" I am NOT happy about this!"
"I know Lee, I am not asking you to like it, just Ö live with it!"
"Live with it!!"
The Admiral was trying to calm down his Captain and was not sure if he was succeeding. This was going nowhere fast. The Captain did not like to have civilians on board, and certainly not children. Nelson then tried another approach.
"Look, this will be only for 2 or 3 days at most. I could hardly refuse the Wish Foundation. This little girl wants to see and sail on a submarine, a real one. The Navy, for obvious reasons could not, that is why they knocked on the Instituteís door. Her mother will be with her and from what I have been told, they are nice people. It canít be that bad."
"If this is a Wish Foundation thing, will she need any medical attention?"
"Just general looking over, nothing her mother cannot handle. According to the information forwarded to me, they have discontinued the leukemia treatments. They just went through all the procedures, even the experimental ones, and there is nothing left to do."
Lee Crane turned to the blond man sitting on the chair by the desk.
"You are very quiet about this Chip. Got anything to say?"
"I was thinking about how awful it must be to see you child die slowly and you are helpless to do anything about it. One of my schoolmates died when I was 10, and I still remember the look in his parentsí eyes. I think we should do it and make it nice for them."
"I guess you are both right, but a submarine is not a playground. It could be dangerous for them. We will have to advise the crew about this."
Two weeks later, a small beat-up car showed up at the Institute entrance. After the guard checked the passenger's identities, they were directed toward the main building.
Lee and Chip were just coming in when they saw a woman and a little girl get out of the car. The woman took the child by the hand and came toward them. The woman had long black hair and a very exotic look to her. It was hard to figure out where the look came from, but it was stunning.
"Excuse me, I am looking for Admiral Nelsonís office."
"You must be Cynthia Casavant. I am Captain Lee Crane and this is my first officer Chip Morton."
"Hello Ms. Casavant. And the young lady is Brittany, if I am not mistaken." Chip shook hands with Cynthia Casavant and smiled at the little girl.
The child was looking at the two uniformed men with wide brown eyes. She was wearing a flowered sun hat and dress. No hair showed under the hat. Both men knew she was almost 8 but she was much smaller and thinner than other children. She looked up at her mother, then asked Crane "How come you know our names?"
"We were on our way to see Admiral Nelson, so that we could talk about your trip on the Seaview. There are rules on board that everyone has to follow and there are places that can be dangerous. We want to make sure that you and your mom understand everything about this."
"OK." Brittany started pulling on her motherís hand. "Can we go inside? I really want to get started!"
The crew quarters were filled with conversation and the topic was the "Wish Cruise". Riley came up with the name and it stuck.
"I really donít think that this is a good idea. I mean, we will have this kid underfoot and probably a bossy and fussy mama following her." Barcley was not a family man and had rather strong opinions on the subject of kids: the less, the better. He had strong opinions (mostly uninformed, thought Kowalski) about a lot of things.
"You have not even met them, how can you say? They are probably OK, or the skipper would not have gone along with it. What do you think Chief?" Paterson turned toward Sharkey; just hoping the Chief would not side with Barcley on this. The man tended to get on his nerves, but he could not say why or maybe because Paterson wanted to have a family one day. Kids were great; at least he thought so.
Sharkey looked at the men and let out a sigh "It will be a short cruise, the Admiral has laid down the rules and Ms. Casavant has agreed. The little girl is very sick and is not expected to make it to Christmas."
Kowalski looked up from his unpacking: "Chief, today is October 2nd."
"Three days, then we can return to our normal lives. She wonít have one. Still thinking that this is a lousy idea Barcley?"
"No Chief." Answered a meek Barcley, but he still was not happy about the situation. What next? Trained animals or whatever, no doubt.
Little Brittany descended the ladder to the control room and stopped at the bottom. She looked around and stood rooted to the spot. She was still wearing her sun hat. Everything was shiny and there were computers and machines that beeped and all kinds of things she did not know even existed.
"Honey, move away from the ladder, you are blocking traffic."
