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Chapter 9


Trish stood in the doorway between the kitchen and the rest of the apartment studying Mac. As usual, Mac was either ignoring Trish’s blatant staring or oblivious to it. Her television was on but Trish was willing to bet her gallery that Mac didn’t know what she watching. Harm had been gone for two days and Trish dearly hoped that he was not expecting a miracle cure from his mother. Mac had been perfectly polite, even friendly, but Trish couldn’t seem to find her. It seemed like the real Sarah, the one she’d first met, was gone, trapped somewhere in the other woman’s body, and Trish didn’t know how to get her back.

One thing was certain, she couldn’t stay in the apartment another day without a break. If she felt that way after only a few days, then Mac most definitely had to feel the same. Walking over to the couch, she patted Mac’s feet to make her scoot over and perched her body on the edge of the cushion. “What are you watching?”

“A cooking show,” Mac answered vaguely. On the screen, the host moved about a large, bright kitchen and chattered about chicken stock.

Good thing no one had been around to take her up on the bet, Trish thought. “My mother used to think all the world’s ills could be solved through food,” she said after a minute.

Mac continued to watch the television, her features not giving any indication that she’d heard Trish until she spoke up, “My mother didn’t like to cook much.”

“Mine thought every problem was fixable with the right food.” Trish arched an eyebrow and emphasized, “Every problem. Broken hearts, I believe, called for something sweet. When I was feeling insecure, I got mashed potatoes or some other type of starch to fortify myself, I guess.” She looked down at her lap and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “When Harm’s father was shot down,” she continued quietly, “I was plied with casseroles. I didn’t have to cook for months.”

Mac nodded and fiddled with the edges of the afghan on her lap. Her dark hair fell into her eyes and Trish reached out a hand to brush it back. The move startled both women and Trish gave Mac a half-smile. “I’ve always hated cooking,” she confessed. “Probably because my mother tried so hard to teach me when I was a teenager.”

“I’m not really much good in the kitchen, either.”

Trish knew this already. Over the years, she’d listened to Harm ramble about his dinner plans and what he was making for the two of them. Once, when she’d asked him why Mac never seemed to host their dinners, Harm made a comment about her kitchen being more for decoration purposes than actual use. “So, why are you watching this?” She waved a hand in the general direction of the television set.

“I don’t know.” Mac shrugged her shoulders and watched the chef slice vegetables. “It seemed less – less boring than anything else.”

Sensing the opening she wanted, Trish watched the chef slide the vegetables into a pot on a stove before asking, “What time do you have to be at Dr. Hepburn’s today?”

“Two o’clock, why?”

“Let’s go out. I haven’t been a tourist in the area in a long time.”

Mac concentrated on folding the edges of the blanket into precise rows. “You need the fresh air,” Trish cajoled. “Come on.”


“Mac,” Trish interrupted firmly, “you need to get out. You can’t stay in here all day long.”

“I do.”

“No. The doctor does not count.”

“But….” Her objection trailed off and she stood up. “I need to change.”

“I’ll wait.” Trish picked up a magazine and started to flip through it. She looked up when Mac didn’t move. Hovering in the hallway leading to the bedroom, the younger woman bit her lip and shifted her weight. “What, dear?”

“Can I-” She cleared her throat. “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course, what?”

“What do you,” she flushed, “what do you see when you look at me?”

Caught off guard, Trish didn’t know how to answer her question. She had a feeling that her answer was important and mattered to Mac. Her mind flipped through a catalogue of acceptable answers before settling on the truth. “I see,” she said at length, unsure of how to phrase her words, “a lovely woman who just lost her way for a little bit.” She tilted her head and frowned a little. “Why? What do you think I should see?”

Mac tugged on the bottom of her sweater. “Nothing,” she mumbled.

Trish’s frown deepened. She didn’t think Mac was evading her question. She was almost positive that that was what Mac expected her to see. “Mac – Sarah?” she asked softly.

Mac shook her head and raised a hand. “No. I’m sorry,” she said. “Never mind. It was stupid.” She nodded in the direction of her bedroom. “I’ll go get changed and we can go.”

“No.” Trish’s voice was firm. “Sit back down and tell me what you meant.” She patted the cushion and arched an eyebrow. “You maybe a Marine, dear, but I’m a mother. I outrank you.”

