"May I join you?" The low voice was pitched to be heard even over the noise of the surrounding mass of people.
Susan hastily lowered her book, and looked up when she heard the familiar voice. The cafe on the east edge of the Zocalo was crowded, unusual for this late in the afternoon. Gesturing towards the chair tucked under the table, she lowered her leg, which had been resting on the seat, to the floor.
Delenn said, with chagrin, "I am sorry. The chair is needed for your injury. I did not see..."
"No, no. It's all right. I only elevate it to make Dr. Franklin happy. It's not good for him to have all his orders followed. Gives him exaggerated ideas of his own importance." She pulled out the chair and indicated that Delenn should take it. "It's pretty busy today. If you want something, you'll probably have to go up to the counter and place your order."
"I was just waiting for someone, that is, I was waiting for Captain Sheridan. We were supposed to meet this afternoon, but the conference I was in went on longer than expected. C&C said that he was coming here, that I was to wait in the conference room. But as this place is close to the conference room, I thought perhaps it would be easier, more convenient, to wait here."
Delenn's face was growing pink as she stumbled along with her wholly inadequate explanation for stealing a few extra minutes in Sheridan's presence. Susan kept her face in an expression of polite interest, trying hard not to smile. "Perfectly logical. And I'm glad of the company." Then she saw Delenn eying her book with interest. Oh no, she thought, and pushed her salad plate around in a futile attempt to hide the title.
"But I am interrupting your reading. May I ask what type of book it is? It is unusual to see paper books these days." Delenn's eyes sparked with curiosity.
"It's a new format, similiar to the newspaper editions Universe Today puts out. You request the book, read it, and return it to be recycled. There's something about holding a book in your hands...an electronic reader just doesn't cut it sometimes. You want to be able to fold down a corner and lay it down, open, on the corner of the nightstand. No on/off switch, no battery running low, you can flip back and forth to re-read a passage, it's all there in one simple package." Susan looked fondly at the beat-up pile of paper. It sported a garish yellow and blue cover, and there was a small oily stain on the creased and broken spine.
"Fascinating," replied Delenn. "I have to admit, I always loved going deep into the Hall of Records and pulling out original scrolls for study. There is something about knowing that so many hands have touched the same parchment over the years." She smiled at Susan, and then asked again, "But that is not what I meant. The title of your book is what intrigues me. What exactly is a 'lust puppy'? Someone who desires a small companion animal of tender years?"
"Not...exactly," Susan flushed as images flashed through her mind. In a way, that wasn't a bad description. "It's a genre that used to be called chick lit...that is literature that appeals to females rather than males. It's an old-fashioned term; after all, tastes have changed over the years. But sometimes it's fun to read the old classics. This sort of book is like mental popcorn."
"Popcorn! I had some once, with Mr. Garibaldi! The taste was pleasant, but it tended to get stuck in the teeth. Not a substantial food either, you would have to eat a great deal to get any sustenance from it." Delenn unconsciously ran her tongue over her teeth in memory.
"That's the idea. Tasty, but without much substance. Ideal for relaxation and distraction from the stress of everyday life. These books tend to be set in exotic locales, and usually there's a romance involved." Susan moved her plate out of the way, so Delenn could see the cover more clearly. Luckily there wasn't a scantily clad couple on the front. Briefly she wondered if there was a Minbari equivalent to a bodice-ripper.
Her friend reached towards the book, and Susan fought the impulse to yank it away. She watched, disconcerted, as Delenn flipped through the pages, obviously stopping to read various passages. Please God, don't let her hit on the beach scene, Susan prayed internally. Delenn's cheeks grew bright red as she reached a section that seemed to interest her greatly. She read rapidly, her eyes flicking from one sentence to the next, her mouth slightly open.
"Look, there's the Captain now," Susan said with relief, taking advanatage of Delenn's instant distraction as an opportunity to snatch back her book and stow it in her lap where Captain Sheridan couldn't see it.
"Don't get up, Commander," came Sheridan's friendly voice.
Susan noticed Sheridan wasn't even looking at her. She'd observed this effect before when Delenn was around. Maybe she had become invisible. "I won't," she muttered, wondering if they'd notice if she spontaneously combusted. After a few moments filled with meaningful looks, Delenn rose gracefully and thanked Susan for her company and conversation. As the couple who wasn't a couple walked off together, close but not quite touching, Susan clearly heard Delenn ask, her voice filled with innocent sweetness, "John, have you ever heard of the concept of a 'lust puppy'?"
Susan picked up her credit chit and her book and hobbled quickly to the counter. It was time to pay her bill and make a quick exit.