“I want to try word association today, okay?” Audrey asked a few minutes
into their session. On healthier, less complicated patients, Audrey used
this tactic to get know her patients. She had been counseling Sarah for
a while, so she didn’t need to get to know her. Instead, she was hoping
to relax Sarah enough to sneak behind her walls.
Sarah nodded, her eyebrows dipping a little to the center of her
forehead, but she remained quiet.
“Good. You know how this works then? I say a word and you say the first
thing that comes to your mind. We’ll start with an easy one. Ocean.”
“Blue,” Sarah answered promptly.
Audrey nodded. The response was predictable. “Blue then,” she said,
building on Sarah’s response.
“Harm’s eyes,” she said and then clapped a hand over her mouth; she
flushed, but her cheeks pulled up a little, letting Audrey know that she
was hiding a smile behind her hand.
“Poppies.” Sarah removed her hand from her mouth and twisted her fingers
in her lap.
“Okay,” Audrey drawled the word out, “that’s a new one. Why poppies?”
“Did you see the ‘Wizard of Oz’? I always thought the scene where they
fell asleep in the meadow of poppies was so pretty. They, the poppies,
were all red and they contrasted so nicely with the green city behind
them. It always stuck in my mind.” Sarah lifted her hands, palms up, and
let them fall back onto her thighs. “I wear a lot of red, I think,
partly because of that color.”
“Interesting.” Audrey refrained from commenting further. But there were
questions forming that she could save for a later date. Most children
never watched that scene with anything approaching Sarah’s admiration.
They wanted Dorothy to succeed. And it seemed Sarah envied Dorothy’s
nap. She readjusted her plans for the next session and continued on with
the game. “Dogs.”
“My dog. I had to send him to Vermont, though. I was just away too often
and it was too cruel to him to keep him locked up.”
Audrey thought a pet would be a wonderful idea for Sarah. “Did you ever
consider a puppy?”
“I’m away too often,” she repeated, then frowned. “Or I was. Maybe I
Audrey glanced around her room and uttered her next word as if the décor
inspired it and that she hadn’t been thinking of the right phrase for
the last few days. “Travel.”
This was not the way it was supposed to work, Audrey wanted to huff.
“Paraguay.” The word slipped from her lips.
“Paraguay?” Audrey meant to ask, why Paraguay, but it sounded like a
version of the association game. Watching Sarah’s body tense and her
eyes lose focus, she realized that her unintentional continuation may
have served its purpose.
“Screams.” She started to rise and fell back against the chair. Rather
than looking relaxed, she reminded Audrey of the street performers who
dress up as statues in the cities. Her muscles were too tense, her
stillness too controlled.
“Screams?” Audrey prompted softly.
“They don’t stop.” Her hands cupped her ears and fell back to her sides.
“I could hear him – Clay – screaming across the courtyard. All night
long. It echoes in my head.”
“Why was he screaming?” Audrey hoped her tone sounded neutral but she
was afraid that she sounded more like an interested onlooker,
grotesquely fascinated by the car accident before her.
“They were hurting him. I don’t know what they did exactly. I mean, I
have a pretty good idea, but I can’t really say. I don’t know what falls
within the parameters of classified.” Sarah’s jaw clamped shut and she
turned her face away. “He couldn’t walk. When they brought him back, he
“Sarah,” Audrey tapped her lightly on the wrist with a finger, “did they
“No.” She shook her head, her brown hair splaying against the side of
her face. “No. He – he – Clay tried to protect me. He said, he, um,” she
licked her lips and drew a deep breath, “he said he loved me and that he
wanted to protect me.” Her fingertips touched the base of her throat
lightly. “May I have a glass of water?”
Audrey got up to pour a glass. “He told you he loved you?”
“Yes.” Sarah sniffled and took a long pull of water from the glass.
“Why does that make you unhappy?”
“Why does it make you unhappy to know that someone loves you?”
“Because,” she took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, “ because he was
right. Everyone who loves me dies or wants to die. I just hurt people. I
seem incapable of doing anything else.”
“Clay said that?” Audrey was proud of herself. Her voice sounded normal.
“No,” she shook her head. “Not Clay. Harm did.” She looked over at
Audrey before glancing away again. “But he’s not wrong.”
“Why do you say that?”
She leaned forward, face in hands, elbows on knees. Her feet bounced a
little, sending tiny vibrations of movement throughout her body. “I’ve –
so many – there are so many people who are hurt because of me.”
“Why isn’t he wrong?” she repeated the question, her tone a little more
“Oh God.” The words tumbled from her mouth, sounding more like a call
for help than oath or prayer. “Oh, God.” Her hands were shaking and the
water sloshed at the lips of the glass. Moving slowly, Audrey leaned
forward and eased the glass from her grip. Sarah’s fingers had tightened
around it, Audrey could see the whitened knuckles, and she didn’t know
how much pressure it could before its walls caved in.
“Sarah, calm down.” Audrey soothed. “Inhale slowly. Now let it out.
That’s it. Once more. Good girl. Now let it out slowly.” She waited
until Sarah seemed steadier. “Now,” she prompted, “start from the
“No.” Her voice was firm. “No. I don’t want to talk about this. I just
want it all to stop.”
“What do you want to stop?”
“The pain.” She pressed her lips together tightly. “I’m so tired of it.
I’m so tired of hurting people.”
“How do you hurt them?” Audrey rubbed her fingers across her forehead,
trying to ward off the vague pain of a tension headache.
“I don’t know. I just do. And the worst part is, I stay okay. I’m
healthy, up until a few days ago, I had a good job, and I have a nice
apartment. I stay okay and every where else, everyone else’s lives turn
to dust and they are left to pick up the pieces of their lives after I
“Who do you think you’ve hurt?”
She swept her arm across her body to encompass the whole room.
“Everyone.” She let her arm drop against her side. “Just everyone. First
Eddie died when I was teenager, then my husband. Someone killed my
ex-boyfriend because of me. Harm lost his career. Clay was hurt.” Her
voice rose as she listed her transgressions and then dipped to a near
whisper. “I’m no damn good.” She brushed her hair back from her face.
“It’s like the theory of karma? Only I’m paying in this life. And I
don’t suffer, I just have to watch everyone around me sink into a black
hole because of me. It would just be so much better for everyone if I
just … disappeared.”
“Do you think everyone would agree with you?”
“Depending on the day,” she sighed. She rubbed her eyes, swiping at the
tears. “No,” she admitted. “I’m not a teenager, Dr. Hepburn. I don’t
want them to miss me. It’s not about showing them how much they’ll miss
when I’m gone. I want them to be safe. To be happy.”
