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Classification Vignette, Romance (H/M), Angst
Length Approximately 3,600 words, 5 pages (8.5 x 11")
Spoilers Through Adrift II
Rating GS
Summary Post season nine, Mic Brumby returns for a visit to DC and is confronted with the reality that Mac has been able to move on with her life since he left.

 

 

I’m not even sure why I’m here.  I swear I must be a glutton for punishment.  I’ve told myself so many times that I am completely over that part of my life that the words have become cliché.  But when Commander Manetti invited me to the cookout, I found myself accepting before I could sensor the words coming out of my mouth.    Since I was new in town, she had explained when asking if I wanted to go with her to the barbeque at Bud and Harriet’s house.  If she knew who I was, what we had been through, I know she would not have extended the invitation – not if she was any kind of friend to her co-workers and she does not strike me as another Loren Singer. 
 
But she had come along after I had left and had obviously not heard of me, not even blinking when introduced to me by the SECNAV, who assigned her to assist in a review of our countries’ mutual defense treaty.  Although I was gratified not to find myself the object of intense scrutiny given previous events, there was a part of me that was bothered …. by what exactly?  By not being talked about by my former co-workers, my exit picked apart by gossips and rumor mongers?  Maybe there’s a part of me that needs to know that I have not been forgotten.  Although maybe that would not be such a good thing, especially if what happened has not been forgiven.
 
But here I am, nursing a beer and trying to remain as unobtrusive as possible.  A couple of people have looked my way and done double-takes, but other than that, I have been left alone.   I know that it is too much to hope for that you will not see me, as I never have been good at fading into the background.   Even if you don’t notice me yourself, someone else is sure to see and tell you, although so far, no one seems to want to be the first to comment on my appearance.  I guess I wouldn’t want to upset a Marine either.  But what about when the inevitable happens?   I’d like to think that I can simply say ‘hello’ and wish you well, but I don’t know if I can be that noble.  Now that I’m here and I know that you are here somewhere, I wonder if I am not as over our time together as I claimed to be.
 
I’m starting to wonder if maybe I would just be better off leaving when I glimpse you through the crowd.   You’re with three other women – Harriet, Carolyn and another older woman who I don’t recognize – and you’re tossing your head back and laughing at something just said, the sunlight catching the highlights in the soft curls framing your face.  My fingers twitch, longing to bury themselves in those soft tresses.  The new hairstyle enhances your beauty and I wonder why you never wore your hair like that when we were together.  Back then, even off-duty, your hair was usually styled in a variation of the simple military-correct style you wore while in uniform.  Now, you look more casual, more carefree than I’ve ever known you to be and I feel a pang of regret, even anger, that I try to bury. 
 
Did you ever lay awake nights, going over and over in your mind what you might have done different, wondering if there was something that might have turned the tide in our relationship for the better?  Did you truly regret that I would not respond to your tearful entreaty to stay or did you quickly shrug and come to the conclusion that it really was all for the best?  Was my presence in your life and bed one that you missed or did you spare not so much as a backward glance at our relationship?  Did you shed our life together like an old winter coat at the first sign of spring or wrap it around yourself, burrowing deep to ward off the chill and counting ‘might have beens’?
 
Intellectually, I know that it was too much to hope for that time would have stood still and that you would be the same tearful woman I turned away from at the airport three years ago.  You are too strong a woman to let yourself wallow in self-pity and I’m sure that even if you had regrets, you would have quickly brushed away your tears and none but you would have known of them.  But this carefree joy and serenity – this I never expected.  Do you even think of me anymore?  Do you remember?
 
I do.  I remember the first moment I saw you in the airport.  I thought you were the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, although you always seemed so unaware of your own beauty.  I’m not really sure if it was that moment, seeing you chagrined at embarrassing yourself, that I decided I wanted you for my own.  Then when you turned me away from your door, the first time I showed up unannounced after making up an excuse to wheedle your address out of Bud, it only increased my desire.  You were a challenge, one that I knew I would eventually overcome. 
 
Overcome it I did – or was that always just an illusion?  This is a you I’ve never seen before and I wonder just how much of yourself you kept locked away.   Did I ever seen the real you?  Has anyone before now?
 
Then the crowd between us parts just enough so that I catch more than simply a glimpse of your lush curves and my heart rises into my throat, threatening to choke me.  I now know the reason for your obvious contentment and it’s becoming harder to bury the regret that once upon a time threatened to overwhelm me and is now coming back to crash over me like a tidal wave.  Only throwing myself into my work had lessened the symptoms, while you apparently moved on with your life.  You obviously revel in your circumstance.  Instead of modestly concealing, your clothes mold to you like a second skin, displaying your new figure for all to see.  But it’s not just that.  Your entire being telegraphs your state for all to see.
 
