It seemed like another breeze rustling the multicolored round-leafed trees at first, like the one playing her hair as Chiana gazed to the distant stream just visible from her favorite place on the top of the roof. That blue sky was visible above all the forest around and overhead. It sparkled on the water. Time passed like the breeze here.
Her tension eased in a deep sigh. She loved to lay on the rooftop sometimes. When the mood was right and it was a day with the sky blue, a blue like his eyes, she could slowly lose herself in balance exercise or just lay back or sit and stare around herself. The sounds of this world all around her could either bring her deep loneliness or wonder and peace. The warbling of a certain bird made her smile.
But then a sound at first lost in all the other sounds became clearer. Closer. A vehicle. Here! Chiana flung herself back, to be hidden behind the roof peak. Peering out, she could just see the car approaching. It was not John's! She swallowed a lump and scurried over the roof. Hanging off the edge of the roof, she just managed to swing her feet into the bathroom window. Working herself through, she landed on the floor, grabbed the wig, hastily fastened it and ran into their bedroom, filching the mechanical gun from the nightstand where John told her she'd find it, "just in case."
Better to run. Opening the bedroom window, ready to bail, she waited. Perhaps they'll leave peacefully. Perhaps they will not break in. The clicking of the lock widened her eyes still further. It had to be the only person who had a key besides herself and John. Without effort, the door opened. "Son?"
"Son?" the man yelled again. "Bob?"
Bob crept silently to the door of the bedroom, the gun in her hand as she peaked out. The man stood silhouetted in the door. It sounded like John's dad but she couldn't be sure until he stepped farther into the room.
He walked a little farther into the room and now Chiana clearly saw that it was Jack Crichton, John's father. Or was it another Ancient in disguise, come after John for frelling with wormholes....or after her? She raised the gun at him again. Then her eyes widened watching him scratch himself and go to put his keys down on the coffee table and drop his wallet instead. He even fumbled picking it up. It was so much like John and what she sensed of other Humans that it left no doubt. She sighed in relief and went to put the gun back in the dresser drawer. After carefully replacing the gun so John wouldn't think she'd used it, she crept back to the door to watch Jack.
"Anybody home?" he said again. He went back to the door and retrieved the luggage that he had dropped there and brought it inside. He looked around the room. "Car's not here," he considered. "Maybe they went to town and I just missed them." He shrugged. "Oh well, they'll be back. John told me to make myself at home. Guess I'll wait." He went into the kitchen and began to rummage for something.
Chiana watched him as he walked out of her field of vision and she could hear him in the kitchen. She crept out of bedroom and was going to watch him when she stepped on one of the loose floorboards and it let out a loud squeak.
"Is someone there?" Jack called out.
Moving as rapidly and as quietly as she could, Chiana crept back into the bedroom just as Jack emerged from the kitchen. "Is someone there?" he repeated to the empty living room. He heard a squeak in the bedroom and he got the feeling that he wasn't alone. Looking around for a handy weapon but finding nothing, he remembered that John had a gun that he kept in their bedroom nightstand. 'That's not gonna do you any good if the burglar's in there Jack old boy,' he thought but he decided to risk it anyway. He crept to the bedroom door and pushed it wide open.
'Okay, good sign,' Jack thought when no shots rang out. He peered around the edge of the door. The room appeared to be empty and undisturbed, although the window was open, a warm autumn breeze making the curtains stir. The kid's bed was made and everything appeared to be in place. Jack moved rapidly to the bathroom and checked it. Empty. No one was here.
Feeling a little foolish, Jack checked the nightstand drawer. Yep, there was the gun, loaded and ready. At hearing a rustling noise outside, he jumped up and went to the window. Looking out for the source of the noise, he was startled when something dropped on his head. Looking up at the roof, Jack saw a squirrel scamper out of sight. He ducked back inside shaking his head and feeling a little foolish. Just a squirrel. He'd been in the city too long and was getting paranoid. He closed the window so the squirrel wouldn't get in and went back into the kitchen.
Looking a little closer, he noticed that the kitchen window was also open. Jack shook his head again and chuckled. Obviously his son and Bob had adapted to living out here, well a little. They'd gone off to wherever they'd gone, locking the door, but leaving the windows wide open. Crazy kids.
He opened the cabinets. Box of spaghetti, macaroni, and cheese and crackers in one, a few canned soups and chili in another. Not much here.
He took out the box of spaghetti. The noodles had been cooked already and stuffed back in. Passing on registering that, Jack put the box back. He then noticed the cans or soups were either open in odd ways and hidden, or dented, as if someone were throwing them. "Strange I didn't see any knots on that boy's head" Jack joked to himself. "Well good, at least he has sense to duck."
There was a torn open instant cheese packet in front of an open macaroni box, almost as if someone had sampled it and put it back. He discovered the chili cans were emptied and were now being used for old baking grease. "Now where would anyone recycle old grease out here?" he wondered. Jack closed the cabinets and looked around scratching his head as he walked out into the living room.
Chiana crept quietly around the house so she could watch John's father some more. Chiana's head popped up in an inconspicuous window at the back of the living room, in a perfect position to watch Jack wander back into the kitchen, by using the reflection on a wall mounted mirror. Jack walked around their house with the comfortable ease of someone who had been there before and believed himself to be alone. Her Nebari eyes had no difficulty reading the tiny lettering embroidered on his shirt, but what it said was foreign. Something about him claiming his name was Ralph and he played polo.
A little shower of leaves fell onto her head from the rain gutter, thanks to some creature. It peered over at the reflexive jerk of her head and her hiss. A smile spread on her face. It was one of those cute little furry creatures! Impulsively she stood to leap after it. But then she stopped, remembering she was spying on the human creature! She jerked back down. Then back up a bit. Then back down. She grabbed her head and made a soft "grrr!" Chiana decided to go around to the kitchen to where she could see a little better what was going on in the kitchen.
She crept around the house to just under the kitchen window where she could hear Jack get into the refrigerator. He closed the door and walked back out of the room. Quickly, Chiana leapt up and pulled herself through the open kitchen window. She could hear Jack puttering about in the living room, apparently fussing with some of his stuff. Chiana was about to creep closer to spy on him when he abruptly started to walk back toward the kitchen. Thinking fast, Chiana dove into a cupboard to hide.
A moment later she heard the refrigerator door open and suppressed a giggle as she heard him mutter, "A piece of moldy cheese, some slimy lettuce, and beer. That's all they have in here. What do those two eat anyway? Too far from town for takeout."
