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Shadows from the Past Part 5
Saturday November 5
Everyone sat in the large family room watching Chris open her gifts. The children had spent a wonderful afternoon playing games, eating candy, cake and ice cream. The adults were even surprised when a clown showed up at the front door for an hour of unplanned entertainment. Eventually Frank had to fess up as the responsible party. Shrugging his shoulders, he meekly admitted, “Hey, as a kid I always wanted a clown at my party, finally got one.”
Chris paid each gift due attention, thanking the giver profusely. When she got to the present from Mac and Harm, her eyes grew wide. “This is just like yours!”
Mac nodded her head, thrilled at the exuberant reaction. “It’s the same dinosaur book I have. There’s another present but it’s at the new house. We’ll go see it later.”
The next gift was a small box from Grandma and Grandpa Frank. Chris looked thoughtfully at Frank before opening the box. “Oh, a Baby Born Doll!!” Ripping the rest of the paper off more rapidly, the other two little girls rushed to her side to help her take all the different items out of the box.
“My heavens, it looks real!” Harriet joined in.
“I think that’s why it’s so popular. The girls love changing the diapers, feeding the bottle, all sorts of things. The doll, excuse me, baby, even laughs and cries tears.” Mac rolled her eyes.
“She kept talking about it over and over at the toy store but explained that Grandpa had said it was too much money for a toy.” Trish smiled, rather proud of herself for finding something that would make her granddaughter so happy.
“I suppose now you can open the next gift. It’s from all of us.” Ray gave Chris a box almost as big as she was, then pointed to himself, Shelly and her husband.
Chris opened the gift with the same enthusiasm she’d opened every present. “It’s a stroller! OH! And a high chair! And a baby bed too!”
“It’s called a cradle,” Ray interjected, smiling at Trish and Frank. It had taken a little coordination but the grandparents had more fun than they’d expected to on their little shopping excursion for the best birthday gifts.
The Roberts’ boys opted to play in the backyard, while the girls oohed and ahhed over every little thing with the dolls until their parents came to pick them up.
Meanwhile, the adults found themselves seated around the kitchen table chatting away, occasionally interrupted by a thirsty child, or the ringing doorbell of a parent coming to retrieve their offspring, until Mac looked up and said, “It’s almost 6 o’clock. We should probably take Chris to the house and show her the last gift, then we can grab a bite to eat and take her home.”
“Oh, I hadn’t noticed the time,” Trish chimed in.
“It probably would help if we made it home before you bring Chris,” Ray chuckled.
Bidding their farewells, and thank yous, Harm showed everyone to the door, while Harriet and Mac did some major recovery work in the kitchen.
“You really don’t have to stay. It’s why we use paper plates at parties. The only requirement for clean up is a large trash bag.” Harriet proudly held up a heavy duty, oversized, black, lawn and leaf bag.
Mac joined in the laughter. “Excuse me one minute. I’m going to go see a man about a horse.”
“Sure.” Harriet watched Mac walking to the bathroom. She couldn’t remember ever noticing Mac use the ladies room more than once or twice when visiting, but this must have been the third or fourth time she’d seen Mac sneak away. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, but something inside was nagging at her.
By the time Harm had all the loot stashed in the car, Harriet and Mac had left the kitchen and family room spotless.
“Thanks again, Harriet, Bud. This was very nice of you. Everyone had a wonderful time.” Harm kissed Harriet, and followed Mac and Chris out the door.
It only took a few minutes to reach the new house. Harm pulled out his keys, searching for the latest addition. “Marjorie and Bill moved into a hotel yesterday. The movers will be picking all of this up on Monday.” Turning the lock, Harm pushed the door open.
“Close your eyes,” Harm told Chris, picking her up and carrying her outside. When he was only a few feet in front of the swing set, he put Chris down and took hold of Mac’s hand. “Okay, open your eyes.”
Scanning the set curiously, it was obvious to Harm and Mac the moment Chris spotted the big slide. Running immediately over, and sliding her hand along the side of the tube as though the plastic were made of precious gems, she looked up at Harm and Mac.
“My own big slide?”
“Yup, it’s all yours. Anytime you want,” Harm grinned, thrilled with the bright spark in her eyes.
The chill of the night air was beginning to set in earlier and earlier every day. After only a few runs down the slide, Harm suggested they go inside to show Chris something else. Squeezing Mac’s hand for reassurance, the three soon to be family, moved past the boxes and furniture up to Chris’ room.
Chris stepped into the room first, “Wow.”
“You like it?” Mac knelt down to her height.
“It’s the most beautifulest room I’ve ever seen.”
The walls had been painted a very pail shade of Chris’ favorite pink. A white wanescoating and a chair rail had been added to the lower half of the room to tone down the walls. The ceiling had been painted a beautiful pail blue with white fluffy clouds and the few scattered stars were replaced with glow in the dark constellations that would become more apparent once the lights were turned off.
Immediately, Chris ran for the bed. A bunk arrangement with the bottom bed pointing into the room. The remainder of the bed was a loft, with windows, and bookshelves all designed in the appearance of a country cottage. Originally Trish had intended to purchase the castle version for the room but when she and Chris walked briefly past the room displays on their way to the bedding department, Trish had noticed her granddaughter’s attention seemed to gravitate towards the fairytale cottage.
The set came with a matching dresser and desk. The heavy drapes had been removed and replaced with simple roman shades in a bleached canvas. The top of the window was framed with a fabric-covered shelf on ornate brackets. Antique books, collectible dolls, and miscellaneous greenery along the shelf adding to the charm and color of the room.
Sitting down next to Chris, Harm picked up one of the nearby stuffed animals.
“You remember I told you that the Colonel and I are going to be getting married?” he asked.
