The Day After the Night Before
Note: This story takes place a few hours after the end of Confessions.
The two figures slept entwined, their bodies meshed almost as one, each cleaving to the other as if they were afraid to let go. Suddenly, a sound pierced the air, an annoying beeping that refused to go away. One of the figures slowly turned over and a hand reached out from beneath the covers, groping for the source of the sound. Finally, finding the offender, it was picked up and placed to his ear.
Clearing his throat, the figure grumpily said, "Nelson."
A decidedly feminine voice answered, "Sir... uh… I’m sorry to disturb you but …" There was suddenly a male voice in the background, deeper in tone and agitated.
"Tell him he’s late for our meeting."
"Angie, is that Jiggs Starke I hear?" came the reply from Admiral Harriman Nelson as he struggled to rise on one elbow.
"Yes, sir. And he’s insisting that he had a meeting with you this morning. However, I cleared your calendar yesterday, just as you asked before you picked up…"
Again Nelson heard the bellowing of Admiral Jiggs Starke, but this time it was more direct. "Harriman, this secretary of yours tells me that she called my office and canceled my appointment with you this morning. Now what in blue blazes is more damned important than going over those personnel requests?"
At that very moment, Nelson felt a very feminine hand creep silently up his chest. Lips brushed the tip of his ear as they then kissed his cheek. Turning his head slightly, he looked into the very sleepy eyes of Karen Davis. His other hand covered hers in reassurance as he stared at the woman whom he had asked to marry him not three hours before.
"Uh, Jiggs…Angie did call your office. I asked her to cancel all my appointments for today, including yours."
"Why? We were supposed to go over..." Starke barked over the telephone.
Nelson placed the receiver in the other hand as he rolled over slightly and lightly kissed the woman snuggled next to him. "Jiggs, we can have that meeting tomorrow. Right now…" he smiled at Karen as he felt her hand on his chest, "…I’m a bit …busy and have…"
"Damnit, Harriman, I’ve got a meeting in San Francisco tomorrow. It has to be now or it’ll have to wait."
Karen Davis had heard both sides of the conversation. Unfortunately, Starke’s roaring voice carried extremely well across the phone line. Raising her head slightly, she whispered, "Why don’t you tell him to come over here?"
Nelson glared at her and shook his head ‘no’. "I’ll deal with him at the office," was the whispered reply.
Holding up her left hand just a bit, she whispered back, "He’s got to find out about this sometime. Why not now?"
"Are you sure?"
Karen nodded ‘yes’. Nelson straightened up in bed and then said, "Jiggs, why don’t you come on over here to the house? We can talk here. I was up late last night, so come on over and we’ll do it here."
"Fine, Harriman. It’s not like you to be canceling appointments…" was the testy reply from Starke. "I’ll be there in a few moments." Then the phone went dead.
Nelson put his arm around Karen and looked down at her. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
"Hey, why not?" She kissed him and then sat up facing him. "Harriman, look, he’s one of your oldest and dearest friends. Don’t you think that this is something that you’d want to tell him about and have him be the first to know?"
"Hmmm, I guess you’re right. However, you know he’s going to scrutinize you up one side and down the other." He pulled her closer to him and drew her into a lingering searching embrace.
After a few moments, she broke away and grinned. "Tell me something I don’t know. Now, Admiral…if I’m going to be presentable when he gets here, I need to hit the shower. I’m still feeling a bit sandy." They had slept on the beach the night before and had only gotten home about two hours ago. Though very giddy over the fact that he’d asked her to marry him and the fact that she’d accepted, they had both fallen asleep on the bed as soon as they’d gotten back to his house. Now they were faced with the fact that their secret was about to be made public.
"You’re more than presentable right now, Captain. However, he will be here in a few moments. You know, I do believe I’m rather going enjoy seeing Jiggs speechless," he chuckled.
Karen slid out of the bed and headed to the bathroom. Within seconds, however, she stuck her head out the door and said, "Ya know, if this sort of thing is going to become a habit here, I’m going to have to bring some of my things over and leave them."
"Yes…oh really. You know very well we don’t use the same shampoo." She laughed and then closed the door behind her. Moments later, the soft sound of running water emanated from the bathroom.
Harriman Nelson sat up in the middle of the bed and glanced around. His had been a solitary life until a few years ago when Karen had ‘invaded’ it. Leaning back against the headboard, he reflected back over the years; the few times he had allowed himself to love someone and the results. There was Katherine Campbell…only days away from becoming his wife when she was killed by agents of the People’s Republic in an act of revenge. There was the beautiful Litchka, Russian artist, double agent, who had almost managed to get him killed. And then there was that slight flirtation with Tippy Penfield.
