"Of Dreams Unspoken"

Cindy D. Baker


At his desk in his office at the Nelson Institute of Marine Research, a baffled Admiral Harriman Nelson looked first at one report, then a second, his brow furrowing as he analyzed the comparison. Something was clearly off.

“Admiral, Captain Crane called, he’s on his way up,” announced Patricia Sweetly, Nelson’s secretary, over the intercom.

“Thank you, Tish,” Harry responded, absently releasing the response button as he sorted papers searching out his missing information. A moment later, suspecting he had found the error, Harry picked up the folder and took it to Tish’s desk. Laying out the report before her, Harry pointed to the sheet. “I thought we had changed that to—”

But a figure at the doorway made them both look up.

Harry straightened at the same time his and Tish’s eyes widened to plate-size out of surprise and concern: Commander Lee Crane was on crutches, his right foot and ankle encased in a plaster cast.

“What happened to you?” Harry asked, unable to keep the astonishment out of his voice.

“I slipped in the shower,” Lee replied, not even trying to hide his annoyance. “Luckily for me, Chip had stopped over or else I’d probably still be on the stall floor,” he exaggerated in his irritation over the ribbing he knew he was going to get.

Stifling her involuntary giggle, Tish flashed him an innocent smile. “Sorry.”

Harry also had a hard time hiding his grin. Seaview’s captain, able to survive perilous missions with a minimum of damage, breaks his foot in his shower at home. The man will never live it down.

Feeling Crane’s reproving glare, Harry motioned him towards his office. “Would you care to sit down, Lee?” he politely asked, a hint of a smile bleeding through.

“Yes!” Lee growled as he spun about, making his way towards the inner sanctum.

Harry, trying to restrain his amusement, looked to Tish, whom he knew was just waiting for them to leave so she could have a good laugh.

“It’s not funny—either of you!” Lee admonished over his shoulder as he disappeared beyond the door.

But Tish laughed in spite of the warning, unable to hold it back any longer.

Promptly following, Harry arrived just in time to see his officer awkwardly drop down into the big armchair in front of his desk. The man looked frazzled, tired, and very glad to be sitting.

“So tell me how it happened,” the overly cheerful Admiral urged, going around the desk and taking a seat himself.

“Saturday morning I noticed one of the gutters on my bungalow was coming loose. I fixed it, among other things, then Chip stopped by and we had a couple of beers. Being Saturday night, we decided to go out on the town so I went to take a shower, and that’s when we ended up spending the night in emergency.”

Harry could hear Lee’s irritation, but wasn’t sure if it was the broken foot or something else. “Saturday,” he thought back, confused. “I thought you two had dates?”

Had,” said Lee, with a touch of bitterness. “Chip’s date canceled out saying, and I quote the lady: ‘my fiancee doesn’t like me dating other men’. ’ Course she never told Chip she was engaged to begin with!” Grabbing Nelson’s letter opener, Lee used it to scratch an itch underneath the plaster covering.

“Oh,” Harry nodded with understanding. He’d heard those stories before. “And you?”

“Oh, mine’s just as good,” Lee spat, throwing the letter opener back onto the desk. “Mine only made the date so she could tell me in person that she’d gotten engaged!”

Harry frowned, trying to figure out Lee’s mood. “Doesn’t sound like shore leave started out well for either of you.”

“This keeps up I’m never gonna go on shore leave again!” Lee snorted, crossing his arms.

And then it hit Harry, the reason for Lee’s bitterness. “This wasn’t the nurse from Toledo, was it?”

Lee shifted his eyes to the window, trying to hide the disappointment. “Yes, it was.”

“But you two were serious, weren’t you?”

“I was never around long enough for it to get serious!” Lee snapped, propelling himself out of the chair and using one crutch to hobble to the window.

Now it all made sense. Lee had talked a lot about the woman. Not marriage talk, but Harry believed in time it would have turned to that. Respecting his friend’s privacy, Harry waited patiently, knowing Lee would talk about it when he was ready to.

