Gently undulating grounds of the golf course, with its dappling of trees, sand traps and mirror calm water hazards, led gracefully toward a sprawling, crisply lined and surprisingly discreet clubhouse. Squinting slightly from the blazing sun but smiling at the pleasant Australian day, Jack guided the young lady walking beside him towards the primary entrance and followed her gaze over an area of patios where people were massed.
"Looks like there's a wedding at the restaurant there," Jack observed, "or a shower."
"Naw, wouldn't be dressed like that to shower," Bob observed. "Maybe we could?"
"Well you'd have to ask John," Jack kidded, "he might not be too taken with the idea."
The glance Bob pushed at him filled in for a poke in the ribs and Jack chuckled. "Funny," Bob sarcastically called it while absently straightening her shirt collar and plucking off a few bits of grass and 'roo hair on the front of her shirt before peeking a quick check at herself with the reflection in a window they passed.
While he opened the door for her, Jack said, "I was going to suggest we dine with the General there, if it's not completely reserved for the wedding."
"We can?" Bob perked.
"Sure," Jack confirmed. "It's called the Brasserie Restaurant and-"
Bob placed her hand on her chest and notified him, "I don't have any."
"Uh," Jack reassured her, "wrong word, dear. Not brassiere. We'll see about it shortly here." He unexpectedly had an attached Bob kiss him warmly on the cheek and smile teasingly at his ear before pulling away to stroll into the building along side of him. "It's to our right here," Jack directed Bob.
Her keen vision saw into the restaurant area as they approached and she noticed a display of the distinctive bottles humans used for wines. Assuming it was also a bar, Bob feigned surprise and wryly asked, "You're leading me toward a bar on your own free will?" Bob asked Jack. "You-" she placed her hand on his forehead feeling his temperature, "you're not getting sun stroke or anything?"
"It's not that kind of a place," Jack told her. "It's safe here. They do serve drinks, but it's a pretty formal place."
"Didn't John tell you?" Bob said, "I'm not safe around drinks o-or formal dinning."
"He told me you're a problem waiting to happen anywhere," Jack admitted.
"Yeah," Bob sneered, believing it.
"I'll take the risk," Jack told her. When they neared an open double doorway leading to the restaurant, Jack recognized one of the many young men inside as the son of a former associate. "I'll be," Jack said and gestured Bob toward the young man. "See the man in the green shirt and oxfords? That's Philip Classens, son of an old associate of mine. Very distant relation in fact. I haven't seen him in years."
Bob wasn't looking where he was gesturing beyond a glance and seemed to swing into him, closing against him with her forehead in his chest. "Don't wanna go in there now, 'kay?" she said so quietly and muffled that he could barely make out what she'd said.
"Now there's nothing in there to be intim-" Jack began to reassure her, but when she pulled away to sulk several feet away, he soon had a sense of what was wrong. Without saying another word, he approached her from behind and held out his cell phone around in front of her shoulder. She stared sullenly at it a moment before cupping it in her hands as if it were a fragile egg. As she walked off, Jack told her, "Oh you might not want to mention we're going to bars together," Jack kidded her. She grinned wanly. "Take your time dear, I'll talk to Philip and wait here." He shook his head to himself and thought, 'She really doesn't like being away from him. Those aliens feel the good and the miserable of love. Should I be glad about that or sorry?'
Hurrying down the steps from the golf shop, Jim chuckled quaintly at the little package of two golf balls he'd made a detour to pick up as a little memento for the frisky Miss Chevalier. If her fiance saw the gift, if he knew who she'd received them from and if he thought anything of the gift, well that would just be too bad as far as Jim was concerned. If the man didn't already know what he was getting into he was a fool, and the sooner he found out the better. More power to them if they wanted to marry Jim felt, so long as there were no false illusions. Jim had experience with illusions, he'd married one.
Little doubt remained in Jim's mind that Roberta was manipulative, ambitious and had a mind after her own pleasure, but at the same time she had a shocking frankness about more than her blatant sexuality. In a strange way she seemed to be unusually frank about her feelings even if it could be annoying or awkward. It was as if she were almost unfettered with any genuine care for the rules of society, made-up as they were. A refreshing and captivating combination, to his mind. In fact he was trying not to imagine what might've been if only he were still an ambitious young officer. 'You wouldn't have been golfing, you old duffer', he told himself.
