In which one of Nate’s nurses makes an appearance.
“You don’t like Eden?” Nate guessed.
Adelie sighed. “Eden itself is beautiful. There’s no place quite as beautiful, and I’ve seen a lot of other planets. But it’s still a relatively small colony, they’re still not done with populating the first continent. It’s perfect for adventures in unexplored regions if you’re into that sort of thing, but my mother never let me go. It wasn’t befitting for a baroness to go exploring.”
“You sound like life there was like a bird cage for you.”
She nodded. “I had everything and nothing at the same time. I had tasted freedom on the Planet 500 tour, and settling back in was very hard. I felt like I hit the brakes at full speed. Everything had come to a halt. That’s probably why Christopher had such an easy time fooling me. Only that he loved my status and my money more than me. And I so want to be loved for myself and not just for my status and what comes with it.”
“But you are!” He blurted out, unable to stop himself.
She craned her head and smiled at him. “Am I?”
He rubbed his neck, finding courage in the cobwebbed corners of the porch roof. “Come on, there are lots of people who admire you here. You’re a kick-ass pilot. And you do kick ass, especially mine.”
This made Adelie laugh. “I have to admit, flying rings around you is the greatest fun.” He grumbled and nuzzled her neck, coaxing a delighted giggle from her. She reached out her hand and pushed it through his hair. “I’m very grateful to have you as my friend, too.”
He developed a sudden and surprising hate for the label ‘friend’.
There were three reasons Adelie preferred the Lemon Tree over every other diner in town. First, it was never crowded, despite the fact that it was practically next to the airbase. Second, the hot dogs. The Lemon Tree’s hot dogs were special. The bun always had a crackly crust and a fluffy inside, not spongy like cheap ones. The roasted onions were crisp and caramelised to perfection. The hot dog itself was always indeed hot and not lukewarm like in other places. The ketchup was home-cooked, a chunky red sauce with a spicy aftertaste, and Adelie often just ordered fries because of it. The third reason was, of course, the handsome guy behind the counter, who smiled at her while she finished her hot dog. Nate was the main reason she dropped by because it was an easy way to see him during their busy days. He worked three shifts a week, which ate up a considerable amount of his already rugby-impaired free time. Outside the big windows, the first fall storm played chase with the leaves. Inside, the Lemon Tree’s owner, Trudy, was busy putting up some fall themed decorations, mainly pumpkins.
“Do you have training tonight?” Adelie asked, pushing back the empty dish.
“Yeah, it’s going to be a hoot in this weather. Let’s hope the rain holds off, or it’ll be slip, slide and try not to crash.” Nate collected her dish and took it to the kitchen. She heard him cracking a joke with Trudy’s niece who was in charge of the burger pans.
As he returned, she said: “I’m going to think of you, while I curl up on my love seat, read a good book and drink hot cocoa.”
He shot her a dirty look and walked around the counter to sit down on a bar stool next to her. Another customer entered the otherwise empty diner, causing the little bells above the door to chime hysterically in a gust of wind.
“Nate Havisham! I thought the face looked familiar. How are you, and where have you been?” The woman walked up to Nate, grabbed his face and kissed him full on the mouth. Nate flailed overwhelmed. She was beautiful with green eyes, sleek red hair and generous curves. She wore an apple green peacoat that brought out the colour of her hair and eyes wonderfully. Her victim gently put her away from him, a scarlet blush tinting his cheeks. To her utter surprise, the hairs on Adelie’s neck bristled. A sudden surge of possessiveness flooded her, and she had to restrain herself from physically pulling the woman away from him.
“Hello Mary-Lou, how nice to see you here. Let me introduce you to my friend and fellow pilot Adelie.” He gestured towards her.
Mary-Lou turned and gave her a sweeping once-over, eyes narrowing. The familiar muster of a woman trying to determine how much of a threat the other was. And there was no doubt Mary-Lou classified Adelie’s professional military appearance as not as exciting as herself. Adelie managed a polite smile. “Pleased to meet you.”
“Pleased to meet you, too.”
A measured handshake.
Mary-Lou returned her attention to Nate, licked her thumb and rubbed it over his lips to free him from smeared lipstick. Then she pulled out her compact and reapplied the juicy red to her own mouth. “Where have you been? I don’t ever see you anymore. The others miss you too.” She had parked her substantial rear end comfortably against his thigh and pinched his cheeks. “Are you alright?”
Nate shook his head. “Sorry doll, I’ve been crazy busy.”
A first class pout. Adelie bit her lips to stifle a laugh. “Too bad. Well, I gotta dash, my shift starts in half an hour and there’s always so much prep to do. It was good seeing you again.” Mary-Lou pressed her lips on his cheek, leaving a red lipstick mark. “Bye, honey.” The bells chimed again, and then she was gone. Adelie blinked. Nate glanced at her and turned an even deeper shade of red, rubbing his neck. He cleared his throat.
“Sorry.” He sounded mortified.
With a malicious smile, she pulled a handkerchief out of the breast pocket of her suit jacket and freed him from the skid marks of Mary-Lou’s devotion. “I assume, this was one of your nurse conquests?”
He cleared his throat again. “Err, yes. She and I had a brief encounter a few months ago. Long before I met you.”