Bly Shepherd did come over for dinner that evening after all, and he was just as charming as he had been at the party two nights before. He was very different from his brother, more expressive as one would expect an artist to be. He was obviously very fond of his brother’s children and zhis partners, playing with Dera and Myki and chatting way to Maxie and Neesh. He was delighted to find out that Jude had extended her stay for a week at the very least.
While their parents took the little ones off to get ready for bed, Jude and Bly found the time to chat.
“Tell me about your paintings.” She prompted him. Being the daughter of musicians almost constantly on the road had meant that Jude’s early life had been subsumed in that art form and it had left very little time for others. As a result, her knowledge of visual art was severely limited.
“I get my inspiration from the landscape, the sky, whatever I see. And somehow that translates itself into the colours on my canvas. To me,” he explained to her, “there is no mystery. I see what I paint and using my eyes, my hands and yes, my heart, I share it. It must be like that with you and your music.”
“Oh no, “laughed Jude,” music to me is what my folks do, what other people do. For me, it was always a chore, a means to an end. I can do it but it’s not how I communicate with the world.”
“You could have fooled me the other night.” Bly seemed a little taken aback.
“That was different – I had a made a promise to sing for Kris and, well it just seemed and felt like the right thing to do. But it isn’t enough to do that all the time.”
“So what does get you up in the morning Jude? What brings out your fire and passion?”
She really didn’t know and told Bly so. “I’m still searching I reckon. When I was on the space station before…well before, I liked what I was doing. Being part of a team, it was so different from the solitary and nomadic life I had with my mum and dad. It didn’t matter so much what I was doing, as being with other people. If you get me.”
“I do, “Bly said. “It’s like that in our family, as you maybe saw the other night. We all go off and do our own things, live our lives but in the end we have a home to come back to, a history, a tradition, that’s sees us through the good times and the bad the ups and downs.”
Jude had to admit to herself that she was envious of the Shepherd tribe. All her life it had just been her and her parents, constantly on the move and then even with the short time she and Coop had been together, they had been travelling all over. Apart from the seedy little apartment in T-City, she had never had a rooted place.
Bly said something and it brought her back from her longings. These needs and desires were maybe for another time.
“I’m sorry, Bly. I was miles away there.”
“No, it’s fine. I was thinking too. I promised to show you around. Are you free tomorrow? I’m taking a trip out to Endurance to pick up some supplies and then maybe we can stay over there, catch a movie and have dinner, before heading back here the following day?”
That sounded like a lot. Plus a sleepover – too soon. Bly must have realised because he added, “When I say “stay over”, I mean in our own rooms of course.” His cheeks reddened. “Oh fak – I mean you’re an attractive woman.” He struggled.
“It’s cool. I know enough about Martian geography that Endurance is some distance from here, so it would be silly to go all the way out there and rush back. In all my journeys, it’s once city I’ve never had the chance to visit. So yes, let’s make a couple of days of it.”
Maxie and Neesh came back from putting the children to sleep – and a little longer, Jude mused, to give Bly and her some room to get to know each other. They told the couple of their plans over coffees, before Bly headed off.
“I’ll pick you up early tomorrow. Is seven okay?”
“Of course. I’m looking forward to it.”
The next morning, Jude was wake before six. Dera and Myki were already up and she made them breakfast along with her own. She hadn’t been around children much in her life but these two seemed like fine examples and she enjoyed their company.
They questioned her about her excursion.
“But I want to come with you and kaʼéé Bly, “Myki protested.
“You’ve been to Endurance plenty of times.” Dera tried to placate zhis sibling.
“But not with you, my Jude-dee. I want to go with you!” Zher noisy pleadings must have woken her mother, as Neesh sleepily wandered into the kitchen.
“You should have woken me or Maxie.” She said.
“It’s not a problem. Anyway, I needed to be up for Bly coming over. I don’t know much about parenting but I do know you appreciate a little lie in now and again.”
“True,” Neesh chuckled. “But I do need to be up. I have a meeting in A-P City later on.” She turned to her youngest offspring. “And if you behave yourself between now and then, little Myki-mo then Maxie-baxi could bring you and Dera along.”
The small child let out and excited whoop and ran off to zhis bedroom to get ready.
The doorbell chimed and Maxie, now too awakened by the commotions (and no doubt Myki bouncing on the bed to get him up to take zher to Aderin-Pocock) let Bly in.
“Am I too early?” he asked, seeing Neesh and Maxie still in their sleeping attire, Dera having followed Myki to get ready.
“No, just a typical morning. “Maxie joked. “But Jude here is all set.”
Jude picked up her jacket and a small overnight bag. Maxie hugged her and Neesh pecked her cheek with a “Have fun!”
