Originally published in The Nexus Chronicles, 1994
"That’s the last of them," Chip Morton told Lee Crane, as he watched Chief of the Boat Francis Sharkey climb the ladder leading from Seaview’s control room to the sail. He handed Crane the clipboard
"And not a moment too soon," Lee said, dropping his garment bag to the deck and settling his cover on his head. "Where’s your stuff?"
"I’ll get it on Monday," Chip said. "I just want to go home, use up all the hot water, then crash on the couch with a couple of beers."
"Sounds like a plan. After you," Lee said, then shouldered his garment bag and followed Chip up the ladder.
They wearily walked up the brow leading to Seaview’s dock, glad, for once, to leave the submarine behind. "If we never have another cruise like this one it'll be too soon," Chip said tiredly. "I wasn't built to deal with giant marine spiders. Forget the beers – all I want to see for the next twelve hours are the backs of my eyelids."
"That sounds good to me," Lee replied.
"Thank God the Admiral is okay."
"Small favors. Baines said he wants to keep him under observation in the Infirmary until the early part of the week."
"Jamie's gonna be sorry he chose now to take leave," Chip said with a smile.
"I'm sure the Admiral is just as glad Jamie is gone," Lee said, looking around the near-deserted grounds of the Nelson Institute. Behind them, a maintenance crew from Operations was boarding Seaview for her post-cruise evolution. "It's pretty quiet around here, isn't it?"
"It's a Saturday," Chip reminded him. "Do you work on Saturday if you can help it?"
"No more than you do," Lee answered. "That’s one of the perks of the job."
"That's right. And I have better things to do with my free time than work on a weekend if I can help it," Chip responded.
"What's her name this time?" Lee asked with a grin.
"I'll let you know as soon as I find out," Chip shot back good-naturedly, then frowned as he saw three people coming out of the Administration Building and starting to cross the street diagonally ahead of them. "It looks like somebody's working."
"The Institute's hiring midgets now?" Lee asked.
Chip shot him an irritated look. "Those aren't midgets. They're...kids. And that's…Doctor Murtagh with them," he added thoughtfully.
"Yes, it is Lynn, isn't it?" Lee asked. "Wow. So that's what those jeans and tee shirts are hiding. Who knew?"
"Excuse me?" Chip said, an edge to his voice.
"Maybe I shouldn’t say that," Lee said quickly.
"Maybe you shouldn’t," Chip agreed.
"But maybe you should," Lee said. "Because I know you’re thinking it."
That’s not all I’m thinking, ran through Chip’s mind, but he kept his mouth shut.
"Those kids – I wonder if they're Lynn’s children," Lee mused, watching Chip closely for his reaction.
"I didn't think she had kids," Chip replied. "At least, she's never said anything about it." His mind was racing. Kids? Does that mean...? She didn’t wear a wedding ring – she wore a college ring on her left hand.
"You’d be the one to know," Lee broke into his thoughts.
"I don't know everything about her," Chip scoffed, hoping to deflect Lee’s line of questioning.
"That’s not for lack of trying," Lee shot back. "You two are joined at the hip whenever she’s aboard. She talks, you listen – usually with a sappy look on your face."
Still trying to adjust to the sight of the two children, Chip ignored Lee’s comment. She'd spoken of nieces and nephews, maybe....
Lee looked at Chip when his latest jibe went unanswered or rebutted. The pensive expression on Chip’s face made it clear he hadn’t heard a word Lee had said. "There's one easy way to find out," he said.
"What?" Chip said.
"I said, there’s one easy way to find out," Lee repeated.
"And what would that be?" Chip asked in a suspicious manner.
"You're going to ask her," Lee said confidently.
Chip looked at him, his blue eyes widening in surprise. "I'm gonna what?"
"You're going to ask her if those are her kids," Lee repeated calmly, fighting to keep a triumphant grin off his face.
"What makes you so sure about that?" Chip asked irritably.
"Because there's something you don't know about her, and it's driving you crazy," Lee said confidently. If there was one thing Chip Morton hated, it was an unsolved mystery, and Lee knew he wouldn't be satisfied until he'd gotten to the bottom of this one – especially this one – one way or another.
Chip glared at him, then grinned ruefully. "As much as I hate to admit it, you're right."
"Of course I'm right," Lee said amiably. "I'm always right. I'm the Captain."
Chip merely raised his eyes heavenward and shook his head.
"Let me give you a hand." Lee looked at his friend and smiled. "Lynn!"
Doctor Lynn Murtagh was on her way to the Marine Mammal Building, a small child clutching each hand, when she heard someone calling her name. She turned and saw Chip Morton and Lee Crane, both in uniform, bearing down on her. Her heart skipped a beat at the sight of Chip. She'd never expected to see him -- if she had, she'd have worn something a bit more flattering than this disreputable pair of denim cutoffs whose better days were far in the past.
Lynn licked her lips self-consciously, and took a deep breath to calm herself. No sense letting Chip see that she was nervous. Genuinely glad to see Chip and Lee despite her concern over her appearance, she smiled broadly. "Lee, Commander. Long time no see."
"We're goin' to see the dolphins!" Bridey piped up jubilantly from Lynn's right side.
Lynn reached down and fondly tucked Megan's pale blond hair behind her right ear.
"Have you seen the dolphins?" Bridey asked Chip.
"Oh, we've seen them," Chip said, hunkering down in front of the girls. "But you can't wear that hat around Maxie, you know," he said, gently flicking the brim of the Nimitz baseball cap Bridey wore. He fought down his apprehension. This little girl had to be Lynn's daughter – the resemblance between the two was too strong for any other relationship to be possible. She was practically a carbon copy of the woman holding her hand.
"I know," Bridey informed him with exaggerated patience. "Uncle Donnie brought it for me from Nimitz – that's his ship, y'know – it's an aircraf' carrier. It was a present, and I just had to wear it today. But I don’ wanna be target practice, so we're gonna hide it so Maxie won't see it."
"That's a very good idea," Chip agreed.
"See my pass?" Megan asked, showing Chip the visitor's pass clipped to the pocket of her shorts. "Do you have one?"
The older one was cute, too, and looked as much like Lynn as did the younger, though with much lighter hair and blue eyes instead of green. He wondered what their father looked like, and where he was. Lynn had never mentioned him – that was something he would have remembered. "Yes, I do," Chip answered.
"Where is it?" Megan asked.
"It's in my wallet." Chip was trying very hard not to smile. Whoever and wherever their father was, these kids were their mother all over again – tenacious, inquisitive, and appealing.
Over his head, Lee and Lynn were exchanging amused glances as the girls gave Chip the third degree. Lynn looked heavenward, then grinned and shook her head.
"Why?" Bridey asked.
"Because I don't need it most of the time," Chip explained patiently. "Almost everyone here knows who I am."
"Oh," Bridey said, and considered his statement for a moment. "I guess that means you’re important, huh?"
Chip stifled a laugh, and answered as seriously as he could, "Kind of."
"But what happens when you do need it?" Bridey demanded.
"I take it out," Chip told her. He stifled another laugh – not only did this little one look like Lynn, she sounded like her, New Jersey accent and all.
"Oh." That seemed to satisfy her, and she nodded seriously. "Okay."
Chip smiled up at Lynn. "Your kids look and sound just like you."
At Chip’s statement, Lee looked across at Lynn. Her eyes had widened, and a flush crept up her cheeks. But before Lynn could reply, the girls burst into excited chatter.
"She's not our Mommy!" Bridey exclaimed.
"We have the same last name, but this is our Aunt Lynnie," Megan informed him with the same patience Bridey had exhibited earlier. "She's our Daddy's little sister."
"It's okay, though," Bridey informed Chip with a comforting pat on his arm. "People think she's our mommy alla time. It's because of our strong family resendablance."
"That's family resemblance, Bride," Lynn said, choking back laughter.
"Yeah, whatever you said," Bridey said, flashing a thousand-watt smile at Chip.
Lee caught Lynn's eye. "From out of the mouths of babes."
"She's the family philosopher," Lynn said.
Bridey rested her small hand on Chip's arm. "Wanna come with us to see the dolphins?" she asked eagerly. "They're lotsa fun!"
"I know they are," Chip told her, feeling ridiculously relieved, even though he’d just inserted his foot not just into his mouth with that ridiculous comment, but halfway down his throat.
"We don't want to intrude," Lee said.
"Oh, no, you wouldn’t be," Lynn assured him.
Never one to pass up an opportunity, Chip jumped at the invitation. "I'll go," he said quickly.
"Great!" Lynn said, hoping he didn't see just how great she thought it was. "Sure you won't change your mind?" she asked Lee, hoping he wouldn't.
"Lynn, all I want to do is go home and sleep for a week," Lee assured her, punctuating his statement with a wide yawn. "Sorry. This was a tough cruise."
"Don't let the bedbugs bite!" Bridey told him.
