ST:TNG #4—The Break-up
Alas, every romance has its set-backs…
The Offbeat of Avenues lyrics by Cheryl Bentyne and Don Freeman. All rights reserved.
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The chime on Rachel Cabot’s quarters chirped. Once. Twice. Three times. Finally a knock sounded.
“Rae?” Will Riker forced his voice though the soundproofing.
A small, angry voice answered. “What?”
“May I come in?”
“I’d really rather you didn’t.” She was calling from far into her quarters, and her voice sounded squeezed.
He looked at the door thoughtfully, waited for the crewmen passing in the corridor to move out of earshot. “Is that an order?”
Silence stretched on so long he thought he’d lost the argument before he even got started. But, finally she answered. “Oh, all right, goddammit. Don’t stand out there yelling.”
Riker stepped in slowly. The rooms were dark except for a crack of light coming from the bedroom. The air was stale and warm. He stumbled against a chair. “Could I turn up some lights?”
Her voice came from the common room. He turned in that direction and allowed his eyes to adjust to the dark. “I noticed on the duty report that you’ve requested a few days of personal time.”
“Dr. Crusher said you haven’t been to sickbay.”
“I’m not sick.”
He could barely make her out, sitting in the far corner of her couch. One arm looked to be propped up on the low backrest. Small white blooms covered the couch, the floor and the table next to her like an untidy hailstorm. She blew her nose and threw another bloom to join the rest.
“Something’s wrong,” he tried, stepping a little farther into the room.
“Personal time is a legitimate request.” Her words came slowly, as if it was an effort to put them together and push them out of her mouth. “Yanzanni okayed it. I don’t need your approval.”
“I didn’t come here as the ship’s first officer, Rae. A good friend of mine suddenly asks for time off, something she’s never done before, and spends the next two days holed-up in her quarters…” He navigated through the drifts of tissues and perched on the near end of the couch. “…apparently crying. I wouldn’t be much of a friend if I didn’t notice.”
“I can’t talk to you about it.”
Riker felt a small jab of hurt. “Of course you can talk to me about it.”
Starlight from the view port behind the couch added its weak light to the darkness. As his eyes adjusted, shapes and outlines became clearer. Cabot sat wrapped in a fuzzy bathrobe Riker recognized from their Academy days. She called it her Huggy Robe, and used to wear it while studying for particularly difficult tests, or after a disappointing date (and she suffered though a number of those), or when she was sick. The ratty old thing must have been almost twenty years old.
Her hair stuck out in spikes on one side of her head and was smashed flat on the other. Riker smelled a ripeness about her that announced she hadn’t bathed in days. She moved in slow motion, tucking her stocking feet up under her, moving her translucent hand over the shadow of her face.
Cups, glasses, plates of uneaten food, all with a layer of wadded tissues, covered the table. Books lay spread open on the floor along with knots of clothes and other shadows he couldn’t make out. Many of the storage drawers hung open with strewn debris beneath them. The light from the bedroom revealed a tangle of bedclothes spilling onto the floor and more open drawers.
I need Deanna, he thought, overwhelmed by the mess and Rachel’s condition. Cabot was normally a neat person, careful with her personal habits. The physical evidence suggested a level of despair “cheering up” wouldn’t touch.
He brushed the couch clean and sat closer to her. “It’s okay if you can’t talk to me about what’s going on. I’ll just talk to you.”
Rachel dropped her arm and gazed out at the stars streaking by in rainbow hues. Her eyes were swollen, her face wet. In the harsh black and white spectrum of starlight and shadow, she looked like hell.
Riker said, “For the last two days, the captain has spent most of his time in his ready room. When he does come out, he’s… well… unpleasant. He avoids Deanna. And he seems to be spending a lot of time fencing in Rec Room Three. Add that to what I see here, and I’d say you two had a fight. A pretty big one.”
It was a long shot, and he knew it. Neither Rachel nor the captain had ever given the slightest indication that any kind of relationship existed between them. But, Riker had a hunch and a few obscure clues.
There was the time, months ago, when he had beamed them both to Gileád and back. A working holiday, Picard had said. Unusual earth/sea dynamics, according to Rachel. But, Picard had asked Riker in such a cryptic, convoluted manner to operate the transporter controls personally that Will was never really sure what he was being asked to do. He just showed up in the chamber when he thought he was supposed to and kept his eyes open.
Then, there was the recital. Rachel and Data took voice lessons at the same time and decided to combine their individual recitals into one event. He and Picard attended together, and when Rachel belted out a lusty Bessie Smith solo in a stunning midnight blue gown, Riker watched his commanding officer very carefully. He looked like a captain enjoying the talents of his crew—amused, pleased, proud. But, Riker swore something more registered on the captain’s face, a softness around the eyes, that was there only for Rachel.
