On a sunlit, picture perfect Saturday, Harm and Jennifer's closest friends attended a combined housewarming/wedding reception at the house in Falls Church. The ceremony had taken place in the back yard, with Chaplin Turner officiating. Harm had asked Bud to be his best man, Mattie was Jennifer's maid of honor, and AJ gave her away.
After the ceremony, which was blessed by a perfect late spring day with clear blue skies, Harm found himself separated from his bride, talking to Clayton Webb. "Congratulations Harm," Clay said.
"Thanks, Clay," Harm replied, finding Mac in the crowd talking to his mother and Jennifer. "You should try it yourself."
"I've been thinking about it," Clay admitted as he followed the direction of Harm's gaze.
"Don't over think, Clay," Harm warned. "It'll get you in trouble every time." He lifted his glass of champagne. "Letting go has advantages." He nudged Clay in the ribs. "By the way, Jen has strict orders to make sure Mac catches the bouquet."
"Strict orders?" AJ questioned, joining them. "I was under the impression that new Mrs. Rabb was no longer in the Navy."
Harm grinned. "Only temporarily, sir."
Clay joined in the shared laughter before saying, "I think I'm going to go find Sarah. Excuse me, Harm, AJ." He moved away with barely a trace of a limp.
"I probably shouldn't tell you this," AJ began, "but the promotions board meets next week."
"I'm aware of that, Admiral."
"Then you're probably already aware that your name is on the list."
"I'd heard - rumors to that effect, sir."
"Then I won't say anything more," AJ told him. "About that, anyway." Harm turned to look at his CO, a man that he considered a friend as well. "Take care of her, Harm," AJ said, nodding to where Jennifer was now talking to Mattie and Harriet.
"Don't worry, sir. I will."
"Excuse me, Admiral; I need to talk to Jennifer about something."
AJ stood there, sipping the champagne that he knew had been provided by Trish and Frank Burnett when he realized that he was no longer alone. Looking to his right, he saw Mattie. So far, the two of them had managed to avoid each other, and AJ found himself wondering why she was approaching him now. "Miss Grace," he said, nodding in her direction. She was holding a glass of sparkling cider, he noticed.
"Admiral," she replied. "You know, I think we got off on the wrong foot. At least, that's what Harm tells me. Maybe we should - start over?"
AJ looked at her, wondering what her game might be, but was willing to play along to find out. "Okay." He extended his hand. "Admiral AJ Chegwidden."
"Matilda Grace," she said, shaking his hand with a firm grip. "It's a pleasure to meet you, sir."
AJ found it difficult to smother the grin which threatened at her formality. "Same here, Miss Grace. I hear that you're hoping for an appointment to the Naval Academy."
"Yes, sir, I am. So is my friend, Andre," she told him, nodding toward a young African American man who was talking earnestly to Sturgis Turner. "He'd really like to meet you, Admiral."
AJ smiled at her. "Why don't you introduce us?"
Mattie's grin reminded him of a certain Naval aviator turned JAG officer. "I was hoping you'd suggest that, Admiral."
The newlyweds managed to slip away around four p.m., with Jennifer following her orders to the letter and throwing the bouquet directly into Mac's hands. Mattie was going to spend the weekend with Harriet and Bud, while Harm had reserved a room in a bed and breakfast near the airfield in Leesburg.
Harm unlocked the door to their room and told Jennifer, "Stay here," before carrying their single suitcase into the room and turning on the light. Returning to the hall, he lifted his bride into his arms. Jennifer laughed as she put her hands behind his neck. "That wasn't necessary," she told him.
"Well, I figured it was the least I could do since we couldn't take a real honeymoon." Between Jennifer having just started on her job as a civilian, and Harm's having used most of his leave tending to his plans to take guardianship of Mattie, they had decided to just spend the night away from home, the plan being to go flying the next day before heading back to Falls Church.
Harm released Jennifer's legs as he closed the door, but her hands remained locked securely behind his neck. "I love you, Harm," she told him.
"And I love you," he said, looking down into her eyes in the dimly lit room. "Mrs. Rabb."
Jennifer smiled, pulling his head down to hers. "That sounds nice," she murmured against his lips.
Mac entered her apartment ahead of Clay, still holding the bouquet. "Did you have the feeling that Jennifer threw this *directly* at me?" she asked.
"I doubt it," Clay told her, closing the door behind them, removing his suit jacket to hang it over the back of a chair.
"You want something to drink?" Mac asked, moving toward the kitchen.
"Not really," Clay said, grabbing her arm and turning her into his arms instead. "I'd much rather have you, Sarah."
Mac laughed softly, placing the bouquet on the dining room table. "Clay -"
"Hmm?" he murmured against the soft skin of her neck as he drew her over to the sofa.
Mac gave in, dropping onto the soft cushions, pulling him close, reveling in the feel of Clay's body against hers as she began loosening and removing his tie before starting to work on the buttons of his vest and shirt.
