By R. L. Keller
A couple notes: First, this follows my story “Katya”. It will make a bit more sense if you’ve read that first.
Also, I would like to apologize in advance for any errors in the description of the Beverly Beach, Oregon area. It was a favorite camping spot for my family during the 1980’s, but I’ve been back only once since, and that was just to drive through. I’m sure many changes have been made.
Lee Crane was in a particularly foul mood. He’d been banished from his beloved ‘Lady’, the submarine Seaview, for the next two weeks. True, Seaview’s last mission had been brutal, especially on her captain, and Lee knew he needed time to heal. But he’d anticipated being placed on light duty and spending the time in his office at the Nelson Institute of Marine Research getting caught up on the stacks of paperwork he never seemed to have time to finish. However his boss, Admiral Harriman Nelson, and Seaview’s CMO, Dr. Will Jamison, had conspired against him. Jamie had placed Lee on Medical Leave and the Admiral had banned him from the Institute grounds. Angry, Lee had stalked out of the Admiral’s office, slamming the door behind him. Once home he had slammed around there too, a hazard to small inanimate objects. Finally, exhausted, he collapsed in his favorite chair in the living room. Not bothering to turn on any lights as it got dark outside, Lee also didn’t bother to answer the knock at his door. Whoever it was finally left, and Lee eventually fell into a restless sleep.
He awoke about 0200, turned on a light, and let his eyes wander around the room as he slowly refocused, trying to figure out how to keep from going crazy. Lee was not an inactive man, and the thought of spending the next two weeks doing nothing was intolerable.
Pictures on the mantle caught his attention: he and Chip on a fishing trip; he and the Admiral at an Institute picnic; one of the entire Seaview crew taken at a ‘Crossing the Equator’ party. A smile crossed Lee’s face – that had been some party!
One of the few pictures that didn’t involve members of the crew was a snap that had come in last year’s Christmas card from old friends, Tim and Annie Hughes. Lee had graduated Annapolis with Tim, and been Best Man at their wedding two days later. Unfortunately, Lee had seen little of them since. Tim had gone on to SEAL training, was injured on a training mission, left the Navy, and he and Annie now ran a Bed and Breakfast on the Oregon coast. Later, Lee couldn’t quite remember how the idea came to him, but once there it stuck. If Lee couldn’t work, why not drive up and spend a few days with his old friends. And since he was now wide-awake he got up, showered, packed, and was ready to leave by 0400. Because of Doc’s imposed ‘Medically Unfit for Duty’ status, Lee didn’t have to report his whereabouts to Security, nor did he want to. Still angry, all he wanted at that particular moment was to be gone! But Chip, and he closed his eyes a second. Can’t take my anger out on him, and made a mental note to call later and leave a note so his XO and friend wouldn’t be worried.
* * * *
Energy reserves almost nil Lee made it only until 1400, as far as Santa Rosa, before realizing if he didn’t stop he’d crash his car. Checking into the first motel he found he didn’t even bother to undress, just laid wearily on the bed and pulled the spread over himself, his body aching. Doc had given him meds: painkillers that he chose to ignore, and antibiotics he knew he should take but was just too tired to bother looking for. He slept fitfully, as he frequently did on land, but at least his body had a chance to recover somewhat before he took off early the next morning.
Ten hours later Lee hit the outskirts of Newport, Oregon. Tired, but not the total exhaustion of the day before, he pulled over and reached for his cell phone. A soft, melodic voice answered his call.
“Spindrift Inn, how may I help you?”
“Yes?” Lee heard puzzlement in the familiar voice, and chuckled.
“Hi, gorgeous. It’s Lee.”
“Lee!” He almost had to hold the phone away from his ear, and laughed again. “You haven’t called in forever. It’s so good to hear your voice.”
“Good to hear yours, too, Annie. And I’m sorry it’s been so long. I just get so busy…oh, you know how it goes.”
“Lee, dear, we run a B&B. You do not have to tell us anything about being busy.”
“Is Tim there?”
“No, and he’s going to be so disappointed he missed you. He’ll be back in about an hour. Are you home? I’ll have him call you.”
“Actually, Annie, I’m in Newport.”
“What? You rat! Get your tail out here – NOW! That’s an order, Mister.”
Lee couldn’t keep from laughing. Annie had always ordered he and Tim around that way. She claimed, with all their Navy training, it was the only thing they understood.”
“Tomorrow, Annie. I’m bushed. Going to find a place to crash. Just wanted to make sure you were still speaking to me, and get directions.”
“Lee, we’re only 10 minutes north of Newport. We have an empty room; you will not motel it, period. Got a pencil?” and she proceeded to give him directions to the Beverly Beach area.
Most of the last two days Lee had concentrated on driving, not sightseeing. With his destination now so close Lee took the time to enjoy the short drive north. Hwy 101 stayed close to the ocean for the most part, offering up a view of wide, flat, sandy beaches interrupted only occasionally by the odd rock formation and the entrance to Yaquina Head Lighthouse and Natural Area. A few miles further, close to the entrance to Beverly Beach State Park, Lee saw the sign for his friends’ B&B.
Lee knew the history of the 3-story plus basement structure that came in sight at the crest of the hill. It had originally been built in the late 1880’s by the owner of a fleet of ships sailing to China and back. After a particularly bad year, loosing several ships to pirates and storms, he’d been forced to sell out and move away. The house had gone through several owners, falling further and further into disrepair, at least on the outside. When Tim had first seen it the inspector he’d hired had been amazed at how well the house had been constructed, and in what good shape a lot of it still was. Remodeled with wrap-around covered verandas on both the ground and second floors and private enclosed balconies for the two 3rd floor rooms, it was surrounded by lawns and flowerbeds on all sides and commanded a magnificent view of ocean and beach below.
Behind and to one side sat a detached garage with several parking spaces provided next to it. Pulling into one, Lee was getting out when he heard a screen door slam and looked up to see Annie coming toward him, wiping her hands on an apron, huge smile on her face. A good foot shorter than Lee, she didn’t see him flinch as she gave him a big hug, then stepped back to hold him at arm’s length.
“Don’t they ever feed you?” she admonished.
“Not you, too,” Lee groaned, then laughed at Annie’s puzzled expression. “Old joke, gorgeous. It’s good to see you, too. And I love the house. The pictures you’ve sent really don’t do it justice.”
“Thanks. Sometimes we can’t believe our good fortune in finding it. Oh, it needed a lot of work but it’s really amazing no one else had grabbed it up. Come on, grab your stuff and I’ll give you the tour while it’s quiet.” Lee reached back into the car for his duffle. “That’s it?”
“Enough for now. Mostly I’d just like to sit and relax. It’s been a long drive.”
“Oh, of course. Dumb me, you said you were tired. Come along. The coffee’s hot, unless you’d rather have something stronger,” and they headed for the back door Annie had come out of.
“Coffee would be great. Why so quiet?” Lee was hoping things weren’t going badly for his friends. He’d been surprised when Annie had said there was a room free.
“All the guests are either at the beach or out sightseeing. Some should be up shortly to change before going out to dinner. The others will be back later. We just serve a big breakfast, of course. They’re free to come and go as they please the rest of the day, but we don’t offer any other meals. Except for ‘special’ guests,” she added with eyes twinkling.
“Ah. Oh, this is wonderful.” The back door opened into a light, airy kitchen with a small dining nook, which Annie waved him towards as she poured him a cup of coffee, then went back to preparing dinner, explaining the rest of the house’s arrangements. Lee knew most of it from previous letters and phone calls, but now he could put the pieces together. Besides the kitchen, the ground floor held a large living/dining room across the front. Tim and Annie’s quarters were mostly in the basement. There were 4 large guest rooms, all with private baths, on the second floor, and 1 large one on the third floor, along with a smaller one. It was this small one that was empty, the only vacancy at the moment.
“We don’t often rent it,” Annie explained. “We find we have quite enough to do keeping up with the other five. So don’t go thinking you’re doing us out of paying customers.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” and Lee gave her a sideways salute, smiling. She was about to throw a towel at him when they heard a car drive in, and Annie glanced out the window.
“The Stevens’ – newlyweds. Been out whale watching. We have all the guests come in the front door. I’ll just go see how their day went. Even though we don’t feed them, we like to make them feel welcome. You just sit and relax. I’ll be right back.”
Lee leaned his head back against the wall, closed his eyes, and listened to Annie greet her guests. Always an outgoing, friendly person, she had an easy way about her. Tim was the same, making this profession a good one for them. Lee was glad they had found each other, and found their rightful place in the world. He thought he’d found his, too. Actually, he didn’t doubt that he had. He loved Seaview, and his duties at the Institute. He worked with the best crew in the world; had the greatest respect for Admiral Nelson and the work they did. Just sometimes…
Lee heard another car door slam, but assuming it was more returning guests didn’t bother opening his eyes.
“Holy hell!” and a startled Lee opened his eyes to see Tim looking through the screen door, hands full of grocery bags.
“What kind of talk is that for a respectable innkeeper?” Lee laughed, rose, walked over and pushed open the door. “It’s good to see you, too.”
“What are you doing here? Why didn’t you let us know you were coming?” Tim dropped the bags on the counter and grabbed Lee’s shoulders. “God, it’s good to see you.”
“Same here. And to answer your question, had some time off and just got in the car and started driving.” It wasn’t quite a lie.
But the expression on his friend’s face was one of disbelief. He leaned back against the counter and crossed arms over his chest. “Not buying it Lee. Not you. It would take an act of God to get you off that tub of yours,” and both men smiled.
“Not an act of God, but almost.” Lee glanced toward the front of the house, where voices could still be heard, and dropped his a bit further. “I didn’t tell Annie, and I’d appreciate you not either. I know how she gets.” He had Tim’s full attention now, and raised his hand. “I’m ok. At least, I will be. The last cruise got a little hairy and the Admiral ordered R&R.”
“You’ve come to the right place then. You’ll like the Driftwood room.” At Lee’s puzzled look Tim smiled. “You remember we named all the rooms after beach things. Driftwood is the smallest, and we don’t use it much.”
“Annie didn’t give it a name, just wanted me to know I wasn’t costing you income by showing up unannounced.”
“Not at all. Just glad you’re here.”
“You bet.” Annie walked back in and pointed to the grocery bags, forgotten on the counter. “While it’s all well and good to visit with old friends, you’d better not be letting the frozen stuff thaw.”
Tim rolled his eyes at Lee. “Work, work, work. That’s all she ever thinks about,” but he smiled as he said it, and gave his wife a hug. As Tim started putting things away and Annie went back to what she’d been doing, Tim asked about Chip.
“Ornery as ever,” Lee quipped. “It’s such a pleasure working with him. I couldn’t ask for a better XO.” The three continued to visit until Tim was done, then he glanced at Lee’s feet where his duffle still lay.
“That all you brought?”
“There’s another bag in the car – nothing I need right now.”
“Toss me your keys. I’ll grab it and take you up to your room. If we hang around here much longer Annie will put us both to work.”
While waiting for Tim to come back in Lee finished his coffee, rinsed out the cup, and put it in the dishwasher. Turning, he saw Annie smiling at him.
“Bachelors. God love them. I can barely get Tim to put his dirty dishes in the sink,” and they were sill chuckling together as Tim came back in with Lee’s other bag. Lee snatched up his duffle as Tim made a grab for it too and they walked toward the front of the house. Lee hadn’t really been looking forward to climbing two flights of stairs, but having had a chance to sit for a bit he kept up quite nicely as Tim led the way, pointing out the house’s main features. The staircase started just past the entrance to the kitchen and before entering the large front room, and went up through the center of the house. Off the 2nd floor landing were 4 doors with hand painted nameplates on each: Sand Piper front South, Sand Dollar front North, Sea Star back North, and Anemone back South. The third floor was smaller in square feet than the first two, giving a nice ‘cap’ to the house. Lighthouse Suite took up the whole front of the house, with its private balcony opening onto the ocean. Tim led Lee to the other ‘room’, and Lee gasped as he stepped through the door There was a large window on the back side of the house and sliders on the south wall leading to an enclosed balcony that gave an excellent view of the ocean and beach, with Yaquina Head Lighthouse in the distance. The north side housed a large bathroom with dressing area, Jacuzzi tub, and separate shower. The room itself was off-white. The headboard of the queen sized bed and various chairs were made to look like they had been fashioned out of driftwood. There was a small TV in one corner, and a radio/stereo in another. “This is small?”
Tim laughed. “As we have guests check out I’ll take you into the other rooms. When we planned it, we wanted a few large, spacious rooms instead of a lot of small cramped ones. That keeps the guests happy and the numbers down so that Annie and I can handle almost everything ourselves. We have a local couple that runs the place when we need to get away, and they come in to help when we have heavy cleaning to do. You remember how much Annie loved to cook. She has a blast thinking up new treats for breakfast. Just wait.”
“My mouth was watering just watching her doing the prep for dinner, remembering that party a couple weeks before graduation. Why aren’t you 300 pounds by now?”
“Lots and lots of running up and down the stairs,” and Tim laughed. “Oh, oh, I hear more returning guests. Better go play host.”
“Do you stay pretty full?”
“Almost all the time from early April until well into October, and around all holidays. Even the rest of the year it’s rare we don’t have at least one room occupied. Relax and get settled in. Dinner will be 6-ish,” and Tim left.
Lee walked out to the porch, big enough for two comfortable-looking chairs and a small table with room to spare, and just gazed out at the ocean for a while. If he had to be away from Seaview, at least he still had his beloved ocean. The beach below was wide and long, and Lee could envision spending most days there, walking, jogging eventually, and getting his strength back.
Turning back to the room to unpack Lee noticed a phone next to the bed, reminding him he still hadn’t called Chip. The first time his cell phone had rung yesterday he’d turned it off, not wanting to be bothered. And now? Lee wasn’t sure what stopped him. Pure stubbornness on my part, most likely, and he laughed at himself. It still smarted a bit that Doc and Nelson had ousted him but that was no reason to take it out on Chip. Lee knew his friend would be worried, and he decided he’d call Chip’s office late, after he knew Chip would have left, and leave a message on Chip’s machine just to say he was ok.
As he unpacked, the sound of car doors and voices came and went. Lee tried not to spy but was curious about the other guests. He saw whom he assumed were the newlyweds leaving for dinner, then a middle-aged couple arrive, and leave shortly after with another couple. He assumed he’d meet most of them later. Annie had said that most evenings there was a relaxed gathering in the large living room. They kept tea, coffee, and soft drinks available, and though they didn’t supply alcoholic drinks of any kind except for themselves, didn’t object if guests chose to bring down drinks from their own rooms. Lee questioned his friends about this over an excellent dinner served at the small dining nook in the kitchen.
“It’s a lot easier than trying to get a liquor license. We occasionally have children here, and since we serve only breakfast we don’t have to worry about drinks with dinner,” Annie answered between bites of lasagna.
“Except for us,” Tim added as he refilled Lee’s glass with an excellent local wine. Lee was glad he’d avoided taking any of the painkillers. He knew well enough the two didn’t mix.
“You never get tired of what amounts to strangers always in your house?” Lee asked.
“Never,” Annie answered. “Most guests are great; interesting, friendly. And we have as much privacy as we want or need. We don’t join the evening gatherings every night, just maybe check on the coffee, etc. There’s a small fridge for soft drinks, and lots of times if the coffee runs out one of the guests will make more. We keep all the supplies in a cabinet out there.”
“Just to clarify,” Tim added, “while we never get tired of the guests per se, we do occasionally get tired of a particular guest. It’s unavoidable in this business.”
“I’ll be good,” Lee said quickly, albeit with a twinkle in his eye, and ducked as Annie threatened to throw a roll at him. They all laughed.
“Relax, Lee,” Tim continued. “We just have a couple here now, the Keeleys, who are a bit snobbish. Thankfully we see very little of them. They eat early, leave right after, and don’t get back until almost 11pm.”
“And no one misses them,” quipped Annie.
“How long are you stuck with them,” Lee commiserated.
“That’s the other thing,” Annie continued. “They don’t leave until Monday, something to do with better rates on their airline tickets, and because of that I’ve had to turn two different couples away who wanted to arrive Sunday and didn’t want to wait. That means the room stands empty until next Sunday.”
“Didn’t you want to give that room a thorough going over?” Tim asked. “Would be a good chance.”
“True. I’ll call Michelle and we’ll give it a good tossing.”
Lee’s earlier curiosity about the other guests led him to ask who else was there besides the honeymooners. “A couple from Nebraska,” Tim supplied, “and two lawyers and their wives from the Bay area. As I recall they all leave Saturday.”
“And the rooms fill right back up?” Lee always liked to know what was happening around him, whether he was on his boat or not.
“Just about,” Annie supplied. “Two couples come Sunday for a week, another couple come Monday, and a couple college girls come Tuesday and leave Friday.”
“Around and around and around,” Lee laughed. “How do you keep it all straight?”
“Good paperwork,” Annie answered, was interrupted by the phone ringing, and left to answer it in the front room.
“Mostly,” Tim added, “Annie keeps it all together. Oh, I could muddle through, but she’s the genius.”
“You two have been good for each other,” Lee smiled.
“Thanks. We think so,” and Tim winked.
“Do you ever miss the Navy?”
“Honestly,” and Tim sighed, “I did, for awhile. Not so much anymore. I really enjoy the B&B, meeting the diversity of people we do. It’s great. And you? Still in love with that crazy sub?”
Lee laughed. “Always and forever. Can’t imagine doing anything else.”
“Even when it bites you?”
“Seaview didn’t bite me,” and Lee grimaced. “One of the passengers did.”
Tim raised his eyebrows, willing Lee to continue, but Annie came back into the room. “So much for overhauling Lighthouse,” she said as she sat back down. “That was a lady from Portland. Apparently knows the area, but she’s never stayed here before. Told her the only thing available was Lighthouse, our most expensive, and when it was open. She didn’t seem to mind, said it would be great, and she’d be down Monday afternoon.”
“Good thing you hadn’t called Michelle yet,” Tim offered.
“Still think I will, though. I want to go through it good and proper. No telling what Mrs. Keeley’s done to the place,” Annie groused, and the men laughed.
“You don’t go into the rooms while they’re occupied?” Lee asked.
“Not usually,” Annie explained. “The guests are responsible for making their own beds, etc. If they need anything done, vacuuming, whatever, we’re more than happy to do it. But mostly we just clean and change linen between guests. Oh, when we have people staying longer that a few days we go up and clean out the towel hamper and make sure there are plenty of fresh ones, that sort of thing.
“And while she’s at it, Annie usually takes a few swipes through the bathrooms, does a bit of dusting…whatever,” Tim added with a hug to his wife.
“Never a dull moment?” Lee asked. Finished eating he started stacking plates together, earning a laugh and a wink from Annie.
“Something like that,” Tim answered, with a puzzled expression.
“Just earning my keep,” Lee replied quietly and continued to help clear the table until Annie chased the two men into the front room. Tim started a pot of coffee and another with hot water for either tea or cocoa, and Lee wandered around looking at the various pictures and paintings on the walls, most featuring ocean views of one sort or another. Comfortable-looking furniture was scattered around: sofas, recliner chairs, and a love seat. There was also a small game table and chairs for playing cards or working puzzles. Several book shelves were well stocked with all sorts of subjects, both fiction and non-fiction, and cabinets held games and puzzles. A stereo with a good diversity of musical styles on CD was in one corner, and nearby was a TV and VCR set up with a selection of new and old movie tapes.
“Looks like you’ve got something for everyone,” Lee commented.
“We don’t want anyone to get bored on stormy days,” Tim chuckled. “Anything I can interest you in this evening?”
Lee’s reply was interrupted by a huge yawn. “Maybe just my bed,” he laughed. “Or would I be guilty of a huge faux pas by not sticking around to meet the other guests?”
“Not at all. Go crash, we’ll see you in the morning. Annie serves breakfast from 7 to 8:30 on weekdays, and 8 to 9 Saturday and Sunday.”
“Then I’ll go say goodnight to Annie and see you in the morning.”
“You ok?” Lee could hear the genuine concern in his friend’s voice, and smiled.
“Just tired,” he answered, and headed for the kitchen.
As he got to the door Lee could smell onions and peppers cooking. Annie was at the stove stirring something in a large skillet and Lee went to sneak a peek over her shoulder.
Annie smiled and handed him the wooden spoon. “Stir,” she ordered, and started cutting a large crusty loaf of bread into 1-inch cubes. Lee quietly continued to stir the mixture in the skillet, looking questioningly at his hostess. “Onion, scallion, mushrooms, and green and red bell peppers.” Annie finished cutting up the bread, buttered a large shallow baking dish, and dumped in the bread cubes. Checking on the veggies she decided they needed a bit more cooking and got down a bowl into which she whisked eggs, milk, Dijon mustard, a bit of Tabasco, and salt and pepper. Into another dish she coarsely grated extra sharp cheddar cheese and mixed it with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. By this time the veggies were done to her satisfaction and she took over, spreading them over the bread cubes. Next went the cheese mix on top of that, and then the egg mixture over everything. Covering the dish she put it in the fridge. “Breakfast,” she smiled, and started cleaning up.
“Can’t wait. Actually, I originally came in to say goodnight.”
“So early? I expected you and Tim to be up talking half the night.”
“Are you sure you’re ok?” and her look was definitely an assessment.
Lee put on his most sincere expression. “Yes, Mother, I’m just fine.” Relaxing with a smile, he added, “it was a long drive up and I was tired before I left. The last cruise was a pain.” To put it mildly he thought to himself. He momentarily relived the staged ‘accidents’ that had culminated in a bullet wound to his side, and his being forced to kill a passenger. “Ok?” and he opened his arms, intending to give her a goodnight hug. He noticed her slight hesitation but she finally smiled too, and returned the hug. “Thanks for insisting I come out this afternoon. See you in the morning. Tim gave me breakfast times.”
