Plateau: Mixed Signals

Tin-Tin glanced over at Brains, who sat morosely in the co-pilot’s seat. “I’m sorry, Brains. I really didn’t mean to laugh.”

“Of courth you d-did,” Brains said, shaking his head sadly. “It’th, uh, ironic, really. Now not only do I have a thtutter, but I altho have a l-lithp.”

“Didn’t the doctor say that it would disappear as you got used to the aligners?”

“Yeth. And fortunately, I have to take them out to eat, uh, dinner. Tho the Trathyth won’t be g-giggling at me.”

“Oh, Brains, I truly am sorry,” Tin-Tin repeated, sounding contrite.

“Oh, it’th all r-right, Tin-Tin,” Brains replied, mustering up a smile. “I thuppothe I muth thound pretty, uh, funny, at that.”

“You know, I can’t even see them,” she said, shaking her head. She reached out and patted his knee. “In six months or so you’ll have a totally different smile.” She sighed lightly. “Another thing to get used to, I suppose.”

He glanced over at her, troubled, though he didn’t exactly know why. After a moment, he turned his gaze back out over the sky. He was still wearing the dark glasses, but now, he sighed, a sharp intake of breath followed by a long, drawn out release.

Tin-Tin looked at him again. “Brains?”

“Everything’th tho clear,” he said, gazing out the windshield. He turned a little to gaze down at the ocean far below. The swells were visible, an occasional white froth topping a wave. An island came into view – one of the Kermadecs, he noted. The shoreline was clear and sharp, and there were a number of little rocks studded around the island that he’d never noticed before. “Yethterday, when my eyeth were all d-dilated, I didn’t notith any real, uh, differenth. But now, with my eyeth back to n-normal, I can thee. Really thee. No blurrineth at the edgeth of my, uh, lentheth.” He shook his head in wonder. “What a w-wonderful thing: thight. Clear thight. I don’t, uh, ever remember having it.”

“Never?” Tin-Tin asked, frowning slightly.

“No. I’ve, uh, worn glatheth for ath long ath I can, uh, r-remember. They got thicker every, uh, year, it theemed.” He shrugged slightly. “Now thothe d-dayth are g-gone.” He smiled at her. “It’ll feel, uh, odd to not be p-puthing them up my nothe.”

“I’m sure you’ll get used to it quickly.” Tin-Tin smiled at him, then turned back to her piloting.

“I hope tho.”

“Did you bring anything back for us, Tin-Tin?” Scott asked quietly as he took the luggage from the cargo hatch.

“What do you mean?”

Scott glanced around as if he was afraid someone would hear him. “You know. Something to eat. A candy bar, a package of cookies…”

“Scott!” Tin-Tin looked and sounded affronted. “Why do you think I’d do that? To bring back sweets for you and your brothers would undermine all the good your grandmother is trying to do!” With a toss of her head and a little “hmph!” sound, she stalked off, passing Brains, who looked after her with a puzzled expression.

He turned back to Scott, who sighed heavily. “What wath, uh, that all about?”

His question got a different response than what he’d expected. Scott gave him an odd look, asking, “What did you say?”

It was Brain’s turn to sigh. “I athked, ‘what w-wath that all about?’. And, yeth, I have a l-lithp. The orthodontith thaid it would be, uh, t-temporary, until I got acclimated to the retainerth.”

Scott blinked. “The who said it would be temporary?”

Brains just stopped himself from rolling his eyes. He wasn’t sure if it was safe to do so yet. “The orthodontith.”

“Orthodontist?” When Brains nodded, Scott asked, “You went to an orthodontist? While you were in Sydney? Why?”

With exaggerated patience, Brains explained, “Why do people uthually go to an, uh orthodontith? To g-get their teeth thraightened.”

“Why didn’t you tell us you were doing that?” Scott asked, frowning slightly.

“I wanted it to be a, uh, thurprithe.”

“Oh.” Scott couldn’t think of anything to say in response, so he decided to answer the original question. “Well, since you asked, that,” he said, hooking a thumb in the direction Tin-Tin had taken, “was a missed opportunity. Unless–” He looked at Brains with a speculative eye, “–unless you managed to bring some sweets back with you?”

Brains shook his head slowly. “Thorry, Thcott. I didn’t do any, uh, driving tho I had no chanth to b-buy any thweetth.”

