"Apple or orange?"
The mattress tilted and shifted as Julie Chambers deposited herself comfortably at the foot of the bed. Riza Hawkeye glanced up from the text in her lap—War Tactics today—and eyed the pieces of fruit held up to her in offering.
"I'm not hungry, thanks," she replied and promptly returned to her text.
Something low and dangerous in those words made Hawkeye look up again. Chambers was smiling but her brown eyes weren't.
Hawkeye sighed, put down her pen, and held out a hand. "Orange."
She got no reaction—or orange—at first so that she felt kind of conscious sitting there with her hand hovering in the air expectantly. Then Chambers made a sound in her throat like "huh" and gave her the orange.
Hawkeye frowned. Marginally. "What?"
Chambers shrugged. "Nothing."
The blond watched her for another minute to see if she would say anything, but Chambers only reached into her back pocket and took out her pocket knife. With deft fingers she took hold of the sliver of the exposed blade and drew it out until it clicked into place. With sure hands she began to separate the apple's peel from its flesh, spinning the red fruit so that its skin spiraled down in one bright strip. Hawkeye shook her head and resumed her studies, setting the orange aside on the bed.
"Ionno," Chambers said in that moment, rolling the words together and shrugging with enough force—or with her entire body—so that the bed quaked beneath her. "I guess I just took you for an apple person."
Hawkeye only half-heard the words but she asked "Why?" anyway.
"You seemed like a person that would like apples," Chambers explained. "Oranges are messy."
"Apples can be messy," Hawkeye said defensively.
"Not like oranges," her friend retorted. "And oranges are hard to judge. You can never be sure what's hiding beneath the peel. Sometimes you think you've found one ripe and juicy and then when you dig your fingers into it and start peeling, getting citrus crap all over your hands in the process, you find out the rind's an inch thick and the fruit's dried and disgusting. Good for nothing—and then what do you have?"
"Apples can be disappointing, too," Hawkeye pointed out, leaning back against the wall.
"Ah," Chambers said, using the knife to point at her, "but apples aren't so deceptive. You can pick one up, weigh it in your hand, find all its bruises with your fingers—not even a centimeter between you and the prize. Besides, they don't make you work, not like oranges."
"What do you call that?" Hawkeye asked, using her chin to indicate the apple three-fourths naked in her friend's hands.
"This," she answered with a small tap of her knife, "is preference. There's more than one way to eat an apple and each is a different experience. You can have it one way or the other but the options are there—just depends how you want to approach them, which aspects of them you want to bring out.
"See, Hawkeye," she continued patiently, shucking off the last of the skin, "apples are savory,"—the knife plunged into the white mass with a whisper—"bold"—drew down and sliced—"crisp"—withdrew, plunged again, cut and separated to the protest of soft crackles—"and wholesome"—withdrew, speared, freed, and offered—"all without pretension."
Hawkeye gazed at the slice of apple Chambers held out to her on the tip of her knife. She didn't know it, but she was smiling.
Julie winked. "Really."
Riza reached out and accepted that small, unlooked for gift, and in biting into it, discovered all the promises Julie had made for it and more. More because it tasted of friendship.