Jack swore he smelled bacon frying. He stirred, half asleep, and opened his eyes a crack. Still dark outside. Much too early. He settled back down, but then got another whiff. Yep, definitely the smell of bacon frying. Jack opened his eyes and stared into the darkness. He turned over on the hide-a-bed, saw a light in the kitchen and heard someone, Bob, moving around quietly. Then another odor drifted through the room. Coffee.
Jack scrambled out of bed and pulled on his clothes. He tried to smooth down his hair as best he could but gave up after a minute. He shrugged; he was on vacation, he reasoned, and John's live-in had probably seen far worse from his son.
Jack paused in the doorway to the kitchen. Bob heard him and turned from where she stood at the stove. A knowing smile crept into her look at him. "Morning," she said. "Coffee," she said pointing to the pot. Jack smiled back at her and made a beeline for the pot. Bob definitely went up in his estimation by having a freshly-brewed pot going first thing in the morning, and he didn't care who knew it. Obviously she knew John well enough to have one going in the morning. That boy was useless until he had his first cup.
Jack moved to the cupboard, pulled out a mug and poured it full. He sat down at the kitchen table and took a sip. 'Damn,' he thought, 'that's good. Who'd have thought that Bob could make such good coffee? Well those city people really like their coffee, as evidenced by a Starbucks on every corner,' he considered.
"This is good coffee Bob," he said as he watched her expertly cook the bacon. Bob put several strips of bacon on some paper towels to drain the grease and poured the remaining grease into a large coffee can. He watched her wipe out the cast iron skillet, which had to weigh more than she did, and place it back on the burner. She grabbed some eggs from the carton sitting next to the stove and turned to him.
"Eggs?" she asked.
"Yes, thank you Bob," Jack replied. 'Funny,' he thought. He'd never really noticed how expressive those dark eyes of hers really were. They were really quite compelling. It seemed there was always something lurking behind them.
The sound of his name broke through his daydream reverie. "Yeah Bob? Sorry there, must have drifted off for a second. I guess it's too early for concerted thought. What did you need?"
Bob made some motions with her hands. "How?" was all she got out as she struggled to find the right words in her limited English vocabulary. Jack looked at her, puzzled, anxiously trying to figure out what she was asking. She made the hand motions again and gestured to the eggs and it dawned on him what she was asking.
"Oh," Jack smiled. "How do I want my eggs cooked? Anyway is fine with me, Bob."
That must have been what Bob was asking because she grinned at him and turned to cook the eggs. She broke the eggs into the skillet and began to cook them, sunny side up. Jack chuckled. Just the way John liked them. Bob grabbed some bread and Jack stood up.
"If you're about to make some toast Bob, I can do that. Toast is one of the things I'm good at." Bob laughed and turned back to the eggs.
"So Bob, do you like your toast cremated into a cinder like my son does?"
Bob giggled and said, "No."
"Good," replied Jack. "Then we're gonna get along just fine because I don't either. I swear that boy doesn't have any taste sometimes."
He heard Bob chuckle as he popped the toast into the toaster. A few minutes later it was done and he set it on the table just as Bob finished with the eggs and set the eggs and the bacon on the table.
"Sit, eat," she said with a smile. Jack looked at the eggs. They certainly looked good, but looks could be deceiving. He never would have thought Bob could cook; she just didn't seem like the type. Her demeanor and looks screamed city dweller, one that lived on take out, not their own cooking.
He stuck his fork in the eggs and took a bite. They were good, done just right. The bacon was crisp, not limp or cremated. 'Damn,' he thought, 'the girl can cook.' His son had better keep this one around. Jack dug in and began to eat with gusto.
"Damn, Bob, this is delicious," Jack earnestly complimented between bites. "If you ever want to ditch that son of mine, you can come and live with me." Bob just gave him a little lop-sided smirk and continued to eat, what little she had on her plate that is.
Jack paused to watch Bob eat. She only had a scrappy portion of egg, a single piece of bacon and a single piece of toast on her plate, and she mostly seemed to push it from one point to another on her plate. 'God, no wonder the girl is so scrawny, she eats like a bird,' he thought. "Damn girl, you need to eat something. Gotta fatten you up and get some meat on them bones."
Bob smiled wanly at him and took another egg. Jack could see that she was just doing it to humor him, so he let it rest. He wondered what her real story was as he continued to eat his breakfast. He made a mental note to talk to his son when he got back. Yeah, he and John were going to have a real long talk about things when he got back.
After offering to help clean up and being shooed from the kitchen by Bob, Jack went to inspect his gear. He looked out the window to see the first fingers of light just beginning to peak over the mountains. Jack stood there remembering one of the few times he had been able talk Leslie into coming up here.
