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The Wedding Party
by Timer


A/N: Don’t mean to trash anybody’s wedding. At least not any more than ‘’The Father of the Bride (original and remake), ‘The Wedding Singer’, ‘The Wedding Planner’, ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’, ‘Wedding Crashers’ or any other numerous movies about planning and having weddings already have.

The characters that have been portrayed in JAG are owned by Bellisarius Productions and Paramount TV. All intellectual rights to this story remain with me.

Many thanks to mary 48184 for proofing this. All mistakes are mine.

Part 1: A Snowball’s Chance

JAG Ops
Harm’s Office
Mid-January

My phone rings, again. How can I ever get any work done if work keeps interrupting my work?

“Commander Rabb.”

“Ham-bone! Why aren’t you outside building a snowpilot?”

“Keeter!” I glance out my window at the billowing snow. “How ‘bout you come help me with that mission? Then we’ll sit around a fireplace with Irish coffee and tell lies. How the hell are you? And where are you?”

“I’m great. It’s classified, sorry. But I will tell you that it’s 82 degrees and sunny.”

Wow, he’s still flying for the CIA? He’s been doing that, what, six years now?

“So what’s up? I haven’t heard from you in ages. Surely you didn’t just call to give me a weather report.”

“Nahh, but I figured I’d share anyway. Nope, I need you to mark your calendar for the weekend of May 20th. That’s a Saturday. Block out Thursday through Monday, if you can. But guard Friday through Sunday from all interlopers on your time with your life.”

Uh-oh. We’re either going on a great flying and fishing trip or Keeter’s getting married.

“We gonna go fishing?”

“Not that weekend.”

“So we’ll be....”

“I’ll be the groom and you’ll be the best man.”

“Really? Gee Keeter, that’s, umm, great. Congratulations.” ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ sings through my head.

“Yeah, Heather’s great. You’ll like her.”

‘Heather’? Keeter’s marrying someone named Heather? I don’t think anyone over the age of 30 is named Heather. Tell me he’s not doing some cliched middle-aged crisis thing.

“So how’d you meet? How long’ve you been dating?” I’ve got my fingers crossed.

“At an art opening in New York City. About six months.”

Keeter at an art opening? Six months? Ohhh, I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

“Hey Harm, gotta go. Mark your calendar. I’ll e-mail you all the info about the wedding. It’s gonna be in the City, but we’ll be blocking out hotel rooms and stuff to make it easier on the out-of-towners. Oh, and yeah, guess I should warn you now, Heather wants you to wear your dress whites. Sorry Harm. Once she found out you were still active she just got crazy about it.”

“Oh, OK. I’ll look for your e-mail. Try to give me a way to get in touch with you, would ya?”

Keeter chuckles. “Sure Harm. But you know how it is with the Company.”

Do I ever.

“Take care, man. I’ll save the weekend as if it were my own wedding.” Whoa, where the hell did *that* come from?

“Your wedding?? Right, that would be the weekend Lucifer needs to buy a snow blower.”

With that Keeter clicks off, leaving me contemplating snow, middle age, marriage and hell.

JAG Ops
Staff Call
0900 Monday, May 15

The admiral is dealing out case folders like it’s a Friday night poker game. Guess spring fever hit over the weekend.

“Colonel, take the next transport to Pensacola. There were three armed robberies over the weekend, two more unsuccessful attempts. All five victims were civilians. All said their attacker was in military uniform.”

“Yes, sir.”

“But Admiral,” I can’t help myself. “Shouldn’t the colonel have some back-up on this investigation? That’s a lot of victims and ground to cover for one person.”

“Yes it is, Commander. That’s why I’m sending Mr. Roberts along with her.” He gives me a look. “I was under the impression you had leave scheduled starting Wednesday at 1700 and won’t be back ‘til Tuesday at 0800.”

“Yes sir, that’s true.”

“And that’s why you got the case of the mysteriously disappearing steaks, lobsters and expensive scotch from the O Club at Norfolk, while the colonel and the lieutenant will be investigating armed robbery.”

“But sir, the colonel has leave scheduled for this weekend too.” It just rushed out. I didn’t really mean to disclose that in front of the entire senior staff, whose eyes are all now on Mac and me.

“You two planning on taking your leave together?”

“Yes sir. For a wedding. We *really* both need to be there.”

Why is Mac kicking me under the table? Why have everyone’s eyes gotten bigger? And what happened to the oxygen in this room? Was it depleted by that sudden intake of breath I just heard everyone take?

“Commander, are you and the colonel both in this wedding?”

Now, why would he think that? “No, sir, just me.”

“You’re in the wedding, but the Colonel isn’t. Yet she *has* to be there.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And your role in this wedding, Commander?”

“Best man.”

There’s an audible whoosh of air returning to the room.

“Assignments stay as ordered. Colonel, if you and Mr. Roberts complete your investigation in time, you may take your leave as planned. But the investigation is your first priority.”

“Understood, sir.”

He stands; we all stand. He leaves the room; we all leave the room behind him.

I follow her into her office. “Mac, you’ve gotta get this done by Friday.”

I’ve been dreading this weekend. I hate New York City. I’m not especially fond of being thrown into forced social situations with a bunch of people I don’t know and probably will never see again. And being best man is a lot like whistling as you walk by a graveyard.

The only thing I had been looking forward to (quite a bit, I must admit) is spending time with Mac.

Earnestly I tell her, “I’ll get a list of all the transports and civilian flights available starting Thursday evening. The wedding’s not ‘til late afternoon on Saturday. You gotta be there.”

She gives me a quizzical look. “Harm, I like Keeter but I only met him that one time in Iran. Granted, that was pretty intense, but it was also six years ago. I think he’ll survive my missing his wedding.”

“Not for Keeter, Mac. For me! You can’t send me to this wedding alone.” Come on, she’s a woman. She’s gotta know about weddings and single people, doesn’t she?

“Harm, for the record, I’m not sending you anywhere. Keeter asked, you agreed. What’s the real problem here?”

“Well, the bride has requested I wear my dress whites.”

