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THE NEXT MORNING
HARM’S APARTMENT
0923 EST



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 burner.

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 against hers.

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 shyness.

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 nipple.

“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 her.

“That’s what you were talking about last night, isn’t it?” Terri ventured.

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 asked.

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 asked playfully.

“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.’”


1012 EST
THREE WEEKS LATER
U.S. NAVAL ACADEMY
ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND



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 gone wrong?”

“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 any indication.

“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 know.”

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 didn’t happen.

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 my face.”

“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 mean.”

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 as possible.

“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.”

“Yes, sir.”

“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
1120 EST
U.S. NAVAL ACADEMY
ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND



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 other mids.”

“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, everything’s fine.”

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 weekend.

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?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Try and get some rest, okay?”

“Yes, sir.”


2119 EST
THAT EVENING
HARM’S APARTMENT
ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND



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 end.

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 made.

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 slightly.

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 shabby.”

“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, straddling her.

“Take it back!” Harm ordered playfully. “Tell me how young and sexy I am!”

“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 again.

“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
1512 EST
UNITED STATES NAVAL ACADEMY
ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND



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 going on.

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 Point cadets.”

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?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You’ve known her for a while, too,” Harm observed aloud. “Since plebe summer, right?”

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 out.

She swallowed hard. “Yes, sir. She’s the best friend I have here.”

Harm nodded. “Well, have you noticed anything…different about her, lately?”

“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 class.”

“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…”

“Sir?”

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 attended, yourself.”

“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 bothering her.”

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, right?”

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 see me.”

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 not…someplace else.”

“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 attention. “Dismissed.”

“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 should know.”

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
1132 EST
U.S. NAVAL ACADEMY
ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND

 

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 apathy.

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, from him.

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.”

“Yes, sir.”

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 should have.”

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?”

“Sir?”

“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 C, sir.”

“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.

 

 

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