Later that afternoon, Spencer and Dale took Sarah outside to play in the snow and Lauren offered Kate some hot tea. She had accepted and they had a nice visit in the formal living room by themselves. Lauren right away told Kate not to feel awkward under the circumstances.
“Sure thing, Mrs. K.” He pulled their coats from the closet and they were soon walking along the edge of the woods. The temperature was near 40, and Kate could hear the crunching of their boots on the older snow. The scent of pine was heavy from the trees all around the property. “I have a feeling that she wanted Sarah to herself,” Kate said once they were out of listening distance from the house. Not that she worried about being heard.
Spencer drove down a rocky driveway and pulled in front of a sprawling ranch home with pine trees on three sides and smoke coming from a chimney. Kate didn’t think it would take her long to settle in. Just the setting was peaceful to look at. A long porch ran along the front of the house where a porch swing and several chairs with flowered cushions made it look inviting, even in winter.
A few days after getting their tree decorated with popcorn strings, courtesy of Mrs. P, and the other decorations Kate had, she made the decision that they would travel north since Spencer offered to go with them. Kate didn’t want to deny Sarah or the Kern’s the chance to visit. They would be gone for five days and when they got back, they would still be some time to prepare for their early Christmas before Kate had to deploy. There was no way Kate would have made the trip with Sarah by herself at that time of year, in that kind of weather otherwise.
Kate drove to the mall glad for a few hours by herself. Decorations hung from street lights throughout the area, different themes for the various towns on her route. The mall was also decked out, with huge displays inside, including a Santa for parents to get pictures with their kids while sharing what they wanted for Christmas, if they weren’t too shy. Kate stood watching a few minutes, thinking the parents were more embarrassing than the kids.
Kate left the rest of the decorations in the box, so that Sarah could help her put them out later when they had time. The remaining ornaments were made of wood or felt and Sarah wouldn’t be able to hurt them. Kate made a list of items she’d like to buy including some lights, stockings and gift wrap.
After picking up Sarah from Mrs. Pettigrew’s, they picked up dinner from Subway. Kate wasn’t in the mood for using her culinary skills. Though she felt less tense, she was still angry and upset she had to leave Sarah in a few weeks. They were still getting to know one another and the ‘rules’ of their relationship, and all that, which made her unhappy at the prospect of leaving and having to start over when she returned. But with so many troops stationed all around the world, she had to. After all, this is what she signed all those papers for.
Spencer’s heart sank. Oh, no. This will not be good. He continued on to his station, where he dropped into a chair and blew out his breath. Kate always put her heart into things full force but if you steer her where she doesn’t want to go, she’s like a raging bull.
Unfortunately the eased tension from the day before increased when Kate arrived at work. She was informed she had to leave over the holidays for two months. Kate’s stomach felt like a fighting match going on inside. Even though it was a short deployment, it was still too long for her. What in the world would she tell Sarah and how was she going to take it? It was a good thing she was young and didn’t really know how her daddy died. The last thing she needed was for the little girl to worry about Kate dying, not just being away.