THE NEXT MORNING
Harm awoke to the pleasant aroma of brewing coffee, and the very
unpleasant absence of Terri from his bed. After a quick stop in the
bathroom, he sought out his beautiful lover in the kitchen. He found her
standing by the stove, spatula in hand, making scrambled eggs. It was
such a simple, everyday action, and yet, she had never seemed more
beautiful to him. Waking up to find Terri making herself completely at
home in his apartment, was the most wonderful way to start a day that
Harm could think of.
She was dressed in one of his old button-down shirts, which Harm guessed
she must have taken from his closet. Not that he minded; from where he
was standing, silently watching her, it looked much better on her form,
than it ever had on his. The hem of the large shirt fell to her
mid-thigh, and, through the light material, Harm could see that all she
had on underneath was a pair of panties.
Part of him wanted to drag her back to the bedroom for more of the
mind-altering lovemaking they’d created the night before, but another
part of him was mesmerized, just watching her. Watching her be so
comfortable in his home, doing the everyday, mundane task of making
breakfast, he realized it was a sight he could definitely get used to.
It was a sight he wanted to get used to. He wanted to share his life
with this woman – everything from the incredible heights of physical
union, to workaday things like laundry, or bringing in the mail. He
wanted it all, and he now knew, he wanted it with Teresa Coulter.
Harm had been so quiet, Terri was still unaware of his presence. As he
continued to watch her, memories of the previous night flooded his mind.
His senses were immediately overwhelmed with the memory of her sounds,
her scent, how soft she had felt against him, how her body had yielded
to his so easily. The mere thought of it all had him aroused once again.
Very carefully and quietly, he snuck up behind her, wrapping one arm
around her waist, while his other hand reached out to shut off the
Terri gasped in surprise. “What about the eggs?” she asked, laughing.
Both hands now on Terri’s waist, Harm pulled her back against him, so
she could feel the state he was in. “Oh, I’m hungry, all right,” he
said, “but not for eggs.” With that, he turned her around, and slowly
pushed his shirt off her shoulders, his fingers leaving trails of
goosebumps in their wake, as the shirt fell silently to the floor.
Harm had always liked his apartment cool during the night, and he hadn’t
bothered to adjust the temperature when he woke up. Terri’s nipples were
already hardening in the chilly air, but Harm liked to think the
temperature wasn’t the only reason. Locking his eyes with hers, he
backed her up toward the kitchen island, then lifted her until she was
seated on the edge. “Why on earth would I want eggs, when I can have
this?” he whispered. He lowered himself to one of her breasts, taking
the cinnamon nipple into his warm mouth. He circled the firm bud with
his tongue, while his big hand massaged her other breast. It was only a
few seconds before Terri was writhing under his touch, her knuckles
white, as her hands gripped the edge of the island.
“Mmmhh,” Terri moaned, as a warm tingle spread through every inch of her
body. “God, Harm…”
Harm smiled against her breast, his teeth momentarily scraping her
nipple, making her shiver. “What?” he asked. “Tell me.” Pulling his hand
away from her breast, Harm kissed her deeply, his tongue sliding softly
When they broke the kiss, Terri looked at him; their equally darkened
eyes were a clear sign of their mutual arousal. There was an unspoken
question in Terri’s expression. Harm was almost embarrassed to bring it
up again, but he was far too turned on to stop himself. Last night had
been slow and sensual, but now, here, in the middle of the kitchen, he
could tell it was going to be hard and fast.
“Tell me how it feels,” Harm said, whispering huskily in Terri’s ear.
“Tell me what you want.”
Terri had been running her fingers along Harm’s strong shoulders, but,
upon hearing his request, she froze. Harm looked at her, and he could
see she was blushing. A prudish smile appeared on her face. “Harm, I
can’t,” she said, embarrassed.
“Try, baby,” Harm begged. “For me.” With that, he lowered his mouth back
to her breasts, his lips latching onto one straining peak, while his
fingers rolled and pinched the other.
“Aaah,” Terri moaned again. “That feels so good, Harm. Don’t stop.”
Terri felt awkward, hearing the words come out of her mouth, but if they
were turning Harm on even more, she was determined to overcome her
Harm moved his whole hand over one heaving mound, while he used his
other hand to hold her in place as he kissed her shoulder, then her
neck, then made his way to her ear, where he nipped at her earlobe.
“What else?” he panted. “What else do you want?”
Inwardly, Terri still cringed with trepidation, but she vowed to present
a confident front. “Touch me,” she whispered. One of her hands reached
out to tickle his chest, her fingernail scraping lightly over his
“Where?” he demanded, his tongue still caressing her earlobe.
Unable to stop herself, Terri chuckled softly.
“Don’t,” Harm told her. “You’ll ruin it.” He kissed the side of her
neck, and ran his fingers through her silky hair. “Don’t stop, Terri,
please,” he urged her. “I’m so turned on; you’re driving me crazy.”
