Two Months Later
"You're going out again?" Sinath parks himself on the edge of my desk, his tail sliding over the side and thumping against the metal there. "You go out to help at that farm every day. Is she that useless?"
"Ash isn't useless," I protest, scowling in his direction. "She just needs a different sort of help, that's all."
"Needs help putting out the fires," Ainar jokes, and I shoot him a dirty look.
Rektar clears his throat, shutting down a fight before it starts. "If Khex is helping Colonist Wendell, I don't see a problem with it. That's our job, after all. And we have to treat each colonist with respect to their individual needs. If Wendell requires a bit more personal attention with Khex, then it's good that she's getting it." He picks up a thick, bready, berry-studded thing called a “scone” that his wife made. He's eaten two already, but I'm pretty sure Lucy is determined to fatten Rektar up and her husband is all for it. I snag one of the scones myself, thinking I'll hand it off to Ash when I get to her place. We may have figured out her barn, but she's still a rotten cook.
Sinath starts to make his favorite crude gesture and I get to my feet, glaring at him. "We're just friends. Don't even start."
"Uh huh." Sinath clearly doesn't believe me. He launches himself off my desk and strolls away. "I'm friendly with several colonists too, but I don't spend every day with them."
They don't get it. I'm used to Sinath and Ainar giving me shit, of course. I'm not going to tell them Ashley's secret. That's her story to tell, and if she doesn't want me sharing it, I won't. But it means that I end up doing a lot of the learning for her, and I accompany her into town when she needs to go in, just in case she misses something.
Plus…I like spending time with her.
Actually, it's more than that. I'm obsessed with Ashley Wendell. I keffing stroke myself to the thought of her every night. I dream about her silky skin and the fall of her dark hair and that little snort-giggle she can't contain and it makes me want her so keffing bad that I could scream. But Ashley's made it clear she doesn't want more than a friend, so I'm determined to be just that friend and nothing more.
And if I'm that friend that comes by every day and sends her messages to her data pad all day long, then I guess I am. And if I show up after work and eat dinner with her and play sticks and watch vids with her, I tell myself I'm content with that and nothing more.
I'm a terrible liar, of course, but Ash has boundaries and I respect them. Unless she indicates that she wants more from me, I'm not going to push myself onto her. The last thing she needs is another mesakkah shoving unwanted attention onto her. She flinches away from any of the men in Port except for me, or ignores them entirely. She might not even be interested in males. Other than our date that I forced her into, she hasn't indicated any sexual interest or a desire for anything other than friendship. It makes me crazy, but being with Ash is better than being without, so I'll take the scraps of attention she gives me.
I have a vid for tonight, a gladiator fight that she'll probably hate but will watch just because I enjoy them. I have a human vid, too, but we're saving that one for next week, because this week is my turn. Ash has been baking these cracker-like salty things that she calls “shitty pretzels” and we snack on those as we watch the vids and talk through the entire thing. Normally I'd get irritated if one of my friends talked through an intense gladiator bout, but I love hearing Ash's observations and I crack up at her responses.
Really, she's just fun to spend time with, and I find myself showing up at her farm as often as possible.
Rektar clears his throat. "Before you set out, could I have a word, Khex?"
"Of course." Uh oh. I'm in trouble with the boss. Maybe it's weird that Rektar—quiet, unobtrusive, low-ranked Rektar—is my boss. But he's got the right personality for it and I have no desire whatsoever to be in charge of anything. We get along well and have for the years we've worked together, so I'm a little surprised he's going to call me out now. I gesture at the door. "Want to walk with me to my sled?"
He nods and heads out of the office with me.
I glance over at him as we circle around to the back of the building. His face is unreadable, his uniform straining at the seams over his gut. I want to joke about how Lucy's fattening him for the slaughter, but it probably isn't the time for teasing. "What'd I do now?"