I sat at the bar, with
my head in my hands; and my
heart wondering why?
- Bob Wood
Mark Johnson was, by his very nature, a patient man. As a child he waited patiently all summer for his favorite sugar snap peas to grow in the garden and for the strawberries to be made plump, juicy and sweet on the vine with the Indiana sun. As a teenager, he waited for his body to develop strong and agile so that he could excel in a sport that would eventually introduce him to her. As a young man, he waited for her to come to terms with the loss of both a parent and another lover, a tragedy that he believed she may never recover from. And as an adult, he waited for her to be ready; for their love to bloom full and fresh and unbounded before asking her to spend her life with him.
And now, seated at a table in the far corner of a bar, in a station on the outskirts of Federation space, he sat. Patiently waiting once again.
It had been three weeks since Voyager had gone missing - since she should have returned home to be with him. If another week passed she would miss their wedding day.
Each afternoon, while he sat, he conjured memories in full and vivid details of their last days together; days which had passed all too quickly, as time shared with a duty-bound lover always does.
Having just arrived on the last transport of the day, Mark asked for directions and then found his way to the bar. It was a dim spot, but bustling with activity. He took in the surroundings and imagined that she too might have stopped here not all that long ago.
Mark sipped on his glass of water. He was made aware, by way of a smacking sound, another patron whole-heartedly devouring a plate of food nearby. That's when he recalled the taste testing.
"Mark!" he heard her shout from down the hall of the house that she owned. The one that they would soon live in together. "Have you seen my other….Oh wait. Never mind, I found it!"
Mark shook his head with a silent chuckle. How one woman could command an entire starship and still be able to lose clothing in her own room never ceased to amuse him.
"We're going to be late," he said calmly. Patiently.
"I know, I know. I'm coming." She appeared on one foot, hobbling down the hallway while trying to cram the other into an uncomfortable looking shoe.
"Which one is this again?" she asked, taking his arm for stability.
"Desserts," he replied. "You've been looking forward to this one, remember?"
"Ooh, yes," she said, scooping up a fresh travel mug from the counter. She took a swig of the warm coffee and winked at him. "Thanks," she said in reference to the drink.
"I know you can't test wedding cake without coffee," he replied. "Now let's go before they sell our samples."
Mark smiled at the recollection. Each of the desserts had been sweet, delicate and perfect. In the end they decided on an almond torte with paracream frosting. In six days, he knew, he would have to cancel the order for that cake.
On the second day, Mark took a walk around the bustling promenade before the bar opened. He purchased a silk scarf. It was green and he thought it would complement her eyes. He thanked the proprietor and tucked the small package into the pocket on the inside of his jacket. Then he noticed that the barkeep was unlocking the doors to his establishment. He entered, placed the same order as the day before and found himself back at the chair in the corner. Small, yellow flowers had been placed in vases on each of the tables.
"These are all so beautiful," she had exclaimed. "I just don't know how we're going to choose…."
Mark bent down to smell a vase full of Asiatic lilies. They were strong, bitingly sweet. And they made him sneeze loudly and without warning. She laughed. He loved her laugh, it was clear and pure.
"I guess that narrows it down by one," she remarked with a smile. Her hand was warm as she placed it on his shoulder.
"What do you think of these?" she asked, motioning him over to a display of simple peach-colored roses arranged amidst baby's breath.
"They're perfect," he replied. And they truly were.
Mark could almost smell the roses and her perfume mixed with the sweetness wafting from glasses of wine and liquor being dispensed at the bar. He tried to hold onto the fragrance. But with each exhale he felt it leave him. What he wouldn't give to have had just one of those blooms now. But he knew, in five days' time he would have to withdraw the order for the roses.
On the third day Mark decided to indulge himself and brought along the picture of her that he had with him. The vase of yellow flowers was gone now, so he propped it up against the candle jar on the center of the table. It was a casual photograph, but one of his favorites. She wore a dress in a light salmon color. It had deep pockets for her hands and she used them to swing the skirt out and around her as a child might do as they walked. He was taking snapshots of birds at the time; the most colorful ones had begun to return to Indiana for the spring. But he couldn't resist the urge to photograph her too, when she wasn't looking.
Mark gazed past his immediate area and out to the women in the bar. Scantily dressed Dabo girls worked the tables and he frowned. He looked to the picture once more and then closed his eyes.
"No peeking!" she had warned him.
He quite mockingly averted his eyes as she brought the garment bag through the hallway and to her bedroom. He heard rustling and the closing of doors.
