Third Interlude

At the end of the Spring semester, the students of the Terran Space Academy more than welcomed the two weeks of vacation before the summer session began. It was the day after the last final exam, and students ranging from ages 13 to 17 of all different races gathered in the main hall to view their overall scores. Though the Academy emphasized discipline, there was more than a little pushing and prodding in the crowd of students.

"Make way! Comin’ through!"

Lance forced his way through the crowd to the large flat computer banks against the wall. His tall, gangly form made it easy for him to slide through the throng of teenagers. Casting brief, inviting smiles at all the pretty girls he passed, the sixteen-year-old slowly but surely reached the terminal. Before pressing any of the commands, though, Lance glanced back over his shoulder at his two comrades, who were struggling to make their way through the crowd to follow him.

"Hey, guys!" he called to them, "Come on! Quit being slow and move your butts!"

Lance then turned and wasted no time searching for their marks as his two dark-haired classmates finally reached him.

"It is not so easy to valk through dat," Sven informed his friend as he stood on his right.

"It’s not so hard when you’re built like a stick," Keith spoke up, standing on Lance’s left.

Lance released a backhand in Keith’s direction without letting his eyes leave the screen. Keith easily blocked it and grinned.

"So vat is our scores?" Sven asked, leaning in to sneak a peek at the screen. Lance moved to block his view, grinning slyly.

"I’ll tell you, all in good time," he replied.

Sven rolled his eyes and exchanged glances with Keith.

Though it was now officially vacation, most of the students, including the three friends, still wore their blue and gray Academy uniforms. It was just too strange for them not to be wearing them while still on Academy grounds. Keith, Sven and Lance all looked essentially similar. Keith and Sven both had black hair, with Lance’s just a little lighter, and all of them were crew cut like Academy rules dictated. They were also of similar height, with Keith and Lance being of the same height and Sven being half an inch taller.

"Aha!" Lance suddenly exclaimed in triumph.

"Vat is it?" Sven asked.

Lance, smiling smugly, turned to his friends.

"It was just as I predicted," he told them.

"Mind letting us in?" Keith asked.

"Do I even have to tell you?" Lance asked him sourly, "Since when has your score ever dropped from number one?"

"Vat about me?" Sven asked impatiently.

"Not far behind," Lance said evasively.

Sven gave an exasperated sound, shaking his head. Lance chuckled.

"You’re just too easy to tease, you know that?" he said.

"You said dat already," Sven told him pointedly.

"Just tell him, Lance," Keith told his friend.

"All right, all right," Lance acceded, "You’re number seven."

Sven grinned in satisfaction. It was his goal to stay in the top ten.

"What about you?" Keith asked.

Lance shrugged.

"I did OK," he said. It was obvious he wasn’t about to just tell them.

"Come on, Lance," Sven wheedled as they made their way back through the crowd and into open air, "Tell us vat you got."

"Maybe I will, maybe I won’t."

"Or maybe I’ll just tell them," a new voice spoke up.

They turned to see their fellow classmate and friend, Hannah, who also happened to be the only daughter of the Dean of the Space Academy. She was shorter than the boys, with long red hair and hazel eyes. She was similarly clad in an Academy uniform. She also wore a wide grin on her pretty face as she wedged herself in between Lance and Keith.

Lance looked down at her warily, knowing she knew something. She returned his look and let out a giggle. Lance then sighed and shook his head.

"Let me guess," he teased, "Daddy showed you all the scores before they were released?"

Hannah punched him on the arm and attempted to shoot him a convincing frown.

"Not!" she insisted, "I just got here earlier than you guys. So, do you want to tell them, or shall I?"

Lance rolled his eyes heavenwards.

"Man, you just take the fun away," he mumbled, then continued, "I’m number nine."

"Dat is a good score!" Sven told him friend, clapping him on the back.

"Yeah," Keith agreed, "What are you ashamed of?"

"Did you sleep with one of the secretary’s to get that mark?" Hannah teased.

While Sven blushed and Keith shook his head, Lance only smirked.

"You’re just jealous," he told her.

