Memories & Reconciliation

 

 

 

 

 

Harriman felt the weight of a great twenty-year-old burden lifted from his shoulders.  He was extremely grateful to the girl sitting next to him.  Then he sobered quickly, remembering what had happened next.  Elaine.   “Of course, that makes my behavior that followed less acceptable, I guess.”

“What do you mean, Admiral?  You left Pearl Harbor and went back to Santa Barbara, if I read the logs correctly.”

“Yes, we did, but I was still feeling sorry for myself and when we got back to the Institute, I looked up a woman I had been very close to at one time.  A staffer.   I had been very comfortable with her before, knew she could keep confidences.  Even though we had backed away from any close relationship several months before, we were still friends.   I called and she invited me over.  We talked and I didn’t head home that night, despite the fact that I knew she was seeing someone else ….”   Suddenly Harriman stopped, realizing just whom he was talking about.  He had been caught up in the resolution of the years of guilt and the apparent purging of it, that he had forgotten to whom he was speaking.   Elaine Meyer had been seeing someone all right.  Right after their night together she had announced her intentions to marry Kent Driscoll.   Only a few weeks before her wedding, he had spent the night at her apartment.   “Melanie, I’m tired.  I hope you’ll forgive an old fool his ramblings.”

“Old fool?” she protested.  “Ramblings?  I think….”

“I’m tired and need to rest,” he said abruptly, interrupting her.   “Maybe we can go over some of the chapters in a day or so.” 

“Don’t you want that pizza and garlic bread we talked about?”

“The doctor would have my hide anyway, but thank you for the offer,” he said with finality, dismissively.

Melanie picked up her materials and packed them away in the attaché, looking puzzled at what had probably sounded like a rude dismissal.  It couldn’t be helped, though, Nelson thought.  She was the last person he wanted to hurt with an admission of his bad decision and her mother’s indiscretion.   Suddenly something else dawned on him.  If his math was correct, this wasn’t some twenty something college kid.  Melanie couldn’t have been more than nineteen, certainly young enough to be much more sensitive about such things.    He breathed a sigh of relief when she said good-bye and let herself out.  He was haunted by her hurt look, though and cursed himself for the old fool that he was.

 

Melanie put her things in the back seat of her little car and then got in the front.  She couldn’t believe the change that had suddenly come over the admiral.  He had seemed so willing, almost eager to divulge the secret that had been bothering him for two decades and then suddenly he clams up.   Had she said something wrong?  Had he just been overly tired?   Had she become too familiar with him?

The key to her car was in her hand, but she didn’t do anything with it.  Instead, she replayed the last few minutes of his narrative.  He hadn’t even finished his sentence.   She separated the clues.  He had felt depressed, so he had looked up someone with whom he had once had a close relationship.  Certainly nothing wrong with that.  That’s what friends were for, Melanie thought.   The woman had been an employee at the Institute and was seeing someone else.   Melanie thought about the time frame, the clues and then wondered.  She tied that in with the admiral’s behavior and blanched.  It couldn’t be!   Suddenly decisive, Melanie stuck the key into the ignition and started the VW with a roar.  Instead of heading for her own apartment, she turned north.  

As she drove up the freeway, she pondered some more and then began to calm down a bit.  If the woman Admiral Nelson was talking about was her mother, it made sense that he would clam up.  And if Mom had allowed the admiral to stay overnight, that didn’t necessarily mean that they had sex.  They could have just talked.  Just like he had with her today.  Melanie frowned at her reflection in the rear view mirror.  What a Pollyanna she was!   She had seen how embarrassed the admiral had appeared and how brusque he had become.  And she had to be honest with herself, from the first time she had gone to visit the admiral, she could feel his masculinity, despite his age.  His touch thrilled her; his mellow voice soothed as well as excited her.  Why wouldn’t her mother feel the same way? 

Melanie wondered at her reaction to her deductions.  Why was she feeling defensive?  Why would she feel disappointment when these were two adult people?  Unmarried, too.  It wasn’t like they were totally cheating on anyone, was it?   She sighed.  Well, maybe, but again, they were adults.  They had their reasons and it wasn’t any of her business, Melanie argued with herself.  Sure, as Daddy had always told her, marriage is the best way.   As she continued up the interstate, she argued back and forth in her mind.  Certainly her mother was under no obligation to tell her about her boyfriends or love affairs.  This was all before she had been married anyway.  Maybe this would explain why, over the years, the admiral had held a special place in her mother’s remembrances.   Again Melanie jerked her thoughts out of her judgmental reverie.  Who was she to criticize anyone anyway?  She had made some sorry decisions in her life, including ones that had caused her mother great anxiety.  Why would it be any different if the situation were reversed?  Ultimately, she loved her mother and nothing would change that.

Anyway, as the admiral’s biographer, she was obligated to find out all she could about the man, even if some of it never made its way into print.  Melanie couldn’t help it; she wanted to know from her mother more about what Nelson was like when he was younger.  She could only imagine what a phenomenal presence he had when he was in his prime.   Her mood lightened.  When she arrived an hour later, parking to the side of her mother’s old car, she pulled out her case with the laptop and left everything else locked up.  They made quite a pair.  Two old bugs, one blue, the other red.  They only needed a white one and they’d be ready for the millennium in style.

 

 

When she walked in the door, Elaine Driscoll looked up in surprise.  “I thought you were going to be working all night on your papers?”

