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Birthday Treats  -  Part 3

By: Timer

Chapter 13 - Face the Music

Manly Arms B&B
Harm & Mac’s room
Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2003
0830 Local

I open my eyes to the most wonderful sight in the world: Harmon Rabb, Jr. asleep in bed with me. Normally we fall asleep with him on his back and me kinda tucked into his arm, resting my head on his shoulder. We’ve been waking up spooned, his body wrapped around mine from behind as if he wants to cover my six even when he’s dreaming.

‘Normally’? I think to myself. We’ve only slept together three nights (if you don’t count the Appalachians, Afghanistan and Russia, which I really don’t) and I’m thinking about this as ‘normally’?

Boy, he’s not the only one who’s taken to this whole ‘us’ thing like a duck to water. Uhmm, I wonder if that was the hidden meaning of the rubber duck.

In any case, this morning I wake up facing him. Briefly I study how he looks in repose. Most relaxed. Well, I’m gonna claim credit for at least part of how relaxed he is. Woohoo! Maybe if he woke up he’d need to get relaxed again?

Delicately I trace my finger around his ear lobe. “Mmhmm.” Who would have guessed his ears were so sensitive?

Leaning forward I whisper, “Harm, are you awake?”

OK, I know that’s a stupid question ‘cause I’m in the process of trying to get him awake but seems kinder than ‘attention on deck’.

“I am now. And I know a certain Marine Colonel who is going to pay dearly for the privilege of waking me up.” Mumbled, sleepy but decipherable.

I peek under the covers. “I don’t know Harm, I think I see some very compelling evidence that at least part of you is quite awake and happy about it.”

His eyes fly open. “You’re leering at me while I sleep? You’re taking advantage of me while I slumber?” This is the lawyer zeroing in on a witness. I’ve seen it a thousand times.
“Yes.” Matter-of-factly owning up to it takes a little of the wind out of his sails, but not, I’m most gratified to see, the strength out of his mast.

“I take it by this cavalier admission to your guilt, you find no shame in this?” He’s trying to regroup for the members that, thankfully, are not in the room watching this exchange.

“Nope, none at all. In fact, I intend to do it again. Right now.” With glee I flip the covers back, sit up and brazenly grin at what I see.

“The way I figure it, Harm, is we have to go back to DC today, and time’s a wasting.” Draping myself over him I begin to give him a much finer wake-up call than reveille.

Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2003
0800 Local

I stride into JAG Ops for the first time since Friday, the familiar cry of “Admiral on deck”going out. It’d taken longer for me to sort through my aunt’s will and all the paperwork for her Bed and Breakfast than I had anticipated, but I’m confident all her matters are now in order. ‘Not that she probably won’t outlive me,’ I think to myself.

Passing Petty Officer Coates at her desk in my outer office, I pause. “Coates, give me 15 minutes to collect my thoughts, then get the SecNav on the phone if you can.”

“Yes, sir. Coffee, sir?”

‘Intravenously if possible’ I mutter to myself. “Please.”

In my office I pace behind my desk. Back and forth in front of the windows. Coates brings in the coffee, silently sets it on the desk and makes a hasty retreat. She clearly senses something is brewing besides coffee this morning and intends to stay out of it.

‘Jeez, like they couldn’t have picked a worse time to finally get together?’ Staffing is short, I can’t afford to transfer one of them. And making out like sex-starved teenagers in the middle of a public street!

Well, at least they hadn’t been in uniform.

And considering how many years they’ve been storing up the unsatisfied sexual tension it’s lucky they weren’t doing more than just passionately kissing.

What did Mac say? They first let ‘physics take it’s course’ on Saturday? That’s a new euphemism on me. Didn’t realize Newton, Einstein and their cohorts are the latest sex symbols. Whatever.
‘But if they just finally slept together on Saturday, I’m surprised they even were on the street Sunday. Given the years they’ve been holding back...Oh man, by the time they report to duty tomorrow morning I’ll be surprised if they can walk.’ I chuckle at the image of the proud Marine and cocky Naval aviator hobbled by their own appetites.

Briefly I consider the image of those two in bed. Quickly I try to put it out of my mind. ‘Hey, I’m a red-blooded man as much as the next guy and they’re two great specimens, I’ll let me think about it for just 10 seconds.’ Ten seconds later the SEAL training and commanding officer demeanor reasserts itself. But, I have to admit, it was an entertaining 10 seconds I’ll never own up to anyone that I indulged.

Oh, I really need to get my head into this. Gotta figure out a way to convince the SecNav to let me keep them both. After all, it’s worked out fine with Harriet and Bud for years. ‘Course technically she isn’t in my chain of command. But hell, what’s ‘Admiral’s privilege’ worth if not for situations like these?

