was always so astute. 

“How was your date with Austin, sweet pea?” 

I couldn’t lie to her, because she would have seen right through me. I just had to pad the blow the best I could. “It was okay, I guess. Austin had some big news for me.” 

She gazed at my left hand, probably searching for a new ring. “What was his news?” 

I sat in Daddy’s recliner and slipped my shoes off my feet. “He joined the Army. He wants me to come live with him on base after he graduates basic training.” 

I watched Mama’s smile fade away as a frown took its place. “That means…”

“Yeah,” I said. “It means I don’t go to Sim State, and I don’t move to the city.” 

“Did you tell him yes already, Desi?”

I nodded. “I did, Mama.” 

“Is that what you want, honey? To spend your life loving a man who is never home, one who doesn’t mind taking you away from your heart’s desire? Someone who is content to make you sacrifice your dreams? Think about this long and hard, Destiny.”

My shoulders slumped, and I sighed. “I don’t know what I want anymore.” 

Mama sat back in her chair. “I’m going to say a sentence about you, Desi, and I’m going to stop. When I do, say the first thing that comes to your mind. OK?”

“Yeah, but why, Mama?” 

“You’ll see.” She closed her eyes. “Close your eyes, and say the first thing that pops into your head. I’m Destiny Farmer. I am a…”

“Singer.” It came out so naturally, I didn’t even think about it. 

“Do you want to abandon your dreams for a boy?”

“No. I don’t want to give it up for anyone or anything. I want it so much.” 

Mama smiled. “I think you have your answer, Destiny.” She stood and kissed my forehead. “I’ll see you in the morning. Goodnight.” She walked into the sitting room where Daddy was already asleep. I took my shoes and padded up the stairs to my bedroom. How was I going to tell Austin I had changed my mind? I didn’t sleep that night.


The week after my graduation, Daddy got the news that his lymphoma had returned, and it had worsened. The doctor believed that she could force it back into remission with a rigorous chemotherapy regimen, which he started with right away. At first, the treatments were rough on him. Many nights, I heard him getting sick in the bathroom.

The summer concert series kicked off two weeks after graduation with Katie’s concert. She didn’t ask me to open her show that year. I guess the fiasco the year before decided it for her. I was a liability, and I accepted it. 

Austin left for basic training the morning after Katie’s concert. We went on one last date before he left, so I could tell him I’d changed my mind about the plans we’d made. He wasn’t happy, but he acted like he understood. Austin walked me to the front door when he brought me home. He kissed me and begged me to wait for him. We promised to keep in touch, to call when we each had the time. And he walked away, our last confessions of love hanging over us. I wept when he left, but I felt more at peace with my decision. 

Chad kept me busy at the festival for the summer. But when August rolled around, I had to leave for school. He called me into his office on my last day of work. When I opened the office door, he asked me to sit, which I did.

“Destiny, I make it my policy to not get attached to my employees. But when they’re as hardworking as you are, well, it’s difficult. I hired you based on your application, in which you had many impressive claims. To your credit, each one of them was truthful.” 

“Thank you, Chad, for believing in me. I’ve had so much fun working for you these past years. I’ve learned a lot about the backstage process, and I think it will be useful for me in the future.” 

Chad sat back and smiled. “You’ve worked hard in the face of difficulty and adversity. Your parents must be so proud of you.”

I blushed. “They are.” 

“I’m going to miss having you around, Destiny. To show my deep appreciation, I’m including a bonus for almost two years of hard work and dedication. You’ve earned it.” 

He handed the last paycheck to me, larger than I expected. My mouth dropped open. “Are you certain this isn’t a mistake? You have a few too many numbers on this…” I felt myself getting emotional. 

“There’s no error. Thank you for everything. Go off to school and have fun. Take advantage of every opportunity. And maybe someday, the next time I see you, it will be your name in flashy lights instead of Katie’s.” He stood and motioned for me to stand up; he wrapped me up in a hug. “I’m proud of you. Now, go get ‘em.” 

I was overwhelmed, not only by his generosity, but by his kindness as well. “Thank you, Chad. I will definitely come home to sing someday. You have my word.” 

“I look forward to it. Give my best to your dad and mom, okay?” 

“Will do!” He walked me to his office door, one last pat on my shoulder, and I left the fairgrounds, unemployed for the first time since I was fifteen years old.

Mama and Daddy took me for supper the night before I left for school. His treatments were working, and he felt better. He said nothing would have kept him home. I believed him. 

At the restaurant, Mama presented me with a gift I wasn’t expecting. It was small but heavy, the size of a block of wood. When I unwrapped it, I saw the book she read every night before she slept, with its worn, faded leather cover, a cross bonded in gold on the front. I wept when I saw it. She was never without her prayer book. 

“Mama, I can’t take your prayer book from you.” 

“Desi, that is my prayer book,” Daddy said. “I took it on every deployment, and it always came home with me. I want you to have it, sweetheart.” 

That didn’t help my emotions one bit. I opened the cover to see he had written a message inside:

Destiny, take this with you. Read it often and let its wisdom guide you. Never forget where you’re from, and to whom you belong. Remember whose daughter you are. I love you more than words can tell you. Love, Daddy.

I closed the book, tears flowing down my face, and I walked to him. He stood up and embraced me, weeping onto my shoulder. “I love you, Daddy,” I whispered to him. “Thank you.” 

“I love you to the moon and back, Destiny. Never forget it.” 

“Never.”


The next morning, I woke up earlier than I needed to, and looked outside my bedroom window for the last time. Sweetie was grazing in the pasture. She’d gotten older and was slowing down at almost twenty years old. Mama didn’t figure she had much more time with them. 

I got dressed to spend some time with Sweetie. On my way outside, I stopped at the sugar bowl Mama kept on the dining room table and grabbed three cubes for her. I whistled for her, and she trotted to where I called her. “Good girl,” I said and patted her neck. My hand produced one cube of sugar, which she took from my palm. She pranced around me and whinnied, as though she had just won an important race. Belly laughing, I gave her the other two cubes of sugar. She nudged me pretty hard, looking for another, but I just wrapped my arms around her neck and hugged her. 

My flight to the university was at 2:14 PM. I had some time to kill. I strolled down the street to the old Bradford ranch. Polly was outside tending to her horse, so I called to her. She tried to ignore me, but I kept talking to her. Finally, she broke down and walked to the fence. 

“What, Des?” She looked more than a little annoyed. 

“I wanted to say I’m sorry. I didn’t want to leave for college without at least letting you know.” 

She pushed her glasses onto the bridge of her nose. “You really hurt me.” 

“I know, and I’m sorry. Polly, losing you was the hardest thing I’ve ever faced.” 

“Why did you let him blind you? You must know he’s moving to Sunlit Tides to be with his old girlfriend and their baby.” 

I looked at her, stunned. “He told me he enlisted in the Army.”

“Why am I not surprised he lied to you again?” 

I was tired of being lied to. But who was lying to me? Polly or Austin? “Do you have anything to back up your claims, Pol?”

“Why don’t you trust me? Des, we’ve been friends for years, but you take his word over mine? Have I ever lied to you?” 

“No.” I wrapped hair around my finger and twirled it. “He’s so smooth, and he makes me feel so amazing…” 

“But at what cost, Des?”

I had to change the subject. “Where are you going to college?” 

“I’m not. I’m staying here to work on the farm. Someday, I’ll take it over.” 

“I’m sorry,” I said. I couldn’t imagine a worse fate.

“Why? It’s what I want.”

This wasn’t the Polly I knew. She was a go-getter with higher ambitions than to settle for ranching. “What happened to your dreams about being in IT?” 

“I can still do computer stuff. But Mom and Dad need me on the ranch.” 

I sighed. “Do you mind if I call you while I’m in school?” 

“I’d rather you didn’t, Des. Sometimes, it’s just too late to say you’re sorry. And I can’t forgive you for staying with Austin when you knew what a snake he is.” 

Tears stung my eyes. “You don’t really feel that way. Please, Polly… say you don’t.” 

“I’m sorry. I meant it when I said I couldn’t be friends with you if you’re involved with him. He’s a liar and a cheat. It’s too bad you don’t see it. He will cost you everything if you stay with him.”

“Well,” I said, trying to swallow the lump in my throat. “I guess this is it, then?” 

“Yeah,” she replied. “I need to get back inside. Have a good life, Destiny. You won’t if you stay with Austin. It will just be filled with heartache and pain. I’m just saying…” 

“You too,” I choked out, ignoring her last comment. “See you around.” 

“No, Des, you won’t.” She turned around and walked inside. I never saw Polly again.

Austin’s house was just down the street from ours, so I walked toward the house where I’d spent so much of my time over the past year. His father, Pete, was outside washing the car. When he noticed me, he waved me over. 

“Hi sweetheart,” he said. “Austin will be back soon. He ran an errand for me before he leaves.” 

I played dumb. Austin was supposed to be at basic training. At least, that’s what he told me. “Well, I’ll wait for him. I’m leaving for school in a little while. I’d like to see him before I go.” 

“How odd!” Pete said. “He’s going back to Sunlit Tides today. But I’m surprised you’re here. He told me you two broke up.” 

“I still want to see him before I leave.” I was getting ticked off. Polly was right. “When will he be back?”

“He shouldn’t be long. He went to buy a gift for the baby.”

“That’s nice,” I said. “Whose baby?” 

Pete looked at me with an odd expression on his face. “Didn’t he tell you, Destiny? He has a baby son back home. It’s why he’s moving. He wants to be closer.”

I played dumber. “Of course, he told me. I just forgot.” Inside, my blood boiled with certain rage. He lied to me! 

Ten minutes later, Austin’s car pulled into the driveway. I watched from a place out of his view. He got out of the car and Pete greeted him. I sauntered out from behind the garage. 

“Hi Austin,” I said. 

“Des! What are you doing here?” The look on his face was priceless. 

“Funny, I was about to ask you the same question.” 

The position I had him in was most enjoyable. He couldn’t lie to me with his father there, nor could he lie to his dad. Watching Austin squirm was the best revenge I could have had… except for my heart, which was shattering into tiny shards. He lied to me. That bastard…

“Why don’t we take a walk?” he said, but I shook my head. 

“No, let’s talk right here in front of your dad. Why don’t you tell me why you’re home from the Army, Austin?”

Pete looked at his son. “Is that what you told her? That you joined the Army?”

“Well, yeah, but I didn’t want to hurt her by telling her about Jules.” 

Pete saw the tears welling in my eyes and took pity on me. “How did that work out for you, son?”

He had both of us staring at him, wanting answers. I saw his shoulders slump, and he took a deep breath. “Okay, Des. This is the truth. I found out four months into the school year that my ex-girlfriend was pregnant. She was almost eight months along when she told me, but I’d already fallen in love with you.” 

I almost fell for his line of BS. But no more lies, and no more believing them. I was finished. “You never loved me, Austin. If you had, you’d have never lied to me like this.” I was spitting mad. 

“No, that’s where you’re wrong, Des. I really loved you. A part of me still does. But I have to return to Jules. I have to take responsibility for my mistakes. That’s why I’m marrying her.” 

His confession took my breath away. That was MY ring! He was MY love! He was MY future, and she stole him from me. “Were you going to tell me the truth?” I read his face, and the awful realization hit me. “You weren’t, were you?”

He hung his head in shame. “I hoped that when you went to college, you’d find someone who would sweep you off your feet, and you’d forget about me and the promise I made to you.” He walked to where I stood and tried to hold my hands, but I recoiled away from him. “I meant to keep it when I made it. But that baby needs his dad, Des.”

“Polly was right all along.” I wept bitter tears, our last goodbye still fresh in my mind. “I should have believed her.” 

“Well, go make amends,” Austin said. “I’m leaving today. I know you are too. It’s not too late.” 

I shook my head. “No… you’ve done a fine job of destroying our friendship, Austin. Now I don’t have her OR you. I’m such a fool.” 

“I’m sorry…?” 

“Are you asking me or telling me?” I growled. His apathy was unappreciated.

“I guess I’m telling you. Goodbye, Destiny. I hope I’ll see your name in lights some day.” 

“I hope you rot in hell,” I spat back. I took the ring from my finger and threw it at him, turned on my heel, and walked away. The score was 0-2. Time to go home and lick my wounds.

*****

Mama had breakfast cooked, and they were finishing up when I dragged back through the front door, tear stains on my face. My emotions were worn to shreds, and my body ached with fatigue, but I had a long day ahead of me. My feet felt like lead trudging through the house to the kitchen. Daddy watched every step I took while Mama stood there watching me, her hands on her hips. I poured a cup of coffee and sat down. 

“Where were you? We’ve been worried sick, Desi!” 

I sighed and breathed in the vapors of a stale cup of coffee; it smelled revolting. “Out. I only meant to give Sweetie a treat, but I went for a walk. I should have stayed home.” My shoulders heaved in sorrow as I fought the inevitable tears. 

Mama plopped next to me in a chair and took my hands. She noticed my tear-stained face and puffy, swollen eyes. “You’re a mess. What happened?”

“I walked to Polly’s house, hoping to tell her goodbye before I left for school. She told me that as long as I was with Austin, she’s not interested in my friendship. She said she couldn’t forgive me for choosing him. I don’t blame her, either. I’ve been a terrible friend.” 

“Oh sweet pea, I’m sorry,” she said. “You two were so close.” 

“That’s not all. I walked a little further down the street, and Austin’s dad was outside washing his car.” I had to take a breather and sip my coffee. “Remember how Austin left for boot camp?” Mama nodded, and I saw Daddy smile. “Well, he didn’t. Everything Polly said about him was true, Mama. He has a girlfriend and a baby back in Sunlit Tides. He’s moving back to marry her…” The tears came fast. “Austin lied to me.” 

A few years ago, Daddy would have gone to defend my honor. But he was in no condition to stand, much less fight. He reached for my hand and squeezed it. “I’m sorry, Princess. I know how much you loved him.” 

“No more. I’m done with boys.” Wet, sloppy teardrops splattered on the tablecloth and soaked in. “I’m just going to mind my business and do my schoolwork.” I got up from the table and took my coffee cup. “My suitcase won’t pack itself.” 

“Do you need help?” Mama asked. 

“No. I’m just finishing packing my clothes and a few things into boxes that I’ll check on the plane. I almost finished it last night before I fell asleep.” 

“Well, holler if you do, sweet pea.” I nodded, gave Daddy a kiss on the cheek, and made my way up the steps. 

My clothes were scattered on my dresser, and I had a basket full of clean, folded clothes to pack away. I had two weeks’ worth of outfits; only a few were my favorites. By the time I finished packing, the suitcase was overstuffed. I couldn’t fit a sneeze in there if I wanted to. 

“Mama!” I called down the stairs. “I need some help!” 

I heard a conversation stop, and her footsteps on the stairs. When she got to my door, I was sitting on the suitcase, trying to zip it closed, to no avail. I must have looked like an idiot sitting there, because she belly laughed when she saw me. 

“Do you have your entire bedroom in that suitcase, Destiny?”

“Probably,” I snickered. “Could you give me a zip?” 

“Yeah,” Mama said. She grabbed the zipper pull with frail fingers and yanked with all her might. “This isn’t budging.” 

“Wanna trade places?” 

She snorted—that was a first—and I giggled. “I don’t think I could climb up there, sweet pea.” 

“Well, just help me put some pressure on the corners. That’s where I need the help.” I shifted my weight and swung my leg over the short side of the case. Mama pushed down on it with all her strength, and I pulled the zipper around the tight corner. 

“Other side?” she said.

I nodded. “The first one was easy!” We repeated it on the other side. Me shifting my weight, her pushing down on that bag with everything she had, and my nimble fingers zipping the corner of the most stubborn suitcase on Earth. “All done,” I announced. “I couldn’t have done it without you, Mama.” I slid off the suitcase and onto the floor. Mama grabbed me as if to save me from a nasty fall, and she clung to me. 

“This can’t be happening, Desi. You’re still my baby.” I felt hot tears dampening my shirt. “How did you become so grown up? Yesterday, I was teaching you how to say ‘Daddy.’ Today, you’re a high school graduate, and tomorrow, a college student.” 

I returned her hug and held her to me. “I don’t know, Mama.” 

She pulled away from me and looked into my eyes. “Always remember how much we love you. Remember everything we taught you. And never forget where you’re from. No matter where life takes you, always remember these three things, Destiny. Promise me.”

I looked at her, tears in her eyes and mine watered, too. “I promise. But you know, I’ll be home for Snowflake Day, Mama. This isn’t goodbye.” 

“I know. But your daddy and I aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. I just wanted to say my peace before you spread your wings and fly away from us, little bird.”

She had to go there. I was already struggling with the thought of leaving them. “I will call you every night after I get back to my dorm. After supper. Okay, Mama?” I felt her trembling in my arms. 

“Every night,” she repeated, her tears soaking into my shirt. 

Time was getting short, and I had to get my bags downstairs. Mama walked down ahead of me, and I lugged my suitcase, a carry on and my guitar case down on the first trip. I eyed Daddy watching me.

“You really are a strong little girl, Destiny,” he said. “But be careful on those stairs.”

I walked to where he sat and kissed his forehead. “I’m always careful.” One more trip and I was moved out of my room. Except, of course, for the furniture I couldn’t take with me. 

We sat in the living room together in silence, watching the hands on the clock taking their sweet time. Half an hour before Aunt Jenny came to take me to the airport. Each time I checked my wristwatch, only two minutes had passed. I couldn’t stand it anymore. 

“Are you sure you will be okay without me, Mama? It’s not too late…” 

“We will be fine, sweetheart,” she said. And more silence.

The deep, steady ticktock of the grandfather clock in the dining room echoed through the house. I’d never realized how loud it was in total quiet. The house phone’s ring broke the silence and startled all three of us. Mama jumped up to answer it. Daddy and I heard one half of the conversation, but I figured it was Aunt Jenny. Mama wiped tears from her eyes, then placed the handset back.

“She’s on her way.” 

I stood and carried what I could onto the porch and walked back inside. Daddy stood by his chair, comforting Mama. I couldn’t imagine what they were thinking, or the pain they were feeling. I know how I felt, and it was awful.

Daddy broke his embrace with her and walked to me. With tears in his eyes, he embraced me, held me so tight I almost couldn’t breathe. “You’re doing the right thing, Destiny. Get out of here and don’t look back.” He kissed my cheek and brushed a lock of hair from my face. “The world is yours for the taking. Grab it by the horns, baby girl, and give ‘em hell.”

“I will Daddy. I love you.” Although I’d be home for the holidays, it felt like ‘goodbye.’ It was driving me out of my mind. I hugged him as tight as I knew he could tolerate. I couldn’t let him go.

A few minutes later, Aunt Jenny let herself in the front door. “Hey kiddo,” she said. “It’s almost time.” She pulled her camera from her purse and gathered the three of us in front of—you guessed it—the fireplace. “Family photo time!” 

Mama and Daddy made a Destiny sandwich, both of them holding onto me, all three of us giving our best plastered-on smiles for Aunt Jenny’s camera. She grinned when she looked at the photo, and then declared she needed ‘just one more!’ Of course, we all faked smiles and cheerful faces until it was time to leave. That’s when Mama fell apart. 

“Remember what we talked about, Destiny,” she said. “I love you.” 

Daddy joined in the chorus. “Give ‘em hell, baby girl.” One last smooch on my forehead from him. My emotions were hanging by a thread. 

Aunt Jenny recognized the magnitude of the moment. “I’ll come by later,” she told Mama. “You’re looking good, Charlie,” she said to Daddy and hugged him. 

She helped me carry my bags to the car. Mama and Daddy walked to the mailbox together; I worried how he would climb the front steps after I left. They put on a strong front. I know they were hurting inside. 

I gave Mama one last hug. “Don’t worry. You raised me well, and I’m ready for this. I’ll call you tonight when I get in.” 

Aunt Jenny got into the driver’s seat, and I opened the door. My heart broke watching Mama cry and Daddy holding her. I got in; I couldn’t endure it for another second, and I was afraid I’d chicken out. My window rolled down, I waved and shouted “I love you,” as we drove away from the little farmhouse on Pomona Promenade.

The airport was only a thirty-minute drive from the house. We shared some small talk during the trip, and when she pulled up at the terminal, she helped me to check my bags. All I had left was my backpack. 

“Well, this is it,” she said. She wrapped me in a tight hug. “Have fun, Destiny. You’re going to do well there.” 

Only one thing was on my mind; I had to ask her. “Aunt Jenny, please watch over Mama and Daddy for me? Let me know if anything changes. It’s the only way I can bear this.”

She pulled back and stared into my eyes. “I will take good care of them for you. Don’t forget, your daddy is my big brother, and I love him, too. It’s hard on all of us, sweetheart. But I’ll keep in touch.” She checked her watch. “You should go. You still need to walk to your gate.” 

The enormous lump in my throat prevented any speaking. I just waved and nodded as I walked away. I think she understood. 

As I walked away, I was no longer a child, but an adult. I cried all the way to my gate, feeling like I was making a huge mistake.


ii.

The journey to Sim State was uneventful. I had no idea the culture shock I was about to endure. The cab driver dropped me in front of my dorm, where a welcoming committee greeted me. I thanked the cabby and set my largest bag on the sidewalk. I walked to the table labeled, “A-F,” seeing as my last name was Farmer. The young man assigned there acknowledged me. 

“What’s your name, love?” he asked. His accent was odd, or so I thought. Strangely enough, I had the weird accent.

“Farmer. Destiny Farmer.” 

He searched through a pile of paperwork until he found mine. “Oh yes, Destiny.” He fiddled around inside a lockbox and came out with a key. “You’re in room 301, top floor. It’s a single. You’re a lucky girl to get a single as a freshman!” I reached for the key he held to me and attached it to the lanyard I wore around my neck. “Just sign here for your key and this welcome kit, and you’re all set.” 

I scratched my name onto the sign-in sheet and picked up the folder of papers he handed to me. His name tag read, ‘Josh.’ “I have a cousin named Joshua,” I said. I expected a comment or at least awareness that I’d said something. What I got was an annoyed look and a gesture to move. 

Great. Welcome to college.

I moved the boxes inside the dorm into a common area and piled them up. They had knick knacks, sheets, blankets, towels, and my new coffee maker, along with Angaloo. I couldn’t leave my buddy behind after all he’d been through with me. Maybe I’d seem like a baby with a stuffed kangaroo on my bed. I didn’t care; Daddy gave him to me.

With my suitcase in my hand, I started up three flights of steps. I hit the second landing and stopped for a breather. A guy stood there watching me struggle with the bag. He looked years older than I was, so I figured he was an upperclassman. I could have used help with the bag. I cleared my throat, hoping to catch his attention.  

He chuckled when he saw me wrestling with the heavy case on the last flight of stairs. I wasn’t in Appaloosa Plains anymore. And even though I hated his guts, I missed Austin. He’d have rather died than watch me struggle like this. I’ll give him credit for that much. 

Out of breath and sweating, I reached the door to my room. I inhaled and held it as I slipped the key into the lock. The portal swung open, and I stepped inside. There was a double bed, fireplace, desk, and a closet. The room was huge, and it was all mine. The fireplace had one prefab log sitting in it, I guessed, as a courtesy or a welcome gift. 

Two more trips up the stairs—the same guy watching me—and I finished moving in. First things first, though. I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and dialed the house number. It rang once before Mama’s gentle voice was on the other end. 

“Hi sweetheart,” she said. “How was your trip? Are you settled in yet?” 

“Hi, Mama. The trip was okay. I just got my last box upstairs. My dorm room is enormous, but I have it all to myself.”

I heard a muffled conversation, and then she returned. “That’s great, sweet pea. I’m glad you got there safe and sound.” 

“Me too, and thanks.” Should I tell her how afraid I was that I’d made a mistake coming here? Should I just suck it up and act like I’m fine? “I miss you already.” That would have to do. 

“Oh Desi, we miss you so much.” I heard sniffles on the other end. “Well, sweet pea, I won’t keep you. I know you need to unpack.”

“OK, Mama. I’ll call you soon. I don’t know what’s going on tomorrow, but you’ll hear from me, anyway.” 

Her breath caught in her throat. “That’s good. Want to talk to your daddy?” 

If I do, I’ll be on the next flight home, I thought. “No, not right now. But I will when I call tomorrow.” 

“OK, Desi. We love you.” 

“I love you too, Mama. Give Daddy a hug and a smooch for me?” 

“Mmhmm. Talk to you soon, sweetheart.” 

I pressed the ‘End’ button on the phone and just stared at it. One warm, salty tear splattered on the screen, and I wiped it away on my jeans. Breathe Destiny, I thought. You can do this.

I spent the next hour unpacking my boxes and suitcase, arranging all of my treasures in the room, and setting up my guitar on its stand. I made the bed with fresh sheets and put the towels in the closet. It wasn’t much like home, but Angaloo’s sewed-on smile comforted me. It’s amazing how one little thing can make a room feel like home.

Suppertime had long passed when I realized I was hungry. I went on a fact-finding mission and explored the dorm outside my four walls. I kept my dorm key on the lanyard around my neck. This wouldn’t come off, even in the shower. If nothing else, I’d have the cleanest dorm key on campus. I locked my door behind me and ventured out into the common area. 

The guy who watched me struggle earlier was downstairs, playing pool with a bunch of others. He saw me and smirked. I tried not to roll my eyes at him, gave him a half-smile, and walked toward the kitchen. The cook was off-duty; the fridge was full of wrapped sandwiches for everyone. I grabbed a tuna salad sandwich and a can of pop from the fridge. 

A young girl sat down next to me and introduced herself. “Hi,” she said. “I’m Ashley.” 

“Destiny,” I said between bites. She gave me a weird look. “Nice to meet you.” 

“You talk funny.” Her blonde, almost yellow-ish hair mesmerized me. Certainly, it couldn’t have been natural. “Where you from?” she muttered.

“Appaloosa Plains. How about you?” 

“I’ve heard of that place. Never met anyone from there. I’m from Isla Paradiso.” Her hair was short; the haircut looked like a toddler with safety scissors had done it. She was very tan, but I couldn’t decide if that was natural, either. She wore heavy eye makeup and smelled like gardenias.

“Well,” I said. “You have now.” I smiled at her, but she just got up and walked away. After I finished my sandwich, I cleaned my mess. I’d never make friends here if everyone was this friendly. That was okay with me, though. I was there to learn, not party. 

I walked back to my dorm room and unlocked it. If nothing else, I had my guitar. I grabbed it by the neck, took a chair from the hallway, and sat. I remembered Katie’s advice about keeping my songs close, so I just played. In minutes, a group gathered around me, listening and talking. I learned my first lesson in college life. Music will bring people together, no matter where they’re from. 

I played for about an hour, and when I’d finished, a young man approached me. He looked a little older than me, but I was only seventeen. Almost everyone was older than I was. He held out his hand and introduced himself. 

“I’m Jeff,” he said. “You know your way around that guitar. How long have you been playing?” 

“Destiny,” I said, returning his firm handshake. “I’ve been playing since I was in grade school.” 

“No wonder. You’re fantastic.” 

I blushed. “Thank you.” 

He motioned toward my room. “Is that single room all yours?” 

“Mmhmm.” 

“You’re a lucky girl.” He turned and pointed to a shared apartment—the door wide open—furnished with two beds. “That’s my room. I live with him.” He pointed to the guy who watched me struggle with my bags. Oh, the irony. “Jacob.” 

“What year are you?” 

“Sophomore. I know you’re a freshman. You look young.” 

I blushed. “I’m seventeen.” 

“When’s your birthday?” He didn’t seem fazed by my accent at all. “Maybe I’ll take you for a birthday dinner.” 

“Close to Snowflake Day. We’ll be out for winter break by then, I’m afraid.” 

“Well, maybe we won’t have to wait for your birthday, then.” He winked at me. 

I needed to nip this in the bud before we got started. “Look, Jeff. I just ended a terrible relationship, and I’m not interested in—”

“I’m not looking for a relationship, Destiny. But you’re fascinating, and I like you. Can’t we just be friends?” 

“Sure.” I breathed a sigh of relief. “I need to be up early, Jeff. I’m sorry to be rude.” 

“You’re not,” he said with a serene smile. “I look forward to running into you again.” 

“Likewise. Goodnight, Jeff.” 

He nodded. “Goodnight Destiny.” 

I walked backward into my room and closed the door behind me. That was awkward. I waited a few minutes, then walked into the bathroom. That Ashley girl was there with someone else. I saw her nudge her friend, point at me, and they both giggled. 

Oh super. I’m already the punchline in a joke. 

After I washed up, I returned to my room, locked the door, and flopped onto my bed. I changed into a nightshirt and a pair of soft shorts, climbed into bed, and hugged Angaloo to my chest. I wept into his worn, plush fur, missing my family and my home.


The next morning, I was up early for a meet and greet at the Student Union hall. It was mandatory for all incoming freshmen, so I had to go. I made my bed and set Angaloo on it, got dressed, and headed downstairs for breakfast. The chef had pancakes on the hot bar with sausage, bacon, and other breakfast staples. I took two pancakes with some syrup and butter. They were nowhere near as delicious as the ones Mama made, but they were filling.

The campus was huge, and from my dorm, everything was at least a half-hour walk. I needed a better plan than hoofing it around. The walk to the Student Union was longer than I planned, and I was a few minutes late. The event was more of a gathering. My student ID card joined my dorm key on the lanyard and was easy to access. I scanned it into the kiosk and walked inside.

A school mascot dressed like a llama walked around the room, greeting people and answering questions. There were tables with free stuff on them: a kicky bag, or at least that’s what they called it, flying discs, candy bars and cans of pop, maps of the campus, and a place to write class schedules. I checked to see where the bookstore and the concert hall were located; it was where most of my music classes would be held. They were close to the Student Union, so I planned on visiting them on my way back. 

The fraternity on campus was throwing a party that night, open to everyone. For a moment, I considered it. But classes started in two days. I still had preparations to make. On my walk back to the dorm, a yellow Camaro pulled up next to me. Jeff. He honked the horn and rolled down his window.

“Where are you headed?” 

“Back home.” 

“Hop in,” he said. “I’m going back home, too. I’ll give you a lift.” 

Either I’m too trusting, or naïve, but I hopped into the car with this man. I never once considered the danger I potentially put myself in. Lucky for me, he meant no harm. 

“How was the mixer?” he asked. 

“It was okay. I picked up a few helpful things.” 

“The kick bags always go fast. Did you score one of those?” 

I shook my head. “What’s it for?” 

“You just kick it around, see how many times you can kick it without letting it drop.” 

Well, that just sounded stupid. “Oh. I’m not really into sports.” 

“Seriously?” He sized me up. “I figured with that body, you were into ladies’ sports.” 

I blushed the same color as my hair. “No.” I wanted to crawl under the seat.

“I’m sorry.” He saw my obvious discomfort. “I forget you’re not of age yet. Please forgive me?” 

Maybe Jeff had some redeeming qualities. “Of course, I forgive you.” 

“So, you must work out, though.” He couldn’t let it go. 

“I worked at the fairgrounds back home. Stage setup and break down. It was pretty physical work.” I didn’t dare show him my six-pack. 

“Wow.” 

“What?” 

“That’s pretty hard work for a young lady.” His winning smile returned. 

“I’m going to be a singer someday. The concert stage back home provided some useful life experience.” 

He nodded his head. “Now it makes sense.” 

“What does, Jeff?” 

“The guitar. You. You’re a songbird.” 

I smiled. Daddy called me a songbird all the time. “Yeah, you could say that.” 

He pulled into the dorm parking lot, walked around, and opened my door. “By the way,” he said, pointing to a rack full of bicycles. “There should be one with your name on it. The college provides them to students for free while you’re here. But if you decide to take it home with you, they’ll tack a five hundred dollar charge onto your room and board bill.”

“That’s a pricey bike,” I said. That solved my transportation problem, though. “Thanks for letting me know.” 

“I could drive you anywhere you need to go, you know. Just ask me.” 

“Thanks, Jeff. But the bike will be fine.” 

“The offer stands. Anytime, anywhere.” He took my hand and kissed it. If he was just wanting to be friends, he was on the wrong foot.

“I’ll remember that. Thanks for the lift.” I had a phone call to make. I walked upstairs to my room and locked the door.


As I settled into a routine, Jeff became less and less available. I guess he was busy with classes. I had a full course load, too; three two-hour long classes a day on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Tuesday was lecture hall day, and Thursday was ‘lab day,’ so to speak. Most days, homework was abundant, and I got little sleep. It wasn’t difficult, but time-consuming. I always made time, though, for my phone call home every night.

The first term flew by. Before I knew it, I was on a plane back to Appaloosa Plains for winter break. I had a month off before I had to return; a chance to spend some quality time with both Mama and Daddy. Aunt Jenny picked me up at the airport and took me home. Being back home was more emotional than I expected, but comforting. I needed to be here for them. 

Mama was waiting at the door for me when I walked up the steps, toting my suitcase behind me. Her arms opened for me, and I walked right into them; her warm, familiar hug felt so good. But my first words to her were, “How’s Daddy?” 

Her eyes filled with tears. “Destiny, I need to talk with you.” Fear rose inside me. I was on the verge of tears myself. I peeked into the sitting room, where their bedroom was situated, when I left. Daddy laid in the bed and he looked terrible. I gasped at the sight of him and lost my composure. 

“He…” I couldn’t say what my mind told me to. 

“The treatments aren’t working anymore, sweetheart. He stopped them a month ago. The cancer is spreading, Desi. He doesn’t have much time.” 

“How much time are we talking, Mama?” 

“Months, sweetheart.” Her hands shook. “I’m not ready…” her words faded to quiet sobs. I couldn’t imagine what she was going through. 

“Mama, I’m not going back. I can’t…” We held onto each other and cried. 

After a few minutes, I gathered myself and stood up. “I need to say hi.” I walked into his room and touched his hand. It was cold, and it startled me. “Daddy?” I wasn’t expecting a response.

His eyes opened, and he looked right at me. “Hi sweet pea,” he croaked out. “You’re home.” 

I sat at his bedside and laid my head next to his hand. “Daddy, I’m not leaving you. I’m staying here.” 

His long, bony fingers stroked my hair, and I let him. “How is school? Are you fitting in okay up there?” 

Tears ran down my face and soaked into the bedsheets. “Yeah, Daddy. I’m doing okay. I made the Dean’s list this semester.” 

“You did?” He patted my shoulder. “I knew you were a smart cookie, Desi.” 

I needed to pull myself together. He couldn’t see me crying like this. “It’s so good to be home.” 

“Your mama and I couldn’t wait…” he closed his eyes and groaned. “Frannie… when can I have pain medicine, darling?” 

Even though it didn’t sound like him, there was comfort in hearing him calling Mama ‘darling.’ That’s when I knew he was still my daddy. She entered the room with water and a small pill. “Now, my love. Sit up, so you can drink the water.” 

I stood and got behind him. My arms around his shoulders, I helped him to sit forward, and I held him there until he took the medicine Mama gave him. His body had wasted to almost nothing, eaten away slowly by the monster within him. Carefully, I let him settle back against the bed. His smile was still the same.

“Thank you, Destiny.” 

“You’re welcome, Daddy.”

*****

Every morning while I was home, I spent time with Daddy while he couldn’t sleep. We talked for hours, reminiscing about time when I was little. He remembered every detail of his journeys, and he talked about how he made his way home. Everything he wanted me to know, he told me during those mornings together. 

