Gordon heard the phone ringing in the old red telephone box, as he and Stella packed the last of their possessions into their new car.
He toyed with the idea of just letting it ring until it stopped. After all, there was no village left, everyone having been happily paid off and new owners of luxury flats in Aberdeen and beyond.
Stella heard it, too, and she and Gordon exchanged glances, before she put down the suitcase she was holding and walked briskly and calmly to the telephone box.
She opened the door and picked up the receiver. Gordon watched her face through the glass as it lit with a smile.
She leaned out of the box then, and shouted across, “It’s who we thought it’d be. He wants to speak to you.”
Gordon dusted off his hands and walked across, squeezing pleasantly in beside his beautiful wife and taking the receiver from her.
“Mac? Surprised it took you this long.”
“Yeah, well, I had some things to take care of on this end.” The rich Brooklyn accent sounded flat through the tinny receiver speaker.
“So when are you coming?”
“Who says I am?”
“Come on, Mac, I know we only knew you for a week or so, but I think you’ll agree we can read you like a book. Always could.”
“Ah, jeez, Gordon, true enough. So yeah, I thought I’d fly in to Aberdeen tomorrow. Being a Telex man, I convinced Knox Oil and Gas that I could do my job just as well from Scotland as I can from Dallas.”
“Technology’s a wonderful thing, Mac. So do you have your flight number yet? Stella and I can meet you at the airport.”
Mac passed along the pertinent information. “So, I guess the deal went through and all. Are they all gone?”
“That’s right. We’re the last ones, and we’re leaving as soon as we finish loading the last bits into the car.”
“Are they happy, Gordon? Really?” Mac had that wistful tone in his voice, that he’d developed in those last few days in Furness.
“Ecstatic, my friend. They couldn’t get out fast enough. We’re only still here because we thought you might call.”
Was that a sniff Gordon heard on the other end? All Mac said was, “Like you said, read me like a book. So see you tomorrow in Aberdeen. Tell Stella to wear that kilt skirt I like, she knows the one.”
Gordon grinned at Stella, who squeezed his bum and grinned back. “I’ll do that, Mac. See you tomorrow.”
“Oh, hey, Gordon, can you let Danny know I’m coming?”
“I would, but no one’s seen him for a while. Ben said he saw him with that Marina girl, but that was a few days ago. I think they’re working on the Marine Laboratory that Mr. Happer promised them.”
“Oh, well, that’s great. Anyway, tomorrow! Bye, Stella, bye, Gordon!”
“See you soon, Mac,” Stella said into the receiver, as Gordon said the same thing. Then he hung up and they leaned into each other looking out at the sea beyond the box.
Mac hung up the phone on his end, and poured himself another drink. He cast his eye around his mostly packed apartment. He’d given his furniture to one of his friends who had just bought a new place, and his books and his bits and pieces and clothes were all in boxes that his other friend said he’d ship off to him when he got to Scotland.
He’d used one of those estate agent guys in Aberdeen to find him a real nice apartment, or “flat”, as he’d have to get used to calling it.
None of his friends understood why he was going back. The most common response to his news was, “What the hell’s in Scotland, man?” He tried to explain. He wasn’t even sure he’d stay in Aberdeen, he might end up in some other little fishing village that reminded him enough of Furness. But that would depend on certain things.
What he couldn’t tell anyone, not even his querulous mother, who’d moved to Florida a few years ago, with assistance from her son, was that he was going back for love. Love of a black-haired, blue-eyed woman named Stella, that he would never have, unless his good friend Gordon gave her up, which was never happening. He told himself when he first got back and was busy trying to do all the things that Mr. Happer asked him to, that he was better off far away from her. He’d only cause the three of them pain and suffering, if he was around.
Of course, that idea hadn’t stopped him from almost immediately calling the phone box anyway, while the smell of the seashells in his pocket was still potent. That first time there’d been no answer and he’d told himself it was no good, he’d just have to give up and stay where he was.
But Stella haunted his dreams, the feel of her soft and sweet-smelling hair against his cheek during that wonderful waltz at the ceilidh, her warm body moving against him. How could he stay away? But what would he do when he got there? What was he going to do when he saw her tomorrow? Would he only half-jokingly take Gordon aside and ask him to honor that drunken promise to give Stella to him?