“A little unusual for a nonmilitary wedding, but within the bounds of acceptable behavior. And you always look great in your dress whites.”

“Keeter said there weren’t gonna be a lot of guys my age at the wedding. Most of his friends are undercover, overseas or on the lam.”

“I don’t want to know about that last part, Harm. But how is that your problem?”

“I don’t want to spend the weekend with a bunch of married people and single women!” Good god, how can she not understand this is a major problem?

Trademark Mac sigh. “Harm, *I* am a single woman.”

“Exactly, Mac!” See, I knew she’d get it if I gave her enough time. Wonder why she’s shaking her head? Oh, she probably’s worried about not getting done with the investigation in time.

“I’ll do what I can. I’ll take what I’d need for the weekend with me. But right now I’ve gotta get ready to go. Why don’t you e-mail the list of available flights?”

“Yeah, OK. Thanks Mac. And if there’s anything I can do from here to help you down there, let me know. I don’t think the ‘Great Commissary Robbery’ is gonna eat up my whole week.”

She winces at my feeble attempt at humor and waves me out the door.

The Plaza Hotel
New York City
Thursday, May 18
2200 local

‘I’m not drunk,’ I tell myself, knowing that if you’re telling yourself you’re not drunk chances are really good you *are* drunk. I weave only slightly as I walk down the hall to my room. Damn, where is the ‘ball’ when you really need it?

I successfully open my door (only two tries, pretty good for these irritating paper card keys) and land on my bed.

Ahhhh. The room’s not spinning. Always a good sign. I look at the phone. No blinking light. Darn. I check my cell phone again. No messages. Damn. I try my home phone machine just in case. Nothing, unless you count the five tele-marketers. Shit.

Where’s that message from Mac I was hoping to get?

Hell, it’s only 2205 and she hardly ever sleeps. I’ll call her.

“Colonel MacKenzie.”

“Mac! How’s it going? You done yet? When you gonna get here?”

“Harm, were you at a bachelor party tonight?”

How’d she know?

“Weelll, it wasn’t a typical bachelor party. Not like something out of the movies or anything.”

“I would never expect anything that you and Keeter do together to qualify as ‘typical’.”

Is that a good thing?

“A few of us just had a few drinks and swapped a few lies. Man, Keeter wasn’t kidding about no guys our age at this thing. They’re all either 15 years younger or 15 years older.”

“So you have been drinking.”

“Gotta toast the groom, Mac.” Please, please don’t get on my case about this. I’m starting to feel crappy already and it’s too early for a hangover.

“So I hear. Listen Harm, drink at least two big glasses of water and take some aspirin before you go to sleep.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“It’s not looking good down here. If we catch a big break, and that’s a big *if*, I might be able to catch that 1300 transport on Saturday. I’d miss the ceremony but I’d be able to make the reception. I’m not sure it’s worth it, Harm.”

“I AM!” Wow, didn’t mean to shout at her.

“Something going on up there you haven’t told me about?”

“Just wanned ta spend the weekend wit’chu.”

“Harm, you’re seconds away from falling asleep. Drink the water, take the aspirin; it’s really important. National security rides on you completing your mission, sailor. To the bathroom, water, aspirin, in bed, sleep. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

National security? Oh well, if she says so.

The Plaza Hotel
New York City
0930 Friday, May 19

I’ve trusted Mac with my life more times than I can count, but this is the first time I’ve trusted her with my hangover. Should’ve known. Who better than a recovering alcoholic to give hangover prevention advice? By all that’s holy I should feel like roadkill this morning. Instead, I feel surprisingly good. Not as good as if I hadn’t had four whiskeys, but nowhere near as bad as I ought.

A steaming shower, a shave followed by an icy cold splash in the face and I think I’m fit for human company.

Wonder whose company that’s gonna be and what’ll we be doing? Guess it’s time I consult the god-awful ‘wedding party packet’. Jeez. This whole thing has ‘very expensive wedding planner goes full bore for the only daughter’ flashing in neon over it.

JAG Ops
Ten days previously

When ‘the packet’ arrived last week (via Priority Fed Ex no less), at first I thought it was the trial transcript I’d been expecting. A trial that had lasted a week. Imagine my surprise when the nearly two pounds of paper turned out to be ‘The Complete Guide to Jack and Heather’s Wedding’.

I dropped it like it was anthrax-laden, simultaneously pushing back from my desk and jumping up just as Mac was knocking on my door.

“Whoa, sailor. What’s got you so spooked?”

“That....thing.” I gestured toward the packet intruding on the top of my desk. “Look at it Mac. Look at it.”

With both eyebrows raised she stepped up to my desk, leaned forward and read (upside down), “The Complete Guide to Jack and Heather’s Wedding.”

I saw that smirk she tried to hide.

“It weighs a ton. Are they getting married or planning a corporate takeover? There’s more paper there than in most of our treaties!”

She picked it up, separating it into three booklets. After a brief examination she gave me a reassuring look. “Relax, Harm. They inadvertently sent you the bridesmaid’s and the groomsmen’s packets. Half of this doesn’t apply to you.”

“What about the third part?”

“Oh, well, that’s the packet for everyone else who’s coming to the wedding. Most of it is probably covered in your groomsman packet. But it likely has information on things to do and see nearby that people who aren’t in the wedding party would have time to do.”

“And I won’t?”

“I’d think not. As best man, your time is gonna be pretty much taken up by wedding stuff from the moment you arrive ‘til the time you leave.”

This was my first indication that the wedding march sounded a lot like a forced march.

She randomly flipped through the groomsman packet, scanning briefly. “Looks like the standard stuff here.”

What, this is a ‘boilerplate’ wedding?

“Don’t let the number of pages overwhelm you. This is gonna be a well-run affair with up to three wedding planners riding herd on the lot of you. And believe me, they ride herd on the men very closely. If you review the agenda for each day as you go along, and listen to what people tell you to do, you’ll be fine.”

Clearly my concerns about this were sticking out all over.

