Last summer, I read Another Place at the Table, a wonderful book about a family who has fostered more than 100 abandoned, abused, mentally challenged and physically handicapped children. It reminded me how blessed most of us are, to have had loving and in love parents, a safe, nurturing home to grow up in and great friends. After losing both of my parents in the last nine years, family means more to me than ever.
Using my favorite Voyage characters, I wrote this small tale, incorporating memories from my own childhood and experiences with my friends’ children. When I introduced the character of Meg in This night begins to change who we are, I had no idea I would use her again. But she certainly has come in handy! This story takes place about six years after This night ….. Lee and Meg are married and have a 5-year old daughter Lilly.
My own life has been so crazy this year, it has taken me forever to complete this story. So long, in fact, that it includes the elements of Writing Contests #1 and #2.
Though a lot of great Voyage fiction has been written about Lee Crane’s supposed abusive childhood, I have never subscribed to that part of Voyage lore. In this story, all three families are loving and strong.
by Beth R.
Except for Sparks tinkering in the Radio Shack, Lee had the Control Room to himself. Seaview was home in Santa Barbara, the crew on shore leave and Lee, sitting in the Observation nose, was plowing through the final reports from the last mission, anxious to go home.
“Skipper, a call for you from Meg ….. uh, I mean, Mrs. Crane.”
“Pipe it up here, Sparks,” Lee chuckled, enjoying the crew’s easy familiarity with his wife.
Then, after a moment, “OK, Skipper, go ahead.”
“Thanks Sparks,” Lee said, reaching for the intercom. Then, brightly, “Hey, Meg, what’s up?”
There was a too-long pause. “Lee …..” Meg’s voice was soft and small.
Lee looked up at the speaker positioned above the chart table, suddenly feeling uneasy.
“Meg ….. sweetheart ….. what’s wrong? ….. Meg?”
“Lee ….. it’s ….. your father.”
Seven o’clock the next morning …..
The Admiral was at home, sitting by the pool, still in his robe, fresh from his morning swim, reading the morning paper, a cup of coffee steaming beside him. He so enjoyed this time of day. To meditate. To relax. To plan and prioritize the day ahead. The city was still quiet, the air still cool, the sun just beginning to show above the trees.
The soft yet insistent ring of his cell phone broke the spell. Checking caller ID, he pressed the phone to his ear and said cheerfully, “Good morning, Meg,”
“Harry, forgive me for calling so early, but ….. “
“Not at all,” Nelson reassured her. But Meg didn’t sound like herself. Her voice was weary, strained.
“Meg, is everything alright?”
After a telling pause, “Lee’s father died yesterday. Lee took the ‘red-eye’ to Providence late last night and I’m flying out in a few hours. I hate to ask this of you – and on such short notice - but can you take Lilly for the week?”
“Of course I can,” Nelson said without hesitation.
“Thanks, Harry,” Meg sighed gratefully. “I’ll pack a suitcase and drop Lilly off in about an hour.”
A week later …..
Surrounded by a sea of floating pool toys, the Admiral, in swim trunks and tee shirt, and Lilly, sporting a bright yellow, one-piece swimsuit, were sitting on the steps in the shallow end of the pool, putting on their snorkeling gear. With mask and snorkel in place, Lilly was struggling with the flippers when suddenly, a familiar voice sang out, “Anybody home?”
“Daddy!” Lilly cried as she looked up and saw her father round the side of the house and stride across the patio. Lee was dressed in casual clothes, comfortable for travel: faded, well-fitting jeans, woven leather shoes, no socks and a cream-colored linen shirt, sleeves folded over and pushed up to his elbows. His sunglasses, propped on top of his head, were almost lost in the tangle of curls.
In an instant, Lilly threw the flippers into the pool, tore off her mask and snorkel, and taking the Admiral’s hand, climbed carefully out of the pool and ran to her father.
For Lee, the flow of time suddenly changed, and in his mind’s eye, Lilly appeared to be moving in slow motion. Her startling green eyes, huge with surprise and delight …. her outstretched arms, bronzed by the week in the sun …. the slap of her wet feet on the stone patio …. her joyful, uninhibited laughter …. her curly hair, flying, leaving a sparkling trail of water droplets behind her. Lee would never forget how she looked this day.
As she approached him, he crouched down to meet her, then folded to his knees as she tumbled into his arms. Lee crushed Lilly against him, burying his face in the crook of her shoulder, against the soft, sweet-smelling skin of her neck, the scent of childhood and sunshine.
