Making Them Proud
By Donna

Loren Singer angrily wiped away a tear as she firmly placed the phone back in it's cradle. She had been foolish to get her hopes up. She should have known better.

But it WAS her birthday…

And when the phone rang, and she heard her mother's voice…

Maybe, just maybe…for once…Mother had remembered…

Of course, Mother had immediately started talking about her brother, Liam.

Liam had just been offered another promotion at work. He was on the fast track for a partnership at the prestigious law firm where he worked.

Liam had just purchased brand new top of the line matching Lexus' for himself and his wife and was already looking to move out of the huge house they had purchased less than a year ago…they really needed something more upscale and spacious for entertaining.

Liam's wife had just been elected president of her Ladies Guild…quite the coup for someone as young as she. Oh, and their three lovely children had been chosen for admission into one of the top preparatory schools in the country. Numerous CEOs and even a couple of US Presidents claimed the school as their alma mater. Of course, as bright as Liam's children were, there had been no question that they would be accepted. In fact, several prestigious academies had been vying for the honor of educating Liam's children, but it had been decided that this one was the most deserving. After all, Liam and his father had both attended and graduated with honors.

As Loren listened to her mother go on and on, she was glad that she had left the blinds in her office in the closed position that morning. Usually she opened them first thing, so that everyone could see how hard she was working. This morning, though, she had several urgent matters awaiting when she walked in, and the blinds had remained closed.

There was also the advantage of not having to see what was going on in the bull pen. Harriet Roberts was off duty that day and had brought little AJ up to see everyone.

Little AJ…naming your kid after your boss…now if that wasn't sucking up…

Her mother's voice drew her attention back to the phone.

"Are you listening to me, Loren?"

"Yes, Mother. That's wonderful."

That was all the encouragement Mrs. Singer needed to continue singing the praises of her son. Loren let her mind drift again.

'Someday,' she thought, 'it will be ME that Mother is bragging about.'

'My daughter, the Judge Advocate General.'

Her Father would get that proud look on his face…the one usually reserved for Liam. He would shake his head and smile as he told his golfing buddies about how his little girl had done things her own way and had climbed to the legal top dog position in the United States military.

Liam would pat her on the back, proudly telling everyone that he had expected nothing less from her. After all, she was a Singer.

Her nieces would look to her as a role model. They would finally realize that there were choices for them besides being a corporate wife and breeding machine.

"So, Loren," Mother asked, "when are you going to give up that silly little job and start raising your family? You do realize that you're not getting any younger and so many of the proper young men your age are already taken."

"I don't know, Mother," Loren told her with a sigh.

"It's just that almost all of the girls you debuted with have already married. Even that plain little Lillian Morgan managed to land one of the Logan boys."

"I know, Mother. I received the wedding invitation."

"Which you completely ignored, I noticed."

"I sent them a nice gift, Mother."

"Yes, but you weren't there, were you, Loren?"

"I was involved in an investigation in Switzerland at the time, Mother."

"And that was more important than Lillian's wedding?" her mother asked with a sniff.

Loren took a deep breath. "It's my job, Mother."

She could hear the disapproval in her mother's voice. "But Loren, a proper society wedding is such a good place to meet people."

"I met people in Switzerland," Loren shot back defensively.

"But not the RIGHT people," Mrs. Singer explained.

Loren had finally had enough.

"I'm sorry, Mother, but I have to go now. The Admiral needs my help on something."

"All right, dear. Just don't forget to call your brother and congratulate him on his good news."

"I won't, Mother. Good bye."

She firmly replaced the phone, hating the tears that began trailing down her cheek.

Not one mention of her birthday. Not one question about how she was doing. As always, she was a nothing. She often wondered why her parents had even had another child after Liam, since he was so very perfect.

She was so caught up in her thoughts that she didn't notice her office door open slightly, nor was she aware of the presence of another person.

"Why are you crying?" a small voice asked.

Startled, she turned to look into the big brown eyes of little AJ Roberts.

"I'm not crying," she told him.

He carefully reached up and touched a wet trail on her face.

"Yes, you are."

