"I guess I could go over to Harriet's during the day once school is out," Mattie suggested as Harm drove the van toward her school. "What are you going to do with the van during the day? There's not much parking near the office, is there?"
"No. I'll find somewhere for it," he assured her. "And I'll be here to get you when school finishes for the day -"
"I could take the tube to N. Audley," she offered. "It's not that far from the school -"
"I'd feel better if you weren't on the streets alone," Harm insisted. "I'll be there. You might have to spend a little time at the office until school's out next week, and we can talk to Harriet about your spending the day over there after that. I don't want to impose on her about taking you to your physical therapy, though. I don't think she would want to drag the kids across town."
"You're probably right. Maybe I can talk to Jen about it this afternoon."
That reminded Harm that he was going to have to tell Jen about Mac leaving. "We'll see."
Bud came into Jen's office and peered into the office beyond. "Is he in?" he asked in a quiet voice.
"Not yet. He called me last night and told me that he would be about 30 minutes late. The staff meeting's been moved to 0900."
"Oh. I guess he had to take Mattie to school," Bud said.
"Commander, what's going on?"
"I think it might be best if he tells you, Jen. I wouldn't feel right -"
"I understand, sir," Jen assured him, but her feeling of dread was steadily growing.
"I'd better spread the word that the meeting's been postponed," Bud decided. "Let me know when he gets here."
"I'll do that, sir," she nodded, and then went into Harm's office to double-check his desk and leave the day's schedule. As she was leaving the office, he was coming in, and they would have collided in the doorway if not for Harm's quick thinking in grabbing her shoulders. "Oh."
"Slow down, Coates," he said, quickly removing his hands from her shoulders. "Where's the fire?"
"I was just going to make sure the coffee was ready for when you got here, sir," she explained, hoping that he wouldn't notice how flushed her face had become at his unexpected closeness. "Excuse me, sir," she said, and nearly sighed with relief as he seemed to realize that he was still blocking her way and stepped aside. "I'll have your coffee in a moment."
"I'll go change," he told her, disappearing into his office, giving Jen a small respite from his presence.
She poured a cup of coffee for him, and then picked up the phone to let Cmdr. Roberts know that the Captain was there and that the meeting would take place as scheduled. She carried it into the other office and placed it on the desk as Harm came from the bathroom, now wearing his summer whites. "Here's your coffee, sir. And your schedule is on the desk, along with the file for the meeting this morning."
"What about the new staff?"
"Lt. Tiner checked in this morning, sir. Cmdr. Roberts showed him to his office -"
A knock on the doorframe caused them to turn around to see Lt. (jg) Jason Tiner appeared. "Lieutenant," Harm said. "Come in."
Jason came to attention in front of Harm's desk. "Lt. (jg) Jason Tiner reporting for duty, Captain."
"At ease, Lieutenant," Harm said. "That'll be all, Coates." As Jen left the room, Harm smiled at Jason. "You're looking well, Jason. That uniform suits you."
"Thank you, Captain. I'm pleased to be here."
"Never thought we'd end up like this, did you Jason? You a Lt. and me as a Captain?"
"I always knew you'd make Captain someday, sir. Well, not that last day, when the Admiral - I never had a chance to say how sorry I was about that, sir -"
"Water under the bridge, Jason," Harm assured him.
"I asked for this assignment, sir. When I heard you had an opening on your staff, well, the opportunity to work for you and Cmdr. Roberts was a big draw, sir."
"Really, sir," Jason confirmed.
"Has the Commander shown you around?"
"Yes, sir. I don't think I'll have any problems."
"Well, if you do, my door's open."
"Thank you, Captain."
"I'll see you at the meeting," Harm finished, dismissing the young officer. "Would you send Coates in, please?"
"Aye aye, sir." Jason snapped to attention again before leaving the room.
Jen entered a moment later. "You asked for me, sir?"
"Yes. Close the hatch, please."
Jen did as he asked as Harm went to the window.
"You might as well sit down." Waiting for her to sit, Harm said, "I'm going to make a general announcement about this at the meeting, and Bud already knows, but I thought you should hear it from me."
"Hear what, sir?"
Taking a deep breath, Harm said, "Mac left for Washington on Saturday evening."
"For a visit?"
"No. She's gone back into the Marines and is assigned to JAG there until her detailer finds her something else. We're - getting a divorce."
"I'm sorry, sir," Jen said, meaning it. She'd watched the two of them dance around each other for years, thinking that if only they could make it work they'd be fine. "It must be difficult for you. And Mattie. How is she taking it?"
"She's trying to pretend everything's okay, but I can tell she's still upset. She's blaming herself for things going wrong. Thinks that if she hadn't been with us, Mac and I would have made it work."
"That's crazy - I'm sorry, Captain -"
"No, you're right. Mac and I parted on - more or less friendly terms. I want her to be happy. She hasn't been these last few months."
