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Unofficial Literary Challenge #33: "What Happens on Drozana..."

starswordcstarswordc Member Posts: 10,898 Arc User
edited January 2018 in Ten Forward
Hello, everyone, and welcome to the thirty-third edition of the Unofficial Literary Challenge: "What Happens on Drozana..."! Our theme this month is leisure time, and what happens when it goes pear-shaped.

Prompt 1: "Fleet Week" by @starswordc
You're docked in port between missions and give the all clear for the off-duty crew to go ashore for some well-deserved R&R. Do you head to the officer's club for a quiet drink, or is some hiking and fishing more your speed? And what wacky hijinks do the crew get up to when boilermakers are two-for-one at the local bars? Do they arrow for the tourist traps, or do they seek out more intellectual pursuits at libraries and museums? And how well does the Shore Patrol do at keeping a lid on the festivities and making sure everyone's back aboard when it's time to leave?

Prompt 2: "Tailhook" by @patrickngo
After a night of drinking you or one of your officers is charged with conduct unbecoming at a Fleet function by an officer from another ship/command. There are no recordings and the offense is difficult to prove or disprove, but for whatever reason command is taking the accuser's side and presuming guilt.

How do you deal with it?

Prompt 3: "Entertainment Programming" by @takeshi6
Entertainment programming has not gone away as the centuries have gone by - in fact, it has only grown. Even though the television has long fallen by the wayside, the programs that have been available on it have thrived, even as they moved on to new mediums. Some shows have survived the test of time relatively intact, with new hosts, some have spiritual successors, and some are radically different than their originals - and that's not counting the new shows that have arisen.

Write a short story about your captain watching their favorite program. What is the premise? What are its origins? How did your captain first get introduced to it? Why does your captain like it? Is there one moment they like more than others? And do other members of the crew enjoy the program?

As usual, no NSFW content.

The discussion thread is here.

The LC Submission thread is here

Index of previous ULCs: [/color]
  1. The Kobayashi Maru
  2. Time After Time
  3. The Next Generation of Tribbles with Darkest Moments
  4. The Return of the Revenge of the Unofficial LC of DOOOOOMMMMMM!!!!!
  5. Back from the Dead?
  6. Gods of Lower Decks in Wintry Timelines
  7. Skippy's List: Starfleet Edition
  8. Revisit to a Weird Game, One of One
  9. In Memory of Spock
  10. Redux 1
  11. Delta Recruit
  12. Someone to Remember Them By
  13. In A.D. 2410, War Was Beginning
  14. The Sound of Q-sic
  15. Stand for the Crew
  16. A Future That Many Will Never See
  17. STO Thanksgiving
  18. Winter Wonderland Celebrations II
  19. Once In A Lifetime
  20. Coming Around Again
  21. In the Darkness
  22. The Company You Keep
  23. Battle Scars
  24. Mirror Wars
  25. Agents of Yesterday
  26. Love and Loss
  27. Extra Lives
  28. Death and Taxes
  29. Temporal Intrigue
  30. Redux, Reuse, Regift?
  31. There Are 31!
  32. New Year, New Changes
Post edited by starswordc on
"Great War! / And I cannot take more! / Great tour! / I keep on marching on / I play the great score / There will be no encore / Great War! / The War to End All Wars"
— Sabaton, "Great War"

Check out https://unitedfederationofpla.net/s/


  • aten66aten66 Member Posts: 653 Arc User

    Mid-January, 2411
    Somewhere within the Crescent City district,
    1.2 Miles from J. Smith Redwoods State Park

    Gregs trekked over the moss and rocks, foot steps dulled by the thick layer of topsoil and patches of mud. Shrugging off the backpack, he sits it down on the nearest large rock and sighs. Stretching, he turns behind to see hi lovely wife trailing not to far behind him, taking a swig from a canteen. They had just come from their hike out of the Jedediah Smith Redwoods, and Gregs was sure he was going to surprise her with where they were staying until they were called back after the refit was complete. It wasn't exactly a log cabin, though it did have a fireplace.

    It was once an old, abandoned ranger station left behind after the early 21st century escalated into war, though it had been converted into a house sometime after the start of the twenty second century, or at least updated and expanded upon with a new coat of paint. Recently, or at least for the past couple of decades, it was just an empty house that was kept up, and owned in name, by the nearby Crescent City housing committee, though somehow Gregs had ended up coming to live in it one year during his Academy break. It wasn't small, by any means, the building had been added upon to include a master bedroom, two bathrooms, with one of them off the master bedroom, and a spacious but subtlety decorated living room. The kitchen area was cordoned off by a wall, that could open to become a window above the stove, while a porch and a small outdoor dining area was added on later, now including a copper basin fireplace that he had added.