Silently, Lee gazed out at the movement below. The window overlooked the front half of the Nelson Institute, including the main parking lot and the security booth. It also had a great view of the ocean, befitting that of the Institutes’ founder. Being early morning, the base was alive with movement: technical employees, men and women, coming to work, leaving as well for whatever reasons. Men were being dropped off by their wives; wives were being dropped off by husbands, each conducting the time-honored ritual of kissing the spouse and family, then waving as they departed in the cliché station wagon or travel-worn mini-van.

Lee Crane felt his heart sink. “Why is it the minute a man becomes an officer, they say ‘he’s in love with his ship, he’ll never get married’? I love Seaview, yes, but,” Lee shook his head sadly as he watched one man warmly kiss his wife and baby good-bye before disappearing into the building. “I can’t talk to the Seaview, I can’t snuggle with her before a fire, I can’t cook with her, or take her dancing, or to the movies . . . I can’t feel her stomach kick when our baby turns over.”

Harry was surprised. He had never heard Lee talk this bluntly about marriage before. “You want to get married,” Harry stated, unsure.

Lee’s head whipped around. “Yes!” he snapped, before self-consciously returning his gaze outside. “It was never my intention not to get married. I date around a lot, sure, but I’m just trying to find that special someone, just like every other man in this world. Someone intelligent I can share my career with, who’ll understand what we’re doing. Someone I can trust and who I know will be waiting for me when I get back from our cruises, no matter how long or short they are.”

Harry felt his own emptiness come to the surface. “It’s not easy, is it?” he said, himself thinking back with regret to those “what-almost-was-but-never-became” relationships.

Weary, Lee rested his head against the window as he watched another family depart. “I just didn’t think it was going to be this hard. When I joined the service, I had believed since women were rumored to flock to men in uniform, that I wouldn’t have a problem finding someone special. And I thought I had clicked a few times, but after six months the excitement of dating a sub commander wears off and the loneliness sets it.” His shoulders slumped. “That’s when they decide they’d rather find someone who’s going to be around a lot more than I am.” Turning, his expression glum, Lee made his way back to the armchair, dropping heavily into it.

Harry understood Lee’s disappointment more than the man would ever know. “You’re in a unique position, Lee, on a unique submarine with unique responsibilities. You need a unique woman to go along with that,” he told him with the reassurance only a friend and mentor can give.

“I know,” Lee sighed, resting his head against the back cushion, his well-hidden emptiness evident on his face. “But I’m tired of looking. I want someone to come home to.”

Feeling at a loss, Harry wished he could say something more encouraging, but in this case, it was all a matter of fate than of belief and well-wishing. How many times had he himself asked for the exact same thing, only to be forever denied? He himself had adjusted to the loneliness by keeping himself occupied with his work, but what was there for Lee after his retirement? The service was Lee’s work.

Still . . . Lee Crane deserved better than going home to an empty apartment, and just because he hadn’t found someone, didn’t mean Lee wouldn’t.

“In due time, Lee, in due time,” Harry said firmly, determined to will his optimism onto his friend.

“Yes, but will it be in this lifetime?” asked Lee, raising a skeptical eyebrow.

“Yes, it will,” Harry answered, without a hint of doubt in his voice. “You’ll find her when you least expect it.” A crooked grin came to his face. “And probably in the most unexpected place, at the worst time possible. You’ll see her, and she’ll hit you as being the one, then that will be it.”

Lifting his head, Lee looked at him, his expression a bit more hopeful. “I’ll try to remember that next time I run into a woman with purple hair.”

“Just remember the optimum word is ‘unique’. And I’m afraid for unique, you’ll have to wait a little longer, and search a little harder.”

“As long as she’s worth it. I just hope she comes along while I’m still young enough to enjoy children.”

“Well, there’s nothing I can do about that,” Harry impishly ribbed. “But tell you what, I’ll have Tish call up Chip and I’ll take you all out to lunch, how’s that?”

“Sounds good,” Lee said, gazing thoughtfully up at the ceiling. “I just hope I don’t slip on a piece of lettuce or something.”

“Who knows, maybe it’ll be your future wife who patches you up this time,” Harry teased.

Lee responded with a brief, but light-hearted grin. I can only hope . . . .




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