"He probably doesn't have any bedbugs, Bride," Megan scolded.
"How was I supposed to know?" Bridey asked plaintively, looking up at Lynn for reassurance.
"It's okay, Toots," Lynn said, straightening the little girl's cap. "You’re fine – it’s just a figure of speech."
Lee regarded Chip strangely while Lynn spoke to the children. "I thought you were heading home to bag some Zs," he prodded. "What happened to seeing nothing but the backs of your eyelids for the next twelve hours?"
"I got my second wind," Chip said, hoping he sounded nonchalant, when in reality, he felt anything but. He took the chance to observe Lynn more closely. Her hair was lighter than he remembered, and longer, pulled back into a high ponytail. The white tank top and short, faded denim cutoffs she wore revealed a lot more of her than he'd ever seen before. Her shorts came to mid-thigh, revealing very shapely, very tan legs; the tank top, while not skin tight, fit closely enough to show that she was better-endowed than he had originally thought. She also didn't seem to be wearing a bra.
She was also wearing very little jewelry – a pair of dangling turquoise and silver earrings, a turquoise and silver ring that seemed to match, her dive watch, and the thin gold chain he'd noticed her wearing on her trips on Seaview. The chain resting at the base of her throat only served to make her tan seem deeper. And it also drew his eyes downward until they rested on the swell of her breasts beneath the cotton top. He felt his heart skip a beat and he reluctantly looked elsewhere. He suddenly wished Lee would leave and take the two little girls along with him.
Lee pointedly cleared his throat. "Give me a call later, all right?"
"Yeah, sure," Chip agreed, coming back to the present.
"Have a good time with the dolphins," Lee said, and turned to leave.
"Go home and go to sleep," Chip said. "And the next time you use one of my lines, give me the credit, okay?"
Lee just chuckled and moved off in the opposite direction, waving as he walked away. Chip sent a withering glare after him.
"Everybody ready?" Lynn asked.
"Yeah!" the girls chorused, and ran ahead of Chip and Lynn to the Marine Mammal Building.
"You're awfully quiet," Lynn remarked they followed the girls. "Something wrong?"
"It's a little difficult to walk when you have one foot stuck in your mouth," Chip said wryly.
"Oh – is that it?" Lynn asked, amused.
"I hope you're not angry with me for thinking that your nieces were your kids."
Lynn shook her head. "Nah. I take it as a compliment. Like Bridey said, it happens all the time. It's our ‘family resendablance’. Drives their mother nuts, though. Poor Eileen – that's my sister-in-law. Six kids, and none of 'em really look anything like her – except for their hair color, the girls all look a lot like me, and the boys look like Jack, with just a little bit of Ikey thrown in."
"They have six kids?" Chip asked in surprise.
Lynn laughed at his reaction. "Yeah – four girls, two boys. The oldest is thirteen, the youngest is three months."
Chip gave a low whistle. "Busy house," he said dryly.
"You can say that again," Lynn agreed and unlocked the front door of the Marine Mammal Building. After cautioning the girls to behave themselves, she led the way down a corridor and into a large lab, the far end of which was dominated by a massive glass-walled tank at least ten feet deep containing three dolphins.
"Wow," Chip said. "This is impressive."
"Not as impressive as Seaview, but we’re proud of it." Lynn grinned up at him. "And this is just the tip of the iceberg, Commander. Wait ’til you see what’s waiting for us outside."
Bridey and Megan deposited their caps on a desk, then ran up a flight of stairs to a platform surrounding the tank, to be greeted by excited squeals and chattering from the bottlenose dolphins.
Chip pointedly placed his khaki cover next to the girls' caps.
"Smart move," Lynn said.
"I learned my lesson the day I first met Maxie. No sense getting soaked when I don't have to," Chip told her.
"Oh, I don't know," Lynn said. "On a day like today it'd probably feel good."
"I'm not taking any chances where Maxie is concerned," Chip said firmly, provoking a laugh from Lynn.
They walked up the stairs together. The dolphins' chatter appreciably increased in volume when they saw Lynn. She knelt at the edge of the tank, greeting each dolphin in turn, speaking softly as she stroked them alongside their blowholes. "Hello, my babies," she said softly. "I brought you some visitors."
Now, as he had been in the past, Chip was again struck by the love she had for the sleek grey animals, a love which they all appeared to return.
One of the dolphins stood on its tail and squealed happily at Chip. "Hello, Maxie," he said. The smaller of the other two dolphins chattered amiably at Chip, but the other made a sound that sounded suspiciously like a Bronx cheer.
"Sammy!" Lynn scolded. "Behave yourself!" The dolphin whistled once at her, then swam away. "He's jealous," she explained to Chip.
"Because Maxie said hello?" he asked dubiously. He supposed it could be possible. After all, Lynn knew the dolphins better than he did.
"No." Lynn shook her head. "Because when you're around, I pay more attention to you than I do to him. But he'll get over it."
Chip raised an eyebrow in surprise and considered her statement as she walked away.
Lynn walked over and opened a set of glass doors that led to an outdoor terrace. Then she hit a series of switches which opened a gate at one end of the indoor tank, and the dolphins swam outside.
Chip followed Lynn outside. "Wow," he said in amazement, looking at the expansive, irregularly-shaped pool beyond. It had to be at least ninety feet long, thirty feet wide at its narrowest point, widening out to fifty feet at the middle. "I didn't know this was here."
Lynn gestured at the terrace. "You've heard of Club Med? This is Club Nelson."
"It's good for the dolphins to be outside, especially wild-captured dolphins like Sammy and Maxie. When the new building went up last year, we recommended the outdoor area, and good old Lucius ramrodded it through. The tank inside isn’t really large enough to comfortably house three dolphins, and the dolphins enjoy being out here."
"And so does the staff, I suppose," Chip said dryly.
She grinned at him, a crooked little grin that had intrigued him from the first. "You know it. Where do you think a lot of this tan came from? It's a lot more fun to work outside when it's nice. I try to work with them out here most of the time, and keep them in the lab only when I need to work with them there, or when it’s too cold to swim out here, or if none of the staff is around. Or I'll keep them in when I need to be in the lab and I want their company."
"I feel a lecture coming on," Chip said, then smiled to take the sting out of his words.
"Then, Commander, I won’t disappoint you." Lynn said pleasantly. "Dolphins can't survive in a sterile environment. They need constant sensory stimulation. I'm always on the lookout for different things to give them to play with. I vary their routine every day, too, except for their feedings – that wouldn't be fair."
"Is that why the pool is so irregularly shaped?" Chip asked.
Lynn's eyes widened in appreciation. "Yeah. It gives them something to explore. We can't completely vary its shape on a day-to-day basis so we tried to make it as changeable as possible." She pointed to an oval island in the center of the pool, accessible by a railed bridge from each long side of the pool. "That island is a sound resonator. It emits various types of sound – different genres of music, human speech, propeller noise, whalesong, barking dogs, neighing horses – stuff like that. We test the dolphins' reactions to it. And the whole pool is ringed with hydrophones to pick up the dolphins' vocalizations, which we analyze. We also can close off sections with gratings to make the shape slightly different."
She looked over at the girls, who were standing at the edge of the pool, talking to the dolphins. "Can you keep an eye on the kids for a sec? I have to go back inside for a bit."
"Sure. We’ll be fine."
Lynn smiled up at him. "Thanks. I won’t be long." She walked back into the office and bounced down the stairs. When she ran back up – taking the stairs two at a time – she had a tape player in one hand and a tape case in the other which she set up on a white patio table near the wall of the building.
"Wait, let me guess – the dolphins need their daily dose of Springsteen, right?" Chip asked.
"We like Bruce Springsteen, too!" chorused two voices from the side of the pool.
"I thought you might," Chip said with a smile at Lynn.
Lynn slipped a tape into the player. "Yo, Bridey! Which one?" she asked as the music spilled out.
"Badlands!" shouted the little girl, with no hesitation.
"She takes after you, I can see," Chip said.
"She takes after her Daddy," Lynn corrected. "Jack's even better at recognizing songs than I am. I'd love to see him take on O'Brien," she said with an evil little grin that softened to a fond smile as Bridey ran over to her.
"I never figured you for a sadist, Doctor," Chip teased.
"I have a very competitive nature," Lynn pointed out. "Our Bridey here could put O'Brien to shame, too – he'd never know what hit him. Then again, she'd better. Jack would probably disown her if she couldn't," Lynn said, then reached down to hug the child. "And then she'd be mine, all mine!" She squeezed the little girl once more, then released her. "Go play catch with Leo for a while."
"Okay," Bridey said and scampered off.
Lynn watched her go, a fond expression on her face. "If I ever manage to have kids, I want ’em to be just like those two."
"And if you don't?" Chip asked, surprising himself with his impudence.