"No, sir. She hasn't been. And as a result, you haven't been happy, either."
"No, I haven't, have I," he mused.
"You're going to need someone to take care of Mattie this summer, sir. Someone to take her back and forth to her therapy sessions and make sure she does her exercises."
"I could transport her back and forth, sir -"
"I couldn't ask you to -"
"Who's asking? Mattie's my friend. It has nothing to do with your being my CO, sir."
"Mattie was planning to ask you when I pick her up from school and bring her here this afternoon," Harm confessed. "It would be a huge help - but don't want to impose or take advantage of your being in my command -"
"As I said, sir. It's my choice to help out an ex-roommate when she needs help. What about someone to stay with her during the day?"
"She mentioned asking Harriet if she could stay over there. I'm sure that she'll say yes, but -"
"You hate to impose," Jen finished for him, and he chuckled softly.
"Yes. Sometimes, you know me too well."
"Since I volunteered, you're not imposing. Now. We're going to be late for the meeting if we don't go, sir."
During the meeting Harm made a blanket announcement to the staff about his and Mac's separation and impending divorce as a means of heading off any scuttlebutt around the office. "I want you to know the truth as opposed to rumor," he explained. "If you have any questions, feel free to talk to me directly as opposed to spreading news that's not true. My door's always open."
Making eye contact with each of his staff, he waited until he saw their silent agreement before moving on to the next item. "I'd like to take a moment to publicly welcome Lt. (j.g.) Jason Tiner to our staff. Commander Roberts and Petty Officer Coates and I have worked with the Lieutenant back at JAG HQ before he decided that he wanted to be an attorney. I'm sure I can count on all of you to make him feel welcome and to give him whatever assistance he might need."
After the meeting, Bud caught up with Harm. "How are you doing, sir?" he asked.
"Managing, Bud. I'm not sure what I'm feeling yet."
"Still too soon, I guess."
"She's coping. She's learned to be resilient over the years."
"I just wanted you to know that if there's anything either Harriet or I can do -"
"Actually, I think Mattie wants to ask Harriet something - she's going to need a place to stay during the day once school's out. Until I can find someone to come in, anyway -"
"I'm sure she'll say yes - but I'm not going to answer for her," Bud corrected himself with a grin as they both recalled his having agreed to come to London with Harm - only to have to recant that agreement when Harriet balked at the idea.
"We'll let them handle it, shall we?" Harm suggested as he studied Jason Tiner, who was talking to Lt. Marks. "Strange, seeing him as an officer."
"I know, sir. I keep remembering that bumbling Petty Officer who was the Admiral's yeoman."
"I wouldn't talk too loudly about 'bumbling', Bud," Harm teased, hiding his grin behind his hand. "Any ideas on who we should assign him to?"
"Lt. Commander Barrett's a good choice - she's no-nonsense and a good lawyer."
"Think she can handle his flights of fancy?"
"You handled mine, sir," Bud reminded him. "I think Commander Barrett can learn something from Jason."
"Like I learned from you," Harm nodded. "Good decision."
Jen approached them. "Excuse me, Captain. Commander. You have a meeting with Admiral Grimes in ten minutes, sir," she informed Harm.
"I'll be right there," Harm assured her.
"Have you heard from the Colonel, sir?" Bud asked before Harm turned to follow Jen.
"No. I expect she'll call Mattie this evening. She was supposed to start back at JAG HQ today, so she's probably pretty busy getting settled back in."
Harm knew he was in trouble the minute that Mattie caught sight of Lt. Jason Tiner. She couldn't keep her eyes off of the young man - and over the course of the next few afternoons - before they arranged for her to take the tube after school out to where Harriet would pick her up for the rest of the afternoon - spent as much time as she could around him.
By the end of the week, Jason asked to speak to Harm, and quickly reassured him that he was in no way encouraging Mattie's interest.
"I'm aware of that, Jason," Harm replied. "Mattie's just at that age when someone in a uniform was bound to catch her eye. She doesn't know a lot of people in London. I think with time it will run its course."
"Yes sir. I just wanted to make sure you didn't think -"
"It's okay, Jason. Just be yourself. She'll find someone else to moon over before long. Someone more suitable and closer to her age."
Harm managed to hide his amused smile until Jason left the office.
Summer went by before Harm realized it - with Mattie staying at Harriet's during the day, Harriet helping her with her exercises while Mattie helped with the Roberts' children, who adored her and who she felt the same way about; and Jen using Harm's van to transport Mattie back and forth to her therapy sessions. Once Mattie started back to school, Jen had even offered to pick her up in the afternoons and take her to the tube station so that Harm wouldn't have to interrupt his daily routine anymore than necessary. Harriet always picked her up at the other end of the line for the rest of the afternoon.
Mac had called Mattie a few times - but she hadn't called to talk directly to Harm, sending word through Mattie that she had been transferred to the JAG offices at Pearl. The divorce would be final in another week or so, and Harm had long since realized that it was indeed over. He needed to find a way to move on with his life.
