Chapter 5 – First Impressions

As Jean-Luc casually paced the transporter room, lost in thought, Beverly walked in precisely sixty-one minutes later with two medium-sized pieces of luggage. She paused mid-stride for a split second, she expected some sort of greeting; he didn't even look in her direction. She proceeded to the pad and set her luggage down then cleared her throat and looked at him expectantly.

'Right.' He thought as he walked onto the pad to stand to her. "Energize."

Virginia was anxious for their arrival. This was one step closer to leaving this place and the overwhelming feelings of pain and loneliness. It was a bit scary when she thought of starting over again. She wouldn't be just starting a new job or moving to another city, she was leaving for another world, a world where space travel was commonplace as well as interaction with aliens. Finding out she was an alien herself explained a lot. It was scary but intriguing, she told herself. She was no stranger to the road less traveled; rarely did she take the easy way. She smiled, proud of her accomplishments so far and hoped she would live up to her own expectations for the future. She took a deep breath and concentrated on dinner. She monitored Beverly fairly closely once Beverly informed her they would travel back for her. When she heard Beverly preparing to leave, she began cooking dinner. She decided on something simple and hoped they would be hungry. She set dinner to simmer while she went into the living room and sat down on the sofa to wait for her guests.

She felt a distinct change in the air when they began to materialize in the dining room and she stood up and walked to the threshold of the living and dining rooms. When they fully materialized, she looked on Beverly first. She had seen the woman through their connection and knew she was beautiful but something stirred in Virginia that was both familiar and foreign. She put up her mental barriers as quickly as slamming a door, and closed the gap between them with a cordial smile.

"Beverly." Virginia held out her hand while both of her guests set their bags on the floor next to them. "It's nice to finally meet you." Her tone and outward confidence hid how unbalanced she felt. As their hands touched they both felt something but didn't break contact. As they slowly shook hands, Beverly and Jean-Luc watched a thin ribbon of bright gold seep into Virginia's blue-gray eyes. 'She is stunning.' she whispered each word with emphasis in Jean-Luc's mind.

"Yes, likewise." Beverly was slightly less successful at hiding her disconcertion but returned Virginia's smile. Jean-Luc watched the two women. All three knew something just happened though none of them knew what yet.

Virginia turned to Jean-Luc and held out her hand. He was a handsome older man. "Captain. Welcome." She paused. "I'm very grateful." He returned her smile as he shook her hand. She had a firm handshake.

Likewise, he was making his own assessment of her. She was a very attractive young woman of thirty-three though she looked younger. The gold band in her eyes still burned as she looked him. She was what people used to call a classic beauty. Her hair reached below her hips and was somewhere between blonde and brown with light blonde highlights throughout. She had fair, light skin and was Beverly's height and had a slender, athletic build. She smiled at his evaluation of her. He picked up on the meaning behind her smile and realized she was reading his thoughts.

'At it already.' He thought.

'Just getting to know my company.' She responded in his mind.

"Thank you and you're welcome. I think this mission will prove to be beneficial to us all." He glanced around. "You have a lovely home." He smiled warmly. Virginia backed away a step, mentally putting herself in check as she looked at her visitors. They did make a handsome couple.

"Thank you." Virginia responded warmly and was about to continue when she froze in-place, her mouth still slightly open and her eyes narrowed at something to Beverly's right. "There's only supposed to be two of you, correct?" she asked as she looked at the tall, dark haired man about her age that stepped out from behind Beverly.

Both Jean-Luc and Beverly turned to see what Virginia was looking at but saw nothing out of the ordinary. "Yes, that's correct." Jean-Luc said.

