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The letter from Starfleet Academy spells the end of things between Joanna and her mother, she thinks.

Sometimes Joanna thinks Jocelyn only fought Daddy for custody out of spite. She knows it’s uncharitable but she can’t help it.

Mother is a perfect society darling with perfect blonde hair, perfect nails, and icy blue eyes. She wears fancy hats and air-kisses her friends and always knows exactly which fork to use. Joanna has curly muddy brown hair and chocolate eyes and freckles which won’t fade, no matter which creams her mother applies. She’s loud and unruly, and her proudest moment is when she nailed a school bully in the face with a piece of cake.

Even though Mother had grounded her for weeks for that particular stunt, her daddy had snuck a piece of cake to Joanne every other night, and winked at her when Mother wasn’t looking.

She’d always gotten along better with Daddy, and she thinks her mother had always hated her for that. Maybe she’d have preferred to have a perfect little golden son or daughter with icy blue eyes, who never misbehaved or mussed up their clothes but her daddy had never made her feel anything less than perfect, just the way she was.

Of course, as she grew she realised Daddy wasn’t perfect either.

He worked too much, swore too much, and probably drank too much too, but in a way that made him maudlin and gentle instead of angry and rough. If she’d been raised by her daddy alone, she’d have been a very different child, she thinks. She might have slipped through the cracks while he wasn’t looking. She’s grateful, in hindsight, that her mother had paid her so much attention that she never felt neglected, never felt the need to act out just so someone could see her, the way Uncle Jim did.

But still, growing up, Daddy had been the one who got away from Mother’s overbearing manicured grasp, and Joanna had been the one left behind. She’d placed the blame squarely on Mother’s shoulders.

And growing up, Uncle Jim had been a highlight, secondary if not primary, of her summer vacations. Because during her summer vacation, her daddy visited, and when Daddy visited, he brought Uncle Jim.

Uncle Jim – unlike all the other uncles and aunties and everybody else who helped her mother smother Joanna half to death – was cool. Very cool. Extremely cool. He rode a motorcycle (and let Joanna ride with him), and taught her how to fix a car, and how to braid her hair, and use a knife, because he said everything was always worth knowing, just in case. Mother hated Uncle Jim, but this never deterred him, and Joanna thought he was maybe the bravest person she knew, because even Daddy flinched when Mother glared at him that way, but Uncle Jim never did.

Daddy said it was because Uncle Jim was thick in the head, but Uncle Jim just rolled his eyes and kissed Daddy until he was quiet, and winked at Joanna the way her daddy used to, when he snuck her cake.

When the letter comes, Mother cries. Joanna is not sure why. She thinks she’d made her opinion perfectly clear in the years past, and wasn’t it Jocelyn herself who’d once said that a lady always followed through with her promises?

She hadn’t understood even when the tears turned to screams and accusations and thrown crockery. The last time her mother had thrown crockery was when Daddy had signed the divorce papers without even reading them. Joanna hadn’t understood that then (shouldn’t Mother be happy that Daddy didn’t want to fight?), and she didn’t understand this now.

Uncle Jim had stepped in, thankfully, and talked back at Mother the way no one else in town ever did. He didn’t break eye contact and didn’t break down, and Joanna, all of seventeen years old, had thought him utterly terrifying, though she knew he’d never hurt her.

Honestly, she’d not even told anyone she was applying. It would have been too embarrassing to explain if she’d been rejected. She’d never imagined that she’d have this problem instead. Even though she knew she could leave regardless of what Mother said, she’d have preferred to go with blessings. Space was dangerous, she knew full well. Uncle Jim and Daddy had told her enough for her to know that she could die, and she didn’t want to die while on bad terms with Mother. But she wanted to go anyway. To be brave, and to see the worlds out there, and the people, and everything. Because you never knew how long it was going to be there.

After Vulcan, nothing was certain, for sure. Everything could be there one day and gone the next, and Joanna wanted to see it all with her own two eyes. Holovids just weren’t enough, and the stories just made her hungrier.

Uncle Jim had told her to talk to her parents, and she had. For the first time in memory they’d sat together, across the table from her, and asked her to explain herself. She giggled, because once her friends had told her how her family had ‘meetings’ and ‘family discussions’ and in the McCoy family nothing was ever discussed; it just was. It figured that the first ever discussion would have been her fault.

