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Shadows from the Past Part 4
Mac was basking in the pervasive warmth of Harm’s strong arm draped lovingly across her and his large body pressed up snuggly beside her, when she was overcome by the feeling she was being watched. Opening one eye, the sight of a very quiet little girl standing against the wall, tightly hugging a dinosaur book brought an immediate smile to Mac’s face.
“Morning,” Mac mumbled.
“Good morning,” Chris answered meekly.
Wondering why Chris was standing there, Mac supposed she could be hungry, or she could simply not want to be alone. Shifting to sit up, Mac was reminded of her very naked state when she felt Harm’s arm tighten possessively across her bare abdomen.
Pulling the sheet snugly up to her chin, “Uh, would you like some breakfast?” By now both of Mac’s eyes were clearly open as her brain scrambled for a way out of this slightly embarrassing predicament.
Silently, Chris nodded her head yes.
“Okay.” Mac started to move again, only to be interrupted by the sound of Harm mumbling.
“Stay... too early... don’t need food...need you.”
Great! Harm picked one hell of a time to become a sleep talker.
“You take the book and go wait for me on the sofa. I’m going to brush my teeth and be right out.” Mac nodded her head yes, hoping the child would agree without an argument.
Though somewhat hesitant, Chris nodded her head as well, and scurried out the bedroom door.
“Okay, Papa!” Mac rolled over and smacked Harm in the shoulder. “Your daughter is up, and she’s hungry.”
Harm was half asleep, and very little of what Mac had said was registering. Flinging his leg over her, he hooked his knee around hers pulling her in closer.
“Not now! Harm, we have to get out of bed. Chris is waiting.” Wishing she didn’t have to push him away, Mac squirmed out of his grip. “Let’s go, sailor. Up and at’em.” Hopping out of bed, she quickly threw on her pajamas, brushed her teeth, and headed out the door. Hesitating momentarily under the frame, she wondered if she’d had the good sense to close the door last night.
Finding Chris waiting patiently on the couch, Mac smiled to herself. She really was a very good little girl.
“How do pancakes sound?” Mac clapped her hands enthusiastically, pleased to see Chris’ face light up. “Good. Do you want to help?” Holding out her hand, Mac and Chris headed towards the kitchen.
A few minutes later Harm strolled groggily into the kitchen. Perched in the doorway, he silently watched his two ladies working on breakfast. Chris stood on a chair in front of the counter, while Mac subtly assisted from behind the chair.
“Did you sleep okay?” Mac poured milk into the bowl and handed Chris the spoon.
“Uh huh. It was better with the light on.”
Pushing the chair Chris was standing on a little closer to the counter, Mac helped her get a better grip on the spoon. “I’m glad. You’re doing a good job.”
“I love pancakes. Grandpa says they were Mommy’s favorite too when she was little. Does the Commander like pancakes?”
“I’m sure he does.” Mac hadn’t noticed Harm standing behind them, still in the doorway.
“Do you think he likes me?”
“I’m sure he does.” Mac wondered what was on her little mind.
“If Grandma is gone, does that mean the Commander is going to take care of me now?”
Mac’s eyes flew open. How could someone so young be so perceptive? More importantly, what was she supposed to say now?
From the doorway, Harm’s heart skipped a beat. It wasn’t fair to leave Mac answering the tough questions.
Stepping up next to Mac, he kissed her softly on the lips before bending slightly and kissing Chris on the top of the head. “Would you like me to?”
Shrugging, Chris looked at Mac quickly before looking back at the bowl.
“Well, no matter what, I will always be here if you need me.” Harm wondered if there was any way she could possibly understand.
“That’s what Grandma used to say, only now she’s gone, and I think Grandpa misses her. Do you like pancakes?”
“I most certainly do.” Harm was slightly taken aback by the quick change of subject, but then again, she was only four. He was probably taking her question more seriously than she was. Maybe it was best to drop it for now. “I hope you’re making plenty. I worked up quite an appetite last night.” Harm winked mischievously at Mac.
After breakfast, Mac got a big bubble bath going and left Chris playing while she and Harm sat in the living room drinking coffee.
“How much do you think she knows?” Harm set his cup on the coffee table.
“It’s hard to say. She’s pretty smart, and seems to have good instincts, but she’s only four. Well, practically five.”
“That’s another thing. It’s only a few weeks until her birthday. We should probably do something, get her something.”
“One thing at a time, Papa,” Mac chuckled.
“Mac what am I going to do?” Harm leaned back on the sofa.
“I really don’t know.”
“She’s afraid to be alone with me.”
“That’s not true.” Mac dropped her hand on Harm’s leg.
“She goes to you first. She has since day one. I think the only reason she came to me last night was because she couldn’t see you. When she was frightened by Abby, it wasn’t me she turned to. It was you. When she was so happy with the slide, it wasn’t me or even her grandfather she ran to. It was you. And last night would have probably been a total fiasco if you hadn’t agreed to stay.” A small grin tugged at one side of his mouth, not fitting the seriousness of the subject at all.
“What are you grinning at?” Mac frowned curiously.
“Last night.” His grin spread to the other side of his mouth.
“Oh.” Mac’s grin instantly matched his.
“I love you, Mac.” Harm reached for her hand and pulled her closer to him.
“I love you, too.”
“I need a house.”
“What?” Of all the things she’d expected Harm to say next, that wasn’t one of them.
“I need a house. Mom was right. I need someplace for Chris to be comfortable with, someplace big enough for the three of us.”
“The three of us?” Mac’s stomach was doing early morning calisthenics.
“Yes, the three of us. Marry me, Mac?”
