By Sue James
Early December 1976
As November turned into
December Chip Morton found that he was looking forward tremendously to his
upcoming vacation to
“Morning, Chip!” The arrival in the wardroom of his best friend and commanding officer interrupted Chip’s pleasant thoughts.
“Good morning,” Chip watched as Lee Crane helped himself to a glass of orange juice and a large mug of coffee and then brought them over to the table. “You should try the muffins; they’re delicious.”
“Not at this hour of the morning,” Lee shook his dark head as he looked at the empty plate in front of his Executive Officer. “How many have you had?”
“Only two,” Chip grinned. “Mine and yours; I knew you wouldn’t have one!”
Lee grinned back and took a sip from his glass. “D’you know if Handley and his team are up yet?”
Chip shrugged. “I shouldn’t think so. They’ve not surfaced before 08.00 hours yet. They never turn in until the early hours; too busy working in the lab.”
“Mmm,” Lee took a longer drink of his orange juice. “Handley’s a bit intense, isn’t he? I thought he was going to throw a tantrum yesterday when I pointed out that we can only stay here another day.”
“He didn’t seem very happy,” Chip agreed, “but a lot of the scientists we get on board seem to be very moody. They never seem to be able to see beyond their work which is always more important than anyone else’s. Are we definitely going to leave here tonight or are you open to any pleading on Handley’s part?”
“We’re definitely leaving,” Lee said firmly. “We’ve still got to deliver those Christmas supplies to the team at the research station and then we have to head home if we’re going to arrive by December 18th. The Admiral is very keen that the crew get the shore leave they’ve been promised and so am I. Most of them haven’t been home for Christmas for two years and we spent Thanksgiving at sea. I think we all deserve the break.”
“Well you won’t get any argument from me,” Chip smiled. “My flight is booked for the 21st and I am going to be on it.”
Lee grinned. “Can’t wait to meet the mystery woman, huh?”
“There is no mystery woman,” Chip responded calmly refusing to rise to the bait. “Just a friend of Helen’s; she probably won’t be there anyway.”
“That’s not what Helen’s letter said,” Lee pointed out. “It said she was inviting her to spend Christmas with the family.”
“Yes, but it didn’t say she’d accepted,” Chip replied calmly. “She probably had other plans.”
“Says you hopefully,” Lee laughed as he finished off his juice. “I wish I was coming with you. I want to see what happens.”
“Nothing is going to happen,” Chip pretended to sound irritated. “And you can come with me if you want to; you know you can.”
Lee sobered up. “You know I can’t. I
promised my mother I would go there. It’s the first Christmas she’s spent in
“Okay,” Chip stood himself and straightened his tie. “See you later.”
Later, turned out to be just fifteen minutes, which was how long it took the Exec to walk to the control room, check the boat’s status and read and then check the latest reports. He then y called the Captain and Lee arrived within five minutes to find his second in command plotting a course south-east of their current position.
“What’s up?” he asked quietly.
“This…” Chip glanced up briefly and handed him a piece of paper before returning his attention to the charts.
“Have you checked this?” Lee asked unnecessarily.
Chip straightened up and looked his captain in the eye. “Of course I have. It’s accurate. We have plenty of time to get clear of any activity so long as we move now. I’ve already plotted a course to take us to safety. It just needs you to agree.”
“I agree. The sooner we get out of here the better,” Lee picked up the intercom and gave orders for the course change with instructions to move at flank speed.
Chip glanced at his watch. It was 06.26 hours. “Are you going to wake Handley and tell him about this or wait until he gets up?”
“Wait until he gets up,” Lee frowned. “If he’s going to get upset about this it might be better if he’s had enough sleep.”
“What do you mean “we’ve left the research area”?” Gerald Handley stared at Seaview’s captain with a horrified look on his face. “I haven’t finished yet. I insist that you go back NOW!”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t do that,” Lee replied firmly but calmly. “As I just explained to you the area where you were diving is geologically unstable and sensors indicate that an underwater quake is imminent. As captain of this boat I’ve taken the only option possible which is to leave the area immediately.”
“But the sensors might be wrong and even if they’re right we might have had time to finish our work before we left. You had no right to make that decision without consulting me first!” Handley’s grey eyes flashed angrily and he slammed a fist down on the table for emphasis.
“I had every right,” Lee continued calmly but assertively. “It is my responsibility to ensure the safety of this boat, its crew and,” he emphasised the word, “any guests aboard. Remaining in the area of an imminent underwater quake would be very irresponsible. We can go back in the New Year if it’s that important.”
“The New Year!” Handley screeched causing several members of the duty watch to glance at him. “That’s weeks away and if a quake does hit the area it could destroy everything.”
“I’m sorry,” Lee said sincerely, “but these things happen and it is possible Dr. Handley that the drilling you’ve been doing has disturbed the area and caused this seismic activity.”
“Oh, so now it’s my fault!” Handley took a step closer to the captain. “I’m warning you Captain, if you don’t give orders to return now you’ll be sorry.”
“Are you threatening me?” Lee stood his ground and stared directly at his antagonist. “Because if you are Doctor I’ll have to give orders to have you locked in the brig.”
Handley opened his mouth to speak again but thought better of it. He looked from the captain to the exec, who’d been glaring at him ever since he’d first raised his voice, and back to the captain. “You’ll be sorry,” he said quietly and then turned and left the control room.
Chip Morton let out the breath he’d been holding with a loud sigh. “He’s not happy,” he said unnecessarily.
Lee turned and smiled at his friend and exec. “Trust you to state the obvious. I don’t understand why he’s so upset. Who in their right mind would want to risk staying in the area of a threatened underwater quake, let alone go diving there?”
“Nobody,” Chip frowned as he answered, “Which rather suggests that Handley might not be in his right mind. Do you want me to have him put under guard? After all he did threaten you.”
“No,” Lee shook his dark head. “He was upset, Chip. I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it. There’s not a lot he can do, is there?”
“There’s a heck of a lot he could do!” the blond exec disagreed. “All of it dangerous!”
“You have a point,” Lee looked thoughtfully round the control room, “but I don’t think he’s dangerous, Chip and I don’t want to upset him further. Let him alone to cool down and get over his disappointment. Then maybe I can discuss the future options with him later.”
“Fair enough,” Chip’s voice was carefully neutral telling his Skipper that he didn’t agree. Lee looked at him and smiled. “You worry too much, Chip. Handley is a friend of the Admiral’s after all and like a lot of scientists he’s a little hot-headed. I don’t think he meant anything.”
“Well I hope you’re right,” Chip said seriously as he picked up his clipboard with the intention of checking duty stations, “because it’s you that he threatened.”
The anticipated quake finally hit the area where Doctor Handley and his team had been diving at 21.07 hours. It was a relatively small quake measuring just 3.5 on the Richter scale and Seaview, by then many miles away, would have been completely unaware of it except for routine reports. When Doctor Handley found out about it he went in search of the captain and confronted him in the wardroom where he and the exec were enjoying a late cup of coffee.
Striding into the room, his face flushed and angry, Handley stood just inside the door and glared at the other two occupants.
“CALL THAT A QUAKE!” he thundered at the surprised officers. “3.5 IS NOTHING! NOTHING!”
“It wouldn’t have been nothing if we had been sitting on top of it,” Lee said reasonably. “It could have done a lot of damage.”
“Pah!” Handley shouted. “IT DIDN’T HAPPEN TIL THIS EVENING. I COULD HAVE FINISHED MY DIVES BY NOW IF WE HAD STAYED THIS
MORNING INSTEAD OF RUNNING AWAY LIKE LILY-LIVERED COWARDS YOU’VE RUINED MY RESEARCH CAPTAIN CRANE!”
“Look,” Lee stood up to face the angry man. “I know you’re upset but…….”
“YOU’RE DAMN RIGHT I’M UPSET,” snarled Handley and, without warning, he produced a gun which he pointed at the stunned captain. “AND I’M GONNA STAY UPSET UNTIL YOU CHANGE COURSE AND TAKE ME BACK TO THAT SITE.”
“I’m sorry,” Lee shook his head, his voice calm, “but I can’t do that Mister Handley. And you waving that gun around isn’t going to help. Go ahead and shoot me but it won’t get you what you want. Surely, you can understand that.”
There was a long silence as Handley considered the captain’s words. Lee was sure that everyone must be able to hear his heart thudding as he waited apprehensively to see what the angry scientist would do. Would he accept the sense of what Lee said or was he crazy enough to shoot him in a bid to get his own way? He was aware of his friend standing tensely on the opposite side of the table but didn’t dare look at him in case it spooked Handley.
Finally, a malicious smile spread across Handley’s face and he lowered the gun only to raise it again, this time pointed at the exec. “You’re right, Captain,” he said, his voice quieter. “Threatening to kill you isn’t going to work but what about your friend, huh? Are you willing to sacrifice his life?”
Lee swallowed, his heart beating harder than ever. He glanced at Chip who was staring steadfastly through narrowed eyes at the gun now pointing at his chest.
“Look Handley, shooting Mr. Morton isn’t going to get you what you want either.”
“What does he think?” Handley smirked and waved the gun at the exec. “Do you agree with your captain, Commander?”
Chip swallowed hard surprised at how dry his tongue felt. “I agree that shooting me or the captain isn’t going to get you what you want,” he said carefully, as beads of sweat broke out on his broad forehead.
“Well, we’ll see shall we?” Handley started to put pressure on the trigger, which was still pointed at the exec’s chest. “You have one minute to change your mind, Captain Crane or I’ll shoot.”
It was at that precise moment that Lieutenant Baker walked into the wardroom. Taking in the scene with shocked grey eyes he dived straight for Handley’s right arm and the gun went off as Chip and Lee dived to the floor. There was a furious struggle as Baker fought to gain control of the situation and Lee, anxious to help, struggled to his feet and sped around the table to join in the fight. It was only when Handley was laying dazed on the deck and the gun was safely in Baker’s hands that Lee realized his exec hadn’t moved. As Baker summoned the Master-at-Arms Lee raced back around the table and gasped. His best friend lay on his back in a rapidly growing pool of blood. It was hard to tell exactly where the bullet had hit him as his right shoulder, arm and chest were all soaked red contrasting starkly with the ghostly white pallor of his skin. Yelling at Baker to call for the doctor Lee knelt on the floor oblivious to the sticky wetness that soaked immediately into his trouser legs. With one hand he quickly loosened his friend’s tie while with the other he sought for the bullet wound. Chip groaned as Lee’s hand made contact with the wound and pressed down hard in a bid to stop the rapid flow of blood. The exec’s blue eyes flickered briefly and he muttered, barely audibly, “I told you he was dangerous,” before lapsing into unconsciousness. At that point the doctor and his team arrived and Lee moved reluctantly away as they began their fight to save his friend’s life.
The bullet had hit Chip Morton in his upper right arm, just below his shoulder. It nicked an artery which resulted in very heavy blood loss as it proceeded through his arm to exit just below his armpit. It then lodged itself in the side of his chest. Four hours of surgery and several pints of blood later he remained in a very critical condition and heavily sedated in Seaview’s sickbay with his right arm securely strapped to his chest.
A very subdued and guilty Lee Crane sat at
his friend’s bedside. Despite the doctor’s assurances that it wasn’t his fault
he felt responsible. Chip’s semi-conscious comment that he had told Lee Handley
was dangerous had hit the Captain hard. Chip had said that he thought Handley was dangerous and had offered
to put a guard on him and Lee had refused. He honestly hadn’t considered the
situation to be that serious and had seen Handley as just another hot-headed,
emotional scientist. Admiral Nelson often got angry and irrational when his
research was threatened in any way but Lee knew he would never resort to
violence. He’d believed that Handley would calm down and see the sense of their
withdrawal from the area and had thought Chip was being overly suspicious in
keeping with his naturally cautious nature. He’d been totally unprepared for
what had occurred in the wardroom and felt incredibly guilty. He had spoken to
Nelson by radio and the admiral had been upset and angry to hear both about
Handley, who he considered a friend, and about his executive officer. It had
been agreed that Seaview would return immediately to
Chip Morton stared unseeingly at the
television screen, which flickered above his bed in the infirmary at the Nelson
Institute. His mind was elsewhere. It was ten days since he had been shot and
he was having a hard time coming to terms with the experience. It was the first
time he’d been hit by a bullet, although he’d come close several times, and he
was shocked by both the pain and his very fragile emotions. It hadn’t helped
that an infection had developed in the wound making him seriously ill and,
although he was no longer in danger, an intravenous drip still fed antibiotics
into his body. Chip was fed up with the whole drama. He was desperate to escape
from the infirmary and go home but he knew that it wasn’t going to happen
anytime soon. He was still very weak from the infection and his arm and chest
were so painful he found movement of any part of his upper body difficult.
Jamie said that he would recover in time with plenty of rest and medical care
but Chip wanted to recover now and
he wanted to catch his flight to
“How are you feeling today?” he looked up to see his best friend framed in the doorway.
“Okay,” Chip lied. He doubted Lee would believe him but he didn’t want to intensify the guilt he knew his friend was suffering by saying how he really felt.
“I’m not sure I believe you,” Lee responded as he moved into the room and sat down by the bed.
“Are you calling me a liar?”
“No,” Lee smiled but anguish darkened his expressive eyes.
“Lee, will you do something for me?” Chip asked his tone of voice serious.
“Of course; anything you want,” Lee leaned towards the bed, his expression alert.
“Will you please quit feeling bad about what happened? It wasn’t your fault.”
“But if I had listened to you…..”
