2330 Local Hours
18 December 1982
Even in the dark, it was an impressive monument, he decided as he approached the black granite's highly polished surface, seeing his reflection become sharper with each step. Maybe even more impressive than in the daylight, he thought. The subdued lighting made it almost appear as though he were looking at his double through the stone. As if he was meeting with his father, perhaps.
He knew it was strange, but for some reason Harm felt close to his father here - as if this was some kind of connection point between them. As though, wherever his dad might be, they were both on the same wavelength at that particular moment in time. Lifting his shaking hand, he ran his fingers over the name carved in the rock. "Hello, Dad," he said quietly in deference to the almost sacred aura of this place of memories and tribute.
"I know. I'm not supposed to be here, but I'm not sure where I *should* be, if that makes any sense. It's not as easy as I thought it would be. Nothing's easy anymore. I wish you were here to tell me what I should do."
Placing his hand over the name of his father, Harm braced himself with that arm, resting his head against it, listening, hoping for some kind of response. It was a silly, childish game, but it made him feel better, just being here. "I wish I knew where things went wrong, Dad," he continued. "I passed most of my classes by the skin of my teeth his term. And I'd planned to spend Christmas with Mom, but she and Frank are going a cruise. Guess that tells me where I stand with her, doesn't it?" He could *almost* hear the response that his mother had a life of her own and that maybe she had planned the cruise only because Harm hadn't let her know about *his* plans. "You think that, maybe if I'd called or let her know that I wanted to go out to California for Christmas leave, she might have decided not to go away? I wish I could be that sure, Dad. But I guess once she finds out that I've left the Academy, she'll be happy. She never wanted me to go, you know."
"Talking to yourself isn't a good idea, Harm," a familiar voice said, and Harm lifted his head to look around, finding his best friend and roommate for the quarter, Jack Keeter, standing there.
"Keeter, How'd you know I'd be here?" Harm asked.
"This place is all you've talked about for the last month. Where else would you be? We always go to our parents when we're feeling lost. For you, right now, this is the parent you needed to be close to."
"What are you doing here? Don't you know what could happen if you get caught out -"
"Same thing that would happen to you. I'm here to take you back, Harm," Keeter said.
"I'm not going back, Keeter," Harm replied, his hand falling from the smooth face of the granite. "I'm not cut out for this. Might as well just admit it now and leave before I get booted out."
"No one's going to boot you out. You don't even have the grades back yet. For all you know, you aced those exams, buddy."
Harm shook his head. "I doubt it. My grades this quarter weren't high enough to make up for a low mark on the exam. It won't be long until they realize that I'm a fraud and don't belong there."
Keeter moved closer, touching the same spot where Harm's hand had been moments before. "I think he'd disagree."
"He's not here," Harm pointed out. He indicated the black granite wall that stretched into seeming infinity in the darkness of the near-winter evening. "Look at this. What made me think that I was something special? That somehow I was 'chosen' to go through the Academy and become a Navy Officer and pilot like him? How many others are there like me who lost a parent in that war and who feel the same way? Who think that we're owed something because of what we lost?"
"You don't believe that anyone owes you anything, Harm," Keeter said. "Everything that's come your way, you've earned."
"No. I got my appointment to the Academy because of my father," Harm insisted.
"But if you hadn't worked so hard to keep your grades up in high school - if you hadn't kept going even when your mother objected to your plans - then you wouldn't have been offered that appointment. And it wouldn't have mattered *who* your father was or what happened to him. Those things aren't just handed out to kids of people who died or went missing."
Harm knew that Keeter was right, but he was still fighting his own demons - uncertainty and loneliness. "Maybe not. But that still doesn't mean that I *belong* there." He looked up at the dark expanse of sky. "My mother doesn't seem to think I do, anyway."
Keeter looked at him for a long moment. "You know, Harm, I can't begin to understand what you've been through. My folks are both still living in Grand Rapids. I'm the first of my family to go into military service since my grandfather served in the Army during World War II and came home in one piece. They all support my decision to go through the Academy and into the Navy. Your grandmother supports you. And I know *he* would," he added, nodding toward the name on the wall.
"He's not here. And I'm starting to wonder -" Harm broke off, looking toward the wall again.