“Daddy,” she said, pulling away to face him, her arms outstretched, both hands resting on his shoulders, “Harry told me Grandpa went to heaven.”
Lee looked up at the Admiral and smiled sadly. “Your grandfather was very sick,” Lee said gently, looking into Lilly’s eyes as his began to fill with tears. “God couldn’t bear to see him in such pain. So He called him to heaven. Now your grandfather isn’t suffering anymore.”
“Will I ever see him again?” she asked sadly.
“Yes, you will. Someday ….. ” Lee said wistfully. “But until then? He’ll be right here,” Lee said, pressing the palm of his hand over Lilly’s heart. “He will always be with you …..” Lee could no longer contain his grief.
“Daddy, why are you crying?” Lilly asked innocently.
Through the mist of his tears, Lee looked at his daughter and couldn’t help but smile. “Because I love you …. and I missed you. And because I love and miss your grandfather. I wish he could see you now, how beautiful you are.”
“Did Grandma cry, too?”
“Yes, she did. She loved your grandfather very, very much.”
“I did, too, Daddy.”
“I know you did, sweetheart.” And with that, Lee drew his daughter back into his arms and simply held her.
After a quiet moment together, Lee whispered in her ear, “Sweetie, I’d like to say hello to the Admiral.” Lifting Lilly to her feet, Lee rose, stepped forward and wordlessly sagged into the Admiral’s embrace.
“Lee, I am so sorry,” Nelson said softly.
In a rare moment of surrender, Lee gave in to his grief and exhaustion, and lowered his forehead to rest on the Admiral’s shoulder.
“Are you alright?”
Lee shook his head slightly, his voice muffled against the Admiral’s shirt. “I don’t know. I feel ….. numb ….. lost.”
Nelson could hear weakness in Lee’s voice - it was hoarse and a little higher than usual. He could feel weakness in Lee’s body - he was trembling and seemed a bit unsteady on his feet.
“Lee, how long has it been since you’ve eaten something?”
Lee reluctantly pulled away from the Admiral.
“I had some coffee early this morning,” Lee admitted. “But the connections were so tight, I didn’t have a chance to grab breakfast or lunch.”
“OK. Come over here and sit down,” the Admiral send firmly, guiding Lee to a comfortable, cushioned patio chair. “Rest. Get reacquainted with your daughter.” Then, turning to Lilly, “Lil’, can you take care of your father for a few minutes while I make lunch?”
“Yes, Harry,” Lilly said, nodding solemnly. Then she scrambled into her father’s lap, wrapped one arm around his neck and proceeded to tell him of her week with the Admiral.
The Admiral could hear Lilly’s light, sibilant voice from the kitchen. Lee could barely squeeze in a “Wow!” or “You did?” as Lilly raved about snorkeling in the pool, building sandcastles at the beach, having lunch with the crew on board Seaview, going to the movies – Toy Story 3 – and reading the entire Cat in the Hat series – twice!
In a few minutes, the Admiral returned, carrying a tray piled high with fresh tomato sandwiches, melon wedges and crisp, salty potato chips. Lilly slid from her father’s lap and climbed into the patio chair next to him.
“Lil’ and I found these fabulous beefsteak tomatoes at the farmer’s market yesterday,” Nelson said.
“The watermelon, too, Daddy,” added Lilly.
Lee served Lilly before helping himself to a sandwich.
“This tastes wonderful! Thank you, sweetheart,” he said to Lilly, reaching over to smooth a few errant curls from her forehead, his hand lingering. Her mouth full of sandwich, Lilly just nodded and smiled up at him.
Lee turned to Nelson. “Thanks, Admiral,” he said gratefully. “I didn’t realize how hungry I was.”
They sat for several hours, talking quietly, easily, about Lee’s father, the week back East, vacation plans. Then, without even realizing it, sliding into talk of Seaview, potential upgrades, future projects. At some point, Lilly, having reclaimed her spot on Lee’s lap, had fallen sound asleep.
As the afternoon wore on, Lee began to fade. His eyelids felt almost too heavy to lift and he was having difficulty concentrating on what the Admiral was saying.
“Lee, why don’t you take your daughter’s lead and get some sleep,” the Admiral said chuckling. “You can barely keep your eyes open. Meg doesn’t arrive for a few hours yet.”
