"Hey, Mac. How ya doin?" John Gordon asked as he walked casually through Mac McClusky's office door.
"Well pretty good, John, and not so good either," Mac said, spinning his chair around from the window to face John across the desk.
"Yeah, me too," John said, setting a cup of coffee with just the right amount of cream on Mac's side of the desk.
Mac continued, "You know, when you're young, you think it will go on forever. Actually, I guess you don't think about it at all. You just somehow assume that it will. But then, you come to this day.
"I'm glad we are doing this together, John. It makes it easier for me."
"Me too, Mac. I guess since we started together, it's only right that we finish together," John said with a slight smile.
"Is Maggy still ruling over the get-ready up in the cafeteria?" Mac asked.
"With an iron hand," John said with a broad smile now. "And, she wouldn't let me get near the place. We're not supposed to see it before we get there at three. I think its gonna be big Mac."
"I'm gonna miss Maggy," Mac said, glancing through the open door at her empty chair. She's the best, and the best gate keeper I ever had. She is sharp. She always seems older than 29 to me. She is just wise beyond her years. I wish she had been my secretary from the first."
"Then she would be old and worn out like you Mac," John joked as he took a chair and propped his feet on the corner of Mac's desk. Both men smiled.
"How about David, Mac? Any word?"
"No, I don't think he's coming. I know that he knows; but, too much bad history. He's still angry over my break up with Lizzy. And he has a right to be. I hurt them both so deeply.
"A marriage for a fling, John. I still can't believe I did that. I should have been smarter, especially at my age."
"Is there no chance at all that you could maybe patch it up with David?" John ask sympathetically.
"I don't think so. Lizzy's cancer took care of that. When she died, it was like everything became set in concrete.
"I was stupid. Like a kid in the candy store. I just had to have what I had to have - as usual. Now I'm paying the price and I have nothing. No wife, no son, and now, no career after today. And, that last one was about all that was keeping me sane lately."
Lieutenant Colonel Rob Gordon poked his head in the door before John could respond to Mac. "Hey guys. How are the honorees?"
"Rob!" both men said at the same time as they rose to hug John's son.
"How in the world are you doin, son?" Mac started, with a distinct note of joy in his voice.
"I'm doing great Mac. The Air Force is behaving for a change, and I'm really lovin the new fighter project. We're about to get it broken in. I'd love to talk with both of you about the details, but then I'd have to shoot you."
"That's great son." Mac returned. "They couldn't have a better man on the project, except your dad, of course."
"Colonel, where is the general?" John queried.
"Oh, she's upstairs helping with the preparation for the party, dad. But, I have a feelin it's going to be a bitter sweet party for you two old work horses. Am I right?"
"Are you kidding?" Mac shot back. "We can't wait to break out of this place. No more dead lines. No more production snafus. No more office politics."
"Yeah, right," Rob said with a sneer.
"Come on, Mac. I know Mom and Dad's grand scheme with Habitat, but what are you gonna do when your time is your own?"
"I wish I was as noble as your father, Rob. But to tell you the truth, about all I can think of to do is play with the toys I've gathered up over the years.
"Next month I'm gonna take my plane up to Alaska and fly around a bit. Probably do some fishing. I think about three months worth. Then I'll probably hit the road in my motor home for a while and just see what the horizon holds."
"Sounds fun, Mac."
"Of a sort I suppose. The problem with that kind of fun is that it doesn't last long and it cost you an arm and a leg. And, you have to keep 'feedin the kitty' to keep having the fun. And, all of it would have been a lot more fun if I could have done it in my 20's instead of my 60's."
Now Rob's wife,Debbie,came almost running through the door with a huge smile aimed directly at her father-in-law. Without a word she wrapped him in a great, long, warm hug, then whispering softly in his ear, "I'm so proud of you, Dad."
John hugged her back with every bit as much warmth. These two were bonded from a long ways back. Debbie never knew her dad, but John had made that cease to matter. In every sense he had become the father she never new. They truly thought of themselves as father and daughter in the everyday language of love. They had long ago forgotten the "in-law" part.