“Remember, you can always eat here in the kitchen if you don’t want to tackle the rest of the pack. Speaking of which,” as they heard car doors slam, “I’d better finish up,” and Lee headed to his room.
As he entered, he glanced at his watch. Only 1945 – too early to try leaving Chip a message. He could easily still be in his office and Lee wasn’t really sure what he’d say to him. Instead, he kicked off shoes and socks and sat out on the balcony. With the windows open, the sounds of a light surf came easily up to him. He heard further sounds of returning guests but didn’t realize he had fallen asleep until startled awake by loud voices outside his door on the upper landing. Sounds like the Keeleys didn’t have a very pleasant evening he mused. Waiting until the voices were inside their own door he got up, retrieved his cell phone, and went back to the balcony. Anticipating Chip’s office answering machine, Lee was surprised when Chip himself answered.
“Commander Morton.” Lee didn’t say anything for a second and Chip continued, puzzled. “This is Morton, anyone there?”
“Chip, it’s Lee,” Lee said softly.
“Lee,” Chip practically yelled. “Where are you? Are you ok? Why haven’t you called? We’ve all been worried sick.”
“None of your business, yes, didn’t feel like it, and sorry about that,” Lee answered with a smile.
It took Chip a second to translate, then his voice came back much softer. “Are you home?”
“No. I was told to get lost, so I did.”
“That’s not exactly how I heard it, buddy, although Angie did say you could hear the door slam in the next building.” Lee heard the smile in his friend’s voice.
“Yeah, well, that’s how I took it. How come you’re working so late?”
“Finishing your reports. The Admiral felt so bad about your abrupt departure he decided to take care of all your records and logs. Of course, that meant I get to help.”
“I had intended to deal with it myself, until outvoted.”
“Anyway, Nelson went by your place that evening to apologize but you didn’t answer. He decided not to push the issue until the next morning.”
“To give me time to cool off,” Lee interpreted.
“Whatever. But when he stopped your car was gone and your cell phone wasn’t working.”
“Turned it off.”
“Oh. Well, anyway, that’s when he decided he, and I as it turned out, would take care of your workload until you reappeared. May I ask when that will be?”
“The time table he and Jamie put together stipulated two weeks.”
“And you’re not going to tell me where you are, or how to get in touch with you.” Lee didn’t answer immediately, and Chip continued. “Not a problem. I think I understand. I’m just glad to know you’re ok.” Voices - happy, excited, party-like - floated up from the front porch and were picked up by the cell phone. “I see. Blond, brunette or redhead?” Chip laughed.
“Brunette, both of them.” Lee didn’t bother to explain he was referring to Tim and Annie.
“Both? And you’re not inviting me? You scoundrel!”
“Sorry, Chip. Full house.”
“You’re supposed to be getting some rest,” and both men laughed.
“R&R. Rest and Recreation. I have every intention of recreating as much as possible.”
“While I’m stuck doing your work. I will get you for this.”
“Hey, don’t blame me.” The easy, familiar banter was more relaxing than even the sound of the surf, and Lee felt himself yawning again. “Got to go, Chip.”
“I’ll tell the Admiral and Jamie you called,” and Chip paused. “Will you at least let me know if you need anything?”
“Of course, Chip. But things are under control here. I’m fine.”
“I’d like a dime for every time I’ve heard that line,” Chip muttered, but cut off Lee’s retort. “Ok, I’ll take your word for it. Just do me a favor and keep in touch. Ok?”
Lee was not unmoved by the sincerity he heard in his friend’s voice. “Sure,” and the two said goodnight. Lee left the windows and slider open, changed, and crawled under the comforter on the bed, asleep almost immediately.
* * * *
Lee awoke Friday morning slightly disoriented, and it took him a few minutes to remember where he was. It was still quite early, only 0545, and Lee took advantage of the unusual opportunity to stay snuggled under the comforter, enjoying the sounds of early morning birds and gentle surf coming through the open windows. Finally fully awake he made his bed, showered, changed the bandage on the still-healing wound in his side, and got dressed.
It was a few minutes after 0700 when he came down the stairs. Tim was sitting in the dining area visiting with a couple not exactly dressed for a beach vacation. Lee guessed they must be the Keeleys, confirmed as he walked over and was introduced. Tim referred to Lee only as an old friend from Tim’s Annapolis days but apparently that wasn’t satisfactory.
“You’re still in the Navy,” Mr. Keeley said brusquely, making it a statement.
“Naval Reserve, actually,” Lee answered casually, pouring himself a cup of coffee and looking over the selection of breakfast items on the sideboard. Besides the dish he’d watched Annie put together the night before, now baked and in a warming tray, there were hash browns, crisp bacon, and sausage patties, also in warming trays, pitchers of several different kinds of juice and bowls of seasonal fruit resting in a tray of ice, and several different kinds of muffins. “I work for Admiral Harriman Nelson,” he continued, turning back to the table. “Nelson Institute of Marine Research, in Santa Barbara.”
“You don’t look like a scientist,” said Mrs. Keeley, giving Lee an appraising look that earned a frown from her husband.
“I’m not,” Lee said as he put down his coffee cup and picked up a plate. “I work on Seaview, the Institute’s research submarine,” and he turned back to start dishing up his breakfast.
“Sounds utterly boring,” Mr. Keeley grumbled.
“Not from what I hear,” and Lee turned to see a middle-aged couple coming down the stairs. Tim introduced them as Kyle and Mary Masterson. It was he who had spoken, and now continued. “We have friends whose daughter works at the Institute.” He named her, but it was no-one Lee recognized.
“It’s a big place,” Lee apologized, and continued filling his plate.
“That’s what I understand. Anyway, LeAnn’s related several rather interesting stories concerning the activities of your submarine.”
Lee kept his face noncommittal but made a mental note to speak to Personnel. The Institute tried to keep that kind of scuttlebutt to a minimum.
“Don’t believe everything you hear, Sir,” Lee replied pleasantly and sat down at the table. “Most of the time things are pretty tame.” Masterson accepted the gentle correction with a small nod as he and his wife turned to fill their own plates. Lee had a feeling Mr. Keeley wasn’t ready to give it up but Tim rather adroitly changed the subject and the Keeleys soon left.
Over the next hour Lee met the rest of the guests as he and Tim held court over breakfast. Annie came in just after the Keeleys left and Lee had a hard time keeping a smile off his face. Annie caught the effort and gave him a small kick under the table.
After everyone else had left Lee helped Tim and Annie clean up. Annie tried to convince Lee that he was taking the ‘earning his keep’ routine to extremes but Lee persisted and eventually Annie surrendered. Afterwards, with instructions on where to park his car, Lee drove down to the State Park just down the hill. The beach was accessed from the day-use parking lot by a pathway under Hwy 101. The sun was shining brightly, there was just enough breeze to make the people flying kites – of which there were quite a few – happy, and Lee found a spot against a large log to sit and watch. Several people were flying brightly colored stunt kites, shaped a bit like a stealth bomber. Handled by double lines leading to wooden handles held one in each hand they could, in the hands of experts, be made to do almost anything, and Lee enjoyed watching their antics.
As did others. With the State Park just across the road the beach filled up rapidly. Eventually the noise from too many small children playing in the surf got to Lee and he walked further south. The tide was low and it was easy walking in the hard damp sand close to the edge of the water. He didn’t go fast, just enjoyed the sights, sounds, and smells. He was totally amazed when he finally glanced at his watch and discovered it was after 1300. No, Lee mentally corrected himself, for the time being you’re on civilian time. 1pm. Turning back, he estimated he had ambled over a mile. Thoroughly enjoying himself, he didn’t get back to the Spindrift until just after 3:30.
“I was beginning to think the seagulls got you,” Annie called from the front room as Lee came in the back, and he walked through the kitchen to find her washing the front windows.
“Not a chance. However, I was nearly done in by a couple of pint-sized tornadoes. I seem to recall you and Tim talking about having half a dozen or so,” and was immediately sorry as he saw a very hurt expression flash briefly across Annie’s face. She recovered quickly, but not before she realized Lee had seen it.
“Sorry. Yes, we’d have liked to have kids. Just wasn’t meant to be.”
“Please…I didn’t mean to pry.”
She turned and faced him, a smile back on her face. “Hey, no problem, just one of those things. And the way things have turned out it’s not so bad. Sometimes I watch the news at night, with all the violence going on in schools, all the drugs everywhere, and I’m almost glad I don’t have to worry about raising children in that kind of atmosphere. It’s scary what goes on these days. I think I’ll take my nice quiet B&B…” and was interrupted by a crash and loud oath coming from one floor up.
“Quiet?” Lee grinned, recognizing the voice. “Should I go up and see if Tim’s still in one piece?”
“Only at your own risk. He’s fixing a shelf in Sea Star – for the 4th time this month. The blasted thing just won’t stay where it’s supposed to and he’s not in a good mood. Are you hungry? You missed lunch. There’s sandwich fixings in the fridge.”
“Not after that huge breakfast I packed away. Could stand something to drink, though.”
“There’s milk and juice in the fridge. Pop, too. And I can fix coffee – won’t take a second.”
“Don’t bother, I’ll find something,” and he walked back into the kitchen. Checking the refrigerator he found a pitcher of orange juice, poured a large glassful, and against advice went up the stairs to track down Tim. Annie gave him a smile and mouthed ‘be careful’. As he got to the first landing he noticed the door standing open to the back left room and walked over, stopping just outside. “Tim?”
“Come on in, Lee. I’m in the bathroom.” Lee entered the bright airy room, similar to his own but with white wicker furniture, a printed border of starfish around the top of the walls, and sliders leading to the second floor deck. Another door was standing open to his right and he walked over. Tim was in a dressing area working on a bracket holding up a wooden shelf. “How are you at carpentry?” he asked.
“Lousy. Everything on the boat is metal,” and Lee laughed.
“There is no way,” Tim indicated the bracket, “that one rotten little screw is going to defeat me.”
“What’s the problem?”
“The original screws worked loose, and now the holes are too big to hold properly. The hardware store sold me these winged nuts that fold until they get inside the wall, then spread out to hold solid. I have the first one in and just about have the other one under control. It’s just a matter of pulling and turning them at the same time.” He returned to the project, and with only one more oath had the screw tight. He put a bit of weight on the shelf and it held firm. “There, got the little sucker.” He picked up his tools and the two went back downstairs. Annie was on the phone, Tim went to put his tools away and Lee took his glass out to the deck facing the ocean. Sitting sideways on the railing, his back against a post, he was soon joined by Tim carrying a beer. “Private stash – there’s a small fridge in the garage. Feel free to help yourself,” and he sat down in one of the deck chairs.
“I’m fine for now but I’ll keep it in mind.” They visited amiably, Tim asking how Lee had spent his day.
“A little advice,” Tim cautioned. “If you walk north you’ll eventually get stopped by the rocks that form part of the Devil’s Punchbowl, a pretty spectacular blowhole. However, to see it properly you’re better off driving down to the parking lot and watching from the regular areas. South on the beach is no problem, with one exception. When you get almost to Yaquina Head the beach takes a turn around one of the higher cliffs in the area. At low tide it looks just like the rest of the beach, but the water comes up to the cliff at high tide and if you get caught on the other side, it’s safest to just wait it out.”
Lee acknowledged the warnings just as some of the guests came back to change for dinner and the evening progressed much as the previous one had, except Lee stayed downstairs much longer. He was beginning to understand what his friends saw in this kind of life: relaxed, laid back, easy conversation with a variety of people. Oh, Lee admitted he would never be able to handle it for any length of time. But for right now it was exactly what he was craving. No pressures, no demands, just time to relax.
* * * *
Lee spent the next few days much as he had Friday: breakfast with everyone, several hours walking on the beach, then back for dinner with Tim and Annie, more visiting in the front room, and bed usually about 11pm. Saturday Annie offered to pack Lee a lunch since he didn’t come back in time, and Lee cringed. “Good grief, no! After the breakfast I just put away it’s amazing I eat anything at all at dinner!” That day saw the departure of the Mastersons, Ortings and Laceys, and Annie called in her friend Michelle to go through all three rooms, getting them ready for new guests. Sunday saw the departure of the Stevens, and the arrival of two new couples: the Craigs, teachers from Seattle, and the Garretts, a retired couple from Phoenix. Everyone was glad to see the last of the Keeleys on Monday and Michelle again appeared, to help Annie go through Lighthouse in preparation for the woman from Portland. Also arriving were the Bruces, a college professor from Salem, Oregon, and his wife.
Lee got a late start to the beach that morning. He was finally getting some strength back and decided to alternate walking with a bit of jogging. Lee hated inactivity. Even on board Seaview he tried to find time each day for some form of exercise. He loved diving, but if that particular activity was not available he’d work out in the exercise room or jog on the small track around Sherwood Forest, the name given to the missile silo area. Today he added short jogging sections to his normal walk, releasing some of the demons that had built up with his forced inactivity. He didn’t realize how far he had gotten down the beach until a sharp stab of pain reminded him he was far from healed, and he was forced to stop. Looking around, he realized he was almost to the point Tim had warned him about. The tide was out and Lee could see how easily he could have run right past it without noticing. The tides shouldn’t be a problem over the next 10 days or so, as long as he continued to be here during the middle of the day, but he was still glad Tim had mentioned it.
With the extra expenditure of energy came a peace of emotions but also a tiredness of body, and Lee was regretting he had such a long walk back. Really dumb, Lee! he muttered to himself, and turned around.
He was still a good 100 yards from the passageway when total exhaustion set in and he sat down in the sand above the high tide line, his back against an old driftwood stump. Nearby several people were flying their stunt kites, and again he enjoyed watching them. It was almost 1750 – no, Lee, civilian time. 5:50pm he chided himself. The tide was coming in but still a couple hours away from high tide. Besides the kite flyers the beach was full of kids playing in the surf, families coming down to picnic as dinnertime approached, individuals and couples walking and jogging now that their workday was over, and, Lee noted, one very lonely figure standing off by herself, staring out at the sea. Lee guessed her to be in her mid-thirties, shoulder length hair the color of wet sand, dressed casually in loose fitting blouse and slacks, looking more like she was dressed for dinner than the beach. The thought stopped Lee, realizing he was going to be late for his own dinner. His legs were still feeling too weak to finish the walk to his car. He wished he’d remembered to bring his cell phone but Tim and Annie knew where he was, and though he was expected to appear at dinner was under no real mandate to do so. He went back to watching the kites, enjoying the expertise needed to make them maneuver in such intricate patterns. He glanced back once to see the solitary figure still where she’d been, still just staring toward the water, then lost interest as he heard a shout, and voices calling out directions, as two kites started to perform together. They were matching movements beautifully in a complicated double pattern in the sky when all of a sudden one flyer made a slight mistake that brought both kites crashing down, to much laughter from the participants. Lee, too, was enjoying the humor of the situation when he heard a whistle and turned to see Tim walking toward him, cell phone to his ear. Lee got slowly to his feet and glanced at his watch, surprised that almost an hour had passed, and headed in Tim’s direction. Tim closed the phone just as the two met.
“I know I’m late,” Lee said casually, “but I didn’t expect the cavalry.”
“Small problem,” Tim answered, and instantly Lee’s face turned serous, causing Tim to laugh. “Easy, Lee. No big deal. Just, Annie’s royally ticked at you. That was her I was just talking to, letting her know I found you.”
“All for missing dinner? Give me a break. I got sidetracked,” and the two walked back along the beach.
“That’s not exactly the problem. We got a letter today. From Chip.”
Lee stopped dead and glared at his friend, who didn’t make matters any better by grinning. “He didn’t,” Lee growled.
“He did. No details, but enough to let Annie know this isn’t just a simple vacation. When you didn’t show up at your usual time she was all set to call out the Coast Guard.” He was still smiling broadly.
“I’ll keelhaul that, that…” and didn’t finish as Tim burst out laughing.
“First you have to placate Annie. Ah,” and he suddenly got serious, “you are alright, aren’t you?”
“Yeah,” Lee grumbled, still ticked, and continued walking. Taking a deep breath, he gave Tim a small grin. “Actually, I was feeling so good I added some short jogs to my walk, and ended up further down the beach than I planned…”
“And it was a long trip back,” Tim finished for him. At Lee’s glance, he grinned. “Been there. When we first came here I was still recovering from the crash.” Lee remembered the accident that had cost Tim his naval career was the crash of a helicopter taking Tim’s SEAL team to a training exercise. “I did the same thing, and not just once,” he chuckled. “Slow learner. Found out the hard way about that place I mentioned down by the lighthouse.”
“I got far enough today to see it. Spend a few hours on the other side, did you?” Lee’s good humor was slowly returning.
“In the days before cell phones became so popular. Annie was a basket case.” He chuckled again. “I was grounded for a week,” and both men laughed.
They continued an amiable conversation as they returned to their cars. Lee figured Tim had had another conversation with his wife on the short drive home because Annie met them at the back door, not saying a word, just holding out several sheets of paper to Lee. He recognized Chip’s neat crisp handwriting and leaned his back against the counter as he scanned the lines, finally finding what he was looking for. “…And I don’t even have Lee here to harass. There was an incident on the last cruise, Lee got the worst of it and is on medical leave. Angry that the Admiral wouldn’t even let him come into the office, he took off. He called a couple days later and seemed ok but I’m still a little worried about him, and I know Doc is, too. But you know Lee – stubborn as ever. Right now I could use his input on the new…” and Chip went on to talk about some of the refitting he was overseeing while Seaview was in port. Lee looked up to find Annie putting dinner on the table. Tim was already seated.
“Like I said,” Tim smiled, “no details. You told me more than that the day you got here.”
There was a loud bang as a lid was smacked back on a pan. “You knew about this all along?” and Annie sent a murderous glance toward her husband. Lee couldn’t help himself, and laughed.
“Down, Annie,” Lee walked over and gave her a hug. She looked ready to smack him with the pan lid. “Tim knew I was hurting, that’s all. The details are classified, couldn’t tell you if I wanted to. I just needed to get away and relax for awhile. You guys keep telling me how restful this place is so I decided to come see for myself,” and he gave her one of his most disarming smiles.
Annie however wasn’t convinced. She stepped back and crossed her arms. “Damage report,” she demanded, and Lee knew she wasn’t going to let him off the hook. A quick glance showed Tim studying the design on the dinner plates. No help there. Lee took a deep breath.
“A few bumps and bruises,” he glossed over the minor injuries, all healed now anyway, and took another deep breath, “and bullet wound,” Lee admitted.
Annie glared at him a few more moments but finally gave him a small smile. “Sit,” she ordered. “Dinner’s ready,” and she turned back to the stove. As Lee took his place at the table he and Tim shared a grin and Lee said quietly, “I’m still going to kill my XO. You interested in the job?” Tim laughed as Annie set halibut steaks, baked potatoes and hot rolls on the table, which already held a bowl of green salad. Talk was somewhat subdued, but friendly. Lee knew Annie was watching him, and he was careful to eat a substantial amount. That seemed to placate her somewhat but she flatly refused his help with dishes and he didn’t argue, making known his intention to finally clean up after his day at the beach and re-join them in the front room. Annie gave him a look at that but couldn’t very well say anything since he’d been doing it since he got there, and he headed for his room.
Showered and changed, Lee grabbed his cell phone and went out onto the balcony, dialing a familiar number.
“Commander Morton,” came Chip’s voice, sounding a bit harried.
“Refit not going well? You sound frustrated.”
“Lee! Hey, good to hear your voice. And no, the refit’s going fine. It’s just been one of those days. How are you?”
“Fine. Actually felt good enough to jog a little.” He didn’t say how little. “Be back in shape in no time.”
“Good to hear it. Don’t suppose you’d want to call the Admiral and tell him.”
“That’s what I have you for, to pass on the message.”
“Yeah, but you know him – he all too frequently kills the messenger.”
“Still ticked that I took off?”
“How’d you guess? Asks me at least twice a day if I’ve heard from you and I don’t think he believes me when I tell him no, just that once.”
“Well, now you have something to talk about.”
“You’re not going to help me out here, are you?” Lee could hear the amusement in Chip’s voice, the complaint notwithstanding.
“Actually, I’d like you to pass some information on to Security. It seems we have a couple information leaks at the Institute.”
Chip instantly went serious. “What? Who? What are you talking about?”
“Long story, but there’s a young lady named LeAnn Cope, can’t tell you which department. Seems she likes to relate Institute stories to her parents, who in turn relate them to friends.”
“How did you find out?”
“Met one of the friends.”
“Oh.” Lee could here the sound of a keyboard and knew Chip was already checking Personnel. “Cope, LeAnn. Dr. Kramer’s lab tech.” Kramer worked in the microbiology lab. “I know one of the secretaries there. Maybe we can handle this quietly.”
“Is there a secretary anywhere in the Institute you don’t know?” Lee asked, and Chip just chuckled.
“You said two,” Chip got serious again. “Who else?”
Lee kept his voice under control. “You.”
“What?” Chip practically choked. “What are you talking about?” and Lee could hear that Chip was seriously upset. He stayed calm as he continued.
“I’m staying with Tim and Annie.”
There was dead silence on the other end of the line. Lee just waited, not saying a word. There actually hadn’t been anything at all sensitive in what Chip had written. But Chip knew how very carefully Lee guarded his privacy, and under the circumstances…
Lee heard a soft oath, then Chip’s voice, sounding apologetic. “Oops?”
But Lee had no intention of letting Chip off the hook. There was still one thing he wanted, and he knew the only way to get it at this point was to feign continued anger. “That’s all you have to say? Oops?” Chip apparently had nothing to add because there was silence at his end, and Lee continued. “However, I’ll give you a chance to make amends.”
