Spencer Eats a Late Dinner

An hour later, his stomach growled and still no sound came from the bedroom. He checked the kitchen for anything edible. He didn’t find anything but sour milk and some wilted carrots. “At least she’s been eating, huh, boy?” Buttons was sticking close to him, so he put him back on the leash and drove to the store. Since the commissary on base was now closed, he drove to the grocery store nearby.

Buttons barked when he left him in the car, but Spencer told him, “I’ll be right back, I promise.” He went inside and bought apples, bananas, carrots, mushrooms, green leaf lettuce, red potatoes, some soup, soy milk, eggs, and a few other items. He knew a little of the stuff Kate usually bought because of her half-vegan diet. She had told him once that she was trying to eat less processed stuff and cook more. Which he and John appreciated from her efforts. He walked back to the car, stowing the bags in the back seat while Buttons barked furiously. “See, I said I’d be right back.” He slid in the front seat and Buttons tried sitting on his lap. “Sorry, Bud, but not while I’m driving.” He scooted him over on to the passenger seat. “Stay.” Buttons whined, but he settled down.

Back at Kate’s, it took Spencer two trips to bring in the bags and then he unloaded everything, hoping he put most things where Kate liked them. “Now, how about an omelet for a late dinner?” Buttons seemed to know what Spencer was saying and didn’t let the human out of his sight.

As Spencer chopped mushrooms, tomatoes and peppers, he wondered if he should try and wake up Kate or not, but figured she might need the sleep, so let her be. He and Buttons shared the omelet and then Spencer washed up the few dishes and unloaded the dishwasher since it had finished its cycle.

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Kate Explodes

“Kate? Are you okay?” Spencer watched Kate, concerned. He gingerly moved next to her, waiting for the screaming, or something. It was now four weeks after the funeral. He didn’t think he could wait any longer, given the circumstances and knowing Sarah’s fate was in her hands.

Kate jumped up, startling him. “Am I okay!? Are you kidding? I’m now a mother of a little girl I know nothing about. A little girl I didn’t know existed until a few weeks after her father died. A little girl who I’m supposed to let know her father loves her, when he could never say that to me? Do you think I’m okay?!” She snatched up a cup of pens from the end table and threw it against the wall. Then she stormed off to her bedroom and slammed the door.

Spencer heard her yell through the door, “You can leave anytime!” And then something thrown at the door. He picked up the papers and folded them neatly back into the envelope and laid it on the table. Thanks, John. It’s going to be a long night. He took off his shoes and put them by the door, then opened the patio door wider to air out the place. He couldn’t quite place the odor, but it was bad.

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Kate Learns a Secret

Kate ripped open the envelope Spencer handed her and pulled out several sheets of paper, including one in John’s handwriting. Seeing his script again jolted her. She scanned the letter at first and then read it word for word.

 

Dear Kate,

If you’re reading this, you know I’m no longer living. I have always loved you, but I couldn’t say so. Because I had a secret. One that I was afraid you wouldn’t accept. I remember you saying more than once, you didn’t ever want to be a mother because yours left when you were young.

Kate, I have a daughter, Sarah, who’s living with her mother in Iowa. But Sarah’s mother is dying of cancer and she will become my responsibility unless something happens to me. Sarah will be your legal daughter if both her mother and I die. Enclosed you will find the necessary documents you need to find her. Only Spencer, the lawyer, and Beth, Sarah’s mother, know.   We were young and stupid, but Sarah is not a mistake. I know you will love her with every fiber of your being once you absorb the shock. Please allow Spencer to help you in getting her settled in and don’t blame him for keeping my secret as I’ve asked. Because Sarah will legally become a ward of the state before you adopt her, you will get a monthly stipend from the Iowa government to provide for her. There shouldn’t be any snags with the paperwork, but the attorney’s contact info is enclosed if you need any help or have any questions I haven’t answered in the paperwork or this letter. The legal office on base can assist you as well.

Kate, this was the hardest letter I’ve ever written. Please know that I love you, and I trust you with Sarah. Please love her as your own and tell her her daddy loved her.

I love you, Kate, and please forgive me.

Love always,

John

 

Kate dropped the letter and the other papers on the floor, her eyes focused on nothing and everything. She couldn’t read anymore. This couldn’t possibly be happening. There was no way she was going to be a mother. And especially to a stranger and to John’s flesh and blood who she’d have to look at every day. What on earth had he been thinking? How could he have kept this from her all this time? How could he possibly do this to her? All these questions and more swarmed around in her head.

She was now going to become a mother, her worst nightmare? And then she had to tell this daughter that John loved her? How could she possibly do that? He hadn’t had the nerve to ever use those words with her. The audacity of it all made her want to scream. No way! Not happening.

Why didn’t he tell her anyway, so she could wring his neck instead of Spencer’s?

****

Until next time,

Michelle

Spencer Visits Kate

Several days passed and Spencer hadn’t heard from Kate. He saw her at the office, but she ignored him and many others around her. She refused to join in any kind of banter and she no longer smiled. She focused on her work and left as soon as it was done. Kate seemed like a cardboard cutout of herself, very stiff and wooden.

