Author’s note:  The first part of this story was written about 18 years ago and never finished. I completed it to meet the requirements of the Christmas challenge on “UW” in Dec 2006 so some of you may have already read the first few pages under the title of “Surprise”. However, I had already scribbled some notes for a longer story and during the Christmas vacation 2007 I added new pages to produce the story below. It’s just a bit of fun but I hope you enjoy it.


The Challenge

By Sue James


2 am Christmas Morning 1975


“Chris! Chris! Wake up!” Helen Morton Marshall shook her deeply sleeping husband vigorously.


“Wha…t?” Chris Marshall muttered tiredly without opening his eyes.


“Wake up!” Helen insisted. “I heard someone moving around downstairs and I don’t believe in Santa Claus!”


Chris groaned and opened his eyes. “It’s probably one of the children. What time is it?”


“Twenty past two and it’s not one of the children,” Helen whispered, her tone agitated. “I only heard noises downstairs; there’s been no movement up here.”


“Well, I can’t hear anything,” Chris was unconvinced and anxious to get back to sleep before their four children woke up to open their Christmas presents.


“I heard a door opening,” Helen began to get annoyed at her husband’s relaxed attitude to her belief that there was an intruder in their home.


“Dreaming,” Chris grumbled as he threw off the bed covers and sat up. His wife glared at him and, realizing that he wouldn’t get any peace until he’d checked downstairs he stood up. “Okay, I’ll go and have a look but you stay here.”


“D’you think I should phone the police?” Helen queried, her voice anxious.


“And say what?” Chris frowned. “That you’ve been hearing noises?”


“Well, I HAVE!” Helen hissed angrily.


“But….” An ominous creak, which they both recognized as a faulty door on a kitchen cupboard, interrupted Chris’s comment.


“See,” Helen looked fearful. “There’s someone downstairs, Chris.”


“You better phone the police,” Chris said as he reached for his bathrobe. “I’ll go and take a look.”


“Be careful,” Helen urged as her husband crept from the room and she reached for the bedside phone.




Lieutenant-Commander Christopher-Chip-Morton held his breath as the cupboard door squeaked open. The sound seemed to echo around the otherwise silent kitchen and he stood for a moment listening, half-expecting to hear footsteps overhead. There was a muffled creak as if someone had stepped on a loose floorboard and then silence. Chip let out his breath and glared at his best friend and commanding officer, Lee Crane, who was quietly laughing.


“Ssh!” Chip hissed. “It’s not funny, Lee.”


“The look on your face was,” Lee hissed back. “You looked as if that cupboard was going to eat you!”


“D’you want to eat?” Chip demanded, slightly louder than he’d intended.


“Yes,” Lee whispered back. “Leave that door open in case it squeaks again and let’s look in the refrigerator.”


Together the two friends bent to look in the Marshall’s large refrigerator unaware that someone was quietly opening the kitchen door. On the other side of the door Chris Marshall was feeling confused. Why would a burglar shut himself in the kitchen? And use the electric light? Brandishing his old baseball bat, which he intended to use in self-defence if necessary Chris took a deep breath and gripped the door handle. Turning it slowly he pushed the door open and looked into the kitchen.

At first he didn’t see anything but as he looked to the left he saw two men with their heads in the refrigerator. Feeling suddenly angry Chris strode into the kitchen holding his bat at an aggressive angle.


“I don’t know what you…………” he began and then gasped as the two bodies turned around. “Chip! Lee! What are you doing here?”


It was difficult to know who was the more surprised, Chris, on discovering that the “burglars” were his young brother-in-law and his best friend. Or Chip and Lee who were a bit shocked to find they were being threatened with a baseball bat.


Chip Morton grinned rather guiltily at his brother-in-law. “Would you believe looking for a sandwich?”


Chris laughed and, dropping the baseball bat on to the kitchen counter, he crossed the kitchen to envelop his “burglar” in a hug. “It’s really good to see you, Chip,” he told the younger man as his hug was returned. “And Helen will be ecstatic. She was very disappointed when you said you couldn’t make it for the holiday.”


“Circumstances changed,” Chip replied as he stepped back. “We got back to port earlier than expected and caught the last Christmas Eve flight to New York. It didn’t land until midnight.”


“How’d you get up here?” Chris frowned.


“Well, we tried to hire a car but it was too late so……” he hesitated and Lee finished the sentence for him. “We hitched up here. We’re sorry we woke you, Chris.” Lee was very apologetic. “We just planned to grab a sandwich, go to bed and surprise you in the morning”


“You didn’t wake me,” Chris grinned. “You woke Helen. She thought we were being burgled and she woke me. She…………Oh, HELP!” A look of consternation suddenly crossed his face and he turned for the door.


“What’s wrong?” Lee and Chip queried in unison.


“Helen was going to phone the police,” Chris headed into the hallway towards the stairs as a loud knock on the front door shattered the night- time silence and Helen appeared at the top of the stairs. “That’s the police!” she hissed at her husband as he turned to open the front door. On the doorstep stood two uniformed officers.


“Mr. Marshall?” the older man queried.


Chris nodded as the policeman continued. “You reported a suspected burglary?”

“We did,” Chris nodded again. “But I’m afraid there’s been a mistake.”


At that point a very embarrassed Lee and Chip emerged from the kitchen just as Helen got to the bottom of the stairs.


“CHIP!!” Helen shrieked and threw her arms around her now red-faced brother as the police regarded them quizzically. Feeling sorry for everyone Lee stepped forward and offered his hand to the senior policeman. “Good morning, Officer,” he said politely. I’m Captain Lee Crane. I’m afraid there has been a bit of a misunderstanding here. You see my friend and I…”


“Uncle Chip! Uncle Chip!…and Uncle LEE!” The sudden appearance of four excited and very noisy children made further conversation impossible as they all clattered down the stairs. Chris raised his eyebrows and turned to address his children as Lee gestured to the policemen to join him in the front yard where he managed to explain what had happened in such a way that the police saw the funny side and didn’t even mention the wasting of police time.


Back in the hallway Lee found Chip surrounded by his family, five year old Timmy in his arms.


“What did the police say?” Chris enquired as Chip bent to put Timmy back down on the floor.


