The Journal

by

Sue Kite

 

 

 *** This takes place after Bear River Rendezvous and Christmas Committee (on Seaview Stories).

“My dear nephew,

This is my gift to you on the occasion of your first anniversary. I wanted you to wait and open this when you were at sea because I feel this is a private gift. Nikki is unaware of my ‘gift’ but I firmly believe that you have a duty to any children you and Nikki have to put down your thoughts and feelings, your past as well as your present. God’s hand is in all our lives; doesn’t hurt to acknowledge it…. 

Love,

Aunt Caroline”

 

The quick flash of irritation at his aunt-by-marriage’s presumption dissipated when Chip remembered Caroline’s grandmotherly attentions to him and his wife over the last Christmas holiday. The woman’s conservative Christian outlook on life wasn’t put on or affected. It was genuine and deep within her personality. Just as the gift which lay before him was from her heart and sent with deep affection.

The only problem was that the idea of writing anything else, even a shopping list, while he was on a mission, practically reeked. When he wasn’t on watch, he was writing reports, or working with Lee or the Admiral on reports. There were reports on injuries, status reports, damage reports, requisitions….  Chip let the thought drop as he contemplated the offensive book in front of him. The journal was not that large. Caroline understood size restraints on a submarine, even one as roomy as Seaview. About the size of a large paperback, only about a hundred pages or so, the journal was bound with a rich red, faux leather. It was meant to last. It was meant for him to write important things, especially of the last year.

So how does one begin writing something your kids might be reading in a couple of decades? Then he smiled. By now, Caroline would know that there was a definite future child. He and Nikki had been to the doctor’s just before this cruise and confirmed her pregnancy. Very early and he hadn’t told anyone yet, although he thought Lee suspected.

The warm feelings mellowed his irritation at the empty book on his desk. The last year had been rather amazing. It had to be experienced to be believed. Well, maybe if he put a little bit each day….

Chip opened the first page, stared at it for a moment, willing it to fill up on its own. After several minutes of contemplation, he picked up a pen and let the tip hover over the first page.

To my children,

He shook his head. Nope. However many children he had; they might read this or they may not, regardless of his beginning. He decided not to put any salutation at all.

When I proposed to Nikki, I didn’t love her. I liked her, but didn’t love her. Shocking? I guess it would be to someone who believes in love at first sight. Life doesn’t usually work that way, in my opinion. Certainly never has in mine. Dad claimed he loved Mom from the moment he saw her, but that is another story. I loved a girl once, back before the academy, but she had the hots for someone else. I decided then and there I had to concentrate on my studies; mainly getting into Annapolis. My grades had suffered a bit the couple of months I chased after that girl.

Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t celibate.  Far from it! I had fun going out. It was just that I didn’t let myself get serious. That continued throughout my regular Navy career. I always intended to get married; assured Mom I was going to get married someday. By the time I had received my degree and commission and began getting assignments, the right girl just didn’t seem to be floating my way.

So here I was serving on the sweetest boat afloat, dating, but not doing more than having a good time-- and along comes Nikki. Nicole Amanda Sorensen. Nice girl. Came right out of service and into the Institute. She didn’t like being a pencil pusher in some officer’s front office, I was told. Thought she could do better at NIMR. She wasn’t wrong. The admiral tapped her app from the several dozen that come in each month and interviewed her. He liked what he saw of her work (mainly in college…she didn’t get to do much scientific research after graduation), and he hired her. She told me later she signed the papers at the end of the interview. The admiral is pretty savvy when it comes to the people he hires for the Institute.

          Nikki was one of a half dozen new ‘recruits’ that came on board the winter before last. She roomed with several other women at the apartments on base. I was kind of seeing her roommate, Stephanie. On again, off again. I liked Stephanie, but not enough to get serious. Stephanie was getting that ‘take me to the altar’ look so I asked Nikki and the other marine scientist newbies to come out with us for an afternoon of boating with Lee and I. We brought Miguel Rojas and Sparks to make it even.