    The city seemed to take a liking to a respectable cadet using the housing arrangements he had been given, even liking how he kept up repairs and how he informed them of anything that was in major need of fixing. Perhaps it helped that by living out there in the cabin, he had found the missing hiker before they had been reported lost, having gotten turned around on their hike back to civilization while being ill-prepared for how long they were out. When he was given the keys to the house as a gift, telling him that whenever he was on Earth he could live there, stating Starfleet Academy had worked out the details as well, he was ecstatic. His planet had been more like a mix of Oregon with Seattle, like moderate rainforests if he compared it, but there were special places around the equator, places like his old home on the farm, like the Redwood forests of California, that just made Gregs a little nostalgic and almost, almost, whole.

    His wife was of two worlds, both Trill and Kurl, and various lifetimes worth of homes between that. He wanted to give her a home, one day settle down and have a place to live outside of a starship, and maybe even raise a family. Maybe someday, Gregs didn't quite think his spitfire wife would just settle down like that, not with the Tzenkethi active in the Alpha Quadrant, not with the new mysteries of 20 Draconis and K-13, or the knowledge that the Lukari were just starting to share exciting new technologies and innovations with Protomatter that the Federation Science division could benefit from. She, after all, is a scientist with access to technology and information surrounding one of the 'hot topic' fields of interests not seen or debated since the days of the 'Genesis Device' and its complications involving protomatter.

    "Are we going to need to call a ride?" Zinuzee asks, snapping Gregs from his thoughts as she approaches him, "Unless you just now want to tell me we're lost without a communicator in sight?" Gregs chuckles then points towards the house, which is shaded by the trees that surround it on all four corners. "That beige thing?" She says, "It looks abandoned, the paint seems flaked off in places, and I doubt it has anything edible inside it, let alone a communicator above a rotted out radio...". Gregs merely laughed in return.

    "It doesn't look like much from the outside, I know, Crescent City likes to keep the weathered look by camouflaging the new coats of paint with the average wear and tear that the area causes every five years or so," Gregs states, "And I'll have you know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, just because it looks like a log cabin, doesn't mean it is!" Walking up the five steps and onto the raised porch, Gregs fumbles with the side paneling, before opening a hidden panel with a key hanging on it. "This place is fairly old school since it's away from the main power grid, there are still replicators of course, along with some other amenities powered by an underground generator," Gregs states, "Sometimes it is just easier to use a key to lock the doors, since it isn't like many people are out in this area."

    Holding the screen door open for Zinuzee to pass the threshold, he walks in after her and locks the door behind him. "There's a combo shower in the bathroom down the hall, sonic or water, hot and cold both work; some shampoo should be stored underneath the sink next to the cabinet with towels," he states, "Ladies first, I'm going to open some windows and get some fresh air flowing through here... oh, and there should be a spare bath robe hanging on the back of the door." Nodding, Zinuzee set her backpack down and took off her shoes, before going down the hall at Gregs suggestion. Gregs meanwhile began humming to himself as he opened a kitchen window, the back door after setting the screen, and began to let the sink run so fresh water could flow through the tap.

    "Nothing like rotini carbonara for dinner," he says to himself, pulling out a pan from underneath a cabinet and beginning to fill it with some water, salt, and replicated olive oil. Replicating some eggs, cream, semi-cooked bacon, and a portion of dry rotini noodles for two, Gregs begins preparation for dinner, setting plates down in between steps. Thinking the table looked empty with just plates adorning it, Gregs replicates some flowers and a vase, and puts them as a centerpiece on the table, then sets silverware. Coming out of the hallway in freshly replicated pants and a loose Starfleet blue sweater, Zinuzee looks a bit surprised at the fanfare on the table. "Good, you're done already!" Gregs says, putting down his wooden spoon across he top of the pot of boiling water, "I need you to watch the noodles while I take a shower, there's a timer on and some hot pads in the second drawer on the right, a strainer is in the sink already." Kissing her on the cheek while directing her to the antique electric stove, he has already begun hurrying down the hallway.

