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Chapter 16


1845
Saturday
Rabb Farm
Belleville, Pennsylvania

 

Jack Keeter slid from behind the wheel of his Chrysler 300. He had just bought it. This trip was the perfect opportunity to see what this baby would do. She did not disappoint. He made excellent time from Washington.

He walked up the steps, thinking how this place had not changed since the last time he was here. What had it been…10 years? He had come after Diane had been killed. He had heard through the grapevine about her murder and he hadn’t hesitated.

As he approached the door, Mrs. Rabb opened it. “Jack Keeter! Get in here!” she exclaimed. Jack scooped her up into his arms and swung her around as she pounded him on the back.

“Sarah Rabb, you haven’t changed a bit since the last time I saw you.” Jack put her back down on her feet.

Mrs. Rabb laughed and said, “Stop lying, you rascal. Come on in.”

Mac heard the commotion downstairs and came out of her room.

Jack looked up at Mac and he hoped he did not show his surprise at the difference in her appearance. He had not seen her since their return from Iran at least 5 years ago. She was still beautiful, no doubt about that, but she was so much thinner. Mac had never looked fragile before, not to him.

When she saw him she called to him, “Jack!”

He bowed at the waist and said “At your service, ma’am.”

She walked down the stairs and carefully hugged him. “Don’t get carried away there, Keeter, I’m still healing.”

He chuckled and said, “Never fear, ma’am.”

They went into the kitchen, and since they had all eaten dinner, Mrs. Rabb made coffee and served apple pie she had made that afternoon.

“Please help us eat this pie, before I eat another piece,” Mac said, laughing.

Keeter looked at her and said, “You could use a few pounds anyway, Mac.”

Mac looked at him directly and said, “I’m okay, Jack. I’m getting better all the time.”

Jack smiled. “I’m glad to hear it.”

“Thanks for helping us out on this, Jack, and thanks for the use of that cabin the other weekend. We had a great time.”

They talked about the cabin and about Dogwood Harbor, and Jack laughed out loud at the story Mac told about Harm meeting Secretary of Defense in a bookshop.

 

0545
Sunday
Green zone
Baghdad, Iraq

 

Harm lay awake on his rack. He had been asleep and a dream had brought him wide awake. He had been required to take an anti-malarial medication and had been warned about nightmares. This one was a doozy.

He was walking through a room; everything seemed to be blue and hazy. There were people in the room; they all looked sad and seemed to pity him. He looked back at them. Bud and Harriet were there, the admiral, Admiral Boone and Gunny. He was walking toward something, an open area, and then he saw it. It was a casket. It was open but he could not distinguish who was in it. It couldn’t be Mac. *No!*

He woke up in a cold sweat. He had been lying there for some time, trying to calm himself down. He decided that he needed to call Mac. He rose from his bed and dressed and walked down to their office.

Mac answered and he inwardly heaved a sigh of relief.

“Hey,” he said, trying to sound casual.

“Well, hello. I didn’t expect to hear from you so soon, Sailor. You and Jack Keeter in one day. I don’t know if I’m up to that.”

Harm laughed a bit though he was still feeling uneasy as a result of his nightmare. “Hey, great. I’m glad he made it. Can you put him on for a moment?”

“He’s asleep right now. I can hear him snoring from here.” Mac took the portable phone out in the upstairs hall and held it out. Harm could hear Keeter snoring through the phone line. He laughed and told Mac it was not important.

“You’re up pretty early on Sunday morning, Harm.”

Harm told her about the medication and that he had a nightmare. He did not tell her what it was about, though.

“You sound tired,” she said.

“I’m okay, I’ll just be glad to be home. Tell me about your day, Mac. I think I just want to hear your voice. Read the phone book to me…anything. I just miss you.”

Mac was genuinely touched and she did talk until Harm seemed to sound more like himself again. They talked about Monday; it would be a busy day. She would follow up with Captain Morrison, see Commander McCool and then see the new JAG, General Creswell.

“Hey…uh… Mac, I know you’re ready to get back to your apartment, but I really need your help with something. Do you think you could stay at my place and keep an eye on Mattie for me?”

Mac was silent for a moment. He prayed she hadn’t figured out that what he really wanted was for Jen and Mattie to look after her.

“I really feel bad about leaning so heavily on Coates.”

Mac had been ready to get back to her own apartment, but at the same time she wasn’t ready to be completely alone yet. The surgery had left her feeling vulnerable in a way she never had before.

“I can do that, Harm. Maybe chauffeuring around a teenager will make me appreciate all my paperwork at JAG,” she said, chuckling.

Harm was so relieved he let go of a breath that he didn’t realize he was holding.

Mac knew what he was up to. “You know, sailor, you’re not that slick,”

“What?” he said innocently.

“I know what you’re doing, Harm, and it’s okay. I think I need to transition into being completely on my own. Your grandmother has given me a lot of space here. I will be on my own at your place but Coates and Mattie will be right next door. It will work, Harm. By the time you get back I’ll be fine.”

Harm was quiet, and then he said, “Mac, I really do need your help with Mattie.”

He could hear the smile in her voice when she said, “I know. Yeah, Harm, I’ll be sleeping in that nice big bed….all by myself.”

“Ha ha, just wait – I’ll be back and you…”

Mac interrupted, “What, Harmon?”

“Hey, I owe you one anyway, Mackenzie.”

Mac knew he meant their last phone call. “I don’t understand, Harm, didn’t you want me to tell you that I love you before I hung up?” she said laughingly.

“You know very well what you did,” he said. Mac laughed in earnest. She loved to mess with him, and if he were honest he would say he loved it too.

They ended the call not long after with Harm wishing her sweet dreams. He had nearly forgotten his nightmare, damn that stupid medication.


1300
Sunday
Interstate 76 east
Somewhere in Pennsylvania


Jack decided that since he had ‘precious cargo’ he had better drive at the speed limit. Mac had told him about her phone call from Harm. He was sorry he had missed him. He looked over at her, expecting to see her sleeping. She was looking at him, smiling.

“Well, hello, sleeping beauty” Jack teased her.

“Hey,” Mac said.

“Ready to get back, Mac?”

She nodded, “Yeah, but I won’t be back at JAG for about 4 more weeks. Getting back to my life in Washington is a good thing, though.”

“Mrs. Rabb is a great lady, isn’t she?”

“Yes, she is. It has made a lot of difference for me to be able to go out there and recuperate. It’s almost a different world there on that farm.”

Jack nodded. “Yeah, Harm goes out there almost every time he needs to get away. I can’t say I haven’t enjoyed my visits there. Mrs. Rabb made me feel as though I were a member of the family. She can be blunt, but when you know she genuinely likes you, you can’t seem to feel insulted by it.”

Keeter laughed and said, “She told me once, ‘Jack, you are a lovable rogue. The kind of man that every woman loves and thanks God every day that he isn’t her husband.’”

Mac laughed out loud. ‘I’m sorry, Jack, but I think she’s got you pegged.”

Jack nodded, smiling. “I can imagine Harm is ready to get back. Iraq is a hell of a place to be right now.”

Mac looked at him and asked, “Are you still flying for the Company, Jack?”

“Who told you I flew for the Company?” he answered and smiled slyly. “I am an independent agent. I work for myself as long as I want to and then I move on to something else.”

Mac sighed. “Okay, Jack.”

He wanted to change the subject so he thought he would begin on what he thought would be Mac’s favorite subject. “So when are you two going to make honest people out of each other?”

“What?” Mac answered, incredulous.

“Oh, come on, Mac. Harm has been smitten since the first time he saw you. I can’t believe you two have waited this long. I know it has to be some kind of record.”

“Okay, Jack Keeter, just because you accompanied me across an Iranian desert doesn’t mean I’m baring my soul to you – or Harm’s either, for that matter.”

He looked at her and huffed. “I was a perfect gentleman on that trip, if you remember.”

She did and said, “Yeah, you knew I would hurt you, and if I didn’t Harm would.”

“Well now, Sarah, why do think that was?”

“Come on, Jack, we were best friends at that time, nothing more. It wasn’t long after that Harm returned to flying,”

“Yes, I remember, and I also remember that he turned down a plum assignment on the west coast so that he could come back to JAG after he left the Seahawk.”

Mac looked at Keeter and sat up straighter in her seat. “What did you say?”

Jack raised his eyebrows and thought *typical Harm* – he never told her. He shook his head. “Oh no, I’m not saying any more if Harm didn’t tell you. I’m not saying anything else.”

Mac adjusted her seat and sat up. She looked at Jack and gave him her most threatening stare. “I may be recovering from surgery, but I can still hurt you, Jack.”

He did a double take and Mac laughed a little. “Had you there for a minute, didn’t I?”