Gaping open mouthed like a fish, Mac sat up straight, and shifted away from Harm. He had been more clear of late about his intentions, but she hadn’t expected this, not yet, not so soon. Finally closing her mouth and swallowing hard, she fought the twinge of doubt that crept up. Was he really asking because of her or because of Chris? Did it really matter? They’d been fighting this thing for years, long before Jordan, before Chris. What was the matter with her? Why was she always looking for a reason to break them apart?
“Yes,” she heard her voice reply weakly.
Dragging her back in his arms, he kissed her with all the love and devotion he had. “Now. Today.” His lips continued to caress and blend with hers.
“Harm.” Mac pulled away from his hungry embrace. Resting her forehead against his, she took a deep, calming breath. Completely awed that he’d want her to be his wife so badly, Mac’s fingers lovingly ran a trail down the side of his face before dropping to take hold of his hand.
“Firstly, we’d need a license, and it’s Sunday. Last time I looked, city hall isn’t open on Sundays. Secondly, your mom and a large handful of friends would shoot you if we just ran off and got married, and lastly, there are a lot more important issues to deal with about Chris first.”
“Okay. Compromise. We’ll talk wedding plans later. Today, let’s go house hunting. We can take Chris and let her help us pick out a house.”
Laughing loudly she agreed, “Okay, we’ll go house hunting, sailor. I’ll go get Chris out of the bath, and you check the paper for any open houses today.” Shaking her head as she walked away, Mac couldn’t stop chuckling. She really did love that man with everything she was, even if he probably was crazy.
Chris was having a great time running through all the empty houses. For the most part, Mac kept looking at the size of the rooms and the amount of sunlight, and Harm examined the floorboards and ceiling cracks. So far, the one house Mac loved with lots of light, Harm merely grumbled at all the termite damage. Another house that Harm almost gushed over the updated kitchen and thermal windows, Mac fussed about how every room was only 12 x 12. Chris didn’t seem to be very partial to any house in particular. She approached each one with the enthusiasm of an oversized doll house.
Heading back to the Roberts’ house to retrieve Harm’s wallet that had somehow fallen out of his pocket undetected the day before, Mac spotted a house for sale by owner.
“Shall we stop for one more?” she shrugged at Harm.
“Is it open?”
“Yeah, the sign says till 5pm. It’s only 4:37.” Mac read the quickly approaching yard signs.
“Works for me.” Pulling up in front of the pale yellow, three story house, Harm shifted into park and leaned across Mac to take a quick peek through the window. “It looks nice enough,” he nodded.
Watching his eyebrows wiggle approvingly, Mac couldn’t help but smile to herself. How was it that he could always wrap her heart around his little finger with the mere motion of an eyebrow?
Barely in the front door, they could see down the hall to the bright kitchen, through the wall of glass doors, and more importantly, to the huge wooden swing set in the backyard. It wasn’t as large as what the Robert’s had just installed, but it was still an impressive structure. Harm and Mac glanced at each other sideways as Chris made a beeline for the patio doors.
“Chris, honey, stay here with us,” Harm called to his daughter just as she reached the kitchen. All the other houses had been vacant so he’d allowed her free roam. This home was still occupied, and he didn’t want her accidentally disrupting anything.
An attractive middle aged blonde woman popped her head around the corner. “It’s perfectly safe if she’d like to play outside.”
Harm turned fully to face Mac. Shrugging at her with one shoulder lightly, “I suppose it would be okay.”
“I had that installed when we bought the house. My son swore to me he would play in that fort every day. I should have known better. It was over ten years before I could afford to replace the floor in the family room.” The attractive woman shook her head at no one in particular, holding the door open for Chris.
“How long have you lived here?” Harm walked towards the kitchen.
“Almost fifteen years. I hate to sell it. Always thought my grandkids would be visiting me here. That’s why we’ve maintained the swing set. I can only hope someone will eventually put it to good use. I shouldn’t complain too much, though, my daughter and her friends did enjoy the swings.” Closing the door and taking a step sideways, the owner of the home watched Harm’s and Mac’s expressions as they scanned the kitchen. There had been quite a few people traipsing through her home today. Most were just people killing time with an afternoon outing. A few were serious buyers, one or two who seemed interested, but there was something about this family that made Marjorie feel good. She loved her home and had hoped that whoever bought it would love it as much as she did.
“You’re sure she’ll be okay?” Harm asked wanting to look around further but afraid to leave Chris unsupervised.
“The yard is fenced, the swing set is pretty much childproof, and I’m sure by now Contessa is on duty,” Marjorie smiled.
“Contessa?” Mac queried.
“Our German Shepherd, Contessa Manana. I’m willing to guess, without looking, that she’s sitting under the fort watching your daughter on the swings.” Crossing her arms and her ankles, Marjorie leaned back against the wall and waited as Harm and Mac glanced out the window, a silly grin spreading across their faces. “Told you.” Marjorie laughed proudly. “Tessa helped raise four kids. I think she misses the younger ones.”
Feeling somewhat reassured, Harm stepped into the dining room. Checking the corners carefully for cracks, and the vents for any signs of difficulties, Harm was startled when Mac grabbed his arm tightly.
“What?” he whispered.
“Chris isn’t afraid of dogs, is she?” A look of total panic washed over Mac’s face. Not waiting for an answer, she turned on her heel and rushed to the backyard. Harm following closer than her shadow.
Not sure what had frightened the young couple, Marjorie scrambled out from where she had been trying to watch inconspicuously, curious as to what had happened.
Mac was halfway down the back steps when she spotted Chris on the ground not far in front of her. It took a few minutes before she was able to decipher the tangle of fur and child enough to recognize the loud shrills were laughter not tears. Contessa was on her back, all four paws up to the wind. Chris was rubbing and scratching the dog’s tummy, laughing hilariously at the one rear paw that was beating against the ground with the same rhythm that gave Bambi’s loveable rabbit friend the name Thumper.
“What happened?” Marjorie asked, slightly alarmed by the couple’s reaction.