“So you do realize that they’ll miss you?”
Sarah studied her cuticles. Her answer was long in coming, and Audrey
was about to ask her question again, when Sarah forced her answer out.
“Yes, but sometimes I don’t get it. I thought the Admiral finally saw
through me. When he wouldn’t let Harm rescue me,” she clarified. “I
would have died down there, probably in a pretty ugly way, too. I
thought maybe the Admiral thought it was for the best. But when I got
back, he was happy to see me and he came to visit me in the hospital.”
“You thought the Admiral wanted you to die?”
“Well, no. Not really, not rationally. It would have been more like
sucking poison out of a wound, unpleasant but necessary to keep
everything else alive.” She choked on a laugh. “It sounds crazy.”
“It doesn’t sound crazy. Stop saying that now. You’re confused, you’re
hurt, but you aren’t crazy.” Pursing her lips, she glanced down at her
notes and tapped her pencil rapidly against her notepad. It was rare
that she couldn’t find the words she needed. It was, she sometimes
joked, how she got into therapy in the first place. She needed an outlet
where she had willing ears to listen to her. It was also rare for her to
be angry at people she didn’t know. She reminded herself that statements
were ten percent intention and ninety percent perception, that there
were two sides of Sarah’s story, possibly three or four sides, but none
of that quelled her very real desire to choke the living daylights out
of someone. Preferably the man whose comment seemed to have precipitated
the events. Her fingers tightened on the notepad and threatened to snap
her pencil. “So,” she said after a minute, her voice oddly pitched,
“let’s go back to Harm’s comment.” She glanced down at her notes. “He
said what exactly?”
Sarah sniffled and rubbed her eyes before answering. “He said that every
man I’ve ever been involved with is either dead or feels like he is.”
Audrey drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. This session was
rapidly becoming more exhausting than her Pilates class. She studied
Sarah carefully before saying, “But that’s not why you tried to kill
yourself.” It was meant to be a question, but as the sentence left her
mouth, it grew conviction and emerged a statement. Because it was
rapidly becoming clear that Sarah didn’t try to kill herself because of
one careless comment. As she watched for a reaction, Sarah’s muscles
contracted, tensing against the chair.
“What?” she asked, reaching for a tissue to blow her nose and buy
“That’s not why you tried to kill yourself,” she repeated.
Sarah shook her head. “No.” She licked her lips nervously. “Why?”
Audrey resisted the urge to sigh and pushed her hair back from her face.
“If you hadn’t already been depressed, rather, if you hadn’t already
believed that that was the truth, you wouldn’t have reacted that way.
You would have reacted differently.”
“Differently how?” she demanded.
“Well, without knowing all the facts, I think other women might have
reacted with a jab to the nose.” Audrey smiled to let Sarah know she was
“I was being really horrible to him.” Sarah shrugged. “We were fighting
the whole time. He flew down to rescue me and I picked a fight.”
“You haven’t learned to fight fair yet?”
“No,” she breathed. “We really haven’t.” She brushed at the link on her
sweater, studying the knit carefully before continuing. “It wasn’t him.
It wasn’t even that comment. It just didn’t really help I suppose.”
“So what was it?”
“It was,” she paused, “it was me. It was me. I don’t know, you know, if
I was ever really happy.”
“Why is that?” Audrey tried to remember details of Sarah’s life from her
“I just – every time I think I’ve finally found it, it slips away.”
Sarah stared hard at the paneling on the wall, as if the cherry wood
held the answers to her problems. She cupped her hand, turned it over,
and stretched her fingers out. She turned her gaze back to Audrey. “It
just goes away. And I’m tired of it. I’m tired of waiting for something
good to happen only to have it take away again.”
She leaned her head against her palm. Now that she had started talking,
she was incapable of staunching the flow of words. “I never believed in
fairy tales. Or if I did, I stopped early. There didn’t seem to be any
point. But there’s always that one stupid part of you, you know,” she
fisted her hand against her chest, “that wants to hope.
“I thought, I really did, that when he showed up that that was it. And
then we were so mean to each other.” She waved a hand. “It wasn’t all
his fault. Or all my fault. But I’d really thought, really believed it,
that our time had come.”
“What happened?” Audrey prompted gently.
“We just couldn’t stop the bickering. And Clay was hurt, Harm was
jealous, and then it turned out he resigned because he thought he loved
me. And I,” she sighed, “I just couldn’t deal with it anymore.”
“But that still wasn’t what prompted your attempt.”
“No.” Sarah pulled her knees to her chest and hooked an arm around them.
“No. At some point,” she exhaled sharply, “at some point, I listened to
us. We couldn’t love each other and say those things. At least, not in a
healthy way. How could I say those things to him? How could he? It was
sort of like that realization killed me. Or killed what little hope I
had left, anyway.”
“You lost hope?”
“Yeah, I guess. It was more like I didn’t have any faith left. I
destroyed everything.” She lifted her shoulders in a shrug. “I always
“So you were pinning all, or the little left, of your hope on him?”
“No,” she said, refusing to make eye contact. “Not really. But – it’s
just that – he gave up so much. Clay was hurt. And it was all because
they thought they loved me. I get so tired of trying to find new reasons
to hope for something good. I had destroyed two more men’s lives.” She
glanced over at the doctor. “I’m just one of those women who is no damn
“So you tried to kill yourself?”
“It sounds stupid when you put it like that.”
“No, it doesn’t.” Audrey leaned forward. “Sarah, I’ve seen teenagers who
want to kill themselves because they think they aren’t pretty. Hell,
I’ve been that teenager.” Audrey shrugged. “What I’m trying to say is,
whatever your reasons are, they’re your reasons. Which makes them
legitimate and not stupid.”
“Okay.” Sarah brushed at the drying tears and smiled a little. “Um, I
think I may have given you the wrong idea. About Harm, I mean. He’s not
a bad guy. In fact, he’s been pretty terrific recently.”
“Sarah,” Audrey answered her smile with one of her own, “you may need to
rethink your definition of love and just learn how to fight fairly.” She
reached out to pat Sarah’s knee.
“Maybe,” she murmured. “I just don’t know what to do anymore.” She
tugged on a lock of hair. “I know, rationally, that I’m not just an
unwitting black widow. But I don’t know how to get back to the person I
was before I believed that.” She sniffled and blew her nose. “I’m just
“Consider me your compass,” Audrey soothed and handed her a fresh a
tissue. “Lean on me a little and we’ll find you.”
