Dani sprinkled a little pepper on her chicken alfredo. “Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve had real chicken alfredo?” She asked. She gathered some on her fork and guided it into her mouth. “Mmm,” she moaned. “Just like I remember it.”
Dani and Will were having lunch at Luigi’s, a restaurant they used to dine at when Dani was younger. Will sat across from Dani in his uniform. Dani had finally decided on a nice yellow sundress.
“You mean you haven’t had this in seven years?” Will asked. He gathered a helping of his own chicken alfredo and shoveled it into his mouth.
“Well,” Dani began after she had finished chewing, “Neelix tried his hand at it once, but it didn’t quite turn out as desired. And you know replicated food never tastes as good as the real thing. So I guess I haven’t had it.”
“I couldn’t imagine it,” Will said. “So, how did you end up on Voyager anyway?” Will asked, taking another sip of his drink. “I didn’t think Voyager was supposed to house civilians.”
“It wasn’t. And I wasn’t supposed to be on board. I sneaked onboard.”
Will nearly choked on his drink. “You what?”
“I sneaked onboard. It was a stupid thing to do, I know.”
“You’re damn right, it was stupid,” Will accosted. “Do you know how much trouble stowaways can get into?”
“I know. I’ve already had this lecture. From both parents. My mother says they aren’t bringing charges against me.”
Will softened a bit. “I can’t say I blame them. Seven years away from Earth against your own will…that’s punishment enough.”
“I was just a kid. I was looking for adventure. I didn’t know what I was doing.” Dani twirled some pasta around her fork playfully. “I’m kind of glad I was onboard, though. I don’t think I could have made it through seven years without my parents. And it wasn’t all bad. We had some good times, too.” She allowed her mind to wander back to Voyager for a moment before pulling herself back from the past. She looked at Will. “You know, I still haven’t gotten used to these new uniforms, yet.”
“Just like I haven’t gotten used to seeing you as a woman,” Will said.
Dani could feel herself blush. “The change isn’t that dramatic, Will.”
“You don’t see it because you’ve seen yourself everyday. I haven’t. You left a girl and came back…astonishing.”
“So, what are you saying? I was an ugly kid?”
“No,” said Will, laughing. “No. Not at all. You were cute as a button. But now…man, the guys are gonna get a look at you and go wild.”
At that one statement, Dani felt like someone had just kicked her chair out from under her. He wasn’t interested in her, at least not romantically. Not if he was talking about how other guys were going to react to her.
‘What were you expecting?’ Dani asked herself. ‘You really thought he would be interested in you? Did you forget about Counselor Troi, dummy?’
She didn’t hear anything else he said until Will called her back from where ever she’d been.
“Dani?” Will said. “Dani? Are you okay?” Dani turned her attention back to Will.
‘Pull it together, Dani,’ she thought to herself. ‘It’s rejection; deal with it. Well, no – it’s not really rejection, if no one-‘
“You look a little under the weather,” Will said. He looked worried.
Dani blinked a few times. “I’m fine.”
“Are you sure? I can take you back to your apartment, if you want,” Will offered.
“No.” Dani pasted a smile on her face. “I’m fine, really.”
“Right,” Will said. “Well, anyway, I was thinking that maybe Saturday, we could go play tennis at the Academy.”
“Yeah, that’d be great,” Dani said. “But I’ve got to warn you – I’m a little out of practice. I haven’t played in a few weeks.”
“A few weeks? I haven’t played in a few years.”
“Well, then, we should be evenly matched. You’d probably be a lot better than me if you played as often as I did. You’re probably still loads better than I am.”
“I guess the only way to see will be when we play on Saturday.”