They'd watched the sunrise over the mountains one morning after making love virtually all night. Very nearly on this same spot, he chuckled to himself as he looked around. Of course it had just been the two of them, the kids were scattered about, busy with their friends and their own lives, so the cabin had been theirs. Jack sighed. God, he missed her.
Jack went back to checking his gear, idly wondering if Bob and John had ever stayed up to watch the sunrise. 'Damn,' he thought. 'Forgot to bring bait.' He shrugged. 'Oh well, I'll have to stop in town and get some.' He heard a squeak behind him and whirled to find Bob standing there, her hands behind her back.
"Goddammit Bob, you almost gave me a heart attack. Would you at least let me know you're coming before you do that."
"Sowry," she said with a smirk, not looking the least bit sorry.
"Sorry Bob," Jack apologized. "Didn't mean to snap at you. I'm kinda on edge these days."
"Do you know what time the store in town opens Bob, I'm have to stop and get some bait," he said.
"John has," Bob replied.
"John has some bait?"
"Yes. Is new. I get," she said shoving a large basket into his hands before running out of the room.
Curious Jack opened the basket. Inside was what looked like a neatly wrapped picnic lunch. He smiled. Bob certainly did know his son and was obviously the veteran of several trips with him. Inside the basket were neatly wrapped sandwiches, vegetables, chips, cookies, and a thermos. Jack closed the basket just as Bob returned lugging a tackle box that looked like it weighed almost as much as herself.
"Here," she said.
Jack set the picnic basket down and opened the tackle box. There, arranged neatly on top was an unopened jar of bait. Perfect.
"This is perfect Bob, thanks. I'll go to town in a day or two and get John a new jar. Thanks for the breakfast and the picnic lunch. I'll see you later."
"I go too," replied Bob, getting her coat.
"What?" Jack asked in surprise.
"I go too," she repeated.
Jack looked at her, surprised. Leslie nor either of the girls liked to fish, only John. This girl, on the other hand, seemed to be experienced. Maybe she wouldn't be so bad to have on this trip.
"Okay then, do you have all your stuff?" he asked. Bob nodded and picked up her coat and a cooler. Jack would have bet $100 that it had beer in it. He grinned.
"Well then, lets go," he said. Bob grinned and grabbed her things while Jack loaded his lunch basket and fishing gear into the car.
IASA Vice President In Charge Of Requisition Dominguez Carlos Antonio Estrada had a social list more expansive than his title was long, but the party was lasting even longer, or so it felt to John. And he'd just arrived two minutes ago.
As much as he tried, John found he couldn't complain too much. True, he couldn't get Gary Locklan or anyone else Doug was interested in to the party, so Doug had told John he was on his own. Doug probably didn't want to be around the party anyway, with people thinking Doug and himself were bitter ex-friends, or trying to stir trouble between them for their social entertainment.
Luckily, his fears had been exaggerated. From the moment they'd arrived, Stephanie preoccupied herself by socializing with "important people" like the Vice-Prez and others. John was left to fend for himself in a sea of curious guests, liquor and girls, girls, girls.
John leaned against the long table that served for a bar, set against the back of a couch at the center of the huge living area. He was hemmed in on either side by a group of girls. The one he was actually talking to was a substantial lady in a flowered dress that reminded him of something his grandmother would wear. He didn't mind her, in fact their conversation was pleasant, but the others were intent on schmoozing to the point of being annoying.
Since the nicer lady had a relative that worked at Cape Canaveral, John tried to carry on a conversation about Cape Canaveral. But the skinny little red-head model to his left kept making brassy interjections about how cool he was for being an astronaut. And of course a few insinuations about where they could go together. She was so cute, darling, supposedly talented and nervous in a professional sort of way that her phony sincerity turned his stomach. Even her red-flowers on white dress annoyed him.
Boxing him in on his other side, there was a blonde of the very type he would've been pursuing in years past. Blonde, tall-ish, a super rack, slightly mysterious, and something about her that challenged him to find out who would be more dominant, her or him. If he thought it could be him, he probably couldn't stop himself from trying. He smiled sadly to himself as he pretended to be responding to something the red-head was saying, thinking of how he had believed he was over all that when he met Aeryn. Poor Aeryn, maybe all he'd really gotten over was the blonde part.
"That was when I used to go there," Red-Head was saying to John's left.
"More Gots night club? Oh myyyy gawd, of course they used to have DoEnemy there what was it, two years ago now?" Blonde, at John's right, couldn't resist chiming into Red-Heads' conversation.