They were hours away from home, sitting on a blanket that he dug out of
his trunk on beach on the Eastern Shore. He'd picked her up, kidnapped
she had argued over dinner, after her session with Dr. Hepburn. Her eyes
had been red, puffy, and glazed with a dazed, tired expression. He
should have taken her home, tucked her into bed, and stayed with her
until she fell asleep. He should have asked her about her session. He
should have, but he didn't. Instead, he turned his car north and headed
The sky had painted itself in colors different from its ordinary black
and white. It had been Mac who had spotted them. The ruby red aurora
borealis with a thin band of silver weaving itself into the red. It was
rare to see them this far south, but the storm on the sun had a greater
influence on the night sky than the effects of smog and pollution. They
sat for hours beneath the colored sky, watching the lights until they
vanished, ebbing back into space like the tide shrinking back from the
The lights were gone now and the sky was filled with tiny stars. He
watched as she created new stellar maps seen only in her head. Her
finger traced patterns in the sky. He could see the looping lines,
circling around tiny clusters of stars, but didn't know which stars fell
into which groups. There were tiny curlicues, giant rambling lines,
angles and hard lines, all etched invisibly in the spaces between the
But the sky remained a jumbled mess, tiny dots piled on top of each
other, the blinking lights of an airplane, the smooth arc of a
satellite, and she couldn't organize them all. Her hand dropped to her
leg and she took her gaze away from the sky to steal a glance at him.
"Harm?" she asked, her voice hushed in the dark.
"Hmm?" His voice also low and quiet. The deserted beach commanded the
subdued tones. Under the night sky, the sand and water had formed the
mortar for a kind of cathedral. An homage to the spectacular, more
daunting and impressive in its vastness than those created by man.
"Is this what it feels like when you fly?" Her hand swept towards the
sky. "Does it feel like you're sitting in the stars?"
He shifted and sat up. "Most of the time, you don't really get a chance
to look around."
"But in Sarah?" she persisted.
"Sometimes." He rested his elbows on his knees. "It's a pretty amazing
"Do you think anyone else saw the Northern lights?"
"It's odd, isn't it?" She tilted her head back to study the sky again.
"What's that?" The starlight and the sliver of the moon combined to wash
the beach in a weak, white light, leaving the scenery painted in shades
of black and white. He watched the column of her throat stretch, the
pale lines of it curved as she dipped farther back. He wanted to reach
out, to touch the fan of black hair that shifted as she scanned the sky.
"So many people probably missed the lights and all because they didn't
bother to look up." She angled her face slightly and glanced at him from
the corner of her eye. "They miss so much." She pointed. "There's a
shooting star. You know, in Japan, they're considered bad luck." She
frowned. "At least, I think they were."
"I think I prefer to think of them as good luck. Did you make a wish?"
"No," she sighed. "It might have been a satellite."
"I remember watching them as a kid. I used to lay out on the front yard
and watch them at night."
"Yeah," she agreed. "God, that seems like so long ago." Her lips quirked
at the corners, pushing her cheeks into a smile. "My mom used to have
this ugly purple velvet skirt that I wore around the house as a ball
He stretched himself out on the blanket, hands laced together beneath
his head, ankles crossed. "Somehow I can't picture you doing that."
She glanced down at him. "I wasn't born an adult, you do realize."
"I know," he defended himself. "I just always pictured you as a solemn
She reached out and pinched his forearm lightly. Brushing off his
indignant cry, she said, "I did manage to have some fun, thank you very
much," she said haughtily. She sniffed lightly and turned her face to
the sky, more for the pose of affected indignation than studying the
He snaked an arm around her waist and pulled her back against the
blanket. She slapped his chest lightly but didn't struggle away from
him. "Thank you for doing this tonight," she said quietly. "I really
"You looked like it." He brushed a strand of hair from her face. "Did
everything go okay today?"
She bit her lip and rolled over to her side to push herself into a
sitting position. Resting her cheek against her shoulder, she studied
him before saying, "Dr. Hepburn said we needed to learn how to fight
"When did she say this?"
"Earlier today," she answered slowly. "She's not wrong you know."
"Probably not," he agreed. He propped himself up on his elbows before
sitting up completely. He was entering into this conversation
reluctantly. He could already tell it was going to be unpleasant. He
could feel the tension ooze across them, a sick slime that appeared
whenever he started to feel comfortable around her. Her spine was
straight and rigid, an unyielding line of hurt and nerves. "What else
did you talk about?" He asked the question that would snowball itself
into an avalanche of he said, she said, filled with the detritus of past
hurts and accusations.
"Lots of things," she evaded. "Fairy tales," she told the water.
"Fairy tales?" he repeated. "My mom used to read me some of them when I
was a kid. She called them folk stories. I was five before I realized
I'd been had." He sighed in fake disgust at the memories. He didn't add
that she also took him to see "Snow White." Or that he had once wanted
to be Prince Charming.
"Poor boy." She stared at him for a minute before adding, "You know, I
used to think that they just messed up little girls' lives. I guess
that's not true."
"How do they mess up little girls?"
"And boys, apparently," she amended. "Well, okay, maybe not children's
lives, but adults' lives. We just become so accustomed to happily ever
after and the idea of someone swooping down on a white horse that we
abandon realistic love in favor of something that ends before you see
Cinderella throwing a fit because the Prince forgot their anniversary
and attended a State dinner."
He snorted. "And the boys?"
"You do the same thing. You base your ideas of a perfect woman a
character who is so beautiful that woodland creatures sit at her feet."
She sighed. "We ignore the fact that we might fall in love with someone
who can't sing well enough to charm the birds or who has never seen a
white horse outside of the movies. We hope for the unrealistic fairy
tale love and then, in the end, everyone is disappointed."
"This is what you talked about today?"
"Sort of. Not just this anyway," she clarified. "But it, disappointment,
not fairy tales, seems to be a running theme in my life."
He leaned forward a bit to see her face, but she kept watching the
"You know I love you, right?" she asked softly. "You don't have to say
it back or even feel it. I just wanted you to know that I do." She
He didn't know how to answer. She had a spectacular gift for startling
him into silence. Luckily, she continued without leaving room for his
response. "I'm telling you this now, because I finally think I really
mean it." She paused and drew a deep breath, holding the way a child
does before jumping into cold water. "You need to go back home."
"What?" He wanted to shout and nearly gave into the urge.
"You have to move back to your apartment," she explained patiently.
