AU: This story is a what if story, where Jeff and Lucille Tracy have a daughter before having the five boys. If you don't like the 'Tracy sister' stories, don't read this. This is based off the movie. I chose Kathryn's name for the first USA woman astronaut in space to stick with the rest of the Tracy boys who were named after astronauts.

Summer 2025

Kathryn Tracy looked over the gathered crowd of parents, relatives and student body. She tried to keep her expression calm as she spotted her Uncle Andy sitting with her five brothers. There was an empty seat beside Andrew and Kathryn felt her heart sink. Taking a deep breath, she began her validation speech. "Hello. My name is Kathryn Tracy and I am the daughter of Jefferson and Lucille Tracy. We all have different experiences along the pathway of life. My road to this point has not been an easy one. Just over eighteen months ago, my family lost my mother. This last year and a half has taught me to go out of my way to help others out, and to defend those who are a little less fortunate than I am. There are times when we are faced with adversity that we think we cannot make it. I have had times like that this year. Just remember to take things one step at a time and that we can get through things together and come out stronger. We all have two hands, one we can reach out to help the person next to us and the other to reach out for help when we need it." Kathryn smiled slightly at the crowd but it didn't reach her eyes. "There is no strength in us if we stand alone. We go forth from this place with a bright future ahead of us as long as we remember we are not alone. Others have gone ahead of us and there will be others behind us. We are the link between the two." She stepped back from the platform and gave a nod toward the class president who took her place at the podium. The audience clapped as Kathryn returned to her seat.

"Thank you for those challenging words, Kathryn," the class president said. Kathryn tuned out the rest of the ceremony. It didn't matter to her that she got her diploma. Or that she was involved with the ceremony. She bit her lower lip to stop herself crying. Her father hadn't made it to her ceremony. He was more invested in his company than in her. She couldn't really understand why he'd forget about it.

She felt a gentle squeeze on her shoulder and she turned to her best friend, Kylie. "You did well." Kathryn gave her a slight smile. The two of them had been chosen to be valedictorians and Kathryn had chosen to go last.

"Thank you," Kathryn mouthed.

It wasn't long before Kathryn joined her classmates and received their diplomas. Her family stood to clap her when it was her go.

After the ceremony, she joined her uncle and brothers. Andrew pulled his niece into a hug. "You did well, kiddo. Your mom would be proud."

Kathryn returned the hug before pulling back. She wasn't overly affectionate when it came to hugs and things. "Thanks Uncle Andy." She smiled at each of her brothers and her smile turned into a grin when Alan pulled on her dress. Crouching down to the nearly five-year-old's level; she let him plant a slobbery kiss on her cheek. Alan giggled and scooted behind the safety of Andrew's legs. "Oh, you're not getting away with that," she teased as her other brothers joined in with the laughter. She stood and pretended to chase Alan around Andrew before scooping him up and tickling him. Her entire family was laughing at their antics.

"Miss Tracy," Principal Johnson called, joining the family gathering. Kathryn put her brother down and turned to the headmaster.

"Good evening, Mr Johnson."

"Your family would be proud of your achievements at this school, especially the work you have done in the last year and a half. I'm sorry that it came at such a cost."

Andrew gave a nod in reply. "We are very proud of our girl." When the principal turned in askance at Andrew, the man held out his hand. "I'm Andrew Graham, Kathryn's uncle." The principal shook the offered hand and then looked around the rest of the Tracys.

Kathryn smiled and introduced her brothers. "These are my brothers, Scott, John, Virgil, Gordon and Alan. Dad couldn't make it tonight."

The principal nodded but didn't ask what could've kept Jeff from attending the ceremony that night. Kathryn wouldn't say and neither would Andrew. "Well, I wish you luck for your future. I agree that we can be stronger if we work together."

"Thank you, Mr Johnson."

