"You should get on that plane," Archer says. He gives Maddy's small wrist a squeeze.
"So should you," she answers in a low voice.
The salty taste of her own sweat on her lips makes her throat dry when she licks them and she swallows hard. Archer sees the tendons in her neck tense and he releases her wrist without breaking his gaze on her. Maddy pops the cap off the lens of her camera and brings it up to her eye. She blinks in a feeble attempt to send the tears boiling behind her eyes back from where they came, but her sight fogs regardless and a sharp sting pierces the insides of her nostrils. She lowers the camera and her eyes follow. She can't look at his face without a lump in her throat.
Archer tilts his head slightly sideways. He doesn't know how to respond to Maddy being emotional. This is not a problem he has been confronted with before; from people he has dealt with throughout his life and certainly not from Maddy. The features of her face that he is so used to seeing tinged with optimism are tired and wet and he has an inkling of how he is the root of these changes. Her entire demeanor seems shrunken as she stands with trembling shoulders before him. The guilt that swells in his chest makes his feet tingle and he has to physically stop himself from turning and leaning to avoid the feeling from developing further. He shifts his weight from one leg to the other before shoving his hands into his pockets.
"In another life maybe," he tells her quietly.
"Sure," she scoffs knowingly. She clears her throat. "In another life."
"I'm really glad I met you, Maddy," he says quickly.
"I'm glad I met you too."
She blinks again and brings the camera back up to her eye. The shutter releases. Danny Archer has been captured on film forever. He lives as a still in her camera now. She puts the cap back on her lens and draws in a slow, shaky inhale. She reaches into the pocket near her knee and pulls out a crisp white business card.
"I'm used to men chasing after me, but I'm willing to make an exception this time."
Archer takes the card between two fingers and looks it over. He tucks it into his breast pocket.
"Home phone, cell phone, business phone," she says to him.
He cracks a half-smile. "Get on that plane, Miss Bowen."
Maddy forces herself to bring her eyes up to Archer's face. She looks at him now as he is, as a person in front of her and not as a subject through her lens. She wants to commit him to her own memory now. Maddy wants to remember Archer as a man, not as a photograph. She blinks slowly and Archer can't help but wonder if there is a shutter going off behind her eyes, if her brain is just a giant roll of film stamping scenes and people into it with every blink and swallow. When she opens her eyes again, Archer is still there, still looking at her with his big blue eyes and furrowed eyebrows and chapped lips.
Archer cocks his head towards the plane and grunts something reminiscent of a pointing gesture. Maddy responds with a nod as she looks over at the aircraft. She draws in a steady inhale. His sweaty, dirty scent colors the image of him that she has in her mind. She licks her bottom lip and turns to walk towards the plane. She takes only a few steps before looking over her shoulder. She's surprised that Archer is looking at her.
"Are you going to call me?"
"As soon as I get to a phone, ja," he nods with a smirk.
"Yeah, right," she says dryly.
Maddy looks forward and continues towards the plane. She raises her hand to wave to Archer and he nods to her. He sees now as she walks away from him that she isn't built for danger and war. He feels like he could crush her skull with one hand if he wanted to and the idea of her jetting off to another war zone to try and change the outcome makes his blood boil. She has no business putting herself in harm's path the way she's made a career of it.
Archer's eyes don't leave her frame as she walks off. He follows her until her small frame disappears into the crowd of people congregated by the front of the plane waiting to board. He huffs audibly and marches off to go find Solomon. Knowing Maddy is on her way out of Africa gives him the second wind he needs to go and find the diamond he's been dreaming of for the past few days.
He finds Solomon where he left him — sitting on a bench in the middle of the army airport. He nudges the black man as he walks by him and Solomon rises and follows after Archer.
"Is Miss Bowen going home?" Solomon asks.
"Ja, I suppose she is."
"Home to America."
"I reckon, ja."
"Where are we going now, Mister Archer?"
"We're going to find that stone, Solomon."
He remains silent.
"You're going to take me to where you buried it, a'right?"
"Yes, Mister Archer."
"Good man, Solomon."
Archer nods confidently as he pushes the flap door of a supply tent open. The inside smells like stale cardboard and sand and it irritates Archer's nose. He grabs the first two backpacks he sees and tosses one behind him to Solomon.
"Fill it," he says as he heads towards the first row of shelves, "with supplies. Food rations and water canteens, quickly."
Solomon nods and follows behind Archer, who is making quick work of filling his pack. He grabs packets of dried foods and water canteens as he marches between the shelves. Solomon moves slower than Archer does, but when he realizes that Archer's pack is almost full, he quickens his pace. The two men don't spend more than a minute inside the tent before they are ready to leave again. Their bags are filled with food and water and ammunition, and Archer has even managed to find a bottle of Jack Daniels and several packs of cigarettes to squeeze in. The SAT phone he finds, he tucks into the pocket of his pants.
"No maps, Mister Archer?" Solomon asks as they exit the tent.
"You said you didn't need a map, Solomon," Archer says sternly.
"Let's go, then."
Archer walks quickly down the ridge of the hill they're on and bursts into a full sprint when they enter the tall grass. He clenches the straps of the backpack tightly to keep it from bouncing against his back. Solomon follows behind him like a dog would its master.
"We'll run for one hour and then we'll walk for ten minutes," Archer pants between strides. "We'll cover the most ground this way."
Archer and Solomon are halfway gone by the time Maddy reaches the front of the line. She is face-to-face with one of the aid workers signing people in.
"Miss, are you boarding?" The man holding the clipboard looks at Maddy.
"Yes," she says automatically.
"No," Maddy has a sudden change of heart.
"I'm not boarding the plane."
"Are you sure?" He asks, looking at her seriously.
"Yes, I'm absolutely positive," she tells him confidently.
The man doesn't press. He waves his hand for the next person to come up as Maddy heads off to where she said good bye to Archer. She looks around with her heart in her throat and she feels dejected when he, nor Solomon, are nowhere in sight. She walks around the outskirts of the airport and looks out at the vast African horizon. Among the tall grass, she sees two heads running along. She recognizes them — Solomon and Archer.
Instantly, she feels the urge to run after them. Her feet ache and her insides tremble and her fingers curl up into her palm in a tight fist. She knows they're running and she knows they'll be out of reach quickly if she doesn't decide on her next move. She goes against her better judgement and throws herself head first into what could possibly end up being the worst decision of her life.