Approximately 4,600 words; 11 pages (8 ½” x 11”)
Somewhere in Virginia
His tires whispered quietly along the soft pavement, occasionally
launching a pebble into the weeds by the side of the road. A light
breeze played rustling melodies in the treetops. The air was warm and
heavy for this time of year.
Pulling the pearl colored SUV into the driveway between white fence
posts, he hit the remote button to close the gates. In the morning,
perhaps he’d park it in the garage next to her red one. The sound of the
door might wake the children, and it didn’t look like it would rain.
A tired shadow shrouded him as his feet heavily climbed the stairs onto
the porch. Uncertain even now of his welcome, he quietly slid his key
into the heavy lock. In happier times, he would have entered the kitchen
through the garage, then checked and soothed the children if they were
disturbed by the sounds of his homecoming.
For nearly two years, happiness had been an elusive commodity, and his
presence in this house more often a source of discomfort. He no longer
believed his touch could console anyone.
He could never blame himself enough for giving her the baby. Something,
some nagging voice had told him it was wrong this time. He had just been
promoted then, and there were new responsibilities that had distracted
him. But deep down, he should have known.
Not that he regretted the baby, he loved all four of his children
equally and dearly, but what was so obvious now, had not been apparent
after the twins. Yes, there were signs, little things, but she’d hid
them well. Excusing her fatigue and moods with the pressure of her new
job as First Asst JAG, it had all sounded so reasonable then.
She’d been given the recently created post that held most of the duties
and responsibilities of their former CO, Admiral Chegwidden. Little by
little, the new CO’s position had been expanded and politicized, giving
him a share of responsibilities that had formerly belonged to the SecNav
alone. The ongoing war had stretched the JAG department far beyond its
Hiding her health problems from her doctor, and successfully distracting
Harm, she had ultimately convinced herself, through the sheer power of
her will, that there was no problem.
Without realizing it was part of the problem, she had suggested about
eighteen months ago they have another baby. Harm had protested. The
twins were only a little over two then, and her responsibilities were
already heavy, both at work and at home. His new job, initially at
least, made it difficult for him to get home evenings at a reasonable
hour. Even with the addition of a small housekeeper’s apartment and a
fulltime live in helper, it only lightened the load marginally. Mac
insisted on doing so much herself, barely allowing him, or anyone, to
She cleverly turned each of his arguments aside, claiming one more bath
in the evening wouldn’t take much time. She minimized the extra
responsibility, and brushed over the physical drain on her already
overtaxed system. He’d continued to protest, but to no avail. Without
hard evidence, his arguments were too weak to be effective.
Finally, after more than a month of heated discussion, in a stunning
move, she made the shocking announcement that she’d halted the use of
any artificial means to control her fertility. It gave him two options,
he could use the protection himself, or they would abstain entirely if
he refused to allow her another baby.
Unwilling to turn their bedroom into a battleground he relented. They’d
always enjoyed and counted on the comfort they found in each other. It
was the one place they could be alone and make the world go away for
short bits of time. She always loved the closeness, the intimacies, as
much as he did, and her ultimatum troubled him. It had further dismayed
him that as the months passed without success, she became less welcoming
of the intimacy necessary, and finally denied him at all but the optimum
time for conception. This kind of action was so out of character for
Mac, he should have suspected the deeper problem immediately.
Unlike previous pregnancies, once confirmed she refused nearly all
personal contact, only grudgingly did she allow his touch of the growing
baby. He was confused by her behavior, but it made her more comfortable
so he complied. In time, he began to feel like a monster for even
thinking of intimacy in any form, and pressed the issue only to the
point of the touching necessary to bond with the baby.
However, it was painfully obvious the shared joy of producing a life did
not exist as it had with the other children. She insisted hysterically
that it was his fault for not wanting the baby, and he could find no way
to convince her he was looking out for her welfare. She refused to
accept there was reason for his concern.
Indeed, her radiance was not dimmed, but enhanced, as in her previous
journeys into motherhood. Outwardly, there were no signs of distress.
She ate well, exercised, and kept her regular doctor appointments. On
the surface his arguments seemed specious; there was simply no evidence
to support them.
It was immediately after the baby was born that she began sleeping every
possible moment of the day and night. If needed for a child’s comfort
and care she was tireless, and her attention constant, but when they
were asleep, or he was home, she retired to her bed and slept. Her
disposition with all but the children was wildly unpredictable.
