Weeks.

2167

Andie laughed at Macbeth whose tiny tail wagged furiously as he pulled on the stick in his mouth, the opposite end held by his mistress. Four weeks had done much to improve the puppy's appearance. His coat was sleek and shiny, his eyes wide and gleaming, and his little belly full and round.

They sat in the shade of the house, underneath a window. The summer sun was hot on Mindoir and the shade a welcome respite. Andie let Macbeth have the stick and he sank down into the grass, happily gnawing on it as she leaned back on her hands. She had a few more freckles on her nose this summer, though she like most of the colonists had been given the standard sun-shield skin spray that was supposed to last a whole month before needing reapplication.

"… Esther is risking her career," came her father's voice drifting out of the window. He sounded displeased.

"She has a right to happiness, Matt," said her mother's voice in reply. "It's hard to meet people when the only men she's around are professionally unavailable. A relationship is bound to happen sooner or later. To be honest, I'm surprised it's taken her this long. They're only human at the end of the day, and Essie's not the type to settle for a weekend fling on shore leave."

"Yeah, but a senior officer? He—they should both know better." The sound of a chair scraping across the floor accompanied by a sigh from her father made Andie squirm a bit. She knew she shouldn't be listening, but this was interesting! Besides, if she moved now, they might hear her and accuse her of eavesdropping—which she wasn't doing. She just was accidentally overhearing things.

"How did it start anyway?" asked Joanna next.

"Essie was sparse on the details, but I know she first met him while on Arcturus between assignments. He was only a second lieutenant then. Nothing happened back then, she told me, but she kept him in mind as a pleasant enough man and that was that. Fast-forward to her current assignment and there he was, Captain. Apparently they reconnected and hit it off... and, well, there it is."

"I think it's sweet."

"She's too old for him."

Joanna laughed outright. "He's only ten years younger. That's not so bad. Besides, some men like older, experienced women. You should be happy for them."

Matt grunted. Then, after a moment, he sighed. "I'm trying. I just don't want her to get hurt—either her career or personally."

"What's life without a little risk?"

"Well, if this Hackett fellow isn't as good a man she says he is, he'll answer to me."

The conversation drifted to other, boring things so Andie, as quietly as she could, scooted away from the open window. Macbeth followed, his stumpy tail wriggling with glee.

Once it was safe, she stood and kept walking. It was kinda gross to think about Aunt Essie kissing an old guy, but to be fair, Aunt Essie was old too, so she supposed it was okay. Most of her peers at school seemed obsessed with boys. Andie found it hard to join in when the conversations steered that way. It wasn't that she disliked boys or anything... they just seemed just as clueless and awkward and pimply as the girls. What was so attractive about that? Still, she couldn't deny that some boys were nice to look at... not the ones in her grade... but...

"Hey Andie, seen Erik around?" Colby Patel trotted up to her, a soccer ball under one muscular arm.

"Not lately," she replied, glancing at the soccer ball. "You playing a game?" She perked up. "Can I join?"

Colby frowned. "No," he said in a curt tone. "If you see your brother, tell him I was looking for him." With that he walked off. Macbeth barked after him, baring his little puppy teeth.

Andie scowled. Colby could be such a jerkface sometimes. But... she glanced at him walking away, unable to help but notice the way the t-shirt clung to his back, accentuating his broad shoulders. She supposed Colby wasn't all bad.