          We had a great time, the eight of us. I divided my attention between all the new ladies, enjoying conversation, fishing, sub talk. Got to know a bit of everyone’s background; helped them feel welcome. We roasted the fish on the beach later in the afternoon and had a few beers. We watched the stars come out. We were all together, lying on the warm sand, counting constellations. Nikki is good with stars. She said her hobby, back when she was younger and spending her summers in Utah, was astronomy. She had her own telescope, stayed up to watch stuff like the Perseid meteor showers in the cold mornings when her uncle had to go out and change the irrigation canal gates. That got us into backgrounds and we talked a bit about our childhood memories. Up until then, Nikki had seemed like a somewhat self-conscious woman, saying little except when it was about work. She was eager to please, to be part of the group, but was also shy, especially around men.

Anyway, that night Lee was a bit more quiet than usual. I think he was thinking of La’ani, his Polynesian princess. Their relationship had hit a snag and I know it bothered him. Nikki must have sensed that. I didn’t notice that particular trait in her at the time, but have since then. She nonchalantly got up, dusted a bit of sand off, and went to the cooler for a soda. (Nikki didn’t drink anything stronger than Dr. Pepper. Doesn’t even go for those now that we’re expecting.) !!! We’re expecting. Can’t believe I’m saying that. Writing it! What an incredible sensation!

Well, anyway, Nikki didn’t get anything, but when she came back to the group, she sat next to Lee and began asking him questions about Seaview. Just like that he opened up and talked about his other ‘lady.’ Of course, Lee can talk all day about the virtues of the Gray Lady. I only half paid attention, since I was talking to Allie and Gwen, but before I knew it, Nikki was joking with Lee and they were laughing over something. I saw them looking over at me and I could only quip, “Something at my expense?”

         Lee laughed again, but wouldn’t own up. I was just glad he was out of his funk. “We’ll talk about this later,” was my only comment, said with a smile, of course. He gave a quasi-salute and went back to talking to Nikki, who had been joined by Misty and Miguel. I felt content. It had been a good evening. We made the new ladies feel welcome, just as the admiral had hinted we should do, and Lee was feeling better. I was finding myself attracted to Allie, who is very sharp when it comes to computers. It’s gratifying to know there are a few others who understood what this new technology is all about. It’s even more gratifying to talk to someone who is as excited with it as I am. We had so much fun that we did a few more of these outings between missions.

After a couple of months, I was finding myself more and more attracted to Allie and had every intention of calling her and asking her out on a bonafide date.  But it never happened. We were on a mission that was extremely hectic.  It wasn’t a dangerous assignment, but there had been an incident on a dive. It was my dive team. I know from my recollection and from Lee’s monitoring that there was nothing we could have done differently, but still… The idea that someone got hurt on my watch bothered me. I should have kept a more careful watch on Martin. He was the new man, part of the group that was going to represent NIMR at the undersea research base being built near an uninhabited atoll between American Samoa and the Hawaiian islands. The undersea base was a scientific monitoring station to see just how the local flora and fauna were reacting to man-made incursions. A group of no less than twenty men and women would be living and working there when it was completed. If this one worked, more such bases would be built in various parts of the Pacific Ocean.

While Martin had checked out a-okay on everything, he was still new; a fresh kid with gung ho ideas. I think he was a bit afraid of me, too. I’ve always been a little rough on the new men about making sure their equipment was always ready and in perfect working order. I would like to believe that it’s kept a few men alive. Martin’s equipment was all right, but on the dive he managed to snag his suit on some of the coral we were investigating. Not only did Martin snag his suit, but he ripped it and tore a bit of skin at the same time. That wouldn’t have been a problem except that it was a particularly poisonous type of coral and he began having difficulties immediately.  I called for Patterson to help and we got him back aboard Seaview within a few minutes. Still, Doc had to do some fancy med work before knowing that Martin would make a complete recovery.

