A/N: The Rabb family in this story is the same as in the 'Brownies & Surprises' stories.
Disclaimer: I don't own them, I just really enjoy hanging out with them.
I thought my days of denial were over.
I've worked so hard towards being more honest and communicative with my feelings... I try to be truthful to myself, to Harm and to my children. But as I lay here in bed, the night before our trip, the truth, the one I've tried so hard and for so long not to acknowledge, crashes over my prone body with startling reality and crushing force… like the heavy, bitter saltwater of the ocean.
I thought I'd dodged a bullet. I really did.
Oh, I've always said I want my kids to be whatever they want to be, whatever brings them the most satisfaction. I've always said I'd be happy and proud to see them follow in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents before them. And having now served my country with joy, purpose and dedication for several decades, and being married to a man who does the same, it would be completely hypocritical and wrong of me to even think of denying any of my children the same opportunities, the same highs and lows, the same honor and privilege that Harm and I have known so richly and intimately.
But as I lay here tonight, I can't deny that when I first noticed Jack's affinity and compassion for the hurt and wounded; when he came to me at the age of eight and told me that he wanted to be a doctor one day, I heaved a small, quiet sigh of relief. Jack is sixteen now, and very mature for a boy his age… sure, he does all the typical teenage things like staying out past his curfew, having a crush on a different girl every month, and "borrowing" his dad's car when Harm and I manage to get away for a day or two… but he also loves his science classes and looking after his younger siblings. He's a straight-A student, a really good kid, a true role model. He's reading Ben Carson's books and dreaming of becoming a renowned pediatric surgeon.
Katie (she now prefers to be called 'Kate' or 'Katerina' by everyone except close family and friends) is still thinking about what she wants to do when she grows up, but her artistic flair is undeniable. She just turned fourteen, and she's moody, intense and sometimes even more dramatic than your average teenage girl. She's entered (and won) art competitions, and she has a magnificent talent for acting and music. When she's performing on stage, her natural introversion melts away, and it's impossible to take your eyes off her. She has a strong activist streak too – and is always looking for noble causes to support with her time and talent. But again, lying here tonight, I can't deny what I felt when I watched her win her first prize for her art... that tiny, guilty, twinge of relief.
Jack and Katie both take great pride in their family's military traditions. Jack talks about working at a military hospital one day, and Katie has done volunteer work for organizations that support our armed forces. And they both love being up in the air. Each of them took their first flights in their father's plane years ago. And when they came down, they were filled with excitement and exhilaration, eyes sparkling as they described how wonderful it had felt to watch their dad fly. But neither of them said anything about wanting to learn to fly themselves... and, you guessed it, I felt that little, unacknowledged frisson of sheer relief.
Now Matthew, our youngest, is a different story…. His hair is darker, almost jet-black, and he has hazel eyes, but everything else is his father's... even the cowlick in front of his head. He walks like his father, smiles like his father, has the same mannerisms, the same twinkle in his eye. He has the same love of adventure, the same daredevil streak. I constantly marvel at how strong those Rabb genes are. So is it any wonder, really, that all he's ever wanted to be is a Naval aviator?
Yeah yeah, I'm a hypocrite... but hey, I've got my comeuppance now. Matt's favorite thing in the whole, wide world is flying… his favorite toys are planes… his favorite books are about planes. Flying is his life, and he's all of eight years old. Fiercely intelligent, perceptive and curious, he was reading books about aviation history by the age of five. By six, he had a collection of model military aircraft (thanks to his father and all our aviator friends) and was begging us all to call him 'Hammer' instead of Matthew (thankfully, that phase didn't last too long); at seven, he was practically a walking compendium of aviation knowledge – and now, at eight, his dad has taken him up in his plane more times than I care to remember.
Every year, we try to take a short family vacation – it's tough with our crazy schedules, but we try to make it work… and we try to go somewhere different every time. Harm's parents often try to convince us to pick a destination in California, so that we can make a stop to see them – and they usually succeed in that endeavor. This year though, we thought we'd take the kids' wishes into consideration and ask them where they'd like to go. We retained our parental right to make the final ruling on our vacation destination (hey, we're not stupid), but still, soliciting their opinions was… perhaps not one of our greatest ideas… but then again… well, I'll let you judge for yourself.