Her motherís voice from above startled her back to reality and she stepped aside. Cynthia Casavant came down, carrying a backpack. She was sporting a long braid down her back, pants with a lot of pockets and a soft khaki shirt. The crewmen looked at her and could not help but notice that she was very attractive. She looked around, just like her daughter, and fixed on Captain Crane.
"Permission to come on board?"
Crane smiled; at least she has manners! "Permission granted. I will have a crewman to bring your baggage to your cabin."
"No need. Everything fits in the backpack. I like to travel light. Comes from walking all over Europe when I was a student. If you canít carry it, you donít need it."
"The Admiral would like you to join him in the nose, Ms. Casavant. I think you will both enjoy the view when we submerge."
"Thank you, it is very kind of you to allow this. I know that you could have turned us down and I would have understood. However, I do not think that Brittany would have. She is still a child, even if she has been through more than most adults. And please call me Cynthia. I keep looking for my mother when somebody calls me Ms. Casavant."
Lee escorted his passengers to the observation nose. The Admiral welcomed the Casavants warmly and started answering little Brittanyís questions. Both mother and daughter were sitting facing the huge ports and listening to Nelsonís description of the Seaview. When the boat submerged, the child was clapping her hands and laughing. She did not notice her motherís sad smile, but both Nelson and Crane did.
Brittany turned around and asked, "When the windows are closed or when it is dark, how do you know where to go?"
Before either man could answer, Cynthia explained the principles of sonar and echo-location. The words were simple enough for the child to understand, but nothing was left out. Nelsonís mind flashed to some of the scientists and lecturers who could not have done what this young woman just did. Make something complex so simple that a child could learn it and remember it. Just then, Brittany surprised him.
"Is it the same thing for bats and dolphins and whales?"
"Yes honey, the same thing applies. A lot of machines do for us what nature does for some animals. This is why it is so important that we have to understand how things work. Nature has a lot to teach. You have to look and listen, and learn."
Crane was impressed. During the meeting prior to the cruise, the Admiral had made a list of doís and doníts and most of them had been accepted without fuss. Some were explained and Ms. Casavant had agreed that they were justified. She even had some of her own. No one was to mention to Brittany that she was not going to live very long and they were not to give her any food without checking first with her mother. Apparently, some of the treatments had made Brittany susceptible to some products that most people do not even think about.
"Well Lee, are you getting over your objections to this?" Chip asked in a low voice, meant for Crane only.
"Yes, I am. Somehow, I have the feeling that Cynthia Casavant is much more than what appears." Crane replied in the same tone.
"MmmmmÖ.." was all Morton would say on the subject.
Crane turned around and started to plan a nice quiet cruise. No destination, just a large circle in the ocean. Once the course was given to navigation, Lee gave a tour of the Seaview to Cynthia and Brittany. The little girl was very careful not to go through any door without looking first to Crane for permission. She looked so happy! Maybe this was worthwhile. After all, what could go wrong?
"And here is the officerís mess. If you need anything prepared in a special way, Cookie will assist you. All the crew has been advised that you are the only one that can handle Brittanyís food. There should be no problems."
Cynthia gave a warm smile to Cookie and thanked him for his kindness. Brittany told him that she really liked ice cream and that it was all right for her to have some, but only for dessert!
Then they both were introduced to Doc.
"Are you going to give me shots?" a very nervous Brittany asked.
"No, I am here only if there is a problem. Your mother is supposed to take care of you during your trip and I will help her if she asks. But I do not give shots without a good reason."
"Iíll make sure to do like mom says. I got so sick when the doctors gave me shots, I just donít want to have more, thatís all."
"Brittany" Cynthia asked, "would you like to go to bed? It is way past the time you are usually asleep." Turning to the Seaview doctor she added, "Thank you very much for your time. If there is any need, I will let you know."
After Brittany was tucked in and asleep, Cynthia went to the officerís mess and settled down with a cup of hot chocolate. Lee and Chip came in five minutes later and sat down in front of her.
ĎShe looks so tired and alone!í Chip thought. ĎI wonder where her husband is. He should be here.í
"I want to thank you again for this." Cynthia said, her hand making a small movement, which included the Seaview.