Finally on Friday, Spencer drove to her apartment and rang the bell. He held the envelope in his hand, ready to pass it on. He felt he better inform Kate personally before some government agency or an attorney did.

But there was no answer. He didn’t hear Buttons barking either, so maybe they were on a walk. He decided to wait a minute. A neighbor came out into the hall from next door and said, “She ain’t home, man. She left yesterday with a bag.” The neighbor was holding an empty laundry basket.

“Oh. Thanks. I’ll come back later.” He wondered where she took off to. He didn’t know she had any leave coming, not that he knew every detail of Kate’s life. So much for getting this over with. He’d have to wait for her return.

For the next several days, Spencer went to work on auto pilot. He did what needed to be done and left early most days. He waited to hear from Kate, but she never called. Jen and Kelly didn’t even know where she took off to. Finally, two weeks later he heard thru the grapevine that she was back. Two Fridays after his first attempt, he drove directly to Kate’s right after work.

This time when he knocked, she opened the door and backed up. She looked awful. Her hair was a mess and her eyes were red. An odor drifted out to the hallway causing Spencer to wrinkle his nose. “Kate, you’ve got to-“

“Don’t preach to me, Spencer. You’re the one who came over uninvited.”

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Spencer Visits with John’s Parents

Spencer called after Kate, wanting to set up a time to get together. But he let her go for now. He felt the same way, wanting to be alone with his thoughts and memories of his adventures with John. But he went back inside the church and talked with John’s parents. He wanted to see if John ever mentioned his daughter to them, without having to come out and ask point-blank. He also wondered why John left her to Kate instead of his parents, but figured he thought he and Kate would marry and raise her. Life had a way of changing things. He hoped Kate accepted it better than he thought she would.

Spencer ate a few bites of ham, mashed potatoes and a Jello salad with pineapple and coconut in it. Comfort food. But today it wasn’t very comforting.

Mrs. Kern leaned over and whispered, “She’ll be fine, eventually. We were kind of expecting this to happen eventually. With three sons in the military, our odds were pretty high.”

Spencer nodded. “Still, it’s hard.”

She continued. “It is, but there is always the Comforter to help in times like this. And we were very proud of him; still are.” She stopped to wipe her eyes with her tissue before continuing. “John’s brothers couldn’t make it; one’s in Kandahar and the other in Germany. But we’ll get together with them soon and have a good family cry.” She wiped her eyes and gave Spencer a wobbly smile.

He nodded, not wanting to say anything.

Mrs. Kern sipped her coffee before asking, “Now, will you be taking care of Kate?” She gave him a knowing smile.

Spencer turned in the direction that Kate took off. He turned back to Mrs. Kern and sighed. “If she’ll let me. She’s very stubborn.”

“That’s what John said. But he liked that in her, though sometimes it was a problem. I think she’ll need you, Spencer. I know the three of you have been friends for a while, and that you liked her from the beginning, but that she chose John. You’re a gentleman, and you deserve to have her now. Don’t let her push you away.”

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Kate at John’s Funeral

Kate sat in the front pew of the church, next to John’s parents and Spencer. Various other family members and the group from Scott Air Force Base, including CO Connors sat in rows behind and to the right of them. She tried not to cry whenever she heard someone else sniff. Be strong. She stared at the bouquets of carnations and roses, several arrangements in the red, white and blue colors of their beloved country. Several peace lilies, with their huge white blooms in stark contrast to their dark green leaves adorned the stage along with other house plants that she didn’t recognize.

The pastor talked of peace and a reunion of some kind in heaven when those who also knew Jesus would one day be together again. Kate had heard John talk a little about religion, but she had never thought much about what she believed. And right now she didn’t want to think about it. She was so angry that John was gone and left her behind. She had so many questions and would never get the answers. It felt like she was left hanging with nowhere to turn. As far as funerals went, John’s service seemed to be more uplifting than others she’d attended. That gave her food for thought as she followed the line winding into the fellowship hall.

After the service, Spencer and Kate and a few others had lunch with John’s family. His mother, Mrs. Kern, had said she heard so much about her, and Kate wondered how much John had said. “Kate, I know the next few weeks will be difficult for you, but please feel free to call me if you like.” Mrs. Kern handed Kate a lavender envelope with a scent that reminded her of a spring garden. “You can open this later.” Mrs. Kern squeezed Kate’s hand and said she’d be praying for her. Kate said thanks, wondering if John had been in love with her or not. Now she would never know, and that hurt most of all. And then she wondered why his mom would be praying for her. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

After eating what little she could get down, she said goodbye to John’s parents and left. She was anxious to get out of her blues and to have a good cry by herself. Spencer called after her, but she kept her pace, ignoring him. Confused and hurt, she made a quick getaway. She needed to be alone.

