That was Then
Summary: This is one of those "Harm and Mac met before" stories. I tried to do it in such a way as to explain why neither of them would remember the encounter when they meet again years later. It remains to be seen whether I'm successful in that regard.
Disclaimer: Not mine. (How's that for brevity?)
First a little background: I wanted Mac to be 16 in this story. I am of the belief that there are four years difference in her and Harm's ages, which would make Harm 20 (obviously). This would put him below the current national drinking age of 21 (again, obviously), which requires a note of explanation. In 1984, Congress passed the National Minimum Purchase Age Act, to encourage each state to enact a minimum legal purchase age of 21 by 1986. Though I attempted to find out when California adopted a minimum drinking age of 21, it was surprisingly difficult to locate. For the sake of this story, let's just say that at the time of the events here (April, 1982), California's legal drinking age was 18.
The events here take place at a beach near La Jolla, California.
Also, I have no idea if Annapolis gives their students a spring break, but I needed Harm to be in California, so he gets one!
Feedback is always welcome at email@example.com
The sun glowed like fire as it slipped below the horizon. Harm watched it set, sitting on a log, his back to the small fire he'd made, a beer bottle hanging between his knees, suspended by the neck by his thumb and forefinger. He was enjoying the solitude, taking a break from the hectic pace at which he'd been operating since he'd arrived home.
"Hey, Buddy!" Keeter said in his normally boisterous voice, dropping to the log beside him, shattering Harm's tranquility. "Have another beer!"
"Got one, thanks," Harm said, gesturing with his half-full bottle.
"Did I thank you for bringing me home with you?"
"Only about a hundred times."
"Sure beats Duluth," Keeter noted. "Hey, I just met some really great women! They're heading this way! Very interesting members of the female species."
Harm looked up at the trio of "women" Keeter was talking about. "Jail bait," he said.
"What are you talking about? They told me they were eighteen!"
Harm looked at him, wondering if he actually believed that. He could tell by Keeter's happy expression that it didn't matter one way or the other.
"You're asking for trouble," Harm warned.
"I haven't asked for it yet," Keeter pointed out. "But I'd be willing to beg if necessary." He jumped off the log excitedly to greet their guests.
Harm studied their soon-to-be-guests as they approached. The leader was a tall blonde, very well put together in the bikini she was wearing. Harm revised his earlier estimate of her age as she got closer. She probably *was* eighteen, maybe nineteen, and probably a college student.
To the blonde's left and a step behind her was a redhead, her hair so tightly curled it was frizzled. She had lively green eyes and freckles strewn carelessly on her nose and cheeks, and she had a loud, braying laugh which carried across the beach. She, too, was quite possibly eighteen.
The third stranger was shuffling along behind the other two. Her dark head was bent as though she studied the sand while she walked. Harm couldn't tell how old she might be because he couldn't see her face, and he wondered what she had to hide.
Harm stood as they got closer, ever the gentleman.
"Ladies!" Keeter bellowed. "Welcome to our humble fire! I'm so glad you took me up on my invitation! May I offer you some liquid refreshment?"
"No, thank you," the redhead said. "But you can tell us if you've seen a group of football players. We're meeting them."
"Football?" Keeter repeated. "We play football. Don't we, buddy?"
Harm rolled his eyes at Keeter's pathetic attempts to keep them here.
"I'm sure our boyfriends would be *real* impressed," the blonde said, making it clear that she wasn't.
"There's a group of guys down the beach about a hundred yards," Harm told them.
"Thanks," the blonde said with a dazzling smile directed at Harm. She looked him up and down, thinking twice about this "boyfriend" thing. With a shrug, she began to walk down the beach, followed closely by her redheaded friend. Keeter watched them go appreciatively.
"I'll take that drink," the brunette said. She flipped her hair up out of her face, revealing brown eyes, a rounded nose, and full lips.