My birthday came just days before Snowflake Day. Mama tried to make everything special for me and Daddy, but none of us felt like celebrating. She made a cake with eighteen candles on it. Aunt Jenny and Uncle Paul came to see me; as a gift, they paid for a revolving plane ticket for me. We spent the day as a family in Daddy’s makeshift hospital room. I wanted him to be in every memory of my last birthday with him. 

We agreed to not exchange gifts for Snowflake Day, but I put the tree up for Daddy. I lit a fire in the hearth that morning and got him into his wheelchair. The three of us sat by the fire all morning, singing songs and talking. When he got tired, I took him back to his bed and got him comfortable. He was surprised that I could lift him without help. I was surprised he allowed me to do it.

It was just Mama and me for supper that night. We folded our hands in prayer while I spoke a blessing over us. It wasn’t a fancy meal, but it was home-cooked and what I needed to feel normal. 

“Mama, I want to stay home. I don’t want to return to school,” I said while we cleaned up the dishes from supper. “I can’t leave you, not now.” 

She stopped drying the pot she held and looked at me. “Destiny, sweetheart, you have to go back. Don’t let us stop your future.” 

“How can I go?” My shoulders heaved in sorrow. “He isn’t well.” 

“If you go in and ask him, Destiny, he will tell you what I’m telling you. He never wanted to be the reason you didn’t chase your dreams.” She looked into my eyes, her hands on my shoulders. “Do it for him, sweetheart. It’s what he wants.” 

I shook my head. “I can’t leave here knowing it’s the last time I’ll ever see him, Mama. It’s too painful.” 

She took my hand and led me to the dining room table, where we both sat. “Sweetheart, none of us lives forever. Someday, Destiny, we won’t be here. But death is not the end, baby girl. You’ll see us again in the next life. That’s what our faith is about.” She wiped my tears away. “Daddy and I want you to go live your life. You’re young, and you have so much potential—”

I interrupted her. “But you need help! You can’t keep doing this alone, Mama. I see how sickly you’ve become! You’re not taking care of yourself…” Tears stole the rest of my words away. 

“Desi, we are okay here together. We have nurses here all week. Aunt Jenny comes to help me take care of your daddy. Uncle Paul sits with him while she and I go to shop. I have help, honey.” 

That made me feel a teensy bit better, and I had the plane ticket home when I needed it. “Okay.” My agreement was reluctant. I still didn’t want to go. 

I had another week home after Snowflake Day, to celebrate the new year. We sat awake until midnight on New Year’s Eve, enjoying sparkling wine together. Daddy even had a glass with us. It was one of his best days in a long time, according to Mama. The next morning, I had to say goodbye all over again. I dreaded my alarm clock.


Jeff was waiting by my dorm door when I returned to school. I’d spent my entire trip crying, and it was obvious by the tears staining my face. He looked concerned and followed me into my room. 

“Welcome back. I take it your holiday didn’t go so well?” He hugged my shoulders and sat on my bed. If he saw Angaloo sitting there with his silly, sewn-on smile, he said nothing about him. 

“It was hard leaving home,” I whispered. And then I wrestled with how much information I should tell him. I didn’t want pity. “My daddy is dying, Jeff. He doesn’t have much time, so it was painful to leave him.” 

Jeff wore a look of shock, and then sadness. “I’m sorry, Destiny. Are you close?” 

Tears rolled down my face, and I nodded. “Very. I’m close with both my parents. I was their miracle…” I couldn’t hold it anymore. Deep, ragged sobs echoed through my room. Then Jeff stood and embraced me, allowing me to cry on his shoulder. 

He rocked me in his arms, whispering words of comfort into my ears. When I stopped crying and could breathe again, he pulled away and looked into my puffy eyes. “I’m just across the hall when you need to talk, honey.” Honey? I was going to get offended, but I realized… I liked it. 

“Thank you. And you can call me honey anytime you want.” I sniffled and wiped my eyes with my hands. 

He put his cheek to mine and held me close. “I know you weren’t looking for a relationship, Destiny, but I’m…” He stopped, as though he needed to choose his words. “You’re someone special, and I like you.” 

“I like you, too.” He turned his face toward me and pressed his lips to mine in a sweet kiss. My heart melted, and my arms wrapped around him tighter. “Thank you for being here.” 

“I’ll always be here for you.”


Two weeks later, my phone rang in the middle of the night, startling me awake from a sound sleep. Mama always told me an early phone call never brought good news. I fumbled for the phone and answered it before it stopped ringing. 

“Mama?” 

“Desi, find a way to make it home, sweetheart. He’s fading…” 

I sat up straight in bed. “I’ll be on the next plane out.” There was one problem; the airport was thirty minutes away, and I had no car.

I walked across the hallway and knocked on Jeff’s door. Jacob, his roommate, answered it. “Jeff,” he said. “Jeff, your girlfriend is here.” 

It didn’t occur to me to be shocked by Jacob’s declaration. Jeff rushed to the door. “What’s the matter, honey?” 

“I need a ride to the airport,” I said, with tears in my eyes. “I need to get home.” 

“Hang tight,” Jeff said. “I’ll take you.” 

I didn’t bother packing a bag; my clothes were still at the farmhouse. I just grabbed my purse, my keys and the plane ticket Aunt Jenny and Uncle Paul gave to me. In five minutes, we were on our way to the airport. 

Jeff and I stood at the terminal while the ticket attendant booked me on the last standby spot, leaving for Appaloosa Plains in two hours. He didn’t leave my side, holding me and comforting me. When the coffee counters opened, he bought us each a cappuccino and sat with me. The flight started boarding; he hugged me tight and kissed me.

“Call me, Des,” he whispered. “Let me know how I can help.” 

Weeping in his arms, I nodded. “I won’t make it home in time,” I cried. I prayed Daddy would hang on long enough for me to say goodbye.

*****

I stood outside the airport, my purse and phone in my hand. The cab I had called pulled up in front of where I was standing. The driver opened the passenger window. “Going into the Plains, Miss?” he asked. I nodded and gave him the address. On the way, I dialed the house phone. 

“Mama, please tell me I’m not too late…” my breath escaping my lungs in ragged, panicked gasps. 

“He’s still hanging on, Desi. We believe he’s waiting for you.” 

“I’ll be there soon. Tell him I’m coming, Mama.” 

The cab driver looked into the rear-view mirror and saw me crying. “Your father?” he asked.

“Mmhmm. I flew in from Sim State. My mama called me… I hope I make it.” 

“I’ll make sure you do.” The driver picked up his speed, navigating the streets and roads that led into the neighborhood. When he pulled up out front, he looked at me. “Bless you, sweetheart,” he said. “Don’t worry about the charge, just go see your father.” 

“Thank you!” I yelled and waved. Mama was standing in the doorway waiting for me. Aunt Jenny and Uncle Paul were there, too. 

A nurse sat by him, monitoring him. Mama took my arm and brought me into the sitting room. “This is our daughter,” she said. “Charlie, love, Desi is here.” 

He was on oxygen, barely able to take a breath. But when he saw me, his eyes lit up. “There’s my… baby… girl…” he whispered. 

I sat beside him, trying so hard to be strong. This was it… the moment Mama and I had dreaded since his diagnosis. How would I live without him? “Hi Daddy,” I said and planted a kiss on his forehead. I took his hand and held it; my heart pounding in my chest, aching with every beat. “I love you so much.” 

His weak smile must have taken so much effort. He squeezed my fingers. “And I love you… sweet pea.” 

It was obvious he was struggling to breathe. Struggling one last time to be the strong father I had grown up with and respected. The one I still needed. I leaned in to kiss his cheek and I whispered in his ear. “If you need to go, it’s okay, Daddy. I’m going to be alright.”  

When I pulled away from him, he smiled. I heard Mama’s sniffles behind me. Aunt Jenny and Uncle Paul huddled around her. But they had already said their goodbyes. These last few moments of Daddy’s life were mine to cherish. Mine to remember. I kissed his fingers and held his hand to my face. Low and soft, tears filling my eyes, I began to sing his favorite song to him, and he closed his eyes. He took a ragged breath, then exhaled. I kept waiting for his next one, but it never came. 

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“Daddy?” The voice in my head screamed ‘No!’ “Daddy?” I repeated, my hand still clutching his. “I’ll always love you, Daddy, and I’ll always remember you.” His nurse stepped in, placing her stethoscope on his chest. She listened for a moment, then laid her hand on my shoulder. 

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “He’s gone.” She turned and hugged Mama, who looked as broken as I felt. “I’m so sorry, Miss Fran.” 

Mama looked as though she might pass out, weak and wobbly on her feet. Aunt Jenny caught her before she fell to the floor, weeping uncontrollably. The nurse stepped out of the room to give us some privacy. 

I couldn’t let him go, my head resting on his chest. Tears like molten lava ran down my face and dripped onto his skin. Never in my life had I hurt like this or felt this kind of grief. I know it had to be a hundred times worse for Mama; he was all she’d ever known, and now he was gone. This time, there was no mistaking it. Daddy was gone.

*****

Dr. Jordan came out that evening to see Mama. She’d been crying since Daddy passed, listless and despondent. He prescribed a sedative for her to take, and Aunt Jenny made sure she took it. Uncle Paul carried Mama to the sitting room and gently laid her down on the bed. I volunteered to get her ready to sleep. A part of me needed to stay in her bed that night, cuddled up next to her like I used to do when we thought he had died years ago. 

After I got Mama settled, I walked back to where Aunt Jenny and Uncle Paul sat waiting for me. The room felt so empty without him in it, without his laughter and warmth. I missed him already, and it had only been hours since the funeral director took his body from the house.  

“How are you holding up, kiddo?” Aunt Jenny asked. 

“Not much better than Mama. I can’t believe he’s gone.” 

“I know, sweet pea.” She wrapped her arms around me for the umpteenth time that day. “We’ll be here tomorrow to help you with anything you need. Your mama needs to make arrangements for him downtown. You should go with her.” 

I nodded. “I will. Thank you both for everything today. I love you.” 

“We love you both, Desi.” She kissed my forehead and let me out of her embrace. “We’ll see you tomorrow. Call if you need us, okay?” 

“Mmhmm,” I mumbled. “Goodnight.” They both waved and left. I locked the door behind them—the latch sounded colder and more final than usual—then sighed. My belly growled at me and I realized I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, but I wasn’t starving either. I pulled my phone out of my back pocket and dialed Jeff’s number, remembering I’d promised to let him know what was going on. 

“Hi, Des,” he said, his voice filled with concern. “Are you okay?” 

“No, but I’m trying to be,” I said. “Daddy passed about twenty minutes after I got here this morning. It’s been a long, rough day. Mama is sleeping and I think I’m going to sleep in the chair by her bed. I’m worried about her. She’s older now. It will be harder for her this time.”

“This time?” Jeff said.

“Remind me to tell you about it someday. It’s too long of a story for tonight, I’m afraid.” 

“Oh, okay. I wish—I wish I was there with you, Destiny.” 

I nodded my head, as though he could see me. “Yeah, me too. We have a busy day tomorrow, but I’ll call you tomorrow night. I’m so tired.” 

“Get some sleep, Des. I’ll be thinking about you tonight.” 

“Thanks, Jeff. Talk to you tomorrow.” I hated to be so short with him when he’d been nothing but supportive and sweet to me. But I knew he understood. 

I walked to Mama’s bedroom and collapsed into the chair on Daddy’s side of the bed. The room felt so empty without him; his presence, his memories invading my every thought. I finally drifted off to sleep, exhausted, with Daddy on my mind.

*****

The sunshine pouring through the bedroom window awakened me the next morning. Mama was still sleeping, her position not much different from how I’d tucked her in a few hours before. I rose from the chair, stiff as could be from sleeping there all night. I stretched and stifled a yawn, not wanting to awaken Mama any earlier than I needed to, then walked to the bathroom. A little water splashed on my face, and I gave my teeth a quick brush, trying to feel a little more… what? Human? Normal? After yesterday, I’m not sure what normal will be anymore.

It would be a busy day. I wanted to feed Sweetie and let her know Daddy had passed. Daddy was always Sweetie’s favorite, and he seemed to reciprocate that feeling. I walked to check on Mama to let her know I would make banana pancakes for breakfast. She looked so peaceful, but she still hadn’t shifted position and I sensed something wasn’t right. I sat down on the bed next to her.

“Mama?” Normally, she would sense me sitting on the bed, and it would wake her. My hands trembled, as if they perceived more than I did. “Mama?!” I asked again. I grasped her hand; it was cold to the touch. I reached out to brush a lock of her snowy white hair from her face and touched her forehead; it, too, was cool, and Mama never moved, never flinched. I saw her chest still, the rhythmic rise and fall that indicates life gone from her body. “MAMA!” Sliding off the bed and onto my knees, new tears welled in my eyes and ran down my cheeks. I kissed her hand, holding it in mine, then stood and kissed her forehead. I didn’t call for an ambulance; the time for that had passed. 

Mama was gone, too, but reunited with Daddy. Their bond no longer broken, their love once again whole. I was both happy and sad.

An odd calm came over me. Maybe it was more of a numbness? It was how I felt when I called the funeral home. Then I dialed Aunt Jenny’s phone number. Her greeting wasn’t as cheerful as usual. My daddy’s passing affected her as much as it did Mama and me. “Aunt Jenny,” I said to her, far more calmly than I would have expected. “It’s Mama,” I said, the solemnity clear in my voice. “I need you.” 

“We’re on our way, Destiny!” I heard her say. 

When the doorbell rang a few minutes later, it was Joseph Palmer, the funeral director. There was some great irony because I had called him to talk about Daddy’s arrangements, and he was here, having to verify Mama’s passing and discuss her arrangements as well. I met him at the door with the pretense of a smile. I’m sure, in his line of business, he knew my smile was less than sincere. “She’s in here, Mr. Palmer.” Aunt Jenny and Uncle Paul burst through the unlocked door a few moments later.

“Desi! What happened?” Aunt Jenny said. She was out of breath and frightened.

“It’s Mama…” I couldn’t talk, my mouth dry, my mind unable to process what was going on. Aunt Jenny peeked through the curtain into the sitting room. It felt like someone had punched me in the gut for the second time. I heard her gasp, or thought I did. The scene was heartbreakingly tragic.

Mr. Palmer confirmed the awful truth I already knew; Mama had passed away in her sleep sometime during the night. I never had time to tell her goodbye. I never got to tell her I loved her one last time. My heart shattered into a million tiny pieces. How could they BOTH be gone? Devastation couldn’t possibly describe how I felt. 

I never recognized that Mama hadn’t been well for months, either. She was so wrapped up in her tireless devotion to Daddy that she never told me or him about her own declining health. The weight she’d lost, the pain she suffered, but never complained about. I learned later that the same Beast that claimed Daddy took Mama’s life, too. She was never given the chance to fight it. Mama selflessly sacrificed her own well-being for Daddy, her last act of love for him. 

Instead of planning one funeral, I now had two…

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Up Next: Meet Destiny Farmer, Part Two


Pose Credits

Mod The Sims
Wheelchair Poses by Spladoum (Wheelchair CC Included)
Camera Pose Pack by Traelia (Camera Accessory Included)

Poses By Bee
Don’t Die – Updated
Family Fighting – Updated
Just Standing – Males
Meeting For Tea – Bad News
Vintage Portrait
Wedding Poses – Updated

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Twin Poses (Female) by Dovah

*****

Custom Content

Around The Sims 3
Sims 4to3 Hospital Set

Butterfly Sims (Site Defunct)
Female Teen Hair #085

The Farmer Legacy
Hospital Patient Whiteboard

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Hospital Set by Hekate999
Take A Bow Dress by sweetdevil

Poses By Bee
Hospital Bed 

The Sims Resource
Polly’s Hairstyle by Leah Lillith
Teen Cardigan by Lutetia
Garden Rose Living Chair by Severinka
Modern Rug 19 by Ung999
Austin’s Hair by WingsSims
Destiny’s Hair by WingsSims 

Custom content and poses are not my property and are used in compliance with the TOUs.

G1 Chapter Twenty – The Finale, Part One

The following morning, Fran and Destiny waited in Charlie’s hospital room for word from Dr. Bennett. Charlie slept comfortably in his bed; monitors and machines kept track of his vitals and administered the treatments to keep him stable. Destiny was curled up, sleeping in a nearby chair. She was still dressed in the outfit she wore on stage for her show the previous night. 

Destiny had been uncharacteristically silent since they arrived at the hospital, the events of the night weighing heavy on her in more ways than one. She had fallen asleep after Fran heard her quiet sobs, her body heaving from the tears. Fran hadn’t slept at all since Charlie was admitted, but nodded off now and again as she rested her head on Charlie’s pillow, his hand squeezed in hers.

Fran’s nap was interrupted by a soft knock on the room door before Dr. Bennett opened it. Destiny stirred at hearing the doctor’s voice. She jumped out of the chair, stumbled due to stiff legs, but made her way to her father’s bedside. 

“Good morning, Fran. Good morning, Destiny. How are you two holding up?” 

“Hi, Doctor Bennett,” Destiny replied, Fran still shaking off her nap. “We’re doing about as well as you might think…” Dr. Bennett looked at both women, the sheer exhaustion showing on both their faces.

“I can have a couple of cots brought in if you ladies would like to get some actual sleep…?”

“That—that would be wonderful, Doctor…” Fran responded, brushing the heavy sleep from the corners of her eyes. “Do you know what happened last night?”

“His O2 levels were very low when they brought Charlie in last night. We noticed it was a struggle for him just to breathe,” Dr. Bennett said, sitting cross-legged in a chair across from Fran and Destiny. “Without scans, I’m not sure what brought on this flare-up of symptoms. It could be lymphoma-related, treatment side-effects, or Charlie’s body being over-tired AND over-stressed.”

“He’s been trying so hard to keep up with the farm. I tell him that his sister will help me, but I think he hates being unable to work.” Fran folded her hands together. “And then Destiny’s concert last night. He didn’t feel well the night before. I know he’s tired all the time. He pushes himself too much.”

“Well, that needs to stop—all of his unnecessary exertion and stress. Charlie’s not a young man anymore and his age will work against him if we’re not careful. We’re going to keep him, at least overnight, for re-evaluation and so we can do a PET scan. Fresh lab work is needed. His blood chemistry was way off last night.” The doctor stood and hugged her. “Try not to worry, Fran. A lot of patients like Charlie get bumps in the road, but go on to recover. I’ll get his PET scheduled as soon as possible and I’ll look into those cots for you two as well. If you and Destiny need anything else, please let me or his nurse know.” 

“Thank you, doctor,” Fran replied. She sat down at Charlie’s bedside as the doctor left the room, stroking what remained of his hair. It was two hours later that her gentle touch awakened him. She smiled at him and touched his cheek. “How are you feeling, my love?” 

“Did anyone get the number of the tractor that hit me?” Charlie smiled and joked. He knew humor would likely help soothe Fran’s nerves. “As to how I’m feeling; if I weren’t so tired, I’d be out running a marathon.” He looked at his hand with the IV line in it. “I guess this is our life now? Makes for a heckuva date night!” 

Fran laughed a bit nervously. Charlie was glad to see a smile on her face; A laugh, albeit a nervous one, still counted. “You’re not getting out of dates that easily, Mister Farmer!” Fran responded. “Except for tonight, maybe. Doctor Bennett wants to keep you here overnight to run some more tests and get a new PET scan on you. It’s your job…” Fran emphasized herself by leaning close to Charlie and gently poking him with her finger, “… to rest. Those are doctor’s orders!”

“You’ll get no argument from me, at least not right now. How’s Desi doing with all this, Frannie?” 

“Not good.” Fran huffed, her and Charlie’s gaze shifting to Destiny, who lay asleep on a cot. “She hasn’t spoken much since last night. We shouldn’t have kept this from her, Charlie. It was a terrible decision.” 

“Well, we can’t dwell on that now. What’s done is done. We’ll just have to repair the damage and keep her in the loop.” 

She lifted his hand to her face and kissed his fingers. “You need to stop pushing yourself, Charlie. You scared us half to death last night.” 

Charlie felt overwhelming guilt as he watched the pain and uncertainty etch lines in Fran’s face, then looked back over to where Destiny lay. She was curled up in a ball, the dress she wore last night draped over her like a blanket. “I ruined her set, didn’t I?” 

“Don’t worry about that, Charlie. She’d rather have you well.” 

“Would you mind waking her for me, sweetheart? I want—no, I need—to apologize to her.” 

Fran nodded and stood. She walked to where Destiny slept and rubbed her shoulder. “Destiny? Wake up, sweet pea. Your daddy’s awake and he’d like to talk to you.” 

Destiny awakened with a start. She looked around, wide-eyed, and when she realized where she was, her eyes filled with tears. “Is he okay?” 

Fran knelt and looked into her eyes. “He’s fine, sweetheart. He wants to talk to you.” She wiped the tears from her daughter’s eyes.

Destiny stood and approached Charlie’s bedside. “Oh, Daddy,” she wept. “I’m sorry. This is my fault…” She knelt next to him and laid her head on the bed. “I’m so sorry.” 

“Destiny, this isn’t your fault.” Charlie ran his hand over her long red hair, trying to soothe her. “In fact, I owe you an apology. I wanted to protect you from this, but in doing that, I made things harder on you and your Mama. She wanted to tell you when we found out.”

Destiny sniffled; her eyes met his. “When did you find out?” 

“Last year, the week you went away on your retreat.” 

“A whole year?! You’ve known about this for a whole year?! Why didn’t you tell me?!” Destiny asked. Charlie noticed an edge of anger creeping into her tone. He reached out and took her hand in his, hoping he could find the words to repair the damage he’d caused. “I’m NOT a baby!”

“Desi, please try not to be angry. If you have to be, I understand, but be angry with me. This mess is my doing. I-I didn’t want my illness to distract you from your studies, or keep you from your music. You’re smart, beautiful, and talented with big plans and ambitions. I didn’t want my cancer to interfere with any of that. Please make me a promise that no matter what happens with me, you’re going to keep those plans… those dreams.” Charlie reached out and brushed a teardrop from Destiny’s face. 

“No, Daddy. I’m going to stay here and help Mama run the farm and help her take care of you.” This started a fresh round of weeping. Charlie looked at Fran; his eyes begged for her help.

“Desi,” Fran said, walking up behind her daughter and gently placing her hands on Destiny’s shoulders, “we don’t want you to put off your future. We want you to go to college next year, no matter what happens here at home.” 

“How can I, Mama? How can I leave you and Daddy now?” 

Fran didn’t know how to answer her. “We’ll discuss it some other time, Destiny. For now, let’s all concentrate on getting Daddy home. Deal?” 

She wiped her tears away and nodded. “Okay.” Destiny got up and settled down into the cot where she’d slept.


Two days later, Charlie felt better. The doctor had prescribed medication that helped his strength improve, and supplemental nutrition to support his recovery. Destiny stayed with Polly’s family while Fran kept vigil at his bedside. She didn’t leave him for more than a few minutes when she got up to stretch or walk around. 

The doctor knocked on the door; Charlie invited her into the room. She smiled at them and sat in a chair near Charlie’s bed. “Hi folks. I have the results of the testing we’ve done. I’m happy to report you’re still in remission, Charlie. The PET showed no new tumors or activity, and your blood work is working its way down more toward your normal range.” 

“What caused his collapse, then?” Fran asked. 

“I think a few things factored into his collapse. The first is him not knowing when to quit. Charlie, you need to be kinder to your body. Rest when you need it. Drink a lot of water and keep eating well. The second is likely damage from the chemo and radiation. You’re still a little anemic, too, which will cause additional fatigue. We did a ferritin infusion overnight to help with that. It’s not a cure, but it will aid in your recovery.” 

“When can I go home, doc?” 

“I’m signing your discharge papers when we’re done here. You can go home when they get you ready to leave. There’s nothing more we can do to make you feel better. Time, and Fran’s loving care, will do much more than we can.”

Charlie smiled at his devoted wife. “She is more than I deserve, but I’m so thankful for her.” Fran blushed a deep red. 

“You two are just adorable,” the doctor said with a snicker. “We’ll get you home within the hour.” 

“Thanks, doc,” Charlie said. “I guess I’ll see you at my next follow up.”

“Yes, you will,” Dr. Bennett said with a wave as she left the room.

Less than an hour later, Fran and Charlie were on their way home from the hospital. Though they had good news, they still had Destiny to worry about. They knew she deserved answers; Charlie felt guilty about keeping his illness from her for so long. Fran called Destiny before they left to tell her they were on their way home. She expected their daughter to have a lot of questions and some anger. She was justified, too. 

Destiny walked home from the Stonewall house next door. Fran’s little car pulled into the driveway as Destiny walked back from feeding Sweetie. Instead of going in, she walked to the car, ready to lend a hand. 

“Hi Mama,” she said. “Hi Daddy. Do you need help inside?” 

“I’m okay, sweet pea,” he said, but she held onto his arm with a firm grip. 

“I’m not letting you stumble or fall.” Together, they walked from the car into the house. She steadied him on the step, taking them as slowly as he needed, and she didn’t let him go until he was safely in his recliner. 

“You’re taking such good care of me, Desi. Thank you.” He squeezed her hand before she walked away and up the stairs. “Frannie? Could I ask you to make some tea for me?” 

Fran smiled. “You know I will. What kind, love?”

“It doesn’t matter. Surprise me.” Charlie watched as Destiny descended the steps with her guitar in her hand. “Are you going to practice, Desi?” 

She shook her head. “No, I’m going to sing for you. I don’t need to practice this one. I know it backwards and forwards.” She sat on the chair near him, strummed her new guitar, and sang the first note of his favorite song. Charlie sank into his chair, closed his eyes, and let the sweet sound of her voice take him to a happier place, one where he wasn’t sick. One where he didn’t have cancer.

Fran sang along to it in the kitchen, as though it was just another song she’d heard on the radio. The teakettle whistled; she took his favorite mug, squeezed a little fresh honey into the cup, and an Earl Grey bag. She poured the hot water over the bag and let it steep for the duration of Destiny’s song. Fran stood in the dining room watching her daughter and her husband sharing a moment. She feared there weren’t many such moments left. 

She tiptoed into the room and peered at his face. “Is he sleeping?” she whispered. “I can’t tell.” 

Destiny shook her head. “I don’t think so, Mama. You’re just enjoying the music, aren’t you, Daddy?”

A grin pulled Charlie’s face. “You bet I am. Desi, your voice has always been a salve for my soul. I wish I…” He stopped speaking. No, I’m not going there with her. Not yet, anyway. “I mean, I can’t wait to see your first shows in the city. We can talk about going with you. When you move, that is.”

“Really, Daddy? I’d love that!” Destiny beamed with joy, watching his happy affirmation. It was the first time he’d ever offered such a thing. What she didn’t realize was how unlikely it was to actually happen.


Two Months Later

“Daddy, would you help me?” Destiny sat at the dining room table, a stack of college applications spread over the table. “Sim State wants me, and they’re willing to accept all my work at the festival as college credits. It will cut down my prerequisites quite a bit.” She shuffled those papers into a pile, and she picked up another ten-page application for a different college. “This one is offering a full scholarship for four years, but they won’t accept the festival credits, so I’ll spend longer there. And it’s further from home. I couldn’t make it home fast if I needed to. They have a first-class music program, though.”

Charlie sat at the table with her, overwhelmed with the paperwork she had sprawled out on it. “What’s this one, sweet pea?” An application packet as thick as her journal laid in the center of the table. 

“Oh, that one’s for an ivy league school. I’m not even going to try for that one, Daddy.” She lowered her head and spoke quieter. “They won’t offer any help, and I know you and Mama can’t afford that school, what with your treatments and all.” 

A pang of guilt pricked Charlie in the heart. At almost seventeen, she was having to deal with things she shouldn’t need to endure—a sick parent and financial hardship. “You choose any school you want, Destiny. If you’re accepted, and it’s your heart’s desire, we’ll find a way to make it happen.” 

Destiny was very aware of all Charlie and Fran had sacrificed for her. So she shook her head, placed her hands on his, and smiled. “I’m not going to apply, Daddy. I don’t want that school, anyway.”

“Are you sure, Desi? I know you’re a smart cookie. You can go wherever you’d like.”

“Mmhmm,” she said. “Sim State is a good school, right?”

“One of the best, yes.” 

“And they’re offering me work credit. I might pick up an extra job downtown during the winter at the diner. The concerts are almost non existent in the winter. No one wants to sing or perform outside during a Plains blizzard.”

Charlie chuckled. “You’re correct, sweet pea.”

“For the record, I would.” She winked at her father. “I’d sing anywhere, any time, and I wouldn’t care if it was snowing, or raining, or hot.” 

“That’s because you’re dedicated, Desi. That will make you successful both in school and in life. You can’t lose with that attitude.” 

Destiny blushed. “Thank you, Daddy.” 

“Have I told you how proud I am of you?” His face beamed. 

“Well,” she said. “You and Mama taught me the value of hard work. I know it’s the only way we’ve survived the hardest years. And it’s how you’re going to beat the lymphoma, Daddy. You are going to beat it.” 

Charlie swallowed hard. “From your lips to His ears, Destiny.” 

“Every morning, and every night.” She stood from the table and kissed his cheek. “Thank you for your help. Sim State is my choice.” 

I didn’t do much, he thought with a smile. “You’re welcome, honey.” Charlie stood from the table, tired and achy. “I’m going to lie down upstairs, Desi.”

Destiny didn’t look up from her work, but nodded. “Okay, Daddy. I hope you feel better.” 

“Me too, sweet pea. Me too.”

*****

Fran came back from the market, tired but happy. Destiny was still at the table working on her application for Sim State, and Charlie was resting upstairs. She greeted her daughter, but was dismayed to see nothing started for supper. “Hi sweet pea,” she said. “Where’s Daddy?”

“He’s upstairs.”

Fran huffed and walked to the kitchen. “He didn’t start supper like I asked him to. Is he okay?”

Destiny shrugged, not looking up from her work. “I dunno. He said he was going to lie down, and he went upstairs.”

She slammed the refrigerator door shut and fell against the counter in frustration. Fran muttered under her breath. That got Destiny’s attention.

“Are you okay, Mama?” 

“Oh, I’m fine, Desi. I’m just tired.” 

Destiny stood and gathered her applications, arranged the papers into a pile, and slipped them into her backpack. She walked to where Fran stood fighting tears, and hugged her. 

“I’ll cook tonight, Mama.”

Fran looked up and into Destiny’s eyes. “No, honey, this isn’t your responsibility—”

“Will it help you?” 

“Well, yes, but…” Fran couldn’t contain the emotion. “It’s not your worry.” She wept openly with Destiny’s arms wrapped around her. “I couldn’t ask that of you.” 

“You’re not asking.” Destiny backed away from Fran to see her tears. “Go upstairs and rest, Mama. I’ll call you both when supper is ready.” Fran nodded, sniffled and mouthed the words, ‘thank you,’ before she turned to walk up the steps.

It wasn’t the first time Destiny had cooked a meal, and what she had cooked before wasn’t traditional ‘supper’ food. But she made it well, and it was her favorite thing—banana pancakes. She pulled the recipe card from Fran’s box, measured the ingredients out and mixed the batter. Then, she took two bananas, sliced them thin, and sprinkled lemon juice on them so they wouldn’t brown. The griddle on the stove got sizzling hot, so she poured the first four cakes, arranging the banana slices on each one.

While the first batch cooked, she walked to the steps and called for Fran and Charlie to come down for supper. Little by little, she cooked the pancakes until the batter was gone. The finished ones rested in a warm oven until supper was ready.

Fran held onto Charlie walking down the stairs. The aroma of banana pancakes filled the bottom floor of the house. Charlie looked at his wife. “Desi cooked that? It smells amazing in here.” 

She beamed at him and nodded. “She did. Our baby girl is taking care of us.” 

“Enjoy it now, darling. She won’t be home much longer.” 

Fran sighed. “Don’t remind me.”

Destiny had finished cooking the last pancake when Charlie and Fran walked into the dining room. “Oh good!” she said. “Just sit, and I’ll do everything.” The table was already set, and everything they needed was placed out: soft butter, pure maple syrup, coffee and all the fixings for it. She pulled the warm cakes from the oven, put them on a platter, and served them. 

“Destiny, this looks incredible,” Charlie said. “Did your mama teach you how to cook?” 

She blushed. “Just this, Daddy. It’s all I can make.” 

They sat together and joined hands. Charlie prayed for their meal. The first bite for Fran tasted different than how she usually made them. “Destiny, how did you make the batter? These are delicious!”

“Just a little vanilla added in. When I made them at school in cooking class, it made a big difference. I got an ‘A’ on the project.”

“I can see why!” Fran grinned. “Is there anything that you don’t do well, sweet pea?”

Destiny thought for a moment. With a sly grin, she said, “I can’t think of anything!” The three of them laughed together.

After supper, Destiny cleaned the kitchen and all the dishes. Charlie and Fran retired to their bedroom early. So Destiny walked into the yard with her song book in her hand and a pencil tucked into her ponytail. Sweetie was still in the pasture, and the dim light of dusk settled over the small half-acre farm plot. Destiny had hit a dry spell with songwriting, so she’d hoped the night air would help to clear her mind.

She had paid little attention to her surroundings until Sweetie’s sharp whinny broke her concentration. When she looked up, the evening’s darkness had settled in around the farm. Crickets chirruped in the fields behind the property, and fireflies dotted the night sky. Soon, she detected the syncopation in the songs of the night’s creatures. She picked up her pencil and jotted down words that came to mind, her concentration on the only home she’d ever known. 

Destiny’s mind crept back to the afternoon’s task of college applications, and her father’s illness. How can I leave them? She wondered to herself. I can’t. Daddy needs me. Her pencil fell to the table; the clatter on the metal surface startled her, as though she didn’t expect it. “How can I leave you, Daddy?” she said aloud, talking to no one but herself. Tears filled her eyes, and she wept, so unsure of what the future held for any of them.


Destiny’s alarm clock sounded the next morning; she turned it off and covered her head with her pillow. “No…” she groaned. “I’m not ready to get up.” Nevertheless, she threw the covers from her body and sat up. The clock next to her bed read 5:02 AM. 

She walked through the bathroom and into the sitting room in her parents’ bedroom. A quick peek revealed both were still sleeping. She tiptoed down the stairs to shower in the first floor bathroom, a consideration for Charlie, since he had more difficulty navigating the stairs early in the morning. 

Destiny started the coffee pot, still wrapped in her robe, and gazed into the yard. Sweetie was still in the pasture, grazing. Or perhaps she’d slept in the barn and was up early; Destiny wasn’t sure. A few moments later, she heard light footsteps padding down the stairs, and a glimpse of red hair like hers. “Good morning, Destiny,” Fran said. 

“Good morning, Mama. I was going to let you sleep.” 

“And let me miss your last first day of school? Goodness, girl. I hope you’re kidding.” 

Destiny gave her a sheepish smile. “Sorry?”

“It’s okay, Desi. Daddy will be down soon, too. He’s been looking forward to this.” 

“Mmph…” She sat in the dining chair a little too hard. “I wish he’d stay upstairs until he’s ready, Mama. It’s not that important.” 

“You’re not keeping him away, sweetheart. He wants every memory he can have with you.” He’s afraid there won’t be many more, Fran thought. 

“Well, I’ll go up and help him.” 

“That’s a sweet gesture, and a good idea.” Fran poured a cup of coffee and took another mug to fill for Charlie. Destiny walked up the staircase to the master bedroom. 

Charlie was walking from the bathroom, his cane in his hand, when she knocked on the door. “Daddy?” 

“Come in, sweet pea.” He sat on the bed and took his robe from the chair. “Happy first day of school.” 