He still hadn't found a housekeeper who could handle taking care of Mattie - who was making great strides with her therapy sessions - but he thought they were managing pretty well, all things considered. Until the day that the young Petty Officer who was taking Jen's place while she was gone with Mattie messed up and gave him the wrong file for the wrong meeting, causing no end of confusion and embarrassment.
It wasn't PO Greer's fault, but Harm let her know that he wasn't pleased by her mistake and told Jen when she finally returned that he didn't want Greer back as her temp. Jen had calmed the young woman down, sent her back to her regular duty station, and then knocked on Harm's office door, entering almost before Harm called out to do so.
"She's a little green, sir," Jen told him. "This is her first foreign duty station, and I think she's a little intimidated by you, sir."
"Are you making excuses for Petty Officer Greer, Coates?" Harm questioned, reminding her for all the world of Adm. Chegwidden on his surliest day as he stood there, pinning her with those blue-green eyes.
"No, sir. But you're going to have to either get used to Petty Officer Greer or find someone else to work for you."
That stopped him, and Jen knew it. She hadn't planned on doing this - not now, anyway. She still had another month before a decision had to be made regarding her reenlistment and she'd planned to lead up to it more slowly. "What? Are you planning on going somewhere?" he asked.
"No, sir. I'll be staying in London, but I've decided not to reenlist." She *thought* he looked suddenly pale as his eyes widened in shocked surprise.
"I knew you were due for reenlistment in another month - I got a message just the other day about enlisted personnel that I needed to talk to about re-upping, but I figured you'd sign up without my talking you into it."
"I considered it, Captain," Jen told him. "But - I never planned to make a career out of the Navy. I figured ten years, tops, and then I'd have an education and be able to do whatever I wanted to do."
"Once you get your degree, you could apply to become an officer," Harm suggested.
"I considered that, too, sir. But I don't want to wait that long. I have - other things I want to do with my life."
Harm looked at her for a moment, and then indicated one of the chairs in front of his desk. "Why don't we sit down for a minute?" he suggested, taking the second chair. "Coates - Jen, may I ask - why you've made this decision? Your plan to remain in London would seem to indicate that there's someone else involved in this decision."
"Someone else, sir?"
"A man? Someone you've met since you arrived in London?"
Jen hesitated. "With all due respect, Captain, I don't feel comfortable discussing my personal life -."
"I'm just trying to make sure that you're not rushing into anything," Harm said.
"Don't worry, sir. I've thought a lot about this - and I know that it's the right decision for me. I'll have more time to finish my college work -"
"You said you're not leaving London - what will you do? Do you have a job lined up?"
"You realize that there are work permit issues and immigration issues that you'll have to deal with as a civilian -"
"Already in the pipeline, sir," Jen assured him. "Like I said, I've been thinking about it for some time."
"When were you going to tell me about this?"
"As soon as I had everything in place, sir. I'm looking for another place to live, closer to where I'm hoping to work. And I've been hoping that one of the temps would be suitable to take over for me here."
"You're sure about this? Giving up the Navy for someone doesn't always work out -"
"It does if you love the person enough, sir," Jen responded, meeting those aquamarine eyes. The two of them had managed to keep the time they spent together with Mattie out of the office - Jen never failed to be the picture of enlisted respectfulness toward her CO when addressing him. She never played on their off duty 'relationship' at the office. It had been important to her that no one should be able to say she had done so. She knew that even a hint of impropriety could cause problems with Harm's future, and that while he always downplayed it whenever it was brought up, he *wanted* to become the Navy's Judge Advocate General some day - to sit in the 'big chair', as Jason Tiner had put it on more than one occasion. She knew that he hadn't heard from Mac.
She also knew that he'd gotten a London attorney friend to find a way to 'hurry up' the divorce petition - to give Mac what she said she'd wanted: her freedom, as quickly as possible. The divorce was scheduled to be declared "absolute" within another couple of weeks, thanks to the attorney, someone that Harm had met years ago in the course of an early case as a JAG lawyer, having made a special application due to the circumstances of the marriage and its dissolution.
It always amazed Jen that Harm seemed to find people that he knew almost everywhere. Even people he'd only met once or twice reacted to him like a long-lost friend and appeared delighted to see him again.
That charm he exuded had been one of the reasons why he'd had such a difficult time finding someone to help out with Mattie. Most of the women he'd interviewed had been around his age, and were clearly on the look out for a man in their life. Capt. Harmon Rabb, Jr. would have been a real 'catch', and Jen had always been guiltily relieved when Harm and Mattie had decided that this one or that one wouldn't do at all.
It was one reason why she had come to the decision that she had - leaving the Navy would free her from having to worry about the fraternization regs, and she'd be able to spend time with Mattie the way she used to do, when they were roommates and best friends. Even if Harm never got over Mac, Jen told herself, at least she'd be a part of his life for as long as Mattie needed her. After that - well, she'd cross that bridge when the time came.
