Charlies Pain and Healing

by SW MO Hermit

Copyright© 2010 by SW MO Hermit

Romantic Story: Charlie Fielding becomes a widower when his army officer wife crashes her helecopter in Afghanistan. After the funeral and selling their home in Washington state he decides to move back to his place of birth. On his drive home he meets another woman, has many adventures and falls in love. Later they marry.

Caution: This Romantic Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa   Consensual   Romantic   Heterosexual   Oral Sex   .

Charlie Fielding was not only following a family tradition. Charlie was following a personal dream. For as long as he could remember he had watched his Grandfather, his Father, his siblings and many of his uncles dress in their uniforms and go off to defend this great nation. When he was young, all he ever wanted to be was a soldier. As he got older, he added to his dream. Now he wanted to be a soldier AND a Veterinarian. The summer between his junior and senior year in high school his parents had signed the paperwork for him to enlist in the Army Reserve. He went to Basic Training that year and proudly wore his uniform to meetings throughout the following year. The summer after he graduated high school he went to Army Advanced Individual Training and came home a Veterinarian Technician.

He was accepted into Oklahoma State University at Stillwater. They had pre veterinary courses and a very good ROTC department. Even before he decided on classes toward his major he filled in the ROTC courses in his course plan. Next Charlie worked his general education and pre Vet courses into the matrix. He already had a part time job as a Vet Tech for a local veterinarian. His life was perfect; he was well on the way toward his goal.

The first day of class Charlie showed up early wanting to get a good seat near the front. He did that so he would miss nothing and so he could learn everything he could about his first career choice. Charlie managed to get a seat in the first row at the front of the room. He chose the aisle end of the long table. He heard other students filing into the room. They were loud and boisterous. Apparently none of them wanted to sit up front. Everyone that came in after Charlie filled in to the rear. He was wondering if he would be the only student at the front table or if the instructor would make someone move. Charlie was waiting impatiently for class to begin when he spied a vision of loveliness gliding down the aisle. She walked up beside Charlie and said, "Excuse me. If those seats aren't taken could I get by to sit in one?"

For the first time in his life Charlie was tongue tied around a female. He could only stare and move his chair clumsily closer to the table so she could get behind him. To his surprise the girl took the seat just beside him instead of one of the other two available. She turned to look at him and smiled. She said, "I always like to sit as close to the instructor as I can so I don't miss anything-well I do at least in the important classes."

By now Charlie had himself more under control and said, "I do too. I got here early to stake out the best seat. Oh, I'm Charlie. Charlie Fielding."

The girl smiled and said, "Charlene Tyler." She stuck her hand out to shake. When Charlie took her hand it felt so soft and feminine he had to force himself to let it go. Before they could talk further the instructor entered the room and demanded quiet. The first semester of classes for Charlie and Charlene had begun.

As the day progressed Charlie found he and Charlene were going to be classmates in three other classes that semester. Since they had already met each other they made it a point to sit together in all their classes. Soon they began studying together. They became partners in the ROTC labs as well. From studying together they became friends then Charlie took the big step. He asked Charlene for a date. He wanted so badly to go out with her his stomach was in a knot until she smiled and said she would go.

From that time on they were a couple. After the first semester of college Charlie and Charlene were inseparable. They took as many classes together as they could. If you saw one, the other was sure to be somewhere near. In fact it became common for invitations to one of them to a function to include the other. Their friends and acquaintances knew if they didn't invite both of them neither would come to the function.

At the end of their sophomore year both Charlie and Charlene signed the contract with the Army to continue in ROTC. They were declaring their intention to obtain a Commission and enter either the Reserves or Active Duty after graduation. In the summer between their Senior and Junior years they had to attend ROTC Advanced Camp for six weeks. They pleaded and cajoled their instructors until they finally made it a point to get them into the same 6-week cycle so they could spend what little free time they had together.