He tried to enlist Troi’s sleuthing abilities, but the counselor scolded him about minding his own business. Deanna was right, of course. And he’d butt-out gladly if only Rachel hadn’t acted so damned mysterious.
So, he pulled together all the snippets of innuendo, uncomfortable silences, misdirection and gut feeling and dropped his conclusion in Rachel’s lap. He sat on her couch, in the dark, waiting for her to scream at him or laugh. Deep in his heart, however, he didn’t think either of those would happen.
She stared out at the stars, giving no sign she’d heard what he said. Her mouth pinched and fresh tears glistened over her face. One by one, they rolled off her jaw and plopped onto the back of the couch. Riker found the clean tissues and pushed them at her. The act seemed to break the shell of silence around her.
“It’s over.” Her voice wavered, an unsteady fragile sound. “I don’t know why we thought it would ever work.”
Will scrambled to leap over his ignorance the way Rachel seemed to have done. Questions bubbled up in his brain that he forced himself to leave unasked. He felt like he’d fallen into a bad dream already in progress.
Rachel wiped her face, blew her nose and sent the tissue on a long, slow arc toward the bedroom. It landed among a soggy pile of its fellows. She said, “Love’s a funny creature, have you noticed? Needs a lot of care and attention. Gets killed off pretty easy.” She looked at him. “Where’s your poker face now, buddy?”
He grunted and shook his head.
“You knew from the beginning, I think.”
“Same thing.” A silent sigh raised and lowered her shoulders. “I’m glad, really. I’m glad you know. I wanted to talk to you about it so many times. But discretion was the operative word.”
“It’s too bad, really,” she continued, her voice smoother. “Now you won’t hear all the wonderful parts—just this.” She lifted her arms in self-deprecation, but Will captured her hand and held it tightly. “We were both so afraid of what was developing between us, we couldn’t leave it alone. We picked at it, like a scab, until the patient finally bled to death.”
“It’s the scariest thing I know,” Will said, “loving someone.”
“Who ever would have thought Jean-Luc Picard a coward?” she wondered. “Or me, for that matter.”
Will watched her chew her lips and return her gaze to the stars. “You need to get out of here,” he said.
“Not yet.” Tears brimmed in her eyes and trembled there. “Not yet.”
“Tomorrow, then. We’re in orbit around Indehar.”
She ignored him.
“Indehar. Doesn’t that ring any bells? ‘Deuce’s Cafe’? ‘The Doghouse’?”
She closed her eyes with a thin smile.
“You need jazz, my friend, and lots of it.”
“I don’t think so, Will.”
He stood up. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”
Toward the end of Day Watch the next day, Riker lounged against the tactical station talking with Worf. Data, who was completing a survey analysis, turned and joined the discussion from science station one. The captain sat in his command chair, studying a report on his padd. The atmosphere had become one of cautious calm, like sidestepping a sleeping rattlesnake.
The forward turbo lift doors opened and Counselor Troi stepped out. She walked up the ramp, giving Picard an unconcerned glance, and nodded at Riker. She slowed momentarily at the top of the ramp, peering around Worf’s shoulder. Riker gave her a subtle acknowledging nod, and she continued on into the aft lift. Picard, who had tensed when Troi appeared on the bridge, settled back into his chair as the lift doors whispered shut.
With one leg perched on the tactical board, Riker turned casually back to his conversation. “Worf, remember our discussion about the similarities between fusion jazz and Klingon K’ baHr?”
Worf scowled in thought. “Yes. We agreed many discordant qualities were common to both music forms.”
“Before we leave Indehar, you should visit Capitol City’s jazz quarter. There are a couple of clubs there that combine fusion and K’ baHr. Very interesting.”
Worf grunted. “I would enjoy that.”
“I’m going down to a club called The Doghouse tonight. They specialize in be-bop and swing.”
Worf crossed his arms. “No offense, Commander, but I find those forms to be too sentimental for my taste.”
“Commander,” Data said, “I would be most interested in hearing contemporary renditions of swing. May I accompany you this evening?”
Riker sighed and tried to look uncomfortable. “Sorry, Data, I don’t think tonight would be a good idea.”
Data nodded. “I see. You have a ‘date’?”
“Well…” Riker scratched the back of his head. “…not exactly.”
He saw he had piqued Data’s curiosity and continued in a normal tone of voice, squelching the urge to shout at the command center. “I’m taking a friend of mine to The Doghouse tonight. She’s feeling down, and there’s nothing like a little jazz to perk a person up.”
“I see,” Data said. “Perhaps another time, Commander. I hope your friend finds the evening uplifting.”