Her stomach growled, reminding her she hadn't eaten since John left. Listening for noises with most of her attention she failed to remember if that nice meal she had with John in town was the last time he was here or the time before. Chiana quickly grabbed a nearby bag of coffee beans and stuffed some into her mouth. She chewed them as quietly as possible, fervently hoping they didn't make too much noise.
Jack paused when he heard a muffled sound. It sounded like chewing. He shook his head to clear it. 'Must be getting old,' he thought. 'I'm hearing things.' "Now where does that boy keep the glasses?" he muttered out loud.
Chiana opened the cupboard door slightly when she heard Jack move off and peered out. He was rummaging through the cabinets again. He was just trying to figure where the cups were, she guessed. He scratched his rear. She smiled broadly. Definitely thought he was alone.
"Jesus, where does that boy put anything" she could hear him mutter to himself. "Not enough food around here.....keep a bird alive. Probably eats out with his damn groupies," he chuckled to himself. "Better go to town. Better go fishing first thing in the morning. Hell I hope he's got some wood."
Jack leaned out the window, a little surprised to see loads of fairly fresh cut wood piled along the cabin side. "I'm Jack, this is my son the lumberjack," he mused to himself as he searched the last cupboard. "There's the oatmeal. Thank goodness he has that," Jack half muttered to himself. Again he heard the muffled crunching sound. Jack stood up and listened.
After a moment of silence, Jack shrugged and went back to fixing his oatmeal. "I hope he's got some coffee," Jack said to himself. "There it is" Jack paused again, hearing that noise.
In a far kitchen cupboard, Chiana stiffened up, stopped chewing and tried to keep the bag of coffee beans she was snacking on from making any noise.
Jack's brow creased in slight puzzlement. "Mouse or rat?"
Chiana's big black eyes blinked as she swallowed and ducked back into the cupboard.
Jack stopped. There was that sound again. It was louder. Maybe they had a rat? Funny, John hadn't mentioned a rodent problem, but then he wasn't at the cabin much these days. He'd have to ask Bob when they returned. There it was again, only this time it seemed to be coming from a cupboard at the other end of the kitchen.
Chiana listened as Jack walked by. Suddenly the door opened and light flooded in, momentarily blinding her. When her vision cleared a moment later, Chiana saw Jack standing there, holding a broom, poised to strike. She grinned sheepishly at him.
He glared at her. "Goddamnitt Bob, what in the hell are you hiding in there for?" he said angrily.
"Sowrey," she said as she clambered out of the cupboard and stood there grinning cheekily at him.
Jack took a deep breath to calm himself, reminding himself that this was his son's girlfriend and he couldn't kick her ass to kingdom come like he could with one of his own kids. "Didn't you hear me come in?"
Chiana thought fast, looking for an excuse he would buy. "Thief," she said. "Hide."
He looked at her skeptically. "You thought I was a thief so you hid?" he said. She nodded. "I called you," Jack almost laughed and put the broom down. "Sorry Bob, didn't mean to scare you. I thought you were a rat. I was going to kill it." He looked around. "So where is John."
"I lauk rats." The grin left Bob's face as she replied. "Syd un ney."
"Sydney, what in the hell is he doing in Sydney?"
"Problems," she replied.
"Problems, what kind of problems?"
"DK say," she paused struggling for the least alarming English words, "more tests."
"More tests," Jack said incredulously. "Why more tests. Why do they keep running more tests on John? What do they think is wrong?" He looked over at Bob. "Did you say Doug, DK, was here?"
She nodded. "He go too."
Jack started pacing, chewing on the tip of his thumb, just like she'd seen John do a thousand times. 'So that's where he got that,' she thought before turning her attention back to Jack.
"Damn," he said. "I came up here to spend some time with my son, and you, and do some fishing. Now he's gone. Damn IASA. Damn bad timing." He looked over at Bob. "Say Bob, do you mind if I stay here for a few days and do some fishing while I wait for John to get back. If that's all right with you."
Bob smiled blandly at Jack while her mind raced. She couldn't very well kick out John's sire; John would be really bent out of shape if she did that. Inwardly she sighed. She'd have to let him stay here. Then a thought struck her. It was the perfect opportunity to test her human disguise. If she could fool John's father for the next few days in close quarters then maybe he'd let her go to town more often or take her to the larger city. Bob smiled at Jack and nodded. "Okay," she replied.
Her stomach growled just then and she heard another growl, this one coming from Jack. She giggled in a sharply quirky way.
He chuckled. "Sorry Bob, I skipped lunch. I thought I could eat with you and John but you two hardly have enough food to feed the rat I thought you had." He looked at her closely, taking in the ultra-slim form of the girl in front of him. He thought he'd seen petite, but she was scrawnier than anything he'd seen. "And speaking of food, does my son ever feed you?" Bob opened her mouth to reply but Jack cut her off. "Come on Bob, we're going to town and buy you some groceries. While we're at it we'll stop at the restaurant and have an early dinner, my treat. That sound good to you?" He looked at her expectantly.
Bob nodded and grinned. Any chance to go to town was okay with her.
"Okay Bob, grab your stuff and let's go," Jack said impatiently, a trace of worry still written on his brow. Bob hurriedly grabbed her coat and her keys and followed Jack out the door.
They drove toward town in near silence. Jack didn't feel much like talking, and he knew that Bob couldn't speak much English, so they wouldn't have a lot to talk about.
For her part, Bob seemed impressed with his venerable '89 Lincoln Town Car. She intently studied the soft fuzzy fabric between the inside door rest handle and the armrest, the thick carpet on the lower door and the fuzzy fabric covering the big bench front seat. But then she seemed to study everything intently. She also seemed to like sitting nearer to him than to her door.
"Like it?" Jack asked. Speaking seemed a surprise.
"Mm," she pursed her lips. "Has ah shoft," she gestured to her rear and splayed her gloved fingers on the back of the seat. "Quiyet-er is an smoothest-er then him car," she said. She then tried turning on the radio. She got his tape of Eddy Arnold playing. "You Don't Know Me" playing, she brightened, recognizing the song from a tape that she had found in the cabin. She turned it up very loud and started singing to it in long, breathy and unfamiliar keys.