“Suggested we phone next time and forget the surprises!” Lee grinned as ten year old Katie wrapped her arms around his waist and gave him a hug. “They said……………”


“HEY, HE’S BEEN! SANTA CLAUS HAS BEEN!” Timmy interrupted as he opened the door into the family room. “WOW! LOOK………” He started into the room only to be grabbed by Chris who blocked the doorway as his other three excited children tried to see inside. “Not so fast!” Chris said firmly as he held a squirming Tim. “Santa Claus may have been but we need more sleep before we start opening presents.”


“But Daddy……..” The children’s chorus was stopped by a glare from their father and they all glared back until Jason turned to his uncle and asked, “Did you see him?”


“See who?” Tired and hungry, Chip’s mental processes were not at their sharpest and he looked quizzically at his nephew who was just three days short of his seventh birthday.


“Santa Claus, of course. Did you see Santa Claus?”


Chip frowned, completely thrown by the question and Lee jumped into the gap, his voice as excited as Jason’s. “Yes, we saw him. In fact, we spoke to him right outside your house,” he grinned as Chip looked incredulously at him and all the children gave him their full attention. “He hadn’t heard that we were coming to Connecticut and he still had our presents on his sleigh.”


“Why?” Timmy asked, his blue eyes wide with excitement.


“Because he was going to take them to Santa Barbara, wasn’t he, Uncle Lee?” Jason said in awe.


“Yes, he was,” Lee nodded his dark head. “As you know California is three hours behind Connecticut so he starts delivering his presents on the east coast and finishes on the west coast.”


“So did he give them to you?” Katie asked with a small smile.


“Sure did,” Lee turned and headed into Chris’s study as seven pairs of eyes followed him, returning with his battered old holdall. Opening it up he extracted several gifts. “See, Santa had already been down your chimney when he met us and he didn’t want to make a return journey so he gave us the presents on the understanding,” Lee lowered his voice and looked intently at all four children,  “that we don’t open them until Christmas morning.”


“Its morning now,” nine year old Derry pointed out.


“Not real morning,” Lee said in his most authorative voice. “Santa told me and your Uncle Chip to make sure that we put the presents under the tree and go to bed and get some sleep before we open them.”


“So why are they in your bag?” Derry demanded, her tone of voice indicating that she didn’t believe a word Lee said even if her brothers did.


“Because we haven’t had a chance to put them under the tree yet,” Lee grinned and grabbed his amused friend by the arm. “C’mon Chip, let’s get your presents as well and put them under the tree.”


Chip shook his blond head in a daze and, following his friend; he went into the study, retrieved the gifts from his own holdall and took them into the family room to place under the massive tree while the children trailed after them.


“Okay, time for bed now,” Lee announced. “Quicker we get there, quicker morning will come.”


“Yes, come on, up the stairs,” Chris took the opportunity and sheparded the children towards the staircase. Lifting Tim into his arms he stepped on the first stair and, reluctantly the other three followed with Lee at the rear.


Still feeling bemused at his friend’s story telling skills, Chip turned to his sister. She looked tired and he felt suddenly guilty. “I’m really sorry we woke you, Helen,” he said apologetically. “We didn’t plan for all this to happen, we were just going to grab a sandwich and a drink and then crash out in the study and surprise you in the morning!”


“It doesn’t matter,” Helen smiled happily at him. “I’m just glad that you’re here, Chip. Christmas isn’t the same without you.”


“I’m glad to be here,” Chip assured her with a grin. “It’s not the same in Santa Barbara…no snow, none of your wonderful cooking.”


“Flatterer,” Helen hugged him tightly as if to convince herself that he was real. “D’you still want something to eat?”


“Yes, but I’ll get it,” Chip returned the hug. “You get back to bed Helen.”


“No,” she turned towards the kitchen. “I’ll never sleep now, Chip; I’m wide awake. I’ll get you and Lee something to eat and Chris will probably want a hot drink when he’s settled the children. Do you want me to cook you something or will a sandwich do?”


“A sandwich will be fine,” Chip said happily as he followed his sister into the spacious kitchen. “Peanut butter and potato chips. Shall I make the cocoa?”


“Yes, make enough for four,” Helen told him as she took a large jar of peanut butter from a cupboard. “Unless you think Lee will want something else.”


“No, cocoa will be fine,” Chip opened the refrigerator door to get the milk and paused with a questioning look on his face.


“What’s up?” Helen regarded him quizzically as she spread peanut butter thickly onto slices of bread.


“There’s no turkey in here,” Chip observed with a frown. “Or anything else for Christmas dinner!”


Helen grinned and waved the knife at him. “That’s because I’m not cooking Christmas dinner, little brother so if that’s all you came for you’re going to be disappointed!”


Chip’s frown deepened. “What are you doing then?”


“We’re eating at Tom and Gwen’s,” Helen told him in reference to Chris’s parents.


“Good,” Chip’s frown was replaced with a wide grin. “Gwen’s cooking is even better than yours!”


“Gwen’s not expecting you!” Helen pointed out.


“Ah!” A stricken look crossed Chip’s boyish face that made his sister want to laugh. “I guess I didn’t plan this too well!”


“I don’t think you planned at all,” Helen said gravely but with a twinkle in her warm brown eyes. “I wouldn’t worry, Chip; you know Gwen always cooks enough to feed an army and she will be so thrilled to see you she’d probably give you the food from her own plate.”


Chip’s stricken look fled to be replaced with a warm smile of gratitude as he absorbed the truth of his elder sister’s words. He knew Helen would also go without to feed him (not that he would let her) and he felt a warm glow of contentment flood over him as he gave silent thanks for the love of his family and the chance to spend the Christmas holiday with them.


“I think they’re all asleep again,” Chris announced as he came into the kitchen closely followed by Lee. “Derry kicked up a fuss insisting that she’ll never get back to sleep until she’s sure Santa’s left what she asked for but as I pointed out, she didn’t believe in Santa yesterday so it doesn’t really matter. Are you making cocoa for everyone, Chip?”


“If you want it,” Chip nodded.


“Sure do and one of those sandwiches would taste real good right now,” Chris sat down at the table and reached out for one of the sandwiches Helen had placed on a plate there.


“Hey, hands off,” Helen tapped her husband’s hand with the knife. “I made those for Chip.”


“Typical!” Chris attempted to assume an air of injured feelings. “The prodigal brother returns and I have to go without!”


“You don’t,” Helen laughed. “I was only teasing. I can make more although how you men can eat peanut butter sandwiches at this hour of the morning I’ll never know! What about you, Lee? Is peanut butter okay or would you like something else?”


