Author's notes: I was really struck by Fritz's reaction to Brenda's phone call in the MC Pilot. He got such a love-sick, goofy expression on his face, like the ones we saw when they were first dating. I was so touched and amused by that, and I started to think about how happy he must be that Brenda is finally examining her life and making better choices for herself. So I wrote this story with that silly smile as my guide, to look at his love for Brenda in the face of tremendous change and the possibility of a fresh start...for both of them.

I haven't written in awhile, so some gently-worded feedback would be welcome.

Thirteen Days, Seven Hours, Thirty-Six Minutes

Well, I have made it through the first two weeks, so I know I can make it through the next two. At least I keep telling myself that. Anyways, it's only 13 days now until Brenda gets back from Atlanta. To be precise, her plane lands at LAX in thirteen days, seven hours, and thirty-six minutes. At the end of each day I make through without her, I pat myself on the back for being a big tough guy. Then I crawl into our cold bed, curl up in fetal position, and try to fall asleep with only Joel to keep me company. I pretend that I can feel her tiny warm body pressed up against mine, and hear the breathy moans she makes when she sleeps. Sometimes my imagination is so good it almost has me convinced that I am not alone. Almost.

Brenda and I decided, after she quit her job in Major Crimes, that she would take this opportunity to spend a large chunk of time in Atlanta before she started her new job in the DA's office. She negotiated to postpone her start day for five whole weeks, the first four to be spent in Atlanta, and the last to get settled back in LA and spend some quality time with me before taking over as Chief of the Investigative Bureau. Her new dedication to the living, as she liked to call it, made her decide that she needed to spend a month with her Dad now that that the hoards have gone back to their lives post-Willie Rae's funeral, leaving Clay alone. She was concerned for his health, and was insistent on finding him a new doctor that would continue the therapy Dr. Parr had started in LA. Although two of her brothers live in Atlanta, she felt that some alone time with her Daddy, where they could both grieve together and figure out what was going to fill that void left by Willie Rae, would do him good. I agreed with her: there was no doubt she was daddy's little girl, and she could bring him comfort like her brothers never could.

So that leaves me alone for a month. Originally I was going to visit Atlanta at some point for a weekend, unable to imagine going four weeks without seeing Brenda. But once she got there, her father clung to her so tightly that she knew that if I showed up, even for a few days, Clay would resent me. Plus, Brenda reasoned, she was probably going to be flying back to Atlanta frequently, and since airfare isn't cheap, they should save money where they could. I was a little hurt until I realized from Brenda's frequent phone calls that she missed me as much as I missed her. I wasn't being brushed aside like I had so many times over the years for her cases; she was just trying to do right by her grieving father. My turn would come, I reminded myself. Brenda was going to be in an administrative job where there wouldn't be middle of the night phone calls and no one would be shooting at her. I wouldn't have to worry about her getting killed any more. The removal of that burden, that constant worry that had taken up residence in the pit of my stomach, slowly began to melt away. It is everything I had ever hoped for, and waiting for a month for our new life to start is a small price to pay.

Besides, another reason to stay in LA the entire month she was in Atlanta is to do some serious house-hunting. I understood Brenda's desire to move immediately after her mother died in our spare bedroom. But I am the one who can't stand the idea of living in an apartment where Brenda was almost killed by Phillip Stroh. I feel a surge of murderous rage every time I think about the night Brenda called me in DC and in a shaky voice relayed the events of the evening she was attacked by Stroh. When I got back to LA the next day I ran red lights getting to the hotel where she was staying, so I could hold her and see for myself that she was okay. Brenda wasn't cut, but she had a sizable lump on the back of her head and bruises on her face, arms, neck, and torso. She looked terrible. I kicked myself for going to DC and not being three to protect her, and in my angst I said that out loud to Brenda. And she went a little nuts. She reminded me that she didn't need protecting, thank you very much, she was a police officer and a former CIA agent, and it was her self-defense and handgun skills that bested Stroh. Oh, she added, Rusty was pretty impressive too. I looked appropriately chastened, knowing I had just sounded like a Neanderthal, but I can't shake the feeling that I failed her. Brenda was rubbed raw by her grief, in the process of losing her beloved job, and then to get attacked by the man she had nightmares about…it was beyond unfair. So yea, I want to get out of that duplex and into a house where there aren't tragic memories lurking in the corners. I have had enough of Gary Doesn't Lie, so I am working with a real estate agent named Margaret who is in her late fifties and had been selling houses in LA for 30 years. Her maternal air made me confide in her about the recent tragedies that took place in the duplex, and her look of sympathy and horror were genuine. She has been working overtime finding me places within our price range to show to me, but I haven't come across "the one" yet. Brenda, the biggest control freak I know, told me I was free to make an offer on a house I liked, her only criteria being that it was a reasonable driving distance to work and that there were two full bathrooms. She was tired, she told me, of sharing a bathroom with a man, she wanted her own so she could spread out all of her girly stuff. I had crossed my arms and started to go into full pout mode when she said this, she put her hand on my arm and said, "relax, honey. We can still take showers together." She really does know me, and my pout slowly morphed into an abashed grin.