Harm inhaled sharply – he was looking at a younger version of Diane. He continued to stare at her while Keeter fished around in the cooler for a beer.
Finally, Harm came to his senses. "I'd like to see some ID first," he said. There was no way this kid was old enough to drink.
Angry brown eyes flared at him from beneath dark bangs. "What are you a cop?" she asked.
"No. Just a concerned citizen."
"I'm eighteen!" she insisted.
"Then let's see some ID," Harm said firmly.
The girl angrily dug into the back pocket of her tight cut-off jeans. She pulled out a card and handed it to Harm.
Harm examined the photo on the driver's license. If he'd been asked to, he would have been willing to bet that the girl in the photo was not standing in front of him now. "This isn't you," he said.
"Sure it is," she said. "I had shorter hair then." She could tell he wasn't buying it. "Look, I don't need this!" she huffed. "I'll just go on down the beach. I'm sure I can find a friendlier group than this to hang out with!"
Both Harm and Keeter didn't want her to do that, but for different reasons.
"Now don't do that," Keeter said soothingly. "I'm sure we can work something out." He liked the looks of this young woman. He, too, had noticed her resemblance to their classmate. He'd never had a chance with Diane, although he continued to try because she was one fine-looking women and because, well, he was Keeter, and coming on to women was what he did. This kid wouldn't do too badly, he thought. Give her a few beers and . . . who knows what might happen. He was willing to believe her claimed age because – well, because he wanted to. Justification came easy to Keeter.
Harm's reasoning for wanting to keep her here was different. She could be Diane's kid sister, and even though he knew she wasn't, he felt some sort of weird need to protect her. Letting her go down the beach to that party of college football players and co-eds was not a good idea. Of course, from the way Keeter was looking at her, he'd probably need to protect her from threats a lot closer than one hundred yards. And from the look of her eyes and the unsteady way she'd walked across the sand, he guessed she'd already been drinking. Letting a slightly drunk teenager loose in a group of very drunk college guys was a recipe for disaster.
"Sit down," Harm relented, knowing there was only one way to keep her here, for now at least. Against his better judgment, he added, "You can have a beer. One." He sensed that if he didn't give in right now, she was gone.
The girl dropped to the log with a grateful smile. "Can I have my ID back, please?"
"I think I'll just hold onto it for now," Harm said. He looked at it again. "Samantha. I'll give it back to you later."
She obviously didn't like that, but thought about it and decided she could live with it. For now. "You can call me Sam," she said. "That beer," she prompted.
Keeter plunged his hand into the ice again and came out with a long-necked bottle.
"Thanks," she said gratefully. She popped the top off with a practiced flick of her wrist and took a long pull from the bottle.
Harm sat beside her on the log, and Keeter dropped to the log on the other side, sitting close enough to touch her.
"So, Samantha, you live around here?" Keeter asked pleasantly.
"Nope. Just visiting," she said, taking another long drink.
"Thirsty?" Keeter asked, amused.
"Parched," she confirmed.
"Well, don't rush. There's plenty more where that came from," Keeter promised.
Sam obviously liked the sound of that, and she smiled warmly at him. "Now *that's* hospitality!"
"Of course," Keeter said, dropping an arm around her shoulders. "If I'm nice to you, I expect you to be nice to me in return."
Sam laughed, a musical sound that stirred something deep within Harm. That sure wasn't Diane's laugh, and it was unlike anything he'd ever heard.
"I can be very nice if properly motivated," Sam said, flirting back.
"And what do you consider proper motivation?" Keeter asked.
"Give me another beer, and I'll tell you," Sam said coyly. Her stomach growled loudly, and she laughed again. "Sorry."
A kid, already partially intoxicated. Drinking more on an empty stomach. Implying, at least, that she was willing to trade sex for more alcohol. And a horny wanna-be pilot with few scruples. Harm sighed. What had he gotten himself into? "I have an idea," he announced loudly. They turned to face him, having almost forgotten he was there. "Why don't you go get our guest something to eat?" Harm asked Keeter.
