A Friend in Need
Month 1, Day 10
"Hey, Bear, what do you know about the new redhead?"
The AmerInd glanced back at Evans and Adams, behind him in the lunch line. "Redhead? You mean Mac? Short, strong, smart, stunning. And very close to Bugalu."
"Every woman aboard is close to Bugalu," Adams muttered.
"You forgot 'sizzling'," Evans added, and turned his attention to his friend. "Mike. I saw her at a corner table, alone. We can join her."
I don't think she'd like that. Tall Bear picked up his lunch tray and walked off.
She wasn't hard to find. Red uniforms were common, but her vivid hair stood out. She sat hunched, frowning at her sandwich and fries and growling at anybody who looked like they might sit down. Tall Bear put his tray down. "No," she told him.
He pushed the table into the corner, so there wasn't room to sit in two chairs. He sat down in the remaining chair, and she scooted to the table with a black scowl. "I don't remember asking anything," he stated blandly.
"No, I won't go out with you!" She glared at him.
"Oh. Okay." He cut his meatloaf. She sure is prickly today. He shook his head and mumbled, "Thought I'd remember asking something as important as that."
"Therefore," she hissed, "there's no reason for you to sit-"
"Come on, Bear, pull the table out so we can sit down," Adams whined.
"No," he answered. "I'm doing Bugalu a favor. Go away."
"Doing yourself a favor," Evans growled. "I won't forget this, Bear. Come on, Mike."
"Hot does not begin to describe her," Adams said as they moved away. "And you're with her all shift, while I'm stuck in engineering."
After the two men moved off, Mac sat back in her chair as some of the tension left her body. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," he returned without turning his attention from his meal.
"Did Bugsy really ask you to do this?"
"I think he forgot," he stated. "He probably would have, if he'd thought of it." He glanced at her briefly. "Having a rough first day?"
"Definitely." She frowned. "Problem is, I can't imagine them getting better."
"You'll settle in," he predicted.
"But they won't stop asking." As his look of confusion, she added, "For a date."
"It's because you're new."
"Maybe. Or maybe it's because I'm the only female on midnight bridge." He went over the list of bridge personnel in his mind. She's right. She went on. "At least tonight I can tune it out by asking Chun a question."
"Chun? He's relief communications. What's he doing there?"
"Looks like 3 days of shore leave came with a price. We're both working tonight so that Chun can make sure I know my stuff."
"Chun? I haven't heard that he's a great expert."
"He knows what he's doing, but you wouldn't know it from talking to him." She smiled uncertainly. "When I can't take Evans' pestering any longer, I ask Chun a question. He takes forever to answer, but I've stopped listening. He nearly put me to sleep."
"That's the kind of thing I've heard. That he's tolerable as relief, but nobody wants him permanently on their shift."
"I believe it." She sighed. "Don't know how I'll handle it in the future, when he won't be there to drown Evans out."
"Is Evans the only one?"
"The most persistent. Six times he asked, in only four hours. Bringing the grand total for the first half-day to eleven." No wonder she's prickly. Frowning, she selected a fry for her next bite. "I don't like being the only woman on the bridge. I'm already looking forward to days off, when Evans won't be breathing down my neck."
"Relief helmsman is a woman," Tall Bear stated. "And since Helm and Communications aren't on the same relief schedule, there's another two nights out of eight when you won't have him around."
"Only four nights out of eight that I have to put up with him!" She smiled at the thought. "That's the best news I've had all day."
Poor kid. Kid? When did I start thinking of her as a kid? He moved to another subject. "About this evening-"
"I told you, no dates!" she declared.
"Will you be working out?" he asked. "Will you need a spotter? And if so, do you remember whose turn it is? Ferguson will say it's his."
"Oh." She seemed flustered by such an innocuous questions. "I should work out. Evening? Not today?"
He shook his head. "Ferguson's days, so we each sleep while the other works, in order to work out together. I just assumed you'd sleep days, too." Didn't she think this out? "If you don't sleep days, the only time you'd see Bugalu would be days off." And that realization hit her right between the eyes.
But she accepted it without a second thought. "Okay. I've had worse schedules. Yes, I'll work out this evening. And it is Ferg's turn."
"Okay. I'll spot for Yellow Dog."
Mac glanced at the clock, and toyed with her last few fries. "What time do you leave your quarters to go to work?" she asked.
"Depends," he answered. "Getting kind of personal, aren't you, Mac?"
She flushed, kept her voice low. "Just before shore leave, Bugsy borrowed whiskey from you."
"That was Bugalu? I found the IOU, but it wasn't signed. Wondered if I should make it a security issue." His attempted joke fell flat. "Did you change subjects, or these questions related, somehow?"
"He borrowed it for me," she answered. "I promised him I would pay you back."
This is getting interesting. "Go on."
"Once I unpack from shore leave this evening, I'll have your bottle for you." Her eyes flicked at him nervously. "I'd rather not have everybody know I'm giving you whiskey."
"You are aware of the rumors," he stated in surprise.
"I'm not stupid," she returned. "I am always the subject of rumors, and anybody I talk to is- Just the fact that you and Ferg spot for me has linked us in people's minds. Us eating together will confirm it for a lot of people."
"So... you want to come to my place?" he teased.
Her eyes sparked angrily. "I want to fulfill my obligation without more rumors!"
Too soon. Not ready for the flirtatious tease. "Okay. I'll be in my room tonight between 2300 and 2330. How does that sound?"
Another glance at the clock had her gathering her items together. She blushed. "Will you be dressed?"
Doesn't stop her from walking in on Bugalu, from what I've seen. "I will be fully dressed, and I promise to behave. Won't even ask you in. If it's that big a deal for you, why not have Bugalu give it to me?"
"Because it's my debt, and I clean up my own messes," she answered, preparing to stand. "Good bye, Tall."
"Shall we do this again tomorrow?" he asked.
She froze. "I don't date."
"We both have to eat."
"True." She glanced at Evans and Adams. "Better you than him."
Yes! Progress! "See ya, Shorty."