“Nothing. Sorry to have worried you.” Mac didn’t feel like explaining to a total stranger why neither she nor Harm knew enough about this child to know if being left alone with a large dog would be a problem. “Let’s just finish looking at the house,” she nodded awkwardly at Harm.
Strolling more quickly through the house than they might have otherwise, both still managed to take note of what a spacious, comfy home it was. The Master bedroom in particular was unusually large for an older home.
“We decided we needed a haven with four kids underfoot.” A soft voice carried from the hallway. “It used to have a sun porch, but we incorporated it into the room ten years ago. That’s why we have walk in closets. The bathroom was already fairly large, we simply updated it to our liking.” The more Marjorie watched this couple walking about, the more she liked them. The only thing she hadn’t been able to figure out was why neither of them wore a wedding ring.
“If I may be so bold, why are you selling?” Harm asked.
“My oldest child decided to go to the University of Texas in Austin. Unknown to most people, it’s one of the top fifteen universities in the world, but the tuition is much more affordable than Stanford or an East Coast school. The other three kids followed suit. Now I have three children living in or around Austin. My youngest graduates next year, and shows no signs of wanting to move home. The real clincher is I have my first two grandbabies due in the next few months and both daughters bought new houses in Texas.”
“I see,” Mac smiled.
“Texas hill country isn’t a bad place to retire. I understand Sandra Bullock lives there.” Marjorie rolled her eyes laughing quietly.
Marjorie chatted a little more about Texas and gave Harm and Mac some additional information on the house as they walked back to the kitchen. Chris was still playing happily with the dog. Harm wasn’t quite sure who was chasing whom. Either way, he hated to break up the fun.
“Chris, it’s time to go. Your grandfather is probably wondering where we went,” Harm called out into the yard and waited momentarily for Chris to join them. He thanked Marjorie for her time, took a sales sheet off the counter top and the three headed off to their next stop.
“Did you see the dog?” Chris asked enthusiastically.
“Uh huh,” Harm nodded.
“Grandma didn’t like dogs. Grandpa tried to talk her into a puppy once at the county fair. Did you see her foot thumping? Just like Thumper,” Chris giggled and carried on with tales of the dog and her grandmother. She stayed in the car with Mac telling her all about her exciting backyard adventures while Harm quickly popped in and out of the Roberts’.
By the time they reached her grandfather, Chris still hadn’t run out of stories about the dog. Harm couldn’t ignore the overwhelming urge to see her squeal with delight over her own dog. Suddenly house hunting didn’t seem like such a daunting task after all, at least not compared to making a four year old happy. Harm had so much to work out, and he still hadn’t figured out when or how to tell her the truth. Damn, Jordan!
“Great timing. Dinner’s on the table.” Ray kissed Chris hello and nudged her towards the dining room. “You can stay?” Not waiting for an answer, he turned from Harm and Mac, leading the way. “How’d it go?”
“Fine. At least, I think so,” Harm chuckled, thinking Ray would have made a good CO. Somehow refusing his request felt as though they might be disobeying a direct order. Mac smiled in agreement.
“I’m thinking of buying a house,” Harm continued. “I realized that my apartment isn’t really suitable for a little girl, and the sooner I find something, the better. That’s why we’re late. We stopped to look at a few places.”
Ray’s sister and brother-in-law were already seated at the table and helping Chris settle in. Chris hadn’t stopped talking yet.
“Her name’s Contessa, and her tail is so soft, and her one foot shakes just like Thumper!” Chris reported happily to her aunt.
Looking up at Harm, Shelly Stevens grinned. “Sounds like everyone had a good time.” Turning back to face Chris, “Did you like staying with the Commander?”
“Uh huh, but I fell asleep on the Colonel’s couch. I was a little scared when it was so dark and I had to go potty, but I found the Commander, and he showed me where it was. Then he turned on the kitchen light so I wouldn’t be scared again. The Colonel and I got to make pancakes for breakfast. The Commander loves pancakes just as much as you said mommy did.” Glancing at her grandfather, Chris paused a moment to take a bite of food, unaware of the silly grins on all the adults faces at her youthful exuberance.
“I liked the Colonel’s house. She has nice cowboy pajamas. Can I have cowboy pajamas too, Grandpa?”
“Well, if we can find some in your size, I don’t see why not.” Ray was delighted with how everything was working out, and yet, at the same time his heart was slowly breaking at the realization that these moments with his granddaughter would soon be fewer and farther between.
“It’s okay if we don’t. I can always sleep without anything like the Colonel.” Chris took another bite of food.
Harm’s eyes flew open wide, while Mac on the other hand closed hers tightly willing away what she just heard.
A heavy silence fell on the room making it almost impossible to breathe, never mind think.
Looking suddenly puzzled, Chris asked, “How come you had them on when you and the Commander got up to turn on the light and tuck me in, but you didn’t have them on when I came into your room before breakfast? Were they itchy? I don’t want them if they’re itchy?”
Mac’s eyes were open now, and she was positive her face was beet red. She had absolutely no idea what to say, and was horrified at the thought that Ray might think she and Harm were blatantly carrying on in front of his young granddaughter.
“Well...” Mac turned to Harm, too embarrassed to face the other’s at the table.
“Um...” Harm added.
“No one likes to sleep in itchy pajamas,” Mrs. Stevens chimed in, thoroughly amused at Harm and Mac’s obvious discomfort. “Maybe we should just stay with your Cinderella nightie?”
“Do you wear nighties, too?” Chris turned to Mac.
Still searching for her voice, Mac finally found the nerve to look up. Noticing the sly grin on Mrs. Stevens’ face, she heard herself answer, “Sometimes, honey. Sometimes.”
Harm was carefully studying Ray’s expression. He was stone-faced and serious. It was apparent to Harm that Ray hadn’t found the same amusement at Chris’ indiscreet commentary as the Stevens’ had.
