Shore Leave Day 2 (cont)
Drake smiled at the comely blond who was window-shopping nearby. She smiled back invitingly. The liquor shop's door opened, and Mac placed a quick peck on his cheek. Looking shocked - and peeved - the blond quickly left the area.
"What was that for?" he asked. She shows up at my place drunk, climbs into my bed, takes off her clothes, and now drops an 'innocent' kiss on me. Am I sure it's an uncle she's looking for?
"Mostly because that blond was flirting with Bugsy yesterday. I wonder if she's an unlicensed paid companion." She started walking, and he fell into place beside her.
"So you marked me as yours?" he asked guardedly. "Make her think I'm taken?"
"Oh, she already does. Just seeing us together. Anyway, if you want another paid companion, you'd better get one with a license."
She's giving me advice on shore leave? "Wait a minute. Why would she think we're together, if you hadn't kissed me?"
"Because people do. Whenever they see me with a man, they assume we're lovers." Her face turned red. "If you have a girl friend, you ought to warn her. The rumors will fly about us. If you need me to tell her what's really going on, just say so."
Anybody else, I would suspect of angling for names. "No one in particular."
She sighed. "Believe me, people will think that. I don't mean for it to happen, but it does. Apparently, if a woman sees you as a sex partner, she can't imagine that I don't. Then she thinks I'm competition, and before you know it, she's angry, and it's a mess. I've already got two women to set straight for Bugsy. If I'd known one was Beth, I could have done it yesterday."
"This way." He veered down the stairwell. "Beth sees you as competition?"
She paused to think. "I'm not sure what Beth thinks," she admitted. "Her date with Bugs didn't go well, because of me, but she was civil yesterday. No, not civil; that implies hidden hostility. Open and friendly. She's very accepting, don't you think?"
"Yes," he agreed. "She wants to be your friend. I doubt she's serious about Bugalu, so that's not a problem. Unless you object to her seeing him?"
"Not me." After a brief hesitation, she asked, "Do you?" He tried to think how to phrase his answer. "Please don't... test our friendship," she requested. "I saw your face when she said she didn't date doctors."
"Observant, aren't you?" He glanced around. Seeing no familiar faces, he went on. "We hadn't dated in years. I hadn't realized how long it had been. I have no right to object to her seeing anyone." They arrived at the 'park' doorway. He stepped up to the information window. "Picnic basket and fishing gear for MacGregor?"
He spent several minutes organizing, until Mac tucked her bottle under her right arm and took the picnic basket with her left, leaving him with two poles, a blanket and a tackle box to carry. As he prepared to protest, she stated, "I'm Gaelund, remember?"
He sighed. "Alright." He pointed left. "The pond's this way." When they reached the lake, he chose a flat piece of bank.
"Are we going to sit on the grass?" she asked, glancing down at her outfit.
Can't blame her. It's a nice pantsuit. Green looks good on her. And those flared pant legs with that iridescent embroidery emphasize her shapely legs. The jacket hides the top half, but that's probably best, since I'm supposed to behave. Anyway, it'd be a shame to get stains on it. "The blanket goes down first," he said, shaking the blanket out. "We go on top of the blanket."
He lay the blanket down. "Look, you were in my hotel room, in my bed. If I was going to try something, wouldn't I have tried it there, rather than here, in public?"
She regarded him thoughtfully. "Yes."
"So. You were testing me. In my room."
"Not consciously," she returned. "I was too far gone to do much of anything consciously. I was looking for... safety, with Bugsy unavailable, and you passed."
"When?" He sat on the blanket, and indicated the other half was hers.
"When I showed up and you sat down to talk, rather than try to... get me into bed." She set the basket down, but seemed uncertain about sitting down.
"I did get you into bed." It was out before he could stop it.
"I got into bed," she corrected. "Alone. To sleep. And you left me alone. Plus, you got me up on time." She put her bottle next to the basket and half-fell to the blanket, grimacing as she caught herself with her bandaged right hand. "Ouch."
"Feel like telling me how you did that?" he asked.
He sighed. "It's not broken, but it is badly bruised. If not how, then when did it happen?"
"And you were too drunk to see a doctor right away?"
"Too angry. Too embarrassed."
"Well, keep that bandage set to cold today. Tomorrow, 20 minutes of warmth every hour. If it starts swelling, go back to cold."
"Yes, doctor." She picked up her bottle, took a large swig.
Drake frowned. "You haven't slept off the last batch of alcohol."