Once Brenda left for Atlanta, we quickly fell into a pattern of talking on the phone twice a day. In our afternoon conversation we'd check in on how Clay was doing that day, what Brenda was up to, or sometimes, when things were tough, she didn't want to discuss what was going on in Atlanta at all but instead begged me to talk to her about something mundane, like what I had for breakfast, funny stories I had heard that day, anything at all that didn't involve death and grief. Sometimes she called and just cried the whole time, like the day she and Clay went through Willie Rae's things and packed them up. I found an unused office at the LAPD and sat down to listen to her gasping sobs for ten solid minutes. When she could finally speak, she choked out how she was going though her mother's jewelry, all of which Clay insisted she bring back with her to LA, when she discovered something that brought her to her knees. "When I was nine I saved to buy Mama this necklace I saw at Montgomery Ward for Christmas. It's hideous, all fake diamonds, but I thought it was beautiful, and Mama, bless her heart, said she loved it and wore it whenever she got dressed up. Well, I just found that ugly thing in her jewelry box, right next to the real gold and diamond pieces Daddy bought her. She saved that necklace I gave her for all these years." Brenda blew her nose loudly. "I can't believe it."

"It was as precious to her as the real gems your father gave her because it came from you, Brenda, and she knew how hard you worked to save up to buy it. She really loved you."

Brenda started to cry again, and I had nothing to offer but a comforting silence.

A few days later I was late for a meeting at the FBI because when I answered my cell, I didn't even get the chance to say "hello." Brenda was talking a mile a minute, her words tripping over each other as the story fought to get itself out.

"…he was complaining' that I overspent at the grocery store, that I didn't look for bargains and was wasting' his hard-earned money, and then he started in on my cooking' and how bad it was," she sniffled. And then he said,"-her voice caught-what kind of daughter are you anyways? Didn't you pay attention to anything your mama taught you?" I could barely hear the end of what she was saying because her voice was so shaky.

I was furious. Clay was in mourning and I could forgive him his mood swings and verbal barbs, but to say Brenda was a bad daughter was just plain cruel. "Oh honey, I'm so sorry, that was really mean of him. And completely uncalled for." God, I wish I was there to hold her. "And it is isn't true. You loved your mother, and that's a lot more important than home eke."

"Well, you're gonna be so proud of me, Fritz. I stood up to him. Instead of bursting' into tears like I felt like doing', I looked him in the eye and said, 'Mama loved me for who I am. Do you?' And then he realized what a horrible thing he had said and he actually apologized to me. And let me tell you, Daddy doesn't do a lot of apologizing'."

I had to end the conversation there to go into the meeting, but I told her how proud I was for her standing up to her father, and recognizing that his callous words were borne out of his own suffering, and had nothing to do with her. With a declaration of love, I promised we would talk uninterrupted later on. She said her goodbyes quickly, much calmer than she was when she first called, as if she needed me to reassure her that she had been a good daughter to Willie Rae, and that her father was wrong. She must have believed me, because she never spoke of the incident again.

Our evening conversations are much longer, and we make ourselves comfortable in our respective beds and settle in for a long session. Topics range from house hunting, to Joel, to the events of the past year, and everything in between. What is most amazing is that in the past two weeks, we have talked, really talked, more than we have talked in the past two years. I watch the clock as the hours creep into the early A.M. and I have no plan to say goodnight, because Brenda is on the other end telling me things that are so private that I am in awe at her newfound vulnerability and would never interrupt something so sacred. And in turn, I feel like I can tell her some of my own darkness because she is listening to me, really hearing me, for the first time in our relationship. Her Brenda-filter, which conveniently allows her not hear anything that might upset her world view, seems to be broken, and I am grateful.

