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Chapter 3
Is This The Right Track?

1205 Zulu – Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Rabb Residence
North of Union Station

 


Harm was slowly getting ready for work, another bad night for the pilot-come-lawyer, but it was his friend-turned-cellmate role that was keeping him from getting his rest. Something was wrong with Mac. Something was very wrong. Mac was not normally that … mean. Not Mac. Mean spirited comments said in the heat of the moment were his M.O, not hers.

They had not spoken since Sunday night. He was in court all day Monday and Tuesday. She did leave him a message on his voice mail that was something work related. She acted like everything was fine; she even thanked him for his medical services and the dessert.

As he lay restless the past few nights her words – from the recent and distant past – spun around in his head.

“I always thought friends talked to each other, laughed, spent time together, actually enjoyed each others’ company. . . . [We aren’t friends. We are] people who know too much about the other. Like prisoners who share the same cage.”

“I don’t why we couldn’t work things out between us, Harm.”

“We are getting too good at saying goodbye.”

“I don’t want to be your friend anymore, it hurts to damn much.”

“Harm, there hasn’t been a woman in your life since Renee. I think it is time that you get back out there.”

“Things are never going to work out between us. . . . It is physically and emotionally impossible.”


How many times had she pushed him away? How many times did she keep a safe distance? Was there a pattern that Harm had failed to recognize?

Maybe it was not all her issue. Maybe it was THEIR issue. Maybe he had been wrong all this time. Maybe it wasn’t his lack of commitment, or her denying her feelings that kept them apart. Maybe it had nothing to do with one or the other fighting to be on top. Maybe Mac didn’t want him, plain and simple.

“That's a very nice smile, and I'm sure most of the time it gets you what you want. But I don't know you, Cmdr, so if you don't mind, I’ll keep my personal reasons to myself.”

That should have been his first clue into the mystery known as Mac. That should have been the rule he lived by. She kept her feelings to herself so it was impossible to tell what she was really feeling. After all that time together, eight years of ups and downs, he should have known her; she should have known him. Eight – almost nine years, of coming together in times of need, of pulling apart in times of adversity, the personal and the professional - he acted like he knew her, but did he know her at all? He never would have picked Webb for her. Why did she? He did not know why things did not work out between them – they should have – if he had been right. But if he had been wrong, then he had just been living under a false assumption for the past two, three years. Why hadn’t she corrected him? Or did she?

That morning he realized why he never acted on his feelings for her. It was Mac’s ambiguity toward him that stopped him. Why should he try to achieve an objective if he knew he was going to get shot down? His ego would not allow that, but it also was just good sense. So maybe Mac never really felt anything more than friendship for him. It could be true; Mac had issues with men. That was not his ego talking, she would admit that herself. Maybe what Harm read as interest was actually neurosis. Maybe she just didn’t know how to have a male friend without all that other stuff getting in the way. Maybe she didn’t know how to say ‘NO’ without it sounding like ‘Not now.’ Maybe it was Harm who could not hear the ‘No’ without interpreting ‘not now.’ Maybe it was also true that she no longer wanted his friendship. Maybe his pushing himself into her life – over and over again – was causing her more grief.

He thought back to the fantastical dream he had the night of Jennifer’s promotion.

“Your heart’s desire is the road not taken. Take It!”

What if that road was closed? What if that road was never actually open? What if Harm’s heart’s desire was not Mac heart’s desire? What if the road not taken – his heart’s desire – was never meant to be traveled? What if the reason it was his heart’s desire was because it was the road that would never be traveled? It is easier to regret something that was never within reach.

Maybes. What ifs. There was too much guesswork. Too many ways to interpret the signs. Too many unknowns. Too many ways to make more mistakes. When too much is unknown, stick with the facts. The facts were her words.

“I don’t want to be your friend anymore, it hurts too damn much.”

