Belonging

by

Michelle Pinchette

 

Chapter Seven

 

 

* * *

     Ro had been battling with a stubborn bolt on an access panel for the last five minutes.  She refused to ask for help, though.  She didn’t think it would give any easier for anyone else.  She slid a piece of pipe onto the handle of the wrench, giving herself some more leverage, and yanked.  Thankfully, it finally gave way just before the Admiral entered the Circuitry Room.  “Good morning, sir,” she said as she worked the bolt free with her fingers now that it was loose.

     “Good morning, Miss Simmons.  I thought Kowalski and Riley had already finished repairs in here,” he commented as he watched her work.

     “They got most of it, but some more problems popped up once we started doing diagnostics,” she replied as she pulled the panel free.

     “It isn’t going to set off our repair time frame too badly, is it?” Nelson asked.

     “I factored in some wiggle room,” Ro admitted as she began to test the wires in front of her to find the dead ones.  Wiring had been a pain lately.  She would have to take the time to look more closely at what was being used in the near future.  Things were shorting and burning out that shouldn’t and it all seemed to come down to the wiring.

     “Good.  I wanted to warn you, Philip Kensington will be in attendance tomorrow.  He just called to confirm and couldn’t help but gloat about the wonderful new perks he had come up with to steal you away from the Institute.  I know you don’t have much patience for his sort of competition, but I would appreciate it if you were gentle with him,” Nelson requested.

     Ro groaned.  Philip Kensington was a major financial force in the industrial world and he was very generous with his money, especially in the support of things that could someday aid him.  However, he also seemed to think of the Institute as a proving ground for his employees.  He watched to see which of Nelson’s engineers were truly spectacular, then he pounced with shameless offers of money and power.  He had very limited success with this tactic.  The Admiral did tend to inspire loyalty in his employees.  However, Kensington treated the entire thing as a game and each success as a triumph akin to winning the Superbowl.  “Why does he have to pick on me?  I’ve already told him I’m not interested twice.  Why doesn’t he try to sink his teeth into Merrick or Portman?  They’re both good.”

     “Yes, well, neither of them is as good as you, hence Kensington’s refusal to give up this round so easily,” Nelson said almost apologetically.

     “I hope he can stand more disappointment, then, because he’s not going to be any more successful than he had been previously.”

     “I’m glad to know that I’m such a superior employer.”

     “Not that you aren’t, sir, but I stay here for the challenge.  I know I’ll never be bored working on the Seaview.”

     Nelson chuckled.  “I’m not entirely certain that’s a good thing.”

     “Of course it is.  I’m not talking about fixing her after one of her little mishaps, I was referring to the Seaview herself and when I can actually manage to top her creator in finding improvements for her.  Now there’s a challenge.”

     Another of the Admiral’s warm, soft laughs filled the room.  “I’ll keep that in mind.  I wouldn’t want things to become easy and boring for you.”

     “Perish the thought,” Ro said, then thought about her dinner last night and turned to face Nelson.  “Dom gave me a surprise last night with dinner.  She has a new project.”

     Nelson smiled.  “What is it?  Some new plants or some interior decorating?”

     “His name is Seamus Harper and he’s a homeless man that she’s... well, he’s too old to be adopted but that’s the closest word I can think of,” Ro said.

     Nelson’s face fell.  “What?”

     “Apparently, the night we got into port, she was lying in her hammock on her back porch and saw him collapse down on the beach.  Someone had kicked the stuffing out of him, then threw him in the bay, presumably thinking that he’d drown and not be able to report them.  It didn’t really matter.  Harper said that he didn’t know who it was that had pulverized him or why,” Ro told him, wondering what he would say.

     “This man, he’s sleeping at Dominica’s house?” Nelson asked, not sounding at all happy about the prospect.

     “Yes, in her guest room for the last couple of nights.  Dom says he’s harmless.  Actually, I think she called him ‘sweet,’ but she meant harmless.  She says that Harper just needs some help to get on his feet and seems determined to be the one to give it to him.  She wouldn’t listen to me when I suggested that she hand him over to some agency that’s purpose is to do just that for people.  She says he’s slipped through the cracks for too long and she wasn’t going to let it happen to him again,” she replied, her tone telling him that she was equally unhappy about the situation.

     “She’s an intelligent young lady, but doing this is not intelligent at all,” Nelson grumbled.  “What is she thinking?”

