Conversations 4: Possibilities
By: Ridley C. James
A/N: Just a Valentine’s Day Conversation because I believed a little light-HEARTedness (Ridley laughs at her own pun) was called for after the drama of late and I couldn’t resist doing something for one of my favorite holidays. This takes place after Sex and Violence. It’s a little different for me-I think Tidia was speechless for a moment when I said I really wanted to write it, so I hope you enjoy reading it.
Mackland was torn, completely indecisive. How ironic that his ability to make split-second decisions in the most intense and critical of moments had been one of the talents to catapult his surgical career. As The Scholar of The Brotherhood, the last remaining member of the current Triad, there were times when he made choices with possible global consequences. Yet, he could not choose between The Chilled Fishers Island Oysters and The River Café Oysters. His patient server, Reginald, finished pouring the champagne and smiled at him. Mackland adjusted his red tie, gesturing to the gold-inlay menu.
“I’m sorry, Reginald. It all looks wonderful.”
“If I might, I would go with the Warm Pear Salad.” Reginald pointed to the featured appetizer. “Tonight is the night of love and romance. Tradition is fine, but we want to refrain from cliché.” He raised a brow at the antique rose and lavender orchid arrangement Mackland had requested from Ovando. “A touch of the whimsical and original is appreciated. Yes, Dr. Ames?”
Mackland gave one last look towards the ladies room before closing the menu and placing it aside. “Yes. I think the lady will favor your suggestion, but bring some caviar, too.”
Reginald nodded. “Of course. Will you be requiring potato chips with that?"
“No.” Mackland laughed, thankful for the server’s rueful humor and astute memory. “I don’t share my son’s idea that caviar is a very expensive version of onion dip.”
Reginald placed the champagne in the ice bucket. “Very good then.”
Mackland’s smile disappeared, his apprehension returning as Reginald left him. He picked up his glass, taking a gulp of Krug’s Clos du Mesnil. His father, Cullen, would have been appalled; chastising that one did not guzzle anything priced 750 dollars a bottle. Mackland emptied the glass with another large drink. John would have suggested tequila, or his favorite Johnny Walker Red.
Thoughts of his old friend had him reaching for his cell phone. He pulled it from his pocket, fingering the key pad until John’s name appeared. The familiar number bolstered his courage more than the bubbly, and he placed his Blackberry to the side, taking solace in the illusion it permitted.
“Are you all right?”
Esme’s soft voice brought him from his reverie and he stood quickly to pull out her chair. “I ordered our appetizer. I hope you don’t mind.”
Esme smiled. “I trust everything here is magnificent.” She fingered the Hermes scarf Mackland had given her in the limo ride over. “Besides, you have wonderful taste, Dr. Ames.”
Mackland retook his seat with a chagrined smile. “I’ll confess that I consulted several sources on color and pattern. Alison lobbied for a flight for two to Paris instead of purchasing locally.”
“Using Brotherhood resources for your personal agenda?” Esme’s eyes filled with amusement as she lifted her glass and sipped at the champagne.
“Sometimes I think my personal life and role as The Scholar have become so enmeshed that there are no longer any clear boundaries.”
Esme reached across the table for his hand. “I admire your passion and dedication for your work. Pastor Jim would be extremely proud.”
Mackland turned his hand over, gently squeezing her fingers. “I’m sorry work won’t allow us to make a whole weekend of your visit.” Esme had flown in from Virginia that afternoon, the holiday a particularly busy one for her shop. Mackland wasn’t the only one juggling several roles.
“This night is more than enough.” Esme glanced around the restaurant. “It’s beautiful.”
“I can’t even claim credit for the setting. This is Caleb’s favorite.”
“I can understand why.” Esme looked out onto the view of Manhattan and New York Harbor that The Terrace Room was famous for. “The bridge is breathtaking at night.”
Mackland swallowed thickly, remembering his first visit to the The River Cafe. “You know people thought Michael O’Keeffe insane for wanting to build on the edge of The Brooklyn Docks?”