“Name it,” Chip agreed readily.
“Don’t tell Nelson or Jamie.” Lee heard a gasp, and smiled.
“You want me to lie to the Admiral?” Chip sounded truly unnerved and Lee could understand why. Found out, Nelson would have the younger man’s head, XO or not.
“Who said anything about lying,” Lee kept his voice serious. “Just don’t admit I told you where I am.”
“I don’t know if I can pull it off…” and Chip hesitated. Lee just kept silent, enjoying his friend’s discomfort immensely. It was very rare to get Chip this far off balance. Chip was the undisputed champion at doing it to everyone else. “Ok. I’ll try,” and Lee heard a heavy sigh.
“I’d suggest you try very, very hard,” Lee continued to be firm, then noticing someone walking around the house toward the front door, cut off his friend. “I’m doing fine, Chip. I like it here. I don’t want to have to leave,” meaning he would if not left alone.
There was silence for a second, then Chip’s soft voice. “At least now I know who the brunettes are.” Lee almost laughed out loud. “You’ll stay in touch?” The sincerity was real, and Lee relented slightly.
“Sure, Chip. Goodnight,” and he disconnected before getting a response. Quickly heading down the stairs, he wanted to see if he’d been right. The person he’d seen walking under his window looked remarkably like the woman he’d seen standing so forlornly that afternoon on the beach.
Coming down the last flight of stairs, his impression was confirmed as he recognized the woman’s clothing first, then her face as she turned at the sound of his steps and Annie’s welcome.
“Chip still have a head?” Tim asked.
“Barely,” Lee grumbled, albeit with a smile as he got to the bottom of the stairs.
“Lee,” and he turned toward Annie, “this is Rebecca Duval. She’s staying in Lighthouse. Came while you were down on the beach. Ms. Duval, Lee Crane, an old friend. He’s in Driftwood, across the landing from your room.”
While cordial as she acknowledged Lee, the newcomer declined an invitation to remain downstairs and left for her room. Lee poured himself a cup of coffee and settled into one of the big chairs. Several other guests returning from dinner did stay down to visit, and Lee found himself enjoying a game of chess with Jim Bruce. His wife Katy was in the corner with Annie and Lisa Craig. Mark Craig and Tim were discussing some of the local sights. Lee had come to enjoy these evenings, sometimes just listening, sometimes like tonight an active participant. He enjoyed the mental challenge of chess but had so few opportunities to indulge. Chip didn’t play, and while it was the Admiral who had originally taught Lee, there was just never enough quiet time anymore. He and Professor Bruce were well matched, and though Lee put up a valiant effort was eventually checkmated after a long struggle. Another game was mentioned but by then it was almost 10pm and Lee decided he’d pushed Annie’s patience about as far as he could. He excused himself and headed for bed.
* * * *
For the first time since he’d been here Lee’s sleep was disturbed by nightmares and he found himself wide awake at 1:45am. Badly shaken by the vision he went out to one of the chairs on the balcony, propping his feet on the window ledge. It was all so frustrating. Why tonight? The evening had been peaceful and he’d gone right to sleep. He didn’t think anything had been bothering him. But then, he’d gotten frustrated earlier in the day at his lack of physical reserves and the sharp pain that had stopped him so abruptly on the beach. And he’d had to deal with it again because of Chip’s letter. Damn. No, he stopped himself and took a deep breath. Can’t blame Chip. This is my problem. I have to come to grips with it. He’d had a rough time following the mishaps on the last cruise. Duty had forced him to kill a woman he’d been rapidly falling in love with, and he hadn’t handled the mental repercussions well. There had also been a couple times lately when unexplained anger had suddenly overwhelmed him. Like now, it had been very unsettling.
Knowing he’d get no more sleep this night he thought about going downstairs for a drink but decided against it, afraid he’d wake someone. Making himself as comfortable as possible in the chair, he hoped the sounds of the surf coming through the open windows would allow his frazzled nerves some peace. But this time it didn’t happen. Night was just beginning to give way to morning when, glancing into the bedroom at the digital clock by his bed, he almost missed the slight movement under his window. There was just enough light for Lee to identify the shape of the newest guest, Ms. Duval, headed for her car. 4:45am seemed an odd time to be leaving the B&B, and Lee gave half a thought to her destination, finally admitting it was after all none of his business. He sat quietly watching night turn into morning, and just before 5:30 decided to go down and start the coffee pot. Planning on coming back up to shower and shave before breakfast, he just pulled on sweat pants and a t-shirt, not even bothering with shoes.
Tim had installed small lights to illuminate every third step as well as each of the stair landings so getting down to the kitchen was no problem, and Lee quickly got the coffee going. It wasn’t long before he heard noises, then the sounds of a shower running, coming from his host’s quarters.
He was sitting sideways on the bench seat of the breakfast nook, back against the wall, long legs pulled up to his chest, coffee cup resting on his knee, when Annie came in.
“You’re not on duty, Lee. It’s ok to sleep in,” she chided.
“Old habits,” Lee answered lightly, and watched as Annie took a large baking dish out of the fridge, loosened the cover, and left it sitting on the counter as she started the oven. Pouring herself a cup of coffee, she took a sip and leaned back against the counter.
“So, you want to talk about it?” she asked quietly.
“About what?” Lee responded cautiously.
“About the reason you didn’t sleep last night.”
“What makes you think I didn’t sleep?”
“Just recognize the symptoms. Don’t know how many times I’ve caught Tim in that same corner, same position, eyes blurry.” Lee tried to keep his face calm but realized it wasn’t working as Annie smiled softly. “It’s ok, Lee. Didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. Just…it usually helps to talk about it. Trust me, keeping the demons buried won’t help.”
Lee stared into his coffee cup a bit, glanced up briefly, then spoke more to his cup than to Annie. “These demons aren’t ready to come out yet,” then gave her a small smile. “But thanks anyway.”
“No problem. Just remember…that’s what friends are for.” Movement overhead announced that others in the house were up, and Annie turned to put the breakfast casserole in the oven. Lee uncurled himself and got up. Pouring another cup of coffee to take with him, he started to go up to shower and change.
“Oh,” and he turned back. “You might be missing a guest for breakfast.” At Annie’s raised eyebrows he shook his head. “You can’t get rid of me that easily. But I saw Ms. Duval leave shortly before 5am.”
“Not a problem. She said when she checked in she likes to run first thing in the morning. She’ll be back before breakfast is over.”
“Oh,” and Lee headed up the stairs.
* * * *
“And it pulled your mask and air hose off? How scary. I thought octopus were fairly harmless, that they stayed away from people.” Katy Bruce was responding to a diving story Tim had been relating. It was just after 8am and the Bruce’s, Tim, Annie, and Lee were enjoying a last cup of coffee. The other guests had come and gone, making short work of the excellent breakfast consisting this day of a casserole of hash brown potatoes, diced ham, eggs, a bit of onion, and topped with pepper jack cheese, along with the usual extras of various muffins and seasonal fruit.
“The little ones are,” Lee answered. “This one…”
“…wasn’t exactly little,” finished Tim, grinning. “Lee found out the hard way.”
“What happened?” Katy wanted to know. “I mean, obviously you got away, but…”
“Oh,” and Lee grinned, “it got a little hairy for a bit. Tim helped pry her off and she went back into her cave.”
“No doubt got just enough of a taste to spit you out,” Annie interjected with a smile. “Oh, there you are,” and switched gears as Rebecca Duval came in. “Have a good run? Sit down, I’ll just warm up the casserole for you, everything else is still out.”
The Bruces excused themselves to leave for a day of sightseeing, Tim had yard work to do, and Lee found himself alone at the table with the newest guest. Normally an easy conversationalist Lee felt strangely uncomfortable in the woman’s presence and put it down to the fact that she didn’t seem to want to chitchat either. She chose a muffin, juice and fruit, and thanked Annie as she returned with the warmed casserole.
“Didn’t mean to be so late. It was so quiet and peaceful this morning I lost track of time.”
“There seems to be a lot of that going around,” Annie responded, looking at Lee.
He smiled sheepishly back, reached down, and pulled the cell phone free from its waist tab. “Standard equipment, Annie. Promise,” and he put it back. Noticing the quizzical expression on Ms Duval’s face, he added, “don’t worry, she only yells at friends.” He grinned broadly, then ducked as Annie threatened to take a swing at him.
She turned to her newest guest. “And just to get the story straight, I didn’t yell,” and she walked toward the kitchen, Lee’s laughter following her.
“You’ve been friends a long time,” Rebecca said as Lee quieted.
“Tim and I were at Annapolis together,” Lee answered.
“Still in the Navy?” It seemed to Lee her interest was forced but Lee remained amiable. If she wanted to make the effort, the least he could do was oblige.
“Reserve. I work for the Nelson Institute of Marine Research.”
“Isn’t that the place with the huge submarine?”
“That’s the place. I work on Seaview. And you?”
“Nothing nearly as interesting.” She paused to finish a bite of her breakfast. Lee, aware she hadn’t really answered his question, didn’t interrupt. He hadn’t totally answered hers, either. “I suppose you’ve been playing tourist,” she continued finally, “or have you been here enough you’ve seen everything.”
“First trip, actually. I kept meaning to come up for a visit but just never made it until now. And no, I’ve just spent my days on the beach, enjoying the peace and quiet.” He added, almost to himself, “Seaview gets…complicated…on occasion.” A little more firmly, “Annie mentioned you were familiar with the area. I guess living in Portland you get a chance to come down quite often.”
“Actually, I was born and raised just north of here, in Depot Bay. This whole area is like coming home.” She looked at Lee with an odd smile and added, “Thomas Wolfe wasn’t always right,” and the two shared a soft chuckle. “Well, I’d better go get cleaned up,” and she stood to leave. Lee stood as well. He was momentarily tempted to ask if she wanted to take a drive with him and show him some of the sights but she walked away as if he wasn’t even there, conversation obviously over, and Lee started to gather up the dishes.
“My job, Lee,” and Annie walked back in.
Lee gave her one of his better command glares. “You’ve been standing back there listening, haven’t you?”
Annie was totally unrepentant. “Of course. You two have a lot in common. Roughly the same age, good looking, unattached. Nothing wrong with a little matchmaking.”
“How do you know she’s unattached?”
“I asked. Really, Lee, you need to get off that tub of yours more often. You’re loosing your touch,” and she smiled over her shoulder as she headed for the kitchen.
Lee just shook his head at her and headed for the beach.
* * * *
Lee was a good deal smarter about his exercise this day. He still added some short jogs to his walk but didn’t try to push himself too hard. Still feeling pretty good where he’d been forced to stop the day before he none-the-less turned around and headed back, even adding a couple short jogs on the return leg. With no breeze today there were no kites up and Lee chose to go back to the house, intending to get some rest before dinner. His body was beginning to remind him he’d had little sleep the night before. He’d given a thought to staying on the beach but was unwilling to risk having a nightmare in public. He came in the back door as always and ran into Tim just downing the last of a can of pop.
“Oh come on, Lee. She didn’t scare you that bad.” At Lee’s totally puzzled look Tim laughed. “Getting back a good 4 hours before dinner?” and they both laughed.
“Learned my lesson yesterday,” Lee told his friend, reaching into the fridge for the orange juice, “and managed my time a bit better. And, there weren’t any kites to watch,” he grinned.
They were interrupted by giggles coming from the front room and someone calling “Mrs. Hughes?” Both men walked toward the sound.
“Annie’s gone shopping, ladies. Is there something I can do for you?” Tim smiled, and Lee remembered there were two new guests arriving today, college girls from Billings, Montana. One blond, one redhead, slender, tanned, dressed in shorts and tank tops, and obviously enjoying themselves. Lee envied their youthful high spirits. It was apparently the blond who had called out since it was she who continued.
“We were just headed out and wanted to double-check about when we needed to be back, Mr. Hughes.”
“First of all, it’s Tim. And most guests are back by 11pm, although we allow fudging privileges,” and he smiled. “If you know you’re going to be out late just let us know.”
“Oh, no problem, Mr. …ah…Tim,” and the blond blushed slightly. “We won’t be nearly that late.”
Lee had hung back during the conversation, and noticed the redhead giving him the once over. Apparently Tim noticed as well.
“Lee,” he motioned him forward, “may I introduce Carol Michaels and Gayle Ferrell. An old friend, Lee Crane. He’s also staying here for awhile.” Greetings were exchanged and the girls left, not without a couple backward glances and a good deal more giggling after they left the house.
“Ah, the old Crane charm,” Tim chuckled, embarrassing Lee.
“Good grief, Tim. I’m practically old enough to be their father,” he said gruffly.
“Don’t tell me, tell them. Me thinks it’s going to be an interesting next few days,” and Lee stalked upstairs to the sounds of Tim’s laughter.
* * * *
The sound of his gun echoed in his ears, drowning out the sound of hers. He was amazed at what a small neat hole had appeared in her forehead, almost like someone had painted it there. It didn’t seen real somehow, yet it fascinated him – mesmerized him. He couldn’t take his eyes off it. “Lee” That can’t be. Her mouth didn’t move. The hole was forming lips, and it spoke again. “Lee”. NO! and he woke from the dream, shaken and shaking, unseeing, drenched in a cold sweat.
Tired when he’d reached his room earlier, Lee had slipped off his shoes and lay down across the bed, not really intending to fall asleep. Between not sleeping the night before and the fresh air from his jog/walk this morning, his body had other ideas. Now, startled awake by the nightmare, it took a bit to come fully awake, realize where he was, and notice Annie sitting quietly on the edge of the bed next to him. She said nothing, just let Lee get his bearings back, and smiled as he finally sat up and acknowledged her.
“The one nice thing about demons, they’re non-contagious. Just came to see if you were coming down to dinner,” and Lee glanced at his watch.
Late again. “Sorry, Annie,” Lee repeated with a small grin, and she grinned back.
“Take your time,” and she left.
Lee felt a slight catch in his side as he rose, and once in the shower noticed the bullet wound, though not an angry red, still looked worse than it had. After rebandaging it and dressing, he searched his duffle for the antibiotics Doc had sent and swallowed a double dose. Really dumb, Crane he chastised himself, and left the bottle on the bathroom sink as a reminder. The house was quiet as he went downstairs and entered the kitchen. If Annie had said anything to Tim about the nightmare he hid it well, and joshed Lee that the reason Lee was always so slender was he could never remember to show up for meals. Lee tried to do justice to Annie’s simple but delicious dinner of Swiss steak, mashed potatoes, asparagus and Waldorf salad, then sat with Tim on the front porch, visiting. They were joined shortly by Annie, and as the evening progressed, several of the guests. Tim gave Lee a quick wink as the two college students returned and joined the gathering.
Suddenly feeling nervous and uncomfortable in the young ladies’ presence, Lee excused himself and went upstairs saying he had a call to make. Annie smiled and told him to tell Chip Hi from she and Tim. Lee was almost to the top of the stairs before he finally realized what was wrong, and berated himself. It’s not the Michaels girl’s fault she reminds me of ‘her’. I know it’s just a combination of body build and hair color. Now get a grip, Crane. She’s dead. You killed her. You’ve killed before when necessary. You cannot let this destroy you. With a shudder Lee continued on to his room, kicked off his shoes, and went out to sit on the porch. Conversation and occasional laughter reached him through the open windows and Lee toyed with the idea of rejoining the group. But by now it was getting quite dark and, figuring things would break up shortly anyway, used that as an excuse to stay where he was. He didn’t even remember closing his eyes, and was therefore very surprised to wake up and find that it was starting to get light. At least no nightmares, he muttered to himself. However, sleeping in the chair all night had left him cramped and stiff, and getting up was difficult. A longer than usual shower helped somewhat. Figuring he could walk the rest of the kinks out on the beach he dressed and headed downstairs shortly before 7am.
His hosts were in the kitchen, Tim just starting to set things out for breakfast and Annie working on what Lee assumed was the entrée. Muffin tins had been lined with a shredded potato mixture, baked, and set aside to keep warm. A large bowl of as yet uncooked scrambled eggs sat by the stove, along with smaller containers of diced, roasted red peppers, and smoked salmon. There were two other small dishes but they still had covers on and Lee couldn’t immediately identify what was in them. He poured himself a glass of orange juice before Tim carried the pitchers out to the dining area and sat for a moment at the small breakfast area, not without both Tim and Annie noticing his stilted movements. Lee sheepishly admitted where he had spent the night, and continued on lightly that he wasn’t particularly hungry and intended to hit the beach early, walk off the stiffness, then maybe go for a drive and do a little sightseeing.
“Excuse me,” Annie lit into him. “You may have avoided the bed part of this establishment last night but you don’t leave this house without breakfast. You got that, Plebe?” using the term for a first year Annapolis student. Tim made a hasty retreat with the juice pitchers. “These,” Annie continued, indicating the potato cups, “have to be made individually anyway so I’ll just start with yours.” Lee surrendered with a smile and watched as Annie put a measured portion of eggs into a non-stick fry pan, stirring as they cooked, and adding some of the peppers and salmon. She transferred the cooked mixture to a potato cup and topped it from the two covered dishes with what Lee then learned was sour cream and caviar.
As Tim made another trip through the kitchen he gave Lee a muffin. “You have to try one of these. They’re maple cornmeal.” Taking a bite of each of the offerings Lee decided he was hungry after all, and didn’t argue as Annie placed a small bowl of melon compote, made from watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew, in front of him as well.
“Cell phone?” Annie asked with a smile, and Lee had to admit he’d forgotten it upstairs. “No one else is up yet. I’ll get it,” she offered. “I need to get the used towels out of the hamper anyway.”
“Phone’s in the bathroom,” Lee mumbled through a mouthful of food. At Annie’s raised eyebrows, he swallowed. “That’s where I plugged in the charger.” He was finishing his coffee and visiting with Tim when she came back, handed Lee the phone, and with a stern look held up the container of antibiotics.
“Would you like to explain, Mister, why the date on the prescription doesn’t jibe with how many are still left in the bottle?”
For a split second there was a return of the anger he’d felt toward Doc and Nelson when they’d banished him, only this time it was directed at Annie. Just as quickly it vanished as he acknowledged her reason was the same as theirs – they cared about him – and he relaxed. “Because,” and he sighed heavily, “until yesterday I kept forgetting to take them.” Lee had a feeling some glint of the momentary anger must have shown on his face because Annie dropped the bottle in her apron pocket with a small smile.
“Not a problem. We’ll help you remember,” and she squeezed her husband’s shoulder. Any other conversation was interrupted as voices were heard on the stairs. Tim left for the dining room and Lee made his exit.
* * * *
It was not going to be a particularly good day weather wise, Lee noted as he left the house and drove to the park. The sun was shining but there was a cold wind blowing in off the ocean, bringing with it stormy looking clouds. Glad that he’d left a jacket in his car he turned up the collar, stuffed hands in pockets, and started walking south on the almost deserted beach.
Unlike other days when the sights and sounds of the ocean would clear his mind, today he couldn’t get past his illogical reactions of the previous evening. Well, maybe not illogical he forced himself to admit. But definitely unacceptable. He knew he’d been affected badly by what had happened on the last cruise. But why? Considering all the craziness that he’d been involved in since taking over command of Seaview, this one was in fact pretty straightforward. What made this time so different?
Physical stiffness now coupled with an inability to clear his mind was giving Lee a headache. The cold wind in his face wasn’t helping either and he was tempted to turn around and go back to the house. Instead, he spotted a large driftwood log up against a mound of sand by the cliff. Figuring it would give him some protection he sat down in the sand, his back against the log, and tried to concentrate on just what was troubling him so much about this particular mission.
Anger. There it was again, and again it surprised Lee. It had happened several times on Seaview during the mission and each time had startled him. Lee pulled his legs up to his chest, circling them with his arms, trying to make sense of the puzzle. Admittedly he’d had every right to be angry but each time it had come it had been unbidden and inappropriate to the situation. Like now, and Lee was at a loss to explain it. The harder he worked at it the worse his headache got and the more frustrated he became with himself until finally, grabbing a handful of sand, he threw it toward the water. The voice startled him.
“Temper tantrum, this early in the morning?” and Lee looked up to see Rebecca Duval, apparently just coming back from her morning run. Lee had been so wrapped up in his own thoughts he hadn’t realized there was anyone else around.
“Seemed like a good idea at the time,” Lee answered, ashamed of himself, and started to unbend. She waved him back and sat down a few feet away, looking out at the ocean.
“Had mine down the beach a ways. 14 seagulls may never land again.” They glanced at each other, and Lee smiled.
“Screamer type,” Lee said, re-curling, and looked back out to sea. “Don’t worry too much about the seagulls. It’s been my experience they’re a pretty resilient lot.”
“Thanks. Don’t often get such a glorious chance. Empty beach. Wind blowing. Felt good.” There was silence for a bit as each was lost in his or her own thoughts. “I gather you like to throw things.”
“Not usually. Throw something at the wrong time on a submarine, or into the wrong piece of equipment, it would be the last thing you ever did.”
“Ah, the ‘bottle it up inside’ type. Keep a tight rein, don’t let it show, keep it all buried until you blow your brains out. Healthier my way.”
“Maybe, but you don’t take 125 people down with you.” Just 3 – this time, and shuddered at the memory. He knew he’d not spoken that last bit out loud but as he glanced over she was giving him a rather speculative look. It disappeared immediately and she got up.
“Better get going or I’ll be late for breakfast.” When Lee didn’t move, she asked, “Coming?”
“Had mine early. Guess I’ll stay here awhile.” His gaze returned to the ocean and he was barely aware that she left.
