“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
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
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
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
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
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
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.’
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.”
“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
“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.
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.
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
“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
“Okay, it’s a
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.
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
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.
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
“I think you’ve
been accepted,” Dr. Simons said as he made his way toward the edge of
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
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.”
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
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
“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,
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,
*** 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