North of Union Station
I towel my hair dry as I get out of the shower and walk over to my dresser, tossing the
wet towel on the floor as I walk past my bed. I scan the
contents of my dresser for a moment, before my hand settles on the hanger that holds my
summer mess dress.
As I put on
my trousers and the white starched shirt, I savor the feeling of getting into
my uniform. I don’t get to wear the mess dress often, but I like it. And I know
she does, too. The mess dress is the navy’s special uniform for black-tie
occasions such as the NATO-ball or some other function where service dress
whites are just not appropriate.
Mess dress comes in many parts, such as the golden cummerbund, the shirt that is held together by studs instead of buttons up front and with cufflinks at the sleeves. Other than any of my other uniforms, it goes with a black bow tie. I actually don’t like that part as it's one hell of a mess to get it right so it won’t look off to one side or another, but it just is the way it is.
Leaving the white waist-length jacket on the hanger for a moment longer, I make the two steps over to my commode and take out the small black box that contains my miniature medal set. I open it and I stare at the tiny medals on their colorful ribbons. They have been received in over twenty years of service to my country and I’m proud of every one of them. I got most of them during the last nine years; the time between the beginning of my life and now. I smile as I touch the two Distinguished-flying crosses, remembering the day the president of the United States himself pinned the first one to my chest, and also remembering what else happened that day.
Pulling them out, I apply them to the collar of my mess dress, along with the miniature gold wings that I put directly above them. Reaching on my bed I pick up another black box, opening it slowly. I always knew this day might come sooner or later, but when General Cresswell dropped that bombshell two days ago, it felt like a blow to my gut, like all the air had left my lungs and the reason for that had been anything but pleasant.
Shaking myself out of it, I take my new shoulder boards and apply them to the shoulders of my white jacket, only allowing myself to trace them lightly, remembering my old man. If he had lived to see me making Captain, I’m sure he would have burst with pride. I have outranked him for over ten years now, considering he went MIA when he was just a Lieutenant. But this is different. I’m no longer under the direct command of my superior officer. The four stripes on my insignia show, that I have my own command now, or rather, that I am about to get it.
As I put on the jacket, I look at myself in the floor-length mirror and let myself marvel for a second longer. I’m not arrogant enough to think that I look breathtaking or anything. But tonight might be the last time I ever wear this uniform, and I want to savor the moment before I head out.
Thinking about what happened earlier brings a grin to my face and I find myself in a calmness that I haven’t felt in a very long time. I realize, that the thought of maybe wearing a navy uniform for the last time, doesn’t evoke the sadness that I once thought it would, and I can’t bring myself to be bothered about it.
Sure, I would love to go to London. I am confident enough to know I’m a good officer and I worked hard to achieve what I have. But at the same time, it’s so unimportant next to other things in my life. I love the Navy, but if tonight puts an end to me being an officer, I am more than happy to walk away from it, knowing the thing I’m choosing over this is worth so much more.
When she came over earlier to talk about “us”, I was almost paralyzed when I saw her standing in my open apartment door, while I carried around packed boxes. She only wore a comfortable shirt, her hair pulled down so it cascaded around her face. But to me she was the most beautiful thing. I guess I’m getting old and sentimental or something.
And then it suddenly happened. As if of its own, the conversation went from almost teasing to dead serious. We both knew what our orders meant the moment we received them from the General’s hands. Almost 6000 miles between London and San Diego, the very likely end to everything between us, probably even our friendship.
We had been dancing around this conversation for three days, and with barely over 12 hours left before we'd be parted forever, she found the courage to open her mouth in a way I hadn’t when I drove over to her place the other night. She broached the topic of our relationship without much pre-talk. Once again. I remember her doing this a couple years ago, before everything became so complicated, on a beautiful night in Sydney harbor.
Maybe I surprised her tonight when I didn’t back off the conversation, the way I had back then. In fact, I plunged right ahead without even thinking about it.
“Mac, I don’t think that I’ll ever feel about anyone else the way that I feel about you!”
She didn’t need a translator for that, I know. Yet, she made a comment of me not telling that to my future wife, whoever that may be. But I saw it in her eyes. She knew exactly that there would never be any such thing as another wife. Not for me.