"Starting to wonder what, pal?"
"If I was so wrong about being a Navy officer, then maybe I was - wrong to believe that he's still out there - alive." He touched the letters again. "This - this just makes it all that much more real. Made me realize that I'm not the only one out here in this situation."
"No, you're not. You're not the first person to lose a parent in wartime. And you won't be the last, Harm. Best thing you can do is to keep going. To make his sacrifice and the sacrifice of all these others - worth something. Giving up isn't the answer. You wouldn't expect him to give up, would you?"
"No. If he *is* out there, he's probably trying just as hard as he can to get back home."
"What do you think he would say to you if you could ask him what you should do?"
Harm considered the question. "He'd tell me to do what I want to do. What would make me happy."
"See? I think *that's* the problem, pal. You don't know what *you* want to do. All your life's been spent doing things because you thought others wanted you to do them. You need to figure out what *you* want. If you really think you'd be happier out of the Academy, then go for it. And if you really think you'd be happier staying and finishing what you started, then go for that. Don't worry about making your mom happy, or your dad. Or your grandmother -" Keeter grinned. "Scratch that last. I wouldn't want her angry with me. Just between you and me, Harm, your Grandmother intimidates the heck out of me. And that's not easy to do."
"She's a pussycat," Harm assured his friend, managing a smile as well.
"Sure she is. Maybe that's who I should have you talk to. She'd talk some sense into that thick head of yours." He placed a hand on Harm's shoulder. "Look. Come back with me. Let's not borrow trouble with the exams until we get the scores back."
"And if I flunked out?"
"Then you'll get help and make it right," Keeter pointed out. "We'll all help. Turner, Schonke, me. Hell, it'd be worth it just to spend extra time with Schonke, don't you think?" he questioned with a knowing wink.
Harm shook his head. "Keeter, I've told you time and time again, there's *nothing* going on there. Diane and I are friends. End of story." And it was the truth. Harm thought about Diane Schonke the same way that he thought about Keeter. Or Sturgis Turner - or anyone else in their section. He refused to consider what changes might have been wrought if regs weren't standing in the way.
"Sure, buddy," Keeter said, still grinning. "Then how come you're always the one she wants to spend time with?"
Harm lifted his shoulders. "Maybe she prefers a better class of people," he suggested with a smug grin.
Keeter's answering smile faded. "Come back with me, Harm. Give it another term, at least. This thing -" he included the Wall in his glance, "is what has you doubting yourself and everything you've worked so hard to accomplish. The only person you owe anything to is yourself, Harm. Stay the course and the rest of us will help you."
"You three shouldn't have to cover for me."
"We wouldn't be covering. We'd be helping a fellow plebe do what he was meant to do. Big difference."
Harm looked at Keeter. "Do you really believe that?"
"That there's a big difference? Sure -"
"No. I mean that bit about doing what I was meant to do."
"Yeah. I do. We all go through slumps, pal. Remember last term when I was sweating out that Naval Justice course exam?"
"And ended up scoring in the top ten percent," Harm pointed out.
"And you were in the top five," Keeter countered. "But the fact is, I was *sure* after I finished that I was going to flunk out. But I didn't. And neither will you."
Harm looked at the Wall again. "You know, I wanted to go to the Academy and become an officer even before he went down. It's all I ever wanted to do. What happened just made me want it that much more. So that he'd be proud of me when he did come home."
"So does that mean you're coming back with me?"
Harm nodded. "Yeah. You're right. I started this; I need to see it through. You sure we can get back in without being caught? I'm not looking forward to the idea of walking punishment tours for the next six months for being away after lights out."
"Hey, we got out, didn't we? We'll get back in. Don't sweat it. You ready?"
"Just one last thing," Harm said, turning back to the wall and touching the letters. "I'll be here Christmas Eve, Dad," he said. "This one you won't spend alone. And from now on, if I can find a way to be in DC during the holiday, I'll be here with you for a little while." Stepping back, he gave a sharp salute before turning on his heel to join Keeter. "Thanks, Keeter."
"You'd have done the same for me, Harm," Keeter pointed out.
"Yeah. I would have," Harm agreed. He drew in a long, clean breath of the cool night air as he looked up at the sky. "Let's go."