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“Would you like to hold her, Anya?” The woman in the bed asked as the nurse gently taking the baby from its mother’s arms, placed it in the arms of an elderly woman.

“She’s beautiful.” Aliz smiled as she looked down on the tiny blue-eyed cherub, “Have you decided on a name, Lany?”

“Yes…We’re calling her Elizabeth. Elizabeth Paula Shelby.” Anna replied, knowing that, for some reason they would never tell her, that her mother and father liked that name.

Looking down fondly on her granddaughter, Aliz smiled, “I’m happy you chose that name my lany—even though you and Philip didn’t have to.” She then cooed, “My lanyunoka, I only wish your nagyapa could see you as you are now, little Elizaveta. Robert would have loved nothing more than to hold you in his arms…” Her still alert eyes gazing about the room, Aliz asked, “Anna? Where is Philip? I thought his ship was still in orbit.”

“He couldn’t make it.” Anna said with a note of sadness in her voice, “He had to attend an important meeting at Starfleet Command…”

“He doesn’t know what he is missing…” The elderly Aliz said in a slightly judgmental tone as she played with the little baby in her arms. “Robert always found a way to make it to each of your births.”

“It helps to be Chief of Staff of Starfleet Command.” Michael Wesley, wearing the burgundy and black uniform of a Starfleet officer with the rank insignia of Captain, quipped.

“Your father always made time for what was important.” Aliz answered her oldest son back with a sad smile as she handed the tiny infant back to her mother. “That’s one of the many reasons why I fell in love with him.”
Anna’s gaze then turned to her oldest son, also in Starfleet, wearing the insignia of an ensign. “Say hello to your sister, David.”

“Hello, Sport.” David grinned as he gazed down on the little baby, “I know you’re going to grow up to be someone special.”
*******************************************************

“It’s her fifth birthday, Philip!” Anna sighed, “She was so looking forward to you being there!”

“I’m sorry, Anna.” The image of Philip Shelby, a distinguished looking man in his mid-forties wearing a Starfleet uniform and the rank indicators of a captain responded from the monitor in the living room of their Wyoming ranch house. “You know if I could be there, I would, but I’m patrolling the Neutral Zone right now. I just can’t get away.”

“I understand, Darling.” Anna replied with a shaky grin, “After all, my apa was a starship captain and admiral, you know.” Shaking her head, she gently admonished, “It’s just that you missed our dear Elizaveta’s birth, her christening, her first birthday, the day she learned to walk… and now you’re missing yet another birthday and next month, she starts primary school. You’re missing out on so much of her life.”

“I said I was sorry, Anna.” Philip replied in a slightly somber tone, “If I could be there, I would, but I can’t help it. I sent her a birthday gift though—it should arrive soon.”

“Thank you dear.” Anna sighed dejectedly, “I’m not mad at you…” She apologized, “It’s just that you’re missing out on so much.” With that, the screen went black. Taking a deep breath, Anna made her way to her daughter Elizaveta’s playroom. Smiling as her daughter played with her dolls, Anna bent down and kissed her little girl.

“Is daddy coming?” Little Elizaveta asked.
“I’m sorry, dragam” Anna’s lips turned up in a sad smile, “Daddy can’t make it. But he’s up there in the stars looking after us.”

“Ohhh…” Little Elizaveta pouted in disappointment as she took out a piece of construction paper on which she drew a picture of her daddy and his starship as only a five-year old could, “See…I made this for him.”

Anna’s eyes moistening with tears, the loving mother took the drawing and hugged her little girl, “I’m sure your apa will love it when he sees it.”

***********************************************************************

“Third place, dragam!” Anna Shelby cried out with pride as she hugged her ten-year old daughter. “Third prize in the Plains Regional Junior Division Dance Contest for modern interpretative dance!” She exclaimed, reading the engraved plaque on the trophy. “I’m so proud of you!”

“Way to go, Sport.” David Shelby, now a lieutenant commander in Starfleet, hugged his little sister. “Loved your routine, Lizzy.”

****************************************************************************

Watching as his fifteen-year old daughter danced to a jazz tune in her room, Philip Shelby cleared his throat. “You know you’ve got your preliminary aptitude tests coming up for the Academy soon, don’t you Liz?”

