Chapter 1: Prologue
AUGUST 15, 1986
Somewhere, Maverick Mitchell’s life had taken a serious turn.
Five weeks ago, Stinger had sent Cougar and Merlin (their squadron leader and his RIO) to Miramar, California: to the United States Navy Fighter Weapons School, also known as TOPGUN. Maverick hadn’t thought that Cougar would accept the offer, considering how every time he went up against a MiG he’d start breathing into the comms like he was in the throes of a panic attack, but Cougar and Merlin went anyway. Goose had a theory that Stinger would’ve sent him and Maverick had Cougar refused, but Maverick wasn’t too mad about the missed opportunity. With Cougar gone, Maverick was squadron leader, and he put in more effort than he ever had in his life to make sure that Stinger wouldn’t regret giving him the job.
Three weeks later, they get the news that Merlin had been killed. Apparently Cougar lost control of the plane after he flew through another pilot’s jetwash. Maverick hadn’t known Merlin that well, but he joins Goose in sending his condolences to Merlin’s family. And then another week after that, they find out through the grapevine that Cougar had quit TOPGUN, and quit the Navy in general. The official story is that he wanted to spend more time with his wife and son, but Maverick figures that Cougar just hadn’t wanted to fly without Merlin. Maverick can understand that. He wouldn’t want to fly without Goose at his side either.
None of them have time to think about Merlin’s death or Cougar’s leaving for long, because there’s a crisis situation in the middle of the Indian Ocean that requires their immediate attention. Some of Cougar’s classmates fly in from TOPGUN to help, but Maverick is only told their names — Hollywood, Wolfman, Slider, Iceman — and who he and Goose are supposed to be backing up before they send him into the sky.
It’s one of the hardest dogfights he’s ever been in. Hollywood and Wolfman get shot down about twenty seconds in, which leaves just him and Goose and Iceman and Slider against the five fucking MiGs that come in out of nowhere. And somehow, miracle of miracles, it all works out. Three of the MiGs get shot down, the remaining two go back to where they came from, and by the time they land on the flight deck of the USS Enterprise, the celebration is already in full swing.
Maverick turns around on the crowded flight deck, craning his neck and trying to spot Goose, who’d disappeared almost as soon as they’d left their F-14. Christ, sometimes he really hates the fact that he’d never broken five foot seven. He’s still walking backwards when someone knocks into him, and he trips over his own feet, falling back—
Strong hands catch him around the waist, steadying him; at the same time, Maverick reaches up to grab hold of whatever he can, which happens to be the front of his savior’s flight suit. Looking up, he opens his mouth to thank the man for catching him, but every word he knows leaves his mind the second their eyes meet.
The man who’d caught him has dark blond hair, damp with sweat and spiked up at the front, and striking blue eyes that are so pale they’re almost gray. The sunlight catches on the odd, arresting angles of his face, and the part of Maverick’s brain that isn’t short-circuiting thinks that this is the most beautiful person he’s ever seen in his life. “Hi,” he says.
Maverick swallows audibly. “Hi.”
The man helps him back to his feet; Maverick lets go of the front of his flight suit, and in turn, the man releases his waist. It’s entirely irrational and Maverick knows it, but he swears he can still feel the heat of the man’s hands on him. He can’t stop staring, nor does he want to. “So,” the man says. His voice is strangely familiar. “I, uh. I hope you’re more graceful in the air than you are on the ground.”
That brings him back to himself a little. “Hey, I’ll have you know I just helped save the day up there,” Maverick says, nodding up at the sky.
His eyes go wide, and Maverick doesn’t understand why until he says, “So did I.”
Maverick’s gaze flickers away from his face and down to his chest, where the patch on his flight suit reads ICEMAN. “Oh,” he says stupidly. He’d seen the back of Iceman’s head a couple of times at the briefing yesterday, and again today when he’d been climbing into his Tomcat, but he hadn’t expected seeing him face to face to be so overwhelming. “That was—”
“Yeah,” Iceman says. He’s staring at Maverick too, like he’s never seen anybody like him before. The distinct feeling of something clicking into place reverberates through his soul, and for a crazy moment, he wonders if Iceman feels it too. Finally, Iceman says, “Thanks for having my back up there.”
“Anytime,” Maverick manages, and he means it more than anything.
Iceman smiles at him, but before Maverick can say anything else, another man comes pushing through the crowd, throwing an arm around Iceman’s shoulders and saying something about a party, and leading him off. Iceman looks back at Maverick once over his shoulder as he’s being led away by the man who Maverick vaguely recognizes as his RIO, but soon he disappears into the crowd like he’d never been there at all.
Maverick has no idea how long he stands there on the flight deck, staring at the place where Iceman had been and being jostled by the other pilots, but then Goose appears before him. “Hey,” he says, panting. “There you are, I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” His brow furrows. “Mav? You alright?”
Maverick’s voice comes out soft, like he’s caught halfway between reality and a dream. “Goose,” he says. “I think I’m in love.”
There’s a party in the mess that night — since even the command staff seems to have gotten swept up in the adrenaline and excitement of the dogfight earlier that day — and by the time Maverick and Goose get there, the room is crowded to the corners with people. Everyone’s sitting around at tables, laughing and drinking and smoking cigars, and Goose is talking to him about something or other, but Maverick’s not paying attention. He’s too busy scanning the crowd, searching for the man that he hasn’t stopped thinking about since that morning.
And then, suddenly, there he is. He’s sitting at one of the tables in the corner with Slider (his RIO) and Hollywood and Wolfman, nursing a Stoli on the rocks. Like everyone else, he’s in uniform, and there’s a smile tugging at his mouth as he listens to whatever Hollywood’s talking about. Maverick elbows Goose in the side. “Goose,” he says. “That’s him, that’s the one.”
Goose squints into the distance. “That guy? Iceman?”
“Yeah.” It takes all of Maverick’s willpower not to let out a dreamy sigh, like he’s the star of one of those soap operas that Goose likes. “Goose, I think he’s lost that loving feeling.”
“He’s lost — oh no he hasn’t.”
“Yes he has.”
“Mav, really?” Goose looks a little worried. “After the whole Penny Benjamin thing?”
Maverick winces. “I know, but he…he’s special.” God, it’s completely unlike him to say or even think something like that, but it’s true. “He deserves something special.”
“Jesus, Mav. You’ve got it bad.”
Iceman laughs at one of Slider’s jokes, and Maverick’s whole heart clenches. It feels like he can’t even breathe properly every second they’re apart from each other. “Yeah,” he says hoarsely. “I do.”
Goose glances over at him, and whatever he sees in Maverick’s expression must convince him, because he sighs and squares his shoulders. “Alright, fine. Let’s do this.”
It takes a couple of minutes to get all the necessary supplies together, namely a microphone that Goose gets from the other side of the room and Maverick’s confidence. He’s done this only once before, to limited success, and he’s suddenly so terrified of messing this up before it even begins (even if he has no idea what, exactly, this is) that he’s tempted to run out of the room and hide.
Goose leads him through the crowd, which parts for them like the Red Sea, and they come to a stop at Iceman’s table. Iceman’s back is to Maverick and he’s talking with Slider now; he hasn’t noticed them yet. Maverick clears his throat and reaches forward to tap Iceman on the shoulder. “Excuse me, Lieutenant?”
Iceman turns around, but Goose is there, saying, “Ignore him, I’ll handle this.”
Goose moves to Maverick’s left side, already snapping rhythmically, and Maverick lifts the microphone to his lips. “You never close your eyes, anymore,” he sings, and everyone in the mess turns around to look at him. “When I kiss your lips.”
“There’s no tenderness like before,” Goose sings, swaying to the rhythm, and Maverick starts swaying too. “In your fingertips.”
“You’re trying hard not to show it.” Iceman’s eyebrows have almost disappeared into his hairline, but he looks amused, and impressed, and — is it his imagination? — a little charmed. Maverick can’t hold back his grin. “But babyyyyy — believe me, I know it!”
Goose — and every pilot within a hundred feet — join him for the chorus: “You’ve lost — that lov in’ feelin’! Whoa, that lov in’ fee-lin’! You've lost that loooovin’ feelin’ — now it's gone, gone, gone.” He punctuates each word by tapping his left hand over his heart, which is pounding against his ribs loud enough to beat the band. “Whoa-oa-oh, ba-dum, ba-dum-dum-dum…”
He’s got the next three verses all planned out and ready to go, but Iceman laughs, and it’s like the sun coming out from behind the clouds. “Sit down,” he says, his eyes twinkling as he taps the chair next to him.
Maverick is happy to oblige. “Thank you,” he says to the now applauding (and definitely drunk) pilots, taking a tiny bow. “Thanks very much.”
Goose winks at Maverick before he leaves, Slider and the others joining him. Maverick takes a seat next to Iceman, who’s smiling now with every part of his face. “Well,” he says. “Can’t say I’ve ever seen a routine like that before.”
“Yeah, well.” Maverick finds himself smiling too, like their emotions are linked by puppet strings. “I’m one of a kind.”
“I can see that,” Iceman says; a little wry, but mostly fond. “Tom Kazansky.”
“Pete Mitchell. Maverick,” he corrects, because if he’s got a choice here, he’d much rather Iceman call him by his callsign and not his real name. “And you’re Iceman.”
“Ice,” Maverick repeats. He likes that. “It’s nice to meet you, Ice.”
“You too.” He takes a sip of his drink, the ice cubes clinking against his glass. He sets it down carefully, and leans in close enough that the hair on the back of Maverick’s neck stands straight up. “So, Maverick,” he says. His voice is low, velvety smooth, and it makes Maverick shiver. “Can I ask you a…personal question?”
Ice nods over at Goose, who’s standing about fifty feet away talking to Slider and the others. “Do you do that routine for everybody you’re interested in?”
Maverick reaches out, puts his hand on top of Ice’s, just so there can be no doubt about what he’s trying to do here. “Only for the special ones.”
The tension in Ice’s shoulders dissipates, and his smile, if possible, grows even wider. Maverick would take on all five MiGs from earlier singlehandedly if that was what it took to earn that smile again. “Good,” he says. “I was hoping you’d say that.”
Maverick grins. “So,” he says. He takes Ice’s hand, laces their fingers together. “What do you say we go someplace more private?” Ice’s eyebrows go up, and Maverick hastens to say, “Not like that. I mean, not unless you want that. I just…it’s distracting in here.” He puts his other hand on Ice’s knee. “You’re all I want to focus on.”
Ice’s face pinkens. “Oh,” he says quietly. He puts his other hand on top of Maverick’s, squeezing it, and gives Maverick a soft smile. “Okay.”
They end up in Ice’s quarters, which are thankfully empty of all people, and they curl up on Ice’s bed together, laughing and talking about nothing and everything. Ice tells him about TOPGUN, about Annapolis, about his favorite songs — but he could have been quoting a computer manual and Maverick would have still been completely hooked. Jesus, they haven’t even done anything more than holding hands yet and Maverick is already so, so gone.
Around midway through one of Maverick’s stories — the points of which he’s trying to exaggerate as much as possible in the hopes it’ll get Ice to laugh — someone bangs on the door. “Ice,” says the voice. Slider’s voice. Plaintive, loud, and very drunk. “Ice, lemme in. Gotta go to bed.”
Maverick looks down at his watch, surprised to see that it’s already past three in the morning. “I, uh.” His voice is rough from overuse. “I should probably get going.”
“Yeah.” Ice looks just as reluctant as Maverick feels. “Probably.”
Even though Maverick wants nothing more than to stay right here and have Ice explain the world to him, he forces himself to move off the bed, to stand up. Ice follows him to the door. They’re an inch apart now. Maverick can make out every detail of his impossibly beautiful face.
And then Ice kisses him. Soft, gentle, cradling his face in his hands, and Maverick melts into it, his entire soul sighing, Yes. Yes, yes, yes. It feels so right, so perfect, Ice’s lips on his, Ice’s tongue sliding against his own—
“Ice, you better not still be fucking him in there; it’s been five fucking hours. Lemme in, come on!”
Ice snorts, pulling back from the kiss. “He’s got an overactive imagination,” he mutters, and that makes Maverick laugh.
They lean against each other, pressing their foreheads together, their arms around each other, neither of them wanting to let go. Maverick can’t even remember the last time — or any other time — he’d been so reluctant to leave somebody after a night together. (Not that their night together had been anything remotely like any of those nights.) How is he supposed to go back to his bunk now and sleep without Ice touching him?
“Can we do this again?” he asks, not caring if he sounds clingy. “Tomorrow night? My bunk, maybe. Goose won’t care.”
Ice smiles. “Yeah,” he whispers. “Sounds good.”
Maverick kisses Ice again, his hands retreating to cup Ice’s face, and then one more kiss, and — okay, one more, for real this time. Then, heeding Slider’s increasingly persistent knocking, Maverick leaves, and he doesn’t stop smiling the whole way back to his and Goose’s quarters.
Goose is still awake — if slightly less sober than he’d been when Maverick last saw him — and the grin he’s wearing could rival the Cheshire Cat. “So?” he says. “How’d it go? Give me the details!”
Maverick collapses on top of his bed. “It was…good,” he says. His lips are still tingling from that kiss. “It was really good.”
“Mav, come on, those are shitty details. What’d you do? Did you sleep with him?”
“No, we just…talked.” Maverick can feel a stupid smile spreading across his face. “And he kissed me before I left.”
Goose raises his eyebrows, looking incredulous (and somehow disappointed) at the lack of gossip. “You were just talking with him for the last five hours? That’s it?”
“It didn’t feel like five hours,” Maverick says softly. “Not with him.”
The next week passes in an almost dreamlike bliss. They spend every second they can together — sitting next to each other at briefings and meetings, holding hands under the table in the mess and ignoring the jokes from their RIOs — and at night, they go to either Maverick or Ice’s quarters and curl up in bed together, talking, kissing, and making love. Every moment he’s with Ice makes him feel like he’s walking on air, like his soul will fly out of his body and float away into the clouds. God help him, he’s never felt like this about anybody before.
Maybe that’s why it hurts like a physical blow when Goose tells him that Stinger will be coming around the next day to tell everyone where they’ll be getting stationed next. Sure, they can keep in touch through letters and the occasional phone call, but Maverick can’t even picture a world where he doesn’t get to see Iceman Kazansky every single day, doesn’t get to see his smile or hear his laugh, doesn’t get to kiss him.
They’re in Ice’s room that night. Maverick is tucked up against Ice’s side, Ice’s arm around his waist to pull him closer, drawing small circles over his hip with his thumb. He knows by now that Slider will be back within the next ten minutes to kick Maverick out, but he wants to take this moment, freeze it, and live in it forever. “I don't want you to leave,” he whispers.
He feels rather than hears the hitch of Ice’s breathing. “I know,” he says softly. “I don't want to leave you either.”
“I love you.” The words surprise him for a moment, but then again, not at all. He’s never felt so safe in somebody’s arms, never had somebody know him and understand him so innately. And no sooner does this realization pass through his mind than does another one, a stronger one: I never want to be apart from you. “Marry me.”
Ice’s hand stills. “What?”
“Marry me,” he says, and he means it even more than he had the first time. Ice sits up and Maverick moves with him, taking Ice’s hands in his. “Look, I — I know it’s sudden, I know we’ve only known each other for a week, but I…I love you, Ice. More than anything. And I want to be with you forever. For the rest of my life.” Maverick swallows hard. “Please, Ice. Say you’ll marry me.”
The room has gone so quiet that a pin dropping would have felt like a bomb going off. A terrified ache begins to form in his chest, twisting his lungs, his throat filling with cottony dread. Ice’s expression is inscrutable, and God, please don't let him have messed this up, he can’t bear the thought of accidentally ruining what has become the most important thing in the world to him—
Maverick’s entire world comes to a grinding halt. “What?”
Ice squeezes his hands back, and he’s smiling at Maverick the way he always does, open and genuine and full of a sort of fond exasperation. “Okay,” he repeats, and he gives a small, joyous laugh. “Yes. Yes, Mav. I’ll marry you.”
Relief hits Maverick so hard that his knees start shaking and the floodgates of his heart open wide, releasing a torrent of happy tears. He throws his arms around Ice’s neck and Ice catches him around the waist, pulling him close and kissing him so hard that every cell in his body feels electrified. He feels lighter than air, giddy and trembling and completely, utterly amazed. “You’re going to marry me,” he breathes.
“I’m going to marry you.”
“Jesus,” Maverick says, stunned. “Am I dreaming?”
Ice laughs, shakes his head. “You’re not dreaming, Mav.”
“That’s exactly what a dream would say.”
Ice pinches Maverick’s ass, which elicits a tiny yelp even though it barely hurt at all. “That proof enough for you?”
Maverick shrugs, trying not to smile. “I might need a little bit more.”
Ice rolls his eyes, but he leans in to kiss Maverick on the nose. “Maverick Mitchell,” he says seriously, though his tone is somewhat belied by the smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “You’re not dreaming. I really want to marry you.”
Maverick’s heart is so full of love for the man before him that he could explode from the weight of it. “I love you,” he whispers. Tears spring to his eyes again, threatening to spill down his cheeks. “God, I love you. I love you so much.”
Ice’s smile now threatens to split his face. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, Mav. I love you too.”
News of their engagement has spread all over the Enterprise by breakfast, and by that afternoon, he and Ice have both officially requested to transfer to TOPGUN as instructors. Maverick had made sure to tell Goose about his plans first, feeling a twinge of guilt because it wasn’t fair to leave his RIO with no warning, but Goose just told him not to worry about it, that he’d figure it out. “Just be happy, Mav,” he’d said. “You deserve it.”
They’re married a week later, in Miramar, California. It’s a small ceremony with only Goose and Slider as witnesses, but it’s all worth it when the officiant pronounces them husbands for life and Ice takes him into his arms and kisses him in front of God and everyone. It still feels unreal that Ice actually wants to be with him, and if this is a dream, Maverick never wants to wake up.
Their afterparty takes place on the QE2, a dinner cruise that travels up and down San Diego Bay. The food is amazing — especially after months on end of eating on the Enterprise — and the view of the coast is like something out of a photograph, but nothing is better than the recurring realization that the man to his left is now his husband. Ice is his husband, and Ice loves him, and Maverick has never been happier.
Around halfway through their first course — and three quarters of the way through their second bottle of wine — a young woman with short dark hair comes up to them, hefting an old-fashioned camera and smiling. “Would you like a souvenir picture?”
Maverick glances in Ice’s direction for approval, and Ice shrugs. “Sure,” he says. His face is flushed, his eyes sparkling — maybe because of the wine, maybe because of his own happiness. Either way, he looks as impossibly beautiful as ever. “Let’s do it.”
They turn to face each other, wearing matching grins, and the camera flashes, and Maverick thinks:
This is the best day of my life.
Chapter 2: Chapter 1
ELEVEN YEARS AND NINE MONTHS LATER
There are girls everywhere.
Brunettes, blondes, tall ones, short ones, everything in between. Some carry pillows, others carry stuffed animals. There’s a tiny girl stooped over under the weight of a duffel bag, a sleeping bag, and two tennis rackets. All of the counselors are wearing big, toothy smiles and tie-dyed T-shirts with the words CAMP WALDEN FOR GIRLS written on them in huge blocky letters, and everyone’s making a beeline toward the cabins, where two older ladies are standing on a table and shouting instructions about camp assignments into the bullhorns they’re holding.
This is so majorly cool.
Violet shoulders her backpack and follows the crowd past the two ladies (Marva Kulp Sr., if she’d heard correctly, and her daughter Marva Jr.) toward the near-mountainous heap of duffel bags next to one of the school buses. Hers is in there somewhere, according to one of the counselors — and sure enough, the bright yellow of her bag is easily visible from where it’s half buried under two gigantic sleeping bags. She squares her shoulders and, just like her dad taught her, yanks her duffel out of the pile in one tug. She turns around, eager to find her cabin (Arapaho) and claim a good bunk, when—
“Yo! Carrot Top!”
Violet frowns, and turns back around. Since she’s the only one with red hair around here, the two girls on the other side of the pile must be talking to her. “What’s up?”
The one with glasses and pigtails points to the pile. “Could you help my friend with her duffel? It’s the pink one, buried way in the middle.”
“Sure!” Violet heads back over to them. This takes a little more effort — it really had been buried way in there — but she gets it out of the pile in no time, and hands it to Pigtails’ friend, a girl with long blonde hair and a denim jacket. “There you go.”
“Thanks,” says Denim Jacket. “Cool sunglasses, by the way.”
Violet automatically touches the top of her head, where her aviator sunglasses rest against the base of her ponytail. “Thanks,” she says, beaming. “They’re my dad’s, actually. He’s had them since he learned how to fly.”
“Fly?” Pigtails repeats. “What, does he have wings or something?”
That makes her laugh. “No,” she giggles. “He’s a fighter pilot; a naval aviator. He used to fly combat, but now he teaches the top one percent of naval aviators all the tricks of the trade.”
“That’s so cool,” Denim Jacket says enviously. “Have you seen him fly?”
“A couple times when I visited him at work, yeah. He’s amazing. He was Top Gun in 1986.”
“Top Gun.” Violet hadn’t expected either of the girls to get the reference, and she doesn’t mind explaining it to them. Her dad’s the only family she’s got, and she loves him more than anything. “He was the best fighter pilot in his class at the US Navy Fighter Weapons School, also known as TOPGUN. And that’s where he teaches now.”
“So your dad was Top Gun at TOPGUN,” says Pigtails with an approving nod, and Violet laughs. She’s going to have to remember that one when she writes her first letter home. “I wish my dad was that cool. His job’s pretty lame; he’s a dentist.”
“Mine’s a lawyer,” Denim Jacket says with an eye roll, tucking a wayward strand of blonde hair behind her ear. “Are you in Arapaho?”
“Sweet, us too,” Pigtails exclaims, and the three of them exchange high fives. Then she sticks out her hand, Denim Jacket following suit. “I’m Mandy, by the way. And this is my cousin Livvy.”
She grins and shakes both of their hands. “My name’s Violet,” she says. “Violet Kazansky.”
“This place,” Joey Mitchell announces, “is absolutely beyond cool.”
Goose finishes hauling her last duffel bag (out of the three her dad insisted she’d bring) out of the car and sets it on the main cabin’s porch. “It’s definitely picturesque,” he agrees. “Just like the brochures.” He takes a deep inhale — and then immediately bends over at the waist, coughing and snorting. “Jesus. I think a bug just flew up my nose.”
Joey giggles. “Gross.”
“Trust me, it was a lot grosser for me.” The driver of the private car her dad had arranged to take her and her uncle from the airport to Camp Walden — the perks of having a dad who worked for the Pentagon — signals to Goose that he’s going to take a cigarette break, and Goose nods. “Alllllllrighty then.” He straightens up and pulls a piece of paper out of the pocket of his pants. “Should we go over the list one more time before I go?”
Oh God, not the list again. “Uncle Goose, we’ve been over it like five times already.”
“I know, Jo, but you know how your dad worries.”
That’s for sure. Her dad had practically bought out the entire sporting goods store just to be sure she wouldn’t go to Camp Walden empty-handed. Sighing, she puts her hands into the pockets of her leather bomber jacket, a gift for her tenth birthday that she almost never takes off. “Okay,” she says. “One more time. That way Dad won’t freak out at you when you get home.”
“Can’t have that,” Goose says with a laugh. “Alright. Josephine Elizabeth Mitchell, better known as Joey, even better known as my punk niece who keeps me on my toes…” He reaches out to tousle her short red hair, and she ducks away, laughing. “Do you have your…vitamins?”
“Stationary and stamps?”
“Sunblock and bug spray?”
Goose glances down at the paper — mostly for show, since Joey knows he’s got it memorized by now. “Let’s see. Lip balm, umbrella, sunglasses, poncho and rain boots, flashlight and batteries, little tube of Vaseline to keep that jacket of yours in tip-top shape, photos of your dad and me — and, of course, yours truly?”
“Got it all, I think. Especially the ‘yours truly’ bit, I’ve got extra of that.” Joey grins up at her uncle. “Thanks for bringing me here.”
Goose brings a fist to his mouth, his eyes suddenly welling over with tears, and then he bends down to pull her into a tight hug. “Love you, kiddo,” he says. “Have the best time ever.”
“I will,” she promises. Goose pulls away, tousling her hair one last time, and then she sticks out her hand. “Put her there, Uncle Goose.”
A smile spreads across Goose’s face, and he takes her hand. Within a few seconds, they’re back in the familiar routine that Joey could do with her eyes shut and one hand tied behind her back, their arms and hands moving dexterously before they both pivot and bump hips, laughing the whole time. Exchanging places, they once more shake hands.
“I’ll see you in eight weeks,” Goose says, as if that routine hadn’t happened at all. The driver is staring at them, his mouth half open, and Joey stifles a laugh. “Have a great time.”
Joey grins. “Believe me,” she says, her eyes twinkling with mischief. “I will.”
This is going to be the best summer ever.
Chapter 3: Chapter 2
Violet’s first week of camp passes by in a rush of new friends and canoe races on the lake and roasting marshmallows and telling spooky stories around the bonfire at night. Every day, she wakes up early enough that the sun’s barely crested the lake, has breakfast with her friends, and participates in a swirl of different activities: everything from fencing to trivia contests to arts and crafts, and she loves every second of it. She’s so glad she convinced her dad to let her come here — even if it is strange to be away from home for so long — and tells him as much in her first letter home.
On Friday morning, Violet goes to the mess hall to have lunch with Mandy and Livvy. Fridays, according to them, are barbeque days, which means they have to get there early to get ahead of the crowd. The line’s already pretty long by the time they arrive, but the wait is worth it when she fills her plate with barbequed ribs and French fries. She’s just reached for some vegetables — make sure you eat a balanced diet when you’re there, her dad had said while Aunt Carole had rolled her eyes — when Marva Kulp Sr. barges her way into line, reaching for the gigantic bowl of fruit.
“Excuse me, girls,” she says with her usual melodic laugh. “I’ve just got to have a scoop of these gorgeous blueberries.” She turns to the girl on her left, who Violet can’t make out. “Would you like some, dear?”
“Sorry, I can’t,” the girl says. Violet’s ears perk up; her voice is weirdly familiar. Have they met before or something? “I’m allergic.”
“Oh, that’s too bad.” Marva Sr. turns around and taps Violet on the shoulder. “How about you, dear? Blueberries?”
“Oh, sorry. I wish I could, but I’m allergic.”
Marva’s eyes narrow. “Yes, allergic. You just told me that.”
Violet exchanges a confused look with Mandy and Livvy. “I…don’t think I did.”
“How did you get over here?”
“Sorry, I…” Violet frowns, completely at a loss. Is she missing something here? “I don’t know what you mean, ma’am.”
Marva sighs and waves her hand. “Don’t you worry about it, dear. First week of camp; I still haven’t put all the names to the faces yet. Just start worrying about me when I put salt in the sugar shakers. Uh. That is, sugar in the salt shakers…”
Since Marva is clearly preoccupied — and maybe not all there — Violet wisely decides to move away.
Joey hops from foot to foot, zipping up her sweatshirt all the way to her chin. She’d planned on spending the evening with her friends and a mouthful of s’mores, not standing around in the middle of the woods with the Navajo, Apache, Cherokee and Arapaho cabins. “Macy,” she hisses, and her friend — a girl with a mess of dark curls and bright green eyes — turns to her. “What exactly are we doing out here?”
Macy shrugs. “Beats me,” she says. “Apparently Tina heard something about an inter-cabin competition.”
Just then, Marva Jr. and Marva Sr. come out from the woods, which elicits a couple of shrieks from some of the younger girls (and definitely not from Joey, because she’s not scared of anything). Junior’s got a red bandana tied around her head, and Senior’s wearing a blue bandana around her head and holding her ever-present bullhorn. “Alright, ladies!” she trills. “I know you’re all wondering why we called you here, so we won’t keep you in suspense: we’re going to play capture the flag!”
This sets off a round of cheering. Joey feels a grin spread across her face. Capture the flag’s one of her favorites, and she’s always one of the best ones in her gym class. This is going to be great.
“Navajo and Arapaho cabins on the right, and Apache and Cherokee cabins on the left please!” After they all obediently do so, Marva Sr. continues. “Marva Jr.’s coming around with masks for all of you, so please put those on. Once that’s done, we’ll tell you who your team captains will be!”
Marva Jr. hands Joey a red mask that looks like the one from that old movie about Zorro that Uncle Goose likes, and she ties it around her face. She wishes she had a mirror to check her reflection in, but it doesn’t really matter. She’s a Mitchell, and Mitchells always look awesome.
“Alright then,” says Marva Jr. “Captains of the Blue Team are…Annie Collins and Taylor Bell!” Joey catches a glimpse of two taller, older blondes (maybe fourteen or fifteen years old) high-fiving each other, and thinks that they’ll be a tough duo to beat. “And the captains of the Red Team are…Violet Kazansky and Joey Mitchell!”
There’s a swell of cheers on their side, and Macy and Tina and her other friends pound Joey on the back hard enough that her teeth almost clack together. She beams proudly. Wait til Dad and Uncle Goose hear about this.
“Now, you’ve got ten minutes to plan your strategy,” says Marva Jr. once the cheering has died down. “And then we’ll take you to your sides of the woods. The members of the winning team will get the first time slots for the showers next week, and extra marshmallows at the bonfire tonight!”
There’s an even louder swell of cheers at that. Hot showers for the next week and extra marshmallows? Now Joey’s even more determined to lead the Red Team to victory.
“Alright girls,” says Marva Sr. “Get to it!”
The Red Team walks over to the east of the clearing, and the Blue Team walks over to the west. Joey makes a beeline for her co-captain, a girl around her age with long red hair tied back into a ponytail. She wonders if that’s why Marva had picked them to be the team captains; it definitely fits the woman’s sense of humor.
“Hey,” says the other redhead. “You’re my co-captain?”
“Yeah. I’m Joey Mitchell.”
“Violet Kazansky.” They shake hands, which is weird to do without the routine that she normally does afterwards. “So, let’s talk strategy.”
It takes them only a few minutes to settle on a plan that suits them both, and they return to their anxiously-awaiting teammates with their heads held high.
“We’ll send out a decoy to the right,” her co-captain is saying. What’s her first name again? Vivian? Vicki? “Whoever’s the fastest runner can lead that, maybe with five or six others. Make a wide arc around the Blue Team, attract as many as you can. I’ll take another party of about ten around to the left and catch them by surprise.” Everybody nods, even Joey. Kazansky had said it with such confidence that she couldn’t help but believe it would work. “Anything to add, Captain Mitchell?”
Joey’s eyebrows go up at the title, but she doesn’t protest. In fact, she thinks it’s got a nice ring to it. “Yeah,” she says. “Keep sharp on defense. Their team’s a little bigger than ours, so they’ll probably have a bigger attacking party. But if we keep our heads up we can beat them, no problem.”