Melanie walked up to her and kissed her on the cheek.  “I got something that I wanted to corroborate with you,” she said matter-of-factly.   But her last words almost caught in her throat. 

“Me?” Elaine Driscoll said, wiping her hands on a dishtowel.  She still looked quite young, despite being fifty-five.  There were only slight amounts of gray in her dark hair and her wrinkles, while showing the worries she had endured in her life, weren’t over abundant.  Most of them were what Kent Driscoll had called love lines.  Elaine had just finished cleaning up after dinner.  “What in the world would I have to add to a biography of Harriman Nelson?  Or is that what you were talking about?”

“Well, yes,” Melanie answered the latter question hesitantly.  “But nothing that’s going into the biography, just something to get more of a, uh, picture of him in his younger days.”

Elaine studied her daughter.  There was a look of muted excitement that always accompanied some important, but potentially explosive discovery.   Melanie was like a ferret and managed, like the creature, to usually get what she was looking for.  “Okay, what did you get the admiral to divulge?”

“You free for a couple of hours?”

“No, I was going to meet Prince Charles in a few,” she said with a gleam of laughter in her eyes.  Melanie laughed softly.  Despite a rocky few years during her daughter’s teen years when Elaine had despaired of ever being able to get this child to adulthood, they had, for the most part, enjoyed a pretty good relationship.  They had become closer after Kent had died three years ago, thank goodness.  Melanie had been such a daddy’s girl that her father’s death had been very hard on the teen-ager despite his illness for some years before his death.  They had had to pull together.  Which was good as Elaine wasn’t sure she could have endured the separation from both her daughter and her husband.  “Of course, dearest.  I finished up the monthly reports this afternoon.  I even have the day off tomorrow.  But have you had dinner?”

“No, Mom, but I’m not all that hungry.”   Then Melanie hesitated. 

“What bombshell did Harriman Nelson drop in your lap?” Elaine queried, finding her curiosity mounting.

“Well, I went to his condo to just finish up some general things,” Melanie began.  “I did tell you that we had pretty much finished all the chapters of his life, so to speak, didn’t I?”

“Yes, my budding author, you did.  I proofed most of them, remember?” Elaine replied.  She wondered where this was going and felt her concern rise. 

“Well, when I asked some generic stuff, like most interesting mission, strangest mission, most horrible mission, he opened up to something that had not been divulged before.”  Melanie frowned.  “Kind of makes me wonder how to rectify the official report, which is mostly a lie, with what he told me that I promised I wouldn’t put in the book.”

“If you promised, then you certainly don’t put that in the book,” Elaine told her. 

“Not that simple, Mom, but I certainly won’t renege on my word.  I felt honored that he told me the whole story.”

“About what?”  Now curiosity was eating at her.  That Harriman would reveal something classified or too strange for the public amazed her.

“Do you remember him telling you something about a Captain Krueger?”

Elaine sucked in a deep breath.  “I typed up the official report as a favor.  Krueger was a lunatic German they picked up at sea, who claimed to be a captain of a German war vessel.  He had a vendetta against the enemies of the Reich and like some kind of avenger, took it out on the crew.  Did some damage and shot Captain Crane, almost killing him.”  She paused a moment. “It affected the admiral a great deal.  He blamed himself for allowing things to deteriorate the way they did.  He went so far as to blame himself for the captain’s injury.”

“That certainly makes sense,” Melanie mused.  She gazed directly into her mothers hazel eyes.  “He didn’t tell you that he….”  She didn’t seem able to finish. 

Elaine couldn’t help but wonder just what Harriman had told the girl.  He had been almost incoherent when he was trying to tell her what had happened.  Even under normal circumstances, the man had always been so uptight about his thoughts and feelings.  Of course there had been things that Kent hadn’t wanted to talk about either.  But Nelson was the master of tight-lipped secrecy.  That he had made little sense after that mission had only added to the feeling of horror at what might have gone on.   Harriman Nelson was succinct, as well as clear in his explanations, especially if it involved a new discovery, an experiment or an important directive.   “Melanie, I don’t know what you did to get him to divulge that particular incident, but I hope you will keep the confidence that he placed with you.  He was an emotional wreck for a couple of months.”  She thought for a bit.  “About the same time that it took Captain Crane to recover.   And I don’t mean physically, either.  They were both basket cases for a short while.  For a couple of months, Captain Crane acted like someone was stalking him.”  She gazed at her daughter.  “That had to have been a mission from hell,” she added softly.

She nodded.  “It was, almost literally. The admiral went so far as to feel guilty about visiting someone he was close to when he got back to the Institute,” Melanie ventured. 

Elaine sucked in a sharp breath and studied her daughter.  She knew, the older woman thought.  Whether Harriman let the cat out of the bag or not, she knew.

“The admiral didn’t say who, but it was you, wasn’t it, Mom?” Melanie asked.  There didn’t seem to be any kind of recrimination in her daughter’s voice.  “You had mentioned that at one time you had dated the admiral frequently….”

“Yes, I had and we were quite close for a while.  Close enough for him to ask me to marry him,” she answered in a low voice.   “And yes, I was the person he visited after that mission.”

“He asked you to marry him?  Seriously?” Melanie asked.   Elaine nodded.  “And you turned him down?”