The facts dictated that he step away - completely.


~~~~~~~~~~


“Hey, Harm.” Mattie called to him from the kitchen. “What is wrong with you? You look like you just lost your best friend.”

Harm looked at Mattie who was actually making breakfast for him, and smiled. She was a constant joy in his life, even when she was driving him crazy. “Can’t lose what you never had.”

“Sure you can.” She corrected. “You lose the hope.”

“Touché.” He grabbed the plates and the juice and went to the table. “Looks good.”

“Practice for my Home Ec class.”

“I see.” He grinned at her. “I am the tester.”

“It is just scrambled eggs, Harm. Can’t screw it up too much.” She brought the pan over and dumped the runny eggs out on to his plate.

He looked un-appetized. “Thank you.”

She sat down opposite and started eating. “You and Mac talking yet?”

“We were never NOT talking.” He pushed the eggs away and opted for the toast.

“But you haven’t seen her.”

“We have both been pretty busy.”

“Harm.”

“Mac is in a weird place right now, and I don’t think I can help her.” He said quickly.

“Can I?” Mattie looked up.

“Be a good friend to her, I think that is enough.”

“Why isn’t that enough for you?” Mattie pressed.

“I will always be Mac’s friend, but right now … now … I don’t --.”

“Too much other stuff?”

“Yeah, maybe.” He looked away. “Maybe.”

There was a calm silence before Mattie spoke again. “I am gonna be late today – FYI.”

“Thought we had a deal.” He pulled his new ‘fatherly’ tone.

“Not that late – but I won’t be home from school until 5 or 5:30.”

“Why?”

She got defensive and defiant. “I have a meeting to go to.”

He studied her for a moment. She did not look happy or sad about the meeting, rather she looked resolved and like she didn’t want to talk about it.

“Good.” He realized she was attending an ALATEEN meeting. “How about I pick you up after and take you out to dinner.”

“Pizza?”

“No pizza.”

There was a knock on the door. Harm got up to answer it like nothing was strange about someone knocking on his door at 0700.

“I am going to break you of this pizza habit if it kills me.” He called over his shoulder.

She was clearing the table. “It is going to take someone better than you, Commander.”

Harm opened the door. On the other side was a woman he had never seen before but she looked familiar. She was not very tall, with long light brown curly hair, a dimple on her chin and pale blue eyes like Mattie’s.

Matted dropped the dishes that she was holding with a loud crash on the floor. Harm looked back at her. She was stunned, staring at the intruder.

“Mattie?” Harm called to her.

The woman spoke. “I am Amanda Grace.” She said confidently looking quickly between Harm and Mattie.

Harm looked back at her.

“I am Mattie’s aunt.” She continued.

Harm looked back at her. “Mattie?”

“What are you doing here, Auntie Em?” Mattie said with a great deal of embarrassment.

 

1302 ZULU - Thursday, April 15, 2004
Dr. Gates Madden’s Office
Central Intelligence Agency

 


Mac waited nervously for her second appointment with the CIA’s shrink. Mac had gone to see Commander McCool on Monday but because so much of what she needed to discuss was classified it was decided that she needed to see someone with higher clearance. At the agency they called it a ‘debriefing’ rather than a ‘session.’ She cursed herself for not being able to get past this thing with Sadik.

The doctor walked in, and took the chair next to Mac rather than her normal position behind the desk. Mac felt her stomach tighten. Something was up.

“Mac, I am not sure I can help you.” This doctor was nothing if not direct.

“What do you mean?” She was surprised.

“Strictly speaking you are showing no signs of PTS.”

“Sleepless, anxious, flying off the handle;” Mac reminded her. “That is now considered normal behavior?”

“No, that is very unhealthy – but I don’t feel that it is being brought on by the killing of Sadik – regardless of the buttons he pushed.” The doctor was being a little cold in Mac’s mind.

“I see.”

“Mac, there are people all over the world who are sleepless, anxious and acting out in ways that are not healthy – none of them had anything to do with Sadik.” She explained.

“So you won’t help me.” It took so much for Mac to ask for help in the first place it killed her to be told that she didn’t deserve the help.

“I didn’t say that. What I am saying is that I can’t help you unless we open up to some other possibilities.”

Mac chuckled. “Is this where you bring up the issues I have with my mother and father?”

