Nobody Oughta' Be Alone On Christmas

By

Linda Delaney

(Author’s note…I have to thank my writing partner, Jane Daffron, for allowing me to use the scene on the Nelson’s deck, from Sea Angel. It helps to complete this tale. I also have to thank Jane for her editing of the story as well.

*The title of this story comes from a song, All Alone on Christmas, written by artist, Steven Van Zandt, and it is a signature song of the group called Holiday Express. Holiday Express was founded about ten years ago, by a local performer,(Local to me… Rumson, NJ) Tim McCloone. Tim saw all the people who had no one and nothing at the Holidays, and he formed this musical group to play and perform for them. They travel and give of themselves at homeless shelters, refuges for battered women and children, soup kitchens and the like. All of the monies they raise go toward the people that they entertain. They also bring gifts and many other things to people at this time of year. They will be doing about 40 performances in 29 days. They receive no money, and their time and talents are all volunteer. Their guiding philosophy is ‘Bringing the gift of human kindness to those in need in the Holiday Season.’ Their website is www.holidayexpress.org, if you are interested in this worthy cause.)

 

 

Lee Crane was tired, bone tired. The boat had returned from another mission… successful, but not without taking its’ toll on the officers and crew alike. This particular time of year was always hard … he hated it since the year that Cathy….Cathy had died. He kept the holiday for Robert’s sake, and for his mother, and their friends. But he would much rather be on the boat, facing aliens, monsters, and just plain bad guys, than facing the cheerfulness and gaiety of another Christmas season. He went through the motions, but he didn’t feel the season in his heart. His heart… that died the day that Cathy did. Resolving not to show how he was feeling, he pulled his car into his driveway, opened the garage door, and drove his Cobra into it. Closing the door behind him, he got out of the car, put his cover under his arm, and took his briefcase from the backseat. At least the boat was in port for the next two weeks, with the crew having holiday leave. Chip was going to be able to spend time with his growing family, and Admiral Nelson and Karen were having a very special Christmas this year with the birth of their son approaching. Yes, it was going to be another good holiday for his family and friends. He heard voices in the kitchen, and steeled himself for an onslaught of holiday activity.

Since he was a child, his mother had always made a great deal of Christmas. It was her favorite holiday and she never neglected to tell him and show him how she felt about it.

He could smell some of that feeling as he opened the door to the mudroom. Helen Crane was baking… he could smell the aromatic aroma of cookies, and the pies… The little boy in him hoped that she had made at least one cherry pie. It was his favorite since he was small, and even ‘Cookie’ on the boat, as good as he was, couldn’t match his mother’s cooking in that respect. He smiled, remembering all the times she had used the pie to soothe hurts, large and small, and ease sad times…

He headed straight for the kitchen. Arriving at the doorway, he found Helen bending over the kitchen table, Caitlin Davis on one side, Alex Morton, and his son on the other. The four were engrossed in something they were doing on the table…

He stood, quietly watching, and then cleared his throat. "Isn’t anyone going to welcome a lonely sailor home from the sea?"

Robert Crane’s little head popped up, saw he father, and shouted in delight. "Daddy!" He bolted and dove at Lee, who had put his briefcase and cap down on the floor when he entered the kitchen. Each time he returned from a mission it seemed to him that Robert grew by leaps and bounds. Lee scooped up the four-year-old, and hugged him tightly, the warmth of his welcome being returned in kind by his son.

"Daddy!! Gram is making cookies with faces, and we’re all helping!! Look!"

R.C. had disengaged himself from his father’s arms, and was pulling Lee over to the Kitchen Table. Helen looked up and kissed him on the cheek.

"Welcome home, dear."

"Mom," he said, "How’s it going, was Robert good for you while I was gone?"

"Lee, you know Robert’s always good for me." She smiled as her grandson waited patiently to have his father’s attention once again, "We decided to bake today, and invited Alex to come over, and since Caitlin was babysitting her, we asked her to join us… we’re having a grand time. I’m so glad you’re home, there’s a lot to do with only a few days ‘til Christmas."

Lee nodded at his mother, and saw Chip’s daughter looking up at him…He bent a knee, and extended arms to his goddaughter. "Hello, Alex!"

Alexandra Morton looked at her god-father, and smiled…"Unca Lee!" She stepped off the step-stool, and moved to him, wrapping flour and sugar filled arms around him. She kissed him, leaving a further trail of sweet destruction on Lee’s cheek. "Makin’ tookies. Caitie heppin’ Wook! Me do a angel!" The small child pulled the tall, gaunt man over to where she had been standing on a stool, and he made quite a fuss out of looking at the mass of cookie and icing that she had in front of her place. "Angels, Unca Lee!"

Robert grabbed his other hand… "Daddy, I made a Santa…Look" Lee was pulled to the other side of the table to look at Robert’s creation, and was somewhat surprised at the degree of fine detail that the cookie had.

"You did this…all by yourself?"

"Yes, Daddy. No one helped." The young boy was quite pleased with himself.

"That’s right, Lee." Caitlin assured him, smiling at the boat’s Captain. "He did it all by himself, right R.C.?"

"Yep! Gram gave me the stuff…an’ I did it all by myself…"

Lee ruffled his son’s hair, and looked into the proud little face. His green eyes, like his mother’s, were glowing. "It’s a grand job, Robert! I’m very proud of you!" He hugged the little boy again "Very proud indeed!"

"Unca Lee! Unca Lee! You p…proud of me?" Alex demanded, refusing to be left out of the praise.

Lee laughed, and went to the little girl and hugged her, too. "Of course, sweetheart! I’m proud of you and your angel too!" Alex Morton beamed with the compliment.

Caitlin and Helen looked at one another, and smiled…Caitlin then looked at Alex, and taking her from Lee’s embrace, said, gently, "Alex, honey, if Uncle Lee is home, then your daddy is home, too. Want to go and see your daddy?"

"Yes!! Want my Dadda! Now!" the child nodded vigorously and squirmed to get out of Caitlin’s embrace.

The three adults laughed and Caitlin took Alex to the sink to wash her before returning her to the Morton’s home. As she was finishing up, and Helen was talking quietly to Lee, the doorbell suddenly rang. Lee went to the door and found Chip Morton standing there, still in his uniform.

"Hey, Lee! Matty left a message that I would find my daughter over here." He stepped into the foyer and a small blonde fireball came running through from the kitchen upon hearing the voice in the hallway.

"DADDA! DADDA! DADDA!" and as Chip bent down to her level, Alexandra Victoria Morton threw herself forcefully into her father’s arms. Chip hugged her back with equal enthusiasm.

"How’s my princess?"

"Me made angels wif Nana Nene. And me kisseed Unca Lee…" she pointed to Lee’s blue uniform, covered with flour and sugar smudges. Then she pointed to the sugar on his face. All of a sudden, Chip held her off from him…

"No kisses for Daddy?" She looked at him with a bedazzling smile… Her blue eyes, a combination of Chip’s blue and Matty’s turquoise glittered with mischief… "I kiss you, Dadda!" she leaned over and planted a very wet, and messy kiss on Chip’s cheek, which set both men laughing once again.

"I think I’d better get my sugar plum here back to the house…. Time for her dinner and a then to bed…little girls need to get their sleep…they have to practice for Christmas Eve. C’mon princess, Mommy’s waiting for us."

"Wait, Dadda! Nana Nene!!!" Alex pushed herself out of Chip’s arms, and went running to the other room….the two men heard lots of talk and some giggles, and then she came out into the room, carrying a paper plate and on the plate her ‘Angel’ cookie. "Here, Dada…" she proudly handed it to Chip… "For you… an’ Momma!"

"My, princess…this is just beautiful…" he looked straight into her eyes. "Your mommy is going to be so proud of you…Thank you!"

"Wecum, Dadda …bye, Unca Lee… bye, R.C. …Bye, bye, Caitie…bye Nana Nene …me wuv you!!" And she put her hand to her mouth , and threw a kiss, which started the adults laughing again. Lee kissed her, and managed to shake hands with Chip.

Taking hold of the little girl’s hand, Chip replied, "See you tomorrow at the office… Angie needs those Ops reports for the O.O.M. by 1100. I’ll be in at 0800 if there’s anything that you need to go over with me. "

"I’ll be there. There’s some new information from Thompson and the DEA people we have to go over as well. I’ll see you there at 0800."

"Night, Lee." Chip carried Alex down the walk as she chattered away and Lee closed the door, smiling as his friend and daughter got into the tall blonde officer’s car.

Caitlin Davis was standing in the archway to the Great Room, pulling on her light jacket. "I’ll be leaving, too, Lee. Mom’s still having Christmas Eve dinner and I want to help her as much as I can. She really shouldn’t be doing too much right now…and even though Dr. Miller’s sure everything’s okay, I don’t want her to take any unnecessary chances. And neither does HN." She smiled at the Captain of the Seaview, a completely disarming smile. "Mom keeps calling me a mother hen. I guess maybe she’s right."

Helen came out to the foyer, wiping her hands on her apron. "Lee, I tell you that was such fun this afternoon, I haven’t had such fun since I don’t know when…" She saw Caitlin getting ready to leave. "Caitlin, dear, don’t leave. Please stay for dinner. I know that Harriman and Karen are looking forward to some time alone before that baby comes. You can have dinner with us, and then go on back to the house. And while the apartment’s being painted, I want you to feel free to come here anytime, while the boat is in port or out. We have plenty of room here for you to knock about…right, Lee? Now, I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, so come into the kitchen with me, dear. We can talk while I fix dinner." Then over her shoulder to her son, "Lee, why don’t you and R.C. get some of the decorations out of the closet. In your last message from the boat, you said we’d get the tree tomorrow…"

Before he could answer, she disappeared into the kitchen with Caitlin, leaving Lee standing in the foyer alone. Robert silently walked in and slid his hand into his father’s. "Daddy, the boxes that Gramma wants are in the basement…wanna try and get ‘em? I wanna see the orn…orna…ornaments…"

Lee sighed and looked down at his son, the boy’s eyes alight with the wonder and excitement of the holiday. He really only wanted to have dinner and relax afterward. He wasn’t ready for Christmas. He just wasn’t ready… however, Robert didn’t have to know how he felt.

Looking at the little boy, he said, "Robert, how about we wait until tomorrow, and then you and I can make a day of getting all the things up and out. Daddy’s tired, and I’d like to rest a bit before I try and move all of those boxes around. Then tomorrow night, you and I and Gran can go out and get the tree."

"Really, Daddy?" The little boy’s eyes lit up. "Okay, Daddy… tomorrow we do the boxes!"

Lee smiled at his son, and swung him into his arms. "Thanks, Robert. I love you" and he hugged him tightly.

His arms went around his father’s neck, and he tightly hugged Lee. "I love you too, Daddy, lots and lots…and I’m glad you’re home."

"Me too, Robert." He swung him down, and holding Robert’s hand in his, they moved to the kitchen, "Let’s see what your Grandma has fixed for dinner, okay?"

"Yep…I’m hungry, Daddy"

"After all that cookie making, I’ll bet you are! What did you do while I was away on the boat?"

"Gran and I went to the zoo, and we did a lot of shoppin’ an’ we played a lot…an’ I did a lot of stuff." He squeezed Lee’s hand and pulled on his arm so that Lee stopped walking and looked down at him. "Don’t tell Gran…but one of the days that Caitlin sat me, we went ta town, and we went shoppin’ for Gran for Christmas. It’s a s’prise! And Caitlin said we shouldn’t tell you either… she says its our secret…neat, huh, Daddy?"

"Sure, Robert…real neat!!" Holding onto his son’s hand, he stepped into the kitchen, and was amazed by the transformation of the messy room it had been just what seemed like minutes before. All of the cookie making supplies, as well as the cookies had disappeared, and in its place was a well set table, with glasses, dishes and flatware in all the proper places.

Caitlin Davis was working at the counter with Helen Crane, cutting a loaf of French bread. She looked up at Lee, and smiled, "I see the Crane men’s stomachs are calling them to eat! Well, R.C., you and your dad better wash up, if you want to sit down to dinner…your grandmother worked real hard today to get this done so that we could make cookies today…C’mon Robert, into the bathroom and wash!"

