They sat at a table in the cafeteria.
“Do you want to get in line?” Karin Bernstein asked, a little nervous.
"I guess so,” Andy Miller said, equally jumpy.
They got up and got in line. The food had not yet arrived but people were already standing and waiting, and handing out plates. Azar Hamidi stood in front of them and, in front of him, was Ethan Shapiro.
“What are we having tonight?” Karin asked.
"Didn’t you check?” It was Shelby Pike, who was just behind her. “Beef bourguignon, with some sort of noodles on the side. Too many carbs! I am going to regret this, I can tell.”
“You look fine,” Tripp said, “no worries when it comes to carbs, I’d say.”
“Commander!” Shelby reddened. “You should probably get in line before me.”
"Naah, that’s all right.”
“Doesn’t rank have its privileges?”
“Not when it comes to dinner.”
Chef and his assistant, Lili, brought out the chafing dishes. She began to serve heaping helpings of what was essentially beef stew. “Not too many noodles, please,” said Karin.
“Sure thing,” said Lili, “don’t forget to take bread with it for sopping. I made some sourdough rounds and regular baguettes this morning.”
Karin passed on the bread – again, too many carbs. Andy held a chair for her and they sat down. He started eating as fast as he could.
“Whoa, slow down there, Cowboy!” Ethan said, “You’re not tasting anything. You’re inhaling
“I am? Oh, uh, yeah, I guess I am,” he stole a glance at Karin, “it’s ‘cause I can’t wait for later,” he said to her quietly.
“Me neither,” she said softly, twirling a noodle on her fork.
“Any plans for later?” asked Azar, “I hear there are some interesting star clusters we’ll be passing by. They should be very colorful. And a nebula with some kind of flammable gas. I suppose if they collided, we’d see fireworks.”
“I have every intention of experiencing fireworks,” Andy whispered to Karin. She reddened and pretended to be overly interested in her stew.
“Will you look at that?” said Shelby from another table. She was sitting with Hoshi Sato and Maryam Haroun.
“Look at what?” Hoshi asked.
“Miller and Bernstein,” Shelby said, “my guess is that they’re on their third date.”
“Oh,” Hoshi said knowingly.
“What does the third date mean?” Maryam asked.
“It’s the one where,” Hoshi whispered in her ear.
“Oh!” Maryam said, “I won’t do that until after I am married.”
Andy had wolfed down what remained of his food, and started tapping the table and jiggling his leg.
“Miller!” Ethan said to him, “You need to switch to decaf or something.”
“Yeah, I, uh, I guess I’m overly excitable.”
“Is he always like this?” Azar asked Karin.
"He’s usually pretty patient,” she replied, finishing up.
“Ready to go?” Andy asked anxiously.
She nodded and they got up to start to leave.
“Don’t forget the star clusters!” Azar called after them.
Once they had departed, Azar said to Ethan, “I get the feeling they are not going to look at star clusters.”
“Probably not,” Ethan said quietly, glancing away a bit.
“Does that bother you?” Azar asked.
“You like her,” Azar said.
“Don’t tell anybody.”
“Of course not. And don’t tell anyone that I admire Crewman Haroun. From afar, of course. It would not be proper to go on actual dates until I had, well, I had met her family and all of that,” Azar said.
“That could take a while,” Ethan pointed out.
“It could also take a while for the Karin and Andrew thing to run its course. But I suspect it will, and she will see that you, you might just be the one.”
“So we’re both stuck waiting,” Ethan said.