“Did you sleep in your pants, too? Or did you put them on for breakfast like the Colonel?”
Harm didn’t think this conversation could get any more embarrassing. Boy, was he wrong!
“Usually, I sleep in shorts, but it’s not polite to let other people see what you sleep in, so I put my pants on for breakfast.” It wasn’t a lie. He usually did sleep in his boxers. He just didn’t see the need to explain to everyone why he wasn’t wearing them last night.
“I guess that’s why you held the sheet up so high? Do you sleep in shorts too?” The last question was directed at Mac.
Mortified, all Mac could do was nod her head and mumble, “Sometimes.” Could this conversation go down hill any further? Suddenly a rush of panic shot through her. Good Lord, what if she hadn’t closed the door before tucking Chris in. What if the little girl heard or, God forbid, had seen more than she should have? This conversation could be only the tip of the iceberg. God help her, Mac had completely lost her appetite and was close to losing what little she had just eaten.
“Sweetie, we shouldn’t talk about what people sleep in at the dinner table.” Mrs. Stevens pressed. This conversation was snowballing out of control, and she wasn’t interested in doing storm recovery.
“For the same reason you don’t sing at the table. There are just some things you don’t do,” Ray explained.
“Oh, another ‘because’ rule.”
“That’s right,” Ray affirmed, his expression a little less tense.
“A because rule?” Harm ventured to ask.
“There are some things we have to do, even if they seem silly or stupid, just because everyone else has to.” Ray explained sternly.
Harm nodded in understanding, thankful the ‘because’ rule was saving his six.
After dinner, Fred Stevens excused himself claiming he had some business to tend to before retiring for the night, and Shelly volunteered to help Chris with her bedtime routine. Harm found himself alone with Mac and Ray in the living room under heavy scrutiny.
“Allow me to explain,” Harm started, taking a firm hold of Mac’s hand.
“Please do.” Somewhere deep down Ray recognized that all parents have sex at some point or other with their children in a nearby room, but for some reason he just felt this time it was just plain inappropriate.
“I had no intention of spending the night at the Colonel’s, but when Chris found out Mac wasn’t spending the night with us she got visibly upset, almost scared.” Harm pondered that for a second. He had been so relieved at Mac’s immediate offer of assistance that he hadn’t given any more thought to why Chris seemed afraid to stay alone with him. Shaking off the thought, he refocused on reassuring Ray without heaping any more embarrassment on himself or Mac.
“When Mac offered to come spend the night too, Chris was immediately happy again. We needed to go to Mac’s apartment to get some of her overnight things. While we were packing her bag, Chris fell asleep on the couch.”
Ray watched Mac carefully as Harm spoke. He had noticed Chris was developing an unexpected attachment to Mac. He wasn’t sure if this was just a natural desire for a young girl to have a mother figure, or if Chris was somehow transferring her affections for her grandmother onto Mac. He was going to have to give this some serious thought.
“We didn’t want to disturb her so we stayed at the Colonel’s. In the middle of the night Chris seemed a little startled at being in a strange place, but we showed her the potty, tucked her back into bed on the sofa, left the kitchen light on and waited until she was soundly asleep before returning to bed.”
“You waited until she was asleep?”
“Well, yes. She seemed a little frightened. Neither of us thought is would be good to leave her alone and scared in the dark.” That seemed awfully obvious to Harm. Surely, Ray didn’t think he was that incompetent at fatherhood. Or was he thinking that Harm was so horny he wouldn’t care about his daughter? Good grief, that’s it! Ray must be thinking Harm was putting his own sexual desires above his daughter’s best interest. How could he possibly explain to Ray what a unique and special thing last night was? Sighing heavily, Harm prayed for wisdom.
“Then she didn’t actually ‘see’ anything?”
“Of course not!” Harm hadn’t meant to raise his voice, but he was slightly offended at the implication.
“I thought as much when she didn’t know what you two were wearing under the sheets. Still, didn’t it occur to you that refraining from normal adult activities might have been more prudent under the circumstances?”
“Sir, sleeping in the same bed is not a normal activity for Mac and I. We’ve had to share quarters before, often under very adverse conditions, but we haven’t been carrying on. Yes, our relationship is taking on a new direction, a more serious direction, but I assure you it is not my intention to be carousing carelessly around my daughter. I would have liked to think you would have learned at least that much about me by now. She and Mac both mean too much to me.”
“I have, Harm. I just had to be sure.” Ray smiled for the first time since they’d sat down to dinner.
“I hadn’t intended to announce it quite this way, but...” Pulling Mac closer to his side, “Mac and I are getting married.”
“Now, I see.” Ray had to admit if he’d been waiting years for someone like Sarah MacKenzie, he might have been a little indulgent too. His smile shifted from reassuring to an almost impish grin. Yup, definitely would have indulged, too.
“What’s that they say about ‘the mouths of babes’?” Harm turned on the ignition and slowly pulled away from the Stevens’ home.
“I’m just glad she slept through the night. I couldn’t have handled a four year old’s perspective on what else we did last night.” Mac rolled her eyes and dropped back against the headrest. What a night!
“I suppose I’ll need to make sure there’s a good lock on the bedroom door.” Harm glanced over at Mac, a huge grin plastered on his face. He still couldn’t quite believe last night had really happened.
“What do you think of that last house? The master bedroom had a nice lock on the door.” Mac turned her head sideways grinning back at him. Just thinking about what he could be thinking was making her warm all over.
“I actually liked it. How about you?”
“I did too. Nice big rooms, lots of light, tons of extra space with a finished attic and basement, and we won’t have to invest in a swing set. You know, now that Mattie has gone back to live with Tom, the way they have the attic fixed up for teenagers would not only be really great for when Chris grows up, but for when Mattie comes to visit.”