"Why don't you go, buddy?" Keeter suggested, his eyes still on Sam.
There was no way Harm was leaving her alone with Keeter. "Can I talk to you a minute?" he asked Keeter. "Now."
Keeter took his eyes away from Sam long enough to look at his friend and register that he was serious. He flashed Sam his best, most winning smile. "Don't go away, darlin'. I'll be right back."
He and Harm got up, and Harm walked them far enough away so he could speak without being overheard. "Keeter, what are you doing?! She's just a kid, for God's sake!"
"She said she was eighteen!" Keeter protested. "You saw her ID!"
Harm pulled the ID out of his pocket and gave it to Keeter. "That's not her, and you know it! I'd be surprised if she's sixteen."
Keeter handed the ID back. "She sure knows her way around a beer bottle," he said.
"And that's another thing. She's obviously already been drinking. I don't think we should be encouraging her."
"Then don't look now," Keeter advised.
Harm did look, just in time to see Sam come up out of the cooler with another beer. She saw them looking and smiled and waved.
Keeter waved back, but Harm just scowled down the beach at her.
"Come on, Harm," Keeter pleaded. "It's beginning to look like she's the only fly that's gonna come anywhere near my trap tonight."
"Then maybe you need to go out looking instead of waiting for a baby to fall into your lap. And change your standards a little to someone old enough and sober enough to know what she's doing," Harm advised.
"Where's the fun in that?" Keeter asked with a smile.
"Where the fun in seducing a child so desperate for another drink that she'd give herself away to anyone?" Harm countered.
"If I have to tell you that, I'd say you've been spending too much time studying!"
"Keeter, I'm serious about this."
"I'm beginning to see that. What is it? You want her for yourself?" Keeter teased.
"No!" Harm said quickly and emphatically. "It's just that . . . she looks so much like Diane. And she seems a little desperate. A kid like that could get herself into a lot of trouble."
Keeter sighed at the loss of his almost perfect chance to score. Harm was his best friend, and if he wanted him to back off, he'd back off.
Harm recognized Keeter's sigh of defeat and smiled gratefully at his friend. "Thanks, pal. I owe you one."
"Yes, you do," Keeter agreed. "I'd like her to be five feet seven, blonde, blue-eyed, and I want her to have casabas out to here," he said, holding his hands a foot in front of his chest.
"Just so long as she's eighteen," Harm agreed with a smile. "Now would you mind getting her something to eat?"
"All right, but then I'm taking off. You can babysit if you want. I'm looking for some action." Keeter held his hand out, palm out.
"What?" Harm asked.
"You're the one with the rich parents. *You* buy her supper!"
Harm reached into his pocket and pulled out a twenty dollar bill and gave it to Keeter. "Get her a couple of hamburgers and some fries and something *else* to drink."
"You want anything?"
"Nah. I'm all set. Just hurry back before I lose her."
Keeter trudged off through the sand while Harm returned to the fire – and Sam.
Harm waited for Keeter with Sam, the silence between them uncomfortable.
Sam leaned forward and rubbed her shins. "So. You live around here?" she asked.
"Not far," Harm answered. "You?"
"No," she said. "Are you in college or something?"
Sam's nose wrinkled in disgust. "You're a squid. Figures."
"You got something against the Navy?" Harm asked, offended.
Sam backed down. "Sorry. My dad's a Marine. He's been insulting sailors for as long as I can remember."
"A Marine, huh? Where's he stationed?"
"He's TAD at Miramar."
That explained why she was here in a general sense, but it didn't explain what she was doing alone on a beach partially intoxicated. "Your dad know where you are?"
Sam snorted in disgust, but didn't answer his question. "Here comes your friend with the food."
Glad for the distraction, Harm jumped up and waited for Keeter to make his way across the sand to them. He took the cardboard tray from Keeter. "What took you so long?"
