Shoulder For Lending
Month 1, Day 30
Dr Drake MacGregor
MacGreg smiled at his opponent over the old-fashioned game table. "I said I used to be pretty good at this, Anna. 'Fraid I've gotten rusty over the years."
“There isn’t any ping pong table in the kitchen,” she returned. “So come on. Let’s see which of us is rustier.”
“I’ll play the winner,” offered Lt Cmdr Padilla, tossing her long dark hair behind her as she refreshed her drink.
Drake grinned at the two women. “In that case, the only way I can lose is by...” he paused to think about it, “...well, by losing.”
Lt Cmdr Moor laughed. “If you lose, MacGregor, I’ll buy you a drink.
“As long as it’s not fermented camel milk,” MacGregor grinned. “I’ve never developed the taste.” For a few minutes, he concentrated on the game. Rusty they both certainly were, but as the game progressed, they each warmed up, muscles remembered how it was done, and their paddles began to connect with the ball. Anna was one point ahead when he got ready to serve again.
“Mac?” came tremulous query.
He turned to the redhead. “Hey, Mac! Where-“ Her face is pale, and her eyes are red. “What happened?”
She swallowed, watched him uncertainly. “I flunked.”
“Oh, space,” he swore. She’ll still be studying every night, then.
“I- I-“ She stopped, on the verge of breaking down completely.
He tossed the paddle and ball to the table. “Sorry, Anna. Duty calls.” He turned to face his niece, only to find her turn away. “Mac!”
When she looked back, tears rolled down her cheeks. “I don’t mean to be a duty, Mac. I don’t mean to mess up dates. I just- I need-“
“And I’m here for you,” he answered, stepping forward. “It was just a friendly game, not a date. And I didn’t mean it that way. I just meant you were more important than a game of ping pong. I’d hoped we’d be celebrating tonight, but-“
“Her first test with Smythe?” Moor asked. “Failing is automatic, isn’t it?”
“It’s not supposed to be,” Drake commented, and remembered he had a test scheduled with Nurse Monroe in the morning.
“I should have passed!” The redhead sniffed. “I studied and studied and I knew it! Better even than at the Academy, but then it was gone! It was just... gone!”
Test jitters. She stepped forward, looking like misery personified. With a nod, he wrapped his arms around her as she threw herself at his chest and let the tears flow.
“You lucky stiff,” Moor muttered.
“Shut up, Moor,” Padilla told him.
“Mac, let’s sit over here,” Drake suggested, indicating a short conversation couch in the corner. Once they were settled, he let her cry, keeping one arm wrapped around her shoulders while the other sometimes smoothed her hair. Eventually, it seemed she might be starting to calm down. “It’s okay, Mac,” he whispered. “You were just nervous, that’s all. You’ve still got plenty of time.
“I’m sorry.” Her shaky voice was barely audible. “I thought I had it under control, and suddenly, I needed a hug. Bugs was busy, and I didn’t know if you were ready, but... Then you called me a duty, and... She stopped talking, took a deep breath and relaxed against his chest. “You’re so good to me.”
“Someone needs to be,” he returned quietly.
A shiver went through him as the icy voice traveled down his spine. “Uh, oh.”
“You will explain yourself immediately!”
“Yes, Captain,” he responded, starting to disengage from Mac. I’m in for it now.
Mac jumped to her feet, stood stiffly at attention. “This is my fault, sir!” Drake stared at her, uncertain she knew exactly what she was trying to get to land on her head.
“You were seducing him?” Burke growled.
“Seduc-!” Mac began before her voice gave out. Her face turned beet red.
“Captain, she failed her test,” MacGregor explained. “I was letting her cry it out.”
“Part of your ‘being so good to her.’ Lieutenant, you don’t have to lie for, make excuses for, or otherwise do favors for a man just because he has more rank. We’ll speak tomorrow about what charges to file. Doctor, you’ll-“
“No!” Mac cried out.
Doesn’t the girl know when to let an officer calm down? “Mac-“
“Shut up,” the redhead told him, and stepped forward. “This is wrong! Captain, rank doesn’t impress me. One look at my file should tell you that! And while you’re looking at my file, you’ll see that I did fail my test tonight. Surprisingly, that upset me, and I needed a hu- shoulder to cry on. So I came to Mac-Gregor, because I didn’t want hands all over me! And that’s what I got! Er, didn’t get.” She paused in sudden uncertainty. “Umm, I kind of got lost on that last bit.”
“Feisty, isn’t she?” Burke asked coldly. “You’ve got her completely brainwashed, Drake.”
“He didn’t brainwash me!” Mac declared.
“Can you prove what she says?” Burke demanded of him.
Of course not. But Jane just used my first name, so she’s not quite as mad as she’s acting. Why?
“Would a witness help?” They all turned to see Anna seated at a near-by table with a glass of tea. “It’s just as they said, Captain. Drake and I were playing table tennis when she came in, very upset. She obviously needed a shoulder, and he offered before I could. They sat down in plain sight, and he’s been a perfect gentleman. Almost a father figure, you could say.”
Mac recoiled from the suggestion. “Oh, space no! Not my father!”
“Uncle,” Drake corrected. “She thinks of me as an uncle. Padilla and Moor-“ He looked around, but the four of them were alone in the rec room. “Never mind.”
“Lieutenant, do you have duty tonight?” Burked asked.
“Yes, I-“ Mac glanced at the clock. “Thank you, sir. May I be excused?”
Burke jerked her head toward the door. With the redhead gone, Drake and Jane regarded each other for a time. Finally, “Does she really think of you as an uncle? The idea seems-“
“She does,” he confirmed. “Her psychology is a little skewed, but not enough to turn her over to Ludwig. She needs people she can trust, and as far as men are concerned, that means a relative. So she ‘adopted’ me.”
Jane shook her head in wonder. “Still, Drake, right here in the rec room?”
“Would you prefer I took her to my quarters? First, I’m not sure she would have gone with me, and the suggestion would have put our ‘adoption’ in jeopardy. I also thought someone might see us.”
“Unlike staying right here.”
“Well...” He shrugged, having explained as best he could.
Jane sighed. “Just... keep a witness on hand, if this happens again.” She turned to leave. “Good night, Anna. It’s good to see you out and about. Feel free to join us for a meal sometime.”
“Thank you, Captain. Good night.”
Drake was alone in the rec room with the Head Chef. He started for her table. “Thank you, Anna. If you’d left when the others did-“
“I couldn’t,” she answered, standing up to face him. “I couldn’t leave that girl in the clutches of a Michael, if that’s what you were.” She cleared her throat. “Thankfully, you aren’t. You did that girl a huge favor, and you did it without expecting any reward. You even would have faced the captain’s wrath without dragging the girl into it.”
“Mac’s a friend. According to her father’s dictates, she isn’t allowed to have male friends, so she adopts them as relatives. I hope I never do anything to make her feel... unsafe... around me.”
“A true gentleman, a true friend. Tell me, do you have plans for the rest of the night?” She waited while an uncertain smile spread across his face, then leaned forward to ask, “Your place or mine?” There was no mistaking that age-old question!