A SONG FOR LINDA
Diane Farnsworth Kachmar
He never wrote a song for Linda
He wrote as though he lived alone
He wrote of dreams that end
And of sad brave men
Exploring worlds they'd never known
But he never wrote a song for Linda
and she was right there all along
The one real thing in his crazy world
But he never wrote a Linda song
And now for something completely different!! Happy Valentines Day!
Author's Note: This is story #3, even if it is the oldest in the series and was finished 9 years before the first two. The action picks up where Crisis leaves off, but this is a love story and quite different in tone and content from the other two. The time is late October 1980 to November 1981. This story was first published in FANtasy #2, May 1985. It was reprinted (with Crisis) as a one shot fanzine in 1994. Third Revision February 2005. DFK
Lee Crane came awake slowly, savoring the crisp clean of the sheets and the softness of the infirmary bed. Seaview had docked in Santa Barbara three days ago, but he was still in Jamieson's care. At least this time it wasn't his fault.
Still, Lee wished the Russians had better aim. There was no logic to an invisible command beam, if it fried all the communications in its path. Not to mention any Flying Sub traveling through. NORAD had taken over tracking the spy satellite and had even thanked NIMR for finding it. Too bad the Institute couldn’t sue the Russians to fund the new flying sub. Their insurance company wasn't the least bit happy about paying to replace it.
Crane shifted his legs carefully on the mattress. The coral cuts were almost healed, but his ribs still ached. Next time, use the parachute. Better yet, let somebody else chauffeur.
"Captain?" A soft voice from the doorway broke into his thoughts.
"Hello, Linda." He greeted his grant coordinator with a smile.
She returned it, coming in to stand beside his bed. "I'm glad you're awake. You look better today."
"I feel better." Lee gave her a lopsided grin. "Jamie says I mend fast."
"He should know," she answered wryly and then her expression turned dismayed.
"I've been making a habit of this place, haven't I?" Crane answered.
Linda’s head came up at his rejoinder and she almost smiled back. "I take the Fifth, Captain."
He laughed. "You would."
Linda grinned this time. "You don't like being here, do you?"
"I can't do my job stuck in bed," Lee replied, shrugging.
"There's not that much to do at the moment," she assured him. "The grant's nearly wrapped. After that-- it’s up to Senator Evans." Linda did a fair imitation of his shrug.
"Have you decided to accept the Admiral's offer?"
"I’m still thinking about it," she answered slowly, her eyes searching his. "Did you have anything to say about my new contract?"
Lee pushed himself higher on the pillows, returning her gaze. "Yes. He asked me before it was drawn up. I told him truthfully I didn’t want to lose you."
"Thank you, Captain. That explains quite a bit." Linda dropped her gaze, her blond hair falling forward, not quite fast enough to hide the red flush of her cheeks.
"You do want to stay?"
"Yes. Once you’re back, we’ll finalize the Evans proposal. If he accepts it, we'll have plenty to do." Linda glanced at her watch quickly. "I have to go. Doctor Jamieson said five minutes. If you were awake."
Lee rolled his eyes toward the ceiling. "He gets like that."
She laughed, but quickly brought it under control and glanced at her watch again. "I really should--"
"Linda." Lee propped himself up on one elbow. "Have I thanked you for asking Gil to search islands for us?"
"The Admiral already did," she answered quickly. "I thought you might have--" Linda trailed off, ducking her head again, as her cheeks flared.
"You thought right. If you hadn't sent Gil, they might not have found us."
"I know. I had this feeling." Her hands twisted around each other. "I had to do something."
He reached out, taking her clasped hands in his. "I never realized you--"
Linda’s hands started to tremble. She pulled loose and turned away, but not before he caught sight of her eyes, brimming with unshed tears. Then Linda ran from the room. By the time Lee found his voice to call her back, she had disappeared out the far door.
What had he done to deserve that? Spent most of the year hiding in a bottle. Lee had learned to seek out his friends now when he felt low and needed company. Apparently, he had another friend he hadn't known about. Wait a minute. Last time he was here, she was around. Until Jamie had remarked how helpful she had been. Linda had become embarrassed and quickly left, citing work. How much more help had he failed to notice? Now, she was responsible for their rescue. For that she deserved a special thank you. Lee lay back on his pillows, thinking. There had to be something he could do.
* * * * * *
Crane soon decided, but Linda didn't visit the next day. It was possible she got tied up doing something he should be doing. The painkiller Jamie had him on put him to sleep about an hour after taking it, so Lee was sleeping more than he really wanted to. It was late the following afternoon when he finally heard her voice again in his doorway.
Crane gestured her inside, smiling a greeting, as he quickly put aside the reports Chip had brought him to read. "I see this isn't social," he said as he saw the stack of folders in her arms. "You’ve been busy."
"Yes," Linda replied. "These all need your signature."
"Okay, let's have them." Crane pulled his clipboard back into his lap, extending his hand for the first folder.
She quickly flipped it open. "Here and here."
It took a while to complete the stack. Lee leaned back against his pillow as she restacked the folders carefully. He closed his eyes for a moment, feeling tired. Damn medicine.
"Sir?" Linda’s formal tone brought his eyes open again. She stood stiffly beside his bed. "I need to apologize for my emotional behavior the other day, I--"
Lee raised his hand slightly. "No need."
She dropped her head. "I was way out of line."
He shrugged. "You didn't do anything wrong."
"Thank you, Captain." She sounded relieved. It was hard to tell with her hair hanging down over her cheeks. "I'm sorry."
He raised an eyebrow. "One apology is sufficient, Miss Allen."
"Yes, sir," she answered resigned and shifted her folders.
"I have something to say to you, too. I thought maybe when I got out of here-- you might consider--" Lee sought her eyes. "Would you allow me take you out to dinner?"
"Dinner, Captain?" Linda was surprised.
"As a thank you."
"You don't have to. I really didn't do anything."
"Yes, you did. Please?"
A shy smile came to her lips. "I’d love to." Linda began fiddling with her folders. "I have to get back to the office."
"All right. You will call me if you need anything else?"
"Of course," she answered. "The Doctor said to tell you to stop fighting the medication and go to sleep."
Lee sighed. "So now he’s enlisting you to do his dirty work?"
"Sleep well, Captain.” Linda smiled down at him. “You won’t be here much longer."
Crane gazed up at her. “From your lips to the Doctor’s ear.”
“I’ll put in a good word for you. Promise.” And with that, she left again.
* * * * * *
Linda's hand strayed to her skirt as she heard the car pull up outside. She smoothed the fabric nervously. On time, as usual. Don't keep him waiting. She heard his slow footsteps out on the porch. Her hand went to her skirt again, but she snatched it away. It was so ridiculous to be nervous. They had been working together a year now. He feels he has a duty to thank me. She would have accepted words, but Crane didn't work that way. Linda made herself walk calmly to the door.
She opened it at his knock, taking a moment before greeting him. The navy blue jacket complemented his dark, good looks, as did the blue striped shirt and navy tie. He had also gotten a hair cut. She liked the way his locks curled when they grew long enough, which wasn’t very often. About as often as she saw him in civvies. Crane was leaning slightly on a black cane. After the argument he'd had with Jamieson about using it, she was a little surprised to see him with it. Will had probably refused to release him otherwise. Linda smiled softly. "Hi," she ventured.
"Hi." His eyes took her in for a moment. "You ready to go?"
"Yes, let me get my coat." Linda turned to go back in and then stopped. "Would you like to sit down?" She gestured him inside.
Crane smiled wryly as he came in after her, his steps carefully stiff. "No, thanks. It's bad enough we have to bring my friend along."
"I don't mind," she assured him, taking up her jacket and purse from the sofa. "I'm ready now."
"You look great," he said, his voice dropping as he shifted awkwardly.
She was glad her hair covered her heated cheeks as she pretended to check the clasp on her purse. For all her agonizing, she had chosen the right dress; her pale blue silk was exactly right for his navy.
"I don't recall seeing you wear that to the office."
She heard him take a few steps toward her and she quickly raised her head.
"It's too dressy," she answered, as he stopped beside her. "And not very efficient."
He laughed. "True, but it is becoming. I like it."
"Thank you." Linda wished she could tell him how handsome he was; despite the fact his dark coat emphasized his gauntness so much more than his khakis did. There was nothing she could do about that until the Captain was back in the office.
Crane extended his arm. "May I escort you out?"
Linda took his arm gingerly, being careful not to put him off balance. He was recovered enough to take her, but she still wished she could drive. To insist on that would only hurt his feelings. Linda buried her misgivings deep as Crane led her to the passenger side and opened the door for her. She quickly slid into the seat. Linda enjoyed riding in his yellow and black Camaro. It was a beautiful car, not what she had expected him to have.
They talked shop all they way into Santa Barbara; it was the easiest conversation to keep going. She hadn't asked where he had reservations. Linda suddenly realized she should have, when he pulled into Molinaro's. Crane would pick the most expensive restaurant in town. She had never been there, but Marion had made many reservations there for VIP visitors.
It was too late now. The whole layout as they were shown to their quiet back table too subtly screamed money. Her menu had no prices on it. She immediately thought of a saying she had heard in college. If you have to ask, you can't afford it. Linda quickly ordered ginger ale and studied the menu, feeling a bit overwhelmed.
"Decided, Linda?" The Captain asked a few moments later, as she tried to figure out something that wouldn't be expensive.
"The salmon sounds good." It was near the top of the menu and sometimes entrees were arranged by price, but she had a feeling everything was expensive here. "And a Cobb salad, with tea." The waiter left with their order as she tried to think of another topic of conversion. They couldn't talk about the grant all night. Somewhere off to her right soft music played. She had no idea what kind of music he liked.
He spoke suddenly, scattering her thoughts. "Like it?"
"It's very impressive, Captain."
"Chip says it reminds him of a renaissance drawing room, only he's still looking for the rich Medici widow." Lee laughed softly.
