This story was originally written and posted on the “Unchartered Waters” site as part of the story challenge, “MAIL CALL”, about how one piece of mail could change a life or a mission.
By K. Corris
Captain Lee Crane completed his checklist, the same as he always did before Seaview was about to embark on a new mission. He should go over it again; his mind wasn’t really on it, because his mind really wasn’t on the mission. He had never felt this way before. Usually he was excited at week before and counted down the days before they set sail, he so loved being on Seaview, his Grey Lady, and being her Captain. Seaview was the world’s largest and most technologically superior submarine, and the only one privately owned. She was the shining star of NIMR, the Nelson Institute for Marine Research.
It was her fault. That incredible woman who had him under her spell. To say it was love at first sight was putting it mildly. Lee couldn’t bear the thought of being away from her; they had spent almost every moment together since they met. The beauty of it was she felt the same way.
Lee would never forget that day. He had used the lunch break given in the middle of an all day seminar he was attending to take a walk in the nearby park. Clear his head, stretch his long legs, get a bit of fresh air and sunshine before part two started.
He never made it back for part two.
Although the hotel the seminar was being held in wasn’t far from Santa Barbara, he had never been in this particular park before. The landscaping and flowers were breathtaking. Then the path rounded a corner and – talk about breathtaking! He literally had to catch his breath! Oh, lordy! There, sitting innocently on a bench eating a sandwich, was the prettiest flower he had ever seen. She wore a white lace, full skirted sleeveless dress spread out on the bench, long, raven colored hair in wisps and curls that surrounded her face, flowed down along her long slim neck onto and past her shoulders. She had huge blue-brown sparkling eyes with the darkest and longest lashes he had ever seen. Warm, friendly, laughing eyes that could see right into your soul. She wore very little makeup or jewelry, she didn’t need any. Her face had high, well defined cheekbones, and a peaches and cream complexion. An almost perfect little ski slope nose, enough of a bump in the middle of it to let him know it was the real thing, no plastic surgery here. The deep v neck of her dress let him see what else was real. And perfect. And then that perfect little bow mouth with the upturned corners opened and spread to give him the most incredible hello smile. Then there was the way she tossed her head back with a carefree giggle.
This was the snapshot, the way he would always think of her. He was in love before his next heartbeat. That is if his heart would please start beating again. Even though they had yet to speak, he knew this was the girl he had been looking for, been waiting for all his life. She even seemed familiar to him; though he knew they had never met.
Looking for the right girl had always been a problem for him. He knew he was a very handsome man. He just had no vanity or ego about it. But he was tired of all the women who threw themselves at him because of it. They were all phony, uniform-loving, vane women who were usually beautiful only because of a plastic surgeon. They weren’t the real thing. All they wanted was to be seen on his arm. He usually gave them what they wanted, to be seen with him, enjoy a a pleasant evening out. He rarely dated the same woman more than two or three times, he wanted to keep the relationship superficial. He was so busy fending them off he couldn’t look for what he really wanted, though he wasn’t even sure what that was. But he knew it wasn’t the kind of women who threw herself at a man or tried to seduce him. Or one who was so full of herself that her conversation bored him within the first five minutes.
Then he met her. She was impulsive, and full of life, yet always seemed so vulnerable. Quick to laugh, carefree. A warm, kind hearted nurturer who only wanted to make other people happy. She never thought of herself. And so petite she reminded him of an eternal teenager. His lovely little lady. Being with her always made him feel good. She was always full of energy, hugs, kisses, smiles, giggles. She loved to throw herself into his arms. You couldn’t help but feel better when she just walked into the room. She brought out the best in everyone; all who met her loved her. But she only loved him, only had eyes for him. He couldn’t help but enjoy her company. She was a great conversationalist. Good sense of humor, intelligent, always ready to defend anyone. But she was a good listener, too. Without realizing it, you could pour your heart out to her, and you always felt better afterwards. You knew you could trust her, that what you said wouldn’t be repeated. She would never criticize or laugh at you. Somehow she had managed to get one of his deepest secrets out of him, something no one else alive knew about him.
The weather was bad, so they had opted for a home cooked meal and a quiet evening at her place. She knew there was a game on he wanted to see. The Red Sox, his favorite team, was playing. She poured their wine as he lit the fire, then they settled down. While he enjoyed the game, she worked on a sweater she was making for him. Soon she became aware he had stopped watching the game and instead was watching her hands intently. He seemed loss in thought, a million miles away.
