Thursday, September 10, 2015
July 14, part 2
As soon as the com switched off, Betra came over and took Anrel from me. Without a word, he carefully removed her oversized dress and placed her in her medi-crib. He was so good at it that she never twitched once in her sleep.
I stretched, feeling less tired than I had expected. I ached from sitting in one position for so long, but I wasn’t ready for a nap.
I felt good all over. Almost giddy, in fact. I told Betra, “Wow, that went well. I can’t believe we talked so long and I didn’t notice it. That has to be a good sign, right?”
“Maybe,” he said. He got behind my hover chair and started to guide it out of the room..
“Let me walk a little,” I said, stilling the chair from the controls on the armrest. “I need to move some.”
“Tep wants you to go to your quarters and rest,” Betra snapped. “Sit back down, Shalia.”
I turned to look at him, startled by the anger in his voice. “Cool it, grumpy britches. What’s your problem anyway?”
“You not doing what you’re told and making my life harder than it has to be,” Betra said, his tone hot. He glowered.
Oh hell. I had an ugly suspicion it wasn’t my wanting to get up and make my body work that had him in such a dither. For a change, I didn’t fly into my own temper and give him hell for being a jerk. Instead, I motioned towards the door. “We’ll discuss this outside of the room so we don’t disturb Anrel.”
Without waiting for his leave, I walked through the door and out of Isolation. I waited for him to join me, still guiding my chair.
Once the door shut behind him, I faced Betra. In the calmest, most reasonable tone I could manage I said, “You’re mad because you’re jealous.”
He jerked. His mouth tightened in a line and the crease between his brows deepened. “Don’t be ridiculous. I know you’re supposed to vet your options. I have no problem with that.”
“You know you’re supposed to let me go,” I countered. “That doesn’t mean your heart agrees with the matter. You’ve said all along that you can give me up once we reach Kalquor. You’ve claimed you want me and Anrel to have the stability of a clan.”
“I do want those things for you and the baby. They are things I can’t give, so I welcome the opportunity you have to find happiness with other men.” Betra’s tone insisted otherwise.
“So you’re saying that when you came in and I was laughing and enjoying talking with a clan that has that kind of potential, it made you happy?”
“Of course.” There was the note of a growl in his voice.
“You don’t act happy for me. You are acting like a jealous boyfriend, Betra.”
I spoke gently. I understood his pain. I really did, because I felt it too. I’d gone through it when I’d separated from Clan Dusa and wondered about the women they might be rescuing back on Earth. I’ve felt that nagging loss every time I contemplate getting to Kalquor and saying goodbye to Betra.
Betra has been open about falling in love with me. He’s also demanded I not fall in love with him because we will separate one day. Even if there was some way we could remain a kind of family unit, a situation that would involve Oses as well, we would be separated when the men took off on their ship again. That won’t work, because I have Anrel now. She and I cannot remain on board the transport with Betra and Oses. No, we will be on Kalquor.
I’ve done some serious soul searching since my baby’s birth and my near death from being contaminated by the It. I need clanmates, fathers who will be around for my daughter. I need to know that she has plenty of protection, support, and love no matter what happens to me. God knows, I’m feeling my vulnerability these days and my inability to be everything Anrel needs.
I really have to find a way to be stronger.
But I digress from my discussion with Betra. As conciliatory as I tried to be, he did not soften after I pointed out he was acting jealous. His whole demeanor closed down, telling me he refused to entertain any further discussion about the matter. Instead, he jerked his head in an indication we should get moving.
He said, “Walk, if that’s what you want to do. I’ll bring the chair.”
I sighed. Our little face-off was starting to attract looks from others in Medical. I decided it would be better if we could pursue the matter – if Betra would allow it – in the privacy of my quarters.
I gave Tep a little wave as I passed through on my way out. “I’ve been sitting all this time. I need some exercise.”
The doctor’s gaze flicked to Betra, silently pushing the chair in my wake. “Fine, as long as you don’t overdo it. Watch her, Liaison.”
Betra muttered something under his breath. We kept going.
My legs were just starting to feel wobbly when I got to my quarters. I headed in and went straight to the lounger in my sitting room. I watched Betra bring the chair in, ready for me to use should I need to.
I didn’t want to argue, but we needed to clear the air. Betra means too much to me to let him leave sulking. “Please don’t go,” I said. “We need to talk.”
Boy, when that man pouts, he does it all the way. “I have to get back to work,” he said. “My day doesn’t revolve around you, Shalia.”
He turned on his heel and made for the door. When it opened for him, Oses was on the other side of it.
I was determined to get things straightened out. “Oses, don’t let him leave. He’s hurt and angry.”
“I have duties,” Betra ground out. “Excuse me, Weapons Commander.”
Oses didn’t budge, his big hulk of a body blocking the doorway. “You can spare a few moments while I find out what is wrong, Imdiko,” he said, coming to a quick decision.
