Caught in the Act
Month 4, Day 11
Della left Engineering with her mind working overtime. What is with Mr Smythe these days? It’s like he’s deep in thought most of the time. Not that I’m complaining if he doesn’t realize I’m a little late of a morning. Still, if I wasn’t late, he used to greet me. Now he just looks through me. And everybody else, come to think of it.
As the lift started, a pair of arms encircled her, and a mouth nuzzled her neck. “Della, squeeze me in before your date?”
Who does he think he’s fooling? “Ryan, you want to go to my place in hopes Mac is still in bed.”
“That would be an added bonus,” he admitted.
“Oh, grow up,” she told him in disgust. No wonder she doesn’t like men. She slipped out of his grasp to exit the lift, but Ryan followed her. “If Mac’s not interested, there’s others who would be. Try Monroe.”
“I’ve had Monroe.”
“You’ve had me,” she pointed out.
“You’re still fun,” he returned.
“I resent your trying to use me to get to Mac,” she stated as her bedroom door opened. They stopped short in surprise.
“I knew it,” Ryan muttered.
Mac was still in bed - unheard of - but even more shocking, she wasn’t alone. She and Bugalu lay entwined, arms around each other. But it wasn’t... Della turned her head to speak to Ryan, but he was walking away quickly. With a frown, she stepped forward so the door would close.
She studied the two-some. Mac was decently covered by her pajamas and under her covers. Bugalu was fully dressed, even his shoes, and on top of the blankets. One of his arms encircled the redhead, who held his hand in one of hers. His other arm lay at his side.
Biting her lip, Della walked over and poked Bugalu’s forehead. With a sharp breath of surprise, he woke up and tried to focus on her face. “What are you doing?” she whispered, as if someone might overhear them.
“Morning, uh, Della. What are you doing here?”
“I live here,” she returned, and when his brow furrowed in confusion, she went on. “You’re in my roommate’s bed.”
“Roommate?” he repeated.
Oh, space, he acts just as dazed as Smythe! I shouldn’t have to put up with 2 unthinking men in one day. “Mac! You’re in bed with Mac!”
Alarmed, he tried to sit up, but the arm around Mac never moved, so he was soon back in the exact position where he had started. With a groan, he raised his unoccupied hand to his forehead. Then his hand lowered to feel his shirt and pant leg. “She trapped me,” he finally stated.
“That is not something I ever expected to hear you say!” Della declared, still whispering. “And if you know Mac so well, you should know you can’t drink as much as she does!”
“Huh! I wouldn’t dare try. What I meant was, I was in the living room when she started to toss and turn for the dozenth time, so I came in to talk to her, which had settled her down before. She was sitting, one foot on the floor to hold her upright. She seemed half awake, or less, didn’t answer when I talked to her. I touched her shoulder to get her attention, and she touched it. Then she wrapped her fingers around it, and when she lay down and rolled over, I was tossed across her like I was nothing. I couldn’t get my hand free, so I couldn’t get my arm out from under her. Eventually, boredom made me fall asleep. What time is it?”
“Evening shift just started.”
“That explains why I feel groggy, out of it. I’ve had too much sleep. Della, do me a favor, will you?”
“I can keep my mouth shut, but Ryan won’t, and he was with me when I entered. The whole ship will hear how we interrupted you two.”
“Ryan. Blast. And he’ll include explicit details he couldn’t have seen because they never happened. But what I really wanted you to do was see if you can get my hand free. That arm is numb, even the shoulder.”
“I can try, but she’s strong.” She gave her roommate an uncertain look. “On the other hand, one shouldn’t touch Mac when she’s sleeping. She gave Tall Bear a black eye.”
“I know. I saw it. But you’re a woman. Her pa never told her not to let a woman touch her.”
Della hoped he was right, and started to pry at the white fingers, even as she protested, “She’s asleep. She can’t know who’s touching her. And what do her parents have to do with anything?”
“Even asleep, she somehow knows. Not parents, just her father. Drummed it into her not to let a man touch her, for fear she’d wind up pregnant and unwed. Apparently, it’s an extreme version of the somewhat intolerant Gaelund society.”