     “She’s a person that has more faith than sense sometimes and she thinks that because Harper collapsed practically on her doorstep that he’s her moral responsibility.  She even quoted scripture at me,” Ro replied, then felt like she was being too hard on Dom and Harper in what she was saying to the Admiral.  “It’s not that Harper’s a terrible person, at least as far as I could see.  I mean, he seemed like a decent guy, actually.  He even told me that he’d leave Dom’s house if I thought it was for the best and I think he would have.  And he does seem grateful to Dom for her generosity.  He’s doing odd jobs for Dom to sort of pay her back a little.  He even shooed us both out the kitchen when dinner was done, telling us to go do girl things, then he washed all the dishes.  Dom said that he’s been quiet and polite and hasn’t even tried to lay a finger on her.  I don’t know.  Maybe I’m overreacting because this sort of thing usually doesn’t turn out well.”

     Nelson was silent for a moment, thinking over everything that she’d just told him.  He was still frowning, but he sighed heavily and said, “Dominica is a grown woman.  As much as I do not trust this situation, I can’t dictate to her what she can or can’t do in her own home unless I have some sort of security concern.  Should I have that concern, Miss Simmons?”

     Ro knew he was trusting her judgement, which was a lot of faith to be putting in her.  “I honestly don’t know,” Ro said with a helpless shrug.  “Dom is usually an extremely good judge of character.  I can’t condemn Harper just because he’s homeless.  That wouldn’t be very fair.  After all, he didn’t do anything threatening or ask any questions about the Institute or the Seaview.  He seemed more interested in what books I liked than what I did for a living.  He likes to read, apparently.  He wasn’t even physically intimidating.  He’s a short, scrawny, battered guy.  I just don’t like this.”

     Nelson was not an easy man to read.  Aside from some very reasonable concern, she couldn’t tell what he was thinking from looking at his face.  “I’ll keep what you’ve said in mind, but, as I said, unless this somehow becomes an Institute concern, it isn’t my place to interfere,” he said after a few moments.  He was right, of course.  He couldn’t dictate to Dom how he thought she should live her life any more than Ro could, but at least he was aware of what was going on, just in case.

     “I know.  I just thought that you’d like to be informed,” Ro said.

     “Yes.  Thank you, Miss Simmons.  I appreciate your keeping me apprised of the situation.  Let me know if, at some point, you have some sort of real complaint with this Harper person.  In the meanwhile, let’s get the Seaview back up off her last legs,” Nelson said.

     Ro grinned.  “Things aren’t quite that dire.  She should be back in the water in no time.  You know, if I worked straight through the weekend...”

     “You’re going to the Fund Raiser,” Nelson interrupted her.  “And you’re taking Saturday and Sunday off.  You’re not much use to me if you’re exhausted and overworked.  Don’t tell me you don’t have better things to do.”

     “You mean as in a personal life?  Why would I want one of those?” Ro kidded him.

     Nelson just shook his head at her and said, “I’ll check back later on how things are going if I can.”

     “Yes, sir,” Ro replied, then set back to work.

     She stayed hard at repairs for most of the morning then Lee came around to check on things, too.  He kissed her on the cheek once he saw that they had the room to themselves.  When they had begun dating, they had both agreed that their romance had no place on the Seaview.  That hadn’t lasted and Lee flirted when they found a few seconds alone.  She didn’t worry about it affecting his work.  She knew the Seaview came first.  It didn’t bother her.  Lee knew the Seaview came first with her, too.  “Are we still on schedule?” he asked as she looked up to him.

     “So far, so good,” Ro told him with a smile.  “Has the Captain been for his mandatory post mission physical?”  Nelson had started that practice when Lee returned from missions more abused than the Seaview more often than not.

     Lee rolled his eyes, nodding.  “Yes.  This morning.”  He cast off the expression and smiled back at her.  “How about a coffee break?”

     “That sounds good, but I don’t know if I should take the time,” she replied.

     “Take the time.  I’ll give you a hand afterwards if you feel it’s setting you back,” Lee told her.

     “Now that’s an offer I can’t refuse,” Ro gave in and took the arm he offered her.

     “So, how was your dinner last night?” Lee asked as they headed toward Mess.  Lee had a few things that had needed his immediate attention at the Institute, so, much as he would have liked to, he couldn’t bring her to dinner himself.

     “Interesting,” Ro told him, the word coming out a little harsher than she had intended.

     “How so?” Lee pressed.  He probably thought that she and Dom had an argument.  She wondered what he would say about Harper.

* * *

     Harper had his jersey tied around his waist as he pushed the lawn mower over Dom’s front lawn.  She hadn’t wanted him to do the mowing at first.  She had mentioned the bruising on his stomach, then had told him that she was worried that he might do himself some harm exerting himself physically, just as she had earlier when he had done some heavy lifting for her.  Thankfully, the bruises on his face had come down a lot and he didn’t have to show her his still heavily purple abdomen, which would have done the opposite of convincing her that he was fit enough to do a little yard work.  Harper couldn’t face anymore dusting today, already having sneezed enough for his liking.  It was nice being outside, here on this old Earth, with the sun shining down from blue skies.