TB TB TB TB TB

Andrew helped Kathryn make sure all her brothers got to bed as soon as they got home. After all, it was a long evening and they didn't get home until 9:30. Alan had fallen asleep in the car and Gordon was close to sleep. Kathryn had carried Alan in (he was far heavier than he looked) while Andrew bundled up the other boys and directed them inside.

It didn't take the two of them very long to get everyone in and into bed. Andrew planted a kiss on his niece's forehead. "You did well tonight. I'm sure your dad would be proud of you."

"Then where was he, Uncle Andy? Why didn't he come?"

"I don't know kiddo. He must miss your mom heaps."

"But we all miss her. Alan won't even remember her."

"Then make sure he does know her. Tell him about Luce when you get the chance, and when he can appreciate it." Kathryn nodded and Andrew slung an arm around her shoulders. "Katie, will you be alright on your own?"

She nodded again. "Dad should be home soon. And I have my brothers here if anything happens."

"Alright, goodnight. I'll see you during the weekend, to help with the little terror's birthday."

"Alan's not a terror. Good night, Uncle Andy." Once Andrew had gone, Kathryn changed into her pyjamas and wandered downstairs to watch a little TV until Jeff arrived home. She had just finished watching a program when she heard a key in the lock. Looking up at the clock, she noticed that the time was 10:30.

Jeff made his way into the lounge when he saw the light on and heard the TV. Taking off his sport jacket, he asked, "What are you still doing up? Don't you have school tomorrow?" He didn't want to show the pain he felt as he had first thought Kathryn had been his Lucy. There had been many times over the past eighteen months that he'd arrived home and had briefly mistaken Kathryn for Lucy. Although Kathryn had inherited her maternal grandmother's hair, she still carried a strong resemblance to her mother. There were parts of her that he could see she had picked up from him, but her temper was definitely her mother's.

"Where were you?" she asked, ignoring the jibe about her normal retiring time of 9:30pm.

"I had to work."

"Do you realize what day it is?"

"It's Monday."

Kathryn nodded and stood, turning off the TV as she did. "Yeah, it's Monday," she agreed sarcastically. "I better go to bed so I'm 'refreshed' for school tomorrow. You know the school I just graduated from?" She pushed passed him to head upstairs.

Jeff held back a moan. "That was today?"

"Like you pay attention to anything I say any more." Kathryn stopped halfway up the stairs and turned to look down at Jeff. "You do remember Alan turns five on Sunday?" When she saw her father swallow and only briefly met her gaze, she knew he hadn't remembered. "Where've you been for the last year, Dad? Don't tell me work. Uncle Andy's been here more than you. It's like we lost both Mom and you for how often we actually see you." She took a step down with each sentence to carry her closer to her father. "You hardly come home and when you do, you barely spend five minutes with us. Who goes to sports practices or makes sure everyone is in bed on time? Huh? Not you, I can tell you." Kathryn poked her father's chest.

Jeff batted her hand away. "Don't take that tone with me, young lady."

Kathryn shook her head and pulled her wrist out of her father's hand. "I hate you." She turned and fled upstairs to her room. Before she had turned, Jeff was shocked to see tears forming in his daughter's hazel eyes. He winced as he heard her door close loudly. She hadn't slammed it, thankfully, but she had closed it with some force.

He moved into the lounge and sank to the couch. There were things littered around the room. Little things that reminded him of Lucy and the fact she had once lived in the house. Like the wooden whistle above the fireplace. Or the crystal prism hanging from the light fixture overhead. The pottery bowl Lucy had crafted in their first year of marriage sat on the coffee table she'd found at a garage sale not long after they were married. She'd said that it had reminded her of the one her parents had had before they had died. Jeff ran his hands over his face and moved from the room. He shut the lights off and double checked to see if he'd locked the outside doors before heading to his own bed.

TB TB TB TB TB

"Right, do you want to help me roll these, Alan?" Kathryn asked. It was Saturday and the oldest and youngest Tracy siblings were busy in the kitchen baking cookies. The teen looked over to her kid brother and she smiled at the big grin on Alan's face. He really did remind her of a little cherub. Not that he behaved like that all the time. Oh, he could be downright bratty when he wanted to be. Especially when it came to the TV.

