Duty, Honor, Country

bykomrad1156©

Her tears were a strong indication she was not, but she managed a weak smile and said, "I'll be fine."

"He really does love you. You know that, right?" Richard told her.

"Yes," she said quietly.

"I know you were hoping for more, but be patient. This divorce has really gotten inside his head."

Sarah nodded then Richard asked, "Do you blame me for this?"

She looked up at him and said, "No. Of course not. Why would I?"

"I didn't think you did, but it would really hurt to know you thought I was somehow responsible. I...I encouraged Rick to seriously consider asking you to marry him but didn't want to push."

Sarah stopped walking and the gentle tears she'd been crying became a torrent as she put her arms around the huge man's neck and held him as she cried.

Richard put his arms around her and held her back wishing there was some way he could take away her pain.

"You wanna just hang out for a while?" he finally asked.

Sarah used a tissue in her pocket to dry her eyes then said, "You don't mind?"

"Mind? I'd love the company. But be forewarned, I might put you to work!" he said with a smile.

Sarah tried to smile back then said, "That might not be such a bad idea. Anything to keep my mind off of...you know."

"Yes. I do," he told her. "Come on. I've got some cold-brewed iced tea inside. We'll have a glass, chat a little while, then if you feel like it that back bedroom is ready to be painted."

Sarah lived for each phone call, email, or text which came as often as her handsome soldier had time for. She was unfailingly upbeat when they spoke making sure to never make him feel pressured to do something he wasn't ready to do.

He'd been there for almost three weeks when he called and said, "I'm really hoping to see you the weekend of the 4th. Will you be able to fly down?"

"Um...I bought tickets the day you left," she told him.

"That's awesome. Sarah? I miss you so much," he told her sincerely.

"I miss you too, Rick," she said sweetly feeling happier than she had since the day he'd been commissioned.

"I do still love you, too," he told her.

He'd said it each time they'd talked, but this time his voice sounded different and Sarah allowed herself to feel cautiously hopeful again.

"I love you, too, Rick. Very much."

New York, like all of the east coast, got hot and humid during the summer. But Georgia felt like a swamp to Sarah when she got off the plane. The humidity aside, all she cared about was spending the next two and a half days with her handsome young boyfriend who had a very nice hotel room reserved for them.

After checking it—and the bed—out, they went out to dinner and it seemed like nothing had changed. Rick was happy and upbeat and Sarah loved being with him. And yet, that first night came and went and there'd been no talk of their future.

Undaunted, Sarah spent the next day touring Fort Benning, his room at the Bachelor Officer's Quarters, and seeing what the Post Exchange looked like.

There was a small jewelry store inside, and Sarah's heart sank as they walked by knowing the one thing she wanted the most was sitting in the display window mocking her. She didn't need a huge solitaire diamond. Any little gold band would do. But without a proposal there just wasn't any long-term future with Rick no matter how much she loved him.

And then that evening, out of nowhere, he told her at dinner, "So, I've been thinking non-stop about us and our future."

"Oh?" Sarah said tamping down her hopes in case this was the end.

"Yes. I have," he told her.

"And have you arrived at any conclusions?" she asked barely able to speak due to her stomach being in knots.

"I have," he told her as he reached for hand.

"I can't imagine my life without you in it."

Sarah's heart leapt, but she kept her feelings in check until she knew where this was going.

"You said you only planned to fall in love once and to marry one time."

"Yes. I did say those things and I meant them," she said quietly.

"And since we last talked about our future, I've come to agree with you. That one should only fall in love once and more importantly, only marry once."

He looked into her eyes for several seconds before reaching into his pocket for a little box just like she'd seen in the PX jewelry store.

"Oh, my God!" she said reflexively as he got down on one knee there in their hotel room.

"I love you, Sarah Carpenter and...I also trust you. I trust you with my life and just as importantly, with my heart."

He looked right into her eyes, smiled, then asked, "Will you marry me?"

Sarah was trying not to scream but after saying, "YES!!" very loudly, when he placed the ring on her finger, she couldn't help it.

As he stood up, she jumped into his arms and shrieked with joy as she held out her left hand admiring the very nice diamond ring he'd just given her.

Rick couldn't see but he intuitively knew she was looking at it.

"Is it big enough?" he asked hopefully.

