Coffee is always good. Really.
But you know what they say about far away hills being greener? It's true.
Her coffee looks nicer.
So does her chair. And her hair, incidentally. And that *cute* little blue top.
And her man.
Sighing into my coffee, I realise that I have no comparison for this, and it only makes me feel worse. Drinking another mouthful, I try to quell the jealousy I feel rising in my throat. I had no right to feel this way, no right at all. He's not mine. Despite what he said, he's not mine. Colonel Jack O'Neill is no woman's man.
Although – I think, looking up again – she does seem to have some sort of power over him. She's saying something, smiling, gesturing vaguely with her hands, and he's smiling too. In time with her. A tempo. Guess when you've known a person for a good length of time you tend to grow on each other.
I knew her, of course. We had met briefly that time at the hospital, the time he had been duplicated. I still hadn't figured out *how*, but you have to look past these things, past the chance to learn something you didn't know before, and could never hope to again. I remember crying and not knowing quite why. Going home and having to get Danny to call him to check that everything was okay.
Leaving my mug on the table and catching the attention of one of the young waitress', I gazed out the café window again.
Across the mall, in the decidedly more comfortable – yet much more expensive – coffee lounge, there was a window seat. And at this seat sat Jack O'Neill… and a woman. And they were definitely past the first name thing.
The waitress finally came to me and swapped my mug for a fresh cappuccino, swiping a cloth across a small spill and winking. I thanked her, waited for her to leave, and grabbed the new mug.
This was good. In truth, I could do with something stronger, but I was being foster Mom to a child that was, essentially, an alien and that just wouldn't go down well with the `authorities'.
Turning back to my current topic of interest, I watched him crack a joke. I could tell it was one by the way she laughed. He merely smiled. Only it wasn't *just* a smile. Shifting in my seat, I studied him as closely as I could from this distance.
The smile was a genuine `happy' smile. His whole face was smiling, not just his mouth. His eyes… I could *read* his eyes. The joke hadn't made him laugh; it was probably one of the oldest in the book. What had made *him* smile was the simple delight of having made *her*
He was always like that. No regard for himself, as long as everyone he cared for was safe and sound.
And she was obviously someone he cared about very much.
I felt the jealousy rise again and very nearly burned my tongue in the process of killing it with cappuccino. Then I nearly dropped the mug. Coughing, I yanked a napkin from the pile and covered my mouth with it. I could feel the gazes of nearby customers on my back, but was too busy trying not to choke to be bothered by them.
Then I realised that he was looking out the window.
I froze in place; my vision telescoping in until the shoppers passed in a blur and all I could see was him. Peripherally, or whatever was left of that part of my eye, I realised that she had left the table and he was on his own. His gaze wandered lazily across the mall - the fountain, the flowerbed, the balloon stand – I could tell which was which. The cake store, the shoe shop, the book counter… my café.
I went rigid this time, and I'm sure the waitress - and whoever else was watching me – wondered about my health.
Then he looked at me.
With a napkin over my mouth, cappuccino up to my ears and staring at him like I was crazy.
And he looked away.
My throat remembered its cruel abuse, and started contracting again, forcing me to turn back to my table. More worried about my appearance now, I rubbed off the stray foam with my napkin and tried to seem in control. Placing my hands on the table, palms down, I flexed my fingers a few times and took a deep breath.
The waitress was indeed looking at me, frowning worriedly through her glasses. I nodded and smiled, trying to assure her that I wasn't about to cause trouble for them. She smiled dubiously and nodded, turning back to whatever task earned her bread.
I turned back to my own task: Finding out just how close those two were.
I noticed his vision aimed in one particular direction, and followed the almost perceptible line.
It didn't surprise me when it was *her*.
She was holding a piece of paper – the bill, I suppose – and waiting for a man with a buggy to finish strapping a baby in, absently pulling a small curl of hair behind her ear. She had short blond hair, sort of like mine, but hers was longer, fluffier.
She smiled at him, biting her lip to prevent it from getting too big.
…Since when did I become a people reader?
