1: Sergei | 2: Mac | 3: Harm | 4: Trish | 5: Frank | 6: Deanne 
7: Chloe | 8: Matt | 9: Sergei | 10: Mac | 11: Harm

To everything there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which has been planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance. . . .

Ecclesiastes 3:1-4



I should be exhausted, but I'm not.  Or maybe it's just that I'm still on the high from the adrenaline rush I get whenever I'm up in the air.  It's just after seven in the morning and I feel like I'm on top of the world despite having been awake for nearly thirty-six hours.  Gram says that it's because, like my grandfather, father and brother before me, I have flying in my blood, in my heart and soul. 

The first time she told me that, the day the United States Marine Corps pinned my gold wings on my uniform, she had this wistful, faraway look in her eyes.  I knew what she was thinking about.  As much as flying is a part of us, the men in my family, flying is what took two of those men away and nearly claimed a third.   In 1942, a twenty-two year old woman was left with a farm in Pennsylvania to tend to and a two-year-old to raise.  Twenty-seven years later, that fatherless child, then a man grown, left behind a young wife and a six-year-old son of his own.  Another twenty-one years passed and the six-year-old had grown into a man of twenty-seven and nearly lost his own life because of flying.  Some people might think that this family is cursed.

Sometimes, I wonder if it bothers Gram, the gold wings and the love of flying that is as much a part of this family as our tradition of military service.  It crossed my mind to ask her, but I couldn't risk hurting her by bringing up painful memories.  Nor could I ask my stepmother Trish for the same reason.  She still gets teary-eyed when my father's name is mentioned, even after all these years.  I thought about asking my brother, but some feeling that I cannot name stopped me.  Maybe it was that I wasn't sure he would truly be able to understand and put it into words.  Or maybe I didn't want to remind him of that Christmas day when his childhood was turned upside down.

Finally, I did ask Mac, but even that took courage.  After all, if my brother was still flying full-time, it would take only a cruel twist of fate to put her in the same position as Gram and Trish, mourning her beloved husband while struggling to raise young, fatherless children.  So it was with great reluctance that I voiced these thoughts to her.

After I had asked the question, Mac was silent for a long moment, so quiet that I immediately regretted asking.  I stumbled over an apology as I started to back out of the room, stopping when she finally replied, her voice quiet, steady and sure.

"Flying is a part of the Rabb family makeup," she said, a faraway look in her eyes.  I could see the love that she has for my brother and I hope that someday I will be as lucky as he is.  "Your grandfather, your father, your brother – none of them would have been the men that Gram, Mom and I feel in love with if not for their love of flying."

She paused for a moment and I could almost see the memories replaying in her mind.  Eventually, she continued, "When Harm had surgery and got his eyes fixed, I wanted him to stay so much.  There was a part of me that wanted to take him in my arms and beg him to stay.  But I couldn't make the words come out, because as much as I wanted and needed him to stay, I loved him enough to let him go.  No matter how much it hurt, I knew deep down that if he didn't go back, he wouldn't be the same man that I had fallen in love with."

When she finished, she looked at me and smiled and I could see in her eyes that she thought it was worth it, the risk of loving someone who could very easily be taken away.  I wonder if, as much courage as it took for Gram, Trish and Mac to love an aviator, it took just as much courage for Grandfather, Father and Harm to love them, knowing that they might break their hearts by going away and never coming back.

I smile as I start going through my mail, while my friend and squadron mate, 1st Lieutenant James Paul, throws himself on my couch.  This has kind of become a tradition with us, sitting down after a mission, training or otherwise, and discussing our mission and other assorted topics.  Eventually, we'll wind down and James will head back to his own apartment and we'll finally collapse into sleep.

"I'd forgotten how much I hate night training flights," he declares, looking over at me.  "I don't suppose they bother you, do they?  You've probably flown many missions at night."

I just shrug.  My time with the Russian Army seems like almost another lifetime ago.  I do miss Russia at times and I miss my mother even more, but I have built a good life for myself here in America.  A life that I have no regrets about.  "A few," I say with disinterest as I pull one particular envelope out of the stack.  I tear open the envelope and barely glance at the outside of the card before opening it and reading the lengthy message on the inside.

"What have you got there?" James asks, glancing at the card in my hand with interest.

"Christmas card from my grandmother," I reply, holding up the card.  I frown a little as I add, "This will be the first Christmas since I have been in America that I will not get to see her."

"Bah humbug to the genius who scheduled training missions all Christmas week," James says with disgust.  "Where does your grandmother live?"

"In a small town called Bealsville in Pennsylvania," I answer as I carefully stand the card up on the coffee table with the rest of the cards I have already received from friends and family.  Gram always picks out beautiful Christmas cards and her card seems to stand out just a little bit from the rest.  "It is not far from Pittsburgh.  She lives on a farm just outside of town."

"So your family always gathers at the farm for Christmas?" James asks, curious.  I remember him once telling me that his family isn't very close, his parents divorced and his grandparents all dead.  In spite of my somewhat unusual family situation, I can't imagine life like that.  In my extended family, you don't have to even be related by blood to be made to feel like you belong. 

"Not always," I say, remembering the first year I was in America.  I was so nervous that first Christmas, finally meeting the rest of the family that I'd only spoken to on the phone prior to that.  Fortunately, everyone made me feel so welcome that I could easily forget that we were practically strangers.  It didn't take long for me to feel like I'd known them my entire life.  "The first Christmas I was in America, everyone came to Washington.  My brother had just gotten married and his wife was expecting twins so it wasn't a good idea for her to travel that late in her pregnancy.  The following year we began the tradition of going to the farm.  It was the twins' first Christmas and Gram didn't want to miss it, but she came down with the flu and couldn't travel."

"So everyone went up to the farm to be with her," James concludes.  "Sounds like you have a great family."

"We're all very close," I say, picking up a framed photo off the coffee table.  It is a snapshot of the extended Rabb-Burnett-Mackenzie family taken last Christmas.   "My father was her only child and. . . .she says that having my brother and I around is like having my father back, we remind her so much of him."

"So who is everyone in the picture?"

"This, of course, is my grandmother," I say, pointing out everyone in the photo as I name them.  "Next to her is my stepmother Trish and her husband Frank.  That's my brother Harm and he's holding his son Matt.  His wife, Mac, is holding their daughter Sarah.  Next to Mac is her mother, Deanne.  Behind her is Mac's Uncle Matt and sitting in front is Mac's sister Chloe."  In the photo, I'm standing next to Gram, my hand holding hers just out of view behind Harm's back.

At the same time, the phone rings and there is a knock at the door.  As I pick up the phone, I ask James, "Can you get the door for me?  It's probably Lisa.  She said she would stop by this morning."

As James goes to answer the door, I take his place on the couch and say into the phone, "Hello, Lieutenant Rabb."

Out of the corner of my eye, I see James pull open the door and motion in the redheaded woman dressed in the uniform of a Marine 2nd Lieutenant.  "Hey, Lisa," I hear him say while I'm trying to pay attention to the woman on the other end of the phone line.  "Your boyfriend's on the phone."

I smile and wave at Lisa and my heart flutters just a little bit in my chest.  I met her just after being stationed at Quantico when I finished flight training school and we hit it off immediately.  She's bright and bubbly and fun to be with.  Is she the one I want to spend the rest of my life with?  I'm not sure and that's nothing against Lisa.  She's going to make someone a great wife someday, maybe even me.  Now that I'm out of college and my Marine training is over, various members of my family – mostly Gram and Trish, of course - have been dropping subtle hints about my settling down.  Harm likes to joke that since he is finally married with children, Trish and Gram need a new project and that they don't want to wait until I'm thirty-six, the age Harm was when he married, before I settle down.  Since I'm only twenty-three, I figure that I can easily give them what they want sometime within the next thirteen years.

I manage to bring my attention back to my phone conversation with June Randall, a neighbor of Gram's.  I remember her fondly from my times on the farm.  Like Gram, she is a widow, but her children are scattered across the country and rarely visit.  Sometimes, the attitude of Americans amazes me.  In Russia and most of Europe, elder family members are revered and taken care of.  In America, they seem to often be ignored by children who seem to have forgotten where they came from.  I am so glad that my family is not like that.  Anyway, Mrs. Randall – as Harm and I still insist on calling her, no matter how many times she says we should call her June – loves to bake and often brings over to the farm lots of goodies when we visit for all of us to take home.

In an instant, as what she is saying registers in my mind, I feel like my world has gone spinning out of control and my mouth falls open.  No, this can't be happening.  Just a few days ago. . . .no, this can't be.  I just got the card in the mail.  It's the last thing I ever expected to hear.  But it is happening.  She wouldn't be calling me otherwise.  "I understand," I say dully, my mind frozen.  I can't believe this.  "No, I'll talk to them.  Thank you for calling."  My voice is almost a whisper as I say goodbye and let the handset slip from my numb hand.  I barely notice when Lisa sits down next to me, putting her hand on my shoulder.

"Sergei," she says, her warm voice full of concern.  "What is it?"

My mouth opens and closes, but I can't seem to form the words.  I pick up the card that I had just set a few minutes ago on the table and stare at the words inside, not really seeing them.  "It's my grandmother," I finally manage to say, closing my eyes against the pain that is settling over my soul.

Lisa seems to understand what I cannot put into words and she leans her head against my shoulder, running a hand through my hair.  "Oh, Serge," she says softly.  "I'm so sorry."

Taking a deep breath, I say, "That was June Randall, a neighbor of Gram's.  She tried to call my brother, but no one was home and she doesn't have his work number.  I need to call him – no, I should go up to DC and see him.  I need to see him.  And Trish and Frank.  I need to call them.  They'll want to get the first flight out from California.  And. . . ."  I have to keep talking.  If I keep talking, then I won't have to think about it.  And if I don't have to think about it, then I won't feel.

"Sergei," Lisa says, closing her hand over one of mine.  Her hand feels so cold.  Or is that just me?  "Slow down for a minute and take another breath.  Take two or three.  You need to take a moment to digest this.  I know you and your grandmother were close."

I pull away and jump up from the couch, going over to the desk on the other side of the room, searching for the unit phone roster.  I need to call Major Sampson and let him know that I need to take leave.  I need to go to Washington and then I assume to Pennsylvania for the funeral.  I'm not sure what Gram's arrangements were.  Harm would probably know.

I sense Lisa coming up behind me and she puts her arms around my waist, trying to offer some measure of comfort.  "I'll drive you to Washington," she offers as I finally find the phone roster.  "You've been up all night and most of yesterday.  You shouldn't drive."

I'm about to protest, but I stop myself from saying anything.  I don't really want to be alone right now.  I don't want to be alone with my thoughts.



I'm smiling, humming 'Deck the Halls' as I walk through the bullpen with a stack of files for the case the Admiral just handed me.  I smile at Gunny as I stop by his desk, handing him the top folder on my stack.  "I have some research I need done," I say as he opens the folder.  "The details are all on top.  No rush on this.  I'm going on leave in a couple of days and this case doesn't go to trial until after the New Year."

"I'll get on it as soon as possible," he replies, closing the folder and placing it in his inbox.  "The research will be waiting on your desk when you get back from Pennsylvania."

"Thanks, Gunny," I reply, turning for my office as I see a familiar figure walking towards me in Marine greens, accompanied by a young woman also dressed in a Marine uniform.  She must be the mysterious Lisa that Sergei has hinted about in his last few phone calls.  I wave them over.  "Sergei, what a nice surprise.  What brings you. . . ." My voice trails off as I get a good look at his face and I know that whatever has brought him to DC, it is not good news.  About a thousand possibilities race through my mind and I steel myself for whatever it is that he is about to tell me.

"Mac, can we go in your office?" he asks.  More than the tone of his voice, so dull and lifeless, his words frighten me.  I may be his sister-in-law, but military protocol is as much a part of him as it is the rest of us.  I can't recall him ever calling me by my name while we have been in uniform.  I am, after all, a superior officer, despite being family.  Mutely, I nod as I lead them into my office.

His friend sits in one of the chairs in front of my desk, but Sergei remains standing, staring at me with an unreadable expression.  I can't begin to count the number of times I've seen a similar expression on Harm's face, usually when he's trying to mask his emotions.  I sit down, forcing myself not to fidget as I wait for him to tell me what has brought him here.  Finally, after a lengthy silence that seems to stretch on into eternity, he asks, "Is Harm around?"

I shake my head, replying, "He's stuck up on the Hill today, some last minute business before Congress adjourns for the holidays."  It puzzles me that Sergei almost looks relieved that Harm isn't around, as if he doesn't want to tell Harm what is on his mind.  What could possibly be that bad. . . .

"I got a call from June Randall," he says quietly.  I recognize the name and a feeling of dread settles over me, stronger than ever.  Please God, don't let him say what I think he is about to.  Please God, anything but that.  But my silent prayers are in vain.  "Gram died in her sleep last night."

I cover my mouth with my hand in shock as tears spring to my eyes, my other hand going to my stomach in an automatic gesture, as if to reassure myself that life goes on in the form of the child growing safely inside me, a child who will never know first hand what a wonderful woman his or her great-grandmother was.  And what of Sarah and Matt?  They're not quite five.  Will there come a day when they won't even remember the gentle woman who would hug them and tell them stories?  Oh, God, what about Harm?  He loves his grandmother so much.  We all do.  In so many ways, I think she is the glue that has held this family together through everything.

"Mac, are you okay?" Sergei asks, kneeling beside my chair, a hand on my arm.  His grandmother just died and he's asking how I'm doing?  Biting my lower lip, I nod, fighting to control the tears as I remember the first time I met Gram.  There was no hesitation, no concern over my past mistakes, only a welcoming acceptance.  She is. . . .or was an amazing woman.  It never surprised me that Harm wanted to name our daughter after her.  I couldn't ask for a better role model for my daughter to live up to.

"What about you?" I ask, turning to look at him.  I can see, just beneath the surface, how much he is struggling for control.  I know that look.  He is so much like his brother sometimes it's almost scary.  Harm has been a major influence on him the last five years.

"I am fine," he says, sounding almost as if he's trying to assure himself of that as much as me.  "I just. . . .there are things that need to be done."

I nod in agreement, thankful for something to focus on other than the pain.  "Do Mom and Dad know yet?" I ask, calculating the time in California.  It's still early there, probably too early for them to be up and what news to wake up to.

Sergei shakes his head.  "I told Mrs. Randall that I would. . . .take care of it," he replies.  His voice sounds so distant.  "I wanted to wait a little bit.  I didn't want to wake them up with this."

"I should call Harm," I say, my voice sounding foreign to my ears.  "I'll call him and ask him to go home.  And I'll pick up the kids from school on my way there.  I really need to see my kids right now.   You'll come, won't you?  I know Harm will want to see you."  Sergei nods as I reach for the phone, trying to concentrate as I dial the number for the small office Harm keeps in the Capitol.  Why can't I remember the number?

I can feel Sergei's eyes on me, watching me, as I finally manage to dial the right number.  I listen to the ringing sound and a part of me hopes that he isn't there, that I can let him go on just a little bit longer believing everything is all right with the world.  But my hopes are dashed when he picks up on the third ring.  "Captain Rabb," he says, his voice cheerful.  I hate to be the one to shatter his good spirits.

"Harm, it's me," I somehow manage to say, fighting a losing battle to control my voice. 

"Sarah?" he says, his voice concerned.  "Baby, what is it?"

"Can you go home?" I ask, blinking back tears.  I try to brush them away with my hand, but they won't stop falling.  "I'm on my way there and. . . ."

"Sarah, is something wrong?  Is it the baby?" he asks, the words tumbling from his mouth.  I shake my head, forgetting for a moment that he's not in the room with me.

"No," I reply, my voice trembling.  "Please, just go home and I'll explain everything there."  I can tell that he's about to protest, wanting to know more, but I stop him with a single word.  "Please."

"Okay," he concedes reluctantly, hanging up the phone on his end.  I can almost see him in my mind, rushing from his desk and grabbing his coat as he races out the door.  I know that I probably scared him, but I didn't know what to say.  How do I tell him this?

Almost as if I'm in a trance, I stand and grab my coat from the rack behind the door.  I blink several times as I pull the coat on, trying to clear my cloudy eyes.  I cover my mouth again as a sob escapes me.  Sergei puts his arm around me and leads me back to my chair.  "Why don't you sit down for a minute?" he suggests.  "I'll go talk to the Admiral, let him know what's going on."

I look up at him, my eyes wide.  I'd forgotten completely.  I would have just walked out of here without saying a word to anyone.   I just hurt so much right now.  I can't imagine hurting more if Gram were actually my own flesh and blood.  Then again, she was more like family to me than some of my own blood relatives.  I nod shakily.