“Trust me, Harm. They expect, plan for and know how to prevent men from screwing up a wedding by being overwhelmed. Now, intentional sabotage or malicious intent is harder to strategize against, but here in DC there are planners who specialize in just that kind of thing.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Woman scorned, jilted boyfriend. Things can get ugly. But don’t worry, I’m sure Keeter’s wedding will go off without a hitch.” She sailed out of my office.

If only it could go off without him getting hitched.

The Plaza Hotel
1000 Friday, May 19

I find the appropriate page in the booklet and read with increasing dismay what the day has in store for me. Good thing I took Mac’s advice and didn’t read it ‘til now. I’d’ve found a way to be on a carrier in the Med this weekend.

11:00AM Groomsmen brunch, Plaza Hotel dining room

1:30PM Groomsmen final wardrobe fitting, Andre’s Tailors (transport provided)

2:30PM Groomsmen hair and manicure (HAIR AND MANICURE!?!), LaSpa (transport provided from Andre’s)

4:00PM Wedding Party Tea, Plaza Hotel Terrace Garden Room (transport provided from LaSpa)

6:00PM Rehearsal, St. Mark’s Church (transport provided from the Plaza Hotel)

8:00PM Rehearsal dinner, Tavern on the Green (transport provided from St. Mark’s)

Hogtied, held captive and forced to submit to a manicure. Good god. A day at Parris Island with the Force Recon crazies is easier to take than this. And what’s this ‘final wardrobe fitting’? I’ve got my uniform and it fits just fine, thank you. Aha, but if I skip that, I miss the ‘transport’ to LaSpa. Then again, that wouldn’t be a bad thing.

I look over the schedule again. Keeter could not have had anything to do with this. I need help. I need advice. I need Mac.

“Colonel MacKenzie.”

“Maac,” I’m bleating and I don’t care.

“Harm, how’re you feeling this morning?”

”Well, I was feeling pretty good ‘til I looked at the schedule for today’s forced march.” I hear her soft chuckle.

“Yeah, good thing you didn’t look at it ‘til today, right?”

“You’ve got that right. Keeter doesn’t know it but he owes you big time. If I hadn’t listened to you last week I’d be out in the Med right now. And if I hadn’t listened to you last night I’d be feeling really crappy instead of just cranky. Thanks on both counts.”

“You’re welcome. Now, tell me, what’s the worst thing on the schedule?”

She’s enjoying this a little too much but maybe if I hear her laugh about I can too. “Hard to say. There’s the final wardrobe fitting I don’t need but have to go along on since it’s all part of the ‘arranged transport’. Then there’s the required hair styling and manicure.” I hear her choke. “Followed by the wedding party tea. Only to be surpassed by the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner.”

“Oh Harm, I wish I could be there with you. I’d *love* to see you get a manicure!” She’s giggling outright now.

OK, desperate times call for desperate measures.

“Mac, I’d be happy to have you watch me get a manicure if you were just here. Please tell me you’re gonna make that 1300 transport tomorrow. I don’t think I can take much more of this without you.”

The pause stretches out.

“You want me to come even if I just show up halfway through the reception?”

“Yes, I do.”

Neither of us comments on my choice of words.

“OK Harm. I’ll do everything I can to make that transport. Keep your cell with you...but don’t forget to set it to vibrate. God forbid your phone rings during the ceremony.”

“Yeah, but if it vibrates during it that might be pretty good.”

She ignores that.

“I’ll call if I’m not gonna make it. Otherwise I’ll ride in on my white horse and rescue you.”

“I’ll be waiting for you.” Does she remember the last time I told her that? Part of me hopes yes, part hopes no.

Plaza Hotel Terrace Garden Room
4:20PM Friday, May 19

Given she’s wrangling five less-than-cooperative men, I’ve gotta hand it to Kay, the wedding planner assistant assigned to us today. She’s gotten us through the brunch (judiciously monitoring the number of Bloody Marys and having a discreet conversation with the bartender at one point), the fitting (where thankfully there was a place for me to sit and read the latest GQ) and LaSpa (where my military length hair got me out of the otherwise mandatory ‘styling’ and I found -- to my great surprise -- getting a manicure is actually very pleasant).

And here we are, only 20 minutes behind schedule even with New York City traffic. I don’t know what they’re paying her, but she’s earned it already in my book.

As she herds us into the Garden Room better than any English sheep dog could, I brace myself for the moment I’ve been worrying about since Keeter called in January: meeting his bride.

He puts his arm around my shoulder as we approach a large table full of a wide assortment of characters: the parents of the happy couple, obviously trying to get along with each other and having limited success. Someone’s clearly drunken uncle. The dowager who lauds over all and expects all to pay respect to her. The bored younger sister. The hostile younger brother. The ‘I want to be happy for her but secretly hate her for finding a husband before I did’ contingent. The ‘I’m so glad she’ll be as happy as (plug in name of spouse here) and I are’ crowd.

Yep, a well-rounded representative slice of wedding habitués.

And that must be her. Well, I’m just guessing, but the empty seat next to her and the fact she’s the only one wearing a white suit does kinda lead me to that assumption.

Keeter steers us toward her and she stands.

“Jack, you all survived your day so far!”

Hey, she planned this. Did she want us to *not* survive?

“This must be Harm. I’m so glad to finally meet you. If half of what Jack has told me about you is true...” she lets it drift off as she smiles at me.

“Well ma’am, I’d hate to besmirch the honor of your fiancé the day before your wedding, but you better learn right now that sometimes Keeter stretches the truth a bit. Just for the betterment of the story.”

“The betterment of the story, eh? That’s a lawyer talking for sure. I’ve caught him in a few of his ‘betterments’; you’re right, they usually do improve the yarn.” Her smile gets wider and I see the little laugh lines around her eyes dance.

Keeter’s talking to his soon-to-be in-laws and Heather surreptitiously half-turns me away from the table. “Look Harm, I’m sorry about the ‘uniform demand’, but Jack’s mother was adamant about it. I think she’s trying to substitute for Jack not wearing one. She never wanted him to leave the Navy, even after he punched out.”

