Four years later
Charlie stood outside the base and kicked the tire on the old truck. “This is not a good time for you to die, you worthless piece of junk!” Nevertheless, the engine would not turn over. He was stuck, and he dreaded to know what was wrong with the old pickup. Frustrated, he dialed Fran’s cell phone.
“Charlie? Is something wrong?” Fran answered the phone.
He sighed in annoyance. “The truck finally died. I’m going to be late coming home, darling.”
Fran shook her head. Every time they began to get ahead, another setback came. “Okay, babe. Can someone give you a ride home?”
“I’m going to wait for a tow truck and catch a ride with him. I hope we don’t need to replace it.”
“I have some things to swap for a repair if it’s fixable. And if not, we have money to buy a new-to-us replacement.”
Charlie huffed in exasperation. It took four years to save nearly five thousand simoleons toward their fertility procedure, and it could disappear in moments. “Cross your fingers, darling. But I think it might be time for a new one.”
“I’ll be waiting for you,” she replied.
At dusk, the tow truck arrived with the old pickup. Charlie hopped out of the passenger side and settled the bill with him before the driver released the pickup. He pushed it into the driveway and kicked it one last time. He waited four hours for the tow, and he was tired.
Fran had supper in the oven to keep it warm, and when he opened the front door, she ran to greet him. Her cheery smile brightened his mood immediately, and he was happy to be home.
“Hi, love,” she said and wrapped her arms around him. A soft kiss completed the greeting.
“You are a sight for sore eyes, Frannie. What a day.” He removed his hat and placed it on the table by the door. “I don’t have time off until Friday, so we are without a car until I can look at it.”
“It’s okay, love,” she said. “If I need to go somewhere in town, I’ll ride Marne. I don’t get her out enough anyway.”
“What’s for supper? It smells good.”
“Your favorite, love. Steak tips and fresh garden veggies.”
“You always seem to know when I need a pick-me-up, sweetie. Thank you.” They sat down to supper together and enjoyed each other’s company.
After Fran cleaned the kitchen, she sat by the fireplace, Charlie sat near her and put his head back on the chair. She fiddled nervously with her wedding ring and finally spoke. “I got a phone call this morning.”
“From who, love?”
“Oliver Farnam. They have another purebred Arabian horse boarded, a stallion. The owner offered stud services if we’re interested in breeding Marne.”
Charlie shook his head. “With the truck, this isn’t a good time, love. Stud services are not usually cheap, especially with an Arabian.”
“They offered to share ownership of the foal, one-third to our two-thirds. We would keep it on our farm, and they would share expenses.”
Charlie scratched his chin. “I don’t see a downside to it, Fran. Why don’t we do it?”
“Well, it brings me to one other thing. Missy isn’t giving milk anymore, Charlie. I swore to myself I’d never give her up. But with Marne, can we afford to keep a cow that doesn’t give milk?”
“Oh, Frannie, I’m sorry, love. I didn’t realize she was getting to that age.”
“She’s thirteen. I love her to bits, but I’m not sure I can justify keeping her. And if we have a foal next year, Moo might be an expense we can’t sustain, either.” Fran could have never foreseen giving up her cows for horses. “But breeding Marne might be a lucrative investment. If the foal has good lines, we could sell our interest for an excellent price.”
“Could you give Missy and Moo up, baby?”
She shook her head. “It would be difficult, but truthfully, I’m overwhelmed with the farm and the animals, and we still can’t afford help. I might have to make a difficult decision.”
“I trust your instincts when it comes to the farm, love. It has been your whole life. You know what’s best.”
“For now, I just need Caleb’s tiller. The plants are nearly ready to transplant, and I have double the seedlings this year.” She stood up to stretch. “I need to get to sleep. I have a long day tomorrow.”
“I do, too,” Charlie agreed. They walked together up the steps to their bedroom.
“No!” Charlie said adamantly. “Respectfully, Sir, I cannot go.”
“Farmer, you have a direct command. You deploy in two days. Get your affairs in order.”
He plopped at his desk and buried his face in his hands. A one-year deployment overseas loomed ahead of him, and this time the safety of his unit was not a guarantee. An escalating conflict required troops, and he did not want to go. But defying an order was grounds for a dishonorable discharge, and he couldn’t risk it. He did not want to tell Fran he was going away.
