Like mother, like daughter... but if her mom is Zoë Malvison... look out!

 

Like Mother, Like Daughter

By:  M. J. Cogburn and C. E. Krawiec  

 

 

As Amy, Sharla and Karen stood and started to where Quinton was sitting, Tala bit her lip, wondering if her friends were going to bother Quinton during his first meal.  When they didn't, just walking by, Tala slid a look toward him as he took a bite of the chicken fried steak and looked up at her.  Seeing him nod with a slight grin, Tala smiled back at him and nodded back to him.  As she turned to follow her friends, she turned back to look at Quinton to see him take another bite of his dinner and closing his eyes to savor the taste.  'Thank you,' she thought to him gratefully as she followed her friends out of the cafeteria.

 

PART ONE 

 

After finishing breakfast, during which he had given careful thought as to how to best spend the unexpected free day, Max surprised himself when he chose to spend it outside.  Returning to his quarters, he had changed from the casual attire into sturdier attire, thick socks and boots suitable to the cold, damp weather. Grabbing his heavy winter coat, knit cap and gloves, the young Englishman had headed out.  He didn't bother with taking something to eat, only a small Thermos bottle of coffee.

 

Growing up at his Aunt Josephine's house in the English countryside, Max had learned to love the outdoors which had, in turn, led him to discover his innate ability with plants which, ultimately, led him to his chosen profession as a gardener.  Even during the coldest of winters, Max enjoyed tramping through the woods or long walks across the fields.  When he came to the island, it hadn't taken him long to get back into the habit of long walks, though he had to content himself with the confines of limitations of the small island.  In the end, it hadn't mattered; the walks gave him what he needed most at those times, namely freedom from the confines of the complex proper, even if only for a few hours.  A little cold weather wasn't enough to prevent him the chance of getting away from everyone for a little while.

 

He had spent the greater part of the afternoon following his favorite path of the several he had memorized.  The terrain was mildly challenging and he had reached one of the island's three small beaches about a half hour after 'taking the hard way' to get there.  It turned out to be the beach most exposed to the weather and he had walked in the hard blustering wind just thinking and looking out over the water.

 

By four-thirty Max had returned to the complex, feeling refreshed and invigorated and thoroughly worked out.  A hot shower and a nap followed his return, both of which had him in a right good to mingle with the masses on Level Two.

 

It was after eight o'clock when Max and couple of acquaintances he'd bumped into in the restaurant exited the establishment.  One of his friends, Hal Gaiters, tried to get Max to join him and Dan Carlyle for the rest of the evening.  Max was wavering and about to agree to joining them when he happened to look around and see a sight that dismissed his friends' attempts to get him to join them.

 

"Sorry guys," Max told them, a gleam coming into his eyes at the sight of a certain familiar -and at the moment solitary--redhead. "I've just acquired another engagement. And don't take this wrong, guys, but I'd way rather spend time with her than you two."  He just grinned when Marty Smith had come back with, "What's she got that three of you best buds don't have?"

 

Max had only grinned as he started in the direction of one Tala Lothoman. "Well, for starters, she's a lot prettier to look at than any of you chaps."  He hadn't looked back once, just grinning wider to himself at the few comments that followed him as he smoothly wended his way amongst the evening crowds. 

 

Luck seemed to be on Max's side as he managed to approach Tala, standing for a moment and talking with, he supposed, a friend, without her catching sight of him.  He was within a few feet of her when she turned and, when she saw him, Max turned on the charm as he came close to her.

 

"Good evening, Miss Tala," he greeted her warmly.  "What a lovely surprise to find you here this evening."

 

Tala smiled as Max walked up to her even though inwardly she groaned.  She didn't want to appear as if she didn't want to be unapproachable.  "Hello, Max."  She turned back toward her friend to see that Janet had mysteriously vanished from her side.  'Great, just leave me alone, Janet.  Wait until I see you again!'

 

Tala turned back around to Maxwell Robinson.  "How are you doing this evening?" she asked pleasantly as she took a few steps away from the shop that she had just come out of.

 

"I'm doing just great.  I had the most relaxing day.  This unexpected day off gave me a chance to do some thinking."

 

"Oh?" Tala questioned as they started to walk down the breezeway of the second level between the shopping areas. 

 

"I wanted to talk with you about..."

 

"Ms. Tala?"  Another masculine tone rang in the air and Tala turned to see Andrew Stockard coming up the way that they had just come.  She stopped as she watched the gardener slightly jog up toward her.

