Author's Notes: This is set in the same universe as my 'Calendar Girl' stories, all of which can be found at my website (click on my name for my website link). Most of the stories in the series are adult in nature, so they are not posted at . The brief background, in order to understand this story, is this - Harm and Mac started a relationship shortly after they returned from Russia at the beginning of Season 6 on the show. They found out they were expecting a baby on Labor Day 2001, but after September 11th, Harm was ordered to duty as XO of the air wing aboard the SeaHawk. Harm and Mac married on New Year's Eve 2001, six days before Harm deployed. This story picks up 20 days later, as Mac - who is now six months pregnant - is preparing a Valentine's gift to send to him aboard the ship.
REFLECTIONS PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO
SATURDAY, 26 JANUARY 2002
As I enter the studio, a short, slender blonde walks up to me, holding out her hand. "Welcome to Reflections," she says with a bright smile as she clasps my hand briefly. "I'm Christine Larson."
"Sarah Rabb," I say as I pull off my coat, draping it over my arm as I look around. Lining the walls are hundreds of photographs – some formal, some casual, some in black and white and others in vibrant color. "A friend of mine recommended you. She just had some pictures taken of her and her son to send to her husband. I was having a hard time coming up with something for Valentine's Day for my husband, so she thought this might be a good idea. I'm not really much for having pictures taken….formally, I mean." The most recent times I've had formal pictures taken, I've tolerated because Harm was with me – our wedding, AJ's baptism, and then Bud and Harriet's wedding before that.
I've had plenty of pictures taken informally, especially in the last twenty days. I would swear that Harm got several of our friends into it, taking pictures to e-mail to him. Most of them try to be unobtrusive about it, thankfully. I'm starting to feel as if I'm a beached whale and I'm exhausted all the time. Not exactly prime pictorial material, even if the recipient is my deployed husband. Not for the first time, I wonder if formal pictures are really all that great an idea, but Harriet swears by Reflections. She's used them for everything since her wedding. She'd even tried to book them for my wedding, but they were already booked through into the New Year.
"Why don't we go into my office," she suggests, gesturing towards the open door just off the entrance to the studio. "I have samples of my work that you can look at so you can get an idea of what kind of pictures I take. I do a lot of wedding photography, and that can generate some repeat business….maternity pictures, baby's first portrait, family portraits later on."
"That's actually how my friend found you," I reply. "You were the photographer at her wedding back in May 1998 and you did the photos at her son's baptism a year later."
A thoughtful look crosses her face as we enter her office. I take a seat in one of the overstuffed chairs in front of her desk, sinking back into the cushions with a sigh. My back appreciates all the cushioning it can get these days. "Can I get you something to drink?" she asks.
"Just some water," I reply.
As she roots around in the compact refrigerator in the corner, she says, "Your friend would be Harriet Roberts, correct? She reminded me about the wedding and baptism when she was in here last week."
"That's right," I say as I take the offered bottle of water.
"You were maid of honor and the baby's godmother," she says. "You wore a red dress for the wedding, a light blue suit for the baptism."
I laugh. "You either have a very good memory or you went back and looked up the pictures."
"The later, actually," she admits with a grin. "When I'm working with repeat customers, as with your friend, it's nice to look back at previous shots, do a little remembering about the circumstances and the people. It helps me get a feel for the people I'm working with. When you made the appointment and said you'd been referred, I pulled up the photos."
She reaches for the laptop sitting on her desk, turning it around to face us. She clicks through some files until she finds what she's looking for. "Wow," I breathe, staring at the photo. I've seen the shot before in Harriet's wedding album, but can't help but look at it through new eyes now.
Taken in the church as the wedding party was coming back up the aisle, Harm and I are arm in arm, his free hand covering mine as it rests on his arm. I'm looking up at him, seemingly caught in the middle of laughing, as he gazes back at me, a soft smile on his face. Back then, I saw it through the lens of friendship, but now, his ring securely on my finger and his child growing beneath my heart, I see a couple deeply in love. I blink back the sudden moisture in my eyes, wondering why I couldn't see the photo in this way four years ago. If only….
"Your husband?" she asks quietly. I nod mutely.