     Harper had weeded out the front flower beds first, praying the whole time that time spent with Trance had instilled enough knowledge as to what was a weed and what wasn’t in him.  Now he was mowing.  It wasn’t particularly hard, but it was hot out and he was sweating.  He was going to need to wash his clothes again when he was done, but hadn’t figured out how he was going to manage to do it without pretty much sitting around naked in the garage, where the washer and dryer were, until everything was clean.  Being down to owning only the clothes on his back was presenting him with problems he had never faced before.  Maybe he’d wait until Dom went to bed to do laundry

     Still, Harper didn’t mind.  He was making himself useful, that was the important thing.  After Dom had spent all day yesterday pretty much sticking up for him, he felt like he should be doing even more, but this would have to do for now.  He still planned to make himself indispensable so he could stay where he was.  This seemed like a good, solid first step.

     As he got three quarters of the way done when Dom appeared with a cup.  “Here,” she said, handing it toward him.  “Hydrate.”

     Harper smiled.  “Nice!  Thanks.”  He took the cup and drank down the cold water in it in a few fast gulps.

     Before he could do anything but lower the glass, Dom held an apple out to him.  “Refuel,” she ordered him.  He shook his head at her with a grin as he took the apple.  She took such good care of him that he couldn’t imagine why she didn’t have a boyfriend.  That had come out during dinner conversation last night.  Ro carped about Dom’s exboyfriends and the fact that Dom didn’t want to go out a blind date with one of Captain Crane’s friends.  He’d stayed out of the whole thing, just eating his dinner until the topic finally died.  Much as he wished otherwise, he couldn’t do anything about Dom’s current lack of a steady guy in her life.  Oh, he was tempted to flirt with her.  It seemed like she was constantly leaving herself open to it, but somehow he controlled those impulses.  Other reasons not withstanding, every person he’d met, Ro included, had warned him in no uncertain terms that he was in for major trouble if he so much as looked at Dom in a way they didn’t think was proper.  Time would settle that problem, though.  They’d see he didn’t mean Dom any harm and then he was sure all those threats would die down.

     Dom was standing there, smiling at him, right that instant, watching him eat, and it was all he could do not to tell her how pretty she was and hit her with his smarmiest pickup lines.  He couldn’t.  He knew he couldn’t, not while he relied on her for everything.  Maybe later, he consoled himself, after he got one of those social security numbers and paying work.  Then he’d show her that not all guys were too stupid to realize how special she was.  He was going to romance her socks off then.  “Great job on the lawn,” Dom said as he ate another bite of his apple.

     “Thanks.  Almost done.  What next?” he asked, thinking he’d settle for showing her how industrious he was for now.  Women were impressed by hard working men even in his time.  Tyr would say that it proved them to be good providers and, therefore, good mates.  So far today he’d washed the breakfast dishes, dusted, helped Dom to move some heavy furniture so that she could clean behind and around it, and then done things in the yard while Dom worked on the flower boxes on her back porch and tidied up the house.  It looked pretty tidy to him before, so he wasn’t sure what she’d been doing in there.  Of course, it really wasn’t any of his business what she was doing and if she had just been lying around, relaxing, it was no skin off his nose, though he doubted she had been.  If she hadn’t been busy, she probably would have been out earlier to check up on him.

     “I don’t want you to wear yourself out,” Dom said, confirming that theory, at least in his mind.

     “I’m fine.  Come on, what else can I do?”

     Dom stood there, looking perplexed for a moment, saying, “I was going to take my jeep for a tuneup...”

     “I could do that,” Harper interrupted her.  “Not take it anywhere, I mean I could maintenance it for you.”  He’d looked at the engine earlier out of curiosity.  It was a simple combustion motor.  He could maintenance it with one hand tied behind his back.

     Dom considered it.  “Okay, I guess.  You’re sure you’re as good with engines as you are with VCR’s?”

     “Better,” Harper said with an air of pride.

     Dom shrugged and said, “All right.  I guess my jeep probably looks like child’s play after working on some big freighter engine.”  Harper nodded to the statement, thinking she had no idea how simple a combustion engine was when compared to an antiproton reactor.  “I need to run to the auto parts store and get some things, then.  I shouldn’t be much more than fifteen minutes.”

     “Great!  That’ll give me enough time to finish up with the lawn,” Harper said with a smile.  “See you when I see you.”  He turned back to the mower, apple clamped in his teeth, and went back to work.  Sure enough, just as he was putting the lawn mower back into the garage, Dom returned from her errand.  “Perfect timing,” he called to her as she stopped the jeep in the drive.