The rest of the mission was more mundane, but still I felt as though I was meeting myself coming and going. By the time we were almost home, I had finished all the reports.  I was bone tired. The last night out I didn’t do more than grab a donut Cookie had pulled out for breakfast. I didn’t even finish that. I think I fell into bed.

Later, I woke with a start, hearing a voice with astonishing clarity in my head. I thought I recognized it, but wasn’t sure. I lay in the dark, trying to listen. If we had been invaded again, or there was a spy trying to play head games, I wanted a clue. There was nothing except the normal sounds of the boat. I finally figured I had been dreaming. The spectral order was ludicrous. How could I marry a girl I barely knew; one that I hadn’t even considered dating, much less asking to marry me?

As I began drifting off again, (told you I was tired) I heard the calm, deep voice again and finally recognized it. Grandfather. My dad’s dad. I saw him sitting on the edge of a riverbank, fishing pole in one hand. He beckoned me over with the other. I walked over and sat. He didn’t say anything, only worked the fishing line. He had a big smile on his face. “Figured you needed some help landing the big one,” he finally commented.

“Didn’t know you could fish in heaven,” I responded, remembering the times we used to fish near his home. He’d always tell me he needed me to help him land the ‘big one.’ 

“Well, don’t know about that, Chip,” he said enigmatically. I wasn’t much of a fisherman, but I enjoyed being with my grandfather. He was always full of good advice, better stories and great jokes. I wasn’t sure exactly what he was getting at this time. Maybe it was because I was so tired.

Then I thought about his first comment. “I’m not the one who’s fishing.”

“Perhaps you should be.”

“Too busy,” I shot back. “And I’m not anywhere near the fisherman you are.”

“You can be busy and still have time for someone by your side.”

Then it dawned on me what he was talking about. The ‘fish’ he was referring to was part of his marriage advice. “Jeez, Grandpa, I don’t even know the girl. Why in the….”

“You know, Chip, I’ve never steered you wrong.”

No, Grandpa never did tell me anything that wasn’t true or wasn’t right on target. Didn’t matter if it was sports, life or feelings. He had been the one who had told me to go for my dreams when I told him I wanted to go to the Naval Academy. Everyone else thought I was nuts. God bless him, he didn’t live to see me graduate. But why would he tell me which girl to marry? “Chip, trust me. Marry Nikki. You and she are meant for each other. It’s time for this commitment.”

“I don’t even know her,” I repeated. “I like one of her co-workers better.”

“Then why the dickens haven’t you asked her out?” he queried.

I wondered that myself. Why hadn’t I asked Allie? Even though I was busy, I could have gone out with her a couple of times. I shrugged.

“Because there’s something missing in that one,” he answered for me. “Chip, Nikki reminds me of your grandmother. And she’s got a good heart.” He turned to look me full in the eyes. “And she needs someone like you in her life,” he added, softly.  “You need each other. Trust me.”

I don’t remember him leaving, or me leaving. All I remember was his presence and his last words. It was with me when I woke up. I kept looking in the mirror as I shaved, expecting him to appear, laugh and tell me it was all a joke. Deep in my heart, though, I knew it wasn’t. I was torn between dismissing this as just some funny dream and by the deep down belief that Grandpa really had come to give me advice.  As we docked, though, I kept hearing Grandpa’s words. I even worried Lee. He thought I was sick or something. I am rarely distracted like that on watch. We made it, and since I had all but the last report done, I was out of there quicker than usual.

I determined I would ask Nikki out as soon as we got back. I’d call her tonight. Date her a few times, feel her out and see where it took us. I certainly didn’t want to look silly if she tuned me totally out.

“Nikki?” I asked hesitantly after I had gone to my condo and changed.

“Yes?” she answered, sounding surprised. “Did you just get in?”

“Uh, yeah.” I didn’t say anything for the space of what seemed to be a millennium. “You busy tonight?” I thought at the time how inane I must have sounded.

“Well, yes, I am. Miguel and I are going out with Gwen and Mark.”

“Oh, okay, just thought you might, uh, well. How about tomorrow?” There was absolutely no doubt about it; I was definitely inane.