Esme returned her gaze to his. “Most people lack the vision to see the potential in bleak situations.”
Mackland nodded. “In the seventies, this part of the city was barren and devoid of positive influences. The neighborhood was hard, cold, a scary place. They said he would never succeed.”
Esme lifted a defined brow. “That’s so hard to imagine considering the warmth and generosity that emanates now.”
Her insight never failed to impress him. “Believe it or not, there was a time when I was a lot like the old Brooklyn.”
Esme ran her fingers along the edge of her jade scarf, the small gold birds and ivy catching in the candle light. “Again, I find that hard to envision.”
Mackland cleared his throat. “Cullen brought me an article about O’Keeffe during my convalescence from my accident. It was one of the many success stories my father inundated me with.”
“Your father is a brilliant strategist.”
“True.” Mackland poured more champagne in Esme’s glass before filling his own. “If Jim could have wooed Cullen into the folds of The Brotherhood, he would have taken the role of Scholar right out from beneath me.”
Esme laughed. “I doubt that Cullen Ames would have had your patience in dealing with the likes of John Winchester.”
Mackland glanced to his phone, the pang of grief only faint beneath the wash of happier memories. “I do believe the old man would have cracked, or insisted upon Johnathan’s head on a platter.”
“It goes back to having that certain vision.” Esme took a drink of her champagne, hiding her smile. “To seeing the diamond in the rough.”
“Cullen is most definitely a realist,” Mackland said. “He admitted to me that he would never have invested in O’Keeffe’s preposterous business idea and admitted how much money he lost by not backing that horse. Note his revelation was perfectly timed after one of my brilliant colleagues predicted my chances of ever walking again, let alone returning to medicine, bleak at best.”
“Your father believed in you. Children have a way of turning even the most devout pragmatists into believers.”
Mackland agreed completely. His father had made a huge difference in his recovery. “Cullen brought me here to The River Cafe for dinner the night I took my first steps. I was still in a wheelchair at the time, but I felt as if I could have run all the way back to Manhattan.”
Esme’s eyes glistened. “Then tonight is even more special.”
“I’ve never brought anyone here, but Caleb.” Mackland smiled at the thought of his son. “I’ll never forget the look on his face the first time he stared out at the bridge. It was like I was seeing the city for the first time. I couldn’t imagine it ever being anything but magnificent after viewing it through his eyes.”
“It must have been as O’Keeffe saw it from the beginning. Your son has the soul of an artist.”
“And the cunning of his grandfather. He talked me into letting him order two steaks that night and persuaded me to convince the chef that there was no disgrace in pairing the aged beef with French fries instead of sweet potato puree. I thought Reginald might faint when Caleb covered both the potatoes and steak with Ketchup.”
Esme laughed. “I miss the teenage years, don’t you?”
“No.” Mackland shook his head, but couldn’t keep the small grin from his mouth. “Not in the least.”
Esme’s comment was interrupted as Reginald returned to their table with the appetizers. “I hope the champagne is to your liking?” He asked as he first presented Esme with her plate, then Mackland.
“It’s wonderful,” Esme said.
“I’m usually forced to send one of the staff across the street for Samuel Adams when Dr. Ames and his son visit us. I think this is the first time he’s taken my suggestions, but of course this is the first time he’s brought such a lovely companion.”
“I’ll tell Caleb you missed him,” Mackland said.
Reginald smiled. “I take it I won’t need to request a bottle of Heinz’s finest either?”
“No.” Mackland handed his menu to the man. “I’ll take my sea bass as the chef intended.”
“One Branzino Fillet for the good doctor.” Reginald glanced to Esme. “And for the lady?”
“The aged sirloin sounds delicious.”
Reginald nodded in approval. “Beautiful and unafraid to eat beef. I am beginning to like you more and more.”
Esme unfolded her napkin and laid it across her lap. “I take it you and Caleb are regulars?”
Mackland spread caviar on a tiny corn pancake. “Only on our anniversary.”