"Hey, what about me?" Mac chimed in.
"Oh, I suppose I have one left for another old workaholic." Debbie hugged Mac in a more polite way and congratulated him. In truth, she had struggled with Mac's sometimes overbearing style over the years. Debbie considered him egotistical. She had often wondered how he and John could be such friends. She was very careful never to allow her feelings to show on the outside, however. But she was always deliberately brief in her contacts with him - as she would be today.
"OK you two, they sent me down to give you the fifteen minute warning. They want you there at three sharp. OK?"
"It sounds like one last deadline, Mac," John quipped.
"I think so," Mac laughed. And I think for your sake, if not for mine, we surely better make this one."
"For both your sakes," Debbie said, with mock sternness.
"We'll be there," John assured her with that "I'll take care of it" tone that she had come to count on.
"And, Mom needs you there now, Rob, for some last minute instructions," Debbie said. She tugged gently at his uniform tie.
As Rob and Debbie left, the festive atmosphere seem to leave with them. John knew that his old friend was really in deep pain. The lines in his face seem to betray his age today more than John had ever noticed. Mac's look was tense.
"Are you OK, Mac?"
"I am struggling John," Mac said in a voice that was briefly on the verge of breaking. "Is this how it ends for me?"
Mac paused for a moment, seemingly trying to recover his voice to go on. "I'm alone John," he continued. And, except for the love that I borrow from your family, I am unloved.
"Most of those coworkers in that room today will be there for you. It seems so clear today, what I never saw through the years. I have harmed far too many of them in the name of getting the job done.
"My desperate quest for - now I'm not even sure what - has driven the people around me, away. So, here I sit. And, once you and I go our separate ways and no longer have this time clock to punch, I know I'm not gonna see you much. Life will just naturally bring distance."
Mac paused again, lost for a moment in a private thought. " I guess I thought I could impress them into liking me. I think I thought my achievements and my trophies of victory would do it for me. But, that is not the stuff of real friendships is it John?" John shook his head ever so slightly, and glanced down to allow his friend to continue to vent.
"I wish I'd done it your way John. You did it right. You're noble and people know it. They trust who you are, and that allows them to put aside their defensiveness. No, it's more than that even. Your nobility draws them John."
"People admire you Mac," John responded.
"I think, more, they just study me from a distance, John. I do not think they judge me kindly in their private thoughts. I think they may even pity me at times. And rightly so.
"I have the toys. I have the trophies and the possessions that come with a hard and focused and successful struggle for the top. But, today I know something that I did not know at the beginning."
John looked up to make eye contact with Mac as if to say, "What's that?"
Mac continued, "All that matters at the end is are you loved."
John nodded in agreement. Still looking at Mac he said, "Mac, you're retiring, you're not dying. If you don't like where you are today, change it. If, you see a better way, follow it. It's been a long book, but you still have a few chapters to write. Make them what you want them to be."
Mac was thoughtfully silent for a moment. "I don't know John. I'm not sure this old dog can learn those new tricks."
"It's more a function of wanting than learning, Mac," John said with a faint note of authority in his voice. "How badly do you want it? How badly do you want to be loved? How badly do you want a different ending to the book?"
Just then, John's cell phone rang. His wife was on the other end. "Hey Babe," John responded softly. "OK, we'll be right there."
"Looks like the hour has come, Mac," John said with a slight smile.
Mac nodded with an expression of resignation. "John, thanks for letting me talk," he said smiling now. It really helped. "And I'll think about what you said. But let's keep it light up there this afternoon. I'd just like to go on pretending, at least for today, that those people up there are really impressed by my success and actually are endeared to me."
"OK Mac," John said smiling as his tongue-in-cheek response formulated itself in his mind. "Whatever you say. Who am I to deny a man his delusion?"
"There is a way that appears right unto a man, but the end thereof is destruction." - The Book Of Proverbs