PERKS & PRIVILEGES
Sequel to Holiday Trauma
Lee Crane cast an experienced eye over the controls in front of him before he set the automatic pilot on the small craft. He was so familiar with FS1’s layout he could have done it in his sleep. In fact Seaview’s entire crew – almost to a man – referred to the little yellow manta ray look-alike as his ‘baby’! Not something he was entirely comfortable with but – what the hey! They - courtesy of his friend Chip Morton, well, he was blaming Morton anyway - referred to the boat as ‘his lady’! The thought almost made him chuckle – it wasn’t something he could deny. Chip knew him better than anyone and that was the way he thought of Seaview and, by extension, FS1 had become her offspring, cradled as it was when at rest in the belly of the giant leviathan. With time on his hands while the sleek craft arced through the skies he allowed his mind to drift.
Seaview was his – he practically groaned aloud at the almost poetry of it – partner, safe haven, the place he felt most comfortable, truly at home. Chip would laugh til his sides split if he ever voiced those thoughts aloud. No, he was being unfair to his friend. Chip would understand the sentiments. Lee knew Morton had an almost proprietary interest in the boat, not just as a plank owner but also because of the fact that the boat had saved both their sorry hides on too many occasions to recount. She was more than just a vessel and it humbled him not just to be in charge of her but to be in her charge.
Something of his thoughts must have shown on his face as the man in the co-pilot seat looked up from his reading material to comment.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
“Not worth half that.” A little embarrassed at his fanciful ramblings Lee prevaricated, dredging up something that had been on his mind earlier as an excuse. “Was just thinking about the first time I made this trip. Long time ago now.”
Carefully marking his place in the journal he’d been engrossed in, the lean slightly balding older man was more than content to save it for later. It wasn’t often he got his captain – and friend – to volunteer information about his early years. Crane was an intensely private man and his friends accepted that, rarely pushing for more than he was prepared to give but gladly savouring anything he was willing to share. Well, he amended silently, everyone except Morton that is. But, then again, Morton was the only one who could mercilessly niggle and hassle their young skipper until he spilled whatever it was Morton deemed it necessary for him to spill.
Will Jamieson knew the incident to which Crane referred – he’d heard the story once over a shared drink with Admiral Harriman Nelson, Seaview’s owner and designer and their mutual boss. But he’d often thought he’d like to get it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak – from either of the individuals involved. He knew the chances of hearing it from Chip Morton were negligible – the exec safeguarded the captain’s privacy equally as zealously as he guarded his own. And he’d never honestly thought that he would hear it from the man beside him who took the terms ‘reserved’ and ‘self-effacing’ to almost ridiculous lengths. Today Lee was in high spirits – unlike himself – and unusually expansive, his golden hazel eyes twinkling in merriment and he was obviously looking forward the days ahead – again unlike himself. Shaking himself out of his bad mood and glad for something to divert his thoughts, he settled back in the leather seat to enjoy the story – Lee was a hell of a raconteur when he wanted to be, something else he had in common with Nelson.
Crane shook his head slightly, chuckling, eyes dancing as he enjoyed what were obviously happy memories. With one more professional glance at the console to ensure all was right with his ‘baby’ he gave himself over to the story.
“You know that Chip and I were assigned as room mates at the Academy, right?”
At the doctor’s nod he continued, accepting that Jamieson knew more than a bit about him from his hefty medical chart. He surprised himself by acknowledging that he wasn’t exactly uncomfortable with that. It bespoke the depth of the friendship that had developed between them over the past almost four years since he’d taken over as Seaview’s captain and Jamieson had come aboard as CMO shortly afterwards.
“And you know that I was granted an age
waiver?” He’d been several months shy of
seventeen when he’d entered
“Older brother is the way he puts it.”
Crane snorted indelicately. “Yeah, right! Not the way I remember it! He was a total pain in the ass! He was just coming up on eighteen and almost went into shock when he realised that he was being paired with someone fourteen months younger than he was. He gave me hell those first few weeks.”
But the grin that almost split his face told Jamieson there was no resentment about the treatment he’d received. “What made him change his mind?”
It took a lot to actually see the blush on the olive cheeks but the shrug spoke volumes. “Guess he found out that I could hold my own.”
More than, if what Jamieson had heard from Nelson was correct. But he knew instinctively there was something more – something that had forged the bond, the brotherhood, between the two. He waited in silent anticipation. If Lee wanted to share he would, but it wouldn’t be pulled or dragged from him.