“Ah, I see.” Scott hefted the two suitcases, leaving Brains to handle the one overnight bag Tin-Tin had brought with her. “So, how did everything else go? How are your eyes?”

“The thurgery was thucthethful,” Brains lisped. “My thight ith, uh, better than ever. I’ll thtill need to wear d-dark glatheth when out in the thun, but only for a thort, uh, time. I go back for my n-netht aligner in two weekth. My optometrith will thee me for a, uh, f-follow-up then.”

“Two weeks.” Scott sighed again. “I don’t think I’ll last two weeks without having something sweet,” he said, his tone resigned and morose. “I’ll just have to figure out a different way of getting my sugar fix.”

Brains sounded like himself at dinner as he answered all the Tracys’ questions about his eyes and told them about his teeth. From the corners of his eyes, he caught various members of the family glancing his way during the meal – and reveled in the fact that he could see out of those corners! Gordon looked his way the least of them; he was sitting next to Tin-Tin and kept her engaged in conversation throughout the meal. Even so, her gaze, too, strayed often across the table, until Gordon said or did something to draw her attention back.

At the end of the meal, Eleanor, a cheerful smile on her face, announced. “And now, in celebration of Brains’s surgery being so successful, I have a special dessert!” The facial expressions around the table ranged from Jeff’s delight, to Virgil’s surprise, to Scott’s cautious hope.

“Well, this is a pleasant surprise! What do you have for us tonight, Mother?” Jeff asked.

“Brains’s favorite: peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream,” she replied. “And no artificial sweeteners of any kind.”

Scott’s face went from cautious hope to an excited delight. “Oh, yeah!” he said as Kyrano placed a serving in front of him. “Thank you, Grandma!”

“You’re welcome, Scott.” Eleanor beamed. “Enjoy it.”

“Why’d you decide to make this … well, normally?” Virgil asked as he picked up his spoon.

“Because it is a special occasion, Virgil,” Eleanor explained. “Once in a while we can use a little sweetness. Just not all the time.”

There were various murmurs of appreciation around the table. Brains patted his mouth with his napkin and said, “Thank you, M-Mrs. Tracy. I really, uh, enjoyed it! Very d-delicious.”

“This was fantastic, Grandma!” Scott said, putting on his most charming smile. “Any chance of getting seconds?”

“Thank you, Scott, Brains. I’m glad you both enjoyed it so much. But–” Eleanor shook her head. “I’m afraid there’s none left for seconds. I made just enough.”

Scott sighed, and then brightened. “Well, even so, it was great! Hope we get more like it again soon!”

“It looks good on you.”

John considered the face before him in the computer’s screen, the blue eyes wide, the narrow face not scrunched up with squinting. He nodded slowly in approval. “Your face is more relaxed and you’ve lost the sort of goggle-eyed look that the glasses gave you.” He paused, then added wryly, “Of course, you have to learn to make eye contact a little more now.”

Startled, Brain glanced up at his friend’s picture in his lab’s computer screen, and smiled sheepishly. “I gueth tho,” he lisped. “I’ll be, uh, glad when my m-mouth geth acclimated to the, uh, alignerth. Maybe I’d better, uh, take them out.”

“No, no, leave them in. I can understand you just fine,” John told him. “Get on the program and stick to the program if you want those pearlies straight. The more you talk with them in, the faster you’ll get used to them.”

“I’ll, uh, try to remember that.”

“So, what’s next?” John propped his chin up with one hand. “I see the hair is getting a little long there.”

Brains ran a hand through his brown locks. “Y-Yeth, it ith. Lady Penelope thaid I thould wait t-two monthth, then come back to, uh, Fothleyheath and have it thyled. The, uh, trick will be holding Mithuth Trathy off that long.”

John nodded. Eleanor was prone to giving hints — ones that carried the weight of command behind them — when she thought someone’s hair was getting too long. Should the offender not take the hint and get to a barber, the reminders came more frequently and with greater volume, until Eleanor would threaten to cut the hair off herself. Since she had no skill at the task, whoever she was chivvying would usually make sure they got the job done post-haste. In fact, John had a standing appointment with his barber for the first Tuesday of every other month just to keep his grandmother happy.

