23: Memory Meld 3

McCoy seemed to be getting a handle on the mind melding process — the next scene he chose to show Spock himself. He was a gangly young teenager, sitting in an office reception area.

“This was such a bad idea,” Leonard thought as he checked the time on his PADD again. It was already fifteen minutes past the hour and still no sign of his dad. He had debated with himself for days before finally calling his dad’s office and setting up this appointment with his secretary. Leonard had a project for school — a paper based on an interview with someone whose profession he was interested in — and since he’d always scored high in life sciences and chemistry, medicine seemed to be the obvious choice. Which also made his dad the most obvious person to interview. Now he was regretting his harebrained idea.
A woman walked into the lobby and approached him.
“Hi, Leonard,” she said with an apologetic smile. “I’m Helen; we spoke earlier. I’m afraid your father’s last surgery is running a bit late. They had some complications.”

“Just my luck,” Leonard thought silently. Aloud he only said, “I understand.”
“Why don’t you come with me to the lounge? We have coffee… or coke if you prefer.”
He followed her without comment and wondered how much of his allotted hour would actually be spent with his dad. When she offered to buy him a coke, though, he grinned and offered to buy her a drink instead.
“You charmer, you!” she laughed. “Apple didn’t fall far from the tree, did it?” Then she left to check on the status of the surgery. Leonard sipped his coke while working on his paper; since it didn’t seem like he’d have much time to interview his dad, he started making the answers multiple choice.
When the clock hit 16:30, however, he changed his strategy altogether and began answering the interview questions the way he assumed his dad would. It wasn’t hard and his teacher wouldn’t know the difference, anyway. He was so engrossed in his work that he didn’t even check the time again until someone walked into the lounge — an older man in a suit, not his dad — and it was 16:52 already. Leonard bit his lip, furious at his dad
and at himself for thinking this would work. He put his PADD away, then tossed the empty coke can into the recycling chute. Just as he started walking toward the turbolift, Helen came in from the other side and called to him.
“Leonard! I’m so sorry, he’s been delayed. It’s not going well.”
“I figured,” he replied with a shrug. “Tell him not to worry about it.” Leonard turned and muttered under his breath, “I won’t ever bother him again.”
He punched the button to summon the turbolift and was startled to see that the man in the suit had followed him, no doubt heading home as well, but the man had a stricken, haunted look on his face. Leonard realized that he must have overheard his last comment.
“Are you… David’s son? Dr. McCoy’s?”
“Yeah,” Leonard answered testily. Right now he didn’t feel like it at all.
“I… I’m so sorry,” the man stammered, then was interrupted by the lift arriving. Leonard walked in and the man joined him before continuing, “I assigned your father to that surgery…. I knew it would be a difficult one, but David — your dad — was the best qualified to do it. He didn’t want to… he even asked me to reassign it, but I… I told him he was the logical choice.”
“Yeah, sure — he’s the best surgeon around, right?” Leonard said sardonically.
“I—I didn’t know — he didn’t tell me he was meeting you,” the man tried to explain, but Leonard had run out of patience.
“Forget it! You actually did him a favor,” he said as he got off the lift. “You saved him the hassle of finding another excuse to avoid me!”
He hadn’t meant it to come out quite so harshly — or loudly. Leonard felt his cheeks flush as several people on the sidewalk glanced at him.
“No, wait! Please,” the man pleaded, trotting to catch up to Leonard as he stalked toward the shuttle station. “He really didn’t want to do that one — we all knew it could have serious complications and might take extra time. I’m sorry I didn’t reassign it like he asked me to. He’s never asked before, so I should have known he had an important reason—”
Leonard snorted with derision. “Yeah, right! If it were important, he would’ve tried harder to get out of it. He just decided that his patient’s life was more important than me. It always is.”
“No, it’s not! I
know it’s not — he’s told me all about you, Leonard.” The man grabbed Leonard’s jacket sleeve to pull him to a stop. “He wants to get to know you better. He knows he hasn’t been there for you like he should’ve in the past few years but… he just doesn’t know where to start. If you would give him a chance—”
“Bullshit!” The word burst out of Leonard’s mouth before he could stop it. At home he would’ve gotten yelled at by his grandparents; it was liberating to realize that there was nobody here who could scold him or tell on him. “He’s never had any goddamn time for me, so why should he fucking want to start now?”
“But he
does,” the man insisted. “He always has, he simply… didn’t know how to prioritize things. Look,” he started anew, bending down to match Leonard’s eye level, “I can rearrange his schedule, make sure his evenings and weekends are cleared so he can spend more time—”
“Are you fucking
shitting me?” Leonard yelled, his voice breaking mid-phrase. “If you demote him like that on my account, he’ll only hate me more! Just leave me alone. Leave my dad the hell alone. He’s fucked things up well enough on his own — he doesn’t need your help to make it worse!”
Leonard stormed away, never looking back at the man. At least it felt better to be angry than to admit how disappointed he was.

