A Quiet Weekend
By Sue James
“You’re doing what?” Captain Lee Crane put his glass down on the table and stared incredulously at his best friend and executive officer.
“I’m looking after my sister’s children for the weekend,” Chip Morton frowned slightly defensively. “It’s no big deal, Lee.”
“If you say so,” Lee smirked as he took a long drink from his glass.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Chip spoke indignantly, his fair eyebrows still drawn together in a frown.
“Nothing!” Lee shrugged slightly and straightened his face.
“You don’t think I can do it, do you?” Chip challenged, his right hand wrapped around his own untouched glass.
“I’m surprised Helen trusts you to do it,” Lee admitted. “You always claim that she doesn’t think you can look after yourself properly and now she’s trusting you with four children!”
Chip’s frown deepened as he took a long drink from his own glass and recalled the doubtful tone he’d detected in his elder sister’s voice when he had volunteered to mind the children for a weekend. “Are you sure Chip? I mean the four of them together are a lot of hard work.”
“Of course I’m sure,” Chip had assured her confidently. “If I can run a submarine with over one hundred men aboard how hard can four children be?”
Now he wondered if he was quite sane as Lee, who knew his nieces and nephews almost as well as he did, seemed as doubtful as Helen. He continued to drink thoughtfully from his glass as Lee asked curiously, “Why can’t Tom and Gwen look after them?”
“They’ve gone to Davy’s for a month,” Chip replied in reference to the children’s paternal grandparents. “They always go in October. Beth and Jack moved when Jack got transferred so Helen and Chris were stumped. They have friends they could leave them with but it meant splitting them up and I could tell Helen wasn’t happy about doing that for a whole weekend.”
“So you volunteered?” Lee grinned. “Or did she ask you?”
“I volunteered,” Chip admitted with a small
smile. “I haven’t seen them since last Christmas, Lee. They’ve been back from
“I doubt Helen thinks you owe her anything,” Lee said seriously.
“Maybe not,” Chip conceded with a grin, “but it’s nice for me to be able to do something for her and Chris for a change.”
“True,” Lee smiled across the table. “So where are Helen and Chris going?”
“Aunt Jeanne’s seventieth birthday party in
“And you’re not invited?” Lee was surprised.
“She’s not my aunt, thank goodness,” Chip grinned broadly. “She’s Helen’s mom’s younger sister. She disapproved of our father remarrying after Helen’s mother died so she never acknowledged the marriage or the offspring. As far as Jeanne’s concerned I don’t exist which suits me fine!”
“But I thought Helen didn’t like her much,” Lee stated now as he recalled exactly who Jeanne was.
“She doesn’t like the way she makes such a point of ignoring my existence but Jeanne is her only link to her Mom and she has always been very generous to Helen so she feels she should go,” Chip shrugged. “Besides it’ll be good for her and Chris to get away for a break together.”
“While the non-existent little brother gets to mind the children,” Lee laughed delightedly. “Wish I could be a fly on the wall!”
“You could come with me,” Chip said hopefully.
“I can’t,” Lee said his tone regretful although his eyes betrayed his relief. “I’m attending that charity dinner Friday evening with the admiral and I promised to help him with that report he’s working on for the senate committee on Saturday.”
“You need to take a break from the job,” Chip observed with a grin. “It’d do you good to come home with me.”
“Some other time,” Lee laughed. “I’m sure you’ll have a great time. Just make sure you stay off the skateboards! Helen won’t want to come home and find you in the hospital.”
“Very funny,” Chip glared as he downed the remains of his own glass. “I didn’t need a hospital last time.”
“Only because you wore that ridiculous football helmet,” Lee continued to laugh as he recalled the skateboard race the two of them had taken part in on a previous visit to Chip’s family. “That was such good fun, Chip! We must do it again some time.”
“On second thoughts it’s just as well you can’t come with me,” Chip observed dryly. “I don’t need a fifth child to take care of!”
“Spoilsport!” Lee grinned. “You’ll have a great time; it’ll be far more fun than writing a boring report!”
“True,” Chip grinned broadly, although privately he wasn’t quite sure that he believed his own words!
“It’ll be far more fun than writing a boring report!”
The words of his best friend echoed in Chip Morton’s brain within a few hours of his sister and brother-in-law leaving for their long weekend away. Admittedly he couldn’t claim that he was bored but he wasn’t exactly having a lot of fun either as he tried to get his two nieces and two nephews to go to bed.
Admittedly the children, especially the boys, were very excited at seeing him again after so long and he was touched by their obvious enthusiasm for his visit but he was rather disconcerted to find that they didn’t seem inclined to follow his orders. Instead they were doing their utmost to distract him from his objective of getting them to bed. Leaving the girls to take care of themselves Chip had fixed his attention on eight year old Jason and Timmy, aged seven but even his best command voice which had grown men scuttling to obey his orders, seemed to have little effect on two excited boys who just had to show him something else or tell him something else before they could go to bed.
Chip sighed heavily as Timmy scrambled out of bed for the third time and Jason reappeared in his brother’s bedroom doorway. “Did Mommy tell you I’m going to a party tomorrow afternoon?” Jason asked earnestly while Timmy attempted to skirt round his older brother and disappear.
“Yes, Jason. Your Mom has written me a long list of instructions and reminders,” Chip said patiently as he grabbed hold of a squirming Timmy and held on to him. “But you won’t enjoy the party if you don’t get to bed and get some sleep!”
“Okay!” Jason gave him a beaming smile and disappeared back into his own room while Timmy fought to escape his uncle’s hold. “I just want to show you something,” Tim whined as Chip guided him back towards his bed.
“You can show me in the morning,” Chip said firmly. “It’s bedtime Tim and if you get up one more time I’ll ground you for the whole weekend!”
Timmy looked up at his uncle, his brown eyes thoughtful as if he was wondering whether to test Chip’s threat or not. Interpreting the look correctly Chip folded his arms across his chest and gazed sternly at the youngest of his sister’s four children. “I mean it, Timmy! There’ll be no trips out, no pizza, no football in the yard, no TV, no…..”
“You’re mean,” Tim asserted his face glum. “I thought we was going to have fun!”
“We will have fun,” Chip said solemnly as he bent to tuck the covers around his subdued nephew. “But only if we’ve had enough sleep.” He kissed the top of Tim’s dark head. “Now go to sleep, Tim and I’ll see you in the morning.”
Later Chip wondered if he was just incredibly unlucky or whether it was his lack of experience at putting children to bed that caused the accident but as he bent over his nephew’s bed he was totally unprepared for Tim to suddenly jump up in a sudden burst of enthusiasm his dark head connecting unexpectedly and forcibly with his uncle’s right cheek bone. There was a sickening crunch as bone hit bone and then Timmy let out a piercing wail which drowned out Chip’s own grunt of pain.
Momentarily stunned by this unexpected turn of events Chip blinked back tears of pain as he clutched at his cheek before Tim’s cries demanded his attention and he reached out to hug his screaming nephew just as Jason and Katie appeared in the room their young faces a mixture of apprehension and curiosity.
“Did you hit him?” Twelve year old Katie asked bluntly.
“No!” Chip managed a smile despite his aching cheek. “We bumped heads…or rather Tim’s head bumped my cheek-bone.”
“Oh,” Katie came closer to peer intently at her uncle’s face. “You should put some ice on that, it’ll stop the swelling.”
“You’re probably right,” Chip looked at her in surprise, amazed at her calm summing up of the situation. “But I should look at Timmy’s head first.”
“I’ll go and get some,” Katie said seriously and disappeared leaving Chip once again with his nephews.
“Katie’s done first aid,” Jason informed him as he looked down at Timmy who was still sobbing quietly, his face buried in his uncle’s shirt.
“I see…Where does your head hurt, Tim?” Chip acknowledged Jason’s comment while looking down at Tim’s dark head.
“There,” Timmy released his hold on Chip’s waist to reach out one small hand to the top of his head.
“He’ll be okay,” Jason said cheerfully as Chip gently parted the thick brown hair to check for bruising and swelling. “Mom says he has a hard skull.”
Chip resisted the temptation to grin at Jason’s casual acceptance of events and focused on Tim’s head noting, with great relief, that there appeared to be no visible damage to his nephew’s skull and that his cheek had probably come off worse.
“Here you are,” Katie reappeared at that moment with two bags of ice wrapped in thin towels. Handing one to her impressed uncle she held the other to the part of her brother’s head that he indicated and he yelped, “That’s cold, Katie.”
“I know,” Katie spoke calmly, one arm wrapped around her brother’s thin shoulders.
Watching the pair of them while holding his own ice pack to his painful cheek Chip was struck by how incredibly grown up his eldest niece appeared to be and suddenly felt very old. He watched in admiration as Katie handled her youngest brother in much the same way that her mother did and was secretly relieved when a very contrite Tim was tucked up in bed. He wished he had asked for Katie’s help earlier as she appeared to have skills that he didn’t possess.
“Maybe I should just let you put him to bed tomorrow,” Chip commented to Katie as they exited Tim’s room. “It might save a bit of time.”
“He was just playing you up,” Katie said seriously. “The boys always do that when we have babysitters especially Tim. Even Mom has trouble getting him to bed sometimes.”
“Really?” Chip raised his eyebrows in disbelief. To his mind his sister always appeared to have complete control over her offspring and he found it hard to believe that Tim would ignore his mother’s requests in the way that he had ignored his uncle’s.
“Yes,” Katie smiled at him. “Tim hates going to bed especially on school nights because being the youngest he has to go first and he doesn’t think it’s fair. Sometimes Mom and Dad get really cross.”
“I see,” Chip grinned back at her. “Well, thanks for your help Katie.”
“That’s okay,” Katie stood on tip-toe and kissed his left cheek. “I’m really glad you’ve come to look after us, Uncle Chip; we have missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too,” Chip returned the kiss and then turned to Jason’s room to check that he was obeying his mother’s instructions to switch the light out by 21.00 hours.
“Mom will be upset with you,” Jason observed with an air of confidence as his uncle entered his untidy bedroom.
“Why?” Chip frowned slightly as his eyes took in the mess of toys, books and discarded clothes that decorated the floor before focussing his attention on the eight year old occupant of the room.
“You got hurt,” Jason commented wisely. “Mom gets upset when you get hurt; she cried when that man shot you.”
“Did she?” Chip frowned aware that Jason spoke the truth but unwilling to focus on it. “Well, that was serious Jason; this isn’t. Your Mom doesn’t even have to know about Tim and me banging heads. Tim’s fine and it’ll all be forgotten by tomorrow.”
“I bet she’ll ask how you hurt your face,” Jason pointed out. “Then you’ll have to tell her.”
“Well, I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it,” Chip said firmly. “It’s time you were in bed, Jason or you won’t be going to that party tomorrow.”
“Okay,” Jason agreed affably and crawled under the covers. “Does your face hurt?” he peered up at his uncle with his piercing blue eyes, so like Chip’s own.
“A bit,” Chip conceded unwillingly as he reached over to switch off Jason’s bedside lamp. “Goodnight, Jason.”
“Goodnight,” Jason burrowed under the covers and his voice was muffled as he said tiredly, “I’m really glad you’ve come to look after us, Uncle Chip; it’s going to be an ace weekend!”
glad you think so, Chip thought with a rueful grin
as he exited Jason’s room and made his way to check on
The door to
Sighing heavily Chip left the door ajar and
set off on his quest to find his youngest niece but after checking every room
upstairs including his own it was evident that there was no sign of the eleven
year old. Katie suggested that she was probably in the den watching some
forbidden television programme so Chip set off downstairs feeling suddenly
angry. He was tired and hungry and had been looking forward to relaxing in
front of the television when all the children were in bed and now he was faced
with the likely prospect of having to argue with a determined and disagreeable
However, he soon found that all the rooms
downstairs were empty and he felt suddenly anxious as Rory, the four month old
As his blue eyes scanned the silent space
of the double garage Chip felt the first stirrings of panic. His sister and
brother-in-law had only been gone five hours and already he had lost one of their children. Feeling
increasingly angry towards the wayward
Convinced now that his younger niece had taken advantage of her parents’ absence to go off on some forbidden venture Chip marched determinedly into the house, settled the excitable Rory in the den and made his way upstairs to Katie’s room.
Knocking sharply on the door he waited for Katie’s call of “Come In” before pushing open the door to find his elder niece lying on her bed, a garishly coloured magazine in her hands.
“Do you know where your sister is?” Chip demanded, his anxiety making his tone sharper than he had intended.
“Isn’t she in her room?” Katie frowned uncertainly at him, her blue eyes exuding innocence.
“She’s not anywhere,” Chip said grimly. “And I think her bike’s gone!”
“Oh!” Katie sat up suddenly and the innocent look in her eyes fled to be replaced with one of fearful trepidation. “Mom and Dad will kill her if she’s gone to that party.”
party?” Chip frowned thinking that he’d kill
“What party, Katie?” he asked again forcing patience into his voice.
Katie sighed and when she spoke it was with
obvious reluctance. “
“Does she indeed?” Chip raised his eyebrows and asked calmly “Where is this party, Katie?”
“At their house I think,” Katie frowned. “
“Your Mom’s right,” Chip said sternly. “Do you know the address, Katie?”
“Why? Are you going over there?” Katie eyed him anxiously. “She’ll be really angry if she thinks I told on her, Uncle Chip. Can’t you wait until she comes home?”
