When Graham walked out into the dining hall, he found Peggy Lee standing near the waterfall.
“Good evening,” he said as he crossed over to her.
“Hello. Come look, you can see a gorgeous rainbow in the spray.”
Graham had seen the rainbow hundreds of times; it was always there – it was part of the design – but he wanted to share it with her. As she pointed, he breathed her in deeply. She smelled like orange blossoms, honey, and cucumbers. But there was something else as well, something acrid, something industrial. He could not quite pinpoint it. He tried to smell her again, but she had taken a step back.
“Where’s Ian?” Graham asked.
“When I stopped by his room, he didn’t look so good. He said that he had slept all afternoon and that he was feeling flu-ish. He felt hot to me, so I think he might have a slight temperature. He was going to go back to bed so that he would feel better by morning.”
“I should send the medic over to his room.”
“That’s not necessary, Graham,” Peggy Lee answered. “You know, Ian always does this, really. To be truthful, I think he is a hypochondriac.”
“But you said yourself that he felt hot,” Graham pressed. “What if he really is sick?”
“Oh, no, no, no,” Peggy Lee said. “He always gets himself worked up. If it will make you feel better, we can stop by there before we go out and see the stars, and then you can check him out yourself. You’ll see what I mean. Besides, I thought you might be pleased that he wasn’t going to join us for dinner.”
“Well, sure, but—”
“Exactly,” Peggy Lee interrupted. “So we’ll check on Ian after dinner, and for now, let’s enjoy each other’s company in this fabulous tropical grotto.”
“All right,” Graham responded, laughing.
They sat at a small table at the edge of the pond. Graham hoped that Charley would notice Ian’s absence and leave the two of them to eat alone. When Charley entered the dining hall, he did just that. Instead of coming over, he sat down at a long table with the escort soldiers and some of the guys stationed at the Platform.
The same soldier who had served them lunch appeared with two plates of green salad. He returned a few minutes later with soy burgers and a plate piled high with steaming garlic curly fries to share. Peggy Lee pecked at the fries and barely touched her burger.
During dinner, Graham talked about his childhood, basic training, the helicopter accident, and about his career at the water production facilities. Peggy Lee talked a bit more about her years in Georgia, but then Graham could not get her to open up further. He wondered if her inability to talk about herself might be a consequence of her job. Maybe, she just had trouble getting out of interview mode. But he felt like it was something more. She had mentioned her father leaving her family, but avoided going into particulars. He decided not to press her. The loss of a parent in whatever form can be so very painful; Graham knew it well. So after a few attempts to get her to open up, he respectfully steered clear.
After dinner, they headed back towards the guest quarters. As they walked, Peggy Lee said, “You know, Graham, there is a lot that I want to tell you. I feel like I can really trust you. But I just can’t talk about certain things with you right now. I hope you understand.”
Graham wondered if she had been reading his mind.
“Just because my life is an open book doesn’t mean that I expect anything from you. I hope you didn’t think that I was trying to pry into your personal life. I’m just interested, just curious about you, that’s all.”
“I wish I could be more open. Honestly, I really like you, Graham. You are a trusting, honest, and good person. What you have done here is extraordinary. You deserve so much in life for all that you have done for others. Your altruism is commendable . . . even heroic in this time of crisis. That is what makes this whole thing so damn hard. That’s what’s been bothering me all day.”
Her head hung low. She seemed on the verge of tears. Her bubbling energy was gone. She looked into his eyes for a moment and then looked away again.
“What are you talking about?” Graham asked. “What has gotten into you? I’m not upset with you about anything. I’m nothing but extremely thankful for your visit and for your putting up with me for the last couple of days. You have brought sunshine into my life. Truly, you have. You may not realize it, but you’ve changed me. You’ve opened some doors for me that I thought had been sealed forever. I know it sounds extreme, but it’s true.”
Peggy Lee responded with silence. They were approaching the guest quarters. Graham could not figure out why she was so sad. She would not look up at him. “Peggy Lee, what’s bothering you so much? I don’t understand.”
“I’ll explain it to you on the boat.” Tears welled in her eyes. “Let’s stop by my room,” she continued, “so that I can pick up a scarf. Then we’ll check on Ian, okay?”
This was not at all how he thought the night was going to go. He thought back on their dinner conversation. Had he asked her too many questions? Something had really disturbed her. He felt terrible, but he didn’t know why. It felt like they had been pulled apart by some unknown force, and now the rift between them was growing with heartbreaking speed.
“Before we go in, there is something that I need to do,” she said.
“Peggy Lee, I want to apologize if I upset you in any way.”
“Oh, Graham, please, just be quiet for second and close your eyes.”
He diligently closed his eyes.
He felt her hand gently touching his face. She drew slowly close to him and said, “Keep your eyes closed.”
Graham could not believe it. Maybe this was it. Maybe he had served his time in solitary and the guards were now going to pry open the doors of his cage and let him out into the sunlight, into a free world full of color and love and life. He felt her body press up against him, her arms wrap around his neck, pulling him close.
She rose up on her toes and ever-so-slowly brought her lips to his. She paused. Graham felt her breath on his lips. He didn’t know if she was watching him or if she had her eyes closed as well. He felt a roaring, hungry desire building inside of him. He wanted her so badly.
She whispered, “I’m sorry,” onto his lips, and then she kissed him, first gently and warmly, and then hard and strong. She gripped the back of his neck, pulling his head down to her. He kissed her back, pressing her against the door. She pulled her key card from her pocket and opened the door. Graham backed her into the room, kissing her neck, her cheeks, her wonderfully soft, wet mouth.
She moaned plaintively. The door swung closed behind them, and a darkness that promised freedom enshrouded their embrace.