Ciara watched her friend push the chunks of chicken among the lettuce leaves of her salad, as they sat in the mess hall for lunch. This wasn't like her at all, Ciara thought. Though she hadn't known Karissa long, they had hit it off the moment they had met. They were both telepaths and in the medical/science field. They also both liked Earth music . . . particularly music from the 1980s. However, Karissa also had a taste for Classical. Ciara thought it was pretty, but it would more or less put her to sleep! She, herself, had considered being a counselor and had done some studies for it, but in the end had gone into Medical. Though sometimes she still thought about returning to counseling. She was wondering if she should review some of her notes from her counseling courses to see if anything she could use to help Karissa open up.
It was obvious that Karissa's mind was elsewhere and not a very happy elsewhere.
"Are you okay?" Ciara asked, her aqua colored eyes gazing at her friend. She was pretty sure she knew what was bothering Karissa, but she couldn't say anything and break the confidence Ming had asked of her.
Karissa looked up from her plate and forced a smile. "Sorry," she said. "Yeah . . . I'm okay, I just have some things on my mind."
"Looks like it," Ciara replied. "Want to talk about it?"
Karissa shook her head and stabbed at a piece of chicken. She forced herself to eat it. She hadn't gotten rid of the sick feeling in her stomach that had lingered for the last few days. It was stress, and the depression, she told herself.
"I can't really talk about it," she said.
"Are you sure about that? I'm your friend . . ." Ciara said. "Need be, I could be your counselor . . ."
Her dark eyes turned away as a sigh escaped her. "I just can't talk about it . . . I'm sorry . . . There's just . . . too much to go into right now . . . "
Ciara nodded. She was getting a strange tickling sensation in her mind that she'd not experienced before, though she couldn't put her finger on it. She brushed it aside and stared at her friend with concern. Maybe she could just try to cheer her up, she thought . . . and an idea started forming in her mind.
Ciara had set everything up in holodeck 2. She had checked Karissa's file and had found her birthdate . . . Which she knew wasn't her real birthdate, but the date of her adoption by the Bentara's, and it coincided with her plans perfectly . . . She was going to try to cheer Karissa up . . . She wasn't positive what was going on with her, since Karissa refused to talk about what was on her mind each and every time Ciara asked . . . But she was pretty sure what it was . . . and if she wouldn't talk, Ciara figured a distraction was the next best thing. As she walked to Karissa's quarters, she went over the checklist she had made in her mind . . .
*Holodeck reserved . . . beach program running . . . Refreshments taken care of . . . guests invited . . . * She'd made it a point to invite everyone she could think of that knew Karissa. She wasn't sure who was going to show, but suspected the deck would be full.
All Karissa knew was that she was going to the holodeck for a swim at the beach with Ciara. Nothing else. Ciara wanted this to be a big surprise. As she arrived at Karissa's quarters, she announced herself. Almost instantly, the door slid open. Karissa stood there in a white one piece bathing suit and a large, fuzzy purple towel. Though she looked worn in the eyes and her skin looked a bit more pale than usual, she looked good. Ciara was clad in a smart, burnt orange, two piece with a brown towel wrapped around her waist.
"Are you ready to go?" she asked, sunglasses resting on her head.
"Oh yeah," Karissa replied with a smile. "I could use a swim at the beach . . ." Her smile was hollow as it never reached her eyes.
Ciara knew that Karissa was pretending to be looking forward to this. It wasn't that she didn't want to go, Ciara sensed, but rather that she wanted to be alone. She only wished that Karissa would sit down and talk with her. But since that wasn't going to happen, she was going to do this. She needed a day to relax and have some fun.
As they walked to the holodeck they hardly spoke. As of late, the happy, talkative Karissa was missing. The Karissa in her place was quiet and introspective. Now Ciara started worrying. Would Karissa be angry with her? Maybe she wouldn't want to be surrounded by a bunch of people . . .
"What's the matter with you?" Karissa asked, immediately sensing something wrong.
"Nothing," she replied with a smile as they reached the door. It was now or never, Ciara thought. "Lets go swimming!"
As the doors slid open and the two women walked in, they were greeted by a group of smiling faces . . . Some were holding drinks. Others were nibbling on snacks. But everyone was happy.
"Surprise!" came the group yell.