"Of you?" she asked, laughing.

"Did you see Hannah’s score?" Keith asked.

Lance hesitated, then shook his head. Hannah let out another light laugh and elbowed him.

"Keith’s the only one I have to be jealous of," she admitted to them.

"You mean you got second?" Sven asked.

Hannah nodded modestly, though the pride shone through in her eyes. Keith patted her on the back congratulatorily.

"That’s great," he told her, "You moved up eight positions since last term."

She shot him a winsome smile.

"Only because of you," she told him.

Keith shook his head. Lance grinned mischievously at them, then roughly threw his arm around Hannah’s shoulders and leaned in close to speak.

"I bet that’s not all he helped you out with at those study sessions, huh?" he asked in a conspirical whisper.

Keith instantly reached across to smack Lance on the back of the head as Hannah blushed, then glanced semi-shyly at Keith. Keith, however, did not seem embarrassed by this.

"You just worry about your own romantic life," Keith warned his friend, then added, "Or lack thereof."

"As it so happens, I have girls lined up to go out with me," Lance insisted to them.

"Could have fooled me," Sven said, grinning, "I don’t see you dating all year. And ve share da same quarters."

"You’re just not paying attention," Lance said defensively.

"We’d have to be blind to miss he fact that you’ve been dateless all term," Keith spoke up.

"I have not!" Lance replied indignantly, "It just so happens I’ve gone out with at least three different girls last term! Besides, you should talk, Keith. You haven’t been on a date since Junior Academy. That’s four whole years, you know."

Keith shrugged uninterestedly. It was common knowledge to his three friends that Keith chose not to pursue any romantic relationships, and instead concentrated on his academics. Lance, and even Sven, had questioned his decision. But Sven had respected it, and Lance had more or less used it as an excuse to tease his friend. Hannah, on the other hand, had been upset from the beginning that Keith would not take a girlfriend, since she had been vying for the position for the last two years.

Lance shook his head at his friend, still in disbelief. Then, wasting no time, he glanced at a group of three students of the female persuasion walking by them and cast them his most endearing smile. The three girls only glanced at him briefly, giggled, then turned their attentions on the other two boys. Lance sighed as he watched them go.

"It’s just not fair," he rued.

His three friends grinned at him. Though Lance was very good-looking, he was a notorious flirt and had already developed a reputation at the Academy. Needless to say, most of the girls knew better than to fall for his charms. They went more for the shy type, like Sven, or the challenging type, like Keith.

"So," Hannah changed the subject, "what are you guys doing for your vacation."

"I am going back home to Norway to visit my grandparents," Sven spoke up. Sven’s own parents were born in Norway, and had graduated from the Space Academy only a few years before Sven was born.

"My dad wants me to come with him and my sister on some family trip," Lance said bitterly.

"You mean you won’t be able to run around chasing girls?" Hannah asked with mock sympathy.

"What do you mean?" Lance said, feigning puzzlement, "It’s the girls who chase me!"

Hannah rolled her eyes, then turned to Keith.

"What about you?" she asked.

Keith shrugged.

"I’m sticking around here," he admitted.

Hannah frowned.

"Aren’t you going to stay with Jeff?" she asked.

Keith shook his head.

"Jeff’s out on a mission," he said, "Besides, I’d rather stay here. I want to get a little more practice in on the simulators before next term starts."

"You’ve already got about a gazillion hours on those things," Lance pointed out.

"One can never practice enough," Keith intoned wisely.

Hannah smiled and linked her arm through his.

"Well, since you and I will both be staying at the Capitol," she said, "Maybe we can go together."

Keith smiled down at her.

"You just want to learn all my secrets so you can beat me," he accused good-naturedly.

Hannah returned his smile.

"Maybe," she said mysteriously.

Lance got another sly glint in his eyes as he regarded them.

"What about the secrets you’ve already shown her?" he needled.

Lance had been teasing Keith and Hannah about their relationship ever since he discovered that Hannah had a crush on him. His jabs had intensified when Keith and Hannah had started to spend a lot of time studying together. He knew all along that nothing was going on between them, but he still liked to tease them.