To Jim's perception, Jack had ossified somewhat over the years and he'd expected Jack to be pretty uptight about a potential daughter in law at the best of times. So Jim found it curious that Jack wasn't too upset about the unconventional and immodest Miss. Perhaps he could chalk it up to the young lady's varied and very potent charms, because he was at a loss otherwise. It seemed to Jim that Jack was strangely preoccupied and almost as if he were withholding some secrets. The only assumption he could make was that it must be about Roberta. He had to wonder if there wasn't something between Jack and this mischievous Miss, but it certainly seemed to Jim that things weren't quite what they were saying. Or perhaps Jack simply didn't care because he wasn't actually expecting the engagement to work and didn't expect that Jim was buying it either.
Just as Jim was pondering these things, he noticed there was some sort of wedding function happening at the restaurant. 'I should go put a stop to that madness and rescue them from a miserable fate', Jim thought to himself, only half jokingly.
A fluorescent green streak in the sky caught his eyes and he quickly identified the flying object as a plastic Frisbee. A smaller scattering of people speckled the grounds opposite the restaurant, possibly the people not invited or wanted in the main event but who had come along with someone who was involved. Many were standing around watching a young red haired man using a Frisbee to play with his blue heeler and a certain young lady named Roberta. The young lady seemed to be having fun and Jim found the speed and energy with which she sprung around to catch and toss the Frisbee between the young man and his dog to be striking.
Once she saw Jim she waved to him, told the young man she was going and tossed the Frisbee to the dog one more time before starting toward Jim. Everyone watching turned a puzzled look at Jim, maybe wondering who he was that she would seem happy to see him. Jim's return smile was sincere enough and wasn't hurt by a look down. All her playing around left her startling shorts barely holding on at a record low, but she seemed to saunter along without the slightest care. Whether she was oblivious to that detail or not he couldn't tell. It seemed to him that the girl was all too expert at being enigmatic enough for others to draw the conclusions that worked best on them.
"Did you get away from Jack?" Jim teased her as she approached.
"Nnaw," Bob said and held the cell phone up. "Just calling someone and-"
"John," Jim assumed, "and the good part of that convo was shorter than your shorts."
Bob sneered, wilted and dropped her hand with the cell phone, but took Jim's offered arm with her other arm and kind of bumped into him as they started walking. "Hey," she asked, "like these shorts? I just got 'em. Think ah, John's gonna like 'em?"
"Well if he doesn't," Jim bellowed, "you tell me and I'll tell medical so they can try to resuscitate his dead donger."
Bob seemed to laugh and giggle at the same time in a strange way Jim found contagious. Jim snickered and wheezed. Once they settled down, she asked a bit petulantly, "Why'd you have to move the cart anyway? What was wrong with where I left it?"
"I'd rented it, so I had to return it," Jim explained simply while grinning like an idiot.
"What? That's not yours?" she asked, catching on. "You can only drive them here? Then....you came on the bus too?"
"No I drove in my own car," Jim replied, hiding some amazement at how she could be so world wise when it seemed she must not have been out much.
"Do you have a Por-sssh like Mister Payne?" Bob asked.
Jim laughed and admitted, "No, it's not the official IASA sports car for the fast men, at least unless their executives come by with a really interesting offer. I have a nice car that's like an appliance I use when I need to make a good impression. I recycle it every three years. Then there's the car I actually call my car. It's a broken down old wreck of a Holden." He sighed and smiled at her despite a sadness in his eyes as he told her, "Always been my car. I just can't let her go."
"Ahw that's okay with me," Bob told him and asked, "Can you drive me home so I don't have to take the bus?"
If she hadn't sounded so innocent he might have been a little startled, but as it was Jim laughed and said, "I'll have to ask your keeper. Whatever's wrong with going with Jack? Unless you're suggesting we take the ol' skulker with us?"
"Not a ssskul-ker," Bob snapped back, correcting him with a flare in her eyes for a moment. She didn't know what that meant but she didn't like it. Still, he wasn't a bad human and the Crichtons said to be nice to him, so after asserting, "and no-one's m-my keeper," she managed to make herself settle down and brush it off. Taking his hand as if he was a lost child she led him up to the entrance of the building and alongside of herself.
