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"And you look like one too, hon."

The crowd milled and pushed and shoved around her, but Julia focused completely on Ivy. Julia had a way of doing that, making whoever she was talking to feel like the most important person in the world.

"Hey, Dad?"

Tugging his gaze from Julia, he looked down at Shelby.

Dad? There'd been a time she didn't think she would ever call him that again.

"Yeah, Shel?"

She wondered what he'd say when she told him she'd been talking to Doctor Bennett about taking an ROTC scholarship when she went to college in the fall. She'd been thinking she might be a pediatrician. She could work at base clinics with Air Force families to make things easier for them, like with the special needs support group. She knew first-hand how tough the military life could be. Maybe she could make her own difference in the world, kinda like her dad.

Shelby scratched her shoulder and also wondered what the Air Force would think of a lady doc with a tattoo?

"Shel?" her dad asked again. "Did you need something?"

"Not really." She'd tell him later. This was Ivy's time. "Just wanted to say I love ya."

Something else she'd thought she might never say to her dad again.

"Love you too, kiddo." He winked before reaching for Patrick. "How about let me take him so you and John can head on out to the movie."

"Sure. Thanks." Shelby passed over her brother with a quick buzz-kiss on his cheek to make him giggle. "Catch you later, Paddy."

Her dad hefted him up onto his shoulders. "Let's go find your mama, Bruiser. Bye, Shel.

No later than one o'clock."

Of course, some things never changed.

"Roger that, Colonel." Smiling, Shelby slid her hand into John's, backing away as she took one last look at her family. With Ivy tucked under her arm, Julia tickled her son's nose with a flower. Patrick squealed from on top of her dad's shoulders. Then her dad smiled at Julia. Julia smiled back. Simple stuff. But good, really good.

And Shelby realized something else she wouldn't have thought a year ago.

Her old man wasn't such a nimrod after all.