"I thought Commander Morton was dedicated to staying single."
"Only until he meets the right girl."
Linda didn't know how to take his light tone; Crane never told jokes in the office. "You've known Commander Morton for a long time, haven't you?"
"Yes, we roomed together at Annapolis. He was full of schemes, even then."
"I thought, with all the discipline there, that wouldn't be allowed."
"Oh, it wasn't. You see, Morton isn't normal." He leaned across the table, giving her a conspiratorial wink.
"No. You have to wait for a full moon," Crane answered, deadpan.
She cocked her head. "You're teasing me."
"Yes," he admitted. "You don't mind, do you?"
"No," Linda smiled shyly, before dropping her gaze to the table. Morton teased her sometimes, but Crane never had.
Luckily, the food came and she could concentrate on her plates. They could only comment on the food so long. There had to something intelligent they could talk about.
"Captain," She looked across the table at him. "Why is herculite a superior hull material over steel?"
He gave her a strange look; half surprised, half quizzical.
"Is it classified?" she asked quickly.
"No. Why do you want to know?"
She shrugged. "Curiosity. Seaview looks so beautiful moving through the water."
"Doesn't she though." Crane’s voice went warm for a moment, before he leveled his dark hazel eyes on her. "It's a little hard to explain to a layman. Do you know anything about Levine's theory of packing?"
"Taken to the fifth level?"
"Yes. The units are packed so tightly together that an outside force has no stress point to work on."
"That's right." The Captain gave her his measuring look. She had seen him use it on others, trying to size them up. Linda met his gaze.
"What did you study at Berkeley?"
"Anything that impacts my field. You have to know about machines if you expect to work with them."
"True. Only they don't teach Levine. He hasn't been accepted by mainstream engineers."
"I looked him up."
Abruptly, Crane smiled. "All right. Maybe you can follow me. The Admiral always asks me to explain to our visitors and I'm sure I lose them the minute I go into the theory. They nod and look blank. We've been in operation for six years without an incident, but the Navy still won't change over. It would cut their upkeep in half."
"Some people can't accept change. They do it one way for so long--"
"--they don't know another way. I know." He smiled wryly. "You sure you want to hear this? I can be pretty boring."
She smiled. "I would like to know, if you don't mind telling me."
"No, I don’t mind."
She never realized how involved the bonding process was. It looked like fiberglass, except for the silver sheen. The molding process alone was seven stages. The waiter came and went with dessert, looking askance at several diagrams hastily drawn in the Captain's pocket notebook. He returned with their check. Linda winced at the amount the Crane gave him. It didn't bother him. All he wanted to know was if she had a good time. She assured him she had. He really enjoyed talking about his submarine, continuing to explain her capabilities all the way home.
They pulled into her town house driveway. She waited for Crane to come around to get the car door. She let go of his arm at her doorway, pulling out her key.
"Would you like to come in?" she invited, hating to keep him standing on his injured legs.
"No, I'll be going. I've bored you quite enough tonight."
"No," she replied emphatically. "I had a wonderful time."
"So did I," Crane replied softly. "Thank you, Linda." He took her hand in his and squeezed it. "I'll see you Monday."
Linda watched him from the doorway as he got into the car and drove away. It was a dinner she would not soon forget.
* * * * * *
Nelson glanced up at the sound of Lee Crane's voice.
"Here's the performance report you asked for." Lee came into the office. Harry took the paper he extended.
Harry glanced through it briefly and then laid put in his in box. "Right on time."
Lee shrugged. "Anything else you wanted today?"
Nelson shook his head. "No, that should do it."
"Then I'm giving Linda the afternoon off."
"Fine. Don't forget the reception tonight."
"I'll be there." Crane did not sound very enthusiastic.
Harry smiled. "This bunch is much better than the last group we had through here."
"Anything would be better than--" Lee stopped. "Sorry. You know how I feel about politicians."
"Unfortunately, they are part of all our government grants."
"Yes, sir." Lee turned to go. "I'll be my office if you need anything else."
"Why? You and Linda are current or she wouldn't take off." Harry glowered at Lee. "Take the afternoon off, too. Go surfing or something."
"Surfing?" Lee looked bewildered.
"You know what I mean, son," Nelson replied quietly.
"Aye, sir." Crane smiled faintly. "Can I borrow your board?"
"Only if you bring it back in one piece," Harry growled. "Now scram. That's an order, mister."
Lee brought his hand up in a semi-salute.
It felt so good to be able to tease Crane again. "Oh, tell Linda she's invited, too."
"Nobody's safe around here."
"Nothing. I'll remind her. See you tonight."
Harry watched him leave and turned back to the papers in front of him. Jamieson had been right about Lee. Crane was more his old self than he’d been in months. Now, if only they could keep it going.
* * * * * *
Linda looked up as Crane walked into the office. She wrote the last name on the detail list and placed the paper in Marion's box for typing and posting.
"Well, was it fast enough?"
He smiled. "He wasn't expecting it, so we're off the hook. I see you've finished off everything else." Crane gestured at her empty in basket.
"There wasn't that much to do."
"Must be our lucky day."
"We are too efficient. I'm giving you the afternoon off, so he decided to give me the afternoon off."
"That's wonderful, Captain."
Crane leaned down on her desk. "There's a catch, though. The Admiral wants you at the reception tonight."
"I'm only the grant coordinator--"
"That's no protection."
He straightened, looking at her intently. "You've never been to a VIP reception before, have you?"
"No, I went to the last grant acceptance speech. Isn't that about the same?"
"Not really." Crane continued to look at her and she thought he would explain, but he shrugged instead. "Maybe it's me. Never mind. So--" The Captain straightened the papers in her out box unconsciously. "--what are your plans for the rest of the afternoon?"
"I haven't made any."
"The Admiral said I should go surfing," he said, with distaste.
"You surf?" she asked, surprised.
"No," Crane answered flatly.
"Oh." Linda dropped her head, embarrassed. Private joke. Real smart move.
He remained silent, riffling the papers in her out box. "I'm sorry, Linda," he said suddenly. "That wasn't fair. These dinners-- I mean-- the people, they are so-- " It was strange for Crane to have to search for words, he always knew exactly what he wanted. "I don't like them," he finally said.
"Then why go?"
"I can't disappoint the Admiral."
"Of course not. What time should I be there?"
"We need to greet the VIPS when they arrive. You can come with me."
"You wouldn't mind?"
"No. Can you be ready by 18:15?"
"That's formal dress, isn't it?"
"I'd better be going." Linda pulled her purse from the bottom drawer of her desk. "Shall I tell Marion to close up shop?"
"No, I have a few things to square away. Let me do it."
"I'll see you tonight. Thanks for the afternoon off. I hope you enjoy yours."
"Oh, sure, I love polishing brass."
She looked at him a moment, not sure what he meant. Then Crane smiled. She returned it with relief. She was getting more used to his teasing and wished she knew better how to recognize it. Maybe tonight would help.
* * * * * *
There was something different about this VIP reception. It didn't drag like others in the past, plus Lee had a responsibility to see Linda had an enjoyable time. Yet, it was her sly wink kept Crane from losing his temper when Senator Wilkins wouldn't stop talking party politics over dessert.
The orchestra had begun playing and there were a few couples out on the dance floor. Lee picked up Linda’s ginger ale from the bar, heading back to their seats. He hadn't told her why he was having tomato juice. He was driving, that was reason enough. He hadn't known she was allergic to alcohol. He should be so lucky.
His friends hadn't given up on him and now Lee no longer needed several stiff drinks to get through one of these. The days when music brought memories of laughing emerald green eyes, gazing up at him, glowing with love as they spun round and round the dance floor. Lee forced that memory of Cathy from his mind, feeling a sudden twinge of pain. They believed in me. I owe them for standing beside me until I found my way. Get moving. Linda's waiting.
He found her talking with Chip. Lee wondered how long it would take his Exec to notice she was alone. She did look different in a long dress. Crane smiled to himself. That's what she had said about his service blues.
"Hi, Lee." Morton greeted him, grinning widely. "You bring that for me?"
"Not quite. Here, Linda."
"Thank you, Captain."
"I have to get my own?"
"That's right. Don't worry, there's plenty left."
"Won't be by the time I get done. If you'll excuse me?"
"You know, Skipper, you really shouldn't leave her unattended. Somebody else might decide they need assistance." Morton winked at Linda and then walked off toward the bar.
Lee shook his head, sitting down in the seat Chip had vacated. "He wasn't trying to pick you up, was he?"
"No, just shop talk. Chip is quite sweet, actually, once he stops trying for a date."
"He asked you out?"
"Once. Last year. Commander Morton and I have an understanding. I'm not his type."
"Oh." Not really knowing what else to say, Lee fell silent. He watched the dancers going by. He smiled when Chip showed up with Senator Wilkins' wife. There would be a pool by now, betting when she'd fall out of her dress. Crane looked around for the Admiral, but couldn't spot him. Lee glanced over at Linda. She was really enjoying the music and smiled broadly when she saw Chip. Crane wondered why Morton hadn't asked her to dance. She would be a much better partner.
Linda appeared content to stay with him, but that wasn’t right, she should be dancing. Suddenly aware of his gaze, Linda turned toward him and the words tumbled out. "Would you like to dance?" he found himself asking.
Linda looked at him, surprised and then she smiled. "Yes, I'd love to dance."
Lee rose, extending his hand. She took it, following him out onto the floor, sliding into his arms fluidly. After a few steps, it started coming back. He spun Linda experimentally and she came back to him. It felt good, holding her close. Looking down into her sea green eyes, for a moment, it could almost be the past, except Lee knew that he couldn’t go back. It would never be the same. Crane shook his head slightly, to scatter those memories. Stay in the here and now. And watch where his feet were going.