“Team not doing well?” she asked.
“Oh, ah, I don’t know. I was just remembering something from when I was a kid. Gram used to watch me when my adoptive parents went out. She used to crochet beautiful things for everyone.”
She smiled at him and nodded. She knew there was more to it.
“I used to sit next to her and watch her. She was the only one that ever acted like she wanted me around. One evening she asked me if I wanted to learn, I said yes. I think originally it was because I wanted to share something special with her, but the better I got at it the more I truly enjoyed it. It was so relaxing. But she always took it all home with her and brought it back the next time she stayed with me. We knew we couldn’t let my “parents” know, so it was our little secret. I made a few scarves I gave out to my friends as Christmas presents, a baby blanket for my favorite teacher before she left to have her baby, and a small afghan for an elderly neighbor who was kind to me but always complained about how cold he was. Whenever I saw him sitting out on his front porch he had it over his legs. I was so proud of myself. But I told all of them Gram had made them. Then one night the Cranes came home early and my “father” saw what I was doing and screamed and yelled at her until he had her in tears. He never let her watch me again, said she wasn’t a good influence on me. I’ve never told that to anyone before.”
“Not anyone? Not even Chip?” Though she hadn’t met him yet, she knew Chip Morton was not only Seaview’s Executive Officer, but Lee’s best friend. They had roomed together back in Annapolis and now served together on Seaview. Rank had never gotten in the way of their friendship.
“Chip? Especially not Chip! He’d start calling me Captain Hook!”
They had both laughed so hard they cried, and couldn’t look at each other the rest of the evening without cracking up. He smiled to himself as he remembered that evening. He knew his secret was safe with her, and that she didn’t think less of him for it.
She had good morals and values…..
Lee, stop! Pull yourself out of it man! If you don’t stop thinking about her for a few minutes this boat will never set sail on time! And Chip will have a field day with it. Admiral Nelson won’t be quite nearly so amused!
But he also knew it was for the best. They needed a break, a chance to step back and catch their breath. Be sure this was the real thing for both of them, not just an infatuation. It had all happened so fast, gotten so intense so fast.
And there was also, “the test”. He had seen it happen too many times with his own men. Submarine duty, any naval sea duty for that matter, often put enough of a strain on the women left behind that relationships that were thought durable and strong, ended in heartbreak. Marriages turned into separations or divorce. Engagements were called off. And then there were the “Dear John” letters that came in at least once in every lengthy mission he could ever remember. There was always some poor sailor who had to be gently reminded of his duties shortly after mail call. They were all always so sure she would be waiting there for them dockside with open arms, only to find out by way of a cold hearted letter that the love of their lives had gone on to other arms they didn’t have to wait for.
And now he was just as sure himself that she would be there waiting for him. She would be. He knew her too well by now, they were too close. She had no family either, so they had quickly become everything to each other. She was different. This was different. If he had ever fooled himself into believing he had been in love before, he was sadly mistaken. THIS one was the real thing. This one was the woman he was going to propose to. He had to have her, had to know he was going to be able to spend the rest of his life with her. He couldn’t take a chance on losing her.
He went back to his office in the Institute. He had a few last minute things to tie up before they shipped out. Last he checked his email and a couple of personal web sites he monitored. Ones he didn’t want to give out his Institute email address to, although some of them had his P.O. Box# that his paper mail was forwarded to while he was at sea. The Admiral’s secretary Angie would collect his mail and forward on anything that seemed important into the next mail drop being made out to Seaview. His stocks were all doing well, although he was a careful and conservative investor. There were still no serious offers for the old car he had enjoyed repairing and repainting. No matches to the website database he had his profile listed on, adoptees looking for their biological parents. And no response from any of the publishers he had submitted a manuscript of short sea stories to. Well, he knew he was no Tom Clancy, but he had fun writing them anyway. Now if he could have included some of his classified ONI escapades, he had no doubt he would have a best seller on his hands.