As Sergei leaves, I try to smile at his friend, who is trying hard not to look at me.  I guess not many 2nd Lieutenants get stuck in an office with a tearful Colonel.  "You must be Lisa," I say, grabbing a handful of tissues out of the box on the corner of my desk.  I dab at my eyes, wishing that the tears would stop falling.  "Sergei has talked about you.  I'm Sarah Rabb." 

"Lieutenant Lisa Stafford, Ma'am," she says, her voice a little nervous.  She shrugs.  "I drove Sergei here.  He just got in from a training flight and hasn't been to bed yet and he was so upset when he got that phone call."

"I understand," I say.  She seems to really care for Sergei.  I'm glad that he has someone to be there for him at a time like this.  "Harm and Sergei, they're both very close to Gram.  She's an amazing woman."  It occurs to me that I'm talking about Gram in the present tense, but I can't stop thinking about her that way.  I just can't believe that she's gone yet.

"Sergei talks a lot about her," Lisa says, smiling a little.  "He was really upset that he wasn't going to be able to go to the farm for Christmas."  She stops and looks down at her hands.  In just a few minutes, I'd managed to almost forget about Christmas.  Since Harm and I got married, it has been a new family tradition for all of us to gather together at this time, to celebrate a holiday which used to be about sadness and loss.  I thought Christmas was supposed to be about hope and life or it has been since I got married and had my children.  It shouldn't be about death.  Not back in 1969 and not now.

I look down at my lap myself, not sure what to say.  I look up when I hear my door open to see Sergei standing there with the Admiral.  Lisa and I automatically stand, but he waves us off.  "Do you need anything, Mac?" he asks, his voice full of concern.

"Not right now, Sir," I reply weakly, shrugging.  "I just want to be with my family right now."

"I understand," he says.  "Take all the time you need.  You'll call if you need anything?"

I nod, promising, "I will, Sir.  I'm just. . . .I need to leave now.  I called Harm and he's supposed to meet me at home and I want to pick the kids up from school on the way."

The Admiral nods, satisfied for now with my response.  "Tell Harm that Sydney and I will be thinking of all of you," he says and I manage a small smile.  In many ways, the people here at JAG are as much like family to me and Harm as our own relatives.

I take a deep breath, trying to prepare myself for what is to come.  Oh, Harm.  This is going to devastate you.  I wish there was something I could do to make this better for you.  I just wish there was something I could do.



I think I broke every speed limit across the river from DC.  Sarah scared me on the phone and I spent the entire drive home racking my brain, trying to figure out what the emergency is.  I run through a list of everyone close to us in my head, trying to figure out what's going on.  About the only reassuring thing about her phone call was her insistence that nothing is wrong with the baby, which makes sense.  If something was wrong, wouldn't she want me to go to the hospital and not come home?  I just wish I knew what was going on.

I pull into the garage to find I'm the first one home.  Exhaling a deep breath, I enter my silent house, waiting impatiently for Sarah to come home and explain everything.  I try to keep myself busy as I wait, moving from room to room, picking up the odd piece of paper here, the stray toy there.  As I enter the study, I see the red light blinking on the answering machine as I hear the garage door open, followed shortly by two familiar voices that I shouldn't be hearing, not at this time of the morning.  What is going on here?

"Daddy!  Daddy!" two voices call out as I hear running footsteps in the hall.  I step out of the study just in time to be ambushed by our twin tornadoes.  I kneel down, my arms around my children as words tumble out of their mouths, overlapping so that I can barely understand a word they're saying.  I think I make out something about Mommy and school and car, but I'm not sure.

"Slow down," I insist with a small laugh.  "I can't understand a word you're saying.  One at a time."

They look at each other for a moment and, as if by unspoken agreement, Sarah starts speaking again, "Daddy, what's happened?  Mommy was crying in the car.  Why is Uncle Sergei here?"

My breath catches in my throat as I look up to see my wife and brother standing a few feet away with a woman I don't recognize.  I recall Sergei saying something about a girlfriend he met at Quantico.  But it's the look on my wife's face that especially has my attention.  Her eyes are red, overflowing with tears.  My arms tighten just a little around the twins.  I don't want to hear what she has to say.  I know I don't.

She walks over and puts a hand on a shoulder of each twin as she nervously chews on her lower lip.  I look up at her, afraid to ask what is going on.  "Why don't we go into the living room?" she suggests.

"Sarah?" I ask softly, standing as I take each twin by the hand.  They both look up at me expectantly.  They're young, but they both realize that something is very wrong.  But they have that trust inborn in the young and innocent that Mommy and Daddy will make everything okay.  They haven't had to learn that lesson yet that there are some things that Mommy and Daddy can't fix, no matter how much they may want to.

She shakes her head and turns away from me.  "Let's just go into the living room," she says, motioning in that direction.  I look towards Sergei, but he refuses to look me in the eye, instead focusing on his hand by his side, clasping the hand of the woman with him.

Silently, I follow Sarah to the living room, Sergei and his friend trailing behind me.  Sarah and Matt both tighten their little hands around mine, as if seeking reassurance.  I remember when they were babies and their tiny hands would curl around a single finger, holding tight.  Then they would smile just a little, seemingly content to know that Mommy or Daddy was there and all was right with their world.

Then another memory replays in my mind and something tightens in the pit of my stomach.  I remember standing beside Mom on a long ago Christmas, clinging to her hand as the big men in the blue Navy uniforms told us that Dad was missing.  I looked up at my mother, hoping to see some reassurance in her face that my six-year-old mind was misunderstanding what these men were telling us.  That was the day that the cold, hard reality of life intruded on my childhood and I fear that today is that day for my children.

Numbly, I sit down on the couch, pulling Matt and Sarah into my lap, my arms wrapped tight around their waists.  They both look up at me with wide eyes and I give them a small smile, trying to offer them a comfort I don't really feel.  Sergei and his friend sit on the loveseat, still holding hands while my wife stands behind me, taking a few deep breaths.  Finally, she sits down beside me, one hand on my shoulder while the other plays with our daughter's ponytail.  She looks over at Sergei and then after a moment she looks back at me.

"Sergei came to see me this morning," she begins softly, her sad brown eyes holding my gaze.  I need to look away, unable to stand the pain I see in her eyes, but I can't bring myself to tear my gaze from hers.  "He got a call earlier from June Randall."

I immediately recognize the name and know what this is about.  "Gram?" I ask, my voice almost a whisper.  Slowly, she nods and I swallow, trying to get a handle on the sudden pain in my heart.  I need to be strong.  I have to be.

Sarah can't continue, leaning her head against my shoulder as the tears fall from her eyes.  She loved Gram just as much as if she were her own grandmother.  I kiss the top of her head as Sergei continues, his voice quiet, the slightest hint of a tremor evident, "She said that Gram died in her sleep sometime during the night.  They were supposed to get together this morning to do some Christmas baking and that's when Mrs. Randall found her.  She. . . .looked very peaceful, Mrs. Randall said."

I nod, not sure what to say as unshed tears sting my eyes.  I look down at Matt and Sarah, both of whom are looking up at me, unable to understand why everyone is so sad.  I'm not sure how to explain this to them.  At just four years old, death has never touched their lives.  Even Jingo, already old when they were born, is still with us, completely blind now and usually content to spend his days lying in his favorite spot in front of the fireplace.  They haven't even learned enough to question yet why they have two grandmothers and only one man to call grandfather.  They don't understand yet why Daddy sometimes goes and talks to the black wall with all the names they can't read yet.

Focused on my children, I barely notice when Sergei and his friend get up and leave the room, understanding that Sarah and I need to be alone to try and explain this to our children.  Sarah lifts her head from my shoulder as she pulls our daughter from my lap onto hers.  "Are you okay?" she asks, smiling through her tears.

I nod, not trusting myself to speak just yet.  I'm trying so hard to hold it together right now so that I can explain this to those too young to really understand.

"Daddy?" Matt asks hesitantly, leaning against my chest.  As I look into his eyes so like mine, I imagine myself, just a little older than he is now, looking to my mother for answers to questions that I didn't quite understand enough to ask.  I try to remember what she said, how she explained to me that my father wasn't coming home.  But I can't remember the words.  All I remember is the smell of her perfume and the feel of her tears against my cheek as she held me to her.

"Something has happened," I say, struggling to put this into words.  This doesn't sound quite right, but this isn't exactly something you can rehearse.  Even though I logical knew it wasn't possible, I think a tiny part of me expected Gram to live forever, to always be here watching over this family.  "You know how we always go up to Gram's for Christmas?  Well, Gram is not going to be there. . . ."  My voice trails off as two pairs of eyes stare up at me, uncomprehending.  I'm failing miserably at this.  I'm looking up at the ceiling, as if I can find some kind of guidance there, when Sarah steps in.

Her voice is quiet as she continues what I was trying to say, "God puts people on Earth to do something and when he feels they have done what is needed, he calls them back up to Heaven, to be angels to watch over the rest of us.  Well, God has decided that he wanted Gram back with him, to watch over this family from Heaven."

"Gram went to Heaven?" This comes from our daughter, whose head is tucked under her mother's chin, her eyes closed.  I see tears glistening on her cheeks, but I think her crying is a reaction to the sadness of the adults around her.  To four-year-olds, Heaven is probably just another place, like Bealsville or La Jolla or McLean are places.  She confirms this when she asks optimistically, "Can we see Gram when she gets back?"

"Baby," I say sadly, brushing the tears from her cheeks.  She opens her eyes and looks up at me and I wish I could take away the sadness I see in her eyes, in her brother's eyes, in their mother's eyes.  "When people go to Heaven, they don't come back.  They stay there forever."

"Forever," Matt says softly, struggling to understand.  "That's a really long time, isn't it, Daddy?"

"Yes," I reply quietly, "a really long time."

"If Gram won't be coming back," Matt continues, "can we go see her?"

I wish it were that simple.  For all of us, I wish to God it could be that easy.  "Um, someday," I say hesitantly, not really willing to think about the possibility of my children someday dying.   They're way too young for that.  "When God decides it's your time to go to Heaven.  Until then, we just have to remember Gram in our hearts and remember all the fun we've had with her."

"But I want to see Gram," Sarah says insistently, a little pout on her face.  "I made her a picture for Christmas that I have to give her."

"I'm sorry."  This comes from her mother as she rocks Sarah gently in her arms, her own tears falling freely.  "I wish we could all see Gram, but we can't anymore, not until we go to Heaven.  But we can take your picture to the funeral and it can go to Heaven with her."  I have to smile a little at that idea.

"What's a funeral?" Matt asks.  "Can she take my present to Heaven with her, too?"

"Um, a funeral is like church," Sarah tries to explain.  Both children nod at this, familiar with church.  At least there is something that makes sense to them in all of this.  "Everyone who loves Gram gathers to say goodbye to her.  And yes, Matt, your present can go, too."

"Good," he says.  He looks up at us, from one to the other, then asks, "Can we go play?"

I nod as I give him a quick squeeze and kiss on the forehead before he can slide off my lap.  I lean over as my daughter holds her arms out to me, wanting her own kiss.  I oblige her and she slides off her mother's lap, taking off upstairs after her brother.  I look over at Sarah as she takes my hands in hers.

"I wish it could be that easy," I say quietly, referring to the twins as I look down at our entwined hands.

She nods.  "I know what you mean," she agrees.  I can feel her eyes on me for a long moment and she finally asks, "How are you doing?"

"I'm okay," I insist.  I need to focus on something besides the pain I'm feeling.  "Do Mom and Dad know yet?"

"No," she replies, tightening her fingers around mine.  I look up at her as she explains, "Sergei told Mrs. Randall that he would call, but he hasn't yet.  He wanted to let them sleep a little longer before. . . ."

"I understand," I say as her voice trails off.  I look up at the clock on the wall and calculate the time in California.  It's just after seven there and Dad should be up.  He's usually an early riser, even in retirement.  I reach for the phone as I go on, "What about your mother and Uncle Matt?  And we should probably call Martha so that she can let Chloe know.  And Sergei will probably want to call his mother in Russia.  And Keeter, I should see if I can get him. . . ."

"Harm, slow down a minute," Sarah says insistently, taking the phone from my hand and setting it down on the coffee table.  Her fingers massage my hands gently.  "It's not going to hurt anything to take a few moments to breathe.  We'll call your parents and my mother and Uncle Matt and Martha in a few minutes.  I talked to Carolyn before I left JAG and she's going to take care of talking to Keeter.  But please, just take a moment and let me hold you."  She wraps her arms around my neck, pulling my head down to rest against her chest.  I breathe deeply as I close my eyes and allow myself to forget for just a moment everything but her comforting embrace.

"I'm okay," I insist after a moment, but I don't pull away.  I'm not ready to yet. 

"I know you are," she says, not quite convincingly.  I know her too well, just as well as she knows me.  After nearly a decade, we usually know when the other is hurting without a word being said.  "But just let me hold you for a few minutes.  I need to hold you."

I nod as a single tear falls from my closed eyes.  I do need to be held.  I also need someone to tell me that it will be okay, but I know that is something I won't hear right now.



Frank squeezes my hand tightly as we stand in the aisle, waiting for the plane door to open so we can disembark.  He has been my rock for so long, never more so than today as he told me of the death of the woman I loved like my own mother.  When I first woke up this morning to find him sitting up on the bed beside me fully dressed, looking down at me, I knew immediately something was wrong.  My first thought was of Harm, that something had happened to him, a fear I've always lived with since the day he first told me that he was following his father to Annapolis and into the Navy.  For some reason, I never thought that he would tell me that my beloved mother-in-law had died.

She had always been there for me, from the day I was a young bride marrying a brash Naval aviator who would be away more than he was home, to the day I first found out I was expecting and needed someone to tell before I burst, to the day I first held my beautiful baby boy in my arms uncertain of what kind of mother I was going to be, to that awful Christmas day when I found out my husband wouldn't be coming home.

She was even there for me as I remarried, warmly welcoming Frank into the family even when my own son wouldn't.   She was the one that I confided all my fears in when Harm announced he was following the family tradition of Naval service and who held my hand and prayed with me when the Navy nearly cost him his life.  She celebrated with me the day I found I was to finally become a grandmother.  She listened as I expressed my confusion over my feelings about finding out that my beloved first husband had a son with another woman. 

I can feel Frank's eyes on me and I glance over at him with a smile.  "I'm okay," I insist.  "I am just anxious to see the boys.  I'm sure they need me.  They love their grandmother dearly.  And Mac, she just adores Mom.  And those poor children, they probably don't really understand what's going on."

"You need them just as much, Trish," he reminds me as we finally make our way off the plane and down the jet way.  "Please don't forget that.  You need to grieve, too."

I'm silent for a long moment and before I can think of a reply, we're walking through the door to the gate and we hear two young voices proclaiming loudly, "Grandma, Grandpa!"  Small bodies bundled in coats launch themselves at us, wrapping their arms around our legs.  They must have just gotten to the airport because I can't imagine my grandchildren sitting bundled up in the gate area waiting for us.  I bend down to find that it's Matt with his arms wrapped around me and I give him a quick kiss. I look over to see Frank easily lifting Sarah up into his arms as she squeals with delight.  Oh, to be that young and carefree again.  I can't help but smile at the resilience of the young and innocent.  They're proof that life really does go on.

I lean over and give Sarah a kiss in greeting as I guide Matt to his grandfather.  I take a few steps towards Harm and Sergei, my arms outstretched.  They both walk easily into my embrace, the three of us holding each other tight.  After a moment, I step back, giving both of them a kiss on the cheek in turn.  "How are you doing?" I ask, looking into two sets of eyes so like their father's.

They both give me identical wan smiles and I resist the urge to sigh.  I know they're hurting, but for them to admit that. . . .They'd sooner fall all over themselves trying to be strong for everyone else around them.  "We're fine, Mom," Harm answers for both of them as Sergei nods his agreement.

That's probably the most I'm going to get out of either of them right now, so I turn my attention to Mac, who is watching Harm carefully, concerned about his reactions even through her own pain.  I hug her tight, sensing that there is something else on her mind besides her concern for her husband and her grief.  "And you, Mac?" I ask, brushing a tear from her cheek.  She smiles a little at the motherly gesture.

"I'm managing," she replies, shrugging.  "It's just. . . .it's hard.  Gram meant a lot to all of us."

At least someone can give me an honest answer.  There's still something else there, but that can wait for later.  There will be plenty of time to talk and to share our memories after we get out of here.  I feel a tugging on my hand and look down to find Sarah looking up at me, her blue-green eyes so brilliant against her olive skin.  "Mommy and Daddy said Gram went to Heaven," she says solemnly.

I bend down and carefully lift her up into my arms, settling her on my hip.  "That's right," I agree, resting my head against hers.  "She's gone to be an angel to watch over us."