“And remember, don’t leave your post—”
“Unless you see a golden opportunity,” Joey finishes.
“No,” Kazansky says. “At all.”
Joey stares at her. “What? Seriously?”
“Yes, seriously,” Kazansky says. “We’ve got to work together as a team, and that means no running off.”
The others are nodding, even Joey’s friends, so she gives a reluctant nod as well. “Alright,” she says. “Fine.” She might not like it, but she’ll go along with it. For now.
The Marvas lead the teams to opposite sides of the woods, telling them that they and the other counselors will be keeping watch throughout the match to ensure there’s no foul play. Kazansky’s friends from Arapaho hide the flag in plain sight, as instructed, and Joey and a few others stand guard around it.
Marva Sr.’s whistle blows from far away, and the game begins. Mandy, another girl from Arapaho, leads the decoy group to the right, and Kazansky’s group gives it a few seconds before they dart off toward the left.
Guard duty, as it turns out, is insanely boring. Nothing happens for several minutes, and Joey contents herself with imagining how big of a s’more she’ll be able to make with their winnings from the game when one of their scouts comes running over to them, clutching a stitch in her side. “Guys,” she says. “There’s gonna be an ambush! I heard the Blue Team captains talking about leading a group to go after Violet’s group.”
Violet, Joey thinks, that’s right, that’s her name, and then the rest of the scout’s words hit her like a ton of bricks. If both the captains are going after Violet’s group, then the flag is probably wide open. She’s going to have to act fast.
“Can you guys hold the fort?”
Macy snorts. “Heck yeah we can.”
“Alright.” Joey steels herself. “I’m going in.”
She takes off through the woods, hiding behind trees whenever she hears the slightest noise. She’s fast and she knows it — she’s one of the fastest runners in her grade, and this maybe-fifty yards distance is her specialty. She can do this. She’s got to do this.
Joey follows the noise to the Blue Team’s base, where four scrawny-looking brunettes and one of the blond captains are standing guard around the flag. Great. She could outrun the brunettes, but the captain (Annie, she thinks) will be able to tag her out of the game in seconds. Now what is she going to do?
Her decision is made for her when Violet’s group stumbles out of the woods, chased by Captain Taylor and the others, and the commotion and chaos is enough that Joey runs out from behind her hiding spot, shoves one of the brunettes out of the way and grabs the flag, turns around and—
—and slams directly into Violet, who’d apparently had the same idea. Her co-captain’s eyes go wide with what looks like fury. “Joey, what are you doing here?”
“Grabbing the flag, duh!” Joey sees Taylor and Annie running towards her and gives Violet a quick salute. “Gotta run. Bye!”
She clutches the flag to her chest and sprints away as fast as she can, dodging members of the Blue Team and the referees, her world tunneling to the Red Team base. Forty yards. Thirty yards. Twenty yards. She can do it. She can do it!
Joey hears yelling from her team’s side of the words, and sees Macy and Tina and the others racing toward her. For a split second, Joey wonders if they’re there to welcome her back, but then she sees that they’re chasing a tiny blonde girl who’s brandishing the red flag in her hand like an Olympic torch. She’s got to tag the girl out and get back to her side first.
Pouring on the speed, Joey jumps over a log and makes it back to her side before the tiny blonde can, and tags her out. Macy and Tina start cheering, and Marva’s Sr.’s amplified voice rings out through the woods: “The Red Team wins!”
One of the counselors — a girl of about eighteen or nineteen who looks almost exactly like Buffy Summers — hefts Joey up into the air, and everyone is cheering for her, even some of the Blue Team members (albeit begrudgingly), and Joey thinks:
I’ve never been happier in my entire life.
Violet Kazansky has never been angrier in her entire life, not even when Connor Malarkey had bullied her and called her braids carrot sticks for most of second grade. “Mitchell!” she shouts, and everybody in the clearing turns to face her. One of the counselors from Navajo puts down Joey Mitchell, who looks thrilled and confused by all the attention. “What in the world were you thinking back there?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You left your lookout! You left Macy and Tina and Livvy alone!”
“So what?” Mitchell asks, looking infuriatingly cocky. “Besides, it wasn’t like your strategy was working; you got ambushed!”
Violet flushes almost as red as her hair. “We had it under control,” she retorts, even though they hadn’t, not really. “You should’ve stuck to the plan we came up with!”
Now Mitchell looks angry. “What’s your problem, Kazansky? We won! Who cares how we did it as long as we did it?”
“You’re my problem, Mitchell. You left our teammates alone for your own personal glory; we almost lost the game because of that stunt of yours.” Violet gets right in Mitchell’s stupid unsafe face and says, “I don’t like you because you’re dangerous.”
“That’s right, Kazansky.” Ironically, Mitchell doesn’t seem at all fazed by the comment; she just grins from ear to ear. “I am dangerous.”
Violet bites the air in front of her, baring her teeth.
“Girls, girls,” says Marva Jr., giving a nervous chuckle. “Come on, there’s no need to fight. You won, it’s a happy occasion.” She claps her hands together twice and steps between them, sensing the possible fight. “Now go on. Take your masks off and shake hands.”
Violet can think of about thirty thousand things she’d rather do than shake Joey Mitchell’s hand and apologize, but she swallows her pride and does as asked. Marva Jr. steps back, and Violet’s jaw drops.
Joey Mitchell looks just like her. It’s not because of the red hair (though hers is a pixie cut) and the similar stature; they have the same face. The same wide blue eyes, the same lips parted in a shocked “o”, the same cheekbones, the same freckles, even the same birthmark near her left ear. They look exactly the same.
Mitchell scoffs — though whether it’s derisive or an attempt to break the silence, Violet doesn’t know. “What’s everybody looking at?”
Violet stares. “At us,” she manages. “Don’t…don’t you see the resemblance? Between you and me?”
“Between me and you?” Mitchell repeats. This time it’s definitely derisive, though Violet can see the poorly-masked nervousness in her eyes. “What resemblance? There’s loads of things that’re different about us. I’ve got better style, a better haircut. And I can lead our team to victory and you can’t.” She crosses her arms over her chest. “You’re just being stupid.”
Violet’s expression darkens. “At least I’m not as stupid as you!”
“Girls!” Marva Jr. steps between them again, talking about peace and love and harmony and all sorts of feelings that Violet definitely does not care about right now. She just keeps glaring at Joey Mitchell, who glares right back.
That’s it, Violet thinks. This means war.
Chapter 4: Chapter 3
In the days that follow Friday’s game of capture the flag, Camp Walden is quickly swept up into the prank war to end all prank wars. Things had started harmless enough (at least according to the Marvas). Violet Kazansky had taken Joey’s clothes and hides them while Joey’s swimming, which led to Joey hiding fake spiders in Kazansky’s bed. From there, things had escalated quickly, and Joey comes back to her cabin only to find that Kazansky and her friends had moved all of Joey and her friends’ belongings onto the roof of the Navajo cabin.
“That’s it,” Joey hisses. She and Macy and Tina have gathered in the cabin instead of going to the evening bonfire, and the fact that she has to miss out on marshmallows to plan her revenge makes her even angrier. “She’s going down.”
“What’re we going to do to get her back?” Tina asks. “I mean, you gotta admit, that was a pretty good one. I don’t know how we can top that.”
Joey shakes her head. “No way! I’m not going to let Kazansky get one over me. We’ve gotta get her back. Come on, don’t either of you have any ideas?” Tina shakes her head, but Macy hesitates. Joey pounces on her hesitation at once. “What?”
“I was thinking…nah, never mind.”
“No, what? Tell me.”
“I was just thinking, well. There is something we could do to get her back, but it might…be a bit much.”
“She got my bed on the roof of the cabin, Macy,” Joey snaps. “There’s bird poop on my pajamas. Right now there’s no such thing as too much. Tell me.”
Macy sighs. “Alright,” she says. “But don’t come crying to me when you get in trouble with the Marvas.”
“Trouble?” Joey offers up her most mischievous smile. “You’re only in trouble if you get caught.” She scoots closer, wrapping her blanket tighter around her shoulders. “Now c’mon. Spill.”
Violet wakes up the next morning not to the sounds of The Star-Spangled Banner coming over the intercom, but to the piercing, shocked screams of her cabinmates. Her eyes snap open to see a mess of strings criss-crossing above her head, creating a maze whose ends lead to different horrors. Mandy’s bedsheets are covered in honey, Livvy and another girl (Jackie) are screaming about their shoes being ruined. There’s chocolate milk and honey and Wesson Oil all over the floor, and when Violet reaches up to run a hand through her hair, she discovers that her head has been thoroughly coated in shaving cream.
And there, illuminated in the open window and laughing with her friends, is the sure mastermind of this scheme: Joey freaking Mitchell.
“I’m going to kill you, Mitchell!” Violet’s yell is barely audible in the chaos of the cabin, but Joey Mitchell’s laughter is clear as day. She points at the girl who shares her face, trembling with rage. “Mitchell, you are dead!”
Surprisingly, Mitchell’s face goes pale and she runs off. Violet frowns. It hadn’t been that good of a threat, not like the ones she’d seen her dad give at work. He had this way of going completely quiet and cold and his eyes would flash and make the subject of his rage think that he was going to murder them and cleverly dispose of the body and never ever be caught, and it was terrifying and awesome at the same time. But this hadn’t been anything like her dad’s threats, so she wonders what the matter is.
Carefully, she makes her way to the door, where Mitchell is blocking the entrance so the Marvas can’t get in. That’s right, this morning was supposed to be their cabin’s inspection day. She moves closer, just in time to hear Mitchell say, “I promise, Marva, they’re sick and it’s really, really gross in there. Don’t go in.”
“Joey,” says Marva Sr., looking impatient and checking her watch. “If somebody’s sick in there, then we have to go in. Now stop being difficult and move aside.”
Violet grabs a towel off the nearest bed and wraps it around her hair, hiding the shaving cream, and moves in front of the screen door so they can see her. “Actually,” she says, “we’re all fine in here. No one’s sick or anything, I swear. Come on in and see for yourself.”
Marva Sr. gives a heavy sigh as if to say See? and pushes Mitchell aside so she can pull open the door.
If before had been chaos, the following is ten times worse. Apparently Mitchell had jury-rigged a bucket over the door, and when the door is pulled open, Marva Sr. is immediately drenched from head to toe in chocolate milk. She screams and goes running into the cabin, slipping and sliding on the oil all over the floor and smacking right into a large chest of drawers — followed immediately by Marva Jr., who slips on the oil the way cartoon characters trip on banana peels and falls flat on her back with a groan.
Violet whirls around to glare at Mitchell, who looks absolutely horrified. “Oh my God, what did you just do?”
“I didn’t do anything! They were the ones that opened the door!”
“You were the one who set this whole thing up to get me!”
“Don’t act so innocent, you put all my stuff on the roof of our cabin!”
“And you just—”
“ENOUGH!” Both of them turn to see Marva Sr. stumbling to her feet, her anger visible through the mess of oil and honey and chocolate all over her body. She points an accusing finger at the two of them. “That little stunt was the most revolting display of hooliganism ever to take place at this camp! I don’t want to hear any excuses,” she adds, for Mitchell and Violet had both opened their mouths to protest. “Miss Mitchell. Miss Kazansky. Pack your bags. Now.”
We need to get Kazansky back, you said. You’re only in trouble if you get caught, you said. Everything is going to turn out just fine, you said. Joey grimaces, shouldering her backpack higher. Well, this utterly blows.
After watching both of them to make sure they pack their bags, the Marvas lead Joey and Violet away from their cabins and up a hill that winds through the forest. Kazansky’s only got a duffel bag and a backpack to carry, but Joey’s really struggling with the three bags her dad and Uncle Goose insisted she’d bring. Not that she’s going to admit her struggle to anybody. She can do this.
At the end of their very long trek is a tiny cabin with a wraparound porch. It looks like it had been built sometime during the first FDR administration, and inside is grimy wooden floors and one bathroom and two cots with a trunk at the foot of each one. A cabin built for two.
“Now ladies,” Marva Sr. says sternly while both Joey and Kazansky catch their breath. “We’ve got six weeks left at camp and you two are going to spend every glorious one of them together. Eating together, living together, you name it. Either you’ll find a way to get along or you’ll punish yourselves better than I ever could.”
Marva Jr., who still has a bump on her head from her fall in the Arapaho cabin, adds, “You’ll thank us for this one day, girls. You’ll see.”
Thank you for this? Joey glances over at Kazansky, who looks just as disgusted by this turn of events as Joey feels. Not freaking likely.
Life in the Isolation Cabin with only Joey Mitchell for company isn’t, surprisingly, as bad as Violet had thought it would be. Sure, they’d been at each other’s throats the first couple days, but their anger towards each other had dissipated into a mostly-polite truce by day three. They don't talk much at meals or at bedtime, and they still spend their activities with their other friends, so in a way, not a lot has changed at all.
On Friday, they wake up to a window-shaking thunderstorm, and Violet spends most of the morning dragging pails around to stop the leaks in the roof from ruining the floors. Joey spends most of her morning finishing unpacking — ie. throwing all of her stuff into her trunk without even organizing it, which makes the neat freak in Violet twitch — and when Violet’s done with her project of making their new home liveable, she decides to do the same.
Unfortunately, she’d left one of the windows open, and during her attempts to put up all of her photographs (some taken by her, others taken by her Aunt Carole), a strong gust of wind sweeps into the cabin and knocks her pictures off the wall.
“No!” Violet flies to the window and tries to heave it shut, but it’s stuck, and all of her pictures are whirling around the room. “Oh man, come on—”
Then to her surprise, Joey Mitchell jumps off her bed — where she’d been staring off into space for the last half an hour — and runs to her aid. Between the two of them, they shut the window with a resounding click.
“That thing was stuck pretty good,” Joey says.
“Yeah,” Violet says. “It was.” She awkwardly pushes a wayward strand of hair behind her ear, unsure of what to say. This is the first time they’d spoken directly to each other other than hello and sorry for stepping on your toes. “Thank you.”
Joey’s eyes drop. “No problem,” she mumbles.
Violet opens her mouth to say something else — though what, she doesn’t know — but then the mess all over the floor catches her attention, and she groans. “Great. That’s just perfect.”
She sits down, gathering up all of the photographs that she can see, and Joey joins her. She hands Violet a sheath of papers, and then notices something hidden behind one of the buckets. “Here’s your…” Joey pauses, evidently unsure what to call the ragged doll in her hands.
Violet blushes. “Miggy,” she says.
“Miggy,” Joey finishes, and hands Violet the doll. “Cool name.”
Violet balances Miggy on her lap, smoothing out the faded red yarn that makes up the doll’s hair. “Thanks,” she says. “It’s short for MiG-28. Like the plane. My dad got her for me when I was a baby.”
“Double-cool name, then,” Joey says, almost approvingly. “My dad’s a huge plane nerd too. He used to be a fighter pilot. A naval aviator, I mean. That’s the proper term.”
Violet turns to look at Joey, now even more surprised. “That’s so cool,” she says earnestly. “My dad used to be a naval aviator too. I mean, he still is one, I guess. But now he teaches other fighter pilots instead of flying combat for himself.”
“Wow, small world. I wonder if your dad knew mine?”
“Maybe,” Violet says, though she doubts it. “What’s your dad’s callsign?”
“Maverick. What about yours?”
Maverick, Violet thinks, trying the callsign out in her head. It’s got a nice ring to it. “Iceman.”
Joey frowns, looking like she’s thinking it over, but then she shakes her head. “I don’t think Dad’s ever mentioned anybody with that name before. Sorry.”
“Eh, it was a long shot anyway.” Violet shrugs. “Does your dad still go by his callsign?”
“Not really,” Joey says. “I mean, Uncle Goose — he was my dad’s RIO back in the day — still calls him that, or Mav most of the time, but Dad’s coworkers call him Pete. That’s his real name. Though between you and me I think Maverick’s a way cooler thing to be called.”
Violet giggles. “Yeah, I think so too.”
They sit in a comfortable silence for a while, listening to the soft drizzling of the rain outside — and isn’t that strange, that they can sit and share silence together when just days ago they’d been sworn enemies. Joey nods at the photos in Violet’s lap. “Any of those get ruined?”
“Nah,” she says. “Just my picture of Luke Perry, but I’ve got a dozen back home.”
“Who’s Luke Perry?”
Violet’s jaw drops. “You’ve never heard of Luke Perry? Have you seen Beverly Hills 90210?” Joey shakes her head, and Violet smooths out the picture on her lap the best she can and shows it to her. “Isn’t he a dreamboat? I’ve had a crush on him since forever.”
“He is kinda cute,” Joey says thoughtfully. “Not really my type, but definitely cute.”
“What is your type, then? Who’s your celebrity crush?”
“Sarah Michelle Gellar.” It comes out automatically, like she’d been waiting years for Violet to ask her that question. “She plays Buffy on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s my favorite show, Uncle Goose and I watch it together.” She lets out a dreamy sigh. “And she’s awesome.”
“I guess I’ll have to watch the show sometime, then.” Violet grins. “Is it popular where you’re from?”
“DC,” Joey says, answering Violet’s unasked question. “Yeah, my friends and I watch it. They’re all in love with Spike and Xander, though. I’ve got better taste.” She lifts her chin up proudly, which makes Violet giggle. “Do all your friends back home like that Beverly Hills show?”
“Beverly Hills 90210,” Violet corrects. “And yeah, they do. And we all love Luke Perry.”
“Do you live in Beverly Hills? I heard your friends say that you’re from California, so…”
“Nah, I live in San Diego, in a town called Miramar. Dad works at the Navy base there; Naval Air Station, Miramar. I’ve got a picture of my house somewhere, actually…” She rummages through the photos in her lap, making a soft noise of satisfaction when she finds what she’s looking for. “This is my house.”
“It’s pretty,” Joey says sincerely. “I like the style, I’ve never seen a house like that before.”
“The style’s Mediterranean,” Violet says. “A lot of the houses in our neighborhood are built like that. I think they’re pretty too; I want my future house to look like that someday.”
Joey’s attention is elsewhere now, on the people in the photograph. “Is that your mom?”
Violet looks down at the photograph in her hands and laughs. “No, that’s my Aunt Carole. Well, not my real aunt. She’s my dad’s best friend, she helped raise me.”
“And is that…” Joey swallows audibly. Her eyes aren’t on Carole, but rather on the other person in the photograph; the blond man who has his back turned and part of his face hidden. “Is that…your dad?”
“Yeah, that’s him,” Violet says, smiling. She traces the top of her dad’s head with her thumb, a pang of homesickness twisting her stomach for a brief moment. “He didn’t know I was taking the picture, otherwise he would’ve turned around.” Joey doesn’t seem placated by this information; instead, she goes pale and pulls her leather jacket tighter around her like she’s warding off a sudden chill. Violet frowns. “You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just cold.”
Violet doesn’t buy it, but she doesn’t push. Maybe all this talk about her family had made Joey homesick, so she figures she should distract her. “Is it almost lunchtime, do you think?”
Joey looks at her watch. “Nah, not for a little bit. I’m hungry, though. I’ve got some Oreos in my bag, you want some?”
“Sure! I love Oreos.” Violet flushes. “This is probably so weird, but I eat mine dipped in peanut butter.”
Joey almost drops the package of Oreos and jar of peanut butter that she’d pulled out of her backpack. “That’s crazy; me too!”
“Whoa.” Maybe they’re more alike than she’d previously thought. Aside from the whole having-the-same-face thing, which she still refuses to think too hard about. “My aunt and my dad think it’s gross.”
“So does my dad,” Joey confesses. “Though my uncle was the one who got me hooked on this.” She sits down on her bed and holds up the package. “Want some?”
“Definitely.” Violet gets up, bringing Miggy with her, and joins Joey on her bed, happily munching on Oreos dipped in peanut butter. She glances over at Joey, studying her. “How old are you?”
“I just turned eleven back in May.”
Violet chokes on her cookie. “On May fifteenth?”
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
“It’s…that’s my birthday.”
Joey’s eyes go wide. “Wow,” she says. “That’s so weird.”
“Yeah,” Violet echoes, suddenly finding it very hard to chew. “Weird.” Alright, now she’s got to get herself off this train of thought before things get really weird, and casts around for more questions to ask. “So, uh. What’re your parents like?”
“Oh man.” Joey turns to face her, all temporary awkwardness replaced by a big smile. “Well, my dad’s the coolest dad in the whole world. He drives a motorcycle and coaches my club volleyball team, and he works for the Pentagon, so he’s got really, really high security clearance. He’s met a lot of cool people.” She sighs, pulling her knees up to her chest. “I love him a lot,” she says, almost like it’s a confession. “He’s like my best friend. We do everything together.”
Violet smiles. Joey’s dad does sound cool. Not as cool as her dad, of course, but still cool. “What about your mom?”
“I don’t have one, actually,” Joey says. From how easily she says it, it’s clear she doesn’t mind. “Well, I did at some point — can’t be born without one, y’know — but I’ve never met her. I was adopted by my dad and his husband, but they divorced when I was a baby. I’ve never met him either.”
Violet’s jaw drops. “Same here!”
“I’m adopted too, and my dad used to be married to another man. They divorced when I was really little; my dad never even mentions him.” The few times she’d tried asking her dad about her other father, he’d looked so sad that Violet had regretted bringing up the subject at all. “It’s like my other dad just vanished into thin air or something.”
Joey makes a sympathetic noise. “It’s sad the way nobody stays together anymore.”
“Tell me about it,” Violet says, and grabs another Oreo from the pile. Joey does the same.
“I wish I could meet my other dad someday,” Joey says after a while. She brushes the Oreo crumbs off her lap. “I mean, I know he was really handsome — like, movie star handsome — but that’s all I know. Dad doesn’t like to talk about him; it makes him really sad.”
Violet stiffens. “How do you know that he was handsome?”
“Because my dad had this old picture of his ex hidden in his sock drawer and he caught me looking at it all the time so he gave it to me to keep.” Joey eats another cookie, and her brow furrows when she catches Violet staring at her. “What?”
“…I have an old picture of my dad too.”
Joey looks so overwhelmed by this news that Violet feels the need to put her at ease. After all, this all has to be some gigantic coincidence. “I mean, yours is probably a whole picture,” she says quickly. She busies herself with untangling Miggy’s hair to hide how much her hands are trembling. “Mine’s this pathetic little scrap, ripped right down the middle…” Her voice trails off when she notices Joey rummaging through her backpack, and a hot burst of irritation goes through her. “What’re you doing?”
In answer, Joey pulls out a small piece of paper, clutching it to her chest, and Violet’s heart stops. “It’s the picture of my other dad,” she says quietly. “And it’s ripped too.”
“Right down the middle?”
Joey gives a tiny nod. “Right down the middle.”
Oh my God. Violet gets up from the bed and races on unsteady legs over to her desk, pulling out a shoebox from one of the drawers. Sealed an envelope (to protect it from accidental damage) at the very bottom is her most prized possession: her photograph of her other father. “Okay,” she says nervously. Joey had moved off the bed as well, and now they stand facing each other, each of them clutching their photos to their chests. “On the count of three, we’ll show them to each other. Okay?”
“Okay.” Joey takes a deep breath. “One…”
In one fluid motion, they reveal their photographs to each other. In Joey’s hand is a much-loved, crinkled photograph of Violet’s father, who’s beaming at the dark-haired man with green eyes in the photograph in Violet’s hand. Both photographs have been torn, and they join together into a cohesive whole.
“That’s my dad,” Joey whispers.
“And that’s my dad,” Violet manages, unable to tear her eyes away from the now-joined photograph. A loud ringing in the distance jerks her out of her trance. “And that’s the lunch bell.”
Joey sniffles. “I’m not really hungry anymore,” she admits, and wipes her eyes. “So…so if your dad was married to my dad, and my dad was married to your dad…and we’re both born on May fifteenth, then…” Her voice breaks. “Then you and I, we’re like…like sisters.”
Violet’s laugh is wet, full of joy. “Sisters?” she repeats. “Joey, we’re like twins!”
“Oh my God!”
“Oh my God!”
Tears are streaming down Joey’s face as she pulls Violet in for a tight hug, and Violet clings to her. To her sister. She’s not an only child; she has a sister. Joey Mitchell is her sister.
Eleven years, she thinks, sniffling. They’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
They spend the rest of the day together, holding hands and talking nonstop and catching up with each other on every detail of their lives, because — well. Eleven years is a long time to go without seeing somebody, especially if they’re your long-lost twin sister. It’s not until after the evening bonfire and they’re back in the isolation cabin that they get to the most important topic of all: their dads.
“So, what’s Dad like?”
Violet hums thoughtfully, hugging Miggy close. They’d pushed their beds together — and their picture of their dads is taped back together and pinned to the wall over their heads — and Joey can see her sister thinking hard. She wonders if she looks the same way when she’s lost in thought. “He’s really smart,” she says. “Like, really smart. He always knows all the answers to my homework, even dividing fractions.”
Joey scrunches up her nose. “Ugh, fractions are the worst.”
“I know, right?” Violet giggles, but her expression goes serious again just as fast. “He’s really kind. I mean, he can be kinda serious and intimidating if you don’t know him or he doesn’t like you, but he’s really nice. Aunt Carole says he’s a secret softie. And he’s funny, and a great pilot. I got to see him fly in an airshow once; it was super cool.”
“I bet it was awesome,” Joey says, a little wistful. She’s always wanted to see her dad fly, especially since Uncle Goose says he was the best pilot he’d ever flown with. Dangerous, but amazing.
“What about your dad? I mean, my dad too,” Violet adds, stumbling a little. “I know you said he’s super cool and all, but…what’s he like?”
Now it’s Joey’s turn to be thoughtful. How does one even go about describing Maverick Mitchell? “Well, he is super cool,” Joey says. “But he’s nice too. He’ll do anything for the people he cares about. And you wouldn’t think it to look at him — you know, leather jacket and motorcycle and all — but he’s a softie too, and he’s kind of a dork.” She starts giggling. “He totally cried when he took me to see The Lion King.”
“Dad cries when he watches documentaries,” Violet shares. “Aunt Carole always teases him about it.”
“Uncle Goose teases Dad about that too.” Joey’s smiling so hard it kind of hurts. “What else — oh! He’s really funny too. Always makes me laugh. And sometimes he sings when Uncle Goose plays the piano.”
“What does he sing?”
“Great Balls of Fire.” At Violet’s frown, Joey’s jaw drops. “You don’t know that song?” She gets on her knees on the bed and mimes putting a microphone to her mouth, lowering her voice so she sounds like her dad. “You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain,” she sings, her motions as exaggerated as possible to get her sister to laugh. “Too much loo-oove drives a man insane! You broke my will, oh what a thrill. Goodness gracious, great balls of fire!”
Violet’s laughing so hard that she looks like she might choke. “No,” she manages. “I don’t know that song, but I wish I did.”
“It’s a great song. A classic.” Joey flops back down on the bed, elbowing Violet as she pulls herself back together. “I guess Dad isn’t much of a singer.”
“No, Dad sings all the time, actually,” Violet says earnestly. “And he’s really good. I mean, he doesn’t do it outside of the car or the shower or the kitchen — except that one time Aunt Carole made him do karaoke with her on her birthday — but he’s great. I think if he wasn’t a pilot he would have made it big as a singer.”
Joey’s enraptured. “What does he sing?”
“Everything, really. His favorite band is The Doors — he had a huge crush on Jim Morrison, that’s the lead singer, when he was my age. Oh, and he sings show tunes too.” Violet beams. “He taught me a few, and we sing together. I’m not anywhere near as good as him, but it’s fun.”
“Wow.” Joey leans back against the pillows, trying to picture it. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Violet doing the same thing, and wonders if she’s trying to picture her other dad as well. “Vi?”
“Has Dad ever gotten close to getting married again?”
“Dad always says me and Aunt Carole are the only girls in his life,” Violet says, giggling a little. “But no. He’s had a couple of boyfriends, but nothing too serious.”
“My dad’s never gotten close either,” Joey confesses, relieved to hear it. It’s strange to think that neither of their dads had moved on. Maybe they’re still hung up on each other. And no sooner does that thought pass through her head than does she gasp and sit up straight, grabbing Violet’s arm and jostling her. “Vi! I’ve got a brilliant idea. Like, seriously brilliant. Beyond brilliant.”
Violet raises her eyebrows, an expression that she definitely picked up from her father. “Alright, lay it on me.”
“You wanna know what my dad’s like.”
“And I wanna know what your dad’s like,” Joey finishes. She’s practically vibrating with excitement. “So — drumroll please, pause for dramatic effect — we should switch places. I’ll go back to California as you, and you go back to DC as me.”
Violet’s jaw drops. “Are you crazy?”
“Think about it.” Joey gets up and starts pacing around the room, gesturing to keep in time with her thoughts. Violet sits on the foot of her bed, balancing Miggy on her lap. “I’ll teach you to be me, and you can teach me to be you. We can pull it off. We’re twins!”
“Joey, we’re completely and totally 100% different! There’s no way this’ll ever work.”
“Yeah it can! Watch, I’ll be you.” Joey straightens and pretends to flip her hair. “‘Mitchell, I don’t like you because you’re dangerous.’”
Violet looks like she’s trying very hard not to be amused. “I don’t sound anything like that.”
“You literally said that to me word for word after the capture the flag game, Vi. Minus the hair-tossing at least.” Joey sits down next to her sister again. “Come on, please say you’ll do it. I gotta meet my other dad.”
Violet sighs. “You know I want to meet my other dad too, Jo,” she says. “But if we switch, sooner or later they’ll figure it out and they’ll have to unswitch us.”
“And when they do,” Joey says, “they’ll have to meet again.” She elbows her sister playfully. “And who knows what feelings might still be there after all these years…”
A slow smile spreads across Violet’s face. “Alright,” she says. “I’m in. Let’s do this.”
After that, the two of them are basically inseparable. They eat together at the Isolation Table, and do their activities together, and spend long nights discussing the nuances of their plan. Violet would normally never go along with something so crazy, but…she’s wanted to meet her other dad for as long as she can remember. And if this plan of Joey’s could not only let her do that but bring her dads back together, then it’s worth a shot.
One day at breakfast, Joey brings a few photographs with her, laying them down on the table like she’s dealing out cards. “Since we’re going to be each other, you’ve got to know the people in my life by face,” she explains. She points at the first one, and Violet immediately recognizes Maverick Mitchell, but not the man beside him. He’s tall and thin, with wispy blond hair and a thin mustache and brown eyes twinkling with mischief. Violet likes him already. “This is Nick Bradshaw, a.k.a. my Uncle Goose. He used to be Dad’s RIO, and now he works as a piano teacher. Does some odd jobs here and there too.”