At the moment, she almost regretted her words to him, and was about to frame an apology when he sighed. "I suppose I've never thought about losing you, Jen," he said.
Jen wanted to assure him that he wasn't going to 'lose' her at all. But instead, she said, "I couldn't remain your yeoman forever, sir. There was the possibility of transfer - and if I were promoted to Chief -"
Harm nodded. "That just seemed in the future - not right now, staring me in the face. I suppose I'll have to get used to one of the temps, won't I?"
"I think so, Captain."
"Any suggestions as to who you think is the best suited?"
"Petty Officer Greer, sir," Jen said, and saw him wince. "She just needs a little more time to get used to you and to figure out that your bark is worse than your bite, sir," she continued with a cheeky grin.
"Is that what you think, Petty Officer?" he questioned, smiling back at her.
"I think it comes from living down the hall from you, sir. And taking care of Mattie all these months."
Harm's sigh was loud in the room. "That's another thing. I'll *have* to find someone else, won't I? I've come to depend on you for so much - I don't know what I'll do without you around to make me look good."
"You don't need my help for that, sir," she said. "The staff enjoys working under your command. You give them just the right amount of latitude to do their jobs, but they always know that there's a limit, and if they exceed it, they need to be ready to answer to you about the reasons why."
"You *do* know me too well," Harm said with a wry grin. "I'm going to miss that, too."
"I don't think Liz Greer will ever figure you out, sir, but I think if you give her a chance, she'll make you a good yeoman."
"Okay. I'll trust your judgment, Petty Officer. Even if I don't understand your decisions."
"And I'm not going to abandon Mattie *or* you, sir. As long as either of you need me, I'll be there."
She had no idea why Harm looked the way he did at her words - but even after she went back out to her desk, the look remained on her mind
That evening, while he was working on some reports, Harm looked up to where Mattie was sitting across the office on the seldom used sleeper-sofa, focused on her laptop. "Mattie?"
"Yeah?" she asked without looking up at him.
"Has Jen mentioned anything to you about not reenlisting in the Navy?"
"She might have mentioned it."
"And you didn't think to mention it to me?"
"She hadn't made up her mind last time we talked." She looked up at him at last. "I guess she has now?"
Harm nodded, sitting back and rubbing his neck. "She told me today. I didn't know she'd been seeing anyone."
Mattie looked back at her computer quickly as she answered, and Harm frowned when she asked, "Is she?"
"She implied that she's leaving the Navy and staying in London because of someone she's interested in."
"What if she is?"
"Mattie, look at me." He waited for her to finally look at him over the back of the laptop. "What's going on?"
"You'll have to ask Jen. I'm not going to spill her secrets, Harm." Closing the computer, she put it into the case, which she hefted over her shoulder before she picked up the two arm-support crutches she had graduated to from the wheelchair about a week ago. "I'm going to bed," she told him, coming over to give him a kiss on the cheek. "Night."
"Night, Matts," he replied, watching her go with a troubled expression. Jen's words from earlier in the day returned to him, words very similar to ones that he'd said to Mac what seemed now like ages ago.
*I'm not going to abandon Mattie *or* you, sir. As long as either of you need me, I'll be there.*
He knew that some of the more junior enlisted personnel had been wondering about the fact that Petty Officer Coates spent so much time with the officers in the command. It wasn't just him of course; she spent time with the Roberts and Jason Tiner as well. Maybe her leaving the Navy was a good thing in the long run. He'd come to depend too much on Jen's being around. She was young, needed to lead a life of her own, find a good man, settle down and have a family. And a career, once she settled on what she wanted to do.
But the idea of her not being around every day, of not seeing her smile, hearing her voice - He shook his head, knowing he was heading down a dangerous road. He was far too old to even *think* about someone like Jennifer Coates. She'd no doubt be horrified to find out that the man she no doubt thought of as a 'big brother' harbored feelings of a far different nature toward her at times.
He'd ignored those feelings before Mac and he had separated - and after it had become more and more difficult not to let something slip. But he managed - mostly because he hadn't wanted to endanger her career in the Navy - or his, by violating the regs against fraternization. And, technically, he was still married. At least for another month, if all went according to plan.
The reminder about Mac and the divorce caused the feeling of failure to return. He'd really believed that he and Mac could make it. He kept wondering what he could have done different so that things would have turned out the way he wanted them to. But then he'd realize that Mac had been right: he probably wouldn't have been happy if the tables had been turned. And for him to get back into the Navy would have been impossible.
At least he still had Mattie. And Jen, for as long as Mattie needed her, which, from all appearances, wouldn't be for much longer. Her doctor's last report had said that she was making amazing progress and would be walking without the crutches before they knew it.