“That’s one of the reasons we bought this house.” Harm paused to contemplate his next words. “We also bought it so you could have a room of your very own, anytime you want.”
“I remember,” Chris confirmed.
“Do you still want to come visit?”
“Can we stay here tonight?” Chris could hardly wait to get to sleep in her new bed.
Feeling somewhat reassured, Harm smiled a little brighter, “Well, not tonight, but soon.”
“The house still belongs to Mr. and Mrs. Field. Would next Saturday be okay?” Harm would have to see if they could move the closing up from next Tuesday. With the Field’s all moved out, he didn’t think it would be much of a problem.
“Okay,” she agreed reluctantly.
“I need to talk to you about something else, too.” Harm found himself squeezing the furry toy in his hands with more zeal than he’d intended.
“You know how your Grandma, not Grandma Trish, how she told you that your Daddy would love you if he knew you?”
Chris nodded her head yes.
“And how I would love you if I knew you?”
“Cause you’re mommy’s special friend.”
Grudgingly, Harm nodded his head yes. He’d have preferred she recognized he loved her for her not for her mother, but right now, that special friend connection would probably come in handy.
“I like taking care of you. You’re a very special little girl, very easy to love.”
Chris waited patiently. It was obvious from the intense little look in her eyes that she had no idea where Harm was going with this. Then again, why should she?
“What would you think if I were your daddy?”
“You mean like Grandma, Trish?”
“No, I mean for real. Would you like me to be your daddy?”
Mac stood in the doorway watching, her fingers cramping from the strong grip on the frame.
“Would the Colonel be my mommy?” Chris’ voice had dropped to an almost inaudible level.
Mac felt her stomach lurch to her throat. She was sure that wasn’t the response Harm wanted, and was fairly sure he wasn’t prepared for it either.
“Would you like that?” Harm hadn’t expected that reaction, but he should have. Chris had been especially attached to Mac from the first day.
“I think so.” Chris looked up at Mac, her eyes silently pleading for answers.
As she’d done so often, Mac smiled sweetly at the young girl and nodded her reassurance.
“When Mac and I get married, she’ll be my wife and that would make her like your mommy. Jordan will always be your mommy, nothing will change that, but Mac already loves you like a mommy.”
“And you love me like a daddy?”
Harm swallowed hard, nodding his head yes. He could see her trying to fit all the pieces together.
“Would I have to leave Grandpa for you to take care of me?”
“Not if you don’t want to.” There was no way Harm would forcibly take her away from her grandfather if she didn’t want that.
“Is he going to go to heaven like Grandma?” Chris’ lower lip pressed upward tightly in an attempt to hide the quiver.
“Someday, but not anytime soon.” Harm couldn’t stand it anymore and he pulled the little girl onto his lap and wrapped his arms around her. “Your Grandpa is a strong man who loves you very much. He’s not going anywhere yet.”
Mac watched as Chris laid her head against Harm’s chest, her shoulders drooping sadly. Mac struggled to resist the urge to go sit on the bed beside them. Harm needed this opportunity to comfort his daughter without any intrusion from her. It was the first time she could remember Chris folding into Harm with such trust without looking around for her first.
“Can I go home now?” Chris mumbled into his shirt.
“Sure, baby. Sure. We’ll stop and get some dinner and then take you home to Grandpa.” Harm stood up keeping Chris in his arms and carried her past Mac, and down the stairs. He wasn’t really sure what he expected, but his heart felt as though it was in a vise. He should have waited to tell her.
Chris didn’t say much in the car, at dinner, or once they got home. She’d answer when spoken to but seemed to have lost her natural tendency to chatter. The vise on Harm’s heart was clamping down harder and harder.
Harm had put Chris to bed and read her a story like he’d done every night he was with her, but this time she asked if Grandpa could come too.
Mac and the Stevens’ indulged in idle conversation and waited anxiously for Ray and Harm to come downstairs.
“Okay, who wants to tell me what happened?” Ray asked as soon as he and Harm reached the living room.
“I tried to tell her I’m her father.”
“Oh.” Ray sat heavily in the nearest chair. “And that’s how she reacted?”
“Actually,” Mac spoke up, “I’m not sure she really understood that Harm ‘is’ her father. I think she realizes he wants to be her father, but what I think happened is she interpreted Harm wanting to be her father to mean you’re going to heaven like her mom and grandma. She’s scared you’re going to die.”
“Why would she think that?” Ray didn’t understand what Harm being her father had to do with his dying.
“I think it’s because she’s been told when you and her grandmother aren’t around anymore, I would take care of her. Somehow she thinks if I want to take care of her it’s because you aren’t going to be around.” Harm tried to explain as best he could considering he honestly had no idea how a five year old’s thought process worked.
All the color drained from Ray’s face in a moment. “I think I need some water,” he said to no one in particular.
“I’ll get you a glass.” Shelly sprang up.
“Let me help you. I’m not feeling so good myself,” Mac offered.
“Me neither. Would you mind bringing a glass for me too?” Harm added before sitting down on the hearth.
“Never mind water, I need a real drink!” Fred Stevens stood up. “Ray, want a beer?”
“No, thank you.” Ray let out a deep sigh.
“I’ll stick to water.” Harm didn’t think it would be fair to Mac to drink under the circumstances. It was one thing to have a beer at McMurphy’s. It was an entirely different story to ‘need’ a drink.
Without actually asking, Fred turned to Mac.
“No, water will be fine for me too.” Mac stepped around the coffee table and followed Shelly into the kitchen.
“I’m sorry, Ray.” Harm had no idea what else to say, and certainly not what to do.
“You have nothing to apologize for. None of us had any ideas on how to deal with this. If I’d have been more of a man and insisted on what I knew was right, Chris would have known all along you were her father.” Ray leaned back rubbing his temple. “I guess I’ll just have to find a way to convince her I’m not going to die.” And pray it’s true, he thought.