“You couldn’t lock Handley up just because he lost his temper or because your exec is over cautious. Once he started waving a loaded gun around it was a different story.”
“Yes, but by then it was too late,” Lee still sounded anguished.
“I know,” Chip almost smiled. “I don’t blame you, Lee. It’s happened and that’s it but I feel bad knowing that you feel guilty and it’s stopping me enjoying your visits which should be the only bright moment in my very tedious days!”
“I do know what you’re going through,” Lee said seriously.
“I know,” Chip acknowledged. “But instead of feeling guilty about it, help me deal with it. I’ve never been on the receiving end of a bullet before and to be honest it’s a lot worse than I ever thought it would be from watching you.”
“You have been particularly unlucky,” Lee frowned. “That bullet did hit you at close range and did a lot of damage.”
“I know but I’m still here and my arm will get better,” Chip found that
Lee’s morose mood made him determined to be positive. “The question now is
whether Doc will think it’s healed enough for me to fly to
Lee made a face. “Have you asked him?”
“Not yet,” Chip shook his blond head. “I’m determined to go, Lee. I can’t stay here over the holiday. I’ll go mad. And I can’t go home because I doubt I can even get dressed by myself and I can’t drive.”
“The most sensible course of action would be to send you to Helen’s,” Lee acknowledged.
“But you don’t usually want her to know when you’ve been hurt. I admit if she’d been in the country I would have called her whether you liked it or not but I resisted because I didn’t want to worry her when she’s so far away. So what’s different this time? You actually want her fussing over you?”
Chip swallowed, close to tears, and turned
his head away unwilling for his friend to see just how unstable his emotions
were. When he felt back in control he turned back to Lee and smiled tiredly.
“Yea, I do. I miss them, Lee. I know I never saw them much when they were in
Lee was quiet for a moment, his warm amber
eyes fixed on his friend’s pale face. He hadn’t missed the emotion that had
appeared in the other man’s eyes and he suddenly realized that the whole
frightening experience had hurt Chip more than he’d appreciated. It just wasn’t
like his friend to want his family to know when he was injured or sick and the
fact that he wanted to see them told Lee a whole lot more about how Chip was
feeling than words ever could. Still, if Chip wanted to go and recuperate at
his sister’s then Lee was going to do everything in his power to ensure that he
could even if it meant taking him there himself. He smiled at his friend and
said confidently. “Well, I don’t see why you shouldn’t go. You don’t need to
fly in one go. We could fly to the east coast, stay at my mother’s and then you
can fly on to
“You can’t do that, Lee,” Chip protested. “What about your family party?”
“I’ll fly straight back,” Lee said reasonably. He grinned suddenly, “After I’ve checked out the mystery woman!”
Chip groaned. “There isn’t any mystery woman, Lee”
“I think there is,” Lee laughed. “And that’s why you want to go to Helen’s so badly when you could just hide away here!”
“If you say so,” Chip grinned back, glad to see that his captain had regained some of his old sparkle and encouraged that he was going to help him fight Jamie. “Are you serious? About the flights, I mean.”
“Sure,” Lee smiled. “I’ll go speak to Jamie for you.” And before Chip could protest he had disappeared.
“So, are you getting excited?” Kate Fisher asked her friend, Helen Marshall as they sipped coffee in the restaurant of a well-known department store.
“Excited?” Helen raised her dark eyebrows in amusement and slowly shook her head. “Tired, stressed, irritable and convinced we won’t be ready to celebrate Christmas on December 25th but excited? No way!!”
“Not even about your brother’s visit?” Kate looked and sounded surprised and Helen laughed.
“He’s the cause of my anxiety,” she confided with a wry smile. “When his visit was first arranged I was excited but as it gets nearer I find myself waiting for the call that will tell me he can’t make it.”
“Is that likely?” Kate frowned. “I thought he had leave?”
“He does,” Helen nodded, “but in Chip’s job there are no guarantees. If something happens his leave would be cancelled and that would be that.”
“But doesn’t he have a deputy? Someone to take over his work? What if he was sick?”
Helen laughed. “My brother would carry on working ‘til he dropped,” she told the interested Kate. “I guess there are officers who can stand in for him but he wouldn’t walk out on them during a crisis. I don’t think he really trusts anyone else to do the job properly. As executive officer he does have a tremendous amount of responsibility.” She sighed suddenly. “Once he’s away he’s fine. He’s not one of those workaholics who can’t relax but he loves his job; it’s a way of life to him so he doesn’t feel particularly bothered if he misses a vacation.”
“But you do,” Kate observed quietly.
“I miss him,” Helen replied with a fond smile. “And I guess because we’re so far away I miss him more than normal.”
“I know what you mean,” Kate acknowledged with a small smile. “I miss my folks more when I’m abroad and especially at this time of year with Thanksgiving just passed and Christmas approaching…I feel like I should be back home with them.”
“It’s a shame that you can’t make it home,” Helen agreed. “Have you decided yet whether you’re going to spend Christmas day with us?”
“Probably,” Kate shrugged. “If you’re absolutely sure it’s okay.”
“Of course it’s okay,” Helen said confidently. “We all want you to come. Back home we always have big Christmases with all of Chris’s family. It will seem very strange for us to have it on our own.”
“But they were all family,” Kate protested. “I’m not.”
“Neither is Chip’s best friend, Lee but he usually joins us when Chip does and various other members of the family invite friends who’ve nowhere else to go. We wouldn’t ask you just to be polite. We asked because we want you to come and if you’re worried about meeting Chip don’t be. He might be Seaview’s executive officer but he’s still my baby brother and he’s perfectly normal. If anything he’ll be more afraid of meeting you. He’s actually quite shy with strangers.”
“Okay, I’ll come,” Kate smiled, “But you’ve got to let me help.”
“Of course,” Helen grinned. “Everyone has to help.”
Mid-December 1976. Infirmary, NIMR,
“Tell me what you want to take and I’ll
start packing for you,” Lee Crane strode into his friend’s room at the
infirmary with a big smile on his face. “You’re off to
“I am?” Chip frowned, surprised and a little wary. He had been positive that the doctor would take a lot more persuading. “Are you sure?”
“Positive,” Lee sat down by the bed. “It’s taken a while to arrange but Doc’s agreed and its all set. All you have to do now is call Helen and let her know.”
“She already knows,” Chip pointed out. “I don’t need to call her unless the trip is cancelled.”
“You do,” Lee sobered up a little although he was still grinning. “You need to tell her that you’ll be arriving on the 20th instead of the 22nd and you need to tell her that Jamie is coming with you.”
Chip’s frown deepened. “Jamie? He’s going
“Its okay, Chip; I’m only travelling with
you,” Doctor Jamieson, who’d been waiting outside, now entered the room. “That’s
why we’ve bought the date forward so I can be back in
“But Lee said he’d go with me.”
“I know but he’s not a doctor,” Jamie replied in his no-nonsense tone. “If I’m going to let you go, Chip I want to be sure that you arrive in the best possible condition and I want to talk to your sister personally about taking care of your injuries. Two weeks is a long time for you to be away from my care but I’m confident you’ll be fine if you do as you’re told. The wounds are healing nicely now but you need to keep that arm immobile and you need to get plenty of rest. There are also a few exercises you can start in readiness for physiotherapy when you return.”
Chip groaned and closed his eyes. Even with pain medication his arm and side throbbed continuously and here was Doc talking about physiotherapy. The thought made him feel sick. And Jamie wanted to collude with Helen. Chip couldn’t think of a worse combination for curtailing his freedom and ruining his life.
Lee and Jamie exchanged amused grins at the
pained look on the exec’s face before Lee spoke again. “Admiral Nelson has
agreed to have the Institute jet fly you direct to
Chip’s blue eyes shot open and he stared incredulously at his captain. Lee grinned. “He wants to be sure you travel as comfortably as possible. There’s a bed on board so you can sleep on the flight and arrive reasonably refreshed. And the jet can bring Jamie back the next day at his convenience.”
Chip shook his blond head in amazement. He’d been so convinced that he wouldn’t be allowed to go and now everyone was working to ensure that, not only did he go, but that he went as easily and comfortably as possible. He felt the tears rise once more to the surface and closed his eyes again unwilling to let his friends see that he was overwhelmed.
“You deserve it, Chip,” Lee said quietly, well aware of how his friend was feeling. “All you have to do is phone Helen.”
“I get the tough job,” Chip muttered opening his eyes. “I can’t tell her Lee. She’ll panic.”
“You want me to do it?” Lee queried. “I thought if you told her she would at least know you were alive and able to speak to her. There won’t be any reason for her to panic. If I call her she’s immediately going to think you’re dead.”
“I guess you’re right,” Chip sighed. “I’ll
do it. He glanced at the clock on the wall. Its 17.30 hours in
“Fair enough,” Lee nodded.
Chip looked at him and then at the doctor. “Thank you. You don’t how much this means to me. I’m really grateful.”
“Our pleasure,” Jamie grinned. “It’s not often I get to do something that’s actually appreciated by my patients. Now get some rest. I want you as fit as possible by the nineteenth.”
Mid-December 1976. 8.30pm. Chris and
Helen Marshall’s temporary home, South London,
Helen Marshall was in the midst of wrapping Christmas gifts when the phone rang. She reached out with one hand to pick up the receiver and answered with a distracted “Hello” as she jammed it between her shoulder and her chin intending to continue with the task at hand.
However, the voice at the other end claimed her full attention. “Helen?”
“Chip!” Helen dropped the scissors she was holding and grabbed the receiver firmly in her hand as a broad smile spread across her face. “What a surprise! I wasn’t expecting you to call. Don’t tell me your flight has been changed!”
“I’m afraid so.” Ten thousand miles away Chip Morton grimaced, well aware that his elder half-sister was going to get upset and that he was going to be the cause of it.
“What do you mean, “sort of”?” Helen’s voice held the suspicious tone he knew so well.
Chip took a deep breath. “It’s been cancelled.”
“There’s been a bit of a problem,” Chip hedged.
“What sort of a problem?” Helen’s suspicious tone grew.
“Some idiot tried to shoot Lee.”
He heard his sister’s sharp intake of breath. “Tried? Is Lee okay?”
“Yes,” Chip swallowed. “He’s fine but…….”
“But what?” Helen asked patiently, unaware that her fists were clenching in apprehension as she subconsciously noticed that her younger brother’s deep voice wasn’t quite right.
Chip swallowed again and closed his eyes as he said, barely audibly, “I got in the way.”
“Of what?” Helen spoke sharply as her stomach began to twist into knots at the answer she was sure was coming. “Chip, are you okay?”
“I…..” Chip hesitated, amazed at how difficult it was to speak the simple truth. “I got shot, Helen. I’m sorry.” He closed his eyes again at the exclamation he was sure was coming while, at the other end, there was silence as Helen struggled to absorb his words. Finally, just as Chip was beginning to think that the connection had been broken, he heard his sister’s voice again as she asked calmly “Where?”
“On Seaview,” Chip replied quietly.
“No, I mean where did the bullet hit you?”
“Top of my right arm. It went straight through
and into the side of my chest but I’m fine, Helen. It’s getting better and I’m
still coming for Christmas but I’m coming earlier…on the nineteenth. It’ll be
the twentieth when I arrive in
“Why?” Helen asked.
“He wants to collaborate with you on keeping me in order,” Chip said wryly, hoping that a light-hearted approach would ease some of the anxiety he knew his sister was feeling. “He’s writing you a book of orders on taking care of my arm and making sure I behave myself when he’s not around to spy on me. I told him you will do everything he says and more!”
Helen laughed despite her anxiety. “Oh, he can rely on me.”
“I know,” Chip replied. “I’m really sorry, Helen. I didn’t want to tell you over the phone but when Lee and Doc changed the flight arrangements I had no choice.”
“You mean you were just going to show up here with a bullet wound?”
“Yes; I figured that once you saw me you wouldn’t worry so much,” Chip explained quietly. “I’m okay, Helen. Honestly.”
It was on the tip of Helen’s tongue to ask how long exactly since he’d been shot and how bad the injury was. It didn’t sound good to her and the fact that her brother’s doctor was flying thousands of miles to ensure his well-being indicated that it was more complicated than Chip was telling but she didn’t want to nag him on the phone and, she assured herself, he was well enough to call her and well enough to travel. She could find out the details later.
“Good,” she said now, her voice calm. “D’you know what time you’ll be arriving at the airport? Chris will come and meet you.”
“There’s no need,” Chip replied tiredly. He’d worried for hours about making this call and now he felt drained, emotionally, mentally and physically. “A car’s been arranged. We’ll arrive somewhere around midday on the 20th. I’ll see you then.”
“Okay,” Helen said cheerfully. “We’ll see you then, and Chip….”
“Remember we love you.”
“I know,” Chip swallowed. “I love you too. See you soon.”
In Santa Barbara Chip dropped the receiver back on the phone and leant back against his pillows feeling more content than he had since before the shooting. He was going home to his family and right now that was all that mattered.
Back in London Helen Marshall sat and stared at the telephone, the gift wrapping forgotten while she struggled to come to terms with the news she’d just received. Her heart was screaming at her to rush to the airport immediately and jump on the next flight to California while her mind told her to stay calm and trust her brother’s assertion that he was “fine” .He was coming to London after all so that meant he wasn’t too badly hurt but she knew that anxiety for his well being would now be her constant companion until she finally saw him with her own eyes. Sighing heavily, she stood up and went in search of her husband.
Christmas Eve, Chris and Helen Marshall’s temporary home, South London, England.