He'd celebrate on that day, but he also knew that it meant he was one day closer to being alone again. With a deep sigh, he wondered why he always seemed to end up alone.
"Is the scuttlebutt true, sir?" Bud asked Harm the next day as they met on their way into the office.
"What scuttlebutt is that, Bud?" Harm asked in return, nodding to the Marine guard at the front door as he signed in and picked up his name badge.
"That Jen's leaving the Navy."
Harm waited for Bud to pick up his own badge and follow him to the small elevator that had been installed in the building during the middle of the last century. "She's decided not to reenlist," Harm confirmed. "Another month, and then she's taking her leave time while her paperwork is processed."
"I guess she'll be going back to the states?"
"No. Actually, she's staying in London," Harm was saying as the elevator doors opened and he saw Jen talking to Jason Tiner. "Bud, has she mentioned anything to you or Harriet about seeing anyone? Someone - important to her?"
"No. But Harriet doesn't tell me everything. If she told anyone, she'd tell Mattie -"
"Mattie's not talking," Harm explained.
"You think she's leaving because she's met someone?"
"It's a possibility."
"I'll keep my ears open. Maybe someone else knows something."
"Thanks, Bud." Harm continued on to his office, finding Jen and Liz Greer there with his morning coffee and daily schedule. Liz looked a little nervous when she saw him, and for a moment Harm worried that she might pass out. "Breathe, Petty Officer," he warned. "I'd hate to have to explain an unconscious Petty Officer on my carpet."
Liz, who was a petite red-head with the freckles to match, and who looked to be about twenty, released her breath and tried to smile, "PO Coates said that you've decided to let me replace her as your yeoman, sir."
"That's correct," Harm said, sitting down at his desk and opening the folder with the schedule. "Although, Coates has some big shoes to fill. Think you're up to it, Greer?"
"Yes, sir," she replied crisply.
"Then why don't you tell me about this schedule?" he suggested.
It was a few days later that Harm had a moment to speak privately with Jason Tiner about Jen. "She hasn't mentioned anything to me, sir," Jason assured him. "Why do you think she's leaving because of a man?"
"Something she said," Harm told him.
"Honestly, Captain, I'm not sure when she would have had the *time* to date anyone. She spends all her off duty time with Mattie and you, or the Roberts."
Harm knew that Jason was right, but that still didn't answer the nagging questions about Jen's decision. "Thanks, Jason. I guess she'll let us know what's going on when she's ready."
"I guess so. Uh, have you asked Mattie about it? If Jen told anyone, it would be her."
"I asked. She's not talking."
"I could talk to her," Jason suggested. "Maybe she'd open up to me."
Aware that Mattie's crush on Jason hadn't waned as he'd hoped, that in fact, it seemed to have gotten stronger, Harm frowned. "Mattie?"
"Oh. No, sir. I didn't mean -" Jason began, his face growing red as he became embarrassed. "I meant Jen. I know I'm an officer now, but we were both enlisted once, and we went out once or twice -"
"Really?" Harm questioned. "I didn't know that."
"It wasn't long before I finished law school and went to OCS. We discovered that we're better as friends than as anything else."
"I know the feeling," Harm said with a self-depreciating grin. "No. That's okay. I'm not going to start spying on her or anything."
"If you say so, sir. If there's anything I can do to help -"
Jen was sitting at the café down the street when she saw Jason Tiner come in. She was surprised when he moved toward her table. "You waiting for someone?" he asked.
"No," she said. "Please. Sit down." They had been too different to be compatible years ago, but Jen considered Jason to be a friend - even if he'd 'sold out' and become an officer. "If you're sure you don't mind being seen with an enlisted person, that is," she teased.
"Well, since we're both out of uniform, I don't think anyone will know - or care," he replied, looking up as the waitress appeared to take his order. "What have you got planned, Jen?" he asked.
"After you get out," he clarified. "Although I think you're crazy for not reenlisting. You're not that far from finishing your college work online - you could apply to become an officer -"
"That's not what I want, Jason," Jennifer said. "I never wanted to stay in the Navy forever. You, you'll spend the next twenty years with the JAG Corps, probably end up as Admiral Rabb's right hand man one day."
"But that's not for you."
"What are you looking for?"
"A good man. A family. Maybe a career down the road somewhere."
"Anyone specific in mind?" Jason asked, and Jen realized what this was about. She'd seen him leaving Harm's office a few days before, giving her a strange look as he went.
"Why the sudden curiosity, Jason? You're *not* jealous."
Jason snorted softly, and then looked around, embarrassed. "No. But I'm concerned. All these months and you've never mentioned seeing anyone. I don't even know how you have *time* to see anyone, with all you've got going. Working at JAG, running Mattie around London - babysitting for the Roberts -"
"You do that -"
"I know. But we're talking about you. *I'm* not looking for a girlfriend right now."
"You should be. Might make Mattie realize that you're not interested."