“Thanks, Daddy. I came to help you down the steps.” 

“I appreciate it, but I think I’m okay this morning.” 

“Are you sure?” Destiny studied his face. Now that she knew the truth, she could see the toll his illness was taking on his body. “How about I walk in front of you?” 

Charlie nodded. “I’ll agree with that, Desi. You’re a good girl, you know that?”

“Well, you’re my only Daddy, so I want to make sure you’re safe.” She hugged him and took his hands in hers, pulling him to his feet. “Upsy Daisy!” 

“Wow, you remembered that, too!” Charlie laughed. “I haven’t said that to you since you were little.” 

“I remember everything. My guidance counselor wanted me to go for testing last year. He thinks I have an eidetic memory.” 

“I wouldn’t be surprised, Desi. You’ve remembered things from your childhood that most kids forget.” 

“Like that book I memorized?” 

“Exactly like that.” Charlie smiled; it was one of the best days of his life. 

“I want to confess something about that, Daddy,” Destiny said, wincing. 

“What’s that?” 

“When you came home, and you asked me if I remembered you, and I said no?” 

“You did, didn’t you?” He chuckled and smiled. 

“Yes, Daddy.”

“You little stinker.”

She giggled. “I remembered everything.” Her face turned serious, and she looked away from him. “But I didn’t understand it, either. I was so confused.” 

“Well,” Charlie said, brushing a lock of damp hair away from her face. “It was hard for all of us. I never expected you to remember me, sweet pea. It was great just to be home.” 

“I didn’t want to let any more time pass before I told you…” She bit her lip. Destiny didn’t want to entertain the thoughts she had about his future, or lack thereof. 

“I’m glad you did, Destiny. Thank you.” He hugged her close. “Let’s get breakfast, so you’re not late for classes.” 

“Okay,” she said. Together, they walked down the stairs; she was two paces in front of him, just in case. 

Fran had breakfast cooked and ready by the time they reached the bottom step. The aroma of fresh eggs, bacon, gravy and biscuits scented the morning air. They all sat together as a family, enjoying their meal and small talk. 

“Desi, your daddy tells me you’ve chosen Sim State for college?” 

She nodded and finished chewing a bite of eggs. “Yeah, for what they offer, it’s the best option. I won’t have to spend longer than three years there with the work credits they’re offering me.” 

“I was going to attend Sim State at one point. Then I didn’t.” 

Destiny cocked her head and looked at Fran. This was news to her. “Why didn’t you, Mama?”

Fran set her fork down and took a sip of coffee. “My daddy died when I was your age, Desi. My mama and I struggled for years, and college was never an option after he died.”

“I’m so sorry, Mama, I didn’t know!” Destiny got up from the table, walked to where Fran sat, and wrapped her in a hug. “I can’t imagine how much that hurt.” 

“It’s okay, sweet pea. That’s why we want you to go to college, even though you‘d rather start your career right away. You’ll have your degree to fall back on. The music business is tough, Desi, but making your way in this world without an education…” Fran sighed. “You don’t want to end up back in the Plains, working on a farm for the rest of your life. You are meant for something bigger than existing here.” 

“I thought you loved it here, Mama?” 

“Oh, I do, Destiny. And I wouldn’t do a single thing different. But I know you won’t be content to live your life here in the Plains. You are your daddy’s daughter, sweetheart. I know you want to make a difference. I believe you will, too.” 

Destiny stood with her empty breakfast plate and carried it to the kitchen. “I have little time before Polly gets here. She’s driving us to school today. I know you’re going to want a picture.” 

Fran nodded and smiled. “I do, sweet pea. One with your daddy, and one by yourself.” 

“Come here, Daddy,” Destiny said in a sing-song tone. They posed together for Fran to snap a photo, and then she took one of Destiny alone. Pleased with the result, she showed them first to Charlie, and then to Destiny. She wrinkled her nose and made a raspberry. 

“That’s a terrible picture of me!” 

“Oh, it is not!” Fran said, laughing. “You’re beautiful.”

Polly, who arrived during the photo shoot, knocked on the door. “Des? Are you ready?” Fran waved her in. 

“Come pose with Destiny for a picture, Polly!” Fran said. The best friends embraced with big smiles as Fran snapped the picture. “Oh, now that’s a picture we’re going to frame!” Destiny looked and rolled her eyes. 

“Come on, Polly, before she takes any more awful pictures of me!” The girls giggled while Destiny hugged both Fran and Charlie. “I’ll be home right after school!” 

“Good luck!” Fran and Charlie said in unison.

*****

Destiny and Polly entered the school together, giggling, while they walked to their lockers. Destiny felt a tap on her shoulder. When she turned around, she saw a face she didn’t recognize. 

“You’re Destiny Farmer, aren’t you?” 

“Yes,” was her simple answer.

“I saw you at the festival, and I thought you were awesome.” He stuck his hand out for her to shake. “I’m Austin.” 

With beach blond hair, crystal blue eyes and a muscular build, Destiny was dumbstruck that he was even talking to her. “I’m Destiny,” she said, and then giggled. “But you already know that.” 

“I’m new at the school. I was hoping you might show me around?” 

Polly nudged her and whispered into her ear. “He’s cute! Go ahead, and I’ll catch up with you in second period language class.” 

Destiny, having her best friend’s approval—as though she truly needed it—nodded her head. “Sure, Austin. I think I’d like that.” He reached for her hand; she blushed but felt butterflies in her stomach. “So, where are you from?” 

Hand in hand, they began their stroll down the main corridor, through the mathematics and science wings. “We moved here from Sunlit Tides after the school year was over. My dad is in the Army, and this is his new post.”

“My daddy is retired from the Army. He’s been through a lot.” 

Austin stopped in his tracks. Now it makes sense. “Your dad is Charlie Farmer?” 

“Yeah, how did you know?”

“His survival stories are legendary in military circles. He’s a pretty big deal in the Army.”

“He’s a pretty big deal to us, too.” Destiny beamed with pride. “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” 

Austin nodded. “I’m the youngest. My siblings stayed behind in Sunlit Tides because they’re settled into their careers. My oldest brother is getting married next year, so I’m hoping to go back for that.” He squeezed her hand. “How about you?” 

“No, I’m it. But we have a horse on our farm. I guess she’s the only sister I’ll ever have.” 

“You’re cute,” Austin said with a smile. “So, are you going to college after grad, Destiny?” 

“Mmhmm,” she said. “I’ve been accepted to Sim State already, and I’ve been working toward an accelerated program with college credits.”

“Wow, that’s impressive. I haven’t even started looking at colleges yet.”

“Are you considering Sim State?” 

“To be honest, I’m not sure. I haven’t thought about it much. I think my dad wants me to follow in his footsteps.” He gave Destiny a shy smile. “I don’t want to sound forward, but…” Austin paused to gather his thoughts. “I’d love to take you on a date. Are you free tonight?” 

Destiny blushed deep red. “I am, but my mama might not let me go. She’s pretty strict. Can I tell you a secret?” 

“Secrets already, huh?” Austin chuckled. “Sure.” 

“I’m only sixteen.” 

“And you’re a senior?” 

“Mmhmm.” 

“Now I’m really impressed. I’ll be eighteen in the spring. In May, just before graduation.” 

“My seventeenth is in December, just before Snowflake Day.”

“Oh, so you’re only a few months younger. I don’t feel so bad now!” he teased. “I’m serious, though. If your mom will let you, I’d love to take you for a burger downtown tonight.” He wrote his phone number on a slip of paper and handed it to Destiny. “If you can go, call me. And if you can’t, call me anyway.” He squeezed her hand, and they held onto each other until distance broke their grasp. Destiny collected herself and scurried off to her first period class.

*****

Polly stood outside Destiny’s first period classroom, waiting to walk with her to their next class. And, of course, she wanted the scoop on the hunky boy interested in her best friend. Destiny walked through the door, and Polly grabbed her arm. 

“Okay, girl, spill your guts.” 

Destiny laughed. “There really isn’t much to tell, except…” she stopped and looked around, making sure they were alone. “He wants to take me on a date tonight!”

“Ooh! What’s your mom going to say?” 

“That remains to be seen.” Destiny wrinkled her nose. “But I’m hoping she’ll tell me I can. He’s only a year older than me. It shouldn’t be THAT big of a deal.” 

Polly giggled. “We shall see!”


Snowflake Day Holiday

Destiny and Austin had been dating since the school year began. Though she tried to fit into the young couple’s lives, Polly fell by the wayside for the first time since she and Destiny became friends. 

On the day before Snowflake Day, Destiny invited him to the house to exchange gifts. She sat in her bedroom—Fran and Charlie both required that she keep her door wide open—while she got her guitar and songbook from her bookcase. Austin knocked at the front door, and Fran welcomed him inside.

“She’s in her room. You can go right on up.” There was something about Austin that Fran really liked, something that reminded her of Charlie when they were both that age.

Austin knocked on Destiny’s door and then peeked his head inside. “Anyone home?” he joked. Destiny waved him in. 

“Come in,” she said. She had her guitar around her neck, and her favorite chair set up. “I wanted to sing for you because I didn’t know what else to give you.” She strummed her guitar and cleared her throat. “Are you comfy?” 

“Yep!” He sat cross-legged on the floor and leaned back on his hands. 

She played the opening riff of a pretty ballad, one she had written especially for Austin. As she sang the words, as her fingers plucked the strings of the instrument, Austin’s eyes welled with tears. He sat and listened to each note and hung on her every word, swaying with the music and in awe of her talent. When she finished, she set the guitar on her bed and joined him on the floor.

“Des, that was beautiful.” She’d never seen him get emotional; his reaction to it was natural and raw. Never had he heard anything as beautiful, and it touched him deeply. 

“Thank you. I was hoping you’d like it.” 

“I loved it.” A smile pulled his face. “Now, it’s your turn.” He dug into his jacket pocket, pulled out a small box, and handed it to Destiny. “Happy Snowflake Day, Des.” 

She tore the paper from the outside of the box and opened it. Inside sat a smaller box, clamshell-type made of crushed velvet. She took the clamshell from the box and studied it. She’d never seen one like it before. 

“Are you going to open it, or make me suffer?” His eyes danced with mischief. 

“I should go slower just to make you wait!” Destiny giggled. 

He laughed and grabbed the box from her hands. “Oh, give it to me!” He paused for a moment and laughed. “Close your eyes.” 

“Why?” 

“Just do it, Des. Please?” 

She feigned exasperation and huffed. “Okay.”

Austin got to his knees and sat back on his heels, took the box and opened it. A soft creak from the hinge squeaked; he noticed her ears straining to hear. When he was ready, he said, “Open your eyes.” 

Destiny’s eyes opened, and her mouth fell agape, too. Inside the box sat a ring crafted from silver with two heart-shaped stones set within; one was emerald green, the other crystal blue. 

“It’s our birthstones, Des. Green for mine, and blue for yours. I know we can’t get married, or even engaged because we’re too young, and our careers might take us down different paths. But this ring signifies a promise to you, Destiny. Someday, I want us to be together forever. I love you.” It was the first time Austin had uttered those words to Destiny.

She wiped tears of joy from her eyes. “I love you, too! Thank you, so very much.” 

Together they sat, drinking cocoa that Fran brought to them, holding one another.

*****

The next morning was Snowflake Day. Fran awakened to the aroma of fresh coffee that wafted up the staircase. She gazed over at the space next to her, where Charlie slept in peace. He’d put in a rough night fighting a nose bleed; they were both tired, but Fran needed to get up. She leaned to kiss his cheek. “Happy Snowflake Day,” she whispered into his ear before she covered him.

Destiny was up singing along with the holiday music on the radio, sipping her first cup of coffee, when Fran’s feet hit the bottom step. “Good morning, Destiny. Happy Snowflake Day!” 

Destiny yawned. “Good morning Mama. Happy Snowflake Day. How is Daddy today?” 

“He’s still asleep, sweet pea. He had a rough night last night.”

“What’s wrong?” 

Fran flopped into Charlie’s recliner and sighed. “He had a bad nosebleed. It didn’t stop for hours.”

Destiny wrinkled her nose. “Let him sleep, then. Gifts can wait.” 

“Yes, but coffee can’t.” Fran laughed as she got up to pour herself a cup.

They sat together and talked for a while until Fran noticed Destiny’s new ring. She picked up her daughter’s hand and admired it. “Did Austin give this to you? It’s lovely.” 

Destiny nodded. “He said it was a promise ring.” She cringed; Destiny was never sure how her mother would interpret things. What came from Fran’s mouth next surprised her.

“Remember how we talked about relationships and keeping yourself for your future husband, Desi?” 

Destiny covered her face with her hand. “Yes…?” 

Fran sipped her coffee. “Now that you and Austin are in a committed relationship, it doesn’t give you license to pursue a physical relationship with him. You’re much too young for that, Destiny.”

Destiny squirmed uncomfortably. We’ve already had this talk, Mama! She thought. “I know, Mama. I’m not interested in that yet. You don’t have to worry about me.” 

“Good.” Fran set her coffee cup down on the side table, her fingers twirling a length of hair around them. After a few awkward moments, she stood. “I’m going to wake your daddy.” 

Destiny shook her head. “You don’t have to, Mama. Let him sleep. I’ll get dressed and feed Sweetie.” 

Fran walked to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, and gathered items to make Charlie’s favorite breakfast. When Destiny returned, the biscuits were cooling on a rack, and the gravy was nearly finished. 

“Sweet pea, would you wake Daddy and help him downstairs for breakfast?” Another pot of coffee was brewing; Fran had polished off the rest of the first pot by herself.

“Sure.” Destiny walked up the steps to the master bedroom. Charlie was already awake and halfway out of bed. “Good morning, Daddy,” she said. 

“Good morning, Desi. Happy Snowflake Day.” He held his arms open for her and hugged her. “Is that your mama’s cooking I smell down there?” 

Destiny nodded. “She made your favorite.”

“Ah, good!” He stepped into his slippers and reached for Destiny’s arm. “Mind helping your old man down the stairs this morning?” 

“I’d love to, Daddy.” She kissed his cheek before they started down the steps. She walked in back of him with a tight grip on his belt. 

The three of them sat for breakfast. Fran realized this would be their last holiday as a family before Destiny went to college. And though she would return home for Snowflake Day the following year, it wouldn’t be the same.

Everything was going well until Charlie saw Destiny’s new ring. He reached for her hand and studied it. “Where’d you get this pretty ring, Desi?” 

She blushed, and she prayed Charlie would take the news well, minus the talk about the birds and the bees. “Austin gave it to me yesterday.” 

Fran nodded at him and raised her eyebrow. “It’s a promise ring.” 

Charlie liked the young man who called on his daughter. “Well, sweet pea, I’m happy for you! It’s beautiful, and he has good taste.” 

“The stones are our birthstones, Daddy. Mine is blue, his is the green one.” She showed off the ring under the lights until the gems sparkled. 

“Well, it’s beautiful. That Austin is a good boy. I like him.” 

“That’s because you sit and talk about Army stuff,” Fran chuckled. “We should have had him and his dad over for dinner. But I suppose it’s just as well.” 

“They were going to spend it on the base,” Destiny said. “His dad was handing out toys to less fortunate kids today. He was dressing up like Father Winter.” 

Charlie remembered fondly the guys who stayed on base to take part every year. He never got the opportunity, something he regretted. “He’s fortunate to have walked into that role his first year at this post. There was always a waiting list.” 

Destiny cleaned up the kitchen while Charlie and Fran sat by the fireplace, each holding a cup of coffee. Fran looked at her beloved husband, wondering if this would be his last holiday. He looked tired and worn, but he was enjoying the day. Good enough, she thought.

They gathered around the tree and opened gifts. Everything they bought for Destiny was something she would need at college: sheets, towels, a new cell phone, a small coffee maker for her late night studying, and a capo for her guitar from Charlie. 

Fran had already decided not to bother with a traditional meal, so they sat around the fireplace talking and reminiscing about holidays past. Destiny held up her finger and ran up the stairs. “What’s gotten into her?” Fran said, thinking out loud. 

“Knowing her, she’s going to try out the capo. I hope what I got was what she wanted.” Charlie sat back in his chair, resting his head and eyes. “I don’t think I’ll last much longer, sweetheart. I’m tired.” 

She reached to stroke his cheek. “I know, love. And it’s okay if you take it easy today. I’m not cooking a big supper.” 

Minutes later, Destiny bounded down the steps with her guitar. She set it down on the floor behind her and cuddled up next to Charlie’s legs on the floor. “I want to sing a song, Daddy. Maybe it will help you feel better?” 

“It couldn’t hurt, sweet pea. And you know I love to hear you sing. Anything particular in mind today?”

She shook her head. “No. I thought I’d make up the words as I go along today. Is that okay?” 

He smiled and reached to stroke Destiny’s hair. “It will be perfect.” 

She was going to pick up her guitar and play a few notes, but instead, she listened to the pops and hissing coming from the hearth as the wood crackled and burned. She hummed along with the syncopated rhythm that emanated from within the fire, tapping her legs like the drum set at school. 

Daddy and me by the fireplace
Curled up together, tapping my drum
Sitting close beside him by the fireplace
Listen to the hissing and the popping thrum

Of the fireplace, so bright and warm
The fire flickers, so we can see
The flames of the fireplace
The place we all want to be

Daddy and Mama by the fireplace
Curled up together, he’s kissin’ her nose
She’s sitting right beside him by the fireplace
Gotta be careful, don’t get too close

To the fireplace, so bright and warm
The fire flickers, so we can see
The flames of the fireplace
The place we all want to be 

When she finished singing, she blushed. “I’m sorry, Daddy. That wasn’t my best work.” 

“What was wrong with that, sweetheart? I thought it was a cute little song.” 

“That’s all that matters,” she said. “As long as you like it, Daddy, I do, too.” 

He reached down and patted her shoulders. “Desi, I love that you sing to me because it lifts my spirits. I love you to the moon and back.” 

“I love you too, Daddy.” 

“I’m going to go nap upstairs,” he said and stood. 

“Do you need help, Charlie?” Fran asked, ready to assist at his request. 

“No, darling. I’ll be okay.” He walked to the staircase and held the banister as he climbed. Fran heard him mutter, “I’m too old for this,” as he hit the top step, and she chuckled. 

*****

Later that evening, Fran sat alone in the living room. Destiny was asleep, and Charlie was laying down. Whether he slept was a mystery to her. He’d become an insomniac of late, and she never knew if he was pacing the floor or knocked out cold.

The fire was winding down to its last embers, and when she peered outside the window, she noticed snow falling at a gentle pace. She rocked in her chair, peaceful and content, a length of increasingly gray hair wrapped around her finger. This moment was the first she’d had to herself—no interruptions or demands for her time—in a very long time, and she was relishing the quiet. 

The radio played one of her favorite songs: “Silent Night.” As she listened, her mind drifted back to the past—the last holiday with her father, Jake. Had she known, she would have done all she could to make it special. Tears flowed from her eyes, now faced with another uncertainty. Would this be Charlie’s last holiday? And if it was, did she do everything she could to make it memorable?

“… sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace.” The song’s last words echoed in her mind. “I miss you, Daddy,” Fran whispered into the still of the night. “And I miss you, Mama. Happy Snowflake Day.” 

The fire burned out so only embers remained; she cooled the warm spots with a splash of water, turned out the lights, and walked upstairs to bed to the man she couldn’t live without.


Five Months Later

Tap. Tap. Tap. Charlie’s ring made the heavy, metallic clink on the arm of his wheelchair as they sat in Dr. Bennett’s office. Fran sat beside him with worry sitting heavy on her heart. Tap. Tap. Tap —

“Stop clanging that damned ring!” she snapped, and then cringed. “I’m sorry, love. I guess I’m on edge.” 

“We’re both on edge, darling. I can’t take much more bad news.”

She understood the statement. Since Snowflake Day that year, Charlie’s health had deteriorated. Now it was May, and with Fran’s insistence, he sat, waiting for the appointment that would confirm what they both suspected: his cancer had returned. 

The doctor entered the room, holding test results from his most recent blood work. “Hi Charlie, hello Fran,” she greeted them. The doctor observed their faces, dreading what she had to tell them. She sat at the desk and opened Charlie’s folder. 

“Hi doc,” Charlie said. “I know it’s been a while since I’ve been back here—”

“I don’t mean to be rude, Charlie, but your non-compliance has made my job much more difficult. Why did you cancel your last appointment back in…” she checked his chart for appointment information. “… December?” 

“Well, you know with the holidays and all—” he began. Fran cut him off. 

“He wasn’t feeling well, and he didn’t want bad news around the holiday.” Charlie scowled at her. 

“When did you begin using the wheelchair?” 

“Um… last month? Frannie?” 

Fran nodded. “Yes. April. He can’t walk more than just a few feet. He’s out of breath so much, standing is difficult for him.” 

The doctor closed his patient folder. “You know you’re going to need another PET, Charlie. This time, I don’t expect a good report.” 

Though the news was expected, it hit like a ton of bricks. “When can we do the testing?” Fran asked. 

Her demeanor softened. “As soon as possible would be best, Fran. If we’re not beyond a certain point, we could force the lymphoma back into remission. But it will take some powerful treatments, Charlie. It will be hard on your body, so the decision would be yours alone.” 

Charlie nodded. “Whatever it takes. I need to survive. My little girl is going off to college. I don’t want her to delay her life for me.” 

“I understand better than you think,” Dr. Bennett said. “My father died of cancer years ago, before we had breakthrough treatments like these. I’d give anything to have more time with him.” 

Charlie wore a solemn expression. “I’m keenly aware of how hard that must have been.” 

“He’s why I became a doctor. I wanted to give families more time with their loved ones. You might be in a better position if we’d kept you on track.” She rose to her feet. “We’ll get this scan scheduled right away, and I’ll call you with the results.” 

“Sounds good,” Fran said. “Thank you, Dr. Bennett.” 

After the doctor left the room, Charlie sat silent in his chair. “I’m sorry, Frannie. I should have been more proactive.” 

“What’s done is done, love. We can only move forward from here and pray the treatments work.” He unlocked the wheels on the chair and pushed himself forward enough for her to get behind it. “Let’s go home.” 

Charlie only nodded. 

Since his condition had deteriorated, Paul and Jenny moved the bed from the master suite to the sitting room off the living room. Fran hung a curtain across the door for their privacy, doing her best to make it feel like a bedroom, and not a makeshift hospital room. It was necessary, because Charlie no longer had the strength to climb the stairs, nor could he navigate them safely. 

Five days later, after the scan was completed, a phone call from the doctor’s office confirmed what Dr. Bennett had suspected: the lymphoma was back and had worsened. Destiny was working across the street for a concert; Fran and Charlie had the house to themselves. 

He laid on his side, his back turned from Fran, hoping to hide his emotions from her. A deep, ragged sigh hissed from his mouth as he turned onto his back. “I’m so sick of feeling sick, Frannie.” 

“Have you decided how to proceed?” She reached for his hand and held it. 

“What choice do I have, darling? I have to fight this with every ounce of strength. For her.” 

“You know we have to tell her.” 

Charlie wiped tears from his eyes. “I don’t want to. She’s just months away from college. What if she backs out?” 

“We can’t give her that option. We just enforce it. She’ll be home for Snowflake Day.” 

“What if…” Charlie’s voice caught in his throat. “What if I’m not here for Snowflake Day?” 

“You will be. You have to fight like this is the biggest mission of your life, Charlie, because it is. And you know I’ll be by your side.” She snuggled up to him, his arm wrapped around her. “I love you. We’re in this together.” 

“Frannie, on her graduation day, Destiny said that I deserved better than this. But she was wrong. It’s you who deserves better, my darling. You’ve suffered so much more than I have with everything I’ve put you through.” 

“Shush,” Fran said, her finger on his lips. “This isn’t a contest, babe. You don’t deserve the hand you’ve been dealt at every turn. Your leg, the deployments, the lymphoma. Especially the lymphoma. Charlie, you’ve sacrificed so much.” She kissed his fingers with a smile. “I’m honored that I’m the one you chose as your life partner.”

He looked at her with love in his heart. “Frannie, you were always my first choice. I loved you from the first moment I saw you. Our breakups when we were kids? Those were just setbacks. Even your father couldn’t stop our destiny.” 

She grinned at his choice of words. “He’d love our Destiny now.” 

“That’s one thing he and I will have in common.”

“What’s that, Charlie?” 

“Not living long enough to see grandchildren. You don’t know how much that grieves me, sweetheart.” 

“No more talking like that tonight. We’re going to fight this. Dr. Bennett thinks we can push it back. I’m hanging my hope on her words.” She kissed his cheek. 

“I hope you’re right, my sweet Frannie. Oh, I hope you’re right.”


Destiny’s room was packed up, everything she was taking to Sim State with her sat in boxes, ready to go. Fran helped her with the last of her clothes; together, they zipped her overstuffed suitcase. 

Destiny slid off the bed onto her feet; Fran pulled her close and clung to her. “This can’t be happening, Desi. You’re still my baby.” Fran wept on Destiny’s shirt. “How did you become so grown up? Yesterday, I was teaching you to say ‘Daddy.’ Today, you’re a high school graduate, and tomorrow, a college student.”

She held Fran in a firm embrace. “I don’t know, Mama.”

Fran pulled away from her daughter and took her by the shoulders, looking straight into her amethyst-colored eyes. “Always remember how much we love you. Remember everything we taught you. And never forget where you’re from. No matter where life takes you, always remember these three things, Destiny. Promise me.”

“I promise. But you know, I’ll be home for Snowflake Day, Mama. This isn’t goodbye.” 

“I know. But your daddy and I aren’t promised tomorrow. I just wanted to say my peace before you spread your wings and fly away from us, Destiny.”

Tears came for both of them, and they flowed freely. “I will call you every night after I get back to my dorm. After supper. Okay, Mama?”

Fran nodded and released her grip on Destiny. “Every night.” 

A few minutes more, and Destiny collected herself. “I need to get these things downstairs. Time is running out.” Unable to assist her, Fran walked down the steps to Charlie. 

The new treatments worked for Charlie as he regained strength. He used the wheelchair for long walks or when he was very fatigued; their bedroom remained on the bottom floor of the house. He was in his recliner when Destiny carried the first bunch of boxes downstairs. 

“You really are a strong little girl, Destiny,” he said. “But be careful on those steps.”

“Don’t worry, Daddy, I’m always careful.” She blew him a kiss, then returned to retrieve the last few items.

With everything ready to go, the three of them sat in silence. Charlie hated they weren’t able to take her to Sim State themselves, that she had to fly alone. This isn’t how it’s supposed to go, he thought. He hated he was too sick to share special moments with her. He watched every move she made, noticing how much of Fran lived within her. Her mannerisms, her nervous tics… those she got from her mother. 

Jenny pulled up outside the house a bit earlier than Destiny expected, but she walked in with a camera in her hand. “Family photo time!” she announced, and gathered everyone in front of the fireplace; Fran on one side, Charlie on the other, making a Destiny sandwich. Jenny grinned when she looked at the photo, and then declared she needed ‘just one more!’ The family faked smiles and cheerful faces until it was time to leave. That’s when Fran fell apart. 

“Remember what we talked about, Destiny,” she said with great sorrow. “I love you.” 

Charlie joined in the chorus. “Give ‘em hell, baby girl.”

Jenny helped Destiny carry her bags to the car while Fran helped Charlie down the steps and to the mailbox. The last goodbyes were painful for them; their hearts ached to watch their baby girl leave the nest. Fran never would have confessed to Destiny. She had her own life to live. 

Destiny gave Fran one last hug and a kiss. “Don’t worry. You raised me well, and I’m ready for this. I’ll call you tonight when I get in.”

Charlie held Fran as they watched their daughter get into Jenny’s car. Destiny rolled down the windows and shouted, ‘I love you’, waving as they drove away. 

He looked at his beautiful wife, trembling in his arms. “She’s going to be okay, darling,” he said, a gentle hug and a kiss on her forehead. 

“Why does this hurt so much, Charlie? She was supposed to stay little forever…” 

“Honey, you knew this day would come. But I’d hoped we could have made a road trip out of bringing her to college. Instead, we’re dealing with this… cancer.” 

“Let’s get you inside before I can’t help you up the stairs.” She took his arm, and together, they walked to the house. 

Step by step, Fran and Charlie made their way up the stairs. He was out of breath by the time they reached the top, but sheer determination saw him to his recliner, into which he fell. A sigh of relief escaped his mouth, and he closed his eyes. “I’m getting too old for this, Frannie.” 

She sat in the rocking chair beside him, weeping for everything they were missing. Their little bird had spread her wings and flown away.


That November

Charlie’s condition had steadily worsened since Destiny’s departure for school. He’d had blood tests and a CT scan, as recommended by Dr. Bennett. Fran and Charlie sat in the doctor’s office, awaiting the results of the scan and blood tests. 

Neither of them spoke; they held hands in silence, listening to the ticking of the wall clock. A gentle rap on the door startled Charlie, and he jumped a foot, nudging his wheelchair forward a bit. 

“Hi, folks,” Dr. Bennett said. She shook their hands and took her seat at the desk. “Charlie, I’m afraid I don’t have good news for you.” 

“I figured as much,” he said. “I’ve been feeling rotten.” 

“The treatments aren’t working anymore, and we’re out of options. There is nothing more we can do for you.” 

Fran felt her eyes swell with tears. “What kind of time do we have?” 

Dr. Bennett bowed her head. “Months, maybe two or three? We have no way to slow the progression anymore. I’m so sorry.” 

Charlie sat expressionless. “Destiny is due home for the holidays. Am I going to make it?” 

“I hope so, for her sake.”

The news was devastating for them. “Well, I guess I don’t need to follow up again, do I?” Charlie said. 

Dr. Bennett shook her head. “We can arrange for hospice care when you’re ready. They will keep you comfortable.”

“I’ll call when we’re ready,” Fran said and stood. “Thank you for everything, Dr. Bennett.” 

“I’m sorry the news wasn’t better. I wish you both well.” 

They said nothing more as they left the doctor’s office.

Fran got him into the car, put his wheelchair in the trunk and closed it. She leaned against the fender, inhaled, and walked to the car door. Charlie looked straight ahead, no expression on his face, no emotion shown. Together, they drove home in silence. 

A half-hour later, when they were back home and in the house, Fran broke down in tears. “What do we tell Destiny?” 

“We don’t until she comes home, or she’ll leave school and not go back. You know it’s true, Frannie. We can’t tell her.” 

“We can’t keep withholding information from her! She has a right to know!” Fran’s sobs got louder. 

“Please, honey. I will fight as hard as I can. I’m not dead yet. But she can’t leave school until the semester is over.” His eyes begged her. “Please…”

Fran sighed and shrugged. “I guess two more weeks won’t hurt.” 

“Thank you, darling.”

*****

The next day, a knock sounded at the front door. “Who is it?” Fran called out.

“Hospice,” the voice answered. 

Fran gritted her teeth. I didn’t ask for you yet! She thought. “Coming!” She opened the door to a young woman in her thirties dressed in a skirt suit. “Hi,” Fran said while holding the door. 

“Hi, you must be Fran?” She extended her hand to shake. “I’m Carol. Dr. Bennett referred you to my office. She mentioned you would call when you were ready, but I like to make introductions and inform you of the process pre-need, when it’s much less stressful.” 

“Well, that makes sense. Charlie is resting in the other room.” She pointed to the sitting room, closed off by a curtain. “I’ll wake him.” She walked to his bedside and kissed his forehead. “Love, we have someone to see you.” When he was decent, Fran called Carol into the room with them. 

“Hi, you must be Charlie,” Carol said. “I’m a hospice coordinator, and I meet with families pre-need, so you know what to expect, and what’s involved in our process. It’s nice to meet you.” 

Charlie was less than impressed, but greeted her anyway. “Nice of you to come out,” he said. “So, are you doing an evaluation, or… what, exactly?”

“I’m here to evaluate your home, determine what equipment you might need and get those things for you.” Carol studied Fran’s form. There was no way one thin little lady who looked weak herself could manage his care alone. “I’m going to suggest we start palliative care within the week. We can transition once we reach that point. Our primary aim is to keep you comfortable, Charlie. Our nurses can be on duty for up to forty hours a week, depending on what your greatest needs are.” Carol scribbled something into a notebook. “We’ll bring in equipment for you and turn this room into a safe, comfortable place.” 

Fran breathed a sigh of relief. No longer would she have to worry about whether he was getting adequate care. “That sounds nice. What do you think, Charlie?” 

“I suppose so. None of this has sunk in yet. I’m still numb.” 

Carol took his hand and patted it. “That’s a normal reaction to getting this type of news. We’ll be here to support you and Fran in any way we can.”

“Thank you,” Fran said. 

Carol finished her evaluation and left the farmhouse. Fran felt a sense of relief wash over her. But Charlie felt hopeless. She sensed his discomfort and sat down next to his wheelchair, his hand in hers.

“What’s bothering you, love?” 

“Nothing.” 

“I know it’s something, Charlie. Please be open with me? We only have each other.”

“It’s just that…” He stopped and sighed. “I’m not ready to give up, but I feel like you are. Carol is, Dr. Bennett is. Frannie, why should I fight if everyone’s given up on me?”

Fran looked straight into Charlie’s eyes. “I will NEVER give up on you. Do you understand me? Never…” She swallowed hard, trying to push the almost constant lump of emotion back into the pit of her gut. “Charlie, you are my life, and I can’t live without you. I’m fighting with you until the very end.”

“I’m happy to hear you say that, darling.” 

She sat with him and took his hands. “Babe, I will never abandon you, and I won’t give up. But I need to take care of myself, too. I haven’t eaten right since Destiny left for school. I have given everything I have, and I don’t have much left. That’s why I welcome this help. I won’t have to worry about how I can’t take care of you like you need.” 

Charlie felt guilty for being a burden to her. “Oh Frannie, I am ashamed of myself for putting such strain on you, with no consideration for what you need. I should be pampering and spoiling you…” He hadn’t processed his emotions since the doctor’s appointment the previous day, and they were winning. “My gosh, Frannie, I’m going to die.” He leaned forward and buried his face in his hands. “I can’t escape it. At this point, I’ll be lucky to see Snowflake Day and our daughter’s eighteenth birthday…” 

“We have to fight this together and pray with everything we have, Charlie. We have only prayer left. He has never let us down before.” She knelt beside his chair and tried to comfort him the best she could. 

“I have to see Desi one more time, Frannie. I can’t break that little girl’s heart before her birthday. I won’t!” His ragged sobs destroyed her. 

“You will see her, Charlie. I believe it. Believe it with me, okay? You have to be strong. We need to fight.” 

He wiped tears from his eyes. “What if I don’t have enough fight for one more round?” 

“Charlie, you’re the strongest man I know. You can do it.” 

“With you, Frannie, I can move mountains.” 

“That’s the man I know and love,” she said and squeezed his hand. Together, they sat, watching the flickering in the fireplace, counting the moments until Destiny came home. The time couldn’t pass quickly enough.

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Up Next: Chapter Twenty, Part Two, Generation One


Pose Credits – Cover Photo

Poses By Bee
Don’t Die – Updated
Meeting For Tea – Bad News
Sleeping In A Chair Pose Pack
Vintage Portrait Pose Pack

*****

Custom Content – Cover Photo

Around The Sims 3
Sims 4 to 3 Hospital Conversion

The Farmer Legacy
Hospital Patient Room Whiteboard

Mod The Sims
Hospital Set by Hekate999

The Sims Resource
Hospital Paperwork and Tests by metisqueen

Tumblr
Deco Hospital Bed 4 to 3 Conversion by purplepixls
IV Cannula Accessory by VenusPrincess


I apologize for the lack of screenshots for this chapter. Due to time constraints, they were not possible to do well. When I have time, I will update nineteen and twenty with pictures! 