Chip Morton opened his eyes and listened carefully. The bedroom was still dark and outside he could hear the wind howling around the large detached house while rain splattered against the windows but he knew it wasn’t the sound of the weather that had caused him to waken suddenly.
There was somebody in his room.
For a brief moment Chip felt a rush of adrenaline as his brain screamed “Intruder!” but then rational thought took over as he remembered where he was. Turning his head carefully towards the door he saw a small shadowy figure standing by his bed.
“Are you asleep?” six year old Timmy asked quietly.
“No,” Chip smothered a grin as Timmy clambered up on to the bed and sat cross legged facing his uncle. Feeling slightly dazed Chip glanced at the luminous hands on his alarm clock. 06.24 hours. “Shouldn’t you be asleep?” he enquired of his youngest nephew.
“No,” Timmy shook his dark head, his voice full of conviction. “Mommy says I’m too ecksited. Are you ecksited, Uncle Chip?”
“Excited about what?” Chip asked tiredly as he peered through the darkness at his nephew. It crossed his mind that he should put the bedside light on but he couldn’t summon up the energy to move and Timmy seemed perfectly happy to talk in the dark.
“Santa Claus!” Timmy responded seriously, his young voice rising with excitement. “He’s coming tonight. Did you know that?”
“Yes, I knew,” Chip replied equally seriously. “What do you want him to bring you?”
Timmy’s blue eyes grew wide with joyful
anticipation. “A Lego ship. And I know he will ‘cos I told him when we went to
see him in
“Yes,” he lied solemnly.
“What did you ask him to bring you?”
“Oh, help,” Chip thought tiredly. He didn’t have a clue what gifts he might receive from his family and he didn’t want to tell Timmy something that he was unlikely to get. In a sudden flash of inspiration he grinned as he replied, “I asked him to surprise me! I like surprises.” Ironic thing to say, he thought ruefully….being shot had been a surprise he could have done without!
“Oh,” Timmy considered his reply for a
moment before asking. “Did you tell Santa to leave your presents here or in
“I didn’t know where I would be,” Chip replied seriously. “Santa is very clever, Timmy. He’ll know to leave my presents here.”
“Are you sure?” Timmy’s small face looked doubtful in the pre-dawn greyness. “He didn’t know last year.”
For a moment, Chip was tempted to argue
with his nephew when he recalled that the previous year he and Lee had arrived
unexpectedly at his sister’s
“Yes he is,” Timmy nodded his head, satisfied with his elder’s answers. “Where is Uncle Lee? Why didn’t he come with you this time?”
“He’s gone to his Mom’s house.”
“Really?” Timmy sounded almost unbelieving. “Does he have a mom? He’s a bit old.”
“Of course he does,” Chip stifled a laugh at his nephew’s incredulity. “Everybody has a mom, Timmy.”
“You don’t,” Timmy pointed out, matter-of-factly.
“No, but I did have a mom when I was your age.”
“Oh,” Timmy considered this information for a while and then asked, “Where is she now?”
“Oh, help,” Chip thought wearily. He had no idea if his sister had ever told her children about their maternal grandfather or her stepmother and the half-brother after whom Timmy had been named. The last thing he wanted was a conversation with a six year old about life and death before 07.00 hours on a dark winter’s morning. He was desperately trying to think of a reply that would distract his inquisitive nephew when the bedroom door opened and gentle light flooded the room revealing his elder half-sister standing in the doorway, wearing her dressing gown and with her dark hair falling untidily over her shoulders telling him that she had just got out of bed.
“Timmy! What are you doing in here?” Helen Marshall frowned at her youngest son. “You should be in bed.”
“I was just talking wiv Uncle Chip,” Timmy replied a little defensively as he turned to face his mother.
“Did he wake you?” Helen addressed her brother as she crossed the floor and lifted Timmy into her arms.
“No, I was already awake,” Chip lied, unwilling to get his nephew into trouble on Christmas Eve. “We were just talking about Christmas.”
“And moms,” Timmy added cheerfully as he turned his head to stare into his mother’s face. “Where’s Uncle Chip’s mom? He said he had one when he was six.”
Helen shot a glance of concern at her younger brother who smiled tiredly and said, “We were about to get into a life and death conversation.”
“I see,” Helen put her son down on the floor and turned him towards the door. “Shoot Timmy. Go get some clothes on before breakfast. It’s my turn to talk to Uncle Chip.”
“Okay,” Timmy turned to grin at his uncle. “See you later, Uncle Chip.”
“See you later, Timmy,” Chip grinned and waved his left hand at his exuberant nephew.
Helen sat down on the bed. “I’m sorry if he disturbed you, Chip. He shouldn’t have been in here.”
“It’s okay,” Chip smiled. “I enjoyed his company.”
“I’m sure he enjoyed your attention,” Helen grinned. “He never stops talking and you’re a new and captive audience.” She paused. “How did you sleep?”
“Okay,” Chip lied. Despite the pain medication he was a restless sleeper, mainly because he was being forced to sleep propped against a mass of pillows with his right arm strapped to his chest all night and he had never been comfortable sleeping on his back. Helen raised one dark eyebrow at him, making it clear that she didn’t believe him but she didn’t press the point. Instead, she asked curiously, “How’d you get on to the subject of your mom?”
“Lee,” Chip grinned. “Timmy wanted to know where Lee is spending Christmas. He found the idea of Lee having a mom amusing, thinks Lee’s too old. When I told him that everyone has a mom he pointed out, quite rightly, that I don’t.”
“What did you tell him?”
“That I had one when I was his age so he asked where she is now. I never had to answer that one cos you came in and rescued me.” He looked curiously at his sister. “Does he know what happened to them?”
“He knows that they’re dead,” Helen nodded. “But not how they died and I’m not sure that he really understands the concept of death yet.”
“No,” Chip was quiet for a moment, wondering how Helen might have explained his demise to his nieces and nephews if he had not defied the odds and survived. Noticing the shadow that passed across his face, Helen sought to lighten the atmosphere. “Are you ready for breakfast?”
“Maybe coffee,” Chip frowned thoughtfully, “but I’ll wait for breakfast; it’s a little early for food.”
“Okay,” Helen stood up and straightened her faded purple bathrobe. “Shall I leave the light on?”
“No,” Chip shook his blond head. “I’ll doze a bit before the coffee comes.”
As his room returned to the dark and peaceful haven it had been before Timmy woke him Chip settled back against his pillows and closed his eyes. Steadfastly ignoring the nagging ache of his right arm he focussed instead on his sister and how he wished he could take away the tiredness he could so clearly see in her expressive brown eyes. Unfortunately he rather suspected that he was the cause of her exhaustion and he felt horribly guilty about it. As if Helen hadn’t had enough to deal with already coping with four excited children, celebrating Christmas in a foreign country and missing the support of her in-laws she now had to take care of him as well. He hadn’t missed the shock on his sister’s face when he had arrived two days ago. Although she had tried valiantly to mask it he had been well aware that she had been upset when she first laid eyes on him and realized just how seriously he had been hurt. He had felt horribly selfish for coming and wondered if it might have been better if he had stayed in the infirmary and told his family some elaborate lie excusing himself from the Christmas holiday he had been so looking forward to. He knew Helen would have been bitterly disappointed but she would’ve been spared the anxiety of knowing about his injury and the added stress of taking care of his needs alongside those of her children.
He sighed heavily and opened his eyes to
peer into the greyness as he wished that Lee could have made the trip with
him. Lee got on so well with all of the
family and would have been an extra pair of adult hands to help with the
children who all adored him. Even difficult
Of course Lee had been invited but had
regretfully declined in order to spend a rare Christmas with his mother and
attend his Aunt and Uncle’s Golden Wedding celebration on Dec 26th.
Although Lee hadn’t said as much Chip knew that his friend would’ve preferred
not to go and he suspected that had he pushed hard enough he could’ve persuaded
him to change his plans and accompany him to
If he was honest with himself Chip had to
admit that he needed his friend right now. It was going to be so odd spending
Christmas at his sister’s without his best friend. Ever since they had met
fourteen years earlier Lee had been spending Christmas with Chip’s family when
he wasn’t at sea. On at least two occasions Lee had spent the holiday there
without Chip who had been on duty abroad. It wouldn’t have been so bad if Tom
and Gwen had been able to come but his brother-in-law’s parents who had been
surrogate grandparents to Chip for most of his life had declined the invitation
to fly to
And to make matters even worse, in his opinion, Helen had invited a total stranger to spend Christmas Day with them. To be fair he knew she wasn’t a stranger to his family and from what Helen had said in her letters it was obvious that the children adored her so at least she would be an extra pair of adult hands to help with them but, if he was honest Chip would have preferred not to have to be sociable with a stranger in his current vulnerable state. In his experience strangers and particularly women always seemed to zoom in on injuries like bees to a honey pot. He’d experienced it himself in the past and he’d observed it with his best friend and he didn’t like it. He certainly didn’t relish the thought of his current handicap being the focal point of interest on Christmas morning and hoped that the demands of the children would distract this Kate person from focussing on him. To be fair his sister had asked him if he would prefer her to cancel Kate’s visit but Chip was aware that Helen was keen to fill her home with visitors to ease the pain of being abroad at Christmas and he didn’t have the heart to admit how he really felt so he had assured her that it wasn’t necessary.
So you’ll just have to live with it, Morton! He told himself irritably as a light knock on his bedroom door signalled the arrival of his coffee. He gritted his teeth as he struggled into a sitting position before plastering a smile on to his face as the door opened and his brother-in-law appeared bearing a tray which contained a mug of coffee and a plate of hot buttered toast.
“I know, I know….” Chris grinned as he laid the tray carefully on the bedside table. “You only wanted coffee but Helen finds it hard to believe that you would turn down food at any time of day so she insisted on sending this up…just in case you were beginning to feel hungry!!”
Chip laughed, “I wasn’t but now I’ve smelt the toast my stomach might change its mind!”
“That’s what Helen figured,” Chris laughed back as he handed the mug to him. “Can you manage okay or d’you want me to stay?”
“I’ll be fine,” Chip spoke confidently. “I’m sure you have plenty to do.”
“Oh, you are so right,” Chris rolled his eyes. “The kids are already clamouring to decorate the tree which is still in the garage and if I don’t get it in soon I’m going to have a revolt on my hands!”
“Have fun!” Chip laughed. “I’ll stay here until it’s all done!”
“All right for some,” Chris laughed.
“Getting injured has to have some advantages,” Chip grinned. “Otherwise it wouldn’t be fair at all!”
Chip blinked several times as he awoke
stiff and disorientated in the family room of his sister’s temporary
He let his eyes wander around the silent,
darkened room as full awareness returned and wondered vaguely where the rest of
the family had gone. The only light came from the twinkling coloured lights
that adorned the tall fir tree dominating one corner of the room. Chip let his
gaze rest on it for a while and for a moment he was fooled into thinking that
he was back in the
Yawning widely he debated whether or not to struggle to his feet and put the light on when a noise outside caught his attention. Voices and laughter floated through the closed windows and the sound of the front door opening reached his ears. Running feet and laughter echoed in the hallway and he heard the front door closing as the door to the family room flew open. The room seemed to fill with bodies as Chip’s four nieces and nephews crowded into the room all jostling for position as they surrounded his chair.
“Why are you sitting in the dark?” Timmy demanded as his eldest sister, eleven year old Katie reached for the light switch.
“I just woke up!” Chip blinked as bright light suddenly flooded the room revealing four pairs of eyes all staring down at him.
“Have you been asleep?” ten year old
Chip nodded and frowned slightly as Tim said indignantly, “But it’s the afternoon; you can’t sleep in the afternoon!”
“You can when you’re sick,” Katie said
wisely. “And Uncle Chip is sick, aren’t you?” She gazed intently at him but
before he could respond
Chip wanted to laugh at his niece’s casual
dismissal of his injury but he wisely kept quiet as Katie turned on her sister.
“Getting shot is serious,
Chip winced at the finality in Katie’s voice as Tim turned to him with worried brown eyes, “You’re not going to die are you, Uncle Chip?”
“Of course, he’s not,”
She sounded almost disappointed and Chip stared at her in amused incredulity.
“Oh,” Timmy frowned and without warning threw himself on his uncle heedless of the fact that Chip’s right arm was held in a sling across his chest. “I’m glad that bad man didn’t shoot your heart, Uncle Chip!” He wrapped his arms around Chip’s neck and the full force of his six year old body squashed his uncle’s already painful arm into his ribcage.
Chip gasped in agony as Katie pulled her brother off with a swift reprimand, “Careful, Timmy, you’ll hurt Uncle Chip’s arm!”
“Sorry,” Tim’s dark head drooped unhappily as seven year old Jason, silent up to that point, observed quietly, “Your face is all white, Uncle Chip. Are you going to throw up?”
In too much pain to answer verbally Chip shook his blond head and glanced at the door in the hope that his sister or brother-in-law might come and rescue him from their over-enthusiastic children. As if reading his mind Katie suddenly spoke up, “Come on,” she took Timmy’s hand and frowned at the other two. “Mom said we shouldn’t ask Uncle Chip lots of questions; he needs lots of rest so his arm can get better. We need to go and wrap Mom and dad’s presents before tea.”
“Yeah,” Timmy whooped and pulled his eldest
sister towards the door with a reluctant
“Does your arm really hurt?” Jason sounded both concerned and worried and Chip summoned up the strength to smile reassuringly at him.
“Sometimes,” he hedged not wanting his young nephew to know the truth.