She pulled back and said, "You idiot! A cigar band would be big enough. This is perfect and I love it! I love it SO much and I love you!"

And moments later she was loving him, and she loved him two more times that evening.

Too excited to fall asleep, Sarah lay there wondering when Rick might want to get married. She loved being a woman and the many little nice things that went with it like having a door opened for her, but having to wait on the man for things like this wasn't always easy. She could barely see the diamond in the dim light of the room, but she could see it and feel it and yes, he had asked her to marry him!

She forgot about setting a date for the time being and rolled over and put her arm around her fiancé's hard body and smiled happily.

As they were having breakfast the next morning Sarah asked, "I hope you don't mind me asking, but are you going to tell your mom we're engaged?"

"My dad? Absolutely. Today in fact. My mom? No. Not for a while anyway. I don't need the extra stress right now and we both know how she'll react."

"I wish she didn't hate me," Sarah said with sadness in her voice.

"I don't think she hates you, honey. I think she's just..."

"Jealous? I know," she said trying to smile. "My own mother is such a sweet woman, but she's so...simple, you know? I can't even have a conversation with her because she just doesn't have any breadth. And then there's my dad."

"Right. The guy who tells your mom what to think."

"It's sad, isn't it? Your parents have college educations and your dad has a PhD. My mom dropped out in the 9th grade and can't drive a car or balance a checkbook. My dad quit school his junior year, and still he knows everything," Sarah lamented.

"No kidding. If you don't believe it, just ask him."

Sarah laughed even though it wasn't really funny. But it was true and that was the 'funny' part.

"Not to wax philosophical, but society does a pretty lousy job preparing us for the realities of life," Rick said.

"How so?" Sarah asked, sure she was missing something simple.

"Well, take divorce for example. What do we teach our kids? Oh, you'll grow up and meet someone wonderful then you'll fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after."

"Oh. Okay. Yeah, people don't always do that so well, do they?"

"Or what about death? Children get cancer and die. People die in car accidents every day. Kids drown. I know we can't—and shouldn't—be brutally honest with them, but it seems like there should be a happy medium when it comes to the way life really is."

"I guess very few people would want to get married if our parents told us, 'You know, there's a 50/50 chance your marriage won't last' or told us how many people cheat or whatever."

"Right!" Rick said. "I wasn't exactly naive or sheltered, but I could never imagine my parents getting divorced. Not them."

"I get it. How could I have believed my best friend would get hit and killed by a drunk driver less than a month after she got her driver's license?"

"Sorry to get off on such a negative tangent. I think my point was to try and understand how things don't always go according to plan, and that a lot of that is because we're taught to be overly positive and optimistic."

"True but doesn't optimism beat pessimism? Sarah asked.

"No argument there. I guess maybe I'm looking for some 'perfect state of realism' that tells us to think positively and hope for the best but not to be shocked when...shit happens."

Rick rarely cursed so Sarah laughed when he did.

"Did you know I love you?" she said changing the subject but mostly because she wanted him to know.

"I do," he told her with a smile. "And did you know I think I'm the luckiest guy on earth to have you in my life?"

"No, I'm the lucky one," she told him. "I've loved you since the first time you kissed me on our first date and now I'm engaged to you!"

"Wow. You never told me that before," he said.

"I didn't want you to say it to me before you felt it," she admitted. "Oh. And it was very worth waiting for, by the way."

Her eyes were sparkling with happiness and Rick was now felt one-hundred percent certain she was the one for him.

"Maybe we should talk about setting a date," he said surprising her completely but in the best possible way.

"Really? Are you sure you want to talk about this already?" she asked hoping with all her heart he did.

"I am," he told her as he took her hand. "I was thinking about right after I'm done with infantry training."

"Then I am so there!" Sarah said excitedly. "Fyi, I'm available to marry you 24/7/365, Rick Callaghan. You just tell me when and where."

Rick smiled then asked, "Do you really not want a big wedding?"

He already knew that didn't matter to her, but he needed to ask again just to be sure.

"No. My parents couldn't even afford a small one, so definitely not. Besides, that's never been my dream. Finding the right man and marrying him has been, and now that I've found him, all I need is to say 'I do'. So no, I don't need or want a fancy wedding."