When he asked about her health, she said she was fine. If he cleared his
calendar for a doctor’s appointment, she found reason to reschedule to a
less convenient time, constantly pushing him farther and farther away.
Finally, the barely controlled explosion released from its containment.
To his constant queries about her health and wellbeing, she replied with
a bizarre accusation, contending his only concern was the absence of
physical intimacy. That he had only refused her the child because it
would limit her availability to him. Harm was stunned, left speechless
by the sheer absurdity of her attack.
Not because she refused his advances, but because she had so vividly
imagined advances that didn’t exist. Aside from a kiss on the forehead
when the baby was delivered, he had attempted no further intimate
contact since shortly after the baby was conceived. Every time he moved
near her, she moved away. When he came to bed, she feigned sleep. When
he left for work, or arrived home, she arranged to be convincingly
occupied, merely offering an impersonal wave of acknowledgement.
Soon she insisted he move to the spare room claiming she couldn’t sleep
with him near. He made her nervous she claimed and his restless turnings
kept her awake. She needed her rest. He had to go. So reluctantly he had
In misery, he pondered their situation, blaming himself to the point of
surrender. He made an appointment with his doctor. How could he have
become so thoughtless, so selfish, so cold? What had turned him into
this cruel person who frightened her, instead of being her best friend
What his doctor had to say enlightened and alarmed him, both for Mac and
the children. He’d heard of it, of course, read about it with the
volumes of information he’d gathered with their first pregnancy but so
many things had interfered with his clear thought processes it had been
pushed to the back of his mind. Now it all came flooding back in a
He couldn’t get home fast enough. Confronting her, he insisted they talk
privately. He knew they could be heard, the yelling, screaming, the
denial, but he didn’t care. She would recognize this, she would get
help, or he’d know the reason why. The final blow to their relationship
came when he told her she would either go voluntarily, or he would
report her symptoms to her doctor.
It was the one instance in military life where a lower ranking officer
could order a higher-ranking one to comply. She knew the illness itself
would have minimal impact on her career, if dealt with willingly. Even
with its attendant counseling it was considered a physical ailment.
Inconvenient, but curable.
She was smart enough to know these things, but hard headed enough to
refuse to admit to any weakness, even an uncontrollable one, and by God
no one, not even Harmon Rabb Jr., could make her. But he could, and he
would, she knew that and the damage of being ordered to report for a
physical by her doctor, would have far more impact on her record. She
had to comply. He would follow through; she knew he would. But she would
win the war if not the battle. In the face of what she viewed as a
betrayal, she insisted he move from the house.
Stunned, shocked, shattered to his soul, he nevertheless he agreed to
leave after her first appointment under certain conditions. Whenever
possible, he would be here for the children in the morning and evening,
then he would leave. He would be allowed here during the day on weekends
to spend time with the children, and most importantly, he would have
regular reports from both her doctors. She fought him on the last, but
short of having him throw her over his shoulder and forcibly take her to
Bethesda, she had no choice.
She went to her doctor and began a series of treatments that included
medication and counseling. He received the reports as agreed and moved
back into his old apartment. The tenant had recently transferred, and
he’d been looking for a new one. Now he occupied it himself. Funny it
had never seemed so cold and lonely when he lived there before.
Alone and miserable, for months he’d visited his children regularly,
though Mac avoided him whenever possible. He absorbed every detail of
the doctors’ reports, and soon enough they cited improvements in her
health, both mental and physical. The biggest problem now lay ahead of
them, and he had despaired there could be a hopeful resolution. He was
preparing himself for the final blow. The time when he would hear from
her attorney. She simply hadn’t forgiven the betrayal of his insistence
Suddenly one afternoon, he had a call from her doctor.
‘Would he come by for a meeting?’ He was asked.
‘Would Mac be there?’ He inquired.
‘Well no, but the doctor was hoping in time…’
‘Fine,’ he agreed. ‘Anything that might help.’
During their meeting, the doctor informed him that Mac had been
reluctant to ask because she was afraid he would refuse.
He almost lost his temper, almost. Gritting his teeth, he held himself
in check and inquired, ‘Why?’
‘Mac just couldn’t believe he would ever forgive her,’ the doctor
He broke down and cried. This was all so bizarre, the stress of his loss
was more than he’d realized.