“Peanut butter’s fine,” Lee smiled gratefully as he took a chair opposite Chris. “Although one will be enough; I don’t have Chip’s appetite at any hour of the day.”


“I just appreciate good food, that’s all” Chip muttered as he delivered the mugs of cocoa to the table and sat down next to his sister. He picked up a sandwich and took a large bite from it chewing happily before pronouncing it “delicious!”


The others laughed and tucked into their own sandwiches and cocoa before Helen put down her mug and said seriously, “I’m so glad you’ve come. It’s Jason’s birthday party on Saturday and we could use some help entertaining twelve 6 and 7 year olds, not to mention our own four!”


Chip yawned suddenly and put his half-eaten sandwich down. “I think we might be gone by then,” he said with a grin.


“Gone where?” Helen didn’t hesitate to hide her disappointment. “You’ve only just got here. And you know Jason would love to have you…his hero…at his party. It’ll make his birthday.”


“Ignore him,” Lee said, stifling his own yawn. “He’s winding you up, Helen. We don’t have to be back until after the first of the year, he’d love to help at Jason’s party. I’m sorry I can’t but I have to go and visit my mother at the weekend; she’s not home for Christmas but she’ll be back on Saturday.”


“You could go to your mother’s on Sunday,” Chip said good-naturedly. “Then you can come to the party too!”


“Sorry!” Lee grinned. “I……”


Whatever he was going to say was lost as the door opened and nine year old Derry appeared in the kitchen.


“What are you doing up?” Chris asked his voice stern.


“I told you I wouldn’t be able to sleep,” Derry replied matter-of-factly. “There’s too many questions in my head.”


“What sort of questions?” Helen asked calmly before Chris could tell his younger daughter to take her questions back to her bedroom.


Derry padded across the kitchen floor in her slippers and stood beside her mother’s chair from where she favoured her uncle and his best friend with a thoughtful frown which caused Chip to focus his gaze into his mug of cocoa.


“You said,” she ignored Chip and looked accusingly at Lee. “You said that you spoke to Santa Claus, that you really saw him AND he gave you your presents?”


“That’s correct,” Lee spoke solemnly as Chip smothered a grin by taking a long drink from his mug.


“But you always say,” Derry turned to her father now, “that if we’re not asleep when Santa comes he won’t leave us any presents!”


“That’s because he won’t,” Chris said seriously. “It’s a universal rule, Derry. If you’re not asleep when Santa comes you don’t get any presents.”


“But they were awake,” Derry pointed at Chip and Lee. “And he gave them their presents!”


“That’s because they’re adults,” Chris said firmly. “It’s not the same for grown-ups.”


“I knew you’d say that,” Derry looked mutinous and her bottom lip protruded in what all the adults recognized as the beginning of a sulk.


So why’d you ask? Chip thought to himself as his brother-in-law stood up and towered over his daughter. “Come on, Derry; back to bed,” Chris said sternly.


“How come you’re not in bed?” Derry ignored her father to look accusingly at all of them.


DERRY, that’s enough! You’re being rude,” Chris took her arm intending to take her back to bed but she continued to ignore him as she focussed her gaze on Lee and said sulkily, “You said that Santa told you to go to bed before you opened your presents but you haven’t. I don’t think that’s fair. I thought you had to obey orders in the navy?””


“I said that’s ENOUGH,” Chris’s voice was angry as he started to move his stubborn daughter towards the door. “If you don’t get to bed now, Deryn there’ll be no Christmas presents for you, Santa or no Santa!”


“We’d better get to bed too,” Lee stood up. “We shouldn’t be ignoring Santa’s orders. Come on, Chip.”


“But I haven’t finished eating!” Chip spoke indignantly. It was all very well for Lee to agree with Derry but Chip knew his niece better and he wasn’t sure that he wanted to follow her orders!


“You want your presents, don’t you?” Lee nudged his arm and nodded towards the door. “And I really need my sleep.”


It was on the tip of Chip’s tongue to say that he didn’t care, he wanted another sandwich and the rest of his cocoa but another nudge from Lee and a pleading look from his sister silenced him and he rose reluctantly to his feet while downing the remains of his cocoa.


“Okay,” he crossed the kitchen to put his dirty mug in the dishwasher and then returned to the table where he bent to kiss his sister’s cheek. “Good night, Helen and thanks for the food.”


“My pleasure,” Helen stood up and returned his kiss. “We’ll try and stop the children waking you too early but no promises!”


“It won’t matter, what do you think we came for, if it wasn’t a noisy family Christmas,” Lee planted his own kiss on his hostess’s cheek. “Thanks for having me, Helen and thanks for the food.” He held out his hand to Derry who eyed him suspiciously. “Sooner we get to bed, sooner we can get up and open our presents. What is it you asked Santa for anyway?”


“A watch,” Derry’s moody look lessened as she took his hand. “And a skateboard!”


“A skateboard?” Lee said excitedly. “Well, don’t let your uncle have a go, will you?” He turned his head and flashed a grin at his best friend. “I need him on Seaview in the New Year; I don’t want him stuck in the hospital with his legs in plaster!”


“I could beat you on a skateboard any day,” Chip said challengingly as they headed into the hall.


“You wish!” Lee stopped at the foot of the stairs and looked thoughtfully at his friend.

“What do you say, Derry?” he looked down at the dark haired girl who was watching them both with a curious expression. “A skateboard race! If I win your Uncle has to clean my shoes and pay for the drinks until New Year!”


“Dream on,” Chip responded confidently. “If I win, you have to buy me dessert every night for a week when we get back to Santa Barbara and you can clean my shoes too.” 


“It’s a deal!” Lee held out his hand which Chip shook firmly. “Day after Christmas. I hope your first aid kit is well stocked,” he turned to Helen as she came into the hall and caught the last of their exchange. “Because he’s going to need it!” He nodded at Chip who had already started to ascend the stairs but turned half-way up to smile reassuringly at his sister. “Don’t worry Helen, I’m an accomplished skateboarder!”


“Skateboarder!” Helen looked from one to other in astonishment. “What’s going on?”


“Uncle Lee has challenged Uncle Chip to a skateboard race and he said yes!” Derry spoke excitedly, her earlier mood forgotten. “Wow!” She looked up happily at Lee. “This is going to be a brilliant Christmas!”


Glad you think so, Lee thought as he smiled back at her. Now all I have to do is learn how to skateboard! “Come on, then, bed!” he pushed her up the stairs. “Then we can get up and see if Santa has left you this skateboard!”