'Okay, let's start with Jack, where would you like to go?' Harm asked, at the family meeting we called to discuss the subject.
Florida? Huh? Ever since one of his best friends, Stephen Dominguez, moved to San Diego with his family (including Stephen's cousin Cara, the subject of Jack's latest, not-so-secret crush) a couple of months ago, Jack's been talking non-stop about what a great idea it would be to go to San Diego for our next family vacation. Of course, being a really smart kid, he's been professing an unusually strong desire to see his grandparents, but Harm and I eventually figured out what his true intentions were – revolving around beaches, escapades with Stephen, and seeing Cara (preferably in a bikini, on the aforementioned beaches). But I digress… the bottom line is, Harm and I were understandably very surprised when, after pushing the idea of San Diego for weeks, Jack suddenly suggested Florida.
'Oh-kay… how about you, Katie?'
'Same – Florida.'
What was going on here? Harm and I looked at each other in surprise. We were expecting Katie to vote for New York City – she's been talking to us about how desperately she wants to see a musical on Broadway for the longest time.
A miracle – all three of our kids had agreed on the same destination.
Without intending to, Harm and I asked the next question in unison: 'Who are you, and what have you done with our kids?'
'Jinx,' the youngest Rabb yelled, and they all laughed.
When the laughter died down and the trio realized that Harm and I were still waiting expectantly to hear the reasons for their sudden, unanimous yearning for the Florida sunshine, they exchanged furtive looks with one another… clearly indicating to us that they were up to something.
Jack spoke up first. Harm and I have quickly learned that when our children want to sell us an idea, they get Jack to act as their spokesperson. They used to enlist Mattie's services, but now that she's married with children of her own, the roles of presenter and lobbyist fall to Jack. Reliable, steady and responsible, Jack lends even the most hare-brained schemes a level of credibility. It's a gift. Medicine is his dream, but with his skilful advocacy and persuasion, he could probably follow in our footsteps and become a lawyer if he wanted to.
'Well,' Jack began, 'we all talked about it, and we decided we really wanted to go somewhere warm, and fun… with beaches, lots of sunshine and the ocean. Florida is perfect for that. I know Katie and I have been to Florida before, when you took us to Disney World, but that was almost ten years ago… I barely remember it, Katie doesn't remember it all… and Matt's never been.'
I looked at Harm and saw a light flash in his green eyes – like he'd just understood something. Great, I thought, now he could enlighten me as to what was going on. I grabbed Harm's arm and led him into the kitchen, saying over my shoulder, 'Excuse me guys, your father and I need a sidebar.'
I shut the door and crossed my arms in consternation. 'Okay, what is going on here? Since when do all three of them agree on anything? Jack and Katie are a little old to be longing to visit Disney World again. And we both know Matthew doesn't care about Disney… unless they have some new aviation exhibit or something.'
'That's exactly the point,' Harm said quietly. 'This is all about Matthew. It's not about Jack, or Katie, or Disney, or Orlando. They want to go to Pensacola. Matt's dropped hints about the Naval Aviation Museum to me more times than I can count in the last few months.'
An odd feeling came over me. Matthew didn't just want to visit the museum; he wanted to go so badly that he'd managed to convince his older brother and sister to support him, to the extent that they were willing to sacrifice their own plans and preferences. In spite of myself, I was impressed by his initiative. 'How do you think he managed to win over Jack and Katie?' I asked Harm.
'Lord knows. Maybe they figured that Florida would be a fun place to go anyway. Or maybe they just realized how badly he wants this.'
How badly he wants this. And at that moment, a montage of images and scenes flickered through my mind within just a few seconds. I thought of Annie Pendry and how distraught she was when her young son Josh was taken hostage by terrorists on an aircraft carrier… I told her back then, before I had an inkling of how incredibly strong the mother-child bond is, that if something similar happened to me, to my child, that I would hold it in, keep it together. Would I? Could I? I knew, even as I asked the question, that the answer was yes, I would try. I would try to be strong. But at what cost?
I thought of Harm's mother, Trish, the woman I call 'Mom', the woman I love so very much… I pictured her reaction when, having already lost a beloved young husband to war, she later received the news of her only son's ramp strike and serious injuries. How she must have suffered. And she 's had to deal with the news of the other close shaves Harm's had with death over the years… and there are many she still doesn't even know about, and never will.
