For the Soul

For the past few weeks, Charlotte had poured every last ounce of strength she had into pretending she was just fine. Right as rain, she'd told Cooper, because she knew he needed that. He needed reassurances from her. He needed to believe that the strong, fearless woman he'd asked to be his wife would endure and recover, and she- well, she needed to believe that, too.

Progress came slowly; sometimes too slowly.

She could see that Cooper was frustrated, but it still surprised her when he woke her up one Saturday morning with an insistent, "Sweetie, get up. We have somewhere to be at ten o'clock."

Charlotte's eyes popped open and she was instantly wide awake and alert. "What? Go where?" she asked, sitting up in bed and slowly, discreetly edging away from him. It made her uncomfortable whenever he towered over her from above.

Cooper forced a sunny, bright smile. "Get dressed," he told her, artfully sidestepping her questions. He hesitated a moment, then added, "Nothing too nice; jeans, sweatshirt, tennis shoes. That sort of thing." Cooper punctuated his statement with a move to pat her leg, but he stopped himself and withdrew his hand before it made contact. His forced smile stretched even thinner. "If you hurry, you might have time for a quick shower."

He motioned to his wristwatch and concluded, "But we need to be ready and out the door in twenty, okay?"

A feeling of uneasiness settled in the pit of Charlotte's stomach.

Cooper had never done anything like this before in the span of their three-year relationship and now was certainly not the time for spontaneity. The thought of being taken by surprise put her on edge and made Charlotte very wary of whatever Cooper had planned for them.

Her anxiety was already starting to build and manifest itself by the time she arrived down in the garage sixteen and a half minutes later with wet, dripping hair, thrown together in jeans and a loose-fitting grey sweatshirt. She'd gone barebones on the make-up as well.

"Someone looks pretty this morning," Cooper remarked, laying it on pretty thick as he pushed off the hood of the car and made his way over to her. He handed her a paper cup from their favorite coffee shop down the street. "We need to get on the road," he told her, unlocking the car door. "We have a drive ahead of us."

"Are you gonna tell me where we're going?" she asked him, warming her hands against the cup.

Charlotte hoped that Cooper knew the edge in her voice wasn't intentional. She didn't mean to be so short with him. Her tone was just another thing in a long line of things that she seemed to have no control over these days of late.

Cooper was a smart man. He carefully avoided the word 'surprise' as he told her, "I've planned something special for you." He took his eyes off the road a split-second long enough to look at her and say, "Consider it my engagement present to you."

Charlotte didn't know how to respond to that. She was tempted to fire off another tidy cliché in lieu of any real response, but she knew how Cooper felt about that so she busied herself with her coffee and said nothing.

Their drive was a long, winding one out of the city and up into the rocky, uneven terrain of the California hillside. Cooper slowed to about fifteen miles per hour on the red dirt back roads, which, just a few weeks ago, would've made the old Charlotte smile.

Bless his heart. Cooper was just another Yankee who didn't know how to use his four-wheel drive, she would've thought to herself with a chuckle.

Two hours and three GPS consults later, Cooper turned off onto an unmarked road, down a long dusty driveway with heavy brush on both sides. The driveway seemed to continue on for at least another half mile before it finally dead-ended in front of a modest ranch-style house with a brown barn set back in the distance.

Charlotte's first terrifying thought was that Cooper had bought the house for them. That fear was put to rest, however, when he pulled the key from the ignition and remarked, "Man, I'd hate to drive that road every day of my life."

"Where are we?" Charlotte asked, stepping out of the car in turn with him and shutting the door. She crossed her arms over her chest to ward off the early morning chill. Looking to Cooper, she asked him, "What is this place?"

"Wait right here, Sweetie," Cooper told her. He pulled off his sunglasses and walked right up to the front door of the house. Charlotte watched him knock and scrutinized the short, stout middle-aged woman that emerged from within the house.

Charlotte couldn't overhear the words they exchanged, but their body language suggested that they'd met each other before today. After a minute, Cooper started back toward the car while the older woman made her way across the property and disappeared through the brown barn doors.

Cooper took his place at Charlotte's side and confided in her, "That's Rebecca Lewis; Becky for short. I made a house call up here a couple years ago when her grandson, Nate, dislocated his shoulder." Cooper put his hands in his pockets, smiled, and told her, "Becky still owes me a favor."

Charlotte gasped when Becky walked out of the barn leading a striking chestnut mare by the reins.

Cooper watched her reaction and savored it. "She's beautiful, isn't she?"

Charlotte had a hard time tearing her gaze away from the horse. "Is she…Is she mine?" Charlotte asked, finally getting the words out, astonished, as she looked to Cooper for some kind of confirmation.

"She's yours to ride whenever you want."

Charlotte's face fell ever-so-slightly and Cooper saw it. He was quick to reassure her, "If you spend time with her and love her, I'm sure Becky would give us a good deal on her. I just thought that you might enjoy riding her around some of the trails up here. It's quiet and peaceful, and people say that horses are good for the soul; very therapeutic and healing."

Charlotte loved Cooper with her whole heart, but she sensed that this wasn't entirely his idea. She eyed him until he finally admitted, "Okay, I told Sheldon that you were refusing to see a therapist about the – well, y'know, and he suggested that I look into alternative therapies." Cooper appealed to her, "Apparently, equestrian therapy is a thing."

Charlotte managed a real, genuine smile for the first time in a long time. Tentatively, she reached out and laced their fingers together. "It's a very sweet thing, is what it is," she told him, adding softly, "Thank you."

The End.

There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man. ~Winston Churchill