As they lay there together later, after making love, Clay kissed the top of her head. "I love you, Sarah," he said.
She opened her eyes to look at him. "I love you, Clay."
"I could use that drink now," he told her.
"I'll get it in a minute," she answered, enjoying the feel of being with him.
"I'll get it," he told her, pressing another kiss against her mouth before climbing over her and finding his boxers to pull on. "Tonic water okay with you?" he called out from the kitchen.
"Anything," she said, slowly gathering her wits about her now that Clay's body wasn't touching hers. She managed to sit up again by the time Clay returned with two bottles of tonic water. As he sat down beside her, he pulled her into his arms again.
"It was a nice wedding, wasn't it?" he commented.
"Hmm. I don't think I've ever seen Harm as happy as he is now. Somehow, having Jennifer and Mattie in his life has changed him. For the better."
"They do say that love can work miracles," Clay pointed out - his eyes on the bridal bouquet on the table. "Sarah, there's something I want to ask you -"
She turned to look at him. "What?"
"Will you marry me?"
"Clay. You don't have to -"
"I want to. I want you to be my wife, Sarah. I want to wake up with you every morning, go to sleep with you every night. I want to have children with you, spend the rest of my life loving you -" He took a deep breath. "You don't have to answer now. If you need time -"
"No." Hearing her say that, Clay struggled to keep his disappointment from showing. Her fingers touched his face, pulling it up to look at her. "I mean, no, I don't need to think about it. Yes, Clay, I'll marry you."
The relief that swept through Clay's body was so intense that all he could do was pull her into his arms. "You won't regret it, Sarah. I promise. You'll never regret it."
Mac rested her head against his. "What about your mother? She doesn't like me very much."
"Don't worry about Mother. Once she realizes I'm happy, she'll be happy."
Mac was walking through the bullpen on her way back from court when she heard someone hailing her. "Col. Mackenzie."
She looked around to find a nervous man wearing an ill-fitting suit. It took her a moment to recognize him. "Mr. Johnson. Hello."
Thomas Johnson, Mattie's father, looked uncertain. "I hope its okay that I'm here -"
"Of course. How are you doing?" Mac asked him.
"You know how it goes. Good days, bad days. I - I have a job."
"That's good news. Where?"
"At the airport in Blacksburg. Working on airplanes for the people who eventually bought Grace Aviation. Only they renamed it to Blacksburg Aviation."
"So what can I do for you, Mr. Johnson?" Mac asked.
"Actually, you can point me in the direction of Commander Rabb's office. I need to speak to him."
"It's - Captain Rabb now," Mac informed him. "It'll be easier if I show you how to get there," Mac said, leading the man back out of the bullpen as she noticed Jennifer Coates-Rabb coming out of her office with some files for Ensign Peabody.
Harm was at his desk, studying a file and making case-notes when Mac tapped on the doorframe to get his attention. "Harm? I have someone here who wants to talk to you."
Harm looked up, his smile disappearing as he saw who was with Mac. Rising to his feet, he said, "Mr. Johnson."
"I need to talk to you, Captain," Tom said.
Indicating the chair in front of his desk, Harm said, "Sit down."
"I'll see you later, Harm," Mac said, turning back down the hallway as Harm closed his office door.
Jennifer approached Mac as soon as she returned to the bullpen. "Who was that, Mac?" she asked, far more comfortable now after two months of marriage to Harm with calling her coworkers by their names instead of rank.
"Thomas Johnson," Mac explained. "Mattie's father."
"What's he doing here?" Jennifer wanted to know.
"He wanted to talk to Harm about something," Mac answered.
Harm closed the door of his office as Tom Johnson sat down, wondering why Mattie's father had come to see him. The custody hearing was scheduled for the next Monday, and during the last six months, there had been only intermittent attempts by this man to contact his daughter.
Returning to his chair, Harm sat down and looked at him. "What can I do for you, Mr. Johnson?"
"I want to talk to my daughter, Captain," Tom said.
"Mr. Johnson -"
"I know what you're going to say - she doesn't want to talk to me. But she needs to know that I'm trying, Captain. And I need to -" he stopped as his voice faltered slightly, causing Harm to lift an eyebrow. "I need to talk to her. Try to - to explain some things to her. Things she doesn't know about."
"And these - things can't wait until the hearing on Monday?" Harm questioned, suddenly recalling Mac's telling him that Mattie needed to talk her father.
"I don't think so." Tom looked down at his hands as they lay clasped tightly in his lap. "Captain, she's still my daughter. I still have *some* rights. All I'm asking for is just the opportunity to talk to her. Just for a few minutes - anywhere you say."
Harm picked up a pen and gripped it tightly, trying to come to a decision. Mac was right: Mattie *did* need to talk to her father. Inhaling, Harm said, "Okay. But you'll talk to her at our house -" as the man began to speak, Harm continued. "You can talk in the backyard if necessary. And all of this rests on Mattie's agreeing to talk to you at all when you arrive."
