A/N: The Rabb family in this story is the same as in my 'Brownies & Surprises' series – this one takes place about a year before 'Brownies & Surprises'. Originally written for the HBX August 2012 Challenge.
Disclaimer: I don't own the show and the characters.
Any minute now, she thought to herself, my head is going to explode. I feel like there's a bomb that's been ticking up there all day, and any minute now, the bomb will go off and my head will blow up into a million tiny, little pieces. And when he gets splattered with the bloody, gory mess, then he'll finally realize what an ass he's been. He'll be sorry he was so frustratingly bull-headed and so… so incredibly annoying. Then she turned her head to look at her children in the back seat of the SUV, and sighed. Much as her husband would deserve to watch her head explode (and through the trauma of that incident, finally come to terms with the repercussions of his frustrating behavior – and repent), there was no way she let her little angels experience something so horrific. Jack and Katie were being so good, and none of this was their fault. Her fury slipped a notch or two down the Richter scale.
Any minute now, he thought to himself, I'll lose control and tell her what I really think of the uppity, self-righteous comments she's been making all day. Why the heck is she so mad? If anyone has good reason to be pissed, it's me. She's been driving me up the wall all day, and I've put up with it. Wow, I have the patience of a saint – who knew? But every man has his limits, and right now, I really want to just let it rip. Then he turned his head and looked back at Jack and Katie, playing quietly in the back seat. He sighed. No matter how much he thought his wife deserved a tongue-lashing, it would be wrong to do it in front of the kids. Besides, Katie had only just started to trust him completely. Watching him fling angry, bitter words at her mother would set them back by long, precious months – time they had spent slowly, painstakingly, winning her trust.
He recalled the counselor's words: 'Katie associates adults – especially male adults – with violence. Be careful not to reinforce that association, especially while she's still getting to know and trust you. Of course, arguments are normal in every marriage... but as much as you can, try to avoid conflicts with Mac in front of her… Katie witnessed all kinds of domestic violence and abuse, and you have to be careful not to trigger those memories.' The remembered words splashed over him like a bucket of cold water, and he looked over at his wife, who was staring steadily out the window.
'Mac.' No response, only the slight stiffening of her shoulders.
'Mac,' he repeated, his voice stronger this time.
'What is it?' she said, still looking out the window.
He sighed. 'Would you look at me please?'
Slowly, she turned away from the window, face stony, her lips set in a straight line. He wondered how she did it – how she could make such soft, feminine, alluring features look so… rigid when she was really ticked off.
'What is it, Harm?' she repeated, impatiently.
'I know you're mad at me,' he said in a low voice, 'but can we just try and get along, for the kids?'
She sighed, and some of the stiffness left her shoulders. She glanced over her shoulder at her children again, and her face softened. She looked back at her husband, and a faint smile came to her lips.
'You're right,' she said, 'they've been looking forward to this trip for weeks. We can't let our bickering ruin it for them.' Then some of the hardness returned to her face. 'You should have listened to me though – if we'd stopped and asked for directions like I suggested hours ago, we'd be there by now.'
He sighed, and felt his anger stirring again. 'It was your fault we got lost in the first place, Mac. You made me take that right turn that landed us slap-bang in the middle of nowhere.'
'My fault?' and her voice rose slightly, 'my fault? Who was it that "forgot" to order the GPS? Even after a zillion reminders?'
'Well, if you'd maybe just ordered it yourself instead of constantly reminding me to?'
She gasped angrily. 'Wow. You have some nerve! I would have ordered it myself if you hadn't assured me over and over again that you were handling it. You want to sort out all the car stuff yourself, but then you forget to buy one simple item. How frustrating is that?'
'Keep your voice down,' he hissed out from between his tightly-clenched teeth, 'you'll upset the kids.'
She gasped again. 'Oh, so now I'm the bad guy?' she asked, lowering her voice to an angry whisper, 'now I'm the one who's upsetting the kids? I'm not the one who's kept them cooped up in a car for so much longer than they needed to be.'
She folded her arms across her ample chest in frustration, and despite his anger, the action drew his attention, his eyes slipping from her face to her cleavage, tastefully arrayed under a red tank top and an open blue shirt. She caught the movement of his eyes and smiled in spite of herself, shaking her head and muttering a single, succinct word: 'Men.'
He smiled too, and felt more of his annoyance dissipate. 'Can you blame me? When your face looks like it was carved out of Mt. Rushmore right now, and you're looking at me like I'm a piece of slime from the bottom of a pond, I'm gonna look somewhere a little more… appealing.'
She laughed, now thoroughly amused. 'Whatever. If I were you, I'd take the hard face and be grateful – at least it hasn't exploded all over you.'