“Really, Mac, I don’t know much more than that. I just know he came back to be near you,”

“He told you that?” she asked.

“No, Mac, he didn’t. He just didn’t deny it. I’ve known him since he was seventeen years old. He may be eloquent in the courtroom, but you know as well as I do he isn’t the most direct person in the world when it comes to things like that.”

She did know that now, but she hadn’t then. If she had only known, so many things might have been different. She shook her head to clear it. Harm was right, no rehashing the past. They both decided it was time to lighten the conversation a bit and they did. It was a pleasant trip home with Jack Keeter his charming roguish best.


2140
Harm’s apartment
North of Union Station



Mac had been tired and slightly sore from her trip back to Washington. Jack had been great helping her get everything into Harm’s apartment. She had left a note on Mattie and Jen’s door and let them know she was there. Mattie came in for a quick hello about 2000.


Mac took a shower after she left and made herself a cup of tea.

‘This was a good idea,’ she thought.

She had missed Harm so much. He was everywhere here in this apartment. She walked around the room and saw his leather jacket hanging near the door. She walked over to it and lifted it from the peg. She wrapped both arms around it and buried her nose into it, breathing in his scent. On impulse she wrapped herself in it. It was huge on her and she didn’t consider herself a petite woman. How he would laugh if he could see her now.


She got ready for bed and slipped in, beneath the comforter. He had done such a good job with this place. She pulled one of the pillows down and into her arms. She loved his bed. She felt safe and warm, and though she missed him was so happy to be where she was.

She had a lot to face tomorrow but she was not worried. She would take everything as it came. No more *borrowing trouble,’ as Mrs Rabb had said. She was alone but she felt so close to Harm. Her eyelids were heavy and before she knew it, she fell into a deep sleep.


1100
Monday
National Naval Medical Center
Bethesda, Maryland



Mac left Commander McCool’s office feeling ready for battle. She was not angry but she felt ready for whatever might happen during her upcoming meeting with General Creswell.

Her first appointment was at 0900 after having her fasting blood work done for Captain Morrison and for Dr. Ahrens at Johns Hopkins. The captain seemed pleased with her progress but as always appeared cautiously optimistic. Depending on the results of her blood work, she would be returning in two weeks if all testing was within normal limits. If there were some concerns she would be returning sooner and also be required to undergo an Octriatide scan to further assess her condition.

Commander McCool was also pleased with her progress. They picked up their discussion about what she wanted from her life. Mac was surprised that her answers were as simple as they turned out to be. She wanted a permanent relationship with someone who loved her. She wanted to continue her career and she wanted a family. Commander McCool asked her how she intended to have that family.

“We really don’t know yet. I still want very much to have a biological child with Harm. We haven’t really discussed it at length, but I know he won’t agree to anything that will put me at risk. Captain Morrison has already said that there is a higher risk of a return of the tumor if I conceive too early.”

“How do you feel about that?”

“You told me to think about what I really wanted and not what I thought other people wanted. This is one of the things I want. I have dreamed of this child for over five years.”

“What else do you want for yourself?” Commander McCool pressed her further.

“I want to continue my career in the Marines. I am a good Marine. I am a good lawyer if I do say so myself. I want to be happy.”

“Do you have an idea what will make you happy?”

“It makes me happy to be a part of Harm’s life. I feel closer to him than I ever have, really closer to him than I have ever allowed myself to be with anyone. I want to be a part of his family and I want to make one of our own together.”

“Does Harm know that you feel this way?”

“I know that he loves me. I know he is there for me. We haven’t discussed marriage but we have discussed children together and always being there for each other That is really enough for me right now.”

“What are you proud of, Colonel?” The commanders asked changing the direction of the discussion.

“I am proud that I am a Marine, that I am a JAG attorney. I came a long way from that trailer park outside Camp Pendleton.”

“What are you proud of personally?”

Mac was quiet. Commander McCool studied her for a moment, giving her time to gather her thoughts. Mac, who was seated on the couch, stood and walked across the room. She looked out the window.

“I can’t think of many things that I’m proud of personally.”

Commander McCool frowned and said, “Your relationship with Chloe? What about your role in helping her find her father? You have many friends, Colonel. You must be a good friend to the people in your life.”

“I am most of the time. I can’t say I’ve let very many people in, in the past year or so.”

“You’ve been through some pretty extraordinary circumstances, Colonel. Your friends have understood that, surely.”

Mac thought of her confrontation with Sturgis, of the terrible things she had said to and about Harm. She knew both situations were resolved but guilt still niggled at the back of her mind.

“Yes they have, or I think they do now. Mrs. Rabb told me something last week that I haven’t been able to forget, she said that I had to choose between living in the present and being happy or living in my past mistakes and being miserable.”

“Good advice,” the commander said. “Colonel, our time is up for now. I believe you are making very good progress. I think you still need to work on how you see yourself personally. I believe your ability to allow others into your life is working in your favor.”

They stood and walked toward the door of Commander McCool’s office. “I would like you to consider this and we will discuss it at our next session. Your health issues have made you look at your life differently and that has been a good thing. It seems to have helped you focus on what is important to you now. Your condition is such that you must view it with a realistic eye, but it is also important that you plan to have a long life. It is important to your health physically as well as mentally. Where do you intend to be in 5 years? In 10 years? I want you to plan in detail.”

Mac shook her hand and said, “Thank you, Commander”

She walked down the hallway and a junior officer acknowledged her with a nod and a “Ma’am” She returned it. She drew a deep breath and thought, ‘I’m still me.’ As she walked toward the exit to her car, she felt a surge of pride and something she couldn’t quite name. She was ready to see the general now.


1300
JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, Virginia



General Creswell sat at his desk. He had been reviewing Colonel Mackenzie’s service record with interest. She had an exemplary career. Her evaluations had been stellar from the beginning of her career until now. Her record also held references to an incident that ended the military career of his oldest friend. He could not honestly say he didn’t have very strong personal feelings about Colonel Mackenzie’s role in that fiasco. He also knew that John also had a responsibility to do the right thing and he had not. He’d disobeyed a direct order and gotten himself assigned to commanding a maintenance detail at Quantico. The incident with the colonel’s ‘husband’ was the last nail in the coffin. Colonel Mackenzie was waiting to see him. He sat back in his chair and steepled his fingers. He had always seen himself as a fair man. He never claimed to be easily swayed in his opinion, but he knew that he had always been honest and he had always been fair.

The general buzzed Coates. “Send in Colonel Mackenzie, Petty Officer.”

Mac walked into the office and came to attention. The general stood behind his desk as she entered. He walked around his desk. He was a very imposing figure. His aura spoke strength without his having to say a word. Mac steeled herself inwardly. She could not help but respect who General Creswell was, but she did not fear him. After fearing cancer and the loss of her very life, anything else seemed smaller in comparison. She was still here and she would ‘live to fight another day.’

“At ease, Colonel. What is your medical status as of today?”

“Sir, I am to remain on medical leave for the next 4 weeks, with a follow-up in 2 weeks with my oncologist and also an endocrinologist who is following my case from Johns Hopkins.”

“Very well.” The general walked toward the fireplace. Mac continued to face forward. “Colonel, we will not dance around this issue but we will discuss this only once, is that understood?”

“Yes sir.”

“I am aware of certain incidents in your past that involve a very close friend and comrade. I have strong personal feelings about these incidents, all of which I intend to keep to myself. Your record here at JAG is exemplary and I see no reason that would indicate that you will not continue to perform at that level. However, I will be replacing you as Chief of Staff. You health status being in question makes it necessary to get an officer in place who can give one hundred percent.”

The general walked back to his desk and stood behind it. He did not sit down. “I have spoken to Admiral Morris about the possibility of your joining them on the judiciary. He says that you performed your duties well and that he thought you would be an asset.” He paused for a moment and said, “Your thoughts on the matter, Colonel?”

Mac had expected being replaced as Chief of Staff. “Permission to speak freely, sir?”

“Within reason, Colonel.”

“Yes sir. I expected to be replaced as Chief of Staff and I did enjoy my time serving on the bench. I would like to continue to be a part of JAG as long as my health will allow. I will accept your judgment in these matters. I would also like to say, sir, that I regret some decisions I made personally but I am proud of what I have been able to accomplish. I appreciate your candor in this matter, sir.”

“Very well, Colonel. You are dismissed.”

“Sir.” And with that Mac left the room. She walked through the bullpen, nodding to Bud and Sturgis as she headed for the elevators. She was not upset. She actually felt as though a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Whatever happened now, she was going forward. The good work she had done here could not be undone by anyone.