"Can I really?"

"Hmm," she drew out. "Let's have a look at your hands." Alan showed her his hands. She pretended to have a close look at them before smiling at the four-year-old. "They look good enough helping hands to me. Come on up here." The two of them got busy rolling out the cookie dough and putting them on baking trays that they didn't notice Andrew come in. Their uncle had a camera with him and he snapped a picture of the two of them before they noticed he was there.

"Don't mind me. Those look delicious."

"They're not bake-ed yet, Unca Andy!" Alan said snagging a bit of dough into his mouth before Kathryn could stop him. Before Alan or Andrew could eat more dough, Kathryn took the trays and put them in the oven.

"They will be soon," Andrew countered.

"Yeah, but they'd be for my par-TY!"

"Really? When's your party?" Andrew gave Kathryn a conspiring wink.

Alan rolled his eyes. "Tomorrow. I'm turning five!"

Kathryn cut in before their uncle could ask any more about the party. "Okay, scooter. Go wash up. Then go find your toys or colouring books." She and Andrew watched Alan rush off before the young woman turned back to her uncle. "Did you pick up the cake?"

"Yes. I put it in the back pantry as I came in. You need any help in here?"

"No. I'm gonna be out of here as soon as these cookies are done. Hopefully they'll turn out okay."

"Your mom was good at baking."

"Yes, but that was Mom, not me. I hate being in here. Can't cook to save my life."

Andrew laughed. "Then why are you in here now?"

"Because someone decided to let my little brother know that Mom taught me how to bake cookies. He's been pestering me ever since for the chance to do some baking. They're the only things that I can get semi right."

The older man nodded and busied himself making a cup of coffee. Kathryn poured herself a glass of water and leaned against the counter top. "He forgot," she said suddenly.

"Who forgot what?"

"Dad did. On Monday. He forgot my graduation."

"It's a good thing I recorded it then, isn't it?" Andrew said.

Kathryn restrained herself from rolling her eyes. "That's not the same. I intended that video to go to Aunt Su and Uncle Ryan so they could see it. Now Dad will want it. It's not fair."

"Things rarely are." Andrew sighed and took a sip of his coffee. "Su and Ryan said they'd be here to help celebrate tomorrow. It's not every day our youngest nephew turns 5."

"It's been too long since they last visited here. I'd love to take my brothers out to see them but that's a bit of a mission." Kathryn looked over her shoulder and out the window.

"Luce said the same thing that last Christmas we had together."

"I doubt Dad will let me. Last time we visited Aunt Su, Uncle Ryan, Jayden, Mason and Harper was just before Grandma Tracy died."

"The last few years haven't been easy on you, have they?"

"You're telling me, Uncle Andy." Kathryn sniffed. "Dad's hardly ever home, even before Mom died. Scott's usually off somewhere with his friends and not helping out around here. What happens when I leave? Is everything gonna rest on John's shoulders?"

Andrew took in a deep breath and couldn't really find the right words to comfort his niece.

TB TB TB TB TB

Alan ran around the backyard, squealing with glee. He was being chased by his three cousins and three of his four brothers. The party wasn't overly big. Mainly it was just family with two of Alan's friends from the neighbourhood. Kathryn and the other adults in attendance laughed at the way the older children were chasing after the birthday boy and his friends. Scott was sitting off to one side with the only friend Kathryn had allowed him to invite. She thought that seeing as the other boys had friends their own age (even though those friends were also cousins) Scott could have someone there his own age too. Not that the thirteen-year-old was paying much attention to the party.

Susan saw Kathryn look around for her father and internally sighed. She hadn't seen the family for a few months but there were little signs that things weren't quite right within the household. Kathryn practically ran the household and the boys followed her lead. It was too much to ask of any teenager, even one as capable as Kathryn. Scott, by the looks of things, didn't do too much to help either. Kathryn slipped inside, leaving her two uncles and aunt outside to entertain the 'rabble' enjoying their time together. Susan slipped inside after her.