"Not so loud," he found himself saying a bit more forcefully than he meant. She urgently turned it off. He smiled. "I'm sorry. Play what you like just not quite so loud. I'm old but not deaf yet," he kidded in a way he hoped she understood. She smiled nervously but seemed to understand.
She went back to studying the car, opening the glove box and seeming to be fighting obvious urges to pilfer through it. Before he could warn her, she pressed a button under the glove box door. He bit his tongue from cursing at her and quickly pulled over. She looked around in alarm before noticing the trunk was open. He got out.
Jack checked the trunk to make sure everything was still inside and saw Bob through the window, searching through the glove box. 'Foreigners', he thought, 'or my son's girlfriend has way too much curiosity. Or has sticky fingers'.
Bob quickly finished and turned her attention to the door. She couldn't find the door handle but she figured the window button. She lowered the window and hopped out through the window. Bob scampered up while he closed the trunk. The moment the trunk latch clicked closed, Bob made a nod to herself, scurried back into the car through the window, pressed the button again popping the trunk open, hopped back out of the window and scurried up with a cackling laugh as Jack closed the trunk again.
"Can we keep it closed this time?" he asked, somehow sure his scowl wasn't too formidable. He polished the trunk where he'd had his hand on it to close it.
Bob was suddenly right up beside him. She ran two fingers around where his hands were on the trunk, not so much suggestively as like a child fingerpainting. "Lahk this?" she cut a nervous glance at him.
"Yeah," Jack watched her wiping off the dust with her glove while they walked back to their doors and got in. "It's old but I'm fond of this old thing," Jack continued when they were seated. "John calls her Mildred."
Bob slowly turned her face to him, a incredulous smile spreading on her face. "Does? This?"
"John tried getting me to buy something sportier. Said I was getting old. I usually think I should've listened, until I'm riding in it and remember why I was right," he smiled where she thought to herself that John might have winked.
The way she watched him, he couldn't tell if she understood him or just seemed to. They lapsed into silence again when he pulled back onto the road. His mind wandered again to John. So his son was in Sydney again. For tests Bob said. Again he wondered what kind of tests they were running and why they kept hounding him.
Sure his landing had been a bit unusual. After all, the module had disintegrated, and therefore tracking devices failed, so, however mysterious, it made some sense that they hadn't been able to find what wreckage might have survived. John had made it back in one piece and that's what counted. Plus they had all the telemetry data and with what John could tell them of the wormhole, the scientists had enough to keep them happy and busy for years to come. So why continue to bother John about the module?
Okay, landing in the Australian outback was a little unusual, and it had taken them a few days to find John, but why the continued suspicions? John certainly didn't act suspicious. Jack sighed. Although he hadn't been acting like his normal self since that near encounter with the wormhole. He couldn't help but think that John wouldn't have hooked up with someone so odd as Bob before, although he felt unkind for thinking it.
After his return, John had been hailed as the conquering hero. Jack thought he would be satisfied that he'd surpassed him. But then John became, for lack of a better term, strange. As far as he could tell, John had started believing his own press, hanging with the astronaut groupies and partying all the time. And the drinking. When he wasn't called on to make a personal appearance or do his work, he spent a good deal of his time drunk. Jack knew that something was bothering John, but John refused to talk about it. He just kept telling him that he was all right and to leave him alone. Most of it changed, though, when he made that trip to Maine, supposedly to finish his book. Instead he found Bob.
Jack glanced at Bob out of the corner of his eye. She was a weird girl. Basically nice, but definitely weird. He supposed he could see how someone would find her fetching, but had no idea what John saw in her. She definitely wasn't John's type. He preferred tall blonds. He never would have been attracted to this petite, black-haired, almost fey girl. And she was young too, barely out of childhood by the looks of it. His son usually dated women close to his own age, groupies included. Why did he suddenly take up with this girl?
Bob had found the mirror on the passenger side visor and was gaping at her face. It had changed to a sly look when he glanced again. "Going weth mwa-mm-me nn groch-ries? Eat thur-thar nno ah trouble-as? No wh-nno needs to."
"No, it's no problem," Jack assured her. He turned his face back to watch the road and shook his head to himself with a smile to imagine her not taking any chance to get a meal from him, whether it was a problem or not. Jack glanced aside to her again, remembering how she was when he first saw her. "Remember when we first met, with John?" he asked. She looked away out the window. "Everybody was up in arms about IASA's Golden Boy going to Maine all of a sudden. Not that the IASA was about to upset him."
"Mmnnhe's write ting," she glanced to him.
"Yeah he was claiming he needed the peace and quiet to finish the last few chapters of his book. I didn't mean to come barging up there on you two. Only he'd been up there over a week without sending a peep back. I was just making sure John was all right," he assured her. "I kept having visions of my son lying on the floor of the cabin injured or just plain passed out from drinking too much. So I came up from Florida, but I didn't expect-" he trailed off, finding himself too embarrassed remembering how he had found them.
He had let himself in and found the cabin John was staying at dark and seemingly empty. He'd felt his foot dragging something. Looking down, he saw something small and crumpled caught on his shoe. He bent and picked it up and held it up in the dim light. The object was brief and silky and looked like a pair of women's panties. He'd been so furious at the thought John had left everyone worried about him while he'd been having orgies with his damn groupies. But the living area was fairly neat and tidy.
Just then he had heard a loud moan, then another. He walked swiftly over to the bedroom door, yanked it open and turned on the light. There in bed, obviously having sex, was his son and a woman. John had been alarmed out of his skin until he realized it was only Jack. "Was he ever mad," Jack continued out loud. "Not that I wasn't. I didn't know what to think, I was so confused out of my head," he almost laughed, "that I thought I saw you were gray, your skin. I didn't see anything but a flash," he quickly assured her. "You were under that bed sheet almost as fast as I'd wanted to hide."
Bob cut a glance to him. "You were and John ver-ri fu-n-ne."
Jack remembered how both John and himself had looked at the bed and heard a loud giggle emerge from it. Jack was almost relieved the lady still found it all amusing.
He recalled all too well his surprise at his first good look at Bob when she'd come to stand next to John, interrupting their father and son argument. She was shorter than John by at least a head and had black bobbed hair. She was unusually pale with sloppily applied makeup and very thin as though recovering from some illness. He had been distracted, though, by her face. She had the most beautiful Cupid 's bow of a mouth and unusual eyes. In the dim light her eyes had looked black with an unusually large iris area. John turned on a light and sure enough, Jack could see that they were. Beautiful, bottomless black. Very unusual, very beautiful, and very creepy because there were no irises that he could see.