The few weeks after they got out of ROTC Advanced camp Charlie and Charlene spent with their parents, dividing the time equally between the two families. During one of their very few free Sundays they had gone down to the river near Charlie's home. They swam, lay in the sun, and made love to each other. During this outing they had admitted to each other that they were in love and wanted to spend their lives together.

After they had reached their agreement Charlie reached into his pocket and pulled out a beautiful engagement ring. He turned to Charlene and offered it to her as he said, "Charlene we both know we love each other. I want you to be my wife and I want you to wear this ring to show the world just how special you are to me. Will you please marry me?"

Charlene looked at Charlie and got tears in her eyes. Charlie looked into her eyes felt his heart fall when she did not reach out and the ring or offer her finger to him so he could place it on her. Charlene began crying and said, "Oh, Charlie I love you so much and I would like nothing better than to be your wife but, Charlie as much as I love you I can't accept your proposal until you understand I have another love and have to follow my heart to it also."

You know we both will be commissioned and will serve in the Army. Charlie you need to understand that from the first time I really saw an aircraft I have wanted to fly. You know I want to become an Army Aviator and make a career in the Army. Charlie I can't marry you no matter how much I love you unless you can accept my career choice. Can you do that honey?"

Charlie looked at her and smiled. He said, "You already know I come from a military family. I don't have any problem with that. You know we will both be obligated to the service after we finish college. If I get accepted into Veterinarian school my obligation will be as long as yours will be as a pilot. Right now I am not sure if I will stay on active duty or not but even if I don't I have no problem following you from post to post. I do know I will stay in the reserves so we will have to juggle careers in any event."

Charlene smiled and grabbed Charlie. Just as the kisses were getting serious they heard someone walking down the trail toward them. They had just broken apart and adjusted their clothes when some of Charlie's friends walked into the secluded area they were in. Of course they were properly harassed about being out in the woods alone. After the boisterous greeting and excited viewing of the ring by the ladies the afternoon degenerated into a rowdy good time.

During the next two semesters of college Charlie and Charlene continued to grow closer. They had begun living together after she accepted his proposal and began to learn how to merge their lives together. They learned what the other liked in bed and out. They were true soul mates, a couple destined to spend the rest of their lives together.

Finally May came and graduation was approaching. All the future commissionees were invited to the Professor of Military Science's home for that very important social function. They would be 'roasted' and then told what branch the Army had assigned them. Almost all the personnel to be commissioned were nervous about this. The Army does consider the desires of the individual but the needs of the service come first in assigning a branch.

Charlie and Charlene sat together on a love seat holding hands while awaiting the announcement and distribution of the paperwork. When Charlene's name was finally called the Professor of Military Science said, "Charlene congratulations. You've been assigned a very important position in the Army. You are in Transportation."

Charlene gasped and the tears began to leak from her eyes. Charlie glared at the PMS and wrapped his arms around Charlene to comfort her. The PMS walked to Charlene and handed her the branch insignia that she would wear after she was commissioned. Charlene and Charlie barely looked at the insignia because it was such a come down from her desire. Charlene just put the unopened insignia box into her pocket and turned to watch the rest of her friends be assigned their branch.

The Professor scowled at Charlene when she did that and turned to the next "victim". Finally came the "pinning". From now on the cadets would wear their branch insignia along with their cadet rank. When the order was given to pin each other Charlene sighed and handed her insignia to Charlie so he could perform the task.

Charlie began to tear the insignia open and stopped. He looked at the insignia. It wasn't correct for the Transportation Corps. He had Aviation Branch insignia to pin onto Charlene. Now he wondered if there had been an error.

Charlie stood and turned to the Professor of Military Science and said, "Sir I think there's been a mistake. You said Cadet Tyler was assigned to Transportation but you handed her Aviation Branch insignia."

