‘I use to come here,’ Jesse confessed, ‘when I had the time and opportunity.’
‘The vaulted hand painted ceiling,’ Princess gazed up, ‘are amazing. I’m glad you chose to share it with me.’
‘Well, shucks,’ Captain Rigel looked embarrassed at the praise, ‘I’m just glad it survived Spectra. It’d be a shame to see such a beautiful building in ruins.’
‘I bet it’s the last picture theatre left on the planet,’ Princess teased easily, delighted by his reaction.
He didn’t blush easily, or at least Princess hadn’t seen Captain Jesse Rigel blush this much in the three weeks they’d been seeing each other. Recently the young woman noticed he took every back handed complement personally. In fact he seemed to look for them. It made Princess’s heart beat just a little faster when he responded to her words.
Their dates had become more public this week. Initially trapped at Centre Neptune, they’d watched old movies in the corner of the library dubbed “Jesse’s Theatre” for a couple of days. Chief Anderson made a media spectacle of their discovery. Jesse insisted they stay local when he’d been given his freedom. Media interest in the returned Thunderbird team kept them busy until the furore died down. He’d managed to keep seeing the young woman despite the restrictions.
In those first precious days of freedom they all hung out in the J. Occasionally disappearing to watch a film together, eventually Jesse and Princess ventured outside. Living on land purchased by the ISO, Mark’s airfield, Tiny’s seaside shack and Jason’s caravan existed within a kilometre of the Snack’s back door. It gave the young couple space to be alone, take long walks or watch the sunset on the beach. Earlier in the week, Jesse took Princess out to a restaurant and held her hand as they sat across the table from each other. Princess couldn’t help feeling something important changed in their relationship.
Gasping theatrically, Jesse held out his hand to help his companion from her seat. ‘It’s not a picture theatre,’ he admonished, ‘it’s a grand old Lady. Just think about what she’s seen in her three hundred years.’
‘If only the walls could talk,’ Princess mocked, threading her arm through Jesse’s as they walked out, ‘imagine what they would say.’
Until this moment, Jesse managed to keep his growing feelings for the woman at his side under control. As usual, Kallan placed the idea in his head. At the time he took up the suggestion, Jesse felt lonely and the young woman offered friendship. Understanding the age gap and her unrequited emotions for her commander, he’d acted like a perfect gentleman. Right at this minute he didn’t feel like a perfect gentleman.
‘Oh, shoot,’ he muttered under his breath.
Up to now, he’d kept Princess’s innocents in mind. Jesse acted as the friend and confident she’d needed. This week, he’d changed, his feelings changed toward the woman at his side. Unable to contain his emotions, Jesse pulled Princess over to a darkened corner.
‘I want these walls,’ he needed to give her time to realise what he intended, ‘to have something else to talk about,’
‘I wondered,’ she replied with a cheeky grin, ‘what it would take for you to kiss me properly.’
Suspecting Princess hadn’t been caressed by a man, Jesse slowed his movements. He didn’t want to frighten her. Pushing his date further into the wall, he moved his body closer. Tormenting the girl, she looked up into his eyes as he finally allowed the full body contact he craved. Leaning down, Jesse brushed his lips over Princess’s. Pulling back to see her response, a smile covered his face.
‘Never been kissed?’ he asked. As much as his body requested he pick up the pace, Jesse knew he’d need to take this very slowly, considering Princess’s inexperience.
Shaking her head, she blushed beautifully. Wanting to say something, anything to ease the moment, Jesse gave in to his instincts. Reaching a hand to her cheek, he touched her like fine porcelain. She looked so delicate yet he knew the strength her body held. Leaning in, this time Princess accepted the slight pressure. Jesse nibbled, requesting she open her mouth.
‘Hey, I recognise that man,’ the shout came from across the foyer.
Reluctantly pushing away, Jesse whispered, ‘we’ll finish this later. Right now we need to get out of here.’
Regret flowed from Princess’s green eyes. Giving her agreement, Jesse grabbed her hand. Pushing through the stragglers milling in the foyer, they almost made it to the door.
‘Look,’ came another voice from behind them, ‘he’d got a girlfriend. Quick, get a photo.’
Since Chief Anderson announced finding the Thunderbird team drifting in space, the world couldn’t get enough of them or the positive morel they incited. A story about being cryogenically frozen on their last mission had been circulated. No one questioned the ISO being able to miraculously bring them back to life from a hundred year stasis. It made going out in public difficult. With his tall, lean form and red hair, Jesse became instantly recognisable, even out of uniform.
Forcing Princess behind him, Jesse prepared to get them out. At Acrology he could walk about unmolested. Everyone knew it to be the home of the five Thunderbird Pilots and gave them a certain amount of privacy. It’d been part of the reason Kallan and Dylan’s romance went unnoticed.
He’d experienced this kind of pressure from tourists or when away from his home base. While he couldn’t care less about the media intrusion, Princess needed to keep her cover as part of G-force. One photo and the media would find the identity of the girl lucky enough to capture the eye of Captain Rigel. It wouldn’t take much to link Princess’s movements to the Swan’s, or the Thunderbird team who now swooped in and helped restore destroyed cities.
Swearing under his breath, Jesse hadn’t thought through the ultimate ramifications of going out in public for the first time. At least the mood lighting in the restaurant hid their faces enough so they hadn’t been recognised. Tonight shattered his illusions of a normal life. Somewhere in the last week he’d fallen, hard. The wakeup call, rude and timely, he knew what he had to do.
‘Jesse to G1,’ he opened the channel, whispering into his communicator.
‘Yes,’ the terse reply came back, barely audible over the background noise.
‘Get on you bike and go,’ Jesse ordered Princess as they rushed out of the theatre. ‘G3 may have been compromised,’ he tried to concentrate on the conversation with Mark. ‘I’m sending her to you. Inform the Chief I’ve got media trouble and need extraction.’
‘Acknowledged,’ Mark’s tone implied his anger, ‘Princess get to the airfield unescorted by the media.’
‘Yes, commander,’ she agreed but the look of disappointment on her face told Jesse he’d never get that kiss.
‘Good bye,’ he stated forlornly, watching the girl disappear on her motorbike. Turning to face the crowd, he plastered a smile on his face.
‘It is,’ someone called, ‘it is Captain Jesse Rigel. Quick son, get an autograph on your ticket. I’ll take a photo. No one at your school will believe it when you show them tomorrow.’
Hiding his frustration, Jesse waved the young boy over. Placing a hand around his shoulders, Captain Rigel smiled for the electronic device and signed the ticket. Glancing up he noted the line waiting to meet a man who should have died years ago. It gave the people of Earth hope and it gave Princess the opportunity to get away.