Elaine sighed.  “Yes, I did.  The last time we cooled it, I began dating your father and realized that Kent Driscoll could give me something that Harry couldn’t.”  Melanie didn’t say anything.  Like the good journalist she had become, she just waited for her to continue.  “With Harry, I would have become just another one of his mistresses, so to speak, even if we had married.”

Melanie looked horrified. “Mistresses?!  What do you mean?”

Elaine could see that her daughter, who had always respected and adored the admiral, couldn’t believe that anyone wouldn’t have jumped at the chance to marry him. “That was a figure of speech, dear.  Sorry.  I meant that Harriman Nelson, for all that he is a brilliant man, was as passionate about his inventions, his Institute, his missions as he was about his female relationships, much of the time more so.  I would have only become the person he came home to in between his other passions.  I also realized that at times when he did come home, he would still be deeply involved with whatever other passion—be it invention, mission, experiment, political agenda or debate that he was involved in at the time.  A woman in his life would be very lonely.” 

Melanie didn’t say anything and Elaine felt she needed to explain more.  She wondered if Melanie had figured out everything. “Melanie, I’m certainly not saying that Harry was negligent.  He wasn’t; he was distracted—he was absolutely dedicated and devoted to his work.  I venture to say that if his health was such; he’d still be as intensely involved in the work as he was twenty years ago.  I realized that I just couldn’t live that way.  As romantic, as masculine and attractive as he was….”   She saw a look on her daughter’s face that made her hesitate.  “Can I assume that he is still what some of your friends call a ‘babe magnet’?”

Melanie colored.  “Mom, he’s not done a thing….”

“I didn’t mean that, honey.  I know Harry wouldn’t go after you like that.  He’s always been too honorable for that sort of thing.”

The younger Driscoll just smiled.  “But yes, he still is a very masculine and attractive man even as old as he is.”

Elaine nodded.  “Melanie, how much did he tell you about us?”

Melanie came right to the point.  “Only that he saw someone he had been close to for a while and that she was someone who could keep a confidence and was working at the Institute.  I figured out the rest."

“The rest?”

“Um, well, that you two probably, uh, made out.  I couldn’t see him talking to you all night,” Melanie blurted out. 

Elaine sighed.  “Actually he did most of the time, but very little of it made sense. I got the impression that this Krueger had a great deal of power to have done what he did.  Several times Harry came close to telling me something that was very hard for him to divulge.  It was something that affected him in a way that I had never seen before, not even when Captain Phillips was murdered.”  She paused remembering the past. “Finally, he broke down and cried.  I was shocked and disturbed, but I didn’t say anything.  I just took him in my arms and let him cry.  And before you ask, yes, we did, uh, as you call it, make out.  And I won’t go into any details, young lady,” she said with finality.

“He felt guilty because you were seeing Daddy at the time,” Melanie said.  “I mean he didn’t say names, but I could tell.”

Elaine sighed.  It was time. “Yes, he would have.  Harry could be very . . . sensitive about such things.  Your dad and I were married only a few weeks later.”

Melanie giggled. “Yeah, Daddy kept saying that when he finally proposed, he didn’t see a point in having a long courtship, as he called it.”

“No.”  She smiled softly.  “But there was another reason for a short ‘courtship’.”

Melanie looked curious. “What do you mean, Mom?”

“Dear, I really don’t know how to say this.  There was so much involved back then.  So much emotion and so much at stake.”  She took a deep breath.  “Have you ever wondered why….?”  No that wasn’t the way, Elaine told herself.  She reached over and took her daughter’s hands. “Melanie, I realized almost immediately after that night, that I was pregnant.  I told your father and sweet spirit that he was, he immediately proposed.  When I said yes, he told his folks and I told mine that we wanted to marry right then and there.”

Melanie’s eyes grew large with shock. “Daddy said that I was conceived during the honeymoon, but I wasn’t,” she whispered. “He lied to me.  And why didn’t you two tell me?  Maybe not then, but before now?”

“Melanie, he was protecting me, you . . . and Harriman Nelson.  Your father was a wonderful man.  He didn’t have to do what he did.  It’s so complicated.  And I know you should have known before now….” 

“But if . . . I mean, you mean, that means that . . . I’m . . . I’m Harriman Nelson’s . . . daughter.” 

All Elaine could do was nod.  She saw the array of emotions on her daughter’s face but didn’t say anything.  Melanie had to have some time to think and assimilate what she had just learned.  This was when she wished that Kent were here to help her.  She moved to her daughter and laid her hand on Melanie’s shoulder. “I will be out back, when you want to talk some more.” Melanie said nothing and Elaine left the room. 

Several hours later, when the sharp bite of late spring heat had softened to a cool, velvet darkness, Elaine heard the slight tapping step of someone behind her. 

“Mom?”

“Yes, Melanie?”

“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and I believe I might know why you and Daddy didn’t tell me when I was younger.” 

Elaine didn’t say anything except to direct her daughter to the patio chair next to her. 

“Daddy loved you so much that he didn’t want anyone to think badly about you,” Melanie said. 

Elaine could hear a catch in her daughter’s throat and felt a loving warmth as the memory of a sweet and gentle man fill her chest.  Kent had loved her so much more than she had deserved, Elaine thought. “Yes, Melanie, he did.  And he loved you so much that he didn’t want anyone to have any reason to make fun of you because of a decision I had made.”