Ryan noticed his wife disappear and turned to his brother-in-law. "What are those two up to?"

Andrew turned to look at Ryan. He shrugged his shoulders slightly. Being involved with the family on a daily basis, he could guess at what was going on but didn't want to bring it up to spoil the day. "Probably organizing an indoor game."

"It's more than that."

"Just drop it okay? Ask again later."

Ryan nodded and looked around for his second brother-in-law. "Where's Jeff? Shouldn't he be here to celebrate Alan's birthday?"

Andrew sighed and looked Ryan square in the eye. "He's busy."

"Oh." Ryan looked around the backyard and then gave a half-hearted smile. He'd effectively killed the party spirit. Alan had stopped with his friends just in front of the two men. The six older children had stopped behind them. "What's with the long faces? I think there's some games inside. Something to do with parcels?"

Alan's face became a little bit brighter and he led the way indoors. The two men looked over to where Scott and James were sitting. "Oy! You two, are you coming in to play or what?" Ryan asked.

"Pass the parcel is for babies," Scott shot back.

Andrew cocked up an eyebrow and pulled Ryan indoors. "Come on, before moody Kate has our hides."

"Moody Kate?"

"Yeah, I'll explain later."

TB TB TB TB TB

Kathryn came downstairs from turning out her brothers' lights to be confronted by her aunt and uncles. "What's going on?"

"How long has Jeff been putting his duties aside as a father in favour of his business?" Susan asked.

Kathryn shrugged. "I don't know." She pushed passed them and into the lounge. She didn't want a conversation about her family to spoil the remains of Alan's birthday, even though the boy was asleep. Ryan followed her first and watched her take a seat in front of the TV. Before she could turn it on and ignore the impeding conversation, Ryan had swiped the control from her. She looked offended up at them. "What?"

"How long?" Ryan asked.

Kathryn glared at them and folded her arms. Andrew was leaning against the lounge doorway and shook his head at the teen's defiance. "Since Luce died," he replied for her. "Maybe even since Mrs Tracy's death two and a half years ago." The older man made his way further into the room. "Jeff's buried himself in his work the last eighteen months to forget his pain. It's his way of dealing with her death."

Susan looked toward her brother. "So who's been dealing with dinners and getting the kids to school?"

"Who do you think?" Kathryn answered sullenly. "Dad's not been around and Scott spends more time off with his friends than being here. I couldn't really ask John for help."

"What about you, Andrew?"

"I've been helping out as much as I can, but that's not easy with a full time job. I've had to cut back some of my hours so I can help out more." Andrew moved to sit on the couch beside his sister and opposite Kathryn. "I barely make ends meet but I can manage. We have so far, haven't we?" He directed his last statement toward Kathryn.

"It's just not the same without Mom. Sometimes I think I'd be better off with Tony."

"Don't think that!" Andrew growled. "That man is nothing but trouble. I don't want to hear that you've gone to find him. You hear me?"

Kathryn pouted. "But why? If you were in my position, wouldn't you want to know about him?"

"Look, it's not my decision-"

"No, but it'll be mine in five days' time when I turn eighteen," Kathryn mumbled.

Andrew frowned at his niece's attitude but continued with his line of thought. "Your father, once he found out what Anthony Quinn did to your mother, forbade any mention of him to you. Your mother agreed. I only told you his name because you kept pestering me when you were younger."

"Andy!" Susan exclaimed.

"She has a right to know, Susan. It's no secret that Jeff adopted her when he married Luce. That was one thing that Dad required if anyone was to marry our Lucille."

Kathryn snorted. "It is in this household. Apart from me, Dad's the only one who knows."

"You haven't told them you're adopted?" Ryan asked.

"What's the point? They're still going to be my brothers at the end of the day." The teen stood and stretched. "Look, I'm tired. I'm heading to bed. See you all in the morning." Kathryn left the room and the adults watched her leave. Susan sighed and looked around at the others in the room.