Karissa was stunned and stopped in her tracks looking at everyone.
"Happy Birthday," smiled Ciara. "Thought you might like to have a party to celebrate."
A large smile lit Karissa's face. This time it was from the heart. The first she'd had in a while. "You all came here for me?" she asked, a little overwhelmed.
"What do you think," Will said as he stepped forward and embraced her. "We'd let you celebrate your birthday alone?"
She took in the party scene. There were picnic tables spread with red and white checked clothes. There was punch and what looked like a bucket of ice filled with cans of soda, just like they had seen in photos of beach parties from the late 20th century on Earth. There was also chips, potato salad, vegetables and dip. Off to the side, there was a grill. The scent of hot dogs and hamburgers cooking wafted in the air. And set in the middle of one of the tables was a large cake.
She then looked at the crowd and saw almost everyone she knew there. She had made friends from every department, which was reflected in the crowd before her. Among the guests there were also people she had come to consider close friends, such as Nige and Dinara, Sean, Will and Ming . . . Even Admiral Pike was there. Of course, one face was missing . . . A sadness went into her eyes briefly. He wouldn't be there. He couldn't be . . . He couldn't bare to look at her . . . She had made sure of that, she berated herself . . . She missed him and his touch . . . How long was she going to be able to stand this before losing herself completely to the abyss of her despair? But it would never work between them, she reminded herself. Not if he was going to stay Captain of the Ronin . . . Quickly, she recovered her smile, as she felt a soft, gentle, rub against her legs. As she looked down, she saw Torasu . . . Immediately, she scooped him up in her arms and stroked his black fur. She was rewarded by loud purring.
"Oh . . . You came!" she laughed, tenderly scratching his neck and head.
"Somehow I don't think he would have missed this for anything," Tyran said, walking up with his arm around Dinara. "So how are you doing?"
She shrugged her shoulders. Her smile firmly in place. "I'm okay . . ." she said. "And how are you two doing?"
"We're doing wonderful," Dinara smiled, and playfully kissed Nige's cheek.
Karissa grinned. "I am so happy for you!" Gently placing Torasu down, she embraced them. "And I hope you're together forever . . ." For a moment, it looked as if her eyes were misting, but they quickly clear as she stepped back.
"Oh, here," Dinara said, handing her a small, wrapped box. "We brought you this for your birthday."
"Thank you," she smiled at the little box in her hand. "Should I open it now?" she asked.
"Oh yeah!" Dinara replied enthusiastically.
With a gently laugh, Karissa unwrapped the little box. Slowly, she pulled off the lid. Inside was a silver, Bajoran earring. With surprise, she looked at it. It was beautiful and sparkled in the sunlight. She noticed that it was also from Tyran's family line. As her eyes met his, he shrugged.
"We wanted you to always know that you're a part of our family," he explained.
"Here," Dinara said, approaching. "Let me help you put it on."
As the earring rested on her ear, Karissa felt overwhelmed, tears stinging her eyes again. Though she fought them back.
"No one's ever made me part of their family before . . . I mean . . except my parents," she laughed a little. "Thank you . .. This really does mean a lot . . . Probably more than you know."
Karissa had been the center of attention for most of the party and she had actually enjoyed it. Her mind had been so distracted that she didn't have much time for sadness, or idle thoughts, though they did hit her every now and again. But she was really having a good time. She had gotten several gifts that she had opened as she had been given them and she had talked to almost everyone. There was music playing from an old Earth ghetto blaster, circa 1980s. Karissa finished a cup of punch and threw the cup away into a trash can. The new Bajoran earring She continued to wear proudly on her ear. Just as she was about to go talk with Ciara, she saw another familiar face approaching. It was Ming and she greeted him with a smile.
"Hi!" she said, watching him approach.
"Hello," Ming said, a little uncertain of himself.
"It was nice of you to come today," she said, "The last thing I was expecting was a birthday party." She laughed softly.
"Believe me, Ciara's been on about it for days now!" Ming said. "I didn't know what you would like, so I thought I'd give you this," he said, handing Karissa a large, gift-wrapped box. Karissa just noticed that Ming was wearing long-legged beach trunks with a wild, colorful pattern not unlike those worn by surfers in the 1980's. Ming, of course, noticed Karissa long before.