She asked, ‘Would he like to talk to someone alone, someone to help
‘No, not right now,’ he answered. ‘I’ll do whatever it takes to help
Mac. If it turns out later I need someone, I’ll call’.
Satisfied, the doctor asked, ‘Would he be willing to come to Mac’s
‘Of course’. He replied immediately, ‘she was the most important thing’.
He didn’t hear from anyone for another two weeks, then one day Mac
called him. ‘Would he come to her next session with her? Please?’
She was obviously nervous, expecting him to refuse, even though Harm was
sure her counselor would have told her what he said. ‘Absolutely,’ he
quickly reassured her. ‘Where and when?’
For the next several weeks, he’d gone with her once a week and saw that
the burden of their estrangement sat heavily upon her. He wanted her
back, he wanted them back, but he was terrified of moving too fast,
uncertain if she was ready. She asked if he would move back into the
house, shyly suggesting they might be better able to mend their
relationship if they weren’t so far apart. Harm was relieved when the
counselor agreed to her suggestion.
Not entirely certain what she wanted, he moved back, but stayed in the
spare room. It had been three weeks now since the move. Although his
schedule kept him in the D.C. apartment for two nights, he’d spent most
of the time at home, living first a guarded truce, progressing to a
successively more comfortable atmosphere.
The night before he left for this last TDY, he thought she might be
suggesting he come back to their room, but when he responded uncertainly
to her strained gesture, she didn’t press the issue.
He’d been gone five days now, and he had no idea what to expect when he
pushed the door open. It was late, there were no lights visible, but
their bedroom was in the back. She might still be up, or not, he
As the door swung open, the one constant in his homecomings impacted him
squarely in the chest, with eighty-five pounds wrapped in red-gold fur.
“Oof,” came out of his mouth, “Charlie, down you silly fool.” He ordered
good- naturedly, scratching the long curly ears. It wasn’t the greeting
he had hoped for, but it was certainly not entirely unexpected. Their
golden retriever had been greeting his homecomings the same way, despite
copious training classes, since she was a puppy. She didn’t seem
inclined to change at seven years old. As quickly as she appeared, she
was gone through the door, to check dog matters in the front yard.
The familiar aroma of wood oil and leather from the furniture, combined
with the lingering scent of her perfume, attempted to quiet the nervous
tension he carried deep inside. He laid his hat on the side table,
placing his keys carefully beside it. Slowly he turned to the staircase.
The soft clang of the electric gate roused her from her book. Trying to
stay awake, hoping he’d really come home, she knew she’d read the same
page twenty times without understanding a word. Her mind kept wandering
to all that had happened. She had only hope and a dream left that it
could ever be the same again. Slipping quickly from the big bed, she
hurried quietly down the stairs.
She accepted intellectually she’d been ill, not entirely responsible for
her moods, her words, her hurtful accusations. She knew as well that
she’d refused to forgive his betrayal, his threat to report her to her
doctor, because deep down she couldn’t forgive herself for what she’d
done to him.
It wouldn’t have surprised her if he’d refused to come back. He could
have no idea how much she wanted and needed him back, not after her
actions of the last two years. She realized now, her behavior had been
erratic and unreasonable even before the idea of another baby had
occurred to her. They were often small things, but she’d seen the
worried looks he’d given her, the hesitation in his demeanor around her.
It had made her angry that he had pulled back from her. She was
completely unwilling to accept any blame. Somewhere deep down, she’d
unreasonably equated his behavior with an outside interest.
Convinced he was having an affair, and oblivious to the fact his
reticence was her own doing, she insisted on another baby. Using every
vicious, irrational, means available to her, she backed him into a
corner until she got what she wanted. And in getting it, some small part
of her mind understood it had all been her imagination. There’d been no
one else. He’d do anything for her, if it would only make her happy.
But the strain of another child, her job, his job, and her rollercoaster
emotions, would not outwardly accept the fact of her misjudgment. The
only thing she could do and still hold together was to go forward not
back. She could not admit she’d been wrong; it would weaken her too
much. She had no way at that point of understanding he would have helped
her, he would have been there as her support. She couldn’t acknowledge
that weakness and so it got worse, until the day he’d blown up and
threatened to haul her bodily to Bethesda. It had been the final straw.
She’d gone too far, she couldn’t back down. She ordered him out of the
house, and the day he left, she stood in the upstairs window and sobbed
her heart out.