That was another thing he had to do. Resign from ONI. You couldn’t ask someone to spend the rest of their life with you and then constantly put your own life in jeopardy. It wasn’t fair; he owed her more than that. Anyway, it just didn’t have the same meaning for him anymore. He just wanted to be with her as much as possible. There were other agents out there, full time, younger ones, dedicated 24/7 to the Office of Naval Intelligence. He wouldn’t be missed. Besides, he didn’t want her to know about his dark side, what he was capable of and had done in the course of an ONI mission and in the name of duty. James Bond had nothing on him. And he couldn’t bear the thought of her ever being afraid of him.
Ok, done. Time to pack it in and get on board. As a last minute, he called the local florist and had yet another dozen premium red roses sent to her, these to be delivered a week after they sailed. They had already said their goodbyes last night, in a much more intimate manner. That was something else he certainly was going to miss! Ah, life was good!
It was a standard, routine cruise. Quiet. Too damn quiet. He wished something would happen to take his mind off her, to make the days go faster. Nothing serious of course, just something distracting and time consuming. He went along on a couple of dives, part of the teams that were collecting samples for the Admiral. He just wanted to get off the boat for a while. He walked around Seaview supposedly checking on this and that, but he really wasn’t paying attention to anything. Everyone knew something was off with him, he was so distracted. But he assured them all he was fine. Despite anything, he knew he was doing his duty as perfectly as he always did; he was just a little bit quieter about it. A couple of times his mind drifted to her and he smiled. After Chip asked him what was so funny he tried to be more careful. He wasn’t ready to say anything to anyone about her yet; he wanted to wait until after this cruise, until after they were sure.
He went to his cabin and worked on some reports. Reports so standard he could do them in his sleep. He probably would have paid more attention to them if he did do them in his sleep. Had he eaten today? He didn’t remember. He didn’t really feel hungry. Well, he’d go down and get a snack anyway. Some cookies and reconstituted milk would do. Jamie, Seaview’s CMO, was down in the wardroom, grabbing a quick sandwich while sickbay was quiet. He called Lee over and asked him to join him for a minute. Lee sat down, curious. It didn’t take long.
“Ok, Skipper. What’s her name?”
“Don’t even try that Mr. Innocent routine with me! Remember who you’re talking to, I know you too well. And I’ll treat this as a doctor- patient confidentiality. I’m not only your doctor and your friend, I happen to be a man, too. I know the signs of a man in love. I was married once. And I still miss her, still love her. I never expected to become a widower so young.”
“Now again, what’s her name, what’s she like, how serious is it?”
Once he started talking about her, he couldn’t stop. Twice Jamie had to tell him to stop and take a breath.
“Well, Lee, I’m happy for you, I certainly hope it works out. I really look forward to meeting her, she sounds very special. And I won’t say anything.”
“I know you won’t Jamie. Actually, it feels good to finally be able to tell someone about her. And I promise you, once you meet her you’ll be a little in love with her, too.” Lee gathered his cookies and milk and returned to his cabin.
As Jamie walked back to Sickbay he smiled to himself. The man sure has it bad! He truly hoped it did go well for him. Lee’s life had been so dark, so lonely. He had never seen his Skipper so animated, so happy and excited, as he just saw him.
He thought they were called Solitaire Diamonds. A single, round diamond. And he wanted it in a white gold or platinum setting with a brushed satin finish. Not too big, she had tiny hands, slender fingers. But at least one carat, and ……..did someone just knock on his door?
“Mail call, Skipper. Here you go.”
Lee took the envelopes.
“Thanks, carry on.”
He always received something in mail call. Sometimes he felt Angie just always made sure he got at least one piece of mail so that he wouldn’t feel left out. Nothing out of the ordinary. Until he came to the last one. The handwriting was obviously feminine, and was marked ‘Personal’. He put it down on the desk, sat back, and just stared at it. This couldn’t be what he thought it was. He couldn’t move. He felt numb, felt his stomach turn into one big knot. Slowly he reached for his letter opener, tore it open, put the letter opener back, and laid the letter back on his desk and continued to stare at it. He wasn’t worried.
No, he wasn’t worried at all.
He was scared to death.