“He looks cool.”
“He is cool,” Joey agrees. “He’s really funny, and a great cook, and he lets me get away with pretty much anything. I love him a lot.” She lays down a couple photographs of her school friends, all of whom will be away until school starts in September, and Violet does her best to put the names to the faces. “Here’s our apartment building,” she says. “This is Mikey, he’s the doorman, and he always sneaks me candy when Dad and Uncle Goose aren’t looking. We live in the penthouse, and Uncle Goose lives a few floors down.”
“Awesome,” Violet says, grinning. “I’ve got some photos of my house and my room back at the cabin; I’ll show you tonight.”
“Sounds good. Did you bring your photos?”
“Yeah, I did.” She takes them out of the pocket of her sweatshirt, laying them down. “Here’s Dad and me. He took me to Disneyland for my ninth birthday.” Her dad’s got his hand on her shoulder, and she’s leaning against him and beaming brightly at the camera, a Mickey Mouse hat balanced jauntily on her head. It’s one of her favorite pictures of them.
“He looks great,” Joey says softly. She’s holding the photo like it’s something precious. “He changed his hair.”
For a second Violet is confused, but then she figures it out. “Oh, yeah, he hasn’t had frosted tips in a while. I think he got rid of them when I was like two or three. Now he’s rocking that dreamboat flat top.” Joey giggles, and Violet sets down her next photograph. “And this is Carole Hyra, a.k.a. my Aunt Carole.”
“The one who’s not actually your aunt, but your dad’s best friend,” Joey finishes. “She looks really nice.”
“She is! She’s sweet, and funny, and always knows what to say to cheer me up. Oh, and she makes really good hot cocoa.”
“And she and Dad, they’ve never…”
“Oh, no way.” Violet shakes her head, because that’s just too weird to wrap her brain around. “She’s not interested in Dad like that. Besides, Dad’s like me, he only likes boys.”
“What about Dad? Does he like girls?”
“He likes both, I think. I’ve seen him go out with guys and girls, but I don’t think gender really matters to him,” Joey says. “What does Carole do? Is she in the Navy too?”
“Nah, she’s a civilian. She’s a freelance photographer, runs a studio on the other end of town. That’s how she and Dad met, actually. She took pictures of me for a local kids’ fashion catalogue.”
“That’s so cool!”
“Yeah, Dad’s still got the pictures in a photo album somewhere. Oh, I almost forgot!” She pulls out one last photograph and hands it to Joey. “This is our cat, SR-71 — or 71 for short. Dad named her after the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.”
“Aww, she’s adorable.” Joey touches the top of SR-71’s head, and then she smirks. “So Dad’s a musical theater nerd and an aircraft nerd, huh.”
“Oh yeah,” Violet says, giggling. “That’s for sure. But he’s awesome.”
“I can tell.” Joey’s smile widens. “I can’t wait to meet him.”
“I am never going to get this.”
“Yeah you are! C’mon, Vi, we’ll do it again.” Violet groans, but obligingly returns to her original position. They’ve been working on mastering her and Uncle Goose’s secret handshake for the last hour now, and she’s almost got it, and Joey is determined not to let her sister give up now. Seventh time’s a charm. “Remember, you move your hand away from mine, then you hop, pivot, and bump your left hip with mine.”
“It’s left first, then right, then the arms thing?”
“Yeah. Easy peasy. Let’s go, from the top.”
Violet takes a deep breath, and nods. They switch places, Joey counts off, and they begin. Violet shakes Joey’s hand twice, and then lifts her arm and dramatically pulls her hand back. Then she sticks her right hand out again, fingers closed, palm flat, facing toward the ground, and Joey stacks her own hand on top of Violet’s, which they repeat until they’ve got a full stack.
Then they slap each other’s hands, the right-hand slap directly above the left-hand position and vice versa, and then, just as directed, Violet draws her hand back, hops up and pivots her body to the side and bumps her left hip against Joey’s, and then again with Joey’s right hip. Grinning, Joey bends her knees while bringing her hand up under her chin, and bends her elbows perpendicular to the pier, wiggling her fingers; Violet does the same. And then they step around each other, pivot and face each other, and shake each other’s hands again.
“You did it!”
“I did it!”
Violet jumps on her, squealing, and they hug each other tightly. Joey’s grinning wide enough to beat the band. “Alright, let’s do it again!”
“What are you guys doing?”
Joey and Violet whirl around to see Mandy, Livvy, Macy, and Tina coming towards them, each of them with their arms crossed and identical looks of shocked confusion. “Hey guys,” Joey says weakly. “What’s up?”
“What’s up?” Macy repeats incredulously, staring between Joey and Violet like she can’t believe what she’s seeing. “You two are freaking me out! You guys hated each other’s guts for all of camp and now you’re hugging and dancing together? What is going on?”
“And tell us the truth,” Livvy adds, putting her hands on her hips.
“Livvy,” Violet begins, obviously trying to keep the peace, and Joey blurts out, “We’re twins.”
Everyone turns to stare at her. Mandy and Tina’s jaws are roughly at their knees. “You’re what?”
“We’re twins,” Joey repeats. “Me and Violet. Our dads used to be married to each other.” She quickly explains their idea to switch places with each other in an effort to get their fathers to reunite, and by the time she’s done, the four girls look ready to faint from shock, and Violet looks like she’s contemplating jumping into the lake and never coming back out. “Please don’t tell anybody, okay? We really need this to work.”
“Are you kidding?” Tina says. “I think it’s an awesome plan.”
“Definitely,” she says. Beside her, Macy nods eagerly, and Livvy and Mandy look more relieved to finally understand what’s going on than impressed with their scheme. “Well, y’know. With one exception.”
Violet frowns. “What do you mean?”
“You’re gonna need to get a haircut.”
“Don’t freak out, Vi.”
“Don’t freak out — are you kidding me? An eleven year old is about to cut my hair!”
“I’m eleven and three quarters, thank you very much,” says Livvy, pouting. Mandy and Macy are sitting cross-legged on Joey’s bed, eating Oreos and watching the show. Joey’s sitting next to Violet for reference and support, holding her hand, and Tina’s circling them both, holding up a miniature mirror so Livvy will be able to see what she’s doing. “And I promise I know exactly what I’m doing.”
“You’d better,” Violet mumbles, trying not to panic. She’s had her hair long since the second grade, and even then she’s never had it cut as short as Joey’s. Hers had grown out a little since camp began, and now it’s poofy from the humidity and curly at the ends. “Alright, Livvy. Just get on with it.”
Joey squeezes her hand. Livvy comes closer with the pair of scissors she’d stolen from the arts and crafts table that afternoon, doing a few test snips. Violet’s heart is in her throat as the scissors come closer to her hair; she swears she can hear the Jaws music playing. Da-na da-na da-na…
The scissors squeak once, and a flurry of red hair comes spiraling to the floor. “Ha,” Livvy says triumphantly. “Don’t panic, Vi. You look awesome.”
Violet glances over at Joey just to make sure, and Joey nods. “Okay,” she says. “Keep going.”
It takes almost half an hour for Livvy to finish — not that Violet’s complaining; if it takes a while then that means Livvy actually does know what she’s doing — and when she’s done, Tina escorts Violet and Joey to the vanity mirror over their shared dresser. Her haircut’s a little choppier than Joey’s, but she puts that down to the quality of the scissors. They look completely identical, right down to the smattering of freckles on their cheeks. “This is so freaky.”
Joey, on the other hand, has gone pale. “Oh no.”
Violet’s heart stutters. “What?” she says desperately. “Oh no what?”
“I have pierced ears.”
Understanding hits Violet like a missile, followed immediately by horror. “Oh no,” she says. “No, no, no. No way. Sorry, wrong number, I refuse.”
“Then cutting your hair was a complete waste of time, Vi,” says Mandy from the bed, aggravatingly calm. “There’s no way your dad would buy Joey coming to camp with pierced ears and then coming home without them.”
Violet’s shoulders slump. “This isn’t fair,” she groans. “I just cut off half my hair and now you want to punch holes in my ears! Jo, you didn’t have to do anything this drastic to become me!”
“Hey, can I help it if I’m a complicated woman with a look entirely my own?” Violet glares at her, and Joey softens. “I’m sorry, Vi. I wouldn’t make you do this if we didn’t have to. But you can’t go to DC and see Dad without pierced ears. It’d blow the whole plan before it even got off the ground.”
She’s right, and Violet knows it. That doesn’t mean that she has to like it. “But we’re nowhere near a mall,” she protests. “How are we going to pierce my ears?”
Macy grins. “Leave that to me.”
“Where did you say your mom worked again?”
“At Macy’s,” Macy says, rolling her eyes. “Duh.”
“Right.” Joey swallows. Beside her, Violet is clutching her hand hard enough to cut off circulation. “Obviously.”
Violet’s so pale she looks like her freckles might jump off her face and make a run for it. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
“Relax,” Macy says, as cool as can be. “Mom works at the Claire’s in Macy’s, and I’ve seen her do this a hundred times. It’ll be over before you know it.” To Tina, she says, “Is the needle sterilized?”
Tina waves the needle over the lit match that Livvy’s holding a few times before handing it carefully to Macy. “All good.”
Like a professional who’s been doing this her entire life, Macy carries the needle over to Violet, who’s lying on her bed, visibly terrified and pressing an ice cube to her ear. “Earring ready?” Violet nods meekly. “Okay, good. Mandy, hand me the apple.”
“You got it,” Mandy says, passing over the crudely cut apple that she’d stolen from dinner.
“Great. Okay, Violet, just relax. On the count of three, remove the ice. One.” Violet swallows hard and clutches Joey’s hand even tighter. “Two.” Both of them squeeze their eyes shut. “Three!”
Joey opens her eyes just in time to Violet pull the ice away from her ear as Macy replaces it with the apple slice, and then sticks the needle right through Violet’s earlobe.
After that traumatic evening — she swears every bird in southern Maine had flown off the tops of the trees from the force of Violet’s scream — the rest of their training and teaching is easy. Joey teaches Violet the words to Great Balls of Fire and runs through the special handshake until her sister can do the moves in her sleep; in turn, Violet teaches her all of the aircraft trivia and TOPGUN jargon she knows, as well as the words to the show tunes she and her dad like best.
The rest of camp flies by in a haze of campfires and capture the flag games, and after what seems like no time at all, she and Violet are standing at the entrance to camp and saying goodbye. Tina and Mandy and Macy and Livvy had left an hour previous on the early morning bus (after making them promise to fill them in on how the scheme goes) and now it’s just the two of them.
“Okay,” says Violet, squaring her shoulders. It’s so strange to see her wearing Joey’s leather jacket and jeans and white T-shirt; it’s like looking into a mirror. (Then again, it’s probably just as weird for Violet to see Joey in a jean jacket and her father’s aviator sunglasses.) “So remember, you’re going to figure out how our dads met—”
“—and you’re gonna figure out why they broke up,” Joey finishes.
“Joey Mitchell!” They both turn around to see Marva Jr. waving at them from the center of camp, surrounded by younger campers and buses and cars. She’d never really forgiven them after the prank war, and always keeps a few feet of distance. “Joey Mitchell, front and center! Your car’s here!”
“That’s you,” Joey says unnecessarily. She hands Violet an envelope, hoping her hands aren’t shaking. “Your ticket’s in here. Your plane isn’t leaving until this afternoon, and Uncle Goose will pick you up from the airport.”
“When do you leave?”
“Not for a couple of hours.” It’s still five in the morning in San Diego; Thomas James ‘Iceman’ Kazansky will be picking her up from Lindbergh Field at two o’clock, and God if the very thought of actually getting to meet her other dad doesn’t make her tremble. “Give Dad a kiss for me?”
“And give Dad one for me.” Violet throws her arms around Joey in a hug, and Joey clings to her, taking a deep breath. They’ve spent all summer planning for this. They can do it.
“Last call, Joey Mitchell! Let’s go!”
“You’d better go,” Joey says reluctantly.
Violet nods, hugs Joey one last time, and picks up Joey’s suitcase (the last one that hadn’t been loaded, at any rate) before running off toward the Lincoln Town Car on the camp driveway. Marva Jr. gives her a quick hug before she steps in the car — huh, maybe she doesn’t hate our guts after all — and the car drives off, taking Joey’s sister with it.
Joey crosses her arms over her chest, and then crosses her fingers, squeezing her eyes shut. Good luck, Vi, she thinks. And good luck to me. We’re both gonna need it.
as is the case for all of my icemav fics, iceman is gay and maverick is pansexual.
Chapter 6: Chapter 5
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are now beginning our descent into San Diego, California. Please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright position. Make sure your seat belt is securely fastened and all carry-on luggage is stowed underneath the seat in front of you or in the overhead bins. Thank you for flying with us today, and enjoy the rest of your flight.”
The nerves that had been buried by Joey’s adrenaline rush begin to surface, making her stomach churn, and she clutches the blanket on her lap. This is it. She’s actually going to meet him. Thomas James Kazansky, callsign Iceman. Her other father, after so many years.
She was six years old when she first discovered the photograph in the back of Maverick’s sock drawer. He always bought colorful, exciting socks — still did, as a matter of fact — and let her pick out which ones he’d wear to work, and no matter the pattern or the color or whether or not they matched, he’d wear them. It was a fun game they played — and still do, sometimes.
Either way. She’d been riffling through the drawer, on her tiptoes and giggling to herself while her dad was waiting cross-legged on the bed, his eyes dutifully closed. She was debating between two hot pink socks or the ones with dancing reindeer that Uncle Goose had bought her dad as a gag gift on Christmas when her hand brushed against something smooth. Curious, she abandoned her handful of socks and pulled it out, staring at it.
It was a photograph — half of one, anyway. It was a little wrinkled and the edges were torn, but Joey couldn’t stop staring at the handsome blond man in the photo, wearing a fancy white uniform and smiling with his whole face at somebody out of frame. She’d never seen him before.
“Joey? What’s wrong?” She heard her dad get off the bed and come up behind her — and heard his sharp intake of breath when he saw what she was holding. “Oh,” he said. Soft, like the word had been punched out of him. “You…you found that, huh.”
Joey nodded. “Who is he?”
Maverick had knelt in front of her, brushing a strand of hair out of Joey’s face. Her hair had been so much longer when she was little; she’d cut it short when she was in third grade. “That’s, uh,” he began, and stopped. “That’s your father, Jo.”
At first Joey had laughed, because she thought her dad was messing around — obviously the man in the photograph couldn’t be her dad; Maverick Mitchell was her father, she knew that like she knew her own name — but then he’d sat her down, and, his voice halting and unsteady, explained that he’d used to be married to the man in the photograph, which made him Joey’s other father. Some of the kids in her class had parents who were divorced, so she knew what it meant, but she’d never imagined that her dad used to be married to somebody. That she had another father.
She’d spent the last five years imagining what this other father of hers was like, hiding his photo under her pillow so her dad wouldn’t see, because she knew it made him sad. Imagining what kinds of things he liked, what he did for a living, whether he’d side with her during arguments or with Maverick, what his laugh sounded like, what his hugs would feel like. And now, after so long, she was finally going to meet him.
“Cabin crew, prepare for landing.”
Joey closes her eyes, holding on tight to the armrests of her seat as the plane starts to descend. Please like me, Dad, she thinks. Please. Please, please like me.
Half an hour later, the plane lands at Lindbergh Field, and a nice couple sitting in the aisle across from her help Joey get her duffel bag and backpack (or Violet’s duffel bag and backpack, rather) out of the overhead compartment. Since she’d been sitting in the back of the plane, she’s one of the last ones to exit, and she manages a quick smile for the beaming flight attendants on her way out.
God, there’s so many people here. She feels like she’s drowning as she wades her way through the sea of passengers, standing on her tiptoes and squinting as she turns around and around and—
Her heart stops cold.
Oh my God. That’s him.
Standing in the terminal is a tall handsome man in his late thirties, with dark blond hair cut short. He’s dressed casually, in dark jeans and a button-down shirt, but he exudes an aura of easy confidence and charisma that no doubt contributes to making him so good at his job. He’s holding a bouquet of roses, and when their eyes meet, his face breaks into a wide smile.
Joey’s running before she can stop herself, and she drops her duffel bag on the ground before flinging herself into his arms, and he hugs her with so much enthusiasm that she’s lifted right off the ground. She can feel the cellophane crinkling against the roses as he adjusts his grip, pressing a kiss to the side of her head, and she clings to him, breathing him in. God, he’s perfect, even better than what she’d imagined.
It feels like no time has passed at all before he’s setting her back down, kneeling down so they’re on eye level with each other. “Violet,” he says, and — oh yeah, that’s right, she’s Violet now. Gotta remember that. “Baby, what’s the matter? Why are you crying?”
She hastily swipes her tears aside. “Nothing’s wrong,” she manages. “I just can’t believe it’s you.”
“And I can’t believe it’s you.” Her other father — Commander Thomas James Kazansky, callsign Iceman — reaches out and gently touches the ends of her hair. “You’ve got short hair now! Who cut it for you?”
“A girl I met at camp,” Joey says. Technically the truth, since she’s pretending to be Violet and all. Then the worry sets in, and she bites her lip. “Do you hate it?”
“No, baby, I love it. It looks great on you.” He brushes a wayward strand behind her ear, and his eyes go wide. “You got your ears pierced too? By the same girl who cut your hair?” Joey nods. “This must be some camp I sent you to, Vi. You hiding anything else from me?” He grins and pokes her playfully in the stomach, which makes her giggle. “Belly button rings, tattoos?”
Just the fact that I’m not who you think I am. The thought brings a fresh rush of tears.
“Hey.” Now his expression softens, going concerned. “What’s wrong?”
She sniffles, wiping her tears away. “Nothing, Dad,” she says, and even though it’s weird to call somebody other than Maverick Mitchell ‘Dad’, it feels right too. “I promise. It’s just…I’m really happy to see you.”
Thank God, he buys it. “Me too,” he says. “It feels like it’s been forever.”
She manages a nod. “It feels like a lot longer for me.”
Iceman — her dad? Icedad? — kisses her on the forehead before easily slinging her duffel bag over his shoulder. “C’mon, Vi,” he says, offering her his hand, which she takes, along with the now-crinkled bouquet of roses. “Let’s go home.”
After years and years of only taking the Metro, the bus, or riding in Goose's Toyota or on the back of Maverick’s motorcycle, Joey’s in awe at her other dad’s car, a sporty black Mazda which looks too cool to breathe on, let alone drive. Iceman puts her duffel and backpack in the trunk, and she hops into the passenger seat, cheerfully buckling up.
“What music do you want, Vi?”
Joey looks up and sees Iceman nodding at the stack of cassette tapes in the center console compartment, and she takes a handful, placing them on her lap. Annie Get Your Gun, South Pacific, The Doors’ Greatest Hits, and several others that she doesn’t recognize. “The Doors,” she says, remembering that that’s his favorite band.
Iceman grins at her. “Good choice,” he says with a wink, which makes her giggle. He slides the tape into the player, and a few seconds later, the song Light My Fire — which she only knows because Violet had taught her all the words a couple weeks back — starts to play, and as he pulls out of the parking lot, he starts to sing along. “You know that it would be untrue, you know that I would be a liar…”
Joey stares at him, starstruck. Violet hadn’t been kidding; he’s good, he’s really good. He and Uncle Goose would probably have a grand time together huddled over a piano and playing Great Balls of Fire.
Her staring must not have been as sneaky as she’d hoped, because Iceman looks over at her quizzically once the song goes into its instrumental interlude. “What’s up, Vi?” he asks. “Something on my face?”
Joey shakes her head, trying to play it cool. “Nah,” she says. “Just missed you.”
“I missed you too.” He takes her hand and raises it to his mouth, kissing her knuckles, and then turns down the music so that it’s merely background noise. “So how was camp? Did you like it? Your letters barely said anything.”
She and Violet had both kept their letters home purposefully vague; after all, planning for Operation Let’s Switch Lives and Get Our Dads Back Together (Operation Switch for short) had taken a lot of their time, and they couldn’t exactly clue in their dads on what they were doing. “Sorry, Dad,” she says. “We meant to write, but there was just so much going on—”
Iceman raises his eyebrows. “We?”
Joey wants to hit herself. Great job, Jo. Real slick. Five minutes in and she’s already blowing it. “Yeah,” she says. “We, like me and my friend. I met this girl at camp and we ended up super close. Almost like sisters.” She studies his face to see if that blow had landed, but he doesn’t even twitch. Then again, he’s had eleven years to hide that secret; he must be good at it by now. “All of my friends were awesome.”
“Tell me all about them.”
Joey spends the rest of the ride home chattering (carefully, of course, not wanting to give anything away) about camp, and the Marvas, and Macy and Tina and Mandy and Livvy. She tries to spin it all from Violet’s perspective, which is hard, because she doesn’t know for sure what her sister would tell Iceman and what she’d keep a secret, but he doesn’t seem suspicious at all. This might actually work.
Iceman talks to her too, about everything that had happened to him in the last eight weeks. He talks about his session that’s about to finish up, about the callsigns that are getting worse every year — she agrees with him; the callsign Snowflake just sounds dumb — and how SR-71 slept on Violet’s bed for the first two weeks of her absence, and how Carole had split from her latest boyfriend but was taking the split pretty well. She collects the details like sea shells, holding them close.
Finally, they pull off the highway, and a few minutes later, they arrive at a small house at the end of a secluded street. It’s just as pretty as the pictures; she can totally see why Violet wants to live in a house like this when she grows up. It’s a little old-fashioned, sure, but no less stylish and cool. Kinda like Dad, she thinks, and ducks her head to hide her smile.
She’s barely set foot in the house before she hears a shriek, and a pretty blond woman comes racing toward her, beaming and picking her right off the ground, spinning her around. “Hello, gorgeous! My God, lemme look at you!”
“You might find that easier if you put her down, Carole,” says Iceman, sending Joey a wink as he toes off his shoes and enters the kitchen.
Carole — Aunt Carole, her dad’s best friend — swats at Iceman as she sets Joey down. “Oh, I’ve missed you, honey — and apparently I’ve missed a lot! You cut your hair?”
“Got her ears pierced too,” says Iceman, taking a piece of candy out of the bowl on the table and popping it into his mouth. “When you showed me that brochure I thought I’d be sending Vi to summer camp, not beauty school.”
“Oh, lay off your daughter, Tom. She looks gorgeous! And she grew! She’ll be looming over both of us before you know it.” Carole pulls back, giving Joey some breathing room as she looks her over. Joey studies her too, unable to keep from smiling. You are exactly like Vi described you, and I like you already. “So how was camp, Vi? Did you like it? You must’ve loved it, you barely wrote!”
Joey’s about to answer when she sees a dark ball of fluff in the doorway, and she kneels down, beckoning it forward. “Hey, 71, I’m home!”
SR-71 pauses in the kitchen doorway, cocks her head to the side, and then she meows and slinks away. Iceman frowns. “That’s weird,” he says. “Like she didn’t even recognize you or something.”
Joey tries to laugh. “Must be the hair.”
“Must be.” From the other side of the house, the phone rings, and Joey wants to buy a box of chocolates for whoever’s on the other end. Iceman stands up, giving Joey an apologetic smile. “I’ll be right back, baby.”
“Okay,” Joey says, smiling back, and Iceman heads into the hall.
Carole ushers her to the table — after Joey takes her shoes off, because she figures that if Iceman had done it then Violet would probably do the same. “So,” she says, grinning conspiratorially. “Give me all the details! Did you make friends? Any cute boys?”
Joey laughs. “It was an all girls camp, Aunt Carole.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Carole says, comically exaggerated, which makes Joey laugh again. “Maybe next year your dad can send you to a co-ed camp — you can meet the Luke Perry lookalike of your dreams.”
“Maybe,” she says, grinning. This crush of Violet’s must be serious if even Carole knows about it. Perfect fodder for teasing later. “But yeah, camp was great. It was a really fun time. I feel like I’m practically a new woman.”
“I bet,” Carole says with a warm laugh, and Joey thinks, You have no idea. She’s just started filling Carole in on all of the details she’s willing to discuss about her stay at Camp Walden when Iceman comes back into the kitchen, sitting down at the table with a frown. Carole frowns too. “Everything alright?”
“No,” Iceman says, hefting an irritated sigh. “Digger called; Snowflake and Harlequin did something stupid on this afternoon’s hop — not that I know why, they’re so far behind it doesn’t even matter—”
“Are they asking you to come in?”
“Unfortunately,” Iceman says, taking another piece of candy and popping it into his mouth. To Joey, he says, “Vi, would you mind coming down to TOPGUN with me for a bit?”
Joey almost chokes on her own piece of candy. “Me?”
“Yes, you.” He reaches over, musses her hair with a grin. “Unless you’re sick of my company already?”
The chance to spend more time with her dad and see him in action? She wouldn’t pass that up for the world. “No way,” she says. “Let’s do it.”
The United States Navy Fighter Weapons School, also known as TOPGUN, is about ten minutes away from their house. Joey takes everything in: the green of the grass, the cars in the parking lot, the structure of the buildings, the tarmac and hangars in the distance. Maverick had never taken her to work with him — not that he could have, he worked for the Pentagon and his work was top secret — but from the way that the other instructors smile and nod at Joey when she and Iceman walk into the building, Iceman had taken Violet to work with him lots of times. Very interesting.
A pretty brunette in her late twenties — Iceman’s secretary — smiles at Joey when they approach Iceman’s office. “Hey, Violet,” she says. “You’re back! Great haircut, by the way.”
“Thanks, uh,” what is her name, what is her name, “Jenny. Yeah, just got back like an hour ago.”
“Well, welcome home,” Jenny says. To Iceman, she says, “They’re waiting for you in Commander Parker’s office, sir.”
“Thanks, Jenny.” Iceman adjusts the collar of his uniform, even though Joey hadn’t thought there was anything that needed to be adjusted. “Vi, this shouldn’t take long. I’ll be right back, okay?”
Iceman smiles at her, and heads off down the hall. A dark-haired man in his late thirties, probably Digger, is waiting outside the room, and the two of them have a quick conversation before heading inside. Joey feels bad for whoever is about to be on the receiving end of her dad’s ire.
“So,” Jenny says, perched on her desk. “Can I get you anything, Vi? Something to drink?”
“Uh, yes please. Thank you.”
Jenny bustles off, and Joey waits at her desk, nodding and smiling politely at the pilots and instructors that pass by and say hello to her. She can hear muffled voices coming from the office that her dad and Digger disappeared into; her Mitchell curiosity gets the better of her, and she bounds over to the office, peering through the crack in the blinds.
There are two men whose backs are to her, standing so straight that they look like they’ve been frozen that way. She can’t see their faces, but she can see part of Iceman’s as he paces in front of them, and — wow. He’s scary when he’s mad; cold and scary. That must be how he’d gotten his callsign. He’s lecturing them on something about understanding evasive maneuvers, about why after so many years in the Navy they didn’t know better than to disregard direct orders. By the time he works his way up to actually scolding them for what they’ve done instead of beating around the bush, both of them are trembling their way through apologies and no sirs and yes sirs . Joey is more than a little impressed.
Then they’re dismissed, and Joey runs back to Jenny’s desk and watches Snowflake and Harlequin walk by, their faces as white as milk. Jenny returns with a bottle of water, which Joey takes with a thankful smile, and tuts. “Your dad put them in their place?”
“Yeah,” Joey says. “Does he do that a lot?”
Jenny hums. “There’s a hotshot team in every session,” she says. “He hasn’t had to put all of them in their place, but he’s done it a fair few times. It’s entertaining if you aren’t on the receiving end of it.” She winks at Joey, who tries not to blush. “But it always works out for the pilots in the long run. They’ll thank him eventually.”
“Yeah. Your dad’s a good guy. He’s scary when he’s mad, don’t get me wrong, but he really does have their best interests at heart.”
Iceman comes out of the office with an armload of manila folders, and Digger at his side. “Alright,” he’s saying, “if Zulu and Trigger win tomorrow’s hop, send off the plaque to be engraved before five so we can have it here by graduation.”
“You got it, Ice,” says Digger. Ice. Yes, good. Now she has something better to call her dad. “You going to be able to come in for graduation or do you want me to take that? You can bring Violet. Hey, Violet,” he adds to her, smiling, and she smiles back. From what Violet had told her, Digger had been working with her dad for almost five years, and they were pretty close friends. They’d gone out a couple of times before they’d amicably broke things off, and now he was married to another woman and had a kid on the way.
“If you could take it, that’d be great,” Ice says. He slings an arm around Joey’s shoulders, pulling her close, and she can’t help but beam up at him. “Haven’t seen my daughter in eight weeks. You know how it is.”
“I don’t, actually, but I’ll know soon,” Digger says with a laugh. “Molly’s due next week.”
“I know,” Ice says, smiling. “Still not gonna say if it’s a boy or a girl?”
“Not a chance, Commander Kazansky. You’ll find out at the same time as everyone else.”
Ice shrugs. “Worth a shot.” He claps Digger on the shoulder before looking down at Violet. “Ready to go, Vi?”
“Yeah,” Joey says. “Yeah, Dad, I’m ready.”
Jenny and Digger wave goodbye to her, and on the way out, Ice gets saluted and Commander Kazansky ’d about a million times. Everybody here seems to respect him, to look up to him even barring the fact that he outranks them. Joey practically has stars in her eyes.
He is so majorly cool.
The rest of the day is spent at home, with Joey filling Ice and Carole in on (almost) all of the remaining details of her time at Camp Walden. SR-71 still refuses to come near her no matter how Violet-like Joey acts; she hopes that this scheme won’t be blown by an unusually perceptive cat. That would just be her luck.
That night, they order Chinese food and rent a movie, and Joey isn’t ashamed to say that she spends more time watching her dad than she does the movie. (Considering the nature of her and Violet’s scheme, Some Like It Hot just hits a little too close to home.) He’s got a great laugh, and a great smile, and he’s funny and kind and, despite his callsign, warm. It’s easy to see why Violet loves him so much — and why her dad had fallen in love with him.
Marilyn Monroe and the actor playing the saxophone player have just sailed off into the sunset together when Ice checks his watch. “Nine o’clock,” he says. Carole had left a couple hours ago, so it’s just the two of them in the house. “The time difference must be killing you; you want to go to bed?”
Joey’s definitely tired, but she doesn’t want to go to bed yet. She’s perfectly comfortable on the couch with her head in her dad’s lap — and since they’re alone, she might as well get to holding up her end of the deal. “Dad,” she says. She sits up and turns, sitting cross-legged so they’re facing each other. “When are you going to tell me about the F-word?”
Ice’s face goes white. “About the what?”
Joey frowns. “About my father,” she says. What else could she have meant? She thought she’d been pretty clear. “My other father, I mean. The man you married.”
