A Few Things To Say
The silence following Jeff's appearance and Mae's squeal was profound. Nothing could be heard but the crackle of the fire and the swishing of the waves washing up on the shore. Finally, Jeff sighed and sat down on the sand. He shook his head slowly.
"I never would have believed it of you."
None of his daughters would meet his eyes. Even the outspoken Sally had trained her sight on the dancing flames.
There was a long silence that was at last broken by Sally's question: "How much did you hear, sir?"
Jeff thought for a moment, then replied, "Enough." He glanced over at Mae. "Who exactly is 'Francy'?"
Mae looked down. "François Lemaire. Both Lady Penelope and I have modeled for him."
"The French designer who was so taken with Penny that he named a fabric after her?"
"And you have pictures of them together at a topless beach?"
"I will want to see those photos."
"And I will want all of the copies. Yours and your friend's."
The talking ceased again for a time. Jeff studied each of his daughters. "I still haven't had an answer to my question. Why? Why did you do this?"
Sally took in a deep breath and let out again and for the first time, faced her father squarely. "We did it for you. And for ourselves. We wanted you to be happy, and none of us, not even Val, thought that you would be happy with Lady Penelope as a wife. And, frankly, none of us wanted her as a stepmother either."
"What makes you think that she wouldn't make me happy?" Jeff asked. "Do you want me to go through my whole life mourning your mother and living in celibacy?"
"It's not like that at all!" Christa exclaimed. "We wouldn't mind if you married again. Really we wouldn't. It's just we'd like you to find someone... your own... age... that's all." Christa's voice trailed off.
"Yeah, Dad. If we're to have a stepmother, we'd rather have one we can look up to. One that we can ask advice of," JC added. "Not one a few months younger than Sally here."
Jeff sat quietly, digesting what his daughters had just told him. He raised his head when Mae spoke out.
"Daddy? Does Penelope really make you happy? Does she? Because if she does; if she makes you as happy as Mother made you, you know we'd put our feelings aside and try to get along. You know we would."
Jeff gazed at each of his daughters in turn. Sally had gone back to staring at the fire. JC returned his scrutiny for a moment, then closed her eyes and slid off the rock to the sand, putting her head back. Christa met his eyes for a moment, then looked away. But Mae, Mae's blue eyes were swimming with unshed tears.
"None of us wanted to hurt you, Daddy. You were never to know."
"But I do know. And I'm deeply disappointed in all of you." Jeff paused for a minute. "Mae, you say you'd try to get along if I married Penelope. Does this go for all of you?"
Christa nodded her head slowly. JC glanced at him and made a motion towards him with her hand that Jeff took to be an affirmative one. Sally was silent. Jeff turned to regard his oldest. "What about you, Sal? Would you try to get along, too?"
Sally sighed mightily then faced her father again. "I would try. Beyond that, there are no guarantees." Then she bit her lower lip and said quickly, "We'd expect the same from you."
Jeff sat up, surprised. "What do you mean by that?"
Sally breathed deeply then swallowed. "Daddy, we're not getting any younger. Eventually we'll want husbands and children of our own, and when that happens, we might not be able to stay here and help you with your dream. Then you'd have to try and get along; get along with whoever we choose to spend our lives with. Even if you consider them a rival."
There was quiet again as Jeff studied each girl... No, he corrected himself mentally, each woman ...in turn. Then he quietly asked. "Do you have anyone specific in mind?"
Sally squirmed under the question. But it was JC who quietly spoke up first. "I do."
Jeff and her siblings all focused their attention on her. She blushed then rolled her eyes. "His name is George, George Lee Sheridan. He likes me to call him Lee. He's the communications officer on the WASP submarine Stingray. I met him before I left WASP and we've kept in touch ever since. You know the surfing contests I've been bugging you about? He was going to be in port each of those times. We... we were beginning to talk marriage."
Sally's eyes had bugged out and she knew her jaw had dropped. "Wow! And you kept this quiet for how long, JC? Two years? Three?"
"Doesn't matter. I wasn't sure Daddy would approve. And I knew sure as hell that Nana wouldn't," JC explained with a resigned tone.
