"You're really lucky having him as a stepfather."
The comment washed over Wesley, just like the rain down the plate glass windows of the dining hall. He continued to gaze out at the dark clouds, wondering if the weather would clear in time for baseball.
"I said," Joshua Albert repeated, "you're really lucky to have Captain Picard as your stepfather."
Wesley put his fork down and stared at his friend. "What?"
"I mean, the commanding officer of the Enterprise... you couldn't have it any better. You'll get a posting there straight out of the Academy, guaranteed."
"Captain Picard isn't my stepfather," said Wesley in disbelief.
"Well, your mother's partner, then."
"No, you don't understand, it isn't like that at all! He was a friend of my father's; he's known mom for years. He just wanted to see how I was doing at the Academy, so he came with her."
"And you really expect me to believe that he came all the way to San Francisco on his leave just to see you, Cadet Wesley Crusher?"
"Well, that's ridiculous."
"He's only staying in San Francisco for a few days, anyway. Then he's going to France..."
Wesley trailed off before the words "with mom" could attach themselves to the end of his sentence. Not that it would have meant anything had he said it. What could be more natural than two friends spending their leave together? It was not as if either of them had anyone else to spend it with... Not since Wesley had left for the Academy. Or since Dad died.
"It isn't just me—Sito thinks they're an item too. She said she stopped by your room yesterday to pick up those phase transition coils for her project—you were out getting a pot of tea from the replicator, and there they were sitting on your bed together. She didn't expect to run into the exalted Captain Picard there, I can tell you that."
"Well, I don't know where else they would be sitting," said Wesley, stung. "There's not that much room."
"I saw them yesterday on the South campus," Joshua added in a significant tone. "He was showing her the Botanic Gardens."
"She likes plants."
"Oh, come on Wesley, don't be so naive. Your mom isn't exactly bad looking, and even captains have eyes. Give me one good reason why I'm wrong."
He was my father's best friend. It was the one reason, the fact around which all others orbited. Even before Wesley had known Captain Picard in person, he had known that. But here, in the noise and buzz of the Starfleet Academy dining hall, it sounded like nothing more than what it was: a feeble excuse, a pale shadow of an explanation.
And all of a sudden, Wesley wondered whether it explained anything at all.