This story is part of the The Phoenix Rising Series.
Title: Last of a Breed
His fingers with their meticulously manicured nails slowly placed his burnished gold buttons in their holes as he donned his red serge uniform. Three of his fingers were bent and slightly crooked but their misshapen form didn't impede his progress for he'd long ago learned how to handle impediments due to injury created infirmity.
It was harder this morning to pull the brown leather of his Sam Browne over his shoulder and fasten it securely at his waist. He was proud of the fact that he was only one button hole away from the same buttonhole he'd used for years to secure the belt. The leather was slightly worn but well cared for and rode the crease of his shoulder without the stiffness that a new accoutrement might have done. He patted the buckle when he was done and glanced down at his feet.
The leather of his boots was highly polished and soft with long months of careful care. A hardly worn new pair stood nakedly in the closet waiting for their turn at service. Each boot lace was tied tautly and was free of fraying ends.
The jodhpurs tucked into the boot tops were crisp and without the shining worn look so often seen on often worn dark blue wool. And again, he was proud of the fact that even the waist of his jodhpurs was only one button, give or less a half inch from the button set he had worn as a new recruit.
He turned to cast one last look in the mirror on the wall and smoothed back the edges of his slightly graying hair which he now wore a little longer than he was wont to do in years past. His eyes swept over the soft gray hairs over his ears and he noted that what used to be a very thick layering of hair was respectably dressed and combed smooth. For though the hair covering his head was a little thinner than it used to be and gray had begun to creep into even the determined cowlick at the back there was still more than enough of it to keep his head warm under his Stetson on colder days.
He searched the gray/blue eyes that looked back at him in the mirror and his lips formed a softly sad smile. He turned and reached up with an aching shoulder to retrieve his Stetson off the hook that hung beside the mirror. He turned the soft, felt hat around in his fingers and grinned down at the burnished silver buckle that enclosed the leather strap on its crown. He ran a forefinger over the edge of the buckle that he still kept with a sharply razored edge. After a moment's thought he dropped the hand holding the Stetson down to his side and used his free hand to shut off the light switch beside the doorframe and opened the bedroom door.
Stepping through the doorway, he closed the bedroom door behind him without taking a look back into the darkness of the room. The smell of freshly made coffee reached his nostrils and he turned his head towards the room down the long hall where he knew breakfast was being prepared. He walked over to the hall tree beside the front door and placed his Stetson on a hook over his navy, wool winter coat. Then placing a hand softly at the buckle of his Sam Browne he turned and walked towards the kitchen with a soft grin upon his face.
She'd made sure she was the first to rise from their bed that morning and had stood and watched him wrapped comfortably in their thick comforter as he slept. She'd resisted the temptation to push the hair away from his forehead as he slept and had softly picked up her robe and after donning it left the room quietly on thickly slippered feet.
By the time she'd dressed in the bathroom down the hall and was working in the kitchen the sun was barely coming in the kitchen window she'd heard him rise from their bed and begin getting ready for the day. She'd smiled and continued working quietly knowing he would enter the kitchen when he was ready just as he had every day since their marriage.
She waffled back and forth between the table and the stove and kitchen counter placing the dishes and utensils just so on the table surface. She knew exactly when he stood in the kitchen doorway and turned to smile at him.
He walked over to her and stood looking down at her tiny form and softly curled hair that she'd worn in so many different styles over the years. Her own hair was beginning to show gray at the temples but it was as soft and beautiful as the day he had met her. She cast her eyes up and down his uniformed body and grinned up at him for to her he was the same as the day she had first fallen in love with him. She stepped over and wrapped her arms round him and let her hand gently wrap itself around the hand with its misshapen fingers. He leaned down and nuzzled the top of her hair with the side of his face. He lifted her off the floor for the space of a brief second and put her back safely on her feet. He leaned over and kissed her cheek and then surveyed the table.
Normal days would find a place setting for him and one for her. Normal days would have their coffee cups and juice glasses set next to each other at the long table that had been in the family so long. Today the table was set with their place settings at each end of the table on opposing ends. Today the table was set with ten extra place settings. And where there would normally be a minimal sort of breakfast laid out on the table, today the table was extended out to its limit and there was every breakfast food enjoyed by those who would be gracing their table.
The sound of pounding footsteps rang through the hall while they shared a glance before turning to the kitchen door. Several small children ran into the room yelling at the top of their voices. "He is too awake. Grandpa is right here and so is Grandma."
A tall man with a head of dark and unruly hair stepped into the room one step behind the small herd of children. He gave his father a rueful grin and used his hands to try and shoosh the children.
More voices sounded from the hallway and a knock was heard at the front door. The sound of voices filled the front hall, one voice rising above the others.
In the kitchen, the man in red serge turned and a wide grin broke the soft line of his lips. The small woman at his side placed a hand on his arm and nodded towards the kitchen door.
He strode past the children placing a hand on each head as he passed and gripping his son's shoulder as the young man gave him a quick hug. He walked with a sure stride towards the oncoming sound of familiar steps.
The two men stood and looked at each other in the middle of the hallway with their family filling the spaces behind them. Each man grinned and leaned towards the other and grasping on to an opposite set of shoulders held on tight for a moment.
"So, today's the day. You're finally gonna hang up the uniform?" The taller, thinner man stood back and hoped the tears that he felt burning the backs of his eyes weren't visible.
The man in red nodded and looked directly at his friend and then at his family forming a thick sea of loving faces around him; around them. He grinned and stood a little straighter and felt a little prouder than he had a few minutes before. He wrapped an arm around his friend, partner and brother-in-law and began to guide him back toward the breakfast that was waiting for them.
He sat in the chair at the head of the table and looked around at his family; his son who sat beside his twin siblings and at all the grandchildren. He found his eyes caught by those soft brown eyes at the end of the table and felt his heart grow full.
It was time, more than time to leave the service after years of traveling north and south of the border on the whim of his superiors. They would still move between the two counties of their births but now the moves would be made at their choice; on their whim.
He bowed his head and listened to his brother-in-law say grace over their repast and knew that that which was dearest to him wouldn't really change.