One semester down. Things were looking up for Dani. She’d made one enemy, but had more friends than she could count. Both her mother and Will had been right about the guy situation. She practically had to beat them away with sticks. She had Will, though, and he was all she wanted. She had the feeling she had aced (or at least come away with a B) in all her classes. So did her friends, which is why they all decided to take a celebratory camping trip the night of the final final.
“You guys have got to be kidding me,” Dani said. Sitting on a rock, she watched as her four companions passed around a bottle of Romulan ale. “Where’d you get that?”
“Hey,” said Kyle Hicks, “I’ve got my resources.” Dani had met Kyle through Emery. Emery and Kyle had grown up together and were close friends.
Dani watched Kyle’s blonde hair reflect the light of the fire. “That’s the real stuff?” Dani asked.
Kyle looked at her with green eyes. “None other.”
“Do you know how much trouble you could get into if you got caught with that?” Dani wasn’t scolding. Not this time. She’d developed a reputation as a mother hen, the one always warning others of hidden dangers and scolding others for wrong-doing. This time it was more of a warning.
“That’s why we’re not going to get caught,” Kyle said removing the bottle’s top and taking a large swig.
“We?” Dani said.
“We,” Kyle said. He passed the ale to Svetlana Bidkana, who was sitting beside him. Svetlana was from the Ukraine. She was a classic East European beauty, at 5′ 9″ with short dark hair and dark eyes to match. “Don’t be shy with it, girls,” Kyle was saying. “There’s plenty more where that came from.” Kyle placed the bag he’d brought with him into plain view so that the contents were visible. Inside the bag were four more large bottles of Romulan ale, a bottle of kanaar, a bottle of Saurian brandy, and smaller bottles of whiskey.
“Damn, Kyle,” Rane Skara said. “You think you brought enough?” Rane was Bajoran. She was part of the wave that had started joining Starfleet after Bajor had become a Federation member.
Lura Lopez smiled. “It’s plenty.” Lura had grown up in Mexico. She and Rane were roommates. Like Kyle, she had a taste for alcohol.
Kyle started to pass out the various liquors. He looked at Dani. “What’s your pleasure?”
“Got any water?” Dani asked.
“Water? How are you going to get drunk with that?”
“Well, I know this may come as a total shock to some of you, but I’m not out here to get drunk.” The other four cadets looked at Dani as if she were crazy. “I just came out here to relax.”
Kyle nodded. “Well,” he said. “In that case, I suggest you have the kanaar.” He handed the bottle of green liquid to Dani.”
Dani looked at it for a few seconds. “Anybody got any glasses?”
“Oh, come on Dani!” Kyle exclaimed.
“Okay…what about cups?”
“Just swig it, for Pete’s sake!”
Dani looked down at the bottle of kanaar in her hands. She uncapped it and apprehensively placed the bottle’s opening to her lips, as her companions began to chant ‘Dani, Dani, Dani.’ Without another thought, she tilted the bottle and let a significant amount of the liquid flow into her mouth. She instantly regretted it. It was horrid.
As soon as the stuff was down her throat, she said, “Oh my God, that’s horrible!”
Kyle smiled. “It’s an acquired taste.”
“Ugh, who would want to learn to like that?” Dani asked, trying her best to forget the taste of the kanaar.
“Cardassians,” Kyle dead panned, as he received the bottle of kanaar from Dani. He took a drink from it and reached into the bag again. As he pulled out another bottle, he said, “Try this one.” He handed it to Dani and told her it was Saurian brandy. “You’ll probably find it more to your liking.”
Dani uncapped it and took a sip. She found that it was remarkably better than the kanaar. “Thanks,” she said.
“So, what’s in store for you for the winter break?” Kyle asked.
“Nothing spectacular,” Dani revealed. “Going back to Indiana to spend Christmas and New Year’s with my parents.”
“Are you going to see Will?” Svetlana inquired.
“No. The Enterprise won’t be anywhere near this system.”
“You can’t go see him?” Rane asked.