 

Andy had thought that it was luck when he had seen the auburn hair beauty walking down the breezeway.  He had been wanting to spend a few quality minutes with the lovely redhead, but he hadn't had the opportunity throughout the day -- except when he had seen her earlier.  He had wanted some alone time with her and when she turned as well as her companion -- Maxwell Robinson -- he wasn't going to let the Englishman have the young beauty for himself.

 

"How's your day been since I saw you earlier in the day?" Andy asked carefully.

 

Tala glanced over at Max then back to Andy.  "It's been good, thanks Andy.  Having a girls day out, is fun -- and much needed."

 

Andy nodded to her comment.  "Sometimes spending a day with friends and not doing much of anything is good," he offered, his tone light.  "Gives you a chance to blow off steam from the work week."  He noticed how one of Tala's eyebrows quirked higher at the comment.  He took as a sign that she understood what he meant, rather than what was actually running through Tala Lothoman's mind as she stood there, framed between him and Max.

 

A week?  Try just the last three days!  Practically EVERY time I've turned around...there stands one of you! The words that actually came out of Tala's mouth instead were carefully chosen, but not as carefully as Tala schooled her tone to keep it generally pleasant.

 

"Very true," she replied.  "This week has been *especially* trying, I can tell you," she said, dividing a look between the two young men.  She hoped one or the other...preferably both of them would catch the hint.  Neither did.

 

Max had held his tongue when he'd heard his friend call out to Tala a moment earlier. ‘Dammit!’ he fumed silently as he'd mirrored Tala as she turned back to acknowledge Andy Stockard's presence. ‘Andy, pal,’ he thought, nodding briefly to the other man. ‘Friendship is all well and good, but this business of you showing up every time I get near Tala is getting old and fast!’  It was hearing Tala's last, to Max's way of thinking, less than subtly disguised hint in her comment, that decided for Max Robinson that it was time to speak up.

 

"Excuse me, Andy," Max said, moving to Tala's side in such a way that left no doubt where his mind was set. "I'm sure we're glad to know you've had a great day off, but," now Max took the liberty of casually sliding one arm behind Tala's waist and holding her lightly to his side. "In case you hadn't notice, Miss Tala and I were having a conversation."  Fixing his friend with a pointed look - that was returned in equal accessing measure-- Max missed seeing the way Tala's lips pursed tightly as she rolled her eyes.

 

Andy hadn't missed her reaction; instead, he misread the clear signs that a temper was starting to brew and it wasn't his nor his friends.

 

Nodding slightly with his head toward Tala, Andy refused to take the dismissal Max was handing him. "Doesn't look to me like she agrees with you."

 

Max turned quickly to Tala and, seeing what Andy mentioned, he put a different spin on the situation.  Turning back to the other man, he said impatiently, "You're a great gardener, Andrew, but when it comes to taking subtle cues on when to back off when a guy's trying to have some time alone with a girl, you're as dense as they come!"  He tightened his hold on Tala's waist, his gaze still fixed hard on Andy. "In that case, I'll spell it out for you, pal.  Get lost.  The lady and I......"

 

"Get lost?!" Andy Stockard said a bit more heatedly than he meant to.  He couldn't believe what his friend and co-worker was telling him.  He took a step toward the man to see Max’s arm drop from behind Tala and flex slightly at his side. 

 

Andy met Max's gaze knowing exactly what he wanted to do to the man before him, but a recent memory of the beach with Maxwell Robinson and Quinton Sylvane was enough to stop the young man from even thinking about throwing a punch, so he'd settle with a verbal assault.  "If Ms. Tala wants to go with you, I don't have a qualm about it, Max, but it's totally up to her if you are who she wants to spend the evening with."  Breaking his gaze with Maxwell as he turned slightly to Tala, Andy saw Max take a step toward him and he stayed put, wanting to show Tala that he wasn't afraid of the man before him.  "Tala, if you'd like to see a movie, I have an extra ticket to one of the best films out.  I'd gladly share it with you."

 

Friends, of any duration, are bound to fall into disagreements from time to time, some more than others. Andy Stockard and Max Robinson hadn't been any exception to that given, though most of their disagreements and arguments rarely went beyond "one-upping" each other. Those arguments eventually ended without rancour.  That, however, wasn't the case at this moment. Right this moment, Max's generally unpushable buttons were being jammed by the one person he'd never thought would do so.

 

"Don't you think that's kind of tacky?" Max asked bluntly.  His gaze didn't flinch when Andy Stockard pivoted to face him.

 

"What do mean by that?" Andy responded, keeping his voice level.  He had no intention of making a scene in the middle of mall concourse.

 

Max stepped up to his friend, raking the other man up and down with an assessing gaze then looked into his eyes again.  "Do you always walk around with "an extra ticket" in your pocket for just such occasions?"

