The Mentor

by

Jane L. Daffron

 

Admiral Harriman Nelson turned the water in the shower on the hottest temperature that he could possibly stand. As the steam rolled down his tired and tense back, it seemed to soothe him. His head down and his arms raised, he placed his hands against the wall and simply stood and let the pulsating water beat down on him. It had been an exhausting three days.

He’d spent these last three days working virtually non-stop on his presentation to an international scientific symposium that was to begin the next day in Washington, D.C. All photographs, transparencies, and presentation hand outs were ready. In addition, Caitlin Davis had been working with him to develop a Power Point presentation for him to use in conjunction with his laptop computer. He hated the damn thing…but even he had to admit that it was coming in handy.

Turning off the shower in his cabin, he dried off with a towel and then after wrapping it around his waist, started to shave. As he did, he walked back to his desk and hit one of the keys on the keyboard that activated the animated program the young woman had put together for him. The various screens faded in succession as the information moved across the screen at predetermined speeds in complete synchronization with his notes. The girl was almost 19…masterful beyond her tender years. It never cease to amaze him that, even though he had created Seaview’s computer, the younger generation could overpower him in this area so quickly.

 

 

He had quite literally first run into her on the beach just south of the Institute one day about eighteen months ago. It’d been a hard day for him…everything that could have gone wrong, had. He went where he always did…to a small outcropping of rocks some distance from the compound, to sit and think and simply be alone, away from all of the troubles and pressures of command. About an hour after he arrived, a lone blonde female appeared jogging in the distance, heading in the direction of the Institute. He was struck by the forcefulness of her stride, then the determined yet casual run.

She stopped at the end of the small jetty and looked at the man dressed in the khaki uniform sitting on the rocks. Giving no indication of recognition while stretching her legs, she wiped the sweat from her forehead off onto the shirt sleeve of her t-shirt. Nelson casually looked over at the teenager and noted her attire, yet said nothing. Instead he sought a return to his own solace. He simply turned back to looking out over the breaking waves and the small school of dolphins that had appeared slightly off shore.

"This seat taken?" she asked quietly as she gingerly picked her way up on the rocks.

"No…come on up," was his remark as he got up to extend a helping hand.

"Thanks." She sat down on a nearby rock about 8 feet from him and pulled her pale blonde hair out of the ponytail holder. After a few silent moments, she spoke, almost reverently. "This is a beautiful place. Aren’t those bottlenose dolphins out there?"

"Very good. Yes, they are." He turned and faced her through his sunglasses. She was young…an older teenager, for sure; about five foot two, with a figure to match her youth. He couldn’t see her eyes, hidden behind her own sunglasses, but what he could see of her face was vaguely familiar for some reason. She had an accent, but it was very faint and he couldn’t quite place it. There was something about her attitude and the way she held herself which belied her apparent age.

"Thanks. Do you come down here often?…Or am I intruding? I can leave...I’ve got about another five miles to finish anyway." She too was studying him, he realized. Almost as if she were ‘feeling him out’ for some reason.

"On occasion…I find it…relaxing. It’s been a very long, hard day," he sighed and turned away again.

"Hmmmmm," was all she answered for a few moments, then almost wistfully… "Maybe if you didn’t work so hard…"

He chuckled quietly to himself. How many times had he heard that very same statement from his secretary, his housekeeper, and his officers. Raising an eyebrow, he remarked, "I wish it were that easy. However, young lady…as you get older…you’ll find out that that’s not always the case."

She looked over at him and grinned. There was something very familiar in that smile but he just couldn’t put his finger on it. Shrugging her shoulders, she stated, "It is…if you allow yourself the pleasure of learning how to rest. What’s the old saying… ‘All work and no play makes one a very dull person’... And something tells me that you have a hard time relaxing…that is, if you do at all."