2240
Harm’s Apartment
North of Union Station



Mac lay back on the pillows.. She loved this bed. This room was perfect as well. Neat and clean and very very masculine. What a day it had been. She’d come home from her meeting with General Creswell, got a shower and passed out. Jen and Mattie brought dinner at around 1700. It was some kind of casserole. It tasted good but she could not for the life of her say exactly what was in it. Mattie stayed and did her homework. She and Mac had some hot chocolate and had a little bit of girl talk. There was a boy that Mattie called *kind of a boyfriend*. Harm was really going to like that, she thought, smiling. She suspected that Mattie had stayed to keep an eye on her. The phone rang then, pulling Mac from her reverie.

“Hey, sailor.”

“Hey, Marine, how did it go today?”

“A lot better than I expected.”

“That’s great, Mac. How about the other two appointments?”

She told Harm about both of them. She spoke more in general terms when she talked about Commander McCool. She didn’t want to get into the baby issue with him now.

“How is it going with you?”

“Okay. We’re just getting started, really. There are a lot of people to talk to. The press in Britain is all over this, so that doesn’t help. You sound tired; are you okay otherwise?”

“I fine but I am tired. I can’t believe I’m still awake. I haven’t needed any strong pain medicine today. I have some over the counter stuff that seems to be covering things just fine.”

Harm was worried that Mac wasn’t more upset about losing her Chief of Staff position. Was she hiding her true feelings from him? “So you’re going back to the bench, huh?”

“Yeah, maybe you were right. I do know the law.”

“I respected you in that role, Mac.”

“Yeah... after a few bumps in the road,” Mac said, smirking.

Harm laughed. “Yeah, we had those, but I did apologize and I even told you in front of the admiral that I knew you were better at that particular aspect of the law than I was.”

“Yes, you did. I will miss the investigations and working on cases with you. We do make a beautiful team.”

“I have to agree, counselor…I mean, your honor.” Harm chuckled. “We’re still connected in our work and other things now.”

“Oh…what other things, Harmon?”

“Don’t start, Mac – you know what I mean.” Harm chuckled deep in his chest.

“Yes, I do. I just couldn’t resist giving you a hard time.”

Mac was really starting to sound sleepy. He knew he should go and let her go to sleep. He just needed to talk a few more minutes. He had left her many times before but never had he felt the tug at his heart and body as he felt now. He had missed her before, but they were connected in a way they had never been in the past.

“Hey, I’d better let you get to sleep.”

“It’s okay, Harm. I don’t have to get up early tomorrow.”

“No, I’d better go. I have a meeting with McBurney in about 10 minutes, and besides, that sleepy sexy voice of yours is killing me.”

“Oh, Harmon,” she growled. “You’ve given me another weapon against you.”

“Fire away, Mac,” he said. Mac could hear the smile in his voice.

They hung up shortly after that. Harm sat at his desk for a moment. He thought about why their connection was so different now, so strong. He was hers body and soul now. He remembered something Annie Pendry had said about her husband Luke. He had been afraid of her reaction to rumors about Luke being unfaithful. She dismissed them out of hand because, she said, “I was his and he was mine.” He remembered that he didn’t think he would ever be able to feel that sure of anyone.

He did now.


Chapter 17


0830
Friday
Green zone
Baghdad, Iraq



Harm was reviewing the case file in front of him. This was not going to be an easy task. He had finished his interviews with the junior officers under Lt. Colonel Alexander Gregg’s command. The consensus was as had been reported before. He had been verbally and physically abusive.

NCIS had also performed an investigation. It seemed that along with the allegations of abuse of his subordinates there were also accusations of prisoner abuse. The conversation with Gibbs had been interesting. The prisoner abuse was unfounded. It seemed that the prisoners didn’t like disrobing for medical exams. Gibbs had said, “They didn’t like the ‘turn your head and cough’ routine.” Harm smirked at the thought and shook his head.

The hell of it all was that these men had fought with honor and distinction on the battlefield. Their valor would be tainted now by what had been seen on television and by a prison scandal that had nothing to do with them. In the minds of some people they would be tarred with the same brush.

Major McBurney knocked on the open door. “Sir, General Watson would like to see us now.”

Harm looked up and thought to himself ‘what now?’

They were summoned into General Watson’s office and came to attention.

“At ease, gentlemen. As you may be aware, Colonel Gregg’s unit is set to return to the States on the 8th. They will be aboard the Saipan. You gentlemen will accompany them and complete your interviews with senior and junior enlisted personnel. You will forward your report to Lt. General Marcus, the Expeditionary Force Commander.”

Harm’s heart sank. He’d thought he might be able to get out of here a bit early. He planned to get a lot of the interviews complete this weekend. It would be at least two weeks until they docked in Norfolk. ‘Damn,’ he thought.

“Sir, May I ask the reason that we need to conduct the interviews aboard ship?” McBurney asked.

Harm was wondering the same thing but had not thought it prudent to ask. He thought he already knew the reason anyway.

The general looked from McBurney to Harm.

“You may. It is my opinion, Major, that the interviews would be better conducted out of this war zone with the men having time to gain a bit of perspective. Is that clear enough, Major, or would you like me to elaborate?” The general gave the Major a penetrating stare.

McBurney swallowed and replied, “No, sir.”

They were dismissed and headed back to their office. They both sat down without saying a word. McBurney knew he had overstepped but he also knew that he was not satisfied with the answer he had been given. He looked at Harm. Harm returned the look and said,

“Okay, Major, spill it.”

McBurney got up from his chair and walked across the room. He closed the door to their office. “I still don’t understand why we have to conduct those interviews aboard ship. It seems suspicious to me. There is so much scrutiny on this case; why would he want to do something that might throw up a red flag to the press?”

“There are a number of reasons that I can think of. One may be separating the interviews officer from enlisted may be a way to ensure that the men speak freely. Another reason may be because the press is all over this; we can control the environment in which we gather the testimony so that we can get a clearer picture unencumbered by fear of television cameras.”

Harm continued, “The general had ordered that the report not be released and that it would go straight to the Expeditionary Force commander. This would also lessen chances of leaks to the press before the report was complete.”

It was a good plan, and in the end, the major understood and grudgingly agreed.

They had to get their gear together and be ready to catch the ship by 1200 tomorrow. He had to call Mac. He would wait, though, until he could focus on their conversation. They hadn’t spoken since Monday. They’d sent a few e-mails, but he needed to talk to her one more time before he left.


2315
Friday
Harm’s apartment



Mac sat on the bed Indian style. She had spread a newspaper out on the blankets and was reading. She had bought the paper earlier and had not had time to read it. Jen and Mattie had dropped by and invited Mac to the movies with them. They had seen ‘Alexander’; it was a good movie. They went for coffee, or hot chocolate for Mattie, afterward. It was a typical misty night in November. She missed Harm. She wanted to take a long walk with him, her arm linked in his, walking in step.

The phone rang, startling her. She looked at the clock. It had to be Harm. She swore she could tell by the sound of the ring.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Mackenzie, what are you doing up so late? It’s way past your bedtime.” Harm chuckled. He had finally finished everything and now he could just kick back and talk to Mac for awhile. He had 90 minutes left on his calling card. It was nice to be in the JAG office with easier access to phones, he was fortunate and he knew it.

“How are things going, Harm? Tell me you’re almost finished and you’re on your way back…right?” Harm could hear the smile in her voice. He hoped she would understand what he had to say next.

“Well, that’s just it. I have to take the Saipan back to Norfolk to complete our interviews.”

Mac was quiet for a second.

“Mac?”

“I’m here. I’m just thinking, that’s all. I’m trying to figure out what day that will get you back here. It should be early Thanksgiving week if we’re lucky.” She did understand and at least now they had a light at the end of the tunnel. He was on his way and that was all that mattered to her right now.

“You’re okay with this, then?”

“I’m fine, I would love to have you home sooner but I do understand. From what you’ve told me, I knew this wouldn’t be a walk in the park. I also don’t want you to rush back here on my account and risk…..anything.” She was thinking of Harm’s crash into the Atlantic when he tried to get home when she insisted he be there.

Harm heard the hesitation in her voice and spoke to reassure her. “It really is for the better as far as the report is concerned, although McBurney almost got his ass chewed out by General Watson when he asked him why we needed to take the ship back.” Harm chuckled. “It’s nice to see him getting on someone else’s nerves besides mine. And Mac, I’m not risking anything. I’ll be back before you know it.” He paused for a moment and asked the question that nagged him from time to time, especially now. “Any regrets about that time, Mac?”

“You mean the crash? Well, I have a few. I regret that you were hurt so badly and that I pressured you to come back. And that it took the crash for me to realize that Mic didn’t have my whole heart. I don’t believe he would have handled this well. He always said the right words but he just wasn’t very deep emotionally.”