"No." He shook his head. "You need the company."
"I'll get a dog."
"Damn it, Mac." He stood up and paced away from her, shoving his hands
into his pockets. "Weren't you the one who said you were sick of this
He wasn't surprised to find that she'd followed him. She touched his
shoulder gently and the pulled her hand away quickly. "I'm sorry." She
tugged at the bottom of her sweater. "I didn't mean to make such a
He turned to face her, arms crossed over his chest. Her body was curled
over, huddled against the wind and some weight only she could feel. He
wanted to shake her. Did she think she was the only who got hurt by
these conversations? "What did you mean?"
"I wanted." She stopped. "I need." She turned slightly into the wind and
sucked at the salt air in big, greedy gulps. "God, Harm," she said at
last. "I have no idea who I am anymore. I'm just gone. There's nothing
left and soon it's going to suck you in, too."
She pinched the fabric of his shirt between her fingers, anchoring
herself to his arm. "You need to leave. You can't honestly say that this
time hasn't taken its toll on you. You can't do it anymore."
"What if I want to stay?"
"You can't," she said emphatically. "I need you too much right now." She
tugged lightly at the fabric in her hand. "I need to learn how to stand
on my own two feet again." It was contradictory and she knew it. But she
didn't know how to explain it to him. She was depending on him too much.
One of them would get hurt and she didn't know how she would be handle
"Are you leaving?"
"No." She shook her head in denial. "I'm staying."
"Mac," he began.
Her hand dropped away. "We talked about Paraguay."
"Dr. Hepburn and I. We talked about Paraguay, sort of." She shrugged. "I
told her why I tried to kill myself. Rather, she helped me understand my
reasons. Didn't you ever wonder why there wasn't a note?"
He did. Now that she was getting better, or at least pretending to for
his sake, he had allowed himself to relax a little, to let his
concentration slip occasionally. He no longer wanted to follow her into
the bathroom to make sure she'd come out. He didn't worry about whether
she'd be there when he returned from work. He could suppress the urge to
check to see if she was breathing late at night.
When he stopped focusing on all those worries, though, he began to
wonder about other things. Like, why she tried to kill herself? Or, why
didn't anyone notice she'd deteriorated to a point where suicide seemed
like a reasonable alternative to everything else? Why didn't anyone
notice that she needed to be rescued again?
She shrugged again, bunching the material of her sweater between her
shoulders and her ears. "I don't think I really knew at the time. I was
just so empty, so tired of feeling that way."
"Pretty odd, considering you were the one who blew me off in Paraguay."
His voice was bitter; he just managed to keep a mocking tone out of his
"I know," she replied. "Harm, I know I hurt you. I'm sorry. I really am,
but I can't," she broke off and wandered closer to the water. "I don't
need your guilt on top of mine. You know that thing you said about me
and my exes?"
He felt sick. He was certain he was going to throw up. Please, he
prayed, please let it have been something else that started this. "That
was a cruel thing for me to have said once, let alone twice."
"Yes," she agreed. "It was … careless. But I understand why you said it.
I wasn't exactly being sweet and innocent at the time."
"Please, Mac, tell me that wasn't the reason for this."
"Harm," she placed a hand on his cheek, "it wasn't the reason. Honest.
It just sort of came at a bad time and confirmed a lot of things I'd
already been thinking."
He ran a hand down her wrist, circling her forearm like a handcuff.
"Please," she pleaded, "don't look like that. I swear, it wasn't that
comment. It wasn't you. I did all of this. Not you."
"Obviously," he ground out between his teeth, "that's not true."
She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly but didn't answer him. They
stood still, frozen at the edge of the water. His fingers cuffed her
wrist; their arms were trapped between their bodies. Her gaze was fixed
on the water. "It is true," she insisted quietly. She brushed at a
strand of hair that was flirting with her lips. "You hurt me, yes, but I
could survive that. I don't know how to make you believe that. Maybe I
did it because I thought my last chance at the fairy tale I've always
secretly wanted had disappeared. Somewhere along the way, my last dream
died and it took me with it."
She stomped her foot in the sand and looked at him. His lips were
pressed into a tight line, hardening the features of his face. She would
have given anything to start this conversation over. To not have it at
all and let fate direct the rest of their lives.
"Why did you say that it would never work in Paraguay?" he asked after a
minute of silence.
"Did you hear us?" she asked him. "The things we said to each other?"
He nodded. "Did you believe it when you said it?"
Her knees weakened and she sat down without freeing her arm from his
grasp. He followed her down, lowering himself on to the sand. "I don't
know," she admitted. "Maybe."
"I went down there because--" Her fingers on his mouth prevented him from
finishing his sentence.
"Don't say it yet." She shook her head. "I'm not ready to hear it. I
won't believe it now."
"When will you?" he questioned.
"I don't know," she said. "I'm no good to anyone like this. I just need
time to get back on my feet."
They sat in silence. Her left arm was stretched across his body, his
fingers rubbing the inside of her wrist. She wondered if he knew he was
doing that. She wondered who he was trying to soothe. "I'm sorry I hurt
you in Paraguay," she apologized softly again. "When I heard you say you
resigned - Clay was hurt, you lost your job, and once again, I was to
blame. I couldn't - Harm." She trailed off.
"What?" he asked.
"I - living has never been easy for me. It's been more like surviving. I
got tired of just trying to take it one day at a time." She shrugged.
"And then everything sort of fell apart from the inside out. I can't
explain it any better. Paraguay or why I tried to kill myself. I really
His fingers tightened around her wrist and loosened slightly. He
transferred her wrist to his right hand and bent his knees, never losing
contact with her skin. "Mac, I hate talking about this kind of thing,"
he said. "I think I prefer the big gestures."
"Like resigning or flying your mom across the country?" she asked with a
smile. "It's okay. You don't have to. I think I'm all talked out for the
He pinned her hand to the sand. "Okay, then you sit and I'll talk." He
stared at the water and listened to the waves, trying to gather his
thoughts. This was their last appeal. Tonight, the judges would render
their final decision in Rabb v. Mackenzie. He needed his argument to be
flawless. "We haven't been close for a while," he said.
She shook her head and swallowed. "No, we haven't."
"This past year, I don't think I recognize us anymore. However you
choose to define 'us,' I don't think we fit the description. Paraguay, I
guess as you said, confirmed everything I'd thought, too."
"You too, huh?" she sniffled quietly.
"I went down there to rescue you," he said. "And to tell you I loved
you, and then I saw you kiss Webb. Maybe we just weren't meant to have
anything other than friendship."