“Colonies do get weird sometimes,” she muttered, and gave up trying to break the woman’s grip. “You’re going to have to wake her up.”
“No. Thanks for trying, anyway.”
“Just poke her a little bit and tell her to let go.”
“The idea was for her to sleep!”
“Yeah, but-“ A slight movement caught Della’s eye. “Wait, I think I saw her thumb move. Let me try again.” With great effort, she was finally able to shift the redhead’s fingers, one by one, until Bugalu’s dark hand flopped to the mattress, free at last. “There! She’s let go!”
“Can’t you feel it?”
He shook his head. “Told you, it’s numb. I’m not even sure I have an arm anymore.”
“That doesn’t sound good. I’ll try to lift her and you can pull free.”
“Do you think you can? I don’t think I can help. Not even sure I can pull myself free if you do.”
Della hesitated. “Well. I could go get some help.”
“It would have to be a female. And I’m not sure I’d want anybody else to see me like this. They’d jump to the same conclusion as Ryan, and one person spreading rumors is enough.”
She swallowed and then made the only suggestion she could think of. “What about MacGregor? He seems to get along with her, and I haven’t seen him with any black eyes.”
“Doc,” Bugalu repeated. “Yeah, that might work. He’s got the same relationship with Mac as I do.”
“Not exactly the same,” came a soft mutter from the redhead.
“Blast,” Bugalu swore. “Are you awake?”
She opened one green eye. “It’s hard to stay asleep with you two talking so much. Even in whispers.”
“You managed to sleep in the messhall yesterday,” he pointed out.
“I’ve gotten more sleep today,” she returned, and sat up, leaving his arm behind. “Do you have a date tonight, Della?”
“Yeah. Any chance you could clear out by... 2000? For the night?”
“Sure.” Mac swung her legs over the side of the bed and paused to stifle a yawn.
Bugalu grimaced as he studied the redhead’s slumped posture. “You can spend the rest of the day in my bed, if you want.”
Mac turned red, stood up and rummaged through her closet mindlessly, even though her uniforms were in plain sight. “That’s an interesting thought,” she choked out.
“I thought you two didn’t do that!” Della declared.
“Do what?” Bugalu asked.
“That’s why the suggestion surprised me,” Mac stated, and finally found one of her clean uniforms. Grabbing it, she headed for the bathroom. “I’m up, Bugsy. Wide awake and ready to study. Just give me 15 minutes.” She paused with the bathroom door open. “Or maybe 20 minutes.”
Della turned to see Bugalu grimacing horribly, one hand gripping the arm that had been around Mac. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s trying to wake up, and it’s killing me!” he declared.
Della picked up his arm and began massaging it, from shoulder to fingertips and back again, letting the negro grimace and moan without making any comments. As his pain seemed to subside, she stated, “I’ve been thinking.”
“Better not make a habit of that. Mr Smythe will promote you,” Bugalu joked.
“No fear of that,” she returned with a smile, still massaging. “All the guys aboard have an unnatural curiosity about Mac.”
“Most of them,” he agreed.
“They might not be so curious if she dated. I don’t mean the entire crew; just one or two. She’d be just like all the other women.”
“Maybe. But it’s not as easy as you make it sound. I told you about her pa’s indoctrination.”
“Well, warn anybody she agrees to go out with.”
“I could. But they won’t listen, they’d think I was trying to stake a claim. Nobody takes that warning seriously.”
“Oh, they might, now that Tall Bear’s had his black eye. And if not, then they aren’t a suitable date for her. Right?”
“Yeah, that part makes sense,” he agreed. “I can try to convince her. But right now, the only thing she thinks about is passing probation. She won’t pass if she doesn’t sleep on a regular basis.” He gently pulled his arm from her hands and began to flex it. “And I sure can’t do that again.” He stood up. “Thanks, Della.”
“I’ve never heard you complain about holding a woman before.”
“First of all, Mac is heavier than most the crew. Second of all, Mac is not a woman. She’s a pesky little sister I’ve adopted.”
“Who needs to sleep, like you say, so what are you going to do?”
He gave a deep, bottomless sigh. “I have no idea.”