I see her catch herself up short.

“Oh my god, Harm. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to...”

“That’s OK Heather. I was surprised when Keeter resigned his commission, too.” I’m hoping my tone and look lets her know I’m OK with the punch out comment as well.

“Thanks, Harm. We probably won’t have much time to get to know each other this weekend. This silly wedding is choreographed tighter than a Russian ballet. I hope maybe we can get take a weekend at the shore later this summer or a fall colors flying trip this fall.”

Hey, I’m beginning to like this lady. She’s got to be over 30, maybe significantly. She’s friendly, isn’t afraid to call it as she sees it, wants to go flying. What more could Keeter want?

“There’s one more thing, Harm. My maid of honor, Bitsey. She’s, uhmm, quite a handful. We kinda grew up together, but haven't really hung out with the same crowd for years now.”

She sees my questioning look: so why’s she your maid of honor?

“Our father’s companies go back a long way.”

OK, ‘nuff said. I got it. She’s saddled with Bitsey as much as I am. At least until Mac rides in and bucks her right off. Ohhh, this might be fun.

“I believe I understand.”

“I hope you do. I haven’t been in her crowd for many, many, many years.”

Three ‘manys’? Whoa, baby. This Bitsey’s gotta be something. What, Paris Hilton on a bad day?

With a knowing nod, she turns us back to the table and the torturous process of introducing everyone to everyone begins. Much as I try to keep names and ranks (I mean relationships) straight, it quickly becomes a blur. Until we get to Bitsey.

Now this is an impressive woman. If one is impressed by how much plastic surgery someone can afford. If one thinks anoxeria run rampant is impressive. If one finds a voice that makes Fran Drescher’s sound pleasing attractive. Yes, then this would be your perfect woman.

She’s so plastic she makes a Barbie doll look realistic. What ever happened to the Hippocratic Oath’s ‘first do no harm’?

Keeter turns to me and says very quietly, “Harm, buddy, I’m sorry. When I asked you to be my best man we thought we were gonna avoid the Bitsey curse. We’ll make it up to you, I promise. But ya gotta sit next to her right now. And tonight at the dinner.”

I can see Heather is cringing; Keeter is apologetic.

“That’s OK guys. I can handle it. And I’ve got my Marine guard coming in tomorrow. Bitsey doesn’t stand a chance.”

“Mac’s gonna make it in tomorrow?” Keeter nearly shouts.

I know my smile is as big as it gets as I nod an assent. “Yeah, looks like the investigation’s gonna wrap up today and Mac’ll be able to catch a transport tomorrow afternoon. May miss the ceremony. Sorry.”

“That’s OK. As long as Mac is here.” He slaps me on the back and I walk around the table toward the chair next to Bitsey, trying not to feel like it’s the ‘last mile’.

“Commander,” the chalk squeaks against the board.

“Ms....”

“Bitsey, please call me Bitsey. All my friends do. And I’m so hoping you’ll be a very good friend before the weekend’s over.”

She leans forward and I lean back as far as possible without falling over. Good god. Even Pamela Anderson wouldn’t buy boobs that big, much less put them on an otherwise stick figure. I wonder what she sees when she looks in the mirror?

I sure hope Mac makes that transport.


Part 2: It Takes Two

Tavern on the Green
New York City
2030 Friday, May 19

I’d made it through the tea by splitting my focus as much as possible among Joanne and her husband Mark across the table, Martha on my right and Bitsey of the wandering hands on my left. I couldn’t believe she kept putting her hand on my thigh even after I *repeatedly* pushed it away.

Hey, I started out polite, just moving my leg out of reach. But the table was crowded, my body’s big and her legs and arms are long. Pretty soon it was all I could do to keep my upper body still, to not betray the battle going on under the table. Especially when she dropped her shoes and added feet to the action.

Just before I was ready to quietly read her the riot act and the New York State statutes on harassment, assault and generally being a pain in the ass, the tea cups were cleared and the group began standing up for the next phase of this unholy march toward matrimony.

I’ve only left a place faster with the aid of a catapult.

I’d caught up to Keeter and Heather on the way to the ‘arranged transport’.

Pulling him aside I pled my case. “Keeter, you’ve gotta help me out here. If I didn’t still have good reflexes I swear that woman would’ve been under the table at my fly.”

“This is a problem?”

Yeah, yeah. He had to yank my chain a bit. They taught us that in flight school and it never goes away.

“Sorry, Harm. You’re gonna have to fight her off through dinner. Schwarzkopf couldn’t organize a campaign this battened down. And if you try to so much as change seating arrangements -- which to me is no big deal but apparently in the world of wedding planning it’s right up there with the nuclear codes -- you’ll set off a chain reaction of distress neither of us wants to experience.”

I resigned myself to round two of celebrity under-the-table wrestling.

“But I might be able to help you out. Get her to back off, ya know.”

“Anything, Keeter. Tea was a battle I don’t want to repeat.”

“You got it.”

In retrospect, I should have questioned his smug look. Oh well....

Tavern on the Green
2200 Friday, May 19

I don’t know what Keeter said to Bitsey but it sure did work. She hasn’t touched me all night. Her conversation was a little vapid, talking exclusively about fashion and decorating, but I figure that’s pretty much what’s got her interest.

As the group (I’d like to call it a gaggle, a herd, perhaps even a coven, but I’m too polite) assembles for the ‘provided transport’ back to the hotel, I grab Keeter.

“Hey man, I can’t thank you enough. I don’t know what you said but it worked like magic. She didn’t touch me all night. I was able to chat with other people, eat my dinner --very good by the way, thank you -- and almost have a reasonable conversation with her. As soon as my ears forget how her voice sounds, my memories of this night will be nothing but good, thanks to you.”

He gets that sly Keeter look that is uniquely his. “Yeah, you’d figure with all the money she’s spent on plastic surgery she’d cut a little loose for a voice coach. But Harm, all I did was tell her the truth: your partner Mac is flying in tomorrow morning after finishing up a military investigation and will be joining us at the reception.”