The Professor of Military Science turned to Charlie and said, "No mistake Cadet. That's what pilots do. They transport people and things. Now, pin the Cadet like you're supposed to. Charlene's face lit up and she got the most amazing smile on her face. She squealed and turned to Charlie. She nearly flew into his lap and began hugging and kissing him. Finally through all the catcalls and whistles they heard the Professor of Military Science restoring the proper decorum. She flushed and pulled away from Charlie and allowed him to pin her branch insignia to her collar.

Charlie's branch notification was not as important as Charlene's because he had already been accepted into Vet School. Assuming he got through the program OK he would automatically be inducted into the Army Veterinarian Corps. In the interim he was commissioned in the Medical Service Corps.

The next month was very hectic. Finals, practice for commissioning, commissioning paperwork, practice for graduation, do everything for the wedding. Invitations had to go out for each affair separately. Not everyone invited to one function would be invited to another. Keeping them straight was a nightmare for Charlene and Charlie but they persevered. Finally the days they had been awaiting arrived. First came graduation, then in another location the commissioning for both Charlie and Charlene as Second Lieutenants, U S Army. Finally, three days after they graduated and were commissioned as Officers in the U.S. Army Charlie and Charlene were married.

The two newlyweds' took a three week long honeymoon. They had no destination in mind; rather they just packed Charlie's truck and drove west. They spent time in the Colorado Rockies, then drove to California and turned north at the coast. They took a leisurely drive up the coast highway, US1 and 101. They spent a week in the Seattle and Tacoma Washington area and fell in love with it. They decided to extend their first obligation to the service so they would be guaranteed posting at Ft. Lewis, WA. It was a very sorrowful couple that finally wended their way home and stepped back into reality.

That fall Charlie had to go on to Veterinarian school. Near the end of the summer Charlene was ordered first to her Officer's entry course, then to Pilot's training at Fort Rucker Alabama. She was realizing her childhood dream of flying but the separation from Charlie was heart breaking. She and Charlie were apart more than they were together for the next two years.

Finally Charlene's graduation from Pilot Training arrived. She had finally achieved her childhood goal and was ecstatically happy. Charlie cut some classes and surprised her when he attended her graduation. He was so proud when he pinned her newly minted wings on Charlene's chest

The couple was happy with each other and their marriage but so very sad about their many separations. In the first three years of marriage they were only together for the occasional weekend and a few weeks in the summer. The Army guaranteed they would be assigned to the same post after they were both on active duty. The day they could live together had seemed to take so very long. Charlie first had to finish his degree and internship.

Finally the happy day arrived. Charlie and Charlene were both assigned to Ft. Lewis Washington. For five glorious months they got to live together and explore the Puget Sound area. Suddenly they were called to go into harms way. Their unit was assigned to Iraq for operation Desert Storm. Of course they did get to see each other regularly. The army even had married housing for them. Unfortunately, their duties conflicted somewhat and they spent a lot of time apart. Charlie, now a Captain, had to travel to perform his primary duty of inspecting food. Charlene flew at all hours of the day. She would leave early and come back very late at night. They gloried in their short time together however and were even talking about starting a family when they returned to the states.

Finally the short war was over and President George "the First" Bush withdrew U S Forces. They lived, loved and once again gloried in each other but no children were conceived. After the many tests were completed it was discovered Charlene was barren. The pain was intense but finally they accepted the fact and got on with their lives.

Years passed and Charlie's active duty obligation was up. He elected to get out of the service and was released from active duty. He immediately sat up a Veterinary clinic. He stayed in the reserves. Charlene loved flying and stayed in the Army. Her unit was called to Afghanistan. She was a Major and commanded a Helicopter Company when she deployed. Charlie was so very proud of her.

They exchanged e-mail or talked nearly every night. Then one day he received nothing. The next day there was nothing. Charlie began to worry. Mid morning the third day he saw an Army sedan pull up in front of his clinic. He saw a Lt. Colonel and a Chaplain get out of the back seat and he knew. He turned pale and collapsed into a chair. His assistant saw this and thought he was ill. She walked hurriedly up to him and saw the tears.

