Even before the bright summer dawn began to sparkle across the waves that August morning a few weeks later, Daniel Gregg had opened the front door of Gull Cottage and had begun a solitary march along the seawall. Peering through the kitchen window, Cordelia stood carefully polishing the wine glasses from Jonathan's farewell dinner the previous evening. "Heavens," she muttered, carefully placing the final piece of crystal in the cupboard, "the man's been here over 200 years now, and he still doesn't understand the true nature of life. Guess I need to give him a bit more perspective," and with a whipping sound, she slapped the dishtowel over her shoulder and slid out the side door to meet him by the road.

"Morning Admiral!" she called out as she moved into ear shot. Peering into the shadows, Daniel allowed himself a wide grin as she approached, "Madam Cordelia, early for you to be up and about, is it not? And even now I can't accept rank I didn't earn, so Captain will do, if you insist on titles." Nodding she raised herself up on to the rock wall and picking up her feet, she swiveled about to face him there on the road. "Actually Captain, Auntie has always insisted that if you hadn't kicked the blasted gas heater you WOULD have been an Admiral, would have made Geoff pale in comparison, or so she says. But no matter the title, nothing is going to make this day easier; surely you understand that, don't you?"

"I thought I did, but now that the day has arrived, I honestly can't stop myself from hoping, from wishing it all might be a bit different. Surely, there would be no harm to keep things as they are for another year or so, would it? We were all so excited when Candi left for Boston. Her new beginnings felt like a new world for all of us, but with Jonathan, it is different this time. Perhaps the LAST new beginning is harder to bear?" Without hesitation, Cordelia flicked her dishtowel at him with a sharp snap. Surprised, Daniel jumped at the unexpected noise. "Avast there wench!" he grumbled and his frown grew deeper as her laughter rolled louder than the waves below. "And just when you think you have everything figured out, surprises pop out of thin air. If I can assure you of anything Captain Gregg, there are many new beginnings to be experienced. But come now, no moping about, wouldn't do to have the young midshipman see you looking so morose the day he's set to leave for Annapolis, would it?"

Tossing the towel back to her, he merely nodded and opened the gate for them to return to the house. "So you mind reader – any new beginnings you care to share about you and Breen? Hope you're not leaving us to take up life as a baker's wife?" "Not while you need me so badly," she grinned over at him, "but mind you, Breen has a few gaps in his life as well that I would be well suited to fill, but no, not today, not yet at any rate."

With so few items to pack, Jonathan was ready to leave a few minutes after demolishing a breakfast huge even by his ambitious standards. "Gaar," Cordelia grumbled, "blueberry pancakes, bacon, sausage, melon and a packet of Pop-tarts! You do know Jon; they will feed you at the Naval Academy!" Grinning, he chomped through a last slice of bacon, "Oh, but Cor, no one will make me food like this in the service, let me just enjoy it, will yo . . . ?" The blaring of a car horn from the front of the house stopped him in mid-sentence. "Oh, that's the Congressman, right on time," Carolyn said, turning from the kitchen window. "You know Jonathan, I still wish . . ." "Yes Mother," he smiled kindly, "you wish you could take me to Annapolis yourself. And I promise you, it might be fine for you to get emotional and weep all over your daughter when you deliver her to Boston College, but that kind of outburst, even if I'm glad you'll miss me, isn't how I want to have on record as how I arrive at the Academy. Beside, I think Ed gets extra congressional points for delivering me there himself."

"So be it son," Daniel smiled, wrapping his arm around Carolyn and holding her close. "Not to worry all of you," Geoff offered quietly, appearing next to Jonathan, "not likely I'll let him get into too much trouble." "Great!" Jonathan sneered with a twinkle in his eye, "Some people get to leave home and test their wings, and I get a custodian ghost as a roommate!" "Come Master Muir," Geoff laughed, "I have far too many responsibilities to JUST focus on you, but I shall indeed check in from time to time." "And how would that be different from the whole time I've known you?" Jonathan smirked.

Amidst the laughter, Daniel stepped into the hallway and opened the door to let their old friend Ed Peavey into the house.