"Don't you want to wear a beautiful dress and have a cake and a reception at least?"

"I can buy a pretty dress that won't cost thousands—or even hundreds—of dollars, and we don't need a formal wedding cake," she told him truthfully. "Something from a local bakery will be just fine. I really am a very simple girl who's easy to please."

"I know my dad would spring for a reception so..."

"No. Rick. Please. I can't ask him to do that. He's been so supportive and so good to me. We can't ask him to pay for a reception."

"I know my father and if we don't ask, he's gonna be very unhappy. So just plan on that, okay? And I'm buying your dress or at least going 50/50 on it with you. No arguing, young lady!"

Sarah felt like crying again, but this time it was out of happiness.

"Whatever you want, sweetheart," she told him before leaning over and kissing him just because.

"I want you to be my wife," he told her as he kissed her back.

Their weekend was gone in an instant and Sarah hated saying goodbye, but for now, at least, she knew it wasn't forever, and that was good enough.

"I don't want to leave, but each day is one day closer to being able to spend the rest of my life with you, so I'll cherish the memories of this weekend until we can make more of them," she said as he dropped her off at the airport.

"I can't tell you how glad I am you came, honey," he said.

He kissed her then told her, "Or how much I love you."

"Hey! If you don't stop kissing me, you'll be late, and we can't have that now, can we?" she teased.

"If I have to go AWOL, at least it would be for a good cause," he told her with a smile.

"Goodbye, sweetheart," she said before one final hug. "I love you, too, and I always will."

"You, too, gorgeous," he told her before finally letting her go.

Sarah knew they were starting a five-day Field Training Exercise or FTX later that night. She knew why they were starting something like that after midnight, and the answer was obvious. It was because the enemy fought at night, and our troops had to be better at it then them.

She also knew Rick was excited about flying in and out on Blackhawk helicopters, and he was just as excited about wearing camouflage grease paint and not showering for nearly a week, things that sent a cold shiver down her back. She smiled just thinking about him and how handsome and masculine he was and as she looked down at the just-the-right-size ring on her finger, she couldn't stop smiling.

"I'm going to be Mrs. Rick Callaghan!" she said to herself as her feet did a happy dance just prior to the plane taking off.

Rick had called his dad earlier that day and shared the big news with him. Sarah was listening in on speaker phone at first then they switched to video so she could show him her new 'rock'.

"Very nice!" he'd said. "And congratulations to both of you!"

The next day after returning to New York, Sarah stopped by Richard's place to see how the big remodel was coming along on his new house, and yes, she wanted him to see the ring in person.

"It's beautiful," he told her as he checked it out with his own eyes. "Just like you. My son is a very lucky man, Sarah."

"Ah! Thank you, Richard! If I wasn't crazy in love with your son, I might be trying to catch your eye, you know," she said only partly teasing.

"You don't look like you have 'daddy issues'," he teased back. "Who knows? Maybe someday I'll find someone else. For now I have this big old house to work on and a wedding reception to plan."

"May I see it?" she asked genuinely excited to look around.

"Sure. I'll give you the nickel tour," he told her. "After living in the Superintendent's quarters on West Point, pretty much anything would be a step down, but I really like this place and fixing it up keeps me busy."

"You've already done so much. It looks really good, Richard," she told him as they walked from room to room. "Did you hire someone or did you color coordinate all this by yourself?"

"What? You don't think because I'm old and male I can't decorate a house, do you?" he said trying to sound offended.

Sarah smiled then laughed before she said, "Well, no. I mean, Rick says you're the smartest man he knows so...I suppose it's possible for a straight man to do all this. It looks really amazing, Richard."

This time Richard laughed.

"Personally, I don't give a damn when Jones puts his Johnson, but I am 100% straight," he said still chuckling about her comment.

"So...do you also cook, General?" she asked calling him by his rank, something she'd rarely ever done.

"Hmmm. I suppose that depends on what the definition of 'cooking' is. I'd be happy to whip something up for you if you're brave enough to eat it."

"Well, I'm getting pretty hungry so I guess I could risk it," she said with a smile.

"Okay, but if I feed you, I'm gonna have to put you to work," he said trying to sound very serious.

"I'm not exactly strong, but I can paint with the best of them," Sarah told him.