Sarah smiles at me.  "That's what Mommy said," she tells me.  "Gram's an angel now."

"Mommy's a very smart lady," I say, smiling myself.  Life does go on.  "What do you say we go get Grandma and Grandpa's luggage and go home?  I'm hungry.  What about you guys?"

Matt, now being carried by Frank as we head for baggage claim, pipes in, "Grandma Deanne is home making dinner.  We're going to have spaghetti."

"That sounds good after a long flight," I proclaim.  I look over at Mac who is walking with her arm around Harm's waist.  "Have you spoken to your Uncle Matt?"

She nods, looking down at the floor for a moment before replying, "I called him this morning.  Unfortunately, with the holidays, he couldn't switch his flight to an earlier one so he won't be arriving in Bealsville until the night before the funeral."

I'd almost forgotten with everything that's going on.  We were all supposed to be flying to Pennsylvania in three days to meet for Christmas and New Year's on the farm.  Christmas hardly seems important anymore, not for the first time in my life.

"So the funeral's on Sunday?" Frank asks.  When I had called Harm after Frank told me the news, he had said that he wasn't sure yet what the exact arrangements were.

"I spoke to Gram's lawyer this afternoon," Harm explains.  "She left pretty clear instructions with her will and her lawyer had already, per her instructions, spoken to the pastor at her church.  She's going to be buried on the farm next to Granddad.  If the weather's permitting, she wants the funeral to be a graveside service."

"That sounds like her," I say.  Mom lived on farms for all of her eighty-six years, first on her parents' farm then on the one she shared with her husband.  She loved the outdoors so much.  More often than not, when I would call her, the conversation would start off with 'I just came in from outside.'  And the family burial plot is in such a beautiful spot, on a bluff overlooking a lush, green valley.  Generations of Rabbs going back two centuries are buried there with the exception of my husband, buried in secret halfway around the world, only a marker over an empty grave on the farm to remind people here.  For Mom, I hope the weather is decent.

I'm surprised when, instead of the familiar SUV, Harm and Mac lead us to a dark blue minivan.  I see the slight smile on Frank's face out of the corner of my eye when he sees the make on the rear hatch.  Under other circumstances, he'd probably make some kind of teasing comment about Harm finally buying a Chrysler.  "So what happened to your SUV, darling?" I ask.

Mac answers instead of Harm.  "With the kids getting older," she explains, "we thought we needed something just a little bigger."  There is a nervousness to her voice, so slight that I almost don't catch it and a suspicion takes root in my mind.  If I'm right, it would explain the feeling earlier when I first saw Mac at the gate.  I hope I'm right.  We could all use some good news.  But I won't say anything, not until they do.  But I can hope, can't I?

As we drive home, Harm, Mac and Sergei are mostly quiet, wrapped up in their own thoughts.  Occasionally, one of them jumps in with a comment as Matt and Sarah regal me and Frank with tales of school and their friends.  At one point, Mac turns and hands me an envelope of pictures taken from her purse.  "We just got these developed," she says as I pull out the pictures and look through them before handing them one at a time to Frank.  From the table decorations in a few of them, they were taken around Thanksgiving.  Some are of the twins, both by themselves and together.  There are a few of them with Harm, Mac and Sergei.  There are a couple more of the kids with Deanne. 

My favorite is a shot of Matt and Sarah with all their friends, the group of seven that Bud Roberts, with his love of Star Trek, jokingly dubbed JAG: The Next Generation.  All are the children of various JAG officers and only two and half years separates AJ Roberts, the oldest of them at six and a half, from the youngest, AJ and Sydney's daughter Mary, who just turned four last month.

All the kids are dressed as pilgrims and Indians, perhaps for some school function.  Matt and AJ, as the only boys in the group, look just a little bit uncomfortable surrounded by all the girls, all of whom are giggling about something.  Sarah leans over as I'm looking at the picture and tells me, "Daddy was making silly faces at us."

"It's a cute picture," I reply.  "I'll have to ask Mommy for a copy of this one."  I feel as if I know the rest of these kids almost as well as I know my own grandchildren.  Usually, news relayed of my grandchildren often includes a lot of talk of AJ and Sarah Roberts, Michele Mattoni, Amanda Keeter and Mary Chegwidden as well.  Especially since AJ, Sarah, Amanda and Mary are all Harm and Mac's godchildren.  Then when I talk to Jack, whom I often joke that I speak to more than my own son, his news is often full of not only his daughter Amanda, but also Michele, who is his and Carolyn's godchild.  I once joked to a friend at the gallery that at times it feels like I have seven grandchildren and not just two.  But I don't mind.  I adore all the children and enjoy spending time with them whenever I'm in Washington.

"Matt and AJ didn't want to be in the picture, but Daddy said they had to," Sarah confides in me.  Matt overhears and shoots her a dirty look.

"We had to be in the picture with the girls," Matt says, rolling his eyes.  I almost laugh, remembering Harm having a similar attitude at that age.  There's just a certain age where boys and girls think the opposite sex is the yuckiest thing on Earth.  That feeling will change in a few years.

"But Mommy's a girl and so am I," I protest with a smile.  It feels so good to think about something else besides Mom and what has happened.

"But that's different," Matt counters, sounding so matter-of-fact about it.

Then Sarah jumps in with something that has me smiling even wider and Sergei flushing with embarrassment.  "Uncle Sergei brought home a girl," she says.

I look across the aisle at Sergei, who is avoiding my gaze, looking out the window instead.  "So tell me about her, Sergei," I insist.  It must be serious.  In the reflection of the window, I see the same look the I often saw on Harm's face when I would ask him about Mac.  Hopefully this boy has more sense than his brother did for four years.

"Her name is Lisa and she's a 2nd Lieutenant," he replies.  "I met her when I moved to Quantico after flight training."

"So what's she like?" I persist.

"Mom," Harm protests from the driver's seat.  "Give him a break.  He's still young."

"He's older than your father was when he and I married," I point out.  Okay, only by a year, but he's still older.  When Harmon was Sergei's age, we were welcoming our son into the world.  It's not my fault I want to see my boys happy.  I'm a mother.  It's part of the job description.

"Lisa drove me to DC," Sergei adds, finally turning to look at me, the flush gone from his cheeks.  "I had a training exercise last night and she thought I shouldn't drive."

That sets off my mother's radar.  "When was the last time you got any sleep?" I demand as Frank tries to smother a grin.  I can't see his face, but I imagine Harm up front rolling his eyes.

"Sometime yesterday," he replies vaguely.  Too vaguely for me.  Which means he's probably been up since at least yesterday morning.   Rabb stubbornness.  They won't admit they're dead tired until they're falling down unconscious at your feet.

"I don't want to have to tell your mother you're not taking care of yourself," I tease as Sergei shakes his head.   "I expect you in bed after dinner and don't want to see you up until well into tomorrow morning."  I know the chances of that happening are slim to none, but Sergei just nods agreement.  Probably anything to get me off his back for now.  I know all the tricks.  Harm has used them often enough.

"Yes, Mother," he teases as Harm pulls into the driveway.  There are two cars lined up on one side of the driveway, both of which I recognize.  One belongs to Deanne, whom I already knew would be here.  The other is Jack and Carolyn's, which is hardly surprising.  I'd be more surprised if Jack wasn't here tonight.  A lot of people loved Mom.

As we walk into the house, Mac falls into step beside me and I put my arm around her.  "Just be patient with him," I advise, nodding towards Harm who is a few feet in front of us talking to Frank.  I keep my voice low so that he won't overhear.  "He'll talk about it when he's ready."

"I know," she responds quietly.  "I've seen this before, in Russia."  She pauses for a moment, then adds, "Thanks, Mom."

"For what?" I ask, just a little puzzled. 

"In the car," she explains, "the way you were with everyone. . . .that's just the kind of thing Gram would have done, keeping everyone's spirits up."

I'm touched at the compliment.  I can't think of higher praise than being compared to my mother-in-law.  I just wish. . . .I don't know.  Mom was so good at that, holding everyone together during the bad times as well as the good.  I wish she was here now and that it wasn't left to me to try to step into her shoes.  I don't think anyone can do that.


The mood is somber as we all sit down to eat.  With all the adults present filling the main table – aside from Harm, Mac, Sergei, Lisa, Deanne, Jack, Carolyn, Trish and myself, AJ and Sydney are also here – Mac set up a card table in a corner of the dining room for Matt, Sarah, Amanda and Mary.  This brings a protest from Matt about being relegated to the smaller table with the girls.  His protest is on the verge of becoming quite vocal and loud when Mac shoots him a stern look and begins in a low voice, "Harmon Matthew. . . ."

Matt stands there for a moment, his mouth open, as if trying to decide whether or not to argue with his mother.  Mac, in the meantime, is taking a deep breath to calm herself, probably worried that she's about to blow up at her son and Harm is leaning towards her, whispering something and rubbing her arm.  Being closest to Matt, I motion to him.  Reluctantly, he walks up beside my chair, eyeing his mother warily.  He knows that his mother has to be quite upset with him to call him Harmon.

I lean down to talk man-to-man with my grandson.  "Matt, do you think you can help Grandpa out with something?" I ask quietly, keeping our conversation private.  He nods silently and I smile to set him at ease.

"You know Mommy and Daddy are upset because Gram went to Heaven, right?" I continue and again he nods, his demeanor solemn.  Even if they don't quite understand what's going on, Matt and Sarah both realize that something isn't right.  "Well, Grandpa wants Mommy and Daddy to feel better and it would make them feel a lot better to know that the girls are being taken care of.  So do you think you can look after the girls while Grandpa looks after Mommy and Daddy?"

Matt manages a smile and finally speaks, his voice quiet like mine, "Yes, Grandpa."

"That's my big boy," I proclaim, pulling him into a hug.  He wraps his little arms around my neck while I notice Mac breathing a sigh of relief out of the corner of my eye.  Patting him on the back, I release him and suggest softly that he go give his mother a hug to make her feel better before sitting down to eat.

Matt runs around the table and throws his arms around Mac, delighting her.  She returns the hug enthusiastically as he exclaims with childish glee, "Love you, Mommy."  Mac hugs him just a little tighter as she looks up at me and flashes a grateful smile.

"I love you, too, baby," she replies as tears threaten.  As Matt goes to sit with his sister and friends at the smaller table, Mac reaches across the table and squeezes my hand.  "Thanks, Dad."

I shrug.  "Not a problem," I say, returning the squeeze.  "I just suggested that he would be doing a big favor if he would sit with the girls and look after them."

She laughs a little.  "Good thing Sarah didn't hear you say that," she points out.  "It's a matter of pride for her that she's older than her brother."

I wink at her.  "I think it will be Matt's and my secret," I reply, thankful that the mood is lightening just a little.  If she were here now, I think my wife's mother-in-law would be the first trying to lift everyone's spirits.

Not to mention being the first to make the newest person among us feel welcome.  That was just her way.  I know I felt it the first time I met her.  I was so nervous about meeting her, even though I wasn't about to admit it to anyone, even Trish.  Things were already tense between me and Harm and I was worried about more of the same from Sarah, although now it seems irrational.  But I didn't know her well enough back then to know that she would never be that petty.

But the very first words out of her mouth immediately set me at ease.  "Thank you for making Trish happy again," she had said and I knew I had a friend in her.  I firmly believe that if it hadn't been for her open acceptance of my presence in their lives, Harm would have been a lot more hostile towards me.  I even suspect that Sarah had a talk or two with her grandson over the years about me.  But I wasn't going to ask about that.  I was just grateful for her support in trying to get through to my son.

She also paid me the second-highest compliment anyone has ever paid me, after Harm's finally calling me 'Dad' after twenty-four years.  Once, shortly before Harm left for the Academy, we were all planning a trip to the farm.  I had been away on business and was going to meet Trish and Harm there.  Due to flight delays on their end, I managed to make it to Pennsylvania before they did.  It gave Sarah and I the opportunity to talk, mostly about how it felt to be sending a child off to the Academy, a topic she was very familiar with.

The talk eventually trailed off and we sat in silence on the porch for a few moments.  Then she said something that surprised me, even as it touched me more than I can ever express.  "You know, my first wish would have been that my son could have been here to watch his son grown up," she said, staring off towards the sunset.  "But that wasn't possible.  But I think my son would have agreed that we couldn't have asked for a better father for Harm than you, even if my grandson won't admit it.  And if God had seen fit to grant me another son, I would have wanted him to be just like you."

I'm not a man given to tears, but I was almost moved to them that day.  I couldn't love that woman more if she had been my own mother.  And I would have been proud to call her 'Mom' as she had suggested more than once.  But out of respect for Harm, I always held back on that point.  As resentful as he was back then, seeing me as trying to replace his father, my calling his beloved grandmother 'Mom' would not have helped my cause.

Smiling at the memories, I decide to take a page from Sarah's book and make sure Lisa feels welcome here.  This has got to be awkward for her.  Meeting a significant other's family can be daunting at any time.  But at a time like this, it is probably hard for her not to feel like she's intruding on our grief.  "So Lisa," I start, smiling at her while Sergei tries not to groan, afraid he's about to be embarrassed, "Sergei tells us that you two met just after he transferred to Quantico."

She nods as she replies, "I'm a communications hardware specialist and he was having trouble with the comm gear in his helo.  I thought he had a nice smile, so it was hard to say no when he suggested lunch while we were waiting for a part to be delivered for the repairs."

"Well, Sarah once said that smile was a Rabb family characteristic, as I'm sure my wife and Mac will agree," I say with a grin.  Mac takes Harm's hand as he gives her one of those smiles and Trish is smiling softly at her own memories of falling for the same smile.  "But after meeting Jack here, I decided it's something they teach the guys in pilot's school."  I see Trish, Mac and Carolyn all nodding knowingly around the table. 

Too bad Sergei's not in the Navy, Lisa," Carolyn adds, smiling at her husband as she says it.  "You get the dress whites, gold wings and that smile working together – talk about an irresistible combination.  Wouldn’t you agree, Mac?"

Mac acts indifferent, but I think everyone can see it's just that – an act.  "Highly overrated," she says with an affected yawn as Harm elbows her and laughs a little.

"If there weren't children present," he threatens, "I'd point out exactly how overrated you find them."  Everyone laughs at that and Mac flushes a little in embarrassment.  I notice the children looking over in our direction.  Matt and Sarah seem more relaxed to see their parents in better spirits.

Trish takes my hand and leans over to whisper, "Thank you.  I think we all need this.  And making Lisa feel welcome is exactly what Mom would have done."

"Of course it is," I reply, "and I can't think of a better way to honor her memory."

Our attention returns to the conversation around the table as Sydney interjects, "I have a thing about bald ex-SEALs myself."  AJ tries to give his wife a stern look, but it doesn't quite come off.  If Sergei wants a good example to follow for relationships, he couldn't do better than the couples at this table.  Well, except for those four years when Harm and Mac were seemingly blind, deaf and mute, anyway.  Sounds like something Sarah would have said about them – probably did say about them, come to think of it.

I think Sarah would approve of Sergei's choice in women.  She's polite, pleasant and doesn't seem fazed to be sharing casual dinner conversation with not only her boyfriend's family, but an Admiral, Captain, Colonel and two Commanders.  Sarah once said – referring specifically to Mac at the time – that Rabb men don't need any of those silly women who can't seem to think for themselves and look to men to take care of them.  They need strong independent women who can challenge them and not put up with the occasional pilot's arrogance.  That could just as easily be applied to Trish and Sarah herself.  Lisa strikes me as that kind of woman.  Sarah definitely would be pleased.

Conversation continues relaxed and easy through the rest of dinner.  Occasionally, when it seemed the talk was slowing, Trish or I would jump in with something new to talk about.  Sarah's name is even mentioned several times.  Everyone even manages to laugh out loud – except Harm and Mac, who look a little embarrassed – when Trish relates how nonchalant Sarah was the day we showed up at the farm to meet Mac just as she and Harm were finding out the results of a home pregnancy test.  The rest of us were all about to die of shock and Sarah acted like it was an everyday occurrence.

After dinner ends and the dishes are cleared from the tables, AJ, Sydney, Jack and Carolyn all say their goodbyes, needing to get their daughters home and in bed so they can get up for school tomorrow.  Sergei and Lisa offer to take Jingo outside.  Yes, at his age, he does need to be accompanied outside, but I think they want a few minutes alone.  Nothing wrong with that.  Maybe alone, Sergei will talk to Lisa about how he's feeling.  Then again, maybe not.  After all, he is a Rabb.

Deanne, Trish and Mac take the twins upstairs for their baths, which gives me the perfect opportunity to sit down with Harm.  He worries me.  He learned at a young age how to be strong for everyone around him, essentially becoming the man of the house at the age of six.  Add to that his devotion to Sarah and his normal reticence about expressing his feelings and I know that he's hurting terribly inside.  Something tells me he probably hasn't even truly opened up to Mac about what he's going through right now.