Just as she was going to ask him what was wrong she heard the door open. She felt her heart lurch when she saw the Lt. Colonel and two other officers walk into the reception area. Charlie looked up into the Lt. Colonel's face and forced himself to struggle to his feet. He came as nearly to attention as he possibly could and said, "Yes Sir?"

The Colonel saw the ashen complexion on the man facing him and knew he already suspected why he was there. He was, after all, a reserve Major. He said, "Major Fielding?"

At Charlie's nod and whispered, "Yes Sir," the Colonel continued, "I have the unfortunate duty to inform you that your wife Major Charlene Fielding crashed on landing at Bagrham AFB, Afghanistan on Tuesday last. Her unit had been supporting ground operations in the mountains and her aircraft took small arms damage. Major, I'm sorry to tell you she sustained fatal injuries in that crash. Her last words were "Tell Charlie I love him and I'm so sorry".

Charlie broke down and let the grief and tears consume him. He vaguely remembered hearing the Lt. Colonel say that Captain Stewart would call back and assist with the necessary paperwork and the services. He never knew when the three officers left. He finally regained enough of his senses to realize his assistant was sitting beside him holding him to her breast while he cried out in his grief. His other two Veterinarian Technicians were standing crying with them. They all loved and respected Charlene and were devastated by Charlie's loss.

Charlie's clinic was very near the main gate to Ft. Lewis. Several of the people who worked in the nearby businesses were either in the service or were dependents. As soon as the army sedan had left a waitress from the café across the street came over. Her husband was a First Sergeant on post and she knew the significance of the sedan carrying the three officers, one of which was a chaplain. They were a notification team. When she had first seen it she prayed they were only asking directions but when the sedan left and returned toward post she knew.

Sonja walked into the office and saw the three women and Charlie crying. She heard enough to be sure Charlene was dead and turned back to the door, leaving as quietly as she could. She ran back across the parking lot to the café. Before Charlie and his assistants had recovered enough to begin the necessary tasks they now had, word was going out. Major Fielding had been killed in Afghanistan. Charlie's friends and acquaintances were being notified. After all, the Army takes care of it's own.

After Charlie regained a semblance of control he rose and walked to his office. Sherry, his assistant followed him through his door. He sat behind his desk and looked up at her red eyes. "Sherry, please arrange to either cancel all our appointments or for Harold to cover them for us. Tell everyone I am canceling office hours indefinitely and ask Harold if he can arrange to cover my work for an indefinite period. Please change the message on the answering system to correspond with our plans. I will be here making the necessary phone calls. I don't want to talk to anyone but family, close friends or the military."

In a hoarse voice Sherry only said, "Yes Sir. Charlie? Charlie I'm so sorry." She walked from the room to begin her sad duties for her employer. Her first call was to her husband. She told him the news and asked him to make some of the calls to people she knew Charlie would want contacted.

Throughout the afternoon one well wisher after another called or visited the office. Many offered whatever help Charlie needed. Sherry and the other two assistants handled phone calls and cancelled appointments. Where necessary they called other Veterinarians to request they take the business for a customer. They could overhear Charlie from time to time and their hearts went out to him. Nearly all the time one or the other of them was hovering over Charlie like a mother hen. They were fiercely protective of his privacy in his grief.

Finally closing time came and they began the end of day shutdown of equipment. The animals remaining in the office were fed and the women got ready to go home. Charlie was still in the office. The three women walked up to the door and watched Charlie just stare into space. His eyes were vacant and haunted looking. Until Sherry spoke he had no idea they were there.

"Charlie," she said. "We're done. It's time to go home. We've cancelled all the appointments and made arrangements for other Veterinarians to take your cases for the indefinite future. Some of the animals are still in the back but we will come in tomorrow to be sure they are cared for. We will be sure their owners pick them up as soon as possible. Can we do anything for you before we leave?"

