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tagRomanceTen Days at Sea

Ten Days at Sea


This was actually a story intended for the nautical theme invitational, a few months/years back. I never got it done in time, but hey, thought I'd finish it up and throw it out there, see if anyone enjoys it.

It was edited by 29Wordsfornow, who did a stellar job on it.

This was an interesting problem, switching between time periods and perspective, hopefully we caught all the mistakes I made.

I should have stuck some '80's music in there too, since most of it is set then.

Brett Bell was finishing up making a tuna salad sandwich using his wife's recipe and wishing for the tenth time that day that she was still around, when the doorbell rang. Pausing only to cut the sandwich in half -- ready for some 'good eatin' later' as she would have put it, with exaggerated accent - and wipe his hands on a kitchen towel, he walked to the door, wondering who was there, at midday on a Wednesday. He wasn't aware of any Amazon deliveries, and it was a little early in the day for the Mormon Missionaries who were currently targeting his neighborhood.

Given it was Sunday, he doubted he'd see any other human at all, unless he chose to go out, so a ring on the door was unusual.

When he opened the door, he saw two youngsters, as his father would have put it -- god rest his soul -- standing looking expectantly. One male, one female. Both had light blond hair, and they were obviously brother and sister, the family similarities were obvious. Both wore hesitant smiles -- the hopeful kind, where a good first impression is desired. But what caused him to start in shock was when he looked in their eyes. One brown eye and one blue each. Just like his.

And when the lady said, with a distinct British accent, "Hello Dad. It's nice to meet you," it was the moment he collapsed.

"Are you sure you are okay?" said Amelia, looking very concerned. Brett was on the couch in his living room head in his hands, trying to comprehend what was happening. Amelia was hovering over him, the same kitchen towel he'd wiped his hands on now wet and pressed into service dabbing his forehead.

"I told you I'm fine," Brett replied, some steel in his voice. "You just took me by surprise, that's all."

"Told you we should have rung him up first," said the man. Bradly, as he had introduced himself, right after they'd helped him up off the doorstep and into the house.

Both were decidedly British. That same clipped and clear accent that Brett associated with Downton Abbey and, of course, Fiona. Or using her full title, the Lady Fiona Birmingham Hart. Daughter of the Duke of Ipswich.

But here they were. He'd had some suspicions of course. The timing had seemed right. But, he'd never reached out and ask. That had been the agreement, and he wasn't going to break it. He knew, like she did, there was no future. No chance. She was trapped where she was, and he was powerless to get her out. She had commitments. Responsibilities. Duty. He knew that, and he loved her enough to leave her alone when she asked. No contact. As he'd agreed, no matter how unwillingly.

He knew that his heart would unlikely survive another encounter anyway; best to live and let live. Or in his case, Live and let Love.

He'd nursed his broken heart for years. New places. New occupations. New relationships, if only temporary, until he'd met Caroline. She, as it turned out, was as damaged emotionally as he was. They'd clung together, two pieces of flotsam in a tsunami of life, holding on to each other for dear life, and making a life together. It was never a relationship dominated by passion, more a comfort. He'd loved her -- and he was sure she loved him -- but it was a relationship of convenience and attraction, not a white-hot passion like he'd had with...her. If only for ten days.

And now here they were. The children he would never have.

He moved his hands and looked up. He had to cope. Deal with this. However unexpected.

He smiled at them ruefully, and they looked down at him, concern on their faces. The crease in Bradly's face was one he'd seen in the mirror more than once. He glanced at Amelia and was struck again by how much she resembled her mother.

"I'm really sorry. I'm not normally that much of a wuss. You just...well, you really caught me by surprise. I'm okay now. Just getting on a bit."

Amelia snorted, and then sat down, saying, "You are fifty-one, Dad. You are barely begun yet. Strong as an Ox, so mother says."

"I think he needs a drink," said Bradly, looking around the great room to locate interesting bottles. His eyes lit up when he saw the small collection on the side table. It was an eclectic grouping -- a bottle from every country he'd visited while he'd been in the merchant marine, plus some top end blended Irish and Scottish whiskeys. He'd never worked out if it was Whisky without an 'e', or Whiskey with an 'e'. It seemed to change depending on the nationality of whomever he was talking to at the time. "I know I do," he added, walking to the table to examine the different bottles.