"They did, that's why I don't go there anymore," Red-Head defended her hipness, "operative word being did."
Taking another sip of a cocktail, John smacked his lips, taking a moment to cherish the ability to think for himself and by himself, with no Harvey clone of Scorpius shadowing his mind. He was reminded of how his thoughts had been steeped in both Scorpius and Aeryn for almost every minute of the eternity it now seemed he had been gone from Earth. Often he could barely pay more than scant attention to anything or anyone else but one or the other.
"I'm sure the places you used to go aren't of as much interest to John Crichton," Blonde volunteered for John. "What is, is where do we go now," Blonde suggested.
John folded his arms with his cocktail in one hand and tapped the thumb of his other hand on his lower lip. What did any of this world have to do with Aeryn, John pondered. She didn't belong in his world, and she didn't really care. If she tolerated trying to belong, it would only be through her love for him, and in wanting to be a part of "his" world. Aeryn was lost really, and perhaps it was inevitable she had to find her own way. Chiana would be happy to try living in this world, at least to entertain herself, though she wouldn't conform to any world for anyone, unless perhaps it was a matter of survival. She defined herself and didn't need any world. Both were put in awkward places because of him. Pangs of guilt for both of them threatened to drive him crazy. For his part, he wasn't sure he'd ever belong anywhere again.
"I'm sure he has some idea of where to be," Red-Head beamed.
"But maybe not," the lady with the relative working at Cape Canavaral retorted. "Considering where he is now." Both ladies on either side of him shot daggers while the lady took a shot of a drink and left.
"Can you believe that," Red-Head remarked. "People like that can't mix with anyone."
"Gah the manners of some people," Blonde agreed. "You try talking to someone and you get interrupted," she shot a look at Red-Head. "It's so rude."
"Ungh as if," Red-Head kept her smile on and turned her attention to John. "When my father was in the air force, before my mother divorced him and I didn't see him after that, I remember he said they put him in one of those, oh what are they, spinning things, like you've trained on. She said later, my mother, anyone whose idea of going to work is spinning in some amusement park ride is hopelessly immature, but I don't think so you know? I think it's so romantic and the imagination thing is what gets me, it's about not being so old..."
John shook his head in some disbelief. Now he thought of it, Chiana and his dear friend D'Argo must have been smoking something from Noranti for either of them to get the idea she'd be a happy farmer's wife dash domestic servant for anyone, much less someone who didn't listen to her. Like D'Argo. Or himself, he thought, rubbing his forehead for a moment. "Hey would you like a drink?" he interrupted when Blonde interrupted Red-Head.
"I could always use another drink," Blonde agreed. "Fuzzy Navel?" she ordered.
"Can't be, I just cleaned it this morning," John quipped. "How about you, miss?" he asked Red-Head.
"Beer," Red-Head ordered.
John made himself bartender for the next few minutes. It was a relief just to get the subject off of himself. Some of the guys even came over to say hello and get a drink. Usually they kept away, not liking him very much, since he was keeping most of the ladies distracted. That was fine with him, since the ones that weren't too stuck on how much they commanded a ladies attention were usually the nicer kind of people anyhow. He usually just let people think what they wanted anymore. Besides he didn't feel any need to make anyone else as miserable as he felt.
"John Crichton," he heard a familiar, thickly accented voice speaking. John turned from mixing yet another drink to see a young black-haired lady of possibly lighter middle-eastern complexion. When she smiled, he remembered her as one of the ladies he met on one of his trips to Egypt. "You remember it me in Cairo?" she continued in her thick accent. "Ketifa?"
He remembered Ketifa. Her father, a fine man and shrewd businessman, owned a tourist transportation company. He'd liked John just fine, but didn't like her hanging around John any too much. Ketifa was a new generation, independent minded career woman, she had assured both men. John didn't doubt it. Still, he respected her father's wishes and kept very proper with her, despite her obvious interest. A flash of her father gazing at him with the eyes of an eagle in the back of one of his taxi, careening through Cairo, was enough to keep him firmly in his place.
Besides, Ketifa had long black hair that reminded him of Aeryn, and what somehow troubled him more, she had this way of staring with her dark eyes that vaguely reminded him of Chiana. It made him uncomfortable in Cairo, and it made him uncomfortable here in Sydney.
"Yes, Mr. Crichton," Ketifa accepted his polite hand shake. "Do you miss Cairo?"
"It's a great city, but honestly, I didn't get to know it well. How is your father?"
"Yes you take your time in museums, not enough in now. Always is the same, my father," Ketifa replied with a dismissive wave of her hand. "More business is always. Enough so I send here to the University."