“No, I’m sorry, Katie, but I have to go and
fetch her,” Chip spoke apologetically aware that his elder niece was now upset
with him. “She’s only eleven, she shouldn’t be at a sixteenth birthday party and
she certainly shouldn’t be cycling the streets in the middle of the night. Now
let me have the address and I’ll go and ask Mrs Shepherd to come in while I go
“She’s going to be real mad at you,” Katie said in a small voice as she wrote the address down for him.
“That’s okay; I’m real mad at her,” Chip said grimly as he took the piece of note paper from his niece.
After asking Mrs Shepherd from across the street to come over and watch the children Chip found his sister’s car keys and set off for the address Katie had given him. As he drove through the dark streets he suppressed a shudder at the thought of his eleven year old niece cycling the route on her own and wondered why the party couldn’t have been at some other time so that he wouldn’t have to deal with this new and unwelcome problem.
As Chip had expected
“You embarrassed me!”
“That’s too bad,” Chip replied seriously,
his eyes on the road, “but I rather think that you embarrassed yourself,
“My parents aren’t here,”
Chip raised one eyebrow and shot a quick glance at his niece as he slowed down on the approach to a junction. She glowered back at him, her dark eyebrows, very like her mother’s, drawn together to produce one of the most spectacular frowns Chip had ever seen. “Are you going to tell them?” she demanded as the car turned left on to the main road.
“That depends,” Chip said coolly, his eyes still on the road.
“On how you behave for the rest of the weekend.”
“That’s NOT FAIR!”
“I’d like to think I don’t have to,” Chip told her gravely. “I’d like to think that you’ll behave yourself for the rest of the weekend, but if I have to use tonight’s little escapade as blackmail then I will!”
“Thank you,” Chip replied solemnly and was
rewarded with such a look of utter disdain that he winced inwardly. If this was
an indication of
When they arrived back at the house Chip ordered his niece straight to bed and was stunned when she defied him to make her way to the kitchen in search of a snack. Exasperated, Chip tried his dangerously low, “I expect instant obedience” voice on her but she barely flinched and steadfastly ignored him as she sat on a kitchen stool calmly eating cold cereal straight from the box. Chip eyed her thoughtfully, amazed at her calm disregard for his authority. If he had spoken to any member of the crew like that he would have had them running for cover but this eleven year old girl just carried on munching cheerios! He was very tempted to give her a good slap but suspected that she would probably accuse him of assault so instead he reached out and snatched the box from her slamming it down on the kitchen counter.
“I’d had enough anyway,”
Chip had no idea who was trying to wash his face but he was determined that they weren’t going to succeed and he moved his head to one side as he tried to avoid the wet cloth but the vigorous washing continued and he cried out as the “washer” made contact with his bruised cheek-bone. As a feeling of frustration swept over him he put up his hands in a bid to fight off his “assailant” and made contact with something warm and furry. His frustration fled to be replaced by a mixture of fear and distress as he squirmed under the increasing assault on his face and head as he tried to push it away but it just seemed to magnify its efforts and his eyes suddenly flew open to find he was being enthusiastically licked by an excited puppy. Relieved that he wasn’t actually being attacked by something unimaginable Chip struggled to sit upright and pushed the lively puppy off his lap only to find that it wasn’t easily deterred and jumped straight back on to him, its whole body shaking with excitement.
“Get off!” Chip spluttered and stood up so that the dog couldn’t jump on him again. Reaching into his pocket for his handkerchief Chip wiped the doggy saliva from his face and looked around in sleepy bemusement, not quite sure where he was or what he was doing here. As his eyes took in the familiar objects of the family room in his sister’s spacious house he recalled both where he was and why and the events of the evening came back to him in a flash. Realizing that he must have fallen asleep he glanced at his wristwatch and frowned in disbelief as the luminous dial informed him that it was 02.10 hours. O2.10! Chip couldn’t quite believe it; he must have been really tired to have slept in an armchair for more than three hours.
An old black and white western was showing
on the television and Chip reached out to turn it off as the puppy whined at
his feet. Looking down at the bundle of black energy he wished that his sister
and brother-in-law had delayed getting their new puppy until after their
weekend away. He had absolutely no experience of puppies and wasn’t sure that
he had the energy to cope with its enthusiasm for everything! He really wanted
to go to bed now knowing that the boys would probably be up early but as Rory
whined again and jumped around his legs he realized that he couldn’t just go
upstairs and leave this live wire to run amok so, sighing heavily, he walked
through to the back of the house and let the puppy into the backyard where it
shot off at speed exploring everything as if it had never seen it before. Chip
smiled in spite of himself and leant against the door frame taking in the faint
scents that wafted in from the garden beyond. Looking up he noticed that the
sky, which had been clear and full of stars when he had been searching for
As if to mock his thoughts a brilliant flash to the east suddenly spilt the sky in two and was followed seconds later by a deep rumbling. Chip grimaced slightly hoping fervently that the coming storm wouldn’t waken the children who were all sleeping peacefully. A second dazzling flash preceded a louder rumble and he decided it was time to get Rory in whether he wanted to come or not. Stepping into the yard he called the puppy’s name softly in the warm darkness but Rory ignored him. Thinking the pup hadn’t heard him Chip raised his voice slightly and was relieved when Rory emerged from behind a bush and wagged his tail at him. However, his relief turned to irritation when, rather than coming towards the house, Rory ran off again disappearing from sight as his glossy black coat was swallowed up by the darkness. Chip groaned in frustration as two more flashes of lightening lit up the overcast sky both closely followed by increasingly loud and prolonged rumbles of thunder.
“Rory! Here boy!” Chip hissed at the puppy afraid to shout in case he woke the children who, he was sure, would need no encouragement to come down and join in the dog’s night-time games. Another brilliant flash of lightening lit up the darkness closely followed by an ear-splitting crack of thunder and Chip hoped again that the noise wouldn’t waken his charges as his eyes watched for a sign of Rory approaching the house. However, Rory seemed to have disappeared completely and reluctantly Chip abandoned his position close to the door and set off down the lawn his eyes searching the all encompassing darkness for a black wagging tail. Calling the puppy’s name again he nearly jumped out of his skin when something leapt at him from behind just as lightening flashed above him. Spinning round he caught sight of the puppy legging it towards the house and relieved he set off in pursuit only to groan heavily as Rory veered off to the left and set off back down the garden as another ominous crack sounded almost overhead.
“Rory! Here, boy!” Chip called again as his eyes scanned the darkness in vain for a glimpse of his elusive quarry. Hearing a scrabbling noise to the right he turned swiftly and called the dog’s name again. He really couldn’t understand why Rory should run off now when he had followed him quite happily when he was looking for Derry. Maybe it was because he had just had a long sleep but whatever it was Chip hoped he would run out of energy soon and preferably before the rain started. As if on cue he felt something wet land on his head and glancing up he felt the sharpness of several large raindrops hitting him in the face. Muttering several mild expletives under his breath he turned back towards the house as the rain gathered strength bouncing off the dry ground and soaking him through in seconds. A black streak shot past him as lightening once again lit up the yard and he ran after it in quick pursuit. He felt a wave of thankfulness wash over him as the energetic bundle turned and came towards him jumping excitedly around his ankles.
“Good boy!” Chip reached out to grab Rory’s collar but the pup shot off again obviously thinking that this was an exciting game and totally heedless of the heavy rain and the almost continuous thunder and lightening overhead. Chip wished that he could share the puppy’s enthusiasm for night-time exercise but he was desperately tired and beginning to shiver as his rain soaked shirt and jeans clung to his body and his wet hair dripped a steady stream of water into his eyes. His overwhelming emotion was anger as he set off again in pursuit of his four legged challenge his mind frantically seeking a solution to his current problem. Wondering briefly if it would matter if he just went in and left the puppy outside all night in the rain Chip tried to keep the frustrated anger out of his voice as he called the dog’s name again. As the sound of running feet came towards him he crouched down hoping to catch Rory as the pup leapt around him but he was unprepared for the force which hit him in the chest and sent him sprawling backwards on to the soaking grass. As he lay on his back breathing heavily a wet tongue started washing his face again and seeing his chance Chip wrapped his wet arms around the squirming, soaking body and managed to hold on to it as he struggled to sit up. Getting one hand into Rory’s collar he held on grimly as he got back to his feet and then picking the puppy up and ignoring the pain from claws digging into his side he marched back up the garden and into the house depositing the dripping and disgruntled puppy on to the kitchen floor.
Rory immediately made his feelings clear by shaking his soaking body vigorously showering the kitchen floor and nearby cupboards with raindrops and what looked to a disbelieving Chip like millions of tiny black hairs. He then sprawled on the tiles and looked up at his minder with sorrowful brown eyes as if to say, “Why did you ruin my game, mister?”
Chip stood with his hands on his hips and eyed the damp mass of black fur at his feet dispassionately while his own clothes dripped more water on to the floor. He couldn’t quite believe that he was standing in his sister’s kitchen in the middle of the night, shivering with cold while surveying the mess of water and dog hair that adorned the previously pristine floor and cupboard doors. Momentarily hoping that it was all just a very bad dream he shook his blond head in incredulous disbelief as he reached for some paper towels which he used to wipe ineffectively at his dripping face while wishing that he could just reach for an intercom mic and summon help to deal with the mess before him.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t going to happen and Chip stood for a moment debating whether to tackle the cleaning up now or in the morning. A brilliant flash of lightening suddenly lit up the scene and he realized that he might as well do the job now. He wasn’t going to sleep with the storm overhead and he didn’t like the idea of leaving Helen’s kitchen in such a mess.
A whine from Rory brought his attention back to the perpetrator of the mess and he looked again at the soaking puppy lying at his feet. Could puppies catch cold? He wasn’t sure but, annoyed as he was with the bundle of black fur, he didn’t want it to get sick. So squelching into the utility room he found an old towel and returned to wrap it round the pup rubbing its wriggling body vigorously until the towel was heavy with moisture and Rory’s hair stood up on end.
“What are you doing to Rory?” A slightly fearful voice suddenly broke into Chip’s consciousness and he looked up to see Timmy framed in the doorway.
“I’m drying him,” Chip frowned at the seven year old. “What are you doing up, Tim?”
“I can’t sleep,” Tim sounded defensive and Chip noticed that his body tensed as another rumble of thunder crashed overhead. “I don’t like the thunder.”
Oh, great! Chip thought wryly. Another problem! “What about the others?” he asked calmly.
“Jason’s watching it,” Timmy frowned heavily. “He likes storms. Katie’s hiding under the covers and Derry’s asleep.”
She would be, Chip almost grinned.
“Do you like it?” Tim asked as he ventured into the room.
“I don’t mind it,” Chip replied honestly. “Wait there Tim…” He held up one hand to warn his nephew from walking further into the kitchen in his bare feet. “I don’t want you to walk in the mess.”
“What mess?” Tim came to a halt and looked curiously around him. “Oh…” His brown eyes widened as he took in the water and dog hair on the floor and his uncle’s dripping clothes. “Why are you wet? Did you go out and leave us?”
“I was only in the yard,” Chip assured him as another deafening crash sounded overhead and Timmy flinched. “Rory wouldn’t come in.”
“Oh,” Timmy shivered suddenly and Chip frowned with concern. In a decisive move he bent to lift Rory, who now lay quietly at his feet, and carried him into the utility room where he settled him in his basket with a handful of biscuits. Then he kicked off his wet shoes, pulled off his soaking socks which he threw into the washing machine and walked back to the kitchen shutting the door behind him. The tiled floor was icy cold beneath his bare feet and he shivered suddenly as a particularly violent crash of thunder exploded overhead and Timmy let out a cry of fear and threw himself at his uncle. Despite his own soaking clothes Chip lifted Timmy into his arms and wasn’t surprised when the youngster clung to him as if his life depended on it. Another intense and prolonged rumble overhead even made Chip flinch as Timmy’s fingers dug into his neck.
Accepting that the cleaning of the kitchen would have to wait Chip flicked off the light and carried his nephew through to the hallway as the sound of footsteps overhead reached his ears and looking up he saw Katie standing at the top of the stairs. Ignoring his own discomfit and exhaustion Chip summoned up a smile for his eldest niece and spoke cheerfully as he ascended the stairs.
“Thunder keeping you awake as well?”
“Not really,” Katie smiled back at him but he noticed the tremor in her voice as another resounding rumble tore through the silence of the night. “I was just worried about Tim; I know he doesn’t like storms.”
“And you don’t!” Tim lifted his head from his uncle’s shoulder to look accusingly at his sister. “You was hiding under the covers; I saw you!”
“I was asleep,” Katie responded defensively.
“It doesn’t matter,” Chip’s calm but authorative voice forestalled any further argument. “What matters is that we all get some sleep.”
Heading for Timmy’s bedroom Chip bent to put the boy down on the floor and turned to his niece. “He needs dry pyjamas, Katie. Can you sort that out for me while I take a shower?”
“Okay,” Katie responded in a small voice and her brilliant blue eyes betrayed her fear as another flash of lightening tore through the curtains closely followed by more ominous rumblings. Placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder Chip said quietly, “It can’t hurt you, Katie and I promise I won’t be long.”
“Why are you wet?” Katie asked curiously as he stepped into the hall.