Virginia held up her hand to Jean-Luc and Beverly while she continued to stare at seemingly nothing but with a concentrated expression on her face. For several seconds, the man looked as corporeal as Beverly and Jean-Luc but his form soon faded. After a moment, she dropped her hand and took a deep breath as her expression changed to pensive. She looked down, clearly processing her thoughts then looked at Beverly. She opened her mouth to speak but stopped abruptly and looked again to Beverly's right. The spirit did not want its identity known to anyone but Virginia. She inhaled deeply again and smiled at her two living guests. "I'm sorry. It seems we have a shy visitor." She cleared her throat. The pair looked at each other then back to Virginia. "I realize this must very strange, if not unbelievable. As I told Counselor Troi, I'm still getting used to seeing and interacting with spirits." Both guests smiled politely. "Are you hungry? I have dinner waiting." They both nodded. She smiled. "This way." She said as she led the way to the kitchen.

Virginia immediately retrieved plates, silverware, and glasses from the cabinets and sat the items next to the stove where the warm food awaited. She removed the lids from the pans and gestured to the display. "Please, help yourselves." She moved away from the stove then asked, "What would you like to drink? I have water, milk, tea, wine, liquor…" She trailed off with a smile.

"I would like water, please." Beverly answered first then moved to the stove to dish up her plate.

"I'll have water as well please." Jean-Luc followed Beverly's lead to the stove.

They ate at the table in the dining room.

"This is quite good." Jean-Luc said.

"Thank you. Do you cook much?" Virginia asked both of them.

"We have replicators. You program recipes in and the food is made within seconds." Beverly said.

Virginia emitted a short 'hm' from her throat. "I suppose that's quite a bit more efficient. Guaranteed way to get the nutrients you need, I assume."

"I'm curious, Virginia. How does your telepathy work?" Jean-Luc asked.

"Well, you both know very well the human mind is not a simple thing. Everyone's mind is different. Some people's minds are like walking into a library. Every memory and piece of information is logically filed. Some people have their memories and information scattered everywhere and then there are minds that are somewhere in between. If someone thinks of something, they are aware of feelings, memories, experiences it brings to the forefront of their mind. Most people are not aware of the things they subconsciously think about. When I'm in someone's mind, I'm not only aware of what they are thinking on the surface but also what they're subconsciously thinking about. If a person is not directly or subconsciously thinking of something while I'm there, I have to search for it. If I do have to search for something, I get lucky occasionally and find it easily but most of the time, that isn't the case."

"And that's how you know your medium abilities are real?" Beverly asked.

"Yes." She wanted to allude to the spirit attached to both of her visitors but the spirit made it clear he wanted to remain unidentified, for now. She watched the spirit for a moment; he had been watching her visitors intently.

Suddenly, they heard a loud thud from upstairs. Beverly and Jean-Luc both jumped. Virginia smiled broadly and chuckled. "Sorry about that. There are a couple more introductions to make." She stood up. "I'll bring them down."

Virginia returned a few short moments later carrying a solid black cat with gold eyes squirming in her arms and a dog trailed behind her. The dog was a mix. He had the height and coat of a black German Shepherd, the tail and thin build of a Husky, and the floppy ears and white-tipped nose of an Australian Shepherd. As soon as the dog saw the strangers in his house, he barked at them. Beverly and Jean-Luc stared wide-eyed at the dog. Neither had much experience with dogs. "Atticus! Stop!" Virginia commanded loudly and the dog obediently stopped barking and stood still. "Check them out." She told the dog calmly. The dog changed from a ferocious protector to a skittish puppy. All four legs were spread around him as he tried to smell both from an arm's distance. Virginia smiled and shook her head. "He sounds aggressive but he's really a chicken underneath that fur. Go ahead; let him smell your hands. He won't bite, I promise." Beverly and Jean-Luc each hesitantly put a hand in front of the dog. "Atticus, it's okay. Check them out. Go on." Virginia told the dog reassuringly. The dog stepped closer to the strangers. He sniffed Beverly's hand first. As he did, she touched the underside of his jaw. The contact seemed to reaffirm his master's assurance and the dog proceeded to lick Beverly's hand and wag his tail happily. Beverly looked at Jean-Luc.

