Charles Hegna had planned to be home with his family at Christmas, and for a week his wife Edwena had been waiting for him to telephone from the Middle East to tell her when he would arrive.
But the call that came to the new green clapboard house in Sterling Tuesday was not from Hegna, but from the State Department. Her husband, she was told, was a passenger aboard a Kuwaiti airliner being held by gunmen at the Tehran airport.
Thirty hours later she was told there was only "a 1 percent chance" that the man who was shot to death and dumped from the plane the day before was not her husband.
"You know," she said yesterday as she sat on her living room sofa with her two younger children, "there's always the hope. There's always the hope that he's alive, and they made a mistake."
Surrounded by mementoes of her husband's 17-year Foreign Service career that included service in Africa, Asia and Central America, Edwena Hegna talked of their life together and the plans she had made for his Christmas homecoming.
She had expected Hegna, an auditor with the Agency for International Development based in Pakistan, to arrive by midmonth.
The house was decorated with the colors of the season, red and green candles, a garland of pine along the balcony railing in the front hall. In the corner of the living room sat a Dr. Seuss doll, a present for their 4-month-old granddaughter, Holly.
Plans for a big Christmas dinner had been laid, she said. In addition to the family, friends and former colleagues from an assignment in Bangkok were to be there for a reunion.
She spoke calmly, giving precise, matter-of-fact answers to a reporter's questions. Her green eyes were clear, though at times the cadence of her speech slowed and her thoughts seemed far away.
Hegna, 50, left home in mid-October for Pakistan for his final foreign posting. The family stayed behind, but there were regular phone calls -- "more reliable than the mail," she said.
Three weeks ago, he telephoned from Yemen, where he was doing an audit. He said he'd call again, as soon as he knew when he could catch a flight home for Christmas.
Separations and talk of travel plans are nothing new to the Hegnas. "I guess we were sort of gypsies at heart," she said of her husband of 27 years. It was the travel and adventure that attracted him to the Foreign Service after working in the Navy as an auditor and for the state of Wisconsin.
A native of Wausau, Wis., and a 1963 graduate of the University of Wisconsin, he had met her while in the Navy, stationed in Maine. They married in January 1957 and had four children: Steven, Craig, Lynn and Paul.
His first post with AID was in Saigon in 1967. She stayed home and, at first, she worried.
As war raged in the Vietnamese countryside and in Saigon, the magazine photographs made it seem as if the city were being torn apart, she said.
But he persauded her it was all right. Auditors weren't ever near the action, he said.
Over the next 15 years, they roamed the world with the State Department, setting up homes in Ghana, Morocco, Thailand and Panama. Traveling to surrounding countries became a normal work pattern.
"His family was his only hobby," his wife said. If he bowled, he bowled with them. If he went to the beach, he took them along.
When the Hegnas returned to their home in Annandale from their last overseas post in Panama four years ago, she said, the children came to feel that being in America was like being in Disneyland -- everything was so shiny and fast.
Earlier this year they moved into the new house in Sterling, in a subdivision off Leesburg Pike known as "Countryside."
Their two younger children, Paul, 17, and Lynn, 21, live with her in the new house. Both work at a Pizza Hut restaurant nearby. Last night, the three sat very close, and they held each other's hands.
Mrs. Hegna said she and Paul had been planning to fly to Pakistan with her husband after Chistmas. She missed him, and besides, it would be their last big adventure, because he planned to return to the states for good in October.
"It's funny," Mrs. Hegna said. "I always worried about him when he was away, worried especially about hijackers and terrorists." But she said he always told her not to think about such things. Auditing, he would say, is not where the action is.