“I’d be glad to get into a knock-down, drag-out argument about the average civilian’s ignorance regarding military spending at some other time,” Frisco told Mia. “But right now I’m not really in the mood.”
“How about if I pretend you didn’t just call me ignorant, and you pretend I don’t think you’re some kind of rigid, militaristic, dumb-as-a-stone professional soldier?” she said much too sweetly.
Frisco had to laugh. It was a deep laugh, a belly laugh, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d done that. He was still smiling when he looked up at her. “That sounds fair,” he said. “And who knows — maybe we’re both wrong.”
Mia smiled back at him, but it was tentative and wary.
“I didn’t get to thank you for helping me this morning,” he said. “I’m sorry if I was…”
Mia gazed at him, waiting for him to finish his sentence. Unfriendly? Worried? Upset? Angry? Inappropriate? Too sexy for words? She wondered exactly what he was apologizing for.
“Rude,” he finally finished. He glanced over at Natasha. She was lying on her back in the shade of a palm tree, staring up at the sky through both her spread fingers and the fronds, singing some unintelligible and probably improvised song. “I’m in way over my head here,” he admitted with another crooked smile. “I don’t know the first thing about taking care of a kid, and…” He shrugged. “Even if I did, these days I’m not exactly in the right place psychologically, you know?”
“You’re doing great.”
The look he shot her was loaded with amusement and disbelief. “She was under my care for not even thirty minutes and I managed to lose her.” He shifted his weight, trying to get more comfortable, wincing slightly at the pain in his leg.
“While we were walking home, I talked to her about setting up some rules and regs — basic stuff, like she has tell me if she’s going outside the condo, and she’s got to play inside the courtyard. She looked at me like I was speaking French.” He paused, glancing back at the little girl again. “As far as I can tell, Sharon had absolutely no rules. She let the kid go where she pleased, when she pleased. I’m not sure anything I said sunk in.”
He pulled himself up with his cane, and carried one of the filled cloth bags toward the hook and rope, sidestepping the puddle of broken glass, sodden cardboard and cranberry juiced-beer.
“You’ve got to give her time, Alan,” Mia said. “You’ve got to remember that living here without her mom around has to be as new and as strange to her as it is to you.”
He turned to look back at her as he attached the hook to the cloth handles. “You know,” he said, “generally people don’t call me Alan. I’m Frisco. I’ve been Frisco for years.” He started up the stairs. “I mean, Sharon — my sister — she calls me Alan, but everyone else calls me Frisco, from my swim buddy to my CO…”
Frisco looked down at Mia. She was standing in the courtyard, watching him and not trying to hide it this time. Her gardening clothes were almost as filthy as his and several strands of her long, dark hair had escaped from her ponytail.
How come he felt like a sweat-sodden reject from hell, while she managed to look impossibly beautiful?
“CO?” she repeated.
“Commanding Officer,” he explained, turning the crank. The bag went up, and this time it made it all the way to the second floor.
Mia applauded and Natasha came over to do several clumsy forward rolls in the grass in celebration.
Frisco reached over the railing and pulled the bag up and onto the landing next to him.
“Lower the rope, I’ll hook up the next one,” Mia said.
It went up just as easily.
“Come on, Tash. Come upstairs and help me put away these supplies,” Frisco called and the little girl came barreling up the stairs. He turned back to look down at Mia. “I’ll be down in a minute to clean up that mess.”
“Alan, you know, I don’t have anything better to do and I can–”
“Frisco,” he interrupted her. “Not Alan. And I’m cleaning it up, not you.”
“Do you mind if I call you Alan? I mean, after all, it is your name–”
“Yeah, I mind. It’s not my name. Frisco’s my name. Frisco is who I became when I joined the SEALs.” His voice got softer. “Alan is nobody.”
Copyright 1997 by Suzanne Brockmann