“Tim will tell you,” Chip grinned at her before turning and heading for his room where he grabbed his well worn towelling robe and made his way to the bathroom. Turning the shower on he peeled off his soaking clothes and stepped under the welcoming warmth of the spray. As the heat seeped into his shivering body he felt himself begin to relax and suddenly realized how exhausted he was. He hoped that the storm would soon pass so that the children would go back to sleep and he could get to bed before the night was over.
Shutting off the water Chip quickly towelled his dripping body dry and pulled on his robe. Fastening it securely he then combed his damp hair and threw his soaking clothes into the bath tub before heading back to Tim’s room only to find it empty. Annoyed he looked into Katie’s room but found that was also deserted. Jason’s door was ajar and peering in Chip could see the outline of his nephew sitting on his bed facing the window.
Curious Chip tapped gently at the door and Jason turned round to grin at him. “Isn’t it a fantastic storm?” he said enthusiastically.
“I guess so,” Chip grinned back in the darkness amused by Jason’s obvious enthusiasm, “but I think it’s moving off now, Jason and you need to get back to bed or you’ll be too tired for the party tomorrow.”
“Okay,” Jason said amenably and crawled back under the covers. “I love storms but Katie and Timmy are scared of them. They always hide in Mom and dad’s bed.”
“Do they?” Chip raised his eyebrows.
“Yes,” Jason nodded. “Derry says they’re cowards but Dad says everyone’s afraid of something and we mustn’t tease them.”
“Your dad’s right,” Chip smothered a grin as he turned to leave. “Goodnight, Jason.”
“Goodnight, Uncle Chip.”
Satisfied that Jason, at least was safe and content, Chip looked in on Derry who was, as Timmy had claimed, fast asleep and then made his way to the other end of the hall and his sister and brother-in-law’s room but when he opened the door and looked in he found it empty. A surge of irritation swept through him as he surveyed the neat and tidy room and with a sigh he turned back to the only room he hadn’t checked…his own!
A faint rumble of thunder reached his ears as he headed back to his own room and he was relieved that the storm was obviously moving away.
Walking into his bedroom Chip found the lights on and Katie and Timmy curled up together in his bed. As feelings of amusement battled for supremacy over exhausted irritation Katie sat up and smiled apologetically at him.
“I hope you don’t mind, Uncle Chip but we always get in Mom and dad’s bed when there’s a storm.”
“I see,” Chip replied solemnly his annoyance melting in the face of his niece’s winning smile, “but why get in my bed when I wasn’t even here?”
Katie shrugged, “We thought you’d come back but you didn’t so Timmy went to find you and then you still didn’t come so I came to find you and you were both wet and I hope you’re not too cross with Rory…” She tailed off with a look of consternation.
“No, I’m not cross with Rory,” Chip assured his niece as he realized that when Tim had said Katie was hiding under the covers he had meant Chip’s covers, not her own! “But I am very tired, Katie and the storm is almost over so I think you should both go back to your own beds now so we can all get some sleep.”
“Okay,” Katie replied reluctantly and climbed out of the bed closely followed by a sleepy eyed Tim. Chip saw them both settled in their own rooms before collapsing into his own bed. Peering tiredly at the luminous digits on his alarm clock he saw that it was almost 04.00 hours and as he drifted off to sleep Chip hoped fervently that the children and the dog would be tired enough after their night-time escapades to sleep late into the morning.
Chip wondered vaguely if he had fallen asleep on a trampoline when the vigorous bouncing of his bed woke him from a deep sleep only three hours later. Opening one eye he squinted tiredly at the luminous display on his bedside clock…07.11! Chip groaned and rolled on to his back to find Timmy sitting cross legged on the side of his bed. His nephew appeared wide awake, his dark brown hair sticking up on end and a beaming smile on his face. Chip stared at him through sleep heavy eyes and wondered how anyone could look so full of life after a disturbed night.
“Can I have pancakes for breakfast?” Timmy demanded. He bounced up and down energetically before adding thoughtfully, “Please?”
“Your Mom said you have cereal for breakfast,” Chip yawned widely and rubbed at his face with his right hand.
“Not every day,” Timmy didn’t seem to notice his uncle’s fatigue. “Sometimes we have pancakes.”
“We’ll see,” Chip said carefully, “It’s not time for breakfast yet.”
“But it’s morning,” Timmy bounced up and down again. “We always have breakfast in the morning!”
“Not this early,” Chip said firmly. “I didn’t get to bed until four O’clock, Tim and I’m tired. We’ll have breakfast when I’ve had some more sleep.”
“Okay,” Timmy said agreeably and Chip felt a wave of relief wash over him at his nephew’s ready acquiescence. He turned on to his side intending to go back to sleep but froze moments later as he became aware that Tim was burrowing under his covers. Something dug into his back and he suppressed another groan as he rolled on to his back and lifted the bedclothes to peer quizzically at his nephew. “What are you doing Tim?”
“Going to sleep,” Tim beamed at him. “Mom and dad don’t mind.”
“Ah,” Chip frowned, unhappy at the thought of sharing his bed with a wriggling seven year old. “Well, if you’re staying Tim you have to keep still and go back to sleep; I’m really tired.”
“Sure,” Timmy gave him another beaming smile and dug a foot into his lower back. “You go to sleep Uncle Chip and I’ll wait for you.”
“You do that,” Chip rolled once more on to his right side and closed his eyes. He didn’t rate his chances of falling back to sleep with Tim in his bed but he was so tired that he soon drifted off only to be woken again just thirty minutes later when something heavy landed on his bed and Timmy screamed. Opening his eyes with a start Chip found Jason sitting astride his legs while Tim struggled to sit up and glared at his older brother. “You woke Uncle Chip up, Jason. You shouldn’t have done that, he’s tired!”
Chip suppressed a smile at the indignation in Tim’s voice as Jason eyed him apologetically. “I’m sorry but I’m hungry; can we have breakfast?”
“When you’re dressed,” Chip spoke firmly as he rolled on to his back again and sat up. Yawning widely he stretched his arms above his head and rubbed at his eyes with his right hand while the boys watched him impatiently. Reaching out with his left hand he activated his bedside lamp and turned back to face his nephews who still sat on his bed watching him.
“Wow! Is that where the bullet hit you?” Jason clambered up the bed to get a better look at the scar on Chip’s upper right arm. He reached out one small hand to touch it but paused to look enquiringly at his amused uncle. “Does it hurt?”
“No, not any more,” Chip shook his head. “You can touch it if you want, Jason.”
Jason ran his fingers almost reverently over the scar. “It’s all rough,” He sounded surprised as Timmy screwed up his face in disgust. “Are you sure it doesn’t hurt? It looks like it would hurt.”
“It doesn’t hurt at all,” Chip assured his elder nephew seriously.
“I thought it was all better now,” Timmy continued to look disgusted. “You don’t have a bandage any more.”
“It is better,” Chip said quietly mindful of the fact that the last time he had seen his nephews he had been recuperating from the bullet wound that had nearly killed him and his arm had been heavily bandaged and very painful. “This is just a scar, Timmy. It’ll always be there.”
“What…even when you’re old like Granddad?”
“Yes, even when I’m old like Granddad,” Chip responded solemnly as Jason shifted his position and tugged at his uncle’s arm with one hand. “Wow! Is that another one?” he demanded placing his hand on the side of Chip’s chest.
Chip nodded, amused by his nephew’s interest in something he preferred to ignore.
“Where?” Timmy scrambled over for a better look and Chip gasped as a knee pressed into his abdomen. “Sorry!” he turned a beaming smile on his uncle and moved his knee before following his brother’s gaze to the second scar.
“How did you get this one?” Jason asked curiously. “Did that man shoot you twice?”
“No,” Chip shook his head. “He shot me once but the bullet went through my arm…” he lifted his arm up to show them the scar where the bullet had exited, “…and into my side.”
“Wow!” Jason’s blue eyes nearly popped out of his head. “So you’ve got three scars from one bullet?” He turned to look seriously at his uncle. “Are you sure they don’t hurt?”
“Positive,” Chip assured him, touched by the genuine concern he could see in Jason’s eyes.
“Good,” Jason turned his attention once more to the scars. “So where is it now?”
“The bullet? Is it still inside you?” Jason pointed at his chest.
“No,” Chip suppressed a grin at the look of consternation that crossed his nephew’s face. “The doctor removed it.”
“How? Did he cut you open with a knife?” Timmy piped up, his face alive with interest.
“I expect he used a scalpel,” Chip replied patiently.
“What’s a scalpel?” Timmy frowned.
“It’s a special knife doctor’s use to cut people open,” Jason spoke with eight year old superiority. “Isn’t that right, Uncle Chip?”
“That’s right,” Chip nodded solemnly.
“I bet it’s sharp,” Timmy breathed almost to himself, his eyes on his uncle’s scarred arm. “Was there lots of blood?” he looked back up curiously.
“I don’t know,” Chip admitted. “I was asleep.”
“Asleep!” Timmy stared at him in disbelief. “You went to sleep?”
“I expect the doctor gave him ana…anastestic,” Jason said importantly.
“Anaesthetic,” Chip corrected with a small grin.
“Yes,” Jason nodded. “That’s it. So what did you do with it?”
“What?” Chip frowned, confused by the question.
“The bullet,” Jason said patiently as if he was speaking to someone a lot younger than himself. “Did the doctor let you keep it like a souvenir?”
“No,” Chip shook his blond head hoping that the questions might be coming to an end.
“Why not?” Timmy sounded disappointed. “You could have showed us; I’ve never seen a real bullet before.”
“You didn’t want it, did you?” Jason guessed his eyes on his uncle’s face. “Because it hurt you.”
“That’s right,” Chip nodded surprised by his elder nephew’s sudden display of intuition. “Look boys, I can understand that you find my bullet wound interesting but I think it’s time we had breakfast, don’t you?”
“YES!” Timmy jumped off the bed and headed for the door where he stopped and turned round to look earnestly at his uncle. “You better put some clothes on, Uncle Chip so people can’t see those scars; they’re yucky!”
Chip grinned and reached for his robe as Jason continued to look admiringly at the scar on his arm. “I don’t think they’re yucky,” he said honestly. “I think they look cool!”
“Getting shot wasn’t cool,” Chip spoke seriously unwilling for his nephew to think shooting people and getting shot was somehow heroic.
“I know,” Jason shrugged and turned his eyes from his uncle’s arm to his face. “I know guns aren’t cool and I know you nearly died and mom was real upset with you but the scars are still cool now that you’re all better, aren’t they?”
Chip sighed, suddenly unsure what to say.
“I guess so,” he finally answered reluctantly, “but I’d rather not have them, Jason or the memories that go with them.”
“Oh,” Jason eyed him with a look of fearful concern. “You didn’t mind us asking those questions did you?” he asked as Chip swung his legs over the side of the bed.
“No,” he stood up and pulled his robe on.
“Good,” Jason sounded relieved. “I wanted to ask you at Christmas but Mom said we weren’t to say anything about you getting shot cos you were too poorly and you might get upset.”
“Did she?” Chip responded solemnly, unsurprised by Jason’s admission. He had been feeling very fragile, both physically and emotionally, when he had visited his family just weeks after the shooting and knew that his sister would have done everything possible to protect him including stopping her sons from asking bloodthirsty questions!
“Yes,” Jason nodded equally, his own face a solemn as his uncle’s. “I think Mom was worried about you.”
“Your Mom worries about everyone,” Chip responded with a smile. “And you better go and get dressed, Jason while I start breakfast.”
Two hours later Chip Morton sat in his sister’s kitchen drinking a third cup of coffee and hoping that the caffeine would soon kick in and banish the awful heavy feeling of sleepiness that hung over him. He hadn’t felt too bad when he first got up and cleaning the kitchen floor and cupboard doors had kept him awake but with his stomach full of pancakes he found that all he wanted to do was return to bed and catch up on the sleep he seemed to need after his exhausting evening and night. He certainly didn’t feel up to coping with four children of differing ages and interests for the next eight hours or so not to mention the puppy who had chewed the wet shoes he had left in the utility room. Chip knew it was his own fault for leaving the shoes where the puppy could reach them but he still felt aggrieved at the loss of his comfortable loafers. It left him with a choice of sneakers or hiking boots for the rest of the weekend and he was wondering if he should go and buy a new pair of shoes when his thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of the telephone and he stood up wearily to reach for the kitchen extension.
“Hello,” he made no attempt to hide the tiredness in his voice as he didn’t expect the call to be for him so he got a shock when his sister’s voice came down the line.
“Chip, are you okay?” Helen sounded concerned and Chip frowned at the receiver as he lied calmly, “Yes, I’m fine. How about you? Is it warm down there?” he attempted to distract his sister from asking any awkward questions that he might find difficult to answer truthfully.
“It’s beautiful here,” Helen responded cheerfully, “although there was a terrible storm last night. How are the children? Are they behaving themselves?”
“They’re fine,” Chip said confidently. “The boys have gone out to play; Katie is watching TV and Derry is still in bed. Did you want to speak to them?”
“No, but you can tell Derry to get up Chip. She’ll stay in bed all morning if you let her. Don’t let them take advantage of you!”
“I won’t,” Chip lied again while making a face at the wall. It was all very well Helen telling him to get Derry up but he was quite happy for his niece to stay in bed as long as she wanted if it meant he didn’t have to deal with her!