Harry grunted then seemed taken slightly aback at the girl’s observation. "Oh, really? And just whatever gave you that idea?" His curt tone surprised even him. He hadn’t meant mean to be short with her but this young woman was trespassing into his private time and, if she started to head north toward the Institute, he’d have to very politely tell her that it was a restricted area and that she’d have go back in the direction he’d seen her come from.

Nonchalantly, the girl got up and dusted off her shorts, then repulled her hair back into a ponytail. Walking over to the end of the jetty, she then jumped down off the rocks onto the beach. Looking back up at him, her hand shielding the glare off her eyes, she stated, "Well, a normal person wouldn’t be this grouchy and testy after being out here for very long. This place is for gathering your thoughts…for relaxing…for just enjoying. It’s too beautiful a place to stay grumpy in. You weren’t here when I came by the first time…so you really haven’t been out here that long…at least not long enough for all of this to work its magic. Maybe you do need to relax a lot more than most people do."

The Admiral gazed down on the impertinent girl in the running shorts and t-shirt. "Just maybe I do," he snapped. Then he noticed she had started to walk toward the direction of the compound, instead of away from it. Calling after her, "Miss…that’s a restricted area. Authorized personnel only."

She stopped and turned, now gently running in place, her ponytail bouncing with the motion. "I know," she yelled back. "I live up there." Pulling a chain necklace out from underneath her shirt, she flashed a NIMR ID badge. Then grinning slyly, she said, "My Mom just started working for you, Admiral Nelson…I’m Caitlin Davis…and my Mom’s Captain Karen Davis." And with that, she threw up her hand and waved him a quick good bye as she headed toward the Institute. "See ya around!"

Shocked at first, he soon smiled as she disappeared up the beach. No wonder he’d recognized the smile. She looks a bit like her mother…and acts like her, too.

 

 

He continued to dry himself and then walked back into the head, replacing the towel on its rack. As he started to dress, he kept thinking about the symposium and the speech he had to give. Taking a tie out of his closet, he walked over behind his desk as he absentmindedly tied it while looking down on the words on the LCD screen. Once again, he checked the video display that Caitlin had helped him set up for the illustrations. Perfect. He chuckled for a moment as he realized that this nineteen year old girl had helped him do the presentation on his paper. She was so energetic…so eager to learn and to be taught by him. Nelson had been providing ‘fatherly’ advice and counsel to her and she, in turn, would help him when and if she was asked. This time, they’d managed to do this entire project by telephone consultations and email attachments while she was finishing up her fall semester at Virginia Tech.

Caitlin had been well aware of Nelson’s scientific reputation in numerous disciplines, not the least of which was the building of Seaview’s computer. However, advancements and discoveries were coming so fast and furious in the field that it was getting harder for even him to keep up. That’s why he had some of the best computer minds in the country working for him at the Institute. And what amazed him even more was the fact that these experts were getting younger and younger every day.

He’d been complaining about the speech in an email and how much he hated to have to give the damn thing. Caitlin had politely suggested that maybe if he put a little zip into it… ‘jazz it up’ (her words)…that a dry scientific speech might actually not have to be so dull after all. Nelson agreed that most talks of these kind weren’t exactly the most entertaining but he didn’t have the time to deal with it. So, almost as a lark, he handed it over to her as her first ‘official’ project for him. What he received in return pleasantly surprised him. She’d taken his entire speech, rewritten, and completely illustrated it via a computerized Power Point slide program that could be plugged into an overhead projector. As a slight personal touch, she even added some very faint music to some of what she termed the ‘drier’ areas. When she had called yesterday to see how he’d liked it, he was almost speechless. They’d continued to make refinements round the clock and then finally, at 0700, Caitlin had sent him the completed document and program for his final approval. She’d even added a caveat that it’d better be the last version because she had to go to class. Any further deviations from the norm would be strictly up to him.

After looking over it thoroughly, he sat back in his chair and smiled, finally satisfied with the results. Reaching for the phone, he contacted the radio shack and asked Sparks to patch a call through for him, then notify him when it had been completed. Casually finishing his packing, he stopped long enough to eat the breakfast the galley had sent up for him.