Mac’s lower lip and chin trembled as she exhaled loudly. She shook her head again and didn’t move, her hand still pulling on the hem of her sweater.

Walking over to her, Trish put an arm around her shoulders and guided her to the couch. “You’re not nothing,” she said gently. She rested her cheek briefly against Mac’s head. “I’m sorry that someone ever gave you that impression.” She felt Mac’s head nod against her shoulder and commented, “It’s amazing what sticks with you from your childhood.”

Mac straightened her shoulders and took a deep breath. “I forgave my parents a long time ago.” She ran her fingers through her hair. “This mess is all me.”

“Is it?”

“Well, who else would be to blame?” Mac demanded.

“Sarah, my son is almost forty years old. I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.” She brushed a hand over Sarah’s hair. “You don’t just suddenly start to think less of yourself one day. Someone treated you badly and at a very young age.”

“I just said that I’ve forgiven them.”

“Forgiving isn’t the same thing as conquering the hurt it caused or even, sometimes, getting over it.” She smiled. “Look at my hatred of cooking.”

Mac let out a small laugh that ended in a sigh. She sniffled softly and pulled a pillow onto her lap. “When my father died,” she said after a beat, “I got, um, I arrived at the hospice too late to talk to him. The priest, he said that my father told him that he was proud of me.”

“Well, why wouldn’t he be? Look at you and how far you’ve come.”

“He never told me. He would say he loved me sometimes. When he was on one of his binges and I was little. When I got older, though, he never said anything kind. If he didn’t ignore me, he yelled.”

“I’m going to tell you something you already know, but humor me. Some people just aren’t meant to be parents. It sounds like yours weren’t. It’s hard work and not always gratifying. Sometimes people just don’t have the energy to do it right.”

“The priest at the hospice, he kept trying to help me make amends with my father. He kept saying that my father was so proud of me. But I needed to hear it from my dad.”

“I thought you said you forgave him?”

“I thought I did. Maybe, do you think it’s possible for me to have forgiven Joe Mackenzie and not my father?”

“Yes.” Pulling Mac into a loose hug, she added, “He was your dad. You wanted him to act like one. You deserved better.”

“I just,” she stopped. “It’s hard to believe,” she broke off again. Frustrated, her hands clenched into fists, before she uncurled her fingers, one by one. “If I believe what the priest told me, I have to believe that just because my father didn’t hit me, didn’t always yell, and just flat out ignored me, that that’s a form of love.”

“Instead of neglect?”

“I didn’t get the words or the traditional gestures associated with love. I got ignored. Occasionally, on his good days, he was like the dad I had imagined, but they were so few and far between, it was easy to forget them. It was easy to feel insignificant.” Mac pulled away from Trish and sighed. “Sometimes, as much as I think I can do it, get away from all that stuff, and as far as I think I’ve come, I still feel like I’m trapped in that house, waiting for someone to notice me.”

“Mac, I meant it when I said it, you deserved better.”

Mac smiled slightly and raised a shoulder slightly and let it fall. “Harm’s lucky he has such a good mom.” She stood up. “I’ll go get changed and we can go.” At the door, she paused again. “Trish?” she called. “Thank you.”

Trish smiled and waited until the bedroom door was closed before breathing deeply and slumping against the couch. Harm loved Mac, of that she was certain. But she’d never realized, she wasn’t sure he knew either, what a lot of work it was going to take to get Mac to understand it. Some people, she thought again, should not be parents. Contemplating Mac’s door, she thought, and some people should. For the first time in months, she allowed herself to imagine fat little grandbabies.


Chapter 10


“I’ve scuttled my career,” Mac announced upon sitting down in Audrey’s office.

Audrey struggled to hide her surprise, not at the statement, but at the fact that the statement was made without prompting on her part. “How’s that?” she asked, proud of the neutral tone to her voice.

“I won’t be allowed to stay in the Marines,” she clarified. “I’ll either resign, if the Admiral kept this quiet, or I’ll be discharged. It’s unfair to make him pay for my mistake.”

Audrey didn’t understand the technicalities involved in Mac’s discharge, wouldn’t even if Mac explained in them in detail, so she switched to a topic that she could handle without problems. “How does that make you feel?”

