This story takes place long before the seriesjust me tinkering with Lee and Chips backgrounds. This is a stand-alone story.

 

In Step

Sharon H.

 

~<<>>~

 

The little boy wandered up the rows of the greenhouse, shuffling his feet and scuffing the toes of his worn tennis shoes as he walked. The greenhouse belonged to his grandmother, where she grew plants and flowers from all over the world. The little boy was fascinated by his grandmothers stories of the places she had seen when she used to travel. Better yet, he loved visiting the farm because of Grandpa Johnny. Grandpa had a little repair shop where he fixed TVs and radios and sometimes he'd let his little grandson help. As they tinkered with wires and circuits he would tell the boy stories of his days in the Navy aboard the big aircraft carriers. What the little boy liked best were the stories of the submarines and how they used to outsmart the Germans during the big war. Plants were all well and good, but he liked submarines.

 

But today the little boy wasn't in the mood for his grandpa's stories or the fun of tinkering in the shop. Something else was preying on the boy's mind and as he considered his short life, he found himself wandering through the big greenhouse with its white gravel paths and dark, time-aged tables, tinged with the smell of damp and green. As he meandered the paths between the long tables, he was unaware he was being watched.

 

From the far end of the greenhouse the slender, yet still spry form of the little boy's grandmother noticed the reluctant pace of her only grandson. Eleanor DunnNana Ellie to her grandchildrenwatched him reach down and pick up a pebble from the gravel walk then give it a toss. It bounced along the path, coming to rest only a few feet from the gray haired woman. Only then did he look up and see the pale green eyes of his mother's mother watching him. The little boy's sky blue eyesthe same color as his father'swere troubled. A ten-year old boy shouldn't look so troubled.

 

Chip, little one, it looks like you lost your best friend.

 

My name is Charlie and I don't have a best friend anymore, the little boy said sourly, kicking at the gravel. Why did everybody have to call him 'Chip' anyway? 'Chip' was a little boy's name. When he grew up everybody was going to call him Charlie. Or Charles. He liked Charles. It was more grown-up.

 

Charlie, then. Don't want to call my only grandson by the wrong name. Eleanor smiled reassuringly, Whats eating at you, little one? Can't remember you ever looking so sad. What's all this hogwash about not having a best friend? Everybody has a best friend.

 

The little boy took a deep breath before launching into his explanation. We had to have a bigger house cause I'm gonna have a new baby brother or a sister, so we moved, which is really neat 'cause now I have my own bedroom and everything, so me and Dani and Wendy, we got to go to a new school and I don't have any friends here. Everybody calls me a nerd, cause they found out I like to take stuff apart. Plus I don't have no bothers, all I got is sisters. Two yucky sisters. I want a brother. You can't play catch with a girl and you can't climb trees with a girl. Girls don't want to play pirates or go treasure hunting or no fun stuff. If I had a brother, I could have a crew, and we could go exploring and spy on Dani and Wendy or take stuff apart. Girls don't make good explorers. Girls don't know anything about transponders, or conduits, or circuits, or secret codes. Girls don't make good spies. Girls dont know how to have fun. All they wanna do is play dress up, and, dolls and stuff like that. Girls dont like getting dirty. Well, you get dirty, Nana, but youre not really a girl. Youre Nana. The words tumbled out of Charlie in a rush and when he finished he had a very satisfied look on his face, pleased with himself that he was able to make himself understood.

 

Ellie smiled, hearing her grandsons complaints. She could tell him a few things about what girls could do! Instead she pulled the little boy close in a light embrace, settling them both down on the loose gravel of the main greenhouse path. The blond child didnt resist, but settled against his grandmothers embrace, still troubled.

 

One day you'll see that girls can do a lot more than you think. I think you're just lonely more than anything else. One day you'll make a new friend. You'll see. He'll be like your brother. You don't have to have the same parents to be brothers or sisters of the soul.

 

Charlie's crystal blue eyes looked up at her. Brother in soul? Nana, that sounds weird. How can I have a brother if we have different parents? Are Mom and Dad gonna adopt me a brother?

 

Eleanor pulled the little boy closer and rested her chin on the child's white blond hair. Her grandson was a bright boy, always tinkering with something else. He took apart a short-wave radio and put it back together, much to the dismay of his father. Only it worked better after he reassembled it! He was fascinated by anything with wires and buttons, as bad as his grandfather. Ellie wondered if he could eventually make something out of himself with his inherited gift.

 

It's not something I can explain. When you meet him, it will be like a spark. Youll know him when you meet him, it will be like two magnets coming together or the feeling you get when you slip that last puzzle piece into place. It will be almost magical. You might know what the other person is thinking or sometimes you'll be able to finish each other's sentences. You'll be perfectly in step with each other. You'll like the same things and you might even like to read the same books. Maybe he'll like the same sports as you.

 

Charlie perked up. I like football. I'm gonna be a football player when I grow up. You think he might like football, Nana Ellie? I like to run too. I'm the fastest runner at recess. You think he might like to run? Maybe he'll like to take stuff apart too! Excitement burbled out of the child like spring water and Ellie couldnt stop chuckling at her grandson's enthusiasm.