Finding her lips again, he kissed her fiercely. Terri was tense in his
arms, at first, but soon, he felt her relax. “Where do you want me to
touch you?” he asked again, his thumb caressing her cheek.
“Down there,” Terri replied breathlessly. It was all she could manage,
for now. In her mind, Harm was lucky she had uttered even that much;
this was so new to her. She parted her legs slightly, daring him to
follow through. “Touch me there, Harm,” she repeated, as she started to
forget her inhibitions. “Touch me; feel how wet I am for you.”
Hearing those words from Terri almost sent Harm over the edge right
then, but he knew they weren’t finished. Pushing Terri’s panties aside,
Harm slid one finger along her soaking wet folds, making the barest
contact with her hardened clit. Terri bucked at his touch, and Harm
slipped two fingers into her core. Terri gripped Harm’s shoulders tight,
holding onto him as she thrusted her hips against his hand. “Yes, yes,
Harm…God, that feels so good…your fingers inside me…”
Pushing his fingers deeper inside her with each pass, Harm used his
thumb to stroke her clit, and Terri quickly fell apart before him,
crying out unintelligibly as she hit the peak. Harm kissed her forehead,
wiping away sweaty strands of her hair, as she came back down from the
high. When her breathing was almost back to normal, he offered her his
hand to help her stand up. As soon as her feet were on the floor, Harm’s
hands were promptly at her hips, sliding her panties down her legs.
When the offending garment was finally to the floor, Harm helped Terri
back up onto the island. Taking her hand in his, he placed it against
his painfully straining erection. “Do you have any idea how hot it makes
me, listening to you like that?” He pressed her hand to him more firmly.
“I want you so badly, Terri. Feel what you do to me?”
Taking the initiative now, Terri cupped his arousal through his boxers.
“Take me, Harm,” she invited him “Take me now; I’m yours.”
Even though Harm was about to explode, there was one more thing he
wanted to do, before he buried himself deep inside her. Grasping Terri’s
thighs, he pulled her body to the edge of the island. He coaxed her
thighs apart, and lowered his mouth to her center, his senses
intoxicated by the scent of sex, and the incredible heat radiating from
her core. He swept his tongue along her folds, reveling in the taste of
her, while her moans and squeals drove him on.
“Harm!” Terri panted, reaching down to try to pull him back up. “Now,
Harm,” she begged, her whole body quivering with need. “I need you…I
need you inside me.”
Harm was convinced he was going to come the second he even got close to
entering her. He took a slow, shuddering, deep breath, trying to calm
himself. Terri leaned forward, encircling Harm’s nipple with her tongue,
while her hand roamed along his torso. She tickled his scarce spattering
of chest hair, then moved lower, to his abdomen. Harm sucked in a ragged
breath when Terri’s fingers found a particularly sensitive spot.
Finally, knowing he was going to go over the edge soon, whether he was
inside her or not, Harm pushed his boxers down just far enough to free
his rock hard erection. Pulling Terri close to him, he kissed her hard,
at the same time as he plunged himself into her warm, welcoming
entrance. She was still soaked; he slid in effortlessly. “You feel
incredible,” he rasped. “So tight…so hot.”
Their roles now slightly reversed, Terri was quickly beginning to
understand the appeal of racy talk. Granted, they were being pretty
tame, compared to some books she had read, and a few movies she had
seen, but it was still new territory for them. She couldn’t imagine what
it would be like when they were a little more experienced with each
other. The few words Harm had offered her so far had her juices running,
and she could feel her insides tightening yet again.
Wanting to give Harm the most pleasure she could, Terri wrapped her legs
around his waist, drawing him deeper inside her. “Give it to me, Harm.
Harder.” She leaned back on the island, almost laying down, granting
Harm even better access to her body.
His thrusts became more forceful; each time he pounded all the way into
her, then pulled back just to the tip, before driving home again.
“Fuck…you feel amazing,” he told her. He thrust a few more times before
his climax slammed down upon him. He grabbed Terri’s hips, his hands
holding fast to her as he came in torrents, moaning loudly, burying his
hot seed inside her softness.
Harm stood there for several long seconds, while Terri ran her fingers
along his sweaty back and shoulder, waiting for him to regain his sense
of the here and now. When Harm opened his eyes again, he saw Terri
staring at him, her expression somewhat unidentifiable.
“What?” Harm smiled.
Terri smiled, blushing bright red. She covered her face with her hands.
“I can’t believe I just did that.”
“Did what?” Harm asked playfully. He gently pried Terri’s hands from her
face, holding them in his own.
“Said all those things,” she replied, squirming sheepishly. Her gaze was
fixed firmly away from Harm.
Holding onto Terri’s hands with just one of his own now, Harm placed his
index finger under her chin, coaxing her to look at him. “Why are you so
shy about it? You saw what it did to me.”
Terri shrugged. “I just…” She looked away again, giggling. “I’m just not
used to it, that’s all. I didn’t know what to say.”
