Being in Afghanistan, he imagined it so many times. Sweating like hell in 100-degree heat, eating the dust, lying face down under the fire, waked in the middle of the night with the sound of nearby shooting, burying people they knew, being shamelessly proud of reports they’ve done, working like a dog, Jim envisioned so often how it would be felt like, at last – going home.
The reality, of course, didn’t match these dreams at all. Well, no – there was something that matched. His family was pretty happy with him returned in one piece. Dad even once said he was doing a worthy job, and Annie-the-sister shed a tear stroking his cropped nape when met him at their parents.
All the rest, it was like their biggest loss, to go home that way. Nothing else could make them feel the work they’ve done so devalued and useless, and themselves being thrown away. It was the one and only time Jim saw Mac in tears at work, in front of all the team, when they got known of that disastrous budget cuts which blew them all out of job.
But the worst thing about the job was that nobody wanted them here, at home. Of course it was a bit naïve to expect the world will fall at the feet of yesterday’s intern, albeit returned from the war, but he believed Mac’s merits speak for themselves. He could never imagine there would be no appropriate offers for her, but the fact remains. And, frankly, looking at his own new job in the second-rate show, he asks himself whether it was necessary to travel that far, to finally get such a position.
So, after a while, Jim realized his ‘invaluable experience’, how Mac liked to call it, did not only consist of many things he learned to do during that two years. In fact, it was made of twenty six months of genuine life, devoted to something really worth it, surrounded by people who valued truly important things, and at last being excluded from the rat race he’s now hopelessly bogging in.
It happened three weeks after they arrived, right when Jim realized he is far away from having a job of his dream, and Mac found nothing where it supposed to be a bunch of great job opportunities she definitely deserves. They met in some half-empty shady bar, and actually, it was kind of a funeral, a wake for their inspiration and courage and hopes, so no surprise they finally got madly drunk that night.
“The troubles of our proud and angry dust
Are from eternity, and shall not fail.
Bear them we can, and if we can we must.
Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale”, Mac recited with a great feeling.
“Do you know it? It’s from – “
“ – A Shopshire Lad . Of course, I know”, Jim interrupted with a smartass smile.
“You are too educated for your job, did you know it?” – Mac clapped a hand on his shoulder. – “Look, we should run a show on English poetry. You know, shouldn’t we bring the im-mor-tal culture to the masses?”
“Oh, yeah, - and we name it ‘Geeks and freaks at 3 AM’ ”, Jim chuckled.
“You are too young to be so cynical, my little friend.”
“And you are always fifteen, Mac. Nothing will fix you.”
“So why don’t you buy me a drink then, old man”, she laughed on him.
They got kicked out when the place got closed just before midnight, and Mac stated she’ll walk by feet all twenty eight blocks to her apartment making stops for a drink in all and every place she’ll find on the way. Not much soberer then Mac, Jim tried to object though, and after some tipsy bickering they agreed on proceeding at her place – that was the reason why they ravaged her impressive reserves of alcohol and finally found themselves half-dressed, kissing on the couch, no one having any slightest intention to stop.
Jim vaguely remembered what followed next, just like successive flashes of images and sensations. Her beautiful porcelain pale skin, cool at the first touch, and then flushed under his palms; a fresh scar stretched from her ribs to the bottom of the stomach, looking so rude upon her slender figure, which he carefully avoided to touch; dark hair blowing across her shoulders, stirring rhythmically as her thighs move; a spatter of frantic demanding kisses boiling his desire, his desperate craving to take her deeper, deeper and harder, never gratified enough.
Woke up at dawn next morning, he spent a while lying quietly, feeling the warmth and stillness of her sleeping breath. Then he carefully shifted her head to the pillow and fled away in silence.
Had Jim been the guy he used to be two years ago, he would probably have died from embarrassment facing Mac next time. But perhaps it was exactly the time when he found out he got matured. Or maybe it was because Mac had always been such an exceptional person, and whatever related to her was going to break all the rules too. Anyway, they felt no awkwardness in between them after that… incident - Jim doesn’t know if there’s a correct word for it - and their relations seem to have no change at all.
Whether it was a true ‘golden nail’ in a male-female relations he once has read about, or it’s a way adult friendship might look like, Jim doesn’t know and has no inclination to reflect too much.
“Hey Mac”, Jim responses, cradling the phone with his shoulder, placing his has-to-be-dinner into microwave.
