Vignette; Romance (Harm/other)
Approximately 3,800 words; 10 pages (8 ½” x 11”)
to write this. ‘Nuff said. Heather – as always: thank you so
much for beta-reading!
having returned to duty after his ramp strike, Harm feels lost.
Until he meets someone who helps him refocus on what’s
Somewhere in between the Potomac and the Tidal Basin
I love this particular hour of the day.
The sun has already set, it’s more dark than light now but I can still
see the colors that surround me. Near the horizon, at least where there
aren’t any houses or trees in the way, the sky is still a pale red. When
I let my eyes wander higher, the red first becomes a pale pink, then
some kind of a dusty violet, then blue. And the first stars come in
The air is still warm and I can stay a little longer. Folding my arms in
front of my chest, I rest my outstretched left leg on my right and
glance upwards, looking at nothing in particular, just slowly breathing
in and out, in and out, relaxing. This bench has become my favorite
retreat during the last few weeks.
I usually come here because I like being alone for a while, taking a
break from city life. But tonight, there’s someone else sitting beside
me. Well, not really beside me. I’m at one end of the bench, he’s at the
other. I think he didn’t even notice me when he slumped down on his seat
about half an hour ago, sighing as if the weight of the world was
sitting on his shoulders, staring in front of him, unseeing.
He hasn’t moved since.
I have been watching him for quite a while now. He’s an officer. Navy. A
lieutenant I guess. I’m not sure if I got the rank insignia right. And
at least from the outside, there’s no need at all for him to look so
gloomy. Tall, dark-haired, sportive but not overly so... He’s... well...
okay, he’s gorgeous.
I’m wondering for the umpteenth time just what might be going on behind
that fair façade when he suddenly startles me as he actually moves. He
reaches down beneath the bench and pulls up a paper bag that he must
have put there as he sat down. He opens it and takes out a bottle.
He’s no alcoholic. You can see that from the start. He may drink
occasionally with a few fellow sailors but he clearly isn’t used to
drinking alone. He slowly turns the bottle around in his hands,
obviously unsure what to do.
I decide it’s time to step in. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” I say
gently, trying not to startle him.
I do, of course. He jumps and stares at me, aghast. He really hadn’t
noticed me until now.
“I really wouldn’t do that,” I repeat, all of a sudden finding it very
hard to keep my voice soothing. His have to be the most stunning blue
eyes I’ve ever seen.
He just keeps staring at me, but his look turns distant. The walls are
I’m beginning to understand that this might have been a bad idea. ‘Stay
out of other people’s problems,’ I order myself, mentally biting my
tongue. “Oh, I’m... I’m sorry,” I murmur, looking away and starting to
Just then, he manages to shake himself from his state of haze. “Oh...
uh... no, you’re right,” he answers with the slightest embarrassed grin,
his eyes begging me to stay where I am. He casts a quick glance at the
bottle in his hands, then puts it back into the paper bag. “No, you’re
right...” he repeats, more to himself. Then he again looks at me. “I
guess I didn’t really plan on doing it anyway.” His voice is low and
there’s this melancholy half-grin of his again that warms and worries me
at the same time.
Still feeling a little embarrassed, I offer him an apologetic grimace in
return. “Listen, this is none of my business, I’m sorry.”
“Uh, no, that’s okay...” he answers distractedly, again glancing out on
the water of the Tidal Basin where the moonlight has begun to sparkle.
I’m amazed at myself. What I’m about to do is the opposite of what my
reaction normally would be. But somehow I can’t stop myself.
“Okay... if you're sure you don't mind... anything you might want to
talk about with some stranger who won’t judge you?”
The next look I get is one of genuine surprise. Positive surprise, I
note, somewhat relieved.
“I’m not so sure if I want to talk about it,” he says quietly.
“Then don’t,” I reply with a smile that should tell him I didn’t take
offence. I turn my head back upward and watch the stars. Cassiopeia’s W
is right above me.
It’s my turn to jump when he speaks up again. He has a warm, velvety
voice. “What brings you out here alone anyway?”
I meet his glance. His expression has lost a little of the earlier
gloom. There’s still sorrow lurking in his eyes but apart from that, his
face is open and just a little curious. I decide I need not be afraid of
“Time to think... air to breathe... silence to listen to,” I reply with
a lopsided grin.
I may be mistaken - but did his expression just turn a little concerned?
