Shore Leave Day 3 (cont)
Tired of drumming his fingers on his thigh, Bugalu got up to stare at the exotic fish in the restaurant's wall-sized aquarium. Where is she? Why did she postpone? This is where she said to meet in her cryptic message.
He checked the time. I'm early, but not much. She needs a new outfit? She just went shopping the other day. This is supposed to be our day, but she hasn't arrived yet. It's almost noon. Where is she?
A movement of color that wasn't inside the tank caught his attention, and he focused on the glass. Now, that is a redhead! He turned to face the woman who had just entered the restaurant. Her yellow pantsuit set off her coloring to perfection. Coppery curls were gathered on the left side of her head, balanced by white flower behind the right ear. The sway of her hips produced a hypnotizing bounce in her bosom. When she neared, he saw a white complexion, green eyes, and lusciously moist lips. She walked up to him, used a painted nail to close his mouth, and waited. Just before his lips touched hers, she asked, "Am I late?"
The kiss was addictive and whiskey flavored. It's exciting, full of promise. If I weren't waiting for Mac-- Wait-- He pulled away so quickly, his back hit the fish tank. "Mac!"
She carefully wiped the edges of her mouth to tidy any smearing of her lipstick. "That answers the real question I wanted to ask."
"It is you!" He kept his eyes on her face. Even that's dangerous; she is gorgeous! "What's going on?"
"Blame it on last night's movie. You know, a plain girl becomes a ravishing beauty and thereby gets the boy she's been pining for. I thought I'd try it."
If she wants me, I'm in deep trouble. If not, I'm jealous. "What boy?"
She blushed so deeply, he could see the pale powder on her face. "Oh, who says there is one? It was just an experiment. Just to see if-"
"You were not plain to begin with," he told her.
She smiled. "Thank you. But I wasn't fishing for compliments."
Like space you weren't. A woman does a makeover because she's uncertain she can attract a man. Mac's never wanted to, until now. Smythe? Or someone else? Is she so frustrated already, she'd settle for someone else? Maybe anyone else? We aren't planning to leave this club for some time, so there's no chance for her to impress him. And I can't see her wearing that outfit - looking that good - on board. I hope. There'd be no stopping the men if she did. Some of them are already determined.
Hard to think of her as a sister when she looks like this. If she gave me any encouragement at all-- I don't know whether to run away and hide or throw myself down and surrender.
Green eyes looked at him between darkened lashes, and then looked down again. "Do you know what you want?"
"I can't decide between ham quiche or a cheeseburger with mushrooms."
He realized that they had been seated while he was thinking, and her green eyes were studying the menu, while his menu sat unopened. Mac doesn't need me as another would-be lover. We had that opportunity. It wasn't right then, why would it be right now? She needs a brother. "It isn't likely to be real meat," he stated, opening his menu.
"At the prices they're charging, it had better be real meat," she breathed.
Wow! "We could go somewhere else," he suggested.
She considered the suggestion, sent another green glance his way. "I can handle Dutch treat, if you can."
"The entire day?"
"Well, I haven't used my credit card yet," she stated.
"After all the stuff you bought?"
She handed him her bank and credit cards. The balance on the bank card was low, but not empty; the credit card's available balance was untouched. "Wow." He handed them back and grinned. "Why not?"
"Good. What do you want?" His grin grew; she rolled her eyes. "What'd I say?"
He carefully worded his answer. "Any sane man's gut reaction is that he'd like some of you." She frowned. "Be careful how you say things, Mac." He motioned to the waiter so they could place their order. Afterwards, Bugalu asked his companion, "How was fishing?"
"The fishing part was boring," she answered. "But being with Mac was... good. Fun. He isn't surprised by much, so I don't have to watch every word. He did ask some silly questions. Like, wanting to know every person I met when I came aboard, from stepping out of the pod until my medical."
"Beats me. Said he was trying to solve a mystery. But I'm not sure. Fact is, things had gotten... intense. Suddenly, Pa was back in full force, and I couldn't continue the previous conversation, even though I had started it, so I asked to change the subject. That mystery was what he came up with."
She turned red, averted her eyes. "I kissed him."
Doc yesterday, me today. What has gotten into her? "Shame on Pa," he whispered.