Riker glanced over the rail at the captain’s back. “So, do I, Data.”
Riker stood outside Cabot’s door again later that evening. He’d dug around in his closet until he found the clothes he picked up on Zdred a few years ago—black, loose-fitting pants and jacket and a white cottony T-shirt—his Jazzman suit. He didn’t bother with the doorbell.
“Rae?” He rapped sharply with one knuckle.
No one answered.
After a moment, he said to the door, “Priority access. Riker, Commander William T.”
The door hissed open to darkness.
“One quarter lights,” he said, walking into the common room.
She lay curled up asleep on the sofa with her back to him—same ratty bathrobe, same corner of the couch. He wondered if she had moved from that spot all day. The plates of untouched food started to give the room a decidedly pungent aroma.
“Rachel,” he said sharply, giving her shoulder a shake. “Get up.”
She groaned and rolled over.
“Up,” he said, swinging her legs off the couch and pulling her into a sitting position.
“What are you doing?” She complained, rubbing her face. She shrugged away from his hands. “Get out of here.”
“We have a date, remember? Go take a shower.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Too bad.” He hauled her to her feet and shoved her toward the bathroom. “Do it.”
“Asshole,” she muttered, but shuffled toward the door. “Cretin.”
“Uh huh. Brush your teeth three or four times, too, while you’re at it.”
“Shut up, you Alaskan shit.”
The bathroom door hissed shut, and he could hear her throwing things around in there. Riker smiled as he started pulling clothes out of her closet.
By the time Rachel came out of her bedroom, Will had shoveled the mounds of used tissues into the disposal and recycled the smelly plates through the food slot. As he straightened the clutter, he found several books of poetry laid open to passages marked by the captain’s precise handwriting. Some of the notes were in French, some were short annotations meant to clarify ancient wording and syntax. Some were very personal, and Will snapped the books shut on those.
Rachel came out in the clothes he had selected for her—a richly patterned, short, satiny dress with long sleeves and a deeply scooped neck; translucent, black leggings; and a pair of ankle-length, low-heeled boots. She had added a pair of long, mismatched silver earrings. He congratulated himself on his taste.
“I hate you, Riker.” She scowled and fluffed her damp hair with her fingers. “You sicked Troi on me.”
“She paid you a visit?”
“You know she did, you poop-head.” Her eyes were still puffy, her nose and upper lip reddened, but steel and vinegar crept back into her bearing. “Who’s playing at The Doghouse?”
Riker grinned and steered her toward the door. “That’s my Rae.”
As soon as they blew through the club’s doors, Riker knew he’d made the right choice. A vocal quartet scatted on the small stage, backed up by heavy brass and woodwinds. The sweet-musk scent of hanji smoke mixed with perfumes, sweat and delicate coffees. A cool crowd hip-hopped on the dance floor, lounged around the encircling tables or meandered back and forth between conversations anchored by groups of eclectic, thread-bare furniture.
The club resembled other jazz joints across the galaxy. Wherever human beings went, they took their music with them. And even though jazz was a fringe preference, Riker always found it. Jazz said home to him. It wrapped him in familiar, ancient sound and set him squarely on his feet. He hoped it would do that for Rachel, too.
Standing in front of him as they broke though the front door crowd, Rachel’s shoulders relaxed. As the saxophone player blasted out a growling solo, she turned and gave Riker a sad but appreciative smile. He pointed at a few empty booths at the edge of the dance floor, and they headed that way. As Rachel settled back into the plush cushions, watching and studying the sax player, Will grabbed a server and told him what he wanted. Then, he slid in next to Cabot and let the music take over.
Help me, he blew his wig
He plays gutbucket doghouse dig
For the hide-beater on the stand
Hear that Gabriel’s growl
Break it up, Beat it out…
The quartet wove amazing patterns in hard-to-follow rhythms. Riker couldn’t help grinning at some of the clever syncopation and the old-Earth lyrics.
This canary has got a frame
And some high-jiver knows her name
Cats all friskin’ their whiskers… Ow!
I collar all jive, give me five
So I know you’re alive
In the dim you’ve arrived.
The server set a bowl of thick, steaming chowder in front of Cabot and a tall drink for Riker. Cabot glanced at Will once, then half-heartedly dipped her spoon into the soup. Riker didn’t care how sour she acted, as long as she ate the soup. From the look and smell of her quarters, all of her meals for the last three days had ended up as knick-knacks instead of food.
Cabot remained silent for nearly an hour, watching the band, tapping her fingers on the table in time with the drummer. Riker commented on the band’s style, the odd shape of the trumpet, the unusual bridge in one number, and waited for her to respond. She simply smiled in a vague, unfocused way and kept her eyes on the stage.
