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Juke Joint

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Leonard drinks his first mint julep in the Grove after the medals have been awarded in the second Interstellar Gymnastics Competition. His glass is made of hammered silver, cold and sweating in the August heat, and Leonard is rather pleasantly hammered himself. Leonard doesn’t make it up to the Oxford campus from the Medical Center in Jackson very often, but his roommate Ben has been looking forward to this competition since the Ole Miss location was announced a year ago, and Leonard has learned never to say no to a party in the Grove.

“Those are my grandmother’s glasses, Lennie,” Ben says as a group of guys pulls him out of his chair and across the grass. They’ve been invited to a party at one of the frat houses, but Leonard has no interest in packing up their tent just yet. “Anything happens to them, and you’re a dead man.”

Leonard salutes Ben with his glass and settles back in his lawn chair, adjusting the wilting collar of his button down shirt just as the most intriguing looking woman he’s ever seen suddenly appears at their tent. She’s covered with beautifully pigmented skin patterns; the dots disappear into the neckline of her blouse and make Leonard wonder just how far down her body the pattern repeats. The woman smirks at Leonard as if she knows exactly what he’s thinking and says, “I wouldn’t mind one of whatever you’re drinking.”

“Be my guest,” Leonard says, pulling the second glass out of Ben’s cooler. “Leonard McCoy.” He muddles a sprig of mint and a tablespoon of sugar in the bottom of the glass, adds a scoop of ice, and tops the drink off with a healthy slug of Kentucky’s finest bourbon.

“Emony Dax,” she says, taking the glass from him, “and thank you very much.”

Leonard watches her drink—the elegant curve of her neck as she swallows, the sheen of sweat on her collarbone—and feels the heat amp up at least a dozen degrees when she catches an errant drop of whiskey that threatens to run down the side of the glass with her tongue. “This is a dangerous drink,” Emony says.

“It’s in good company.”

They spend the entire afternoon lazing in the sun, drinking mint juleps followed by tall glasses of ice cold water. Emony explains her symbiote to Leonard along with Trill culture and why she chose to pursue gymnastics as a career, and Leonard tells Emony about medical school and his transporter phobia and the best places to eat on the Square. Leonard finally collapses the tent into a pocket-sized lump when the sky grows so dark he has trouble making out Emony’s face.

“I guess this is goodnight,” Leonard says.

“Why the early bedtime, doc?” Emony says. “It’s my first night on Earth. Show a girl a little Southern hospitality.” She leans in and plants a kiss on the corner of Leonard’s mouth that tastes like burnt sugar and smoke, honey and green mint.

Leonard grins. He has a cooler he doesn’t know what to do with, a set of priceless heirlooms in his care, a beautiful woman on his arm, and the whole night in front of them.