By Sue James
“Look what came in the mail when we were at sea!” Lee Crane took hold of the giant pizza box his best friend was holding while thrusting a white envelope under his nose.
“Hey, where are you going with that?” Chip Morton protested loudly while ignoring the envelope.
“Calm down!” Lee grinned. “I’m just going to put it on the table while you take your jacket off. Besides, I thought this was to share.”
“Yea, sorry,” Chip grinned back, slightly shamefaced as he shrugged out of his well-worn black leather jacket and draped it carefully over the back of a nearby chair. “I guess my hunger got the better of me!”
Sitting down on the leather sofa he surveyed the now open pizza box, the bowls of Nachos and the cans of ice cold beer in appreciative anticipation.
“Don’t you want to see my invitation?” Lee asked indignantly, the envelope still held in his left hand.
“Not especially,” Chip shook his blond head, his brilliant blue eyes still on the food. “I’m guessing it’s the same as mine!”
“You got one?”
“Of course I got one!” Chip looked up and laughed at the surprised expression on his best friend’s face. “They are my relations!”
“I know, that’s why I didn’t think you would need an invitation.”
“Well, I have one,” Chip replied almost dismissively returning his gaze to the food. “Are we going to eat or is the food just here to taunt me?”
“Sure, go ahead,” Lee grinned at his friend’s almost desperate plea as he sat down next to him. “I know it wasn’t a surprise to you but I was amazed that Helen and Chris have been married for twenty-five years,” he commented conversationally as he watched Chip devour a large wedge of pizza followed by a handful of Nachos.
“They’ve been together longer than that,” Chip licked his lips and reached for a second slice of pizza before glancing sideways at his friend, “You going to eat any of this or am I to have it all?”
“Sure,” Lee reached for a slice of pizza and took a bite from it. He chewed thoughtfully before swallowing, “So how long?” he looked curiously at Chip who was still munching his way through his second slice.
“How long for what?”
“How long have Helen and Chris been together?”
Chip frowned thoughtfully and pushed another handful of Nachos into his mouth as he calculated years in his head. “Twenty nine years,” he replied as he swallowed his mouthful.
“Twenty-nine!” Lee shook his dark head in wonderment. “That means I was only five when they met yet I’ve never really thought of them as being much older than us.”
Chip shrugged, ”Helen was fourteen when I was born; she’d left home for college before I even started Kindergarten but I know what you mean about them not seeming much older than us. I guess they’re not really although when I was young they did seem old to me. They were already adults when my parents died and I was still a kid; it was a big age gap then.”
“Yea, I guess it’s diminished as you’ve grown,” Lee licked at his cheese covered fingers before reaching for a second slice of pizza. “So you were what...eight… nine…when they got married?”
“Do you remember the wedding?”
“Of course I remember it,” Chip nodded as he reached for a can of beer and removed the ring pull.
“Ah, I bet you were a pageboy, weren’t you?” A broad grin suddenly spread across Lee’s tanned face. “Yea, you were, weren’t you?” He laughed as Chip’s ears turned a telling shade of red. “What did you wear? …No, wait…don’t tell me…” he held up a hand to forestall any answer his friend might be considering. “A frilly shirt? Fancy pants?”
“No!” Chip shook his head amused by his friend’s interest in his childhood role as a pageboy at his elder sister’s wedding.
“What then?” Lee frowned slightly. “You must have worn something special.”
“I did,” Chip lifted his can to his lips and drank slowly, his blue eyes twinkling in amusement at Lee’s growing frustration.
“What?” Lee demanded as he reached for a can of beer himself. “You going to tell me or will I have to call Helen?”
“It’s not a big deal,” Chip remarked irritatingly.
“So why won’t you tell me?”
“I will tell you,” Chip took another drink from his can, “but you have to promise not to tell anyone else!”
“I thought you said it wasn’t a big deal,” Lee’s hazel eyes narrowed suspiciously. “So why keep it a secret?”
“It’s not a secret,” Chip said patiently. “It’s just private; a family thing, you know? Not to be used as blackmail in any future disagreements!”
For a long moment Lee eyed his friend thoughtfully over the rim of his own can before emitting a loud sigh, “Okay,” he said reluctantly. “I promise to keep it to myself.”
“Good,” Chip smiled satisfyingly.
“This better be worth it!” Lee said warningly.
“Oh, it is!” Chip grinned. “Tim and I wore kilts…and frilly shirts!”
“You wore a skirt?” Lee raised his dark eyebrows in amused disbelief.
“Not a skirt,” Chip corrected him
patiently. “A kilt; they’re very common in
“But this is
Chip shrugged, “Our father’s family
“And you agreed to it?” Lee shook his head again in amazement.
“I was nine years old,” Chip said with exaggerated patience. “I didn’t have any choice and, besides, I’d do anything for Helen when I was that age.”