Rabb and Mac and good officers. I can trust them to maintain the proper level of military decorum in the office. Can’t I?

Images of supply closet clinches, law library back-stack encounters, conference table trysts run horrifyingly through my mind.

Staring out the window I consider if removing the locks on their office doors and taking down the blinds might not be a prudent preemptive strike.

With my back still to the door, I fail to realize Coates didn’t shut it completely. Not that I asked her to.

“Admiral, the SecNav’s on line 2” she says over the intercom.

I pick up the phone, still gazing out the window. “Mr. Secretary.”


“I need to discuss a personnel matter with you.”

“AJ, I know you need more staffing, I working on it but you do know what kind of budgetary constraints we’re dealing with right now.”

“Yes sir, I do. That’s why I need to discuss this matter with you. It regards two of my senior attorney’s, and I just can’t afford to lose them right now.”

Outside the Admiral’s office, Coates’ ears turn up like sophisticated radar. As luck would have it, Lt. Simms walks up to her desk at the same time.
Frantically, Coates puts her finger to her lips, her other hand behind her ear and looks meaningfully at the Admiral’s partially open door.

Harriet, always alert for inside information (at least that’s how she thinks of it, some people call it gossip), leans back slightly toward the door to improve her chances of hearing every word.

“Yes, sir. Very senior, sir. In fact, they’re my best.”

Harriet and Jenn snap their eyes to each other. No doubt about who he’s talking about, is there?

“No, Webb is not trying to steal them away for another one of his harebrained missions. This is more permanent. They want to get married.”

I briefly wonder what that loud crash was outside my office. Have to check into that in a bit.

“Yes, sir. Married. Well no, sir. They weren’t really fraternizing. Yes, I know sir, either you are or you aren’t, usually. But these two have had a ‘special connection’ for years. No, they haven’t been fraternizing for years.”

“AJ, you really expect me to believe that Rabb and MacKenzie have decided to get married without having,” OK, I can tell he’s trying to be delicate about this, “fraternized?”

“I believe they’ve only been fraternizing since this past Saturday.”

“So that is who we’re talking about.”

“Yes, sir. It is.”

Outside the office Jenn is putting a cold damp cloth on Harriet’s forehead and trying to keep her from fainting.

Bud rushes up, having heard the crash as his wife dropped a stack of files and collapsed in the chair outside the Admiral’s door.

“What’s going on? Sweetie, are you alright? Jenn, call the corpsman on duty!”

“Mr. Secretary, could you hold on for a moment, please? There’s some disturbance in the office. Thank you, sir.”

“What’s going on out here?”

“Harriet’s just feeling a little lightheaded sir. You know that can happen to a pregnant woman. I’ve called the corpsman on duty to check her out. Probably just needs to drink some orange juice.” Jenn explains most reasonably.
I stare at Lt. Roberts. “Again? You do know it’s possible to sleep at night, right?”

Walking back into my office I wonder if everyone in my office but me is having a hot and heavy sex life. Need to do something about that. About me, not about them.

“Yes, thank you sir, I’m back. No, nothing more than a pregnant Lieutenant who’s feeling a little dizzy. No sir, JAG Ops is not trying to set the Naval record for sex.”

I sigh. I’m afraid I’m losing this one and I really don’t want to.

“AJ, just how do you propose you keep them both at JAG?”

Now that’s a good sign, I’m starting to see a crack in the facade here. “Well sir, as long as they aren’t assigned as opposing counsel, I don’t think it should present a problem. I’d like to take this as ‘Admiral’s privilege’.”

“I’m sure you would. OK AJ, as long as I don’t hear tales of break room embraces, law library liaisons.”

“You have my word Mr. Secretary.”

“OK, we’ll try it out, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on this, AJ.”

Lunch Room
Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2003
1000 Local

“No Bud, once again, I really don’t think I’m pregnant again.”

Bud is frantically hovering. Jenn is cautiously watching. The corpsman who just checked her vitals has pronounced her fine and left. Harriet is sipping orange juice at his suggestion.

“Then why were you feeling faint?” All husbandly concern.

“Because I just found out that the Commander and the Colonel have been, uhmm, fraternizing since his birthday party!”

Bud’s eyes bug.

“And they’re engaged.”

Bud’s mouth drops open.
“And the Admiral was trying to convince the SecNav to let them both stay at JAG.”

Now Bud’s the one who has to sit down suddenly. Jenn goes off to get more orange juice.