We sit down in the living room, Harm showing me the plans for the playhouse he wants to build out back for the twins.  Intended as a present for their birthday in February, he wants to have it finished in the spring when the weather warms enough for the twins to really use it.  We toss back and forth ideas for additions and improvements for a few minutes before I ask, "How are you doing, Harm?"

He looks down at the plans, unwilling to meet my eyes as he answers.  "I'm fine, Dad."

Of course he is.  That's why he won't look at me.  But I don't say that.  If nothing else, I've learned that it often takes large doses of patience to deal with Harm and some of his moods.  "You know, your grandmother would encourage you to talk about it," I point out.

"I know," he admits reluctantly.  "But there's a lot to deal with.  Sarah's really upset – she and Gram were very close."  He pauses, acting as if he's about to say something else before stopping himself.   I wonder about that, but he continues before I can ask what's on his mind, "And the twins are confused.  They don't really understand what's going on, why everyone's so upset.  They even asked this morning if they could see Gram when she got back from Heaven."

I smile sadly at that.  You wish you could shelter children from things like this, that childhood could truly be the idyllic fantasy that people try to make it out to be.  I can understand about him wanting to spare his children this pain.  Right now, I'd give anything to ease the pain my child is feeling.  "You know, Mac's probably just as worried about you as you are about her," I remind him and he finally looks over at me.  "Talk to her, talk to each other and share your memories."

Harm seems to consider this for a moment, then he asks me a surprising question.  "What about you, Dad?  How are you doing?"  Then again, maybe not so surprising.  I'm sure his being strong for everyone includes Sergei, his mom and me.

It's on the tip of my tongue to say that I'm fine, but I figure that if I'm trying to get him to open up, I could open up a little myself.  "It doesn't seem real yet that she's gone," I admit.  "She's been such a large part of my life almost as long as you and your mother have."

"She loved you like a son," Harm says, smiling a little.  That must have come from one of those talks that I suspect Sarah had with him about me.  "She once said that loving you didn't mean we loved my father any less."

"Well, I loved her like a mother," I reply, smiling myself.  "Sarah was a very wise and special woman.  She has this strength about her, the same strength I see in your mother and Mac.  You Rabb men seem to have a real knack for picking the good women."

"I guess," he says with a look in his eyes and a smile on his face that tells me he's thinking of Mac right now.  "But you have that knack too.  After all, you picked Mom."

"Best decision I ever made," I say.  "After all, I got you and your grandmother in the bargain as well."

Before Harm can reply, Matt and Sarah come running into the room, dressed in pajamas, launching themselves at us.  They're in high spirits.  Bath time must have been fun tonight.  Then again, time with the grandparents is usually fun.  I'll be the first to admit that Deanne, Trish and I spoil these kids rotten with love and affection.  "Not to mention these two little guys," I add with a laugh as I pull Sarah into my lap while Harm does the same with Matt.

"Mommy said it's bedtime," Matt says, not sounding pleased with the prospect.  "Can you come tuck us in with Mommy and Grandma Trish and Grandma Deanne?"

"Of course we can," I reply.  I stand and swing Sarah in my arms as she giggles with delight.  Everyone tucking in the twins when we're all together is kind of a family tradition.  Sometimes it makes for a somewhat chaotic bedtime, with up to eight adults  - Harm, Mac, Sergei, Deanne, Matt, Trish, myself and Sarah when she was still with us - trying to put two whirlwinds to bed and making sure everyone says goodnight.  Between hugs, kisses and the inevitable 'I forgot something' delaying tactics from one of the twins, it can take a while sometimes to accomplish the task.

"Uncle Sergei, bedtime," Sarah calls out, earning her a mock glare from Harm.

"Sarah, don't shout," he says, standing as Matt squirms to get out of his arms.  He sets Matt down as Sergei and Lisa enter the room with Jingo, who lays down in his place in front of the fireplace.  Lisa looks at Sergei with a question in her eyes.

"Bedtime tradition," he explains with a grin.  "Everyone puts the twins to bed."

"You're welcome to join us if you don't mind a lot of chaos," I say.

"Yes, please," both twins chime in, bringing laughs from all of the adults.

"Of course, these two are hardly going to turn down even more attention," I tease, tickling Sarah in my arms as her laughter fills the room.  And I imagine for a brief moment that her great-grandmother is looking down, laughing with her namesake.


It took forty-five minutes to get the twins into bed and for everyone to say goodnight.  That's got to be a new record for all of us.  But it's perfectly understandable tonight.  I think everyone's hugs lasted just a little bit longer than usual, the goodnights just a little more drawn out.  At times like this you really understand just how precious life is.

My daughter has really got to be the luckiest woman on Earth to have married into this family.  This is the kind of family I had always wished I could provide for her.  I think if the Rabbs hadn't made me feel so welcome into their circle, I might have been jealous of all the love and attention they have showered on Sarah, the kind of love and attention that I was unable and unwilling to show my own child for most of her life.  It's sad to say that the Rabbs for the last five years have been more of a family to her than the Mackenzies ever were her entire life.

Faced with this wonderful family that she was marrying into, I used to wonder, when I came back into Sarah's life as she was getting married, what I could offer her that they couldn't.  She had slipped into calling Trish 'Mom' so easily.  Trish and Frank treated her as if she'd always been a member of their family.  During the two weeks I spent house sitting while Harm and Sarah were on their honeymoon, I thought about that a lot and I can't even begin to count the number of times I thought about bolting, despite my desire to start over with my daughter.  I was scared to death of not measuring up now that Sarah had found out what being part of a real family felt like.

Do you know what stopped me?  Or rather who?  Sarah Rabb.  After the wedding, she claimed fatigue from all the excitement and decided not to travel back to Pennsylvania immediately.  So I had company at the house the entire time Harm and Sarah were gone and the experience truly changed my life.  My grandchildren told me earlier today that Sarah had told them their great-grandmother is now an angel.  They're a little young to understand that she didn't need to go to Heaven to earn her wings.  For me, she was an angel right here on Earth.

The first day after the wedding, I woke up to a home cooked breakfast and I'm talking about the works.  Bacon, eggs, pancakes, sausage, hash browns – you name it, I think she made it that morning.  As we sat down over that wonderful meal, she filled me in even more than Trish had a couple days earlier on the Rabb family history.  And without my even realizing it until it was too late, she drew me out and got me talking about my life, my marriage and my relationship – or lack thereof – with Sarah.  Soon, I had poured out my entire life story to her and was a blubbering mess. 

When she handed me a box of tissues, I was surprised to discover that she was crying as well.  As we dried our eyes, she informed me firmly that all of that was in the past and I was now a part of *her* family, where everyone was accepted and loved, regardless of any past mistakes.  I was about to protest that I didn't think I deserved it, but she stopped me with a wave of her hand and a stern look that dared me to argue with her.  She said that over the years, as Harm had told her details of Sarah's past – I quickly learned that Harm often confided in his grandmother before his mother – she often said that all Sarah needed was to be shown that she was loved and cared for.

I admit that part stung, because I was one of the main perpetrators when it came to not showing my daughter enough love and affection.  Sarah Rabb must have been a mind reader as well because she looked me straight in the eye and said that it wasn't my fault.  I hadn't gotten love and affection in my marriage, so that served to prevent me from showing love and affection to my daughter – or so she told me. 

Then she looked me firmly in the eye and said, "Like mother, like daughter.  Mac told me once that she had truly blossomed as a person once she started working at JAG, found a wealth of friends there, met Harm.  For the first time in her life, she said she truly felt loved and accepted.  That's what you need, Deanne Mackenzie.  All you need is lots of love and affection and you'll blossom, too.  And that's what you're going to get."  Which of course left me even more of a blubbering mess and we eventually went through the entire box of tissues that morning.

We spent the next two weeks getting to know each other better.  We spent the rest of that day going through photo albums, swapping stories of Sarah's and Harm's childhoods.  I had managed to take a few photo albums with me when I had left Joe and had packed them when I went to Leavenworth and DC for some reason I hadn't been able to name at the time.  But I quickly figured it out. 

Then we went shopping for the babies.  And after Sarah discovered that I could knit, crochet and sew, I think we hit every craft store in DC, Virginia and Maryland so that we could make things for the babies.  I think between the two of us, we came up with about a thousand projects we wanted to do.  We actually managed to make quite a dent in the list before the honeymooners returned – both of them happily declaring that we had managed to cut down by about half the stuff they needed to buy for the babies – and we had plenty more to keep us busy until the babies were born and beyond.

Of course, by about the third or fourth day, I had figured out that any woman who had all that energy was certainly no where near being too fatigued to make a three hour drive home to Pennsylvania.  Heck, if she had been that tired, she could have flown back and someone could have brought her car back to her later.  Or I'm sure one of the officers at JAG would have been happy to escort her home.  I actually pointed that out one day and she had looked at me as if I'd just stated the obvious.  "I've got plenty of friends who can look after the farm," she had told me.  "The farm doesn't need me right now.  You do."  That, as far as she was concerned, was the end of that – except for more tears from me anyway.

I'd never had many friends during my marriage, being too afraid to face questions about the bruises I would often sport.  But in the space of a few days, I'd managed to make friends for life in both Trish and Sarah.  In fact, if I hadn't known better, I would have sworn they were mother and daughter and not in-laws.  They both have that same kind of take charge attitude and generous spirit.

They weren't the only friends I'd managed to find during those two weeks.  Sydney had stopped by one afternoon after work to see if we needed anything and expressed an interest in our craft projects.  Turns out she had taken up crafts while in medical school as a way of relaxing when she was stressed, but she hadn't really done any in years.  So our duet had become a trio and Sydney told us towards the end of the two weeks that AJ had taken to grumbling, good-naturedly of course, that she was hardly ever home she was spending so much time with us.

It was Sydney who led me to my next new friend.  She had wanted to make some things for Harriet, who was eight months pregnant at the time.  We all decided to make a few things for her and took them over one day.  When she had seen what we had done, Harriet asked if we could teach her some crafts.  So not only did she join our little craft circle, we got to spend a lot of time spoiling her son. 

By the time Harm and Sarah were back, I'd managed to forget that I'd ever wanted to leave.  There was a tense half-second when my daughter first saw me on her return.  I think she had half expected to return to find me gone.  I'd like to think the fact that I had stayed scored me a few points with her.  And I have a sneaking suspicion that her new grandmother-in-law had a few words with her about giving me a chance, although I never asked.  But having real friends for the first time in a long time gave me the confidence to build a friendship and mother-daughter relationship with my child.  Not long ago, she told me that more and more, she was finding it easy to forget that we had ever been estranged.  And I ultimately have Sarah Rabb to thank for all of that.

Harm is getting all the guests settled in their rooms for the night, so I decide to take the opportunity for a few private words with Sarah before I leave for my apartment.  Harm suggested that she get ready for bed while he was taking care of everyone else, so I head for their bedroom.  I stick my head through the open door, calling out her name before entering, wanting to respect her privacy.  There's no answer, so I think for a second that she might have gone downstairs for something, then I hear retching sounds coming from the master bath.

Worried, I forget all about privacy concerns and go into the bathroom, finding Sarah in her robe and kneeling in front of the toilet, emptying her stomach.  I grab a washcloth and wet it then sit down on the floor next to her.  When she's finished, I wipe her face as I used to when she was a child and she was sick. 

She's crying as I pull her into my arms, gently rocking her.  "Thanks, Mom," she whispers.  I have tears in my eyes as well, both for my dear friend Sarah and my heartbroken daughter.

"It's okay, baby," I assure her, smoothing her hair, something else I used to do for her.  "I know you're upset over Sarah's passing.  She was very dear to you and you to her."

"Too bad I can't blame this on morning sickness," she says, almost to herself, "but I don't get morning sickness."

"Oh, baby," I cry, holding her tighter as I realize what she's saying.

Suddenly, she seems to realize herself what she just said, because she quickly explains tearfully, "We just found out a few weeks ago and wanted to surprise everyone for Christmas.  And now. . . ."

"This baby is still a blessing," I insist, "and Sarah would be the first to say so – a ray of light in the darkness."

"I never thought anything would hurt this much," she continues, holding on tight to me.  "I've never lost someone that I cared this much about."

"I know, baby, I know," I say, still rocking her.  I look up at the sound of a voice from the doorway.

"Do you want something to settle your stomach?" Trish asks, stepping into the bathroom as Sarah turns in my arms to look at her.  "Maybe some ginger ale?"

"You heard?" she asks softly.  Trish smiles reassuringly at her.

"Darling, you just confirmed what I already suspected," Trish says, kneeling beside us to pat Sarah's shoulder.  "I had my suspicions something was up when I saw you at the airport.  Something seemed different about you.  And when I saw the minivan. . . ."

"I should have picked up on that one myself," I say with a small smile.  "You did just buy it a few weeks ago, maybe right after you found out?" 

Sarah nods, managing to smile a little, and explains, "With the twins getting older and another baby on the way, we thought we needed a little more space than the SUV provided us."

"I'm going to go get that ginger ale for you," Trish says, brushing Sarah's hair back behind her ear.  "But I want you to listen to me about something first.  I know you're trying to be strong for Harm and for the children, but you need to let yourself grieve.  Don't bottle it up inside.  Internalizing like that is very stressful and that isn't good for you or for the baby."

"Yes, Mom," she says obediently.  After Trish leaves, she looks up at me, smiling as tears continue to stream down her cheeks.  "Remind you of anyone?"

I have to laugh as I rock Sarah again.  "Exactly the kind of thing *she* would have said," I say, kissing her forehead.  "Just exactly the thing."  I continue rocking her as I start singing softly in Farsi a song I remember my mother singing when Matt and I were children.  My Farsi has definitely gotten rusty from lack of use over the years, but I've always remembered this song for some reason.

Khosh be hale un kasan ke faghre roohe khod be-danand
Khosh be hale mardomi ke malekane un jahanand
Khosh be hale mardomi ke malekane un jahanand

Khosh be hale frutanan
Khosh be hale rahiman
Khosh be hale meskinan
Khosh be hale shoma

Khosh be hale pakdelan ke
Khosh be hale salehan ke
U ra binand chonke aanan farzandane khoda hastand
U ra binand chonke aanan farzandane khoda hastand

Khosh be hale frutanan
Khosh be hale rahiman
Khosh be hale meskinan
Khosh be hale shoma

Khosh be hale gham-gosaran
Khosh be hale maatam-daran
Khosh be hale ma ke dadim ghalbe khod ra be massiha
Khosh be hale ma ke dadim ghalbe khod ra be massiha

Khosh be hale frutanan
Khosh be hale rahiman
Khosh be hale meskinan
Khosh be hale shoma

Sarah smiles softly and joins in on the second chorus.  As our voices trail off, she says quietly, "I remember you singing that when I was little.  I couldn't remember all the words, but I often hum it for Matt and Sarah."

I smile at the rare happy reminder of her youth.  After another moment, we both get up and I help Sarah into the bedroom, taking comfort from tucking my thirty-seven year old daughter into bed.  She seems to be comforted by the action, too, thanking me again.  By this time, Trish returns not only with the ginger ale but with Harm in tow.  Harm takes one look at Sarah and sits on the edge of the bed next to her, taking her into his arms as she clings to him desperately.  Trish sets the glass on the nightstand and by unspoken agreement, we leave the room, closing the door behind us.

"I think she'll be okay now," I say, not sure who I'm trying to reassure more, Trish or myself.  She nods.

"I think so, too," she agrees.  "Now, if I could just get my son to open up and express his grief. . . .I suppose I could always point out that *his* internalizing is stressing out Mac and isn't good for her or the baby."

We both manage a laugh at that.  "You do remind me of her," I say and Trish knows immediately to whom I'm referring.

"Mac said something similar earlier," she replies as we hug each other standing in the hallway.  "I can't think of a finer example to live up to."

"Neither can I," I agree as we start towards the stairs.  "Aren't you heading to bed yet?"

"I thought I'd walk you out," she says with a grin, "then I'm going to stand at the top of the basement steps – I won't go down since you never know what is going on down there since Lisa is staying over as well – and remind another fine specimen of Rabb stubbornness that he's been up for over thirty-six hours straight and that he was supposed to go to bed immediately after dinner.  Then I'm going to bed and let my husband hold me."

I laugh even louder at that.  Yes, I think Sarah Rabb will always be alive in this family in the example she has set for everyone else.


