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Fighting Spirit (The Long Way Round Remix)

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Grace was busy researching colleges and every day she emailed a list of websites to Steve and Danny. When she made her final decision it caught Steve by surprise. He’d just come in from his morning swim and Danny was pouring him a cup of coffee. He pointed at the laptop and told Steve that Grace had big news.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Steve said, rereading the email. “Tell me she’s kidding.”

“I really don’t see a problem with my daughter getting a classical education. I read all about this place and it’s the third oldest college in the country. I think you’re just mad because they beat the Naval Academy every year at croquet.” Danny set down Steve’s coffee and rocked back on his heels with his hands on his pockets, his smile bright as neon.

“They do not beat us every year,” Steve ground out. “Just most years.”

“Oh,” Danny said as if that made everything perfectly clear.

“Danny, seriously. They have swing dance parties and they read Greek. It’s not normal.”

“God forbid my daughter should learn a dead language, or how to swing dance!” Danny put on a face of mock outrage, but Steve could tell he was pleased as punch that Grace would be attending St. John’s College, which sat cheek by jowl with the Naval Academy. He put his hand on Steve’s arm and said, “It’s a Great Books program. She wants to read everything that was ever written; you know how she is with books. Don’t make her feel badly about this. Please?”

Steve could not resist Danny and nodded, resigning himself to Grace becoming one of Them.

 

When they caravanned to drop Grace off at orientation, Steve shot longing glances back across King George Street toward Alumni Hall. He hadn’t worn his uniform today because he felt a little like a traitor.

“I have some free time tomorrow, Steve. Will you take me over to the Naval Academy and give me a tour?” Grace was loaded down by a large matching set of luggage.

“Steven? Will you and Danny please carry in these boxes?” Rachel was running Grace’s move in with almost military precision. Steve remembered showing up for Annapolis with almost nothing. Grace seemed to be moving in with everything she’d ever sneezed on.

“Tour tomorrow. Count on it,” he said to Grace and watched her tug all the bags upstairs to her new dorm room without complaint. She was tan, taller than Danny by two inches, and so pretty, no longer all coltish legs. It made Steve’s heart ache to think they’d have no more Saturday morning swims and breakfasts together for a long while. He hefted the next couple of boxes and ran them up the stairs.

When he hugged Grace good-bye his throat tightened and he could only manage to say, “Love you. See you tomorrow.”

“Steve-o, I’m not dying.” Grace laughed at him, but there was affection in it.

Danny had to blink back a few tears on the way to the car and Steve held his hand and said nothing. He couldn't imagine what Danny was going through, but knew he'd talk about it when he was ready. They had dinner with Rachel and Stan and it was a little funny the way they were all friendly now, but they were Ohana.

Grace called home about once a week to talk to Danny, then to Steve. She was leaning Greek, Euclid, chemistry, reading Plato and Aristotle and learning how to swing dance. She’d also joined the crew team and was up skulling every morning at dawn, which pleased Steve more than he was willing to admit. He had very happy memories of being out on the water around Annapolis.

Her freshman year passed rather quickly and Grace opted to do an intensive Greek program in New York City for six weeks before coming home for the rest of the summer. She arrived in July, pale and tired, but glad to be back home. Danny was so excited that he’d tossed and turned all night and was there to pick Grace up at the airport early Thursday morning, looking rumpled and tired, but ecstatic.

They, of course, caught a case and were busy all Thursday and Friday, but it wrapped itself up neatly on Friday evening and Steve went to bed tired, but comfortable because Grace was home. Danny slept like a rock, which meant Steve did too—though he let himself smile into the darkness for several minutes before he drifted off.

On Saturday morning Steve found Gracie sitting at the kitchen table going through flash cards and muttering to herself, “luousah, luousas, luousa, luousan…”

“Greek?” Steve said pouring himself a glass of water.

“Participles,” she said and put her cards down. “The nouns are declined—almost like they have tenses. Greek doesn’t have word order like Romance languages do. You can put the words in any order you want to change the meaning of what you’re saying. It’s a whole different mindset.”

Steve couldn’t help smiling at Grace because she was gushing and it was adorable. Then he noticed she was wearing a USN t-shirt and he pointed at it and cocked an eyebrow.

“I was kind of seeing this guy.” She smiled sheepishly.

Steve groaned. “Do I want to know?”

“I broke up with him. He was too serious and not that much fun,” Grace said with a shrug.

“But you kept the shirt?”

“Yeah, it reminds me of you.” She wrapped a rubber band around her flash cards and looked up him amused. “Don’t look so surprised. You’re my dad. I’m allowed to miss you.”

“You up for a swim?” he said and he was prepared for a no. He hadn’t gotten his hopes up that they would resume their habit.