After a very long, tiring but enjoyable Christmas Day with plenty of good food, good company and a lot of laughter all the adults retired to bed early, worn out after their few hours sleep the night before.


“Young Derry is very excited about tomorrow, isn’t she?” Lee commented as he sat on his bed in the room he and Chip had always shared ever since he had first accompanied his friend home for Christmas during their first year at Annapolis.


“She certainly is!” Chip agreed as he sat on his own bed and pulled his socks off. “And seeing as she’s told the entire family about our little deal we’re going to have to go ahead with it!”


“You mean you were thinking of reneging on our bet?” Lee pretended to look shocked. “What happened to your sense of honour?”


“My sense of honour doesn’t like the idea of looking like a complete idiot in front of my nieces and nephews,” Chip said honestly as he folded his sweater carefully.


“You mean you can’t skateboard?” Lee grinned delightedly.


“I don’t know,” Chip grinned back. “I’ve never tried and I don’t believe you have either!”


“I’m sorry to admit that you’re right,” Lee laughed.


“So why did you challenge me to a race?”


“Spirit of the moment! Why did you accept? You told Helen you’re an accomplished skateboarder!”


Chip shrugged as he climbed into bed. “I didn’t want her to worry. Besides I used to roller skate when I was a kid. It can’t be much different, can it? Just got to keep your balance!”


“That’s what I figure,” Lee agreed from across the room. “But maybe we better get some practice in first.”


“And I thought I was coming out here for a holiday!” Chip grumbled as he switched off his bedside lamp. “Goodnight, Lee”


“It’ll be fun,” Lee’s voice cut through the darkness as he switched his own lamp off. “And holidays should be fun. Goodnight, Chip.”




 December 26th dawned cold and frosty and the weather forecast promised snow before the end of the day. Lee woke early and finding Chris already in the kitchen supervising breakfast for his two sons asked if he could borrow his car for an hour.


“Sure, I’ll get you the keys,” Chris disappeared and Lee poured himself a coffee and sat down at the table with the boys.


“What time are you and Uncle Chip having the skateboard race?” Jason asked curiously.


“I’m not sure,” Lee said honestly. “Probably after lunch.”


“I wouldn’t leave it too late,” Chris said as he came back into the kitchen and tossed the keys to Lee. “Snow is due by mid-afternoon.”


“You can’t skateboard in the snow!” Timmy informed him with a cheeky grin.


I’m not sure I can skateboard at all! Lee thought as he smiled at Timmy and said confidently. “I’m sure we’ll get our race over with before the snow comes!”



“Do you really think you can beat Uncle Chip?” Jason asked sceptically, his blue eyes fixing Lee with a challenging stare that reminded him of his best friend. “He’s very fast.”


“I know,” Lee nodded over his coffee cup, “but so am I!”


“I didn’t know that Chip had ever been on a skateboard in his life,” Chris said from across the kitchen.


“Neither did I,” Lee grinned, “he’s full of surprises! Well, I’d better be off,” he stood up jangling the car keys in his left hand. “See you later, boys. Chris…” he turned to the older man who was buttering toast. “Can I ask you another favour…in private?”


“Sure,” Chris put down his knife and followed Lee out into the hall where they had a whispered conversation that left the older man laughing silently as he watched his guest leave the house.


When Lee returned over an hour later he found Chip tucking into a huge plate of bacon and eggs.


“Helen spoils you!” Lee remarked as he poured himself a fresh cup of coffee and sat down opposite his friend.


“Helen’s still in bed; I cooked this myself,” Chip said smugly. He looked curiously at his friend, a fork full of eggs poised half-way to his mouth. “Chris said you’d gone on an important errand. What sort of errand?”


“I’ll tell you later,” Lee smiled, secretively and Chip frowned as he continued to eat his large breakfast. After several more mouthfuls he put down his fork and nodded at the window where dark clouds could be seen scudding across the winter sky. “Weather forecast says it’s going to snow, we may have to cancel the race.”


“Why?” Lee grinned. “The snow will make for a softer landing when you fall off!”


“I don’t………” Chip’s next words were cut off as Derry entered the kitchen closely followed by her two brothers.


“Uncle Lee!” She beamed at him as she sat down at the table. “What time are you going to have the skateboard race?”


“Later,” Lee assured her. “After lunch.”


“Ohhh,” Derry groaned and her face began to assume its disagreeable look. “Why can’t you do it now?”


“Because we need to practise first,” Lee told her seriously.


“PRACTISE!” Derry’s voice rose several octaves and she looked from Lee to Chip in shocked disbelief.  “You mean you don’t know how to ride a skateboard?”


“Of course we know how to ride a skateboard,” Chip lied calmly, “but all good athletes practise before a race and Lee and I want to do this properly.”


“Oh,” Derry struggled not to frown at him as she considered his words. Then her expression brightened as she asked enthusiastically, “Can we come and watch you practise?”


“NO!” Both men chorused together. “It’ll ruin the race for you if you watch us practise,” Lee explained in a quieter voice as Chip finished off his bacon and eggs.


“What are you going to use?” Jason, who’d sat quietly listening to his sister, asked suddenly. “We’ve only got Derry’s new skateboard; you can’t both use it at the same time.”


“He’s got a point!” Chip grinned at his nephew. “We never thought of that, Lee.”


YOU didn’t think of that,” Lee grinned back. “But I did.” He stood up and disappeared through the door that led to the utility room and the garage beyond with the children on his heels. Chip made no move to go after them but sat where he was and eyed the door suspiciously. Suddenly, he heard the door behind him open and turned to see his sister entering the kitchen.


“Good morning, Helen!” he smiled broadly at her as he stood up and offered her his chair. “Sit down and I’ll get you some coffee. Did you sleep well?”


“Very well, thank you,” Helen leaned over and kissed his cheek as she slid into the chair he held. She looked around. “Where is everybody?”


“I don’t know about Chris and Katie but the others are outside,” Chip told her as he poured a fresh cup of coffee for his sister and topped up his own cup. “Lee is………”


“Mommy!” Timmy’s reappearance in the kitchen put a stop to Chip’s words as his nephew ran across the floor and threw his arms around his mother. “Look what Uncle Lee’s got,” Timmy’s eyes shone with excitement and a brilliant smile threatened to split his small face in two as he turned back to the door he had just come though. Chip and Helen followed his gaze to see Lee, smiling broadly coming through the door accompanied by Jason and Derry who both clutched brand new skateboards to their chests while enormous smiles were spread across their young faces.