“Oh,” Jason frowned slightly and looked down at the floor for a moment obviously unsure what to say in response. Chip frowned at his nephew’s bent head and was about to speak when Jason looked up again and said quietly, “Have you remembered that it’s Christmas tomorrow?” His tone was confidential and he leaned in close to his uncle’s chair, almost as if he was sharing some important secret.
“Yes, I remembered,” Chip spoke solemnly, unwilling to upset his nephew by succumbing to the laughter that hovered close to the surface at the boy’s serious demeanour.
“Good,” Jason’s sudden grin lit up the room as if someone had turned on a light. “I did wonder if you might have forgotten. Mum said you’re not yourself at the moment.”
“Did she?” Chip raised one fair eyebrow as he struggled once more to contain his laughter.
“Yes,” Jason frowned slightly as he confessed, “I heard her telling dad.”
“Did you?” Chip stared levelly at the soon-to-be eight year old as he wondered in what context his sister’s comment had been made. “Don’t you know that it’s wrong to listen to other people’s conversations, Jason?”
“Yes,” Jason nodded his blond head earnestly, “but I wasn’t listening, not really. I went to get a drink and they were talking…in the kitchen,” he added as an afterthought.
“I see,” Chip smiled and decided to change the subject before he heard anything else his sister had been saying about him. “What do you want Santa to bring you, Jason?”
“I don’t believe in Santa anymore,” Jason whispered scornfully. “Only babies believe in Santa and I’m going to be eight on Sunday.” He stared thoughtfully at Chip and his blue eyes, so like Chip’s own, seemed to bore into his uncle. You don’t believe in him, do you, Uncle Chip?”
For the third time in less than five minutes Chip struggled not to laugh. He had a reputation aboard Seaview for his serious, no nonsense attitude and his ability to hide what he was really thinking and feeling but he found it a lot harder to maintain his impenetrable expression when faced with his straight-talking nephews and nieces!
“No, I don’t, Jason,” he admitted honestly, “but Timmy does so you need to be careful what you say.”
“I know,” Jason sighed. “That’s why I
whispered it to you. Anyway,
“I don’t think so,” Chip grinned. “Why?”
“Last year he said that you met Santa outside our house and that he talked to him. Was he just pretending?”
“Yes,” Chip admitted gravely, “he didn’t want to ruin the fun for you and Tim.”
“Silly,” Jason frowned. “Grown ups should just tell children the truth…that it’s just your dad dressed up.”
“Maybe,” Chip responded seriously, amused by Jason’s almost superior air. “So, what do you want for Christmas, Jason?”
“A skateboard,” Jason said promptly. “My own skateboard; do you remember that Derry got one last year and you and Uncle Lee had a race and you lost, though it wasn’t fair really cos Uncle Lee crashed into you and you hurt your ankle! Do you remember that? It was fun, though I guess, maybe, it wasn’t fun for you.”
“I enjoyed it,” Chip smiled at the memory, “but I’m not going to be riding any skateboards this year!”
“No, I guess not,” Jason said with a sympathetic glance at Chip’s immobilised right arm. “I don’t suppose Mom would let you even if you wanted to try, would she?”
“I doubt it,” Chip grinned, “and I don’t think it would be a very good idea.”
“That’s a shame,” Jason frowned again. “Katie could’ve taken photos of you; she wants a camera for Christmas…” he leaned in closer to the chair so that he could whisper in his uncle’s ear, “…she wants to be like Aunt Kate.”
“Aunt Kate?” Chip questioned curiously.
“Yeah,” Jason nodded. “Kate Fisher; she’s a photographer for real…I mean, that’s what she does, she takes photographs of all sorts of things and people pay her so it’s like a job! It’s not a real job…” he added thoughtfully, “…but it’s like a job to her.”
“I see,” Chip nodded understanding, secretly amused at Jason’s deft but inaccurate summing up of photography as a career.
“She’s coming tomorrow,” Jason confided almost breathlessly, “for Christmas; she’s very nice, you’ll like her. She likes you! She thinks you’re really nice.”
“Does she?” Chip questioned with a frown. “She doesn’t even know me Jason!”
“No,” Jason screwed up his face as he thought about the truth in his uncle’s statement, “but she’s seen your photos and we’ve told her lots about you. She said…she said…” he frowned in concentration, “she said that you sound very…interesting… and she’s looking forward to meeting you.”
“Well, I’m looking forward to meeting her,” Chip lied unwilling to admit to his enthusiastic nephew that the last thing he wanted to do in his present condition was make small-talk with a total stranger. Not for the first time he wished that Lee was there. Women always seemed to make a bee-line for his dark-haired friend and he was sure that he would’ve been able to melt into the background if Lee had been there to distract the children and the photographer! He…
“Chip, I’m sorry…” Helen appeared suddenly in the doorway, her dark hair windswept and a harassed expression on her face. “I didn’t mean to ignore you when we got back; I had to put the shopping away and then the phone rang and…”
“I’m fine,” Chip spoke hastily, anxious to banish the stressed look on his sister’s face. “Jason has been keeping me company.”
“Good,” Helen eyed him sceptically and Chip knew that she was debating whether to risk antagonising him by asking him questions regarding his health or whether to ignore the subject. Taking pity on her he smiled as he said quietly, “I had a good sleep and yes my shoulder hurts and I could use a drink and some painkillers but I’ll get it myself, Helen; I’m not an invalid.”
“I’ll get you a drink,” Jason spoke up eagerly. “What do you want?” he hovered in front of Chip’s chair ready to spring into action at his uncle’s request.
“Water will do,” Chip smiled gratefully. “Thank you, Jason.”
“Are you sure that’s all you need?” Helen queried worriedly as her elder son slipped past her on his way to the kitchen.
“Positive,” Chip smiled his warmest smile, hoping to reassure his sister. He didn’t want Helen to worry about him and he hoped that a positive attitude on his part would allay her concerns. He was completely unaware of just how pale he was or how the continual nagging pain of his injuries was reflected in his expressive blue eyes giving his sister plenty to worry about!
“Well, if you’re sure…” Helen said doubtfully. “Dinner will be at six.”
“Great, I’m getting quite hungry” Chip lied again as Jason reappeared with a glass of water. “Thank you, Jason.” He took the glass from his nephew and sipped at the clear, cool liquid.
“Okay, we’ll leave you in peace,” Helen smiled at him as she signalled her son to accompany her from the room.
“Thank you,” Chip grinned over his glass only allowing a heartfelt sigh of relief to escape his lips when he was safely on his own again!
A South London pub, England, Christmas Eve
“What are you going to wear tomorrow?”
“Huh?” Kate Fisher turned her attention from her perusal of the crowded pub to look quizzically at her companion.
“What are you going to wear tomorrow?” Tess Mitchell repeated her question with exaggerated patience and an amused grin as her friend shrugged her slim shoulders before lifting her full glass to sip appreciatively at the cool, amber liquid inside.
“I don’t know,” she admitted as she placed the glass back on its coaster and grinned at her friend through the smoky haze that seemed to permeate the entire room. The upbeat words of a popular Christmas song reverberated around the crowded bar competing with the noise of talk and laughter and she raised her voice as she continued, “Depends on the weather!”
“It’s going to rain!” Tess laughed. “You saw the forecast!”
“True,” Kate nodded solemnly. “Guess I’ll
have to go for my mackintosh and
“Well, don’t forget your rain hat!” Tess’s auburn curls bounced as she shook her head in despair. “Wouldn’t want you to create a bad impression by arriving in an incomplete outfit!”
“Very funny,” Kate grinned broadly as she tapped her fingers on the stained wooden table in time to the music.
“Aw, come on!” Tess persisted. “You must’ve thought about it, surely?”
“Why?” Kate assumed an air of puzzled innocence and her green eyes sparkled mischievously as she took another sip from her glass. “It’s just Christmas dinner with friends, Tess. It’s not a date! Have you thought about what you’re wearing tomorrow?”
“No!” Tess laughed as she downed the rest of her lime and lager, “Probably my PJs!”
“Your Pjs?” Kate almost choked on the remains of her drink. “It’s Christmas day!”
“It’s a day off after a late night,” Tess countered and smiled unashamedly as she continued. “Besides I’ve got no-one to impress; I doubt my family will even notice!”
“And who have I got to impress?” Kate
enquired innocently. “I’ve known the
“I’m sure they will but what about the uncle?” Tess raised one auburn eyebrow enquiringly. “The all-American naval officer? I bet he’ll notice more than the gifts you’re carrying. If it was me I certainly wouldn’t be wearing my pjs….or my Mac and wellies either!!”
“The guy’s recovering from a serious bullet wound,” Kate pretended to sound shocked at her friend’s comments. “I doubt he’ll even notice me let alone what I’m wearing!”
“Oh, come on!” Tess challenged. “He’s a red blooded American male who’s just survived a near death experience. I’ll bet he’ll be only too aware of a young attractive female who’s spending Christmas day in his presence. Bet he’ll be glad of the distraction after being cooped up in hospital for weeks. And he’s probably desperate for adult conversation after spending several days with four children.”
“Maybe,” Kate gave in to the laughter that surfaced at her friend’s down to earth comments. “But I’m way out of his league, Tess and I’m only going to see him tomorrow.”
“All the more reason to make an effort!” Tess waggled a finger at her. “First impressions and all that…don’t want him to think you couldn’t be bothered!”
“I’ll settle for him accepting my intrusion,” Kate frowned suddenly and twisted her glass between her long, slender hands.
“You’re not intruding!” Tess frowned back. “You’ve been invited!”
“Yes, by Helen and Chris,” Kate nodded, her eyes darkening as her expression turned serious. “But what if he resents my presence? What if we don’t get on?”
“What if you do get on?” Tess couldn’t resist a teasing comment before saying more seriously, “Does it really matter? Like you said, it’s only for a day and you’re a guest in his sister’s home. He’ll just have to lump it, won’t he?”
“I guess,” Kate continued to frown, “but it’s his home too; it’s his family and he hasn’t seen them for months. He might not want a stranger intruding.”
“I guess that’s possible,” Tess nodded, her expression sober, “but you said he and his sister are close. Surely she wouldn’t have invited you if she thought he would object.”
“I guess not,” Kate nodded her own expression sombre. “I guess I’d just rather he wasn’t there.”
“You’re crazy,” Tess burst into laughter. “If I had the opportunity to have Christmas dinner with one of Admiral Nelson’s officers…a single, good-looking officer…I’d be home right now getting ready! In fact if that Captain Crane was going to be there I’d be tempted to gate crash! Have you ever seen his picture…talk about to die for; that guy has the most amazing eyes I’ve ever seen! I swear you could drown in them! And he’s still single you know!”
“Sure he is and have you asked yourself why?” Kate smiled at her friend’s exuberance.
“Because he hasn’t met the right woman yet!” Tess laughed. “Are you sure he’s not coming? Maybe they won’t even notice if I tag along?”
“He was invited,” Kate admitted, “but he has other commitments to fulfil.”
“Drat!” Tess grinned. “Well, I guess its Christmas Day in my pjs then. Still, if you hit it off with his friend maybe I’ll get to meet him at your wedding? Chief bridesmaid and best man?!”
“What a cliché!” Kate laughed. “You’re impossible, Tess but if you want to come I’m sure Helen and Chris won’t mind. Helen said they’re used to a houseful at Christmas and they’re going to miss all their family back in the States. I think that’s why she’s invited me.”
“She invited you because you’ve become friends and you’re a fellow Yank in a strange land,” Tess observed. “I’ve got my own family obligations to fulfil but if you don’t want to go meet the prodigal brother you can always come home with me!”
“Thanks,” Kate smiled. “But I don’t want to offend Helen and Chris by dropping out at the last minute.”
“Of course not,” Tess grinned across the table. “And you don’t want to pass up the opportunity to meet the brother either!!”
“Oh, shut up!” Kate laughed. “Do you want another drink?” She reached for her purse.
“Sure,” Tess nodded and stood up, “but I’ll get them. You sit there and think about what you’re going to wear tomorrow!”
“She likes you. She thinks you’re really nice!” Jason’s innocent comment haunted Chip’s thoughts as he sat in the chair by his bed waiting for his brother-in-law to appear and help him with the task of getting ready for bed.
How could she say that? She didn’t even know him! All she knew was what Helen and Chris and the children had told her and, knowing the children, she probably had a very unrealistic idea of the man she was going to meet tomorrow…a cross between a sporting superstar and all action hero!
She won’t have believed everything the children said; the voice of reason mocked his apprehension. She’s a friend of Helen’s; your sister will have made sure that she knows you’re not perfect!
But would she? His apprehension refused to be quenched. Helen might give him a hard time but he knew she was very proud of him and she wasn’t above a bit of shameless boasting on his behalf.
She did offer to renege on the invitation if you weren’t happy about it; the voice of reason spoke up again. Quit being a jerk, Morton! You’re not all that special; look at you, you can’t even get undressed on your own. She’s not going to give you a second glance!
Oh, yeah? Didn’t women love to fuss over injured males? He’d seen it happen countless times with his best friend; he’d even experienced it himself in the past. She’d probably view his bullet wounds as heroic. Worse, being a woman and, therefore inherently nosey, she’ll probably want to know all the gory details!
Like Helen would allow that, the voice of reason mocked his anxieties. She’s coming for Christmas Dinner; she’s not coming to view your misfortune.
But is she? He frowned heavily at the floor. Is she really coming for dinner with the family or is she coming with a view to ensnare the executive officer of the most famous submarine in the world? The single and available executive officer! Was she just using his family to get to him?