Keith put his arm around Hannah and squeezed her in close, casting Lance a cool grin.

"That’s between me and her," he returned.

"Can’t you get embarrassed just once?" Lance asked plaintively.

Keith just chuckled and released Hannah, who had been silently enjoying his embrace. The four friends headed in the direction of the dormitories. Sven and Lance had some packing to do.

* * *

Eight days into their vacation, Keith and Hannah had already spent most of their days hanging out together. Since Keith had no family, and Hannah’s parents had taken a well-deserved vacation by themselves, that left the two teens with few obligations and a lot of spare time. Unfortunately, Keith’s idea of a good time was doing space flight simulations and practicing at the firing range.

Luckily, Hannah had managed to convince Keith to join her at the Capitol Exhibition, which was a modern playground for kids big and small. Keith had only been there a few times before as a child with his parents and had no real interest in going now, but she persuaded him and he relented. So the two of them spent the day at the exhibition, playing games and riding rides. Hannah even managed to wheedle a few smiles out of her abstentious friend.

Leaning against Keith, her arm looped comfortably through his, Hannah took in all the bright flashing lights and signs of the jubilee that showed up very well now that the sky was dark. She had enjoyed that day immensely, and in her mind she pretended that she and Keith were a couple. They did look good together, even she knew that. A lot of their classmates assumed they were a couple since they seemed to go together perfectly. Keith had never spoken a word of it, and Hannah sometimes wondered if he even knew she liked him.

"You wanna go home now?" Keith asked her. It was getting pretty late.

Hannah nudged him semi-roughly.

"Hey," she objected, "We’re on vacation, remember? No more nine o’clock curfew."

"So what, you want to stay here all night?"

Hannah smiled.


"We’ve already been on all of the rides," he told her, "What else is there to do?"

Hannah shrugged.

"We don’t have to go on more rides," she said, "We can just…I don’t know. Hang-out."

"Hang out?" he asked, "That’s what we’ve been doing all week."

"No," she corrected, "We’ve been spending time practicing all week. We haven’t really been just hanging out. You know, like not doing any work?"

Keith grinned. His friends were always telling him to lighten-up and start having more fun. Hannah was no exception.

"Are you kidding?" he said, "I haven’t spent so much time just having fun for years."

"See?" she said, "You should do it more often."

Keith shrugged non-committally.

"What do you say you and I take one of those Sky Round rides?" she asked him. There was a place nearby that offered floating carousels that glided above the city, taking in the views more than a hundred feet above ground. They were typically ridden by couples. Neither Keith nor Hannah had been in one before, and Hannah had always wanted to go with Keith.

Keith made a face.

"I don’t know," he said reluctantly.

"Please!" she pleaded, grabbing onto his shirt and looking up at him desperately.

Keith rolled his eyes.

"Hannah…," he started exasperatedly.

"Pleeeeeeeese!!" she cried, stopping him by falling down on her knees in front of him, her hands on his waist.

Keith frowned and looked about them discreetly. There were still quite a few people walking around the promenade. Keith grabbed her wrists and pulled her up to her feet, shaking his head at her, but grinning nonetheless.

"You’re not going to give up, are you?" he asked, already knowing the answer.

Hannah grinned and shook her head. Keith sighed resignedly.

"All right," he mumbled.

Laughing in delight, Hannah immediately latched onto his arm and started dragging him in the direction of the Sky Round. But they weren’t even halfway there before Hannah’s beeper went off. Nearly 80% of Terran citizens, including all members of the Space Academy and Galaxy Garrison, wore tiny beepers wherever they went. Hannah frowned and let out a groan as soon as hers went off, and sought out the nearest public phone.

Keith stood nearby as Hannah made the phone call. He watched as her face became confused as she spoke to the unknown caller. The conversation was brief, and when she came back Hannah’s expression was much more sober.

"What’s wrong?" Keith asked.

Hannah gave him a small grin and shrugged.