He started to come in. When Betra didn’t move out of the way, still determined to leave, Oses gave him an impatient shove. Betra stumbled backward, and Oses moved fast to keep him from falling. He grabbed Betra’s arm and swung him at the lounger next to me. As Betra landed on the cushions with a startled yelp, Oses continued inside, the door shutting behind him. His matter-of-fact expression had not changed for one instant. That Nobek is one cool customer.
He came over to stand guard over Betra. “What is the problem?” he said in the same tone that one might inquire about the weather.
“I spoke to one of my potential clans,” I said. “And I enjoyed it a lot.”
“I see.” Oses eyed the red-faced Betra. “The preview of Shalia moving on with her life is not a pleasant thought. I can only imagine how hard it is to watch.”
“I’m fine,” Betra insisted through gritted teeth. “I don’t know why you are making such a big deal out of this.”
“Because it hurts me to see you hurting,” I answered. “It’s obviously a big deal to you.”
“It’s my problem, not yours.”
“You’re making it her problem,” Oses said. “Imdiko, are you going to join a clan?”
Betra scowled and hunched. “You know it’s not likely. You are as close to a clan as I’ll get, Oses.”
“And it could be we’ll eventually find a Dramok suited to our needs. Unlikely, given your heterosexual proclivities and my age, but nothing is impossible.” Oses gave me a slight grimace and continued schooling our upset friend. “There is also the fact that I will serve the Fleet as a ship’s officer for as long as my health will allow. I cannot imagine another life. What about you? You once told me all you ever wanted was to work on board a ship, seeing distant places and exploring. Has that changed?”
I hadn’t been aware that Betra had never contemplated another life besides this one. I was more than a little interested in his answer.
Betra wouldn’t look at us. He stared at his knees as if they were the most fascinating things he’d ever seen. “I hate losing Shalia. You can’t tell me you don’t feel the same way.”
Oses sighed. “Of course I do. But I also know that as much as I love her, she cannot stay on the ship with me. Staying on the planet with her would have its joys, but in the end I would be heartsick for the life I was made for. I may even end up resenting losing the work that makes up much of my identity.”
Betra shook his head. “I know this situation is impossible. I know it, and I know Shalia and Anrel need a better Imdiko than I am.”
“Is there such a man?” I asked. “You’re wonderful, Betra.”
He managed a smile for me. “Oses is right. If I had the opportunity, I would give up everything here to stay with you and the baby. At first I would be happy. Maybe I would stay happy. But I would also think of all the things I’d wanted for my life and what I’d missed out on.”
“Even for our hearts’ desire, there is always a trade off,” I noted. The idea that Betra might eventually resent me for taking him from his dreams made me feel a little ill. Having him in my life only to love me less was not an option.
That he worried about the same thing told me a lot about our relationship. Betra might love me ... I know he loves me ... but he is not ready to settle down.
Betra closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “There is no point in talking about the ‘if’ scenario. The chances of Oses and me finding a Dramok who can make us an actual clan are next to none. In the meantime, you and Anrel would be waiting for us alone on Kalquor because we’re off working.”
Betra’s expression hardened after he said that. In a firm voice he said, “No. You need a good clan. Anrel needs stable fathers who will be there for her. Oses and I love you both, but we are not those men.”
He stood. “I have a lot to think about. Nothing can change the fact that you have my heart, Shalia. Yet for a little while, I think we should step back from each other. Give me time to get a handle on my jealousy.”
I hated hearing that we were to undergo a separation. In fact, something in me panicked a little. I relied on Betra for so much ... and it was terrifying to think of not having that.
I know I keep thinking this, but I must find a way to be stronger. On my own, without help. Just in case. Perhaps stepping back as Betra suggested would be good for both of us. In the meantime, I still have Oses.
I wiped away the single tear creeping down my cheek. “I agree. The last thing I want in the universe is to hurt you, Betra. But I have to think of Anrel first and foremost. She has to be my priority.”
He nodded. “No argument on that score. May I still sit with her as my schedule allows?”
“Of course.” I found the heart to chuckle a little. “Anrel will be missing her Uncle Betra soon enough. Let her enjoy your worship for as long as she can.”
That scored a bright smile from Betra. It faded just as quickly as it came, and he stepped forward. His kiss goodbye tore at my heart. “I’m still here as your liaison,” he whispered. “And your friend, once I get my head sorted out. If you need me before then, you know where to find me.”
I nodded, not trusting myself to speak. Betra turned and left.
I’m surprised to say I didn’t crumble into a sobbing heap the moment the door closed behind him. Jeez, how my gut hurt at that moment. But other than that one previous tear, my eyes stayed dry.
Oses watched me, as if he too expected a bawling, hysterical Shalia. When that didn’t happen, he asked, “Are you okay, pet?”
I nodded. “I think I am. Maybe it’s because I’ve already been through so many awful times. Or maybe some part of me is already starting to separate from this phase of my life. It hurts, but I’m not destroyed.”
Oses gave me a half-smile that held its own sadness. “Maybe it’s because you are so strong.”
“I wish I was.” That seems to be my mantra these days.