Jack looked aside to Bob a few times. Those eyes were as creepy as ever. He wondered what disease or problem she'd had, and what effect it had on her vision. Obviously she could see some, but he wondered what effect it might pass on to any.....he stopped the line of thought with a sharp stare out ahead. He couldn't imagine they'd have children. He felt silly for being such a damned expectant parent, he'd told himself he wouldn't do that to his children. Besides, he reckoned the scrawny Goth girl was hardly likely. He had to admit to himself that although she was as scrawny as ever as far as he could tell, she looked much better, or certainly her makeup wasn't so roughly done. He looked aside and had to admit the half size Goth looked downright lovely in her own odd way.
He hadn't gotten much further on the thought at the time thanks to the loop he was thrown into when John had told him the odd girl was his fiancée. John had vehemently denied Jack's argument that Bob was a week long fling that couldn't last. He'd returned to Florida with John's assurances that he'd be along with Bob in a week or so. Not for a second had he thought John would return with Bob in tow. But he had, although he was sure that John hadn't exactly meant to introduce her to the family the way it happened.
John had immediately ensconced his fiancée in his apartment and introduced her, albeit reluctantly, to his family. One of the few real laughs Jack had gotten out of the whole thing was seeing Susan and Olivia's reactions to being introduced to John's Goth fiancée. That was almost worth the whole thing just to see them nearly faint when their beloved brother introduced his lovely, delicate and wholly improbable Goth girl fiancée.
"I don't think Sue or Olivia were too enchanted, Bob. But don't you worry about them, they'll have to get used to it." And will it ever take getting used to, he finished the thought to himself. But they hadn't had a chance yet, with John packing Bob and himself off to the old family vacation home in the National Park the very next day.
Jack was jolted back to reality by the sound of Bob's voice. He looked over at her.
She pointed up ahead and he saw the town rapidly approaching.
"Thanks Bob, I see it," he said quickly trying to cover his embarrassment. He had been so engrossed in his thoughts that he'd almost missed the speed limit sign. Thank God for Bob or he'd have a speeding ticket or worse right now. He slowed as rapidly as he safely could, just in time to pull into the restaurant parking lot.
Jack went around the front of the car to open Bob's door, but she jumped out of the window instead and met him on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. She grinned cheekily at him as he opened the door to the restaurant and ushered her inside.
The restaurant was busy and heads turned as Bob and Jack were led to a table by the window. At first, Jack thought the sight of the odd under-teeny-tiny Goth girl in this far more conservative area was drawing attention. He watched her back. She had a way of moving that was damned sexy. But then he noticed that at least some of them were looking at him. He cringed inside. He wished he could go unrecognized here of all places. A waitress came up just after they were seated and plunked down two glasses of water and handed them each a menu. The waitress whose name tag read Jackie looked closely at Jack.
"Say, aren't you Jack Crichton? Jack Crichton the astronaut," she said.
Jack grinned. So much for being unrecognized, but at least he was used to this. "Why yes I am," he replied.
"I watched you walk on the moon when I was a kid," she said then blushed with embarrassment. "I'm sorry," she stammered. "I didn't mean-"
Jack chuckled. "Don't worry. I get that all the time." He held out his hand to her. "It's always nice to meet a fan. I'm just up here to do some fishin' and spend some time with my son."
A man in a flannel shirt, blue jeans and baseball cap with an embroidered fish emblem seated at the table behind Jack spoke up. "Well, if you want to know some pointers on fishin' spots just ask me or anyone over at the hardware store. They got anything you need for fishing over there. I'm Hank Mallory by the way," he reached over and shook Jack's hand.
"Mallory happens to own the hardware store, that's why he recommends it for gear," a man in a dirty, faded blue jumpsuit behind Bob spoke up. "If you want the real scoop on good fishing spots, go to the ranger station, they always know." The man who spoke held out his hand, reaching over Bob's shoulder and giving her a long double look. "Names Hanson, Joe Hanson, and I own the gas station just as you come into town."
Several others in the restaurant started to talk to Jack, taking the opportunity to speak with the famous father of their own elusive celebrity.
Bob sat there unobtrusively watching the exchange between Jack and the local residents. He looked so at ease with them, totally unlike John. John was not at ease with them at all. Bob wondered about that. Maybe it was because he needed to keep them from her? She realized that the need was there. The risk of discovery was too dangerous for her to spend a great deal of time with the townspeople; it was just that sometimes she wished she could talk to them. She loved Earth and wanted to get to know all of John's planet and its people. But he had told her what the government would do to her if she was discovered, so she agreed it was best to stay hidden. At least for now. She was just so lonely at the cabin sometimes, even with John there. She sighed and looked away.
Jack heard Bob sigh and turned to look at her. She appeared to be a little sad. Maybe she missed John. "Hey folks, I hate to interrupt here but we haven't ordered yet and I've got to feed this little lady here. My son went off and left her with no car and no groceries, so I've got to feed her and go grocery shopping before the store closes."
"Oh don't worry about that. Bill over there owns the grocery store and he'd keep it open for you, wouldn't you Bill?" said Hank Mallory. The man he pointed at nodded. "'Sides, you don't have to rush, store will be open for a few more hours." Mr. Mallory looked around. "Come on folks, let's let these two get their dinner. It was nice meeting you Jack," he said, standing up to leave.
"Same here Hank," Jack replied as he again shook hands with Hank. The small crowd that had gathered around their table dispersed quickly, echoing Hank's sentiments. Jack turned to Bob as he picked up his menu and looked at it.
"Sorry about that Bob," he said apologetically. "I'm used to that, you're not I'm sure."
Bob smiled at him and shrugged in a slightly off-center way. "Is ohcay," she replied.
Jack got the feeling she loved any attention, so he continued. "It's one of the things that used to drive John crazy whenever we went out. Does it still bother him?"
She nodded. "Little."
Jack studied his menu. "Have you eaten here, Bob? What's good?"
Bob thought for a moment. John always had something different when they ate here, which wasn't often, but she always had the same thing, the cheeseburger. She had fallen in love with it the first time John bought her one. A big, juicy, greasy, burnt piece of meat with cheese in between two pieces of bread, that John called a "bun," which was disgusting, since she knew from him and TV that buns were eema cheeks. She couldn't stay disgusted at their alien humor, just the thought of the cheeseburger was making her mouth water.
