64: Goblin Driver 30 – Tears

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We had the internal comm system functioning, so we were able to converse no matter where we were in the craft. I was seated in the control couch rehearsing the controls– it had been two years since I sat in a Dragon cockpit, okay?– when I asked her a question that had really been bugging me.

“How come you said that to Farley?”

It was a long pause I had to wait through, before she finally answered.

“Yeah, I guess I should tell you about it. He and I sort of started being a thing, but I broke it off when we arrived here.”

“I had figured that much out on my own,” I told her.

“Are you mad?”

“Why the heck should I be mad? You’ve had boyfriends before. Remember how you were gushing Jay this and Jay that to me?”

“Gawd, do you have to remind me?”

Her expression made me chuckle a little. Red’s opinion of Jay had fallen from extreme high to extreme low during the last semester of high school. He actually had the gall to ask her to marry him, not two weeks after the second time she caught him messing around.

Yeah, Red had gone as far as being patient with him– twice– after he cheated on her. The first time, he actually defended his actions by suggesting it was because she wasn’t putting out for him. He didn’t try that excuse the second time, but the fact that he proposed only two weeks after getting drunk and hooking up with a cheerleader, with enough mutual acquaintances in earshot to confirm he’d done it, made it clear to her that he didn’t really care how badly he hurt her.

She said, “You told me he was a jerk before I went out with him the first time. I should have listened.”

I smiled at that. “You said I was just being jealous and reminded me we weren’t a couple. You said so with some pretty harsh words, as I recall.”

With a quiet humph, she answered, “Yeah. I should have listened to you, but instead, I said some really mean stuff to you. Even though you’ve never even tried to get close to me.”

“Well duh. You told me not to, Red. Don’t you remember? You said, ‘We’re crewmates and that’s all. Don’t talk to me at school, or you’ll embarrass me.'”

There was a long pause, then she said, “Wait, I said that to you?”

Hearing that was a bit of a surprise. I retorted, “Hella yeah you did! Right after you started going to our school. Why do you think I’ve kept my distance?”

“I’d forgotten about that.”

It was my turn to humph.

“Is that why you never tried to ask me out?”

I’m glad she couldn’t see my expression at that point. But she didn’t give me a chance to say anything.

“I mean, I’ve noticed you check me out sometimes, so I knew you weren’t gay or something.”

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I snorted. “Not gay. There’s just no point in the weirdo loner trying to get close to the homecoming queen.”

“You’re not a weirdo.”

“That’s what most girls call me, isn’t it?”

“They just don’t know you, Captain.”

I humphed again. I noticed at that point that the temperature in the cargo bay had come down to decent levels for the wounded, so I went out to tell Karimi to get them to start bringing them across.

As I returned, Red asked me to come help hand tools to her again, so I proceeded to where she was working at that moment.

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She was patching the hull breaches in the cargo bay. She had a whole row of interior panels off one side (the one with the bullet holes,) so she had been working fine on her own, but I discovered she had winched herself up close to the ceiling to reach the last one.

I just had to stand next to her tool box, handing stuff up to her as she worked, so I went ahead and asked her another question that had been bugging me.

“Why are you suddenly calling me ‘Captain’, Red? What happened to ‘Cap’?”

She stopped what she was doing– she had some sort of heat gun in her hand and was preheating the patch she had just glued into place– then looked down at me, her eyes a little troubled. She looked back to her work before answering.

“I just thought I needed to remind myself a little. I had begun thinking of you as just a guy I work with. Maybe I wouldn’t have got confused so easy if I didn’t do that. Is the ground lead still attached down there?”

After double-checking the clamp that grounded the welder to the lander’s airframe, I said, “yeah”.

“Double-check I’ve got an aluminum rod in the holder, then hand it up and give me a spare rod. Then make sure the supply is still set to 200 amps and turn it on. Don’t look this way after that.”

Having done the same for her many times, I didn’t need the instructions, but Red had been trying to be more professional lately, so I didn’t comment. As she flipped down the welding visor, I asked, “Confused about what?”