Charlie just shook his head and mumbled, "No. Thank you." He watched as the three looked at him a moment longer then walked on down the hallway and out of his sight. He heard the back door close and was left with his sorrow. He once again felt the despair settle over him and darken his life.

Later that day Charlie heard the front door of the Clinic open and steps come down the hallway. He glanced at the clock and saw it was almost twelve. There were two sets of steps, one familiar-a lighter tapping-one heavier as if made with heavy work boots. He forced himself to look up and saw Sherry and her husband David standing in his door.

Sherry said, "Charlie we were going home from Mother's and saw the lights still on. Charlie you have to go home and get some rest. Have you even eaten today? You look terrible."

Charlie looked at his two friends as if through a tunnel. He licked his lips and tried to think, to understand what Sherry said. Finally he realized she had asked a question. Food wasn't it? Yes! That was it! He answered, "No. No I don't think I did. Is it lunch time now?"

Sherry looked at David and turned back to Charlie. They walked into the office and helped him from his seat. "Charlie it's almost midnight. Come on Charlie. We're taking you home. When we get you there you need to eat. You have to keep your strength up. Do you think Charlene would want you to act like this? Now come on."

Charlie numbly let the couple lead him from the room and office. He had no memory of getting into their truck or the trip to his home. Sherry heated a can of soup and insisted he eat it before they would leave. She and David put him to bed before they left. Charlie sobbed and the tears flowed once again when he realized he would never again feel Charlene in bed beside him. He cried himself to sleep finally but slept fitfully.

The next morning Charlie woke when someone pounded on the front door. He staggered out of his bedroom and into the living room. When he opened the door the bright sunlight nearly blinded him. He blinked his eyes until he could see better and saw he was facing his parents. Standing just behind them were Charlene's Father and Mother.

Charlie's mother pushed him back from the door and walked into the room. She immediately took charge and began rapping out orders like a drill sergeant. "Paul you get him cleaned up and in some clothes. Marilyn and I will get some lunch started."

After the meal the family was discussing the services when Captain Stewart arrived to help with the details. It was decided they would have a memorial at Ft. Lewis where Charlene had been posted. They would then take the body back to Southwest Missouri for interment in the cemetery near Charlie's hometown. Charlene had grown up in a small town in eastern Oklahoma. Charlie had offered to have her buried near her parents but they had insisted she be buried in Charlie's family plot near his ancestral home.

The day of the funeral arrived all too soon. Charlie dressed in his best dress uniform. Even in his grief he caught himself inspecting the uniformed friends that were serving as pallbearers. He was numb throughout the service in the chapel and barely noticed his walk out behind the casket or the drive to the cemetery.

Now Charlie stood with silent tears streaming down his cheeks. His chest felt like an elephant was standing on it. His eyes burned and his throat was tight. The rifles cracked and Charlie flinched, then again they sounded out. The final volley cracked out and he flinched once more. The noise of the 21-gun salute reverberated unmercifully within his head. While the sound echoed across the bleak landscape he felt his father's arm across his shoulder and his mother's hand in his. It was all he could do to stand at attention while the bugler played taps.

Charlie collapsed into his chair then and watched in silence. Two Army Sergeants marched to the casket containing his beloved wife Charlene. They carefully lifted the flag from his wife's casket and folded it neatly. The senior Sergeant marched to Charlie and handed him the flag. Charlie felt the weight of the world descend on his shoulders. It was over. His life and dreams now lay in the casket that was being gently lowered into the dark hole in the ground.

He felt his shoulders shake while he silently cried out his anguish.

While the mourner's were filing away from the gravesite Charlie let his mind wander back over the years of their marriage. He thought fleetingly of most of the high points of their marriage. He remembered the love they shared and the fun they had with each other. Of course, he also remembered the one great sadness in their lives. They were childless.

Another sob wracked his tall wiry frame. This one was loud enough to cause those nearest him to turn and look. Charlie neither saw nor heard. He was still lost in his memories and thoughts of what might have been. He knew in his heart though that they could have never been happy with another life.