Spock waited while McCoy quickly selected another memory to show him. This time he was on a soccer field at the end of a game, a few days after the previous scene.

Leonard managed to get the ball from the opposing team and passed it to his buddy Dan, who dribbled it up the side before kicking it to Shaundé, the captain, who trapped it neatly before feinting around his guard. A moment later he shot it past the goalie to the tumultuous roar of the home crowd. Leonard and his teammates chest-bumped in exultation, then held off their opponent for the last four minutes of the game, sealing their victory. They were boisterous in the locker room, anticipating the post-game party. Leonard was laughing and joking, too, but he stopped dead in his tracks when he saw his dad waiting for him outside.
“Hey, Lenny,” his dad said with an awkward, forced smile. “Great game.”
Leonard could not form any words for a moment. Dan came to his rescue with a wisecrack.
“Who’s the old guy, Len? Your boyfriend?”
“Shut up, Dan!” he retorted, though without rancor. “He’s old enough to be my dad — that
is my dad.”
“No way!” Joey put in. “I thought he was dead?”
“Must be a zombie,” someone else added, starting a chorus of “Ooo, brains!” all around.
“Uh…” his dad began, obviously smarting from the implication, “I thought maybe I could take you home?”
“We’re going to Joey’s for pizza,” Leonard told him, still somewhat stunned. “I’m staying there tonight.”
“Oh… all right. Maybe some other time, then.”
“Yeah, sure… whatever,” Leonard mumbled as he walked past. He was glad his friends didn’t tease him about being called “Lenny” or ask about his dad that evening.
He was confused when his dad started showing up at a lot of his games after that, even offering to take him places — to actually
do things with him — on the weekends. Leonard finally told his grandparents about it, and they were just as startled as he was but suggested that he allow his father to make up for lost time. It was awkward to be with someone he hardly knew, but one Sunday, during a long drive back from an amusement park (which Leonard hadn’t really enjoyed), he pulled out the draft of his old paper and started asking his dad the questions from the interview. He had gotten a few of them right, it turned out, but he was more interested in the ones he hadn’t. Leonard surprised himself by how much he actually was interested in medicine; it seemed to please his father, and they got along better after that — perhaps because they had a common interest they could talk about.

This went on for a while. McCoy fast-forwarded through the times he spent with his father, giving Spock fleeting glimpses of shared activities and laughter. He skimmed through the holidays when his mom and Arthur came back to stay at his grandparents’ house, which was pleasant but mostly uneventful — except for the professional-quality scanning microscope that his dad sent him as a present. He then slowed down the images to focus on a diner a few months later.

While they were eating burgers and fries, his dad told Leonard that he was moving off-planet to take a new job as the chief surgeon of a hospital on Rigel V. He even invited Leonard to come with him. Leonard promised to think about it, but he had balked at moving to Iceland — and Rigel V was exponentially further away. It didn’t take much thought for him to decline. His dad promised to stay in touch and, to Leonard’s astonishment, he did. It wasn’t the same, though, as having him around to talk to and go places together. Leonard sometimes wished he hadn’t gotten to know his dad if it meant he missed him so much more when he was gone.

Spock tried to express his sympathy through their link, which McCoy seemed to understand. He began showing the next significant memory from a few years later, in his junior year of high school.