“I forgot to tell you that Matt Barker’s father will pick Jason up at 2 and take him to Jerry’s party and he’ll bring him home at about 7 so you don’t have to bother taking him or collecting him. You know Jon Barker; he was a year below you at High School. And whatever Derry tells you she is NOT to go to Joe Randall’s sixteenth birthday party. She knows she’s not allowed to go but she may well think it worth trying to convince you otherwise!”
Chip refrained from pointing out that the party had been the previous evening and Derry hadn’t even bothered to try and tell him before she disappeared to it. Instead, he said cheerfully, “You can rely on me, Helen. Just relax and enjoy your weekend. You deserve it.”
“Thank you,” he could hear the smile in his sister’s voice as she replied, “We really appreciate this Chip.”
“My pleasure,” Chip assured her and rubbed at his nose subconsciously as he wondered vaguely if it might grow like Pinocchio’s if he told his sister any more lies!
“We’ll see you late tomorrow evening then,” Helen said happily. “Good bye, Chip.”
“Goodbye,” Chip dropped the receiver back on to its rest and made another face at the wall. He didn’t like lying to his sister but could see no point in ruining her weekend by telling her the truth about his exhausting time the previous evening and night. With the possible exception of Derry’s behaviour nothing serious had occurred and it was all down to the children’s and the puppy’s natural exuberance, the storm and his own lack of experience rather than any real naughtiness by his charges.
As he picked up the breakfast plates and carried them over to the dishwasher he wondered how his sister always managed to make running the house and caring for the children look so easy It wasn’t even as if she had had any training in the subject; she just seemed to do it all naturally. Whereas he, who could keep the world’s most sophisticated submarine running smoothly, struggled to keep four children and a puppy under control and found that running the house as well was just too exhausting. Slamming the dishwasher door shut he stifled a yawn and turned with a start as the door from the hallway opened and Jason and Timmy appeared with five other boys of various ages in tow.
“Hi!” Chip plastered a smile on his face and looked enquiringly at his nephews and their visitors. “What can I do for you?”
“Our friends want to see your scars!” Timmy announced proudly.
“My…scars?” Chip spoke slowly as he looked from one to another of the boys in disbelief.
“Yes,” Timmy regarded him curiously and added, as if for clarity lest Chip should misunderstand him, “your bullet scars.”
Chip stared at his nephew for a long moment as he wrestled with his response to this seemingly innocent request. His natural reaction was to refuse point blank unhappy with the idea of being some sort of exhibit for blood thirsty children but as he looked at the hopeful, curious faces in front of him he tried hard to recall what it had been like to be an inquisitive young boy. Would he have wanted to see a neighbour’s scar? He didn’t think he would have done. As a child he had had a tendency towards squeamishness and avoided looking at his own appendix scar whenever he had a bath. However, although he felt rather annoyed at the request there was a part of him that understood the eager curiosity on the young faces in front of him and he sighed as he spoke directly to Timmy and Jason. “If I show your friends here my scars you have to promise me that you won’t ever ask me to show anyone else. Understood?”
The two boys exchanged a look that Chip didn’t understand before saying, rather reluctantly he thought, “Okay, we promise.”
Chip nodded and pulled off his tee shirt allowing the boys to see his chest and upper arm. They crowded round uttering a range of words such as “Wow” and “Cool” while asking a number of questions such as “Does it hurt?”, “Did it hurt?”, “Where is the bullet?” and “Did you cry?” all of which Chip did his best to answer patiently and honestly before he pulled his tee shirt back on amid a chorus of protests.
“That’s enough,” he turned serious blue eyes on his audience. “It might look cool to you but it wasn’t very cool getting shot and it wasn’t very heroic either,” he ignored Timmy’s look of annoyance to continue. “It was extremely painful, very messy and very frightening. It’s not like they show it on the TV boys. It takes months to recover and you don’t feel much like a hero when you have to rely on someone else cutting up your dinner or putting your socks on!”
The boys looked at him warily obviously surprised by his words but Chip didn’t care. He didn’t want these young boys thinking he was some sort of hero just because he had got in the way of a bullet. He was quite happy to accept his nephews’ hero worship for the work that he did and for his more noble character traits but not for getting shot.
“Okay,” he smiled at the serious young faces in front of him. “Anyone want a drink?”
“Yes, please!” They all nodded enthusiastically and stood chattering, rather loudly Chip thought, while he poured coke into identical glasses.
“Can I ask you something else?” one of the visitors enquired as Chip handed out the drinks.
“You can ask,” Chip replied agreeably, “But I don’t promise to answer.”
“Oh,” the boy eyed him doubtfully for a few moments before asking, “What did you do to your face?”
“I did it!” Tim announced proudly before Chip could respond.
“You hit your uncle?” the other boys turned to him in disbelief before one of them turned back to Chip and asked eagerly, “Were you cross?”
“It was an accident,” Jason said impatiently. “Timmy and Uncle Chip bumped heads. Come on, let’s go and watch the cartoons.”
He led the way out of the kitchen, his brother and friends trailing behind leaving Chip to stare wonderingly after them. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it but he felt that something had just occurred that he didn’t quite understand. Why had Jason and Tim exchanged that odd look when he had asked them to promise that they wouldn’t bring any more friends round to see his scars? And why had Tim, who had earlier implored him to cover them up because they were “yucky”, been keen for him to show them off? It didn’t make sense to Chip and he was still pondering over it when Katie wandered into the kitchen.
“Did you show the scars from your bullet wound to Jason and Tim’s friends?” she asked curiously as she helped herself to a glass of coke.
“Yes, I did,” Chip nodded a slight frown on his face.
“Did they tell you that they were charging fifty cents a look?”
“Pardon?” Chip raised his eyebrows in disbelief as his niece tried not to smile at him.
“They charged each friend fifty cents to have a look at your scars,” Katie explained carefully. “They’re not very happy that you made them promise not to bring anyone else round and now they’re arguing over how they’re going to share the money!”
Chip opened his mouth and then closed it again unsure of what to say. Part of him couldn’t quite believe what Katie had told him but it made sense and explained the odd look that had passed between the boys when he said they couldn’t bring anyone else round.
“Are you angry?” Katie asked cautiously.
“Yes,” Chip said shortly, although his anger was tempered by amusement and a sneaking feeling of admiration for his nephews’ enterprise. Admittedly they couldn’t be allowed to get away with it but he resisted the urge to march into the den and yell at them in front of their friends. He’d bide his time and surprise them later. Looking at his niece who obviously thought he should go and reprimand them immediately he said, warningly, “Don’t tell them that you told me, Katie. I want them to be surprised when I speak to them later!”
“Sure,” Katie shrugged. “Just thought you should know that’s all.”
“And I appreciate it,” Chip smiled at her. “But I’ll talk to them when their friends have gone. Right now, I’m going to have a chat with Derry about last night.”
“She’s still in bed,” Katie informed him. “She doesn’t like getting up early.”
“Half-past ten isn’t early,” Chip declared as he headed towards the door. “And if she’s tired maybe she’ll go to bed earlier tonight!”
Chip couldn’t decide if he was surprised or just downright angry when he found Derry’s bedroom deserted and no sign of her at all anywhere upstairs. At least her bed appeared to have been slept in he reflected as he took in the crumpled sheets and the discarded nightclothes lying in a heap on the floor but where the hell was she?
Muttering several curses under his breath Chip ran back downstairs and stuck his head round the door into the den where seven pairs of eyes turned to look at him with a mixture of expressions. Probably wondering if I’ve found out about their little money making scheme, he thought absently as he asked sharply, “Have any of you seen Derry?”
He didn’t miss the look of relief in his nephews’ eyes as a chorus of “No’s” rang out but he had no time to deal with them now as he turned and headed for the kitchen. Katie had disappeared but he caught sight of her outside playing with the puppy and he went out to speak to her scanning the yard for signs of her sister as he did so.
“Have you seen Derry?” he demanded as Rory leapt excitedly around his feet.
“Isn’t she in bed?” Katie frowned at him as she threw a red rubber ball down the garden.
“No!” Chip frowned back as Rory left his feet to race after the ball barking madly. “She doesn’t appear to be anywhere, Katie.”
“Oh,” Katie continued to frown while Rory raced back up the garden and dropped the muddy ball at Chip’s feet. Chip ignored it as he continued to stare at his eldest niece. “Do you know where she is, Katie?”
“No!” Katie glared at him. “Maybe she’s gone to her friend’s house.”
“Without telling anyone?” Chip felt his anger increasing. “Does she often go off like this without telling your parents?”
“Sometimes,” Katie replied in a small voice. “Dad says she’s acting like a troublesome teenager two years early.”
He’s right there! Chip thought grimly as he picked up the ball and threw it to the far end of the yard. Rory gave an excited yelp and raced after it.
“Do you know which friend she would have visited Katie?”
“Jodie’s probably,” Katie shrugged. “She’s her best friend since we got back from England but Mom and Dad don’t like Jodie so Derry doesn’t get to go there very much. Maybe she thinks she can do what she likes while you’re here!”
“Well, she’s wrong!” Chip said angrily as Rory dropped the ball at his feet again. Picking it up absently he threw it into the trees at the bottom of the garden and wiped his damp muddy hands on his jeans. “Do you know Jodie’s phone number?”
“It’s in the book,” Katie looked thoughtfully at him. “Do you want me to look it up for you?”
“Yes, please,” Chip nodded. “I’d like to check that she’s there before I go looking for her.”
Ten minutes later Chip was on the phone talking to Jodie’s mother who informed him that Derry had said that he had said she could spend the day there as her parents were away.
“We’re quite happy to have her,” Jodie’s mother said helpfully and Chip was momentarily tempted to let her stay as it would save him from having to deal with her moods but he resisted the temptation and said firmly, ”No, she needs to come home. She can’t get away with running off like that. I’ll come and get her.”
“No need,” Jodie’s mother said brightly. “I have to go to the mall I’ll drop her off, if you like.”
“Okay, thank you,” Chip cut the connection and replaced the receiver with more force than was really necessary. He wondered, not for the first time, where his sister and brother-in-law had got Derry from. She was so unlike the other three in her behaviour and attitudes that if she didn’t look so much like Helen Chip would think that there had been a mix-up at the hospital when she was born. He sighed heavily and stood up to pace the floor as he waited for Derry’s return.
As Chip had anticipated Derry arrived home in a very disgruntled mood. Glaring heavily at him she muttered a brief thank you to Jodie’s mother on the doorstep and then pushed past her uncle to stomp angrily up the stairs.
“I don’t think she’s very happy with you,” Jodie’s mother observed with a broad smile.
“Really?” Chip made no attempt to hide the sarcastic tone that crept into his voice. “Well, I’m not very happy with her. Thank you for bringing her home and if she should dare to turn up at your house again this weekend I would appreciate it if you could let me know immediately because I can guarantee that she won’t have my permission to go anywhere all weekend.”
“Yes, of course,” the smile on Jodie’s mother’s face died to be replaced with a look of reluctant respect. “I’m sorry that we believed her stories.” She looked intently at him and he narrowed his eyes as she said conversationally, “Nasty bruise that.”
“Yes,” Chip nodded. He was aware that she expected him to elaborate but he had no intention of doing so and wondered vaguely if he would become the subject of idle speculation amongst her friends. “Thank you for bringing Derry home,” he said formally. “I’ll do my best to make sure she’s not a nuisance to you again this weekend.”
“Oh, she wasn’t a nuisance,” Jodie’s mother began before noticing Chip’s discouraging frown. “Well, goodbye then.”
Chip watched the woman walk down the drive to her car where a girl of about Derry’s age hung out of the window, and then he shut the heavy oak door and headed up the stairs in search of his younger niece.
He found Derry lying on her bed with a thunderous look on her face.
“That’s twice you’ve embarrassed me,” she snarled at him. “I hate you!”
Chip winced inwardly at the emphasis Derry put on the word “hate” and wondered what he might say to her that wouldn’t inflame her anger further. He considered and rejected several ideas before saying quietly, ”I realize that you don’t appreciate it now, Derry but your parents just want to ensure that you are safe and going off on your own without telling anyone where you are going is not the best way to stay safe. Believe me, I know.”
“You don’t know anything!” Derry scoffed angrily. “You’re even worse than my parents!”
“Maybe that’s because I do know what can happen when you sneak off in the middle of the night,” Chip said calmly ignoring her anger, unwilling to give her the satisfaction of reacting to it. “I know because I did it myself but I wasn’t as lucky as you were. Nobody realized I’d gone and I ended up in the hospital.”
There was a long silence after his words while Derry looked thoughtfully at him. “What did you do?” she asked eventually a glimmer of interest in her brown eyes.
“I sneaked out to a party,” Chip replied solemnly. “It was a beach party and your mom didn’t want me to go.”
“I was too young.”
“How old were you?” Derry sat up; her eyes now alight with interest.
“Fifteen, but the party was mostly for seniors and your Mom said, quite rightly, that I was too young to be out on the beach all night. She was worried that I would get into trouble.”
“And did you?”
“Sure did,” Chip nodded. “I sneaked out after your Mom and dad went to bed and rode my bike down to the beach. It was a good party, didn’t finish until three in the morning.”
“Wow!” Derry looked at him as if he had suddenly become more human. “So what happened? Why did you end up in the hospital?”
“Well, it was dark, I was tired and I rode my bike into a parked car,” Chip frowned at the distant memory. “I went right over the handle bars, hit my head on the car and landed on my face in the road.”
