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Classification Vignette, Romance, H/M
 
Length Approx 2,500 words, 7 pages (8 ½” x 11”)
Rating CF
Summary This takes place shortly after Hail and Farewell. Harm discovers a little way to brighten Mac’s day.
 

 

 

“Remember…hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”
Stephen King, The Shawshank Redemption

 

I’m halfway up the steps that lead to a certain Georgetown apartment house when I bump into Mrs. Flores, exiting the front door. She’s wearing a blue floral housecoat, slippers with socks, and a full set of rollers in her hair, her white Maltese in tow.

“Bueno,” she says, steadying herself with one hand on the railing. “You go to see La Señorita, no?”

“Yes, ma’am.” We have something in common, Mrs. Flores and I. We’re both crazy about the brown-haired, brown-eyed marine colonel that lives on the third floor.

She nods once. “Good. Lately, she look so sad. And she getting too skinny.”

I reach down to give the dog a scratch on the head. “Well, I’m hopefully here to help with that.”

Satisfied, she grins and moves down a few steps. But seconds later, she turns back with a crafty wink. “You good for her,” she whispers, giving a swift tug to the leash.

Once again, this woman and I are in total agreement. I take the rest of the steps two by two.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

I’ve just come from little AJ’s fifth birthday party. Mac had been there too but she managed to escape my watchful eye and sneak out sometime after the presents and before the cake cutting. Though things are unquestionably tough right now for her, there’s no way she would’ve missed AJ’s party. And so she’d shown up wearing a pretty sundress and with her hair dressed up with a few soft waves. She’d shown up with a day’s worth of smiles and laughs, too, spending most of the time holding baby Jimmy while Harriet played hostess.

She wasn’t her usual self, though. She rarely is anymore. She tires easily and is just more, well, introspective. I know that in time, she’s going to get passed all of this, and I really believe she does too. You see, Mac and adversity have had a civil understanding for many years now. Adversity keeps on trying to destroy her every so often and she just keeps on finding way upon way of conquering it.

And as for my role in all this, doing what I’m about to do is all I really can do. For now.

Shortly after I knock, she’s there in the doorway. She’s changed into one of those two hundred dollar black velour tracksuit things, with the form fitting pants and zip-front hooded sweatshirt. Juju or Juicy something or other. I only know this because, lately, I’ve bought my share of said outfits. It seems that Mattie discovered from Jennifer, who’d discovered from any one of the gazillion fashion magazines that can be found on nearly every flat surface in their apartment at any given time, that these overpriced get-ups are all the rage right now. And Mattie’s decided that she needs one in every color.

What the editors of Vogue magazine probably didn’t have in mind to pair with these outfits is what Sarah Mackenzie has chosen for a late Sunday afternoon: enormous pink, fuzzy bunny slippers.

Well before her greeting, she gives me a ‘comment on the footwear and die’ look, her right hand clutching the doorframe. “Hey Harm,” she finally offers.

“Hey yourself. I’d say I was in the neighborhood but you know me better than that.”

“You’re probably wondering why I left early.”

“I’m wondering why you didn’t say goodbye.”

She twirls a strand of her hair, tucking it behind one ear. She’s been wearing it longer lately and it really suits her. Then again, sunlight, moonlight, candlelight, gunnysacks – they all suit her.

“Sorry about that. I did say goodbye to AJ and Harriet but you seemed to be involved in some sort of important conversation with Bud and I didn’t want to disturb you.”

I lean in closer, my eyes darkening. “It’s never too important, Mac. Not for you.”

Her breath catches just a bit and she looks away briefly before nodding. “You’re right; I should know that by now.”

“You should. You okay?”

She exhales a quick puff of air. “Yeah, I’m all right…thanks. I dunno, I just suddenly felt like hanging out here by myself. Well, me and my Breakfast at Tiffany’s DVD,” she adds, gesturing with her head to the TV. When she turns back to look at me, I know my minutes are numbered.

Mac and I have a new arrangement. It’s actually quite refreshing, considering our past track record when it comes to communication. When she needs me or feels like talking, I’m there for her whenever it’s humanly possible, twenty-four, seven. But there are times when she just needs to be alone. She promises to let me know when and I promise never to take it personally. It seems that now is one of those times.

But before I leave with a peck on the cheek and a promise to bring her a vanilla latte in the morning, she notices that I haven’t come empty handed.

“Is that cake?” she asks, pointing to the foil-covered paper plate I’m holding in my left hand.

“Yep.”

“Chocolate?” Her eyes widen.

“Uh-huh.”

She considers this, her arms crossed at her chest. “I’m listening...”

I bring the plate closer, lifting up the edge of the foil so she can peek underneath it. “Chocolate devil’s food. Chocolate mousse filling. Extra vanilla frosting, just the way you like it. I think you even got a part of the Incredible Hulk’s right bicep so this is extra good stuff.”

A smile creeps out from one corner of her mouth. “Well, I guess you could, you know, come in for a few minutes,” she suggests, moving aside to let me in. Elated, I make a mental note of the sheer power that high caloric baked goods actually have against this woman.

By the time I’ve finished shutting and locking the various bolts on her door, she’s moved to the sofa. I’ve caught her during that fleeting period between afternoon and dusk, where it’s not quite dark enough to turn on any lights but the whole room is bathed in delicate shadows. Somehow, it just feels quiet.

Before I take a seat beside her, I set the plate on the coffee table in front of us. Instinctively, she rises for what I presume is a trip to the kitchen, but my hand on her shoulder stops her. I remove the foil to reveal, not only the piece of cake, but also a shiny green plastic fork wrapped inside a napkin.