"Sorry. I met someone at the hot dog stand. She's waiting for me. I'll see you some time, buddy. You kids behave!" he called loudly to Sam. She smiled and waved.
Harm brought the food back to Sam. "Here you go," he said, handing her the box.
"Thanks," she said. She rummaged through the box and found two cheeseburgers, a large fry, and a root beer. She unwrapped a burger and took a huge bite. "You want some?" she asked, her mouth full of food.
"No, thanks. You enjoy."
In an amazingly short space of time, the food had all disappeared.
"When's the last time you ate?" Harm asked.
Sam shrugged and wiped her mouth. "Thanks. That hit the spot."
"Must've been a big spot," Harm joked.
"Funny," she noted. Suddenly, she stood up and stripped her shirt off, revealing a dark blue bikini top. A medal of some sort rested between her breasts on a chain around her neck. She unsnapped and unzipped her shorts and wriggled out of them. "New suit," she said, running her hand over one of her breasts then down her flat stomach to the triangle of fabric that covered only the barest minimum. "What do you think?"
"Nice color," Harm noted uncomfortably. Underaged teenagers shouldn't have bodies like that, he thought. A man might forget that certain fruit was not meant to be plucked. "But I think you should put your clothes back on."
"Why?" Sam asked with an exaggerated pout. "Don't I look good?" She knew she did. She'd seen that look in his eyes. Even at sixteen, she's seen it many times and had become very good at using it to get what she wanted. She was too young and reckless and dependent to care about what she was giving up in the process. "Besides, it's pretty hard to go swimming with your clothes on."
"You can't go swimming," Harm told her. "You just ate."
"You sound like my mother," Sam said. "Except I don't have one. You coming in?"
"I'm afraid of sharks," Harm joked feebly.
Sam laughed again, that musical sound that seemed to trip up and down his spine. She turned and began to walk toward the water, giving him a delicious view of an incredible behind. Knowing that he was watching, she walked slowly, deliberately.
Harm sighed and stood up. He pulled his shirt over his head, kicked his shoes off, and followed her into the water.
They played and splashed and swam in the surf until it was too dark to see. More than once, Sam had deliberately rubbed up against him in the water, sending him not-too-subtle signals that she was available to him. It would have been very easy for him to pretend this was Diane and let himself go. He wouldn't even have to close his eyes. It was only with an effort that he kept reminding himself that this was *not* Diane and that giving in to what was becoming a growing desire would be a huge mistake. Sometimes Harm hated the honorable man that he was.
When they returned to the beach, their fire had burnt itself to a glowing ember, and Harm took some time rebuilding it. When he turned around, he was glad to see that Sam had dressed. Except for one thing. "Hey! That's my shirt!" he said.
"Come take it off me!" she challenged, knowing he wouldn't. When he made no move to come after her, she laughed. "Looks better on me anyway, don't you think? Even if it is the Dodgers!"
Harm couldn't disagree with that. Besides, it covered more of her than her own shirt would have, which wasn't a bad thing.
Sam sat on the log. "Don't suppose I could have another beer."
Harm sat beside her. "Nope." She was just starting to look and act sober. He had no intention of letting her get started again.
Sam stuck her tongue out at him. "Hey, look at that bug behind you."
Harm twisted to look at the ground behind him. As soon as he did, Sam launched herself at him, hitting him with what amounted to a low flying tackle. Though she was slight and he was solidly built, she had momentum and the element of surprise on her side, and she toppled them both to the sand. She landed on top of him, her body lithe and pliable stretched along his.
"What are you doing?" he asked, looking up into her smoldering chocolate brown eyes. He was desperately hoping she wouldn't notice that his body was giving away the desire he felt for her.
"What do you think I'm doing?" she asked. She dipped her head closer to him, and he caught her scent. She smelled of the sea, the sand, and the sun. It was a heady aroma. "I like you," she purred. "I think we could be friends."
