72. Off To War

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The morning dawned with gloomy apprehension. At least, that was how Peter saw it on his farewell stroll around the neighborhood amidst the dreary mansions. The sky was sullen with gray. A veil of clouds covered up the sun, as if the Heavens themselves had decided to mimic Peter's dread.

Now Peter stood in the foyer of his home with his parents looking him over. His father's brow twisted into an indecipherable expression. His mother stared at him, tears leaking from her eyes. Linda Bell dabbed the moisture from her pink cheeks with a white laced handkerchief.

Peter felt strange in his army attire. It was the kind of strange he had felt the other night in his suit and tie ... only worse. This time, it was the tough-looking camouflage, the hard leather boots, and the rugged browns and greens of his gear. Standing here, looking like an All-American hero, Peter's stomach clenched up. He felt like an imposter and hoped that nobody would discover just how scared he really was.

"Oh, Mother," Peter said. "It's alright."

Peter stepped forward and pulled his mother into an embrace. She clung to him, and Peter could feel the teardrops raining down on his fatigues. He patted his mother softly on the back.

After several heartbeats, Linda pulled away and dabbed her eyes again.

Peter straightened up, trying not to look nervous. "You know, I'll be back before you know it."

"I hope so," Linda said. "My brave son." She looked like she was about to re-open those flood gates.

Peter felt his own throat tighten. He hated to see his mother so upset. But what could he do? He sure couldn't cry in military gear, he told himself. "I'll write as soon as I get there."

"You'd better write," Linda said, her lower lip quivering. She gave Peter one last hug, and her chest started to heave. Linda sobbed softly as she hurried off into the living room.

Frank Bell stepped forward. He clapped Peter on the shoulder and nodded. "You look good, Son."

"Thank you." Peter glowed. There was something in his father's voice that Peter hadn't heard in a long time. Frank may not have said it, but Peter had heard the fleeting sentiment. His father was proud of him. Peter felt his nerves ease. "I supposed I ought to head outside now. Charlie and the other guys will be here to pick me up any minute now."

Frank nodded. He called out to Linda and let her know that Peter would be leaving soon. The fervor of her sobs only increased from the living room.

Peter shot a glance at his father.

Frank's brows lifted. "If you say another goodbye to your mother, the house will float away on its own."

Peter suppressed a grin, and he picked up his army duffel.

Frank brought an arm around Peter's shoulder and led him outside.

The two of them made their way across the lawn. They came up to the tire swing, hanging on a worn rope under a tall oak. Frank gave Peter a nudge and gestured his cheek at the swing. They stopped, and Frank released his son's shoulder.

"Remember when we put this old thing up?" Frank asked, giving the tire a gentle push.

Peter smiled. "How can I forget? You had me lug that big tire from the old junker you were getting rid of."

"It's not that heavy," Frank said.

"It was back then!" Peter cried. "I was only eight."

Frank chuckled. "But it was worth it. We couldn't get you off this swing the summer we put it up."

Peter couldn't help but smile. "Yeah, it was a lot of fun."

Frank nodded, and his expression turned serious. "Listen Peter. About the other night, I'm sorry I got mad like that. I've been thinking about the things you said. I'm going to look into increasing the wages of our colored workers." The corners of his mouth curved upward. "And going forward, your mother and I are going to do a better job of planning the food for our parties. With the savings, we're going to make donations to Hester's soup kitchens." He said it with a wink and a grin.

Peter's throat choked up. "I don't know what to say."

"You don't have to say anything. You just get on over to Europe, take care of business, and come on home."

"I'll do my best," Peter said.

They strode over to the curb. Peter set his duffel bag down.

Frank turned to his son. "There's one more thing. I know I've been putting a lot of pressure on you to work at Union Steel. After you come home, your grandfather and I would love for you to work at the company. But if you decide that's not for you, I'll support whatever career you choose."

Peter's brows lifted. "Even a painter?"

Frank grinned and rubbed his son's crewcut. "Yes, even a painter."

They burst out laughing. And they laughed for a while as if a barrier had been lifted. And it felt good.

Then the sound of a horn brought them back to reality.

The army truck pulled up to the curb. The driver, a boisterous young man by the name of Charlie, beamed a smile. "Come on, Pete! You don't want to be late to the war, do ya?" A cadet in the passenger seat and three others in the open back of the truck waved and shouted their greetings.

Peter met his father's eyes and held out a hand. Frank took it and pulled his son in for a firm hug and several hearty pats on the back.

"All right, Son. You take good care of yourself. And God speed."

"Goodbye, Dad," Peter said.

Frank's expression froze, pride written all over it.

Peter hustled over to the truck. He tossed his duffel into the back and then climbed onboard.

The truck pulled away, and Charlie sounded the horn again.

Frank cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, "And don't forget to write!"

Peter gave a small wave. He watched his father, hands in his pockets now, his features fading to obscurity.

A single tear trickled down Peter's cheek. He was off to war. Leaving everything behind. Leaving everything he held dear. He just couldn't make sense of all the conflicting questions swirling inside his head, but one question stood out among all the others.

How was he going to survive?

Author's Note

Dang! This was one tough chapter to write.

Probably because I merged two chapters together. Not to mention I changed how this chapter played out. I decided to use this chapter to tie up some relationship issues between Frank and Peter. These issues didn't need to drag out, since they don't have any impact on the outcome of the story.

Two important questions:

1) Do you think Peter comes across as wimpy?

2) Sarah cried in the last chapter. Linda cried in this chapter. Is that too much crying in back-to-back chapters?

And let's not forget ... the countdown to Chapter 74 is at TWO.

Thanks so much for your ongoing support!



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