Another small deprecatory shrug. “I guess it was OK when he did it but he didn’t like his roomie being the brunt of the rest of our year’s jollies. He felt he had to stand up for me – cos I was his roomie.”
And somewhere along the line, Jamieson surmised, the bond that existed between them – unlike anything he’d ever experienced outside of siblings and rare enough even between most kinsmen – had been forged. It being obvious that Lee wasn’t going to expand any further on that subject, the physician brought the conversation back to its original topic.
“You were headed to
“Just like now – except the travel arrangements weren’t quite as comfortable. Chip had been pestering me for weeks to join his family for the holiday as he knew my mother was going to be out of the country on business. I was all prepared to stay in the dorm but he wouldn’t hear of it. It was really no big deal.”
And Jamieson knew that to the younger man it
wasn’t – but it should have been. He’d
gleaned enough about Lee’s formative years to realise that while he’d been
loved unconditionally by his mother, who’d been widowed when Lee was just five
years old, she’d put greater store in supplying his physical rather than
emotional needs. Abby Crane was CEO of one
of the leading Fortune 500 companies in the
“In actual fact I wasn’t sure that I wanted to gatecrash someone else’s party anyway. The way Chip put it there were countless uncles and aunts, sisters and cousins, neighbours swarming all over the place. Sounded like a melee and I had some study to catch up on also.” Not that Jamieson believed that for a moment. He knew from all he’d heard that Lee had been top of his class from the moment he’d entered the Academy and remained there all four years. But he could imagine the shock that a family such as Morton had described would impact on an only child and an introvert like Lee. Wisely remaining silent lest some comment would put Lee off his meanderings down memory lane, he reached down for the flask of coffee that Cookie had thoughtfully packed and poured each of them a cup.
Lee accepted his gratefully, he thrived on the high-octane brew and nothing could dampen his mood today. He grinned, relishing the memories. “Chip wore me down eventually. He’s good at that, was then too. But it was a letter from mom that clinched it.” Jamieson could almost hear the awe in the younger man’s voice and knew he was referring to Claire Morton. “She wrote me the most incredible letter. I still have it, kept it all these years.”
His voice tailed off and he shook himself back to the here and now from that distant, very personal, memory. Will knew he wasn’t going to reveal the contents of that letter but felt a rush of warmth and gratitude for the woman who’d taken this extraordinary young man into her family.
“Anyway, to cut a long story short, by the time I decided to accept Chip’s invitation he’d already booked his flight and we couldn’t get seats together. I spent the entire three hours wedged between a Vietnam Vet who wanted to talk shop when he saw my uniform and a mother with a screaming kid on her knee. By the time the flight landed I was so ready to get out of there. And then, while we were waiting for our bags, Chip thought he should just warn me that perhaps, maybe, his little sisters weren’t exactly going to welcome me with open arms.” Lee shook his head amusedly. “That was all I needed! I just about bolted. I was nervous enough about meeting his family. No cell phones or e-mail back then so most of the communication was by mail and Chip hadn’t told me that his sisters were pissed off that he was bringing a friend with him for the holidays. As plebes we hadn’t been allowed out for Thanksgiving so this was their first chance to see Chip since he’d left for the Academy and they weren’t best pleased that he was bringing me home. Course Chip, being Chip, hadn’t bothered to tell me that little detail until we were standing at the baggage carousel in O’Hare.”
Jamieson chuckled – typical Morton! Get the job done and worry about the consequences later. And how often had he, personally, been grateful for the exec’s expertise in that area?
“So you can imagine how I was feeling right then. Anxiety levels shot through the roof! I didn’t know any teenage girls. I mean NONE! And of course soon as Chip saw my face he began to backtrack! They’d come round, things would be great. It wasn’t one of our XO’s finer moments! Closest thing I’ve ever seen him come to full blown panic mode.” There was a certain gleeful element in Crane’s tone which made Jamieson chuckle all the more – it wasn’t heard very often. “He told me later that he thought I was just going to take off, right there and then. And all he was worried about was how he was going to explain it to mom!” The love and affection in his friend’s tone almost brought tears to the doctor’s eyes.
“Once the bags came through, I had no choice. Chip grabbed mine and gave me such a glare – you know the one he has that says ‘just don’t try it, cos you really don’t want to see how I’m going to retaliate’ –…. At Jamieson’s emphatic nod, he continued, “so I took his bag when it came by and we walked out to the arrivals area.”
