Slow on the Uptake



Linda Delaney


Lee Crane moved to the door of his house somewhat more slowly than he would have liked. His leg was bothering him. It hurt and slowed him down. He was doing that a lot lately, slowing down. He didn’t like it, but, well, it was just a fact of life, and age.  Age… something he didn’t want to really think about. Caitlin gently teased him that as he was ‘maturing’, he had been putting on a bit of weight.  So, he was put on a very strict diet.

No red meat, no desserts, no sweets at all, unless he was able to escape to a restaurant every now and then, to ‘treat’ himself. He loved his ‘Little Girl’ dearly, but she could be a bit of a little tyrant when it came to his health.  He shook his head, smiling. He knew if it hadn’t been for all Caitlin’s TLC over the years that he probably wouldn’t be standing at the door right now…

 ‘The door!! You’re getting old, Crane. Standing here, thinking, while there’s someone at the door!’

He reached for the doorknob, opening the door in one, still smooth motion, finding his son, Robert, standing there, waiting.

“Robert!” Lee’s tone held notes of pure delight. “What brings you here so soon after the Nelson docked?  I thought you’d be down there with the crew, offloading those specimens you found in the Trench.”

Robert smiled at his father, “No, Dad. The techs from the Labs are there to get the crates. I, ah, I wanted to talk to you. Can I…?” he nodded toward the foyer.

“Oh, God!  Of course, of course! Forgive an old man for being absent-minded. How about a cup of coffee? Or would you prefer something stronger? On the deck? In the kitchen? What would you like?... I’m pleased to see you, son.” RC came into the foyer, and Lee shut the door. He clapped him on the back, “So, how was the cruise?  Quiet?”

“After a fashion, Dad. We found some amazing specimens at the deeper levels of the Trench. The boat did just fine at the depths, no problems at all. She’s solid and sweet, you know, that’s how we built her, even if she is named for the Admiral!!”

Robert grinned at Lee, and then really looked at his father. Although he didn’t look his age, Robert could see that his father had slowed up in the last few years. Not to those who knew him at work, but to his critical eyes, Robert did notice. He moved toward the Great Room and the deck, “How about something cold and sweet, Dad? Any iced tea in the frig?”

Lee grinned back and nodded, “Sure, if you don’t mind the Caitlin Crane brand of diet Iced Tea!”

Robert laughed back, “Don’t you know we’ve been drinking that for years, Dad? ‘Mom’ was watching our sweet intake since you married her, and probably before that!”

Lee stopped in mid reach to the refrigerator, “Really?  You mean to tell me that this concoction she’s been telling me is good for me, is something I’ve been drinking for years?” He shook his head, and snatched the container from the shelf, poured two glasses, quickly placing the container back on the shelf. He took the two glasses to the Great Room, handing one to RC, and opening the door to the deck with his now free hand. 

The two men sat on matching chairs, quietly listening to the surf, as it rolled onto the beach below in its unending pattern of ebb and flow.

Lee looked at his son, “Years?”

“Yep, Dad, years. That wife of yours is full of tricks, as if you haven’t noticed by now.” He grinned at his father, knowing the game the two of them played, light banter about things both of them knew, but liked to tease the other about. A habit they had gotten into when RC had returned to the Institute and he and Lee had gotten into some serious disagreements, that had left both men feeling defeated. It was easier to begin a discussion with some humor, rather than an angry demeanor. It was a habit they had cultivated and found worked well for them in most situations. It was also a signal to the father that the son wanted to talk.

Lee settled deeper into the chair, “What’s on your mind, Robert? The boat, the next assignment? Something with ONI?”

Robert Crane’s face grew serious, “No, sir. Nothing like that. Something more… personal.”

One of Lee’s eyebrow’s shot up, “Personal? In what way?”

RC studied his glass for several seconds, then he looked deeply into his father’s face. “How did you know?”  It was the question of a man, but the timbre of voice was that of a young boy, seeking answers to questions that were far too complex for him to ask, much less get answers for. 

“How did I know what?” Lee was, momentarily, puzzled. The question, asked with such earnestness, mystified him. “Robert, what are you talking about?”

RC cleared his throat. “How did you know that you and Mom were ready to get married? My mother, Cathy. Not Caitlin. I know how that moved along, even if I don’t know all the details.”

