It started when Unwittingcatalyst asked "What would happen if...?" and then Purdys Pal sharpened her stick. Thanks so much to you both. This wouldn't have come about without you.

The usual disclaimers apply.

"Change is inevitable - except from a vending machine."

~Robert C. Gallagher

Chapter 1

Michael gave a deep sigh before he opened the driver's door. He eyed his mother's house through the windshield. It looked like a nice house to grow up in. Too bad looks could be so deceiving. He knew he should head in, the phone call had sounded fairly urgent, but it wasn't likely that he'd be dealing with plumbing today.

While he usually preferred parking on the street in front of his mother's house, that spot wasn't available this afternoon. An old, rusty Ford Taurus sat on the street at the end of his mother's front walk. Someone else must have needed the option for a quick get-away.

If he were to drive away right now, he knew his mother would just find another way to get to him. Michael pulled himself out of the driver's seat and closed the door behind him.

Wondering what his mother was planning, or more likely who she was abetting, Michael paused along side of the old Ford. Fifteen years ago, it was probably a popular shade of blue. Now it was a mixture of mottled hues of grey. The car must have been parked outdoors under the blazing Florida sun ever since leaving the car lot all those many years ago. Peeking through the side window, Michael could see that while the dash was faded, the interior was clean and organized. Pulling his own car key out from his pocket, he casually dropped it. As he was at ground level picking up the key, Michael noted that there were no signs of liquid dripping from the undercarriage. Pocketing his key, Michael felt his curiosity piqued. It took a lot of time and effort to keep these older cars in good running order. Short of popping the door lock and rifling through the glove box, Michael decided he wouldn't learn anything further from the car. He might as well go in and see what his mother got him into this time.

Quietly letting himself into the house, Michael was greeted by the sight of his mother sitting at her dining table, happily chatting away with a young woman.

"Mom," Michael plastered a smile onto his face for the benefit of his mother's guest. Willingly walking into a trap set up by his mother, and doing it happily, were not two things Michael could manage at the same time.

Madeline quickly rose and met him half way to the table. She had that warning look in her eye as she stepped up to him and gave his arm what would look like a loving squeeze, but was actually more of a strong pinch. With a warm tone she said, "I'm glad you could come so quickly."

He recognized his mother was still manipulating him and her guest and decided he could play along for five minutes. "When you call with dire predictions that the sink is about to overflow and I'll have an even bigger mess to clean up if I don't come right now, what's a loving son to do?"

"Michael," Madeline who still held his bicep in her grip, squeezed yet another warning, but maintained the smile on her red painted lips. She pulled her son further into the house and directed him to sit across from her company. With saccharin in her voice she said, "I want you to meet someone."

With his mother's hand sitting heavy on his shoulder, Michael smiled at the woman on the far side of the table. She smiled tentatively back.

"Hello," Michael said.

She nervously looked from his mother back to him. "Hello," she replied.

"Oh, there goes the buzzer on my dryer. You two just sit and get to know one another," Madeline rushed away to the call of phantom laundry.

Deciding to be done with this whole farce, "You're in trouble?" he asked, but it came out as more of a statement.

Her eyebrows lifted and hid under the light dusting of bangs across her forehead. "No," she seemed surprised by the assumption. "I was looking up a friend of my father's."

Michael was suddenly glad for his experience with hiding emotion. Otherwise he was sure his eyebrows would have done the same dance as this woman's had, just moments ago. He wondered what she and his mother were chatting about so amiably that his mother deemed this job his responsibility.

"You need help finding this friend?"

Again the young woman shook her head, but the beginnings of a smile started as she answered, "No."

Michael scrutinized the woman, trying to figure out what she and his mother were up to. She was in her mid twenties, twenty five at the most, pretty but not in the same league as Fiona. She relied on a light use of make-up and had a trim build and shoulder length, straight hair. Her clothes, while neat and clean, were out of date by a year or two. She was definitely the owner of the car outside.

"Who are you?" Michael asked.

"My name is Victoria," she answered, but then seemed to regard him with the same scrutiny he was giving her when she added, "My father was Angelo DiLeo."