‘No kidding,’ Harm thought.

“I’d just never had that kind of love at that point, so I didn’t realize anything was missing until your crash. I was so upset and afraid I’d never see you again. He spoke supportive words and then immediately tried to smooth things over and go on with the wedding as though nothing earth-shattering had happened. I knew then that I had more of an emotional investment in you than I wanted to believe. I think Mic knew it too.”

“I’m sorry, Mac. I’m not sorry that you didn’t marry him. I’m sorry that you were so hurt by it all. It seems that the pain from that time started us on the wrong path and we just kept going.”

“We’re not there anymore, sailor,” Mac said. “Hey, this little cruise will give me a little more time to get better before you get home. I think I may try and do a little running at the fitness center. Indoors, to start with, so I can get my legs under me again.”

“Thanks for the visual, Mac. I’ve been thinking about those legs quite a lot lately.”

“I’m glad to hear it. I feel kind of bad. Me in my frumpy bathrobe before you left.”

“I told you, Mac, you looked beautiful to me, and besides, I have a lot of memories of you in different stages of dress. Hey, that bathrobe pales in comparison.” Harm laughed softly into the phone.

“I feel bad that we didn’t have much time before my surgery and I haven’t been in the best shape. I’m not the way I had hoped to be if you and I ever got together.”

“Mac, I will never forget our time together. We finally crossed the divide. We’re not going back to the way it was before. I wouldn’t trade anything for that weekend we had on Tilghman Island. I can wait for you, Mac. As long as you need me to. I was alone for a long time before that.”

Mac suspected he had been. She knew it was selfish but she was so glad. He was hers and she wanted to believe he had been for a long time.

 

0645
U.S.S. Saipan
Somewhere in the Atlantic



Harm had been awake nearly an hour. He was finishing up his report. It had been over two weeks since he had talked to Mac. They were one day and a wake up away from Norfolk. He was taking a hop out of NAS Norfolk to Andrews. Mac was going to pick him up there.

He had completed his report and it looked as though the lieutenant colonel would be fired from his position. It was a shame. He was well thought of by his junior enlisted men. Harm had heard over and over again that Lieutenant Colonel Gregg had done his job better than anyone else could have and that he kept casualties to a minimum. Many of the senior enlisted thought that the allegations were politically motivated. The truth was somewhere in between. The fact remained that in the present climate, the BBZ video was damning and it left the unit open to unfounded accusations of abuse. He would be awarded nonjudical punishment with a punitive letter of reprimand in his record. It was a career killer to be sure. The colonel had been a rising star in the corps and now his new position would be mediocre at best.

He saw that he had an e-mail and opened it. It was from Mac, and it read:

Hey Sailor,

Saw Captain Morrison and Commander Fletcher. Doing well.
Lots to tell you when you get home.
I love you.
Green light, Commander
LOL
Mac


Harm sat back in his seat and stared at the message. A smile spread slowly across his face.

If that meant what he thought it did, it was going to be a great homecoming….Indeed.

 

1530
Andrews Air Force Base
Langley, Virginia



Harm had started looking for Mac as soon as they touched down. He saw her as he got out of the plane. She stood just inside the doorway of the reception area. She was not in uniform. She wore a skirt and sweater in a beautiful shade of amber. The sun was shining, making her hair to appear a rich chestnut color. He could have sworn he could see the cinnamon brown of her eyes. His mouth went dry. She was walking toward him, smiling radiantly. She embraced him and he kissed her cheek. He tucked her under his arm and hugged her close. He was careful not to press her too closely. He was holding on to his self control by a thread. He had missed her so much. Now seeing her, having her close and the scent of her perfume… it was almost sensory overload. She was so beautiful and she felt so good in his arms. He stroked her arm and kissed her temple as they walked. He wondered if she could feel his heart hammering in his chest. He knew that he could hear it pounding in his ears.

Mac hugged him close after he had kissed her. “Hello, you,” she said.

She thought he looked almost shy when she looked up at him. She knew then he was trying to stay in control of himself. She understood that now. They had to have dinner at home with Mattie and then send her off with Tom tonight. It was Thanksgiving break. That would leave them the long weekend to catch up. She could feel his heart beating against her side as she walked with him and a slight tremor in his touch as he stroked her arm.

They got into Harm’s SUV which Mac had driven to pick him up. Harm wanted to drive. ‘It will give me something else to think about and something to do with my hands,’ he thought. Mac slipped into the seat beside him and closed her door. He didn’t look at her. He didn’t trust himself to. He took her hand and held it on his thigh.

Mac smiled at him. Oh, if she weren’t trying to be nice, she could really mess with him now. ‘I already got him with the skirt,’ she thought with a mischievous grin.

They were nearly to Harm’s apartment. Harm still had Mac’s hand in his; he was tracing the bones in her hand from her wrist to her fingers using his thumb. He was pressing harder and harder the closer they got to his apartment. He pressed too hard and Mac winced.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Mac.”

They had pulled into his parking place at his apartment. He had to look at her then.

“It’s alright, Harm.” Their eyes locked for a moment and then he looked at her lips.

“Mac, if I don’t get out of here I’m not going to be able to get through this afternoon with Mattie and Tom.”

“I know,” she said. She looked a little wistful.

‘Just one kiss, we can do that,’ he thought. Harm looked at her and said, “Just one, baby.”

When he kissed her, her lips felt so soft and full. He just wanted inside; he deepened the kiss and felt his control start to slip. Mac drew back and looked at him through half closed eyes. She bit his lower lip and Harm could not keep the groan from escaping before kissing her again and nearly pulling her across the console into his lap. It was awkward, but her kiss tasted so good and was doing things to his body that overshadowed any discomfort.

A horn sounded somewhere on the street causing them to break their kiss. They both laughed a little and decided they had better go in to Mattie and stop tempting fate.

Mattie had come home from school while Mac had gone to pick up Harm. She heard the elevator come up and she flew out the door. When the doors opened, she flew into Harm’s arms, nearly knocking him down. Harm was laughing so much he nearly did fall down.

Tom was due any moment and Mac had dinner started before she left. Nothing fancy: steaks and salad for the meat eaters and grilled salmon for Harm. The dinner conversation flowed easily. Harm focused mostly on Mattie. He had missed her too and knew she would be gone soon. Hopefully there wouldn’t be any more deployments for a while.

Tom and Mattie left around 2000, and Mac cleared the table while Harm walked out with Tom and Mattie. Mac was standing at the kitchen sink when Harm came back in. She smiled at him over her shoulder. She turned back to look out the window, seeing their guests drive away.

Harm walked up beside Mac, facing her. He had meant to place his hand at the small of her back, a casual gesture. His thumb slipped under the hem of her sweater and he felt that her skin was so soft and warm that it was nearly his undoing. Mac turned toward him, but he was looking down, determined not to lose control and avoiding her gaze. She started to look away when he looked into her eyes. What she saw there startled her. She saw raw, almost dangerous need…. for her. He needed her, and she thought at that moment that even if it killed her he would have whatever he wanted. In her entire life she had never felt a desire this strong to please any man. Now it was beyond her control and she found that it didn’t frighten her anymore. She started to say his name, and Harm stopped her with a deep, soul-wrenching kiss.

He felt as though his body was gliding along into something and he had no desire to stop it. He wanted her and needed to get closer, his body was very much ahead of his mind. He meant to slow things down but found he had no ability to do so. She had turned into his embrace and curved her leg around his, pulling him closer to her. He broke their kiss with a sharp intake of breath.

She looked into his eyes and said, “Come on, Harm.” It was not an expression of exasperation but of invitation.

What little control he had left him with that invitation and he lifted her into his arms, her legs wound snugly around his back. He ran his hands up her legs to their very top; Mac drew in a breath and said his name. He held her to him and carried her into his bedroom.

She slid down his body, and he turned her around, pressing her to him. He spoke into her hear in a deep whisper, heavy with desire. “Mac, please…I just have to get inside...” He had lifted her as if weightless and fit her body to his. Mac arched her back, giving herself over to the passion they both felt. His hands were firm but not grasping, holding her body just so, like a dance that Mac had no desire to control. He did not hurt her but he was not as careful as he had been before. She didn’t need him to be that now, her desire matched his own and he seemed to already know that. He lifted her upper body closer into his arms, pulling her close burying his face in her hair and together they let go.

Their breathing slowed and he slowly released her. She turned and smiled at him mischievously. “So, Harm…um, did you miss me?”

They both laughed and fell onto the bed. Harm pulled her back into his arms and kissed her. She drew back and looked at Harm’s feet.

“Next time, sailor, take off your shoes.”