"What can we do?" she asked quietly. Neither man had any answers. They headed to their own respective rooms (or home in the case of Andrew).

TB TB TB TB TB

Jeff looked up from his desk as he heard the outer office door close. He hadn't managed to make it home the day before and had fallen asleep on the couch. Trish, his secretary of four years, had woken him up that Monday morning with a cup of coffee. The woman could understand Jeff's desire to work away his grief although she hadn't lost anyone close to her since her mother three years before. The businessman allowed a small smile to cross his face before he realized Trish was calling him on the comm.

"There's a Susan Stonewall here to see you, sir."

Susan. What was she doing at the office? In fact, what was she even doing in town? "Send her in."

His inner office door opened and his sister-in-law came in. She closed the door behind her. Glaring at her brother-in-law, Susan asked, "So what's your excuse this time? Working? Don't roll your eyes at me, Jefferson Tracy. You can't have forgotten your son's birthday. It was a Sunday, no less!"

Jeff felt himself stiffen and he returned Susan's glare. "I never imagined a lecture from you, Susan."

"Oh, I can imagine. Did you even remember to get Alan something? He is five now, or had you really forgotten?"

"No, I didn't forget. I was just closing a big deal in Europe."

"Huh." Susan placed her hands on her hips and looked thoughtful for all of two seconds. "Your deal with Europe is more important than your five-year-old son? What was it last week? Something with China?" She would have smirked at him when he winced but she was feeling so disgusted at his blatant disregard for his children's wellbeing that she couldn't even find herself being amused. "Oh yes, Andrew told me how you forgot to go to Kathryn's graduation. You do know she was one of the valedictorians?" Susan let out a moan and threw up her hands when Jeff frowned at her in askance. "Jeff! You need to get your priorities sorted. Those kids need their father. Your kids need you."

Jeff slammed his hand down on the desk. "Susan. Stop! Don't you think I already know that?"

"Sometimes I don't think you do." She turned from the room to head back out the door. Before exiting, she stopped again and turned to face her brother-in-law. "Someday, Jeff, I hope you wake up and realize the gift Lucy left you. Kathryn's nearly old enough to make her own decisions with what she wants to do with her life. You'll stop and realize one day that your kids are no longer children and I'd hate to be in your shoes when they decide that your opinion no longer matters to them."

"When?"

"Yes, when. I sincerely hope that day isn't soon. I hope you can salvage whatever relationship you have with your kids before it's too late. Have a good day." Susan exited the office, leaving a puzzled Jeff behind her.

TB TB TB TB TB

Independence Day dawned bright and clear. As always, Kathryn was up with the dawn. She always found the early mornings the best times to think. Most of her family were late risers, so she generally had the house to herself. Even during her teenaged years, she didn't protest (much) about her set bed time of 9:30pm. This later changed to 11pm when she reached 16. But she continued to head to bed at 9:30 in preference of getting up at 5am or even sometimes 4:30 to work on homework, go for a run and other things. She'd only head downstairs to the kitchen when she heard either her mother or father stir.

Unlike other days, though, Kathryn felt the same sense of sadness that she had had the year before. There would be no more birthdays where she'd have an early morning coco (after her morning run) with her mom or an evening at the movies. Or any more 'girly' days with her mom, just the two of them. That was always the tradition the two of them had shared that even Jeff couldn't shake. Independence Day, the day that Kathryn was born, was always 'their' day, just as January 15 was always designated 'mom and dad's day' by Kathryn when Scott was small.

There was a gentle knock at her bedroom door and Kathryn called out that whoever was there could come in. It was nearing 8:30 am and Kathryn had yet to emerge from her bedroom. Her birthday was one day she would forgo her usual run. Susan poked her head in and gave her niece a smile. "I know I'm not your mom, honey, but I thought I'd give you these." The woman handed over a carefully wrapped folder. "She'd want you to have this."

