It was early morning and the sun was just peeking up over the eastern horizon, filling the kitchen with a warm glow that's only possible on an early summer morning. Matriarch of the Morton clan, Marie Morton, gave the eggs in the skillet another brisk stir, added a handful of chopped red and green peppers and let them simmer a few minutes longer. The bacon was already done, waiting on a plate, and the biscuits in the oven were just browning up. When the eggs were finally done to suit her, she spooned them out into a big green, egg-shaped bowl, and set them on the table next to the platter of hashbrowns. From the fridge she pulled grape and apple jelly, a bottle of ketchup, milk and butter. With everything on the table, Marie stepped back and appraised her handy work. Was it enough? Marie certainly hoped so. Chip could eat his weight in scrambled eggs, and Lee was addicted to biscuits and jelly. Marie, wiping her hands on a dishtowel, stuck her head into the living room and got her husband's attention. Anthony 'Tony' Morton glanced up from the sports section of the paper.
“I told those two fifteen minutes ago breakfast would be ready. Would you go make sure they haven't fallen asleep in the shower and drowned or something?” she said to him. He nodded and rose from the chair and headed upstairs. Seconds later Tony's voice rumbled through the house and Marie rolled her eyes upwards. Five days of this, give me strength.
“This how you do things in the Navy? You were told fifteen minutes ago breakfast would be ready, now let's move it! Move it! Move it!” The footsteps overhead sounded like the last stretch of the Kentucky Derby as two pairs of feet thundered across the floor and down the stairs.
Seconds later two bleary-eyed young men came stumbling into the kitchen, took one long sniff and grinned at each other. Tony walked in behind them and sat down at his spot. Marie gave her husband a look and he shrugged.
“Pete and Re-Pete did get in rather late,” Tony said with a jerk of his thumb at the eldest Morton and his best friend.
“Which one am I?” Chip asked, heading for the coffee pot.
“Re-Pete, because I outrank you,” Lee replied, getting an elbow in the ribs for his remark. He accepted the empty coffee cup from Chip and poured his cup full of the dark, fragrant brew.
The two 'boys' settled themselves down and started filling up their plates. Marie watched as Lee helped himself to the eggs and reach for a biscuit. His long fingers grabbed two out of the pan. While his attention was off his plate, Chip reached over and dumped another heaping spoonful of eggs onto Lee's plate. Lee noticed the addition, but missed how he acquired it. He did glare at Chip, but the blond went about the serious business of adding bacon to his plate and coating his hashbrowns and eggs under a layer of ketchup.
“That's gross, Chip. Looks like you caught and killed something. Can't you eat eggs like a normal person?” Lee asked, crunching away on bacon.
“At least I eat, unlike SOME people,” Chip grumbled and proceeded to mix his eggs.
“Well, SOME people don't think that eating is the center of the world, “Lee shot back.
Marie smothered the smile as she listened to them. These two never ceased to amaze her. The teased each other like brothers, although Lee certainly wasn't like any of her children. All five Morton children were tall, blond and blue eyed. Lee, with his darker complexion, and molten amber eyes with flecks of green, stood out like the proverbial black sheep. When Chip phoned and said they were coming by for a visit, Marie had been excited, faced with the chance to see her son and his friend for the first time in months. What she hadn't been expecting was to find Chip sporting bruises that ran up the length of his right arm and Lee walking with a slight limp. Judging from the look on her husband's face, he hadn't missed it either.
“So what's Nelson got the pair of you doing that makes you look like you've been rode hard and put up wet?” he asked with a smirk and a raised eyebrow.
The two men, both in their mid thirties, suddenly regressed to age twelve as they fidgeted with everything from their juice glasses to their forks and plates. Chip shoved another mouthful of eggs in his mouth, eyeballing Lee with suspicion. Obviously, Lee’s slightly bruised condition was a mystery to him as well. Marie Morton was staring at her son, waiting for an answer. Chip grabbed for his glass.
“Turbulence. I hit the plot table. I’m fine. It looks worse than it is,” he relented under his mother’s glare.
Marie switched her gaze to Lee, clearly expecting an answer from him as well. Finally Lee gave in. “I fell.”
“You fell? From what, a fourth story window?” Chip asked, digging into his hash browns.
Lee snorted. “Actually it was a third story window. I landed in a hay cart.”
“A third story window?” Chip asked.
“Yeah, you know, between the second and fourth stories. Seriously, Chip, you need to get off the boat more.”
Chip bristled as Lee reached for the grape jelly at the same time as Chip. Chip slapped Lee’s hand off the jar, but Lee turned and slapped at Chip’s hand. The blond retaliated with a butter knife, slapping the flat of the blade across the back of Lee’s knuckles. The brunet grabbed his fork and with the flat side of the tines, he slapped at Chip’s hand. The two “crossed swords” and dueled, the object apparently to knock the utensil out of the opponent's hand. Hardware wars—kitchen table style.
Marie finally got tired of their antics. Deftly reaching over, she snagged the jelly jar and pulled it from their reach.
“He started it,” Chip pouted, not giving up on scoring some grape jelly.