Later that afternoon

“Harriet, is there anyone you haven’t told? What if you misheard the Admiral.” Bud’s getting seriously concerned about this. Harriet’s calling it ‘intel’ but it sure seems like gossip about senior officers to him. Fraternizing, conduct unbecoming (although considering how pretty the Colonel is and how handsome the Commander is he bets it was most becoming, allowing himself the same 10 seconds the Admiral gave himself).

“Bud, it’s not like I’m gonna put up a ‘Congratulations’ banner or something,” he pins her with a panicked look...he knows she thought about it. “I just think it will be easier for them if we can all act natural when they report in tomorrow morning.”

“Harriet, don’t you think we could have all acted natural if we didn’t know they’d spent the weekend, you know.”

“Oh Bud.”

Mac’s Apartment
Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2003
2030 Local

“Mac, can I please stay here with you tonight?” Wow, when Harm’s little boy comes out he really comes out full force.

“You sure you want to? We’ll have to get up an hour earlier so you can go to your apartment for a fresh uniform.” And lord knows how this man does not like to get out of bed.

“Positive. First of all, from now on I don’t want to sleep without you unless absolutely, positively necessary. Second of all, we’re gonna be facing the music with the Admiral tomorrow morning and I want tonight to be as relaxing as possible. In the third place, I don’t have a bathtub at my place and I think we should soak in the tub with our little yellow friend to stand guard, just so we’re safe.”

OK, bubble bath, rubber ducks and an early night’s sleep to get us ready to face the music.

As I snuggle up next to him in bed, “Harm, I don’t think it’s gonna be that bad tomorrow. I mean the Admiral just about ordered us to get married. I think he’ll make a show of busting your chops for the “I’m sick” ruse, but I don’t think the Aleutians are in your future.”

“Hope not, Mac. But if he wants to we’ve given him all the ammunition he needs to put a major hurt on both our careers, not to mention transferring one of us out.”

He’s fretting. “No Harm, that’s not gonna happen. Remember, we’re in this life thing together now. Besides, we have the great 2nd Law on our side...if he throws too much negative energy our way we’ll just change its form.”

“Oh yeah. OK. Sleep well, Mac.” A gentle squeeze, a kiss on my head and he’s out like a light.

Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2003
0800 Local

Even with going by Harm’s apartment we’re somehow on time. Good tactic when you know you’re in line to get the riot act, the UCMJ, and the ‘officer and gentleman’ code thrown at you.

We pull into the parking lot (why bother with two cars?) and look at each other intently, gauging our individual and joint mood.

“You ready for this?” We ask each other in unison.

Laughing, I say, “Yes, Harm, we are ready for this.”

Pulling ourselves up to our respective full heights (gotta admit Harm’s got me beat on that front), straightening our uniforms, squaring our shoulders we walk into JAG Ops. Up in the elevator.

The instant before the door open he pulls me to him for a quick kiss. “I love you. Nothing they can do here today can change that.”

“Ditto.” Is all I can get out before the doors open.

I hear us both take a deep breath.

Pulling the doors to the bullpen open, we walk in side-by-side and are hit with a thunderous silence. Everyone in JAG is standing in the bullpen. Even people who don’t work in the bullpen are standing in the bullpen. And they’re all staring at us.

Stops us dead in our tracks. Maybe we are gonna get hung from the nearest yardarm. Then they burst into applause. Catcalls and whistles coming from the younger enlisted men. And over it we hear the sound of a collective humming of “Here Comes The Bride”.

Well, OK. I guess we faced the music. We turn to each other and grin. “Gee, that wasn’t so bad.

finis. not sure if there is any more to this one. let me give it a few days.

Chapter 14 - Last One In The Pool Is...

Wed., Oct. 29, 2003
0800 Local

“Admiral on deck!” The familiar cry brings the commotion to a sudden halt as the assembled crew snaps to attention, including Mac and me.

“Awful crowded in here this morning,” the Admiral comments. “Any idea why that would be, Commander?”

Oh, it’s gonna start like this? In front of everyone? This is gonna be worse than I feared. “No, sir, don’t have a clue.”

“Hurumph,” he replies.

I wonder if there is a secret seminar they give when you get your first star. I figure ‘perfecting the glare’, ‘advanced glowering’ and ‘hurumphing’ would be on the agenda. At this rate, I’ll never find out.

“Commander, Colonel, my office. The rest of you, as you were. No, belay that.” I realize he heard enough of the reception our entrance caused to quickly rethink that order. “The rest of you carry on with your duties, and see that you carry yourselves to where those duties are usually performed!”

Mac and I follow the Admiral toward his office. She gives me an encouraging smile. I can hear her inside my head, “don’t worry, this is the show he has to make, it’s not gonna be that bad.” I can feel her inside my heart, “trust in us.”