Helen’s eyes widened in surprise as she looked at her two middle children proudly holding the skateboards. “What’s going on?” she looked at Lee with a questioning expression but it was Derry who answered her in a voice breathless with excitement. “Uncle Lee bought them…for the skateboard race!” she informed her mother.


“The skateboard race?” Helen looked from her brother to his friend and back again. “You mean you two are going ahead with it?”


“Of course!” Chip grinned at her. “Can’t go back on our word, Helen.”


“No, I suppose not,” his sister shook her dark head. “But I think you’re both mad. You do know it’s going to snow?”


“Not until late afternoon,” Chip said confidently.


“Well maybe it’ll come earlier and put a stop to this nonsense,” Helen said seriously.


“It’s not nonsense,” Derry said crossly.


“She’s right,” Chip said hurriedly with a teasing smile as he realized that his sister wasn’t amused with her younger daughter. “It’s just a harmless competition, Helen. It’ll be fun!”


“You don’t have any safety gear,” Helen looked disapprovingly at him but he could see the twinkle in her brown eyes which told him she wasn’t as cross as she was pretending to be. “And where are you going to hold this race? Not in the street?”


“No,” Lee spoke up now. “Chris has agreed to let us use the athletic track at the high school; it’ll be deserted so there’ll be no-one to see us and no sudden dangers like cats, cars and children on bicycles!”


“You’ve got it all planned then?” Helen knew when she was beaten. “Okay, have it your own way but don’t start moaning at me,” she looked pointedly at her younger brother. “If you get hurt.”


“I’m not going to get hurt!” Chip spoke with mock indignation, “And when have I ever moaned about it anyway?”


“Never!” Helen conceded with a smile; Chip had always borne any injuries he’d sustained, even serious ones, with great stoicism. “But I’m not watching!”


“But Mommy, you have to,” Timmy wailed. “You can’t miss it!”


“I can and I will,” Helen said calmly. “It’s freezing out there and if you are all going out this afternoon I’m going to take the opportunity to have the place to myself for an hour or two. There are some good films on TV and I had some good books for Christmas; I shall enjoy myself.”


“Boring!” Derry muttered under her breath but Jason, who was more sensitive than his sister, said honestly, “It’s a shame you’ll miss it Mom but we’ll tell you all about it when we get back.”


“Yes,” Timmy agreed with his brother. “And dad can take his camera and then you can see the pictures so you won’t really miss it!”


“Oh, no,” Chip shook his blond head, his voice firm. “Nobody’s taking any photos!”


“I think it’s a great idea,” Helen said approvingly ignoring the glare on her brother’s face. “After all, if you’re going to all this trouble there should be a record of it for the children to look back on in later years.”


“Yes,” Derry agreed enthusiastically with her mother. “That’s a brilliant idea; I’ll go and tell dad now.” She disappeared with her brothers’ close behind leaving the adults alone.


“Thanks, Helen,” Chip made a face at his sister.


“My pleasure,” Helen grinned at him. “If you will insist on going ahead with this madness then I think a photographic record is important.”


Lee smiled at the other two and picked up the skateboards that the children had left on the kitchen floor. “Come on, Chip,” he gestured towards the door. “We best get ready for our practice.”


“Okay,” Chip stood up and took his used plate and fork to the dishwasher. “I’ll meet you by Chris’s car in fifteen minutes.”




Lee was in the hall doing his jacket up when Chip came downstairs fifteen minutes later wearing jeans and two sweaters and carrying his old football helmet.


“What’s that for?” Lee nodded at the helmet as his friend placed it on a side table and reached for his own jacket.




“Protection? Chip, it’s just a skateboard,” Lee laughed.


“Helen thinks what we’re doing is dangerous,” Chip said seriously as he zipped his own jacket up and bent to put his old running shoes on. “I’m not giving her the opportunity to say “I told you so”!”


“Helen wouldn’t do that,” Lee grinned.


“Not verbally,” Chip agreed as he picked the helmet up, “but her eyes would say it and loudly too! Besides,” he pulled the helmet over his blond head. “Nobody will recognise me in the photos if I’m wearing the helmet. I could be anyone!”


“You can borrow mine if you want,” Chris said to Lee as he came into the hall and caught his brother-in-law’s words. “It’s in the garage.”


“Okay, I will, thanks,” Lee nodded gratefully. “Make it fair.” He grinned at Chip as they headed towards the door. “Let’s go and practise!”




When the three men returned nearly two hours later the children clamoured around them all talking at once.


“Who won?”


“Did you win, Uncle Lee?”


“Who was the best, dad?”


“Who went the fastest?”


“Did either of you fall off?” The last question came from Helen who had come into the hall when she heard all her children talking at once.


Lee and Chip looked at each other and burst into laughter.


“I’ll take that as a yes, then,” Helen looked pointedly at them.


“We can’t say,” Lee strove to contain his laughter. “And we didn’t race so there was no winner,” he addressed the expectant faces looking up at them both. “We just set out the course and practised.”


“But are they any good, dad?” Derry turned anxiously to her father.


“They’re not bad,” Chris smiled at his younger daughter. “It should be a close race, that’s all I’m saying. Now what time is lunch?” he pulled off his jacket. “It’s freezing out there and I’m starved.”


“Give me fifteen minutes,” Helen headed back to the kitchen. “We’ll eat in the dining room.”


Over lunch the children explained to their uncle and his friend that they would have to decide on what colours they were going to wear so that they could finish making the flags they had started making before lunch.


“We’ve done all the writing and the pictures,” Katie explained earnestly, “but we’ve got to put in the colours. Jason and I are supporting you, Uncle Chip and Derry and Timmy are supporting Uncle Lee so that it’s fair.”


“Dad has to be neutral,” Derry added, “because he’s going to start the race. So what colours are you going to wear…I think you should wear green, Uncle Lee,” she added with a charming smile. “Then I can wear my green jacket to show I’m on your side. Do you have anything green?”


“I do,” Lee smiled back at his eager supporter. “A dark green sweater; will that do?”


“Yes,” Derry smiled happily. “Timmy has some green pants he can wear so that’s our team sorted.” She turned her attention to her uncle. “What about you Uncle Chip? Katie’s new jacket is pink but I don’t suppose you have any pink clothes, do you?”