Lee’s laughter filled the small craft and Jamieson revelled in the seldom-heard sound. And watched as Crane shook his head in what he could best describe as bafflement. “What I remember most is the squeals. Never knew teenage girls actually did that! But when Katy and Sari saw Chip they just leapt on him. And hugged him so tight. He was trying to do that stoic thing that he does, you know, and not react. But he couldn’t. He was hugging them back as much as they were hugging him.”
Lost in the memory it took Jamie’s soft voiced query to recall him to the present. “And you?”
The light that lit the golden eyes blazed so brightly that it caused Jamieson to blink. “Ah, you could just not imagine it, Jamie. I’d been dreading this for weeks. Made every excuse under the sun not to go there and then she just stepped up and wrapped her arms around me.”
He could almost feel the memory of the younger man’s bewilderment.
Lee’s voice dropped an entire octave. “She hugged me so hard. It was like coming home. I can’t really describe it. She was about half a head shorter than me but when she put her arms around me it was like I’d been there before. She said….”
Jamie was alarmed to hear his skipper’s voice wobble – only very slightly before he composed himself – but it spoke volumes for the trust he was placing in sharing that very personal moment.
“‘I’m Claire, Chip’s mom. Welcome home, Lee. You can call me ‘mom’ too, honey.’”
“And you have, Lee.” Jamie intoned softly.
“She made it so. She was just ‘mom’ from that first moment.” There was an element of confusion in his voice, which didn’t escape the experienced physician. “It’s not like she tried to take over or anything. She just ‘was’ – if that makes any sense. And it’s not like I don’t love my mother. I do, she’s fantastic.”
It was Jamieson’s turn to shrug. “No biggie, Lee. You were lucky enough to have two amazing women in your life. It sounds like you had the very best of both worlds. And I’m guessing that you managed to turn around Chip’s two sisters while you were at it.” That was a given. Jamie could only imagine what a seventeen-year-old Lee would have looked like to two younger teenage girls. There were times he’d had the thirty-something-man sleeping or unconscious in his sickbay when he’d thought of him as looking no older than a teenager and had marvelled at his ability to command the world’s greatest submarine. He must have been quite a sight back then when Chip’s ticked off sisters first laid eyes on him – actually the pair of them must have presented a ‘Kodak moment’ in their tailored uniforms. Be still my beating heart! And he tried to mute the snicker that thought generated by taking a deep draught from his coffee cup.
“They came round - eventually. I’m positive they were under strict
instructions from mom to make me feel welcome – as much to take the pressure
off Chip as anything else. And they’d
drawn the short straw – having to take care of their brother’s unknown and
possibly weirdo friend. It looked to me
as if the Mortons had invited the whole of
Jamieson gave way to full blown laughter. He’d known there was a story to Lee’s adoption at the hands of the Morton clan. “So I’m guessing Chip ditched the party and joined you guys?”
“Not only Chip but mom too. There we were on Christmas Eve all squashed into the kiddies’ tree house in the back garden with this swanky party going on in the house.” He shook his head, obviously still bemused. “She was wearing this terrific dress, all sparkles and beads and she had the hardest time climbing the tree.” He began to laugh heartily at the memory. “She was trying to hold up the dress with one hand and grip the branches and haul herself up with the other. Chip was boosting her from behind and I was trying to help her from above. The girls were no use, they were giggling too much. And mom was getting mad cos she wasn’t making any progress. Eventually she told the girls to shut their ears, uttered the only curse word I’ve ever heard her use, hiked up the skirt of her dress, tucked it into her knickers and pulled herself up into the tree house.”
Jamieson was laughing hard too by the time Lee finished but he was the first to sober. Choosing his words carefully he ventured his opinion. “I think that’s probably the moment you fell in love with her.”
Lee sipped his coffee, head to one side as he seriously considered the CMO’s words. “I think it’s probably – subconsciously – when she became my mom.” Disbelief and confusion were still evident in his tone. “I just couldn’t imagine anyone – let alone the hostess – abandoning her party and her guests to sit in a tree house with her kids. MAC* – my mother – would have been schmoozing the crowd, looking for useful business contacts. She’d never even have considered looking to see if I was alright, beyond making sure that I was still clean and neat and hadn’t messed my outfit.” There was no rancour or criticism in Lee’s voice, just acceptance.
He began to laugh his head off and Jamie had to prod him this time to share the memory – it was obviously a good one. It took several minutes for Lee to bring his mirth under control. “I just remembered that it took us longer to get mom out of the tree house than it took her to get in!”