"Aww, Caitlin, I’m not dirty….Flour’s not dirty! Gram… flour’s not dirty!" the little boy mightily insisted.

Lee laughed aloud at his son’s objections. "Well, Robert, I do beg to differ with you…Just look at how dirty I look, and its’ all Alex’s flour and sugar. The Laundry’s going to have fun ribbing me about the condition of this uniform!"

"But, Daddy…!!"

"No, buts. Robert. You go and wash, and with Caitlin’s dictum in mind, I think I’m going to run upstairs and change out of this ‘dirty’ uniform before we sit down to eat." He tousled Robert’s hair, and pushed him gently to the powder room under the stairs. "I’ll be right down…" He winked at Caitlin and smiled at his mother, then took the turn to the stairs, taking them two at a time.

While Robert washed, and Lee changed, Caitlin and Helen finished preparing the dinner. Helen Crane was fond of Caitlin Davis. She had become acquainted with Harriman Nelson’s step-daughter after her daughter-in-law, Cathy Connors had died and the then teenager had stepped in to help with Robert.

That had been such a horrible time for all of them, and Helen had come West to help Lee raise his son. The turmoil that had greeted her had startled and confused her. She had become used to a single life, going her own way, doing what she pleased, when and where she pleased. She had not kept close to Lee after he had chosen to leave home for the Navy. The Navy had killed his father and she would never forget that. It had taken her years to forgive, but she would never forget. Then it had taken her son away from her, when he should have stayed in Providence, married Marie Claire, and had a good stable life and family.

Instead, he had gone to the Naval Academy, gaining entrance on his own merit, and going on to excel in his class. Once he graduated, he began to gallivant around the world on ships and boats, until he had found a home port in Santa Barbara, at the Nelson Institute. Helen didn’t understand what drove her son, all she knew was once at the N.I.M.R., Lee Crane had found a home. And more than that, he had found a wife, and a happiness that Helen had thanked the Lord for every day. She and Lee had reconciled, and Helen had come to love Cathy as the daughter she never had.

Then one mind-shattering day, Harriman Nelson called her with the catastrophic news that Cathy Crane was dead. In an auto accident. Nelson had sent the Chief of the Boat, Francis Sharkey, and the boat’s most senior rating, Kowalski, to pick her up in the Flying Sub and to bring her to Santa Barbara. Her life had then become one with her son’s since that time. Lee had a baby son to raise, and initially Helen felt it was her duty to stay with him. Then, during the wake and the funeral, she had seen how loved both he and Cathy were by the men of the boat and the people that they both worked with. She knew that she had to stay for both their sakes…to give her grandson a mother figure, and to help her son, who had become a deeply brooding and introverted person with his wife’s death.

So here she was in sunny California, making ready for another California Christmas. Not exactly the ideal setting for this particular festive and meaningful holiday. Secretly, she resolved that when Robert was older, she would take him east for a real Christmas in New England. She sighed, and handed Caitlin Davis a bowl for the table.

Caitlin sensed that the older woman was suddenly melancholy and that a lot of it had to do with the time of the year as well as the mood that Lee was in when he came into the house. She was aware of Lee’s recent history, and Karen had told her something of the background of Lee’s mother when Helen had arrived in Santa Barbara. Having been through all the pain and sorrow herself, after her own father had died, she knew the holidays weren’t always the best time for either Helen or Lee. Robert had been but a baby when Cathy died, so the feelings of loss and loneliness weren’t the same. He missed his mother only in memories of her that his father shared.

"You okay, Helen?" she asked with a slight smile of concern.

"Hmmm...oh, yes, Caitlin. I'm fine. It's just that...well… Lee…he gets so broody and dark at this time of the year. I can understand. I can’t help but remember when I lost his father...It's not easy as I'm sure you well know. Robert's too young to understand - he didn't have time to know his mother, much less miss her… all he knows of Cathy is from those of us that loved her."

Caitlin set the bowl on the table and became quiet and reflective. Softly, "I know how it is...I remember how Mom was when Daddy died. Those first few Christmases were awfully hard and I guess I wasn't much help to her. I had my own grieving to go through and Mom tried to help but she was having a hard enough time of her own..." She hesitated then continued. " The one blessing here...I guess if you could call it that...is that R.C. didn't have to go through that...he was too young when Cathy died. It's awfully tough on kids...they don't understand. I know I didn't. One minute Daddy was there, and the next moment he wasn’t coming home ever again. And I didn’t know why… you know, I never told Mom, but for a long time I thought it was my fault. That I had done something to make him go away like that. It really took me years to accept that fact that I had nothing to do with the drunk driver that killed my father. I know that now. I didn’t then, and I was too stubborn to talk to Mom about it."

Helen sadly nodded. "Yes, I know how hard it is for a child to understand. As a child, Lee didn't understand, either. He became a very sad, and quiet little boy. And I tried to bury my own grief to make sure he was okay, at least around him. It took me a long time before I could let go. David Crane was then, and has always been, the only love of my life…I loved him more than I can ever explain. Especially to Lee. And I turned that love into a hate of all the things that David had loved so intensely. I think I even hated my own son for a while. But I did, I do love Lee, and I tried to protect him. In spite of what I felt, I always made sure he never heard me crying. Caitlin, you know, regardless of the hurt, injured mothers protect their young… it’s instinctive. Talking with your mother, I gather she was a lot like that, too..." She smiled sadly at the young woman in front of her.

Caitlin leaned back against the counter. "She was. I can remember hearing Mom cry at night...but I rarely saw her do it. She'd come in my room and get into bed with me and hold me to comfort me when I was crying, ...or I'd crawl into bed with her. Being without Daddy scared me...but I never really understood until a lot later how much it really scared and hurt Mom. I’ve always thought of Mom as being so strong…so…able to deal with things without showing any fear. It wasn’t until years ago that I really learned that she was terrified when Daddy died. Mom put on a good ‘game face’ but underneath, she was really scared. I was so glad when HN came into our lives. She needed someone like him...someone who would love her totally and give her the security she needed... just like Daddy had." She drew in a deep breath and slowly exhaled as she sat the bowl on the table. "Maybe one of these days, Lee will understand that it's okay to care for someone else…"

"I hope so, dear. He’s much too young to spend the rest of his life alone, and Robert needs a mother, not his grandmother, to help him grow up."

Caitlin turned, fussing with the tablecloth, and stopped short, seeing Lee leaning against the doorframe into the kitchen. The look on his face puzzled her. It was unreadable, almost blank. She shook her head trying to clear her thoughts. He once again was throwing off vibes that totally confused her. She knew how she felt, and she wondered exactly what he felt about her.

Lee was lounging in the doorframe, his shoulder leaning against it, arms crossed over his chest. He had changed into his slim cut Dockers, and a denim shirt, buttoned halfway up. He wore no shoes, intending to walk the beach as he did after dinner when he was home. He had come into the conversation at the tailend, listening with quiet interest as the two women talked. He was sad and confused. And not at all happy that Helen had been discussing his life, and that of his son’s, with Caitlin Davis. There was something about the presence of this young woman that he felt disturbing, in a strange sort of way, and he couldn’t explain. She was a pretty girl, a tiny one. Different from Cathy. With white blonde hair, and sparkling but unsettling blue eyes. And young…much too young for him to even entertain a thought…

Robert came up behind him, and pulled on his arm, until Lee dropped the arm over his son’s shoulder. Robert looked up at his father, and smiled, and Lee ruffled his curls again. Robert wrapped his arms around his father’s leg.

"I love you, Daddy," he said innocently.

"I love you too, Robert." Lee bent over, and pulled him up into his arms. "And now that the two of us are spanking clean, I’d say…let’s eat!" He moved over to the table, and set Robert down on a chair, taking one next to him, at the oval table. Caitlin sat opposite Lee, and Helen sat facing Robert.

"Daddy, can I say grace? Gramma says that the man of the house says grace, but I wanna tonight, can I, please!"

Lee smiled at his son…"Go on, Robert…Gramma’s right, about most things, but I’d rather you do it." Robert Crane beamed at his father, and the two women at the table.

"Okay… now everyone hold hands…" He bowed his head, unaware of the three sets of eyes focused on him. "God, this is supposed to be a grace prayer. But I kinda want to say something else…Thanks for bringing my daddy home. I’m glad he’s gonna be home for a while… and I’m glad that we’re having dinner together with Caitlin, ‘cause I like her a lot. And God, thank you for Gramma’s cookin’ cause she’s the best! So thank you for everything, God…Amen."

The three adults wore broad grins on their faces, as Robert raised his head. He smiled at them and then asked, seriously, "Daddy was that okay? I mean…is God gonna listen to all of it even if I said a thank you in a Grace prayer?"

"God listens to all prayers, Robert, whenever they’re said. It’s just that…sometimes we don’t get the answers we want…or expect. Pray whenever you want to or feel that you have to…just don’t plan on an answer the way that you want." He paused, and then looked at Helen Crane…with a crooked grin… "Dinner smells good… what is it?"

"Well, I knew that you were coming home today, so I thought you might like your favorite dinner… It’s been a long time since I’ve fixed this one for you… I remember when I sent Cathy the recipe, she was so delighted… and then she fixed it for you and called me to tell me how much you had enjoyed it…. I… Oh! I’m sorry, Lee…I…"

Lee reached across the table and touched her hand. "It’s okay, Mom. Really okay…" He looked over at Robert, and Caitlin caught the look of deep sadness when he looked at his son. "So…where are the Helen Crane stuffed pork chops with mashed potatoes, gravy, and asparagus with sauce? You have a hungry sailor home from the sea waiting for his mother’s home cooking!!"

Lee was trying hard to lighten the moment, but Caitlin could see that the lightness was a façade. Helen either didn’t or wouldn’t see it. The sadness in those amber hazel eyes struck a chord with Harriman Nelson’s stepdaughter… There was a realization that it was going to take someone a long time to get the man to open up and feel again…that it was going to be a very long hard struggle. Lee Crane had shut down that part of him that would love another woman the way he had loved his wife. Caitlin saw, in his eyes, a look that said ‘don’t come near me. I’m not letting anyone in ever again.’

She sighed and reached over to him, touching his hand lightly, breaking into his dark mood. Smiling, she said, "And I believe that your son, there, has a surprise for you too… Don’t you, R.C.?"

R.C. grinned. "Sure do… Gramma made you your favorite dessert…Cherry pie! And I helped her…she said it’s the best one she’s ever made."

"Then we’d better eat, so that we can have the dessert, right, Robert?"

"Yes, Daddy… c’mon, Gramma…Can I help…?"

 

 

An hour later, the dinner was finished, and everyone was involved in clearing away the table. Robert took the last plate from the table, and asked, "Daddy, will you be walking on the beach tonight?"

"Umm, yes, I think so…I had planned on it, why?"

"Cause I want you to tell me my story at bedtime, tonight, please?"

"How about this, Robert? You go and take your bath, and have Gramma get you all ready for bed, and I’ll come up and do your story… I’ll take my walk after that….I’m going to stay down here and clean up the kitchen. Deal?"

"Deal, Daddy! Gramma, I bet I can beat you up the stairs!"

Helen laughed, "You know you can!!" and she followed the laughing child up the stairs to his room…

Lee turned to the dishwasher and saw Caitlin was standing quietly nearby. "Can I help, Lee?"

He gave her a half hearted smile. "Sure…I’ll take any help I can get. I never was much good at KP."

She busied herself at his side, scraping and rinsing the dishes for the dishwasher, and putting away the leftovers. Once they were finished, he asked her, "Coffee?"

"Um, sure...then I’d better be going…I have to let mom know that I’ll be home in a little while. I don’t want to ‘disturb’ her and HN. Especially since he’s been away for two weeks…"

Lee lifted an eyebrow, and swallowing a grin… "Well, when a sailor comes home from the sea, he expects a warm welcome from ‘kith and kin’. Considering Karen’s current condition I think things between her and the Admiral are very warm!"

Caitlin slapped at him, playfully… "They’re in love…still in love…so I don’t like to go home unannounced… did that just once…Never again." She had a huge grin on her face, and it was slightly tinged with red…

"Really? You walked in on…" His own face showed a bit of playful surprise at her recitation.