So in the end, it turned out she was no different from the rest. They really didn’t have anything special after all. Who’d he been kidding? No one but himself. This was his life, his reality. To always be alone. To never have a wife, kids, a family, the way other men did. Other men that were civilians, that weren’t abandoned at birth. He knew the score when he joined the Navy. It was his choice; he had no right to expect more. He’d have to be content being Seaview’s Captain, Admiral Nelson’s right hand man. He’d have to find his satisfaction in that, that he was helping Nelson do some good for their world. It had to be enough for him, it’s all there was, or ever would be. He had a lot of nerve thinking he deserved more. But he’d been happy, truly happier than he had ever been, even if it was only for a while. What was the saying? Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? At some point down the road he might come to believe that. Not right now though. He hadn’t felt this bad since Gram died the day before his high school graduation. Why was his face wet?
He wished now he hadn’t told Jamie about her.
He heard the intercom click on, it was the Admiral. “Lee, could you please report to my lab?”
“Yes, Sir. On my way.”
He put the letter in his top desk drawer and reported to the Admiral.
“Lee, before we get too far out of this area, I’m going to need more samples. A few more things I want to check out that I hadn’t thought of before. Get a dive team together and I’ll go over with them what I need.”
“You can go over it with me, Sir. I’ll go out and I’ll take Kowalski with me.” He wanted to get off the boat. He really wanted to go out alone, but his own rules stated no one could dive without a diving buddy, and Ski had always been his diving buddy. They worked well together. Rank aside, he had always considered Ski more of a friend than a subordinate. But one way or the other, Ski sure was the best first mate in the Navy. And since he loved diving as much as Lee did, Lee knew he wouldn’t mind going out on a dive with him even though it wasn’t his duty shift. He transferred command to Chip, and ordered him to come to a full stop.
They were almost done collecting the samples, when he realized he had strayed further from the boat and Ski than he should have. Just couldn’t keep his mind off that damn envelope. Or her. As he turned around and started heading back, he heard Kowalski’s scream over the two way radio at the same time he saw the red water.
“Skipper! Get back to Seaview hurry….ahhhhhh!”
Where the hell did that shark come from? There weren’t supposed to be any in these waters! And it had a good grip on Ski’s leg. He dropped the samples and headed straight for Ski.
“No, Skipper, go back, get back to Seaview! Skipper, no…….”
Lee still had the knife in his hand he had been using to cut the plants with. He lunged at the shark’s eye, and continued to slice down to his jaw. As the shark momentarily loosened its grip on Ski, he quickly pulled the first mate’s leg free. It was bleeding so much he could hardly see Seaview in the distance. That’s all they needed now, more blood to attract more sharks that would go on a feeding frenzy, on them!
He swam as fast as he could, pulling Ski alongside him. He could tell Ski was losing consciousness. He had lost too much blood too fast and there was no time to put a tourniquet on. He radioed ahead to open the dive compartment hatch and to get Jamie down there stat. He only hoped he was headed in the right direction.
Ok, there she was; he could just make out the light over the diving hatch. He took a fast look over his shoulder.
The shark was right behind them.
They got inside and Lee slammed his hand on the button to close the compartment door at the same time the shark lunged at them. The hatch couldn’t close all the way. Lee reached out with his knife intending to gouge out the other eye, but the shark backed up and the door closed. He hit the other button to drain the water out so the diving hatch could open into Seaview. While this was happening, he let go of Ski and put pressure on the wound. The inside door opened and there were gasps at all the blood. Lee sat on the floor, continuing to put pressure on Ski”s thigh, until Jamie got there and took over.
He never even felt it as his men got him out of his diving gear. This was all his fault. He wasn’t paying attention. He hadn’t been following the most basic diving rules; him, a Master Diver and the Captain. If Ski lost his leg, or heaven forbid his life, all because of him, he would never be able to forgive himself the rest of his life.
He watched Jamie as the men got Ski’s equipment and suit off of him. All of a sudden the Admiral was there yelling.
“Lee! What the Devil happened out there?” he demanded.
“Sir, it……it all happened so fast….we were just finishing up……it came out of nowhere…….not supposed to be any…. sharks in these waters…got to him as fast as I could…….too far away……… my fault.…not paying attention………..”
The Admiral could see Lee was really shook up. “Lee, get cleaned up and changed and then I want to see you in my cabin. That’s an order Captain.”
He turned around to see how Jamie was doing with Ski. Was it his imagination, or were all his men looking at him?
“I can’t tell you anything yet, Lee, other than the fact that I guess you probably saved his life out there. I’ll know more after I get him down to Sickbay. Are you all right? You don’t look so good. Do I need to check you out, too?”