“Anything *you* might want to talk about?” he asks carefully.
Chuckling slightly, I shake my head. “Not really.” Although I have been
a little lonely of late.
As if he were suddenly remembering his manners, he straightens and holds
his hand out to me. “Harm.” His smile has finally broken through - and I
find myself stuttering. He must have women lining up in front of his
door every night.
“Oh... nice to meet you... Harm.” ‘Breathe. Regroup.’ “I’m Dana.”
“Nice to meet you, too, Dana.” He squeezes my hand. “So, what do you do,
when you’re not sitting here, that is?”
“I’m a journalist,” I answer, foreseeing the reaction.
“Wow.” Here it is, same as always. “So I should stop talking, I
suppose?” He flashes me that smile again, and I can’t even feel annoyed.
“As you like,” I answer, just a little weary. “I’m not a news reporter.
I do music.”
He sobers instantly. “I’m sorry. I guess that was dumb.”
He’s the first person I’ve ever met who actually understands my
reaction. Learning that I’m a journalist, people normally instantly put
me in their mental ‘action-and-scandal’ drawer. For them it’s kind of
hard to believe I’m just a harmony-lover, literally and figuratively.
My smile seems to set his conscience at ease. “That’s okay. I’m used to
it. What about you, Lieutenant?” My eyebrows start to rise.
His smile is still there, but it doesn’t reach his eyes anymore. “You
picked that up, did you?” he counters in a weak attempt at humor. When I
don’t reply, he takes a deep breath and slowly lets it out again,
staring in front. “Paperwork mostly,” is all he says in a guarded voice.
“Why do I get the impression this isn’t what you signed up for?” I ask,
trying to keep my voice light without seeming superficial.
“Because it isn’t.”
I sense that he doesn’t want to share any more details, but he looks as
if in need of a thorough sounding board. So contrary to my usual
decency, I push it a little, trying a different approach.
“How old are you, Harm?”
“Me, too.” I pause. Maybe I should hint that I might understand better
than many people that life isn’t always what it’s supposed to be.
“Funny, isn’t it? Not even three decades, and, already you get the
impression it’s all screwed up.”
His head jerks around, his gaze sharp. “What do you mean?”
Now it’s me who’s staring at the sparkling lake. My voice is low when I
eventually answer. “You think you have it all figured out, what you
want, what you can do, where you’ll be going and then, just like that,
one day everything just falls apart.”
I can still feel his stare on me, but I sense that the sharpness is
gone. “Yeah...” he murmurs to himself. “What’s with you, Dana?” he asks,
incredibly gently, and suddenly I feel my tears rising.
Damn. I was so sure I had gotten a grip by now. Two months of adjusting
to the idea should do that. But I guess this is just another
“Multiple Sclerosis,” I whisper, trying to swallow my tears, indicating
the crutches that are leaning against the bench on my other side.
“I’m sorry,” he says simply, adding none of the thousands of superfluous
consolations that people feel obliged to offer whenever I tell them
about my condition. He just takes my hand and silently squeezes it,
giving me all the time I need.
Eventually I sniffle and manage to smile. “Thanks,” I say, just a little
embarrassed at my emotional display. “You know, it’s not like it’s
cancer or AIDS or anything. If I’m a little lucky I’ll be able to lead a
next-to-normal life. It’s just... well... sometimes the depression just
gets to you and you need a few moments to pull yourself together.”
“How did you find out?” he asks.
“Two months ago, without anything that could have tipped me off
beforehand, I just woke to find I couldn’t really feel the whole left
side of my body. I could move but I couldn’t control my movements. I had
an MRI scan done, then a lumbar puncture. Verdict. Period,” I take my
refuge into sarcasm. “The symptoms eventually vanished after a few weeks
but my acute attack isn’t over yet. Right now I’m suffering a slight
paralysis of my right foot. That’s why I need the crutches. It should
vanish as well and hopefully leave me quite some time before any new
“And how are you treating it?”
“Cortisone, to heal the inflammation in the brain. Once that’s done,
I’ll start with a protective treatment, immune suppression. I’ll just
have to hope it’ll work in my case and slow down the disease. No one can
tell, though. I may still be figure-skating in 30 years. Or I may be in
a wheelchair at the age of 35. There’s no way to predict the
progression. And that’s the hardest part of it.” My voice has gone back
to a whisper again.