Slowly, she started answering Riker’s remarks, first with one or two wooden words, then with more animation. They talked about the trombone player’s style and the female vocalist’s skirts. They tried to memorize the rhythms so they could duplicate them back on the ship. They quizzed each other on the meanings of the ancient lyrics, sometimes totally stumped. During one break between sets, after they finished laughing over the drummer’s wild baton-twirler exhibition, Cabot grew quiet again.
“Thanks, Will,” she said, studying the dried remains of her soup bowl. When she looked up at him, her eyes filled and overflowed.
Riker put his arm around her neck and pulled her close. Kissing her hair, he said, “Don’t get started. You won’t be able to stop.”
Nodding, she wiped at her face. “Right.”
Back from their break, the band eased into a slow, blues number.
“How about a dance?” Riker suggested. “I think I still remember our routines from school.”
Cabot grimaced. “Jeez, we were awful. How much more embarrassing could we possibly get? You’re on.”
They found a spot on the floor, but the crowd made any fancy footwork impossible. Riker settled for an embellished two-step. Cabot followed him easily, and they only smashed each other’s toes a few times.
“I still have a day of leave left,” she told him, “but I think I’ll go back to the lab tomorrow.”
“Take your time. Don’t jump from one avoidance behavior to another.”
Rachel smiled up at him. “Your Troi is showing.”
“Yeah, well… ”
Cabot looked past his shoulder to the quartet on the stage. “Is he still avoiding her?”
“Like the plague.”
She sighed. “I hope he doesn’t keep that up for long. It’s not healthy.”
“Don’t worry. Deanna will break him down eventually.”
They danced in silence through the end of the song and well into the next. She felt comfortable and familiar in Riker’s arms. They used to dance together in the jazz clubs around Old San Francisco when they couldn’t get any dates interested in their quaint, mutual interest. They spent many hours talking while learning how to lead and follow.
Cabot looked up at him, her eyes dry at last, but sorrow clearly shading her voice “I love him.”
“I know.” He pulled her close and rested his cheek on her head. He tried to bring to mind all the things Deanna had taught him over the years, how to refrain from offering easy solutions, how to hold back from fixing the problem. It was damned hard.
Riker felt a tap on the back of his shoulder and lifted his head. Behind him stood a very determined-looking man in a black sweater and neat gray trousers. He stood patiently, waiting for Will to step away.
“Someone wants to cut in,” Will said to Rachel.
“Don’t let him,” she groaned, lifting her head from his shoulder. “I’m not…”
She froze when she saw Picard. Will watched her fight to maintain her newfound control. He slowly disengaged himself from her arms and took a step back.
“But, you can’t dance,” she said finally.
Picard took a step closer. “That’s not entirely true… like a lot of things I’ve said.”
Their eyes locked, and Riker backed out fast. As he wound through the crowd to the exit, he looked back once. Rachel and the captain were dancing cheek to cheek in a clutch that allowed no room for missteps. He smiled at Picard’s surprisingly light-footed box step.
Will walked out into Indehar’s moist, glittering night and took a deep satisfying breath. Tapping the communicator hidden inside his jacket, he called for transport back to the ship. As he materialized on the platform, he smiled at Deanna Troi waiting impatiently next to the control console. She approached him, her face a question.
“Well?” she prodded.
Riker put on a smug expression. “For someone who doesn’t approve of meddling in personal business, you’re pretty snoopy.”
Troi eyeballed him. “Come on, out with it.”
They left the chamber and headed down the corridor. Riker kept smiling and shook his head.
“I didn’t think he was ever going to show up,” he said. “What is it, twenty-two hundred hours? I know he heard me talking about the clubs this afternoon. What happened up here?”
“He was very stoic,” Troi said dryly. “Two hours of fencing followed by a massage then dinner. Thank goodness he agreed to play a game of chess with Data.”
“Data remembered, of course, that the captain was beginning to appreciate some forms of jazz. He repeated your recommendations about the clubs and your plans for the evening.” Troi grinned. “Then, Data asked the captain if ‘Lt. Cabot was feeling better.’”
Riker grimaced. “And I thought I was good at drawing conclusions. Leave it to Data. Right to the heart.”
Troi nodded thoughtfully. “Apparently so.”
They reached a corridor intersection and stopped. Grinning, Riker stuck out his hand. “Counselor,” he said, “ it’s been pleasant doing business with you.”
“Likewise, I’m sure, Commander,” Troi beamed back, slipping her hand into his. She gave it a business-like pump. “See you tomorrow.”
Riker turned down the corridor to his quarters. He stripped off the black jacket, tossed it over his shoulder and whistled the blues.
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To learn more about Rachel Cabot’s genesis and her relationship with Picard, see my notes in Heaving Bosoms.