"Yes," she agreed. "That delightful stage where I'm relaxed, without being uncoordinated or stupid. If I'm careful, I can stay at this stage. At least until tomorrow."
"What happens tomorrow?"
She grinned. "I spend the day with Bugs."
Meaning I shouldn't worry. He got the fishing lines ready, dangled them into the water, then propped the poles up. "There. Now we're fishing."
"I always thought there would be more to it," she stated.
"Depends how hard you want to work," he returned. "All I really want today is to learn about you. Tell me your life story." He lay down and got comfortable.
She seemed confused. "What do you want to know?"
"Everything." Whatever she's willing to tell me.
She frowned. "Well, I'm the last of nine children, the only daughter."
"Eight older brothers? That must have been awful."
"Not too bad," she answered. "None of the local bullies pestered me. Then I hit ten."
"What do you mean?"
"Pa realized I was a girl. Suddenly, I had to have an escort everywhere. Everywhere. My brothers could swap off, but it got real old, real fast for me. I still have trouble believing I've escaped."
"Escaped? From your family?"
"Sounds weird, doesn't it? It wasn't easy, but I was determined. Figured escaping from one brother would be easier than trying to escape from seven, so I enlisted."
"If your father didn't want you to, how did you manage that?"
"Matt was home from the Academy. I convinced him he needed to double-check his orders, that they didn't make sense. Tagged along with him. While he tried to explain to one enlistment officer what didn't make sense on his papers, I quietly told another guy that I wanted to enlist. Pa had a fit, but in the eyes of the Fleet, I was old enough to legally sign the papers, so there was little he could do." She gave a heavy sigh.
Little, but not nothing, from the sounds of it. "What did he manage to do?"
"Change my field," she stated sourly. "He thought I should be laundry or food prep. I only managed communications by saying it was only connecting one channel to another, that no repairs or anything technical was involved. Luckily, the enlistment officers played along, because laundry and cooking would have been a waste. I was surprised Matt kept his mouth shut, but he did."
"Why nothing technical?"
"Gaelunders think women can't fix things. They cook, they clean, they make babies. Well, except Pa didn't want me making babies, either."
"That is a... Neanderthal way of thinking," Drake muttered.
"I never claimed Pa was a modern man."
"So, his reason for keeping you under such strict escort was..."
"To keep me from having babies."
"No boy friends, then. But... from the age of ten?"
"Gaelund is still growing. It's not unusual for girls to start young."
She shrugged. "I guess he didn't want to wait, then find he'd waited too long."
How would I feel, if I started a 'birds and bees' talk with my daughter, only to find she was already pregnant? "Well, I can't fault him for wanting to protect you. That's what fathers do. But once you enlisted, your field was your decision. What field did you want, anyway?"
She shrugged and reclined onto an elbow. "I'm in communications. Too late for anything else."
Pragmatism? Fatalism? Depression? There's got to be a more cheerful subject we can move to. "You hungry? Corned beef sandwiches, like you wanted."
"Yes. Sounds good." As he rummaged through the basket, she sat up and toyed with the closure of her jacket. "Mac?"
"It's, um, warmer than I thought it would be, and, uh--"
He looked up, saw her snatch her hand away from her jacket. Afraid to take her jacket off. Whatever's underneath must be revealing. He returned to the basket. "You were naked in my bed, and I left you alone," he reminded her. "White bread or rye?"
He selected sandwiches, crackers and cheese from the basket. He almost dropped the cheese when he raised his head. That's not revealing. It clings, but it has everything hidden. But the color is a perfect match for her skin, so it looks like she's wearing nothing. "Why did you get naked, anyway? You weren't naked when you got in."
She blushed, took the sandwich he offered. "Not completely naked," she whispered. "But if I wear clothes to bed, they get twisted up and uncomfortable. So while you showered, I took them off."
"I see." Peeling down to her underwear is practically naked. Has she always slept that way? "How's your sandwich?"
She grimaced. "It's got mustard on it."
"Sorry. I must have forgot."
"Or the food prep people did. It's so common, I've gotten used to it. I just prefer a lack of mustard." They ate for a few minutes in comfortable silence, then she took another drink of her whiskey and lay down, using her folded jacket as a pillow. "If this is all there is to fishing, I might fall asleep."
Not a bad idea. "If that's what you want to do, I won't stop you."
"It's not what I want to do."
"What do you want to do? I won't keep you from something more interesting..."