"That's fair, Captain. When shall I be there?"
Harm considered the schedule for the weekend. Mattie, Jennifer, and he were going to go flying Saturday afternoon - and were planning another family outing on Sunday to the Smithsonian. "Tomorrow morning," he said. "Ten a.m. We're going flying at noon - so if you're late -" he warned.
"Don't worry. I'll be there."
Harm walked him back to the elevators, seeing Jennifer watching them as he started back toward his office. Knowing that the Admiral wouldn't appreciate their having a private conversation in Jennifer's office, Harm mimicked drinking a cup of coffee and waited for her to nod that she understood. Once she had, he moved toward the break room.
She joined him there not a moment later. "The Admiral had a meeting on the Hill," she told him, reaching around him to open the refrigerator.
Harm took advantage of the situation by stealing a quick kiss. "Good."
"What did Mattie's father want?" she asked, opening the bottle of water she'd found.
"He wants to talk to Mattie," Harm told her focusing his attention on his coffee. "I told him be at the house at ten tomorrow morning."
"You did what?" Jennifer questioned. "Harm, Mattie won't talk to him."
"That's why we're not going to tell her until he gets there."
He sighed. "Jen, Mac's right. Mattie needs to talk to her father."
"I hope you know what you're doing, Harm," Jennifer said. "You're taking a big chance."
"That's why he's meeting her at the house. We'll be there for her if thing go badly."
"She might just be angry enough on Monday to tell the judge she doesn't want to stay with her father *or* us," Jennifer pointed out.
"It's a chance we need to take, Jen. I hope you'll support me on this," he said.
"You know I will," she said, leaning toward him as Mac entered the room. Jennifer straightened immediately, stepping back. "I'd better get back to my desk before the Admiral comes back."
Mac took out a cup and poured some coffee as she gave Harm a knowing smile. "You love taking risks, don't you?" One of the stipulations for allowing Jennifer to continue working at JAG was that he 'wouldn't have to send a chaperone to the copy room with them'.
Harm grinned and lifted his shoulders. "Guilty as charged, Colonel," he told her.
"So, what did Mattie's father want?" Mac asked, shaking her head.
Harm told her about the conversation - and his decision. He wasn't surprised at her reaction. "Good for you. It's important to his recovery as much as Mattie's future for them to talk." She hesitated. "Has Jennifer talked to her father at all?"
"No," Harm admitted. "And we're not going there, Mac," he said. "How are things going with Clay's mother?" he countered.
"Ouch," she said, wincing. "Slowly."
"You'll win her over," Harm reassured her. "Eventually."
"Let's just hope it's before the wedding," Mac sighed.
"You and Clay have finally set a date?" he asked.
Harm hated not telling Mattie about her father's impending visit - but he knew what her reaction would have been had he done so. She would have refused once again to see him, refusing to even discuss the matter. Telling himself that it was for her own good didn't help much, however.
After dinner, he went upstairs to the study to work on the paperwork he would need for the hearing on Monday. About an hour later, Jennifer appeared with a cup of coffee that she placed on his desk before moving behind his chair. Placing her hands on his shoulders, she looked at what he was doing. "What do you think the judge will decide to do?" she asked.
"I *hope* she'll decide to make the guardianship permanent," he said, placing one of his hands over hers. "I thought the home inspection went well - better than the last one, anyway," he told her with a grin. "Mattie's in school - even if it is by waiver since we moved out of her original district. You're here to take care of her whenever I have to go out of town -"
Jennifer leaned forward, hugging his shoulders. "Is that the reason I'm here?" she asked. "To 'take care of Mattie'?"
Harm pulled on her arm, bringing her around until she was sitting across his lap. "You know better than that, Jennifer," he said. "Don't you?"
"The court might ask the same thing," she pointed out. "If the reason you married me was to make sure I'd be here for her."
"I married you for one reason: because I love you," he said, combing his fingers through her hair.
"Then why do you still treat me as if I'm no older than Mattie at times?" Jennifer questioned, her dark eyes meeting his.
"Do I?" Harm questioned, frowning. She nodded. "When? I -"
"Well, for one thing, you tend to dismiss any concerns I have out of hand. Like today when we were discussing Mattie's father."
Harm glanced toward the door. "Jennifer-"
"She's downstairs on the phone with Janice," Jennifer said.
"I didn't - dismiss anything, Jen. I know that you're concerned about the subject, but -"
"You don't think I can be impartial about it because I haven't spoken to *my* father for years," Jennifer finished for him.
"I understand why you don't, Jennifer. Look, I'm sorry if I seemed to dismiss your concerns earlier. I wasn't aware that I was even doing it." He gave her a sheepish grin. "Believe me, I don't *think* of you as being anywhere *near* Mattie's age." Harm sighed. "I guess I tend to be a little -" he paused, trying to think of the right word.