Right after she left for Atlanta, things started changing in Major Crimes, and I assumed Brenda would want to hear all about them. A few days after she left I started to tell her how Provenza was replaced by Raydor as the head of MC by Taylor, and how hopping mad Provenza was about the whole thing, when she cut in and said, "Fritz, stop. I don't want to hear any more."

I was confused. "I thought you would want to know Raydor is in charge of your old Division now, and all the other stuff that's going on."

"It seems like I would, havin' been there for seven years and all," she answered. "But I have this thing—when I leave a place, I don't look back. Especially now, because Major Crimes was everything to me for so long. And now I'm gone and, well, the thought of someone else in charge is too much. You know how much I hate change, Fritz, and this entire past year has been about change, almost all of it bad. I just need to focus on what I'm doing' now, and then start my new job and concentrate on that. If I think about Major Crimes and how much I loved it before the Tyrell Baylor case…" She paused for moment. "It hurts too much. I'm sure I'll find out all the changes when I start working for the DA's office, but for now, I just can't hear about it."

Her reaction surprised me. I assumed she would want to know all the goings on in the Division, especially since her enemy-turned-ally was now running it. I was prepared to share with her their current cases, Taylor's behavior as Assistant Chief, Raider's abuse from Brenda's former squad, but she didn't want to hear it. Well, I thought to myself, that's one reason why I love her. She's totally unpredictable.

The one current event involving the LAPD that she wanted updates on, though, was what was going on with Rusty. It's funny, all the fights we have had about working too many hours and neglecting our marriage, and it's a 16-year-old street kid who gets Brenda to see what her job was doing to her life. Maybe Rusty was sent to Brenda by Willie Rae, who knows. Brenda was very concerned about him, and oddly, the feeling was mutual. Rusty asked about Brenda every time he saw me, and wanted to know when she was coming home, although I kept giving him the same date. I guess almost getting killed together really makes you bond.

Brenda was relieved when she heard that Sharon Raydor had taken Rusty into emergency foster care. "Rusty keeps mouthing off that Sharon's only doing it because she wants him to testify at Stroh's trial, but Sharon's been a trooper. She's even trying to get him in to the Catholic school her kids went to, and I'm sure the State won't be paying for that."

"I'm glad she's caring for him, but I was kind of thinking…" her voice trailed off.

"Thinking what?" I prompted her.

"Well," she said in her 'stalling' tone, "I was just thinking that maybe you and me could have taken Rusty in. We are going to buy a house anyways, and I know he's a tough kid, but I think we could handle him."

I almost dropped the phone. We were talking during the day when I was at the LAPD, and I could see Captain Raydor from where I was standing off in a corner, and I noticed the usually stunning woman had dark circles under her eyes and she looked like she could drop from exhaustion any second. Whether or not that was from getting guff from Rusty or from Provenza and company, or both, I didn't know. But the last thing I wanted in my house was a street kid with an attitude and a delusion that finding his mother will give him a normal life. Lord knows Charlie was bad enough, although Brenda was quite good at handling her.

"Brenda, are you nuts? You would seriously consider being a foster parent to an angry street kid? We both know that when we find his mother she's going to want nothing to do with him, and he's just going to get angrier. I know you feel for this kid, but having him live with us is just too much."

She snorted. "And you were the one so set on havin' kids. You do realize cute cuddly babies grow and become scary teenagers, don't you?" Before I could reply, she said, "but it's all good. Sharon has raised kids so he knows how to deal with them. She's a much better choice than us." I heard regret in her voice. "Though I can't imagine taking on Rusty and Major Crimes at the same time. She must be goin' nuts."

I knew Brenda didn't want to hear about the politics and bad behavior of her former squad and Taylor, so I addressed Rusty. "He's very disrespectful to her, saying all the time how mean she is and how no one likes her, right to her face. And that's here at the LAPD. I can only imagine how he treats her at home."

Brenda growled low in her throat. "Next time you see him at the LAPD, you give me a call right away. I want to talk to that boy."

A few days later I was dropping off some paperwork to Taylor when I saw Rusty with a laptop in the break room, eating a bag of potato chips and playing on the computer. I quickly called Brenda, and she answered on the forth ring. I could hear Clay in the background yelling something about Brenda always on her cellphone, but his voice faded and I guessed she walked away to find a quiet, father-free place to talk.

"Your father sounds like he's in one of his moods."

"Actually, he's not too bad today. What's up?"

"You asked me to call you next time I saw Rusty. He's about 20 feet away. Still want to talk to him?"

"Absolutely," she answered, and I heard the interrogator creep into her voice. I think Rusty was about to get his a$$ handed to him.