As Grandma and I get out of our rental car and walk through the ankle-deep snow up to the front porch, memories replay in my mind of my first trip here.  Gram had watched for our arrival from the window and stepped out onto the porch as soon as the car stopped in front of the house.  She had hugged first Harm, of course, and then Mac, immediately telling her that she was 'Gram' around here and wasn't to be called Mrs. Rabb.  By the time I had stepped into Gram's embrace, she didn't have to tell me not to call her Mrs. Rabb.  It had never even occurred to me to call her anything but Gram.  And every other time I came to visit after that, Gram was always standing on the front porch to greet us.

But this time, there's no Gram and my heart breaks.  I remember the Christmas card that we received just two days ago – the day after we were informed of Gram's death – telling Grandma and me that she was looking forward to seeing us at the farm for Christmas as usual.  Tears spring to my eyes at the thought that this year, instead of coming to the farm for Christmas, we're coming for Gram's funeral.

Grandma puts her arm around my shoulder and pulls me against her.  "It'll be alright, Chloe," she says and I try to smile for her.  But it's so hard.

"I wish it would be, Grandma," I say, blinking back the tears.  "It's just. . . ."

"This place doesn't seem the same without her," Grandma finishes for me.  Grandma and Gram became very friendly during the wedding and have kept up their contact every since.  Both being farm women, they have a lot in common.

I nod as the front door opens and a familiar figure steps out onto the porch, rubbing her arms against the cold.  "Martha, Chloe," Trish says, smiling sadly as we climb the steps, "it was good of you to come."

"We wouldn't be anywhere else," Grandma says as she and Trish hug.  "How are you doing, Trish?"

"I thought I was surviving until we arrived here last night," she replies.  "Every time I turn around, I expect to see her standing behind me with a smile and a warm hug."  As they pull apart, Trish turns to me and pulls me into her arms.

"I'm sorry, Trish," I say as she holds me tight.  "We all loved Gram and miss her."

We're both brushing tears from our cheeks as we pull away.  "Gram would be the first to tell us that everything will be better eventually," Trish points out as she opens the door.  She and Grandma step into the house.  I hesitate, closing my eyes for a brief moment, before following them into the house.

Trish takes our coats and we step into the living room.  I'm immediately struck by how. . . .I don't know.  The only word I can think of to describe it is eerie.  The house has never been this quiet in all the times I've been here.

But it's not quiet for long.  I hear footsteps on the stairs that can only belong to two people and I'm shortly ambushed by two of my favorite people in the world.  "Aunt Chloe! Aunt Chloe!" Matt and Sarah both cry excitedly as they jostle each other, both trying to wrap their arms around my waist.  They’re both wearing coats and mittens and look like they’re headed outside.

Normally, I would laugh at their antics, but right now all I can manage is a weak smile.  I kneel down and pull them both into my arms.  "Hi, Sarah, Matt," I say.  I really can't think of what else to say. 

Matt and Sarah pull back and they both look at me seriously, a little more seriously than most four-year-olds would.  Sarah finally asks me after a long moment, "Are you sad because Gram went to Heaven, Aunt Chloe?" she asks.

I nod as I reply to the innocent question, "Yes, I'm sad.  I miss Gram."

"Mommy says Gram's an angel watching over us," Matt chimes in.

"Where is Mommy?" I ask.  I'd expected Mac, if not to meet us at the door, then to come greet us after we came into the house.

"Mommy's not feeling well," Sarah says and I look up at Trish, concerned.

"Mac's taking a nap," she explains, but I sense there's something more there.  "Mom's death hit her hard and she's just worn out from everything that's been going on."

It doesn't surprise me that Gram's death would hit Mac hard.  I know what kind of childhood Mac had and how starved for love she was before she met first Harm and then the rest of his family.  I know because that was me before I met Mac.  I gained a family not only in her and eventually the rest of her extended family, but she helped me find my real family, too.  As I stand, taking Matt and Sarah by the hand, I ask, "What about Harm?  Where is he?  How is he doing?"

Trish sighs, which really tells me all I need to know about how Harm is doing.  "He's. . . .well, he's keeping a lot inside," she replies sadly, clearly concerned about his reaction.  Grandma reaches out and squeezes her hand sympathetically.  She then shakes her head and asks, "Would you two like anything to eat?  I can't imagine you had much to eat on the flight."

"Lead the way," I say with forced enthusiasm as Grandma laughs, also a bit forced.

"My granddaughter, turn down food?" she teases.  "But you're right, Trish.  Airlines don't provide enough food to satisfy a small animal, let alone humans."

"Well, come on then," she says as we head towards the kitchen in the back of the house.  "Deanne's fixing lunch with Lisa in the kitchen."

"Who's Lisa?" I ask.  Beallsville is a tiny town – population just over 500 - and I don't recall meeting anyone named Lisa in all the times I've been here.  And I think I’ve met just about everyone in town.  Small towns are like that, especially when one of your favorite people is the unofficial grandmother of the town.  I think Gram has at least a decade on the next oldest person in town.

"Uncle Sergei's girl," Sarah says excitedly.  Trish shoots her one of those looks, like the ones Mac used to shoot me when I would tease her about Harm.  Kids.  What can you expect from them?  Then again, as I said, that used to be me.  Mac would probably tell you that still is me.

I'm intrigued as Trish explains further, "Lisa is a Marine at Quantico that Sergei has been seeing.  She drove him to Washington after he got the call about Mom and managed to get leave so she could stay with him during this time."

Must be serious.  That sounds exactly like something Harm and Mac would have done for each other – actually, have done if you count their first trip to Russia.  This would normally be the kind of thing that I would be teasing Sergei about until he was ready to strangle me – just like I used to tease Mac about her feelings for Harm.  I can't wait to meet her.

The funny thing is that Sergei Rabb was my first crush.  I used to joke with Mac on the phone, before any of us knew about Sergei, that too bad Harm didn't have a brother.  I thought it would be so cool, two sisters and two brothers.  Not to mention the fact that any brother of Harmon Rabb just *had* to be something special.  Then I met Sergei for the first time, that first Christmas after Harm and Mac were married, and I was in seventh heaven!  He had the killer Rabb eyes, the killer Rabb smile and best of all he was only five years older than me.  I figured I could wait a few years, grow up and then I could have the man of my dreams.

Sergei, however, treated me like a kid sister and it frustrated me to no end.  Couldn't this guy see how much he meant to me?  Of course, I was forgetting at the time that I was talking about the kid brother of Mr. Clueless.  That first Christmas, I followed him around everywhere.  Then again, everyone stuck pretty close to Sergei, making sure he felt welcome in the US and in the family.  But I admit that I had ulterior motives.  I wanted Sergei to notice me as a woman – well, as much of a woman as a thirteen-year-old could be.

Gram and Mac both noticed, but Gram was the first to say anything.  One day, everyone was going somewhere – I don’t remember where anymore – but Gram was staying behind to work on Christmas baking and she invited me to stay with her.  I had really wanted to go with everyone else since Sergei was going, but she talked me into staying.  I guess at thirteen, there were just some things that came out on top over first loves and food was one of them.

As we had rolled dough, Gram told me about her first crush.  He was the oldest son of Beallsville’s doctor and the older brother of a classmate of hers.  She had followed him around one summer and had been devastated that fall when he got married.  But eventually she got over it and found a new love.  The classmate – whose older brother had so devastated her – had a best friend who was a year older than Gram whom she knew slightly from school.  Most people around town thought this boy was a little strange.  He wanted to follow his father, who had served during World War I, into the military.  But that wasn’t the strange part.  The part people thought was strange was that after Charles Lindbergh’s flight in ’27, he wanted nothing more than to become a pilot.  Boys from Beallsville, Pennsylvania just didn’t become the next Charles Lindbergh, not back in the 1930s anyway.

But fly is exactly what this boy did.  He joined the Navy, earned his wings in a Stearman bi-plane, and flew over Europe during World War II, eventually being shot down in 1942, leaving behind a wife and two-year-old son.  As Gram told me, first crushes are nice, but they seldom develop into anything more and there’s usually something better waiting just around the corner.  Then I teased her, asking how she hadn’t managed to notice David Rabb before, especially if he looked anything like his grandsons do, which I know from pictures I’ve seen that he does.  Gram said sometimes people just fail to notice what’s right in front of them, but that if she hadn’t developed a crush on the doctor’s son and been following him around, she might have missed noticing the younger brother and his best friend.

Of course, I haven’t found anything waiting for me around the corner yet, but I did get over my crush and Sergei is now one of my best friends.  Both he and Harm are the brothers I never had.  I talked him into trying to teach me Russian – impressing his mother the first time she came to the US to visit when I greeted her in halfway decent Russian – lessons that I kept up with the help of a teacher at my school who had spent a year over there during college.  Now, to keep up, Sergei often makes me write or talk to him in Russian and I have to admit it’s been cool.  Don’t know if I’ll ever really get to use it besides with Sergei or Mac, but I enjoy knowing another language – especially if I want to say something and don’t want others to know what I just said.

And, of course, being like a big brother, Sergei tends to be skeptical of boys that I show an interest in.  And he’s not the only one.   The summer I was fifteen Grandma invited everyone up to Vermont for a week at the Fourth of July.  My grandfather had died a few months earlier and she was lonely.  There was this boy that I was seeing that summer and one day we got home about fifteen minutes later than we were supposed to for perfectly innocent reasons.  And we ran right smack into Sergei and Harm waiting up for us.  After they both managed to thoroughly intimidate Kevin and scare him off with their version of twenty questions, which ran to more like fifty, I was so mad at them.  Here was this boy I liked a lot and I’d be lucky if he ever spoke to me again after that reception.

After I spent about fifteen minutes railing at both of them, Gram came to see what all the commotion was about, her room being just down the hall from the living room.  She let me speak first and I poured out the entire story, practically stomping my foot on the hardwood floor I was so angry.  And she didn’t even give Harm and Sergei the chance to defend themselves.  She just looked at Harm – sucks being the oldest, doesn’t it? – and proceeded to mention just about every time she or his parents had caught him sneaking around with some girl when he was a teenager and in quite vivid detail.  She didn’t have any similar stories about Sergei since he was an adult when they met, although she looked up at the clock, calculated the time in Svischevo and threatened to call his mother for any stories she could use against him.

They had identical expressions of horror on their face and I was practically rolling on the floor laughing, it was so funny.  I forgot that I was even mad at them.  Then Mac came downstairs, wanting to know why her husband wasn’t in bed with her and Gram proceeded to tell her exactly why.  Right before she dragged Harm upstairs, she told Gram that any time she wanted to tell any more of those stories of Harm’s teenage years, she would have a captive audience in Mac.  Harm shot both Mac and Gram the dirtiest look and Sergei spent the rest of the week afraid that he was going to find Gram on the phone with his mother in Russia.

Remembering Gram like that, I’ve got a smile on my face by the time we enter the kitchen, the twins having lost interest in me and run outside where Amanda Keeter and some of the local kids are building snow forts under the supervision of Amanda’s parents.  Deanne turns when she hears us enter and immediately envelopes me in a warm hug, but I’m paying attention to the petite redhead with her.  She doesn’t look like much, but if she’s a Marine, she could probably kick just about any man’s butt around the block before they even realize what’s happening.

“Chloe, this is Lisa Stafford, Sergei’s girlfriend,” Deanne introduces us.  “Lisa, this is Chloe Anderson and her grandmother Martha.”

Just as I’m about to step towards Lisa to shake her hand, Trish leans forward and whispers so only I can hear her, “Behave.”  I turn around and give her my best ‘Who, me?’ look before turning back to Lisa.

“It’s nice to meet you, Chloe,” she says.  “Sergei talks a lot about you.  After your last e-mail, he was wondering if you broke up with your boyfriend after that fight.”

I forgot.  God, tell a guy you had a little fight with your boyfriend and he thinks he isn’t good enough for you and should be dropped like a hot potato.  “Not that it’s any of Sergei’s business,” I begin, just as Harm and Sergei come in the back door wearing snow-covered boots.  Trish shoots them a look and they sigh, but take their boots off and leave them by the door before coming all the way in.  I continue, “but I happen to like my boyfriend.”

Normally, that would be the kind of remark that would bring some kind of retort from Sergei, but his attention is entirely focused on Lisa.  Boy, has he got it bad.  Being the perverse person that I am, I start singing just loud enough for everyone to hear, “Sergei and Lisa, sitting in a tree K-I-S-S-I-N-G. . . .”

Trish, Deanne and Grandma are all shaking their heads and Harm looks so amused, probably remembering past experiences with me.  Sergei looks exasperated while Lisa is trying not to laugh.  “Sergei said you were a handful,” she says, not sounding upset.  Lisa might be okay after all.

“A girl needs to keep herself amused and this family provides plenty of amusement,” I proclaim.  Deciding I will be nice and let Sergei off the hook for now, I change tactics.  “Actually, I’ve got this very funny story about the first time I met Harm.”  Harm is smiling, probably because this story isn’t anywhere near as embarrassing to him as it is to Mac.  And since Mac isn’t here to stop me. . . .

“I went by JAG right before Christmas,” I begin, finding a captive audience.  I was sure I had told this story before, but I guess not judging from the reactions I’m getting.  “I was eleven at the time.  Mac introduced me to Bud and Harriet, then Harm stepped out of his office.  Mac was about to introduce us, but I stopped her and said to Harm, ‘Mac’s told me all about you.  In fact you’re all she talks about. . . .although sometimes it’s hard to tell what parts are true and what parts are just, well, you know, her fantasies’.”

Everyone starts laughing just as a potholder goes flying by my head.  I don’t even have to turn around to know who threw it.  “Nice of you to join us, sleepyhead,” I say without turning around as Mac wraps her arms around me from behind and squeezes.  Actually, the flying potholder reminds me of something.  “I was trying to remember if I’d ever told that story before and I just remembered that I have told that story – to Gram.  You threw a potholder at me that time, too.”

“And you got such a big kick out of telling her,” Mac accuses.  I just grin at everyone.

“Of course I did,” I reply, as if it were obvious.  “But I got an even bigger kick out of Gram threatening to knock some sense into both of you – you for telling me and not Harm about your fantasies and Harm for not saying anything when I made that little announcement.  Of course, you two got back in Gram’s good graces the next day with the baby announcement.”

“Is that where you all walked in while they were reading the results of a pregnancy test?” Lisa asks, intrigued.  I’d be intrigued too if I were hearing some of the stories about this family for the first time.

“Oh, so you already heard that story,” I say with a grin.  “I know lots more good stories about this family, including a few about Sergei. . . .”  Sergei’s looking up at the ceiling rolling his eyes at this.

Before I can say more, Mac interrupts, “You’ll have to forgive my sister, Lisa.  We’d love to ship her off to a hospital somewhere. . . .”

“But no hospital would have her,” Harm finishes.  I see Trish and Deanne both smiling, but something tells me, given Trish’s concern about Harm’s emotional state earlier and her comments about how Gram’s death hit Mac so hard, that it is more about the fact that Harm and Mac seem to be relaxed and less what they just said.

That’s my way of coping, keeping my spirits up by cracking jokes and teasing everyone.  And if I close my eyes, I can imagine Gram standing here with us, having the time of her life listening to me do it.


After dinner, as everyone scatters, each lost in their own memories of the special woman we have all come to honor, I head for the study to consider my feelings about the woman who I may not have been related to by blood, but who is as much a member of my family as my sister or niece.  The study is my favorite room in the house and it is the first room that Sarah showed me the first time I was invited to the farm. 

It's your basic study with a desk, bookshelves and a couple of arm chairs.  But that's not it's main highlight.  The highlight of this room is what everyone calls the 'military' wall.  One whole wall of the room is filled with momentos of the Rabb family's history of military service, going back to an ancestor, Jeremiah Rabb, who served in a Pennsylvania cavalry unit during the Civil War.  But most of the wall honors three Rabbs in particular – Harm, his father and grandfather.  There are pictures, of course, of important milestones in their military careers – Academy graduations, promotions, awards ceremonies.  There are also hardwood display cases with medals won by David Rabb and Harmon Rabb, Sr.  At the center of it all is the folded American flag presented to Sarah when her husband died.  And below that are three more flags, each with their own special significance.

During World War II, it was customary for families who had someone off fighting in the war to hang a blue flag in the front window of their house.  At the center of the flag was a star.  A white star meant the service member was off fighting, a gold star meant the service member had sacrificed his life for his country.  Below the American flag hangs the blue flag with gold star that hung in Sarah's window from the day she was first notified of her husband's death until the day the war ended.

By the time Vietnam rolled around, it was no longer considered by many to be an honor to have a family member off fighting for their country.  So many people were opposed to that war and that showed in the attitudes that returning servicemen encountered, myself included, Medal of Honor notwithstanding.  But none of that mattered to Sarah Rabb.  Her son was off fighting for his country and she was going to honor that, so she hung a blue flag with white star in her window the day he left for his first tour of duty in Vietnam, the flag coming down the day he returned safely.  The flag went up again the day he left for his second tour of duty and like her husband's flag, it stayed up until the end of the war.  Since he was MIA, his fate unknown at the time, the flag with the white star remained in the window, never replaced by a flag with a gold one.