“I’m sure you’ll come up with something, Brains. If push comes to shove, you can always ask Penny to run interference. She’d be able to reason with Grandma.” John leaned forward now and lowered his voice. “What about the stutter?”

“I’m not, uh, thure what to do about it.” Brains shook his head slowly. “I had, uh, thpeeth therapy when I wath a b-boy.” He made a face. “It didn’t help muth.”

“Really?” John’s handsome face creased with a frown. “I’d heard speech therapy is usually very effective.”

“I know,” Brains said with a sigh. “I don’t know why it, uh, didn’t help me.”

A brief memory surfaced of the speech therapist, her nasal tones grating on his ear as she worked with him. She had been doing her best, he knew now, but looking back, he felt she probably wasn’t trained to work with stutterers. She had been appointed by the school system, had been likely overworked and underpaid, and he’d been in the orphanage. Who really cares for kids in that situation? he wondered. With a quick shake of his head, he dispelled the thoughts to focus again on his friend.

“If I go through, uh, thpeeth therapy again, it will t-take monthth, perhapth, uh, yearth,” he said. “I don’t know if I have that muth, uh, time.”

“Why do you say that?” John asked, sitting up suddenly, his eyes narrowing a bit. “As I recall, you said your goal is to make you into a ‘chick magnet’, right? Why would there be a time limit on that?”

Brains opened his mouth to explain, but remembered that he’d insisted his makeover had nothing to do with Tin-Tin. He wrestled for a moment with whether or not to tell his friend the truth. I’m sure John has seen Gordon and Tin-Tin together; he’s not blind. I won’t make him choose between me and his brother.

“Well, I do have a t-target date: Lady Penelope’th next New Year’th Eve party.” He smiled at John, which made his lips feel weird as they drew back over the aligners. “I thpent too muth time on the, uh, thidelineth at the lath one.”

John’s face cleared. “Ah, you didn’t tell me that. Still, it would give you a good ten months, provided you found the therapist and got an appointment quickly. That would help, wouldn’t it?” His eyes widened and he grinned. “In fact, Dad might even have an agent who could oblige.”

Brains blinked; the thought of his employer knowing a speech therapist hadn’t occurred to him. “You think tho?”

“You can always ask.”

The engineer gave it a bit of thought, then shook his head. “I’d have to, uh, reveal my retholuthion to your father, and I d-don’t want to, uh, do that. I’ll thee who the local thuttering advocathy group hath on their, uh, webthite.” He made a face. “Probably thould g-get rid of thith lithp firth.”

His dry comment made John laugh. “Yeah, that might be a good idea.”

“So, how was the trip?” Gordon asked. He and Tin-Tin were walking on the beach, feet bare, her hand tucked in the crook of his arm.

Tin-Tin sighed. “Everything went well. The surgery took about an hour all told, and I’m afraid I laughed at him on the way back.”

“Why is that?” Gordon’s voice showed polite interest, nothing more.

Looking down, she shook her head, smiling sheepishly. “The aligners … they make him lisp. I’m sure you’ll hear it at some point before he gets used to them.”

“Yeah, I’m sure I will.”

There was a long pause as they walked along. The moon spread a silver pathway over the swells, and the waves made a quiet swishing as they reached for the shore, and receded, having missed their imaginary target.

“So,” Gordon ventured again. “Did you do anything fun? It would have been a shame to go to Sydney and not done something enjoyable.”

“We had lunch together and discussed a book he picked up to read. It was interesting, hearing him talk about something other than the latest scientific advances. He had a lot of good points to make about the book. I felt like we were back at Lake Anasta, talking about temples and treasure instead of engine torque and fuel ratios.”

She paused before adding, “We also went to a club and danced. I enjoyed myself, but–”

“But what?” Gordon gently coaxed, thinking as he did, If he’s hurt her, he’ll need more than aligners to fix his teeth!

She stopped in her tracks and turned her face to him, the moonlight at her back throwing her face into shadow. “I asked him to tell me why he was doing all this, and joking, suggested he was doing it for a girl.”

“And?” Gordon asked, wondering both what the reply and the reaction would be.

“And he said he was! He’s doing all this for a special girl!” Implicit in her manner and tone was the idea, And it isn’t me! She folded her arms, stomped a foot in the sand, and huffed out an indignant, “Hmph! Men!”