She began ‘brazing’– I understand that’s what you call it, and not ‘welding’, although you’d have to ask Red why– and raised her voice to be heard over the arc welder.

“Confused about you. I would have figured out he was a jerk and not listened to him if I had remembered the real you.”

I barked out a short laugh. “I knew it.”

She stopped again and flipped her visor back up to look down at me. “You knew what?”

“Well, at least it sounds like I was right. He was talking crap about me, wasn’t he?”

One corner of her lip twisted a bit. “Yeah. I had my eyes all full of love and roses and went and listened to him. Just like the dumb bitch that I always turn into around a hottie. Why did he have to do that?”

“He thought he needed to pull you away from me,” I explained.

Her eyes widened. “Is that why?”

I shrugged. “That’s my guess. I can’t see inside his head, but that’s the best explanation I have.”

It would certainly explain his smirks, if he thought he was ntr’ing me.

“So you knew all that was happening? Why didn’t you say something?” she looked a little upset.

I raised my eyebrows. “Can we rewind this conversation back to when we were talking about Jay? Remember when I said something then?”

She gave a frown, but looked back to her work and resumed. She didn’t say anything again until she finished. But I had the impression she was upset at herself, not me.

“Shut the welder off,” she told me when she finished.

I did. She winched herself down.

She didn’t raise her visor again until she had hung the electrode holder back on the machine. When she did, she wasn’t looking at me, but she was turned close enough that I could see tears forming again.

Red had been crying a lot, lately. I scowled a little as I worried about what was going on with her. Although I knew now it had something to do with Farley, most of her thoughts were still a mystery to me.

The question that came from her really caught me off-guard.

“Captain… Cody… can we be friends again?”

I almost asked ‘what’s that supposed to mean?’ but I realized just in time that it was the wrong thing to say. Did she honestly believe she’d lost my friendship?

I had to fix that, firmly and clearly. “Red, I have never once stopped being your friend. Something like that would take a hell of a lot worse than something like this.”

A sniffle came out of her, and something that sounded like a hiccup. Then she was grabbing me and wrapping her arms around me.

I was almost paralyzed with confusion at first, but then the sobs started. She had metaphorically cried on my shoulder before, but as for literally… well, this was a first.

I put my arms carefully around her and held her. We stood like that, with her squeezing harder and crying harder as well. It went on long enough that I began to worry about  Karimi and crew showing up with the first stretchers and seeing us.

In my imagination, if I ever held a girl who was crying like this, her face would be buried in my chest or something. But with my height, the girl would have to be a lot shorter than Red. Her chin was on my shoulder. Perhaps she was slouching, like she had crumpled a little onto me.

When she stopped sobbing, she still didn’t let go. Instead, while staying like that, her chin still on my shoulder, she said, “I f&cked up, Cody.”

I just patted her on the back and said, “It’s okay.”

“No, I mean, I f&cked up bad this time. Worse than I ever did before. It could real bad.”

A suspicion came to my mind about what she meant, but it wasn’t anything I had any right to ask her, so I just continued patting.

Finally she gave a little nod and patted me back, which I took as a signal to let her go. When I did, she straightened back up, not looking me in the eye, and wiped her tears off with her sleeve.

I asked, “I thought you were cool with coming down here because you were worried about Farley. That’s why I didn’t question you about why you weren’t hesitating to do it. But if it was because of the whole ‘respecting that I’m the captain’ thing, then I would rather you go back to calling me Cap and arguing with me.”

She frowned a little. “I decided to stop questioning your decisions. Like you asked for.”

“That’s what I asked you to do in a firefight, because there’s no time for questioning each other. If you have objections at other times, you tell me, just like you always have. You acknowledge the order, but then you let me know if you have concerns. That’s what you’ve always done, and I’ve always appreciated it.”

“Yeah. Don’t worry. I’ll do that. It’s really okay to call you Cap?”

“From you, I would prefer it.”

“Ok.” She smoothed her hair, which had gotten a little mussed up from rubbing her head against mine, took a deep breath, smiled, then said, “That wasn’t why I came down. I came down because ’cause it was my fault Farley flew down here.”

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