"Arrogant?" Jennifer suggested. "Tyrannical? Autocratic? Overbearing?"
He was glad that he saw humor in her eyes. "Okay, okay. Point taken," he said, laughing softly. "I'll try to correct that particular flaw in my character."
"Good," Jennifer said, playing with a button on his shirt. "Because I'd hate for our baby feel that his or her father -"
Harm's eyes widened and he interrupted her. "Jen? Are you trying to tell me -?"
She nodded. "I bought one of those tests yesterday. And I have an appointment with a doctor for next week."
Placing his hand on her stomach, Harm grinned. "A baby. How far - or do you know?"
"By my best calculations, almost two months," she answered. "So we don't have to worry about anyone questioning our actions before we got married."
"I wasn't worried about that," he assured her, sliding a hand beneath her hair to pull her head down for a kiss. "I love you, Jen."
"I love you," she replied, resting her head against his shoulder when the kiss ended. "Do you think we should tell Mattie now or wait?" she asked.
"Tell me what now?" Mattie asked, coming into the room, grinning when she saw Jennifer sitting in Harm's lap.
"I thought you were on the phone with Janice?" Harm questioned, hoping to distract her.
"I was. But she had to go - her mom's being a real hard case just because Janice got a "C" in Biology instead of a "B"," she explained. "I think it's because Mr. Crandall doesn't like her. Now. What are you trying to decide whether or not to tell me?"
Jennifer and Harm's eyes met in silent communication before Harm said, "Whether or not to tell you that we're going to have a baby."
Mattie's eyes were huge. "A baby?! That's great!" she declared, smiling. "When?"
"Another seven months, I think," Jennifer answered. "I haven't actually been to see a doctor yet," she confessed.
"This is so cool," Mattie said. "Wait'll Janice hears about this. She said she thought you'd wait awhile before having a baby. I told her you wouldn't -"
"Oh really?" Harm questioned. "I wasn't aware that you'd been discussing Jennifer and me with your friends."
"Only with Janice and Andre," Mattie told him. "And they're almost like family."
"I hope you know that this baby won't make any difference in the way we feel about you -" Harm began, but Mattie stopped him before he could continue.
"I know that, Harm," she told him. "Who else knows?"
"Right now, just the three of us," Jennifer said. "And I think it should stay that way for another few weeks."
Mattie nodded, understanding. "What about flying?" she asked.
Harm glanced at Jennifer. "No more loops or rolls," he said. "And it might be best to check with the doctor when we see him - that is, if you want me there with you -"
"You'd *better* be there," Jennifer teased. "It's partially your fault this happened, remember?"
"Yeah," Mattie chimed in. "It's too late to back out now, Harm."
"Believe me," Harm said, "Backing out is the *last* thing on my mind."
Jennifer was brushing her hair when Harm entered their bedroom after making sure the house was locked for the night. He stopped behind her to pull her hair aside and placed a kiss to the back of her neck, smiling as he felt her body shiver in response. "Has the Admiral said anything else about sending you to another duty station after the hearing?" she asked.
He sat down on the bench beside her, facing away as he took off his shoes. "No. I've heard that there's a slot about to open at the NLSO in DC, but there's no way of telling whether he'll send me there or to Italy - Japan." He looked at her before pulling his tee shirt over his head. "Why? Having second thoughts?"
Jennifer smiled. "No. I was going to mention that slot if you hadn't heard about it. Too bad you can't stay at Headquarters -"
"One of the downsides of making Captain," Harm said, sliding his arm around her waist.
"I'll miss this place if we have to move," she told him.
"So will I. But we'll keep it - maybe rent it out, although I don't like that idea. And besides, we're probably just borrowing trouble. Maybe we won't have to move at all." He stood up, pulling her with him. "Let's go to bed," he suggested. "It's been a long day."
Harm went out for a run the next morning, returning to take a shower and change clothes. Just before ten am the next morning, he found Jennifer in the laundry room between the kitchen and garage. She was standing at the table between the two machines, folding clothes from the dryer, and he slipped his arms around her waist to pull her back against him. His hands spread across her stomach as he nuzzled her neck. "Where's Mattie?" he asked.
"Cleaning her room, I think." She placed the last of the clothes into a basket and started to pick it up.
"Whoa," Harm declared, stopping her. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Taking Mattie's clean clothes up to her," Jennifer told him.
"I'll do it," Harm said, picking up the basket. "You don't need to be carrying heavy clothes baskets up those stairs."
"Harm, I'm not helpless," she pointed out, following him out of the laundry room and through the kitchen into the living room.
"I know that," he countered, trying to think of a reason she would accept for his actions. When the doorbell rang, Harm smiled. "You have to get the door," he told her, giving her a smile and starting toward the stairs before she could respond.