“We talked about doing a sleepover next Saturday so she could sleep in her new bed.” Harm looked up at the sound of ice clinking in glasses.
“She liked it?” A small smile teased at Ray’s lips.
“Yeah, she really did.” Harm stood up and accepted a glass of water from Mac. “In light of this evening, maybe it would be a good idea if both of you came over to spend the night.”
“Are you sure?” Ray took a sip of the water Shelly had given him.
“Yes, maybe if we talk about the two of you visiting on Saturday it will help reassure her that you’re not going anywhere, that she doesn’t have to choose between you and me. She can still have us both, even if I am her father.”
“Makes sense,” Shelly nodded, taking a seat by her husband.
“I think it’s time I had a little talk with her, too. I should have done this a long time ago.” Ray took a long sip of his drink. “I think I’ll have that beer now.”
No one had very much more to say. With little fuss, Harm and Mac called it a night and said their goodbyes.
“Are you coming to my place?” Harm asked as he turned the key in the ignition.
“Actually, this whole day has me not feeling so hot. I think I’d like to crawl into my own bed.” Mac leaned back against the headrest.
“Alone?” Harm’s voice sounded as lost as Chris’ a few hours ago.
“Huh?” Mac turned to look at Harm.
“Did you want me to leave you alone?” Harm was beginning to think that viselike grip on his heart wasn’t going to ease up anytime soon.
“No. I didn’t mean that. I just meant I wanted to be in my own bed.” Mac leaned back again, hoping Harm understood.
“I’ve been so preoccupied with Chris, and the house, and my mother, that there are a few things we haven’t really discussed that I think I may have, well, taken for granted.” Harm caught a glimpse of Mac out of the corner of his eye. She did look awfully tired. Today had taken a toll on everyone.
“Like what?” Mac let her eyes fall closed to rest a minute.
“Well... I ... I thought my bed was yours.” Harm stole another glance her way just as she opened her eyes and looked at him.
“It is, sort of.”
“Sort of?” That vise was tightening again.
“It’s just my room is my room and your room is your room. Even though they’re both perfect so long as I have you with me, your room is still yours.” Mac wasn’t sure if she was explaining that very well.
“Mac, have you given any thought to ‘our’ room in the new house?” Harm wished he didn’t have to keep his eyes on the road.
“No, I guess not.” Mac sat up. This had all the earmarks of turning into a more serious discussion.
“What about a wedding date?”
“Have you?” Mac countered.
“I asked first.”
“Doesn’t matter. Have you given any thought to a wedding date?” Mac stared at him pointedly.
“No, I guess not. Like I said, I just assumed.”
“I don’t know, that we would be doing this together.”
“We are.” This conversation was not helping Mac’s headache.
“But you want you’re own bed?”
“If it’s that big a deal, we’ll go to your place,” Mac snapped unexpectedly.
“That’s not my point and you know it. Are you planning on moving into the house with me?”
“You never asked.”
Harm’s eyes opened wide. “Excuse me, but I’m the one who wanted to get married the same day I asked you to marry me. I’m the one who wanted a house big enough for the three of us. How could you not know I want us to move in together?”
He was right, but she wasn’t in the mood to be gracious. “I’m not a mind reader.”
“Maybe you’re right. It’s probably a good idea to let you rest at your place, and we can figure this out further when we’re all feeling better.” Harm knew better than to say anything more.
“Fine.” All Mac wanted was to be left in peace to get some much needed sleep.
By the time he’d driven a little further, Harm was wracked with worry. What had just happened? He didn’t mean to start trouble. Why couldn’t he leave well enough alone? So she wanted the familiarity of her own apartment when she didn’t feel good. What was so awful about that? Pulling into a space near the front of her building, Harm turned to face Mac.
“Mac, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have made such a fuss. ” It took him a few minutes to register that Mac hadn’t heard a thing he said. She was sound asleep. “Mac, honey.” Harm lightly tapped her arm.
“We’re home.” A knot began twisting in his stomach in conjunction with the vise tightening the grip on his heart. “Are you okay?”
Blinking her eyes a few times to clear the sleepy fog. “Yeah, I told you I was tired. Today wasn’t exactly what I would call a cakewalk.” Letting out a big yawn, Mac reached for the door handle.
“Let me.” Harm patted her arm lightly before climbing out of the car and going around to get her door.
“I could have done that.”
“I know, but I wanted to.” Harm extended his hand to her. “I’m sorry I didn’t understand about wanting to be in your own bed.”
Mac unlocked the lobby door, and hesitated against it as Harm stepped inside. “I didn’t mean for it to be a big deal. I’m just tired. It’s been a long, stressful day.”
“I know that now.” He followed her quietly to her apartment door, and watched her fumble with the key in the lock. Under any other circumstance, he would have offered to open the door for her, but tonight, he was too afraid to say or do the wrong thing.
“I’m going to make some tea. Would you like a cup?” Mac dropped her keys by the door and headed straight for the kitchen.
“Sure.” Harm followed closely behind her, thankful she hadn’t sent him home yet.
While Mac filled the tea kettle, Harm pulled out two mugs, and was reaching for the tea when his hand brushed up against Mac’s.
“I really am sorry,” he whispered. His fingers softly brushing against her.
“I know.” She set the kettle down in the sink. “Me too.”
Before Harm could say a word, Mac had wrapped her arms around his waist and was crying quietly against his shoulder. Wanting desperately to make everything right for everyone, Harm’s broad hands gently soothed her delicate back.
“I love you,” he whispered into her hair.
“Don’t go,” she mumbled into his shirt.
“I was hoping you’d say that.” Softly, he kissed the top of her head. “Why don’t you get ready for bed, and I’ll bring you your cup of tea?”