He had to admit, with exception of Katherine, he’d pretty much closed himself off to anything deeper than an arm’s length association. Smiling a bit, he noted that the water had stopped. Karen's sweater and slacks were draped over the corner chair, and her pocketbook sat on the edge of the dresser. The rest of her clothes lay on the floor by the bed.
The bathroom door opened and Karen walked out with a towel draped around her and another wrapped around her hair.
"I’m going to throw my clothes into the wash. They’re full of sand and I'd rather not put them on just after a shower," she stated as she gathered all that she’d worn into her arms.
He didn’t answer. He simply watched her in fascination as she walked out of the bedroom and returned empty handed a couple of moments later. As she stood at the foot of the bed, clad only in a towel, she smiled. For the first time in years, she felt free. Free to love and be loved. Walking over to the side, she bent slightly and lightly kissed him.
"What was that for?" he quietly asked, his fingers entwined in her hair.
"Nothing," was the reply. Standing up, she stated, "You’d better hit the shower too, Admiral. Starke’ll be here any moment. I just realized I don’t have a damn thing to wear and you’re still sittin’ there in bed with no clothes on."
Throwing the covers off and standing, he took her into his arms for a passionate embrace. "There're some sweats in the second drawer of the dresser that you can use," he told her. "I suppose I’m going to have to clear some room for you, huh?" Quickly kissing her again, he headed to the shower. "And I already know some of your habits, Captain. There’s a coffee maker in the kitchen."
"Yes, sir. I’ll make us some as soon as I dress," she replied as she started to look for the sweat pants and shirt. Raising her voice just a bit, "And yes, you’ll have to clear out a drawer or two for me. Harry, as much as I love wearing your shirt…I’d really rather have some of my own things here."
She heard the water start and the shower door close. Resisting the temptation to join him, she slipped on the clothes, noting the T-shirt was emblazoned with a blue NIMR logo. Barefoot, she padded down to the kitchen and started the coffee. Standing in the middle of his kitchen floor, she slowly looked around.
Hmmm, Spartan. Ok, Davis…we’re going to have to get some breakfast going here. Betcha two to one there’s very little in the frig. Just like the last time. Jeez…I’m going to have to… Glancing over at the clock, she knew that Starke would be pounding on the front door at any moment. The way to diffuse things is to feed’em… can’t argue with their mouths full.
Rummaging through the refrigerator, she found bacon, eggs, cheese, bread, sausage and some other assorted accompaniments. Quickly making her selection, she sat about making enough for three.
Right in the middle of frying the sausage, the doorbell rang, followed by a series of knocks.
Oh, boy. It’s show time!
She turned down the stove and headed to the front door. Everyone at the Institute had known the two of them were an item…even with all the recent problems. Starke, however, hadn’t been in the loop for awhile and was about to find out just how close they had really become.
Taking a deep breath, Karen braced herself with a smile and opened the front door. Admiral Jiggs Starke stood before her, dressed in full khaki uniform, with his normal soured look gracing his face. When he came face to face with the woman standing before him, he was speechless. It was clearly something he wasn’t prepared for.
"Captain Davis?! What are you …?"
"Admiral Starke…won’t you come in, sir? Admiral Nelson’ll be with you in a few minutes. He’s upstairs taking a shower." She closed the door as he slowly walked in and started to look around. "We were out on the beach this morning…"
Starke was strangely quiet. Studying the woman in front of him, his mind was trying to process the situation. She was clad in NIMR sweat pants and a T-shirt, clearly not hers from the look of things. He also smelled what had to be breakfast in the air. Following her into the kitchen, he finally found his voice.
"Captain, obviously I’ve intruded here…"
"Hardly, sir. Actually, we were so tired from our excursion on the beach that we’d fallen asleep." Her explanation was so matter-of-fact and without apology that it seemed to be the natural order of things. "He’s in the shower and should be down shortly."
"Ah," Starke suddenly found himself in an uncomfortable situation. He wasn’t really sure how to ask…
"Want a cup of coffee? I just made a fresh pot," she inquired. You old coot! You’re just dying to know if I spent the night here. Are you in for the surprise of your life. She watched him closely and could feel the tension between them.
Uneasily, he replied, "Thanks. Black, if you don’t mind."