Gordon stifled a laugh at her pique. Taking her by the upper arms, he grinned at her, his face illuminated by the moonlight. “You know we’re not all like that, Tin-Tin.”

She went “Hmph!” again. “No, I suppose you’re right. Not all.” There was another pause before she added, “Just the vast majority.”

This time he laughed, and after a moment she broke her pose to laugh with him. He slid an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. To his surprise, she slipped her arm around his waist, drawing them together even more. A tension that he hadn’t even been aware of eased, and daring, he planted a soft kiss in her hair.

“Let’s finish our walk,” she said. “The moon is so beautiful tonight.”

“Yeah. It is, isn’t it?”

As they walked along, Gordon’s thoughts turned to what Tin-Tin had just revealed. I think I should have a few words with Brains anyway. If there is another special girl, then we all need to know. Tin-Tin isn’t the only one with something at stake here.”

January 22

Eleanor picked up the piece of thawed pie. “Let’s see how this tastes now.”

Kyrano did the same, slicing a bite off with a fork, and sliding it into his mouth. He looked thoughtful, then a subtle change came over his face. He glanced up and saw Eleanor wearing a far more obvious version of his disgusted look.

“I do not think this will work, Mrs. Tracy,” he said. He took another bite to confirm his assessment. “No, most definitely not.”

“I agree, Kyrano.” Eleanor shook her head as she dumped the remainder of the chocolate cream pie into the garbage disposal. “I had hoped these new dessert recipes would freeze well for transport and storage on Thunderbird Five. But it seems that cryofreezing it does something to the substitutes I’m using. I wish I knew what it was!”

Kyrano followed her example, then put both sets of dishes into the autowasher. “We could perhaps ask Mr. Brains if he would perform an analysis. He might discover why.”

Eleanor shook her head. “No, let’s not bother him with this. I’ll just have to try something else.”

The retainer shook his head. “If I may be so bold, Mrs. Tracy, perhaps you should return to the recipes that you know will do well in the cryofreezing process,” he said in his gentle tones.

“But that would mean breaking my resolution,” Eleanor said, folding her arms and frowning.

Kyrano smiled softly. “No, Mrs. Tracy, it would not. Your resolution was to make fewer desserts. You could continue with that resolve, no matter how you prepare them.”

Eleanor took in a sharp breath and huffed it out through her nose. “Hmph.” Glancing over at the now admittedly unappetizing-looking pie, she turned to pick it up. “I’m not willing to give up yet, Kyrano.” She began feeding the thawed dessert to the garbage disposal. “Back to the drawing board.” She glanced up at the clock. “We’d better get lunch started. It’s nearly eleven o’clock.”

“Yes, Mrs. Tracy.” Kyrano put the pie plate in the autowasher, then went to the refrigerator to begin lunch preparations.

“Any sign of them?” Scott, clad in his yellow and blue dive suit, leaned over Thunderbird Four’s command chair.

“Not yet.” Gordon frowned as he consulted his sonar readouts. Not long after breakfast, they’d been called out to locate and rescue an undersea mapping expedition in the midnight-dark waters between Mozambique and Madagascar. “Thunderbird Five from Thunderbird Four, do you have the coordinates of those wrecks for me?”

“F-A-B, Thunderbird Four,” John replied. “Downloading them to your guidance computer now.”

“F-A-B.” Gordon glanced over at the computer generated map of the area, noting the black dots that denoted shipwrecks before returning to his sonar screen.

“You think they might have tangled with a wreck?” Scott asked, still peering over his brother’s shoulder.

“It’s possible. There are a good number of them down here, some dating back to World War Two. Problem is, they’ve all been marked by salvage divers over the years. The area these guys are supposed to be surveying has at least two, both of which would have to be moved or destroyed — if they’re not designated as war graves.” Gordon shook his head. “I can’t imagine a survey team going down without that kind of information.”

“Makes me wonder if this is some fly-by-night concern,” Scott groused. “The developers of this undersea colony might be trying to cut corners.”

“True. Might be why it took them so long to call us in,” Gordon admitted. “Right now, however, our concern is finding the submersible and rescuing its crew.” A ping sounded in the cockpit; he straightened in his seat. “I think — yeah. We’ve got them. Base from Thunderbird Four. We’ve found the submersible and are moving in.”

