Day 4 (cont)
MacGregor looked up when the turbo lift opened, but Mac wasn't on it. He sighed and settled back against the bulkhead. Where is she? Has she changed her mind?
"I hope you aren't expecting me to do anything for you tonight."
He smiled at the nurse. "Not tonight, Beth."
"Good. Because I do have plans tonight."
He grinned. "Should I be jealous?"
She paused in surprise. "You never have been before."
"I didn't realize you'd given up dating doctors," he returned, leaning closer.
"Did you realize that doctors had given up asking me out?"
How did that happen? "Something should be done about that."
"Oh, I don't know," she returned. "I'm not desperate."
"A lovely woman like you would never be desperate," he stated. "You're too much fun." He reached out and took her hand in his.
"It's been a long time."
"Drake, don't get started, because I'm not available tonight."
"My loss, then. Maybe-"
"If I'm interrupting, we can make it another time, Mac."
His fingers convulsively tightened, and he saw Beth wince before he let go. "That's okay, Mac," he answered calmly. "We were just discussing Beth's date tonight."
"Like I said-" Mac muttered.
"You promised we'd have supper," MacGregor reminded her.
"I thought you--never mind." Beth seemed confused, and he was sure he knew why.
"It's not a date. It's a family meal."
"Family?" Beth repeated, her confusion deepening.
"We've adopted each other," Drake explained. "As uncle and niece."
Eyes wide, Beth looked from one to another. She grinned, then laughed. "Well, that's one way to do it!"
She'll make Mac think I'm trying to pull a fast one. "I mean it."
"I believe you," Beth stated. "That's the only way it would work!"
Now I'm confused. "The only way what would work?"
Beth smiled mischievously. "Mac found the man aboard most likely to charm his way into her bed, and made him a family member so he wouldn't!"
Stunned, he was doubly shocked when Mac blurted, "Oh, he's not the one most like-" She closed her mouth determinedly and lowered her red face to stare at the floor. Someone has caught her attention. Not Bugalu. And not me. I wonder who? Someone she met that first day, between arrival and getting her physical.
"I need to go." Beth eyed the redhead curiously. "Are we on for tomorrow?"
Mac's head snapped up, her face radiating sheer joy. "Yes! I just got the news!"
"Good! We'll have a great time! See you then."
After Beth left, Mac started into the mess hall. "Come on, I am so hungry!"
Once they had their food, Drake steered her to a corner table, partially hidden by a potted plant and trellis. He started to pull out the chair next to his, but she sat down across the table. Let it slide. Don't push. "Why so late?" he asked as he sugared his coffee. "I was beginning to think you'd changed your mind."
"I keep my promises," she stated softly.
"Then where were you?"
"I got lost." He looked up sharply, and her cheeks colored. "Not physically," she stated, and tapped her temple with a finger. "Up here."
That's even worse. "What happened?"
"I got on the lift, and started thinking about ... things. I didn't pay attention to anything, until-" She sighed and shook her head. "Until Ryan suggested I go to his place. Then I came to meet you."
Not too bad, maybe. We all get lost in our thoughts from time to time. He glanced at the electronic clipboard next to her tray. "Must have been interesting, whatever you were thinking about."
One slim finger touched the clipboard, as if to reassure herself it was still there. "Shore leave and ... things." She blushed and became fascinated by her meatloaf.
"Okay, here's where I become the nosey uncle and ask what's on the clipboard."
She looked up, confused by his curiosity. "My shore leave authorization."
Why in the world--? "Has it been signed?"
"Then it's in the computer. You don't need the clipboard."
"So one would think," she agreed softly, but her finger rubbed the plastic edge again.
All those shore leave authorizations that were ignored. "At least put it on a chair. Before you get gravy on it and ... short it out, or something." She hesitated, then moved the clipboard to the chair. "Speaking of shore leave, I gather you're getting together with Beth tomorrow."
She nodded. "And Abdulla and YD. To get me new clothes."
"Shopping is heaven for a lot of women," he stated. "I'm sure you'll enjoy it."
She thought about that. "Well, it'll be different. Educational, I guess."
Educational! Shopping? Set that aside. "What else have you got planned?"
Her fork dropped to her plate. A glance revealed that her face had gone white; her eyes were bleak, and tears were ready to flow. "Nothing!"
I suppose she'd planned to be with Bugalu, but after their fight, those plans are moot. Give her a chance to stay calm. "No time to plan," he stated understandingly. "So, play it by ear. One of my favorite things to do on leave - and I don't get to do it often - is fishing." He chewed a bite of chicken thoughtfully. "Maybe I'll do it this shore leave."
She looked confused. "I thought this shore leave was on a space station."
"Yes," he agreed. "B27. It's big enough to have a park, which has a lake. Well, I read the specs; it's barely a pond, but it's called a lake. And they allow fishing. They even rent the equipment." He took a bite of green beans. How do I ask her without sounding like-?
"My brothers went on fishing trips," she stated. "They always came home drunk as skunks. And smelling like skunks, too."
That's not the kind of outing I want her to picture. "I usually just make it an afternoon," he stated. "I take a picnic basket, and enjoy the inactivity."
"Sounds boring," she muttered.
"Maybe, if I went by myself," he allowed. "But I usually choose a companion so that we can have an interesting conversation." Okay, I've skirted around the question long enough. "Anything in particular you want in the picnic basket?"
She put her fork down, sat back and smiled. "I wondered if you were working up the courage to ask me to be that companion."
"It's not a date."
"No, we've established that, haven't we?" She leaned forward and fondled the handle of her tea mug.
Her fingers aren't entirely steady. She's not as comfortable with this idea as she's trying to pretend.
"When were you thinking of this ... outing? Because I know I said I didn't, but actually, I do have plans for the last day-"
The captain said she'd get the full three days of leave. "I'm on duty the last day. And you're shopping the first day, so it sounds like it needs to be the 2nd day. What do you think, 1300?"
"My brothers always left about 3 AM."
"Different kind of fishing," he returned. "Shall we meet at the park, or-?"
She stared at her plate for a time while a variety of emotions roamed across her face, including bleak hopelessness and distrust. Then she lifted her head and stared at him. Blast, what's taking her so long? Have I overplayed the innocent aspect of this outing? Or underplayed it?
"I like corned beef sandwiches," she stated, picking up her fork. "But no mustard. Cheese, bread, crackers. Oh, I don't know what's eaten at these types of things. You decide that. As for where to meet, ... I'll find you."
Success! "I usually include a bottle of white wine, but if you prefer red-"
"Wine?" She shuddered. "I'll bring my own drink."
Maybe she doesn't drink alcohol. Unusual, but laudable. "Okay, it's a date." I did not just say that!
She laughed. "No, it's not. But I'll be there."
"Good." He took another couple bites before he told her, "Mac, if you need anything on shore leave - a sympathetic ear or ... anything - I'll be at the Gold Star Hotel."
She set her cup down with a clunk, and threw her napkin atop her not-quite-completed meal. "Okay, you're not the only one who needs to get used to you being my uncle, because that just sounded like you invited me to your hotel!"
"I didn't mean--"
"Let's blame it on my nerves." She licked her lips and stood. "Because truth to tell, they're pretty shot right now. So, okay. I'll be there for fishing. I'll bring my own beverage. And ... and I'll keep your location in mind. Just in case."
"That's all I meant." As she reached for her tray, he asked, "Studying tonight?"
She hesitated. "Not exactly. Why?"
"I think you should take the evening off."
She frowned. "I've got something to do. Before shore leave. My nerves aren't that shot."
He sighed. "Okay. I guess I'm not that bossy." Yet.