Harm leaned down and kissed her sweetly. “You did just fine,” he assured
“That’s what you were talking about last night, isn’t it?” Terri
Harm nodded. “I didn’t want to push you too soon, though,” he told her.
“Last night was our first time.”
“So, you thought the second time was waiting long enough?”
This time, it was Harm’s turn to blush. “That was all the time I needed
to feel totally comfortable with you,” he explained. “I couldn’t have
done it, otherwise, and I never would have asked you to try, either.”
Terri nodded. She bit her lip for a second. “And…have you…um…ever asked
anyone else to try it?”
Harm chuckled. “No,” he said firmly. “You’re the first. Like I said, I
was never comfortable enough before.”
“You’re not going to ask me to do that every time, are you?” Terri
smiled, still feeling slightly embarrassed.
“No,” Harm smiled, “I won’t; I promise.” He brought her hand to his
lips, and placed a soft kiss there. Bending down, he retrieved his shirt
for Terri to put back on. After she had her arms through the sleeves,
she pulled it tight around her torso.
“So, what is it about that, that gets you so excited, anyway?” she
Harm shrugged. “What is it about that little spot on your neck, that
makes you close your eyes and sigh, every time I kiss it?”
Terri smiled. “It just feels good. It’s like there’s a direct line
between that spot, and all the hormones in my body. The minute you even
come close, my heart starts beating faster…my insides start quivering.”
“Oh yeah?” Harm teased, one eyebrow quirking up. “What else happens?” he
“Oh, no,” Terri admonished. “If we go there again, we’re likely to end
up christening this kitchen floor.”
“So?” Harm teased. “I think we did a good job with the island. I bet you
the floor’s pretty jealous right about now…”
Terri smiled. “Well, it’ll have to wait until next time. I’m starved,
thanks to the workout you just gave me.”
Harm smiled back at her. He wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling
her close. “What do you say we take a quick shower, and then head out
for breakfast? There’s a great pancake place not too far away.”
Terri considered the offer for a moment. “All right,” she agreed, “but
on one condition: we shower separately. Otherwise, showering would be
anything but ‘quick.’”
THREE WEEKS LATER
U.S. NAVAL ACADEMY
Harm’s class’s weekend homework assignment was to study a particular
case he’d introduced them to. They had to critique the strategies of the
original prosecution and defense, and then design their own arguments,
as if they were to argue the cases, themselves. A male midshipman, whom
Harm had come to know as having a keen legal mind, but little military
bearing, was presenting his suggestions. Harm was trying his best to pay
attention to the student’s argument, but he found himself constantly
distracted by Midshipman Henry.
Harm had gotten to the classroom early. He had watched as the students
filed in, and quickly proceeded to their desks. Nothing had been out of
the ordinary, until Midshipman Henry appeared. She had a large, dark
contusion on one side of her face. She hurried past him, and did not
make eye contact, as if that would somehow prevent him from seeing the
bruise. Laura was a strong, athletic girl, Harm told himself. If that’s
what *she* looked like, he thought, he’d hate to see the other guy, as
the saying went.
Harm brought his focus back to the student who was speaking, just as the
young man finished his presentation. “Ah, yes,” Harm said, “the empathy
strategy; I know it well. Force the jurors to put themselves in the
defendant’s shoes, and then ask them to convict themselves. You’re
golden. It’s the Commander Rabb specialty,” he grinned. “Mind you, of
course, it still only works when your client is actually *innocent.*” A
wave of quiet chuckles came from the students, and then it was time for
the young man’s classmates to rebut his proposal.
Looking around for a good candidate, Harm noticed Midshipman Henry
staring down at her desk, twirling a pencil absent-mindedly in her
fingers. It was the first time he’d ever caught her even close to not
paying attention. I should go easy on her, and just let it go this time,
he told himself, but that wouldn’t be any fun. Besides, she’ll know I’m
only kidding around.
“Midshipman Henry,” Harm called on her. The girl looked up immediately,
a pronounced pink hue tinting her cheeks. “Where has Midshipman Bailey
“Um…ah…I’m couldn’t really say, sir. It was…uh…it was a good argument.”
“Was it?” Harm teased, “or are you just saying that so I’ll agree, and
stop picking on you?” Harm had meant to elicit a smile from the girl,
but his words seemed to backfire, and instead, she withdrew into
herself, both physically and emotionally, if the look on her face was
“No, sir,” the girl said. “I mean, yes, sir, it was a good argument.”
Harm nodded. “Is that a guess, Midshipman?”
“Um, no, sir.” She didn’t sound at all certain.
“Good,” Harm said cheerfully, “because you’re right. It *is* a good
argument. Now, would you care to tell us why?”