****

Until next time,

Michelle

Spencer Prepares for the Funeral

Spencer straightened the ribbons on his blues jacket, swallowing his sadness. He had met John’s family a time or two when they had visited John when he was stationed at Castle and Pope. They were proud of their son and tried to visit each base he had been stationed at. The last time Spencer had seen them was two years ago. He knew this day would be tough for all of them, especially Kate. He prayed for strength and wisdom for the weeks ahead.

He thought of the letter written by John, now sitting on Spencer’s desk at home after he pulled it out from his file safe. He would have to give it to Kate and soon. He’d rather stand still through a tornado.

Spencer recalled previous exchanges he’d heard between Kate and John when Kate would say something like, “I’m never going to be a mother and there’s no changing my mind.” Or, “Motherhood, who needs it?” Spencer didn’t take her too seriously, and hoped she had been joking. He’d find out soon enough.

But now, he had a funeral to attend. He ran down the stairs to the lobby and out to the cab, feeling like a twenty pound pumpkin weighed down his stomach.

****

Until next time,

Michelle

Kate Prepares for John’s Funeral

For several days, Kate found herself wandering her apartment, looking at photos of her and John on dates at the zoo, or at the St. Louis Arch, or with other Air Force friends. She cried so much, she couldn’t anymore.

Jen came over one afternoon after her shift with a small bouquet of carnations and daisies and a card. She stayed for a while and sat with Kate, not saying anything. In the silence they stared at the walls or watched Buttons playing with his rope. Kelly called and brought over some German chocolate cake, which Kate appreciated but couldn’t eat. She put it in the freezer for another day.

The only productive things she did had to do with making sure her blues uniform was in regulation form and packing it in her garment bag along with her black pumps wrapped in a towel to keep them from getting scuffed.

Spencer had called a couple days earlier to let her know when the funeral would be. He offered to come over so they could arrange the same flight, but she didn’t want company. As soon as she hung up, she called for a flight up to St. Paul/Minneapolis. John’s family lived in a suburb of the Twin Cities.

Two days later, the day of the funeral was bright and sunny, completely the opposite of Kate’s mood. She didn’t pay any attention to the scenery during her cab drive to and from the airport to her hotel. Somehow she blocked out the traffic and noise along the freeways. She knew the Mall of America was around somewhere, but she certainly wasn’t interested in anything like that. This morning she dressed in her blues uniform and fixed her hair and makeup, in a robotic state. Spencer booked into a different hotel and was coming to pick her up while she waited in the lobby.

Now she would meet John’s family for the first and last time. The thought upset her and she grabbed a tissue from her bag.

****

Until next time,

Michelle

Spencer and Kate Go for a Drive

A minute later, Kate returned with her cap shoved on her head, her eyes red. Spencer said quietly, “My car’s this way.” As much as he wanted to, he wanted to hold Kate’s hand, but regulations wouldn’t allow it unless they were out of uniform. He stuffed his left hand in his pocket, the other holding his keys which he didn’t feel like spinning on his finger. He would miss his friend and the memories and jokes they shared. But he knew things would change after he finally told Kate what John could not. And he dreaded that conversation like a root canal.

The drive was silent as a cave minus the dripping. Not even the radio was on. Spencer couldn’t remember when or why he had turned it off. He didn’t bother turning it back on. He still had weepy eyes and wasn’t in the mood for music. Somehow silence seemed fitting.

Instead of driving straight to her apartment, Spencer drove to the park nearby where he sometimes jogged on Saturday mornings. He wasn’t sure he could trust himself to be alone with Kate in their grief. Though he had always had feelings for Kate, he saw early on that Kate had eyes for John. He backed off, and tried to think of other things, but he saw her almost every day, which made life difficult. Now with John gone, he felt guilty. He just couldn’t win. He turned the engine off and put the windows half-way down. Kate, with tears still falling, hadn’t noticed Spencer had parked. He let her be, lost in his own thoughts.

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Friends Grieve with Kate and Spencer

Previously on HFN: Spencer Grieves and Worries

Kelly came outside and rubbed Kate’s shoulders, “I’m so sorry, Kate.” Then others trickled out of the building to offer their condolences. Spencer slid over on the bench, but only slightly.

After a few minutes, Kate and Spencer were alone again. A pair of uniform pants and boots appeared in her vision and she let go of Spencer. Their commanding officer, Senior Master Sergeant Connors, must have asked Sergeant Thompson where they were. She didn’t even feel guilty and when she saw the look on his face; she knew it was okay under the circumstances. She and Spencer slowly stood up and half heartedly saluted.

Connors was a cool guy, not a hard-nosed jerk like some officers they knew and had worked under. Kate knew he had a sense of humor, though she didn’t see him often. She also knew he was fair.

His tall frame towered over them, but he never used his height to lord over anyone. His blue eyes often twinkled and he loved to share a good joke.

The CO dismissed them and was silent for a moment. When he finally spoke, it wasn’t a reprimand. “I’m sorry, Kate, Spencer. These things are difficult to take, but they happen.”

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