I had wondered what it would be like.  I imagined you like this so many times when we were together, a part of my dreams for us, and I find my dreams did not do the reality justice.  I’ve heard it said that this can be beautiful, even sexy, but I’ve never experienced that firsthand until now.  You truly are radiant, as if this was something you were born for.  You turn slightly and I catch a glimpse of your rounded bronze belly through an opening at the bottom of your blouse as the breeze catches the white fabric below the last button.  I remember the feel of your skin beneath my fingertips and I wonder if it would be any different now.  You were always so soft, so supple beneath my touch.  I should be the one sharing that with you, reveling in it with you.  How proud I would have been to show off my beautiful, pregnant bride.  How much I would have loved the child we would have created together.
 
Although it is the last thing I want to think about, my curiosity gets the better of me and I seek out your hand.  I have to know.  After a moment, your left hand comes to rest on top of your belly – I have to hold back the sudden urge to be the one whose hand is resting there, feeling the pulse of new life - and I see it, the sparkling band on your finger which marks you as someone else’s.  Then, unbidden, the question ‘who’ comes to my mind.  I have my suspicions of who it is and my hopes that it is not, but I can’t determine yet which one will win out.  I surreptitiously glance around, but the one my eyes are seeking out is nowhere to be seen at the moment.  I wish I could be confident that means anything.  I know I would never leave your side if you were still mine, but he’s not me and I’m not him.  In the end, that’s what it came down to, wasn’t it?
 
No matter how hard I tried, how many battles I won, I could never take his place in your heart, could I?  The war had been lost even before the first skirmish.  I’ve never understood your relationship, even when it seemed that everything I wanted was firmly within my grasp and you were mine.   You seemed so much closer than the mere friends you claimed to be.  When we first met, he was so protective of you that I was sure you were already taken.  Well, that was true, wasn’t it?  No matter how much either of you refused to talk about it, you were always his and he was always yours, forever entwined.  Eventually, even I was forced to admit what you wouldn’t admit yourselves.
 
But even when you both swore you were only friends, there were those times when your relationship seemed to go so far beyond friendship it was as if you shared one consciousness.  What was it I heard him say when the two of you returned from the Barants Sea – ‘I always know where you are’?  Even if events had not transpired the way they did, would I have been able to compete with that in the long run?  The hints I saw of your relationship, even then, was what I thought we should have had ourselves.  But you didn’t have enough room in your heart to feel for both of us that way and it ended up being me who had to give way.
 
People pass between us, blocking you from my view, but I hear your laughter ring out again.  I want to say that the sound is familiar, but it hurts to know that it is unknown to me.  I cannot recall ever hearing that musical melody even once in all the months we were together.  Have you really changed all that much since we’ve been together?  Or is it the real you that I’m now seeing, the one I shared my life with for all those months a mere illusion?  Are you really happier now than you ever were with me?
 
The obstruction between us clears and suddenly, he is walking up to you.  You turn, almost as if you sense his presence behind you for it doesn’t look from here as if he has said a word, your smiling dazzling as you greet him and the band tightens around my heart.  I try to remember if I’ve ever seen that same expression, but the memory remains elusive, trapped behind a fog of ‘could have beens’.  Then he leans down to kiss you and his hand – highlighted by a sparkling gold band as yours is – slips through the opening of your blouse to rest on your belly, a shockingly intimate gesture in so public a setting.   When we were together and he was with another, you both seemed to begrudge myself and Renee as little as a hug in public, yet there he is, caressing your body with his hand and his eyes …. and even his heart, loathe as I am to admit it.  The expression his face …. his joy seems to match yours, radiating out to touch all around you.
 
As much as you appear to be, he seems as a completely different person than the arrogant aviator I’d competed with in and out of the courtroom.  Once again, I wonder if I’m now seeing the real people behind the façades born of military protocol – or was it the result of something else?  Were you just playing roles for all of us until you finally managed to pick your way through the wreckage of past relationships to each other?
 
A part of me had hoped that the two of you would still be stuck in the same sort of limbo which had kept you apart before and which had allowed me to move in, and I hate myself for the thought.  I was the one who finally made the decision to walk away and in my head, I know it was the right decision.  That much is obvious from just looking at you now, seeing both of you so completely at peace with yourselves and each other and your new life together.  I just wish my heart would listen as it is reminded of that in excruciating Technicolor.
 
He’s now standing behind you, his hand still resting comfortably on your belly as the two of you converse with your friends.  You lean back against him, your head resting against his shoulder as his hand rubs circles over your belly.  The others are looking at the two of you, smiling indulgently at the display.  I even notice the Admiral glance your way, shaking his head and chuckling at the sight you two make.  All too often, you slipped away from me in public, always aware of propriety.  But now you think nothing of public displays of affection, of showing off your love.
 
I take another sip of my beer, trying to wash away the bitter thought that nobody ever looked at us like that.  We were a couple for a year and a half and I cannot remember ever being on the receiving end of a look like that, the one that says ‘you have such a perfect life together’.  In the dark moments, when I despaired of ever getting you to agree to marry me, I wondered if everyone didn’t think ‘they’ll just be together until ….’?  If they were, they were right, weren’t they?  I left because I finally saw what you wouldn’t admit to me, him or probably even yourself.  I finally admitted to myself that I couldn’t live with coming in perpetual second place in your heart.
 