“No Jamie, I’m fine. Just take care of Ski.” Lee hoped he didn’t look as bad as he felt.
Saved his life out there? I’m the one responsible for this! That damn letter! That damn woman!
Nelson sat back in his chair and looked at Lee. “You haven’t been yourself this entire cruise, Lee. You’ve been too quiet, distracted. And now this. What the devil is going on with you?
What was he going to say, that would warrant nearly causing the death of one of the crew? “Oh, well, you see, Sir, I’m in love! But then she sent me a “Dear John” letter and I was so devastated I couldn’t concentrate on the dive and…..” My God, he was the Captain, not one of the crew!
“No excuse, Sir.”
The Admiral hated it when Lee did this. Resorted to formal naval protocol, instead of talking to the Admiral like the friend he was trying to be.
“All right Captain Crane. I’m relieving you of your command. It’s not punitive, Lee, and I’m not confining you to your cabin. I just want you to take some down time and pull yourself together before we have another incident.”
“Yes, Sir.” He left the Admiral’s cabin, and headed down to Sickbay to check on Ski. Relieved of my command? I deserve to be shot out of a torpedo tube!
Ski was still in surgery, so Lee went down to the control room to talk to Chip. He had just realized something.
“How is he doing, Lee?”
“Too soon to tell.”
“Ok, how are you doing? You don’t look so good.”
“Trust me, I’ve had better days. Tell me something, Chip. Why wasn’t that shark picked up on sonar? Why weren’t we warned about it the second it showed up on the screens down here? Even though we were at a full stop, you still should have had sonar manned.”
“And I did! You know me better than that! I would never let a crucial station like that go unmanned for even a split second! I can’t believe you would even question me about it!”
Lee looked over at sonar. It was manned, but he didn’t recognize the crewman. He was too use to seeing Ski sitting there; they both were on the same duty watch. It took a lot of training and experience to qualify for sonar duty. Every boat Captain was acutely aware of who he had at his command to man sonar at any time. A qualified sonar technician was a key part of keeping the boat, and anything outside of and around the boat, safe. Long range sweeps should have picked up that shark long before it had gotten to them, and they should have been radioed immediately. This wouldn’t have happened if Ski had been on duty!
He looked back at Chip but nodded his head toward sonar. “Who is that?”
“Jennings. He’s a new crewman, one of two new crewmembers with us this cruise. But he has extensive sonar experience with the Navy. And on top of that, he has the additional training certification required for Seaview’s advanced sonar. Lee, you know how well I screen new crewmen before we hire them, especially for a position like sonar, before I waste time training them.” Chip was furious, and was beginning to have a hard time hiding it.
And Lee did know. As Seaview’s Executive Officer, Chip was in charge of the crew, including hiring and training. They had lost many new crewmen after only their first cruise because Chip felt they didn’t meet his high standards once they were on duty.
“Have diagnostics run on the equipment, and then I want to see you in my cabin, along with this crewman’s file. Transfer command to O’Brien. I’ll meet you there in fifteen minutes, I want to stop in Sickbay and check on Ski again.”
Lee didn’t need to look at Chip to feel his icy blue glare. He could feel it, and hear it in his voice. But something was definitely wrong here. Maybe he didn’t see the shark in time, but its presence should have been radioed to him long before it came into view. He knew he wasn’t paying the attention to the dive he should have been, but a radio message like that would certainly have jolted him out of it. And he knew his radio was working properly because he definitely heard Ski’s yell come through loud and clear! He hadn’t been covering Ski’s back, but Seaview was supposed to be covering both of their backs.
John, the medical corpsman, was just wheeling Ski out of surgery while Jamie got cleaned up.
“How is he Jamie?”
“Well, Skipper, I’m reasonably sure at this point he’s going to live, despite the severe loss of blood. Thanks to his common blood type, there were a lot of volunteers to give blood. And I don’t think he’s going to lose his leg, either. But it’s too early to diagnose any permanent nerve or muscle damage. I have to wait until he comes out of it and do some basic neurological tests. But from everything I’ve heard, you’ve become quite a hero to the crew. Fighting off a shark to save your diving buddy’s life, instead of retreating to the safety of Seaview just to save yourself.”