    By the time he was out of the shower and into some old, but clean clothes left behind in his closet, Gregs was happy to see Zinuzee had finished cooking the bacon, and had extracted it from the pan and onto the side for later. She was just finishing mixing together the egg yolks, cheese, pepper, garlic and cream, when the timer for the pasta went off. Gregs quickly grabbed the egg-shaped device from its perch and shut it off, before moving onto the pasta. Draining it and returning it to the pan in quick succession, he stepped aside as Zinuzee came over with the sauce mixture, pouring it over the steaming noodles. Mixing it quickly to make sure it was evenly coating the mess of rotini, he grabs the ladle handed to him by his sous chef. Plating the pasta and topping it with the bacon, some extra cheese, a fresh grind of pepper, and both parties made their way to the table.

    "So, I hope you like the dinner, I know the Chef said you liked his experimental Carbonara he made with ingredients from across the quadrant on 'Taste Test Night'," Gregs states, "With my knowledge of cooking, I thought I'd stick with the local cuisine style... even set a romantic mood like in those romantic date-night holo-movies I wa-s convinced to watch..." Clearing his throat, he moves his hand to the dinning table, pulling something hidden out from under it, setting it on the table in Zinuzee's view. "Thought I would get you a present for our three/six month wedding anniversary," he states, "Time travel kind of messed that up for us, so I thought I'd do this just in case..."

    She moves her hand for the jewelry box, opening it to see a pair of latinum earrings. "Took a few bars of latinum to make, but I got them ordered from when we last docked at DS9, and picked it up in town when we were passing through," Gregs says, "I figured since we had a week to ourselves during the refit, why not surprise my wife and make it the best darn week she's ever had..." Zinuzee smiles and laughs, before closing the box.

    "Well, I figured I was going to be pampered a bit... but I thought you couldn't be any sweeter than you already were," she states, "Well, I may just have to find a way to top that..." She grabs his hand and brings it closer to her chest. "I thought I'd have had some time before I told you, but this is so sweet I'll spoil the surprise," she states, "I told Lexis, of course, but you're going to be a father Gregs..."

    'Boy, she went all out with that surprise,' he thinks in reply, "I guess I can't top that." She waits for the news to catch up with him, but Gregs is fairly unshaken. She tilts her head in confusion, quite certain he was going to be caught off guard. "Sorry, I felt the twins' heart beats a few days ago," he says, nonchalant, "Their neuro-activity had caught me off guard with their quick development, but the doctor says the rapid formation is probably due to my Ocampa heritage producing a form of rapid growth...". It was Zinuzee's turn to be speechless.

    "I'm sorry, did you say," she says trailing off, "Twins?"
  • hawku001xhawku001x Member Posts: 10,277 Arc User
    The I.K.S. Masamune docked at Drozana Station, the filthiest, scummiest, low-down spacedock this side of the Donatu Sector. Deloss, the Gorn and Klingon Defense Force officer, and his senior staff transported aboard before walking off the transporter pad.

    "What about the rest of the crew? It is preposterous we only ever focus on the Bridge officers like we're the only people here!" Grough, the Gorn and helmsmen soap-boxed.

    The Captain waved it off. "They snooze; they lose. As for the rest of you, since you're all coincidentally off-duty, you may take your leisure time upon you to enjoy to the fullest one may in the limited time we have to live in this universe."

    The group then nodded to each other in agreement of that existentialism and dispersed among the filth.


    Deloss made his way to the Bar and found the Klingon and fellow Captain, Sigon, sitting at a table, looking uneasy.

    "You're here?? This means a crossover!?" Deloss said, shocked and appalled. "It is clear now that everything going forward is to be contrived."

    Sigon looked up in search of the voice and found its owner. "Oh, it's you, Captain Deloss. Yes, I'm here with the crew of the I.K.S. Baetal for Klingon Fleet Week: A time where mighty warriors of the Empire are allowed leisure activities and a sense of temporary freedom and false security."

    "Same here," Deloss replied, sitting across from him. "It is odd the Week applies to the whole of the Klingon Defense Force, thus leaving Klingon space theoretically vulnerable and without defense."

    The Klingon sat up. "That is not the problem; the issue is that with all this frolicking and frivolity, there is a 60% chance of shenanigans and wacky hijinks unbefitting that of a warrior of any race and/or creed."

    "You're sounding like me," Deloss observed. "Aren't you the party Klingon who invades Raatooras every year and makes its inhabitants serve him an over-abundance of food and alcohol and other activities of a personal nature?"