“That’s all it took?”

“Well,” he hedges, “I did also tell her that you and Mac have been in love with each other for years but won’t admit it to anyone.”

“Keeter!”

“Well, it’s true isn’t it?” His look says he knows it is; I don’t need to answer. “And it worked, didn’t it?” Ditto.

“OK, OK.” I know when he’s gotten the best of me. “But no telling Mac. About any of this.”

He crosses his heart solemnly.

Right. Like I’d ever completely trust the guy whose nickname at the Academy was ‘The Joker’.

The Plaza Hotel
0930 Saturday, May 20

I roll over, look at the clock, grab my cell and call Mac.

“Colonel MacKenzie.”

“Mac.”

“Hey, Harm. Hung over again or did you remember to drink water and take aspirins last night?”

If only this gentle ribbing was coming from next door. Better yet, in this room. Best of all, in this bed.

“I’ll have you know I was a paragon of virtue last night, Colonel. I toasted the happy couple -- hey, she’s pretty neat I think, at least so’s far as I’ve gotten to know her, maybe we could all spend a weekend together later this summer or a fall colors flying weekend, her idea -- anyway...”

“Whoa, slow down. I’m still processing that last run-on sentence. You been reading Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ again?”

Hey, can I help it if I think Molly Bloom’s 50-page affirmation of life that condemns it at the same time is possibly the most brilliant and misunderstood 50-page sentence ever written? Not to mention that it is probably the only 50-page sentence ever written outside of certain psych wards.

“No, haven’t had the time. But Molly Bloom is right.”

“About which part, Harm?”

“About the ‘yes’. And I want to talk to you more about that, but right now what I want to hear is that, yes, you’re getting on that transport at 1300.” Fingers crossed, I hold my breath.

“Yes. I get to play Molly Bloom today. Yes, I’ll be on the transport. With any traffic luck, I ought to be at the reception by 1900 tonight.”

“That’s great! I can’t wait to see you. I’ll be the one in dress whites and gold wings, just in case you’ve forgotten.”

“You keep hoping, flyboy. But I told you a long time ago, they’re overrated.”

“I know Mac. They haven’t worked on you for the last six years. But I’ll be wearing them anyway, just in case you change your mind.”

“I thought you were wearing them ‘cause the bride demanded it.”

“Actually the groom’s mother demanded it; the bride went along to keep the peace. But a guy can still hope, can’t he?”

Another long pause stretches out. That’s one for each of our last few conversations. Don’t know if it’s the wedding madness getting to me or the Florida heat getting to her.

Maybe both.

“Harm...” Mac so rarely sounds tentative that I’m not sure I correctly identify it as such. “Are you OK?”

“Yeah, but I’ll be much better when you’re here with me. Use that Marine DI voice to make the pilots fly faster, the traffic part like the Red Sea and get you here to me.”

Another rather long silence.

“Harm, did the groomsmen already get together for some drinks this morning?”

“NO!” Damn all the years we’ve danced around that would lead her to ask that question.

Softly now I say, “No Mac, I just want to be with you. I haven’t left my room. Hell, I haven’t left my bed yet.” Whoops, maybe didn’t need to say that. Blundering on. “I had one toast to the happy couple last night, that’s all. I’m not drunk. I’m not hung over. I’m just wanting to be with you, OK?”

These long silences are happening waaay too frequently.

“OK. I’ll be the one in the crimson gown, just in case you’ve forgotten.”

“Safe trip, see you soon.”

I roll out of bed and into the shower. The icy cold water splash after shaving isn’t quite enough to prepare me for today. I’m thinking electroshock therapy might not be enough. Oh well, postponing the inevitable never changes things. I grab the dreaded ‘wedding packet’ (which will receive a ritual burning shortly after this weekend) and examine the day’s agenda.

11:00AM Groomsmen’s brunch, The Plaza Hotel Garden Terrace

1:00PM Groomsmen transport to St. Mark’s Church

2:00PM Photographs of the wedding party

3:30PM Groomsmen retire to Groom’s waiting room

4:00PM Groom appears at altar

4:05PM Wedding processional begins

4:35PM Ceremony ends and wedding party departs for reception (transportation provided)

5:30PM Reception begins (reception line and bars open, band begins)

7:30PM Reception buffet is served

10:30PM Band ends

I groan as I read it. I groan again as I check my dress whites in their garment bag. Much as I dislike hauling around a second set of clothes, I’m sure not gonna get into whites at 1000 when there are way too many opportunities to mess them up before 1400.

Cinching my tie I swear to myself, ‘Mac’s and my wedding will never be this painful.’

Then I stand very still. And repeat what I just said to myself. Once again, just to be sure.

OK. Skipping right over the part about telling Mac I love her, finding out if she loves me, asking her to marry me and hoping she’ll accept, I go straight to logistics: we can always ask Harriet and my mom to help.

The Plaza Hotel Ballroom
1800 Saturday, May 20

I really have to hand it to these wedding wranglers (‘planner’ doesn’t do them justice; these women are cowpokes of the highest order). This entire, way too overblown shindig is only 30 minutes behind published schedule, and that’s given recalcitrant flower girls, screaming ring bearers and New York City traffic.

(Tell me what sadistic madman decided that adding children under the age of 5 to an already crazed brew would sweeten the pot? What’s next? Pets being counted on to walk up the aisle? Any idiot could predict that a 4-year-old walking down an aisle surrounded by people they know and don’t know is gonna either get terrified and start screaming or distracted and run toward Aunt Whoever’s arms.)

I wonder how Mac feels about eloping? Other than the fact my mother would kill me, it’s looking better all the time.

Taking my place next to Bitsey, who is still on remarkably good behavior, I stand in the reception line and answer, “Yes, I’m in the Navy,” about a hundred times. What, they think I’m the Good Humor man?

With the line finally ending, Keeter and Heather come up to me. “Harm, Mac’s still coming, right?”

“Yeah, she ought to be here by 1900.”

“Good, then you won’t have to do this for long.”