"I must admit I had some doubts when this was mentioned to me, but I was wrong. I think you will enjoy this cruise. At least, I hope so." Lee answered. Changing the subject, he asked, "You said you traveled over Europe when you were a student. Where did you go?"
"A little here, a little there. I was majoring in linguistics and language evolution. Traveling by train, bus and foot gave me a pretty good understanding of people and why sometimes it is so hard to understand each other, even with the same language. Imagine with different ones. Definitions of what is funny or offensive vary with culture, language, history, environment, and many other things.
I learned a lot. That is where I met Carl, Brittanyís father. I thought it was for life, but I was wrong. He left when Brittany turned one year old. Canít say I blame him, a seriously ill child does not make for an easy life. Afterward, I came back home. And as they say, the rest is history.
If you will excuse me, I will go check on Brittany and then turn in. I believe Chief Sharkey has something planned for tomorrow. He mentioned something about scuba gear."
"Good night." Said Chip, getting up, along with Lee.
"Good night. Do not hesitate to call if you need anything." Lee sat down and nursed his coffee. I was cold, so he pushed it aside.
Looking in the distance, he started thinking about Cynthia. She was so strong! How could she be so calm, so kind with those around her when her own world was collapsing? He could not help but think about her eyes when she was looking at her child. They actually changed color! They went from violet to almost black.
"Lee Ö Lee! Ö LEE Ö" Chip repeated. "Earth to Lee, come in please."
"Sorry Chip, I was thinking."
"About our guest?"
"You like her." It was not a question.
"What about her kid?"
"Brittany? She is so small, Chip. She needs so much, and I donít mean stuff. Did you notice how happy she looked when Kowalski let her listen to the sonar? And when she looked through the periscope?"
"Lee, she needs a childhood, and these three days are probably the only one she will have. We have to make them the best we can and there is nothing more we can do. Or anyone can do."
"I know. It still feels so wrong, for a child to be so sick."
"Maybe there is nothing you can do about what is happening to Brittany, but you can still be there for Cynthia. When her daughter dies, she will need someone. If she lets you in, be there." Chip stood up and left the room.
That night Lee Crane did not sleep much. He kept thinking about a woman with long dark hair, violet eyes and with dark honey-colored skin. About a little girl, who did not have much time left. Who would not grow to travel over Europe, would not go to college Ö.
"NO! GET OUT NOW!!!"
The shout made Crane jump out of bed and rush into the corridor. It was Cynthiaís voice and there were sounds of fighting. Just as he rounded the corner to get to her cabin, he saw Barcley literally fly into the bulkhead. A very angry and disheveled Cynthia Casavant stood over him.
"You try that again and I will have your head!" Her fists were closed and she looked ready to hit him.
Lee got between the two protagonists "WHAT is going on here?!!!"
"That man knocked on my door saying that he had a message from Chief Sharkey. When I opened it, he pushed me back and started to hit me. He kept saying that I should not be allowed on the boat, because half-breeds should not even be left to live." She took a deep breath and continued. "I guess he didnít expect me to know self-defense."
A now livid Crane looked at Barcley, then at Cynthia, who was holding a sobbing Brittany. He reached for the wall mike. "Master-at-arms, come to guest cabin B, arrest Crewman Barcley and put him in the brig." Turning to Barcley he said "Formal charges will be laid against you and I will see to it that you get what you deserve for this!"
Sharkey and Kowalski came running and took in the scene in an instant. "Come on, you slime, time to put you where you belong!" Sharkey, usually the epitome of even temper, was as angry as anyone remembered seeing him. Both men started dragging Barcley between them.
"Captain, are you going to take the word of that witch over mine? Why donít you side with your own people?" Barcley yelled as he was taken away.
By that time, both Morton and Nelson had arrived. Nelson went toward Cynthia and Brittany and started to apologize to them. Before he could even get the first word out, Cynthia cut him off.
"I would like to go back to Santa Barbara. If there is a civilian ship nearby, I donít mind being transferred. If not, Brittany and I will remain in our cabin until we reach port." With that said, she turned on her heels, closed and locked the door.