Shortly, the buzzer on his phone rang. "Yes?"

"That call you wanted is on Line 1, sir."

"Thanks, Sparks." He hit the other button and spoke. "Caitlin? Glad I caught you before I left. I wanted to personally thank you for all of the work you’ve done on this. It’s very good and I’m sure that most of the attendees will be fascinated. The rest of’em will grumble that it’s too high tech."

There was laughter at the other end of the phone. "You’re welcome, sir. Just glad you won’t be boring them to tears. The other way you had it…well, let’s just put it this way…it needed some help."

"Uh huh…and you don’t have to remind me of that, young lady. Look, I’m not going to keep you…I know you’ve got a class to get to. I just wanted to say thanks." He smiled as he talked with her. For some reason, he felt refreshed whenever they had their rare phone conversations. Deep down, he secretly missed the classroom and Caitlin Davis had unwittingly provided him with a way to keep in touch with that longing. "By the way…I want you to think about interning with us this summer. You should have several good computer classes under your belt by then and I’d like you over in our computer department. Nothing special but at least you can really start to get your feet wet."

He heard a small gasp on the other end of the line. Clearly she hadn’t expected this offer from him.

"Tha…thank you, sir. I’d love to! I’ll tell Mom when I get in for Christmas…that is, unless you’ve already…"

"I haven’t said a word to your mother, Caitlin. This is strictly between you and me, all right? Why not wait until you come home for Christmas to tell her? And unless you’ve said something to her, she doesn’t even know that you and I’ve been emailing. I’d prefer to keep it that way, too, if you don’t mind."

"You haven’t said anything to her?" was the shocked answer on the other end of the country

"No…not a word." He swiveled in his chair, making a mental note to himself as he jotted a slight note in the margin of his printed notes.

"Hey…fine by me. I’ll tell her about the offer when I get in for break, then." There was a slight hesitation, then she said, "I’ve got to go, but…Admiral…one thing…ok? Don’t you think it’s about time that you and Mom dropped all this pretense? I mean…maybe it’s about time that you asked her out."

He suddenly coughed, caught off-guard by her statement, and spilled coffee on the leg of his trousers. "Damn!" he swore under his breath but not loud enough for her to hear. Then, "Caitlin…your mother and I have…"

"Yeah, yeah…I know… ‘a working relationship’…boy, have I heard that one before. From you… and her. Look…I’ve got to run or I’m going to be late…You both have got to stop this BS. You two are made for each other and that’s all I’m going to say. Now I’ve got to go. Let me know how the talk goes, ok? Bye!" And with that she hung up before he could get another word in.

He hung up the phone and continued trying to dab at the wet material. Realizing that he wasn’t getting anywhere, he quickly changed, finished packing, and called the Control Room for someone to come pick up his bags. Making his way down the spiral stairs into the Observation Nose, he momentarily paused to look back into the Seaview’s center of operations.

Lee Crane, the captain of the Seaview, walked up to greet him as Chief Francis Sharkey, the boat’s COB, handed him his black leather flight jacket.

"Ready to go, sir?" Crane smiled though he saw how tired the older man appeared. "Presentation’s completed?"

"Yes…" He smiled slightly and continued, "Caitlin’s got me completely ready for the talk. Speaking of which, is Captain Davis anywhere around?" Nelson’s eyes scanned the Control Room once again, but didn’t find the object of his quest.

"Uh…no, sir. Chip told me a while ago that she was to be working in the Missile Room today, doing some fine tuning on some of the new diving suits. Apparently they’re not quite up to what she wants yet. I did see her at breakfast…but haven’t seen her since then. You want me to get her up here?" Lee noted something in the O.O.M’s voice but simply dismissed it as being fatigue. At least he had Sharkey flying him to D.C. so he wouldn’t get too overtired…not that he wasn’t already.