[A.N.: I know the protective treatment didn’t yet exist in 1992 but I’m
taking a little artistic license here.]
Harm is silent for quite some time, never letting go of my hand.
Eventually, he squeezes it again, making me look at him. “You see this
spot, Dana?” He indicates the left side of his chest, just above the
ribbons. I nod. “There used to be wings on it.”
“I trained to fly Tomcats, F-14s. My father’s genes, I suppose. But nine
months ago, I screwed up a night landing on the carrier and killed my
RIO, you know, the one in the backseat. They found out I’m night-blind,
so I was cleared by the board of inquiry. But I lost my flight-status.
And I’m responsible for my friend’s death.”
“Weren’t you injured yourself?” I ask, measuring him with my eyes.
Sitting here like that, his form seems unbreakable.
“Six months in traction,” he answers curtly.
“Yet you’re back again...” I muse, amazed.
His glance turns pained. “That’s just the point. I’m back, physically.
But back to what exactly? This isn’t my life. Flying was all I ever
wanted, starting from when my father first showed me around on the USS
Hornet, and even more so since he was shot down over Vietnam. Suddenly
this road is closed and I don’t know where to go.”
“Do you talk about it to anyone?” I venture carefully. This is
ultra-private territory again. “There’s got to be someone who can help
you decide what to do.”
“You’re the first one whom I've ever told about how I feel,” is his
surprising answer. “My mom had so much to go through after Dad went MIA,
so it kind of became habit for me to be strong around her. Then she
remarried and we... disconnected a little.”
“I take it you hate your stepfather?” I have seen enough cases of
hero-worship to judge my new friend on this point.
“Yeah, I do...” he confesses in a low voice. “At least I did for a long
time. Right now I just don’t want to hear about him.”
“And your girlfriend?” I’m convinced he has one. Strangely, although
he’s a sailor, he doesn’t strike me as the type to have a girl in every
“No girlfriend,” he states matter-of-factly. I must have gaped at him
because he starts to chuckle slightly. “Is that so surprising?”
I feel myself blush a little. “Uh... actually... yeah.”
At this, both of us start laughing.
“I’m sorry, Harm.”
“No problem, I’m used to it,” he turns my own words back at me which
makes me laugh even harder. As I start to shiver a little in the night
breeze, Harm, without thinking, pulls me close and makes me sit in his
embrace. I don’t object.
Sobering, Harm speaks up again. “There’s someone I could consider a
girlfriend, if I saw her more often. She went to Naval Academy with me
but then I continued with flight training and she became a cryptologist
instead. We’ve been on different ships ever since, writing occasionally,
thinking a lot more, I guess. She even came to see me during my rehab
and after that, when I was taking a break at my Grandma’s. But then she
was gone again. Back to sea duty. I haven’t called her yet.”
I briefly close my eyes, reveling in the feeling of being protected in
his embrace. He’s holding me close, like he’s needing an anchor not to
get lost in his unraveling life. Sometimes fate can be so odd. Two
people seeking solitude and finding... finding what? A counterpart who
understands perfectly what’s going on inside the other.
“So, did you figure out yet what you’re going to do?” I eventually ask
“Not yet,” he answers low. “It’s so confusing. I had my life all planned
out. I knew what I wanted. I never thought about alternatives.”
“I know what you mean,” I tell him. “I had pretty detailed plans for my
life, too. College, university, a career in cultural journalism, travel
around the world from one opera festival to the next, foreign
correspondent maybe... get married, have children...”
“And now?” he asks softly.
“At first I got completely lost. But making plans is just part of my
mentality. I can’t help it. The doctors told me that part of my
condition was that I couldn’t plan any real long-term projects. Still, I
started making plans, considering they couldn’t be long-term. And
strangely I started to get things straightened out.”
His voice conveys his smile and it sends a shiver down my spine, making
my skin burn where his hand is resting on my thigh. “Care to share how
you brought that about?”