"Ready to go sailor?" Ed asked. To his surprise, as if on cue, he heard, "Seaman! Sailor is a landlubber's term!" from each and everyone in the kitchen. Confused, Ed just nodded, and picked up the duffle bag in the entryway, "This it Jonathan?" Reaching out, the young man tried to take it from his hand. "Nope, it's my pleasure to serve someone who is dedicating his life to serving others, just accept it this one time Seaman Muir."

Holding back her tears, Carolyn gave her youngest her best bone crushing hug. "We'll see you on the first parent's weekend Jonathan, but do try to write from time to time, would you?" "Oh Mom," he grumbled after letting her go, "Candi's the writer, how about I just send you news via the Geoff-Express, how would that be?" "Write your Mother son," Daniel grumbled, "there's only so much time we can stand to have Geoff moping about here once you're gone." "ME, moping about, if this were earlier times I'd have you in the brig Gregg!" Pushing between the two ghostly men, Cordelia stepped up to Jonathan with a large bag. "Here young midshipman, a portable lunch that should even keep you satisfied, for an hour or so at least!" Bending over, Jonathan gave her a kiss on her cheek and he laughed at her blush. "Gee Cor, after all that time with Breen; I wouldn't think anything else would embarrass you any more. Thanks for the snack!" he chortled as he headed out the front door.

Cordelia and Geoff followed him quickly out to Ed's waiting car. Carolyn was close behind until was she jerked to a stop when her husband seemed to freeze in the doorway. Still grasping his hand tightly, she looked up with a question in her eyes, and was surprised to see tears glisten in his own. He suddenly turned about and stood facing the stairs. "It's over, isn't it love?" he whispered. "No more children thundering up and down these stairs, no sudden invasions of starving teenagers, no flood of highly tuned adolescent emotions filling the house, it's really over, isn't it?" Resting her head against his back, she merely nodded, working to hold her own tears in check. "I'm afraid so," she murmured, "and now life changes again, but it feels empty doesn't it." "Whole blasted house seems like an echo chamber and he hasn't even left yet," Daniel answered gruffly, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand.

"Come on," she prompted, giving his hand a tug, "we have years to wallow if we want, but only a few more minutes to tell him good-bye." Smiling sadly down at her, he nodded and squared his shoulders. "March on, my lady." Together, hand in hand they walked down to the roadway, said good-bye to their son, and stood there watching until Ed's car disappeared around the curve of the road.

"It's just us now," Carolyn said thoughtfully, giving his hand a squeeze. "Us. It's never been just us before, has it?" he answered quietly, "All those years ago, falling in love with you also meant falling in love with the children, but in case I haven't mentioned it, it was, in fact, you I loved from the start." Turning back toward the house, he wrapped his arm around her, "and my love, they will come home you know. We'll probably be glad for a bit, but ready to send them on their way in a week or so." "I hope so," Carolyn sniffled to herself. "If you two can contain yourself," Cordelia called out from the porch, "don't forget I'm still here, so you're hardly alone. Geez!" "Indeed," Daniel answered, and Carolyn smiled up to her. "I realize you'd prefer to feel sorry for yourselves, but may I remind you, there are three chapters overdue and the Random House rep isn't going to be able to print pages saying 'Sorry the authors were too sad about their son's national achievement to complete the book,' so get upstairs and get to work the two of you! I've put a pot of fresh coffee up on the desk."

"So not just us then?" Carolyn turned, looking up at him. "I suspect not," he grinned. "You, me, your bossy housekeeper, agents, editors and a few hundred thousand readers, hardly think Gull Cottage is big enough. Maybe time to add a new wing?" "Actually YOUR bossy housekeeper," Carolyn corrected, "it's you she knew in a past life, not me. She's your responsibility I think, even if I did invite her Aunt for a visit."

"AND if you don't' get to work, I'll see if she wants to join the crowd," Cordelia threatened from the kitchen. "If I don't hear typewriters clacking away. . ." "Yes M'am," Daniel saluted through the entryway. Taking his wife's hand, together they headed to work, and by the time they reached the landing, the next chapter was well underway.