“Yes, Sir.” Elizabeth replied in a soft voice, “I’ll get back to my studies.”

“Good girl.” Philip praised, “I want to see your name up there on the Walk of Honor at the Academy someday.”

“I won’t let you down, Father.” Liz replied as she returned to her desk and, taking out a padd, began to work.

Watching from the end of the corridor, Anna Shelby, a frown on her face, motioned for her husband to come over. “Why did you say that to her?” Anna asked, “You know she loves to dance…”

“Dancing won’t get her into the Academy.” Philip protested, “Studying and high marks will.”

“She’s sixth in her class, Philip!” Anna exclaimed, keeping her voice low so that Elizabeth wouldn’t overhear. “And she’s a very good dancer—you should come to one of her recitals some time. She’s as graceful as her grandmother, and my anya, besides being an excellent gymnast, also went to the Academy and served in Starfleet.”

“And ended her career a Lieutenant.” Philip countered.

“Because her and my father got tired of having to sneak off for shore leaves and having to hide in out of the way booths at bars like the Starlighter and meet at odd hours in vacant portions of the ship just so they could be together.” Anna riposted. “So, she resigned her commission, he made admiral, and they got married. She was happy in her career while on the Lexington, and happier in her marriage—what’s wrong with that.”

“Nothing.” Philip replied defensively, “I just want Elizabeth to do well and succeed.”

“She will, Philip.” Anna said as he kissed her husband, “But maybe you should also tell her that you’re proud of her and you love her.”

“But…” Philip protested, “I do feel that way about her. You know I love her and I’m proud of the young woman she’s growing up to be.”

“I know you do, Philip. But it wouldn’t hurt for her to hear that from you every now and again.”

*************************************************************************

“And graduating fourth in her class, Elizabeth Paula Shelby…third prize winner of the Vash’karan Memorial Contemporary Dance competition—jazz dance category; fourth place in the contemporary dance category; Captain, Starfleet Preparatory Cadet Training Program; Senior Class Treasurer; member of the court of the Homecoming queen; Student Council Representative. Walking up in the traditional cap and gown, Elizabeth received her diploma with a smile, then returning to her seat, she scanned the audience. Seeing her mother in the seats, her lips turned up in a smile, only to have the smile vanish when she discovered that her father wasn’t there.

“Ladies and Gentlebeings…” The school principal announced, “I give you this year’s graduating class of Christa McAuliffe High!”

“Where’s Father?” Elizabeth asked as she parted from her mother’s embrace. “I thought he was going to be here. He said he would.” She exclaimed, her eyes scanning the spectators and family friends of her and the other graduates of her class.

“I’m sorry dragam…” Anna Shelby apologized. “He told me to tell you he couldn’t make it—that he had a lecture he had to deliver at the Academy. He did want to me to tell you he’s proud of you that you got into the Academy on your first application.” She offered as consolation. She then added, “I’m sure your grandfather and grandmother would have been proud of you too.”

“I know, Anya.” Liz smiled through her tears, “It’s just that I really wanted him to be here too.”

************************************************************************

Starfleet Academy

“Room 2350-E…” A youthful blonde plebe cadet, wearing her Academy issue maroon jacket, black pants, and boots, and with a carry bag slung over her shoulder, noted as she compared the room number above the door to the number on her padd. “Yep, that’s it.” The door sliding open as she pushed the button to its side, the young cadet entered to find that her roommate had already arrived and was busy putting up her belongings.

Recognizing the newcomer as soon as the door chimed, the young woman, a tall, slender, dark-haired Trill looked up and smiled, holding out her hand in greeting, “Hi. I’m Jadzia…Jadzia Idiris.”

Entering the room, the blonde human set down her carry bag as she took her new roommate’s hand in hers, “Hi…I’m Elizabeth Shelby. A pleasure.”

“Likewise.” The Trill replied, her smile still on her face, ‘Sorry, but I already claimed this side of the room over here…”

“That’s ok…” Liz responded, “First come…first served.” Opening her carry bag, she began to stow her gear and clothing in the closet. “So…Jadzia…” Liz inquired in an effort to make small talk, “What sort of classes are you taking this term?”