"So, I can come in now?" he teased, walking toward their room.
"Didn't you just come from being fitted at the dress shop?" he asked, a bit confused.
"Yes," he heard her shout from behind the closed door. "But I want to see what it looks like in this mirror."
Mark laughed. "Does it look different somehow?"
"Just wait, would you?"
His ear now pressed to the door, he could make out the sound of more rustling, a shuffle and maybe a slight stumble into the wall accompanied by a small "ouch" and then eventually the zipping of a bag. Finally the door opened. He rested nonchalantly against the opposite side.
"You didn't peek, did you?" she asked with a warning tone.
"Do you honestly think that I can see through walls?"
"If you could, would you?"
"I wouldn't if you still had the dress….on," he teased, emphasizing the last word.
"Oh, you're so bad!"
At least he knew that the dress was hers to keep. He wouldn't have to return it in four days.
On the fourth day Mark leaned against a railing and watched people coming and going. The station was a busy place. One could easily get lost here, he thought. So many different cultures and experiences gathered in close proximity. It was an interesting place to be.
He followed a small group of patrons into the bar then watched as others continued to file in. Musicians set up in the center. They began tuning their instruments and then played in an upbeat fashion. A waitress took up dancing with a customer. They moved effortlessly around the floor. He wondered if he would ever be that light again.
"Oh, this is awful!" she had proclaimed, shouting above the clanging and banging of what could only have been ceremonial drums. Her hands were clasped over her ears.
Mark stopped the playback.
"We can't possibly have them play at our reception."
"You said you wanted multi-cultural," he reminded.
"I'd like our guests to stay!"
"Let's try this one instead," he said, tapping information into the computer. After a moment, soft, melodic music wafted from the speakers.
He saw her visibly relax. Her shoulders softened and her face was made warmer once again by a gracious smile.
"That. Is more like it," she said, nodding in approval.
He stepped closer to her and offered her his hand. And then they had danced.
Mark's recollection was interrupted by the barkeep who had loudly informed his employee that dancing was to be done on her own time. He sighed. In three days he would have to cancel the band.
On the fifth day Mark had been so tired that he slept well past the normal time he would usually wake, even without having set an alarm. She was always such a night owl and yet somehow also an early riser. He wondered if it was bred into officers to only require a minimal amount of sleep. By virtue of being near her he had been ingrained with similar habits. By the time he had showered and dressed, the bar was already open.
A life spent loving someone already married to the service of the greater good was not for the faint of heart. Every time she was called out, and it was often, he knew full well it could be the last. But her love was worth the risk, at least that's what he told himself. If others could do this, certainly he could too.
A breeze wafted through the air in the bar each time the doors opened. That chill reminded him of the morning they had been to the farm.
It was late February in Indiana. The frost had been melting under their footfalls as they walked along the grassy knoll to a familiar structure. In the distance, on the hill was a classic barn. It was red and white with horses roaming behind. He caught her eye as they held hands. He knew she was imagining the structure decorated in lights and flowers with music spilling from open doors. They stopped short in the center of the field.
"So, I'll enter from over there once the violinist starts," she motioned across the swatch of land. "You'll already be under the gazebo with Jack and Phoebe of course."
"Of course," he replied, chiding her. He thought it was funny how she always had to be in control - even though he was the one who had suggested they be married on his family's farm and had come up with most of the plans in the first place. She hit him playfully on the arm.
"Try to be serious, would you?" At that moment an icy breeze wafted across the green.
"Brrrr!" she shivered loudly, pulling her puffy coat tighter around her. "I'm glad this is still a few months away."
"It will be much warmer in May," Mark agreed. "Can we finish and go back inside already?"
"Fine, fine," she agreed. "We'll set up chairs here and here," she motioned with a sweeping gesture to the lawn before the gazebo. "We read our vows, say 'I do'…."
"Then you're stuck with me."
A wide, genuine smile spread across her lovely face.
"Nowhere else I'd rather be," she had said. And then she kissed him.
Mark pulled the mug closer to him from across the table and wrapped his hands around it. It warmed him slightly but he frowned. In two days he would have to contact the decorator, and the officiant, and the people who had rented them the chairs.
Something must have been going on the sixth day because the moment he stepped foot into the corridor Mark was swept away in a sea of people. Officers dressed in Starfleet uniforms were everywhere. He navigated the river of red and yellow and blue-green until it deposited him near the turbolift. Inside, he was crammed rather unceremoniously against the back railing. He wondered just what the capacity of the elevator was, and where on Earth all of these people had come from.
