Silence dawned on the wee hours of night. A thick December mist had lifted and fogged the glass panes of Zack’s apartment, but the owner hardly noticed. Enclosed behind the compact walls and a good heat centralizer, Zack felt a mix of idleness and effervescence. A few hours had passed since Ava appeared in his apartment, and the night had been intensely fulfilling. He gladly lied with his hands behind his head while watching Ava, who playfully donned his dress shirt and nothing else, before they shared a long kiss.
He snaked his arms around her waist, but she stopped him. “Mm, not now. Restroom.” She rose from the bed and handed him her tablet. “But do me the favor, would you?”
Zack understood. “Just one mission to review, right?”
“Yes, I’m leaving for it next week.” She picked up a pair of boxers from the floor and chucked it on the bed. “And wear something, please.”
Zack laughed and did as requested. Rolling over the bed, he propped a pillow under his chest to give him a better leverage and read the document. Zack went through each page so meticulously that he didn’t hear Ava returned from the bathroom. He grimaced when she touched his bare shoulder.
“So, what do you think?”
Zack shifted his body towards her. “This is a private mission, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. This organization wants me to get intelligence in three different countries. I thought of bringing in a squad, but they’re worried of possible communication leaks.”
“Everything in here is highly classified. I shouldn’t be reading this.”
“I knew you weren’t gonna like that.” She moved closer and swipe out a legal document on the tablet. “I actually want you to sign off as my guarantor - in case anything happens to me and they try to hide this - I want you to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”
“I know a lot of the organization’s secrets, and I need some protection in case this mission is just a ruse to keep me off the grid.”
Zack kept quiet for a few minutes. “I’m worried.”
“As you always are,” Ava smiled at him.
“Are you sure you want to take this on?”
“Zack, don’t you realize how big this will do to my career when I succeed? I’ll be the very definition of my job. I’ll be untouchable.”
Zack didn’t seem convinced, but said nothing against it. “I need time.”
“I know. I just made you read it so that you have to sign as guarantor.”
Zack shook his head. “I wish you had given me an indication.”
She grinned. “You know I can’t do that, honey, or wicked manipulation isn’t how I earn my cash.”
The man grunted and sat up. “It’s not just that, Ava.”
The black-haired beauty tilted her head in interest.
“How long would you be gone?”
“About five months, give or take.”
“That’s if everything goes smoothly. You know this normally takes up to almost a whole year. If you face unwanted circumstances, you’re looking at a year or two longer.”
Ava crossed her arms. His dress shirt was looking more attractive than Zack remembered. “Your point being?”
“You could have told me earlier.” Zack began, as he sat up on his bed. “The fact that you’re telling me now with so little explanation - well, I’m disappointed.”
Ava’s expression softened. She reached out a hand to touch his. “Zack, I’m sorry. We’ve been so busy, and since we’re non-exclusive - I just thought... well, I wasn’t sure how we felt about each other.”
“Why are you here then?”
Their eyes locked briefly, knowing it was the question they had danced around all night. He thought about it when Ava surprised him earlier. He thought about it when their chemistry in bed was unlike any other. He now watched as Ava casted her eyes to her long fingers. She admitted, “I wanted to see you before I go. Maybe even say goodbye.”
“You shouldn’t.” Zack replied. “This is a crappy goodbye, if it’s one.”
Ava smiled. “Well, things haven’t been ideal for us. What if - ?” she couldn’t finish her sentence.
Zack didn’t know what to reply. A deep sense of foreboding clouded his thoughts, so he pulled her head next to his. They sat in silence for a while.
“Take good care of yourself,” Zack spoke suddenly. “It might be risky, but contact me in case of any emergencies.”
“I know, Zack. Even after all these years, you’re the only person I can trust.”
He nodded curtly, but his eyes had a lingering look. Ava placed a hand on his chest and sought his attention.
“Look, I don’t want to put a damper on your birthday. We still have a few hours till I leave, so let me make us breakfast.”
Zack wanted to hesitate on eating her homemade food at the break of dawn, but said nothing. He followed her footsteps to the kitchen, and watched as she gingerly put a fresh batch of coffee in the espresso machine. She rummaged through his empty cabinets with a deep sigh. Ten minutes later, they settled down by the kitchen island with a steaming cup of coffee and dry biscuits. Zack’s highlight was Ava’s long legs showing under his dress shirt.
“For what it’s worth,” he spoke, “I’m glad you stop by.”
“I had to,” Ava grinned at him. “I should mark my territory before I go.”
Zack couldn’t contain his smile. “So, you were threatened.”
The latter gave him an impassive look. “I’m not. I’m just not ecstatic that you took her out for dinner. I can’t remember a time we did the same.”
The man raised his eyebrows. “Did you worry I might have chosen her?”
“Oh, I didn’t need to.” Ava coyly moved a piece of her hair that fell above her eye. “I knew you’d always hope that I show up.”
“Your home alarm system still recognizes my thumbprints. How did you think I got in?” Ava gave a smug smile. Zack playfully raised his palms in surrender. His eyes twinkled when they caught hers, and they both knew each other’s bittersweet feelings without saying a word.
The two continued the night with more laughs, and shared several inside jokes. The hours eventually passed, and when they woke up in each other’s arms, Zack knew for certain that she would occupy his mind until the next time they meet. He thought he saw her reciprocate the sentiment when they stood at the front door, unsure what to say. Ava stepped forward to kiss him on the cheek, but Zack pulled her in to take one last whiff.
“I’ll miss you Zack,” Her voice unmistakably fraught with unspoken thoughts.
He closed his eyes tight, and spoke, “I’ll miss you too.”