The three senior officers did not know what to say or do. This little outing had started so well.
Chip looked at Lee and then at Nelson. "I may have a suggestion." He raised his hands to silence his two superior officers. "Ms. Casavant is very protective of her daughter and they both got scared. Even if she can defend herself, she probably never expected this to happen on the Seaview. After all, we were supposed to protect them since they are our guests."
Chip took a deep breath and continued: "Lee, Ms. Casavant trusts you, I think you can talk her out of her cabin and keep the tour going, if only for Brittany."
Nelson looked pensive. "I think Chip is right. There is no need for you to be in the control room for our return to Santa Barbara. OíBrien can take up some slack, and between him and Chip, we should be able to find our way home."
Lee Crane nodded. "Sounds like a plan. Might as well try to make it work."
"I suggest you get dressed first, and then we will both talk to her." Nelson said to a grateful Lee.
"Yes, sir. Thank you."
Kowalski, Paterson and a few others were discussing the events of the early morning. General consensus was that Barcley should be keelhauled on the spot.
"What went through his mind anyway?" Riley asked.
"I donít know, but it was obvious to me that the skipper was taking this very seriously." Kowalski answered.
"Think he will end up in jail? Because I would like to throw away the key." Paterson was very disturbed by this. Ms. Casavant and her daughter were really nice. They never were in the way, nor did they seem to expect special treatment from the crew. Not like some of the scientists who were often guests of the Admiral.
"Well, I think somebody should teach some manners to Barcley." Rodriguez did not like Barcley much either. He always was insinuating things about people.
"And none of you is to do it!" All the men stood up when they heard Mr. Mortonís voice. "I know how you feel, but it would not solve the problem, it would only compound it. AND it would land the skipper in hot water. It is enough that he has to take responsibility for the crew, he does not need you to add to it."
All heads nodded and Chip Morton turned around. ĎMan, what a lousy day!!!í
Crane and Nelson were sharing the thought, waiting for an answer from the other side of the door.
"Yes?" came the soft voice.
"Ms. Casavant, this is Admiral Nelson. Captain Crane and I would like to talk with you."
The key turned in the lock and the door opened. Looking over the room, Crane saw Brittany sitting on the bed, busy with a coloring book. She looked up and smiled at him. He returned the smile and waved at her.
The little girl returned her attention to her book and tuned out the adults.
Hearing Nelsonís small gasp, Lee looked at Cynthia. His heart sank when he saw the dark bruise on the side of her face and the scratches on her neck.
"I will call the doctor, you should have this looked at." Nelson said in a tone that did not leave room for arguing.
After Doc left the room, shaking his head, Crane told Cynthia that they had turned toward Santa Barbara and that they would arrive around 1600 today. Cynthia nodded and thank him. Little Brittany was not too happy.
"But, Mom, I was supposed to look at the scuba gear with Chief Sharkey and the Admiral wanted to show me the fishes in his lab, and if we leave now, I wonít be able to do all that."
"I know honey, but this is not what I expected and it may be safer for you to stay here with me."
Nelson cleared his throat "Maybe we can salvage Brittanyís trip. We will keep going toward Santa Barbara. However, I think we can still go ahead with what was planned. Captain Crane will remain with you for the rest of the cruise. Is this OK with you Ms. Casavant?"
"Please, Mommy!" pleaded Brittany.
"I Ö , Oh, all right, we will go and see the fishes and the scuba gear. However, you are to stay close to me, is that understood?"
"Yes Mom. I love you so much!" she said, giving her mother a hug and a kiss.
Brittany took the Admiralís hand and they turned toward the lab. Not having children of his own, Nelson was intrigued by the little girlís chatter. She had such a different view of things than adults. ĎI guess what I take for ordinary and mundane was new and exciting at one point. I wonder when it stopped being so.í
Lee and Cynthia were walking silently behind. When they reached the lab, Nelson and his small guest started the visit. Brittany looked so happy and the Admiral was also enjoying himself, much to his surprise!
"Cynthia" Lee spoke softly, not wanting to disturb the two explorers; "I cannot say how sorry I am about this. I failed to protect you."