Lynn looked away abruptly, jamming her hands in the hip pockets of her cutoffs. "Guess I'd have to steal them, then," she said distantly.
"You could do worse," Chip said hurriedly, sorry he had opened his mouth concerning what was apparently a sensitive subject.
"Thanks," she said and looked at him, a guarded expression in her eyes. "I shouldn't be, but I'm partial to Bridey. All the kids are my godchildren, but Bridey – well, Bridey's just Bridey."
"What you're trying to say is that she's special," Chip ventured.
"That she is. Everyone says she’s just like me – or like I was when I was a kid – so I guess I gravitate to her because of that. Are you like that with your nieces and nephews?" Lynn asked.
Chip nodded. "Now that you mention it – you have Bridey, I have Ryan."
"Ryan – ’tis a nice Irish name," Lynn said in a lilting brogue.
"Especially when the last name is Malone," Chip confirmed.
"How old is he?" Lynn asked.
"Seven. And he's a she," Chip said, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
"Ooops. Sorry," Lynn apologized with a rueful grimace.
"Don't be – it's a common mistake. Kate liked the name, and nobody was about to argue," Chip said dryly. That was the truth – he hadn't been around, and Kate’s husband Tim couldn't have cared what she named their daughter. But he wasn't about to air his family's dirty laundry in front of Lynn.
"Wise move, from what you've told me about your sister. You sound like you have a good relationship with her. Like I do with Jack and Kevin," Lynn ventured.
Chip noticed the missing name. "But not with Donnie?"
Lynn shook her head. "No, not really."
"Why not? You've always told me how crazy you are about him."
"I am," she asserted. "And he’s crazy about me. But we have a big sister/little brother relationship. He was my baby when I was a kid. I was seven when he was born, and I thought he was the best doll in the whole world. My mother had to stay in the hospital for several weeks after DJ was born, because she’d nearly died during the delivery – though my brothers and I didn’t know that then, or find out for quite a few years. So I spent a lot of time with him when he was tiny. My aunt was pregnant, too, and between that and cooking our meals, she was wiped out. So I became a substitute mother at a very young age."
"You had strong maternal instincts even as a child, I take it?"
"That's one way of putting it. I mothered everything that came my way – cats, dogs, baby brother.... I taught him about things that interested me. Biology, history, television programs, music, baseball." She grinned impishly.
"Hmmm...." Chip said. "Including some sneaky moves on the basketball court."
"How did you know that?" Lynn asked.
"I was going through Seaview’s library before this last cruise, cleaning out old periodicals. I found a back issue of The Navy Times that had an interview with him."
"Those sneaky moves came pretty naturally to him. That's what made him an All-American his senior year," Lynn said firmly.
"Uh-huh," Chip agreed. "And he gives his sister full credit for those sneaky moves, too. Varsity All-State when you were a junior in high school?"
"What did you do – memorize the whole article?" Lynn asked in surprise.
"No," Chip said quickly. That wasn't a complete lie – he'd only memorized the sections that had pertained to her. "Your brother gives you a lot of credit for his athletic success."
Lynn snorted. "It's credit I don't deserve. He has a bad case of hero worship where I'm concerned."
"Heroine worship," Chip corrected.
"Whatever you want to call it," Lynn agreed. "It makes me uncomfortable at times. There's only so much adoration you can take – unless you’re talking about dogs. But my relationship with Jack and Kevin is different. We relate more as equals. I can tell them things I'd never dream of telling Donnie."
"You have a relationship a lot of brothers and sisters would envy," Chip said thoughtfully.
"Yeah, I know. I don't know what I'd be if I hadn't had them. Especially Jack."
"Not Kevin?" Chip asked in surprise.
"Kevin and I are closer emotionally, but I need Jack in a different way. He's always been there, whenever I needed a strong shoulder."
"The traditional older brother," Chip mused.
"Are you speaking from experience?" Lynn asked.
"More or less," he told her.
Lynn smiled. "Jack's always there when we need him. He always has been. When I came out here to do my grad work, I lived with him and Eileen. He wouldn't hear of my staying anywhere else."
"And you didn't want to stay anywhere else," Chip said confidently.
Lynn smiled at his understanding. "No. I needed that piece of home. Two years after I went back East, Kevin moved out here for good, and he lived at San Sarita for a year." Lynn toyed with her college ring.
"You say that like it bothers you," Chip said softly.
"To tell the truth, I was jealous," Lynn admitted.
"Because they were here, together, and you were three thousand miles away?"
"Uh-huh. It was rough. It was the first time in my life I was ever homesick. You don't know how much I missed them," she said softly.
"Yes, I do. I missed my sister the same way. At least you had constant access to a phone," he pointed out. "You don't have that luxury on a submarine out on patrol."
"Yeah." Lynn regarded him somberly. "That must have been pretty hard on you."
Chip shrugged. "I survived."
"Looks like you did. Let's go sit in the shade," Lynn suggested, and gestured to him to follow her.
They sat with their backs against the cool concrete of the building. As Lynn stretched her legs out in front of her, Chip noticed two long pale scars on her shins that stood out in stark relief against her tan.
Lynn smiled as she noticed the direction of Chip's gaze. "Battle scars," she explained. "I had a violent childhood."
"Which one's from Kevin, and which one's from Jack?" Chip asked, preparing to settle in for one of Lynn's stories.
She shook her head. "Neither. I'd love to be able to blame them, but these are both my own fault." She studied her shins in mock absorption. "See, one came from trying to climb up to the roof of my mother's station wagon – if I'd been wearing sneakers, it might have worked. But I found out a little too late that you can't climb up a closed tailgate in leather sandals."
"I realize this is a silly question, but why were you trying to climb up on the roof in the first place?"
" ’Cause Kevin was already up there," Lynn explained, as if it made perfect sense.
"I suppose that's as good a reason as any," Chip said doubtfully.
"I thought so at the time. I really ripped the hell out of my leg – I think I was about ten at the time, maybe eleven. Bled all over, but I didn't tell my mother. She would have had a canary. Then the other one came from falling out of a neighbor's swimming pool."
"Falling out of a pool? Don't you usually fall in? No, I take that back – I'm sure you could easily manage to fall out."
"Yeah, well, I did – the steps were scummy and I slipped and scraped my leg on the edge. Just my luck the concrete edging was cracked and there was a sharp edge. That time, she did have a canary." She ran the tip of her index finger up one thin white line. "Can't remember which one is which, though," she said with a frown. "Anyway, they never tan. But you know what's really weird?"
"I put my hand through a window once, and I came away with nothing but this little-bitty scar on my knuckle here, see?" She showed him the index finger of her right hand.
"That does seem to qualify as little-bitty," Chip agreed. It was so small he could barely see it.
"And I dropped a glass in the sink once – a relatively minor accident – and I ended up cutting a big chunk out of this knuckle." She indicated a scar shaped like a pentagon. "It bled like crazy, hurt like hell, and I was too chicken to go to the hospital for stitches."
"So what did you do?"
"Just stuck the piece of skin back into place, wrapped some gauze around my hand and went in to watch TV. Hospital emergency rooms are a waste of time," she said in a matter-of-fact manner.
"You have a point there," Chip agreed. "And that one? It looks pretty recent."
"Relatively. Have you ever been to Yankee Stadium?"
"More time than I can count. Why?"
"Then you know how the street on the north side of the Stadium is paved with cobblestones."
"You fell there?"
Lynn nodded ruefully. "It was on Old Timers Day in 1978 – my whole family goes every year. We’d just gotten off the D train and were walking to the gate. I took a bad step, and did this ridiculous little dance to try to keep my balance. It didn’t work, of course, and down I went. Kevin and Uncle Joe were the closest, and they tried to catch me, but of course they couldn’t, and I went right down on my knee."
"You can say that again, At least the Yankees won, and we got to hear them announce that Billy Martin was coming back as the manager in 1979."
"Did you get to the World Series that year?"
"Every game – in New York and in Los Angeles, in both ’77 and ’78. When Admiral Nelson made me the job offer in June of ’77 I quit Mystic by July – six months before the job even started – and moved back to the farm to spend time with my family before I moved three-thousand miles away, so I went to almost every home game – I have season tickets. And after I came here in ’78, I allocated my vacation days very carefully, but I got back for Opening Day, Old Timer’s Day, and the World Series. Six weeks of vacation to start? That’s priceless, and I’ve made good use of it to get back to see my family."
"And your Yankees."
"And my Yankees," Lynn agreed.
"You were at Reggie Jackson’s three-home run game?"
Lynn gave him a bright smile. "I had no voice for three days after that. Man – I thought the Stadium was going to shake itself apart."
He looked at her quizzically.
"Did you lighten your hair?"
"The sun did it for me," Lynn said dryly.
She shrugged. "What you see is what you get."
"I’ll be sure to remember that."
Lynn chewed on her bottom lip, then cocked her head and frowned at him.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" he asked.