Another flag went up the day Harm was deployed to the Gulf during Desert Shield and it was the first thing Harm saw hanging in the window when he came to the farm to recooperate and to contemplate his career in the Navy after his accident shortly before Desert Storm began.  It is really no surprise, given her love of the military and her pride in her family's service, that Sarah was the one who helped Harm decide to remain in the Navy and pursue a different career path, one that ultimately led him to my niece.

It didn't really surprise me to find a few pictures of my niece up on that wall, either.  Sarah told me later that after she and Harm had gotten engaged, Harm's grandmother started asking for pictures and momentos of important moments from her career.  In fact, the most recent addition to the wall is from Harm and Mac's joint promotion ceremony back in October when they were promoted to Captain and Colonel respectively.  And since Sergei was commissioned earlier this year, highlights from his career are now hanging on the wall as well.

After Harm's grandmother finished telling me the stories behind the displays on the wall, she surprised me by asking if I had anything representative of my career that she could hang on the wall.  Now, I am proud of my career and what I have accomplished.  I reminded myself of that every day that I was in Leavenworth.  I figured if I could keep in mind how proud I was of my career, then it wouldn't bother me as much after I was released when I would have to face the inevitable comments about my time in prison.  I figured that I could hold my head high no matter what anyone might say.  But it never occurred to me that someone, even after what I had done, might want to honor me and my career, especially someone who barely knew the real me and mostly knew me from what I had done to end up in Leavenworth.

When I tried to politely refuse her request, Sarah gave me one of those looks that she is so good at – the one that always said she was going to have her way about something – and told me, “This wall honors family and you are part of this family now.  Anyway, although stealing the Declaration of Independence might have been a little extreme, I can’t disagree with what you were trying to say when you did it.  Too bad the right people didn't listen more.”  That was the end of the discussion as far as she was concerned and after digging through some things at home, I managed to come up with pictures of my commissioning, my Medal of Honor ceremony and my retirement, all of which now hang on this wall.

After I thought about it, I decided that her attitude shouldn’t really have surprised me.  After all, her grandson was the one who, without knowing me or my niece and after being held at gunpoint and apparently having been betrayed, *offered* to defend me when I stole the Declaration.  I think Harm must have gotten his sense of justice and fairness from her.  No wonder it was while he was here recovering from his crash that he decided to go to law school.

I hear footsteps behind me and turn to find Sergei behind me with his girlfriend, Lisa.  “I wanted to show Lisa the military wall,” he says, almost apologetically.  I smile at both of them.

“You’re not bothering me,” I say as Lisa steps closer, examining the pictures and momentos on the wall.  “I was just standing here, thinking about your grandmother.  She definitely is. . . .was proud of this family’s military heritage.”

“Looks like it,” Lisa says.  “Sergei said there are items going back to the Civil. . . .”  She stops suddenly and turns to me after catching sight of one of my pictures.  “Sergei didn’t mention you were in the Corps as well.”  When we met just after I arrived, I was introduced as ‘Mac’s Uncle Matt’.

Sergei nods before I can reply.  “Uncle Matt flew helos during Vietnam,” he tells her, "and was in Force Recon."

“Ah, another pilot,” she says and Sergei laughs.

“When Lisa and I first met, it took her some time to get past the fact that I’m a pilot,” Sergei explains while Lisa flushes slightly.  “She seems to have this opinion of all pilots as arrogant know-it-alls who think they walk on water.”

I have to laugh myself.  “I’ve heard that before,” I reply.  “I recall someone telling me once that military pilots are the most arrogant, egotistical people who think they’re God’s gift to the military.”

“I bet I know who said that,” another voice says.  We all turn to see Harm standing in the doorway, his expression unreadable.  Normally, such a statement would be said with amusement in his voice, but there's none of that now.

"I'll bet you do," I reply as Harm begins moving around the room, occasionally picking up a picture or knicknack to study it before carefully setting it back down.  Watching him, I recall something Trish said earlier about how Harm is trying so hard to be strong and not let his grandmother's death get to him.  But with each photo or figurine he picks up, his eyes betray him.  He is hurting so much and I'm not even sure my niece has been able to get through to him and comfort him.

"So when did she say that?" he asks, snapping me out of my reverie.

"Who, Sarah?" I ask.  When he nods, I reply, "In a phone call a few months after I went to Leavenworth.  I believe she said you two were opposing each other on your first case together at the time."

"The Connors case," he clarifies, remembering.  He even manages to laugh a little finally.  "I'm sure she had a lot more to say about me than that."

"Oh, yeah, she did," I reply.  So much in fact that she didn't have enough time to get into it completely during our brief phone call and she wrote me a lengthy letter about what an arrogant ass her partner was.  Of course, if I hadn't already figured out that they were meant for each other after her comment about finding him in a rose garden, how worked up she got over his actions during the Connors case definitely told me she had it bad for Harm.

"Out of curiosity," Lisa begins, "how did you go from being a pilot to a lawyer?  Sergei said you used to fly F-14s."

Instantly, the smile drops from Harm's face and his face becomes like a mask – except for those eyes.  Only there can anyone tell just how painful the answer to that question is.  And not because of the circumstances surrounding the end of his first career as a pilot, which I have been told haunted him for years, but because of the part his grandmother played in setting him on the path to his new career.

Sergei opens his mouth to speak, whether to answer for Harm or change the subject, I don't know.  I look at him and almost imperceptively shake my head.  He needs to let Harm answer the question.  Harm needs to answer the question.  Sergei acknowledges with a slight nod and says instead, "This is a very good story.  Harm, you should tell it to her."

"You know the story, Sergei," Harm replies, a bit shortly.  "You can probably tell it just as well as I can."

"What story is that?" Sarah asks as she enters the room.  She immediately goes over to Harm and stands against his side, taking one of his hands in hers.

I decide to go for broke.  "Harm was about to tell Lisa how he went from being a Tomcat pilot to a lawyer," I say.  Harm shoots me a look as if to ask what I think I am doing.  I just shrug.

"I love this story," Sarah says as she leads Harm to one of the chairs in the room.  Reluctantly, he sits and and she settles herself in his lap, an arm around his neck and her head resting against his.  "Remember the first time you told me this story?"

"Don't remind me," he replies softly as the rest of us take seats.  I sit down in the desk chair while Lisa sits in the other arm chair with Sergei perched on the arm of the chair.  "I could have lost you that day."

"But you didn't," she points out as I wonder what particular day that was.  They've been in so many life or death situations over the years. 

Harm looks at Sarah for a long moment before finally beginning the story, a faraway look in his eyes.  "Just before the Gulf War started I crashed my Tomcat into the deck of a carrier during a storm at night.  My RIO ejected us out over the deck, killing him and critically injuring me.  The subsequent board of inquiry determined that I suffered from night blindness.  Although no charges would be brought against me for the crash, my career as a pilot was over for medical reasons."

He pauses in the story and looks down.  I can see Sarah take his hand and whisper something to him that none of us can hear.  After another moment, he looks up and begins again, his voice more hesitant this time, "I was at Landstuhl for a while before being transferred to the Naval hospital at Portsmouth.   When I was at Portsmouth, I was seriously considering leaving the Navy.  After I was released, Gram thought that I needed to go somewhere where I could get away from everything and consider my options, so she brought me here to the farm.

"When I first got here, I was lost and I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  She had an old Stearman bi-plane tarped here on the farm that our dad had bought, similar to the one our grandfather had earned his Navy wings in.  Originally, the plan had been that Dad and I would restore her together, but then he was shot down. . . .Gram suggested that I restore it while I was considering my options.  I wanted nothing to do with it.  I didn't want to be reminded of Dad.  I didn't want to be reminded of being a pilot.  One night I couldn't sleep and I came downstairs to find Gram in here, just standing in front of the wall over there, hanging one of the blue flags with the white star.  It had been hanging in the window when she brought me here.  Even though I already knew the stories behind everything on this wall, she insisted on telling every single one of them again."

Harm pauses again and Lisa asks, somewhat hesitantly, "So your grandmother talked you into restoring the plane?"

He manages to smile a little, even as I see the tears glistening in his eyes.  "Oh, she was a lot more subtle than that," he replies.  "She just reminded me of how much the Navy means to me and that just because I couldn't be a pilot anymore that didn't mean that I couldn't honor my father's memory.  The next morning, I pulled the tarp off the plane and it was while I was restoring her that I first started considering going to law school.  By the time I was cleared to go back on active duty, I had finished restoring the plane which I named 'Sarah' in honor of her and had been accepted into the Navy's Law School program.  After I graduated, I was lucky enough to be stationed at JAG headquarters in DC and except for a brief period when I left to find closure as a pilot, I've been there every since.  In a way, I guess you could say that Gram was partially responsible for my meeting Sarah since if it had never been for her, I wouldn't have started down the path that led me to JAG."

"Your grandmother sounds like an amazing woman," Lisa says, taking Sergei's hand.  "I wish I could have met her."

"Gram. . . .I think we could sit here for a month and still not be able to tell all the stories about everything that Gram has done for everyone around her," Sergei says, tears in his own eyes.  "And not just in her own family.  In all the times I've been here, I don't think I've ever heard anyone call her Mrs. Rabb.  She always insisted people call her Sarah or Gram.  Someone even once told me that she was the unofficial grandmother of the town."

"You know, Lisa," I say, "I once heard something to the effect that if you really want to know what a person is like, look at who their friends are.  If you want to know what Sarah Rabb was like, just look at her grandsons.  You'll hear a lot of people say that Harm and Sergei are so much like their father.   You'd have to ask Trish about that.  But I do know that I've seen a lot of their grandmother in them, too."

From here, I can see the wetness of tears on Sarah's cheeks as she tilts Harm's chin up so that she can look him in the eye.  "I see that, too," she tells him softly.  "She lives on in you and Sergei and our children and in the lessons she taught all of us."

I think I hear Harm whisper, "Thank you," just before Sarah kisses him lightly.  Despite the sadness that has settled over the room, I can't help feeling that Harm is finally ready to open up with Sarah about what he is feeling.


I study my reflection in the full length mirror hanging on the closet door as I smooth the black mourning band on my dress blues.  Gram had left very specific instructions for how she wanted her funeral to be conducted and one of the things she had wanted was all present and retired military personnel in attendance to appear in uniform.  As much as Gram loved the military and was proud of our family's service, it makes sense to me.  But I probably would have worn the uniform anyway.  After four years of ROTC and eight months as a commissioned officer, not to mention the time spent in the Russian Army before that, I don't think I'd know how to wear a civilian suit and tie.  I'd felt so uncomfortable in them at my court-martial.

"I think this is the first time I've seen you in your dress uniform," Lisa comments, trying to keep her tone light.  "You look very nice."

"Thank you," I reply without feeling.  I give her a once over.  She's also dressed in her dress blues which we'd gone back to Quantico to retrieve before driving up to the farm.  "So do you."

"Thanks," she replies with the touch of a smile playing at her lips.  She takes a deep breath and asks, "Do you know what you're going to say?"

"What, at Gram's funeral?" I ask, even though I know that's what she's talking about.  "I don't know.  There's so much going through my mind."

Lisa sits down on the edge of the bed and pats the space next to her.  I sit down next to her as she comments, "I noticed.  You didn't get a lot of sleep last night."

"I didn't mean to keep you up," I apologize.  Idly, I wonder how many sleepless nights Harm has caused Mac the last few days.  "I just. . . .I'm not entirely comfortable with getting up in front of everyone and. . . .I don't really know."  I just sounded so articulate.  I'm probably going to make a *really* good impression at the funeral later.

"So why not just pass on speaking?" she asks.  "I'm sure everyone would understand if you don't feel like speaking."

"It's not that," I protest.  "I do want to honor Gram by speaking and not just because she requested it."  That was also a part of her very specific instructions.  Gram's wish was that Harm and I be the ones to deliver her eulogy.   "I love Gram and want to show that. . . .I'm just not sure. . . .I'm not sure."  I jump up off the bed and nervously pace beside it.  The bright light of day has not resolved any of this in my mind.

"What are you not sure about, Sergei?" Lisa asks gently, her expression concerned.

I stop my pacing and lean back against the dresser, my arms folded across my chest.  "I don't know.  Maybe there's a part of me. . . .that wonders why I'm going to be up there speaking.  After all, compared to most of the people who are going to be there, I barely knew her.  I'm her grandson, yet ninety-nine percent of Beallsville has known Gram longer than I have."

"Is that what's bothering you?" she asks, getting up from the bed to join me.  She pulls my arms apart and takes my hands in hers.  I look down at our joined hands as she continues, "Sergei, I'm sure that your grandmother didn't love you any less because she didn't get to know you your entire life."

"I don't think that," I protest softly.  "I can't explain it.  I just met her five years ago.  I'd never even heard the name Sarah Rabb prior to seven years ago.  But it’s like there's this big hole in my heart. . . .as if something that's been there my entire life has suddenly been ripped away.  It's as if she's always been a part of my life.  I spent the first eighteen years of my life without her as part of it and now, I can't figure out how I'm going to live without her."

"The ties of family are strong in your family," Lisa points out, "whether you've known each other all your lives or only a few years.  Anyway, I think that even if you haven't known her your entire life, she's always been a part of you. . . .in here."  She released one of my hands to tap the ribbons over my heart for emphasis.   "You want to hear something I've observed the last few days – actually, it's something I've thought about since we met and you told me about your family.  But it's really crystallized in my mind watching all of you together the last four days."

I finally look up at her, nodding for her to continue.  "As you know, I come from a military family myself and we spent most of my childhood moving around from place to place both here and overseas.  I had a perfectly normal family – two parents, two brothers and a sister.  I had four grandparents and assorted aunts and uncles.  When I was fifteen, my dad's father died.  You know what occurred to me when we went to his funeral?  He was my grandfather, but I barely knew him.  I could count on both hands the number of times I'd seen him in my life.  Sure, we got the requisite Christmas and birthday cards and presents and I know my grandparents love me, but my family didn't get together to celebrate the holidays, even when we were stationed someplace close to one of my relatives.  Being stationed close to a relative just meant we might see someone once every few months rather than once every few years."

"That sounds like a lonely childhood in its own way," I comment, but Lisa shakes her head.

"I had a pretty happy childhood," she responds.  "My parents were married and even if they weren't obviously madly in love, there was a deep love and commitment there nonetheless.  They loved us and provided well for us.  As for not really knowing the rest of my family, being a military brat, most of my friends weren't particularly close to their extended families either so I guess I kind of grew up thinking that's the way things were.  At least, that's what I thought until I heard about your family.

"When you first told me about your family, I'd never really heard of anything like that and I'm not talking about the slightly convoluted ties between all of you," she continues, smiling a little at that last part.  "Sergei, you may have only known your grandmother five years, but you've probably seen her more times in those five years than I have seen all four of my grandparents combined in my entire life.  Your entire family gets together at least twice a year from what you've told me, for Christmas and Fourth of July.  Hell, I know just from getting to know you the last few months that you spoke to her on the phone at least once a week and those calls were not the obligatory 'grandson calls to check up on his elderly grandmother' calls.  You called her because you *wanted* to talk to her.  You're even close to those members of your extended family who aren't related by blood.  I know you speak to your stepmother on the phone often – I've heard you on the phone with her a few times.  Your sister-in-law said that her uncle became a mentor to you when you decided to join the Corps.  Chloe says you're like a big brother to her.  Even your brother's mother-in-law speaks of you and your brother as the sons she never had.  I even heard your stepmother speak highly of your mother in a conversation yesterday.  In a way, I'm jealous of you and your family."

I'd never thought of anyone being jealous of me and my family situation.  "I'd never thought about it like that," I admit.  "But why would you be jealous?  My family situation, despite how close we all are, is hardly ideal."

"But you all know how much you mean to each other," she points out.  "You all might have convoluted histories, but you've all managed to overcome that and build a strong family unit.  You sometimes don't see that in families where everyone is related by blood and where they have known each other all their lives, like my family.  And you know what – or rather who – played a large part of making your family the way it is?"

"Gram," I state.  It isn't a question.  I can't remember who, but someone once described Gram as the glue that holds this family together.  I can't think of a more accurate description of Gram than that.

"And it's not that she forced you all to get along or anything," she continues.  "She just set the example and as much as you all look up to her and love her, none of you could help but follow her example.  Sergei, I guess what I'm trying to say is that you shouldn't feel out of place because you only knew your grandmother for a few short years.  I've known my grandparents my entire life and I would love to have the kind of relationship with them that you had with your grandmother.  Anybody would be jealous of how close you two were."