“Hells yeah,” Grace stood up and took off her t-shirt. She had a bathing suit on underneath. Her arms were ripped and Steve just stared.

“Like my guns?” She flexed her arms. “I started doing free weights for crew.”

“And here I thought you were going to be out of shape after sitting around reading for 10 months.” Steve walked out onto the lanai and shut the door behind Grace, who’d followed him out.

“Why, because the unofficial motto of my college is “Great Books. No Gym?” Grace grinned Danny’s grin and raced him to the water and almost beat him.

 

Steve wasn’t as maudlin when they dropped Grace off for her sophomore year. She said that it was ridiculous that they’d all come to Annapolis again, but bore everyone dragging her out to dinner at Les Folies with sweetness. Steve had often thought she was aptly named, and yet, as he watched her crack the top of her crème brulée with glee, she looked like she was still ten years old, and was still his baby.

“We’re studying Ptolemy this year,” she said over her dessert.

Steve smiled. It was one of the few overlaps between the Naval Academy and St. John’s. They both studied Ptolemy.

“Was he the earth is the center of the universe guy?” Danny said. “Why on earth would you study that at the naval academy?”

Steve held out his hand to let Grace explain.

“Because it gives you a highly accurate picture of the stars from earth and you can use it for navigation, right?”

“Correct, I’ve used it once or twice, but I’m pretty rusty. Maybe we can do a refresher course when you come home at Christmas.”

“Count on it,” Grace said. Rachel turned the conversation to social matters and wanted to know about Grace’s friends.

Danny leaned over and said in Steve’s ear, “You OK? You’re really quiet tonight.”

“I’m fine,” Steve said. “Being here with Grace brings up a lot of memories.”

Danny’s eyes were bright with understanding. He suggested they take a walk once they’d dropped Grace off at her dorm for the night. Steve led him down along the College Creek to where the two campuses met. Everything was lush and green and the streetlights were floating balls of light on the surface of the black water.

“My father only came out here once. For my graduation. I’m just glad we’re here for Gracie, even if she finds it a little smothering. And it’s not that I felt sad back then, or even unhappy about being alone. I just—“

“You feel sad about it now.” Danny nodded and wrapped his arms around Steve.

“I just miss him. I’m disappointed he never met you, or Grace. He would have adored her.”

 

Danny and Steve sat with Rachel and Stan and Danny’s parents and Rachel’s mother at Grace’s graduation. Danny could not sit still and had been uncharacteristically quiet all morning. Steve assumed he was just feeling eight thousand things in that enormous heart of his and he could sympathize, because he also felt so proud of Grace, who was graduating first in her class. She’d won the senior essay-writing prize too. He sat with Danny’s hand clutched in his. Danny had the program rolled up in his other hand. Steve hadn’t looked at it. They were all the same. Speaker’s names and then the list of graduates.

He didn’t listen to the graduation speaker. He bit the inside of his cheek and worried about what Grace would do after graduation. She’d had vague answers to all his queries, like she might travel around Europe for a few months, or she might take a year and hang out in Hawaii. It sounded so unlike his intense, focused daughter that he’d begun quietly researching volunteer positions in Hawaii, so she could do something useful and something that might steer her in some direction. If she asked for help, he was prepared to steer her in some direction.

They stood and cheered loudly for Grace when her name was called. Steve wondered what his father had felt when he’d attended his graduation. He’d said he was proud of Steve and very little else, but then he wasn’t a talkative sort of man.

At the end of the graduation ceremony the president of the college said, “If you would like to join us on the library steps. Two students are receiving their officer commissions. Grace Williams from the United States Navy, and Amy Stratton from the United States Army.”

Steve looked over at Danny and immediately understood Danny’s quiet. He’d been keeping a secret. He should have known, or at least suspected.

“After all these years I thought we’d made a detective out of you, but apparently not.” Danny patted Steve’s back. “You OK? You look kind of gob smacked.”

“Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t she tell me?” Steve was still sitting in his folding chair even though everyone else had started to move toward the library.

“She wanted to surprise you and she got you good. Now, come on or we’re going to miss her commissioning.”

Steve stood, straightened his dress uniform, and they made their way to the old library. Grace’s friend Amy was commissioned first and presented with her lieutenant's bars. Then a naval captain strode forward and commissioned Grace as a lieutenant in the United States Navy. She accepted her commission and saluted the captain. She was already in her uniform, which had been hidden by her graduation gown.

Steve’s heart swelled as large as the Pacific and when she strode forward and saluted him his eyes misted over and he’d never been more proud of anything, or anyone, and doubted this moment would ever, could ever, be eclipsed.