Audrey spends a week at her sister, and Jim blesses his probably last single nights so far. He’s seriously planning to propose her to move in on her return, as Audrey supposes it will make them quarrel less (in which, however, Jim reasonably doubts). Things never go straight with Audrey, she’s all challenge and puzzler; and Jim wonders if it’s partly – or mostly - a reason why he started to date with her. Anyway, she’s beautiful and full of joy at her best moments, and has a razor sense of humor, and is really distracting, and Jim knows how to be grateful enough for all that.
And today Audrey is off, but will return soon, so it should be a great time; and just for sake Jim, all of a sudden, found himself in the middle of such a painful bout of depression - he doesn’t actually know why.
It quickly became a habit, to have Mac on the phone several nights a week. Audrey often became angry about it, but Jim doesn’t mind: it’s just Audrey; she can find a reason for fury and jealousy in any simple thing.
They always have just usual talks, he and Mac, that friendly nothings that often help them to come to themselves and conclude that life is not such a bad thing. Not always, however, and tonight Jim feels even Mac’s call is not enough. Maybe it’s not enough for Mac too, he thinks. He knows it from her voice; from the way she hides her despair beneath the thin coat of joy and enthusiasm – he knows it too well.
He supposes Mac has already had a couple of glasses tonight: her voice is a fifth lower than her usual sober voice, and there’s a special mild laugh of her – a little thing Jim’s secretly fond of in getting drunk with Mac. Not a bad idea for a day like that, he noted to himself - to go somewhere and have some drink - or two, or whatever - in Mac’s company.
Mac, in the meanwhile, retells a book about Zen she’s just read, unfolding arguments to the advantages of Buddhism. It’s so comfy, so complying with their way of life, let along their profession: to be not attached to anything and anybody. Jim feels something like a momentary twinge of conscience: in fact, they all somehow landed on four paws – all except Mac. Mac, of all people he knows, is most fitting candidate to question Buddhism’s axioms: actually, she’s already bound to live a life without attachments right now.
As if in response to this thought, Mac’s mood breaks through her light tone for a moment.
“By the way, it’s what I’m practicing right now”, she says with a suddenly brittle voice.
“Not a soul for a mile around, and have exactly zero things to do, except a full bottle of bourbon, which is a good company, of course, but is too much for me, I’m afraid – “
“- Aside from a fact that Buddhists don’t consume alcohol”, he chuckles.
“So much the worse for them,” she sneers.
Something stiffs his throat, and he suddenly feels how keenly he yearns - just to close his eyes and hide his head in her cool hands. And not to think about anything.
“It’s easy to fix, – “ Jim clears his throat – “I mean, your bourbon problem. Just call me, beautiful lady, and I would be glad to help you with your difficult task.”
“ Sounds great. Cause I’ll tell you, you’re the only person I could willingly share my bourbon with. And my evening too.”
“Agreed.” He believes he knows what she means. Jim’s heart lurches and he hurries to go before his resolve has vanished.
It’s funny how it fits their friendship. It’s not a crush – well, it was, for a period of time, but years ago (Jim wonders if he still has much in common with that guy who once crushed on Mac, followed her to the edge of the world, and got mad on his siblings’ educated guess that’s his true reason to do so). They had a lot to see during that twenty six months, a lot to live over, and Jim, particularly, had a lot of things to get faded out of him, to leave in the past. It has been ages since he feels that way.
Mac cheers him with a sign of that simulated joy he yet didn’t buy talking to her by phone. She is barefoot and wearing a home long shirt-like buttoned dress; with a corner of his mind Jim routinely noted the casual chic of her look. Mac could try on a sugar bag belted with a linen rope and would still look like a millionaire on a picnic.
Being offered a glass, Jim hurries to empty it, trying not to show it to Mac. They both know why he’s there, at last, it’s Mac who has invited him, yet he still feels a bit – nervous? Scared? Out of place? Whatever it was, it dissolves in a second glass, as they proceed with a talk they begun by phone, as if wasn’t interrupted. But as far as the bottle gets emptier, the pauses get longer, for they have no more need – or no means – of fooling one another, of pretending, of saving faces.
Crossing the room, Jim noticed a cigarette box on the table. That’s it. He had never seen Mac smoking while being embedded, not even under the most terrible pressure – but within last months it certainly isn’t the first time he sees it. He leaves his glass on the table and sighs.
Mac stays musing, handling her half-empty glass, looking through the window on the street below. A slender, brittle figure against the darkened sky. Jim steps close behind her and places his arms upon her elbows, pressing a gentle kiss onto side of her neck, just beneath an earlobe. Her muscles loose under his palms; she switches a little in his embrace, just to brush the corner of his mouth with her lips. An arousal washes his body with a warm wave. Mac smells with whisky and tar, and a faint scent of her bittersweet perfume, and it’s funny how this mess fits her for now.
