Early June 1981
La Jolla, California
Harm knew that he couldn't take much with him. The paperwork they'd sent told him that much. Basically, just himself and some toiletries. So he opted to take the small sea bag that had belonged to his father - with only one change of civvies, the aforementioned toiletry items, writing paper, envelopes and stamps. Whatever else he needed, the Navy would provide when he got there.
"What are you doing?"
Harm took a deep breath, but continued to put the stationary items into a plastic bag. Without turning around, he told his mother, "Packing."
"Are you going somewhere?" she asked, and this time Harm *did* turn around, seeing the look on her face that he'd known would be there.
"You know I am, Mom. I have a plane ticket to Baltimore for this evening. Someone will pick me up there and take me to Annapolis."
"You're not still serious about going," Trish Rabb-Burnett insisted as her husband hovered behind her in the doorway. "Not after what you went through in Vietnam -"
"You have no idea what I went through in Vietnam," Harm said, feeling his jaw tighten painfully as the unbidden memory of Gym's death replayed in his mind's eye.
"Because you didn't seem to want to talk about it," Trish insisted. "I wanted to ask, darling, but I respected your privacy and thought that you'd talk about it when you were ready to."
"Well I'm still not ready," he told her and changed the subject. "Look, Mom, you've known this was going to happen since I was six years old. I thought you'd be used to the idea by now."
"I'll *never* get used to it," Trish declared, wrapping her arms around her waist and hugging herself as though she were suddenly cold. "How you could ever seriously consider going into the Navy - not to mention flying - when that's what killed your father as well as your grandfather-. I blame Tom Boone for this. I knew I should have kept him away from you. If he hadn't put these thoughts into your head about following in your father's footsteps -"
"Mom, Tom Boone had nothing to do with this. I always wanted to go into the Navy, to be like Dad. Even before he went missing. What happened to him just made me even more certain that that's what I was going to do. I'm sorry if that upsets you, but I have to do what makes me happy."
"What about *my* happiness?" she asked. "I need you here, Harm, not off on some carrier at sea for months at a time."
Harm shook his head. "You don't need me, Mom. You haven't needed me since I was 13." He saw Frank flinch slightly at the accusation that his arrival in their lives had caused a rift between mother and son. *More like a gulf* Harm silently amended.
"That's not true," Trish insisted, her eyes filling with tears, which she wiped away as they began to fall.
"Mom, you knew I was going to do this. I filled out and filed the paperwork - I was accepted and I'm going. That's that."
"I still haven't signed that paper giving my permission," she reminded him. "And I'm not going to."
Closing the canvas bag, Harm picked it up. "Fine. Then I'll just wait until next year and enter then. I think I can get that arranged. But either way, I'm out of here." He saw her eyes widen as his words sank in.
"What - what do you mean?"
"Even if I have to wait a year, I'm leaving. Today. I'll go to Grandma Sarah's. I'm sure she'll let me stay there and work on the farm until I'm 18 when I won't need your permission to enter the Academy."
"Harm, you don't have to leave. You can stay here," Trish told him, her voice tight with desperation.
"And give you another year to try and talk me out of going? No thank you. I think it's best that I do it this way."
"I can't believe that your grandmother approves of what you want to do. She lost her husband *and* her son to the Navy. Doesn't she realize that she could lose you as well? Aren't two Rabb men enough? Must you make it three?"
"Grandma understands why I have to do this Mom. *She* supports me," he stated, the implication of course being that Trish didn't.
"Harm, Frank is willing to pay for you to go to any college in the country. UCLA, Harvard - anywhere. Isn't that right, Frank?" she asked, looking up at her husband.
"If that's what he wants, Trish, yes," Frank confirmed.
"I don't want to go anywhere else. I'm going to the Academy," Harm said, his tone firm. "Whether you approve or not."
"Then you don't love me at all," Trish cried. "Because if you did, you wouldn't do this to me." With those words, she turned and ran from the room, her shoulders shaking as she cried.