Get real, Morton! The voice of reason laughed openly at his paranoid thoughts. Who do you think you are? You’ve been swallowing too many painkillers! They’re warping your brain! Helen and Chris would never fall for that sort of shallowness…she’s just a friend of the family. She’s not a threat to you; Lee’s right…your imagination is on overdrive.
Maybe, he conceded reluctantly, but what about that other friend of Helen’s…the one who visited after getting divorced? That wasn’t my imagination…she was downright dangerous!
She was lonely and confused and you were a young, available male in uniform… no harm was done! Admit it; it was good for your ego after the Josie debacle!
Good for my ego? It was downright terrifying, Chip shuddered at the memory of the older woman coming on to him unashamedly in his sister’s kitchen and then threatening him when he refused to reciprocate. And what had attracted her? Was it his personality? Nope; it was his blond hair, his blue eyes and his uniform…”take that away and there’s nothing”, those were the cruel words Josie had spoken to him and he was sure that was what had attracted Melinda Sykes. And that was the problem…for him and Lee and other men in their supposedly enviable positions…women saw the uniform, the status, the reasonable good-looks and they pounced with no regard for the poor man underneath. Crazy, but that was the way it worked. Who was to say this Kate Fisher wasn’t just another crazy uniform hugger?
Who’s to say she’s not a thoroughly nice person who isn’t the least bit interested in you or your uniform? The voice of reason was almost scathing and Chip found himself laughing at his paranoid thoughts. Maybe he had been taking too many painkillers! Certainly he was in danger of feeling sorry for himself, not to mention thinking he was irresistible to any single woman who crossed his path! He didn’t want to be irresistible, he just wanted to like her and he wanted her to like him…for his family’s sake. How hard could it be?
“Penny for your thoughts!” Chris’s deep voice took Chip by surprise and he looked up almost in alarm to find his brother-in-law looking down at him with concerned grey eyes.
“I…didn’t hear you come in,” Chip faltered, shaken out of his deep thoughts by Chris’s appearance.
“You okay?” Chris frowned slightly, his eyes scanning the younger man’s face. “You look worried…anxious even.”
“Do I?” Chip forced a grin to his face.
“Yes,” Chris stated bluntly and sat down on the bed. “Do you need to talk?”
“Maybe, maybe not,” Chip hedged unsure if he wanted to speak about his crazy thoughts but wondering if he would feel better if he unloaded them.
“I see,” Chris raised his eyebrows. “Very decisive! How about I go get us some drinks while you decide?”
“Drink?” Chip’s own eyebrows shot up. “The drugs are already destroying my brain, Chris; I don’t think a drink is going to help.”
“I wasn’t thinking of alcohol,” Chris grinned, “Well, not for you anyway! I was thinking more along the lines of hot chocolate; you look like you could use something warm and comforting and it might help you sleep.”
“Maybe,” Chip was unconvinced, “okay, Chris; thanks.”
“Be back soon,” Chris disappeared through the door leaving Chip with his unsettling thoughts again. He was sure that he was being ridiculous but he couldn’t seem to shake off the feeling that tomorrow was going to be a nightmare. Maybe it would help to confide in Chris? He knew that he could tell Chris what was bugging him without fear of ridicule or censure. His relationship with his brother-in-law was solid, built on years of shared experiences and mutual respect, trust and affection. Chris had been a cross between big brother and surrogate father for most of Chip’s life and, as a young boy, he had usually taken his worries and fears to Chris because he knew that he wouldn’t worry about him in the way that Helen tended to. And yet…could he really admit to anyone that he was basically afraid of meeting a strange woman? How pathetic did that sound?
Sighing heavily he shifted his position in the chair as he heard footsteps on the stairs and seconds later Chris reappeared holding two steaming mugs. He placed one on the bedside table in a position that would enable Chip to pick it up easily with his left hand before sitting down on the bed and raising the second mug to his lips.
“You’re having chocolate too?” Chip raised one enquiring eyebrow.
“Of course,” Chris grinned, “it wouldn’t be fair for me to drink in front of you, would it?”
A broad grin spread across Chip’s face as he picked up his own mug, “I don’t suppose you would be willing to switch mugs?”
“I’ve already started drinking,” Chris laughed. “Besides, how would I explain it to Helen if you didn’t wake up in the morning?”
“That might not be a bad idea,” Chip muttered into his mug as Chris confirmed that his own drink was laced with whiskey.
“Pardon?” Chris frowned, not sure that he had heard correctly.
“Nothing,” Chip frowned back. “I’m just having stupid ideas, Chris.”
“Uhuh,” Chris sipped quietly at his drink and waited, his grey eyes searching his young brother-in-law’s pale face for any clues as to what was bothering him. In common with his wife, Chris had been shocked when he first laid eyes on Chip four days earlier. Despite knowing that the younger man had been shot he hadn’t expected him to look quite so pale and exhausted, his blue eyes darkened by pain and fatigue, his face thinner than it had been the previous summer. Of course, they hadn’t known then about the depth of damage the bullet had done or the subsequent infection that had seriously sapped Chip’s strength. Obviously it was going to take him more than a few weeks to recover his strength and mobility and Chris wouldn’t be in the least surprised if he didn’t succumb to some depression and self-pity. The trouble with Chip was that he tended to be too hard on himself and if he felt that his feelings were unreasonable or that he was being too dependent he would beat himself up over it which might explain the current bleak expression in his blue eyes. He was a…
“Do you promise you won’t tell Helen?” Chip spoke up suddenly interrupting Chris’s thoughts.
“Sure,” Chris nodded solemnly, “I promise.” He hoped he wouldn’t regret that promise!
“I’m…I’m kind of worried,” Chip spoke haltingly as if it was hard for him to get the words out.
Chip sighed and stared into his mug, “Meeting Kate Fisher…” he mumbled the words but Chris still heard them and he nearly dropped his own mug in response.
“Meeting Kate?” Chris struggled to contain the laughter, borne of relief that it was nothing more serious, which welled up inside him.
“It’s not funny, Chris,” Chip scowled unhappily.
“I know,” Chris apologised hurriedly. “I know, Chip; it’s just a surprise, that’s all. I was worried you were depressed about your arm or something and then you tell me you’re worried about meeting Kate; I guess I’m just relieved.”
“I guess it’s not that serious,” Chip conceded, “but I’ve been having really dumb thoughts and…I just wish…I don’t know…” he shook his blond head unhappily. “I feel I should be looking forward to meeting this woman I’ve heard so much about. Heck, Chris, I like women; I like them a lot and I love meeting new ones but…” he trailed off unsure of how to continue.
“You’d rather meet them on your own terms,” Chris supplied helpfully, “and not when you’re in a lot of pain and feeling vulnerable?”
“I guess so,” Chip nodded. “I’ve heard all about this wonderful Kate from Helen and the children and, according to Jason, she’s heard all about me! I just feel we might both have unreasonable expectations and I’m…I don’t know…I know she means a lot to the children; I don’t want to let them down.”
“Would it help if I told you she tried to bow out of tomorrow when she heard about your injury but Helen wouldn’t let her?”
“Not if you’re just saying it to make me feel better!”
“I’m not; she was worried about intruding on your visit anyway; she didn’t think it was fair to encroach on your holiday with us and when she heard you’d been hurt she told Helen she wouldn’t come…”
“But Helen insisted because I said it didn’t matter.”
“Well, to be fair she did ask you if you wanted her to cancel Kate’s invitation,” Chris pointed out matter-of-factly.
“I knew Helen was dreading Christmas without the rest of the family; I didn’t want her to cancel her plans just because I was dumb enough to get shot and besides I wasn’t worried about it, not really…sure, Lee had pulled my leg about it, but it was just fun; it’s not like I don’t get on with people but…”
“You don’t feel up to making polite conversation and dealing with possible unwanted attention from a young, unattached female?” Chris grinned.
“Okay, it sounds dumb when you put it like that,” Chip grinned back, “but what if I don’t like her but she likes me?”
Chris burst into laughter which intensified at the disgruntled look on Chip’s face.
“I’m sorry…” Chris gasped as he reached out and clasped the younger man’s left shoulder. “I didn’t mean to laugh at you, Chip but I really think it’s the pain medication talking. If you were fit you’d be worrying what if you liked her but she didn’t like you?”
“Lee thinks I’m going to marry her,” Chip managed a smile.
“Does he? Well, I’m not going to say anything but Kate is a lovely girl, Chip and she misses her family. My guess is she will give her attention to the children tomorrow and ignore you unless you encourage her; she’s quite nervous about meeting you…seems to think you’re some kind of icon…and doesn’t quite believe Helen when she says you’re quite normal….which is debateable on tonight’s performance!”
“I knew I was being dumb,” Chip managed a shamefaced smile.
“No you weren’t,” Chris asserted confidently, “you were worried you might get suffocated by unwanted female attention and that you don’t feel up to handling it. I’m telling you that won’t happen and…” he grinned slyly, “…you might wish that it had at the end of the day!”
“Maybe,” Chip smiled and Chris was glad to see that the anxious look had disappeared from his eyes. “Thanks, Chris.”
“No charge,” Chris grinned and stood up, “now drink up and let’s get you ready for bed; you’ll need a good night’s sleep if you’re going to be ready for tomorrow!”
“Chestnuts roasting by an open fire…Jack Frost nipping at your toes…”
The warm soothing tones of the familiar Christmas song bought a faint smile to his lips as he stretched out his lean frame in the old leather armchair, long legs warmed by the cracking flames of his own open fire, a glass of Christmas brandy held in right hand. The large room was bathed in darkness save for the glow of the fire and the twinkling of the multi-coloured fairy lights on the huge fir tree which dominated the main window.
Memories, long buried and thought forgotten, trickled slowly to the forefront of his tired mind. His smile deepened in fond remembrance as he recalled sitting in his father’s lap in this very chair in front of the same granite fire place. Closing his eyes he could almost feel again the strength and security of his father’s long arms wrapped around his small pyjama clad body listening sleepily as his father’s rich, velvet tones recited the timeless poem, “T’was the night before Christmas…”
As the memories grew clearer he recalled again the excited anticipation that had absorbed his young mind as he climbed the huge staircase to his bedroom and hung the big red stocking at the end of his bed. Vivid pictures formed in his mind of waking in darkness, heedless of the icy early morning air as he climbed hurriedly from his bed to explore the bulky shape that now hung from the bed.
Such a long time ago…He shook his dark head as he returned to the present surprised by the intensity of his memories. Life had been so simple then when he was only seven or eight and his father had still been alive to provide the support and security that all young children should enjoy.
It hadn’t stayed that way of course. His father’s tragic death when he was in his teens and the subsequent disagreements with his embittered mother had destroyed his family security for ever and, as he entered adulthood, he had become only too aware that the world was full of hurt and suffering and that he had been very privileged to enjoy the warm, safe, secure childhood that his parents had provided.
Shaking his head again in a bid to quell his suddenly depressing thoughts Lee Benjamin Crane allowed his gaze to wander around the vast room in which he was sitting. Letting his eyes rest on each piece of shadowy furniture he marvelled at the fact that it hadn’t really changed much since he had left home over fourteen years before. The same heavy, dark furniture, mostly antique, stood in the exact same positions almost like a museum to his parents’ marriage. The room had been painted, of course but he wasn’t sure about the cream and gold wallpaper. Was that new? Or had it been there when he was younger, a silent witness to the rows and bad feeling that had occurred here between himself and his strong willed mother?
Annoyed at himself for letting his mind return twice in as many minutes to his once acrimonious relationship with the woman who had borne him Lee stood up and crossed the thick carpet to the tree which shone as a beacon, its lights reflected in the soft carpet of fresh snow that shimmered in the darkness of the grounds beyond the latticed windows.
Gazing at the flickering lights he wondered why he had suddenly become so fixated on the past as he waited for his mother to waken from her nap prior to accompanying her to the midnight service at the church where he had once sung in the choir.
Maybe it was the nostalgic influence of the
music and the Christmas lights and the fact that, on the night before Christmas,
he was here in the house where he had grown up. Lee could barely remember when
he had last spent Christmas Eve in his mother’s home. If he was honest he
wasn’t sure if he had ever been here on December 24th since leaving
It wasn’t that he had deliberately stayed
away. It was more that his mother had chosen to spend her Christmases elsewhere. Visiting friends in Europe, staying with
her younger sister in
Not that Lee had ever expected her to do
so. Widowed now for almost twenty years she was almost certainly lonely and he
knew he couldn’t expect her to wait just in case he managed to get home in time
for Christmas. Admittedly he had been deeply hurt, although not surprised, when
she had written during his first term at
A smile broke through as Lee acknowledged the favour his mother had done for him that Christmas. Going to the warm and friendly home of Chip’s elder half-sister and brother-in-law had been a real eye opener to Lee. Instead of the formality of Christmas dinner in a dark and forbidding dining room with his mother sitting almost regally at the head of the table and the best silver shining in the candlelight he had enjoyed a relaxed and noisy meal in the company of strangers who had welcomed him as if he was one of their own.
It was ironic, Lee reflected now, that his best friend who had suffered unimaginable heartbreak when he was left an orphan at the age of ten, should enjoy the sort of happy, secure family life that had eluded Lee who still had one living parent.