     She handed him a bag with replacement parts and some plastic bottles of oil.  She went into the garage and got a funnel and a large, empty plastic container as he looked everything over.  “This is for the old oil,” she told him, handing him the container.  “Are you sure you’re up to this?  You shouldn’t overdo.  You could do this after lunch and a little rest.”

     “I’m fine, really,” he assured her, setting the bag down by the nose of the jeep.  “I used to work way harder than this on the Maru and the Andromeda.”

     Dom gave him a waiting look, but when he didn’t say anything further she asked, “And they would be?  I’m assuming not girlfriends.”

     Harper smiled.  “No, no, not that I didn’t love’m.  They were the ships I worked on.”

     “Ah.  Okay.  Here, give me that.”  She took his jersey from his waist, probably to keep it from needlessly getting any dirtier than it was.  After all, she knew exactly how extensive wardrobe wasn’t at the moment.  “I need to run out for a couple more things.  If you get tired, just quit for a while.”

     Harper nodded.  “I’m fine,” he repeated, wondering if she’d ever believe that he was.  Dom gave him a dubious look, but went off into the house.  By the time Harper had the jeep’s hood opened and had gotten the tools he’d need from the garage, she was back out and taking off on the Harley, waving goodbye.  Maybe she’d let him work on the motorbike next.  Harley’s were a work of art, but he could probably make the engine a little more fuel efficient with a couple minor modifications.  Dom was going to be surprised by the mileage her jeep would get after he was done with it.  He was going to earn his keep one way or another.

     He’d finished almost everything and had just put the funnel into the engine so he could pour in the fresh oil when someone said, “So, ya’re the charity case, are ya?”  The voice had a thick Irish brogue.  Harper looked up to see an older man standing near the jeep giving him a less than flattering look.

     “Uh... I suppose,” Harper said slowly, wondering who this was and why he was trying to pick a fight.  Maybe one of Dom’s neighbors.  Come to think of it, he did look a little familiar.

     “Just ya listen, boyo, I’m watching ya from right next door.  Ya do anything I don’t like and I’ll have the police over here like that!”  He snapped his fingers in Harper’s face and glared at him as if daring him to do something.  So he was one of Dom’s neighbors and he wasn’t picking a fight, he was putting Harper on notice.  Just great.  Someone else who didn’t trust him.  Dom must have been talking to him when she was working on the flower boxes earlier.  Harper hoped she hadn’t called him a charity case, but he was pretty sure that those were the neighbor’s words, not hers.  Harper felt like sighing, thinking he had been right when he’d thought that Dom was the only person around who was going to cut him any slack at all.  Didn’t Dylan say it was always better to try to make friends rather than enemies, even if things didn’t start out so well?  Okay, Dylan, he thought, this one’s for you.

     “I’m Seamus Harper.  Good to meet you,” he said, extending a hand toward the belligerent old man.  Something made the angry look fade and the man was suddenly all smiles and hardy handshakes.

     “Arland O’Donnell.  Another son of Ireland!  No wonder Dominica seemed so taken with ya!” he said, clapping Harper on the back hard yet remaining friendly.  What do you know, Harper thought, Dylan was right.  Sometimes just being nice did work wonders.  “So, do ya hail from the fair Land herself?”

     Harper assumed O’Donnell was asking if he come from Ireland.  “I’m from Boston.”

     O’Donnell was still patting him cheerfully on the back.  “I’ve a cousin there.  Ya wouldn’t be knowing a Glen O’Donnell, would you?”

     “No.  Sorry.”

     “Ah, it’s a big city.  Couldn’t know everyone, could ya?  So, what ya doing here?  A bit o’ repairs?”  O’Donnell moved to Dom’s jeep peering under the hood.  Harper was confused.  He said his name, which happened to make his Irish heritage plain, and now O’Donnell was his best friend?  He shrugged, deciding to go with it.  At least the old guy seemed pleasant enough now and you could never have too many friends.

     “Nah, just a little routine maintenance.  Fresh oil and such,” Harper told him, wiggling one of the plastic containers then upending it into the funnel to drain.

     “Really?  Good with cars are ya?” O’Donnell asked giving him a calculating sideways look.  Harper shrugged again and nodded.  He thought this was a jeep.  That’s what Dom called it.  “Ya know, my ol’ heap is needin’ an oil change.  I could see my way clear to givin’ ya a couple o’ dollars if ya could spare the time to do it for me.”

     Was O’Donnell saying he’d pay him for doing some maintenance on his car?  “I... uh... I would, but... I’m sort of new in town.  I don’t know where to get oil or parts and I don’t have any money to buy them...”

     “No, lad.  I’ve got all that.  The wife’s been on me about it for weeks, but I’ve had this achin’ in me bones.  I just need yer young, strong hands to do the work.  What d’ya say?”