She turned back to her desk, embarrassed to have been caught by the toddler. As she fumbled for a tissue, she explained to him, "I'm not crying, I just got something in my eye."

He thought about that a moment.

"But you sad."

'Perceptive little brat,' she thought.

"No," she told him, "I'm not sad…it just hurts, okay?"

"Okay," he replied. He kept watching her, though, the doubt apparent on his little face.

Finally, his scrutiny got to her.

"Can you keep a secret, AJ?"

He nodded. "Cross my heart to die," he told her, using his index finger to draw an 'X' on his chest.

She leaned close and whispered softly. "Today's my birthday and my Mother seems to have forgotten…again."

The boy looked shocked.

"No cake and ice cream?" he asked.

She shook her head.

"No balloons or presents?"

"Nope," she told him, bravely trying to tell herself that none of that stuff really mattered.

Loren knew without a doubt that Harriet Simms Roberts would never forget her child's birthday. AJ probably had parties with cake and ice cream and balloons, surrounded by friends and loved ones.

AJ chewed on his lip for a moment. Suddenly, his face lit up and he started digging frantically in the pocket of his jeans. After a few seconds, he proudly produced a somewhat battered fun size bag of M&M's. He glanced at it longingly for just a moment, then offered them to the stunned woman.

"Happy birthday," he told her.

Out in the hallway, Harriet watched the scene unfolding through a crack in the door. Her first instinct upon discovering where her son had wandered was to rush in and grab him, but the conversation and the sadness in Lt. Singer's voice had given her pause. She smiled when AJ offered the bag of candy. She had allowed him to tuck it in his pocket that morning, promising that he could have it after lunch if he behaved. Harriet knew how hard it had been for him to offer to give it away and she held her breath, hoping that the lieutenant wouldn't throw it back in his face.

Back in the office, Loren struggled to hide her surprise. Her own family didn't care about her, but here was a little boy who didn't even know her and wanted to make her happy.

"Oh, AJ. I can't take your candy," she told him.

"But it's you birthday present," he insisted, the stubborn expression on his face one that Loren had seen before on both of his parents.

Faced with his logic and generosity, she had no choice but to relent. She reached out and accepted the eagerly offered gift.

"Thank you very much, AJ. This may be the nicest birthday present I ever got," she told him sincerely.

He blushed and looked away. "You welcome." Then he looked back, his face serious. "But not 'til after you finish you lunch."

She laughed, then nodded solemnly. "After lunch," she agreed. As he watched, she opened her center desk drawer and tucked the bag in among the neatly organized office supplies there. "I'll just put them right here until later, okay?"

He nodded his consent.

As a silence descended, Harriet decided it was time to take action. She knocked softly on the door and waited for Lt. Singer's "Enter!"

"I'm sorry to bother you, ma'am, but…"

She caught sight of AJ and beckoned him over to her. As he walked over to her, she knelt down to look him in the eyes.

She didn't really want to scold the boy. She was actually proud of what he had done for Lt. Singer, but at the same time, she didn't want Singer to know that she knew.

She finally settled on, "You know you're supposed to stay with me or someone you know when we're here, AJ. I don't want you bothering people while we're waiting for your daddy."

"I not bothering her, mommy," the boy told her.

Loren felt the need to come to his defense. "It's all right, Lt. Simms. He just got here. He hadn't really had time to bother me, yet."

Harriet pretended not to notice the small smile and wink that Singer directed at the child. He smiled and winked back, though not quite as secretively.

"However," she went on, slipping back into her office demeanor, "I do have a great deal of work to do before my lunch." Here, she gave the boy another slight smile. He put his hand over his mouth to hide his own smile. After all, a secret was a secret.

"Of course," Harriet answered. "We'll head back to the bullpen to wait for his daddy."

With that, she took AJ's hand and led him out of the office. As she turned to pull the door closed behind her, she was treated to the sight of Loren Singer peeking into her middle desk drawer, a curious smile on her face.

Looking at the small, crumpled bag of probably melted candies, Loren shook her head in wonder. As much as she sometimes looked down on Bud and Harriet and their happy little family thing, she suddenly found herself envious of their generous, giving natures and of the little boy who would never have to worry about making his parents proud.

The End.