“I guess we spent most of the evening up there, talking and stuff. She sent Chip or one of the girls down to raid the buffet when we got hungry or when she needed a glass of wine. Guess they made a couple more runs to the bar than they did to the buffet. So mom was a tad squiffy when Chip’s dad came looking for her as people were leaving.”
Lee shifted a little uncomfortably, as if telling tales out of school. But at Jamie’s chuckled ‘been there, done that’ he relaxed again. “It was so late that Katy and Sari had fallen asleep but we eventually got her down in one piece – took all three of us but we managed it and off she went with Bill to wish their guests goodnight.”
Jamieson had never before heard anything like the whoop of laughter that bellowed from his skipper who doubled over, clutching his stomach. He arched one enquiring eyebrow; almost dumbfounded at this totally different side of Lee that he was privy to. “I’m obviously missing out on something here.”
“Sorry, Jamie. I just haven’t told this story for such a long time. Mom would kill me! And happily feed my ashes to her favourite rose bushes!” Lee straightened with difficulty, checking the console perfunctorily once again out of habit.
“You can’t keep me in suspense now, Skipper. Unfair and unusual punishment!” Will complained, enjoying this other, rarely seen and completely relaxed side of his commanding officer.
“Oh, I’ll tell you but if you ever let on to Chip or, worse, Nelson then you are so dead! And if mom got to know that you know….” His voice trailed off as Lee shuddered.
Jamieson got the picture. He’d known Claire Morton – in a professional capacity - prior to joining Seaview and knew she was no pushover.* Putting on his most serene expression, he crossed-his-heart-and-hoped-to-die. Lee’s snicker was the response he was hoping for.
“Yeah, right! Bottom line …” Will almost levitated as his skipper convulsed, the subsequent explanation just about bringing his heart rate back in line. “See, when we got mom back down out of the tree she was fussing with her dress and stuff. She pulled it into position and fluffed it out the way girls do…but she forgot about the back and it was just as she was about to walk into the house that Chip and I saw that the back of the dress was still caught up in her knickers.”
Jamieson couldn’t help his guffaw at the image presented.
“Yup.” Lee nodded slowly. “I wanted to. Chip wanted to. But we just couldn’t go up there and pluck that piece of material out of her underwear. So she sailed past all the family, right out onto the front lawn, so dignified and gracious with her goodbyes and with the back of her dress caught up in her knickers.”
By this time Jamie had his head in his hands, wheezing, tears pouring out of his eyes as he envisaged the scene. He finally managed to get out, “so what did you two do?”
The amber eyes took on an unholy gleam. “What do you think, Jamie?”
Will groaned even as he snickered. “I’m afraid to ask!”
“Why, we did what every self-respecting teenage son has done since the dawning of the ages.
We found ourselves a perfect viewpoint, hidden from the masses, and howled ourselves silly as we watched mom graciously accept thanks and kudos for a wonderful party, grinning at all the double takes, lurid looks and horrified stares she got as the guests caught sight of her rear end so - blatantly - displayed.”
Jamie was holding his sides by now, tears coursing down his cheeks. He’d never dreamt his intensely private CO would deign to impart so personal an insight – never mind such a humorous one. “How…how did Chip react?” It was all he could do to choke out the words, his vocal chords almost spasming with the force of his laughter.
Lee chuckled as he reached forward to rescind
the autopilot, taking back control of the small craft as he tucked the throat
mike into position and prepared to set FS1 into a landing pattern at Great
Lakes Naval Base in
“So, give, Skipper? You can’t quit now!” Jamieson’s tone was plaintive.
“You want me to tell you to use your imagination?”
“No!” It was a squawk.
“I thought not.” Lee sighed, milking it for all he was worth – it wasn’t often he got the better of Seaview’s CMO. But he ventured nothing further, forcing the medic to probe.
“Oh, you want to know what happened when Chip found me eying his mom’s….?”
“For want of a better word, yeah, Skipper.” It was all Jamieson could do to control his mirth and curiosity.
Lee wanted to string him along. Would have loved to drag out the story. But he couldn’t. It was too special a memory for him to spin. “They’d said goodbye to the first lot to leave, mostly family, while we were still laughing our heads off. Then Chip spotted that some colleagues of mom’s from the school district were coming her way. Now we couldn’t let them see her like that so we needed to create a diversion, get her out of there, PDQ, and Chip reckoned the only way to do that was make her believe that I was sick. So I had to pretend that I was coming down with something gross, possibly food poisoning or an allergic reaction to something.”
