Authors: C. M. King
Tags: #Romance, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Two Hours or More (65-100 Pages)
Eternal Press/Damnation Books LLC
Copyright ©2011 by C. M. King
First published in 2011, 2011
By the time Ensign Rieko Hayashi arrived at the mess hall of the
and finally grabbed something to eat, every table in the room seemed crowded with people. This is what she got for being late leaving the astronomy lab. She was so entranced in the study of the local nebula, she'd forgotten all about lunch, and forgotten about the rush on the place if one arrived just minutes late.
She surveyed the lunchtime crowd for a place to sit. Her eyes fell on Lieutenant Stuart MacEwan at a small table in the corner. He intently studied a handle-held computer while absentmindedly eating food. Likely he wasn't even aware of what was on his plate. He had a look of isolation to him. It didn't really surprise Rieko that people would rather squeeze into tables that couldn't hold them instead of asking to join the ship's Chief Weapons Officer.
"Do you mind if I join you?” Rieko asked as she stood before his table.
"Of course not, Rieko.” Stuart glanced up at her from his work.
She sat in the chair across from him. The small table barely held both of their trays. She didn't feel like filling her brain with any more work right now. She'd be back working again soon enough. Of course, the British Weapons Officer wasn't exactly one to make small talk and take her mind off work.
was one of the newest exploration ships in Earth Space Fleet. It had just begun its longest mission to date, a two-year path to go beyond the far reaches of human occupied colonies. What concerned Rieko most was the chance to be one of the first to scientifically study space phenomena, and to be able to represent her family's native Japan in doing so. The close environment of the ship had so far been a little hard to get used to.
With nothing else to do, her dark eyes studied the man before her. His eyes were a stormy grayish-blue, his shortly-cut brown hair was in perfect order, as always, and his face was clean-shaven. He was a very handsome man, if a bit cold and distant personality-wise, but maybe that just drew her to him more.
Rieko struggled with a subject to talk about. They really didn't have that much in common. Her true passion in life was stars, and she doubted he knew much about them, even though they currently traveled in a spaceship. His passion seemed to be weapons and blowing things up, two things Rieko really didn't like.
"Is the lasagna any good?” Rieko asked him about his food. They were after all in the mess eating lunch.
"It's fine,” Stuart responded.
Rieko knew the man really didn't care what he ate. She wasn't even sure if he cared if he did eat. What else could she think about to talk to him about? She felt his eyes on her and raised hers to look at him. Those blue-gray eyes of his drank her in.
"Do you want something, Stuart?” she gently asked.
"N...no,” he managed, and quickly lowered his eyes back to his food.
Something to talk about, she wondered. They must have something in common. She looked back up to find his eyes back on her again, questioning this time.
"You sure you don't want something?” she asked again.
This time he didn't answer, just held her with those stormy eyes of his. He certainly had something to say, maybe to ask her.
Don't pressure him
, she thought. Worry, and then doubt, flickered across his eyes followed again by just questions.
"Just say it, Stuart,” she told him, making sure her voice wasn't harsh.
He swallowed visibly. Determination crept into his eyes and face. “Would you like to have dinner with me sometime,” he asked, “in someplace private."
Dinner? All of that nervousness was to ask her on a date
? “Was that all?” She knew it was the wrong thing to say as soon as his gaze collapsed in hurt.
"I would love to, Stuart.” She rushed to accept his invitation with a bright smile. Her face shone genuinely. The mysterious Weapons’ Officer intrigued her. Odd, because Rieko was a rather talkative and open person, completely different than Stuart.
A smile grew on his face. “My place at 1900 tomorrow?” he asked.
"Could we make it 1930?” A 7:30 p.m. time would give her a little more time to get prepared after coming off her usual day shift work in the astronomy lab. If she was going to be trying to date on this ship, she was going to do it right.
Stuart lowered his attention to his food, a broad smile still on his face. Then he raised his head again and asked, “What would you like to eat?"
Had the food been an afterthought to making the date?
She thought for a second. She always had a hard time deciding what she wanted to eat at any given moment, and she was still eating lunch. “Maybe chef's wonderful Chicken Marsala,” she finally said, hoping she'd still like the choice tomorrow.
"That can be arranged.” Stuart smiled at her.
Oh, he had such a great smile when he actually used it
, she thought.