"Because it's gotta be ninety degrees in the shade, I'm sitting here in shorts and a tank top and I'm still hot – and I like hot weather – and there you are, in a buttoned-up long-sleeved shirt and a tie, for cryin’ out loud!" Lynn declared.
"This tie really bothers you, doesn't it?" Chip asked with a teasing grin.
"It's not that it bothers me," Lynn said firmly. "I just don’t see the necessity for a tie on a submarine. I can see you wearing it when you’re coming and going, or working in your office, but I think it looks silly on Seaview and even sillier now, when you’re off duty and sitting here in the heat. Seriously, Commander – you’d look a whole lot better without it."
"Thank you. I think," Chip said, and took the tie off, carefully folding it before placing it in his pants pocket before unbuttoning the top button of his khaki works shirt.
"You're welcome," Lynn said pleasantly, then nodded her approval. "That really is an improvement, you know."
"I'll take your word for it," Chip replied.
They sat in the shade in companionable silence, watching Bridey and Megan play Frisbee with the dolphins.
"But aren't you hot in those long sleeves?" Lynn unexpectedly asked into the silence.
"I’m driving you crazy, aren’t I?" Chip asked dryly.
"Well, no, but…." Lynn said. "I just don't see how you can be comfortable in long sleeves on a day like today. It’s got to be closer to ninety-five than ninety."
"I'm not exactly…comfortable," Chip admitted, and began to unbutton the shirt, his eyes firmly on Lynn.
Lynn couldn't take her eyes from his hands as they moved down the buttons. The shirt fell open as his hands descended and Lynn's heart beat rapidly as it became obvious that he was not wearing any sort of undershirt underneath. Lynn blinked quickly and swallowed – she'd expected him to roll the sleeves up, maybe undo another button or two, not strip to the waist!
Chip finally pulled the shirt off to reveal a smooth muscular chest, tanned golden from the sun. While he wasn't heavily muscled, he was nevertheless in very good shape. Lynn surmised it must be his natural build, because she doubted he had the time to work out a lot. She idly wondered where the tan had come from. She found it extremely difficult to take her eyes from him, but she finally wrenched them away and swallowed hard, blushing fire red beneath her tan.
"Nice tan," she said lamely, looking elsewhere. She hoped he hadn't noticed the blatant way she'd been staring at him. Still, she couldn't fault the view….
"Thank you." Chip regarded her discomfiture with a slight smile. So he had the same effect on her that she had on him. He'd seen the way she'd been looking at him as he took his shirt off – only a blind man would have missed the way she'd stared. He'd never seen her so flustered before. It was oddly reassuring – no, make that very reassuring.
"Aunt Lynnie, can we go in the pool with the dolphins now?" Bridey called.
"As good a time as ever, Toots," Lynn called back, glad of the interruption.
Chip got to his feet a moment before she did, and held out his hand to her. Lynn looked at him in surprise, then took his hand in hers and allowed him to help her up. "Thank you."
He was a step or two ahead of her as they walked to the pool, and Lynn watched the play of the muscles of his back beneath his skin as he walked. She found herself wondering what they would feel like under her hands as they made love.
Lynn stopped dead in her tracks. Whoa. Where’d that come from? she asked herself. She shook her head as if to clear it, jamming her hands into the pockets of her cutoffs, afraid she might do something stupid – like maybe reach out and run two fingers lightly down his spine. Maybe if Megs and Bridey hadn't been there….
She shook her head again and walked to the pool, distractedly looking down at the dolphins. She'd never been attracted to anyone this strongly before and wasn't quite sure how to deal with it. It's bad news, she reminded herself. You don't get involved with somebody you work with. You never have, so don't start now. Besides, his reputation isn't the greatest. She suddenly resented him for that – why did he have to be such a tomcat, anyway? She really liked him as a person, and maybe....
What was really holding her back, anyway? Was it really his reputation, or was that just a convenient excuse? What are you really afraid of anyway? Him, or yourself?
She didn't have an answer for that question, either.
Watching Lynn out of the corner of his eye, Chip noticed the pensive expression she wore, and accurately judged its cause. You feel it too, don't you? he asked her silently. You just don't want to admit it. He wished she'd be honest with herself – and, by extension, with him – as honest as she always was with the rest of the world.
She'd grown on him – oh, he'd liked her almost from the minute they'd met, but lately, he'd found himself thinking of her at the oddest times. He'd hear her bright laugh when he was making his rounds, see her off-center grin when he was taking a position check. There were plenty of women in his life, all casual relationships with no strings, just the way he liked it – why did this particular one have such a hold on him? Why did he feel like he wanted more?
You decided you weren't going to get involved with her, he reminded himself. What happens if things don't work out?
Another little voice asked him, But what if they could work out? You'll never know if you don't try.
Until now, she'd given him no encouragement, no reason to believe she was interested in a more complex relationship than the friendship they enjoyed at present. She'd given him nothing more than the openhanded friendliness she'd extended to everyone on Seaview – everyone except Bishop, he amended – since she'd first come aboard.
Then again, she did seem to prefer his company to that of anyone else on board. When she was aboard Seaview on a research project, she ate all her meals with him. She played `Name That Tune' with O'Brien – beating him nine times out of ten – and argued about baseball with Larry Baker – sometimes violently, considering their opposing team allegiances – but she sat next to Chip every night at the movie, dropping into the seat next to him, or saving him a seat if he were late as if it were the most natural thing for her to do.
They were able to talk so easily. He'd never felt so comfortable with any other woman – not even Kate, and he was closer to his sister than to any other person alive besides Lee. So what did it all mean? He wasn't sure, but it deserved closer inspection.
Lynn helped Bridey struggle out of her shorts and top, then eased her into the water. Megan jumped in a second later, and both little girls were surrounded by the dolphins. Sammy and Leo chattered inquiringly up at Lynn while Maxie swam alongside Bridey.
"They’ll be okay alone," Lynn told him. "Let’s go sit down."
"You're not going in?" Chip asked.
Lynn shook her head. "I'll keep you company. You're not exactly dressed for a swim."
"I feel like I'm spoiling your afternoon," Chip said apologetically.
"Don't be silly," Lynn said. "I can swim with them anytime. You and I haven't had a chance to talk in a while. So what's been going on?"
"Nothing I can talk about right now." Well, that wasn't completely true. Gantt's fuel mixture was highly classified, but she would have been very interested in that marine spider. And the news that the Admiral had been injured wasn't going to be released until Monday, so he wasn't free to discuss that, either.
Lynn gave him a rueful smile. "I was afraid you'd say that. No Russian spies or great white sharks?" she teased.
He wasn't about to tell her about the things they'd run into since she'd left. He knew her security clearance was high enough for most of what he wanted to tell her, but he wanted to talk about her, not about Gantt and the spider. "They only turn up when you're on board," Chip teased.
"So that's the secret." They walked back into the shade, settling down close beside each other once more.
"New earrings?" Chip asked, reaching out and touching one, setting it swinging as it dangled from Lynn's ear.
"And the ring too," Lynn said, extending her right hand to show him the silver and turquoise ring that zigzagged across her ring finger. "See? They match."
"Nice ring," Chip said noncommittally.
"You don't like the earrings," Lynn said with a slight smile, making it a statement rather than a question. "Or the ring, either. Do you?"
Chip shook his head. "They're not you," he admitted.
Lynn nodded. "I know. But they were a present, so I have to wear them, for a while, anyway. Then they can find a permanent home in my jewelry box." When he said nothing in reply, she asked, "Aren't you going to ask me who gave them to me?"
Chip regarded her in silence, then gave her a slight smile. "I thought about it – then I decided it might be too personal a question."
"Really?" Lynn frowned. "I thought we'd gone beyond that."
"Have we?" he asked softly.
"I thought so," Lynn said in an equally soft voice. "I wouldn't be here today if you hadn't saved my life the last time I was aboard Seaview."
Chip didn't really want to be reminded of their encounter with the Russian spy who'd attempted to kill them the previous month. "All right – who are they from?" He wasn't all that sure he wanted the question answered.
"Bridey. They’re an early birthday present."
He wondered if she could see the relieved look in his eyes. "I thought you might have a secret admirer."
Lynn tamped down her elation. He did care! "Nope – no such luck," she jibed, hoping he couldn't hear the triumph in her voice.
She said it honestly, without guile, but Chip wondered what message she was attempting to get across – or, if indeed, she was trying to get any message across at all.
She broke into his ruminations. "Wanna hear a good one?"
"Sure – why not?" he responded, still trying to sort out the thoughts careening through his head.
"I've been taking guitar lessons."
"Guitar lessons.. you’ve been .expanding your musical horizons?"