Sniffling as she stepped back, “That sounds nice. Thank you.” Smoothing his now damp shirt with her hands, she glanced up with a half-hearted smile before turning around to leave.
By the time he brought the two cups of tea into the bedroom, Mac was snuggled into bed and dozing with the TV on.
“Here you go.” He set the mug by her bedside before going to brush his teeth. One of the reasons he was caught so off guard by the ‘yours verses mine’ conversation was that each of them had their own set of toiletries at the other’s apartment, a few changes of clothes, and even their own drawers. Either way, he wasn’t going to let it bother him anymore, at least not tonight.
“I was hoping you’d want me to move in with you right away.” Mac blew into the hot mug. It made perfect sense that he would since she’d contributed to the down payment.
“I do.” Harm wasn’t sure how much he should say.
“I...I wasn’t sure.” Mac took a short sip. She was using the drink as a mental distraction, avoiding the need to look Harm in the eye. In the mood she was in, she simply wasn’t taking anything for granted. For all she had known, her presence wasn’t expected until after the wedding.
“I told you I wanted it all, Mac. I meant it. We can donate my bedroom furniture to good will, and set yours up in the master bedroom, right after we go to city hall and get married.” Harm scooted closer to her, took her cup and set it on the nightstand, then pulled her into his arms. “We can start tomorrow.”
“You shouldn’t have to give up your bedroom, and your mom is flying home tomorrow. You know she’d kill us both if she didn’t get to see the wedding, and tomorrow is Sunday, we can’t get a....”
“License on Sunday,” Harm cut her off.
“Right,” Mac chuckled for the first time since the party earlier that day.
“I’ll agree to wait till my mother can attend to get married, if you’ll agree to pick a date.”
“Fair enough, but what if I agree to pick a date after we’re settled in the house and know what’s going on with Chris.”
“That IS what we’ve been waiting for isn’t it?” Harm squeezed Mac’s shoulder tightly against him for just an instant as if drawing much needed strength from her. Somehow today he had accidentally managed to upset both the women in his life.
“This will all work out. Don’t worry.” Mac resisted the urge to start singing, ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”
“What about the bedrooms? Chris got a new room. Maybe we should do the same. There are lots of bedrooms upstairs. We can put each of our furniture in a bedroom and get something totally new for our room.” Harm tucked his chin into his chest and tried to peek at her reaction.
“Excellent idea, counselor. We could even look at a few places tomorrow before we have to take your mother and Frank to the airport.” Contented with how things were working out, Mac let her eyes fall shut.
“Anyplace you want,” Harm smiled.
“Night Mac.” Harm’s smile spread a little wider. Not hearing a response, he squinted one eye trying to get a better look. Once again his marine had fallen asleep. ‘His’ marine. He never thought he’d live to see the day they would actually work everything out. Carefully shifting down, trying not to disturb her, Harm decided to leave the lights on. He didn’t want to let go of her for even a few short seconds to reach the lamp. He never wanted to let go of her again.
The Burnett’s flight didn’t leave until late Sunday night. When Harm called Marjorie to ask about any inconvenience in changing the closing date, she mentioned having a few things she still wanted to do at the house that afternoon. It was quickly decided they could meet at the house to initial any changes in the contract. Spending some time with Contessa and the new slide would be good for Chris. It would also be an easy way for Trish and Frank to say their goodbyes, so the entire Rabb clan, including Mac and Ray, spent the afternoon on the back porch sipping hot chocolate and watching Chris and Contessa run and play in the warm autumn sun.
Chris hadn’t said anything about yesterday, and even though she seemed less upset, she still wasn’t her exuberant chatty self.
Marjorie had been washing the cabinets inside and out, despite Harm’s insistence it wasn’t necessary, when he decided to ask her for advice on Chris. Before long she was sitting on the back porch with all the grandparents. The startled expression on her face had mellowed to parental concern, and now she seemed obviously pensive.
“Well, that is a somewhat complicated problem, isn’t it? I know I raised four kids, but even I don’t have an answer for you. I can tell you it’s going to take more than just words to convince her your not going to die.” Marjorie looked at Ray.
“If it were me, I’d make sure you did as much with her as possible from your old routine. Routine is comforting for kids. Perhaps work towards doing more things with the four of you for a while until she’s secure again in the feeling that Harm being her father has nothing to do with your dying.”
“I was thinking the same thing.” Ray glanced over at Harm, wondering if he agreed, and was thankful to see Harm nodding his head.
“As a matter of fact, Mac and I were talking about something when we were out shopping earlier. Now is as good a time as any to run it by you.” Looking at Ray, he continued, “As you know the basement and attic are both finished. The attic is going to make a great teenage rumpus area when Chris is older, but we don’t really need the basement. It has it’s own door into the back yard, there’s a full bathroom, the living area could easily be separated to create a bedroom, and it wouldn’t take much to convert the laundry room into a small kitchen. It wouldn’t be the same as your house in Florida, but it would give you privacy, and then we could easily share Chris without putting any stress on her.”
Trish glanced up at her husband and then back at her son. She was so proud of the man he’d become. He was going to be a good father.
Ray on the other hand, stared blankly at Harm. His face was completely unreadable.
“You want me to move in with you?” Ray’s face remained expressionless, despite the incredulity in his voice.
“Not exactly ‘with’ us. It would be like having your own apartment.” Harm had no idea what the man was thinking. Almost nervously, he reached over for Mac’s hand. At this moment, he realized he needed her comforting touch as much as he needed the air he breathed. Fleetingly the thought crossed his mind, how had he made it through difficult situations the last forty years without her?
“But in the same house where I could see Chris anytime I wanted?” Ray’s face was starting to soften. “Where I could pick her up after school, take her to the park, watch her play in the yard?”
