Len Mattern paused before the door of the Golden Apple Bar. The elation that had carried him up to this point suddenly wasn’t there any more. Lyddy couldn’t have changed too much, he’d kept telling himself. After all, it hadn’t been so very long since he’d seen her. Now he found himself counting the years ... and they added up to a long time.
But it was too late to go back now. A familiar thought. The commitment was moral only, and to himself, no one else--the same way it had been that other time, the time that had changed the direction of his whole life, and, possibly, of all other lives in his universe as well. There was only one human being with whom he kept faith--himself. Therefore, the commitment was a binding one.
He pushed open the door and went in.
He saw Lyddy at the end of the bar, surrounded by a group of men. Lyddy had always been surrounded by a group of men, he remembered, unless she was up in her room entertaining just one. She half-turned and he saw her face. The sun-pink lips were parted, her eyes still comparable to the heavens of Earth. She stood erect and lithe and slender.
She had not changed at all!
The tension that had built up inside him snapped with the weight of sudden relief. He lurched against a small hokur-motal table. It rocked crazily. The zhapik who owned the Golden Apple came out from behind the carved screen where he’d been sitting segregated from the customers. Many of the zhapiq, who had been native to Erytheia before the Federation took over, owned businesses catering to humans. It might be degrading, but it paid well.
“Maybe you’ve had enough to drink, Captain?” he suggested. “Maybe you’d like to come back another time?”
“I haven’t had anything at all to drink,” Mattern said curtly. “What’s more, I haven’t come for a drink.”
He strode across the room, firmly now, and brushed aside the men who clustered around Lyddy. “I’ve come for you,” he told her.
She didn’t say anything, just looked him up and down. The beautiful blue eyes skillfully appraised his worth as a man and as a customer. Then she smiled and patted the gilded hair that streamed past her bare shoulders to her narrow waist.
“You’re not a Far Planets man,” she said. “How come you know about me?”
Funny he should feel disappointed. Sure, he’d been thinking of her all those years, but he’d never expected her to have been thinking of him. Yet he found himself blurting out, “Don’t you remember me, Lyddy?” Then he cursed himself; first because he didn’t want her to remember him as he had been; second, because he knew every man who’d ever slept with her--or a woman like her--would ask the same question. And, of course, she’d have the standard answer, something like “Why, of course I remember you, honey. I’m just not good at names.”
But she just looked at him levelly. “No, dear, I’m afraid I don’t remember you,” she said. Then a tiny frown gathered on her smooth forehead. “Seems to me I would’ve, though. When did I meet you?”
“Oh, years ago! I was just a kid!”
She flushed, and he realized he’d been a little tactless. If he was no kid any more, neither would she be. Still, she looked as young as she ever had, and he, he knew, looked younger.
He didn’t want her to probe further, so he hastily made an appointment with her for an evening later that week. As he left, he could hear her saying, in a bewildered voice, “I could’ve sworn there was somebody with him when he came in.”
And he quickened his steps.
She had the same room--a warm luxurious chamber, high up in the Golden Apple Hotel. Lyddy herself was the same, too, just as he remembered her.
Afterward, as they lay together in the blackness, she asked, “Can you see in the dark, Captain?”
He was surprised, and then, thinking about it, not so surprised. “Of course not, no more than you can! Whatever made you ask that?”
“I--feel like somebody’s looking at me.”
He rolled over on his side, so his body was as far away from hers as possible. He didn’t want her to feel the sudden rise of tension in him. Something’s got to be done about this, he thought. I can’t put up with it now.
“Why don’t you say anything, honey?” her anxious voice came out of the darkness.
“Will you marry me, Lyddy?” he said.
He could hear the intake of her breath. “Ask me again in the morning,” she told him wearily. He knew what she must be thinking: Men who hadn’t had a woman for a long time sometimes did strange things. In the morning, she would wake up and he would be gone.
Only, when morning came, he was still there. Two weeks later, they were married.