“We could go back that far.” The doctor admitted. “Those issues might have something to do with what is driving the current ones, but I don’t think that is necessary.”

Mac felt slightly relieved. “So what are you suggesting?”

“I say we work backwards.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Did you sleep last night?” Madden asked.

“A few hours.” Mac looked down. “On and off.”

“What did you do when you couldn’t sleep?”

“Was awake?” Mac didn’t know how to answer that.

“Where you alone?”

“Yes.”

“Did you stay in bed and toss and turn or did you get up? Make some warm milk. Fix yourself a stiff drink?”

“I don’t drink.” She stated thinking that she must have told the doctor that during the last session. “I am an alcoholic.”

“Ok, did you take a run? Read a book? Watch TV? Call a friend? Re-sort your CD collection? Darn some socks?”

Mac was shocked that the doctor just blew by the comment about her alcoholism. Most doctors would have asked about it. McCool certainly had. “No, I stared out the window.”

“What were you looking at?”

“The trees?” Mac was becoming annoyed. “Doctor what are you looking for?”

“I am not looking for anything specific, I want to know what you did when you couldn’t sleep.”

“I stared out the window, I watched the trees blow in the breeze.” Mac shook her head. “I watched the street.”

“What was happening on the street?”

“Cars driving by.” Mac was still confused.

“Any cars in specific?”

“Not that I recall.” If this were a courtroom, Mac would have objected to this line of questioning demanding to know the relevance.

The doctor got up and went to the window and looked down to the parking lot. “Ya know Mac, when I watch cars drive by, I am thinking of the people I know that have cars like the ones I see, or I am looking for my car, or my husband’s car.”

“Ok.” Mac stiffened. It occurred to her for the first time that she did think she saw Harm’s Vette and thought he might be checking on her. And on several occasions she saw a taxi drive passed and had a brief panicked fantasy that Clay was going to stop by. It also occurred to her that she never knew if Webb drove his own car, a company car or took a cab the nights he visited her. She never thought to ask.

“You didn’t?” The doctor pursued.

“Didn’t what?”

“Notice any familiar vehicles?”

“No.” She lied.

“Ok. Enough with the cars and the windows.” The doctor knew she was lying, and needed to move past it. “Do you usually sleep alone?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I know that you are not married, but are you involved with someone?”

“Yes.” Mac said confidently. For some reason she thought everyone knew. That it would be posted on the CIA bulletin board or in the employee newsletter.

“Why didn’t you call him?” The doctor asked.

“He is out of the country.”

“Is he out of the country a lot?” The doctored pulled.

“You ought to know.” Mac was becoming annoyed with her appearance at not knowing the Clay and Mac were lovers.

“Why should I know?” The doctor said.

Mac gave her a look.

“Oh – I see. You are dating an agent.”

Mac nodded.

The doctor opened the file. “Clayton Webb?”

Mac looked nervous. “Yes.”

“So you knew Webb before your mission to find Sadik?”

“Yes, we have known each other for years.”

The doctor nodded. “Were you dating before you went to Paraguay?”

“No.”

“Did you want to?” The doctor was relentless. “Is that why you took the assignment, so you could be closer to him? To work with him? Maybe change the status of your relationship?”

Mac spine got very tight. “That is not why I took the assignment.”

“You posed as his pregnant wife, Mac.” The doctor stated as if that contradicted Mac’s defense.

“And?”

“That is not typical behavior for a US Marine lawyer.” The doctor closed the file. “Why did you take the assignment?”

“I was asked to.”

“Do you always do what you are asked to do?”

“I beg your pardon?” Mac was on her feet.

“I am asking – do you always do what you are asked to do?”

“Not always.”

“But often.”

“Usually when I am asked to do something like that, it is an order.”

“Did your commanding officer order you to take this assignment?”

“No, in fact he told me that I didn’t have to.”

“Yet, you did and posed as your current lover’s pregnant wife.”

Mac’s eyes flared red at her interpretation. “If you want to describe it that way.”

“How would you describe it?”

“I was asked to go undercover to stop one hundred stinger missiles from getting into the wrong hands – potentially saving hundreds of lives.”