"You think everyone needs a drink!" exclaimed Amelia, and then glancing at Brett, her expression softened. "Mind you, in this situation, we could all probably use some mother's ruin. Even if the sun isn't over the yardarm yet."

"You look so like your mother," said Brett, wistfully. He suddenly gathered his wits and stood.

"But my manners. You show up, and I've offered you nothing. It's lunch time, I was about to have a sandwich. Can I offer you something?"

Bradly looked over from the drinks table, looking pensive. "What are you having?"

"Bradly!" said Amelia, sharply.

"What? If it's something good, I'm definitely in. I'm all still messed up from all that jetlag. What you got, Dad?"

'Dad? Who the hell was that? Oh yeah. Me,' Brett thought.

"Tuna sandwich. It's the... it's Caroline's recipe. Tuna, mixed with mayo, sprinkled with Sweetcorn and green onion. Tastes great."

"Oh yes, that sounds marvelous," said Bradly, smiling widely at Brett. "Definitely up for some of that."

"Amelia?" inquired Brett, looking down at his...daughter. "I'm sorry, should I call you Amelia? Do you prefer anything else?"

Amelia smiled wide at him, the same wide smile as Bradly. Genuine, and showing big teeth, with a tiny gap between the two front teeth. Just like her mother.

"My family calls me Milly," she said, hesitantly. "I'd really like it if you did too?"

Brett's shoulders dropped at her obvious and genuine desire, and suddenly she was on her feet and in his arms, hugging him for all he was worth.

"I'm sorry. We didn't know who you were. We didn't even know you existed. Mother only told us a few weeks ago, and it took so long to find you. I'm sorry. We just want to know you. To know who you are..."

The words came out thick and fast, interspersed with sobs.

"It's okay, Milly. You are here now. I'm the one who should apologize. I wasn't there. There was a reason and I'm sure your mother explained. But please, let me..."

Suddenly there was another arm wrapped around him, and Bradly was in on the hug. He was wordless, a few tears coming down his face, belaying the disinterested hard man impression he'd been trying so hard to maintain.

"We have all the time in the world to catch up. You are here now," murmured Brett, wondering how his life was going to be going forward. Well, it couldn't be any worse.

Lunch completed, Brett finished off his beer and burped, contentedly. Suddenly realizing not only his guest, but their place in society, he pursed his lips and looked away. Then he looked back. He was damned if he was going to be made to feel inferior in his own house by his own children, regardless of who raised them or what position they may feel they had.

Amelia looked on amused, and when Bradly burped in almost the exact same fashion, he laughed. These were definitely his children.

Pretending to be disgusted, Amelia turned away. "Men. Such pigs. Did we at least wash our hands before sticking both trotters in the trough? At least I know where he gets that from."

Bradly looked at Brett and spread his hands in a 'what can you do?' gesture, and Brett winked back.

"I'm just glad it wasn't a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I mean, that's what you Americans eat, isn't it?" Amelia announced, looking back at Brett.

"Well, on occasion. Have you never had one? I'm sure I have some here somewhere..." replied Brett, hamming up the accent.

She just smiled back, and Bradly finished his beer, making lip smacking noises.

"You know, they look down on your Yank beers back home. But this, this was rather good. Have to say. What was that?"

"Anchor Steam. Made up in San Francisco. It's a favorite of mine."

"I think we may have to look into grabbing a case before we head back," said Bradly, appreciatively.

"So..." said Amelia, getting up and gathering up their plates, "I suspect you'd like to know why we are here? Why Mother finally told us about you?"

"I'm guessing it's because of the death of the Duke?" hazarded Brett, eyes following Amelia as she deposited the plates in his kitchen sink, and then as she wandered to the fridge to gather new bottles of the beer for all three of them.

"Indeed," replied Bradly, nodding to Amelia as she handed him a bottle. "Mum finally came clean after the funeral. On learning of your existence, we looked at her reports on you, had to do some research to find your current abode, and hopped on a plane as quick as we could. We had to meet the man who..." He didn't finish the statement, going a little red.

"Yeah," said Brett, dryly. He was not about to have that talk with his children. "I suppose you want to know the story?"