There was one question that had been on my mind for a long time. Over the years I have watched her with lots of guys…. Dalton Lowne, Mic Brumby and until a couple months ago, Clayton Webb. Though I will never really get the last one, I always wondered what she saw in them. Sure, Lowne was rich, but Sarah MacKenzie wasn’t in it for the money. If she had been, she wouldn’t have come back to JAG when she could have earned a shitload of money in that private firm of his.
Brumby was another matter altogether. That man made me almost puke with the way he went after her. I never quite got rid of the feeling that she only allowed him to court her in the obvious manner he did, because she wanted to get back at me for something. But then again, she had agreed to get married to him and the ring on her finger had honestly killed all my ambitions to be with her one day. It had hurt a lot, when she turned up at the airport in Sydney wearing his ring, especially after the conversation we had shared on that damned ferry only two days prior.
“Let me ask you a personal question. Of all the men in your life… what was it about them that attracted you?”
For a second she stared down at her hand and then right at me. “Well, they wanted me and they let me know it!”
I almost snorted at that. Why did she think I went after her to Paraguay to safe her Marine green butt, along with Webb’s? But this was not the time for that kind of conversation. Sitting down on the other barstool next to her I looked at her intently. “I wanted you! You knew that.” I surprised myself with an even, calm voice. It betrayed how nervous I was getting.
For a moment she let my comment hang in the air between us, looking at me closely. And then she gave me an answer that sounded like a sorry excuse and from what I saw in her eyes, it not only sounded like that to me. She brought up other women, when she knew I hadn’t been with anyone since Renee, which had been a VERY long time for me. She brought up the search for my father which I concluded over five years ago, when I learned that he really was no longer alive.
And she mentioned work. Well, I’ll give her a point for that one, because it really would have created some sort of havoc with us both in the same chain of command. But she and I both knew there were ways around that.
I took her hand, clearly showing her what I was about to do. “Mac, we have twelve hours.” It was my way to show her, that there was still time for this, for us. She looked at me with an expression that you give a child when trying to talk them out of something. “We’ve had nine years.”
I think she meant it as a way of goodbye. Her way of telling me, that if we haven’t got it together after so many years, we will never be able to. After all, she had officially come over so we could say our goodbyes, only the conversation had started a life of its own somehow, putting us right in the middle of all the things we had avoided saying to each other, thank you very much. I looked her right in the eyes, her beautiful brown eyes that I could get lost in anytime. “Maybe I just needed a deadline!”
She seemed startled for a bit, but covered it within a half second. “Well, you got one, sailor!” I’m not sure I could have said anything else at this point, because my mind was reeling, my heart was beating on at least mach 5 and the only thing I heard was the blood in my ears, suddenly very, very loud.
I drew her closer, not being able to help myself. I was mesmerized by her lips, her eyes, and her perfume. I love her scent. It’s not as importunate as the one many other women I’ve been with used. Sarah MacKenzie has a scent all of her own, and it has played havoc with my senses for years.
And then I felt it. Her soft lips on mine, first in a soft caress, and then fierce and hungry all of a sudden. I couldn’t help myself anymore than she could. I can still feel her lips on mine, even after taking a shower earlier. I can feel her hand on my neck, trying to draw me even closer.
In that moment, it felt like a spring had been loosened and I was lost. Lost in her embrace, lost in her scent, lost in the feeling of her in my arms and her lips on mine, just as desperate for touch and feeling as mine.
And then I did something that came out of nowhere, because I definitely know I didn’t make the decision consciously. After all this time of playing hide and seek, of actually picturing myself doing this and then taking the cowards way out … I simply babbled out what I had always intended to be a romantic experience before. I proposed.
And I didn’t propose to get to my bed as fast as our feet could carry us there, or the couch or whatever. I asked her to marry me. And only after I had uttered those words was I sure that I really meant them. At that moment I knew that every letter of these words was true to the core. I wanted and still want her to be my wife, the woman I come home to every night, from wherever it will be that I work in the future. And all of a sudden, my babbled words made all the sense in the world, no matter how unconsciously I had said them.
Checking my watch, I realize it's time to leave. For once in my life I want to be on time. Straightening out my cummerbund, I grab my keys and head out the door toward what I hope will be my future.