"You're not going to change the subject, Jen," Jason said, keeping his voice low. "Who is he?"
"Who is who?" she asked, relieved for the reprieve when the waitress brought their food.
"The guy you're tossing your career aside for," Jason answered once she was gone.
"Look, Jason, don't worry, okay? I'm a big girl, I know what I'm doing."
"You're not answering my question."
"Why should I?"
"Is it because it's someone I know?" Jason guessed, and Jen picked up her fork, attacking the salad on her plate. "It is, isn't it?" She glanced up, seeing him thinking, knowing he was going through everyone they both knew, hoping that he wouldn't stumble on the truth. If he did -
"Gunny Walker?" he suggested, naming one of the Marine guards that he knew thought Jen was attractive.
Shook her head. "Don't even try, Jason. There's no reason for you to know. He doesn't even -" she bit her lip, nearly saying something totally inappropriate. "Damn," she hissed softly.
Jason's eyes were wide. "He doesn't know?" He put his fork down and leaned across the small table. "Jen, talk to me."
"I can't, Jason. Not yet. You'll understand eventually. But I can't talk about it right now. There's too much at stake."
"You're protecting him," he realized, and Jen lifted her eyes toward the ceiling, wishing she could disappear. "There aren't a lot of people you'd do that for. Cmdr. Roberts. Capt. -Rabb," his eyes widened still more, and Jen managed not to groan out loud. "That's it, isn't it?"
"Jason, *please*!" she begged through clenched teeth. "Drop it. If you're really my friend, just drop it."
"He really doesn't know, does he?"
"No. And he can't. Not until -"
"Until you're no longer in the Navy and enlisted - and off limits," Jason finished. "What if he doesn't feel the same, Jen?" he asked her.
"I'll handle that when the time comes. Right now, this is what I need to do, Jason. Please. Can we keep this between us?"
"Sure," Jason finally said. "If you need to talk - you know where to find me."
"Thanks, Jason," Jen said, sighing with relief. "If I can just get through the next couple of weeks, I think things will work out," she said, crossing her fingers.
"Well, I think Petty Officer Greer's doing better, isn't she?"
"Capt. Rabb hasn't yelled at her in two days - so yeah, I think she is."
"He's almost as bad as Adm. Chegwidden used to be at times."
"Tell me about it. You were lucky, Jason. You didn't have to put up with the Admiral during the dark days after you left for OCS."
"I heard a little about what went on. Must've been rough. I know that when then Lt. Cmdr. Rabb was deployed on the Patrick Henry, JAG just wasn't the same. And the Admiral was *very* surly. He missed the Commander, even though he'd never admit it."
"*You* just didn't keep after him long enough," Jen pointed out.
"I wasn't brave enough to keep after him," Jason replied, and they both laughed.
Harm saw Jen and Jason returning to the office, laughing like old friends, and began to wonder if maybe there wasn't more to Jason's story about having dated Jen when they were both enlisted than the young officer had been willing to share. It would make sense, in a way.
They were about the same age, although they were at opposite ends of the life experiences spectrum, but sometimes that could be a good thing, Harm supposed. If Jen was in love with the young Lieutenant, then that would explain her hesitancy in revealing anything until she was no longer in the Navy. Something like that would scuttle Jason's career before it had really started.
If he was right, then it meant Jen would still be in London - only with Jason. And that might impact Mattie. She would see Jen's relationship with the young man as a betrayal of Mattie's trust.
In the next moment, he saw Jason smile at Lt. Andrews, another jg in the office, and knew that either Jason had no idea of Jen's feelings - or that he was totally off base in his assumptions.
Jen was involved with someone else, not Jason Tiner. The question still was - who?
Liz was sorting through the Captain's mail when she paused and looked at Jen. "Wonder what this is?" she mused, and Jen looked up.
"You're not supposed to know. Just sort it into personal and JAG business."
"That's the problem. It's to Capt. Harmon Rabb, Jr. But it's from the court -"
Jen took the envelope, and read the address. "I'll take this in to him personally, Liz. You finish sorting the rest of the mail."
Jen knocked on the doorframe and waited for Harm to look up from what he was reading to acknowledge her. "Enter."
"This just arrived in the mail, Captain," she said, holding out the envelope. "I thought you'd like to have it to open without anyone else around."
Harm's eyes met hers as he took it from her. When Jen turned around the leave, he stopped her. "You don't have to leave."
She turned back around and watched as he carefully opened the envelope with the letter opener and pulled out the paper from inside. "It's official," he told her. "This is the final decree -"
"I'm sorry, sir."
"Nothing to be sorry about," he said. "But if anyone says anything about this being the 'first day of the rest of my life', I might transfer them to Greenland."
Jen managed a grin. "It is, sir." When Harm's eyes narrowed, she said, "You can't transfer me, sir. I'm a short timer."
"So you are." He looked at his watch. "I think I'll pick Mattie up and take her to the tube station today," he decided. "Let her know about this."
