Rektar glances up at me thoughtfully, his hands clasped behind his back and making his poor uniform strain even more. "You have been seeing this particular colonist quite a bit. Is she in danger?"
"Ashley?" I snort. "No. She just needs assistance and likes for me to come over and help her. That's all."
"So she needs a friend and you're fulfilling that need?"
Rektar looks even more thoughtful. "Do you have feelings for her?"
"No." It's a lie that rolls easily off my lips. Truth be told, it doesn't matter how I feel towards Ashley. She isn't interested, and that's as far as it can go. If she showed even the slightest bit of attraction to me, I'd chuck the pretending aside and have her on her back, my face between her thighs in a heartbeat. As it is, I'm content to be her friend.
Well, as content as one can be when one has blue balls every night. But…yeah.
Rektar nods. "She's lonely, then."
"Absolutely." I picture Ashley's laughing face from yesterday afternoon, and how she'd tossed a handful of grass at me as we'd sat on a picnic blanket near one of her fields and gazed up at the clouds overhead. She'd told me terrible things called “dad jokes” that made us both laugh so hard that Ash got the snorts and that made me laugh even harder. Just thinking about that moment makes me feel warm. "Terribly, terribly lonely."
"Excellent. That's why I wanted to meet with you."
I frown. "Her loneliness is excellent?"
Rektar's broad face flushes. "Uh. No, I didn't mean it quite like that." He shifts on his feet, uncomfortable. "My Lucy is wanting to throw a party this weekend. She is inviting several friends to exchange cookie recipes and told me that I should have you pass along the message since Colonist Wendell has yet to figure out the comm unit. Hers still doesn't work?"
It's a tiny lie I made to hide the fact that Ash doesn't hear when it buzzes. "Hers has a defect. I'm waiting for replacement parts."
"Then invite her. Lucy would love to be her friend." He smiles, his broad face creasing with affection at the thought of his human wife. "You know how Lucy loves to get involved."
I do. Given half a chance, Lucy will start showing up on Ashley's doorstep with baked goods and a smile, determined to be her friend. It was how she won over bashful Rektar, after all. She just kept baking and showering him with goods until she wore him down. Now Rektar's as happy as can be and a new father.
And while Lucy is as sweet as she is generous, I worry that Ash won't enjoy a party, due to her hearing loss. But I've backed us into a corner now, so I just smile at Rektar as if this is a fantastic idea. "I'll pass it on. I'm sure Ash would love to go to the party. She's not much of a baker, though."
Rektar straightens proudly. "No one is, compared to my Lucy."
Khex is in a weird mood when he shows up that night.
I admit it might be my hair, or the slick of berry-flavored lip stain I'm trying out. I toyed with a “mane tamer” to get my dark hair as smooth as possible, with just a hint of curl underneath, and I thought it looked rather nice instead of my normal scraggly ponytail, but maybe Khex thinks I'm trying too hard to get him to notice how I look, and that's making him distant. I sit on the far end of my couch with my snack bowl between my folded legs and pretend to watch the bloody gladiator fight on the vid. Instead, I watch him. His big, expressive features are turned towards the vid, but I can tell he's not paying attention. When there's a particularly gory moment, he doesn't even blink.
He turns toward me, his tail thumping against my foot. "Hmm?"
"Tired?" I grab the tip of his tail with my toes, pinning it against the couch.
That gets his attention. He gazes down at the trapped, furry end of his tail, a strange expression on his face. "Tired? Nah. I'm…fine."
I throw one of my shitty pretzels at him. They look more like crackers but they taste like pretzels and the joke has stuck. "You are such a bad liar!"
Khex turns his face toward me—he's always so good at doing that—and just gives me another lazy grin. For the longest time, I thought the mesakkah weren't very appealing. Their faces were too bony with ridges, the horns too overwhelming, the teeth too sharp. But I've come to appreciate Khex's oddly attractive features. He doesn't look human, but I enjoy his cocky smile more than I should. He's got long, sultry lashes, too, and combine that with his high cheekbones and sometimes I can't stop staring at his eyes.