Stella found that she was only slightly surprised when Mac turned up at her home late that night. They had said their goodbyes at her leaving party that evening, but she had sensed that there was more that Mac had wanted to say. She had attributed it to wishful thinking at the time. Now her heart raced with anticipation as she smiled at him across the threshold of her front door.
"Hi," he said with a small smile. "I know we said goodbye earlier but… I wanted to say goodbye."
Stella laughed softly and stepped aside for him to enter. "Mac, we'll keep in touch. You can't get rid of me that easily."
He nodded as he passed her, then stopped a few feet inside, and turned to face her. She closed the door and took a step towards him, head tilted slightly as she waited for him to speak.
"I know we'll keep in touch… I know… I just wanted to tell you that I'm proud of you."
Stella's smile widened at his words and the accompanying expression that clearly supported them. "You told me that earlier," she responded, teasingly.
With a quick laugh, Mac nodded again. "And I'm going to miss you."
Stella swallowed the lump that quickly formed in her throat and joked again, "You told me that earlier too." She edged a little closer to Mac, comforted by his presence, even though she knew she had to learn not to be. "But it's always nice to hear it again," she told him quietly.
Mac's eyes met hers and she saw the sparkle fade from them at the same time she felt a shift in the atmosphere. A sadness swept over Mac's features that overwhelmed Stella, tears stinging her eyes, her chest tightening.
"I'm going to miss you," he repeated, no trace of laughter this time; no hint of anything except the heartbreaking reality of what was happening.
Tears gathering on her lower eyelids, Stella swept forwards and they fell into a tight embrace. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders as his dropped to her waist, his hands landing flat against her back, holding her to him.
She breathed in deeply, inhaling some composure as well as the scent of him. She wanted to commit it all to memory: The security and warmth of being in Mac's arms; the strength she drew from him; the comfort she had come to depend on.
Deciding to leave New York had not been easy. Deciding to leave Mac had nearly torn her apart. But she knew that she had to take the opportunity and she knew they would both regret it if she didn't.
Her only comfort was knowing that she would only be a few hours away. It wasn't like she was moving to Indonesia.
"You can come visit," she reminded him, her voice forced past the lump in her throat.
He nodded against her. "I know… I know."
She heard his unvoiced, 'But it won't be the same,' through the tightening of his embrace and the fact that she thought the same thing.
It wasn't going to be the same. But, maybe, things had been the same between them for long enough.
Stella withdrew only her upper body from the hug so she could look Mac in the eyes. He settled his hands on her waist.
"Drive me to the airport?"
His eyes widened in surprise. "I thought you didn't want -"
"Yeah. Yeah, I know I said that, but… I don't want this to be the last time I see you." She laughed nervously, but quickly added, "If you don't want to -"
"Oh no. I had half a mind to show up there anyway."
She had expected - hoped - that he would do that.
She smiled, gently. "Thank you."
He nodded. "Okay… I'll come back at five."
She also nodded, but her stomach churned at the thought of him leaving.
Her uncertainty must have shown on her face because he asked, "Is that early enough? I can come at four."
She glanced at her watch. "Actually, Mac, it's after midnight. You won't get much sleep and you're in work -"
He brought his hands to her shoulders to stop her. "Stella, I'm not going to get any sleep anyway."
She cringed, guiltily. "I'm sorry."
He shook his head. "Don't be… So five? Or four?"
"Five will be plenty of time…"
He could read her too well. She smiled sheepishly. "But, I'm tempted to say four just so I can spend more time with you."
Mac laughed. "Well I'm tempted to agree with you. But it doesn't give you much time to sleep -"
"I won't be sleeping," she told him.
He nodded, understandingly. "Well…"
Stella frowned. It wasn't like Mac to hesitate.
"Well?" she prompted.
He shook his head. "It wouldn't -"
"Mac." It was both an encouragement and a reprimand.
"I was just going to say… If neither of us is going to get any sleep… Why don't I just stay? Now. We can … not sleep, together."
Stella grinned widely, her heart skipping with excitement and relief. "That's the best idea you've ever had."
Mac chuckled, but shook his head. "No it isn't."
… … …
He wouldn't tell her, at the time, what he considered to be the best idea he had ever had. Eventually she was persuaded to stop asking, and they spent the early morning reminiscing until it was time to leave for the airport.
Parting was every bit as difficult as they had both expected it would be, but when she did ultimately have to walk away, they had in place an agreement that he would give her a few weeks to settle in and then he would visit.
It was as Mac was leaving the airport that his phone rang and he couldn't help smiling when he saw who was calling.
"Missing me already?" he joked - though he was already missing her.
Her laughter carried through the phone. "You never told me what the best idea you ever had was."
Mac stopped walking and grinned, widely and proudly, as he told her, honestly, "Hiring you."