"Thank you!" she replied, with a twinkle in her eyes. The first that had been there in quite awhile. "Should I open it now?" She asked mischievously.
"Well, if you'd like," Ming said. "Oh! I almost forgot! Open this up," he said, handing Karissa an envelope, "later on."
Just then the comm system kicked in. [Science Lab to Lieutenant Wang--your experiment results are in,] a female voice reported.
"Ah! I'm afraid I'll have to be going. That's that experiment I was telling you about," Ming said with a wink. The results were the mass spectroscopy runs for the samples collected from the ventilation system in the holodeck--the first step in isolating Karissa's pheromones and generating an antidote.
"Ah . . . ." She replied. "That is important! Well, I'm glad you were here for a little while anyway . . ."
"I'm glad I came too! I really needed this!" Ming said happily--almost too happily. "On my way, Ms. Schwartz," Ming said, tapping the combadge pinned to his trunks. He wrapped his towel around him and headed for the exit. "I'll be talking to you soon!"
She watched as he vanished out the holodeck doors. Curiously, she eyed the gift. She had picked up something from him . . . something . . . funny? Maybe mischievous was a better word. She quickly opened the wrapped box and from it, she pulled a good-sized stuffed mouse, like a child's doll. Its faux gray fur and black nose and eyes made her smile. But she did pick up something different from it. There was a smell. It was spicy and wonderful! She didn't know what it was, but she didn't care! It was heaven to her senses! And it was cute! She played with the mouse's ears momentarily as she took a seat on the sand to really look at the funny stuffed creature. Suddenly, Torasu approached her again, crawled into her lap and also started smelling the mouse. It was something that apparently attracted cats, she thought with a smile. Within moments, Torasu was play-attacking the mouse and she laughed, but she couldn't deny that she could feel a sense of urgency to do something physical! She had a burst of energy and wasn't quiet sure what to do. Reluctantly, she let Torasu play with her new toy and stood up.
"Hey! Who wants to swim!!" she cried and then ran toward the water, flinging herself into the waves.
She suddenly seemed so happy as if she didn't have a care in the world, and her friends watched and laughed to see her like that. Several of them joined her in the cool water, where she began a splash fight, followed by a game of water tag. Not even Ciara had ever seen Karissa that active before, and Karissa was a very active person.
After while, they had even arranged a game of Volley ball, but after the fourth game, everyone was getting worn, including Karissa. As people started wishing her another happy birthday as they left, she spread out her purple towel on the ground and laid down on it. She was happy. For the first time in several weeks she was actually happy . . . and tired!
"Well, I hope you liked your party," she heard Ciara say.
She turned to the voice and saw her friend sitting next to her.
"I had the best time. Thank you," she smiled.
"Everyone has pretty much left .. . Well, except me . . . Did you want me to hang around with you?" she asked, smiling. She was thrilled her plan had worked out so well!
"Nah, that's okay," Karissa replied. "I'm just going to lay here and relax and enjoy this feeling I have . . . You go ahead and go meet up with Ming," she grinned. "I know you have plans so go ahead and go. I'm fine!"
Ciara nodded with a smile and knew that Karissa was fine, at least for the moment. "Okay . . . Well, if you need anything . . ."
"I'll let you know," Karissa promised.
Ciara stood up and smiled one last time before she too left the holodeck, leaving Karissa there alone. With a sigh, Karissa turned on her side and stared out at the ocean. She watched the sun make its arc downward and its light play on the water. She listened to the sound of the waves lapping at the shore and the sound of sea birds near by. Before she knew it she was asleep.
Footsteps approached the sleeping figure laying on a towel on the holodeck beach. As he reached her, he knelt beside her with a sigh. She didn't move. Her breath was slow and steady. She was in a deep sleep. Gently he caressed the hair away from her face. She still didn't move. There was now a chill in the air, though simulated, as the sun continued to sink below the far horizon, turing the water to glistening gold. With a sigh, he got up and found another towel on a table. He walked back to her and gently covered her with it. He took one more look at her sleeping face and carefully placed a small wrapped box beside her. Tenderly, he kissed her and stroked her hair, careful not to disturb her.
"Happy Birthday, Kari," he whispered.
With that, Ryan stood and left the
holodeck, leaving Karissa to her dreams.