     Harper scratched the back of his head.  “I guess I could...”

     “Good lad!  Ya finish up here and come on over.  I’ll bring the heap out for ya,” O’Donnell told him with another round of back slapping, then he took off toward the house next door.  He sure looked spry enough to do his own work.  Harper scratched his head again.  What had he gotten himself into and when was he going to learn to think before he talked?  He finished putting the oil into Dom’s jeep, closed the hood and started it.  It purred to life and Harper smiled.  Okay, he was as good with combustion engines as he was with antiproton reactors.

     After shutting down the motor and getting out of Dom’s jeep, Harper glanced over to O’Donnell’s driveway and there old man was standing in the drive, waving by another vehicle.  It looked a lot older than Dom’s jeep, but Harper supposed that the engines were probably basically the same.  What could it hurt, helping the old guy out?

     He walked over and the next thing he knew he had a beer in hand and was being told all about some of O’Donnell’s friends from when he’d been a much younger man.  Harper didn’t mind.  He didn’t really have anything to do until Dom got home anyway.  Besides, the beer was cold and not at all bad tasting.  He worked on the car while O’Donnell talked at him.  There were worse ways to while away some time.  He did the oil change and checked over some other things while he was under the hood, fixing a couple of minor problems that could be solved with the tightening of a bolt or the scraping off of a little antique grime.  He was just finishing up when he heard Dom’s Harley coming up the road.  She waved as she went past and Harper thought about what excuse he could make to go.  He felt a little bad about it.  O’Donnell seemed like a lonely old guy and Harper didn’t mind listening to his stories.

     “Arland O’Donnell, who are you bothering out there now?” came a voice from the house before Harper could say a word.

     O’Donnell looked alarmed and dismayed.  “Merciful heavens, lad, get away while ya can!  Tis the devil herself!” he urged quickly as he began to shove Harper down the drive.

     “What?” Harper asked, thinking it just sounded like some old woman to him.

     “The wife, lad!  Before it’s too late...”

     Suddenly, an elderly woman in a flowered dress was standing at the center of the open garage, hands on her chubby hips, an  annoyed look leveled straight at O’Donnell.  She looked a little vexed, sure, but certainly didn’t look frightening.  “Arland, what are you doing now?  Stop manhandling that boy!”

     “Aye, now we’re both for it.  Remember, lad, I tried to save ya!” O’Donnell whispered to him then put on a big smile and said, “I’m just getting acquainted, as it were, with our new neighbor, oh light o’ my life.”

     Mrs. O’Donnell marched out to where they were and looked at the beer bottles by the car, huffing indignantly.  “Drinking so early and pushing alcohol on a child!  What’s wrong with you, you silly old man?” she berated her husband.

     “I’m...” Harper tried to tell her he was twenty five and well able to hold his liquor.

     “Look at you, all skin and bones.  Who hasn’t been feeding you, you poor thing?” She said before he could say another word.  She grabbed his left hand looked at it.  “Well, no wonder.  A bachelor.  You need a good woman to fill you out a little and put some rosy color in your cheeks.”  She grabbed him by the upper arms and gave him a squeeze and a quick pull, as if fluffing him like a pillow.

     “I...” Harper tried again, with no better success.

     “Oh, you must be the poor, lost waif that Doctor Babin took in.  I was asking if you were a new beau earlier and she told me all about you.  She’s a fine, fine young Christian woman.  And single.  But working with all those sailors.  Tsk.  How’s she to meet a decent man, I ask you?  Not that I’m saying you aren’t a decent person yourself, you understand.  Don’t you worry about a thing about what we O’Donnells think of you, you poor dear.  We’re all good Catholics in this house and have nothing but kind, charitable thoughts about your situation.  So many without jobs or a roof over their heads these days.  You keep your chin up.  Doctor Babin will see you right, to be sure.”

     “She...”

     “And you’ll be in our prayers, dear boy.”  She pinched his cheeks as if he were a child, not that he got any chance to complain.  “Just don’t let Arland here corrupt you.  He’s a silly old man with too many schemes and plans.  Plying you with drink this early in the day!  Don’t you follow his example, hear?  He’s lucky to have made it to his pension.  You stay sober and clear of his like and you’ll be just fine.”

     “He...”

     “Arland, have you been talking this poor boy into doing your chores?  You should be ashamed, taking advantage of him when he needs our help and prayers.  Don’t you listen to Father Bartley in church?  Have you no shame?” she demanded of her husband as she turned to give him grief.  Harper was beginning to understand what Mister O’Donnell had been warning him about.