She hunts around on the computer again. As she searches through more pictures, I see that they're of AJ's baptism. When she finds the one she's looking for, I recognize it as well, although in this case I have my own copy. I'm cradling AJ in my arms, while Harm stands next to me, one arm draped over my shoulders. He holds his other hand out to AJ, palm up, tiny fingers wrapped around one long digit. Every time that I look at this picture now, I can imagine us holding our own child like that. Just as her tiny fingers will wrap around Harm's, I know that she'll have him wrapped around her finger just as tightly.
"This is what I want to capture," Christine says softly. "The same wonder and awe we see in this photo. When your husband looks at the photos that we're going to take today, he should marvel at how beautiful you are and remember how much love went into creating your child."
"I don't think the remembering will be that hard," I say, smiling to myself as I remember a quiet, lazy Sunday morning spent in bed, the type of days that have been few and far between in our often hectic lives. A few days after my doctor had confirmed the pregnancy, we had thought back and figured that between his trip out to the Patrick Henrythe week before and my trip to Cherry Point that week, the weekend of 28-29 July was the time of conception. A bit more thought had conjured up the memories of that weekend in our minds – just the two of us in peace, no distractions, and no interruptions.
I shake myself out of the memory. "But if you can accomplish the beautiful part," I laugh, "you're a miracle worker. My back aches, I'm tired all the time, the dark circles under my eyes have become permanent, and I'm not even sure that I have feet anymore."
"Don't worry," she assures me, looking down. "I can assure you that your feet are still there. Anyway, with a little makeup, the right lighting and Photoshop, I can make the most haggard mother-to-be look stunning. Come with me."
Nine minutes and twenty-eight seconds later, after some time spent in the makeup chair, we're in the studio itself. "When are you due?" she asks as she sets up the lighting around me.
"April 22nd," I reply sadly, unable to forget that I won't have Harm here to share with me the pain and joy of bringing our daughter into the world. What should be one of the most joyful days of our lives will be incomplete. Assuming that all goes well, the SeaHawk won't be docking in Norfolk until the 4th of July.
"Hey, what's with that look?" she asks, her tone teasing as if she's trying to lighten the mood. "No tears, at least until I get the camera set up and can capture them."
"I'm sorry," I say with a heavy sigh. "It's just that when I found out I was pregnant, I never thought that I wouldn't have Harm at my side…."
She nods in understanding. It's a common story these days for those associated with the military, with everything that's happened recently. "Deployed?"
I sigh again. "For twenty days, one hour and eight minutes so far." Damn that internal clock of mine. This is one of those times that I wish I could turn it off. "He's XO of the Tomcat squadron on the SeaHawk."
"Well," Christine says brightly as she moves in front of me to stand behind her camera, "let's give him something to hang onto for the rest of his cruise. First, I'm just going to take some test shots, check the lighting and the angles, so just relax."
I nod as I take a deep breath to calm myself, trying to force thoughts of Harm's absence from my mind. It's not easy, but I remind myself that I'm a Marine and can do this. I look up at the camera, a tentative smile coming to my lips.
The shutter clicks a few times, then Christine gestures towards me. "Turn towards your right just a little," she instructs. "Not quite so much. I don't want you turned all the way to the side, not yet. There….that's it. Now place your hands on top of your stomach, left hand on top of the right. Let's see your rings. Lean your head back just a little, eyes closed. Imagine you're feeling your child….Do you know if it's a boy or girl yet?"
"Girl," I reply. "Victoria Sarah. Harm wants to call her Tori."
"Okay," she continues. "Close your eyes and imagine Tori moving beneath your hands. Remember the sound of her heartbeat at your last visit to the doctor….Perfect." A few more clicks, then she murmurs thoughtfully. I open my eyes to see her tapping her finger against her chin.
She goes over to a corner and drags back a wing backed chair in cream colored leather. "Go ahead and have a seat," she says, patting the arm of the chair. "Can you sit sideways and drape your legs over the arm? Lean your head back against the wing. Let your left arm just hang at your side, and then rest your right hand on top of your belly."
She moves back behind the camera and looks through the view finder. "Loosen your left arm a little bit, just let it hang off the front of the chair," she says. "Just a little more. Now cross your legs at the ankles. Good. If you get uncomfortable, just let me know."
"I'm okay," I reply. "The chair's very well padded."
"That's why I like to use it for my pregnant clients," she says as the shutter clicks. "Turn your head a little bit towards…."