Immediately, Ice’s face closes over, almost as bad as Maverick’s had when she’d asked him the same thing all those years ago. And just like her other dad, Ice looks immensely saddened by the question, and it makes her heart hurt. “Why do you ask?”
Joey looks down at her lap, fiddling with her hands, and decides to go for as much of the truth as she can. “Because you’ve never mentioned him before,” she says honestly. “Not really, anyway. You can’t blame me for wondering, Dad — and you can’t avoid the subject forever.”
“Yeah.” Ice gives a laugh that’s more like a ragged exhale. “Guess I can’t.” He scrubs a hand down his face before meeting her eyes again. “What do you want to know, Vi?”
“I…” She knows she should ask the question that she and Violet had settled on back at Camp Walden, but she figures that Violet wouldn’t just ask that out of the blue. She’d build up to it. “What was he like?”
A wry smile tugs at the corner of Ice’s mouth. “He was…charming,” he says. “Very charming. When he wanted to be, anyway. He was easy to be around. And he could make me laugh like nobody else could.”
Just from the look in his eyes, it’s easy to see that all these years have not diminished his fondness for Maverick Mitchell, but she’s not going to bring that up now. “Did you meet him here in California?”
“No,” Ice says. “We met on the USS Enterprise.”
Joey frowns again. “Like from Star Trek?”
Ice laughs out loud. “No, not like from Star Trek,” he says. “The Enterprise was the aircraft carrier they sent me to after my class at TOPGUN graduated. There was a crisis situation there — some ship wandered into enemy territory and we had to rescue it. Your dad…he was my wingman.” His smile is less wry and sadder now, almost wistful. “If it weren’t for him, I would never have made it out of that dogfight alive.”
“Whoa,” Joey says. She knew both of her dads had to be great pilots, but the thought of them working together in the sky and shooting down enemy aircraft is beyond cool. “So, wait. When did you and Dad officially meet?”
“We met for real when we were both back on the ground.” Now he’s smiling more genuinely. “He literally fell into my arms, if you can believe that.”
“No way.” Joey’s grinning now, and pulls her knees up to her chest. This story just keeps getting better and better. “Then what?”
“We talked for a little bit,” Ice says. “But my RIO, Slider — do you remember him? He came around a couple times when you were really little?” Joey shakes her head, and Ice presses on anyway. “Slider came around and he led me away, and I didn’t see your dad again until that night, when there was a party in the mess. He, uh…” Interestingly enough, he blushes and ducks his head. “He sang to me.”
“He did?” She’s heard her dad sing loads of times before — usually with Uncle Goose — but never to pick somebody up. “What did he sing?”
“You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, by the Righteous Brothers,” Ice says. She makes a mental note to tell Violet that later. “Not the best cover, mind you, but it was…cute. He was cute. We ended up talking pretty much all night, and then I kissed him. A week later, he proposed to me, and I said yes.” He shrugs. “And the rest is history.”
“So then why did you guys get divorced?”
She regrets it the second the words leave her mouth: not just because it had been Violet’s job to get that information from Maverick, but because of how sad it makes her dad look again. “It just didn’t work out,” he says quietly. “Not everything does.”
“Was it…was it because of me?”
“No.” Ice sounds so firm that Joey can’t help but believe him. “It had nothing to do with you. We both loved you, Vi. We just…we weren’t right for each other.” His eyes drop, looking away. “That’s all.”
Joey’s heart clenches, and the next thing she knows, she’s crawling into his lap, her arms around her dad in a tight hug. It’s so clear that he’s still in love with Maverick, and she knows her dad still has feelings for Ice. As soon as Violet figures out why they’d divorced, they’ll bring their dads together again. In the meantime, all she can do is hug him — and from the way he breathes shakily and clings to her, he needs it. “Just didn’t work out, huh,” she says lightly.
“No, it didn’t,” Ice says. He pulls back, gives her a smile. “Except for having you.”
She kisses him on the cheek, rests her head on his shoulder. “Dear old Dad,” she says, mostly to herself. “I wonder what he’s doing right now.”
Chapter 7: Chapter 6
Travelling as Joey Mitchell is a decidedly different experience from travelling as Violet Kazansky. For one, she’d been driven to the airport in a chauffeured Lincoln Town Car, with soft leather seats and more than enough room to stretch her legs, and on the plane she got to sit in first class for the first time in her life. Not that she’d gotten to enjoy it for long, since the flight was only two hours, but it was still a really cool experience. Maverick Mitchell’s influence is definitely far-reaching.
She still can’t believe that she’d agreed to Joey’s plan. That she’d cut her hair and pierced her ears and is now flying to DC in disguise as her twin sister. That she’s finally going to get to meet her other father.
Violet was five years old when she discovered that she had another father. She and her dad had been eating dinner together, and he’d been doing some paperwork while she’d been scribbling in her The Little Mermaid coloring book. She couldn’t remember what they’d been talking about, only that one second she’d been quiet and the next second she’d asked, “Are you gonna marry Aunt Carole?”
Ice had choked on his drink. “What?”
“You guys are happy together,” she’d said, because to her, it was that simple. “So are you gonna marry her?”
“No,” Ice said, once he’d stopped coughing. “No, Vi, I’m not going to marry her. We’re just friends. Anyway, I…I only like boys. ”
“Me too.” She loved having things in common with her dad. Then she’d promptly gone back to her coloring book, and the quiet had lasted for five whole minutes before she’d looked up and asked, “Why don’t I have a mommy?” Her dad had gone quiet, and she’d quickly rushed to fill the silence. “‘Cause Sara from school’s getting a little brother, and she says it happened because her mommy and daddy loved each other very much. So if you like boys and I don’t have a mommy, how did I get made?”
Her dad took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Sometimes,” he said carefully, like he was thinking hard about every word. “Sometimes two people who love each other very much want a baby but they can’t have one of their own. So they adopt a baby. A different man and woman who loved each other very much made you. You grew in that lady’s belly for nine whole months, right around here.” He playfully poked her in the stomach, which made her giggle. “And then when you were born, we came and adopted you. That’s how we became a family.”
Only one part of that conversation registered. “We?”
In retrospect, she was pretty impressed with her dad for managing to handle questions about adoption and how babies were made and divorce all in quick succession, but back then, she’d been too busy paying attention to her dad’s explanation that he used to be married to another man, and that he and her other father had adopted her, and the two of them were divorced now. He’d given her a torn picture of her other father, a handsome dark-haired man with a big smile. She wanted to ask a million more questions, but she could tell that talking about her other father made Ice sad, so she kept her questions to herself.
For so long, she’s dreamt of meeting her other dad. Imagined what it’d be like to get to see his smile in person, hear his laugh. Wondered if he was easygoing, or serious like her dad, and what music he liked, and what he did for a living, and what it’d be like to hug him. (If her dad had broken his heart the way he’d broken her dad’s heart.) And now she’s finally going to find out.
That is, if she doesn’t blow it.
The plane lands at Reagan International Airport late in the afternoon, and Violet enters the gate with Joey’s smallest suitcase in hand, trying to act as Joey-like as possible. Uncle Goose is supposed to meet her here and take her home, and she can’t see him anywhere. She’s seen his picture a hundred times by now, but what if she can’t recognize him? What if he takes one look at her and realizes that something’s up? What if—
She whirls around, and her smile threatens to split her face when she sees a tall, skinny man with wispy blond hair and a thin mustache approaching her. “Uncle Goose!”
She rushes toward him and throws her arms around him, and he picks her up and spins her around, both of them laughing. “Oh man, are you a sight for sore eyes!” Goose exclaims, setting her down. She’s a little dizzy, but her smile hasn’t abated once. “Look at you, Jo!”
“Look at you!” she says, grinning. He looks just like he had in Joey’s pictures. “Are you…” She squints at him. “Are you crying?”
“What? No! Definitely not, no way.” Goose exaggeratedly swipes a hand under his eyes and makes as stoic of an expression as possible, which makes her giggle. She likes him already. “Give me five, girlfriend.”
He sticks out his hand, and Violet stares at it strangely before remembering the handshake. She sets her suitcase down, takes a breath — left first, then right, then the arms thing — and then executes the handshake to perfection: pivoting and bumping hips and all.
Goose grins at her. “Good to have you back, Jo.”
She grins back, relieved. “Good to be back, Uncle Goose.”
They take the Metro from Reagan International Airport to downtown DC. The subway system here is a little easier to understand than the subway system in New York, where she and Ice had gone to see Hello, Dolly! on Broadway for her birthday couple of years ago, but if it weren’t for Goose’s presence she would have gotten lost for sure. Goose sits next to her, making jokes and talking about his piano lessons and all of the odd jobs he’d worked that summer and how the next season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is premiering in a month or so. (Considering the extent of Joey’s crush on Sarah Michelle Gellar, Violet makes sure to put her hands over her heart and sigh dreamily the way she’d seen Joey do.)
“Still biting those nails, I see,” Goose says, nudging her foot. They’re two stops away from their destination, or so says the garbled voice of the announcer.
Violet grins. Joey bit her nails all the time, and insisted that Violet do the same to take the ruse a step further. After the haircut and pierced ears, she’d started to wish she had a back tattoo or something so Joey would have to drastically change something about herself for the sake of their scheme. “You noticed!”
Goose laughs. “What do you mean, noticed? You’ve been biting them since you could chew.”
Oh. Right. “But I’ve decided to stop, Uncle Goose,” she says, because there’s no way she’s going to bite her nails for the rest of the summer. “It’s an awful habit.”
“An awful habit?” Goose repeats, adopting a terrible British accent that makes Violet giggle. “Did your dad send you to summer camp or finishing school, Jo?”
She offers up a Joey-like mischievous grin. “Maybe a bit of both.”
“Any cute girls there?”
“Nah,” she says. Wait, what was Jo saying before we left? “Well, there was this one girl there who looked just like Buffy. Like, a total twin.” She eyes Goose, but he doesn’t twitch at the mention of twins. Huh. I guess I’ll have to see if Dad’s any better at hiding it. “But she was a counselor, so.” She shrugs. “No luck for me.”
“Tell me about it.”
The doors open; Goose stands up, and Violet quickly does the same. Hefting their suitcases — “I can’t believe your dad had you bring so much stuff, Jo, my arms are gonna kill me tomorrow.” — they ascend up the stairs and back to the street. Two blocks away from the Metro stop is their apartment building: sleek and modern and about a million stories high . “I can’t believe I live here.”
“Bit of an upgrade from a summer in the middle of the woods, huh,” Goose says, which makes her blush. She’s going to have to keep her un-Joey-like comments to herself.
The doorman (Mikey, his name is Mikey, and Joey likes to joke it’s short for Michelangelo like the Ninja Turtle) wears a green uniform and a cool hat that looks a little like a fez, and true to Joey’s word, he high-fives Violet and sneaks her a piece of candy when Goose is distracted by the latch on one of her suitcases. She pops it into her mouth and winks. Strawberry. Her favorite flavor. Maybe it’s a sign.
Goose commandeers a luggage cart from one of the bellhops and places her suitcases on them. Violet sits down in the space remaining, figuring that’s what Joey would do, and earns a grin from Goose. He pushes her and the cart into the elevator, narrating every step like he’s a NASCAR commentator, and Violet’s laughing so hard that she almost forgets that she still has one more person to convince of her scheme.
The elevator stops moving for a couple of minutes around the seventh floor, and Goose huffs out a breath. “It’s been like this for the last week and a half,” he says. “Keeps getting stuck anywhere between a minute and an hour. And management won’t have anybody in to fix it until the end of the month.”
Finally, the elevator drops them off on the top floor of the building: at the penthouse. Oh God. My dad is on the other side of that door. Goose rummages in his pockets, thankfully oblivious to her inner turmoil, and after drawing out a set of keys, opens the door. “Welcome home, Jo,” he says, smiling.
It’s all she can do to keep herself from gaping as she crosses the threshold. This place is huge. The door leads right into the living room, which is just like the pictures Joey had shown her: fuzzy rugs and cozy-looking couches and a huge TV and a piano in the corner and all. There’s a row of floor-to-ceiling windows on the left, providing a view of the city that Aunt Carole would love for her photos, and on the wall facing her, right above the television, is a homemade banner spelling out WELCOME HOME JOEY!!! in huge block letters.
Goose has just closed the door behind them when there’s a rush of footsteps from down the hall — which she knows leads to the master bedroom, her room and the bathrooms — and seconds later, a handsome dark-haired man in his mid-thirties appears, beaming from ear to ear. Maverick Mitchell. Her father, at long last. “You’re back!”
“Dad.” Tears spring to Violet’s eyes. “Finally!”
She rushes toward him and he kneels down, embracing her as just as tightly as she’s embracing him. He’s wearing a simple white T-shirt and dark jeans, and no shoes, just socks, and his hair is windswept and a little longer than in the pictures, and he smells like cinnamon, and he’s absolutely perfect. “Oh man,” he says, pulling back so he can kiss her on the cheek. “I hope you had a lousy time at that camp, Jo, ‘cause you are never going back, I missed you too much.”
“I missed you too, Dad. More than you know.” She’s smiling so hard that it kind of hurts, but she doesn’t care one bit. Then, “Are you crying?”
“What? No way. Just…dust in my eyes.” He dries his eyes on the collar of his shirt, but he’s still smiling, so she knows that they must be happy tears. “You know, eight weeks really is too long, Jo. A lot has been happening around here.”
“A lot’s happened to me too, Dad.” That’s an understatement. “I mean, I feel like a completely different person.”
“Well,” Maverick says, rising to his feet. She joins him, still close enough to touch. “Let’s say we go into the kitchen and watch Goose make cornbread and chili and you can tell me all about it.”
“I go all the way across the city to pick up your daughter from camp and you make me cook?” Goose asks, mock-offended, but he claps Maverick on the back with a grin. “You’re lucky I like you, Mav.”
“Don’t I know it,” Maverick says solemnly, but he winks at Violet as they go down another hall that leads to the kitchen. They steal pieces of cornbread from the tray Goose had made the night before, and watch Goose act like Julia Child as he gets the ingredients for chili together, and Violet has never been happier.
Goose is just as good of a cook as Joey had made him out to be, and after a day of eating nothing but a meager breakfast at camp and then some snacks on the plane, Violet is starving, and inhales two pieces of cornbread and half a bowl of chili before she remembers to breathe. She figures they’d go to the dining room to eat, or to the kitchen table, but then Maverick offers the option of eating and unpacking at the same time, and she gapes. Ice had never let her do that. “You mean I can eat in my room?”
Maverick looks at her like she’s nuts. “Yeah, I’d say that’s a definite possibility.”
The two of them take their bowls of chili to Joey’s bedroom, which is wide and spacious and a bit of a mess, but that’s nothing Violet can’t fix. Goose brings the suitcases to the room, and then excuses himself, saying he’s got to make a phone call, leaving her alone with her other father for the first time in eleven years.
They end up doing more eating and talking than unpacking, but she doesn’t mind. Maverick’s easy to talk to; he’s got the kind of smile and laugh that makes everybody else around him smile and laugh, and he cracks really good jokes. He doesn’t mention much about what he’s been up to in the last eight weeks, but considering his security clearance and the nature of his job, Violet’s not that surprised. She’s happy just to listen to him and eat the rest of her chili, which is really, really good.
Maverick nods at the bowl she sets on her nightstand. Well, Joey’s nightstand technically, but when in DC… “You want more?”
“No, I’m okay. I’m full.”
“Really?” Maverick’s eyebrows go up. “You usually put away three bowls of chili before one of us can stop you.” He reaches over, puts the back of his hand on her forehead. “You sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah, I’m good, Dad. Really.”
“Alright.” Maverick doesn’t look wholly convinced, but he doesn’t push it. Instead, he unzips the last suitcase, and he frowns, pulling out an old stuffed doll with red yarn for hair and — oh no oh no oh no. “What’s this?”
“That’s Miggy,” Violet says, trying to inject the appropriate amount of surprise into her voice. “She belonged to a girl in my bunk. I wonder how she got into my bag. That’s so weird.”
“Miggy?” Maverick snorts. “Like what, like the MiG-28?”
Yep. And your ex-husband named her that. “No idea.”
“Well, since she’s not our Miggy, should we toss her? I can give her to Goodwill in the morning—”
“No!” Violet snatches her doll out of his hands, and then immediately realizes she’s made a huge mistake. God, please don’t let this get blown before it’s even begun. “I mean, no. I’ll mail Miggy to her. I mean, she loves this thing a lot. A lot. A lot. She’s like slept with that thing her entire life and she could never be like in a completely different city without her. I’ll take care of it, Dad.”
Maverick looks so confused that she feels a little bad for him. “If you say so,” he says. Then he grins, pokes her shoulder. “It’s not a gift from a secret admirer or anything, right?”
Violet blushes. “No.”
“Is that a blush? Oh my God, it is, isn’t it?” He leans over and starts tickling her, and she starts shrieking with laughter. “Some Buffy Summers lookalike gave that thing to you, right? You saved her life from some vampires and she gave you this as a token of her appreciation?” He puts on a voice like he’s a knight from the book of Arthurian legends she did a book report on last year, and it makes her laugh even harder. “Am I right?”
“Oh yeah, Dad, you cracked the case.”
“I knew it. I’m a genius.”
He lets her up, pressing a big kiss to her forehead, and she wraps her arms around him. Her sides hurt from laughing so hard, but it’s a good kind of pain. “Love you, Joey.”
“Love you too, Dad,” she says, and means it wholeheartedly.
They finish unpacking within the hour — and Violet cleans up as much of the room as she can, because if she’s going to live here then she wants a clean room — and by the time the sun’s set, they’re all gathered in the living room while Goose plays the piano. It’s almost effortless the way he does it, like playing show tunes takes less effort than breathing, and she’s majorly jealous. He and her dad are playing (according to Joey) their usual game where Goose plays a song and Maverick has to guess it before the end, and Violet’s happy to join in.
“Wait, I got it, that’s that classic thing, the — the For Elise! That thing!”
“It’s Fur Elise, Mav, but I’ll give it to you.”
“Ha.” He grins at Violet, who grins back. “I’m cultured.”
“Alright, last round,” Goose says, after playing Don't Stop Believin’ and Let It Be and Piano Man, which Maverick had proven he’d known by singing along . “And there’s no way either of you are guessing this one.” He starts fast, with a lot of staccato chords, and Violet furrows her brow, trying to suss this one out. She knows this one, what are the words, what are the—
“I could have daaaanced all night, I could have daaaanced all niiiight, and stilllll have begged for moreeeee.” She closes her eyes, losing herself in the music. How could she have forgotten? My Fair Lady is one of her favorite musicals of all time, and this song is her favorite, next to Wouldn’t It Be Loverly. “I could have spread my wings, and done a thou sand things, I’ve neeeee ver done beforeeeee! I’ll never know what made it so exciting. Why all at once my heart took flight! I only knowwwww when he began to dance with me, I could have danced, danced, danced — all night!”
She opens her eyes, beaming — only to find that Goose and Maverick are both staring at her, slack-jawed and utterly stunned. Maverick’s jaw is roughly at his knees. “Since when do you know My Fair Lady?”
Oh, crap. “Since this summer,” Violet says, praying to God that her dad and uncle buy it. “My friend at camp was totally obsessed with musicals, and I…started liking them too.” Say something Joey would say, c’mon. “Kinda got forced into the whole thing. You know how it is.”
Goose is still staring at her, but he shrugs it off. “Alright,” he says. “Well then. This little number both of you will definitely know.” He bangs out a set of four chords. “You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain. Too much love drives a man insane. You broke my will, oh what a thrill. Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire!”
Maverick grabs an empty bottle of water and brings it to his mouth like a microphone, going over to the piano and dragging a giggling Violet with him. “I laughed at love when I thought it was funny,” he sings. “But you came along and you moved me, honey.” He wraps an arm around Violet’s shoulders, and the two of them sing along: “I’ve changed my mind, this love is fine. Goodness gracious great balls of fire!”
“What are you doing?”
The piano stops abruptly, right in the middle of the chorus. Standing in the living room with her arms crossed over her chest is a blond woman, wearing a smart-looking pantsuit, red lipstick, and a bewildered expression. Violet looks up at her dad, confused and hoping for an explanation. Maverick’s face is red, and he rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. “Hey,” he says. “Hey, Charlie.”
The woman — Charlie — opens her mouth, and then she spots Violet and tilts her head to the side. “Oh, I’m interrupting,” she says. “I didn’t know Joey was back already; I’ll come back later.”
“No, that’s okay,” Maverick says quickly. Almost nervous. “What’s up?”
“I was hoping to talk to you in private,” Charlie says. She nods at Violet as if asking a question, and her dad shakes his head. “Just for a minute, Pete.”
“I…sure. Goose, Jo, can you give us a minute?”
“Sure,” Goose says. “Jo, let’s get the rest of your stuff unpacked.” He stands up from the piano bench, gives Charlie a polite nod. “Hi, Charlie.”
She doesn’t even look at him. “Hello, Goose.”
Violet looks back over her shoulder right before they enter the hall, and when she sees Charlie step forward and kiss her father full on the mouth, her jaw drops.
What is going on here?
Violet doesn’t even wait for the bedroom door to shut behind her when she whirls on Goose, who looks two parts sheepish, one part irritated. “What is going on here, Uncle Goose? Who is that lady?”
Goose sits down on her bed and scrubs a hand down his face. “Jo, it’s none of my business how your dad makes a fool out of himself, alright? He’s a big boy, he can do what he wants.”
She’s got the feeling that he’s talking to himself more than he’s talking to her, and she doesn’t have time to waste. “Yeah, okay,” she says impatiently. “So who is she?”
Goose sighs. “Her name’s Charlotte Blackwood,” he says. “Charlie for short. She’s a civilian contractor from California, has a PhD in astrophysics, does national security consultation for the Pentagon.” He circles his wrist as if to say the list of her accomplishments goes on and on. “And she’s been working on your dad since the beginning of summer in more ways than one.”
She frowns. “What do you mean?”
“Look, Jo, you and I both know Mav’s no suave debonair Bachelor of the Month-type, so I gotta ask myself what a classy lady like her sees in a guy who drives a motorcycle and only goes shopping for new clothes at gunpoint.” If she listens closely, she can hear them talking in the living room, but it’s distant and garbled like the adults from the Charlie Brown cartoons. What are they talking about in there that’s so important? “And then I realized, there’s a million reasons why that lady’s all over him, and they’ve all got to do with the money your dad’s going to be raking in when he starts his new job in September.”
Her head snaps up. “You mean you don’t think she even really likes Dad?”
“What do I know? But,” he points at her, “I’ll tell you one thing. This lady could give Sharon Stone femme fatale lessons. She’s got your dad eating out of the palm of her hand. They do everything together, they go out to dinner every single night. Not to mention she treats yours truly like I’m not even there all the time — which has really endeared her to me, as you can imagine.”
Oh, this isn’t good. This is not good at all. She and Joey had been operating under the assumption that neither of their dads had moved on, and now Maverick Mitchell had found himself a pretty (and cold) blonde girlfriend. Things just got a whole lot more complicated. “Does Dad love her?”
Goose hesitates, and that’s all the answer that Violet needs. “He seems happy with her.”
“Yeah, well.” Violet crosses her arms over her chest, scowling. “I don’t trust her.”
Joey’s in the middle of helping herself to another serving of scrambled eggs when she hears the phone ring in the hall, and as Ice is in the shower, Carole stands up from the table to answer it. She figures it’s probably work or family-related, and one of her assumptions is proven correct when Carole comes back into the kitchen and says, “Phone for you, Vi. Says she’s one of your friends from camp.”
“Thanks, Aunt Carole.” Joey hops off her chair and jogs into the hall, picking up the phone from where it’s half-resting in the cradle and putting it to her ear. “Hello?”
As Carole’s still within earshot, Joey forces a big smile and says, “Hey, Macy, good to hear from you! How’s it going?”
“Not good.” Violet’s whispering, like she’s some kind of spy. If Joey had to guess, she’s probably hiding in one of the bathrooms. “We gotta talk right now.”
“Oh, everything’s fine over here. Good to be home and all, you know. Hey, Macy, give me a second, will you?” Joey glances both ways, and upon seeing that Carole is gone, she takes the phone with her into the hall closet, closing the door behind her. The second she’s alone, all the words spill out of her in an excited rush. “Okay, now I can talk. Oh my God, Dad’s incredible. I cannot believe I’ve lived my entire life without knowing him. He’s so smart and cool and funny and he’s a great singer just like you said, and I got him talking about how he and Dad first met and what happened between them and if you ask me—”
“Joey, listen!” Violet’s still whispering, but now she sounds frantic. “We’ve got a major problem here. You’re going to have bring Dad over here ASAP.”
“What? Are you crazy?” Joey has to fight to keep her voice low. “I’ve only had one day with him! I can’t, Vi. I won’t.”
“But this is an emergency! Dad’s in love!”
Joey laughs out loud. “Get out of here,” she says. “Dad doesn’t fall in love. At least not seriously.”
“Well, he’s serious about this one. Trust me. She came over last night and she’s got him wrapped around her finger. Uncle Goose says they’ve been together since the start of the summer, and he thinks that she doesn’t even love Dad.”
“Really?” Joey feels the beginnings of worry stirring in the pit of her stomach, but she forces them aside. “Well, you’ll just have to break them up. Sabotage her. Do whatever you have to.”
“I’ll try, but I’m at a major disadvantage here. I mean, I only met Dad yesterday. You’ve got to get back here to help me.”
She can hear footsteps in the hall, and though she wants nothing more than to reassure her sister (and ask a million more questions about this girlfriend of her father’s), she’s got to wrap things up. “Vi, listen. This isn’t a big deal. I’ve seen Dad and the people he’s dated, and it never lasts long. This will blow over.”
Violet doesn’t sound convinced. “And if it doesn’t?”
“It will, I promise. I’ve gotta go. Bye.”
She hangs up in the middle of Violet’s goodbye and crawls out of the closet — and stops in her tracks when she sees her dad and Aunt Carole looking down on her, frowning. “Vi, what were you doing in there?”
“Old camp tradition,” Joey manages. She gets up as gracefully as she can and returns the phone to the cradle. “Talk to your best friend from inside a closet. It’s a little stupid, I know, but, uh…” She clasps her hands together and offers up her most winning smile. “So,” she says cheerfully. “Breakfast, anyone?”
Violet hangs up the phone, cursing her sister for not having any helpful advice to give other than sabotage them. She doesn’t have the first clue how to begin with that; her only experience in sabotage is through pranks and practical jokes, and something tells her that this won’t be solved with the shaving cream trick. Still, they’ve got a plan to follow here, and Violet isn’t about to ruin it now. So she takes a breath, returns the phone to the cradle in the hall and rejoins Maverick and Goose in the kitchen, where they’re eating breakfast.
“Hey, there you are,” Maverick says to her, turning away from Goose, who seems oddly engrossed in his cup of coffee. “You alright, Jo? You were gone for a while.”
“Oh, yeah.” Violet takes a piece of bacon and drags it through the syrup that’s still on her plate. She knows that Joey could have probably eaten the entire plate of chocolate chip pancakes in one sitting, but she’d had to cut herself off at four. “Yeah, I ended up calling a friend from camp. Livvy. I promised I’d call her when I landed and I completely forgot.”
“Is she the one with the glasses or the one with the blond hair?”
“Blond hair,” Violet says, grinning. She’d shown Maverick pictures of her friends from camp the night before, and she’s pleased that he’d remembered. “She’s doing good.”
Just then, the front door opens, and Charlie Blackwood comes waltzing in like she owns the place, smiling sunnily as she kisses Maverick good morning. It’s a long kiss, too. Violet tries not to gag. “Morning, Pete,” she says. “Hello, Goose. And Joey, hi! I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to get to know each other better last night. I’m Charlie. I’m a friend of your dad’s.”
“Yeah,” Violet says. “I know.” Does Charlie think she’s stupid? How many friends kiss their other friends full on the mouth? “Don’t worry. We already know each other well enough for me.”
Charlie’s smile is still plastered on her face, but it doesn’t feel genuine. It seems neither of them know what to do with each other. “You know, the way your father talked about you I expected to meet a little girl, but you’re so grown up.”
“I turned eleven in May,” Violet says coolly. She doesn’t appreciate being talked down to. “How old are you?”
Charlie’s laugh sounds more forced than easygoing. “Forty.”
“Huh.” She takes a sip of her orange juice. “I would have guessed older. So, what’re you doing here?”
Goose snorts into his cup of coffee, and then feigns a sneeze, claiming allergies. Charlie glances in his direction with a glare that could cut diamond, and then smiles at Violet again. “Well, I came by to drop some files off for your dad, since he left work early to come and see you,” she says. “But I wanted to ask you,” and now she turns to Maverick, who looks perturbed to find himself part of this conversation, “if you were free later. I thought you and me could have lunch somewhere to celebrate. And Joey, of course.”
Violet frowns. “To celebrate what?”
It might be her imagination, but she swears her dad goes pale. “Uh, your homecoming,” he says. “Obviously. And sorry, Charlie, I can’t. Jo and I were gonna spend the afternoon together.”
Violet grins, leaning against her dad and letting him put an arm around her. Perfect. Now she gets to spend time with her dad, and she can be rid of Charlie. But Charlie doesn’t look too put out. “That’s alright,” she says breezily, and she stands up from her seat. “I’ve got loads to do anyway. I’ll come by later.”
“Looking forward to it,” says Maverick. To Violet’s dismay, he actually sounds like he means it, and he initiates the kiss goodbye (though thankfully it isn’t as long as the kiss hello had been). This is going to be harder than she’d thought.
True to Maverick’s word, once Charlie leaves — and once Violet changes into jeans and a T-shirt and Joey’s leather jacket, making sure to comb her hair and tuck her shirt in properly — he and Violet spend the entire afternoon together. They take his motorcycle, which is a terrifying and thrilling experience at the same time, and while they don't (to Violet’s disappointment) go to the typical tourist spots like the Air and Space Museum and all of the monuments, they still go to all of the places that Joey had raved about, like the National Mall and a little hole in the wall restaurant with the best Italian food she’s ever had. Her personal favorite place is the little cupcake store near the Georgetown campus, which has the best chocolate peanut butter cupcakes she’s ever had. Finally, she can prove she’s got as big of an appetite as Joey; she inhales three of them before she remembers to breathe.
It’s late in the afternoon by the time they pull up to the apartment building. Maverick parks the bike in the garage next to Goose’s Toyota, and Violet slides off, but Maverick doesn’t seem in any hurry to go in. “You okay, Dad?”
Maverick bites his lip. “Yeah,” he says. “I’m okay. Just glad you’re back.” He takes a breath. “There’s…something important I have to talk to you about, Joey.”