Thank you for your understanding!

Can I Be Real For A Moment…?

Hi everyone. 

This isn’t something I normally have to talk about on this blog, because it isn’t usually an issue. But I’ve made some promises I haven’t kept regarding the Generation Two rewrites. It’s time I come clean and tell you the real reason I can’t keep to timelines and deadlines I’ve set for myself. 

In the simplest terms, I’m a chronic pain warrior. I have suffered and struggled with Fibromyalgia for 22 of my 52 years. Some days are better than others. This past week has been my worst symptom flare up of the year, maybe of the last two years. These are things I can’t control, and when it flares up, I’m out of commission despite my attempts to remain ‘normal.’ 

This is why I appreciate your patience when I miss deadlines, or when I’m a year behind where I wanted to be with rewrites. When I started my Generation One rewrites last January, I never intended them to last nearly two years. I thought a couple of months, then revisit Generation Two, and I’d be back with Danae and Andy in Generation Five by May of last year. But that didn’t happen. 

It’s important to me to come clean on this stuff, because it impacts the blog progress. It impacts you, and me, too. I am grateful for every bit of grace you’ve all extended by way of your patience, hanging with me when it seems the stories are taking forever. I’m asking you to extend that grace one more time when it comes to Generation Two. It’s coming. It’s long. But it’s awesome. Destiny Farmer has a story to tell, and believe me, she will. Hers is a story of patience, determination, disappointment, heartbreak, love, and triumph. I promise, it’s worth the wait. 

As the great Paul Harvey once said… “And now, you know the rest of the story.” Thank you, for sticking with me, and for understanding. I appreciate it more than you know. As always, I’m open for comments and whatever else you’d like to throw my way. My email box is open. Feedback is always welcomed!

We will see you soon!

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G1 Chapter Nineteen – The Songbird Takes Flight


Five Years Later

After the Bradfords left Appaloosa Plains, a family named Stonewall purchased the property. Fred and Julie Stonewall moved their family from the neighboring town into the Plains to pursue Julie’s dream of owning a ranch. Their only child—their teenage daughter Polly—was a few months older than Destiny. From the moment they met that summer five years prior, Polly and Destiny were fast friends.

The girls had the same classes in high school, and though Polly didn’t sing, she supported Destiny by staying late after school with her. On one such day after choir practice, near the end of their sophomore year, Polly wanted to stop by the job board. Her sixteenth birthday would arrive soon, and with it the rite of passage for every teen: the first job. The girls giggled as they scanned the board together until Destiny saw one that interested her. She took the flyer from the bulletin board, her eyes wide with excitement. Polly noticed and gave her a sly smile.

“What’s that, Des?” 

“The festival management is looking for stagehands for the summer concert series this year.”

Polly’s eyes widened. “That job has ‘Destiny Farmer’ written all over it! Are you going to apply?” 

“You know it,” Destiny nodded. “If I can’t sing, I’ll work backstage. This will help my future, too. Win-win!”

“Are you gonna ask your Mom?” 

Destiny wrinkled her nose. “What do you think? She’ll say no, and then it’s my ‘Plan B’.” 

Polly laughed. “What’s your ‘Plan B’?”

A wry smile pulled her face. “My daddy. He doesn’t say no very often.” Destiny checked her watch. “I think we missed the bus. Are you up for a walk, Polly?” 

“Mmhmm,” she said. “I could use the exercise. Summer is coming, and so is bathing suit season.” Destiny cocked her head and rolled her eyes. Polly was a string bean.

“Yep, you could stand to lose about a pound.” Destiny ducked and ran a short distance from Polly as both girls laughed themselves silly.

*****

At a doctor’s office downtown, Charlie and Fran sat together for a routine physical. They saw the same doctor and often scheduled their appointments together for the sake of ease and convenience. This day was no different. The assistant took their vitals and asked the same standard questions. “The doctor will be in soon, Mr. and Mrs. Farmer.” 

Charlie looked down at his clasped hands. He hadn’t told Fran that he hadn’t felt well in months. But he chalked it up to turning sixty and everything that went with aging. She noticed his uncomfortable posture and placed her hand on his shoulder. 

“Are you doing OK, Charlie?” 

He bowed his head. “Yes, and no. I’d rather be anywhere but here right now.” 

“I’m familiar with your love-hate relationship with doctors, Charlie. This is nothing new. Something is on your mind.”

“Nope. Just getting older. That’s it, darling.” He reached for her hand; her long, slender fingers intertwined with his. “How is it you’re almost fifty-nine, Frannie, and you don’t have a single gray hair on your head? I’ve been gray for years now.” 

Fran giggled. “It’s called hair dye, Charlie. I never said I’d grow older gracefully. And I am NOT fifty-nine!” 

“OK, fifty-eight.” Their playful banter took his focus from their location, and he smiled.

“And don’t you forget it, mister!” She stuck her tongue out at him as a knock sounded at the door. “Yes?” 

The doctor peeked into the room. “Hi Charlie, hi Fran,” he greeted them. “How are you both doing?” 

Fran smiled as her head bobbed from side to side. “Getting old, Dr. Jordan.” 

“You don’t look fifty, Fran,” the doctor said with a wink.

“That’s because she’s fifty-eight,” Charlie said with a chuckle. The jesting made Fran laugh, and the doctor smiled at both of them. 

“Well, I’m glad you’re both here today, because I want to discuss your lab results, Charlie.” He sat on the rolling stool and scooted to the computer. “Fran, your bloodwork came back fine. Your cholesterol has gotten much better since we started the medication, so we’ll stick with it.” Fran nodded in obvious relief. 

He put his glasses on and opened up Charlie’s file on the desktop. “Charlie, yours is a different story. Some of your numbers are wildly abnormal. The white count is off the charts, and you’re anemic. The other tests aren’t as worrisome.

“What does that mean, exactly?” Fran asked, reaching for Charlie’s hand. 

“Well, without further testing, it’s difficult to know for certain.”

“What kind of testing, Doc? We have a busy farm season ahead of us. I cannot afford to be out of commission for long.” Charlie said. 

The doctor shook his head. “I’d like to admit you for some extensive tests. Scans, blood work, ultrasounds. You can return home after a few days.

“Can we discuss this?” Fran asked. “We only need about five minutes.” 

“Sure. I’ll check back in a few minutes.” The doctor stood and left the room. 

“Charlie,” Fran said. “We can’t tell Destiny anything yet. Not until we know anything for sure. What do you think?” 

He nodded. “There’s nothing to worry about yet, darling. But I agree. There’s no need to upset her until we have some answers.” He noticed her worried expression. “This is probably nothing, Frannie.”

“But it could be something. Why don’t we schedule your testing for the week of her retreat?”

“That’s a good idea, sweetheart.” He took her hand and held it. “You’ll need my help this summer. I can’t be out of commission, Frannie.” 

“Jen can stand in for you, Charlie. I’m not worried about that.” A soft tap sounded at the door; the doctor peeked into the room. 

“Are you ready?” he asked. 

“Yes, you can come back in.” The doctor took his place on the stool, folded his hands and sat forward. 

“What have you decided?” 

“We have Destiny to think about. We don’t want to tell her yet.” Fran bit her lip. “She has a music retreat coming up in a few weeks. Is it possible to schedule testing for that week?” 

The doctor nodded his head. “I don’t see why we can’t make that happen. Stop by the scheduling office. We’ll get the ball rolling on this.” He stood and turned to leave. “I believe it’s a wise decision to keep this from Destiny until you have some answers.” He extended his hand to Charlie to shake. “We’ll see you in a few weeks, then.”

*****

Later that evening, Charlie was in bed laying down with a book; Fran slept beside him. She awakened with a start, looked at Charlie with her eyes wide, and she wept. He set his book down on the nightstand and touched her face with the tips of his fingers. 

“What’s wrong, Frannie?” 

She took a deep breath and exhaled. “It was a dream. The details are hazy, but I know you were very sick.” She snuggled up to Charlie, needing the comfort she could only get from him. “I’m scared that I’m going to lose you. I couldn’t do it again…” 

“Oh sweetheart, I’m not going anywhere.” He leaned to kiss her and then snuggled her closer. “It will take a lot more than a blood test to rattle me.” 

“But what if—”

“Frannie, don’t let yourself go there. Once you go there, it’s hard to come back.” He turned the light off and settled down into bed with her. “I’m right here, and I’m not going anywhere.” 

“I love you, Charlie. And I need you.” 

“Frannie, I will love and need you until the day I die.” He pressed his lips to hers in a passionate kiss. “Make love with me,” he whispered. She returned his kiss, bit her lip, and nodded.


“Miss Destiny Farmer?” A man in his forties called her name from behind a cracked-open door. “This way, please.” He swung the door open and held it for her. She smiled and walked toward him, her confidence visible in her gait. “Please, have a seat.” He sat behind the desk; Destiny took the one across from him. 

He stared at her paperwork. Chad Dunworth didn’t hire fifteen-year-olds on the regular, but Destiny’s application impressed him. “So, Miss Farmer, you are interested in the stage hand position for the summer festival. Is that correct?” 

Destiny nodded her head. “That’s correct, Mr. Dunworth. And thank you for seeing me. I know I’m a little young for this. But…” she collected her thoughts. “You see, I’m going to be a singer someday. And working behind the scenes now will help me in the future.” She folded her hands and twiddled her thumbs. “I’m a hard worker, Mr. Dunworth. My parents own the farm across the street, and I’ve been working it with them since I was thirteen. I’m no stranger to hard work, sir.” 

Hmm, he thought. Young and ambitious. “Miss Farmer, your duties would be off-loading equipment from trucks, setting up, breaking down, and helping to load after the concert is finished. With local artists, you’d just be doing setup and breakdown. And, if you prove yourself during the summer, the position could become permanent. Since you’re planning to attend Sim State, some of that work could transfer as college credit.”

Destiny looked at Chad with a broad grin. “Really? You’d ask me to stay on for the other festivals, too?” 

“If you prove your worth, yes. Reliable help is scarce. I’m hoping you live up to all the things you claim on your application, Miss Farmer.” He winked at her. “I think you’ll do just fine.”

“Thank you!” Destiny blushed. “I won’t let you down, I promise.” 

“I’m sure you won’t, Miss Farmer.” 

“When do I start?” 

He looked through her application. “You state you have a retreat coming up?”

“That’s right.” 

“How about the Monday after you return home? It would be for orientation and paperwork. The first concert would be your next workday.”

Destiny smiled. “That sounds perfect.” Chad stood to shake her hand, and Destiny stood as well. 

“We’ll see you then, Miss Farmer.” 

“Thank you, Mr. Dunworth.” Destiny walked from his office, ecstatic.


Two weeks later, Charlie and Fran stood with Destiny, waiting for the bus that would take her to the music retreat with the chapel youth group. She rocked back and forth on her feet, waiting for Polly to meet her. Her eyes shifted toward the house next door, about one hundred yards away. 

“Do you have everything you need, sweet pea?” Fran asked. “How about an extra set of guitar strings?” 

“No,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about it. It’s Sara’s guitar, so she’ll have them. I’m hoping to get my own after this summer.” 

“I can’t believe they hired you as a stagehand, Desi,” Charlie said with a smile. “You aren’t old enough to work.” Inside, he was proud of her.

Fran nudged him. “I can’t believe I said yes.” They looked at one another and laughed. Destiny wrinkled her nose and rolled her eyes. 

“Des!” Polly called from about fifty yards away. “I’m coming!” She had a backpack slung over her shoulder and pulled a small case behind her, walking as fast as she could. In the distance, they saw the yellow bus. 

“Hurry!” Destiny called back. “Run!”

Polly beat the bus by ten seconds, laughing all the way. Destiny hugged her and they giggled together. “Hi Mr. and Mrs. Farmer,” Polly said. “Thanks for letting her go on this trip.” 

Charlie smiled at the friends. “Our pleasure, Polly.” They each gave Destiny a hug and kiss, thanked Sara for giving her the opportunity, and waved as the bus pulled away. 

“Do you think she suspects anything, Charlie?” 

He shrugged. “I don’t think so, love. We’ve been pretty tight about this. What time am I supposed to arrive tomorrow?”

“Six in the morning. We should get to bed soon.” 

“It’s only…” he checked his watch, “three o’clock.” 

“Who says we have to sleep?”

Charlie raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know where this Frannie came from, but she can stay as long as she likes!” 

She gave him a sexy smile. In her mind, she was preparing for bad news and getting everything she could before it came. “Well, let’s go then!”

*****

The next morning, the alarm sounded at four-thirty. Fran opened one eye to peek at it, groaned, and turned it off. “Charlie…?” she poked his rib. “Charlie.” 

“What?” came the tired grumble.

She couldn’t help but chuckle at him. “I told you we stayed up too late last night.” 

“You woke me up to tell me that, woman?” He laughed and hugged her close. “I’m going to be OK, Frannie. I know you’re scared.”

“Scared doesn’t begin to describe it.” 

“Let’s get up, get some coffee. OK?” 

“Hold me just a little longer, Charlie?” 

“How can I say no to that?” He kissed her forehead and snuggled her close to him. 

A few minutes later, he gave her one last kiss, breaking the silence. “OK, sweetheart. You need coffee, and I need to take a shower. We have a long day.

“I’m not ready.” 

“I know, Frannie. But I have to.” He kissed her forehead and squeezed her in a tight hug. “I’ll be home again before you know it. It won’t be like the last time, with surgery and a long recovery.” 

“Why are you so cool, Charlie? You’re not even nervous.” Her voice trembled with fear. “I feel like this is going to change our lives.” 

“If you’re afraid, baby, then pray. He will see you through this.” He sat up in bed and turned on the light. Her groan made him laugh. “Go get some coffee, sweetheart. I’ll be downstairs as soon as I’m finished packing my overnight bag.”

Fran huffed a frustrated sigh. “I’ll go feed Sweetie and turn her loose.”

“That’s my girl.” He blew her a kiss as he walked into the bathroom. 

Fran trudged down the steps and slipped into her boots. It didn’t matter that she was still in her pajamas. As she reached for the knob that would open the sunroom door, she stopped. She smiled as she went to the refrigerator. She rummaged through the crisper bin at the bottom until she produced a carrot. “There,” she said out loud. “Sweetie will have her favorite treat this morning.” 

She padded through the yard to the barn, and when she opened the door, Sweetie nickered at her. “Good morning, Sweetie,” she said. “I have a treat for you!” 

Sweetie pawed at the door, nodding and huffing in anticipation. Fran broke the carrot into thirds and held it out for her to take. When the carrot was gone, Sweetie nudged her shoulder, looking for more. But Fran wrapped her arms around Sweetie’s neck and kissed her nose. “You’re a good girl. Enjoy your morning outside.” She fastened the halter around her head and patted her shoulder. Fran secured the stall door, left the barn door ajar, and walked back inside. Sweetie sauntered out into the pasture to graze. 

Charlie was descending the steps, a small bag over his shoulder packed with necessities he needed. His gaze met Fran’s as she walked toward the staircase. “How’s Sweetie?” 

“She’s good. I gave her a carrot this morning.” 

His smile dazzled her, as though it was a normal morning. “Oh, I bet she enjoyed that.” He set his bag down by the front door, something he’d done many times before. This trip, however, would be quick. “Are you showering this morning, love?” 

“Mmhmm,” she muttered. “I’ll be down soon.” 

“I’ll go outside and say good morning to Sweetie.” He stood and walked to the dining table, opened the sugar bowl, and took a few cubes from it. “If I’m not inside when you come down, that’s where I’ll be, Frannie.” She nodded in acknowledgment and plodded up the steps. 

With a spring in his step, he walked through the sunroom door and into the pasture where Sweetie grazed. He sounded a sharp whistle and caught her attention—she whinnied and trotted to where he stood. “There’s my girl,” he said with a broad grin. “How’s my Sweetie this morning?” 

She nuzzled into his shoulder and nickered. Instinctively, she knew he had a treat for her. His merry laughter encouraged her to nudge him even harder. “OK, OK,” he said and dug into his pocket. One cube at a time, he let her eat the sweet treat from his palm until the sugar was gone. He held his empty hands to her, and she huffed, realizing he had nothing more. “Sorry, girl. This is it.” She nuzzled him again, and he hugged her head. “I won’t see you for a few days. Be good.” He gave her one last rub on her neck and a kiss, then he walked back to the house. 

Fran was drying her hair when she heard the back door slam, and she cringed. She hated when he let the door slam shut, but instead of getting angry, she shrugged it off. “I’ll be down in a few minutes,” she called to him; she heard a faint, muffled reply. She dabbed a little blush onto her cheeks and painted a lick of gloss onto her lips. Fran gave herself the once-over in the mirror, nodded her approval, and flipped the light switch. 

Charlie turned his head when he heard her footsteps in the stairwell. Her beauty never ceased to fluster him; this day was no different. “I am the luckiest man in the Plains, you know that, darling?” 

“Why’s that?”

“Well, look at you. Frannie, you become more and more beautiful with time. I’m happy we get to grow old together.” 

Fran blushed. “You’re not so bad yourself.” 

“Ha! Are you kidding? Look at my gray hair, darling. I look like an old man dating a sweet young thing.” 

His charming compliments made her giggle. “OK, Mr. Smooth. Are you ready?” 

He walked up behind her, wrapped his arms around her, and kissed her cheek. “I am. And ironically, this is the best I’ve felt in months. Are you certain we have to go?” 

She turned around in his embrace. “Yes, Charlie.” One last kiss, and she grabbed her keys from the bowl by the front door. “Let’s go, love, or we’ll be late.” He picked up the overnight bag and slung it over his shoulder.

Two hours later, Charlie was checked in and prepped for his first test. The doctor stepped into the waiting area to find Charlie ready to go, holding Fran’s hand. “Good morning, Charlie,” he greeted them. “So, this is what usually happens. We do a bunch of tests, scans, and bloodwork over the next few days. When we get the results back from the individual tests, we compile the information and study the reports to form a reasonable conclusion with either a diagnosis, or a clean bill of health. I expect this will happen on the day you’re released to go home.” He folded his hands and studied their faces. “Do you folks have questions for me?”  

They looked at each other—Charlie shrugged. “No, nothing comes to mind,” he said.

“As soon as we’re finished with the test, Fran, I’ll let you know how he’s doing, and you’ll be able to come back here. We have your room upstairs ready for you.”  

“Thank you, Dr. Jordan.” Fran closed her eyes; the doctor left the room. Her hand grasped Charlie’s as she whispered a prayer under her breath. 

Charlie noticed her and felt her stronger-than-usual grip. When she opened her eyes, he smiled at her. “Thank you, my sweet Frannie.” 

“I’m trying to find some peace with this. I can’t help but fear the worst.” 

He kissed her hand and nuzzled his face into it. “Prepare for the worst, but pray for the best. Sweetheart, don’t be afraid.”

“Easy for you to say, Charlie. The worst I’ve ever had was a bruised tailbone. You’ve endured so much more…” Fran wiped a lone tear from her cheek. “The worst part is waiting.” 

His loving smile set her anxious heart at ease, if only for just a moment. “It always is.”

They sat together in silence, waiting for his turn in the exam room. Her hand in his, he rubbed her fingers the way he always did. How they both wished Destiny was there to sing for them. She had become a source of comfort for them, more than they could have imagined. 

Thirty minutes later, Charlie was on his way to the exam. Fran walked to the waiting room; when she got there, a surprise waited for her. Jenny sat, a smile on her face. 

“Jen? How did you know I’d be here?” 

“Charlie called me and asked me to sit with you.” She embraced Fran in a tight hug. “He will be OK. I believe it, and you have to, too.” 

Fran nodded and wiped a few stray tears away. “I’m trying so hard to be strong for him, but he doesn’t seem to need my strength. He’s unflappable.” 

“That’s my big brother,” Jen said with obvious pride. “He’s always been strong. Ma had a scare when we were teenagers. He was the strongest of us all; his faith was unshakable. Of course, Ma was fine.” She pulled away and looked at Fran. “Your husband is a man of incredible faith. The only man I’ve ever met stronger in faith, Frannie, was Caleb Bradford. I never heard anything discouraging from his mouth, and nothing from Charlie in a long time.” 

“That’s true, Jen,” Fran nodded in agreement. “Charlie is incredibly faithful, and even more after his return home.” She took a deep breath and exhaled with peace in her heart. “Thank you for being here.” 

A broad smile crossed Jen’s face. “I wouldn’t be anywhere else, Frannie.”


Three days later, Charlie and Fran sat in his hospital room enjoying lunch together. They waited for the report from the week of tests and scans. In the meantime, they talked about the farm, summer harvest and the market season, which started in a month. 

The nurse came into his room ten minutes later. “Hi Charlie,” she said. “I have your discharge papers, but the doctor will be in to see you within the next twenty minutes. He’s on this floor seeing another patient, and he’s asked me to let you know.” She worked the IV line from his hand and wrapped a pressure bandage around it. “I’ll see you one last time before you go.” 

“Thank you, Lydia,” Charlie said. “Can I get dressed?” 

“Yes. He’ll be in soon.” The nurse closed the curtain and left Charlie and Fran alone. 

Fran sat and watched Charlie get dressed, her mind on the impending visit from Dr. Jordan. She twirled a long, red strand of hair around her finger, a growing lump took up residence in her throat. She wasn’t ready for the report, for the news the doctor would bring. Charlie noticed her nervous tic and sat beside her, his arm around her shoulder. 

“I know you’re scared, honey. It’s going to be OK.” 

“I’m trying so hard to be alright.” 

“I know, Frannie.” 

They were sitting together when Dr. Jordan entered the room a few minutes later. He greeted them both and sat down in a chair, his legs crossed and Charlie’s patient folder in his lap. “Hi folks.” 

“Hi, Dr. Jordan. We have to stop meeting like this,” Charlie joked. The doctor cracked a crooked smile. 

“Are you still feeling good?” 

Charlie nodded. “I haven’t felt this good in a while.” 

The doctor nodded in acknowledgment. “Well, a team of specialists and I have compiled the results of your tests, Charlie. From all the information we’ve gathered, it appears you have lymphoma…” the doctor’s words faded to nothing as he watched Fran’s face contort in agony. 

“How?!” The fear she’d been fighting returned with a vengeance—she shook in Charlie’s arms while he held her. 

“Well, we aren’t quite sure. There were considerable abnormalities. The results seem to show it’s been developing for quite some time. I won’t say it’s advanced, but it isn’t new, either.” 

Charlie sat dumbfounded. “Could chemical exposure cause this type of thing? Back almost forty years ago, I was exposed to the plague in Dragon Valley, and to be honest, doc, they pumped me full of chemicals. It was the reason we didn’t have Destiny until we were in our forties.” 

Dr. Jordan nodded his head. “Oh, it absolutely can, Charlie. This information answers many of our questions. A colleague of mine sees another veteran with a similar diagnosis. He was stationed in Dragon Valley around the same time.” 

“I probably know him, doc. Four of us spent a lot of time in the hot zone. We all got the same chemical cocktail.” 

“How…” Fran sniffled. “How do we proceed from here?” 

The doctor sat up. “Well, chemotherapy is the first treatment option available, but it doesn’t necessarily mean infusion, either. Your type of cancer, Charlie, has responded well to oral chemo treatments. If you’d like, you can choose that option. There are fewer side effects associated with oral treatments as well. I’ve already made a referral to an oncologist in our practice, so you’ll be following up with her.” 

“Well, I guess we’ll fight this thing until we can’t anymore,” Charlie said. “I have the best support system with Frannie by my side.” He kissed her hand. “With her, I can move mountains.” 

“You have a positive attitude going into this, Charlie. That will help more than you realize. Do you have questions for me?”

Fran shook her head. Inside, she was dying, but she knew Charlie needed her to be strong. “No, I can’t think of anything. My head is spinning…” Her voice caught in her throat. “I’ll have questions for the oncologist, though.” 

“Good enough.” The doctor stood and shook Charlie’s hand. “I wish I had better news for you, Charlie. You’ll get a call from my colleague in a few days.” He extended a hand for Fran to shake, but she sat, frozen in fear. “I’m so sorry, Fran. I really am.” 

After the doctor left the room, Fran cried in Charlie’s arms. “We’re going to fight this, Charlie. Aren’t we?” 

He hugged her closer to him and kissed her. “With everything I have, darling.” 

“What do we tell Destiny?” 

Charlie thought for a moment. “What if we hold off on telling her for a few months? I don’t want to be the one who holds her back, Frannie. And I’m afraid if she knows, she will put her life on hold for us. I wouldn’t want that for her.”

“We can’t not tell her, Charlie. She will figure it out, probably sooner than later.” 

“Just for a little while, Frannie? Please?” 

“A week—”

“A month,” he countered. “Let me start treatment. If I don’t get sick, we don’t have to tell her.”

Fran shook her head. “I’m not comfortable with that.” 

“We can discuss it.” 

“She has a right to know, Charlie.” 

He felt frustration build up within him. “It’s MY diagnosis, Fran.” 

“Yes, and it affects ALL THREE of us!” she snapped, and then cried. “Your cancer happened to all of us.” 

“I’m sorry, sweetheart, you’re right,” he said. “Let’s just take one day at a time, OK?” 

She nodded her head in agreement. “OK.”


Three Months Later

Charlie sat alone in the doctor’s office while Fran tended her market stall with Jenny. It was his follow-up appointment, and though he felt decent, he wished Fran was there with him for moral support. He tapped his ring on the arm of the chair, more than a little nervous. He was about to pick up a magazine to read when the door opened. 

“Hi, Charlie,” the doctor greeted him. “How are you feeling?” 

He shook his head. “Hi, Dr. Bennett. I’m alright.”

“Just alright?” 

“Yeah,” he said. “I’m tired a lot. My sister lives in town to help Frannie with the farm, and I’m glad. I’ve been less than helpful this year.”

She picked his chart up and scanned his last blood work results. “I’m not seeing any evidence that the oral medication is doing its job, Charlie. The numbers still look bad, meaning there is no improvement.” 

He huffed in frustration. “So, what does that mean?”

“We’re going to switch you to traditional chemotherapy treatments. We need to get your numbers a lot better before I consider you in remission.” She set his folder on the desk where she sat and clasped her hands together. “I know this isn’t what you wanted to hear.” 

“No, you’re right, doc. We still haven’t told our daughter. We were waiting until I was in remission, so she wouldn’t be frightened.” 

“Well,” she said, looking into his eyes. “I can’t tell you how to manage your family, Charlie. But if I were in your shoes, I’d tell her. The longer you wait, the less time you’ll have to repair a possible rift in your relationship.” 

“She’s a daddy’s girl,” he said. 

“All the more reason she should know.” The doctor stood. “Well, think about it. Gloria will get you set up for your first treatment. Stop by her office on the way out.” 

Charlie never felt more defeated. “Thanks, doc.”

*****

Fran flopped into bed, exhausted from a busy day at the market. Charlie walked from the bathroom in his robe and laid next to her. A frustrated sigh hissed from his mouth as he let his body melt into the mattress. 

“Is everything OK, Charlie?” 

He squeezed his eyes shut. “No.” 

The ache in her lungs reminded her to breathe. “Is this about your appointment today?”

“Yes.” 

She searched his face for a clue. “Are you going to make me drag it out of you?” 

He propped himself up on his elbows and looked into her eyes. “It wasn’t good news.” 

“How so?” 

“My blood work isn’t good. She’s switching me to traditional chemo. I have my first treatment on Friday.” 

Fran had no idea how to respond. His news frightened her. She’d seen the decline since his diagnosis, subtle as it was. And now this. “We have to tell Destiny.” 

“Not you, too. The doctor suggested we tell her; the sooner, the better.” 

“I agree with her. Charlie, what if the shoe was on the other foot? Wouldn’t you want to know?” 

“Well, of course I would. But she’s…” Charlie swallowed a growing lump in his throat. “She’s my baby. I can’t protect her from it, darling.” 

“At some point, Charlie, she’s going to find out. Wouldn’t you rather she learn it from you than from a stranger at a hospital?” 

“Just a bit longer, Frannie. I’m not ready. I don’t want to be the reason she doesn’t go to college, or doesn’t pursue her dreams.” He buried his eyes in the crook of his arm and sighed. “I want her to see the world and follow her dreams. I can’t be the reason the world is deprived of her talent.” His breath hitched; a stifled sob sat in his chest. “Dammit, I won’t.” Tears rolled down his face. “I won’t…”

Since the ordeal began, Fran hadn’t seen him get emotional. And though she thought she would be weak, she drew strength from within her. “Then we don’t have to yet, my love.” 

“Frannie, I want to watch her become a success. I… I won’t be here for that.”

“Shh, babe, you don’t know that for certain.” 

“But,” he cried, “the chances are good that I won’t. I can’t…” All the strength he pretended to have faded in an instant—every fear, every poor outcome his mind entertained manifested at once, and he sobbed in her arms. “I’m never going to be a granddad, Frannie.”

Fran didn’t know how to comfort him. So she snuggled up with him, wrapped around his body, and allowed him to cry until sleep overtook both of them.


The Next Summer

Charlie had been in treatment for another six months before the oncologist pronounced him in remission. But the chemo and radiation therapies had taken their toll. His body was thin, his face was gaunt. The hair on his head had been gone for months. And yet, somehow, they kept his secret from their daughter. 

The summer festival was looming ahead of Destiny’s final year of high school. She had been working as a stagehand for a year, accumulating credits for her college career at Sim State. A month before the festival’s opening day, Destiny’s phone rang with a Starlight Shores exchange on Caller ID. She didn’t normally answer calls from unknown numbers, but she took this one. 

“Hello?” 

“I’d like to speak with Destiny Farmer?” 

Destiny’s eyes widened. I know this voice! She thought. “Who is calling?” 

“My name is Katie Price—”

Destiny dropped the phone and squealed—the voice on the phone laughed. “This is Destiny,” she said, her shaky hands held to the cell phone. 

“Hi Destiny,” Katie said. “I got this number from your boss, Chad. Look, I have a proposal for you. My opening act is backing out on me for the first couple of shows, and I know you live in Appaloosa Plains. I heard you singing last year when you were backstage, and I was impressed. I understand you’re an aspiring singer, and that you have quite a repertoire of songs you’ve written. Would you like to stand in for my opening act during the festival in the Plains?” 

Destiny felt the excitement well up inside her, but she also knew she needed to ask her parents’ permission before she said yes. “I’d love to!” she answered, “But I need to ask my folks first. Can I call you back with an answer?” 

Katie chuckled on the other end of the phone. “Of course. There’s no hurry. I’m coming into town next weekend to meet with Chad to organize the stage and make sure my props will fit. We can meet then.” Destiny took down her phone number and thanked her. When they hung up the phone, Destiny screamed with joy. 

The sudden outburst startled Fran, who had been cooking supper. She rushed to the family room, where she found a very excited, giggly sixteen-year-old girl. “Destiny, what on earth is going on that would make you scream like that?” 

“Mama, I just got the most incredible phone call! Remember that singer we saw at the first summer concert, Katie Price?” 

“Yes,” Fran said. “I remember. Why, sweet pea?” 

“Mama, she just called me!” Destiny tried not to be too excited. Her mother had a habit of telling her no. “She wants me to open for her at her show this year!” She let another squeal out of her mouth, and Fran cringed; Charlie was resting upstairs. 

“Destiny, for the love of all good things, please settle down! Your daddy is resting.” Destiny gave her a sheepish grin and then a more subdued look. “Are you sure the phone call was from that Katie person, Desi?” 

“Mmhmm, Mama! She knew Chad’s name, and the festival information. Katie remembers me from last year! I guess she heard me singing and wants me to fill in for her opening act.” Destiny looked at the ground and back at Fran. “Please let me, Mama? I’m gonna be seventeen on my next birthday.” 

Fran thought for a moment. Charlie is going to want to see her sing before he dies. “OK, Desi. You have my permission.” 

Destiny stopped short. She expected a song-and-dance about why she couldn’t, or why she shouldn’t. But that wasn’t her answer. “Really, Mama??” Fran nodded. “Can I wake Daddy to tell him?” Again, Fran nodded. 

“I think he will love to hear this news, Desi. You know he’s going to be so proud of you.” She kissed her daughter’s forehead and hugged her. “I’m very proud of you, too.” 

“Thanks, Mama!” Destiny ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time, and then a sharp left to the master bedroom. The door was partially ajar when she tapped on it. “Daddy?” 

The gentle rap on the door awakened Charlie; her bright red hair reflected the sun that peeked in through the window. “Come in, sweet pea.” He patted the bed next to him for her to sit. “What’s on your mind?” 

“Daddy, you’ll never guess what happened today! My favorite singer, Katie Price, wants me to open her summer concert here in the Plains this year!”

“By yourself, Desi?” She nodded, a huge grin on her face. “Sweetheart, that’s fantastic!”

“Daddy? Would you come backstage with me? I’ll need some encouragement, and since you’ve always been there for me, I’d love it if it was you.” 

Charlie didn’t need to think it over. He didn’t need to consider his treatments, or the physical price he would pay. “I would be so honored, Destiny. Come here.” He opened his arms to hug her; when she returned it, she noticed for the first time how thin he’d gotten. 

“Daddy? Are you okay? You’re skinny.” 

He nodded and brushed a lock of hair from her face. “Of course I am, sweetheart. The doctor wanted me to lose a little weight. He thinks your daddy is too fat!” He lied through his teeth. Destiny couldn’t know anything yet, especially now, with her debut concert coming up. 

She cocked her head and laughed. “I think your doctor is crazy, Daddy.” He laughed and laid back down. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yes, sweetheart, I promise I’m alright.” He gave her one last hug and smiled. “I’ll be down for supper.” 

“OK, cool!” Destiny said. “I need to call Polly! She won’t believe it!” She scurried from the master suite into her bedroom, Polly’s number already ringing on the other end. 

“Way to go, sweet pea,” Charlie whispered to himself. “You’re on your way, and I get to see you sing. This is a good day.” He closed his eyes and drifted to sleep, listening to his only daughter having the best day of her young life.


Destiny did the last bit of setting up on the stage for the concert. She and Katie had talked at length about where stage props would go, and which ones Katie would allow Destiny to use for her own show. The concert was the following evening. Charlie and Fran sat in front row benches for the show rehearsal; every once in a while, Destiny looked out from behind the stage to wave at them, beaming from ear to ear. 

Chad, who sat near the Farmers, walked to Charlie after the rehearsal. “You must be Charlie,” he said, his hand held out to shake. “I want to commend you and your lovely wife for raising such a well-mannered, hard-working young lady. And to congratulate you on her debut behind the microphone. She’s got quite a career ahead of her if she keeps applying herself.” 

Charlie gave the young man’s hand a shake. “Thank you, but her success is hers alone. We’re the cheerleaders, and the folks known as ‘Mama and Daddy’.” He nodded in contemplation. “She has been a big deal since we brought her home from the hospital.” 

Chad laughed. “I see! Well, she’ll be phenomenal on stage tomorrow night. You’re the one helping her backstage?” He motioned to Charlie. “She mentioned you were her biggest fan.” 

He blushed. “I am, yes.”

“Come with me, and I’ll familiarize you with the setup, where you’ll stand. Everything you need to know in a quick two-minute tour.” 