"Whoa," I interrupt, rubbing soothing circles where my little girl just kicked me hard. I'm barely aware of the shutter clicking away as I whisper to Tori. "Be a little easier on your mother. Taking after your daddy already, giving me a hard time?" She kicks again, several times in rapid succession. "I know. I miss him, too. Think you can ease up while Mommy works on this surprise for Daddy? You want to help do something nice for him, don't you baby girl?"
One last kick, then my daughter settles beneath my hand, and I look up to find Christine smiling. "That was good," she says. "I think you'll love those photos. For a few seconds, your entire being was focused on your little girl and that's what will be reflected in the photos. I've got something else I'd like to try that I think will look really great, especially with that white sweater you're wearing and your skin tone. Can you lift up your sweater; drape it around your belly so that it's bare?"
"Are you sure?" I ask skeptically. "At this point, my stretch marks are developing stretch marks of their own." I try to rub cream into them as often as I can think about it, but it's hard to do so and not remember reclining in Harm's arms, his hands moving gently over me as he would rub the cream in for me. Of course, it's hard not to find him in everything I see and think. I miss him so much my heart aches. I missed him before, when he was on the Patrick Henry almost two years ago, but this is so much more that it's almost a physical ache.
"Just remember the miracle of Photoshop," she reminds me with a bright laugh, a little too bright for me right now. "Can I ask what you're thinking?"
I hem and haw for a moment before answering. "Just remembering again," I reply. "When I first started noticing stretch marks, my husband decided it was his job to rub cream into my belly."
"Let's use that," she says, "capture that moment. I want you to remember that, remember how good it felt, his hands on your bare skin. Let him remember as he looks at these pictures."
I feel my cheeks flush as I stare at her. This is starting to veer into surprising territory. She laughs at my expression. "Hey, I'm married too," she says. "Been there, done that with my own husband. And I've seen the photos, the way your husband looks at you. That's what we want him to feel when he sees these."
"Yeah," I whisper, remembering again the photo from Bud and Harriet's wedding.
"Good," she says as I acquiesce, lifting my sweater and draping it as she suggested. She steps over and, at my nod, fusses with my sweater a little, getting it to hang just the way she wants it. She moves back behind the camera and checks the shot. "Okay. Close your eyes and remember."
My eyes drift closed, conjuring up Harm's image in my mind. We were sitting on the floor in the living room of our new home about a week before Christmas, a fire burning brightly in the fireplace. Harm was leaning back against the couch, and I was leaning back against him, nestled between his legs. My head rested against his shoulder, my eyes closed, as he slowly unbuttoned my shirt. I could feel the heat from the fire against my skin, and then his hands were there, his long fingers slowly moving in circles. His hands didn't move anywhere but my belly, not at that time, but it was one of the most sensual experiences that I can remember. He was humming a lullaby as his hands moved over and around me. I murmur his name softly, lost in the memories.
After a few more moments, I'm brought out of my reverie by Christine's voice. I open my eyes and can tell by the look on her face that she captured just the emotion she wanted. I'm beginning to think this won't be so bad after all. "Why don't we do some standing up?" she suggests. As I stand, she comes over and pushes the chair out of the way, and then helps fix my sweater again so it's draped around me. "I want you to cradle your belly, right hand underneath, left hand on top. Turn just a little to your right. Now, look down and think about your little girl. Remember the love that created her. Imagine what she'll look like when you finally hold her in your arms."
My lips curve upward at the image. "His looks, my brains," I whisper, remembering that moment long ago on the front steps at JAG. She's already showing signs of his looks, judging from the long limbs and torso on the ultrasounds. I'm just not sure about the 'my brains' part, since she's also displaying signs of her daddy's personality, even in the womb. I sigh, blinking back tears. Damn hormones. I feel another kick under my left hand and I laugh. "Daddy's little girl, aren't you?"
"If you want to relax for a moment," Christine says, "I want to set something else up." I move over to the chair I'd sat in previously, sinking into it with a groan as I rub my lower back. Christine pulls over a white chaise lounge, and then steps behind the camera to check the placement. Satisfied, she goes to a cabinet and pulls out a red bundle. As she comes to me, I see that it looks like a satin sheet.
She crouches down next to the chair, handing me the sheet. "I've got an idea," she says at my look of confusion, "and if this works the way I think it will, it will be gorgeous. I'd like to try something a little more intimate."