A second later, he heard her voice and stopped on the second step. "Harm!" she said in a quiet voice that still managed to get his attention. She had evidently looked through the peephole to find out who the visitor was. "It's *him*. Mattie's father."
Harm winced. "Okay. Let him in and call me back downstairs." He continued upstairs as she took a deep breath and went back to the door.
Mattie's door was closed, and Harm shifted the basket to rest on his hip as he knocked once. "Who is it?" she called.
"Laundry delivery," he replied, and heard her laugh as she answered.
"Come on in, Harm." He opened the door and entered the room to find her just finishing making up her bed. "Where do you want this?" he asked.
"Put it over there by the dresser," she said. "I told Jennifer I'd bring that up when she finished."
"You know Jen. Determined to do everything herself."
Mattie nodded. "Who was that at the door?" she asked, giving the bed a final pat.
"Don't know. Jennifer was going to answer it when I started upstairs." He indicated the well-made bed. "Looks good."
"Academy good?" she wanted to know.
Harm grinned, taking a quarter out of his pocket. "Shall we find out?"
"Sure," she said, but Jennifer's voice interrupted him.
"Harm? Could you come down here, please?"
Going to the door, he called back, "Be right there." To Mattie, he said, "We'll check it later."
Jennifer was standing with a still-nervous looking Thomas Johnson when Harm got downstairs. "Captain Rabb."
"Why not call me Harm, Mr. Johnson?" Harm suggested. "You're still sure about this?"
"Yes. It's not just for Mattie. I need to do this for myself, too. My - counselor suggested it as part of my recovery."
Harm nodded and went to the bottom step. "Mattie? There's someone down here who wants to see you."
Mattie, no doubt expecting one of her friends, came down the stairs with a smile on her face - until she saw the man who was standing with Harm and Jennifer. "H-hello, Mattie," Tom said.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, not giving him a chance to answer before she turned on Harm. "You said you wouldn't force me to talk to him, Harm," she declared angrily. "That it would be my decision!"
Harm took a step toward the girl, his hand extended. "Mattie, he just wants to talk to you -"
"Well, I don't want to talk to him!" she yelled, turning and running back upstairs, slamming her bedroom door with so much force that Harm thought he felt the entire house shake.
"I'm sorry," Tom said, starting to turn toward the door. "I guess it was a bad idea. I'll go -"
"No," Harm said. "I'll talk to her, try to make her understand -"
"Why don't *I* give it a shot?" Jennifer suggested. "You're probably not one of her favorite people at the moment."
Harm nodded. "We'll go out into backyard," he told her.
He watched her climb the stairs before indicating to Tom to follow him. "I didn't know you were married," was Tom's comment.
"We've only been married a couple of months," Harm explained. "We've known each other for a couple of years - she was helping me with Mattie."
"Seems a little - young," Tom noted.
"She's older than she looks, Mr. Johnson," Harm informed him.
"Do you think she'll be able to convince Mattie to see me?"
"If anyone can, its' Jennifer. They're pretty close."
Jennifer knocked on Mattie's bedroom door. "Mattie?"
"I'm not going to. Not until you tell me I can come in."
"Then you'll be standing out there for a long time," Mattie said in a defiant tone. "I'm not coming out until *he* leaves!"
Jennifer sighed. "Fine. Then we'll just talk through the door."
"There's nothing to talk about, because I'm not going to talk to *him*!"
"Why not? What harm can it do just to talk?"
"Jennifer, I thought you of all people would understand! You don't want to talk to your father, either!"
"That's not true, Mattie," Jennifer said. "I'd like to try and talk to my dad. But the truth is, *he* doesn't want to talk to *me*." Jennifer heard the lock on the door being turned, and the door opened to reveal a confused Mattie.
Jennifer entered the room and sat down on the edge of the bed to watch Mattie pacing the room, every now and then going to the window that overlooked the back yard.
"You never told me that your father didn't want to talk to you, Jennifer," she said.
"I didn't see any reason to talk about it," Jennifer said, shrugging. "The last time I saw him was the same day that I met Harm. It was Christmas Eve and he needed a secure place for me to stay until after the holiday. Harm took me to Hagersfield, intending to leave me there."
"What happened?" Mattie asked, sitting in the window seat.
"The first thing he did was ask Harm what kind of trouble I was in, and then proceeded to let me know how much of a disappointment I was to him, all the things I'd heard before."
"So you didn't stay there?"
Jennifer shook her head. "No. He took me to Mac's and then to the Roberts house for a get together before the Christmas Eve service." She smiled at the memories of that momentous occasion. "That night changed my life, Mattie. Of course, I didn't fully realize it at the time. All I saw was that Harm was trying to palm me off on someone else so that he wouldn't have to be responsible for me. Made me feel as though I was a worthless as my father claimed I was."
"What changed that?"