"Umhmnh. They didn’t know that I was there ‘cause they were asleep in Mom’s bedroom. When I realized what I’d unexpectedly walked in on, I closed the bedroom door and went to my room as quickly as I could. Thank goodness they didn’t know…HN would never have forgiven me. Mom read me the riot act the next day about coming home without ‘prior notification’."

Lee’s grin had become broader, and broader. "I’m sure… but since he doesn’t know…it seems to me that you’ve just given me some ammunition for Morton and me at the right time and place…"

"Lee, you wouldn’t dare!! If he knew….!! Lee! Don’t you…"

Crane was laughing hard… "I’m sorry, Caitlin… it’s just that… well, the Admiral…"

"Like I said, Captain…They’re in love… something neither one of them ever expected again."

Lee sobered quickly, as he brought two cups of coffee to the table. He sat at the ‘head’ of the table, and she sat next to him. "I know… I remember the Admiral telling me about the time when his fiancée, Katherine, was killed. He said he was never going to put himself in that situation again. But then again, he didn’t plan on meeting your mother either."

"Mom said almost the same thing… not right after Daddy died, but when I got older and we would talk. I think she tried once…with Michael Briggs…but that didn’t go anywhere. She swore she wouldn’t put that kind of chance in her life again… but then she met the Admiral, and we came here…and well…."

"Yes. I know…Miss Matchmaker!"

She grinned. "Hey, when two people are right for one another, sometimes you just have to push them together so that they know where they’re supposed to go!"

"Well, you’re right on that account. In all the years I’ve known him, I’ve never seen him so happy…or so nervous… He never dreamed he’d be a father, and now, because of your mother, he’s about to see that become a reality… it’s a wonder, really."

"Not really, Lee… the two of them were right for each other and they just had to be shown that they were. Once they figured that out, they both realized that it was okay to open up and love again…even tho the first love was ended in such pain…Mom says the joy is worth the pain…I don’t think I’ve seen her so happy in such a long time."

"Well, I know that I’ll not take that chance again…given the fact that I don’t meet that many new women in my line of work, unless they’re spies or the like…I don’t think I’ll have to worry about it any way." He rubbed at his forehead in resignation. Uncomfortable with his sudden moroseness, Caitlin decided it was time to leave and she rose from the chair.

"I think it’s time I get home. I think I’ll call Mom to warn her and walk on up the hill."

"Let me walk you home…" He too rose from the table.

"No, Lee….I’m fine… we’re safe here, and hey, it’s only up the hill… no one’s going to bother me here on the grounds…"

Shaking his head, he walked to the foot of the stairs… "I’m getting my docksiders and walking you there anyway… The Admiral would never forgive me if I didn’t…"

"Lee, this is the Institute! Private Property! And it’s not that dark yet…!"

Waving her protest aside, he commanded, "Enough, Miss Davis! I’ll escort you home…now, go make your phone call while I see Robert."

He took the stairs two at a time, and coming to the door of Robert’s room, he paused. Helen was tucking the little boy into his bed, and talking softly to him. They both looked to the door when they heard him there. He put a smile on his face, and walked over to the bed. "Robert, I’m going to walk Caitlin home, and then I’ll come back up and tell you that story, okay?"

The child was disappointed. "Yes, Daddy…but will you wake me up, if I fell asleep?"

"Yes, I will… I promise…and I won’t be that long, okay? I just want to make sure she gets home okay."

"Yes, Daddy. I love you…"

Lee leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. "I love you too, Robert…Very much…very much indeed."

"Hurry back, Daddy…I’m gonna be waiting," Robert agreed as he scooted down under the covers.

Lee stood, and brushed at his forehead. "Okay, Robert… I’ll be back quickly." He nodded at Helen, as he left. Caitlin was waiting for him at the foot of the stairs.

"You called them?" he asked as he grabbed a jacket.

"Yep, they were watching a movie. And watching the baby move around…HN is totally fascinated by it."

Lee opened the door as they talked, and started walking up the hill to the Nelson house. He shook his head and smiled, a bit sadly. "I remember those times with Cathy. We’d sit on the couch, with the TV on, but we’d be watching him move back and forth, tracing the movement on Cathy’s stomach. We’d spend hours…" his voice faded, softly. "It was….amazing…"

They walked the rest of the way in silence. When they reached the front walk of the Nelson house at the top of the hill, Caitlin turned and faced him. "Thanks for the escort, Captain…I think I can manage the rest of the way."

"You’re most welcome…And Caitlin…thanks for being so good to Robert… You’ve become very special to him. I appreciate that, more than you know…and thanks for giving Mom a hand, too…"

She held her hand up to wave off any further praise. "I know…you appreciate that… Lee, look, I’m there for Helen because I care for her. She’s very special to me. And for Robert, because he’s a special boy. You don’t have to thank me…I like to be there."

"Well," he said awkwardly, "…thank you anyway. I really do appreciate it…"

She laid a hand on his arm. "It’s no problem… none at all. And you’re more than welcome. I like them both very much." Then looking into his hazel eyes, she thought, And I like you too, Captain. More than you realize! "Good night, Lee." Turning, she started walking to the front door.

After taking several steps, she stopped, and turned back to him, retracing the several steps she had taken. He had been standing and watching her walk up to the house, and was surprised when she turned back to him… ‘Okay, Caitlin Davis, don’t lose your nerve now, girl…’ She walked back to Lee, and facing him, stood on tiptoe, and kissed his cheek. Then she turned and ran to the house, opening and closing the door quickly.

Lee stood at the foot of the walk, surprised. It was somewhat of a replay of the day he had taken her to the airport, after her mother’s wedding to Harriman Nelson. "Good night, Caitlin." he whispered softly, touching the spot where she had kissed him. "Sweet dreams, Little Girl." And he turned, shoving his hands into his pocket, and walked, alone, back to his house.

 

 

Walking back toward his own house, he remembered the first time that he and Cathy had seen the baby move…the wonder the two of them had shared. He had still been recovering from the injuries he suffered at the hands of Rose Atler and her husband. He and Cathy had had a lot of time to spend with one another, and their anticipation of the birth of their child was a wonder in and of itself. As the time had passed, and the baby’s birth came closer and closer, the two of them had become more and more mesmerized by the changes in her body, and the literal, growing evidence of the presence of their unborn child. One evening, they were watching a movie on the television when the baby had begun to move about, and fascinated, they watched as the fists and feet would move beneath the skin. For almost two hours they had watched him move.

Lee shook his head sadly, shoving his hands even deeper into his pockets. He missed Cathy terribly, all the time, but most of all, at the holidays. Every time he watched Robert, he saw her, in a gesture, a look… a smile. That their son was a clear copy of his mother was evident more and more each day. It made the time he spent at home bittersweet. He loved Robert, and was amazed by him. He also, if he was honest with himself, hated the time that he spent away from him, especially in the years since Cathy’s death. Yet, there were times, in these last couple of years that he didn’t want to go home… Because Robert was there. Because Robert was so like Cathy, and he didn’t want to deal with that.

Years… Cathy had been dead for years. It hardly seemed possible to him. This was going to be their fourth Christmas without her. Robert’s first Christmas was when he was but a tiny infant, no more than several months old. By the time of his second Christmas, Cathy was gone, and they were alone…They were still alone. Oh, his mother was there with them, but they were still alone… He had resigned himself to the idea that he would be alone, for the rest of his life, but he did worry about his son. Robert should have a mother, not his grandmother, to care for him. It wasn’t that. Helen wasn’t doing a wonderful job helping him with his son. She just wasn’t his mother. He sighed again. He couldn’t even go to Ann…she now had a family of her own as well. And that was one special person in his life that he didn’t want to upset. He loved her in his own way, and she returned it in kind. But he couldn’t bother her with another one of his black moods. He had done that often enough, before Cathy had come into his life, and then, after she had died, several times, until Ann told him of her suitor, and his proposal.

So the bottom line remained that he was still alone. He watched Chip and Matty, with Alex, and Nelson and Karen, with Caitlin and now the new baby, and he knew he wanted that, too…that sense of closeness and family. Well, he should be happy that at least he had known that for a while. Before he realized it, he was looking at the front door of his own home. As he opened the door, he met Helen in the foyer.

"Is Robert still awake?" he inquired, taking off his jacket.

"He’s trying to stay awake, valiantly, I might add, waiting for you. He’s just a pretty tired little boy." She smiled at Lee, resting a hand on the Captain’s shoulder. "Very much like his father was as a little boy. Although, he is a lot happier than you were. I’m sorry, Lee…that things weren’t better…"

He raised a hand, "Don’t say anything else, Mom. What’s done is done, and you did the best you could at the time. I really appreciate all that you’re doing for us now. That’s what’s important, the here and now. The past is that, past. Thanks…just thanks."

He gave her a warm hug, and she returned it. "Now, you’d better get upstairs to that son of yours, and read him that story. He’s been looking forward to this for at the last week… Go on… I’ve got another pot of coffee on. It’ll be ready when you’re done."

"Thanks, Mom." Lee went quickly up the stairs, and to Robert’s room. There was a light on, next to his bed, and on the nightstand beneath it, was a book that was laid out, waiting to be read. Robert was lying under his covers, his left arm thrown over his head, his eyes closed. Lee sat gently on the bed, and Robert stirred… "Daddy?" he asked groggily.

"Yes, sport?" He reached for the book, while Robert punched up his pillows, and scrunched up in his bed, so that he could watch his father as he read to him. "Well, what do we have here, a Christmas story?"

"Yes, Daddy. Gramma and I bought it the other day…it sounded like a silly story but I liked it."

"Well, it looks like a silly story to me… The Christmas Witch! It’s a new one to me. Okay, then, here goes….the blue van pulled up to the Garage Sale sign. The little girl in the back seat bounced up and down, in the middle of her twin brothers. "Mommy! Look at all the neat stuff! Look there’s a witch’s hat!’ …" Lee continued to read the story as Robert watched him and listened, giggling, and laughing at the story.

When it was finished, Robert reached up to his father, extending his arms, and as Lee bent to him, Robert hugged him, "Thanks Daddy, that was a good story…I love you, Daddy!"

Lee hugged Robert back and bent over to tuck him into the covers. "I love you, too, Robert. Gramma said you and she said your prayers. So you sleep well. I’ll see you in the morning. We have a lot of work to do, including getting the tree."

"Yes, Daddy. Gonna get a big one, too."

Lee smiled, "Yes, Robert. A real big one."

"Okay, Daddy," he said sleepily…Night…"

Lee shut the light, and said, "Night." and went down the stairs to the kitchen. Helen had put the last of the dinner dishes away. He went to the counter, and took a mug, filling it with coffee from the pot. He smiled as he saw the pile of cookies nearby… "For me? Or Santa Claus?"

Helen Crane smiled back…"For you, after all…who really is Santa Claus?…Caitlin get home okay?"

Lee laughed. "Yes, Mom, she’s home fine…it’s only up the hill!"

"She’s a lovely girl, Lee. I’ve grown very fond of her this last year since she’s been closer to home. She’s been such a great help with Robert. There were several times that I just needed to get some things done, and she’s been able to lend a hand when she was in."

"Yep. She’s a sweet kid…the Admiral lucked out with a step-daughter that is as good as she is."

"Kid!" she exclaimed. "She’s the same age as I was when I married your father…and the same age that Karen was when she had Caitlin. Not a kid at all…"

For some unknown reason, her rebuke made him uncomfortable. He stretched his legs, and kicked off his deck shoes. "Yeah, well…on that note, I think I’m gonna take that walk on the beach, now… Be back in a bit. Just leave the deck door open." He went to her, and kissed her on the cheek.

"Just …be careful!"

"Yes, ma’am," he responded lightly, trying to keep a light mood with her, while his own mood was indeed becoming darker… He went to the deck doors, and silently walked out onto the deck, and then to the beach.

Helen Crane watched her son. She had known for a while now how Caitlin Davis was attracted to the tall, dark Captain of the Seaview. She didn’t say or do anything about it, because she also knew her son. She knew that Lee would fight any attraction to Caitlin, because of her age and because she was the Admiral’s step-daughter. Lee was very good at building walls… and he had learned at a young age, that if you built a wall around your heart, then you couldn’t get hurt. It was the one lesson that she had taught him very well. He had begun to do that when his father had died and he continued to do so to this very day.

