Author's Note: This is a work of fiction, inspired by some of the stories I heard from friends and on the news about happenings during and after the Waldo Canyon Wildfire. Thank you to all the firefighters and support who saved so many homes and lives. I apologize for any inaccuracies in the few details I used for my characters.
Captain Lacey Sterling, MD, walked into the mattress store that was blocks from her home, looking for the man she'd been assured would be there. Her sister and brother-in-law had just picked her up from the airport, she'd been awake for 22 hours, arriving home 2 weeks before most of her unit. There had been several other soldiers on the plane home with her, most of them looking at pictures of the damage from the wildfire that had swept through weeks earlier. Though many of the people in her unit were aware of what had happened, the people on that plane had been directly effected by the fire. Some of them were returning to see what could be salvaged from the smoke and water, others had nothing left to return to.
Veterinarian Tanner Sterling stood in the middle of the mattress store and stared at the bed in front of him. It looked good but he wasn't sure it was the right one. He remembered his wife had liked the mattresses that were firm but had a fluffy top. He should have taken a picture of the last bed but he couldn't bear to go near it. The whole thing smelled like smoke and mold and reminded him of the fire. He'd spent the last few weeks cleaning and painting like a mad man whenever he wasn't checking up on his patients who had been affected by the fire. So many ranches and farms had been burned, most of the livestock had managed to get away from the flames but not all of them. No, not all of them.
When Lacey appeared at his side, Tanner wasn't surprised. He hadn't been sleeping very well lately and he kept seeing her everywhere. When she held him and he realized it wasn't a dream, tears welled in his eyes, and panic set his heart racing. The house wasn't done yet. He'd worked so hard to make sure she would have a home to return to, one that would show no trace of the smoke that had billowed through their front windows and out the back, that he almost wanted to put her back on the plane until he could finish making it perfect. The only thing missing was the bed.
"They told us what happened," she said, not reading his mind but knowing him well enough to know where his thoughts were going. "There were videos about where the fire was going, what was going on. I saw the horses on the ridge."
He could still hear the horses screaming as the fire raced over the mountain.
"You were in a lot of the videos, baby. Helping the fire fighters, working with the animals."
"The house isn't ready, yet," he told her, still staring at the bed in front of him.
"I'm amazed it's still standing," she told him, wrapping her arm around his waist and cuddling into his chest. "You did the best anybody could have asked, and so much more. I'm so very proud of you."
He took a deep breath and turned his head to look at the top of hers. This tiny woman who was cuddling up to him was a doctor in the army, a tough cookie by anybody's definition, and it still amazed him that she had chosen him because he made her feel safe. She worked with some of the toughest men in the world but she cuddled with him.
"Barb told me you weren't sleeping well," Lacey said, stroking his arm.
"There isn't a bed, yet," he said.
"I'm sure they can send one up soon, we just have to tell the nice man behind the counter which one we want."
"I couldn't remember which one you liked last time. I thought it was this one but every time I tried to sit on it, it didn't feel quite right."
"There was something missing, I bet, because you were right, this is the one I prefer."
"You were missing. Nothing's quite right without you here."
"Well, I'm here now, so let me help you finish making the house back into a home." She turned and looked at the salesman who had been dancing around nervously, trying to find a way to help her husband. "I'm sure they can get the bed delivered today."
"I'll call and see if we can get it there within the hour, ma'am," the salesman said.
Still not certain that he wasn't just having a very vivid dream, Tanner paid for the bed and started to walk out toward his car. Lacey took his arm and steered him toward her sisters car. "Neither of us is really in a condition to drive, babe. Enjoy the driver and we'll come down and get the car later."
The drove to the house and the mattress truck pulled in behind them. The salesman had made good on his promise and the delivery drivers had put them to the front of the line.
Barb directed the delivery guys where to put the bed and went upstairs with them to make sure everything was where it was supposed to go. Tanner walked his wife through everything that had happened to the house and everything he had done to set it back to rights after the evacuation orders had been lifted.
Lacey waved to her sister as she left and gently led her husband upstairs to see the bed. She helped him undress and tucked him into the bed.
"Come to bed," he told her, as she went towards the door.
"I'm still wearing Afghanistan," she told him. "I was going to take a shower."
"Take off the uniform and come be my wife," he demanded, half-asleep.
"Yes, sir," she smiled at him. She undressed quickly and got under the covers with him.
"At ease, soldier," Tanner Sterling said, and drifted off to sleep, his wife following him quickly into slumber.