* * * * * *
Nelson smiled from his vantage point behind the band, watching Lee and Linda out on the dance floor. That was more like it. Harry knew giving Lee someone to look after would bring him out. From the pleased look on Linda Allen's face, he hadn't been wrong there, either. Nelson had suspected there was more to her than she let show. Linda was one very organized grant coordinator. They made a fine couple. Harry shook his head. It might never come to that. Lee looked happy, though. Sometimes Crane only needed a small push in the right direction.
* * * * * *
Before Linda realized the time, the reception was breaking up. All the guests had been seen to and they were free to leave. Crane didn't have much to say on the drive home. Linda was content to sit, remembering the music and his strong hands guiding her. The car swung into her town house driveway much too soon. She waited for him to come around and get her car door. The Captain followed her up to the front door.
"Well, I'll say goodnight. I had a better time than I expected."
"Different crowd this time?"
"You could say that." His eyes traveled over her. "Thanks for going with me."
"Thanks for taking me. I had no idea you could navigate a dance floor so well."
She caught his shy smile. "I'm out of practice. Surely, you had better partners. The Admiral doesn't dance with everyone."
"I felt so clumsy. What if I had stepped on his foot?"
"Nelson is a gentleman. He wouldn't have said a word."
"Now you tell me, Captain," she teased.
Crane looked at her a long moment. "Do you have to call me that all the time?" he asked quietly.
"What else am I supposed to call you?"
"I have a first name."
"I know. But you're my boss--"
"Chip asks you to assist him and you don't call him Commander all the time."
"That's different. Chip is--"
"--your friend, while I'm--"
"I didn't say that!” Linda interrupted. “In Chip's case it isn't that critical. How would it look to outsiders if I ignored your position?"
"Do you think I care what they think?"
"Yes, I do. Especially, if it will reflect badly on the Admiral." She dropped her head. "I don't want to give them anything to talk about." Linda grew red with embarrassment. She hadn't meant to say that.
Linda suddenly felt his hand under her chin, tilting her head up. "People will always talk. You'll find most of it isn't worth listening to." Crane looked deep into her eyes. "I realize it's difficult for you. I appreciate you trying to follow the proper military courtesy." His thumb brushed along the edge of her jaw as he withdrew his hand. "When we're off duty--" he caught himself. "I mean, when we're at a social function, you can use my first name."
"All right. I'll try to remember-- Lee," she answered tentatively.
Crane smiled down at her, his face lighting up. "You've been a good friend. I don't appreciate you enough."
Linda fought her embarrassment down. "I don't have any complaints."
He took her hand in his. "Thanks for going with me."
"I enjoyed it."
Crane let go of her hand. "See you tomorrow."
"Good night, Lee."
* * * * * *
Linda carried the master report with the attendant copies back into the office with a feeling of triumph. They had brought the grant in a week ahead of schedule. Now Lee was back in the office full time, things were really rolling.
She had felt so hamstrung during Crane’s convalescence. Chip tried to help, but he could only do so much. Then he'd take her down to the Admiral. Linda was feeling more comfortable with Nelson. The Admiral's reputation was much more daunting than the man. She heard voices from Lee's office. She found Chip perched on the desk as she came in. She walked around to Lee's side, placing the report down in front of him.
"Hi,” Morton greeted her. "I was wondering where you were."
"Hello, Chip," she answered. "I've been working, which is more than I can say for some individuals."
"That's the whole trouble around here, everybody's working. It's Friday afternoon."
"It's still a work day, Chip, at least for thirty more minutes." Lee said, lifting the top paper. "What do I need to do on these?" he asked, looking up at her.
"They need your approval and signature. I thought I'd send the whole package off Monday."
Lee thumbed through the first few pages, scanning the data. "This is good. That Tuesday dive really sealed the case, didn't it?"
Linda nodded. "It only needed collating after that. I couldn't see waiting." His praise made her feel warm inside.
"Don't tell me you've finished the Sullivan grant." Chip reached for one of the reports. "That still has a week to run."
"You keep telling us we're efficient, Chip." Lee looked over at his Exec. "Now you see why." Crane reached for his pen as he continued to read the report. After a few moments, he put it down and signed it. "Looks like you covered everything."
"Maybe I should borrow your assistant for my eight o'clock reports," Morton teased.
Morton put the report down on the desk in front of Lee. "Now look, if you're a week ahead, there is no reason you can't come to the party."
"I don't know, Chip."
Linda gathered up the reports from under Crane's elbow. She hoped Chip could convince him to go. There was nothing else that had to be done today. She quietly went back to her desk, their voices carrying through the open door between the offices.
"We need you, Lee. Stu's quick off the mark but he has neither your aim nor range. Besides he's a sucker for Kowalski's inside fake."
"Didn't you tell him to watch Ski's stance?"
"He always leans slightly left when he's going to fake. Gives him away every time."
"That's why we made you quarterback in the first place. You're the only one who noticed moves like that."
"It only takes observation."
"Who has time for that during a football game, especially with Bronowski after you?"
Lee laughed. "Don't let him catch you, Chip."
"Well, he's on our team, now. It was easier when you called the plays. We miss you out there, bud."
"I haven't touched a football since--" Lee's voice went soft. "More than a year, at least."
"It'll come back," Morton encouraged. "Beats hanging around here."
"All right, maybe this once. You sure you want me?"
"Of course, we want you. I asked, didn’t I?”
"Still meet at the same place?"
"Yep. Got any charcoal lying around?"
"I'll get some. Need anything else?"
"No, we're covered. Hey, why don't you ask Linda to come too?"
"It's not my party, Chip."
"Then you don't mind if I ask her."
"Be my guest."
"Man, once the Forecastle sees that suit of hers--"
"And when did you see her in a swim suit?" Lee asked quietly.
Morton laughed. "You're not the only one who dives around here. Think she'll go?"
"You'll have to ask her."
Linda dropped her eyes to the report in front of her as she heard Chip approach. She waited until he perched on the edge of her desk before she looked up.
"Got some unfinished business," he announced.
"I was wondering if you'd come to our party?"
"Sure, why not."
"It's lots of fun."
"Is that why you invited me?"
"Of course." Morton grinned at her innocently.
"And here I thought you liked the way I look in my bathing suit." She dropped it on him.
To her surprise, Chip got embarrassed. A red flush crept up from his collar to his cheeks. "Aww, Linda."
She reached out quickly, taking up his hand and squeezing it. "I was only teasing you, Chip. Don't worry about it."
"I didn't mean to sound so--" Morton started to apologize.
"I told you, she doesn't miss much, Chip." Lee's voice came from the doorway.
"I've got a few errands to run. See you two later."
They shared a smile after his departure.
"Do you know what you agreed to?" Lee asked lightly.
"Are they really that bad?" Linda matched his tone.
"No. I'll show you where they meet if you'd like."
"Thanks. I've heard the music. I could follow it, but--" She laughed. "I'd rather have the company."
"Then I'll pick you up at your town house, say in about an hour?"
"It shouldn't take that long. Why don't you drop by as soon when you're ready?"
"Okay. You go and I'll tell Marion to close up. See you in a little while."
* * * * * *
At first Linda wasn't sure they would let her play. No one laughed; they only looked at each other doubtfully. She could feel their eyes on her, weighing her size.
Chip shrugged. "It's only touch."
"And we are one short." Kowalski added. "We'll take her." He glanced at his teammates; they made various gestures of acquiescence.
"You want six to even it up?" Chip asked.
"She won't be a liability, Chip," Lee broke in quietly. "In fact, they should probably give us six, as rusty as I am."
None of the others believed that. Finally Chip held up his hands, silencing their voices. "All right, we'll start even. Channel marker 7 is one goal, the stairs the other, okay?”
Kowalski lost the toss and Linda followed him down the beach to kick off. She smiled as she heard Chip admonish his players. "Remember, anything above the waist is an automatic fifteen, so watch it."
"They're supposed to be gentlemen, Chip," Lee reminded him wryly, but she didn't catch Chip's answering smart remark as Kowalski beckoned her over. He assigned her to cover Malone, the shortest player on Chip's team. All she had to do was keep her man out of the play.
Apparently, Lee had once been the leader of Chip's team. The Captain refused to be in charge, but he did agree to play quarterback. Stu Riley stepped aside gladly. It would be interesting to see how good Lee was.
"It's weird to play 5 man ball, again," Patterson said to Kowalski as he made a few practice kicks. "If Chip gets the Skipper to come back, then we'll have to replace Dave Wilson."
"We don't know the Skipper's coming back. It was the missus that brought him in the first place. He probably has more important stuff to do now."
"Yeah, you're right. It sure surprised me to see him here."
"I think they're ready down there," Nick Peatty broke in. "Kick us a long one, Pat."
"Okay, here goes."
She had wondered what being one of the boys was like. Linda suspected Chip had told Malone to go easy on her, but after she tagged Lee behind the line Boots got more aggressive. It took a while for the other side to get together, but she could see the game turning in their favor. Not that Nick couldn't hit Pat or Randy when they were open, but Chip was everywhere in the backfield. Nick didn't have much time before Bronowski broke through. Her side was better at defense. Kowalski had a terrific rush. If they tried to double team him, she or Pat would get through.
Lee was fast and could get the ball off quicker than Nick. If Bronowski took out either Randy or Nick, a score by either Chip or Stu was pretty inevitable. Despite the captain's protests of being rusty, he could put the ball where he wanted it.
Linda thought briefly about asking Nick to take her off the line to cover Chip, but she hesitated. They were letting her play. They might not appreciate any suggestions and she was having far too much fun to leave the game now. Peatty decided to shift her on his own, to run interference for Pat and let Randy play the line for a while. Now Linda felt she was helping, that and Kowalski's slap on the shoulder acknowledging a good play.
They managed to score after that, tying it up again, but then Lee sneaked his way to a touchdown. From the disgusted looks of her teammates, they had been taken in by that play before. It took a long set of downs but they finally managed a touchdown at the end. It was becoming harder and harder to find ways to fool the other team.