"Your turn." Beverly beamed at him and touched his hand with her own to direct the dog's attention to Jean-Luc. It worked. Atticus licked both of their hands and wagged his tail.

"He has a very expressive face." Jean-Luc observed in surprise.

Virginia smiled appreciatively. "Yes, he does. Are you sure I'll be able to take them with me?" She asked with apprehension.

Jean-Luc didn't hesitate before he responded. "I don't see why not. We have many crew members with pets."

Virginia smiled in relief and petted the dog with one hand while still holding the cat, no longer squirming in her arms.

"Who is this?" He pointed at the cat.

"This is Satan."

Beverly and Jean-Luc stared at Virginia, both unsure of how to respond. Virginia smiled. "Satan." Jean-Luc said. It was a statement designed to provoke elaboration.

"I rescued her about a year ago while visiting my mother. Her name was Daisy. She wouldn't respond to that name. Not even the twitch of an ear." Virginia petted the cat affectionately and the cat purred and closed her eyes against Virginia's hand. "During our drive back here – she had her front claws at the time – several times she attacked Atticus who was sleeping in the back seat, minding his own business. Poor Atticus." She looked at the dog and smiled at him. "I told her she was the Anti-Christ!" Virginia laughed at the memory. "When we arrived home, and were settled in, I called her Satan and immediately she responded to it." Virginia finished her story and laughed again as she petted the cat one last time before she put the cat on the floor. "Now, she and Atticus are best friends." The cat walked over to the new people. She smelled them then must have decided they were acceptable and wound between and rubbed against their legs, expertly staying out of the way of the excited dog. While both of her guests were being entertained by the animals, Virginia took their plates to the kitchen.

A few minutes later, Jean-Luc entered the kitchen and stood a moment. In the short time since their arrival, he watched her, sure she reminded him of someone. The graceful way she moved; her slender body; her light, creamy, smooth skin; her long hair; her face; and the fire in her eyes. As she turned to face him, he realized she reminded him of the Beverly he knew twenty years before.

She smiled at his realization. "Care to help?" Virginia asked.

"Of course." He responded as he walked toward her.

"If you would, put the leftovers in containers. They're in that cabinet." She said as she pointed at a cabinet. "And put them in the refrigerator." She continued washing the plates while he did as directed. He finished his task while she sat the clean dishes on a towel on the counter to dry. She turned to him. "Thank you." She smiled as she looked into his eyes then down his features. "Shall we?" She said and gestured toward the dining room. He returned her smile.

"After you." He said and copied her gesture. She nodded and led the way. When they entered the room, Beverly was still sitting at the table and the cat had made herself comfortable on Beverly's lap. Atticus was resting his head on her lap while she petted each animal with a hand. Beverly looked up at her observers and smiled. Jean-Luc and Virginia both smiled. The spirit continued to watch Beverly and Jean-Luc with no indication of wanting to be introduced.

"Would you like to see the rest of the house?" Virginia asked looking at each of them.

"Sure." Beverly said as she gently scoped up the cat off her lap. Virginia walked into the living room.

"Obviously, this is the living room." Virginia said. There was a large bookshelf that was full. Both visitors looked at the bookshelf appreciatively. "You've already seen the kitchen and its too dark to see much of the backyard, which leaves the upstairs. Maybe this weekend we can visit my horse."

"Your horse?" Jean-Luc asked.

"Yes." Virginia smiled. "Tall…" She held her slightly above her head. "Red, four legs, and a tail." She laughed at Jean-Luc's expression. "We need to work on your sense of humor, Captain." She felt some excitement from him. "He's not the sort of horse you're used to, by the way."

"Oh?" Jean-Luc inquired.

"He's a Quarter Horse that likes to pretend he's a rodeo bronc once in a while... Apparently, keeping me on my toes – or my ass – is a point of pleasure for him!" She said. Beverly laughed.