Leonard had just settled into his assigned seat for Physics when a girl he didn’t know sat in the seat next to him.
“Hi, I’m Nancy,” she said with a shy but winsome smile.
“I’m Len… Leonard,” he replied, debating for a brief moment whether to shake her hand or not. The bell sounded, sparing him the dilemma.
He found out later through the grapevine that she had transferred in that year. She caught his eye whenever they passed in the halls and it was all he could do to not stare at her during Physics class. She was pretty, of course, but there was something else — some other quality about her — that captured his attention. After a few weeks he decided that the best word for it was “sweet”: she was honest and genuine and kind through and through, as sweet as a Georgia peach.
One day when he was eating in the cafeteria with his buddies, a group of girls sat on the other end of the table. Nancy came in a little late and had to take the chair closest to the boys — right next to Leonard. He swallowed, his heart thumping in his throat, and shot her what he hoped was a nonchalant smile. He turned back then to his lunch and pulled out the bag of fruit his grandma always included. Today it was a pair of plums. On an impulse, he held one of them out to Nancy and asked, “Would you like a peach?”
Startled, she looked at the fruit in his hand. “I think that’s a plum.”
Leonard felt his face flush as dark red as the plum. “Uh…” was all that came out.
“Thank you,” Nancy said, smiling that sweet smile of hers as she took the fruit from his slightly sweaty hand. “I love plums.”
“D—Don’t mention it,” he stuttered. When he looked back at his friends, they were all choking on their laughter. Joey even snorted his milk. “Oh, stuff it!” he growled at them under his breath, making them laugh even harder. He left the cafeteria with his ears burning and hurled the remaining plum into his locker.
His friends teased him for weeks, of course, but they also encouraged him to ask her out.
“Just do it, Len!” Dan told him, poking him in the ribs. “Nobody else will, now that they know
you’re into her.”
“I… what?” Leonard asked in dismay.
“Aww, come on! Everybody knows by now. You always act like a total loon when she’s around, and then you gave her a plum and called it a peach….” Dan spread out his hands expressively. “It’s pretty obvious you’re smitten. Smitten as a kitten in a mitten. Besides, I could swear she has a thing for you too.”
“What?” he demanded, shocked but eager.
“Yeah! She smiles at you a lot… although that could be because she thinks you’re
challenged or something.”
Despite the ensuing battle in which Leonard succeeded in tickling Dan’s ribs until he cried uncle, the suggestion gave Leonard enough courage to ask Nancy to a school dance — but not until a full three months later. And since his tongue seemed to swell up and trip on even simple words whenever she was around, he decided to take a safer route and write his question on a piece of paper, which he slipped onto her desk when the Physics teacher wasn’t looking. He stared down at his PADD, not daring to see her reaction, until the paper reappeared on his desk with “I would love to!” added to it. He gasped in relief and was immediately called up front to solve the next vector problem (which he botched) but he couldn’t wipe the grin off his face for the rest of the day.
His grandparents were excited for him, and Grandma asked him if he wanted to coordinate his outfit with Nancy’s, so he asked her what color her dress would be.
“Plum,” she answered, her eyes dancing with amusement.
Leonard was stricken speechless for a moment, then he heaved a sigh.
“You’re never going to let me live that down, are you?”
“Live what down?” she teased.
“I only called it a peach because… well, because
you’re a Georgia peach,” he mumbled.
It was Nancy’s turn to be speechless.
“Oh, Len! That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me,” she replied at last, blushing to a lovely rose hue. “You’re really the sweetest boy. As sweet as a plum.” When she giggled, Leonard couldn’t help laughing along.
They dated the rest of the school year, a shy relationship whose highlights were holding hands while walking her dog and chaste kisses at her doorstep under her parents’ watchful eyes. They called each other every day while she was traveling with her family during the summer, then picked right up when school started. All through their senior year, they were a couple.
Then the difficult decisions had to be made: Leonard had a scholarship to the University of Mississippi but Nancy had her heart set on Stanford.
“Why California, though?” Leonard asked, trying hard not to sound distraught. “It’s so far.”
“I love it out there! The weather is wonderful and it’s right by the ocean,” Nancy told him. “You could come out to visit sometime.”
“Maybe,” he’d answered, not entirely without hope. They promised to at least write if they couldn’t call due to conflicts in their schedule. Leonard was disappointed when Nancy’s family decided to vacation in Hawaii over the holidays, which meant he wouldn’t see her until the next summer; his pre-med courses were so demanding that he had to catch up on his research papers during spring break.
Then before the end of the school year, he got a lengthy email from Nancy that made his stomach sink into the ground. She had met someone, a bright upperclassman at Stanford who shared her interest in archaeology and had been persistent in asking her out. Leonard could barely finish reading the letter; then it took every last ounce of his willpower to write back a polite, understanding reply. It was the hardest thing he had ever had to do.

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