I went into the break room and Rusty looked up, not smiling. "I have Brenda on the line, and she wants to talk to you," I said. The kid's face lit up more than I would have thought possible and he quickly grabbed the cell out of my hand.

Granted, I only heard one side of the conversation, but I'm familiar with Brenda and her tactics well enough to get the gestalt. They chatted pleasantly for a few minutes, and Rusty even asked Brenda how her dad was doing. But slowly his smile slipped away and his expression grew cloudy. "But Brenda, she's such a beeoch! Sorry, I can't think of a better word to describe her…Sharon's even making me study to go to some fancy school, which is so stupid, cuz if they ever get off their lazy asses and find my mother I'm outta there…oh, I'm sorry, I know they used to work for you, but they work for her now…I'm not mean, I swear…okay okay, I'll try to be nicer…yea, and more respectful…but when you get back can I come live with you instead? You are way cooler and I like Fritz…hey, just cuz she is a mom doesn't mean she was a good one…yes, yes, I know, the *bleep* tried to kill me twice, you know I'll testify, I just don't want herto know that…alright, I promise, I'll study and stay out of trouble…for you…when are you getting back anyways?...you promise I'm gonna see you, or you just saying that? I love pizza, yea, let's go out for pizza. And I get away from Sharon for an evening…oh sorry, that was between you and me…I'll be a boy scout…can I talk to you again? OK, here he is." Rusty handed my phone back to me looking like a puppy who had been hit over the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. I bowed out of the break room and when well out of hearing distance, asked, "what did you say to him?"

"I told him to start treatin' Sharon better and not be a jerk to her. That he was lucky to have someone who cared enough to make sure he was safe and to find his mother for him, and I didn't want to hear any report of him being mean to her any more. Oh, and that he can't come and live with us. So don't worry, I squashed that. But I did promise we would take him out for pizza when I got home."

"Pizza," I said, "I can handle."

When I told Brenda what had happened when Rusty's mom was finally found, she felt terrible for him. "That poor kid. Obviously she's not Mother of the Year and his expectations that she would come back to LA and be a great parent to him was never gonna happen, but to be that close to seeing her again, only to have her choose the boyfriend over him, ugh, I could just strangle that woman." Rusty wasn't around that day, but I got permission from Sharon for Brenda to call her house that evening and talk to Rusty. She told me that he accepted his mother was a lost cause, and was going to focus on getting into the school Sharon wants him to attend. "He's resilient," Brenda told me later on that night. "I think he's gonna be okay."

"Where are you calling me from?" I asked, as I settled into my office chair for our daily afternoon chat. I could hear traffic and the sounds of children laughing in the background.

"I'm in that little park a few blocks away from my parent's house, on Peachtree Court," she said, as if I would know where that was. She paused. "I'm out runnin.'"

"You aren't running now," I said jokingly. "And since when do you run without me there to make you do it?" I run a few days a week before work, and on the weekends too, and I try to get Brenda to join me. She makes all kinds of excuses not to go, about having to be to work early and how tired she is, but I manage to cajole her into her running clothes and onto the road with me about once a week. Once I got her going, she had a pretty good stride and had no problems keeping up with me. But the last time I saw her run by herself was when she was on administrative leave from the LAPD after there was a shootout in her murder room, and those runs mostly consisted of a quick jog to the local bakery and back.

"No goofy, I'm sittin' on a park bench talkin' to you," she said. "Takin' a break so I can talk to you some place without Daddy breathin' down my neck. I'm gonna finish my run when we're done."

"That's great you are running, honey, I was just surprised to hear that. For how long?"

"Since the day after I got here. It's so hard, Fritz, bein' back in this house and no Mama. I keep expectin' to turn the corner and to see her standin' there. The place feels like the soul has gone out of it. I can barely stand to be home, it makes my skin crawl. Between that and Daddy bellowin' at me when he gets in one of his moods, I realized real quick I needed an escape if I was gonna stay sane the next month. So on my second day here I went to the local sporting goods store and bought runnin' shoes and some clothes, and told Daddy I was training for a race and could not, under any circumstances, miss my daily run."

"Yes, I can see how sitting on that park bench is really helping you get into shape," I teased.