"Intimate?" I repeat tentatively. My mouth falls open in shock as I realize what she means. "Oh, I don't know…." I cannot help but remember that televised trial a year and a half ago and those damned pictures from Australia. They could have only come from one source and if I hadn't already booted Mic from my life, I surely would have after that. I couldn't help but wonder at the time if he'd been getting back at me for our recent breakup. It had taken a lot of talking on Harm's part to stop me from calling Mic up and blistering his hide over the phone, although I think he was trying to convince himself as much as me to let it go.
"I promise it will be very tasteful," she says earnestly. "We'll take a few and if you don't like the pictures, I can delete them off the camera and it will be as if they never existed. But I think you'll like what I come up with. We can even do a separate release for these, if it will make you feel better, that says I won't use them as samples to show prospective clients or to advertise my business."
"I'm not sure," I say with a shrug.
"Why don't I show you some samples?" she suggests. "You can get an idea what I'm talking about and you can satisfy yourself about how they'll look."
I nod. I don't know that I can agree to do this, but I guess it won't hurt to see what she's talking about.
As she leaves the studio, I twist my rings on my finger nervously. Harm would get a kick out of this, I know. I'm also sure that he would have enough sense to keep any such pictures to himself. He's too much of a gentleman to ever pull a stunt like Mic did. I shake my head. I shouldn't even be thinking about Mic. Maybe the fact that I am is telling me that this is a bad idea.
Christine returns and hands me an album. I flip it open, gasping. "This is you?" I ask in surprise.
She nods with a laugh. "I was about as far along as you are now with my second pregnancy when I had these taken for my husband's thirtieth birthday," she explains. "My sister took the photos for me. Jeff was very….appreciative."
"I'm sure Harm would be, too," I say as I turn the page. She's right in that these are tastefully done. Arms and legs are positioned so that some things are still left to the imagination. They're tasteful, but sensual at the same time. Another memory comes to the front of my mind, this one of our wedding night. Harm was kneeling in front of me after pulling my nightgown over my head, still in his dress blues, his strong hands gently cradling my belly as he whispered how beautiful I was. I was just starting to feel a bit ungainly, but he said it with such love in his voice that I found it easy to believe him. He would definitely love it if I did this.
Christine senses that I'm considering this, because she gestures towards the back corner of the studio. "There's a bathroom back there where you can get undressed," she says. "If you'd feel more comfortable, you can take the sheet with you."
"We'll try this," I agree.
Five minutes and forty three seconds later, I come back out, the sheet wrapped around me, having rushed through undressing before I could lose my nerve. There are a couple of pillows at the head of the lounge, the same deep red as the sheet. "So what do we do now?" I ask.
"Just lie back on the lounge, your head on the pillows," she says as she adjusts some settings on her camera. "Pull your legs up towards your belly and cross them at the ankles. When you're ready, just let the sheet fall. Drape your left arm over your breasts, and raise your right over your head."
I shift around nervously for a moment before letting go of the sheet, letting it fall over the sides of the lounge. I move my arms into the requested positions and sigh.
"Go ahead and grasp the pillow with your right hand," she instructs me. I clutch the pillow, and then exhale a deep breath as I force my fingers to relax. "Still nervous?"
"Yeah," I admit. "A little."
"When you were looking at my album," she says, "you were thinking about something. Do you mind if I ask what?"
I smile as the memory comes back to me. "My wedding night," I reply softly. "Harm had his hands on my belly and was telling me how beautiful I was."
"How did that make you feel?"
"I had been on my feet much of the day and my center of gravity was off," I reply, "but when he said that, the way he said that….I could believe it was true."
I sigh deeply as the scene replays in my mind. He looked up at me for a long moment, his eyes sparkling brightly, and then lowered his head and pressed the lightest of kisses to the top of my belly. In the last few weeks before the wedding, we'd start experimenting a little with different positions as I'd started to feel a little uncomfortable with some of the usual. But in that moment, his hands on me, his breath hot on my skin as he whispered 'I love you', I could forget everything but how glorious he made me feel.
As my eyes close, I can see him as perfectly as if he were standing in front of me. He wrapped his arms around my waist and pulled me just a little bit closer, resting his head against my skin. I felt so safe, so loved. We'd stayed like that for the longest moment, just reveling in the certainty that we were now and truly together forever.
