Day 2 (cont)
Why am I at the gym? Everybody’s entitled to a day off, time to time. Oh, I’m like this every time shore leave looms on the horizon. Boredom? Anticipation? I guess I just get eager for a change of pace. Any change of-
“Keep your hands off!”
Drake turned his head, and saw a short redhead glaring at a leering man. Here we go. He changed his direction and headed toward her.
“Stop playing hard to get,” Jones told her. “It’s obvious you want to be noticed by the way you dress. I’ve noticed! Now it’s time to move on to the next stage.”
“Only if the next stage is where I beat you to a pulp!”
“Very funny,” he responded. “Look, my roommate works midnights, but if you don’t want to wait, we could-“
“No, I don’t want to wait,” she returned hotly. “I’ll just start hitting you now!”
“Mac, how’s your brother?” Drake asked as he approached them.
Her head whirled, but her fist remained cocked, her muscles tense. “Fine. Why?”
“Just wondered if you’d had a chance to ask him that question yet.” She blushed.
“Hey, the lady’s with me,” Jones protested.
“The lady’s not with anybody,” Drake stated. “Certainly doesn’t sound like she wants to be with you. But if you insist, I can let her heavy-world muscles reduce you to a smear of slime.” Hmm. A real idiot might take that the wrong way. He leaned toward the other man. “I’ll be happy to explain the situation to Mr Smythe and the Captain once she does.”
“I saw her first!” Jones insisted.
And here we have an idiot of the first order. “Mac, the choice is yours. I can let you and Jones continue your ... conversation, or you can come with me for a drink in the officer’s lounge.”
“A drink?” There was uncertain interest in her voice. “That sounds ... okay.” Her fist uncurled, her body relaxed, and her face was its normal color.
“Good.” Should I offer my arm, or would she take offense? “Maybe you haven’t found the officer’s lounge, yet. It’s on—“
“I’ve been there,” she stated, and turned for the door. “I saw—“ She broke off. “Well, I saw Bugs and Ivy there, earlier.”
Drake fell into step beside her. “So that’s where he’s at tonight. I thought he might make some time to be with you. You did just arrive.”
“Unannounced. I can’t expect him to turn his life upside down just because I’m in it again. In a week or two, he’ll have time for me.” She shrugged. “I just have to be patient, try to stay out of trouble.”
“By beating Jones into a smear of slime?”
“He keeps touching me!” she hissed as they started down the hallway.
“That reminds me. Last night, when I lead you to weight station C, were you ready to hit me?”
She turned red. “I resisted.”
Resisted? “What about tonight? If I had offered you my arm, like a gentleman does with a lady, would you have taken it, and then hit me?”
“Of course not. That’s different.” The lift door opened as they approached and they got on.
“Officer’s lounge,” Drake instructed the lift and returned to his human conversation. “Different how? None of it makes any sense to me.”
“I would be touching you. Pa never said I couldn’t touch a guy.”
An extremely fine line. Could be an interesting line, if the guy could manage not to touch back. “Why not?”
“How could I beat them up if I couldn’t touch them?”
Sounds like pa is a weirdo. If this is the way he feels about men touching women, how did he manage to create Mac? And, what did she say? Eight brothers? I may have to ask Ludwig some questions to get this figured out.
The lift door opened. They stepped out, and he steered her to a table in the middle of the room. “What would you like?”
“I only drink Irish.” She clasped her hands on the tabletop.
She looked up, eyes wide in surprise. “Whiskey!”
Strait-laced in some ways, but opts right for the hard stuff. Strange woman. In a moment, he returned to the table with her whiskey and his scotch, to find her staring at the clock, a soft smile on her lips. “Penny for your thoughts,” he told her.
“What?” She turned perplexed eyes his way.
“It’s an old saying that means, What are you thinking about?”
She grinned and told him how she had changed the clock to make Bugalu think he was late for his date.
He laughed. I can imagine his chagrin.
Across the room, a scowling Smythe emerged from a privacy booth and left the lounge. He sure looks unhappy. Wonder who he was with. He eyed the opening of the privacy booth, but no one else emerged. None of my business. He’s a grown man.
He turned his attention back to his companion, found her fussing with her zipper, and cleared his throat. “At the risk of getting hit, I have to admit that Jones had a point.”
She looked up with a frown, zipper forgotten. “What do you mean?”
“Just how quick is your temper?” he asked. “I don’t want to be a slime smear.”
She canted her head and considered him. “I learned a long time ago not to hit people because of what they say. If I still did that, I’d never get out of the brig.”