 

Andy Stockard's face began to darken, drawing himself up straight, his chin tilting a bit in reaction to the sting of the question.  "Not that it's any of your business, Max, but no, I don't.  I just happened to get pick up the tickets earlier this afternoon. Just never got around to stopping at my place to drop them off."  The tone of the other man's expression was the last straw. "Whatever you've got to say, Max, say it or just shut up and leave Ms. Tala alone. She'll make up her own mind."

 

‘Leave it alone?’  Not so long as there was a drop of blood in Maxwell Robinson's veins he refused to be patronized.  "Me?!" Now Max took one more step into Andy Stockard's face and his space, pushing his face at him.  "If you'll back up my friend rethink, you're the one who horned in." He didn't know that as the words left his mouth, he was taking his first steps along a path of his heritage.  "Ms. Tala and I were enjoying a conversation that...who knows...might have led to us having a nice evening together.  Face it, Andy, she was with the man she wanted to be with tonight until you came along."

 

This was a side of his friend that he had never seen before, but it wasn't about to cow Andrew Stockard into slinking away with his tail between his legs.  "Are you sure she wasn't just being polite?"

 

Max's temper reading continued to rise.  "I don't know how you were raised, Mister Stockard, but I was brought up to recognize when a lady prefers not to share company with me.  I was also taught that it's ill manners to barge into a private conversation, and I can tell you that before you stuck your nose into the conversation, Tala and I were very likely headed to a pleasant evening."

 

"You pompous prig!" Andy shot back, planting his hands on Max's chest and shoving him hard.  "How could she possibly have a good evening with a bull-headed jackass that doesn't know when to stop braying because nobody's listening to him in the first place?"

 

Had either Max or Andy paused for a moment to look around, both would have been surprised to discover that their unexpected confrontation did, in fact, have a good number of listeners.  A dozen or more people had drawn closer, unwittingly forming a sort of circle around the two men.  Most watched with amusement, some just shook their heads but were to interested to leave without seeing how the "spat" was going to turn out.  However, the pretty redhead trapped by the circle of people ooing and awing, had come to a conclusion about the infuriating, utterly exasperating situation of which she knew she was the Constantly being politely accosted by one or the other or both of them for the last three days had tried her temper sorely, yet she'd managed...just barely...to keep a tight hold on it...but no longer.  As the seconds passed and it looking like her two most persistent suitors were about to come to blows, Tala Lothoman let go of her reined in temper.  Yet it wasn't in the way most would have thought.  What she didn't realize was that she was mirroring the mother she'd never known until recently.  It was like putting on a familiar glove and it fit perfectly!

 

Tala Lothoman felt the fury bubble up from within and she dropped her head forward for a moment before she pushed between the two men who looked like they were about to hit each other.  She didn't care that it was a stupid move.  She couldn't take it anymore. 

 

"Precisely!" she said hotly as she pushed them apart, keeping them a perfect arms length from her with her in the very middle of the circle. She looked between the two; Andy looking satisfied that she had taken his side and Max looking at her open mouthed. 

 

"See, you aren't..."

 

"Shut up, Andy!" she shouted at him.

 

"And you aren't eith..."

 

"Shut up, Max!" she returned to him as well.  "Here I am standing in the middle of two braying jackasses.  It's just a bunch of damn noise, letting all of these bystanders wonder what the hell is going on!"  It was at that point that she saw how both men began to glance around at who had circled them.  "I've had it!  I've had enough of this obvious competition!  I’m not a prize to be won!  For the past three days, I've done by best to be patient, to be kind, but you two are just too damn much.  So, you know what?!  You two can go to eat dinner!  You two can go to the movies!  I'm not interested."

 

It was in that moment that the elevator chimed and opened and Tala saw the third suitor come out, frown and start toward the crowd that was already around them.  She was about to throw up her hands in despair when she remembered how Quinton had acted the other day with his meal, and how she could easily get out of her present situation.

 

"Tala... I was," Max started.

 

"Ms. Tala, please, I didn't mean," Andy began.

 

Tala looked at both of them with a glare that stopped them from saying anything else.  "Did you not hear what I said?"  It was in that moment that Quinton stepped up to the circle and Tala met his eyes.  "Quinton!"

 

PART TWO

 

When he'd made eye contact with Tala Lothoman for a moment as she and her friends departed the cafeteria, Quint Sylvane's thoughts had wandered but only for a moment.  Nodding politely to her, he had resumed leisurely enjoying his food.  Later, true to what he'd told the cashier, not a single bite on his loaded tray went wasted.  So true was that, that when Quint eventually got up from the table, he'd just grinned sheepishly when a large belch escaped him, causing the busboy who had arrived to clear the table laughed.