 

1600
Thanksgiving Day
Rabb Farm
Belleville, Pennsylvania



Mrs. Rabb put the finishing touches on the table. Her guests waited in the living room. Jack O’Reilly was there with his son Sam and also his wife Kathie. Oscar slept in front of the fireplace and soft music played on the radio.

Kathie walked into the kitchen. “Can I help, Sarah?”

Mrs. Rabb looked up from the table and said, “I’m just finishing up. In fact, you can get the boys and tell them to come to the table.”

Kathie smiled at her. “This looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.” And she left to get Sam and her father in law Jack.

Mrs. Rabb thought that Kathie and Sam made a wonderful couple. Kathie was like her: tall and strong, with striking gray eyes and a beautiful complexion. She had very little gray in her hair. She and her husband were the same age, but she looked at least 10 years younger.

They sat down to dinner, and Sam asked, “Will Harmon be coming back over the holiday weekend?”

“No, I think he and Mac will be spending it in Washington. They say they will be coming out the weekend after, though. It will depend on how Mac’s first week at work goes. If not then, I’ll see them over Christmas, I’m sure.”

Jack dug into his sweet potato casserole and said, “He’ll sure be sorry he missed this.”

 

1845
Thanksgiving night
Harm’s Apartment
North of Union Station



Harm and Mac lay in his bed locked tightly in an embrace. They had not left the apartment since they’d arrived yesterday. They hadn’t been out of his bedroom much since yesterday, either. Mac started to let go and move out of his arms for a moment. He drew her close again and said, “Where are you going?”

“I just thought you might need a little room to breathe.”

“No, I’m just fine. I like having you close to me. I feel as though I’ve been gone longer than 4 weeks.” He laughed at himself, a little embarrassed by the admission. “I cant seem to get enough of touching you.”

“Don’t worry, flyboy, your secret is safe with me.” She tucked herself back into his embrace, her head resting on his shoulder and tucked under his chin.

“Hey, what time is it, anyway?”

“It’s nearly 1900.”

“Mac, we missed Thanksgiving.”

“There is still a little time left. Want me see what we can pull together for our dinner?”

“No, you’re fine right here.” He thought for a moment then asked, “Are you hungry?”

She lifted her head and rested it on her hand. She looked into his eyes, “So is that an offer to make dinner, sailor?”

“It could be. Do you want something?”

He smiled at her slyly. He had lost count of how many times they had made love. He still felt it all the way down his spine every time she looked into his eyes. He was sure he would never get enough of her.

Mac laughed softly and touched his cheek. He took that hand and kissed her palm. Mac had loaded the CD player with all kinds of sweet slow jazz and just then Anita Baker softly and powerfully sang ‘just love me body and soul’.

She answered. “Yeah, I think I do.”

 

1600
London Time
Trafalgar Square
London, England


Trish and Frank were leisurely strolling along, taking in all the sights. Trish noticed a woman and her toddler, a little boy with striking blue eyes. He held his arms up to his mother and said, “Hold me.”

Trish remembered little Harm. Even as a toddler he seemed to want to protect her. He would always say “Hold you mom?” when he wanted her to pick him up.

Frank turned to his wife and said “Trish?” when they were knocked backward and down to the ground.

A car bomb had exploded not 20 yards from them. Frank thought ‘what the hell?’ He looked at his wife and she appeared to have been knocked unconscious. He didn’t see a wound or any blood anywhere. He shook her and she did not respond.

“Trish?” he called over and over. “Someone help!” Sirens screamed, but it was too late; she was already gone.

Trish heard someone calling her, and then suddenly she was walking down the drive at the farm in Pennsylvania. She saw her son walking up the drive toward her. She smiled and continued to walk toward him. As she approached him, she realized that this was not her son but her husband. She felt a sharp pain in her heart that took her breath, and then she ran to him. He embraced her.

She said, “Oh, you’re home.”

He pulled back from her embrace and brushed the hair back from her face. “No, Trisha, you are.”

 

2230
Thanksgiving night
Harm’s Apartment
North of Union Station



Harm and Mac finally decided they had better take some nourishment or they would both be in trouble. They had showered and dressed and were just finishing their meal when they heard a knock on the door.

Harm looked through the security lens. “Sturgis?” He opened the door.

“I’m sorry to barge in on you two this late but this would not wait.” Sturgis looked at Harm, wondering how in the world he could tell him this.

Mac sensed right away that something was terribly wrong. She instinctively walked toward Harm. Something was happening, something that was going to hurt Harm…badly.

“Come in, Sturgis, have a seat.” The hair was standing up on the back of Harm’s neck. He could feel it. They all sat down in his living room. Mac sat next to Harm and Sturgis on the chair across from them. She took Harms hand, and he asked,

“What’s going on?”

Sturgis started to speak, he was struggling. He stood and walked over to the window. “There is no easy way to do this”

“Just spill it, Sturgis, you’re making me nervous as hell.” Harm had the most terrible feeling of foreboding. Mac squeezed his hand.

“Harm, our CO got a call from the State Department tonight.” He shook his head and plunged in. “He asked me to come and tell you…tell you that your mother and Frank were near a car bomb that exploded in London.” Sturgis looked down and said, “Harm, your mother was killed.”

Harm started as though he had been physically hit with something. “What?” He slowly got up from the couch and walked toward Sturgis. “No…I…they were on vacation. She...”

Then he understood and fell silent. He began to pace the room and Sturgis told him the details as he knew them. ‘Damn them all,’ he thought. Damn every terrorist who ever built a bomb.

“No one has claimed responsibility,” Sturgis continued. “Your mother was the only casualty.”

Harm stopped pacing and looked at Sturgis. The words were like a knife in his heart, pain that was sharp and so real. “I have to get out of here.”

He grabbed his jacket and keys in one fluid motion and he was out the door. Mac had been watching him. Her heart breaking for him, but she was helpless to do anything until he was able to absorb what had happened.

Sturgis looked at Mac and said, “Mac, I didn’t know how else to tell him.”

“Its okay, Sturgis; there really wasn’t an easy way to do this. This can’t have been easy for you. Stay a little while. I’ll make you a cup of coffee.”

 

2340
The Wall
Washington D.C.



Harm stood before the section of the Wall that held his father’s name. He had no idea how he had gotten there or how long he had been standing here. Why was it that he drew comfort from this cold and lonely place? He ran his thumb over the letters and then realized, she was with his father now. Tears started in his eyes, but he composed himself quickly. He thought that if he let himself break down he’d never get it together again.

He thought of Mac then and he spoke her name aloud, “Mac.” He had to get back to his apartment, to her...


0035
Harm’s Apartment
North of Union Station



Mac was in the bedroom when she heard Harm come in the door. He walked to the couch and sat down. She walked out of the bedroom and toward him. He was leaning forward with his head down and she knelt in front of him and gathered him into an embrace. She knew that he didn’t need to talk now. He just needed to know he wasn’t alone. Harm wrapped his arms around her and buried his face in her neck. He felt a sob rise in his throat. He tried not to let it go, but as she soothed his back and kissed his hair, he just broke down.

“Hang on, Harm, its okay; it’s going to be okay.”

He cried for a long time with Mac held tightly in his embrace. He loosened his embrace after a time but could not let her look at his face. Into her ear he said, “I went to the …” he was still choking back tears.

Mac finished for him. “To the Wall?”

He nodded. “Then it occurred to me…She’s with him now.” He tightened his embrace once again.

“Oh, honey,” Mac said, smoothing his hair, trying to will away the pain she knew he felt.

They went back to bed. Mac cradled Harm in her arms and soothed his head with her fingers. She kissed his forehead and said, “I love you.”

He nuzzled her neck and kissed it. “You too.” What would he have done without her? The news of his mother’s death made him feel like a ship without an anchor, lost; but the thought of Mac, here waiting – she seemed to him a lifeline. They held on to each other and never let go all night.


Chapter 18


0715
Friday
Harm’s Apartment



Harm sat on the side of his bed with the phone to his ear. Mac had gotten up and out of the room to give him a little privacy. Frank had called. He was discussing getting Trish back home and the details of what she wanted to happen upon her death.

“She wanted to be laid to rest in Pennsylvania at the farm.” The Rabbs had a family cemetery that had been there for over 100 years.

Harm sat forward with his head down. He was rubbing his forehead, still trying to take it all in. Harm sat up straighter and said, “The farm? I just assumed she would want to be in California since she spent so much of her life there.”

“This is what she wanted, Harm.”

“What about you?” He heard Franks voice starting to waver.

“I already have arrangements to be buried near my first wife and child.”

“What?” He was stunned.