“Ow,” Derry made a face at him, a dawning new respect in her eyes. “I bet that hurt. What did Mom and dad say?”
“They were furious,” Chip replied honestly. “And they were very upset too. It was a big shock for them to get a phone call from the hospital saying I’d been hurt when they thought I was safely asleep.”
“Did they punish you?”
“No,” Chip shook his head. “They told me how disappointed they were at my disobedience but they said my injuries were punishment enough and they were. I was in the hospital for three days and I couldn’t eat properly for weeks. Going to that party was one of the dumbest things I ever did, Derry so when I found out that you had gone off on your bike in the middle of the night I had to come and get you. I couldn’t risk you ending up in the hospital.”
“I wouldn’t have done,” Derry responded confidently. “I would have been more careful than you.”
“Maybe, but it’s not worth the risk,” Chip said gravely.
“If you say so,” Derry looked at him curiously. “What other dumb things did you do when you were young?”
“Lots!” Chip grinned at her.
“Tell me,” Derry demanded eagerly. “I always thought you were a goody- goody.”
“Did you?” Chip frowned wondering what had given her such an idea. “Well, I did try and keep out of trouble but I made mistakes. I am human, Derry. Just because I have a very responsible job doesn’t mean I’m perfect.”
“Did Uncle Lee get into trouble when he was young?” Derry asked suddenly, her earlier dark mood seemingly forgotten.
“Oh, yes,” Chip laughed, “but you’ll have to ask him about that Derry.”
“Why didn’t he come with you? I wanted to see him,” a slight frown reappeared on her face.
“He’s very busy,” Chip smiled at her. “Maybe he’ll come for Thanksgiving.”
“I hope so,” Derry continued to frown. “So what else did you do? Is it true you set fire to the kitchen?”
Chip sighed, “Who told you that?”
“Grandma, but she never told us how it happened. So did you really do it?”
Chip nodded reluctantly. He wasn’t sure he really wanted to tell Derry some of his more serious failings but she certainly seemed willing to listen to his faults and it might help him to form some sort of bond with his rebellious niece so, sitting down on the bed, he took a deep breath and said seriously, “Okay, I’ll tell you about the fire but you have to understand that I wasn’t very clever or very sensible and nothing I did was very funny.”
“Okay,” Derry sat back against the wall a genuine smile on her face. “So how did you do it?”
“It was an accident,” Chip replied, his tone of voice serious. “And it only happened because I disobeyed your parent’s instructions.”
Derry eyed him in eager anticipation and Chip suppressed a grin as he began to tell her about the events that led up to the fire in his sister’s kitchen when he was thirteen.
“Wow! I bet mom was real mad at you,” Derry looked at him in awe when he had finished relating the tale.
“She was real upset with me,” Chip winced at the memory. “And that was worse than her being angry. Besides your dad and your Granddad were really angry with me; I thought your dad was going to throw me out he was so mad.”
“You were far worse than me,” Derry grinned happily at him. “What else did you do?”
“That was probably the worst thing I’ve ever done, “Chip grinned back, “but I need to go and sort your brothers out now, Derry. I’ll tell you some more stories later if you really want but for now I want you to promise me that you’ll stay home and not go wandering off on your own.”
“Okay,” Derry said agreeably. “What have the boys done?”
“That’s between me and them,” Chip replied firmly. “Same as our conversation was between me and you. Now tidy this mess up,” he waved one hand around her room as he headed for the door. “I want to see it tidy before lunch.”
Ignoring the face he knew Derry was making at his departing back Chip returned downstairs to find that the boys had moved outside and were playing some wild game he didn’t recognise in the back yard while Rory ran round and round excitedly barking at the top of his doggy voice. There was no sign of Katie.
Raising his voice so that he could be heard over the sounds of barking and yelling, Chip announced clearly, “I think it’s about time your friends went home for their lunch!”
“Aww, can’t they have lunch here?” Timmy stopped running to ask breathlessly his brown eyes full of pleading hopefulness.
“No!” Chip said firmly. He smiled at his youngest nephew aware that the boy wasn’t happy with his answer. “Your Mom didn’t leave enough food for extras, Timmy and, besides, Jason has a party to go to and we’re going out this afternoon.”
“Out? Where? Where are we going? Are the girls coming? Can we take Rory?” Timmy jumped up and down in excitement, his momentary disappointment over lunch forgotten.
“You’ll have to wait and see,” Chip, who at that moment had no idea where they might go, grinned at his enthusiasm.
“Is it a surprise?” Timmy’s excitement increased and before Chip could respond he was yelling at his brother, “Jason, Uncle Chip is taking us on a surprise outing and you can’t come cos you’re going to Jerry’s party!”
“Is that true?” Jason demanded, looking quizzically at his uncle.
“I don’t know, Jason,” Chip replied honestly. “I haven’t decided yet but right now I need to talk to you and Tim so say goodbye to your friends and then come into the house.”
Five minutes later two pairs of eyes…blue and brown…stared innocently at their uncle in the privacy of their father’s study.
Chip stared back, his facial expression so solemn and serious that Jason began look uncomfortable.
“You know, don’t you?” the eight year old said in a quiet voice.
“What do I know?” Chip asked equally quietly.
“About the money.”
“If you mean that I know you charged your friends fifty cents each to look at my scars, then, yes, I do know,” Chip frowned at his nephews. “I’d like the money please.”
He held out his hand and, reluctantly, Jason reached into the front pocket of his well-worn jeans but before he could hand over the cash Tim spoke up, his voice high with indignation, “But that’s our money, Uncle Chip, we earnt it!”
“You didn’t earn it,” Chip said, his voice low. “I earnt it, they’re my scars and I showed them to your friends, that makes the money mine!”
“That’s not fair,” Timmy wasn’t afraid to let his feelings be known. “Dad’s always telling us to earn our pocket money and now you want to take it away!”
“I’m sorry,” Chip responded calmly. “But you can’t go around selling other people’s bodies, boys. What do you think your parents would say?”
“They’d be mad,” Jason said reluctantly, his eyes on the floor. “We didn’t mean to upset you, Uncle Chip but we were telling them about your scars and they’ve never met anyone who’d been shot before, they wanted to see them so we thought they should pay to have a look.” He lifted his gaze to look apologetically at his uncle. “I didn’t think you should have to show them for free!”
Chip had to bite the insides of his mouth to stop himself from laughing at Jason’s earnest indignation. He glared at his nephew, slightly more severely than he’d intended, before saying, “I wouldn’t have minded, Jason as long as you didn’t make a habit of it! Now if you want to earn some money there’s lots of jobs you can do around here!”
“You mean work?” Tim said doubtfully.
“Yes!” Chip said firmly. “If you want money you have to work for it!”
“Can’t you just give us some?” Timmy gave his uncle his best beaming smile.
“Nooo!” Chip grinned. “So get to the kitchen now and empty the dishwasher for me, then after lunch you can rake up the leaves before we go out!”
“You’re as bad as dad,” Jason muttered as he stuck his hands in his pockets and walked towards the door.
“I know,” Chip grinned at him. “You forget, your dad used to make me earn my pocket money too!”
After a lively debate over lunch about the suitability of various different activities that they could all enjoy the children opted to go bowling which suited their uncle as he was fairly confident that it was a risk-free, argument-free activity. Once Jason had been collected by his friend’s father they took Rory to the beach for a run and then they set off for the bowling alley.
After a fairly uneventful and enjoyable time bowling which was marred only by Derry’s occasional sulking when she didn’t get the scores she wanted they went to the mall for pizza and ice cream and by the time they returned home again all three of the children were showing signs of obvious tiredness. Timmy fell asleep in front of the television and when Jason came home looking equally tired Chip suggested that they both go to bed. He was pleasantly surprised when they both agreed without argument or delaying tactics and by eight o’clock the boys were asleep, Derry was having a bath and Katie was in animated conversation with her best friend on the telephone. The puppy, after an energetic game of ball in the yard, was also fast asleep and an exhausted Chip found himself staring into the refrigerator in search of a drink to help him relax.
As he opened an ice cold can of beer and poured it into a glass he reflected on the past twenty-four hours and realized that his admiration for his sister and brother-in-law had greatly increased in that time. How on earth they coped with their children twenty-four/seven Chip didn’t know. Despite his ability to think on his feet in a crisis and make split-second decisions to solve serious problems aboard Seaview he had found that the children continually surprised and outwitted him and he was mentally exhausted by his efforts to keep up with them. And the hours! He hadn’t had a break all day, after very little sleep the night before, and he was seriously tired. Deciding that he would have an early night himself he wandered into the den and sat down in front of the television. Flicking through the channels he found a news programme and settled back in his chair to enjoy a few hours peace and quiet before bed.
Chip dreamt that he was back on the Seaview. He was relaxing in his cabin but a voice, a girls’ voice, was calling to him and he couldn’t understand how she had got aboard. Deciding that he must be dreaming he resolved to ignore the voice but it kept on calling him, getting louder and louder until it was right in his ear and somebody was shaking his arm.
“Uncle Chip! Wake up! I think Jason’s sick.”
“Wh…at?” Chip’s eyes flew open with a start and he peered dazedly at the worried face of his eldest niece.
“Jason’s crying,” Katie informed him worriedly. “He says he has a stomach ache and he wants mom to come home.”
Chip stifled a groan at Katie’s words and wondered what Jason had eaten at his friend’s party as he pulled himself to his feet and followed Katie into the hall and up the stairs. He sincerely hoped that whatever ailed Jason would be easily fixed and wouldn’t give him another difficult night.
Entering his nephew’s bedroom he found a white faced Jason curled up on his side his arms wrapped around his middle. He wasn’t crying but his face was tearstained and when he saw Chip he moaned miserably, “I want Mommy!”
So do I! Chip thought wryly as he sat down on Jason’s bed. I’m right out of my league here! “Mommy’s in Florida Jason. I’m afraid you’ll have to make do with me.”
Fresh tears ran down Jason’s face at these words and Chip sighed inwardly as he reached out a hand to feel his nephew’s forehead which was warm and clammy.
“Where does it hurt?” he asked quietly, his calm voice disguising the panic he felt inside at having to deal with a sick child on his own. He wished with all his heart that he was back on Seaview where he could have turned the problem straight over to a calm and capable doctor instead of having to cope with it on his own.
Unaware of his uncle’s misgivings Jason rubbed his hand over his middle and, in a small and miserable voice, said, “It hurts here and I feel sick.”
Great! Chip forced a sympathetic smile to his face as he asked brightly, “What did you eat at the party, Jason?”
“Lots of stuff,” Jason muttered unhappily. “There was lots of food!”
And I wonder how many other children now have a stomach ache? Chip thought with a grimace as he wondered what he should do. Would medicine help or he should he let nature take its course? He was just going call Katie to see if she could enlighten him as to what her mother would do when Jason suddenly sat up, gripping his stomach tightly, “I want….” Whatever else he had been going to say was lost as he threw up all over his shocked and speechless uncle.
Chip stared in horrified disbelief as the contents of Jason’s stomach poured down his shirt to soak into his jeans. He found it hard to believe that a child of Jason’s size could produce quite so much and he felt ill himself at the thought of dealing with it. All of his instincts urged him to get up and run away from the disgusting mess and, for the second time in five minutes, he had an overwhelming desire to be back on Seaview where he could turn Jason over to the doctor’s care and order some poor junior crewman to clean up the mess while he shut himself away in his cabin and wrote a report!
The sound of sobbing brought Chip’s thoughts abruptly back to the reality of the current situation and he fought the desire to cringe as he looked down at his sobbing nephew. A vague and distant memory suddenly flashed into his mind of himself creating a similar mess as a very small boy and his mother comforting him while dealing, miraculously in Chip’s memories, with the results. Of course she had been trained as a nurse so it was probably second nature to her but he was trained to deal with any disaster that might occur on board Seaview and this was, he reasoned, just another disaster!
“I want Mommy!” Jason wailed again.
“I know,” Chip forced his voice to stay calm as he lifted Jason carefully from his bed and carried him quickly into the bathroom where he stripped him of his filthy pyjamas and dropped them into the tub. Then he gingerly removed his own stinking clothes and threw them into the tub before reaching for a flannel and gently washing Jason clean. Wrapping his now shivering nephew in a large towel he was just giving his own hands and arms a thorough wash when Derry stuck her head round the door.
“Oh!” She frowned at the sight of her uncle wearing nothing but his underpants and socks and sniffed the air dramatically. “Pooh! It stinks in here,” she looked closely at Jason. “What’s wrong with him?”
“He ate too much at the party,” Chip said shortly. “Do me a favour Derry and go and get my robe; it’s in my bedroom.”
“Okay,” to Chip’s grateful surprise Derry disappeared on her errand and he turned his attention back to Jason who was still holding his stomach and looking very white.
“How do you feel Jason?”
“It still hurts,” Jason looked desperately at him. “Can’t you get Mommy to come home?”
“No, I’m sorry Jason but even if I called her now it would take at least three hours or more for her to get here. You’ll probably be fine by then. It’s just….” Chip’s next words were lost as Jason suddenly bent forward and threw up again all over the bathroom floor.
Cursing himself for not recognising the imminent signs fast enough nor having anything to catch the offending mess in Chip replaced the now dirty towel with a clean one and removed Jason to the hallway where he met Derry clutching his bathrobe in her hands. She looked wide eyed at the mess in the bathroom. “Oh, yuk! That is so gross. Who’s going to clean that up?”