"What is it?"

"Your adoption papers, birth certificate, and any information your mom and I remember about Anthony. You always had questions about the man, and Lucy knew she would eventually tell you. She knew what it was like growing up not knowing what her parents thought of her. I'm sure if she could, your mom would find them in a heartbeat if she found out they were still alive."

Kathryn smiled sadly. "Thanks Aunt Su." She ran her hand over the cover of the folder before returning her attention to the open photo album on her bed. "I wish I had known them."

"So do I. From what Lucy told me when my parents adopted her, she felt that they would've been proud and pleased she found happiness with us. Then you came. And that bought us even more happiness."

"Is it wrong for me to want to know my biological father?"

Susan shook her head. "No honey. You're curious. If I were you, I'd want the same thing. Just be careful, okay? Neither Andy nor I really got on with Anthony. He wasn't good enough for you or your mom."

"Why did he leave Mom? I don't understand."

Susan sat on the bed next to Kathryn. "Katie, I don't really know why he left her. It was after Lucy found out she was pregnant with you."

Kathryn sniffed. "Didn't my father want me?"

"I don't know about the man who gave you life, but your dad... That's a different story. You should have seen him when Lucy first brought him home."

The eighteen-year-old sniffed again and gave her aunt a short laugh. "I was two, Aunt Su. If I saw, I don't remember it."

Susan laughed lightly. "He thought you were a little angel sent to brighten up his life. And Lucy, he called her blessed for having such a great kid. Oh, he couldn't stop talking about you. Lucy always said Tracys fell hard and fast. She must have said it hundreds of times after meeting your father and grandparents. They adored you and they adored Lucy. And who could blame them? You were a cherub, and Lu was the sister I'd always wanted."

Kathryn smiled a little brighter. A knock came at the open door and Jeff poked his head in. "Hope I'm not interrupting anything, but I thought maybe I'd see what the holdup was?" Kathryn frowned at him in question and he gave her a half-hearted smile. "Well, John decided to cook breakfast this morning and he said we couldn't start without the guest of honour. When I asked who that could be, he kindly reminded me that it's someone's birthday today." He came into the room fully and put his left hand into his pocket. His right remained behind his back. "So I thought I'd come and see you to wish you a happy birthday." Pulling out his hand, he handed over an envelope. "I found this late last night." Kathryn gasped and covered her mouth as she took the letter from her father. She remembered Lucille sitting down on each of the boys' first birthdays (or a few days later in the case of Virgil) and wrote a note for them to read on their eighteenth birthday. "Read it after breakfast. You don't want to keep John waiting."

Kathryn nodded and got off the bed. She put the letter on her bedside table and followed Jeff out of the room. It stayed there for two days before she worked up the courage to read it early on July 6.

"'Dearest Kathryn. As I sit down to write this letter, I watch you sleep on the rug by the fire. We sat up and roasted marshmallows 'til past your normal bed time. Your Gran says I spoil you. I don't know any of this parenting thing. What would I know? I'm 18. I wasn't ever expecting to have a child at 18. Just because I did it, I don't expect to be a grandma when you're 18, baby. Sometimes I really think being a parent is not me.

"Looking at you now, I see so much of my mother in you. You have her reddish hair. I wonder what you'd be like once you reach your majority. Maybe you'll be like me. Or I wonder if you'd be anything like Tony Quinn. I hope not. I hope I raised you better than to treat people like the way he treated me. He was just using me to 'improve' his status in the poplar crowd. He is nothing but a bully. I thought he was handsome and charming, but that was just an act. Anyway, I doubt you'd want to hear my ramblings. I mainly wanted to let you know how much I love you, and although you were not planned, you are still wanted. I couldn't have asked for a more adorable daughter. I didn't realize how much I actually wanted you until I first saw you. You changed my life, and though it has become challenging, I wouldn't have asked for anything else.