"Perfect," a voice breaks into my thoughts. My eyes flutter open, and I remember where I am. She laughs a little. "Sorry to interrupt the memory, but I've got a few more positions I'd like you photograph you in before we wrap it up."
I laugh with her. This isn't as bad as I thought it would be. I only wish that I could see the look on Harm's face when he sees these pictures.
Thirty-three minutes later, we're back in Christine's office, and she's showing me the unedited photos. I can hardly believe that it's me. For the first time, I can see what people mean by the 'pregnant woman glow'. Marines don't glow. But I'm not looking at Mac the Marine. These pictures are of Sarah the woman. I particularly like the ones where Tori was kicking me and I was talking to her, trying to calm her. It's just me and my baby girl, bonding. And Christine was right about the contrast between my white sweater and the dusky tone of my belly in the pictures where she had me bare my belly. As we go through the photos, she explains some of the editing she wants to do on the ones that I pick out for the album I'm sending to Harm.
"Are you ready to see the rest?" she asks, pausing with her finger hovering over the laptop's touchpad. I nod.
"Oh, my," I whisper as I stare at the first image. There are no words to describe…
"On these," she says as she displays the photos slowly, one by one. "I was thinking that we could do about half of the ones you chose in color and half in black and white. Just one exception…"
She pulls up another picture, one of the last she took. I'm lying on my right side, my right arm strategically placed across my chest, my left hand splayed over my middle. The sheet was draped under my belly and over my hips, my legs exposed from mid-thigh down. At that particular moment, I'd gone further back in my memories, replaying the day I'd found out I was pregnant, remembering making love on the trunk of Harm's partially restored Corvette, which explains the 'come hither' look in my eyes that the camera captured in this particular shot.
"This one," she continues as she manipulates the photo on the computer, "I want to do in black and white, but leave the pillows and sheet in red. Play up the fact that this is for Valentine's Day with this one."
"Perfect," I say after a moment, studying the rough changes she's made to the photo. "Can we put this one at the back of the album? Have it be the last one he sees?"
"Good," she proclaims in an excited tone. "You're seeing the possibilities."
"How many have I picked out total?"
She quickly runs her finger down the list she's made of the photos I've picked and the enhancements she's going to make on the computer. "Sixteen," she answers. "I'll go ahead and get started on these for you later today, and I should be able to give you a call later in the week to pick up the finished product."
"Thanks," I say, pleasantly surprised at what a good idea this turned out to be. "I can't wait to get this out in the mail to Harm."
HARM AND MAC'S HOUSE
THURSDAY, 30 JANUARY 2002
I sit down on the couch with a sigh, kicking my pumps off my feet, placing the box from Reflections beside me. I'd been surprised when Christine had called last night to say that the album was ready; she must have put in extra hours at night to get it done this quickly. I was expecting later in the week to mean Friday or Saturday. I had stopped by on the way home from work today, anxious to see the finished product.
As I lift the top off the box, I see a note on the Reflections stationary on top of the album.
I think you'll really love how well these turned out. I do have to say they're some of the best I've done, but I did have a really great subject to work with. I'm sure your husband will love them as well.
PS – I've included a little extra something for you. There's an extra copy as well, so you can send one to your husband.
Puzzled, I pull the note and Harm's album out of the box, gasping as I see what's underneath. In a dark silver frame is the photo she'd shown me from Bud and Harriet's wedding. Since I'd been reminded of it, I've been thinking of asking Harriet for a copy. Smiling, I carry the photo over to the fireplace, setting it next to our wedding photo and the one from AJ's baptism. I study the display for a moment, and then rearrange the photos so that our wedding photo is in the center. On my way back to the couch, I grab the Valentine's Day card I bought a few days ago and a pen.
I grab the album and start looking through it, reflecting on the feelings as the photos were taken, pondering what to write in the card. There's so much to say, so much I'm feeling, but if I start, the card may be a soggy mess by the time I'm finished. I get so emotional these days.
Pausing on the final picture, I finally decide. If a picture is worth a thousand words, I've got sixteen thousand of them in my hands – seventeen counting the second framed photo still in the box. There's not much else I can add to that.
Smiling, I open the card and start to write…
To be continued in Through The Lens Of Love