And she liked the French fries too. John always teased her about not eating healthy but she didn't care. She wasn't human. What would he think of the Nebari dish Cui? A dumpling in a little bowl of flavored grease, and it wasn't unhealthy for Nebari at all. She guessed grease was actually digested by humans instead of passing through inert. Anyway she always left allot of the cheeseburger and fries uneaten so that John had to finish it for her, or when she left most of it they had to take it "to go," and he'd end up finishing the "left overs." Funny he didn't complain about healthy then.
"Cheezabugger is good," she replied to Jack.
Jack smiled. Just then Jackie the waitress reappeared. "Are you ready to order?" she asked.
"Impeccable timing," Jack remarked. "Yes, we'll have two cheeseburgers. You want fries Bob?" She nodded. "A basket of fries too."
"Pipsi too," chimed in Bob.
Jack grinned as she bungled the word. "I'll have coffee, black, and she'll have a Pepsi," he said.
"Pipsi," she seemed amused, as if she was correcting him. "John say riot, noht you?"
Jack handed the menus to the waitress and smiled awkwardly at Bob seated across the table. He had no idea what he was supposed to talk about with his son's significant other, especially one who could barely manage English, so he opted for silence.
Seated across the table from Jack, Bob wondered the very same thing. How was she supposed to talk to him and entertain him until John got back? Damn that frellnik for not teaching her to speak English well enough and for not letting her interact with other humans. How in the frell was she going to get through this? She smiled a confident smirk at Jack that hid her nervousness and the knots in her stomach as they waited for their food to arrive.
Jack tried to keep a straight face while Bob discovered the crayons by the condiments, turned her paper mat upside down, realized it had outlines for filling in with crayons, and studiously began coloring it. She tucked in her lower lip as she reached over and picked another crayon then went back to coloring. Jack soon noticed Bob completely ignored the lines that were there to draw between and was drawing something else.
While Jack tried not to seem to be watching too closely, Bob drew a graceful outline of a person with a dark green t-shirt. The look of the drawing was a little like the art of a fashion designer. She then drew a thin gray outline like someone standing up against the other figure's side.
She seemed to have a problem deciding what color to use for drawing shoes on the figure with the dark green t-shirt. Taking all the colors, she laid them out in a fan above the mat like it was an amazing array of choices. Each time she went to pick one, she drew her hand away and went to pick another one. Finally she gathered all the crayons in her hand and held them facing Jack.
"Pehk a colah," she asked with one cheek dimpled.
Jack made the beginning of a chuckle but went ahead and picked one. Bob put the crayons down and picked out the one Jack chose. 'Chartreuse? Well. If his dad has no taste how could the son?' she smirked to herself and colored some sneakers onto the t-shirted figure. Jack shook his head to himself, amused. His attention drifted out the window.
Bob looked up and noticed Jack's distracted face. Next picking out a light gray crayon, she drew a tiny top with hanging front laces on the gray figure beside the t-shirted figure. Then she picked a tan crayon and started drawing an exaggerated something onto the t-shirted figure that wasn't G rated. She finished with a round red tip and nodded at her handiwork. "Ah frell," she muttered under her breath when the waitress returned and put the plate right over her placemat canvas.
"Are you going to be with us long?" the waitress's attention was on Jack.
"I hope so, I've got debts lined up till I'm almost 200," Jack joked.
"Only 200? I should've gone into your line of work," the waitress replied. "Ketchup?"
"Oh we've got-" Jack gestured to the ketchup at the end of the table.
"Heavens to Betsy, who knows how long that's been sittin' there hon, I'll get you another one," she walked off.
Jack put his hand down that he'd raised to object and looked at Bob. She was staring at her plate. "I didn't realize celebrity could spare you from food poisoning. You all right, Miss?"
Bob looked over her shoulder for someone named Miss until she remembered the meaning of the word. She stared back at her plate and smiled, with an edge. She felt very disheartened, which was very unlike herself. It was suddenly a burden just to sit there. The last time she had been there staring at the cheeseburger on the plate, it was a cheeseburger that was a part of John's world and John was sitting across the table from her. It took a few moments where she couldn't even manage a word before she managed to convince herself that this was all a part of John's world to her, even without him around, and that it was great, if a little scary, having Jack there.
The numb hole she'd sank into was a scary place she didn't want to sink into again. Warned, she sat stiffer upright and swayed her head over the cheeseburger, bringing her hands near it. The anticipation of the cheeseburger poured through her. All the mouth watering sensations were amplified by her hunger. It was a blend of sensations that were so rich, she held back against her instincts to grab the cheeseburger and savagely eat it, and relished the experience instead. The waitress returned and plunked down a bottle of ketchup just as Bob impulsively reached for a fry.
"Ketchup?" Jack offered.
"On wha? To whare?" she asked him as if she suddenly wasn't sure he had his marbles.
"Oh, French," Jack explained it to himself, poured himself some and set it down. Jack took a fry and dipped it in the ketchup then ate it. Bob got the meaning then and took the cap off the bottle. She poked her gloved forefinger into the bottle, got ketchup all over it and licked it. She looked blankly at Jack for a moment then grabbed the bottle and poured herself some. She grabbed up one fry, buried it in ketchup and held it in her open mouth just on her tongue. Her eyes closed and her tongue caressed the fry. Then she closed her mouth and drew the fry out, sucking the ketchup from the fry. She hummed. Jack looked back at his plate, his forehead lined. "I guess you like it...."
Bob repeated it twice with glee. She then went to pour some more ketchup. She looked up and noticed Jack watching. She poured some ketchup on his plate to be generous and then poured some more on her plate. Another gleeful fry dip and she left the fry in the ketchup, fixing on the cheeseburger.
"Are you going to have any fries with your ketchup?" Jack joked.
"Whah?" Bob looked up from the cheeseburger, wide eyed. She looked at the fries on her plate. "Ahm," Bob gathered up all the fries in her hands like she'd gathered the bunch of crayons and put them all on top of Jack's pile of fries with a pleasant smile to herself that she was giving him a gift. "Wulcome," she simply said, turning her attention back to the cheeseburger.
Jack took a deep breath and reached for the ketchup. "I can have the rest of the ketchup too?" he asked, not sure anymore.