"Okay. Your schedule's clear for the afternoon, if you'd rather take the rest of the -"
"No. I'll be back once I make sure she's okay." He went into the restroom to change, leaving Jen to return to the outer office, where Liz looked up.
"Can I take the rest of the mail in now?"
"He's going to pick up Mattie," Jen answered. "You can wait until he leaves to put it on his desk."
Harm came out a minute later in a dark suit and tie, putting the envelope into his pocket as he moved through the room. "I won't be long. Put any messages on my desk, Greer."
"Yes, sir," she responded. "What was in the envelope, Jen?" Liz asked after he left.
"His final divorce decree," Jen answered.
"Oh. No wonder he looked a little shell-shocked when he came out. I can't believe *anyone* would divorce that man," Liz said with a sigh, and Jen silently agreed with that assessment. While she respected Col. Mackenzie as a Marine officer and as a JAG attorney, there were times when Jen wondered what the woman had to be thinking to let someone like Harm go so easily.
"You're not to spread this news around," Jen said. "When the Captain's ready to let everyone know, he will."
"I understand," Liz agreed. They had already discussed the fact that Jen felt that the Captain's yeoman should be the last person to contribute to the scuttlebutt around their CO, and Liz had agreed.
"Take the mail in and straighten his desk."
Mattie was laughing with her friends when she came out of the building and saw Harm standing beside the white van. She looked surprised to see him there, and Harm overheard her friends' comments about how lucky she was to have a dad who was so good looking. Mattie ignored them as she approached him on her crutches. Stopping before him, she looked up at him, obviously sensing his mood.
"What happened?" she asked.
He opened the door. "Let's get into the van, okay?"
"Okay," she said, letting him take her backpack before helping her into the van's front seat. Once they were inside, she turned to look at him. "You're scaring me, Harm. What's going on?"
He pulled the letter from his pocket and held it out for her to read. "The divorce is final."
"Oh." She looked at him. "Are you okay?"
Her concern for him when he'd been more concerned about her touched Harm deeply. "Yeah. Better than I thought I'd be. I still feel like I failed somehow -"
"Harm, you tried. I was there, remember? I saw how Mac always pushed you away and wouldn't talk. You've been happier in the last few months than you were in the last few that she was here. Do you still love her?"
Harm looked out the front of the van at the other vehicles pulling away from the curb and into traffic. "I think I'll always love Mac, Mattie. But it wasn't enough."
"Maybe you'll find someone else," Mattie suggested. "Someone who can accept that and will love you enough that it won't matter."
"I don't think so. I think I've missed my chance. Besides, I still have you," he pointed out, taking her hand in his and smiling. "I don't need anyone else."
"I won't always be here, Harm," Mattie pointed out. "Another year of school, and I'll be ready to apply to Annapolis. That's *if* the doctor is right and I can ditch these things," she said, rattling her crutches.
"You will. And you're going to be the best pilot the Navy's ever seen," he told her, starting the engine. "Let's get you to the station. I'll try to get home early. We'll go out to eat."
"Sounds good. Maybe Jen could come with us?"
"She's been part of our life for awhile now. It wouldn't seem right to celebrate without her."
"She might have plans for the evening," Harm warned. "It is Friday night."
"Wouldn't hurt to ask, would it?"
"I guess not. I'll talk to her when I get back -"
"Why don't I call her from Bud and Harriet's and invite her along?" Mattie suggested. "She might not feel able to turn down an invite from you, since you're still her CO."
"For another two weeks," he confirmed. "Okay. I'll leave it in your hands."
"Good decision," she said with an impish grin, and Harm found himself smiling in return as the early November sun peaked through the clouds to dispel the shadows they cast.
"Do you have a moment, sir?" Jen asked about an hour after he returned to JAG.
"For you, always," he assured her, indicating the chair in front of his desk. "What can I do for you?"
"Mattie just called, sir, and invited me to join the two of you for a 'celebratory dinner' this evening."
"She said that she was going to do that," Harm nodded. "I know that it's short notice, and if you've already made other plans, I'm sure she'll understand -"
"No. I mean, I haven't made other plans. I told her I'd go, but I just wanted to make sure it was okay with you, sir."
"If I had a problem with being around you outside of the office, I wouldn't have asked you to be Mattie's roommate. Or agreed to let you help out since Mac left. You're more than welcome."
"Thank you, sir. I just thought that since it's not really a 'celebration' -"
"It is, in a way. Someone told me earlier that it's the 'first day of the rest of my life'. I think that's something to celebrate, don't you?"
"I also remember your saying that if anyone told you that, sir, you'd transfer them to Greenland," Jen replied with an undaunted grin.
"Think the Navy would approve a two week transfer?" he questioned, smiling back at her, enjoying himself.
"I think you might have trouble selling that one to the General, Captain."
"There *is* that," he agreed. "So, what do you suggest I do as a form of non-judicial punishment, Petty Officer?"