"Oh," John stepped away from the table to let impatient guests mix their own poisons. "You're going to a University here? Congrats. What are you taking? Don't say psychology," John teased.
"No! I like psychology but not psychologists," Ketifa smiled. "I am major in accounting and ancient middle-east-ern history."
"Good combination, accounting to history," John smiled back. "What was all that you gave me about people putting too much attention on the ancient past?"
"You are part to blame," Ketifa explained. "Since you I think, I have always studied this and it is interest to many. So," she shrugged, "I may as well take the hand...."
"Where it leads," John nodded. "Good, you're pretty sharp at it, you could go places. But I take it you're not thinking of pursuing it professionally."
"No?" Ketifa asked, curious how he presumed that.
"The uh, accounting part," John scrunched his face and nodded.
"I'm taking accounting management," Red-Head reappeared to John's left.
"Think you can manage her?" John absently remarked, to four overly eager laughs as Blonde and another black haired lady hemmed him in. A small commotion rose as the lights dimmed. To his relief, a short film was next on the party itinerary.
John managed to worm out of the company and escape onto the patio. He didn't hurry, though. After Moya's outer terrace, no terrace was as inviting.
Jack drove with a silent Bob for about an hour until Jack spotted the barely visibly road that led to a spot where he and John had gone fishing many times before. It was freely accessible for fishing, and being just outside the National Park boundaries, he didn't need a special permit.
He carefully pulled the car off the road and drove slowly down the barely passable track. 'Good thing it hasn't rained in a while,' he thought, 'or else the car would get stuck.' In those conditions he'd need nothing less than a four-wheel drive. As it was, the rough road made him wonder if he shouldn't just walk it. He decided not to, in consideration of his seemingly delicate passenger.
Bob bounced around in her seat allot at first, but she actually seemed to think it was fun. Her hands kept feeling the seats as if she somehow wasn't used to cushioned, soft seats. He wondered what those mod French types sit on these days.
On some very uncanny impulse, her hand snapped out of the window with amazing speed. By the time he looked, she was opening her hand and studying the insect she'd caught. "Looks like a nice dragonfly you caught," he felt embarrassed to hear himself talking to her almost like she was a kid. She got up onto her knees on the seat and bent upright leaning out of the window. Jack just laughed and shook his head.
About 15 minutes of slow travel later, they pulled into a clearing next to a silver strand of flowing water. Jack recognized the spot immediately, only the last time he'd been here it had been lush and green with the first full flower of summer. Now the grass that covered the clearing and bank was brown and dry, although here and there a patch of green still struggled. Most of the trees still had their leaves which had turned different shades of yellow, red, and orange. Interwoven amongst the sea of reds, yellows, and browns was the occasional green of a pine tree. Below it all lay the small, blue river, just a trickle now because of the dry autumn.
Jack surveyed the river. In parts, it had retreated to a small stream, long trails of thick algae threatening the choke the river as densely as the forest in the places it overran the riverside. Still, he spotted a few possible nooks to fish.
"Missed peak season for fishing this river," Jack commented to nobody. He made to cast his fishing line into the water but hesitated, glancing back to the strange girl squatting near his tackle box and rifling through it. The way she swayed her head at times made him wonder about her, as if her whole quirky manner and those huge black eyes weren't foreign enough.
How his son came to hook up with such an unconventional type and managed to get her to settle with him out here was beyond any explanation he could think up. He simply had to settle for John's explanation. "It just happened," he'd said.
"You like to fish?" Jack asked before casting.
"No." She swayed a little. "Yes. Sowt of." Her eyes widened to herself to remember what John thought of her hands-on fishing technique and imagine what his father would think.
"You like it out here. In the forest. You like your solitude?" Jack asked. "I'm not intruding?" he looked back with a smile.
She sprung on a smile. "No. Yes. I like it. Why I'm hare. You're excused. Well came."
He hesitated and then smiled genuinely enough, turning his attention back to the river. She stopped rifling through the tackle box and let her thoughts sweep away with the rustle of leaves and the buzz and clicks of countless insects. There was that one thing she'd found it offered, life. This place was more alive than any place she could think of.
John sighed to himself and ambled out with his beer onto the balcony of IASA Vice President In Charge Of Requisition Dominguez Carlos Antonio Estrada's posh pad. As he leaned against the railing, gazing at the dazzling lights of the Sydney skyline, a small breeze lightly ruffled his hair, providing a breath of cool relief from the hot, crowded suite. John turned and looked back over his shoulder at the people crowding the place. The miraculously empty balcony and the cool night air brought him a welcome respite from the press of people.