Good question! Chip thought wryly as he pulled the door shut. “Don’t worry about that now, Derry. Go and fetch a bucket please and tell your sister I want to talk to her.”
“Okay,” Derry handed him the bathrobe, flashed him a beaming smile and disappeared again leaving Chip with his still sobbing nephew. Unsure of what to do for the best he carried Jason into his parents’ bedroom and tucked the shivering boy into the large double bed.
“Now listen, Jason,” he crouched down by the bed. “I know you can’t help getting sick but if you think you’re going to throw up again please don’t do it in the bed. Derry’s gone to fetch a bucket so use that instead, huh?”
“Okay,” Jason’s voice was small but his face had regained a bit of colour and Chip hoped that, maybe, the worst was over.
Although he felt that he was probably asking too much of a twelve year old Chip was relieved when Katie agreed to sit with her brother while he set about cleaning up the mess while wishing that he could delegate the task to someone else. It was certainly hard and stomach churning work and by the time he had finished Chip was beginning to feel very unwell himself. He longed to go to bed and sleep but just as he stepped into his sister’s bedroom to check on Jason the phone started ringing. Katie was quick to snatch up the receiver before the noise could wake the now sleeping Jason and Chip found that he was almost holding his breath as she spoke to the caller, hoping that, if it was Helen, Katie wouldn’t ruin her weekend by telling her about Jason.
“Yes, he’s here,” Katie looked up at him and grinned as she continued talking, “he’s just finished cleaning up the mess Jason made!”
There was silence as the caller obviously responded and then Katie said, “No, he threw up all over Uncle Chip.” She grinned again and held the receiver out to Chip who frowned quizzically at the roar of laughter he could hear coming down the line. “It’s Uncle Lee,” she explained. “He wants to talk to you.”
Lee! What did he want? And how dare he laugh! “I’ll take it down stairs,” Chip said shortly. “I don’t want to wake Jason by talking here.”
“He’s going to get the phone downstairs,” he heard Katie say as he left the room and headed down. Picking up the extension in Chris’s study he told Katie that he was now on the line and heard the click as she replaced her receiver.
“Having a good time then?” Lee’s cheerful, amused voice came down the line. “I’m glad to hear that they’re keeping you on your toes!”
“It’s not funny,” Chip growled. “I’d like to see you cope any better!”
“No way!” Lee laughed. “Just your luck to have them get sick on you; they’ll probably all be down with it by tomorrow.”
“No they won’t,” Chip disagreed. “Jason went to a party and I guess he ate too much rich food; the others are fine.”
“And what about you?” Lee stopped laughing and Chip could hear the genuine concern in his best friend’s voice. He was tempted to say he was fine too but decided that he might as well be honest about his weekend so far so he spoke honestly and with feeling, “Me? I’m exhausted; I never realized that looking after four children and a puppy would be such hard work.”
He went on to relate some of the highlights of the past twenty-four hours and wasn’t surprised when Lee struggled to contain his laughter at the thought of Chip chasing the puppy round the garden in the middle of a thunderstorm and the boys “selling” his scars for fifty cents a time.
“Sounds like you need some help,” he said seriously when Chip had finished.
“I need more than help,” Chip responded dryly. “I’ll need a vacation by the time Helen and Chris get back.”
“Well, funny you should mention that,” Lee told him happily. “The reason I called was to tell you that you don’t have to fly back first thing Monday morning. The mission with Professor Tomlinson has been postponed and the admiral has decided to take advantage of the time to go and visit Edith so he’s given everybody a week’s liberty.”
“But why?” Chip asked curiously. “I thought this trip was important.”
“It is,” Lee agreed. “But Professor Tomlinson has had a heart attack; it’s only a mild one but he’s been advised to rest so the mission is off. I thought you might like to stay over at Helen’s for a few more days.”
“Stay?” Chip made a face at the wall. “Why would I want to do that?”
“Well, you said yourself that you haven’t seen them since last Christmas and I thought Helen might appreciate spending a bit of time with you. You haven’t really seen her this weekend, have you?”
“True,” Chip said thoughtfully. “I guess we’ve got a bit of catching up to do but I won’t want to stay all week. I need a child-free break! What are you going to do?”
“Not sure yet,” Lee said cheerfully, “But I’ll let you know when I’ve decided. I’ve got to go now; I’m having dinner with Lindy.”
“Dinner!” Chip exclaimed tiredly. “At this time of night!”
“We’re three hours behind you, remember,” Lee said with laugh. “Sounds like you need to get some sleep Chip. I’ll speak to you soon.”
“Yea,” Chip agreed. “Have a good evening and thanks for calling Lee.”
Putting his own receiver down thoughtfully Chip wondered idly if Lee would be entertaining Lindy with tales of his friend’s misfortunes but decided that he was too tired to care. Climbing wearily back up the stairs he found that Jason was still asleep in his parents’ bed while Katie sat on the floor reading one of her mother’s magazines. Looking up at him she asked seriously,” Why did Uncle Lee think it was funny that Jason was sick?”
“He didn’t think it was funny,” Chip responded with a tired smile. “He just thought it was funny that he threw up all over me!”
“Oh,” Katie looked curiously at him. “That’s not very nice.”
Chip smiled, touched by his niece’s concern and support. “I guess not,” he paused to yawn widely, “but I would probably laugh if the same thing happened to Lee.”
“Oh,” Katie frowned at him obviously unimpressed by his explanation. “Mom wouldn’t think that was funny,” she said almost critically.
“No, I guess she wouldn’t,” Chip acknowledged with a grin, “but your dad would; men and women sometimes see things very differently, Katie.”
“I know,” Katie said solemnly, “that’s why Mom and dad have arguments over really silly things.” She paused to look consideringly at him. “Did you know that Mom thinks football is a dumb game?”
Chip resisted the urge to laugh out loud at his niece’s comment as he was well aware of his sister’s feelings about his favourite game which had been the source of many arguments between them, both serious and teasing, when he was growing up.
“Yes, I knew,” he replied quietly. “And your mom knows that I disagree with her.”
“So does dad,” Katie said confidentially. “They argue about it sometimes and dad says it’s just one of those things men and woman can’t agree on.”
“I’m sure he does,” Chip smiled tiredly. He was enjoying this spontaneous conversation with his eldest niece but he was also extremely tired and aware that time was getting on so he resisted the temptation to ask Katie for her own views on football and said, quietly, “Much as I like to talk football, Katie I think it’s time you went to bed.”
“Okay,” Katie agreed and stood up placing the magazine she’d been reading back on the bedside table. Looking down at her brother she said softly, “I think Jason is okay now; it was probably just the party food.”
“I know,” Chip nodded. “And thank you for your help, Katie. I couldn’t have managed without you.”
“That’s okay,” Katie grinned. “Mom did say that we had to behave ourselves for you and help you out if you needed us to.” She reached up and kissed her uncle’s unshaven cheek. “Goodnight, Uncle Chip. See you in the morning.”
“Goodnight, Katie,” Chip kissed the top of his niece’s blond head and watched as she left the room leaving him alone with the sleeping Jason. Looking down at his nephew, Chip was pleased to see that the boy had a bit more colour in his face and he hoped that he would probably sleep the rest of the night. It would be a good idea, he thought if he also took himself to bed and, leaving Jason he went to check on Tim and Derry who were both sleeping peacefully in their rooms before taking Rory out in the yard on his lead anxious to avoid a repeat of the previous evening’s escapades. Then, after settling the puppy in his basket, he made his way to his own room and, throwing off his robe, climbed wearily into his own bed where he fell into a deep sleep almost instantly.
Unfortunately, Chip was only asleep for just over an hour when he was woken by somebody shaking his right arm. Opening his eyes with difficulty he stared blearily up at the anxious face of his eldest niece.
“Jason’s crying, Uncle Chip,” Katie sounded worried. “I tried to comfort him but he keeps saying that he wants Mom to come home.”
Chip groaned and rubbed at his face with his right hand in a bid to waken his senses properly.
“Are you okay?” Katie enquired anxiously.
“Yea, I’m fine,” Chip forced a smile to his face as he sat up and reached for his robe. “I’m just a little tired, Katie; you go back to bed and I’ll deal with Jason.”
“Okay,” Katie smiled back at him and disappeared.
Through the open door Chip could clearly hear the sounds of his nephew sobbing and he hoped fervently that he would be able to bring some comfort to the unhappy little boy as he shoved his bare feet into his slippers and made his way to his sister’s bedroom. He found Jason curled up on his side sobbing into the pillow and seemingly oblivious to his uncle’s presence. Wishing that he could just make his sister appear for his own sake as well as Jason’s Chip sat down on the edge of the bed and put one hand on one of Jason’s shaking shoulders.
“I want Mommy!” Jason turned his tearstained face to look unhappily at his uncle.
“I know you do,” Chip reached out his arms and pulled his nephew gently towards him hoping that the boy wouldn’t reject his attempts at comforting him. “But Mommy’s a long way away, Jase. Even if she left Florida now it’d be morning before she got here and she wouldn’t be very happy if she found out we’d been up all night.”
“But my head hurts,” Jason sobbed into his uncle’s chest. “An’ I’m thirsty.”
“Well, let’s see if we can do something about that,” Chip spoke with forced cheerfulness as his own head began to show signs of aching. Although he had reservations about giving his nephew anything to drink in case it made him sick again he knew that the boy was probably dehydrated and needed liquid. Settling him back down under the covers Chip headed off on search of water and aspirin and, twenty minutes later, he sat watching anxiously as Jason drifted back to sleep one small hand clutching Chip’s long fingers.
When he was sure that Jason was properly asleep Chip gently extracted his fingers and, turning the light off, retreated to his own room where he fell into a restless sleep filled with dreams in which he was surrounded by blond haired children who seemed intent on throwing up all over him and wouldn’t allow him to escape. He was almost relieved when he was woken again two hours later by the sound of renewed sobbing from his nephew.
Thinking that he would probably never have children Chip crawled out of bed and, dragging his robe behind him, stumbled down the hallway to his sister’s room. Once again he found Jason curled up on his side crying into his pillow. He seemed oblivious to his uncle’s presence and as Chip pulled on his robe he struggled with conflicting emotions of intense irritation and compassion. The tired, selfish part of him wanted to yell at his nephew telling him to shut up and go back to sleep but even as these thoughts ran through his weary mind he guiltily dismissed them as the more compassionate side of his nature asserted its dominance. Looking down at the sobbing eight year old Chip realized, with some amazement, that it was like looking at a movie of himself at the same age. He was well aware that Jason looked a lot like him and that his sister claimed her elder son was a replica of him, not just in looks but in personality but he had never really taken much notice until now. As he sat down on the edge of the bed he recalled how, when he was young Helen had always been very calm and caring if he was unwell and he placed one hand gently on Jason’s shaking right shoulder.
“Hey, Jason, what’s wrong?” he asked quietly.
“I can’t sleep,” Jason turned his tearstained face to peer miserably at his uncle. “An’ I know Mommy can’t come home but I miss her and I miss dad; I don’t like it when they’re not here.”
“I know,” Chip reached out and brushed Jason’s blond hair back from his forehead. “I never liked it either when they went away and left me.”
“Oh!” Jason stopped crying to look curiously at his uncle. Although he wasn’t quite sure that he really understood the details he knew that his uncle had lived with his mom and dad when he was small and that they had sort of acted like his parents even though they weren’t. “Did they stay away all night?”
“Sometimes,” Chip nodded.
“And did you cry?”
“Sometimes,” Chip admitted quietly. “I didn’t like it when they left me; it made me feel sad.”
“Like me?” Jason’s small face brightened slightly as he considered the idea that his uncle had had similar feelings when he was small.
“Yes,” Chip smiled down at him tiredly while wondering what he might do to help Jason sleep the rest of the night.
“So, who looked after you?” Jason turned on to his back so that he could get a better look at his uncle, his tears apparently forgotten.
“Your Nanna and Granddad,” Chip told him amused at his interest in his childhood.
“Oh, they couldn’t look after us cos they’ve gone to Auntie Beth’s,” Jason informed him.
“I know, that’s why I came,” Chip smiled.
“Yea,” Jason smiled. “I’m real glad you came, Uncle Chip but I’m sorry I got sick on you.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Chip told him, glad to see that simple conversation seemed to have taken his nephew’s mind of his unhappiness, “but it does matter that we get some sleep Jason so we can enjoy tomorrow.”
“Oh,” Jason frowned. “Will you tell me a story to help me sleep? Tell me about when you got shot.”
Chip sighed inwardly, “I can’t do that Jason; it’ll give you nightmares.”
And it’ll give me nightmares, he thought ruefully as Jason frowned thoughtfully at him in the semi-darkness.
“Okay, tell me about when you were a hero and went through the minefield.”
Realizing that if he wanted to get any sleep at all he needed to ensure Jason was completely settled Chip reluctantly agreed. He moved to sit on the other side of the bed, his back against the head board and one arm around his nephew’s shoulders. Jason snuggled up against him, his blond head resting on Chip’s chest.
“Did you know that I wrote a report about you being a hero?” Jason looked up at him curiously as he prepared to begin his story.
“Yea, I did,” Chip smiled. “Your Mom wrote and told me.”
“My teacher didn’t believe it,” Jason said scornfully. “She said I’d made it up; she said that you’d be dead if you went through that minefield.”