“I’d lo. . . really like that, Chip,” she answered, her voice sounding tentatively curious. 

“Pick you up at six then.”

There was a pause. “I just remembered. I have to work late with Dr. Simons. I won’t be done until at least seven.” The voice was disappointed.

“No problem. I don’t mind a late dinner if you don’t. And I can pick you up at the lab.”

“Okay, it’s a deal then.”

Although I tried to dismiss what I had experienced as nothing more than a fluffy dream, I couldn’t get it out of my head. And I had it again that night. Almost no variation. Just seemed that Grampa was more insistent.

I went into the Institute late the next morning to do some last bits of requisition and maintenance forms. At six, I went down toward the marine lab to pick up Nikki. Figured she and Simons might have gotten done a bit early. I felt on edge, like I would on a dangerous mission. In hindsight, I guess I was on a dangerous mission. If I was wrong…. When I got to the lab, it was all I could do to keep from pacing. It also seemed an eternity, too. After a while I went in to see what they were working on that seemed to be taking so long. They were at the dolphin pool. I watched from behind the observation window. Nikki was in the water. Dr. Simons was at the edge trying to hand her something. The Institute had taken on the task of trying to isolate a virus that had been going through the ranks of some dolphin pods. The virus caused pregnant females to miscarry what appeared to be perfectly viable fetuses. It was decreasing the population of those pods at an alarming rate.

Seaview had been out with Dr. Simons and other scientists to collect data and samples from the wild pods affected. I had heard that several dolphins from that pod had been captured and were being studied. I didn’t know that Nikki was actually working with the dolphins. It seemed to be resisting her attempts to give it whatever. Simons got in the pool and between them quieted the dolphin. But now they couldn’t get whatever it was on the dock. I’m not sure if my presence would upset the dolphin, but that they were short-handed was a given. Why the heck hadn’t they kept another member of the staff around?

Regardless, I went down to the equipment room, took off my uniform and pulled on a wet suit, like the ones they were wearing in the pool. I slowly and quietly went out to the edge of the pool, quickly studied the materials Bill Simons had been trying to hand Nikki and motioned to the pair. Nikki had seen me and her face showed her relief.

“Slowly climb in and bring us the syringe…the device that looks like a caulking gun,” she instructed me in a calm, soft voice. “And continue to keep silent.”

I nodded and slipped into the pool with almost no sound. I slowly made my way in the chest deep water to where they were standing stroking and reassuring the dolphin. Nikki reached out with one hand and took the device.

“Thanks. Just stay there quietly. We might need more help.”

I watched as Nikki deftly slid the rubber nozzle of the syringe into the dolphin’s mouth. At first it didn’t seem sure, but then it just lay there quietly as Nikki squirted whatever concoction it was down the animal’s throat. She handed me the syringe and began stroking the dolphin’s sides and stomach. Simons did the same. I slowly backed toward the edge and was about to get out when the scientists released the dolphin.

“Stay still, Chip,” Nikki told me.

It began circling the pool, fast at first, and then more slowly, eyeballing each one of us in turn. It stopped in front of me after about five minutes of pacing and gazed at me. It came closer and touched my hand with its beak. The female, (I assumed it was female), continued to gaze at me, obviously understanding that I was a newcomer. She nudged me again and I slowly stroked the side of her head. It was a soft, rubbery feel. I had always loved dolphins and whales. They are such astute creatures and generally so friendly and trusting. I think I would have liked to work with them if I hadn’t gone to the academy and become a sub driver.

The dolphin didn’t pull back. She lifted her beak out of the water and squirted me. The water she squirted in my face surprised me, but I didn’t move.  She rubbed her whole body against me like some kind of huge cat and then she began swimming around again. I heard Nikki laugh and I looked up and smiled.

“I think you’ve been accepted,” Dr. Simons said as he made his way toward the edge of the pool.