The girl shifted restlessly in her seat. Harm got the distinct
impression that she would rather be anywhere else on earth, than there,
in that seat, with his demanding gaze fixed on her. “I guess it’s
just…well, I think…” Finally, the girl sighed dejectedly, and returned
her eyes to the surface top of her desk. “I’m sorry, sir. I really don’t
On the outside, Harm accepted the response with cool aplomb. On the
inside, however, alarm bells were going off in his head. He didn’t know
whether to be entertained, or terrified. On one hand, it was amusing to
finally see Midshipman Henry caught off guard. On the other hand,
though, it was like seeing snow, in the Bahamas, in August: it simply
Sparing the girl further embarrassment, Harm moved on, to get opinions
from other students. As the rest of the class time passed, he glanced to
Midshipman Henry from time to time, each time catching an expression on
her face that said her thoughts were getting further and further from
the classroom she was sitting in.
In a way, Harm was fascinated. It was nice to know the girl wasn’t
superhuman, after all. Harm had been a bit of a legend at the Academy,
himself, but even he had gotten some less-than-stellar grades, mostly
thanks to Keeter, who’d made it his mission to make sure Harm did *not*
walk the straight and narrow. Looking back on it, with the benefit of
hindsight, Harm was grateful. Keeter had always provided a much-needed
distraction from the rigors of Academy life. And now, he had found
himself wondering if Laura had anyone like that in her life, to help her
relax now and then. If she didn’t, she would burn out, for sure. If not
before graduation, then not too long after, and she’d jeopardize a truly
promising naval career.
All that aside, what Harm felt most was disturbed. This wasn’t like
Laura; not at all. When class was over, he called her over to him. She
stood before him at attention. Harm put her at ease, but waited until
the other students were gone before he spoke to her. “What happened?” he
asked, indicating the ugly, purple bruise on her face.
“What?” Laura reached up and touched the swollen spot for a quick
second. “Oh, uh…volleyball game, sir. Accidentally blocked a spike with
“Ouch,” Harm reacted. “Did we at least win?”
“Yes, sir.” Although she answered affirmatively, her tone was distant,
almost as though she had found no joy in the victory.
“Don’t do that again, huh?” Harm requested. “Use your face to block, I
Laura looked away. “Right, sir.”
Harm was slightly confused. Normally, Midshipman Henry seemed to enjoy
talking to him for a few minutes, when there was time. Today, though,
she seemed like she wanted nothing more than to get out of there as soon
“Everything all right, Midshipman?”
“Yes, sir. Sorry. I’m just a little distracted.”
Harm nodded. “No problem. Just make sure your distraction goes away
during the weekend. The big test is Tuesday, remember.”
“All right then; dismissed.”
Harm watched the midshipman as she walked out of the classroom. She was
limping slightly. Must’ve been a hell of a game, he thought.
THE FOLLOWING WEEK
U.S. NAVAL ACADEMY
Harm’s classroom was silent, with the exception of the soft scratching
of pencils on paper, as the students hurried to fill in the bubbles on
the answer sheet for their test. Seated at his large desk, Harm busied
himself preparing lesson plans for an upcoming unit. He occasionally
raised his head and looked around, to make sure the students’ eyes were
on their own papers. The Academy’s academic honor code was like a
jailbreak at Leavenworth: if you beat the system, not only would they
hunt you down, but they’d make you sorry you’d even *thought* about
getting away with it.
Harm was pleased to see that everyone seemed engrossed in his or her own
test booklet. He did see one pair of eyes looking up, though. They
belonged to Midshipman Henry. Harm didn’t need to look closer to be
certain she wasn’t cheating. She wasn’t looking at anyone else’s
answers; rather, she seemed to be staring off into space, as if the
correct answers would somehow materialize out of thin air.
The bruise she was sporting last week had faded just slightly, having
shifted from the dark purple, to a yellowish-green color. It was still
painful to even look at, but Harm knew the change meant it was beginning
to heal. All that, from a volleyball, he thought. Talk about “taking one
for the team.”
Harm permitted the midshipmen to leave the room once they were finished
with the test, and now, only a few students were left. Most were going
through the questions a second time, double checking for errors, and
making their best guesses at the ones they had skipped over. Midshipman
Henry, however, still had three pages of questions to go. Yet again,
Harm felt uneasy. She still had about twenty minutes to go, but, in the
past, she’d always been one of the first to finish. Moreover, Harm had
come to see grading her tests as merely a formality; she’d never
received less than an A. She was entitled to the full two hours, of
course, but still, it was just plain strange.
Little by little, all the students, except Midshipman Henry, had turned
in their answer sheets and exited the room. Checking his watch again,
Harm told the girl, “You have ten minutes, Midshipman.”
The girl looked up at him, her eyes wide. Suddenly frantic, she flipped
back and forth between the two pages of questions she still had left,
scanning furiously to gauge her ability to answer them. Harm returned
his attention to his lesson plan, continuing to work until the alarm on
his wristwatch signaled that time was up.
“That’s time, Midshipman,” he said to the girl. Midshipman Henry looked
at him, an expression of abject terror on her face. Struck by her
seeming desperation, Harm was quick to add, “I have nowhere I need to be
after this, so why don’t you take another ten minutes?”