He was returning the smile, but didn't hold back when she came within his reach again, showing teeth and all. She handed him the bill, but he didn't pay it any attention. Instead, he cast it aside with one hand, taking hers in the other. She smiled again, softer this time, and he imitated her. Then she sat down and clasped his hand in hers across the table.
It was so unoriginal, so trite, such a cliché… So romantic.
You have your warm, cosy, orangey café, little lighting oil lamp in the centre of the table, everyone around glancing briefly and `Aww'ing… jealous observer. Yeah, I admit that now. I'm jealous of her. Still have no right, but hey. He's damn gorgeous.
To complete the perfect romance, you have to have the perfect couple.
And that's what those two are.
I admit that too now. Picking up my mug, I drained the last of the cappuccino and wiped my mouth, just in case.
"This seat taken?"
Looking up into the blue, glasses covered eyes of an adorable twenty something, I shook my head. Yeah, he's cute, but I'm not really in the mood.
"No, go ahead."
He grinned and sat down.
Looking out the window again, I saw him stand up and almost *shyly* offer her his arm. I couldn't see her face, but from the set of her shoulders, I could tell that she was feeling pretty much the same. She stood up slowly, and quietly slid her arm through his. He smiled
at her again then, and they just stood for a moment, doing the `gazing-into-each-others-eyes' thing.
Suddenly curious, I grabbed my purse from the floor and stood up. My new friend looked kind of surprised, but I didn't really care. I just had to find out…
Chasing out of the café, through the large crowds of unhurried shoppers, past the queue of kids for the face painting, I thanked God for those morning exercises and prayed that there wasn't a line at the trolley bay. Up ahead of me, I could see them walking, taking their time. Again, I felt the jealousy. She really didn't look as if she was used to minding kids. At the moment anyway.
I trailed behind them, ever aware of the passing bystander smiling and commenting on them. The way they walked in time, the way she looped her arm around his, the way her head rested against his shoulder when she turned to ask him something…
I felt like I was walking through a field of butterflies and rainbows.
The rosy pink colour, the meadow of ripe grass seed, birds chirping overhead, sunshine and fluffy clouds… Their idyllic little land extended through the entire mall, the parking lot, the eleven screen cinema across the road and *it's* parking lot.
I nearly got sucked in, and it took all my strength to remember that I had a place to be.
Thankfully, the trolley bay was free, and it didn't take me long to recover my shopping from it's cage. Shoving it in front of me, I swerved back into the main hall, narrowly avoiding a passing elderly couple. I hoped fleetingly that the thickness of their spec lenses prevented them from being able to report me, then berated myself. I have friends with glasses. Danny has to wear them… occasionally.
A concerned father barked unhappily at me, and I forced myself to slow to a quick trot. All that caffeine was getting to my head, and probably my adrenaline system too. I shook my head, trying to remember what I was doing, not noticing the rather large crate on a course perpendicular to my own.
When I crashed into it, however, I *did* notice.
I felt a blush rise to my cheeks as a cascade of large brown bags toppled from the workmen's load and onto the floor. The two burly men glared at me and the area went completely silent… then everyone dissolved into laughter. All around me the good people of this great nation laughed at two poor lad's misfortune. I muttered an apology and steered my trolley away as quickly as I could.
Outside, the cool breeze cleared my head and cooled my face. Time to think straight.
Why had I come here?
To get the shopping.
What had I done?
Gotten the shopping, taken a coffee break, and seen my… Seen *him*. With another woman. Who was more than just a *friend*. And I knew who she was too…
Okay, I'm *not* going to think about it anymore. It's his life, his decision.
How do I feel about this news?
A passing teenager regarded me curiously and I realised how odd I must look, standing there nodding to my vegetables. Taking a page from the book of another teenager I knew, I pulled out my cell phone and pretended to dial a number. Allowing a reasonable amount of time for the other end to ring, I began chattering away to my dormant mobile.