She looked confused. "You didn't object to a kiss."
"That's different. I was in shock." No, she's got the wrong idea. "I'm not objecting, I'm confused. Where's Pa? Didn't think he'd let you kiss anyone."
She opened her mouth, stopped. Her eyes went cloudy as she thought about it. "I- I don't think he's as strong as he used to be."
"You're kidding!" he exclaimed.
"I thought you'd be happy," she stated in confusion.
"I am," he assured her. "More than happy. I'm ecstatic. I want to know what's happened so that we can duplicate it. So- how long as he been weakening?"
"Since I came to the Fireball, I guess."
"That recent? I'm disappointed. I'd always hoped some of what I said at the Academy might have taken root."
"I think some did," she allowed thoughtfully. "But once you two graduated, there was no... buffer between me and the world, and Pa round up firmly in control."
"Blast! After all that work to find guys you could date."
"I tried," she answered. "Pete took me to the movies first week of junior year. But he was under the impression he was supposed to keep an eye on me until I graduated, when you and I would get married." He stared at her in shock. "I don't know where he got the idea. Didn't realize he had it until we got back to the dorm, when he said something outright." She frowned at the memory, sighed. "I should have confirmed it."
"What happened?" I'm pretty sure I know.
"Try to understand, Bugs. I'd just gotten back from Gaelund when Pete suggested a movie. I managed to agree - knew it would please you and Matt - but Internal Pa had me so nervous... When Pete commented about you and I being lovers, Pa hotly denied it. And then Pete tried to kiss me."
"Oh, no!" He groaned.
"I didn't deck him," she stated. "I shoved him away, and I - or Pa - threatened to deck him, if he ever tried again." She sighed and sat back. "That was my only date."
"And Pa's been in control ever since," he concluded.
She frowned. "Pa got even stronger, after Sloan."
"Sloan?" he repeated. "I don't remember a Cadet Sloan. Was he in--"
"She wasn't your type," Mac told him. Bugalu looked up sharply. "But for a while, she thought I was her type. Between Sloan and Baker, I felt like an overloaded phazer, ready to explode."
He sighed in frustration. "So you couldn't even trust women not to be a Baker." How lonely she must have been, those last two years.
"Most women are fine," she returned. "Even the ones who like women - like Sloan - are hardly ever Bakers. If you say you aren't interested, they generally accept it." She gave him a wry smile. "My life would be a lot easier if men were like that."
"Every man wants to think he's irresistible," he told her.
"And then there's the men who are," she muttered in return.
"Like Dr MacGregor?" he asked. Green eyes turned his way, and he added, "You kissed him. You went to his hotel room drunk and let yourself pass out."
Her eyes flashed. "You make it sound-"
"I'm trying to figure out how weak Pa is. When you mentioned irresistible men-"
"Isn't that how women see you?" she asked.
"Oh." He thought about that. "Doc could date as much as I do, if he wanted. He's considered a hot date." And she adopted him, both of us. That's an interesting coincidence. To make us behave around her? Or because adoption opened the possibility of touching - and kissing - that's otherwise forbidden? He leaned toward her. "Aren't you like other women, Mac? Don't you find us irresistible?"
Well, if I expected an immediate denial, I didn't get it.
Green eyes studied him as one hand fiddled with the other. "I'm not like other women," she finally said.
But she didn't say- "Do you find us irresistible?"
Her gaze fell to her hands. "I'm not sure what that means."
He pondered what that statement might mean. I'd forgotten how hard it is, sometimes, to have a conversation with her. "It means when you don't want to do something, and we ask you to, you have a hard time saying no. It means you want to spend as much time with us as you possibly can." Too tame an explanation, but if I don't keep it simple and safe, Pa might shut down the whole conversation.
"You've talked me into lots of things. Mac took me fishing. If that makes you irresistible-"
"Not exactly," he broke in, and re-evaluated. Pa shuts down any sexual conversation, which makes it hard to talk to her about sex. She doesn't recognize the euphemisms. It's like he's walled off her sex drive. Well... she has been asking-- "Where was Pa when you kissed Doc?"
"Screaming in the background."
"And when you kissed me?"
"You kissed me," she corrected.