"Okay." She tried to stand up, but he kept her hand trapped beneath his.
"Please let go."
"Not going to happen," he told her. "The thing is, I don't think we are
meant to be just friends. None of my friends have ever hurt me the way
you have. I've never hurt them either."
"Would you just tell me what you're trying to say?" Her voice was
"I never cared about my friends the way I care about you. So, you need
time, you got it. But I'm not going anywhere."
"Oh." Her mouth dropped open. "Oh. I thought - I thought you were angry
He paused before answering. "Furious, actually. First, because of
Paraguay and then because of Clay. And then this."
"This?" she asked.
"Did you honestly thing that I'd be happy that you tried to kill
yourself?" he demanded. Sometimes, he marveled at the sheer stupidity of
this woman. He gave up everything to bring her back from Paraguay. And
with a few thoughtless words and one careless gesture, she nearly took
it all away again.
"No," she said in a small voice.
"God, Mac," he pulled her closer to him, "you scared me."
"I'm sorry." She pushed herself far enough away to see his face. "For
"Me too," he echoed. "I'm not going anywhere. You want me to move back
to my apartment, fine. But I'm not leaving you."
"It might be better for you if you did."
"No. It wouldn't." He tugged lightly on her wrist and she moved back
into his arms. "You need to learn to stand on your own. Good for you.
I'll stand next to you."
Once, when she was younger, an alcoholic and foolishly in love with a
man who really was no good, she hiked into the backcountry of Sedona
with too little water and not enough sense. She walked across rocks and
dry soil until she stood at the edge of the canyon. Spread out below her
feet, the canyon was a sharp contrast of reds and greens beneath a deep
blue sky. She could see Castle and Pyramid Rocks in the distance. The
horizon was hemmed in by a towering wall of red rocks, banded by a thin
layer of white and green limestone. She stood on a ledge, buffeted by
the high desert wind, and watched the scenery until her husband tackled
her from behind and brought her down, laughing as she narrowly avoided
the edge of the rock.
There were days when she missed the sharp dry heat of the high desert.
The early shade of the canyon floors. She missed the rocks and the sand,
the strong yellow light that sunglasses couldn’t quite filter out. She
missed the wind and the dust devils. The jumbled mess of stars in the
night sky. She missed the way the desert wouldn’t let her forget,
wouldn’t let her slide from day to day, the way it reminded her each day
that she was alive.
Since she left Arizona, when she needed to calm down, when she needed to
quell the nerves that threatened to overwhelm her, she pictured herself
standing on top of that red rock under a cloudless sky. Sometimes, even
when she was happy, she would picture that place and herself in it. She
bolstered the canyon walls with the good memories, drawing them out when
she needed support.
As she huddled in a chair next to Harriet’s desk, she tried to remember
the calm that she felt at the edge of the canyon. She tried to remember
the silence. But she was acutely aware that she was sitting in the
middle of the JAG bullpen in a sweater and jeans waiting for Harm to get
out of court. Harriet’s chatter was soothing, easing the tingles caused
by the stares of her former co-workers. She knew they didn’t mean to
make her feel like a fish in a glass tank, but she couldn’t help wishing
that they could find something else, anything else, to do.
“You know what I don’t get?” Harriet asked. She tapped her fingers
against the keyboard and scanned the bullpen. When she caught a stray
stare, she glared at the starer until he or she turned away. Until
Commander Rabb got out of court, she had appointed herself to take care
of the Colonel… Mac… Sarah.
“Quantum physics?” Mac hazarded a guess.
“You know what else I don’t get?” Harriet smiled, relieve to hear the
Colonel … Mac … Sarah make a joke.
“What to call me?”
“That makes three things.” Harriet cupped her chin in her hand and
studied the other woman. “What do I call you since you brought it up?”
“My name is Sarah,” Mac suggested. “Of course, Mac is a little closer to
Ma’am.” She curled her fingers into her palms and forced her hands to
relax against her thighs. “I feel underdressed,” she confessed in a low
“What if I just call you A.J.’s godmother? It’s a beautiful sweater.”
Harriet nodded at the soft red sweater.
“Harm called while I was out shopping,” Mac said. “I didn’t have time to
change because he has to be back in court this afternoon.” She exhaled
softly. “Thank you. And what don’t you get?”
“Men and long hair.”
Mac wrinkled her nose slightly and asked, “Men with long hair or their
fascination with women who have long hair?”
Harriet paused and thought for a moment. “Both actually. But I was
referring to their fascination with it. I had to make a hairdresser’s
appointment and Bud wanted to know why I didn’t let my hair grow out.
Never mind the fact that even if I were to let it grow, it would still
have to be shaped and trimmed. But with two kids and a job, maybe I
don’t have time to do my hair every morning.”
“Did you breathe at all during that?” Mac marveled. Her nerves were
abandoned as she tried to sort through Harriet’s thoughts.
“No.” Harriet heaved a sigh. “I don’t think so.”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” she said. “Mostly because I don’t know
what you said,” she teased.
Harriet waved her hand. “It wasn’t important. I was just blowing off
steam.” She glanced up and smiled at the bullpen doors. “Here comes
“Goody.” Mac sighed. “He’s going to make me eat vegetables.” She pushed
herself out of the chair and smiled down out Harriet. “It was good
talking to you, Harriet.”
“Same here, A.J.’s godmother.” Harriet smiled back. “I’m glad you’re -”
She broke off and flushed, unsure how to phrase her thoughts. “Okay,”
she finished lamely.
“Thank you,” Mac replied softly. She glanced in the direction of Harm’s
office, forcing herself not to look at her old office. But she saw it
anyway; the room was dark and she absurdly glad that whoever was now
occupying it wasn’t in it at the moment.
She knocked lightly on the doorjamb to Harm’s office. “You harangued?”
She smiled to take the sting out of it.
“I called you, if that’s what you mean.” He looked up from a stack of
messages and raised an eyebrow.
“You say potato.” She shrugged.
He dropped the stack on his desk and grabbed his cover. “Do you have
time for lunch?”
“That’s why you called, right?” She gestured to the door. “Feed me.”
“Actually, I called because,” he started, then sat down behind his desk
and motioned to the chairs in front of it, “I have to go out to the
“Oh.” She sat down heavily. “Okay.”
“I have to go home after work to pack.”
She frowned and picked at a spot on the edge of his desk. “Why did you
call me then?”