Linda was running when she heard Pat yell her name. She turned and saw him barely ahead of Bronowski and then the ball was coming straight for her. Linda concentrated, getting under it, pulling the ball to her. She knew with a head start Malone couldn't catch her. All she had to do was run. Linda could see the buoy in front of her. Only a few more yards.
Something struck her around the hips. The force of the hit spun her. Linda felt herself falling, tripping over someone. In midair, she was twisted. Don't drop the ball. Linda waited to hit. Whoever tackled her was in for it, this close to a touchdown. The sand came rushing up, but she landed on something softer. He went limp beneath Linda, his arms falling away from her hips. She quickly scrambled off, still clutching the ball. Linda turned around and the ball slipped from suddenly nerveless fingers. No, not him. The next instant, she was kneeling, grasping his shoulders, pulling him up. Lee made a half-hearted attempt to push her away, as he doubled over, breathing in ragged gasps. "'s. . . okay," he whispered, his face red.
Linda did not let go, but slid behind him, holding him up with her body. She heard Chip yell, "Time out" and found herself surrounded by the other players. Lee's hand closed around her arm as he raised his head. "You all. . . right?"
"I'm fine," she answered.
"Look out, now." Chip pushed his way through, dropping to the sand beside Lee.
"I was about to. . . land on you." Crane grinned sheepishly. "I . . . couldn't let you . . . score."
“Might have been better,” Linda answered. “Tackling's a fifteen yard penalty." She gestured at the nearness of the goal.
"I got . . . carried away," Crane admitted.
"And Will may come and do that," Chip growled, running his hand along Lee's rib cage. "Does it feel like you cracked anything?"
"All she did was . . . knock the wind . . . out of me," Lee answered, disgusted. "I miscalculated."
"You're too light to be a tackle!"
"I couldn't . . . land on her. I meant to tag. . . and roll free, not knock her over. I was moving too fast and--"
"Two person pile-up!" Riley injected.
"Right." Lee shook his head. "I've lost the timing. There is a right way. . . to bring someone down--” He looked up at Morton accusingly. "I told you I'm rusty!"
Chip smiled. "A little out of practice," he granted, amused.
The others chorused agreement and Riley suggested Crane had been teaching Linda some of his moves on the side.
"She doesn't need my help, Stu," Crane answered quietly.
Linda ducked her head to hide her embarrassment. It was bad enough she had fallen on him. Lee was still much too thin and the flying sub crash two months ago hadn't helped. All she could do was make sure there was something tempting to eat by the coffee.
"Well, you don't have fifteen to get." Chip looked up at Kowalski. "Half the distance would make it 1st and 2 on the 2."
Ski looked at his teammates. They indicated agreement.
"Fine," Pat said.
"Of course, we could leave it a draw." Kowalski stated with a grin. "After all, I'd hate to take advantage of you, with your star player down."
"Look, Ski." Lee sat up. "I'm not--"
Ski looked down, his grin getting wider. "Skipper, we could argue all day, but the tide has turned and some of us--"
"Don't tell me, surf's up."
"You got it, Skipper," Riley replied.
"Draw?" Morton asked Kowalski.
"Draw. We'll beat you next week."
Chip turned back to Lee. "Are you sure your ribs are okay?"
"Yes, Chip." Crane did not hide his exasperation.
"Okay, then let's go hit the water."
They moved off down the beach where Linda could see several wetsuits hung up and boards standing in the sand. Chip hung back for a moment.
"Make sure you assist him," he said, winking slyly.
She felt Lee tense under her hands and start to rise. Linda was glad the football was out of reach. She tightened her grip on Lee's shoulder to distract him. He turned toward her. By that time, Chip was out of range.
"I'm sorry. They get out of hand, sometimes."
"I've noticed. They don't mean any harm."
"They like you."
"Of course. I'm your assistant."
"No, if they didn't want you around, you'd know. Rank doesn't get you anything here, except as a target." Crane smiled. "It gives the juniors a chance to get out from under the discipline." His expression grew thoughtful. "With you--" Lee shrugged. "They like you, period." He looked up at her intently. "You never told me you played football."
"It isn't something that comes up working on marine biology grants."
Lee laughed. "No, I guess not. You're good."
"Lots of practice in Long Beach. Neighborhood tomboy."
"Well, next time you'll have to play for our team."
"What would Chip say?"
"That you'd be an asset." Lee extended his hand suddenly. "Want to go watch the hot dogs surf?"
"I'd like that." Linda took his hand, scrambling to her feet. Sensing he did not want help, she stood still while he gained his feet. Then she followed him down the beach. His hand felt warm in hers. Linda was glad she had decided to stay on another year.
Sitting on the sand, watching the surfers and listening to Crane’s stories of their various escapades, she felt a growing contentment. Ever since the crash, Lee had been different. Linda liked being teased by him and she hoped there would be more times like this.
* * * * * *
"You can put your shirt back on now," Jamieson directed, turning away to fill in the chart.
Lee put his hand into the right sleeve, shrugging the khaki over his shoulders. Then he put his left hand through the other sleeve. Crane had thought Jamie's temper would improve once he submitted to the examination, but it hadn't. He buttoned up the shirt, keeping his eyes downcast. Lee hadn't been deliberately trying to avoid the physical. With one-hundred-twenty-four other crew members to process, Jamieson had plenty to do. He felt fine; it could wait.
The doctor muttered something to himself.
"Everything check out okay, Jamie?" Crane asked quietly.
"No, damn it!" Jamieson whirled around to face him, his eyes wrathful, as he flung his pencil down on the chart. "You're still underweight. And anemic." Will ran a hand through his thin hair distractedly. "This has to stop!"
"What else can I do?" Lee pushed off the examining table, tucking his shirt tail in. "I've been trying to do what you told me to."
"Everything?" Jamie raised an eyebrow.
"Whatever I've had time for."
"Specifics, Lee. How much and when?"
Lee shifted, leaning back against the exam table. "I always try to have more than coffee for breakfast and make a decent supper if I get home early enough."
"If?" The Doctor scowled. "I told you three meals a day."
"Jamie! I don't have a schedule. I have people to see, places to go--"
"And a boat to run." Will picked up the chart. "I've heard this before, Lee. I'll tell you again. You keep this up and you'll end up right back here."
"No, not again." Crane pushed away from the table. "I can't command lying --”
"And you'll never heal if you don't start taking better care of yourself." Jamieson shoved the chart into his hands. "One hundred-fifty-three pounds. That's way too low. You should weigh one-seventy-five."
"I've never weighed a hundred-seventy-five."
"I know." Will smiled wryly. "I would be content with ten more pounds." He pressed his hand against Lee's side suddenly. "I can find your ribs without even trying." Jamie removed his hand and took back the chart. "Now, do I have to supervise your meals?"
"No," Lee answered, resigned. "I'll try harder."
"See that you do." Will put a light hand on his shoulder. "You could probably get Linda to bring you back something, if you are too busy to get out for it yourself."
"She does think I need some fattening up."
"Oh?" Jamieson looked at him quizzically. "She say something?"
"Not in words, Jamie."
The Doctor grinned.
Lee smiled at Will's teasing. "It's the way she acts sometimes."
"How so?" Jamie's grin widened as he dropped his hand.
"Now remember, either you gain ten pounds by your next checkup, or you'll stay here until you do."
"I've never been one to gain weight," Lee countered.
Jamieson went over to his files. After a few minutes of riffling through the various folders, he pulled out a printed sheet. "You follow this and I guarantee you'll gain weight."
Crane folded the sheet carefully, tucking it into his front shirt pocket. "All right, I'll try, but I can't promise anything. Can I go now?" He tugged his shirt into place, looping his tie around his neck.
"Let me guess. You are needed on the boat." Will smiled.
"She's a very demanding lady."
"Make sure she doesn't take too much."
Lee paused in the doorway. "I do my job, Jamie. It works best that way. All the way around."
* * * * * *
"Listen, I really appreciate you staying late to help me collate that report. I'm sorry it was such short notice." Lee pushed open the front door of the main administration building. He held it, gesturing Linda to go first. He followed her out and then locked the door behind them.
"Don't worry about it," Linda hastily reassured him. "It wasn't your fault . . . Lee." She still felt strange calling the Captain by his first name, but it was getting easier. He liked it.
Crane smiled-- the smile he gave his friends. "Let me walk you home."
"No, your town house is in the opposite direction. It’s out of your way."
"I want to. Besides, it looks like rain."
"I'll be fine, Lee," she insisted, touched by his concern. Something in his expression made her relent. She did enjoy his company. "Well, it is late."
Crane’s eyes lighted up, turning amber for a moment. She was glad to see it. The somber quietness, so much a part of him when she first came here, was much less evident now.
"You're on the north end?"
"Yes, number 27."
They walked down the main street of the Institute, under the yellow street lights. A freshening breeze blew in from the ocean carrying the damp tang of salt. Thunder rumbled distantly.
"Smells like rain too," Lee observed suddenly.
"Not the best night for walking."
"No. I wish the stars were out." Crane gazed upwards. "They make you feel closer to the earth somehow." Lee usually didn't talk like that. His voice was wistful and soft.
"You like the stars, don't you?"
"If you could see them, I'd show you the Seven Sisters, Cassiopeia, Orion and Polaris, the North Star. They call it the Sailor's star because it’s a navigational bearing at sea. We used to use it more before navigational computers." Lee paused, pointing upward. "Tonight, it would about there."
Linda stopped next to him, looking up.
"Did you see it?" he asked softly.
"No, there are too many clouds." She was suddenly aware of how close he was.
"I didn't, either," Lee answered as he looked down at her.
She dropped her eyes, disconcerted. "Maybe some night when it's clear you could show me," Linda said softly, not wanting Crane to go back to his usual, polite demeanor.
"I'd like that." Lee grinned shyly at her.
She made herself look into his eyes. He'd really like to.
His dark eyes roved her upturned face. He raised his hand, laying it hesitantly on her shoulder.