Lee had to admit he did occasionally throw things – usually his fist into a bulkhead. That way the only thing that got hurt was himself. Lee grimaced as he realized what the Admiral would have to say about that. Nelson, Jamie, hell, even Chip, was always on his case about taking care of everyone except himself. Yet he’d always felt that that was his job, his responsibility. What’s wrong with that? Unbidden the anger started again to rise. No, Lee. There’s no reason to be angry. Clear your mind. Let the ocean do what it has always done, and he willed himself to relax. Several seagulls were scrapping over something the waves had carried in and he concentrated on them.
Eventually Lee became aware that the wind was increasing, the sky getting darker, but he chose to stay where he was until the first raindrops hit. As he rose slowly to his feet the drops became many, and he’d not walked 10 yards before it was pouring hard. Lee was thoroughly soaked by the time he reached his car. So much for sightseeing, and he returned to the house.
Annie had apparently seen him drive in because she met him at the back door with a towel. “You’re lending new meaning to the term ‘Drowned Rat’,” and chuckled as Lee just hung his head. “At least you have sense enough to come in. Tim’s down at the lighthouse. He loves watching storms come in.”
“Once a part of the sea, always a part,” Lee laughed, drying himself off as best he could. “If I’d thought to take a rain coat I’d probably still be down on the beach myself. It’s…”
“I know, Lee. I get that way, too. There’s just something magical about the ocean, in all her forms,” and the two shared a knowing smile.
“However,” Lee said, handing back the towel, “I believe I’ll watch this one from my balcony,” and headed upstairs. Annie’s “don’t drip on my carpets” followed him toward the stairs and he chuckled all the way up.
Changing into dry clothes and leaving the wet stuff laying over the edge of the tub, Lee went out to sit on the porch. With windows open just a crack each, the sounds and smells of the ocean storm assailed him. The air crackled with lightning all of a sudden and he was glad to be inside. He hoped Tim would come in, too. This one was going to be nasty.
He hadn’t been sitting long when there was a knock on his door, then Annie’s voice. “Are you decent?”
“I try to be at all times,” he answered with a chuckle. “Come on in. I’m on the balcony.” She was carrying a tray that she set on the small table between the chairs. Lee saw sandwiches, applesauce, cookies, orange juice, and a large mug of hot chocolate, and glanced at his watch. He’d had no idea it was just past noon. “I could have come down, you know.”
“Easier this way,” Annie laughed, snagged one of the cookies, and sat in the other chair. “From past experience on days like this, any minute now all the guests will be returning, whatever they had planned for the day ruined by the weather. Even with an amiable group like we have at the moment, I figured you’d prefer the peace and quiet up here,” and was interrupted by a loud clap of thunder. “Relatively speaking, of course,” and they both laughed.
“Read minds now, do you?” Lee asked fondly, reaching for the mug.
“Of course,” she retorted smugly and winked. “Let me know what you think about these cookies. It’s a new recipe,” and she rose. “And, if you’ll give me your laundry, I’ll do it with ours this afternoon.”
“That’s not necessary,” Lee said adamantly.
“I know. Neither was bringing you lunch. I just have my own ways of staying out of the line of fire. Now, where’s your laundry bag?”
“In the closet,” Lee surrendered, “and the wet stuff’s in the bathroom. At least let me carry it downstairs for you,” and he started to rise. From outside they heard car doors slam and several squeals of laughter as the two college students raced for the deck. Lee involuntarily hesitated.
“Those two are pistols,” Annie chuckled. “No, Lee. Eat your lunch. I can manage quite nicely,” and she did.
Lee heard more car doors as he sat eating, thankful that Annie somehow knew he wanted to be alone. He was surprised that he was actually hungry, considering how much he’d been eating while he was here. Jamie will be pleased, and knew he should call the CMO. Nelson, too, for that matter. They both, for all their slightly underhanded way of doing it, were only thinking of his health when they made him leave. Deep down he acknowledged it was probably for the best that he had. Nightmares notwithstanding he was enjoying the chance to get away for a while, enjoying his friends’ company, and knew he wouldn’t have gone on his own. Right now, however, he missed Chip’s company: his humor, his friendship, his ability to make sense when nothing else did, and reached for the phone. Not wanting to go through the switchboard he tried Chip’s cell phone. It rang several times and Lee was about to hang up when Chip finally answered, sounding a bit harried.
“Hi, Chip. Sounds like I caught you at a bad time.”
“Ah, oh, Toby,” Chip said far too loudly. “Damn, I was supposed to meet you for lunch, wasn’t I?”
“I gather you’re not alone.” Lee was grateful at Chip’s covering for him and wondered who was there.
“Sorry, Toby. I got tied up with the Admiral over some problems with the refit.”
“What problems?” Suddenly Lee was all business.
“No, it’s ok. Oh, hang on a second,” and Lee could hear Nelson’s voice in the background, but not clearly enough to know what he was saying. From Chip’s end of the conversation Lee gathered Nelson was leaving, and finally Chip came back. “Whew, that was close. You nearly gave me a heart attack.”
“What problems?” Lee enunciated slowly and carefully, and Chip laughed.
“Ok, ok, it’s like this,” and the two spent the next 20 minutes going over the changes. Lee knew Chip sometimes had a difficult time dealing with the Admiral, especially on these kinds of things. Not that Lee had any greater success. Chip just felt, right or wrong, that Nelson didn’t always give the XO’s ideas enough credit.
“Lee, I’m so glad you called. This will help a lot.”
“Your ideas are sound, Chip. You just have to make him listen to you.”
“Easy for you to say,” and Chip sounded discouraged.
“No, not easy for me to either say or do,” Lee corrected. “Just be patient. He’s not unreasonable – at least most of the time,” and heard Chip snort, then get serious again.
“Lee, can I ask a gigantic favor?”
“Call Jamie. Please?”
“I gather he’s been on your case big time.”
“Actually, he hasn’t said a word. However, this morning there was a reminder on my desk that senior staff physicals are coming up shortly.” Lee realized later he’d not laughed that hard in a very, very long time – much to Chip’s discomfort.
“Ok,” he finally settled down, “I’ll call ‘Mother Hen’,” and didn’t bother to add he’d sort of been planning to do it anyway.
“I’d really appreciate it,” and they rang off.
Lee sat for a bit, realizing how much the talk with Chip had helped. Stretching lazily, he dialed a number he knew almost as well.
“I was pleaded with to get you off my XO’s back,” and Lee heard a soft chuckle.
“He actually begged? I’ll have to remember that one.” Jamie’s voice was low and relaxed. “How are you, Skipper?”
There was a slight pause, then a good deal more firmly, “Skipper, how are you?” and it was Lee’s turn to chuckle.
“Eating well, walking every day, even jogging a little,” once again Lee didn’t mention how little, “and resting well.” At least for the most part.
“The meds I sent with you?”
“Haven’t needed any of the pain pills.” He paused and took a deep breath, knowing Jamie wasn’t going to like the next part. “Sort of forgot to take the others, until now.”
“Why now? What’s wrong?” Doc’s voice was instantly full of concern.
“Nothing. Just have someone now reminding me.”
“Good. I gather Chip knows where you are,” and Jamie’s voice was again relaxed.
Lee’s suddenly wasn’t. “Jamie, stay off his case. I called him,” and it was the doctor’s turn to pause slightly.
“Ok, Skipper. You should be just about due to get the stitches out.”
“Not a problem,” and Lee relaxed again, knowing he could get Tim to do it. Wouldn’t be the first time. “This evening, tomorrow latest.”
“Don’t worry, Jamie, if I need anything you’ll be the first to know.”
“That’ll be the day,” Lee heard Jamie mutter under his breath, and laughed. Jamie did, too. “See you when you get back.”
“Doubt seriously I’ll have a choice in the matter,” but Lee was still chuckling and the conversation ended amiably.
* * * *
The storm seemed to have stalled once it reached the coast. The wind wasn’t nearly as strong now, leaving the thunder and lightning crashing steadily just off shore, if anything more intense now than it had been earlier. Lee knew there was one more call he should make, but wasn’t sure he’d know what to say. He was gearing himself up for the chewing out he suspected he’d get, and knew he deserved, when he heard a giggle behind him during a lull in the thunder, and a double “Hi” greeted him as he rose and took a step into the bedroom.
“We were just looking around,” Carol Michaels started shyly.
“Your door was open,” finished Gayle Ferrell, giving it a further shove and starting to walk in.
“Ladies,” Lee started stiffly, uncomfortably, and wasn’t sure how he would have continued if Annie hadn’t appeared suddenly behind them, arms full of towels.
“Oh, there you two are. I just checked your room – wanted to let you know there’s a big bowl of popcorn and fresh apple and cherry turnovers in the living room. Special treat. Thought I’d try and make up for the lousy weather.”
“Thanks, that’s great,” came the double response. “Will you join us?” This last came from Ms Ferrell, directed at Lee.
“Perhaps later,” Lee said, still uncomfortable in their presence, a feeling not made any better by their almost intrusion. Annie stepped back to let them pass and waited until their voices were well down the stairs before turning back to Lee.
“And before you start,” she smiled, “I did not leave your door open.” Lee forced himself to relax.
“Didn’t think you had. Are those for here?” indicating the towels. “I’ll take them.”
“Not all. Here,” and she divided out half for Lee. “The rest are Rebecca’s. Sorry about that,” and she indicated down the stairs. “They’ve already followed me down to the laundry room twice. We’ve had small children get nosy before, but I don’t expect it at their age.” She laughed. “Then again, maybe I should. The way some parents raise their kids these days…”
“Don’t worry about it, Annie. Not your fault. However, I think maybe I’ll lock my door from now on,” and he smiled down at her.
“Not a bad idea,” she agreed. “At least until Friday when they leave. Speaking of which, you haven’t said when you have to leave.”
“Trying to get rid of me?” he said with obvious false hurt in his voice, and she took a swing at him. With his arms full of towels he was unable to defend himself and she connected with his side, unfortunately right on top of the still tender wound. Lee was unable to keep from flinching, or stopping the small groan.
“Damn,” they both muttered at the same time, for different reasons, and then looked at each other.
“I’m so sorry, Lee,” Annie apologized.
“Relax, Annie,” Lee said softly. “Had that one coming. Your aim was just a bit too good. Still somewhat sore, that’s all.”
“Let me look at it anyway. I just want to make sure. Ok?” she added, as Lee didn’t move. He continued to hesitate and Annie took another step inside the room and closed the door. “Please.”
Lee finally smiled a surrender. He dropped the towels on a chair, sat on the edge of the bed, and pulled up his shirt. He knew it didn’t look that bad, having checked it again when he changed out of his wet clothes earlier. As Annie sat next to him and pealed back the bandage, he told her about having just talked to Jamie, that the doctor had told him he’d be needing the stitches out, and Lee’s intention to ask Tim. At that Annie gave him a dirty look but smiled almost immediately.
“You two,” and shook her head. “Well, it doesn’t look too bad but I suspect you’re regretting not taking the meds like you were supposed to. Seems to me this should have been healed better than it is,” and Lee frowned.
“Don’t start, Annie. I get quite enough of that from Jamie.”
“Probably because you deserve it,” she snapped back, then smiled again. She put the bandage back in place and stood up as Lee put his shirt down, also standing. “And while you may trust Tim to have at you with a pair of scissors I don’t – not after watching him annihilate my forsythia bush this spring with the hedge shears, and especially not after seeing how fine those stitches are. Your Jamie does neat work.”
“He’s had a lot a practice,” Lee admitted sheepishly. They both laughed, and Annie picked up the towels she’d laid down.
“I’ll take care of it a bit later. Hopefully things will calm down for awhile when everyone leaves for dinner. In the meantime…” and she nodded toward the door. Lee opened it for her, then closed, and with a smile, locked it behind her. Putting his towels away, he returned to the balcony.
His thoughts wandered back to the unplaced phone call, and in doing so, also to the fact he hadn’t answered Annie’s question. Technically he supposed he should show up back to work on Monday, when the imposed exile would be up. But do I want to? As uncomfortable as it made him to admit it, he wasn’t sure he was ready to go back. Nor, really, was there any reason to. Heaven knew he had enough leave time coming since he so rarely used any. Chip was handling the refit just fine, whether he thought so or not, and in any case Seaview wasn’t scheduled out for several more weeks thanks to the abrupt interruption of the last cruise. And Annie had been right. Lee wasn’t healing as well as he’d expected. Either physically or mentally, he admitted to himself. If he went back now Jamie would fuss over him, Nelson would fuss over him. Hell, even Chip would, and his fist slammed down on the chair arm. Damn! There’s the anger again. I don’t understand. Frustrated, Lee jumped up and stalked the spacious room, suddenly feeling like a caged tiger and not understanding why. A soft rap on his door was the only thing that stopped him from hurling the small cushion he had absolutely no memory of picking up off one of the chairs against god only knew what. Swearing softly and still clutching the cushion in his fist, he yanked open the door.
Rebecca Duval took in the angry expression and clutched cushion, and a small smile spread across her face. “Still throwing things, I see.”
Embarrassment instantly replaced anger. “Caught again,” Lee chuckled and invited her in. She hesitated a moment, then held out the plate she was carrying.
“Annie saw me headed in this direction and asked if I’d mind bringing these up to you.” On the plate was a glass of milk surrounded by 4 large turnovers. “She said to tell you these should keep you until dinnertime.”
Lee tossed the cushion back onto a chair and took the plate. “There’s enough here to last me ‘til next week. Annie…” and he stood there shaking his head slowly. Finally, “will you join me?” and again motioned her in. Just then there was a tremendous clap of thunder and Lee saw Rebecca shudder. “What?” he teased. “You don’t like it when Mother Nature yells? Reserve that privilege for yourself?” He saw her startle, then the smile returned.
“Just a second. I’ll be right back,” and she crossed to her room, returning in moments with a container of bottled water. “There’s a small fridge in there. This place is incredible.” Lee motioned her ahead of him out to the balcony, purposely leaving the door open. They were about to sit down when there was another clap of thunder, right over the house, and Lee saw her jump again.
“That really gets to you.”
“It doesn’t bother you at all, does it?” They sat and Lee put the plate on the table between them, picking up the milk in one hand and a turnover in the other.
“There’s nothing about it that frightens me, if that’s what you mean,” and he took a bite of the turnover. Cherry filling oozed out of the flaky pastry and he concentrated a moment on making sure it ended up in his mouth, not in his lap. He finally looked up to see Rebecca grinning at him. “You try eating one of these neatly,” he challenged.
“One normally uses a fork,” and Lee belatedly saw one lying on the plate.
“Takes all the fun out of it,” he mumbled through another bite, eyes sparkling. She regarded him thoughtfully a moment then picked one up, to soft chuckles from Lee. Hers was apple but just as gooey, and she had to concentrate to keep from making a mess. Lee never let up on the teasing glances until he finally said softly “Bingo,” and to her puzzled expression explained. “That’s the third clap of thunder that you haven’t reacted to - probably didn’t even hear,” and he laughed.
Her response was interrupted by another clap of thunder and she gave the sky a dirty look, then turned it on Lee. “You did that on purpose,” she accused.
“Guilty as charged.” He popped the last of the turnover in his mouth and licked his fingers.
“You rat! That was dirty pool.”
“Why?” Lee challenged.
“Because…” she started, then hesitated. “Because…oh, give me a second, I’ll think of something,” and Lee burst out laughing. Rebecca continued to glare at him a moment, then got thoughtful as she polished off the last of her turnover. Lee had stopped laughing but was still smiling, casting sideways glances at her as he watched out the windows. “Thanks,” she said finally, quietly.
“You’re welcome,” he answered, paused a moment, then continued. “Can I ask a dumb question?”
That word! Lee hesitated ever so slightly, then continued. “You said you grew up around here. On a rotten day like today, when you can’t do much but sit around, why are you doing it here? I mean, don’t you have family or friends still in the area to visit?” Lee saw a momentary cloud of, what – despair? – cross her face, before she answered.
“No family. There are a few friends I went to school with still here.” She paused, and sighed. “Mostly, I just came back for me. I know that doesn’t make any sense.”
“Why not? We all have our own well.” At her puzzled expression, he continued. “When you’re running on empty, for whatever reason, you need a place to recharge, to refill yourself from the well. Doesn’t have to be a place, even. Just whatever it takes to get things back in focus.”
She thought about that for a second. “What’s yours?”
Lee smiled. “Anywhere there’s an ocean.” He paused a second, then added impishly, “thunder and all.”
Any reply Rebecca would have made was cut off by a “knock knock”, and Annie came in through the open door.
“Out here, Annie,” Lee called. As she joined them on the balcony he continued. “Making sure you don’t have to fix dinner?” and he indicated the turnovers. Annie laughed and it wasn’t until then Lee noticed scissors, tweezers, and a small tube of antibiotic ointment in her hand. She carried them casually and made no mention of them.
“Actually, I was just coming to tell you that dinner wouldn’t be until about 6:45. Tim just called. He’s down at a friend’s house helping put tarps over a leaky motor home.”
“How can you expect me to eat anything else after these?” Lee complained. “Do Tim and his friend need any help? Maybe I can go work up an appetite.”
“Oh no you don’t, Mister. One man with pneumonia in this house is quite enough, thank you.” To Rebecca she said, “Tim’s been out in this stuff all day.” Back to Lee, “I’m just fixing a simple dinner. I don’t know how you stay alive, what little you eat.”
Lee turned to Rebecca. “Annie’s version of a simple dinner is four courses plus a 3000 calorie dessert.” He endured an absolutely wicked glare from Annie and laughter from Rebecca.
Eventually Annie returned her gaze to Rebecca. “I was also looking for you. How serious were you about staying longer?”
“I thought you were booked solid.”
“We were. Unfortunately, the couple that booked Lighthouse for a week starting Sunday has had to cancel. I can give you a great rate – half what it usually goes for.”
“That’s hardly fair to you.”
“Better booked at half rate than empty. It’s yours if you want it.”
Rebecca hesitated a moment. “I’ll need to make a phone call. I can let you know when I get back from dinner. That’s assuming,” and she glanced at Lee, “that I have room for any,” and she and Lee shared a laugh.
“Perfect,” Annie smiled. “I’d better get back downstairs. The natives are definitely restless this afternoon.” She left but, Lee noted, not before dropping what she’d had in her hand in Lee’s bathroom. He and Rebecca continued to visit a bit longer before she excused herself to change for dinner. Lee escorted her to the door, this time closing it and, with a shudder, flipping the lock.
Lee had gone back out on the balcony, taking note as guests left for dinner, and was not surprised when just after 5:30 there was a knock on the door. Letting Annie in, he lay down on his side on the bed and raised his shirt. Annie collected her equipment from the bathroom and made short work of the stitches, then spent a few minutes rubbing the wound with ointment. The area was tender and Lee had to work hard not to give voice to the discomfort, no matter how gentle Annie tried to be. When she was done Annie replaced the larger bandage with a smaller one, and was just finishing when they heard a car door and looked out to see Tim headed for the house.
“The first sneeze and I kill him,” Annie muttered and headed downstairs. Lee followed shortly after and found Annie in the kitchen just starting supper. He’d brought down the two remaining turnovers and Annie had him put them on the table. “Tim can start on those while I fix the rest.” Tim joined them soon after and, as predicted, made short work of the turnovers. Annie heated previously made and frozen chicken vegetable soup, then topped it with freshly made dumpling dough and let it cook. “And there’s no dessert,” she told Lee firmly, putting the finished product on the table and ladling out a bowl full for each of them, explaining the remark to Tim.
“Actually there was,” Tim grinned. “You just gave it to him first,” and they all laughed.
As they chatted over coffee one thing led to another and Tim asked Lee, “when do you have to report back to the Institute?”
“You, too?” Lee teased. “Annie was trying to get rid of me earlier.” Annie said something rude and all three laughed. “Actually, I was going to ask if I’d be wearing out my welcome to stay another week or so.”
“You know you can stay as long as you want, Lee,” Annie assured him, and turned to Tim. “Actually I was expecting this, now that it looks like Rebecca will also be staying through next week,” and it was Lee’s turn to say something rude. As the laughter subsided Annie turned back to Lee. “That was a good thing you did this afternoon, taking her mind off the thunder.” At Lee’s surprised look she added, “She told me about it on her way out to dinner. Said it was the first time in a very long time she wasn’t afraid to go out in a thunderstorm,” and went on to explain to Tim. Lee just looked embarrassed.
“No big deal,” he mumbled.
“It was to her. Oh,” and she reached into her pocket. “Almost forgot,” and she handed Lee his pill. Tim started laughing as Lee groaned and swallowed the medication. “And just what are you laughing about?” She turned on her husband, reaching into her pocket for a different bottle. “After how you spent the day you’re getting a double dose.”
* * * *
As nightmares go, this one was pretty tame. In fact, Lee wasn’t even sure he wanted to call it a nightmare. Mostly it had been just plain weird.
After supper he, Annie and Tim had sat around the living room, relaxing and visiting. None of the guests returned very early from dinner and when they did, went to their rooms instead of staying down to visit, apparently talked and gamed out from being cooped up most of the day. Lee was surprised at himself that he wasn’t antsy from the inactivity. Instead, he’d lazily stretched out in one of the large overstuffed chairs, totally relaxed. He’d wondered briefly if it had anything to do with his decision not to return just yet to the Institute, but dismissed that as too ludicrous. Dismissed also was any correlation to Rebecca’s announcement when she returned that she also would be staying over. No, Lee couldn’t quite put his finger on it. For right now he was just…comfortable here. Surprisingly he wasn’t even upset when the two exceptions to guests not staying to visit turned out to be the college students. Part of it could have been that by the time they came back Lee was half asleep in his chair, he and Tim discussing old Annapolis buddies. Both men acknowledged the girls’ arrival but left any conversation with them up to Annie. Lee smiled to himself when he realized Tim had fallen asleep in his chair, and had no idea he’d done the same thing until a small pillow landing on his chest startled him awake and he heard Annie laugh. Apparently she’d launched one at Tim as well because he was also struggling to wake up.