Through the sliding door, he could see Stephanie. Despite pretending to watch the show on the screen, she was busy socializing with the Vice Prez himself, who stood next to her. Lost in his thoughts, John didn't hear the new arrival to the balcony until she spoke.
"Sorry, didn't know anyone was out here," a slightly tomboyish and musical Aussie voice apologized. Startled, John whirled toward the voice, his hand instinctively dropping toward his hip. The woman took an involuntary step back. "Sorry, didn't mean to startle you."
John took a deep breath and smiled to reassure her. "Its okay, my fault really, I wasn't paying attention." He held out his hand. "Hi, I'm John 'Hair Trigger' Crichton."
The woman stepped away from the door and grabbed his hand, shaking it firmly despite the petite size of her hand. "Hi, I'm Annie 'Throw Me' Rice. Nice to meet you."
John couldn't help but chuckle at her name. "Annie Rice as in....vampires?"
"Yeah, the very same, but, I'm obviously not her," Annie lackadaisically replied, "or a vampire. And you're the astronaut?"
"The very same, but, I am me, no twins, clones or Xerox here, just a very good backup."
Annie looked at him slightly puzzled, but after a moment just shrugged. "So what brings you here to Australia?"
"IASA business. Boring stuff," John grinned, "not like acting."
Annie snorted indelicately and laughed. "Let me tell you a secret, acting is mostly standing around waiting for the crew to set up for the next shot."
"I like your show though," John said. "Although you got all the stuff about space wrong."
"Well you'd know, since you work up there, so aaaahm," Annie whipped a tiny spiral notepad and purple glitter pen out of her hand held wallet. "Tell me what's wrong and I'll tell the writers, although I can't guarantee they'll listen," Annie shrugged and put the pad and pen back in her wallet.
John shrugged. "It's just different is all. Show's too squeaky clean. Space is dirty, cluttered, messy, lots of body fluids everywhere." John stopped himself there. He could give her quite an earful about the realities of space, but he didn't want her to have nightmares for the rest of her life.
Annie stared at him a moment and laughed. "You're funny," she had him know. "Most guys, when they learn who I am, and the part I play on the show, they ask me how long it takes to put the makeup on, and then ask if they can help me take it off."
John grinned back at her. "Well I was wondering."
Annie laughed again, her eyes sparkling with cheeky humor. "So, you are human after all."
"And a red-blooded American male," he replied with exaggerated bravado. He was suddenly fascinated by her cupid's bow of a mouth, idly wondering what those lips would look like painted grey.
"Hello," Annie waved her hand in front of his eyes for a moment. "Earth to John Crichton, are you there?"
"Huh? Oh," he made a weak attempt to gesture that the traffic in the streets below was distracting him. "Sorry what were you saying?"
"I said, are you here with someone? I'm sorry," she apologized for her hands tapping together on the railing, "I'm quitting smoking, the um, meditation I do, it's very helpful but it still drives me nuts sometimes. You just looked then like you were a million miles away."
"Sorry," John grinned sheepishly. "I was thinking about someone...." he hesitated. "My girlfriend," he decided to table it and rested his forearms on the railing, feeling relieved at admitting it.
"Oh, is she here at the party with you?" Annie asked, politely and genuinely curious.
John shook his head no. "She's back in the States. I'm here with....with a friend tonight. Or I was going to be, but he didn't show so....I'm here with someone else."
"Oh," Annie was unflappable. "So are you like a sailor, with a girl in every port?" she asked with a teasingly naughty expression.
John had the good grace to blush at her words. "Yeah, until recently, I guess you could say that."
Annie looked embarrassed. "Hey look, I'm sorry I said that. I should get my head bashed in sometimes, I just say things. Look it was nice meeting you, I think...." she said nodding toward the apartment. "I should go inside."
John reached out a hand. "No, please stay. I'm sorry, we seem to be starting out on the wrong foot. I'm not coming on to you. Okay, strike that, rewind, yeah, I was, but I'm sorry. Not that I was coming on to you. You seem really nice and really beautiful, and you just somehow remind me of my girlfriend, and I guess I just miss her so much. Uh, sorry, I guess I'm babbling. Just please stay and let's just talk. Unless you need a drink and after that, naah, can't blame you."
Annie laughed. "I'm sorry too and I'm not laughing at you. I think you're kinda cute when you babble." She held out her hand. "Let's start over. My name is Annie Rice and you are?"
John held out his hand and flashed her his best million dollar smile, the one that had made thousands of women the world over fall in love with him. Or so they said. Whoever they were. "Hi, I'm John Crichton."