There was another moment or two of silence before Melanie spoke again. “Admiral Nelson was, is, so important that it would have hurt his reputation if it came out that he had an . . . illegitimate child.”

“Yes.  Your dad and I respected the admiral too much to put him through that kind of public scrutiny and possibly cost him the means to do what he loved the most. . . his research.”  A few night creatures rustled in the trees at the back of the small yard.  Wind tugged at the ends of her hair.  Elaine didn’t offer anything else for a moment, waiting for the questions that she knew would come.  When they didn’t, she added, “Although I can imagine that he would have told his detractors where to go and how to do it.”  She smiled.  Harry was definitely one who never gave a fig as to what others might think about him, personally, only that they would take his discoveries and scientific findings seriously.

“Is that why we moved closer to Moro Bay?  So no one could….?”

“Yes, Melanie.”

“But if that was the reason, why not move to Illinois, where some of Dad’s relatives lived?”

Elaine thought back.  Why not indeed?  They had discussed it, but had backed away from so distant a move.  “Because, despite everything, our roots were here on the coast.  Your dad still had many friends out here and so did I, even if my parents were already dead.   Part of it was also your dad’s health.  We didn’t know how long he would be active and the Institute has always been very good to provide excellent health care.”

“So you compromised.”  Melanie paused.  “Then why my middle name?”

“Admiral Nelson personally pulled your father from the compartment he was in back during those frantic moments when the Seaview sank.  The command crew seemed to be everywhere, trying to save as many as they could.   The admiral practically carried your father to the sickbay.  Your dad never forgot that and so when you were born, he felt it fitting that your middle name be Nelson, despite you being a girl….”

“And me being his biological daughter,” Melanie finished.  “Didn’t that seem obvious, though?”

“No, dear, have you checked to see just how many Harriman’s, Nelson’s, Lee’s and other names associated with that crew were used shortly after that incident?  However, I got my way when he suggested making the admiral your godfather and I flatly told him no.   I think he was jerking my chain anyway.”

Melanie just giggled.  Then she was silent for a while before she spoke again.  “Mom, why didn’t you and Dad have any kids together?  I remember you mentioning a long time ago that you would have liked me having brothers and sisters.  That wasn’t because of me, was it?  Because someone might think I didn’t look like them.”

Elaine took a long, deep breath.  Melanie had a point.  There was no one on either side of the family with the reddish hair or the brilliant blue eyes that Harry had.  “No, it wasn’t because of you.  We would have dearly loved more children, but it just wasn’t to be.  Partly it was because my biological clock was running down.  But the main reason was that when your father was injured, he was in the reactor room.  He was working feverishly, along with several others to make sure that the core remained intact and didn’t explode.  You know, as well as I do, that if that had happened, there would have been no need for a rescue.  Afterward, the doctor told him that it was probable that he would never be able to have children because of the radiation.   That was before you came along.  We had discussed the possibilities of adopting a baby.  After you arrived, it became more complicated as well as apparent that the doctor was right.” 

“Why didn’t you go ahead and adopt then?”

“Only special needs and older children were available to us since we had had a child of our own.  With your dad’s tenuous health, that just wasn’t something we explored that deeply.  Again, we were trying for a bit of anonymity.”  She paused, not wanting to go into the all the nuances of a baby who was, when she was born, the spitting image of her biological father.  “It all sounds so spy-like, but all our decisions have been for what we felt was the best for everyone.”

 

Melanie pondered, still in shock over the revelation.  She couldn’t help but think of all the wonderful memories she had with her parents and what they had given up to raise her as a normal child.  She thought of all the times that her dad, Kent Driscoll, bum leg, sick at times with a variety of blood diseases, would still go out and play with her.  He was her horsie when she was little bitty; he played games with her when she was older and mom was at work.  He was there when she came home from school.  She handed him nails and tools when he worked on some around the house project and he handed her tools and materials when she was doing science fair projects.  He was there at every soccer game, every karate competition, every debate.  Her eyes prickled when she thought of him and his kind and timely advice.  He was gone, but still there in her heart and memory. 

Then she thought of the old man she had been working with the past four plus months and how lost he seemed without his work.   How alone he was in that little condo by himself.  He had visits from his colleagues, especially Lee Crane and Chip Morton, but he didn’t have a family. Even his younger sister had died before him.  Somehow, Melanie didn’t think that he would be around much longer, especially without those things that had always kept him busy in the past.  And he was also her father.  Again there was the sting of tears, which the darkness hid from her mother.  But her mother, who, at times, had seemed so inaccessible, also seemed able to discern what she was thinking. 

“They’re both good men, honey.”

“I know that, Mom.  I really do.”  She paused and then took a deep breath.  “Do you think the admiral would want to know he has a daughter?” she finally asked. 

“Yes, I think he would be ecstatic . . . after he had pasted me to the walls for not telling him twenty years ago.”  The older woman chuckled and then sobered.  “I think he’d be proud of what you’ve accomplished.  You are every bit as smart as he is.  I have more than ample evidence of that.  Universities are still sending packets to me.   This journalism class is just a hobby for you, something to hone your skills for bigger things.”  There was another pause.  “Do you have a dream of what you’d like to do with your life?”