“You mean you wouldn’t now?” Lee’s hazel eyes danced in merriment. “Say, she asked you to wear a kilt to this anniversary party?”
“No, I wouldn’t,” Chip spoke emphatically and a frown started to form between his blue eyes. “And don’t you dare suggest such a thing.”
“Ah, so you think Helen might like the idea?” Lee teased delightedly.
“I wouldn’t know and I don’t want to know,” Chip said warningly. “Far too risky!”
“Ah, so you would still do anything that Helen asked you to!” Lee laughed.
“Depends what she asks for,” Chip scowled slightly. “But she’s already got me making a speech which is bad enough; I don’t intend to wear fancy dress for the privilege!”
“A speech? What about?” Lee asked curiously as he reached for another slice of pizza.
“Damned if I know!” Chip frowned as he also reached for another slice of pizza. “It’s another four months yet; I’ll think of something! Hey…” he cast a sideways look at his friend. “Maybe you could do it? You’re a lot better at that sort of thing than I am.”
“No way,” Lee laughed. “Helen’s not my sister. Besides, she wants you; you are her little brother after all!”
“Yea,” Chip’s expression became suddenly distant and his brilliant blue eyes darkened as he focused intently on the can in his right hand. “Apart from Helen I’m the only Morton left from the original wedding,” he commented quietly.
“I guess you are,” Lee frowned slightly, concerned by his friend’s suddenly sombre mood. He eyed him carefully as he turned his can round and round between his long fingers; the condensation gleaming in the lamp light.
“It can’t have been easy,” Chip’s voice was almost a whisper as he spoke into the silence. He lifted the can to his lips and took a long drink before lowering it to rest on his right knee and lifting troubled eyes to look at his friend. “Can you imagine it, Lee? You fall in love, get married, start out on your life together and sixteen months later you’ve got a ten year old to take care of!”
“I’ve always got the impression that they enjoyed having you around,” Lee said cautiously.
“Maybe,” Chip shrugged, “but it must’ve been very difficult having me live there on a permanent basis.” A small smile spread across his face. “I wasn’t easy, you know!”
“That I can believe!” Lee grinned hoping to lighten the heavy atmosphere but Chip didn’t bite back in the way he had hoped. Instead he returned his gaze to his beer can, and a heavy frown creased his forehead.
“I didn’t care, you know,” he spoke to the can and Lee winced at the deep anguish he could hear in his voice. “Helen had lost her family too and I never gave a damn! It never entered my selfish little head that my sister was grieving too…” he paused and placed his empty can on the table before reaching for a second one. Pulling the tab off with more force than was really necessary he lifted it to his lips and drank greedily.
Lee watched him quietly unsure of what to say. He wondered briefly if his friend had been drinking earlier because it just wasn’t like him to open up so readily about his childhood unless he had drunk too much. Normally he was extremely reticent when it came to talking about his past and Lee wasn’t entirely sure how to handle this unexpectedly emotional Chip.
“And poor Chris…” Chip continued as he placed his half empty can back on the table and wiped at his mouth with the back of his left hand. “Stuck with a grieving wife and a difficult little brat and I just took them both for granted.”
“You were ten years old, Chip,” Lee said quietly. “All kids take their parents for granted…”
“They’re not my parents, they didn’t sign up for it,” Chip argued and lifted his can back to his lips.
“No,” Lee agreed, his voice calm and soothing almost as if he was talking to a child. “But they chose to take you, Chip. They didn’t have to, did they?”
Chip shook his blond head but didn’t answer as he continued to drink.
“They took you because they wanted you; because they loved you. It obviously didn’t affect their relationship,” Lee warmed to his theme as Chip finished drinking and eyed him thoughtfully. “From what I’ve witnessed over the years they’ve always seemed very happy and contented together.”
“They are,” Chip smiled suddenly. “They always have been.”
“It’s possible, you know, that the difficulties they faced made their relationship stronger,” Lee ventured. “I’ve always got the impression that they saw you as a blessing, not a chore!”
“Maybe,” Chip sighed and stretched his arms upwards, rotating his head as if he had a cramp in his neck. “I’m sorry Lee…” he sat back against the cushions, stretched his long legs out and smiled ruefully at his best friend. “I didn’t mean to go all morbid on you; it’s just that…” he paused to rub his right forefinger along the length of his nose before sighing heavily,”…it’s just that I’d honestly never considered the implications of what the accident meant for Helen and Chris until Helen started talking about their Silver Wedding. I knew they had made sacrifices for me and I’m eternally grateful for everything they’ve done but I’d never thought about how it must have been for them at the time; how incredibly hard it must have been for both of them.”
“I guess it does make this Silver Wedding something worth celebrating,” Lee responded quietly.