“No,” Chip shook his head gravely as everyone else around the table laughed. He looked thoughtful for a moment before saying firmly, “I’ll wear my Bears’ sweater.”


“And I’ll wear mine!” Jason spoke up happily “But what about Katie?” He looked across the table at his eldest sister. “She only wears pink and purple.”


“I don’t,” Katie disagreed. “I have some blue clothes.”


“Yes, but they’re bright blue,” Derry pointed out. “Not dark blue like the Bears.”


“I’ve got a tee shirt you can borrow,” Chris offered. “It’s far too big for you but if you wear it over your jacket it should fit okay.”


“Thanks dad,” Katie smiled gratefully at her father as Derry turned to Lee and asked guilelessly. “What are you going to buy us if you win?”


“DERRY!” Both Helen and Chris spoke disapprovingly to their younger daughter as Lee fought to keep his face straight.


“What?” Derry looked innocently at her parents. “Me and Tim are Uncle Lee’s support team. If he wins I think we should celebrate…we could go out for pizza and ice cream,” she turned back to Lee with a hopeful expression.


“We’ll see,” Lee told her with a serious expression. “I’ve got to win first!”


“Course you’ll win,” Derry said confidently. “You’re the Captain!”


“That doesn’t mean he’ll win,” Jason spoke up in defence of his uncle. “Uncle Chip is very good at sports and he’s going to win! Then you can take me and Katie for pizza and ice cream,” he grinned at his uncle. “And they….” He looked pointedly at his sister and brother. “…can stay at home!”


“I think it’s time you all stopped talking and finished your lunch,” Helen spoke up suddenly, her voice quiet but firm. “If you want to get out and have this race before the snow comes.”


Following their mother’s warning the children shut up and finished their lunch in silence before rushing off to finish their flags and find their team colours leaving the adults to drink coffee in peace.




“Now remember,” Chris Marshall paced in front of the two contestants. “You must have both feet on the board by the time you cross this line…” he stopped and stood on a thick white line chalked across the track. “First one to cross the yellow line….” He pointed to another line further down the track. “Is the winner! Are you both ready?” he walked back to the start line where the two men, jackets discarded, jogged on the spot to keep warm in the increasingly bitter winds that swept across the vast open space where the track was situated. The children, wrapped up in jackets, hats, gloves and scarves, stood at the side of the track waving their flags and eager for the race to start.


“I’m ready,” Chip assured his brother-in-law as he rubbed his gloved hands together and glanced at his best friend.


“Me too,” Lee grinned and reached across to shake hands with his friend. “May the best man win!”


“I will!” Chip grinned back before pulling his helmet over his head.  “I’ll wait for you at the finish line!”


As Chris blew his whistle and the two rivals set off at speed down the track they were aware of the children shouting encouragement as they moved neck and neck towards the line where they had to have both feet on their boards. By the time they crossed that point Chip was in the lead and he grinned to himself as he heard Derry shrieking at Lee to go faster. Fixing his blue eyes on the yellow finish line in the distance Chip focussed his attention on keeping his balance as he sped down the track and was totally unprepared when without any warning, his board suddenly reared up like a feisty horse and he was thrown off to stumble awkwardly across the track as he fought to regain his balance. He heard voices yelling at him to get out of the way but before he could react something hit him sharply in his left ankle and he was thrown to the ground as the weight of Lee’s body crashed down on top of him.


“Yeouch!” Chip yelped as his head and right shoulder struck the track with force and he was glad that he had had the foresight to wear his football helmet as he and Lee lay unmoving in a heap of entangled limbs.


Before either of them could move they were surrounded by the children all enquiring if they were okay except for Derry who complained loudly that Chip had sabotaged Lee’s chances. At this point Lee had managed to roll off his friend and, as they caught each other’s eyes, Derry’s words caused them to burst into laughter.


“I take it you’re okay,” Chris spoke with relief as he came to stand over them as they lay on the track laughing uncontrollably.


“Daddy, Uncle Chip cheated!” Derry pulled at her father’s arm and glared down at her uncle. “He got in Uncle Lee’s way!”


“It was an accident, silly,” Katie turned on her sister. “He didn’t do it on purpose and besides he was winning!”


“I think they should start again,” Jason piped up. “Uncle Chip was a lot faster; he would have won!”


“Yeah, but he fell off,” Derry said scornfully. “That’s disqualifies him, doesn’t it daddy?”


Ignoring the children’s arguments Chris crouched down beside the two men who still lay laughing on the track. “You sure you’re okay?” he asked with concern.


“I’m fine,” Lee managed to contain his laughter and pushed himself into a sitting position. “You made a great cushion!” he turned to look down at his friend. “I hope I didn’t hurt you, Chip.”


“I’m okay,” Chip spoke confidently as he struggled to push himself up, grimacing as pain in his right shoulder shot down his arm. “I’m sorry I got in your way, Lee. I don’t know what happened.”


“You probably hit a stone or something,” Chris said as he looked speculatively at his brother-in-law. “You sure you’re not hurt, Chip? You did hit the ground with a lot of force.”


“I’m fine, just a bit bruised,” Chip assured him with a smile. “Its part of my job description you know, providing a cushion for my Captain!”


“Well, it was your fault I came off!” Lee protested.


“It wasn’t my fault,” Chip argued as he rubbed his sore arm. “Something made me come off and you could have steered out of the way!”


“Are you going to race again or not?” Derry demanded as she came to stand between her father and the two arguing men who still sat on the track.


“What do you say?” Lee eyed his friend challengingly.


“Fine with me!” Chip nodded. “But I want the track checked for stones first!”


While Chris and the children checked the track Lee and Chip made their way back to the start line but while Lee walked with his usual long-legged stride Chip struggled to keep up as he tried not to limp too obviously.


“You’re limping,” Lee stopped to look with concern at his friend.


“It’s just a bruise,” Chip looked askance at him. “Where somebody’s skateboard hit my ankle!”


“I’m sorry,” Lee said apologetically. “Maybe we shouldn’t race again. It won’t do your ankle any good.”


“I’ll be fine,” Chip dismissed his friend’s concern. “It’s just a bruise, Lee and it’ll be worth it when I win!”


“Well, if you’re sure,” Lee shrugged. “I don’t think Derry will forgive you if we don’t finish the race!”


“She won’t forgive me if I win!” Chip grinned. “You’re obviously her favourite. I hope she isn’t disillusioned when you lose!”