"I'm buildin' up my glutes," she retorted, with a hint of a pout in her voice. "Besides, I'm continuin' on once we're done. The runnin'—it helps." She paused, and I could hear the children playing in the park grow louder, as if Brenda had rested the phone on her lap. A moment later, the outside noise grew dull again, and she whispered, "I cry a lot. When I run, I mean. It's like somethin' about the poundin' and sweatin' that squeezes the grief out of me, and I find myself cryin' 'bout all kind of things that's happened this past year, not just Mama. And I come home again and I feel better, like I've been cleaned from the inside out. Does that make any sense?" I detected the note of desperation in her voice saying please tell me I'm not crazy.

I nodded vigorously in understanding, and then realizing that she couldn't see me, told her of my own use of exercise when I became sober. When the urge to drink bubbled to the surface, when those nasty emotions I had buried with alcohol in shallow graves started to free themselves, I would put on my running shoes or hit the gym, sometimes pushing myself to sheer exhaustion. Funneling the grasp of addiction and all the pain that goes along with it into exercising is what got me through a lot of very difficult times before Brenda came on the scene, and I had another focus.

She sighed, relieved that I was so encouraging. "Keep crying," I said softly. "There is so much heartbreak inside of you, Brenda, you have never let out. And now is the time. If running helps you do that, than keep running. And don't stop once you come back home to LA, okay? Grief comes like waves. Just when you think you have a handle on it and you have started to move on, along comes a tsunami you didn't see coming. Create a life for yourself that allows for that; that let's you take care of yourself. You are the most precious thing in the world to me, Brenda. Above all, I want you to be happy and whole."

She was silent for a moment, and I hope I hadn't overwhelmed her with too much "emotional stuff," as she calls it. Then I realized from the shifts of the phone she was standing up and gathering herself. "You are, as usual, right, Fritzy, and I love you for it. And I promise to join you in your mornin' runs when I get home. But right now, I have five miles ahead of me and it's only gettin' hotter. Talk to you tonight, honey." And without waiting for a response, she hung up, eager, I guess, to feel the pavement beneath her feet.

Brenda sounded very different that evening when I called her for our nightly phone call. I could tell by the way she answered the phone that she was depressed. Not that this was a different state of affairs, mind you, my girl is always sad these days. But this time, she somehow sounded…apologetic. Ashamed. I was determined to get to the bottom of her mood.

After exchanging superficialities about our respective days, I made myself comfortable on the bed, kicked off my shoes, and pulled Joel close to me. "Okay, Brenda, what's really bothering you?"

She made a noise of frustration. "I hate it that you know me so well."

"Well, you know me pretty well too. So are you going to tell me what's bothering you, or am I going to have to wait on the phone all night?" Brenda's earlier revelation about the cathartic effect of her running was huge for a women who was loathe to share anything about herself. To have a second conversation in one day about her feelings probably felt overwhelming. But I wasn't going to be deterred, so I waited in determined silence for her to speak.

Finally she broke our nonverbal dénouement . "Daddy sat me down and had a long talk with me tonight after dinner," she finally said.

I grunted and waited for more. "It was about you."

I felt like I had been punched in my stomach. This was it, the moment I had been dreading ever since I met the man. I knew someday Clay would try and convince his little girl that I was just a worthless alcoholic and wasn't nearly good enough for her. In fact, he had probably persuaded her to stay in Atlanta and not come back to LA at all. All my insecurities were crawling up from the dungeon where I kept them tightly locked up, and they were smothering me. Brenda's voice sounded and far away as I began to breath rapidly.

"You OK, Fritzy?" Brenda asked, most likely hearing my panicked breathing over the phone. "Don't worry, Daddy's not upset at you at all. Quite the opposite, actually." She sounded sad again, her words heavy in her mouth.

My insecurities backed off for a second and let me catch a breath. Not about me? But she said it was about me. "So then why where you talking about me?" I asked cautiously.

Brenda cleared her throat in what I know was an effort not to cry. "He said that he and Mama were concerned, have been for awhile now, about the way I treat you. They think I neglect you and take you for granted, and they are—were—both worried that someday you were gonna have enough and leave me." Her voice caught at the end.

Now it was time for Brenda's insecurities to come out and play. We have had countless fights over her obsession with the job and putting me second all the time, which often ended in her daring me to leave her because she didn't deserve someone as good as I was. It was crap, just another one of her defensive moves, but it was borne out of a real deep-seated fear that she truly wasn't good enough for me. The thought was almost laughable.

My breathing returned to normal and my insecurities slithered back to their prison. "Did you tell you father that I love you, that I take our wedding vows very seriously, and that I'm not ever going to leave you?" I asked her in a gentle voice. Wow. Never thought I'd live to see the day when Clay Johnson stood up for me.