"No matter what you decide to do with your life, know that I'll always be proud of you, even if I don't always show it. You are everything I could dream of. Love always. XOXOX. Mom.' "

Kathryn had tears streaming down her face when she finished the letter. She picked up the envelope and tipped it upside down. Two handwritten tickets fell out and onto the floor. Frowning, she leaned over to pick them up. Her eyes widened with surprise as she read the first one. 'Day out with Dad,' it said. The second was a similar ticket, but instead of a day out with her father, it was an evening at the movies or a concert with her father and a meal.

She didn't know when she'd use the tickets but then, it was more the thought that counted. Or it used to be. She wasn't so sure if Jeff would actually follow through with the promise of spending a day or evening with her. There was only one way of finding out if he would or not and that was to cash in one of the tickets. Maybe that evening one.

The teen sighed and put the letter and tickets on her bedside table.

TB TB TB TB TB

Kathryn spent the remainder of the summer wondering what she was going to do with the rest of her life. She'd focused more on getting some semblance of normal back into the Tracy household after Lucille died rather than her future. By the time she realized she was finishing her schooling career, it was too late to enrol at a university. Not unless she wanted to use the Tracy name. Most universities would jump at the chance to educate the first of Jeff Tracy's children. But she didn't want to do that. Not without a clear direction of what she wanted to do. She remembered the conversation she had had with Andrew not long after her eighteenth birthday. He'd arrived to take the younger boys out, leaving her with just Scott at home.

"Why don't you try something to do with helping others?" he'd suggested. "You were always good at fixing scrapes or bruises when your brothers were young. They all called you Nurse Katie."

She'd laughed at the nickname from her childhood. Sometimes her brothers still called her that, even though they had learnt to fix up their own scrapes. Even at school, she'd been interested in working at the First Aid Centre and could do a range of things for minor injuries. She had even enjoyed the Chemistry and Biology sections of science. Physics didn't really interest her, but things to do with the human body fascinated her. "Maybe I will, Uncle Andy. But if I enrol at Medical School, I don't think I'll be able to get in until the spring semester."

"You are kidding me, right? Any university would jump to have you at their campus. You are the daughter of billionaire Jeff Tracy, plus with your grades, you are one of the top students of your high school."

She hadn't done anything about it then, but had given the suggestion serious thought. She didn't think becoming a doctor was really what she wanted to do, but maybe there could be something along those lines that would interest her. In the end, she found information relating to the army that interested her. The army offered training as a medic in combat situations that she thought would be very interesting. And she thought she had the necessary sciences and first aid skills to be accepted for the couldn't believe that his niece had decided to enlist in the US Army. And have his help to do it.

"Does your father know about this?" he asked."No. It's not his decision. I don't need his approval to enlist."

The 35-year-old frowned at Kathryn and asked, "Are you sure this is what you want? Because I won't help you with this unless you're 100% sure this is the right choice for you." The teen nodded and was about to verbally reply when Andrew added, "If you do this, you will be signing up for the next eight years, at least."

Kathryn swallowed but met her uncle's gaze. "I'm sure. Mom would have wanted me to."

"You can't just do this for her, kiddo."

"I know. I'm doing it for me. Like you said, I'm good at fixing people but I don't see myself working in a hospital. As a nurse or a doctor. Maybe I can help out in the field."

"You'll be part of the front line defence if you enlist as a combat medic. You'll be looking after wounded or sick soldiers. Essentially you'll be their health provider until they can be brought to a hospital. And you may not be able to get in as a combat medic. You've got to do some heavy lifting." When he could see that she wasn't backing down, he gave her a short nod. "Okay. So what are you going to tell Jeff?"

"I'll think of something."

Andrew snorted. "I wouldn't want to be in ten miles of that conversation. What would you do if you don't get in?"

"Maybe become a fire-fighter or paramedic or something," Kathryn replied with a shrug."You don't sound so sure about those options, Kate."

She gave her uncle another non-committed shrug. "I haven't really thought about what I'd do if I don't get into the army."