"I’m not sure," she admitted, "That was my dad. He says he’s coming home early. He didn’t say why, but he wants me home now."

"And he didn’t say why?"

Hannah shrugged, then rolled her eyes.

"There was probably another storm on Luria and they had to cut their vacation short," Hannah told him.

"Would you like me to see you home?" he asked.

Hannah gave him a warm smile and took his arm again.

"I would love that," she told him.

* * *

They caught a hoverrail to Hannah’s neighborhood, then walked the rest of the way to her house arm-in-arm. Keith himself had a bad feeling about Hannah’s father’s sudden return and summons, and felt inclined to stay in contact with her as they neared her house. Both he and Hannah had been silent since they left the hoverrail station, both wondering what was going on.

As they came in view of her house, they could see all the vehicles hovering out front, including two cars with flashing blue lights. Police cars. Hannah tightened her grip on Keith’s arm, and he did the same. He felt horrible for whatever she was going to have to face and felt and urge to turn her around and take her away so she wouldn’t have to. But he didn’t. Instead he held her closer and nudged her forward. They reached her front walk, and Hannah stepped up to it reluctantly. Keith could feel in himself the dread that was welling up inside her.

The front door opened then, and her father appeared in the doorway. The Dean was a tall, distinguished man in his late forties with graying red hair and a slightly bulging build. His usually calm, jovial face was now ashen and dead serious. He looked upon the two teenagers solemnly, his eyes resting on his daughter and youngest child. As soon as their eyes met, a tear formed in Hannah’s eye and fell down her cheek.

As soon as her father reached out a hand for her, Hannah broke free from Keith and ran toward him, a strangled cry escaping her lips. Keith watched tensely as the father and daughter embraced tightly, his heart in his stomach. Without even being told, he knew what had happened. And he felt nothing but sympathy for his hurting friend.

Keith just stood there, watching them stiffly, his hands digging down into his pants pockets, unable to move. Moments later the Dean looked up at him, and their eyes met. Wordlessly, the Dean gave Keith a brief nod. Keith nodded back, then sighed, turned, and left them to deal with their loss.

* * *

It was announced on the news early the following morning that the Dean’s wife had died during their vacation due to a sudden allergic reaction to a Lyrian dish that couldn’t have been foreseen or prevented. Keith was alone in his room at the Academy when he watched the report, and bowed his head as soon as it was over. He didn’t cry, but he felt sadness. He had been acquainted with Hannah’s mother. She had been a friend to his own mother years ago. Keith had been introduced to the family when he and Hannah were only young children, and he remembered the Dean’s wife as a kind, gentle woman who had always been nice to him, especially after he had suffered himself.

Keith did not see nor hear from Hannah for the rest of their vacation. A few days later Lance returned from his own family trip. He and his family had heard about the news while on their holiday and had cut it a few days short since his father was a friend of the Dean. In respect for the solemn occasion, Lance cut down on his jokes and teasing. He sensed Keith’s somber mood, remembering when Keith himself had once gone through a similar crisis.

Sven arrived back the day of the funeral, which was the day before classes were to recommence for the summer. All three young men dressed in their black uniforms and went to the funeral. Nearly the entire Academy attended the funeral services in honor of the wife of their Dean.

Keith kept his eyes on Hannah and her father the entire time. He could see the pain in their eyes as the eulogy was read and the ceremony carried out. They stood by the coffin along with Hannah’s two older brothers, both graduates of the Space Academy. Hannah had tears trailing down her face as she stared vacantly at her mother’s last resting-place. As he watched her he remembered how he had felt at the last funeral he had attended. He had also been staring with unseeing eyes at the two coffins that stood before him, but the tears hadn’t flowed. And hadn’t since.

The funeral ended late that afternoon. In the utmost respect, each of the students of the Academy saluted in the direction of the Dean and his wife’s coffin before they vacated, including Keith and his two friends. Keith and the Dean made brief eye contact as Keith began to follow his two friends away. The Dean gave him a brief smile as he put his arm around his daughter’s shoulders. Keith did the same and, like the Dean’s, his smile never reached his eyes.