He winced at the physician’s derisory snort. “It wasn’t my first choice either, Jamie. But we were limited for time – not to mention ideas! And, of course, Chip’s dad had no clue as to what was going on. Well, until mom turned around to see me moaning and groaning as if I were at death’s door. Then he recognised what had happened and tugged her dress back down.”
Jamieson waited for the other shoe to drop. The fact that it didn’t was significant. His patience won out in the end as he refilled their coffee cups from Cookie’s flask and remained silent.
Lee’s sigh told him he’d made the right decision. “Didn’t end there. I must have overdone the acting thing. Nothing either Chip or I said could convince her that I wasn’t close to death’s door and, most unfortunately, one of the guests still there was the chief medical resident at Chicago Memorial who insisted on taking me to hospital for tests.”
Will groaned as light bulbs flashed. “Let me guess. He did every test known to man. Kept you there all through Christmas Day despite the fact that nothing presented and you told him ad nauseum that you were fine.”
Lee nodded, still chuckling. “Me AND Chip! But mom was so worried and we hadn’t the heart to tell her the truth. Still haven’t. Biggest problem was she insisted that I couldn’t risk my ‘delicate’ stomach by overloading it with all that rich Christmas fare so all I got for dinner, when they finally released me, was chicken broth and dry toast! While the entire family ate their way through a laden table!”
Will shook his head, fighting outright
laughter. So much explained in one
little story. He wasn’t sure if Lee even
realised how much of himself he’d revealed.
He watched closely as Lee manoeuvred the sleek craft into the holding
pattern he’d agreed with
Lee joined him, having cracked the aft hatch, his grin resurrecting as a blond head breached the doorframe and barked in a commanding drawl. “No excuses, Captain Crane; your TOA is precisely eighty seven seconds past your ETA!”
Crane’s snicker was audible to both his XO and CMO. “Get a life, Chip! Blame the Gulfstream in front of us – never saw a pilot make such a cautious landing! Just spent the flight filling Jamie in on the details of our first time to do this trip.”
Morton chuckled as he grabbed the bags Jamieson and Crane tossed his way, dropping them onto the hanger floor. “We were a tad over a couple of minutes past our arrival time back then, as I recall. Not to mention that the circumstances weren’t quite as comfortable, Skipper.” Chip’s tone was filled with humour. “Rank sometimes does have its privileges!” His smirk turning to outright laughter as he recalled the memory of Lee’s reaction to the welcoming committee on that occasion. Catching the amused look the others traded, his expression hardened mock-threateningly. “I’m trusting you didn’t share the entire story, Lee?”
“Do I look stupid, Chip?” Lee adroitly swung himself out the hatch and, eschewing the short flight of steps, dropped to the ground in front of his XO and best friend. It didn’t escape the blond that Lee had cleverly evaded a direct answer. He could almost see the wink Lee sent the older man as he turned to help Jamieson navigate the ladder, hampered as he was by the ever present medical bag. This was a conversation to be resumed at a later date!
Scooping up Lee’s duffle and Jamie’s small carry on bag, he led the way out of the hanger, stopping while Lee locked up the small craft and diligently set the codes on FS1’s security panel located conveniently adjacent to the aft hatch. The two guards on duty nodded to Chip, having spoken with him earlier while he waited for Lee to land. At the car, he tossed the bags into the trunk and held the rear door for Jamie as Lee sprinted to join them.
“Mom lent you her new car? She must be in a good mood!” He teased, patting the sleek lines of the Lexus sedan, remembering the workhorse with no heater that mom had driven way back when. She’d reluctantly parted with it several years ago and had been through several vehicles since, complaining that nothing ‘felt’ right. Chip had persuaded her to buy the Lexus on his last visit but Lee suspected that his buddy was enjoying the car more than his mom.
“Came with precise instructions! Jeez, you’d never think I got my driver’s permit almost eighteen years ago or that I’d been driving a multi-million-dollar sub for the past five years to hear her go at it.” Chip complained, but with a grin that told the others he was used to his mom’s scolding. Then a wicked smirk split his handsome features. “Had to promise I wouldn’t let you drive it, though.”
“What??” Crane all but sputtered as he hopped into the front passenger seat while Jamieson tucked himself into the rear, admiring the pale cream leather interior. “She didn’t say that! Mom thinks I’m a better driver than you are.”
Morton shook his head slowly as he folded his long legs into the low-slung vehicle. “Not the way she put it, buddy.” He drawled, more than willing to put one over on his friend. “If I recall correctly – and I have an excellent memory – her exact words were ‘now don’t let Lee drive.’”