Sighing, the young Trill replied, “Well…I’ve got to cram as much as I can so that when I present my application to receive a host to the Symbiote Commission, they’ll accept it.”

“Don’t you worry about getting confused or lost with all of those other lives that the symbiote has lived?” Elizabeth asked in genuine curiosity.

“That’s why they’re so careful screening applicants Jadzia replied, “They want to be sure a potential host is fit both physically and mentally, so they expect someone to possess a wide range of intellectual and physical skills.”

“You almost sound like a brochure.” Liz quipped, smiling so as to take the sting out of the remark.

Laughing, Jadzia rejoined with more than a little bite in her voice, “Yeah, but if you knew how often I heard that question asked…”

“I’m sorry…” Liz apologized, the smile disappearing from her face, “I didn’t mean to annoy you. I’ll just finish putting my stuff up later and take a walk. I’ll let you get back to doing what you were doing.” She then turned and quickly dashed out of the room. Damn Liz…you did it again! Stuck your big foot in your mouth. When will I learn. I ought to be more like father and keep everyone at arm’s length.

“Damn.” Jadzia sat down at the edge of her bed as she watched her roommate dash away. Shaking her head, she finished unpacking.

As she walked the Academy grounds, Liz took her time to take in the sights and sounds of the campus—students, instructors, visitors, and other dignitaries and beings of every species that made up the Federation and even a few from outside its borders went about their business—some like her, just walking aimlessly, others moving with a purpose with specific destinations in mind. Coming to what she remembered from her orientation to be the gardens, the young cadet entered, hoping to settle her mind before returning to her room and her roommate. Seeing a rose bush in full bloom, Liz smiled broadly as she drew closer.

“Hey now…” A voice called out, “Don’t touch the roses.”

“I didn’t mean to…” Liz stammered, “I’m sorry if I…” She shook her head, “I’ll just leave.”

“Wait a minute.” The voice called out, stopping the young cadet in mid-stride, “You don’t have to go.”

Pausing and turning around, Liz saw and elderly man wearing khaki pants and shirt with a wide-brimmed hat and gardening implements. “I wasn’t going to pull one of them…I just wanted to smell them.”

“You’d be surprised at how many people want to pull my roses.” The gardener chuckled as he approached. “If my roses were picked by everyone that wanted one, then no one would get to see any. Besides…” He grinned as he carefully cut one of the roses and handed it to her, “You wouldn’t want to get stuck by any thorns, would you?”

“Thank you, Mister…” Liz stammered as she took the rose in her hands and sniffed it.

“Boothby…just Boothby.” The old man smiled, “Why don’t you join me on this bench? It’s my break time now…come talk to an old man.”

Chuckling slightly, Liz replied as she sat on the bench next to him, “Ok.”

“So…what got you so upset?”

“Oh…I got off on the wrong foot with my roommate. Stuck my foot in my mouth as usual.” Liz groaned.

“Surely it couldn’t have been that bad.” Boothby commiserated. “Maybe she took something you said the wrong way or maybe you took something she said the wrong way or maybe you both took something each of you said the wrong way.”

Laughing, Liz joked, “You’re not Betazoid are you.”

“No…” Boothby said with a smile, “Just an old man who’s been around. So…young lady.” Boothby gently inquired, “What made you decide to enter the Academy?”

“Family history.” Liz replied with a smile. “My father…” She said, her smile vanishing to be replaced by a longing in her voice, “Is Philip Shelby, the captain of the Roosevelt. And my grandfather on my mother’s side was Admiral Robert Wesley and my grandmother, Aliz Bathory-Wesley, served on the Lexington with him.”

“That might be what put the idea in your head of applying to the Academy…” Boothby sagely pointed out, “But I’m not sure that’s the reason you’re here…right?”

“I want to make my father proud of me.” Liz declared, “I want to be the best Starfleet officer I can be for my father and to honor my grandfather’s memory.”