 

 

David Crane had been career Navy, and Helen had loved him, totally and completely, accepting the risks that are inherent in a military career. She had not expected him to die so suddenly, and in such a way that she never had that opportunity to say good-by. It wasn’t even wartime…David had not been on a dangerous mission, had not had any warning that there was a problem, and then, suddenly a bulkhead on the transport that he was serving on, exploded in on him, with a rupture of a steam line, and he was killed… He was dead. And she was left alone to bring their son up by herself. She had no money problems. David had come from money and she needed nothing materially. All she needed was David! And he was gone! She began then, to build the wall around her own heart. She had become bitter towards the Navy, the military and anything that had to do with the government.

Lee had been seven years old. A time that a young boy needs his father… and that father was dead, and he had become a hero in the eyes of the child. She had endured all the pomp and pageantry of a military funeral, and then she took her son, and they left the Navy behind, she believed, forever. As Lee had grown, and shown more and more of an interest in the Navy, she had tried harder and harder to dissuade him. When he informed her that he had applied for and been accepted to the Academy, she had screamed and yelled at him, and they had barely spoken to one another until he left for plebe summer. She had even refused to attend his High School Graduation, where he had been the Valedictorian.

Her relationship with him had become distant to say the least. Almost formal on her part, dutiful on his… they spent the time that society said was appropriate with one another, putting in time together… nothing else. It wasn’t until he’d begun to date Cathy Connors that she had seen clear to speak more frequently with him. She had been pleased to see that he had allowed someone to breach that wall that he had so carefully built. If the truth of the matter be told, she had liked Cathy, very much and had come to love her as her son’s wife, and later, as her grandson’s mother… And then to their great misfortune, Cathy had been killed, and Lee was alone again. Oh, there was no doubt in Helen’s mind that he loved Robert, but the little boy’s similarity to his mother was a constant reminder to Lee of his loss. He had built his wall, again, and only Robert was allowed inside that wall around his heart. And he had begun to stay away on the boat longer and longer.

 

 

Helen sighed, knowing that her son was destined to be a very lonely man, unless he let down the wall, and accepted that hurt and pain was a natural part of life and it’s way of healing. She walked back into the kitchen, finished wiping off the counters, and then, making sure that the deck doors were open, she went upstairs to her room.

 

 

Lee went down the steps from the deck to the beach. He sat on the last step, and rolled his pants legs up, intending to walk in the surf down the beach a distance. He sat there for a few moments, and then rose, and went to the water’s edge. Usually, when he walked, he just walked, but tonight he had a definite destination in mind. He walked along, hands deep in his pockets, allowing the waves to wash over his feet and legs. He didn’t think, he just walked, drawing in the silence of the night that was broken only by the lapping sounds of the surf. He finally reached his destination, and moved to the curve in the rocks, climbing over them to sit on the rocks themselves.

Looking up the hill at the cottages for the guests that the Institute was constantly hosting, he saw they were alive with lights. The beach here, however, was empty. This was a place that he came to when he wanted to share with Cathy. This had been their favorite place, one that they had come to many times, for special moments, and not so special ones… It was a place that they used to come to in order to escape their busy lives… It was a place he still came to because he felt closer to Cathy here than anywhere.

Drawing his knees up, he rested his chin on them, atop his crossed arms. He sat for a while, just staring and thinking. Finally, he sighed, and looked up at the star filled sky.

"Christmas again, Cats. Lord, how I miss you! It’s hard… just so hard. Robert, bless him, is so excited about the Holiday. Mom’s working so hard to help make it a good time for him, and here I am… Frankly, I’d like to go to sleep and wake up two weeks from now, and just find it all over with. Without you here to share it with, it’s just another day. I feel badly, you know, like I’m letting Robert down, feeling like this, but I can’t help it. Mom, Chip, the Admiral, all tell me that I should let the wall down, and let someone in, but I don’t want someone… I want you. I want to wake with you in the morning, and sleep with you at night. I want to make love to you, and hold you in my arms afterward. And I can’t, ‘cause you’re gone. Why should I let someone else in, if I have to go through this all over again… Loving and losing doesn’t work well for me. It’s funny, you know, that before Karen came into the Admiral’s life, he felt the same way I do now… He let her in, and look how happy they are… And, he’s gonna be a father!…You should see him Cats…the O.O.M.’s going to be a father. As if you can’t see that, wherever you are." He sighed.

"Cats, I’m tired….so very tired… I’m tired of trying to make it all work…I’m tired of the effort, and I’m tired of being alone, so alone I can’t even begin to explain it… but then, maybe you do understand…I hope so… I hope that you can hear me, because otherwise, well, they’ll be taking me away for good soon."

He sat there, looking at the stars, the waves gently breaking and rushing toward the shore. Lee's heart was heavy …and empty. He and Cathy had had so little time together before it was so very quickly taken away. He'd been bitter and hurt for so long...so afraid to let anyone break down that fortress he'd built up around himself. The only one he would let in was Robert...and yet, he was the very one who reminded him so much of the loss he'd always know. And as hard as it all was, he also knew that at some time in his life, he would have to get used to the similarities…and put them aside. Or it would forever mar the relationship he should have with his son.

He shook his head sadly, and stood, brushing the sand from his pants.

"Cats, I’ve gotta be going now… I have a meeting at 0800 with Chip. And then, when we finish, Robert and I have a lot of work to do at the house… it is Christmas, you know. Cathy, I love you…" He looked out over the ocean, "and I wish with all my heart that you were here with me, with us…right now…" He looked around, at the sea at night, the foamy white waves brushing the shore, like a lover’s kiss. He saw the sky, stars twinkling in the deep velvet blue of the night, the slender crescent of the waning moon warm and beckoning.

He stood, his arms at his side, and stared upward… Until now, he had kept it all inside, never letting out the pain and grief, holding it deep within. At this very moment though, something broke. It was nothing extraordinary in a given moment in time… he had just had enough of keeping it all inside of himself, while keeping everyone at arm’s length. He dropped to his knees, in the surf, and let the water wash over him. "Oh, God!!!!!!" he cried out… "I can’t!!! I just can’t do it anymore!!!! I just can’t!!!!" He let go, the careful control of the last years slipping away, first in soft, quiet sobs then gradually giving way to wracking cries of inconsolable grief…

 

 

The phone in the Morton home rang shrilly. Grumbling slightly, Chip reached for the phone in the kitchen, his attention being drawn away from Matty’s tales of Alex’s adventures while he had been away.

"Morton."

"Chip, this is Helen. I need your help, please."

His tone immediately softened. "Yes, Helen, what’s up? What’s wrong?"

"Lee went for a walk on the beach hours ago and he hasn’t returned. Chip… he was very, very broody... very blue… I don’t know why, except the time of the year… and I’m worried…Is there anyway…"

"I’m on my way out now… I’ll let you know…" he hung up the phone, and went to his wife’s side, kissing her lightly. Matty looked up at him, and asked, simply,

"Lee?"

He kissed her lightly again… "’Fraid so… Helen said he went out to take a walk a few hours ago, and hasn’t come back. She’s worried."

Matty took Chip’s hand in hers. "I feel so badly for him… I mean, I didn’t know Cathy, but I know from you and the Admiral how much they loved one another. He must miss her so, even more so at the holidays…and being a single parent can’t help him, with R.C. looking so much like Cathy."

"They did love each other deeply. That’s why I was so surprised when Lee gave you the dress and things of Cathy’s for our wedding. Actually, I was floored by it! He told me he just wanted you to know how much you meant to him, as a friend, and as his friend’s soon-to-be wife… It took a lot for him to do that. And, no, it doesn’t help that Robert is so like Cathy. Look, I’ll be back as soon as I can. I think I know where he went… I’ll find him."

"Do that, Sailor. I think your friend needs you more than anything right now. I’m not going anywhere…I’ll be here when you get back."

Chip squeezed her hand, and whispered in her ear, "Then keep my side of the bed warm, Angel… I’ve missed you !"

"And I’ve missed you, Sailor! Now, go on…you’re needed elsewhere, and I’ll be waiting for you" He kissed her quickly once again, grabbed his lightweight jacket, and went out the door to the beach.

 

 

Lee had no idea of the passage of time, of where or when….or even how… the deep blackness of grief that engulfed him seemed to consume and drag him into almost nothingness. He felt empty... hollow… totally empty...and all he wanted was for this all to end…all the pain to end…he felt the salt water wash over him, as he sat there, and he didn’t care… the wet, the cold, didn’t matter… all there was, was the overwhelming pain.

 

 

Chip walked purposefully down the beach. He felt he had a pretty good idea where Lee might have headed…the cove at the base of the guest cottages.

Once, shortly after Cathy had died, he and Lee had gone to a local pub, and to be polite about it, had gotten completely and totally trashed. They had taken a cab back to Chip’s house in order not to disturb Helen and little Robert. Lee had been as out of control as Chip had ever seen him in their long friendship. Crane was extremely depressed, and he wanted Chip to come with him to talk to Cathy. Chip had been a shade more sober, and knew then just how hurt Lee really was… he knew, even in his less than sober state, that no one could talk to the dead, but he had gone with Lee anyway

They had walked down the beach, and went as far as the guest houses. Lee had shown him the jetty of rocks, and told him how he had taken Cathy there, after they had decided to marry, after Robert had been born, and at all the times in their lives that were important ones. He also told him how he took Robert there, after she died, because he felt closest to her there.

So, Chip headed for the beach and the jetty, believing that he would find Crane there. This last mission had not been one that was out of the ordinary, nothing bad had happened to anyone or to the boat, yet Lee had been extremely melancholy, and both he and the Admiral had chalked it up to the time of the year, and the upcoming holidays. Both of them knew how hard Lee took this time of year. Chip sighed…he wished that Lee would let someone in to share his life again. Not just anyone… but someone…

He approached the jetty area with some unease. He didn’t know what he would find…or how he would find Lee… Then he saw him, a figure, hunched over in the surf, letting the waves wash over him, oblivious to the wet element around him. He could see the shoulders shaking, and he didn’t know if it was with cold or from sorrow. He took a breath, and moved toward the lone man.

 

 

He became aware of a hand on his shoulder, and a voice calling his name. At first, he thought the Cathy had come to him, for him, but then he realized the hand was male, and the touch a strong one. The voice, while soft in tone, was most definitely male. And he knew it was Chip, and he was at once glad, and angry… maybe if Chip hadn’t come, then… but no, it wasn’t meant to be that way…He pulled on what made him who and what he was, and slowly turned his head, to face his friend…

Chip found himself looking into amber-hazel eyes so full of pain from grief and loneliness.

"Chip." It was more of a statement than a question.

"Yeah, Lee. Look, Helen called the house…she’s worried, you know."

"Sorry… she pulled you away from Matty and Alex." Then in a low whisper… "I just…I don’t…" He shivered with cold, as cognizance of where he was made him feel the cold and wet.

Chip said nothing, just slid an arm under his shoulders, and helped him to his feet. He shivered again, and Chip took off his jacket, and laid it across Lee’s thin shoulders. "Let’s get you back to the house, pal. You need a hot shower and a strong, hot toddy. Poor planning on your part, you know… Night time, in December, in the Pacific, is not the place to go swimming…"

Crane said nothing, instead letting Chip talk. Finally, Morton grew silent before he ventured to breach the question that was nagging at him since he had seen Lee in the surf.

"Lee… you … you weren’t… weren’t trying to…"

Crane came to a halt. "Let me say it for you…Trying to kill myself? C’mon, Chip…do you think that I would be stupid enough to try something like that? To do something like that here, near Robert, my mother, the Admiral, Caitlin, Karen….all of you? And that I would try and drown myself on top of it? Chip, I’ve got cyanide caps on the boat, in my safe… Believe me, if I was going to do myself in, that’s the way that I’d go… and believe me, I’ve thought about it!" He pulled Morton’s jacket closer around him, as he continued to talk. "No, I wasn’t trying to kill myself, Mr. Morton! I was just…" he lowered his voice that had become loud, "…lost… lost, Chip. I had no concept of where I was…I just gave into the pain…I…"

"Guess I came along at the right time. Found you, I mean…"

"But I don’t even know if I wanted to be found, Chip. I don’t even know…."

"Looks like you didn’t have choice…I was elected to be your personal Guardian Angel tonight." They came to the stairway to Lee’s deck… Crane turned to his friend and extended a hand, "Thanks."