I thought of Sarah Rabb, Harm's grandmother, that wonderful lady we lost a few years ago – and what she must have gone through when Harm's father's plane went down and he was presumed dead. And then I thought of all the times I came so close to losing Harm – especially the last time. When I thought in those excruciating moments that he was lost to me forever; that he'd suffered a lonely and painful death – it was as though my life ground to a halt. Every single time he's taken a plane up since then, I've felt that little jolt to my heart, that uneasy feeling that doesn't quite go away until I see his feet on solid ground again. It's irrational– he hasn't seen combat in years, and I know he's an excellent pilot, but that haunting feeling never really leaves me.
And then I thought of all the dear friends and colleagues we've lost in service to their country… all because they wanted so badly to serve, to protect, to stand up for what's right, even at the cost of their own lives. It's a price every service man and woman knows they may one day have to pay. I accepted it when I joined the Marine Corps, and Harm accepted it when he joined the Navy, but… our baby, our Matthew.
Harm's arms came around me, and I knew he could tell what I was thinking… and that he understood… or at least he was trying to. 'I know,' he said, softly, and there was a wistful sort of laughter in his voice – and I knew it was because he was recognizing himself in our little boy, 'I know. But he's only eight, Mac. He's still a little kid… so much is bound to change… he could decide he wants to be a lawyer instead.' He laughed again, softly. 'Stranger things have happened.'
I looked up at him and laughed too, but a little bitterly, knowing there were probably tears in my eyes. 'I know, Harm. But we both know how quickly the years fly by. Remember our little Katie and Jack? They're teenagers now. Can you believe it?'
'I know… it's crazy.'
'And they haven't changed that much, have they? Sure, they've grown up, and dropped some of their more trivial hobbies, but they still love the same things they really loved when they were little.'
I felt him sigh heavily against me. 'So… what do you want to do, Mac?'
I smiled. 'Well… I guess we're going to Pensacola.'
He looked concerned. 'Are you sure? We can go somewhere else if you want…. He's still so young, Mac.'
'Yeah… but I don't want to stifle his passion. I want to see him grow and blossom and become who he wants to be, and let's face it, it's been happening for years now. It's a beautiful thing when a child has such a clear picture of what he wants from such a young age. I want to celebrate who he is, and flying is such a big part of that. But… first we have to let them all know that we're on to their little plan… and that this is our decision, not theirs… and we have to make sure that Katie and Jack really are okay with this, that they really want to go there – I'd hate for them to get the idea that what Matthew wants is somehow more important than what they want. I know they dote on him, but we have to be sure.' I sighed, feeling strangely shaken.
Harm kissed the top of my head and squeezed me tighter. 'I love you,' he whispered.
I sighed against his shirt. 'Love you too'.
Together we walked back to the living room to talk to our children. The conversation ended with three excited children, but one of them, a certain Matthew Harmon Rabb, was not just excited – he was rapturous, overjoyed, ecstatic, as he hugged me and his father over and over. I don't think he slept a wink that night.
Now it's the night before our vacation starts – tickets have been booked, plans made, bags packed – and I'm coming to terms with the truth… that my youngest son, the "baby" of our family, probably will be a Naval aviator, maybe even a great one like the ones before him in his family tree. In this big, bad world of ours, he will probably risk his life in order to follow his chosen path. It breaks my heart a little bit, but it is also… humbling, almost. I'm full of pride and gratitude – for him, for all my children, because they are each so beautiful, talented and extraordinary in their own different ways. This is such a strange feeling, my heart crumbling a little at the edges, even as my spirit soars.
Harm walks in and sits beside me, and smiles. He's excited about the trip. He's close to all his children and loves each of them with every fiber of his being, but he and Matt share a special bond when it comes to all things aviation. We'll arrive at the Naval Aviation Museum on August 19, National Aviation Day – talk about fate! I can only hope and pray that when our Matthew eventually does take to the skies as a young aviator, fate will be on his side, on our side…. Until then, we'll do our best to make every moment count. That's all we can do.
Now Harm is lying beside me, lacing his fingers with mine. 'Are you okay, Mac?' he asks.
'Yes,' I say, and I realize with some surprise that I truly believe it. 'I'm great, Harm. Looking forward to our vacation.'