“I’m sorry; I guess we never discussed this with you. We thought we had a lot of time before that would be necessary. As you know, I’m nearly 15 years older than Trish. I lost my first wife and child in 1955. She died in childbirth. She had pre-eclampsia. There was not a lot known about how to control it then… anyway, I had already arranged this long before Trish and I married.”

Harm was silent. He didn’t know what to say.

“I think your mother always hoped that somehow your father’s body would be found and brought home.”

Harm sat listening. A single tear rolled down his cheek. This was confusing as hell. He thought his mother had put aside all her feelings for his father; she had said she was able to get closure after he told her that he had died in Russia.

“Harm, are you there?”

“Yes. I’m sorry, Frank.”

“It’s a lot to take in. I think if I weren’t handling all these details here I would lose my mind….I’ve spoken with your grandmother. We have been given permission to use the little church your grandmother attends for Trish’s funeral. She wanted to keep things informal – just family and friends. I will have a service for her in California for our friends there.”

“I understand. Are you going to be alright?” Frank suddenly sounded so tired.

“I think so; I think I’m still in shock. I never expected to live longer than she did. I would be lying if I said I knew what I was going to do. One day at a time, I suppose. I’ll be flying into Baltimore and then to Philadelphia. I’ll get a rental and drive to the farm. I should be there late tonight.”

“Take care, Frank. I’ll see you then.”


1600
Friday
Rabb Farm
Belleville, Pennsylvania


Harm and Mac drove up the driveway to the house. The trip had been quiet, with Harm holding Mac’s hand from time to time but saying nothing. Mac did not press him to talk. She knew too well what it was like to lose a parent; even when a person was prepared; it was a life altering experience. She was learning that Harm spoke his heart at times when she least expected and usually when they weren’t face to face. Whatever got him through this, it didn’t matter to her how or when he talked about it as long as he always let her be there for him.

They walked up the steps to Mrs. Rabb’s house. She opened the door and immediately embraced Harm. “Oh, son, I’m so sorry.” She looked over his shoulder and saw Mac looking as though she felt out of place. She held out a hand to her and Mac took it. They gave each other a small smile through their tears.

They went into the house and sat down in the kitchen. Mrs. Rabb made them coffee and insisted they eat something. She had made them her famous chicken soup and they did as they were told. Mrs. Rabb still gave the orders, even in a crisis. She stood beside Harm and placed her hand on his shoulder. She thought he looked like a lost little boy. Mrs. Rabb believed that when a person lost a parent, no matter what age that person was, the loss was soul deep.

“Are you going to be alright, Harm?”

Mac started to stand up and let Harm and Mrs. Rabb talk. Harm reached for her arm and she settled back in her seat.

“Stay, Mac, please.” He took her hand and brought it closer to him on top of the table.

He seemed to be studying it intently as he closed his other hand over it.

“I am really confused about a lot of things, Grandma. I don’t understand why she wanted to be here instead of California. I’m not angry about it – I just didn’t expect it. It makes me see her in a way I hadn’t before.”

He had not looked up in all the time he was talking. He turned her palm and rubbed it with his thumb, continuing to study her hand as if he had never seen it before. Mac nearly pulled her hand away, his intensity made her uncomfortable. She did not, though. She knew Harm needed to open up, and if this was what he was going to do to distract himself, so be it. He continued.

“We really had a good talk when she was in Washington. I think we talked about things in a way we never had before. She did tell me that she had been thinking about Dad a lot lately. We went to the Wall, and she seemed to forget that I was even standing there for a few moments. I hadn’t seen her do that – you know, focus on Dad like that, since I was a kid.”

Mrs. Rabb had seated herself beside Harm at the table. “When she and Frank were here last, she walked the farm alone a couple of times. She had always loved it here, but I am as taken aback as you are about her wish to be buried here.”

“Frank said that Mom hoped that Dad’s body would be found and brought home.”

Mrs. Rabb’s heart still ached for her son. She had not been able to bring David or her son home to rest here with their family. David’s body had never been recovered. Her Harmon was resting in the taiga of Russia.

Harm looked at Mac and realized what he had been doing and released her hand. He felt self conscious and decided to change the subject. “Mac, are you doing okay? Do you need to lie down for awhile?”

Mac was tired and she thought maybe Harm needed a little while to regroup. “I think I will.” She stood and kissed his cheek, smiling at Mrs. Rabb as she left the room.

Harm stood and placed his coffee cup in the sink, looking out at the drive winding toward the house. He felt drawn to walk it, even though it would soon be dark. He took his jacket from the hook on the wall and went out the door.

Mrs. Rabb followed him out of the kitchen thinking, ‘He’s doing what he always does.’

Oscar followed Harm down the drive. He wasn’t playful; he slowly walked behind him as if watching over him. Harm followed the familiar path, and because the wind had blown the leaves from most of the trees it was not as dark as Harm had expected. It had been a clear day and now low clouds were gathering far on the horizon. They were gray to blue against the lighter blue of the sky. The sun warmed the sky pale yellow to the west as it was beginning to descend. Harm had climbed up to the rock and stood looking up as if the answers to his questions were written there. His mind was full of questions and his heart full of pain. He wished he could talk to someone who understood his mother better than he did. ‘Did anyone really know her?’ Frank seemed to be as unable to understand her as he. ‘Did Dad feel that way too? Did he understand what she wanted, what her strengths were?’

As the sun was beginning to set, he started to walk up the drive toward the house. ‘There it is,’ Harm thought, that feeling of coming home; even in all this turmoil he felt it. It occurred to him then that he had not read the letters his grandmother gave him. Letters his father had written her. He had left them here when he had brought Mac to the farm after she was discharged from Bethesda. He walked back to the house and found them in the room he had slept in when he had visited last. Oscar again followed along behind, keeping his watch.

Harm sat down on the bed and untied the ribbon on the stack of letters. He hoped he could find some comfort and wisdom in his father’s words. He removed the first letter from the stack. It was written while he was still in the Academy.

Mom,

How are you? I’m great. I’ll be out of here in one more month. I can’t wait. I hope I get jets. I want to fly. I’ll make you proud, Mom, you know I will. My father will be proud too, wherever he is. Don’t worry, Mom – I haven’t gone agnostic on you. It was just an expression. Tell Uncle Jack I went fishing out on the Bay with one of my classmates and his father. Tell him I’ve got a ‘fish’ story for him. (ha ha)
I met a girl today. I know this sounds stupid, but already I think I really like her. She’s beautiful (of course) and she’s smart; she’s a senior at Brown. Art Major. Go figure. I think she was a little impressed with the old Rabb charm (ha) She’s fun but she’s not silly or giggly like some girls are. Remember Dora Smith? (no thanks) Anyway, her name is Patricia Harris, but her friends call her ‘Trish’. I’ll be seeing her again this Friday. Got to go – Thanks for the package.

Your son

Harmon


Harm sat looking at the page. He placed it beside him and opened another letter. They were like milestones. The next letter was short and had been written just before graduation week. He had written, “I think she’s the one, Mom.”

He read the letter that announced their engagement a year later. It appeared that he had brought her to the farm and that grandma had met her at that time. “I’m so glad you like her,” he had written.

The next letter was written after they were married. “Well, Mom, we may have another aviator on the way. Trish is due in October. I hope I can be here. Trish is fine, a little morning sickness but she’s not complaining. Sorry we can’t call, but we’re saving to furnish the nursery. You should come out here if you can. You haven’t seen the Pacific since Pearl.” Harm smiled to himself. He could hear his father’s voice as he read the words on the page.

Harm saw a letter from Miramar that was written in his mother’s flowing script. “Harmon is still out. He swears he will be back in time for the baby. I hope so. I’m doing alright. As well as any other military wife right now. Living on base helps, since everyone’s husband is out or getting ready to go. I don’t want you to worry, Sarah, I really am alright. I seem to feel stronger all the time. It is almost as if I’m drawing strength from this child as it grows. I told Harmon, and he laughed and told me it was the Rabb genes.”

He saw the letter with his birth announcement enclosed; there was a small picture of him with the printed announcement. “Well, Mom, there is another good looking Rabb in the world.”

Harm saw a letter postmarked just a couple of months before he was listed as missing. He read what his father had said about Trish getting on with her life. Harm remembered that his mother had given him a tape that he had sent to her about that subject. He had never listened to it. After he and Mac had come home from Russia he could not bear it. He’d tried to move on. He put away his MIA bracelet and some of the pictures of his father that he had in his office. Mac had tried to tell him then not to bury everything from his past with his father. He should have listened to her. It might have saved him and his mother a lot of heartache. His father had said that he loved her and he trusted her to do the right thing for herself and for him. And she had done exactly as his father had wanted her to. She had been strong enough to do as she and his father had planned, in spite of everything else she was going through. She had done right by his father and by him. He knew now there were all kinds ways of showing strength, some more obvious than others.