I chuckle a little helplessly. “I had no hand in it. *It* did something
*with* me. This must sound weird, I know, but when I was still trying to
digest the news, something changed in my subconscious. I thought about
what I wouldn’t be able to do anymore - and suddenly I found that there
were countless things I could still do, wonderful things I hadn’t even
spared a thought for until that day. I learned that I could still have
kids. And the moment that piece of information sank in, I realized that
this was suddenly priority number one in my life. The change occurred
completely unconsciously, but once I noticed it I only thought: ‘Sure,
this is exactly what I want my life to be. I want a family, more than
“At first, I thought I’d gone crazy. What had happened to my career
plans? I was suddenly considering working part-time, starting out on my
PhD, taking time to get as physically fit as possible during the
intervals when my disease would be inactive. My perspective just did a
complete 180 in not even 72 hours. And you know what, Harm? I’m feeling
good about it. It’s just as if I’d needed something like this to bring
everything into focus. Of course, every now and then, the panic and the
frustration return and you can’t help breaking down a little, but each
time, it gets a little easier to get back on track and move on.”
Harm’s hand has started to caress my arm, unbeknownst to him, I suppose,
but I don’t care. It feels divine. “How do you do that?” he asks very
low, his voice thoughtful and just a little envious as well.
“I really don’t know,” I whisper, resting my head in the curve of his
neck, “But I wish I could help you.”
“Maybe you did.” His voice is toneless by now as well.
For what seems an endless time, we just sit motionless, rejoicing in
each other’s embrace, reveling in the comforting closeness that neither
of us had expected to find when we came out here.
“What’s really important to you?” I finally ask him, never lifting my
He contemplates my question for a little while. “My oath to my country,”
he answers finally, deep in thought. “Fighting for what I believe is
right and just. Defending our freedom.”
“Don’t you think you could do that someplace else, too? Not just in the
cockpit?” I dare him to follow this road. I sense he’s thinking in the
“I guess I could,” he answers, still thoughtful. “There are people who
need someone who’s willing to stand up for them. You know, when I didn’t
know yet how the board of inquiry would decide about my ramp strike, a
JAG lawyer, an officer from the Judge Advocate General Corps, came to
talk to me, in case I’d have to face court-martial. I was so grateful to
see that there was someone who wanted to help me. I guess that would be
something I could actually see myself doing.” His voice has taken up a
genuinely surprised undertone by now. This is really a revelation of the
moment. But it just fits.
“Lieutenant... ah...” I stop. I don’t even know his full name.
“Harmon Rabb, Jr.,” he helps me, smiling.
I take up my speech. “Lieutenant Harmon Rabb, standing up to fight for
the rights of those wrongly accused. Making sure the true delinquents
receive their just punishment. You know, I think I could picture you
Harm chuckles, still a little incredulous that he just experienced an
epiphany of the kind. “You know what, Dana? Me, too.”
“You’d have to go to law school. That’s hard work. Or so I’m told.” I’m
mocking him now, sensing that challenging him will push him in the right
“You don’t think I’m up to the task?”
“I believe it when I see it.”
Again, we both start laughing. When we grow silent again, I suddenly
hear a blackbird sing from a nearby tree. Startled, I look at my watch.
4.38 a.m. Dawn is about to break.
I’m reluctant to end this magical session but I have to get home and get
at least two hours of sleep before showing up at the editorial office. I
heave a sigh. “Harm, I need to get going. It’s way past my bedtime, you
“Let me walk you home. I want to make sure you’re safe.”
I agree, reach for my crutches and let him help me stand up. Silently,
we walk the short distance up to where I live. In front of my door, we
share a tight hug.
“Thank you, Dana,” Harm says, his voice muffled by my hair.
“You’re welcome. Thank *you*, too.”
I’ve already started to draw back but Harm suddenly cups my face with
one hand and leans in. I lose my orientation the moment his lips meet
mine. I can’t do anything about it - I have to surrender to this kiss.
Utterly and completely. We share a few endless seconds of gentle contact
that is burning with underlying passion. The need for air finally makes
us part, and the feeling of loss is acute.
“Can I see you again?” he breathes, resting his forehead against mine.
Everything within me screams ‘yes’, but I draw a deep breath and, with a
smile, shake my head. “We both know it wouldn’t work,” I whisper. “You
need someone whose life is closer to your own, someone who can put up
with military life. And I will need someone who can be with me all the
time when things get worse. We should just leave it at that and end it
here and now, before it even starts. But,” I reach into my bag, pull out
my note pad and scribble down something for him, “Let me know about your
life, Harmon Rabb.”
He glances at the email address I’ve written down. “Count on it, Dana,”
he promises with the warmest smile that is just a little sad.
I brush a last quick kiss to his lips and step through the door, closing
him out of my life. But not out of my heart.
It’s true - sometimes, life sucks. But only as long as you’ll allow it.