“My wife, sir. She has no one left but me. I can’t go, sir.” Charlie tried one last plea for forbearance, but it fell on deaf ears.
“Do I need to restrict you to base before we deploy, Farmer?” His superior officer paced in Charlie’s office.
“No, sir,” Charlie said. “I will be ready.”
On his way home from work that day, he stopped by his parents’ house. He didn’t see them often enough, and now he feared he would not see them again. Gently, he knocked on the door, and his mother appeared.
“Charles!” she exclaimed. “Come in, son. Where is Frannie?”
“She’s home, Ma. I have something to tell you and Pa, and a favor to ask.” The serious look on his face startled Dolly.
“What’s wrong, Charles?” She led him to their living room, and he sat on the old, worn-out couch. “George, come here a moment?” she called to her husband.
He swallowed a large lump in his throat. It wasn’t like Charlie to be emotional, but news of the deployment had him rattled. “I wish to wait for Pa to get here.”
George came up from the basement of the house where he had a workshop. When he saw Charlie’s face, he immediately knew something was wrong. Dolly sat beside him and took his hand. Charlie sat across from them on the sofa.
“Ma, Pa…” his voice trailed off. “If you’ve been watching the news, you know about the conflict overseas. We are deploying there for twelve months.” Dolly gasped and clutched her husband’s arm. “I want to ask if you’ll keep an eye on Frannie while I’m away. She has no one anymore. Her mama is gone now…” He wiped a tear from his eyes. “If something happens to me, please take care of her?”
George sat forward on the sofa and sighed. “Well, of course, we will take care of her, Charl. When did you find this out?”
“This morning. Every plea, every favor I have, didn’t buy me anything but frustration. I don’t have to report until Friday morning. It will break her heart.” Charlie’s head hung. “You know there’s a chance I won’t come home.”
“No!” Dolly stated. “I refuse to believe that. You will be protected, and you will come home to her. To all of us, Charles.” She stood and went to her only son and hugged him.
Though he still dreaded telling Fran, he was peaceful that she would be looked after if he did not return. “I need to head home. Thank you,” he said. He hugged both his mother and father, tipped his hat, and walked toward the door. “I love you both.”
“Don’t you act like you’re not coming home, Charles!” his mother cried. “I love you, son.”
George, not one for anything emotional, simply stood and shook his hand. “There is no goodbye, son. Only see you later.” Charlie nodded and understood. He turned for one last wave and left, afraid it would be the last time he would see either of them.
Charlie walked to their home just a few doors down, walked up the steps, and opened the door. Fran was in the kitchen, making cheese from the morning’s milk collection when she heard him. “Is that you, love?” she called happily.
She set her work aside and walked to the living room. Charlie sat in his recliner and stared out of the window, deep in thought. “What’s wrong, Charlie?”
Her soft touch and voice brought him back to the cruel reality, and he didn’t want to tell her. “Frannie…” he buried his head in his hands, unable to speak.
“You’re frightening me, Charlie. What’s wrong?”
“My unit is being deployed overseas on Friday, Frannie. I can’t get out of it.”
Her bottom lip quivered. She was well aware of what it meant. “No…”
“I was told to get my affairs in order.”
A single tear dripped from her eyes. “No…”
Fran fell to the floor, and Charlie embraced her tightly in his arms. “I’m so sorry, my love.” With his arms around her, she wept.
“Charlie, what if you don’t come home?”
“Oh darling, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I come home to you. I haven’t fulfilled my promise yet.” He snuggled her close in his embrace and kissed her. “I am going to make sure you have a baby. That is my heart’s desire, and I refuse to leave this world without giving you that, Frannie. I promise.”
Fran couldn’t speak, her words swallowed by fear and dread. But Charlie held her to him, he kissed her tenderly and let her cry in his arms. And when she collected herself, she kissed him and stroked his cheek. “Take me to bed, Charlie,” she whispered into his ear. “Don’t stop until you have to leave.”
The next morning, Charlie called the fertility specialist they had seen some four years earlier. Dr. Prisco answered the call.
“This is Charlie Farmer. You saw my wife and me a few years ago regarding a fertility problem.”
“Yes, Mr. Farmer, I remember you. What can I do for you today?”
“I am being deployed overseas on Friday, and there is a chance I will not come home. Is there a way you can take my sperm and freeze it for a later date? I need Frannie to have this baby, for her to continue her family legacy.”