Nikki was making her way in, too, so I climbed out of the pool and reached back to offer her my hand. She took it and I lifted her up onto the edge. Her hand was warm, despite her time in the water. I gazed into her dark eyes and noticed for the first time just how large and expressive they were. Her blonde hair glinted with highlights of red. I hadn’t noticed that before, either. It was pulled back into a high ponytail, making her look younger. I smiled again and then released her hand as Dr. Simon climbed out of the pool behind us.

“Thanks, Chip,” she said. “We knew we were so close to having something we could use against that virus. When it finally happened this evening, we simply couldn’t wait until tomorrow to use it.”

“I understand,” I replied.

“Obviously,” Simons added. “Thanks from me, too. The dolphin trusted us, for the most part, but we couldn’t work with her and handle the feeder at the same time. That she didn’t trust.”

“Glad to help.”

“Why don’t we change and then we can, um, go out.” I stumbled at first base. For some reason Simons was making me nervous. Of course, I thought later, everything about this was making me nervous! It wasn’t everyday that a ghost convinced you to propose marriage to a virtual stranger. Revise that: Nikki wasn’t a stranger, but she wasn’t my fiancé or even a sweetheart, close friend… You get the drift, I guess.

“I’ll meet you at the front of the lab,” Nikki offered.

I only nodded and she walked into the locker room ahead of us. Dr. Simons didn’t make a move and I realized that it was a co-educational locker room. It wouldn’t do to walk in on Nikki in the middle of her changing. That would go over really big! We waited for a short while, Dr. Simons feeding the dolphin its evening meal of fish from a nearby bucket. I watched, appreciating the sunset and the movements of the dolphin. When Simons headed into the locker room, I followed. It wasn’t long before I was changed back into my uniform and heading toward the lab entrance. It was then I wondered why I hadn’t gone home, changed into something less formal and then come over. Of course, if I had, I wouldn’t have had the privilege of getting into the pool with the dolphin—and Nikki. I remembered the very small incident and realized I had been allowed to see her in a different light. I couldn’t put into words or even coherent thoughts just what I had seen. It took hindsight to see what a dedicated and caring person she is. Nikki isn’t some raving beauty; most would say she’s kind of plain. Watching her work with that dolphin; how calm, how professional and how much she enjoyed what she was doing showed me something deeper than the surface person I had seen during our group outings. I remembered how she had interacted with Lee that first time and realized that it had been no coincidence that had her by his side that evening. She was a caring, deeply personal individual. It’s still hard to put into words and it’s been more than a year since we got serious.

She was waiting at the entrance. I noticed her eyes canvassing me when I came around the corner of the hallway. One eyebrow raised and I knew she was wondering the same thing I had just thought about my state of dress. “Work late at the office?” she asked and then her cheeks reddened. She cleared her throat but didn’t say anything else. It dawned on me that she was nervous, too. I guess my offer for the date had taken her by surprise, too.

“Well, yes, I went in late and there was more to do than I thought,” I answered, trying to ignoring her discomfiture.  “Where would you like to go?” I immediately realized that I was the ‘askee’ and I might be putting her into an uncomfortable position. “I was thinking Rosini’s.”

“Rosini’s?” she stammered. “But I’m not dressed for a place like that!”

Uh, oh, Morton…big boo boo. I wasn’t dressed for a place like that either.  “Then how about Bill’s on the Bay? We’d be able to watch the boats come in.”

“That sounds much better, Chip.” She hesitated and then said, “Thanks. I really like Bill’s.”

“So do I. Maybe we can do Rosini’s when we’re both more prepared for it.”

She didn’t say anything. I think she was still wondering about my motives. I hadn’t done anything with her other than those group things and had paid much more attention to Allie than to her. 

So we drove out to Bill’s and had dinner, although neither of us ate a great deal. I was too nervous. Nikki claimed it was too late to eat a big meal. Later, she told me she was nervous, too. Somehow she knew something was up. As I drove her back to the Institute to get her car, I tried to think of what I’d do. I didn’t really know, so I asked her about her work with the dolphins. I knew her degree was in physics and marine biochemistry and I was genuinely curious as to how she ended up working with dolphins. She told me the nice thing about the Institute was that you weren’t locked into one field. She explained that she had been working on biochemical communication among lower forms of sea life, but began helping Dr. Simons decipher the viral problem among the dolphin population.