He winced and polished off the very inferior scotch that was all he’d left unpacked.
No, he would let things be. He would be happy just to be able to see her now and then, and to be able to spend time with both of them, like a proper adult.
He gave one last glance out the balcony window to the lights of Dallas, and then picked up his suitcase and headed out the door to catch the 6pm flight.
Stella and Gordon each held one end of the large piece of cardstock with “Mac” written in large friendly blue letters. They held it high over their heads as they searched the arriving crowd from the Dallas flight.
A couple of times they’d thought it was him and had started to wave, but realized it wasn’t. Then suddenly Stella began waving frantically and yelling, “Mac!” Gordon looked over and saw that familiar face and a warm surge of affection went through him.
Mac was waving too, and yelling, and pushing his way through the crowd. He looked good, even after a long flight. He ran up to them and the sign was dropped as the three hugged and laughed and kissed.
They scooped up their friend and his bags and hustled him out to their waiting car – a brand new fancy saloon – and they all piled in.
They drove him to the hotel he was going to stay at until his flat was furnished, and they stayed to have a meal with him, before he crashed from jet lag.
They did a lot of catching up over dinner, with Gordon and Stella filling him in on where all the townspeople had ended up, and who was with who.
Ricky and his mum were in Glasgow where he had joined a pop band and was now wearing more make-up than his old girlfriend Linda Fraser had ever worn. Linda was with her dad and mum in Aberdeen and had already been thrown out of two public schools they tried to put her in.
Gideon had moved to another fishing village further down the coast and bought another old boat and could be seen painting names on it, just as he’d always done.
The storekeeper had taken her windfall and run off to Murmansk with Victor. What his girlfriend had to say about that, nobody knew.
And Roddy and the other lobstermen had opened an upscale fishmarket in Edinburgh, bringing in seafood from all the fishing villages around Scotland.
Mac became more and more wistful as he listened to their tales, and when Gordon saw this, he stopped and said, “Mac, what’s wrong? They’re happy! They’re all doing what they wanted to, that they could never do in Furness. They’re free.”
“Yeah, I know, I know. And I’m happy for them, Gordon. I just – I just want it the way it was. The Macaskill Arms, bad polka music in the dining room, ceilidhs and aurora borealises and the ocean and—“
Gordon put a hand on Mac’s shoulder. “I understand, Mac. I do. But it’s the way of this modern world. Change has to come to us all. Look at you. You’ve made a huge change, coming all the way here to Scotland, far from your Porsche and your stereo. Aren’t you excited about that?”
“Sure, sure, of course, but—“ Mac’s head drooped. “I don’t want to be here in the city. I don’t know Aberdeen any more than I ever knew Dallas. I want to go back to Furness, or at least to somewhere like it. I need that, Gordon. I need it.” Gordon could tell he wanted to say more, but had stopped himself.
“Okay, Mac, okay. There are lots of tiny fishing villages around Scotland, no shortage of them, my friend. We’ll find you one that reminds you of Furness, don’t you worry.”
Stella leaned against Mac’s shoulder on his other side and said, “What you need to do, Mac, is start your own hotel in one of those places. Buy one that’s a going concern, or build one. You’ve got money, you can afford it, you should do just that.”
Mac turned towards her, and Gordon saw it then. God, he could be stupid sometimes. Mac was still in love with Stella. Poor man. Not that Gordon had ever blamed him, he just wasn’t about to stand aside, even for someone he was as fond of as Mac.
Mac hadn’t eaten much, and had drunk several whiskeys, and the jet lag seemed to be catching up to him as well. He was definitely swaying in his seat.
Gordon made a decision then. “Right, Mac, you look like you’re going to fall out of that chair any minute. Stella, get his arm around your shoulder, I’ll get this side, and we’ll get him up to his room.”
They got Mac up and managed to sign the bill at the same time. They maneuvered him to the lift and got him to his room, fishing the key out of his pocket.
Having finally got Mac onto his bed, as he muttered longing words about a sweet little hotel by the ocean, Gordon and Stella looked down at their friend, stretched out on the bed.
“You get his shoes, Gordon, I’ll get his belt and his jacket,” Stella said, all efficiency.