The girl looked like she was considering the offer, but then she shook
her head. “I appreciate the offer, sir, but it wouldn’t be fair to the
“But it wouldn’t be unfair, either,” he told her. “Your classmates just
happened to finish before you. If they were still here, I’d offer them
the same extension.”
She thought about it for a moment, and then refused again. Sighing, she
said, “It wouldn’t help anyway, sir.” She closed her test booklet, stood
up, and handed Harm the materials.
“Everything all right, Midshipman?” Harm asked her.
Instead of giving him a verbal response, the girl merely nodded. When
she noticed Harm giving her a strange look, she regained her military
bearing. “Sorry, sir,” she said, standing up straighter. “Yes, sir,
Right, Harm thought, and I’ve got some beachfront property in Oklahoma
I’d like to sell you…
“If you say so,” he said. It was then that he noticed how tired she
looked. On Mondays and Tuesdays, students usually still looked
semi-rested from the weekend. It normally took until Wednesday or
Thursday for the Academy’s hectic academic pace to catch up with their
sleep cycles. But the girl looked like she hadn’t slept much during the
She proceeded to slip her pencils into the pocket of her backpack, and
stood at attention in front of Harm. “Dismissed,” Harm said. As the girl
turned away, Harm called to her. “Midshipman Henry?”
“Try and get some rest, okay?”
Harm was seated at his desk, grading the test his law class had taken,
while Terri was sprawled out on the couch, engrossed in a novel by Maeve
Binchy, her favorite novelist. The test wasn’t particularly difficult;
most of the students had done well. Harm had saved Midshipman Henry’s
test for last. He couldn’t have said exactly why, but he was almost
afraid to see her score. Something about her unusual behavior of late,
was telling him that her streak of straight A’s was about to come to an
He had already run the answer sheets through the scanning machine in his
office, but he’d always made it a point to double check by hand. It was
easier for him to do it himself, than to have a horde of students mob
him at the end of class, each with a list of mistakes the machine had
According to the machine, Laura had gotten enough questions wrong to
earn herself a B. Harm had prepared himself for an A-minus, or, at the
worst, a B-plus. But a full B? It was totally unexpected. Granted, for
some students, a B would have been a perfectly fine grade. But not for
her. Harm triple checked, but the machine hadn’t made any errors. She’d
gotten a B, fair and square. He stared, dumbfounded, at the pink,
mechanically produced lines, next to each wrong answer.
“Huh,” he mumbled. “That’s weird.”
Terri looked up from her book. “What’s weird?”
“My best student got a ‘B’ on this test.”
“So? That’s a decent grade.”
“Not for this girl,” Harm said. “She’s been top notch this year. I had
her last semester too, and I don’t remember her getting less than an A.
Not even any A-minuses.”
“Was it a hard test?”
“Not really,” Harm shrugged. “No more than usual, anyway, and she’s
never had a problem before.”
“Imagine that,” Terri teased. “A ‘B.’ Oh, how the mighty have fallen.”
“You don’t care about this at all, do you?” Harm asked, smiling
Terri slipped her bookmark in front of the page she was on, and set the
book on the table. She shifted around on the couch, to look at Harm.
“It’s not that I don’t care; I just don’t think it’s the end of the
world. I mean, we’re talking about the Naval Academy here, not Hamburger
U. Not too many people make it through with straight A’s. Not even the
great Harmon Rabb, Junior, if scuttlebutt is to be believed.”
Harm slapped his hand to his heart. “I’m hurt, Terri,” he played.
“What was it, Harm, three Bs, over the course of four years? Not too
“Not at all. Although, actually, there was one C, when I was a
second-class. That was the year me and Keeter discovered this private
airfield just outside Baltimore. There were some old-timers there, guys
who’d fought in Europe. They always had the most incredible stories –
the Berlin Airlift, bombing raids over France. They were living history
books, y’know? I swear, we spent more time there than in class.” Harm
chuckled for a second, but then a slight shadow crept over his face. “I
suppose they’re all gone now, huh?”
Terri nodded solemnly. Then, to lighten the mood, which had darkened
considerably, she said, “That’s okay, though. Someday, some young
Academy star is gonna be telling stories about this ‘old-timer’ pilot,
who, just for fun, went and got a law degree, and still managed to land
a C-130 on a freaking aircraft carrier.”
“Hey!” Harm protested. “Who are you calling an old-timer?” Harm got up
from his desk, and before Terri even had time to react, he had grabbed a
pillow from the couch and landed a direct hit on her.
Terri’s jaw dropped in shock, but she recovered quickly and grabbed a
pillow of her own, fighting back for all she was worth. However, Harm
was a more experienced warrior than she was, and he disarmed her almost
effortlessly. Letting go of his ‘weapon,’ then, Harm started tickling
her, until they had both dropped to the floor, with Harm on top,
“Take it back!” Harm ordered playfully. “Tell me how young and sexy I
“Never! You’ll have to break me first!”