A sudden loud clap of thunder startled them both. Lee dropped his hand quickly and stepped back, looking skyward in concern. A quick thrumming began toward the sea. Raindrops began to splatter around them.
"Oh!" Linda exclaimed, as the rain began to fall harder. She felt something draped over her shoulders. The sleeves of Lee's brown jacket fell in front of her.
"Here," Lee said, almost in her ear. "Let's make a run for it. It's not that far." He took her hand in his and tugged.
"Lee, wait. I can't run in heels." Linda kicked off her pumps, bending to recover them. Crane's jacket began to slide.
Lee tugged the jacket back into place. "Ready?"
She nodded, pushing her shoes under the jacket.
She couldn't have kept up with Crane, but his grip on her hand compensated for his longer stride. Linda trusted him as he left the road and began running through yards. In a few moments they were back on another road and then she saw her complex ahead. They sprinted up the walk, up the stairs and onto the small porch. Off balance, she tripped on the last stair and fell against him. He caught her in his arms, helping her back to her feet.
"See, we made it. I told you I'd get you home safe."
"How'd you know which yards to cross?"
Lee smiled. "Family secret." He stood, looking at her with a crooked grin, the rain dripping off his hair. His soaked khaki shirt clung to him.
"You're dripping, Captain." Linda felt an uncontrollable urge to giggle.
"So are you."
She slid off his jacket. "Here, you'd better put this on." It hung heavy in her hands and belatedly Linda realized it was soaked, too.
"Uh, that's not going to help." Lee regarded it skeptically as she held it out.
She had to laugh. His expression was priceless.
After a moment he joined in, the green glints in his dark eyes gleaming with amusement.
Linda reached up, draping the coat over his shoulders. Without her heels on, he was taller. She went to step back and found his arms around her.
Lee looked down into her eyes, his gaze soft and tender. Without thinking, she lifted her lips to his. He brushed her lips so softly, she barely felt any pressure. Then he pulled back, gently removing his arms from around her. "Thank you, Linda," he said quietly.
"For what, Lee?
"For being you." He shrugged into his damp jacket. "I'll be going now. It's slacking off." He turned to go down the steps.
"No way, Captain Crane." She caught his hand, pulling him back toward the door. "It is not slacking off and you're not going anywhere until you're dry. I'll not have you catch your death on my account. The Admiral would court-martial me."
Lee laughed again. "I have it in my will he can’t do that."
She began searching for her key. "I'll pop that shirt into the dryer and then I'll make some coffee."
"That sounds wonderful. Here, let me."
He took the key from her hand, as she tried to open the lock without dropping her shoes. Lee put the key in the lock, turned it and pushed the door open for her. She went in and he followed, closing the door behind them.
* * * * * *
"Are you having a good time?" Lee's voice was barely audible above the crashing surf. They sat together on the sand several feet above the tide line, watching the waves.
"Yes," Linda leaned back against him, feeling his arms tighten around her. "It's all you said it would be."
Lee laughed, looking down at her. "I wasn't sure how the suggestion would go over."
"Oh?" She raised her eyebrows.
"Well, a moonlight drive to a deserted beach-- You know what they say about sailors."
"If they don't know enough to say seamen, who cares? Besides," Linda batted her eyelashes ingénue-like. "Is my honor in danger, Captain?"
"No, sweetheart, the only dastardly deed I planned tonight was ditching Chip."
She laughed. "I bet he still hasn't noticed."
"Don't count on it. Morton can take a hint. He won't come looking for us."
"Don't you bring all your girls here?" Linda said jokingly.
He stiffened beneath her, dropping his arms from around her. "No," Lee answered quietly. "Never had a reason to. I never had a lot--"
She laid a soft hand on his lips. "I'm sorry, that wasn't fair." Linda dropped her head. "I can't get used to the idea that you want to be with me. You could have any girl--"
He took her chin and tilted it up. "I want you, okay?"
She snuggled closer to his shoulder. "I'm not complaining."
He kissed her gently and placed his arms around her again. "Was it worth the drive?"
"No submarines races."
She laughed. "I know. We never saw any subs in Long Beach, either."
"What a shame."
"You mean we actually came for the view?" She matched his wry tone. "How boring."
Lee laughed. "Found out at last."
"It's terrific. Thank you for showing me."
"My pleasure, sweetheart. You appreciate moonrises."
"Sometimes." She reached up to stroke his dark hair.
Crane shook his head free from her touch. "Don't. The wind's already is doing a number on it." He caught up her hand, enfolding it in his. She pressed close to him. His arm tightened around her. She glanced up at Lee. A shy smile played around his mouth and then he bent down, his lips caressing her neck.
"Really," she whispered, seeking his lips.
"Uh huh," he replied, his lips soft against hers. Lee slid down on the sand, pulling her down on top of him.
"And what of your intentions, Captain?" Linda asked after a long, tender kiss.
"What intentions?" His dark eyes twinkled with amusement.
"The ones you're so conveniently forgetting." She tapped him on the nose.
"It was never my intention--" he started and they both burst out laughing. Suddenly, his arms tightened around her, pulling her down again and his lips were on hers. Insistent, with such longing, she automatically returned his kiss with equal passion.
It took a moment to realize what was happening. Wait, we're only friends. Even as she started to pull back, he abruptly released her, letting her up. A troubled look crossed his features as he sat up, then he reached out tentatively to straighten her disheveled blonde hair. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. I don't know what came over me. Forgive me?"
"It's okay," she replied softly, reaching up to push the dark hair off his forehead. "There's too much moonlight here."
He smiled. "You are so beautiful sometimes."
She dropped her head, but quickly raised it to give Lee the reply he now expected. "And you're crazy."
"Blame Chip," he answered lightly, then dropped the tone. "It's late. I'd better take you home."
"All right." Linda trailed her hand down his cheek for a moment. "It's a long drive."
"But the company's good."
Linda put her arms around Crane and hugged him. "The company's the best."
Lee returned the hug, then drew back, gathering his feet under him. She waited until he stood, then took the hand he extended to her, letting him pull her up.
"Thanks for bringing me."
"My pleasure," Lee answered and then his features twisted in dismay. "Ah, maybe I should rephrase that."
Linda laughed. "Don't worry about it. Lead on, Captain." They began walking up the dune together and she looked over her shoulder for one last glance. The sea gleamed in the moonlight. Linda was grateful he wanted to share it with her. The more she learned about him, the more she didn't know him at all.
* * * * * *
There were times, when Linda managed a peaceful moment during one of the Friday parties that she wondered how she ended up being den mother to a bunch of overgrown boy scouts. No, she better make that sea scouts. Somebody had to look after these crazies. Katie needed the help. Randy's fiancée was the only other female regular. Katie was worried there would be no one to restrain their antics, once she started her residency. Linda assured her Lee would keep them in line, but she couldn't vouch for Chip. They had both laughed. All they could do was love them. Linda knew she was very lucky they had accepted her into the group.
Linda twirled her marshmallow over the fire and glanced around. They really were lovable. Stu always leading with his mouth and Pat waiting to trip him up. Ski with his boundless enthusiasm for everything. Boots trying so hard to keep up. At least now Malone was taller than someone. Randy and Nick and Al. Her gaze fell on Morton.
Then there was Chip. He knew she knew damn well it was an act, but he continued to flirt with her at every opportunity. He was doing it to tease Lee, so she went along with it. Lee always laughed at their back and forth, his dark eyes twinkling. Those times, he wasn't Captain Crane, her boss. In soaked denim cutoffs, his dark hair curling wildly, no one would mistake him for the neat, efficient officer who commanded Seaview. Especially with the faces he made at Chip's awful puns.
Even in uniform, Chip's humor came through. Heaven help the unprepared Senator; there was no telling what he'd learn. All of it wonderfully embroidered, of course. Then Lee would have to explain the reality, sometimes more than once, to some of the really dense ones. Chip did only do to the ones that asked for it and Lee knew that.
Crane was the quiet one, as long as she'd known them. It drew her to him. Lee rarely let him relax, except with his friends. Chip and the Forecastle. Seaview’s first Chief of the Boat, Curley Jones had coined the moniker and the name stuck. People knew exactly who you meant. They were the unofficial leaders of the crew. Anything instigated usually found them at the bottom, in cahoots with Chip.
The officers here were an interesting group. Of course, the Admiral did whatever he wanted to, whenever he wanted to. It was only natural they'd follow his lead. They followed him everywhere else.
Linda pulled her marshmallow from the fire, letting the freshening sea breeze cool it. She prodded gently to see if the middle was soft. Not quite. Beside her Boots pulled a blazing one from the flames. He snuffed it, popping the gooey charred mess into his mouth. Linda lowered her stick back over the fire, cocking her head to catch the melody Stu was teaching Chip. It was his latest composition and Linda liked it very much. It was more wistful than usual. Pat had ribbed him about mellowing out. Stu struck several bars of `Wipeout' on his guitar and they all laughed. She preferred his melody.
Chip was picking up fast, his fingers soft on the strings of his guitar. Once he got it down, Stu could work out a harmony line. Only this time Linda didn’t feel it was necessary. On her other side, Kowalski sat quietly, watching their fingers moving in the firelight. Chip had offered to teach him to play, but Ski said he'd rather watch. He'd sing if they wanted him to. They all had good voices, even if their songs were a little off-color. What did they do with a drunken sailor? Some of their answers were quite, ah, creative.
A navy windbreaker, much too large, came down over her shoulders. "Here, it's starting to cool off." Lee dropped to the sand between her and Boots, giving the fresh packs of marshmallows to Malone. "Now stop worrying about saving any for the others," he teased.
Boots tossed a pack over to Patterson. "Start some for the musicians, Pat." He placed another one on his stick. "Thanks, Skipper."
"No trouble," Lee answered, shrugging. Linda felt him leaning close, his head almost on her shoulder. "How're you doing?"