“My dear…” Boothby advised as he placed an old, weather-beaten hand on the shoulder of the young woman sitting next to him, “Don’t try to meet your father’s expectations or try to live up to a ghost. Be true to yourself. Be what you think you should be and everything else will fall into place.” Standing up, the old man smiled. “Break time’s over—I’ve got to get to those marigolds. You can stay in the garden if you want…or…maybe you could see if you can make a fresh start with your roommate.”

“Thanks, Boothby.” Liz smiled back, “I think I’ll do that.”

Returning to her room, she saw the dark-haired Trill woman sitting on the edge of her bed with what looked like a vase in her hands. “I’m sorry…” Liz ventured as she slowly walked in to the room. “I didn’t mean to…”

“I didn’t mean to snap at you either.” Jadzia apologized. “I guess it’s just first week jitters. So…” The lovely Trill asked in an effort to break the ice, “What are you taking this term.”

Smiling, Liz replied, “Let’s see…Basic Leadership…”

Jadzia smirked, “Yeah, I’m in that one…got to get those requirements out of the way.”

“Right.” The blonde human laughed, “Then I’ve got Federation History and science and math courses—and of course physical training.”

“They do fill up your schedule here, don’t they?” Jadzia chuckled. “I’m taking a full load too.”

“Well…looks like it’s gonna be a busy term.” Liz said as she finished moving in. No more time for dancing. She said to herself with more than a little sadness in her heart.

*********************************************************

“So, how did you do on your Basic Leadership practicals, Liz?” Jadzia asked as she entered the dorm room she shared with her human roommate, who, as usual, was sitting at her desk, vigorously studying.

“Aced them.” Liz grinned and then frowned, “I told my folks the good news.”

“So, what did they say?” Jadzia inquired.

“Hmph…” The young blonde cadet smiled, “Mom was happy as usual, and my brother said, ‘way to go’ and that I was doing a good job upholding the Wesley and Shelby names.”

“What about your father?” The dark-haired Trill asked as she sat down at her desk and opened a book on astrophysics.

Her smile disappearing, Liz sighed, “He just told me that he expected no less.”

“Well…” Jadzia remarked, trying to put a positive spin on her father’s words, “At least he didn’t criticize you like the last time when you got an A minus in your Federation History course.”

“Yeah…but Commander Levine never gives anyone a score higher than A minus.” Liz grumbled.

“Well…” Jadzia sighed, “I’ve got an astrophysics exam coming up, so I better crack the books.”

“Same here.” Liz grumbled, “Except mine’s in elementary astrogation.”

“Oh…I almost forgot…” Jadzia exclaimed, “We’ve got the Fall Social to go to this Friday.”

“Oh hell!” Liz complained, “Besides that astrogation exam, I’ve got a tactical exercise I have to complete and familiarization with basic landing party procedures. I don’t have time for a fracking dance.”

“All part of being a captain, Liz.” Jadzia smirked, “But I understand. It’s keeping me away from what I need to do too. But…if we don’t go, we get marked down on our social interactions evaluations and that can bring our GPAs down and we don’t want that.”

“I guess not.” Liz sighed, “Well…I guess I can go and do the meet and greet thing for a few hours.”

“That’s the spirit.”

While at the social, Liz was polite and mingled, but more than anything else, she wanted to get back to her studies—assignments were due, exams coming up, and she had family obligations to meet. But, when a handsome cadet with blond hair and a slight English accent asked her to dance, she couldn’t resist—it had been too long since she’d enjoyed moving to the rhythm and music. Even though her partner was a fairly decent dancer, Liz felt the eyes of her instructors and fellow students on her, and so she kept her movements restrained and correct. In other words, she hated every minute of it.

The song finished, Liz thanked her partner and dashed immediately to the bar where she ordered a synthehol rum and coke. Drinking it, she sighed in relief as her roommate joined her.

Taking a synth-Trillian aurea for herself, Jadzia sighed, “Kind of boring—isn’t it?”

“Yeah.” Liz grumbled as she sipped her drink. “So…when do you think it’d be safe to leave?”

“Probably after we finish our drinks.” Jadzia replied as she glanced at the chronometer. “Some of the instructors are already leaving, so I figure a little bit longer and it’ll be safe.”