Pushing the trolley further down the path, I went for the nearest ramp for lot J4. A small car with at least six little heads peering out the back window passed slowly, followed by a rusty jeep with a well tattooed man at the wheel. I began to make my way across to the cars, checking right and left, but a speeding red Porsche nearly caused me to drop my cell. I watched it for a minute, wishing for the umpteenth that I had enough money to afford one. I knew *someone* who
I continued along the sidewalk that ran between car noses, idly babbling about something purple to the no-one on the other end. I just hoped that my subconscious remembered what it was at, and that I wasn't left looking stupid in the middle of that crowd of old lady tourists.
Realising this was a bad plan the minute I began to chatter about meeting someone I knew, I made up and excuse for Madam Bogus and deposited my phone in my pocket.
Station wagon, sweet station wagon.
Backing the trolley over the bump of the curb and wishing that I had taken the time to *reverse* into this space, I backed out until I was at the end of my car. I pulled out my keys and opened the trunk, wiping the grime from the exterior on my jeans as I started loading up the bags. What did I need all this stuff for again? Oh yeah. Surprise party. I just hope it goes better than last years one. From what I've been told, teenagers of that age never like authority, and `they *do* get better'. I *hope* so.
Laughter and comments about needing a map drew my attention to a car nearly opposite mine.
…If the trunk hadn't been under it, I'm sure the bag I had been holding would have ended up on the ground.
It was *them* again.
A turquoise convertible blipped and flashed as she handed him a small boutique bag. Letting go of her arm – reluctantly, I noticed – he went round to the trunk and opened it, tossing the bag in carelessly and flashing a grin at her as he did.
"Jack!" She cried, indignantly.
"What?!" He knew what he did. He was just riling her. Typical.
"Be careful!" She scolded.
"BUT if it *wasn't*…" She trailed off and leaned back against the car, half glaring, half ready to laugh. I took it upon myself to examine the vehicle at this point, taking in it's low centre of gravity, aerodynamic nose, re-tractable hood – it was up at the moment -, round sixties headlights… I began to feel inferior alongside my grimy wagon. I suspected the car belonged to her, however. He wasn't the type to just go out and *buy* one. Had I the money, *I* was that kind of…
I tuned back in to their little drama when I saw him advancing on her. Even though she followed him with her eyes, she wasn't afraid and I wondered how one could manage to look excited and apprehensive at the same time. I began to comprehend how being in love made faces really easy to read. You want the world to know.
… Did *I* just say that?
Am I not supposed to be the jealous other?
He kissed her.
He kissed her slowly, gently… tenderly. Pulling on the same loose curl of hair she had perfected in the café, he brushed his hand along her neck, her jaw, her cheek… She in turn reached up and circled her arms around his neck, drawing him closer, luring him deeper.
For some reason, I felt my envy slip away, like oil from water.
He pressed himself against her, his arm around her waist doing nothing to keep her from leaning on the car, both of them almost lying down. She curved her back, melting into him, moulding them into a shape, a form that was created for *them*, and them alone, at the beginning of the world.
And still I couldn't feel jealous.
…Maybe because I felt weak at the knees. He didn't want her for the car. Their love was simple.
An actual, *visible* *thing*, a force that surrounded them entirely, emanated from their souls… and I'm not one to mess with the laws of nature. Physics, chemistry… why not? Nature… no way. Even if it hurts me.
Eventually he pulled back and from the look on her face I half expected the sun to disappear and the sky to crash down. She let her hands slip slowly from his neck to his arms, stroking the material of his shirt with her thumbs, eyes constantly on his. He surrounded her face with his hands, his own thumbs caressing her cheeks, nose, eyes and lips.
I suppose it couldn't go on forever, but the moment really didn't deserve to be shattered by a bunch of doddering old women in sunhats and pleated bedspreads.
"Out in public too!"
"Barely out of school!"
"And look! He's nearly as old as myself!"
I could feel a grin pulling at my lips and turned around to see their reaction…
His face had dropped, but hers had gone from mild surprise to amusement to smirking, until it crinkled up altogether and she laughed merrily into his chest. It took him a moment to recover, but when he did, the grin spread wide across his face and he looped his arms around her, following the now annoyed old ladies with his eyes – making sure they *knew* that – and chuckling lightly. She was *his*. She *wanted* to be his. And that's *all* that mattered to him.