" ’Nuff said, my friend. I’ll see you in the morning. 0800. Just try and get some sleep, okay?"

"I’ll try…Promise you that…. I’ll try." Lee went slowly up the stairs to the deck, and Chip watched until he went in the door, and then he went down the beach to his own home.

 

 

Lee trudged wearily up the stairs. He was physically and emotionally drained… He also had the presence of mind to realize it was all his own doing. He didn’t want to deal with anyone, or anything anymore… all he wanted to do was to sleep, to forget, just for a little while, the hurt and the pain. He was cold, and felt miserable, and he wanted that hot shower, and his bed. The last few steps of the stairwell seemed almost insurmountable, as he pulled himself up them. He reached the landing, and stood. Measuring in his mind, the distance to his doorway, he pushed himself to cover that last distance. He stopped, as he saw a familiar figure standing in the bedroom doorframe.

"Lee…What happened to you?" Helen held her reading glasses in her hand, and just stood, wanting to reach out to him, but afraid to. The link between them was still too tenuous, even after these last years, for Helen to push him. Seeing his wet clothes, and his general state, she wanted him to know that she was concerned. "son?"

"I’m okay, Mom. I just got ‘lost’ for a while. Thanks for calling out the ‘posse’. I’m just going to shower, and go to bed."

Helen hesitated, then moved to him, reaching out and touching his arm. "Lee, I… I love you, and I’m so very sorry that you’re in such pain… Maybe if I hadn’t been so … bitter… when your father died, I…"

"Mom… don’t…just don’t…okay?" He put his hand atop hers… "I need to shower and go to sleep. We’ll talk…in the morning, when we are both better up to it, okay?"

"Yes, … yes, of course…tomorrow…" she leaned forward, and kissed him on the cheek, at the same time, patting his arm, absentmindedly. "Try and get some sleep"

"Sure…I will." He smiled slightly. "Thanks…again."

She nodded, and, with reservation, went back to her own room.

Lee went to his, closing and locking the door behind him. He started to remove his wet, sandy, clothes, as he moved to the bathroom. Leaving them in a trail, he resolved to pick them up in the morning. He grabbed a large bath towel, and dropped it on the floor, next to the shower. Turning the hot water on full, he stepped into the shower, letting the hot water cascade over him, spreading its warmth throughout his body. The warmth allowed him to relax, and the tightness and tenseness left him somewhat. After allowing the heat and steam to penetrate to his very bones, he shut the shower, and grabbed at the towel… drying quickly, he wrapped the towel around his waist, and went to his bed. He tossed off the spread, opened the sheets, and slid in, appreciating the softness, but aware of how empty the other side of the bed was. He laid back into the pillows and was quickly asleep.

 

 

At the Morton household, a similar ritual was taking place, but with a very different ending. Chip felt the cold and wet seep into his bones and was anxious to get warm and dry again. He, however, sped through his shower, anxious to get back to his bed and the warmth of his wife. He was very much aware of how alone Lee was, each time he talked with, held, and made love to Matty. He had watched Cathy and Lee’s relationship develop and grow, and he had been, admittedly somewhat jealous of his friend, and his friend’s good fortune. When they had been married, he couldn’t have been happier for them. Lee was his closest friend, and Cathy was a plankowner of the Seaview, as he was, and they were also good friends. And when Lee told him that they were expecting, well that was even better news than he could have hoped for, for his friends. And then Cathy had died, and all of their lives had changed forever.

To his good fortune, Matty Weaver had come into his life, and they had fallen in love and married. Like Lee, they were blessed with a child, his daughter, Alexandra. Unlike Lee, however, he still had Matty and intended to have her in his life for the rest of his life…

As he toweled off from his shower, he slid into a pair of Navy sweats, and went back into the bedroom, pulling the door shut behind him…

Matty was sitting in their bed with pillows propped behind her, a pile of papers, and books spread out on the bed. She looked up as he came into the room, and smiled. He went around the bed, and sat on the empty side. Leaning on his elbow, he fell back against the pillows.

"Specs for the new system installation in the computer labs?"

"Yep. We’re going to have to rewire the whole building… and see here, and here…?"

She pulled out a roll of blueprints, "The circuits here cross with three other sets, for the marine labs, and the storage facilities. It looks like the entire area has to be redone…This isn’t going to make the Admiral very happy. It looks to be a much larger expense than he allocated for." She saw him look down at the plans, and then look up at her…

"Finished for the night, I hope?"

"Mmm. Not much more that I can do. I need to get some of the information about the buildings from Angie. She has all the blueprints… I just hope that I’m wrong… otherwise, the O.O.M. won’t like my report." Chip pushed the papers on the floor, slid an arm around her waist, and nuzzled her neck.

"I don’t care if he is or he isn’t. I haven’t held my wife in my arms in two weeks… two whole weeks, and I don’t want the Admiral or anyone else here with me now."

"Tell me about Lee, before we go any further. You found him, and…?"

"He was at the cove. In the water. He was the worst that I’ve ever seen him. He was in a heap in the water, and I know that he didn’t know where he was or what he was doing. He had just about given up… he looked at me like I’ve never seen him look before…"

"In the water? Was he…?"

"Trying to kill himself? I asked him, he said ‘no’. But he did tell me that he’s thought about it. The cyanide pills that are in his safe for the ONI missions…He told me he’s thought about using them… Matty, I know he’s still hurting…even after all this time, but…to even think of something like that… That’s not Lee…or at least not the Lee Crane that I know…"

"My love, do you think that for one minute that the man that you know would, if it came down to it, really consider something like that? I think it was his grief and pain speaking, nothing else…and I don’t think that it was anything but for Lee’s own good that Helen called… maybe she sensed what was tormenting him this time… Christmas is harder on some people who have lost than others. And we both know that Lee keeps every thing inside. Look how long it took anyone to find out, that some of his pain came from the fact that he hadn’t been able to tell Cathy goodbye. That he regretted that, more than he even told anyone…and what a relief it was to him, subconsciously, in the Sick Bay on the boat, when he thought I was Cathy… and he told her goodbye then. Small things, Sailor….small things help. They are the things that help us all. Is he alright now?"

"I don’t know, Angel. I went back with him to the house and he went on in. We’ve got a meeting at 0800 to go over some paperwork that the O.O.M. needs. I don’t know what he’s got planned for the rest of the day. I guess he wants to spend some time with Robert."

"And I’m sure that he’ll want to get things done for Christmas. We have the Nelson’s party on Christmas Eve, and the little ones are invited this year. I think Karen wants the Admiral to get used to having children around. It’s a good thing, too. That little boy is due to make his appearance in March. Caitlin said she’ll help out with the children." She paused…. "Chip, have you seen how that girl looks at Lee. She’s got it bad for him. Very bad."

Morton laughed, almost dismissively… "and your husband has it very bad for you, Mrs. Morton. Let’s leave the others outside the bedroom for the rest of the night, okay… it’s been two weeks, and this is a lonely sailor here, looking for some comfort!" He reached for her, wrapping his arms around her waist. She let her hands caress his bare back, and she drew her lips to his in a deep kiss that reminded him of all that he had missed in the last two weeks….

 

 

Lee woke to the sun streaming into the bedroom… He had been restless in his sleep, tossing off the bedcovers more than once. One of the reasons he had locked the door. He was not inclined to explain to Robert, or Helen for that matter, why he had left the room in such disarray. He rolled out of the bed, and went back to the bathroom to collect his robe, and take care of his needs. He wrapped the dark blue robe around himself, and as he went to the bedroom door, picked up the dirty, wet clothes, and unlocking the door, headed downstairs to the kitchen and then the mudroom… He tossed the clothes into the washer with some soap and started it, then turned back to the kitchen. Going to the counter and pouring coffee from the coffeemaker, he silently blessed the person that devised coffeemakers on timers. Taking the cup with him, he headed back to the stairs. Helen Crane was starting down, and he waited until she came to the foyer.

Hesitantly, "Good Morning, Lee. Did you sleep well?"

"’Morning. No…I’m going back to bed. Tell Robert I’ll get up later, and we’ll do as we planned. I just need more sleep."

"The meeting…don’t you have a meeting this morning?"

"The Admiral and Chip can have the meeting without me…I’m the Captain of the boat…I don’t need to go to any meeting… It’ll happen with or without me… I’m going back to bed… Keep Robert with you, okay? I’ll see the both of you later." He went up the stairs to his bedroom, and closed and locked the door. He put the coffee on his nightstand, and went about the room, pulling the blinds and draperies closed, so that the room was now dark. He went to his dresser, and pulled out a pair of sweat pants. He dropped the robe, shrugged into the pants, and fell back into the bed. Throwing his arm over his head, he closed his eyes, and tried to sleep.

 

 

 

Chip sat waiting for Crane in Nelson’s office. The silence was broken only by the tapping of the pencil in the Admiral’s hand. Finally, Nelson pushed away from the desk and exploded.

"It’s 0845! Where in the hell is he??"

Morton hesitated and then said, "He had a tough night, sir! Lee’s not…not feeling well… The time of the year, you know…"

"The time of the year, be damned!! He was supposed to be here for this meeting. The information from the DEA needs to be clarified. And we need him to do it since it’s based on his undercover work."

"I know, sir…but…" He had to tell Nelson about last night. "Admiral, I don’t think that I’ll be violating a confidence here, but…last night, Helen called me around 2330. Lee had gone for a walk on the beach and hadn’t come back. He’d been gone for quite a while… hours. She didn’t want to be alarmed, but…. Anyway, I went looking…"

Chip cleared his throat and continued. "I found him, at the cove, in the water. He was just…just kneeling in the water…letting the waves break over him. He was soaked, and wasn’t moving. I was afraid that… when I went to him, well, I’ve never seen him in such mental pain. His eyes… Anyway, I finally got him to get up, and we started back to the house…I asked him, if he was…he was trying to take his life. He said if he was going to do such a thing, he would use the pills in his safe here on the boat. And he said he’s thought about it… I didn’t know what else to say, sir. I don’t think he planned on coming in today after all that."

Nelson’s expression softened just a bit. He’d remembered all too well the pain and torment that Lee had experienced after Cathy’s death. All of them had been affected greatly by it. The Admiral, especially. He’d treated Cathy Connors Crane like a daughter, knowing her father, he had watched her grow up. He also knew the kind of pain that came with losing someone you love so very much.

"He still hasn’t let go, has he?" slowly asked the Admiral of his Exec.

"No…he hasn’t. In some ways, I don’t think he wants to. You know…it’s been, what…over four years since Cathy died…and he still hasn’t really come to terms with it. I swear, I don’t think I’ve seen him this way in a long, long time," Morton replied. Then softly, "You know…maybe…you might be the one to best talk to him."

"Me? I’ve tried, Chip…but…"

"Sir, with all due respect…who better? After all…Lee wasn’t around when Katherine was killed. He, ah…didn’t see…"

Harriman Nelson knew what his XO was getting at and, in a way, the thought immediately made him uncomfortable. His painful memories of that time were still vivid. The drunken spree he’d gone on, the bitterness, the anger…all over losing the woman he loved and who was to have been his wife. All because of a very dangerous political game. Ironically, and sadly, much in the same way that Crane had lost his wife and the mother of his son. But the Admiral also had to admit that Chip just might be right. If the stalwart and persistent XO couldn’t get through to his friend, maybe the older man could. He had experienced the pain and he also knew what its’ effects could be. He had built the walls just like Lee had done but there was one difference. He had found someone in the person of Karen Davis, and let her into his life, and heart, with amazing results.

"I don’t know what to say, Chip. Except that Lee continues to be a surprise to me, and apparently to you as well. In all my wildest dreams, I’d never believe that he would, for even one minute, contemplate taking his own life. I know what he went through, is going through, but I didn’t have a child to come home to, as he did…."

"But the child is a constant reminder of the mother, and therefore, the loss… as Matty pointed out to me last night, we don’t know what’s going on in his head. Look how none of us knew about his torment of not being able to tell Cathy good-bye. We don’t know what’s going on in his head. ‘Cept that something isn’t right there."

"You’re right there, Chip…something isn’t right there…" Nelson reached for the phone, and punched the number for Crane’s home. After three rings…

"Crane residence."