"The fact that he believed me when I told him the truth. Mattie, Harm would never have agreed to let your father talk to you unless he truly thought it was in your best interest. Do you believe that?"
The girl stared through the window as she answered. "Yeah. I know. It's just - I don't want anything to do with that man down there. He may be my father, but he killed my mother, and then left me."
"He came back," Jennifer pointed out. "Mattie, give him ten minutes. Then, if you tell him you don't want to see him again, I think he'll abide by that decision. If it's want you really want."
Mattie caught her lower lip between her teeth as she considered Jennifer's words
"Nice place you have here," Tom said, gazing out over the swimming pool area and beyond. "Lots of room."
"We were lucky to find it," Harm said, turning as he heard the door from the house open to see Mattie standing there. She hesitated for a moment before coming forward.
Tom turned as well, and Harm thought he heard the man say, "Thank God," under his breath as they watched her. "Hello, Mattie."
Harm placed a hand on Mattie's shoulder, feeling the tension there. "I'll leave you two alone," he said. "We'll be inside if you need us," he told Mattie, who nodded. Returning to the house, Harm found Jennifer standing at the kitchen sink, looking through the window. "How'd you manage it?" he asked.
"By telling her the reason I haven't talked to my father," Jennifer explained, leaning back against Harm. "Because he doesn't want to talk to me."
"Are you sure about that, Jen?" he asked, rubbing her shoulders.
"He's known how to get in touch with me for years, Harm. He hasn't tried."
"Maybe because he thinks you don't want to talk to him," Harm suggested.
"He never wanted me, Harm," she told him, reaching up to cover his hands with hers. "Promise me that if this baby's a girl, you'll never make her feel unwanted?"
"That's an easy promise to make, Jen. I don't care if it's a boy or a girl. I love it either way." Jennifer snuggled closer to him as they watched Mattie and her father sit at one of the tables beside the pool.
"Thank you for agreeing to talk to me, Mattie," Tom said. "I know I'm not your favorite person right now -"
"You don't even make my top twenty list," Mattie told him, her arms folded across her chest. "Just say what you came to say and leave, okay? The only reason I'm doing this is because Harm and Jennifer want me to." She knew she sounded cold and unfeeling, but Mattie couldn't stop seeing her mother's dead body and remembering that it was because of her father that she was dead. She *had* no feeling for this man. Harm and Jennifer were her family now - and if she got the chance in court on Monday, she'd tell the judge as much.
"I'm getting better, Mattie," he told her. "I haven't had a drink in over six months. I've got a job and -"
"Doing what?" Mattie questioned, not really caring about the answer.
"Working on airplanes. The people who bought the hangar -"
Mattie rose to her feet, glaring at him. "You're working for the people who stole Grace Aviation from me?" she asked.
"Mom worked ten years to build that place up," Mattie declared, "and I *lost* it because *you* took out loans against it that you never told me about! And you have the nerve to -"
"Mattie, it was close to where I'm living - and I needed the work. You couldn't have kept it going by yourself. You needed to go back to school -"
"I would have found a way. Harm and I were making plans! It's all *your* fault! If you hadn't killed Mom, then none of it would have happened. She'd still have the hangar and crop-dusting business -"
"Mattie, I know you hate me for what happened, but I wasn't driving that night."
Mattie snorted in disbelief, turning her back on him.
"But it was my fault," Tom said quietly. "I *was* drunk. Tina - Your mother refused to let me drive and I was furious with her about it. Thought she was implying that I was too drunk to drive."
Mattie whirled to confront him again. "You *were*!"
"Yes. But that didn't stop me from arguing with her about it while she was driving. It was my fault that she was distracted and lost control of the car. I admit that. I'll have to face that for the rest of my life."
"Good," Mattie said.
"I don't expect you to forgive me, Mattie. My drinking has hurt you more than anyone else besides your mother. If I could change things, turn back the clock, I would. But I can't. All I can do is tell you that I'm sorry and hope that someday you'll be able to understand and - maybe - think a little less harshly about me."
Mattie just stood there, looking at him, her expression unchanged.
Tom took something from his jacket pocket and held it out to her. "My counselor said that you might benefit from seeing someone - someone who knows what it's like. There's a group - Alateen. Have you ever heard of it?"
"Yeah" she told him. "But I don't need a counselor. I'm not the one who's a drunk."
"No. But you've had to live with one." When she made no move to take the card, her father put it on the table. "I think you should at least consider it, Mattie. Well, I guess I'll be going," he told her. "But before I do, I want you to know that I love you. I know I haven't been the best father in the world, but that's the honest truth. I love you, baby -"
He reached out to her, touching her arm, and Mattie jerked away from the contact. He exhaled loudly before turning toward the house, leaving Mattie alone beside the pool, her eyes locked on the rectangle of thin white cardboard lying on the table.