With a resigned sigh, I turned back to the task of loading the trolley.
Why was there a large sack of coffee beans in with my shopping?
"Yeah?" I turned, foot half way to the accelerator, and looked at her over the opening roof of the convertible.
"I think the lady over there needs a hand." She said, nodding in the direction of a large station wagon.
"Alright, alright…" I sighed, getting back out of my half crouch rather unwillingly. When she smiled at me, however, I knew that she'd safely oversee everything, and my car would be fine.
Shooting her a grin, I walked casually over to the woman she had me assigned to.
Who was staring at a big bag of coffee beans and looking pretty perplexed.
"Caaaan I help you?…" I offered slowly.
She looked up at me so fast, I was afraid she'd sue for whiplash… but when I saw her face…
This was… strange…
I shifted my feet and shoved my hands into my pockets.
"Are you okay?" I asked, worried about the odd look on her face.
"I'm fine." She assured me, combing a hand through her hair.
"I don't know how they got there."
"Jack? Everything okay?"
A light touch on my arm and a small, cool hand hooked on to my elbow brought me back to where I was. She wasn't being protective, just curious.
"Kuh… Captain… Captain Carter!" Sara stumbled over the name, nearly falling forward when she got it.
"Major now…" Sam smiled hesitantly. "Uh… Mrs… Miss… Ms O… O'Neill…"
I feel *extremely* uncomfortable.
In unison, they offered their hands and names to the other… then burst out laughing.
Now I feel extremely excluded.
After a few minutes of laughing they shook hands and started chatting.
"I remember you at the hospital."
"Yeah, the one in the yellow dress."
"It was nice! I have a black one of the same make… or *had*."
"Really? You've good taste. I like your car too."
"You do? Thanks! It can be hard to keep sometimes, but it's well worth it. Jack likes it."
Content to let them talk among themselves, I didn't like it when they both fixed me with the same look, one that spoke volumes on women's opinion of the male gender.
"It's nice"" I argued, unwilling to let them overpower me. I'm bigger than both of them, but I also *know* both of them. And they have ways to put me in my place.
After another moment of silence, Sara smiled.
"You rightly peed off those old ladies."
"They're ancient. Whaddya expect?"
Then I realised that she must know *how* we had peed them off…
Sam swung shyly out of my elbow.
"We're getting married in two months time." She announced.
To my utter surprise, Sara's face went from coy to… *delight*.
"That's *wonderful*!" She gushed "That's *great* news! I'm really happy for you!"
And she was.
I could tell Sam was just as amazed as I was, but I think I had an answer.
"Your invitation's in the mail. We only sent them out yesterday." I surreptitiously leaned into the trolley and hauled out the bag of coffee beans. "Watch out for a gold envelope."
"That's what I wanted. I picked them out." In tune as ever, Sam covered for me as I hoisted the sack to the car and dumped it into the trunk, slamming the door down on my way back up.
"It's beautiful…" Sara was cooing over Sam's engagement ring when I returned to them, examining it from every angle. "What's it made of?"
Sam glanced up at me, then back again to her ring.
"No." Sara was persistent. "I meant the diamonds."
"Oh! The *diamonds*…" Said Sam, sounding for all the world like she had solved a great mystery.
"I've never seen anything like them before…" Curious now, Sara had a frown on her forehead and was peering closely at the ring. I decided to tell the truth.
"I bought it from this little old lady. Way out. Middle of no-where. I hadn't intended it to be so important at first, but when we took it to a jeweller and *he* couldn't identify it, I figured it had to be kinda rare. `Specially since he offered such a high price for it."
Sam was barely concealing her amusement, but Sara's curiosity was piqued.
"That's interesting… Where was she?"
"Uh… She moves round a lot…"
Taking a leaf out of my book of bluntness, Sam cut in.
"We can't tell you *exactly* where she was. It's… it's classified."