Jeff said nothing to JC's comment, but fixed his eyes on the fire, stunned at JC's revelation. Then Christa, twisting her hands, cleared her throat.
Oh, no! thought Sally, Christa's being brave! Now things are really going to hit the fan!
Jeff glanced up and asked, "Yes, Christa?"
"Well, uh, Daddy," she stammered. "I-I have to t-tell you, uh, something." She never stutters like this, even when she's nervous! Sally realized. Damn! She sounds just like Brains!
"Uh, B-Brains and I, well, we've been a c-couple now for, uh, some time," Christa confessed, stuttering. "W-We've kept it, uh, qu-quiet because we d-didn't know what you would, uh, s-say."
Jeff blinked, and blinked again. His mouth moved, but no sound came out.
"P-Please, Daddy, Brains makes me happy. We're, uh, g-good for each other," she pleaded. "And b-being together with your b-blessing means that, uh, neither of us would l-leave the Island." She bowed her head and sniffed. "Please, don't be angry."
"I-I don't know what to say, Christa. This comes as quite a shock!" Jeff replied. He chewed his lower lip for a moment. "But I guess this is what Sally meant by my having to 'get along'." He let out a deep breath, then smiled shakily. "C'mere, Christa. You, too, Mae. Come sit down beside me. There's no need to stand way over there. I'm not going to bite. Jerrie, put some more wood on the fire, please." Jeff scooted over closer to Sally so that Mae and Christa could sit next to him on the other side. "I have a feeling this is one of those father-daughter discussions we should have had a long time ago." He turned to Mae. "Do you have any romantic entanglements to discuss, Mae? Anyone in your life that I should know about?"
Mae giggled, the first laugh the girls had uttered since Jeff arrived on the scene. "You're being silly, Daddy. No, I don't have any 'romantic entanglements'. How could I when I spend so much time in Thunderbird Five? I was rather sweet on Francy, but, now I look back on it, he really wasn't my type. And Tin-Tin and I are just having fun."
Sally's eyes widened and she and Christa exchanged glances. They hoped that Jeff has just glossed over the comment about Tin-Tin.
He hadn't. He frowned.
"You and Tin-Tin? I thought Tin-Tin was in love with Val?"
"Oh, he is, Daddy," Mae explained, beaming. "It's just that he likes me, too. But we're not serious like he and Val are."
"Val doesn't know, Daddy," Christa quickly put in. "And it would probably be best not to tell her."
"Yes, I can see that it would be," Jeff said slowly. That doesn't mean I'm not going to have a serious talk with that young man!
Now Jeff turned to Sally. "And what about you, Sal?" he asked quietly.
Sally sighed again, and JC put a hand on her arm, offering support.
"Houseman?!" Jeff exclaimed. "Sally! How could you? He's a business rival!"
"No, he's not, Daddy, not really," Sally replied with some ascerbity. "He's not in your league and you know it! And, Daddy, he prefers to keep it that way. There are lots of smaller jobs out there that Tracy Industries won't touch simply because they are small. He's more than happy to take on those and let you have the massive projects. Plus, construction is his only game. He doesn't have fingers in mulitple pies like you do." She shifted around so that she and her father were face-to-face, eye-to-eye again. "And you know what, Daddy? He cares about me for who I am, not who my Daddy is or how much money my Daddy has. Anyone else has heard the Tracy name and seen the dollar signs." She saw Jeff's thoughtful look and continued. "And don't you even think of buying him out, Daddy. He's proud of what he's built up. Besides, he wouldn't sell."
Jeff started, a little shocked by what he thought of as mind-reading on Sally's part: he had just been contemplating buying Houseman's company. He huffed. "Trying to get along, eh?" he remarked. He straightened up, stretching his back. "Well, I will want to have a chat with Mr. Houseman and your Mr. Sheridan, Jerrie. Father to potential son-in-law type talk."
"What about Lady Penelope?" Christa asked quietly.
"That's for me to decide," Jeff replied, his face solemn.