"Among other things, for sure. We have other stuff we want to know, obviously. I mean, for example, any hereditary stuff we should know? Do we have a history of heart disease, for example?" Amelia was right to the point. It made Brett chuckle -- another one of his traits on display.

"Not that I'm aware of. The only thing I know about is the skipped generation of insanity. I mean, Uncle Tom and Dad both died in an asylum. That's happened for five generations now. Skips every other. It should be hitting your generation I think... Mad cow or something?"

There was silence for a moment, then both Amelia and Bradly burst out into laughter.

"Oh, very good. Very drool. You almost had me going there for a moment," laughed Amelia.

Unable to keep a straight face, Brett joined the laughter. It felt good. It was unforced, and just spontaneous. There hadn't been a lot of that recently. Not since Caroline died.

"But yes, we'd like to hear it. Mother didn't tell us much. Just that you were 'the best ten days of her life,' as she put it." Amelia made quote motions with her fingers and then rolled her eyes.

"The concept of mother having passion filled days at sea is, honestly, both off putting and also quite hard to believe. She's never been one for large displays of passion, except when one of us is threatened. Telling us this story about you was quite the shock, let me tell you."

"Shall we sit in the living room? Comfortable chairs there, and the view is terrific," asked Brett, wondering how much he should really tell them. How much do children really want to hear about their parents love life?

"Yes, let's," replied Amelia rising, Bradly following.

They took their drinks into the great room, with its massive bank of floor to ceiling windows, that looked out over the cliff and into the Pacific Ocean, calm and flat as the eye could see, clouds rolling over the top of it. Distantly, breakers could be seen rolling in, and surfers trying to catch a wave in their wetsuits, in the post midday sun. The north San Diego surfing grounds in all their splendor.

"Nice view," nodded Bradly at the bay windows, as they settled into a couch and easy chair, arranged for peak view.

Brett shrugged. He'd never tired of it, but he'd grown accustomed to it over the years, hardly noticing some days. When there was a storm though, it was one of his favorite things to do, to sit in the easy chair and watch the lightning fork and the seas roll. More than once, he'd woken late at night, with a blanket over him, where Caroline had tucked him and left him to his fascination and memories, a glass of Jameson on the table within easy reach, alongside a large glass of water.

Something occurred. "You said 'reports'? That your mother had?"

"Yes," replied Bradly. "She looked in on you every other year or so. Just to catch up with where you were. How you were doing. I don't think she ever stopped loving you, to be honest. When she talked about you, she was more animated in years. Apparently, you were somewhat hard to find when you moved on from Chicago?"

"I'm not entirely surprised to hear it. I figured she was doing something like that. When I got married to Caroline, we got a wedding gift, from an anonymous benefactor. When we signed for the package and opened it, there was no note. Just five diamonds. Good ones, too. They paid most of the down payment on this place in fact. I figured then it must have been her, reaching out in her own way. No direct contact but still..."

Brett took a long slug of his beer, to mask his feelings. When it had arrived, and it had dawned on him the likely origin of the outrageous gift, he'd been very hard pressed not to reach out. But, his promise... both to Fiona and also the promises he'd made to his new wife. It wouldn't have been appropriate or right, for anyone. He'd been unsettled for days though.

"Did you tell your wife where you thought they came from?" asked Amelia, curious. She was sitting at the end of the couch, her legs tucked up under her, moving some stray blond hair from her face and tucking it behind her ear. So like her mother, it almost burned Brett. He looked away to keep his own control.

"Yes. We had no secrets. She knew of my broken heart. She was similarly afflicted, if your mother's reports didn't mention that. We were both of a same mold, and we helped each other become whole. Whoever your mother was to me, Caroline was too. I don't know if I would have made it to this age without her and her love and acceptance. I respected her too much to lie. And she understood. She did, it was amazing. Caroline's ability to look beyond the broken to the rest was amazing. She pulled me out of my own self-destructive cycle and I owe her a lot. Everything, in fact."

"I'm sorry. We didn't come here to disrespect her or your relationship, Dad. I know we came out of the blue. Out of the past, so to speak, but we are just grateful to be here. We know you have a life and we aren't here to try and drag you out into our world. Just to... know you?" Bradly was concerned at the emphatic nature of how Brett spoke.

