Chapter One: "The Visitor" Katherine Bonnick was in the kitchen, taking supper from the oven, while her two children were setting the table. Suddenly Tom, the oldest, said, "Mom, there's an Admiral on the porch." She nearly dropped the pan of meatloaf when she heard those words. Hastily setting the pan on the stovetop she hurried from the kitchen, silently praying that there wasn't bad news waiting outside her door. Halting just before the screendoor, she wiped her sweaty hands on her apron, and took a deep breath. Ever since she had married the now Lt. Commander James Bonnick she'd been expecting, and dreading, this moment. And now that he was over in Kosovo helping that small country rebuild itself, every time the phone rang or there was a knock on the door she had to fight the urge to run and hide. Gathering her courage, she opened the door. "Hi Katie," the man standing on the small enclosed porch said, smiling at her. Katherine frowned momentarily, then gasped in astonishment when she recognized him. It had been years since she'd last seen him, but she would never be able to forget him. The passage of time was very evident as she looked at him: the hair that showed beneath his uniform cap was steel grey, the jacket of his uniform was rather snug around the waist, and his dark brown eyes were surrounded by a network of creases and lines. But it was those eyes, and that unmistakable voice, that assured Katherine of his identity. "Al?" she finally managed to ask, surprised to hear her voice come out steady despite the trembling she felt inside. The Admiral's smile broadened. "It's been a while, Katie, but yes, it's me." "Mom, what is it? What's wrong?" Tom asked from behind her. "Is it about Dad?" Without taking her eyes off her surprise visitor, Katherine shook her head. "No, it's not about your father. This man is a friend of your Uncle Sam's." And she suddenly had a feeling she knew what this visit was about, and felt the cold dread return. "You're here about my brother, aren't you?" she asked in a low voice. The Admiral nodded. "May I come in?" he requested. Katherine stepped back and let him enter her home, closing the door behind him. He removed his cap as he strode in, and she noticed with a pang that his beautiful thick black hair had thinned as it turned grey. He now wore it cut very short, almost in a military crewcut. He started to tuck the cap under his arm when he happened to glance from the small entry hall to the dining room on the left. "I'm sorry, Katie. I should have realized you'd be having dinner," he apologized, preparing to leave. The smells of mashed potatoes and meatloaf and fresh bread wafted in on a gentle late-summer breeze that blew in from an open window, and he hastened his departure attempt. Katherine put a hand on his arm. "That's all right, Al," she assured him. "Stay for dinner. Something very important made you drive all this way to see me, and I wouldn't want to inconvenience you with another trip." He smiled at her, but there was a hint of sadness in it. "Thank you for the offer, dear, but I'm afraid I can't accept. I'll just drive back into town, come back in an hour or so. What I have to tell you has waited a few months. Another two hours won't make a difference." He put his cap back on, gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, then walked out the door before she could think of a protest. He was in his car and pulling away from the curb by the time she realized what had happened.