"You didn't stop me, so let's not get hung up on semantics. Where was Pa?"
Her lips pressed together, her brow furrowed. "Further back in the background, screaming."
He refused to ponder those answers. He sat back and quietly asked, "Are we sharing a room tonight?"
"We always share a room on leave."
When there were three of us, we did. "Are we sharing a bed?" She jerked, as if he'd hit her. Pa's back.
"We've never done that," she stated.
No, we haven't. Would have been awkward, with Matt there. And dangerous, both of them determined to protect her virginity. Still, that was a mild reaction for the question. Pa's very weak. Come to think of it, that wasn't an answer. "Want to?"
She seemed frozen, suddenly pale. No explosion. I could almost believe Pa dead. She hasn't answered yet. Blast, she can't be considering it! Sure looks like she is! What in space do I do if she accepts?
"I'll be drinking," she stated softly. "You're on duty tomorrow, so you need sleep."
His inner sigh of relief was accompanied by a perverse wave of disappointment. "So I'm not irresistible," he stated. "And the Doc? Would you share a bed with him?"
She squirmed and slithered around the question. "He hasn't asked."
"If you keep kissing him, he might not think it's necessary to ask."
The corner of her mouth lifted, and a glint appeared in her eyes. "That's kind of what he said," she stated.
He grunted. "Gave you warning, did he? Good."
"He's going to teach me about the birds and bees." The waiter lost his grip on her plate, and it clattered to the table, but didn't spill. She blushed and waited impatiently for him to leave.
"I thought Matt had that talk with you long ago."
"He did," she answered, fussing with her silverware. "Well, he tried. Pa got in the way. Matt got tongue-tied. I couldn't listen. It didn't make sense."
"How did the subject come up with Doc?"
"We were discussing-" She stopped as the waiter renewed their drinks. Once he left, she started again. "We were discussing that Gaelund girls start having babies young, then I kissed him and asked if that would be enough to- to get me-"
"You can't even say it," he pointed out. "Why do you want to get pregnant?" She looked shocked, her face white, and for a moment, he thought she would bolt from the table. There's pa! But instead, she took a deep breath, swallowed, and stared at her food. She didn't give in to his dictates. Wow!
"I never said- Why would you think- Really, Bugs!"
"You brought it up," he stated. "You seemed to be trying to figure out how to get..." Watch it! If Pa is back- "...that way."
She shook her head gently, and savored a bite of quiche. "Bugsy, it's finally occurred to me that by not knowing how- I have no idea how to keep from doing it."
"Except Pa's method," he pointed out, and immediately felt like kicking himself. Wait. She frowned when I said that!
"Yes, there's Pa's method," she agreed softly. "But I'm tired of being an idiot on the subject. I'm tired of being suspicious of every word any man says. I feel like I'm missing out."
"Missing out on what?" he asked gently.
Her face turned red, modified only slightly by make-up. Her mouth opened a couple times, but no sounds came out. She put her fork down, drank half her Collins, then closed her eyes, as if shutting out the world.
Pa's finally shut off this conversation, but who would have thought he'd do it without exploding? Or even let it get started?
"Sex," she muttered.
"What?" he blurted in shock. It's still going!
She drank again, her face still red, and resumed eating. "Baker said I'd like it. All the Bakers say that. It can't be too bad, or why would everyone always want it?"
The waiter approached, and Bugalu ordered more drinks, since hers was nearly empty. With the waiter out of the way, he took another bite of his lunch before he responded. "Instinct."
I really need to think before I speak. "Instinct keeps the idea on my mind. But I also have a mind, which controls my body. So, what that means-" Why is she looking so stunned?
"It does?" she asked.
He blinked in confusion. "Um, I'm lost," he told her. "Expand the question, please."
"You said your mind controls your body. But men have no control. Around a woman."
Baker must have told her that. Or Pa. Who said it doesn't matter. "That's a lie. On Earth, a lot of cultures throughout history dictated that women be covered from head to toe, with the idea that men could not control themselves. As cultures and fashions changed, most men showed themselves perfectly capable of controlling that urge, but those who didn't want to would use that ancient argument. Because if they can't control themselves, they can't be blamed. It's been used for ages as a defense for rape. Just means he's too self-centered to care."