“I don’t know,” Mac shrugged off the question. “I haven’t really thought about it.”

Liar, liar, screamed Audrey in her head. Aloud, she asked, “How long were you in the Marines?”

“Since I was 19.”

Audrey calculated the years. “And during that time, you never thought about a different lifestyle?”

“Once,” Sarah admitted on a sigh. “I joined a D.C. law firm. It wasn’t for me though. I went back to JAG quickly.”

“Why did you go back?”

Sarah shrugged and looked out the window. “I was a wild child before the Marines,” she murmured in the direction of the window. Turning back to Audrey, she said, “I was headed nowhere and fast. Stuck in a marriage to a guy who was only slightly better than my dad.”

“And?” Audrey prompted, gesturing with her hands for Sarah to continue.

“And the Marines took me away from that.”

Audrey frowned at her notepad. “You said you were a wild child. Did you drink? Take drugs?”

“Drink, yes,” she confirmed. “Drugs, at least I wasn’t that stupid. I was a recovering alcoholic by nineteen.”

“What made you quit?”

“A car accident. It killed my best friend and my uncle took care of me and helped me dry out.”

“Were you driving?”

“No.” She shook her head in denial. “But I was too young and too drunk to realize that he shouldn’t have been driving either.”

“So you quit?”

“With a lot of help from uncle,” she added.

“And you turned your life around?” Audrey asked.

“Not over night, no. And I couldn’t have done it without my uncle and the Marines.” Sarah waved a hand as if she were brushing the memories the away.

“Sarah.” Audrey leaned forward and pulled a leg beneath her. She tapped her pencil against her notepad, taking the time to make sure her wording was satisfactory. “I’m going to do something I don’t do very often. I’m going to give you an opinion. Normally, I’d try to help you arrive at the insight, but I think you need a pick me up.” She smiled at her.

“A pick me up?” Sarah repeated, a frown creasing her face.

“Do you know what my least favorite Greek myth is?” When Sarah shook her head, she continued, “It’s Pandora’s box.” She held up a hand to forestall the questions. “Ignoring the misogynistic tendency to once again blame the woman, it’s because when people retell it, they leave the most important part of the story out. When Pandora opened the box, after most of the demons and problems had fled from it, she slammed the box closed. What you don’t hear very often, is that in that box, at the bottom, underneath all the bad things, there was hope. The gods gave the world hope too.”

“This is your opinion?” Sarah questioned again.

“No,” Audrey denied. “I’m going to tell you something to help you let hope out. You’re stronger than you think you are and it’s time you gave yourself some credit for it.”

“I’m still a little,” she paused, “lost.”

“Sarah, you pulled yourself up. You saved your life.” Audrey smiled gently and tried to keep her voice soft. In all her years of psychiatry, she would never understand why people grew upset when they heard good things about themselves. “Give yourself some credit.”

“But,” Sarah leaned forward a little and gestured to the space behind her, as if the ghost of the earlier conversation lingered behind them, “I just told you I did all that because of my uncle and the Marines.”

“Asking for help doesn’t make you weak or less of a person.” She smiled again and said, “Forgive me for this, I swear after today you will never hear about another ancient Greek from me again, but Socrates, or maybe it was Plato, I can never remember, once said that it’s a wise man who knows he is not wise.” Audrey waited a minute to see if Sarah would follow and finish her analogy. When the other woman remained stubbornly silent, she continued, “It takes a smart, strong person to realize that they need help and to accept it when it’s offered.”

Sarah dropped her head to her knees and shuddered out a deep breath. Audrey could see her ribs shake under her sweater. “I’ve made such a mess of things,” She pushed herself up and dashed a hand beneath her eyes. “Such a mess.” She let out a small, humorless laugh. “When I did this, I really thought that I was ending the problems, not creating new ones.”

“Well, then. Let’s start figuring out how to fix them. We’ll start with an easy one, your career.”

“I really don’t know how to be anything other than a Marine.”

“You’re a lawyer aren’t you?”

“Yes, but - Yes,” she finished.

“But what?”

“I think that’s why I liked JAG so much. I felt like I was doing something.” Sarah leaned her head against the palm of her hand and shook it a little.