I manage a small smile as I say, "Thank you.  You've helped so much.  Thanks to you, I think I know what I want to say."

"I think you always knew deep down," she returns.  "You just needed a little help realizing what was already in your heart."

"I wish Gram could have met you," I tell her, pulling her into my arms and holding her tight.  "She would have loved you."

Lisa pulls back slightly and smiles at me.  "As far as compliments go, Lieutenant Sergei Rabb," she says, "that's got to be one of the best I've ever received."

Before I can reply, there's a soft knock on the slightly open door and we turn towards the door as Harm sticks his head in the room.  "Sorry to interrupt," he apologizes, "but I need to see you about something, Sergei."

"That's okay, Captain," Lisa says, pulling out of my arms and picking up her cover from the dresser as Harm pushes the door the rest of the way open and comes into the room.  He's also in his dress blues and is carrying two envelopes in his hand.  "I'll just wait for you downstairs, Sergei."

"You're right," he says after she has left.  "Gram would have liked her."

"And she probably would have been subtly trying to find out when I was planning to get married," I point out.

"Are you?" he asks.  "Thinking about marrying Lisa?"

"Short term, I don't think we're quite there yet," I reply, raising an eyebrow at Harm's questioning.  I'd never thought he'd be one to jump on the 'let's get Sergei settled down with a family' bandwagon.  Especially not after his history with Mac.  That kind of stuff is more Gram's and Trish's department.  "Long range, I. . . .I do want to marry and have kids and I can easily see Lisa in the role of wife and mother.  So what's with the questions?"

"Just trying to make conversation," he replies quietly, looking down at the two envelopes in his hand. 

I lean forward slightly and see his name on the front of one in Gram's handwriting.  I nod towards the envelopes.  "Those from Gram?"

"Yeah," he replies, holding one out to me.  "There's one for each of us.  After she wrote them, she gave them to June Randall with instructions that they were to be given to us before the funeral.  She just handed them to me downstairs."

"She had this whole thing planned down to the last detail, didn't she?" I comment as I turn the envelope over in my hands.

"Gram has this funeral better planned than a military exercise," Harm replies.  "In a way, I'm glad. . . ."

"So am I," I agree.  I don't know if either of us could have handled having to plan Gram's funeral ourselves.  I glance over and notice that he hasn't opened his letter yet.  "So I take it we're supposed to open and read these before the funeral?  So why haven't you read yours yet?"

"I thought we could do it together," he replies and my head jerks up in surprise.  I would have thought this would be the kind of thing he would want to do alone, or with Mac if he didn't really want to be alone.   He continues, "We haven't really had a chance to sit down, just the two of us, since Gram. . . .Sergei, we both lost our grandmother."

He's right.  With the whole family about and with Lisa and Mac both sticking pretty close to us out of concern, there hasn't been a chance to the two of us to talk by ourselves.  And as much of a comfort as Lisa has been to me and I'm sure Mac has been to Harm, we both lost our grandmother and there are probably things we are feeling that probably no one else can completely understand.

As if by some silent signal, we both open our letters at the same time and begin reading them.  I can hear Gram's voice in my head as I read her words and tears threaten as I realize that the letter was written recently from some of the things that she mentions.  I know she was eighty-six, but I don't want to think of Gram knowing that perhaps she didn't have much time left and setting her affairs in order so to speak.  Gram always lived life to the fullest and I can't imagine her dwelling on her death.  But it's obvious from the letters and the well thought out funeral arrangements that she thought about it more than any of the rest of us ever did.  I think the rest of us just kind of expected her to always be around.

As I finish, I can't help smiling a little.  Gram must have been precognitive.  One of the things she talks about is the kind of woman she'd like me to find and settle down with.  From what she said, she could have been describing Lisa.  I wonder if this letter is recent enough that it even postdates the beginning of my relationship with Lisa.  It's nice to know that I am right – Gram would have loved Lisa.

I look up just as Harm is finishing his own letter and I'm sure that I see the glistening of unshed tears in his own eyes.  Then he surprises me by holding out his letter to me.  After a moment, I take the letter, holding out my own, which he takes and begins reading.

As I begin reading what she wrote to Harm, I can't help smiling even more.  Remembering Harm asking me about any marriage plans I might have, I ask in a teasing tone as I continue reading his letter, "So, are you and Mac thinking of expanding the family as Gram suggests?"  When Harm doesn't answer my question immediately, I look up from the letter.  His expression is carefully neutral, but I think I caught a flash of something just as I looked up, as if he noticed me looking and was trying to not let anything show.  My mouth falls open as an idea occurs to me.  "You already are, aren't you?  Mac's pregnant."

Harm is still silent, as if he doesn't want to answer the question, but finally he nods.  "We just found out a few weeks ago," he explains sadly.  "We wanted to keep it quiet and announce it on Christmas, kind of as a present for everyone."

"It could still be," I point out quietly.  "I think everyone could use the good news.  God knows Christmas isn't going to be very joyful this year."

"The rate we're going, everyone may figure it out first," he comments.  "Our mothers already know.  Wednesday night, when everyone was getting ready for bed, Sarah was getting sick in the bathroom.  Gram's death really upset her and the stress was getting to her.  Her mother found her and Sarah kind of let it slip without realizing it.  Mom happened to overhear them talking, although she said she already had her suspicions."

"That still leaves Frank, Matt, Chloe and the twins," I remind him.  "It can still be a surprise.  I won't say anything.  I'd like to see everyone else's faces Christmas morning when you announce it."  It'll probably be the one bright spot of the day.

"So would I.  I just wish. . . ." Harm begins, trailing off.

"That Gram could have been here to learn the good news," I finish.  I can't help smiling as something occurs to me.  "You know how you and Mac told the twins that Gram went to Heaven to be an angel?  If we all do have guardian angels, can you think of a better one for your baby than Gram?"



My eyes snap open as I realize that there is just a cold, empty space in the bed next to me.  Rubbing my eyes, I glance around the darkened room, finally seeing Harm in a chair next to the window, reading a letter in the pale moonlight streaming in through the window.  "Harm, come back to bed," I request in a sleepy murmur.

Harm doesn't even look up from the letter in his hand as he replies, "It's almost time to get up.  The twins will be up soon."

I quickly calculate the time in my head and realize he's right.  Any time now, Matt and Sarah will come running in here, jumping up on the bed and trying to drag us out of it so we can all go see what Santa brought.  "What are you reading?" I ask, pushing the covers back as I stretch lazily.

He's silent for a long moment and when he does finally speak, it isn't to answer my question.  "Remember their first Christmas?" he asks, a faraway look in his eyes as he looks up from the letter.  "They were just ten months old and really had no idea what was going on.  I think all of the adults were more excited about it than they were.  I don't think I'd gotten up that early on Christmas morning since I was a kid.  Even Gram, who was sick with the flu, was up before dawn, excited about watching them open their presents."

I grin a little as I remember that Christmas morning that seems almost like it was another lifetime ago.  "As I recall, it was Mommy and Daddy opening presents," I point out.  "I think Matt and Sarah were more interested in trying to put the bows in their mouths and playing with the wrapping paper."

In the moonlight, I see a small smile on Harm's face, but there's no warmth or humor behind it.  "Yeah, I guess," he replies.  His eyes return to the letter.

Realizing that he's not going to answer my earlier question, I slide out of bed and cross the room to him.  He pulls me into his lap and I snuggle against his chest, resting my head on his shoulder as he drapes his free arm around my waist, his hand resting against the barely noticeable mound signaling my advancing pregnancy.

We snuggle together in silence for a long moment, then he holds out to me the letter he has been reading.  As I sat down, I could tell that it was Gram's handwriting, but whatever is in that letter is obviously weighing on his mind and I don't want to press too hard about it.  I knew Harm would open up about it eventually.  I take the letter and begin reading it, my eyes struggling to focus on the words in the pale moonlight.

Without a word, I read the entire letter, carefully folding it once I'm finished.  Harm brushes my falling tears away as I muse quietly, "It's almost like she knew, isn't it, that she didn't have much time left?"

"Yeah," he replies just as quietly.  "Sergei and I commented on that when we first read the letters."  At my questioning glance, he adds, "She wrote one to Sergei, too.  June Randall gave them to me the morning of the funeral."

Oh, Harm.  "I'm not criticizing, but I wish you would have shared this with me earlier," I remark gently.  "I would have liked to have helped you deal with this."

He wraps his other arm around me and pulls me tighter against him, raining kisses on the top of my head.  "You have helped, Sarah," he insists.  "You always have.  You've always been there for me.  Even when I've needed space, I've always known that you were quietly supporting me.  Even that one difficult year we had, I still knew deep down that I could always count on you first and foremost.  Never doubt that you have been helping me through this, just by being here and loving me."

"I love you, too, Harm," I reply, tilting my head up to give him a brief kiss.  "After reading this letter, this gives me the perfect opportunity to mention something that I've been thinking about since Gram died."

"About the baby?" he asks.

I nod.  "Well, you know when we first found out I was pregnant that I said I really wanted Rose as part of the name if we have another girl," I explain.  He nods, remembering that conversation and the reason behind that particular request of mine.  "Well, what do you think of Elizabeth Rose as a girl's name?"

"You wouldn't mind naming another child after Gram?" he asks.

"Of course not," I reply.  I smile as I remember a previous conversation.  "During one of the bridal party get-togethers before the wedding, we were talking about names for the babies.  You know, initially I was a little skeptical of our daughter's first name being Sarah since that's my name as well, but having spent the last five years as part of Gram's family, I can't think of anyone I would have rather named our daughter after – and no offense to your mom, by the way.  I know we weren't related by blood, but I couldn't have loved Gram more if she had been my own grandmother and given everything that's happened, I would love to use her middle name for our child."

"Elizabeth Rose Rabb," Harm muses, testing the sound of the name.  "I like it and I know Gram would, too.  But what if it's a boy – unless you're planning to have another set of twins?"

"Bite your tongue!" I exclaim with a laugh.  I adore Matt and Sarah and wouldn't trade them for anything in the world, but after nine months carrying them and the next year spent praying that they would eventually get their internal clocks in sync and manage to sleep at the same time, not to mention trying to handle two hungry babies at the same time, I don't know if I could do it again.  "Actually, I do have an idea about a boy's name.  What do you think of David Francis after your grandfather and Frank?  My maternal grandfather's name was David also, so we get both sides of the family with that name."

"David Francis Rabb or Elizabeth Rose Rabb?  I like those names," he replies, finally managing a real smile.  "I think Gram would like that, too.  You know, after I let Sergei read my letter, he figured out from something in my expression I guess that we are expecting a baby and he said he couldn't think of a better guardian angel for our baby than Gram."

"I like that idea," I whisper, tears starting to fall again.  "I just wish this baby could have had the chance to meet his or her wonderful great-grandmother in person."

"I know. . . ." Harm begins before being interrupted by the bedroom door being thrown open, Matt and Sarah running into the room.  They start for the bed, turning sharply when they realize that we're not there.

"Come on!" they insist, their voices overlapping in their excitement.  "Santa came!  Time to open presents!"  They both try to climb into our laps, a little difficult since I'm already sitting in Harm's lap, but we manage somehow to fit all four of us in the armchair, Harm and I each with an arm around one of the kids.

We sit here quietly for a few minutes, just holding each other, but soon both Matt and Sarah are restlessly squirming in our arms.  "Mommy, Daddy, presents!," Sarah insists, sliding off our laps, shortly joined by her brother.

"Okay, we're coming," I reply, giving Harm a kiss before pulling out of his lap.  Matt and Sarah are looking at us with mock looks of disgust on their faces.

"Yuck," Matt says as Sarah giggles.

"Trust me, the time will come when you won't think kissing is yucky," I joke as I grab mine and Harm's robes from the closet, tossing Harm's to him.  "Come on, let's go see what Santa brought for you guys."

An hour later, the living room is a sea of wrapping paper and piles of presents.  There's a sad undercurrent among all the adults, but everyone has smiles on their faces.  It's hard not to get caught up in the excitement generated by Matt and Sarah.

"Matt, you don't have take *all* your presents out of the package right this minute," Harm says as Matt tosses aside another toy that he has pulled out of it's packaging and picks up another one.  "You'll have plenty of time to play with all of them later.  Why don't we clean up a little bit and get rid of all this wrapping paper and ribbons?  Then you can take all your presents upstairs while Grandmas Trish and Deanne fix breakfast."

"Daddy!" Matt and Sarah both complain, identical pouts on their faces.

"Come on," I encourage them as I slide off the couch onto the floor as Mom hands me a  trash bag.  All the adults except Harm begin picking up the paper off the floor, Matt and Sarah grudgingly helping after a moment of indecision followed by a stern glance from me.  Harm gets up from the couch and leans over to whisper, "Before we tell everyone about the baby, I want to go upstairs and get something."

"What?" I whisper back.

"The letter," he replies, kissing my cheek before heading upstairs.

"Mommy, why doesn't Daddy have to help clean up?" Sarah asks.  I can't help laughing a little.

"Daddy has something more important to do," I reply.  I grin and decide to drop a little hint.  "Something about another Christmas present." Mom, Trish and Sergei all try to hide smiles, already knowing about this particular present.

"A present?  Goody!" Matt exclaims.  "Can we play with it?"

I can't help laughing again.  "Eventually," I reply mysteriously.  I can feel several sets of eyes on me as I continue cleaning up, but I don't say anything more.  They'll all find out soon enough.

By the time Harm returns letter in hand, we've all just finished the clean up of the living room.  From the expression on his face as he sits back down, I can tell that he reread the letter before he came downstairs.  I sit next to him and he puts an arm around my shoulder, pulling me close to him.

"Before we put all the presents away and go eat breakfast," he begins, studying the folded letter in his hands, "there's a few things I want to say.  As most of you are aware, Christmas was hardly my favorite holiday when I was growing up.  There was just too much sadness associated with it.  But Gram always believed in looking for the silver lining and she tried to point out that there was still joy to be found in the holiday, despite what happened to my father."

Slowly, he unfolds the letter and smoothes the creases in the paper as I smile encouragingly.  "Not long ago," he continues as he shuffles the pages of the letter, looking for something in particular, "Gram sat down and wrote a couple of letters to me and Sergei.  This one's mine.  I'm not going to read the entire thing, but there's one part in particular I want to share with everyone."  I squeeze his hand, holding it tightly as he reads in a strong, clear voice –

. . . .When I first sat down to write this letter, I wasn't quite sure what to say.  My letter to your brother was full of my hopes and dreams for him.  But you've already accomplished and gained so much in your life.  You already have everything that I could have ever wanted for you.  You have a beautiful wife who is everything and more that I could have wanted in a life partner for you.  You have two of the greatest children – although if you and Mac hadn't wasted four years, maybe I'd be surrounded by a few more great-grandchildren.  And although it may not initially be what you envisioned for yourself, you have a wonderful career that you love. 

When I look back on my life, I know I've had a good one, despite the tragedies I've had to endure – not many people outlive both their husband and their only child.  If I have any regrets about my life, it's that I didn't get to grow old with my David and that God didn't see fit to grant me more than one child, but both of those were beyond my control.  Maybe that's why I always looked for the joy in everything, knowing how easily it can all be taken away.  So if there's any wish that I still have for you, it's that you not take life for granted and find the joy in it.  Enjoy growing old with your Sarah by your side and watching your children grow up around you.  Maybe you can even have another child or two – you and Mac have a lot of love to share and can give so much not just to Matt and Sarah, but to any future children.  Try to set a good example for your children to follow and they'll be your greatest joy.  I speak from personal experience.  I may have only been granted one child, but I couldn't have asked for a better son, nor for better grandchildren and great-grandchildren. . . .

Harm carefully folds the letter again as he looks up at everyone.  "There's more here, but that's the part that I wanted everyone to hear," he says, taking a steadying breath.  I don't think there's a dry eye in the room, even my children's, although they don't really understand what Harm just read.  "As Gram said in this letter, she always tried to find the joy in everything.  And today seems to be a good day to try and do that, even though we're all still hurting so much because Gram is no longer with us.  Sarah and I have another present for all of you, but after everything that's happened, we debated whether or not to share it with all of you right now.  But after hearing Gram's words, I think we can all agree that she would have wanted us to find some happiness. . . ."

Harm's voice trails off as he fights back tears and I tighten my fingers around his as I continue for him, "Gram was a little precognitive in the letter, because a few weeks ago Harm and I found out that we will be welcoming a new baby around the third week of June."

The tears are flowing freely now as Chloe shrieks, pulling Sarah into her arms, "This is so wonderful, isn't it?  You're going to have a new brother or sister to play with!"