“I wanted to tell you in person,” he explained. He smiled sheepishly. “I
was worried about you when I couldn’t reach you at your apartment.”
“I’m not made of glass,” she huffed. “I was out shopping. You see me
everyday. You call every lunch hour and every night when you get back to
your apartment.” She ticked off the list on her fingers, smiling so he
would know his concern didn’t bother her.
“I know.” He shrugged. “I still worry. I’ll call as often as I can while
Her frown reappeared and deepened. She tucked her feet under her chair.
“Okay,” she said again. She paused and built red canyon walls in her
mind. “No. Wait. Maybe I’ll go away.”
He sat upright. “Go where?”
“Just a vacation,” she placated. “I was thinking of going to Sedona. I
miss it,” she explained on a sigh.
The corners of his mouth pulled into a straight line. “If you wait, I’ll
ask for leave and go with you.”
She stretched across the plateau of his desk and touched his arm. “You
just got your job back,” she reminded him. “What are the chances the
Admiral is going to give you the time off?”
“Slim to none,” he admitted grudgingly. “Mac, I don’t like this.”
Oak Creek ribboned through the sand, washing away tiny grains of the
canyon floor, deepening the chasm. She concentrated on the way the water
washed over the rocks, the way the fish slid downstream in its current.
“I think I need to go.”
“Are you coming back?” he asked warily. His hand closed over hers,
tugging slightly, pulling her closer to the front of his desk.
“Of course,” she answered immediately. “How long will you be gone?”
He shrugged. “The JAG on board had a family emergency. I’m just filling
“I’ll be back before you then,” she said. “Besides, I have a job
interview next week.”
“Really?” He tightened his grip on her hand, loosening it slightly when
she grimaced under its pressure.
“A family law firm. It’s mostly matrimonial work, but one of their
attorneys worked on VAWA. And they want to expand their adoption
department to handle foreign adoptions.” She turned her hand over and
curled her fingers against his palm. “You buy me lunch to celebrate the
interview, I’ll buy dinner when I get the job.”
“Deal.” He stood up and walked over to her. Crooking his arm, he held
his elbow out to her. As she slipped her hand around it, he frowned.
“Where’s your jacket?”
“In the car,” she sighed. At this time of year, the trees in the canyon
would be a deep golden color. She sighed again and patted his arm.
Rising onto her toes, she placed a light kiss on his cheek.
“What was that for?” His eyes were wide.
“Because you care,” she explained.
“I always did, you know.”
“Yeah,” she said softly, patting his arm and smiling a little. “I do
now.” In Arizona, it was still mid-morning and the canyon walls glowed
in the strong light.
“I thought you said you would beat me back to D.C.?” he asked. He
flipped thought the mail, weeding out circulars and junk mail from the
rapidly growing collection of bills.
“I thought you would be gone longer,” she protested.
“Apparently, it wasn’t as big of an emergency as we were all lead to
believe,” he snorted in disgust. “Most of my time was spent in transit.”
“I’m sorry,” her voice drifted through the speakerphone.
“When are you coming back?” he asked.
“I – I,” her voice faltered. “My interview was re-scheduled. I got a
different flight back.”
His hands hovered above his mail and lowered to the countertop. He held
his breath and counted to ten.
“It’s so beautiful here.” She changed the subject quickly. “I forgot how
much I loved it out here. You should see it one day, Harm. You’d love
He counted to ten again. “Are you coming back here?” he asked softly.
The conversation grew quiet. He could hear her carefully measured
breaths, the soft inhalations and shaky releases. “Are you coming back?”
“Yes,” she said softly. It sounded more like a question than an answer.
“Mac,” he said, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and
forefinger. “I can’t chase after you and bring you back.”
“I know. I don’t want you to,” she said quietly.
“I just can’t keep doing it,” he persisted.
“I’ll come back,” she promised.
“If you’re happy and you want to stay, then stay. But I can’t keep
running after you.”
“Harm,” she broke in, “I’m going to come back.”
“Alright,” he agreed. His hand hovered above the ‘end’ button, knowing
that she would begin to make her excuses and leave the conversation.
“But now I have to go,” she said. “I’ll call you later, okay?”
“Okay,” he agreed, sighing at how the conversation had deteriorated.
“Bye,” he added, but she was already gone.
The breeze caught and pulled at her exhalation, stretching it into a
sigh that drifted into the canyon. She wrapped her arms around her
thighs, tucking her forearms between her bent legs. The wind pulled
strands of hair from her ponytail and whipped them across her face.
It would be so easy to stay here. She could stay cradled in the canyon’s
walls. She could use them to build a fortress from her problems, to lock
herself up in them and never leave. It was far from D.C., far from her
troubles. They couldn’t reach her here; they were locked up in the
neutral walls of the tiny apartment where she had tried to kill herself.
Destruction was slower here. It came in deep, slow breaths of wind, in
the soft gurgle of the creek. It was a constant, wearing at the rocks
and soil, tearing at he sand. But it would be so easy to ignore it and
try to settle down.
She shook her hair back, turning her face into the wind. She had been
lying to him when she talked to him earlier. Lying by omission, but
still lying. She had thought about staying. Since the moment she’d
steered her rental car in the direction of Sedona, she’d thought about
staying. Not staying, she admitted, so much as hiding.
So, here she was. Did she stay, try to plant roots in the rocky soil and
wear slowly away, like the canyon walls? Or did she let the wind pull
She didn’t want to go back almost as much as she was homesick. She
missed her friends. She missed him. When he called, she wanted to beg
him to come out. But she couldn’t ask it anymore than he could do it.
She wanted him to see it though. She wanted him to see that there were
bright spots in her past; even at the worst times, she had had good
He was disappointed in her, she could hear it in his voice. The tired,
slightly angry tones said just as much as he didn’t say. He was
convinced she was going to run and he’d had enough of the chase.
Well, so had she. They spent so much time getting ready to run, whether
to chase or be chased, that it was no wonder they were exhausted. It was
a miracle they could recognize each other’s faces, they spend so much
time looking at the backs of their heads. She wanted to be able to face
him. She wanted to tell him that she loved him. But she was afraid of
him. Afraid that he was her last chance at that stupid fairy tale
ending. If she never told him, if he never knew, then nothing could ruin
it. She would never have to be unhappy, because she would never be
She tugged on the bottom of her jeans, ripping a string on one of the
cuffs. Wrapping the string around her finger, she watched the canyon
floor. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and waited. She waited
for something to prompt her along. For someone to make her move. It
amazed her how tired she was. Until she’d been able to sit still, she
hadn’t realized how far she’d run. She’d had enough of running away. It
was time to stop. It was time to go home.