Lee just stood there silently staring at Jamie. He certainly didn’t feel like a hero. He turned and walked away.
Chip was waiting for him outside his cabin when he got there. He didn’t speak a word to Lee as he handed him the personnel file. They sat down and Lee went over it carefully. The man was well qualified and experienced, and he had excellent references, both professional and personal.
“Well, Chip, what’s your take on this? Where’s the communication breakdown here? Did he know there was a dive going on and he was supposed to being watching out for anything that could jeopardize the divers?”
“I didn’t want to say this to you in the Control Room but, with all due respect, Captain, Sir, even I didn’t know there was a dive going on until I heard the page to get Jamie down to the missile room stat, one of the diver’s was badly injured. NOBODY informed me or the control room of a dive until after the fact. You only ordered me to bring her to a full stop. You said nothing about a dive.”
Lee slumped back heavily in his chair and stared at Chip. This couldn’t be happening. How could he have forgotten to inform Chip to come to a full stop because a dive team was going out? The Admiral was right; he didn’t belong in command in his present state of mind.
Well, the buck stopped here. He wasn’t going to let Chip or Jennings pay for his mistake.
“Chip, I take full responsibility for this. Please make sure everything that happened and that we discussed here is noted in the ship’s log book. There’s no need to note anything in his file. The only one I see here who is guilty of dereliction of duty is me, and the Admiral has already relieved me of command.”
Chip just sat there and stared at him. “Lee, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that! You haven’t been yourself this mission but you’ve been doing your duty! And I won’t put anything in the log that states otherwise. This was just a diving accident! It could just as easily have been you the shark went after first! What the heck has been bothering you this cruise anyway?”
“Nothing now, it’s a dead issue anyway. You have command until we reach port. Dismissed.”
Chip was obviously upset that Lee had shut him out and wouldn’t confide in him. He stared at Lee a moment longer, then got up and slammed the hatch shut behind him.
Lee just sat there. In the course of a few short hours, he had lost his girl, his command; nearly cost a valuable crew member his life, and his CO over him and his XO under him were both upset with him. He opened the drawer and took out the letter again. Things couldn’t get any worse.
He was glad it was over; the cost of love to a man in his position, with all his responsibilities, was too dear. He needed to concentrate on his chosen path, as Captain of the Seaview. A man can’t have two mistresses, at least not this man, and be able to give both of them the full attention he felt they each deserved. As he opened the letter the intercom clicked on.
“Captain, please report to Sick Bay.”
“On my way.” He sighed, and put the letter back in the drawer again. While Lee hoped Jamie had good news for him, he wasn’t looking forward to facing Ski, explaining what had happened, apologizing for letting him down, not being a responsible diving buddy. He knew how his first mate looked up to and respected him. How could his Captain let him down like this? The man he had risked his own life for so many times?
“How is he?”
“Holding his own for now, Lee. I don’t think right now there is any permanent damage. He’s still coming out of it but all he keeps muttering about is you. He needs to see that you’re all right so he can rest.” Jamie seemed to be a little relieved. Everyone on board liked Ski.
Before he could say one word, Ski looked over at him. Once he saw for himself that his Captain was indeed safe and sound, he started yelling. Never before had he ever even raised his voice to Lee.
“What the hell were you thinking out there, Sir? The only thing that terrified me more than that shark was seeing you coming towards us instead of away from us! I wanted you to get back to Seaview before he came after you, too! I wanted you to be safe. My life isn’t as valuable as yours!” He stopped to catch his breath.
“It is to me Ski, and not just because you’re a valuable crew member. We either both made it back to Seaview or neither of us did. I could never leave you out there any more than I could leave the Admiral or Mr. Morton out there. Or any of the crew for that matter. And don’t think for one minute I’d believe you wouldn’t have reacted the same way, done the same for me. I know you better. If you want a different diving buddy from now on, I understand. I’ll have Mr. Morton see to it.”
“Sir, Skipper, I’m sorry.” Now that he was coming out of the anesthesia, Ski suddenly became aware of how he was speaking to his Captain, the man who had just risked life and limb for him. “I’d never want another diving buddy, Sir. We’ve always been a good team. But I had to let you know the shark was there so you could get to safety…, I was just so scared out there…...”