"See, that's better," Annie tucked in her lower lip and looked upward innocently for a moment. "You do have your father's smile," she rested her forearm on the railing and her chin on her fist and smiled back at him.
"You've met my dad?" John tried to remember Jack mentioning her.
Annie nodded her head on her fist. "Jack knows my father. Jacob Rice?" Annie led.
"Ooh," John nodded, "yeah. Jack knows all those. Your dad only owns, what, half of Australia?"
"Shit no, not by a shot!" Annie laughed heartily and planted her fist teasingly into his upper arm. "You've got your nerve," she smiled. "He just owns what Murdoch left over. Seriously, dad's known him, your dad, for an age. But I just remember him faintly, until a year ago, your dad and I met at some publicity thing. I think the press people got us confused with Star Trek. So tell me about your girlfriend." Annie nodded toward the apartment. "Not the one in there."
John looked surprised at her request. "Well, tell me what brings you out into the out crowd first. I'm trying to avoid my date, don't tell me you've got to."
"I don't know your date," she looked up and blinked innocent eyes. "No um....I'm on," she gestured into the flat, "that screen, why I'm out here. Annie Rice with the nervous flutter," she patted her chest. "So your girl?"
"Well, she's allot like you. She's got short, white, well, blond hair, you both have the same mouth and nose, she's got black eyes, and she's just busting with energy but...." John chuckled, "I guess you'd say she's a Goth."
Annie burst out laughing. "I'm sorry but you just don't seem like the kind of guy that would be dating a Goth."
"What?" John scrunched his face at her in mock dismay. "You don't think I'm hip and cool?" He gyrated wildly around the balcony to Annie's peals of laughter, alternating between bad imitations of head banging, hip-hop and swing. Collecting himself, he straightened his suit and returned to the railing. "Hey sista I can get down and get jiggy wid da best of 'em."
Annie laughed and laughed. Settling down after a few moments, she finally was able to speak. "You really shouldn't do that, you might hurt something vital."
"You don't like my dancing?" John complained with mock disappointment.
"I wouldn't call what you just did dancing exactly. It was more lurching about like Quasimodo," she imitated his imitations and broke down giggling.
"There, see," John pointed to her, "I've got the middle-ages ghoulish Goth part goin', she loves it when I do that. I'm told I look like a grunge star in the making."
"Or someone having an attack," Annie supposed.
John laughed. "Ouch, way to kick a guy when he's down." He chuckled. "I like you though. You're honest, just like Bob. She always tells me what she wants me to hear, whether I want to hear it or not. Sometimes, that's the naked ugly truth, whether I want to hear that or not."
"Bob huh?" Annie asked. "Her name is Bob?"
"Yeah, but it's not her real name. I mean, it's short for Roberta."
"Yea....so if Bob isn't here," Annie looked back toward the apartment, "which one are you here with?"
John sighed. "Stephanie."
"The loud mouth blonde with the blue don't-bend-over dress?" Annie asked, then covered her mouth with a hand.
John looked embarrassed. "Yeah, her."
Annie turned back to John. "So if you don't mind a personal question, why are you here with her instead of Bob?"
"Because I'm the two-time winner of the William T. Riker Idiot of the Universe award," John replied. "But I'm gonna break it off with her."
"Roberta?" Annie made a pained face.
"No!" John cast a distant look into the night sky. "I can't. No, Steph."
"Yeah, when?" Annie asked frankly.
"Tonight. That was the plan, if I got caught with her. And I did, so...." John scratched his forehead.
"Next question then," Annie asked without missing a beat, "why?"
"Steph? She and I go way back. She's amnesia on feet. I don't know how much Bob suspects, but I've got to stop anyway. I'm the deficient human to blame here, Dad raised me right, and believe me I toted the whole monogamy, is this what John Wayne would've done, do-right values all over the place and in her face. But she's...."
"Not the type?" Annie supplied.
"Yeah it's....kinda foreign to her, that's what it is. Fidelity, from her raising, Bob's I mean, from where she's coming from....it's not like that. Maybe she'd meet half way but, that's not why....well, the thing is, there was someone else."
"Ooh," Annie nodded.
"Kinda shot the whole thing down, made me think....I don't know, I guess that it wasn't worth living that way anymore. Amnesia took on a new appeal. But....I mean, I'm the one who came in with this morality stuff, it's my point of view. Bob, see, she's very sensitive to hypocrisy. I'm slow, put the paper hat on my head, sit me facing the corner, call me a dunce, keep me after school, but that's what's gonna get to her about it. Now Bob's the one with the case on who's treating who right, it's so rich it's incredible," he looked sheepishly over at Annie. John then noticed Stephanie making her way through the people inside the apartment toward the patio door.