“By putting your own life in jeopardy?” The doctor pulled.

“Yes.”

“Duty?”

“Yes.”

“Honor?”

“Yes.”

“God, country and Corps?”

“Yes.”

“Did you sleep with Webb before you were captured?”

The question took Mac off guard. “Doctor this is outrageous.”

“I am trying to understand when it was that your feelings for the man that put your life in jeopardy changed.”

“I knew the risks when I took them.”

“There is no doubt about the fact that it was your decision – the mission and the relationship.” The doctor did not back down. “So when did your feelings for him change?”

“During our time in captivity.”

“But you weren’t sleeping with him then.” It was not a question.

“No.”

“When did that change?”

“Recently.” Mac said softly.

“Recently? How recently?”

“A little over a month ago.” Mac was embarrassed.

“Right after the incident with Sadik.”

The doctor was right. She had not slept with Webb until after Sadik was dead. “We had been dating – or rather attempting to date since our return from Paraguay.”

“Why only attempting?”

“For the first four months he was recovering from his injuries.”

“Injuries suffered during the time you were held by Sadik.” The doctor corrected.

“Yes.” Mac got annoyed. “I thought you said that this wasn’t about Sadik.”

“Please continue – the first four months he was recovering …”

“And then he went back to work and was out of the country.”

“Often, I gathered.” The doctor said. “Then your relationship changed. Was that also your decision?”

“Yes – I mean it was OUR decision.”

“You discussed it?”

Mac looked away and took a chair on the other side of the room. There was no discussion when she had jumped Webb that first night. She had made the decision and he was ready willing and able to comply. But it was not discussed.

“I see.” The doctor said. “Has it been satisfying?”

Mac glared back at this brazen woman. She was not about to discuss the quality of sexual relations between Clay and herself.

“The change in the relationship, I mean.” The doctor saw her anger. “Is it satisfying? Are you comfortable with the change? How do you like being the significant other to a spy who disappears for weeks on end doing God knows what with God knows who? It is not like being involved with a plumber or a lawyer.”

Mac laughed. For the first time the doctor seemed to trip on her words. It allowed Mac to be more honest then she knew. “I never thought that Clay would be the kind of man I was interested in nor was he the kind of man I expected to marry and have a family with.”

“I see.” The doctor leaned back in her chair. “But he is that type of man now?”

“Yes.” Mac made the next statement to prove her point. “I love him and he loves me.”

“Have you talked about marriage?”

“Not specifically?”

“A family?”

“No.”

“I see.”

“What do you see?” Mac challenged.

“I see that you are serious about this – but -.”

“Clay is too.”

“I believe you.”

“What do you believe?”

“I believe that falling in love with someone you have known platonically for years after enduring a harrowing intense life altering experience together can feel very serious – profound even.”

“Serious?”

“Dangerous too.”

“How?”

“To your head.”

“We shared something very big and it brought us closer.”

“I can see that.”

“But.” Mac pulled.

“I am just wondering about the motivation for this change of feelings so many months after the initial event?”

“What are you driving at?”

“Did you all of a sudden discover how much you had in common? How much you enjoyed each other’s company? Was it a purely chemical reaction that was heighten by the experience? Or -.”

“Or what?”

“Well, love and feelings of love can be confusing and complicated especially if you kill for the man you love.”

“Excuse me?” Mac said quietly.

“You killed the man that tortured your boyfriend nearly to death.”

Mac felt the room closing in on her.

“That is a pretty powerful emotion. Killing for love.”

Mac still did not move.

“Did you know that you loved Webb enough to kill for him?”

Mac shook her head. “Sadik was a sick and twisted man that needed to be taken out.”

“Right.” The doctor confirmed. “Like taking out the trash.”

Mac’s words came back to her. Could McCool have told Madden what she said?

“So you killed for your man and that earned you the right to be compensated accordingly.”

“What?”

“You killed for him – he should love you – he should make love to you – he should prove his love to you – as you proved it to him.”

“I am not some dumb teenager, doctor.” Mac was livid at her implication.