"When June, Mommy?" she asks, looking over at me with a puzzled expression.  Matt has the same look on his face. 

"Well, this is December, right?" I ask and they nod.  "Next comes New Year's and January.   Then comes February and your birthday."  There are more nods at that.  If there's any day that a child enjoys more than Christmas, it's their birthday.  "Then comes spring and Easter in March and April.  Then there's May when you guys get out of school.  Then comes June and that's when the baby will be here."

"When school is over, the baby will come?" Matt asks, sounding a bit disappointed.  I think he was anticipating something he could play with now.  I nod.

"Where's baby now?" Sarah asks.  Harm and I look at each other and I smile, patting my stomach.

"In here," I reply.  "The baby sleeps inside Mommy until it's time to be born."

Matt walks over and I take his hand, placing it flat against my stomach so he can feel the small, firm mound that will grow bigger in the coming months.  Chloe grabs a photo album and manages to find a picture taken when I was pregnant with Matt and Sarah, displaying it for all of us as she explains to Sarah, "See here?  This is when you and Matt were sleeping inside Mommy."

And I was huge.  From the Christmas tree barely visible at the edge of the photo I can tell it was taken that Christmas when I was in my eighth month and I was very much into the 'beached whale' stage.  Sarah studies me and then the picture as if trying to figure out why I look so different.

"How does baby get inside Mommy?" she asks in all innocence.  I'm sure my face is flushing bright red as I bury my head in Harm's shoulder and laughter floats around the room among all the adults.  Fortunately, I'm rescued by my mother-in-law's quick thinking.

"Matt, Sarah, do you want to help me and Grandma Deanne with breakfast?" she suggests and their eyes light up as they are distracted at the thought of food.  They've definitely inherited my appetite.

"Thanks, Mom," I say gratefully.  "Nice save.  And hurry up with that breakfast."

"You and your stomach," Harm teases.  I swat him playfully in response.

"Hey, I'm eating for two now," I retort.

"Or three," Chloe interjects with a grin.

"Bite your tongue!" I shoot back.

"You're right, Mom would have happy that we did manage to find some joy at this time," Trish comments, smiling at our playful banter.

"Actually, that reminds me," I say, looking at Harm.  "Do you want to tell them or do you want me to do it?"

"I'll do it since you were the one to actually tell them about the baby," he replies.  He looks around the room as he continues, "This was actually Sarah's idea, but I agree with her.  We've already come up with both a boy's and a girl's name.  Sarah has her heart set on Rose as part of a girl's name and she suggested we add Elizabeth to that, which was Gram's middle name.  So if we have a daughter, her name will be Elizabeth Rose Rabb."

"That's a beautiful name," Mom says.  "And your grandmother would be proud to have another child named after her.  What about a boy's name?"

Harm's gaze settles on Frank as he continues, "David as the first name in honor of my grandfather and Sarah's.  For his middle name, we decided on Francis.  Gram would definitely like that, since she's the one who always tried to encourage me to give Frank a chance.  I'm just sorry that I didn't listen to her sooner."

"That doesn't matter anymore," Frank insists, his eyes shining.  "But I'm honored."

"So, it's either Elizabeth Rose or David Francis Rabb," Chloe muses.  "Gram would definitely like that."

"Yes, she would," I reply quietly, looking at Harm, but his attention is elsewhere.  I follow his gaze to the angel on top of the Christmas tree, where the electric candle in the angel's hand seems to be burning just a little bit brighter than usual.  Intellectually, I know it's probably just a trick of the light, but my heart wants to believe otherwise.  "I guess our child's guardian angel is already busy looking out for him or her."

Harm is silent as he holds me tight and I continue looking up at the angel, imagining that the bright light is Gram expressing her happiness at our good news.


4 JULY 2006

It's a beautiful summer day, not too hot, fortunately.  I look down at the baby carrier in my arms to make sure Elizabeth is comfortable and properly shaded from the bright sun.  She's sleeping peacefully, her mouth making little movements and her fingers curling as she apparently dreams, good dreams I hope.

Next to me, my older daughter jumps up so she can look into the carrier.  "Baby sleeping," she says, careful to keep her voice quiet.  It's been funny the last few weeks, watching Matt and Sarah trying to be quiet while their sister is sleeping.  Being only five, sometimes they forget, usually followed by them covering their mouths with their hands and an 'Ooops, I forgot.'  But they're trying to be considerate of Elizabeth – and of their mother who is always tired these days.

They're both fascinated by their sister, Sarah more so than Matt, I think, since she's also a girl, although Sarah did have to point out to our daughter that playing with her sister isn't *quite* like playing with her dolls.  Matt, on the other hand, was disappointed at first that he didn't get the brother that he was hoping for, especially after the way AJ Roberts raved about his brother Michael when he was born a little over a year ago, declaring brothers to be far better than sisters – much to the chagrin of Sarah Roberts, who didn't speak to her brother for a week after that statement. 

But Matt came around when more than one person explained to him, myself included, that being a big brother was important and that it was up to him to protect his little sister since she was too young to take care of herself.  He liked that idea and when Sarah and I took the kids to have some pictures taken last week, the twins even argued briefly over who was going to get to hold Elizabeth.  We settled that argument by having some taken with Matt holding her and some with Sarah holding her.  We picked up the pictures yesterday before we left to come to Beallsville and they turned out really good.

Speaking of my son. . . ."Matt, I thought I told you not to run off," I call out, careful not to do it too loudly.  "I want you to stay close to Daddy."

"Sorry, Daddy," he calls back, slowing down just a little.  "Where are we going?"

"You'll see when we get there," I reply, thinking that it's probably easier to show them than tell them.  "We're almost there."

"Why didn't Mommy come?" Sarah asks, skipping ahead of me slightly.

"Mommy's sleeping," I reply.  "Elizabeth keeps her awake at night."  She keeps me awake as well, but I wasn't the one who carried her for nine months and gave birth just eleven days ago.  Even though she insisted on still coming to the farm for the Fourth of July, I know she is tired from the trip yesterday.  Actually, in a way I was glad she insisted on making the trip.  It gives me the chance to do what I'm about to do.

This is the first time we've been back to the farm since Christmas.  I wasn't quite ready to come back and being busy with work and preparing for the baby gave me excuses to stay away.  But now that Elizabeth is here, I wanted to come back.

But the farm hasn't sat empty all these months.  Sergei comes up every free weekend he has, usually with Lisa if she's not working.  They've gotten even more serious over the last six months and I think we're all expecting to hear an engagement announcement sooner rather than later.  Mom and Dad were here a few months ago for a week and Uncle Matt has been here a couple of times while visiting friends at the local VFW post that he's made during previous trips to Beallsville.  Even Chloe, rather than spending spring break in Florida like most college students, spent the week here.  When Gram's will was read, passing the farm jointly to Sergei and me, the first thing we insisted was that the open door policy that had been in effect when Gram was alive remain.  Any member of the family is free to come here anytime they wish and nobody has to ask permission since there's plenty of room if more than one have the idea at the same time.

We reach our destination and I shift the carrier to one hand as I release the latch on the gate of the fence that surrounds the family cemetery.  The latch releases easily and I usher Matt and Sarah through the gate.  "Follow me," I tell them, leading them through the tombstones of two centuries of their ancestors to the newest tombstone of pink granite.  I sit down on the grass next to the grave, setting Elizabeth down in front of me and motioning for Matt and Sarah to sit on either side of me.

"What's this, Daddy?" Sarah asks, touching the smooth stone almost reverently.

"It's a marker," I explain, trying to keep it simple, "that lets people know that Gram once lived here."

"What's it say?" This comes from Matt. 

"This says 'Sarah'," Sarah says proudly, pointing to Gram's first name on the tombstone, recognizing the letters of her own name.  She points again.  "And that says 'Rabb'."

"That's right," I tell her.  "Can you tell me what the middle word is?"

They both study it for a moment before Matt tries to sound out the word.  "E, L, I, Z, A, E – liz – a. . . ."  He trails off, an excited look on his face as he figures it out.  "Elizabeth!  Like the baby!"

I smile, tousling his hair.  "Very good," I praise him.  "It says 'Sarah Elizabeth Rabb'.  That was Gram's name, just like yours is Harmon Matthew Rabb and your sisters are Sarah Patricia Rabb and Elizabeth Rose Rabb."

"What's this, Daddy?" Sarah asks again, pointing to the dates below the name.  "That's a seven, I don't know that word, then a one, nine, one, nine.  Then a one, four, another big word, two, zero, zero, five."

"The first word is August," I reply.  "It says 7 August 1919.  That was Gram's birthday.  When's your birthday?"

Matt answers that question.  "14 February 2001," he says.  "What's the other thing?"

"14 December 2005," I tell them quietly.  "That's the day that Gram died and became an angel."  They both smile at me.  They associate death with angels now.  Two months ago, when Sarah and I had to make the decision to put Jingo to sleep, their first question when told that he had died was if he is now an angel, too.

"And what's this, Daddy?" Matt continues, pointing to two lines at the bottom of the marker.

I decide to let them off the hook and tell them rather than encouraging them to figure it out.  We could be here the rest of the day waiting for them to sound out all the words. It hasn't been all that long since we started teaching them how to read.  "'To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven'," I say.  "It's from the Bible, you know, like they read in church?  It was one of Gram's favorite verses.  Do you guys want to talk to Gram?" 

"You mean, like you talk to that wall?" Matt asks, referring to the Vietnam Memorial.  His question brings back memories of the first time I took Matt and Sarah to the Wall.  They were about three weeks old and we were having unseasonably mild weather for the beginning of March, so I thought it would be okay to take them outside to visit the Wall.  I stood in front of the Wall in my dress blues, a baby tucked in the crook of each arm – again it was just me and my children – and introduced my father to his grandchildren.

"Yeah, just like that," I reply. 

"Can I tell her how Uncle Sergei teached me how to swim?" Matt asks.  I nod, cocking my head towards the tombstone.

"Gram, Uncle Sergei teached me and AJ how to swim," he says and for some reason my mind flashes on Gram's final letter and about finding joy in things.  Having children can really give you an appreciation for the little things in life – like learning to swim.  "Daddy said we can get a pool."

"Now, Matt, I said maybe we could get a pool," I correct him.  I ought to make Sergei buy the thing since it was his bright idea to teach the kids how to swim.  Then again, any sailor worth his salt should know how to swim.  I'd just better not mention that last part to my wife.  She'd never let me hear the end of it.

"Uncle Sergei teached me how to swim, too," Sarah chimes in.  "And Grandma Deanne said she will teach me to cro. . . ."  She pauses, getting hung up on the word.

"Crochet?" I supply helpfully.

"Yeah, crochet," Sarah finishes.  "What about you, Daddy?  Are you going to talk to Gram?"

"Yes, I am," I reply as Elizabeth wakes up and immediately starts fussing, her tiny hands flailing in the air.  I unfasten her and lift her out of the carrier, settling her into my arms after checking her diaper, glad that she doesn't need to be changed right now.  "Sarah, can you get Daddy a bottle out of the bag?"

She digs into the diaper bag and hands me a bottle.  Elizabeth fusses for another moment, trying to turn her head away, but finally her hunger wins out and her mouth latches onto the bottle.  "I know," I coo softly.  "It's not the same as Mommy, is it?"

Elizabeth looks up at me with her big brown eyes.  If Matt is the spitting image of me and Sarah looks like her mother except for having the Rabb eyes, Elizabeth is a combination of both of us.  She's got her mother's eyes and my skin tone.  Sarah insists she has my nose and I definitely think she has Sarah's mouth.  The only thing that didn't come directly from either one of us is her hair.  Maybe it will get darker when she gets older, but right now it’s a light blonde.  Only time will tell if it will be the same shade blonde as Mom or the strawberry blonde that Gram sported before her hair turned gray.  Given her name, I'm kind of hoping for the strawberry blonde.

Satisfied that Elizabeth is eating heartily, I turn my attention back to the tombstone.  "Gram, I'd like you to meet someone," I say as Matt and Sarah watch me intently from either side of me.  "This is your newest great-granddaughter, Elizabeth Rose Rabb.  She was born eleven days ago on the twenty-third of June.  That was the day Sarah was actually due and she was so thrilled, declaring that at least one of her children has her sense of timing.  It was a pretty quick delivery, but we did make it to the hospital this time.  Of course, everyone's fussing over her like we all fussed over the twins.  Matt and Sarah adore her.  Matt is getting into playing the role of big brother and Sarah likes to try to help her mother take care of Elizabeth."

I check the bottle and see that she's taken more than her two ounces.  Pulling the bottle out of her mouth and handing it to Sarah, I pull a burping cloth out of the bag and lay it on my shoulder.  I move Elizabeth and pat her back gently as I go on.  "Work is the same as usual," I continue, moving on to other subjects.  "The Admiral is talking about finally retiring.  I think, after missing out on his first daughter's childhood, that he wants to spend more time with Mary, although he joked that he's not sure he wants to subject another JAG to my stunts.  Everyone else is good.  Keeter and Carolyn are expecting a baby in the fall.  I think Carolyn was a little apprehensive about another pregnancy after her miscarriage a couple years ago, but she seems to be more relaxed since she made it past the three-month mark with no problems.  Harriet just got promoted to Lieutenant Commander.  You remember she had gone back on active duty just before she found out that she was expecting Michael.  She stayed on active duty after he was born and found that it wasn't as bad as she thought it was going to be leaving him in daycare.  I think she felt more comfortable with the idea after watching Sarah and Carolyn continue to work after having babies and still be good mothers."

"Mom and Dad are doing good," I continue as I settle Elizabeth back into my arms, rocking her gently.  "They're talking about packing up and moving to the DC area so they can spend more time with their grandchildren, although nothing's definite yet.  They've just been looking at houses while they've been here for Elizabeth's birth.  Deanne and Uncle Matt are both doing well and Chloe – well, she's still Chloe and you know what that means."

I hear the gate open and turn to see Sergei walking towards us, dressed in denim shorts, a Marine Corps t-shirt and sneakers.  He hesitates a moment when he notices that we're here, but I wave him over.  "I was just introducing Gram and Elizabeth," I explain as he sits down next to us, Sarah climbing into his lap, "and catching her up on what's been going with everyone.  I was just about to get to you."

"Actually, I came to share some news with Gram myself," he reveals.  "I'm going to give Lisa the necklace tonight."  The necklace is a single strand of pearls that Gram left to Sergei.  Granddad skimped and saved to buy it for her twenty-first birthday, the last birthday present he would buy her.  Exactly four months after her birthday, Pearl Harbor was bombed and three months after that, Granddad was shot down.  Since, as the oldest, I had gotten her engagement ring, Gram had wanted Sergei to have the necklace so that he could give something to the woman he was going to marry that had belong to our grandparents.

"Is there an engagement ring to go along with the necklace?" I ask even as it occurs to me that I'm starting to sound like Gram and my parents, taking such an interest in my brother's love life the way they always were interested in mine before I got married.  I chuckle a little at that thought.

"Yes," he replies, even as he raises his eyebrows at the question.  He knows all the stories about how everyone used to drop subtle and not-so-subtle hints about when I was going to settle down and how it used to drive me crazy.  "But somehow, the necklace seems more important."

"Because it belonged to her," I conclude, tilting my head towards the tombstone.  "She'd be happy that you found someone to settle down with."

"I know," he says sadly.  "I wish she could be here.  I'm thinking about asking Lisa how she'd feel about getting married up here.  I think I'd like to be close to Gram when I get married."

"It's a good place," I reply.  "As I'm sure Gram told you, she and Granddad got married on this farm, in the meadow behind the house.  That would be the perfect spot, unless you're looking at a winter wedding."

Sergei nods his agreement as he stares silently at Gram's stone.  After a moment, he says softly, "You know, there are still days when something will happen and I'll have to stop myself from picking up the phone to tell her all about it.  But it doesn't happen as often as it used to.  I guess I'm getting accustomed to not having her around."

"I find myself doing the same thing," I agree.  "When Elizabeth was born and everyone was crowding into Sarah's hospital room to see her, I noticed Gram wasn't there and was about to go to a phone to call her with the news when I remembered."

"You know, people say that life goes on," Sergei muses, looking over at me, "and that eventually it will be better.  But I hope the day never comes when I won't think about Gram at least once a day and remember what a wonderful and loving person she was."

"I don't think that day will ever come," I say confidently.  "Gram was so important to all of us, but I think the day will come when we don't think as much about how much it hurts that she is gone and we'll instead remember how much she love she brought into all our lives." 

I nod towards the tombstone again.  "You know that Bible verse?  There's another line that I think applies.  'A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.'  Our time to mourn is passing and it's time for us to live life fully and completely the way Gram would have wanted us to.  It's time for us to laugh again."