“I’m sure y’all are looking forward to your mama and your new papa coming back from their trip,” Joanna’s ‘Aunt’ Ida-Mae said to her as she patted her hand.
Joanna fidgeted while she looked around for her father, her spare hand tugging unconsciously on the velvet of her dress. It was too heavy for the summer weather, but Devina had laid it out and when Joanna had complained to her father that it just wasn’t right he said that Devina knew better than him and he would have to rely on her to advise them both. And didn’t she want to make sure she looked as pretty as possible for the barbecue and for him? She had missed her Daddy terribly over these last three years, letters and comms and short meetings when allowed just weren’t enough. Her Mom had always complained from the moment she was born that she was ‘daddy’s girl’.
“I’m having a lovely time with Daddy, thank you very much, Aunt Ida-Mae,” Joanna politely replied, while looking around desperately for her father or any of the McCoy’s acquaintances that might rescue her.
“Well, yes dear, but really, you can’t compare that man with what dear Clay has provided for you and your mother?" Ida-Mae responded.
“My Daddy’s a hero, Aunt Ida-Mae. We are doing just fine. Captain Kirk came down with him. Not many can say they met Captain Kirk. I’m gonna have the best report for the holidays at school,” Joanna responded, her little chin rising in a gesture that was reminiscent of her father at his most stubborn. She knew that Aunt Ida-Mae was very fond of her mother and that was a good enough reason for Joanna to want to get away from her. But in her nine years of life, no one had told her how to tell old women politely that they are mean, nasty, spiteful and that you didn’t want to talk to them, or have your hand patted by a cold hand that felt like it was nothing but paper fine skin and bones.
“Well, yes Starfleet is, I suppose, an honorable profession for those who have no where else that would want them, bless their hearts,” Aunt Ida-Mae told her patronizingly. “You were too young to understand, but your Daddy... Well I don’t know what Gideon was thinking to allow Honey to marry that man in the first place. Clay shoulda been hers from high school, but no bother, at least now you have him as your Daddy as he shoulda been. Honey’s got that fine house she always deserved and you have all the best too.”
“My Daddy is gonna marry Captain Kirk. I heard him say so!” Joanna declared, her little chin pointing up even higher. “He can’t go back up to space to protect us without my Daddy. Mr Treadway’s just a businessman, my Daddy’s important, he saves lives!”
“JoJo!” Leonard declared, but before he could continue to address his daughter as he walked quickly back towards her and one of Atlanta’s most notorious gossips, that selfsame gossip raised her grey eyes to stare him down.
“That true, LH? You gonna marry that pretty boy Captain that the whole world seems to be in love with?” Ida-Mae asked, her eyes sparkling with the prospect of some right juicy gossip, but she had to make sure. “I hope you haven’t been teaching this sweet child to lie, LH? Never could trust those up north military types.”
“I thank you for your concern, Ida-Mae, but you know me. I like to keep my private life private. Here’s your drink, JoJo,” Leonard said as he handed over one of the two glasses of dark brown liquid to his daughter. “I’m sorry to cut our time short but I do see Councilor Algernon over yonder and we do need to pay our respects.” Leonard started to direct his daughter away from the older woman, but he couldn’t resist a parting shot, “Starfleet is based out of San Francisco, and last time I checked a map it was a bit more west than it was north.”
He walked away briskly, his daughter sniggering into her iced tea. As they wended their way through the groups of guests towards the Councilor, the other guests engaged in what Leonard knew was the well to do Atlantan's favorite pastime of gossiping about each other, he started to quietly talk to his daughter. “Baby girl, I know that Ida-Mae can bring out the worst in people with her nasty words, but what on earth made you lie? Jim’s my friend, yes, but we aren’t getting married. So don’t repeat it again. We’ll talk about this when we get you home, okay?”
Joanna stopped and pulled on his arm, turning wide hazel eyes, so like his own and his mothers up towards him. “But I didn’t lie, daddy. I heard you and Captain Kirk say so just the other night!”
"JoJo, Captain Kirk and I said no such thing. I don't know where you got the idea from," Leonard told her quietly.
His daughter raised confused eyes to him and earnestly replied, "but you did Daddy, I heard you both. I like Captain Kirk." She beamed her approval at her father.
Leonard opened his mouth to correct her again when he felt a hearty slap on his back.
“LH, so good to see you back in Atlanta! Looking well I must say,” Councilor Algernon greeted Leonard as he turned to shake his hand. “Your Father would have been so proud, all of Atlanta is proud of you, m’boy.”
“I’m not so sure about that, Councilor, was just doing my job, but it is kind of you to say so,” Leonard modestly replied before gesturing towards his daughter. “Have you met my daughter, Joanna?”