“F-A-B.” Jeff’s voice came in over the speaker. “Be careful, boys.”

“F-A-B, base,” Gordon replied. He glanced up at Scott. “Better strap in. I’m going to put on some speed.”

Scott nodded and headed for the pull-down seat at the back of the cockpit.

In the lounge, Jeff lifted his coffee cup, taking a sip. Lunch preparations were still underway to feed those left behind, so he expected Kyrano to bring a tray to him in the lounge at any moment. Alan, who was not the best of divers, was coordinating things, while Scott double teamed with Gordon in Thunderbird Four. Virgil, after dropping Thunderbird Four off, had retrieved the pod, and joined Alan and Thunderbird One on Europa Island. Jeff was relieved on one particular: Europa Island was all but uninhabited. It was late, but they’d gained permission from the Madagascar authorities to land there. So there would be no problem with crowds or security hazards.

Tin-Tin was in the lounge as well, pacing. To Jeff’s eye, the only time she’d been quite this tense was when Alan and Eleanor had been left on the San Miguel bridge to die. Back then she’d been upset as well, tears coming easily. This time, though, she was wound up like a spring, sitting down for a few moments, before jumping up again to walk quietly to the windows and look out. Just as suddenly, she’d turn on a heel to walk the length of the room again. It was getting on his nerves, so Jeff decided to put a stop to it.


The girl looked up, startled. “Yes, Mr. Tracy?”

“If you can’t sit still, why don’t you find something constructive to do? See if Brains is in the lab and shoo him out if he is.” The words came out sharper than he intended, but he made no effort to mitigate them.

Tin-Tin stared at him, blinking for a long moment. She gathered a deep breath, letting it out with a sigh and saying, “Yes, Mr. Tracy.” Without another word or backward glance, she left the room, closing the grillwork door to the study carefully as she passed.

Jeff shook his head. “At least now I can concentrate,” he muttered. Turning back to the wall of portraits, he called, “Thunderbird One from Base, status report!”

Tin-Tin walked down to the lab as ordered, the sting of Jeff’s words making her frown with displeasure. I didn’t mean to be a distraction, but Gordon– She shook her head, her frown turning the corner into a worried look. I’ll admit it; I’m worried about him. But why Gordon? I’ve never felt this concerned for him before. For Alan, yes, when we were dating. But not Gordon — until now. She shook her head again as if to clear it. Then there’s Brains, who has found himself another woman. Why couldn’t it be me? She clenched her hands into fists. We’ve been such good friends, and so close — why can’t he at least be honest and tell me who it is? She bit down hard on her lower lip. “Men!” she muttered as she stepped into the monorail car.

By the time she reached the lab, her stomach was tied up in knots, and the frown looked as if it might take up permanent residence on her pretty face. The light on the door was green, signaling not only that it was safe to enter, but also that someone was inside. This only added to her ire. Here he is, working when he should be on sick leave! I think it’s time we had things out about this other woman.

Striding purposefully to the door, she slapped her hand on the scanner. The doors slid apart, showing Brains at his computer, his phone to his ear. He was conversing with someone. She stared for a few moments trying to decide what was wrong with the picture. Then it hit her; the computer screen wasn’t reflected in his glasses. He glanced over at her, smiling, For a split second, it was like looking at a stranger.

Then he spoke, and the world shifted back to familiar again — more or less.

“Yeth, I’ll, uh, be there. I’m l-looking forward to it. Goodbye.” He ended the call and tucked the phone away in the pocket of his new lab coat. “H-Hello, Tin-Tin. How is the, uh, rethcue going?”

Tin-Tin took a deep breath, only to find the wind taken completely out of her sails. Her anger blunted, she waved a hand distractedly as she sat down at her own workstation. “Well enough, I suppose. Gordon had found the submersible before Mr. Tracy–” She took a deep breath and balled her fists up in her lap.

Concerned, Brains came over to where she was sitting. “Before Mr. Trathy what?”

She rolled her eyes, taking another deep breath, which she let out in a huff. “Oh, I don’t know … it’s so stupid!” The words came out in a rush. “I was worried about Gordon and was pacing the room and that made Mr. Tracy angry so he sent me down here and… and…” She raised her eyes to the man before her, his expression of concern looking different, clearer yet smaller, as if the lack of magnification made it actually change and the concern behind it was lessened. “Oh, Hiram!” She shook her head, exasperated.