     “I have nothing but charity in my heart for Seamus,” he told his wife.  She began to speak, but he quickly cut her off.  “I hired him, ya old busy body.  Here’n I was just about to pay him for his hard work before ya came out here to deafen the poor lad with that tongue o’ yours.”  O’Donnell reached into his pocket and pulled out a billfold.  He pressed some money into Harper’s hand before he could protest and whispered to him, “Run for it, lad.  I’ll cover ya!”  Harper didn’t get to say a word, for Mister O’Donnell was pushing him toward Dom’s house saying, “I know ya promised Dominica ya’d be home when she got there.  Be off with ya and I’ll see ya when I can.”

     Harper turned briefly to say, “Bye,” but he doubted either of the O’Donnells heard him, because they were too busy trying to over talk each other.  He turned back to Dom’s house, then looked into his hand to see what Mister O’Donnell had put there.  He found two crumpled one dollar bills.  Harper half smiled.  At least he wasn’t totally broke anymore.  He stuffed the money into his pocket and walked into Dom’s house through the open garage.  She had pulled her jeep back in at some point, but he had missed it, probably during the verbal assault.

     “You met the O’Donnells, I see,” Dom said as he closed the kitchen door behind him.  She was smiling and giggling a little as she moved over to the dining room door.  Harper knew exactly why she was laughing, but he was more baffled then amused.

     “They seem... nice... sort of.  Do they always fight like that?” Harper asked, motioning in the direction of their house.

     Dom nodded, still giggling.  “Yes, but they do it with love.  They’ve been married forever and I think they’re still happy, despite appearances.”

     “That sure isn’t the way I pictured marital bliss,” Harper told her.  Right now his vision of marital bliss consisted of doing pretty much what he had been doing today before Mister O’Donnell showed up, with a healthy dose of early morning loving added in and a big kiss to go along with the apple he’d gotten later.  He couldn’t stop thinking like that, no matter how he tried, so he just tried to temper things enough that he wasn’t salivating after Dom constantly.

     “Different strokes for different folks,” she said with a shrug, then looked at him and wrinkled her nose.  “You’re a mess.  Go upstairs and shower.  Oh, and here.”  She bent down and picked up a plastic bag from the floor and stuffed it into his hands.  “I had to guess what size you are, using your jersey as a gauge.  I’m hoping I was close.”

     Harper looked down at the bag, which was tied shut, but he didn’t attempt to open it.  He didn’t want to touch anything in the bag anyway because his hands were dirty and greasy.  “You bought me clothes?” he asked weakly.  Beka had done that too, but his only clothing at the time he had come into her life had been dirty rags that had barely been holding together.  Beka had said that she didn’t want him to rub his filth off on everything that he brushed against and had incinerated his old clothes the second she got them off him.  She had also expected him to work off the money she’d laid out on his behalf for the new ones.  Dom didn’t expect him to pay her back and he felt all the more indebted to her because she didn’t.  “I... I don’t know what to say.”

     “Say you’ll take a shower before you make my whole house smell like oil and grass trimmings,” Dom said, then came around behind him and gave him a pointed shove toward the stairs.  “Ewww!  I left out sweat!”

     Harper went to the stairs then looked back to see Dom going into the bathroom, probably to wash his sweat off her hands.  “I’m going to pay you back,” he whispered to himself because he knew she didn’t want to hear it.  “I swear, somehow, I’m paying you back for everything you’ve done for me.”  He climbed the stairs up to his room and put the bag on the bed.  He dug into his pocket as he looked around for a likely place to stash his money.  Sure, it was two dollars now, but he was going to find a way to make more, then he was going to give it all to Dom.  He wasn’t going to insult her with this paltry sum.  He ended up folding it up and putting it under a nicknack too high up for Dom to reach easily.  Then he stripped down and went to take his shower.

     After getting himself clean, Harper returned the bedroom to find his own clothes gone and the room’s door closed.  He kept leaving it open.  It wasn’t his house, after all, so it wasn’t his place to shut Dom out of anywhere and he really wasn’t the most modest of people.  He half wondered what Dom would do if she came up the stairs just now and saw him wandering around in just a towel or earlier without even that.  Much as Harper wanted to envision something hot and sexy, he kept thinking she’d probably be more concerned with the livid bruises all over his body than the naked body itself.  He sighed, thinking that was always the case, and that he’d better get dressed before Dom saw the bruises all over him and got even more worried than she already was.