Lee flushed red, momentarily remembering a night, long ago, in a hospital bed, in his mother’s apartment in the Institute apartment complex. Robert watched him, saw the flush, and watched as his natural color returned.

“And some of the details you’ll never know,” Lee said as took a sip of the cold tea. “Cathy… How did I know that it was right for us?” He sighed heavily.  “To be perfectly honest…I didn’t.  To make a very long story short, your mother and I had been dating, and we had an ‘understanding.’  As you know, from talking with Caitlin, I’m not very good about some things.  Looking back on it, Cathy simply got tired of waiting around for me. We worked together, dated, saw one another, and then hit a six month stretch when we were here at the Institute for all of two weekends in those six months. Both times, she was off in Washington, doing some things for the Admiral. I think I’d sent her two, maybe three, notes in that time. She was pissed off at me because of it, so she started dating someone; made herself believe she loved him, and got engaged to him. She came aboard the boat to tell me, just as Chip and I were leaving to do a presentation at a conference in Colorado. The Admiral had some work to do on the boat at the same time, and he got two ‘loaners’ from the SecNav to fill in while we were going to be at the conference. He wanted to settle some questions a few of the shirts in Congress had about why we were all Naval Reserve, not active duty. So he took these two officers to act in our place. The men weren’t happy, and neither were we.  Truth be told, Doc told him to send us - we’d had a rocky spate of missions, some injuries, and he thought that we could use the rest.”

“So Jamie had a hand in it?”

“Sending us off the boat? Yes, he did. Well, anyway, we went to the conference, and on our way to spend some time off, we got called back to the boat. Someone chased us, shot at the car, we had an accident, both of us got hurt, but Chip had a real scare with his leg. Back on the boat, she got a sudden mission. This guy your mother was engaged to, Fred Roberts was his name, well, let’s say we found out he wasn’t one of the good guys. He was a long time agent undercover. No one suspected him. Years later, going over some of the records, I found he was connected to the FAM and, well, it’s long over…  Anyway, your mother blamed herself for everything, as was her way at the time. We…had a talk… and decided to get married. I had my mother’s ring, the one that my father had given her, and I had it reset. It’s the one I gave you a few years back.”

He paused, then asked, “And the reason for your question, Robert? Have you finally decided to ask Katherine to marry you?” Lee smiled at the look of shock on RC’s face.

“How… how did you know? I… I’m not even sure…” he stammered.

Lee laughed aloud. “Then you’re the only one who didn’t know. Your grandmother, God rest her soul, saw it at the Morton’s house the day you fought with her to go over there to meet the new baby. She saw the look on your face, and she knew… right then and there, she knew that someday the two of you would be together. You two have a ‘chemistry’, son. And you’re the only one who isn’t aware of it. I think some might say, ‘like Father, like Son!’”

Lee rose, went into the house, returning a few minutes later with two low ball glasses, filled with two fingers of clear liquid. He handed one to Robert. “Congratulations, Robert! It’s about time you asked that girl the question!!”

Robert took the glass his father offered, clinked glasses, and took a drink of the clear liquid. He smiled, as the smooth, warm liquid flowed down his throat.

Kettle One?”

Lee nodded. “In spite of what my wife tries to prevent, I do enjoy a bit once and a while. I keep it in my study, you know, out of sight…”

Robert laughed, “I’m sure she knows…”

Lee grinned back, “So am I.  Just a little game we play, old married folks that we are…  You know, you may look like your mother, but you’re definitely my son, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. Both times, it took a literal two by four for me to realize the wonderful woman who was right there in front of me… sometimes in my arms, waiting for me to ask her to marry me. With Cathy…” he paused, gathering his emotions that threatened to overwhelm, even all these years later, “I’m sorry, son. I still can close my eyes and see her on that day, coming down the gangway… you in her arms, laughing. She was gone, so fast, so wrong…” He paused again, taking a few moments, clearing his throat and regaining his composure. Robert reached over, and laid his hand over his father’s. Lee looked at his son, gratitude spoken in the amber-hazel eyes, without words being exchanged.