He leans down to kiss you again, but fortunately, I’m distracted from the sight by a voice at my side.  “Sir,” Tracy Manetti says, “perhaps you’d like me to introduce you around?  I’d hate to think I invited you here just to have you stand off in a corner of the yard somewhere.” 
 
I rather like this corner, but I don’t say that aloud.  From here, I can watch without being drawn into a potential quagmire, at least for now.  I shouldn’t be so drawn to this, but it’s like a moth to a flame.  Maybe I need to see this to really settle things in my own heart.  “No worries,” I say, my glance drawn to you again.  He’s no longer at your side and I manage to resist the urge to seek him out among the party goers.  It’s not easy telling myself that it doesn’t matter.  That door was closed a long time ago.  Would that it could stay bolted shut, however.  “I was an exchange officer a while back, so I know most of the people here.”
 
“I didn’t realize that,” she says.  She lowers her voice, as if sharing a confidence, making an assumption of a shared circumstance.   “I didn’t fit in for the longest time around here.  Most people assumed that I was the SECNAV’s spy because of his friendship with my Daddy, so they seemed to go out of their way not to tell me things.”
 
I know what she means.  I was never thought to be a spy, but I now wonder if I really ever was a part of the JAG ‘family’.  Even if I was, I have no illusions about my place in it now, given the way I left.  I wonder how many of them, if there was no consideration of making a very public scene, would be ready to take me to task for the way things ended up.   Illogical, but not a single one of them would probably blame you, even if they were always aware that you were simply settling for what you could have rather than reaching for what was just beyond your grasp.  Even I find it hard to do that myself, instead cursing myself for a fool for trying to hang on for so long, for being so blind.  “They are a close-knit group,” I shrug noncommittally.
 
“It works for them,” she says.  “They’re like a family – well, literally are family in a few cases ….”  I seek you out again.  He’s still not there and now Bud has joined the group, walking with a slight limp as he balances a baby on his hip.  Instead of reaching towards her mother standing right there, chubby little arms reach out to you and you lift her out of her father’s arms, burying your face in blond curls as you hold her against you.
 
You are going to be a wonderful mother, says the look of serenity on your face as you hold the child close.  This is what life is about, your expression says, the wonder and joy of life new.  If you are this way with the children of your friends, what will you be like in a few months when the new life you hold in your arms is your own?  I can only wonder and if past imaginings proved inadequate to the reality of your expectant state, how can I begin to find the words to describe what you will be in a few short weeks or months.
 
Could it have been like that for us?  I want to think so, but the tiny voice of reality is mocking me, pointing out how little we had to build on.  What was at the basis of our relationship anyway?  We were friends, but as much as I wanted it, I was never your best friend.  And it wasn’t just him.  Now that I look back, I think I was towards the end of the line of people you would go to.  Well, you might have opened up to me before Lieutenant Singer, but that’s not saying much.
 
Work?  You were a superior officer at the end of my time there, so that created an automatic separation, which is what I told myself caused you to pull away when I tried to pursue you back then.  Then when I was a civilian, you were never happy with what I was doing.  First, you seemed to think I was working with the wrong kind of people, then you accused me of blindsiding you when I went into business for myself.  If I had asked, would you have ever joined me in my endeavor?  I can’t help but wonder if the answer would not have just been ‘no’, but an emphatic ‘hell, no’.  Even if you had harbored a secret desire to try out civilian life again, would you really have ever left him?
 
What did we really ever do together?  You like Shakespeare, while I was more enthralled by a night at the fights.  I was an action-adventure kind of guy while you were more a drama kind of lady.  It was so hard to find common ground even when we both had free time to be together, which was so infrequent.  If you weren’t out of town on a case, I was overloaded trying to get my firm off the ground.  I tried to figure out once how much quality time we had spent together, just the two of us, but I quickly gave up, discouraged.
 
He’s back now, handing you a drink while he takes the baby from your arms, blowing raspberries on her belly as she giggles.  More laughter from everyone and I can just imagine the talk among you now.  ‘You are going to be such wonderful parents.’  ‘Aren’t you anxious to have one of your own?’  For a brief moment, I catch a glimpse of what is to come.
 
Could that have ever been me?  I like children and wanted my own so much with you, but I’ve never really been around them that often.  I visited Bud and Harriet when I lived here, but it was always you AJ wanted to play with, always you he wanted to show his newest toy off to.  And you would laugh and wander off with AJ’s little hand clasped in yours as you shorted your stride to match his while I would exchange details of my latest cases with Bud.  It was almost as if even he knew that I was just an outsider looking in, not really a part of the inner circle.
 
But it’s not me sharing all this with you.  It’s you and him, as it always had been and always will be.  He’s the one who apparently now worships you as you deserve to be worshipped.  When you’re restless, he provides a calming presence in the storm.  He shares your laughter and your tears, your hopes and your dreams.  He shares your entire life.
 
When I first arrived here, all I could think was that could have been me, sharing all that with you.  The more I watch the two of you, the truth becomes so much clearer.  It never could have been.

 

The End

 
 
   

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