"Helen…Harriman Nelson here. Where’s Lee? Did he leave for the office?"

"Good morning, Admiral… and no, he didn’t….He was up, earlier. And he saw me, and said he was going to go back to bed. And he did. He told me he was the Captain of the boat, and he wasn’t needed at this meeting, and he wasn’t going to go in. I’m sorry, Admiral. I’m worried about him… this is the worst he’s been since Cathy died."

"So Chip told me, Helen. Look, I’m coming over. Maybe you and Robert could go out for a while. Shopping or something… I don’t want the two of you there, if you don’t mind."

"I understand, sir. And we’ll be going in a few minutes anyway. I’ve some shopping to do, and Robert has a few things he needs for his Daddy for Christmas."

"Good….good… I’ll be over in ten… Thank you, Helen. Thank you very much."

He put the phone down, and looked at Chip. "I’m heading over there now. You heard me… I want Helen to get Robert out of there… especially if I have to, umm, be strong about our discussion."

Chip nodded. "I hope that you have some luck with him, Admiral. We both know how he can be."

"Yes, we do, and I’m going to get started changing that attitude beginning now!"

 

 

Harriman Nelson, four-star Admiral, retired, stood at the front door of Lee Crane’s house. For all intents and purposes, he looked calm. Inside, however, he was in turmoil. He wanted to tell Lee he knew and understood. But he was also angry with his friend for not opening up to him, and talking. Nelson had learned a great many things in his life. The one thing he learned above all others in the past few years was the value of talking about the things that bothered you, and were driving you. He knew that Lee needed to talk and needed to talk soon. If he waited too much longer, well, Nelson didn’t want to think about it. He knew what the effect could…would…be from personal experience.

He impatiently rang the bell again. When he didn’t receive an answer, he felt in his pocket for his keys to Lee’s house. Years ago, Crane, Morton and Nelson had exchanged house keys, in case of an emergency. Nelson now used that key. Opening the door, he entered the foyer, and looked around. "Lee?" he called out.

Not receiving a reply, he quickly looked around the downstairs, and he then headed up to the bedrooms. He saw that the door to Crane’s room was closed, and he went to it, and knocked.

"Lee, it’s Nelson, Let me in."

No answer. "Lee! Open the door!"

A muffled voice said, "Go away, Admiral. I don’t want to see you, or anyone."

"Frankly, I don’t care about what you want. If you don’t open the goddamned door, I’ll break it down. And don’t think I won’t do it!"

He heard movement in the room, and heard the door unlock. Then he heard further movement, and then nothing. He put a hand on the knob, turned it, and entered the room. The room was in darkness in spite of the brightness outside. Without asking, Nelson went to the windows, and pulled open the blinds and drapes. Bright light spread into the room. Crane lay on the bed, his arm thrown over his eyes.

"What the hell did you have to do that for?"

"Because you have to get up, and get moving, and get to work, and get on with your life."

"You’ve been talking to Morton."

"Who the hell else would I be talking to?"

"Stay out of my business, Admiral!"

"Your business is my business. And don’t say that I don’t understand… In case you’ve blocked it from your mind, I’ve been there."

"Yeah, right… you’ve been there. Sorry, if I don’t agree. Yeah, I know Katherine Campbell was killed, and I’m sorry. But you weren’t married. You didn’t share a child. You weren’t left with a constant reminder of what you’d lost….of the empty half of the bed, of what could have been… You don’t understand!"

Nelson exploded in controlled anger. "Who the hell are you to say that I don’t understand? How the hell do you have the brass to say that it wasn’t the same? You don’t know! You weren’t there!" He strode over to the bed, and stood at the side. "Look at me, Lee!"

When Crane didn’t move his arm, Nelson bent over, and put his face close to Crane’s, shouting, "Dammit! I said…look at me, Captain!"

Crane threw his arm further over his head, and opened his eyes, looking Nelson in the eye. Calmly, with a tone of cynicism…"Yes? You wanted my attention….you’ve got it, Admiral!"

Nelson ran his hand threw his hair. "Look, Lee, I’m sorry… sorry for all the pain that you’re in. Really. And the fact that you’ve seriously thought about taking your own life really disturbs, and concerns me. But, listen to me, will you…."

"Go on… Preach the proper platitudes… I can’t wait to hear what you have to tell me."

"And just when did you become such a sarcastic sonofabitch? This isn’t like you at all."

"Admiral, just how do you know what I’m like or not… have you really ever seen me undercover? Do you know who or what I really am? You think you know Lee Crane…. But is that the person that you know, or someone that you think you know? I realize you and I have been down a similar road. But that’s all it is, similar. It’s different… way different… and you can’t know how I feel. I don't want to listen to you, don't you understand that? I don't want anything or anyone but Cathy. And I can't have her, ‘cause she’s dead, and I’ll never have her again. Never, never again. I’m sorry that you can’t understand that. And I’m not the least sorry that I am feeling this way… bottom line, Admiral, sir, I really don’t care how you’re feeling, or how you once felt."

Crane’s words stung Nelson in way he didn’t expect. However, he also knew that it was the hurt talking. Trying to remain calm and controlled, he was secretly seething inside. So, keeping his voice on an even keel, he began, "Okay, Lee…okay! That you don’t care right now is fair enough. That's the way things happen sometimes. Life…and life’s breaks…aren’t fair. Nobody ever said life was fair. It took a long time for that to sink into my stubborn head. Now…" and he took a deep breath then slowly exhaled, still keeping his voice steady but now, he added the ‘command tone’, "You've got a son who loves you very much. That's more than I had. You were left with something very precious, Lee. A part of Cathy that will live on…as a big part of your life. When Katherine died, that dream, for me, died with her. That was until I met Karen. And now, at my ripe old age, I’m going to be a father… a son…I’m going to be the father of a son. One that I never, ever expected. And yet, he won’t replace the hopes that died with Katherine…."

"Hopes die," Lee said quietly, "Just like people do. And sometimes, you don’t want to hope again…because you know that you don’t want to have to deal with the pain that comes with the hope. So…please don’t tell me that Robert is my hope and my connection to Cathy. I don’t want to hear that. I don’t want to talk about it… I don’t want to talk to you . I don’t want to talk to anyone. I really don’t want to do anything but stay here for the next two weeks." He sighed deeply. " But I can’t even do that. I have to get up, and I have to react, and live because of my son. And for my son. But not for me… you see, I think that I’m dead inside. And that’s even more scary than wanting to die. For a long time I just simply wanted to die. So that I could be with Cathy. And the worse part of it all…is that she didn’t want me. Once, when I was hurt, I saw her, talked to her. She told me I had to stay here. Someone had to be here for Robert. And when I came back, I realized that inside, I was as dead as she is. I don’t feel anything… oh, I laugh, I cry, I live… but what was the love that I had for Cathy is dead… my heart is dead. And I don’t think that it will ever come back to life again."

"If you let it, Lee, your heart will live again. You are alive. Your care for your son, your mother, the men and the boat shows me how alive you are, even if you don’t want to admit it. And my hope for you is that you’ll realize that. There’s a great deal of life in you. You’re a young man, with a tremendous career behind him, and a broad future ahead of him. The idea that you’re going to choose to live it alone confounds me."

Crane started to protest, but Nelson went to the window, looking out at the sea, his hands shoved deeply into his pockets. The older man softly stated, "Hear me out, Lee…I was where you are now. I’d given up all hope of feeling again, and I thought I was dead inside as well. I plunged into the boat, Institute, the people here. You know how driven I was." Turning slowly, he looked at the younger man, who was still sprawled on the bed, staring at the ceiling in apparent disinterest. "I finally made a conscious decision that I didn’t want to live the rest of my life alone. I built a life, Lee. Created a family. I let my heart open up. You have to keep your heart open… you have a son who idolizes you and what you do. You have to keep him there. Cathy wants it that way. And the last thing, that the vibrant, loving woman that was your wife, my surrogate daughter, would want, is for you to continue to be this way. You have to be open enough to allow someone to get to your heart, and begin to build a new life….You have to… or you’ll be a very bitter old man, and a very poor father."

"Oh, don’t worry about the father part, Admiral. No one will know how I feel about life. And no, I won’t do anything so foolish to try to take my life. You see, that wouldn’t be the ‘right’ thing to do…. To Robert, or my mother… and it wouldn’t be right to do that to you or Chip either. In my own way, I do care about all of you , my friends and family. And I also know that I have a real problem here. But I’ll deal with it. I’ve always taken care of myself. And I will continue to… so, don’t worry, Admiral. I’m fine…and I’ll be taking my son, we’re going to get our tree today, and we are going to celebrate the holidays, and everything that we usually do. I’m sorry if I inconvenienced you , and took you away from a meeting. I’ll make it up to you…" He sighed, and pulled himself to a sit, running his hands through his curly hair. "I’ll call Jenny and have her talk to Angie to reschedule the meeting." He stood, "I’m sorry…Admiral. Very sorry."

"Lee, there’s no need. We’re friends… friends care…I care… If you need anything, if you want to talk…"

"Talking is done with, I’m going to shower, and I’m going to wait for my son to get home. Then we’ll go for our tree, and decorate it tonight. I’ll be at the office in the morning. And I’ll call Chip, and tell him I’m okay , and not to worry. There… is there anything else, sir?"

Caught off guard by Crane’s suddenly formal attitude and manner, Nelson started to the door. He was still confused by Lee. And if he cared to admit it, hurt, offended or whatever words you wanted to use. He had been honest with Lee, and Crane, in return had been honest with him. But Lee had held so much inside for so long, and not shared. That was the part that bothered Nelson more than anything. At least, now that he knew how Lee felt, perhaps he could help him without his knowing. Chip would have some ideas, and Karen and Caitlin… they would all help….

 

 

True to his word, Lee went about making the day a special one for his son. Once Helen and Robert had come home, he and his son had lugged boxes from the basement, unpacked tree decorations, and then, near the middle of the day, they had gone in search of a tree. Robert had a grand day. He spent the day with a father he adored, and taking part in activities that had to do with Christmas, a scant two days away. By the time his bedtime came around, Robert was more than ready to go there. He begged his father for a story, again, and Lee complied, gladly. What ever else had taken place, Lee did love his son. More than anything. And spending the day with him, did lighten his heart. In spite of all that he had told Nelson earlier, Robert definitely had a place there. And the child continued to keep the wearing away at the stone that surrounded his heart. He finished reading the story to his son, and by the end, saw the boy was sound asleep. He bent forward, kissed him, and tucked the blankets around him. He turned all the lights off in the room, and he sat in the rocker, watching Robert sleep.

And he, in turn, fell asleep, in the rocking chair. A good sleep, with no dreams.

 

 

A short time later, he awoke. Or he thought he woke. He looked to Robert, and saw a woman sitting on the bed, next to the little boy. He knew her immediately, from the set of her shoulders, to the way that she bent over him… she was wearing white sweater and slacks. A soft glow that surrounded her. Her short brown hair shone warmly. She turned from the little boy to look at him. She smiled at him, her green eyes sparkling, a familiar and loving smile on her lips… "Lee…"

"Cathy!" he was too startled to do more than stammer. "… What… how…? I don’t understand… how can you be…here…"

She rose, and came to him, kneeling in front of him. She reached for his hand, and he felt a light touch, but nothing ‘real’, no contact of warm flesh upon warm flesh. He tried to draw back, trepedation replacing his initial surprise. "Don’t be alarmed. I come often… to watch over him… I miss him, I miss my baby.… I miss you. But this place, where I am, is a wonderful one. "

He reached out and was truly disconcerted when his hand passed through her hand and arm, landing with a loud smack on his leg.

