Adelie and Nate face the first rough point in their relationship.
“If Haystack isn’t careful, the Princess is going to roast his tail feathers.” Jake stared through his binoculars to get a better view of the happenings in the sky. Nate shoved his hands deeper into the pockets of his parka to keep them from freezing.
“He’ll be lucky if she doesn’t do worse to him…”
“Come on, come on… boom! There, Haystack’s toast.”
“Told ya so.”
The sky was a muddy grey, and the ground did its best to blend with it under a blotchy blanket of snow. The only upside of the terribly cold weather was that the Stingray cockpits didn’t reach oven temperatures as fast as they usually did. Nate couldn’t help but sigh proudly as Adelie touched down perfectly. Jake nudged him. “Stop being so star-struck.”
“You’re just jelly that you don’t have such a kick-ass girlfriend.” He sauntered over to where Adelie had brought her Stingray to a stop. The bubble canopy swung open, and she pulled off her helmet. Wisps of hair stuck to her sweaty forehead and her cheeks glowed pink.
“Nate!” He lived for the way she beamed at him whenever she saw him. “What are you doing here?”
“I have radar exercises soon. Hunting tiny things hidden in the woods. How boring. Awesome dogfight, by the way.”
With a laugh, his beautiful girlfriend exited her plane and climbed down the ladder. “Thank you. Haystack isn’t as difficult to beat as you are.”
He longed to sweep her into his arms and kiss her in the shelter of the plane, but they had a “No kisses on base” agreement, and he knew Adelie wouldn’t sway one iota from her professionalism as long as both of them were wearing flight suits.
“But he’s one of the few true opponents you still have left since Payne refuses to pitch us against each other again.”
“Silly man fears for his equipment…” She shook her head.
“I don’t care as long as this fear means he pairs us up all the time.”
Her hand slipped into his as they walked back. Jake welcomed them with a grin. “What a start to the weekend… nice show of force up there, Adelie. Very impressive.”
“Thank you, Jake.”
“Are you coming to the rugby game tomorrow? I’ll bet Nate has enlisted you for support. If we win, we’re going to the playoffs in Shanghai Five!”
“Yes, and how exciting would that be! Of course, I’ll be there tomorrow.” There was a strange pitch in her voice, and it strummed the string of worry in his stomach. Nate followed her to her locker.
“You’ve got a problem with the playoffs, babe.” He leant against the adjacent locker, watching her stowing her stuff.
“Yes, you do. Your voice goes all flat, and your excitement sounds forced.”
She sighed and placed her helmet more carefully than necessary on the top shelf of her locker. She slowly closed the door and locked it, then turned and leant against its metal surface. As her eyes met his, they were large and full of reluctance. He stepped closer, wishing he could wrap her in his arms. No chance. Adelie smoothed the parka over his shoulders.
“I don’t really want to talk about it here and now.”
“Will you tell me tonight?”
She let him wait until after dinner when they were comfortable snuggled up on her bed. With her securely in his arms, he decided to press the matter again.
“So, about the playoffs thing… what’s your trouble?”
Adelie sighed. “It’s foolish. I’m worried… worried that something’s going to happen to you.” Exasperated she tugged at his shirt. “As I said, it’s stupid.”
He gently massaged her neck. “There’s nothing stupid about caring for someone and being worried.” Her eyes glistened. He knew the look on her face, he had seen it before, on Bunker Hill. She was struggling with her emotions and losing. A tear escaped and coursed over her cheek as she looked at him with her damn big brown eyes that had the power to do him in. He needed an out, and unlike the last time she unravelled in his arms, he had one. Tenderly he touched his lips to hers. A sigh. For a while he just held her, kissing her softly now and then. Her hand had slipped under his shirt, stroking his waist.
Eventually, she broke the silence. “When you collapsed on the field, I’ve been so scared like never before in my life. It’s very hard to watch you play since then. Every tackle feels like I’m tackled too. The thought that something could happen to you… that I could lose you…” She shook her head, unable to speak anymore. But he needed no words to understand. Pulling her tightly against him, he kissed her again, trying to tell her without words how important she was to him.