A Spectrum story
And then I go and spoil it all by saying something stupid, like ‘I love you’.
We’ve always been the very best of friends. And, while it’s true we do tease and torment each other from time to time, we also share a lot of common interests. Fast cars, airplanes, and doing things with our hands, for a start. I don’t share her fascination with languages – in fact she might say I have enough trouble with English - nor her passion for music and dancing, but I don’t mind escorting her and we make a good-looking couple on the dance floor.
Melody Angel: Miss Magnolia Jones – Nolie – the impish tomboy turned Southern Belle and Captain Ochre: Mr Richard Fraser – Rick – the former Detroit wild-child turned tuxedoed gentleman. Okay, we might not quarter the floor as elegantly as Rhapsody and Scarlet do, nor, like Symphony and Blue turn every slow dance into an act of such sensuality that onlookers tend to shout ‘get a room’; but we can jitterbug with the best.
She taught me how to dance ‘properly’ so she’d have a willing partner when she wanted one and she generally chooses me first. I mean, she never refuses the other guys when they ask her to be their partner, of course; but when she chooses – it’s me she asks.
That ought to mean something, shouldn’t it? I mean, women don’t usually choose to spend time with guys they don’t like? And we spend a fair bit of our off-duty time together.
On the particular day I’m thinking about the base movie was a recently acclaimed blockbuster: a ‘cops-in-space-buddy’ movie, starring two of Tinseltowns’s favourite glamour boys and a host of pneumatic lovelies. I found her in the Officers’ Lounge and suggested we go together. She left her `Teach Yourself Japanese’ books without hesitation - happy to come along.
We shared the popcorn as usual; hand brushing hand as we both rummaged in the over-size box. It was something that’d happened a hundred times before and it’d never meant a thing; but this time – for some reason – it sparked a surge of elation in me and I looked at her as she stared in rapt attention at the screen, her jaw moving steadily on the mouthful of popcorn.
She isn’t conventionally beautiful; there’re any number of women on the base who’d be classified as more beautiful in that way - and I’ve dated quite a few of them - but she has a real sweet, dainty face and her black hair, dark eyes and skin give her an exotic look I’ve always liked.
Sensing my gaze, she stopped chewing and slowly turned her head towards me; I guess she knows from past experience not to trust what she jokingly calls my ‘disarming little-boy smile’ and my ‘bright, teasing eyes’.
“Rick,” she hissed suspiciously, “What’ve you done now?”
“Nothing,” I responded in an undertone. “I was just thinking…”
She rolled her eyes. “Well, stop it. You know it always leads to trouble when you start thinking too much.” Her gaze returned to the screen, but I could see the slightly smug smile on her lips.
I couldn’t let her get away with that remark, so I leant towards her, breathing in her subtle scent, and whispered confidentially, “No, not trouble – not this time -unless, you think it’s a problem that I think I’m in love with you, Nolie?”
At my words, her face spun round so quickly I had to back away and my self-satisfied confidence shattered. I never expected to see such consternation on her face, nor the wave of pain that followed it.
“Oh hell, Rick,” she breathed, “this is not the time or place to be playing silly jokes.”
“You think I’m joking?” I asked.
Then she noticed my look of hurt surprise and added, almost pleadingly, “You are only teasing, aren’t you? Say you’re joking, please?”
Suddenly I was faced with a dilemma: I knew for certain I wasn’t joking. For some unexplained reason, that touch had illuminated the truth for me. What had started as a deep friendship had ripened into far more, at least, for me.
Her reaction showed that she didn’t feel the same way and – worse – that she was unprepared to accept that I might be telling the truth.
“I get it,” I said sadly, “I’ve left it too late to tell you. There’s another guy, huh?”
“No, there’s no other guy,” she whispered back, “and of all the guys here, you’re my dearest friend. But – I don’t love you, Rick, and I can’t pretend something like that, even for you. I’d never hurt you that much. I’m happy to stay friends; just like we are now.”
“I don’t understand,” I admitted, and our whispers must’ve been getting more audible, because a technician in the next row turned and hissed, ‘sshh’ pointedly.
Nolie stood and shuffled to the end of the row, heading for the exit as quickly as she could.
I followed her. The brightness of the normal level lighting in the corridor beyond the cinema made me squint momentarily. She was striding ahead towards the canteen – no doubt because it was always full of people and she was running away from being alone with me. Depositing the almost empty popcorn box in a disposal chute, I ran to catch her up and placed a hand on her shoulder.
She stopped and reluctantly turned towards me, her head drooping and her eyes fixed on the floor.
“Magnolia,” I said, and I so rarely use her full name it sounded odd, “what’s wrong? I swear, I don’t understand. We’re so good together; I thought you liked me...”