"Because, I’m in another plane of existence. Call it what you want to … Heaven, the other side…. However you need to identify it. You can see me because you needed to see me, and I needed to talk to you. Honestly, this Lee Crane, that is sitting here right now is pretty much a stranger to me. He’s not the man that I knew. The open, loving, giving man that still means so much to me… I don’t think you want Robert to be as alone, and feel as unhappy as you do… I don’t think you want him to have walls around his heart. I know I don’t want that for him. I love you, Lee… I will always love you, and Robert, and everyone else in our family. But I can’t be with you anymore. Our time together ended with the accident And that was the way it was supposed to be in the scheme of things. But it’s also something that you have been beating yourself up about since. You’ve gone on with your lifeafter a fashion. But you don’t have a life. You’ve shut out everyone, everyone who loves you and cares about you. Except, maybe for Robert… he’s the only one that you allow close to your heart.. So you are making it a lonely place. And Lee, by pushing everyone away, what kind of example are you going to give our son? He needs to see his father loving and living a full, happy life. You aren’t He needs the example of an open loving man,…or else, he’ll turn out to be like you… at least the part of you where your heart is involved.. The part that is the most important part. The rest of you is a shining example of a good and concerned officer and man, the man that I fell in love with and married."

She shook her head sadly, "Lee, you were, you are the love of my life. And although my physical life ended, my spirit and my love has not. I love you , I will always love you. I miss you. I miss Robert. But I am in a good place. I want you to be happy. I want you to know love again. Love is a constant, Lee. There are so many opportunities to love. In fact, even now, there is someone nearby who loves you. Let her in, Lee, you need her… Robert needs her… She is more of a mother to our son than anyone realizes." She sighed softly. "I seem to be saying this again and again, but love, let go and love again, Lee…. I love you both, I miss you both, but I am happy… I want you to be happy, too."

She stood and he stood as well, reaching out for her once again, his hands flailing through the air. "Don’t! Cats! Don’t go!! There’s so much I want to say…to tell you … I love you… I…"

She stepped back away from him, the warmth of the glow around her growing more bright…"My dear one, live your life and look close for someone to share love and life with you and Robert. Love again, Lee. You are a giving, loving man…there are so many things, good things that you can have, that you can be…go, and love… "

Her fingers brushed his lips, and she leaned forward to place a light kiss on his lips. He felt a touch, like a feather, and then she was gone.

But this time, he didn’t feel bad... He felt better… Her words, her touch, her love had soothed his battered soul. He had wanted to say so much, but he hadn’t… yet, strangely, he knew all that he wanted to say to her, she already knew. And he knew that he needed to think, to understand… to try and accept what he felt and saw. He bent over Robert, and ran a hand gently over his soft curls. He saw the smile in the curve of his mouth, and he knew that Robert had seen his mother. Lee also knew that the dreams of Cathy that Robert had told him of were more real than Robert could imagine.

Lee shook his head sadly, and went to his room. He closed the door, and threw himself on the bed. He rolled onto his side, and ran a hand over the empty side of the bed. Touching the pillow, he whispered "I love you, Cats. Always and Forever." And as the tears coursed down his face, he fell asleep, slipping into a soft warmth filled with the first peace that he had felt in several years.

 

 

Christmas Eve dawned a beautiful, bright day. Lee rose at 0600, and pulled on a pair of sweats, and a T-shirt for his morning run on the beach. One of the first things he had done, upon coming to Santa Barbara was to begin first a personal program of fitness, and then to introduce one to the men on the boat, and later to the entire Institute Staff. When he was in port, he ran at least 3-5 miles a day, when circumstances permitted. Many of the men, and officers on the boat, and on the Staff as well, had gradually taken part in the program that he promoted, and there had been, in the last five years, a marked decrease in health problems with all of those that were involved.

He went down to the deck, and closing the doors, began his beach run. He found that this was his best time of day. His mind was the clearest, and his thinking the best. He started on the beach, running toward the cove, and was thinking of last night… Cathy had come to him and to Robert. They’d spoken…touched, after a fashion… and he’d slept the best that he had in years. Cathy had given him a sense of peace. Lee picked up his pace, running down the beach faster, the run feeling good this morning…

He reached the midpoint of the run, and turned back to follow the same path back to the house. He passed the cove, and glancing over, saw the slight form of a young woman sitting far out on the groin. He was immediately concerned, knowing the speed that the incoming tide could have in covering the slender extension of rock… He headed down the narrow path to the end of the rocks, where the young woman sat. Immediate recognition brought an onslaught of feelings. Immediate was the feeling of some anger that she was in this place that was, he felt, his and his alone. That quickly faded into other, more confusing feelings. Caitlin Davis had grown into a young woman in the years she had been at the Institute. She was a woman, a lovely one, but in his mind, she was still a child., a self assured child… but a child, none the less…

‘There is someone here who loves you…let her in…’

He shook his head as he approached her. He thought he heard a voice, but he wasn’t sure. He knew it wasn’t Caitlin speaking to him, but the voice was familiar. If he only knew…

Hearing someone approach, Caitlin turned her head, and smiled at the Captain of the Seaview. Ever since that day, so many years ago, when Crane and Morton had come to the apartment to welcome her mother and herself, Caitlin had felt something special about Lee Crane. Oh, at the time, he had been happily married to Cathy Connors. Then, Cathy had died, and Lee had shut himself down to everyone but his son. Caitlin had looked at him in a different manner then. She had come to realize that what she felt for him was love. And she knew that he wasn’t going to be returning the feeling… he wasn’t even aware that she was here…she was just ‘Karen’s kid’, and the Admiral’s stepdaughter… one of the family… and one that he wouldn’t consider an interest in. She knew that she would have to have to change his view of her… She knew that she had to make him more aware of her presence. And she knew she would have a long road ahead.

She smiled to herself… at least, it was going to be an interesting struggle… "Captain? How is your run going?"

Wiping the sweat from his forehead with his arm, Lee sat down on the rocks near Caitlin. "It’s fine… really… I just saw you out here… you do know how fast the tide comes in?"

"Yes, I do, thank you very much. Just because I’ve been gone for a bit, doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten things like that, Lee. I like it here… it’s a peaceful place."

"It is… Cathy and I used to come here a lot… I sorta tend to think of it as my own…"

"Sorry!" She immediately became defensive. "I didn’t see any signs…"

Repentant, he replied, "No, I’m the one that’s sorry. I didn’t mean it the way it sounded."

He rose, brushing at his sweats. "I need to finish my run and I intruded on you."

Suddenly realizing that maybe she’d been the one to offend…"NO! Lee, wait."

"Caitlin, I have a lot to do today, before your mother’s party. If I had my way, I’d just as soon stay home. But I promised my self a long time ago, that just because Christmas didn’t mean anything to me, I would do my best not to spoil it for others. However if I’m going to get there, I have a lot to get done… I didn’t mean to intrude, and I can promise you , I won’t be doing it again. Be careful, the tide’s turning." With that, he turned and climbed down the groin to the beach where he picked up his pace and returned to his run.

Caitlin watched him as he ran back down the beach, angry at herself, and angry at him as well… 'Stubborn, intransigent man! DAMN!!! And you were pretty stupid too, Caitlin Davis – arguing with the man isn’t the way to keep his attention. There has to be a better way! But you should have known better than to come here…you knew how he came here with Cathy... really stupid!’

She stood and walked down the groin to the beach, and intent on finishing her own run, ran in the same direction as Crane, towards the Nelson house at the top of the hill.

 

 

Christmas Eve night found all of the Senior Staff and their families at the Nelson Residence for Karen Davis Nelson’s Annual Christmas Eve Dinner. In spite of her daughter and husband’s hovering and over protective attitudes, Karen had proceeded with the party, intending for it to be a better one than the year before.

Caitlin had been keeping up with the two children for their parents when she spied Lee Crane walk out onto the deck off the main living room. Looking over at Helen Crane, she watched as the older woman sat observing her sullen son. Crane stood out on the deck, leaning slightly against the railing, slowly drinking from his cup of coffee. He kept gazing out over the calm ocean and was so deep in thought that he didn’t hear Caitlin come up from behind him.

She stood there, observing him, for a few moments before making a slight sound to break his concentration. Turning slightly around, he saw her standing next to him, wine glass in hand, and with a slight smile on her face.

"Sorry…as you know, Christmas is not always the best time for me," he explained. He was remembering, again, Cathy and their last Christmas together after Robert was born.

"No need to explain…I understand," she quietly replied. "Mom went through the same thing for a while after Daddy died." She sat her glass down on the railing and turned around with her back to the ocean, leaning back against the post. "However, life does go on, you know. It really does. Mom’s found that out." She gazed back into the great living room where the rest of the group sat around the enormous Christmas tree.

"Your mother’s very lucky, Caitlin…" Crane softly answered. "I don’t know if I could ever…"

"Yes, she is, Lee," she said softly, "…HN's good for her…and he loves her….But you know, the biggest thing was that Mom decided that she didn’t want to be alone again. Life does go on…I had to learn that, too. Just because my dad died didn’t mean that my life, or Mom’s, ended. We’re the ones left to go on and live," she gently said. Placing a hand gently on his arm, she looked up at this somber tall man next to her and continued, "Mom once told me that when one door closes in your life, another one opens. All you have to do is go through it and find out what, or who, is on the other side."

Lee looked down at her, his amber-hazel eyes locking with light blue ones. ‘What is she trying to tell me?…No, you old fool…you’re way too old for this little girl.’

Caitlin slowly turned away from his gaze and looked out at the gently breaking waves on the moonlit beach below. Taking a sip from her wineglass, she then glanced back at him and asked, "Can I ask you a question?"

Turning toward her, he cocked an eyebrow and answered, "Sure."

"Who’s Joel McKenna?"

As soon as the words came out of her mouth, Lee Crane’s expression went ice cold. He stared at her, unable to comprehend why she would ask about McKenna or how she would even know about him. "Why do you ask?" he replied coolly.

Caitlin noted the sudden change in his demeanor…hardened, cold hatred at the mention of the name. She took another sip of her wine and calmly responded, "Mom and I ran into him at Antonio’s in San Diego a couple of weeks ago when she came down to go shopping with me."

Lee put his cup down on the saucer and turned to fully face Caitlin. Looking down at her, he was suddenly struck at how blue her eyes were and how smooth her skin was…the moonlight giving it an eerie, soft glow. Quietly but forcefully, he said, "Stay away from him, Caitlin. He’s bad news."

"Why, Lee? What’s the story on him? I asked Mom but she wouldn’t tell me anything…said he was ‘no one of any importance’ and then changed the subject," she replied as she looked up into his eyes, noting the serious expression lining his face. Obviously, the man’s name had struck a nerve, and a very touchy one at that.

"Does the Admiral know that you bumped into McKenna?" Crane inquired cautiously. She doesn’t need to get mixed up with McKenna…that bastard is dangerous.

"I don’t know," she countered. "I suppose Mom’s told him . . . Look, what’s with this guy?…Lee, Mom used a tone of voice with him that I've never ever heard her use before. She was so cold!" She shuddered just a bit. "Actually, I don’t think I blame her…there’s something about him that I didn’t like…when he shook my hand, God, it felt so slimy…his voice sounded like that of a snake oil salesman…"

Crane placed a hand gently on her forearm and in a low, deliberate tone told her, "Don’t ever go near that man, Caitlin. You keep your distance from him while you’re down at San Diego. He’s dangerous…and he’d stop at nothing to take advantage of you or your mother if he thought it could hurt the Admiral. He’s tried before and he’d try again."

Caitlin was actually beginning to be frightened. Who was this man? Why would he hurt her, her mother, or HN? Looking back up into the hazel eyes, she now saw the flicker of fear…but for whom? "Lee, who is this guy? Why would he hurt Mom or HN? I don’t understand."

Lee turned back around to face the sea…."Did he threaten you? Or your mother?"

She took hold of his arm and wheeled him back around to face her. "No…at least I don’t think he did…But Mom did say something to him about making a phone call and that she was much deadlier than HN. Lee, what’s with this guy? Why did Mom get so bent out of shape over him?" She was insisting that he tell her and he knew it.

Crane debated with himself about answering her questions. If Karen hadn’t told her daughter, maybe he shouldn’t either…but she was demanding answers of him. Answers to questions about a man that had intentionally tried to have him court-martialed and who had him severely beaten…had tried to have her stepfather killed…all over jealously. A deadly jealous hatred of long ago. And Lee knew Caitlin well enough to know that she wouldn’t let him off the hook until he told her what he knew.