Several minutes later, Lee began again, this time, in more control of his voice, as well as his emotions. “Your mother, she knew how she felt, and how I felt. I was the one who was slow on the uptake. With Caitlin, it was different. With Caitlin, I was afraid, afraid of committing to someone who could get hurt again like Cathy. And I was afraid of being hurt again myself. Perhaps, because of the things in my life with my parents, I didn’t have a good image of what a good marriage was. It took me too long to marry your mother, and far too long to marry Caitlin. I was…I am happy in those marriages. I love them both, as strange as it may seem. It was different, the relationships are different, and I was, I am very, very lucky. You are, too. Katherine’s been ‘in love’ with you for years, Robert. We all saw it. Only you were totally oblivious to it. Chip and I often laughed, that we would finally be related and share grandchildren through the two of you, if you woke up and saw who was waiting for you. I know you’ve been dating for what, three years. What pushed you to come here and talk? Something happen?”

“Nothing in particular, although Kit’s getting drafted by ONI for that mission in the Middle East didn’t help my peace of mind for her. I want her out of the Navy, and the reserves. We had a battle about it just before I left on the Nelson, I told her to resign from the Reserves and to take a civilian job with the Institute. She told me to go to hell. It hurt, Dad. Like nothing ever hurt before.”

“Told you to go to hell, huh?”  There was a slight grin.  “Yeah, that’s a Morton for you. She’s always had her father’s stubborn streak, and her mother’s …umm… temper. ”  Lee sipped the liquid and then looked out of the corner of his eye at his son.  “Haven’t you learned by now that the women in these families are not going to be ‘ordered’ to do something like that?  They’re their own persons and you, me, or anybody else isn’t going to change that.  I think all of us have found that out the hard way at times.”  He took a small sip from the glass.  “Frankly, I’m surprised she didn’t hand you your head on a silver platter when you told her that.”

“She did, and told me not to call when I got back. But I don’t want to lose her, Dad. I don’t want to let go.”

"Then all I can tell you to do is go to her, hat and head in hand, and apologize, you idiot!  Don’t do what I did and let it fester. Do let her know that you’re sorry and you were wrong in making those demands, but make sure that you let her know that she’s that important to you. Talk to the girl!”

Lee could see that his son was both frustrated and conflicted.  He knew all too well the feelings, because he’d had them once himself.  Had he taken the same advice he’d just given Robert, maybe some things in his life might have been different.  He leaned forward in his seat, “Robert, go to Katherine, talk to her. Don’t let anything get in the way of the happiness that you can have with her. Life is too short, and the opportunities too few for happiness… Do you love her? Do you want to spend the rest of your life with her? If you do, act on it.” He paused, “I lost your mother when we were both far too young. We hardly had a life together.” Lee swallowed hard, “I was blessed, by whatever God there is, to have Caitlin come into my life, and I almost lost that. Because I was too damn stubborn, too damn closed and too concerned about keeping hurt out, to see her for who she was. I wasted too many years that I could have shared with her. Don’t be like me, Robert!” Lee sat back in the chair, suddenly drained. “Don’t be like me, son,” he said softly. “Ask the girl to marry you, and do it as quickly as you can. Don’t waste one more precious moment, not one!”

Robert stood, Lee went to rise with him, but Robert put a hand on his father’s shoulder. “Don’t get up, Dad. I’ll show myself out. Thanks… you’ve helped me a lot. I’ll see Kit as soon as she’ll see me. I’ll talk to her. I’ll … let you know…” he smiled crookedly, a smile that Lee knew well. He knew that somehow this would be all right. He smiled at his son, and rose, in spite of Robert’s urging him not to. He pulled his son into a hug.

“I’m glad to hear that, Robert…” he paused, then said, “Let me know how it turns out, if this old man can do any ‘repair’ work, so to speak.”

“Thanks, Dad, but I’ll be fine… I promise.”

He walked to the door with his father, opened the door and shook hands with him.

“Thanks for sharing all that about Mom. I know it was hard, but I do appreciate it. I just wish I remembered her more.”

“I wish you did, too. But, it is what it is… and we can know that Cathy was loved, and that she loved us back. And I do know that she loved Caitlin while she was here, and that helps, too. Now go, make things right with Katherine and ask the girl the question you’ve been planning to ask her since you first met her. Even if you weren’t aware of it!”

Robert smiled, opened the door and walked out, glancing back at his father, and giving a small wave, as he hopped into his car. His red Corvette convertible.

Lee watched and smiled to himself.  ‘Like father, like son… in more ways than he will ever know!’




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