"Harm, dear, come away from the tree."
"I wasn't touching the presents," the six-year-old little boy told his mother, remaining on his stomach before the tree, his chin resting on the palms of his hands.
"I know. But you're going to wear them out before you even open them," Trish Rabb said in a tone marked with gentle amusement as she finished dusting the living room.
Harm rolled over and stood up. "I wish Dad was home."
Trish sat down. "So do I, dear." Holding out her arms, she said, "Come here." The dark haired little boy ran into his mother's arms. "I miss him too, you know. And he said he'd have something special for you the next time he saw you in his last tape."
Harm's blue-green eyes shone with anticipation. "What do you think it is?"
"You'll just have to wait and see," she told him, touching his nose. "Now. I have to go take care of some things in the kitchen before your grandparents arrive. Why don't you sit at the window and watch for them?"
Harm knelt on the chair beside the window, staring out at the street. "Will they have presents?"
Trish laughed softly, ruffling his hair. "I'm sure they will."
As usually happened whenever he could see the sky, Harm's eyes drifted upward, wondering where his father was at that moment - and what it was like to be able to fly fast in a plane like he did. Hearing a car door close nearby, Harm's eyes dropped back to the street and saw the dark car that was parked at the curb. Two men had gotten out, both wearing uniforms. Something about their somber expressions was like a cloud covering the sun, blocking it out. When they turned onto the sidewalk up to the house, Harm jumped out of the chair and ran to the door as the doorbell rang and opened it.
"Is your mother home, son?" one of the men asked, and Harm nodded as Trish came around the corner. Seeing the two men, she stopped in her tracks, a hand going to her throat. "Mrs. Rabb?"
"I'm Capt. Mitchell and this is Chaplain Rogers, ma'am. May we come inside for a moment?
"Of course," Trish said, placing a hand on Harm's shoulder as the two men entered the house and closed the door. "Why don't we - go into the living room?" she said slowly, her voice sounding strained, with a hint of fear that Harm could easily hear.
Once they were in the living room, Capt. Mitchell took a deep breath. "I'm sorry to have to tell you that -"
"No," Trish said, shaking her head as Harm turned his head to look up at her. "No. You're not going to -" She sat heavily on the sofa.
"Your husband is Missing in Action, Mrs. Rabb," the chaplain said in a quiet voice as he sat beside her.
"He's not - dead, then?"
"Not that we can confirm," Mitchell said.
"Thank God. What - what happened?"
"His aircraft was shot down," Mitchell said. "His wingman stayed in the area as long as he could, but by the time the rescue helicopter arrived, there was no sign of Lt. Rabb."
"Mom?" Harm said, uncertain about what they were talking about. "What's wrong with Dad?"
Trish pulled Harm into her arms, holding him. "Oh, Harm. Your father - he's missing. They don't know where he is."
"Sometimes they manage to find a way out, back to where he'll be found," Mitchell said. "It happens all the time."
"He's alive." It was a statement, one that only a child could make and believe - but Harm missed the look that passed between his mother and the two men before Mitchell spoke again.
"Possibly. We don't know for sure. He could turn up later - or -"
"He could be a P.O.W.," Trish finished, the idea clearly upsetting her.
"POW?" Harm asked.
"A Prisoner of War, son," Chaplain Rogers explained, still speaking in a calm voice. "The North Vietnamese could have found him and put him into a prison camp."
"Won't they let him go? He didn't do anything wrong."
"I wish it worked that way, Harm," Rogers said. "But if that's what happened to him - it could be some time before you see him."
"Is there someone you can call, Mrs. Rabb?" Mitchell asked Trish. "You and the boy shouldn't be alone right now."
"My parents - they're on the way here," Trish told him as the doorbell rang again. Harm took off to greet his grandparents, to let them know that something was wrong. Chaplain Rogers was behind him.
He opened the door, and their eyes went immediately to the Chaplain. "What's wrong?" Grandpa said. "Harmon?"
Harm stood on the edge of things for the rest of the day as friends came and went, comforting his mother, assuring her that Harmon would be home before she knew it, that he was strong, that he would probably be found any time.
"That would be the best Christmas present I could hope for," Trish said to her mother once the friends had gone home to their own celebrations. "Christmas. Oh my. I'd forgotten -"
"Don't worry about it right now, darling," Grandma said. "I was afraid something like this might happen when he went over there. So many good men -"
"Constance, please -" her husband said, glancing up to see Harm standing in the doorway to the kitchen, watching them. "Why don't you take Trish upstairs so she can rest for awhile? I'll stay with Harm."
Harm followed his mother and grandmother to the hallway before he felt Grandpa David's hand on his shoulder. "Come on, Champ. Why don't we go outside for a few minutes? Take advantage of this nice California weather?"
Harm nodded, but didn't speak. Picking up a toy airplane that he had left on the patio, he held it, head down, still confused. "Grandpa David?"
"When will Dad be home?"
"I wish I could answer that, son," David said. "But until he does, you have to be strong for your mom. You're the man of the house now."
"That's what Dad always told me," Harm said. "He'll be back. I know it." He looked out over the back yard to the dark blue water beyond the beach. "Some day I'll open the door and he'll be there and Mom won't cry anymore." He took a deep breath, reaching up to wipe the tear that had escaped his eye to roll down his cheek. "And until then, I'll take care of Mom so he'll be proud of me. And I won't do anything wrong. Maybe then he'll come home to us."