Bob tore her attention away from the cheeseburger to look up at him and then process what he said. She quickly took a swipe into the ketchup on her plate with a gloved finger, sucked it off and then used two fingers to spoon the ketchup on her plate onto his. She wiped the fingers off on the edge of his plate for good measure and nodded pleasantly, again returning to the cheeseburger.
Jack was moving so she looked up to find he was chuckling quietly with his hand over his face. She widened her eyes in amazement at peculiar human humor. Looking back to the cheeseburger, she picked it up with both hands at opposite sides and slowly lifted it up to her mouth. She savored all the smells and flavors as she very slowly took one wide bite.
Jack tried to take a bite of the cheeseburger in his own hands, but he was forced to watch as Bob seemed to be having a profound sensual experience taking the slowest bite of cheeseburger in history. He managed to take a bite but it was hard to chew it and swallow while Bob enjoyed chewing it as much as biting it.
After she swallowed, she seemed somehow happy and relieved. She contentedly hummed and took another very slow bite like it was a luxury she was indulging herself in. Then she set it down. After swinging her feet and looking around the room and out the windows as he ate, she looked at her plate again. She polished all the remainder of ketchup off the plate with the remaining fry before holding the fry in her hand and looking at him as if asking if he wanted it.
Jack stopped in the middle of chewing some of his own. She shrugged slightly and put the fry down, folding her hands between her legs and swinging her feet as she looked around again, much like a child. Jack finished most of the fries and his cheeseburger and decided he was very full. "So you have an idea what you need at the store?" he asked, looking over the check.
"Ketchup," she answered. Jack put his elbow on the table, his face in his hand and laughed.
Bob stood at the register while Jack paid the bill and talked with the waitress, the manager, the owner, the cook, the busboy, and half the town. Despite being preoccupied with Jack, most of the people were spying her, she knew. It was always drad to get attention without having to do anything to get attention.
All she did was look around and fuss with the uncomfortable belt on the black jeans John had brought her his last time out. He'd bought the "petite-est" pair he could find in her length, he said, but they were still too big. So she had to use one of his old belts but she didn't like the feel of the bulky belt. She did like wearing one of his old t-shirts though it was also very big on her. The print on the back and front of the shirt read "Bite Me" and showed a worried looking dog hanging by its bite on the rump of a surprised looking girl with a yellow smiley face printed on the seat of her jeans. She found it funny.
Jack took her short black leather jacket off of the coat rack and helped her put it on. She liked the fuss, but wondered if they could ever leave. These were the chattiest people she'd ever seen on any planet. They also seemed to be the nicest.
The building was also nice. With all the stained wood everywhere, it felt a little like it grew here. There was no security. It was primitive. It had a feeling of being slightly worn and very lived in, yet liked. The cabin was the same way and she liked that about it. She missed that feeling Moya had, being a biomechanoid ship. These places were sort of comforting.
Nobody seemed to try to talk to her, since she looked so foreign. They just took Jack's hint that she wasn't comfortable speaking English. She found herself wishing they would talk to her. It took forever. And not a single word of it was important. Jack broke her out of her daze with a tug on her arm. She followed him out then hopped alongside. "Wha the f-ck was ahll tha?!"
Jack looked at her, a little surprised. Not so much at the language as how she fairly radiated her annoyance. "Whoa sorry young lady, I didn't know you wanted to leave that bad."
"I-m-naut a yung lahdy!" she snapped. "I me -" she looked aside and broke into a smile.
Jack smiled. "I didn't mean to be patronizing," he made a curt nod. "Bob."
She breathed out and looked aside again with her lips tight, both frustrated and resigned. She just couldn't seem to get mad at him anyway. Sneering slightly, she fell behind Jack as they walked along the dirt sidewalk path along the town's main road through.
Loosening up her walk out of bored whimsy, her legs and arms swung increasingly and she soon started following her swinging motion and started sideways up the steep hillside leading up to another road and buildings nestled randomly among the forest. It was darker up there with the trees shading everything. She looked up for a moment, balancing on a rock with one foot, idling that she was in each of the windows she saw, living a life of cushy ease with all the lucky humans.
Gravity and a counter-swing of her arms and legs swung her stumbling back down to the sidewalk path. Awkwardly, she loosely fell back into step behind Jack. Suddenly, she stopped and watched a glider plane go by with her head tilted and her knuckles pressing into the small of her back.
Jack stopped and turned. "What?"
Bob broke off watching the glider plane and looked around a little for anything unusual. "What?" she asked him back with a skeptical blink.
Jack's brow knitted slightly in confusion. "Nothing," he nodded to her and continued.
Bob continued swinging loosely behind him. Soon her motions swept her and she followed them out into the street. Swinging one foot out at a turn and stomping a reflector in the center lines, she giggled and repeated the spin and stomp over and over.
Jack tuned in a moment and stared dumbly. After a few moments, a smile started reaching his face, but that soon changed when a car came down the road. "Roberta!" he shouted, stopping himself from running out to get her.
Bob looked around for an instant, and then smiled when she saw the oncoming car. It honked and swerved. Bob just hopped aside, crouched down, waited for it to pass, then grabbed a side of the spoiler on the sport car's trunk, swung up, and landed in a cross-legged seat on the cupped top of the spoiler, seemingly as casual as anything.
Smiling widely, Bob waved her fingers at Jack after the car passed. Jack stared, completely at a loss. He started running after her and she eased back to recline casually against the car's rear window.
The car swerved to a screeching halt after a few moments. Bob gripped the spoiler and looked around alarmed for something that happened. The car stopped sideways in the street, the driver got out of the car, gawked at Bob, and began yelling. Bob hopped off the car, crouched slightly behind the trunk as the woman came close and gaped for a few moments until Jack came running up alongside her.
"Ma'am, I'm terribly sorry ma'am, this ah," Jack gestured to Bob, "the young lady's a foreigner and she's-" Jack looked at Bob, then glared. Bob blinked. "You know better than to do that, young lady," he hotly scolded her.
"Damn right, you f-ckin b-tch, you smart-aleck kids are more trouble than you stupid kids know what to do about it," the lady joined, finding coherency.
"Now wait a minute, lady," Jack turned to the lady with a cautioning hand out, "that's not going to help. I'm talking to her-"
"To hell with you, Jackoff!" the lady retorted. Bob barked a laugh and kept watching the lady with patient amusement as if she had a secret neither the lady nor anybody else in the universe knew but herself. The lady finished off a tongue lashing with a queer stare at Bob then went to turn back to her car. Instead she looked again at Jack and stopped. "Don't I know you?"