“That’s the idea,” Harm smiled.
“I...I don’t know what to say.” Ray had been thrilled at the growing relationship between Chris and Harm and yet chided himself at the same time for resenting how quickly it had grown. He had been dreading the day he would become an occasional weekend Grandpa, feeling guilty at the small pleasure he felt when Chris wanted him last night after everything. Now, the man who he and his wife had kept far away for so long was offering to let him remain a part of his only granddaughter’s every day life. “I think I need to think about this.” The words barely came out. He needed all his strength to stop the tears that threatened to flow.
“Of course. Take as much time as you like,” Harm answered. Mac nodded her assent.
Harm introduced his mother to the fine cuisine of Chuck E Cheese’s before taking her to the airport. He had to admit, it gave him an enormous chuckle to watch his mother delight in food she would normally never have touched with a ten foot pole if it were not for one pint sized little girl.
Ray used the time to thoughtfully consider what Harm had offered while watching this newly formed family interact. By the time they made it back to his sister-in-law’s, Chris was nearly exhausted. Without any need for coaxing from her grandfather, she went directly from kissing her aunt and uncle hello, to her room upstairs.
Briefly, Ray filled Shelly and Fred in on the new development, and then hurried upstairs to talk to Chris.
“How ya doing, Buttercup?”
“Fine,” she giggled. She loved it when her Grandpa called her Buttercup. It made her feel pretty.
“I want to talk to you about something.” Acknowledging her nod, he continued. “You know the Colonel and Commander both love you very much?”
“Do you know why he wants to be your Daddy?”
Nodding her head yes, “Because he was Mommy’s special friend.”
“That’s right. Only he didn’t know that until you told him.”
“He didn’t?” Her eyebrows curled into a human question mark.
“No, your mommy didn’t tell him how special he was. Your Grandma and I knew, but we never told him.”
Chris watched her grandfather carefully, her expression showing a wisdom beyond her years.
This was harder than he had expected. Ray couldn’t imagine how hard it must have been for Harm to try and tell her. “He wants to take care of you now.”
“He also wants me to help.”
“He does?” A hint of the sparkle that had been missing from her eyes the last two days reappeared.
“Yes, honey. Do you know why Grandma went to be with Mommy?”
“Her heart was broken.”
Ray almost gasped at the uncanny choice of words. In some ways it wasn’t just the aneurysm that killed her. His wife’s heart was indeed broken the day Jordan was murdered. The only thing keeping it from completely crumbling was this precious little girl.
“That’s right. But you know what?”
“My heart works just fine. Feel.” Ray placed her small hand on his chest letting the beat thump against her. “We didn’t come to be with the Commander because Grandma is gone.”
“We didn’t?” She interrupted, her hand still resting on his beating heart.
“No. We came because he was Mommy’s special friend, and we wanted you to have a Daddy.”
“But I want to stay with you.” That hint of a sparkle had faded again.
“Well, if the Commander is your Dad, and the Colonel becomes your Mom, and I’m still your Grandpa, then that would make us all one big family. Lots of times big families live in big houses.”
Before he could even finish his sentence, the sparkle in her eyes was shining brightly.
“Are we all going to live in the big house? Contessa too?”
Ray couldn’t help chuckling at the last part. He wasn’t sure if he should be flattered or concerned to be on the same level of importance as a German Shepherd.
“Well, Contessa belongs to the Fields. I know they would miss her terribly, but I bet we can talk your Dad into getting a dog some day soon.” Ray waited to see how she would react to calling Harm her Dad instead of Commander before continuing. “Would you like to go live in the new house if I had the big room downstairs?”
“And I could still have my pretty room?”
“Yes, you would.” Watching her face light up, for the first time in two days, Ray had a feeling everything was going to be alright.
Next Saturday afternoon
“I really think it will be better if I’m downstairs from the beginning. Staying in the guest room until all the changes are made and my furniture arrives would be ridiculous. The way the downstairs is laid out in an L shape, all I need is one wall with a door on the left to close off the bedroom area. It won’t take them but a couple of days to put up the wall and paint it, and it shouldn’t make much of a mess either so I can sleep downstairs. The kitchen will take a bit longer, but I’m sure I can get my landlords to let me borrow theirs. I have connections,” Ray laughed. When he decided to tell Harm about Chris, he never dreamed things would turn out like this. Jordan was right. He was a special man.
Ever since Ray agreed to move into the house with them they’d been debating back and forth if he should try and live downstairs during remodeling or stay upstairs until it was finished. Harm finally gave in and agreed to have Ray stay downstairs from the start. Since they didn’t want to take Chris out of school to go to Florida with her grandfather, and thought it was too soon after her scare for him to leave without her, Ray let the realtor arrange to have all his belongings packed and shipped to Maryland for storage. Then he could take his time sorting and decide what should be sold and what he would keep. Fortunately, they had downsized considerably when they first retired to Florida.
Chris played outside while the movers brought in most of their belongings. Harriet and Bud came by with the children, hoping AJ and Jimmy would help keep Chris entertained.
“It sounds like everything is working out for the best.” Harriet sat down in the nearest chair.
“How do you manage to do so much with twins?” Mac opened a box and began unwrapping dishes, waving Harriet off when she attempted to get up to help.
“If you don’t mind, I do need to rest a few minutes. It’s not that bad really. You learn to do what you have to. It was actually harder when I was pregnant. It was so frustrating not always having the energy when you want it.” Harriet grinned at the two babies sleeping peacefully in the carriers. “But it’s always worth it.”
Mac busied herself filling the cabinets, hoping to ignore, or at least hide the twinge of jealousy deep in her heart. When she felt Harm’s gaze behind her, she was delighted for the distraction.
“I think it’s time we ordered some food to feed this mob.” Harm inched up behind her and kissed the top of her head.