    Sigon waved him off. "Their population is receding because of it."

    "Besides, what are the chances of any of our crews causing a ruckus?" Deloss asked. "I know with mine, I have whipped them, including an alternate universe version of them, into warrior-shape. What do you think this is, an ongoing series of stories containing indomitable antics and inane irreverence??"

    The other officer stood up. "Yes, I do think that! Let's just check in on the predictable buffoonery, shall we?"


    They both walked over to a group of officers from the Masamune and the Baetal. There, Ronin, Grough, Poroka and Gozer were standing around the Dabo table.

    "This gambling receptacle is literally the only thing to do on this station, so pretty much everyone will end up here," Sigon stated as they approached.

    Deloss snarled. "Well, I was going to peacefully reorganize my music playlist, but exacerbating our conflict and trying to prove each other wrong is a worthy task as well."

    "—Spin the wheel, and win!" announced the holographic Leeta to the group standing around. Everyone appeared inactive and bored. "Yay! I'm suppressing this terrible experience!"

    Gozer slowly scanned his Energy Credit card and waited patiently for the spin. "Ohhhhh... boy..." he said in a paced and droning fashion, reflecting an uncharacteristic inanity. Drool hung from his gape. "Are the pizza pockettttssss ready yet? Heh, heh, heh. Duuuuddde."

    Deloss turned to his companion, annoyed. "Is this the inexcusable lunacy you so eluded to, Captain Sigon?"

    "What the Gre'thor? This appears to be the polar opposite of maddening rowdiness! We must scan this filth mongering space cage," Sigon said, taking out his Klingon tricorder. "It really is disgusting; even from a Klingon point of view."

    Captain Deloss followed the other man and they began walking. "They do appear to be more comatose than usual. But that doesn't excuse what happened to you? You're not the same Sigon who drank an entire barrel of bloodwine on the Chancellor's throne, gone through two heart surgeries that same night, and lived to boast about it?"

    "Not long ago, I was boarded by Captain Menchez, who commandeered my ship to enact vengeance against the Kazon-Rokka for the loss of his crew. When he was about to give his life in honor, I, misguidedly, and drunk, saved him from certain death. I've been living in dishonor ever since," Sigon explained.

    The Gorn nodded in understanding. "So, you blame the alcohol and the lifestyle you were living. Perhaps disregarding who you are is the real dishonor?"

    "Impossible! A Klingon never looks at things from other perspectives," snapped the now-hardened man. "Sometimes we don't even open our eyes. It's how I ended up in a targ pen last week."

    As they reached the end of a corridor, Sigon's tricorder indicated a signature out-of-the-ordinary. Deloss snatched the device out of his hands, impatiently.

    "It's some kind of triolic tear in the space-time continuum? There are several of them aboard the station!" the Gorn reacted in complete shock.

    Sigon peered at him, judgmentally. "Through the tears, the tricorder is detecting several Devidians sucking the neural life out of the station's inhabitants. That's the job of the 'Spin the Wheel' episode!"

    "Perhaps we weren't affected because we didn't get drawn and stuck at that one Dabo table," realized Deloss. "The Devidians clearly enacted this phasing technique. But I have a plan. I believe the only way to defeat them is to increase the neural energy to their gaping holes and overload those slack-jawed gawk-heads."

    The other man recoiled in disgust. "Ugh! Oh man, you Gorn are sick. I see why we conquered you now."


    The two ran out to the open area to find the dreary, dead-zoned, uninspired atmosphere of a forced fan fiction— err, bar room place.

    "We have to liven-up this gunk-joint with one of your signature Sigon-parties or everyone dies!" Deloss warned.

    Sigon recoiled. "What? That's ridiculous. The answer is clearly something sciencey where we flood the station with particles that would combat triolic radiation. I don't know; chronitons, or tachyons, or something. You basically just pick one at random and it works."

    "Don't you see? The fact they're trying this new tactic means they've grown smarter and likely have already thought of that!" Deloss argued. "It's the chicken-and-the-egg, but our version of it. The Klingon Empire chicken-and-the-egg!"

    The Klingon shook his head. "All I see are conclusions and a Gorn's love-affair with jumping to them. Do you ever think in a normal way, or are you forever misaligned with the rest of us?"