Harm walked into the room where Mac was sleeping. It was still early in the evening. He lay down on the other side of the bed and then scooted in behind Mac. She lay covered with a quilt. She rolled back into him and stirred awake. “Hello.”

Harm kissed her hair. “Hey.”

“What have you been up to?” Mac placed his arm around her, caressing his forearm as she held it.

“Reading my father’s letters.”

“The ones your grandmother gave you?” She turned her head to see him more clearly.

Harm nodded the affirmative.

“Did they help?”

“I think they did.” He pulled her a bit closer to him, taking comfort in her sleepy warmth.

The aroma of coffee and something delicious floated up the stairs into the room they were resting in. Mac sat up slightly. “Oh, is that what I think it is?”

Harm gave her an indulgent look. Mac’s appetite was definitely coming back. “Come on, Marine.” He nudged her toward the side of the bed.

They went downstairs and Mrs. Rabb had apple pie and coffee waiting. She looked at Harm as he walked into the room. He seemed less troubled than he had before. He was still hurting, no doubt, but he wasn’t as distracted as he had been before. She placed a cup in front of Harm and filled his coffee cup. She placed her hand on his back and he looked up at her. ‘He’s going to be alright,’ she thought. She sighed with relief.

“Hey, I read some of those letters you gave me,” he said. “Thank you for keeping them for me Grandma.”

She looked at him still trying to assess his state of mind. “You’re welcome son, I was wondering if you would remember them. I just put them upstairs, hoping you’d come back and get them. Did they help you with some of the confusion you have about your mother’s wishes?”

Harm took a drink of his coffee and then said, “I can’t say it answered every question, but I think I understand a little more than I did before.”


1000
Saturday
Rabb Farm
Belleville, Pennsylvania



It was an overcast day. The sun would peek from behind the clouds and then quickly be obscured. Blue sky, gray clouds and bright sun alternated. The wind was up but it was not uncomfortable. The trees were mostly bare now with brown and yellow gold leaves on the ground.

Harm walked to Mac, and she took his arm. She looked up into his face and tried to reassure him with a look. He gave her a sad smile and they walked into the church. He was trying to steel himself to get through this day. Frank had arranged to have the pastor of their church come and speak. Harm was not sure someone from the church they attended in La Jolla would be comfortable in a little country church. He needn’t have worried. The man spoke eloquently and as someone who knew his mother well. He was not uncomfortable there and it was obvious he had been made welcome.

There were no uniforms; somehow wearing them today seemed wrong. Her life had been about her family and now this day would be about her.

Harm did not see all the people who gathered in the chapel behind him. Bud and Harriet came; Harriet’s mother and father stayed in Washington with the children. Sturgis and his father came. Chaplain Turner remembered Harmon’s visits while he and Sturgis were in the Academy. He had seen then that he carried a lot of the pain of the loss of his father. He hoped Harm could allow his friends to help him weather this. Tom Boone had come up from Norfolk. He sat alone at the back of the sanctuary. A black Mercedes made its way into the church parking lot. The door opened, and AJ Chegwidden emerged and helped an elegant woman with beautiful black hair out of the passenger’s side of the car. The back door opened and Francesca Paretti emerged and waited for her father. Not far behind him, a Chrysler 300 parked and Jack Keeter got out and walked toward the church.

An unfamiliar vehicle came up the driveway. It was an SUV, an Expedition. A tall lanky young man got out the vehicle. Annie Pendry got out of the passenger side. Tom Johnson drove his pick up into the parking lot, and he, Mattie and Jennifer Coates got out and walked across the parking lot to the church. Victor Galindez and Jason Tiner also walked up the steps into the church. Jack O’Reilly and his son Sam came, along with his wife Kathie.

Frank sat on the pew next to Harm. He thought Frank suddenly seemed so small and frail.
The pastor began to speak. He quoted from Proverbs 31:

“Who can find a virtuous wife?
For her worth is far above rubies.
The heart of her husband safely trusts in her:
So he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life…..”

Harm closed his eyes and remembered his father’s words written to his grandmother. “I trust her, Mom.” He remembered the look on her face when she handed him the taped message from his father, the one that he had never listened to. He thought of the last conversation he had with his mother and how comfortable he had felt. He really couldn’t remember the last time he had felt that way with her.


“Strength and honor are her clothing;
She shall rejoice in the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
And on her tongue is the law of kindness.
She watches over her household
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
Her husband also, and he praises her;
‘Many daughters have done well but
you exceed them all’.”

Mac folded her hand into Harm’s and gave it a squeeze. ‘You can do this, Harm,’ she thought, hoping she could somehow telegraph the thought to him.

The pastor spoke of Trish’s life and of the charities to which she contributed. He spoke of her obvious love of her husband and son. He even addressed her perseverance when Harm’s father was missing in action and the daunting task of having to move on with her life. He spoke of courage, a trait Harm had never given his mother credit for having. When the pastor finished speaking, it was Harm’s time to speak. He and Frank looked at each other and Frank said quietly, “You can do this, son.”

Harm walked to the pulpit and looked to the back of the sanctuary. He knew that if he looked at anyone in the congregation he would not be able to keep himself composed.
He stood straight and braced his hands on the top of the pulpit. He had no notes; he intended to speak from his heart, the way his mother always had.

“Thank you all for coming today and honoring my mother. I honor her today. I hope she knew that I always did. It has been said that military wives are closer to their children than most mothers are. I know that Mom did everything she could when my father went out to sea. It seemed as if it were her and I against the world while we waited for my father. She made the wait short by keeping me busy and never letting me feel the absence too acutely while my father was gone.
When Dad was missing, she helped me think about it in a way that gave me hope.
She honored my father, and whether I believed it or not at the time, she kept her word to him. She married a good man who has been a good father to me and a good husband to her.”

Harm paused a moment, gathering his control and then he continued.

“We go through our lives and never realize the gravity of all the things we do and say.
We are so busy living our lives that we can’t see what is right in front of us.”

He looked at Mac then. Their eyes locked, and his chin trembled slightly. He looked up quickly and continued.

“I was given a gift the last time I saw her. We were able to talk about things in a way we never had before. I hope she knew that I loved her and that I was proud to be her son.”

He looked at Frank and he nodded with a reassuring smile. Harm walked back to his seat, and Frank looked at him and whispered, “Thank you, son.”

Harm looked at Frank and said, “Thank *you*, Frank.”


1400
Rabb family Cemetery
Rabb Farm
Belleville, Pennsylvania


The cemetery was small but well kept. The grass was still green, with fallen leaves scattered sparsely on the ground. There were a couple of dozen tombstones with the name Rabb carved on their faces and dated as early as the 1700’s. The more recent markers for Mary and Andrew Rabb were nearby.

A small group stood at the graveside. There were no chairs. The sun was hidden deeply behind the clouds. The day seemed gray and the wind cool. Harm and Mac stood closely together, Mac was slightly behind Harm with her hand resting lightly on his back. Mrs. Rabb and Jack stood with them. On the other side of the grave were their friends. The pastor began.

“Ashes to ashes…”

Harm looked across to AJ. He did not look at Harm with pity but with a look that both reassured and challenged. It seemed to Harm that his look asked a question. ‘What’s it going to be, Rabb?’ He had seen him chase the ghost of his father through hell and high water…literally sometimes. How *would* he handle this? He looked at AJ directly and stood little straighter. He would not fly blindly into an all-out hunt for who was responsible for the car bomb that killed his mother, but he would know, if anyone did, who was responsible. He would see them brought to justice.

“Let us pray…
Heavenly Father, thank you for the life of Patricia Rabb Burnett.
Thank you for her kind heart and the love she gave her family and friends.
Bless those who grieve her and comfort them.
In Jesus’ name,
Amen.”


1445
Rabb Farm
Belleville, Pennsylvania



Everyone who had attended the funeral had come to Mrs.Rabb’s afterward. People from her church had brought food for the family, slipping in the back door. They helped in the kitchen, quietly serving the guests and helping Mrs. Rabb cleanup. Some of the older parishioners had known Harm senior; some had met Trish when they had visited as a young family. The Rabbs had deep roots in this community, but they also seemed to be people of the world. They were the talk of the town, but not in a bad way.

AJ stood in the living room with his elegant companion. Harm approached him and they shook hands. The woman spoke. “I am Marcella”.

“Paretti?” Harm said.

AJ and his companion both spoke at once. “Chegwidden.”

Harm could not help smiling. “Congratulations, sir.”

“Drop the ‘sir,’ Rabb; I’m retired.”

Mac and Gunny were standing near the fireplace “So, Gunny, I understand you had quite an injury when you were in Iraq.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You really don’t have to call me ‘ma’am’ anymore, and I suppose I should call you Victor.”

