"Damn it! Dammit, dammit, dammit-- " She could still feel her face burning.
"Calm down and tell me what happened."
"Oh, Georgie, I'm such an idiot."
"Yes, I know, but what happened, exactly?"
"I h-h-hit him," Cally hiccuped, trying to control herself, trying to sort out the compounded embarrassment, anger and frustration of her feelings.
"He probably deserved it," Georgie observed sympathetically, patting her shoulder. "What did he do?"
"No... you don't understand... it was all my fault: I k-k-kissed him."
"You did? Why?"
"Because I'm so stupid-- because I w-w-wanted to-- oh, Georgie-- "
"Now why would you want to do that?"
"I c-c-couldn't help myself... I l-l-love him."
"Yes, I know."
"You've been coming down with it for a long time. And you are the last to know."
"The last to-- oh, Georgie, no!"
Georgie nodded. "I'm afraid so."
Damn it! Now she was going to cry. "Oh-- hell," she said as she felt the tears fill her eyes and spill over. "What am I going to do?" she asked miserably, wiping at her cheeks.
"Oh, but-- I can't face him. I hit him."
"You'll have to face him sometime. And apologize, too. You can't go about kissing people and then hitting them-- "
At that moment there was a light knock on the door; it opened and a man looked in saying, "Excuse me, ladies, I was looking for someone-- " and just as he started to withdraw Cally's scattered wits reassembled and she called out, "Tarrant!"
"Cally?" He looked hard at her to be sure, then he turned quickly and called into the passageway for Dayna. They both came into the room and he shut the door.
"Cally, are you all right?" Dayna asked, noticing the tears and hurrying over to her.
"Oh, yes," Cally said, wiping her eyes and giving a final sniff. "I'm fine; it's nothing."
Dayna and Tarrant exchanged glances and Tarrant said, "We got your message. Where's Avon?" Just then, another knock sounded, the door opened and Rafe looked in. Surprised by the unexpected company, he paused for a moment, but perceiving no threat, he came into the room and closed the door.
"Friends of yours, I take it," he said, looking to Cally for confirmation. She was still trying to compose herself, but nodded and said simply, "Rafe, Georgie; Tarrant, Dayna."
"Galen's outside," Rafe said. "I'll get him." And he went to the door and called, "Galen?"
Avon had been waiting for Rafe, knowing that Cally and Georgie were in the study. He didn't want to see either one of them; Rafe should know that. He was turning to leave when in a lowered voice, Rafe added, "Avon. There are some friends of yours here." That could only mean one thing.
"Well, it's about time!" he exclaimed when he saw Tarrant, anger covering his relief. "Where in hell have you been?"
"Here and there; round and about," said Tarrant lightly. "We only came back to return that shuttle."
"Never mind that."
"Never mind? Stealing a shuttle is grand larceny."
"Considering your record what's a little grand larceny? Are you ready to get us out of here?"
"Are you sure you want to go? It looks like this is one hell of a party," Tarrant said, looking inquiringly from Avon to Cally, who blushed, and back again to Avon, who scowled. Tarrant was damnably observant.
"I'm sure. Just give me my bracelet," he said, taking the bracelet Tarrant was holding, "and let me get my things." He put the bracelet on as he went quickly out the door.
"Cally?" Dayna said, gently, touching her arm lightly. "Are you ready? We don't have much time."
Cally was torn. She dreaded going back to Liberator, dreaded having to face Avon, but--
"Five minutes?" she asked.
"Five minutes. Then we've got to be off. Have you got the other bracelet?" Tarrant asked, and, receiving a nod, he touched the comm button on his own bracelet saying, "Vila, bring me and Dayna up, now. The others will follow us in a few minutes." He smiled at Rafe and Georgie and said, "It was lovely meeting you," and then they were gone.
"Hurry and get your things," said Georgie, at her most practical, pushing Cally out of the study. "Then come say good-bye."
Cally ran to her room and gathered her boots and the clothes she had arrived in. The shoes she had bought to wear with that pretty dress borrowed from Marian wouldn't be any use on board and there wasn't anything else she owned but what she was wearing. Going over to the dresser she opened the top drawer, and, as she expected, her bracelet was missing. From the top of the dresser she picked up the debit chit and the bottle of lavender scent Georgie had given her and put them in one of her boots. After one last look around she went out.
She met Avon in the passageway. He had changed into his own clothes, but he was in his stockings, carrying his boots. Silently he held out a bracelet and she took it. They didn't speak as they returned to the study.