    "Of course a Klingon would dismiss me, as if Gorn have nothing to contribute to the Empire," Deloss countered. "It's our rock-clutching obsession that cleaned up your precious Praxis aftermath. Don't you remember?"

    Sigon snapped his fingers, distractedly. "Obsession? Of course! I could launch an explosive party popper— or disco ball, as many call it— forcing everyone into an annoying Q-obsessed dance off? The only problem is, if I die, it goes on forever."

    "Disco balls on Drozana? Wasn't that done before by Starfleet Den—"

    The other man quickly cut him off. "There's no time to finish that!" He then slapped his wrist communicator. "Sigon to Baetal. Transport my party popper devices and all the forgotten barrels of bloodwine from our cargo hold to Drozana, immediately."

    "Yes, sir," came the voice of Liss over the air. "It's odd we store them in barrels to begin with. I mean, by the 25th century, we don't have healthier containment receptacles?"

    In an instant, the barrels were transported in, and Sigon received his devices that he discharged within Drozana's open area. Giant floating disco balls and confetti were expelled everywhere while people slowly began scooping bloodwine for their alcoholic tastes.

    "It's time to PARTY, YOU INFERIOR FOOLS!" Sigon announced over all the sudden ruckus and over-the-top exceptionalism. "The 'inferior fools' thing is just to Klingon-it-up a little."

    Deloss looked at him. "Where'd you get those anyway?"

    "An omnipotent being called Qu sells them on the blackmarket, which I used to purchase for my Friday Night Fek'Ihri Dance-Offs," Sigon explained. "Ohhh, the limbo showdowns they initiate. We often use the Hordlings as height poles."

    The Gorn nodded. "Anyway, I am certain we have both learned lessons here, though I do not know what."

    "Well, mine is that I can adapt to the cognitive dissonance of my lifestyle being the cause of dishonor while continuing said lifestyle," the Klingon added. "It's a lemniscate Klingon Empire chicken-and-the-egg."

    Deloss tapped his jaw. "Hm. Then, I guess mine should be that relevance is relative; whatever that means."

    Suddenly, with everyone on Drozana now excited and celebrating, explosions of overloaded Devidians popped out of mid-air and onto the floors all over the place.

    "Currrssssse, you Sigon and Deloss," a new Shrouded Phantasm named Stuart argued as he tried, unsuccessfully, to get up off the floor. "We will return to have our revvvvengggge!"

    The two watched as the Phantasm used his staff to get up and disappear he and his other Devidians away, back to their realm. The Phantasm then quickly popped its head back through a mid-air hole and he sucked a few more sips of Gozer's neural activity.

    "Ohhh yeahhhh, that's the stuff," Stuart said before noticing everyone observing his addiction problem. He addressed them before pulling himself back into his realm. "We'll be back! And don't bother fixing your lights!"
  • cmdrscarletcmdrscarlet Member Posts: 5,137 Arc User
    A Fool's Errand - Prompt 1


    Jim Bushel looked into his drink. The Andorian whiskey was reportedly very strong and its deep red color was a warning toward its potency. The Bolian bartender refused Jim’s request for a larger cup on the grounds to protect his own and other patron’s well-being. The cup was larger than a shot glass and made of silver-coated metal, the preferred container for the whiskey. Jim gulped, counted to three, and then took a sip. The liquor clawed its way down his throat and annihilated whatever was in his stomach. The result being a coughing fit that made Jim’s eyes water.

    The bartender grinned as he handed Jim a cloth. “You were warned, Lieutenant.”

    Jim accepted the cloth and wiped his eyes and mouth, nodding regretfully. “It was worth it”, he choked out. Looking away into the maw of Club 42’s dining area, Jim wanted to see who was watching his debacle. A few tables were occupied by various species wearing Starfleet uniforms and almost all the other patrons returned to their own business, their conversations clearly interrupted. Behind him was the exit from Club 42 that lead into the main gallery of Earth Space Dock.

    The bartender grabbed a glass and started cleaning it, the way bartenders do to look busy. “So, what has you tempting fate?”

    Clearing his throat, Jim replied with some embarrassment, “typical girl problems.”

    The Bolian nodded with the wisdom of a sage. “It must be serious if you want to drown in liquid death.”

    The Lieutenant lifted the glass as if to take another casual sip and paused. “I broke up with my fiancé last week when we docked.”

    After a few seconds of contemplation, the bartender commanded, “have another sip. If separating from a loved one is ‘typical’, then I need to find another job.”