Destiny bounded down the stage steps toward them, greeted Charlie with a kiss on the cheek and a hug for Fran. “I see you’ve met my boss, Chad.” She shook his hand and then turned back to Fran. “Mama, Katie wants to take me for a burger so we can talk business. Can I go?” 

Fran smiled and nodded. “Of course. Be back before midnight, Desi.” 

Destiny squealed, turned to face the stage, and flashed two thumbs up at Katie. Then she kissed Charlie’s cheek again and ran toward the stage, a small brown leather satchel in her hands. The three of them shared a laugh when Chad spoke up. “I don’t know how you folks keep up with her. I’ve never met a young lady, or a young man for that matter, with as much energy and spunk as she has. She’ll be a force to reckon with in the city.” 

Fran nodded, and Charlie simply smiled. “It’s tough!” she chuckled. “That girl’s energy knows no limits.”

“Well, we’ll see you tomorrow night for the big show, Miss Fran. Come with me, Charlie, and I’ll get you all set up back here.” He stood and followed Chad backstage.

*****

“So, Destiny,” Katie began over a milkshake and a cheeseburger. “Tell me what it is you love about singing! Who inspires you?” 

Destiny took a bite of fried potato. “Well, a girl that used to babysit me, Maya, sang to me. Then, I joined the children’s choir at the chapel when I was seven. My elementary school music teacher is the choir director, and my mentor. I’ve been singing ever since!” 

Katie nodded her head. “So, do you have some of your songbooks with you? I’d love to see your music.” 

“I do!” She reached into her satchel and brought out a book of her best songs. “This first one here I wrote about six years ago for a friend. My daddy wants me to sing it first.” 

Katie took the book from her and read the lyrics. “This is good! How does the tune go?” 

Destiny hummed the melody for the first verse and stopped before the chorus. A smile pulled Katie’s face. “What do you think?” she asked.

“Destiny, don’t let anyone else hear this song until you have it copyrighted. Everyone will want to record it.” 

Her eyes got wide as saucers. “Really?” 

“Yes, really. A song like that can make a career. Don’t let it out of your sight, and if I were you, I’d pick a different song to begin the show.”

Destiny shook her head. “I can’t do that. My daddy wants to hear me sing this song. I was supposed to sing it in a talent show the year you opened the festival here. But they wouldn’t let me, because I was only ten years old. I don’t want to disappoint him.” 

Katie understood. She was a ‘daddy’s girl,’ herself. “Yeah, I get it. Just be careful with it.” 

“Oh, I will! And before I forget, Katie, thank you for letting me open for you tomorrow night. It’s a dream come true, and I’ll never forget your kindness.” 

“Maybe someday we can tour together,” Katie suggested. “That would be fun.” 

They looked at each other and giggled. 

*****

Fran waited for Destiny to return home that night, which she did well before her midnight curfew. She was sitting in Charlie’s recliner when the key turned in the front door, and Destiny felt guilty. “Am I late, Mama?” 

“Oh, no sweet pea. I can’t sleep while you’re out of the house. So I thought I’d wait for you. You’re early, actually.” 

“Oh good,” Destiny sighed with relief. “I had a lot of fun tonight. Katie suggested we tour together someday.” 

Fran grinned. “Really? Oh, Desi, you’re going to make so many friends once you leave the Plains…” When the realization hit Fran that it was less than a year away, the grin vanished into thin air. 

“What’s wrong, Mama?” 

“I just realized you only have a year left here. And then you’re off to college, and starting your career.” Fran choked back tears. “How did you grow up so fast?” 

“I’m only sixteen, Mama. I still have some time.” 

“You’re entering high school in September as a senior, a full grade above other kids your age.” Fran sniffled, her sinuses closed up as tears filled her eyes. “You were always smart as a whip.” 

“Oh, stop, Mama,” Destiny blushed. “I’m no smarter than Polly.” 

That made Fran chuckle. She knew better than to engage Destiny in that discussion. “OK, sweet pea. You win.” She stood and stretched her stiff muscles. “Let’s go to bed.” 

Destiny walked behind Fran, just in case she slipped on the steps. She hadn’t yet, but Destiny noticed them both slowing down. When they reached the top of the steps, they said goodnight and walked to their respective bedrooms. Charlie was awake when Fran opened the door. 

“Did she have fun, my darling?”

“Mmhmm.” 

“Good,” Charlie said. “Come snuggle with me, sweetheart. I don’t feel well tonight.” 

“How aren’t you feeling well?” 

He sighed. “I’m weak, lightheaded. My nose has been bleeding on and off for the past few days.” 

“Didn’t Dr. Bennett say that was a bad sign? The nosebleeds, I mean.” 

He shrugged. “I’ll be okay, love.” 

“Are you going to call her in the morning?” 

“No, I don’t want to miss her concert tomorrow night, Frannie. She is counting on me, and I might never…” he paused to collect himself. “I might never get to hear her otherwise.” 

Fran started to believe he might be right. The thought of it frightened her to her core.


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. Jason’s words rumbled through Fran’s memory as she dug through her jewelry box, seeking the diamond earring studs he had given her years ago. “Come on,” she said out loud. “Where are you little suckers?” 

Frustrated, she slammed the lid of the box down and huffed. “I know they’re in there.” She reopened the lid and pawed through it again; a stud post caught her finger and embedded itself under her fingernail. A cry of pain echoed through the bedroom and down the stairs. It was loud enough to awaken Charlie from a nap. “Dammit!” she yelped, yanked her hand from the jewelry box, and stuffed the injured finger into her mouth. 

Charlie had never heard her cuss before now, and it surprised him. “What’s wrong, darling?” 

“I think Jason just got his revenge for trying to give those earrings back. The post just jammed under my fingernail.” 

He cringed in sympathy. “Ouch, Frannie.” He sat up in bed and put his feet on the floor. “What are you doing with the earrings?”

She sat next to him, the studs in her hands. They were still together, how she connected them when she tried to return them. “I’m going to give them to Destiny, so she can wear them tonight for her show. They mean nothing to me, but she might remember him, and she might want them.” She shrugged her shoulders. “If she doesn’t, maybe I’ll just sell them. Desi could use the money for school.” 

“That’s not the worst idea, sweetheart,” Charlie said. “Do you think she’ll remember him?” 

“I don’t know. He was a pretty big part of our lives back then, but it was eleven years ago. She might not.” 

He held his hand open. “Can I check them out?” She nodded and handed the earrings to Charlie. “What’s the carat weight on them?” 

“Hmm… I can’t remember for sure. One carat total weight? I know they’re bigger than the stone in my engagement ring.” 

“That would make each a half-carat. That’s definitely bigger than the stone in your ring.” He handed them back with a defeated sigh. “Are you sure you made the right choice between Jason and me, darling?” 

“Charlie, you shouldn’t even have to ask that question. Of course, I made the right choice. He had money, but you have my heart.” 

Her sweet, innocent answer made him smile, and his heart swell with love for her. “My gosh, Frannie, I love you so.” 

“I love you, too, Charlie.” Their lips met in a sweet, tender kiss.

*****

Destiny was in her room, practicing the songs she would perform in her set later that evening, when Fran knocked on her door. 

“Come in?” she said.

Fran peeked her head into the door and smiled. “Are you busy, sweet pea? I would like to talk to you.” 

“I’m never too busy for you or Daddy. What’s up?” 

She walked to Destiny’s bed and sat down, her hands clasped around the diamond studs. “Sweetheart, do you remember Jason?” 

Destiny smiled. She hadn’t heard his name in a long time. “Of course I do, Mama. Why do you ask?” 

“Do you remember when he took me to a fancy restaurant for my birthday that year?” 

“Mmhmm,” Destiny muttered. 

“Jason gave me a pair of earrings; when he left, I tried to give them back to him, but he didn’t want them. He told me to save them for you someday when you were older.” She opened her hand and showed them to Destiny. “I’d like you to have them, Destiny, for your concert, and just because.”

Destiny had never seen a diamond as large, and she was astonished. “Mama! Are they real?” 

“Oh, yes, they are real.”

“Are you sure you want to give these to me? They look very expensive.” 

“Well, if I had to buy them, I couldn’t afford them. But since I have them…” Fran shrugged. All she could see was Jason’s broken expression as he left the farmhouse for the last time. “To me, Jason is a fond memory, and nothing more. I thought he might still mean something to you, though.” She placed the earrings in Destiny’s hand and closed it around them. “They’re yours now. Would you like some help to put them in? The backs screw on, so you won’t lose them.” 

Destiny nodded her head and wiped a tear away. “I can’t believe you’re giving these to me. Thank you, Mama!” She took out the small hoop earrings she wore since her ears were pierced and held them while Fran set the diamonds in their place. When she finished, she stepped back to admire them, sparkling and lovely.

“They look beautiful on you, sweet pea.”

“I’ll take good care of them, Mama, I promise.”

Fran kissed her forehead and hugged her. “I know you will, Desi. When should you be at work?”

“In an hour. I’m not showering until Chad lets me come back before the show. Katie is letting me borrow a dress to wear. We’re almost the same size!”

“You should probably get to work, honey. Maybe he’ll let you come home early, and you’ll have extra time to get ready.” 

“That’s a great idea, Mama.” She kissed Fran’s cheek and hugged her. “Thank you again for my pretty earrings.” 

“You’re welcome. We’ll see you before the show.” 

She nodded before she hurried down the steps, and through the front door, waving as she ran.

*****

Destiny stood backstage, doing a final soundcheck for the concert in just a few hours. Chad stood in the back of the stands; her last check came across the speakers loud and clear—a thumbs up and a shouted affirmation ended the testing. She pulled the headset from her head and set them on the soundboard. “Harry, I need to get home. I still have to shower!” 

“I’ll cover you, Des,” her co-worker said. “Run! Don’t be late for your debut!” She gathered her purse, her satchel, and her sweater, and dashed through the festival gates, headed across the street to their home. 

“Hi…” Fran’s greeting was cut short by the flash of red hair as she ran up the steps and into the bathroom. “… Desi.” She rolled her eyes and laughed. “That girl is going to burn herself out someday.” 

Charlie was in his recliner, saving his strength for the concert. “She’s young. She has energy to spare. I wish I had just a fraction of it right now.”

“How are you tonight, love?” 

His chest heaved a labored breath. “I will not miss that little girl’s concert. Please don’t ask me to.”

“I’ll ask you no such thing. But promise me, Charlie, that we’ll tell her tomorrow morning, after her show is over. We can’t keep it from her any longer.” 

“You win, darling. We’ll tell her tomorrow.” He nodded in defeat. 

“Do you need your oxygen?” 

He shook his head. “No, she can’t see that until we tell her.”

“That’s fair. One more night shouldn’t hurt you.” 

“I’m hoping not, Frannie.” 

“Mama!” Destiny called from her bedroom. “Help!”

“I’m being summoned. Do you need anything?” He shook his head and laid it back to rest. 

Fran climbed the steps. I’m getting too old for this, she thought. “I’m here. What’s wrong, sweet pea?” 

“I need help to zip this up. Please?” Destiny wore a teal flowered dress that Katie let her borrow from the costume wardrobe. It fit her like a glove. Despite being just sixteen, her body had already developed. The dress clung to her curves and accentuated everything, though the dress itself was modest in style. She turned around, her arms posed on her hips. “What do you think?” 

“Oh Destiny, you are stunning.” Fran walked her to the full-length mirror in her bedroom. “See?” 

The young girl shook her head in disbelief. She looked like a bona fide star. “Wow.” Destiny had never been speechless before. “Is this really me?” 

“It’s really you, sweetheart.” Fran tucked a length of hair behind her ear. “You should wear your hair up, Desi.” 

Destiny wrinkled her nose. “No, I like it like this. It looks OK, doesn’t it?” 

Fran’s eyes welled up with tears. “You look beautiful. I can’t believe how grown up you are.” Destiny saw her mother’s tears and hugged her. The two stayed in a tight embrace for a few moments. 

“I need to get across the street, Mama. Are you and Daddy coming now, or later?” 

“We’ll be right behind you, Desi. Maybe about ten minutes. And he’ll be with you as soon as we get there.” 

She gave Fran a peck on the cheek. “I love you, Mama. Thank you so much for letting me sing tonight.” 

“I love you too, sweet pea. Break a leg!” 

“Thank you!” 

An hour after she left the fairgrounds, Destiny walked back across the street in Katie’s dress. Oddly enough, she caught no attention from anyone. I guess it’s just as well, she thought. Katie caught up with her moments after she arrived backstage. 

“Want my makeup artist to fix you up a little, Des?” Katie cocked her head. “It just takes a few minutes. You’re a natural beauty, so you need little makeup, but the lighting will make you look pale if we don’t fix it.” 

Destiny nodded. “Sure.” 

Thirty minutes until showtime, Charlie and Fran were still not there. Destiny peeked out from behind backstage. Where are they? She tuned her guitar one last time and was on her knees in prayer when Charlie finally arrived backstage. She hugged him and kissed his cheek, leaving a warm-toned lipstick print. “Hi, Daddy. You made it!” 

“Hi princess,” he said back. Charlie looked around for a chair. It was an accommodation he had expected, but didn’t think to request. The one that was backstage had vanished. He was determined not to let his cancer win, not tonight of all nights, so he decided to tough it out and stand. “Are you ready, Destiny?” 

She took a deep breath and exhaled. If she was nervous, Charlie couldn’t see it in her mannerisms. “I’m so ready, Daddy. Thank you for being here. This means the world to me.” 

“There isn’t a force on earth that would make me miss your debut, sweet pea.” He kissed her cheek. “Knock ‘em dead out there, Destiny. I’m so proud of you.” 

The emcee walked on stage and the lights came up, the spotlight on him. Standing center stage, he spoke. “Welcome to the opening night of the summer concert series on the festival grounds. Tonight, we have returning guest singer Katie Price.” The crowd erupted in applause. When the din quieted down, he resumed his introduction. “And, we have a special treat for you. Opening the show is a local young lady who aspires to sing on the big stage someday. She’s spunky, energetic, and very talented. Please give a warm Appaloosa Plains welcome to Destiny Farmer!” 

Destiny looked at Charlie just before she stepped onstage. It was his proudest moment. He blew her a kiss and mouthed the words, “I love you, Desi,” before she walked out to a crowd of cheering attendees. She strummed her guitar, the opening notes of Charlie’s favorite song. He closed his eyes and relished the moment, another life-changing experience for his baby girl. 

At the end of her first song, the crowd went wild, chanting her name and cheering for more. Her set was only five songs, but she played and sang each one with every ounce of passion she could muster. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Charlie enjoying her performance. 

She talked to the audience a bit, thanked Sara Thompson for the inspiration, Maya Bradford for the start, and her parents for all their love and support. On her last song, Destiny began the chords, ready to sing, when she noticed Charlie out of the corner of her eye. He was fading fast, hanging onto anything he could grip, but he collapsed onto the platform where he stood. She heard Chad yell for a medic—the audience gasped when they realized what had occurred. Destiny screamed and ran toward him, the guitar still in her hands. 

“Daddy!” Chad sat on the floor with him, trying to revive him. Fran, who saw the panic on Destiny’s face, ran from her seat and up the steps on stage to Charlie. “Mama! What happened?!” 

“Oh sweet pea, you weren’t supposed to see this,” Fran cried, kneeling down next to Charlie. “Charlie, wake up, love. The ambulance is coming.” She patted his cheek and took Chad’s spot next to him. 

“See what, Mama?” Destiny shook like a leaf, scared witless as she observed her father splayed out on the floor. Fran didn’t answer her; her only thought was Charlie. Please don’t die tonight, she thought. 

Minutes later, EMTs arrived and assessed him. Charlie awakened at the sensation of being lifted onto a stretcher. “Fran…” he muttered. 

“I’m here, love.” 

“What… happened?” 

“You passed out, Charlie. We’re taking you to the hospital.” 

He shook his head. “She can’t find out like this, Frannie…” 

“It’s too late for that. She will know tonight, when we find out what caused this.” 

Charlie closed his eyes as the EMTs lifted the stretcher into the ambulance. “Meet me there…?” 

“We’re right behind you, love.” 

Chad apologized for Destiny’s abrupt ending and assured the audience everything was under control. Katie found Destiny and hugged her. “Are you okay, Des?” 

Destiny, who was sobbing uncontrollably, shook her head. “No. I’ll get your dress back to you tomorrow.” 

“Don’t worry about that, Destiny. Go be with your family.” 

Fran drove to the hospital with Destiny riding shotgun. Neither of them spoke; all Fran heard was frightened sobs. Every decision they made to protect her was an epic failure. She found out the hard way, just what Fran didn’t want. She hated herself for putting their daughter through such a traumatic experience. Would Destiny ever forgive her? She couldn’t answer that question. 

Together, they ran into the Emergency Room; Fran spat out one word: “Farmer?” 

“Back here. Follow me,” the security guard said. Fran took Destiny’s hand and followed the guard’s quick footsteps back to a room equipped to handle trauma. 

“Ma’am, are you his wife?” the doctor asked. 

“Yes. He has lymphoma, but he’s been in remission…” Her gaze shifted to Destiny as she spoke the words she dreaded.

Destiny’s eyes widened, and in silence mouthed the word, “cancer.” She fell into the chair in the room, her arms wrapped around her knees, weeping. Fran walked to her and knelt beside the chair. 

“Desi, I’m sorry we didn’t tell you… I’m sorry you had to find out like this.” 

“Daddy has… cancer?!” The broken expression on Destiny’s face devastated her. 

Fran couldn’t say another word. All she could do was embrace her daughter as they cried in each other’s arms.

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Up Next: Chapter Twenty, Part One, Generation One.


Pose Credit – Cover  Photo

Poses By Bee
Family Fighting – Updated
Family Photo 1-14 and 19-21

*****

Custom Content – Cover Photo

Around The Sims 3
Destiny’s Cowboy Boots

SimCredible Designs
Arcadia Children’s Bedroom (Curtains)

The Sims Resource
Destiny’s Hair by WingsSims


I apologize for the lack of screenshots for this chapter. Due to time constraints, they were not possible to do well. When I have time, I will update nineteen and twenty with pictures! 

Thank you for your understanding!

G1 Chapter Eighteen – Shattered Dreams & Broken Hearts

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.

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“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. 

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“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. 

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“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.

*****

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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.

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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—”

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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. 

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“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.” 

“Daddy?” 

“Yes, Destiny?” 

“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.”

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Up Next: Chapter Nineteen, Generation One


Pose Credits:

Mod The Sims
A Reading Pose Pack by Kurineko
Are You Sick, Kiddo? by Spladoum
Cute Kids Pose Pack by Traelia

Poses By Bee
Child Sit Pose Pack
Cuddle Sad Pose Pack
Don’t Die – Updated
Emotions – Adult Male
Just Standing – Males
Travel Pose Pack 1

Sims Modeli
Warm Hugs by Sea

TheSims3Lover
Best Friends Forever by Clover


Custom Content:

Around The Sims
Rake

Mod The Sims
Book by Kurineko

Poses By Bee
Luggage (SFS Link)

SimCredible Designs
Arcadia Kids Bedroom Set

Sims By Severinka
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The Sims 3 Exchange
Country Flowers (Pattern) by Skyeseeker

Sugar Legacy Stables
Horse Trailer

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!

G1 – Chapter Seventeen, Part Two – The Farmers Reunite

The Next Morning

Fran paced the floor in the waiting room. She had kissed Charlie and left his room three hours before. Should the surgery be taking this long? She wondered. Certainly the doctor should have been out with a report sooner than this. The clock on the wall seemed to run at half its normal pace—each minute passed with an excruciating laziness. She flopped into a leather chair and sank into it. She was exhausted.

Another forty-five minutes passed, and Fran was on the edge of sleep when she heard her name. “Mrs. Farmer?” The doctor stood before her, his surgical mask down under his chin. 

“Yes! Dr. Owens, how is Charlie?” 

“Charlie did well during surgery, and he’s resting. The surgery was about eighty-five percent successful. I didn’t expect the amount of scar tissue surrounding the initial injury, so moving the bone into place was more of a challenge. He has some permanent hardware to stabilize the bone—a few plates and screws to hold everything together.” The doctor stared at his hands and shrugged. “I’m not sure I’ve resolved all of his pain, but it should be nothing like what he had. With a rigorous therapy regimen, he will have a decent recovery, and he’ll be on the farm in about three months.” 

Fran breathed a sigh of relief. “When can I see him?” 

“He’s in recovery for about an hour, then we’ll get him into a room. Maybe ninety minutes?” 

“Thank you, Dr. Owens. I can’t wait.” 

“An orderly will come get you when it’s time. In the meantime, you can grab some breakfast or lunch. You look tired, Fran.” 

She yawned. “Neither of us slept well last night. I think I’ll grab some coffee. Thank you again.” She gathered her purse and walked to the elevator.

Fran knew she had one phone call to make, so she retrieved her cell from her purse and dialed a very familiar number. 

“Hi, Frannie! How’s Charlie doing?” 

“Hi Sunny. I just spoke with the doctor, and he came through the surgery fine. I can see him in about an hour, maybe closer to two.” Fran tried to stifle a yawn, an effort that proved pointless. 

“Destiny wants to see him when she gets home from school, so I’ll bring her to the hospital if that’s okay with you?” 

Fran smiled. “Of course! Bring her over when you can. Charlie was looking forward to seeing her after his surgery. He wants her to sing to him.” 

“Oh, isn’t that sweet?” Sunny said, a bright smile in her voice. “Whatever you’re doing with her, Frannie, it’s the exact right thing.” 

“Thanks, Sunny.” Fran smiled. “I’ll see you later, then?” 

“You bet! See you in a little while.” 

“Sounds good.” Fran pressed End on her cell. On a whim, she searched for a phone number she hadn’t dialed in a long time. 

“Hello?” a woman’s voice answered on the other end. 

“Jenny, it’s Fran. Charlie’s wife.” 

“Frannie! My goodness, how long has it been? How’s my favorite sister-in-law?” Jenny Farmer Stearns was Charlie’s youngest sister, the baby of the family. 

“I’m good. Listen, Jenny, I wanted to tell you that Charlie is out of surgery and he’s doing well.” 

“Surgery? What happened? Is he okay?” The panicked tone of Jen’s voice startled Fran.

“Yes, he’s fine. They had to fix his leg from the plane crash. He didn’t call you?” 

“Plane crash?! What in the world is going on back home?” Now Jenny was frantic.

“Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize he hadn’t been in touch with you since he came home!” Fran sat down in the closest chair, sorry she’d opened a can of worms with his sister.

“Came home? Where was he?” 

“It’s a long story. Are you planning a trip to the Plains soon?” Fran laughed, but felt guilty. It was no laughing matter.

She shook her head, as though Fran could see her. “No, we weren’t. But I’m guessing that Paul and I could come see you guys. He took an early retirement from his company. They were downsizing, so they offered him a nice benefit package.” 

“Oh! Well, that’s a blessing! How are the boys?” 

“They’re both at university. Jonah is on a scholarship for soccer, and Joshua is studying computers.” Jenny chuckled at Fran’s attempt to shift the conversation away from Charlie. “So, tell me what’s going on with my big brother!” 

Fran rubbed her temples. “Where do I start? Remember the birthday party we planned for him and canceled at the last minute?” 

“Yes, I do. You never told me why, but I remember it. What happened?” 

“Charlie deployed to the war zone overseas the day before the party. His rank made him important to the Allied Forces, and he had to go.” 

“Okay, I remember reading about that when it happened. He was there during that fiasco?” 

“Oh, Jenny, he was the fiasco. The deadly, failed mission was all Charlie’s mess.” Fran couldn’t believe Jenny didn’t realize the chaos involved her brother. “There’s much more than what the news reported, but Charlie should have led that mission. If it had gone as planned, he wouldn’t have gone through his ordeal.” 

Jenny paused again. “What ordeal, Frannie?” 

Fran sighed. The memory of her own nightmare grieved her. “His plane went down behind enemy lines after a mid-air collision with a suicide runner. He survived the crash, but his leg broke. That’s what this surgery fixed. But he didn’t stay with his aircraft after the crash, so the recon mission didn’t find him. The Army declared him killed in action, Jen. I believed he was dead for eighteen months. Then he showed up back in town and surprised me. Well, I’d already moved on. We had a tough time of it for a while back then.” 

“Where on earth was I that I didn’t know this was happening? I’m sure it had to be on the news…” Jenny’s astonished voice faded. “You know, I need to see my brother. Can I call you back?” 

“Of course, Jenny. You and the family are always welcome to visit any time you’d like.” 

“Thanks. I’ll be in touch.” Jenny ended the phone call. The abrupt way in which she ended it shocked Fran a bit, and she wondered what she’d done.

*****

Charlie groaned and opened his eyes. “Fran…” was the first intelligible thing he had uttered since he woke from surgery. The nurse overseeing his recovery stood over him, taking vital signs when he awakened. 

“How are you feeling, Charlie?” she asked him. 

“Do you want the truth, or a fabrication of how I feel?” Charlie’s leg throbbed with every beat of his heart. The pain was excruciating.

The nurse brushed off the comment and laughed. “How about the truth, Charlie, so I can treat your pain?” 

“Well,” he said with a crooked smile, “how about giving me the good stuff? Because to tell the truth, I’m miserable.” 

“I have a bag to hook up to your IV. I just need to finish what I’m doing. Relief is on the way.” 

“Then how about a flask while I wait?” he tried to joke. The humor went right over her head. 

“Oh, no liquor here in recovery, I’m afraid. Morphine is all I can offer you.” 

“That’ll do.” He laid his head back on the pillow and closed his eyes. “Please don’t tell my wife I asked you for a flask, okay?” 

The nurse laughed. “Okay, Charlie. We’ll keep that our little secret.” 

She finished her checklist and placed the bag of pain medication on the IV pole. “I’m hooking you up to the morphine now. You’ll feel better soon.” The tubing ran through a machine that metered the dosage, and she set the timer. “All set, Charlie. If you need anything, press your call button, and I’ll be here in a jiffy.” 

“Thank you…” he didn’t get the complete thought out before a wave of relief washed over him. A deep sigh hissed from his mouth. “Ohh, yes…” He closed his eyes and relished the lack of pain in his leg. It was a feeling he hadn’t experienced since before it broke years ago.

“I’ll be in to check on you. You have your button if you need me otherwise.” The nurse gathered her notes and left the room, with Charlie resting in comfort and peace.

An hour later, two orderlies arrived to move him to a room in the surgical ward. With all of his monitors and tubes disconnected, they wheeled him from recovery to a semi-private room that awaited him upstairs. Charlie was feeling great, laughing and joking with the orderlies in charge of his transport. The nurse got him settled in, about to leave the room, when he remembered.

“Frannie…” he muttered. “My wife. Where is she?” 

“I’m sure she’ll be along soon, Charlie. You just got here.” He nodded in acknowledgement, closed his eyes, and dozed off.

Ten minutes later, one orderly escorted Fran to Charlie’s room. She found him sleeping, so she sat down near his bedside, took his hand, and rubbed his fingers between hers. The sensation awakened him, and when he saw her, he grinned. 

“There’s my darling,” he said. “I was asking about you.” 

She looked him over and smiled at him. “How are you feeling? You look good.” 

“I’m okay for now. But see that bag up there? That’s got some good stuff in it.” He pointed to the almost-empty bag of morphine. “When that wears off, it’s going to get real. I was miserable without it.” 

“Have you seen Dr. Owens yet, love?” 

Charlie shook his head. “No. What did he say?” 

She twirled a length of red, curly hair around her finger. “Well, he said everything went well, but the surgery was only eighty-five percent successful. I guess you had scar tissue in there he wasn’t counting on.” 

“Well, that’s disappointing.” He took a deep breath and exhaled. “The pain meds are wearing off already.”

“When can you have more?” 

“I’m sure not for a while. That bag is only an hour old.” He shifted in the bed, trying to make himself more comfortable. It was a vain effort. 

“Rest, sweetheart,” Fran said, and stroked his cheek. “If you’re asleep, it won’t hurt.” She sensed he was fighting it—his eyes were half open, and he was groggy from the anesthesia.

“What about you?”

“I’ll be here when you wake up, Charlie. Sunny will bring Destiny after school. I know you can’t wait to see her.” 

Charlie smiled, looking as though he were drunk. “My baby girl…” 

Fran smiled back. “Be ready. I’m sure she has a vast selection of songs for you.” 

“Good…” he slurred as he drifted to sleep.

Fran settled down into the chair next to his bed, his hand in hers, and laid her head on the bed to rest. 

A few hours later, the sound of Fran’s phone ringing woke her. Jenny’s number was on the display. Charlie was sound asleep, so she left the room to take the phone call. 

“Hi, Jenny,” Fran said. “I was expecting you to call back at some point.” 

“Well, Paul and I will be there tomorrow. I have to see my brother.” 

Jenny’s announcement took Fran by surprise. “Wow, you didn’t waste any time. I need to find some room for you to stay—”

“Oh, Frannie, there’s no need to accommodate us. We’re already booked for the week at the inn by the river. We’ll help you any way we can while Charlie is off his feet.” 

“He’ll be down for a few months. I appreciate the offer, though.” 

“We’ll do what we can while we’re there. We have two weeks before we need to return home. Our house is on the market. But, having Charlie almost taken from us? It’s made me realize how much I miss him. I lost track of Gracie years ago after she and Ed divorced. She and Cheyanne have all but disappeared. I know where you and Charlie are. I don’t want to go without seeing you guys.” 

Jenny’s news rendered Fran speechless. It was something that didn’t happen often. “I-I don’t know what to say, Jen. Charlie will be ecstatic!”

“Then it’s official. I can’t wait to see you again.” 

“It will be wonderful to see you guys again! We’ll see you tomorrow!” She couldn’t wait to tell Charlie the news. 

She returned to his room with a spring in her step. Charlie was awake, and smiled when he heard her approach. “Hi, love,” he said. “Who was on the phone?” 

“I have some news for you. I hope you’ll be happy.” 

“What is it, and I’ll tell you?” 

“Your sister Jenny and Paul will be here tomorrow.” Fran gave him a half-smile and hoped what she told him was welcomed. 

“That’s curious.” Charlie cocked his head. “I never even told Jen about my last deployment. I haven’t talked to her in years.” 

“If only I had known that earlier. I thought she should know your surgery went well, so I called her. You can’t imagine the can of worms I opened. I never once considered you hadn’t talked to her.” 

He observed her troubled expression and chuckled. “This isn’t bad, you know. I’m glad someone thinks to keep her in the loop, because I sure don’t. She deserves better than the brother I’ve been over the years.” 

“I just thought she should know you were okay. Are you happy, Charlie?” 

“Naturally, I’m happy! Frannie, she’s my kid sister. We haven’t seen her and Paul since his job took them away from the Plains. Destiny will have an aunt and uncle to meet. My sister Grace? Her status is unknown. I’m not even sure she’s alive.” 

“Jenny said something about Grace and Cheyanne being gone. I guess no one knows where they are anymore.” Fran wrung her hands. “I’m glad you’re happy about this.” 

“I’d feel better if I wasn’t in so much pain.”

Fran stood. “Let me find the nurse. You shouldn’t have to suffer, babe.” 

“I’ll let you.” Charlie grimaced. The throbbing in his leg made him feel queasy. “Calling has done no good.”

While Fran was searching for the nurse, Sunny and Destiny slipped into Charlie’s room. When she saw him, Destiny ran to hug him and squealed. “Daddy!”

“Hi Charlie,” Sunny said. “How are you feeling?” Destiny climbed up onto Charlie’s bed and laid down with him, snuggled up to his side. Sunny laughed. “It looks like your little nurse is already on the job!” 

Charlie’s laughter filled the room. “Hi, Sunny. It’s so good to see this little sweet pea.” He kissed the top of her head and snuggled her closer. “Watch Daddy’s arm, honey. Don’t pull on that tube, okay?” 

Destiny smiled and nodded her head. Fran walked back into the room to find her best friend and daughter. “Hi, Sunny! We’ve been waiting for you two.” 

Nestled into Charlie’s arms, Destiny didn’t look up from him. “Hi, Mama,” she said, and kissed Charlie’s cheek. She was a ‘Daddy’s Girl’.

“You’re looking good, Charlie. I bet having Desi here is helping, too.” Sunny admired Charlie with his baby girl. She missed her children being as little. 

The look on Charlie’s face, the serene expression he wore, told the story of his love for his daughter, and hers for him in return. “This little angel and her mama are my world.” 

The nurse was a minute behind Fran, and she smiled to see Destiny cuddled up to her father. “I’m guessing this is your little girl. She is beautiful, and she’s your spitting image, Charlie.” She hung a bag of morphine on his IV pole, scanned his armband, and hooked it to the tube connected to his hand. “You let me know when you need medication. This is your last bag, but you can have pain pills every four hours.” 

Charlie nodded and sighed in relief. “Thank you, and yes, this is Destiny. She’s a singer, and her mama and I are so proud of her.” Destiny giggled in his ear; Charlie smiled and hugged her closer. 

“Yes, I’d imagine you are. Rest well, Charlie. Call me if you need me.” The nurse turned and left the room. 

When visiting hours ended, Fran kissed Charlie goodnight, took Destiny’s hand, and together, they left the hospital. They were both sleepy and hungry. Fran drove back home to the farmhouse, where she warmed leftovers from the previous night’s supper. After Destiny’s bath, Fran prepared to read her favorite book. But first, she had a favor to ask her seven-year-old daughter.

“Destiny, I need to talk to you before we read together tonight, okay?”

The girl sat cross-legged on her bed, Angaloo clutched in her fingers. “Okay.” 

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“You know your daddy isn’t feeling well, and he won’t be able to help me at the market this year.” Fran twirled her hair around her fingers. “I need to ask a big favor. It’s a lot to ask of you, Destiny. But I need you to help me in the garden and at the fair during the market season.” 

At first, the child grinned. She’d begged for the past two summers to help in the garden. “Really, Mama? This is awesome!” 

“You don’t realize, Desi, how much work this will involve for you. And I’ll need you by my side every morning to help me pick vegetables and fruit before we go to the market.” 

“But,” Destiny’s smile faded, “what about school?” 

“That’s the big favor I need from you, sweet pea. I will need to keep you home from school for the first part of the year so you can help me. Now, I know you’ll miss your friends—”

“What about music class, Mama? I don’t want to miss Miss Thompson’s class!”

“Well, you’ll see her on Thursday nights for choir practice, except during the market. We’ll have to be in bed very early.” 

Tears filled Destiny’s eyes. “I don’t want to miss school, Mama.”

Fran hugged her daughter and peered into her violet eyes. “Baby girl, I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t need you. But it will be a tough winter for us if I can’t bring our harvest to market. Can I count on you, Destiny? Please?” 

“I don’t understand why, Mama. Please don’t make me miss school!” 

The child’s tears broke Fran’s heart. “I wish I had another way, sweetheart, but I don’t. We had to pay for Daddy’s surgery ourselves. I need you, Desi. It will only be until Snowflake Day, and you can go back to school in the new year. I promise.”

Destiny hugged her toy to her chest and turned away from Fran. “I don’t want a story tonight, Mama.”

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Fran stood, wiped tears from her eyes, and took the book she’d brought with her to place back into the bookshelf. “I’m sorry, Destiny. I love you. Sweet dreams.”


The next morning, Fran sat at Charlie’s bedside, agonizing over the conversation she had with Destiny the evening before. In moments, a nurse would retrieve Charlie for his first physical therapy session. She wore her emotions on her sleeve for him to see, and he noticed her pensive stare out of the window of his third-floor room.