“I do,” she cried despairingly, “I do like you - but I don’t love you. I can’t love you. Just accept it.” She glanced up at me, pleading, “I want your friendship, Rick - I value it – but that’s all; and if it isn’t enough, I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”
“It’s because I’m white, isn’t it?” I hazarded with a sudden sinking feeling.
She almost laughed as she shook her head. “Colour has nothing to do with it.”
“Then why?” By now, I was getting angry and it must’ve registered in my voice. I was struggling to make sense of the situation.
Magnolia Jones raised her head and stared with a ruthless honesty into my eyes, as if she were willing me to make the deduction for myself. If she felt a twinge of compassion at the anguish that I knew was reflected in my face, it never showed, and she kept her gaze level.
A fleeting idea nudged my conscious brain. I dismissed it as absurd, but the images grew more insistent and the pieces slipped into place until realisation dawned like a punch in the ribs.
I dropped my eyes from that forthright stare. “Forget it, Nolie,” I said with a brave attempt at my usual cheerful banter. “I didn’t mean to open a whole can of worms, nor upset you by saying something stupid. It won’t happen again. I value your friendship too much, as well you know.”
I think she guessed that I’d discovered for myself what she didn’t want to tell me directly, because she reached for my hand and squeezed it hard, and then she turned and started back towards the canteen, looking over her shoulder and inviting me to accompany her. I fell in beside her and we walked stride for stride into the bustle of the cafeteria, acting as if the newly-formed chasm between us did not exist.
I could sense that she was still tense; unsettled by my declaration and anxious about my reaction to her rejection of me. I wasn’t feeling that cheerful myself; I hadn’t planned any of this and I was pretty much devastated; but I vowed I’d never let anything I’d learned today make a difference to our friendship. I also wanted her to know that she could trust in my total discretion – that neither by word or deed would I reveal that anything had changed.
Nolie fetched the coffees whilst I found a table near the window. I stopped to exchange some small talk with a group of lieutenants and one of the sick-bay nurses as I made my way over there.
Although I was determined to act as I always did, I was still trying to come to terms with this new reality. I watched in silence as Nolie walked towards our table with the tray. As she brushed passed a crowded table of technicians on their break, I saw the anonymous fair-haired technician from ‘Ops’, the one I knew as Nolie’s racquetball partner, smile up at her, and I saw how Melody Angel’s dark eyes lit up, even though she did not stop to speak. I’d seen it countless times before, this friendship the two of them shared, but it had never had any significance for me – until now.
One glance at Melody as she approached the table was enough to make me realise that the joy in her face was not because of me at all and never had been. I prayed that the profound misery I was experiencing at that moment wasn’t obvious to the whole room - and I cursed my own wilful blindness and the ego that had assumed her inner happiness could only come from being with me.
As she put the tray down, Melody gave a rather apologetic smile. I knew that she’d had no intention of hurting me; her surprise at my declaration had been genuine. My answering smile was rather shaky, but I reached to squeeze her hand, as she had so recently squeezed mine: with friendship, with concern, with understanding and acceptance.
If life in Spectrum has only taught me one thing, it is that your friends are your friends for all their eccentricities.
But, as I sipped my coffee and listened to the returning confidence in her voice as she brought me up to date with all the latest gossip - chattering away to cover my unusual silence - I vowed that never again would I let any woman have the power to hurt me; as Alison had done, so many years before and as Nolie has done now and – unnoticed in the babble of merry voices around me - I felt some significant part of my heart fracture.
The inspiration for this came from two sources:
I had already written in my own story Valediction:
“On her fortieth birthday, Melody Angel announced that she’d decided not to renew her service contract, and would be moving back to the States to open a restaurant with one of the Cloudbase computer-technicians, a gently-spoken Californian named Catherine Brady….
Captain Ochre – perhaps the one man on Cloudbase who had not been surprised at Melody’s choice of partner -”
And then I heard ‘Something Stupid’ by Frank and Nancy Sinatra on the car radio, and I thought it might be interesting to explore just why Captain Ochre was the one man who wasn’t surprised.
I don’t own the characters of Melody Angel or Captain Ochre – they are part of the TV programme Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons™ created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson in the 1960s. The copyright © of all trademark materials (Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons, all characters, vehicles, etc.), are owned by ITC/Polygram/Carlton. Information about the series has been taken from copyright © materials (books, magazines, videos, T.V. media, comics, etc) owned by ITC/Polygram/Carlton.
There is nothing in the accepted ‘canon’ for that series to support my imaginings with regard to either character.
The character of Alison Topping (referred to in the text) first appears in my story The Tears of a Clown.
My thanks to Caroline Smith, for reading the first draft of this story and giving me the inspiration for the second draft… and for beta-reading it. Any faults in the text are entirely mine.
Finally, thanks, as ever, to Chris Bishop for allowing me to participate in her marvellous website.