"Oh, it's okay...son." There. He said it. This was his son. How the hell did Dads work anyway? He had no clue.

"I have had a life since your mother and I won't apologize for it. Caroline was important and amazing and we built a great life together. But she's gone now, and I have to make a new life now. One without her. But I'll never forget her or what she did or what she meant."

There was silence for a bit after that statement. The quiet and distant roll of the ocean waves and the gentle ticking of a mantle clock all that could be heard. Brett could tell that both children were groping for what to say next. They wanted to hear about their mother, and he could tell, so he made it easy on them.

"But your mother was special too. In ways I can't even begin to tell. Unless you've been in love like that...well..."

"So, how did you meet?"

Brett closed his eyes for a moment, and unbidden, a memory of Fiona popped up. Clad in just his shirt, all prim and proper and yet devastatingly seductive, a bottle of cheap wine in one hand, a plastic wine glass in the other, standing in the door way of his cabin, - where anyone might walk past, - her head tilted against the door frame, as she said, "See anything you like, sailor?" and then he began to talk.

"I was twenty-four. I'd been at sea in the US merchant Marine for almost six years. Ever since my eighteenth birthday. My parents died when I was seventeen, and I had very few prospects. I wasn't any great shakes at school; too interested in girls and weed and rock music. And the concept of college for an orphan with no trust fund, well, it wasn't going to happen. I tried to join the Navy -- I had some fool ideas about going to sea and protecting the world. Damn silly, now I look back on it. But they wouldn't take me. I'd gotten caught selling some weed when I was seventeen, right after Mum and Dad were killed in a car accident. You have a conviction, well, you have to apply for a moral waiver to join any of the armed forced, and I was young and arrogant, and they said 'Thanks by no thanks.' When I think about it now, probably the right thing; I'd have made a shitty naval seaman. Too hard for me to not ask questions when given orders. Anyway, I wasn't taking no for an answer, so off I went and signed on to some ship. An oil tanker. The Pearly White. What a name.

"I went from contract to contract. Some ships have you on contract for a time period -- six months or whatever, and when you are done, you can leave the ship at whatever port she happened to be in when the time is up. Some hire you for a specific voyage or set of trips. I wandered around from ship to ship. I had no one to go home to, no home to really speak of. I was brought up in Atlanta and had always wanted to go to sea. So there I was. It was a container transporter I was on, The Lady Grey. Bit of a rust bucket, but it got the job done. I was an able seaman by then. I was going to go for the Bosun's ticket next time I got to port with an academy office at it.

"We were bound to Hong Kong out from Argentina. We weren't pushing it hard -- we were pretty much fully loaded and had already lost two containers when we went through a squall early in the trip."

Brett noticed both Bradly and Amelia looking a little shocked.

"Oh, it's no big deal. Happens more often than you might think. All the containers have to be heavily insured anyway, and the reality is that you pay extra to be lower in the ship. If you pay the least, you go on top and it's known that can be risky. Just part of the glamor of shipping containers.

"Anyway. We were about ten days out from Hong Kong -- you tend to skirt the pacific rim if you can, rather than going direct across sea. If anything goes wrong, it's always better to be able to make landfall easily, or have people come to you quickly. You only go direct across if time is of the essence.

"We got this call, a general 'keep an eye out' alarm. I was doing bridge duty that day, and I remember it well. You don't get many of those. There are all sorts of rules you have to follow when you get one. Reduce speed. Radar on maximum, look outs posted, coordination with other ships in the area and so on.

"So, we slowed down -- the captain wasn't happy about that because his bonus was directly related to us being on time and now we wouldn't be. But there are maritime laws you have to abide by. We had no choice, and rightly so.

"We'd just missed a major storm that had come through a week or so ahead of us, thankfully. Those are never fun. Apparently, someone had been sailing the area and hadn't been heard from since the storm and there was a lot of fuss about it. Someone important.

"As it turned out, it was my friend Marcus who saw her. We'd picked up something on radar, something small, that didn't respond to radio calls, so we'd made a small detour and then lowered the skiff the ship had aboard to go take a look. And sure enough, there it was. One very beaten up single masted forty-footer. Minus mast or sails. Or pretty much anything. No propulsion, and it had obviously been through it. Everything not bolted down was washed away, and quite a lot that was bolted down too.

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