Strength in Living - Chapter 18

Mac wasn't the indecisive type. That's what made him so good at his job; he could make good decisions on the spot and that's why he was so respected by most of his colleagues. He didn't compromise, he didn't sway - he just made the right call time and time again.

So why was he having so much trouble deciding if he was still in love with Peyton?

Peyton was one of the most intelligent women he'd ever met. She had a great sense of humour, too. But she was also pushy, needy. She wanted the best for Mac, but she hadn't yet learned what made him tick. He liked a bit of space, not to be treated like a child and pestered the way she often did.

Stella had figured it out before long. They'd known each other around 12 years and she just knew everything there was to know about him. Well, almost. She was intuitive in every way - where Mac was concerned and with work. She hadn't gone to med school like Peyton had, but she was clever. She had stacks of textbooks at home, and she liked to watch obscure documentaries in the early hours of the morning. She had a degree in Biochemistry, but she wanted to know about everything and that was a level of brilliance Peyton would never match.

Stella was also emotional, in every single colour in the palette. She could be sad and furious, happy and anxious - she wanted to feel every emotion to its full potential. Stella was unwaveringly in love with life and she wasn't afraid to show it.

Peyton was content at best.

The thing was, when he thought of it like that; it was clear which of the two women in his life had his heart. It wasn't his girlfriend. It was the Greek detective who was emotional and sensitive, but utterly brilliant and logical. It was the woman who loved psychology and history and loved Italian food and red wine.

That's why he found himself in the crime lab exactly 2 hours later, making his way to the morgue to talk to Peyton. It couldn't go on like this, no matter how much he didn't want to hurt her. And when he saw her, he knew for sure.

He was not in love with Peyton Driscoll.

"Peyton, hi," he managed, chatting to her over the latest victim. He didn't recognise this one, and he knew who every single body in this morgue was. Stella said it was 'freaky' that he knew that; he thought it was just his job to know. Anyone, John Doe must have arrived while he was with Stella.

"Mac," she greeted, and her whole composure softened. She looked to smitten, so deeply in love as though she wasn't holding a bone cutter. "How's Stella? I didn't think you'd be in today.'

"I think she'll be alright. She's going to need surgery to repair her bowel, but she's awake and chatting which is a good sign."

She nodded in agreement, "Absolutely. So, what's up?"

He looked down at Mr Doe, wishing desperately to switch places with him. How he wished he had a gunshot wound to the chest right now. He didn't mean that, of course not.

"Coffee? My treat."

The way her face lit up, and she asked Sid so excitedly to put the body away for now, Mac actually felt like the most horrible person alive. He knew that wasn't true - it was because he was a decent person he was doing this. He was doing what he should have done months ago - been totally honest with Peyton.

He didn't love her as much as she deserved to be. He loved Stella Bonasera and that's the only woman he'd wanted to love since Claire died. She was the first person he wanted to tell about anything - a break in a case she wasn't even working on, about new broadway shows playing at obscure little theatres downtown or even a new restaurant that they had to try after work. They hadn't even grown apart since he started dating Peyton, but their relationship was different. And repairing his friendship with Stella was honestly more important to him than carrying on with Peyton.

So, painful as it was - he told her.

He took her to the cafe just down the street from the crime lab, told her to order what she wanted. Typical Londoner that she was, she ordered a cup of tea. Nothing more, nothing less. A $1.40 breakup hardly broke the bank, but he supposed she wasn't to know.

"Peyton, I need to have a difficult conversation with you and it might come as a bit of a shock."

She put her mug onto the table, giving him her full and undivided attention, "What's the matter?"

Reaching out, she tried to take his hand. He was sure it was only meant to act as reassurance, but it only served to make him even more nervous. He pulled his hand away, but smiled in return.

"You've got to believe me when I say I'm sorry Peyton, but I'm not in love with you."

She paused for a moment, waiting to see if he was going to expand on what he just said. He didn't; only took a gulp from his coffee and waited.

"Is there someone else?"

He nodded, "There is."

"Okay," she replied. Standing up, she slid her jacket over her arm. "Is it Stella?"

"Yes."

"Does she know how you feel?"

He shook his head, "No. I don't even know if I will tell her. But these feelings aren't going away and it's not fair to you to pretend anymore."

"Well, thank you for your honesty," she said, starting to leaving. "Oh, Mac?"

He turned around, watching her struggle to keep the tears at bay. She came back over to him and placed a gentle kiss on his cheek.

"You should tell Stella how you feel. Life's too short."

And as she finally left with nothing else but a nod, he had to confess that all he felt was relief. He was expecting hysterics and shouting, but all he got from Peyton was her blessing. What was holding him back now?