"I'm fine," she answered, knowing better than to refuse the jacket. He'd only insist more. Lee was always thinking about her comfort. If she let him, he'd spoil her. She pulled the marshmallow from the fire, offering it to him. "Here, it’s done, but not a char mark on it."
"You'll make me fat," Lee kidded as he took it. "I can't get these clowns to cook them right."
"You like 'em raw, Skipper," Malone answered, with loathing.
"The idea is to eat them, not burn them, Boots." Crane grinned wryly. "Fire's hot enough as it is."
"It's also cook your own. We don't have assistants."
"Boots, when you're the Captain--" Lee answered, his bantering voice shaking with laughter.
"Yeah, I know, Skipper." Malone shook his head, grinning. "When is the operative word in that statement."
"Maybe when you can see out the periscope," Pat suggested innocently.
"You guys keep setting the automatic height control for the Skipper--" Boots shot Pat an exasperated look.
"He's the one that uses it," Ski chimed in, his innocent look a match for Pat's. He grinned widely, giving his marshmallow a deft turn.
"Forget it!" Boots quickly jerked his flaming mallow from the fire, twisting it so the fire enveloped the whole marshmallow before he snuffed it.
"Hey, you guys done practicing yet?" Pat looked toward Chip and Stu.
"Our public's getting restless." Stu smiled at Chip, removing his fingers from the strings. "You ready?"
"Time to earn our keep," Chip replied. "Except I can't play on an empty stomach. Ski, that looks about right. Fork it over." Chip grinned wolfishly. "The piper never plays for free."
Ski tipped his stick so it hung in front of Chip's face. "That's one request you owe me. Careful, you don't end up with your fingers stuck to the strings."
"That's for amateurs," Chip answered, eating the mallow off the stick. "Hey, that's pretty good."
"It's the wrist action." Ski twirled his stick, spearing a fresh marshmallow.
"Bull," Pat replied. "You've got a good hot spot."
Stu quickly interceded before Ski could come back with a suitable rejoinder. "How about Buffett?" Riley asked. "Treat Her Like a Lady?" He strummed a few chords as they agreed.
Chip joined in, picking up his rhythm.
The words came easier now she had learned their favorites. They did treat Seaview like a lady. She loved listening to Lee's soft baritone. The golden glow deep in his brown eyes, especially when he sang about the sub. The reverence they gave the submarine had surprised her, at first. Now that she'd been on a cruise, she was beginning to understand. She was fond of the old girl herself. More than once, she'd come silently down from the front wardroom to sit on the winding stairs and watch them run the boat in the control room.
They had brought the last grant in early. Linda was enjoying the breather, before the next one started. Lee often worked late and she welcomed these Fridays nights with the gang. As long as Crane kept inviting her, she'd come. Lee needed the time away from his responsibilities.
Linda enjoyed being here, sharing his friends. The others treated her like a kid sister. She had become ‘The Skipper's Lady.’ Linda didn't know what the sub crew meant by that term, but she had heard it a lot lately and it translated to acceptance and respect. Linda wondered if there was a term for their relationship. It was more than enough to be his friend and give him the companionship he wanted. Linda felt his arm go over her shoulder, pulling her back to rest up against him. Eight months ago Lee had been so slender, she'd been afraid to rest on him. Crane looked so much better with some weight on. Even Jamieson had let up.
All that rich food at Molinaro's. He knew how Linda felt about that place. Lee claimed it as an excuse to splurge. She insisted that for every time he took her there, he had to let her fix him three meals. He'd eat whatever she cooked, but Linda knew he liked rare steak.
She leaned against Lee, savoring his nearness. In the circle of his arms she felt content. Linda was drawn to him. She cared about him. Maybe even loved him. Dream on, girl. You'll never take her place. Part of him died with Cathy, like you lost part of yourself when Rob was shot down. And he'll never be Rob. Like him, but never him.
That didn't matter now. She liked the way Lee cared about others. He had a way, hard, when called for-- but with compassion. His hand brushed her knee softly, his finger tracing the seam of her jeans. Linda caught up his roving forefinger cradling it in her hand, squeezing gently. He returned the pressure and she glanced up into his deep hazel eyes. He had the same soft look from that rainy night two months before, the first time he kissed her. The night their relationship began. Where it was going, Linda wasn't sure, but Lee was happier than she had ever seen him, much more open and content.
At first she had been afraid his friends wouldn’t accept her, but the trouble Linda anticipated never materialized. From the people that really mattered, the Admiral, Doctor Jamieson and of course, Chip and the Forecastle, there was no resistance at all. Sometimes they were too helpful. If Lee wanted to be with her, she wouldn't refuse him. They were so obvious about it. She had conveniently ended up with Lee, alone, too many times. Crane wasn't dense either. When she told him, he had laughed. They meant well. Unfortunately, he had seven mother hens. They then sneaked off a few times in retaliation, to show they didn't need any more help.
The last chord echoed against the surf. Linda glanced around the fire at her friends. This place could be home. She'd been a nomad for so long, moving from place to place, grant to grant, never wanting any roots after Rob's death. She could plant some here. Pat kept telling her she was one of the gang. Lee's hand felt so warm and strong enfolding hers. Linda wanted to hold on forever.
Chip began strumming an old ballad from the age of sail, about steering to glory and leaving the girls behind. Stu started harmonizing, with Lee joining him. The others came in on the refrain. They were good. She'd enjoy the harmony while she could. A couple more songs, a few more beers and they'd get rowdy. Never failed. Then Chip asked her to sing for them.
Linda was about to decline, until Lee asked, in the soft, gentle tone she couldn't refuse. She picked a song he had taught her, one of his favorites. Linda loved to watch the glow come into his eyes. She was careful not show it, or the others would rib Lee all night. She knew and he knew that was what mattered. If Linda could have one wish, she would never leave this place.
* * * * * *
Lee Crane brought his thoughts back to the report in front of him. Quit daydreaming. Of course it's boring. Aren't all NRC reports? They made the same observation six different ways. He'd rather think about Linda. The way she laughed that made him laugh, too. With her sly humor, she could get through this. Lee sighed quietly. Get on with it; the report wouldn't magically disappear because he didn't want to read it. And they needed to do something about the hatch covers. The fix worked, so what if it wasn't regulation. Why a research submarine needed MIRVS in the first place-- They were the most advanced submarine afloat. Someday they might have to help with national defense. Lee smiled, remembering Linda’s disgust after the members of Congress had left.
Lee agreed with her, but was easier to give. The old man still felt a responsibility to the government. And when did they ever help us? Lee shook his head. He was doing it again. It's only a couple of days. Berkeley had their chance to get her back. Linda had decided to stay here for another year.
Crane found himself suddenly wishing she would never leave. What could he offer her to stay? They were only friends. She was easy to work with. And more fun to play-- Lee quickly thrust an image of her, laughing and throwing water out of his mind. That would not get his report read. He missed her. She was so warm; they could talk for hours and after the talk--
Linda had never laughed at his awkward attempts. He hadn't meant anything at first; he was only trying to be more considerate of her help. She hadn't demanded anything, but freely gave him the companionship he wanted and didn't know he needed, until she was there. Lee glanced at the report, resisting the urge to pitch it in the garbage can. He thumbed through it quickly. Twenty pages, he could get through that.
After he finished it, he'd go down to the beach and look for some of those purple shells she liked. A homecoming present. Lee knew a spot just offshore on the north beach where he'd probably find them. Get some free diving in; he'd spent too much time at his desk lately.
Crane turned back to the report. It is the recommendation of this committee that the conclusion drawn by the first survey team is essentially correct, however the committee feels that the unorthodox matter in which-- These guys went on forever. It was a good twenty minutes later when he finally finished the report and initialed it.
He'd discuss it with the Admiral tomorrow. Lee threw the report into his out box and glanced at his watch. It was definitely time to leave.
* * * * * *
Sitting on the edge of her bed, Linda leaned down and unbuckled her right high-heeled sandal. She let it fall to the floor. Stretching her foot out in front of her, she wiggled her toes, letting the stockings scratch them. Ah.
Good way to end an evening. Too bad it was over so soon. There would be other Friday nights, but next month they had to schedule the cruise. The way the L-47s were piling up, no telling how long they be out.
Monday through Friday, it was Yes, Captain. No, Captain. Yes, sir. Linda was glad she had decided to stay on another year. Now, she knew of even better times. She couldn't hold back a smile as she remembered his face at dinner. Lee couldn't decide want he wanted. Her suggestion of snails, nails and puppy dog tails had drawn a blank look. She figured the joke had fallen flat, until he told the waiter she wanted sugar, spice and everything a la carte.
The waiter didn't get it, but they couldn't stop laughing for five minutes. Then he wanted to feed her some of his crepes suzette. She offered him some scalloped scrimp. Trying to feed him across the table was tricky. It felt so good to laugh with him. The green glints in his dark eyes would sparkle, like when he gave Chip a hard time. She remembered the mischief that danced in his eyes the day they built the sand castle on the north beach. She'd never forgive the tide for ruining it. Of course, Lee had flattened it beyond repair when he tackled her on top of it. She shouldn't have started the water fight. Linda wished she could tell him how she felt. Lee was willing to be her friend and she wouldn't ask any more of him. Linda loved Lee in a way she had never felt about Rob, but he hadn't asked for her love. If she made him happy, that was enough.
Prying the other shoe from her foot, she let it drop to the floor as well. Reaching over, Linda lifted her blazer from the bed from earlier that day. Rising with it, she shook it out. Holding the blue jacket by the shoulders, a slow grin crossed her face.
"Dance?" She feigned surprise. "Me?"
The coat nodded.
"Oh, Captain, really, I can't."
The coat nodded again.
She gave the coat a coy schoolgirl look. "Oh, all right, if you insist." She placed one sleeve on her shoulder and took the other in her hand. She began waltzing around the bedroom, the limp coat in her hands.
The sleeve fell from her shoulder. "Captain, really!"
She firmly placed the sleeve back on her shoulder. Her feet began moving again to the half remembered strains of an Anne Murray tune.