Never one to back down from a challenge, Harm redoubled his tickling
efforts, until Terri was squealing and writhing underneath him. “Give it
up! Say uncle!” Harm dared. He allowed Terri a few seconds to catch her
breath, but after she did, she only used it to call him an old man
“Oh yeah?” Harm said, breathless himself. “We’ll see about that!” And,
with that, he swept Terri off her feet, threw her over his shoulder in a
fireman’s carry, and carried her into his bedroom, where he made love to
her with all the fire and energy of a man half his age.
During the next two weeks, Harm noticed that Midshipman Henry had become
more distracted. Whereas he had been hoping her strange behavior was
just a fluke, a one-time wrinkle in the space-time continuum, he had
watched it grow into something bigger. The class took review quizzes
once a week. They were a short, easy way for Harm to make sure they were
studying enough, and they were a good way to gauge the knowledge of the
quieter students, who were intelligent, but participated less actively
in class. Harm knew Midshipman Henry could do these quizzes in her
sleep, and yet, her scores had been slipping consistently. The material
was straightforward, and easy; there was no way she didn’t understand
it. Harm was left with only one conclusion: she’d simply stopped trying.
Everything about her – her slouched posture, her empty facial expression
– told him she was withdrawing into herself completely. At one time, her
voice had been a familiar one in the classroom, but, recently, during
the last four class periods, she hadn’t raised her hand to offer an
answer, or ask a question, even once. Moreover, whenever Harm had called
on her, she’d offered an apology for not knowing the answer. Harm
couldn’t tell if she honestly didn’t know those answers, or she was just
trying to get him to move on, and leave her alone. Either way, her
behavior unnerved him. Something just wasn’t right, but, with the
regulations about fraternization, and student-teacher relationships,
there was very little he could do to find out what that was.
A FEW WEEKS LATER
UNITED STATES NAVAL ACADEMY
A few more weeks passed by, and Midshipman Henry’s behavior had
continued to worry Harm. He’d graded more quizzes, and the girl’s
performance was consistently miserable. She’d become even more reclusive
in class, filling her seat silently for the two-hour, twice-a-week class
periods, and leaving the room as quickly as she could. By now, there
were also more things sending up red flags than just her academic
nosedive. Harm was increasingly concerned about her well-being, in
general. She’d lost some weight, and it didn’t look like she’d taken his
advice to get more rest, either.
Feeling frustrated and helpless, Harm had told Terri about the change in
the girl’s demeanor. Terri was quick to remind him that he was an
instructor, not a counselor, and that the Academy had people on staff
who were trained to help the mids with their problems. Nevertheless, she
could see how deeply disturbed Harm was by the sudden, unexplained
change in his student’s behavior. Knowing that Harm was genuinely
concerned for the girl, and, confident that he wouldn’t go digging for
answers in a way that could give the appearance of impropriety, Terri
suggested that he simply ask some of her friends if they knew what was
Midshipman Henry was a fairly popular girl, having friends in academic
circles, as well as in athletics. But there was one person, in
particular, whom Harm knew was very close to her. It was Midshipman
Susan Miller. She was in the same law class with Henry, and had known
her since their plebe summer.
During class that day, Harm had asked her to come see him that
afternoon. He wasn’t exactly sure what he would ask her. More than
anything, he was hoping he could simply drop a few hints, and she would
put the pieces together, herself, and be forthright with him about
anything she might happen to know.
Harm pretended to organize one of his desk drawers while he waited
impatiently for Midshipman Miller. She’d said she would stop by around
1500. Watching the minutes tick by on the wall clock, Harm began to fear
that she wouldn’t come. He was about to give up on her, when he finally
heard a soft knock on his door.
“Enter,” he called.
Midshipman Miller closed the door behind herself, and quickly approached
Harm’s desk, snapping to attention when she was just in front of it.
“Midshipman Miller, reporting as ordered, sir,” she said crisply.
“At ease, Midshipman,” Harm said. “I suppose you’re wondering why I
asked you to come by.”
The girl squared her jaw, and her body stiffened. “Sir, if this is about
the joke I made in class this morning…”
Harm let a short chuckle escape his lips before he cut her off. “No,
Midshipman, it’s not that, although, you should probably be more careful
in the future. Not for my sake,” he clarified, “but, you never know
who’s going to pop into a classroom unexpectedly, and something tells me
that our dean of students might not share your sense of humor about West
Almost unconsciously, the girl came to attention again before speaking.
“I’m sorry, sir. I can assure you, it won’t happen again.”
Harm put a hand up. “Please, Midshipman, at ease. Relax. In fact, why
don’t you have a seat.”
The girl’s reaction was quick, but Harm noticed it: she stiffened for a
moment before lowering herself into the chair in front of Harm’s desk.
Her momentary look of fear and confusion told him he’d better get to the
point quickly. He might have been nervous, but, no doubt, it was nothing
compared to what his student must have been feeling, at having been
called into a commander’s office for no obvious reason. He knew the
tension firsthand; once upon a time, he’d been a green mid, too, and
fairly well terrified of anyone with bars on their shoulders.