Melanie figured her mother was giving her some time to think about her future with Admiral Harriman Nelson, as well as getting her to focus on her individual goals.  The latter was something that she had been trying to do for the past couple of years.  Melanie had a dream, but one that she felt was so inaccessible to be ludicrous.  She hadn’t told anyone.  “I always wished I could work at the Institute with Admiral Harriman Nelson.  Since that isn’t possible anymore, I would like to work on one of the subs there.”

“You’re smart enough to do that, you know.”

“But if I applied now, he’d think I was trying to take advantage of my claim as his daughter.”

“Maybe you don’t know him as well as I do, or did twenty years ago.  First of all, if you applied now, he’d tell you to go to a good university in your field of interest,” Elaine said.

Melanie winced.  She figured Harriman Nelson would believe her claim, but she also had heard him grumble about the occasional ‘gold diggers’ trying to cozy up to him in his old age, wanting a part of his vast interests when he died.   “I think it’s too late, Mom.” 

“Too late for what, to tell him you’re his daughter?”  She nodded.  “Why do you say that, Mel?”

She said aloud what she had been thinking, finishing with, “I know I don’t want to write for a living, but when I heard that he was totally retiring, I tried to figure out a way to know him better. I continued the project because I wanted the world to know who Admiral Harriman Nelson is. Who he really is! I don’t want that ruined because he feels I have betrayed him.”

“You don’t think he’d believe you?”

“I don’t know, Mom.  I think so, but I think . . . well, I don’t know what to think.  I just don’t want him thinking any the less of me.  I feel we’ve become such good friends and I don’t want to blow that.”  She stifled a yawn, tired even if still keyed up over the day’s events.  “Can I spend the night here?  I want to sleep and think, not drive and think.”

“Of course, Melanie, you know you’re always welcome to stay here.”

Melanie felt gratitude and love for her mother.  She got up and kissed her.  Elaine took her daughter in her arms and hugged her close, proud of this product of two phenomenal men.  She watched as her daughter crossed the patio and into the house. Two hours later, Elaine was still sitting and pondering.  She went into the house and sat in the recliner wondering if she wanted to turn on a late movie. Three hours later she woke from a light sleep, her mind made up. Elaine showered, changed, got her keys, several documents and headed out the door.  In a short while she was on Highway 101 heading south.  As she drove, the sun rose over the eastern mountains in a palette of rosy hues.

 

 

The phone rang about mid-morning and Harriman pounced on it.  He still got the occasional call from one of the researchers asking his advice and he relished that.  There was a part of him that was hoping that Melanie would get back in touch with him.  He hoped that his abrupt cessation of yesterday’s visit wouldn’t put her off enough so that she wouldn’t want to see him anymore.  He had grown rather fond of the girl, was impressed with her organizational as well as deductive skills.  And from day one, he had kept wondering just who she reminded him of—other than her mother, of course. 

“Admiral?”  It was Lee. 

“Whom did you expect?” he said in mock gruffness.  He enjoyed calls from Lee Crane, too, except when the younger man was over-solicitous and anxious about his health. 

Crane laughed pleasantly. “Touché. I just wanted to let you know that you have a very important visitor coming over to see you.  I want you to listen to her carefully before you start giving her the third degree.”

“Who?”  Harry wondered if Lee was talking about Melanie, but the girl didn’t go through Crane to come to him. 

“You’ll see.  It will take her about five minutes to get there.  If you had a kegger last night, don’t worry about the mess, she’ll understand,” Lee joked.  Then the voice deepened and became serious.  “Harry, call me when she leaves.”

“She must be important.” 

“She is.” And Lee hung up. 

While Harriman always got up early and went through the ritual of getting ready for a day of work, even though he had no work to go to, he still made his way into the head and checked to make sure that he looked decent.  If this woman had come from heaven knows where just to see him, he wanted to make her feel it was worthwhile.  He had just made it into the living room again when the bell rang. 

When he opened the door, he gaped in shock.  He hadn’t seen her but a couple of times in the past twenty years.  “E . . . Elaine?”

“I haven’t changed that much, have I, Harry?” she asked with a slight smile.

“No,” he replied.  He stared at her for another moment.  How old would she be?  About fifty-five?  She continued to stand there and finally he remembered his manners.  “Come in, Elaine.  Come in.  I have to say this is a surprise.”  He motioned to a chair near his comfortable one, realizing that it was the same one that Melanie usually sat in.  Then he realized why she was here.  But why in the world would she have gone through Lee?   “Elaine, I guess….    Well, I’m sorry for my indiscretion yesterday evening.  I mean, I hope Melanie wasn’t upset.”  He paused in his embarrassment and surprise.  “I guess that’s why you’re here.” 

“I am here because of ‘our’ indiscretion twenty years ago.”

“She figured it out or you told her?” Nelson asked, fidgeting slightly. 

Elaine smiled.  “What do you think, Harry?”

“She’s a very intelligent woman.  She figured it out and went to ask you about it.  I just hope she wasn’t too upset,” he said soberly.  “I have enjoyed her company and wouldn’t want it to end simply because I made a bad choice.” 

Elaine sighed.  “Harry, there are a lot of words I might use for that night, but for some reason I can’t bring myself to call it a bad choice.  You were in need of some kind of solace and I am honored that you trusted me enough to come to me for it.”

His mind reeled at her revelation. She had so abruptly whisked out of his life after that night.  He never was sure if she had been angry with him, or simply disappointed.  “Even though . . . you and Kent….”