After a minute or two of dancing, she stopped and curtseyed to the jacket. "Thank you, kind sir, for such a lovely dance." The coat bowed to her and she laughed, clutching the material tight to her, dropping onto the bed.
Dream on, girl. Don't push, love him. Slowly, her laughter died as she took down a hanger for her blazer. Tomorrow the senators were coming, but there was always next Friday.
* * * * * *
Lee paused, the untied shoe still in his hand, remembering her laughter. Talk about a crazy movie. Now, he wasn't sure what he enjoyed more. The movie or her delight in it.
When Linda pressed against his shoulder, laughing, he had put his arm around her and laughed, too. He felt so close to her then, a sharing he didn't want to end. For the longest time, he wasn’t sure he could feel that way about a woman again.
She was different. He felt drawn to her. Like they had always known each other. Linda. Shoulder-length honey-blonde hair blowing in the sea breeze, framing her heart shaped face. Serious, but with the playfulness of a child in the tilted eyebrows and button nose. She'd kill him if he ever told her that. His overly efficient grant coordinator? Really, Captain!
Lee chuckled to himself, hearing her tone. She was a gentle tease, keeping him from taking himself too seriously. He liked her company. The rest wasn't so easy. For the first time in two years, he felt content and together they found reasons to laugh.
The tide had overrun the sand castle they had worked so hard to build. Linda enjoyed everything they did together. Ice cream on a hot day, walks on the beach, even his piano playing. She loved to hear him play, although Lee knew he wasn't very good. She would look at him and not believe a word. He enjoyed having Linda around. She was stubborn, yet willing to give in. She had a mind of her own. Crane had offered to be a friend back and she had accepted that, without any demands for anything more.
Now Lee felt he should offer more. Was their friendship strong enough to build on? Tonight, when she gazed up at him, her laughing green eyes teasing him about being shy as the movie's hero, he had almost asked her. Only he couldn't. Lee wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. He could take care of her and make her happy. Give her back the love she had shown him. Crane bent down and placed his oxford next to the other one. Chip said they were a pair. He'd have to see if they went together.
* * * * * *
"Well, that went quick." Linda gathered up the spec sheets from the table. "Could we be keeping them from the golf course?"
Linda brought the sheets back to the head of the table and placed them in their proper folder.
"Maybe they planned to give it to us all along," Crane ventured.
"That would be a first," she answered wryly, gathering up the folders. "It will be an interesting grant, at least."
"Yes. Here, let me take those." He lifted the stacked folders from her arms.
She tried to take them back. "I can manage, Lee, thanks."
"No trouble." He cradled them in one arm. "Is that everything?"
"Yes." Linda glanced around the room again.
"Okay, let's drop these back in the office, then you can take off. Got any plans for the afternoon?"
"No, I didn't make any. These meetings, well, they never run on a regular time schedule."
"True. I would have bet we'd still be at it." Lee stopped in the middle of the corridor and looked down at her. "Uh, since you're not doing anything, I was wondering-- I mean, would you mind-- if you don't have anything else you rather--"
"Lee." She took him by the arm gently. "How can I help?"
Crane shifted uncertainly. "Remember I told you, I was moving back into my house."
"Well, I was never good at keeping house. I thought maybe a woman's touch-- You’re so good at organizing, I naturally figured you could help me get everything. . ."
"Of course, I'd be glad to."
"You sure you don't mind?"
"No, Lee, I wouldn't offer to go unless I wanted to."
He smiled as she put her arm through his.
"Lead me on, Captain."
Linda had only been there once before. Lee had rented the house out shortly after that, moving into a town house next to Chip. Once inside, she saw what he was talking about. Boxes were everywhere in the living room. Several were open, but the rest were taped. Lee stopped next to the sofa, looking around the room. Then he turned back to her.
"Chip emptied my storage, too. I didn't think there would be this much. It's not fair to ask you--"
"Lee." She raised her hand to his lips. "I promised to help. I've moved too many times not to know what to expect. It has to be done sometime."
He kissed her palm gently and she lowered her hand slowly, caressing his cheek.
"You're beautiful, do you know that?" His hazel eyes went soft.
"And you, Captain, are crazier than your Exec."
Lee laughed. "No one is crazier than my Exec."
"Oh, yeah?" Linda grinned wickedly, looking at the top of the nearest box. "Galley?" she read, glancing at him with a raised eyebrow.
"They get used to Seaview. That means kitchen."
"They? I thought Chip was helping you move."
"He gave the detail to the Forecastle."
"Bet they were thrilled."
"They cleaned out the town house in nothing flat."
"Will you find everything?"
Crane laughed again. "I'd better or they'll spend the cruise scrubbing E deck." Lee walked around the sofa and paused, his hand resting on a box. As she watched, his eyes swept around the room, going distant. "I wonder if I should have come back." His smile faded as a flicker of pain flashed across his face.
Linda came around the sofa, putting her arm around his waist. "A house is only a home when someone wants it to be," she said softly.
His gaze remained on the far window for a moment and then he looked down at her. The smile returned to his face. She felt his arm go around her shoulder and tighten.
"You make it so easy," Lee said, with a gentle tenderness she had never heard before.
She saw the glow come into his brown eyes. She hugged him.
He pulled her close. "Yes, maybe it is time to come home."
Linda noticed the slight moodiness leave him as they tackled the boxes together. Despite their reputation, the Forecastle had managed to keep the boxes for each room together. From there, it was easy to move them out into the various areas.
Lee didn't want her moving boxes, but she grabbed the nearest one and walked off. She took on the kitchen, leaving him with the den. The more she saw of the house, the more she liked it. It was very functional, with more room than she would have thought from the outside.
Linda shook her head. Give Lee a blueprint and off he went, finding a better way to do it. She lifted some plates from the last box. The brown and bone. The first night she made him dinner at the townhouse. She placed them carefully on the shelf with some yellow flowered plates already there. They ought to be on the bottom shelf, and if it were her kitchen they would be. Linda stopped. Dream on. Cathy was special to him, he'll never forget her. Even now, he still grieves--
"Linda!" Lee came into the kitchen, scattering her thoughts. "I realized how late it is." Crane reached up for her. "Come down from there and let me buy you dinner. At least you'll get something out of this."
She put her hand on his shoulder and hopped off the chair. "I don't want to go out. Don't you have anything here?"
"There’s hamburger in the fridge, but you deserve--"
"Look, I don't want to change clothes. There still so much to do. It would take too long to get dressed."
"I'm not much of a cook."
Linda gave him a gentle push toward the door. "I'll cook."
He stopped, turning around. "No way. I asked you to help me unpack. I don't expect you to cook, too.”
"I told you, I don't offer unless I want to. Now are you finished in the den?"
"No, there's another box or two--"
"Then go finish. Give me about twenty minutes and I'll have something ready."
Lee started to protest, but she lifted her hands. "You heard me, Captain, shoo."
He laughed. "This is my house."
"Captains don't do KP." Linda cocked her head at him, smiling.
"Cooking me dinner isn't in your job description."
She put her hands on her hips. "Are you telling me you never let your girlfriends cook for you?"
"Well, no --"
"I don't want to hear any more objections."
"Aye, sir." He grinned. "Sure I can't peel potatoes?"
"Out, mister." She almost threw the dish towel at the swinging kitchen door but decided not to. That wouldn't get dinner ready any faster. She found the hamburger in the fridge and set to work.
It was a thrown together, whatever-was-there supper, but Lee really dug into it. Linda enjoyed cooking for him. She couldn't talk him out of helping with the dishes. She had finished the living room boxes. It was getting late, but he didn't want her to leave.
Lee sat her down on the sofa. Then he pulled some records out of an open box. Crane switched over from the radio to the stereo. After a moment, soft classical music filled the room.
He flopped on the sofa next to her. "I never realized how much stuff I had. I think we'll quit for tonight."
"I can come back tomorrow."
Lee looked at her. "No, you need some of your weekend for yourself."
Linda snuggled up next to him. "I'd rather come over and get you settled, so if it's warm enough in the afternoon we could go swimming. Besides I wouldn't have any fun thinking of you stuck here working."
Lee turned toward her, putting his arm around her shoulder. "Can I ask you something?"
"Of course." Linda looked up at him.
"Do you like it here?"
She looked at him, confused. "You mean working at the Institute? It's wonderful, all the different grants and the people--"
"Even the long hours?"
"I don't mind the hours. Don't you listen, when I tell you your company makes the difference?"
Lee laughed softly. "Then your decision to stay for a third year, it was because you like working with me?"
"You're the best."
"What you would you say if I made your position permanent and not subject to renewal next year."
"You can do that?"
"If you want me to, I will."
"Oh! Yes! I do." She hugged him in her excitement, overwhelmed.
Lee returned the embrace and then gently disengaged her arms from about him, taking her hand in his. "I'm very fond of you, Linda," he said quietly. "You've helped me more than I can ever repay."
She dropped her head, embarrassed. "I wanted to." Linda felt his hand tighten around hers. She made herself look up again. The shy smile was on his lips.
"Linda, I-- " His eyes sought hers. "I never was good at saying the right words.” He paused, looking at her. "I want to marry you."
She could only stare at him, stunned. Linda wanted to throw her arms around him and tell him yes, but she couldn't move. Suddenly the pressure on her hand eased and she felt Lee pulling away.
"I'm sorry." he said, his voice pain-laced. "I shouldn't have assumed you felt the same way--"
His hurt broke her shock. She grabbed him by the shoulders, pulling him back and threw her arms around him.
"No, Lee! I never dared hope you would ever say those words to me."
He crushed her in his strong embrace. Then his lips were on hers, insistent. She clung to him, returning his kisses, knowing now what she felt the first time he held her. This was where she belonged. He made her feel so warm and safe. His touch was so gentle, yet she knew the strength in his long fingers, their slight roughness as they slid down her neck. With him she felt alive again, a feeling she had lost when Rob died. They remained close for a long moment, and then he began kissing her neck. She held him tightly to stop her trembling, laying her head on his shoulder.
