Characters: Terry Hale, Jordan Toussaint
A lamp went on somewhere above her, spilling light into the street. Terry automatically looked up, somehow expecting it to be from her window. It wasn’t, and she didn’t know which of the other residents it was. The glare in her eyes made an unrecognizable silhouette of the person.
“Help?” said a rough, uncertain voice.
“Can I help you?” Terry called.
“I… I don’t… There’s a dead person in my washing room!”
Just to be cautious, Terry asked, “What kind? Is it a corpse or someone who came back?” Absurdly, she had to suppress a smile. It was a night for unusual conversations.
“Someone I know, walking again! What do I do?”
“Talk to them,” Terry said. The person made a sort of sputtering sound, and she shrugged apologetically. “I’m sorry, it’s all I can suggest. It is the Day of the Dead.”
She finally stepped inside the building and automatically punched in her passcode. It was only when she was up on her floor, approaching the door, that she remembered what Saraden had said. Someone else was waiting to see her.
Though she felt cowardly doing it, she stepped softly to her door and listened. She could hear speaking. There wasn’t one, but two voices, too muffled to recognize. Was the vid on?
Screwing up her courage, she opened the door and stepped in, in a rush. It was just as well the door was at her back now – it was useful support.
Two people were in the room. One, she felt she should recognize, and the other she knew painfully well. Anla’shok Jordan Toussaint and a woman of comparable age dressed in dockworker’s coveralls. For a few seconds they were all overcome with speechlessness.
Fortunately for her pride, Terry managed to smother a cry and grasped on to her wit instead. At least outwardly.
“I’m beginning to resent the Charles Dickens quality of this night,” she said.
The woman smiled, even chuckled a little. “Don’t worry, you won’t be haunted after this,” she said, and then turned to Jordan. “Bye, Jordan.”
A complicated mix of emotions crossed Jordan’s face. “Bye, Celia.”
‘Celia’ crossed the room to where Terry was standing and held out her hand. Automatically, Terry took it. Celia had a firm grip. She shook Terry’s hand, then pulled Terry away from the door by that hand.
“You enjoy yourselves now,” Celia said, and slipped out into the hall, closing the door lightly behind herself.
Terry turned to look at Jordan, bewildered.
“I haven’t seen that expression on your face for a while,” said Jordan, mustering a shaky smile.
“You haven’t seen anything of me for a while.”
“True enough.” He stepped forward, coming to a stop only a few centimeters from her. “I’m sorry for that.”
Terry’s throat tried to close up on her reply. “You had a good excuse.”
She saw a bit of his sad smile before he reached out and pulled her into an embrace. Soon Terry was holding on almost as tightly, and she buried her face against his long coat.
Jordan’s voice sounded a little funny as he said,”You’re not going to cry, are you?”
“I was contemplating it,” she said, muffled.
A kiss brushed her temple, stopping up the tears, and much of her ability to reason. Mentally a step behind his actions, she felt him pull back a little and draw out her left hand. His touch found the absence of any rings.
“You found out? For certain?”
Terry forced her mind back into order. “I went to Earth. He’s alive.” Jordan stiffened, until she added, “We’re not married any more. We have different lives.”
Jordan’s voice was still cautious when he asked, “What does it mean now?”
Terry took a moment to sort it out for herself, before trying to answer. It surprised her just a little.
“That I’m not pushing you away.”
Several months before, when the fleet was amassing for the final battle at Coriana Six, Jordan had stolen a kiss in the confusion of changing cargo and crew. There had been advances before then, to which Terry had made it quite clear she couldn’t answer, however tempting. The coming battle had given Jordan, at least, the courage to defy her ruling. She could still remember the desperate determination on his face.
It had ended up being a good-bye. His ship…
Terry thought it was the living who clung to the dead, not the other way around.
“Tell me what happened,” she said, before he could repeat that kiss.
He paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts.
“You know how it was. The chaos. There were so many of them, it was like dancing in front of a firing squad.
“We got hit pretty badly, though not enough to destroy the ship outright. We were flung down into the gravity well of a planet. The engines weren’t worth much by then, so we were forced to make a landing. If you could call what we did a proper landing.
“Some of us survived it, though the ship wasn’t one of them. It’s like… it gave it’s last just to see some of us survive to the surface. Nothing worked that depended on the computers and we had to evac so quickly most of what was useful got cooked in the fires.” He smiled crookedly. “Could have used your park ranger knowhow then.”
Terry cast her eyes down, feeling sick. Did they die of their wounds, or dehydrate before help could arrive? She didn’t want to know the details any more.
“It’s all right. It’s past now,” he was saying quietly. A hand cupped her cheek and lifted her face.
She went very still as he kissed her first on the forehead. The one second brushed her cheekbone, easing her gently toward acceptance, before finally pressing his lips to her own.
Terry didn’t let it end like their first kiss.
It was quiet when Terry woke, and late — sunlight was forcing it’s way in between the gaps in the curtains. Memory caught up in stages, a confused, bittersweet pleasure. Her fingers groped across the mattress beside her. Empty, as expected, but still a tantalizing bit of warmth left.
Terry rolled over into the depression he’d left, and pressed her face into the pillow. Maybe, with enough pressure, she wouldn’t be able to cry.
Her heart stopped a moment when a hand stroked her bare back. Someone was sitting on the edge of the bed.
She screamed, he yelped, and when the flailing stopped, Jordan was picking himself up off the floor. Terry was staring pop-eyed at him, sheets clutched to her chest.
Jordan was looking a little startled as well. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you wake that badly.”
“You’re… You’re… still here,” she gasped.
“Of course. I even went and made some of your pseudo coffee.” He tapped the mugs set on the bedside table and smiled, but it was uncertain, with a growing worry in his eyes. “You didn’t think…”
“I was told you were dead! It’s been months and last night… last night was the Day of the Dead!”
Jordan was shoved abruptly into the task of proving he was alive.
“Getting here yesterday was just a coincidence. I didn’t know anything about this event.”
“Why didn’t I hear I hear from you before, then? It’s been months.”
“I was in a bad way for a while, then assignment kept me out of touch with anyone. This past while has been crazy for both of us. And I did send you mail early yesterday. But you hadn’t read it, had you?”
She hadn’t. Somewhere in the heap of her clothing was her computer pad, untouched since the meetings began the previous morning. Urgent messages came over her comm patch.
“Oh my god,” was all she could say. He was alive. That woman — Celia– had been his dead come to visit. She had leapt to conclusions, and into bed, thinking the time they had was measured in a few hours, not the rest of their lives.
Jordan sat back down on the edge of the bed. They were both silent for a time, looking at each other. He was the first to speak, unable to stand it any longer.
“Does it make a difference that it is more than one night?”
“Lust is simple. Relationships are complicated,” he said quietly. “I hope this is complicated.”
Terry looked up into his face, into eyes that begged her to be honest and decide. She had to close her eyes, to think.
It didn’t take as long to sort out as she expected. When she opened her eyes again, she was calm. She reached a hand toward him.
“Very complicated,” she reassured him.
Copyright (c) 2001 Alida Saxon. All rights reserved.