“Great.” Liz muttered, “I’ve got that exam coming up Monday and I want to ace it.”

************************************************************************
Looking out her window at the sunny autumn day—courtesy of the weather control network—Liz slammed her padd down on the table.

Glancing up from her reading, Jadzia inquired, “Everything all right, Liz.”

“I’ve got to get out for a bit.” Liz exclaimed, “I’m going stir crazy here.” Getting up from her desk, she announced as she headed for the door, “I think I’m going to the garden for a bit to clear my head. I’ll be back in a few.”

“Ok.” Jadzia replied as she returned to her reading, “Later.”

As she entered the garden, a smile came to Liz’s face as she recognized the old gardener. “Boothby!”

“Hi, Liz.” The old gardener greeted and then gently chided, “Decided to finally get out of that prison of yours.”

“Yeah.” Liz sighed a she sat down on one of the benches, the gardener soon joining her. “I had to go and clear out the cobwebs.”

“I’ve seen a lot of cadets come through those gates.” Boothby said, gesturing towards the front entrance of the Academy. “A lot of them like you and that roommate of yours. Determined to be the best of the best no matter how much it costs them. They lock themselves in their rooms, coming out only for classes or when they have to. A few of them make it.” He declared, “But most…they burn out after their first or second years.”

“Not me.” Liz declared, “I’m in this for keeps. I intend to be s starship captain before I’m forty.”

“Lofty goal.” Boothby remarked, “But you’re not going to get there if you burn yourself out. Stop every now and then and smell the roses.” He gestured towards the rose bush in front of where they sat, “Or even better—take a trip into the old city. Soak up some of that atmosphere…maybe take in an art show or a concert. Go to Fisherman’s Wharf. Then, when you get back, you’ll be able to hit the books refreshed and you’ll do twice as good. Now…little lady…get going! Go to the old University of San Francisco campus—I bet you’ll feel right at home there.”

“All right…All right…you win!” Liz exclaimed, “I’ll go.”

“Good!” Boothby smirked, “And you can tell me all about it tomorrow.”

*************************************************************************

As she walked down the streets of the old city, she turned on to the reconstructed Haight Ashbury district. The lovely blonde marveled at the colors, sights, sounds, and smells of the artistic community that had taken root there. She stopped to look at paintings from different artists, sat down to hear a guitarist playing traditional folk tunes, then marveled at the tunes being strummed by a Vulcan playing his lyre. But what really caught her eye was a statuesque blonde woman of about her age designing holographic images and setting them to music. Drawing closer, Liz was enraptured by how the colors, shapes, and textures all became interwoven to the sound of a Deltan melody. So lost was she in the work that at first, she didn’t hear the artist’s greeting.

“Hello…Hello?”

“Oh…” Liz started, “I’m sorry! I was just so lost in this that…”

“It’s ok…and thanks…I think every artist wants to hear someone say that about their work. By the way…” She smiled as she held out a slender, graceful hand, “I’m Sandy…Sandy Moore. I do holoimaages.” Smirking she quipped, “I’m guessing you go to the Academy.”

“However did you guess.” Liz joked back as both women laughed. “This really is beautiful.” She remarked, I love how smoothly you’ve meshed the music with the images.”

“Thanks.” Sandy replied with a smile, “But it’s missing something. I need something that can serve as a bridge—you know—something that can represent the joining of the image and the music…that reflects them both.” She sighed dejectedly, “Oh well…it’ll come to me eventually.” Sandy, deciding that she liked this blonde Starfleet cadet, impulsively asked, “Hey…if you’re not doing anything now…why don’t you join me for some lunch and maybe a cup of coffee or two at Vincenzo’s over there. It’s a nice little coffee house we all like to hang out at.”

Remembering Boothby’s advice to smell the roses and finding the company of the artist she just met enjoyable, Liz smiled back, “Sure, I’d love to. I don’t have to be back until later this evening anyway.”

“Great!” Sandy smiled as she took the cadet’s hand in hers, feeling a faint electric tingling at her touch, “Let’s go.”