“So you think if you get a job as a civilian attorney, you won’t be able to accomplish as much?” Audrey rephrased Sarah’s sentence into a question that would force Sarah to expound.

Sarah nodded slightly. “I did it once.” She sighed and tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. “It was all about billable hours and generating paperwork.”

“And the cases at JAG don’t require that sort of thing?”

“Paperwork,” she said. “We still have to do the menial things like motions and depositions and interrogatories, but we get the chance to argue really big cases, too. The firm work wasn’t so, so,” she trailed off, unable to find the right word.

“Heroic?” Audrey supplied with a small smile. “They have big cases outside the military too, you know.” She tried to remember her U.S. history course to name the big cases. “What about Brown versus the Board of Education? Or Miranda?”

Sarah shrugged. “I guess.”

“Sarah,” Audrey said her name firmly and waited until she had her full attention before speaking. “Big things are possible. Even in the civilian world.”

“I know.”

“Do you?”

“Yeah,” she said grudgingly. “I do. It’s just going to take some getting used to.”

“Life means readjusting. I read that someplace.”

“Socrates again?” Sarah smiled her question.

Relieved at the joke, even it was just a little one, Audrey answered honestly. “No, I think it was Nora Roberts,” she said with a guilty smile. It surprised her when Sarah giggled.

Later, when her last appointment left, Audrey sat down with her notes and reviewed her patients’ progress. As she sifted through the pile, she spied Sarah’s name. Pulling out the notes, she glanced over them to refresh her memory. She allowed herself to relax fractionally. Every patient was different and Sarah was a harder subject than some of the others. She held on to her defenses tightly and Audrey had begun to wonder if she would ever let them go long enough for anyone to help her. But today, she finally, finally, felt the walls begin to crack. The real problem, the problem that prompted the attempt, was still lurking behind the walls, but at least she was starting to gain access.

Mentally, she tracked Sarah’s progress. If she was to chart it on a graph, she’d find that the line was finally starting to go up.


Chapter 11


The apartment was dark and quiet as he put away the last of the dinner dishes. Through the door, he could hear the low murmur of voices, but he couldn’t tell whether they were Mac’s and his mother’s or the television set. The dishes were done and the kitchen was clean, but he didn’t want to leave its shelter. It was warm, still fragrant from dinner and bright. It felt like an oasis. He needed to find something to do to keep him in the kitchen.

Glancing guiltily at the white painted door that divided the kitchen from the rest of the apartment, he filled up Mac’s teapot and searched the cupboards for teabags or an infuser. His mother’s voice floated through the doorway asking, “Harm, what are you doing in there?”

“Making tea, do you want some?” He pushed open the door and saw his mother and Mac sitting next to each other on the couch. Mac caught his eyes and nodded a little, while his mother shook her head in decline. An odd sensation settled in his stomach as he watched the women interact. He wasn’t positive, unsure of whether he was actually seeing results because they were there or because he needed, badly, to see them, but Mac seemed to have relaxed. Her muscles didn’t look as rigid, her jaw less clenched.

Trish said something to Mac, in a voice too low for him to hear the words, and stood up. She followed Harm back into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. “Mac wanted honey and lemon in her tea,” she explained.

“I could have made it,” he protested. He turned the burner to high and leaned against the counter. Folding his arms across his chest, he watched his mother slice a lemon in half.

“I know you could.” Trish squeezed lemon juice into a mug. She hitched a shoulder and looked up at him from under her bangs. “It’s kind of nice,” she admitted, “having someone to mother.” She smiled fully, “Even if she’s a fully grown adult and I have to give her back.”

Seeing his answering smile, she added, patting his cheek, “You grew up way too fast for my taste.”

“Mom,” he complained, barely keeping the whine out of his voice. In a normal tone, he said, “I’m glad you two are getting along.”

Trish rested her hands lightly on the counter and sighed. Staring up at the cabinets, she inhaled deeply. “Harm,” she started and stopped.


Turning to face him, she brushed her bangs off her face with the back of her hand. “Harm,” she started again, “I just want to make sure you’ll be okay.”

“We’ll be fine,” he assured her.

“No, not the two of you. You,” she emphasized. “I want to make sure your aren’t in over your head.”