* * *

Hannah did not attend classes all week, and everyone knew why. No one could really blame her, after losing her mother so suddenly. When Keith had suffered his own loss, he hadn’t attended classes for an entire term. But his had been an entirely different case, and he worried as the weekend came if Hannah would be returning at all.

He received the summons to the Dean’s house that Saturday evening. Keith changed out of his uniform and into more casual clothing after dinner that evening, then made his way to the Dean’s house. He felt a bit apprehensive, knowing he would be entering a house filled with sorrow. He could already sense the empty void that would await him that was once filled with the presence of Hannah’s mother.

Keith walked up the front steps and rang the doorbell respectfully. Moments later the door opened, and the Dean greeted him with a warm smile.

"Good evening, Keith," he said, stepping back to let him in.

Keith nodded.

"Sir," he said, entering.

The Dean shut the door behind him and motioned him into the study. He then took a seat at his desk while Keith sat down in the soft leather chair across from him.

"You’re probably wondering why I called you here," the Dean began slowly, "I’m sure you’d rather not be, given the situation."

Keith shook his head.

"I’ve known you guys since I was a kid," he said, but then stopped, unable to say anything more.

The Dean nodded his understanding.

"Actually, I did call you here for a couple of reasons," he told Keith, "First, to thank you for bring Hannah home that night. I greatly appreciate you doing that for her."

"She’s my friend, sir," Keith explained, shrugging.

The Dean smiled and nodded.

"I know," he said, "I wouldn’t have expected anything less from you. And I know you care about each other. That’s the other reason why I asked you here."

Keith sat patiently, waiting. The Dean sighed and leaned forward, clasping his hands in front of him.

"Hannah’s been taking her mother's death pretty hard," he admitted, "She hasn’t left the house since the funeral. In fact, she barely comes out of her room. I’m getting worried about her. But nothing I say seems to help, and she won’t talk to the counselor."

Keith nodded, knowing where this conversation was heading. The Dean frowned, as if reluctant to continue.

"Look, Keith," he said frankly, "I know Hannah thinks the world of you. And I know you understand what she’s going through. I just wondered if maybe you’d go up and talk to her, to spend some time with her. I’m not expecting any miracles, understand. But she listens to you. If anyone can get through to her, it’s you."

Keith nodded, breathing out deeply. The Dean gave him a grateful smile and stood. Keith stood with him.

"Thank-you, Keith," he said, clapping him on the shoulder as they walked out of the study, "I really appreciate it. Now understand, don’t feel bad if she doesn’t respond very much. All I ask is for you to give it a try."

Keith nodded.

"I’ll do my best, sir," he promised.

The Dean nodded and led him to the staircase leading up to the bedrooms.

"I know you will," he replied.

Taking a deep breath, Keith looked up the flight of stairs and started up. The Dean watched him for a moment, then returned to his study.

Keith knew which door was Hannah’s, having visited the house when he was younger. Walking up to her room, he stood there for a moment before knocking softly. He waited a moment, but received no response.

"Hannah?" he called in a moderate voice.

Still no reply. But he knew she was in there. Slowly and quietly, Keith pressed the pad that would open the door. It glided open soundlessly. As soon as he entered he closed the door behind him and looked around. Hannah’s room was about three times the size of his own back at the Academy dormitories. It was thickly carpeted and contained mock-wooden furniture, since wood products were now illegal on Terra. Her bed was large and looked very comfortable. Keith made sure to keep his eyes off it. He didn’t need to get distracted.

Hannah was sitting on the edge of her dormer window, gazing out at the lazy street below. Her back was to him, so he couldn’t see her face. After standing there stupidly for a moment, Keith moved farther into the room and pulled out the chair to her desk, situating it a few feet away from her. He sat down in it, facing her, and leaned his elbows on his knees.

They just sat there for a while. Keith creased his brow in concentration, trying unsuccessfully to come up with the right thing to say. But the only insight he gained from his heavy thinking was that fact that there was a big piece of navy blue lint on Hannah’s light sandy carpet right next to his left foot. Finally he just drew in another breath and began, blurting whatever came to mind.