The brunet snorted derisively. “That’s only cos she thought I might be tired from the trip. I didn’t get to travel yesterday and have an extra day’s leave.”
“Only because you were meeting the admiral for
dinner last night!” Came the swift
rejoinder and both men shared identical grins.
Nelson was spending the holiday with a lady friend from back east, Nancy
Fitzpatrick, who had recently relocated to the
Jamieson usually enjoyed the banter between the boat’s senior officers and this was no exception, especially after the couple of hours he’d just spent with an ebullient Lee. But if anything it deepened the depression he was feeling.
“Chip, if you could just drop me at one of the car rental areas that would be great.” Both front passengers swivelled in unison, similar looks on their concerned faces.
“Jamie, mom’s expecting you for dinner.” Chip’s tone was careful, not wishing to intrude into his CMO’s privacy but equally wanting it known that he was part of their ‘family’. “I know you need to get to your in-law’s tonight but – quite honestly – we daren’t come back without you. You know mom, she’s gonna be so ticked if you don’t show. And I, for one, do not want to look at a ticked off mom for the whole holiday. You, Lee?”
Catching his friend’s drift, and knowing how much Jamie had been dreading the visit to his late wife’s parents – something his work schedule hadn’t allowed for the past few years since he had joined Seaview but a visit the medic had thought was long overdue but had been using any excuse to avoid – Lee waded in solemnly. “You’re just gonna have to suck it up, I’m afraid, Jamie. If we arrive without you, mom’s going to be so mad. She just hates having her dinner arrangements altered at the last minute and she’s going to blame Chip and me if you’re a no show. That means the whole holiday she’s going to be giving us the evil eye for having ruined her Christmas Eve.” His shudder was only half fabricated and Morton nodded emphatically in agreement.
Passing his cell phone back to Jamie, Chip accelerated onto the exit ramp from the Navy base, leaving Will little choice. “We’ll drop you over later this evening, it’s only a couple of blocks. Oh, and mom was wondering if your in-laws would like to join us for the meal tomorrow. We have a gang coming and three more won’t put a dent in the food she’s got prepared.”
Jamieson felt his eyes sting. He was very fortunate to have such friends who could read his unspoken thoughts. He’d been dreading this visit to Eleanor’s parents but reckoned he’d made enough excuses over the past five years. They’d loved their daughter very much and him as an extension of her. And he’d loved them but hadn’t been able to look at them the same way after his beloved wife had been diagnosed. All his training couldn’t save her and he’d felt an overwhelming sense of shame in their presence following her death.
Nothing he’d ever spoken of – with anyone, even Nelson. He blinked back the wetness that filmed his eyes. Obviously it wasn’t necessary to speak of it. When you had friends as good as he had, words were perfunctory at best.
Perks and Privileges? Oh, yes. And he was quite prepared to embrace them fully. His heart lightened. It would do Eleanor’s parents good to meet a family like the Mortons, who would be ready to indulge them in their memories even as they pulled them gently out of their reverie.
“Make the call, Jamie.” It came from Lee, soft voiced and persuasive but leaving the final decision up to him.
He dialled the number by rote even though he’d
done it only a handful of times since Eleanor had died. “Mary Alice?
It’s Will. I’m not going to get
to you til a bit later this evening.
I’ve been invited to eat with friends.
Yes, I’m here in
He disconnected as Chip swung the Lexus into a wide driveway peppered with a mix of SUVs, sedans and compacts. “Guess there’s already a crowd here,” he announced happily as he shut down the engine and exited the vehicle. Popping the trunk he took out Lee’s bag and slung it over his shoulder. “You ready, Bro? Jamie, fair warning – it’s going to be bedlam for the first ten minutes til everyone has had a piece of Lee. Be prepared!” He wasn’t kidding as the front door opened and a phalanx of people descended. Front and centre was Claire Morton who wrapped Lee in her arms.
Suddenly he was happy to be here and – amazingly – guilt free. His heart lightened and he was abruptly caught up in the memory of a laughing Eleanor the first time she’d brought a nervous resident to meet her parents in Chicago.
The stars seemed so bright in the sky as he got out of the car. “Happy Christmas, Sweetheart, wherever you are. I love you and I miss you but be assured that I’m OK and have good friends to take care of me here.”
“You coming, Doc?” Chip halted, grinning as the mostly female crowd engulfed Lee.
“Absolutely, Chip. Wouldn’t miss it for the world!”
* = See Oscar Brothers
TOA = Time of Arrival
ETA = Time of Arrival