He’s looking sheepish and that makes me nervous. Heather’s actually looking away. Oh god, now what? Something worse than Bitsey?? What could be worse than Bitsey???

Heather takes a deep breath and looks me straight in the eyes. Gotta admire her for that, ‘cause whatever this is, I’m clearly not gonna like it, and she doesn’t either.

“Don’t look now, but there’s a table of women over your shoulder to your right,” she starts.

“Bogies at 5 o’clock,” Keeter interprets.

“They’re all expecting to dance with you.”

Military training saves me from whipping my head around to survey the enemy. “How many are there?” I’m not sure I want to know, but a good pilot always does a dispassionate situation analysis.

“Eight, but if Mac’s on time, and you take drink and bathroom breaks, you can probably get away with just four or five.” Keeter’s trying to be optimistic for me, but I can see he’s having a tough time.

I turn to Heather, figuring she’s gonna be the better authority on this next question. “Do I ask them or have they got it worked out?”

To her credit she’s embarrassed. “They have it worked out. All you have to do is walk over to the table; your first dance partner will stand. After that, just escort one back and pick up another.”

I see her blushing deeply; Keeter’s staring at the floor. What can I do? I shake my head in disbelief. Here I am, Harmon Rabb, Jr., decorated pilot, legendary lawyer and I’ve just been turned into a taxi dancer. A dime a dance. God, Mac’s never gonna let me live this down.

“OK, OK, but you’ve gotta promise me this. Please, do whatever you can to keep this from Mac.”

“Harm, you might want to think about that. If she hears you’ve danced with a different lady every dance, you might want independent verification of the reasons why.”

Damn. And I thought I was the lawyer.

“Good point. OK. Well, then, we who are about to die laughing, salute you!” I give them a smart salute, crisp turn and stride toward the table of waiting women.

“Good evening, ladies,” as I take the outstretched hand of my first dance partner.

She’s maybe 30. Or maybe she’s 38 and has already had a face peel. It’s so hard to tell these days. Nicely built, obviously works out, pleasant face, graceful walk.

I lead her to the dance floor and we do a formal address.

“Commander.”

“Ms...?”

“Justine.”

Early 30s, I guess, with that name.

We come together in a genteel waltz, plenty of air space between us. I begin to relax. Maybe these aren’t all Bitsey’s friends. Maybe they’re just ladies who like to dance. Maybe...

“Commander.”

Hey now, where’d *that* tone of voice come from? And when did she sneak her right hand out of my left and onto my wings? Clearly I have underestimated the enemy.

“I hear you’re a fighter pilot.”

She’s moved her whole body closer.

I *try* to lead. Women are supposed to follow a man’s lead on the dance floor, right? I was told recently that it’s the only place that women are still expected to follow a man. Why didn’t Justine get that memo?

Pulling away as best possible, I demur, “Very rarely these days. Mostly I’m a lawyer.” Now, that should sound dull enough to put her off.

“Not what I heard. I heard you’ve shot down enemy planes, bombed enemy targets.”

I see that look in her eye. The one I really hate. The one that marks the strange cases who get a thrill out of being with a man who has killed other men.

“Yes, I have. It’s a terrible burden to bear, but one that I’ve chosen. It does have its costs.”

“Oh Commander, you can unburden yourself to me. I’ll help you bear those costs. Why don’t you fly me for the night and let me make you forget about all that?”

She’s salivating. This is gonna be sweet.

“That’s so patriotic of you, Justine. So many women just don’t understand why men like me are impotent.”

She trips over my feet, her feet and my feet again. Luckily for her, chivalrous guy that I am, I hold her up and cover her missteps so that anyone who wasn’t paying the most careful attention wouldn’t notice.

Of course that ‘anybody’ crowd would *not* include the women’s dance table.

The song ends, I walk her to the table and kiss the back of her hand with a small bow. Then, pulling her a trifle closer I say in a whisper just loud enough for at least the closest ladies to hear, “I look forward to continuing our conversation later tonight, Justine. And much more.”

Releasing her, confident that my parting words will be telegraphed around the table before I get back out to the dance floor, I take my next partner’s hand.

A little older, a little shorter, a little less athletic, a little wobbly on too-high heels. Gotta watch the footwork here. Those spikes look like they’d go right through my shoes.

Luck stays with me and it’s a slow waltz. Hopefully I’ll get through this one without injury.

We turn to each other in a formal address.

“Commander.”

“Ms....”

“You may call me Josephine.”

With a haughty air like that I wonder if she’s gonna recommend I eat cake as well.

We begin to dance. She’s actually quite a good dancer. So good that after the first turn around the floor, since she’s not making any conversation or any inappropriate moves, I lead us into a little more difficult steps. She follows effortlessly.

Three-quarters of the way around the floor again I figure, ‘What the hey?’ and up the difficulty level a notch more. Josephine is flawless in her execution of the transition.

“Josephine, I must say, you waltz very well. You must dance often.” This is innocuous conversation, right? Pleasantries passed between near strangers on a dance floor, nothing more.

“Yes, actually I do quite often. Every since my last divorce I’ve been dancing at least three times a week. I like it better than aerobics.”

‘Last’ divorce?

“I understand you’re a lawyer.”

“Yes, ma’am. A military lawyer.”

“Good lawyers are good to know.” She gives me a probing look. A look so ‘probing’ I think of Bud.

“Are you a good lawyer, Commander?”

“I’d like to think so.”

“Well, I don’t anticipate that I’ll be marrying anyone in the military, but just in case, do you have a card with you? I don’t think the lawyer I used on my last couple of divorces could represent me in a military court. Too bad. He cleaned the bastards out. I got it all.”

Good god. One step away from a black widow.

I lead her back to the table, kiss her hand, then pull her a little closer to me. I lower my voice to just within hearing level of the women closest by.

“Josephine, sadly I do not have that for you tonight, but I will contact Heather and Jack. They will help me find you. Before you need me.”

I don’t know why I feel like I have to do these parting lines like something out of a bad Antonio Banderas movie, but I do.

