Note: Sequel to Ragù. Huge, huge thanks to all our readers for your incredible support! We're so thrilled you're enjoying the REAL World as much as we are! It's beyond amazing to be writing and posting again!

Promise (A McRoll in the REAL World Story)

"Dad!" Catherine said, smiling broadly when she spotted the tall frame of Captain Joseph Rollins in the crowded airport terminal. Increasing her pace, she walked ahead of Steve to greet her father. When she reached him, she let her bag slip from her shoulder and hugged him tightly.

When they pulled apart, Joseph smiled fondly at his daughter before turning to the man behind her. "Steve, good to see you." He held out a hand, which Steve shook with a smile.

"You, too, Joseph."

"Come on," the older man said, picking up Catherine's bag. "The car's this way."

"We could have taken a cab, Dad. You didn't have to drive in," Catherine said as they weaved their way through the crowd toward the exit.

"Your mother and your grandmother have a special dinner in the works. I was told in no uncertain terms to 'Stay out of the way.' "

Catherine sighed and said, "Oh, they didn't have to go to any trouble."

"Try telling them that," her father said.

"Well, what are we talking about here?" she asked. "It's just the five of us."

Joseph held up a hand and shrugged. "I've been sworn to secrecy."

"I could go for some ragù," Steve said, looking at Catherine. "I've never actually had your grandmother's. I could finally make an accurate comparison between yours and hers," he added with a wink.

"It's not ragù," Joseph said. "At least not tonight."

As she entered the kitchen ahead of Steve and her father, Catherine inhaled deeply at the familiar aroma. "Is that . . ." She smiled broadly at her mother and grandmother who had turned toward them. "Are we doing Thanksgiving?" she asked, excitement in her voice.

"We certainly are," Grandma Ang confirmed as she stepped forward to first hug Catherine, then Steve.

"This is the first chance we've had," Elizabeth said, embracing her daughter before turning to greet Steve with the same warm hug.

Catherine looked at Steve as he straightened. "With my dad's career, and then mine, we didn't always know when we'd be together. So we've had Thanksgiving in January, and April, and even August once."

"Yeah," Steve said, nodding. "Yeah, I remember you telling me about that tradition." He grinned and continued with a shrug. "Okay. I mean, we didn't have turkey for Thanksgiving this year anyway, so this is great."

Ang looked aghast. "No turkey?"

Catherine winced. "There was a bit of a . . . mishap."

"Unfortunate choice in prep-cook," Steve said. "Less said the better."

"But it was still a great evening," Catherine said, smiling at him.

He nodded and returned her smile. "It was."

"You can tell us all about it over dinner," Elizabeth said.

Ang glanced at the timer on the oven and said, "Which is still about an hour away."

"And after dinner, we have a slideshow of photos from our trip," Elizabeth announced, smiling at Catherine and Steve.

Glancing between her parents, Catherine raised her eyebrows in surprise and apprehension. "A slideshow? Really? We're . . . we're gonna do that?" she asked, cocking her head to the side.

Joseph gave his daughter a reproachful look. "It's not like we're bringing out a slide projector and a screen, Catherine. They're on your mother's phone."

"And apparently there is a way I can display them on the television," Elizabeth added.

Catherine nodded. "There is. Yes." She bit her lip, searching for an acceptable excuse. "But, you know, you sent me a lot of photos by text while you were on the road. So, I mean, we don't have to . . ." her voice faded and she shrugged.

"But Steve hasn't seen them," Elizabeth protested.

"Oh, yes, he has, I showed him," Catherine said quickly and gave Steve a meaningful look. "Right?"

Steve nodded. "Yes. She did. Lot of great . . ." he looked at Catherine searchingly, "landscape shots?" he finished uncertainly. He winced, shrugging helplessly when she gave him a disapproving look.

"Well, there are plenty more than what I sent," Elizabeth said.

"So, slideshow after dinner?" Joseph asked, though it clearly wasn't a question.

Catherine sighed in resignation, then smiled. "Slideshow after dinner."

"In the meantime, I'm going to get a little work done in the yard," Joseph said.

"I'll join you," Steve said.

Joseph nodded, and Catherine smiled at Steve. He touched her arm briefly and returned her smile before following Joseph out of the kitchen.

Once they were out of earshot, Elizabeth turned to her daughter, giving her a significant look.

Catherine narrowed her eyebrows and said, "What?"

"Anything you want to tell us?"

"About . . .?"

"What Steve is talking to your father about?"

