Disclaimer: Not mine, but DPB's. No profit or infringement intended.
Author's note: Thank you to Gail for the beta.
You can still taste Mac on your lips.
No amount of red wine can wash that taste away.
You remember the way she tipped her head back, the way she reached for you. You remember thinking you shouldn't do this, not with Renee on the other side of that wall. You, however, didn't spare a thought for Mic Brumby.
You reached back.
She pulled you close or maybe you pulled her. Your lips touched tentatively. Distance -- physical, not emotional -- separated the two of you, but not for long. This was no friendly kiss between best friends, no gentle peck on the lips. Anyone walking by would have thought the two of you were the ones celebrating your engagement.
For a moment, you forgot Australia ever happened. You forgot the Admiral advised you never to look back.
When she walked away, you needed a moment to yourself to think. You put on your jacket, leaned momentarily on the porch rail, took a deep breath, and went back into the house. You smiled at Renee, smiled at Brumby. You tried not to look at Mac as much as you wanted to. You stood next to her, feeling the heat from her fingers, so close to yours. You admit, you were tempted. Just hold her hand, right there in front of all of your friends. You were thinking, "Hell with it, hell with Brumby." But you didn't do it. Maybe it was because of Renee, maybe because of something -- someone? -- else, but you ignored Mac's hand brushing up against yours.
It's three o'clock in the morning. Damn early to be awake, especially since you need to be at work at eight. You've got a court martial first thing and of all things, the charge is fraternization. You're defending, Mac is prosecuting, and you have to act as if that kiss never happened, as if it meant nothing.
You don't want to forget and you know it means everything.
You're torn. A part of you is mad at hell you let a woman like Mac get away. The other part of you is furious with her because she chose Brumby over you. You don't want to think that maybe you gave her no other choice.
You still want to know if she loves Brumby. It's obvious they have a good time together. He's head over heels with her, gave up his career for her. The depth of commitment Brumby made for Mac bewilders and frightens you. How the hell can you compete with someone who gave up his own country for a woman? Impossible odds. You've never given up before, but in face of the romanticism of Brumby's gesture, you threw in the towel.
Besides, you have Renee.
After the party, you were thankful Renee brought her own car so you could be alone on the drive home. You were, however, aware of her headlights in your rearview mirror. She said she had brought her overnight bag and then made a comment about perhaps how you should clean a drawer out for her since she spends the night so often.
You think about having Renee in your life until death do you part. You wonder what it would feel like to slip a diamond engagement ring onto her finger. You know forever is what she wants; Renee has made it very clear she loves you. For Renee, it's simple.
Now she's curled up in your bed, her fingers tight around the Egyptian cotton sheets. She sleeps with the same enthusiasm she has for everything else in life: heavily and with passion. You know as you get out of bed that it'll take an act of Congress to get Renee to let go of you. You're very aware she has been keeping a calendar, marking off the days until Mac and Brumby's wedding. You've been marking days as well but for an entirely different reason.
You walk into the bathroom and splash water on your face. You stop for a moment, pausing to evaluate your reflection in the mirror. Nothing new to see, simply the same face which has stared back at you for over three decades. For three decades, you've been questing, always searching for something (someone?). Renee is right about that: you are always passionate in your passions. Your life is a litany of loss: your father, Diane, Kate, Meg, Annie, Jordan. And now, Mac.
Mac told you to let go, to loosen up. She was daring you. You wonder what would have happened if you had accepted, if you had said what you really felt and wanted to say. But you didn't and once again, you let her walk away. You let her stand next to Brumby, pretended it didn't bother you when the Australian put his arm around Mac, pulling her close to him. Just as you had minutes before.
You realize you'll never be able to rinse Mac out of your system.
You walk back into the bedroom and see Renee stirring in bed. Her hair is mussed, a golden halo against the pillow. She lets out a little sigh, a gentle snore, but you know she's unaware of your absence. For that, you're grateful.
When you left the Admiral's home, arm-in-arm, you considered telling Renee to call it a night. You mentioned casually she had a shoot the next morning, that spaghetti commercial. She didn't take the bait and you didn't press the issue. How could you when Brumby and Mac were standing there, his arm around her and she smiling that smile that sends your heart straight down to your knees?
So you let Renee follow you home and you held her the way she wanted to be held. You said you were tired, didn't have energy for anything else. So Renee fell asleep and you lay there, staring up at the ceiling.
Which brings you back to this moment. You sit on the edge of the bed, put your hand on Renee's hip. She stirs slightly, but doesn't wake. You lean forward, kiss Renee softly on the forehead. You wait. She doesn't move. You're not disappointed.
Mac is right; it doesn't have to be complicated.
But you're also very aware you missed your chance.
~ the end
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