“Lead the way…” Liz laughed as she took the artists hands in hers, also feeling that electric tingling.
Liz was nearly overwhelmed at the ambience of the coffeehouse when she entered with her new friend. After being guided to a booth with a clear view of the stage by Sandy, Liz smiled appreciatively. “This is nice.”

“Yeah…” Sandy smiled back, “We like it here. Hey, Jason…” Sandy said as she kissed a tall attractive man with brown-hair that just touched his shoulders and a neatly trimmed beard and mustache. “I want you to meet a new friend of mine. Jason Phillips…this is Liz Shelby.”

“Hullo, Liz.” Jason greeted as he took Liz’s hand and, to the blonde cadet’s not unpleasant surprise, kissed her cheek. Speaking to Sandy, Jason said, “Raul and Heather are here too.”

“Terrific!” The statuesque blonde exclaimed, “Liz, would you like to meet some more friends?”

“Sure.” Liz grinned, “I’d love to meet them.”

Seeing a tanned young man slightly older than her, with dark hair, Sandy called out, “Raul! Come over here…There’s someone I want you to meet—a new friend of mine.” Then, spotting a redheaded woman sitting next to Raul, Sandy called out again, “Heather…you come too. I want you all to meet Liz.”

As the couple approached Raul and Heather both kissed Sandy on the lips, Raul embracing Jason and Heather hugging him and giving him a kiss. Liz looked up at the couple. Raul, the young blonde cadet admitted to herself, was quite attractive as also were both Sandy and Heather. As Sandy introduced them to her, they both took Liz’s hand and kissed her on the cheek.
“Would it be all right if they joined us, Liz? Sandy asked.

“Sure.” Liz smiled back as she made room in the booth for the other couple, scootching in closer to Sandy who, rather than pulling away to increase the distance between them, stayed and even moved in a little closer, much to the surprise of the young cadet who quickly found herself relaxing at the close physical proximity to her new friend and actually enjoying it. She also found herself not objecting to the close proximity of Jason on the other side of her.

Sandy, pleasantly surprised at feeling Liz’s growing relaxation at the close contact, nodded her head slightly, a gentle smile crossed her lips as she glanced at the Starfleet cadet next to her.

After the ice had been broken by small talk, Liz turned to Raul and asked, as a musician playing a Betazoid equivalent to a dulcimer, began to sing a series of Betazoid love sonnets, “What do you do, Raul?”

“I’m into interior décor and design.” Raul, speaking with a slight Castilian accent, replied. “I enjoy the challenge of combining the right furnishings and décor with the architecture of the room and the personality of the person occupying that space. Get any of a thousand things wrong…” He chuckled as he took a sip of his French roast coffee, “And the whole project is ruined.”

“I can see that.” Liz nodded her head knowingly. “I have to admit, I’m something of a perfectionist myself. One mistake on a starship can mean.”

“The deaths of a lot of good beings.” Sandy agreed nodding her head pensively.

“Or a good ass chewing from the captain.” Liz chuckled in a successful attempt to lighten the suddenly darkened mood.

“That’s right, Liz darling.” Raul chuckled, consciously aiding her in her attempt to restore levity, “But always remember…” He mildly flirted as he took Liz’s hand and gave it a quick kiss, “Beauty is its own perfection.”

Blushing at the attention, Liz smiled as she unconsciously began tracing the rim of her coffee cup with her finger. Turning to Heather, she asked, “What do you do?”

“I’m a poet. Heather responded with a frown, “Not a very good one I’m afraid.”

“Pish-tosh!” Sandy chided, “You’re wonderful. Why don’t you get up and recite something!”

“No…I couldn’t…” Heather replied, blushing.

“Ah…Heather, love…” Raul pleaded, “You’re absolutely smashing…please…give us a poem after he’s done.”

“Oh…all right! If you insist.” The redhead sighed as the singer finished his set to the sound of applause from the audience. Waiting until he returned to his seat, Heather took her place on the stage and began to recite her poem—a haunting piece with its theme loss and redemption. As she finished her poem, the audience applauded as Heather bowed.

“You’re up next Jason.” Sandy grinned, encouraging the attractive man sitting next to Liz.