'Exploded all over –? What the – '
She interrupted him when she spotted a sign. 'Look Harm, we're almost there – that was the 20 mile sign.' She turned to the kids excitedly. 'We're almost there guys – are you excited?'
Jack and Katie bounced up and down as much as their seatbelts would allow, chanting 'We're going camping! We're going camping!'
He looked at her wryly. 'Gee thanks, now we're back to the endless chanting. This would actually be a very effective torture technique – kids constantly chanting the same thing over and over. Let's hope the enemies of our freedom never discover it.'
She laughed. 'You know you love it.'
He laughed in return. 'Yeah… I hate to admit it, but I do.' He waited a beat. 'So… truce? I'm sorry I forgot to order the GPS, and you're right, I should've asked for directions when you told me to.'
She smiled at him, loving him, feeling the remnants of the anger melt away. 'That's okay. I'm sorry too, I know I've been a grouch. Let's kiss and make up, gorgeous.' She leaned over and planted a hand on his thigh and a big kiss on his cheek.
'Easy Mac, I know we're almost there but I still need to focus on the road,' he joked.
She leaned back in her seat and looked at him for a long moment as he drove. 'I love you, you know. Even when you drive me up the wall with your obstinate, pig-headed… bone-headedness.'
He looked over at her, fond laughter lighting up his eyes. 'I know… and I love you too. Even when you drive me crazy with your snippy, smartass… smartassness.'
She burst into laughter and rubbed his thigh affectionately. 'Snippy, smartass smartassness, huh? That's a new one. But I'll take it – as long as you'll accept the "bonehead" tag.'
'Like I have a choice,' he replied, laughing. 'By the way, I wouldn't trade my snippy smartass for the world.'
Mac's eyes were steely but sparkling as she looked over at him and said, 'Aww... well, just don't forget thatthe next time we go camping. Because next time, I'm definitely driving.'
One month later….
Harm and Mac's meeting with Ms. Layton, Katie's kindergarten teacher, was going even better than they'd expected.
'Katie is doing really well. She's really coming out of her shell. Her spoken English is improving by leaps and bounds. And the artwork she produces is remarkable. I think you just might have a very talented little artist on your hands.'
Harm and Mac practically glowed with pride.
'How about her interactions with the other kids?' Mac asked anxiously, knowing it was the aspect of kindergarten life that Katie found most challenging. 'Does she still… isolate herself from the others?'
Ms. Layton hesitated. 'Her progress in that area is a little… slower… but she loves it when they go out to play. Out on the playground, she really comes alive.'
Harm smiled wistfully. 'Yeah, she loves the outdoors. We took her and her brother camping a few weeks ago and she was just… walking on air all weekend. She just loves being outside.'
Ms. Layton nodded her head. 'She plays with the other kids much more when we're out on the playground… she's slowly making friends and growing comfortable with the others. I think it's only a matter of time… she'll soon become a real part of the class.' The teacher giggled to herself suddenly. 'I witnessed the cutest thing the other day.'
Harm and Mac leaned forward, eager to hear more.
'Katie had a bit of a spat with a little boy called Timmy… over some crayons or felt-tips or something… and when I went over to settle things, she took him by the hand, kissed him on the cheek and said, "let's kiss and make up". Hmm… now I wonder where she learned that?'
Mac's cheeks reddened slightly, and Harm didn't know quite where to look. 'Wow,' Mac managed to stammer out, 'I guess they really do observe everything.'
Ms. Layton smiled. 'I'm sorry, I didn't mean to embarrass you – it's actually really sweet. Kids pick up a lot of stuff from their parents, and some of it isn't quite as cute.'
Mac couldn't resist asking, 'So what was little Timmy's reaction to the kiss?'
The pretty, petite teacher laughed. 'Oh, he ran away from her, scrubbing at his cheek and crying for his Mommy. Poor Katie was so confused. You could tell it wasn't exactly the response she was expecting.'
'Oh my goodness,' Mac said, 'poor little Timmy. I'm so sorry.'
Harm rolled his eyes. 'Poor little Timmy? Give him a couple of years, and he'll be the one trying to kiss our innocent little girl.'
'Calm down, Daddy… we don't have to think about that just yet.' Mac interjected. 'Thank you so much for your time, Ms. Layton. We'll have a little talk with Katie about when kisses are not exactly… appropriate. And we'll look forward to our next meeting.'
After shaking hands with the Rabbs, watching them leave her classroom, and thinking to herself (for the umpteenth time) what a strikingly good-looking couple they made, Ms. Layton smiled to herself. She had left out a tiny bit of the story… what Katie actually said to Timmy was 'let's kiss and make up, gorgeous.'