Victim, oh no, that’s dancer number three is standing and I take her extended hand. Glancing around, I see no clock in sight. Can’t exactly ask her what time it is.

Maaaacccc!!!!! Hurry!!!!

Again the walk to the dance floor. Once more the formal address.

“Commander.”

“Ms...”

“You should address me as Ms. Stiffe.”

“Stiff?”

“With an ‘e’. “ With an imperious look that puts Josephine’s to shame, she leads me into the dance.

She’s not a bad dancer but this doesn’t feel good to me.

“So, you’re a lifer, eh?”

Said with such derision that you’d think I was in for multiple murder.

“Yes, ma’am. The Navy is my life.”

“So I suppose that means that your ‘life’ is taking others’ lives.”

Oh god. How did I get made to dance with a woman who feels this way?

“No, ma’am. I serve my country in an armed force dedicated to the profession of peace, but trained in the art of war. Most of the military, and most of the time, our armed forces are the nasty dog behind the gate. The nasty dog keeps the bad guys away from the gate. When the bad guys come in despite hearing the growling dog, they get bitten. Then they go away.”

“No, Commander. You are a part of a military industrial complex that uses people as grist for its profit mill. You, and others like you, are sent off to kill to mask the true war that’s going on...the one between the top 1% of wealth-holders in this country and the rest of us!”

Thankfully, the song has ended and I guide her back to the table. Once again, I stop my dancing partner and kiss her hand lovingly. Once again I draw her close. Once again (haven’t these twits at the table figured it out yet???) I whisper just loudly enough for them to hear, “Ms. Stiffe, dancing with you has been a joy. A joy I want to repeat as soon as possible. I’m so glad you’ve agreed to accompany me to the Halliburton Ball next month.”

I take the next extended hand and walk away from the table. Instead of going toward the dance floor I divert to a nearby bar. I turn to my new dance partner, honestly hadn’t really even looked at her yet, and ask, “Is it OK if we stop a moment for a drink?”

She’s much younger than the previous ladies. In fact, I’m not sure she’s old enough to have a drink. That’s OK. I’m having club soda with a twist of lime. So will she.

“Club soda?” Intonation alone tells me this is a person under the age of 18. Once valley speak started, it couldn’t be stopped. Sorta like an invasive species.

“Yeah, it’s the rage.”

“Guess you need a break, right? I mean, after dancing three dances and all.”

What on earth is she suggesting?

“Just a bit thirsty. Also wanted to check the time. My partner is supposed to be getting here soon. But coming in on a military transport, then dealing with the City traffic ... you never know.”

I catch a glimpse of sympathy on her face out of the corner of my eye.

“Your partner?”

“Yeah. We’ve been partners for six years. Best six years I’ve ever had.”

“Even if you had to give up flying?”

“Yeah, hey how’d you know that?”

“I read rank. I know what you’ve got. I can guess where you’ve been.”

She sounds like she knows more than I want to talk about. Certainly more than I want her to know.

For some reason totally beyond me, the band strikes up a tune from “The King and I”. Feeling like Yul Brenner with hair, I extend my hand and ask, “Shall we dance?”

We wheel around the dance floor just like in the movie, both laughing with our heads thrown back. When the music stops we’re both still laughing and breathing a little hard.

“Too much for you, old man?” she teases.

God, I don’t even know her name yet. “Not at all. It is good to be king. Again!” I extend my hand, she takes it and the band accommodates us with a reprise. We twirl around the floor unaware that the assembled company is watching us.

The dance finishes. I bow deeply. She curtsies with a skill I would never have expected.

The crowd bursts out in applause. We turn to face an audience we didn’t know we had.

Jack and Heather walk up to us with a small trophy in hand. “It’s my family’s tradition to award a trophy to the best dance of the night. We usually announce the competition before we award the trophy. But I don’t think there’s any competition tonight.”

He hands it to us. I still don’t know her name.

I lean in toward Keeter. “You may be premature in this, Jack. Hope you’re not Jack-ing premature any other way tonight.”

Stops him in a heartbeat.

“I’d say not. What?”

I think he got that response backwards, but he’s got a ‘groom’s confusion’ pass going for him.

I continue our conversation in a whisper. “When Mac arrives, let us dance together one dance. Have the band play a tango.”

“Yeah, right. Sure, I want my new in-laws to think I have porno stars as friends. I want the vice squad and the fire department to raid my wedding reception because you, idiot that you are, have never found a way to tell her how you feel and are now going to use the unbelievably cheesey ploy of telling her at a wedding.”

“Hey, Keeter. Tell me again. Where did you propose to Heather?”

When you can push your opponent back on his heels, you gotta go for it.

He mumbles, “Her best friend’s wedding.”

One more look from me and he’s ready to go along.

“I swear, we’ve never danced the tango together before. We’ve both been taking lessons for awhile, but we’ve never danced together.”

He gives me a look that could both stop a truck and melt a heart.

“Whatever you need, but honest man, the first button that gets popped, it’s light’s out.” He takes Heather’s hand and walks away.

I can’t believe Keeter would really be concerned about Mac and me acting inappropriately on a dance floor at a wedding reception. He must just be trying to pull my chain.

I turn back to my young dance partner and give her a big smile.

“Hey, how would you like to take this trophy home with you? I have a sneaking suspicion when my partner shows up we’ll win another one.”

She gives me a look that is beyond my description or decryption.

“You’re gonna dance with your partner?”

“Just as soon as Mac shows up.”

“You’re not worried about your career? I mean, there are a lot of people here. And some of them are not happy that you’re gay.”

“I’M GAY??” Whoops, probably shouldn’t have shouted out that one.

Keeter is striding back to me. Actually, it’s just short of a jog. “Harm, sorry. Guess I needed to tell you about that a little sooner.”

“Tell me about what, Keeter?”

OK, I’m the guest here. I’m the best man here. I’m the one who needs to stay in control and not lose his cool.

“Well, I kinda let Bitsey get the impression you were gay.”

“YOU WHAT!?!”