A broad grin spread across his face as he
recalled the previous Christmas when he and Chip had arrived unannounced at
Chip’s sister’s in the early hours of Christmas morning and, thinking they were
the victims of a burglary, Chris and Helen Marshall had called the police. Then
there had been the skateboard race the day after Christmas which had resulted in
Chip badly bruising his ankle and Lee becoming a hero to the children when he
won the race. It had been so much fun contrasting hugely with the dull
formality of New Year which he had been obliged to spend here with his mother
when she returned from a trip to
Obliged… Such an unfriendly word really, Lee reflected as, feeling chilled, he returned to his chair by the fire. It meant that you were expected to do something that you might not really wish to do and that rather summed up his feelings about spending Christmas with his mother. Had he been given a choice, a real choice, he would not have chosen to be here but his mother was spending Christmas at home for the first time in years in order to attend the Golden Wedding anniversary of her younger brother which fell on December 26th and she expected her sons to accompany her to the family gathering.
Lee had hedged when he first received the invitation, stating honestly that he might well be at sea, but he had heard the disappointment in his mother’s voice and had known that he couldn’t stay away when it turned out he was free to come. It wasn’t that he didn’t love his mother and he was quite curious about meeting family members he hadn’t seen in years but this was his holiday and he needed to unwind which would be hard to do in this formal atmosphere or at the party where he would be forced to converse with virtual strangers.
Finishing his drink Lee leant forward to
place the empty glass on the hearth as his mind jumped to the welfare of his
best friend. Despite assuring Chip that he didn’t feel any guilt for getting
him shot he did feel responsible for the events that had resulted in his best
friend being seriously injured during their last cruise. After regretfully
declining the invitation to spend the holidays with Chip’s family at their
temporary home in
The sudden chiming of the grandfather clock in the hallway interrupted Lee’s reminiscing and focused his attention once more on the present as he glanced at the luminous face of his wristwatch confirming that it was 23.00 hours. His mother should appear soon dressed for the church service and, reluctantly, Lee rose once more to his feet, placed the guard in front of the fire, turned off the tree lights and carried his glass through to the kitchen before fetching his own coat and shoes.
Kate Fisher’s rented flat, South London, Christmas morning
What to wear?
As she stood in the bedroom of her rented flat, looking out on the dark, rain splattered streets below Kate Fisher wished she’d had the foresight to buy something new to wear but she couldn’t really afford it and, if she was honest, she hadn’t considered it necessary until her conversation with her friend and assistant the previous evening.
She sometimes wished she’d never told Tess
about Helen Marshall’s younger brother and she certainly wished that she had
never told her he was visiting his sister for the holidays. Tess was an
incurable romantic and was seemingly convinced that the ensuing meeting between
Kate and Helen’s brother was going to lead to wedding bells whereas the
practical, realistic Kate was worried it might end in the destruction of her
new found friendship with the
Turning away from the window she surveyed the clothes laid out on her bed with half an eye as she returned in her memory to the early autumn meeting between herself and Chris Marshall at the south London comprehensive school where he was teaching Maths and Physics for a year on an exchange scheme and she was teaching photography part-time to supplement her income as a freelance photographer.
“Hey, Kate!” Sam Hider, the head of the art department had hailed her across the room at a start of term staff social. “Come here a minute! There’s someone you ought to meet!”
Kate had excused herself from the group where she was listening to Derek Richards’
account of his visit to
Sam had introduced him as Chris Marshall, an American on the teacher exchange scheme, “Thought you two might like to meet as you’re both from the other side of the pond,” Sam had grinned at her. “You can commiserate with Chris on the strangeness of the English!”
During the ensuing conversation Kate had learnt that Chris had a wife and four children who were struggling with homesickness and that his wife had been born just a few miles from the mid-west town where Kate had first made her appearance in the world. They had chatted for most of the evening sharing their impressions of life in England and their reasons for being so far from home and as the social drew to a close Chris invited her to visit his temporary home and meet his wife and children that weekend.
“They’ll be thrilled to meet a fellow American,” he told her earnestly. “Now that the initial novelty has worn off and term has started they’re all feeling a bit homesick.”
So Kate had met the
“Looking at the rogue’s gallery, huh?” Helen Marshall had walked into the family room bearing a tray of drinks and cookies to find Kate perusing the collection of photographs that adorned most of one wall.
“Professional interest!” Kate had laughed. “I love looking at other people’s photos; studying the colour and the light, thinking about how I would improve it!”
Helen laughed. “Well, remember these are mostly family snapshots taken by amateurs who just wanted to capture the moment.”
“I know,” Kate turned from the wall and smiled at her hostess. “It’s just my photographer’s mind that insists on dissecting a picture but I always keep my opinions to myself!” She accepted the glass of lemonade that Helen offered and turned back to the photos. “So are they all family?”
“Mostly,” Helen moved to stand next to her. “Chris thinks I’m mad but I had to bring them with me; I know it’s only a year but it seems like a lifetime to be away from friends and family. Having them up on the wall makes them seem closer.”
“One of the wonders of my profession!” Kate smiled her eyes focusing on a black and white snapshot of two blond little boys who looked like twins.
“Who are they?” she pointed at the picture. “They both look like Jason but I’m guessing this was taken before he was even born.”
“You guess right,” Helen smiled fondly at the picture. “They’re my little brothers taken the year I got married.”
Kate raised her eyebrows, “Big age gap!”
“Yes,” Helen nodded. “My mother died when I was only two; my father remarried when I was twelve and Chip was born when I was fourteen,” she pointed at the slightly taller of the two boys. “Tim came along eighteen months later.”
“So they’re not twins,” Kate commented with a slight frown. “They look so alike.”
“They were physically,” Helen agreed, “but they had very different personalities.” She smiled reassuringly at her guest, aware from her facial expression that she had picked up on Helen’s use of the past tense. “Tim died,” she explained quietly, her eyes on the photo, “the year after that photo was taken. He was killed in a road accident along with my father and stepmother.”
“Oh, how awful,” Kate commented with feeling while wishing she hadn’t picked on that particular picture to focus on. She took a long drink from her glass and wondered desperately how to change the subject.
“It was,” Helen nodded, “but it was a long time ago. Please don’t feel bad for asking about Tim. If I didn’t want to talk about him I wouldn’t have his photo on display.” She pointed to a formal portrait of a serious looking young man in naval uniform. “That’s Chip when he graduated from Annapolis.”
“The Naval Academy?” Kate turned to the portrait with interest before glancing back at the snapshot of Tim and Chip together. “So he…he…” she frowned as she realized that she was on the verge of asking an intrusive question. “Is he in the Navy now?” she finished lamely.
Helen smiled well aware of where her guest’s thoughts had gone as her attention veered between the two vastly different pictures.
“Chip wasn’t involved in the accident, thankfully,” she smiled. “He’s thirty-two now. Have you ever heard of Admiral Nelson?”
“Which one?” Kate asked curiously.
“The American one.”
“Sure,” Kate nodded. “He invented that amazing submarine…the one with the windows. I can’t recall its name…”
“Seaview,” Helen replied promptly and Kate detected a note of pride in her voice. “Chip’s her executive officer.”
“Wow!” Kate looked again at the formal portrait of the serious looking young man before turning back to Helen, “You must be very proud.”
“I am,” Helen had smiled in response, her eyes on the photograph. “He’s done very well for himself.”
Although she had been impressed to know that Helen’s brother was the executive officer aboard the world famous Seaview Kate hadn’t really given the matter any more thought since that October day when she and Helen had looked at photos together. He was, after all, just a stranger to her and it was obvious from things Helen said that although she was very proud of him her primary concern was for his welfare and not his prestigious job. The children obviously adored him and often referred to him in conversation especially seven year old Jason who considered his uncle to be something of a hero. Kate thought he sounded like a nice guy and having seen several photographs of him had to admit that he was very good looking with a wonderful smile but she hadn’t thought much more about him until Helen invited her to spend Christmas with them and, after she had accepted, mentioned that her brother would, hopefully, be there and Kate could meet him.
Foolishly she had mentioned this to Tess and the teasing and suggestive comments had begun with the result that Kate was now very nervous about meeting the man. Her nerves had doubled when Helen received the dreadful news that her brother had been shot and seriously injured in the course of his work and was now coming to recuperate. Kate had offered to bow out of the visit but Helen had dismissed the suggestion with a smile.
“Whatever for?” she had sounded genuinely surprised. “We invited you and we want you to come; Chip’s accident doesn’t change that.”
“But are you sure he’ll want a stranger intruding when he’s come to recuperate?” Kate had been anxious not to intrude.
“He won’t mind,” Helen had assured her. “And he’s quite normal you know; forget about his job, he’s just my baby brother!”
So Kate had agreed to go as planned and then spent every spare moment regretting it! As Christmas drew closer the children had become increasingly excited not just about the big day itself but about their uncle’s visit. Even before they received the shocking news about his injuries their innocent comments about their mother’s brother made him sound like a cross between a saint and a film star hero and Kate began to develop misgivings about meeting him.
She had begun to worry that she wouldn’t like him or…even worse in a way… he wouldn’t like her. Sure he sounded like a nice guy and he was undoubtedly good-looking but why was a successful, good-looking guy still single at his age? He was probably some arrogant womaniser. By all accounts he was a high achiever who would probably look down his nose at her; a part time teacher and freelance photographer. He was probably used to dating models and actresses and high achieving career women. Of course, Helen had never actually mentioned any women in his life; she only ever mentioned his best friend Lee, Seaview’s captain who was also very good-looking and, also, single. It had crossed Kate’s mind that maybe they were gay. The good looking ones often were!
With a heavy sigh, Kate left the selection of clothes on her bed…still undecided on what to wear…and made her way to the bathroom. Despite all Tess’s teasing she just wanted to like the guy and she wanted him to like her or the whole day was going to be awkward. Plus she didn’t want to compromise her new found friendships because she didn’t like the man they obviously thought so much of and she didn’t want to disappoint the children who were so looking forward to introducing their beloved uncle to her! Boy, would she be glad when Christmas Day was over, she thought ruefully, as she stepped into the shower and turned on the water…what wouldn’t she give to be at home like Tess right now celebrating Christmas in her pyjamas!!
Boxing Day, December 26th, Kate Fisher’s rented flat, South London
“So?” Tess stood in the middle of the small living room and eyed her friend speculatively, “How was it?”
“How was what?” Kate asked innocently from her position stretched out on the two seater couch. “Sit down, Tess; looking up at you makes my neck ache.”
“How was Christmas Day, of course?” Tess threw herself rather dramatically into the armchair by the fireplace and curled her denim clad legs up beside her.
“Fine,” Kate smiled. “I had a good time; how about you?”
“Me?” Tess shrugged dismissively. “Same old usual routine; family Christmas…it was lovely, but nothing out of the ordinary. You on the other hand were off meeting special guests…” she paused giving her friend opportunity to speak but when Kate remained silent a note of impatience crept into Tess’s voice as she asked, “What was he like then?”
“Who? Santa Claus?” Kate grinned aggravatingly. “I don’t know; I was a good little girl and went to sleep before he arrived.”
“Stop the dumb games,” Tess said bluntly. “And tell me what I really want to know…what is he really like, the prodigal brother? Start with his name…I don’t think you’ve ever told me his name.”
“I believe his correct title is Lieutenant-Commander Morton,” Kate replied solemnly.
“Very impressive,” Tess snorted, “but what does his family call him? What did you call him?”
“His name’s Chip,” Kate laughed at the surprised look on her friend’s face.
“Chip! Like in potato chip?” Tess frowned. “That’s not a name!”
“It’s a nickname,” Kate explained. “It’s quite common in the U.S.”
Tess raised her auburn brows in disbelief, “So what’s his real name then? Something weird I bet if he’d rather be called after a piece of potato!”
“Nothing weird at all,” Kate replied calmly, “his real name is Christopher.”
“Is that all?” Tess was dismissive; disappointed that he didn’t have an unusual real name. “Well, never mind; what’s he like? Is he as good looking as that Captain Crane?”
“I guess so,” Kate smiled as an image of Christopher…Chip… Morton filled her mind’s eye.
“You guess so?” Tess rolled her eyes impatiently. “Either he is or he isn’t, Kate.”
“Depends on your point of view,” Kate laughed annoyingly as she enjoyed the image in her mind…tall, blond, blue eyed and a smile that had her insides doing somersaults on and off all Christmas Day, “but, yes, he is good-looking.”
“Well, that’s one thing,” Tess sounded relieved. “So, did you take a photo?”
“Why would I want to do that?” Kate smiled lazily, her mind’s eye still viewing the memory of the man she’d met the previous day. “It was a holiday, Tess; I wasn’t working!”
“Oh, Kate!” Tess’s tone was amused exasperation. “It was a special occasion. Surely you took pictures?”
“I may have taken a few,” Kate conceded with a grin, “but you’ll have to wait until I’ve finished the film before I develop them.”
“Spoilsport!” Tess grumbled good-naturedly. “So what was he like then? Was he friendly? Did you talk to him or was he an arrogant, standoffish S.O.B?”
“He was pleasant,” Kate said carefully, “polite; we talked a bit and it was just like…well, just like talking to anyone really…”
“That’s it?” Tess demanded disbelievingly. “Pleasant and polite? Sounds boring to me; he sure didn’t make much of an impact, did he! I knew I should’ve gone instead of you; you just wasted a great opportunity!”
“There was no opportunity,” Kate said with a laugh. “It was just Christmas Day with friends.”
“Oh…no!” Tess disagreed with a vehement shake of her auburn head. “It was a chance to click with a very eligible bachelor and you blew it!”
“Get real,” Kate laughed as she rolled off the sofa and stood up. “I’m never going to see the guy again; he lives in California for goodness sake and spends most of his time at sea…the only opportunity was in your imagination!”