The country was reduced to two colors: black and a glowing, creeping
orange that clumped and oozed into the darkness. It was hard to imagine
that, during the day, the tangle of lights and dark empty spaces were
cities and fields. Night had homogenized the landscape, had made it
unrecognizable from her plane.
They were circling Dulles. The plane had been turning lazy circles in
the sky waiting for clearance to land. The woman next to her was
chatting nervously, her fingers curled like claws on the armrest. Mac
could see sweat on the woman’s forehead and her face had somehow turned
pink and pale at once.
It surprised her how much she wanted the plane to land. And not only to
get away from her seatmate. She couldn’t wait to get home. All she
wanted was her own bed and to call Harm. She’d called earlier to give
him her flight information so he’d know when she would be back. He
wasn’t in, so she’d had to leave a message on his machine, and, now, she
really wanted to talk to him. She just wanted to hear his voice, to know
that he wasn’t angry with her.
“This is my first time to DC.” The woman next to her broke her chain of
“Oh?” Mac raised an eyebrow and dragged her attention away from the
“My daughter and her husband moved here a few months ago. He got
“Oh?” Mac said again, because she really wasn’t interested and because
she couldn’t think of a more original response.
“They just had a baby.” The woman released her grip on the armrest to
rummage through her purse. Despite herself, Mac watched, fascinated, as
a pile began to form on the woman’s lap. Eyeglasses, a wallet, a ticket
and boarding pass, receipts, and a checkbook were heaped on to the
woman’s legs until she found an envelope at the bottom of her purse.
“Here it is.” She waved the envelope triumphantly. “This is my grandson,
Mark.” She pointed to a baby swaddled in blue. “Isn’t he adorable?”
“He’s very cute,” Mac agreed, passing the picture back to the woman.
“Do you have any kids?” A mechanical whir signaled the lowering landing
gear and had the woman gripping the armrests again. “God,” she
confessed, abandoning her line of questioning, “I hate flying.”
“Really?” Mac questioned. “I guess I’m used to it.”
“I never would have gotten on a plane if it weren’t for my daughter.”
She smiled. “I think I would have been content to never leave home. Or,
at least not go any farther than a comfortable drive would take me. Say,
you never said, why are you going to DC?”
Mac smiled. “It’s home.”
The concourse was busy and filled with people who weren’t Mac. He
watched, arms crossed over his chest, leaning against a wall, as people
poured out of the terminal. The lines at security grew and ebbed. The
flow of humans waxed and waned. And she was late.
Rationally, he knew it wasn’t her fault. Hell, she didn’t even know he
was waiting for her. But he was still annoyed. He was tired and
frustrated after an awful day in court. The judge hadn’t ruled in his
favor once. Evidence damning his client, evidence that he had counted on
being ruled inadmissible, was now admissible. There wasn’t a hat or a
rabbit large enough to save his client; all he could do was wait and
appeal the verdict.
Her message reminded him of when he was little and used to dive into a
cold pool after a hot day playing with his friends. It was a shock. It
was a relief. She had promised that she was coming back, but there was a
part of him that hadn’t believed her. A very large part of him.
As much as he didn’t want to admit, the time while she was gone had been
good for him at first. He didn’t have to plan his schedule with her in
mind. He could go straight home after a long day without worrying that
she would be hurt by his actions. He didn’t feel the need to call her
every five minutes.
For the first time in months, he remembered what it felt like to be
single. And for the first couple of days, it had felt good. And then it
started to nag at him. Then he began to worry about whether or not she
would stay away permanently. All the times when she had run or he had
dodged her advances flashed in his mind. They played over and over again
like a bad slideshow. As the reel of bloopers and missed chances grew
longer, the more he began to wonder about her and whether, from then on,
if he would have to fly to Arizona to see her.
And then, as the worries swirled about him, sucking him into a cyclone
of doubt and fear, her voice was on his answering machine. The message
was short and to the point. It contained flight numbers and times and a
quiet explanation about catching a cab because Harriet had dropped her
off at the airport.
The screens that listed the departures and arrivals flickered and
changed as new flights took off and landed. Finally, he saw that the
listing for Phoenix had changed. Her flight had arrived. He started to
scan the crowd for dark heads.
She nearly bobbled her carry on when she saw him waiting for her. She
hadn’t called him so that he would pick her up. But she was ridiculously
glad to see him. She wanted to be a cliché. She wanted to run down the
long hallway and throw her arms around him. “Hey,” she called out as she
“Hi.” He pushed himself up off the wall. Leaning down, he kissed her
cheek and grabbed her carry-on.
“What are you doing here?”
“Picking you up?” he questioned. “Mac, I thought you were more observant
than this,” he chided.
She threaded her arm through his. “I’m glad you came.” She brushed a
strand of hair back from her face. “I wasn’t looking forward to the cab
ride,” she teased. “Or the cab fare.”
“It wasn’t a big deal.” He nudged her in the direction of the baggage
claim. “Are you hungry?”
“You’re asking me?” She pointed towards her breastbone.
“Right.” He shook his head. “I forgot who I was talking to.”
She leaned her head against his arm and sighed a little. He looked down
at her and smiled. “Tired?”
“No,” she answered quietly. “Just happy to be back.”
“I thought you were happy in Arizona.”
Her shoulder bumped his arm as she shrugged. “I was. It was really
beautiful. I’m just happy to be home.” She added in a soft voice. “I
He reached up to pat her hand. “I missed you, too.”
She tugged lightly on his elbow, pulling him to a stop. They stood in
the middle of the airport. Activity eddied around them, hovering at the
edges of their inactivity. She could hear a loud speaker paging someone.
Carts beeped, announcing their presence. She pulled her hand back and
twisted it in her other hand. “Harm, I,” she stopped and bit her lower
“What?” His voice was tired. She stuffed her hands into her coat pockets
to keep herself from smoothing away the lines on his forehead. “Are you
moving to Arizona?”
She gave into temptation and brushed a thumb over his forehead, her hand
resting against the side of his face. “No,” she said. “I’m staying.” She
stomped on the ground. Burying her face in her free hand, she mumbled,
“God, this is embarrassing, but I need to tell you this.”
“What?” he repeated his question.
She lowered her hands. “It’s just … I’m going to sound like such an
egomaniac. I swear,” she muttered under her breath, “this went so much
better in my head.”
“You practiced this in your head?” he asked amused.
She huffed. “Yes.”