“That’s true, and Mattie loves to play pool. Do you think they’d be willing to sell us the pool table?” Harm was quickly forgetting the fiasco that dinner had been.
“You never know. Let me see that paper.” Mac grabbed the stack of sales flyers off the dashboard. “Wheeeeew,” she whistled. “Maybe we should have looked at the price before we looked at the house.”
“Maybe.” Mac looked over the paper some more. “We don’t have to offer the asking price.”
“I doubt many people do, especially now that the economy is somewhat sluggish.”
“Somewhat?” Mac shook her head. It was a lot of money, but it was a really nice house.
“Keep in mind, I can sell the loft. It’s worth at least three times what I paid for it nine years ago. I’ve also got a little bit of money put away.”
“Me too,” Mac added.
“Do you really like it?” Harm stole a glance in her direction.
“I don’t know. Maybe it was the love of the family living there now. Maybe it was Contessa...” Mac chuckled softly, “but, I really did like it.”
“Well, if we can’t make the numbers work on our own, I can always call Mom and Frank,” Harm shrugged.
Mac nodded silently. This was absolutely amazing. Just a few short months ago her life was falling apart. She’d been diagnosed with a fertility stealing disease. The man she was trying to build a new life with, as difficult as that was, had been killed and then selfishly reappeared. She was targeted by a hired killer, and now, the one man she had always been in love with had asked her to marry him and share his child. The one she could never give him. Blinking her eyes harshly, Mac almost expected to wake up from this dream, home and alone.
“Penny for your thoughts? Or does inflation make it a dollar?”
“I love you.” Mac shifted a bit and dropped her hand on Harm’s knee.
He hadn’t heard her say that often yet. Her voice sent waves of warmth rushing everywhere in his body. The sound of those words was something he was sure he’d never hear enough. “I love you, very much. I always have.” Dropping his hand on hers, they rode the rest of the way in silence.
It had taken a little haggling, but after several days back and forth, and with a little extra help from Trish and Frank, they were finally able to settle on a price that everyone could live with.
Harm had put his mother off as long as he could, but now that he was a father, engaged, and buying a house, there was nothing Harm could do to stop her from visiting.
It had been almost three weeks since they first saw the house. Thankful for the light Sunday morning traffic, Harm and Mac arrived at the airport at 0830 hours. Trish’s red eye had arrived exactly on time. Her luggage on the other hand was flying somewhere over Missouri, or was it Malaysia? The charming person behind the counter hadn’t made up her mind yet.
“See to it that my luggage is delivered to this address when and if you locate it.” Trish dropped a card with Harm’s address on the counter.
“She seems to be taking this inconvenience rather well,” Mac whispered in Harm’s ear.
“That’s what worries me,” Harm whispered back, leaning closer to her ear.
“Okay.” Trish rubbed her hands together, “Now that we’ve settled that. Where is my granddaughter? I need to teach her the fine art of shopping.”
“Aha. I wondered why you weren’t bothered they’d lost your luggage.” Harm shook his head slowly and grinned at Mac. “Mom’s a champion shopper. Give her the smallest excuse and it’s like shooting a starting pistol. She’s off and running.”
“You haven’t answered me, dear. Where is Chris?” Linking her arm with Mac’s, Trish began walking towards the door with a huge smile on her face.
Harm noticed Mac momentarily tense at the unexpected gesture. He then saw his mom’s other hand pat her reassuringly.
“You’re going to call me Mom, not Trish. I always wanted more children.” Trish winked at Mac. “So, where is she?”
“She’s at her grandfather’s. They’re expecting us any time now,” Mac answered, much more relaxed.
“Does she know I’m coming?”
“Yes, she’s actually excited,” Harm shrugged.
“Well, don’t look so surprised,” Trish chuckled. “You’d be amazed how many people like me.” Shaking her head at her son, she tightened her grip on Mac’s arm and strode in front of Harm, full speed ahead. “Come on, slow poke. Get the lead out,” she called over her shoulder, pleased at hearing Mac giggle beside her. She’d waited years for this. She was going to thoroughly enjoy every minute of it.
Three hours later
Pentagon City Mall
“Has your mother always had this much energy?” Mac took a long sip of her almond latte, delighted for the chance to rest her feet.
“I don’t know. I usually avoided shopping with her.” Harm stretched his neck, exhausted from hauling all the bags around. “I’d have thought you’d be up to the challenge, that marine training and all. You are feeling alright?” Harm teased.
“I’m fine. Just worn out. Shopping with your mother isn’t exactly part of boot camp training.” Mac let the sides of her mouth curl up in a sly grin. “Did you notice that the sales lady at Nordstrom’s was actually calling your mother Mrs. Burnett? You have to do mega shopping for them to pay attention to your name.”
“That sounds like a legitimate description of Mom.” Amused at the thought of his mom the ‘mega shopper’, Harm reached over to take Mac’s hand. “She’s waited a long time to spoil a grandchild. Maybe just this once we can let her go overboard? Later on we can lay down the law.”
“You’re just an old softie.” Mac squeezed his hand.
“That wasn’t what you said last night...”
“Harmon Rabb, you’re incorrigible!” Mac smacked his arm, convinced she was flushing several shades of red.
Leaning over to kiss her, Harm was startled by the sound of a clearing throat. Still leaning into Mac, he turned his head sideways and looked at his mother with one eye.
“Here are a few more bags, dear.” Trish flashed her teeth. Holding onto Chris with one hand, she handed Harm the new packages with the other.
“Let’s see. This makes a department store, two dress stores, a toy store, a shoe store, and the chocolate shop. Have I left anything out?” Harm teased his mother placing the bags next to the already mounting stack.
“Yes, mother.” He feigned being properly chastised. A humorous glint shined in both their eyes as they momentarily relived any number of incidents from his childhood.