“Rubbish!” Tess scoffed. “You just need to use your imagination; you’re a freelance photographer and you’re an American citizen, you could move to California on the next plane if you wanted to.”
“True,” Kate mused thoughtfully as she walked across the room and paused in the doorway. “I hadn’t thought of that…I’m going to make myself a sandwich; do you want anything?”
“No, I’m fine, thanks; ate too much yesterday!” Tess patted her perfectly flat stomach. “Does that mean you might think about moving?”
“No!” Kate laughed as she turned to leave the room. “What would you do without me?” she waved a hand around the small room. “Make yourself at home; I’ll be back soon.”
As she stood in her small kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil Kate found her thoughts returning to the previous day and her meeting with the eligible Lieutenant-Commander Morton. After all of her early morning anxieties the reality of meeting him in the flesh had been pleasantly surprising. Admittedly he was very good-looking and, in Kate’s opinion, his photos hadn’t done him justice. Even the pain etched into his unnaturally pale features couldn’t detract from his stunning smile and the depth of vivid blue in his eyes. She had been quite mesmerised by his easy smile and had had to stop herself from staring openly at him whenever she had a moment to sit back and breathe on what had been a very busy…and enjoyable…day. What had pleasantly surprised her though was the total lack of conceit or arrogance in his personality. He had been…for want of a better word…quite normal. He had been, as she had told the besotted Tess, polite, pleasant, courteous…all the things that she would have expected from Helen’s brother, but which she thought impossible given his good looks and important career. It was obvious that he was in pain from his injuries but he hadn’t referred to it at all. He had been very quiet letting the children and her do most of the talking at dinner but he had, on occasion, revealed a wicked sense of humour and she had been touched by his very genuine love for his sister’s children and his patience with their endless questions and demands despite his pain and discomfit. He had revealed a very competitive streak when playing Monopoly and the banter between himself and his victorious brother-in-law had shown the deep affection between the two men. All in all, she had been treated to a glimpse of Chip Morton, Helen’s younger brother, and had all but forgotten his status as executive officer of the world renowned Seaview by the end of the day.
If she was honest…but she wouldn’t tell Tess… she would love to meet him again and to spend some time talking with him but that was unlikely. With no work planned between Christmas and New Year she was flying out to Germany the following morning, to spend New Year with her brother and his young family and she knew that Chip Morton was due to return to the U.S. on January 2nd so she would probably never see him again. Probably just as well, she mused practically as she sliced cheese for her sandwich. Despite Tess’s optimistic suggestions there was no way she could develop a relationship with someone almost half a world away especially as he spent most of his time at sea. It was a shame but, so far as Kate could see, it just wasn’t going to happen and Christmas Day would become just a once in a lifetime memory.
Rhode Island, December 26th
“Goodnight, Lee,” Sara Crane stood on tip-toe to kiss her younger son lightly on his left cheek as he bent his dark head to her level.
“Goodnight, Mom,” Lee returned the kiss and then, impulsively, hugged his mother to him. Disappointment washed over him as the slight figure stiffened in his arms unable or unwilling…Lee was never quite sure…to reciprocate.
“Now, now…” she stood back, disapproval in her grey eyes as she admonished him. “No need for all that soppiness, Lee! Quite unbecoming a Naval officer; where’s all that discipline they instil into you in the academy?”
“Sorry,” Lee frowned, shamefaced. “I guess I got carried away.”
“Mmm,” Sara Crane smiled at him. “Well, never mind now; thank you for coming to the party; I know you would rather have gone to Chip’s family and I do appreciate you putting my wishes first.”
“But I….” Lee started to protest; surprised that his mother had guessed the thoughts that had been in his mind ever since he had arrived on Christmas Eve.
“Don’t look so surprised,” his mother almost laughed. “You’ve mentioned Chip’s injury every day and wondered aloud how he is getting on; it doesn’t take a genius to guess that you would have preferred to go home with him and keep an eye on his welfare.”
“But his sister can keep an eye on his welfare,” Lee’s tone was defensive. “He doesn’t need me.”
“Sure she can,” Sara agreed with a smile, “but I’m sure he would enjoy the pleasure of your company; same as you would enjoy his. Remember I’m off to Florida with Aunt Bess and Uncle Harry tomorrow so why don’t you fly off to England and spend the rest of your vacation with Chip and his family?”
“Goodnight, Lee…” Sara turned her back on him and began the ascent of the staircase. Lee stood and watched her, her back as straight as any sailor on parade despite her advancing age, her perfectly groomed hair …once as blond as his best friend’s…now glowing silver in the lamp light that shone from the upstairs hallway.
As she disappeared from his view Lee turned right into the main living room. Wandering over to the window he switched the tree lights on and then stood looking out at the snow which glistened on the lawn beyond the large window. He was amazed at his mother’s intuition; he was sure that they hadn’t really communicated that much or was it just that he hadn’t realized she had really been listening to him? She always seemed so aloof, so disinterested in his life…an attitude she had adopted ever since he had defied her to join the Navy that she held responsible for his father’s premature death. Then again she had always liked Chip, apparently able to relax and enjoy his company on the few occasions that he had accompanied Lee home in a way that she seemed unable to manage with her own son. She had, Lee admitted now, been genuinely concerned when he had told her about Chip’s bullet wounds so perhaps it wasn’t surprising that she thought he should go and spend the rest of his vacation with his best friend and his family.
Or was it just so she could go off to Florida with a clear conscience? A small voice whispered in his head, upsetting his temporary feeling of peace with his contrary mother. He shuddered suddenly as he recalled his unhappy attempt to hug his stiff-backed mother and he turned away from the window to confront the flickering darkness of the room.
What on earth had come over him? He wondered as he crossed the carpet to his usual chair by the fire. The grate was cold, the fire unlit as they had been out all day, but Lee sat down anyway unheeding of the chill temperature in the high ceiling room. Had he had too much to drink at his Uncle and Aunt’s party? Or was it just a combination of Christmas nostalgia, too many fawning relatives and a genuine desire to try and bridge the gap between him and his stubborn parent before it was too late?
Then again, she had, he had noticed, been the same with her elder son…Lee’s much older half brother…keeping him at arm’s length and giving him the same cool treatment she had given Lee. Why was that? he wondered as he gazed up at the ceiling. Had Cliff disappointed her too? It was hard to know as he and Cliff were virtual strangers who met only at occasional family functions where they conversed in the same way as they did with distant cousins and elderly uncles and aunts. If he was honest Lee had all but forgotten he had a real blood brother. In his mind Chip was his brother in all but blood, sharing a closeness and depth of friendship that Lee had never experienced with anyone else. It was odd to think that his real brother had been at university in Chip’s home town before his best friend was even born and that he had chosen to settle there even supporting the sports’ teams that held such a special place in Chip’s affections. If Chip and Cliff ever met they would probably have more to talk about than he and Cliff did, he reflected now. Cliff even shared Chip’s Nordic colouring…inherited from their mother…whereas Lee was a carbon copy of his late father…the stepfather seventeen old Cliff had resented causing him to turn his back on the family home as soon as he went to university.
Sometimes Lee wondered if he should try and make more of an effort to connect with Cliff but it wasn’t as if his brother had ever shown any inclination to relate to him and, at the end of the day, they were only half siblings borne of the same mother but with different fathers…eighteen long years apart. Cliff hadn’t even accepted their mother’s invitation to stay at the family home for the Christmas visit. Claiming that his family…which included two young grandchildren…would be create too much work and disturbance for their mother he had booked them all into a local hotel so Lee had had no real chance to converse with his brother alone being surrounded by family on both Christmas day and at the party.
Not for the first time Lee reflected that Chip had got a better deal on the family front despite the fact that he too had been the product of a second marriage and had suffered the heart-rending agony of losing both his parents and his younger brother at a young age. The difference for Chip was that his elder half-sister had adored him from birth and her husband’s family had adopted him in all but name. Chip sometimes admitted that he forgot he wasn’t actually related to the Marshalls such was his closeness to them and Lee had known times, like now, when he felt guilty for envying the family life and love that Chip enjoyed.
Then again, there were times when that love could be stifling, and although Chip had wanted…had needed even…to go home and recover from his serious injuries; Lee wondered now whether his fiercely independent friend was beginning to resent the restrictions on his freedom and the well-meaning care and attention he was undoubtedly receiving at his sister’s. A slow grin spread over his face as he wondered how his reticent friend had fared on meeting the mystery photographer on Christmas day. Chip was popular with the ladies, always had been, but he liked to meet them on his own terms…steering well clear of commitment… and Lee felt a touch of sympathy for his friend forced to communicate with a total stranger at a time when he was feeling unwell and vulnerable. In Lee’s experience women always felt a need to nurse and pamper men with obvious injuries like Chip had and he knew his friend would hate to be the subject of such attention.
Nevertheless, Lee was very keen to know what had happened when Chip and the photographer had finally met and he would enjoy a bit of teasing at his friend’s expense! Glancing at the luminous hands on his wristwatch he realized that…at 00.36… it was far too late to call the Marshall’s London home but in another couple of hours it would be morning there. Too wired for sleep Lee stood and crossed to the television turning it on before going back to his chair with the remote control. He was too wired for sleep so he would stay here and watch TV until it was late enough to call the Marshalls and arrange a New Year visit to surprise his best friend!
Dec 30th, The Marshall’s temporary home, South London
Chip descended the steep staircase slowly, his left hand gripping the banister rail, his eyes on the carpeted treads. As he neared the hallway he paused puzzled by the unnatural silence that seemed to permeate the entire house.
Where were the child voices, the laughter, footsteps and banging doors that usually greeted him in the mornings?
Now that he thought about it he realized that the house had been unnaturally silent ever since he’d woken up around thirty minutes earlier. Was it really possible that the entire family were still sleeping? He doubted it; his nephews were habitual early risers and he knew, from his alarm clock, that it was already close to 09.00. Feeling confused Chip descended the final two stairs and made his way towards the kitchen. As he neared the green painted door the sound of muted voices reached his ears and his spirits rose. Pushing open the door with his left hand he found his sister sitting at the table, a mug in her left hand and a pencil in her right. She was frowning thoughtfully at the newspaper crossword spread out in front of her while the voices Chip had heard came from the radio.
“Good morning!” Chip’s voice caused his sister to look up with a smile.
“Chip! You’re up…good,” Helen glanced at the clock on the kitchen wall as she stood up. “Do you want breakfast or are you going to get dressed first?”
“I thought I’d eat first,” Chip frowned slightly, taken aback by the question. Helen didn’t normally enquire if he was going to get dressed first knowing that he needed to eat and take his pain medication before he tackled the difficult task of getting his clothes on with Chris’s help.
“Great!” Helen beamed at him. “Cereal or do you want me to cook you something?”
“Would eggs be too much trouble?”
“No, no, not at all…I’ll just get you some coffee, sit down,” Helen nodded towards the table as she turned away from him and reached for a clean mug from the cupboard giving another glance at the clock as she did so. Chip sat down carefully at the table, a puzzled frown on his face. Where was everybody? And why was Helen acting so strangely as if she was expecting something to happen any minute? Chip racked his brain trying to recall if something was happening today, something he’d obviously forgotten about but nothing came to mind.
“Where is everyone?” he asked as Helen placed his coffee in front of him.
“Out,” she responded shortly as she turned to the refrigerator and extracted a box of eggs and a carton of milk.
“Everyone?” Chip was surprised; it was still early and barely light outside, the winter darkness exacerbated by huge dark rain clouds. A strong wind blew around the house and large raindrops spattered against the kitchen windows. “Where have they gone?”
“Mmm?” Helen didn’t respond straightaway, her back to him as she whisked eggs in a bowl. It seemed to Chip that she was deliberately ignoring his question as she gave far more concentration than was necessary to his eggs. He was about to repeat the question when Helen turned briefly and said, “I’m not sure; Chris didn’t say.”
She turned back to the preparation of his breakfast leaving Chip to wonder if this was reality or whether he was having a strange, drug-induced dream. He couldn’t quite believe that his sister didn’t know where her husband and four children had gone so early on a wet December morning. Quietly, he sipped at his coffee, his eyes on his sister noting how many times she glanced at the clock as she worked. Either he was dreaming or there was something odd going on. He wondered why he hadn’t heard the family depart…the children usually made enough noise when they were going out and even if they had been told to be careful not to waken him he felt sure he should’ve heard something.
“What time did they go out?” he asked curiously.
“Uhmm, I’m not sure,” Helen almost dismissed the question, as she reached for a plate and spooned scrambled eggs on to it. “Early,” she added as she placed the plate and a fork in front of him. “Don’t let it go cold, Chip.” She glanced at the clock again and Chip frowned heavily as he dug into the fluffy, warm mixture. The eggs were delicious and he wondered if one could taste food this good while asleep because either his sister was acting very strangely or he was dreaming and right now he favoured the dream idea. He couldn’t quite cope with the idea that there was something odd going on with his family.
The eggs were almost gone when a sound from the hallway caused him to pause and glance at his sister who looked once more at the clock and muttered something that sounded like, “Oh, they’re here.”
Who was here? Chip swallowed the last mouthful of egg and pushed his empty plate away before reaching for his mug. He was just lifting the drink to his lips when the kitchen door crashed open and Katie and Jason sprung into the room, their young faces flushed and excited.
“Oh, Mum! He’s not dressed!” Katie stared at her uncle with a look of frustrated disappointment before turning her blue eyes imploringly on her mother.
