3:15 pm—Stetson-King Residence
Jennifer sighed heavily as she punched in the garage code and walked through the garage to the house. Her first day of school, while initially a comforting return to normalcy, had turned out to be anything but.
She dumped her backpack with a heavy thud beside the door as she entered the kitchen.
Jennifer jumped as she heard her father's voice. She'd expected to do what she normally did, enter the house and do her homework while she waited for her parents to come home from work. She had not expected to find her father standing in the kitchen with chocolate chip cookies and two glasses of milk.
"Sorry," he apologized as she turned to look at him.
"What are you doing here?" she asked in confusion. "I thought you were going to work."
"I was at work for a few hours," he admitted. "And I'll go back later, but your mom and I didn't want you to come home after your first day back and be all alone."
Jennifer nodded slowly. "Why wasn't Mom the one who came? She's usually the one who comes."
"Your mom went to see if she could help Carrie get Philip's house ready for him. He's coming home today," Lee explained without questioning why the girl had asked for her mother.
"I'm sure you can call her if you'd like," Lee said, motioning to the phone.
"No," she said with a shrug as she settled into one of the kitchen barstools beside her father. "That's okay. Mom never greets me with chocolate chip cookies. She always makes me eat an apple or something healthy."
Lee chuckled. "Then, this is our little secret?"
"Are you kidding?" Jennifer asked with wide eyes. "If Mom knew about this—we both would be in big trouble!"
Lee nodded as he sat beside his daughter and retrieved a cookie for himself. "Yeah…we would, wouldn't we?"
She pulled a cookie off the plate, broke it in half, and dunked one of the halves in the cup of milk in front of her.
"So, back to my original question," her father murmured as his studious gaze rested upon her. "Hard day?"
She hesitated before she nodded. "Yeah," she said as she took a bite of the milk-soaked cookie.
She sighed. "The kids were scared," she admitted. "And so some of them said some stupid things…"
"Stupid things?" Lee prompted as he dunked his own cookie in his milk.
"Well, one kid said something about how we're probably going to go to war, and another kid said that we better, and the teacher tried to shut it all up, but it all got out of hand," Jennifer said with a shake of her head.
Lee sighed softly. It wasn't unlike his experience at the Agency. He acknowledged that everybody had been hurt by the attacks, but some of the people in Arlington and in DC seemed to forget that there were people there who had been directly affected by the attacks—that they hadn't just watched them on the news or experienced the traffic outside the Pentagon or had trouble reaching friends and family who were worried because of congested phone lines. He suspected New York didn't have that problem to nearly the same degree, if at all, but it seemed that everywhere else, even DC, did.
"What did you say?"
Jennifer bit her lip. "What makes you think I said anything?"
Lee shrugged. "I'm not sure you did," he said, trying to sound casual. "But it seems that you might have had a unique perspective to some of your classmates about the whole thing."
Jennifer nodded slowly. "I said that if we went to war, my brother—who had just been hurt in the Pentagon—would have to go and fight." She grew quiet and stared at her hands which were now folded in her lap. "And I said I didn't really want that for him."
She looked up at her father with eyes which were shining with tears. "I don't think the Colonel would want that either," she whispered. "Not after everything he did to try and keep Philip safe."
Lee pulled his daughter into a hug. "I think you're absolutely right, princess," he whispered with a lump growing thick in his throat. "I think you're absolutely right."