“I have not had the pleasure before, except when your Father and Mother would show off pictures, like all good grandparents should. How do you do, Joanna?” The Councilor asked her.
“I am very well thank you, I hope you are well too?” Joanna replied, her manners on fine display as she extended her hand to shake the other mans.
“As well as can be expected, young lady, thank you for asking,” Algernon glanced back up to the tall man standing in front of him. So different from the confident but occasionally shy young doctor he used to be, fully a man now. “I hear tell that the hero of the hour visited our fair city just a few days ago?”
At the subtle mention again of James Kirk, Leonard extended his arm to rest on his daughters shoulder, squeezing gently to remind her to stay quiet.
“Captain Kirk was kind enough to join me on my trip down before heading to his own home for a well deserved rest,” Leonard deliberately downplayed his friendship with his soon to be commanding officer.
“Such a pity, I am sure Atlanta would have been pleased to show their appreciation for him and you too. Well, I have to continue my rounds; an old politician’s duties are never done. You are most welcome to come and see me before you leave. Oh and please pass on my warmest regards to your Mother when you next speak to her, she is greatly missed round these parts,” Algernon nodded his farewells to Leonard. “It was a pleasure to meet you, young lady.”
“Thank you, sir, and likewise,” Joanna responded.
Leonard smiled down at his daughter. He was still confused as to where she got the idea from that he and Jim were going to be married, but he understood only too well Ida-Mae’s words and the powers they had to cause a McCoy to make a mistake they should know better about. That woman was mostly responsible for the situation he found himself in today. As he looked back up to see where the old biddy had gotten too, he discovered that as he feared, she was making her rounds of the guests. The sly looks being sent his and JoJo’s way were enough to prove to him that JoJo’s story was being repeated amongst the hoi poli of Atlanta society. He glanced back down at his daughter, who had finished her drink and was now sucking on the ice. The crew of the Enterprise and his fellow cadets would have been shocked at the little smile that graced his face. He noted the sheen of sweat along JoJo’s hairline. He mused to himself that he should have listened to his daughter that a velvet dress wasn’t the best option for a warm Georgian afternoon, but something about the deep blue dress drew his eye and he wanted his daughter looking her best at this party that he had to attend as one of the conditions at being allowed access to Joanna. Next time he might listen to his daughter’s opinion, but he had to smile that she did look lovely.
“What do you say we get out of here, baby girl?” He asked quietly.
His face lit up even more at the expression of pleasure in his daughter’s face. “I reckon we done the proper meet and greets and can escape. Your Momma can’t tell us off, as we have said hello to pretty much everyone here just liked we were supposed to. I reckon you, me, and the sprinkler in the back yard have a date. Deal?”
“Deal,” Joanna exclaimed as she turned to place her glass on a nearby table and eagerly grabbed the one in his hand to place next to his and then proceeded to drag him towards their hosts so they could make their farewells and escape.
And escape they did. Joanna was literally bouncing in her seat as they headed back to the house. Leonard wanted to have that little chat with his daughter but her utter delight was one that he did not want to spoil on the trip back to her house.
The moment they pulled into the driveway of the large home, Joanna raced from the car into the house almost before it had come to a complete standstill and from outside he could hear her flying up the stairs, letting Devina know they were home and going to cool down outside. He could imagine her dark hair flying back from the cream headband as her slippered feet raced up the stairs, carrying her as fast as they could to her bedroom to change.
Leonard’s greeting towards Devina was considerably more controlled than his daughter's. He thought she appeared to be a nice enough woman and kept the large house running like clockwork, which was something he could not help but admire, although she was still an employee of Jocelyn and Clay’s, hence his natural reticence towards her.
Father and daughter spent an enjoyable time playing on the large manicured back lawn, various high pitched squeals and low rumbles of laughter filled the air. Leonard pleaded old age after a while as he headed for the steps to sit down and watch his daughter bask in the sun and the water. He lent his elbows back on the top step and raised his head to feel the sun on his face, closing his eyes. He could feel the water evaporate off his chest. The droplets drying quickly, even those that tracked down his smooth chest towards his shorts. Those shorts were still wet and would likely still be for a while, Joanna had got him good and soaked. She was sneaky and he did wonder at her friends at school and who taught her that little trick with the bucket. He glanced back to watch her race hither and thither under the sprinkler, trying to avoid the drops of water as they rained down towards her, shrieking her delight every time a larger spray got her. She didn’t talk about her friends at all now that he thought about it, but then, when they had had a chance to talk while he was at the Academy she mostly asked after him and what he was doing, hardly talking so much about her own life. He should have considered it more but he was just so glad to speak to her, that she could have spoken Vulcan and he would have delighted in it. As she spun and shrieked under the water, she glanced towards him and yelled, “Daddy!” The pout and the tone of her voice evoked Jim at his cajoling best. At the thought of his best friend, he was reminded again of a little talk he needed to have with his daughter.