"It wasn’t exactly my idea to begin with," Lynn said. "Jack and Kevin managed to talk me into them, and those boys have very well-developed powers of persuasion when they decide to double-team someone—which, for the record, is usually yours truly. See, the band does some songs by Dan Fogelberg and by Boston, and there's no piano in most of them – but the arrangements call for a rhythm guitar, and both Jack and Kevin play lead – and the Boston songs need alternating leads. So, instead of me sitting at the piano looking like a mannequin for five songs, they talked me into filling in on acoustic guitar. Nothing fancy, just rhythm."
"You call Boston 'nothing fancy'?"
"My part is – Jack and Kevin take the two leads, and I'm just fill-in behind them. Or at least, I will be. I'm nowhere near ready to play in public yet." She gave a mock shudder. "I used to mess around with their guitars when we were younger – and leave it to those two to remember that. I’m getting better, but it's a little depressing knowing your twelve–year-old nephew plays guitar better than you do – better than you ever will, in fact."
"You're not going to give up, are you?"
"Uh-uh," Lynn said emphatically.
Chip nodded. "I didn't think so. I can't see you giving up on anything."
Lynn shrugged. "I'm too stubborn. I'll learn those songs if it kills me – if I don’t kill Jack or Kevin in the process. Which I just might – and it’ll most likely be Jack." She yawned widely. "Excuse me."
"Hot time last night?"
Lynn laughed. "Oh yeah – I was up until four in the AM with my Arabian mare, who was foaling. I was so beat, I slept over at the ranch. I got about three hours, then my eyes snapped open and I couldn't get back to sleep."
"I can't seem to sleep past seven AM. I'm usually up before six, unless I’m sick – anything later and I feel like I've overslept."
"I had a feeling you were a morning person," Chip mused.
"Always have been," Lynn confirmed, nodding. "Good thing, because days start early when you raise Thoroughbreds."
"I function better in the morning, too," Chip told her. "I always hated having to take late watches. I never felt that I was at my best."
"How did the foaling turn out?"
A broad smile lit up Lynn's face. "A nice little Arabian filly -- bright chestnut, four high whites, white blaze. A real beauty. She looks just like her daddy – who's my brother's champion hunter stallion, I might add."
"Thanks. She’s a pretty little girl."
A glint against his chest caught Lynn’s eye, and she looked at it in curiosity. "Saint Christopher?" she asked, meeting his gaze in surprise. "You’re Catholic?"
Chip nodded. "You seem surprised."
"Well, yeah." Lynn shook her head, a flush of embarrassment creeping up her cheeks. "Sorry. But Morton doesn’t sound like a Catholic name."
"It’s not – it’s Scottish Presbyterian. But my mother was Catholic, and my father’s mother was Irish Catholic, believe it or not."
Again, a companionable silence descended upon them, broken only by delighted shrieks from the children, or by squeals from the dolphins. Chip watched Lynn out of the corner of his eye. So that’s what was hiding behind those tee shirts and jeans she always wore – this getup was even more interesting than the skintight wetskins she was in the habit of wearing on Seaview.
He suddenly had an irrational urge to play connect-the-dots with the freckles that dusted the part of her chest outlined by the scoop neck of her white tank top. Down, boy, he warned himself, not wanting to ruin what had so far, been a very enjoyable afternoon.
She seemed so relaxed, so at ease, and he wanted to pull her close, to feel her head resting on his chest. Instead, he drew his legs in towards his chest; attempting to resist the urge to touch her, he laced his fingers together, resting his forearms on his knees. "What else have you been doing lately?"
"Playing with kids, playing with dolphins, playing in the band, and I had three Navy helo pilots sleeping on my living room floor last weekend," Lynn said with a little grin, knowing he'd pick up on the non sequitur.
Chip didn't disappoint her. "Would you like to run that last one past me one more time?"
Lynn laughed. "Sure. I lost a stupid bet – which I never should have made in the first place – to Kevin, so I ended up owing him dinner. Anyway, a week ago Thursday night, around five I guess, my doorbell rings, so I figure Kevin's early. So off I go, and open the door and there are these three guys in summer whites standing on my doorstep! It took me a minute to recognize Donnie – I think he grew three inches and put on twenty pounds of muscle since we saw him back at Christmas. Anyway, it turned out that Nimitz was in San Diego, and DJ and two of his buddies got a pass, and they decided to go up and visit good old Sis, because 'she'll let us crash at her house'. Yeah, good old Sis. I've never been able to say no to him, and he knows it."
"He just showed up with no notice and with two friends and expected you to put them all up? I'm sorry, Doctor, but I'd hate to have his nerve in a tooth," Chip said firmly.
"Yeah, me too," Lynn nodded. "But the hell of it is, I did it! I mean, Jack has a guest house on the ranch and a couple of extra rooms in the house -- ."
"Extra rooms? With six kids?" Chip interrupted.
"It's a big house. Anyway, Donnie had to stay with me. I guess I should be flattered."
"If you say so," Chip said doubtfully.
Lynn grinned at his reaction. "So I called Kevin, and told him to get his rear in gear, and then I called Jack and asked if I could borrow three sleeping bags – I only have two bedrooms in my townhouse and one's set up as an office. It was the floor or nothing. So Jack turns up fifteen minutes later in a station wagon packed with his wife Eileen, all six kids, two dogs and three sleeping bags and my house looked like Grand Central Station."
"It sounds like a nice, quiet weekend," Chip said pleasantly.
"Wait – it gets better. Jack turns to Kevin and says in his best ‘I-am-the-first-born-and-my-word-is-law’ voice, 'You are staying here for the weekend, right?'. Which only got Kevin mad because he'd already decided to stay, and Jack’s attitude got his back up. We almost had a real brouhaha because of it. Eileen stopped them – she's always stopping them, not that anything would ever come of it. They're always bluffing each other, trying to see how far they can get. Anyway, Kevin has seniority over DJ, so he got the couch."
"It sounds like you have two very protective brothers."
"I have three very protective brothers, one of whom is ridiculously over-protective, and they drive me crazy at times because of it. Donnie and Kevin aren’t as militant about it as Jack is. He never knows when to back off."
"So why did Donnie bring two strangers with him for a three-day?"
"Well, they weren't strangers – at least, not to him. They're his cabinmates. He's had them home to visit our family a couple of times, but they were never able to get leave at the same time he was coming out our way. They're really sweet – two nice kids. I found one cleaning the bathroom on Saturday morning. I told him he could stay as long as he liked if he wanted to play maid. They didn't let me cook once all weekend – we went out for every meal, and they took turns treating. All I had to do was make coffee, coffee, and more coffee. They treated me like a queen. I was sorry to see them leave. The house felt so empty once they were gone," she said softly.
"You don't like living alone, do you?" Chip asked softly.
Lynn studied him for a minute before answering the unexpected question. "Sometimes I do. A lot of the time I don't. There are times I'd really like to say something and have a friendly voice answer me back."
"I know exactly what you mean."
"You don't have a roommate, or...anything?" Lynn asked hesitantly.
Chip tried not to smile as he realized what lay behind the question. "Not since I came to the Institute. I had enough of roommates when I was in the Navy."
"That's understandable," Lynn agreed hesitantly. So he wasn't living with anyone….
"Especially on a submarine," Chip pointed out.
"Aunt Lynnie," came a plaintive voice from the pool.
Lynn looked at her niece. "S'matter, Bride?"
Dripping wet, Bridey trudged over from the dolphin pool. "Arent'cha gonna come in an' go swimmin'?" she asked.
Lynn reached up and took the child's hand, gently rubbing her thumb across Bridey’s knuckles. Chip could see the love she had for the little girl shining from her eyes, and felt a warm sensation spread in the pit of his stomach.
"I have a guest, Toots. It would be very rude for me to leave him alone," Lynn said patiently.
"But you wore your new bathin' suit an' all." Bridey turned to Chip and said, "Aunt Lynnie got a new bathin’ suit. It’s a bikini, an’ it’s a really pretty green," she said in an aside to Chip.
"A bikini, huh?" Chip asked with a quick smile.
"Yeah, an’ it ties with strings," Bridey supplied.
"Too much information, Bride," Lynn said, flushing.
"A string bikini." Chip’s were filled with a teasing light as he looked at Lynn. "Fancy that. I would have thought you were a one-piece girl."
Lynn bit her lower lip. "The suits I wear to work with the dolphins are all one piece."
"But you wore a bikini today," he pointed out.
"I hadn’t exactly anticipated an audience," Lynn said dryly.
"Are you sure you don’t want to model it?" Chip teased.
"Maybe another time," Lynn said, and gave Bridey a speaking glance.
Little Bridey, of course, wasn’t aware of the significance of her aunt’s expression, or her level of embarrassment. "An’ he could come in swimmin' too," Bridey said, looking at Chip with bright, eager eyes.
"He doesn't have a bathing suit with him," Lynn said patiently.
"Oh," Bridey said, then leaned forward and whispered to Lynn.
