A very irritating noise is creeping into my
slumber. The telephone. I moan, pull my pillow over my head and try to ignore
it. But it keeps ringing. Who could possibly be calling me at 0648 in the
morning? On a Saturday no less! Rolling over, I finally pick up the phone.
"Flyboy, you better have a very good reason to be calling…"
"Good morning Mac." That is definitely not Harms voice. Oh god.
"I'm sorry, Ellen. I thought you were someone else," I say, falling back in my pillows.
I can hear Ellen smile. "I gathered as much. I'm sorry to be calling you this early. What is your plan for today?"
Ellen Harrison is an old friend of mine. We met years back in college, became friends and tried to stay in touch after our ways parted after college. She's working with the Child Protective Services now, running a foster home and all. Since she's close to my place, I help her out every now and then with the kids.
"Some chores. Nothing special. Need me to come over?" I ask.
It sounds as if Ellen is hesitating to ask me. "I would like you to come over, but not for making cookies and stuff this time."
Ah, so this is serious. "What is it?"
"I'll explain as soon as you get here." She pauses. "Do you know someone who would be a great father figure?"
And of course my mind drifts to Harm. Harm would make a great father…figure. Yeah, he would. I'm sure of it. I get prove every time we have to baby-sit our godson. Makes you wonder…
"Uhm, yeah, I know someone. Don't worry about that. How soon do you want me to be there?" I get out of bed and make my way over to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. Sounds like I'm going to need it.
"As soon as you can. Not that they're awake just yet, but I don't want to take the risk of them being assaulted by the others once they do. You know how the kids can be when it comes to new ones" Ellen explains.
I nod. "Yeah, I do. Don't worry about it. See you in an hour and a half." With that, I end the conversation with Ellen and press speed dial 1. Funny; now I think about it, Harm has been the first number in my phone for as long as I've known him.
"Mac, if that's you, you better have a very good reason to be calling me this early on a Saturday," his groggy voice comes over after a few minutes.
"Good morning to you too Flyboy," I cheerfully greet him. Harm is not a morning person, I know that, but this tactic usually works with him. The more cheerful I am, the less he is in a bad mood. "I know it's a bit early…"
"A bit early? Mac, it's not even seven yet".
I grin. "I know. Anyway, I'm sorry to be bothering you this early on your day off but there is something I need to ask you."
I can hear that he's intrigued. "What is that Marine?"
"Well…" Why am I suddenly hesitant to ask him? I ask Harm things all the time. Why would this be any different? "All right, here goes. You're probably going to laugh at me, but I think it's pretty important. Ellen just called me and there are new kids in the house. I don't know exactly what is going on with them but from what I could gather in three minutes, they're a special case."
"What gave that away?" Harm asks.
I open up a cabinet to grab a mug. "Well, she told me that she didn't want me to come over to make cookies and she asked me if I knew someone who would make a great father figure. Which brings me to the reason why I'm calling you this early in the morning."
Harm doesn't say anything for a while and it makes me even more nervous. God, why is it so hard to ask my best friend to come with me?
"Actually, you were the first person I thought of, because I know you will make a great Dad to your kids and all…" I take a deep breath. Geez Mackenzie, it's not as if you're proposing to him. All you're doing is asking him to come with you. "I wanted to ask you if you want to tag along."
It stays a little longer quiet on the other side of the line. "No problem, Mac. I'll be there in forty-five."
"There?" Does that mean here or at the foster home? I can hear him grin. "At your place. Make sure you're ready."
"I always am." Harm breaks the connection and I sigh. That wasn't too hard. Of course, I know Harm has a soft spot for abandoned kids and all. And now he's going to be here in forty-five minutes. If I want to be ready, I have to run. On the other hand, I know Harm. If he says forty-five minutes it's probably going to take him an hour to get here.
But, boy, am I in for a surprise. Due to his word, Harm shows up forty-five minutes later. I'm just pulling my hair up in a pony tail when he knocks. "Just a second!"
He shoots his Flyboy-grin at me when I open the door. "Now who's the one running late this time, Mackenzie?" he asks.
I slap his arm. "You are not funny, Harm." Looking around my apartment, I grab my purse. "I'm ready."
Harm doesn't say anything while we make it downstairs, and as always we make it to his Lexus. Don't ask me why we do this, but every time Harm and I go someplace together, we take the Lexus. Every time I need to pick up some very big… something, all I have to do is hold my hand up. I'm just lucky he likes to drive my 'Vette.
He's been with me to Ellen's foster home before, so after twenty minutes he parks the car in front of it. For some reason, it's always been the perfect house to me. White picket fence, big yard… The only thing missing to the dream picture are my own kids. And my husband. I'm shaken out of my reverie by Harm's hand on my arm. "Mac, if you want to see what Ellen was talking about, you'll have to come out of the car."
I shake my head and start to move. Seriously, sometimes the guy is just to right. Even for me. When we walk up to the house, I feel his always-present-when-walking hand on the small of my back. I'm so used to it, that I would feel weird when it wasn't there. Now I'm thinking about it, when did Harm and I slip into this pattern of… what kind of pattern is it anyway? We're best friends, not anything more. Even though I would like to be. But I'm afraid that Harm doesn't return the feelings I have for him, and that if he does, it will ruin what we have.