"Yes you're right," Jim agreed with her and held a little smile on his face, impressed by how defensive she was about Jack. "He's a very lucky man to have a son who has a girl like you."
"He doesn't have me," she bluntly corrected him.
"But I thought you were engaged?" Jim started to say.
Realization hit Bob and she urgently and awkwardly corrected, "No I mean, well yeah, it's just mm, how that sounds." Then she smiled too nicely and scratched the back of her head. 'Frell I'd almost rather face a squad of Peacekeeper Prowlers than these delicate dances around this frelling human cultural stuff' she thought to herself and tried to steady her nerves and hammering heart. The stress was intense and what she wanted to do was take this male off somewhere and work it out with a serious session of frelling. But no, that wasn't an option. There was no escaping this life here, she had to find a way to 'fit in' and make it work in a way she could handle. Navigating the intricacies of these human cultures in a way that wouldn't cause the wrong kinds of trouble constantly proved harder and trickier than her life had ever been before.
Jim smiled almost quaintly but mustered a scowl to reassure her, "Oh I wouldn't mean it that way. I don't mistake my wife for a maid. Or for my wife, but that's another matter." Jim quickly swerved from the subject. "That was one lucky dog, scoring a game of Frisbee with you."
"Which one?" Bob jokingly asked.
"The blue heeler of course," Jim claimed.
"I-I knew a blue healer," Bob said in a surge of emotion, placing her hands on either side of her nose.
Although puzzled by her sudden emotion, Jim clasped her opposite shoulder with an arm over her shoulders. She flipped into a hug and he tottered to a stop and embraced her. "Oh ho now," Jim comforted her, "what's all this then?"
"Bein' a girl," Bob said with forced amusement.
Jim half snickered. "It'll be like that sometimes luv," he told her. Frustrated, she mildly shoved from him and fell into walking along side of him again. "So where's Jack off to?" he asked her.
"In, inside there at a bar, I mean restaurant," Bob gestured to the building with her head, "talking to some guy, ah Full-lips Class-in?"
"Philip Classens," Jim guessed.
"Some kind of relative of Jack's? Or something?" Bob asked. "He didn't ah...."
"Yes," Jim explained, "his father, Philip's father Jeremy I should say, worked with us years ago. Retired, or more like a lay off with ceremonies. Enjoyed not more than a month out of the rat race and he had to cark it. Heart attack, I heard. Damn shame. We were all pretty cut up about it, even the Crichtons."
"Even?" Bob asked.
"You met our good man Payne," Jim explained. "There's always been a bit of a friendly, usually, competition you know, between various segments of certain departments and all that. Hate to say this but Jeremy always thought the Crichtons the red poppy to put it mild. But like I said, friendly rivalry. He'd arranged so if anything happened to him before Philip grew up, why Jack would be his guardian."
The two were approaching the doors when the doors opened and produced a dour woman in an expensively casual jacket, shirt and skirt balefully beholding Bob as she approached. "Excuse me young lady," she began to say in a way that suggested to Bob she'd continue whether she were excused or not, "you must-" But the woman seemed to have just noticed Jim and couldn't finish talking to Bob for her surprise. "General Morrison, it's good to see you. The wedding isn't for forty minutes yet. Have a good day and if we can be of assistance, let us know," she said and hurried away moments after Jim had clasped her hand in greeting.
"I eh," Morrison mumbled as she walked off.
Gesturing toward the departing lady and leaning toward Jim, Bob asked Jim, "How does she frown at the same time she's smiling?"
"Eh!" Jim was amused and nudged Bob with an elbow. Opening the door for her, he gestured her in. She seemed amazingly pleased with the fuss. Between her perky walk and the glance of her he stole from behind when she passed by him through the door, he was more than delighted and had to restrain his big grins once he resumed a place alongside her and she took his arm.
"Well there you are," Jack said as he emerged from the restaurant and saw that Jim and Bob were heading his way.
"'ey mate," Jim greeted Jack.
Bob was walking beside Jim and aggressively flipping through a travel magazine she had snurched from a table just inside the golf club house, pausing to stare at some pictures while holding the magazine vertically. When she saw Jack she dropped the magazine, angrily tossed the cell phone back at Jack with a quick whip of the hand and then continued past the surprised Jack toward the restaurant.
"Bit of a snit," Jim explained to Jack as he picked up her litter and put it on a table beside the restaurant entrance.