“Wh-Why don’t you go up to the kitchen and have thome, uh, tea,” he suggested. “I’m sure the r-rethcue will be over thoon and Gordon will, uh, return thafely.” He made a face, shaking his head for emphasis. “Thith lithp is driving me, uh, crazy! I can hardly w-wait until I’m uthed to these aligners!”

Tin-Tin looked down and blew out a long breath. “Yes, I’m sure you’re right. Tea does sound like a good idea. Thank you … Brains.” She gave him a slight smile. “You’re not lisping quite as badly as you were.”

Brains rubbed his ear sheepishly, suddenly realizing what he wasn’t feeling back there, and smiled. “You’re, uh, right. It’th not as bad. I theem to be getting the ‘z’ thound out.” He shrugged, then took her hand and raised her to her feet. “I’ll walk you b-back to the, uh, monorail.”

“Thank you.”

As he handed her into the little car, she gave him a small frown. “Now, Brains, aren’t you supposed to be on sick leave?”

“Y-Yeth, I am,” he replied, startled.

“Then why are you down in the lab working?” The frown dissolved into a concerned look. “You know Mr. Tracy wouldn’t like it.”

“I’m not, uh, working, Tin-Tin. J-Juth doing a bit of rethearch on a, uh, perthonal matter. I’ll be finithed thoon.” He glanced back at the lab. “In fact, if you’re, uh, willing to wait, I can c-come with you.” He backed away from the car, making motions with his hands, indicating she should stay where she was. “Be right back.”

He ducked back into the lab, and hurried over to his computer. The window showing the International Stuttering Federation’s website was still up, as was the one advertising the speech therapist he’d decided was his first choice. The man, Dr. Morgan Lattimer, was in Sydney; Brains hoped he could continue his therapy via vid hook-up after a face-to-face consultation and interview. If not, there would be the hassle of flying back and forth on a weekly basis for a while. If he wasn’t so highly recommended, I would have looked for someone in New Zealand, Brains mused as he minimized both windows, and put the computer into hibernation mode. I guess we’ll see how things go on that initial visit. He peeled off his lab coat, hanging it up in his locker, remembering belatedly to remove his phone. That done, he left, turning out the lights, and setting the security system.

“And here I am,” he said with satisfaction as he entered the car. “That didn’t, uh, take long, did it?”

“No, it didn’t,” Tin-Tin admitted.

He started the monorail car on its way, a silence settling between them. Suddenly, she straightened and gave Brains a small smile. “What are your plans for today, Brains?”

“Well, after lunch, I thought I m-might thpend thome time by the pool, reading,” here he grimaced, “a good book.” He paused, suddenly remembering John’s suggestion that he learn a new sport. “Though, m-maybe we could do thomething together. You could teach me to, uh, play t-tennith.”

“Tennis?” Tin-Tin gave him a puzzled look. “You’ve never wanted to play tennis before.”

“Well, it’th never been, uh, convenient to learn,” Brains explained, trying to sound nonchalant. “I haven’t had any, uh, thport glathes you thee. Now, I d-don’t need them.”

Tin-Tin considered this for a moment, then smiled apologetically. “It’s a wonderful idea, Brains, but I’m afraid I’m not in the mood for tennis right now. Perhaps another time.”

“O-Okay, another time,” Brains agreed.

The monorail came to a halt at the elevators that would take them up to the house proper. Brains held out his hand to help her from the car, a courtesy that Tin-Tin acknowledged with a gracious nod. They rode the lift up in silence; Tin-Tin trying to make sense of her feelings, while Brains, respecting her mood, mentally planned for the rest of his day. When the car stopped, he made an ushering gesture, allowing her to alight first. “I’ll thee you at, uh, lunch,” he said, giving her an encouraging smile.

“Yes, see you then,” she said as she walked off down the hallway.

Though their rooms were close to one another’s, Brains waited until she was well out of sight before making his way to his suite. I was feeling a bit awkward with her there in the elevator. I don’t think it’s happened before, at least, not that I can remember. He sighed. So, she’s worried about Gordon. Here I thought this was a routine rescue. Perhaps I’d better find out what’s going on. He ran his tongue around his aligners. It will be lunchtime soon; I’ll take these out now and be prepared.