This proved to be easier said than done, because Mac decided it was time to get a little amorous. As Stella put her arms around him to lift him up, he kissed her. Stella laughed and pushed away from him a little as she struggled to get his arms out of the sleeves of his well-tailored sports jacket.
Gordon looked up from pulling off Mac’s left shoe, and saw the kiss. He stopped, his hand on the heel of the right shoe. The feeling of anger he should have felt was not there. Instead, he felt a stirring of desire. They looked good together. He remembered now, he’d felt the same way watching them waltz together at the ceilidh. Watching another man with his wife was sexually exciting to him. Who’d have thought it?
Having taken his jacket off, Stella was pulling at Mac’s belt when he threw his arms around her and pulled her down on top of him. Stella was still laughing and pushing at Mac and telling him he was a very bad man and her husband wouldn’t like it. But Gordon wasn’t intervening or saying anything. Stella sat up, still smiling, and caught Gordon’s eye. She immediately understood that look.
She stood up, looking down for a brief moment at the now-sleeping Mac, and then back at Gordon. Her smile had changed to the one that always made him warm to the soles of his feet. She moved towards him and took his hand, leading him into the living room of the hotel suite, and gently closing the bedroom door.
The hotel sofa was not terribly comfortable, but it was enough for Stella and Gordon. Their clothes were off and they were together on that sofa in minutes, their desire blinding them to their surroundings, lost in each other’s touch.
Mac woke up at 5 am, feeling completely rested and with only the tiniest of hangovers. His mouth tasted disgusting, and he went into the bathroom and peed and brushed his teeth.
He changed out of his traveling clothes, trying to remember how he’d made it up to his room. But the fact that his shoes, belt and jacket had been removed, he figured Gordon had helped him up here and then went off with the gorgeous Stella to shag each other senseless—
On his living room couch, apparently. He stood staring, at the extremely attractive picture before him. Gordon and Stella were completely nude, wrapped around each other, with just Gordon’s jacket thrown over their legs for a cover. He found himself admiring them as though they were a work of art, a sculpture, the curve of a buttock, the placement of a hand on a hip.
Some part of him wanted to touch Stella’s hair, but his fully awake senses told him that would just wake them and they might be embarrassed. He slowly started to back away, but being unfamiliar with the location of the door, ran loudly into the door frame.
Stella’s eyes flew open, peeking over Gordon’s bare shoulder, looking right at Mac. She gave that little cheeky tilt of the head, and grinned at him, then kissed Gordon’s cheek and whispered something in his ear. Gordon stirred and he turned his head to glance over his shoulder.
Mac made an attempt at a nonchalant little wave. Gordon grinned, and gave Stella a mock-stern look, which made her giggle. Then Stella made a little shooing gesture at Mac, and he made his escape back into the bedroom.
He stood with his back to the closed door, trying to get control of himself. What did his body think it could have done in that situation anyway? He’d always kind of liked the idea of a threesome, but he’d always figured it would be with two girls, not a girl and a guy. He wasn’t into guys. Really.
He waited what seemed like a decent amount of time and, having thought of all the unpleasant things he could to get himself under control, he then opened the door a crack and said, “Is it safe?”
Stella laughed and Gordon said, “It’s fine, Mac, we’ve got some clothes on.”
Mac came out into the living room and the two of them were sitting side by side on the couch, looking like a couple of unrepentant teenagers. He smiled at them and Stella said, “Well, I guess we should order some breakfast, don’t you think?”
Three months later, Mac found himself in the village of Portness, on the east coast of Scotland, having just taken a lease, with an option to buy, on a small hotel, the Portness Hotel. Gordon had helped him with the negotiations, and Stella was helping with the décor and setting up the bookkeeping. It was a bit fancier than the old Macaskill Arms, with the potential to be a three or four-star establishment.
Three months after that, Gordon and Stella bought the house next door to the hotel and there they are to this day, running the hotel with Mac, Gordon in charge of the restaurant and Stella in charge of the guest relations. Mac spends his time between schmoozing behind the bar with the customers and taking long walks along the shoreline.
Oh, and there’s a big red phone box, long out of date, across the road from the hotel. The phone still works, you should try it sometime.