Chip wasn't sure, but he thought he heard the little girl say 'skinny-dippin', and he suppressed a chuckle.
Lynn laughed. "No, baby girl, he couldn't do that, either. It wouldn’t be appropriate."
"Oh," Bridey said again, and frowned, then sighed heavily. "I'm disappointed. We had plans for today."
"Things change sometimes, Toots," Lynn explained gently, swinging the child's hand back and forth. "And we have to change with them. Remember?"
"Oh. Yeah," Bridey said, nodding her head sagely. "Life's like that, an’ we hafta be ’daptable," she concluded, kissed Lynn quickly on the cheek, and ran back to the pool.
Lynn was laughing into her hands, and Chip was hard-pressed to control himself. "I don't believe what I just heard," he said.
"That's our Bridey," Lynn chuckled.
"She's something else."
"You've got that right – but we haven't figured out what. She's a real trip – hell , she's a trip and a half. And watch what you say around her – she has a memory like an elephant, and she can call you on something you don't even remember saying," Lynn cautioned.
"She reminds me of somebody," Chip said, and looked pointedly at Lynn.
"Yeah, I guess. My family doesn’t call her ‘Lynn Junior’ for nothing. Jack wants to know what he's being punished for – he says growing up with me was bad enough without watching an instant replay for the next twenty years or so."
"You couldn't have been that bad," Chip said.
"I think I was worse – or so Jack and Kevin tell me," she said ruefully. "Speaking of sisters, did yours have her baby yet?"
Chip nodded. "On the Fourth of July."
"Oh – a patriotic child. What'd she have?"
"A boy. Now they have two of each."
"Symmetrical," Lynn commented. "What'd they name him?"
"’Tis another nice Irish name," Lynn said with a lilt to her voice, then grinned.
"It makes him sound like he just got off the boat," Chip said dryly. "Would you like to see a picture?"
"Sure! I love baby pictures."
Chip took out his wallet and pulled out a picture of a beaming dark-haired, hazel-eyed young woman who bore him no resemblance at all, who was holding an infant no more than a few hours old.
Lynn studied the picture. "Are you sure you're related? She looks more like Lee Crane than she does you."
"Positive," Chip asserted.
"I'll take your word for it. How's she feeling?"
"She feels fine. She's annoyed because I haven't gone to see them yet. She wanted me to be there when he was born, but I couldn't swing it. I'll get there eventually." He slipped the photo back into his wallet. "You should appreciate this. She was riding when she went into labor."
Lynn made no attempt to hide her surprise. "She was what?"
"Riding. According to Kate, the doctor said she was in perfect shape, the exercise would be beneficial, and he saw no reason for her to stop. However, I don't think he'd intended for her to keep riding right up until her due date. She started labor in the middle of a training session, went to the hospital, had Brendan two hours later, and was home that night."
"Wow. My mother was riding when she went into labor with me and Kevin – only we were a month early," Lynn told him. "I don't think I'd even want to try that."
"You'd like her. She doesn't take anything seriously, especially herself."
"Or you?" Lynn asked with a sly little smile.
"Or me," Chip agreed.
"That's good. Everybody needs someone who doesn't take them seriously," Lynn said.
"And who's your someone?"
"Just about everybody I know," Lynn said dryly. "My grandfather and my…my uncles and maybe my baby brother are about the only ones who do take me seriously – Jack and Kevin certainly don't."
"I take you very seriously. You seem like a very serious person. You were how old when you got your doctorate?" Chip asked, even though he already knew. "Twenty-five?"
"Twenty-four," Lynn admitted softly.
"Even better. How many people accomplish something like that at such a young age?" he asked.
"It's not that unusual in my field – I was in an accelerated doctorate course," Lynn protested, then frowned. "You're not accusing me of being too serious, are you?"
"You? Too serious?" Chip raised an eloquent eyebrow. "Not from what I've seen. I think you have too much fun with life for anyone to ever accuse you of that."
"You think so??"
Chip nodded. "Like this. A Saturday afternoon with kids and dolphins. You'd be having a fine time if you weren't sitting here keeping me company."
Oh, I'm having a better time sitting here keeping you company, was what Lynn wanted to say, but she bit it back. "This isn't all just fun, you know," she said instead.
"Oh no – it looks like very serious work," he assured her with a teasing smile.
"It is," Lynn insisted. "The dolphins are acting very cautious around the kids – or hadn't you noticed?"
"Not really," Chip admitted. How could he? All his attention had been on her. He still couldn’t get his mind off the idea of playing connect-the-dots with her freckles.
"Didn't think so. Well, this is part of an ongoing experiment. Research for my next paper – how captive dolphins react to human children, as opposed to their reactions to human adults. Then I'm going to bring in a couple of human adolescents, and see how they react to them."
"Which nieces are they?"
Lynn grinned. "One niece – Catie -- and one nephew – Sean. This'll be a good one – look at how Maxie stays near Bridey all the time. That kid swims like a fish, and Maxie knows that, but she doesn't care. She knows Bridey is young, and needs supervision. Maxie'll make sure she gets it. Female dolphins are very protective – much moreso than the males. Maxie always used to push me up to the surface from the bottom of the pool until she figured out that my air tanks let me breathe underwater. It's instinctive. That's why it was so easy to train them for rescue work. Like teaching a golden retriever to fetch. Simple," she said, snapping her fingers. "But don't you dare tell anybody," she warned.
Chip shook his head. "Never," he said, with a little smile.
"Thanks. Y'know, I almost brought Patrick today."
"Patrick? Which one is he?"
"The next-to-youngest. He's three."
"Isn't he a little young for this?"
Lynn shook her head. "No. I've had him here before. No problems – Maxie's very attentive, and I don't let him out of my arms anyway, even though he swims almost as well as the girls do. All the kids are water rats."
"What does he think about the experiment?"
"He loves it!" Lynn's face lit up. "The 'phins give him rides around the shallow end of the pool on their backs – they even go slow enough so I can walk alongside and hold onto him – and they play catch. Patsy can't get enough of it."
"And neither can you," Chip said with a knowing smile.
"No, I can't," Lynn replied with a smile that matched his. "I have as much fun watching them play as they have playing. It's just as much fun as playing with the dolphins myself. It's like Christmas – that's more fun with kids, too." She smiled indulgently. "Little kids are great, but then they turn into teenagers. It's like they become another species or something. But that's okay, too – they eventually turn back into human beings again."
"I think you'll make a good mother," Chip said abruptly.
Lynn's eyes widened. "What makes you say that?" she asked softly.
"The way your face lights up when you talk about your nieces, the way you talk to Bridey. You don't talk down to her – you treat her with respect and consideration. Kids respond to that."
Lynn tried to shrug it off. "I've had a lot of practice. I'm with them a lot."
"That doesn't mean anything," Chip said firmly. "A lot of people don't know how to relate to kids. You do, and they know it. It makes a difference."
"None of it's gonna make a difference if I don't get cracking. In case you hadn't noticed, I'm not getting any younger. My clock is running out," she said, wondering why she was telling them any of this.
"You can't be all that close to zero hour. What are you – twenty-eight?" he asked, though he already knew differently from reading her personnel file.
Lynn snorted. "Flatterer. I'll be thirty-two my next birthday, which is at the end of this month – the twenty-fourth, to be exact."
"My sister’s is the twenty-sixth," Chip told her.
"Another Leo, huh?" Lynn asked, wincing.
"A textbook case," Chip answered.
"God, you must have had a rough childhood," Lynn said sympathetically.
Chip noticed the way she had maneuvered the conversation away from her personal life. "I survived," he replied.
"Barely," Lynn shot back. "Is your sister the one who broke your nose?"
Chip frowned at her. "How did you know I broke my nose?"
"It looks like it was broken. So is she?" Lynn prodded.
"She’s responsible for all the damage you see – and a lot you can’t."
"Ooohh. Nasty." Lynn grinned evilly. "But little sisters can be like that."
"Poor Jack. I can sympathize."
"I bet you can. You two have an awful lot in common." Lynn grinned up at him, then abruptly looked away toward the pool. She suddenly had an overwhelming desire to lay her head on his shoulder. Instead, she sat up straight and hugged her knees, pretending to watch the girls play while she attempted to organize her chaotic thoughts. It might not be a bad idea – just reach on over, snake your arms around his waist, and see what happens. She smiled at the reaction she thought it would produce.
Seeing the faraway look in her eyes, Chip studied her, aware that something had happened, but not sure what. He didn't say anything, not wanting to push her. He noticed the smile that replaced the pensive expression. She smiled so easily – a smile that, up until now, he had thought was merely the smile of a friend, but nevertheless, when he saw it, it made him feel like a kid at Christmas. Now though, he thought there might be a chance that it might one day mean more than that – if he could only get through that front she was putting up.
He suddenly realized he wanted her to be more than just a friend, as he wanted to be more than just her occasional official liaison when she was on Seaview. Damn, why couldn't they get past the barriers they were both erecting? Why were they both acting so stupidly?