That’s all I need. He can bust me to seaman and have me polishing brass for the next two years, this woman is worth it. Hey, but he’d better let us polish that brass together. I wonder, do Marines know how to polish brass? That’s OK, Mac’s smart, I can teach her.
Oops, I’m doing some nervous mental babbling here. Better get back in the game.

Jenn gives us a look that somehow blends ‘congratulations, good luck in there’ and that uniquely female sigh at love. I give her the barest nod of thanks back.

“Shut the hatch Commander.”

As I’m closing the door I see Harriet peeking around the corner giving me a thumbs up. It’s great to have friends. If only they could help us now.

Mac and I stand at attention in front of the Admiral’s desk as he engages in glowering practice for what seems like forever. I must remember to ask Mac how long it really lasted. The Admiral’s glower seems to defy Einstein’s theory about time -- it stretches it.

Finally he orders, “At ease. Take a seat.”

I watch the Admiral watch Mac sit down. In fact, he’s watching her sit down very intently. Oh my god! He’s wondering if she’s sore! He’s wondering if we ‘fraternized’ so much she’s sore!

His gaze shifts to me, eyebrows lifting an infinitesimal amount. Just enough to let me know he knows I figured out what he was watching for.

Why won’t the floor beneath this chair open up and swallow me? It’s bad enough he caught us making out in the street. Not to mention compounding that with our having to admit to him exactly when we started ‘fraternizing’. But now he’s trying to figure out how often we did? And if I treated her gently or manhandled her? (Hey, how does he know she doesn’t like it a little rough?)

Twenty-two years of military training is the only thing keeping my face impassive. I will not let this man make me blush. I’m 40 years old, Mac is my fiancée and we get to have sex whenever and however we want.

Jeez, I just had to think that, didn’t I? Now I’ve made myself blush.

His eyebrows creep a hair higher.

“I trust you’re both well-rested from your leave.”

Man, he’s not gonna let this go is he?

“Yes, sir,” we respond in unison.

“My aunt tells me the ocean air is so conducive to a good night’s sleep.” Yep, he emphasizes the word ‘sleep’. He’s having way too much fun with this. I steal a glance at Mac. Damn, she’s good. Her face isn’t betraying a thing. That’s my Marine!
The Admiral sits back in his chair and gives me a look I bet I’ll get from St. Peter when the time comes. Is he gonna let us in? Let us off? Kick us out? Worse yet, kick only one of us out?

“I know I don’t have to tell you how many charges I could bring.”

Rhetorical, we both decide and stay silent.

He puts on his reading glasses and opens a folder. “I’ve discussed this situation with the SecNav.”

Now I want the floor to swallow both me and Mac. Good god, he called the SecNav and they discussed where, when and probably speculated on how Mac and I started ‘fraternizing’? Don’t we have the right to any privacy? Guess not.

“I assured him that your fraternization was very recent and that you are engaged.”

And that made points with him? I wonder.

The Admiral continues, apparently unaware that I’m beginning to question if I’ll ever hoist my mast again with all this inspection of its activities and readiness going on. “He knows that you are my two most senior attorneys, that you have both had, well at least one of you have had, well no, let’s just say he acknowledges the contributions you have both made.”

That was a nice little dance around our ‘interesting’ service records.

“So, in recognition of that and how short-staffed we are, he’s agreed to let me keep both of you here at JAG Headquarters. At least for the time being.”

I want to jump up, grab Mac and twirl her around. I want to throw my head back and howl in joy like I do when I fly ‘Sarah’. Instead, we say in unison “Thank you, sir.”

I take a split-second look at Mac and see her doing the same to me. You know, pretty soon we aren’t gonna need to talk at all. Telepathy and looks are gonna fill in quite nicely I think.

Focusing back on the Admiral, I take in a sharp breath. Staying at JAG was the carrot, here comes the stick.

“However, if I ever catch you, or catch wind of the two of you comporting yourself in any way other than the most unreproachable military manner you will be posted to opposite ends of the world so fast you won’t have time to pack a sea bag.”

“Sir, you can count on the Colonel and I to maintain the highest military bearing.” I hope I sound sincere because truth to be told I had a fantasy about the conference table. And I know a really secluded corner in the back of the law library. Then there is always the elevator. Gee, I’ve already kissed her in that.
Mac, who’s been surprisingly quiet through this, chimes in. “Sir, the Commander and I have treated each other with military courtesy and deportment for years. This won’t change that.”

Both the Admiral and I give her incredulous looks. She glances from me to him. “Really, sir.” Damn, she sounds so honest. Does she really believe I’m not gonna grab her in the elevator if I get the chance?