Harm and Jennifer met Tom when he entered the house. "Thank you for letting me talk to her. I would ask that - well, I left a card with her. About Alateen. I - my counselor thinks it would be good for her to attend a few meetings. If you could - convince her -"
"We'll discuss it, Mr. Johnson," Harm said. "But it will be Mattie's decision."
"I understand. Thank you again."
"Jen, would you see Mr. Johnson out?" Harm asked, looking at Mattie. She looked so lost, he thought as he left the house, stopping several feet away from her.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"What do you think?" she asked in reply, and Harm knew that she hadn't forgiven him for setting this up.
"Mattie, I know you're angry with me, but - I really think this was something you needed to do."
"Why?" she asked, finally looking at him. "So that he could tell me more lies? All about how sorry he is? I've heard it all before, Harm. Don't you think he's *tried* to stop drinking before now? He'd come home drunk, he and Mom would argue, he'd promise to stop - and for a little while, he would. Then he'd start again, worse than before - until he killed her. It doesn't matter that he wasn't driving that night - he was still responsible for what happened. I don't want anything to do with him. And if the judge tries to put me back with him, I'll run away," she declared. "Are we still going to fly?"
"If you still want to."
"Sure. I'll get my coat," she told him, moving past him to return to the house.
Harm watched her go before reaching out to pick up the card from the table and following her.
Mattie remained quiet until a few minutes after she and Harm got into the air. Suddenly she was laughing and acting more like herself, and Harm felt his own worry dissipating as the Stearman sliced through the air. He let her take the controls, telling her to turn the airplane out toward the practice area.
An hour later, they returned to Leesburg, and saw Jennifer standing near the hangar, waving at them as they over flew. Harm felt Mattie drop each wing, 'waving' at Jennifer before she turned the aircraft into the landing pattern, where Harm usually took over.
"You want to land her?" he asked, smiling when he heard her surprised response.
"Me? You think I'm ready?"
"Do *you* think you are?"
"Go for it!" he called back, keeping an eye on the gauges as she brought the biplane around onto final approach to the field.
The airplane's landing gear touched down so smoothly that Harm felt a tiny hint of jealousy. His first landing hadn't been quite as smooth, he recalled. "Nice!" he told her through the intercom system as she throttled back and turned the plane off of the runway, taxiing it back toward the hangar where Jennifer was waiting.
As soon as she closed the throttle, Mattie asked, "So it was okay?"
"Okay? I always said you were a natural," he confirmed as they got out of the plane. Dropping an arm over her shoulder, he grinned as Jennifer moved toward them. "Did you see Mattie's landing?" he asked. "Smooth as silk."
"I noticed," Jennifer said.
Harm looked down at her. "Let me get something to drink and we'll go up. Take her around the pattern a few times."
"It was so cool," he heard Mattie tell Jennifer as he went toward the Lexus to retrieve a bottle of water. "I mean, it was almost as if I just *knew* how to do it. I guess it was from landing so many times with Harm at the controls, but I never expected my first landing to be *that* good."
"Like Harm says, you're a natural," Jennifer pointed out, taking the goggles, leather helmet and headphones from Mattie.
"She's not the only one," Harm said as he returned, giving Jennifer a smile.
"Unfortunately, my flying is going to be severely curtailed for the next few months, anyway," she told him with a sigh as he pulled her close to his side.
"We'll see what the doctor has to say about it," he suggested, turning her to tug at the ends of her helmet. "You ready?" he asked, giving her a lopsided grin.
"Up, up and away," she said, smiling.
Harm took it as slow and easy as he could, gentle, wide turns and when he landed the airplane half an hour later, his landing was a smooth as Mattie's had been - perhaps even more so.
"You came back early," Mattie pointed out when she met the plane.
"It's not fun flying if you can't do rolls," Jennifer explained, tossing the gear back into the seat once she'd gotten out of the cockpit.
Harm joined them. "Seven, eight months tops, you'll be back up there," he promised.
"And then we'll have to find a babysitter," Jennifer reminded him.
"I can do it," Mattie said. "After all you two have put up with me, keeping an eye on a little brother or sister is the least I can do to repay you."
"See?" Harm told Jennifer. "Problem solved." He gave Mattie a wink. "Let's get 'Sarah' back into the hangar, Mattie, and then we'll go find something to eat."
"You're sure you don't want a big wedding, Sarah?" Clay asked as they sat on the sofa in his townhouse. "That you won't miss all the pomp and circumstance?"
"Been there, done that, Clay," Mac sighed, resting her back against his chest. "I didn't want it when Mic was planning what he liked to refer to as 'the wedding of the century'." She turned her head to look up at him. "Your mother wants one, though, doesn't she?"
"It's not Mother's wedding. It's ours. She'll survive."
"She's never going to approve of me," Mac sighed.
"Whether she does or doesn't, does it really matter?" he asked.