"It's best to have some options, just in case. I know you really want to do this army thing so if you find a few months down the track that it's not for you, don't come crying to me. You've got to stick to your choices, kiddo, and I'll tell you that I warned you."

"Are you trying to talk me out of this?"

"No. I just want you to be serious about this choice. Getting out of the armed services is not as easy as it seems. Even if you get pregnant, that is not always a guarantee you'll get discharged." Andrew gave her an encouraging smile. "I want you to be safe, but it's your choice, kiddo." He offered her a one-armed hug and she accepted it briefly. Pulling away, he asked, "Where are your brothers? School doesn't start for three more weeks."

"They're all out with friends today. Even Alan." She gave her uncle a slight smile and asked, "Shall we go?"

"Do you have all the paperwork?"

"Right here," she returned while raising a folder. Her birth certificate, adoption papers and other identification were encased as well as her High School Diploma and grades from the past year.

"Alright. Let's go."

TB TB TB TB TB

"Hi Trish," Kathryn said as she entered her father's outer office. "Is Dad in?"

Trish gave the teen a smile and nodded. "He's in and has a meeting in about two hours, and I'm sure he can spare a few minutes to see you."

"Thanks. Can I go in?" Trish nodded again and Kathryn entered Jeff's inner office. "Hi Dad."

Jeff looked up and frowned. "What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be with the boys?"

"Scott's old enough to be on his own for an hour or two. He is thirteen. But don't worry. Uncle Andy has it covered."

"That doesn't explain why you're here."

"Well, I thought I'd let you know I'm heading out this afternoon. I report for the last of my enlistment details and basic training tomorrow morning."

Jeff frowned. "Excuse me?"

"I've enlisted. In the Army. I report at Fort Leonard Wood tomorrow at 0800. Could you give me a lift to the bus station?"

"And when were you going to discuss this with me?"

"Uh... I'm discussing this with you now and I was hoping you'd spare some time to have lunch with me and to drop me at the bus station. If not, then I'll just take a taxi." Kathryn looked pointedly at her father. "Uncle Andy gave me the rundown on being in the Army already, Dad, so don't worry about me. I know what I'm doing."

"I don't think you do, young lady."

"And you think I don't remember you being in the Air Force? You missed Scott's birth, and almost didn't make it back for John or Gordon's either. You can't stop me. I have already done the initial enlistment paperwork."

"What about parental consent? You're not old enough to make your own decisions yet."

"Last time I checked, Dad, I've reached my majority. Or did you forget I turned eighteen this past July? And what's the difference between joining the army and looking after my brothers? Oh, yes, that's it. I chose the army. You just forced me to become the chief caregiver of my half-brothers. What do you want me to do for the next fifteen years? Sit on my thumbs and not give a damn about my future while you bury yourself and me in your own self-centeredness? Sorry, I just can't see me doing that. I am not some pushover for you to use while you forget your own problems. Why should I let you forget everything Mom was? She'd be disappointed in you. I can't believe she actually fell for someone like you. You're a selfish, stubborn bastard!"

Jeff levelled his gaze on Kathryn. Even though he was sure she didn't mean half the stuff she just said, the words still stung. "Kathryn!" he growled, feeling his own anger boil. "You will stop with this nonsense right now."

"I hate you. I wish I'd never met you." The eighteen-year-old spun on the balls of her feet to head out the door.

"If you walk out that door, young lady, I won't be able to protect you."

She turned back to face him. "From what? It's not like you've been there to fight my battles for me. Where were you when I was beat up last year?" Folding her arms across her chest, she sniffed but wouldn't give into her tears. "You haven't shown me once since Grandma Tracy died that you give a rat's ass about me or anything I do. Why would I want you to protect me?" She turned back to the door. "Don't bother calling. I won't have a phone."

Jeff watched his daughter (in all but blood) walk out of his office and perhaps out of his life forever. He ran his hands over his face and felt tears pool in his eyes. He knew things had been getting bad between Kathryn and himself, but he didn't really know how to fix the problem.