Charlene would have died inside if she couldn't have flown and he would have never asked that of her. They both loved each other enough to allow the other their career. They both loved the United States enough to want to serve in their own way.

Charlie came back into the present when he felt hands pulling him up from his chair. His Father and Father in Law each had an arm and were guiding him toward the limousine the Funeral Home had provided for the immediate family. He was driven away, back to his Parent's home and the remainder of his now empty, lonely life.

The night of the funeral, after the guests had left Charlie wandered down to the small stream that chuckled by his parent's yard. He turned downstream and began walking along the bank. Not much farther downstream were his Grandparents yard and the old swimming hole. You could see either house from the other through a screening hedge. Charlie found one of the many chairs placed near the stream and sat down.

After he took his seat, he took a deep pull from the bottle of fine scotch he had liberated from his father's liquor cabinet. He sat beside the old swimming hole and watched the moon come up. In his mind he could hear the happy shouts and laughter from his and Charlene's last visit here. From time to time he took a deep drink from the bottle of Glenlivet he was still guarding.

Charlie watched the full moon travel across the sky while he silently tried to drown his sorrow. He sat back in the chair and let himself drift off. The quietly chuckling stream, aided by the very good scotch, lulled him into a gentle sleep. The next thing he heard was his mother screeching. She was standing just to the side of his chair and said, "Charles Fielding what is the idea of getting so drunk you can't even get back to your bed. Is this any way for an Army Officer to act? Do you think for one minute that Charlene would approve of this type of behavior? Now get your drunken carcass into that house right now and clean up. I'll have coffee on the patio."

Charlie looked up at his mother. Apparently he wasn't moving fast enough for her because she grabbed his arm. As she was pulling him upward she said, "I said get up. I've had enough of your moping around. I know you have had a terrible loss but you have to get past it and take care of yourself. Now move it."

Charlie stumbled to his feet and walked slowly, painfully back to the house. His parents, Charlene's parents, his siblings and other relatives slowly gathered on the patio. There were many quiet conversations as each grieved in their own way and remembered the life that had been so tragically ended.

Charlie continued to walk around in a fog for several days, barely paying attention to life. When forced he could converse and function but all Charlie wanted to do was sit and stare into space while he remembered Charlene and their life together. Slowly he regained some of his earlier zest for life and began responding to family and friends.

His brother Jeffery and his new wife Abigail helped him pull out of his funk. They had only been married a few months but put their lives almost on hold to take care of Charlie. Jeffery was still recovering from wounds he had received in Afghanistan. He only worked part time but that was no real problem. He worked for the family firm and could set his own hours.

Abigail could, perhaps, relate best to Charlie and his loss. She too had to deal with the notification team and the fear when they arrived. Abby could understand how Charlie felt. At least in her case all had ended well. Jeffery had been seriously wounded. He and Abigail had not been married at the time but he had insisted she be allowed to come to him in the hospital. When they both returned to Steelville she was sporting an engagement ring.

Jeffery could also relate somewhat to Charlie's loss because he had caught his first wife blatantly cheating and had to divorce her. He still carried the hurt and scars from that as well as those from his injuries.

The three young people spent many hours together. Abby watched over and fed the brothers. She tried to keep them from becoming too drunk when they got into the scotch. Charlie had moved into a cabin next to theirs at the family resort while he recuperated.

Finally, one morning when Abby came to his door to call him for breakfast she found him almost cheerful. He was sitting on the deck overlooking the stream. He had a cup of coffee and was watching the sun come up while he drank it. She smiled when she saw the peaceful expression on his face.

Charlie looked up when he heard her and said, "Good morning Abby. I guess you want me to come up to the lodge for breakfast now?"

Abby nodded her head yes and said, "Yes. It's getting cold now." Charlie and Abby walked silently back to the lodge. Since this was a Sunday most of the family was there. There wasn't much talking while the meal was being consumed.