That was a name Michael hadn't heard in years. He couldn't help the smile that formed before he remembered that Angelo had died, back in the day. "I'm sorry for your loss. Your father was a good friend."

Victoria nodded her head and sniffed, but managed to maintain a small smile. "He said the same about you."

He knew he had changed since those early days of his career. Very few of his relationships had survived the test of time. Looking back, he could only think of two. He liked to think that had Angelo lived, so would have their friendship.

"Your father passed away a long time ago," He had to allow for the possibility that Angelo's daughter was expecting someone that Michael had once been, long ago.

"Fifteen years ago," Victoria agreed as she became lost in her own private thoughts. She must have realized that Michael needed some explanations as she dug through her handbag and pulled out a handful of envelopes. "Letters from my father," she explained as she pulled a much worn piece of paper from the top envelope. "This one's my favourite." She got up from her chair and gently placed the letter in front of Michael. She pointed out the paragraph that mentioned his name.

"I've been very curious about my father. Mom's tried, but she's never been able to really answer my questions. I use to wonder if she made half of it up." Michael looked up to see Victoria with a sad, wistful look on her face. He had the feeling that the young woman didn't hold any resentment towards her mother for the deception. He wondered if he should ask for her therapist's phone number.

"How did you find me?" Michael asked.

"I've searched dad's letters over and over. This one," Victoria's finger tapped on Michael's printed name, "offers the most information. And you can see, that's not much."

Victoria sat down in the chair beside Michael. "It wasn't until I took a position as civilian support staff in the main office in Camp Blanding that I was able to gain access to files that had more details about some of the missions my father had been on. That's how I found your name. It took a little digging but I managed to find your Army application. It surprised me, but I was quite happy your mom has never changed addresses or her home phone number."

"Yeah, good ol' mom. Always there when you need her," Michael said through a forced smile.

Victoria looked as if she was going to ask a question, but Michael really didn't want to get into a discussion on families. At least not his.

"I was never a part of your dad's team," Michael changed topics as he passed the letter back to Victoria, who reached out tenderly to accept it. She looked as if she might lose herself in reading it again. "We worked together every now and again, but I didn't belong to any specific agency. Officially. You should talk to Sam. He and your dad were on the same SEAL team. I'm sure he'd come up with some great stories to tell." After a moment's pause, he added, "Just don't believe half of them."

It took a moment before Victoria was able to get her voice to work again. "Sam? You know Sam?" Victoria's eyes large with wonder. "I mean, I know you must have known Sam, I gathered from dad's letters that you guys were all friends..." She became flustered. Her hands fell onto the table, the letter they had been holding forgotten. "But you still know Sam?"

Michael got up and collected the pages that had fallen onto the floor. With great care he put them back into their envelope. He could only guess at the emotions playing inside the young woman. She seemed unprepared to find another of her father's friends so quickly. One who could tell her stories she longed to hear.

He could hear his mother returning from her fictional laundry and didn't want to explain that another man had written more details home about him than he had ever revealed to his own mother. Glancing at Victoria, she looked like she could use a few moments to pull herself together, and Michael was uncomfortable with the process. His mother could handle it though.

"Why don't we meet somewhere where we could talk more about this?" he offered.

Victoria's eyes, while watery with unshed tears, were grateful. "I'd like that."

Michael wrote out the address to Carlito's on the note pad his mother kept near the phone. As he was handing it to her, his mother walked into the dining area.

Madeline took one look at Victoria before she glared at Michael. He really didn't want to explain any of this to her. He started for the front door.

"I see you're handling things with your usual style, Michael," Madeline's tone was icy, to say the least.

"Ma," Michael paused just a few steps short of the door. He even took a step towards his mother before realizing that wouldn't get him where he wanted, which was out and away from this situation. So he did the next best thing. He appealed to her motherly instincts.

"Do you think you could…?" He didn't know exactly what he was asking for so he tried again. He indicated the upset woman, "Ma, she's…" He realized he didn't want to explain that either.

He took the only option he saw as being left open to him. "I gotta go. Bye Ma."

As the front door was closing behind him, he heard his mother's voice. Thankfully, her words weren't clear and he was able to get into the Charger and make good his escape.