     He went to the bag on the bed.  He supposed now he had to try on the things Dom had bought him, since she’d stolen his clothes.  He secured his towel around his waist and looked in the bag.  Right on top was a bag of plastic, disposable razors.  He rubbed his chin.  Yup, he was getting scruffy.  He took the razors into the bathroom and made use of one, then returned to the bag.  Next was a package of new undershirts, then another of new boxers, then some socks.  All were nice and soft, just what Harper liked.  He put them on then looked at his new wardrobe.  There were three pairs of pants:  one beige, one black, one a light khaki, and three button down long sleeve shirts:  one a medium blue denim, one a muted maroon with black pinstripes, one kind of a yellowy beige.  They weren’t bad looking, just not as colorful as he usually got for himself.  He got dressed in the beige pants and the maroon shirt.  Everything was a little on the large side, but he had lost some serious weight when he’d been sick.  With the way Dom was feeding him, he was sure he’d gain it back soon and everything would fit a just about perfectly.  His own clothing had been loose on him too, after all.  He liked his clothing loose and comfortable, unlike Tyr.  How did Tyr get into those pants anyway?

     Harper put the rest of his new attire onto the floor of the closet, refolded neatly in the bag once again.  He didn’t want to mess up Dom’s house.  He’d been making a concerted effort not to since he’d awoke here that first day.  He went to the kitchen where Dom gave him a quick once over.  “I forgot a belt,” she sighed as she shook her head.  “And I guessed a size too large.  Maybe two.”

     “No, they’re great,” Harper told her.  “I don’t know how to thank you.”

     Dom made a dismissive gesture.  “I got them at this used place.  Except the underwear.  I just don’t like the thought of wearing somebody else’s underwear,” she told him, then nodded him to the kitchen table, where sandwiches already waited.  Harper watched after her as she went to get something from the fridge, thinking he could sure picture her in his boxers and nothing else, then told his subconscious to shut up and tried to look innocent of any such thoughts as she turned back to him.  “Ro called while you were in the shower.  She was checking up on me,” Dom told him with a grin as she brought over a container of milk and one of cola.  Coca-cola wasn’t Sparky cola, but it would do.

     “I thought she liked me,” Harper sighed.  Why was everyone thinking he was going to commit horrible, evil acts against Dom?  He wouldn’t, not ever, not even if Dom suddenly started hurting him for some reason.  He knew that would never happen, not after she’d been as sweet and wonderful to him as she had been.  Did he really look like the sort of person that went around assaulting nice women, or anybody else for that matter?  He’d never, tried as he might, ever come off as dangerous looking in his entire life.  Scared shitless, sure, but scarey?  Not exactly in his repertoire.  The thought of anyone trying to hurt Dom stirred protective urges in Harper, though.  If somebody wanted to see dangerous, just let them try something like that.

     “Like and trust are two entirely different things.  Besides, Ro thinks that most men are sex fiends, ready to jump the first available female in their path, whether she likes it or not,” Dom told him with a smirk.

     “Well, she’s right.  We are all sex fiends.  However, some of us are capable of a little self control,” Harper told her.  He was living proof of that at the moment.  He wondered if Dom had said it because she was wondering if he was getting ready to jump on her.  Much as Harper adored her and all other women, he would never do that.  Follow them around like a lost puppy looking to get pet, all the time, pounce on them like a hungry tiger, never unless he was invited to do so, which, sadly, never happened.  Maybe he ought to let her know that he wasn’t the into guerrilla warfare where love was concerned.  “I, personally, like a nice, willing woman.  That way I get kissed instead of bit.”

     Dom laughed softly as she chewed her sandwich.  “And you’ve gotten bit?” she asked, teasing him.

     “Only in the nicest possible way,” Harper told her with a smile of his own.  “Of course, I’ve met women that would bite a guy for real and expect him to enjoy it.  You know, a little on the crazy side.”  He whirled his finger next to his head.  Dom nodded, visibly suppressing a grin and trying to look serious about the matter.  Beka would have been rolling her eyes at him by now, but Dom didn’t seem to mind hearing his take on things, so he kept going.  “Them you have to avoid.  They think pain is sexy.  Some guys are into it, I guess, but pain is not a turn on for me.”

     “Yeah, I never got the s & m, bondage stuff either,” Dom commented, still smirking.  She didn’t mind talking about sex, it seemed, which made Harper even more enthusiastic about the subject.

     “Oh, a woman can tie me up if she wants, so long as she just doesn’t leave me lying there bored once she does,” Harper said.  Dom laughed around a mouthful of sandwich and shook her head at him.  Harper was getting decidedly aroused by the topic and since Dom seemed to find it amusing rather than stimulating, he decided he’d better think of something else to talk about, fast.  He ate a little more as he thought.  They were both about done with their sandwiches and he wondered what she had planned for after lunch.  Yesterday it had been spent running around, starting the process of getting him proper paperwork.  Today, there didn’t seem to be anything so urgent to do and suddenly Harper was desperately in need of something to occupy his time and his overactive mind.  “So... uh... what else can I do for you after lunch besides the dishes?”