She poured the coffee and then handed the hot cup to the tall, hulking man next to her. Karen was determined to keep her calm and not let the secret out…yet. She'd had one or two run-ins with Starke over the years. The last time had been when Nelson had offered her the Institute job several years before. Starke had been vocal in his opposition to her being brought aboard the Seaview. However, since Seaview was a civilian boat, the normal rules didn’t have to be followed; Harriman Nelson had seen to that.
"Admiral, would you like to join us for breakfast? I’ve made more than enough and we can eat on the deck since the weather’s so nice," she began to scramble the eggs. Just as she was about to say something else, Harriman Nelson appeared in the doorway. He was clad in a pair of khaki slacks and white polo shirt with a towel in hand.
"Jiggs…good to see you again." The two men shook hands warmly and then Nelson moved past Starke to where Karen stood with her back to them. His arms encircled her waist and she turned around to greet him in a warm, lingering embrace.
The big man was clearly taken aback…he’d had no idea that his old friend and the younger woman had gotten this close. He felt as if he were invisible. The embrace continued until Starke cleared his throat.
Nelson broke away and whispered in her ear, "Into the lion’s den we go. I love you." Then in a louder voice, he slyly said, "’Morning, Karen. Breakfast smells wonderful."
To which she countered softly, "Thanks, Harriman." She lightly kissed him and then glanced over at the man standing off to the side. "Why don’t you two go out on the deck? It’s much too nice to be sittin’ in here." Her soft accent played with the words as she continued her cooking.
Taking a coffee cup and filling it, Harriman then turned and, with a slightly cocked eyebrow, addressed Starke. "Good idea." He motioned outside, "You said something about personnel matters?" He offered no further explanation, as if what had just occurred was the most natural thing in the world.
Jiggs followed him out to the deck and the two men sat down at the cast iron table placed near the patio door. The sky was a cloudless powder blue and there was a slight breeze coming in from off the Pacific Ocean. Looking over at his old friend, Starke’s curiosity finally got the best of him, "Uh, Harriman…what is Captain Davis doing here at this time of morning and like…"
"…like what, Jiggs?" Nelson replied with no expression.
"Like that…even I recognize those are your sweats. She's in your kitchen at this time of the morning…and she said you two had fallen asleep and….and…" he stammered, his face starting to flush. Starke was no prude, but he was ‘Old Navy’ and for a subordinate to be acting that way around her commanding officer only meant one thing.
"Oh…you mean…why is she in my kitchen making us all breakfast? Or why is she here at all?" Nelson interjected as he cocked his head to one side. An eyebrow shot up as he went further. "Jiggs, she’s in there because we were both starved and neither of us had eaten. Besides, it was her idea in the first place to have you come over here instead of me meeting you at my office."
Before Starke could protest, Karen came through the door with a coffee pot and proceeded to fill both men’s cups. As she stood by Nelson, his arm went around her waist and he pulled her close. Looking up at her, he grinned. "Do you want to tell him or should I? He’s about to bust a gut right now as it is."
Karen studied the two men carefully. One was now her fiancé, the other, his oldest friend. Hand on his shoulder, the other holding the coffeepot, she casually replied, "Up to you, Harriman." She positioned her hand so that the engagement ring was prominently in view. And as if it were scripted, Starke’s eyes widened as he stared at the ring he finally saw.
His expression must have been priceless. Nelson slowly started to grin widely as he saw the obvious recognition on Starke’s face. "Is something wrong, Jiggs? I don’t think I’ve ever see you speechless." Harriman took another sip of coffee and then pulled Karen tighter to him.
"Harriman, you old pirate! I’ll be goddamned…you asked her to marry you, didn’t you?" Starke grabbed hold of his friend’s hand and shook it vigorously. "So…when did this happen?"
"Actually, this morning…out on the beach," Nelson informed him. "Funny thing, too…she actually accepted. Why…I’m not quite sure."
"You know, gentlemen…I am standing right here. I’m not invisible and I do have something to say in all of this." She looked straight at Starke and declared, "I said ‘yes’ because I love him. Now, gentlemen…with that settled…breakfast is going to get cold if I don’t serve it soon. I’ll be back in just a moment." She then placed the pot on a warmer sitting over in the corner and went back into the house.
The two men sat silent for a few moments more before Starke spoke first. "Well, Harriman, I don’t know what to say. You took me by surprise this time. I knew you two were serious…but damn! I didn’t know it was that serious. You sure about this?"