"No, you did not fail. How could you read the mind of that man? He is responsible for his own actions. Do not blame yourself."
"Canít help it, it is part of the Captainís duty, I guess. Is there anyway I can make it up to you and your daughter?"
"I donít know. Did you have something in mind?" She smiled at him and he felt something warm inside. What could it be? Did he like her that much after only two days? This was insane! But he liked being close to her, even if they were not speaking or looking at each other. She just needed to be there, in the room, and he felt that warmth.
"Would you like to go somewhere, like a picnic, when we return?"
"Yes, that would be nice."
One week later ÖÖ
Lee was putting a backpack in his car when Chip drove up next to him.
"And where are you going? Is this a private party or can anyone join in?" Chip asked with a smile.
Lee looked at his friend and decided to come clean. It would be easier that way. "Iím on my way to pick up Cynthia and Brittany. We are going for a picnic on the beach. And, no, you are not invited."
"You want to keep her for yourself?"
"Does that bother you?"
"I think she would be the best thing to happen to you in a while. Iíve noticed how you look at each other when you think nobody is paying attention. She likes you too, so you have my best wishes. Just let me know if you need a baby-sitter. Iíll transfer the call to Angie." With a laugh, Chip waved goodbye and was gone.
Lee met the Casavants in front of their apartment building. It looked old and shabby, but according to Cynthia, it was OK. She did not need much and it was filling her current needs. She worked from home translating and proofreading documents.
Brittany looked even more frail than the last time he saw her, only a week ago. A questioning look at Cynthia and she mouthed Ďlaterí. The drive to the beach was pleasant. Brittany was thrilled to ride in the bright red sports car. It made her feel important and she knew that her mom could never afford something like this. They were lucky to know Captain Crane so he could take them is his beautiful car. Wishing she were not so tired all the time, she settled in the back seat and promptly fell asleep.
Cynthia looked over her shoulder, saw her sleeping daughter and smiled. "I think we just lost a player in the back seat. The movement and sound of a car make her sleep in no time. She always was like that. I remember going for midnight drives around the block to calm her down after treatments. Iím still surprised that it worked then and still works now."
"What is happening to her? She looks so much more frail."
"Her system is shutting down. The bone marrow can barely make enough red blood cells to carry oxygen. We are scheduled to enter the hospital in two days. It will be easier for her. The pain is getting worse and she will need IV painkillers."
Lee could not bring himself to ask the next question. Cynthia sensed it and gave him the answer. "One week, ten days at most."
"I am so sorry. Do you still want to go to the beach? I donít mind."
"Please keep going. I want her to have this. I will need it too, to remember her doing something that celebrates life. I want to thank you for all you are doing for us. I never thought I would meet someone who would see my little girl as a child, not a disease or a handicap. One guy even told me to call him back when she was dead, then we could go out and there would be no Ďconstraintsí on what we could do."
Lee did not know what to say at this revelation. His mind was working overtime, trying to find something to say to her, to make things better. But it was blank. Cynthia started talking again. She did not seem to notice his lack of reply.
"Brittany made several drawings as thank-you notes for your crew. Remind me to give them to you when we get back. Theyíre actually pretty good. A lot of them have the Seaview and fishes in the foreground." Then Cynthia pointed to a small road on the left. "Turn here, go slow and we should be there in about three minutes. It is pretty secluded. Brittany does not like swimming with lots of people around."
"So I get to play lifeguard?" asked Lee, grateful for a safer subject.
"Yes, you do. Do you want me to fake drowning so you can rescue me?"
Brittany awoke to Captain Craneís laughter. They had reached the beach and Mom had started unpacking.
"Mommy, can I go in the water now? I promise not to take off my sandals."
"Yes honey, and I will go with you. Are you coming along with us?" Cynthia asked, turning to the Seaview Captain.
"Of course, I am the lifeguard after all."
The three of them removed T-shirts and jeans and walked toward the ocean. The waves were a bit cold, but not enough to turn back. Brittany wrapped her arms around her motherís neck and Cynthia started swimming, with the child in tow. After a while, Lee took over. He was a strong swimmer and the child so light; he kept going longer than Cynthia could.