“How much of your feelings for Webb – then and now – were motivated by guilt?”

“Guilt?” Mac felt like a rag doll being dragged across the emotional spectrum. “I beg your pardon?”

“Guilt. Webb needed months to recover from his injuries and you were able to go back to work the next day.”

Mac did not answer.

“I am not saying that you should have felt guilty – it was his assignment, he brought you into it – but it is a natural reaction. He suffered tremendously and you came out of it relatively unscathed – at least physically.”

Mac did not answer.

“Why were you unharmed?”

“Agent Webb took the brunt of the torture to save me.”

There was a long moment of silence. “You do know that there was nothing that Webb said or didn’t say that would have prevented Sadik from doing what he wanted to do. Webb may have thought he was protecting you – but the only person who can take the credit for you not being tortured is Sadik himself.”

Mac looked up at her.

“He was giving the orders. If he had wanted you dead, or hurt in anyway – Webb would have been helpless.”

It hadn’t occurred to Mac before, but the doctor was right.

“The fact that Sadik came to find you after eight months – find you and NOT KILL you – is proof of that.”

Mac was silent as she pondered the doctor’s comment.

“Who are Victor Galindez and Harmon Rabb?”

“Who are they?” How was Mac supposed to answer that, it was only a fifty-minute hour?

“It says in the file that they effected the rescue of both you and Agent Webb. Galindez took Webb for medical treatment and you and Rabb followed the stingers and destroyed them – almost killing yourselves in the process.”

Mac was now annoyed at the level of detail in the report. “Does it also tell you what I was wearing?” She said snidely.

“Galindez was USMC on TAD to the CIA and Rabb – well it doesn’t say much about him. Why was he there?”

Mac got up and crossed to the window. After a long moment she answered. “He was looking for me.”

“It says here that he had resigned his commission as a Navy Commander days before you were rescued.”

Mac turned to the doctor and tried to stare her down. “As I said he was looking for me.”

“Is that why he resigned his commission?”

Mac looked away. “You will need to ask him that.”

“I am asking you.”

“Yes.”

“Wow. You two must be very close.” She stated.

Mac did not answer.

“Most men don’t give up their careers for just any woman.”

Mac did not respond.

“Were you and Rabb lovers?”

“No.” She did not look back at the doctor.

“But there was something more than a friendship between you.”

“We have known each other for a very long time.”

“As long as you have known Webb?”

Mac looked back at the doctor. “In fact, yes. I met them hours apart.”

“Yet you worked with Rabb daily – or very nearly daily – for eight years.”

“Yes.”

“Must have some guilt surrounding that too.”

“Guilt?”

“A man gives up his career and nearly gets himself killed to save your life and you turn to another man.”

“It really wasn’t like that.”

“You and this Rabb person were never more than co-workers? Associates? Friends?”

Mac did not answer.

“It is obvious that he felt some serious sense of obligation to you, Mac.” The doctor started. “But who is Harmon Rabb to you?”

Mac looked back out the window. Her fifty minutes were up. Was the doctor going to let her go?

 

1418 ZULU - Thursday, April 15, 2004
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, VA

 


Coates knocked on Harm’s open door. “Sir, Ms. Grace is here to see you.”

Harm and Jennifer shared a tense look. “Thank you Petty Officer, please show her in.”

Harm was standing behind his desk when Amanda Grace breezed in like the answer to all problems.

Amanda “Em” Grace and Harm had met briefly on Wednesday morning when she showed up out of the blue. Mattie’s reception of her was not as cool as Harm would have expected it to be. Em was Mattie’s mother’s sister – her twin sister. There was a reason she had been out of the picture for the past two years or longer. Mattie knew what it was, but did not open up to Harm, at least not yet. Honestly there hadn’t been much time. Mattie had gone to dinner with Em the night before. Harm and she did not talk too much in the morning. Harm didn’t want to push. He felt very out of place.

“Commander.” She said brightly with a warm smile on her face. “Thank you for seeing me without an appointment.”

He nodded and gestured for her to have a seat. “May I get you something, water? Coffee?”

“I have had Navy coffee, Commander.” She laughed. “No thank you.”