Rafe and Marian and Georgie were waiting for them. "Oh, Rafe... Marian-- " Cally said, embracing each in turn as well as she could with an armful of boots and clothes. "What can I say? Thank you for everything." Then she went over to Georgie. "Oh, Georgie..." She hugged her awkwardly. "Here," Cally said, pulling the debit chit out of her boot and putting the chit in Georgie's hand, "buy something for the baby."
"And tell Wes-- " What could anyone tell Wes? "Oh, he never did like to say good-bye. But what can you tell him, Georgie? You've got to tell him something-- "
"We'll think of something. And don't worry. He'll understand." Georgie hugged her and asked seriously, "Now then, are you sure you want to go?"
And Cally wasn't sure. Maybe it didn't make any difference-- maybe she could forget. She didn't want to go back to Liberator now, not after what had happened, but she knew that she wouldn't be happy on Barram. Duty, honour, love, they all caught you in the end. She looked down at the bracelet in her hand, and she couldn't think any further, couldn't move--
"Well? Have you got the pip?" asked Avon.
They all looked at him. "So fierce!" said Georgie, laughing. "No wonder she doesn't want to go with you! You've got to learn to mind that sharp tongue of yours!" She kissed Cally, and put the bracelet on her wrist for her saying, "Be good," and then she quickly went over to Avon and, before he could protest, she got up on tiptoe and she kissed his cheek saying, "Both of you."
Avon didn't have any words to say. He stared at Georgie for a split second, then looked from Rafe to Marian. It was the only good-bye he could make. And because Cally was looking down at her bracelet, wanting to cry, she didn't see it; she only heard him say, "Bring us up."
* * * * *
"They're up, Tarrant," Vila said into the intercom as they materialized. "Welcome back-- " And then he noticed Cally and whistled appreciatively. "Where's the party?"
"Oh, shut up, Vila!" Cally shouted. Then she rounded on Avon. "That's just like you to go off without saying a word of thanks! After all they've done for us! Typical!" And she stormed out of the teleport room.
"What's wrong with her?" Vila asked as they both stared after her. "Hallo," he grinned, enjoying the view. "I've seen that dress before. Very nice-- "
"Vila," said Avon, glaring and seething, "that woman has gone completely out of her mind."
Looking over at Avon, Vila noticed the black eye. "Well, well, well! And what happened to you? Must've been a wonderful party. Sorry I missed it."
"Shut up, Vila," Avon said. "Just shut up." And he stalked off down the passageway.
"And to think I was beginning to miss the pair of you!" Vila shouted after him. As he watched Avon's retreating form he noticed the limp. "Must've been one hell of a party," he muttered to himself. "And I can't wait to hear about it."
* * * * *
Doc and Pearson and Krager and Elston were all out on the terrace.
"So that's it," said Marian. "You think my cousin is a criminal."
"That's a serious accusation," said Pearson, handing the camera back to Krager, feeling a bit uneasy. It did look a lot like Doc's cousin.
"Take a look," Krager said to Marian, holding out the camera. "You see?"
Marian took the camera and watched for a few moments. "It looks a remarkably like him, but... no."
Georgie had been looking for Wes, but when she saw everyone standing in a knot looking so serious she went quietly over to them find out what was going on. "Let me see," Georgie said, peering at the camera display. "Doc, you didn't take those pictures of Galen-- "
"No, she didn't. A remarkable coincidence. Remarkable," Krager observed.
"Exactly what I was saying," Doc said.
"Ah... well, that's as may be, but, ah... where is your cousin Galen? Let's get him over here and, ah... compare the likeness, shall we?"
"Oh, but... he isn't here," Georgie said quickly, nervous now, and a little afraid.
"Not here? We saw him not half an hour ago-- him and that pretty lady-- "
"Leah," Georgie said. "Well, yes, but... they're... gone."
"Another coincidence. Now then, why would they have, ah... left such a fine party as this is?"
"They've... they've... eloped," Georgie blurted out, surprising everyone, including herself.
"Eloped?" asked Krager, staring at Georgie.
"Yes, eloped," Marian affirmed calmly.
"Who's eloped?" asked Wes, arriving just then with Rafe.
"Eloped," Krager said. "After she gave him a black eye and all? Now isn't that, ah..."
"Krager, what's it to you?" Rafe asked.
"Convenient, I call it," said Krager glaring. "And it's my duty I'm doing-- "
"Duty, my left boot," said Pearson.
"Well, everyone admits there is, ah... some resemblance... and it's only my, ah... duty to-- "
"Has Galen gone?" Pearson asked turning to Marian.
"As Georgie said."
"Damn. I want this settled-- Doc, didn't I see you taking pictures earlier this evening?"