She looses a cross of her arms and slides her hand upon his - such a tender sensation of her caressing fingers on his knuckles - shifting their hands both up on her chest in a way that lets his fingers pass under the neck of her dress. He senses the smooth skin near the edge of her bra, and then snakes under the lace, stroking that tender cup inside. She gasps and leans back, getting even closer to him; he feels her hot breath on his temple and her back and hips pressed to his whole body, and it makes him rush unbuttoning her dress with the suddenly clumsy fingers. Down to her waist, undoing a thin belt, a few more buttons to the hem, and then up to the bra – for heaven, it has a clasp at its front, unbuckled at the first attempt. The clothes slip from her shoulders and fade down to the floor.
He eagerly grasps her now naked breasts, cuddling them, running little circles around her hardening nipples, making her moan and arch. She twists toward him, pulls his t-shirt out of jeans, sliding her hands onto his bare skin and her thin dexterous fingers make do with his belt buckle in a second.
“C’mon, take them off,” her voice is now low and hoarse, and they both sense his erection pricks tighter in response to her hands move as well as to her voice. Jim steps back for a moment and pulls off his jeans and boxers at one. Looking at her bottom up, he holds on her knees and puts a trace path of hot kisses onto her inner thigh until he reaches the only small patch of black lace she’s still wearing on her hips. He presses his mouth to it and feels, even through the thin fabric, she’s yet so madly wet. Sneaking under her knickers, pulling them away, he then holds her butt, as if to press her tighter to him, but there’s no need, as she shifts herself forward, letting him in, exposing her groin to his mouth, longing for his touch. He finds her clit with his tongue and feels her thighs shivering and her hands nailing his shoulder, and hears her breathy moan.
Straightening himself up, he takes her over the shoulder and let her turn around, reaching the position they started with. Mac admits it, leaning forward, her butt tighten to the length of his erection, which makes him inhale hardly.
Jim spends a moment just staring at her figure. Tracing the spine, and kissing a little spot where her incredible butt part in two, Jim then can’t help but stroke down that teasing cleavage ever so slightly, being rewarded with a pleased gasp.
They share a mess of harsh uneven gasps when he first thrusts into her. She’s so wet and hot and though inside that he hardly can stop himself from rush, adjusting his pace to her own rhythm as her hips move in so maddening way, as her body arches toward him, as her inner walls pulse enfolding him inside. At one moment she leans lower, holding a hand upon a windowsill, her breasts twitching with their every move, and he couldn’t help himself but lean too and touch them, stoke them, squeeze them with his palms. She moans hoarsely and hastens her moves, teasing him to stick deeper, and harder, and faster, and then she presses her hand upon his ass getting him tighter, digs her nails into his skin, and he lets out a harsh moan and almost, almost… Trying his hardest to not let himself come before her, he returns a favor, his hand snakes between her thighs and finds her clit, and as he strokes that now hardened with arousal, sticking out, hypersensitive spot of flesh, and squeezes her nipple with another hand, and shoves into her harshly, - she screams and shakes and skewers herself back in several frantic frictions, leaving him no choice but follow her coming a couple of moves later.
“God, Jim!” she breathes out, but doesn’t finish a phrase, and he praises her for that in his mind, cause just now he doesn’t need - doesn’t want - to know. Maybe they’ve just done a pretty wrong thing, or maybe they develop their only way to stay afloat, who can say it for true? At least, it seems right for tonight for two of them, and Jim supposes it’s surely enough.
Instead, they refill their glasses and drink them, as if in order to extend the spell. They nestle sitting feet to feet at the wide windowsill, sipping whiskey and passing each other a cigarette, dragging in turns. Watching blinking street lights below in a warm silence.
…They embrace and stay still just for a moment before he leaves. Mac brushes the corner of Jim’s mouth with a light kiss; it feels way friendlier than lovingly, and it feels okay. They are friends, and they trust each other with their lives, and sometimes they hold on each other, and finally, what else do they need?
Jim steps in the empty street. It’s surely time for the cab, but he feels he would like to walk. He’s been caught by the sudden tenderness, still tingling on his fingertips, and lips, and on his skin where her touches leave their invisible traces. It’s kind of - like being deafened, like move through the deep waters. The world becomes blank around him, and he tries to keep this feeling. Tomorrow’s grey sober light will surely dissolve the magic, and there’s nothing to do, but now he tries not to spoil it with any words, with any thoughts.
He likes it that way, passing through the empty streets as if being born by a heavy lukewarm flow of city breath; being cradling with its rocking, without a single thought in his cleanly washed mind, he feels fallen into a silent peace, and it’s the best thing he could wish tonight.