“What’s wrong, Frannie?”

She inhaled, held it for a moment, and then exhaled, contemplating her next words. “It can wait until you’ve finished your therapy. I don’t want to distract you.” 

“I’ll be more distracted wondering what’s bothering you, love. Why don’t you tell me?”

Fran shook her head. “It’s Destiny. We talked about her helping with the farm.” She dabbed tears from her eyes. “She was okay with it until she realized it meant missing school. Desi was so mad at me, she wouldn’t let me read her favorite story.”

“Are you certain there’s no other way, Frannie? Couldn’t we hire some help? What about Maya?”

“Maya’s in veterinary school. Sunny’s busy preparing for Lisa and Cale’s baby, and she has her own market stand to worry about, too. Destiny is my only option until you’re on your feet.”

“What if she only helped in the garden before school, and I helped you run the stand? I could do that much—”

“Charlie, you know how much walking I do. I can’t ask you to put in ten-hour days on a bad leg. It’s not too early to teach Desi the value of hard work. She’ll learn a lot more with me than she would in school.” 

Though he couldn’t deny what she said was true, he still hated the idea of making their seven-year-old daughter a farm employee. He didn’t work on his parents’ farm until he was a teenager. “We risk making her despise farm life, Frannie, if we take her from what she loves to do. Don’t you want her to take over for you someday?”

Fran exhaled a deep sigh. “Charlie, you’ve heard our little girl sing, and you know she’s dreaming big. This town could never contain talent like hers. She will leave us to pursue her dreams at her first opportunity. I won’t be the one who holds her back, and neither will you.”

Charlie looked into her eyes. “I don’t know, darling. I still don’t like the idea of hard labor. She’s so young.” He reached for her hand to hold it. “We need to let her stay a child, Frannie. She’ll be an adult before we know it.” 

“I still have time to consider it. I suppose I can try to do it alone, but I’ll be harvesting the garden in the middle of the night.” Fran looked at her feet. “Who needs sleep anyway?”

“I will help you—” Charlie started, but the nurse arrived with a wheelchair to bring him to therapy. 

“They’re waiting for you downstairs, Charlie. Time for therapy.” She helped him maneuver his crutches and hobble to the chair from his bed. “He’ll be about an hour, Miss Fran.” 

“Thank you,” she said. 

She sat by the elevator reading a book when the door next to her opened. Two familiar faces exited the structure, and Jenny squealed when she saw Fran. “There you are!” 

“Jenny! Paul!” Fran stood to hug them both. Jenny had changed little since Fran saw her last. Her hair was still the same honey brown, in the same messy updo. Her blue eyes sparkled as she hugged Fran and planted a kiss on her cheek. 

“You are a sight for sore eyes!” Jenny said. “I’m surprised you’re out here, instead of with Charlie. Isn’t he in his room?” 

Fran found herself in Paul’s firm embrace, and she laughed. “Charlie’s in therapy, but he shouldn’t be much longer.” Paul’s well-groomed beard tickled her cheek. “I’ve missed you both so much!”

“It feels weird being back home without Ma and Pa here. But you and Charlie are, and we can’t wait to meet Destiny! How old is she now?” 

“She’s seven, going on twenty!” Fran belly laughed. “She has my red hair, but she’s Charlie’s daughter. You’ll notice the resemblance when you see her.” 

An hour passed before they knew it; Charlie was already back in his room. The three of them walked, talking and laughing like they’d never been apart. But poor Charlie was in agony, laying in bed, groaning. Sweat beaded on his forehead, his skin was pale and clammy. It got Fran’s immediate attention. 

“Help me, darling. I need some relief, or I’m going to hurt someone.” He had a handful of sheets; his face was pallid. 

“I’ll be right back,” she said and hurried to the nurse’s station, hoping to find someone who could help him. 

“Charlie, my goodness,” Jenny whispered. “You poor man.” She sat in the chair next to him and held his hand. “Squeeze my fingers if you need to.” She’d never seen him in this much pain, and it frightened her.

“Hi, Jen-Jen. I wish I felt better right now. I’d be a lot happier to see you.” 

Fran ran back to the room, breathless. “The nurse will be right in. She had to get orders from the surgeon for stronger medication.” 

“Oh, thank you, sweetheart.” 

Fran walked to his bedside and kissed his forehead—his skin was sweaty and cool. “What did they do to you downstairs?” 

His hand grabbed for hers, and he held tight to her. “I guess it wasn’t more than usual for the day after surgery, but I’m not thirty anymore, either. I’m too old for this mess.” 

The nurse entered the room, a bag of morphine in her hand. “I needed special orders for this. The surgeon is aware of the issues you had downstairs.”

“Issues? What issues?” Fran panicked. “What happened down there?!”

“The therapist pushed a little too hard, a bit too soon. They’ll take him for an x-ray to assess the repair.” The nurse, named Leah, scanned Charlie’s arm band and typed information into her computer. She connected the tubing to Charlie’s IV and set the machine to deliver the drip for over an hour. “You should feel better soon, Charlie.” 

“Oh, thank you,” he sighed with relief. It was almost immediate, and he loosened his grip on Fran’s fingers. When the nurse left, Charlie lowered his voice. “They’re talking about opening it back up and repairing the damage. Frannie, honey, I don’t want to do this anymore.” Tears formed in his eyes. “The pain is too much to bear.” 

“I’m so sorry, Charlie.” She reached into her bag and retrieved her handkerchief. Fran took great care to dab the beads of perspiration from his face. “How are you feeling now, babe? Your color is getting better.” 

He reached to hold her hand as she cared for him. “I’m feeling better now, thanks to you.” He closed his eyes and smiled. “So much better.” 

“Maybe we should go register at the inn, and we’ll come back later?” Jenny said. “We don’t want to interfere here.” 

“That might not be a bad idea. Give us an hour?” She kissed Charlie’s forehead again. “Destiny will be here after school with Sunny Bradford. You remember the Bradfords, don’t you, Jen?”

Jenny smiled. “Definitely! They’re a fixture here in this town.” She and Paul stood to leave. “We’ll see you in an hour. Does that sound good?” 

“I think so,” Fran said, nodding. “Once the pain is under control, he’ll feel better. And that will give them time to do the x-ray the nurse mentioned.” 

“It sounds like a plan! We’ll see you soon.” Jenny hugged Fran before they left the room. 

Once they were out of earshot, Charlie broke down in tears. “Darling, I can’t do another surgery. Please don’t let them. I can’t take it.” 

“What happened downstairs to cause this much pain? I hate to see you suffering like this.” 

Charlie shook his head. “I’m not sure, but I felt something slip. Then the pain came quick. It was worse than the original break.” 

They heard a knock at the door. Dr. Owens stepped into the room. “How are you feeling, Charlie?”

“Better now, thanks to you.” Charlie squeezed Fran’s hand. 

“You said you felt something slip during therapy?”

“Yes. It was excruciating. Please, don’t open this leg back up, doc. I can’t handle any more pain.” 

“I’m shooting for that goal. But the x-ray will reveal what happened. I’m going to be honest, folks. If the hardware slipped, I’m not sure how much I can repair it. The bone is already compromised; to have more hardware screwed into it might further weaken it.” He took a chair, spun it around and sat backward on it, his chin resting on the back. “But, I will not speculate. We’ll see the x-ray and work around it. They should do that soon. You won’t have to move.”

“That’s a relief,” Charlie said. “I don’t want to move.”

Dr. Owens reached for Charlie’s arm and patted it. “I don’t blame you a bit. I’ll be back after I read the x-ray and develop a treatment plan if we need to go that route. Sounds good?” 

Fran nodded and squeezed Charlie’s hand. “Sounds good. Thank you, Dr. Owens.”

Sunny arrived with Destiny twenty minutes later. She squealed and ran to her father; he opened his arms for her to snuggle with him. 

“How are you feeling, Charlie?” Sunny asked, laughing at Destiny. “Boy, she loves you.” 

Charlie nodded. Destiny’s presence made him feel better, and her soft giggles helped him to forget the pain, if only for a moment. “I love her more than she can imagine.” He felt her snuggle nearer, and he closed his eyes, relishing the closeness with her. No, he thought, she will not miss a half school year because of me.

“Jenny and Paul are here. In fact, they should be back soon. You remember Jenny Farmer, right Sun?” Fran watched Destiny snuggle with Charlie, more than a little hurt that she got no acknowledgement from their daughter.

“I do! I remember the whole Farmer family, though I can’t remember the older girl’s name.” 

“Gracie,” Charlie said. “Grace married young and moved away with her husband. They had a daughter, and then she left Ed. No one’s heard from Grace or Cheyanne since. It’s been years since I’ve talked to Ed, too.”

“Oh, that’s a shame,” Sunny said. “I hate to hear when families don’t get along, or lose track of one another. I pray our children always keep in touch. It’s my worst fear.” 

Fran nodded in agreement. “I understand.” But, in reality, she didn’t. Fran had no siblings. It was the sole reason she and Charlie wanted a large family. She was an only child; now, her daughter was one, too. 

A knock sounded at the door. Jenny’s bright smile lit up the room the second she entered it. “Is everyone decent?” she joked. “Oh! It’s Sunny!” Jen wrapped her arms around Sunny and hugged her. “It’s so good to see you! Do you remember my Paul?” 

Sunny’s laugh was contagious. “Indeed, I do! Hi Paul. It’s good to see you guys back in the Plains! How long are you staying?” 

“We have two weeks before we need to go home,” Paul answered. “We’re going to enjoy being here.” 

Charlie was paying so much attention to the family that he didn’t notice Destiny’s gentle tapping on his shoulder. Finally, she cleared her throat and kissed his cheek. That got his attention. “Daddy? I’ve been trying to ask you something for an hour!” 

He laughed at her exaggeration. “Sweet pea, don’t be rude. What did you want to ask me?” 

Destiny pointed at Jenny and Paul. “Who are they?” 

“That’s your Aunt Jenny and Uncle Paul. Jenny is my baby sister.”  

Destiny cocked her head. “Oh.” 

Jenny heard Charlie say her name, so she turned her attention to Destiny. “You must be the little princess! I’m Aunt Jenny. And you’re Destiny, right?” 

Destiny nodded her head. “Hi Aunt Jenny.” She snuggled closer to Charlie. 

Jen looked at Fran and laughed. “You’re right, Fran. She is Charlie’s little clone.” 

“What does that mean, Daddy?” she whispered into Charlie’s ear. 

“It means you look like me, sweetheart.” Charlie kissed her cheek. 

“But I have her hair,” Destiny said, and pointed at her mother. She never said Fran’s name or acknowledged her. 

“Yes, you do. Flaming red, just like your mama.” He moved to tickle her, and she giggled and squealed. Her sweet laughter was just the medicine Charlie needed. How he loved to hear both Destiny and Fran’s happy giggling.

Charlie and Destiny continued to whisper back and forth while everyone else talked. She sang in soft tones, not audible to anyone but Charlie, when Dr. Owens reappeared in the room. “Hi folks,” he said. “If you don’t mind, I need to speak with Charlie and Fran.” 

Paul looked at his watch. “It’s about time we settled in for the night, don’t you think?” He took Jenny’s hand. “We can come back tomorrow, if that’s okay with you?” 

Charlie nodded. “By all means! Sorry guys, but this is important. I’ll fill you in later.” Sunny, Jenny, and Paul left together, leaving Destiny with her parents. When the room was clear, Dr. Owens pulled up a chair, turned it, and sat down. 

“Well, Charlie, I have good news, and I have some bad news.” He tapped on the chair’s back. “The bad news is, one screw has dislodged, and I need to fix it. I’ve looked at it from every angle. I need to secure it, Charlie, or it will get worse. However, I don’t need to reopen the entire wound. The spot where the drain sits now is sufficient.” 

Charlie’s head fell backward, and he let out a loud groan. He didn’t want to hear this news. “Are you sure, doc?” 

“I’m sure, Charlie. The fix will involve a bone graft and a new screw. I don’t see the whole procedure taking more than an hour. I’ll use a donor for the graft rather than taking yours from a different site, so there won’t be more pain than necessary. We’ll get it done first thing in the morning, so you can heal.”

Fran looked at Dr. Owens with an unhappy scowl. “We’re not paying for this. It’s not Charlie’s fault.” 

“No, you’re right, Fran. The hospital is liable for this. But he needs to stay a day or two longer than expected. I want to ensure this repair holds.” 

“Nothing ever goes as planned, so I should be used to setbacks,” Charlie grumbled. “Please keep me comfortable, doc. I can’t handle therapy otherwise.” 

Dr. Owens shook his head. “You won’t be doing strengthening therapy until your leg heals. I don’t want to put you at risk again.” He looked at Fran. “It will mean missing the entire summer and fall on the farm for him.”

“I’m working on a solution for that.” She took a deep breath and released it, groaning on the exhale. “But, I won’t ask Destiny to miss school.” Destiny heard her name and looked at Fran.

“Really, Mama? I won’t miss school?” 

“Really, sweet pea. I’ll manage the market by myself.” 

Charlie shook his head. “No, darling. I’ll help you—”

“No, Charlie.” Fran shrugged her shoulders. “You’ll stay at home and recover like Dr. Owens tells you to. We’re not doing this again.”

“Listen to your wife, Charlie. Don’t cause yourself unnecessary pain and suffering because you’re stubborn.” Dr. Owens stood. “I’ll be back to check on you in the morning before your surgery.” He waved as he walked from the room. Charlie hugged Destiny a little tighter.

*****

On their drive home from the hospital that night, Destiny sang along to songs on the radio. Fran was deep in thought, wondering how she would manage the harvest and market season alone. They’d planted triple the seedlings in the greenhouse that winter. It would be their busiest season yet, and she committed herself to do it alone. I must be out of my mind, she thought as she pulled into the farmhouse’s driveway. 

She warmed up a quick supper for her and Destiny. The next day was Wednesday. Destiny was out of school for a local holiday. They needed to be up and at the hospital early the next morning. They climbed the stairs, Fran on Destiny’s heels as she walked to her bedroom. 

“Do you want to shower tonight or in the morning, sweet pea?” Fran walked to her dresser to pick out pajamas for her and lay out an outfit for the hospital the next morning. 

“Tonight,” she said, still humming a tune she heard on the radio. “Can I ask you something, Mama?” 

Fran walked to her bed and placed a clean pair of pajamas on it. “Sure, honey. You can always ask me anything.” 

Destiny sat on her bed, Angaloo by her side. She seldom went anywhere without the stuffed toy. “Am I going to miss school next year?” 

Fran sat cross-legged on the floor by Destiny and looked up at her. “No, you’re not, Desi. Daddy and I talked about it, and he wants you to stay in school.” 

“Oh, good,” she said. 

“Was that all you wanted to know?” 

“Mmhmm.” Destiny picked up Angaloo and snuggled it into her chest. “I can’t wait to see Daddy tomorrow.” 

Fran smiled. “Me too, sweetheart.”


A few days later, Charlie was feeling better. The doctor fixed his leg and ordered him not to bear weight on it. Jenny and Paul arrived on Saturday with a meal for everyone to share, so they sat down with paper plates and thankful hearts. 

“So, Fran. Charlie says you’re on the hook for this surgery. How can we help?” Jenny said.

Fran huffed a lock of hair from her eyes, then looked away. She shifted in her seat—it felt as though she sat on a bed of nails. “We’re okay.” 

Jenny cocked her head and looked at Fran—what she said was at odds with her body language. “Are you sure?” 

“Yeah, we’ll make it. Things will be a little rough, but it’s nothing I haven’t done before, you know?” Fran set her plate down on her lap. “I did everything myself for a whole growing season while Charlie was deployed, and I did fine.” 

Jenny looked at her sister-in-law, trying to read between the lines. She knew Fran was a capable woman. But she also recognized the worry on her face that revealed a different story. Paul watched his wife—he knew she was waiting for the exact right moment to reveal their secret. He looked at Jen and smiled. “Go ahead,” he whispered to her and nudged her arm. “Tell them.”

Charlie noticed their exchange and chuckled. “Hey! No secrets here! We’re all family.” 

Jenny’s contagious laugh echoed in the room. “Okay, okay! Here’s the deal, you guys.” Jenny set her plate down on the table next to her and folded her hands in her lap. “You know Paul and I have our house for sale back home. We were going to move somewhere warm without snow. But,” she paused for dramatic effect, “we’ve decided we’re coming back home to the Plains.”

Fran looked at her in disbelief. “Wait, are you serious? You’re really coming back home?” 

“We are! We’ve been looking at houses here, and we found a nice ranch close to downtown. In fact, we’re making an offer on the house tomorrow. We wanted to move closer to you guys, but there are no houses available nearby.”

A grin pulled Charlie’s face. “I’m so happy to hear this, Jen! What about the boys, though?” 

“They’ll be home for summer recess, so they’ll help us pack up and move. They can’t wait to come home, too. Jonah is hoping to get on the Mustangs team when they graduate.” 

Paul nudged Jenny’s arm again. “Tell her the best news, Jen.” 

Fran smiled and looked at Paul and then Jenny. “What could be better than you guys moving back home?” 

Jenny beamed with excitement. “I’m going to help you at the market this year, Frannie. Charlie told me you’re planning on doing all that work by yourself. That’s not acceptable, especially after he told me how much you have planted this season. Let me take that burden from you while Charlie is off his feet. Please?” 

Fran’s eyes welled with tears. “Are you certain? It’s so much work. I could never ask you to—”

“You’re not asking, Frannie. I’m offering, and I’m not taking ‘no’ for an answer, either!” Jen looked at Charlie and winked. “Let me help you guys.” 

Charlie, who’d been sitting up with Destiny in his lap, shook his head in amazement. “Jen, thank you.”

Jenny smiled at her brother. “This is what families are for, Charlie. We help one another. You know, your predicament with the farm cemented our decision with the move.”

“This… It’s too much. You should be enjoying your retirement, not working your fingers to the bone on a farm you don’t own.” Fran wrung her hands. “Though I appreciate the offer, I can’t let you do this—” 

“Not going to happen, Frannie. I’m helping you, end of story.” Jenny reached for Fran’s hand and squeezed it. “We’re going to be a great team, aren’t we, Charlie?” 

Charlie nodded his approval. Fran had, with her innocent call to Jenny, unwittingly resolved the dilemma with the farm. Destiny could stay in school. Fran would have much-needed help with the farm. We were saved again, he thought. Charlie closed his eyes, and with a humble heart, whispered a prayer of thanks.


Five Months Later

Fran and Jenny loaded up Charlie’s truck with boxes and crates of fruits and vegetables for the last time. The last day of the farmer’s market loomed ahead of them. Fran closed up the tailgate and shook the dirt from her hands. A puff of steam appeared from her mouth. The morning was chilly, but just a few degrees warmer than freezing. I’ll take it, Fran thought. It was better than having baskets and bushels of ruined produce.

Fran hugged her sister-in-law and gave her a quick peck on the cheek. “Before we get started today, Jen, I wanted to thank you for everything you’ve done this season. I couldn’t have made it without your help. We’ll all go somewhere tonight to celebrate. Our treat!”

Jenny smiled. “I forgot how much fun it is to run a farm and a market stand. Thank you for letting me get back into the Plains like this. Anytime you need help with the farm, Frannie, just ask me. You know I’ll be happy to help.” 

“I appreciate that, Jen. Let’s grab our coffee and head for the market. Sunny should be there already, setting up her bakery stand for the last time. She’s retiring after today…” Fran needed to stop talking before the tears came. Her eyes peered at the morning sky—she swallowed back a growing lump in her throat. When she collected herself, she continued. “The town will lose one of its greatest bakers.” She wasn’t looking forward to the next season, with Sunny’s stall empty. One day at a time, Fran, she thought to herself. “She’ll be a grandma soon, and she’s so happy about it.”

Jenny nodded in acknowledgment. “Coffee and a couple of fresh-baked muffins sounds like a perfect breakfast. I’m ready when you are.” 

“I’ll be right down.” Fran padded up the stairs to their bedroom where Charlie still slept. She kissed his forehead and woke him. “Jen and I are almost ready to leave, babe. Do you have therapy today?” 

He nodded and rubbed his eyes, having a hard time focusing on her face. “Yeah, at one. I’m sorry I won’t be there on your last day, but I know Jen has you covered.” She sat on an open spot next to him—Charlie wrapped himself around her waist and hugged her close. “How much will we offer her and Paul for all her help this year?” 

“At least a quarter of our net profit. We couldn’t have had this exceptional of a year without her help. But I told her we’re treating them to supper out tonight somewhere. I owe her and Paul that much.” 

“Do you think she’ll take the money, Frannie?” 

Fran shook her head. “No, I don’t, but I’m still going to offer it.” 

“Well, if we can’t make her accept it, we’ll make it up to her in ways that are more subtle.” Charlie winked at her. 

“You’re sneaky!” she said, and giggled. “I like it.” 

“We grew up together. I know her better than she knows herself.” He kissed her and hugged her closer. “I know you need to get going. Enjoy your last day at the market, darling.” 

“Thank you, babe. Take it easy at therapy. Pick somewhere to go for supper tonight and reserve a table for five, please? It can be fancy.” 

“Consider it done.” He kissed her one last time before she left the bedroom. 

Jenny was waiting downstairs, two cups of coffee in her hands. “Are you ready, Frannie? It’s time to go.” 

“Yep!” came her enthusiastic reply.

Together, they walked to Charlie’s pickup. Fran climbed into the driver’s seat; Jenny rode shotgun. The drive to the market was short—minutes later, Fran backed the truck into her spot to unload her bounty. Sunny, as predicted, was already at her market stand, setting up her last array of baked goods. Fran loaded up the wheelbarrow with her boxes of fruits and veggies to bring to her stand. Sunny’s presence at her bakery stall was bittersweet. 

“Good morning, Frannie and Jen!” Sunny greeted them with a cheerful smile. “Are you ready for today?” 

Fran shook her head. “Yes, and no. I can’t believe you won’t be here next season. It’s inconceivable.” 

Sunny embraced Fran and stepped back. “I can’t believe it either, and I’ll miss it. It’s all I’ve ever done, but Caleb will retire on his next birthday. Cale and Lisa’s little one is due after the holidays. I’m looking forward to that baby, Frannie. I know you realize that.”

“Of course, and no one blames you for retiring, Sun. But I’m going to miss you next season.” Fran eyed two huge blueberry muffins. “I’ll relieve you of these two beauties; one for me, and one for Jenny.” Fran handed a couple of dollars to Sunny, but she refused the attempted payment. 

“You never need to buy anything you want from my stand, Frannie. We’re family.” Sunny handed the two muffins to Fran, along with her trademark smile. “We still have fifteen peaceful minutes before this opens to the public.”

Fran swallowed a lump that took up residence in her throat. It was the last time Sunny would give her such a gift. “Your generosity amazes me, Sunny. Thank you.” 

“Psh, it’s only two muffins,” she said with a wave of her hand. “Enjoy them!”

“Thanks! We will!” Jenny unloaded the rest of the boxes from the back of Charlie’s pickup. She had just finished arranging the display when Fran returned with the muffins in her hands. “This looks great, Jen,” she said. “Everything’s all set?” 

Jenny nodded. “Yep! I just need to move the truck, but everything is finished.” She eyed the goodies Fran held. “You got the muffins, I see. How much do I owe you?”

“Nothing. Sunny gave them to me. To us.” Fran sniffled as she handed one to Jen. “Her last act of generosity. Jen, she’s given me a muffin almost every morning since we’ve worked here together. To her, it’s just a pastry. To me, it represents every good thing she’s done for Charlie and me. She and Caleb have saved me more times than I can count.” Fran couldn’t stifle the tears anymore. “I’m going to miss her.” 

Jenny embraced her sister-in-law. “I know. It’s an enormous loss. But she’ll be in town, in the same farmhouse they’ve lived in since we were all kids.” 

“I know. It doesn’t make her retirement any less significant.” Fran wiped her tears away and unwrapped her breakfast. The aroma of blueberries and vanilla wafted into the surrounding air, and her mouth watered. “I’m going to savor every bite of this.” 

Jenny pulled a small piece from the muffin and smelled it. “Me too!” When she took the first bite, the morsel melted in her mouth. “This is the best muffin I’ve ever had!” They laughed together, enjoying breakfast and the stillness of the early morning. 

At the close of business, Fran had three full boxes of produce left, a wad of cash in her register and a grateful heart. Jenny walked to her and gave her a high five. “We did it, Frannie!” 

Fran hugged her with all the strength she could muster. “I couldn’t have done any of this without you…” Her gaze shifted to Sunny’s bakery stand, and Fran saw something she’d never seen before: Sunny wept as she wiped down the counters Caleb constructed for her years ago. Fran noticed her shoulders heave in sorrow, so she walked to her best friend.

“Sunny? Are you okay?”

Sunny sniffled, but kept her head bowed. “I’m sorry, Frannie. I guess reality is catching up with me. It’s official. I am retired…” a stifled sob choked her words. Fran embraced her best friend the way Sunny had done with her dozens of times, in moments of sadness and grief. 

“Just think of that baby, Sun. Soon, you’ll be a grandma. I know it’s what you’ve always wanted.” Fran squeezed her one last time before she released her hug. “That’s gotta make you smile.” 

“Oh,” Sunny said, “it does, believe me. I can’t wait for our grandbaby.” She paused for a moment, a twinkle in her eye. “What are you and Charlie doing tonight?” 

“We’re taking Jenny and Paul to supper at a fancy place to thank them for their help. Would you and Caleb care to join us? It’s no problem for Charlie to expand the reservation by two.”

“Oh, no, we couldn’t intrude on your family time, Frannie. Caleb and I will catch you some other time.” 

Fran wrinkled her nose. “Oh, come on, I insist! Besides, you said it yourself. We’re family.”

“I did say that, didn’t I?” Sunny said with a laugh. “Well, since you insist, we’ll be there.” 

“I’ll call you when we get home. Charlie was in charge of the reservations. I don’t even know where we’re going!” Jenny approached them with a smile on her face. “Are we ready, Jen?”

“Yep! I need to shower before supper, so we need to get moving if we’re going someplace fancy tonight. I need time to primp!”

Sunny giggled. Jenny was among the most beautiful women she’d ever met. “You don’t need much fixing up, you know. You’re gorgeous just the way you are.” 

Jenny blushed a deep, fiery red. “Thank you.” She turned to Fran. “Are we ready? Just drop me at the house, and let me know where to meet you.” 

Fran nodded. “I’ll call you soon, Sunny.” She and Jenny walked to the truck and drove away.

*****

Hours later, the three couples and one little girl met at a restaurant on the outskirts of Appaloosa Plains. It wasn’t a fancy, inner city restaurant with valet parking and a dress code, but it was nicer than the bistro Charlie and Fran frequented for special occasions. They gathered outside and walked in together.

Charlie approached the hostess stand, a cane in his left hand. “Farmer, seven o’clock reservation.” 

The hostess gave Charlie a warm smile. “Yes, Mr. Farmer. Your table is ready for six adults and a child. This way, please.”

The group walked together to the back of the restaurant. Their table looked out over the river that ran through Appaloosa Plains. A small white waterfall babbled nearby. It was a scenic spot for photos during the daytime. The dining room was rustic and welcoming, decorated with plants, dark mahogany furniture, and white linens on the tables. Charlie sat at the head of the table, Destiny and Fran beside him. The other couples sat together.

The waiter introduced himself—Charlie ordered a bottle of sparkling wine for the table and a soda pop for Destiny. “You may order whatever you’d like tonight. Don’t be hesitant,” he said. “It’s our honor to treat you all tonight.”

Sunny was going to protest, but Caleb stopped her and spoke. “Thank you, Charlie. I know how much this means to you tonight.” 

Charlie smiled. This night was long overdue. He was grateful for the opportunity and the ability to repay the smallest fraction of what they’d been given. “Thank you, Caleb and Sunny, for everything you’ve done for Frannie, Destiny, and me over the years. We could never repay your kindness and good deeds. Consider this a token of our appreciation.”

They talked together until the waiter returned with the bottle of wine and six chilled glasses. He poured a bit of the blush liquid into each glass—Destiny peered into Charlie’s glass to smell it, and the bubbles tickled her nose. Her giggles put smiles on everyone’s faces. The waiter placed a small, fancy glass of pop in front of Destiny. When he left, Charlie stood to speak.

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“Thank you all so much for joining Frannie and me for supper tonight. Though we can never repay your kindness through the months and years, this is our way to say thank you.” Charlie lifted his glass and proposed a toast. “To all of you. Because we love you. Thank you for all your support, your love, your generosity. Frannie and I appreciate all of you.”

In unison, the group responded, “Cheers!”

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Up Next: Chapter Eighteen, Generation One


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Don’t Die – Updated
Kids at School
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Meeting For Tea – Bad News
Wedding Guests – Sitting


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Around The Sims

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Books – Ahn’s Office
Champagne Bucket
Champagne Glasses
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Kara’s Watching Society

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G5 Chapter Thirty Five, Part Two – The Worst Day, Part Two

Two Hours Before

“To your room, young lady, and please don’t wake your sister,” Darcey said, pointing to the girls’ bedroom door. “I’ll deal with you in a moment.” Darcey collapsed onto the sofa and huffed a sigh of relief. Rae Kemp sat at the counter reading the paper when the front door opened. She set the paper down and stood, watching down the hall as Elyse slinked off to her bedroom.

“Rough night, Darcey?” Rae asked her. 

“Oh, Rae, you can’t imagine. That kid is in some serious trouble. I’d hate to be her.” 

“How about some tea?”

“You know, tea sounds good. If you don’t mind, I’ll join you when I’m done dealing with Lysie.” 

“I wouldn’t have offered it if I minded. Just care for Elyse, and I’ll care for you.” Rae walked to the kitchen to put the teakettle on the stove, humming a cheerful tune.

Darcey slipped her shoes from her feet and rubbed the soreness out of them. After traipsing around the islands for the equivalent of two ER shifts, they hurt. “I’ll be right out,” she said and limped toward the girls’ bedroom. When she opened the door, Elyse was on her bed, weeping. 

“I’m in big trouble, aren’t I, Aunt Darcey?” she whispered, tears in her eyes. 

Darcey nodded her head. “You should have known better, Lysie. I know you’ve been through more than most kids your age. Being from a famous family takes a toll. I know all about that, sweetheart. But you can’t do as you please and think you’ll get away with it because you lost your brother. Your mama and dad lost a child, and their suffering was on display for the entire country to see. You won’t understand it until you have a child of your own. It’s a terrible pain to endure, and they didn’t deserve it any more than Emmitt deserved to drown.” She sat on the bed next to Elyse and put her arm around her. “If you need someone to talk to, I’m always here for you. And if I can’t help you, I will find someone who can.” 

Elyse wiped tears from her eyes. “You’d do that for me?”

Darcey’s expression softened, and she embraced Elyse in a hug. “Oh sweetheart, of course I will. I love you, you know.” 

“Thank you, Aunt Darcey. I love you, too. And I’m sorry I said I hated you—I don’t. I was just angry.” She looked down at her folded hands and sighed. 

“You’re forgiven, sweet pea.” Darcey kissed Elyse’s forehead. “Why don’t you get ready for bed? If I hear anything about your dad, I’ll come tell you. Deal?” 

She sniffled and wiped her tears. “Thanks, Aunt Darcey.”

“You’re a good girl, Elyse. Please, don’t make trouble for your mama and dad, okay? They do so much for you and your brothers and sister, and your misbehaving? Well, it hurts them. It’s like a slap in the face when you act up.” Darcey noticed Elyse wince and touch her face. “You’re so much better than that.” 

“Okay,” she said, and nodded. “I won’t.” 

“Get some sleep, Lysie. Morning will be here soon. Goodnight.” 

“Goodnight, Aunt Darcey.” Elyse changed into her pajamas and snuggled down into bed, and drifted off to sleep.

Darcey walked back to the living room, where a fresh cup of chamomile waited for her. “I don’t know what you like in your tea, Darcey, so I just brought some honey and lemon for you to choose.” 

Darcey picked up the teacup and breathed in the minty vapor. It was the first time since Danae’s frantic phone call she had allowed herself to relax—her body melted into the sofa cushions with the first sip of tea. 

“Thank you so much, Rae, for coming and watching the kids and Danae. It’s been a tough day for this family. Andy needs to consider how his decisions affect those who love him.” 

Rae took a sip of her tea. “Don’t be too harsh on him, Darcey. Andy is more sensitive than any of us realize. He and Kirby are so much alike, sometimes it’s a little creepy. Kirby would have done the same thing.” 

“Run away from his problems? Kirby doesn’t seem the type.” 

“Not running from his problems, Darcey. Allowing me to be free. Of course, I would never want that. But it’s that mindset—the fear of failing his family. That’s what drove Andy away.” She took a sip of tea and sat forward in her seat. “I have every confidence that Kirby will find him and bring him home. It’s because they’re so alike that I know my Kirby will find him. He has to, for everyone’s sake.”   

Darcey sipped her tea. “Mmhmm. Andy knows how much Nae loves him, and I know he adores her. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for him to walk away from her.” A smile of sudden understanding pulled across her face. “Now that I think about it, it shows his love for her, doesn’t it?” 

Rae nodded and smiled. “You’re catching on. Andy is a good man. Honest, hardworking, decent, loyal. His work ethic is impeccable. Kirby saw all those qualities in him when they met. It’s why he’s working so hard to take care of Andy. He needs his manager to run the team.”

“Just like Danae needs him here.” Darcey set her teacup on the coffee table and tucked her leg under her. “He’s a very important guy. He’s the reason we’re here. Clint is so thankful for that, too. He loves life on the island, and so do I.” 

“I’m happy I included you in the deal Kirby made with Andy. Danae needs you, especially with all that’s going on with your brother. Was he always this wretched?” 

“No,” Darcey said. “We were all very close when we were young. Devin was closer to me than Danae, though. He doesn’t keep in touch, not that I would talk to him anymore. He’s caused too much pain.” 

Rae set her teacup down. “I understand. Would you like another cup, Darcey? The water is still piping hot.” 

She glanced at her watch and pondered the offer. “Oh sure. One more cup might help me mellow out a little more. I’m staying tonight to watch over Nae, just in case she needs me. You’re welcome to go home if you’d like?” 

“I promised Kirby I’d stay and help in any way I can. He should call when he arrives in Dragon Valley. I hope his search is quick and fruitful.” 

Darcey nodded. “Me too. I’ll get the tea, Rae. You sit.” She stood and walked to the kitchen, brought the teakettle in, and filled both cups with hot water. She found two more bags of chamomile and opened them, plopped them into the water, and sat back. “You know, Rae, the suite upstairs is open if you’d like to rest up there.” 

“Oh, I’m okay, Darcey, but thank you. I don’t sleep well when Kirby is away. He is my life, you know.”

Darcey nodded. “I understand. Clint doesn’t travel for business, and I’m thankful. I don’t know how Nae does it with Andy gone so often. They’re inseparable.” 

“Danae is an extraordinary woman. I’ve never met anyone quite like her.” 

“Mmhmm, that she is.” Darcey stirred some honey and squeezed a lemon wedge into her tea. “So, Rae. How did you meet Kirby?” 

Rae blushed. “I was working at a different resort as a housekeeper. I didn’t have education past high school, so cleaning was all I could do. And Kirby saw me one morning while he was walking to the front desk.” She smiled, lost in the memory. “He was on a business trip from Riverview. He told me I was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. If you asked him, he’d say it was love at first sight. I took a little more convincing.” 

Darcey smiled. “That’s so sweet, Rae. How long did you date?” 