Stuart ran his hand over his shirt; buttoned to the top, collar straight, cuffs fastened, pressed and ironed, properly tucked in, he ticked off in his head. His pants were also pressed and ironed, his belt centered. The informal dress shoes he wore were shined and un-scuffed. He raised his hand to check his hair, and then ran it over his jowls and chin. He'd shaven after his shift to make sure no hint of an evening shadow might show. Maybe he should have gotten a tie out to wear, too late to put one on now.
He surveyed the small table he'd set for dinner. He'd borrowed the plates and utensils from the
s chef, when he'd gone in after his shift to pick up the food. The silverware had been properly placed. The napkins sat folded where the plates would later be placed. Two glasses and a pitcher of seltzer water with a small tray of lemons, a drink he knew Rieko often had in the mess. He should have gotten wine, but with the way his stomach flip flopped, he doubted he could have held it down.
Flowers, peach-colored tulips, daffodils, and crocuses from the greenhouse, were set in the center of the table, low enough to see over. The colors blended nicely and filled the air with a slightly fragrant scent. Candles would have been too romantic for the situation and he would have had to ask the captain's permission to get them from the greenhouse. Two hot plates full of food sat on a corner of his ordered desk.
Stuart gave a sigh. Everything seemed in place. He wanted to do this, he could do this, maybe he needed to do this, he told himself. If he could just let one person in, just one. If he could just get through tonight, the rest should be better. The first step always terrified him, but he could do this, he would do this.
He glanced around his quarters. The bed was neatly made. Everything sat in its proper place and position. It all suddenly looked as sparse as his life felt. Likely Rieko's room brimmed with paraphernalia and life. Nothing he could do about it now.
He briskly paced the small space of his quarters, his palms sticky with sweat, his stomach churning and every nerve in his body alive. The door lightly chimed. He took in a deep breath and closed his eyes.
You can do this Stuart
, he told himself.
You can do this
Rieko was about to ring for a second time when the door opened. “Come in,” Stuart spoke as he stepped away from the door and extended a hand into his quarters, inviting her in. Rieko entered the small room and shut the door behind her. Stuart was giving her that halfway crooked smile of his, blue eyes sparkling.
"I like your shirt,” Rieko said. His bright blue shirt was as prim and proper as everything about Stuart always was. “The color makes your eyes a brilliant blue,” she added, staring into his lovely blue eyes. She'd thought his eyes looked more grayish yesterday at lunch, but maybe that was due to the darker blue of the uniforms.
"Thank you.” Stuart glanced at the color of his shirt. He swallowed harshly.
Rieko thought he looked nervous, very nervous. Then those glorious blue eyes of his swept over her. She'd barely had enough time to change properly. The soft pink dress she wore came to below her knees with spaghetti straps at the shoulders. It was a simple dress, not showing too much, not clinging too tightly. In the flurry of dressing it was what she and Ensign Leeza Carpenter, her best friend on the ship, had finally settled on. She wore her long, black hair down, framing her face and falling over her bare shoulders and back.
"You look lovely,” Stuart finally said. Rieko smiled back at him. “I like your hair down."
"Thank you,” Rieko replied.
Stuart gestured toward the small table he had set for them, and pulled out a chair for her. Someone had at one time or another taught Stuart to be quite a gentleman. Rieko sat down in the offered chair, and let him scoot the chair with her in it back into place. She saw a centerpiece of fresh flowers, silverware set on the table, and a neatly folded cream-colored napkin for both where the plate would go.
Rieko placed the napkin in her lap and noticed Stuart presenting her with a plate of Chicken Marsala, potatoes, and a vegetable medley. She looked up and smiled at him. It was a good choice after all. He gave her a tight smile in reply as he served himself and sat across from her.
Rieko noticed the flowers were just the right height to enjoy yet still have a clean view of Stuart. Surely he had planned it that way. Stuart was a man of details.
"Something to drink?” He picked up her glass, offering to fill it with the liquid in the pitcher he held.
"What is it?” she asked.
"Seltzer water,” he answered. Rieko smiled and nodded her head to accept. “I have lemon as well,” he told her as he filled her glass. Rieko wondered how he knew without asking she was fond of seltzer water with lemon. He had clearly been paying a great deal more attention to her than she had thought. He poured himself a glass, and then picked up a fork.
With the larger issues taken care of, the air between them grew nervous and awkward. She needed to think of something to say to lighten things up. Rieko glanced around the room searching for something to mention. Everything had a proper place, and was tucked into it. Every book on the shelves stood straight. The computer on the desk lay perfectly centered. The corners of the sheets on the bed were tucked under. There was military order, but this was a little beyond.