"Is this what you do with all your friends?" he asked, trying not to breathe.
"Only the ones I really like."
"I can't do this," he said with a resolution he didn't feel.
"Somebody disagrees with you," she said. She ran her hand down his bare torso to the waistband of his swimming trunks.
Oh, God! She'd noticed! He quickly grabbed her hand. "Stop it!" he said hoarsely. He turned onto his side, dumping her into the sand beside him.
Surprised, she looked up at him, tears forming in liquid pools in her eyes. "I'm sorry. I thought you wanted it. I thought you wanted me."
He hadn't meant to hurt her and make her cry. He touched her cheek. "Don't cry. It's not you. You are incredible," he said with enough feeling so that she knew he meant it. "And some day, any man would be lucky to have you. But not now. Not like this. Not for a damn beer."
The tears slipped from her eyes. "You think this is about a beer?" Funny, it had started out that way. But somewhere along the line, it had become about something much more important.
"I don't know what this is about," Harm said. "But I do know one thing. You're just a kid. And you're throwing yourself away for your next drink. You've got a problem, Junior Mint."
The tears came in earnest now. Harm couldn't help it. He gathered her into his arms and held her, smoothing her hair, until she'd cried herself out.
Spent, she looked up at him and sniffed. "Good thing you're not wearing a shirt. I'd have gotten it all wet."
Harm looked deeply into her eyes. In the last few minutes, she'd gone from a playful teenager to a seductive woman to a scared child to a young person with a lot of problems. He knew one thing about this incredible person in his arms – she was special. He hoped she made it. Seemingly pulled by an irrepressible force, Harm felt himself moving toward her until his lips touched hers. They both closed their eyes and plunged feet-first into the kiss, their bare flesh meeting in several places, their hands slowly exploring.
When they parted, they'd reached an unspoken understanding. This – thing – between them would end there, lying dormant. Maybe some day they'd meet again, at a time when the difference in their ages wouldn't matter and they could resurrect it and explore it to their heart's content. But for now, a kiss would have to suffice.
"Stay with me tonight," Harm whispered, unwilling to let her go yet.
She made no pretense about misunderstanding his intentions. She nodded once. "Okay."
They repositioned themselves closer to the fire. In its waning light, he stroked her hair. "Your name isn't really Samantha Beckett, is it?"
He felt her shake her head against his shoulder. "Nope. You can just call me Junior Mint. I like that," she said sleepily. "By the way, I'm sixteen."
"That's about what I figured." It suddenly occurred to him that he'd never told her his name.
As though she'd read his mind, she said, "I don't want to know who you are either. I'll just pretend this was a dream. It *must* be a dream because guys like you don't really exist. Not in my world anyway."
Harm kissed the top of her head. "Go to sleep, Junior Mint."
When Harm awoke in the morning, she was gone. He hadn't awoken when she'd left, and he had no idea how long she'd been gone. The ground was hard and cold without her, and he got up stiffly. He looked around for his shirt, but she'd apparently taken it with her. Now he had to explain to his mother not only why he'd stayed out all night but how he'd lost his shirt. Oh well, if there was one thing he'd learned at the Academy, it was how to improvise on his feet.
Harm stretched and put his hands into his pockets. There was something unfamiliar in one of them, and he pulled his hands out. In his right hand was the St. Christopher's medal Sam (or whoever she was) had been wearing around her neck. Harm closed his hand around it and sent a silent prayer heavenward for her safety and happiness.
*This is now . . .
In the back of Harmon Rabb, Jr.'s sock drawer are a handful of momentos he hadn't looked at since he'd last moved – his first wings, his grandfather's wedding ring, the key to the car Frank had given him for his sixteenth birthday, and a St. Christopher's medal on a silver chain.
At the bottom of a trunk of things Sarah Mackenzie hadn't bothered to unpack the last three times she'd moved was a dark blue man's large t-shirt with a faded LA Dodgers emblem on the left breast.*