With that, they walked back through the dining room. Virginia picked up one of Beverly's bags while Beverly picked up the other and Jean-Luc took his own bag as Virginia led them upstairs. The first door they encountered was on the right and it was a bathroom. "This will be your bathroom." She said as she switched on the light for them to see. It was a simple bathroom with a vanity directly ahead of the open door, the toilet to the right of the vanity, and the tub to the right of the toilet. "There are towels and washcloths and extra toilet paper under the sink." Several feet down the hall to the right was the next door. Virginia walked in and set Beverly's bag on the floor. "This will be your room." Her guests entered the room behind her and set their bags down next to them where they stood. They looked around the simply furnished but comfortable room then their eyes settled on the single queen-size bed simultaneously. Virginia watched their eyes and smiled to herself. She felt apprehension from both of them with a side of dread from Jean-Luc. He wanted to ask if he could take the futon but before he could voice the thought Virginia spoke. "I have a third bedroom, at the end of the hall, but I use it primarily as an office with some gym equipment. It has a futon that is not very comfortable for the sober but suitable for drunks!" They gave her an inquiring look. "I rarely drink so friends call me for a ride from parties and bars and sometimes they sleep here." She watched them survey the room. "There should be sufficient dresser and closet space for your things." She paused then moved toward the door. "My room is the only door on the left." She said as she led them down the hall to her bedroom. The room was large but very inviting with its off-white walls, beige carpet and earth tone accents. Even the dog bed on the floor looked comfortable and to prove it Atticus trotted in behind them, circled a few times and laid down. The room had its own bathroom, which was also quite large with marble vanity with two sinks, the toilet was in a room of its own, and there was a large tub and separate shower. Virginia smiled politely and Jean-Luc and Beverly took that as their cue to move out to the hall. "I'll be downstairs while you two get settled. Let me know if you need anything."

Jean-Luc internally fought with himself then walked around the left side of the bed to look out the window. Beverly put her bag on the bed and walked to the window directly across from the door and looked out at the darkness. The only lights other than the surrounding houses were that of the city reflecting off the low clouds threatening to snow. The combination bathed what she could see in an orange haze. He turned and watched her for a few seconds, unaware she could see his reflection in the dark window. His expression would be empty, meaningless to anyone else but she saw pained dread. She inhaled deeply causing him to return to the present and before she turned around, he put his bag on the dresser facing the foot of the bed. She walked to the bed where her bag sat and looked at him.

"Which side?"

"What?" He asked as he turned to look at her.

"Which side of the bed do you want?" She said as she indicated toward the bed with a hand.

He looked at her hand then at the bed. "That side is fine." He said as he pointed to the side by the wall then turned away from her to unpack his clothes. She moved her bag on to the dresser next to the window she looked out a moment ago.

When he finished, he stood at his dresser a moment. He could feel a little tension in the air of the room. 'I need to think about something else.' He thought. "I'll be downstairs." He said quietly without turning back to look at her. He shut the door behind him and stood in the hall a moment.

When Virginia walked down the stairs, she saw the spirit. "I wondered where you went. I expected you to be up there with them." She said quietly then went into the kitchen for a glass of water. The spirit was trying to communicate with her but she only received bits and pieces that had no meaning for her. She felt frustration from him. "There's a learning curve for both of us here. I know there's something you want them to know. Keep trying and eventually I'll understand." Virginia left the kitchen and found Jean-Luc in the living room looking at the books.

"Finished unpacking?" She asked.

"Yes." He said then paused a moment. "You have quite an eclectic collection." He said.

"Help yourself." She said as she sat in the overstuffed chair. Virginia watched Beverly as she entered the room. "All settled?"