“Sure does,” Chip grinned suddenly. “Wonder if either of us will ever achieve such a milestone?”
“I doubt it,” Lee laughed. “We’ve got to find someone willing to have us first!”
“True,” Chip nodded. “Wonder who’ll be first?”
“Sure,” Lee looked sideways at his friend. He was relieved to see that Chip’s troubled expression had disappeared and he decided a little teasing was in order. “So who’s going to be at this Silver Wedding party?”
Chip frowned slightly and shrugged his broad shoulders, surprised by the question. “Family, I guess; friends of Helen’s and Chris’s; people who attended the wedding; I know Helen is hoping that our father’s best friend and his wife will be there although they’re getting a bit old to fly half-way across the country. ”
“That’s nice,” Lee smiled broadly and stared intently at his friend. “And who’s taking the photos?”
“What photos?” Chip’s frown increased under Lee’s scrutiny.
“Photos of the party,” Lee responded innocently. “It’s a special occasion, Chip. They have to have photos.”
“I guess you’re right,” Chip conceded, his face expressionless. “But that’s their business, not mine.”
“Oh...”Lee paused momentarily to concentrate on opening his second can
of beer. He took a sip from it and licked his lips appreciatively. “You know you would never have made a detective.”
“I never wanted to make a detective,” Chip’s frown returned.
“Just as well,” Lee continued innocently, “because you suffer from a deplorable lack of curiosity.”
“I’m not nosey,” Chip agreed blandly. “Unlike some people I could mention.”
“I’m not nosey either,” Lee objected. “I’m just interested in your sister’s Silver Wedding, which is more than you appear to be!”
Chip stared thoughtfully at his friend for a few seconds and his lips twitched momentarily,”Okay,” he said finally. “Who do you think is going to take the photos?”
“Me? I don’t know,” Lee shrugged. “It’s not my sister’s anniversary.”
“Maybe not but you have an idea,” Chip insisted. “You must have or you wouldn’t have started on this line of questioning!”
Lee laughed, “So you are interested.”
“Only in what your warped mind is thinking,” Chip made a face. “Not in party photographers.”
“Really?” Lee said disbelievingly, his hazel eyes sparkling with laughter. “Now if I was having a Silver Wedding party...”
“Fat chance,” Chip muttered sarcastically.
Lee grinned and continued. “If I was having a Silver Wedding party and if I had a friend who is a professional photographer...”
“Ah!” Chip grinned broadly. “You mean Miss Fisher?”
“Miss Fisher?” Lee laughed. “D’you address all your sister’s friends so formally?”
“No...” Chip shook his blond head.
“So why Miss Fisher?” Lee emphasised the title.
Chip shrugged good-naturedly and his blue eyes sparkled mischievously, “You’re talking about professional photographers; I was being professional.”
“Very funny,” Lee groaned. “So, is she going?”
“Is who going where?” Chip asked pleasantly.
“Is Miss Fisher going to the party,” Lee responded patiently.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know? You haven’t asked?”
“Why should I?” Chip stared levelly at his best friend, an aggravatingly innocent expression on his face.
“Just thought you’d be interested,” Lee shrugged a disappointed look on his own face.
“Why?” Chip continued to stare levelly at him.
Lee shrugged, “No reason.”
“No reason?” Chip smirked. “You expect me to believe that?”
“Okay…” Lee laughed. “I’m interested to know if she’ll be there…” He stood up and moved away from his friend. “I’m thinking how wonderful it would be for Helen if her little brother announced his engagement at her Silver Wedding!”
“Now you’re indulging in fantasy,” Chip laughed lazily. “I wouldn’t steal the limelight from Helen and Chris.”
“Ah, so you might announce your engagement before the party?” Lee continued to tease. “Or afterwards?”
“I think you’ve had too much to drink!” Chip laughed as he stood up and stretched his long frame before reaching for his jacket. “And so have I; I’m going to take a slow walk home. I’ll collect my car in the morning.”
“You can stay the night,” Lee commented as he watched his friend zip his jacket.
“No, thanks,” Chip shook his blond head as he headed for the door. “I need to clear my head; it’s been a long day and I’ve got a lot of paperwork to tackle tomorrow. Thanks for the beer.”
“Thanks for the pizza,” Lee nodded. “Goodnight, Chip.”
Chip paused, his hand on the door handle, and a broad smile spread across his face, “To answer your question honestly…” he opened the door and stood on the threshold, “….Kate Fisher has been invited but I don’t know if she’s accepted the invitation!”
And with that parting comment Chip disappeared, closing the door behind him.
Lee stood for a while staring at the door in resigned irritation before turning his attention to finishing his now warm beer. He really shouldn’t have teased his friend like that but it was fun and one of these days he was going to get Chip Morton to admit what he really thought about Kate Fisher, photographer!