     “You can take a break,” Dom told him.  She had already told him repeatedly that he didn’t need to be doing something for her during his every waking moment, but he felt like he did.  “You’ve been hard at it all morning.  You can read a little.  I’ll even join you.  We can sit out on the back porch and get some fresh air.  How does that sound?”

     It sounded nice, way too nice, actually, because Harper found himself imagining them cuddling in the hammock he’d seen there, turning pages for each other.  He knew he’d better find something to do to take his mind off romance, but quick, or he’d say something he was going to regret for sure.  “I can work on some of the stuff in the garage, I guess,” Harper said so that she would know he planned to do something constructive even if she didn’t give him options.  Besides, he’d read two books in bed last night.  He was a fast reader and a poor sleeper.

     Dom frowned at him.  Harper didn’t like that, but before he could do anything about it, she said, “I can see this is going to take drastic action.”  She stood up and went into the other room.  Harper shot to his feet and followed her, wondering what was she was going to do.  Drastic action, whatever that amounted to, didn’t sound good and those words usually meant he would be in pain or confined in the near future.  She was seated at the desk and was looking at the smaller television there.  Only he realized it wasn’t a television as she pulled out a keyboard and began to type in commands.  It actually was a view screen for a computer, but not the touch screens that he was used to.  Harper looked at the metal box on the floor making humming noises.  That was a computer?  He scratched the back of his head.  She was going to take drastic action with a computer?  “Okay.  Let’s see,” she said, her words drawing him closer so he could peer over her shoulder and see what she was looking at.  “Hmm.  I don’t suppose you’re into chick stuff.  Independence Day is still playing.  Want to see that?”

     “Uh... What is it?” Harper asked, looking at the screen.  There were lists of what he thought might be book titles, but they had times next to them, which didn’t make any sense.

     “A movie.  You know, the things they show at theaters?  You are so weird sometimes, Seamus Harper,” she said with a good natured chuckle.

     “I... uh... I mean what is it about?” he ventured, trying not to look too hopelessly stupid.  They still showed movies at theaters?  Wow!

     “It’s kind of like an updated War of The Worlds,” Dom told him.  “You know, alien invasion, lots of special effects.”

     Harper was all too personally familiar with that subject matter and not in a pleasant way.  “No, thanks.”

     “Hmm, would’ve thought you’d go for Science Fiction action adventure type stuff.  Okay.  Um... Frighteners is playing at the dollar theater.  It’s about a guy that can see ghosts.  I read the book.  It was funny and creepy in equal parts.”

     “I don’t need anything to give me nightmares.”  He’d had a real bad one last night.  It had to do with doctors that were enjoying seeing how many of his internal organs they could remove without anaesthesia before killing him.  He was only glad that he hadn’t woken Dom with it because he wasn’t sure if all he’d kept all his screams in dreamland.

     “I can imagine.  I suppose that lets out the Island of Doctor Moreau, too.  Oh, here we go.  Eraser.  I don’t know of any guy alive that doesn’t enjoy Arnold Schwarzenegger films.  We’ll go see that,” Dom told him.

     Harper looked past her to find what she was talking about, pleased to see it, too, was at the dollar theater.  “Okay,” he agreed, though he had no idea who this Arnold whatever she said was.  “Just a sec.”  He ran upstairs and retrieved his money.  “My treat,” he announced with a grin, handing Dom wrinkled bills.

     Dom gave him an odd look, saying, “Where did you get this?”

     “From Mister O’Donnell.  He paid me to change the oil in his car.  I think it was mostly so his wife wouldn’t yell at him for it, but still,” Harper said, smiling happily.  He was finally going to get to do something financial, however minor, for Dom.

     Dom looked at the money then back him.  She seemed concerned about something, then said, “That’s very sweet, but...”

     “No.  No!”  Harper drew his hands up and away from the bills as she started to hand them back.  “No way I’m going unless you let me pay.  You’ve done everything for me.  I literally owe you the clothes on my back.  And it’s not like that’s the last two dollars I’ll ever earn.  At least I sure hope it’s not.  Come on.  Don’t make me feel more pathetic than I already do,” Harper said.

     Dom pursed her lips, but she lowered the hand with the money in it.  “Fine, so long as its with the understanding that I get the next one.  That’s what friends do.  And you don’t owe me anything, Seamus.  Understand?  I’m not keeping a log and I will not, under any circumstances, ever take money from you.  Here.  You can pay at the theater,” Dom said, handing the money toward him again.  This time he took it.  He wanted to argue about the whole money issue, but he wasn’t in a position to, considering that the only money he had he was about to spend on something frivolous for the two of them.  Still, he told himself that he’d find a way to reimburse her for all her generosity.  Maybe he couldn’t do it with actual money, but he’d think of something.  He always did right by his friends and he wanted to be more than friends with Dom as soon as he could work out how to do that too.

* * *

 

 

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