“Works for me. I’ve already got the Pizza Hut phone number on the fridge,” Mac chuckled at the fallen expression on Harm’s face. “Don’t worry, we won’t use it ‘too’ often.” She just loved how that man could make her entire world feel right with a grin.
Harm was standing in the kitchen reluctantly calling Pizza Hut for their evening meal when AJ, Jimmy and Chris came running inside.
“I’m hungry mom,” AJ announced, out of breath from playing. Jimmy followed his brother in tow, but had little to say other than an agreeing nod of the head.
Ray arrived in the kitchen just in time to admire the parade of children displayed before him. He was looking forward to being part of a bustling family again.
Watching his daughter eagerly making her way over to where he was standing, Harm had prepared himself for the inevitable onslaught of questions regarding refueling. He wondered sometimes if genetic traits could be acquired through osmosis. It was his only explanation for why so many things she did reminded him of Mac.
“Daddy, when are we getting a dog?” Chris stared up at Harm as if she hadn’t just rocked his world.
A little less startled than the rest of the adults in the room, Ray noticed Harm gaping open mouthed at Chris, the receiver returned to its cradle in almost slow motion. Mac fumbled obviously with the plates in her hand, barely salvaging them from crashing to the floor. Harriet appeared to be the only other adult taking the entire incident in stride. She sat casually with a large Cheshire grin on her face.
“I’m afraid that’s my fault, Harm. I forgot to tell you that little detail of our conversation the other night.” Walking up to Chris, Ray nudged her on the shoulder. “You and the boys go get washed up. The pizza will be here soon.”
“But, you said we’d all be a family and that Mommy and Daddy would get us a dog like Contessa.” Chris was unaware of the impact of her latest commentary on both Harm and Mac. Bud also stood off to the side, obviously confused by the current conversation.
“I said ‘someday.’ Maybe you can discuss it with your mom and dad after the company goes home.” Ray wondered if Harm or Mac were going to find their voices anytime soon.
Bending down to her height and gently rubbing his hand across the side of her face, Harm spoke softly, “Your Grandpa’s right. We’ll talk about this after everyone goes home.” Watching Chris run out of the room with the boys as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred, Harm turned to see the single tear trickle down Mac’s cheek. In a few long strides he was across the room and holding Mac in his arms.
“We’re really going to be a family,” she whispered into his shoulder.
“Looks like it,” he assured her, “looks like it.”
Once company left Saturday evening, all Chris could talk about was a dog like Contessa. Harm did his best to explain how all dogs were different, but his heart, and subsequently his brain, would stop every time she started her sentence with- ‘but Daddy’.
Ray had said his goodnights early establishing a pattern of independence from the nuclear family routine from the beginning. When Harm and Mac finally tucked the exhausted little girl in for the night, they could feel the energy charging between their clasped hands when Chris said, “night Mommy, Daddy,” then closed her eyes as though they had been doing it this way her entire life.
Exhausted and drained, the two shell-shocked adults climbed into their new bed for the first time.
“I knew Chris was feeling better since her talk with Ray, but I never expected her to just start calling us mom and dad like that.” Harm pulled Mac into his arms and mindlessly began doodling on her arm as he stared ahead at nothing in particular, occasionally stealing a glance in her direction.
“You don’t mind that she calls me Mom, do you?”
“Of course not! It’s what I had hoped for, that we could be a family. That she would be that child we promised each other so long ago.” Harm went to kiss the top of Mac’s head just as she looked up to say something, his lips landed somewhere around the bridge of her nose sending the two into a fit of giggles. Within seconds their jumbled laughter gave way to a heated gaze, and soon they had fallen into a searing kiss filled with all the emotions and passions of the day.
Sunday was oddly ordinary. Everyone continued unpacking and falling into what would soon be a normal routine. Harm noticed Mac seemed a bit edgy but chalked it up to the weight of the reality of the whole ‘Mom and Dad’ thing. He tried to talk to her about it from time to time, but she brushed it off as nothing, and he wasn’t prepared to cause any unexpected trouble by pushing.
By Monday morning, Harm knew something was up. Mac woke up even more jumpy than she’d been the day before. She’d gone out for a quick run to the grocery store late Sunday to stock the shelves and when Harm came up behind her to kiss her hello, she almost jumped out of her skin. He was simply going to have to find a way to make her talk, and soon, or he wouldn’t get a single thing accomplished all day worrying about her.
Sitting at the island counter, watching her pour another cup of coffee, Harm ventured out into new waters. “Mac, I can tell something’s bothering you. Won’t you please tell me? Maybe I can help.” Harm set his cup on the counter.
“I’m... fine. It’s just that this is all so new, and now we have to get a dog, too.” Mac realized that made no sense, but the words were out of her mouth before her brain had a chance to edit.
“You’re upset about getting a dog? We can explain to Chris that we need to wait, to settle in first.” Harm walked over to where Mac was standing. This had nothing to do with a dog, and he knew it. Mac had taken Jingo on without hesitation. The thought of getting a dog wouldn’t have her this...jittery.
“It’s just a lot to get used to.” Mac stirred a teaspoon of sugar into her coffee.
Wrapping his arms around her waist, he wasn’t surprised when she tensed nervously before slowly relaxing against him. “What is it really? Tell me.” He kissed the back of her neck lightly, not in an attempt to arouse, but to reassure.
Closing her eyes tightly, and taking a deep breath, she reached into her bathrobe pocket and slipped something into Harm’s hand, then pulled away to turn and see his face.
Harm stared for a long moment at the long white stick, then up at Mac, his face a blank slate, expressionless. After what seemed like an eternity to Mac, she noticed one eyebrow climb to his hairline as the corner of his mouth twitched awkwardly upward.
“Is this what I think it is?” By now the other corner of his mouth was tugging upward as well.