Her eyebrows spring up. “Having Mattie around has turned you into quite a mother hen, Harm.”

“I do my best.” But it’s not really a Mattie thing. Rather, I’ve decided lately that it’s of utmost importance that Sarah Mackenzie has everything she needs. Whether it’s the right files on her desk, her plants watered while she’s away, or even super-hero laden party napkins.

I watch her now, as she studies what is most likely going to serve as her dinner. She’s tapping the fork along the edge of the plate, making dotted perforations on a portion of the frosting. But she’s not eating it. Before I can ask her why, she turns towards me.

“You know, I used to love my birthdays more than anything when I was little.” She sets the fork down, clasping her hands at her knees.

I nod, scooting forward a bit. “Yeah, I guess I did too.”

Her head tilts slightly. “For me it was different, though. To this day, I still can’t explain it, but every single year, on my birthday, everything about my childhood was just as it should’ve been. For that one day, my dad wouldn’t take a single drink. And he’d laugh and tell stories. I just remember him looking so happy. So relaxed. And most of all, my parents – they wouldn’t fight the whole day. Not even one harsh word.

My mom would always dress up a little. And she’d decorate the house with balloons and streamers and she’d spend the better part of the day baking my favorite chocolate cake. She even learned how to make those pink roses out of frosting - hence my insatiable butter cream addiction,” she muses wistfully, folding and unfolding the napkin in her hands.

“And after dinner, they’d sing and I’d make a wish and blow out all of the candles…” her voice skips a little as her eyes mist. It takes everything within me not to gather her in my arms. But now, I think she just wants me to listen.

“And the ironic thing is, every year, the very next day, everything would just fall back into its normal chaotic state. The drinking, the rage, my mom, helpless and miserable.”

She looks down at the cake, nodding slowly, in reverie, her lips fused together in a tight, thin line. Then she turns. “I remember those wishes. Some of them came true, many of them didn’t. But I still kept on wishing, Harm. Every year.”

I reach for her hand and she gives it to me. I’m suddenly overcome with so many feelings for this woman. It’s like I’m naked, totally transparent, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she could see right underneath my skin if she’d look hard enough. After all these years, there are no walls, no barriers – only things I’m dying to give her and words I’m burning up to say.

Don’t you see how much I’m loving you right now? Don’t you know that my day simply starts and ends with you? For you?

But for a while longer, I’m forced to hold on to these gifts. I’m overwhelmed by the weight of them now, growing heavier and heavier by the minute. And the words, instead of being freed, gather themselves into a tight, thick ball at the base of my throat.

I jump a little as she gives my hand a gentle squeeze and pulls the plate closer. And at that moment, I realize that there is something I can give her.

“Wait, Mac.”

“Hmm?” The fork is poised in mid-air.

“Before you eat that, just wait. I’ll be right back.” Two seconds later, I’m in her kitchen, searching for a few particular items in her utility drawer.

Mac’s home is always neat and organized, but this woman is a pack rat. She never throws anything away. And so I’m relieved, but not surprised to locate these items without too much trouble.

Her face is full of questions when I return to the sofa. And knowing better than to keep a hungry, sugar-obsessed marine away from a piece of cake much longer, I open my hand in front of her.

Her mouth parts slightly as she sees the tiny pink candle and book of matches resting in my palm.

“From that party you threw Harriet last year. But now it’s your turn. Make a wish, Mac.” I place the candle in the middle of the cake.

I swear I see her blush as her eyelids flutter up and down. Then there’s a small crinkle in her nose. “But it’s not my birthday, Harm.”

“Minor detail.” I strike the match and the flame roots itself onto the wick.

She smiles contentedly and shrugs, apparently willing to overlook the age-old rules and regulations pertaining to birthdays and wish making. For a second, though, she just watches the little flame. It’s full of energy, skipping back and forth and every which way in between. Like children do.

Then she closes her eyes and ceremoniously raises her head to the ceiling and back down again. The flame disappears with a quick wisp of air.

“So what did you wish for?” I ask, with an appearance of playfulness.

She shakes her head. “C’mon, Harm. You know it won’t come true, then.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” I offer in a voice that earns her full attention, sending everything into slow motion. “But will you promise to tell me someday?”

“Yes,” she whispers. “I promise.”

I graze one finger along the moist skin beneath her eye. “Never stop wishing, Mac.”

She nods and just stares at me, the warm light she’d robbed from the candle shining now in her eyes. She doesn’t say anything – she doesn’t have to. And before I can even take my next breath, she does something amazing. She rests one hand on my cheek and places a tiny peck of a kiss upon my lips.

“What was that for?” I question softly, my head still spinning.

She takes a deep breath, exchanging the rest of the tears for a pensive smile. “For bringing me a lot more than cake today.”

It is at this very moment that, for the first time in too long of a time, I’m firmly convinced she’s on her way back to me. A wide-toothed grin spreads upon my face at the thought of this.

And while I sit here, lost in promises and possibilities, Mac takes her turn at disappearing into the kitchen.

When she returns, she settles herself down again, this time, closer, dangling a second fork in front of me. “Speaking of cake, why don’t you share this with me? I don’t know if you’ve realized it, but this piece is way too much for one person.”

“Nah, you go ahead, Mac. Knock yourself out. Besides, I already had some at the party.”

She shoves the fork into my hand. “Minor detail.”

My one thought as we dive into the cake, our forks quarrelling over the very best parts, is that Sarah Mackenzie has a world full of surprises in store for her. You see, it’s my birthday in a few months. And my list of wishes is only getting started.

 

The End
 

 

 
 
   

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