 

"Sorry about that," he began then recanted his words.  "No, I'm not either sorry.  It's been too long since the last time I was able to do that."

 

Not even the sound of a grandmotherly appearing woman saying bluntly, "Apparently not long enough ago that you remember to pardon yourself."

 

"No ma'am," was all he'd said before strolling out of the cafeteria feeling nicely stuffed, his only plan being a quiet evening in his quarters.  That plan had been waylayed when he'd encountered some other work cohorts and allowed them to drag him off for a couple of hours at one of the few bars in the complex.

 

"Aw come on, Quint," David Cesar had ragged him.  "You turning into an old fogey?  It's barely eight-thirty." He nudge another guy, adding with a grin, "Whatsa matter, "gramps"?  You afraid you're gonna miss your bedtime milk and cookies if you don't get home before ten?"

 

Quint gave David a shove, amidst a chorus of laughter from the bar's patrons who had been watching them shoot pool.

 

"You'll never know one way or the other, man," Quint had returned in like kind as he headed for the door.  "Besides, there's milk and cookies and then there is "milk and cookies."

 

He departed the bar on a wave of laughter, his own included, and headed down the walkway that intersected with the main concourse.  He really did want to turn in early but David's teasing had lit the fuse on a certain thought in Quint's mind.  A fuse that his stomach wasn't sure of but his tastebuds were oh so ready to indulge.

 

"What the heck," he murmured under his breath as he reached the intersection with the main concourse and turned right.  "The ice cream shop is close to the elevators.  Maybe just one scoop of carmel fudge swirl."  Yet the mouthwatering mental image of his favorite ice cream was forgotten when he saw a large group of people clustered around something or someone about a hundred feet ahead of him.

 

Off duty or no, Quint's security training kicked in and he rushed forward, pushing his way through the people to reach the interior of the circle.  His gaze fell first upon Maxwell Robinson and Quint's temper started to rise, but he clamped down on it.  He was more than a bit surprised to see Max's opponent was Andy Stockard.

 

‘You've got one friend in the whole complex and now you're fightin' him?’ the thought darted through Quint's mind.  ‘If you...’ whatever else had been about to cross his mind vanished when he heard his name called, loud and clear.

 

"Quinton!"

 

Quinton scanned the crowd around him then looked to the three people who were the center of attention.  His eyebrows arched high when, this time, he knew whom had summoned him.  "Uhm...yes, ma'am?" he queried carefully.  "Can I help you, Ms. Tala?"

 

"Yes. What are you doing?"

 

"Doing?"

 

"Yes, Quinton, what are you doing?" she questioned him as she started toward him, slightly pushing away Max and Andy's arms in the process. 

 

Quinton's gaze flickered to the two men standing there looking at him irritatedly but his gaze quickly went to the woman approaching him.  "I was about to go get some ice cream, Ms. Tala."

 

Tala's head slightly tilted at the idea of ice cream.  "What kind were you thinking of getting?" she asked her voice softer, silkier as she made it to his side.

 

"Carmel Fudge Swirl," he said simply as he smiled at her.  "It's my favorite."  A tittering whisper began running through the crowd around them and Tala purposefully ignored it.

 

Tala smiled back up at him.  "That sounds so good, Quinton.  Tell me, is my raincheck for dessert still open?" 

 

"Whenever you want it Ms. Tala, it's yours," he said simply as he glanced back up to the two men who were now standing there with their mouths slightly open staring at what they were seeing playing out before them.

 

Tala didn't even bother looking at Maxwell Robinson and Andrew Stockard.  She locked her eyes on Quinton's and muttered softly, "Delicious.  How about we have some Carmel Fudge Swirl... just the two of us?  Would you mind or do you have other plans?"

 

Quinton smiled down at Tala, tightening his arm against his side, holding her in place, her arm twined with his.  "Oh, no ma'am.  No other plans.  I'd be delighted to share with you," Quinton said, his voice dipping lower slightly.

 

"Lead the way, Quint," Tala said softly as she put her other hand on his arm and they started away.

 

Turning carefully, Quinton guided Tala out of the whispering amused circle of avoided mayhem and, as it turned out right past the staring and annoyed Andy and Max.  At the last moment as he allowed Tala to precede him, Quinton couldn't resist the temptation. Turning just enough to make eye contact with the two men still staring disbelievingly after them he said softly yet loud enough to reach them, "Yes, ma'am, Ms. Tala.  After all, a gentlemen never argues with a lady."

 

 

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