“What can I do for you?” He sat down.

“Well I am sure you are wondering about me,” she declared without a shade of remorse or regret. “And to be honest I am more than curious about you."

“It had crossed my mind to ask where you have been and why you are here now.”

“Direct.” She said. “I like that in a man. Rare.” She leaned comfortably back in the chair. “You can relax Commander, I am not here to rip Mattie away from you. In fact, you have been very good for her.”

“Thank you.” He tried to relax. “Mattie has been very good for me as well.”

“I can’t speak to that, but that leads me to my first question. Why has a single man with an active career chosen to take on a fifteen year-old girl that he didn’t know from Adam?”

Harm chose his words carefully. “I like her. I liked her from the moment I met her. She was in trouble and needed someone’s help. She let me help her.”

She studied him for a moment. “So you are the heroic type, huh?” She leaned forward. “Do you help all women in distress?”

Harm ignored her comment. “When was the last time you saw Mattie?”

“That last time I saw her or the last time I spoke to her?”

“You have spoken to her recently?”

“Every Sunday for the past four years.” She looked confused. “Mattie didn’t tell you about me?”

“No.”

“Well she didn’t tell me about you either.” She laughed a little. “Hell, she didn’t tell me about any of it. I thought she was still living with Jake and Martha Johnson.”

“She ran away from them a long time ago.”

“I know that now. Finally spoke to them last week. The Graces and the Johnsons are not on friendly terms.”

“I understand that.”

“The last time I saw Mattie – hell the last time I saw any of them was right after my sister’s death.” She looked away. “I tried to get Mattie to go with me then, but she refused. She was bound and determine to continue to run that stupid crop dusting business.”

“She lost that about five months ago.” Harm said.

“She didn’t lose it.” The woman flipped her hair back. “It was stolen from her. I am surprised that you – being a lawyer – didn’t look into it.”

“I did. There was nothing I could do. Johnson had taken out a note against the field, and Grace Aviation was not making enough money to keep up the payments.”

“Well, Commander.” She said a little slyly. “If you looked a little deeper you would have realized that Johnson did not have the authority to sign a note on the field, he was not married to my sister at the time.”

“I did not receive confirmation of their divorce.” He defended. “Mattie never said -.”

She interrupted. “I am taking steps to recover what was stolen.” She stated confidently. “Would you care to help?”

“Anything I can do.” He said.

A smile spread across her face. “I am sure something will come up.”

She was flirting with him he thought. She was a remarkable woman – well from the nothing he knew about her – she seemed remarkable.

“I have paid the note on the house.” She continued. “And I understand that you are owed five months mortgage.”

“Unnecessary.” He waved her off.

“All the same, I am having a check cut for you and delivered. It should be here this afternoon.”

Red flags were waving in Harm’s face. She wanted something. “Why are you here?”

“Again, bold and direct.” She soothed.

He braced himself against it. He knew she was trying to disarm him. It hadn’t work, yet.

“I am here to see that my sister’s wishes are carried out. She wanted Mattie to have Grace Aviation and the house, and by God she will have it.”

“Who are you?” He asked.

She laughed at that.

“You say you are not here for Mattie, yet you are doing everything in your power to ---“

“Woo her?”

“Exactly.”

“Maybe I am.” She got a little more serious. “Mara, my sister.” She smiled sadly. “We were the Amazing Grace sisters. Amara and Amanda Grace – queens of the air. She was the only family that I had in the world – now there is only me and Mattie.”

Harm looked down, he understood about being alone.

“I loved my sister, Commander. Walking away from her was the worst mistake I have ever made.”

“Walking away?”

“We had a falling out several months before her death. I told her if she continued on the path that she was going, she would be dead within a year.” She took a deep breath. “Being right is no consolation.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I could have - I should have forced her to get help.”

“Get help?”

“My sister was an alcoholic, Commander.” She stated a little too casually. “She was driving.”

Harm looked confused. “Mattie told me that her father was driving.”

