Watercress and cucumber sandwiches completed the tea service, dainty triangles without crusts arranged on a bone china plate, served with mint chutney. Becca nibbled and sipped as her grandmother trimmed tulips at the kitchen sink. “So.”
Snip, snip, snip. “So?” Gams Yeager said. She trimmed tulips with red-handled shears. The sharp vegetative smell filled the kitchen with sun and color and life.
Becca poured more tea. “What do you think of Robert?” She added a scant spoonful of sugar and stirred until the crystals lost themselves.
“I think his interest is all smoke and no substance, but you’ll make your own mistakes.” Snip, snip, snip. The cadence of shears kept time with the words.
Becca pursed her lips. “Come on, Gams. Don’t be like that.”
“Like what? You wanted my opinion, I gave my opinion.”
“Don’t be so…” Becca made a vague motion with both hands to take in the heirloom kitchen, her grandmother’s silver hair cut again the current mod, the organic flowers and food. “…so old fashioned. Daddy likes him.”
“Your father isn’t known for his taste in partners, dear. Just ask your mother.” Gams Yeager arranged the sunburst of tulips in a blue glass vase filled with water and crushed ice. “Anyway, maybe love should be old fashioned.”
Becca flushed, and told herself it was because the tea was too hot. “Are you saying Robert doesn’t love me?”
“Yes.” Her grandmother placed the bouquet in the center of the table and returned to the sink.
Becca picked up her spoon, set it down again, picked it up and rubbed her thumb over the scrollwork on the handle. “Robert tells me he loves me all the time. I have two of his vids on my secretary.”
Gams Yeager made a noncommittal sound, more than a hum, not quite a snort.
“I do. Want me to go get them?”
“Oh, I believe you, but that doesn’t change anything. Saying isn’t believing, it’s seeing. How does Robert show you he loves you?”
Becca slouched in her chair.
“Sit up, dear,” Gams Yeager said without turning around.
Becca slid lower. “Please, no more stories about you and Juliet. You haven’t faced-to-faced her in years.”
Gams Yeager fed the purring composter a handful of clippings at a time. “I conversed her just this morning.”
“Orbital conversing’s not love. Juliet’s been in high Saturn orbit for so long she couldn’t tolerate a half-gee enviro let alone a full-gee, and you can’t love someone you’ll never touch again.” Becca crossed her arms, sat up straight, victorious.
“I certainly can. I touch myself for her, although relay lag can be a problem.”
Becca’s victory system crashed around her. “Gams!”
Her grandmother glanced over her left shoulder and smiled. “I’m old, Becca, I’m not dead.”
Becca gulped tea and tried not to picture her grandmother stretched out nude in the center of the heritage, four-poster bed, the lights low, or, more embarrassing, at full illumination.
Gams Yeager wiped down the counter, returned the shears to their hook. She settled in the chair on the far side of the table, and took Becca’s hand. “Juliet and I knew we would never face-to-face again when she accepted the accordance position, but we were okay with that. For myself, that didn’t matter so long as she was happy.”
Becca pulled her hand away. “Because she’d always been tech and you weren’t.”
“Mm-hmm. We wanted the best for each other, even if that meant giving up something of the passion that had brought us together.” Gams Yeager sat back. “Juliet helped me find this place before she left. She even worked beside me in the garden, and she hates getting her hands dirty.”
Becca thought about Robert’s annoyance when she’d asked for the occasional vid during her vacation. “Then why’d she do it?”
“Because she loves me. Love is more than sexing, Becca. So much more.”
Gams Yeager looked away, seeing something Becca wasn’t certain she could find even if she knew where to look.
“So very much more.”
In all the years and tellings, Becca had never heard such wistfulness. She offered tea and attentive silence. Her grandmother declined one, accepted the other.
“I converse Juliet almost every day just like we have since her touchdown, and like we did through her treatment and imprinting.”
Becca’s eyes widened. “She was imprinted? When?”
Gams Yeager nodded. “Juliet developed Crain’s Palsy her sixth year on station. She was zero-gee bound because of it, so returning planetside was out. We couldn’t afford the work stop penalties if she overdrew her enviromentals, so she opted to become High-Saturn-Five’s first imprint.”
“And you let her?”
Her grandmother gave a tough little laugh. “I don’t let Juliet McCawl do anything, and vice versa. It wasn’t easy. We conversed options and feedbacks for months before agreeing to imprint.”
“I had no idea. Why didn’t you tell me?”
Gams Yeager cocked her head to the side. “Why didn’t you tell me when you opted for a sterility block?”
Becca flushed. How had the older woman found out about that? “It was Robert’s idea.”
“And he said it wasn’t anyone’s business but our own.” Becca’s hand trembled as she spooned more sugar into her tea.
“Ah. I see.” She smiled, re-arranged a stray tulip in its place. “She’s still my Juliet, but now the station is her body. Of course, she has an age-accurate holo for sexing.”
Becca blushed, then giggled. Giggles became tears. She wiped her eyes. Why was she crying? And for whom? “Does Daddy know?”
“No. You can tell him if you like. I don’t need his approval, just like you don’t need mine.”
It was Becca’s turn to look away.
“You had your answer before you came to visit, Becca. You don’t need me to tell you a thing.” Gams Yeager took Becca’s hand a second time. “When I look at the stars, I see Juliet’s eyes. Are there stars or clouds when you look at Robert?”
Sandra M. Odell is a happily married, 44-year-old mother of two teenage boys, an avid reader, compulsive writer, and rabid chocoholic. Her writing credits include publication in Jim Baen’s UNIVERSE, Ideomancer, and the anthologies Fear of the Dark and Triangulation: Last Contact. She is a Clarion West 2010 graduate, and associate member of the SFWA.
This story is sponsored by
Hydra House — Publisher of Pacific Northwest science fiction and fantasy, including K.C. Ball’s collection of scifi shorts “Snapshots from a Black Hole & Other Oddities” and Danika Dinsmore’s middle-grade fantasy “The Ruins of Noe,” sequel to “Brigitta of the White Forest.”