“Would you like something to eat, or drink, or would you like to shop some more?” Trish bent over to ask the grinning little girl.
“No, thank you.” Chris’ attention was wandering off behind Trish.
“No, thank you, you’re not hungry?” Trish turned her head to see what had caught the little girl’s attention. “Do you like books?” Her eyes were carefully scanning the Barnes and Noble store front.
“Yes, Ma’am.” Chris turned her attention back to the nice lady.
“What if we leave these two party poopers here and you and I go looking in the bookstore?”
Chris’ face lit up for the hundredth time that day as she shook her head yes.
“Those two are never going to tire.” Harm rubbed his eyes, resigned to the idea that the mall might become his new home away from home.
“Surely, she must have some limit on her credit cards,” Mac suggested. Understanding Harm’s patronizing glare, “Okay, maybe not. Might as well bunker down for the duration,” she laughed.
It wasn’t long before Chris came rushing back, literally dragging Trish behind her.
Harm glanced up at his mom with one raised eyebrow.
“Okay, so maybe I’m a little tired, but it’s worth every minute.” Trish returned her son’s ardent stare before turning to Chris. “Show them what you got, honey.”
“It’s a dinosaur book.” Letting go of Trish, Chris pressed the book proudly into Mac’s hands. “It’s not the same as yours, but it has lots of pictures!”
Mac felt the tears pooling in her eyes. Batting her lashes a few times, she took in a deep breath. She couldn’t have felt any more flattered if Chris had been her own flesh and blood.
“It was the only thing she wanted,” Trish shrugged.
“She helped me pick it out.” Chris pointed at Trish and then turned towards her and stretched her arms around Trish’s hips in a tight hug. “Thank you, ma’am.”
Harm could see the tears welling up in his mom’s eyes, too. If they weren’t careful, he might have to start building an ark.
Dropping down to her height for a proper hug she said, “I’ll have none of that ‘ma’am’. Mac calls me Mom, and I’m not her mother. Since your grandma can’t be here anymore to take you shopping and do Grandma things, what do you say you just call me Grandma, or if you like, Grandma Trish?”
Stunned at his mother’s suggestion, Harm gulped audibly, glancing first at Mac, and then Chris. He still hadn’t broached the question of parentage, or even what other name Chris should call him. Instantly, he was concerned Chris might somehow be upset at his mom thinking she was somehow trying to replace her grandmother. Ready to jump in if Chris showed even the slightest sign of being upset, Harm waited for her response.
Pressing her lips together tightly, Chris turned to Harm. Looking at Mac then back to him again, quietly she asked, “Is it really okay?”
Extending his hand to touch her shoulder he tried to assure her, “If you want to, it’s okay.” His slight smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. There was too much apprehension in her voice.
Chris looked back at Mac for confirmation. Trish marveled at the silent communication taking place between the little girl and her future stepmother. Scrunching her nose, Mac nodded her head at Trish. “It’s okay.”
With the speed of a tomcat doing nine g’s, Chris spun around and wrapped her arms around Trish’s neck. “I like Grandma!”
“I haven’t had this much fun in years.” Trish took a bite of her french fry.
“I can’t believe you’re eating at McDonald’s,” Harm chuckled.
“You are!” Trish snapped back.
“Touché,” he acquiesced.
“Why does she still call you Commander?”
“Because I’m not quite as bold as you are.” Shifting in his small seat, he grabbed hold of Mac’s hand. He seemed to be doing that a lot lately, drawing his strength from Mac. “Mom, it’s complicated. She thinks she’s pretending you’re her grandmother. She has no idea you really are, and I don’t want her pretending I’m her dad. I have to find the right way to explain it to her.”
“Well, you’d better come up with something soon. I know it’s been what, over a month or so since she appeared in your life?”
“More or less, yes.”
“Well, she’s obviously very comfortable with you both, especially Mac.”
“You noticed, too?”
“I’d have to be blind not to have noticed. She needs a mother, Harm. What she needs is a real family, not a grandmother and grandfather, but a mother and father, and a house with brothers and sisters. And I’m not saying that because I want to hold a grandbaby, which I do.” She glared at him pointedly between breaths. “You need to stop dawdling and take care of things. You’ve bought the house, you’ve proposed to the girl, now sit down with your daughter and FIND the words.”
Harm looked over his mother’s shoulder at the little girl playing in the ball pit. He knew his mother was right. He also knew he didn’t want to screw this up. This wasn’t the same as his relationship with Mac, or anyone else for that matter. He couldn’t bear it if he somehow ruined that sweet little girl for life.
“I know, Mom. I’m trying.”
“Well, try a little harder. She seems to have taken well to calling me Grandma. Maybe it won’t be as hard for her to find out you’re her Dad as you think.” Eating the last of her french fries, “What do you say we blow this joint, and you show me your knew castle?” Trish teased playfully.
“Sure thing. Marjorie said to stop by any time this evening.” Standing up, Harm kissed Mac on the cheek, then called Chris out from the play area.
Scanning the house as Harm pulled into the long driveway, Trish thought the house was even nicer than he’d described. “Oh, Harm. This is lovely,” she commented, obviously impressed.
“Yeah, it’s old, but it’s been well cared for.” Harm opened the car door for Mac, then his mother. Chris climbed out behind Trish.
“Are we going to visit Contessa?” she asked sweetly.
“I bet she’s home.” Harm held his hand out for Chris to grab hold of, then dropped his free arm around Mac’s waist.
“Do you like this house?” Trish asked Chris.
“It has a big swing.”
“When the Commander moves in are you going to come play a lot?” If Harm wasn’t broaching the subject, Trish was fully prepared to start the way for him.
“Can I?” She looked at Harm.
“Of course you can.” Harm smiled at Chris and then glared at his mom. He shouldn’t be surprised. She’s who he inherited his tenacity from.