He straightened against the counter and his muscles tensed. “Did she tell you something?”

“Harm,” she paused. Giving herself a minute, she tidied the already neat counters and put the other lemon half back into the refrigerator. “She’s been through a lot.”

“I know.” Beside him, the teapot began to bubble, he could hear the steam ready to force itself out.

Trish put a teaspoonful of honey in with the lemon juice. She took out another mug and dropped the teabags into them. “It’s a terrible thing,” she said. “She had to ask for things you should never have to ask for from people.”

Harm contemplated the door and turned his attention back to his mother. She was still talking. “Sometimes, I wonder,” she paused and looked at him, “I wonder if you both did.”


“You know that I love you and that I’m proud of you, right?” Trish checked. “That I’d be proud of you no matter what you were doing? I don’t know if I tell you that enough.”

“I know,” he reassured her. He wrapped his arms around her waist and leaned his chin against her head. “I know.”

The teapot began to shriek and Trish pulled away, laughing a little at the tears in her eyes. “Good,” she said, running a finger under her eyes to check for smeared mascara. She poured the boiling water into the mugs and handed him one. “Now you go drink your tea and I think I’m going to retire,” she said.

He followed her into the living room, where she deposited a mug with Mac and patted her on the head. “I have an early flight tomorrow and unlike you young ones, I need my rest. Good-night.”

“Night, Mom.”

“Night, Trish.”

He waited until the door had closed behind his mother and then turned to Mac. “So,” he raised an eyebrow, “you and my mother seem to be getting along.”

Mac cupped her mug between her hands and blew gently across the water’s surface. She gave him a tiny smile over the brim of the mug. “She didn’t tell me any embarrassing stories about you, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

He relaxed against the couch. “I’m worried that you’re plotting my death and just biding your time until my mother is gone.”

“You’re safe,” she told him.

“Well, that’s a load off my mind,” he joked. He set his mug down and rested his forearms against his thighs. “Seriously,” he angled his head so he could see her, “I’m glad you’re not angry.”

“I’m really okay,” she said. “Really.”

“I just needed to know that someone was looking out for you.” He shifted restlessly. “Mac,” he said quietly, “I-” He tried to push the words past his lips, but they seemed to catch on his teeth. He didn’t doubt them. He knew what they meant and that he would mean them when he could finally say them. But, as it always seemed to do, time mocked him. He couldn’t tell her now, not while everything was still so uncertain.

She laid her hand against his forearm and said gently, “I know. I know, so you don’t have to say it.”

He brushed his fingers over the back of her hand. “Then, please, try to get better. Please.” He was reduced to begging. He was pleading for fifth and sixth chances, for a future.

“I’m trying,” she said. “Really, I am.”

“That’s all I can ask for.” He needed to move away from this conversation. He motioned to stand up.

Her grip tightened on his arm. “I’m trying. But, Harm,” she smiled sadly, unsure how to tell him what he needed to hear, “sometimes we don’t always get happy endings.”

“Jesus, Mac.” He shook her arm off and stomped away from the couch. “Jesus,” he said again, pulling his fingers through his hair. “Why say something like that? Why think it?”

She flinched at his tone and sighed a little. “It’s the truth.” She shrugged. She shifted her body on the couch so she could pull her knees up to her chest. “I’m trying. But I’m so tired of fighting.” She circled her calves with her arms. “I feel like I’ve been doing it for so long.”

“Fighting what, Mac?” He asked sullenly. “Tell me and let me help.”

“It’s nothing you can fix, flyboy,” she told him. She blinked rapidly to stave off the tears that were threatening. “It’s just been a struggle my whole life it seems.” She added quietly, “And now it’s a struggle to find a reason to keep fighting.”

He walked back over to the couch and lowered his body on to it. His arm brushed hers as he leaned back. “Sarah?” he asked softly.

“What?” She mumbled against her knees.

“While you’re trying to find that reason, the reason to keep up the fight,” he said.


“Until you find your own reason,” he reached up to cup her face, “how about you live for me?”

The tears spilled over on his hand and she curled her hand around his thumb. Gently, he pulled her close to him and she nodded against his chest. “I can do that.”