"I was afraid of that," Jack said to himself. To Jim he explained, "Things haven't been too smooth between them since the incident."
"Payne Adams would be happy to hear that," Jim blustered. "Say I think we should take some initiative in steering Roberta from the presence of our good man Payne."
"Oh," Jack asked, "I've made a tentative appointment for dinner shortly at the restaurant on the patio out there. Roberta was taken with the idea," he mentioned as he absently itched the cheek she had kissed when he suggested the idea. "If you can join us?"
Jim swore under his breath then said, "Crap no. It's time for dinner all right, but I've been obligated to a social event late tonight by the battle ax."
"Jim," Jack said with obvious concern as he picked up a complimentary paper from the table, "it's none of my business, but if I may say so you don't seem to sound the same about Margaret these days."
"Maybe not," Jim grumbled, "but then you haven't heard Margaret these days. Her voice echoes in my mind, as sweetly as a migraine. I'm sorry Jack. I'll tell you what. There's a sizable shindig tomorrow night. Lots of important people. I don't suppose your calender is too crowded tomorrow night hm?"
"No," Jack mildly replied and quickly saw it as a good opportunity for John to regain some social luster after spearheading the destruction of Aquatica. "In fact I think John might uh-"
"-Sure," Jim picked up, "I'd like you and Roberta, and John of course, to be there."
"We would be honored," Jack said as he walked into the restaurant with the General.
Philip Classens had to don his glasses to better see the young woman who had just strode into the restaurant. Very petite and cute as a button, she likely would have caught his attention anyway but two further points ensured his full attention: she wore the most daring shorts he'd ever seen and she was quickly shown to be in the company of Jack Crichton and General Morrison.
"Incredible," Philip swore out loud. Several of his buddies, gathered around him at a table all turned to follow his gaze.
"Hm," his friend Mike Wu commented, drawing out his glasses for the occasion as well.
"That trophe would be his," Philip cryptically muttered, but no one was listening. The moment he started getting up to walk over toward her, half the guys at the table were getting up too. "Steady mates," Philip told them, grabbing a few arms and trying to shove them back into the containment of the booth. "I know these guys she's with, just wait and I'll see if I can't bring her over."
"Sure," one sarcastically said, echoed by mumbles from everyone else.
A good looking, sharply dressed host of middle-age approached a counter just inside the restaurant to welcome Bob, with a most attentive smile. Jack and Jim shared a knowing glance at each other as they approached and discovered they didn't seem to be visible. The man asked Bob, "Are you here for the wedding?"
Bob shook her head no with widened eyes and started backing up from the host.
Jack struggled to keep a straight face as he gently placed a hand on Bob's shoulder and the other on her arm and assured her, "He doesn't mean you dear."
Thinking she must have been feigning the misunderstanding for a joke, Jim laughed heartily and the host and Jack laughed along. Ducking her head down, Bob smiled but felt embarrassed. Jim bellowed, "I'm General Morrison, these are my friends Jack Crichton and Roberta Crichton, oh I mean Chevalier." His line earned a dry sneer from Bob and he moved on to ask the host, "Do you have a table in this throng?"
"Yes, we have a number of tables in the far wing," the host seemed pleased to answer and delighted to stare at Bob. "How many?" he asked, continuing to look over Bob even as he shook hands with Jack.
"Ah, three?" Bob said and looked around over her shoulders. Since she still didn't see anyone else waiting, that didn't help explain how he could reach any number other than three.
"Two," Jack answered. "I'm sorry about that," Jack apologized to Bob, "but Jim can't join us tonight."
"Aw but-!" Bob began to gripe.
"-But we have been invited to be Jim's guests at a great dinner party tomorrow night," Jack quickly added.
"Oh," Bob said, her attitude instantly changed and she turned a big eyed, blank faced look to Jim.
Jim told Bob, "I can join you here for a minute too, but I can't stay." Strangely enough she rested her head against his shoulder. If it was some bold gesture, simple apology, regret or gratitude he wasn't sure, but his guess was some sort of gratitude. "I'd uh, welcome your coming to the party tomorrow night. Say, eight?"
She returned a very warm smile and said, "Thanks."
"I'm sure John will be pleased too," Jack volunteered. That elicited a startled stare from Bob. Then she snarled her lip and muttered something starting with an "f" and started following the host toward a table.