“Will the Colonel be here, too?” Chris had learned to ask and not assume.
“Yes.” This time Mac answered. For most of the day she’d let Harm and Trish do the majority of the talking, but this time she felt the need to participate. With all the chaos of buying the house, preparing for Trish’s visit, and spending as much time as possible with Chris, she and Harm hadn’t discussed wedding plans or dates. She was most definitely going to be a part of this, and she wasn’t going to give Harm room to hedge.
Marjorie opened the door wide. “Come in. Nice to see you again.”
Harm stepped into the house and around a box.
“Sorry about the mess, we’re almost all packed up. The movers are coming next week to take everything down. If you want to start working on any of the rooms early, I’m sure it won’t be a problem.”
“That might be helpful. Thank you. Marjorie Field, this is my mother, Trish Burnett.”
“Nice to meet you,” Trish replied.
“Same here.” Turning to close the door behind them, Marjorie continued, “Make yourselves at home. I’m going to finish packing a few things in the den. Contessa is in the backyard if anyone wants to play outside.”
As usual Chris’ face lit up like a Christmas tree.
“Go on. I’m going to show Grandma around the house.” Harm nudged her in the direction of the kitchen.
In only seconds, Chris had bolted out the back door and was wrestling in the grass with the playful dog.
“You realize you’re going to have to get her a dog?” Marjorie commented.
“Among other things,” Harm mumbled.
Trish nodded and ahhed at appropriate interludes, pleasantly impressed with the purchase. “Which is Chris’ room?”
Harm looked at Mac then back at his Mom, “I don’t know yet. Any one of these three.” Harm waved his arm down the hallway at the second floor bedrooms.
“You haven’t asked her?” Trish was incredulous. What was her son doing? Before Harm had a chance to respond, Trish was marching down the stairs, through the kitchen, and had opened the back door. “Chris honey, come here a minute.”
Trish watched as the young girl reluctantly left the panting dog behind and scurried up the back stairs.
“Yes?” she asked softly.
“I need to know what you think about something.” Taking her hand and starting back up the stairs, “We have to do a lot of shopping while I’m here for things to fill this house.” Reaching the top of the stairs, “I need to know if you like any of these room better than the others.” Trish walked past Harm and Mac, both gaping like fish, and into the first room.
“When you come to visit you’ll want to have your own pretty room.”
Chris looked around the large room. The walls were a cream color, almost yellow. There was a large window facing the front yard, and a wall of closets. Walking through the bathroom, the two came out in the next bedroom. This room was almost a mirror image of the other room only it was slightly narrower and longer. Coming out at the end of the hall they walked past the stairs. Harm and Mac now followed behind them.
The next room was a little smaller than the others, the windows wrapped around the back and side wall, overlooking the backyard.
“This used to be my youngest daughter’s room.” Turning off the light switch, Marjorie walked across the room, pulled both sets of draperies closed and pointed to the glow in the dark stars on the ceiling.
Chris’ jaw dropped to the floor as she looked up. “I like this room!” she told Trish.
“Very well, young lady. Then tomorrow we’ll go shopping and start decorating your room!” Tossing her son a ‘was that so hard’ look, Trish and Chris made their way back down the stairs.
“I understand you have a birthday coming up?” Trish asked as they reached the ground floor.
“Uh huh. Saturday.”
“Then I think we’ll have to get you something extra special when we go shopping.”
Joining up with Trish and Chris at the bottom of the stairs. “Are we ready to head out?” Harm asked, eyeing his mother carefully, concerned over what she and Chris were talking about.
“All ready.” Trish answered, and Chris nodded.
Harm could tell his mother was silently plotting. He’d seen that look too many times before. When she was using all her energy to convince Frank to let her open the gallery it wasn’t so bad, but when she was determined to hook Harm up with her best friend’s daughter Cathy Fitzsimmons, all of Trish’s plotting was almost the end of him. He was going to have to decide what to do about Chris and soon, because if he didn’t, his mother most certainly would.
Ray’s eyes almost fell out of his head when he saw the parade of packages everyone carried in.
“You must be Mrs. Claus?” he teased.
“Trish Burnett. How do you do?” She smiled back.
They didn’t stay long. Trish watched Harm tuck Chris in and read a bedtime story, her heart swelling with pride and joy. After only one day, the little girl was deeply entrenched in her heart.
Despite all the shopping they’d done for Chris, Trish still managed to accumulate a good haul of her own. After taking her, and her truckload of goodies to the hotel, Harm and Mac proceeded to his apartment for the evening. They’d been alternating staying at each other’s homes, only on rare occasion sleeping apart. Mac was especially pleased with the perk of being able to sleep through the night. Sleeping was something she always did in short spurts. Now that she and Harm were together, Mac found herself sleeping straight through the night, sometimes even falling asleep early getting more than the suggested eight hours a night.
After the sleep over fiasco, they had decided not to have Chris spend the night again until they were in the new house. What they hadn’t brought up again were wedding plans. Mac was starting to get a little nervous, but she hadn’t felt the time was right, there was simply too much going on.
“I’m beat. It’s been an incredibly long day, and I can barely keep my eyes open.” Mac began unbuttoning her blouse on her way up the steps.
“Let me get a quick drink, and I’m right behind you.” Standing in front of the fridge, “Would you like anything?”
“Nope. I’ve reached that age where I have to cut out late night drinks. Lately I’ve had to make too many middle of the night visits to the head, and I’m not a happy camper.” Mac kicked off her shoes.
Harm flipped off the lights, and made his way up the stairs. Walking around to what was now his side of the bed, Harm began stripping. “That age?”
“Never mind, flyboy.” Mac slipped out of her slacks.
Avoiding the temptation to tease her some more, “I know I keep asking this, but got any new ideas on what we should get Chris for her birthday? Saturday is creeping up quickly.” Harm tossed his shirt into the hamper.
