It didn't take long to sign in and get my lesson plan and quarters assigned. I remembered some of the hoo-ha from last time so knew what to look out for, and then I made my way to my new quarters for the next three months. This time I would be sharing with a second year student called Elizabeth Buffalo. On the way, I passed the Academy cafeteria and heard my tummy growl. I had skipped breakfast so the last time I had eaten was the previous day; my stomach had every right to complain, it being well into mid-afternoon. I had just decided to indulge in a late lunch when a voice squealed in delight at me.
It was lovable Beryl, the 'dinner lady'. We greeted and hugged. I hadn't realised how much I'd missed Beryl either until that moment. She made the most wonderful cookies and cakes and always made sure one was set on one side for me and Bairn last time I was here.
"Why I swear you've grown up since I last saw you! Are you taller?"
"Don't be daft, Beryl. I'm twenty-four years old. I'm not getting any taller now."
"Just wiser, aye?" and she winked at me.
"Don't give me that. I've heard all about your little adventures. Quite the heroine, aren't we?"
I shuddered at the thought of notoriety.
"Awe! Don't look so down, Jen. A little bit of fame never did anyone any harm. I'm sure you'll turn it to your advantage at some time or another."
I scowled harder. I had no intention of using my reputation as leverage for anything.
I deposited my bags under a nearby table and we sat and chatted some more before I ordered the special: tagliatelle with chicken, asparagus and mushrooms served in a white wine sauce and sauté potatoes, followed by syrup sponge pudding loaded with custard. It was delish!
I sat alone as I ate, but I didn't mind. It gave me a chance to gather my thoughts. I smacked my lips with satisfied pleasure having downed the last of my pudding and dabbed my mouth on my napkin. My! What manners I have learned, and I smiled to myself.
My thoughts were interrupted by a couple of Academy students walking past. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw them point at me and laugh, hiding their mouths behind cupped hands. Instinctively, I looked down, thinking I must have spilt some sauce on my top, but no, I was quite clean.
Brushing the incident aside, I got up, collected my things together and made my way out of the cafeteria, passing the two students on the way, although now there were four of them. As I passed, my ears picked up on two words, Messy Bessy.
I disappeared behind a partition, but doubled back, my curiosity piqued. What bad habits I'd picked up too: listening in on conversations!
"You don't know, she might like sharing a room with her!" I heard one of them say.
"What! Messy Bessy! Get real! She lives like a pig!"
"Maybe Terran does too."
"No way! She's a serving Ensign on board a starship. She'll have things as neat and tidy as a new pin ..." but her words trailed off. I had crept out from behind the partition and they were now fully aware of my presence as I leaned over the first girl's shoulder.
"For the record, I'm not an Ensign. I'm just a Cadet, 3rd Class like yourselves," I said, indicating the pips on my collar. "Now," and I threw my arms around the shoulders of two of the girls, snaring them. "Let me get you a coffee and you can tell me all about it."
As I swept them back into the cafeteria, their two companions made a dash for it.
"Grab my bags for me will you?" I chirped merrily at them, but they knew it wasn't a request. I sounded just like T'Roc. Something else, it seems I have learned.
We all sat at a table, the four of them looking a little uncomfortable. The coffee came and Beryl winked at me.
"Would you like some cookies with that?" she asked.
"Thank you, Beryl. That would be lovely."
A few moments later, she returned with a plate of the biscuits and set them down. I picked up one of them and bit into it. It was delicious! With that perfect texture of crumbliness and chewiness, it melted in the mouth and the white chocolate only added to the pleasure.
"Help yourselves," I said.
With almost military precision each member grabbed a cookie and took a bite. They looked so guilt-ridden, I couldn't help but giggle.
"Honestly, if you could see your faces," I quipped.
The first girl looked up at me, bewilderment in her eyes.
"For goodness sake," I assured them. "I'm a 3rd Class cadet, just like you. The only difference is I'm physically a bit older than you. Inside though, I'm just the same. I'll make ... I do make the same sort of daft, stupid, adolescent mistakes that you do. The only difference is that I am making them a little later in life. Call me a late starter if you want. So chill, enjoy your coffee and cookie and tell me who you are. I'm Jenny Terran by the way, but you know that," and I cocked my head on one side expectedly.
That was it. Nothing more was volunteered.
"I take it you've not taken the Academy course on social situations yet then?"
"There's a course on socialising!" exclaimed Elisha.
"Not as such, but if this is the best you can muster, there should be. Come on ... where are you from? What courses are you doing? What's your life ambition?"
"Is it true you saved a planet?" butted in Elisha.
"Only by blundering my way through a very bad situation—and I didn't do it single-handedly. I had fellow cadets and ensigns to blunder through it with me."
"What? No officers?"
"At the time, no—"
"I'd like to go to Helvetia," said Farrah.
"Hell," I corrected.
"It's called Hell, not Helvetia."
"Then why are they called Helvetians?"
"Because Hellians sounds daft," I offered.
"Is it as beautiful as they say?"
And so the ice was broken, but so much for not using my reputation to my advantage.