"Clay," she told him, turning around to look at him. "You yourself told me that the only person you were close to is your mother. I don't want to come between you, or cause problems -"
"Well, if you're worried about the possibility of her disinheriting me -" he said, smiling at her look of denial, "- you don't have to be. There's a trust fund that she can't touch. Even if she left every penny to charity, we wouldn't have to worry about money."
"It's not that, and you know it," Mac told him, hitting him on the shoulder before she turned to rest against him again.
"I know. That's one of the things I love about you. You're not interested in the fact that I have money apart from what I make from my job."
"Which isn't anything to sneeze at, I'm sure." She snuggled closer.
"Mother's willing to let us have the wedding at her house," Clay said, causing Mac to turn to look at him in surprise.
"I think you're slowly winning her over. She's just not used to people standing up to her," he told her. "And it didn't hurt that you're the reason I gave up being a field agent. She's secretly wanted me to do that for years. So. How about it? If we agree, she'll let us make all the plans - and has promised to keep the guest list on my side down to something less than half of the total population of Washington and the surrounding area."
Mac grinned. "Well, that's something, I suppose," she sighed. "Okay. Your mother's house it is."
"So. We have a date, and a location. What else?"
She stood up. "Why don't we discuss this later?" she suggested grabbing Clay's hand and giving it a tug. "I think we should celebrate settling on a location."
Grinning, Clay got to his feet. "You know, Sarah, I've always liked your ideas," he told her, leading her toward the stairs and up to his bedroom . . .
On Sunday evening, Harm was finishing up on the paperwork he needed for court the next day when Mattie's voice drew his attention. "Can we talk, Harm?" she asked, hovering in the doorway to the study.
"Sure," he told her. "Come on in. I needed a break anyway," he joked, watching as she crossed to sit in one of the chairs in front of his desk. "What do you want to talk about?" he asked.
"I want to apologize for the way I acted yesterday," she began. "I shouldn't have gotten so angry."
Harm sat back in his chair, studying the young woman's face. "It was understandable, considering everything you've been through. You don't have to apologize -"
"Yes, I do." She stopped, and Harm frowned upon seeing her hesitation.
"What's wrong, Mattie?" he asked, suddenly afraid that she was going to tell him that she'd decided to go and stay with her father.
"How hard is it to - change your name?" she wanted to know.
Caught off guard, Harm was momentarily speechless, and in an effort to clear his mind he rose from his chair and went around to the front of the desk, leaning against it. "You name? You don't like 'Mattie'?" he questioned.
"No. But that's not what I mean. I was - thinking about, well, legally changing my name from Johnson -"
"You don't use it anyway," Harm pointed out.
"No. But it's still my *legal* name."
"And - what do you want to change it to?" he asked, already knowing the answer, but needing to hear her say the word.
She looked up at him. "Rabb."
"Are you sure about this, Mattie?" he asked. "I mean, it's a big step."
Her voice was firm as she answered. "Yes. I thought about it all day. Would it be really hard to do?" she wanted to know. "I think it would be cool if there was another Rabb at the Academy some day," she said. "And - As long as my last name is Johnson, I won't *really* feel like I'm a part of the family."
Harm drew her to her feet and into his arms, holding her tightly. "You're part of this family, Mattie. You always will be." Releasing her, he said, "And I'd be lying if I said the idea of another Rabb at the Academy isn't something I've thought about."
"So, how tough would it be?" she asked.
"Well, first of all, since you're still a minor, it would require an adoption instead of guardianship. And your father would have to agree to give up all parental rights for that to happen."
Mattie looked defeated. "Well, I guess that's that, then," she said in a flat tone. "He'll never do that."
"You never know. First things first, though. Let's see what happens tomorrow. Then we can discuss where we go from there, okay?"
"Okay," she agreed. Standing up, she gave him a hug and kiss on the cheek. "Night."
"Goodnight." He was still standing there when Jennifer entered the room.
Noticing his distracted expression, she asked, "Is something wrong?"
"No," he assured her, pulling her into his arms and resting his chin against her soft hair. "Mattie wants to change her last name."
"To - Rabb?" Jennifer guessed.
"What did you tell her?"
"That we need to see how things go tomorrow before making any decisions."
"Do you really think that Mr. Johnson will be willing to give up his rights?" Jennifer wondered.
"All we can do is ask," Harm said.
"How much longer are you going to be working?" Jennifer asked him, glancing at the papers scattered across his desk.
"Not much longer. Half an hour, tops. Keep me company?" he asked, looking down at her.
"Sure," she agreed, sitting down in one of the chairs while Harm returned to his work.
In her room, Mattie sat in the window seat, looking out at the starlit sky. "I know I don't ask much, God. I guess I was kinda angry with you after my mom died. I didn't understand why you let it happen. Why you took her instead of him. I guess I understand now that it was so that I'd meet Harm and Jennifer. All I'm asking is that you fix it so that the judge decides to let me stay here - Is that too much to ask?"