“Maybe I can make this easier on you,” he suggested. “What was I doing
when you practiced?”
“You were shutting up and not making fun of me.” She glared at him. “I
love you,” she blurted the words out.
He opened his mouth and she put her fingers on his lips, covering them.
“I’m almost ready to hear it back,” she said. “But not yet.”
Pushing her hand away from his mouth, he asked, “Any idea when you will
be?” He raised an eyebrow. “Is there a timeline?”
She looked away from him, directing her gaze back to the terminal’s long
corridor. “Soon.” She raised and lowered her shoulders. “Maybe in a
“Mac,” he drawled her name. “I was kidding about the timeline.”
“Well, I wasn’t. Tell me in a month,” she insisted.
“So how about in the mean time?”
“Give me a hug?”
He pulled her into his arms and rested his head on top of hers. She
leaned against his chest and smiled as she felt him kiss the top of her
head. She might never be Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty and he would
probably never be Prince Charming. But if this is how Dorothy felt when
she returned to Kansas, then fairy tale endings were just unnecessary.
She didn’t need the birds to sing or the stars to twinkle brightly. She
just needed him.
Once upon a time, long ago and far away from Washington, D.C., a little
girl sat under a dark sky watching the stars above her head and made a
wish. Hundreds of miles away, a boy, older in years but not experience,
faced west, as if staring hard enough could make a whole continent
appear on the horizon, and wished. With backwards glances at the
structures behind them, lit from within to ward off the night, the boy
and girl wished for a concept, for something they were both too young to
understand except in its simplest forms.
The boy looked out at the dark ocean and asked for the family he once
knew. The little girl wanted the family that she had always dreamed
about. That night, after wishing and wishing, they would both go to bed,
still hopeful that the stars had the power to bring them what they
wanted. When they woke up the next morning and saw that everything was
still the same, they would believe a little less, their hearts would be
a little harder, and their dreams a little farther beyond their grasps.
For years, they would repeat this ritual until time and age made them
give it up. They gave up wishing, because it only ever brought
disappointment. And then one day, they met. Only in fairy tales, in
bedtime stories that parents tell their children to protect them from
the monsters that could still be warded off by nightlights and hope,
would the boy and the girl, now a man and a woman, fall in love
immediately. Only in fairy tales would they be able to fix each other
quickly and not add to their lists of disappointments.
But this wasn't a fairy tale, it didn't resemble the bedtime stories
parents murmured to sleepy children. And the man wasn't even allowed to
tell the woman he loved her for another two weeks. It was frustrating
because she hadn't set any rules for herself, only for him. When they
hung up the phone at night, she whispered it as her good bye. She
sneaked the words into their conversations and he wasn't allowed to say
Which was worse, he wanted to know, suspecting he loved her when it was
against the rules, or knowing he loved her and not being allowed to tell
her? The effect was the same; he was stymied and he hated it. He hated
her time line and he hated that he was still a little angry with her.
He was angry that she could have been so selfish. He didn't understand
completely her reasons; he never would. But he understood that her pain
had been too big for her to see around it, too big to see the
alternatives. There were times when she grew silent and pulled away and
he wanted to shake her. To tell her to open her eyes and see him
standing in front of her.
But it was getting better. As she got better, the anger diminished. It
hadn't disappeared, but it had lessened. And he knew, just as he knew
that he loved her, that when she let them say the words, the little
spark of anger would be extinguished, gone in a little puff of smoke and
a soft sizzle.
On the night before Thanksgiving, a cold front slid down from the north
on an icy wind and rain. She curled up on his couch, watching as he
peeled sweet potatoes for tomorrow's dinner at Bud and Harriet's.
"Why did you volunteer to make those again?" She wrinkled her nose in
distaste as she crossed the apartment.
"Because they're good for you," he said patiently. They'd had this
conversation five or six times already.
"But they're orange," Mac said predictably. She eased onto a stool and
watched the peels fall into a small pile on the cutting board.
He set the potato and peeler down and sighed. "You eat oranges and
carrots," he pointed out.
"That's different." She waved a hand in front of her, brushing aside his
She grinned sheepishly. "I - uh - I like them?"
"You need to eat more vegetables," he said firmly, resisting the urge to
tell her how ridiculous she was being.
"I do," she protested. "You make me."
He picked up the vegetable again. "It's only because I love you." The
words slipped out of his mouth and hovered between them. His grip on the
"Huh," she said on a shaky sigh. "I was wondering how long it would take
before you said it."
He raised his head. "You told me I couldn't." The spark that had been
smoldering flared. "What the-" He choked on the words. He wanted to ask
why she had made him wait. If this was some sort of test he didn't know
he was taking.
She raised a hand quickly, thumbing away tears before gesturing for him
to stop. "No, no." She shook her head. "For once, I know what you're
going to say and I swear I wasn't."
"You weren't what?"
"Playing a game or testing you."
"Then what was it?"
She shook her head again and blinked. "I don't know. Honestly? I thought
I needed the time." She blew out a breath and studied the ceiling. "I
needed to like me again before I could believe you could. But mostly? I
"Scared of what?"
"You know," she insisted.
"Of it all going badly?" At her nod, he said, "Me too."
She rounded the island and wrapped her arms around his waist, leaning
her forehead between his shoulder blades. "I'm glad you didn't stick to
the time line."
He patted her hands. "Me too," he repeated. Grabbing her forearm, he
pulled her around until she stood in front of him. He cupped her face in
his hands. "I do love you."
"I love you, too." She sniffled, nodding a little to emphasize her
He kissed her softly, moving a hand from her face to her neck.
"Harm," she said quietly when they pulled back. Her hand curled lightly
over his wrist to keep him close.
"I know." He shushed her with his free hand.
She pulled the hand away from her mouth. "This doesn't fix everything
"I know," he said. He wanted to ignore her statement, ignore the little
hurt it caused, but he couldn't.
"But it makes it a lot better," she smiled.
He smiled back. "Good."
Maybe, one day, years from now, on a night like this one, when their
children asked for a bedtime story, they would read them the fairy tales
they didn't believe in. Or, maybe, they would tell them about a little
boy and a little girl who made wishes and hoped they would come true.
And maybe, on that rainy night, they could tell their children they had.
Those were just maybes and, for now, it was just the two of them. And
outside, the wind swirled and shook the windowpanes. It whistled around
the corners of the building. The rain formed icy puddles and the storm
drains choked and gurgled with water and leaves, but, inside, it was
warm and dry and that was all that mattered.