Chatting and laughing, she led Marka to her room and found her some jeans and a shirt to change into. The shirt was an old one of Frank’s. It was big, but comfortable. Paula rolled up the sleeves. Before going out to join the men, she stopped Marka with a hand on her arm.
“Did Frank tell you about Clay’s death?”
“Yes. He said it was a convoy gone horribly wrong.”
“Did he tell you he was hurt too?”
“When he went in to rescue them?”
Paula sighed, taking Marka’s hands in hers. She gazed deeply into the younger woman’s eyes. “Frank doesn’t remember it exactly right. We got the full story from the camp commander. Frank was in a helicopter flying air support for the convoy. A road, that had been checked and rechecked for mines, exploded. They were surrounded by the enemy. They cut down anything that moved. A rocket took out the chopper and it crashed. Frank was wounded. He found Clay, but he was beyond help. Frank took Clay’s weapon and his own, and single handed, he killed or captured the men who attacked the convoy. He was destroyed by grief over that incident. It was his plan and it all went to hell.”
“Did they ever figure out how the road was mined?”
Paula shook her head. “If they did, they didn’t tell us. Frank remembers the day all sideways. He remembers what he wants to, not how it was. It helps him cope. Because of Clay’s death, he quit the Army. He was ready to make it his life, just like his grandfather, but it wasn’t meant to be. What he doesn’t know is that Frank Penwarren died under very similar circumstances. Only the man who lived with the guilt was Richard Atherton, Tom’s adoptive father.”
“Oh, dear God!”
“I know it’s crazy, but Mabel always said she thought our Frank was his grandfather reincarnated. I never believed any of that until Clay’s death.”
“Thank you for telling me this, Paula.”
“I see my son spending his life with you, Marka. He’s already half in love with you. The men in our family are decisive. They know what they want and go after it with every ounce of energy they possess. Tom was the same way when he met me. I was dating someone else, but the relationship wasn’t a good one. I met Tom, he swept me off my feet and we were married three months later. I was
already six weeks pregnant with Frank.”
Marka giggled, nodding. “I can certainly understand that. I’ve only known him four days. . . .”
“But you could bed him in a heartbeat.”
Marka was somewhat shocked by the brutally honest way Paula spoke about her son’s sex life.
“Yeah, as a matter of fact. . . .”
“You already came close.” Paula nodded. “I held Tom off less than a week. I know the effect of those big brown eyes and that milk chocolate voice. It still works on me.”
“I’m going to love being part of this family,” Marka said, hugging Paula impulsively.
They went to the kitchen and started making side dishes for the meal. Tom came back in once to get beer for himself and Frank. He offered one to Marka.
“Not a beer drinker, but thanks.”
“Wine? Whiskey?” He offered playfully.
“No. I think one of us needs to be able to drive home.”
“Good point. Well, Frank’s about half lit, so that better be you. Hey, baby?” He said to Paula. “Should we call Jen and the boys?”
Paula shook her head. “No, this is Frank’s time.”
“No problem,” he said cheerfully.
He gave her a big kiss on the cheek, nipped a piece of celery out of the potato salad and went outside.
“I hope when I’m your age, my husband still treats me like I’m the center of his universe,” Marka said.
“Frank will treat you like a queen as long as he lives,” Paula replied.
Marka found that the liked the fact that Frank’s mother had them paired up and married forever. She’d never been part of a family like his. They were warm, welcoming, honest and loving. Her family wasn’t like that. They weren’t sneaky or deceptive, but they kept their secrets.
As if someone had read her mind, her cellphone rang. It was her step-mother’s special ring. She’d assigned it to herself a couple years ago and Marka had never bothered to change it. It was Mama Said by Metallica.
“Do you need to answer that, dear?”
“That’s my mother. I should. I called Sunday to tell her I’d gotten here, but haven’t called since.”
She wiped her hands on her apron and grabbed her phone. It had stopped ringing, but she called back. Her mother picked up immediately, sounding worried.
“Are you okay?”
“Mom, I’m fine. Why?”
“I had this awful premonition. It was like someone walked over my grave.”
“Mother, don’t be so dramatic. I’m fine.” She shivered. Her mother’s premonitions were more often then not, spot on.
© Dellani Oakes