This story is part of the The Phoenix Rising Series.
She heard the sound of the front door closing as the last person who had come to help celebrate the last day of her husband's life as an officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police went on their way toward whatever their own lives held in store for them. She counted the hours in her head the number of hours that would find them all together again at a celebratory party to be held that night in their home.
She moved back and forth between the table and the kitchen counter and finished putting the last of the dirty dishes into the dishwasher. She thought over the presence of their family and friends this morning and smiled at the way her brother, Ray, had been so relaxed when his wife, Bree, had been called away just as she had at so many family functions over the years. She mulled over the thought that perhaps it was years of being married to a physician as well as being the parent of a small brood of half Irish, half Italian children that had finally taught Ray a higher level of patience than he had had before his marriage.
She turned to hang up her apron on the very same hook her mother had hung her apron for over 50 years. As she took the apron off she heard the sharp crinkling sound made by the two envelopes that were in her pocket. As she removed the envelopes that had arrived the day before, she remembered being too busy to actually look at them when then they arrived. She had barely looked at them before placing them in the pocket of her apron. Now she wondered if perhaps she just hadn't actually wanted to acknowledge their existence.
Holding the envelopes in her hand, she moved over to the table and sat down where she placed them side by side on the table surface. She ran a finger over the careful writing that spelled out her husband's name. She smiled and then noted that though both missives were written in the same strongly written hand that the sender's postal location shown differently on each envelope.
She raised the one addressed to her and paused a moment before placing a finger near the most obvious portion of the envelopes closure flap. With but a moments hesitation, she finally opened it and pulled out a crisp, starkly white piece of stationary. A quick glance down the missive to the signature gave her a slight moment's pause. She took a deep breath and began to read:
I must admit that I am very glad I listened to you all those years ago and that you trust me enough to read my letter. You and I got off to rather a bad start. And if I am to be completely honest here, I was quite jealous that he chose you over me. But I can see now from the vantage point of hindsight that though I thought Ben and I were of a like mind about duty and other things, that we both needed so very much more that. It turned out that I found someone who means a great deal to me. And what's more, I mean a great deal to him. I was never quite sure if Ben really knew how I felt. Looking back, I quite see that I didn't know myself, how I felt I mean.
We've been lucky you and I. I still count Ben as one of the best officers; one of the best men, to have been part of my life.
I am billeted out of Ottawa now. Have been for some time. There's been a lot of talk lately, about Ben's retirement; his exploits. I don't think they know quite what to do with him now that he's retiring. Some crazy reporter up here caught wind of Ben's history and has splattered some of the more exotic of his exploits all over one of those rag magazines. He's even questioned Ottawa's reasons for keeping Ben posted south of the border.
The higher ups are in a bit of a tizzy trying to figure out how to make that look good. I strongly suspect that they will want to drag Ben up to Ottawa for some official note of his career.
I wanted to warn you about that. I can't see Ben giving in to them. But, if he does, I wanted to warn you about the political waters up here. Some loon just might take it into his head to try and bully Ben into doing something by using those principles of his against him. That might be rather hard to do with you by his side.
Thanks to the reporter from that rag magazine, I've seen recent pictures of you and Ben. So I thought I might send you this note to give you a bit of warning in case some 'old' news items might come to light.
Anyway, I just wanted to wish you and Ben the best of good wishes.
Francesca read the letter slowly. She hadn't noticed the passage of time as she sat there. She also hadn't noticed her son, Chase, come into the room and stand behind her. And thus, she didn't see the worried expression cross his face as he watched her read. When she was done reading and about to fold the paper and place it back within the confines of its envelope she was surprised to feel a soft hand on her shoulder.
She knew the strength and comfort of that hand. Chase may have been Victoria's son by her husband but he was all hers in her heart. She'd raised the boy since he was 3 and he had taken her to heart as his mother as readily as she had called him son. She put one of her own hands over the soft, yet firm hand of the man Chase had grown into and turned her head to look up at him with a reassuring smile.
It never failed to amaze her that all of her children looked more like her husband with his dark hair, fair skin and startlingly frank blue/gray eyes than they did her side of the family. Each of the children had inherited his dark, thick sometimes unmanageable hair. All three of them had been blessed with that fair complexion their father had inherited from some distant Scottish ancestor. The twins had, however, inherited her more outgoing and rather flamboyant nature. Their daughter was enough like her mother to give even Francesca pause as the girl entered her teen years. So, now she looked up into the face of their eldest child and was amazed yet again as she was nearly every time she looked at him by his startling resemblance to his father. Of the three children, Chase had the more introspective nature so like his father's.
Francesca pushed her chair back and hugged Chase to her for a moment. She pulled away and grinned as she looked over his very serious expression.
"It's nothing serious; just a letter from a very old friend. Someone I hadn't thought to hear from again." She turned and lifted the letter address to Ben from the table. "Would you put that on your father's dresser before you leave?"
The young man cocked his head and searched his mother's face as if to make sure that she wasn't hiding something from him and took the letter from her hands. What he saw in her face reassured him and he leaned over and kissed the top of her head. "I'll do it on my way out."
She watched him leave the kitchen and for just a moment expected him to bounce and slide along the wood floor just as he had at the age of three. She shook her head and laughed for his own son did exactly that every morning.
Hours later with the house ready for the onslaught of visitors and her hair finally as she wanted it, Francesca entered their bedroom to dress for the festivities. She'd planned to surprise Ben and wear her Prussian blue suit that she'd worn years ago that she knew was still among his favorite of her things. She knew he carried a picture of her wearing the outfit in his wallet. She'd had the skirt updated a bit and taken out the shoulder pads...but it still looked nice on her for her figure hadn't changed that much over the years.
Ben was already in their room, having showered and freshly shaved. His red serge uniform was laid out reverently on the bed where he had placed each items as he undressed. He wore a new pair of dark blue jeans with a blue, button neck, soft collared shirt. He turned to his dresser and began removing those items that he wanted to carry in his pockets.
Francesca quickly dressed in her suit while he was busy and slipped on a pair of low heeled shoes. She moved quietly across the carpeted rug and stood next to him where her eyes could barely see the top of his dresser. She noted that Meg's letter had been opened and read.
She put out her hand to trail a finger across the envelope and looked up into his eyes.
"She told me that she had written you as well." He said the words softly as he pulled her into his arms. "She's quite right you know. She and I would... well, we..."
"I know." She placed her right arm around his still nearly youthful waist just below the tiny ridges he frowned at whenever he took the time to assess himself. "Come on, our friends are waiting." She reached up on tip toe and planted a kiss on his check. Then she stepped away and walked out in front of him with a look over her shoulder. They walked out of their bedroom and closed the door behind them and walked towards the sound of laughter, towards their family and friends.