"Oh crap," he exclaimed as he began to look frantically for an escape route.
"What's wrong?" Annie looked around.
"Stephanie's coming out here."
Jack heard Bob laugh in delight and turned to see what had captured her attention. Suddenly the pole jerked and the line began to take off. Jack grabbed the pole and jerked the line hard, hoping to lock the hook more firmly into the fish, and then began to reel the line in.
"Bob, I've got one," he yelled.
"Aboot tine," Bob came running over and grabbed the little net that lay next to the tackle box. Bob clapped her hands and cackled delightedly as a fat, silver trout leapt out of the water. She moved over to the edge of the bank, net at the ready to capture the fish as soon as Jack got it close to the bank. Suddenly the fish leapt and twisted free of the hook. It plopped back into the water, narrowly avoiding Bob's attempt to catch it with the net, and rapidly swam away.
"Damn," Jack cursed mildly as he watched the fish swim away. He shrugged. "Oh well, you win some, you lose some, right Bob? At least we know there are still some fish here. Come on Bob, let's go find another spot," he said to the grinning girl. Bob smiled, grabbed the rest of their stuff and followed Jack as he walked further down the river.
Bob followed Jack down the riverbank a ways, until he stopped in another clearing, one much smaller than the one where he had parked the car. "This looks good. Is this okay with you Bob?"
Bob sneered her indifference, nodded and set their things on the ground. She watched Jack as he prepared his pole but quickly got bored and wandered off to explore. Jack concentrated on fishing, largely ignoring his strange companion.
Jack finally stopped when his stomach growled. He'd been ignoring it for a long time but he looked at his watch and saw that it was nearly noon anyway, might as well break for lunch.
"Hey Bob, did you want some lunch?" he shouted to the girl who was across the clearing crouched next to a log.
Bob looked up briefly from where she was poking at something with a stick and said, "'Kay," before turning her attention back to the log.
'Probably torturing some insect,' he thought. Jack set his pole carefully on the ground and walked over to the abandoned picnic basket and cooler. He opened the cooler and grinned. He was right; it contained beer and some soft drinks. He looked over at Bob still crouched by the log. She truly did know his son.
He looked around for the picnic blanket but didn't see it. They must have left it at the car. He looked over at Bob, still intently poking at something by the log and frowned. He shook his head. Almost like his son when he concentrated on something, he often lost all track of time. Maybe that was another reason why they got along so well.
Jack stood up and walked toward Bob. "What did you find over there Bob?"
"Sna-" was all Bob got out as Jack drew near and saw what she was poking at with the stick. A distinctive rattling sound filled the air forcing Jack to lunge forward and grab Bob. He pulled her out of the way just as the rattlesnake stuck from beneath the log. Bob immediately cackled and struggled with Jack to go back to the snake but Jack held on and dragged her away.
Bob twisted away from him and looked up at him with the sullen, pouty face of a teenager whose fun has been ruined, and a spark of danger of a woman who was not going to shy from insisting, had she not decided to be kind to him.
"Bob, that's a rattlesnake," he said.
Bob looked at him confused. 'She doesn't know about rattlesnakes,' he thought. Surely John had told her to watch out for them. On second thought, he probably hadn't, he was hardly ever at the cabin and Jack had the sneaking suspicion that they didn't talk a whole lot when John was there. Besides Bob must be a city girl from Canada or France and probably wouldn't know a rattlesnake from an art deco asp on a bust of Cleopatra.
Bob still looked up at him for an explanation. "That thing's poisonous; it could kill you if it bites you." Immediately her eyes went wide and her mouth formed a little O as she looked back at the snake which had emerged from the log and was slithering as rapidly as possible in the opposite direction.
"Yeah, oh, Bob. Come on, lets go eat that lunch you packed." 'That is if my heart stops racing and my stomach settles,' he thought. He decided not to get the blanket, settling for sitting on the ground. For her part, Bob kept scanning the surrounding area for snakes. Jack suppressed a smile. Maybe she'd be more cautious about them in the future.
Normally, this late in the year rattlesnakes wouldn't be a problem, however, the unseasonably warm summer and autumn let them stay out longer. The one Bob had cornered was probably out looking for one last juicy mouse before its long winter nap. Still, Jack decided to let Bob stay alert for the moment.
After a silent lunch, Jack resumed his fishing. He smiled as he observed that Bob didn't stray very far from his side.
Finally when the shadows were growing long and the trees on the opposite bank cast their shade on their fishing spot, Jack declared it a day.
"Well I guess we better mosey home, Bob. Won't be any good for catching anything in the dark."