She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Her face turned red. Green eyes studied him, her color slowly drained, and then she turned red again. "I... I want... Space!" She slapped her hand against the ground, then groaned in pain.
"Stop aggravating that hand!" he told her sharply.
"Yes." She grimaced. "I forgot."
"You can talk to me about anything," he told her, making a show of checking the fishing lines. "I'm a doctor. There's nothing that will shock me."
"Bugsy says I've been brainwashed. Maybe he's right. There's some subjects I can't broach, certain questions I can't ask. Even slightly drunk."
"Whenever you're ready, I'll be here," he told her.
She sighed, tried to speak, blurted out, "Tell me what it's like. Being married."
That surprised him. "I'm not sure I'm the person to explain that."
"Why not?" she asked. "You're married."
"Not any more. Not for years." He considered the surprise on her face. "Wait a minute. If you thought I was married, why did you ask about girl friends?"
"Being married doesn't keep a man from having girl friends," she stated blandly.
"Depends on the man," he responded. "I didn't cheat on my wife. Even so, the marriage didn't last."
"Tell me about it," she asked.
"Why so curious?"
"You wanted to know my life story."
"Fair enough. "I met Pamela during my residency. We got married. Had to cut the honeymoon short, because I suddenly got orders for duty. I reminded headquarters that being married, we were a package deal. They said they didn't currently have an opening for her, but she would get the very next opening. I felt like I couldn't lose. I went."
"But she never joined you?"
"No, she--" He paused. I thought I was over this. "I'd gotten her pregnant," he stated. "A military ship is no place for children."
"That's an interesting thing to say," she observed.
"A warship isn't for children," he repeated. "I agree with Fleet about that."
"Not that," she dismissed. "That you got her pregnant."
He looked at her sharply. "Pictures of Suzette make it obvious she's my daughter. She was born 9 months after the honeymoon."
"No, I didn't mean that, either," she said hurriedly. "Back home, it would have been, 'she got pregnant'. As if the man had nothing to do with it."
Does that surprise me, after what she's said about Gaelund?
She worked hard to say something else. Her face absolutely red, she stated, "For a long time, I didn't think men did have anything to do with it."
He stared at her for a moment. "We need to have a talk about birds and bees," he stated softly. At her age. What kind of father expects to protect his daughter without telling her what to avoid?
Mac shook her head. "He told me not to let men touch me. That was enough instruction, in his mind."
I asked that out loud? I have to be more careful. "What would happen if a man did touch you?"
She choked, finally ground out, "I'd get pregnant." She turned away.
"It takes more than a touch. Space, I know Bugalu has touched you! And I kept you from falling down this morning. You didn't seem worried." He frowned. "Of course, I made a big deal about your birth control shot when you came aboard, didn't I? I suppose that complicates your thoughts--"
She whirled to face him and placed her hands on his shoulders. "Mac! You're confusing me!" He obediently shut up, and she went on. "Touching is allowed between family members. Pa never said that, never explained it. My brothers were allowed to touch me, so I figured it was okay."
"And Bugalu and I are adopted."
"Right. The shots don't enter the picture, because Pa's views were well entrenched long before the Fleet started giving me birth control shots."
If he started when she was ten, and she didn't escape until she was 18, then I imagine the brainwashing was pretty thorough. He watched her take another drink, considered protesting so much alcohol again. This time, she didn't put the bottle down, but slipped that hand over his shoulder and pressed her lips against his. What--? Well, it's her idea, and she hasn't hit me yet. Go with the flow, Drake. He pulled her closer, made it a real kiss.
A kiss she soon ended. She breathlessly asked, "Without the shots, would that have gotten me-- gotten me--?"
She can't say it, not about herself. "Not by itself. But keep it up, and we could try for it."
She scooted to the far edge of the blanket. "I can't override Papa long."
"I see." He turned for the basket, pulled out the wine and a glass. "It'd be easiest if you were naked. Me, too. It's not something we'd--"
"Mac!" she gurgled, her throat so tight she had difficulty getting one syllable out.
He poured himself a stiff dose of alcohol. "What?"
"Change the subject! Please!"
"Need to go through it in bits and pieces, huh?" That could get more confusing than enlightening. He raised the glass, intending to drain it, but watched her take another swig of whiskey. Both of us drunk is not a good idea. He sipped his wine. Besides, it's sweeter than I hoped. "I've been trying to figure something out. About your arrival on the Fireball. Tell me everybody you met, that first day."
She looked confused but thankful, as her mind returned to the week before.