"That's... interesting," she stated softly.
He grimaced. "Okay, to be honest, once a man reaches a certain stage, it's almost impossible to stop. But if he has to, he can. He won't be happy, but he can. An intelligent woman won't take him that far and then change her mind."
"How could she? Wouldn't she also have trouble stopping?"
"Women aren't the same as men," he stated.
"How are we different?" she asked, leaning forward. Her gold and mahogany necklace pulled his attention to her cleavage, where he let it tarry for a moment before pulling it back to his meal. "Besides the obvious ways, I mean," she smirked.
"I'm not sure," he stated slowly. "Women generally seem to have more control."
She would think of Della. "Della chooses not to have any control. That's because nature made sex blasted enjoyable."
She took a slow drink as she considered that. "How much enjoyable?"
He paused, chewing the last of his meal as he thought. She finished her meal and pushed her plate away, sipped her Collins. Green eyes watched him as he ruminated. " I- don't know how to answer that," he finally said.
"Because I can't imagine how to explain it," he answered. The waiter began to clear the dirty dishes. "You want desert?" Bugalu asked.
"I ate my meal," she stated patiently. "It's time to get to what we're here for."
"No deserts," he told the waiter. "Keep the drinks coming. I'll stick with Tom Collins, and she'll have a bottle of whiskey. Irish whiskey."
"A bottle?" the waiter asked.
"Bring a glass, if you insist. But no ice. It just waters the drink down."
"I see," he stated, and left.
Bugalu took out two decks of cards and handed one to her.
"I've not known you to be... unimaginative," she said, shuffling her deck.
He also shuffled. "I can't describe the emotions, tension, abject pleasure and ecstasy. It can't be described, it must be experienced."
She sighed deeply. "Well, that leaves me out, doesn't it?"
Does it? They began setting their cards out in a double game of solitaire. "Do you realize we've been here over an hour, talking about sex?"
"Has it been that long?" she asked, fussing with the bandage on her hand. She set her cards down to examine her right hand. "Does that look swollen to you?"
That's the end of that conversation. He considered the hand she offered for inspection and set his own cards down. "Yes. What do you want it set for?"
"Mac said to set it to cold," she stated. As he set to work with the tiny controls, her emerald gaze watched him. "Is that important? How long we've been talking? We've had long conversations before."
"Not about sex."
"No, that's true."
"Pa always shut down the conversation before," he stated. "You said Pa wasn't as strong, but this is astounding. All this progress in the week you've been on the Fireball?"
She finished her Collins as the new drinks arrived. "Maybe. I'm not sure."
"What are you not sure about?"
"Let me think," she requested, and they played cards in silence. Eventually, she poured herself a stiff dose of whiskey and downed it quickly. "Okay, Pa's weakest when I'm tired, drunk, and with-" She threw a glance his way and blushed. "-certain people. He's strongest when I've just woke up and sober. Especially if I'm with a Baker."
"Certain people," he repeated. "I assume that includes me and Doc."
"Looks like it." She grinned at him, then considered her cards.
"And your mountain?" he asked softly. "Is he a 'certain people' also?"
She froze, her gaze glued to the cards, her face flushing. For a long time, it didn't look like she would respond. Remembering what she had said, he poured her another drink, waited patiently. Eventually, she gulped down the booze and set the glass down solidly. "I think he is the most certain of certain people," she stated, her voice gruff.
Pa has lost a lot of control! "Okay. Can you explain-"
"Bugshee," she interrupted. "I am drunker than I should be," she stated carefully. "I have to show down. Could we... change the shubject?"
If Pa can't stop it one way, he'll do it another. "What do you want to talk about?"
She smiled. "I knew you could count on me."
"Yes." He signaled the waiter. "Bring her some sour," he instructed.
"An Irish sour?"
"Just the sour," Bugalu reiterated, and the waiter turned away.
"What should we talk about? I know. Why don't we talk about the people I met my firsh day aboard?"
"I thought you did that with Doc."
"Don't know what he wanted. I want to know which onesh I can't trush."
"Pa's back in full force, is he?"
She gave a slow blink. "I don't think sho. It'sh jush... if I can't trush 'em, how can we be friendsh?"
"Friends," he repeated, and grinned. "Good idea."