The Admiral just snorts. “Right Mac.” He shakes his head. “Just don’t let anyone ever catch you.”

“But sir,” she starts to protest. ‘Leave it alone Mac,’ I pray.

He puts up his hand, palm out to stop her. “Commander, I have yet to determine the appropriate punishment for misrepresenting your health to me.”

Oh, that’s good. ‘Misrepresenting your health’ is a significant improvement over ‘lying to a superior officer’ .

“I’ll be getting back to you on that shortly. But for now I think that’s all. You two might want to talk with Lts. Roberts and Simms about how they’ve managed to balance their personal and work relationships. They seem to have done a good job over the years.” He’s all fatherly advice now. “Except, of course, when she’s pregnant.”

His head swivels over to Mac, eyebrows at maximum elevation. “Colonel?”

“Yes, sir. No, sir.”

“OK, good. Plenty of time for that after you two are married.” I think I see him sigh in relief. Would kinda blow our story of just getting together if Mac was pregnant, wouldn’t it.

“Fine, then, dismissed. I expect there are a few people out there waiting for an announcement from you two. Dismissed.”

“Aye, aye, sir.” We stand, crisply turn and walk out of his office.

An announcement? Jeez, seemed to me everyone already knew. Wonder how that happened? Surely the Admiral didn’t tell anyone. Other than the SecNav. Who he probably talked to on the phone. On a call placed through one Petty Officer Jennifer Coates, who may have some serious explaining to do.

The Petty Officer in question stands as Mac and I exit the Admiral’s office. I nail her with my ace JAG investigator stare. She gulps. A blatant admission of guilt. (What’s with all this gulping going around, I briefly wonder. First Mac, then me, now Jenn.)

“Sir, ma’am. Everything alright? Anything I can do for you?” She’s nervous, even more evidence of her guilt. Oh well, she’s young and a romantic. But she’s gonna have to pay just a little for what I’m sure is her letting the cat out of the bag.

Mac and I look at each other. Yep, on the same page. We both adopt despairing attitudes. “Yes, Jenn. You need to call the Marine guard to escort the Colonel and me to the brig. You might ask Lt. Roberts and Commander Turner if they would be willing to defend us. But I’m afraid we’re both looking at time in Leavenworth.”

I steal a glance at Mac. Damn, she’s even managed to make her lower lip quiver! She really needs to consider doing a little community theater.

“Oh no!” Jenn goes pale, her hands flying up to her chest.

If she faints I’m gonna be sorry I pulled this. Mac, on the other hand, seems to have no worries about pushing it just a bit more.

“Well Jenn, we just don’t have a defensible case. The Admiral himself caught us in the act.”

I never knew eyes could get that wide. “In the act....?” Jenn croaks.

“In the middle of a public street.” I’m piling on but it’s clear now that prurient interest has won out and she is no longer in danger of fainting.

“At a seaside resort,” Mac says with the exact amount of contrition.

“And a bunch of teenagers were cheering us on,” I add.

Jenn collapses in her chair. She’s actually fanning herself. “Did any of them have a camera?” she asks.

Mac and I look at her, we look at each other, look back at her and burst out laughing.

“Oh, Jenn,” The relief of getting through the meeting with the Admiral mixes with her innocent inquiry and I lose it. A chuckle turns into a laugh. A laugh turns into a guffaw. I’m roaring now, tears running down my cheeks. “No, to my knowledge no one has a picture of us kissing.”

“Kissing?” Boy, does she sound disappointed. “But surely, if you’re gonna get married....”

There it is! The proverbial smoking gun. I feel the investigator’s hat settle firmly on my head as I abruptly stop laughing, pin her with a glare and lean forward on her desk.

“What makes you think we’re getting married, Jenn? For that matter, what made the entire crew here at JAG greet us with the wedding march this morning?”

“Well, sir. Lt. Simms and I heard the Admiral talking to the SecNav...”
“Ah ha! So this was a conspiracy, eh? You and the good Lieutenant joined forces to ruin our careers, shred our reputations, sully our good names?”

I feel Mac’s gentle touch on my sleeve. “Harm, I think we can let her off the hook now. You know, before she gets gray hair and starts to cry.”

Looking at Jenn I see I may have pushed it a mite too far. But I just got into the role. Maybe I should join Mac at the community playhouse; this acting stuff is fun.

“Jenn, it’s OK. Really, I’m sorry. We were just pulling your chain ‘cause we suspected you were the leak. Should have known Harriet-the-office-Internet-Simms was involved too.” I use my most soothing voice.

“Oh sir, I’m so sorry. I’ll call those Marine guards now.”

“NO!” Mac and I exclaim, once again doing that unison thing. “No Marine guards, no brig, no court marshall. We’re just fine Jenn.”