“Good night, Lee,” Annie had said firmly, and he’d headed upstairs. He’d fallen back to sleep quickly, then been awakened shortly after 0200 by the wacky dream. Most of it was just a blur but he could remember something about standing in Seaview’s control room, hurling cherry turnovers as hard as he could against the main computer console. The console was getting redder and redder, trails of cherry juice running down the face… and that’s when he woke up, and walked out to the balcony. He noticed the rain had finally stopped and opened the windows wider, enjoying the smell of air scrubbed fresh by the storm. Finally deciding to lay back down, he was still wondering if he’d have trouble falling asleep again when he woke up shortly before 0700.
Annie laughed at him as he came yawning down the stairs after a quick shower and shave. “I was just thinking about sending out the troop after you but he’s not up yet, either.”
“Am, too,” came a sleepy voice from the kitchen, followed by a sneeze.
“I am going to kill him,” Annie muttered, reaching into her pocket as she headed for the kitchen. Chuckling, Lee poured himself orange juice and coffee, and was just sitting down to a plate of scrambled eggs with ham and green peppers, hash browns, and lemon-poppy seed muffin when the two joined him. Other voices were heard shortly coming down the stairs, and Lee was exchanging greetings with the Bruces and Garretts when Tim sneezed again, earning him another glare from his wife.
Jim Bruce picked up on the byplay. “There’s a really cool cold remedy I heard about once, if you’re interested,” he said to Tim.
“I’ll try anything if it will keep Annie off my back,” Tim muttered, albeit with a smile. “What is it?”
“Warm peppermint schnapps.” At everyone’s raised eyebrows he continued with a smile. “Not sure if it really works, but if you take enough of it you don’t really care.” Everyone laughed, and the morning followed as others had.
Lee hit the beach about 0900. 9am, Lee he chided himself. You’re a temporary landlubber and he chuckled as he stretched before starting out. Whether from the enforced inactivity of the day before or because he was actually getting his strength back he wasn’t sure, but he jogged almost as much as he walked, both directions, and was surprised to get back to the B&B right at noon. Fending off Annie’s attempts to feed him lunch he showered, changed, and headed out to do some sightseeing.
Flipping a mental coin, Lee drove north the few miles to Depot Bay, billed as the smallest deepwater port in the world. Fishing and whale watching boats could enter and exit only through a small channel with high rock walls on either side. Lee stood on the bridge above watching for a while, then played tourist in several of the shops. He was in a small store dealing in local products, trying to decide between two pairs of myrtlewood earrings as a gift for Admiral Nelson’s secretary, when a voice interrupted his thoughts.
“I don’t think either of them is really your style,” and he turned to see Rebecca standing behind him, smiling.
“Actually,” he commented dryly, “myrtlewood should look quite nice with khaki,” then chuckled and explained the gift. Rebecca asked a few questions about Angie’s tastes, then chose an entirely different pair. Lee agreed the alternate was lovely, and bought them. The two made their way back outside onto the sidewalk and Lee asked how Rebecca happened to be there.
“I was just wandering around. Been doing a lot of that. I was across the street when I saw you go into the store.”
“Got back early from the beach and decided to go do a bit of wandering around, too. Have to admit, though, that playing tourist has never held much of an appeal.”
“More of a doer than a watcher.”
“Always have been.”
“I don’t suppose the Oregon Coast Aquarium or Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport would hold much interest.”
“A bit tame, considering some of the things that have happened on Seaview.”
“Well then, I guess we’ll just have to find something you do like.” She thought for a second. “We could start by you joining me in the morning for a long run.”
Lee was surprised, and knew it showed on his face by the slight smile that appeared on hers. But surprise was followed by reality, and watched her smile turn to surprise as his face registered the disappointment.
“What, I get up too early for you?” and she laughed. “I suppose I could adjust.”
“No, that’s not it. Normally I’d be up about the same time.” He sighed heavily. “I’m afraid right now I’d never keep up with you.” They were silent for a bit.
“Forced vacation,” Rebecca commented gently. “That explains a few things,” and Lee looked at her sharply. “Oh, just, I’ve noticed you seemed to move stiffly at times, that’s all,” she quickly explained.
Lee nodded, but didn’t say anything for a bit. They had ambled down the main street, back toward the bridge over the entrance to the port. Lee finally answered as they reached mid span and stopped to watch a boat navigate the narrow channel.
“The last cruise got a little…complicated,” he said quietly, with what he hoped was a smile. But he wasn’t sure how effective it was and returned his gaze to the boat.
“None of my business,” she responded, just as quietly.
“Mostly classified, anyway.”
“Ah,” she said, giving a slight nod. “Dull reading.”
Lee grinned despite himself. “Suppose it depends on your point of view.”
“Good point,” she agreed. “Ok, so jogging is out.”
“Been doing a little,” Lee defended himself.
“Ok, so like I said, I can adjust.”
“Still screaming?” Lee grinned mischievously.
“Still throwing things?” she countered.
“When we get as far as I want to go on the beach,” Lee offered, “you could jog another 100 yards or so, scream your head off, and catch up with me on the way back.”
“That should put me out of your throwing range,” she agreed, and they both burst out laughing. “How are you at eating?” she continued.
Lee cringed, then realized where she was headed with the question. “Getting hungry?” and glanced at his watch – almost 4:30.
“Haven’t been eating much lunch, Annie serves such a humongous breakfast.”
“Know that feeling,” Lee agreed heartily. “I suppose you know all the best places to eat around here.”
“Actually, my favorite is in Newport.” She looked a bit embarrassed. “It’s seafood.”
“You don’t have a problem with that?” She seemed surprised.
“Not at all. I enjoy the chance to get even,” and Rebecca laughed.
“Meet you back at the Spindrift, then,” she said. “No sense taking both cars.”
* * * *
“Can I ask a question?” Rebecca asked somewhat cautiously. The two were enjoying the last of their coffee after an excellent dinner of salad, baked potatoes, rolls, and a shared bucket of steamer clams. Neither was in any big hurry to move. At the request Lee gave her a smile and raised his eyebrows, and she continued. “When I originally asked you about dinner, you…I don’t know, you just looked funny.” She was so serious, Lee knew she was totally unprepared for his burst of laughter.
“Sorry,” he finally settled down. “You have no way of knowing what an old joke that is.”
“I gather you get teased about not eating enough. I remember Annie saying something yesterday.”
“Harassed is more like it,” Lee grumbled, then smiled again. “Annie hates anyone not eating what she fixes. My Exec, Chip, takes great delight in giving me a bad time. But the main culprit is the CMO.”
“CMO? Is that anything like an HMO?”
Lee almost choked on his coffee, but ended up chuckling as much as coughing. “Actually, now that I think about it, you’re not that far off. However, our Health Maintenance Organization is Dr. Jamison, Chief Medical Officer.” Lee chuckled again, then got serious. “They mean well.”
“They care about you.”
“What makes you say that? Except for Annie you’ve never met them.”
“Don’t have to. You strike me as a very private person, someone who’s careful about who they let close. Yet when you talk about these people your face softens and you smile. They’re friends,” she finished confidently.
“You’re very good at reading people.”
“Usually.” Her smile faded and she seemed lost in her own thoughts for a moment. Finally she gave a small shake and looked up at Lee with an enigmatic little smile. “We all make mistakes.”
It was Lee’s turn to concentrate on his own thoughts for a moment. Looking up, they smiled at each other. “Nobody’s perfect?” Lee said teasingly, and Rebecca laughed.
* * * *
What with dawdling over dinner, then belatedly deciding to share a piece of boysenberry pie, it was almost 9:00 before they got back to the B&B. Annie was in the living room visiting with the Bruces and Lee noted a definite smirk on her face as Rebecca and he walked in, quickly replaced by a simple smile as she greeted them.
“Rebecca,” she continued, reaching into her pocket and pulling out a small folded sheet of paper, “there was a call for you earlier. They asked that you call back, no matter when you got in.” Rebecca thanked her, took the paper, and headed upstairs. Lee stayed down, invited to another game of chess with Jim Bruce. They’d barely got the board set up when Rebecca came back down.
“Annie,” she announced, sounding frazzled, “I need to run back to Portland. Something’s come up. It shouldn’t take long to straighten out. I’d still like to stay, and in fact I’m leaving all my stuff in the room, if that’s alright. I’ll either be back late tomorrow evening, or by noon Saturday, latest.”
“Of course. Not a problem. But it’s late. Why don’t you spend the night here and get a fresh start in the morning?”
“No, I’m not tired, and the faster I get it taken care of the faster I can get back.”
Annie gave Lee a quick glance, much to his discomfort. “Well, just drive carefully. We’ll see you when you get back,” and Rebecca quickly left.
Lee was mildly concerned at how upset Rebecca had seemed and wondered again what it was she did for a living. Or maybe it’s personal business he chided himself. Just because your life revolves around work doesn’t mean everyone else’s does, and he willed himself to drop the subject and enjoy the game. Tim soon appeared and kibitzed with the players, this evening ending with Lee winning. By then it was nearly 10:30, all the other guests had returned and gone to their rooms, and those still downstairs decided that sounded like a good idea.
* * * *
The nightmares came harder and stronger than ever, lending a decidedly sour note to what had otherwise been a very pleasant day. Unlike other times the images were very clear. No red cherry tarts, no speaking bullet holes, just a very clear, very chilling, reminder of what had taken place on Seaview’s last cruise. Lee woke abruptly from the remembered pain, got up, and went out onto the balcony. But once again the sounds and smells did nothing to relax him as they usually did and he found himself starting to pace the bedroom. Afraid he might awaken those in the rooms below he quietly dressed, left the house, and drove down to the beach. Anger and frustration combined to close his mind and he walked and jogged with no thoughts except putting one foot in front of the other as rapidly as possible. The only thing that finally stopped him was a wall of rock. Looking up, Lee’s first realization was that he had somehow managed to get all the way to the base of Yaquina Head lighthouse. Almost immediately came the second realization – he was in a great deal of pain! At least his thoughts were clear, and Lee decided he’d accept the tradeoff. He held his arm against his injured side, getting his breathing back under control, and watched the waves roll in under the moonlight. Belatedly he realized that the tide was coming in and he was beyond the point on the beach that closed off at high tide. He started walking back, but hindered by the burning in his side was unable to travel very fast, and found his way blocked by water around the bend in the cliffs. He was tempted to walk through – it didn’t look that deep. However, Tim’s earlier warning and his own years of dealing with unpredictable undertows made him back off. He chose a spot just above the high water mark and sat down to wait, glancing at his watch. Almost 4am. Even if he were able to continue right now it would be well after 7am before he got back. And no cell phone – Annie will have my head and was able to chuckle at the thought. What he couldn’t chuckle at was what had caused his current predicament. He’d been troubled occasionally with nightmares, but they never lasted long and had rarely been this intense. Even worse were the moments of uncontrollable, unexplainable anger. It was all so frustrating. But always before he had been able to get past the troubled moments, and felt sure he could get through this as well. He just needed a little more time.
* * * *
By 4:45 Lee could see that the tide was starting to recede, and by 6:30 was able to get past the corner. Still in enough pain to keep him at a walk, it was almost 9:30 before he got back to the B&B. The house was quiet as Lee came in the kitchen door. He’d noted Tim’s car was gone but expected to see Annie. Not until the second floor landing did he hear her in the process of cleaning Anemone and remembered the college girls were leaving this morning. He continued quietly up to his room. If Annie hadn’t heard him already she’d shortly spot his car, but Lee decided to avoid that particular confrontation as long as possible. Once in his room he showered and pulled on clean slacks and t-shirt. The wound didn’t look too bad and the intense burning pain had abated, thankfully, but he knew he’d abused his body badly. Stepping back into the bedroom from the dressing area he smiled as he spotted the plate sitting on top of the stereo. On it were glasses of orange juice and milk, a large cinnamon roll, a bowl of fruit, and his meds. Carrying the plate out to the porch he gave half a thought to why there was no anger to Annie’s ministrations when other times lately someone fussing at him had triggered it instantaneously. Halfway through the roll he realized she hadn’t fussed. After that first time in the kitchen Annie had come at him sideways – no confrontation.
Finishing the belated breakfast Lee put the plate back on the stereo where he’d found it, intending to take it downstairs later, and lay down a bit. Between the hot shower and sitting to eat he was pretty well relaxed, but had no intentions of falling asleep. He was therefore greatly surprised the next time he glanced at the clock to note it was almost 5:30. He was shaking his head slightly, chuckling softly to and at himself, when his door opened and Tim’s head appeared.
“Ah, Sleeping Beauty finally awakens.”
“Sorry,” and Lee rubbed a hand through his hair.
“What for?” Tim came the rest of the way into the room, closed the door, and settled in one of the chairs. Lee didn’t answer, just glanced up, embarrassed, and Tim continued, relaxing back. “Hey, Lee. Been there. After the accident, for a while there, I was a mess. I lost five very good friends in that crash. Two of them I literally watched die while I lay pinned under part of the wreckage, not able to do a damn thing. I still have nightmares about it. Oh, not so bad or so many anymore but believe me, you don’t have to apologize to me for anything. Or Annie either, for that matter,” he added.
“Thanks. But neither of you should have to be putting up with me right now. That’s not why I came. I feel…”
“Hold it right there,” Tim interrupted. “If you’re headed where I think you are, forget it. Period! Obviously you need down time, and what better place than here. Annie and I both love having you here. We’ve seen far too little of you over the years and we’ve missed you. Come and go as you please, stay as long as you want – or need,” he added sincerely.
Lee looked at Tim intently a moment, but seeing nothing but honest friendship relaxed and smiled, and with another glance at his watch stood up. “Thanks,” and meant it.
“No problem.” Tim smiled. “What will be is being late for dinner. Annie’s making seafood fettuccini.”
“Then we’d better get going,” and they did. Annie was on the phone when they got to the living room and the two went on into the kitchen. Lee noted a large pan of water was just coming to a boil on the back of the stove. A heavy stainless steel frying pan sat on a not yet turned on front burner.
Annie walked in behind them. “Tim, did you ever call Martin about re-paving the driveway?”
“No, blast it. I keep forgetting. I’ll do it right now. Doesn’t look like dinner’s ready yet anyway.”
“Nope. About 20 minutes,” and she gave Lee a wink, at which he looked back sheepishly. She just laughed. “Watch closely. Even you ought to be able to fix this for yourself.”
“I do eat, Annie, honest,” Lee defended himself with a smile.
“Not enough,” Annie countered firmly, but also smiled. Lee poured himself a cup of coffee and dutifully watched Annie fix the simple but delicious meal.
A loaf of French bread had already been spread with garlic butter, wrapped in foil, and was now popped into the oven to warm. Annie measured out fettuccini noodles for three and put them in the boiling water. Starting the burner under the frying pan she put in a couple tablespoons of butter. As that melted she finely chopped a clove of garlic and tossed that in, gave a stir, then added small bay scallops, stirring fairly constantly until they turned opaque/white. In next went several chopped green onions, some of the green part as well as the bulbs. As she added a tablespoon of flour for thickener she told Lee that normally she’d also add the shrimp meat now but what she had was already cooked so it could go in last, just to heat. When the flour was well mixed with the butter she started pouring in Half-and-Half, whisking it in to mix well with the flour/butter to make a sauce. The shrimp meat, a little salt, a bit more pepper, and Lee’s mouth was watering. Tim had returned and set the table except for plates, which he left next to the stove. He also took a bowl of green salad out of the fridge. Annie took the first plate, piled fettuccini noodles on it, spooned a portion of the seafood sauce on top, and set it down in front of Lee as Tim took the warm garlic bread out of the oven and put it on the table. Tim joined him shortly with his own plateful and Annie followed. Talk was minimal as all three devoured the excellent meal. Annie did mention that she sometimes added already cooked cauliflower, asparagus, peas, whatever she happened to have on hand, as an excellent use for leftover veggies, and Lee promised he’d remember how to fix it, accented by wiping up the last bit of sauce off his plate with a piece of bread. Annie went off to answer the again-ringing phone and Tim and Lee started gathering up the dishes. She came back shortly, put a hand on Lee’s shoulder, and all serious said “sorry Lee. That was Rebecca. She won’t be back until late tomorrow afternoon,” then spoiled it by laughing, as did Tim. Lee just closed his eyes, slowly shook his head, then very swiftly reached out and swatted Annie on the backside, a wicked gleam in his eye, and they all laughed. “Out, you two,” Annie said when she finally stopped laughing. Tim headed for the living room and Lee excused himself to make some phone calls he’d put off long enough.
He was relieved when the answering machines picked up in both the Admiral’s and Jamie’s offices. Doc wouldn’t have been so bad but Lee still wasn’t sure what he would have said to the OOM. As it was, he simply left messages to both that he was enjoying visiting with old friends and as he wasn’t needed at the Institute or on Seaview at the moment would be taking extra leave time and see them in a week or two. When Chip’s machine also answered Lee quickly hung up and tried his house, not holding out much hope of catching him there, either. It was after all Friday evening and the XO kept a fairly active social life while in port. Lee was therefore surprised when a very tired Chip eventually answered.
“Morton” was followed by a long yawn, and Lee laughed.
“You’re supposed to be tired after a Friday night on the town, not before,” and Lee heard Chip chuckle.
“Sorry. Tina had tickets to a concert last night, and with one thing and another, well…”
“Did you make it to work this morning?”
“Just barely,” and Chip chuckled again.
Lee tsked a couple times. “You’ll never learn, will you?”
“But I have a whole lot of fun,” Chip countered. “Try it sometime,” and he laughed harder. Lee did, too, then got down to the business of the call.
“I just left voice mails for the Admiral and Jamie which they may or may not get before Monday.”
“Not sure about Doc,” and Chip yawned again, “but the Admiral left at noon for meetings in San Diego all weekend. What’s up?”
“Wanted to give you a head start in case you’d like to leave town. I, ah, won’t be back on Monday.”
There was dead silence a moment, then Chip exploded. “Lee Crane,” he practically yelled, “if you’ve taken an ONI assignment before coming back here you won’t have to worry about the Admiral. I’ll kill you myself.”
Lee laughed. “Relax, Chip. ONI would be the last people I’d tell where I am. Just taking another week or two off, that’s all.”
Chip was quiet for a bit then his voice came back, this time tinged with concern. “Lee, are you ok?”
It was Lee’s turn to pause. “Working on it,” he finally said softly.
“Anything I can do to help?”
“Nothing you aren’t already doing. And I mean it, Chip, about getting out of the line of fire. Nelson could really land on you, and I’m very sorry for putting you in that position.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it, Lee. I’m just grateful you did let me know where you were, even if it was only after I stuck my foot in my mouth – again,” and they both laughed. “Doc won’t be a problem,” Chip continued. “I don’t know what you said to him the other day but he’s been a pussycat.” Chip paused and Lee knew he was waiting for an explanation. Lee didn’t oblige. “Anyway,” Chip eventually continued, “I’ll talk to him before the Admiral gets back. The OOM’s always on your case about taking all your leave time anyway. Between Doc and I, we’ll take care of it.”
“Thanks,” was all Lee could think to say, for the second time that day.
“Anytime,” came back the reply. “Tell Annie and Tim Hi for me,” and they disconnected.
It was still quiet downstairs when Lee joined Tim in the living room. None of the guests were back yet. Tim disappeared for a bit after Annie joined them, and came back with three tall rum and colas. Lee took a sip and choked. “I see you still haven’t gotten the formula right,” he commented dryly. “I keep telling you, it’s one part rum to two parts cola.”
“I knew I got something wrong,” Tim replied with a grin and Lee stretched out in his chair, nursing the strong drink. The Craigs and Bruces came back but only stayed down a few minutes as both couples were leaving the next day and wanted to pack. The Garretts stayed to visit for a bit but also went up early, shortly before 9:30. Annie and Tim discussed the next week’s schedule as Lee listened quietly. There were three couples plus a single arriving Sunday, two couples staying until the following Saturday and the other couple and the single leaving Wednesday, those two rooms staying empty until the following Sunday.
“Going to be quiet around here for a change,” Annie commented.
Tim winked at Lee. “We’ll just have to see what we can do about that,” and Lee laughed. Annie gave them both a dirty look and Tim got up and gave her a hug. Lee polished off the last of his drink, Tim took the glass, they said goodnight, and Lee headed upstairs, hoping he could stay there all night but not holding out much hope.
* * * *
Whether because of the previous night, the strong drink, or a combination, Lee slept soundly until waking shortly after 6am, as much surprised as relieved. After showering and dressing he joined Tim holding court at breakfast, and after wishing safe travel to the Craigs and Bruces headed for the beach. Still somewhat sore he walked only about a mile before turning back, not even trying to jog. Tim was busy doing yard work when Lee got back. He showed Lee how to use the riding lawnmower while he went back to weeding flowerbeds. Lee let Annie talk him into a sandwich for lunch, then went with Tim to run errands. They got back about 5:30, just as the Garretts were leaving for dinner, and made short work of the fried chicken, mashed potatoes, asparagus, and an apple and raisin salad Annie had prepared, then took their coffee and peach cobbler out to the front porch. They were just finishing when the phone rang. Annie went off to answer it and came back shortly to say that friends were inviting she and Tim to come over for the evening, and of course Lee was invited as well. There would be no problem leaving the house open for the Garretts, and Rebecca, who was still expected back. But Lee declined, preferring not to intrude even if both Annie and Tim insisted he wouldn’t be, and told them he’d hold the fort here. He sent them off with chuckles as he cleaned up the coffee cups and cobbler plates, then refilled his cup and went back out on the porch. Sitting there, enveloped by a light breeze and the sounds of the ocean below, he wondered briefly at this…what, need almost?…lately for solitude. A private man, he was none-the-less happiest surrounded by staff at the Institute, and Seaview’s crew in particular. Maybe he did need to go back to work, to get back to some semblance of normalcy. But…something…stopped him. Stubbornness. He’d said he was staying away, and be damned if I’ll crawl back, and slammed his fist into the arm of the chair.
