"This job, you mean?"
Rektar just blinks at me. "You know what I mean. Sometimes we males can be clueless to what a human female wants. If she shows you how she feels, well…" He shrugs.
Ironic that shy, terrible-with-women Rektar is now giving me advice. From what I've heard (and seen), Lucy had to practically throw herself at him before he noticed she was interested. They've been inseparable ever since, and Rektar's happier than I've ever seen him. It's not the same situation, I want to point out. Lucy was interested and Ash is not.
But I just smile and eye the banner once more, imagining Ashley painstakingly sewing on alien lettering made out of fabric, hoping that she gets it right.
For me. All for me.
It's the longest and shortest day of my life.
The party seems to go on forever, and people linger, talking and chatting until the sun goes down and the stars come out. Lucy's daughter starts getting fussy the later it gets, and while I clean the kitchen and do the dishes, she wraps up food and sends people on their way home. Though I miss a lot of the conversation, I can tell from Lucy's firm-but-friendly tone of voice that she's making it clear that it's time to head out.
Khex leaves in the morning. The realization hits me like a fist to the gut, leaving me without a breath to draw. I close my eyes against the pain, because I need a moment or else I'm going to break down, sobbing as I scrub plates in Lucy's sink.
A hand touches my shoulder. "Ash?"
I jerk in surprise, letting out a squeak of distress as I turn. Water sloshes over my shoes, making me wince. It's Khex, and he immediately grimaces at my reaction and rubs my neck with his big hand. "Sorry," he mouths. He always feels so guilty when he startles me. It can't be helped today, though. The last thing I want is him yelling at me from across the house and making everyone wonder why. "Ready to go home?"
"Oh." I wipe my hands on a towel and glance around. Rektar has his daughter on one arm and is picking up plates with his free hand. Sinath and Ainar are helping clean up, and I don't see Lucy, but I'm betting that she's shooing a few others towards their sleds without making them feel like they're being kicked out. "Yeah, I guess I should go."
"I'll go with you," Khex says immediately.
That makes me pause. I would love that. I want a bit more time with him. Heck, I want another fifty to seventy years with him. But I know he has to wake up very early to catch his ship, and I don't want to be greedy. "Are you sure that's a good idea? You leave before dawn, right?"
He shrugs. "As if I'll be able to sleep at all. I'd rather say my goodbyes to you."
"You'll feel differently when I start screaming and sobbing," I half joke, setting the towel back down on the counter.
Khex just laughs, that hand warm and heavy and so good on my neck. "Come on."
It takes a few more minutes before we can extricate ourselves from the remnants of the party. Khex says his goodbyes to the men and hugs Rektar close, clapping him on the back while I sit in my air-sled and wait for him. Lucy glances over at me and I wave at her. She points at Khex and then at me, a question in her eyes. Are we going home together?
Not in the way she thinks. I shake my head.
She gives me a look as if to say she doesn't approve of that and then mimics climbing him. Like a tree, she'd told me a few days ago.
I give her a pained smile.
She disappears inside and then my data pad lights up with an incoming message. What have you got to lose? Lucy sends to me.
After tonight, I'll never see Khex again. I might as well throw it out there. Best case scenario, I get my brains screwed out and have a fantastic memory of him. It won't take the edge off the grief, but it'll at least be something. Worst case scenario, he turns me down, we're both embarrassed…and then I never see him again anyhow.
Am I going to do this? Am I really?
I ponder it as I drive us back to my farm. Khex is quiet, which gives me plenty of time to think and be nervous. If I don't tackle him, I'll have regrets, I decide. But putting myself out there knowing he doesn't feel the same way makes me a little queasy. I should position it as just goodbye sex, I think. Just a celebration of him going away. Two friends bumping uglies knowing they'll never see each other again. No attachments, just animal pleasure. I practice my argument as I settle the air-sled in its spot in front of the house. You said you weren't going to sleep anyhow. Should we have filthy, no-holds-barred sex instead? It's my going away present to you—curing you of blue balls.