Her smile of relief could float a listing battleship. As I straighten up (gosh, guess I was kinda looming over her) I notice the Admiral standing in his office doorway.

“Coates,” pure command voice now. “I think you should retrieve ‘the book’ and bring it into the bullpen. I believe the Commander and the Colonel have an announcement to make.”

Why is he smiling like the Cheshire cat? Why does that make me so nervous? I knew we were getting away with this way too easy. I’m suddenly feeling like Wile E. Coyote and Admiral Roadrunner has an Acme anvil hanging over my head.

Dutifully, Mac and I walk into the bullpen. “Attention on deck,” the Admiral himself orders.

His look at us broaches no wiggle room.

OK, I can do this with decorum and grace, I hope. “For those of you who may not know, I turned 40 this past Saturday.” Mild, polite applause. Clearly the crowd is waiting for the big payoff.

“Colonel MacKenzie gave me the best present I could ever hope for. She agreed to marry me.”

The crowd goes wild. Yes, that is what they were waiting for. Over the general tumult I hear Harriet’s squeals of delight as she bounds up to us, grabs me around the neck and plants a kiss on my cheek. Then hugs Mac so hard I think I see my Marine grimace.

“Oh, I can’t wait to hear all about you two opening your presents!” Harriet exclaims.

“Harriet!” Bud, Mac, Sturgis and I gasp in dismay. “Lt. Simms!” the Admiral chokes.
She draws herself up graciously with an air of propriety I’m sure can only be bred in a Southern woman. “We’re all adults here. We all know these two have been dancing around each other for years. All I want to know is how Prince Charming and Cinderella enjoyed finally getting to the ball.”

She says it with such aplomb we’re all rendered momentarily speechless.

I vaguely hear the Admiral clear his throat. “Commander, Colonel, I may want to amend who you should consult about balancing military and personal roles.” Good advice, sir.

Harriet’s still looking around like she has no idea how embarrassing that was. I can only hope that’s as personally mortifying it’s gonna get, but the Admiral’s still got his Roadrunner look on and the Acme anvil hasn’t fallen yet.

“Coates, did you retrieve ‘the book?’”

Uh-oh, is that the sound of an anvil whistling through the air as it drops toward my head?

“Yes, sir. Have it right here sir.” She’s perky. She has a gleam in her eye. I’m beginning to really regret pulling her chain a few minutes ago.

The Admiral strikes a pose. He’s positioned himself in front of the tall ship display, legs spread, arms crossed over his chest and a look that can only be described as wicked anticipation. “Commander, Colonel, I’m sure I speak for everyone in this office when I extend you both the most heartfelt congratulations on your engagement.”

There’s a smattering of applause that sounds like it’s waiting for the big payoff again. I turn to Mac, who gives me a shrug with her eyes. She doesn’t have a clue where this is going either, but I can see she’s getting apprehensive too.

“Thank you all,” we once again do our unison performance.

“And now that you are engaged, there are some scores to be settled.” The Admiral gestures to Coates who moves to stand next to him, holding a ledger book open in front of her, pen in hand.

“Proceed Petty Officer,” the Admiral directs.

Oh god, why doesn’t that anvil land now? I’d heard rumors about this, but never really believed them. I thought it was only an office legend, sort of like the stories about Singer getting caught coming out of a leather bar with not one but two biker types. But this is beginning to sound alarmingly real.

Instinctively I grab hold of Mac’s hand. Together. We’ll face this together. I give it a squeeze.

The Admiral seizes on it immediately. “Commander, Colonel, what have we discussed about military demeanor?”

“That we need to maintain it in the office at all times, sir,” I reply momentarily forgetting that it doesn’t allow hand holding in the bullpen. Even when we’re about to be publicly humiliated.

“Then why are you two holding hands?” he bellows.

We drop them like the legendary hot potato. “For moral support?” Mac weakly offers.

“You two are battle-hardened senior military officers. I’m sure you can handle this.”

I only wish I was as sure of that as he seems to be.

“Continue, Petty Officer.”

“Sir, ma’am, as you may or may not know, there is an office pool about you two. That is, about various aspects of your relationship. Now, over the years...”

Years!?! This has been going on for years? Jeez, don’t people have anything better to do with their time and money? Try betting on the Super Bowl. The NCAA always is good for a pool. Hell, play the ponies. Why us?

“...many of the minor, short term pools have been settled because outcomes were easily agreed on by all pool participants so bets could be paid off.”

Wait, wait, wait. ‘Minor, short term pools?’ What on earth is she talking about?

“Jenn, what do you mean by ‘minor, short term pools’?” I’m afraid to ask but have to know.