“You know, watching your mom shop till she dropped today, and then watching Chris in the yard with Contessa gave me an idea. Remember how excited she was to be able to go down the big slide at McDonald’s?”
“Yeah.” Harm kicked off his shoes and unbuckled his pants.
“Well, I think the fort is the right height for one of those long tube slides. She can still use the smaller one the set has, but we could add the long one to the other side. What do you think?” Mac pulled a t-shirt on over her head and sat down heavily on the bed waiting for Harm’s reaction.
“I suppose that would be much easier than a puppy.” Harm climbed under the covers.
“MUCH!” Mac laughed, snuggling up beside him.
Mac was almost sound asleep when she felt the rumble of Harm’s chest. “Say that again,” she mumbled.
“Since you did so good with the present, any idea how I’m going to tell Chris I’m her father?”
“Well, she already has an idea you’re going to take care of her.” Mac shifted to sit up. She had a feeling this wasn’t going to be a quick conversation.
“Yeah, remember at my place the night she stayed over? She asked if you were going to take care of her now that her grandma was gone.”
“Oh yeah, then she changed the subject and never said if she wanted me to.” Slowly the memory was coming back to him.
“At least the Parkers helped set you up by telling her that you were very special to Jordan and loved her very much, that you would love and care for Chris, and that her father would love and care for her if he could. You’re just going to have to make the time to connect the dots for her.”
“You make it sound so simple,” Harm sighed.
“Well, I think we’ve gotten very good at making things too complicated. Most people don’t need almost nine years to make a commitment, never mind go on a real date.” Mac tried to lighten things up a little.
“This isn’t the same, and you know it.”
“No, it’s not, but that doesn’t mean we can just ignore it forever.”
“Or nine years.” This time Harm was the one to interject humor, or at least try to. “Do you think I should tell her before Saturday?”
“I don’t know. Has Ray said anything?”
“No, he’s let me know he’ll support whatever decision I make.”
“This one is up to you.” Mac leaned back down, snuggling into the crook of his arm.
“I know. Thank you for putting up with me.”
“Any...time...” Mac mumbled into his chest. She was quickly losing her battle with sleep.
“I love you, marine.” Harm kissed the top of her sleeping head and thanked God he was finally a part of her life.
Trish made her way through the bullpen as though she’d been maneuvering it her entire life. Much to Harm’s surprise, not a single person had stopped to question who she was. She had mastered early in life the art of walking into a place with such an air of owning it that most people rarely found the nerve to ask if she really did.
“Are you busy, dear?” Trish tapped on the doorframe.
“Mom!” Harm stood up quickly, “No one mentioned you were here.” Giving her a quick hug, he pulled a chair out for her to take a seat. “What are you doing here? I thought you were going to take Chris shopping?”
“I’m on my way to get her now. We’re going to have lunch, too. I thought she might enjoy the gypsy tea room, sort of an oversized tea party.”
Harm chuckled quietly. One way or another, his mother was going to bring Chris around to her sense of style.
“Harm, why isn’t she in school?” Trish Burnett didn’t believe in beating around the bush.
“Well, Ray pulled her out to come find me. Since things were somewhat up in the air about her immediate future, he didn’t want to put her in one school to have to pull her out again.” It had made perfect sense to Harm.
“Well, that might have been the case when they first moved here, but you are planning on taking care of her. You’ve bought a house. She should be registered in the school district for the new house, now.” Trish’s no nonsense motherly tone was coming out loud and clear.
Flustered momentarily by an instant resentment of being told what to do by his mommy, Harm realized almost as quickly that she was right. Starting school in his school district while she was still living with Ray was one more security block that she would be able to hold onto during the transition.
“You’re right, Mom. I’ll make some phone calls today and take care of it.”
Trish smiled broadly at her son. She knew she’d raised him right.
Two days later, Chris was registered and starting afternoon kindergarten. The state had recently decided to gradually move the cut off date to turn five from the end of December back earlier and earlier. She had just made this years cut off date and Harm felt she’d be better off in kindergarten. It was a bit of a drive from Potomac to the new house, but since class started at noon, the drive wasn’t a problem. Harriet would pick her up after school with AJ and then Harm would pick her up from Harriet’s after work.
Even though she’d only been in class for three days, Aunt Shelly had gotten permission to send her to school with cupcakes for the class. Chris had come home bubbling with excitement. The minute Harm and Mac came through the door to pick her up, she began recounting the day.
“They sang happy birthday, and we had cupcakes, and they gave me cards, and the Teacher gave me a book, and Nancy gave me a flower, and ...” she was rambling on about so much that Harm didn’t have the heart to stop her and tell her to take a breath.
“Can Nancy and Cathy come tomorrow too?” In only three days Chris had already made friends. Harriet had graciously offered to have a birthday barbecue at their house for Chris’ birthday. Trish and Frank would be coming. Frank had flown in the day before. There was no way he was going to miss his granddaughter’s birthday. Ray and his sister and her husband would be there as well.
“I don’t know, honey,” Harm started when he felt a hand on his arm.
“Too late, Commander. I already spoke to Nancy’s mom, she’d be very happy to join us, and I left a message on the answering machine at Cathy’s.” Harriet leaned over and ruffled the pretty girl’s hair.
“How’d you find them?”
“PTA directory. Very handy tool for parents.” Harriet’s tried to swallow her amusement.
“Thank you, Harriet. You’re sure you don’t mind?”
“When it comes to birthday’s, the more the merrier.”
Harm watched as Harriet helped Mac load up all of Chris’ birthday goodies. He couldn’t believe tomorrow would be the first birthday he’d spend with his daughter. So much had happened in the week since his mom had arrived. If everything went the way he planned tomorrow, so much more would come.
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