"No, I didn't, I just pretty much agreed with him," she sniffled. "How could I argue when everything he said was right? Oh Fritzy, I have been so terrible to you, so selfish. I have put my job ahead of you for seven years, treated you terribly, and you have still always been there for me." She took a deep, shuttering breath. "I am so very, very sorry. Can you ever forgive me?"

I rubbed my hand through my hair as Joel stood up to find a more comfortable position on the bed. "Yes, I forgive you. And yes, I have felt neglected over the years. But instead of rehashing the past and talking about how things should have been done differently, let's look ahead, okay? Everything that has happened to you, especially your mother's death, has made you realize that you need to pay more attention to the living, and I'd like to be at the front of that line. Because I love you so much, honey, I want to be with you whenever I can. Nothing feels right when you aren't around. And I hated being home knowing you are possibly in a dangerous situation where you would get killed, but that's over now."

More silence at the end of the line, and then she asked the question she has asked me more than a hundred times: "Fritz, why do you love me so much when I'm so horrible to you? Why are you so good to me when I don't treat you as well? Why?"

I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth in frustration. I wanted to yell at her, sick and tired of having this same conversation ad nauseum, but the last thing she needed from me right now was hostility. I lowered the phone to my chest for a second and took a few calming breaths, and then returned it to my ear.

"Brenda," I said, my voice surprisingly steady despite my exasperation, "like I have told you over and over again, I love you because you are brilliant, and driven, and kind, and crazy, and stunningly beautiful. You see me as I am now, a reliable person, because back in DC all those years ago we weren't close enough for you to tell what a mess I was. But being with you, Brenda, makes me a better person, makes me work to be that solid, decent, reliable man you think I am. My biggest motivator for staying sober is you, because I just can't lose you, you are my whole world. And you are finally examining your life and gaining some clarity, making better choices for yourself. Maybe now, Brenda, you can finally crack open your heart a little bit and let my love in. I want those dark shadows of doubt chased away for good, and I never want you wondering why I love you ever again." The last sentence came out a little stronger than I wanted, but I was losing my composure. I have loved this women since I first met her in DC 15 years ago; why is she still doubting me?

The silence stretched out for minutes, and the only proof Brenda was on the other end of the line was her soft breathing. Finally she spoke, slowly, as if choosing each word very carefully. "You are right, Fritz, "she said, sounding so lost it made my heart ache. "I've been scared to let you in. It frightens me to be loved so fiercely. It's a huge responsibility, and it feels like almost too much."

"I don't understand. How can being loved feel like a burden?"

"Well, it's like this. You love me so much, and that makes it easier to hurt you. And I have. Hurt you, that is. Like the stunt I pulled when I sent you to the wrong house to catch the murderer of the drug dealer who was wired." Oh, touchy subject; I gave her credit for bringing that up. "Well, I think that was more about tryin' to push you away before we got married, but it's all part of bein' crazy and afraid of emotions. But I'm tired of that, and you're right, I need to stop askin' you why you love me, and start actin' in a way that I feel like I deserve your love. Like being a better partner to you."

"You do deserve my love," I said again. "But this is a turning point, a fresh start for us. How we were in the past, that's over. I just want to be first in line as you institute your new 'pay attention to the living' policy."

"Honey, you've got tickets for the sneak preview." I smiled.

"Oh, and Fritz?"

"Yeah?"

"I love you with my whole heart."

I just looked at my watch, and now it's only thirteen days, 6 hours, and 7 minutes until Brenda comes home. Each hour that passes by is one hour less I have to be apart from her, one hour less of the 672 we have to be separated. And when I think I'm going to go out of my mind from missing her, I remember all our phone conversations, and how we have covered more ground, opened up to each other, and spent more time communicating these past couple of weeks than we ever have before. I have learned that even thousands of miles away, I can bring her some modicum of comfort, because she knows she can pick up the phone any time and I will be there to hear about her father's latest tantrum or to share in a fresh wave of grief. And when she comes home, we will interweave our newfound communication skills into our marriage. Or the way I like to think of it, Brenda and Fritz's Relationship: Part II.

The cliché is that absence makes the heart grow fonder; for Brenda and me, I think absence makes the heart grow stronger.

THE END

Author's Notes 2: I wrote the part about Brenda telling Rusty to respect Sharon a couple of days before last night's ep, where Sharon gave Rusty the "respect' lecture. I'm on the same mental wavelength as the MC writers! I could be a MC writer! Er, um, or not.