Jude and Bly took the train out of Olympus and then changed at Victoria for another to Endurance. The former mining town, founded in the early days of planetary settlement to process the vast seams of gypsum to be used in the construction of the first habitats. It had a large earth Chinese population, of doctors who used the mineral in their remedies and chefs who used it in cooking as well as farmers, architects and sculptors. Bly told her he was experimenting with it as a gesso in a series of works based on old Earth illuminated manuscripts. Their first trip was to his supplier, who had stayed open for them then to a quaint little hotel which put Jude in mind of one she had stayed in in Xi’an during a whistle stop tour of the province back in her J-pop days. Bly as promised had booked two rooms for them and after checking in, they each headed off to freshen up with a promise to meet in the bar in an hour.
Jude changed out of her travelling clothes and after a shower into something more suitable for a night on the town. Having only brought one dress, the one she had worn for Kristof’s night, she teamed a sleeveless but floaty top with some dark trousers and a pair of heels which Neesh had loaned to her. She checked her messages – one from Chief Howe at Kakuda, asking for her to give him a call (which she would do on her return to Olympus) and one from Coop just saying hello. She rattled off a quick reply and a promise for a longer catch-up soon. Nothing from Hennessey, she noted. Not that she had been expecting anything. She assumed her was immersed in his new venture.
Bly was waiting for her in the bar as arranged. They took a taxi to a very swanky restaurant where she had some Tom-Yum soup followed by crispy bean curd pancakes while Bly ordered tiny vegetable dumplings and some Ma Po tofu. They shared a dish of caramel bananas with soy cream and several glasses of delicious Moutai wine. The cinema was showing a retrospective of Tony Leung classics so they plumped for Infernal Affairs which they both enjoyed immensely. Bly was delightful company and they talked easily throughout the evening. However, there was no spark of more than friendship between them and when they returned after midnight to their hotel, Bly bid her a cheerful goodnight.
After some amicable sightseeing the next day – Bly was the consummate gentleman – they headed back to the station and then on to Olympus, where he delivered her to Neesh and Maxie’s building. They parted as friends, with promises to look each other up and stay in touch and these, Jude felt, unlike with Wib or Glass’s family, would be kept. Jude was mature enough to know that sometimes it happened with people and sometimes it didn’t – and she would have felt that any sexual assignation with Bly would have crossed the line into pity-sex on account of his brother – and although she wasn’t averse to the occasional one-nighter or fling, she was glad to have made a good friend rather than conquest.
Of course, she was barely in the door when she was bombarded by the combined forces of Myki and Dera. As she extricated herself their clutches long enough to shed her jacket and boots, Neesh caught her eye.
Her host’s expression was a question and Jude replied with a wan smile and a shrug. “Later?” Neesh mouthed towards her and Jude nodded.
Once the twin tornadoes were settled in bed, Jude relaxed with Neesh, Maxie and a couple of bottles of wine.
“So how was it?” Neesh prodded.
“We had a lovely time and Bly’s a really good guy…”
“But that’s it. Ah well, if it’s not for you, it won’t go by you.” Maxie said. “Talking of which.” And he nudged Neesh.
“Well,” she said, sitting upright and looking semi-serious. “You know that I had a meeting yesterday in A-P?”
“Oh, yes. Sorry. I had meant to ask how it went.” Jude apologised.
“No, it’s cool. Anyway, it was with the Winston Foundation.” Even Jude had heard of one of the biggest medi-tech organisations. “I haven’t said much to you about it but before I came to Mars, I was a bio-scientist working in fertility and reproduction.”
“You had mentioned that you had a doctorate but I hadn’t made the connection, no.” Jude admitted.
Neesh smiled at her and Maxie took his partner’s hand, indicating that she should go on.
“Well, they want me to come back and spearhead a new project with them. I’d always intended to go back once Dera and Maxie were old enough for pre-school, which they are now.” Neesh looked nervous and bit solemn.
“That’s good news, isn’t it?” Jude, following Hennessey’s bombshell a few days before meant she was now waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“Yes, but it’s back on earth. In London. And, well, we,“ she nodded her head sideways to Maxie. “…we’ve discussed it and we don’t want to uproot the children or move us all away from the Shepherds, especially so soon after…” her voice tailed off. Maxie chipped in.
“…after Kris. Anyway, what my dear Neesh is trying to say is, would you consider staying on here with me? Maybe investigating a contract on Mars?”
“To help you look after Myki and Dera? An extra pair of hands. That sounds cool.”
Maxie coughed. Neesh took a gulp of wine.
“Yes, they have become very fond of you. Myki talks about you all the time and Dera, in zhis own quiet way, likes you very much too.” Neesh reached out and took her hand as Maxie spoke again.
“The things is, I know it’s a bit sudden, after all that’s happened, and it might seem a bit, well cold, with Kris just gone and… but…”
“We’ve talked about it…” Neesh now.
“…and I’ve, well, we’ve, grown quite fond of…of you. And what we’re trying to ask you is, would you consider joining with me, us? And be our partner? In our family?”
Bloody hell, thought Jude to herself. I never saw that coming. But what had she said to Bly, about feeling real among people, that that was where she saw her future heading?
She smiled, squeezed Neesh’s hand and reached out and took one of Maxie’s.
“Yes. Yes, why not?”