“All right, love.” Jason smiled as he got up and made his way to the stage. Taking a replicated version of a Fender Stratocaster, he began to play and sing a light and airy tune that perfectly suited the relaxed atmosphere of the coffee house. Finishing his song with a final guitar flourish, Jason bowed to the applauding audience.

“Your turn Sandy.” Heather grinned as she sipped her Kenyan blend coffee.

Clapping with the others as Sandy took the stage and set up her equipment, Liz watched in rapt fascination as she composed holographic images to go with the jazz tune, ‘Take Five’. Caught up in the music, Liz began to start swaying.

Raul and Heather, seeing Liz’s movements smiled as Jason urged, “Go up and dance…it’s ok.”

“No…” Liz demurred, “I don’t want to intrude on her work.”

“You wouldn’t be intruding.” Heather encouraged, “You’d be adding to it.”

“You sure.” Liz asked as the music continued to move her.

“Yeah!” Raul and Jason both urged as Sandy motioned for her to join her on the stage.

“All right.” Liz smiled as she got out of the seat. “I better take this off.” She said as she removed her burgundy regulation coat revealing the short sleeve white shirt beneath. Getting up on the stage, Liz took a moment to center herself and then, letting the music take her, began to dance; her dance reflecting the song in its sensual beat. While she danced, she left her cares and worries about exams, exercises, and family honor behind. For now, it was all about the music.

Smiling broadly at the blonde dancer’s graceful form, Sandy adjusted her program to include Liz’s movements, adding them to the overall tapestry of colors, shapes, and sounds and as she did so, inspiration struck. That’s it! That’s what I’m missing. There’s a beautiful butterfly in there once she emerges from her chrysalis.

Clapping with delight as they watched Liz’s performance, both the others had come to similar conclusions. In a low whisper, Raul commented to his companions, “She’s a natural—see how graceful she moves? Yet…she’s holding back…she’s not letting herself go completely.”

“You’re right.” Heather agreed. “Right now, she’s like a thorny rose bush that has yet to come into bloom.”

“Oh…but when she comes into bloom…” Jason smiled, “She’ll be breathtaking.”

As their routine came to an end, both women bowed to an appreciative clapping audience. Returning to their table, Sandy gushed as she hugged her new friend, “You were great, Liz! Thanks!”

“For what?” Liz asked as she returned the statuesque blonde’s hug, becoming almost intoxicated by the smell of her perfume as well as her natural scent.

“For being my inspiration.” Sandy replied in a soft voice. “You pulled it all together.”

“Thanks!” A surprised Liz, astounded at being described as an inspiration, exclaimed as Raul hugged and kissed her cheeks.

“Absolutely smashing, love!” He praised, speaking in his Castilian accent. “The two of you…together…”

“Sweetie…” Jason grinned as he kissed Liz’s cheek, “You brought the house down.”

“Breathtaking.” Heather gasped as she hugged the young cadet and kissed her on the cheeks.

“Thanks.” Liz responded, hugging and kissing her new friends, once again, almost becoming intoxicated by Heather’s sultry voice and Raul’s warmth and Jason’s charm, not to mention Sandy’s scent.

Glancing at the reproduction of a classic clock that measured time by mechanical hands, Liz gasped, “Oh God…I’ve got to get back to the Academy before I’m docked for being late.”

“Here’s where I can be reached.” Sandy said as she quickly entered her number on Liz’s padd. “Give me a call and maybe we can meet at my place this weekend? I’ve got a studio there and we can sit and talk for a while and maybe do something from there.”

“And here’s where you can get me, love.” Jason gently flirted, “I’m off to Julliard for the term, but I’ll be back afterwards, and we can always arrange to get together whenever you want—I’m only a transport away.”

“Let us know too…” Heather and Raul chimed in as they entered their numbers on the cadet’s padd, “And if you’d like, we can join you.”

“Sounds great!” Liz replied as she put her jacket back on. “I’ll give you a call, Sandy, and we’ll set everything up.”

“’Til then, love!” They all called out as Liz left the coffeehouse feeling, for the first time in a long time, relaxed and ready to take on any obstacle in her path. And yet again. Liz chuckled as she tapped her communicator to transport back to the Academy, Boothby was right.


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