“Well, I’m finishing it.” Marie replied tartly and spooned a generous amount of jelly onto each of her ‘boy’s’ plates. She sat the jar down between her and her husband, out of Lee and Chip’s reach.
Lee eyed the translucent purple jelly on his plate, and then examined Chip’s share. “I’ve got more jelly than you do,” he said.
Marie groaned. “Lee Crane, do not start! You’ve both got an equal share. Good grief, anyone would think you two were ten years old.”
The ringing of Tony's cell phone got everyone's attention. With a chagrined look, he shrugged and rose to take the call in the living room.
“Wanna bet he has to leave?” Chip asked his mother. Marie rolled her eyes.
“You know he'll leave. He's senior detective and he takes every case seriously. I just wish they'd let him have a meal in peace.”
Marie had barely gotten the word out when Tony’s head popped around the corner. “We’ve a break. Gotta run. I’ll call if it looks like I’ll be late,” Tony said.
Marie took a deep breath. “You’ll be careful?”
“Always,” Tony promised, maneuvering around the table to plant a quick kiss on his wife’s lips, then he vanished out the back door. Marie tried not to show her disappointment that her husband wouldn’t be around much while their son was home, but such was the nature of Tony’s job. Over the years, Marie had gotten used to it.
The doorbell chime sounded through the house. Marie raised her eyes to the ceiling and got up from the table. “I'll bet that's Amanda Simpson, from the church. We're organizing the spring bazaar. She said she was coming over early, but blessed be, did it have to be this early? You two finish eating, and you can do the dishes when you finish.”
Marie darted out of the room, leaving Lee and Chip alone.
“You hit some turbulence and you fell into the plot table? What else did you do to my boat while I was gone?” Lee queried, munching on a jelly-laden biscuit. (unless it was way overdone, it wouldn’t crunch would it?)
“Your boat? I don't think so buddy. She's mine when you're off playing super spy. And it was nothing; just a little turbulence. At least I never fell out of a window.”
“We can fix that really quick,” Lee shot back. “And I was thrown, I didn't fall.” Too late he realized his mistake. He should have never mentioned it.
“How the hell did you get tossed out of a window? I swear, one of these days, there might not be a hay cart for you to fall into. How long are you going to keep this up?” Chip hissed with a glance toward the door.
“I can't exactly say no, now can I?” Lee hissed back. Without thinking, he flicked a small piece of chopped green pepper at Chip's plate. It went wide, bouncing off Chip's arm.
“Lousy aim, so sad,” Chip said mournfully, and flicked a piece of egg at Lee. It landed dead center on Lee's gray shirt. “Bulls eye,” Chip declared with a grin.
Lee wasn't going to be outdone. With his fork he speared a piece of grape-jelly-dripping-biscuit and flicked the projectile at Morton. It sailed high and Chip had time to duck.
And so the battle began. With declarations of 'Fire one!' and 'Load tubes one and two!' the two grown men took turns tossing eggs, and pepper at each other, using forks and spoons as 'launchers' while Chip grabbed the lid of a skillet to use as a shield.
The battle came to an abrupt end as Marie cleared her throat, standing in the kitchen doorway. She took in the scene; eggs on the floor, pieces of green pepper and bacon strips scattered over the table, hashbrown clinging to the refrigerator door. Lee glanced up at her though his long, dark lashes, as a glob of grape jelly slid out of his hair and onto his nose. Her son stood wide-eyed and innocent looking, totally oblivious to the fact that he was holding a skillet lid dotted with ketchup spots, jelly and bits of egg and a smattering of pepper.
“Seems you forgot to post a lookout.” She tried not to laugh, but it was so hard when they looked like a pair of schoolboys. “I don't want to know what started this, but you can clean it up.” A second glance showed that both their shirts were spotted with red and purple that would stain if they weren't attended to soon.
“And you can do the laundry today. It's your mess, you figure out how to get the stains out. Understood?”
“Yes ma'am,” a duet of subdued voices said even as they fought not to grin.
For a second nobody moved. “Well? Do I have to make it an order?” she added.
Lee and Chip spun into action, gathering up dishes and running water in the sink. Marie closed her eyes and turned, leaving Chip and Lee to the task of cleaning up their mess. She could just make out their voices as they “discussed” who was washing and who was drying.
Raising her voice, Marie called out to the pair, “I don't care who does what, just try not to drown one another in there.”
“Yes ma'am,” the duet sounded off once more.
Once more Marie Morton lamented the fact that these two were going to be here all week. She wasn't sure she could survive another four days. She promised to ask Admiral Nelson how he managed to keep his sanity while those two were around.
On second thought, maybe that was the reason he tossed them off base from time to time. Marie wondered briefly if she could dream up enough chores to keep them out of her hair for a few hours each day.
A metallic crash and a splash from the kitchen made her stop in her tracks. She waited, trying to decide if she wanted to investigate or not. She decided she didn't really want to know and resumed her steady pace to the study. If she were lucky, they'd leave her enough dishes to cook dinner with.
Another splash and a muffled curse that Marie was sure she wasn't suppose to hear drifted through the house. Since they were having so much fun in her kitchen, they could cook dinner tonight as well.
Marie only hoped the house would survive that long.