I was enjoying listening to her talk, feeling the sincerity of her words, when we reached the lab. I remember feeling disappointed that the date was over. I had genuinely enjoyed this evening, from the time in the dolphin pool until now. “Do you believe in ghosts?” I asked her and watched the play of emotions on her face. To Nikki’s credit, she didn’t laugh outright.

“Depends on just what you are talking about. If you’re talking about the kind of Hollywood ghosts that seem to prey on blood and gore, then no.” She evidently saw that I was serious. Before I could say anything, she continued. “But if you mean the type of ghosts, like the spirits of those who have gone on before us, or that have become like some kind of guardian angel, then yes.” She looked away and when she spoke again, it was soft, barely above a whisper. “Maybe this sounds silly, but I feel the presence of my mother every now and then. She died a few years ago.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, letting the car idle. We were here but Nikki wasn’t getting out. “I, uh, feel the same way about my grandfather.”

“You do?” She swiped a tear from her eye.

I nodded, turned the car off, then placed my hand on hers. I had meant to ask her out the next night, but what came out was, “Would you marry me?”

Her eyes grew large and then filled with tears. She began crying. I don’t know what I expected, but I don’t think this was it. I pulled her close. I hoped it wasn’t hysterical shock that had her crying. The only thing worse, I think, would have been derision. “I know we’ve only known each other for a few months, only dated this one time, but I, I feel we’re meant for one another.” I know I was babbling, but she kept crying on my shirt. “I don’t think I really knew you before tonight.” She quieted but didn’t pull away from my chest.

Finally she looked up. “I thought you liked Allie.”

Touché, I thought. “Well, I think the key word was ‘liked.’ I mean, she’s really good with computers, and I like her, but I realized that you’re really, uh, good inside.”

“Is there something else, Chip? I feel that something else brought this on,” she said, her eyes still filled with tears, her hands still holding mine. 

“Um, you know that guardian angel thing you mentioned?”

She nodded, a tear spilling down her cheek.

“I kind of have one, my grandfather, and he told me you had a good heart and to ask you to marry me. I wasn’t going to do it this quickly, but it came out.” I paused. “And I don’t in the least regret asking.”

Now she smiled, even as the tears renewed themselves. I reached behind the seat, pulled out a spare napkin from the pocket and handed it to her.

She wiped her eyes. “I don’t know how religious you are, but I had to say a quick prayer before I answered your proposal.”

“I believe in God, if that’s what you mean,” I answered. “I’m afraid I’m not a consistent church goer, though.” I waited.

“Yes, Chip. I’ll marry you. My mother thinks you’re a nice match.”

I was flabbergasted. It was unbelievable that she would reply this quickly. Then it dawned on me just what she had said. My grampa and her mother? I kissed her and then the sheer insanity hit me. I began laughing.  I know the same thoughts were on her mind, because she started laughing with me. We kissed again.                                                                                                                                                  

Chip set the pen down and gazed at the filled pages. He couldn’t believe he had done this much writing, but he had. Nikki’s picture sat on his desk and he gazed at her in wonder. He closed the book and put it in his desk. More would come later. He needed to get some sleep. As he lay down, Chip thought drowsily, “Thanks, Grampa.”                                                                                                                                                                        “You’re welcome, Chip.”

 

 *** A bit of explanation here. The scenarios presented in this story are all based directly on things that really happened. My husband did indeed propose to me in the manner I wrote in this story, except he did it in church, so there was much more religious influence. I had Nikki reflect the majority of that.  My husband proposed without having dated me, having awakened with someone telling him to marry me. We were married exactly six weeks later. My mother was still alive when he proposed, but she died during our wedding, having suffered with bone cancer for a year and a half. We feel she gave her approval....  That was almost 33 years ago.  slk