Tin-Tin continued her walk through the dining room and into the kitchen. It was full of wonderful smells and her stomach rumbled at the enticing aromas. Eleanor was putting the final touches on a tray. “Hello, Tin-Tin. Lunch will be ready to serve in just a few minutes,” she said, a kindly smile on her face.

“Thank you, Mrs. Tracy. I’m looking forward to it,” Tin-Tin said, returning the smile. “May I speak with my father? Privately?”

Eleanor looked across the room at Kyrano, who was loading up the autowasher with a few pots and pans. He met her gaze, and she nodded. “Of course. I’ll just take this up to Jeff myself, and tell Brains that lunch is almost ready. You two talk as long as you like, and let me know when you’re finished.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Tracy,” Tin-Tin murmured. She helped Eleanor put the tray on a cart, holding the door open for her. Then she turned to her father, who had started the machine, and was washing his hands.

“I will make some tea,” Kyrano said, drying his hands before setting the kettle on the stove. As the water heated, he took out the teapot and cups. Tin-Tin moved to help him, setting the small table where he usually ate his meals after serving the family. When all was ready, they sat down together, and Kyrano poured the tea.

“What is troubling you, my daughter?” he asked.

Tin-Tin sipped her tea, gathering her thoughts. She knew her father would be direct; he was always one to confront a problem, though his ways of doing so were gentle and involved getting to the heart of a matter without recriminations. Finally she put the cup down. “I’m confused, Father. Today, while in the lounge, listening to the rescue, I found myself very concerned. Worried. For Gordon in particular. It was the same anxiousness I often felt for Alan when he was in danger. It affected me to the point that I was a distraction to Mr. Tracy and he asked me to leave the room.”

One of Kyrano’s bushy eyebrows went up. “Indeed, that is most unlike you.”

“He sent me down to the lab to see if Brains was there. I did, and he was. Not working, he said, but I heard the end of a phone conversation that sounded as if he’d made an appointment with someone.” She sighed. “I wondered if it might be … might be a friend … a lady … a lady-friend.” She shook her head. “While we were away, I asked him if he were doing all this – straightening his teeth, getting rid of his glasses, updating his wardrobe – for a special girl.” She took a sip of tea, turning the cup around in her hands. “He said he was.” Looking up at her father with a stricken expression on her face, she cried, “I don’t know what to do, Father, or what to say! Brains has always been so kind to me; we’ve been so close, even when I was dating Alan. Now Gordon … he’s become special, too! I’m afraid I’m losing Brains, and I’m afraid I’m falling for Gordon! And–” she looked down again, “I don’t know if I want that.”

Kyrano listened patiently to his daughter’s tale, then refreshed his tea. He sat quietly for a few moments, turning her words, and the feelings behind them, over in his mind. Then he reached across to put a gentle hand on hers.

“Daughter, I cannot pretend to know the hearts of these young men. I can only tell you what I see. In Mr. Gordon, I see a young man who is becoming greatly attached to you. First as a friend and now, perhaps as something more. As for Mr. Brains, he has always been fond of you, and I believe always will be.” He reached out to raise Tin-Tin’s face up until their eyes met, smiling softly. “Ask yourself this one question: could it be that the special girl for whom Mr. Brains is making these alterations is you, yourself?”

“If it is, then why didn’t he tell me so?” Tin-Tin asked, pleading for understanding.

Kyrano shook his head. “I do not know, my Tin-Tin. I suggest you remain patient and allow yourself the time to know their intentions, and your own heart. You do not have to make any decisions today, or even tomorrow, dear one. Have patience; before long all will be made clear.”

Tin-Tin sighed deeply. “You’re right, Father, as always. Thank you for listening, and for your advice. I’ll try to be patient with them and with myself.”

“I am glad to hear it.” He finished his tea. “Is there anything else you would like to discuss?”

“No, Father, there isn’t.”

“Then I must tell Mrs. Tracy we are finished, and that lunch is ready to be served.” With a slight groan, Kyrano rose to his feet. “My old bones protest too much, I think,” he quipped.

Tin-Tin helped him clear the table, truly seeing for the first time how slowly her father moved toward the stove. He’s getting older, she mused, the thought painful. Soon he’ll be gone, then what will I do?

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