Mac nodded her head. “Something Harriet said Saturday about always being too tired when you’re pregnant got me thinking. The doctor seemed so sure that I would never conceive that I never gave birth control a second thought. Not that I would have wanted to,” she added rather smartly. “There’s just so much going on now, so much to adjust to, and what will Chris think?”
“The same thing I do. You’re going to be a great mom and I love you, Sarah MacKenzie. Marry me? Now, today, and it’s not Sunday. We can get a license and be married before Chris gets home from school.” Harm’s eyes were twinkling brighter than the North Star. His lips were gently kissing her forehead, coaxing her into the words he wanted to hear. Suddenly everything he’d ever wanted was within his reach, a life, a home with Mac, and now a child with her looks or brains.
“Harm, we can’t get married today anymore than we could get married the last time you said that. City hall may be open, but your mother would still kill us!” Mac tried hard not to laugh at him.
“Okay, then marry me Saturday. It only takes five hours to fly from San Diego, and for this, my mom would strap on wings herself.” Harm rested his forehead against hers, resisting the temptation to kiss her silly.
“Harm, that’s only five days away.” Mac let her fingers reach up and toy with the lapels of his bathrobe.
“Then next Saturday. We can scrounge up an honor guard, get married at the chapel, and have a small dinner party anywhere that will take us. If our friends want to fly in they can, and if they can’t, we’ll send pictures.” Harm stole a short kiss. “Say yes, Mac. I don’t want to wait any longer. Say yes.”
Mac smiled broadly. There was no way she could resist those puppy dog eyes, and she did so want to be his wife.
“Okay, next Saturday it is.” She closed the gap between them capturing his lips with hers, resisting the urge to carry this to a level they couldn’t possibly consider and still be on time for work.
Chapter 30: Epilogue
“All right Mom, this baby wants out. When I say push, you push...”
Dr. Althea Davis had enjoyed working with this couple. Every so often she would come across one couple who had something special besides the initial glow of impending first time parenthood. This couple had it. Occasionally she would catch the handsome naval officer looking at his wife with such loving adoration it would send shivers up her spine. Not many patients could do that. Listening to their conversation, she couldn’t help but smile inwardly.
“I’m tired. Why don’t I go join everyone outside and you take over here for a while?”
Dr. Davis loved how this woman teased her husband through all her months of discomforts and discoveries. Never once did she make this anything but an interesting adventure.
“Oh, I’m sure that would get me on the Tonight Show. Come on honey. We’re almost there.”
The soon to be father quickly patted away the sweat of his wife’s labor before squeezing her hand as the next contraction hit. Althea recognized that look. He was wishing he could somehow take on the pain for his beautiful wife.
In the waiting area, Bud watched his wife pacing nervously.
“Boy, it really is different when you’re the one waiting instead of the one inside giving birth. I’m not sure which is harder.” Harriet chuckled facetiously, her eyes gazing down the hall to the birthing room.
“All right, I promise. One last push and then we’re done,” Althea encouraged the two exhausted people. Lots of moms-to-be gave their husbands nothing but trouble. This gal was a trooper through and through. The worst she’d done was threaten to take a break and have him take over. Dr. Davis could see the adoration she had often seen in his eyes was a two way street. This was going to be one happy family.
The tired voice that still found the strength to crack a joke through clenched teeth made Althea laugh out loud. “Yeah, I should have been a politician,” she responded.
“Here we go, Dad.”
Glancing up for just an instant, Althea watched the woman’s loving look as she addressed her husband, then with her hand squeezing his in what looked like a death-like grip, she drew her last bit of strength and gave one more push. A loud wail filled the room.
“Here you go, folks. One bouncing baby girl.” Althea gladly handed the tiny bundle over for the father to cut the cord. This was always her favorite part. “Has she got a name?”
“Sarah Elizabeth,” the two voices echoed proudly.
“Hey pretty lady. You’ve got a bunch of anxious people waiting to meet you.”
Listening to the new dad talk to his daughter, Althea marveled at how such a tiny thing could reduce grown men to tears. Why not? It did her too.
“Well, they’re going to have to wait a few more minutes. As soon as we get her and her mom cleaned up and back to their room, the entourage can come in.” A nearby nurse allowed the family a moment longer before she took the baby away.
“I’m not sure Grandma and Grandpa are going to like that. I’m surprised they haven’t marched in demanding to see for themselves that all is well.”
Althea nodded knowingly at the couple. This wouldn’t be the first or last delivery she was involved in with strongwilled grandparents.
“There are a few places in this world where you’re mother isn’t allowed to take over. Sometimes even marine generals don’t get their way.”
Yes, Althea had only faced one inquisition from the concerned general.
“What about retired Navy lieutenants?”
Now, that woman scared her. Every time she phoned, Althea had this overwhelming feeling she was being sold a sugar field in the proverbial Florida swamplands.
“Okay, we can discuss the family tree another time folks.” The nurse interrupted, giggling at the banter she’d become so used to.
A few minutes later, AJ Roberts made his way to the waiting area and gave his mother a big hug. “It’s a girl. Sarah Elizabeth.”
“Congratulations, son.” Bud reached around to hug his son.
“Chris is doing great. I can honestly say I’ve never seen her look more beautiful. Sarah looks just like her.” AJ turned to his father-in-law.
Harmon Rabb shook AJ’s hand and turned to hug his wife. “How bout that, Grandma?” he grinned, lightly kissing the top of her head.
“She’s asking for you,” AJ informed his mother-in-law. “They were just moving her into her own room, 207.”
“On my way,” Mac grinned, kissing her husband on the cheek.
“When do we get to meet the first of the next generation? I’ve got a lot of stories to tell her about her parents. I’ll need to start early,” Matthew Rabb teased his brother in law.