“Well, ma’am, I may be calling you that for a little while longer. I go before a medical review board next week and I may be back at JAG in about two weeks.”

“That’s great, Gunny. How did you manage that?”

“Well, I had been trying to get this going for months now. I think, though, that with the new JAG’s appointment I may have a better chance of getting back where I belong.”

“How so?”

“You may know that I had some pretty extensive rehab after I got this knee replaced. I met a Marine colonel there who had a knee injury during a helo crash.”

“Not the now Major General Creswell?”

“The very one.” Gunny nodded his head slowly and smiled. “I’m not asking for any special favors from anyone and he seems like someone who is a real straight shooter. I thought if he were familiar with who I am and what I can do, maybe I’ve got a chance. We had a lot of conversations about JAG and he knows that I’m going before this board. I’m sure he had no idea at the time he’d be the President’s pick for JAG. I don’t know if he’ll remember me, but hey, you never know.”

“Well, Gunny, I hope you get what you want, it would be great to have you. I’ll be with the judiciary when I get back. I have to take it easy for a while, until I know what’s really going on with me. Harm has told you a bit, I’m sure.”

“He just said you had some health problems, but that was it.”

“Well, that’s enough for now. I’m feeling better.” She smiled and said, “Good seeing you, Gunny.” She walked into the kitchen to speak with Mrs. Rabb.

“Are you doing alright, Mac?” Mrs. Rabb asked as she placed slices of cake onto small plates.

“I am.” She began helping her with her task.

They looked across the room to see Jack and Harm in conversation. Jack was being his usual animated self and Harm was smiling slightly.

“He was always so good for Harm, from the very beginning. He really helped Harm come out of himself when they became friends at the Academy.”

“Harm told me that he had kept him from leaving when he was going through a particularly hard time.” Mac turned to take plates from the cupboard.

Mrs. Rabb nodded. “He was there for him after Diane was killed. He seemed to materialize out of nowhere. I hadn’t called him – I don’t know how he knew. He came and helped Harm work on ‘Sarah,’ too.”

Jack was walking toward them, and Mrs. Rabb smirked. “I’m not sure how much help he was with that, though,” she finished, patting his shoulder and walking back into the living room.

Mac couldn’t help smiling; she covered her mouth to stifle her laughter.

“What?” Jack said, picking up a plate with a piece of pie and digging in.

Harm had walked up to Annie to speak to her and the tall lanky young man turned to face him. Harm was stunned. “Josh?”

“Yes, sir.” He looked almost grown, yet he still had a boyish look about him.

They shook hands. “I can’t believe it. Has it been that long?”

Mac saw the interaction between Harm and Annie. She could not place the young man they were talking with. She decided not to interrupt. She felt a pang of jealousy. She knew Harm loved her and they were together, but she also remembered how Harm had looked at Annie long ago. ‘Don’t go there, Mackenzie,’ she thought. ‘Neither of us needs that nonsense now.’

“How are you, ma’am?” Lt.(jg) Jason Tiner stood before her.

“Hello… when are you going to come back and give us a hand, Lieutenant?” Mac said, smiling. He looked so proud and nervous at the same time. Typical Jason Tiner.

“Not for a while yet, ma’am. Things are still pretty much up in the air until the new JAG makes some decisions about his staff.”

“I hope to see you back with us, Lieutenant. I’m sure I can speak for Harm when I say it was kind of you to come all this way.”

She smiled and turned toward Harm.

Josh recognized her and said, “Major Mackenzie?”

Mac was startled and then recognition dawned. “Josh?” She walked toward him.

Harm smiled. “That’s Colonel Mackenzie now, Josh.”

Mac was so stunned she didn’t even acknowledge Annie. “My God, the last time I saw you, you were a little boy.”

Josh stood a little straighter and said, “I’ll be 18 next month.”

Annie spoke up. “How are you, Mac?”

Mac looked at her and offered her hand. “I’m fine, Annie. It’s good to see you.”

Harm leaned toward Mac and said in a low voice, “Josh starts the Academy next year.”

Mac looked quickly at Harm and said, “That’s…great.”

Annie chuckled a bit and said, “It’s alright, Mac. I’m okay with it. I’m afraid you met me at a very bad time in my life. I was still grieving terribly for Luke. I’m afraid I must have seemed awfully neurotic.”

Mac colored a bit, “Oh no, not at all.” She felt terrible for having judged Annie so harshly. Just then Tom Boone got Harm’s attention, and he excused himself and walked toward him. Mac thought, ‘Harm, don’t you leave me after I have placed my foot squarely in my mouth…’

“So I understand you and Harm are seeing each other now.”

Mac blushed, “Yes, we are.” Why was she blushing so much about this? There she had been, not 10 minutes ago, feeling jealous and remembering things long forgotten by Harm and Annie. If Annie’s beautiful wedding rings were any indication, she had moved on long ago.

Annie saw Mac looking at her rings. “I got married nearly 5 years ago. He’s an orthopedic surgeon. He’s at Johns Hopkins. I’m Annie Stanton now.”

“Congratulations.” Mac still felt tongue-tied and a bit ashamed of herself. Annie was being so nice.

“I’m so happy for you and Harm. Luke and I always wondered if Harm would ever settle down.” She smiled. “I wish you both well, Mac, I really do.”

“Thank you.” Mac looked toward the kitchen to see a very pregnant Harriet lumbering into the kitchen. “Excuse me, Annie; it was great to see you.”

Harm stood talking to Tom Boone.

“Any ideas about who is responsible for the car bomb?”

Harm looked across the room, making sure he knew where Mac was. He did not want her to overhear this conversation. “No, not yet. I intend to make a few calls when I get back.”

Tom frowned. “Youre not thinking of the Company are you?”

AJ stepped over to them, having heard the last thing that Tom said. Harm stopped speaking. “Well…are you?”

“If you’re thinking Webb…Hell no.” He looked at Mac helping Harriet into the wing-backed chair near the fireplace.

“What about Keeter?” AJ asked.

“What about me?” Jack walked up to the group of men as they stood near the back of the room.

Harm looked at his friend knowing exactly what he would say: ‘Stay out of this.’

Tom Boone answered the question. “We were discussing the incident at Trafalgar Square.” The injustice of it all sickened him. He would know; he had the time and the resources to look into it himself if he had to.

Jack looked at Harm and said just what he thought he would. “Harm, you need to stay out of this. You have enough to deal with. You have a new boss who may not have the tolerance to allow you to go chasing off to find out who is responsible for this.”

AJ cleared his throat. “Unlike some people I know.”

Harm looked at his feet and crossed his arms across his chest. “I’m not going to do anything stupid, but I’m not going to let this go, either. Christ, what would any of you do?”

AJ spoke up. “I would not throw away my future to get involved in something that is being handled by Scotland Yard, MI-5 and more than likely the Company at the international level. Hell, Harm, it could have been any of a number of terror groups from the IRA to Al Qaeda.”

Tom cleared his throat. “Do you think you’ll honor Trish by throwing away your career in the Navy or by getting yourself killed?”

Harm looked up quickly. That had stung him and Tom knew it. He admonished him again. “You are making a mistake if you try to take this on alone.”

“I’ll see what I can find out, but you go back to Washington and get on with your life.” Jack nodded across the room to where Mac still sat talking with Harriet.

Harm was silent and then he said. “I will for now, but this is not over.” He paused a moment and then looked at them all. “I appreciate that you all came here today.” With that he walked into the kitchen.

Tom and AJ looked at each other and Jack watched Harm walk away. He started to follow him, and Tom said firmly, “You’ll keep me posted?”

“How would I reach you?”

“I’ll find you,” Tom said.

“So will I,” AJ added and walked back toward Marcella and his daughter talking with Bud.


1645
Rabb Farm
Belleville, Pennsylvania


Mac stood on the porch, looking at her friends gathered around Harm. They were all getting ready to leave. Harm stood in the yard talking to Tom Boone. She remembered what Dr. McCool had said about family; the idea that there were all kinds of families. They were surrounded today by a family of sorts. Mattie walked up to Harm then and hugged him, and Harm shook Tom Johnson’s hand. They turned began to make their way along with Jennifer toward the pickup truck.

Harm looked back toward her and he seemed to call her to him with his eyes. She walked down the steps toward him. She tucked herself under his arm and he drew her to him.

Anyone who saw the gesture could not keep from the smile from their faces, even on this sad day.

It had been gray most of the day, but when the sun started to set, the clouds were afire with yellow orange and purple against the blue gray. It warmed the cool air for a few moments before everyone went their own way, and Harm and Mac returned to the house with Mrs. Rabb.

 

 

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