“It’s okay,” Helen smiled reassuringly, “it doesn’t matter!” She looked apologetically at Chip as Katie said “I guess not” with such a tone of resignation that Chip felt as if he‘d failed in some way although he had absolutely no idea what was going on here. The idea that he must be dreaming became stronger as Jason said excitedly, “Close your eyes, Uncle Chip! We’ve got a big surprise for you!”
Dream or not, a shiver of apprehension snaked its way down his spine and he eyed his sister suspiciously
“It’s okay,” Helen smiled warmly at him as she walked around the table to stand by his chair. “Trust me!”
“Come on,” Jason was practically jumping up and down in excitement. “Everyone’s waiting!”
Chip swallowed as his eyes focused on the joyful faces of his niece and nephew. He knew that Helen wouldn’t do anything to hurt or upset him but still he felt very nervous as he closed his eyes. He felt his sister’s hand on his left shoulder, firm and reassuring as Jason yelled, practically in his ear, “Okay, we’re ready!”
The sound of the door opening came to his ears accompanied by several pairs of footsteps and lots of giggling. Despite Helen’s reassurance Chip’s apprehension grew…what on earth were they going to surprise him with on a dark winter’s morning just days after Christmas?
“You can open your eyes now!” a chorus of children’s voices commanded him and he felt Helen’s hand squeezing his shoulder as, very cautiously, he opened his eyes.
Oh, now he knew he was dreaming! He had to be! Because standing there in front of him, a huge grin on his face was his best friend and that just wasn’t possible!
Chip blinked several times but Lee remained where he was, the children hanging on to him excitedly while behind him Chip’s brother-in-law grinned rather sheepishly.
“That’s better!” Lee grinned. “I fly all this way to surprise you and all you can do is gape at me as if you’d seen a ghost!”
“I…I…I…thought I was dreaming,” Chip said falteringly. “I… how did you keep it a secret?” he turned his head to look at his sister who was grinning broadly at him. “I didn’t have a clue; you were acting so strangely this morning I thought I was still asleep.”
“Sorry,” Helen apologised, “but Lee wanted to surprise you so we didn’t tell the children until they went to bed last night in case they gave it away.”
“So you went to the airport?” Comprehension dawned on Chip as he turned to look at the children still gathered around his friend.
“That’s right!” Chris yawned theatrically, “We left here at 6.15 a.m. and the children never made a sound!”
“No, we were real quiet,” Derry informed him proudly while looking adoringly at Lee, “cos we didn’t want to wake you up and ruin the surprise.”
“But what about your Mom and the party?” Chip knew he sounded dense but Lee’s appearance had completely stunned him.
“The party was on the 26th,” Lee reminded him, “then Mom took off for Florida with her sister. You know my mother, Chip; she doesn’t do winter!”
“No,” Chip grinned mischievously. “I’m surprised she hasn’t latched on to the fact that California would be a good place to escape the winter and moved in with her son!”
“Oh, spare me,” Lee made a face. “What a thought! Anyway, I could’ve gone back to Santa Barbara on my own but as I’m officially on leave I thought I should take up Chris and Helen’s invitation and come out here for New Year.”
“But how did they know?” Chip’s brow creased in confusion a she looked from Lee to Chris to Helen and back to Lee.
“He phoned…” Chris explained, “…three days ago when you were still asleep.”
“Oh,” Chip shook his blond head in wonderment. “And nobody said a word!”
“I’m hungry!” Timmy spoke up suddenly with an imploring look at his mother.
“Me too,” Derry chimed in. “We never had a proper breakfast,” she informed Lee, “it was too early. Mom said we’d all have breakfast together when we got back but he’s had his…” she scowled at her uncle who suppressed a grin at her obvious indignation.
“I couldn’t tell Uncle Chip that he had to wait for his breakfast without giving him a good reason,” Helen came to Chip’s defence. “And I couldn’t think of one!”
“That’s why you asked me if I wanted to get dressed first,” comprehension dawned on Chip’s bemused face. “If I’d known…” he looked at Lee, “…I would have dressed up specially, tie and all!”
“You mean that isn’t especially for me,” Lee grinned as he waved a hand at his friend’s royal blue towelling robe which covered most of his bandages, his blue pyjama bottoms peaking out above new moccasin style slippers.
“No,” Katie spoke up, missing the point of Lee’s teasing completely, as she said matter-of-factly, “he didn’t have time to get dressed, it takes him ages and dad normally has to help because he can’t move his arm at all.”
“Maybe, I better go get dressed now,” Chip pushed himself to his feet embarrassed by Katie’s observation. He knew she didn’t mean any harm…that, in fact she accepted his physical limitations as quite normal, but he struggled daily with the humiliating difficulties caused by his temporary handicap and he disliked it when it made him the focus of everyone’s attention.
“That’s a good idea,” Helen said cheerfully with an understanding smile for her brother. “You go get dressed Chip and everybody else disappear while I cook up some brunch! Lee…can I get you a drink?”
“Yeah!” the boys cheered and grabbed hold of Lee’s hands as he answered in the negative to Helen’s question explaining that he had had breakfast on the plane. “Come see our new game, Uncle Lee; it’s called Twister and its lots of fun!”
“But I thought I’d give Uncle Chip a hand,” Lee smiled down at the boys’ excited faces. “Maybe I could play later when…”
“No, that’s okay,” Chip grinned broadly at his nephews. “You go ahead, Lee; Chris will help me; he knows what he’s doing!”
“Okay,” Lee shot Chip a threatening look as the boys started to drag him from the room. “I’ll catch up with you later!”
“So, how was the lady photographer?” Lee dropped the question into the companionable silence as casually as he might’ve asked what was on television.
Chip narrowed his blue eyes as he eyed his innocent looking friend suspiciously. The pair of them had retired to the peace and quiet of the family room…the children banned…after brunch and had talked briefly about Lee’s family party, his flight to England, and Chip’s slow recovery and although they had touched on the Marshall’s Christmas celebrations the subject of Kate Fisher had not been touched on. If Chip had his way it would remain untouched but it was obvious from the amusement he could see in Lee’s eyes that that wasn’t going to happen! Then again…
“I think I’ll go take a nap now…” the blond said solemnly and moved as if he was going to stand up.
“A nap!” Lee burst out laughing, “it’s 11.47 hours, Chip; by all accounts you’ve only been up three hours and all you’ve done is eat!”
“I got dressed,” Chip argued, “And I had one hell of a shock when you turned up, not to mention worrying that my sister was losing her sanity. I’m convalescing, Lee; I need a lot of rest.”
“Right,” Lee nodded solemnly, “fair enough; I can wait. You go take your nap and when you wake up I’ll be sitting here waiting for the juicy details. In fact,” he yawned widely, “maybe I’ll take my own nap; jet-lag, you know!”
“There’s nothing to tell,” Chip sighed and sat back in his chair. “She came mid-morning, played with the children, helped Helen with the dinner, watched TV, helped put the children to bed, went home around 22.00 hours after a game of Monopoly…the London version.”
“Ah, yes, one of Derry’s presents,” Lee said knowingly. “Who won?”
“And you played?”
“So you had dinner with this lady, you played Monopoly with her and yet you say there’s nothing to tell.”
Chip shrugged, wincing as the spontaneous movement pulled on his painful shoulder. “I’ve told you everything I can remember; I’m not at my best you know.”
“I’ll say,” Lee grinned. “All you’ve done is give me facts; what about your personal observations?”
“I haven’t got any!”
“Yeah, right,” Lee grinned, “the bandages cover your arm, your chest and your shoulder, Chip, not your eyes! And I know the medication is messing with your mind but I refuse to believe that you spent the whole day with a woman and you didn’t even notice if she was pretty or not.”
“She was okay,” Chip muttered irritatingly.
“Is that okay pretty or okay plain or just okay down right ugly?”
Chip looked up at the ceiling, a frown of concentration on his face as he pretended to consider the question; “I’m not sure that I noticed…” he lied easily enjoying the growing frustration on his friend’s very expressive face.
“You’re not sure that you noticed!” Lee repeated the statement with growing impatience. “I tell you, Chip; if you weren’t already injured I’d throw something at you! You spent Christmas day with a very attractive young woman and you didn’t even notice!”
“What makes you think she’s attractive?” Chip frowned at the confident note in Lee’s assertion.
“Oh, I’ve seen her picture,” Lee said nonchalantly.
“You…Katie,” Chip groaned as comprehension dawned. “Katie’s been showing you her photographs…”
“Yup,” Lee laughed at his friend’s resigned expression, “she’s a good little photographer, your niece and I must say that it was very kind of this Kate to take Katie to her studio and show her how to develop her own pictures; sounds to me like she was trying to make a good impression!”
“She was being a good friend to my sister and her family,” Chip said patiently.
“That includes you, doesn’t it?” Lee persisted. “You’re Helen’s family…”
“Quit being pedantic,” Chip growled.
“Well, quit messing with me and tell me the truth,” Lee shot back. “What did you think of her, honestly?”
“She was okay,” Chip grinned. “She was friendly, she was great with the children, she didn’t come on to me at all…if anything she ignored me, maybe she was shy or maybe Helen had warned her to leave me alone and yes, she was attractive and yes, I liked what I saw of her, she was fun and she has a sense of humour and she gets on very well with my family…”
“Great, that’s one big hurdle over with,” Lee grinned.
“Meeting the in-laws,” Lee explained. “I think that when you get married it’ll be important for your future wife to get on with your sister, seeing how Helen has always been such an important person in your life; she’s going to be rather like your wife’s mother-in-law really so it’s good that she and this Kate are already friends.”
“And they can stay friends,” Chip said calmly, “without me getting in the way; you’re letting your overactive imagination run away with you, Crane!”
“We’ll see,” Lee smirked as a tentative knock on the door interrupted their conversation.
“Come in!” Chip called with more enthusiasm than Lee felt was really necessary; obviously his friend was glad of the interruption!
The door opened and Jason’s blond head appeared. He hesitated uncertainly in the doorway until Chip beckoned him into the room. “What can we do for you, Jason?” he eyed his nephew curiously.
“I wondered…” Jason looked from Chip to Lee. “I wondered if you could come out and watch me ride my new skateboard, Uncle Lee; it’s stopped raining…you can even have a go if you want.”
Laughter danced in Chip’s blue eyes as he and Jason awaited Lee’s reaction.
“I’d be delighted to ride your new skateboard,” Lee responded solemnly, “but what about your Uncle Chip?”
“You can come and watch,” Jason turned apologetic eyes on his uncle, “but you can’t have a go and Mom said you would probably prefer to stay inside; I think she’s worried you might have an accident…like last year.”
“Translated that means Helen thinks I should stay in and for once,” Chip grinned, “I’m going to follow her wishes; you go, Lee and have fun…I’m tired.”
“Tired of my teasing, you mean,” Lee laughed. “Okay…” he stood up and held out his hand to Jason, “…lets leave your uncle in peace; he’s got some dreaming to do…about beautiful women!”
“What?” Jason screwed up his small face in confusion as he took Lee’s hand.
“Don’t worry about it, Jason,” Chip said calmly, “Uncle Lee probably has jet-lag; it makes him talk rubbish!”
“Really?” Jason looked up at Lee’s grinning face with interest, “we had jet-lag when we moved to England; it made mom and dad bad-tempered but I don’t think it made them talk rubbish.”
“It doesn’t happen to everyone,” Lee said reassuringly, “come on, let’s go!”
Left on his own Chip stretched out in his chair, shifting his position until he was comfortable with his injured shoulder resting against the pillows at his back. Closing his eyes he yawned widely and fully expected to fall asleep but instead he found his mind wandering back to the subject of Kate Fisher. He had been lying when he told Lee that he hadn’t really noticed the pretty, young photographer; he would’ve had to have been unconscious not to notice her but he honestly hadn’t given any thought to her since their Christmas day meeting; he had too many other things to occupy his tired mind.
However, now that Lee’s questions had focused his mind on the subject he found himself wondering how he might have reacted to Kate Fisher if he had met her in a different place and at a different time. He had to admit that he had liked her and that she was very attractive with her stunning green eyes and silky shoulder length black hair. But it was more than just physical; he liked her personality too; she was friendly, very patient with the children and she had a good sense of humour. He could certainly understand why Helen and Chris liked her and it was obvious that the children adored her. It was also obvious that despite his almost irrational fears she had seen his presence as purely incidental, treating him as Helen’s younger brother and showing no interest at all in his status as Seaview’s exec. She had been just as Chris had told him she would be but if he was totally honest with himself he had still been rather surprised as well as relieved. He hadn’t wanted to be the focus of attention but he was intrigued by the very natural way in which she had responded to him as if his job and his injury were of no importance. He suspected that Helen had possibly warned her off both topics. His sister protected him as fiercely as she protected her own children and she wouldn’t have wanted her guests touching on subjects that she knew he was very sensitive about but, if that was the case, this woman had heeded the warning…she hadn’t even “dressed to impress”, wearing well worn red jeans, an off-white sweater and simple gold jewellery, perfect for playing on the floor with the children. Mind you, the outfit had accentuated her perfect figure, something Chip had quietly appreciated.
If he was honest, he wouldn’t mind meeting her again, but he didn’t see that there could be any chance of a relationship with her. To begin with, she hadn’t appeared remotely interested in him and, more importantly, they lived on different continents which might suit his aversion to any sort of commitment but only because they would never see each other!
It was a nice idea but it would never work and with that contented thought, Chip drifted off into a dream in which Kate Fisher got a job as his secretary!