Finally after everyone was finished with breakfast Charlie pushed his chair back and said, "I need to thank all of you for putting up with me these last three weeks. I know I've been a handful and I'm sorry. I've decided to go back to Washington as soon as I can get a flight. I have decided to sell the practice and the house. I think I will move back here and open an office but I don't know how long that will take. I'll probably be gone several months. I'll work the practice until it sells then close the house if it hasn't sold by then. I'll ship most of our things back here, or at least the Army will. I'll drive back but I think I will take my time doing that."

Most of the family asked Charlie to stay longer but they understood this was something he had to do so in the end they acquiesced with his desires. They were all sorry to see him go and wished him a rapid return.

Charlie got a flight from the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport the following Tuesday. He flew into Seattle airport and was met by Sherry and her husband. They both looked relieved when they saw Charlie. He still looked drawn and pale. His eyes still had a haunted look but it was obvious he was better than when he had left. After the greetings and small talk they all got into the car for the short drive back to Charlie's house.

Charlie was noticeably hesitant to enter the home but steeled himself to do so. After some small talk Charlie said, "Sherry, David-I've decided to sell the practice and this house. I'll be moving back home to Missouri as soon as the practice sells. I intend to operate the business as much like we did before as I can until it sells though. If you would make sure the other girls are there tomorrow we'll have a meeting and go over everything that needs to be done between now and the time the clinic sells."

Sherry said, "Oh I was hoping ... Charlie I understand but we are sure going to miss you. Of course we'll all be there at eight a.m. as usual. Can we do anything else for you now?"

Charlie just shook his head no and said, "No thanks. I'll probably just begin going through things here. I ... I'll talk to you all tomorrow."

Charlie had a restless night but was awake enough to get to work on time. In fact he was thirty minutes early but all three of the girls were already there. He smiled when he walked into the building and said, "Good Morning Everyone. Let's get our coffee and get started if that's OK?"

They all filed into the break room and Charlie began talking. He said, "First of all I want to thank all of you for your help and support. Not just for the last month while I have been gone but for before also. I don't know what Sherry has told you so I may cover something again but please bear with me."

"I've decided to sell the practice and our house. I'll move back to Missouri where my family is. In the meantime though we will continue to work as before. Accept new patients, welcome back the old ... well, you know the drill. As soon as we finish here I will call all the Veterinarians that helped while I was gone. I have already put out the word that the practice is for sale."

I'll list the house today. Oh, that brings me to another point. One I'm hesitant to bring up but ... Well, I'd like to ask you all for a very big favor. I tried to go through Charlene's things yesterday but I just couldn't. I think most of her clothes will fit you and ... Well, would you three mind going to my house and taking all her clothes and personal hygiene items out? You can have anything you want. Take the rest to Goodwill or give it to someone who needs it. I want to keep one of her dress uniforms. The rest of them can go. You can do it during business hours and I'll watch the office."

The three women agreed to help Charlie with Charlene's items. They all went to Charlie's house Thursday and worked until after Charlie got home. They went back Friday to finish cleaning out Charlene's items. Charlie was surprised and embarrassed as well as pleased when he got home Friday evening.

When Charlie walked into his home all three of his office girls were there with their husbands or significant others. A couple of Charlie and Charlene's friends were there also. The house was immaculate and much of Charlie's belongings had been packed for shipment also. He looked around and just stood a moment. He said, "Oh, my. I ... thank you. The house looks great. I didn't mean for you to pack things away for me but ... Well, I really appreciate it."

Sherry stood and walked over to Charlie. She said, "Charlie we know how hard it would have been for you to do most of this. We wanted to help so..."

About that time Charlie heard several vehicles arrive and loud talking and footsteps approach his front porch. The door flew open and more of his friends came pouring into the house. They were all carrying booze or food. Sherry looked a little apprehensive but then took a deep breath and said to Charlie. "Charlie we all decided we needed to have a cook out. I hope you don't mind but we asked people over so we could do it here. I've been getting a lot of calls from your friends asking about you and they all wanted to see you so..."

