“ … so after you kissed, she just — ran away and disappeared into the ship?” asked Leta, careful to keep her voice neutral as she surveyed Cyrus with concern in her eyes. To her distress, Cyrus nodded his head, looking thoroughly miserable as he relayed the details of the evening he’d spent out with Corra.
It was the following afternoon, and the ship had landed a few hours ago on a snowy, blustery planet called Elora, where Fiearius had another job scheduled. While the captain was out, most of the crew went to explore the new wintery setting and engage in a vicious snowball fight.
Cyrus and Leta, however, were up in his quarters, deep in discussion. Leta could hear the thumps of snowballs hitting the walls and windows, but inside, Cyrus was slumped forward on the edge of his bed, his head hanging so low that his glasses slid down the bridge of his nose.
Seated at his side, Leta prompted, “And have you talked to her since last night?”
“No, I haven’t even seen her,” he mumbled. “Not that I’ve tried to … “
“Well, how did you think the date was going until then?” said Leta, purposely keeping her voice merely curious and free of any emotion in particular. She hadn’t spoken with Corra yet, but if all Cyrus was saying was truthful …
Guilt sunk through her. She’d been the one to encourage their date in the first place. And apparently, the whole night had gone —
“Terribly,” said Cyrus bluntly. “Absolutely terribly. Everything went wrong.” He groaned and dropped his head in his hands. Then he stole a glance between his fingers, hopelessly searching for approval as he amended, “Except right at the end. When we were walking home. It was just like always. We were talking and laughing and everything was great and that’s why I–” The memory of the failed kiss seemed to flash in front of his eyes and again, he sank into despair. “Clearly I’m an idiot.”
Leta rubbed his back as Cyrus groaned again, muffled against his hands. “You aren’t an idiot. I seriously doubt it went as badly as you think it did. Besides, everyone has been on shitty dates.”
Cyrus lowered his hands from his face and eyed her skeptically. “Oh really,” he deadpanned. “You among them I suppose?”
“Of course,” said Leta at once, bristling. “In undergrad the only guy who was interested in me was one of my professors who was twice my age. One time, he and I went to this bar that was in the lounge of a hotel … and the Dean of Students was there. She saw us together.” She arched her eyebrows on her forehead. “Come on, that is pretty bad.”
Cyrus blinked, looking faintly surprised by this news. Then he let out a sharp, short laugh, one that reminded her unpleasantly of his brother.
“Okay, that’s kind of crap,” he admitted, “But try replacing ‘professor’ with ‘lovely young lady you met at a train stop’ and ‘dean of students’ with ‘her husband.’ Or how about taking one of the Dionysian’s deckhands out to a few really nice dinners that drained your finances only to have her leave the ship just when the two of you were getting somewhere. Or, I dunno, taking out the girl of your dreams — “ Leta rolled her eyes, though he didn’t notice,“ –only to have her leave you in the worst bar ever to go be with another guy.” Once more, he dropped his head in defeat. “I’m either an idiot or I have the worst luck known to mankind.”
Leta opened her mouth to reassure him (yet again), but she suddenly paused, lifting her hand to halt him. “Wait. You had an affair with a married woman?”
A beat passed and Cyrus looked stricken. Finally in a small voice, he said “Twice?” and Leta’s mouth fell open in shock.
“Two different times? Like, two different women? You’ve been the ‘other man’ twice?”
“I didn’t mean to!” he insisted hastily. “The first time barely even counts. It was just one date and it wasn’t like I was going to inspect her palm for a chi’tauri. The other time…” Here, he hesitated and, his eyes falling to his palm, his face turned a funny shade of pink. “She wore gloves a lot…” He looked up at her in despair. “I didn’t know. Really.”
Leta knew it was the tradition of Satierians to get symbols painted on the palms of their hands in permanent ink to symbolize marriage. What she didn’t know was how often Cyrus disregarded the symbol.
“So this has happened twice before? You went on a date with a married woman … and then another time, slept with another married woman?”
“I didn’t know,” he groaned again. “She was my assistant. Back at my old job on Satieri. I’d just gotten put in charge of this new project. A luxury ship for some rich guy and they handed me a team to help out. And one of them was this girl. She was a…specialist in…I don’t even remember. Core ventilation or something like that? Whatever, either way she was a complete bitch.” At this point, he began emphasizing his sentences with slicing hand motions. “I mean, honestly, outright one of the worst people I’ve ever had to work with. We fought. All the time. Non-stop. Because she just refused to listen. And she was wrong. Always.”
“Anyway,” he sighed. “One night we were working late on the ship and we were the only two left and she was being an idiot and trying to rewire something we were working on and I told her not to and then we started yelling at each other and then we had sex.” He paused to furrow his brow in such profound confusion that Leta almost laughed.
He went on, looking all the more baffled, “And then it just kept happening. Over and over and over again. We’d fight and then we’d have sex. And we’d fight some more. And then have sex some more. All the time. Everywhere. Literally. Everywhere. I feel bad for the guy who bought that ship,” he added, looking over to Leta and grimacing at her. Leta, however, was laughing.
“You hate-fucked your assistant?” she demanded in amazement. “And she was married the whole time?”
“Well, when the project was finished, we had a big party and she showed up with her husband of five years. Did it one more time, then I had her transferred to another department.” His energy rather petered out at the end, before it came back quite quickly to finish with a grand smile, as though presenting an award, “And that’s the most meaningful relationship I’ve ever had. In short, my love life? Kinda sucks.”
“Cyrus.” Leta’s laughter faded toward a stern reminder. “My fiance’s in prison.”
Cyrus opened his mouth, but then paused. “Okay fine. You win. But pretend this isn’t a competition for a second and it still really sucks.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” said Leta, feeling a wry, apologetic smirk spread over her face. She clasped his shoulder in earnest. “Well for what it’s worth, I promise I’ll never encourage you to ask out a girl again.”
Cyrus started to smirk back. “Unless you’ve already double confirmed with her that she’s crazy about me?”
“Nope, not even then,” said Leta. She glanced to the floor, and couldn’t help herself: she reached down to organize a messy pile of blueprints. “Clearly I have no talent for matchmaking … “