 

You never can tell. All you have to do is keep looking. He's out there. You just have to be patient.

 

Charlie jumped up and gave his grandmother a quick hug around the neck. Nana, how'd you get to be so smart? Do you think I'll meet him this year? Do you have a best friend like that?

 

Ellie fondly remembered her best friend, Olivia. I do have a best friend, but I didn't meet her until I was sixteen years old. Eleanor watched her grandson's eager expression fall. She could see the wheels in his head spin as he held out his fingers and did the math.

 

Grandma, that's six years! I don't want to wait six years! That's not fair. The sad little boy's frown tugged at Ellies heartstrings. For a second she had a flash of the man he might become. It was hard to tell whom Charlie was going to take after the most. Both his father and grandfather were tall men with broad chests and strong shoulders. Those brilliant sky blue eyes and that smilealso inherited from his father and grandfatherwould melt hearts for sure.

 

Charlie, you and I grew up a little different. I'll bet you don't have to wait that long. Just hang in there, wait and see what happens.

 

Charlie sighed. Are you sure Nana? I mean, I really, really like my sisters, but can't Momma have a boy this time? I really want a brother, Nana.

 

Someday Charlie would have to learn about his twin brother who had died hours after coming into this world. It seemed to Ellie that the little boy was still searching for the brother he had known before birth, but was tragically taken away before that bond could strengthen. For now it wasn't necessary, obviously her grandson was dealing with other issues. She hoped she could find the words to set the boy's troubled mind at ease. Ellie stood up and held her hand out to the little boy. Her fingers closed around his and they walked down the path together.

 

Yes, Charlie, I'm sure. Hang it there. You'll find him, someday. Maybe he'll find you. These things work in mysterious ways.

 

~<<>>~

 

Eight years later.

 

Chip Morton dropped bonelessly onto the small bed, long legs stretching across the length of the mattress while one hand raked though his short cropped, white blond hair. With the other hand covering his eyes, Chip fervently hoped he didn't have to look at another textbook for the rest of the day. He heard the door creak open and the now familiar footstep of his roommate, Lee Crane, enter and pull the door shut.

 

You look done in, Crane's voice said, tinged with amusement. Chip pried one eye open, seeing the lanky form of his roommate perched on the edge of Lee's desk. What an odd duck he got stuck with for a roommate. Crane was as skinny as a, well, as a crane. The guy was gone most of the time, and when he was around, all he ever seemed to do was study. He couldn't even seem to eat without his nose stuck in a book. They just didn't seem to have a lot in common. Crane seemed to be interested more in engineering and languages, while Chip was focusing on information technology.

 

Morton groaned. If I ever see another treaty or speech on oceanic defense, I'll scream. I seriously need to unwind some. I'd like to take a run, but either I can't find anyone who can keep up or they want to try and run circles around me. Chip remembered his old pal Dean Macintosh. He and Mac had run track and played football in high school. Chip hadn't spoken to Mac since he had come to the Academy. He and Mac had planned on coming to Annapolis together but the fates hadn't been kind to his old high school buddy. Chip's petition to Annapolis had been accepted. Allan Dean Macintosh didn't make the deadline to submit his application and he hadn't been picked up when Chip got his appointment. So Chip had come to the Academy alone and got stuck with a quiet, skinny kid from Rhode Island as a roommate.

 

I'll take a run with you.

 

Chip opened the other eye and levered himself into a sitting position. That's when he noticed the top of Crane's desk and the books that were stacked on the corner, The Sea Wolf, in particular. Chip had the same book on his own shelf. Same cover and everything. Same with Run Silent, Run Deep and a new book, The Hunt for Red October. Oddly, Chip had never noticed they had the same tastes in books before.

 

Well, you wanna run or not? Crane asked, heading for the closet and pulling out a pair of track shoes. Chip got to his feet and dug his own shoes out.

 

He and Crane had the same running shoes. Same color, same style, same size even.

 

Nice shoes, The double chorus said as both men spoke at once then broke out in double grins.

 

Chip bent down to lace up his track shoes. He never thought about Lee as a running partner. He certainly had the build for it. The guy was practically all legs.

 

You know, Morton, I knew you were into football, but I never figured you for a runner, Crane said. Chip started, suddenly remembering his grandmother's advice to a disheartened ten-year old boy. You'll like the same things and you might even like to read the same books. Maybe he'll like the same sports as you. Strange, he hadn't thought about that in years. Maybe there was more to the skinny, dark haired kid then Chip had originally thought.

 

Think you can keep up? Crane asked with a mischievous grin.

 

Morton stood. I don't follow. I can lead if I have to, but I prefer to keep pace. Think you can handle that?

 

Sounds like a deal. It's easier to work with somebody who's not trying to overshadow you,

said Lee.

 

Lets go then. How many laps were you thinking about? Morton asked. The two walked side by side down the hall, their evenly matched stride perfectly in step although neither noticed.

 

Ten, twelve, however many it takes to loosen up,

 

Chip could still hear his grandmother's voice. After all these years, Nana Ellie might have been right after all. You know, I was thinking the same thing.

 

End

srh

 

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