“Even though.”

“I missed you, Elaine,” Harry blurted out.  He realized it was true.  He had wished for her to be near him more times than he cared to admit.  “I know I couldn’t give you the life or the love that Kent did, but I still missed you.” 

She looked stunned and for a minute or two didn’t say anything.  Finally, “I have not forgotten the happy times we had, Harry.”

That was good and non-committal, he thought.  Then he chided himself.  He wasn’t a kid anymore.  Hell, he hadn’t even been a middle-aged workaholic for about a half a decade.  What business did he have hitting on a good-looking-twenty-years-younger-than-himself widowed woman?  He couldn’t help it, though; she did that to him.  She always had and he guessed that was why she had stayed away after marrying Chief Driscoll.  She had more sense than he did.  Right now, he was just acting like some lustful old geezer. Still, “You look good, Elaine,” he continued, studying her appreciatively.  “The years have been kind to you.”

“Thanks, Harry.  Melanie told me that you still have the old magic and I see that it’s true,” Elaine said with a smile. 

He was still feeling a bit embarrassed, so he changed the subject. “I was sorry to hear about Kent.”

“Thanks, Harry, I’ve missed him, but he’s certainly in a better place and state now.”

“Too many men were hurt or lost during that incident,” he said softly.  “I wish there had been a way to prevent it.”

“I know, but it was an accident that was no one’s fault.  Kent certainly didn’t blame anyone for it.  However, that’s not why I’m here.”  She paused, opened up a folder and handed him a picture.  “Do you recognize this picture?” 

He looked at it and thought at first that it was a picture of his mother or his sister, Edith.   There was something a bit different about it, though.  And then it dawned on him; it was more contemporary.  But how?  He looked up from the picture.  “Elaine, what is this?  It looks like my mother, but the time is wrong.”

“Look at the back, Harry.”

He did.  ‘Mel, 1 year old.’  He turned the picture over again and studied it more closely.  Then the truth came pouring in and he felt his chest constrict in shock.  He gasped for breath and his vision blurred momentarily. 

Over the years since Nelson had retired, those who wished to take advantage of what hard work and family circumstances had given him had occasionally come calling.  Some had used his occasional flings; others had tried to tie in as distant relations of the family.  All had been proved to be scam artists. But Melanie?  Harriman didn’t in the least doubt what Elaine had shown him.  He knew that Elaine, however she thought of him over the years, would simply not try to do something like that.  And there had been something about Melanie that her being his child totally explained.  There was no doubt.  Melanie was his daughter.  He remembered that he had wished she could have been his grandchild and she turned out to be his only child.  The unfairness of all of this threw a despairing curtain over his mind.  Nelson sucked in a tremulous breath, trying to regain control of himself.

“Harry!  Harry, are you all right?”  The voice was right there, but seemed so distant, so inconsequential.  All he felt was the power of the revelation.  He had a child—a full-grown child.  She was a woman who shined with the brightness of vitality, youth and vigor.   And he had missed the entirety of her life.  Finally, he nodded, still numb with shock.  Then the numbness began to give way to anger.  Somewhere deep in the back of his mind, he remembered Lee asking him to give his visitor time to explain before chewing her out, but he pushed it aside.  The anger flared, blossomed and became a bonfire.  He struggled to control it, exercising the rigid discipline that almost thirty years in the regular Navy had forged in him.  “You were pregnant when you married Kent.”  She nodded.  “You had my child and didn’t even have the courtesy to tell me,” he spat out.  “You just disappeared out of my life, taking my child with you!”

“Harry….” 

“Who the hell were you and Kent to decide what to do with Melanie?  How dare you assume that I wouldn’t want to know about my own flesh and blood!” he shouted.  “Why the hell didn’t you at least give me the option to accept or reject her?” Reject her?  No, he would never have done a thing like that. He repeated that in his mind over and over again like a mantra. Never.  How could they even think such a thing of him?   

He looked at the picture again and his anger melted more into disappointment and sorrow. “Oh, God,” he moaned.  “I had a child and didn’t even know it. For almost twenty years, I didn’t know I had a daughter. How could you, Elaine?  How could you?” He put his head in his hands.

“Harry, would you at least let me explain?”

He looked back up. “You didn’t tell her either.  You and Kent kept this a secret from everyone.  Did you hate me that much?” 

There were tears in her eyes, but she shook her head.  “Oh, Harry, hate you?  No, never.  It was because we loved you so much….”

“What?  How can you say that?”

“Kent worshipped the ground you walked on.  He didn’t hate you.  Why do you think Melanie has been collaborating with you on that biography?  She has grown up adoring you, hearing about your exploits.”

“But why?  Why did you keep her a secret from me?” he asked harshly. “I don’t understand. Why, Elaine?”

“Let me ask you a question, Harry. What is it that you would categorize as the most important element of your life, especially the past twenty years?”

Nelson sat back and considered.  Finally he just shook his head.  “I can’t pinpoint one thing.  I think Melanie….”  His breath caught in his throat. His daughter.  “Melanie asked me the same question and I couldn’t answer with anything other than the most important element in my life has been the research, the ability to try to make the world safer, or the inventions that have improved life for people.”

“In summation, everything.”

“I guess,” he admitted in a low voice.  “Everything has been important.  Seaview and her sister subs, NIMR.  Sorry, I can’t tie it down.”