However, although the two skateboarders started the second race running closely together Lee soon edged ahead of Chip and continued to increase the distance between them until he crossed the finish line a skateboard’s length ahead of his friend much to Derry’s delight.


“I knew you would win!” she raced to hug him tightly, her face triumphant. “You were much faster than Uncle Chip!”


“To be fair to your Uncle he did hurt his ankle,” Lee said generously with an apologetic look at his friend. “It wasn’t a very fair race.”


Derry shrugged her slim shoulders. “You still would have beaten him,” she said confidently. “You ARE the Captain after all!”


“Don’t worry, Uncle Chip,” Katie patted his arm. “I still think you’re the best.”


“Thank you,” Chip smiled solemnly at his elder niece as he pulled off his helmet wincing as his right arm and shoulder objected to the action.


“Does that hurt?” Chris enquired as he joined them and handed Lee his jacket. He kept hold of Chip’s as he looked worriedly at him.


“A bit,” Chip admitted reluctantly. He frowned as the camera slung around Chris’s neck reminded him that his sister had requested photos of the whole race. “Please tell me that you forgot to take any pictures, Chris.”


“Sorry!” Chris laughed as he helped the younger man put his jacket on. “I’m afraid I have everything on this film!”


Chip groaned as the others gathered up the skateboards, flags and helmets ready to return to the car park. It didn’t bother him that he had lost the race but he wasn’t at all sure that he wanted people looking at photos of his disgrace. If it hadn’t been for a stupid stone he was sure he would have won the first race; now he was going to have to endure Derry’s triumphant crowing and the pain from innumerable bruises for the rest of the day, not to mention Helen’s disapproval if he didn’t manage to hide his discomfit from her. Some holiday this was turning into! He looked so dejected as they headed back to the cars that Lee, catching sight of his face, encouraged his adoring supporters to go on ahead of him and hung back to wait for him to catch up.


“I meant it when I said that the race wasn’t fair,” Lee said with a smile. “I think we should have postponed it for a few days; it’s no victory when your opponent is handicapped.”


“I am NOT handicapped,” Chip growled his reply, “and if we had postponed it Derry would have gone into a massive sulk and told Helen that I got hurt.”


“You think she’s not going to notice?” Lee enquired with a frown. “You’re limping really badly.”


“I’ll be fine,” Chip declared with a grimace. “I just need to rest it which I can do on the ride back. Here…” he pulled the keys to Helen’s car from his pocket and handed them to Lee. “You can drive.”


“Are we going for pizza and ice cream now, Uncle Lee?” Timmy suddenly appeared at his side jumping up and down in excitement.


“I don’t know; you’ll have to ask your dad.”


“DAD!” Timmy raced off again. “Can we go for pizza and ice cream now?”


“That’s up to Lee,” Chris turned to look enquiringly at the younger man.


“It’s fine with me if it’s fine with you,” Lee told him and grinned as Derry and Timmy started cheering, “BUT I insist on taking Jason and Katie too,” he smiled at the two solemn faces who were watching their cheering siblings.


“THAT’S NOT FAIR!” Derry objected loudly and a frown started to form on her previously happy face. “The deal was the winner took his team for pizza and ice cream. HE didn’t win……” she glared at Chip. “So they can’t go!”


“Derry!” Chris glared at his younger daughter. “That’s enough! If Lee wants to take all of you then that’s his choice. How would you feel if Uncle Chip had won and he only took Katie and Jason?”


“But he didn’t win!” Derry muttered mutinously.


“That’s only because my skateboard damaged his ankle,” Lee said solemnly. “It wasn’t a fair race, Derry so it’s not fair to leave Jason and Katie behind. I’d feel bad if I only took the two of you.”


“Oh,” Derry looked curiously at him for several seconds while her siblings fidgeted hopefully and the adults held their breath. “Okay, if you think it’s the thing to do, I’ll go along with it.”


“Thank you,” Lee smiled at her as the others cheered and raced to get in their mother’s car.


“Maybe you should take her back to Santa Barbara,” Chris said with a grin as he opened the trunk of his car and threw the skateboards and helmets in the back. “She never responds to me like that.”


“You’re not her hero,” Chip teased as he leant against the side of the car. “If you ask me,” he grinned at his friend. “I think losing was the better option. I get to go home now and rest in peace and comfort while you get to entertain four excited children for another few hours! Yea,” his grin increased as Lee frowned wonderingly at him. “I definitely feel like the winner! Shall we go home, Chris?” He turned to look at his brother-in-law who was standing by his open car door watching their exchange with a broad smile.


“Soon as you’re in the car!” Chris grinned and climbed into the driver’s seat.


Chip limped to the open door and climbed awkwardly into the front passenger seat. “See you later, Lee! Have a great time!” He waved at his friend who stood watching him with a frown.


“I will!” Lee shouted back at him. “And don’t forget to clean my shoes!”


“I can’t,” Chip shot back through the open window as Chris started the engine. “I’m injured, remember?” He laughed at the look of disgust on Lee’s face as the car moved slowly forward towards the exit and he wound the window back up before settling carefully back in his seat with a satisfied smile. There were definitely worse things than being covered in bruises and losing a skateboard race, he thought contentedly as he watched his friend drive Helen’s car out behind them through the rear view mirror. And taking four excited children for pizza and ice cream was definitely one of them!




“I bought you a present!” Entering the study where his best friend was watching football on a portable television Lee Crane deposited a take-out carton from the local

Pizza restaurant on to the desk.


“What is it?” Chip Morton removed his gaze from the television screen to look questionably at the box.


“Open it and see,” Lee smiled encouragingly.


“It’s not a joke, is it?” Chip asked suspiciously as he reached out with his left hand and picked the box up.


“Of course it’s not a joke,” Lee feigned offence. “It’s a gift…for a friend.”


“Oh,” Chip raised his eyebrows slightly as he carefully opened the box but his face broke into a delighted smile as he looked inside. “It’s a slice of cake!” he said unnecessarily.


“It’s a slice of triple chocolate fudge cake with whipped cream AND cherries,” Lee informed him with a smile.


“But you were supposed to buy me dessert if I won, not if I lost!” Chip protested weakly his blue eyes still on the delicious looking cake.


“It’s nothing to do with the bet,” Lee grinned. “It’s more like a consolation prize!”


“Thank you,” Chip smiled broadly as he plunged his right forefinger into the cream and raised it to his mouth. “So how was the pizza party?”