“Well, to answer that completely I’d have to do some research, but most recently they’ve been about things like how often you two will have lunch together in a given number of weeks. Or how long it will be between obvious fights then making up. There are very specific definitions attached so all pool participants can agree as to outcomes. Actually, for a pool running as long as this one with as many subsets under the master pool, it has run amazingly smoothly. Hardly ever been a disagreement about outcomes.”

She’s actually proud of that. I know I’m gaping but I can’t help it. I turn to Mac. She’s gaping too. Great, now we’re the carp family.

“Years?” Mac quietly asks. “Jenn, how many years has this pool been going on?”

“It was started in 1997, ma’am. But I’ve only been handling it since Tiner turned it over to me.”

The Admiral shifts his position just enough so that we all know he’s gonna take control of these proceedings. “I’m sure if the two of you want more detailed history of the pool, you can get it later on your own time. Right now, there are a lot of interested parties out there that need, and deserve, the answers only you two can give to settle at least some of the master pool. Coates?”

“Yes, sir. Commander, Colonel, what was the date of your first date?” She looks expectantly at us, pen poised over the ledger.

I look at Mac. How the hell can we answer that? She gives me her little eye shrug; she doesn’t know either.

OK, I’ll take a stab at it. “That would either be this past Sunday...”

“Or several years ago,” Mac finishes it for me.

A groan comes up from the crowd.

“Unacceptably vague answer,” the Admiral admonishes.

Hey, I’m an ace JAG attorney, right? I ought to be able to argue, or at least obfuscate my way out of this.

“Sir, if you’d let Mac and me take opposing sides, I’m confident we can present compelling arguments for either conclusion.” Hey, take that big guy!

“I’m sure you could, but that’s not gonna happen and it’s not good enough. There’s too much money on the line. Too many people with vested interest in this. You two are the only ones who can answer this question, so you will come up with an answer by the end of the day. Is that understood?”

“Yes, sir.” Just call us the unison twins.

“Sir, if I may, exactly how much money are we talking about here?” What, a couple hundred bucks I’m thinking.

He looks at Coates, who consults the ledger. “On this one question there’s about $5,000 right now. The pool in its entirety is over $24,000. Can’t be precise ‘cause of course it’s invested and I’d have to check on today’s market.”

Oh my god! And they have it invested in the market. I sure wish that anvil would hit ‘cause it’d give me a great excuse to collapse.

“What are the other questions, Jenn?” MAC, DON’T ASK! How is it our nonverbal communication cuts out at this critical juncture?

I see it in her face. It didn’t cut out. She just wants to get this over.
“When did you get engaged?”

OK, that’s an easy one. “Sunday morning.”

“On your first date?” she asks skeptically.

Woah, they’ve been placing bets on this for years and now they’re gonna pull moral judgments? The nerve.

If looks could kill, the nice young Petty Officer would be in a body bag.

“Have you set a date?” We simultaneously shake our heads ‘no’.

“Mac, are you pregnant?” “NO!!!” we both shout.

That’s about all I can take. “Sir, I understand that many people have invested what I think is way too much time, energy and money in this, but I must protest at the personal nature of these questions!”

He cocks his head, lifts his eyebrows and declares, “You two could have avoided all of this by not screwing around for years. As it is, I think you two should consider this a ‘crossing the line’ ceremony that you richly deserve.” He nods to Jenn.

“Last one for right now...”

“Right now?” my voice sounds weak even to myself.

“Well sir, ma’am, there are pools that concern events after engagement, but I’m duty-bound to not disclose those to you.”

Damn, she’s so earnest I almost find myself agreeing with her. Of course she can’t, we could influence the outcome. ‘Influence?’ We *are* the outcome!

“The last one Jenn?” Oh, I’m so afraid I know what this is gonna be.

“When did the two of you first ‘fraternize’?”

“Permission to be dismissed, sir!” Mac and I beg.

“Granted, but we’ll need those answers by the end of the day. The pool’s rules require it.”

What, like it’s part of the UCMJ? Like the SecNav’s in on it? Oh god, he might be. The former one too for that matter.

I don’t remember getting back to my office but here I am, sitting behind my desk. Mac comes in and shuts the door. She starts to close the blinds. “NO! Mac, don’t do that, it might start another pool. Or be part of one. Oh god.” I rest my elbows on my desk and hold my head in my hands.

“Harm,” her voice caresses me almost as well as her hands. “It’s OK Harm. All we need to do is tell the truth. We first ‘fraternized’ on Saturday, we got engaged Sunday morning, our first date was Sunday through Tuesday.”