"Well I um-" Jack started.
"-You're the astronaut!" the lady pointed at him.
Jack smiled, made a slight nod of acceptance and a disguised cringe.
Bob looked between them with interest until they began talking about the town, the fishing, and the weather. "Nuah," she crossed her eyes, turned around and stomped impatiently. Taking a deep breath and looking around, she tried to wait it out. After a few detuned and endless moments, she noticed they were done and the lady was walking back into her car. Bob turned around and looked at Jack petulantly.
"The store's right here," Jack smiled uneasily and pointed, trying to hide his sudden amusement at her childish behavior. "From the looks of things you've never set foot in it," he began walking, pulling her up alongside with an arm reaching around her back onto her other shoulder. "If you promise to stop those stunts, I promise I won't stop to small talk if I can help it."
"Juhs don dueh somthim youh can halp," she added.
"Here," Jack stopped at the newspaper racks in front of the store. He bought a newspaper, rolled it up and handed it to her. "You hold this, and if I rattle on too long, you can hit me over the head with it," he joked.
Jack rubbed the back of his head. Bob reached up and scrubbed his hand into his hair. She then tugged his hair. "That to-paiy?"
"What the hell kind of idea was that?" he demanded.
"Yours," she simply replied.
He irritably scowled back to her but that soon changed to a smile and a shake of his head. "You'd be great with a bat. Well I had to be polite."
Bob wasn't the slightest bit impressed with his excuse. She just followed with her bag of two ketchup bottles in one hand and the rolled up newspaper in her other hand and blinked.
"And no it's not a toupee. I haven't lost my hair yet. But now my son's back I'm sure he'll work on that. If there's anything you find out you wanted that we didn't pick up, you let me know and we'll be sure to come into town and pick it up," he said, fussing with the stacking of the bags best he could with one hand and still push the basket with the other.
Bob smirked as she leapt into the car through the window and sat down while Jack loaded the groceries into the trunk. She tried opening and reading the newspaper, discovering the need for the finer skills of paper bending. Once she conquered it with her lips on one side of her face, she rolled it up and kept it that way. She looked over her shoulder.
Jack had annoyed her and made her uncomfortable the entire shopping trip, but it wasn't really his fault. He kept asking what she needed, and what kind of stuff she wanted. All she could think of needing was John and a way to somewhere safer, or at least somewhere to run. The importance she gave her wants and needs were reversed, she knew, which only made her more nervous.
She had just smiled or nodded most of the time and let Jack pick up what he wanted or thought she wanted. All she made sure of was getting a prize bottle of ketchup, and since Jack was being so solicitous she knew she could get more, two. She looked down sadly and pulled in a corner of her mouth. Now she'd been around him a little, she felt like she'd give anything she could get to have had Jack as her sire, and be glad to give it.
Except, she smirked, John. No she still wouldn't give him up. She knocked the newspaper roll into her own forehead. Leaning to the side she had to check if she'd wrecked her makeup and she let out a string of curses at herself in Nebari. Fortunately it was still fine.
"Naa! Quit rethinking every frelling arn," she lectured herself. She nearly never thought of what might have been. Doing it this time only reinforced the rightness of the current situation. She found herself hoping things didn't go any more wrong.
Jack got into the car. "I'm sorry. I carried on back there like an idiot."
"Sowy," she said, looking right at him. She suddenly wanted to cry. "Yeu ver - rm nice mean to lihke John" she looked up to him, her head tilted. She turned to look out the window.
It took Jack a minute to decipher that, and then he decided he couldn't. But the expression was still clear. "Thank you," he cleared his throat. "I still think I acted like an idiot."
"I did naht," she sharply looked to him ready to bitterly disagree for him then looked back out the window.
"I'll quit while I'm ahead," Jack said and started the car.
"What's with you anymore, man?" Doug yanked at the upper sleeve of John's jacket, causing John to swing around. Doug moved further back, just onto the grass of the park. John walked off of the sidewalk and backward onto the grass, still staring distantly toward the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
"Yeah, I'm, not with it," John understated, turning, putting his hands in his jacket pockets and walking into the park.
"All right, it's nice to agree on something again," Doug walked nearby. "You said you wanted to talk. Well here I am, you know I don't do mornings, but here I am. Maybe I didn't hear you with all the traffic but I haven't heard anything worth a crap."
"DK, it's almost noon."
"Yeah, it's still morning, don't split hairs man."
"Stephanie ambushed me at the book signing this morning," John scrunched his face with displeasure.
"Some guys wouldn't complain if she ambushed them anywhere," Doug flippantly replied.
John gave him a droll look. "Well she's gonna be at the party later."
"Party? They always find one don't they?"
"Yeah that P.R. agent thinks I'm a movie star or something, I don't know."
"I thought that was you, that thought that." Doug cleared his throat.
"Ha ha. I've got nothing against the socializing, no, hit undo, I do have a problem with it, why did they hook me up with that P.R.? They didn't make it that big of a priority before." John stopped when he looked toward the bridge again. He had pictured himself on morning jogs with Aeryn here, once.
"Probably to keep you too sidetracked to notice they're not doing crap to keep the program going, dude."
"Yeah," John watched a couple jogging by into the park. The petite blond lady had a cute mop of hair bouncing up and down. It was just close enough to remind him of Bob. John cringed and bent over resting his hands on his knees. "Did I used to live without them?" he asked nobody.
"Dude, what is it with buff guys wearing big old baggy sweats?" Doug looked over his shoulder. "It's so drab."
"Huh?" John looked back, but his eyes went right to the lady. "Dunno man. So hey, do you think you can keep Steph off my case?"
"Me and what army?" Doug asked.
"They're still lookin' for the module?" John headed them toward the bathroom. He glanced to Doug when Doug wasn't looking.
"Yeah, I guess so" Doug replied, busy watching a policeman walking his dog through the park.
"They're doing shit about the program then," John commented, "just not anything good. Gary Locklan's gonna be at the party."
Doug looked at John. "Why didn't you say so?"
"Just came to me," John started looking for a phone to invite Gary. "I better not keep you forever. You coming then?"
"What the hell, why not, got nothing else to do but be your hanger-on. I'm not getting you out of lady trouble this time," Doug pointed at him. "If you invite two, they better like going in threes, right? What time?"
"Oh ah seven, better make it six-thirty. Vice-Prez Estrada's place. You got wheels?"