After a lunch of pretty decent-tasting beef tacos, Sarah stayed and painted one the house's five bedrooms then asked if she'd worked off her debt yet.

"You bet. And I can't thank you enough for helping out," Richard told her. "And it's nice to have company, too. Please don't be a stranger, okay?"

Sarah smiled then said, "Richard? I was just wondering if you know when the divorce will be final yet. It's not really my business, but..."

"Nonsense. You're family now, Sarah. I'm guessing another three months or so give or take. Why?"

"Well, this is also none of my business, but I really wish you'd, you know, start seeing other people."

"I will. I just need some time. Marie told me she's felt the marriage was over for several years, but this was a real bombshell for me. In my mind it's only been a few months. At some point, I'll be ready. Lord knows I don't want to knock around this big old house all by myself the rest of my life."

He smiled then said, "Hey, this place'll be perfect for my grandchildren!"

Sarah narrowed her eyes and said, "Richard?"

"I know. I know. One thing at a time. But now that you're engaged, is it okay if I think about grandkids?"

Sarah couldn't help but smile as she said, "I think that would be okay. Honestly? I'd love to start a family right away, but Rick might want to hold off a couple of years, and that would be fine, too. I know I'm not old old, but I am quite a bit older than him so...I'm definitely ready to have children."

"I can't answer that one. Rick's never brought it up, and unlike your questions, that really is none of my business. I'll just say I wouldn't be upset if you brought a little bundle of joy home for a visit every now and then."

"You can be sure of that," she told him. "With you and my parents all living here, we'll definitely be making trips back home as often as possible."

"I'm gonna hold you to that," Richard said with a smile.

"Well, I should probably get going. I need to let the principal know I won't be returning next year."

Sarah did a 'yes!' thing as she balled up her fists and pulled her arms to her side.

"Not that I don't love teaching, mind you. It's just that the only thing I want more is to be Rick's wife so not returning is just fine."

"It's just such a shame. You spent so long and worked so hard to get your degree. But I do understand and from a selfish perspective, I couldn't be happier for both of you," he told her.

"Okay, well, I'll try and stop by again soon," she told him as she got ready to make her exit.

"You better!" he said holding out his arms for a hug.

Sarah smiled and hugged him back.

"Thank you for always making me feel so welcome, Richard," she said as they hugged.

"I wouldn't have it any other way," he said knowing the way Marie had treated her had been very hard on her.

He walked her out to her car, opened her door, and waved goodbye as she drove off.

Sarah was beyond bubbly as she informed her principal she'd finally been asked the question she was hoping to be asked as she flashed her shiny new ring.

"Congratulations, Ms. Carpenter!" he told her. "As I said, your gain is our loss. The only good news from my perspective is we have a ton of prospective teachers to choose from so I won't have any trouble finding a replacement in short order."

He wished her well as they shook hands and smiled when he saw how genuinely happy his now-former teacher was.

*****

"Callaghan? How long have we been awake?" the lieutenant in the foxhole with him asked.

"I don't know. Why?"

"Just wondering."

Rick looked at his watch then said, "About 38 hours or so maybe."

"Ah, good to know. Just ten more hours to go."

"Hey weren't you an enlisted soldier?" Rick asked.

"Yeah. I did five years and made sergeant E-5."

"I thought so. You were infantry, right?"

"Oh, yeah. This is my thing," the lieutenant told him.

"Why'd you choose infantry? Let me guess. Your old man, right?"

"Maybe. I hope I chose it because it's what I really want to do, but yeah, my dad told me many times how rewarding it is to lead other soldiers so...maybe."

"It's funny but when I was enlisted, I'd mock anyone who said something like that. But now, I find myself agreeing with them. It really is a privilege to be able to lead other men."

"Yeah, I just hope I measure up," Rick said.

"I can only imagine the pressure you're under having a general for a dad."

"It's not that so much. It's just that my dad is more than my father. He's my role model and the guy I've always looked up to. Letting him down would be...well, it would be pretty damn awful. And letting my men down would be even worse."

"You'll do fine, Callaghan. You're inexperienced but you're smart and well trained. That's something else I didn't appreciate about new officers. I thought they just showed up out of OCS not knowing their ass from their elbow. I had no idea how much training went into getting commissioned."

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