11 - Reunion

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Skip squirmed on his seat at Emelio’s Landing Strip.  Jeena had told him it would be the best place to rest, rehydrate, and adjust.  Ultra-comfortable chairs and couches were provided for all patrons, and there were handles and railings everywhere, as visitors who had been in space for a while often needed to reestablish balance.  Ugh, he felt like a beached manatee.

Just a few hours prior, a deceleration crew had hooked their runaway pod, and set them down at Olympia General Spaceport.  It was all a very routine operation, aside from the male members of the crew falling all over themselves to be polite to Jeena.

Jeena.  He missed her already.  No one greeted him when he entered Emelio’s, and he was virtually invisible as he sat at his insignificant table in the corner, nursing an Agua de Tamarindo.  He was alone.  Alone on a planet brimming with people.  He felt tiny.

The dull roar of conversations in the room suddenly abated.  Skip followed the turning heads, and realized that Jeena had just entered the restaurant.  She paused at the entrance, stunning as ever, in coveralls cut off at mid-calf.  In spite of the ample decolletage displayed by her open neckline, it was a relatively conservative outfit by City standards.  Women rolled their eyes.  Men straightened up and groomed.

Jeena didn’t bother looking around the room.  She took a small whiff of the air, then quick-stepped in Skip’s direction, deftly dodging the men that were gravitating into her path.

“I knew you’d still be here, Skip,” she said.  “It always takes hours to readjust.”

“How did you manage so quickly, then?” he asked.

“Lift belt and balance assist,” she explained, patting her midriff.  “I went home to slip it on.  By the way, Skip, I never did properly thank you for saving my life.  I was going to pick up a new Yamanaka.  Can I get one for you, too?”

“Are you kidding?  Those cost two years’ salary!”

“Maybe your salary,” she said dismissively.  “I could get four of them for what I made from the Solon job alone.  And if you’re wondering, in cases of force majeure, yes, I still get paid.  My treat.”

“No thanks, just the same.  I don’t need a new pod.  What I need is some friends here.  I don’t make contacts very easily.  When you walked in, it was like there was an e-field around you.  Guys started to drift in your direction.  When I walked in, nobody noticed...”

“Oh?  Well, let’s see if we can do something about that, shall we?”

Jeena leaned in close and whispered in Skip’s ear: “Just follow my lead.  Whisper back into my ear.  Did you contact that Meng girl, yet?”

“I don’t even know if Monika’s here,” he whispered back.  “I’m going to search as soon as I get my land-legs back.  If she is here, I don’t want her to see me like this.”

Jeena started laughing like it was the funniest thing in the world.  She was also touching his hand and upper arm.  Skip didn’t mind, but the gesture seemed wholly inappropriate, since they both had already determined they weren’t attracted to each other.

After she caught her breath, she said out loud, “You’re so funny!”  And leaning over to whisper again, she added, “Don’t wait, you idiot!  Grow a pair, contact her now.  You can call out the command right from this chair, you know.  The City Mind is always online.”

She was stroking his arm!

“Soon.  In a few hours, I promise,” he whispered back.

“No, don’t wait, you might lose your nerve,” she whispered, adding, “There, that ought to do it.  I’m headed back home, now.”  She gave him a little peck on the neck before drawing away.

“Okay!” Jeena announced loudly and cheerfully as she stood up and did a model walk towards the door.  Halfway, she looked back over her shoulder and called out, “I’ll hold you to your promise.  Call.  I mean it!!”

“Bye, Jeena,” replied Skip.

“Yum, that agua fresca looks tasty,” said a pretty blonde girl that had somehow materialized at his table.  “Hi, I’m Cyndi.  What’s your name?”

“Um, Skip?” he replied.

“Could you recommend a good place for Mexican food around here?”

“Oh, no, sorry - I’m not from around here.”

“Really?  I’m visiting, too.  Maybe we could explore the planet together!”

“Welcome to Olympia, Skip!  Or as we call it, The City,” interjected a smoky-eyed brunette that had just sauntered over.

Where did she come from?  he wondered.

“My name’s Sharmilia -- you can call me Mili.  Were you looking for a tour?  I’m local.  I just love showing visitors our planet - it’s kind of a hobby of mine.”

“You like to show people around?” said Skip, “That’s perfect, Mili, because Cyndi here wants to tour!”  The two girls scowled at each other.

“Hey, offworlder, have you got a place to stay, yet?  I’ve got an extra room...” called out yet another feminine voice from behind him.

City girls certainly were forward.  Skip mulled how he might gently decline the offer.

“Skip!” a voice called out.  A familiar voice.  “Skip Abernathy!”

Skip looked about to see where it was coming from.  And then he spotted her in the doorway.

MY GOD!  MONIKA!”  Skip bolted up, teetered on his rubbery space-legs, but steadied himself just as she collided with him in a crushing hug.  Her cheek seemed wet.

“Oh my God, I was so worried about you, Skip!  The station got swarmed, and you weren’t answering our calls,” she said in a trembling voice.  Then, noticing the bevy of girls jostling for position with Skip, Monika dabbed her eyes and backed away slightly, composing herself.

“I’m so sorry, that was rude of me to interrupt” she said to the entire group.  “We can catch up at some other time, Skip.”

NO!” Skip protested, far more desperately than he had intended.  “I mean, you’re not interrupting, and I would love to catch up with you.  Right now, if you’re not busy.  You’re the only person I know on the planet.”

“I’m not.  The whole team made it out.  Should we call them?”

Jeena’s advice echoed in his mind:  Any excuse.  

“Maybe not just yet.  I need time to re-enter, and one person is about all I can handle right now,” he answered.

“Oh, GOOD,” she breathed excitedly.

“Hey, this isn’t the best place to get adjusted, can we go someplace quieter?”

“My place isn’t far, how about that?  I’m rooming with Charlotte, but she’s out for the next two days, and it should be pretty quiet.”

Skip took a shaky step.  “I might have to lean on you for balance,” he said.

“I’m here for you,” Monika insisted, with huge, moist eyes that appended an implied, “...darling.”

“Oh, and Happy Birthday, Skip!”  she added as they left the restaurant.  “Sorry, I don't have a gift for you.”

“Are you kidding, Monika!??  You ARE a gift.”

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