Catherine caught her mother's implication and balked. "Oh! No. No, no. He's not–" She sighed, shaking her head. "That's not what's he's doing. He's . . . he probably just thought he'd be in the way in here." She rolled her eyes. "And he would be. He'd try to take over and make us all prep-cooks." She looked at her grandmother who had returned to cutting vegetables at the counter. "And Grandma Ang is certainly no prep-cook."

"Ha," Ang scoffed. "I'd like to see him try."

"You can't blame me for wondering if there was another reason you both came out here all of the sudden," Elizabeth said.

Catherine sighed. "Mom, we've had this discussion. More than once. Steve and I are happy with the way things are. It works for us."

Elizabeth started to retort but was interrupted by Ang, who said simply, "Elizabeth."

Elizabeth sighed and said, "Catherine, I'm not trying to tell you how to live your life. Really, I'm not. If you're happy, that's what's most important. To me and your father."

"And to me," Ang added with a gentle smile.

Catherine smiled, looking between the two. "I am."

Elizabeth squeezed her daughter's arm fondly. "You've always known your own mind, Catherine. Even when you were very young. I've always been very proud of you for that."

Catherine smiled at the compliment. She raised her eyebrows and said, "So . . . can that be the last time you mention . . ."

"I make no promises."

Catherine couldn't help but chuckle. Sighing, she rubbed her hands together and looked around the kitchen. "Okay, what do you need me to do?"

A half hour later, Catherine knocked gently on the door of her grandmother's room.

"Come in," Ang called.

Catherine opened the door and peered inside the room to see her grandmother lying on her bed. She smiled softly, stepping into the room and closing the door. "Hey, Gram. How you doing?"

"Oh, I'm fine," Ang replied, though her voice was tired. "Just wanted to stretch out a little before we eat."

Crawling onto the bed and resting her head on her grandmother's pillow, Catherine sighed, a little admonishment creeping into her voice. "You didn't have to cook a big meal for us, you know."

"Well, your mother helped a little."

Catherine chuckled.

"Besides, how often do we see you and Steve? We have to make the most of every time we're together."

Catherine nodded, her hand finding her grandmother's between them and squeezing it gently.

Ang sighed, squeezing back, and said, "Oh, my girl. So many changes for you in the last year."

Catherine nodded in acknowledgment.

"But you really are happy. I can tell."

Catherine smiled and said, "I really am."

After a moment, Ang continued, "Your mother was only half-right, you know."

"What do you mean?"

"You've always known your own mind, that's true. But you've also always known your own heart." She squeezed Catherine's hand again. "And you're not the only one," she added significantly.

Catherine closed her eyes, a small smile on her face.

"Now if only we could see you a little more often . . ." Ang said, shaking their joined hands, her own tone now admonishing.

Catherine opened her eyes, her smile growing. "I'm working on that."



Alone in the kitchen after dinner, Steve drained the sink as Catherine put the last of the now dry dishes away.

"We're ready when you are," Elizabeth's voice drifted in from the living room.

"There in a minute," Catherine called back.

Steve dried his hands on a towel, speaking softly to Catherine. "We're really doing this, huh?"

"She's figured out how to mirror her phone screen with the TV. This is happening," she replied quietly.

"I just never pegged your parents for the type."

"You and me both," she said, incredulous. "They've never done anything like this." She shrugged. "Then again, I never pegged them for the type to take a two week road trip on Route 66, either."

"Well, clearly they had a good time."

Catherine nodded, acknowledging the point.

Steve shrugged and said, "I mean, how many pictures can there be, really?"

Later that night, Steve followed Catherine into the guest room and closed the door, leaning against it.

"Wow," he said and glanced over at her, still a little shell-shocked.

"I know."

"I lost count at 162."

Catherine laughed, rubbing her head. "Ohhh, I don't know why she didn't at least delete the blurry photos first."

"I like your parents, Catherine, you know I do, but promise me that'll never be us."

She laughed again and said, "Okay. I think I can safely make that promise." Pausing, she winced. "Although, maybe not. I mean, I bet if you'd asked my parents thirty years ago if they'd ever show lengthy vacation photo slideshows, they'd have said, 'Never.' "

He stepped in front of her, placing his hands on her waist and pulling her close. "We'll just have to stay vigilant, then."

"Solid plan, Commander," she said as she draped her arms over his shoulders.

"I'll promise if you'll promise."

"Deal," she agreed.

He nodded, a smile growing on his face.

She smiled softly, thinking of her conversations with her mother and grandmother. "Works for us," she said quietly, almost to herself.

"Huh?" he asked, raising his eyebrows.

Her smile widened and she shook her head. "I'll tell you later." She pulled his head down toward her and kissed him, secure in the strength of their commitment.

Hope you enjoyed! Up next, Aunt Deb!

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