“I see things haven’t changed much around here,” and Lee turned to see Rebecca just coming around the corner of the house. He didn’t immediately reply, trying to get himself back under control, and Rebecca continued on to the front steps. “Tell me what you just hit,” she asked quietly.
“The chair arm,” Lee growled, not yet ready, for reasons he didn’t understand, to make polite conversation.
“That’s not what I meant. What were you hitting?” Lee just glared at her so she rephrased the question. “Who were you hitting?”
“No one,” came the again growled response.
“Why were you hitting?”
“I don’t know,” Lee practically yelled and started to stalk off, upset at the invasion and, if truth were told, not a little embarrassed.
“Yes,” Rebecca said quietly, “I think you do.” Lee turned and glared at her, a look that could send junior officers scurrying for their lives. Rebecca ignored it and continued. “At that particular instant there was a specific reason you were angry. If you identify it you can deal with it. Continue to deny it and it will just come back.” She paused, smiled, and said softly, “That’s what’s been happening, isn’t it?” Lee just continued to glare at her. “Look, I’m not trying to interfere with your life, just trying to help. If you don’t want to talk about it to me, that’s fine. I don’t mind. But do yourself a favor and talk to you. You’re the only one with the answers,” and she started to walk up the couple steps to go inside.
“Wait. Please.” Lee was beginning to get himself back under control, but spoke so softly he wasn’t sure for a moment if Rebecca had heard. But she turned and settled herself in one of the chairs. He continued to stand where he was, unconsciously rubbing his hand.
“Hurt yourself?” Rebecca asked, not unkindly.
“It’s fine,” came the automatic response, but he continued to rub it.
“Who are you lying to, me or yourself?” she asked quietly, and Lee gave her another glare. “It obviously hurts. Who are you trying to convince it doesn’t?”
The honesty in her voice made him pause, and with a sheepish half-smile, half-grimace, he shrugged his shoulders. “S.O.P.” he admitted.
“Unmanly to admit pain?”
“No!” Instant anger, and Lee paused and took a deep breath before continuing. “Just, oh, I don’t know. Never have been one to admit when I’m hurt. Drives Jamie crazy.” He gave her another half-smile, and finally sat down. Almost immediately he started to get up. “There’s coffee and peach cobbler. Can I get you some?”
“I ate on the way down but coffee sounds great, thanks.” and Lee took his cup, now too cool, along as well. He thought about the previous few minutes’ conversation but had no answers as he returned to the front porch and handed Rebecca her cup before sitting down again.
“Why, then?” Rebecca continued softly.
Lee didn’t answer, just stared out to sea pondering the question. When he really thought about it he wasn’t sure how it had started, or even when. It just seemed like he’d always done it. Minor bumps and bruises or major injuries, it didn’t matter. Either he downplayed them royally or totally ignored them. Finally he admitted as much to Rebecca who had just sat quietly, not interrupting Lee’s thoughts.
“What happens when you do admit injury?”
“I get stuck in Sick Bay,” came the immediate growl.
“And what happens in Sick Bay?” Rebecca egged him on softly.
“Nothing! I can’t run a boat from Sick Bay.”
“And that’s important to you.”
“Of course it is,” Lee said angrily. “It’s what I do. It’s who I am,” and he rose and stalked the porch again.
“Surely there’s someone who can cover for you.”
“Of course. But it’s my responsibility. I’m responsible for seeing to it that Seaview completes her assignments and gets home safely, as well as the 125 others aboard her. I can’t do that from Sick Bay.”
“But if you don’t take care of yourself first, how are you supposed to take care of them?”
Lee’s first reaction was anger – immediate, powerful, and aimed at Rebecca. He swung around to blast a retort then stopped, realizing what was happening. Anger again. He paused with fists clenched.
“Do you resent the others who take over for you?” Rebecca persisted gently.
“No!” Then more softly, “no, of course not.” Lee hesitated, then continued. “But they have their own duties. They shouldn’t have to be doing my job as well.”
“But surely that’s part of their job, too. I’d think that with the limited manpower on board a submarine there’s an awful lot of cross-training that goes on with the crew.”
“Of course,” and Lee willed himself to relax. “That’s not the point.”
“Maybe,” Rebecca commented and smiled. “So, back to my original question. What specifically caused you to punch out the chair?”
Lee closed his eyes a moment, then collapsed back into the chair. “I don’t know,” he admitted tiredly, and again stared out to sea.
“Ok, but just a bit ago, when I asked how you could take care of your ship and crew if you don’t take care of yourself first you were angry at me. Why?”
By this time Lee was mentally exhausted, and wanted nothing more than to forget the whole conversation. “Guess I just got tired of the cross-examination,” he muttered. “And it’s boat, not ship,” he added. “Submarines are always referred to as boats.” The correction was given flatly, automatically, and Lee continued to look out to sea.
“Ok,” Rebecca said lightly, and stood up. Lee was aware that she left to go inside but didn’t acknowledge it. His head pounded with a sudden headache and he wanted nothing more at that moment than to be left alone. He had no idea how long he’d sat there when he was interrupted by the Garrett’s return, but it was getting dark and his coffee, forgotten on the table, was again cold. Relieved to have something besides Rebecca’s questions to think about he offered to make fresh coffee and sat visiting with the couple a bit. Rebecca was nowhere around and had presumably gone to her room. The Garretts, claiming an early departure in the morning, didn’t stay down long either, but Lee suspected it might also have had something to do with his own somewhat distracted attitude. The headache had if anything worsened and Lee feared he’d not been good company. He cleaned up and put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, then followed the couple upstairs. Downing a couple ibuprofen he sat on his porch for awhile, then finally tried to lie down.
But sleep wouldn’t come this night. The headache refused to go away as Rebecca’s questions, gently though they’d been asked, continued to haunt him. Still wide awake at 11:30 when he heard Tim and Annie return he rose, dressed quietly and left for the beach, hoping to walk away whatever it was that was bothering him. His emotions were still all in a jumble. If you don’t take care of yourself, who takes care of them… He shoved it to the back as he parked his car and headed for the almost deserted beach. The weather was far too nice on this Saturday evening for it to be completely empty. There were still several beach parties going on, as well as some couples and small groups scattered around.
The questions re-invaded as he walked slowly southward, refusing to be ignored any longer. Who takes care of them if you can’t… Lee felt his headache’s steady throb, but also realized that Rebecca had been right when she said ignoring the problem was only making it worse. He’d said as much to himself, just not been able to do anything about it. There was a soft breeze blowing in his face bringing to him the usually calming, comforting sounds and smells of his beloved ocean. But they weren’t making much headway this night.
So ok. Prioritize. What was the most pressing problem? That was an easy one. Unexplained, uncontrollable anger. The nightmares were troublesome, but Lee still felt they would go away, given sufficient time. Ok, so when does the anger happen? What causes it? NO! Two questions. Back up. When? Lee walked along, analyzing that one for a bit. The first time he’d had a noticeable problem was in Sick Bay. So, what’s so special about that – I hate being there he muttered aloud, then glanced around nervously to make sure no one had heard him. By this time, however, he was well beyond anyone he could see. Time to break it down even farther. He’d never had this strong a reaction, no matter how much he disliked Sick Bay, and unfortunately he ended up there all too frequently. What had caused it this time? Most stays were precipitated by either an accident or an ONI mission not going quite as planned. This one had started out as the latter.
No, Lee, that’s not right either. This one had started out as a normal Seaview mission. There had been no indication of a problem until later. The first temper tantrum, and Lee cringed slightly to admit that that’s what it had been, had occurred when he’d thought a member of the crew had attacked him, and Lee felt himself make a tight fist. That’s what ticked you off, Crane. You spend all your time taking care of them, and you thought one of them turned on you! The revelation startled him and stopped him in his tracks. Could that be right? It doesn’t feel right. But where then did that thought come from?
So maybe that explained the first time. But that certainly didn’t explain the anger directed at Annie, Rebecca earlier or, worst of all, the Admiral. All the man had done was bring him lunch, for pete’s sake! Lee’s head was beginning to pound even harder than before. He realized he was getting nauseous and his eyes were beginning to burn, his vision blurring. Logic dictated he take himself home before he passed out on the beach. Sorry, Rebecca. I tried. I really did. But Lee knew he had to give it up for the moment. Somehow he managed to get back to his room. He started to reach for more ibuprofen, then remembered the pain pills Doc had sent. Maybe they’ll work on this headache. Nothing else seems to, and he tracked them down, still in his duffle bag. He didn’t bother reading the label, just assumed a standard dosage of 2 pills and figured three would work even better. Not bothering to undress he just lay down across the bed, pillowing his aching head in his arms.
* * * *
The next time Lee opened his eyes, or rather tried to, the sun shining through the windows nearly blinded him. Groaning softly he rolled over and realized he’d somehow ended up under the comforter, dressed only in his underwear. A soft sound reached his ears, belatedly identified as curtains being closed, and the room darkened. With somewhat more success he again opened his eyes. Annie was standing next to the bed.
“So, you’re not dead after all,” she said softly.
“That’s your opinion,” Lee grumbled and closed his eyes again. The headache had disappeared, or at least he thought it had. It was difficult to tell. His eyes hurt, his mouth felt like he’d been eating cotton balls, and his brain refused to work properly. “Guess I missed breakfast again.”
“And lunch,” Annie chuckled. “Dinner, too, if you’re not careful.”
It took a second for that to sink in. Lee forced his eyes open again. “What time is it?” and he tried to see the clock on the bedside table.
“Almost 5pm,” Annie answered. “How many pain pills did you take? I assume that’s the problem since the bottle’s still on the bathroom counter.”
“Only three, why?” Lee again closed his eyes. “Damn. Feels like I’ve been run over by a steam roller.”
“Probably because the pill bottle says to take no more than one every eight hours.” Lee heard the accusation in Annie’s voice and groaned again, waiting for the lecture. Instead, he felt her pull the comforter a bit higher over him. “Go back to sleep,” she said, her voice softer. “I’ll send Tim up later with some soup.” Lee raised his head to attempt a protest, decided better of the effort, and resettled his head on the pillow. The last thing he heard was Annie’s soft laughter.
A hand on his shoulder brought Lee back to consciousness. “Up and at ‘em, slacker,” and Lee opened his eyes. Tim was sitting on the edge of the bed, a large mug in his hand.
“Not sure I can,” Lee admitted groggily but sat up, adjusted the pillow, and leaned back against the headboard. “Damn. Don’t think I’ve felt like this since the morning after your bachelor party.”
Tim laughed and handed Lee the mug. “That will teach you not to read labels. What happened?”
Lee took a sip from the mug before answering. It held a beefy vegetable soup, run through the blender making it easy to eat in this manner. “Got a wicked headache after you guys left. Tried to walk it off on the beach and when that didn’t work, tried Doc’s pills.” Lee looked up from the mug sheepishly. “I don’t even remember crawling into bed.”
“Actually, you didn’t. When you missed breakfast I came up and found you sprawled across it. Since you seemed to be breathing ok I just made you a bit more comfortable.”
“Hey, no big deal. Besides, I seem to recall you pouring me into bed a time or two,” and both men smiled. “Like spring leave our senior year, and that long weekend in Alexandria, Virginia.”
“Not to mention Rich Hastings’s graduation party when we were juniors, or the bash at the ‘Quarter Deck’. And how about…”
“Enough,” Tim complained loudly, and both men snickered. “Obviously you’re feeling better.”
“Getting there.” Lee had been making steady progress on the soup and now polished off the last of it, handing the mug back to Tim.
“Want some more?” Tim asked.
“Not right now, thanks. If I want something later I’ll come down.” He started to get out of bed but as he stood up a wave of dizziness hit him hard. He closed his eyes, then felt Tim’s hand on his arm.
“Steady there, buddy.”
“I’m fine” came out before Lee could stop it. He shook his head sadly at himself and looked at Tim. “At least, I will be once I finally wake up.”
Tim smiled. “Hardly seems worth the effort. It’s already nearly 7 o’clock. By the time the fog clears it will be time to go back to bed.”
“Good point. However, I need a shower. I feel like a slug.”
“Maybe I’ll hang around and make sure you don’t drown.”
“Out,” Lee used the best command voice he could muster under the circumstances.
“Aye aye, Sir,” then Tim spoiled it by laughing, as did Lee, and left.
Lee stayed in the shower a long time, gradually turning the water temperature cooler trying to wake up. Still a little foggy but figuring he was as awake as he was likely to get, he pulled on sweat pants and t-shirt and went out to sit on the balcony for awhile. Some of the disturbing questions tried to work their way into his thoughts but he made a conscious effort to keep them away, allowing the breeze and sounds of the ocean to keep him relaxed. The last thing he wanted was a repeat of last night’s fiasco. He told himself he’d try again. He wasn’t giving up. He just didn’t have the strength to try again so soon. He felt his eyes close and was unable to stop them, until a soft knock penetrated the once again increasing fog. “Come,” he called out, expecting Tim, or more likely Annie. Instead, Rebecca poked her head through the door.
“Still speaking to me?” she said hesitantly.
“Why wouldn’t I be,” and Lee rose – too quickly he realized as some of the dizziness returned. He steadied himself with a hand on the edge of the slider but continued to look at her quizzically.
“Annie told me what happened. I figure I’m responsible for the headache.”
“No, not at all.” As Rebecca continued to stand in the doorway looking skeptical, Lee rephrased. “Well, maybe a little.” He smiled and motioned toward the other chair on the balcony, returning to his own as she came in and sat.
“Sorry,” she said, still seeming unsure.
“Don’t be, please,” Lee felt slightly nervous, and wasn’t sure why. “You were only trying to help. It’s not your fault I couldn’t handle the questions.”
“Would you like to talk about what happened?” she asked softly.
Lee hesitated. “I don’t know,” he finally responded. “I can’t make anything make sense. I tried what you said, to work through it. I thought if I broke it down, tried not to analyze too much at one time…” and he just shook his head.
“That was an excellent idea,” Rebecca encouraged him.
“But it still didn’t work. Or,” he hesitated again, “at least I couldn’t make it work. All I did was give myself a splitting headache,” and he gave her a half-smile. She smiled back.
“Nobody said it was going to be easy. Sorry,” she continued quickly as Lee cringed at the bad joke. “But it’s the truth. Everything we chose to do well, we have to work hard at. You know that. But that doesn’t mean we have to do it alone. If you’ll let me, I’d still like to help.”
Lee didn’t answer immediately, just sat watching out the windows, and Rebecca sat quietly also. Finally he looked at her. “Are you sure you want to? Lately it’s been friends offering help that has triggered the worst of the outbursts.” He shuddered. “Or have you already forgotten last night.”
She smiled. “I have a feeling last night was just an accumulation of previous episodes. Can you tell me when it started?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe. Sort of. Oh, hell!” and he sighed heavily.
“Try to let your logic take over, not your emotions. It’s not easy – believe me, I know. Just ask the neighborhood seagulls.” Lee chuckled softly but continued to look out the windows, unmoving. Rebecca just waited quietly.
“Anger,” Lee said finally, almost to himself. “All of a sudden I can’t seem to control it.”
“And normally you do.” Lee just nodded. “So, tell me about the first time you couldn’t.”
“You were in Sick Bay.” Lee just nodded. “Were you sick or injured?”
“Injured,” Lee answered flatly. He could feel himself withdrawing…remembering…
“Hit on the knee and knocked down a flight of stairs.”
“You boys play rough.” When Lee didn’t respond, she continued. “I gathered from last night’s conversation you don’t like being in Sick Bay. Aren’t you usually angry to be there?”
“Not like this,” Lee muttered darkly, then sighed. “I…I’m not sure I can explain.”
“Just give it a try,” came the soft encouragement.
“Normally I just want out. I badger Jamie until he releases me, or I just leave.” He smiled sheepishly, “Escape – that’s what Chip calls it. He’s even better at it than I am.”
“You make it sound like a game,” Rebecca said. Lee just looked at her and smiled. “It is a game, isn’t it?”
“Sort of, I guess. We give Jamie a bad time, and he gives it right back. We all know he has the authority to end it at any time, or have the Admiral do it – order us to stay.” Lee laughed. “I sometimes think Jamie enjoys it as much as we do, even if he doesn’t act like it.”
“But this time was different.”
Lee just nodded, feeling himself withdraw again. “I don’t know. I just got angry…”
“At what?” Rebecca encouraged again, when Lee didn’t continue.
“That’s the point,” and Lee laid his head back against the wall with a heavy sigh. “I don’t know. I couldn’t make sense of it then, and I still can’t. Besides, none of the later episodes had anything to do with the first time.”
“That you know of,” Rebecca said softly, and Lee looked at her sharply. “Since you don’t know what caused the first time you can’t say for sure, can you, about the others?”
“You’re trying to tell me that my getting mad at you last night, or the Admiral bringing me lunch, had something to do with being in Sick Bay?” He snorted softly. “That makes no sense whatsoever,” and he put his head back against the wall.
“For the moment.” Rebecca agreed.
Lee didn’t respond, just closed his eyes. The fog was trying to settle back in and he was just about to let it when he heard Rebecca’s voice. “Sorry. What did you say?” and he opened his eyes to see her start to smile at him.
“I just asked a question, but perhaps I’d better let you go back to sleep.”
Lee gave his head a small shake and smiled. “Sorry,” he repeated, and waited expectantly.
“Sure?” When Lee just nodded, she continued. “I was just wondering what caused the massive headache last night. Do you remember? I know,” as Lee got a pained expression on his face, “that you were trying to work through the problem yourself. I just wondered if there was something specific.”
Lee leaned his head back again. Surprisingly he remembered quite a bit about the previous night. “I remember not being able to get something you said out of my mind. It just kept pestering me.” It was Rebecca’s turn to say “Sorry,” and Lee smiled at her. “Don’t be. I needed the kick-start – I think,” and his gaze narrowed briefly before shrugging his shoulders and continuing. “It was what you said about taking care of myself, and if I didn’t, how was I supposed to take care of the rest of the crew. I couldn’t get rid of it.”
“And did you ever come up with an answer?”
“No, just a splitting headache,” he grumbled. His eyes narrowed again. “And something else, just before…” and Lee’s voice trailed off as he remembered.
“What?” Rebecca prodded gently, and Lee turned to look at her, puzzled.
“It was weird. No matter what I did, that kept coming back. Just before I almost passed out from the headache and gave up, I remember thinking that what had ticked me off in Sick Bay was that I spend all my time taking care of the crew, and we thought at the time – turned out we were wrong,” he clarified for Rebecca, “but at the time, we thought one of the crew had attacked me.”
“What’s so weird about that? If I thought someone close to me, someone I cared about, was out to hurt me intentionally, I’d be mad as hell.”
“But…” and Lee just sat there, looking at Rebecca, totally puzzled.
“I remember thinking, just before…” Lee could almost feel the pain from last night returning, and shook his head. “Even if that did explain the first time, it still has nothing to do with the times after.”
“Oh, Lee. Bingo,” Rebecca laughed. Lee glared at her and she laughed harder, before finally settling back. “I told you before, Lee. Logic, not emotions. Work it out. You almost had it last night. And again, just a little while ago. You said it. You just didn’t realize it. I didn’t either until right now. But then, I didn’t have all the pieces. You do.” As Lee continued to scowl at her, she laughed again. “I repeat, Lee. Logic. Don’t feel – think,” and she sat back, crossed her arms and ankles, and waited.
Lee continued to glare at her a bit longer but as she showed no sign of further help he sat back with his head once again against the wall and closed his eyes. He tried to work through what they’d just been talking about. Obviously something in what he’d said gave Rebecca the answers that had so far eluded him. That alone was frustrating, and Lee felt his right hand start to close into a fist. Refusing to take the bait of a soft snort from Rebecca he forced his hand to relax, took a deep breath, and tried again. If you don’t take care of yourself, who takes care of them when you can’t. That was one of the pieces, Lee was sure. Where it fit he had no idea. I spend all my time taking care of the crew, and I thought one of them had sent me to Sick Bay. From Rebecca’s reaction, that had to be another piece. He kept going over the conversation as best he could remember it, but for the life of him could not come up with anything else. Feeling the frustration starting to build again, as well as a headache, he finally surrendered, looked at Rebecca, and pleaded. “Help?” It came out a bit more shakily than he had intended, and he smiled weakly.
Rebecca just laughed. “Tell me how far you got,” and Lee gave her the two pieces he was sure of, or at least thought he was sure of. To his relief Rebecca congratulated him. “There’s only one more,” she encouraged.
“Sorry. All I’m doing is getting a headache,” Lee apologized.
“Ok. Against my better judgment I’ll help. What did you tell me when I first came in a little while ago?” Lee closed his eyes and tried to remember. When he didn’t answer, Rebecca prodded slightly. “You asked if I was sure I wanted to be here because…”
Lee hesitated then opened his eyes, finally remembering. “Because lately it’s been friends trying to help that have caused the worst of the outbursts…” and he just looked at her, the puzzlement he still felt showing on his face.
“Like I said – Bingo.”
“I don’t understand,” and Rebecca laughed, causing Lee to glare at her, then watch her work hard to control the laughter.
“You originally got royally ticked that one of the people you spend a lot of time protecting – your words – hurt you, and put you someplace you hate – again your words.” Lee just continued to look at her. “That anger got buried because these are crewmates – friends – people you care about, therefore you couldn’t get angry at them.” Lee just shook his head, still not understanding. “So, it came out backwards. Every time one of your friends tried to help you, you got ticked all over again because it should have been you helping them.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense.”