"Hannah," he said, speaking slowly and quietly, "Um, there’s really nothing I can say that will make all the pain go away. Geez, if there was, I would have started talking to myself a long time ago."

He could tell from her slight movement that he had made her grin, and peered around to try to see her face. Hannah turned her face away and brought her hand up to cover herself. Keith continued more soberly.

"Look, Hannah," he said, "Your mom was a great person. I don’t know anyone who didn’t like her. My mom thought she was great. And I bet you anything the two of them are up there right now watching us and planning our futures."

Keith paused to take a few deep breaths. He always got a little edgy talking about his parents. He licked his lips before continuing.

"I’m sure a hundred people have already told you that the hurting will go away eventually," Keith told her, "They used to tell me the same thing. I didn’t believe them then, and I still don’t. Truthfully, the hurting doesn’t ever go away. And you won’t forget. But you can go on. I know that you know I must sound a bit like a hypocrite for saying this, but it’s true. And I learned my lesson, better late than never. I just keep thinking how I want my parents to see me when they watch me down here on earth. I don’t want them up there frowning because I’m feeling sad. I want them to be happy. So that means I have to be happy, even if it hurts sometimes."

Keith paused again and sighed softly. Hannah remained still, her pose never shifting. Keith looked down at the floor again, rubbing his hands together slowly. He didn’t know what else to say.

Suddenly Hannah stood up and turned around, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. She went over to him and took his hand, pulling. He stood, looking at her. She gave him a half-hearted smile.

"Will you go for a walk with me?" she asked.

Keith smiled and nodded.


* * *

They walked all the way to the park and ended up strolling very slowly along the footpath that overlooked the darkened ocean waters. They were holding hands, something they had never before done. But Keith thought nothing of it. He was there to comfort her any way he could.

Neither of them had spoken since they left her house. Keith left it up to her to open the channel of communication with him. He was content himself to just be there and walk with her, taking in the fresh reprocessed air. He even felt himself relaxing for the first time in two weeks, and he could sense that she was feeling the same. As he cast a glance at her, he saw her expression becoming more peaceful and at ease, and that made him feel better.

Feeling his gaze, Hannah turned her head to meet his eyes. They both smiled at the same time. Hannah squeezed his hand, and he returned the pressure encouragingly.

Then, glancing about her, Hannah found a nearby bench and led him over to it. They both sat, still holding hands and turning towards each other. Their clasped hands rested on his knee.

"Keith," she began hesitantly, staring down at their hands, "I, um…I know my father asked you to come. I just, um…Thank-you."

Keith smiled down at her softly.

"I would have come eventually," he assured her, "There’s no way I’d let one of my best friends suffer without trying to help."

She looked up at him warmly, her heart in her eyes, and smiled.

"You’re wonderful, you know that?" she said.

Keith shrugged modestly. When Hannah reached up with her free hand to caress his cheek, he almost blushed at the intimate touch, but he didn’t back away. He had always suspected that Hannah liked him as more than a friend, but he hadn’t permitted himself to believe that. At least not until now.

Hannah let her fingers guide their way to his lips, gazing at them with moist eyes. She then let her fingertips make a gentle trail down his chin, over his neck and lower still to rest on his chest. Keith didn’t move. He just watched her, both surprised and stirred.

"I’ve had a crush on you since I was a little girl," she admitted openly. She didn’t seem the least bit nervous or embarrassed at her admission.

She didn’t need to say anymore, and Keith himself remained mute. Her gaze traveled up to his lips and stayed there. Her own lips parted as she began slowly to lean in towards him, and Keith felt himself responding. He moved in closer to her, and watched her close her eyes, waiting for him. Somewhere in Keith’s mind, he vaguely remembered deciding against such a romantic situation. But his body wasn’t listening to his mind at the moment. As they drew closer, so close he felt her hot breath on his face, Keith too closed his eyes.

And they kissed.

* * *

The End. Comments or Criticisms? Email me at cbjam@hotmail.com

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