"No…no," was Nelson’s answer as he and the COB walked toward the open hatchway to the FS-1. "No need…It’s nothing that can’t wait until I get back." The two men disappeared downward and the captain secured the hatch after them.

 

 

The following week, Admiral Harriman Nelson was settling back into his bedroom at his home at the Nelson Institute of Marine Research after the weeklong symposium at the Smithsonian. His paper on the Long Range Correlated Effects of Abandoned Biohazard Dumping in Relation to Depleted Fishing Grounds had been well received. Of special note were the many kudos he’d received not only for his research, but for the presentation itself as well. Oh, as expected, there had been a few older members that griped and grumbled about it being too ‘high tech’ and that the exhibition took away from its’ effectiveness. But others asked questions when normally there would not be any…and even some in attendance wanted to know about the unusual presentation itself, who did it, and would they be available for other projects. He’d had secret gratification in knowing he’d managed to pull off a little bit of a coup, thanks to one Caitlin Davis.

He was just putting his spare uniforms into his closet when the doorbell rang. Sighing just a bit, he knew he didn’t really feel up to company tonight and made a mental note to quickly dispatch whomever was at the door. As he approached the front foyer, he caught sight of a petite blonde form standing outside. Opening the door, he looked into Caitlin’s smiling face.

"Caitlin…what in the world…?"

"Sorry…I know I should have called your office, but I just got in today for Christmas break and I’ve been out doing a little shopping. You promised to let me know how the speech went, remember? Did the presentation do ok?"

Opening the door a little wider, he beckoned her into the hallway. "Whoa, young lady!" he laughed. "Yes, the speech and the presentation went just fine. Those in attendance were most duly impressed, m’dear. I was even asked who did it and if they were available for hire. I think you might make quite a name for yourself, should you so choose." He let his words sink in a bit and then asked, "Would you like to stay awhile? I was just unpacking and I’ve got to go over some other business in the study. I’d like to have a chance to talk to you at some point while you’re home about that internship."

Caitlin blushed a little and lowered her bright blue eyes. She slowly raised them to meet the blue of his own. "Well…I guess we could talk about it over Christmas dinner. I know Mom’s expecting you on Christmas Eve…"

"Hmmmm, I’d forgotten about that. I guess I’m obligated then…" he pretended to ponder the upcoming holiday’s festivities.

"Well, all I can say is…don’t disappoint Mom over dinner. Besides, Admiral…you came last year and for the last two Thanksgivings as well…I know she’d miss you if you weren’t there." Then all of a sudden, she quietly added with a sly wink, "Maybe you should start coming over more often."

"Miss Davis…" he started to bluster but, looking into her face, somehow found his veiled threats empty. He raised an eyebrow and a faint smile appeared on his lips. "Miss Davis…you do know the role of matchmaker doesn’t become you, don’t you?"

"Uh huh," she nodded in mock agreement. She started toward the door and took hold of the knob. "Look, things are going to get crazy around the apartment the next week or so, what with all the shopping and decorating. If I don’t see you before Christmas Eve…thanks for telling me about the meeting. That’s really nice to know." Halfway out on the walkway, she turned and covertly remarked, "You know, Admiral…you two really do need to stop walkin’ on eggshells ‘round each other."

Nelson simply smiled and shoved his hands down into his back pockets. His head was slanted just a bit as he stated, "I’ll take that under close advisement, Miss Davis, at the appropriate time."

"I’m sure you will, Admiral." She raised an eyebrow just a bit as her eyes flashed a bit of mischief. "You know…you need to execute the immediate form instead of suspending your processing." She flashed him a radiant smile and then coyly added, "But then again…you already know that, don’t you?" And with that, she bounded down the walkway to her waiting Jeep Wrangler and drove off.

As he watched her head toward the other end of the compound, he slowly closed the door and smiled to himself while reflecting back on their conversation. Indeed I do, Miss Davis. Indeed…I do.

 

The End????????

 

 

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