Could this be it? Is he going to talk about her other father? “That’s funny,” she says, smiling. “Because there’s something important that I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Yeah?” Maverick tilts his head. “Okay, you first.”
No, wait, she’s messed this up. He’s supposed to bring it up, not her. “No, you can go first.”
“Okay,” Maverick says. “I wanted to talk to you about Charlie.”
“That’s great, I wanted to talk to you about my other father too,” Violet bursts out, beaming. Then she stops, actually registers what Maverick had said. “Wait. What about Charlie?”
Maverick looks like he might throw up. “What about your other father?” His voice is very hoarse, and his left hand twitches like it’s remembering the feel of a wedding band against its ring finger. “We’ve talked about him.”
“No we haven’t, Dad,” Violet says. “Not really. Anyway, a girl needs more than a half a crumpled old photograph. Plus I’m almost a teenager, and I’m not gonna be around forever, and neither is Uncle Goose. I think you need somebody that you can…you know. Be happy with. Someone that makes you happy.”
“You know what? You’re right. You’re absolutely right.” Maverick looks a little less woozy now, and he takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. “So what do you think about Charlie?”
Okay, this change of subject is a bit abrupt, but she can work with it. The sooner she talks about Charlie, the sooner they can get back to the subject of Iceman Kazansky. “She’s cute, I guess,” Violet says, trying to find something that won’t give away her rampant distrust and dislike. “She’s very…blonde. Smiles a lot. I mean, I don’t know. Honestly, Dad, the woman’s a complete stranger to me.” She pauses, suddenly afraid. “Why do you want my opinion anyway?”
“Because,” Maverick begins, “I was thinking about—”
But she doesn’t let him finish. She can’t let him finish, not if he’s planning on going in the direction that she really, really does not want him to go down. “Race you upstairs, Dad!”
And with that, she takes off toward the elevators in the parking garage, pushing the button for the elevator quickly and ignoring her dad’s cursing and shouts for her to wait up. The elevator comes and she steps inside, pressing the button for the penthouse, and leans back against the wall. Her legs keep trembling like her muscles are made from jello and she’s on the verge of hyperventilating.
Weirdly enough, the door to the apartment is unlocked, but she doesn’t have time to think about why before she rushes in, pacing around the living room like a woman possessed and trying not to cry. I’m so over my head here. What am I going to do? What can I do? I’m only one kid—
“Anything you want to share with the class?”
“Oh my God!” Violet almost jumps out of her own skin. She must have been thinking out loud — she does that sometimes when she’s really stressed — and worse, Goose had heard her. “Uncle Goose,” she says, praying her voice isn’t trembling. “I…I didn’t know you were, you know. In here.”
Goose stands up from the couch and moves toward her, abandoning the newspaper he’d been reading. Suspicion is etched into every line of his face. “Are you sure there isn’t anything you want to talk to me about, Jo?” he asks. He crosses his arms over his chest, walks around her like the police officers on TV do when they’re interrogating criminals. “Like…why your appetite’s changed? Or why you don’t bite your nails anymore? Or why suddenly you like musicals, and you’re neat as a pin, and you’re making private phone calls in the middle of breakfast from the master bathroom?”
Violet’s mouth is very dry. “Uncle Goose, I…” She swallows hard, desperately casting about for some sort of catch-all explanation and finding none. “I…changed a lot over the summer. That’s all.”
Goose does not look convinced. “Alright,” he says, still suspicious. “I swear, Jo, if I didn’t know any better I’d almost think you were…” He stops, shakes his head, and Violet suddenly has her answer. “Never mind. It’s impossible.”
“Almost think I was who, Uncle Goose?”
Goose just shakes his head again, and turns around, heading for the door. “Don’t worry about it, kid. I’m just thinking out loud. It’s just from the way you’ve been acting—”
“—you’d almost think I was Violet?”
Goose stops in his tracks. Slowly, ever so slowly, he turns around again. His face has completely drained of color. “You…” His throat bobs. “You know about Violet?”
“Actually…” Violet bites her lip, gesturing down at herself as if to say ‘surprise!’ This is not at all how she’d thought revealing her identity would go, but he’d backed her into a corner and there’s nothing else to do. “I…am Violet.”
Goose gasps, his hands flying to his mouth. For a second, Violet’s a little afraid that he’s going to pass out.
And then Maverick comes running into the apartment, clutching the stitch in his side and gasping for breath. “Jesus, Jo,” he says. “Why’d you run off like that? I told you I wanted to talk to you about…Goose?”
Violet frowns. “You wanted to talk to me about Goose?”
“No, I — Goose, why are you looking at Joey like that?”
“What?” Goose’s voice goes high-pitched and then breaks. “What do you mean, Mav? I’m…I’m looking at her the same way I have for the last eleven years. Since the day she came home from the hospital. Six pounds, six ounces, eighteen inches long, with ten little fingers and ten little toes. This is how I look at her.” Tears are streaming down his face, and under any other circumstances Violet might laugh at how overcome with emotion the man looks. “Can I hug her?”
Maverick’s eyebrows go up. “Uh—”
Goose doesn’t even wait for an affirmative before rushing over and sweeping Violet into his arms. “Oh Jesus, she’s just so beautiful! And so big!” He sniffles, drawing back and looking Violet in the eyes. “I’m gonna make you something special to eat. What do you want? Do you want anything? It doesn’t matter. I’m just gonna go in the kitchen and whip up everything we’ve got, okay?”
And with that, he walks out of the living room and into the kitchen, his sobs echoing off the walls.
“What,” Maverick finally says, “in the hell was that all about?”
Violet forces herself to shrug. “I have no idea.”
Maverick seems to come back to himself, squaring his shoulders. “Jo,” he says. He takes a seat on the nearest couch, and she sits down next to him. “We’ve got to talk, okay? And no running off this time.”
“Okay,” Violet says, shoving down all her nerves into a box buried somewhere near her kidneys. “Shoot.”
Maverick takes a deep breath, looking like he’s about to face a firing squad. Or a squadron full of MiGs. “Jo,” he says. “Look, I…the reason I wanted to know what you thought of Charlie was because…I wanted to make her part of our family.”
“Part of our family?” Violet repeats. Her stomach has curdled, sweat congealing under her borrowed leather jacket, but she’s determined not to freak out until there’s something tangible to freak out about. “Like…like you’re going to adopt her?”
Maverick stares. “No, Joey, I’m not going to adopt her. I’m going to marry her.”
The words land like an electric shock, and the next thing she knows she’s on her feet, pacing around the room with her hands on her face like she’s the guy from that painting The Scream. “Marry her?! Dad, that’s crazy! You can’t marry Charlie! Ya nadeyus’ ty shutish’, Charlie tebe ne podkhodit. No vozmozhno, chto ya mechtayu, chto eto tak—”
“Joey! Jo, hey. Jo!” Maverick grabs her by the shoulders, stopping her ranting right in its tracks. Then his brow furrows. “Was that…were you just speaking Russian?”
Violet’s stomach drops to the seventh floor. “Uh huh.”
“Since when do you know Russian?”
My grandpa taught me a little and so did my other dad. “…I learned it at camp?”
“What the hell kind of a camp did I send you to?”
“It was an elective. Like arts and crafts.” She takes a deep breath, ignoring how shaky it sounds. Her hands are trembling. “Okay. Okay, let’s…let’s just discuss this calmly. Calmly and rationally.”
“Yeah, and in English, if you don’t mind.” Maverick reaches out, touches her face gently. “Baby, what’s gotten into you? What’s the matter?”
“Nothing. It’s nothing, just…just…” The tears that she’d been trying to hold back since Maverick’s bomb had dropped all come spilling down her cheeks. “Dad, you can’t get married! It’ll totally and completely ruin everything!”
And with that, she storms out of the living room and into her bedroom, slamming the door shut behind her.
Violet stays in her room for the rest of the afternoon, hiding under the blankets and clutching Miggy and trying not to cry. Maverick keeps knocking on the door, trying to talk to her, but she keeps telling him to go away. She can’t talk to her dad when she’s like this; she needs to get it together. Once she’s able to think about this calmly and rationally, then she can sit down with him and explain why she doesn’t think Charlie’s right for him.
Not that it matters. All she’s got to go on is the fact that Charlie seems fake and talks down to her and that Goose thinks she’s a gold-digger, and none of those will stick unless she can back them up with solid evidence. She needs something that’ll prove to her dad that Charlie doesn’t actually love him, and therefore they can’t get married.
By seven, she decides she might as well face the music. At the very least, she can talk to Goose now that he knows she’s not Joey; maybe the two of them can come up with a plan. She opens her door, walking slowly down the hall. Maverick’s not in his bedroom or his office — in fact, the apartment seems empty. Where is he?
She can hear someone talking in the living room and she heads in that direction, but stops before she can turn the corner. It’s Charlie. Is she seriously alone in the apartment with Charlie? God help her.
“No, Pete’s not around,” Charlie’s saying. She’s lounging on the couch and talking on her cell phone, and doesn’t even seem to realize Violet is there. “He and his idiot friend went to go and get Chinese food or something. I didn’t ask.” She gets up and starts pacing around the room, and Violet hides. “Yeah, the kid didn’t take it well.” A pause. “Of course I don’t care. I’m not marrying him for the kid; you know I’m marrying him for the job. I should have been the one to get that promotion and we both know it.”
Violet covers her mouth to keep herself from gasping aloud. She’d thought that Goose’s comment yesterday hadn’t fit right. Why would Charlie want Maverick for his money if she seems — judging by her phone and the quality of her clothes — just as well off? She’s only after him for his job. Of course.
Charlie’s talking again, and Violet tunes back in at once. “Once Pete and I get married, I’ll make him quit so he can be a stay at home dad and watch his daughter, and I’ll take the job and divorce him. Plus with the prenup it’s not like I’ll be losing any money. Win-win situation.” She laughs. Violet clenches her fists so tightly that her knuckles go white. “I’ll talk to you later. Bye.”
She flips the phone closed, and Violet presses herself against the wall, trying to get it together. So now she finally knows that Charlie doesn’t love Maverick — but she can’t just tell her dad that. For one, given her actions that afternoon he won’t believe her, and Charlie will probably deny the whole thing anyway. The only thing left to do is to confront Charlie directly — and if that doesn’t work, then she’ll call Joey, and the two of them will move their plan from Phase One to Phase Two.
Violet waits exactly three minutes before she comes into the living room, and Charlie smiles at her, setting down the magazine she had been flipping through. “Hi, Joey,” she says. “Your dad and your uncle went to go and get Chinese takeout. They should be back soon.”
“Yeah,” Violet says. “I know.”
Charlie pouts in what is probably an attempt to look sympathetic. “Guess the engagement came as a bit of a shock, huh?”
Violet forces herself to keep her expression resolute. Ice cold. “Basically.”
Charlie sits up, and Violet takes a seat in the armchair near her. “You know, I remember what it was like to be eleven,” she says, almost conspiratorial, like they’re friends sharing secrets at a sleepover. “It’s a wonderful age. You’re starting to feel like a woman and, believe it or not, soon you’ll understand about love.”
“Me?” Violet makes herself laugh. “I don’t think so. I mean, I don’t even have my twelve year old molars yet.”
“Well, take it from someone who got their molars very early in life, being in love is a fantastic mystery that takes a man and a woman—”
“Or a woman and a woman,” Violet cuts in. “Or a man and a man.”
“That’s right.” Charlie’s jaw twitches, but her smile doesn’t. “Your dad used to be married to a man, I forgot about that.” She shrugs. “Oh well. Didn’t work out, so there’s nothing to talk about. His ex was probably a deadbeat anyway.”
Violet has to count backwards from twenty by threes to restrain herself. Now it’s definitely time to put her cards on the table. “Alright, Charlie,” she says. “I don’t want to be a jerk, but I know exactly what fantastic mystery my dad sees in you.”
Charlie arches her eyebrows. “You do.”
“Sure,” Violet says easily. “I mean, you’re relatively young and you’re a bombshell, and my dad’s only human. But I think that marriage should be based on more than just sex.”
Her smile drops. “Boy, your father underestimates you.”
“But you won’t.” Violet’s smile is sharp. “Will you, Charlie?”
Charlie does not look amused. “For your information, Josephine, I adore your father. He’s the kind of man I always planned on marrying. This is the real deal, and nothing you do can come between us.” She leans back, looking annoyingly arrogant. “Sorry, angel, but you are no longer the only girl in Pete Mitchell’s life. Get over it.”
“If this is the real deal,” Violet says slowly, “then you wanting my dad’s job has nothing to do with you wanting to marry him, right?”
Charlie’s expression darkens. “Alright, Shirley Temple, listen here and listen good,” she snaps, all fake sweetness well and truly gone. “Your father and I are getting married in two weeks whether you like it or not. So I suggest you play nice, because there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Violet’s taken aback by the intensity of the woman’s display, but she’s equally determined not to show it. Instead, she folds her arms over her chest, smirks, and stares Charlie down. My dad could wipe the floor with you. “Wanna bet?”
Russian translation: I hope you're joking, Charlie is not right for you. I can't believe it, I hope that I'm dreaming.
For those who don't follow my other works, I headcanon that Ice is Russian Jewish on his father's side, and is conversationally fluent. He and his dad both taught Violet Russian when she was growing up.
Since San Diego is three hours behind DC, Joey’s been waking up every day around eight thirty — which apparently is when Violet usually wakes up, so she’s in the clear. Ice is usually up at the same time, so she’s surprised when she makes her way into the kitchen and there’s no one there except SR-71. Instead, there’s a note taped to the fridge in her dad’s neat handwriting.
Had to go in for the graduation ceremony today; Digger’s wife is having the baby and he couldn’t be at work to oversee things. Carole will be here around 9 and I’ll be home as soon as I can. Sorry, honey. I’ll be with you all day tomorrow. I promise.
Joey smiles and folds up the note into thirds, putting into the pocket of her pajama pants. Yesterday the three of them had spent the day by the ocean, swimming and laughing and playing volleyball, and it had been so much fun that she’d never wanted it to end. Even so, she can’t help but worry about what Violet had told her, about how Maverick is in love with someone who doesn’t love him back. Violet had promised to break them up, but Joey should call and ask how things are going. Maybe offer better advice than she had yesterday.
She’s almost out of the kitchen when she hears the whirring of the fax machine, and watches it curiously as a picture of a black cat comes out upside down, with a speech bubble on its head. She takes the paper out and almost drops it when she sees what the message is: 911, with about ten exclamation marks. There’s no name, but she knows this has to be from Violet.
Joey sprints into the hall and grabs the phone off the cradle, dialing her home phone number as fast as she can and chewing on her thumbnail. “Hello?” she says desperately once the line connects. “Vi?”
“Yeah, Vi, it’s me. I got your message; what’s the matter?”
Violet sounds like she’s locked herself in the bathroom again, and even more frantic than she had yesterday. “Jo, you were wrong. It didn’t blow over, and it’s not going to. Dad’s getting married.”
Joey almost chokes on her own tongue. “What do you mean he’s getting married?”
“Exactly that! Black tie, white gown, tossing the bouquet, the whole nine yards.”
“What?!” Joey can’t believe what she’s hearing. She feels like her brain is running in circles around her skull screaming, Doomed! You’re doomed! “He can’t!”
“I know,” Violet says. “The wedding’s in two weeks. Charlie — that’s his girlfriend — told me. God, Jo, she’s so awful; she’s not right for him at all. If we’re going to get our dads back together, we’ve got to do it fast.”
Joey’s mind is racing at a million miles per hour. “Okay,” she says. “Okay, uh. Dad’s at work, his kids are graduating today, but as soon as he gets back I’ll drop the bomb on him. I promise.”
“Okay.” There’s some noise in the background, and Violet lets out a breath. “I’ve got to go, just — hurry, Joey. Please.”
“I will, Violet, I promise. Bye.”
Joey hangs up the phone, biting her lip. Okay. This isn’t a problem. They’d anticipated having to switch lives again, but she hadn’t thought it would happen so soon. And now her dad had thrown a wrench into their carefully laid plans by falling in love with somebody who didn’t even love him back. It’ll be okay. We can figure this out.
She turns around, trying to figure out what she’s going to tell her other father, and almost screams when she sees Carole standing there. And judging by the look on her face, she’d heard the whole thing. Crap. “…Uh oh.”
“Uh oh sounds about right,” Carole says, not unkindly, and she crosses her arms over her chest. “So. How about I make us some hot chocolate, and you fill me in on what exactly is going on here, hmm?”
Joey manages a tiny nod. “Okay.”
The graduation ceremony and after-party ends up lasting until mid-afternoon, and by the time Ice leaves TOPGUN with an armful of paperwork and files for the next class, it’s past nine o’clock. Carole had assured him that she was fine watching Violet when he’d called around four, saying that they had a lot to catch up on, but he still feels guilty. Violet is his daughter, and he loves her more than anything, and he always feels terrible whenever being her father has to take a backseat to his job.
Carole’s car is in the driveway when he gets home. From the looks of it, they’ve had a girls day in; he can see Carole’s camera on the kitchen table and some polaroids, as well as a pizza box and a bowl of popcorn kernels on the coffee table in the living room, where SR-71 is dozing off on the couch. There are voices coming from upstairs, and he follows them to the source: Violet’s bedroom, where Carole and Violet are sitting on Violet’s bed, looking like they’re in the middle of a serious discussion.
Ice knocks on the doorframe, and both of their heads snap up in a near perfect unison. “Hey,” he says, smiling. “How are my favorite girls doing?”
“Flattery will get you everywhere,” Carole says lightly, rising from her spot at the foot of Violet’s bed and going over to kiss him on the cheek. “We’re both good. I’m going to get my purse; you two catch up.” She sends Violet a strangely meaningful look, but she’s out the door and down the hall before Ice can analyze it further.
He goes over to Violet’s bed, and she obligingly moves over so he can sit next to her and put an arm over her shoulders. “Hey,” he says again, and presses a kiss to her hairline. “Sorry for running off this morning.”
“How was your day with Carole? You guys have fun?”
Violet ducks her head. “Yeah, it was fun. We…talked about some stuff.” She takes a breath, and that’s when he notices that she’s not holding Miggy. Is her doll under the covers or something? He’s never seen her without it. “About how I need to go out of town for a couple of days.”
Ice frowns. That’s the first he’s heard of that. “What? Why do you have to go out of town?”
Violet looks up at him and opens her mouth to speak, and then in one fluid motion she slides down and hides under the covers, pulling them up over her head.
“Violet?” Ice is completely at a loss. He tugs at the covers, but they refuse to budge. “Vi, what’re you doing under there?”
“Violet’s not here.”
Ice has no idea what kind of game his daughter is playing, but he decides to go along with it anyway. “Alright, then where is Violet?”
“In DC, with her father Pete Mitchell.”
Ice’s entire world stops spinning. His head snaps up and he locks eyes with Carole, who’s standing at the door with a watery smile and her purse slung over her shoulder. Jesus Christ. All of the little strange pieces start coming together — the sudden haircut and pierced ears, how SR-71 won’t go near her, how she doesn’t have Miggy — and the picture they form is mind-blowing. Gently, he draws back the covers, and sees his daughter peering up at him with teary eyes. “You’re not Violet,” he breathes. “You’re Josephine.”
Violet — Josephine, oh God, this is Joey, this is his other baby girl — nods. “I’m sorry,” she whispers. “Violet and I met up at camp, and we decided to switch places.” She hiccoughs. “I-I’ve dreamt about meeting you for as long as I can remember, and Vi felt the same way about Dad, and just…please don’t be mad. I love you so much already, and — and I hope one day you’ll love me for me, and not as Violet.”
The dam breaks, and Ice takes his daughter into his arms. “Baby girl,” he says. Now he’s crying, and so is she. They’re both clinging to each other and crying. “I have loved you your whole life.”
A sob from the doorway makes them both turn around; Carole is crying into a tissue. “Don’t mind me,” she sniffles. “I’m just so happy for you. Oh God. Where’s the camera? I’ll go find it. Just — don’t move. I’ll be right back.”
Carole leaves, and Joey lets out a tiny laugh. “So,” she says tentatively. “I guess you have to switch us back now, huh.”
Ice sighs. “Yeah,” he says reluctantly. “I do. Technically, you belong to your dad and Vi belongs to me.”
“No offense, Dad, but this arrangement really blows.”
That startles a laugh out of him. She’s got her father’s sense of humor in spades. “Yeah,” he says. “It definitely does.”
“Well.” Joey pulls out of his embrace and sits up straight: the spitting image of a woman with a plan. “Then I say we fly to DC, find Dad and Violet and get this whole thing straightened out.”
“And I say you’re right.” Ice taps Joey on the nose, which makes her giggle. “Don’t worry, Jo. I’ll take care of everything. I promise.”
Right. I’ll take care of this. I’ll talk to my ex-husband for the first time in eleven years and fly across the country to see him in person so we can exchange daughters. No problem. I can do this.
“I can’t do this.”
Carole, who’s been listening to the exact same declaration on loop for the last eighteen hours, hums and takes a sip of her orange juice. She’s learned by now not to say anything, just to let Tom work the nerves out of him through aggressively neat packing and pacing around the room.
“I mean it, Carole,” Tom says, folding a pair of boxers like they’ve personally offended him. “I haven’t heard from Maverick Mitchell in over eleven years and now here I am getting ready to fly across the country to see him again.” He throws the boxers down into the suitcase and heads off to his dresser again. “I’m not mature enough for this. If Maverick didn’t drive me crazy, I’d still be married to him. I mean, we came up with this whole arrangement just so we’d never have to see each other again and — Jesus, Carole, look at me.” He gestures at himself, though Carole’s not sure what she’s supposed to be staring at. The old pair of jeans, the messy hair, the dark circles under his eyes. It’s a lot. “Have you ever seen me like this?”
“Don’t answer that.” He starts pacing around the room again, running a hand through his hair. “What if he doesn’t recognize me? No, wait, don’t answer that either.” Then, having had enough of the pacing, he collapses onto his bed, narrowly avoiding the half-packed suitcase. “Joey says he’s handsome,” he says, mostly to himself. “That makes sense; he always was a looker. Had a smile that made me go weak in the knees, if you can believe that.”
Joey chooses that moment to flounce her way into the room and hop on top of the dresser, her legs swinging. “I’m all ready, Dad.”
“Good,” Tom says. “Great. Yeah, me too.”
Joey’s eyebrows arch. “Dad, your suitcase is like half empty. And you’re not even wearing a shirt.”
“Hey, don’t talk him out of it,” Carole says to Joey. “If you can get him to the airport like this you’ll get bumped up to first class.”
Joey starts giggling. Tom goes red and hastily grabs a shirt out of the pile nearest him, standing up and pulling it over his head. “Sorry about that, Jo,” he says. “Listen, uh — have you talked to your dad?”
“Uh, yeah! Yeah, I just hung up with him, actually,” Joey says, very clearly lying despite her angelic who me? expression. “He’s really anxious to see you.”
Luckily for Joey, Tom is too lost in his stress to figure out that his daughter’s not telling the truth. “Anxious?” he repeats, sounding pretty anxious himself. “Like anxious-nervous, like he’s totally and completely dreading it? Or anxious-excited, like he’s looking forward to it?”
“Anxious-excited,” Joey says decisively. “Definitely. He says he’ll meet us tomorrow at two at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in downtown DC.”
“Ah,” Tom says. “Well. Well, uh. That is…incredibly soon. Listen, Jo, why don’t you go downstairs and look through the takeout menus and figure out what you want to order for dinner tonight? I’ll finish up in a bit and join you.”
“Okay,” Joey says easily. She hops off the dresser and heads for the door. Tom’s distracted again by the pile of clothes on the bed, so Carole feels no shame about meeting Joey’s eyes and raising her eyebrows as high as they can go. Joey winks, a promise to fill her in on all the details later, and strolls off down the hall.
“Carole,” Tom says, and Carole turns around to face him. He looks marginally more put-together now that he’s fully clothed — not that she hadn’t appreciated the view before, mind you. “I have a…really ridiculous request. Well, not that ridiculous, but, uh — look. Over the years, you’ve become more than a friend to me, you’re like the younger sister I’ve never had who also happened to help me raise my daughter. Anyway, I…I was wondering if maybe you could—”
“If I’d come with you on the trip?”
“Are you kidding?” Carole grins. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Tom looks ready to fall to his knees from pure relief. “Oh Jesus, thank you. Thank you, Carole. I owe you one. A big one.”
“Don’t mention it,” she assures him. She walks toward his closet and rummages through the hangers, making a soft noise of satisfaction when she finds what she’s looking for. “And Tom, as a friend — if I were seeing my ex for the first time in eleven years, and I had your ass, I’d wear this.” She turns around, holding up a dark blue suit that she’s never seen him wear but knows he’d look fantastic in, and winks. “You’ll kill in it.”
and so it begins...
Chapter 10: Chapter 9
The clock has just struck two when Violet, Goose and Maverick enter the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton, which is by far the fanciest place Violet’s ever been in her entire life. Everybody is dressed to the nines, and luckily, she and her uncle and her dad are dressed nicely too — she’s wearing nice pants and a yellow halter top and a white jacket, and Goose and Maverick are wearing suits — and they fit right in. Still, Violet feels uncomfortable, and her discomfort only grows when she scans the lobby and sees that Joey and Ice aren’t here yet. Where are they?
Charlie Blackwood crosses the lobby toward them, wearing a nice black dress and red lipstick and a big smile. She’s accompanied by her parents, a well-dressed couple in their early fifties; it’s easy to see where she’d gotten her looks and confidence. “Hi, darling,” she says to Maverick, and kisses him. “Hello, Joey. Hello, Goose.”
“Hi, Charlie,” Goose says politely, and Violet manages a nod. “So,” he says, and nods at the couple standing behind Charlie. “These the folks?”
“Yes,” Charlie says, still smiling, and links arms with Maverick. “Mom, Dad,” she says, “this is my fiance and the love of my life, Peter Mitchell.”
“Hello, Peter,” says the woman, smiling like Miss America as she shakes Maverick’s hand. “It’s lovely to finally meet you. I’m Vivian, and this is my husband, Edward.”
“It’s nice to meet you too,” Maverick says, but Violet can tell he’s nervous from the way his smile’s a bit too big. “This is my best friend, Nick Bradshaw, and my daughter, Joey.”
“Joey,” repeats Vivian, like she’s never heard the name before. “Short for Joanne?”
“Josephine,” Maverick and Violet say at the same time.
“We have Joey to thank for bringing us together this weekend,” Charlie says to her parents, who nod, impressed. “This entire prenuptial get-together was her idea, I’ll have you know.”
Maverick smiles again, this time more genuinely. Violet tries to smile like a girl who has absolutely no problem with her dad marrying Cruella de Vil’s younger, blonder sister. She and Joey had spent an hour and a half on the phone yesterday coming up with this plan, and she knows it’ll work. Now if only Dad and Jo will show up.
“It’s nice to meet you, young lady,” says Mr. Blackwood. “We’ve heard nothing but…wonderful things about you.”
“Hello, darling,” cooes Mrs. Blackwood. Now she sounds less Miss America and more deranged Scarlett O’Hara. “I’m so pleased to meet you! I’m Vivian, but you may call me Aunt Viv. I know we’ll be best of friends before long.”
Violet’s eyebrows shoot up so high they almost fly off her face. Yeah, she thinks, unimpressed. Not a chance.
Their taxi has scarcely pulled up to the curb when the side door opens and Iceman Kazansky stumbles out, Joey and Carole right behind him. “Well, that was a great flight,” he announces to no one in particular, grinning like a kid on Christmas morning and swaying slightly. “Wasn’t it? I mean, it was so quick.” He finishes the tiny bottle of vodka he’s holding, not even grimacing at the taste. “Can you believe those flight attendants thought I was a nervous flier? I’m a pilot.”
“You’ve mentioned,” Carole says, and reaches out to steady him. “Tom, you drank three of those mini bottles of vodka in a row; you looked like you thought the plane was going to catch on fire.”
Ice’s eyes go wide. “Did it catch on fire?”
“Oh, good.” He tosses the remaining empty bottle into the trash. “Alright,” he says, and proceeds to trip over the first step on the way into the hotel. Carole and Joey barely manage to catch him in time, but he waves them off and sets forward by himself. “Let’s rock and roll!”
Carole and Joey exchange looks. “God,” Joey groans. “I am in such major trouble here.”
“Well, I think the hotel is perfect for the wedding,” Charlie’s saying to her parents, who are hanging onto her every word, so Maverick tries to do the same. Joey looks strangely nervous and keeps scanning the room like she’s looking for someone, and she and Goose keep whispering with each other like sorority girls. “So, I’ve checked us in. Let’s freshen up and then rendezvous in the bar to finish hammering out the details.”
“Sounds great,” Vivian says with a smile like she’s been practicing it in the mirror all her life. “Your father and I will meet you and Peter in the bar in ten.”
“Great,” Maverick says. His smile probably comes off like he has lockjaw. Once Vivian and Edward leave, he says, “Goose, you and Joey can go up to the room if you want. I’ll be a bit.”
“Yeah, sure, sure,” Goose says, and pockets the set of keys that Maverick offers him. He seems twitchy — then again, he’s been acting weird ever since Joey came home, and so has Joey, for that matter — but Maverick doesn’t have time to reflect on it for long before he and Joey head off toward the elevators and Charlie puts her arms around him.
“So,” she purrs, leaning close and fiddling with his tie. “Since we’re here, why don’t we go check out the honeymoon suite? I bet it is to die for.”
Maverick grins. “Lead the way.”
“Okay,” Violet says to Goose once they’re both back in the lobby (and thankfully far away from Charlie and her creepy parents). “Dad and Joey should be here by now, and their room’s right across the hall from mine, so let’s go upstairs and get this whole thing over with.”
Goose elbows her in the side, and Violet looks up just in time to see her own face looking back at her from the left elevator. Her twin sister, who’s mouthing something that Violet can’t make out before the doors close on her. So she did make it, and she’d apparently brought Aunt Carole. But where’s—
“Baby, you didn’t have to wait for me,” someone to her left is saying, and Violet looks up into the face of her father, who’s swaying a little and smiling a little too brightly and — oh my God, is he drunk? “I only went to get my wallet; I could’ve found the room by myself. You can go on up, I’ve gotta go use the little boy’s room.” He pats her clumsily on the shoulder. Iceman Kazansky never does anything clumsily. He must be seriously impaired. “Go on. I’ll meet you upstairs.”
And with that, he heads off to the left of the lobby where the bathrooms are located, stumbling with every step.
Violet wants to tear her own hair out. “He’s drunk!” she moans to Goose, who looks like he’d rather be on the receiving end of a root canal than participate in this scheme. “He’s never drank more than two beers in all the time I’ve known him, and he chooses today of all days to show up totally zonked!”