Bob came around to his side from behind him. He didn't look to her, as she'd been staying pretty close to him ever since the rattlesnake incident. "Hey," she said, interrupting him gathering up his line. She gestured vaguely to the stream. "M-no fisshh," she seemed bewildered at him.
Jack had to laugh slightly. "Well you can't catch them every time. Don't be discouraged," he finished gathering his line. "There's always next time."
"Juss," Bob stepped away with her eyes widened, "Lauk Crichton."
Jack laughed. "I am a Crichton, Miss, too late to prevent that from carrying on to John. Don't worry, I think they'll be biting tomorrow." He could just sense she was rolling her eyes or something to that effect as she helped him pack up their gear.
Jack trying to keep from laughing as Bob carefully picked her way along the bank on their way back to the car, obviously searching for snakes.
Jack carefully packed their things into the car and looked over just off the path to where Bob was searching her pant cuffs. She even pulled the slack of her overalls to one side to peek down inside. The overalls were small but still loose on that tiny thing. That and the outline of her ribcage under the flannel shirt she'd stolen reminded Jack he was hungry. "Hey, Bob, got an idea, why don't we eat in town again tonight. My treat."
Bob ambled back toward him and the car and grinned. Any chance to go to town was fine with her. She smiled happily at Jack when he opened the passenger door for her. "Kay," she said.
'Girl's probably gonna have another hamburger,' Jack thought, closing the door. By the time he got to his door, he noticed she was working on her makeup again. 'Just to go eat a burger?' he shook his head. Oh well, Bob might be unconventional but she certainly was entertaining.
Bob shut the passenger door fast and hard. Jack barely got his hand out of the way. Just as Jack started to get angry, he saw her adjusting herself in her seat with the glee of someone who thought they'd just figured out something. Jack had to chuckle to himself by the time her got over to the drivers door, thinking that John would have to explain this social nicety to her or he might end up missing fingers. Then Jack considered that John may simply not be giving her these courtesies. What was wrong with young people today, he wondered.
"You don't let the guys open and close the door for you?" Jack asked, trying to find a way to bring it up without embarrassing her. It was his turn to be embarrassed when he realized from her reaction that she'd pulled that stunt on purpose, probably just to get a reaction from him, he figured. He found himself cooling off from a flash of anger again as he started the car. She was a young person, after all, and maybe he was acting too stuffy. That, and now that he thought of it, he had been ignoring her most of the time as he had talked to the townspeople.
He decided to let it go and not spoil the day. "Well," he asked as he backed up the car, "did you enjoy your ketchup? I mean hamburger?"
"Mm en-joy ed tha flies, tew" she replied.
Jack laughed. "It's a pretty hic place, I'll admit it, but to its credit, I didn't see any flies."
Bob's black eyes still looked ahead but moved a bit down, widened and jumped slightly side to side. "Odd," she remarked. "Enjohy you-are talkings tew?"
"Yeah I guess I carried on a bit. I admit I was a little discouraged at the fishing today, but I think I'll give Oscar's suggestions a go. I don't think I've ever fished up past the fork. Maybe we can get out there and try it out in the morning. That is, if you still want to indulge this old fisherman."
"Yeah noht say noh, yeah, early? Le-er?"
"Earlier? I don't know if I can take earlier, young lady," he laughed. "We'll see. Sorry if all that talk bored you there, it must have. It's nice they were more comfortable about us. At least I felt more comfortable with them." Jack looked to Bob, wondering if she had felt more comfortable too. She was more comfortable now, slouched down in the seat with a tired and drawn set on her face. Before he finished wondering if she was the type who was used to having to find sleep in any situation at a moment's notice, he noticed she was asleep.
'Poor city girl,' he thought. 'Probably not used to getting up before the crack of dawn. Probably just did it to impress her future father-in-law.'
Jack glanced at her. She looked even younger asleep, barely out of childhood, if that. He shook his head. He really hoped to god that John had at least made sure she was above the age of consent before he bedded her. That was the last thing John needed, a statutory rape charge. It was one thing he'd learned during his own stint as an astronaut. If a girl wants to go to bed with you, they'll lie about their age if they have to.
Not that it had happened to him, he'd been too happily married to Leslie to even think about straying. Not that he hadn't looked at all those nubile bodies that constantly threw themselves at him and his fellow astronauts, he was human and a guy, after all. He half wondered sometimes if John had gone into the space program because he wanted to be in space or because of all the women. 'You're being a stick-in-the-mud old man' Jack scolded himself. He shook his head as he slowed the car and pulled onto the road leading to the cabin.