The family's moment together was interrupted by the arrival of Brains, dragging the cooler along the sand. "S-sorry that this, uh, took so long."
"That's okay, Brains. Where's Tin-Tin?" Sally asked.
"Th-that's what took so long. He s-su-suf, he had one of his fits. I had t-to take him up to the h-house," Brains explained. Opening the cooler, the scientist began to hand out drinks to the assembly.
Jeff frowned. "I wish that the neurologists could find out what's wrong with the boy. But the doctors have told me that they've done all the testing they can; that for them to find anything, they've got to be here when he has an episode. And we just can't allow that."
"At least the e-episodes are few and far b-between," Brains said, sipping a soda. "Perhaps I c-can come up with, uh, a monitoring device."
"A good idea, Brains." Jeff nodded. "By the way, Brains, you and I need to have...."
Jeff's statement was cut off by the blinking and beeping of multiple telecomms. "The emergency signal!" JC called. She was first to her feet and sprinting for the stairs to the Villa, Sally and Mae not far behind. Jeff turned to Brains.
"Deal with the fire, please, Brains. Then join us."
"Y-Yes, Mr. Tracy."
Christa stopped for a moment to kiss her lover on the cheek and whisper, "He knows," in an ear, and then she too was running pell-mell for the stairs. Brains blinked owlishly behind the thick lenses and then muttered, "Damn."
Val's portrait was already active in the lounge as the Tracys came pelting in. Ruby was there trying to calm her terrified granddaughter. She turned as Jeff strode up to the live-feed picture of his youngest.
"Here's your father now, Valentina. You calm down and tell him exactly what you told me."
"What's the matter, Val?" Jeff asked. He noticed that Val was tugging on a spacesuit even as she spoke.
"Thunderbird Five's been holed, Dad, in multiple places. Gravity is at half Earth normal and I expect it to fail momentarily. Life support is down by fifty percent; I'm putting on a suit, just in case. I have no idea where this came from or what's causing it. It's not a meteor shower or anything of that sort, the scanners would have warned me and the deflectors would have caught it. This is..." Val's picture disappeared into a scattering of white and static, then the screen went blank, replaced after a second by her uniformed portrait.
"No!" Jeff whispered, his face paling to white. "No! Not Val! Please God, not Val!" He turned as he felt a hand on his upper arm. It was Ruby, her own face pale, but there was a resolution there that heartened Jeff. She nodded toward the others in the room, towards his daughters who stood, frozen, gaping at Valentina's now motionless picture. He nodded slightly to Ruby, then straightened.
"Okay! Sally, Mae, scramble Thunderbird Three! Thunderbirds are go!"
His commanding voice jolted the girls out of their paralysis and galvanized them into action. Mae and Sally literally leapt for the couch that would take them down to Thunderbird Three's silo. Christa and JC were in Jeff's face immediately.
"Please, Dad, let us go, too!" JC pleaded. "We want to help Val!"
Jeff shook his head even as he moved behind his desk. "No, Jerrie. I need you and Christa here in case there's an emergency elsewhere." He drew the attention of the daughters on the couch. "Full suits and safety precautions and keep your communications open! Use emergency speed as soon as you've cleared the atmosphere! I want to know the moment you dock with Thunderbird Five and every detail of what you find there!"
Sally and Mae both nodded, and Mae said, "F-A-B, Dad." Jeff smiled at that and pushed a button, watching his daughters, transformed from the young women he doted on into the commander and the astronaut he counted on, sink into the floor on the first leg of their journey into space to aid their sister. The identical couch slid up into place.
Within minutes, Sally's voice was asking for a count-down to blast off. Jeff could imagine the silo doors sliding open and rocket's engines at the ready. I was going to pilot on this next trip, he remembered. But I'm needed here more this time.
"T-minus five... four... three... two... one! Lift-off!" he called out. With a roar, Thunderbird Three soared through the Round House and disappeared into the sky. Jeff joined his mother-in-law and remaining daughters on the balcony, watching.
"Find her safe, Sally, Mae. Find her safe and bring her home," he whispered as he put his arms around his girls' shoulders.