“Actually, in a convoluted sort of way, it does. You have to remember, minds don’t always work the way we want them to. Then I come along and hit you with ‘if you don’t take care of yourself’ etc, and it started to drive you a little crazy, because how could you take care of yourself when your friends are trying to hurt you all the time.”
Lee closed his eyes and again laid his head against the wall, trying desperately to understand. Rebecca seemed to read his thoughts.
“Don’t try to analyze it, Lee. Just own it – accept that it happened, and that it happened to you. The mind works under it’s own set of rules. You try to make it make sense and it will just tell you where to ‘stuff it’, like it’s been doing by causing the severe headaches.”
“Hard thing to do,” Lee replied, unmoving.
“Boy, do I know that one.” Rebecca muttered as if to herself, and Lee looked at her. She grinned. “I’m still trying to figure out a way to apologize to a whole lot of seagulls.”
“Lots and lots of bread cubes,” Lee chuckled, but even he could hear the weariness in his voice, and he yawned broadly.
“Sounds like its time for me to leave,” and she rose. Lee did too, slowly. The fog was beginning to settle in his brain again, although this time recognizable as mental exhaustion. Rebecca gave him another smile as she pulled the door closed on her way out and Lee later wasn’t sure he even remembered his head hitting the pillow.
* * * *
“It’s alive!!” Sounding like something from a monster movie, the old joke greeted Lee the next morning as he came down the stairs shortly before 7am, then Tim chuckled.
“Don’t be so sure.” Lee grumbled as he headed for the coffee pot and nothing more was said until he had downed his first cupful. Tim was going back and forth from the kitchen bringing out fruit, juice and muffins, and Annie joined them as Lee poured his second cupful.
“Tim, you should be ashamed of yourself,” Annie chided, putting the pan she was carrying into a warming tray. “You know perfectly well it’s unfair to harass a Navy man after a 24-hour binge until he’s at least through his third cup of coffee.” Lee just hung his head as Tim burst out laughing. Footsteps on the stairs and both Annie’s and Tim’s calls of “Good morning, Brad” made Lee look up and turn to see a man dressed in slacks and sports jacket joining them. Lee was momentarily disoriented until he realized that he’d slept through almost a complete change of occupancy at the B&B. The thought was decidedly embarrassing. Some part of the feeling must have shown on his face, even through his naturally dark Mediterranean coloration, because he saw the newcomer give him an odd look before being distracted by Tim.
“Brad Spencer, Lee Crane. Brad’s a sales rep from Los Angeles. Stays with us several times a year when he’s in the area. Lee’s an old friend.” As the two shook hands Tim chuckled again, and Lee glared at him. “Sorry,” he apologized to Lee and explained to Brad. “Lee hasn’t had the best last day or so.”
“And he’s going to flatten you if you don’t quit rubbing it in,” Annie had made another trip to the kitchen and returned now with another pan which she placed in a warmer. “Eat.” Though the soup last night had tasted good, Lee found this morning that the last thing on his mind was food, and gave serious consideration to taking his coffee back to his room. He hung back as Brad and Tim filled their plates with sausage patties, fresh fruit and something in triangles that Lee didn’t recognize but Brad obviously did.
“Ah, you always remember,” he said gleefully as he put several on his plate and covered them with something from a side dish.
“Just figured that’s what keeps you coming back,” Annie answered from just behind and to one side of Lee. He’d had no idea she was standing there and startled slightly. As he looked at her she smiled. “Stuffed French toast. I spread bread slices with a mixture of cream cheese, vanilla and walnuts, put them together into a sandwich, dip the whole thing in eggs mixed with a bit of half-and-half and nutmeg, then grill, cut into quarters, and make apricot sauce as a topping.” She must have guessed what Lee had been planning because she said softly “just go try it,” and put a hand lightly on his back before continuing a bit louder “before those two eat them all.”
As had happened several times already, once Lee actually sat down with food in front of him he discovered he was hungry. He’d only taken one triangle of French toast and a small amount of fruit the first time, and good-naturedly endured another round of badgering from Tim when he went back for seconds. As on so many other mornings while he’d been here he and Tim stayed at the table visiting as guests came and went, this particular morning allowing Lee to meet everyone who had come the day before. Besides Brad Spencer there was a couple from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Dave and Laurie Tressault, who were on a buying trip for their antiques store; two sixty-ish widows from Spokane, Washington, Melissa Bender and Claire Danberg, who vacationed together each year, and this year chose the Oregon coast; and Keith and Mary Dean, a retired couple from Sydney, Australia, on an extended visit to the United States. Lee enjoyed listening to the couple’s impressions of the various parts of the country they had already visited. Annie as always visited as well, but kept a close eye on the food and made quick trips to the kitchen for anything needing to be replenished.
The Deans were just getting up from the table as Rebecca came in from her early morning run. Lee glanced at his watch to discover it was almost 8:30. “Cut that a bit close,” he commented dryly, then smiled.
“Have apologies to make to a few more seagulls.”
“Saved one stuffed French toast I didn’t grill,” Annie interjected. “Knew if I put it out Tim would polish it off. Even Lee had seconds this morning,” and both men grinned. “Get the rest. I’ll fix it for you.”
Tim excused himself and Lee finished the last of his 5th cup of coffee. He almost felt human again and grinned at the thought. “Guess it’s my turn for the beach.”
“Feeling better?” Rebecca asked over her shoulder as she filled her plate. “You definitely look better,” and she turned and smiled.
“Not sure I’m totally ready to buy into your theory,” Lee admitted. “But yes, definitely feeling better. At least,” and he hung his head, “better than last night,” and listened to Rebecca’s soft laughter.
“Just an observation on what I saw and heard.” She sat down opposite Lee as Annie came back in with the French toast, cut into quarters. “Annie, no way can I eat all that,” she fussed. Her plate already held a large helping of cantaloupe, two small sausage patties and some yogurt.
“Not a problem,” Annie grinned and put two of the pieces on Rebecca’s plate. The other two she deposited in front of Lee.
“Where’s Tim?” Lee grumbled, but reluctantly smiled as both Annie and Rebecca laughed at him. Somehow he managed to down both pieces while the two ladies visited, joining in occasionally. When Rebecca finished she went upstairs, Annie started cleaning up, and Lee headed for the beach.
* * * *
It was nearly 4pm before Lee returned to Spindrift. It had been a remarkably peaceful day and Lee was somewhat at a loss to explain why. After all the emotional turmoil of the last couple weeks Lee was beginning to think he’d lost his connections to the tranquility the ocean had always given him. But today all had been back to normal. He’d kept to a walk, not so much unwilling to push himself, but more a sense that he didn’t need to. He’d spent a lot of time thinking about the last few days, about the nightmares, the headaches, the anger. Where before there had been conflict there was peace; confusion, now acceptance. It bothered him somewhat that he still didn’t understand what had been happening, but finally came to the conclusion that maybe he didn’t need to. Perhaps Rebecca had been right. It wasn’t necessary to understand why it had happened, just accept that it had. This tended to go very much against the grain for him. He always needed to have definite, understandable answers. Yet even these thoughts could cause no frustration this day and Lee laughed at himself. Whatever the reasons for the changes, he knew he owed Rebecca big time.
Dinner would be a start but he met her leaving as he was just turning in the drive. Guess not tonight. The house was quiet and Lee found a note from Annie propped up on the kitchen counter. “Lee, Tim’s gone to Newport and I’m down at the neighbors. We should both be back about 4:30. Whatever you do, don’t answer the phone. That’s why we left!” He’d heard the phone ringing as he came in the back door and heard the answering machine pick up. Grabbing his usual glass of orange juice he wasn’t halfway up the first flight of stairs before it rang again and he laughed all the way to his room. It did, however, remind him he needed to make sure Chip was still in one piece. Lee was concerned that Admiral Nelson would land hard on the younger man, pressuring Chip for Lee’s whereabouts. Even with Chip’s assurances on Friday that all would be well, Lee needed to make sure. He was, therefore, totally unprepared for the sounds of raucous laughter in the background as Chip answered his cell phone.
“Commander Morton,” and Lee heard him struggle to control his own laughter.
“And here I was worried about you,” Lee laughed too.
“Oh, ah, Hi. Hang on a second,” and Lee could tell from the sounds Chip had taken the phone away from his head before yelling “Kowalski, make sure he’s still alive in there,” but continued to laugh as Lee heard footsteps and the background sounds faded. “Sorry. Sharkey’s not had a very good day. He spent most of the morning walking around on the hull supervising the maintenance crew, and reminding them to be careful not to fall in the drink. Just before lunch, guess who fell in,” and Chip started laughing all over again. “Having decided he’d be safer on the dock, he’s spent all afternoon having several of the ratings check all the fire extinguishers on board, bringing them out here to test and recharge.” Chip apparently couldn’t help himself and continued to chuckle. “You know the Chief. Nobody can do anything right except him. Just now he decided he knew a better way to recharge the foaming units. Any guesses about what happened?”
“Yep. It exploded. Sharkey ended up looking a whole lot like the Pillsbury Doughboy.” Chip could barely finish, he was again laughing so hard. All Lee could do was shake his head. “Anyway,” Chip finally got himself back under control, “what’s up? I didn’t expect to hear from you so soon.”
“Like I said, I was concerned. I half expected Nelson to have your head.”
“Not to worry. Told you I’d take care of everything,” Chip sounded smug.
“Chip!” Lee countered. “I could have sworn it was you complaining just the other day you couldn’t communicate with the Admiral.”
“Ok, ok,” Chip backed off, chuckling. “So I took care of it by having Jamie talk to him.”
“Not a one. I have no idea what Doc said or did. Just know that the Admiral came in first thing this morning, walked into your office and took everything out of your ‘In’ basket, and headed for his own office. Haven’t seen hide nor hair of him since.”
“Sounds like that’s another couple dinners I have to buy,” Lee muttered to himself.
“What was that, buddy?”
“Just talking to myself, Chip. Glad everything’s going ok.”
“How is it at your end?” and Lee heard the hesitancy in Chip’s voice, as if he were almost afraid to ask.
“Better, Chip,” he answered, and meant it. He heard what sounded like a sigh of relief.
“Good!” and Lee could hear the elation in that one word.
“I should be back next Monday morning,” Lee continued.
“Sort of,” Lee amended. “I’ll call the end of the week.”
“Ok. I won’t say anything until I hear from you. Hopefully see you in a week. The Admiral may have taken over your paperwork, but I’ve been saving a few things.”
“On second thought…” and heard Chip start to laugh.
“Knew I should have kept my mouth shut,” and they ended the conversation as it had started, with laughter. Lee noticed the Deans returning and, not knowing if Annie was back yet, headed downstairs.
* * * *
The evening progressed quietly. Only the Deans returned to change for dinner, and after they left Annie got their own meal ready. The phone had quieted somewhat and Lee asked what all the calls had been.
“Oh, a little of everything. Friends calling, calls for reservations – it’s going to be a busy year. Rebecca got a couple calls. Did you happen to talk to her after you came back?” Lee explained he’d been late and she was just leaving. “Oh. Just wondered, after that other call. At least she didn’t take off this time. Anyway, Martin called about when he could come to do the driveway. Just one of those days.”
“What did you and Martin decide?” Tim asked. “Or do I need to call him back?”
“Told him the schedule and we agreed Saturday sounded like the best. Brad and the Deans are leaving Wednesday and everyone else except Rebecca leave Saturday morning. There’s one couple coming, but they said they wouldn’t be here until late in the day. We can work around it and Martin said he should be done by 3:30, 4 o’clock latest.”
Lee thought about mentioning he’d probably be leaving Saturday as well, if he planned to be back to work Monday. But he ended up keeping quiet. Yes, today had seen the return of a peace he hadn’t known in quite awhile. He hoped it stayed that way but decided he’d better leave his options open.
“Earth to Lee,” Tim chided, and Lee brought his thoughts back to the table.
“Sorry,” and he shook his head.
“I was just asking if you wanted ice cream on your pie for desert,” Annie said. Lee groaned and both Tim and Annie laughed.
“That’s a yes,” Tim answered for him and Annie headed for the freezer. Lee ended up complimenting Annie. The pie was delicious. He did, however, have to ask what kind it was. Between layers of very flaky pastry were berries of a kind Lee couldn’t immediately identify. Tim laughed and Annie explained.
“When I went to the freezer this morning I could only find one package of blackberries. There wasn’t enough so I just added a package of raspberries. I do it all the time. Tim loves it.”
“So do I, even though I’m not sure how I’m going to finish it.” But he did.
Later, stretched out in one of the wicker chairs on the porch, Lee sat quietly while the Deans and Brad Spencer discussed Australia’s more intriguing vacation spots. This was one of the nights he chose not to involve himself in the conversation, just sat back and enjoyed it. Tim and Annie had not joined the group and the older women had gone to their room earlier. At one point Lee had glanced at his watch, noting it was nearly 9:30, and wondered what had become of Rebecca. Smiling, he’d chided himself. Just chill, Lee. She’s a big girl. She can keep any time schedule she wants to. Even after everyone else went upstairs shortly after 10pm he told himself he was not waiting up for her. He just wasn’t ready to crash yet. About 10:30 Tim came up to give the house one more check, but Lee sent him to bed with a chuckle as Lee had already cleaned everything up.
It wasn’t until a few minutes before 11 that Lee heard the sound of a car coming up the drive, and presently Rebecca came around the corner, Lee startling her as he said “Good evening.”
“Oh!” and she jumped before finally seeing him. “Didn’t expect anyone to still be up.” She finished walking up onto the porch.
“Just enjoying the peace and quiet,” and Lee smiled at his little private joke. Rebecca smiled, catching the jibe, but just turned and looked out toward the ocean. “Care to talk about it?” Lee asked gently, and watched as Rebecca seemed to shake herself.
“Not really,” she said, turning back. “Good night,” and she went inside. Startled, Lee could only sit and watch her leave, wondering at the abrupt change. Twenty minutes later, after making sure everything was set for the night, he followed her upstairs.
* * * *
The nightmares hit about 1:30, waking him abruptly. But Lee was quick to note the difference. Where before he had felt terror and shame, this night there was only sadness and an acknowledgment of regret that he’d had no other choice of action. He got up and walked out to the balcony for a few minutes, but soon lay back down and did not awaken again until shortly after 6am. Noting Rebecca’s car was as usual already gone, he showered and shaved and went down to breakfast a few minutes before 7.
The morning progressed as so many had. Lee and Tim good-naturedly badgered each other, both of them aided and abetted by Annie, and enjoyed amiable conversations with the other guests. This morning’s entrée was thick Belgian waffles with either strawberries or blueberries, along with whipped cream, for toppings. Lean Canadian bacon and all the usuals rounded out the menu. Lee couldn’t decide between the two waffle toppings and was harassed endlessly by Tim when he ended up taking some of both. But he was able to get even when Tim went back for thirds.
There was one notable exception, however, to the morning’s routine: Rebecca never showed up. 8:30 came and went, all the other guests were on their way before 9, but still she didn’t come.
“Losing your touch, Annie,” Tim teased his wife. “All of a sudden you’ve got guests walking out on your cooking.”
Annie laughed and took a half-hearted swing at her husband, but turned to Lee. “She did come back last night, didn’t she?”
Lee assured her that Rebecca had indeed gotten home, but avoided mentioning she’d seemed not in the best of moods. “She was almost late yesterday morning,” Lee reminded his hosts. “Maybe I’ll run into her at the beach.”
“If you do, tell her I’ll make it up to her by fixing lunch.”
“Annie, Annie, Annie,” Lee chuckled. “You know, some people are perfectly capable of feeding themselves,” and laughed out loud as Annie just harrumphed and started cleaning up. But Lee, too, was bothered by the absence, particularly in light of his brief conversation with Rebecca the previous evening. He checked the lot carefully for her car as he parked and headed for the beach and was relieved to see it, although that still didn’t answer the question of where she was.
Lee jogged a bit this morning, not so much because he felt the need, but simply to stretch out unused muscles. The wound was feeling so much better he could basically forget about it and just enjoy himself. He kept an eye out for Rebecca but had just about decided if she was on the beach she’d gone north when, rounding the last bend before the rocks at the base of Yaquina Head lighthouse, he saw her sitting with her back against a driftwood log. He started to turn and leave, not wanting to intrude since she so obviously wanted to be alone, but she looked up and spotted him.
“I was rude last night,” she offered with a hesitant smile.
Lee didn’t answer for a moment, then smiled back and held up thumb and forefinger a bare inch apart. “A little bit. No more than I’ve been a couple times lately.” He came over and sat down a few feet from her, his back against the same log, not saying anything, just looking out at the sea.
“Life really sucks sometimes,” she said finally, dejectedly.
“And your first clue was…?”
Rebecca turned and sent a murderous glare his way but he just went back to watching the waves. Nothing was said between them for several minutes. Lee stretched out and made himself a little more comfortable. Finally he heard Rebecca heave a gigantic sigh.
“My parents were killed in a car crash when I was 16,” Rebecca started quietly. “They were driving up the coast toward Tillamook. It was stormy. Thunder and lightning…” She hesitated, apparently expecting Lee to say something. But he remained quiet, instinctively knowing this was her story, and needed to be told her way.
“Anyway, my Dad’s sister lived in Forest Grove, southwest of Portland. There were some cousins back east somewhere but nobody had ever kept in touch. Aunt Theresa had never married, didn’t have kids. We had never hit it off well, but there wasn’t anyone else – I ended up living with her. It was pretty bad.” She gave Lee an apologetic little smile. “I didn’t help much. An only child, doted on, spoiled.” She just shook her head and Lee smiled. “Somehow I made it through high school. Started college that fall more to get out of my Aunt’s house than with any real idea of what I wanted to do. My folks left enough so I could get an apartment, didn’t have to stay in the dorm. Maybe…” and her voice trailed off. Lee again decided not to press. Rebecca would tell him what she wanted to, when she wanted to.
It was several minutes before she continued. “Not having any direction I mostly took general studies courses and went to a lot of parties. Met a guy…hell, met a lot of guys,” and Lee heard her snort. “Mike seemed different. I fell in love, or thought I did. He wasn’t a student, never seemed to have much of a job but always had money. I didn’t care. Let him move in. Six months later, when I was just starting my junior year, we drove to Las Vegas and got married. For all the wrong reasons…” She hesitated again, then turned a stricken look on Lee. “No! – not that reason.” Lee gave her a small grim and she continued, almost to herself. “Thank God, not for that reason… Oh Hell!” she blurted out. “How can one person be so damn stupid?”
“You’re asking me?” Lee said softly, sadly, with memories of his own to deal with, then added, “love is blind?”
“Blind, deaf, and dumb as an ox!” Rebecca gave the sand a kick. Lee just kept his thoughts to himself. “After two months I figured out I’d been a dork. Unfortunately I didn’t know what to do about it. Went over to my best friend’s house one afternoon to cry on her shoulder. Just as I pulled up and parked across the street Mike came out of her door, buttoning his shirt.”
“Ouch,” Lee couldn’t help himself.
Rebecca gave him a speculative look. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m dumping on you.”
“Maybe because I’m listening.”
“You don’t mind? It gets worse.”
“Sounds a little strange coming from the person who sat listening to me blither away.”
“I think it’s called goading you into talking.” Lee just smiled and snuggled a bit more comfortably into the sand. Rebecca heaved a long sigh, shaking her head.
“Where was I? Oh yeah. Connie’s house. Drove home. My world, or at least the world as I knew it, was once again falling apart and I didn’t have a clue what to do about it.” She hesitated so long Lee thought she might have changed her mind about talking it out, but eventually she continued. “I was so frightened. It took me a lot of years to realize that’s what it was. Not anger, not sadness, not frustration. Good old, unadulterated fear! When Mike came home several hours later I just started screaming.” She gave Lee an embarrassed grin. “You think I scared a few seagulls, you should have seen the neighbors – they called the cops,” and Lee grinned back. “Mike took off when he heard the siren. To this day I have no idea what I told the cops who showed up. All I really remember is crying for four days straight. Then on the 5th day the cops came back. Detectives this time. They had a search warrant for the apartment. Seems somewhere along the line the original complaint call got put together with a few other reports, and they were seriously interested in getting their hands on Mike as a suspect in a long string of burglaries. Very interested in me, too, since I’d been living with him.” She’d been sitting with her legs drawn up, arms around her knees, and now laid her head down against her arms. Again she was quiet for several minutes, but Lee didn’t interrupt. Finally he heard her mutter again “blind, deaf, dumb as an ox,” and she raised her head again. “That police report I’ve seen. I was such a blithering idiot at that point they hauled me in for questioning and a drug test. And before you ask no, that’s not exactly legal. Apparently I’d given my consent. I knew I hadn’t taken anything, even if that’s about all I knew. I was never really arrested. One of the women detectives helping with the case took pity on me and asked if there was anyone I could call to help since I didn’t seem to be doing too well on my own. I didn’t know what else to do – I called Aunt Theresa.” Lee saw her smile as she again paused.
“I have no idea why I called her. Actually, I didn’t. The detective did. I was a basket case. Don’t know what I was expecting. Whatever it was, it wasn’t what I got,” and again she smiled. “This gruff, grumpy, grouchy, impatient, uncommunicative tyrant blew into the police station like a tornado, her lawyer in her wake. I got scooped out of there so fast I didn’t even have time to be surprised. The next thing I knew we were back at her place. After all the bad times we’d had when I was living there, all the yelling matches, everything, when I needed her she was there. She gave me a place to stay without questions, incriminations, nothing. In fact, we never really talked about it. Her lawyer showed up a few days later with all my stuff from the apartment and some papers to sign, and went with me to make a more intelligent statement to the police. She was just there, you know? Maybe…hell, no maybe about it. I had done some growing up, or was in the process of it. But I started to look at Aunt Theresa through different eyes. I realized that it wasn’t that she didn’t care, she just didn’t verbalize it – didn’t know how to say what she felt. Or it came out in ways I hadn’t recognized until then. What I had always taken for aloofness was simply an inability to express strong emotions. Gruffness, no way to tell me she loved me,” and again she seemed lost in her own thoughts for a bit.