After drying out a little, they spread out the blanket and took the food out of the small icebox. Somehow, everything tasted better to Lee. He looked at Cynthia, noticing the long legs, her face with the beautiful eyes that changed colors. ĎI think I am falling for her. Could Chip be right? Could she like me? She has so much on her mind now, with Brittany, I canít add my feelings to this. I wish I knew what to do or say!í
Brittany started building a sandcastle and refused any help from the two adults. They settled back on the blanket. Lee could feel Cynthiaís sun-warmed skin close to him. He took her hand in his and started examining her fingers. Her hand was slender, with long fingers. She felt warm, and so soft. With a sigh, she leaned on his shoulder.
"Thank you, Lee. This is a wonderful day."
"Thank you, Cynthia. For letting me share this with you."
"We should be going back. It has been a long day for Brittany."
Packing was done within a minimum of time and they went back up the small road. Brittany fell asleep in the car again and the drive back was quiet. When they reached the building, Cynthia asked Crane to carry the little girl up to her apartment. When Lee crossed the door, he saw a small two bedroom flat, with minimal furniture, drawings taped to the walls, a dinning table with two foldout chairs and a small couch. Cynthia took the child from him and put her in her bed, making sure the monitor was on. She kissed her daughter and walked out of the room.
Turning to Lee she said, "I have the drawings Brittany made. Let me get them." She walked into her own room and came out one minute later with a pile of papers in her hands.
Lee picked up the paper from her hands and started looking at them one by one, putting them down on the table. Cynthia was right, these were pretty good. Turning to her, he saw something in her eyes that she never let on before: pain, fear, and loneliness. He opened his arms and Cynthia flew into them. Holding on to him like she was drowning, she started crying.
"Iím sorry, I promised myself that I would not do this to you, but I canít help it." Cynthia said between sobs.
"You are so strong in all this. I cannot imagine what you are going through. I wish I could help more."
He dried her tears with his fingers, tightened his hold on her and kissed her forehead. "Cynthia, I know I should not say this to you, especially now, but I care for you and Brittany, a lot. Please let me be with you for a while. I want to help."
"Thank you. Please stay. I have been alone with this for so long, I forgot what it feels like to have someone to turn to." She raised her face and kissed him softly. "I Ö Would you stay tonight?"
"If you want me too."
"Then, stay." She kissed him again and he returned it. When it stopped, he wanted to explode with his feelings for her. This time, he started the kisses and they changed into caresses and soft sighs. She stepped back from his embrace and took his hand. Guiding him to her bedroom, she closed the door behind them.
Lee woke up, wondering where he was. Then it came back! Cynthia! She was curled against him, sleeping soundly, a small smile on her lips. He could hear the sounds coming from Brittanyís room, her breathing and the beep of the monitor. The clock radio said 0300. He tried to get back to sleep, but could not. Too many things on his mind. Next to him, Cynthia stirred and raised herself on her elbow.
"Itís only 3AM. Is this a Navy thing to have only short sleep times or is it just you?"
"A little bit of both I guess. Did I wake you up?"
"No, I usually get up for a couple of hours at this time of night. Sometimes I read, other times I watch television, but lately all that is showing are infomercials on junk nobody should need or preachers trying to leach off some poor sap out of his money."
"I think I know how to get us back to sleep." Lee said with a smile.
"And pray tell, Captain, what are you planning?"
"Kiss me and Iíll explain everything."
"I like details."
"We are gathered here today to say goodbye to Brittany Casavant." The priest was reciting the formal prayer. Cynthia was leaning heavily on Lee. Chip was close to both of them. Just in case. He did not like the look in her eyes. His friendís mother had the same look and she had let herself die of pain and grief in less than a month.
After the service, the Seaview crew came one by one to pay their respects to Cynthia. Paterson and Kowalski also included the skipper in their words. ĎHow could they know?í wondered Lee, Ďwe have not told anyone, except Chip and the Admiral.í
"I want to go home now, Lee." Cynthiaís voice was dull and filled with pain.
