I nod. “Thanks, Jim.”
Jim is such a stereotypical bartender name. Isn’t every bartender in every movie named Jim? It’s always something simple. Jim. Bob. Bill. It has to be something easy to remember when you are drunk, which I’m not. I rarely drink and never the hard stuff. Even now, Jim slides a diet coke in front of me.
Why go to a bar to order a diet coke? Not many choices in this neck of the woods. Pickings are slim, as they say. It is one of the few places where you can order drinks that are only popular in the United States.
My name is MacKenzie Davis. I’m twenty-three and an interpreter. I am called Mac, for short. Mac sounds the same in pretty much any language, so it’s universal.
Six months ago, I graduated college, with a Bachelor of Arts in Modern Languages. My minor was Anthropology. Choosing a major and a minor was easy, I chose subjects in which I excelled and had more than a fleeting interest. However, I failed to look much past a Bachelor’s degree. I found myself a month from graduation and no idea what to do next. The logical progression would be graduate school. With a masters or doctorate, I could teach anywhere, but what I really needed was a break.
One of my language instructors suggested that I look into interpreting. I am fluent in six languages, other than English, including American Sign Language. I’m conversational in another four; additionally, I pick up local dialects very quickly. Several things fell into place at just the right time. I was hired by a company who provides interpreters to military posts, corporations, and government agencies around the world.
Which brings us back to the present; I am sitting in a bar in Istanbul, Turkey. I am a tour guide for the Istanbul Archeology Museums. Being multi-lingual allows me the flexibility to work with any group that comes through. My knowledge of anthropology makes me a popular guide, because I give my groups extra tidbits of trivia. I have colleagues and acquaintances, but no friends here. My favorite people are tourists and they turnover every few hours.
Sounds lonely, doesn’t it? Let me tell you the rest. My mother died when I was young; she is the only one who called me by my given name. I am an only child raised by a single father. Dad is a General Contractor. He owns a small company. It provides a comfortable lifestyle, but he’ll never be rich and he’s fine with that. He is a good man, with little to say about anything. For as long as I can remember, he’s called me Mac.
My parents married when mom was twenty and dad was a year older. They had me a year later. Mom died when I was three. So there was my dad, a widower at twenty-five, with a three year old and no earthly idea what to do with a girl. But we made it work. He did his best, and I didn’t ask for much.
When I told him what I planned to do after graduation, he did not say anything. But the next day, a brand new set of luggage was waiting in my bedroom. Whether it was approval or permission, I’m not entirely sure. I never asked and he never said. I email him every few days, just to let him know I am fine. There just isn’t a lot to tell him. Sometimes, I include short anecdotes from the group tours, and he replies with a smiley face emoticon.
A familiar voice brings me back to reality. I don’t have to turn around. I know who stands behind me. I would know that slow, southern cadence anywhere. I look up confirming that the voice belongs to Drew. I’ve teased him that he has a radio voice.
“Hi.” I offer a shy smile.
Drew is only three years older than me, but you wouldn’t know it to look at him. He could easily pass for thirty. An intimidating six feet, his muscular frame fills out his uniform nicely. Drew is friendly without being flirty. He has an easy smile and can laugh at anything. But the wrinkle around his eyes and his tanned weathered skin suggest a lifetime of working outdoors. His blue eyes reflect both an optimistic sparkle and a quiet wisdom that only comes from lessons learned the hard way. The best part is that he is American, one of the few that I know in this country.
“You started without me?” He glances at my half empty glass and pretends to be hurt.
“Yes. Yes, I did. I’m on my second round.”
“Then I’ll have to work fast to catch up.” He signals Jim. “Fully leaded, please.”
Jim grins and slides him a regular coke. Drew takes a long drink and turns his attention back to me. “How was your week?”
I shrug. “Busy. College group in town for ten days. They were here to assist one of the professors with a dig. I had them most of the day.” I trail off.
“It wasn’t fun?”
I shake my head. “It’s not that. I just forget what American college kids are like. Even the so-called nerds.”
Drew laughs. “Have you heard from your dad?”
I met Drew in this very bar after I had been in town for about a month. I didn’t know anyone, but I made myself at home here with Jim. At first, Drew didn’t say much. We just exchanged pleasantries.
The next week, he made it a point to sit two stools away. We traded a little more information. I told him about my recent graduation and about my job as an interpreter. He told me about joining the Army right out of high school. It was a way to pay for college when his enlistment was complete. He explained that his parents could pay for his tuition, but he wanted to do something on his own, without their help. He admitted that he thought it might be his only opportunity to see other parts of the world.
After four years, Drew realized that he liked what he was doing and when his time ran out, he re-upped for another four years.
The third week, we exchanged background information. I told him about my father. He told me about his parents, little sister, and the family farm.