And she talked and talked until her throat went dry, about how she wanted to study biology and chemistry, how she wanted to get her doctorate before becoming an officer, how she eventually wanted to join Uncle Jim’s ship. Every word out of her mouth looked like it was hitting her mother like a bullet.

And when she was done and all talked out, Mother closed her perfect blue eyes and sighed. “I suppose it would have been too much to ask for a daughter to stay with me.” Something ugly inside Joanna reared its head, and she reacted before she could heed the voice in her head that sounded like Uncle Jim.

“Maybe I want to go because you make me feel like I’m never going to be good enough for you. What’s the use in even trying?”

Her mother’s eyes watered and she opened her mouth to reply. Joanna wasn’t sure if she wanted an answer or didn’t, but thankfully Uncle Jim burst into the dining room where they were sitting and ushered Joanna out before she could say anything. Uncle Jim took her out to the front porch, where they could pretend to not hear Daddy and Mother shouting at each other, inside.

“Sometimes,” he started, “we say things we don’t mean.” Before Joanna could interrupt – she didn’t want to hear his overused sentiments – “and sometimes, we ask questions to which we don’t want to answers. Once,” he looked away from her, towards the horizon, “I asked my mom why she hated me.”

Joanna kept still and quiet. Uncle Jim was as far away from her as he’d ever been, further than even when he was in Space and she was on Earth. “She said it’s because I should have died instead of my father.” Joanna slipped her hand into Uncle Jim’s own, bigger and warmer and rougher than hers. He laced their fingers together but didn’t look at her. “I’d been hoping that she’d say she didn’t hate me, but she did, and we both knew it.”

She suddenly felt very small, and very ashamed. “I don’t mean to make this about me,” he continued, turning his laser-blue eyes back at her, “but I understand. I know what it feels like to have someone look at you and look right through you, like nothing inside you matters.”

Joanna nodded, because even though it was a little different, it was a little bit the same. How her mother only saw what she wanted to see, and tried to shave off everything else. Like she was a decorative art piece with a flaw that Mother just couldn’t fix, though she badly wanted to put Joanna on display.

“But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you,” Uncle Jim continued. Joanna suppressed the instinctive urge to reply. Uncle Jim never said anything he hadn’t thought about, not in anger or in grief. And he had never lied to her. “If she didn’t love you, she wouldn’t worry. That’s what it is, in there. The shouting. It’s fear. She’s scared that if you go off into space without her, you’ll never come home.”

Joanna snorted a little. “She knows I won’t come home. I don’t ever want to come back here.”

“Yeah, but at least that would be your choice. She’s worried you won’t be able to come home. She’ll never see you again, even if she comes out there to find you.”

Joanna swallowed hard. “I’d say give her a chance to explain. Maybe this is a good thing. Maybe you’ll get to explain why you want to go, and why you’re not happy here.”

“Do you think she’ll listen?”

Uncle Jim grinned at her. “Well, you never know till you try. And it’s not like it could get any worse, hey? Besides. Your daddy’s probably worn her down by now. Just use those big brown eyes and that smart mouth of yours.”

Joanna let herself be distracted and grinned back. “Daddy says it’s a miracle, says I’m a spitting image of you when you’re trying to get your way.”

Uncle Jim squeezed her hand and flushed, looking pleased as punch. “Well, ain’t that a thing.”

The veranda screen door slammed open and Daddy nudged Uncle Jim with his sock-covered foot. “Stop trying to imitate me, you idiot. Joanna, c’mon. Your mom has some things she needs to say.”

She got up and followed her daddy back into the house. He led her to the dining room door and then dropped a quick kiss on her forehead. He was still taller than her and it made her feel like a little girl again. “Better think fast,” he murmured. “If you’re out there with us, your Uncle Jim’s going to be an overprotective bear. You sure you want this?”

She nodded and swallowed back tears at the thought that Uncle Jim would be scared for her too, but he’d still let her do it. He’d still cheer her on, right beside Daddy.

“Then go and get it, baby.”

So she did.