Authors: Lorraine Nelson
A Soldier for Poppy
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
This is a work of fiction. All names and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, characters, places, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
A Soldier for Poppy
Novel Copyright ©2015 Lorraine Nelson
Cover Photo ©tailex/Dollar Photo Club
I dedicate this book to my fans everywhere.
It’s your loyalty that helps keep me goin
The sudden crash and tinkling of glass had Poppy rushing to the kitchen. “Don’t move!” she yelled when she saw that Nathan had dropped the pitcher of juice and broken glass surrounded him and his sister, Becky. One at a time, she lifted her kids clear, only then retrieving the supplies needed to clean up the mess.
Dressed in formal attire for the Memorial Day Parade and commemoration service, she was thankful they weren’t hurt or drenched. It was almost time to leave. Carl would be there shortly to pick them up.
Right on cue, the doorbell rang.
“Nathan, that must be Uncle Carl. Would you let him in, please?”
He didn’t answer, just ran to the front entry with Becky close on his heels. She smiled as she heard their delighted squeals and knew Carl was treating them to hugs and whirls in greeting as he always did.
Poppy’s heart ached, dreading yet anticipating the parade. When Peter was alive, she’d stood proudly on the sidelines, watching as he marched with the troops, straight and tall; so handsome in uniform. But he husband would never march again.
“Ouch!” Her lack of concentration cost her. She grabbed the roll of paper towel, ripping off several sheets and wrapping them around her injured hand to soak up the blood.
Footsteps sounded in the hall. “Carl, keep the kids out of the kitchen. There’s broken glass everywhere.” She fumbled in a drawer, blood seeping through and soaking the paper towels while she searched for tweezers to pull the sliver of broken glass out of her palm.
“Can I help?” asked the husky male voice belonging to Carl.
“No, it’s nothing. I just got a little careless.”
“You’re bleeding all over the place. Here,” he said, turning on the faucet, “Hold your hand under the cold water. It’ll help slow the blood flow.”
Poppy did as told and could see the protruding sliver of glass once the blood cleared.
“May I?” he asked, holding his hand out for the tweezers.
Feeling slightly nauseous, she handed them to him. How could one little cut bleed so much?
Carl held her hand palm up and gently removed the offending glass. It had been a long time since a man held her hand. An uncertain flutter of desire skipped through her system, but she firmly tamped it down. This was Carl! Peter’s best friend!
“Keep your hand in the water until I can find your first aid kit,” he instructed.
“I have one right here, under the sink.”
He bent and retrieved the little white box, but when he opened it, she could see it was nearly empty.
“Sorry. Nathan, run to the upstairs bathroom and get the first aid kit. Okay, honey?”
“Is Mommy going to be all right, Unca Carl?” Becky asked.
“Mommy’s going to be fine,” he replied.
“It’s just a tiny cut, sweetie. We’ll stick a bandage on it and it’ll be fine.”
“No more owie?”
“No more owie,” she assured her daughter.
Nathan returned with the first aid kit and Carl made short work of applying antibiotic ointment, then bandaging her hand.
“Keep that hand dry for a couple of days and it should heal nicely.”
“Thank you, Dr. Anders.”
He smiled and she could have sworn her world stood still in that exact instant. Carl Anders dressed in full uniform was an impressive sight. His blazer, adorned with several medals and ribbons for service rendered, hugged the breadth of his shoulders as if made expressly for him.
“Who made the mess?” he asked.
Her thoughts jumped back to focus on his words. “Nathan dropped the juice jug.”
“Then you and Becky have a seat while Nathan and I clean up his mess.”
“No buts. Nathan, bring the garbage can over here while I sweep up this mess.”
A few minutes later, her kitchen was spotless, Carl having wiped up the bloody spots as well.
“No problem. Shall we go?”
Carl grabbed his cane from the back of the chair he’d slung it onto when he’d entered the kitchen and seen all the blood. He motioned for her and the kids to precede him, but Poppy’s eyes widened in alarm and she didn’t move.
“Carl? You got hurt?”
“Yeah, I’m currently on medical leave.”
“I’ll fill you in when we have more time. Right now, we have to boogie or we’re going to miss the parade.”
“Okay,” she said, a thoughtful frown appearing on her face.
“It’s nothing to worry about, Poppy. Come on.” He reached for her good hand, secretly thrilled that she was concerned for him.
“I’m coming,” she said, placing her hand in his as they walked to the car.
The drive to Washington, DC, took almost an hour. Constitution Avenue was already blocked off for the parade, which meant Carl had to take a detour, dropping them at a corner near the end of the route.
“Are you marching?” Poppy asked.
“No, I made Sergeant so I’ll ride in the jeep this year,” he said feeling a touch of pride.
“Thank you. I’ll meet you back here after the parade,” he said.
The parade, made up of marching bands, youth groups, and parade floats filled with active, injured and retired war veterans, was colorful and impressive. It was a great way to honor the nation’s heroic and brave.
Carl took his place in the jeep parked directly behind Major Hollingsworth’s. He smiled and waved at the thousands of spectators lining the streets. The troops marching immediately behind the jeep were passing out miniature US Flags, the red, white, and blue colors being the most prominent on this day.
When they came to the corner where Poppy and the children stood, he waved and smiled, then directed one of the troops their way, making certain that Nathan and Becky each had a flag of their own.
During the commemorative service that followed, he sat with Poppy and the children, concerned when silent tears made tracks down her cheeks.
“You still miss him,” he stated.
She nodded. “Very much.”