"Yes, thank you." Beverly said and gave Virginia a small smile and walked over to the bookshelf to stand next to Jean-Luc. She instantly spotted a book about dogs. Atticus sparked her interest and this seemed a good book to sit down with. Jean-Luc on the other hand, wanted to peruse all the titles at his temporary disposal. There were several books that interested him: wars of the past century, horses, and places he assumed she'd visited or wanted to, including one about Chaco Canyon. He finally decided on a book of poetry by Robert Frost and sat down on the opposite end of the sofa where Beverly took up residence. He looked at the binding of the book and ran his thumb across it. The binding was slightly worn in one place. He turned the book over and ran his thumb across the pages as they flitted open, one after the next. One page caught his eyes. It was the only page that was dog-eared. The Runaway. He read the poem and smiled then flipped to the front of the book and began reading.

Virginia had been sitting in the chair rubbing her hand over her face, absorbed in thought when her phone rang. She looked at the display before she answered and smiled. "Hello." She said in a voice that indicated a close relationship with the caller. "No, that's fine. My aunt and uncle arrived just a few hours ago… Yes, they're settled in. Thank you… Yes, you can meet them." She said smiling. "I recommend you make up for it soon." She said. A little gold band accented her eyes as her cheeks blushed crimson red and her canine teeth elongated.

Jean-Luc's fascination at seeing what Beverly described seeing in her dream distracted him from feeling uncomfortable at the personal conversation. He could see Beverly out of the corners of his eyes smirking as she read her book.

"Good night." Virginia said as she chuckled and set the phone on the table next to her. Virginia looked up to see Jean-Luc staring at her. She too smirked. "The things that man does to me..." Virginia said and slid her tongue over her lengthy teeth holding his gaze. Beverly chuckled quietly. Now Jean-Luc felt uncomfortable – and Virginia was satisfied. "Well, I have work tomorrow. I'll leave here around 0630 and probably won't be home until after 1900 hours, most of the week. So unfortunately, you'll have fend for and entertain yourselves. The 30th is usually our busiest day but since it falls on a Sunday, I'll be playing it by ear on my schedule for this coming Saturday and Sunday." She paused thinking. "I took the liberty of putting some instructions on using my computer upstairs on the desk up there along with directions for walking downtown. We're less than half a mile away and there's plenty to do and see."

"Do you need us to do anything around the house or in preparation for leaving?" Beverly asked.

Virginia knew the 'leaving' Beverly meant. "No, I have some appointments scheduled to take care of things." Virginia said.

"What time is it?" Beverly wondered aloud.

"Its 2130." Virginia said and pointed to the digital display under the TV.

Beverly smiled in acknowledgement. Satan spied an opportunity then jumped on the sofa, walked over to Beverly and curled up next to her. Beverly smiled and petted the cat then picked up the book she was reading.

Virginia smiled. "I'll see you two tomorrow. Good night."

"Good night." Both guests said in unison as Virginia went upstairs. Jean-Luc and Beverly read for almost an hour before Jean-Luc closed his book, rose from the sofa and returned the book to its place on the shelf. He turned to look at her.

"I think I'll retire for the evening." He didn't know how to finish his statement; they weren't parting ways for the evening. He looked down at Satan, who opened her eyes and watched him somewhat inquisitively with golden eyes. He looked back to Beverly, gave her a small smile and turned to walk upstairs.

He shut the blinds and closed the curtains of the windows in the room and quickly readied himself for bed. He laid his robe over the foot of his side of the bed and slid between the covers facing the wall. He wanted to avoid as many awkward situations as possible.

A short time later, Beverly quietly opened the door and looked in to see Jean-Luc's sleeping form under the covers. She walked in and took what she needed off the dresser and shut the door behind her. She reentered the bedroom minutes later and closed the door behind her. She laid her robe at the foot of her side of the bed and tried to slide into bed without disturbing him. She lay on her back and reached out to turn off the light then turned on her side to face him. It felt strange to sleep next to a man in bed and not touch him, especially a man she was attracted to…especially Jean-Luc… Her subconscious automatically stopped that train of thought.