"Iíll drive both of you." Chip offered.
"Thank you." Lee was grateful to have friends like Chip and the Admiral. They had taken over the whole thing, the Admiral even paying for the hospital bills that Cynthia just could not keep up with. Over her protests, he said that this was a loan and that she could pay back as she could. Strangely, no one from her family showed up, even if they had been informed of Brittanyís death. The only people in the church had been from Seaview and the Institute, and one elderly lady for Cynthiaís apartment building. Cynthia did not seem surprised that no family showed up. He could not ask her why. It could wait.
When the car finally stopped, Cynthia opened her eyes. "This is not my building Chip."
"I know," Lee answered her "this is where my apartment is. I want you to move in with me. I donít want you alone in those empty rooms."
"Lee, I appreciate this, but we are not married, people will talk, they always do, and it could cause problems for you. You have done so much for me, I do not want to hurt you now."
"Too late, all your stuff is already here. The Admiral arranged everything with your former landlord. If my boss approves, I donít think anyone else would argue."
"If you say so." Cynthia agreed.
This worried Lee. She was agreeing with everything either Chip, Nelson or himself suggested. He saw the same worry on Chipís face. Taking her hand, he guided her into his home and gave he a tour. Boxes containing her belongings were in his room, Brittanyís in one of the guestroom.
"I was afraid somebody would throw away Brittanyís things. Like she never existed. I think I will unpack now." Cynthia walked into the room containing her beloved daughterís possessions, knelt by the first box and opened it. It contained some puzzles, stuffed animals, and well used toys. Each one was reviewed and replaced carefully in the box. Both men went to the kitchen for coffee.
"Think I did the right thing in bringing her here?" asked Lee.
"Yes, when my school friend died, his father removed everything from the house that could remind his mother of him. No one was allowed to talk about it. I think that was what really killed her. That she was the only one who would remember her child."
"I hope you are right Chip. I lost Brittany, I donít want to lose her mother."
"You talk as if Brittany was yours."
"Maybe she was, in my heart."
Neither noticed Cynthia, standing in the doorway. She sigh and smiled. He would let her remember and cherish her memories. He would talk about all this with her. The world seemed a little bit less gray.
Nelson was pacing in his office. The pile of paperwork was almost ready to topple over and bury whatever it landed on.
"Of all the incompetence! I have never seen such a mess! Angie!!!"
"What is the meaning of this? I asked for my research reports to be copied and made presentable for my conference. What happened? I know it is not your fault, you were on vacation, but I want the head of whoever bungled this!!"
"The temp sent by the agency was not as good as we were lead to believe, sir. I will try to get everything done by Wednesday." Angie was not worried about herself. She just hoped that Nelson would leave some of the little airhead standing so she could have a shot at her herself.
"Too much work for you alone, especially in less than two days." Nelson was dejected. So much work down the drain.
"Wow!! What happened?" Lee asked, just coming in from shore leave. "I canít leave you guys alone, can I?"
"You would not happen to know someone who could arrange all this inside of two days, would you?" Nelson asked without hope.
"What needs to be done?"
"Sorting, collating, probably proof reading and corrections. Assembling the whole thing so it makes sense to other people, not just me." Nelson clarified.
"Iíll ask Cynthia. She has this talent for going through clutter." Lee smiled, just mentioning his wife. It had taken some time but she finally said yes.
Twenty minutes later, Cynthia entered the office. "Wow! What happened? I knew you should not be left alone, sir."
Nelson rolled his eyes and just walked out of the whole mess. Lee followed him, landing a laughing kiss on his wifeís lips. Cynthia looked at his retreating back, then turned toward Angie. "What did I say?"
"Exactly the same thing as Lee, with almost the same words. I donít think the Admiral is ready to have two of you, one at sea and one on land. Come on, if we want this finished, we had better start."
Picking through the piles of folders, loose papers and notebooks, Angie and Cynthia worked in companionable silence. When she (finally!) reached the glass-protected desk, Cynthia froze. There, just were the Admiral was working, protected by the glass pane, Brittanyís thank-you picture.
"Yes, honey, you will always be remembered."