"Yeah, got my Honda don't I?"
"I meant a car." John slowly smiled, narrowed eyes on Doug.
"Oh haha," Doug threw his hand at John and left.
John sighed and headed for a phone. He saw Doug give a wave and a long odd look at a lady going by like he recognized her. Shrugging, John picked up the phone but kept a finger on the button for a moment, wondering if he'd ever be able to do much of anything and not think about Aeryn, and now, Bob.
It was nearly dark by the time they got back. Aside from Bob discovering the hazard light switch and insisting on playing with it like a mischeivious child, the trip home had been quiet.
A few times, though, he couldn't help get the impression she was barely keeping from crying for some reason. He assumed she missed John. He also couldn't help get the groundless impression she was the type that wouldn't seem to be likely to miss anyone, but have to come back to someone all the same.
Bob again leapt out of the window and hurried to the trunk. She ran back, leaned in, found the trunk button, pushed it and ran back to the trunk with a cackle. Jack shook his head as he put the car into park and got out. Bob hurriedly helped Jack carry in the groceries and put them away, working hard at it, harder than he could ever get his son to, he thought with a smile.
Jack stood back and looked at the cupboards in satisfaction. They were stocked with food, as was the refrigerator. Jack glanced at his watch. It was still early, but since he planned on getting up before dawn to go fishing, he decided he had better turn in for the evening.
"Uh, Bob?" he said.
She came into the kitchen, helping herself to some ketchup by sticking a knife in the bottle and licking it. "Yeah?"
"Are the sheets and blankets for the hide-a-bed still in the same place?" he asked, looking twice at her eating ketchup.
She nodded a simple, sharp yes and froze, getting the impression she was doing something he thought was fharbot.
"I'm gonna hit the sack a little early so I can get up early and go fishing. I'd like to make up the bed."
Bob cocked her head and smiled at him. "I get thom," she said and bounced off. She returned a moment later, her arms full of bedding. She dumped it in a chair and watched with a pat entertained face as Jack wrestled with the hide-a-bed. As soon as he got it unfolded, she picked up the bedding and began to make up the bed.
"Wait Bob, let me help," he insisted. Working together, they had the bed made up in record time. "Thanks Bob," he said smiling at her.
She grinned back. "I ah, help." She wanted to say more but conversation was still awkward in his tongue.
Jack grinned. "Yeah, I know you helped and you did a great job." He sat on the edge of the bed and looked at his watch. "You know, I think I'll call that son of mine and let him know I'm here. Maybe that'll motivate him to get his ass back here quicker." He grabbed the phone and dialed a series of numbers. Jack glanced at his watch again. "I wonder what time it is in Sydney." He shrugged. "Oh well, doesn't matter, he can talk to his old man."
A moment later Bob's sensitive hearing could hear someone answer the phone and immediately recognized John's voice. "Hello," he said.
'Strange,' Bob thought, 'he sounds out of breath.'
"This is your dad, son. I wanted to call and see how you were doing. You sound odd, were you asleep?"
"Uh, no dad just had to run to get the phone. Must be getting out of shape you know. Uh dad, how'd you know I was here?"
"Bob told me you were down there. I'm calling from the cabin, John."
As she listened Bob could distinctly hear someone in the background saying, "Is something wrong John?" The voice sounded female. Bob made a slight subconscious jerk of her head.
"Is someone there with you John or is this a bad connection?" asked Jack.
Bob looked at him, a little amazed he didn't assume what she did. Could Earth technology allow bleeding of lines like that? The question didn't calm her suspicions.
"Must be the TV. I was watching a movie. Did you say you were at the cabin?"
"Yeah son. I came up here to see you and Bob, only to find you gone to Sydney. So how soon do you think you can get those tests done and get back here? I want to spend some time fishing with my favorite son."
"I'm your only son, dad, and your guess is as good as mine. Could be just tomorrow, I mean today, or next week. I'll do what I can though but I'm not making any promises."
"Fair enough, son. Do you mind if I stay here and wait for you? I'd hate to come all the way up here and miss you. I could get in some fishing while I wait, get to know Bob a little better."
There was a long pause at the other end of the phone.
"John? Son? Are you there?"
"Uh yeah....sorry dad, just tired I guess. I'm spacing."
"You're an astronaut, son. Space is what you're about," Jack joked. Bob looked aside and blinked. Well, she thought, she had part of the reason for John's sometimes odd and lame humor figured out now. "Sure you can stay there. Could you let me talk to Bob for a minute?"
Jack handed the phone to Bob. "Here, he wants to talk to you."
Bob grabbed the phone, stormed to the bedroom, closed the door carefully and began to talk rapidly in a foreign language. 'It sure sounds like French,' Jack thought of what he could hear of it, 'but not quite. Maybe a dialect?' Bob talked to John for several minutes before storming back out and handing the phone back to Jack. Jack had the distinct impression that Bob was not pleased as she handed the phone back to him and walked off.
"I just told Bob what she needs to do, so you should be all set until I get back."
"Don't make Bob fuss over me son."
"It's no fuss dad. Just sit tight, have fun fishing and I should be back in a day or two. Maybe I can sweet talk 'em into skipping some tests or speeding 'em up. You know, use that old Crichton charm."
"Yeah, well don't lay it on too thick John. You do what you have to do and Bob and I will see you in a few days. You want to talk to her again?"
"No, we're good dad. See ya in a few. Bye." The line went dead and Jack hung up the phone. He shook his head. John hadn't even wanted to say goodbye to Bob. How odd those two were.
Bob walked back into the living room and looked at him expectantly.
"John sends his love and says he'll be back in a few days," Jack told her. Bob looked at him skeptically but nodded. Jack looked at his watch. "Well, I have to go to bed, Bob, if I'm going to be able to get up and get some fish. Good night, Bob." They stood there awkwardly looking at each other for a few minutes. Jack broke the stalemate by giving Bob a hug since he was at a loss for anything else to do.
Bob stiffened in his grasp for a moment before plastering herself against him, firmly against him. Jack released her quickly and Bob stepped back with an enigmatic little smirk on her heavily made-up lips.
"G'naut Jack," she said breezily as she turned and sauntered off to the bedroom. Bob turned and gave him one last smirk before closing the bedroom door.
Jack gazed bewilderedly at the closed door and shook his head. "That child just ain't right," he mumbled to himself as he fluffed his pillow and got ready for bed.