“Yeah, well,” Goose says, escorting her toward the open doors of the elevator on the right. “No time to argue. Just do what the man says and meet him upshtairs.”
Ice finishes splashing cold water on his face and exits the bathroom, feeling marginally more refreshed and humming along to the Glenn Miller song they’re playing in the lobby. He’s so glad he had the foresight to drink on the plane; Joey might have said that Maverick’s anxious-excited to see him, but Ice is more anxious than excited and had needed something strong to calm his nerves. Something in the form of four little bottles of vodka. Maybe five. It’s all a bit of a blur.
He’s just about to enter the open elevator on the left when he notices the people within. One of them is a woman with wavy blonde hair and a nice black dress and stiletto heels, her back to Ice and her arms wrapped around none other than Ice’s ex-husband. And Maverick’s smiling at her, but he must feel the weight of Ice’s stunned stare because he looks up, and his jaw drops.
Ice forces a smile, trying to act like this is no big deal, but Maverick doesn’t seem to get the memo. Maverick just keeps staring at him, slack-jawed and horrified, leaning away from the mystery woman with one hand pressed against the elevator walls until the doors shut on him and all Ice can see is himself, reflected in the gold sheen of the elevator.
It’s only then that he realizes that he’d started to wave.
It’s official. He’s lost his mind. The stress of the sudden wedding to plan and meeting his fiance’s parents and Joey and Goose’s strange behavior had finally gotten to him, and he’s completely lost his mind. There’s no other explanation why he just saw his ex-husband after eleven years of radio silence. Half of him wants to run out of the elevator and back downstairs to the lobby to see if it had been a hallucination or not, and the other half of him insists that he doesn’t need to know. That he’s engaged, and he’s got a wedding to plan and a fiance to be with, and he doesn’t need to see Ice again.
No matter how much Maverick really, really wants to.
“Pete.” Charlie puts a hand on his shoulder, sounding a combination of confused and irritated. He senses this isn’t the first time she’d tried getting his attention — and it’s at that moment he realizes he’d leaned away from her completely and is now on the other side of the elevator, frozen from his effort to try and spot Ice. “What’s the matter? Is everything alright?”
“Yeah,” he manages. He can’t look at her; his eyes are still fixed on the doors. “Yeah, everything’s fine.”
I hope so, anyway.
The doors on the right and left sides of the hall open to reveal Ice’s daughter and her twin sister, and Ice groans. Seeing Maverick’s shocked face and his reflection in the elevator doors had sobered him right up, as had the three flights of stairs he’d taken to get here, and now his head is killing him.
“Oh Christ, please just tell me who’s who. I’m already seeing double.”
The girl on the right steps forward. “It’s me, Dad,” she says. “Violet.”
“Vi.” Most of the tension leaves him in a whoosh, and he goes to her, taking her in his arms. It had been amazing to see Joey and get to know her a little, but this is his daughter, the one he’d raised, and seeing her again makes him tear up. “Hi, baby,” he says softly, tapping her on the chin, and she giggles. “Looking good.”
Joey joins their hug, and Ice holds his daughters tightly. “I can’t believe you’re both here!” And then, “I can’t believe you both did this to me!”
Joey and Violet wince. “Yeah,” Violet says. “Sorry about that, Dad.”
A familiar man with blond hair and a thin mustache sticks his head out of the doorway to the right. “Hey,” he says. “Sorry to break this up, but we probably ought to take this somewhere more private before the neighbors start complaining.”
“Good idea,” Joey says. She opens the door to her suite and gestures everyone inside.
Ice lets the girls go through first, and intends to follow them when the other man claps a hand on his shoulder. “Hi,” he says, almost sheepishly. “You probably don’t remember me. I’m—”
“Nick Bradshaw,” Ice finishes, and he smiles at Goose, shakes his hand. “Of course I remember you. How’s it going, Mother Goose?”
“Doing good, Tom,” says Goose, grinning, and when he enters the room last, Ice swears he hears Goose triumphantly say to himself, “I knew I always liked him.”
“No, I don’t understand. Where are you going?”
Maverick straightens his clothes as he heads away from the bed, where Charlie is sitting and adjusting her dress, and over to the bathroom. “I just need to take a walk for a few minutes to, uh, to clear my head,” he says, running a comb through his hair and putting on some cologne. He has no idea why he’s trying so hard to look nice for a figment of his imagination, but here he is anyway. “Then I’ll meet you and your parents at the bar.”
“Clear your head?” Charlie repeats. “What do you have to clear your head about? Is something wrong?”
“I hope not,” Maverick mumbles as he comes out of the bathroom, and then realizes what he’d said. “I mean, no. Nothing’s wrong. What could be wrong? We’re getting married in ten days, everything’s perfect.” He tries for a reassuring smile. “I gotta go.” He comes over and quickly kisses her on the cheek, and then he opens the door.
“We’re still going ring shopping after lunch, right?”
“Ring shopping?” Maverick has no idea what she’s talking about. “Oh, oh yeah, right. For the funeral. I mean, for the wedding.”
Charlie’s jaw drops. “For the funeral?”
“I’m kidding,” Maverick says with a nervous laugh. He’s never sounded less convincing in his life. “Don’t listen to me. I’ll see you there. I mean, here. Downstairs.”
And before she can protest — and before he can change his mind — he heads out of the room, closing the door behind him.
“One of you — I’m not sure which one of you — told me Maverick knew I was coming today,” Ice says. He’s pacing around the room while his daughters sit next to each other on the coffee table, and his head is throbbing like someone had used it like a gong. “Well, let me tell you that the man I saw in the elevator had no idea we were still on the same planet, let alone in the same hotel.”
Joey (at least he thinks it’s Joey; it’s so hard to tell when they’re sitting next to each other) winces. “You saw Dad already?”
“Oh yeah.” Ice scrubs a hand down his face and collapses onto the couch. God, he could use a drink. Another one. A stiff one. “Yeah, I did. And by the way, in case you’re wondering, he did not look anxious-excited to see me. The man went completely white and almost fainted like I was the goddamn Ghost of Christmas Past!” He turns on his side to face his daughters, both of whom he’s pleased to see look a little sheepish. “You know, I let myself imagine on the plane ride over here what it’d be like to see Maverick again after eleven years, and me waving like a complete moron while he was wrapped around another woman was not what I had in mind.”
Carole steps out of the bathroom, wearing a burnt orange bikini and whistling to herself. “Hey Tom,” she says brightly. “I’m gonna go take a dip; you mind?”
“No,” Ice says. He puts his arm over his forehead and wishes to God that the world would start making sense. “No, go ahead. Have fun. Somebody ought to on this goddamn trip.”
Just then, the door opens, and Ice sits up so fast his head spins. Is that — no, it’s not Maverick, it’s Goose again. “Hey girls,” he says. “Hey, Tom. Hey — you.” His gaze stops on Carole, who blushes and tucks a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. “I don’t think I know you.”
“Aunt Carole,” says Violet, grinning like the cat that ate the whole flock of canaries, “this is Goose Bradshaw. Goose Bradshaw, Carole Hyra.”
“Goose, huh,” Carole says. “One of those fancy pilot nicknames?”
“That’s right,” Goose says. Now he’s blushing. Violet and Joey start giggling. “It’s, uh, nice to meet you, Miss. Ma’am. Carole.”
“The pleasure’s all mine.”
Ice does not have time for this. “Girls,” he says. He stands up, and Violet and Joey both turn away from the romantic spectacle in the corner and meet his gaze again. “You were telling me why you brought me here without telling your father.”
“Were they?” Goose says, quick as a flash. “Huh. Alright. Uh, well, I’m gonna go and check out the mini-bar situation in my suite. I hear this hotel’s got lots of M&Ms.”
“I like M&Ms, I’ll come with,” Carole says quickly, turning to follow him, and Ice might be hungover and humiliated but he wasn’t born yesterday.
“Wait just a goddamn second,” he says. Carole and Goose freeze by the door. “Does everybody here know something I don’t know?”
Violet bites her lip. “Daddy,” she says cautiously. “Dad’s getting married.”
Ice’s legs go numb, and he sits back down on the couch with a thud. Married. Maverick’s getting married. It’s not a surprise — he’d seen the woman and how closely they’d been entwined — but somehow, even after all these years, the pain at the thought of losing Maverick for good hits him like a missile to the chest and for a moment he can’t even breathe.
“The lady he’s marrying is awful, Dad,” Violet is saying, and he forces himself to tune back in. “She’s completely wrong for him; we can’t let him go through with it.”
“And the only way he won’t marry her is — Vi, you tell him. He knows you better.”
Violet comes over to him, sits on his lap the way she used to when she was little. “Dad,” she says. “The only way he won’t marry her is if he sees you again.”
“Oh Jesus,” Ice says. All of the pieces are falling into place now. “Joey, Violet, are you seriously trying to set me up with your father?”
“Come on, Dad, you guys are perfect for each other,” Joey argues, but Ice is too preoccupied with Goose and Carole sneaking away again.
“Hold it,” he commands. They stop with the door half open and turn around like kids caught stealing cookies before dinner. “Did you two know about this?”
“What?” Carole exclaims. She puts a hand over her heart. “No! Of course not!”
“Yeah, no way, I had no idea,” says Goose.
“Okay, yes, I knew—”
“Yeah, I knew too—”
“Joey told me the story, it was so sweet.”
“Yeah, I couldn’t resist. You know how I’m an old romantic.”
“Huh.” Carole looks Goose over appraisingly. “So am I.”
Ice’s headache now threatens to split his skull. “Alright,” he says, and shifts Violet off him so he can stand up. He’s using his Commander Kazansky voice, and it seems to be working because he’s got everybody’s attention now. “I’m only going to say this once, so listen up. Maverick Mitchell and I have absolutely nothing in common. Anymore. And anyway, he seems pretty content with his new tight-skirted Marilyn-blonde fiance.” Violet and Joey do not look impressed, and Ice hastens to get to the point. “Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to find a hangover cure. You girls are going to find your father and explain to him that I travelled all this way for one reason and one reason only: to switch the two of you back. And you two,” he says to Goose and Carole, “are going to stop flirting long enough to make sure that they do what they’re told. Now let’s do what we have to do and be done with it. Understood?”
“Understood,” Joey, Violet, Goose, and Carole chorus.
“Good. Thank you. Dismissed.”
Chapter 11: Chapter 10
This chapter is the second one posted today (believe me, I'm surprised too). Please read Chapter 9 first, if you haven't already.
After Ice leaves to go and find a hangover cure at the hotel bar, Violet and Joey and Goose and Carole all exchange looks that say without speaking that the plan is still on. She and her sister change into bathing suits — Violet wearing a sarong over hers, Joey wearing shorts and a T-shirt over hers — and go their separate ways, with plans to meet at the pool.
Joey leaves first, and when Violet’s sure she’s gone, she exits the suite and heads down the hall, whistling a tune to herself.
Violet stops and turns around. “What’s up, Dad?”
“Uh, listen.” Maverick stops halfway between Violet and the elevator at the end of the hall, shifting from foot to foot. “I’m going to go downstairs for a bit; get the lay of the land, you know. Do me a favor and keep an eye on Charlie for me?”
Violet looks Maverick up and down. He’s wearing the same suit, but he’d combed his hair and had put on some cologne, and she bites back a grin. “Sure thing.”
“Thanks. Oh, uh, and Jo? How do I look?” Maverick gestures at himself. “Not like I’m trying too hard or anything, right?”
“Definitely not,” she assures him. She can’t hold back her grin now. “You look fab, Dad. Young and fab.”
“Great.” Maverick gives a sigh of relief. “Alright, uh…I’ll be back. See you in a bit.”
The hotel lobby is just as crowded as he’d left it, and Maverick cranes his neck, searching for some sign of his ex-husband but finding none. Then again, what had he expected? That Ice would still be in front of the elevators, and that he’d call him Mav the way he used to, with that fond, exasperated smile and—
He cuts that thought off before it can get far. It doesn’t matter. He’s engaged, and he’s moving on, finally. He’s just looking for Ice out of…professional curiosity. That’s what it is. That’s all.
He looks to his right and sees Joey coming toward him, eating a candy bar and grinning at him. “Hey,” he says, confused. She’s wearing shorts and a T-shirt now — he could’ve sworn she’d been wearing something flowier upstairs. Or maybe it’s the stress making him hallucinate again. “I thought you were going to keep Charlie company?”
“I was? I mean, I am. Yeah. I was just looking for her, actually.” She leans forward and gives him a quick hug, grinning up at him like they haven’t seen each other in months. “It’s great to see you, Dad.”
He doesn’t really get it, but he hugs her back anyway. “It’s great to see you too, kid,” he says, smiling, and musses her hair. “Now go on, get up there. I’ll…I’ll be right back.”
Joey doesn’t particularly want to go and find Charlie and keep her company, but she might as well look like she’s going to as long as her dad’s in the lobby. She pushes the button for the elevators, and the doors on the right slide open, revealing a pretty blonde lady with perfect makeup, checking herself in a compact. She snaps the lid shut and says, “Have you seen your father?”
Joey’s eyebrows arch. “Are you talking to me?”
“Who are you, Robert de Niro?” the woman says. “Yes, I’m talking to you.”
“Oh,” Joey says, realizing. Now it makes sense. This must be Charlie Blackwood. “Uh, yeah. I just saw him.”
Charlie straightens out her suit, and she crosses her arms over her chest. “Well?” she asks. “Where was he?”
“He went...that way. I think.” She points in the opposite direction of where he’d gone, and while Charlie puts her compact into her purse, she sizes up her father’s fiance. She’s just as pretty as Violet had said, but Joey can tell right away that she’s not right for Maverick. She’s too cold and — from her motivation — too ambitious.
“What are you staring at?”
“Nothing,” Joey says automatically. “Uh…you look nice. That’s all.”
Charlie scoffs. “Don’t tell me you're going to break your rotten streak and suddenly be nice to me?” She starts off, calling over her shoulder, “If you see your father, tell him he’s late and I’m waiting.”
Whatever you say, Cruella.
“There you are, sir.” Ice lifts his head from the counter in time to see the bartender set down a tall glass of some red concoction on the coaster in front of him. “This’ll cure anything you’ve got. Just don't ask what’s in it.”
“Reassuring,” Ice mutters, and sits up, wincing. “Thanks.” He’s just glad that the party behind him had left; if he had to hear one more sentence about flowers arrangements and where the girl’s fiance was, he was going to scream. He picks up the glass, and holds it in the direction of the blonde lady sitting two seats over from him. “Here’s to you,” he says. “May your life be far less complicated than mine.”
“Thank you,” she says, bemused.
“You’re welcome,” he says, and drains the glass, his nose wrinkling at the taste. God, that’s disgusting. Tastes like rotten tomato juice and engine fuel. And to make matters worse, he burps, and the woman looks over at him, horrified. “I’m sorry,” he says. He pushes the glass away from him, wincing. “I think I just drank tar.”
The bartender passes the woman her scotch on the rocks, and hands Ice his bill. “There you are, Mr. Kazansky.”
Commander, Ice wants to say, but just says, “Thank you.” He signs his bill, making sure to tip, and slides the piece of paper across the counter. The bartender goes off to help someone else, and Ice rests his head in his hands. It might have tasted disgusting — and might come back up if he doesn’t control his gag reflex — but he can feel his headache receding. Thank God.
“You’re Thomas Kazansky?”
Ice looks up, confused. “…Yes ma’am.”
The woman beams. “I thought I recognized you!” she says, moving closer to him. “It’s been a while, I know — I gave some lectures at TOPGUN in ‘86?”
“Right,” Ice says, and then the answers hits him. “That’s right, you were the civilian contractor. The TAG rep.”
“That’s right,” the woman says. What’s her name again? Christina? Callie? He can’t remember anything about her, except that she’d been ambitious and had hated her posting and had accepted a job at the Pentagon before the session was even over. She and Cougar had had a thing, if he remembers correctly — which he hadn’t approved of, since Cougar was married and had a kid — but that had fallen apart after Merlin’s death and because Cougar had chosen to leave the Navy. “And you were Top Gun in ‘86. Are you still there?”
“Yes, I…I run the program now. I was promoted to Commander a couple years ago.”
Ice tries for a smile. “Thank you, uh…”
“Right,” Ice says. Charlie. That’s her name. He reaches out to shake her hand, and her grip is firm. “Tom Kazansky. Iceman.”
Ice hadn’t been in the lobby or any of the surrounding rooms on the ground floor, so Maverick cuts his losses and heads out to the pool, stopping underneath an empty umbrella. In the distance, he can see Joey — now in a pink bathing suit — lounging on a chair with a magazine, and Goose is sitting at a table next to her, flirting with a pretty blonde woman who’s laughing at his jokes. And Ice is nowhere to be found.
“Peter, there you are! We’ve been looking all over for you!” Charlie’s parents approach him, and Vivian takes him by the arm, leading him over to the pavilion where people are eating lunch. “I think this hotel is perfect for the wedding! The more I see of it, the more I like it. Have you had a chance to look around?”
“Yes.” In fact, I’ve been looking around for my ex-husband. You haven’t seen him, have you? “Yeah, I have.”
“Now, Peter,” Edward is saying, “how many can we expect from your side of the family?” But Maverick isn’t paying attention. The world around him has faded into white noise, his vision tunneling to the man coming down the hotel steps and heading toward the pool. So it hadn’t been a hallucination. It really is Ice. God help him.
“I’ll have to get back to you on that,” he hears himself say. “I — sorry. I’ll be right back. Sorry.”
He leaves the pavillion, making his way through the sudden crowd of people on the pool deck, craning his neck to try and see over their heads. Ice is heading toward the right of the pool, where all the deck chairs are, and Maverick’s so caught up in following his ex-husband that he doesn’t even notice the waitress with the tray full of mimosas until she crashes into him, her tray smacking him in the head — and sending him stumbling backwards, splashing right into the pool.
He’s only underwater for a few seconds, and he surfaces with a gasp, doggy-paddling the best he can toward the side of the pool, heaving himself back onto dry land. His hair’s a mess and his suit is ruined — won’t Charlie be disappointed — and his cheeks burn from the heat of his blushing. The waitress is apologizing profusely to him, but he waves her off. There’s someone he needs to see.
Ice is waiting for him by the deck chairs. He’s still wearing the light blue button-down and sports coat and nice slacks from earlier, plus a pair of aviator sunglasses. He doesn’t have frosted tips anymore and his face is a little more lined, but he looks just as handsome as he did eleven years ago. That’s just unfair. “I see you’re still as graceful as ever.”
“Yeah, well.” Maverick shrugs and pulls off the suit jacket, dropping it on a nearby chair. He never liked the color much anyway. “That’s me. Graceful. Full of…grace.”
“I can see that.” Ice’s expression softens, and he takes his sunglasses off, tucking them into the collar of his shirt. His eyes are just as striking as Maverick remembers. “It’s good to see you, Mav.”
“Yeah.” God, is it hard to breathe out here or is it just him? “Yeah, it’s…good to see you too. Ice, I — is there…something going on here that I should know about, Ice? Because I haven’t seen you in — Christ, what is it now, ten, eleven years — and now all of a sudden you’re just here and—”
Ice opens his mouth, but Joey appears from behind him to speak first. “I can explain why he’s here, Dad.”
Maverick feels like he’s going insane. “Joey, you…” He swallows hard, gesturing at Ice. “You know who he is?”
“Actually, yes, and…” She gives him a sheepish smile. “Actually, I’m not Joey.”
“Actually,” says a voice to her left, and Maverick’s eyes almost pop out of his head when he sees the speaker: a girl that looks exactly like his daughter, except in a blue bathing suit and not a pink one. “I am.”
“Holy shit.” The words escape in a rush of air before he can stop them. “You’re — both of you? You’re both…” He looks over at the first one, the one that’s closest to Ice. “You’re…you’re Violet?”
Joey — Violet, Jesus Christ, it’s Violet, this is his other baby girl — nods. “I guess you and Dad are more alike than you think because you both sent us to the same summer camp, and one thing led to another, and, well…” She shrugs. “The whole thing just kinda spilled out.”
“So you switched places on us,” he breathes. Oh God, his beautiful, brilliant girls. “You mean I’ve had Violet with me this whole time?”
Joey and Violet nod in unison, and Violet says, “I wanted to know what you were like, and Joey wanted to know what Dad was like, and…” She bites her lip, looking nervously up at him. “Are you mad?”
“Oh God, baby, of course not. I just can’t believe it’s you!” Maverick bends down and draws Violet into a tight hug, pulling back almost at once to get a good look at her, taking in as much as he can. She’s so beautiful, just as perfect as he remembers her. “The last time I saw you, you had diaper rash and — Jesus, you’ve gotten so big! Look at you!” Violet smiles shyly up at him, and then another thought strikes him. “Joey, you’ve been in California this whole time?”
Joey nods again. “Uh huh.”
Maverick opens his arms wider. “C’mere, kiddo.”
Joey needs no further invitation. She runs to him, throwing her arms around his neck, and Maverick has never felt more content in his entire life, holding both of his daughters in his arms. “Dad’s amazing, Daddy,” she says earnestly. “I don’t know how you ever let him go.”
“Jo, Vi, why don’t you let your dad and I talk alone for a couple minutes, okay?” Ice cuts in, which is good, because Maverick has absolutely no idea what to do with the reminder that not only are both of his daughters here, but his ex-husband (who he’d never, not really, not for a single moment stopped thinking about) is here too.
“Sure.” Joey grins from ear to ear. “Take your time. C’mon, Vi.”
The girls link arms and stroll off across the pool deck together, taking a seat at one of the tables next to Goose and the pretty blond woman. Maverick sits down on one of the empty deck chairs, grabbing a towel to pat himself dry. “This is crazy,” he says. “I mean, seeing them together. Seeing you here.” On the day I have to meet my fiance’s parents. Strangely enough, he hadn’t thought of Charlie once since he’d spotted Ice from the elevator, and can’t really bring himself to care.
“Trust me, it’s been a hell of a day for me too,” says Ice, thankfully oblivious to his inner thoughts. Then, “Jesus, Mav, you’re bleeding.”
Maverick looks down at the towel, surprised to see dots of red on the white cloth. “Huh,” he says. “Guess that tray hit me harder than I thought.”
“Excuse me, can you get me a first aid kit?” Ice asks one of the passing lifeguards, who nods and returns less than thirty seconds later with a small white box. Ice sits down across from him, balancing the kit on his lap. “Lie down, Mav. I’ll help you out.”
“Thanks,” he manages, and he thanks every god and the devil too that his voice doesn’t shake. Ice’s hands are steady as he brushes an alcohol wipe against the cut on his forehead. This feels like a dream. “I…how are you, Ice? Or does everybody call you Tom now?”
“No, I…” It might be a trick of the light, but he’s pretty sure Ice is blushing. “Ice is fine.”
“Oh. Good.” Come on, damn it, think of something to say. “Are you still at TOPGUN?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m…still there. I run it now; I got promoted to Commander a couple years ago.”
“Congratulations,” Maverick says, and he means it. He wonders if Ice had had anyone to celebrate that promotion with. Sensing the unspoken question, he says, “I’m a civilian contractor now. I work for the Pentagon.”
“I heard.” Ice closes the first aid kit; apparently the cut hadn’t been bad enough to warrant further treatment. Stupidly, Maverick wishes it had been, if only so Ice could keep touching him as gently as he had. “Jo told me. I, uh, never figured you’d be one for the pencil-pushing lifestyle.”
God, how did Ice still know him so well? Maverick drops his eyes, looks away. “Yeah, well,” he says quietly. “Things change.”
“Yeah,” Ice echoes. His hand twitches like he wants to reach out and take Maverick’s, but he keeps it where it is. Maverick tries not to feel disappointed. “They do.”
“Finally! There you are!” Maverick and Ice turn around and stand up at the same time, and Maverick’s heart drops into his stomach when he sees Charlie standing before him with her arms folded over her chest. “Pete, I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” She takes in the scene before her, and her eyes go wide. “Commander Kazansky, why are you with my fiance, and — Pete, why are you all wet?”
“Wait,” Ice says. “Mav, this is your fiance?”
“Yeah, that’s — wait. How do you two know each other?”
Charlie puts her hands on her hips. “Am I missing something here?”
Oh, God, this day just keeps getting crazier and crazier. “You know what,” he says, trying for a smile that he doesn’t feel. “This is a really small world.”
Charlie’s smile is sharp. “How small?”
Before Maverick can even begin to figure out how to explain all this, Violet pops up from behind Charlie. “Hi, Charlie.”
Charlie doesn’t even look at her. “Hello, Joey.”
Joey steps out from her other side. “How ya doing?”
Charlie looks down, confused, and then — upon seeing not one but two Joey Mitchells, identical to the last strand of hair and freckle — lets out a shriek that makes heads turn all across the pool deck. “Oh my God!”
Maverick reaches up to rub the back of his neck. “So, Charlie,” he says sheepishly. “I guess I never mentioned that Joey was a twin, huh?”
Charlie’s jaw works noiselessly. “No,” she manages. Her eyes keep going between Joey and Violet like she’s afraid she’s losing her mind. Maverick can relate. “No, I think I would have remembered that.”
“Don’t feel bad, Charlie,” Joey cuts in. “He never told me either. By the way, I’m the real Joey. That’s my sister, Violet. She was pretending to be me while I was pretending to be her.”
“And this is our other father,” Violet says, and Maverick would have to be blind to miss the pride in her expression. “Commander Thomas Kazansky. Callsign Iceman.”
Charlie’s jaw drops. “This is your other father?” To Ice, she says, “You were married to Pete?”
Ice shrugs. “Guilty.”
“Well, well, well,” Charlie says. “It is a small world.” And getting smaller, Maverick thinks. “And what an amazing coincidence that we’re all gathered here on the same weekend. Looks like some of us have been quite the busy bees, huh?” Her eyes go to Joey and Violet again, whose expressions are so angelic and sugary sweet that they almost give Maverick a zit. “Pete, my parents left; they said we can call them later to talk more about the wedding.”
Thank Christ. Vivian had given him the creeps. “Uh, yeah. Sounds good.”
“Great.” She smiles at him and goes over to kiss him. “I’m going to head up to the room; I’ll see you up there.”
“I — okay. Yeah. See you there.”
Maverick watches her leave, right up until the point the hotel doors swing shut and she’s no longer in sight. Ice breaks the silence first. “So,” he says. “She seems…nice.”
“She is,” Maverick says, even if that’s not really true. She loves him, and he — well, the point is they’re getting married and that’s all Ice needs to know. “How the hell did you two meet?”
“We were at the hotel bar.” Ice’s nose wrinkles, like he’s remembering the taste of something awful. “I think the bartender gave me tar to cure my hangover. She saw my signature, said she recognized me from when she worked at TOPGUN and that was pretty much it.”
“No kidding.” It’s quiet for a bit, during which Maverick is desperately searching for something to say, and then Ice says, “So since we’re both here for the weekend, I guess…we should probably work out the custody situation.”
“Right.” Maverick wonders why he feels so disappointed. Of course Ice isn’t here for him, he’s only here to switch their daughters back. Not that Maverick needs or wants Ice to be here for him anyway. “Yeah.”
“Good idea,” says Joey, and Violet nods. “Let’s discuss it over dinner, at seven o’clock.” Her grin widens. “We’ve already made all the arrangements.”
“Have you,” Maverick says weakly. The cut on his forehead starts throbbing. “Alright.”
“We’ll meet in the lobby at six thirty,” Violet says, and she winks at both of them. “Dress nice.”
Chapter 12: Chapter 11
“I still can’t believe you haven’t seen your ex-husband in eleven years and now you’re having dinner with him tonight. Why couldn’t you just meet him in the lobby, discuss the custody, shake hands and say goodbye?”
Maverick sighs. They’ve been having this conversation ever since he’d come back up to the room that afternoon and Charlie had demanded to know why his ex-husband was here and why he hadn’t mentioned he had another daughter. He’d hoped that taking Charlie to go and pick out an engagement ring at Tiffany’s would assuage her for now, but she seems determined to voice her disapproval. “Charlie—”
“And I know exactly why your daughter — why both of your daughters — arranged this: it’s because they don’t want me to marry you.”
“That’s not true,” Maverick protests, even though it kind of is.
To the saleswoman, Charlie says, “Can we have some help over here, please?” To Maverick, without missing a beat, “Don’t be an idiot, Pete. Both of your daughters clearly see me as the evil stepmother, and I’m sure they have something up their sleeve.” The saleswoman shows up, and Charlie smiles at her. “Can I try the emerald-cut, please?”
“Charlie, come on,” Maverick says while the saleswoman and Charlie discuss which of the emerald-cut engagement rings would look the best. “Joey and Violet have never had a meal with both their parents in their entire lives.” And I haven’t gotten the chance to really talk to Ice in eleven years, and I’m sure as hell not throwing this opportunity away. “How could I say no?”
“Well, you could have asked me first. I am your fiance.” Maverick fights the urge to ask how he could possibly forget, what with her bringing it up every five minutes, and then she turns away from the display case to face him, lighting up as she slips on the ring. “And now it’s official! It’s incredible. What do you think?”
“I think I have to get dressed for dinner.”
Maverick sighs again. He’s got no real opinion on jewelry — as was evident when Joey had gotten her ears pierced and he’d had no idea what kind of earrings to buy her — but it does look pretty. “If you love it, I love it.”
She kisses him on the cheek, linking their arms together. “I love it.”
Maverick turns to the saleswoman. “We’ll take this one, please.”
“Jo, I’ve had enough surprises for one day — will you please just tell me where we’re going?”
Joey grins up at him. She’s been steadfastly refusing to give any details away, other than Violet’s earlier instruction to dress nice. Maverick’s wearing a suit that he’s owned for a couple years now — a nice one, because he doesn’t want to embarrass his ex-husband or either of their daughters by looking shabby — and Joey’s wearing a nice navy blue dress with white piping. “You’re gonna love it, Dad. Trust me.”
Maverick almost chokes on his own tongue. Violet and Ice have finally joined them, and both of them are dressed to the nines. Violet’s dress is bright pink and knee-length; Ice is wearing a dark blue suit, his tie the exact color of his eyes. Jesus Christ. He’s so fucking beautiful it takes Maverick’s breath away. “Hi,” he manages.
Ice stops beside him, leans in. For a terrifying second, Maverick thinks Ice is going to kiss him, but he just says, sotto voce, “So do you know where they’re taking us?”
“Not a clue.”
“Dad!” Both of them turn around at the same time; Violet and Joey are waiting for them by the curb next to — is that a limo? “Okay, now put these on.” Violet hands them both sleeping masks with the hotel logo stitched on them. “You can take them off when we reach our destination.”
“We’re going in a limo?” Ice says incredulously, which — good. At least Maverick’s not the only one surprised by this information.