She laughed. “And it never occurred to you to wonder why Johnson was not in jail for manslaughter? Reckless endangerment? Drunk driving?” She snorted again. “Are you sure you are a lawyer?”

Harm looked a little shamed that it hadn’t occurred to him. “Mattie said --.”

“I am sure you can understand that Mattie changed some of the facts to fit her needs.”

Harm shook his head. He didn’t understand.

“It is easier to hate the living than it is to hate the dead.”

Harm was silent for a moment trying to fully grasp what Em was saying.

“Mattie is not entirely wrong. Johnson is to blame in many ways. He was a drunk - still is I suppose. They drank together. One thing Mara never did was drink and drive – not since the time she wrapped her car around a telephone pole with Mattie in the back seat. Mattie was just a baby then.”

Em got up and started walking around the room.

“Oh, she still drank, but she would never get behind the wheel with even one beer under her belt.” She laughed. “Hell, she never renewed her license.”

“Why did she then?” He asked. “Why did she get in the car that night?”

“Johnson had caused a seen at the bar. The owner called and threatened to throw him in jail if she didn’t come down and get him. Even though they weren’t married anymore – they were still very involved. Mara was a sucker for that man – had been since she was – hell since she was Mattie’s age.” She got a little distant and thought back to a simpler time.

“Go on.” Encouraged.

“That bastard was still working at Grace Aviation. She could not afford to lose a days’ labor out of him. So she went to get him with a fifth of Jack Daniels under her belt. She never made it home.” She looked away. “I’m sorry she didn’t take him with her.”

Her coldness toward Mattie’s father rivaled Mattie’s. “Mattie knows this?” He asked.

“Mattie knows. She was 12 when my sister died. She knew all about it.” She heaved a heavy sigh and sat back down. “She may not be ready to admit it. But she knows the truth.”

Harm thought about Mattie and her anger toward her father. Somehow it made more sense to him now.

“Harm, I am the only real family that Mattie has. The Johnsons are all worthless.”

“So where have you been? How could you let her be by herself for so long?”

“I called her – a lot – and kept asking her to come live with me in Alaska. I run a floatplane business in Fairbanks. I didn’t know that Johnson had taken off until three weeks ago. Mattie is very good at lying or at least not telling the whole truth.”

Harm was still confused about what were the truths and what were the fabrications.

“Anyway – she missed her weekly phone call the past four weeks. I started calling. I found out Johnson was in rehab, and she was living with some Navy Commander. I got here as soon as I could.”

“To do what?”

“I am not going to let Mattie live with just anyone. If I think you would hurt her in anyway, I will fight tooth and nail to get her back.”

Harm felt the challenge.

“On the other hand, if you are what is best for Mattie – I will adjust.”

“I see.”

“But you have to know, Commander. She is a young woman – or soon will be – for a man who has never been married, it is only going to get more difficult from here on out.”

“We are working through our problems.”

“I expect that you are.” The words that followed stung Harm to the core. “Don’t you think it is strange that a forty year-old man is interested in taking care of a sixteen year-old girl?”

He studied her for a moment. He was still not quite sure if she were an enemy, a friend, or just another hurdle to clear. “Just what are you implying?”

“I am implying nothing – just want to know what your motivations are.”

He felt the exact same way about her. “So now what?”

“Now you and I need to get to know each other.” She smiled brightly at him, which did disarm him. “Why don’t we discuss this over dinner tonight – I’ll cook.”

She was incredible. From accusing him of – something heinous to inviting herself to his house to cook, she was all over the place. Under any other circumstances, he would want to get to know better. She was bringing a fight out in him that he hadn’t felt in a long time. The best part was that she was taking the initiative. “Ok. Dinner it is.”

She stood up and moved to the door. “I’ll be there by seven.”

Harm watched her go. He had no idea what to think about that little spitfire. He wanted to like her. He wanted to do a lot more. But he didn’t trust her.
 

 

 

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