“I don’t think so.”
“You two seem really serious,” Lura said.
“I guess we are,” Dani said. “So many people said it would never get this far.”
“Are you getting married?” Svetlana asked.
“No, we’re not that serious, yet.”
“How long have you been dating?” Lura asked.
“Five and a half months.”
“That’s a long freakin’ time to be with one person,” Kyle said. “Especially for a guy like Commander Riker.”
“I think you’ve had enough to drink, Kyle,” Rane said warningly.
“He’s not like that,” Dani said in response to Kyle’s remark.
“How do you know?” Kyle pressed.
“Are you with him 24/7?”
“Kyle,” Rane said in a warning tone. She sounded like a teacher talking to a student.
Kyle continued despite Rane’s tone. “You’re not even with him every week.”
“Kyle!” Rane boomed. She looked at Dani apologetically. “Don’t pay any attention to him Dani. He’s obviously drunk already.”
Dani acknowledged Rane, but took her statement to be untrue. Dani knew that Kyle wasn’t drunk, yet. He knew what he was saying.
“You know, Kyle didn’t mean what he said tonight about Will,” Rane said quietly to Dani, who lay next to her in the tent they shared. Rane was worried that Dani’s feelings had been hurt, or that her ego had been bruised, by Kyle’s words. She fluffed her pillow a few times as she prepared for bed.
“Yes he did,” Dani said, facing the wall of the tent with her back to Rane.
“Dani, he was drunk.”
“No. He wasn’t drunk. He wasn’t completely sober, but he knew what he was saying.”
“He was just saying what everyone else was thinking.”
Rane sat up on her elbow, and Dani continued. She finally rolled over to face Rane. “It isn’t as if I don’t trust him. I already know his history, and I’m well aware of his reputation,” Dani said.
“Aren’t you afraid that he will cheat?”
Dani sat all the way up and leaned back on the palms of her hands. “When we first got together, Will told me that he would never intentionally hurt me. I believed him. I still do.” She looked at Rane. “If we don’t have trust, Rane, it won’t work, regardless of how strongly we may feel for each other.”
Rane laid back down in her sleeping bag. “Well, long-distance relationships are difficult, no matter who the couple is. No matter how much you trust or love each other, it’s a strain.”
Dani laid back down, as well, taking in what Rane had just said. It was true. Long distance relationships were difficult to maintain. Though she had communicated with him via subspace, she hadn’t seen him in person in a little over four months. Despite the communications, she sensed a gap forming between her and Will that couldn’t be bridged by a subspace channel, and suddenly, she was the one who was having doubts about their relationship.
The next morning, the campers woke up with headaches all around. Even Dani’s head was humming just a little, even though she’d only had half a bottle of Saurian brandy. If that stuff did it for her, she could only imagine what her companions’ heads must feel like. The early morning sunlight must hurt, even.
As Dani and Rane packed away their tent and other belongings, Dani thought about the conversation she’d had with the Bajoran woman the night before, as they were drifting off to sleep. She watched as Kyle picked up the numerous empty liquor bottles that littered the campsite. They had done some serious drinking last night. The bottles were all empty. Someone had even finished up the Saurian brandy that Dani had been unable to finish off.
Kyle approached Dani with an armful of empty bottles. “Dani? I just wanted to apologize for what I said last night,” he said. “I just-”
Dani waved his apology off. “No. Don’t worry about it. You were well within your rights to say what you said, and the questions weren’t exactly unwarranted. You’re a good friend, Kyle. I know what you were trying to say.”
Kyle nodded, glad that things hadn’t gone sour between him and Dani, and the group continued to pack.
Dani looked up into the bleachers. Will was looking right at her, it seemed, although there was no way she could see his face clearly from where she was standing. But she didn’t have to see him looking at her to know that he was. She could feel it. Dani’s heart ached, because she still loved him. She remembered that even though she hadn’t been able to see Will during the winter break, she had been able to see him during the spring break. And what a spring break it had been…