But she went to her doctor, keeping her appointments faithfully. Never
believing for a moment she could ever undo the damage, never believing
he would return to her, never understanding he was only waiting for a
word. Not until he accepted her invitation to come to her meetings did
she begin to have hope, to realize he’d understood, and to know just how
much he had nurtured his hope of returning, during the long nights he’d
She asked him to move back, but he was uncertain of his welcome. It was
understandable. He stayed in the spare room. At least he was nearby.
There was hope. Each day they could talk a little more easily, move
about each other a little more comfortably. The hope had grown slowly,
until the night before he left. She’d tried something stupid; something
doomed to fail.
He’d always rejected blatant, shallow, gestures from her, only accepting
her when her aspect was genuine, yet she’d tried in the most brazen way
to seduce him. Worse than the night in Russia when she’d deliberately
worn the white nightgown, and he’d retreated to the chair. Worse than in
Sydney, when she’d shamelessly propositioned him. Her face flamed as she
remembered her foolish mistakes.
Once again she’d made the same mistake, donning a deep red silk
nightgown she ambushed him on the landing outside their door, as he
headed for his room. Startled and confused, he’d gently placed a chaste
kiss on the forehead, and apprehensively told her goodnight. He’d
correctly interpreted her attempt for what it was, nervous and
insincere. Pushing too hard too soon, she was sacrificing herself for
the retrieval of their intimacy.
They’d talked nightly while he was away, but the conversation, while
cordial, even friendly, was never intimate. From somewhere, somehow, two
nights before he returned he gathered the courage to say ‘I love you,
Sarah,’ just as he hung up the phone. She’d cried for an hour.
Last night she had sincerely offered her declaration of love in time for
him to respond, and they both sighed in relief. Maybe, just maybe, there
was a chance. He told her he would be returning late, and offered to
stay in town, reluctant to disturb the household. She still wondered if
the offer was what he wanted, or if he was asking what she wanted. She
had responded with out thinking. ‘No, please come home’.
Now, as she stood anxiously on the bottom step, the door slid quietly
open. Charlie bounded down the hall from the family room to bounce off
his chest, before leaping through the door to investigate the state of
the yard. Dressed in a pair of lightweight knit PJs, albeit new ones in
a soft pastel green, she knew she was the essence of the gentle,
comfortable, sensuality that he loved and could accept as genuine. She
held her breath, as he slowly placed his hat and keys on the side table,
and turned to look at her.
“Harm?” She formed his name as a question.
“Mac,” he answered, uncertainly.
“You came home,” she said with an element of wonder.
“You asked me to,” he replied a little defensively.
“I know,” she nodded quickly. “I wanted you to come. Thank you.”
It was so awkward, so uncomfortable, yet so important that they get this
Without losing her eyes, he called over his shoulder, “Charlie, come!”
The large golden dog bounded up onto the porch, and galloped through the
house, heading for her resting place on the family room sofa. He closed
the door and turned the lock, still holding her gaze.
“What do you want Mac?” he asked with natural trepidation.
“I want you, I want our life back. But mostly I want the Harmon Rabb I
fell in love with. The man who loves me and wants me.” Her eyes flicked
down for just a second then returned to capture his heart. “I’m sorry I
hurt you, I….I hope I haven’t lost you.”
“I’m sorry too Mac. It was my fault. I should have seen it sooner. I
could have handled it better. I’ve prayed I wouldn’t lose you either,”
he whispered breathlessly. As he spoke, he moved across the hall, until
he stood in front of her, meeting her at eye level.
“Can we…can we try again?” she asked her eyes filling.
“Let’s try,” he gave her a sad but genuine smile.
This was the final step. After all the lonely nights they spent
agonizing over what they’d done to their life, after all the sessions
with her doctor, after the hours of quiet conversation, valiantly
working to re-establish their friendship, it all came down to this. This
first apprehensive touch.
Reaching his hands to her shoulders, he allowed his fingertips to trail
down the soft silky knit of her sleeves, until he gently captured her
hands. Her delicate fingers nestled trustingly against his large ones,
as he raised them to his lips, kissing the tip of each one, never once
allowing her eyes to leave his.
“Oh Harm,” she cried, sliding her arms around his neck. His strong arms
encircled her waist and they stood with their heads buried in each
other’s shoulder, just holding tight, holding on for dear life, as their
tears fell unchecked.