"I'd overlook it, sir," Jen suggested. "I mean, would you really punish someone for being truthful?"
"I guess not. I encourage truthfulness in my people."
"Exactly. So that's why you *won't* transfer the culprit."
"You still haven't said what you're going to be doing once you leave."
"I'm still not quite ready to share, sir," Jen answered. "Not everything is totally confirmed yet."
"Don't you have to have a job already before you can get a work permit as a civilian?" Harm questioned.
"Normally, yes, sir. But I've made a few friends during my time here."
"Does this new job have anything to do with why you're leaving the Navy?"
"Possibly," was all she was willing to say. "If that's all, sir, I need to get back out to make sure that PO Greer is doing her job instead of playing."
"She's doing much better," Harm noted. "She's not nearly as efficient as you are, but if I have to change yeomen, I think she'll do."
"She'll be glad to hear it, sir," Jen said, coming to attention before leaving his office.
Harm sat staring after her, still curious about what her post-Navy plans were, and hoping that whoever she was involved with was aware of how special Jennifer Coates was.
"Nice," Mattie said as Harm came out of the bedroom wearing a pair of slacks, long-sleeved tee-shirt, carrying a short jacket over his arm. The outfit was all black. "You look good in black, Harm," she said.
"Thank you. You don't look half-bad yourself," he replied, seeing her calf-length skirt and soft button up blouse.
"Where are we going? Must be someplace nice if you're wearing a sport jacket."
"No tie," he pointed out."
"Okay, somewhere nice but not fancy. That's good." She named a local favorite restaurant.
"Nope. Thought we'd try someplace new." He was playing through the phone messages, pausing at one from the employment agency that was trying to find a day nurse for Mattie. "I'll have to call them tomorrow, set up another meeting."
"I don't think there's any real rush, is there? We've seen ten nurses, Harm. Either they were Nurse Ratchets or totally unsuitable. As long as Jen's willing to help out -"
"That's just it. Once Jen's out of the Navy, I'll feel even worse, imposing on her time. She'll need to work to pay her bills. And I'm sure whoever she's seeing will object to her spending a lot of time with you."
"Not necessarily," Mattie declared. "He might be more understanding than you think he is."
Hearing her words, Harm turned to look at her. "Mattie, I know that you know who Jen's leaving the Navy for. I want you to tell me."
"You know, Harm, sometimes I wonder how you managed to fly a Tomcat when you see as badly as you do," Mattie said cryptically.
"What? What's that supposed to mean?"
"You have to figure that out on your own, Harm," she replied as the doorbell rang. "I'll get the door."
Harm followed Mattie to the hallway, watching as she opened the door and let Jen into the small bungalow. She was wearing dark slacks and a red, scoop necked sweater, and her hair was free of the braid that she had to wear for work. She was carrying a light jacket as well. "I hope I'm dressed okay," she was saying to Mattie.
"Well, Harm hasn't said where we're going, but he's not wearing a tie, so I think you're okay." Mattie turned to look at Harm as Jen closed the door. "Don't you agree, Harm?" she asked.
"Yeah. You're fine, Jen," he said, wondering why he was reacting so strongly to Jen. It wasn't as though he'd never spent time with her away from work. "I'll get your sweater, Mattie, and we can go."
He wasn't ready to move on from Mac, and Harm knew that he was still hoping that Mac might finally decide she didn't want to be alone - that she could come back and they would make a go of it, he told himself as he went to Mattie's room to get her sweater. But over the last few weeks, he'd found himself forgetting Mac occasionally - mostly whenever Jen was around.
It was wrong. He was too old for her, even without all of the other things against it. Maybe that was the explanation: mid-life crisis. He was over forty. Maybe the attraction of a younger woman was normal - but he wasn't going to fall into that trap. Jen had her life planned out - and it didn't include the Navy - or him, apparently.
Oh, he knew she had said that she would be there for Mattie *and* for him, but he wasn't going to count on that. He would hope that she would maintain contact with Mattie - without Mac, Mattie needed a woman's influence in her life. And considering that Jen had as much in common with Mattie as Mac had, he thought she was good for the younger girl. Jen had come a long way from the brash, disrespectful, angry young woman he'd first met all those years ago just before Christmas. He was proud of her for how far she'd come.
"You should tell him, Jen," Mattie was saying as Harm returned to the front hallway with the sweater.
"I know. I know. You want to wait. But I think you're making a mistake."
"A mistake about what?" Harm questioned, causing both young women to turn quickly to face him. Jen looked nervous. "Is everything okay, Jen?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," she said quickly, taking Mattie's sweater from him, but he noticed that she didn't quite look him in the eye as she helped Mattie put on the sweater.
Harm put on his own jacket, and then took Jen's from her, holding it for her to slide her arms into. "Thank you," she said as he stepped back.
"You're welcome. Shall we go?"