Frank stepped aside to let her pass. "Are you sure that this is what you want, Harm?" he asked.
Harm met his eyes squarely, without flinching or backing away. "Yes. It's the only thing that I've *ever* wanted. I've spent my entire life preparing for this. And I won't let anyone stop me. Not even her."
His stepfather took a deep breath and released it before nodding. "Let me talk to her. Maybe I can get her to back down." Without another word, he turned and left Harm's room.
Harm dropped his bag onto the bed having no doubt that Frank would accomplish what he'd set out to do. When it came to Trish, Frank Burnett seemed to be able to convince her to do anything. Even marry him. And it had been Frank that had managed to keep Trish from locking her son up for the remainder last summer after he'd returned from his abortive trip to Southeast Asia. Trish had compromised by only grounding Harm for the rest of the summer.
While he'd told them the reason for his trip and that he hadn't found any proof that his father was still alive, he hadn't told them about the horrible things he'd seen. The people killed, tortured by the brutal Laotian border guards. People like a fifteen-year-old girl who would still be alive now if it weren't for his having been there. Harm knew that his mother and stepfather sometimes looked at him as if they were worried about him, about how much more serious he seemed now than he'd been, but most of the time Harm was able to keep his memories carefully locked away, refusing to acknowledge them unless someone said or did something to evoke them. He took his wallet from his jeans and opened it to the dog-eared photograph of Gym that filled the plastic sleeve next to the one of him and his father from so long ago. Gym was smiling in the picture, a tropical blossom in her dark shiny hair. Angry, painful memories of that summer started flowing back, and Harm had to fight not to find something to throw against the wall.
He sat on the bed, staring at the picture until he heard someone approaching his room. Closing the wallet, he put it back into his pocket as he stood up to face whatever might come his way.
Trish entered the room just ahead of Frank. Her eyes were still damp, and they were red, revealing that she'd been crying. Holding out a paper toward him, she said, her voice sounding defeated and still uncertain. "Here. It's signed. You can go to Annapolis."
Harm took the papers, examining them, seeing her firm hand at the bottom of the pages. Folding them, he placed them into the sea bag. "Thank you."
"Don't thank me," she said. "Thank Frank. He's the one who convinced me that if I didn't let you go now, I'd lose you anyway."
Harm's gaze moved to Frank Burnett's face. Even though the other man had paid for his private pilot lessons and bought a new car for him, as well as giving him a more than generous allowance, in Harm's mind, he was still an interloper. Someone who shouldn't have been there at all. Even though he knew deep in his heart that it was unfair, Harm wasn't ready to let go of that. He didn't believe for a moment that Frank's motives were in completely altruistic. Harm knew that Frank had to be aware that backing him on this had the added attraction of getting rid of an irritant. Finally he realized that his mother was standing there, watching him, and expecting him to say something. "Frank," he began, but his stepfather shook his head, stepping forward to place his hands on Trish's shoulders.
"The best way that you can thank me is to make sure you write your mother every week when you can. And not to shut her out of your life. She loves you more than you can know."
Looking at her again, Harm managed a smile. "And I love her." He held out his arm and she came toward him, hugging him. "I have to go to the airport, Mom -" he said after a moment.
"I know," she said, lifting her head from his chest at last and backing away. "We'll drive you. No emotional scenes in the terminal. I promise," she added with a still watery smile.
"We'll be downstairs in the car, waiting," Frank told him as he and Trish left the room.
Harm took a deep breath once he was alone, looking around the room until his eyes fell on the larger photograph of him and his father that sat beside the bed. Picking it up, he said, "I can do this. I won't let you down, Dad." He smiled at the photo, replacing the bad memories that had surfaced earlier with the happier memory of that day when he'd sat in the cockpit of his father's plane while his father looked on with a proud smile. Making a decision, he opened the sea bag and placed the framed photo inside before fastening it up again.
Lifting the bag from the bed, he turned toward the door. It was time to face his future. Time to make his father proud.