They stayed that way for long moments wanting, but not wanting to move.
The desire to take their long denied feelings to another level was
overwhelming, but the fear of making a mistake was almost crippling.
Boldly and subtly, Mac moved first. Just a fraction, she turned her face
and pressed her lips into his neck. He followed with a similar caress,
taking it deeper letting his tongue escape to stroke her skin. It was
all they needed.
Everything they had ever learned of the other, every joy remembered,
came flooding back. Conscious decision left them as he scooped her up
and carried her into the living room. They were acutely aware of every
precious moment spent on the couch, renewing and rediscovering the
expression of their love. And afterward of collecting their clothes and
climbing the stairs, where they held each other close, cuddling,
snuggling, touching and whispering the sounds of love, before falling
into deep slumber wrapped in each others arms.
Early sunlight barely poured through the windows, when he heard the
commotion outside their door. With only a few seconds warning, he threw
himself over Mac, before they were assailed by Lizzie, their
six-year-old, and Tommy and Matt, the four-year-old twins. Somewhere in
the scrambled heap of arms and legs was an uninvited golden retriever.
Lizzie climbed on Harm’s back and straddled his waist, bouncing up and
“Daddy, Daddy, you’re back, are ya gonna stay? Please stay Daddy, don’t
make him mad any more Mommy,” she pleaded.
“Charlie, off the bed,” Harm ordered, glancing quickly at Mac’s dismayed
expression. Rolling over to capture his exuberant, if mistaken,
daughter, he tucked the twins into the valley between him and Mac.
Charlie jumped down, and trotted around the bed to apply a large kiss to
Macs forehead, before dragging her wrist from under the blankets. This
action elicited gales of giggles from the boys over Mommy getting her
face ‘washed’ and being ‘rescued’.
“Listen Lizzie, I need you to understand something,” Harm held her in
his arms. “Mommy didn’t make Daddy mad, we just had some problems.”
She looked steadily at him. Mirroring his own sea green eyes, “Did you
make Mommy mad?” she asked
“No darling, it’s complicated,” they had decided early in their family’s
life to discourage baby talk, assuming instead the children should learn
to use words properly.
“Complicated,” he helped her finish the word. “It’s when something isn’t
simple, like it being one persons fault. This was just some problems,
and we had to work them out.”
She nodded seriously, her eyes again studying his. The man and his child
enjoyed a unique connection, often communicating more with a look than
“Are they okay now?” she asked. “All the problems.”
“Yes darling,” he reached for Mac’s hand, lifting the fingers to his
lips. She watched wide-eyed, as he explained in easy terms, all that had
happened, so their daughter could understand. She was bright, and alert,
and aware, and she had noticed the separation. It had troubled her. The
boys were still a little young to ask, although undoubtedly questions
would come. Their primary interest at the moment, was wrestling on the
floor with the dog.
“Harm, I have to get Julie. She needs to be fed,” Mac started to pull
“Its okay Mommy, Miss Eleanor is feeding her. Then she said she’d make
our breakfast. Are you getting up now?” she asked
“Tell you what,” Harm suggested. “Daddy got home very late last night.
Suppose you let us sleep a little longer, then we’ll all go someplace
good for lunch.”
“The new Beltway Burger with the playground?” Lizzie bargained, looking
at him slyly through her lashes.
Harm laughed. “My eyes, your mother’s appetite, and a fine negotiator,
you’re a force to be reckoned with my sweet,” he said as he set her on
the floor. “Take the boys and go get breakfast, we’ll be down in a
She turned to her brothers, “Let’s go guys. Snap to,” she ordered in a
perfect imitation of Mac, and with a smug glance over her shoulder, she
marched everyone including the dog from the room.
They piled noisily out the door, and Harm walked over to make sure that
all five pairs of legs made it safely down the stairs, before locking
the door and turning back towards the bed.
“You don’t have sleeping in mind, do you Harm?” Mac asked, smiling with
anticipation, as he stalked towards the bed.
“Not exactly,” he replied, as he slipped off his shorts and crawled in
beside her, covering her with his long lean body. A stealthy hand crept
under her nightshirt, and his lips brushed lightly over hers, nibbling
his way to her ear.
“What would you like me to do Mac?” he whispered huskily.
Her soft reply brought a wicked smile to his face.