She sipped her tea and shook her head. “We never dated, per se. He got my phone number. He left the island, and I didn’t think of him again. But he never forgot about me. Riverview is far from here. Kirby never would have asked me to leave my family. So he moved everything, gave up his successful restaurant and sold his investment company. He brought it all here to be with me. When he came back, we saw each other twice before he proposed. We eloped three weeks later.”

“Wow!” Darcey set her teacup down and smiled. “I thought Clint and I had a whirlwind romance!”

“We had Corrie and Cody after our fifth anniversary. He wanted some time to establish his business here first. It astonished me when he told me he was an entrepreneur back in Riverview.”

“You didn’t know?”

Rae cocked her head and looked into Darcey’s eyes. “He never mentioned it, and I never thought to ask. He’s so charming that it didn’t matter. I would have followed him anywhere. I went back to school and completed my degree in education. When he bought the stadium and the team, he gave the academy to me to manage. The Accolades Academy has been my benevolence project since my graduation from college. Each year, we give a four-year scholarship for the academy to two needy families on the island. I used to act as principal, but I’ve stepped into an administrator role instead. Now, I oversee the school’s operations, a superintendent of sorts.” 

“Wow, Rae. That’s an incredible story. You’ve had a beautiful life here.” 

“Oh, it hasn’t always been perfect. When the twins were younger, Kirby had problems with alcohol. I spent too many nights at home caring for our family while he was out drinking with the team. Then one night, he nearly killed himself while driving drunk, and I gave him an ultimatum: me or the liquor. He chose me, sobered up, and he hasn’t had more than a beer with Andy and Aaron on a rare occasion.” 

Darcey sat and looked at Rae, in awe of the strength and poise she displayed. “I admire you, Rae.”

Rae blushed again. “I’m just a wife and mother. Kirby is my hero.” 

“Well, you’re both awesome in my book,” Darcey said, and yawned. “As much as I’d love to sit and chat, I’m fighting to stay awake. I’m so sorry.” 

“Don’t be, Darcey. I’ll let you rest, and I’ll sit by the pool. It’s a lovely evening to watch the stars.” Rae picked up both teacups to place into the dishwasher. “Sweet dreams. You deserve it.” 

Darcey settled on the sofa, a pillow under her head. “Thank you, Rae. Let me know if you hear anything.” 

“I will.” Rae walked outside to sit under the stars, praying that Kirby would find Andy.

*****

Kirby retrieved his cell phone before they accessed the airport terminal. Even though it was early in the morning, he promised Rae an update, and this one would please her. 

“Hi doll,” he greeted her. “I have some fantastic news!”

“Did you find Andy, mi amor?” 

“Yes, I did, Rae. We’ll be on our way home soon.” 

Rae’s face beamed with excitement. “Shall I tell Danae for you? I’m here at the house with her and Darcey.” 

“I think she’ll welcome the news, so the sooner, the better.” Victor stood in the jet’s doorway, awaiting their arrival. “Rae, I need to go. Please tell Danae I accomplished my mission, and we’re both coming home.” 

“I will. Be safe, Kirby. I love you more.” 

He chuckled. “Yes, you probably do. I love you, too.” 

Andy and Kirby settled into seats across from one another. They both knew they wouldn’t sleep on this flight back home. It would be an evening to plot and strategize the biggest, most important game either of them had ever played. Victor stood at the table and acknowledged both of them. “What may I get for you, gentlemen?” 

Kirby thought for a moment. “How about my special reserve champagne? This is a glorious occasion.”

“Very well.” Victor turned on his heel and walked away. 

Andy yawned and rubbed his eyes. “Kirby, you are an incredible sleuth. How did you find me so fast?” 

“Not that difficult, to be honest. I don’t recall you saying anything about having friends up here, so I figured that was a dead end. You weren’t sleeping at the airport. So, I figured I’d find you at the only inn.” Kirby snickered. “You used your real name, so you weren’t trying that hard to hide.” 

Andy laughed. “I didn’t figure anyone would come looking for me. I thought I’d stay under the radar until I could get on my feet.”

“You knew I wouldn’t let you slip away without a fight. I can’t run all the intricacies of that team without you.”

“Yeah, it’s all fine and good until we have an away game, Kirby. I can’t go with you. I can’t be in the stadium with the team.”

“Just leave all that up to Tony. Which reminds me, what kind of evidence do you have against Devin Jones? I know you have a bunch of doctored photos attached to his email address. What else do you have?” 

Andy took his laptop from his briefcase, booted it up, and retrieved his email archives. “This one here, Kirby.” He pointed to the email Devin had sent him after Andy fired him. “This one told both Danae and me to watch our backs. That email scared Danae half to death. Lysie and Eamon were little then.”

Kirby wore a horrified expression. “Now that… That takes some guts. He must have known that would bite him in the rear end someday.”

Andy grinned. “It looks like that someday is soon, thanks to you and Tony. I’m sure he didn’t figure I would hang onto stuff like this. I can’t believe my chance to bury him is here.”

“I told you I had your back, Andy. Never doubt me. I’m only nice to people I love. Everyone else is fair game for my wily ways.” He tried to pull off an evil laugh, but the funny face he made had Andy in stitches. When they both stopped laughing, Kirby patted his hand. “It’s good to see you smiling, son. We’re going to beat this. You have my word, because I’m not stopping until we do.”

Victor returned with two chilled flutes filled with sparkling champagne. “Gentlemen.” 

Kirby lifted his glass for a toast. “To you, Andy. Because you’re a champion.” 

“Cheers!” Andy toasted in return. The men clinked the glasses together and sipped. Andy sat back in his seat and smiled.

*****

In the wee hours of the morning, Rae clicked the “End” button on her cell phone. She was the only one awake in the Murphy home. Darcey slept on the sofa. The kids were asleep in their bedrooms, and Danae still rested in the master bedroom. Kirby’s phone call brought the news for which she’d hoped—he’d found Andy and was bringing him home to his family. 

Rae tiptoed into the house to where Darcey rested and tapped her shoulder. “Darcey?” 

She stirred and opened one eye. She didn’t recognize Rae’s voice under the veil of sleep. “Oh, hi Rae.” 

“I’m sorry,” Rae chuckled. “Did I disappoint you?” 

Darcey eked out a sleepy grin. “No, I forgot I stayed here. How’s Nae? Have you heard from Kirby?”

“I just hung up the phone. Kirby found Andy, and they’re both on their way home.” 

“This is awesome news!” 

Rae nodded. “Perhaps you’d like to tell Danae? I think the news would be best coming from you.”

“Thank you. I’d love to give her some good news for a change. Maybe it will soften the bad news about Elyse.” 

Darcey opened the door to the master suite and tiptoed inside. Danae was restless, but sleeping. Darcey sat on the bed with her and touched her shoulder. “Nae? Sweetie, wake up.” 

Danae saw Darcey’s face and her eyes filled with tears. “Hi sissy. I feel like hell.” 

“You won’t when I tell you my news. Kirby found Andy, Nae. They’re both coming home.” 

Danae sat straight up in bed. “Are you serious?!” 

“Yep. They’ll be home in about eight hours, if they make decent time.” 

“I could kiss you!” Danae hugged her sister, weeping happy tears. “My sweetheart is coming home! I thought I’d never see him again. What changed?”

“Kirby had some good news. I’m not sure what.” Darcey was going to tell her about Elyse, but decided against it. “I’m thrilled for you, Nae.” 

“Have you been here since I called you, Darce?” Darcey nodded and yawned. Danae felt guilty. “Go home and get some rest. Aren’t you working in the morning?”

“I’ve already called in sick for the day. I didn’t know if you’d need me.”

“It’s okay, now that I know Andy is coming home. Go home to Clint and the boys. Get some sleep. I’m going to wait in the living room until the kids wake up.” 

“I promised I’d tell Lysie when I knew something about her dad. But, I need to break some bad news.” Darcey sighed. “You won’t like it.” 

“Uh oh… what happened now?”   

“How much do you remember after I got here yesterday afternoon, Nae?”

Danae shook her head. “Not much. All I could feel was pain.”

“Understandable. Well, you were arguing with Elyse when I walked in. Things got ugly, and she left.”

“That doesn’t surprise me in the least. Where did she go?” 

“Eamon thought she might have gone to Howie’s house, so I went looking for her.” Darcey swallowed hard. “Danae, Chris Collins caught them in bed together, half naked. She claims they fell asleep, but she was only wearing a pair of panties when I got to her.” 

Danae inhaled a slow breath and held it for a moment. “Did I just hear you right? My twelve-year-old daughter was in bed with that Collins kid? Half naked?” 

Darcey shook her head, still in her own disbelief. “It didn’t look good, Nae. Chris was furious. I wasn’t much better.” 

“I was hoping to wait a little longer for her purity pledge, but I see it can’t wait. Andy and I need to discuss this soon.” 

“Clint and I have discussed it—we’re still undecided. I don’t envy you, Nae, with two little girls.” 

“I might appreciate how Mama felt with me asking questions all the time,” Danae snickered. “But Elyse doesn’t ask me anything. We need to approach this with her. I don’t need grandbabies with toddlers in the house.” 

Darcey laughed at the irony. “The generational curse works. I can’t tell you how many times I heard Mama mutter under her breath, ‘I hope Danae has a daughter just like her’.” 

“Are you serious? She said that?” 

“Mmhmm,” Darcey said with a grin. “I see it worked.” She looked at her watch and yawned. “I think I’m going to head out, since you’re okay.” The sisters hugged one last time. “If you need me again, never hesitate.” 

“Of course not. I love you, Darce.” 

“I love you, too, Nae. Enjoy Andy when he comes home, because I know you will.” 

“Bet your butt I will.” They laughed and Darcey waved as she left the bedroom. 

Now Danae had another, bigger problem. But for tonight, the good news about Andy would suffice. The rest could wait until after school. She tiptoed into the girls’ room and tapped Elyse’s shoulder. 

“Mama?” She tried to focus through bleary, tired eyes. “Is that you?” 

“Yes, Lysie. I wanted to let you know Daddy is on his way home.”

With a sigh of relief, Elyse whispered, “Good.” 

Danae planted a kiss on her oldest child’s forehead. “Get some more sleep. It’s still early.” 

“Mmhmm,” she said, before the quiet tug of sleep reclaimed her.

*****

Danae was wide awake when Elyse’s alarm sounded a few hours later. The coffee pot was fresh, and breakfast was on the griddle when Eamon dragged himself from his bedroom. 

“Good morning, Eam,” she said with a smile.

“Good morning,” he said, wearing a sleepy grin. “I’m sorry about yesterday, Mama. I didn’t mean to cause trouble for you.” 

She held her arms open for her oldest son. “You’re forgiven, sweetheart. How about a big bear hug?” He wrapped his arms around her and squeezed her as tight as he could—she planted a kiss on his cheek. “I love you, Eam. Daddy’s on his way home. I thought you’d like to know.”

“I’m glad Daddy’s coming home, more for you than for me.” 

Danae’s eyes welled with happy tears. “Me too, sweetheart. And it means so much to me to hear you say that.”

Elyse’s bedroom door opened, and she trudged into the living room. Morning came way too soon, and she was still tired. “Good morning, Mama,” she said with a yawn.

“Good morning, sweet pea. Come get some breakfast. Cakes are fresh.” She and Eamon sat at the island counter, and Danae served them both a stack of banana pancakes. She couldn’t believe her two oldest were almost teenagers, one of them in desperate need of a purity pledge. 

The house that morning was the polar opposite of the previous morning. The children were in a decent mood. Teddy and Tessa still slept, and Danae sang cheerful love songs while she puttered. Andy was on a private jet bound for the island, and she couldn’t wait to see him. Yes, she thought. I’ll take today over yesterday any time.

The school bus arrived at its usual time. As she did each morning, Danae walked them both to the door. Before she could leave, Danae took Elyse’s arm and looked into her eyes. “Come straight home from school today. No ballet. Do you understand me?” 

Elyse swallowed hard. “Yes, Mama.” 

“I don’t think I need to tell you why. I’m going to speak with your father about what you did, and we will decide how to handle it. Until then, consider yourself grounded from all after-school activities, especially ballet.” 

“Yes, Mama.” 

Danae kissed her forehead. “Have a good day, sweet pea. I love you.” 

“I love you, too.” She said nothing more before she left. 

Two hours later, Darcey knocked on the front door. Danae cocked her head at her sister standing there. “Darce?” 

“I’m getting the twins for a playdate, since I have the day to myself. I need some baby time.” 

Danae knew the real reason her sister was there. She hugged Darcey and whispered in her ear. “Thank you!”

Darcey gave her a knowing look. “Have all the fun, Nae. You deserve it.” 

Twenty minutes later, Darcey’s SUV pulled away from the house, her three-year-old biological children in their car seats. She hadn’t thought of them that way since they were born. To her, Tessa and Teddy were her niece and nephew, but she sure loved to spoil them. 

Danae hopped into the shower, dressed in the skimpiest negligee she owned, and waited on the sofa for Andy’s return home.

*****

Hours later, Andy’s key turned in the front door of the house. Complete silence welcomed him home—no children giggling, no television, no bustle of a busy wife. He set his bag in his office and took off his sport coat. He tiptoed into the living room and found Danae, sound asleep on the sofa, dressed in a sexy outfit, looking like she was expecting him. Andy smiled, but felt the pangs of guilt biting at him. He couldn’t imagine what he’d put her through. 

He sat on the floor by her face and laid his head next to hers. His breath slowed to match hers; the scent of apples perfumed her hair, and he breathed it in. It was something he believed he’d never do again just twenty-four hours ago. The soft sensation of his fingers on her skin awakened her, and when she saw his face, she smiled. Without saying a word, she nuzzled her face into his. 

“Hi sweetheart,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry, Nae. I’m sorry I left, that I put you through hell. All of it was so unnecessary. I feel terrible.” A single tear formed in the corner of his eye and rolled down his cheek. He hated to cause her pain, and he’d done so much more than his share over their fourteen year marriage.

“None of that matters anymore. You’re home.”

“You’re way too forgiving, baby.” He shook his head. No, he wouldn’t let her forgive him this easily. Not this time. He’d hurt her too much, too deep. He was about to speak when he felt her mouth on his in a passionate kiss.

Danae’s hungry kisses consumed him. She savored the taste of him, the sweetness of his kiss. When she pulled away, she looked into his caramel brown eyes, and her heart melted. How she loved that man. 

“You’re all I want, Andy. For the rest of my life. No one else. Do you understand that?” Another soft kiss, then she bit her lip. “I don’t care what the circumstances are, babe. You’re the only one I want.”

Andy looked away from her, ashamed of himself. “I don’t deserve you, Danae. I will never deserve you.” 

“Shh,” she whispered, and kissed him again. “Are you gonna keep talking, or are you gonna take me to bed?” 

Without saying another word, Andy stood, lifted her off the sofa, and carried her into their bedroom.

*****

Elyse carried her backpack to her locker and grabbed a smaller bag with clothes in it. Howie was right behind her.

“Hi beautiful,” was his standard greeting.

Elyse sighed and closed her locker. “Hi, Howie.”

“What? No kiss?” 

“I’m in so much trouble. I’m not in the mood.” 

“Well, I am, too. But that doesn’t stop me from loving you, Lysie.” 

She shook her head. “You don’t get it, do you? I’m grounded from ballet! I have to go right home today after school.” 

He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her. “I’m sure you don’t. Everything will be normal soon.” 

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She pushed away from him. “You really don’t get it. I have to go home with Eam on that bus. If I don’t show up, I’m making it worse for myself. I want to dance again someday, Howie. It’s all I want.” 

“Psh,” Howie said, and rolled his eyes. “Your dad will let you dance. Aren’t you his favorite? Besides, what happened last night was no big deal. We’re best friends first, and boyfriend-girlfriend second. Everyone knows that.” 

“My aunt didn’t see it that way. I got ‘the talk’ last night. My mom told me to come right home after school. My dad will be home later today, and I don’t want to face him. Howie, I’m legit afraid of my dad. I’m even more afraid of disappointing him, and I know I did.” 

Howie rolled his eyes again. “Psh. He’s not gonna hurt you! Sometimes, I wish I had your folks. My dad isn’t the kindest man to live with, you know.”

“I know.” Elyse had witnessed Chris Collins’ brand of discipline firsthand twice, and it frightened her. She was grateful that Andy never made a move to strike her, not one time.

“What will you do without ballet?” 

“I haven’t thought about it yet. I’m still going to practice. There’s a barre in the garage my dad set up for me.”

“Well,” he said, “we have gym class right now. Why don’t we take advantage of it?” 

“Ballet?”

He gave her a sly smile. “What do you think?” 

Elyse nodded and took his hand as they walked to their spot under the bleachers.

*****

In the afterglow of a beautiful afternoon together, Andy laid with Danae wrapped around him. Her head on his chest, her body rose and fell with his breathing. His fingers touched her shoulders—her soft giggles broke the silence. 

“That tickles,” she whispered. 

“I know it does. Why else would I do it?” 

“I’d expect nothing less.” 

He felt her snuggle closer, her leg wrapped around his. “I know I wasn’t away long, but I missed you so much.” 

“I missed you too. Things were rough yesterday after you left. Darcey ran everything here.” Danae clenched her jaw. She dreaded her next words. “Which reminds me, Andy, I have something to discuss with you. I don’t think it can wait much longer.” He felt her draw a breath and hold it. 

“What is it, honey?” He kissed her forehead and brushed a stray lock of hair from her eyes. 

“Elyse and I had a rough day yesterday. It started before she and Eamon left for school, and I guess after she got home, Darcey tried to set her straight, but she ran off.” 

Andy growled, and his body tensed up. He didn’t like getting negative reports about his kids. “Where’d she run off to, Nae?” 

“Howie’s house on the north isle. Darcey went looking for her after Eamon tipped her off.” She looked into his eyes and caressed his cheek, hoping to soften the blow of her next words. “Chris Collins found them in his bedroom, Andy. They were in bed together, half naked.”

Andy clenched his jaw and spoke through his teeth. “How did Collins allow this?! It’s up to him to make sure nothing happens under his roof!”

“Lysie claims they fell asleep together, but Darcey said she was only wearing her underwear when she found her.”

“What should we do, Nae? She is too young for this.”

“Her birthday is coming up in a month. At first, I wasn’t sure about the purity pledge. But I am now. What do you think?” 

Andy nodded in agreement. “Would you come with me? I don’t know how to approach it.”

Danae smiled at him. “You know I will, babe. Expect her to be embarrassed, especially discussing sex in a public setting. I know Darcey and I were when Daddy took us for our date.” 

“What do I tell her? I mean, how do I say this to her?”

She kissed his chest and ran her fingers through the curly hair. “Just present the ring, and tell her you’d like her to promise to wait. That she’ll wear the ring on her left hand until it’s replaced by her wedding ring.” She nuzzled into his side, his hand reaching down to stroke her messy hair. “It’s really that simple.” 

“You know what else is really simple, Nae?” Andy squirmed under her soft touch. 

“Mmm,” she sighed. “What’s really simple?” 

“How much I love you.”

“And how much is that, babe?” She winked at him with expectation.

“Here,” he said with a sexy growl. “Let me show you.”

*****

After school, Elyse opened the front door of the house, Eamon right behind her. “Mama said he’d be home today, Eam. I hope she wasn’t lying.” 

“Mom isn’t a liar, Lysie. If she said it, he’s home.”

“His car isn’t in the garage. How can I be sure?” 

Eamon rolled his eyes. “Don’t believe her, I guess? When has she ever lied to you?” 

Elyse huffed. “She hasn’t. But still…” 

The door to the master suite opened, and Andy stood in it, waiting for the joyful sounds of his children. And as he expected, Eamon and Elyse squealed. “Daddy!”

He opened his arms for them and squeezed them both in a bear hug. “I’m sorry about yesterday, kids. My rough day shouldn’t have affected you like it did. The good news is, I’m home and I’m not leaving again. Ever.” 

Both kids cried happy tears, but Elyse wouldn’t let him go. “I missed you, Daddy,” she cried over and over. 

Eamon pulled away from the hug and stepped back, letting Elyse have Andy all to herself. She wept on his shoulder, and Eamon was sure it was because she knew how much trouble she’d created for herself. “I’m glad you’re home, Dad,” he said. “But I need to start my homework. I have more than usual.”

“Thanks son,” Andy said. “Lysie, I want to talk to you.” He kissed her forehead. “This is not open for debate. Your mama and I have things to discuss with you about yesterday.” 

Elyse cried harder. “No, Daddy. Please?” 

“I’m sorry. Non-negotiable.” He took her by the wrist and hung onto her. “Eam, if you need us, we’re in the bedroom with your sister.” Elyse tried to pull against him, but he tugged her. “Come, Elyse.”

“I don’t want to!” 

“I’m sorry about your luck, young lady. But you can’t pull stuff like you did yesterday with no consequences.” Andy picked her up over his shoulder and held her. Elyse screamed and fought him, slamming her fists into Andy’s back. He carried her into the bedroom and locked the door behind him. “You will not run from me if you know what’s good for you, Elyse.” Danae waited on the bench for them. Andy plopped her down next to her mother and then sat beside her, making a pre-teen sandwich with parental bread. 

“Daddy—” she started, but Andy’s scowl stopped her. 

“Who do you think you are? You will never hit me like that again!” Andy was irate. 

“I’m sorry,” she cried. 

“You’re making things harder for yourself, Elyse,” Danae said. 

“I’m scared!”

“You don’t have to be frightened, but you’re not getting away without punishment, either!” Andy stood and paced the floor. “Don’t even try to get past me. You’re just going to extend your penalty if you do.” 

“I’m sorry, Daddy,” Elyse sobbed. “It wasn’t what it looked like!” 

“Then why don’t you tell me what it was? From what Aunt Darcey said, you were almost naked with Howie Collins in his bed. Is this not true?” 

Elyse huffed a lock of hair from her face. “Well, when you say it like that—”

Andy made a move to strike her, but restrained himself when he saw her flinch. “Now’s not the time to get smart with me, Elyse. Now is your chance to make a case for leniency. So, I’m going to ask you again. Were you half naked in Howie’s bed with him? Yes, or no?”

“Well, yes, but we were only sleeping!” 

“What’s your definition of ‘only sleeping,’ Elyse? Were you touching each other? Kissing?”

Elyse rolled her eyes. “We had our eyes closed, he cuddled up behind me. I was wearing his shirt and my panties, and he had on boxer shorts and a muscle shirt. We. Were. ASLEEP!” she yelled. 

Andy closed his eyes and counted to ten. “You will not take that tone with me, Elyse. You just keep making things harder for yourself.”

“Why doesn’t anyone believe me? We were sleeping!” Danae heard frustration in her daughter’s voice. 

“Lysie, you don’t understand the situation you put yourself in with Howie. You are too young to have this type of relationship with him!” Danae tried to reason with her. She felt more like she was talking to a brick wall instead of a thinking twelve-year-old girl.

“Howie and I are just friends! Why can’t you get that through your thick skulls?” Elyse bit her tongue the second she said it. Andy had heard enough. He reached for her, picked her up to meet his eyes, and looked straight into hers. 

“You’re grounded for a month. No ballet, no Howie. No after-school activities until further notice. You will NOT disrespect me or your mother like this, Elyse! Go to your room. NOW!” The veins in his neck bulged as he spoke to her. He couldn’t recall ever being this angry. He hoped he’d never get there again. 

“I HATE YOU!” she screamed at the top of her lungs, and ran from the bedroom. Andy heard the front door open and close, and he raced after her. Danae wept, still seated on the bench. 

The locked gate stopped Elyse after Danae jammed the code from her cell phone. It gave Andy the chance he needed to catch her. He picked her up and carried her back into the house and to her bedroom, plopped her on the bed, and paced the floor. 

“Elyse, what has gotten into you? Why are you like this?” Andy bent over, trying to catch his breath. He hadn’t needed to run like that in years, and he got winded.

She shrugged her shoulders. “I dunno.” 

“I’m losing my patience with you, little girl. You need to learn who’s in charge. You are much too young to be with a boy Howie’s age. Fifteen-year-old boys only want one thing, Elyse. I’ll be damned if he’s going to get that from MY daughter!”

“That’s not your decision, Daddy—”

“As long as you live under MY roof, and I buy your clothing, food, and everything else you want and need, it’s ALL my decision. Are we clear on this? You will go to school every day. You will come home right after school. Your teachers and the principal will be my eyes and ears at the Academy. Don’t think school is your safe zone. Howie is not to come within five feet of you. Do you understand me, Elyse?” 

Elyse was sobbing, positive her father was bent on ruining her life. “Yes,” she huffed, and cried harder. 

Andy sat down on her bed and patted the spot next to him. Though she didn’t want to, she sat beside him. “Lysie, I don’t enjoy punishing you like this. I’d much rather do pleasant things for you. And sweetheart, I don’t want to see you ruin the rest of your life before you hit thirteen. You’re getting into territory where only grown-ups should go.”

“I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal, Daddy. We were only sleeping.” 

“Well, that’s part of a talk best saved for your first date with me.” He took her hands and rubbed her fingers between his. “I want to teach you things that only I can, sweet pea. From a man’s perspective. Remember, I was a fifteen-year-old boy at one time. I know how they think. Howie has little to lose, but you, sweetheart? You could ruin your future in one careless night. You’re smarter than this, Elyse. Please act like it.” 

“I want to be alone,” she whispered. “Please leave my room?” 

Andy nodded. “Just so you know, your windows don’t open, so don’t attempt an escape. It won’t work.” He chuckled when she growled in frustration. “If you have homework, Lysie, get on it.” 

She didn’t say another word.


Two Weeks Later

With Andy on administrative leave from the team, he had time to find and organize his abundant evidence against Devin Jones. At two in the morning, the light still burned in his office. Danae walked from the bedroom into the living room and discovered Andy at his desk, his nose buried in his laptop. She tapped on the door, and when he saw her, he waved her in. 

“Hi sweetheart,” he said. “What are you doing up so late?” 

“I could ask you the same question.” She sat down in the chair opposite him and yawned. “What are you working on?” 

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He tapped a few keys and turned the screen. “Remember this email?” 

The header still made her skin crawl. “That email gave me nightmares for months.” 

He opened up the email to print. “This is one of many things I have that I’ll use as evidence of your brother’s vendetta against me.” He cringed and opened the email from Wyatt, one that he’d forwarded ten years prior. “And there’s this one, with all those pictures attached to it. I’d be willing to bet your brother doesn’t know I have them, either. If he wasn’t a dead ringer for your dad, I’d wonder if Devin was part of the family.” 

Danae snorted. “Darce and I have said the same thing often.”

The printer behind him on the credenza fired up, printing page after page of emails, photos, and other evidence that Devin had been trying to ruin Andy’s life. Documentation from his knee injury and subsequent surgery. Sworn statements he’d collected from Aaron and Wyatt prior to their transfer to the island. He even found an old email from Smitty, with evidence he had collected. 

“Well, this should be everything that’s easy to collect. The photos, well, I’d rather not share those unless it’s mandatory. Kirby filed his appeal last week, and my hearing with a new mediation team will be soon.” Andy took the stack of over twenty pages of additional evidence from the printer and stuck them inside his briefcase. 

“What’s Tony’s role in all of this, babe?” 

“Kirby says he has originals of the rules and regulations from the league from the past thirty years. He’s an avid fan, and he collects things like that, I guess. His law firm is the oldest on the island, and they’ve been representing the Sharks for decades, even before Kirby owned them.”

“I think I understand,” she said, and nodded. “With his original copies of the older rules, you intend to prove your clause was valid when you wrote it.” 

“That’s right. There were no rules ten years ago that stated my clause was illegal. The personal grudge is a bonus. Maybe this will stop your brother, maybe it won’t. But if I get my job back and I’m reinstated, that’s all I care about. Although it would be nice to get him out of a position of power. Fiona, too. She wields too much power and holds too many personal grievances to be an effective commissioner.” 

“That’s an understatement.” Danae recalled Aaron’s year-long battle with Fiona over ten years of plays. “Kirby does what he promises, though. He stood behind Aaron and fought like a cornered animal for him. I know he won’t quit until you’re restored as manager.”

Andy took a sip of water from a glass on his desk. “Kirby has been a formidable ally through this entire process. I hope, though, this is the end of the investigations. There’s no one left to scrutinize but Kirby himself, and he’s pretty untouchable. I mean, he owns the franchise. He does everything by the book.” 

“He has the best manager in the country by his side, babe. That has to help.” She took his hands and kissed his fingers. 

Andy gave her a sly smile. “Flattery will get you everywhere, you little vixen.” 

“Oh, that wasn’t flattery, babe. I meant every word.” She sucked on the tip of his index finger. She drove him wild when she did that, every time.

“Want to come to bed with me?”

Danae nodded her head. “What do you think, sexy man?”

Andy stood and scooped her out of the chair where she sat—Danae giggled and squealed as he carried her away to their bedroom.


Two Weeks Later

Kirby walked into the courtroom in downtown Isla Paradiso, loaded for bear and ready to defeat Fiona Jones and her insufferable husband. Tony, who was just behind him, met Kirby in front, then set down his briefcase and a box of files. They shook hands before they sat.

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“Are you prepared, Tony? We have to win this appeal.” Kirby was cautious, but optimistic. “You know I have every confidence in you.” 

Tony flashed his winning smile. “Of course we’re ready! I have the books and the files I need to show that Fiona has altered the rules to suit her purpose, and all of Andy’s evidence. And, you have me on your team. Not to be full of myself, but I’m a rather excellent attorney.”

Kirby smiled. “It’s good you insisted on holding the hearing here instead of in a mediation room. This should keep the chicanery to a minimum.”

“Well, be aware she and Jones will try, but I have every contingency planned.” Tony glanced at his watch and then back to Kirby. “Is Andy running late?” 

“He should be here any moment. He’s nervous, so there’s a good chance he won’t feel like his normal, witty self.”

Tony chuckled. “He has nothing to worry about. My defense is so watertight, it squeaks.”

Kirby laughed out loud. “That’s pretty watertight!” They settled down at the table and waited for Andy to arrive, which he did three minutes later.

“Gentlemen,” he greeted them with handshakes and a smile. Andy knew the stakes were higher than they’d ever been, but he also felt confident. Tony had coached him, and together, they spent hours pouring over the evidence he had collected against Devin for the past twelve years. It was time for Jones to burn like the dumpster fire he had become. Andy couldn’t wait.

“How are you feeling, Andy?” Tony asked him. 

“I feel like a winner.” He said it more to convince himself than anything else.

“Good! That’s how you should feel, because you’re leaving here reinstated and employed. You have my word.” Tony gave him a quick hug, and both men sat. 

Fiona and Devin Jones entered the courtroom next, with her team of pre-chosen mediators. Tony was on his feet in an instant, waving his finger at Fiona. 

“Oh no! You’re not pulling your tricks today, Commissioner! We are not using your mediators.” 

“You have zero influence here, sir. This is League business—” Fiona said, but Tony interrupted her.

“I represent Anduin Murphy. An impartial judge will hear this case and decide, not your hand-picked, sympathetic mediation team.”

“That was not the condition set forth by the appeal—”

“On the contrary, Commissioner. The appeal stated where the hearing would take place, which you read. It stated that I would represent the defendant, and that a neutral third party would preside. Did you not read your copy in its entirety?” 

Fiona huffed. “Appeals are standard, so no. But since we’re on your turf, have it your way, Mr…?” 

“Cardona. Antonio Cardona, Esquire.” He offered his hand for Fiona to shake, but she snubbed him.

“Should I be impressed?” she snipped.

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“You can let me know later, Madam Commissioner.” Tony smirked and walked back to the defense table. 

Kirby saw the smile on Tony’s face. “What was that all about?”

“Kirbs, this will be a cakewalk! She never read the details of the appeal. She expects Andy to roll over and accept his fate. Fiona Jones will get the shock of her life here today.” Tony sat down and patted Andy on the back. “Don’t worry, Andy. You’re walking out of here victorious.”

Before the proceedings began, Danae and Rae walked through the door together. From the spectator area, Danae rubbed Andy’s shoulders and kissed the top of his head. 

“Hi, baby,” he said, and swiveled his chair to see her. “I didn’t expect you here. Who has the twins?” 

“Trix is taking care of them, so I could come to support you. Stephanie and Tessa love to play together.” She gave his shoulder a quick but gentle squeeze. “You’re going to win this, you know. Knock ‘em dead, babe.” 

He stood and took her hand to kiss. “It means everything to me you’re here. Thank you.” 

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“Are you kidding? I wouldn’t miss this!” One last quick kiss, and she took her seat next to Rae. 

With the league mediators seated in the jury section, Fiona and Devin took their places. The judge appeared from his chambers moments later and began the hearing that would decide Andy’s fate. The judge swore everyone in and banged his gavel to start the proceedings.

Fiona stood to present her case. “In the matter of the Professional Soccer League versus Anduin Murphy—”

“That’s ‘Football,’ Madam Commissioner,” Tony corrected. “It’s called ‘football’ here on the island.” 

Fiona scowled at him. “The appeal of decision number two-four-nine-three-four, the Professional Football League versus Anduin Murphy.” She glanced at Tony and frowned. “Is that better, Esquire?” she asked in a biting tone.

Tony grinned ear to ear. 

She continued. “In reviewing Mr. Murphy’s past contracts, the League directors and I have discovered multiple additions to documents that are not valid according to league standards. These addenda render void all contracts containing the clause; thus, all players with such contracts are free agents, and violate Section Four, Part Twelve of the league rules. Mr. Murphy is the guarantor of all said contracts and is therefore subject to penalty as set forth by the Commissioner—permanent expulsion from the League without pay or benefits.” Fiona took her chair when she finished. 

Tony stood, a stack of books containing the rules and bylaws of the League, on the table in front of him. “Your Honor,” he began, “I intend to show today that, not only did Mr. Anduin Murphy do nothing wrong with the specified contracts, but that there is a personal animus against Mr. Murphy by the Commissioner and her husband, Devin Jones. I maintain he was within League rules when he signed the original contracts. I intend to prove such.” He walked to where the mediators sat and turned his attention to them. “Mr. Murphy is not guilty of the violations of which the League has accused him, and I will seek reinstatement to his previous position of Team Manager.” He bowed his head and looked at the judge. “Your Honor.” 

Fiona stood again, the copies of Andy’s contracts in her hand. “Your Honor, I wish to submit these as evidence, along with a hard copy of the Rules and Regulations. You will see the obvious violation of standards by Mr. Murphy, highlighted in yellow.” 

The judge took the paperwork from Fiona and perused the contents. “Mr. Cardona? Do you have a rebuttal to this?” 

Tony stood, confident. He held the original copy of the Rules and Regulations book from the stated time period. “Your Honor, I wish to submit this book as evidence. This is the original book of Rules and Regulations from ten years ago. In it, you will find no clause that prohibits a team manager, or anyone else, from paying out benefits to a contract beneficiary. In fact, Your Honor, on the Commissioner’s copy, you will find a revision date. What is that date?” 

The judge compared the two sets of rules. “One was revised six months ago; the other, not since the original vote. The latter is the one you submitted, Mr. Cardona.” 

“When was the original infraction discovered in the contract, Madam Commissioner?” 

Fiona felt the blood drain from her face. To stall him, she shuffled papers around, searching for the answer she already knew. 

“Madam Commissioner? We’re waiting for an answer,” said the judge. 

She stood, her head lowered. “Five months ago, Your Honor.” 