Resigned to his role as family friend, he captured her hand in his, resting both on his thigh and offering comfort the only way he could… for now.
Poppy didn’t want to be a wet blanket, but the service honoring those who’d died for their country always depressed her now. Carl was a darling. Every year he sat through it all with her and the children when he could be having a better time with someone else. His hand holding hers felt strange, yet comforted as it was meant to do. When the tears started, he silently handed her a tissue, never complaining or saying a word.
After the service, they filed out into the fresh air, speaking with acquaintances as they went. Finally, they arrived at the jeep and Carl drove them to where he’d parked the car.
“Do you have to head straight back?” he asked as he turned the key.
“Not really. Why?” she asked, curious as to what he had in mind.
“I thought we’d take in the concert at the park. The performers are mostly retired veterans and they put on quite a show.”
“The kids would love that, I’m sure.”
“We could hover near the playground, eat a picnic lunch, and make a day of it.”
“How long have you been planning this?” she asked, laughing at his hopeful expression.
“A couple of days.” He smiled. “The picnic basket is in the trunk.”
“Then how can I refuse? Nathan, Becky, do you want to go to the park for a picnic?”
“Cool,” said Nathan.
“Play?” asked Becky.
“Yes, there will be time to play.”
Becky clapped her hands with glee.
“I guess it’s unanimous. To the park we go,” she announced.
“Good.” Carl put the car in gear and a few minutes later pulled into the park entrance. He found a spot close to the playground and as soon as Poppy climbed out, she heard the music playing.
The band played rock and roll for the first set. A lot of them favorite songs she’d danced to with Peter. Melancholy took hold and she had to force herself to concentrate on the here and now.
“Nathan, keep an eye on Becky,” she said as they headed off toward the slide. “And stay within hollering distance. If you can’t see me, you’ve gone too far.”
“Okay, Mom,” he said, grabbing Becky’s hand and running the rest of the way.
“They’re quite a handful,” Carl noted.
“Yes, they can be, but I’m lucky. Since Peter died, those two have been absolute angels. Their occasional shenanigans help keep me grounded.” She laughed. “And semi-sane.”
“Oh? Has anyone questioned your sanity?” he asked as he opened the trunk.
He hauled out the largest picnic basket Poppy had ever seen.
She avoided his question by changing the subject. “What on earth did you pack for lunch?”
“This and that,” he smiled. “Wasn’t certain what to pack so I brought a little of everything.”
Next, he brought out a cooler.
“Before you ask, it’s filled with juice and soft drinks for the kids. I also packed a bottle of white wine for us.”
“You’ve gone to a lot of trouble,” she said. “What if I’d refused?”
“Refuse a free meal? That’s not even in my vocabulary.”
She laughed and the mood lifted. Suddenly, the day held sunshine and the joy of living as she worked alongside Carl and helped set out the food and drinks.
“Nathan! Becky! Grub’s ready!” Carl called in his deep bass voice.
The sound washed over the edges of her consciousness calming her jittery nerves. His was a compelling yet commanding voice—one that needn’t ever be raised to be heard.
The kids came running, devouring their food in record time. The day had turned warm so she removed their jackets before allowing them to return to the playground. Carl sat across the picnic table from her, listening to the music and watching the kids as they played.
“They’re growing up so fast. You’ve done a good job with them.”
“Thanks.” She concentrated on eating rather than have him see the insecurity that must be emblazoned on her face.
“It hasn’t been easy. Has it?” he asked.
Surprised, she glanced up to register a look of concern on his face. “No, it hasn’t been easy. Sometimes, I wonder if I’m doing right by them.”
He reached across and covered her free hand with his. “From what I can see, you’re doing fine. Maybe a little over-protective,” he teased, “considering the number of times you’ve checked on them since we’ve been here.”
“You noticed that, huh? Yeah, I guess I do tend to be protective. I couldn’t stand it if anything happened to either of them.”
A shout from the playground drew her attention.
“Mommy, can we play in the sandbox?”
“In your good clothes?”
“Aw, Mom!” came the chorus.
“Let them have fun,” Carl said. “If they ruin their clothes, I’ll cover the cost of replacing them.”
“That’s not really the problem. I’m thinking more about your car.”
“Then don’t worry. It cleans up real good.”
“Okay.” She turned back toward the playground and her impatiently waiting children. “Go ahead and have fun, but try not to get too dirty.”
She watched them high-five each other then race to the sandbox.
“Do you ever take time out for yourself, Poppy?”
“I have enough time to myself when they’ve gone to bed for the night. Why?”
“Kids grow up, leave home. What then?” he asked.
“At three and five years of age, I’m hoping I don’t have to worry about that for a while.”
“Seriously, have you given any thought to the future?”
“No, Carl. It’s all I can do to get through each day. Other than returning to work full-time once they’re both in school, I try to avoid thoughts of the future.”
“How long since you’ve had a vacation?”
“You mean like visiting Disney World? Sightseeing?”
“I mean like getting out of town for more than a day.”
“Carl, you know better than anyone how restrictive our finances are. If Peter hadn’t had the loans insured, I’d hate to think what would’ve happened to us by now.”
“You would’ve managed. I’ve never known a more amazing woman. Your coping strengths are legendary.”
She laughed. “I’m sure.”
“Seriously, I’ve admired your strength and determination.”
“Peter was my world. How could I not do my best by his children?”
“All right. Now, getting back to that vacation. I’m on medical leave until September and I’ve rented a house in The Isle of Palms. Ever heard of it?”
“It’s on the beach in South Carolina. I’d love it if you and the children would come with me.”