“Even though she couldn’t tell me, Aunt Theresa showed me, in so many ways, how she felt. She…just took care of things. Took care of me. The lawyer got the marriage annulled. Aunt Theresa set up appointments with a counselor. Didn’t tell me I had to go, but let me know there was someone to talk to if I felt like it, let me heal at my own pace, and took care of everything around me until I did. Didn’t ever say much of anything, just gave me the time to get my head screwed back on, and supported any decision I chose to make…” Rebecca’s voice trailed off as she seemed lost in thought.
“She sounds like a very special lady,” Lee said into the silence.
“She was,” Rebecca said finally. “She passed away 6 weeks ago.”
“Damn,” Lee muttered to himself, but Rebecca heard him anyway and turned to smile at him.
“Screamed that a lot lately,” and Lee also smiled. “Actually,” she continued, “it was sort of ok. She was diagnosed with cancer about 8 months ago. She had always hated doctors,” and grinned at Lee as he cringed. “It was pretty far along, nothing they could do, and towards the end she was in a lot of pain. Anyway, because of her I was able to get myself back on track. Changed colleges and got my degree. By then I had a direction and went on to graduate school. Ended up with a job I love, at least most of the time. Have a great partner – we’re a good balance for each other in the office.” She paused and smiled, almost to herself. “You’re not the only one who got told to get lost for awhile,” and Lee looked at her curiously. “David ‘encouraged’ me to take some time off. Actually, he said,” and she looked at Lee, “well, never mind what he said. Suffice it to say I took the hint.”
“He’s who you called to clear staying longer.”
“He’s had to cover my workload as well as his own, except for the couple days I was gone. He didn’t want to call, but that was my mess to clean up.” She heaved a long sigh. “And now this…” Lee gave her a curious look. She sighed again and shook her head, lost in her own thoughts for awhile before repeating almost to herself, “blind, deaf, dumb as an ox.” She looked at Lee. “The ox returneth,” and Lee just raised his eyebrows in puzzlement. “Mike,” she answered, and returned her gaze to the sea before continuing.
“One of the suggestions the lawyer made when I decided to go back to college was to change my name as well as school. One, the police had never been able to find Mike; and two, it just made more of a break from the past. I started using my middle name and legally changed my last name to my mother’s maiden name. I hadn’t thought about Mike in years, or if I did, chalked it up to a miserable but ultimately enlightening learning experience. Because of him, I ‘found’ Aunt Theresa. When I went back to Portland last weekend I went through the mail that had been stacking up, the stuff my secretary didn’t know what to do with. Mike had somehow, after all these years, found me. The letter was so constructed that the average person wouldn’t have realized, but I knew what he was up to. He was basically threatening to tell my partner I’d been a drunk – among other things – anyway, about that time in my life, unless I paid him off.”
“Blackmail,” Lee breathed angrily, his fists starting to clench.
Rebecca noticed. “Chill, Lee. Idle threats. David’s known all about that since we first started talking about going into pra… business together. There was a post office box given as a contact, and David and I sat down and wrote him a nice note, basically telling him to go to hell, and both signed it.”
“Good for you.”
“So we thought, too. David called yesterday to say there had been another contact – this time Mike called, and since now the secretaries knew what was going on as well, David took the call. He wouldn’t tell me all that was said, just that Mike threatened to make my past public, some kind of newspaper ad or something.”
“But from what you’ve told me, it’s not all that bad.”
“No, but he could make it look worse than it was… and there’s a few things I haven’t told you,” she added apologetically.
“He could hurt you?”
“David and I talked about that. Yes, it could cause some major problems. David called the police, and also our lawyer.”
“Let me guess – there’s nothing they can do unless this Mike character does something and then, if he sticks to the facts, you can’t even get him for harassment.”
“You got it. David had the police run his name, but apparently, wherever he’s been all these years, he’s kept himself out of trouble. DAMN!!!”
“What are you going to do?” Lee asked softly.
“Spent all night down here trying to figure that out.” They were silent for awhile, until Lee grinned.
“You could always hold a press conference first, tell the media, whoever, that your ex-husband is being vindictive and has threatened to expose a less than perfect youth which you’ve long ago overcome and have no intentions of giving in to his harassment.”
As Lee was speaking, a surprised expression appeared on Rebecca’s face, followed by one of almost unholy glee. “That’s positively insidious.” She giggled. “And I love it.” She gave Lee a speculative look.
He just shrugged his shoulders. “Too many years spent hanging around my calm, cool, collected, and slightly warped XO,” he replied to the unasked question.
“He sounds a lot like David. I’ve always been the serious one. David… makes me be silly once in awhile. Keeps me leveled off.”
“Chip to a tee,” Lee agreed. Any reply Rebecca may have made was interrupted by her stomach making itself heard – loudly! Lee chuckled. “That’s what you get for missing breakfast,” and glanced at his watch. “Lunch, too,” he added, noting it was almost 1:30. “Promised myself I owed you dinner. How about tonight?”
“You’re on. Especially since I was so upset yesterday afternoon I didn’t eat then, either.”
“Breakfast yesterday was your last meal?” Lee asked and she just nodded shamefully. “You’re almost up to a few of my records,” he commented, his eyes sparkling, and they rose and headed back up the beach.
* * * *
It turned out they didn’t go out to eat after all. Tim was just getting the barbeque grill going as Lee and Rebecca got back, and Annie was adamant that she still owed Rebecca a meal. They ended up stuffed with barbequed steak, potato wedges and corn on the cob, also done on the grill, wilted spinach salad, and great huge slices of watermelon for dessert that all four sat outside on the lawn eating with their hands, making a mess and having an absolutely wonderful time. As guests returned they were invited to help finish off the watermelon, and everyone enjoyed a relaxed evening of conversation, storytelling, and laughter. It broke up only gradually, seemingly no one wanting the evening to end. It was almost 10:30 before the Deans grudgingly departed for their room, sighting the need to get at least partially ready to leave in the morning. Ms’ Bender and Danberg followed shortly, with the Tressaults soon after. Just before 11pm Tim stretched and yawned, setting up a chain reaction in the others, and everyone headed in. Lee was a bit surprised that Rebecca had lasted so long after her night on the beach. He had very personal knowledge of just how great a toll mental anguish took on physical reserves. Walking upstairs together, he smiled to himself as Rebecca slowed perceptively the last few steps.
“Ok, ok, rub it in,” she grumbled, turning toward him at the top.
“Yeah, like I have the right to say anything,” he chuckled, and they said goodnight.
Lee slept peacefully but woke early, just before 5:30, not sure for a bit why. Then he heard it, a small sound outside his door. Since in all the time Rebecca had been here he had yet to hear her leave for her early morning runs he grinned, rose, and poked his head out the door. Rebecca was doing some stretches just inside her open bedroom door and raised her eyebrows. Lee smiled, raised his hand with fingers outstretched, indicating 5 minutes. Changing quickly into sweats, he met her outside and drove to the park. Talk was minimal as both enjoyed the cool air and quiet beach. Grinning, Rebecca let Lee set the pace, a slow jog for the most part. He teased her as they turned around about whether she was going to continue on a ways, but she said she thought she’d give the seagulls a break this morning. There was momentary indecision on Rebecca’s part when they got back to the B&B just after 8am as Lee automatically headed for the back door. Annie solved the problem by opening the screen door and calling to Lee. “Wondered where you got to. Come on in, Rebecca,” and they went through the kitchen to join those still at breakfast.
Lee collected a wink from Tim as he and Rebecca filled their plates. Annie appeared from the kitchen with freshly made apple-stuffed crepes, this day’s entrée, and also gave Lee a teasing glance. He just shook his head and smiled. Brad had already left, as well as the Tressaults who had gotten an early start for Coos Bay, about 150 miles down the coast, for the day. The Deans were halfway through breakfast when Lee and Rebecca came in. Talk at the table revolved around everyone’s plans for the day. The ladies from Spokane were going to Depot Bay to shop and take a whale-watching cruise. From here, the Deans were driving north to Seattle. Rebecca it turned out visited there often and gave them a list of her favorite places. Eventually it was just Lee, Rebecca, and their hosts left, and Annie took a gentle jab.
“And what are you up to today, Lee, since you’ve already had your beach time?” Her voice and expression were all innocent, but Lee still looked at her wearily and gave her a small kick under the table.
“Hadn’t thought any further than my shower.”
“If you can manage to stay out of trouble today,” Tim teased, “we’re driving up to Netarts tomorrow to go crabbing with friends. We’d love to have you both go along.”
“But would your friends?” Lee quipped.
“That’s already been discussed, smarty,” and Annie took a half-hearted swing at him, then chuckled. “The more the merrier.”
“Actually,” Rebecca interjected, “I’ve been thinking about going home tomorrow. My partner’s been covering for me long enough. Not to mention a little unfinished business he and I need to take care of,” and she gave Lee a look and a smile.
“Why don’t you follow us up and spend the day, anyway. We’ll be leaving here about 8am or so. I’ll fix breakfast but Michelle’s coming in to clean up. Jan and I usually send the boys out crabbing and we go to Tillamook for the day. A little shopping, lunch at the cheese factory…”
“Their freshly made ice cream for dessert,” Tim inserted with a smile.”
“Don’s idea of crabbing,” Annie countered, “is setting the pots, dropping anchor, and sitting around drinking beer and BSing until it’s time to pull in the pots.”
“Yeahhhhh,” Tim breathed and stretched, and everyone laughed.
“Jan and I have everything else ready by the time the guys get back, along with a contingency plan in the event they don’t catch anything,” and she grinned. “We’re usually on the road back here by 7-7:30. Taking off from there you’d be home by 9:00.”
Rebecca didn’t say anything for a bit. “I was just remembering the last time I went crabbing… Yes, I’d love to come. Thank you.”
“Good.” Annie started to clean up from the meal, and Lee and Rebecca headed upstairs. They were both quiet, but at the top Lee turned and asked. “Shower and a little sightseeing? I still haven’t seen much except the beach.”
Rebecca hesitated so long Lee wasn’t sure she was going to answer. “There’s something I’ve been putting off – haven’t had the guts. I’ll be back in a couple hours, then sure.” And she smiled.
“You don’t want company?” Lee asked quietly.
She looked at him intently a second, then dropped her eyes. “I… haven’t been to the cemetery since my parents were buried.” She looked up again and smiled. “Not usually something you ask someone else to do with you.”
“So who asked? I volunteered.”
Again she looked at him intently. “Then what?” she asked almost mischievously. “I thought you hated being a tourist.”
“But I love the sea. How about the tidal pools at the lighthouse?”
“Oh. Ok. But the first piece of seaweed you throw at me I’m out of there.” They both laughed and headed for their rooms.
Getting downstairs ahead of Rebecca Lee mentioned their plans to Annie, who supplied a lovely selection of flowers from her garden. Rebecca was silent for most of the drive, merely giving Lee directions. As they parked and walked through the well-kept cemetery Lee slowed his steps and stopped altogether several yards away from the double headstone Rebecca was walking toward, allowing her a measure of privacy. Kneeling by the graves for several minutes, she finally laid the flowers on the headstone, said something too quiet for Lee to hear, and rose and walked back toward the car. Lee joined her as she passed. As he opened the door for her she turned and looked at him.
“I suppose you’re wondering why I’ve never been back until now.”
“None of my business.”
“I’ve always felt that as long as I held them in my heart, and in my mind, that it wasn’t necessary to visit the place that held only their shells.”
“So why now?” Lee asked softly.
“Something you said.”
“Uh oh,” and Lee ducked his head, wincing. Rebecca just laughed.
“No, Lee, It was a good thing.” He finally looked at her and she smiled. “The day of the thunderstorm – now you know why I’ve always hated them – you were talking about running on empty, and needing to refill yourself from the well. You made me realize how stupid I’d always been, blaming storms for the accident, and that I needed to come here and tell them that, to continue the healing process. I have no idea why it’s taken me so long…”
“Maybe until now you just weren’t ready,” Lee said quietly. Rebecca gave him a speculative look, then just shook her head and got into the car.
They didn’t say much as Lee drove south again to Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. The lighthouse was Oregon’s tallest, Lee discovered as he and Rebecca toured the 93’ structure that had opened in 1872. Now fully automated, it was still a very active aid to navigation.
Below and just to the south was an old rock quarry that had been turned into man-made tidal pools. Rebecca said when she’d first come here as a child the only access was by way of a long flight of wooden stairs. Now however a series of concrete pathways made the area navigable by wheelchair. The tide was going out as they meandered down to the pools, and they spent almost two hours wandering around enjoying all the plant and animal life with which the pools teamed. There weren’t a lot of people around so when Rebecca gently touched Lee’s shoulder as he was watching a starfish and said softly, “We’re being watched,” he was startled, until he looked to where she was pointing. Fifteen feet away, in the middle of the pool Lee was standing on the edge of, a sea otter had poked his head up, just observing. It was hard to tell who was more interested in watching whom for a bit, until a noisy group of children coming down the walkway disturbed the otter and his head slipped below the surface. Lee and Rebecca smiled at each other, continued their exploration for a bit longer, and eventually headed back to the B&B. Invited to stay for dinner the two opted instead to change and go out, ending up eating at a Chinese restaurant and returning about 8:30. Annie was visiting with Ms Bender and Danberg, and Rebecca joined them. Annie caught Lee’s eye and pointed down, and Lee found Tim downstairs in the couple’s apartment watching a baseball game. The two visited until the end of the game, about 10:30, then returned upstairs. The Tressaults had just returned after a long day of antique shopping. Everyone else had already gone upstairs and they followed shortly. Lee helped Tim and Annie clean up, and got to bed just before 11:00.
Because of the day’s planned activities as well as Rebecca’s eventual departure, neither went to the beach the next morning. Even with everything else going on Annie hadn’t scrimped on breakfast and had made Eggs Florentine in individual ramekins, and no one was hurried to eat. Michelle arrived about 8:00 and by 8:30 everyone was ready to go, Lee riding with Rebecca, following Tim and Annie. They arrived at Netarts shortly before 10am, and after introductions were made to Don and Jan Olden, retired friends of the Hughes’, the ladies made their plans for the day and the guys headed for Netarts Bay. As they loaded Don’s skiff Lee was indoctrinated into the joys of crabbing.
Nine wire crab pots were transferred from Don’s pickup to the skiff, Tim explaining that while no license was required, they were allowed only 3 pots per person. A large cooler was also stowed, loaded with sandwiches and beer – and also soft drinks, Lee smiled to note – as well as a bag full of raw chicken backs to use as bate in the crab pots.
By 10:45 they were dropping the bated and buoy-marked pots into the bay, which Don explained was just about perfect timing. The best time to crab, he explained, was the hour before and after high tide, which today was at 11:28am. Lee had to grin as Annie’s description of Don’s crabbing techniques proved quite accurate. After the pots were placed Don motored into a shady cove, dropped anchor, and opened the cooler. During the next two hours Lee learned that Don was a retired Fire Fighter. He’d started out with the Department of Natural Resources fighting forest fires, then got a job with the city of Tillamook. Lee also learned that Don was an almost unstoppable storyteller. By 2 pm Lee’s stomach muscles were so sore from laughing he could barely help pull up the crab pots. Everyone pulled on heavy gloves, and as each pot was brought into the skiff Lee and Tim handled the catch of Dungeness crabs, determining if each was male or female, the latter being released back into the bay. Don measured each male to make sure it was over the legal keeping size of 5 ¾ inches across the back, and indicated which of two water-filled holding tanks he wanted them dropped into, dividing them roughly by size. They kept careful count of how many were in each tank, and as the last several pots were pulled up some of the smaller crabs were replaced with larger ones until the limit of 12 apiece was reached, keeping the largest and releasing the rest.
They returned to the Olden’s house shortly after 3:30. The ladies had already returned and a fire was started in a brick fire pit. Over the fire was hung a huge iron pot filled with fresh water and a bit of sea salt. The men then set to work cleaning their catch by popping off the backs, breaking the crabs in half, and washing out the viscera and gill filaments. What was left was shell and edible meat, and they were tossed momentarily into a cooler with ice at the bottom. By the time all the crabs were cleaned the water in the pot was just about boiling and the ladies started setting out the rest of the meal on a large wooden picnic table. The water started boiling, the crabs were dumped in, and 20 minutes later everyone sat down to the meal, which also included a Greek salad and hunks of crusty French bread. Don continued to regale everyone with his stories, toned down a bit now that the ladies were present, and not all the crab shells ended up in the large bowl set in the middle of the table as Jan started lobbing a few at her husband after a particularly raucous joke, and others got into the act as well. Lee managed to ‘accidentally’ pour a glassful of ice down Annie’s back as he got up to retrieve more crabs. The resulting scream could have been heard in the next county, followed by “Lee Crane, you yo-yo!!!” and everyone howled.
About 7 pm Lee noticed Rebecca start to say her goodbyes. It had taken that long to get the Olden’s back yard policed and put back in order as everyone was so full they could barely move. Lee walked with her to her car, not sure how he was going to say what he needed to. Apparently she was having the same problem as they reached the car still in silence, then both started to speak at the same time. They chuckled, and Lee acquiesced to Rebecca. Still she hesitated a moment.
“I don’t quite know how to say goodbye,” she finally sighed, looking up at him. “I can’t remember enjoying a vacation more – at least the last part of it.”
“Same here,” Lee answered quietly. “Maybe…” and he hesitated. “Maybe it’s enough that for this point in time we were the sounding board that each other needed.
“I can handle that,” she grinned up at him. “Thanks for being there.”
“Same here,” and was embarrassed at his inarticulate response. She seemed to read his thoughts and chuckled, embarrassing him further.
“Chill, Lee. Just be the doer I know you are and give me a hug. If nothing else it will drive Annie crazy,” and Lee was still laughing as he walked back toward his friends.
* * * *
Lee told Tim and Annie over breakfast Friday that he’d be leaving the next morning.
Good,” Annie said all businesslike. “While we were gone yesterday Michelle took 7 requests for reservations – I need your room,” but spoiled it as she burst out laughing.
“Dumped by one lady so you’re running back to the other one,” Tim teased as well, and Lee had to admit he was beginning to miss Seaview. He spent his last full day at the B&B running errands with Tim, helping him do some repairs around the place, then taking Tim and Annie out to dinner. He did most of his packing that evening, then slept soundly. Waking early he took his bags down to the car before enjoying another of Annie’s incredible breakfasts, this one highlighted by vegetable omelets stuffed with onion, green pepper, zucchini, and tomato. After the remaining guests had left and before Martin was due to start resurfacing the drive, he took his leave.
“Thanks for having me,” he said as the three stood by his car, “Especially since I sort of invited myself.”
“Now that you know the way, don’t be such a stranger,” Tim replied.
“You got that, Mister?” Annie added adamantly, emphasized by poking Lee hard in the chest, then giving him a huge hug, which he returned.
“Yes, gorgeous,” Lee laughed. “I got that,” and headed home.
Lee had been back to work almost two weeks and was just taking care of a few last minute details in the office before Seaview left on her next cruise when the letter came. His arrival back at the Institute had brought varied reactions. Chip had welcomed him back heartily, then dumped all the status reports on the refit into Lee’s ‘In’ basket, walking away merrily laughing as Lee glared at him. Doc had sent a memo scheduling an appointment for the next day. Lee had kept it faithfully, much to Doc’s surprise, and merely smiled to himself when Doc verified Lee had gained 7 pounds. Lee had been very nervous, almost dreading his first encounter with Admiral Nelson, but he’d worried for nothing. Nelson had taken one look at him, harrumphed and muttered, “it’s about time,” and immediately started talking about Seaview’s next mission.
The letter surprised him. It was addressed to him at the Institute. The return address on the pre-printed business envelope was Radiwan and Bassett with a Portland, Oregon address, but neither name meant anything to him. However, to the left side of his address the envelope had been marked ‘Personal’ and the secretary had simply slit the top, not disturbing the letter inside. Puzzled, he’d taken it into his office to read. The letterhead caused an immediate frown to appear, but as he read the short message it slowly relaxed into a soft smile.
R. Lynn Radiwan, Psy.D
David M. Bassett, Psy.D
Hopefully you’ll forgive the subterfuge. I was running from my own problems and hadn’t intended on a working vacation. As it turned out, I’m not sure who helped who more. David said to tell whoever I spent the time with, he hasn’t seen me this relaxed in all the time he’s known me. A simple Thank You doesn’t seem adequate.
Mike, cockroach that he is, has crawled back into the woodwork. I suspect he must be wanted by some law enforcement organization somewhere, because when David and I confronted him with what we intended to do – and whether or not I’d have had the guts to go through with it I still don’t know – he immediately turned tail and ran. God that felt good!!! I think that’s one ghost I can finally exorcise
I know you don’t get away too often, but if you ever find yourself in the vicinity I know some great restaurants in the area. I’d take great comfort in knowing we could remain.
Rebecca (Duval’s my birth name)
“Friends would be just fine,” Lee said softly.
“What was that?” Lee jumped sharply. He hadn’t noticed Chip come in and lean against the doorframe.
“I said ‘friends can be a pain’,” Lee growled, then spoiled it by laughing. “What say we get our tails on board Seaview. I have a feeling she’s anxious to get out of here.”
“Just waiting for her Skipper,” Chip agreed, and the two headed for the dock.