“You want one of us to drive?” Joey asks. At Ice’s raised eyebrows, Joey relents. If only Maverick could make her stop being sassy so easily. “Come on, Dad, indulge us. Please?”
Maverick and Ice exchange looks, and then they put on the sleeping masks and let their daughters escort them into the limo.
This ought to be good.
A foghorn sounds as the limo pulls to a stop. Ice’s senses have gotten sharper now that he’s been blindfolded for the last thirty minutes or so, and he can smell the ocean as Violet (or maybe Joey) helps him out of the car. “Okay,” his daughter says. “You can take them off now.”
Ice does — thank God, because one more minute in the car with this on and he might have gotten nauseous — and every word he knows leaves him when he sees a beautiful, hundred and fifty foot yacht lit up and bobbing gently at the end of the pier. This must be their destination. Sure enough, Joey says, “She’s ours for the night.”
Ice raises his eyebrows. “And exactly how are we paying for her?”
“Joey and I pooled our allowances,” Violet pipes up.
Ice and Maverick look at her doubtfully.
“Okay,” Joey concedes. “And Uncle Goose pitched in a bit.”
“…and so did Aunt Carole.”
Ice isn’t sure whether to pay Goose and Carole back or kill them. Maverick looks equally torn. “Well,” he says, adjusting his tie. It’s a little crooked, and Ice has been longing to reach out and help him fix it all night. “It’s definitely snazzy.”
“That’s for sure,” Ice says weakly.
They follow their daughters to the end of the pier and up a staircase onto the deck, where a uniformed captain welcomes them onboard. Ice figures they’ll be heading toward the main dining room, where he can see lots of people eating and laughing together, but Joey leads the way to the end of the hall.
“Gentlemen,” Joey says, stopping in front of a set of double doors. “Your dinner awaits.”
She and Violet open the doors, and Ice follows them into a tastefully-decorated private dining room. There’s a small balcony in the back, and Ice can see the ocean lit by the yacht’s twinkling lights. And in the center of the room is a candle-lit table set for two, and that’s when Ice realizes that something is horribly wrong.
“The table’s only set for two,” Maverick says, cautiously, piteously, gorgeously optimistic. “Seems like a bit of an oversight, girls.”
Violet and Joey giggle. “Oh,” says Violet. “That’s actually the other part of the surprise. We’re not joining you.”
The bottom drops out of Ice’s stomach. “You’re not,” he repeats numbly.
“No, but I am,” says a familiar voice, and both Ice and Maverick turn around to see Carole enter the room, dressed as a waitress and holding a tray of hors d’oeuvres. “Good evening, gentlemen. I’m Carole and I’ll be your server this evening.” She winks. “No wisecracks, please.”
“And I’m Nicholas,” says Goose, with a pompous British accent and a slight bow. He’s holding a tray with two glasses of white wine balanced on it. “Your sommelier. May I offer you gentlemen some wine, in the hopes that your inhibitions will be lowered and you won’t get mad at this lovely lady and myself for going along with your daughters’ scheme?”
“No promises,” Maverick mumbles, but Carole’s speaking again.
“Joey? Mood music, please.”
Joey, grinning like the Cheshire cat, takes a remote off the table and presses a couple of buttons. A few seconds later, soft piano music starts to play, accompanied by a woman crooning, “I love you…for sentimental reasons…I hope you do believe me…I’ll give you my heart…”
“Just relax,” Violet says soothingly, with an equally mischievous smile. “Sail through time…”
“Back to yesteryear,” Joey adds. She winks at both of them before she and Violet flounce out of the room, leaving Maverick and Ice alone, both of them blushing furiously and refusing to make eye contact.
Carole takes pity on them. “You do get all of this, don’t you?”
“Yes.” Ice clears his throat. “Yeah, I…I’m beginning to.”
Maverick crosses the room, where a life raft with a homemade sign that says Queen Elizabeth 2 is hanging on the wall. “They’re recreating our wedding night,” he says, his voice somehow steady. Ice envies him. “The boat, the music—”
“The help,” Goose says, thankfully without the accent this time.
“I, uh.” Ice clears his throat again, sticking his hands in the pockets of his suit jacket. He prays his face isn’t as red as he thinks it is. “I think it’s sweet.”
Maverick meets his eyes for the first time since they’d gotten on the boat, smiling slightly. “Yeah,” he says. “So do I.” To Goose, he says, “I think I’ll take that drink now.”
Goose dutifully approaches them, and Ice takes the other wine glass off the tray, thanking Goose with a quick smile. Then Carole clears her throat, and Goose sets the empty tray down on the counter before following her out the door. And then he’s alone with Maverick again. For the first time in eleven years.
Maverick, thank God, speaks first. “You know,” he says. “I haven’t actually been on a boat since the QE2.”
Ice laughs. “Neither have I,” he says. “Not really, anyway. My dad and I tried taking Vi out fishing once and she got seasick.”
“So much for her following your footsteps and joining the Navy, huh?”
“She can be in a different branch of service. I don’t think there’s anyone in my family who’s in the National Guard.”
Something in his chest unclenches when Maverick laughs, and he bites the inside of his cheek to keep himself from smiling like a lovestruck idiot at his ex-husband. He’d missed that laugh. “How are your parents?”
“They’re fine,” Ice says. “Mom’s retired now. She and Dad travel a lot; they come down every now and then to see Vi and me. We spend Thanksgivings with them.” Ice takes a sip of his wine; it’s good, high-quality. He wonders how in the world Carole and Goose (and the girls) had been able to afford this. “Remember when…” He stops, unsure if he should say it or not, but he’s already gotten this far. “Remember the first time I brought you home?”
“Yeah,” Maverick says, and now he’s smiling for real. An open, genuine smile that quickly turns into a smirk. “I especially remember how your mom yelled at you for five minutes straight because you didn’t tell her that you got married until the end of September.”
“It slipped my mind,” Ice protests, but now he’s laughing, remembering that phone call and how she’d ordered them to drive up the very next day so she and Ice’s dad could meet Maverick. “There was a lot going on.”
“That’s for sure,” Maverick says, his gaze somewhere on the other side of the ocean, and Ice joins him at the railing, staring down at the water in the hopes it’ll have the answers to all of his problems. Then Maverick says, “Did your dad teach Violet Russian?”
Ice looks over at him, confused. “Yeah,” he says. “Dad did, a little. I taught her a little too. Why?”
“She got mad at me a couple days ago and started ranting in Russian,” Maverick says. Christ. That must have been a sight to see. “I should’ve figured out the whole switch thing then, but she said that she learned Russian at camp, so I didn’t think about it too hard.”
Ice laughs despite himself. “Really? What kind of camp did you think you sent your daughter to?”
“That’s what I said,” Maverick says. Then, tentatively, “I bet Joey would want to meet them. Your parents, I mean. I didn’t have any family to give her besides myself.”
“Yeah.” Ice’s throat is too tight for him to speak for a moment, but he forces back his emotion. “Yeah, that’d be…they’d love to spend time with her.” I’d love to spend more time with her. “She’s a great kid, you know. You did a good job with her.”
“Thanks,” Maverick says. “And you…Violet’s great. You did a good job with her too.”
“Thank you.” Ice looks down at his glass, remembering sleepless nights and fevers and changing diapers and first steps and first days of school. How through everything, the good and the bad, he’d thought of Maverick, and if he would’ve handled it differently. How he would have reacted to Violet’s good grades, to some little shit bullying her in school. He wonders now if Maverick had thought the same about him. He lifts his glass, and Maverick does the same. “Well. Here’s to—”
“Our daughters,” Maverick finishes.
Not exactly what he had in mind, but that works. “Yeah,” he says, quietly. “To our daughters.”
They clink glasses and drink. Something at the corner of the room catches his eye, and he turns slightly to see Violet and Joey watching them attentively through the porthole in the door. When he raises his eyebrows at them, they yelp and drop back down.
“Now I know how a goldfish feels,” Maverick mutters, trying for a laugh but falling a little short.
Ice takes a sip of his wine, hoping for some liquid courage. “You know,” he says carefully, and Maverick looks over at him. “Some time, if we’re ever really alone…maybe we could talk about…about what happened between us. It all feels a little hazy to me now. I mean, it ended so fast.”
“It started so fast.”
Ice grins. “Well, that part I remember perfectly,” he teases, and Maverick blushes. “Hey. Remember after you proposed, how Slider almost broke down the door and you stopped blowing me just to yell, ‘Fuck off, we’re engaged!’”
“Oh Jesus, I forgot about that.” To his relief, Maverick starts laughing. “I thought he was going to have a heart attack. Remember how his voice cracked? ‘You guys are WHAT?’”
“And Goose spat coffee across the table when we told him the next morning,” Ice says. “It was kind of impressive. I think he broke some kind of record for the longest ever spit take.”
“Got coffee all over my uniform too. Though I guess I deserved that.”
“Maybe a little,” Ice concedes, grinning. He gestures at the table. “Should we sit?”
Maverick smiles. “After you.”
Luckily Mav and Ice are too lost in each other’s eyes to notice that Goose and Carole have been watching them through the side door the entire time, and Goose looks over at Carole, grinning as the two targets of Operation Let’s Switch Lives and Get Our Dads Back Together sit down at the table. “Looks like things are heating up nicely. I think it’s safe to serve the main course.”
Carole nods. “You ladle, I’ll serve.”
They start back toward the galley, but it’s a tight squeeze; they try to pass one another and get momentarily stuck, and every word Goose has ever learned leaves his brain when his and Carole’s eyes lock. He’d never understood how Mav could have fallen in love with Ice at first sight — or how anybody could fall in love at first sight, really — but now. Oh boy, he gets it now. “Right,” he says. “So…I’ll ladle.”
“Right,” Carole says, just as breathless. “And I’ll…”
“Right,” Carole says again, blushing. She manages to move past him and sets off down the hall, looking back once at him and smiling before entering the kitchen.
Great balls of fire. He’s got it bad.
“Do you still keep in touch with Tex and Rosie?”
“A little, yeah,” Maverick says, taking a sip from his glass of wine. “Christmas cards, mainly.” He’d be hard-pressed not to keep in touch with Joey and Violet’s biological parents. Marshall Kellerman (callsign Tex) had been an instructor at TOPGUN eleven years ago, and he and his wife weren’t ready to have kids for a lot of reasons; they were young, and Tex was about to leave TOPGUN for the Gulf and Rosie hadn’t wanted to raise her kids mostly alone. Rosie wanted to put her babies up for adoption but was worried about them getting lost in the system, and Maverick and Ice — who had liked Tex a lot — wanted to help out. He and Ice had talked things through for a while, and eventually had offered to adopt the babies themselves, and the rest was history. “What about you?”
“A little,” Ice says. “Mostly holiday cards. I think Tex is a commander now too; he’s still out in the Gulf somewhere.”
“Do you regret leaving combat? Taking the position at TOPGUN?”
Ice fiddles with his Navy ring, which is what he always does when he’s thinking hard about something. “No,” he finally says. “I don’t. I like my job, and I like being close to Vi. Thought about going back out a few times, but…well. Didn’t trust anybody to watch my back.” The rest of his words go unspoken — not like you — but Maverick hears them anyway, and ducks his head to hide his blush. “How do you like your job?”
From one great topic to the next. “It’s a living,” he says. “Good pay, good benefits. Get to travel a lot.”
“That’s good,” Ice says, like he can see right through Maverick’s bullshit. “Do you still fly?”
Maverick’s grip on his wine glass tightens. “Sometimes,” he says quietly. He misses flying so much it’s almost like a phantom ache, like he’s missing a limb or something. Almost as much as he’s missed Ice all these years. “I flew in a couple air shows when Joey was a baby. Not so much lately. Haven’t had the time.”
Ice looks like he’s going to say something, but then Carole — Ice’s friend, the freelance photographer who Goose is clearly madly in love with — comes in with two bowls of soup and sets them down in front of them. “Anyway,” he says. “So what are we going to do about the girls? Now that they’ve met we very well can’t keep them apart.”
“Well,” Maverick says. He has no idea, but he’s not about to say so. “I could keep them for half the year, and then you—”
“Guys,” Carole interjects with a laugh. “They can’t go to two different schools every year. That’s nuts.”
“I agree,” Ice says.
“Then I could keep them for a whole year and you could—”
“Mav, that’s why we came up with…” Ice stops and looks up at Carole, who’s shaking her head. “Mind giving us a minute?”
“Oh!” Carole blushes and puts her hand over her heart, like she had no idea what she’d been doing. Maverick doesn’t buy that for a second. “Sorry. Ignore me. Enjoy your soup.”
She walks out of the room, and Ice continues like he hadn’t been interrupted at all. “That’s why we came up with the solution that we have.”
“Really?” Maverick’s next words come out soft, and he busies himself with smoothing out the napkin on his lap. “I thought it was because we decided never to see each other again.”
By the time he gets the courage to look back up again, Ice looks like Maverick had reached across the table and stabbed him. “Not we, Mav,” he says, so quietly that Maverick almost can’t hear him.
“Yeah, well. That part’s become a bit hazy to me too.”
Ice raises his eyebrows. “You don’t remember the day you agreed to the divorce?”
“No,” Maverick says, because he remembers every second of that day in perfect, Technicolor clarity. One of the worst days of his life. The girls had been colicky, and neither Ice nor Maverick had slept much in ages, and they’d gotten into a screaming match in the bedroom, and Maverick had… “Did I hurt you when I threw that, uh — what was it?”
“It was a hairdryer, Maverick,” Ice says, not unkindly. “You threw a hairdryer at my head.”
“Right.” Maverick wishes he’d remembered wrong. “Sorry.”
Ice sighs. For a second Maverick thinks he’s going to drop the subject, but then he says, “You know, I may never be alone with you again, so about that day…” His eyes meet Maverick’s, and they’re honest. Full of barely-concealed pain, which hurts to see. “Why?”
Maverick looks down at his plate. “We were young,” he says. “And stressed out from work, and the girls, and paternity leave. We were fighting all the time, and we said stupid things. So when you brought up the idea of getting a divorce, I agreed. I packed my bags and we signed the papers and split custody and you…” He swallows hard, his throat suddenly tight. “And you never came after me.”
There’s a new kind of pain in Ice’s eyes now, one that Maverick doesn’t know how (or doesn’t want) to decipher. “…I didn’t know you wanted me to.”
Maverick forces a laugh. “Well, it doesn’t really matter anymore,” he says. “You’ve got your life, and I’m engaged.” He swears he sees Ice flinch. “So let’s just put a good face on for the girls and get this show on the road.”
It takes almost an entire minute for Ice to answer. “Yeah,” he says, trying for a smile that flickers out before it can get far. “Sure. Let’s get the show on the road.”
The rest of their dinner passes by in polite small talk and silence. Maverick doesn’t know which is worse.
“There you are, sir. Have a safe trip home.”
“Thank you,” Ice says, handing back his room key in exchange for the bill. Thank God the hotel gives him a military discount, otherwise he’d be bankrupt for the next month. Carole comes up behind him, her backpack slung over her shoulder. “We’re all set. Where’s Vi?”
“She’s on her way down, I think,” Carole says, and then gets distracted by Goose showing up in the lobby and goes over to talk with him. And where Goose is, Maverick can’t be far behind, so Ice isn’t surprised when Maverick joins him at the counter, signing his own bill. “So,” he says, keeping his tone light, like a man who hadn’t just found out yesterday that his marriage had ended because of miscommunication issues. “I’ll send Violet to you over Christmas break.”
“And Joey will spend spring break with you.”
Just then, the elevators ding, and Violet and Joey arrive in the lobby, both of them wearing overalls and bandanas; one in red, and one in orange. They’re impossible to tell apart.
“Vi,” Ice says, directing the question to the girl on the left, “where’s your suitcase? We’ve got a plane to catch.”
She smiles brightly at him. “Here’s the deal, Dad. We think we’re being totally cheated.”
“Do you,” Maverick says warily. Ice doesn’t like where this is going. “Why?”
The girl on the right speaks up. “I mean, Violet just got here, and she’s never been to DC before. I think it’ll be a waste of a trip if we don’t show her and Dad around.”
Oh Christ. “Violet Michelle Kazansky, this is ridiculous,” Ice says. “Go upstairs and get your suitcase now.”
She raises her eyebrows, looking infuriatingly smug. “Are you sure I’m Violet?”
“Of course I’m sure,” Ice retorts, even though he isn’t, and he’s pretty sure they can tell.
“But it’s hard to be a hundred percent positive,” says his other daughter, just as smugly. “Isn’t it, Dad?”
“Girls,” Maverick warns, while Ice tries to come up with a sentence that doesn’t contain any expletives in it. “This is totally unfunny. You’re going to make your father miss his plane.”
“What a nightmare.”
Ice’s patience is firmly at an end. “Violet.”
Both of them blink up at him innocently. “Yes?”
Ice glances over at Maverick, silently begging for help. Maverick bends down and examines both of his daughters closely, like an art critic inspecting the Mona Lisa. “This one’s Joey,” he finally says of the girl on the left. “I’m positive.”
“You know, I hope you’re right, Dad,” says Maybe-Joey, her eyes twinkling with mischief. “Because you wouldn’t want to send the wrong kid all the way back to California…”
“Would you?” finishes Maybe-Violet.
Ice is stumped, and so, it seems, is Maverick. They’re both at a stalemate; short of kidnapping the girl he thinks is Violet, Ice has no idea what to do, and he hates it.
“Here’s our proposition,” says Maybe-Joey. She steps forward and beckons her sister to join her. “We go back to Dad’s apartment, pack a change of clothes, and the four of us go on a tour around DC. See the museums, the monuments. The whole nine yards.”
Maverick looks like he’s going to choke. “The four of us?”
“That’s right,” Maybe-Violet says. “And after, we’ll tell you who’s Joey and who’s Violet.”
“Or,” Ice says, “you do as we say, and I take one of you back to Miramar with me whether you like it or not.”
The girls stare him down, and Ice fights the urge to bury his head in his hands.
Chapter 13: Chapter 12
“And what exactly do you expect me to do for the next three days? Sit home and knit?”
Maverick pinches the bridge of his nose, praying for any form of divine intervention that can get him out of his conversation. It’s eight in the morning and the girls are waiting downstairs in the lobby with Goose and Carole and Ice, and the sooner they get through this tour trip, the sooner everything can go back to normal. “Look, Charlie, this whole thing is a sticky situation—”
“Sticky situation? What the hell does that mean?”
As if on cue, the door to the apartment opens and in walks Iceman Kazansky, who is just about the last person Maverick wanted to show up right now. “Forgot my jacket,” he says, like he walks into Maverick’s apartment every day of the week, and gives Charlie a polite smile before heading off down the hall.
Charlie’s jaw is roughly at her knees. “Oh no,” she says to Maverick, who just wants to crawl into a hole and die. “Oh no you don’t, Pete Mitchell. What is the meaning of that? What is he doing here?”
“That’s part of the deal,” Maverick says. The other part of the deal is that Ice and Violet and Carole have to stay with him and Joey, which he definitely does not want to tell Charlie. It’s not like he would have made them all find a hotel, he’s got the room, but it just makes things even more awkward than they already are. (Which was probably Joey and Violet’s plan all along. They’re too damn clever for their own good.) “The four of us go together.” He winces. “One big happy family.”
Charlie looks livid, and when she comes closer to him Maverick flinches back. “What are you suddenly, the Brady Bunch? You can’t seriously expect me to—”
“Hi there,” Ice says. He’s returned to the room (with a jacket on) and comes to stand next in between Charlie and Maverick, wearing the same polite smile that he used to use at work when the brass would come by. “Is everything alright?”
“No,” Charlie says. Now she sounds a little more composed. “Not really. I wasn’t aware that you were going to be going on this outing, and to be honest, I’m not so sure that I’m okay with it.”
“No, Mav, I think she’s right,” Ice cuts in. Now his polite smile is gone, replaced by something else that Maverick can’t decipher. “It’s perfectly understandable for her to be upset about this.”
Charlie smiles triumphantly, folding her arms over her chest. “Thank you, Commander.”
“In fact, I insist you come with us.”
Charlie’s look of triumph freezes on her face, and Maverick chokes on his next breath. “Ice,” he says, half warning, half plea, “you don’t have to—”
“Mav, listen, I’ve ruined this entire week for both of you. It’s the least I can do.” He turns to Charlie, smiling. “Really. Please.”
Charlie adjusts the strap of her purse, lifting her chin. “Well, I,” she begins, and then stops. “Alright. I…suppose I can come with. Just let me pack my things.”
God help me.
They have to wait for Charlie to go home and pack her belongings, so Goose and Carole (using any excuse they can to be with each other) take the girls to McDonalds for breakfast, and Ice and Maverick wait together in the lobby, neither speaking to the other. Finally, about forty-five minutes later, Charlie shows up with a rolling suitcase, wearing jeans, low heels and an expensive-looking blouse. Those shoes are going to be hell on her feet later, Ice thinks as Maverick stands up to greet her.
Ice, Maverick, Charlie, Goose, Carole, and the girls go outside and walk to the nearest Metro stop (about two blocks away) together, and Ice hangs back once they reach their destination. “Alright, you guys,” he says, smiling. “Have a good time.”
The girls, who hadn’t looked thrilled when they learned Charlie would be joining them, exchange bewildered looks. The color drains from Charlie’s face, and Maverick says, in a tone that suggests Ice better not be saying what he thinks he’s saying, “Ice, what the hell are you doing?”
“Well, I was thinking about it, and truth be told, I think you and Charlie need some alone time together before the big day.”
“What?” one of his daughters — the one wearing a green tank top with a white jacket tied around her waist — exclaims. “Dad, that’s not the plan!”
“Dad,” complains the other one. Green Tank Top starts chewing on her thumbnail, and suddenly he can tell them apart again. “Come on!”
Ice isn’t swayed. His daughters aren’t the only ones who know how to scheme. “Joey, Violet, trust me, you’ll have much more fun without me,” he says brightly. Behind him, Goose laughs and then covers it up with a cough. Carole’s probably grinning to beat the band. “I promise.”
“Commander Kazansky,” Charlie says, sounding like she’s hanging onto her composure by the skin of her teeth. “Listen, if you’re not going, then I certainly don’t have to.” She fidgets with her engagement ring, the sight of which makes Ice even more determined to see this through. “I mean, I’ve seen these museums loads of times.”
“But this is your chance to really get to know the girls,” Ice says. “After all, starting next week, well…” He grins. “They’re half yours.”
Maverick does not look amused; his jaw is set and everything about him is practically screaming, I’ll get you for this. Charlie glares daggers at him as the four of them head down the subway steps like they’re marching off to their execution.
“This is going to be a disaster,” Carole says.
“Oh yeah.” Ice smirks. “I’m counting on it.”
This is not how the next few days were supposed to go. This whole trip was supposed to be the catalyst for their dads to act on their feelings for each other and get back together, not an opportunity for Charlie and Maverick to get even closer. Joey wants to kick something, and Violet doesn’t look too thrilled with this turn of events either. “What are we supposed to do now?” she hisses. Maverick and Charlie are sitting across from them in the subway car, and it’s loud in here, so they’ve got plenty of privacy. “We can’t get our dads back together if Dad’s not even here.”
“I know,” Violet says. Strangely enough, she’s smirking. “But…I think this could be a good opportunity for Dad to see that Cruella de Vil isn’t right for him.”
Joey gets what she’s talking about right away, and a smirk spreads across her face. “I like the way you think, Kazansky.”
Operation Get Rid of Charlie, here we go.
Their hotel’s about half a mile away from the Air and Space Museum, and after they drop their bags off in their respective rooms — which Joey and Violet had volunteered to do, smirking all the way — they head off to the museum. Violet’s never been here before, and as a self-professed aircraft nerd (just like her father), she thinks everything is fascinating. There’s a real SR-71 Lockheed, the same one they used in Vietnam, and she takes a picture of it with the disposable camera Carole had bought her that morning. SR-71 the cat will appreciate that. Maverick seems to be having a good time even though they forced him into this tour trip. Joey keeps looking around for pranking opportunities, and Charlie looks bored out of her mind.
Finally, their first opportunity comes a couple of hours into their trip, when Maverick says he needs to use the bathroom before they stop for lunch, and asks Charlie to watch Violet and Joey. She spends about twenty seconds watching them out of the corner of her eye before she calls someone on her cell phone, and Joey pulls Violet close. “Vi,” she hisses, her eyes gleaming. “Guess what they’re selling in the gift shop here.”
Violet follows her gaze to the store windows, where she sees— “No,” she gasps. “Jo, oh my God.”
Joey’s grinning. “I think we need to get it,” she says. “C’mon.”
Violet glances over at Charlie, who isn’t paying attention to them, and nods. “Okay,” she says. Then, in a louder voice, she says to Charlie, “We’ll be right back!”
Charlie waves them off without looking their way, and they head off to the gift shop, giggling all the way.
Charlie has never been more bored in her entire life. She’s been to this damn museum more times than she can count, and she did not plan to spend the next three days trailing Pete and his daughters (and isn’t that a nice surprise, that he’s got two daughters instead of one) around every tourist trap in DC. So when Pete comes out of the bathroom at long last, she smiles at him, hoping to God that this trip from hell is over for today. “You took a while.”
“Sorry,” he says. “The line took forever, and—” His brow furrows. “Where are the girls?”
Charlie’s heart drops before she even turns around. “They were right here,” she says. She could have sworn they were right next to her the entire time. No, wait, they’d said something about being right back, but she’d thought that meant the bathroom or something. God damn it. “I’m sure they’ll be back any second.”
“How long have they been gone?”
“I-I don't know. Not long, I don’t think — maybe ten minutes—”
“What the hell were you doing that they wandered away from you for ten minutes without you noticing?”
“Someone from work called! What was I supposed to do, hang up?”
Pete swears. “Jesus,” he says. “I’ll go this way, you go check the gift shop. They can’t have gotten far.” And then he’s gone, jogging off back into the main exhibit and leaving Charlie alone. Christ. This is really not how she’d envisioned her day to go.
She heads into the gift shop, which is packed with tourists and way too many children. God, she hates kids, and she especially hates Joey Mitchell and Violet Kazansky. She swears they were put on this planet just to drive her insane, and ruin all of her carefully-laid plans. But no matter how much they complain, she’s still marrying their father and taking his job, and there’s nothing they can do about it.
Finally, she spots a girl with short red hair and a white jacket standing in the back of the store looking at the spaceship toys, and she lets out a breath. “There you are,” she says, and takes the girl by the arm, leading her away. “I can’t believe you just ran off like that — where the hell is your sister?”
The girl yanks her arm out of Charlie’s grip. “Who are you?” she says, and her voice is completely different than either Joey or Violet’s. It’s British, and that means… “Stranger danger! Stranger danger!”
Heads are turning all over the store as the little girl who is neither Joey nor Violet runs over to her grandparents, and Charlie’s face burns red. “I didn’t,” she tries, and manages a laugh. “I didn’t — I wasn’t — I thought she was—”
She turns around to see Pete standing there with his arms crossed over his chest, Joey and Violet flanking him on both sides. Not that she can tell either apart since they’re dressed almost the same, but they’re wearing identical smirks that set her teeth on edge. “Hi,” she says. “Hi, Pete. And Joey and Violet — where did you two go?”
“To the bathroom,” Maybe-Violet says, batting her eyelashes. “We told you, Charlie. Remember?”
Charlie’s still trying to come up with a reply that doesn’t have any swear words in it when Pete sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Let’s go get lunch,” he says. “My treat.”
They go to an Italian restaurant for lunch, and Joey happily splits a pepperoni and sausage pizza with Violet while ignoring Charlie glaring daggers at her back. Afterwards, the four of them wander around the Washington Monument, and she and Violet hold their dad’s hands so Charlie can’t. (Petty, but effective.) Then Violet gets the idea to get ice cream from the stand nearby, and Maverick agrees to take them. “You want to come with?”
Joey shakes her head. “No thanks, I’ll stay here,” she says, and takes a seat next to the Reflecting Pool. She’d gone here once on a field trip, and of course she’d seen it in that movie that made both her dad and Uncle Goose cry. “Can you get me a strawberry pop?”
“Sure,” Violet says. “Can we get you something, Mom?” Her expression is so angelic that Joey digs her nails into her arms to keep herself from laughing. “Is that okay, by the way? If we start calling you Mom?”
Charlie’s smile comes off more like a grimace. “I think your fathers would prefer if you called me Charlie,” she says tightly. “And no, I’ll pass. I’ll just…sit here as well.” She takes a seat beside Joey, who grins. Time for Phase 2.
Once she’s sure that Maverick and Violet are a safe distance away, Joey reaches into her jacket and pulls out two of the tiny plastic spiders that they’d been giving away for free at the gift shop. Then she puts one on Charlie’s shoe, and the other next to her hand, and takes a bottle of water out of her backpack, taking a long sip. She holds it out to Charlie, who’s fanning her face. “Want some?”
“Not from you, thank you,” Charlie snaps, and the sheer amount of vehemence in her voice takes Joey aback. “Don’t think I can’t see right past you and your sister’s angelic little faces. One more trick from you two and I swear to God that I will make your lives miserable from the minute I say I do. Got it?”
“Got it,” Joey says. She finishes her water bottle and says, cool as can be, “By the way, Charlie, I think there’s something on your leg.”
Charlie looks down and immediately shrieks when she sees the spider, and she jumps to her feet, but the momentum propels her forward — right into the Reflection Pool, where she lands with a splash and a loud curse. Joey jumps up as well, her hands over her mouth to conceal her grin.
“What the hell?” Joey whirls around to see Violet and Maverick standing there holding ice cream cones. Violet’s giggling, and Maverick just looks exhausted. “I leave for five minutes, I swear… Charlie, you okay?”
Charlie slowly walks out of the pool, dripping from head to toe and looking murderous. Joey moves over to stand next to her dad, just in case Charlie has any plans on lunging. “Fine,” she says through gritted teeth. “I think I need to change.”
“Yeah,” Maverick says wearily. “I think so too.”
There’s somebody knocking on their door, and since Maverick’s in the shower and Joey’s switching through the channels on the TV guide, Violet gets up to go and answer it. Charlie’s standing there, her arms crossed over her chest. “I need my toiletries,” she bites out. “I think you put them in the wrong room.”
“Oh,” Violet says blandly. “My bad, sorry.” She heads over to the dresser and returns with a small black bag that belongs to Charlie. She’s glad that her dad had booked two rooms — even if he’d done it with the idea that Ice would be joining them, not Charlie — otherwise this plan would never have worked. “Here you go.”
Charlie snatches it from her and walks back to her room in a huff, slamming the door shut behind her.
Violet closes their door and returns to her spot on the right bed, moving up right next to Joey. “Did you put the stuff in?” she asks, sotto voce just in case Maverick can hear all the way from the bathroom.