Bones stood and ran his hand through his wet hair, shaking the dark locks. He didn’t care about it not being in its tamed normal position, water glistened in droplets on the mahogany hued ends, before dropping onto his nose, shoulders and back. The haphazard coiffure made him look vastly younger than his 31 years, if he cared to glance in a mirror. Before he could join Joanna, he heard the back kitchen door open and Devina exited, bringing with her towels and a pitcher of cool lemonade.
“I understand congratulations are in order, Doctor McCoy,” Devina coolly announced as she placed the tray down on the table. She deposited the towels over the chairs and started to pour drinks. “I do wonder at you not announcing it when he was here, but it is none of my business.”
“I take it Ida-Mae rang?” Bones quietly asked as he glanced to see Joanna running towards him and Devina.
Joanna took in the slight tension of her Father and decided that what he needed was to be all wet again. There was nothing like cool water on a warm afternoon to make her happy. So when she reached her Father she plastered her wet body to him, hugging tight. She felt him relax as his arm snuck around to hug her tight to him. She rubbed her head against his belly and tried to remember his smell and what he felt like, so she could remember it later when he was up in space, searching the stars far away from her. She looked up to smile at him, before letting go and running up the steps towards the waiting towel and Devina.
She slouched herself down into the soft cushion of the outdoor chair, towel wrapped securely around her and thanked Devina who had placed a full glass of lemonade down in front of her.
“I might need some help in the kitchen after you have finished your drink and cleaned up if you are interested, Joanna?” Devina asked her, a gentle smile on her face.
“Sure,” she responded, watching her father also sit in a chair, carefully placing the towel around his wet shorts to protect the cushions, her legs swinging freely above the floor, the picture of carefree innocence in masked contrast the stillness of her father.
“What is so funny, young lady?” he asked her.
“Nothing,” she giggled as she took a sip of the sour drink, but her chuckles got the better of her and she ended up inhaling some of the drink. Leonard reached across the chair to rub her back as she coughed.
They both turned towards the door as they heard the phone ringing from inside the house, waiting to see if the call was for either of them, but when there was no Devina at the door, Leonard turned back to her and shrugged his shoulders.
The pair sat in comfortable silence, drinking and just smiling at each other, happy to be in each others company. Their serenity was broken every few minutes by the phone ringing and obviously being answered by Devina.
After the first few calls, Leonard started to suspect what or more importantly whom most of the phone calls were about. He glanced at his daughter, but the open doorway caused him to hold his tongue. At any moment Devina could walk silently through that door and he didn’t want her to over hear the conversation that he had to have.
Joanna took matters into her own hands as she jumped up suddenly and ran inside, leaving her father to sit and contemplate the mess that was currently his life. He knew that there was only one way to deal with his. He was just going to have to call Jim.
Leonard left the two females making a mess in the kitchen and headed up to his room. Life in the Academy and on a Starship did make him yearn for the South and the way they had of embracing the future but also clinging to the past, like cooking. No food processor could compare to family recipes handed down through generations, or the smoky flavor of a barbecue.
He walked from the wide landing towards his guest room. There were other rooms he could have been put in but the placement told him that Jocelyn and more likely Clay wanted to make a point. He entered his room and headed over to the side table to pick up his mobile. He stared at the screen before putting it down again and heading to the small en suite to shower away the water and grass from his and JoJo’s exertions of the afternoon.
Once all clean and dressed he picked up the mobile and lay back on the bed. He played with the phone, scrolling down to his contacts, which were not many once he saw the full list. He went to put the phone down, not sure if Jim would be catching up with his family and friends back at Riverside, but then he bit the bullet and dialed up the number.
One ring, two, three and his thumb moved over to hover over the control that would hang up the call, not wanting to bother Jim with some small town gossip, but the voice of his best friend emerged from his phone before he could hang up.
Sighing, Bones put the phone back to his ear.
“Hey Jim, how’s Iowa?” He asked.
“Flat. What’s wrong, Bones?” Jim asked him.
“Why do you presume that something is wrong?” He griped back, not happy that Jim was so easily able to read him.
Jim chuckled, in that deep way he had from the pit of his stomach, “course something’s wrong. It’s 1600, you are calling me instead of spending time with your daughter, so something’s up. Don’t tell me the evil one and the redneck have returned early? Now spill, let me know how I can help.”
Bones ran his hand through his hair, “Nah, Jocelyn is still gallivanting off on the Riviera somewhere. I’m just having a little issue with some small town gossips.”
“Atlanta isn’t a small town Bones, Riverside was a small town,” Jim told him.
