Tatum checked the time: twenty minutes after Luna Hour 17, and Avery still hadn’t shown up. It was Tuesday Happy Hour, their ritual weekly date since Tatum was hired by the Zoning & Mining Commission last year. Not that she ever called it a date; she and Avery weren’t an item. She was sure of that.
But Tatum enjoyed Avery’s company, and Rick’s Café in Luna Center made the best Frozen Tychos in the entire city compound.
Avery was the one who had suggested that they hit Rick’s—Tuesdays were Ladies Night, a retro gimmick that appealed to the younger crowd in Luna City, which was pretty much the entire population. Luna Council had an upper age limit for immigrants, with the result: almost no one was over fifty-five.
“Another Tycho?” the wait staffer in Luna blue murmured at Tatum’s side.
Tatum nodded. What the hell. If Avery was standing her up—but he wasn’t, because they weren’t an item—then why not make the most of the evening before she headed back down to her pod on Level 9?
The cabaret was full, standing room only at this point, and Tatum watched the crowd churning through the room, laughing, talking, bouncing in the low gravity—one table was even singing a rousing happy birthday.
She sighed and drained her glass. Elbow to elbow with more people than she could count yet very, very alone: the life of an introvert engineer.
“May I?” A goateed man about her age nodded to the empty chair opposite her. He wore the dark green shirt and pants of the Air Quality division. “Our table needs an extra chair and this one is . . . ” He shrugged and smiled. It was a warm smile, a friendly one.
Tatum shrugged back. “Go ahead. I got ghosted. I won’t be needing it.”
The man raised his eyebrows, and Tatum knew she was being scrutinized; the gray Mining division uniform, her dark mass of curls, her face that tended too often toward seriousness. “His loss,” he said kindly. “I’m Sam. Please join us—we’re celebrating Kammy’s birthday. We’d love another partygoer.”
Avery emerged from the swirl of people to stand next to Sam, his face a scowl. “That’s my seat. Tatum was saving it for me.”
Tatum’s eyes flashed. “You’re forty minutes late, and it’s a zoo here tonight. He can have our chairs.” She took Avery’s arm and faced him toward the bar, then turned back to Sam. “We’ll stand—enjoy your party.”
Avery ordered a Bailly’s Special, and the two of them shouted to hear each other over the throbbing beat of an electronic “As Time Goes By.” He was late because of a priority request from the Mare Frigoris Region. He hadn’t messaged her because he was swamped; he didn’t think she would mind.
“No,” she shouted back. “I don’t mind.” But I do, she was surprised to realize.
Sam from the birthday table brushed against her as he passed, heading toward the bathrooms. He leaned in to speak in her ear. “Are you okay? You can still join our gang if you want to leave this basin bloke.”
Avery pushed Sam away from Tatum, and fueled by a second Bailly’s he’d just finished, punched the other man in the face.
“Ave!” Tatum said, grabbing to pull him back. “Stop!”
The music ended abruptly, as though someone had flipped a switch, and the crush of bargoers shrank back slightly, leaving the three in their own small, cleared, quiet space. Tatum could feel the crackle of emotion from Avery, from Sam, from the surrounding crowd. All eyes were on them. Luna City was fairly tame compared with the reports Tatum had read of Earthside towns, but arguments still erupted and anger still bubbled up.
Blood dripped from Sam’s nose, and he dabbed at it with a bar wipe. He faced Avery squarely, although he was half a head shorter and slender to Avery’s bulk. But Avery held up his hands, palms out, a supplicant.
“Sorry,” he said, “I went too far. But she’s with me.”
Sam gave a brief nod and looked at Tatum. “And what do you say?”
She reran the last few moments in her head—the explosion of anger, the fist connecting with face. Avery was jealous? It was a side of him she’d never seen.
“Thanks,” she said to Sam. “I’m fine. I’ll be fine. He’s with me.”
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