“Isn’t it true, Madam Commissioner, that you revised the rules yourself in order to trap Mr. Murphy in a contract violation? Isn’t it true, Mr. Jones, that YOU’VE had enmity toward Mr. Murphy for the past twelve years? Isn’t it also true that this personal animosity played a large role in the decision to revise said rules and regulations?” 

The accusations, while true, had Fiona flustered. Devin looked at her and motioned her to him. They whispered among themselves for a moment, and Fiona looked at the judge. 

“This is a total fabrication! Outright lies!” Fiona blurted out. 

“Be careful, Madam Commissioner. I don’t tolerate lies in this courtroom,” the judge spoke. “May I remind you, you are under oath.”  

She knew Tony outsmarted her on the rules, but she was positive he could never prove that her husband held a grudge against Andy Murphy. The evidence didn’t exist. Devin had assured her. 

Tony stood, his posture displayed confidence. “I would like to call Anduin Murphy to the witness stand, Your Honor.” 

The judge nodded. “Mr. Murphy, I’d like to remind you that you’re under oath.” Andy returned his nod and sat on the judge’s left side. 

Tony approached the witness stand. “Sir, please state your name for the court?” 

“Anduin Rowan Murphy.”

“And, Mr. Murphy, are you related to the plaintiff?” 

Andy nodded. “Yes. Mr. Jones is my wife’s brother.”

“What is the nature of your relationship with Mr. Jones?” 

Andy clenched his teeth and wished Danae weren’t there. “Tense. Hostile. My wife is afraid of him. I have permanent scarring and injury in my knee from an unprovoked attack during a game in Starlight Shores.” 

The judge looked at Devin. “You attacked him? You are fortunate he didn’t press charges, Mr. Jones.” 

Devin only shrugged. 

Tony paced the floor in front of the witness stand. “So, Mr. Murphy, would you say that Mr. Jones is a danger to you and your family?” 

Andy paused, took a deep breath, and exhaled. “If Danae fears him, then I will do everything in my power to keep him away from her and my children. I won’t take any chances with my family.” He clasped his hands together. “He is brazen enough to attack me in the open. I don’t know what he would do when he thinks no one is watching him.”

The judge nodded in agreement. “I can’t say whereas I blame you, Mr. Murphy. Any further questions, Mr. Cardona?” 

“Just one more, Your Honor. Mr. Murphy, how long has Mr. Jones held this grudge against you?” 

Andy held his breath for a moment to think, sat up in his seat, and shook his head. “When I worked for Mrs. Jones at the Starlight Shores Llamas, Mr. Jones had several conduct violations against him, and I terminated his position on the team. That is when all of this began.” 

“No more questions,” Tony announced. The judge motioned to Andy, and he took his seat next to Kirby.

Fiona stood. “This is ridiculous! You can’t prove any of your allegations, Mr. Cardona!”

Tony spoke once again. A wry smile pulled his face. “Your Honor, I would like to submit these emails sent by Mr. Devin Jones to Sharks’ Center Midfielder Wyatt Searcy. You will find these documents applicable to this case.”

Devin’s jaw dropped open. Fiona glared at him, sat beside him, and yanked on his arm. “What does he have, Devin?! You swore to me there was no evidence!” 

Devin shrugged and lied to her. “I don’t know what he’s talking about, Fi!” 

She grumbled under her breath, stewing over the blatant lies Devin piled on top of her. “Do NOT talk to me!” she growled. 

The judge looked through the papers that Tony had submitted. “There are photos with this email?” he asked, and Tony nodded. “I’d like to see them.” 

Andy’s body stiffened as he gripped the arms of his chair. But Kirby reached and squeezed his arm. “It’s okay,” Kirby whispered. “Tony has the intimate parts censored. The judge only needs to see intent, not the actual photo.” 

“I was hoping we’d be able to save Danae from that humiliation, Kirby. She’s had more than enough.” Andy rubbed his temples with his thumbs, turned around, and saw Danae wipe tears from her eyes. He mouthed the words, “I’m sorry,” to her. All he wanted was to hold and comfort her. 

Tony presented the photos to the judge, and said, “I’d like to call Wyatt Searcy to the witness stand, Your Honor.” 

Tony’s announcement shocked Andy, who spun around to see his best friend smiling at him. Wyatt, who slipped into the courtroom undetected, was a surprise witness for Andy. Fiona’s angry gaze met Tony, and she objected.

“What is HE doing here?” Fiona growled.

Tony walked to the plaintiff’s table. “Mr. Searcy has some pertinent information about this case, and that email in particular. His testimony will apply to the topic at hand.” 

The judge swore Wyatt in, and he took his seat on the judge’s left side. Tony approached him. 

“Sir, please state your name for the court?” 

“Wyatt Eugene Searcy.” 

“And Mr. Searcy, what is your relationship to the defendant?” Tony asked him.

Wyatt smiled and leaned forward to speak into the microphone. “Andy and I go back to Starlight Shores. He was the first real friend I had in the Shores after my transfer from Appaloosa Plains. He recruited me to the Sharks team after he moved here. Andy’s my best friend in the entire world.”

Tony smiled. “Please tell me about the email in question, Mr. Searcy. When did you receive it from the plaintiff, and under what circumstances?”

Wyatt cleared his throat. “When Lionel O’Reilly owned the Llamas and still lived, his locker room policy was simple: No talkin’ garbage about anyone’s family. Period. If they weren’t there to defend themselves, they were off-limits. But Devin, uhm, I mean Mr. Jones, loved to talk about his sisters, both Danae and Darcey, like they were women of ill-repute.” Wyatt blushed. “Well, those were my cousins he’s talkin’ about, and I don’t take too kindly to people pickin’ on innocent womenfolk, either.”

“Anyway, a rumor started around the locker room about the time Andy and Danae moved from the city, that Devin had some naked pictures of Danae cheatin’ on Andy.” Wyatt hung his head, breaking eye contact with Devin Jones. “Well, at first I didn’t believe him, because I know Miss Danae loves her husband. We went back and forth over whether them pictures were real, and I told him I doubted him. So I asked him for the proof.” He paused for a moment. “His email arrived that night. I only ever saw one picture. But it was enough.”

Tony paced the floor in front of the witness stand. “So, you approached Mr. Murphy with the email and photos, Mr. Searcy?” 

Wyatt shook his head. “No, sir. At first, I confronted Danae, because the photo I saw was pretty convincing. I wanted to know if they were real. That was the weekend we were here for negotiations, Aaron and me. Andy was so angry I had ‘em, but when I explained why, he forwarded the mail to his own address to keep.”

“And why did Mr. Murphy want to keep these photos of his wife, Mr. Searcy?”

Wyatt grinned. “Andy knew Devin was spreadin’ lies about his wife, but he could do nothin’ about it. He wanted proof that everything Devin was doin’ was false, made up. Not true. He had a bunch of us watching Devin, collecting evidence for him. The pictures, I reckon, were the most helpful of everything we gathered.”

Tony winked at Wyatt. “Thank you, Mr. Searcy. I have no further questions.” 

The judge dismissed Wyatt from the witness stand and then stood. “I’m taking time to review the emails and photos. The court will take a ten minute recess,” he announced. With the bang of a gavel, he retired to his chambers, Andy’s evidence in his hands. 

Ten minutes later, the judge returned from his chambers, still holding the paperwork both parties had submitted. He sat down, cleared his throat, and spoke. 

“With the evidence I’ve received from both parties, and considering Mr. Searcy’s and Mr. Murphy’s testimonies, I believe it’s obvious there was personal animosity toward the defendant. I believe it’s fair to conclude this conflict was the sole reason the contract violations occurred. On the same note, it’s also fair to conclude the Commissioner revised the rules to trap the defendant in said violations. Do you have any other evidence against Mr. Murphy, Madam Commissioner?” 

Fiona shook her head in utter defeat. “No, Your Honor.” 

“Mr. Cardona, I rule in favor of your client, Mr. Anduin Murphy. I recommend his immediate reinstatement in his former position with the Isla Paradiso Sharks, with full reimbursement of lost wages, paid by the League Commissioner.”

The judge turned to Fiona. “Madam Commissioner, you have committed grievous offenses against the Professional Football League with your biased judgments. I will recommend to the Board of Directors they scrutinize and punish your actions since assuming your role as Commissioner, according to your misconduct, up to and including removal from your position—”

“With all due respect, Your Honor, you have no jurisdiction over League business—” Fiona said, but the judge interrupted her with the bang of his gavel. 

“Madam Commissioner, I am surprised you don’t yet recognize me. I sit on the League’s Board of Directors, and to be frank, I outrank you. I have every right to suggest your reprimand to the Board.” 

Fiona stood and pointed her finger at the judge. “Yours must have been the missing vote! Your Honor, this was no impartial judgment, and I demand a—” 

“Madam Commissioner, you will not disrespect me in my courtroom, or I will hold you in contempt. You’re treading on thin ice.” Fiona sat back in her seat, her arms folded and an angry scowl on her face.

The judge turned his attention to Devin. “Mr. Jones, effective today, you will not come within ten feet of Anduin Murphy. You will not contact Mrs. Murphy or any of her children. Those photos of your sister are shameful, and it’s clear you have psychological issues. Get some professional help. Are we clear on this, Mr. Jones?” 

Devin took a deep breath, glared at Fiona, then at Andy—his gaze shifted back to the judge. “Yes, Your Honor.” 

“If there are no further objections, I adjourn this hearing,” the judge announced.

Andy stood, feeling an enormous weight lifted from his shoulders. Kirby embraced him in a tight hug. “Congratulations, though I never doubted the outcome. Your car is in the parking lot. I drove it here to give it back.” Kirby dangled on his finger the key to the car Andy had returned four weeks earlier—his brand new Bugatti Chiron. “Welcome back home, son.”

“Kirby, thank you for never giving up. The nightmare is over.” Danae stood, waiting to congratulate him. When he saw her, he kissed and hugged her to him and whispered into her ear, “Baby, I’m so sorry about those pictures—”

“Shh, it’s okay,” she whispered back. “They helped you win this case today. Besides, it looks like we’re finished with Devin.”

He brushed a stray lock of hair from her face and kissed her again. “You’re still way too forgiving.” 

She smiled. “Only you, babe. I’ll never forgive my brother. He is a sick man.”

“He is, but it’s over. All of it. Tony has the restraining papers issued by the court for us to sign, and it’s done. No more Devin, baby.” 

Andy felt a strong tap on his shoulder, and when he looked up, Tony stood, waiting for a handshake. “You did it, Andy. Good job.” 

“Thank YOU, Tony. I couldn’t have done any of this without your guidance and coaching. I owe you my life.” 

“It’s my job. Congratulations!” Tony took Andy’s hand and shook it with a firm grip. “Kirby knew something was shady when he called me. I’m glad he brought you home so we could make this right.” 

“Thanks, Tony. Me too.” Danae sidled up to Andy and took his arm. “Are you ready to go, my sweet?” 

Danae smiled and nodded. “Let’s go home and celebrate.” 

In the excitement and commotion, Fiona and Devin slipped from the courtroom unnoticed.

*****

Devin Jones stormed out of the courthouse door, livid that his last chance to give Anduin Murphy a final, metaphorical “bird” had slipped through his fingers. His wife, Fiona, was on his heels, just as angry. 

“What the hell was THAT back there?” Devin screamed at her. “You should have made this foolproof!”

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“YOU ruined everything with those emails, you idiot! What were you thinking?” Fiona growled back.

“Murphy shouldn’t have had that email and the pictures, Fi!” He slammed his fist into his open hand. “I sent those to Searcy in strict confidence!”

“You’re not very sharp, are you?! Searcy and Murphy are best friends! What made you think Wyatt would keep them to himself? And what kind of freak takes naked pictures of his sister, anyway? You’re a sick man, Devin.”

“Hey, I didn’t take those pictures! I just edited them. It was part of a bigger plan.” 

“Yeah? How’d that work out for you? You don’t think past the end of the week! I’m surprised it’s taken you this long to fail.”

“Well, you’ve failed me in every way, you useless bitch.” Devin spat on the ground near her feet.

“What did you just call me?” she snarled at him. 

“You heard me, woman.” His hateful gaze met hers. “You’re a complete waste of my time.” 

“I wasn’t expecting Kemp’s lawyer to be that on top of things. How was I supposed to know he had the originals of those books?!” Fiona paced outside the courthouse in the parking lot. It didn’t matter that the press were everywhere, catching the biggest story in the country. 

“You ask questions, genius!” Devin paced the ground in front of her. “You had one job, Fi, and that was Murphy’s demise! Why do you think I helped you become commissioner?”

Fiona looked at him in shock. “Oh, my goodness! You were just… using me?” The awful realization hung over her head.

“Well, look who figured out the obvious. Congratulations, stupid.”

“You contemptible son-of-a—” She planted her knee into his groin and put him on the ground. “I gave up a happy marriage for you!” 

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Devin fell to his knees, retching from pain. “Yeah, about that. You shouldn’t have left Cael.” 

“How could you, Devin?! I fell in love with you!” 

“There’s no such thing as love, Fi. You used me as much as I used you. We were together for one reason, and love wasn’t it.” Devin struggled to his feet. “You’ll hear from my lawyer. It’s a good thing my pre-nup is solid.” 

“Devin, please…” Fiona fell to her knees. “Please don’t leave me here like this!” 

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“Yeah, don’t call me. Goodbye, Fiona.” Devin straightened up his suit, dug the keys from his pocket, and walked to the car. He backed out from the lot and spun his tires before he drove away, leaving Fiona in a crumpled, sobbing heap in front of the courthouse.

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G1 Chapter Seventeen, Part One – Destiny’s Surprise

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?”

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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.

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“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.”

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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.”

“How’s Marne?”

“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.”

“But I—”

“Out, Mr. Matthews. Per HIPAA guidelines.” Dr. Engle said, her hand gesturing toward the door.

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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?”

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“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?”

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“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.

“Hello?”

“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.

“Jason, wait—”

“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?”

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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.”

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“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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.” 

“Thank you.”

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?” 

“Nope.” 

“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.” 

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“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. 

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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.

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Up Next: Chapter Seventeen, Part Two, Generation One



Pose Credits:

Mod The Sims

Poses By Bee

The Sims 3 By Severinka

Tumblr

xxBlueHazardxx


Custom Content:

Around The Sims

ButterflySims (Site Defunct, no link)

  • Hair #60 (Destiny’s Hair) 

Jamee’s Sims

Mod The Sims

NewSea Sims

Skeletal Screams Blog Site

The Sims Resource

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.

G5 Chapter Thirty Five – The Worst Day, Part One

Three Years Later

Tessa and Teddy played together before Elyse and Eamon needed to be ready for the school bus. Danae was at her wits’ end with her oldest. 

“Lysie, do you have what you need for ballet after school? I can’t keep running your pointe shoes to the Academy every day!”

Elyse rolled her eyes and sighed. “Yes, Mama. Besides, Howie can come get them for me after school if I forget them—”

“That’s NOT the point, young lady!” Danae crossed her arms and stood behind the island while a fresh batch of pancakes cooked on the griddle. “You are almost thirteen years old! It’s time you started being more responsible!”

Her back turned to Danae, Elyse made a talking motion with her hand and muttered under her breath. “Blah, blah, blah…” She hated nothing more than being treated like a child, something her mother excelled at doing on the regular. “Eamon! Let’s go.” She grabbed her backpack, the ribbons of her pointe shoes dangling at the zipper. “We’re gonna be late!”

“Quit bossing me around, Elyse! You’re not my mother.” 

“Yeah, whatever! Come, don’t come. I don’t care!” She stomped toward the front door, but Danae ran and caught her arm.

“I don’t know what your problem is, but it’s stopping now!” 

“Oh yeah? Make me!”

Danae counted to ten before she laid a hand on her daughter. She loved that girl, but she wanted to beat the snot out of her. “Your father will hear about this, Elyse. You don’t want to be on his bad side today. Trust me.” 

Elyse huffed and jerked her arm away from Danae. “I’m gonna be late.” 

“Then go!” Danae screamed at the slammed front door. Tessa toddled to Danae, who flopped on the sofa in front of the large screen television. 

“Mama?” She held her arms up to Danae to be lifted.

The girl’s soft, curly black hair shined in the early morning sunlight. Danae picked her up and snuggled her close. “It’s okay, Tessy.” She kissed the girl’s sticky cheek about the same time she smelled something burning. “The pancakes!” She placed Tessa back onto the floor and dashed into the kitchen, where smoke was already billowing. A cup full of water went onto the griddle—a puff of steam swelled from the hot pan, along with the sizzle of flash-boiled water. “Aw, crap!”

“Aw, crap!” Teddy’s 3-year-old voice parroted. 

Danae laughed out loud. The little ones always reminded her of better times with Elyse and Eamon, times when they acted like they still loved her. “I guess you didn’t want pancakes for breakfast after all, did you, Teddy Bear?” He shook his head and giggled. 

Ah yes, the giggles of three-year-old twins were always the salve she needed for her aching heart. Her argument with Elyse almost forgotten, she finished preparing breakfast for the twins so she could get them bathed and ready for a nap. 

*****

Andy grumbled as he opened his office door. Commissioner Jones would be at the stadium with her miserable husband in an hour. It was a meeting he dreaded, and it was becoming more and more commonplace as her ridiculous investigation of the Sharks franchise continued. This time, Andy’s managing tactics were under scrutiny after Fiona failed to ban Aaron from the league. She intended to present evidence of unethical recruiting practices. Kirby had gone over every fine detail—he was confident the panel would exonerate Andy as well.

Andy wore a business suit, dressed to impress, for he would sit in front of a committee of league mediators. Every player they acquired since Kirby hired him, including Aaron Hall and Wyatt Searcy, was in question. Kirby knew the charges she would present were bogus. Now, he and Andy stood in solidarity against the shrew married to Andy’s estranged brother-in-law. 

“Are you ready, Kirby? I mean, do we have our defense solidified? I can’t afford to lose my shirt in a legal battle.”

“Relax, son.” Kirby rested his hand on Andy’s shoulder. “You and I both know the charges they’ve fabricated won’t stick to you. They have no case, and they know it.” Andy slouched in his seat, unsure of himself. “This smacks of desperation. We’ve got this.” 

“How are you so certain of everything? Ten years of contracts for them to dissect. Fiona will find just one thing wrong she can exploit. Danae and the kids? They’ll be fine, Kirby. Every action I’ve taken, every part of me, is on the line. Devin will try to destroy me. He’s made it clear I’m on his hit list.” His mind raced back to over ten years of threats and attacks from his estranged brother-in-law.

Kirby sat down across from Andy. “I have your back, no matter what happens. I won’t allow the league to penalize you and your family, especially when you have young children at home. Any monetary damages they levy, I’ll take care of it. Just another cost of doing business.” 

Andy wrung his hands. “You know, at some point, Kirby, I won’t be worth the money you’ve paid me over the years.”

“Nonsense.” Kirby smiled at his manager. “You’re still the best business decision I’ve ever made for this team, bar none.” 

At 10:00 AM on the nose, the two men entered mediation. Fiona and Devin Jones sat at the head of the table—a panel of four mediators hand-picked by the commissioner attended the meeting. 

“You’re late, Kemp,” Fiona snarled. 

Kirby ignored her. “Gentlemen, my team manager of ten years, Anduin Murphy. He has followed league rules and regulations to the letter. I have years’ worth of contracts that he has signed in my stead, everything in complete compliance.” He opened his briefcase and retrieved his laptop, and opened the folder that contained digital copies of every contract Andy had ever signed for every acquisition. “I can provide hard copies of these documents when necessary.” 

“You have no other evidence than this?” An older gentleman on the panel, one who looked to be about Kirby’s age, spoke. “We have already seen the contracts, Mr. Kemp, and the league has reviewed them. This is the reason we’re here today. Commissioner Jones maintains that your acquisition of Avery Tillman violated league protocol. And from what we have seen of his contract, we agree.”

“With all due respect, sir, Mr. Tillman’s contract is flawless,” Kirby countered.

The mediator handed Kirby the copy of Avery’s initial contract. “This clause, Mr. Kemp, is not valid.” He referenced a highlighted area, one which Andy had added to the contract himself with Kirby’s approval. It was the hook that landed Avery for the Sharks—the security system that Andy paid for himself. “Mr. Kemp, you are aware, are you not, that the league permits only franchise owners to pay out benefits to contract beneficiaries? This clause states that Mr. Anduin Murphy tendered payment on the item in question. It nullifies Mr. Tillman’s contract. He’s been playing for your franchise for years without a valid contract, which is an egregious violation of league standards.”

“This is ridiculous! There is no problem with that contract! I approved it myself.” 

“But your name does not appear on it, Mr. Kemp. Anduin Murphy is the guarantor of this contract, not you. He alone is subject to penalty as determined by the Commissioner.”

Andy massaged his temples with his fingers. They expected a different outcome than this. Everything he had worked for was on the line. It didn’t look good. 

Fiona spoke. “We knew there was something fishy about Mr. Murphy’s practices as manager. From Mr. Tillman’s contract forward, we have scrutinized every one written since, and they all contain the same illegal clause. It’s well within my authority to ban you from the league, Mr. Murphy.” Andy noticed Devin’s arrogant smirk and anger swelled within him. “You could appeal the decision, but the final determination is mine. I would start cleaning up my resume if I were you, Mr. Murphy.” 

“I will fight you until the day I die, Jones!” Kirby shouted across the room. “Come on, this isn’t right, gentlemen.” He appealed to the four men who sat in judgment of his team manager, the one he couldn’t do without. 

“Is this your final decision, Commissioner?” a younger man asked Fiona. 

With a tone of finality, she uttered one word. “Yes.” She turned to Kirby. “Mr. Kemp, I am expelling your team manager, Anduin Murphy, from the league effective today, without pay or benefits. You have the right to appeal, and I will hear additional evidence. You have thirty days from today to submit your appeal in writing. You have the right to obtain legal counsel. Questions, gentlemen?”

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Andy, who Kirby had advised to not speak, felt ill. His career, his entire life, would change forever if he lost this appeal, and it seemed likely that he would. Kirby huffed his displeasure and shook his head. “No questions.”

The four men on the mediation team ended the discussions and adjourned the meeting. Andy was quiet on the way back to his office. Kirby was on his heels. 

“Andy, you don’t have to clean out your office. As far as I’m concerned, you’re not going anywhere.” 

“Didn’t you hear her, Kirby? She’s banished me from the league! What am I going to do now? I know nothing else.” Andy folded his arms and buried his face. He didn’t want to cry in front of his boss, though Kirby wouldn’t have blamed him. 

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“This won’t stick, Andy. She has no authority to do this—”

“Come on, Kirby. Stop kidding yourself. You need to face it. I’m finished. I’ll be gone in an hour.” 

“Andy, you don’t need to leave. I’m not firing you.” 

“You don’t have to. The Shrew already has.” He reached for the paper box that sat by his desk, flipped the lid from it, and started packing his desk into it—photos of Danae and the kids, one of him and Danae from their vacation to Sunlit Tides. A plaque that belonged to his father. Kirby stood and watched in disbelief as his star employee took the key to a brand new Bugatti Chiron off his keyring and handed it to him. “I’ll call a cab. The car is in the parking lot.” 

“Andy, wait—” Kirby called to him, but Andy walked out of his office and toward the parking lot, the box of his personal effects in his hands.

*****

“Elyse, why are you being so awful to Mom?” Eamon sat with his older sister at lunch. “You know she doesn’t need your tude. So why do it?” 

She shook her head. “She treats me like I’m Tessa’s age, Eam. Why did we have to have a younger sister and brother, anyway? I miss Emmitt.” 

Eamon patted his sister’s back and rubbed her shoulder. “That’s no reason to give her a hard time, Lysie. She misses him, too.” 

She peeled her orange and tossed the skin toward the garbage can. “Could have fooled me. It’s like Emmitt never even existed. Like they don’t miss him anymore.” 

“You don’t mean that—”

“Don’t I?” She peeled an orange segment off the fruit and handed one to Eamon. “What if Emmitt had never died? Would Tess and Teddy still be here?”

He shook his head. “I dunno.” 

“Hey gorgeous,” Elyse’s boyfriend and ballet partner, Howie, approached them. He grabbed a chair, turned it around, and sat, his elbows resting on the chair’s back. He held a can of cola, which he sat on the table. “How’s my best girl today?” 

She puffed a lock of hair from her eyes. “I’ve been better, Howie.”

“All ready for ballet after school? I have some new dance moves I want to teach you. They’ll be great for the end-of-the-year recital.”

“What kind of moves?” She handed him an orange segment, and he kissed her hand before he ate it right from her fingers.

“You’ll have to wait. I can’t describe them.” 

“They aren’t naughty, are they Howie?”

He frowned at her. “Give me some credit, Elyse. I’m not a typical fifteen-year-old boy, you know.” 

“You’re right, I’m sorry.” She sipped from the can Howie set down next to her. 

“That was mine, you know.”

“Yeah? So what?” 

“It has my cooties on it.” 

She rolled her eyes. “Cooties? How old are you again?” She took another sip. “We make out under the bleachers during gym class. I’m used to your ‘cooties.’”

“Do you have your pointe shoes?” 

Elyse nodded her head and noticed her brother looking at her with an odd expression. “What?”

“Does Dad know you two are dating? You know you can’t date until—”

“I swear, Eamon, if you say anything to Daddy, I’ll beat you myself!”

“What is it worth to you?” 

Anger flared her nostrils. “Don’t. You. Freaking. Dare!”

Howie stepped in between them. “Eamon, just chill, okay? It’s nothing.” 

“It doesn’t look like nothing.” Eamon knew he had valuable information, and he planned to take full advantage of the situation. “I’ll tell you what,” he said. “Give me your dessert tonight, and I’ll keep my mouth shut.” 

“You little weasel—” Elyse clenched her fist and started toward him, but Howie held her back. 

“Lysie, it’s okay. I’ll take care of it.” He kissed her forehead. 

“You don’t understand, Howie. If my Dad even suspects we’re dating, that’s the end of ballet!” 

“I’ve got this, pussycat. Don’t worry.” 

Eamon cracked up, laughing. “Pussycat? Oh, this is too good!” Elyse glared at Howie.

“See what you did?” She stomped her foot in frustration.

Howie leaned forward to whisper in her ear. “It’s part of my plan. I don’t even call you that, so it’s not believable.” She smiled and nodded. 

The bell rang to signal the end of the period, and Eamon stood. “I’ll meet you at the bus after school, ‘Pussycat.’”

Elyse glared at him, but Howie winked at her. “I have ballet, so no, you won’t. But nice try, weasel.” Howie picked up their trays and cleaned up, took Elyse’s hand, and walked her to her next class. 

*****

Danae had just gotten the twins to sleep when Andy walked through the front door five hours early from work. She got a sinking feeling in the pit of her gut as he walked into his office and shut the door. She tiptoed toward Andy’s office and listened just outside for a clue. 

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Was he angry? Upset? Sad? She couldn’t discern it, so she knocked on the door.

Danae expected to hear a greeting, but none came. She peeked in to find Andy behind his desk, a blank stare on his face and a glass of straight whiskey in his hand. It was only 11:30 AM. 

“Babe?” 

Minutes passed before he even acknowledged she was there. He swirled the liquor in his glass, lifted it to his nose, and inhaled the fumes before he drank the contents in one gulp. He set the glass back down on his desk. The day’s events replayed in his head. He wanted to throw up.

“How did your meeting go?” she asked him. 

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His gaze shifted to her, and when he saw her, his eyes welled with tears. “Not good.” 

She sat in the chair in front of his desk and took his hand. “What do you mean, not good? What happened?”

Andy poured another shot of whiskey and downed it. He took a deep breath and held it in. Maybe if I pass out, I won’t have to tell her, he reasoned with himself. But he released the air in his lungs in a slow, steady stream. “Remember how we talked about worst-case scenarios, Nae?”

She nodded and swallowed hard. “Yes, babe.” 

“Welcome to my nightmare. Fiona banned me from the league. I can appeal, but the final decision is hers. I’m unemployable in my chosen field of work.” A huge teardrop fell from his eyes and splattered onto his desk. “I can’t support you or the kids anymore, and I can’t seek work from another team.” He reached for the whiskey again, poured another shot, and drank it. Danae grabbed the bottle from him and set it down out of his reach. “Kirby is beside himself,” he muttered. 

“Banned? Are you serious?!” 

He nodded. “I’m dead serious. Danae, what am I going to do? I’ve lost everything I’ve worked for all these years. I’m useless to you and the kids…” His hands trembled—the emotion, the awful reality of the day, sank in. Heavy sobs reverberated through his office. “I have failed you in every way. I don’t know what to do…”

Danae had never seen him so distraught, and it frightened her. The confident, unflappable, poised man she loved was in anguish over something out of his control. Her instinct was to comfort him, but she wasn’t sure how or what he needed. It was uncharted territory for her. Nothing ever rattled him. 

“Andy, you’re not useless—”

“Aren’t I? You don’t understand, Danae!” He stood and raised his voice. The alcohol made him feel lightheaded, so he flopped down in his chair. “I can’t work for the football league anymore. Period! Not for Kirby, not for anyone! Devin finally ruined my life, that bastard…” He let his head fall to his desk with a loud ‘thunk.’ 

“I-I don’t know what to say…”

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“I’m leaving soon.” It took all of his strength to lift his head to look at his beloved wife. “If I can’t support you, then I don’t need to tie you down. You need a real man—”

Danae stood up, angry but terrified. “Don’t you dare leave me!” she growled. “I still need you! We have four kids to raise, and I can’t do it alone…” Her anger turned to grief, and then frustration. “You’re better than this, Andy. The man I married would face this—”

“The man you married is dead, Danae. I’m just an empty shell, a shade of my former self.”

“No! I refuse to believe that. Andy please, don’t do anything hasty, not while your emotions are this raw.”

“I’ve already decided, Danae. I’m going back to Dragon Valley tonight.”

Her fury returned with a vengeance. “So, that’s it? You’re not giving me a say in the outcome of OUR marriage?”

“What marriage, Danae? I’m doing you a favor!”

“This? This is no favor! Andy, I love you! Does that mean nothing to you?”

He shook his head and walked toward his office door. “I’m sorry, Danae. You deserve better than a failure.” He walked toward their bedroom while Danae fell to the floor, sobbing.

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*****

Back at his office, Kirby was muddled. He never expected the morning’s outcome, and it shook him to his core. He picked up his phone and dialed the first number that came to mind. Rae’s brother, Tony, was a prominent attorney in town. If anyone could give him much-needed advice, it was Tony.

“Antonio Cardona, attorney at law.”

“Tony, it’s Kirby. I sure could use your advice, brother.”

“Hey Kirbs!” Tony greeted him. “How can I help you out?” 

“How much do you know about laws pertaining to the football league?” 

“A bit, actually. Why? What’s going on?” 

Kirby sighed. “Commissioner Jones just banned Andy from the league without pay or benefits. I want to know what recourse I have.” 

“On what grounds? That sounds fishy, Kirby.” 

“Oh, something about it being illegal for anyone but the franchise owner to pay out contract benefits. Andy, as a hook to catch Tillman years ago, paid for the security upgrade on their home. Fiona claims it’s illegal, and the clause in the contract rendered it null. So he’s been playing without a valid contract since we signed him.”

Kirby heard papers being shuffled, and then Tony’s reassuring voice. “I have original copies of football regulations dating back thirty years. If it was legal when you signed Tillman ten years ago, she has no case.”

Kirby laughed. “You’re such a nerd, Tony. But I’m so thankful that you’re a nerd.”

Tony, who had been called everything but a nerd, chuckled. “Don’t worry. I have your back. Let Andy know I’m taking his case, and I’ll work pro bono. If there’s anything we can present as additional evidence, now’s the time. Any grievance he has with the commish or her husband, anything we can use to show a personal vendetta, I’ll take it. I know Andy has bad blood with that Jones punk. Now’s the time to nail him.”

“I’ll let Andy know right away. Thank you, brother. You don’t have to work pro bono. Send me the bill. If we win this, I’ll owe you more than just money.”

Tony laughed. “Yes, yes, you will. I’ll get back to you, Kirby. Get me everything you can on Jones. That will be a brilliant start.”

“Will do. Thanks again, brother.” 

“That’s what family is for. We’ve got this.” When he ended the call, Kirby felt better. His next call would be to his manager. But Andy’s phone went right to voicemail, so Kirby left a message:

Andy, it’s Kirby. Rae’s brother is an attorney, and he’s taking your case. We’re going to fight that bitch until we win. I’m not giving up. Don’t you give up, either. I’ll be in touch.

For the first time since the whole sham investigation began, Kirby felt good.

*****

Andy’s only bag sat next to him as he rode in the taxi that would take him to the airport. Despite her pleas, he decided on his own that his family was better off without him. With just casual clothing in a suitcase, he left his devastated wife crying on the front porch, bound for his hometown. He hated to leave her, and watching her weep tore him to shreds, but he knew in his heart that giving her freedom to move on with her life was the right play to make. For her sake. Because he loved her that much.

At the house, Andy’s phone chimed with a voice message. Danae still sat in a heap on the front porch of their home, clutching his smartphone in her hand when she felt it vibrate. His last words still echoed in her head. “Don’t look for me. I’ll call you. This is for your own good, Danae. I’m sorry.” She glanced at the message and couldn’t make out the sender. 

She couldn’t unlock his phone without his fingerprint, so she set it on the hallway table when she walked back inside. This isn’t happening! She cried. It was only 1:15 PM—Eamon would be home soon, and Elyse after ballet. Danae hoped Lysie’s attitude had improved, because it was the very last thing she needed. 

Danae woke the twins before Eamon arrived home on the bus and settled them down to watch television with a snack. She tried to hold it together, but telling Eamon that his father left would open a can of worms she’d rather keep shut. 

Ten minutes later, the house phone rang. Kirby’s name came up on the Caller ID. Danae answered it, trying to hide her obvious upset. 

“Hi Kirby.” 

“Danae? Where’s Andy? I need to talk to him.” 

Danae broke down crying, despite her best efforts not to. “He’s… gone.” 

“What do you mean, ‘gone’, Danae? Where is he?” 

“He’s on his way back to Dragon Valley. He said not to look for him…” 

Kirby almost dropped his phone. “Oh my goodness. I guess that leaves me with no alternative. I have to find him. Dragon Valley can’t be so big that he would be hard to find.” 

“If you’re serious about going to find him, Kirby, please bring him home to me? I can’t survive without him…” 

“Don’t worry, sweetheart. He’ll be coming home with me. Trust me.” 

Danae was still sobbing when Eamon walked through the front door. Teddy and Tessa were playing together. “Mom? What’s going on? Why are you crying so hard?” 

She sniffled and tried to gather her thoughts. She didn’t want to sound over-dramatic. “Daddy went on a trip.” 

Eamon looked at her and tried to understand. “Then why cry? He’s coming home, right?” 

Danae cried harder, almost not able to breathe. “I don’t know about that, Eamon. He sounded like he’d left for good.” 

“What did you do?!” Eamon yelled. “Why did Dad leave?”

“Please, son. Don’t…” 

Both Eamon and Elyse preferred their dad, and Eamon assumed she was the reason he’d left. “I hate you!” he screamed at Danae and slammed his bedroom door. 

Danae couldn’t stand any more heartache. On her hands and knees, she crawled to the house phone, picked up the receiver, and dialed it. Her sister answered the phone. 

“Nae?” 

“Darce,” Danae squeaked out. “I need you…” 

“I’m on my way, sweetie.”

*****

Kirby arrived at the airport at 3:00 PM, an