“It’s still there isn’t it, or have you managed to burn it down, kid? So don’t use the past tense,” Bones ordered him.
“Don’t you talk to me about grammar. I’ve noticed your accent get thicker since we got into Georgia the other day,” Jim laughed at him. “So what are the gossips up to? You are a national hero, Bones, and the Chief Medical Officer of the best Starship, under the best Captain.”
“You know we are gonna have to have a little chat about your delusions of grandeur, Jim…” Bones said.
“Hey, no avoiding the question. C’mon, spill, and the Enterprise is the best ship so of course it has the best Captain. No delusions involved there!” Jim alternatively coaxed and protested.
“Look it’s silly. Don’t worry about it. I’ll deal with it here. You enjoy your break, catch up with friends.” Bones tried to minimize his unease, hoping that Jim couldn’t hear his restless movements on the bed.
“Hey, you are my best friend, no one is more important than you. So as your Captain, I am ordering you to tell me,” Jim said.
“Hah, if you think that tone is gonna work on me, you are going to have to do more practice in front of your mirror. Look it’s nothing. Just Joanna says she overheard us talking and seems to have jumped to a conclusion and might have told the biggest gossip in Atlanta, nothing really. Storm in a teacup,” Bones said quickly.
“Might have told the biggest gossip in Atlanta what?” Jim asked.
“Oh god, it’s stupid, Jim, alright. I shouldn’t have called you,” Bones replied.
“Bones, what?” Jim ordered.
“Look, Jocelyn’s Aunt Ida-Mae, who happens to have the biggest mouth this side of the Mason-Dixie line managed to somehow antagonize my daughter to tell her that you and I…” Bones paused.
“That you and I what, Bones? C’mon, that we what?” Jim asked quietly, his tone serious now.
“That we are, aregonnagetmarried,” Bones mumbled as quickly as he could, hoping that Jim wouldn't hear properly.
His worst fears were realized when Jim’s response was nothing but a bark of laughter.
“Jim, it’s not funny!” he growled.
“Oh, Bones, it so is!” Jim was still laughing around the words.
“Jim, I gotta somehow tell my daughter that it isn’t true, though she swears that she heard you and I talking about getting married the other night. Then I have to get the biggest gossip to shut her mouth, when I know that woman takes great delight in making my life hell. She did it four years ago and it seems that just wasn’t enough for that vindictive old biddy. Then I somehow gotta save face on my daughter in this pissant town and correct the story. So, Jim, if you have any bright ideas how in the hell I’m gonna be able to do that, I’m all ears,” Bones finished, rubbing a hand over his eyes in exasperation.
There was merciful silence on the other end of the phone for a brief period before Jim spoke up again. “Well first things first. Joanna did hear us discuss marriage the other night.”
“No we didn’t. If you asked me to marry you, I think I might have remembered it!” Bones contradicted him. "Especially since it would have been proof to commit you to a mental asylum!"
“We were talking about going back up to space and you were grumbling about being married to the job, remember?” Jim reminded him, ignoring the empty threat from his best friend.
“No...” Bones started and then he did remember the discussion in the kitchen that night.
“Well, I am gonna be married to the job” Bones grumbled.
“Can’t be all that bad! I’m the job too, does that mean you are gonna marry me, Bones?” Jim smirked at him.
Bones just smacked Jim on the shoulder before pulling him closer for a brief hug. The two men had taken any and all opportunity to touch each other after the ‘incident’ with Nero. As if they couldn’t believe that they were both still alive. So many had been lost and then nearly lost.
“Well, we’re just gonna have to be married together then, I guess,” Bones said quietly before moving away to put the glasses in the sink.
Bones realized that Joanna must have come down the stairs and heard part of that conversation. He groaned. “Yeah, I remember now. How do you tell a nine year old that she heard things out of context? How on earth can I stop the news spreading more? Seriously Jim, the phone has rung almost constantly since we came back from the party. You have no idea of the mentality of this town! I’m sorry you got dragged into this mess.”
“Hey, what else are friends for if not for fake engagements?” Jim said.
“What?” Bones responded with a shocked inflection.
“The only way to head off rumors like that is to meet them head on. I’ll be there tonight. You and I will have a chat to Joanna and explain the proper situation to her, but then we will also have some fun with those old biddies. They want to try and hurt you? Well they just ain’t met me!” Jim told him.
“Jim, no!” Bones protested.
“See you tonight… honey,” Bones could hear the smirk in Jim’s voice all the way over the phone transmission.
“Jim!” He all but yelled, but then was greeted with the tone that indicated that he had been hung up on.
“Damn it Jim!” He growled as he glared at the phone, before tossing it onto the side table and flopping back down on the bed to stare at the ceiling.