We're more alike than either of us knows, Doctor, he silently told Lynn. We're both good at putting up fronts. Maybe if my front wasn't so good you'd drop yours.
Maybe...there were a lot of maybes here. Maybe she had someone else – the odds were that she did, even though on his last cruise on Seaview, she’d told Lee that there was no one back on shore taking cold showers until she returned. Maybe her reactions were purely instinctive. Maybe she just wasn't interested. Or maybe she was.... What then?
Lynn spoke into the silence that had settled between them. "Maxie put another notch on her gun last week," she said with a little chuckle.
"She didn't," Chip said disbelievingly.
"She sure did," Lynn said, turning to face him. "I wasn't there to see it, unfortunately – I had already gone to lunch, and one of the research assistants told me about it. Lucius brought some visitor from the Navy in, some guy he used to work with, and from what Nick told me later, he could never stand the guy. The dolphins were out here, and Lucius brought him – I think he was the XO from their research facility at Point Mugu – outside. Naturally, he put his cover on when he came out here, and Maxie got annoyed, and kapow! Off went the cover, the guy got soaked, and he left in a snit."
"No one warned him about Maxie and hats?" Chip asked with a grin.
"Nick was about to, but Lucius gave him a dirty look – and you know what Lucius' dirty looks can do. Of course, Lucius denied it when I asked him about it – then he laughed. He can be such a little devil when he wants to be. I think he timed the visit so I wouldn't be there to stop her!"
Chip raised one eyebrow. He had a hard time picturing the gruff Lucius Emery he knew as a ’little devil', but he supposed it was possible. He certainly hadn't seen that side of the scientist's personality when Lucius had been one of his instructors at Annapolis. "If you say so," he said dubiously.
"He can," Lynn insisted. "He doesn't let everybody see it, that's all. We have a lot of fun with him."
"Fun and Lu Emery don’t seem to go together," Chip said dryly.
"That’s because you knew a different Lu at Annapolis. He couldn’t let you see the Puckish side of his personality. I saw some of it when he was my graduate advisor – but he really lets that side of him fly here."
"Do you like working for him?"
"Yeah, I really do." Lynn nodded. "He was my advisor all through grad school, and he pestered Admiral Nelson for five years until the Admiral finally hired me."
"So Lu is the culprit, huh?" Chip teased.
"Yeah, you’ve got him to blame for your encounters with great whites and Russian spies. And strange people like me. "
"I think I’ll have to have a word with him."
Lynn shook her finger at him. "Be gentle with him – he’s the best boss I’ve ever had. He's fair, and he listens to us when we have something to say. He'll go to the mat for us, too, if he has to. You can't say that about a lot of department heads."
"None of that sounds like the Lu I knew. He was a strict teacher."
"Different environment – different goals in teaching students. Maybe it was the difference in teaching marine biology to a bunch of wannabe engineers-slash-wannabe-Navy-officers who had to take his course to satisfy a requirement as opposed to people who really wanted to have a career in his field?"
"Ouch," Chip protested.
"Hey," Lynn said, shaking her head, "I call ’em like I see ’em."
"Don’t I know it," Chip said wryly.
All through their conversation, Lynn had been gesturing with her hands, punctuating her words with gestures. Chip finally reached over and grabbed her wrists.
"What are you doing?" she asked with a puzzled smile.
"I want to see if you can talk without using your hands." His hands easily encircled her wrists. Slender and fine-boned, they were almost fragile-seeming, and his fingers and thumbs easily overlapped where they met.
"Why?" Lynn asked stupidly.
"Why not?" Chip countered. It was the only excuse he could think of to touch her, anyway. "Are you sure you're not Italian?"
"Does this face look Italian?" Lynn asked, turning her arms inside the circle of his fingers so she could rest her own hands on his forearms. As long as her fingers were, they barely met where they encircled his arms. It felt good to touch him, and she was sure her feelings must be apparent to him.
"That face doesn't look anything but Irish," Chip conceded. "Your wrists are so slender," he remarked, gently rubbing the prominent bones on the outside of her wrists in a circular motion. He could feel her pulse racing, and he wasn't sure if that was a good sign or not.
"That's me, tall and skinny," Lynn said flippantly, trying to ignore the feelings his touch was provoking.
"How tall are you?" Chip asked, still keeping his hold on her arms. "Five-nine?"
"Five-eight, maybe a little more," Lynn replied distractedly. Her attempt to ignore her emotions, always so close to the surface but now dangerously more so, wasn't working. She bit her bottom lip nervously.
"You're not too tall, and you're not skinny. You're just right." He looked into her eyes, seeing for the first time gold and blue flecks among the green.
"What is this, the Three Bears?" Lynn asked nervously.
Wrapped in his own thoughts, Chip ignored her attempt at levity. It would be so easy to get in too deep here – deeper, perhaps, than either one of them would want. But what harm would there be if he stole one tiny little kiss? None, he reasoned, none at all. He leaned towards her, keeping his eyes locked on hers.
Lynn realized what he was about to do, knew she should turn away, but knew also that she wouldn't be able to. Her eyes fastened on his, and again she thought how beautifully blue they were. As he moved closer, the tip of her tongue darted out to moisten her lips, then she parted them slightly in anticipation and began to incline her upper body towards him.
Megan's call rudely brought them back to reality. Lynn started guiltily and Chip sighed. They were nice kids, but right then he wished they were a million miles away. "Your public awaits, Doctor," he said wryly, and released her arms.
Unwilling to let the moment end there, Lynn held on to Chip just a second longer. "She needs me," she apologized. Then she rose and moved gracefully to the pool.
Chip followed her, aware that something had been lost that might never again be found.
"Do we have a problem, Megs?" Lynn asked tiredly.
"Isn't it time to feed the dolphins?" Megan asked from the side of the pool. Next to her, Bridey was hopping from one foot to another.
Lynn consulted her watch. "Looks like it. Wait there while I get the fish." She turned to Chip. "Would you keep an eye on them for a minute?"
"Thanks." Lynn hurried into the lab, taking the time to compose herself, to organize her churning thoughts as she removed a package of already-prepared food from the lab refrigerator for the dolphins.
She had always been able to keep her professional life completely separate from her more personal relationships. An intense person, she felt the only way she could survive emotionally was by compartmentalizing everything. This belonged here, that belonged there – separate and apart, never to meet. So far, it had worked, and had worked quite well.
She would also never admit to being emotionally vulnerable. She presented a strong, disciplined face to the world and would admit to no other. Her friends were very important to her, but as close as she was to them, she still kept them at a safe distance. The only ones she allowed to get truly close were Jack and Kevin, and she could keep even them at arm's length if she felt she had to.
But now – she'd never felt this strong attraction before. And, she realized, it was both physical and emotional. She wasn't in love with Chip – at least, she didn't think she was – but, damn! She liked him a helluva lot! And she also realized with perfect clarity that he could be the one to finally make her let someone past her defenses, to make her give up her precious control.
That's what you're afraid of, isn't it? she asked herself. Of finding someone who'll make you lose control. Of letting someone in. And where will you be then? But where would she be if she didn't?
She'd come pretty close to losing it just now, she knew. And in front of the kids, to boot! If they hadn't been there, who knew what might have happened? She wasn't sure exactly what he'd been offering, and didn't knew if he even knew, but she thought they both would have found out.
Lynn shrugged. "You live and you die, I guess," she said to the empty lab, and walked outside with the bucket full of defrosted mackerel.
She set the bucket down between the girls. "Go to it, kids. But make them take turns."
"We know," the girls chorused.
"I know. You two know everything," she said beneath her breath, drawing a soft laugh from Chip. "Well, they do," Lynn said to defend her statement.
"I know they do."
Lynn looked at her watch and frowned. Chip noticed the expression. "What's wrong?"
"We have to leave soon," she said softly.
She sounded a little sad to Chip – at least, he hoped she'd sounded sad. "I'm sorry to hear that."
"Me too," she said, then smiled. "There's a surprise birthday party for me and Kevin tonight. It's a couple of weeks early, which is why they all think it's going to be a surprise."
"Why doesn't it surprise me that you know about your surprise party," he asked dryly.
Lynn pointed at the children. "There's my DEW line out there. Or, if you prefer to look at it another way, sonar and radar." She gave him that lopsided smile. "They hear it, I hear it. And then I tell Kevin, if I feel he needs to know."
"Even when you're not supposed to."
"Especially when I'm not supposed to," she assured him. She looked back at the pool, called to the girls, "Don't go back in."
"Please? Just a little longer?" Megan asked. Bridey was silent, but looked totally stricken.
"Sorry, guys. You have to stay out and dry off. We have to roll soon." The two girls grudgingly obeyed, sitting on the towels Lynn had spread on the concrete near the pool.