Harriman leaned into the table and took a sip of his cooling coffee. "Yes, Jiggs, I am…very sure." A serious, somber look overtook his being as he continued, "It’s been a long time, Jiggs, you know that. It took me a long time after Katherine, a long time to finally accept the full realities of my life and its’ work. Karen, well, Karen accepts everything…the work…the risks…me…everything as it is. I guess I just needed to reminded that there was someone who could deal with it, and with me."
"Yeah, but Harriman, she’s not your normal ‘Admiral’s wife’ material. She’s…"
"…independent…stubborn…opinionated…a maverick… Seems to me that she’s a lot like me, right? I also remember that you made that observation a few years ago," chuckled Harry. "Maybe that’s why I fell in love with her. Add to the fact, she’s not afraid of you."
"Harriman, I hope you know what you’re doing. Karen Davis is more than just outspoken…"
"Jiggs, you can’t stand it ‘cause she’s a lot like me. And may I remind you, previously she was the Navy half of a couple, not the civilian half." Nelson sat back in the chair and gazed inside. His focus then returned to the man in front of him. "Sometimes you just don’t realize what you have until you’ve almost lost it entirely. This time, Jiggs, I don’t intend to lose it."
Starke watched his old friend intently. He’d seen first hand the effect that the younger woman had had on his old friend. He’d also been privy to those early years and knew well the pain Nelson spoke of. The two of them went back years…all the way to the Academy…and both knew they could trust the other’s opinion. Secretly, however, what Nelson didn’t know was that Starke was, in fact, happy that his friend had finally found someone with whom he could share his life. Though he had a well-documented view of women in the service, he had to admit that she’d proven herself worthy of the tasks she had faced. Maybe Davis was the one to finally give the peace, companionship, and love Nelson deserved.
"Harriman, if she makes you happy, then old friend, I’m happy for you. So…when’s the big day? And you know damn well you’ll have to chain me in irons to keep me away from seeing you tie the knot." Jiggs stood up and slapped Nelson on the back.
Harry nearly choked on the coffee as he managed to say, "Sometime in April…we haven’t decided on the day yet. We were going to do that this morning after we got back but we were both so tired from being up all night that we fell asleep." He grinned at Starke, "Angie did cancel your appointment and you damn well know it. I had her clear my calendar ‘cause I didn’t want to be disturbed today. I’d already planned what I was going to do…I just hoped she’d give me the right answer. After the last few months, I wasn’t exactly sure but I had to take the chance."
"Well, looks like she did…in spades," Starke replied.
Just about that time, Karen appeared with a large tray containing the food and plates with utensils. As she laid out the table, Starke finally looked at her and said, "Congratulations, Captain."
"Actually, Admiral Starke, proper etiquette is congratulations to the male, best wishes to the female. But then again…I never was one for proper protocol," she coyly replied with a slight smile. "However, thank you."
Suddenly the telephone rang inside. Nelson left and went inside to answer, leaving Starke and Karen alone at the table. Moments of silence passed before the older man spoke. Clearing his throat and taking a sip of coffee, he faced her. "Take good care of him."
Karen was momentarily stunned. For all the gruffness and bravado that Starke always displayed, his friendship with Harriman Nelson was one that was deep and genuine.
"I will, you can rest assured of that," she quietly replied. Searching the man’s eyes, she then stated, "I love him, Admiral. It’s been a long time…since…I’ve…felt this way. Maybe you can’t understand this…but…what’s between us…is very real. Harriman…Harriman makes me feel loved again and I know that it’s real."
"Just make sure you’re good to him. He deserves that. He’s been through too much pain."
"Admiral Starke…we’ve both been through too much pain."
"Well, I definitely want an invitation to this wedding, Captain, and I damn well expect one."
Karen laughed slightly and replied, "You’ll get one. Believe me, you’ll get one."
Just then, Nelson reappeared and announced, "I hate to break up this little party, but we’ve got a problem with the instillation of the new INC. I’ve got to go down to the boat and check it out. Jiggs, we’ll handle the personnel list another time. Karen, dinner this evening at 1800?" He bent down and kissed her lightly. "You know, I think I’m going to like this."
Again, Starke felt as if he were intruding. "Well, I’d better be going, too." Standing, he shook Nelson’s hand and then clapped him on the shoulder. "Harriman, I never thought I’d see the day when you’d take the plunge. But…I guess it had to happen sometime. Captain Davis…" He straightened and in his best gruff and barking voice, commanded, "You’d damn well better…" and just as quickly his tone softened, "…be happy."
Nelson placed his hand atop her shoulder and she grasped it with hers as she quietly but joyfully replied, "We will be, sir. We will be."
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