Charlie looked around and felt his friends and many of Charlene's close around him. Most of them shook his hand or hugged him. Many of the women gave him a hug and a gentle kiss-usually on the cheek. After Charlie caught everyone up on his plans they began to prepare the meal. The party went on long into the night. Finally the last guest departed and Charlie staggered to bed. He was asleep almost before he crawled into his bed.

The next morning about ten a.m. Charlie was awakened by a pounding on his door. He once again staggered to the door like he had the day his parents and parents in law had arrived. This time Sherry and his two other office assistants confronted him. They pushed past him like his mother did and Sherry said, "Charlie we've came to feed you breakfast and clean up the mess we all made last night. Now you just sit down and leave us alone. The guys will be along later."

About ten minutes later Sherry gave a squeal and said, "Oh, my God. What are you doing there?"

Charlie ran through the kitchen and out onto the patio. He saw Sherry staring in shock at a lump wrapped in a pool towel. After a moment he began laughing. It was Sonya, one of Charlene's friends.

"Sorry, I guess I had a little too much to drink. I ... what time is it?" she said.

Charlie laughed and said, "Sonya it's after ten a.m. Why didn't you just crash in the house instead of out here?"

Sonya looked sheepish and said, "Well, I don't even remember going to sleep. I must have passed out and someone just covered me with this towel. I'm sorry to ruin your morning. I'll just go and"

Charlie cut her off and said, "Like hell. You just get into the house and clean up a little. The girls were going to feed me breakfast. You can eat here then go do whatever you need to do. I'm just sorry you had to spend the night in my flower bed."

Charlie returned to work with a vengeance. He was working longer hours and building his practice rapidly. Several new veterinarians inquired about the sales price and some even looked at the operation but none could afford it. A couple of the older vets inquired too but they too didn't want to pay that much. Charlie's home sold and still the business hadn't. Charlie really wanted to move back home and was beginning to despair of ever doing so when he had a brainstorm.

Charlie called two of the most promising young Veterinarians and his best friend Harold, the Veterinarian that had done most of the work for him while he was gone. He made a proposition to the three of them. He proposed they all three buy the business. They would merge the two clinics into one operation. Harold would own four sixths of the new business and the two young Veterinarians would own one sixth each.

All three of the men thought about the plan and agreed to do the deal. Six weeks later Charlie was done in Seattle. He had sold his home for $680000 and business for a cool $1.3 Million. With the Serviceman's Group Life Insurance from Charlene he now had almost $2.5 million in the bank. He could quit working for life if he wanted but he knew he would not do that. At least he had enough to take a little break and then build and equip a new Veterinarian Clinic when he got back to Steelville.

Most of Charlie's belongings had been shipped home. All he had left in Seattle was his trusty F250 Crew Cab Powerstroke and his necessary clothes and toilet items. The morning he was to leave he threw all his remaining belongings into his truck. On his way out of town he made one last trip to his old office to tell his girls good-bye. He had attended his going away party the weekend before so all was in readiness for his departure. He just had this one last errand to run.

Charlie walked into the clinic to find everyone busy. He waited for a break in the work and asked the two new Vets if he could borrow the women for a moment. Of course they agreed and Charlie led the bewildered women into the break room.

After everyone had a cup of coffee and some cheesecake Charlie leaned back in his chair. He looked at each of the women then said, "I know we all said goodbye Saturday but I had one more thing I needed to tell each of you. I appreciate all your help and extra work more than I can ever say. I decided you each deserved more from me than just thanks so ... Well, I think, I hope you can use this bonus."

Charlie handed each woman an envelope with her name on it. When they opened them they all gasped. Sherry squealed and rushed to Charlie. She gave him a big hug and started crying. She said, "Charlie you shouldn't have. I just don't know what to say."

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