Esme looked up from her pear salad. “Anniversary?”
Mackland felt some of his anxiety from before return. “This is where I asked Caleb to be my son.” Mackland remembered his nervousness from that night, how he feared what the fourteen year old might say. “I wanted his approval before I pursued the final steps of adoption. I needed to be sure that he wanted me as his family.”
Esme put down her fork. “How could he not.”
Mackland appreciated the hint of dismay. “It had been a rather rocky first year. I had no clue as to what in the world I was doing.”
“I believe all first time parents feel that way.”
“I think it’s different with adoption.” Mackland picked up his champagne. “When there isn’t that instantaneous bond, the blood connection, there’s always a fear that you might disappoint them or fall short of what they deserve.”
“No, Mackland.” Esme shook her head. “All parents share that fear. A family isn’t instantly created upon the birth of a child. It’s something that’s built with years of love and trust.”
“Still,” Mackland smiled. “I think I held my breath the entire five minutes he took to study that magnificent bridge out there.”
“It must have been hard for someone so young to take a chance after all that he’d been through.”
Mackland could easily recall the way his son’s amber eyes had regarded him after leaving the skyline, the fledgling probe of his thoughts for any dishonesty, any doubt. “I felt like the luckiest man alive when he said yes.”
“I don’t think he would refuse you much.”
“I worry about him.” He worried about Dean and Sam, too. John’s sons had become like his own over the years.
“The ever present downside to parenting."
Mackland raised his glass to her. “You are an amazing mother.”
Esme blushed. “I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, but I’ve always had Joshua’s best intentions at heart.”
Mackland felt the weight of her gaze, the hint of sadness in her features. They had both hurt one another in their pursuit to put their boys first. It was not something he would ever fault her for; although he berated himself for the time he had wasted. “Family is the most important thing we have.”
Esme lifted her own glass, tapping it lightly against his. “To family.” Her face changed instantly. It lost all traces of remorse, lighting up with excitement as she gave Mackland a teasing grin. “Speaking of which. I almost forgot about my gift to you.”
“My gift?” Mackland put his glass down. “I thought we agreed not to do gifts.”
“The flowers? And my scarf?” Esme said, touching the silk drape. “What might those be considered?”
“I’ve learned the hard way women rarely tolerate Valentine’s day without gifts, no matter what they might say.”
She frowned. “If I recall, I was very understanding about last year’s slight”
“You were.” His mind had been on other things like Dean’s looming deadline. Mackland nodded to the scarf. “But I still felt I needed to make amends.”
“You’re completely forgiven.” She put a red foil-wrapped box on the table between them. “Consider this a token of clemency.”
Mackland took the box. He tore the wrappings away, removing the lid to reveal a silver picture frame.
“I thought it would go with the collection on your desk.”
The photograph was of Caleb, Dean, Sam and Joshua, caught in a rare moment. All four of them sporting careless smiles, leaning against the railing of Pastor Jim’s porch. The Triad and their Advisor. The future. A lump wedged in his throat.
“Mother took it at Christmas,” Esme said. “I thought with all that’s happening you might need reminding of the diamond you helped uncover- the dream you believed in.”
Her hand found his, soft and warm on his cool skin. “Everything Pastor Jim worked for, the bright possibility he saw in the darkness has come to light. They are all that anyone could have hoped and you helped make that a reality.”
Mackland touched the gilded frame, lifting his gaze to Esme’s. “It’s perfect.”
She squeezed his hand. “They do make a handsome bunch.”
“They are definitely a family any man would be proud to have.” He took hold of Esme’s hand, convinced now was the moment. “I want us to be a family.”
Esme’s brow furrowed at what he was sure sounded like desperation in his voice. “You are a family, Mackland. Sam, Dean and Caleb think the world of you and…”
“No. I mean, I know, but I want all of us to be a family. You and I, Esme. I want us to be together.” It was not coming out like he had intended. He imagined John was laughing his ass off somewhere in the great cosmos as he blundered his way through the worst possible proposal in history. Mackland was surprised his phone didn’t ring with an ethereal connection. Bobby would hear none of this. The mechanic would never let him live it down.