    Jim smiled and then counted to three before half-emptying the glass. Less liquid this time, but it scorched down just the same. Being more prepared, possibly because the liquor already damaged his internal organs, his coughing was more subdued and manageable.

    He smacked his lips with a grimace, and then looked toward the dance room to his left. The area was in a separate part of Club 42 and was separated by a force field that severely dampened the music flooding the room. For him in the bar area, the music could be heard but was muffled, yet the tune could be discerned. Exiting the dance floor and through the force field walked three women; a Human, Talaxian and Andorian. Each wore off-duty clothing of various colors, styles and skin revelations and all three laughed as if sharing the punch line to a joke. They headed for the main doorway.

    Jim recognized all three from his ship, but the Human captured his attention. He turned to the bartender and excused himself. Tugging on his own shirt, as he is used to with his uniform, he tried to casually walk toward the exit and matched speed so as to meet the women. Without turning his head, Jim looked toward the group to see if they noticed him. Jim started to feel dread about his decision to meet them. Yet, he was committed by now and persevered by looking casually toward them and then washed a bright smile over his face while waving.

    “Claire, hello!”

    The group stopped and their collective mirth faded slightly, which heightened Jim’s feeling of impending doom.

    The Andorian had whispered something and Claire shook her head slightly. Looking back to Jim, she smiled and replied, “hello Lieutenant. I’m sorry we didn’t see you earlier. Have you been at the Club long?”

    The potent alcohol must have started affecting Jim: her voice was warm and inviting to hear. Rich, red colored lips pulled into a polite smile. Long, full brown hair flowed over her shoulders, they being bare from the strapless and loose-fitting blouse Claire wore. The skirt hugged her legs halfway down toned thighs with shiny smooth legs.

    Jim scratched the back of his head to try to relax. “Uh, no, not long. I was just here for a drink.”

    After an eternal second of silence between them, Claire raised eyebrows and looked to her friends. “So, we were about to leave-“

    “Ah, yeah, about that,” Jim blurted out. “Could I speak with you for a moment?”

    Shifting her weight to one side, Claire crossed arms. “Sure.”

    Jim looked at the other women who was looking at Claire disapprovingly. He cleared his throat. “Maybe in private?”

    Claire looked to her friends and nodded. As if they were communicating telepathically, the two other women shrugged and left Claire in Club 42.

    After a few more seconds watching the others exit, Jim turned to Claire and invited her to sit at a nearby table.

    Claire gently waved away the offer, “it’s getting a little late, I’m sorry. What’s on your mind?”

    “Ah, yes. Well, I … I have not seen you in a few of weeks and so … how are you doing?”

    “I’m doing well,” she chuckled nervously.

    “Good, me too.”

    Claire looked skeptical. “Oh, really?”

    Jim blushed. “Well, yes, I suppose.” He looked to the bartender quickly and noticed the Bolian was staring at them as he cleaned a glass the way bartenders do to look busy. Turning back to Claire, he knew the conversation was strained and pushed away from small talk. “Look, I would like to explain myself. Would you be willing to talk about it over a drink?”

    “Tonight? Like, now?”

    “Oh, no no! I meant sometime soon. Tomorrow?”

    Claire looked surprised at first, and then her affect became neutral again. She looked out the doors from Club 42 and noticed her friends were watching from the outside. “Um, I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

    Nodding, Jim’s hopes were struck by a verbal phaser shot. “Is it because of Mallory?”

    Claire looked down to the floor. “I wish it were less obvious. I mean, I am her roommate after all.”

    Jim tried to salvage some dignity. “I know. I just felt you and I had good rapport. I thought … you know … there was something-“

    “No, Jim. I’m sorry if you felt that way. We all became friends because you were with Mallory. But she is my friend, and breaking off a year-long engagement with her is not-,“ Claire paused as she bit her bottom lip. “I don’t mean to take sides, but … I’m not really your friend. You know what I mean?”

    The words were a torpedo to Jim’s fledgling hopes. He resigned to the events that lead to this moment. “I understand. I’m so sorry.”

    Claire looked sympathetic. “I’m not the one you should apologize too. But I know you already have to Mallory.” She turned and walked away.

    Jim felt embarrassed as he trudged back to the bar and reached for his drink.

    The bartender snatched it away with one hand and replaced it with a cup of cold water from the other hand in one fluid motion. “You’ll need that, if my suspicions are correct.”
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