“Yep.” Joey’s grinning like the Cheshire cat. She reaches into her jacket pocket and pulls out the now-empty bottle of hair dye. “And now all we have to do is wait.”
Maverick’s just finished changing when he hears someone scream, loud and high-pitched and sudden, like a piece of fabric being ripped in half. Sounds like somebody’s being murdered. He crosses the room in a few quick steps, intending to see what’s going on, but somebody starts banging on the door before he can even open it.
His heart sinking, he opens the door. Charlie is standing in the hall, wearing one of the hotel bathrobes. She’s barefoot and soaking wet, and her expression is dark enough to rival a storm cloud, and her hair…
“Your hair’s pink,” Maverick says stupidly.
Charlie’s glare could melt paint. “Yes it is,” she snaps, her voice rising in volume with every word. “All because of those little brats you call daughters!” She jabs a finger at him, and it’s all he can do to keep from flinching. “Now you listen here, Pete Mitchell. The day we get married is the day I get your job so you can watch the girls or we’re sending those little brats off to boarding school in Switzerland: get the picture? It’s me, or them. Take your pick.”
Maverick glances between Charlie, obviously irate, and his daughters peeking at him nervously from inside the room. The decision is an easy one. “Them,” he says.
Charlie’s jaw drops. “Excuse me?”
“T-H-E-M, them.” Maverick’s smile is serrated, and he gets right in his ex-fiance’s face. “Get the picture?”
Charlie stares at him like she can’t believe her own eyes, and then lets out a long, aggravated shriek of fury that makes some of the people who’d come out to see the commotion cover their ears. Then, whirling around, she storms back into her room and slams the door behind her. Less than a second later, she opens the door so she can hurl her engagement ring at him and slams the door shut again.
“Girls,” Maverick says. His head is throbbing from where the engagement ring had hit him, and he doesn’t turn around. “Pack your bags. We’re leaving. Now.”
Chapter 14: Chapter 13
Ice hadn’t expected Maverick and the girls to come back for another two days, so when they come trudging into the apartment at six pm on the same day they’d left, he’s more than a little surprised. “Hey.” He switches off the television and gets to his feet. “You’re back early. Did you have fun?”
Violet grimaces. “I wouldn’t call it fun.”
Ice frowns. “Why?”
“We’ve been grounded ‘til the end of the decade,” Joey says.
“No,” Maverick corrects. He looks like he’s been dragged through hell and back and could use a stiff drink. “‘Til the end of the century. Starting now. Hop to it.”
Violet and Joey move out of the doorway and make their way over to Ice, who’d just noticed that there’s somebody missing from their party. “Where’s Charlie?”
Joey shrugs like she’s trying to be nonchalant. “We played a couple of…harmless tricks on her,” she says. “And she freaked out a little.”
“A little?” Maverick repeats incredulously. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out an engagement ring, brandishing it at them. “She threw this at my head!”
Ice winces. “At least it’s smaller than a hairdryer.”
“We’re sorry, Dad,” Violet says to Maverick, and she actually looks contrite. Joey nods next to her. “Really.”
“That’s nice,” Maverick says. “You’re still grounded. Up to your room, Jo. You too, Vi.”
Violet and Joey shrug like they hadn’t expected anything different, and they go down the hallway whispering to each other about something. (Probably going back to the drawing board and beginning their scheme anew.) Maverick collapses onto the couch, his head in his hands. Even though Ice agreed with his daughters that Charlie wasn’t right for Maverick and had enjoyed tricking her into going on the trip, he still feels guilty for causing his ex-husband any pain. He sits down next to him, nudging his knee. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” Maverick nods, and when he looks back up, he flashes Ice a mischievous grin that even after all these years makes Ice feel breathless. “Remind me to thank them one day.”
His heart does not leap at that. It doesn’t. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. I don’t think it would have worked out for the two of us in the long run.” Maverick’s mouth twists. “Especially since she threatened to send our daughters to boarding school in Switzerland. And only wanted to be with me because she was gunning for my job.”
God, what a bitch. “Well,” he says. “If you ask me, you deserve somebody better than her anyways.”
Maverick glances over at Ice for a moment before his eyes drop, looking away. Ice tries not to feel disappointed. “So,” he says. “Uh. Where’s Goose? I figured he and Carole would keep you company.”
“Well…” Ice leans back, a mischievous smile of his own tugging at his mouth. “Let’s just say he and Carole went off to go do some ‘sightseeing’ of their own.”
Maverick laughs out loud. “No kidding?”
“I know. Who would’ve thought, my best friend, your best friend…”
“Hey, Goose is a catch.”
“So’s Carole.” And so are you.
“Well, since they’ve probably holed up in Goose’s apartment for the long run,” Maverick says, and oh, Ice bets he’ll be getting every detail from Carole once she and Goose extricate themselves from each other, “I guess it’s up to me to make dinner.”
Ice’s eyebrows go up. “You can cook now?”
“Hey, I had a daughter to look after for the last eleven years. I couldn’t survive on Chinese takeout and pizza forever, so Goose taught me a thing or two.”
“So what can you make now? What’s the Casa de Maverick specialty?”
“Pasta,” Maverick admits with another laugh. “I can also do burgers. And breakfast. And I can chop vegetables without amputating my fingers.”
Now it’s Ice’s turn to laugh out loud. Jesus, he’d almost forgotten about that. He’d been teaching Maverick how to make roast vegetables, and Maverick had almost cut his own fingers off six times in an effort to chop up carrots. And then Ice had kissed him for his troubles, and Maverick had laughed, and they’d—
“Do you want to go out for dinner tonight?” Maverick’s eyes go wide, and Ice wants to hit himself. God, of all the stupid fucking things to say—
“You mean…” Maverick swallows. He looks like he’s desperately trying to keep his shock under wraps. “You mean, the four of us? Us and the girls?”
Ice almost takes the easy way out, almost says yes. But then a familiar voice from down the hall pipes up: “He means just the two of you, don’t you, Dad?”
“Joey, go back to your room!” A rush of giggles and two pairs of footsteps — great, so both of their daughters had been listening in, that’s just perfect — echo down the hall, followed by a closing door. Ice buries his head in his hands and tries for a laugh. “Sorry about that.”
“Hey, I raised Joey. I know exactly what she’s like.” Ice looks over at him, and to his surprise, Maverick’s blushing a little, but he’s smiling too. “So. Just you and me?”
“If that’s what you want,” Ice says, because he’s not going to force Maverick into this. (Even though this isn’t anything at all, no matter how much he wants it to be.)
Maverick’s blush goes deeper, and he nods. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, that’s what I — yes. Okay.”
Ice feels a stupid smile spread across his face. “Okay,” he says. “Then I’ll, uh. I’ll change and we can leave in an hour.”
“Okay.” Maverick’s smiling openly, genuinely, the same way he did on their wedding day. “Sounds good.”
This isn’t a date. Maverick knows it. It’s just two people going out and having dinner while their daughters stay at home. So what if the two people are ex-husbands. So what if Maverick is putting an abnormal amount of effort into his appearance. So what if just the thought of being alone with Ice again makes Maverick breathless. It’s not a date. He just has to remember that.
Maverick adjusts the collar of his shirt and checks his hair in the mirror one last time, taking a deep breath and letting it out. Alright. He looks good, and Ice is waiting for him, so Maverick steps out of the bathroom and makes his way toward the living room.
On the way, he passes Joey’s room and stops by the door. The girls are playing cards together, teasing each other over their winning streaks, and not for the first time, he marvels at the fact that they’re actually here, both of them, in the exact same place. Almost like they should have been all along.
Then Violet notices him, and she grins. “Hey, Dad,” she says, not even bothering to sound nonchalant. “You look nice.”
“Yeah, Dad,” Joey adds, grinning. “Very handsome. Got any fun plans for tonight?”
Maverick rolls his eyes, trying to keep himself from smiling. “We’ll be back in a couple of hours,” he says. “Good night, ladies.”
“Night, Dad,” they say in perfect unison, and he swears he hears them squeal as he closes their door and heads off down the hall.
Ice is waiting for him in by the front door, wearing dark jeans and a nice blue polo. “Hey,” he says. “You look nice.”
“Thanks,” Maverick says, praying he isn’t blushing as much as he thinks he is. “You…you too.”
Ice hooks his thumbs through his belt loops. “So,” he says. “Where do you want to go? You know the city better than I do.”
“There’s an Ethiopian place a few blocks from here,” Maverick says. He’d never gone there before, but Goose had, and Maverick knows Ice likes trying food from different cultures. “Want to give it a try?”
“Sure.” Ice smiles. “Lead the way.”
The Ethiopian restaurant is crowded for a weekday night, and it takes about fifteen minutes before they’re given a table in the back of the restaurant, right near the kitchens. Ice, it seems, still likes people-watching while they wait for their meals to arrive, and Maverick joins him in thinking up elaborate backstories for the people around them. They split an order of beef sambusas for the appetizer, and order different wot for their main course. Ice gets chicken, Maverick gets beef, and tries not to choke to death on the spiciness of the red pepper sauce (while Ice tries not to laugh at him).
Surprisingly, the conversation isn’t awkward. They stay away from talking about Charlie and their marriage, and stick to safe topics, like their jobs and their daughters. Maverick learns about Violet’s interest in musicals, how she was Glinda the Good Witch in her third grade play, and loves Beverly Hills 90210 and strawberry candy and Oreos dipped in peanut butter. In turn, Maverick shares details about Joey, how she lost her front teeth in the second grade and pouted all the time about being unable to pronounce her last name, how she loves Buffy the Vampire Slayer and would eat Oreos and peanut butter for every meal if she could. Even though they’d finalized the custody agreement on the dinner cruise, Maverick still wishes that he could spend more time with Violet. (And with Ice.)
They split the check and walk back to the apartment building together, sharing a comfortable silence. Mike the doorman is still on duty, and he nods politely at Ice and Maverick as they head to the elevator. Maverick wonders if anyone had told Mike exactly who Ice is, and then decides he doesn’t want to know.
“This was fun,” Ice says, leaning against the elevator wall as the doors close on them. It’s the first he’s spoken since they’d left the restaurant, and the words come out abruptly, almost in a rush. “Having dinner together.”
“Yeah,” Maverick says. “Yeah, it…it was fun. I missed doing this.” Oh fuck, abort, abort. “Having dinner with somebody other than Goose or Joey, I mean. And Charlie.”
Ice opens his mouth to say something, but the sudden lurch of the elevator cuts him off. “What the hell?” They both look over at the panel above the doors, which announces they’re somewhere between the sixth and seventh floor. “Is the elevator stuck?”
“Yeah, it…it does that sometimes,” Maverick says weakly. He wants to kill whoever or whatever had allowed this to happen. His life apparently is not fucking complicated enough. “They’re getting someone to fix it soon.”
“Not soon enough,” Ice grumbles. “How long does it take to get it unstuck?”
“A few minutes, maybe an hour.”
They lapse into silence. Ice rolls up the sleeves of his shirt partway, showing off the muscles in his arms, and then starts fiddling with his Navy ring. Maverick tries to think about his job, about his daughters — anything other than the fact he’s stuck in the elevator with Iceman Kazansky.
“Hey.” Maverick looks over at Ice, who’s no longer leaning against the wall. Instead, he’s moved a little closer, so there’s barely a foot of distance between them. “I’m sorry about today. I shouldn’t have convinced Charlie to come on the trip.”
“Tricked,” Maverick corrects, smiling slightly. “Tricked is more like it. Like father, like daughters.”
Ice shrugs, as if to say fair enough. “What did Jo and Vi do to her, anyway? Something tells me those harmless tricks weren’t so harmless.”
“Let’s see,” Maverick says. “They ditched her in the Air and Space Museum. I’m ninety percent sure Jo had something to do with Charlie falling into the Reflection Pool at the Lincoln Memorial. And they dyed her hair pink.”
“You’re shitting me.”
“I wish I was.”
“Jesus.” Ice looks dangerously close to choking from laughter. “They’re devious. Remind me never to piss them off.”
“We might end up like those burglars from Home Alone,” Maverick says, and that’s the cue for both of them to start laughing. This. This is what he’d missed all those years, the feeling of sharing smiles and laughter with somebody who knows him inside and out.
For a brief, shining moment, Maverick lets himself imagine what life could have been like if they’d never divorced. He and Ice would have raised Joey and Violet together; would have seen them through their first words and first steps and first days of school. They would have worked at TOPGUN together, flown together like the wingmen they’d promised to be. And he would have been happy. So happy.
If only he hadn’t ruined everything.
“Are you okay?”
Maverick startles, not even realizing that his eyes had started to well up. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just…dust in my eyes. That’s all.”
Ice offers him a hesitant smile. “I can offer you a clean sleeve.”
“No, I’m — that’s okay. All better.” He tries for a smile but can’t quite make himself do it. “I just want…” His voice trails off; not because he doesn’t know the answer, but because he does, and there’s no way he’s about to voice it with Ice so close to him.
“Mav.” Ice’s voice is dead quiet. He reaches out slowly, and touches Maverick’s face, gently guiding his head up so they’re looking right at each other. It’s the first time Ice has touched him, really touched him, in eleven years, and it’s enough to make Maverick tear up again. “Tell me what you want.”
You, his heart cries. I want you. I’ve wanted you since the second we met. I’ve wanted you since I signed the papers and moved across the country and had to spend the last eleven years without you. I want you so badly that I can’t breathe when you’re with me and I can’t live when you’re not around. I want you.
But he lowers his eyes — even though it feels physically painful to do so — and says, “Nothing that I can have.”
“You can have anything you want.”
“No,” Maverick whispers. He can’t make himself speak above a whisper. Can’t make himself look at Ice again. “I can’t.”
Because you fell out of love with me before, and you could do it again. Because if we do this, we could end up crashing and burning and I can’t handle the heartbreak of losing you a second time. Because I never deserved someone like you to begin with, and I still don’t.
All of these are too painful to voice aloud, and Ice must sense them in his expression, because he draws back slightly. Retracts his hand. And Maverick knows it’s irrational, but he feels like he’s freezing now that Ice isn’t touching him. “You know,” he says, still quiet. Still close by. “You don’t always have to be so brave.”
Maverick gives a tiny laugh. He’s not brave at all. He’s a fucking coward. Always has been, always will be. “Yes,” he says. “I do.”
The elevator lurches, and suddenly the doors open, revealing a laughing Goose and Carole on the other side. “Hey,” Carole says, beaming. “We were just about to…” Her voice trails off as Ice steps smoothly away from Maverick, back to the other side of the elevator. “Are we interrupting? We’re interrupting. Come on, honey, we’ll wait for the next one—”
“No,” Ice says. There’s no tone to his voice at all; he almost sounds dead. Maverick doesn’t dare look over and see what’s in his expression. “It’s…it’s fine. Come in.”
Goose and Carole exchange wordless glances, but they enter the elevator anyway.
The ride to the top floor passes in absolute silence.
It rains the day they’re set to leave, because of course it does. Goose, Maverick, and Joey accompany Ice, Violet and Carole to the airport, and they all get soaked running from their taxi with their suitcases into the terminal. Ice hadn’t said more than two words to Maverick (and vice versa) since their encounter in the elevator; not because he doesn’t want to, but because he doesn’t know what to say. Doesn’t know what to say to convince Maverick to give them another shot, not when he’d failed so spectacularly the last time he tried.
The PA system announces that the flight for San Diego will be departing soon after they’ve checked in, and Ice feels his entire heart clench as he realizes the moment he’s been dreading has finally come. The time to say goodbye. Slowly, on muscles that ache from a strange emotional exhaustion, Ice bends down and takes Joey into his arms, clinging to his daughter and breathing her in. “I love you,” he whispers hoarsely. “I love you so much, baby.”
“I love you too,” Joey says tearfully, and she sniffles. “Will you…will you call me?”
“Every day,” Ice says. His throat is painfully tight. “I promise. And I’ll see you on Christmas break, okay?”
Joey’s lips tremble. “Okay,” she whispers, and Ice holds her even tighter. Over his daughter’s head, he can see Violet clinging to Maverick, her shoulders shaking as Maverick strokes her hair. Behind them, Goose and Carole are whispering quietly to each other; they’d already exchanged phone numbers and promised to see each other again as soon as possible.
After what feels like seconds and a million years simultaneously, Joey lets go of him and goes to hug Carole while Violet goes to hug Goose. And then his daughters face each other and embrace fiercely; Joey’s crying, and Violet’s jaw is tight, which Ice knows means she wants to cry but won’t do it in public.
“Have a good flight,” Maverick says, so quietly that Ice almost misses it completely. He’s come closer, and now they’re barely a foot away from each other. Close enough to touch, if Ice had been brave enough to do so.
“Thanks.” God, this is wrong. All of this is so wrong. He can’t even comprehend the fact that he’s having the blandest, most meaningless small talk in the world with the man before him, the man that Ice (even after all these years) loves so much it feels like a physical ache in his ribs. “It was…it was good seeing you again.”
Ice manages a nod. “Take care of yourself,” he says quietly, and then, before he can stop himself, he leans in to kiss Maverick on the cheek. Quick, chaste, and over in less than a second.
“Yeah,” Maverick says. His voice is trembling; so is he. Ice is completely, utterly still. “Yeah, I will.”
There’s nothing left to say — nothing left that either of them are willing to voice, at any rate. Ice hugs Joey one last time, and Maverick does the same with Violet. Goose says that he’s going to stay to see Carole off, and Maverick nods like he hadn’t expected anything different. And then Maverick takes Joey’s hand, and Ice watches his daughter and the love of his life disappear into the crowd outside the airport. Going home without them.
“This is bullshit,” Violet says.
“Watch your mouth, Violet,” Ice says automatically, but his heart isn’t in the reprimand. It isn’t in anything anymore.
“No!” Violet stomps her foot on the ground like a petulant toddler, and Ice looks over at her, stunned at the ferocity of her outburst. “Daddy, this is ridiculous! I can’t believe you’re just going to let Dad go again!”
“Violet—” Ice’s voice breaks. “Baby, it’s not that simple.”
“But he loves you, Dad,” Violet pleads. “He loves you so much, and I know you still love him. He’s just afraid that you’re going to leave him again, and he’s pushing you away so you won’t break his heart.” She takes his hands in hers, squeezing them. He can feel Goose and Carole’s concerned gazes on his back. “Please. You can’t just let him go again.”
“So when you brought up the idea of getting a divorce, I agreed. I packed my bags and we signed the papers and split custody and you…and you never came after me.”
Ice looks between his daughter and his broken heart, thinks about Maverick on the dinner cruise and in the elevator and that parting kiss on the cheek, and he gathers himself together. He knows what he has to do.
The ride back to his apartment is almost as miserable as the ride to the airport had been, and the traffic and the pouring rain are not helping matters. Joey just leans against him the entire time, her arms crossed tightly over her chest as if to block out the world, and doesn’t say a word. He doesn’t blame her. He doesn’t feel much like talking either.
Maintenance had finally come by and fixed the elevator, so the ride up to the top floor is smooth, if just as silent as the taxi ride. Strangely enough, the door’s unlocked — had he forgotten to unlock it? Or had Goose returned from the airport already? They had been in traffic for a while.
He opens the door, enters the living room, and his entire world comes to a grinding halt.
“Hey, Dad,” says Violet Kazansky, perched on the armrest of the couch like she belongs there. “Did you know the Metro gets you here in half the time?”
While Maverick tries to figure out how to speak (and breathe) again, Joey peeks around him, and her jaw drops when she sees her twin sister. “Vi, what’re you doing here?”
Violet gives a very Joey-like shrug. “It took us about…thirty seconds after you dropped us off to realize that we didn’t want to lose you again.”
Maverick swallows hard. “We?”
And then, as if summoned by Maverick’s thoughts, Ice comes out of the kitchen. He’s still in his jacket, his hair damp from the rain, and his expression is as serious as Maverick has ever seen it. “Yeah,” he says. “We.” He steps forward, crossing the room and stopping in front of Maverick. They’re so close that Maverick thinks his heart might pound out of his chest. He looks away, but Ice cups Maverick’s face in his hands, gently making him look back up. “I made the mistake of not coming after you once, Mav,” he says, quiet but firm. “And if you’ll have me, I swear I’ll never let you go again. No matter how brave you are.”
To his horror, Maverick can feel tears burning at his eyes, and he does his best to hold them back. “What do you expect, Ice?” he manages. “Do you just — do you expect me to just…just go weak in the knees, and fall into your arms and start crying hysterically, and…” It’s getting hard to speak with his throat closing up and the warmth of Ice’s hands on him, but Maverick is determined to get through this. “And…and say that we’ll somehow just...pick up where we left off, and raise our daughters…and grow old together? Is that what you expect?”
“I don’t expect anything, Mav,” Ice says, and God, the softness of those words make the walls he’d tried so hard to erect come crumbling down. He’d forgotten how strange it felt to be loved by someone with no strings attached, with no expectations. “But it’s what I hope for.” Gently, he brushes one of Maverick’s tears away with the pad of his thumb. “Except you don’t have to cry hysterically.”
Tears are streaming down his face, and Maverick just manages to choke out, “Oh yes I do,” before he grabs Iceman Kazansky by the collar of his shirt and pulls him down for a kiss.
Ice kisses him back, and it’s electrifying, waking up and warming everything in his body that had gone numb and cold since he’d signed the papers and walked out the door. He can’t stop shaking, this stupid shivering up and down his body, and Ice holds him tighter, keeping him anchored to the world, bending him back a little, and Maverick clutches him. Their mouths move together just like they used to, their bodies remembering the feel of each other, as if it hadn’t been eleven years since they’d so much as breathed the same air.
Ice draws back first, resting his forehead against Maverick’s. He’s smiling softly, fondly, and his eyes are filled with tears too. “I love you,” he whispers. “I never stopped loving you, Mav.” He kisses Maverick again, just once, briefly. “I’ll go as slow as you want. I just want to be with you again. Is that okay?”
“Yes.” Maverick’s laugh comes out more like a sob. “Yes, Ice, it’s okay.” Then, softly, “I never stopped loving you either.”
Ice is smiling with every part of his face, the same way he had after Maverick sang to him all those years before, and when Maverick leans up to kiss him again and Ice catches him around the waist, he thinks, Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Finally.
On the other side of the room, Violet glances over at Joey, who’s beaming almost as brightly as she is. They’d done it. It had taken swapping identities, Plan Bs and Cs and Ds, a tour from hell, and a metric ton of luck, but they’d done it. They’d reunited Maverick Mitchell and Iceman Kazansky.
“I can’t believe we did it,” Joey whispers. There are tears in her eyes, tears that match Violet’s. “We actually did it.”
“We did it,” Violet echoes. Their fathers are smiling stupidly at each other, whispering something that Violet can’t make out, and she links her arm through Joey’s. “C’mon, Jo,” she says, and her grin, if possible, grows even wider. “Let’s give ‘em some space. I think they’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”
stay tuned for the epilogue :)
TWO YEARS LATER:
The clink of a fork against glass echoes around the dining room of the Queen Elizabeth 2, and the chatter dies down as all of the guests look up.
“And now, ladies and gentlemen, we’ll hear some words from the best man.” Goose walks over to the officiant, whispering something in her ear before returning to his seat next to Carole. The officiant clears her throat and taps the glass again. “Excuse me,” she says politely. “My mistake. Now, ladies and gentlemen, we’ll hear some words — not from the best man, but from the best…bridesmaids?”
Grinning, Violet and Joey Mitchell-Kazansky get to their feet and make their way to the front of the room, where the officiant gives them a microphone to share. They’d elected to wear matching lavender dresses for the ceremony, but it’s easy to tell them apart now that Violet had grown her hair back to its original length.
“Hi, everybody,” Violet says cheerfully, and Joey waves. From their position, they’ve got a great view of everyone in the room: their grandparents and aunt, Goose and Carole, Slider and his wife, Digger and his wife and daughter, assorted coworkers and friends from the USS Enterprise and TOPGUN and NAWDC, and of course, the grooms. “I’m Violet, and this is my twin sister Joey.”
“Identical,” Joey puts in, which garners a laugh. “Just in case you didn’t notice.”
“Uncle Goose was supposed to give this speech, but he said that it’d be better off coming from us,” Violet says. “We have to admit, we were a bit stumped on what kind of speech we were supposed to give. Aunt Carole said we could tell funny stories about our dads—”
“But nobody would tell us any funny ones that were PG-13,” Joey finishes. At the table, Ice stifles a laugh into a napkin, and Maverick buries his face (now red with embarrassment) into Ice’s shoulder. “And Uncle Goose said that we could just stand up here and look cute and nobody would mind, but we wanted to say something of substance.”
“In the end, though, we decided to tell you all the reasons why we think our dads are such a good couple. And we should know — we were the ones who got them back together.” Violet pushes a strand of hair behind her ear. “Two years ago, Jo and I met at summer camp, and we came up with the idea of switching lives so we could get to know the dads we grew up without. And after a lot of shenanigans that we don’t mind taking the credit for—”
“We helped our dads realize that they still loved each other, and that they didn’t want to let each other go again.” Joey smiles. “And over the last two years, we’ve gotten to see just how much they love each other. They fit together so well it’s like they were never apart at all, like they were able to just pick up right where they left off.”
“And it’s because of that that we think they’re the best couple ever,” Violet says. “No offense, Goose and Carole. We love you too.” That brings another laugh, and Carole makes a heart shape with her hands in their direction. “But not only are they the best couple ever, they’re the best dads ever.” Now speaking directly to Ice and Maverick, she says, “We love you guys so much, and we’re so happy that you’re together again.”
“You deserve all the happiness in the world.”
Across the room, Goose takes that as his cue to stand up and raise his glass. “Told you you guys would do great,” he says hoarsely. His eyes are bright with tears, as are Carole’s — and their dads’. “To the happy couple!”
“To the happy couple!” the guests echo, and Violet and Joey beam.
Maverick feels himself smile even before he turns away from the railing. After Joey and Violet’s speech — which absolutely did not make him cry, no way, not at all — the reception had passed in a swirl of champagne and more toasts from friends and first dances, and Maverick had needed to get away for a moment to collect his thoughts. “Hey,” he says. “What brings you here?”
Ice hums. “I had some wedding I had to attend,” he says seriously, but the twinkle in his eyes belies his tone. “What about you?”
“Same here. I had to come; heard the groom was hot.” Ice laughs, and Maverick’s smile, if possible, grows even wider. Ice puts an arm around Maverick’s waist, and the two of them rest against the railing, watching the San Diego coast slowly pass by in a blur of distant bright lights. “Sorry for leaving. Just needed some private time.”
“Same here,” Ice says. “Besides, it seems we aren’t the center of attention anymore.”
Maverick looks over at him, frowning. “What do you mean?”
“Goose proposed to Carole. Said he’d been planning it for weeks and couldn’t wait any longer.”
“That son of a bitch,” Maverick says, but there’s no real heat behind the words. “I’ll give him hell for it later. Is Carole happy?”
“Ecstatic. I think they got the band to play Great Balls of Fire in their honor.”
“They’ve come a long way,” Maverick says, smiling. Good for Goose. He’s been head over heels in love with Carole since the second they met — just like Maverick had been with Ice.
As if reading his thoughts, Ice says, “So have we.”
That’s for sure. So much had happened in the last two years that Maverick finds it hard to comprehend sometimes.
First had been Ice and Maverick’s promise to take things slow this time around, and all of the weekend flights to California to see Ice and Violet and Carole. Then TOPGUN had moved to Fallon, Nevada, taking Ice and Violet with it, and Maverick had arranged a transfer to NAWDC as the civilian TAG rep so he and Joey could move in with Ice and Violet. He’d gotten his pilot license renewed, and he and Ice flew together in air shows every once in a while, and raised their daughters together, just like they should have all along.
Goose moved to California to be with Carole in 1999, and Maverick proposed to Ice in the spring of 2000. He hadn’t intended to do so in bed again, but his ring box had fallen out of his jacket pocket and landed on the floor next to the bed, right at Ice’s feet. And once they’d both stopped laughing at the coincidence, Ice had taken Maverick into his arms and accepted the proposal, and they’d spent the rest of the night celebrating. (Thankfully, the girls were at a sleepover at a friend’s house and missed it; that celebration had been anything but PG-13.)
And now it’s August 15th, 2000, exactly fourteen years to the day that they’d met on the USS Enterprise, and they’re married. Ice is his husband, now and forever, and Maverick has never been happier.
“Yeah,” he says, smiling. He turns so he’s no longer facing the ocean, and loops his arms around his husband’s waist; in turn, Ice puts his hands on Maverick's hips. “Yeah, we have.”
Ice kisses him on the nose, and then again, properly. They’ve done this so many times, and yet it never gets old. Just feels warm and familiar and lasting. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
They turn away from each other in time to see their daughters bounding toward them, beaming brightly enough to rival the stars in the sky. Every day Maverick wants to thank God that he and Ice had sent them both to Camp Walden, and that they had come up with their scheme in the first place; he doesn’t know how to live without both his daughters (and his husband) in his life.
“Come on,” Violet laughs, pulling Maverick along while Joey does the same to Ice. “They won’t start serving the cake until you guys come back in. It’s chocolate, right?”
“Vanilla,” Ice says, but his daughters’ crestfallen expressions make him laugh. “I’m kidding, girls. It’s chocolate, I promise.”
“We couldn’t spring for peanut butter since Digger’s wife is allergic,” Maverick says. “Hope you’ll be okay with vanilla frosting.”
Joey heaves a dramatic sigh. “It’ll have to do,” she says, grinning. “Come on.”
They’ve barely re-entered the dining room when the four of them are stopped by a young dark-haired woman hefting an old-fashioned camera and smiling. “Would you like a souvenir picture?”
“Yes,” Violet and Joey say at once, and then burst into a fit of giggles.
Ice looks over at Maverick and shrugs, a smile tugging at his mouth. “Up to you, Mav.”
“Sure,” Maverick says. They still have the original photograph, which has been carefully taped back together, but he wants a wedding memory that hadn’t been previously torn apart. “Let’s do it.”
Violet and Joey move to stand in front of Maverick and Ice, who put their hands on their daughters’ shoulders. He and Ice turn to look at each other, wearing matching grins, and the camera flashes, and Maverick thinks:
I’m never letting them go.
I don't have anything to say (other than shock that I wrote almost 50k in less than two months) except thanks to all of my readers. Whether you've been with me from the beginning or just found this fic today, whether you left comments, kudos, bookmarks, or raised my hit count, your encouragement was amazing and made me feel like I wasn't just sending my writing into the void. Thank you, thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart: I couldn't have done this without you. <3
Some of you may have noticed that this fic is now part of a series. I have a few more ideas set in this 'verse: some missing scenes, some drabbles from the future and the past, etc., so that's something to look forward to. :D
Until next time, this has been boasamishipper, signing out.