"You did. With the new camera cousin Galen gave me. Here," she said, taking it out of her pocket and handing it to Pearson.
Georgie and Rafe stared at Marian. Krager was staring at her too.
"I suppose you have that thing programmed for point-for-point analysis?" Pearson asked Krager and when he nodded, he held out his hand for Krager's camera, snapped them together and began scanning for images of cousin Galen. When he found the sequence of Galen and Georgie dancing, he cued the point analysis. Within seconds the camera beeped and displayed the result. "Ninety-six," Pearson said, unemotionally. Krager and Elston began to grin and everyone else held his breath. He scanned for a closeup sequence and cued the point analysis again. The camera beeped again and this time Pearson grinned.
"Well?" Marian demanded.
"Seventy-eight," Pearson said, showing the result to Krager. "But, with no exact correlations."
"Co-in-ci-dence, Krager," Marian said. "Are you satisfied?"
"Would you care to run the analysis yourself?" Pearson asked. Krager shook his head and Pearson handed back his camera. "Then why don't you boys go home and get some sleep?"
Krager looked from one to the other, wondering. "It's been a lovely, ah... evening, but, I do feel a bit, ah... done in," he said. "Please convey our, ah... best wishes to your cousin when next you see him. Good night." And with a nod he and Elston left.
"Thank you," Marian said to Pearson as he handed back her camera. "Come into the house and I'll buy you a drink."
"Doc?" Georgie asked, but Marian only handed her the camera saying, "Later, dear," and went into the house with Pearson.
"Georgie," Wes said quietly, "what was all that about an elopement?"
Georgie handed the camera to Rafe. "Wes, come for a walk with me," she said, taking his arm and leading him along the path into a quiet part of the garden.
"They are gone, aren't they? Leah... and Galen?"
Georgie nodded. "I'm sorry, Wes. She said-- "
"Don't tell me. I never liked good-byes."
"That's what she said."
It hurt even more knowing that she understood him. They walked on in silence. "Damn it, Georgie."
"If it's any consolation, she's following her heart."
"I know. I never had a chance. But she was worth the try."
"She didn't mean to hurt you-- "
"She didn't know herself how she felt."
"I told her you'd understand."
"I hope he makes her happy." If he said it enough times, maybe he'd begin to believe it.
Georgie smiled at that. "I know," she said giving his arm a squeeze. "You hope she's miserable, thinks of you often with regret and that he grows quickly into a fat, bald sot who gives her such a disgust that she comes running back to you. Am I right?"
"Anything can happen."
"And often does." Wes led Georgie back towards the house and Rafe met them on the terrace.
The scents of the lavender and the marigolds were strong and with the scents came the vision of Leah, so beautiful, smelling of lavender with lavender and marigolds in her hair. "Where did they go?" Wes asked.
"We don't know."
"Georgie, look at this," Rafe said handing her the camera.
She watched the replay of the pictures Marian had taken. They were clear and sharp and real... but cousin Galen wasn't quite cousin Galen anymore. Rafe and Wes were watching over her shoulders and when a close-up sequence of Leah and Wes appeared, Wes gasped and reached for the camera. He stared at the display and then replayed the sequence, stopping it to look at Leah's face. "Oh, no..." he said faintly, feeling as if his heart had stopped, as if the world had suddenly turned upside down. Leah had only just left and already his memory of her face was-- she was still beautiful, but--
He turned the camera off quickly and handed it to Georgie saying, "I think I'll go for a sail." Then he kissed her and went to call a flitter.
"Oh, Rafe, should we tell him?" she asked, sadly, watching Wes go.
"Tell him what? It won't hurt any less. At least, this way he thinks she's happy."
"Do you think they will be? Happy, I mean."
"I don't know," he said, putting his arm around her. He gave her a kiss and they started walking into a quiet part of the garden, thinking their own thoughts. After a while Rafe laughed softly and said, "The last time I got slapped I ended up married."
"I remember," Georgie said softly. She smiled and her arm tightened about his waist, but her thoughts were far away. "I hope they'll be safe."
"I hope so, too."
"Oh, Rafe," she said turning to him, "I wish-- "
Rafe put a finger to her lips, saying, "Hush. It couldn't be any different. They're doing what they have to do."
"I know, but-- isn't there something we could do?" she asked looking up at him intently, searching his face for an answer. "Isn't there something we should do?"
Looking down into her eyes Rafe didn't know what to say. He only knew that he loved this woman and her child and that he would do anything to keep them safe. "We'll do whatever we need to do," he said seriously, "whatever we have to do. I promise." He kissed her to seal the promise and they held each other close as they walked back to the house.