“Not before me.” Kate Rabb winked at her big brother.
“Honey, please keep in mind discretion is the better part of valor.” Jessica Rabb reminded her husband, gently patting her sixth month pregnant belly. “I’m not sure we want Chris and AJ to be left alone with junior here.” Jessica Rabb had a smile that would melt ice. It had certainly melted Matt’s heart the first time he saw her in his ninth grade math class. They were classic high school sweethearts. Even though Matt went to college at Columbia and Jess had gone to school at Georgetown, the relationship never faded. One year after graduation, they were married, and for their first anniversary Jess presented Matt with a pretty white stick, with a bright blue plus sign, tied in a large red bow.
“Yeah, well. Being young and single I don’t have that problem,” Kate grinned impishly.
AJ shook his head. The Rabbs and the Roberts’ had pretty much grown up together. Living within bike riding distance from each other’s homes, and attending the same schools, he and Chris had been best friends for years. One day, not long after she graduated from the University of Virginia, they’d been hanging out at her parent’s place, watching old movies and discussing the woes of dating. Before they knew how it happened, they found themselves going on a real date with each other. Six months later they had announced their engagement. Almost six years after the wedding, both their parents had given up on the idea that they would ever be grandparents. Chris and AJ had been busy getting their careers on line and just enjoying each other’s company. They wanted AJ to get his overseas tours done before they considered having children. Then, right around Chris’ 29th birthday, it suddenly dawned on her that she had a biological clock. Three months later they announced their impending parenthood.
Mac tapped lightly on the door as she walked into the room.
“How ya doin’, Mama?” Mac couldn’t help the huge grin that spread across her face.
“Tired, but fine,” Chris grinned back.
At that moment the nurse came walking back into the room with a little pink bundle.
“There’s our little princess,” Mac cooed as the nurse walked past to place Sarah in her mother’s arms.
“Hey, I thought I was the princess of the family?”
“Sorry, dear. You’ve been dethroned,” Mac shot back without skipping a beat.
“Thanks, Mom,” Chris said somewhat seriously.
“What did I do?” Sitting down on the bed beside Chris, Mac hadn’t taken her eyes off the new baby.
“For not letting me hit the snooze button on my biological clock.”
“Hey, I’m glad you could learn from my lessons.” Mac reached over and ran her finger along the little stretch of Sarah’s arm that was peeking out from under the blanket.
“Here. You take her.” Chris passed the baby over to Mac. “I hope I can be as good a mother as you are.”
“You’ll be better.” Mac kissed Chris on the temple, and then leaned back, slowly rocking in place with the baby.
“I hope so.” Chris kept her eyes on the tiny person in her mother’s arms. Somehow it all still seemed so unreal.
“You ready to face the rest of the clan?” Mac asked without looking up.
“I’d like to see Dad first.” Her mom’s words suddenly registering, “Clan? Exactly who is here?”
“Well, Bud and Harriet of course. Matt and Jess are here with Katie. Jimmy cut some meeting short in order to catch the first plane home. Nicole is going to pick him up at the airport, so they’ll be here soon. Mike is probably already here. He called to say he was on his way just before AJ came out to get us. Oh, wait, I forgot. Mike was going to stop and pick up whoever his latest girlfriend is. I think that’s one of his tests of whether or not they’re a keeper. Since Nickie brought Steve to a family gathering on a first date and he married her anyway, I think Mike assumes the first girl we don’t scare off will be ‘the’ one.”
The two women giggled happily unaware of the tall form watching from the doorway. Softly, Harm made his way over to the bed. Standing slightly behind his wife, he dropped his hands on either shoulder, and bent over to look at the precious bundle. “She looks just like you,” he whispered to Chris.
“You think so?” Chris beamed.
Harm had a hard time holding back the tears in his eyes. Squeezing his wife’s shoulder he swallowed hard. “May I hold her?”
“Daaaaddd. You don’t have to ask.” Chris watched her father as her mom handed Sarah over.
“I’m so sorry I wasn’t there when you were born.” Harm was looking at the baby, but he was talking to Chris.
“You made up for it,” she smiled. It had taken her a long time before she finally realized Harm really was her father, and it took a few more years to understand the dynamics between him and her real mom, but there was never a single day that she regretted anything about the way she grew up. Harm was the best dad a girl could ask for, even if he did interrogate every boy she ever dated, and remind them how accurate a 9millimeter Navy issue was. Mac was a great mom, too. Few people ever realized she was really Chris’ step mom. Most of Chris’ life, she even forgot Mac was only a step mom. And how many people get to have the added blessing of a grandpa for almost fifteen years of their lives, and living right downstairs too.
Ray had been an incredible blessing to the Rabb household. He had nurtured and cherished each of the Rabb children as though they were his grandchildren as well. It had never occurred to them to call him anything but Grandpa. In many ways, he’d become a surrogate dad for Mac, somehow balancing the scales whenever the Burnetts came to town, and they did, often.
After a few minutes, Sarah began squirming in her Grandfather’s arms. “I remember this. I’m afraid, little one, only Mommy can help.” Passing the baby over to his daughter to be fed. “I’ll go tell AJ it will be just a few minutes before the party can begin.”
“No, Dad. Stay. He’ll be back in a second.” No sooner were the words out of her mouth, than as if on cue, Lt. Commander AJ Roberts of the Judge Advocate General Corps came tip toeing quietly into the room.
“I told everyone I’d come check on you. I thought you might want some quiet time alone.” Walking around to the other side of the bed, AJ couldn’t help grinning madly at his beautiful wife and baby.
“Thanks, hon. This is absolutely perfect.”
And she was absolutely right. The Rabb family had come a long way, and there wasn’t a single moment of any of it that they wouldn’t do over again, exactly the same way.
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