“Well, it was very dangerous,” Chip admitted, amused by Jason’s indignation on his behalf. “You can’t blame your teacher for being sceptical.”
“What’s sceptical mean?”
“That she found it very hard to believe,” Chip explained tiredly. “Look, Jason, do you want me to tell you what happened or not.”
“Yeah,” Jason nodded. “I do know what happened but I like you to tell me about it. It’s just so cool!”
Chip smiled to himself as he started to relate the events of three years earlier. He’d barely got beyond the part where he had learnt about Seaview’s accident when he realized that his nephew was asleep. Keen to ensure that it was a deep sleep Chip continued talking quietly for another five minutes before he slipped his arm from around Jason’s shoulders and gently settled the boy back under the covers. He sat for a moment pleased to see that Jason was sleeping peacefully and then, as his own eyelids started to droop he slid from his sitting position on the other side of the bed and felt the softness of pillows beneath his head. Seconds later he was deeply asleep.
Chip awoke with a start less than three hours later to find himself looking into the wide awake face of his youngest nephew.
“It’s morning!” Tim announced cheerfully and Chip stifled a grimace as the words cut through his aching head.
“Why are you and Jason sleeping in Mommy and Daddy’s bed?” Tim demanded as he clambered up next to his uncle.
“Huh?” Chip looked dazedly at his youngest nephew before allowing his sleep heavy eyes to gaze around the room. Of course, he had come in to comfort Jason and obviously he had fallen asleep. Turning his head to the left he saw that Jason was still sleeping peacefully and he turned back to glare at Tim. “Jason was sick,” he whispered the words. “He was missing your Mom. Now scram Tim, I don’t want you to wake him up.”
“But I want my breakfast,” Timmy whined. “It is morning, Uncle Chip.”
“I know,” Chip yawned suddenly. “You go, Tim and I’ll come and get you breakfast.”
“Okay,” Tim whispered theatrically, a huge smile on his face before he disappeared leaving his uncle to drag his exhausted body off the bed and stumble through to his own room in search of some clothes.
“Church?” Chip frowned at his eldest niece as if she had suggested that he take them all to the nearest nightclub.
“Yes,” Katie looked patiently at him in much the same way her mother did when he wasn’t quite with it. “It’s Sunday, Uncle Chip. We always go to church on Sundays.”
“Yes,” Chip nodded aware that she spoke the truth. “But I think we’ll have to give this Sunday a miss. I don’t think Jason should go anywhere this morning and we can’t leave him on his own.”
“REALLY?” Derry and Tim looked at him in disbelief. “Wow! You’re cool, Uncle Chip. Mom and Dad always make us go.”
“I know,” Chip stifled a grin as he looked at their jubilant faces. He could well understand their reactions. He would have responded in exactly the same way when he was their age. “But I’m sure they’ll understand.”
“So what are we going to do today?” Katie asked curiously as Derry and Tim disappeared.
“I don’t know, Katie,” Chip admitted tiredly. “Maybe we’ll go out for lunch.”
“Great,” Katie smiled happily at him as she too disappeared leaving him alone in the kitchen.
Chip stared after her for a full minute debating whether or not he should remind her of her declaration about helping him if he needed it. Looking at the mess of used dishes, cups and cutlery on the table he would have welcomed somebody stacking the dishwasher. With a heavy sigh he poured a third mug of coffee and sat down on a nearby chair. Leaning his elbow on the table he supported his head with his left hand while sipping slowly at the mug in his right hand. He couldn’t believe how tired he was and he didn’t quite understand it. Admittedly he had had very little sleep the past two nights but he had survived on a lot less during emergencies aboard Seaview. Survived and functioned! That was the problem here, he reflected, he wasn’t functioning. Despite taking several aspirin his head ached and his thought processes were seriously compromised. It was obvious that the adrenaline which kept him going in a crisis on the boat was sadly lacking when it came to coping with children and puppies!
Finishing his coffee Chip climbed slowly to his feet and started to load the dishwasher hoping that a bit of physical activity would wake him up. When he had finished in the kitchen, he’d sort out the laundry he’d put in the machine last night and then make sure that Jason’s room was properly clean. It crossed his mind that it would be a good idea to wash the sheets from his sister’s bed as well. Slamming the dishwasher door shut, he made his way to the utility room while hoping that today would prove to be less eventful than yesterday. Helen and Chris would be home in approximately eleven hours. Hopefully, he could survive until then!
It was two hours later as he checked the bathroom was completely clean after Jason’s accident the night before that Chip caught sight of himself in the mirror. Shocked, he studied his reflection critically noting the dark smudges under his eyes, his uncombed hair, his paler than normal skin, his unshaven chin and the vivid bruise on his cheek. Coupled with his creased shirt and dirty jeans he looked as if he had been involved in a minor disaster and he realized that he was falling well short of his usually immaculate appearance.
Deciding that he needed to have a shower he started to unbutton his shirt only to freeze as he heard the unmistakeable sound of the door bell echoing through the house. This was followed by Rory’s excited barking and the sound of footsteps running through the hall. With a sigh Chip left the bathroom and ran quickly down the stairs reaching the hallway just as Katie pulled the front door open.
“Auntie Kate!” The children greeted the woman on the doorstep with enthusiasm and Chip, standing at the foot of the stairs, felt at a distinct disadvantage as she greeted each one of them individually. Auntie Kate? Who the hell was Auntie Kate? To Chip’s knowledge they didn’t have an Auntie Kate. Yet he had to concede that she did look vaguely familiar and he had the uncomfortable feeling that he had possibly met her before but where?
“I was sick!” Jason announced to the visitor almost proudly, his words penetrating his uncle’s thoughts.
“Were you?” the dark haired woman actually sounded interested.
“Yea, he threw up all over Uncle Chip!” Derry told her gleefully. “It was gross!”
“I’m sure it was,” the woman laughed at the look on Derry’s face. “But you’re okay now, Jason?” she looked closely at him as he, in turn, looked adoringly up at her.
“Yes,” he smiled brightly at her. “It was just the party food. Have you come to stay?”
“I’ve come to visit,” she smiled back at him and Chip, who hadn’t moved from his position by the stairs, tried desperately to remember where he had seen that attractive smile before as he heard her say, “Is your Mom here?”
“No!” the children chorused. “Mom and dad have gone to Florida. Uncle Chip’s looking after us. Look, Uncle Chip…” Derry turned back to catch his eye. “It’s Auntie Kate!”
“Hi!” She smiled brightly at him as he approached the front door. “I’m really sorry to intrude. I was hoping to see Helen but I guess I should’ve called first.” She paused and Chip could’ve sworn he saw a hint of laughter in her light brown eyes as she looked closely at him. “You’re Helen’s brother, aren’t you?”
He nodded and opened his mouth to speak but she continued talking, “We met in London…at Christmas. I’m Kate Fisher.”
Ah! Kate Fisher! The young American woman his sister had become friendly with when they were living in the UK. Chip held out his hand, “Hi! It’s good to see you again,” he said politely. “I’m afraid Helen and Chris won’t be back until this evening.”
“That’s okay,” she shrugged slightly as she accepted his handshake. “Like I said, I should have called first but I wanted to surprise them. I’ve only been back in the country twenty-four hours and as I was in New York I thought I’d come up today before I fly west. Tell Helen I’ll be in touch.”
She turned slightly, obviously intending to leave and Chip surprised himself as he heard his voice say, “You don’t have to go. The children are obviously delighted to see you; you’re welcome to distract them for a while!”
“Well, if you’re sure?” she looked doubtfully at him and he felt his ears start to redden under her scrutiny. “You do look as if you could use a break.”
“I can’t deny that,” Chip grinned and was unaccountably pleased when she smiled back and stepped into the hall. The children all cheered and Tim and Jason grabbed hold of her hands. “You must come and meet Rory,” they said excitedly. “He’ll like you!”
“I hope you like dogs,” Chip muttered as they headed past him for the back of the house.
“Love them,” she smiled broadly at him as she followed the children’s lead. “Don’t let me disrupt your morning,” she stopped at the door to the family room and looked apologetically at him. “I won’t stay long.”
“You’re not disrupting anything important,” Chip told her honestly. “Do you want a drink?”
“Coffee would be nice; if it’s not too much trouble,” she nodded as Tim pulled at her hand impatiently. “Come on, Aunt Kate; we’ve got lots of things to show you!”
“Okay, Tim, I’m coming. I hope Rory likes visitors,” she followed Tim through the door and Chip heard his nephew say, “He loves visitors!” as the door closed behind them.
Chip retreated to the kitchen wondering if he had been quite fair inviting this woman in to spend time with the children. After all, she could hardly decline when they were all standing there willing her to say “yes”. He was sure that she must have better things to do with her Sunday and, as he put a fresh pot of coffee on, he rather regretted his impulsive invitation.
If he was totally honest he wasn’t at all sure that he wanted an attractive stranger around to witness his domestic failings. Not that it should bother him, he reasoned. She was, after all, just a stranger…but she’s also a friend of Helen’s, a little voice taunted him as he poured coffee into two mugs.
So! He frowned at his own thoughts and then jumped slightly as a voice behind him said brightly, “Can I help?”
Turning round he found their visitor standing in the doorway a questioning expression on her face.
“I didn’t mean to startle you, but I just wondered if you could use a hand,” she hesitated. “You look as if you’ve had a hard time.”
“I’m just tired,” Chip frowned slightly defensively, “But I’m okay.”
“I’m sorry; it seems I only meet you at a bad time,” she smiled at him as he handed over her coffee.
“Huh?” Chip’s frown deepened.
“Christmas,” she explained. “You were recovering from a bullet wound.”
“Oh, yes,” Chip’s face cleared as he realized what she was referring to. She had spent Christmas Day at his sister’s and he remembered that he had enjoyed talking with her although he had not been at his best and had felt at the time that he hadn’t been very good company.
“Helen said you made a good recovery,” she continued, her eyes glancing at his arm.
“Yea, I did, thanks,” he nodded and, unable to think of anything else to say, he took a long drink from his own mug. Kate Fisher watched him, her eyes never leaving his face and he wished he had had time to take a shower and change his clothes. He was well aware that he looked a mess, he probably didn’t smell all that good either, and he felt that it put him at a distinct disadvantage in front of this admittedly attractive and well dressed young woman. He suspected that she would tell Helen exactly what she had seen and he didn’t think there was anything he could do to stop her, short of coming straight out and asking her to keep her mouth shut.
“So, what happened to your face?” she enquired curiously. “That’s quite a bruise on your cheek.”
“Oh, that was Tim,” Chip grinned slightly. “A goodnight hug went wrong!”
“And you came off worst?” she guessed.
“That’s right,” Chip nodded. “I guess I have a few things to learn about looking after children.”
“I think you’re remarkably brave,” she said seriously. “My brother has two children and my sister has three and I wouldn’t dream of looking after them single handedly for a whole weekend.”
“You wouldn’t?” Chip was surprised. “Why? Is there something wrong with them?”
“No,” Kate laughed. “They’re great kids, all of them but taking care of them full-time is exhausting. I’ve had them for a day and that’s quite enough. Helen should give you a medal!”
“She’s more likely to give me a lecture,” Chip said wryly. “She always makes everything look so easy.”
“That’s because she’s had years of experience,” Kate said confidently. “She’d be lost doing your job.”
“That’s true,” Chip grinned. “Her sense of direction is lousy; she’d run us aground in no time!”
“Exactly,” Kate laughed again. “Listen, I’ve got a proposal to put to you.”
A proposal? Chip eyed her sceptically. “Go on,” he said carefully.
“You don’t need to panic,” she grinned and he felt his ears begin to redden again. “I was just wondering if you would mind if I took the children out for lunch.”
“Lunch?” Chip knew he sounded stupid repeating the question but he needed time to think. He didn’t really know this woman. Should he let her walk off with his sister’s children?
“You can come too if you don’t trust me,” she seemed to read his mind, “but I thought you might appreciate a child-free break.”
“That’s true,” Chip nodded as the door flew open and the children reappeared.
“Where have you been?” Timmy demanded of their visitor before turning to his uncle and whining, “Uncle Chip, I’m hungry. What are we having for lunch?”
Chip hesitated, his eyes on Kate Fisher who stared back at him. He felt uneasy at the thought of letting a virtual stranger take his sister’s children out but it was obvious that she wasn’t a stranger to the children and he recalled that Helen had often mentioned her in letters he’d received. And he would really appreciate a break.
“Kate is going to take you out for lunch,” he informed them and was rewarded with a warm smile from their visitor and cries of excitement from the children.
“Where are we going?” Timmy demanded. “I want to go to McDonald’s.”
“No! “ Derry glared at her brother. “Let’s go for pizza.”
“But we had pizza yesterday,” Timmy glared back.
“You’ll have to wait and see,” Kate told them cheerfully. “You better go and get ready.”
“Aren’t you coming Uncle Chip?” Katie eyed him curiously as her siblings rushed off.
“No,” Chip shook his head. “I’ve got things to do, Katie. Besides,” he grinned. “Your brothers and sister are not going to wait for me to get cleaned up!”
“Okay,” Katie grinned back at him. “I bet you need a break from us anyway.”
“That’s one wise twelve year old,” Kate Fisher observed as Katie disappeared. “Do you mind if I take them somewhere afterwards; I’ll have them back by five?”
“Sure,” Chip nodded. “If you really don’t mind.”