Chip studied Lynn, sitting beside him, watching the girls with that fond expression on her face. She was so relaxed, so different from the humming bundle of energy he'd known on Seaview. "You're enjoying yourself, aren't you?" he asked. "You really like those two."
I really like you, Lynn wanted to answer. "Yeah, I do," she said instead. "They're good kids – no problems, no hassles. They're easy to like."
"I think it's you."
"You," Chip affirmed. "Like I told you before, you don't talk down to them. You respect them."
Lynn smiled gently. "Yeah, I guess I do. I never thought of it that way before. They deserve respect. And they're great at this age – old enough to grasp a lot of what I tell them if I keep it simple – but young enough to be interested."
"And the 'adolescents' you mentioned earlier?"
"Those two are at the point where they try to act blasé about everything and don't even want to be seen in the company of an adult if they can help it. They're interested, but they don't want to look that way, especially to their friends. Very uncool. But as long as we do things on the Q.T., and don’t go where their friends might see them with an adult, it's okay. Like I said earlier, teenagers are another species."
Chip wondered at her easy acceptance of the individuality of the children – that was something many adults found impossible. But Lynn seemed to accept everyone at face value and took it from there. In his experience, that was a rare quality.
She had leaned her head back against the wall, bringing it fairly close to his. He thought about making another attempt to kiss her, but reluctantly discarded the idea. The moment had passed; the mood was different now.
Bridey wandered over and plopped herself into Lynn's lap. "Aunt Lynn?"
"Yes, Little Bridget?" Lynn responded, putting her arms around the little girl, snuggling Bridey back against her chest.
"This is nice. Can we do it again soon?" she asked plaintively.
"Yeah, I think so," Lynn said, stifling a laugh.
"When?" Bridey asked, all bright eyes and eagerness.
"When we can," Lynn said, pushing a stray lock of hair away from the little girl's eyes.
"When will that be?" Bridey wanted to know.
"I don't know," Lynn said. "As soon as we can, okay? It depends on schedules, y’know? Horse shows and stuff?"
"Yeah, right. Can he come, too?" Bridey asked, gesturing with her thumb in Chip's direction.
Lynn heard Chip chuckle softly, and bit the insides of her cheeks to keep from laughing outright. "If he wants to," she said when she had regained her composure.
"Good," Bridey said, turning to favor Chip with a dazzling smile that was a miniature version of her aunt’s, and just as sunny and bright. "I like him," she said to Lynn.
"You do, do ya?"
"Yeah. He's nice."
"So why are you telling me?"
"I dunno," Bridey said, suddenly shy.
"Don't you think you should tell him instead?" Lynn asked.
"Okay." Bridey leaned her head back against Lynn's shoulder and looked up at Chip. "I like you."
"Thank you," Chip said as seriously as he could manage. "I like you too."
"Are you Aunt Lynnie's boyfriend?"
Chip heard a choking sound from Lynn's direction, and looked at her, seeing her begin to turn cherry red.
"S'matter, Aunt Lynn?" Bridey asked.
"I swallowed wrong," Lynn said quickly.
"Be careful," Bridey cautioned, then looked back at Chip. "You didn't answer my question," she scolded.
"What question was that?" he asked, wondering if Lynn would react the same way the second time around.
"Are-you-Aunt-Lynnie's-boyfriend?" Bridey asked deliberately.
Chip pretended to consider the question, all the while observing Lynn out of the corner of his eye. "Not really," he said finally. "We're just good friends." Again the strangling sound came from Lynn's direction, but this time it seemed to be the result of laughter.
"Oh. Well, you can be my friend, too," Bridey pronounced.
"Thank you very much," Chip said solemnly.
Lynn gently pushed Bridey from her lap. "You're gettin' me damp, Bride. Go back in the sun so you dry off before you get into the car."
"Okay. 'Bye," Bridey said, and ran back to the towel by the pool.
" `We're just good friends'?" Lynn asked. "Really now, Commander, I didn't think you were the type to resort to clichés."
"You do what you have to do," Chip told her with a grin. "Like I said before, she's something else."
"And like I said before, that she is – but we haven't figured out what. And I doubt we ever will."
"You know," Chip mused, "I don't think I've ever been called 'nice' before."
"I don't see why not. I think you're okay," Lynn said with her lopsided grin.
"Just okay?" Chip asked.
"Hey, from me, 'okay' is a pretty high compliment," Lynn asserted.
"Oh. Thank you for that."
"You're welcome," Lynn said, and looked at her watch. "Oh, boy. That's it for today, I guess."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Chip said.
"So am I. I had a lot of fun," she said, then rose and called to the girls. "Come on, crew. We have to go – it’s gettin’ late early. Get your stuff together."
"Can't we listen to the end of this song?" Megan asked plaintively.
"I have the same tape in the Jeep – we'll listen to it on the way home," Lynn said firmly.
"That's Racin' in the Streets," Bridey informed Chip. "It's Megan's favorite, but Aunt Lynnie plays it better."
"No, I don't," Lynn said firmly.
Chip felt that he was witnessing the continuation of a long-standing argument.
"Yes you do!" both girls said, and glared at their aunt to punctuate their statements.
Chip shook his head at Lynn. "Give up – you're outnumbered."
Lynn inclined her head regally in the direction of her nieces. "I strike my colors and bow to superior forces," Lynn said with mock-seriousness. "Do we have everything?" she asked, checking the girls, who nodded seriously.
Chip reached to take the tape player and tape case from Lynn, and she smiled her thanks, signaling the dolphins inside. She reversed the procedure she had used to release them, dumped the wet towels in a waiting bin, then checked to see that all locks were secure on the way out.
The girls ran ahead of them on the way to the parking garage. Lynn could feel the pull of the man beside her as they walked, and again resisted the urge to reach out and touch him.
Chip put his shirt back on, but left it unbuttoned and the tails hanging outside his khakis, neatly rolling his sleeves up to his elbows. Lynn studied him as he walked along beside her. With his tie sticking out of his pocket like that, and his cover far back on his head, he seemed very different from the competent professional she admired, very different from the casual companion about whom she'd come to care. Something about his attitude reminded her of a little boy off playing hooky, and she wouldn't have been surprised if he had started to whistle. She felt a warm surge of affection flood through her.
Though she was trying to make it appear that she wasn't, Chip knew Lynn was watching him, and he observed her out of the corner of his eye. She was basically the same person he'd come to know on Seaview. She had the same easy nature, the same willingness to talk, the same affinity for people. It would be very easy to care for her, he realized.
There were very few cars in the dimly lit garage, and Chip insisted that they go straight to the Jeep. As they reached the Renegade, Lynn studied Chip's face, suddenly noticing a weariness that hadn't been there during their time at the pool. "Are you okay? You look so tired all of a sudden."
Chip began to deny it, then shrugged. Lynn wasn't an easy one to fool, and after the camaraderie they'd enjoyed all afternoon, he didn't want to try. "I am tired," he admitted. "It was a tough cruise."
"I can give you a lift home," she offered, feeling suddenly protective.
Chip shook his head. "I can manage. I don't live far from here. Thank you, though."
"Hey, what's a lift?" Lynn said in an offhand manner, alarmed by the emotions she was experiencing.
"No. I mean thank you for caring," he said, holding her gaze.
"Friends are supposed to care about each other," Lynn asserted quickly, hoping she sounded casual.
"And I think you do a lot of that."
Lynn wasn't sure how to interpret his remark, or what to say in response, so she merely remained silent, eyes narrowed into a small frown. Chip recognized her uncertainty, and said no more.
"We're all buckled in, Aunt Lynnie," came a small voice from the back seat of the Jeep.
"Doctor, you've been summoned," Chip said. "I'll see you around."
"Sure I can't give you a ride?" Lynn asked, knowing she should just let him go, but wanting to postpone the moment of his leaving as long as possible.
"I'm positive. I'll be fine," he assured her, moved by her concern.
"I'll hold you to that," Lynn said firmly.
"You do that," Chip said with a little grin. "Make sure you take your own advice."
"I will," Lynn said softly. "We'll do this again sometime?"
"I'd like that," he nodded.
"Maybe you could bring a pair of trunks or something," Lynn suggested.
"I could do that," he agreed, and was suddenly aware that he wanted to do a whole lot more than just kiss her. He knew he had to leave, and leave quickly before he made a fool of himself. "You'd better go now. Have fun at your party, and try to act surprised," he told her.
She nodded. "I will – I don't want any hurt feelings."
"No, you wouldn't," he said thoughtfully. "I'll see you around."
"Yeah," Lynn said. "See ya."
He smiled, tossed her a quick little salute, and walked to his own car, all the while refusing to allow himself to give in to the overwhelming urge to run back to her and ask her to forget the party, to spend the evening with him.
A little sadly, Lynn watched him go, and hoped she could properly compartmentalize her feelings before they saw each other again.