Taking another sip of the now cooling coffee, Lee cleared his throat and explained as unemotionally as he could. "Admiral Joel McKenna hates Admiral Nelson with a vengeance…has ever since their days at the Academy. McKenna was a 1st Classman when the Admiral was a plebe and rode him constantly…made his life miserable, I understand. But the Admiral persevered and came away with honors… McKenna never could match the Admiral academically and was jealous beyond all logical reason. Not long before you and your mother came to the Institute, Dr. Gamma took the Admiral and Chip hostage. Gamma had Chip severely beaten…almost killed him…had it done deliberately in front of the Admiral so he would break mentally; he almost completely succeeded. Gamma hated the Admiral…still does, I expect…he was never caught. Anyway…I disobeyed presidential orders and went after them. I certainly wasn’t about to sit by and do nothing. Well, McKenna found out about what I did and had me brought up on formal charges…A formal court martial was convened…but not before he had me beaten almost senseless while I was being held in the brig. He wanted to ‘convince’ me to take the entire blame for doing what I felt and knew was the ‘right thing’…going after the Admiral and Chip. We could never prove that he ordered it…but the men who did it were under his command. Anyway, Matty had to do some pretty fancy footwork to get me released from there into Jamie’s custody. So McKenna had decided to try and finish the job that Gamma started on the Admiral…"

Caitlin’s face went white as she heard the explanation…she’d heard about Nelson’s stay in the sanatorium…and she’d known about what happened to Chip Morton. She hadn’t really heard about the court martial until now. She could see why the man elicited such a strong response in Lee Crane, but why was her mother so cold to him? Caitlin had never known her mother to use that tone of voice…it was downright frightening.

"Lee, I can understand why you dislike him…and even HN, but Mom? There’s something else here you’re not telling me."

"Caitlin," he hesitated then just flatly stated, "It’s just better that you steer clear of him. It’s bad enough that you’re on the same base with him down in San Diego…I just wish you were back up at Cal Poly and away from him."

"Does Admiral Stark know about all of this? I mean…all of it?"

"Yes, he does. He can’t really stand McKenna either, but…. "

Caitlin shook her head, her white blonde hair moving with the motion. "Well, he’s not going to try anything if Stark knows. I’ll be ok and I’ll definitely keep my distance."

"Don’t bet on it…Caitlin, this man is dangerous," Crane replied, then lowered his voice to a near whisper as he said, "He doesn’t care who gets in his way. In fact, he tried to have Admiral Nelson killed years ago and he beat me severely prior to that as well. Did it personally as a matter of fact."

Her face showed absolute shock. "What?!"

Lee slowly nodded his head. "When the Admiral was given his fourth star, the ceremony was performed at the National Cathedral in Washington. The President himself was the instigator of the ceremony. The Admiral didn’t want it…you know how he is…" Crane smiled a bit at the remembrance of the beginning of the whole ordeal. Nelson had not wanted all the pomp and circumstance but the President had insisted upon it. His face then regained its seriousness as he continued, "McKenna was so enraged at all the accolades being bestowed on the Admiral that he actually had someone try to kill him in the Cathedral during the ceremony. I found the guy, got hold of him before he even got a shot off…took a knife wound in the process. Again, we could never prove it was McKenna that set it up, but we knew…we knew it." He became silent for a bit, then continued. "There was also the time when the Admiral had an allergic reaction to the prescription drug Cortisone that he’d been given at the base hospital in Honolulu. A long time ago, he was the lone survivor of the Neptune sinking and had been adrift at sea for days before he was ever found. Anyway, the drug made him extremely paranoid. His actions became irrational because of the drug and I had to go countermand orders he’d given. Admiral Stark was there…he knows what happened. To make a long story short… McKenna found about it and tried to say I’d committed mutiny…and when I wouldn’t say what he wanted me to say…that the Admiral was unfit for duty and was unstable…he lost whatever control he had and started to beat me…hit me pretty good, too. He’s no good, Caitlin. Stay away from him ‘cause he doesn’t care who he hurts." And I don’t want to see you hurt in any way.

"Why on earth hasn’t someone stopped him?" she exclaimed. It was hard for her to understand how this man could do all of this and not be held accountable.

"Because…for some ungodly reason…he’s got some higher-ups that keep him from getting taken down. Apparently, he’s holding something over someone’s head that can keep him out of trouble," was the explanation.

Caitlin became reflective as she remembered her encounter with the man and her mother’s attitude. "Well, apparently my mother isn’t afraid of him. She virtually threatened him."

Lee looked at her, astonished. "What do you mean…she threatened him?"

"All I know is that they had a private conversation, her back was turned to me so I couldn’t see or hear what she said to him. But when she sat back down at the table, he made some kind of snotty remark about being careful, that things could happen during pregnancy. Anyway, Mom suddenly got very cold…God, I’ve never heard her like that before… Anyway, she told him point blank about making some sort of a phone call and that no one could prevent the outcome if she made it. She then made a statement that she was not HN, but that she was much more deadly."

Crane halfway smiled upon hearing this . . . Ah hah! So…McKenna’s been warned! Karen gave him a very deadly warning…if he’s smart, he’ll heed it. Lee also knew exactly to whom she would make the call and that the request would, in fact, be carried out…unquestioned.

Smiling a bit, he looked over at Caitlin and said, "Hmm, well, I don’t think you’ll have to worry about McKenna for a while. From what you’ve just said, it looks like your mother may have that situation well in hand. If he’s smart, and I know he’s not stupid, he’ll steer clear of all of us. I just don’t want to see you hurt…so watch your step down at the base." He then looked through the windows of the patio doors and smiled. "I think we’d better rejoin the crowd, don’t you? After all, this is Christmas Eve, and we can’t let them have all the fun, now can we?" He offered his arm to her, ready to escort her back inside where Chip and Matty Morton were beginning to pack up little Alex to go home and Robert was falling asleep in his grandmother’s lap.

Realizing that Crane was genuinely concerned about her safety, she decided to take his words regarding McKenna seriously. However, at the same time, she wasn’t about to let the seriousness of the conversation overshadow the gaiety they were about to dive back into. Graciously accepting his arm, she returned his smile but couldn’t help but think that maybe one day she might see more than just ‘brotherly’ concern from him.

As Lee and Caitlin came in from the deck, arm in arm, the other adults in the room watched them. Several eyebrows rose, as the closeness of the two was noticed. Caitlin’s face flamed slightly, aware of the interest of everyone in the room in the two of them, and she suddenly pulled her arm from his. Trying to make it less awkward for him, she turned, "Thanks, Lee. Guess we’ll see you all tomorrow at the Family Dinner in the Dining Hall."

"Yes, Caitlin. The three of us wouldn’t miss it for all the world, would we, Robert, Mom?"

Robert looked at his father, his green eyes full of anticipation of the coming day. " Daddy, isn’t Santa going to be coming to the dinner…You promised, you know… you said he would have a special gift for everyone at the party. And he could be there because he would be finished with all his visiting of all the children…. He was gonna be our special guest!"

Crane looked over at a smiling Harriman Nelson. "Yes, Robert. I have it on the best authority that he’ll be there." Bending over, Lee picked his son up in his arms. "C’mon, Robert. Got to get you home and in bed, Santa is going to be coming and you want to be sound asleep… there are going to be a lot of surprises for you."

"Yes, Daddy! Santa’s coming!" He let Lee put him down, and ran to Helen’s side. "C’mon, Gramma. Let’s go!!!!" He pulled on her arm and Helen laughingly stood at his insistence. Looking over at the Mortons, she smiled, and said, "I guess that we’re going as well, Chip."

Chip lifted Alex onto his shoulder, smiling. "I’ve one little girl who didn’t make it to the end of the party. Hopefully when she grows up she still won’t be a party animal… Guess we’ll have to wait and see, Helen. " He turned to Karen and Harriman Nelson. "Great dinner again, Karen. Thanks for the invitation. Admiral, see you at the dinner…1400 right?"

Nelson smiled at his XO, his arm around his wife. "Right, Chip." He leaned over and kissed Matty who was standing at her husband’s side. "Have a wonderful Christmas Morning….I’m sure that your little one will be up and on the move early. Next year, well, it’ll be our turn."

He smiled at Karen, and pulled her closer. Matty leaned forward, and whispered to Karen, "He’s in for quite a shock, isn’t he?"

Karen merely smiled at her, and nodded, "Uh huh…He really doesn’t have a clue, and at this point, I don’t intend to tell him any more… Parenthood’s supposed to be a journey of discovery, and this scientist is soon to discover a lot of things he never imagined." Both women laughed lightly, and Matty moved back to Chip’s side, and picked up things.

"G’nite Lee, Helen… sleep well, R.C. And thanks, Caitlin, for your help with Alex tonight."

"You're welcome, Chip… Matty… G’nite… Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas!" they called as they left the house. Lee then turned to the Nelson’s as Robert, with the second or third wind that youngsters get at this time of year, pulled at his Grandmother’s arm. "Thanks you, Admiral…Karen…. It was a great evening. The dinner was terrific as usual. And thanks, Caitlin for the help."

"You're welcome, Lee," she said quietly watching the Captain as he stood before her.

Helen kissed Nelson, and Karen, thanking them. Lee took Robert by his other hand, and they walked to the door, turning as they left, "Merry Christmas, Admiral, Karen…Caitlin."

"Merry Christmas, Lee. Merry Christmas, Robert and Helen."

"Merry Christmas, Lee Crane." Caitlin whispered.

 

 

Lee finished tucking Robert in for the night, kissing him gently, and once again running a hand tenderly over his son’s riotous curls. "Sleep well, little man. Sweet dreams." He whispered, and rose from the bed, moving to the door. He looked again his sleeping son, and went into the upstairs hallway. Helen Crane was coming up the stairs. He waited until she reached the top of the stairwell. "Lee?"

"I’m going to go down put out the presents. He’s sound asleep. You go on to bed…I’ll be up in a while, Mom."

"Lee, I’ll help you… you don’t have to do this alone."

"No…I’ll be fine. You’ve done a lot this week… Go on…. Go to bed." He smiled slightly. "Tomorrow’s going to be another long day."

She laid a hand on his arm. "Are you sure? You really don’t need me?"

He kissed her lightly on the cheek. "I’m sure, Mom. Now, go on… go to bed…now!"

"Alright, Lee…But if you need me…" she turned and went towards her bedroom. He went down the stairs.

 

 

After several trips to the basement, the presents were placed around the tree, and Lee had to admit that it looked like a Christmas Card picture. He was always amazed at how well things looked once all was said and done, and he knew that in his case, it was due to the efforts of his mother. He went into the kitchen, poured a cup of coffee, and came back into the room, and sat down. If he allowed it, there was a warm feeling about the season, and the time of the year. If he allowed it. He was confused, and sad… and he was missing Cathy. She told him to make sure that he loved again. He wanted to. He was tired of being alone. He wanted to hold someone…he wanted to love someone. But in all reality, who would want him? The days, the weeks…the months away from home…all the twisted and intertwined missions and assignments…who would want a relationship with anyone who lived the life he did? He had been lucky to find Cathy. She was unusual in that she knew what she was getting into when they started dating. She knew what kind of life he led, where and what he did and she had accepted it. Accepted it as she had accepted him, and who and what he was. She had never questioned him, or his love for her, once he had declared himself. She had taken his love, taken his heart, and then his heart had been shattered. His life destroyed. He was nothing without Cathy, and Cathy was gone. His eyes were drawn to the two ornaments hanging side by side, of a baby and then a toddler with a dolphin. The baby/toddler had dark curly hair, and a smiling face. Robert’s first Christmas was written on the baby’s diaper. Robert’s Second Christmas was printed on the toddler’s swimsuit. Cathy had made them before Robert’s first Holiday. The little boy had delighted in hanging his own ornaments on the tree. Lee went to the tree, and fingered the ornaments. The warmth and love that Cathy had put into them showed so much. He could feel it. He could feel her love for their son. Suddenly, for some reason, he turned… she was standing by the fireplace. That she wasn’t real was evident. He could see the soft glow around her…She looked at him, and smiled and her hand reached out to him…

He heard her soft voice, not in his ears, but in his head… "Merry Christmas, Lee…now… let go…remember… there is someone near… let her in, my love…let her in and love again. I give you the gift of peace, Lee… carry it with you, and love again… Love…." And then, just as suddenly as she had appeared, she was gone, and he felt the warmth of her love enfold him, and hold him…

"Merry Christmas, Cats…"

 

*The Christmas Witch by Linda Delaney

 

 

 

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