“I don’t blindly follow all my father’s dictates anymore, Mac.”
It is obviously going to take more than one night to figure her out.
“What point do you think Jones had?”
Mentally, he took a deep breath. Well, here goes. No woman ever likes to have her clothes criticized. “About your clothes.”
“What about them?”
“Everything I’ve seen you in so far shows off every curve you’ve got. Downright slaps a man in the face with your—Doesn’t let him think about anything but sex.”
“That’s all men think about anyway,” she returned.
“Well, up to a point. Most of us are able to concentrate on other things, at least part of the time. But not when you’re there, dressed the way you dress.”
She sipped at her drink, savored the flavor with her brow furrowed, then swallowed. “If that’s not the effect I want to have, how should I dress?”
“Well, you should—“ He stopped to rethink the glib answer.
She was patient, but eventually asked, “Well?”
“It can’t be that hard to figure out what you wouldn’t want to see me wear.”
“Actually, it is. Because it’s not just me you’re worried about. And every time I think of something you could change, I immediately think of at least one man who would think it even more appealing.”
“I don’t understand.”
Can’t blame her. How did I get into this impossible conversation? “For instance, take a low neckline, like you’re wearing tonight. And every time you wear your uniform.” She looked down at her cleavage, was blushing when she raised her head. “I like it,” he quipped. “And a lot of other men, too. But raise the neckline, and some men will find the lack of a view a big turn-on. Mystery or something. I’m not sure I understand it, I just know it happens. The same goes for short skirts, tight pants, sleeve length, hair style-“
“You make it sound impossible not to dress ... sexy.”
“It might be. For you.”
“Then why bring it up?”
He thought about that as he sipped his drink. “I thought maybe you could try to avoid that kind of reaction from every man by changing what you wear. When you’re off-duty, at least.”
“To what? A floor-length dress with long sleeves and a high neckline? Something that hides everything?”
She glided toward him, her long dress flowing around her, its swirling movements hinting of the curves she had no hope of hiding. Her moist lips curved into a smile as she approached and asked, “Mac, what’s wrong?”
He realized he was staring at her, sweat rolling down his forehead. He sighed and leaned back, to put a few more inches between them. “Forget I said anything.”
“No, I can’t. There’s got to be something I can do.” She sighed. “I never thought about my clothes before. Can’t you think of anything I could try?”
“Well—“ His eyes involuntarily traveled down her, until the tabletop blocked his view. “Maybe. Take that work-out suit, for instance.”
“This old thing?”
Exactly. “How old is it? Four years?”
She grimaced. “More like eight or nine. But it gets the job done, so-“
“Barely,” he interrupted. “Your body’s ... matured since you got it. It’s too small. That’s why you have to keep fussing with the zipper, isn’t it?”
She pulled her hand away, blushing. “I guess so.”
“Exercise suits get used hard. They don’t usually last more than a couple-“ Eight years? Wouldn’t that make it- “Is that the exercise suit you were issued at the Academy?” That deep blush says yes. “And it’s equipped to accept ballast to make your workout harder, isn’t it?”
“Is that important?”
“The Academy listened to specialists on adolescent psychology more than they listened to fitness specialists when they had those suits designed. The ballast inflates a girl’s chest and hips. Which would make you look-“
“Over ripe,” she whispered, and nodded.
Sounds like somebody actually called her that. “So I would suggest you replace it with a suit that actually fits. If you want the ballast option, get one that puts the ballast into the waist.” Such a tiny waist! Must be because she’s a heavy worlder. “If you’re lucky, adding ballast might make you look, uh, overweight. Slightly.” Well, if she really doesn’t want to turn the men on-
Her smile lit up the lounge. “Would that help? I could actually put on weight-“
“As a doctor, that’s not something I encourage,” he said hurriedly. “But as long as it’s only your suit looking like you have, that’s okay.”
She stared at him thoughtfully. “If I were Della, I could kiss you.”
Who’s Della? “Is this another thing you can do to men, but they can’t do to you?” I could live with that. If I could remember not to kiss back.
“I don’t know. I’ve never tried.” She tossed her drink down her throat. “Thanks, Mac. I still have to study before bed, so I’d better go.” She stood up and turned for an exit.
She faced her bed, and he heard her zipper slide down. The brown exercise suit slid off her shoulders, revealing her white back. “About being friends-“ he began, his throat dry.
“Oh, didn’t I tell you?” She grinned over her shoulder at him. “Bugsy says it’s fine. See ya.”
He watched her walk out, his mind full of visions of flowing long dresses and brown exercise suits being removed. What in space have I got myself into?