Malcolm came over, but was cautious – after all, he didn't want another beating. Lili and Melissa were already there so he felt able to relax a little.
“Call Norri,” Lili said, “And I will explain. Ready? Good. This can only work if we all work together. There can never be any jealousy. You have to let all of that go, but you also have to make it possible for the others to let it go. No one gets to go around hurting the others. No one. You, Malcolm, have this piece, Doug has this one. And, in turn, Melissa has a piece, and Norri has another one,” Lili said.
“Letting go of jealousy isn't easy,” Norri said, “Not impossible, but not easy. Something for me to work on.”
“Me, too,” Doug said.
“And, for you, Malcolm, anyone can have your daylight piece – Pamela, perhaps, or someone else when you're ready,” Lili said.
Malcolm said, “Not with Pamela. That ship has sailed, and I don't wish to go chasing after it. I don't know – I haven't really had long-term connections. Perhaps this is a way for me to finally, truly have one. And, have, well, I could have a real connection to you. Couldn't I?”
Lili nodded, “And that's for as long as you want it.”
“I, I want it for, for a long time,” he glanced over nervously at Doug.
Doug said, “I'm in this for the long haul. You better be, too, Reed, because you better not hurt her.”
“I, I feel that I am all right with being second,” Malcolm said.
?” Lili asked, “I don't want to think of you that way.”
“Actually, isn't the guy who walks in the back of a patrol just as important as the one who walks in the front?” Norri asked, “I've been reading a book on the Viet Nam war,” she said, explaining.
“Yes, that's true,” Doug said, “Walking point – being in front – is most dangerous, but bringing up the rear is a vital position as well. That's the first guy hit if there's an ambush.”
“And when you pilot a ship – the last course correction you make, it's no less important than the first,” Melissa said.
“The last page of a book is no less important than the first,” Norri said.
“Last step of a recipe is just as necessary as the first,” Lili said.
Malcolm smiled, “We can be very kind people to each other when we want to be.”
“Then I choose to be kind,” Norri said.
“So you are a kind lioness, Miss Leonora?” Malcolm asked.
“That's me, the book editing literary lioness,” Norri said, smoothing her auburn hair a bit, “I don't have much of a mane these days, though.”
“I'm not quite done yet. I have conditions,” Doug said, “No one confuses the kids. That means we watch the public displays. I'm not joking about this.”
Norri said, “While on the subject of children – I refuse to be called Aunt
– and he shouldn't be called Uncle
,” she pointed to Malcolm, “We aren't your siblings.”
“So what should you be called?” Melissa asked.
Malcolm suggested, “Well, how about by first names? It seems like Joss uses them anyway.”
“Yes, he does. The Calafans don't have last names,” Lili said.
“Oh and my condition,” Malcolm said, “Is that I'd like to be able to visit on occasion. In person, get together and be together sometimes.”
Doug added quickly, “If we're gonna have visits, I gotta insist on this one. No one sleeps in – or has sex in – my bed except for my wife and me. No exceptions
“Same here,” Melissa said, “I don't want some icky boy in the bed I share with Norri. Well, I don't. You guys have germs and stuff.”
“Well, there are hotels, right?” Lili said, “There's a pretty nice one on Lafa II, in Fep City. Now for mine, I must insist – my condition is – I want pictures of everyone – kids' births and graduations, medal ceremonies, vacations, anything and everything.”
“We're putting a slide show wall into the house”, Doug explained, “We had, uh, talked about it before this trip started.”
“And I want to fill it up with all of your images,” Lili said, “With the new babies when they're born, and every time we all do something wonderful or even just something silly. Give me all of them, don't edit anything out.”
“What will you call us when people ask who all those people are?” Melissa asked.
“My family,” Lili said.
“I suppose that's all our families now,” Malcolm said.
Norri said, “Is this arrangement, is it related at all to the world you live on?”
“A bit,” Lili said, “But not exactly. Usually when they make contact, it's with someone in the mirror universe, on the other side of the pond. And it's just the four – the husband, the wife, his nighttime partner, and hers. We've got five, it's not identical. Oh, and here,” she handed Yimar's bracelet to Melissa, “You'll need to wear this to make contact.”
“Their wedding vows even take the nighttime arrangements into account,” Doug said, “They are, um, 'I will love you all of our days, and support you all of your nights
.' That's right, isn't it?”
“Yep,” Lili said, checking on a PADD, “My heart,” she kissed him on the cheek, “My soul,” she leaned over and kissed Malcolm.
“I'm working on the jealousy,” Doug said, “I am, I swear, my heart,” he kissed her, “My soul,” he said, walking up to Melissa and kissing her.
“Both,” Norri said to Melissa, “I don't go by half-measures. And I will love and support you both day and night, kiddo, like I have ever since we met.”
“I as well,” Malcolm said to Lili, “I don't intend to be looking for girlfriends. I think my hands will be quite full this way. And you, Miss Melissa. You and I will be on ship together. I shall watch out for you.”
“Thanks, I'll, um, make sure you eat enough, and stuff like that,” she said, “You are my heart,” she said to the image of Norri, and blew a kiss to the screen, “And you are my soul,” she said to Doug, and kissed him, “You, you're an icky boy. But you're all right,” she said to Malcolm.
“Oh, and I got one more thing. Not to be too graphic about things, but I just feel strange about kissing her right after you, uh,” Doug said.
“Yes, I suppose that could be an issue – and vice versa as well,” Malcolm said, reddening.
“On this end, too,” Norri added. Lili nodded.
“Mints,” Melissa said, taking a roll out of a zippered pocket, “Chef has a big box of them.”
“Take most of them with you,” Malcolm suggested to Lili, “Then we'll all, um, chip in for them.”
“Can't you get some sort of a discount if you order them in bulk?” Norri asked.