“No, Harry, I knew you couldn’t because you have been devoted to so much throughout your life,” Elaine said with a slight smile. “Let me ask this then.  How much of what you have done has been dependent on the donations of others?”

Harriman wasn’t sure where she was coming from, but his anger and disappointment had cooled enough for him to be curious. “Most people think I have unlimited assets, but I don’t.  Almost every project since the beginning has depended on funding, whether from the government, or private.  I may have sunk my personal fortune into my early ventures, but they couldn’t have continued or grown by my own funds.  You know that, Elaine.”

“What would have happened to a lot of that funding if it had come out that you had an illegitimate child?”

“You mean it was all to protect me?” 

“For the most part. It was also to protect the important work you were doing. I don’t think you realize the scrutiny you have been under over the years and how a great deal of your funding has depended on your reputation as well as your scientific genius,” she explained. 

Harry snorted. “Elaine, you know I don’t give a damn what my detractors think of me. And donations should depend on the merit of the work, not the personality of the person who is doing that work.”

Elaine laughed. “Listen to yourself, Harry.  I remember how much you bellyached about the politics of grants and funding and how much you had to suck up to government officials and CEO’s. I think you told me once that you hated how you had to ‘prostitute’ the Gray Lady in order to finish getting her built.  Are you telling me it’s changed that much in twenty years?”

“Well, no,” Nelson had to admit. And as much as the revelation hurt, he could see Elaine and Kent’s reasoning.  He didn’t agree with it, he didn’t like it, but he could understand it.

“And your enemies would have had a field day with Melanie, Harry.”  Elaine suddenly looked ready to cry again.  “I couldn’t let Melanie be the object of that, even if I hadn’t cared for you or for your work.”

His enemies.  Harry pondered and then blanched.  “Some of my enemies would have had more than political hay.” He turned to Elaine. “It hurts like hell to say this, but maybe what you and Kent did was for the best, since Melanie, and consequently you two might have been targets.”

“What?” Elaine looked shocked. “You mean…?”

“Yes.  Remember Angie and the attempt on her life about the time you and Kent married? They were trying to get to me. Remember how they tried to brainwash Lee to kill me?” He sighed and took her hand in his. “I wish I had known, though. I would have liked somehow to have known.”

Elaine reached out and laid her other hand along his cheek. “I know, Harry, and it hurt that I couldn’t. So often I wanted to take both of you aside and tell you the truth, but that perfect time never came.  Kent wanted to as well. That was one of his regrets before he died.  If not for that little slip of the tongue of yours it might never have happened.”

“Elaine, that slip of the tongue has given me something very important. What did Melanie think when she figured all of this out?” 

“She only figured out that you and I had been lovers that night, not that she was your daughter. I told her.”

“And?”

“She felt it was too late. She mentioned something about you complaining about gold-diggers and the like,” Elaine said. “She didn’t want you thinking that of her.”

Harry groaned. “I periodically receive correspondence from those claiming to be related to me.  But Melanie is different.  I got to know what she was like before I knew who she was.  And I knew you, too. Even though she is grown, I want her to be part of my life now.  I want to acknowledge her for who she is.” He paused. “Elaine….”

“Are you sure you want to do this?  There will still be political fallout and revealing this part of your past will probably cause a drop in funding.”

“Not that much, Elaine, and besides, the Institute is much more self-sustaining now.  In addition to that, I am fully retired. The Institute is run by a committee headed by Lee.”

She raised an eyebrow.  “I have wondered about that, Harry. Why have you totally retired?  You’ve still got it where it counts.” She pointed to his head.   

He frowned. “I’ve gotten forgetful of late and so much of the science has passed me up.  But it’s not as much mental as physical. You can’t have fingers that don’t work in the field of science, especially when doing critical experiments. I don’t have the stamina anymore either.”

Elaine looked thoughtful.  “Melanie is quite talented in a great number of things.  I had worried since Kent died, that she wouldn’t concentrate on any of them, but she finally revealed what she had always dreamed of doing.  Unfortunately, she didn’t think it could happen now.”  Harry said nothing, so she continued. “She told me that she had always dreamed of working side by side with you. Harry, she’s every bit as intelligent as you are.  I have the proof.” Elaine dug documents out of the large folder and handed them, a few at a time to Harry. He pulled a pair of glasses out of his pocket, put them on and looked over the papers.  There was an IQ test, high school diploma, high school and college transcripts, award certificates. He gazed longest at her birth certificate.  “Melanie Nelson Driscoll?”  Elaine explained.  “Melanie’s almost finished with her bachelor’s degree at barely nineteen?” he queried next.

“Yes. She started first grade in a private school at age four and a half. During high school she was allowed to take college level courses and so she was a junior by the time she had been in the college for a year.  Melanie slowed down when she got the idea of doing your biography. Took courses in journalism and writing, so she still has two semesters left, plus a few credits during the summer session,” Elaine explained. 

Now the tightness in his chest was due to pride. Her accomplishments in such a short time were phenomenal; her interests astonishing.  “Damn, Elaine, we, uh, have good genes, don’t we?” he asked softly as he continued to look over the materials she handed him. 

“Yes, Harry, we do,” she said with a soft smile. Then she handed him a book. 