Chapter 12


It’s been over a month since he asked her to get better. She has been trying; it has been a constant effort. She kept thinking of little reasons, small things, to keep her from sinking under, like she did when she was drying out. She was surprised to find that her system seemed to be working. The days were getting a little better and the nights were getting a little easier.

As she improved, though, the fear began to sink in. She worried that she was taking away all of his defenses and leaving him empty. She was worried that a day would come when he’d need to call on them, to fight his own battle to live, and he’d find them gone; used up because she leeched them away the was salt draws moisture out. She was worried that she’s the Dead Sea, deadly in her salinity, if left to linger on the skin too long.

But she was being selfish, because she didn’t push him away like she should. She didn’t tell him to get out, to save himself while he could. Instead, she allowed him to pull her out of her apartment. After seeing his mother’s success, he decided that the key to her well-being lay in sunshine and fresh air. Trailing after him like a reluctant child follows a parent, she went to the Smithsonian, the National Gallery, and the National Arboretum.

Tonight, though, she has to force herself not to pull on his arm and convince him to stay home. Better to order pizza and watch a terrible video than go to a party thrown by the JAG staff in their honor. The Admiral accepted her resignation, he’d had no choice, at the same time he reinstated Harm. She wanted to disappear, to slink away quietly from the office, but the Admiral and Harriet wouldn’t let that happen.

The bar was crowded, packed with office workers and low level government employees celebrating the start of the weekend, and the JAG staff was huddled in a small corner of the restaurant. The tables are packed with finger food and appetizers. She’s dismayed to realize that they’re the last to arrive and she stopped walking. She didn’t want to face them. She tugged on his elbow and whispered under her breath, “Not too late to run. They haven’t seen us yet.”

“I’ve got more to worry about than you do,” he muttered out of the corner of his mouth.

“Why?” She asked, honestly confused. She tightened her hold on his elbow and forced him to turn around to face her. “They love you. They’re happy to have you back in the fold.”

He waved a hand, brushing off her comment. “This party is for you.”

“And you,” she said. “Don’t you think it’s a little,” she stumbled over the word, “weird?”

“How weird?”

“Well,” she paused, trying to figure out a way to phrase her sentence without eliciting a wince, “I mean, half of it is a party for someone who ended her career because she swallowed one too many pills.”

“Oh.” He frowned, his eyebrows sinking low on his forehead and he rubbed a hand over it, smoothing out the creases. “Oh, Mac. I never thought about that.” He glanced over at the tables. “Shit,” he swore.

He rested his hands on her biceps and examined her face. “We can go. I’ll go over and explain and then we’ll go.”

She gathered the folds of his sweater in her hands and looked down at their feet. She shook her head. “No, I can do this.” She forced her voice to sound light. “Don’t need another check in the crazy column by becoming agoraphobic.”

“They meant well,” he pointed out.

“I know,” she nodded in agreement. She shrugged and scuffed her toe in a semi-arc on the floor. “Maybe,” she looked up at him from under her bangs, “we can pretend it’s just a welcome back party for you. Not a welcome back slash good luck party?”

He leaned his head on top of hers. “We can do that.”

“Okay.” She pulled away from him and straightened her body slowly, one vertebrae at a time. Their friends were still half a restaurant away and the wood floor yawned before her. Trying to control the onslaught of anxiety, she told herself that the people laughing at the tables are her friends. That they’ve done what they’ve done because they care. She tried, but she wanted nothing more than to hide.

He reached down and tucked her hand into his. Swinging their hands between them, he pulled her up to the tables. The first few minutes are awkward. Silence punctuated the conversations and people kept sneaking little glances at her. She shifted uneasily each time she caught them, tucking her hair behind her ears or scanning the table tops and the other patrons near them. Her fingers traced patterns in the condensation from the glasses, forming complex networks of water on the table’s surface.

She didn’t know when it happened, but slowly, gradually, the cadences grew more natural; the tension eased as they started to reminisce. Laughter replaced the silences and she found herself smiling. Beneath the tables, her fingers squeezed his once and let go. She smiled at him and he smiled back before returning to the conversation. It relaxed her, made her a little less frightened to know that she can have these little moments. Moments where she didn’t have to rely on him to remember to breathe. Moments where he can replenish his strength because he didn’t have to carry her. She can hold herself up tonight and it feels good.



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