Wow. And she said that without ever once sounding cocky.
"Right." Sara understood. But she was still smiling.
Then her phone rang.
She fumbled in her pocket for a second or two, and while Sam backed away out of politeness, I only did so because the tone annoys the hell out of me.
"Hello?… Danny! Hi!… Okay, okay, I know, sorry. *Dona*… Oh do! … Yeah I did … I'm on my way, just bumped into some friends."
She looked up at us and grinned.
"What? … Oh I'll tell you later. Let me go now and I'll be home before she leaves … Okay, bye!"
Flipping the cover up, she shoved it back into her pocket and smiled.
"I've to go now. I'm playing foster Mom to a little girl from Croatia and it's her birthday today."
"Really?" I asked, taken aback.
"Yeah!" She nodded. "She's gonna be fifteen!"
I blinked a couple of times, trying to imagine Sara as an adopter.
It was actually quite easy.
"About the same age as Cassie…" Mumbled Sam.
Yeah. Well, if she's gonna spring a surprise, I might as well too.
"We're having a baby."
Again, there's that bad feeling that I did something wrong…
But if Sam's smiling, it can't be all *that* bad, can it? Even if Sara doesn't look as thrilled about this as she did about the wedding.
"That's… that's marvellous…" She breathed, looking at Sam. Then she smiled. Slowly, a touch sadly, but genuinely happy for us.
… Our pagers. The SGC.
"We have to go." Sam and I chorused.
"Stargate calling?" Sara raised her eyebrows, grinning.
"Yup." Affirmed Sam. Then she stepped forward and held out her hand again. "It was great to meet you Sara."
To my astonishment, they met half-way and pulled each other into a hug.
For two women that had never *really* met before, and for all intents and purposes should *hate* each other's guts… they appeared to be quite sisterly.
Maybe that was it the whole time, I realised. In the grand scheme of things, Sara is the sister I never had, Sam… Sam is my wife. My love. Soulmate.
I've checked dictionaries and thesaurus' all over, but I've never found just the right word to describe *her*, to describe what she means, what she *is* to me.
*Everything* is the closest so far.
Pulling Sara into a hug of my own, I whispered beside her ear.
"For being nice."
"I tried, Jack. I *couldn't* hate her. Or you." She let go of me and pulled back, shaking her head. "You were *meant* to be together. I can't argue with that."
I grinned and plonked a chaste little kiss on he cheek.
Then I turned round and wrapped my arm around Sam and headed over to our car, waving at Sara over my spare shoulder.
"Sara darling, what is *this*?"
Trying to set the cake mixer to automatic is *not* an easy task.
"I'm trying to get this goddamn machine to work and it *WON'T*! Bring whatever it is here!"
I slammed my fist on the handle, and immediately regretted it.
But… It worked!
I yelped in fright as Dona appeared out of no-where, carrying a large brown sack.
On the *other* hand…
"Dona… could you make me a coffee?"
"…Alright." She sounded unsure. Tough.
"Sara! My friends are here!"
"Okay hon'! Let them in!"
I need a coffee. Coffee's always good.
"Well that was nice."
I couldn't tell what the sarcastic edge to her voice meant.
"Uh… yeah…" I waited for her to elaborate as I overtook a particularly touristy tourist, and sped back up to eighty.
"*You*. Letting the cat out of the bag."
"I'm just being the proud father, Sam, gimme a break."
She slapped my thigh.
"You said we could tell Janet, Daniel and Teal'c first!" She whined, not sounding the least bit upset.
"Well *Sara's* not gonna tell them if *that's* what you're worried about." More tourists. Why can't they just go to Disneyland?
A light pressure against my shoulder let me know that she was now lying quite comfortably against me in the small confines of the car.
"How far is it?"
I checked the speedo.
"'Bout another twenty miles."
"You going to sleep?"
"Jack… I love you…"
"Love you too."
I kissed the top of her head. Poor thing, she'd been up all night, sick. Seems she likes to be the opposite to every other woman ever. And she only drank decaf at the café. Should have gone for the same as me.
Coffee's always good.