Without meaning to, Mark eavesdropped on the conversation of two officers next to him. They were just back from the Badlands. He heard them recount turbulence and minor systems failures sustained during the weeks spent searching for her.
He waited for the others to file out and then rested his head against the wall.
"I want to keep this small," she had told him.
"Great!" he replied. "How exactly are you going to do that?"
"Well," she began. "I'm not sure…."
"Kath," he had chided her gently. "I've only invited five people. Two of them are in the wedding and we can't uninvite my mother."
She bit her lip in thought. "I guess I'll have to whittle down my side a bit then," she remarked, looking back to the list on the table.
"Agreed," he said. "Besides, I'm sure that Starfleet needs some of their officers actually on duty and not at our wedding."
The lift began to fill with people again but he remained for another ride. Tomorrow, he would have to inform their guests. Though he suspected most of them already knew.
On the seventh and final day, Mark laid in bed half-awake, half-dreaming of their last hours together.
They had woken, tangled in each other. Her soft hair rested on his shoulder and she kissed him gently on the cheek before rousing fully.
"I have to leave soon," she said with just a hint of sorrow.
But of course, he knew she was excited. She loved her life of adventure and the unknown just as much as she loved and needed the calmness and the stability of her life with him.
"And you have to go to work," she reminded, nuzzling her face into his neck.
"I took the morning off," he replied with a smile.
"In that case…" she said with a glimmer in her eye. But she was running late and he laughed at her.
"I'll go make breakfast while you pack."
She shrugged at him. "That works too."
A short time later, accompanied by a grey case in each hand, clad in her black and red with gold pips - four of them now, which was something they were both getting used to - she joined him for breakfast. They enjoyed the meal quietly and then she left. Just as she had a hundred times before.
Mark allowed his eyes to open and accept the vision of the angular, metallic ceiling above him. He walked to the desk, where he composed and sent a communique to the people at home. Then, he packed the few belongings that he had with him; his clothes, the picture and the scarf. Before leaving he made up the bed on the side he had slept in.
In the final hours before he was due to depart, Mark took a long walk around the station and finally brought himself to gaze out to the stars beyond. He missed her, he realized, quite possibly more than he had missed anything in his entire life. More than strawberries at the end of summer, for they would always grow again in a year's time. More than the birds in the dead of winter, since they too would find their way home. He was tired and alone.
He checked his pocket watch and found that he had one more hour to spend, so he would wait just a little longer.
Mark walked from the windows of the promenade back to the bar and took up his place in the corner. Though he didn't bother to place an order, after a short while a fit, dark-skinned man in a red Starfleet uniform came to join him. He had a glass of water in one hand and a mug of steaming coffee in the other.
"Your usual," the man said, placing the items on the table in front of him. Mark looked up and saw the officer's pips glimmer in the dim pendant light. Four. Just like hers.
"Mind if I join you?" the deep voice asked.
Mark motioned for the man to sit, which he did.
"I understand you're waiting for a Captain."
"You've got one," he replied. "But probably not the one you were hoping for."
"I guess you'll have to do in a pinch," Mark replied.
"I'm sorry about your…." The man paused, unsure of their true relationship.
"Wife," Mark said. "As of this afternoon, she's my wife."
The Captain nodded and relaxed back into his chair with a long sigh. The two sat in comfortable silence for a time. If asked, Mark would have bet that this officer was no stranger to loneliness. His company felt like that of an old friend.
Eventually, Mark rose from his seat. "I have to go home now," he said softly.
The man with the pips rose and shook his hand.
"We'll have a mug waiting," he promised. "For when she gets back."
Mark regarded the man with sincere thanks. And then he went home; to wait patiently for her to return to the plans they had made.
Mark Johnson made the journey back to that bar twice more in his life.
Once, just after Voyager was declared lost with all hands. And then again more than two years after that - shortly before he was to marry another. He regretted that he no longer had the patience to wait. But he knew her well enough to be sure that she would have wanted him to be happy. And so, he journeyed that final time to say goodbye to the woman he had once loved with his whole heart, the one he still missed every single day.
Upon returning home the last time, Mark peeked in the garment bag that resided in the back of his closet. He regarded the dress thoughtfully, remembered her joy on the day she had brought it from the shop. Then he finally zipped closed all hopes for their future together.
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