“I don’t,” Kate assured him. “They’re good kids and I enjoy their company.”
You must be mad, Chip thought tiredly as he smiled at her. “Thank you,” he said quietly. “I do appreciate it.”
“My pleasure,” Kate smiled back as she fished her car keys from her purse and the children burst excitedly back into the kitchen. “We’ll see you around five.”
After waving goodbye to Kate Fisher and the children Chip stood uncertainly in the hallway while Rory wagged his tail at him. He was so tired he didn’t know whether he should go ahead with his delayed shower or just crash out on his bed. Rory whined at him and it crossed his mind that maybe he should take the dog for a walk first or it probably wouldn’t let him sleep. Except he couldn’t go out looking such a mess so it had better be a shower, then a walk, then bed, if he was lucky he’d get a couple of hours sleep before Kate returned the children. Decision made Chip headed for the stairs but he had barely put one foot on the bottom tread when the doorbell rang.
Rory let out an exited yelp and raced for the door, his tail wagging so hard Chip was surprised it didn’t fall off. With a heartfelt groan he grabbed hold of the dog’s collar and opened the door to find his best friend standing on the step with a huge grin on his face.
“LEE!” Chip gaped. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Is that any way to greet your commanding officer?” Lee said sternly as his eyes took in the dishevelled state of his normally immaculate exec.
“Probably not,” Chip admitted as he stifled a yawn. “But I thought you were in Santa Barbara; I sure wasn’t expecting to see you here.”
“No, I guess you weren’t,” Lee grinned, “but you sounded so exhausted on the phone last night I thought I’d come out and give you some moral support.”
“But what about Lindy…? I thought…” Chip trailed off, not really sure what he had thought.
“I had dinner with her,” Lee grinned. “I didn’t marry her! She’s got her own plans. Look, are you going to let me in. You’re strangling that poor puppy.”
“Oh,” Chip looked down at Rory who was straining against the hold he had on his collar in a bid to welcome Lee. “You better come in.” He stood to one side and Lee stepped into the hall, shutting the door behind him. Chip let Rory go and the puppy immediately launched an energetic assault on Lee who sank to his knees and allowed Rory to jump all over him.
“You shouldn’t encourage him,” Chip’s voice was disapproving.
“Spoilsport!” Lee laughed as he rubbed Rory’s tummy. He looked curiously around the large hall. “It’s very quiet. Where are the kids?”
“I don’t know,” Chip admitted and Lee frowned at him. “Kate Fisher took them somewhere for lunch.”
“Kate?” Lee’s frown turned to a delighted grin. “You mean Kate the photographer?”
“You are a dark horse!” Lee’s grin widened. “There’s me thinking you’re struggling alone with four children and you’ve managed to wangle beautiful female support!”
“I didn’t wangle anything!” Chip growled. “She just turned up out of the blue same as you did.”
“Ah!” Lee sobered up aware that his best friend wasn’t in the mood to be teased. “Took you by surprise did she?”
“Yea,” Chip nodded a note of regret in his voice. “Do I really look as if I was expecting her?”
“Now that you mention it you do look a little the worse for wear,” Lee eyed his friend with amused concern. Chip was usually so efficient, so organized that Lee sometimes felt in awe of his capabilities. It was intriguing to see him so obviously out of his depth for once and Lee couldn’t remember if he had ever seen his friend looking quite so untidy. Chip was normally so immaculate in his personal appearance but today he was positively unkempt. He hadn’t shaved, his hair was uncombed, his shirt was creased and smeared with something unidentifiable and there were grass stains and something that looked like ketchup on his jeans. His normally bright blue eyes were dark with fatigue and the bruise on his left cheek stood out starkly against his pale complexion. Lee felt a wave of sympathy sweep over him but he still couldn’t resist teasing his friend a bit more.
“So you finally met your match?” he stood up and looked Chip in the eye.
“You found a situation that you can’t organize and keep under control,” Lee grinned.
“Too many variables,” Chip muttered. “And no-one to delegate to!”
“True,” Lee nodded. “Well, if you want my advice, pal you’ll go and catch up on your sleep while you have the chance. I’ll take care of the pooch here,” he grinned down at Rory who was watching him carefully.
“I can’t,” Chip shook his head. “I’m filthy, Lee. I need a shower.”
“Okay,” Lee nodded amiably. “You go take a shower and I’ll get lunch sorted; a shower will only wake you up so you’ll need a good meal if you’re going to sleep properly.”
“You giving me orders?” Chip frowned. “You know I don’t take orders when we’re ashore.”
“I know,” Lee agreed aware that Chip felt very strongly that he shouldn’t have to be subordinate to his best friend when they weren’t aboard Seaview. “I’m just giving you advice, Chip…as your best friend. Trust me; you don’t want Helen to come home and see you looking like that.”
“Okay,” Chip knew when he was beaten and he really did need a shower.
Thirty minutes later Chip was devouring his second toasted ham and cheese sandwich and looking considerably cleaner and neater than he had when Lee arrived.
“You want to know something?” he said conversationally to his friend who was busy with his first sandwich.
“I’d rather deal with a mad scientist, an angry Admiral, even a complete systems failure on the sub than a disobedient Derry, an energetic puppy and a sick Jason,” Chip took another bite of his sandwich, chewed at it thoughtfully and swallowed before continuing, “Remember when we were at the Academy facing all those endurance tests? They should put taking care of a house full of kids and a puppy on the curriculum!”
Lee laughed so loudly that Rory whined uncertainly at him and he reached out a hand to pat him on the head. “It can’t have been that bad, surely.”
“Trust me,” Chip grinned. “It was bad. I don’t know how Helen copes with it all.”
“She does have Chris to support her,” Lee pointed out.
“It’s still five against two,” Chip argued.
“Two experienced parents,” Lee commented. “They’ve been doing this job for twelve years, Chip; longer if you include taking care of you. You’re just a novice; you’ll get the hang of it!”
“Oh no, I won’t,” Chip yawned widely and rubbed at his eyes with his right hand. “I quit. Next time Helen needs a babysitter I’m going to bring a detail with me to cover all eventualities!”
“While you sit in the study giving orders and writing up a comprehensive report!” Lee laughed.
“That’s about right,” Chip yawned again and blinked rapidly as he struggled to keep his eyes open. He shook his blond head dazedly, “You know that’s a great idea; I wish I had thought of it earlier!” Another yawn threatened to escape and he clamped a hand over his mouth in a bid to stop it.
“Okay, bed,” Lee said cheerfully. “And, yes, it is an order, Chip. You need to sleep.”
“But Rory needs a walk,” Chip protested sleepily.
“I’ll take Rory out,” Lee said patiently.
“What if Kate and the kids come back?”
“When are they due?”
“She said they’ll be back by 17.00 but they could be earlier.”
“That’s nearly three hours away,” Lee dismissed Chip’s concerns. “You get to bed and I’ll take Rory out straight away; we’ll be back long before the others. For goodness sake, Chip; stop time wasting and go or you’re going to fall asleep there with your face in the plate!”
“Somebody should’ve woken me earlier,” Chip grumbled at his sister as they faced each other across the dining room table.
“Lee said that you were exhausted so we let you sleep,” Helen ignored the moody look on her younger brother’s face. “You must’ve needed it, Chip,” she eyed him seriously, “or you wouldn’t have slept through all the noise the children and Rory made when Chris and I arrived home.”
“I guess not,” Chip frowned and turned his attention to the soup in front of him. He had woken shortly after eight o’clock to find that his sister and brother-in-law had been home for nearly two hours, Kate had gone back to New York, the boys were in bed and Lee was watching television with Chris and the girls.
“I’m sorry that the children gave you such a hard time,” Helen said softly.
“Who said they did?” Chip looked up, a defensive tone to his deep voice. “It wasn’t that bad. If Jason hadn’t got sick it would have been fine.” He frowned curiously at his sister. “What did they say?”
“Oh, the children had a great time,” Helen told him with a smile. “Even Derry was singing your praises. I didn’t mean to imply that you couldn’t handle things, Chip; I was just concerned that you didn’t get much sleep. Lee said Jason had you up most of last night and…” Helen’s mouth twitched, “...Rory had you up the night before. No wonder you were tired.”
“It wasn’t just that,” Chip conceded with a smile. “It was trying to stay one step ahead of the children all day; it’s mentally exhausting. I really don’t how you cope on a daily basis; you always make handling the children look so easy.”
“It’s just experience,” Helen grinned.
“That’s what Lee and Kate said,” Chip smiled across the table.
“Well, it’s true,” Helen agreed, “And don’t forget, Chip I had training before I even had Katie.”
“Did you?” Chip frowned. He didn’t recall his sister going to any sort of training but then he would have been at Annapolis. He…
“Yes,” Helen’s laughing voice cut into his thoughts. “I had you!”
“Oh! Lee said that,” Chip continued to frown, “but there was only one of me!”
“That’s true, but you were a challenge,” Helen responded with an affectionate smile. “Maybe not in Derry’s league but I learnt a lot from taking care of you and…” her face took on a serious expression, “…from being around you and your brother from the time you were born.”
“Yea,” Chip chewed thoughtfully at his spoon. “I tend to forget that.”
“Well, I haven’t,” Helen told him as she sipped at her coffee. “I remember one summer…I think it was the year before Chris and I got married…your mom and dad decided to take a tour of Europe because the war had prevented them from taking a honeymoon and I took care of you and Tim.”
“How old was I?”
“If I was right about the year, you would have been eight and Tim was six and it was a challenge right from the start.”
“I don’t remember,” Chip confessed.
“Well, you should,” Helen grinned at him. “You were the one who let the dog upstairs after he had rolled in something disgusting at the lake. The stench was awful. I had to wash all your bedding, bath the dog and clean the carpet and you had to sleep in with Tim for two nights.”
“I don’t remember,” Chip tried not to laugh at the mental images his sister’s words conjured up. “I’m sorry, Helen! I’m sure I didn’t do it on purpose!”
“I’m sure you didn’t,” Helen smiled, “And Tim didn’t mean to break two panes of glass when he tried to dislodge his ball from the conservatory roof by throwing his shoes at it!”
“I do remember that,” Chip admitted, “but I didn’t know you were looking after us at the time. I thought Dad went mad when he found out.”
“He did,” Helen confirmed, “but that was when he got home.”
“I guess we did give you a hard time,” Chip grinned broadly, “but I’m sure we didn’t mean to.”
“I realize that,” Helen grinned back. “After all, nobody would deliberately ride their bike into a neighbour’s car just to upset his big sister, would they?”
“Did I do that?” Chip frowned, sure that he should remember doing something so serious although he had pretty much blocked the memories of his early life before his parents and brother had been killed.
“No, that was Tim,” his sister conceded. “You were the one who went to a party and ate so many strawberries you were sick all night.”
“But I’m allergic to strawberries,” Chip protested. “That must have been Tim as well.”
“No, it was you,” Helen said confidently. “Up until that point we didn’t know you were allergic to them. You were so sick you ended up in the hospital on a drip. I was terrified you were going to die and I didn’t know how I would explain that to your parents.”
“I think I do remember that,” Chip’s face took on a sheepish look. “So I guess this weekend was payback time!”
Helen laughed, “I guess so although,” she looked intently at him, a definite twinkle in her deep brown eyes. “I think you would need more than a weekend, Chip. Maybe a whole month…or half a year…of looking after the children continuously would constitute payback!”
“No way,” Chip laughed. “I think I’ll stay in debt!”
“That’s probably wise,” Helen agreed. “Not that I think you owe me anything.”
“Thank goodness for that!” Chip said with relief as he finished his soup. There was silence for a while as he concentrated on spooning the last drops from his bowl while his sister watched him with a thoughtful
“Lee said you don’t have to fly back tomorrow,” Helen’s voice broke the silence as Chip dropped his spoon into the empty bowl and pushed it away from him.
“That’s right,” Chip nodded. “Though I’m only staying if tomorrow is a school day!”
“Oh, yes,” Helen laughed. “They’ll all be gone by eight in the morning. If you stay in bed you won’t even have to see them til the afternoon!”
“I don’t mind eating breakfast with them,” Chip grinned sheepishly, “so long as I don’t have to organise it!”
“You don’t have to do anything!” Helen assured him with a smile. “And to show my appreciation for all your hard work I will cook all your favourite food for dinner tomorrow.”
“All my favourite food?” Chip eyed his sister sceptically.
“Well, one of your favourite meals then,” Helen conceded aware that her younger brother had a deep appreciation for many different foods.
“Double chocolate cheesecake?” Chip raised one hopeful eyebrow.
“That’s a deal then,” Chip flashed his broadest smile across the table at his sister. “And if that’s the reward I may even consider minding the children again one day…when Rory is fully grown and trained.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Helen stood up and reached for her brother’s empty soup bowl.
“I’m sure you will!” Chip laughed as he left his own place at the table and headed for the door on his way to join the others watching television. It had been a tough weekend but he knew he’d learnt a few things over the last two days and he was confident he could rise to the challenge of child-minding again should the need arise. A mental image of Kate Fisher leapt into his mind and he smiled to himself as he contemplated using his newly acquired experience on his own children one day. He had no intention of sharing his thoughts but he found that he rather liked the idea and his smile broadened as he crossed the hall to the family room and a relaxing evening watching television with his family and his best friend.
Any feedback welcome at: s.james2409@NTLWorld.com