He decided to make her more comfortable. “To tell you the truth,” he
began, “I’m a little nervous, myself.” To emphasize his point, he picked
up a pen and started to fiddle with it. “The reason I wanted to talk to
you is, I’m kind of worried about someone in your class.”
“Sir?” she asked.
“You’re friends with Midshipman Henry, right?”
“You’ve known her for a while, too,” Harm observed aloud. “Since plebe
The girl involuntarily shuddered at the mention of the indoctrination
program for the Academy’s incoming freshman. Although almost three years
had passed since then, some memories of that frightening experience
would be forever in her mind, no matter how hard she tried to drive them
She swallowed hard. “Yes, sir. She’s the best friend I have here.”
Harm nodded. “Well, have you noticed anything…different about her,
“Like what, sir?”
“She just hasn’t seemed…like herself,” he said.
“How do you mean, sir?”
“Well, for one thing, her grades have been slipping – a lot.”
The girl smiled briefly. “With all due respect, sir, it’s a tough
“I know it is,” Harm admitted, “but she’s never had a problem with it
until recently. In fact, she was one of the best students, but you
wouldn’t know that by looking at her last few test scores.” Harm set the
pen down on his desk. “And, that’s not all,” he continued. “She’s
usually pretty upbeat and energetic in class – well, as much as you guys
are allowed to be, anyway. But lately, she’s been very quiet and
introverted. And also…”
Harm sighed. “I can’t help noticing that she’s lost some weight.”
“Respectfully, sir,” the midshipman ventured, “what are you getting at?”
Harm shrugged. “I guess…I guess I’m just wondering if she’s all right.”
Midshipman Miller nodded. “Maybe she’s just having a hard time, sir.
It’s not exactly easy to survive here. You know that, sir, having
“Of course I do,” Harm agreed. “But, Midshipman Henry’s been an
exemplary student for the past two years. It’s just the past few weeks
that things have started changing. I’m just…” Harm looked down at his
desk, and then up into Miller’s eyes. “I’m just worried about her,
Susan. And, I thought, as her friend, you might know if something was
The midshipman was startled by Harm’s use of her first name. She’d come
to know him as one of the few teachers who cared about his students’
emotional well being, as well as their academics, and that simple word
only furthered that belief for her. It was just a name, but she knew the
commander hadn’t used it lightly.
“I wish I did, sir,” she lamented, “but she and I haven’t been talking
much lately. She’s been really busy with volleyball practice, and she
spends a lot of time at the library. Sometimes, at night, she just goes
outside and sits on the quad, by herself.”
“So, you don’t deny that you’ve noticed something’s different about her,
Susan sighed. “No, sir, I don’t. I mean, how can I? She’s definitely not
the same person she was a few weeks ago.”
“But you don’t know why,” Harm concluded.
“No, sir. I’m sorry.”
Harm nodded. He was disappointed, but he couldn’t force the girl to
supply answers she didn’t have. “That’s all right, Midshipman; it was
worth a try. And I do appreciate you braving ‘the lion’s den’ to come
Susan did her best to suppress a giggle at Harm’s use of the nickname
the students had given the long hallway of teacher’s offices. She didn’t
know they were aware of it, but then, she remembered: he himself had
probably used the phrase, too, during his time as a mid. “It’s not so
bad, sir,” she replied. “Well, not always.”
“Careful, Midshipman,” Harm warned her, even as he cracked a smile.
“Yes, sir. Um, sir, respectfully, are we done here? I really need to get
to study hall. Aerodynamics is a killer this semester.”
“Just remember,” Harm told her, as he smiled, “that what goes up, must
come down. And, if you’re lucky, it comes down on a smooth runway, and
“Yes, sir,” Susan laughed. She’d been dead-set on attending the Academy
since she was a little girl. She’d gotten a subscription to The Navy
Times while she was in high school, and she was quite familiar with her
professor’s history as an aviator.
“That’ll be all, Midshipman.” The girl jumped to her feet and came to
“Aye, aye, sir.” She did an about face and headed toward the door. She
had her hand on the doorknob when Harm called to her again.
“Susan, would you do me a favor, and just…keep an eye out? If you happen
to notice anything, or hear anything…if it’s something you think I
Susan nodded. “Yes, sir. I’ll do that. I’m worried about her, too.”
“Well, hopefully it’s just the stress getting to her after all this
time, but if it *is* something more…”
“And you do think it’s something more, don’t you, sir?”
Harm nodded. “I’m afraid I do.” Closing his eyes, he pinched the bridge
of his nose, trying to ease away some of the tension. Looking up at
Susan again, he said, “Midshipman, I think…I think it would be best for
all parties concerned if we keep this conversation confidential.”
“What conversation, sir?”
Harm smiled. “That’s what I wanted to hear. Dismissed.” She was halfway
out the door when Harm stopped her yet again. “Susan,” he said. She
looked back to him. “Thank you.”