He opened it and found himself looking at other pictures of Melanie.  It was a scrapbook of his daughter’s life.  He looked at the pictures, watching the child grow and develop.  He found himself gazing in rapture at pictures of Melanie in her karate uniform, at various soccer matches.  There were Girl Scout pictures, school pictures. There were family group pictures that brought a lump to his throat so large that he almost choked on it.  He wanted so badly to be part of that family group, or at least by Melanie’s side.  He reached out with a trembling finger and touched the picture of her in her prom dress, next to a tall, handsome boy.  He wondered what the boy was like and then smiled at his initial reaction.  Harriman finished looking at it, went through the book again, asking questions about certain pictures and listening to Elaine’s commentary for each, then closed it.  With a sigh, he handed the album back to her. 

“No, Harry, it’s yours.  I made it for you, not knowing when it would be right to tell you; not knowing how to tell you,” Elaine said, laying her hand on his.   

He took her hand again.  His still clear, intense blue eyes held her in an even tighter grip.  “Thank you, Elaine, for coming. Thank you for giving me something that was missing for too many years.  Thank you.”  He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it in a manner that no king could have done better. Tears crept down her cheeks. “Would Melanie go along with my acknowledging her as my daughter?” he asked. “I mean it’s one thing to know, but it’s another thing to….”  There was a knock at the door and both of them started. “Lee always had terrible timing in these kinds of things,” he grumbled. Slowly, he got to his feet and went to the door. When he opened it, he was almost as surprised as he had been when Elaine had showed up.  “Melanie!” Then he grinned and motioned her inside. 

She stopped in the doorway and glanced at her mother before facing him. “You know?”

“Yes, I know.”

Suddenly, tears welled up in her eyes and she began to cry.  Nelson let the cane drop to the floor as he took her in his arms and held her close. “Do you remember when you comforted me yesterday?” he whispered in her ear. “I felt something linking us together that was more than friendship, Melanie.  I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I do now.”  He continued to hold her as she sobbed on his chest.  Finally, as she gained control of herself, he added, “My dear, I can never take the place of your father.  I wouldn’t want to, but if you’ll have this cantankerous old Navy warhorse, I would like to be a part of your life.”  Harriman took a deep breath.  “I would very much like you to be a part of mine. However much or little you would like.”

Melanie pulled back a little and regarded him, her blue-gray eyes locked on his sapphire ones. Tears still trickled down her cheeks. “You really mean that?”

He chuckled and led her to the sofa where Elaine sat, tears tracking down her cheeks.  “If I had known I was going to have two boohooing females visiting, I’d have stocked up on Kleenex,” he joked.  He sat down next to Melanie, sobering quickly.  “You’re my biographer.  Since when have you known Harriman Nelson to tiptoe around an issue?”

Melanie smiled. “Never.  Thank you, Admiral.”

Nelson jerked up in the seat, felt the sharp stab of pain from his hip, but ignored it.  “Admiral!?  I will not allow you to call me Admiral!  You’re not some rate on one of my submarines.” 

Melanie smiled at his outburst, seemingly unaffected by it. “Habit, although I use it in the greatest of respect, just as a child would use the word ‘father.’  So, if not what I have always known you as, then I will call you ‘Father,’ if you don’t mind.” 

“But Kent Driscoll was your father,” Harriman pointed out, stunned at her request.  He had only gotten to know her in the past four or so months.  Not that it changed biological facts.  

With mouth set in a determined and stubborn line, “Yes, he was. I called him Dad.  Why can’t I call you Father?”  When the admiral didn’t respond with more than shocked silence, she continued, a slight gleam in her eye.  “A lot of my friends in high school had more than one father.  Why can’t I?” 

In a voice a bit lower from emotion, Harriman answered, “I would be honored, Melanie.  Very honored.” He sat silent for several minutes, thinking about the little slip that had provided this moment.  “Your mother tells me that you want to work with me,” he finally said. 

“Yes, but you are retired,” Melanie pointed out. 

“Who the hell’s going to stop me if I go into one of my own Institute labs and work on something that I never finished, especially if I have a competent assistant?” Nelson said in mock gruffness.  “Of course, you’ll be my hands, as well as checking my work and helping me over the rough places.”  He gazed into her eyes, tried to look stern.  “It will be when you’re not attending classes.  If you are going to be an Institute scientist or a mission specialist on one of my subs, you have to get, not only your bachelor’s, but eventually a doctorate.”

“You’ll help me with my homework?”

“You’re a Nelson, you need help with homework?” the admiral asked with a laugh.  Elaine laughed with him.

“Occasionally,” she returned quickly. 

“By the way, how did you know to come here?  I got the impression your mother didn’t divulge that she was coming. Has a certain Lee Crane been meddling again?”

Melanie giggled. “Yes, sir. I got a call from him telling me to come and save Mom.  I knew he was just jerking my chain, but he seemed to think you and Mom would want me here.”

“He was right.” Harry shook his head. “Lee has learned to read me like a book. Melanie, it is going to be a great pleasure working alongside of you.  I can tell you right now, retirement is hell!”

Again, the three of them sat in comfortable silence.  Finally the admiral suggested, “You offered to order pizza and that decadently buttered side of breadsticks yesterday.  Still game?  I’ll pay.”

“You bet, Ad . . . uh, Father,” Melanie corrected herself. 

Harriman Nelson smiled brightly. Suddenly life seemed so very good.  

 

 

 

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