“Hey, I didn’t lie or anything. I just said your partner of six years, by the name of Mac, was finishing a military investigation and coming up to join you. I also mentioned that you had been in love with Mac for most of those six years and hadn’t admitted it. I just didn’t ever use a pronoun.”

OK, fine, I’ve got like how many women that I’ll have to parade in front of an article 32 hearing before my status as heterosexual is confirmed? And at what point does Mac say ‘see you later’, meaning ‘never again’?

“Look Harm, I'll take care of this. But hey, I wasn’t the one who started the rumors about you having a broken mast.”

Oh, that’s already gone beyond the women’s table, through the women’s group into the men at large? Gee, only 50 minutes and my reputation is totally trashed. Thank you, Keeter.

He sees my look. He knows what I’m thinking. He knows I won’t kill him, but he knows that he’s killing me.

“Harm, trust me. This will all work out.”

Snowballs in hell.

Heather comes up to me. “Harm, I know this is difficult for you, but I think I would be best for you to take your next dance partner out on the floor.”

I thought this woman was nice; hey, I thought Keeter was my friend. This has all turned so totally certifiable that I don’t know how to classify it.

Maybe that’s it. This is all a classified mind game. I’m under the influence of strange psychotropic drugs and I’ve actually never left my loft.

That thought is somewhat comforting to me. Far better than the nightmare I’m dealing with now.

Once more unto the breech I tell myself. I’m sure that Henry V had to rally himself as much as he needed to rally his troops.

With Henry’s voice in my head I venture back to the ladies table. My recent dance partner is nowhere to be seen, and since I don’t know her name it would be rather awkward for me to ask her whereabouts.

“Is there a lady at this table who would like to dance?” said with the properly extended hand.

An elegant woman of years stands, walks gracefully around the table and takes my hand.

“I would be most pleased to dance with you, Commander.”

“And I with you, Ms....?” as we exchange the formal pleasantries.

“That’ll do fine.”

I’m confused and we haven’t even started to dance.

“Call me Ms. Leave the rest out.”

Giving her a gentle half spin to the dance floor I see Clayton Webb’s eyes. Oh My God. This is his mother. The one who likes to dance.

“Commander. Listen to me carefully. There are many people who have been watching you and Colonel MacKenzie for a long, long time. Most would say too long a time. But my son and I have been among those who fought for you. I think it’s time you face up or fold your cards.”

Wow. It’s one thing to be confronted by an irate father with a shotgun (not that I’d know). It’s another to be forced to accept that something beyond your control has happened and will be part of your life for the rest of it.

“Yes, ma’am.”

She nods and spins gracefully away from me. I see Keeter nod to the band. Then the double doors open to the ballroom open and Mac glides in.

My Marine.

My goddess in scarlet. I can hardly keep breathing as she walks towards me.

She steps into my ‘dance space’ and I know she’s ready.

“Colonel, do you Tango?”

“Oh yes, Commander. Do you?”

I take her body as the Tango stipulates: I grab her around her waist and drag her almost violently to me. She falls back from the ‘assault’, letting her upper body drape over my arm.

Oh god. She’s really good at this. I hope I can keep up with her.

Pulling her upward I see the most devilish smile I’ve ever seen.

Locking foreheads together I step her backwards. “Maaaac....”

“Yes, Harm. Yes.”

Oh my god. Is she still being Molly Bloom????

I spin her around, I lift her up, she slithers down me (that’s got to be the best part of this dance), then I pull her up from the floor.

Vaguely I realize that other people are watching this. We’re not alone in a vacuum.

The music ends with us pressed against each other’s chest, breathing heavily. I can’t stop looking into her eyes. Something tells me I should, but I can’t.

“Excuse me, sir, ma’am?” A voice comes in from out of the distance.

“Sir, ma’am?” Not my reality yet. My reality is right here in front of me. Mac.

“Sir, ma’am??” Now that annoying noise is accompanied by a plucking on my sleeve. Good heavens man, don’t you recognize a romantic moment when you see one?

“You’ve won the dance contest.”

As we walk off the dance floor, a most obnoxious screech can be heard over the general crowd noise. “That’s Mac!?!” I kinda pity Jack, but he’s got Heather and three other groomsmen as back up against Bitsey. I figure they can handle it.

Later that evening

“Colonel, may I escort you to your room?”

“Commander, certainly you don’t believe me to be at risk riding the elevator in the Plaza Hotel up to my room?” Said just loudly enough that the ‘women’s table’ could hear it.

I pull Mac close to me. God, this is the greatest prank Keeter’s ever pulled. Best of all, it lets me pull Mac to me like I’ve never dared before.

“No Colonel, but I’d be sorely remiss in my duties if I didn’t make sure you got to your room, and in your bed, safely.”

Man are we walking a fine line.

We walk it right out of the ballroom, through the lobby and to the elevators.

I push the ‘up’ button, the doors open and we step in.

“What floor are you on?” I ask.

She gets the sweetest smile.

“I don’t know. Where’s your room?”

I must remember to thank Keeter for getting married.

Finis, thanks for reading

A/N :  The phrase “the profession of peace and trained in the art of war” is taken from a speech AJ gave to Renee in ‘Into The Breech’. The rest of what Harm says is from my head.

James Joyce’s famous novel ‘Ulysses’ is a very tough read. But worth it if you can stick with it. The last 50 pages (in most formats) are, yes, one sentence of Molly Bloom’s thoughts, experiences and remembrances. It’s a sentence that has been analyzed, lionized, reviled and revered ever since it was written. If you’re curious, take a deep breath and dive in. Molly has a lot to say, but for the purposes of this little story, the last several lines culminating in a series of repeated “yes’es” to sexual passion is all you need to know. I could be wrong, but I believe that part is pretty well established in the common knowledge base (it was featured in the Rodney Dangerfield movie “Back to School” where Sally Kellerman’s character is reading it aloud to a college English class and Dangerfield’s character jumps up, blurting out “YES! YES!”). I figure anything in a Rodney Dangerfield movie is not too obscure for a FF, but I’ve been wrong many times in my life.


                                                           
                                                                     
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