A FEW DAYS LATER
U.S. NAVAL ACADEMY
Harm’s meeting with Midshipman Miller had gotten him approximately
nowhere, and Midshipman Henry’s decline was continuing – quickly. Her
grades on the weekly quizzes had reached an all-time low, and her
performance in class had become a dull shadow of what it once was.
Eagerness and insightful comments had been replaced by effete and
When the students had entered the classroom that morning, Harm grabbed
Laura’s attention, and asked her to see him when class was over. When
the time came, the rest of the students filed out of the classroom, and
Harm saw Midshipman Henry approach his desk and come to attention.
“You wanted to see me, sir?” she asked.
Harm pretended to rearrange some papers in his briefcase for a few
seconds. However, what he was really doing was studying the girl’s face.
Years of experience on investigations had resulted in his developing
incredibly stealthy skills of observation. While seeming to study the
contents of the briefcase, Harm was actually taking a good look at the
midshipman: her face, her posture, her body language. He noticed nothing
terribly out of the ordinary. She looked tired; there were dark circles
under her eyes. Still, that was no cause for alarm on the face of a
student at Annapolis; nights of long, restful sleep were definitely not
one of the Academy’s traditions.
He could have scrutinized her outright, without the pretense of looking
through his papers, he knew. As a commander, and as an instructor there,
it was his prerogative to inspect any midshipman, at any time. But, he
wasn’t so far away from his own years at the Academy that he didn’t
remember how stressful that was – always being on your guard, always
looking and acting your absolute best. There was no reason for him to
treat his students that way. They had enough eyes on them during their
regular uniform and military bearing checks; they didn’t need extra,
He snapped the briefcase shut. “At ease,” he commanded. He lifted a
sheet of paper from his desk, and held it out to the girl, so she could
see it. It was the most recent test. Harm studied her face again, this
time more overtly, looking for even the slightest clue as to what she
might be thinking.
“This was a surprise,” he said, not needing to specify that he was
talking about her score.
“Yes, sir,” she said quietly.
“Are you having trouble with the material?” he asked.
“No, sir,” she replied.
“Are you sure? Because, I can arrange for some tutoring, if you need it.
And, you know my students are more than welcome to come to my office
hours if they need help.”
“Yes, sir, I know, and I appreciate it. But I don’t think I need it,
sir. I just…went blank, I guess.”
Harm nodded. “I didn’t think it was that difficult a test.”
“It wasn’t, sir.”
Harm’s eyes narrowed. “And yet, this is the lowest score you’ve gotten
all semester. In fact, if I remember right, it’s lower than anything you
got last semester, too.”
Harm was confused. “So then, what’s the problem?”
“There’s no problem, sir. I guess I just didn’t study as much as I
Harm nodded slowly, stalling for time; he didn’t believe her for a
second. “Any particular reason why not?”
She shrugged. “I guess I’m just a bad student, sir.” Her eyes were
suddenly devoid of emotion.
Harm folded his hands on his desk. He stared at his fingers for several
seconds, thinking about what he wanted to say. This wasn’t the Laura
Henry he’d come to know. Not at all.
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that, Midshipman.” It was the most
ridiculous thing he’d heard in a long time. He was sure he would have
been laughing, had his gut not been telling him something was seriously
amiss. “Would you like to take it again?”
“I’ll give you a retest, if you’d like.”
“No, sir, that’s all right. I’ll take the C.”
“Don’t be stubborn, Midshipman. You were on track for an A-minus in this
course; I’m offering you a chance to keep it that way.”
“Yes, sir, I realize that. But, it’s my fault, for not studying enough,
and I’ll accept the consequences.” Her tone was cool and professional.
Harm raised an eyebrow. “That’s a very honorable attitude, Midshipman.
Stupid, but honorable.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Well, don’t thank me yet. Before you decide what you want to do, let me
remind you of my policy, Midshipman. You know I drop each student’s
lowest test score when I calculate the final grades. But, I think you
should know, the course material only gets harder from here.”
“What are you suggesting, sir?”
“I’m suggesting that you take a retest. Save the dropped score for
another test, later in the semester, when you might need it more.”
“Is there reason to believe I’d get less than a C on future tests, sir?”
“Of course not,” Harm reassured her. But in his mind, he was saying
there also hadn’t been any reason to think she’d do so poorly on *this*
test. “I’m just saying it would be nice to have that safety net.”
The girl nodded. She was quiet for a long moment, as she seemed to be
mulling it over. When she spoke again, her tone was firm. “I’ll take the
“Are you sure?” Harm asked in disbelief.
“Yes, sir. If anything, it’ll force me to make sure I never get lazy
about studying again.”
“If you say so,” Harm said. “But let me know if you change your mind,
Midshipman. I’ll give you until the end of the week.”
“Yes, sir, thank you.”
Harm nodded. “Dismissed.”
The girl came to attention, did an about face, and exited the classroom.
As Harm watched her retreating form, he cursed the difficult position he
was in. He knew something wasn’t quite right, but there was very little
he could do to find out just what it was.