"I love you, sweetheart," he whispered into her hair.
She raised her head. "There's been no else in my heart since that night at Molinaro's."
He smiled, stroking her hair softly. "You were so beautiful that night."
"And you are--"
He kissed her and then pulled back gently, removing his hand from her hair. "Wait here a minute," he said suddenly, getting up from the sofa. "Only take a moment."
She leaned back against the sofa, not sure she could take any more surprises tonight. She heard him go upstairs two at a time and after a moment he came clattering back down. She heard him come around the sofa, and then he dropped to one knee in front of her.
"Linda, would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?" he said, extending his hand toward her.
"Yes," she answered softly, taking his hand. He laid a heavy gold ring in her palm. She looked at it a moment, confused, then she understood. She grasped his hand, pulling him toward her. He rose and sat beside her, his hazel eyes shining with happiness.
"Oh, it's beautiful!" She turned the ring over in her hand, the dark blue stone gleaming. She ran her fingers over the full sheeted frigate, pausing when she came across the numerals nineteen sixty-two. She looked at him.
"I know it's not the proper diamond, but at the Naval Academy, we have a tradition. We give our fiancées a replica of our rings instead."
"This isn't a replica," she pointed out.
"Please, take it. I want you to wear it until I can buy you something more appropriate."
It obviously meant something special to him. "Thank you, I'll treasure it always." Linda reached out to stroke his hair gently. She turned the ring over in her hand. It was much too large for any of her fingers. Her hand went to the chain around her neck. "Here." Linda gave him back the ring. "Hold it for one second." She unloosened the chain from around her neck and threaded the chain through the ring. "There, it’s too important to lose." Linda smiled at him tenderly. "Would you put it back on for me?"
He returned her smile, looping the chain gently around her neck, reclasping it, and then he began to kiss her on the neck. She tried not to squirm. "You know that tickles."
"Uh huh," he affirmed, continuing to kiss her nonetheless.
"Come here, you." She lifted his chin, seeking his lips, feeling the weight of the ring on her chain, but she didn't mind. It was close to her heart there.
He pulled away from her gently, gazing at her tenderly. The look on his face brought a half buried memory to her as she ran her fingers along his jaw.
"Lee," she asked softly. "Will you find Polaris for me?"
He looked her a moment, puzzled, then he remembered. Crane reached for her hand. "The lady has only to ask." He stood up and pulled her to her feet beside him, putting his arms around her and kissing her gently. "Right now?" he whispered.
Linda nodded. He lifted her hand once again and she followed him toward the back door. Once outside, he turned to her. "It's a bit of a walk, but well worth it."
She put her arm around his waist. "I'd go anywhere with you."
Lee laughed softly. "You wouldn't want to go some of the places I've been."
"E deck isn't so bad," she teased.
"Sure." He put an arm around her shoulder. "C'mon then."
They walked slowly along the shore, listening to the crash of the waves and the wind, the autumn sky bright with stars. The breeze plucked at her hair, lifting it and twining it with his. Linda laughed, pulling it down.
Crane stopped, looking down at her. "Are you warm enough?"
She pulled her shirt sleeves down from their cuffs. "Yes, I'm fine. She leaned into him, giving him a nudge. "Besides, you make an excellent windbreak."
Lee smiled. "Oh, so you want to stay on my lee shore."
Linda winced. "That was bad. In fact, that was terrible," she added, trying not to laugh.
"Terrible?" He looked at her innocently.
"Worse than that," she affirmed. "It was awful."
"Awful!" He suddenly grabbed her, swinging her around in a spin.
She tried to squirm out of his hold. "Lee! Put me down!" She couldn't stop laughing. Then there was sand under her feet and she found his arms around her. She gazed up into his deep brown eyes, glowing with tenderness. Then his lips found hers.
Linda finally pushed him away, leaning her head on his shoulder. He began stroking her hair.
"Is it much farther?"
"Beyond the next dune," he assured her, reaching for her hand. "It's perfect for star-gazing."
She glanced at him. "You come here often?"
"Sometimes. When I need to think."
It took a few minutes to climb to the top of the rocks. When he pulled her up after him, the view made her breath catch in her throat. Directly below them was a little cove, not noticeable from the shore. The height gave them a view straight out to sea. The rocks were higher beside them. Over the years on the seaward side, the wind had hollowed a depression, making the topmost rock into a crude chair. Plenty of room for one to sit, two if they stayed close together. The starlight shimmered on the crests of the waves, making them sparkle as well.
Lee's hand tightened on hers. "Like it?"
"Oh, Lee, it's gorgeous." She raised shining eyes to him. "Thank you."
He shrugged. "I knew you would appreciate it."
"How did you ever find it?" She gestured back the way they had come. "You must be part billy goat."
"Not unless Morton had something to do with it," she teased back.
Lee grinned. "Now, come here."
He boosted her up onto the chair, the hoisted himself up after her. She sat down on the rock next to him, leaning against his shoulder.
"Now." Lee looked skyward, his expression going studious. "This time of year Polaris is--" He searched the heavens for a moment and then pointed out a rather bright star. "Right there. First you look for the Little Dipper. When you find it, Polaris is always the last star in the handle. It's named Ursa Minor."
She looked in the direction he indicated, finding the star. "See those two bright stars there?"
She nodded. "The Big Dipper."
"Those two stars are known as pointers. They are always in line with Polaris. It's one of the few stars that remain stationary. That's why we use it as a navigational bearing."
"Doesn't the Earth's rotation--” She looked up at him.
"Well, it's not completely immobile. It's only one degree from the Earth's axis, so it stays on station and doesn't rise and set like the planets do."
"Oh, that explains it."
He smiled. "Let's see what else is up tonight."
"Not the Southern Cross."
Lee laughed softly. "That's naval tradition, sweetheart and part of getting your Southern Hemisphere sea legs. Chip’s supposed to do it."
"I understood that, but I still don't get what was so funny."
He put his arm around her. "Give yourself some time. A couple more cruises and you'll understand."
"Aren't we a civilian outfit?" she teased, kissing him.
"Not quite." He bent down to return her kiss and for a while the stars were forgotten. It was only when she took his hand that she saw the time.
Lee laughed. "I should have left my watch home."
"After the honeymoon, love, you can throw it away."
Lee grinned wolfishly and pulled her close. She didn't want to go home either, but in the end she did. It wouldn't be for that much longer.
* * * * * *
Chip Morton stopped in the middle of the inner corridor when he heard singing. Somebody's happy. He followed the sound, going down toward the front door to his office area. Marion was on the telephone. Lee was down at the sub pen. He moved down to the last door. Bingo. Linda was proofing a grant report and singing to herself.
Morton smiled. "Good Morning," he drawled, to get her attention.
"Hi, Chip." The smile she gave him was almost blinding. "What do you need?"
"Nothing." He shrugged. "I want you to tell me what you are so pleased about." He gestured over his shoulder. "Heard you all the way down the hall."
"Sorry." Linda laughed, a faint red blush coming to her cheeks. "It's a beautiful day."
"If you like autumn." Chip’s eyes narrowed as he saw something hanging from her necklace. Funny, that gold chain never had a pendant before. It looked familiar, too. He left the doorway and crossed the room to her desk. "Excuse me, may I?" He reached for the chain. Once in his hand there was no mistaking it. An Annapolis class ring, class of 1962. Wait a minute-- No, couldn't be. Chip turned it to see the initials engraved inside. LBC. Morton turned the ring over. "Where did you get this?" he asked softly.
"Lee gave it to me."
Chip turned the ring over once more, before he let the chain fall from his fingers. Then he started to laugh. "That son of a gun! So he finally got the nerve up!"
Linda dropped her head and blushed. "It certainly surprised me."
"Saturday night. After he asked me to help him move in."
"I'm with him all morning and Lee didn't say one word."
"We decided not to announce it until he buys me a proper engagement ring." Linda reached for his hand. "Please, don't tell everyone."
"A proper engagement ring?" Chip looked down at her, surprised. "Didn't Lee tell you what it means that he gave you his class ring?"
Linda looked at him, uncertain. "He mentioned a tradition of giving replicas."
Chip leaned down the desk. "He intends to marry you, for keeps."
"Oh!" Linda's hand went to her chain. "Then this is an engagement ring."
"You could say that." Chip grinned. "You two decide on a date?"
"Chip, we haven't even officially announced our engagement. May, I guess, if everything works out after the cruise. Promise me, you'll give us time to get organized."
"Mum's the word, sweet lady. Only there's a price. A kiss from the bride."
"All right." Linda laughed. "Come here."
She stood up as he came around the desk and gave him one smack on the forehead as he bent down.
She smiled wickedly. "Deal's a deal. Now, remember not a word until Lee says so."
"Okay." He shrugged, grinning. "If he really wanted to keep it quiet, Lee shouldn't have given you that ring. Too many people around here know what that means."
"I'm sure he knew exactly what he was doing, Chip." Linda fingered the ring again.
"I was wondering why he kept grinning all morning."
"The senator cancelled. I told you it was a great day."
Chip laughed. "Okay, that too. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got requisitions to fill out and supplies to take back to the sub."
"Mustn't keep him waiting," she teased.
"Tell me about it."
Chip turned away, walking toward the door. He paused in the doorway. "Linda," he asked hesitantly. "You do love him?"
"Very much." She answered with an intensity he hadn't heard before.
"He needs that."
"I know." Her green eyes met his.
Chip smiled. "I always thought you understood."
"Welcome to the family."
Linda raised her head. "I hope I don't disappoint anyone.
"You haven't so far." Chip glanced at his watch. "Uh, I've got to run. See you later."
A little later Chip found himself whistling. It was catching. Come May, he would be polishing his sword. Morton liked that. Now, he had to think of a way to get Crane back for not telling him. It was going to be a beautiful day.
End of Part III