Lee simply nodded and sighed deeply, too tired to protest. “Come on, Itsy-Bitsy,” he said as he rose to his feet, lifting a stirring Lilly into his arms. “Let’s go take a nap.” He took a few steps toward the patio doors, then, as if forgetting something, turned around and faced Nelson.
“Admiral? ….. thank you. Lilly, Meg and I couldn’t have managed this week without you.”
Nelson just smiled. “Families help each other, Lee. And you are my family.”
Lee’s smile was shy, bittersweet. Then, nodding almost imperceptibly, he turned and walked into the house.
Late that afternoon …..
“Is it my imagination, or have the pool toys been fruitful and multiplied?” Meg asked, announcing her arrival.
The Admiral turned in surprise and rose from his chair to greet her. “Meg, welcome back!”
“Thanks, Harry. It’s good to be home,” Meg sighed, accepting a hug from the Admiral.
“I cannot tell a lie,” Nelson confessed, in answer to Meg’s question. “I’m afraid I succumbed to Lil’s charms and bought a few more.”
“Be careful, Harry,” Meg warned lightly. “Lilly may be only five years old – but she knows how to use her ‘feminine wiles!’ In her mind, one can never have too many pool toys.”
“I’m beginning to realize that!” laughed the Admiral warmly.
“Where …. is Lee alright?” Meg asked as she looked around the yard.
Nelson nodded. “He’s asleep in the guestroom. With a beautiful young lady, I might add,” he teased. He took Meg’s arm and led her into the house.
“Did Lilly give you any trouble?” Meg asked as they walked down the hall to the spare bedroom.
“Lilly? Never! She is a delight. Joyful, loving, inquisitive, bright ….. so much like her parents,” Nelson said, his eyes sparkling.
Meg glanced skeptically at the Admiral. “I hope you’re not just being nice. Lilly can be a handful.”
“Well, she is a bit energetic,” Nelson laughed. “But we kept busy.” As they approached the bedroom, he lowered his voice. “I’ll let Lil’ tell you all about it.”
The door was slightly ajar. Meg slowly pushed it open.
Lee lay sprawled in the center of the huge bed, on his back, on top of a luxurious, plush, tapestry bedspread. Lilly was cuddled beside her father, lying on her side, her cheek resting on Lee’s shoulder, one arm stretched across his chest. Lee’s head was turned slightly, his nose buried in Lilly’s black, silky curls, his arm around her.
Lee’s feet were bare, his shoes lying in a tumble on the cool, stone floor. He had helped Lilly out of her bathing suit, sponged off a few layers of sunscreen and, at Lilly’s insistence, dressed her in her favorite clothes: light-pink, lacy, summer sleepwear.
Except for the soothing sounds of a gentle ocean and an occasional raucous gull, the room was quiet and cool. The ceiling fan rotated lazily above the bed and sheer curtains billowed gently at the windows as ocean breezes floated over the sleepers.
“They are so beautiful,” Meg whispered, finding herself holding back tears. Turning to the Admiral, she said softly, as if realizing it for the first time, “And they’re mine. They belong to me.” Then, turning back to the bed, in awe, “He has so much love to give.”
The Admiral smiled, gave Meg’s shoulder a squeeze and left the room, quietly closing the door behind him.
Meg willed her body to relax, to relish this moment of peace, of absolute bliss, nestled beside her sleeping husband and daughter. But her mind was a whirlwind of memories and emotions from the week in Providence. Certainly the sorrow of great loss. But also moments of great joy, memories to savor and treasure ….
Those times, late at night, in bed, folded in each other’s arms, when Lee, whispering through the dark, would open his heart and share his grief.
Lee’s tender, loving relationship with his mother. Mrs. Crane’s eyes when she looked at him.
How relatives and close friends were drawn to Lee. His elegant, calm demeanor. His warmth and gentle humor.
At sunset, after the burial, when guests had retreated to their homes and hotel rooms to rest, when Lee, Meg and his mother sat outside on the patio, over chilled glasses of wine, and through laughter and tears, shared stories of Lee’s father.
The morning Mrs. Crane announced it was time for Lee and Meg to go home, to return to Santa Barbara, to Lilly, to their own lives.
Gradually lulled to sleep by the sounds of the sea, Lee’s deep, regular breathing and Lilly’s occasional sighs and soft whimpers, Meg’s last conscious thoughts were, “This is all I want ….. this is all I’ll ever need.”