In which someone gets a very bloody nose and soaked by a soda siphon.
Adelie stepped out of the airbase administration building into a velvet summer night. A yellow moon hung in the ink blue sky and the amber runway edge lights glowed below like giant fireflies. A faint breeze ruffled her petticoat as it brushed against her bare legs. From the other side of the airfield merry laughter wafted over, the Officer’s Club was open. Maybe Nate would be there. She hadn’t seen him in the last two weeks, and curiosity got the better of her. Humming she crossed the airfield and entered the brightly lit room. It wasn’t too crowded, and she spotted Nate playing pool with his friend Jake at the table in the back. She waved as she made her way to the bar, strangely delighted as he nodded and flashed her a smile.
“Hello, Princess!” Squadron mate Gerald “Haystack” MacLaren was bartending tonight, and he greeted her with a smile. “I don’t see you here often.” She settled at the bar.
“Hi, Haystack. I just finished work for my semester project over at the airbase, and digging through dry and dusty files sure makes me thirsty. Thought I’d drop by.”
“Lucky for us you did.” Nate’s warm voice was distinctive and rumbly and caused shivers of goosebumps to run over her back. “Hey, Princess. Happy to see you.”
She half-turned and flicked him a quick smile. “Hi, English. Nice to see you too.” She noticed dark under-eye circles and a yellow pallor instead of his usual honey golden skin tone, and it worried her a little.
“Haven’t seen you in a while, what have you been up to?” She asked after Gerald handed her her soda. She took a sip and glanced at him again.
“Like you, I had a lot to do for my semester project.”
“You look like you’ve pulled a few all-nighters… but the papers aren’t due until the end of the month?”
“Don’t ask.” He smiled sheepishly. “I’m not as organised as you are.”
She shoved him with her shoulder. “Stop flattering me.”
“I’m not flattering you, it’s a fact.” He grinned, leaning against the bar with one elbow propped up. “Nice dress. I like the gold buttons.”
Blush crept into her cheeks as she tugged at the bodice. “Thank you. I bought it because it reminded me of our dress uniforms.”
“It suits you.”
“Havisham.” Pat Bukovski’s sneer. “You really better stay away from her. She’s not good for your career.”
Nate straightened and slowly turned around. His jaws clenched. “Good evening, Patrick. You do know the old adage of if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all? It would certainly help to improve my view of you.” He crossed his arms in front of his chest, biceps bulging under his shirt, straining the fabric. His eyes had the quality of steel and lost all of the warmth she’d liked so much. Standing head to head, she realised how massive Nate actually was. He was easily a head taller than Pat and stared at him with all the confidence of someone who knew how to take a tackle and still cross the line.
Pat hissed, fidgeting. “What d’you want with the whore anyway?”
Adelie couldn’t look as fast as Nate’s fist flew towards Pat’s face. Blood splattered as the cadet stumbled backwards against a table. Before he was upright again, Nate grabbed him by the collar and pulled him up to his face. “What did you call her?”
Pat apparently didn’t know when it was time to let it go. “Whore.” He spat the word into Nate’s face and the next moment the two men were locked together like feral dogs. Tables crashed, glass shattered. Someone yelled: “Go Havisham, get him!”
A circle of jeering men formed around the two combatants grappling on the floor. Adelie had enough. They were Officers-to-be, not fighters in a carnival tent. She grabbed the soda syphon from the bar and aimed right at the faces. A sharp jet of icy seltzer spritzed, confusing the fighters enough for Jake and Gerald to pull them apart.
“Enough.” Anger whipped the word from her lips, and the room snapped back to normality. Pat was unable to stand on his own feet, and his nose looked like he should better see a doctor. But she had no sympathy for him. “Someone bring him to the ER,” she ordered, and two cadets followed through, grabbing the barely conscious cadet under his arms. Her attention focused on Nate. His bloody face was a dagger to her heart. His lip and nose were bleeding, and a bruise was forming under his eye, but he could stand and met her glare unblinking. He even managed a crooked grin.
“Joined the fire brigade, huh?” He pointed with his chin at the syphon.
“Yes, ma’am.” He straightened and winced, but stood to attention.
His formerly white shirt was adorned with blotches of blood. She wanted to scream and yell at him. She wanted to cradle and kiss him. Instead, she jerked her head towards the door. “You better come with me.”