“You do realize there is a cost involved in the storage,” Dr. Prisco said.
“How much are we talking?” he asked.
“About two thousand, more or less.”
“When can I do this? It’s imperative Frannie not know. It would be the same as admitting I’m not coming home, and she can’t be allowed to entertain that thought.”
“At your earliest convenience since I know you’re up against time. How about in an hour?”
“Thank you, Dr. Prisco. I will be there.” Charlie was pleased with himself.
When he returned to the bedroom to get dressed, Fran was awake. “What are you doing, Charlie?”
“I need to take care of something downtown, honey. I’ll be back soon.”
“It’s related to my deployment. I won’t be long, sweetheart, and I’ll be home.” He walked to the bed and kissed her. “Don’t cry, my love. I’ll be back soon.”
Charlie took money he had gotten as an advance on his salary and headed to the doctor’s office, ready to help Frannie achieve her final desire. Ninety minutes later, his mission accomplished, Charlie was on his way back home to the love of his life.
While he was gone, Fran got up from the bed and got dressed to make breakfast and turn Marne loose in the pasture. The pot of spoiled milk sat on the stove, and she huffed in exasperation. Fran never returned to finish the cheese from the previous afternoon. She had just finished a saucepan of gravy when Charlie returned home, a fresh batch of biscuits waited on a cooling rack.
“It smells heavenly in here,” Charlie said. He walked up behind Fran and kissed her neck. “I love that you made my favorite breakfast.”
“Why wouldn’t I?” she asked and smiled. “It’s my way of spoiling you.”
“You do such a fantastic job of spoiling me, too, Frannie.” He set the dining table, carried biscuits, and set them down upon it. He poured two mugs of coffee and set them on the table while she finished cooking eggs. And when they sat to eat, they joined hands together, his fervent prayer spoken.
After breakfast, they worked side by side to clean the kitchen and retired back to their bedroom. For a time, Charlie and Fran cuddled together, no words spoken, but their love was understood. They had one more full day to spend together, and neither of them wanted to miss a moment of it.
The next morning, Charlie’s phone woke him. Dr. Prisco was on the other end of the line.
“Mr. Farmer, this is Dr. Prisco. I wanted to let you know we have more than a sufficient number of viable sperm from the sample you gave yesterday, so if the need should arise, there is a better chance of success than I first believed.”
“This is great news! Thank you so much,” Charlie said, relieved.
“I will pray for you and Fran that we will never need them, Charlie,” Dr. Prisco said. “I wish you the best on your deployment. Come home safely.”
“Thank you, doctor,” he replied, and they disconnected the call. His life insurance could cover the expense of the procedure with plenty left over for Fran to live on, and he felt at peace. Even if he didn’t come back alive, he could still give her what she wanted most.
“Who was that, Charlie?” Fran asked, sleep still heavy in her voice.
“The errand I ran yesterday was a physical exam before my deployment. The doctor called with the results of my bloodwork.” It was a half-truth.
“How did it turn out, love?”
“It was perfect, my Frannie.”
“Time is short. Do you want to have breakfast yet?” She snuggled back into his arms when he laid back down.
“Mmm, not yet,” he replied. “But I do need to pack my bag before tonight, baby. I need to report by five tomorrow morning.” He felt her shoulders heave in sorrow, and he was immediately sorry he had said anything. “Shh, Frannie, it’s okay, love.”
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared to death, Charlie. This time is different than Dragon Valley. You’re going to a war zone.” She kissed him, tears streamed down her face, and dampened his skin. “What if—”
“No, baby, don’t think that way. Now is the time to lean on prayer and our faith. Frannie, I want you to attend our chapel. I need you to pray. And keep your heart and mind on me coming home in one piece. A year will be over before we know it.” He wiped the tears from her face and embraced her. “I love you more than life itself.”
“Charlie, love me like it’s our last day on earth. I need you.”
Fran was sound asleep in Charlie’s arms, but he needed to get up. He hated how quickly time passed on their last day together. But Charlie decided to do her chores one final time, so he got dressed and groomed Marne for her. Missy and Moo were in the barn waiting for him and the apple he had in his pocket for them. He took his time with them, not sure if either Missy or Moo would still be on the farm in a year. In a way, Charlie said goodbye to both of them and walked from the barn. In the chicken coop, he collected a few eggs and brought them inside.