Harm has obviously pushed the doorbell, because the front door opens and reveals a little flushed Ellen. "Hey guys," she greets us. Then she looks at Harm. "Why am I not surprised to see you, Harm?"
Harm shrugs. "How 'bout I don't answer that question?" He kisses Ellen on her cheek. "It's great to see you."
"Same here," Ellen agrees and steps aside. "Come on in."
It's great to be in Ellen's house. It's a mess, having eight kids under your constant care. But I like the mess. For some odd reason it's a nice mess. Even before we make it through the hall, Harm and I are surrounded by kids. June, Carter, Misha, twins Terry and Peggy, Megan, Kyle and Taye.
Taye, Kyle, Terry and Carter immediately cling to Harm; especially Taye since he knows Harm will play plane with him. And Harm and I know how much he loves that. The girls guide me to the kitchen. I see that Ellen was preparing breakfast and pushing her in a chair, I take over the controls. Handing out tasks, such as setting the table, getting things cleaned up, and making sure that the guys don't get themselves too dirty before breakfast.
Half an hour later, Harm has dressed the guys, and gets down to the dining room. After breakfast, we get the three oldest kids to the dishes and Ellen takes us upstairs. The two kids who got in last night are sleeping in her bedroom. "I didn't have any other place for them," she says. "From what I've been told, they've been abused, physically and emotionally for as long as they've been living."
I nod and clench my hands into fists. Harm has about the same expression on his face as I have. He's not happy. Ellen nods. "Yeah, don't even say it. Gabriel is five and his little sister Noa is two-and-a-half." Then she pushes the door open.
Gabriel is sitting up in the bed and he looks frightened when he sees us. Noa, who had been sitting on the ground in front of the bed, is about as scared and climbs up to him. The sight of them almost breaks my heart. And what is Gabriel small! He's about as big as Kyle is, and Kyle is a good year younger than him.
Harm and I walk into the room and I carefully sit down next to them. Noa tries to make herself as small as possible and Gabriel gives me a look that pretty much says 'If-you-want-to-hurt-someone-hurt-me'. It makes me sad to see them like this. They must've been through a lot to get this way.Harm sits down on the other end of the bed; elbows resting on his knees. I plaster a smile on my face. "Hey guys. We have some pancakes downstairs. You hungry?"
They look from me to Harm and back. Then up to Ellen and back to me again. They hesitantly nod. "Yeah?" I say. "All right then. Let's get going." Harm and I rise again and slowly, after Gabriel helped Noa of the bed, they follow us. It's only then that I notice what they're wearing. Thin T-shirts with cottons trousers for Gabriel and a skirt for Noa. No panty hose, no socks. It's October for crying out loud! It's not that warm anymore! What were their parents thinking?
It's a pretty hard job to get Gabriel and Noa to eat something, especially when everybody else is curious as to who they are. Eventually Ellen tells June and Carter to take the smaller ones out. Taye doesn't agree with that. He clings to Harm's leg and because Harm knows what kind of fuss Taye tends to make when he can't be with Harm when he wants to, Harm lifts him in lap. "Taye, I need you to listen to me." Taye squirms but Harm sets him straight and makes Taye look at him. "I can't play with you right now, okay? I need to discuss something with the grown-ups and I need for you to go outside and play with the rest all right? After that we can go play again."
For a moment Taye doesn't seem too happy with Harm's speech because he looks as if he wants to cry, but he obeys and goes outside. Ellen smiles a slight smile and runs a hand through her hair. "I didn't want to ask you guys this at first, but there is no other way."
She sighs and looks up to us. "I can't handle ten kids, guys. As much as I love the job and as much as I care for the kids, I can't handle two extra kids. You can see that they've been through a lot, and with June in her teens and Carter and Misha not too far behind, I'm not going to be able to pull this off. Ted is helping me as much as he can, but I already have eight kids to care for…"
Harm and I look at each other, and as always, we have a conversation without words. We know what Ellen is trying to ask us, but are we ready for that? "How long do you want us to take them?" Harm asks.
Ellen looks up, surprise visible in her eyes. "How did you know I was going to ask that?"
Harm shrugs. "Pretty obvious. We know you're doing your best Ellen, and that you want to care for them, but when you can't, you can't. End of the story, isn't it?"
Is it even possible to fall in love with him more than I already have? He's so perceptive, so considerate… Okay Mackenzie, focus on the conversation.
"It's probably just for a couple of weeks. Until we've found a foster family for them. They'll get into the system, and as you know, it can take a while before they've found a family. If you guys would take them until then…"
My eyes drift to Gabriel and Noa. They're still eating, oblivious to what is going on around them. Then to Harm, who has the same thoughts as I have. "We'll do it."
Ellen seems relieved that we are willing to take care of them. "There is something you need to know though. Before you make a definite decision." She runs another hand through her hair. "Their mother, Nadine, is expecting their brother or sister in a week or two. Since they've been deprived of their rights as of yesterday night, we're going to take care of the baby."
"Which means Mac and I are going to take care of the baby."
Didn't I tell you he was perceptive? Ellen nods. "It comes with them." She looks at Gabriel and Noa. Harm looks up to me and we lock eyes as we've done a couple of times before. Three kids. His eyes tell me that he's ready for the ride if I am. We're in this together.
Again, we look up to Ellen. "We're still in."