We have a standing date. We never set a time or make plans to go anywhere. That might ruin our comfortable, casual alliance. It is possible that I have a crush on this soldier. But it might just be that he is the only friend I have here, besides Jim. It is also possible that Drew likes me as more than a drink date, but I find that highly unlikely.
We simply meet and share our life stories over soft drinks. I never get my hopes up in case he doesn’t show, but he always does. I am always pleased and relieved when I hear his voice.
“Yes. He emailed me last night. He won that bid on the car wash that he wanted.”
Drew is a sniper. He spends most of his days standing guard at the front gate or on the roof of the US Embassy.
“So I got some good news this morning,” Drew says.
He nods. “I’m headed home next week. I only have a month left and I’m going to finish it stateside.”
My heart sinks a little, an unexpected reaction. “That’s great. What will you do next?”
Drew shrugs. “I don’t have much choice. I talked to my mom the other day. Things aren’t looking good. I have to go home.”
Drew’s sister who is eight years younger than him is a freshman in college. Their parents live on a large farm outside of a very small town about an hour from anything that would show up as more than a dot on a state map.
Eighteen months ago, their father was diagnosed with cancer. Drew couldn’t do anything from thousands of miles away. His mother has taken over care of their father, while also managing the farm. Fortunately, their operation is a large one. They had a crew and a foreman who were ready to step in and pick up the slack.
Two weeks ago, his mother told him that the last set of scans showed that the last round of chemotherapy hadn’t worked as well as they’d hoped.
“There is no way to know how much time my dad has left. I need to be there for him, for mom. I can take over managing the farm. That will give her one less thing to worry about.”
I nod. I knew that would be his decision. I know his wish was to return home and enroll in college, but he would set aside his own desire to take care of his family. It’s the kind of man he is and I admire that.
“When do you leave?” I ask, forcing my voice to sound steadier than I feel.
“Next Sunday. Will I be able to see you to say good-bye?”
I nod. “Saturday night. Same bat time. Same bat channel.”
Drew smiles. “Sounds good.”
We sit for another hour. We nurse our melting drinks. We chat about the coming week. We avoid the topic of him leaving.
“It’s starting to get late,” I finally point out.
“How much longer are you here?” Drew asks.
“About five more minutes. I’m going to hit the restroom before I leave.”
“No. I mean. When do you go back to the states?”
I shrug. I can leave anytime, really. But what’s the point. What am I going back for?
“I’m not sure. I guess when I have something to go back for.”
Drew and I share a cab back to my apartment. We do this almost every week. I have no problem traveling by myself, but Drew has this thing about me being alone after dark. I call him the last southern gentleman.
We ride in silence. The cab drops us on the sidewalk in front of the building. My apartment is on the fourth floor. Normally, we part ways here, but tonight is different; Drew escorts me all the way to my door.
This is awkward. “So, you get to go home,” I say finally.
Drew shrugs. “Home feels like a relative term anymore. I have been in the Army for so long. Home is wherever I happen to be.”
“I get it.” I pause, unsure of what to say next. Part of me wants to tell him not to leave, but I know that isn’t realistic. I consider admitting that I will miss him, but I have no right to. We are casual friends who share facts over a soft drink once a week. We don’t hang out regularly. We are not dating. A few times over the last few months, I thought he might ask me out or make a move. He never did. So it seems unfair to say anything now.
Drew sighs. “I feel like I’m abandoning you.”
“I appreciate that. I think. But you aren’t. You are going home. You are going to take care of your family. It isn’t the same thing.”
“I know, but…”
“And I’m not a damsel in distress. I chose to come here. I’m working. I won’t stay here forever, but I like what I do. I can handle myself. My Saturday nights will just be a little less interesting.”
Drew chuckles. “I have no doubt that you can handle yourself. I love that about you.”
Without waiting for a comment, he presses his lips to mine. I am too surprised to move. I don’t really kiss him back, but I definitely don’t push him away.
He pulls back, searching my face for a reaction. Something he sees pleases him. He cracks a small smile. I can’t help matching his smile. Despite catching me off guard, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’ve wanted him to kiss me for a while now.
“Let’s try that again,” he suggests. He pulls my face to his and this time I’m prepared. His skin is cool from the night air, but his breath his hot. He wraps an arm around my waist. My heartbeat speeds up. He has made the first move, but I still feel timid. I lay my hands lightly on his biceps. I can feel his muscles through his shirt. I knew he was strong, but I am still impressed.
The kiss lingers for several seconds, before he finally pulls away. The connection breaks and I can’t help feeling disappointed.
“That was…,” Drew whispers.
“Amazing,” I finish.
He chuckles. “Sorry. I have been wondering for weeks what that would feel like.”
“And I’m sorry I waited until now to find out. I feel like a lot of time was wasted.”
“You are leaving.”
“I am leaving.”
I clear my throat. “I’ll see you next week.”
Drew hesitates. “Okay. Take care, Mac.”