Fran was awake and making supper when he came inside. It wasn’t a big, elaborate meal, but she made it with her own hands, the last act of love shown to her husband. He walked to where she stood and hugged her, nuzzled his face into her neck, and kissed her tenderly. Fran turned around and rested her head on his chest. His heartbeat comforted her.
“Supper is almost ready, love,” she whispered.
He kissed the top of her head and rocked her in his arms. “It smells wonderful.”
They sat and ate together without words spoken, but none were needed. They both knew what was coming, and they both hated it. And when they finished, Fran stood to clean the kitchen, but Charlie stopped her.
“One last time, Frannie, let me spoil you.” She shook her head, but he held her close to him. “Go wait for me, love. I’ll be up soon. Please, let me do this for you.”
“Okay,” she finally yielded and kissed him. “I’ll be waiting.”
Half an hour later, Charlie walked up the stairs to Fran, but she was asleep on the bed, curled up with his pillow. He knew she had been crying, and it broke his heart. Charlie sat on the bed near her and reached to stroke her hair, and suddenly he was overwhelmed. Everything he would miss, the fact that she would be alone while he was gone distressed him, and he cried.
His weeping woke Fran, and she began to cry again. “Oh, sweetie,” he sobbed, “this is not how I want to spend our last night together.”
“I know,” she wept. “I just want to be near you. I will miss you terribly, and I can’t wait until next year.”
“Come here, love, and let me hold you.” He laid down on the bed with her and embraced her. He knew he had to pack, but all he wanted to do was love her. He covered her in kisses and allowed her to cry in his arms. “Oh, Frannie, I love you,” he repeated whispered confessions into her ear. And he loved her into the night until she finally fell asleep, exhausted.
Charlie still needed to pack his duffel bag, though some of the gear he would take was on base. So after she fell asleep, he spent time and organized uniforms, equipment, personal items, and a handkerchief with Fran’s perfume on it. He opened a photo frame from the bedroom, and took the picture within, tucked it into his prayer book, and packed it into the bag. By two o’clock, he was ready except for a shower and the goodbyes.
He counted on being able to sleep on the flight that would bring them overseas because he hadn’t slept a wink in nearly twenty-four hours. He walked to the yard and looked around the town at the neighbor’s farm, to the garden plot that Caleb had tilled the morning he learned of the deployment. Missy, Moo, and Marne were asleep in the barn. Crickets still sang in the field behind the barn, and lightning bugs glowed in the tall grasses behind the fence. Charlie sat in the pasture and watched the stars, breathed in the fresh country air and sighed.
He walked back into the house and up the stairs to their bedroom. Fran slept peacefully, wrapped around his pillow. He watched her sleep for a moment and walked to the shower. The water was warm, and it felt good. He wasn’t sure when his next warm bath would be, and he closed his eyes and relished it.
The moment he dreaded since he learned of his deployment was upon him, and he walked to Fran. Gently, he kissed her to wake her. He wore his uniform, and the instant she saw him, tears filled her eyes.
“No,” she cried. “You can’t leave me!”
“I have to, sweetie.” He sat on the bed with her and caressed her cheek. “I will call you when we get there, I promise. And as often as I can, I will call you. I will come home to you. Count on it, my love.”
“You’d better, Charlie. I love you with all my heart.” She stood up to hug him, and he held her tight to him.
“Oh baby, I love you with all I have. I’ll be home.” He kissed her. “Walk me downstairs.”
She walked with him to the living room. His duffel bag sat at the door and waited for him. A sob choked her, and she flung her arms around his neck.
“Remember, Frannie. I want you to attend our chapel. I need you to pray for me. Ma and Pa will make sure you’re okay, honey. Sunny and Caleb will help whenever you need it. Lean on our friends and neighbors, and I’ll be home before you know it.” He kissed her and held her. “Frannie, I love you.”
“Charlie, I love you. Come home to me.” They broke their embrace, and he picked up his bag and walked five steps from her. Tears filled her eyes as he walked away. But he stopped, dropped his pack, and ran back to her.
“Pray for me, Frannie. Please, pray with all you have. I’ll call you tonight.” He kissed her, wiped his eyes, and kissed her again. “I love you.”
Fran couldn’t speak any longer, sobs shook her body, and she fell to her knees as he walked away from her. She watched as he got into the car that arrived for him and waved as they drove away. “I love you,” she whispered as the car disappeared in a cloud of dust.
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