“No. Wait.” He stood, nearly knocking his glass of expensive champagne over in his rush to push his chair back. He was halfway around the table, on his knees, when he caught site of Reginald with their food in his peripheral vision. Thank God the man had the good graces to turn around and motion his accompanying servers back to the kitchen.
Esme was looking at him, as was every other person at the surrounding tables. In that moment, Mackland didn’t care to make a fool of himself. He pulled the Tiffany’s box from his pocket, opening the lid to reveal the diamond he’d purchased -no consultation necessary.
“Esme Madrigal, will you marry me?”
He was well aware there were a hundred reasons why she should say no. For one, Mackland’s timing was horrible and not just in relation to their food service. Mackland had planned on suggesting a stroll after dinner, perhaps in Central Park. He’d pop the question somewhere beautiful, solitary. Then there was the fact they had only just reconciled, demons were running amuck, and the apocalypse was possibly at hand.
“How could I not?”
Mackland blinked, hoping he’d heard her right over the soft piano music and murmured whisperings around them.
“I said yes, Mackland.” She placed a hand on his face. “Yes.”
Before she could change her mind, he quickly took the princess cut solitaire and placed it on Esme’s finger. He smiled up at her, feeling like the luckiest man alive. Applause serenaded their kiss and Mackland even took a little bow before returning to his seat. “The champagne must have gone to my head.”
“Love is quite intoxicating. It has been known to make complete fools of men.” Reginald regarded him with a small smile as he placed another bottle of champagne on the table. “Compliments of River City.”
Mackland laughed. “You’re not upset at the incredible cliché?”
Reginald shook his head. “I saw it coming a mile away, but I was expecting you to make it through dessert.”
Mackland looked at Esme. “It took me ten years to ask her on a date, Reggie. I couldn’t wait one minute longer.”
“Shall I bring your dinner now or is it off to the courthouse for a midnight rendezvous with Mayor Bloomberg?”
Esme laughed. “I think we have time for a quick meal. Mackland?”
“Sea bass is my favorite.”
“Very good then.” Reginald left them to their semi-privacy.
Mackland watched Esme study the ring. “If you don’t like it…”
“No.” Esme quickly met his gaze. “It’s beautiful. Perfect.” Her eyes went to the diamond again. “I never want to take it off…”
“But?” Mackland’s gut clenched.
“But, Darling, I’m not sure if now is the time to announce our engagement.”
To punctuate her point, Mackland’s cell rang. He glanced at the screen, prepared to ignore the call. Caleb’s name flashed and he quickly apologized to Esme before answering.
“Son? Is everything all right?” Caleb explained the latest situation with the Winchesters. John’s sons were not boding well after an encounter with a siren. He closed his eyes briefly. “Should I cancel my flight to Jamaica?” The trip to the exotic island was business and important, but could be rearranged if necessary. Mackland suffered a pang of guilt for not making more time for all the boys.
The worry in his son’s voice didn’t help matters, but Mackland conceded to continue his trip as planned when Caleb explained Dean and Sam would be with him for their upcoming hunt. Caleb insisted he could handle the situation. “Then I’ll see you all when I get back. Take care of yourself and Dean and Sam.”
“Is something wrong?” Esme asked.
Mackland placed the phone in his pocket with a heavy sigh. “Hopefully, no.”
“As you said earlier, these are busy times for The Scholar.”
“I don’t see them letting up.”
“Exactly why there’s no rush to add extra excitement where none is needed.”
Mackland nodded. “We’ll celebrate properly soon. I promise.”
“We have tonight.” Esme took his hand, squeezing it. “It’s more than enough.”
brought her fingers to his lips, kissing them. He glanced to the
picture of their boys. “We have our whole lives ahead of us.” It was a
future, full of promise where anything aspired to was indeed possible.