“Maac, you want everyone to know we slept together not *on* our first date but *before* our first date?” I’m distressed by this notion, why isn’t she?

“Harm, isn’t it obvious from the pool that everyone has expected us to get together for years? Besides, we don’t want to start claiming another timeline because the Admiral’s already on record with the SecNav. And everyone’s gonna know that it was after your birthday party. Gee, you basically announced that to the bullpen!”

I know she’s right but I can’t help feeling like I’ve let her down. “Mac, I don’t want anyone to think you just tumbled into bed with me. The size of the pool, the number of years it’s been going on, do you have any idea how many people might be informed of the significant events on our timeline?” At this rate I wouldn’t be surprised to see the results published in The Navy Times.

She’s stunned for a moment. Then she starts clapping her hands and giggling. The giggles turn into laughs. The laughs turn into howls. I spy many eyes in the bullpen peering through my office windows.

“Harm, good heavens, we’ve been platonically in love with each other for seven years. I don’t think anyone’s gonna accuse us of impetuously jumping into the sack.”

Gotta admit she has a point there.

There’s a knock at my door and I see Bud standing outside. Mac lets him in.

“Sir, ma’am. Sorry to bother you, I know you’re working on important business in here that we’re all eagerly waiting for, but if you could give me an update on when you think I can publish the answers....I’m getting swamped by e-mail.”

“E-mail, Bud? I thought this was just a JAG office thing.” The anvil’s inches above my head, I can feel it.

“Oh well, it certainly started that way, sir. But over the years, well, a lot of people have seen you two together in action.”

I don’t want to know this but I have to.

“OK, Bud, in shorthand, how far-flung is the pool?”
“Gee, there’s the JAG and former JAG Headquarters people, the Congressional group...”

He sees my question, “Congresswoman Latham started that one. The submariners...”

I’ll kill Sturgis.

“Oh, no, Commander Turner didn’t start that one, it started on the Watertown. There’s the CIA group, but I don’t know much about that, they just keep saying they need to know. Then there’s the Pentagon bunch; Admiral Boone, the SecNav, the former SecNav. Not to forget the Marine contingent, both here and overseas. All told, the broadcast e-mail list for the results is close to 2400.”

That’s it. That’s all I can take. I bury my head in my hands again. Twenty-four hundred people are going to be informed via e-mail of when Mac and I finally ‘fraternized’. My brain’s gonna explode. Not sure if I’m flyboy proud that I finally got her in my bed or abashed that it took me so long to get my head out of my six to realize I need her there the for rest of my life.

Mac, on the other hand is whooping it up.

“Hey Harm, this is great. We don’t have to work on an invitation list to the wedding. Bud’s got it on his computer!”

Is this the 6-year-old? Or has her brain short-circuited like mine is threatening to do?

“You know what else, Harm?”

I’m afraid to even speculate.

“I think we should petition for a percentage of the subsequent pools.”

How can she be enthusiastic about this?

“Subsequent pools?”

“Yeah, Jenn mentioned subsequent pools. I’ll bet there are pools like how long between engagement and marriage, how many fights between engagement and marriage, how long before I get pregnant. Whole lot of juicy fodder for pools. And I think we can make a strong argument that we deserve a percentage, not knowing what they are but in determining their outcomes.”

I look at her. She’s got that one eyebrow raised again. We both turn to Bud.

“Sir, ma’am, I’m honor bound to not disclose any information about any subsequent pools.” He’s stammering and backing toward the door.

“Dismissed, Bud.” I gaze over at the woman of my dreams. The love of my life. My Marine who somehow finds this all very amusing.

“So, this isn’t gonna go away is it?” I give a resigned sigh.

“No Harm, it’s energy. It’s not going to go away. But I think I’ve just changed it to suit our needs. Which charity would you like to donate our proceeds to?”

Thank god for that lovely 2nd Law. I smile. Then I really smile.

“How ‘bout the ‘first Rabb-MacKenzie baby’ fund?” I can tell she likes that idea.

A/ N - For those readers who missed watching cartoons in the ‘60’s, Wile E. Coyote and the RoadRunner starred in a series of cartoons. Wile E. was always trying to catch the RoadRunner using crazy stuff, always from Acme. Dynamite, bazookas, rockets, anvils, you get the picture. The RoadRunner always managed to turn the Acme what-ever back on Wile E. (Guess he wasn’t so wily, eh?) Fortunately, when you’re a cartoon character, getting blown up doesn’t make much of a dent. The fun thing about the series, at least to me, was the viewers knew that Wile E. and the RoadRunner both knew it was a game. They both knew it was rigged (Wile E. would never win), but they loved playing it anyway. Hope that helps any cartoon-deprived readers.

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