“And you think I wasn’t? Ski, I get every bit as scared as the next man, I’m just better at dealing with it. I wouldn’t make a very good ONI agent if I wasn’t. My reflexes and reactions have to be faster than anyone else’s; it’s what I’m trained for. I wouldn’t still be alive today if they weren’t. Have you ever known me to just turn tail and run away because a situation was dangerous?”
“Besides Ski, aren’t you missing something here? It was Seaview’s job to let BOTH of us know that shark was there. This should never have happened. The proper precautions weren’t taken before the dive and I take full responsibility for that. The control room didn’t know there was a dive going on. Sonar was never made aware of it, was never told to report anything that could be a danger to a diving party.” Before he could explain any further, Jamie came over.
“I need him to rest now, Captain. This can continue when I feel he’s stronger and more rested. You can both sort this out later.” Jamie seemed concerned at how upset Ski was getting so soon after surgery. He didn’t want his blood pressure going up.
He squeezed Ski’s arm, nodded to Jamie, and left. He wished that shark had gone after him, not ‘Ski.
Lee started walking back to his cabin, then decided to take a cup of fresh coffee back with him. He wasn’t particularly hungry, given everything that was going on. That was until he smelled whatever that incredible smell was coming from the galley and his mouth started watering. Now he felt starved. Cookie was making something delicious. Seaview was lucky to have a former gourmet catering chef on board to take care of the crew. He decided he would grab something now, before it got too busy, so he could eat alone and get out of there. He knew he was trying to avoid the Admiral and Chip as well. He just needed to be alone for a while. He didn’t feel up to any questions or conversation.
As he walked back to his cabin he started feeling exhausted. Now that this terrible day was over, at least he hoped it was over, it was all hitting him. Probably the big meal he had just eaten had something to do with it. He was usually a pretty skimpy eater. He stood in his cabin and looked at his desk drawer and then looked at his bunk. Well, nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow now. He changed and then crashed in his bunk and fell into a troubled sleep.
He awoke at his regular time the next morning, though he didn’t need to. He wasn’t on duty, he could have slept in. He decided to get dressed, but not in uniform, and go get breakfast as he normally did.
Chip and the Admiral were already there. No dodging the bullet this time, he had to join them.
The Admiral looked at him curiously. “Lee, I understand from Jamie that Ski is doing fine, he expects him to make a full recovery. Cookie said you ate a good meal last night and you’ve certainly had a long rest. You look better than you did yesterday. So my one question to you, Captain Crane, is why aren’t you in uniform? Doesn’t your duty watch start in a few minutes?”
“Sir, I…, I thought you relieved me of command?” Lee was confused.
“It’s all right, Lee. Chip has explained to me the mix up in the control room. We’ll just put this down as a diving accident and be done with it. I need my Captain back where he belongs, back in command. Forget it.”
“Yes Sir! Thank you Sir!” He nearly spilled his coffee as he raced out of the wardroom, so eager to get back in uniform and back to his command, his control room, his Grey Lady. At least he still had her! And ONI. He still had ONI.
Things were pretty much back to normal by the time they got back to port. He decided he would not read the letter until he was in the privacy of his own home. He was not going to take anymore chances of being distracted from his duties. As he prepared to leave his cabin, he stuffed the envelope in the inside pocket of his uniform jacket and met the Admiral and Chip in the control room to disembark. Jamie was there as well, having made arrangements to transport Ski to the Institute’s Medical Center.
They walked down the gang plank to the dock, talking about who was going to head home and who was going back to the Institute to check on things in their offices. Jamie of course had to go directly to the MedCenter.
She came out of nowhere. He heard the carefree laughter only an instant before he felt her arms around his neck, felt his face being covered with kisses, smelled her scent, felt her jump up into his arms……..he couldn’t help but respond. He carefully lowered her to the ground, as he heard the abundance of male laughter from his friends next to him. Never the shy one, she introduced herself to them, told them how glad she was to finally meet them, she had heard so much about each of them from Lee.
Lee turned away for a moment, trying to compose himself. What in heaven’s name was going on here? Did she have a change of heart after she had mailed the letter? The letter! He quickly pulled it out of his breast pocket, only opening it enough to read the salutation:
“Dear Son, (at least we hope you are!)”
The End. Or is it two new beginnings for Lee?
“The brave hide their fears, but shed their tears.”
-Justin Peterson, Age 9, Author’s Grandson