“Exhausting! Here, use this,” Lee handed him a plastic spoon as he sank into a chair. “I don’t know how Helen and Chris cope with four children full-time; it’s a hundred times harder than running Seaview.”


“That’s because you didn’t have the services of your exec,” Chip said teasingly. “You can’t run an efficient ship without one!”


“I do admit that I could’ve done with your help,” Lee admitted with a grin. “But instead I find you sitting here with your feet up!”


“Loser’s privilege!” Chip laughed as he scooped another helping of cake and cream onto his spoon.


“What did Helen say about your ankle?” Lee enquired as his friend licked cream from his lips.


“Nothing!” Chip grinned. “Just handed me an ice pack and said “I guess you lost”. No sympathy at all! Infact,” his face took on a disgruntled look. “She was too busy singing your praises for handling Derry so well. You need to watch it,” he looked pointedly at his friend. “Chris’s comment about taking Derry back with you could well come true!”


Lee laughed. “I like her; I know she’s a bit of a challenge but she’s got a lot of spirit and determination.”


“That’s one way of describing her,” Chip said thoughtfully although privately he found his younger niece to be the most difficult and disagreeable of his sister’s children. He swallowed the last mouthful of his cake as the door opened and Chris stuck his head round. “Can we come in?”


“Sure,” Chip nodded and sighed inwardly as the door opened wider and his brother-in-law came into the room with his four children swarming excitedly around him.


“Look what we’ve got,” several voices chattered at once as they gathered around the room’s two occupants.


“Who had the cake?” Derry’s voice rose above the others as she noticed the empty container on the desk and she looked accusingly at her uncle who gazed innocently back at her. “Did you give it to him?” she turned to Lee, her expression questioning. “Losers shouldn’t get prizes!”


“I don’t think you’re being very kind,” Katie spoke softly before Lee could reply. “Uncle Chip didn’t get any pizza and he got hurt; Uncle Lee was just being kind.”


“Oh,” Derry looked wonderingly at Lee before giving him a dazzling smile as Timmy said impatiently. “Shut up, Derry and let daddy show them the photos.”


“Photos!” Both men chorused in surprise. “Already?”


“I took them to one of those quick development places,” Chris explained as he handed the packet over to his brother-in-law. “There are some brilliant pictures in there.”


“Really?” Chip raised one eyebrow sceptically as he accepted the packet.


“Derry’s already chosen the one she’s going to have on her wall,” Jason teased his sister as two heads…dark and blond…studied the pictures.


“Look that one!” Derry leant across Lee to point at a picture of him riding his skateboard towards the finish line.


“Could be anyone!” Chip muttered. “You can’t tell it’s you under the helmet.”


“You can cos he’s wearing green,” Derry argued. “And everyone knows you support the Bears so they can see that you’re the one who fell off!” She pointed to the photo that clearly showed her uncle struggling to maintain his balance after he came off his skateboard.


“You got the negatives?” Lee enquired as they came to the end of the set of pictures.


“Sure,” Chris nodded.


“Good,” Lee grinned. “I’m sure that you want to keep these but I’d like to get a set printed for us to take back…as a keepsake,” he added as Chip groaned loudly. Handing the photos back to his brother-in-law he said pointedly, “I’d appreciate it if you lose the negatives!”


“Don’t be a spoilsport!” Lee punched him playfully as Chris grinned at them. “Come on kids!” he addressed the children who looked at him expectantly. “Dinner will be ready soon.”


“But dad…” Derry started to argue only to be stopped by her sister who said excitedly, “Come on, Derry. We might have time to stick the photos in a book. Can we do that dad?” They both looked hopefully at their father.


Chris shrugged. “I don’t see why not but you have to lay the table first.”


“Okay!” With beaming smiles the girls left the study closely followed by their brothers and their father who grinned apologetically at Lee and Chip as he disappeared through the door.


“Sometimes I get the feeling that my family and my best friend are conspiring against me!” Chip spoke into the silence that descended as the door closed.


“Now you’re getting paranoid,” Lee laughed. “It’s just a bit of fun, Chip. Don’t tell me you’re turning into a sore loser!” As Chip glared at him through narrowed eyes he attempted to assume a more serious expression as he apologised. “Sorry, bad choice of words there. I know you’re physically sore but you don’t usually mind when you lose.”


“I don’t care that I lost,” Chip managed a grin, “but I don’t see why you want the photos; they’re for the children, not us.”


“I thought they might come in useful,” Lee said with a teasing grin. “And I want an enlargement for my office wall. You could have one too; say the one where you’re trying to stay upright or the one where I’m laying on top of you!”


Chip scowled and Lee roared with laughter. “You should see your face, Chip. I’m not serious. Could you imagine the Admiral’s face?”


“That’s exactly what I am imagining,” Chip continued to scowl. “And trust me; it’s not a good image!”


“Trust me,” Lee continued to smile broadly. “I promise that I won’t let anyone see the photos. I just want them to remember today by.”


“Fair enough,” Chip nodded his expression thoughtful. “I guess it is nice to have a pictorial record of important events. I wonder if Helen still has the negatives of my twenty-first birthday party. I must ask her.  I haven’t seen those photos for years and I’m sure they’ve never been seen by anyone outside the family. They’d be sure to get a laugh back at the Institute.”


“You wouldn’t!” Lee’s smile disappeared as a long forgotten memory of his antics at Chip’s party came back to him.


“I hope I don’t have to!” Now it was Chip’s turn to laugh as he watched a variety of emotions cross his friend’s face. “To be honest I’d long forgotten about that incident but it just came back to me in a moment of desperation! I’m sure the Admiral would love to see those photos!”


For a long moment Lee stared thoughtfully at his grinning friend before saying with a hint of admiration. “You know I may have won the race but you really did win the afternoon, didn’t you?”


“Sure did,” Chip nodded with a look of satisfaction as Lee opened the door in response to somebody’s knock.


“Mommy said dinner’s nearly ready!” Jason looked from one to the other of them.


“Okay, we’re just coming,” Chip acknowledged his nephew before struggling painfully to his feet to limp across the room. “You know,” he looked thoughtfully at his friend who held the door open for him. “I may have won the afternoon but Derry still thinks you’re a hero and I’m going to be covered in bruises for days so I guess we both won and lost in the end!”


“Well, I do like a fair contest!” Lee said seriously and they both laughed as they made their way across the hallway to the dining room and a noisy family dinner.



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